Marks & Spensive

Sometimes, the opportunity arises to troll the real world. And these opportunities are too good to miss. Earlier this week, I found myself in Marks & Spencer, buying some food and wine for a “carpet picnic”-and-Angel date-night-in with Ruth.

The grand total at the checkout came to £26.38: I’d precalculated this and was ready: as the number came up on the checkout I handed over a “£5 off when you spend £25” voucher, and a £20 M&S gift card.

“That’ll be… £1.38,” said the assistant, as I packed my shopping into a bag. Behind me, a young couple had joined the queue, behind me, and had clearly overheard the price. The looked stunned.

Naturally, then, I made sure that they saw the wine, the cakes, the fruit, the bread products, and everything else as I carefully loaded it all into the bag. “£1.38, wasn’t it?” I asked, as if I were double-checking, reaching into my wallet.

Catching the gaze of the shoppers behind me, as if I’d only just noticed them, I spoke to them as the cashier counted out my change. “It’s a great special offer, this one,” I said, “All of this for £1.38. Bargain!”

And then picked up my bag and left, watching the gobsmacked couple as they tried to work out how I’d managed to get 95% off the value of my shopping. Delightful.

It’s the little things, really.

Best April Fools Pranks 2011

Ah, it’s that time of year again. Here’s a quick round-up of some of my favourite pranks on the web this April Fools’ Day:

  • ThinkGeek can always be relied upon for a good April Fools’, and this year is no exception. Of their prank products, my favourite is clearly the Anti-3D glasses, which completely filter out the left channel from 3D movies, allowing you to watch them in 2D.
  • Geocachers amongst you might be pleased by the Nano Alarm container, which sounds a high-pitched alarm when a human body comes near it, making it easier to find. Actually, I’d have found it a more-amusing prank if they’d claimed it detects interference in GPS signals caused by a nearby GPS receiver.
  • An article on IPv4.5 claims that we ran out of IPv4 addresses completely this morning and, with IPv6 still far from fully-deployed, we’re having to implement IPv4.5 as an emergency measure. IPv4.5 shares IP adddresses between people at opposite sides of the globe, giving priority to those on the “day” side, so there’s a slight risk that some traffic might be mis-directed… but it’ll only be by nocturnal websurfers who are probably just on Facebook or Twitter anyway.
  • EddEgg launches The Secret of the Isle of Monkey, (a parody of The Secret of Monkey Island) and it’s fabulous: far too much work went into this little April Fools’.
  • I’ve found Gay Monopoly on BoardGameGeek, and I’m not sure if it’s a joke or not… BoardGameGeek’s already an April Fools in which they become search engine “Geekdo” (try searching for “Catan”… or any other board game… on it). The photos of Gay Monopoly look remarkably believable, but it’s hard to take anything seriously today.
  • The Pirate Bay has become The Pirat eBay, and has released a blog post claiming that they bought the rights to eBay on eBay and have since re-branded.
  • Google are well known for their April Fools’ Day pranks, and there are a good number of fantastic ones this year, but my favourite is GMail Motion, motion-sensitive controls based on body movements by which you can interact with your email. Well-worth a look.

Have a great April Fools Day! Play a prank on somebody for me. And, if you don’t want to get caught out yourself, why not install the Do Not Fool add-on for Firefox, which passes a Do-Not-Fool header to every web site you visit, requesting that the site does not display to you any prank content but only genuine pages.

Wrong Number

My phone rings. I answer.

Me: Hello?
Caller: Hello. Is that Mr. Wilburn.
Me: Steve Wilburn?
Caller: Yes.
Me: I’m afraid I don’t know anybody by that name.

My, she was confused when I knew the name of the person she wanted to get in touch with, and then claimed not to know them! I’d had a call the previous week from the same number, and the caller then had asked for Steve before identifying him by his full name.

If I get another call, I fully intend to cut out the “checking that they’re looking for ‘Steve'” part of the conversation and just state that I don’t know a Steve Wilburn. They’ll get the hint eventually.

And Steve? If you’re out there, mate – somebody wants you. I have no idea who they are… but then, I have no idea who you are, either. But if you could let them know the correct number to reach you on, that’d be appreciated. Ta.

Dan’s April Fools’ Jokes This Year

After JTA and I’s monster plan for a great April Fools’ joke got rained-off this year (maybe another year), I just had to go ahead with two smaller April Fools’ gags this year.

The Photocopier Prank (click for full-size)

The Photocopier Prank

A nice simple joke at the expense of the people in the office building I work in (and far less complex than last year’s prank against the same): I found a document online, printed it out, and stuck it to the photocopiers.

