April Fools' Day!

Today is April Fools' Day, and the tradition is to play pranks and jokes. Instead of coming up with my own prank, which I know will never compare well to that of others, I figured I would just look closely at such articles instead.

The February 1st post looked at Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol. Indeed, the internet has allowed rumor and hoax proliferation to reach amazing speeds and distances. As a tradition of the Internet Engineering Task Force, they like to publish an April Fools' Day RFC each year. One of my favorites was the 1990 RFC 1149, which describes the IP over Avian Carriers proposal. RFC 2549 offered quality of service information in 1999, while this year's RFC 6214 examines transitioning it to IPv6. Ah, sweet nerd humor.

Speaking of birds, the BBC is another well-known prankster. Their 2008 hoax was a film trailer called Miracles of Evolution or Flying Penguins. Set at King George Island (about 75 miles from Antarctica), it depicts Adélie penguins that supposedly evolved the ability of flight in order to escape an especially harsh climate in favor of South American rain forests. The The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mirror, two of the biggest newspapers in Britain, were apparently in on the joke and published prominent articles (the Mirror's being front page). When an editor for another newspaper giant, Chris Tryhorn of The Guardian, saw two rivals so synchronized and the directory's name as Prof Alid Loyas (an anagram for "April Fools Day"), he recognized the hoax.

The concept of write-only memory has been an engineer's joke since probably semiconducting technology's invention. The antithesis of read-only memory, it's also a joking way to describe failed memory. A frustrated engineer at Signetics, one of the semiconductor manufacturers of the 1960s and 70s, was frustrated at the clueless bureaucracy of his company and submitted a specification for WOM that got approved and added to a data book (removed when customers called to ask about it). In 1972, the company took out a two-page ad in Electronics magazine's April issue, and published the specification: 25120 "fully encoded, 9046 x N, Random Access, write-only-memory" with diagrams of "bit capacity vs. Temp.", "Iff vs. Vff", "Number of pins remaining vs. number of socket insertions", and "AQL vs. selling price". The 25120 required a 6.3 VAC Vff (vacuum tube filament) supply, a +10 V Vcc (double the Vcc of standard TTL logic of the day), and Vdd of 0 V (ie. ground), ±2%. The datasheet is available here, courtesy of National Semiconductor.

The Great Comics Switcheroonie of 1997 was an event I completely missed. Granted, I was only just becoming a teenager, but Dilbert was one of the mainstays of my life as a youth. I did notice a swap with Family Circus when I bought the Dilbert book for that year, but didn't realize that it was a mass campaign involving 46 syndicated strips in newspapers across the nation. Everyone from FoxTrot to Beetle Bailey to Garfield swapped strips with another cartoonist. Though the event didn't become a tradition, it did inspire many webcomic artists to do the same regularly. A few years later, Bill Amend (of FoxTrot) parodied Baby Blues, Calvin and Hobbes, and Doonesbury in a similar manner; while a 2005 prank saw FoxTrot, Pearls Before Swine, and Get Fuzzy use the same dialogue with their respective characters and settings.

Ah, one of the most successful pranks was the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1996, Taco Bell (one of my favorite fast-food chains) took out full-page ads in seven national newspapers to announce that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it to reduce national debt. Supposedly, the hoax originated with then-CEO John Martin; the bold move made business sense as just $300,000 in costs generated an estimated $25 million in free publicity, while sales rose over a million bucks in two days. When faced with the furious protests by those duped, White House spokesperson Mike McCurry quipped that they would sell the Lincoln Memorial to Ford Motor Company to be renamed the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.
At least they don't sell freedom fries.

But the kings and queens of April Fools' Day are the brilliant minds over at Google. Each year, they make the best jokes. In 2004, I thought that Gmail was a hoax... silly me. In 2005, they gave us Google Gulp, which self-parodied the invite-only Gmail by claiming the free beverage was available only by mailing a Gulp bottle cap to Google. The Google TiSP in 2007 was enough to get my ex-wife excited about free internet service through our sewers (even though she mistakenly thought we used a septic tank). In 2008, Gmail Custom Time supposed to let you post-date an email (and mark it as read or unread) all the way back to the 2004 launch, or use Google Books's scratch and sniff feature. 2009's main gag was CADIE, which I thought fell flat; but inverting YouTube videos was funny. 2010 was another year without one big good prank, but continued the pattern of having many small ones, including being renamed Topeka (as a return gesture for the Kansas city temporarily renaming itself Google the month before), Google Docs allowing uploads of anything (including physical objects, like car keys), and some funny units measuring page load times. The main joke this year is Gmail Motion BETA, which purports to replace the mouse and keyboard with motion capture, and the YouTube 1911 filter, which adds a sepia tone, replaces audio with a ragtime piano tune, and replaces subtitles with intertitle cards (it's funny to watch an angry rant like this).

ROTFLMAO! Here's hoping that you don't experience any horrible pranks today. Happy reading!

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