Getting tricksy

Jeff Atwood reminds us of the consequences of tricksters taking advantage of unlocked computers, including installation of the joke Clippy, which pops up Office 97-style, but more annoyingly.

It reminds me of some of the tricks I used to play in my youth (well, my early career), back in the days of Windows 3.1.

  • Change the screensaver to call up Calculator, or Notepad, every few seconds (I wonder if you can still do this)
  • Change the mouse buttons, or the sensitivity on the X and Y axes — one really fast, one really slow
  • That old favourite, putting a desktop full of icons on as a background image, so you couldn't click the icons (significant in Windows 3.1 when minimised programs sat as icons on the desktop)
  • Swapping keyboards or monitors with computer next door
  • Swapping individual keys on the keyboard over (didn't work for touch typists)
  • Spoofing a frequently-used icon to look like it had sent an abusive message to all the network users (followed by another colleague tapping the victim on the shoulder and saying the boss wanted to see him in her office).
  • Emails advising of an imminent audit of pirated software (this caused a rapid deletion of files before anybody could stop the victim).

Low-tech tricks worked too. The pisstake-de-resistance was one morning putting a notice on a late colleague's desk to advise him that he'd been moved to elsewhere in the building. (This was met with an accepting “Oh.” and shuffled departure.)

The scary thing is that all of the above tricks were tried on one person, and he fell for them every time.


4 thoughts on “Getting tricksy

  1. Chris Till

    I used to like editing their WIN.INI file on the network (Windows 3.1 would be installed in two halves, part on the system and part on the network in a primitive form of roaming profile) – I’d bump up their volume to 10, set their ringin to be horse.wav, and then use winchat to quickly ring their PC once and then quickly hang up… undo the WIN.INI changes and sit back and watch the user in absolute shock that their computer just loudly and randomy neighed at them… how delightfully primitive!

    Or when Chicago (Win95 beta) introduced the concept of the RSM (Romovable Storage Manager)… remotely manage the service and issue an eject and inject command to the user’s CD drive… again the pleasure of watching someone utterly confused as their CD drive opens and closes its draw all by itself… 😉

    Of course the things we can do now… mwahahahaha…. to say nothing of, no matter how many patches are applied, how easy it is to remotely BSOD a Windows box… bwahaha!!! Hmmmm… 🙁

  2. Ben

    A more modern one that I just heard about today is to stick a small piece of paper over the led/laser on a persons mouse. Apparently it happened to a guy at work a little while ago.

  3. Titel

    I used to have a blast in college with the HP/Dell workstations with Intel GMA on-board video. Ctrl-Alt-Down Arrow only needs a second and (usually) flips the image upside down. It’s meant as a keyboard shortcut for rotating displays (Ctrl-Alt-Right, or Ctrl-Alt-Left should work too) or ceiling mounted beamers (Ctrl-Alt-Down). Sit back and enjoy the person going nuts over trying to fix it: 1) they have no idea how to, and 2) if they do figure out they need to use the Intel icon in the system tray, moving the mouse cursor on an upside-down screen is a PITA. Before they burst in tears, put them out of their misery with Ctrl-Alt-Up Arrow.

    I caught the early years of Internet and desktop computing in highschool – the computer lab didn’t have enough PCs for each student in the class, so we had to get there early and share. That’s when me and a colleague wrote a TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident to non-geeks) program in Turbo Pascal. We placed it on 2 PCs in the back, hidden under an inconspicuous name in Windows 3.1 folder and loading in autoexec.bat. It would trigger randomly between 1 and 5 minutes, reading the entire video memory regardless of the video mode and writing back the average of red, green and blue bytes for each pixel, effectively turning the image black&white in DOS and even Windows 3.1. Professors and colleagues thought the PCs were broken and avoided them, so my friend and I had no problems finding available PCs for ourselves. Obviously, there was a key combination to turn off the TSR 🙂

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