back to article Can't get pranked by your team if nobody in the world can log on

Welcome once more to Who, Me? The Register's weekly column featuring readers' tales of the things they'd rather forget having done. This week's face-palm moment comes from "Dennis", who wrote in to tell us about a time in 1996 when he was stationed in a northern UK town rolling out Windows 95 at a chemical plant. Dennis and …

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  1. RyokuMas Silver badge
    Facepalm

    A couple of roles back, I once made the mistake of forgetting to lock my desktop before going to lunch... okay, I may have sent a couple of prank emails from similarly unlocked machines prior to this, and possibly have changed a couple of desktop wallpapers... you know, nothing malicious.

    Oh, kharma... how sharp your teeth can be.

    I got back and found that pretty much everything had been hit. Not just the things I had half expected on the way back from the sandwich shop when - in a moment of dawning horror - I realised what I had done, but everywhere.

    I got the email signature switch before it could do any damage - but there are a few commits in that company's git repos that will forever immortalise that day before I spotted the vandalism...

    1. My-Handle

      I have only once had my desktop hijacked in my career (they did the old "rotate the monitor" trick). I have successfully avoided any further hijackings by 1) being very diligent about locking my machine when I step away from it and 2) Making it very clear to everyone that the day anyone messes with my machine is the day that they will leave work to go home and find their car with four flat tyres and a bicycle pump on the bonnet.

      There is of course a line between a quick laugh and a genuine inconvenience, but my sense of humour tends to evaporate fairly quickly when that line is crossed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "they did the old "rotate the monitor" trick"

        The first time this was one to me was actually my cat walking on my keyboard.

        It took me 20 mins to recover ! This thing also resists a reboot ! I have no idea what depraved mind could come up with this at Redmond. Really, who needs this thing ?

        1. Giovani Tapini
          Trollface

          Your monitor needs 20 mins to reboot?

          Its no wonder you posted as Anon :)

        2. RGE_Master

          OK just off the top of my head here,

          Anyone who needs to rotate the screen, back in the day this could have been because the photo was upside down, the projector you're using is ceiling mounted, a number of reasons, also to hack off your colleagues.

          Although, if they were stupid enough to leave their computer unlocked, a mail to the department offering them all Pizza was a good punishment.

          1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

            I found it very useful just the other day when, trying to use a laptop that had got wet, I rotated the screen to put the start menu in the top right instead of the bottom left.

        3. MiguelC Silver badge

          I used it with a swivelling monitor

          Portrait mode is excellent for reviewing assembly code

        4. phuzz Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          the old "rotate the monitor" trick

          "I have no idea what depraved mind could come up with this at Redmond."

          It wasn't a Microsoft idea, it was a 'feature' of Intel graphics drivers that found their way onto many a corporate desktop.

          I can see how having a screen rotating capability is useful, but I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to have it mapped to a hotkey* by default.

          *(CTRL + ALT+ arrow key IIRC)

          1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
            Trollface

            Re: the old "rotate the monitor" trick

            The one we used to do on "left unlocked" machines was to make up faked contact versions of various higher-up people in the company (using their address-book name but a bad email address), and then send nasty/dodgy/embarassing email to them from the machine, with a cc to the users email address. And of course deleting the contacts afterwards, plus the bounce messages from the fake addresses.

            So when they came back, they found a message in their inbox that they'd apparently sent to various managers/board members/anyone we felt like and duly of course panicked. It went on for a surprising length of time, both for people not learning to lock their machines but also not hearing about it being done.

            1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
              Childcatcher

              Re: the old "rotate the monitor" trick

              I might have, over the course of my working like... Changed the input settings on a number of coworkers' machines: mouse, keyboard, points, etc. Simply unplugged the network cable at the wall (had beautiful results on one occasion). Rigged the victim's autocorrect to make less than standard changes. Changed registry entries to edit error codes for more amusing if less informative results. Made changes to amount of RAM in a coworker's desktop at random times over the course of a month.

