1994 Fools: April Fool's Computer Joke Backfires
Subject: April Fool's Computer Joke Backfires
From: ray.normandeau@factory.com (Ray Normandeau)
Message-Id: <26396.500.uupcb@factory.com>
Date: Sun, 3 Apr 94 12:58:00 
Organization: Invention Factory's BBS - New York City, NY - 212-274-8298v.32bis
Reply-To: ray.normandeau@factory.com (Ray Normandeau)
Status: R

FROM: Normandeau Newswire

Ray Normandeau, 718-392-1267
Mike Sussell, Invention Factory BBS SYSOP 212-431-5555


                 Hi-Tech Computer April Fool's Joke Backfires

It is well known that computers are repositories of confidential information.

After all, everything from credit histories to criminal records to your most
guarded health problems are stored in those bits and bytes.

How would you feel if upon logging-on to a computer, a message mentioned that
a lecturer against the perils of alcoholism wanted to use you as an "bad"
example of what can happen to drunkards?

How would you feel if that message addressed you by name several times, and
the message said that the lecturer wanted to start his next tour in the city
where you were calling from?

How would you feel if the message writer said that he would like to call you
at your home number which was visible for all to see in the public message?

This all happened as an April Fool's prank but back fired on Ray Normandeau
who is the editor of the Normandeau Newswire (J 5) at the Invention Factory
Computer Bulletin Board System (BBS) in New York City.

Normandeau used a high-tech version of a mail merge to pull this stunt.

With mail merge letters, a computer programmer writes one letter and then
pairs that letter with a database of people.

Everyone has gotten these letters in the mail.

The letter could tell a debtor to remit a certain sum of money. Everyone is
sent the same letter, but the variables such as name of the recipient,
address and sum of money owed are taken from the database which provides the
information for each person.

What happened on the Normandeau Newswire is that everyone who called up, got
a letter mail-merged on the spot while they were on-line. There was only ONE
copy of the gag letter with no personal information. But as each viewer read
the screen in horror the computer unknown to the reader was filling in the
variables from the user's own confidential file.

As viewers saw their name, home phone number and city that they resided in,
they erroneously thought that everyone else was able to read this.

Some people got upset. Upset enough to indignantly call up Mike Sussell, the
system operator (SYSOP) of the Invention Factory BBS.

Sussell had to kill the offending gag and call Normandeau who had to publish
an explanation of how the gag worked.

Normandeau promises to be more careful in the future but anyone, subscriber
or not, can call up now to see how the gag worked.

All you have to do is call the Invention Factory BBS, 212-274-8110, go to the
Normandeau Newswire (J 5) and read message Number: 8092.

The Invention Factory BBS which competes with CompuServe has over three
thousand special interest groups (SIGs) due to its inter-connection with the

Ray Normandeau is a Screen Actors Guild actor living in NYC and can be
reached by internet Email at ray.normandeau@factory.com.

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