A funny thing happened at work today.
We (me and a dozen other colleagues of mine) got this email from another colleague that carried the title ‘New Presidential Candidate: It’s Someone We Know’. It appeared as if it was a spam but we all opened it anyway (yes, we work a lot), only to find out to our utmost surprise that a friend and a colleague, Bashir Phaddu (not his real name, if someone is snooping), is coming on strong in the US presidential race and might even end up being the eventual winner.
Here is the excerpt from the webpage, which can be reached here.
Two weeks ago, a caller to an online talk show complained about the limited political choices. After lamenting about having to vote for the "lesser of two evils," the caller said you could probably pick someone at random who'd be a better choice for President. A short time later, another caller said, "I've got this friend, Bashir Phaddu who'd be perfect as president... sharp, level-headed, and a great decision maker!"
Things have exploded since then, thanks to the power of the Internet. People embraced the idea of picking a political outsider at random, and they began calling it the "Phaddu Factor." In more than half-a-dozen metro areas, signs are going up, all promoting Bashir Phaddu for President.
Unfortunately, no one knows who it was who suggested this random nominee... and no one is sure where Bashir Phaddu is. Several groups have hired private researchers to find the real Bashir Phaddu. It's going to get interesting!
The news website also claimed that a total of 14,972 articles had been written on the mystery candidate Bashir Phaddu, more than double than that written on Joe, the plumber. It also included a clipping of one of the news reports (which I missed initially as it was a bit too embedded in the web page and looked like an ad) on Bashir Phaddu that showed how quickly Phaddu Mania was catching up and how there were ads everywhere on billboards, buses, taxis (and other very less likely places) cheering this anonymous contender.
All this, of course, was very surprising brand new information for us all, including Bashir Phaddu. What made it even more shocking was the fact that it could have been a mere coincidence. We all knew that there could be a million Bashirs in the world but there was only one Bashir Phaddu. How the buzz got generated was the million dollar question.
When dug into, it was found out that the story was initially spotted on the Internet by some university classmate of Bashir Phaddu and he had sent that on the class emailing list from where it got to our colleague. The information didn’t help much because Bashir Phaddu couldn’t find out about the person who actually called Amaireeka up and shared the Phaddu legacy with them.
Anyways, we all had a very good laugh and one hell of a lunch gossip session with The Honorable Mr. President To-Be. Bashir Phaddu, on the other hand, freaked out for some not-so-obvious-reasons and he didn’t want to discuss the matter in public. He feared that the waiter at Roll Corner might be an Al-Qaeda activist or a CIA agent (he always got our bill wrong) and his name might end up in that notorious missing persons list. And as we all know, there is still no Iftikhar M. Chaudhary, so the guy had a point.
I hadn’t seen the video by that time. So I tried to catch that when we got back from lunch. I also wanted to read more about Bashir Phaddu (after all, there were 14,972 articles about him online). To my surprise, googling Bashir Phaddu didn’t return any results.
This was suspicious. You know what they say, “if it’s not on Google, then it doesn’t exist”. I browsed to the link sent by our colleague again and saw the video. There was definitely something wrong. The whole video clip never actually narrated Bashir Phaddu’s name and it only appeared embedded in the video stream. I had seen this kind of stuff before so I instantly knew all this was fake, which was further verified by the following text (and the link) present at the end of the same page that nobody had bothered to pay attention to till then.
Computer programmer reveals that this website is a practical joke, and that you can make a version with your friend's name on it to trick them.
When clicked on the link, it takes you to a form where you could enter any two words (for first and last names) and you can have a website like that erected in an instance, which you can later use to freak people out. Well, it doesn’t actually erect a website; it actually just puts the two names in the URL’s (the long text that one writes in the address bar to go to a website, for the uninitiated) query string in parameters altf and altl for first and last names respectively and presents you that. To hide the obvious, it also encodes the parameters a little by replacing each character with the one succeeding it in alphabetical order (Bashir becomes Cbtijs and Phaddu becomes Qibeev; the character z is replaced by 8). When the link is browsed to, the web-server (the computer that handles requests for the webpage, for the uninitiated) does some tag replacements on its end (among other things). In the end, you get the web page with text, the video and the embedded name. Feel free to try it here.
I shared my findings with others (except Bashir Phaddu, of course). He was left hanging out there to dry up. He ended up calling his friend that initiated the link, only to be embarrassed and to find out about the trick from him. Relieved that he was under no immediate threat from the CIA or the Al-Qaeda, he then sent us the page again with a different name thinking he was the first one to crack the thing. Of course, that didn’t help much with the humiliation.
To be honests, we all ended up being the losers here, the biggest being Bashir Phaddu. After all, it’s a shame that it took more than 5 minutes for around a dozen software engineers to figure the whole thing out.
And to my surprise, some are still clueless.
It was quiet a fun day at work, though.