              1. Trixr Bronze badge

                Re: the old "rotate the monitor" trick

                Ah, yes, editing the registry to include more "helpful" Windows Tips was my speciality in the late 90s, as well as forcing them to pop up with each logon. I developed quite a nice little .REG file with my classic hits after a while.

          2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: the old "rotate the monitor" trick

            I used to do this with some of my users at one place if I found they had left their machines unlocked, with a comment I'm just down the corridor, send them to see me & tell what was their mistake, otherwise I'll be back in 10 mins.

            Fair game they used to try & poison me with "confectionary delicacies", the worst was the chocolate liquer one that's prime ingredient was cabbage.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: the old "rotate the monitor" trick

            The good thing that remote control software is "immune" to screen rotation - so connect to it remotely set it the right way and then disable the hotkeys

        5. HinD

          Back in the day i built my desk out of two wooden file racks and a glass table top in between. I had a CRT and a LCD that where too big to sit side by side so i added a piece of plywood to the top and screwed the LCD upside down from its base. it looked and worked great, and was even somewhat more comfortable to work with.

        6. J. Cook Silver badge

          @anon, re Monitor rotation...

          ... My experience with it has always been the video driver itself, not the OS. It was Intel that decided to add the hot keys and turn them on by default.

          Good prank, though.

        7. Stevie Silver badge

          Who needs this thing

          Possibly it was intended for people like travel agents or car salesmen with monotors inside their desks a-la pub pool video game. They would find the stuff they wanted to sell and swivel the view so the customer could see it.

          I've seen such desk rigs back in the 90s.

      2. Chris King Silver badge

        You'd leave them a bicycle pump ? Haven't they got lungs ?!

      3. DJV Silver badge

        Rotate the monitor

        In another life I was a trainee TV engineer back in the last days of valves and swap-out printed circuit boards. When engineers worked on a TV in the workshop there was always a mirror built into the workbench so that you see the screen while working on the TV's innards - of course, the view of the screen was always back to front but we got completely used to that (which probably explains why I can still write backwards). On many TV sets the scan coils that drove the CRT beam horizontally were connected by a couple of single wire connectors and swapping them around would show the picture back to front, so that it became the right way around in the mirror. Pranking this swap while the engineer happened to not be working on a set was not uncommon situation and there were several instances of a set getting as far as the customer's house before the prank was spotted (usually by the customer who was unused to seeing things the wrong way around).

        1. Stumpy

          Re: Rotate the monitor

          Another favourite we used to use was to take the back of the CRT, rotate the vertical scan coil through 108 degrees and reassemble. Then leave the monitor upside down on top of the PC.

          The amount of confusion and head scratching that used to cause was an awesome sight to behold.

        2. ICPurvis47
          Holmes

          Re: Rotate the monitor

          I spent a long time (25 years) in the ROC, and one of the positions I and everybody else had to be familiar with was that of Display A and Display B Plotters. This involved writing information on the back of a transparent screen so that the scientist chappies could read it and work their magic on the front of the screen. Of course, this meant that we had to write everything backwards, and we all became fast and accurate at it.

          My day job at one point during those years was as a development engineer in a team that also included a draughtsman. One day he was looking rather glum, he had been asked to write the word OBSOLETE on several hundred old drawings, but in such a way that it could be erased without having to redraw the original content should the part be reinstated. I took a look, all the drawings were on transparent plastic sheets, so I grabbed one and turned it over, and wrote OBSOLETE backwards on the back of the sheet, leaving the front untouched, then turned the sheet right side up again before plonking it on the draughtsman's desk. Cue gasp from Eric, "How did you do that" he inquired. I showed him how to do it, and he spent the rest of the day and part of the next happily writing backwards on the obverse of each drawing.

      4. 404 Silver badge

        oh nonononono...

        Beiberizing an unlocked computer is one thing - that's on you - but messing with a person's car? That's an escalation you will not recover from.

