The Prank

I’ve told a few people about my best prank ever:

When I was in college, my roommate had gotten on my nerves one day and I thought one way to get him back would be to play a prank on him. Trawling through ideas in my brain, I settled on one: One of the joys of being a college student is when you receive an unexpected package in the mail. Usually, it’s from loved ones and contains all kinds of goodies. They’re typically referred to as, “care packages.”

At Cedarville college, where we attended, the current policy was that when you received a package from the Post Office (or PO), you’d receive an automatic email stating that there was a delivery waiting for you. A normal response would be to drop everything you were currently doing and rush out to the PO in whatever state you were in to go get it. It was not unusual to see students in pajamas at the PO, picking up whatever exciting package was waiting for them.

My idea was to pose as the post office and send my roommate an email, telling him he’d received a package. Then, my mind twisted the idea a bit.

I asked myself, “what if I sent the email to the ENTIRE CAMPUS?”

After all, my class had not pulled a class prank yet and it was about time someone did something about it. It was certainly feasible, but I’d have to be smart about it. I wouldn’t want to jam up the email servers and it would be too obvious if I sent an email to 3000 people all at once. Normally, the email only had a couple hundred recipients on it per day.

Also, their computer services people were pretty savvy. I’d have to be a step ahead of them if I didn’t want to get caught.

That morning, as I was working at the library, I hatched a plan.

One of my duties, as a library technician, was to unlock the computer labs and start up all the computers at 7am. Back in 1999, Netscape Communicator 4.0 was a hot Internet browser. It was free and came with a local POP3 email client.

That morning before work, I logged on to a computer and copied the campus address book into an MS Excel file and saved it to a disk. In those days, everyone at Cedarville had a student ID number.

I then globally added “@cedarville.edu;” to each student number and merged the cells. Lastly, I broke up the 3000 files into 15 separate files, each containing 200 student email addresses.

While I was on my rounds that morning, I installed Netscape Communicator on a computer in one of the labs. That was stage one: get the software on a machine and log out.

About 3 hours later, I came back to that machine and, without logging into the network, opened Netscape Communicator and set the email settings to send and receive using my parents’ POP server 2 states away. That way, I’d be assured not to kill the campus servers and I knew it would take some time for the email to send… giving me time to clear my tracks. I also set up the account email address as “postmaster@cedarville.edu.”

I set up 15 emails, imported the addresses into them and copied the text from a “you’ve received a package” email that I’d gotten months prior into the body and subject.

I saved the emails as drafts and closed the program.

2 hours later, I got back on the computer, again without logging into the network, and sent all 15 emails. After they had been sent, I quickly deleted the software and all associated files, reset the computer, went to another computer lab and logged into a PC to wait for my “you’ve recived a package” email to arrive.

The lab was full of people.

I waited…

Nothing…

I kept waiting…

Nothing…

Finally, I heard someone say, “Hey, dude! Sweet! I got a package!”

The person next to him said, “no way! Me too! Let’s go to the PO together.”

More and more, I heard commotion about packages and visits to the PO.

Payoff.

I waited a few more minutes and then left the lab to go to the PO to see the fruits of my labor. It had been roughly 15 minutes from the time I had initially sent the email.

The next sight I saw gave me only what I could call “emotional confusion.” It was somewhat a mixture of horror, surprise and delight.

You have to understand that the dorms at Cedarville were completely on the other side of campus from the PO. What I saw were throngs of people hording out of the dorms headed toward the PO. Hundreds and hundreds of students in pajamas, wearing whatever they could find to throw on quickly making their way to the post office.

Stunned and calculating the potential consequences of my actions, I made my way to the PO. The next sight was even more incredible.

Apparently, off-campus students had gotten the message as well and had driven in to collect their package. The streets in Cedarville are 2-lane and in some places very narrow 2-lane. The streets were grid-locked with cars all in-coming toward the post office and there was a line of people wrapped around the building and extending about 3 blocks.

As I approached the line, I saw people walking away from the PO who had evidentially discovered the prank once they’d gotten inside. They were laughing and saying, “man… that’s awesome!”

I stood in line with the others and finally got inside where there was a very frenzied looking woman standing behind a desk. She looked like she was having a very bad day.

Apparently, they were short-staffed that day and she was working the shift alone… with 1500+ students responding to an email that she had not sent out.

I expressed my sympathies to her and told her to go home early and soak her feet and that I was sure this was just a computer glitch.  She smiled weakly and was on to the next sucker in line.

Despite the innocent casualty, I was proud of my prank and still have the email in my inbox to this day.

More bad news

This morning I got up with lots on my plate to catch up on side-work.

After this week’s fiasco with my laptop, I had everything back up and running and to my liking, except I still had to install Flash and Photoshop.

This morning as I booted my machine, I began installing software, but the installations were going WAAY too fast.  Usually, installing Photoshop takes about 10-15 minutes.  My computer was saying it was done after about 2 or 3 seconds.

Long story short… I have another virus and am restoring my computer again.

I hate my life.

