Adam: Hello, this is CoRecursive and I’m Adam Gordon Bell. Today on April 1st, 2014, something interesting happened. Hacker News moderator Dan G, or dang, he made the following post.
Challenge: Keep lame April Fools’ jokes off the front page.
Most April Fools’ gags are lame. Only the very best ones that show some sort of ingenuity deserve attention. I propose that we, or rather you, flag these jokes so they don’t end up on the front page.
Dang wasn’t the first person to complain about the lameness of tech company April Fools’ Day jokes, but I think to the various developers and tech company people hanging out on Hacker News, dang’s statement was a really big one. It kind of marked the end of this era of companies dropping these big jokes on April Fools’.
So today in our first This Day in History Segment, I want to share some of history not just of April Fools’, but of tech pranks in general, all leading up to that sort of cancellation statement by dang, and even right up to today actually.
Why were pranks and April Fools’ jokes traditionally celebrated in tech, and why are they now considered as dang said, “lame?” That’s today’s question. And here to talk about those pranks, I have my frequent co-host and developer extraordinaire, possible neighbor, Don McKay, and also my favorite PhD candidate and mathematician, Krystal Maughan. Why don’t you guys say hello?
Lame or Fun?
Krystal: Hi, I’m happy to be here!
Don: Hello. I would challenge your assumption that they died on that day. I think we very much still see them today and they’re just as an annoying today as they were in 2014.
Krystal: I really like them because for me, getting into tech in general was through things like Hackerspaces and DEFCON, maybe some of these jokes flop, but when they’re great, they’re really funny. That’s kind of the creative technical side of tech. And I think that those kind of things should be encouraged as long as they’re not necessarily malicious.
Don: But yeah, they’re fun and lighthearted. That’s the goal, but the reality is that everybody tries to do it and not everybody’s good at it. So you have to spend the whole day sorting through what you think is real and what you think is just a joke. It becomes overhead. The good that it brings does not outweigh the damage that it does.
Adam: So this is fun because I’m going to tell you guys this history, but you guys are on opposite sides of this issue, where Krystal’s like, “These are awesome. This makes tech people into humans, not just efficiency robots.” And Don’s like, “Whatever, man.”
Don: If you need a day to make yourself human, then you’ve probably failed.
Steve Wozniak - 1969
Adam: So we start in 2014. So in 2014, dang, very much coming from a Don perspective. He’s like, “Listen, I don’t want these things all over my news page. This isn’t news.” But April Fools’ pranks are like an old tradition. In fact, April Fools’ goes way back, predating tech companies and engineering departments. But I don’t really care about that.
I want to talk just about the engineering/coding side of it. For me, the guy who started it all off was Steve Wozniak from Apple computers. He goes by Woz, because there was two Steves. So, one was Jobs and one was Woz. He just loved pranks. And in fact, he met Steve Jobs because his friend said, “Oh, you should meet this guy, Steve Jobs, he also likes pranks.”
In 1969, he went to university and he built a VHF jammer. So he built a small box that had a switch, and if you flicked it, it would block the VHS signals by just making noise. Pretty sure this is totally illegal. This is the thing that the FTC warns you about, but that’s what he did, so he would go into the TV lounge at his university when people are watching TV and then when somebody would get up or move, he would flip the switch and the channel would go out of focus. And then that person would be like, “Oh, no, I’m interfering with the antenna somehow.”
So they would freeze in place and then he would flip the switch back off, and the channel would go back down, and he would just be sitting in the back of the room while people watched TV, just chuckling quietly to himself. At some point, he had some guy holding his hands up above his head because he thought that was the only way he could get the TV to focus, because Woz kept flipping the switch back and forth. I just think that’s hilarious.
You can just imagine he’s just quietly chuckling to himself making these people do ridiculous things in a buildup to a big gotcha moment. “It’s me. I have this button.” So I think that he’s the patron saint of tech pranks. He’s been doing them since the 60s, and whenever you pull a really good spirited prank, I think that you’re temporarily embodying this 1960s Woz, who I assume has spent hours over a soldering gun building this VHF thing. And I think that tech pranks can’t be all totally lame because then you’re saying Steve Wozniak is lame, and he’s just a hilarious, weird guy.