        Your body will never be found.

        ;)

      5. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        We just got leatheroaked...

        Don't even Google it. It's really not worth it.

      6. JimboSmith Silver badge

        One place I have worked at they had an older phone system. You could change the person's name of the extension from the handset if you knew what you were doing. I did know how to do this and scared a (not very blameless) colleague sh!tless by changing mine to display the name of the Chief Executive. I called his number and the poor bloke visibly jumped when he saw who was calling. After realising he was being set up he wanted to know how to do it. When I got in the next day my phone was telling people that I was Mr Tickle. Apparently I was going to be something much worse until he realised my retaliation would have been much worse. He didn't want to escalate the situation further as he'd started it by signing me up to the Britney Spears fan club email news. This was before verifying your email became a popular thing.

    2. Test Man

      The old take-a-screenshot-of-the-desktop-make-the-image-the-wallpaper-turn-off-icons trick was a good one back in the day :)

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Angel

        take-a-screenshot-of-the-desktop, reverse-that-image, make-the-image-the-wallpaper-turn-off-icons, reverse-monitor.

        Sit back, watch victim spiral into insanity.

      2. JimC Silver badge

        On someone's last day

        We'd sometimes do a special. One of the ones I recall was a variant on that with a quick vb app as shell which included a screen image of the standard desktop, but which went to a BSD* screen on any keystroke. As we were a Novell shop with Zenworks I could deliver anything I liked to anyone's PC without needing to access their login.

        *BSD as in Blue screen of death, not Unix sub species.

      3. Pirate Dave
        Pirate

        "The old take-a-screenshot-of-the-desktop-make-the-image-the-wallpaper-turn-off-icons trick was a good one back in the day :)"

        As was the BSOD screen-saver when it came out. Ah, the gallons tears that one caused over the years...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Had someone do that to me...

        Someone did that to my Windows box when I was away from my desk once during a night shift... but also sent, using my Sun workstation, some dodgy messages on the internal IRC and concealed it by some trick or other. I used to have to leave the Sun unlocked because for external IRC (which was part of my duty) the client I used interfered with the screen lock. I always locked the Windows box after this, though. There was an agreement in the department not to touch another team member's unattended computers, which my colleagues broke, but I managed to mitigate the IRC thing and tasked one of them with depranking the Windows box.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      CV update

      I left my machine unlocked and went to a meeting, when I got back the developers I managed had gone for lunch. I was in the process of applying for another (contract) role at the same organisation. As I had been warned that the Programme manager who would be receiving the CV's was a stickler for grammar and spelling errors, let alone any inconsistency in dates I had carefully polished my CV removing several typos' and errors. On returning to my desk I gave the CV a final polish and emailed it off.

      When the Developers finally returned one of them asked if I had sent the CV off. Yes of course I replied, the deadline was 12pm. It turned out my happy band of sociopaths had colluded to edit the personal interests section and I was now not only an enthusiast for classic sports cars, interested in music gardening and sci-fi but also had a long term hobby as a 3rd world torturer. Knowing the Programme Managers reputation I felt that the best thing to do would be let sleeping dogs lie and address any queries on my unusual hobby within the interview.Fortunately the rather stoical interviewer had no interest in me as a person and had not read the personal interests section at all.

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: CV update

        For a post about avoiding grammar and spelling errors, that's quite a howler. Your apostrophes are both bogus (though you're missing a necessary one along with some punctuation in the second paragraph), and I'm a little bemused by the idea of music gardening. Did the interviewer's stoicism perhaps manifest in his or her overlooking your faults? Did another interviewer (whose existence I infer from your application of an adjective to the interviewer you explicitly mention) take a different view?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Luckily, I work in a far more professional environment...

    .... just one day, a developer known for his stubborn lax security went on a brief holiday, and we swapped his disk with one with a Chinese version of Windows installed (it was around the time APT1 got a lot of coverage).

