My undergraduate degree was in Computer Engineering which meant that by my senior year, spending the night in a computer lab of compiling code, testing the execution, and debugging the program was a common occurrence. I loved spending that time in the lab as I have fond memories of finding solutions to complex problems and eventually creating a final program that has a very specific use.
One of my most favorite memories is when I unintentionally knocked out the power of the whole university building.
Every computer lab in the Engineering building requires that you use your university keycard to get into the room as they are set assigned solely for Computer Engineering students. One day my sophomore year, I found that if you take the old CTR computer monitors, put your keycard on or near it, and degauss the screen, it will wipe the card. This is because when you degauss a CTR monitor, it uses a magnetic pulse to realign the pixels and refresh them when colors are looking faded and that magnetic field impacts the strip on the card.
This was perfect for me because I would usually wear out my card quickly and I did not want to pay to get a new card. If I wiped the card, I could get a replacement for free every couple of quarters. Sneaky, but cool.
It Should Have Stopped There
One day I was bored while I was working on a project and had a terribly hilarious idea. What if I made a program to degauss a computer’s CTR monitor at a specific time and upload it to all of the computers in the lab so that everyone’s card would not work. Mischievous, but a challenge. With just a couple of function calls through Microsoft’s .NET framework and uploading it via a USB memory stick, I was ready to see the fun.
What I did not anticipate is how far the magnetic field would reach.
When the time came, the entire lab went dark. The keycard swipe was dead. All of the computers were instantly off. Apparently, though I cannot fully explain it, the fusebox was next to the lab and the fuses were the old capacitors that has instantly been overloaded. They had all blown which tripped the other fuseboxes for the whole building and all of a sudden my little practical joke was now a big problem.
I was never found out, but I will say that I learned that day when too far was too far.