Krystal: I don’t know. There’s the corporate side of engineering and then there’s the prank side, which still allows you to have that joy, so even if you’re burning out or you feel like, “I loved programming,” or, “I loved doing this stuff, but I don’t know if I want to do it forever,” but the joy of being able to pull pranks I think brings that back in little ways.
Adam: Yeah. It just makes it fun. It’s just being a human. Steve Wozniak was really motivated by just doing these weird things, and they weren’t all funny, but they were all just like, “Oh, this would be cool if I stuck these things together,” or yeah, the blue box. Jobs and Woz built these machines for making free long-distance phone calls.
Don: It’s a victimless crime if you’re outwitting the phone company.
Adam: Except for the phone company.
Don: Well, the phone company is not a person. It’s a group of people and they post record profits every year. So if I can make a free phone call, it’s probably not going to hurt anybody.
Adam: So that’s 1969. We’re moving through history. In 1977, this is the next notable prank. Also, Steve Wozniak, Woz was finished university. He had met Jobs. He had done all these blue boxes. They had built the Apple I computer kit. They were part of this home brew computer club. They built the Apple II, an actual commercial product. They had investors, that this big thing that was going to happen for them was called the West Coast Computer Fair. Steve Jobs was going to announce their Apple II.
It was the big event that was going to change everything, so it was a huge moment for Apple. But what Woz did is he went and he created a flyer for a fake rival computer company, for a computer that was way more powerful than the Apple II. And in fact, made them look bad, and he called it the Zaltair. So he made this flyer, he typed up all the lame marketing language. He printed out thousands of them, spent a lot of money printing out all these flyers, handed them all out at the trade show while nobody was looking to make sure they didn’t see it was him.
And he just thought this was hilarious and then Steve Jobs got one, and was freaking out. This computer’s better than ours, but he’s like, “Oh, maybe we’ll still sell, because we’re better on these certain things.” And while Steve and the other people at Apple were freaking out, Woz was just holding in his laughter, because this computer didn’t exist, and he was just laughing hysterically to himself. The commitment is kind of huge. He printed out thousands of flyers. He had to probably go to a printing place, and get them to all lay it out.
So on the flyer, he put the name of a real computer company called MITS, which made the Altair, so it made it seem kind of real. And then people started to ask them about the computer and they were like, “Oh, well, we don’t really know about it.” And then people started to phone in to order it and they couldn’t get this computer and he didn’t say like, “I got you.” He just kept it quietly to himself for years. But on Steve Jobs’ birthday years later, when Apple was a successful company, he framed up the flyer and wrapped it up and gave it to him as a gift.
And then Steve Jobs unwrapped it and I assumed was like, “Why are you giving me an old flyer?” And then what I assumed what happened is Woz just broke out hysterically laughing, and then slowly in Jobs’ head, he rewinded and thought like, “Oh, he got me years ago.” We were all freaking out about this fake competitor that was going to crush us.
Don: He was playing the long game.
Adam: Yeah. It was the super long game. For years. I just imagine for years, probably as he was laying in bed, falling asleep, he would occasionally think of that prank he pulled and how he didn’t tell them it was a joke yet and just burst out laughing. This isn’t like we do it on April 1st. And then on April 2nd, we say, “Gotcha.” I’m going to do this for years.
Don: Yeah. That’s not an April Fools’ joke. That’s just a prank that he invested in.
Adam: But I think that this tradition of engineers doing funny pranks, this is where the tech April Fools’ jokes come from. This is where they were born, I guess.
JPL Easter Eggs
Krystal: Yeah. The NASA scientists do a lot of those pranks as well. I was reading about some of the earlier ones, the fake cockroach in space, that they put out and they’re like, “Oh my goodness, a cockroach got into to a spacecraft,” and was like, “No, it was a fake one.” JPL did this thing where they were building the Mars Rover, because they built a lot of robotic spacecraft in JPL, which is a jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena. And they hid on the wheels the letters JPL in Morse Code.
Krystal: So that when the Rover was traveling on the Martian terrain, you would see JPL. Supposedly when the other main NASA office found out, they were pissed because you’re not supposed to differentiate any particular office or location more than another, but JPL is known as the rebel NASA facility. So yeah, they were pretty pissed about that. But that’s a nice example of I don’t know, a hack I think.
