Engineering practical jokes from DesignCon 2011 in Santa Clara, Calif.
To complement the wonderful, mischievous and clever practical jokes you've sent in during the past couple of weeks, I wanted to see if we could tease out some good stories from the floor of DesignCon 2011.
Check 'em out. Lee Ritchey of Speeding Edge tells us a couple of clever ways to game the purchasing system from back in the day.
And Tiffany Frankovich sings her way into our hearts with a great prank that raises the question: Just who IS Rick Astley??
I once had a colleague back in the 1980's who was firmly convinced that electromagnetic fields were dangerous, and he worked hard to minimize his own exposure to them. Unfortunately for him, in the 1980's computer monitors were CRT's, which work by boiling electrons off a filament in the neck of the tube, attracting them towards the front of the tube via a very high positive potential, and controlling where they hit the screen via magnetic fields inside the tube. We hardware guys had tools called "degaussing coils" which generated a high alternating magnetic field to wipe away stray magnetism that would otherwise afflict the display. Well, one fine day we decided it was time to test just how sensitive this person was to magnetic fields. We waited in the hallway until he was deep into his software debugging, staring intently at his CRT, and we turned on a degaussing coil. His screen immediately went into a rolling, contorted, hideous gyration, and he followed suit, leaping from his chair, shrieking at the top of his lungs. He never even noticed us as he fled his office. Then we realized we had probably just wiped all the floppies he had on his desk, and decided it might be best not to tell him why his monitor went nuts. In any case, I doubt that we cured him of his phobia.
One of my long-ago rock-band "buddies" dipped a speaker phone plug in clear varnish. Took me a while to figure that one out. Still remember chipping the varnish off and cussing him out while he could not stop laughing.
We did that to an inconsiderate Lt who lived in my hooch in Vietnam. He would come in to the hooch after everyone else had gone to bed and turn on his stereo--without using headphones. He discovered the scotch tape while unplugging his stereo to take to the electronics repair concession. Later he went to Japan on R&R and we rewired his electrical outlets so we could switch them on and off at will. He took his stereo over to the electronics repair concession twice and they couldn't find anything wrong with it. Finally he came home during the day when we were all at work and discovered our switch. He wasn't happy, but what could a Lt do when the rest of us were Captains?
Some years ago now we had a guy on our engineering team who, despite repeated comments from the rest of the guys, NEVER cleaned out his tea mug - I mean it was just gross! So one week he goes on holiday, and we got cress seeds (like kids grow in a pot on a windowsill) and sowed them on some damp paper in the bottom of the mug. Come Friday, we had really quite a nice crop of cress growing in there...only trouble was, it turned out he was away TWO weeks not one, so by the time he got back the cress was getting rather rotten, which made a rather harsher point than we'd initially intended. It did get him to clean the mug *thoroughly* though!
Way back when I was part of a technician group at a government facility. It was a great group of guys and we had lots of fun. Occasionally as a group we would purchase donuts for the enjoyment of we hard-working souls. Everyone - except one individual - would donate a few coins toward this noble cause. Inevitably, when there was one donut left, this guy would ask to have it, free of charge of course. This happened over and over until I finally had enough of this abuse and decided to do something about it when the next dozen was purchased. Let me just say that it's quite possible to extract the creme from the inside of a donut and replace it with mustard. Facial expressions are priceless...
I love the mustard idea...However, the Australians eat one of the nastiest substances known to man, that is called "vegamite". For lack of a better description, it is a yeast paste. But that descrition falls far short of the actual taste--which will leave the average person alternating between wiping their tongue off with paper towels, and gargeling with the strongest solvent that they dare put in their mouth. So I tip my hat to your original idea, but there is rarely an idea so good, that it can't be improved on a little mit.
It's VegEmite, not vegamite, but I'd agree it is a taste usually only acquired by Australians, I get South African or English Marmite rather. Vegemite would certainly bcause alarm to someone who wasn't used to it....
All i can say is everyone in engineering deaprtment can think of some or the other incidences where purchase people have goofed up. I would say people responsible for purchase should have worked on designs at some part of their careers or atleast should be willing to discuss with design engineers if there is even a slightest doubt. I remember once instead of crystals SRAMs were bought. Imagine the price difference...and frustration...