    When he turned on the PC, and was faced with a login screen in Chinese, he didn't dare to tell anything - while the team was showing their best poker faces not to give any clue away about the prank.

    For a while he desperately tried to log on, probably hoping to fix it himself, without uttering a word, but visibly sweating. We let him boiling slowly for a while, until I started, with true nonchalance, to ask him about email he should have answered, and asking him to review some submitted bugs in his code and work on them... only then he broke down and had to ask for help....

  3. Diogenes

    Management asked me to prank.

    Back in the day when our venerable coding sheets and punch room were being replaced by 3270s on every desk, we were supposed to lock our machines when we walked away, which we didnt.

    Threats and punishment couldn't do the trick so my PM asked me to write a script that would be mapped to the F3 (save) key. It was to do a line by line ascii art middle finger salute with a 10 second delay between lines with a reminder to log off ... after it did the save it should do. Hapless dev walks away pm remaps f3 to 'the finger' dev returns no sign until he (and we were all hes) goes to save his work, and 10 minutes later has access to his machine again. A week later the leaving machines unlocked problem was solved.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Management asked me to prank.

      A week later the leaving machines unlocked problem was solved.

      Took a week? A slow learner there.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Prank wankers

    I used to have a colleague who would generate top banter by turning on the high contrast theme, Windows narration, etc.

    He did it to me, though, and ended up rebooting my machine - I'd been fixing a bug in the patient records system (NHS) so I was not best pleased. He evidently didn't have enough password resets to keep him busy.

    Thank god for c$. I created many embarrassing files with lurid titles like 'senior manager on toilet.mpg' changed the permissions on them to exclude him.

    He found it funny, then a bit exasperating when he realised he couldn't delete anything, choosing to no-sell the issue, until - being a Friday - he had some issue with the timesheet program and the very comely lass from HR jumped on his machine to do a quick fix with his timesheet thingy.

    She ended up ringing him to tell him to stop fighting with the mouse. I looked over and he was white as a sheet.

    After she'd sorted his issue, I did cop to being the culprit. I felt a bit bad, lest it all escalate and mine was potentially more vindictive, us and jg colleague's names.

    I explained I was happy being pranked but I always retaliate and lack any sense of where a line is drawn. There was a perfect understanding then.

    I did chuckle as he described the cursor the lovely HR lass was controlling, first minimising his windows, then gliding across his desktop... Visibly pausing as it hovered near some extremely suspect 'videos'... And she finished her little tinker in record time too!

    Productivity was much higher that Friday afternoon which was a bloody first

  5. Timmy B Silver badge

    GDPR...

    Where I am we deal with some sensitive data and locking PCs amongst other stuff is a given. If you forget to lock you can expect to be pranked. Last week someone had the old screenshot your desktop, hide your icons and taskbar done to them. It's a polite, annoying way of saying "be a bit more careful" .

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: GDPR...

      > Where I am we deal with some sensitive data and locking PCs amongst other stuff is a given.

      Not your company but in general... one of my bugbears is that if locking screens is a necessity because of access to sensitive data, or whatever, then the company should be providing some of sort of proximity based authentication/login system so that you can't forget.

      Either it's important or it isn't.

      (And now that Windows 10 supports Bluetooth dynamic lock there is no excuse really.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: GDPR...

        We have GPOs that force the account lock after a few minutes of inactivity. It may not avoid a prank is someone gets at your machine quickly, but it avoids machines left open for too long.

        A proximity system has its own issues, unless you use a chip installed into someone body - people could still live their phone/token/whatever near the PC. Especially if they believe it's being used to track their presence at their desk.... while in some jurisdiction remote monitoring of workers is forbidden.

        1. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: GDPR...

          A proximity system has its own issues,

          Indeed, that sounds likely. Not that I have personal experience.

          In the context of a column like this and its anecdotes, one of those issues is that most of the stories come from an entirely different era. Computers have had screen lock for as long as they've had screens[1], and inactivity-based logout for as long as I can remember, but any more sophisticated measure of proximity is surely an altogether different story.