Adam: Yeah. It doesn’t have to be hilarious. It’s not standup comedy. It’s just doing something fun and silly and yeah.
Krystal: And clever. Part of it is the good ones, they’re clever.
IP Over Pigeon
Adam: Yeah. Yeah. So the next prank that came to mind for me, you guys have probably heard of this one, is the Internet Engineering Task Force in 1990. They’re responsible for the TCP IP stack, all the internet RFCs, requests for comments. So April 1st, 1990, they released a standard for transmission of IP datagrams over avian carriers, so that was AKA IP over pigeon. So they have a complicated spec, that explains how you can transmit internet packages over pigeon.
Okay. Let me read you this, because I think it’s hilarious. Here, I’m going to use my McDonald’s drive-through voice here.
Avian carriers can provide high delay, low-throughput and low-altitude service.
Don: I’ll take a Quarter Pounder.
The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance system, which increases availability. The IP datagram is printed on a small scroll of paper and hexadecimal, with each octet separated by white stuff and black stuff. The scroll of paper is wrapped around one leg of the avian carrier. A band of duct tape is used to secure the datagram’s edges. Upon receipt, the duct tape is removed and the paper copy of the datagram is optically scanned into an electronically transmittable form.
I like how much work they put into this. Part of the joke has to be the format. These guys are experts at writing this really dry, cannot be misinterpreted verbiage. So when they do the joke, it has to nail that dry format. This is called RFC 1149, because they’re all numbered. The best thing about RFC 1149 is people use it in conversation to troll other people.
If somebody is proposing some feature, you know like, “Oh, we’re going to change how the routing works on the back end,” and you have no idea what they’re talking about, you can always say, “Oh, well, how will this take into account RFC 1149?” And then they’ll probably be like, “Oh, I have no idea what this guy’s talking about, so let me just say, “Oh, let me look into that.””
And then later, they’ll hit you up on Slack, “WTF, man?”
Real World IP Over Pigeon
Jumping forward, in April 28th and 2001 in Norway, this is maybe getting more at the spirit that I really like of these jokes, they successfully implemented IP over pigeon, and they sent a ping request. I found pictures, I’ll put the pictures on the podcast page, but they successfully sent a ping request using pigeons. So they had nine packets which were nine carrier pigeons. They received 55% packet loss, which they don’t explain, but I think means they lost most of their pigeons.
Don: Oh, no!
Adam: Maybe they’re not good with carrier pigeons. 55% loss seems like a lot, especially when these are actual animals.
Don: I don’t think that carrier pigeons were that reliable, so I think they did have to send out multiple pigeons with the same message to try and ensure that it would get to its destination.
Krystal: Oh, this is error correcting codes for pigeons.
Adam: Well, that’s the great thing. The TCP has retries and stuff, so it actually can work over a Lossy channel when pigeons just leave, I guess.
Don: They get distracted.
Internet Engineering Task Force April Fools Process
Adam: I don’t know what happened to all those pigeons, but the Internet Engineering Task Force, the people for all these RFCs, they’re very serious and proper organization, but they have a process for the process and documentation for the process of the process. So they actually had to lay out a process for how the April Fools’ RFCs work.
The RFC Editor accepts submissions of properly formatted April Fools’ Day RFCs from the general public, and considers them for publication in the same year received. Note that in past years, the RFC Editor has sometimes published serious documents with April 1st dates. Readers who cannot distinguish satire by reading the text may have a future in marketing.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Adam: They’re like, “If you don’t know these are jokes, then we have bigger problems here.”
Adam: So, Google totally picked up this spirit of these RFCs in a direct nod to that RFC. They launched PigeonRank, they launched a website explaining that Google was in fact powered by pigeons.
As a Google user, you’re familiar with the speed and accuracy of Google Search. How exactly does Google manage to find the right results for every query as quickly as it does? The heart of Google Search technology is PigeonRank, a system for ranking webpages developed by founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were at Stanford University. What are of the challenges of operating so many pigeon clusters, PCs?
