I went to Oberlin College. It was an intense experience and one that I really enjoyed. I went there because a high school friend of mine, Kazumi Umeda, had gone to Oberlin a year ahead of me and on his fall break he came back to visit and told me directly that I needed to go there. I took it almost as a royal command.
Initially, I thought I would be a math major as there was just a fledgling CS department, but the major was announced while I was there and I was the 5th student to declare.
In the program, I met a number of people who had similar backgrounds to mine and wonderful senses of humor.
At various points, we played jokes on one of the CS/Math professors, Mike Henle, who was teaching an assembly language class.
I think it was a bit of a passive-aggressive response to some of the assignments. He assigned us the task of writing a program in VAX assembly that would maintain a family tree, which is a fine high-level language task, but a really crappy assembly language task. I wrote mine in Pascal first, then hand compiled it because while I probably could’ve done it from the ground up, I’m lazy.
At any rate, three of us: me, David King, and Tom McHugh had about enough of the assignment, so we walked into Mike’s office and sang a rendition of a song called, “I Feel Tired” to the tune of “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.
At some point, we created our own ficticious computer with a complex instruction set that included such instructions as JEO (jump and execute operator) and the very important BVP (be very paranoid). Before we did anything to Mike, we usually told him “Be Very Paranoid”.
One day, we decided that we were going to throw him a surprise birthday party in class. We went to a bakery and got a cake that read “Get Well Soon Grandma” crossed out with “Happy Birthday Mikey” on the edges. We said we got a discount because Gramdma didn’t make it. We put 4 candles on it in a row and decided that this was his 6th birthday and lit 2, because binary. While we set up, the head of the math department walked in and sat down saying, “I heard something good was happening today.” Uh-oh. Meanwhile, Mike had run downtown to get a bag of lollipops, hoping to appease us.
He showed up, we sang “Happy Birthday” and he turned bright red and walked into a corner and stood while we finished. We cut the cake and served everyone. Class started on time.
Another time, around 11:00 one day, we decided to steal his door. We all had pocket knives so we undid the screw on the hinges and pulled the door and did a fantastic job of hiding it in plain sight. We waited for him, but he was late for office hours, so we decided to have a quick lunch and come back. When we came back, the head of the CS department and another professor were madly searching for the door. When the head spotted us, he said in a very stern voice, “OK – What did you do with it?” I pointed at the door, which was in plain sight. “Put it back.” “Couldn’t we just wait for Mi-” “Put it back now.” Fine. Whatever.
We put it back on and it didn’t close right. It was really sticky, so we took it off again and fixed it.
Right then Mike showed up. I said, “Mike, hypothetically, if you got here and your door was gone, how would you feel?” “Pretty angry – unless you guys were here.”
That means we read him right. “Mike – was your door sticky?” “Yes – it was.” We quickly wrote him a bill for fixing his door. He never paid it.
Over time, I’ve played a number of jokes on people I’ve worked with (and gotten my fair share in return). One of my recent co-workers told me that when I play a joke on someone, the joke is so thorough that the victim has no choice but to understand that s/he is loved.
I’ve been more or less consistent in my overall approach and when I worked at Atalasoft, I codified it for my peers: play jokes, but they should be in good fun, cause no permanent harm, and you should be able to clean them up in 15 minutes or less. In college, we made sure that nothing we did would prevent class from starting on time and that nothing was mean-spirited. After college, there was one April Fool’s joke that was an exception to that, but only one that I remember.