          [1] OK, that wouldn't've looked like modern screen lock, but clearing the screen then refusing any input that isn't an accepted unlock serves the same purpose.

      2. Timmy B Silver badge

        Re: GDPR...

        Proximity sensors....

        We're a small office and have timed locks but the speed of a prankster can't be assumed! As every person in the company has an enhanced DBS it's a pretty safe place.

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Back in the days of character-based server applications we had the problem of users switching off their monitor at night & wandering off home (or maybe someone else's home - who knew?) without logging out. We had a motd that reminded users to log off but that didn't always influence behaviour. Eventually we added "This includes you $name" and changing the name whenever we discovered someone else logged in. The message got through fairly quickly and the time between name changes got longer until the last miscreant's name was their so long their manager rang and asked us to remove it.

  7. Terje

    At my workplace the "expected" punishment for forgetting to lock your computer is to have the background replaced with a picture of Justin Bieber, a fate worse then death for the seconds it takes to restore order to the desktop!

    1. Danny 14 Silver badge

      similar at our work (picture of Bros with a love heart). We enforce with gpo for a week too.

      1. Mycho Silver badge

        I worked in a secure environment where the default punishment for unlocked PCs was to open Internet Explorer, navigate to the Noddy homepage and hold down Ctrl-N until the user's desktop is swamped with hundreds of Noddy windows.

  8. Alien8n Silver badge

    A couple of cases

    A company I used to work at when still an engineer:

    One of the engineering managers (who thankfully had a good sense of humour, as did his boss) was very fond of trips to Australia. He brought back lots of clip on koalas one year and had them clipped to his monitor. One day they all disappeared and his desktop was changed to a picture of the koalas bound and blindfolded and a ransom of a cup of tea with biscuits on it. Day 2 one of them was photoshopped so it's decapitated head rested on the floor next to it. Day 3 showed one being buggered by another one in forced bondage, etc...

    Best bit was, one of the technicians was Australian, so I was sending him the images at the same time and he was emailing them home to his family.

    Second one was after I moved into IT and one particular user was a bit blatant with his downloading of dodgy movies. On the hand this made him open game for dropping new folders and renaming icons on his screen. As it happened he also liked the same sci-fi tv series as most of the IT department so we let him continue and just added his download folder as a network share in the IT department. The only person who didn't know was the IT manager at the time as he was a bit of a fuddy duddy (the kind who are absolute sticklers for the rule book and a bit rabid when it comes to open source, he absolutely hated the fact that one of the factories was running a Linux box). Even the user's boss was accessing the network share.

    1. imanidiot Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: A couple of cases

      "sci-fi tv series" uhhuhh, sure, if that's what you kids are calling it these days...

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Switching left and right mouse buttons was a favourite where I used to work. Then one day I noticed the the keys on the keyboard felt 'odd' so I looked at it closely and realised someone had moved the 't', 'n' and 'u' keys to the bottom row next to the 'c' key to spell a very naughty word. It turned out they'd done it several weeks before and I just hadn't noticed as I'm pretty much a touch typist nowadays!

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Headmaster

      I had something similar done to me back in the day - my keyboard got swapped with one that had blank keys. But like you it was a shame they didn't realise I too basically touch-type now, and they were a bit upset when I just sat down and started using it as normal...

    2. Dutman

      We once changed every key on a Scouse co worker's keyboard to the letter A

      1. Daytona955

        OLDFARTY fits quite nicely where QWERTYUI normally goes.

        As I found out on returning from a trip abroad many years ago.

  10. Evil Scot

    Get of my PC PHB

    Reminds of my 3.1 days. Didn't have any screen locks then. But if one were to grab a soda over lunch one might not be able to use machine as PHB would use it for a hand of solitaire.

    Hide icons [x]

    Set solitaire as wallpaper [x]

    Grab Irn Bru [x]

    Return to PC dig out progman and launch solitaire for real

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