Pigeons naturally operate in dense populations, as anyone holding a pack of peanuts in Urban Plaza is aware. This compactability enables Google to pack enormous numbers of pigeon processors into small spaces, with rack after rack stacked in our data coops. While this is optimal from the standpoint of space conservation and pigeon contentment, it does create issues during molting season, when large fans must be brought in to blow the feathers out of the data coop.
Removal of other pigeon byproducts was a greater challenge, until Page and Brin developed a groundbreaking technology for converting poop to pixels. That’s right!
Krystal: Oh, no.
That’s right, the tiny dots that make up a monitor’s display, the clean white background of Google’s homepage is in fact powered by this renewable process.
Don: So what does that make dark mode?
Krystal: Oh, no!
Adam: I think that’s awesome, right? Yeah. It’s just an announcement on their website somewhere, and it’s most funny for people who understand that PageRank, which also starts with PR, is their actual algorithm that they invented at Stanford. They’re pointing back at RFC 1149 and saying like, “Listen, we can do these fun jokes too.”
Don: Yeah. I mean, that was a good one.
Krystal: Yeah. I liked it.
Adam: So in the timeline, I think we’re still in this era where the internet’s small and these things can be funny because the internet’s mostly used by tech-savvy people. There’s no smartphones or whatever.
Google’s Mic Drop
Adam: I don’t know, Don, are we winning you over at all with these jokes being funny?
Don: No, no. I think April Fools’ is just a… It’s open season for everybody to try and do a prank and not everybody knows how to do it right. And there are sometimes serious consequences to everybody trying to prank somebody and yeah, we get some cool, funny gems, but we get a lot of things that just don’t work, or had bad consequences. Do you remember when Google had the mic drop feature that they put in?
Krystal: Oh, yeah!
Adam: I’m going to explain it. So in 2016, Google added this mic drop button to Gmail on April Fools, so next to the send button was a button called mic drop, which they explained in a PR announcement. But who’s busy reading the April Fools’ PR announcements? You’re just in your email doing email stuff. So if you hit that button, the idea was that it would end all communication.
You’re basically saying, “This discussion is over.” So it would block you from getting notifications from this email chain, but it was also to let the other people know that you weren’t going to talk to them ever again. It inserted an animated gif of one of the Minions from Despicable Me dropping a mic-
Don: Yeah, dropping the mic.
Adam: … into the message. And one of the big mistakes they made is you hit the button, and the email closed. You didn’t see that they had inserted this animated gif into the email.
Don: Yeah, they didn’t ask you, “Do you want to do this?” Or, “Oh, just so you know, this is the April Fools joke that you’re about to do.” It’s like, no, it’s just gone. You press the button and away it goes.
Krystal: Yeah. It’s pretty terrible.
Adam: On Twitter, there was this one, I took a screenshot of it. The email says,
Funeral arrangements for Katie.
Adam: This makes me want to laugh but I don’t think it’s something I can laugh about. The email says:
Melanie, we’re so very sorry to hear of your tragic loss of your daughter
Adam: and then they inserted a Minion in it. It was a funeral home. So they lost the business because-
Krystal: Oh, no!
Adam: … they accidentally inserted a Minion into the condolences message.
Krystal: That’s the danger of April Fools’, is sometimes things that you think are good natured aren’t, and sometimes you don’t foresee the consequences for jokes and it can be quite terrible.
Adam: Yeah. So Google ended up issuing a public apology for this in 2016. And it was probably helpful because people could say, “Hey, sorry about that email. Look at this, Google has apologized for it.” But even people who love a joke when they’re reading the news don’t necessarily want a joke inside of their business application. It’s like they got the venue wrong for the joke.
When April Fool’s Hurts
Don: And a lot of people on April Fools’ are just… They might have a lot of stress. They might be just trying to get through something, maybe finish a project, and the internet is just drowned in jokes. And you’re trying to just get your job done, and there’s just jokes everywhere. There’s evidence of that going back even way back in the day. I think there was stories of people faking their deaths and making everyone think were dead, and then being like, “April Fools’!” Right?
Adam: So it’s similar to a Rickroll or something.