It instructs users that the photocopier has been upgraded with voice controls, so you can just “tell it” to copy, collate, staple etc. and it’ll follow your instructions. The document goes on to explain that it’s in “learning mode” right now and it might not get everything right while it learns your voice, so be patient and take the time to repeat yourself slowly and carefully.

I haven’t got eyes on the copier, so I’ve no idea how many – if any – people it caught.

The Abnib Announce/Joke Of The Week Prank

For the last few years, I’ve run two a text-message based mailing lists (I’ve got unlimited texts as part of my mobile contract, so it’s as-good-as free for me to do this). The first, Abnib Announce, lets people in Aber know about Troma Night, Geek Night, and similar events. The second, Joke of the Week, goes to a far wider audience and shares, every Friday, the best (by a loose and arguable definition of the word) of the jokes I’ve heard over the previous seven days.

This morning I sent out the following message to both lists:

Abnib Announce/Joke of the Week Update:

Bad news, everyone. My network has been in touch to say that running these regular bulk SMS lists is a violation of their Fair Use agreement, so I can’t run them from my “free texts” package any more. The good news is they’ve offered an alternative. These lists will now become subscription-based SMS services. This will cost you no more than 15p per message received, and a maximum of £1 per week (so £2 per week if you’re on both lists). I’m supposed to ask for your permission before subscribing your number, but I know you’ll all agree anyway. If for some reason you DON’T want to continue receiving Joke of the Week or Abnib Announce at 15p per message, please text me back BEFORE the first message, this afternoon. Ta!

I’ve had a handful of great responses, so far, including:

  • Nice try.x
  • Them: The rotters, what a bargain, keep the jokes coming please sir
    Me: Seriously? When I made up those prices this April Fools’ Day I should have put them higher!
    Them: Hahaha, got me, first one too. Love to the crew
  • Halfway through a serious response to this i remembered what day it is…
  • April fool?
  • Totally not falling for that, sorry! Happy April Fools
  • Them: Hey dan. Sorry i cant do that on my phone as my mum Pays my contract
    Me: Happy April Fools’!
    Them: Hee.very good
  • Them: I dont want to pay thanks. I have enough problems with arguing with orange over my phone bill at the minute, thanks. Hope you are good.
    Me: April Fools’!
    Them: Is it april already?! Damn i fell for it again! Nice one :-)
  • Them: Take me off the lists please! Ill get info from [other subscriber] and jokes from sickipedia
    Me: Tell you what: because it’s you I’ll negotiate with your network: you’re on Orange, right? I’ve kidnapped the dog of the CEO of Orange; I’m pretty sure I can get him to waive the charges in your case.
    Them: Is vodaphone, and their ceo only has a parrot and 5 fish.
    Me: =op
  • Them: Im confused, if its 15p per message why is it £2 a week?
    Me: NO MORE THAN £2 a week (well, £1 per week per list). So 4 Joke Of The Week messages would be 60p, 8 would be £1, 20 would be £1. Remember that it’s usually a multipart message spanning 4/5 messages each week. Full terms and conditions apply.
    Them: Lol, sounds confusing, being a poor student i’ll have to pass i think, though i’ll miss moaning at your messages ;-)
    Me: Really? You’re actually going? And, even more unbelievably, you’re actually falling for this obvious April Fools’ gag?
    Me: Gotcha ;-)
    Them: Yup and yup lol :-P
  • Happy April Fools day!
  • Them: oh arse, i can’t as i don’t pay the phone bill. is it possible for you to put them online?
    Me: April Fools’, dummy!
  • Lol, good one. Did you manage to snare anyone?
  • Them: Textin back.no joke
    Me: Gotcha! April Fools’.

Man, I love this day of the year.

My April Fools

I’ve always had a thing for big, overcomplicated April Fools’ gags. Traditionally, we’d always play pranks on Penbryn Halls at the University, but it’s not so easy these days to gain access to halls of residence, now that they’ve installed door locks that don’t open by themselves when you so much as breathe hard on them, so I thought it was time to broaden my sights.

I work for a company based in the Aberystwyth Technium on the marina. A few weeks ago, the Technium management had arranged for the installation of a new fence and automatic car park barriers, to allow the building to better control who has access to the offices’ car parking spaces (car parking spaces being a particularly valuable commodity in Aberystwyth). These barriers haven’t come online yet, but apparently they will “soon” (which is regional-government-speak for “someday, maybe”).