This week

This week is “conference week.”  For those of you who don’t know, the company for whom I work, Gospel Communications International (GCI), puts on an annual conference.  One week in September, everyone on staff works our butts off, pulling 12-16 hour days for 4 days hosting an Internet Ministry Conference.

This year’s been our biggest one yet with about 300 attendees, including GCI staff, sponsors, speakers, contractors and Gospelcom Alliance members.

My role for this week has been to prepare the graphics and creative direction for the digital conference materials: website, digital DVD schedule on the HD monitors, nametag designs, logos for the giveaway swag, slide templates for the speakers, etc.  Additionally, I’ve been playing my part in working with members to help them understand where they’re supposed to be, network with them, take pictures of people interacting at the conference and answer any questions.

As a staff member, my usual duties at conference are to host sessions (introduce the speakers, collect the evaluation sheets at the end, etc) and video tape all of the keynote presentations for later editing and publication.  I am also conducting video interviews for the Alliance member ministries to edit and publish to promote their activities, increase awareness and hopefully drive traffic to their sites.   Lastly, I’m listed as a contractor which means I’m available for people with questions to sign up for time with me and get a little free consultation.

That’s the busy news.

Here’s the bad news:  Wednesday was the first day of conference.  Tuesday night, my laptop got a virus and crashed.  That makes for a difficult rest of the week at “The Internet Ministry Conference.”  It means I can’t upload photography, can’t participate in any online activity going on with the blogging, can’t get any additional work done in my “free” time and am having a hard time fully enjoying the conference.  Additionally, I have side-jobs that are stacking up and I can’t answer email, respond to requests or get much done.

My laptop, as much as I hate to admit it, is an extension of myself.  When it gets sick, I feel sick.  When it is unhappy, I’m mad about it.

I figured maybe I could get by this week using my phone, since it’s a Smart Phone and has a mini-copy of Windows and all of the productivity software that typically comes with a Smart Phone.  Friday, my phone started acting up.  Slow response time, unable to connect to the network, frequent reboots, software errors.  As the week went on, my hair started getting more and more frazzled.  I was becoming short with people and irritable.

Thursday night, I had decided that if I was going to have any sanity this week, I would need to conduct a system restore on my laptop, a fairly painless process with Dell.  I happened to have my huge external hard drive with me, so I backed everything up while I was attending sessions and that evening, I performed the “intensive surgery” on my machine.  Since I don’t have any of my software with me, I had to make do with what I could find online in the Open Source free software communities.

I figured I’d be much happier with Open Source software anyway.  At the point of this post, I find myself with a freshly-installed XP operating system and the following software packages:

Firefox:  Internet Browser

Thunderbird:  POP3 email client

Lightning:  Plugin for Thunderbird that extends it to calendar and task manager

Birdiesync:  Plugin for Microsoft Activesync that allows me to sync my Smart Phone to Thunderbird and Lightning sans MS Outlook

Audacity:  Multitrack audio recording

GIMP:  Graphics software (nowhere near as robust as Photoshop, but it’ll do in a pinch)

 Pidgin:  Instant Messenger software

Open Office:  MS Office suite alternative

So I’m not 100% back to full productivity, but I’m about 95% there and will be fully up and running once I re-install my commercial software (Photoshop, Flash, Premiere, Homesite and Encore)

What have I learned from this experience?  1.)  Bluetooth Activesync support for PC is terrible;  2.)  Open Source is the way to go if I can find the right tools;  3.)  I owe Google for preserving my sanity;  4.)  I kinda wish I was a farmer with a straw hat, an old goat as my plow a dog and 12 kids.

Things I’m thankful for:  1.)  the Summit at church last week.  Having been washed in truth and scripture over the past 2 weeks from the Summit helped keep my head above water this week.  2.)  The Summit helped give me good grounding and some technique in spending time in prayer and scripture this week  3.)  my wife.  surprisingly, even though she wasn’t here with me and we didn’t speak on the phone much while I was attending conference, the thought of being back home with her grounded me.

Confessions:  1.)  Every day, even though spending time with people this week was great and I enjoyed connecting and networking with more people this year than I ever have at previous conferences, I wanted this conference to be over so badly every day.   2.)  I have to admit that as much as I struggle with anger, events this week were no small catalyst in keeping my temper hot and my thoughts impure.  There were several times as I was working on my computer this week that I’m pretty sure if you walked by my hotel room, it would be pretty clear there was someone not having a good day inside.

Things I look forward to:  1.)  Lunch in about 3 hours with my buddies at my favorite restaurant, BD’s Mongolian BBQ on GCI’s bill.  2.)  Going home and unplugging  3.)  Having Monday off.  4.)  Playing with the band on Sunday Morning and seeing everyone’s faces.

With that, I’ve aired my grievances (vented), made my peace and will be ready to hit the ground running on Monday.  The one thing still unsettling in my mind are the open side-work projects that I didn’t get to finish this week since my machine was down.  Frustrating.  It means my Monday will be filled with client work, but at least I have a day on which to to fall back.

3 more hours of conference… can I go home now?