Don: When you have a day where you’re telling everybody and you’re giving them license essentially to try and prank everybody, a lot of pranks are mean or mean-spirited. Make people feel bad. A lot of people don’t know the difference between having a prank that is a good natured one or a good faith one and a bad faith one, where you’re just making fun of somebody or you’re making them feel terrible.
And for a lot of people who maybe have certain quirks or disabilities, they get made fun of a lot on April Fools’ Day. And it’s just a bad thing. I have some OCD and I liked my desk to be exactly perfect.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Don: And I worked at a place where a lot of people thought that this was something that they should make fun of. So they would steal the figurines that I had on my desk. And they would hide them around the office, and that was an April Fools’ joke. But no, it just made me upset and everyone laughed. It’s like, “Oh, yay! April Fools’!” That’s just something that happens on a day, but that can be magnified across the entire world. So you get a couple good stories, but there are a lot of bad stories that don’t make the news. There are a lot of people that feel like crap on April Fools’ Day.
Adam: No, I think you’re right. Being a dick isn’t an April Fools’ joke.
Krystal: That’s true.
Don: A lot of people think that’s what April Fools’ is, is just being a bad person.
Adam: This RFC joke is a joke that’s targeted at people who are reading the engineering RFCs, and it’s making fun of themselves. It’s saying, “Oh, look at how silly and specific we are, that we can come up with a very specific way that you might transmit things over pigeons.” But-
Don: Yeah, it’s hilarious. And it’s really funny. I like that one.
Adam: But the worst April Fools’ jokes in my mind are that somebody insults you and then just says, “Oh, just kidding.”
Don: Yeah, April Fools’.
Adam: Yeah. That’s not really a joke.
Google Glass Cardboard
Adam: Do you remember Google Glass? They did a product video for this thing they called Google Glass Cardboard. Because you remember Google Cardboard was goggles for VR.
Don: Yeah. It was just a holder basically for your phone.
Krystal: It was a box, like let’s be real.
Adam: Anyways, they made a video, a high production value video for this thing they called Google Glass Cardboard. And it was basically really dorky safety glasses that you would wear on your head. And it just had some holes on the side. People were trying it on and being amazed. The whole video was just poking fun at the fact that they’re dorky and miss the idea of what’s an acceptable consumer product. I think that’s when you nail an April Fools’ joke, when you’re like, “Hey, there’s this thing about us that people think, and we can poke fun at ourselves. We understand that we’re viewed in this way.”
The I-Quit Prank
Adam: Anyways, the Minion thing was horrible. But another horrible April Fools’ joke I saw, I found on Stack Overflow. This took place on April Fools’ in 2013. And it’s on a Stack Overflow site called Workplace, where people discuss workplace issues. So let me share this and you can read it for us, Don.
I jokingly told my manager I quit via email as an April Fools’ joke.
We get along pretty well normally. Well, it seems my joke was taken a bit too seriously as I just got an automated email from HR with checkout procedures and an invite to a few checkout meetings later this week as well. My company has also been letting a lot of people go recently, so I am worried that this is an excuse used to have that happen to me.
I can see my manager responding in a like fashion, but the HR communication worries me. He is also on vacation this week, so I cannot ask him directly, which would be ideal. How can I determine if I am actually being fired or my boss is just playing along?
Krystal: This is more something you’d find on Reddit, I feel like.
Adam: So he told his boss, he quit as a joke, but then his boss went on vacation. So he didn’t get to tell him it was an April Fools’ joke.
Don: Yeah, I think his email was probably forwarded to whoever was covering for him. And they’re like, “Okay, I guess this person’s done,” that’s what it sounds like.
Adam: The funny thing is I think this is-
Don: That was a joke.
Adam: … an amazing April Fools’ Day fail or very possibly, this guy made this up and he’s pulling an April Fools’ joke on the Workplace Stack Overflow. It’s not clear.
Don: Is there any resolution or more information later on down the thread?
Adam: Top voted answer on Stack Overflow Workplace:
The best plan of attack will be to slap your boss. Slapping people is pretty common and will help make it clear that you’re only joking. If this doesn’t work, try sleeping with your boss’s wife. It is also an effective way to make sure that you’re joking.
Krystal: Yeah. I think they’ve determined that it’s not real. So there’s just… yeah.
