The printer’s possessed! Hit the panic button

A printer prank works a little too well, and a joke almost brings the office to a standstill

The printer’s possessed! Hit the panic button
peasap via Flickr (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

In the IT profession, you have many opportunities to create a laugh and lighten the workday. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. There was a time when I gave in to temptation, and let's say it didn't work out as I'd expected.

Many years ago, I worked as a developer for a company that made chip testers. Several manufacturing giants used them to test memory and CPUs for reliability and quality. Our company used an amalgam of software to run the business, including Novell Netware, Windows NT, and OS/2 (and their respective networking technologies). The group I was in used OS/2 Warp and Warp Server, and I had worked my way into becoming the Warp Server network admin.

Along with using Netware, I had to make sure that the NT workstations in our division could access the OS/2 network resources, and vice versa; the rest of the company used only Netware for networking. It was quite a setup challenge to be able to access anything on any of the networks from OS/2, but we figured it out and got it all working.

Curiosity + boredom breeds mischief

On a particularly slow day near Halloween, I was poking around as a Warp Server admin, seeing what I could see on the different networks. We had an HP LaserJet 4 printer connected via Netware that I could see -- and directly access. One of the settings I found and was able to manipulate was the LaserJet's LCD panel.

Without thinking of the repercussions, I changed the display to read, "Help! I'm possessed!"

Hey, it was Halloween and it ought to be good for a laugh, right?

A plan gone awry

Well, someone saw it. But instead of being amused, they became concerned and reported the message to the Netware admin -- who started freaking out. The admin thought there was a virus propagating itself across the network and the printer's LCD message was a sign of the attack.

Sounding the alarm, he, his assistant, my boss, and several others went into full-blown panic mode, checking everything to find and remove the infection. I slid lower into my chair, afraid to reveal that I was the culprit. It wasn't long before the news reached the CEO, and by that time I knew I had to confess.

I quietly changed the printer's LCD panel back to normal operating mode and asked my manager if we could have a quick word.

I confessed to my misdeed, telling him that I thought it would be a fun Halloween prank. He didn't write me up, and to this day, I swear I saw him crack a smile at my confession. I was told to promise that I'd never do it again and this would not go on my record if I behaved. Needless to say, I did.