There was a purchaser who was told by a salesman that he could supply the VCXO (voltage controlled crystal oscillator) for a PLL much cheaper than the competition and claimed that a VCXO had nothing more added to it than a digital output-enable pin. I guess this could be considered a form of "voltage control", but the purchaser was on the ball and called me to ask. Disaster avoided.
Ahhh, but the best jokes are played by engineers on salespeople....
A salesman that I worked with had a brand new three hole punch on his desk, ready for an invogorating day of collating reports and projections (i,e, nonsense.) So, after hours, I went around and gathered up the punched-out holes from other people's hole punchers (weapons of mass-chads?) and proceeded to stuff "frenchy's" brand new hole puncher, full of this detrius. Then, I spent a while hammering on the hole punch with yet more paper, ensuring it was stuffed full. Then, I wiped paper dust, finger print marks, and anything else that would reveal what the hole punch had already suffered, and returned it to its pristine box, centered upon my favorite twerp's desk.
The next morning, Monsieur Twerp proceeds with his first printed pile of papers, and savors opening the box, containing his new toy. (which, he had bullied the office manager into buying, rather than stoop to borrowing one.) After pushing in vain to get the first papers punched, he reduced the size of the stack, until he was down to only two or three sheets. First he pouts, then ponders, and then proceeds to carefully pull the plastic cover off the bottom--emptying perhaps a pound of multicolored chads into his lap. With an audience of myself, the harried office manager, and the manager that he was trying to suck up to.
Subsequent days included:
Grafting a nice chunk of Sharpie into the middle of his yellow highlighter. Adding toner dust into his whiteout, making it more of a "grey-out." Using a bead of Elmers glue, sealed the loose edges of his post-it pad, resulting in a "post-it-cube". Puting Bostich staples, into his Stanley stapler. Paintiing the tips of his ball-point pens and pencils with a nice grade of marine varnish. Grinding a flat spot on each wheel of his fancy office chair--another thing the office manager was bullied into buying for him.
I once worked with a business development manager who liked to listen to a hard rock radio station in his office on the other side of the wall from the lab. We had an RF generator with an FM modulation feature. I hooked up a small loop "antenna" to the generator output, then hooked a boom-box speaker output to the RF generator's modulation input. After inserting a CD, I powered the rig up and tuned to the appopriate RF frequency. All of a sudden, the biz dev guy's favorite radio station switched from hard rock to a Hungarian folk music format.
Another bit of fun involved taking the flash unit out of a disposable camera, mounting it behind the "message waiting" light in the engr. manager's phone, and running a wire so we could trip it from down the hall. We would set it off once or twice a day, at random times, illuminating his whole cube in brilliant white light. That went on for about two weeks with the manager getting progressively more concerned about his mental health, until one day we set it off when he happened to be looking right at it. Gig up.
Nice ones. Your RF one reminds me of my first job - installing 2-way radios in vehicles in the Police radio workshops in Harare in Zimbabwe. (Come to think of it it was Salisbury in Rhodesia in those days...) Anyway there was a rather cute policewoman who was always in and out of the yard. So whenever she drove in or out, we'd put a dummy load on our radio, ensuring it could be picked up by her but no-one else outside about 100 yards range, and talk to her - a mix of "Welcome back, beautiful!", "Bye, come back soon" and other flirty comments. She eventually found us out, but took it very well. I even went out with her a couple of times after that...thinks...wonder where she is now....
In the early days of personal computers, a programme was available whic was triggered by a random sequence of letters. When triggered, it put on the screen something like: "Do you really want to format Drive C: Y/N". It didn't matter what you pressed, the result was always "Formatting Drive C:" and the hard disk light would come on indefinitely. It didn't format anything but the alarm and consternation was something to behold!
In the early days of LANs, there was a Macintosh program called "BSoD" for "blue screen of death"
One could use it to send a ping to a windoze computer which would promptly crash the receiving PC.
Once you knew the IP address of the victims PC, always a sales guy.
Our manager commandeered the company van, our vehicle for picking up supplies and parts, for his own personal use. In addition, he had the company paying for his apartment while using the van as his taxi. Things got mysteriously smelly in that van as he drove it back and forth. A generous amount of fish emulsion oil, the liquid fertilizer you get from the nursery, was squirted inside the door panels, under the driver's seat, and graciously allowed to ferment in the summer heat.
Designers of embedded systems need to test and troubleshoot designs by looking at both digital and analog signals, and the analog representations of digital signals. ESC Boston is the place to see mixed-signal oscilloscopes in action.