Car Parking Gates at the Aberystwyth Technium

Early on the morning of 1st April, I put out an e-mail to all resident companies at the Technium, spoofed so that it appeared to come from Technium management and emulating their writing style and the way that they typically send out bulk messages to the tenants.

Annwyl pawb ,

The key fobs for the new car park barrier system need to be ordered via an online application form . The application needs to be filled in as your key fobs will be uniquely linked to your vehicle.

The application form is only available online at http://www.techniumnetwork.info/aberystwyth/carparking/

Once you have applied, central office will send out the key fobs to us in a week or two. Please fill in the form as soon as possible so that the key fobs all arrive at the same time.

Diolch

Sion

Sion Meredith
Gweithredydd Technium Aberystwyth
Technium Aberystwyth Executive

<snip>

The techniumnetwork.info domain name is one that I’d picked up the day before for the best part of 49p on a special offer with a registrar – the real Technium website is at www.technium.co.uk, but I figured that people wouldn’t pay attention to the domain name: even the tenants here probably don’t spend much time, if any at all, on the Technium website. I stole the stylesheet and layout for the official website and adapted it to my purposes: there’s a mirror up now at http://techniumnetwork.scatmania.org/aberystwyth/carparking/ if you want to see for yourself.

Spoof website for the car parking key fob scam

The site begins by looking like a genuine application form, asking for all of the key details – your personal and company information, basic details of your car – and slowly starts over many, many pages of forms to ask sillier and sillier questions. “What colour is your car?” is a drop-down with “Red” and “Other” as the only options. “What noise does your car make?” is accompanied by options like “Vroom!” and “Brum-brum.” Later questions ask whether or not your car is capable of transforming into a giant robot and challenge you to correctly identify road signs that have been altered in comedic ways.

The trick worked, and many of the tenants were fooled… some of them well-past the point at which they should have thought the form was genuine; and almost all of them believed, even when they realised that the form was a joke, that it had been set up by the Technium themselves. It was only when one tenant decided to pass a copy of the e-mail on to the real Sion Meredith that the building management heard anything about it, and, sadly, put a stop to it by sending out an e-mail to say that it was all a joke, and not one by them.

After he’d worked out it was me that was behind it… I’d taken steps to make it obvious to anybody who bothered to check up on it, so as to maximise the understanding that it was, in the end, just a joke: the last thing I wanted was some humourless bureaucrat to see this gag (which did, of course, involve feigning the identity of a government employee) as a terrorist threat or something …he got his own back, though. He came up to my office at a few minutes to midday to inform me that he’s had to pass on my details to the Technium legal team, and he managed to make my heart skip a beat before I realised that he, too, was just having a joke.

A selection of feedback so far on the gag after I sent out a “gotcha” e-mail to everybody affected:

  • “Way too much time on your hands………” – Aled, thinkplay.tv
  • “You have far too much time on your hands but it was very amusing!!” – Kayt, MapAnalysis

  • “When I realised it was an April Fool I did look at the email address and questioned it but didn’t think [it could be spoofed]! Must be because I’m a technical dumb ass!” – George, MapAnalysis

  • “Dan, Sion was serious [about the legal team], when he popped his head round the door at 11.45 he had some documents in his hand.” – Nic, Angle Technology

  • “When did you find time to make this, then?” – Simon, SmartData

I had to leave the room when it first started to catch Simon out: I heard him phoning his wife to ask for a reminder of their cars’ number plates and had to excuse myself so as not to give the game away with my girlish giggling.

So, that was all good, and far more successful than my backup plan which involved passing on missed call messages to co-workers to ask them to return a call to Rory Lyons at Captive Audience on 01244 380280. The number is actually the number for Chester Zoo: I so very nearly made some of the people I work with unwittingly call up Chester Zoo on the morning of April 1st and ask, “Can I speak to Rory Lyons, please?” It’s a good prank, anyway – I’ll save it for another time: or if you want to give it a go (it doesn’t even have to be April Fools’ Day, with a great joke like that), let me know how you get on!

Paul And Claire Are Almost As Guillable As Bryn

[this post was lost during a server failure on Sunday 11 July 2004; it was finally (partially) recovered on 12 October 2018]

Unable to find our corkscrew and wishing to open a bottle of wine, Paul and Claire had tried all kinds of tricks to dig out – or at least push right in – the cork, but with no success. When they weren’t looking, I used a screwdriver wrapped in a tea-towel to push the cork through. Then, with a marvellous bit of slight-of-hand, said that I’d seen somebody remove one by air pressure before, and slapped the top of the bottle, hard: then, looking almost surprised that it worked, showed them the bottle with the cork bobbing around on the surface of the wine.

