Pranks I have known

For that last couple of days, people on the LUGOR (Linux Users Group of Rochester) have been trading back and forth screen shots showing their particular setups. (Oh, and they’ve all been smart enough to put the screen shots on a web site somewhere and just emailing the URL – thanks, guys.) But that got me thinking about something that happened over 10 years ago.

Back then, not very many of us had internet access at home, except maybe dial-up to a unix host or PC-BBS. So three of us privileged enough to have it were IRCing. I think at the time I was at home in Ottawa, dialed into work at Gandalf Data Systems and using ‘screen’ to tunnel a network connection, but I could be wrong about that. The other two culprits were Dean Englehardt in Australia, and Matt Welsh in Syracuse NY. Anway, we had all done a “xhost +” in order to allow each one of us to grab a screen shot of the other person’s computer (and other stuff – like xbounce and xmelt to do fun things to the other person’s computer). But when I grabbed a screen shot off of Dean’s computer, it was obvious that he’d grabbed a screen shot of Matt’s first, and made that his background. So my screenshot had Dean’s windows on top of Matt’s, and being a screen shot it wasn’t abundantly clear whose windows were whose. So, never being one to hesitate to belabour a joke, I made that multiple screen shot my background, and invited Dean and Matt to take another screen shot of my computer. Once they had, I was fiddling around and discovered that there was a real tendency to try to click on window decorations and handles on these phoney windows to activate, iconify, or resize them.

Flash forwards a few years, and that experience became the basis of a prank that I used a few times on different people. What you do is take a screen shot of somebody’s computer, and then make that their background, and then either hide or iconify the real windows. The person comes up to their screen and sees nothing amiss, but they can’t do anything with the windows – can’t type in them, move them, or close them. The usual reaction seems to be ‘hey, my mouse is broken”.

Ok, it’s not high comedy or high art, but it can help pass the time. Don’t tell me you’ve never been that bored that this seemed like a good idea. You’re reading blogs, so we both know that isn’t true.

5 thoughts on “Pranks I have known”

  1. Ha, I just about got kicked out of journalism for doing just that in high school. “Why can’t I click on Word? Why can’t I close this window!??”

    Then there was the day I took a screen shot of the “format this disk?” dialog box, erased the “Cancel” button, and made it the startup screen on the Mac Plus. That was also a very popular move. Heh.

  2. I can’t remember if it was a prank or a virus, but I remember something on the Mac Plus that popped up a dialog where you *definitely* wanted to hit cancel, but if you tried to mouse over cancel, the window would “run away” from your cursor. If you were really really careful you could trap the window in the corner so that it couldn’t get away.
    Fortunately hitting “ok” didn’t do any actual harm.

  3. Oh yeah, that was a little program that you could run. The one I saw popped up what looked like a system error dialog (“I’m sorry, a system error has occurred.”) where the Restart button would flee from the cursor. You could actually quit it with command-Q, I eventually discovered…

  4. It must be prank day. I was forwarded this, which I love.

    One of the best pranks I have ever heard of was done by friends-of-a-friend at a small private college.
    They got hold of three sheep and painted 1, 2 and 4 on their sides, then turned them loose.
    The authorities searched for Sheep #3 for a week before anyone confessed.

  5. A slightly more malicious prank, I wrote a “login screen emulator” in Turbo Pascal at college.

    Looked exactly like our standard Netware login screen, but instead of logging you in, it saved your username and password to my home directory (encrypted, naturally), displayed a phoney error message, and rebooted the box.

    Fooled pretty much everyone, students and staff alike. I still have the list of logins somewhere…

    I’m a nice hacker these days though, honestly!

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