Hello, Mr. Chips

Flashback to the early 1970s, when this pilot fish is in the army and working at what the military is calling a "Data Processing Center."

"One of the things we did on a regular basis was pull pranks on the newbies," fish says. "One day a new guy came on the crew and, of course, it was his turn."

The crew tell the newbie that his first task is to sort the chips knocked out of the holes in the IBM punch cards the DP center uses. The tiny rectangular pieces of pasteboard have to be sorted by hand into three categories, they tell him: Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential or unclassified. The pranksters have even labeled three bags labeled TS, S and C/U.

"How do I know which ones go into which bag?" newbie asks.

One of the crew blurts out, "Well, you put the dye on them and they change colors. Red is Top Secret, blue is Secret and everything else is yellow."

"So where do I get the dye at?" newbie asks.

Fish jumps in, explaining that they're out of dye and he'll have to sort the chips manually by the number printed on each chip: 2s and 6s are Top Secret, 3s and 7s are Secret and everything else is Confidential and below.

"But how do I tell the difference between a 6 and a 9?" newbie asks.

Fish improvises, explaining that the 6 has a little "hook" at the top of the character, while the upside-down 9 doesn't, so it's possible to distinguish them.

"He fell for it," says fish. "We left him sitting in a chair with the three bags and a whole box of chips to sort. We had to leave him there before we started laughing too hard -- which we did as soon as we got out of earshot."

No, don't send Sharky your IT prank story -- April Fool's Day is the only time there's room in the Shark Tank for practical jokes. But do send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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