Not for a moment did Paul or Claire suspect that I’d removed the cork by any other means than by striking the top of the bottle. How strong do they think I am? By my reckoning, to use something as relatively flat as a hand to produce enough air pressure to push a cork into a wine bottle would probably take sufficient force that the wine bottle itself would be likely to break.

Better than that, they then went on – I overheard – to explain my feat to Bryn when he appeared with the corkscrew he had …

Practical Joke Of The Week

Am pulling off a fantastic one against my girlfriend, Claire. On Friday, our landlord arrived with a plumber to replace the leaky taps in our bathroom. The new taps are very similar in design, but significantly taller. I didn’t tell Claire that we have them.

Yesterday – Saturday – night, after washing her hands, she remarked “This is going to sound really wierd… but have those taps changed?” I played it cool – after all, these were the same taps we’ve always had, aren’t they? She keeps looking at them in an odd way every time she walks past the bathroom.

Claire’s birthday tomorrow.

April Fools Day

April Fools Day has always been an oppertunity for me to get back at the ineffective dickheads that are the management of Penbryn Hall at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. This year was no exception. Building upon the success of my last big prank, Penbryn-Hall.co.uk, a spoof ‘official’ site which almost got me expelled from the hall, this year I worked with Kit, Bryn and Claire in order to cause yet more chaos.

We had a plan in mind already, but when Penbryn sent out the following message on the internal e-mail system, we couldn’t help but pounce on an oppertunity:

From: Eiryls Evans <eee@aber.ac.uk>
Date: 28/03/2003 13:46
To: hall-penb-4@aber.ac.uk
Subject: Re: Maintenance Checks

Dear Student

On Tuesday 1st and Wednesday 2nd April, Mark and I will be doing a maintenance inspection in student rooms.

This will involve checking for repairs and lights which are not working.
We will be starting in Block 1 at 10.30 am

If you have any problems e.g. desk lamp not working and would like a new bulb, please call at Reception.

Margaret Woodliff
Deputy Manager

A few things immediatley stand out in this e-mail. One is that the name at the bottom is not the same name as the person it appears to come from. A second is that it is not provided in Welsh, and is therefore in contravention of the University’s billingual policy…

…the third, and stupidest of the lot, is that they arranged to do room inspections on the first of April.

So, we thought… all we have to do is spread some more convincing (not difficult, considering) counter-publicity, stating that this e-mail was actually a student prank, and that there will not be any room inspections after all. We could even go so far as to state that we suspect that this e-mail may be the prelude to an attempt to gain unauthorised access to student’s study bedrooms. Mayhem in the making.

We came up with a poster that expressed pretty much this, and stuck copies up all over the hall. And it worked! People were absolutely convinced that our posters were real and the real e-mail was the hoax. In the end, the management had to spend their Sunday walking round from room-to-room knocking on student’s doors and assuring them that the e-mail was the genuine article. Oh; how I laughed.

The poster is available to download as an Adobe Acrobat file, below.

Download The Poster
Adobe Acrobat (PDF); 22KB.
The actual poster which was put up around Penbryn Hall for April Fools Day 2003.

AvAngel.com Censorship Lifted

After a bit of a battle between Information Services at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and I, resulting in the semipermanent blocking of the Unversity’s right to see www.penbryn-hall.co.uk, and the temporary blocking of AvAngel.com (Woohoo! I’m officially censored by the University), access to the site from the University’s network is now re-opened. Thanks to everybody who gave me the support I needed to go and tell them where to shove it…

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #55:

In a fit of inspiration, after people keep on coming in to your room, in particular the guy in the room next door, and wiggling the cord of your wind chimes, much to your irratation, threaten that next time they do it, you may well have covered the cord with some unpleasant bodily excretion, and *that’ll* show ’em. Knowing that the greatest culprit is likely to come in and do so at any moment, dip the entire cord into a bottle of baby oil, and watch the shock and horror on their face as they grab hold of it, only to find their hand covered in a sticky, semitransparent white substance. “What is it?” they ask, in terror.
“Guess,” you respond, slyly. Hide your laughter and refrain from telling them what it really was until they’ve spent about half an hour washing their hands… Let’s see them play with your windchimes ever again!

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.

Cool Thing Of The Day

Cool And Interesting Thing Of The Day To Do At The University Of Wales, Aberystwyth, #24:

Take a pillow to a lecture. =o)

The ‘cool and interesting things’ were originally published to a location at which my “friends back home” could read them, during the first few months of my time at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, which I started in September 1999. It proved to be particularly popular, and so now it is immortalised through the medium of my weblog.