HOOOOT new link posted: Bug Zapping Statistics! In related news, my "Charcoal Companion Amazing Bug Zapper" unfortunately appears to be nearing the end of its life. Some delicate surgery and industrial strength packing tape has temporarily resurrected it while I place an order for a replacement. :P
Problem: you've called into some convoluted automated customer service system over the phone. Their goal is to minimize staffing, which is conveniently achieved by employing a system that aims to frustate users as much as possible such that a significant fraction of them simply hang up, thereby reducing costs.
Example: the California Franchise Tax Board. Their system offers option 6, which is the "how to talk to a customer service representative" option. That option, in turn, returns a short message pointing you to their web site which, in turn, points you right back at that number!
Solution? It seems that many automated phone systems have a escape sequence that can used to short-circuit the system entirely and put yourself right into the queue to talk to a real person (for better or worse).
Basically, to discover these sequences, the first step is to think ape. Put aside all the distributed algorithms and differential equations you may have been thinking about and think ape. A nice aggressive sequence of random 0's and 9's often does the trick. In the case of the California Franchise Tax Board, a quick succession of 0's is known to work. Once you've successfully bypassed the system, of course, you are on your own. In the case of the Tax Board, they were actually quite helpful. On the other hand . . .