Adam: That’s the voted answer, but also probably before they figured out there was a joke, those people were like,
Call your boss immediately and indicate in no uncertain terms that the email was a joke. This was an incredibly bad idea, by the way. And you’re concerned that it’s being taken seriously. The risk of being a sucker and falling for his automated HR email prank is much less disastrous than actually losing your job over a poorly thought out joke.
Adam: Okay. I don’t know who these people are, but HR doesn’t make jokes. That’s not a thing.
Krystal: Oh, the last place on the planet that would ever make a joke.
Adam: HR will not send you a fake firing email as a joke.
Don: No, that’s what I mean. There’s probably a policy that says that HR is not allowed to joke like that.
Adam: My company was also letting off people at the same time.
Don: This seems like the perfect time.
The Worst April Fools’ Joke
Adam: Okay. I found what I think is the worst April Fools’ Day fail, and so much so that I don’t think I want to say the name of the company.
Don: Company X.
Adam: So there is a tech service company and yeah, I won’t name them. I’ll go with Company X, and they do this thing where you send them a picture, a digital photograph. And they have it hand-painted, hand oil painted by an artist. But on April 1st, 2016, they posted this message on their website.
X Company now child labor free.
At X Company, we pride ourselves in being the most progressive oil painting service in the world. Today, we are proud to announce that yet again, we are leading the way in innovative, progressive, and sustainable business practices. As of April 1st, 2015, your photos will no longer be painted by children. No children are allowed to touch or even look at your paintings. We challenge all of our competitors to do the same.
Adam: So at the end of that April Fools’ message, there’s a whole bunch of line breaks, dot, dot, dot, dot, dot. And then further down the page, it says this, which you should read again, Don.
April Fools’! All of our child artists are still gainfully employed.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Adam: Yeah, it’s funny how bad it is to me. I don’t know.
Krystal: Yeah. It just reminds me of living in LA, when some of my friends had like a gig at the Laugh Factory, they’re trying for the first time to start their comedic career. I want to laugh because you’re my friend, but if you weren’t my friend, I wouldn’t laugh at this at all kind of thing.
Adam: Yeah, exactly. Right.
Don: You might want to refine your material a little bit before you go up in front of strangers.
Adam: Another reason I think these jokes failed, they just left the realm of tech joke. The joke isn’t really a nerdy tech joke made to other developers. It’s made to the people who are ordering paintings on their website, and may very well be concerned that they’re getting children to paint them. The mic drop thing, the Google Minion thing, it wasn’t just a funny press release hidden on their website somewhere. It was in everybody’s Gmail.
Don: And the button was right next to the send button, so you could easily hit it by accident.
Adam: That’s why the backlash against all these jokes, when your audience is too big, it’s really hard to execute well. The stakes are a lot higher.
Krystal: Comedians talk about this all the time, too. When they have this kind of niche audience, they’re able to make all these very risque jokes. And then they get a show on a network, on a major network, and then all of a sudden, they just bomb hard. So I feel like you could have that as an analogy to the Google thing too, where maybe it was two or three people or just passing around jokes.
And all of a sudden, you have a larger company. People have this expectation and it’s a thing, or maybe they threw some money or they’re like, “Oh, here’s $100,000 to plan the April Fools’ joke thing that Google does, and it’s a team thing and they have meetings about it and they have scrum and they argue back and forth about what the joke would be. And then all of a sudden, they’re like-
Don: There’s a task force.
Krystal: It’s like you could file bug reports and all this stuff. And then all of a sudden, it becomes very bureaucratic and not that funny.
Adam: Yeah. It’s easy when you’re small to have a personality. There’s people behind this company and we can be funny and we can make jokes, but I have good news. I think that April Fools’ can be reborn.
April Fools’ Pranks Reborn
So in the 2010s, these jokes that were funny or weren’t funny continued, but some places found a better venue for them. Do you guys know SubVersion? SubVersion is source control from before Git. So SubVersion still exists. It’s still a good product, but basically everybody uses Git now. It’s an Apache project. Apache uses JIRA, so they have
issues.apache.org. And it’s just a JIRA ticket thing. On April 1st, 2013, the following ticket appeared:
Migrate Apache SubVersion over to Git.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Vote passed, not happy, but here we go. Infrastructure team, please migrate our repository over to Git. Not sure what else you guys need. Haven’t exactly studied up on this migration process, but please let me know.
