In reality I should have probably ended that opening title with “April Cruel”. We all know that in this era of middle level management, salaries won’t keep pace with a fraction of the percentages of CEOs let alone the cost of living. It’s almost as likely as the return of reviews occurring more frequently than annually. In other words, ain’t happenin’.
This blog isn’t about salaries. I purposely “axed” Lord Steve Taranovich to post this one on April Fool’s Day as it is a tribute to engineering pranks. Although I could have written this one off the top of my head, I did Google the following: “bob pease pranks” which resulted in over 65,400 results. Go figure. The top five of these are listed in the Reference section. They get funnier as you go down. As engineers who tend to “figure it out” ahead of the rest of society, it’s OK to visit them in reverse order. In fact, it’s encouraged. On with the pranks.
There is no doubt that everyday life and the mundane nature of corporate America bores engineers to tears. This, combined with being above average in intelligence, makes for some very interesting pranks. I will share mine with you. As usual, I encourage audience participation in the form of commenting. Do share yours. I’m sure they will be appreciated.
One of the most common pranks when I was at Lambda was to walk up behind someone who was hunched over a running AC board and “clap”. The sound resembled a popping circuit component and got a rise on the order of six to eighteen inches off the lab stool.
At HP it was common to put a capacitor across an AC power strip so that it blew when turned on. One such victim had a desk lamp that he switched on every day upon entering his cubicle. When the capacitor exploded, it shorted out the entire row of cubicles. That ended the practice because at the time, computing power wasn’t what it is today. Back then, simulations slowed the computers so much that they had to be run overnight due to the time it took for convergence. The short and subsequent breaker triggering killed a night’s worth of simulations and ended the prank.
Pranks with early technology adopters were often fun. Long before lasers were equivalent to the size of an average pen, they were plug-in modules that generated the same sized light which gained very little diameter over distance. Now it’s an everyday sight however in the early 1980’s, it was an anomaly that us physics majors exploited. Our building was the last one on campus before you hit the many bars in town. We spent many a night “teasing” drunks with little red dots on the pavement. The end came when we decided to freak out the pledges for the sorority whose house stood at the base of the building. We shined the light on the pledges who nervously stood in place upon command even though the alien presence pretty much freaked them out. Problem was, the pledge mistress was my girlfriend who had “lasered” others with me on numerous occasions. She had to keep her composure and hard ass attitude while building disdain for my antics. I got ripped for that one.
Message sending also proved to be a fun prank in the early days of CRTs, terminals, and main frames. I learned how to message the individual displays in the computer room. I started messaging the other users and the pandemonium began. They immediately blamed my roommate who was of Asian descent. I messaged them the “he wasn’t the origin” of the messages. When they came to view my tube, I immediately blanked it out so they couldn’t see the messages and feigned bewilderment. I then messaged a dude to tell the babe next to him she was a hottie. It went on for an hour before I taught them all the trick.
In the early days of personal computers there were always fun things to do such as change the speed of a mouse when it was moved. This would send the mouse rocketing way across the screen rapidly while driving the user nuts. Recently there was the Facebook/YouTube video of the guys that wired a vehicle’s horn to his brake light switch. That’ll get ya shot in Houston or at the very list, might make ya have to apologize and deal with it in LA.
There was an article in a college magazine one time about an engineering school that had a senior skip day. On that day, the seniors took off for points unknown while those that remained tried to break into their rooms. This turned into quite the standoff. I also heard that the same college buried a balloon in the school’s football field only to have it pop out, fill up, and float off during half time while trailing a message in banner form. If you know of the school, it would be interesting to hear more.
My engineering pranks aren’t limited to technology. In the days of note pads and secretaries (wayyy before email), there was this pink pad of tear off sheets with preprinted lines for phone messages the secretary fielded on your behalf. We had a kind hearted, bashful young engineer who was on the religious side. I filled out a sheet for him and stuck it on his bench. The number went to the local strip joint and the message read something like “Bambi called, 2:10 PM.” I put an incorrigible signature on the bottom so he couldn’t trace it to me, a known prankster.
He called the number and asked for her only to be told, “All of the girls are dancing right now.”
He turned red when I came clean as to where the phone number was located.
I’ll end the blog here. As much as I’d like to get into dorm room pranks, I’ll leave the subject now while we are still on engineering pranks. However, the comments are yours to present. I’m sure there’s much more to be said about pranking. Feel free to enjoy these references which are more of an all-star lineup of analog engineering’s finest contributors than a list of pranks. Happy April Fool’s Day, HAFD.
- “April Fool’s Day pranks” Engineering Pop Culture!, 3/30/2012 06:46 PM EDT, Brian Bailey, Engineering Consultant & EETimes DesignLine contributing editor.
- “Remembering Bob Pease,” date unlisted, Texas Instruments website.
- “HEROES OF HARDWARE REVOLUTION: BOB WIDLAR.” April 8, 2014 by: Aleksandar Bradic.
- “Pranking bosses, friends, and competitors”, EDN website, April 01, 2011, Paul Rako.
- “What’s All This Widlar Stuff, Anyhow?”. Jun 29, 2012, First published in the July 25, 1991 issue Bob Pease | Electronic Design.