My favorite pranks: Dave as network tormentor
In the mid-late 90’s I worked for the nascent internet division of a communications company that owned small market television stations and newspapers. I actually helped found that division. This was in the dark days of the Macintosh, before Jobs came back, when their product was really starting to fall behind windows, when their product line ballooned to the point where I think they had a different model number for every potential customer, and (for a while), when they were still trying to charge $99 for the tcp/ip stack you needed to connect macs to the internet over a network (!!! – I can admit this now, I never paid, I considered it a ripoff and pirated it for everyone. Within a couple years they did the right thing and provided it as part of the OS). Anyway despite all these troubles we were a mac-only shop largely due to my efforts, and I sat in the middle of a networked web of 20-30 macs. This was also back when networks in an office were novel, and the PC guys from the parent company still didn’t have any of the PC’s networked.
One downside to being at the center of this hub of macs was that I was tech support for everyone. Macs used to crash at the drop of a hat or if you, say, sneezed while clicking the mouse, or most famously to me at the time, if you connected to the internet using pop3, disconnected, then reconnected. But I digress. The long and short of it was this was a huge pain in the ass, and I was supporting a lot of non-computer savvy folks. Mac’s ease of use actually worked against me in this circumstance, because any of the fool salespeople could download stuff like, say, a doohickey which would put candy canes all around the edges of their screens, but then their machines would crash, I would show up like the grinch and remove all their third party addon crap, reboot the machine, and viola, problem solved. Usually.
The problem was this lead to a sort of adversarial relationship with the staff – everyone loved their third party crap, macs crashed no matter what you did, and though my methods had the best of intentions and were generally effective at reducing the frequency of crashes, folks began to resent it.
Factor in my sense of humor and a little known and poorly documented feature of Appletalk (mac’s built in networking) back in the day and you get a long running series of my some of my favorite pranks. See, there was a method you could use to send a message directly to the screen of any of the macs on the network, which would pop up on the target mac in a box that looked very much like the standard mac crash/error dialog box. So, say you’re sitting there typing one day and suddenly this error pops up:
Keystroke Frequency error: 1094
Keyboard input exceeding buffer tolerance. Reduce keystroke frequency.
Mouse accelerometer malfunction: 0xAE EEE3
Mouse controller maximum input velocity exceeded. Reduce excessive speed of mouse movement.
CDROM tray lubrication deficiency: EEE3
Lubrication sensors indicate primary cdrom bay controller issue. To confirm this error please execute an open/close cycle on the primary CDROM drive 10 times. If error message persists, see technical support.
Revenge for dumb tech support help requests is a dish best served cold but with an opportunity for laughter was my theory. Call me into your office for the 3rd time because the solitaire game you were playing instead of working crashed your laptop again? OK, I’m going to the well for the third time with some ridiculous error message sent your way that’ll have you in my office trying to explain why you think your keyboard (on a laptop) needs replacing, or asking me for CDROM grease, or whatever. I had dozens of these.
So yeah, I was pretty much the BOFH in some ways but there was an undercurrent of humor to it and I still laugh to think of these to this day.