Adam: So in the comments of this ticket, a fight broke out.
Krystal: Oh, no!
When did this vote happen? You should all know better than having these type of votes on a private list. I, for one, am incredibly and shocked that Greg of all people would let this happen. I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse for this.
Adam: And then there was back and forth that made it sound like they were being contacted for the press.
I just received a phone call about this. Who is on task for handling press inquiries? I have to admit that I have no freaking idea what’s going on and this does not make me happy, nor does it look good for us.
Adam: This goes on, just people fighting in a ticket. And then on April 2nd, they updated the title to say April Fools’, and they updated the ticket to say it was a joke and the people arguing in the ticket, they were just pretending.
Don: Oh, okay. So everybody was in on the joke?
Krystal: That’s hilarious.
Adam: Yeah. And I think it’s hilarious because they got that audience right, as Don was saying. This is only people who are reading the JIRA issues. It probably spread around, people would share it because it’s like, “Oh, they’re getting in this argument,” and whatever. But The New York Times is not reading the issue tracker for SubVersion.
Don: I like how they make mention of actual people. They’re like, “Hey, Greg, wouldn’t let this happen.”
Adam: Where’s Greg on this? Yeah.
Don: Greg! Tell Greg to call me ASAP!
Linux CPUs = Zero
Adam: This is the resurgence of April Fools’ Day. It’s just a fun in joke with developers. So in 2012, on the Linux kernel mailing list, there was another one, but the Linux kernel works like you send in patches. There’s patch requests. And then there’s a complicated process that might get applied. So in 2002, Paul McKenney sent a patch and the email body of the patch read like this:
Despite what you might’ve heard, the mind-numbing complexity of modern computing systems is not so much due to there being multiple CPUs, but rather to there being any CPUs at all. In short for the ultimate in computer system simplicity, the optimal choice is number of CPUs equals zero.
Adam: So he sent in a patch that updates the Linux kernels so that it only supports zero CPUs. So the number of configurable CPUs must always be zero.
This change has the beneficial side effect of rendering all kernel bugs harmless. Furthermore, this commit enables additional beneficial changes. For example, the removal of all parts of the kernel that are not needed for a computer with zero CPUs.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Don: Yeah. I mean, people that are reviewing it are going to catch it, because the joke is meant for them.
Adam: Yeah. It has a narrow audience. This is hilarious to people who work on the Linux kernel. It’s not a marketing stunt. So in 2015, several years later on the mailing list, Frederick Weisbecker sent a follow-up patch that followed from that one and allowed support for negative CPUs.
Krystal: Oh, no!
Adam: So he said on that one:
With this change, programing gets even more simpler, because you have less CPUs to worry about. -1 CPUs is less CPUs than zero.
Adam: That is in fact true. And then wait, he also said:
Now keep in mind that this is only a draft. I do not yet have hardware to test this on.
Don: He’s got to wait for his -1 CPU. I think that these jokes have all always been around, and the only ones we hear about on April Fools’ Day are the ones that are in main publications and media pickup.
The Golden Age of Tech Pranks
Adam: I think we’re in the golden age of these developer-to-developer engineering ones, they don’t even have to be pranks and they don’t even have to be on April Fools’. Sometimes it’s just doing something absurd, like Edwin Brady who created Idris, the programming language, before that, he created the programming language Whitespace, where you could only program it using white space. And I think he put a lot of work into that.
Probably not years of work, but it’s a big commit for a chuckle. He’s totally embodying that Steve Wozniak thing where he’s sitting, writing a compiler and just solely laughing to himself, “I hope somebody thinks this is funny besides me when I release this.” And there’s so many other things like that. Somebody released COBOL ON COGS, which was a web framework for using COBOL to make websites. And somebody made an INTERCAL one. INTERCAL is a joke programming language that nobody should ever use.
Krystal: Oh, yes.
Adam: And they made a web framework for it. And I myself actually made a Docker front end where you could build Docker files using INTERCAL. It wasn’t on April Fools’, but I just thought it was funny, and nobody else really thought it was funny besides me, but I still enjoyed making it.
