Snap, crackle, prank

Derek Mitchell -February 16, 2011

Back in 2004, I got a job at Honeywell Aerospace testing a newly designed airborne weather radar. We had a dozen test stations spread out in our engineering lab, and each station had a full set of equipment: antenna, transmitter, receiver, signal processing box, and radar display.

We put attenuators on each antenna so we didn’t radiate ourselves. I spent a lot of time on the test stations running random tests and arbitrarily switching dials to try and throw the system into an unknown (and unwanted) state.

Most of the time I’d just find subtle display problems, and I’d work with a DSP guy named Frank to replicate it so he could go into the software and figure it out.

Most of the stations were situated a ways away from each other in the lab. Two stations were side-by-side. While doing my random testing and button mashing, I noticed that the display on test station A went buggy when I flipped the radar on station B to a particular operational mode.

I quickly determined it was a faulty attenuator on station B that would induce some interference on station A, but I decided to have a little fun with the situation before fixing it for good. So, I went back to my desk and wrote up a phony “system change request” regarding the “phantom display artifacts” seen on the weather radar. I kept it vague and cryptic.

Frank saw the fake SCR in the log sheet and asked me to come to the lab and show him the odd behavior. Before heading out to the lab, I told another coworker, Rita, about how putting the radar on station B in a certain operating mode made the display on station A go buggy.

We hatched a plan to plant Rita over at station B while I showed Frank the goofy behavior on station A. Frank and I went out to the lab, and I said something like “yeah, it’s really weird, noise just pops up on the display when I *SNAP* my fingers like this”. Pop, up comes the noise (Rita switching the dial on station B).

“And then it just goes away with another SNAP.” Back to normal.

Frank got confused really quick! I demonstrated the finger snapping a few more times and Frank just got more and more perplexed. He started wondering about how an audio tone would somehow couple in to the system. I suggested he try snapping his fingers, and when he’d go *SNAP*, nothing would happen.

Rita, over on the other station, was by now giggling pretty good. Frank sat there and scratched his head. Bewildered, he said he’d have to go back and think about it for a while.

We eventually let Frank in on the gag. At first he didn’t laugh, but he got over it. And then he went back out to the lab and pulled the same prank on somebody else.

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