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April Fools' Day - Tech Prank Roundup

Yesterday's April Fools' Day was packed with pranks; here are a few of my favorites:

Gmail Paper - "Everyone loves Gmail. But not everyone loves email, or the digital era. What ever happened to stamps, filing cabinets, and the mailman? Well, you asked for it, and it's here. We're bringing it back." Gmail Paper offers a new button in the popular email service, to request a free print-out of the email in question, mailed to you at Google's expense. (Google fans, check out their classic Pigeon Rank prank.)

Star Trek: Demastered Edition - "The all new 'Star Trek: Demastered' product line will allow Trek fans to download their favorite episodes in a new 'demastered' format, which scales back any damage done by the recent high-profile 'improvements' to the original Star Trek masters. ... Sure to be a hit with fans, this announcement is especially good news for those who long to watch Star Trek the way they remembered it from the good old days: on a small, wood-paneled console television, possibly in black and white in 4:4 ratio, and with the original Moldovan-broadcast commercials."

ThinkGeek WiiHelmThinkGeek WiiHelm - "The average gaming geek is just not up to the strenuous task of vigorous arm movement for longer than 10 minutes. This makes those extended play sessions a thing of the past... and who wants to beef up at the gym just to play video games on your couch? We sure don't. ... After extensive scientific study it was found that manipulating muscles in your neck for 10 minutes uses 64% less energy than waving your arms about like a lunatic. The WiiHelm works great with all of your favorite Wii games and the included foot pedal allows easy button presses using minimal toe effort." (The web site has video of the WiiHelm in action.)

Google Toilet Internet Service Provider (TiSP) (BETA)â„¢ - "a free in-home wireless broadband service that delivers online connectivity via users' plumbing systems. The Toilet Internet Service Provider (TiSP) project is a self-installed, ad-supported online service that will be offered entirely free to any consumer with a WiFi-capable PC and a toilet connected to a local municipal sewage system."

Here's to another good year for fake news!

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Cory Doctorow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
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Pop Culture
When MAD Magazine Got in Trouble for Printing Counterfeit Money
Cory Doctorow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0
Cory Doctorow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

MAD magazine has always prided itself on being a subversive, counter-culture presence. Since its founding in 1952, many celebrated comedians have credited the publication with forming their irreverent sense of humor, and scholars have noted that it has regularly served as a primer for young readers on how to question authority. That attitude frequently brought the magazine to the attention of the FBI, who kept a file on its numerous perceived infractions—like offering readers a "draft dodger" card or providing tips on writing an effective extortion letter.

The magazine's "Usual Gang of Idiots" outdid themselves in late 1967, though, when issue #115 featured what was clearly a phony depiction of U.S. currency. In addition to being valued at $3—a denomination unrecognized by the government—it featured the dim-witted face of MAD mascot Alfred E. Neuman.

The infamous $3 bill published in a 1967 issue of 'Mad' magazine
MAD Magazine

When taken at its moronic face value, there was absolutely no way anyone with any sense could have confused the bill for actual money. But what MAD hadn't accounted for was that a machine might do exactly that. Around the time of the issue's release, automated coin change machines were beginning to pop up around the country. Used in laundromats, casinos, and other places where someone needed coins rather than bills, people would feed their dollars into the unit and receive an equal amount of change in return.

At that time, these machines were not terribly sophisticated. And as a few enterprising types discovered, they didn't have the technology to really tell Alfred E. Neuman's face from George Washington's. In Las Vegas and Texas, coin unit operators were dismayed to discover that people had been feeding the phony MAD bill into the slots and getting actual money in return.

How frequently this happened isn't detailed in any source we could locate. But in 1995, MAD editor Al Feldstein, who guided the publication from its origins as a slim comic book to netting 2.7 million readers per issue, told The Comics Journal that it was enough to warrant a visit from the U.S. Treasury Department.

"We had published a three-dollar bill as some part of an article in the early days of MAD, and it was working in these new change machines which weren't as sensitive as they are now, and they only read the face," Feldstein said. "They didn't read the back. [The Treasury Department] demanded the artwork and said it was counterfeit money. So Bill [Gaines, the publisher] thought this whole thing was ridiculous, but here, take it, here's a printing of a three-dollar bill."

Feldstein later elaborated on the incident in a 2002 email interview with author Al Norris. "It lacked etched details, machined scrolls, and all of the accouterments of a genuine bill," Feldstein wrote. "But it was, however, freakishly being recognized as a one-dollar bill by the newly-introduced, relatively primitive, technically unsophisticated change machines … and giving back quarters or whatever to anyone who inserted it into one. It was probably the owner of those machines in Las Vegas that complained to the U. S. Treasury Department."

Feldstein went on to say that the government employees demanded the "printing plates" for the bill, but the magazine had already disposed of them. The entire experience, Feldstein said, was "unbelievable."

The visit didn't entirely discourage the magazine from trafficking in fake currency. In 1979, a MAD board game featured a $1,329,063 bill. A few decades later, a "twe" (three) dollar bill was circulated as a promotional item. The bills were slightly smaller than the dimensions of actual money—just in case anyone thought a depiction of Alfred E. Neuman's gap-toothed portrait was evidence of valid U.S. currency.

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entertainment
Watch 18 Minutes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus Seinfeld Bloopers
Getty Images
Getty Images

Sometimes you just need to settle in and watch professional actors cracking up, over and over. That's what we have for you today.

In the two videos below, we get a total of 18 minutes of Seinfeld bloopers, specifically focused on Julia Louis-Dreyfus. When Louis-Dreyfus cracks up, Seinfeld can't help but make it worse, goading her. It's delightful.

Sample quote (during an extended break):

Seinfeld: "We won an Emmy, you know."

Louis-Dreyfus: "Yeah, but I didn't."

Her individual Seinfeld Emmy arrived in 1996; the show started winning in 1992. But in September 2017, Louis-Dreyfus—who turns 57 years old today—set a couple of Emmy records when she won her sixth award for playing Selina Meyer on Veep.

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