Krystal: Have you ever made a pull request to the Docker people to be like, “Hey, this is a thing I made, you should merge it.”
Adam: No, I feel like pull requests are… They’re absolutely the perfect venue for these type of jokes because it’s targeting the right type of people. If you work on the Kubernetes Project, for instance, and Kubernetes involves just writing a ton of YAML, to get it working. If you were a core contributor and on April 1st, you raised the PR that was like, “Hey, I rewrote Kubernetes and YAML, because I know that Kubernetes people like YAML so much,” so.
Krystal: I would love that
Adam: Or I’m doing a lot of Go programming now, and the air handling is really verbose. And with Rob Pike who created Go, like if he proposed on April 1st in an even more verbose way to handle errors, that would be hilarious. It doesn’t even need to be for the wider internet. You could just on April 1st, raise a PR for your internal project you work on and tag your buddies on it, and see if they notice that this is an absurdly bad idea that you’ve put together.
Don: They don’t, and it gets approved. And then you’re like, “Oh, no!” You have to-
Krystal: I feel like it’s also dependent on your work environment. So I’m thinking back about the NASA scientists, and there’s this engineering culture that balances the fact that they’re working on mission critical stuff. So it’s like, “Oh, this has to be perfect and this is mission critical,” you have to balance that off with another side. And I feel like the joking that they had and that kind of culture was a nice balance.
Adam: Yeah, I totally agree.
Is April Fools’ Skunked?
Adam: Do you feel that April Fools Day has been skunked? Is April Fools’ over? Tech joke April Fools’, is it over?
Don: I think you hit the nail in the head when you said that it got co-opted by marketing interests. So that’s what it becomes primarily now, is just a way of pushing a marketing agenda. So it’ll never go away, because it’s always going to get attention.
If you need to get your word out about something specific, if you come up with a crazy April Fools’ thing on April Fools’ Day, then some media publications might pick it up when normally maybe they wouldn’t have.
Adam: What do you think, Krystal?
Krystal: I, in my heart, I just… I don’t know, I love jokes. Interestingly, my cousin has… She always, for years, she’s fooled me into thinking that her birthday was on April Fools’ and I fall for it every single year. It’s so bad. I feel like I don’t know, I like tech and I like the space because we’re able to balance technical expertise with just being able to have fun, and all this just feels like fun to me. So I really hope that it hasn’t peaked. It’s not peak April Fools’ joke, because I want it to be here for a long time.
Don: I don’t think it’s peaked. I think that the real April Fools’ is the one that you share with your friends and your family. And maybe if you have a close-knit community, that’s the real April Fools’ and everything else on top of it. It’s just you can ignore all that stuff.
Krystal: You could just pour concrete into your laptop.
Adam: I don’t want people to feel like I shouldn’t try to do these fun things. Don’t try to do a giant marketing thing if you work at a $10 billion company. But yeah, make a joke on the project that you work on. Propose something funny and target it towards your people. I’m not a standup comedian. I can’t make a joke that makes everybody laugh. But we have a shared culture. I can make jokes that can make you guys laugh. So I think people should keep doing it.
Don: The real joke is that Adam tells us he’s not releasing the episode.
Krystal: Yes. Then I will send you a pigeon.
Adam: That’s awesome.
Don: That’s the real joke.
Adam: So this seems like a good place to end it.
Thank you, Don and Krystal, for joining me, you can find both of them on Twitter or on the Slack Channel for the podcast.
Also, if you like this spirit that Krystal was telling us about of joyful playing around, enjoying your work, do me a huge favor and share this podcast with somebody who you think might enjoy it. Share it in your off-topic channel at work, or share it with a bunch of trolls on Discord, and they will either get better or worse at playing these pranks. If you want more CoRecursive content, there is a monthly newsletter I send out and you can follow me on Twitter.
But most importantly, you can support me on Patreon. I haven’t actually said all the things I have to say about tech pranks, surprisingly enough. And on the 15th, I’ll share some of my favorite pranks that didn’t make it into this episode as a bonus for Patreon supporters.
And until next time, and I say this totally sincerely, thank you so much for listening.