Engineering humor: joke whitepapers

Engineering humor: joke whitepapers

The engineering profession is usually pretty dry, but engineers generally have a great sense of humor. From time to time, bored engineers working at major companies manage to slip a bit of humor out to the public in the form of fake whitepapers. Here are some favorites:



The canonical networking joke is probably RFC 1149, which was proposed by David Waitzman on April 1, 1990. In it, he describes a method of sending IP traffic over carrier pigeons, which could create a very low-speed, organic network:

Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low altitude service. The connection topology is limited to a single point-to-point path for each carrier, used with standard carriers, but many carriers can be used without significant interference with each other, outside of early spring. This is because of the 3D ether space available to the carriers, in contrast to the 1D ether used by IEEE802.3. The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance system, which increases availability. Unlike some network technologies, such as packet radio, communication is not limited to line-of-sight distance. Connection oriented service is available in some cities, usually based upon a central hub topology.

Ridiculous as it may seem, a group from Germany actually tested the protocol in 2001, and were apparently able to send a ping command using birds. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has a longstanding tradition of releasing humorous RFC proposals on April fools day.

Write Only Memory


Another great joke is the datasheet for a ‘Fully Encoded, 9046xN, Random Access Write-Only-Memory’, published by electronics manufacturer Signetics. The part has some interesting features:

The Signetics 25000 Series 9046xN Random Access Write-Only-Memory employs both enhancement and depletion mode P-Channel, N-Channel, and neu channel MOS devices. Although a static device, a single TTL level clock phase is required to drive the on-board multi-port clock generator. Data refresh is accomplished during CB and LH periods. Quadri-state outputs (when applicable) allow expansion in many directions, depending on organization.

The whole setup is pretty funny, especially the ‘bit capacity vs temperature’ and ‘number of remaining pins vs number of socket insertions’ graph. (thanks, Mitch!)

Characterization of Organic Illumination Systems


A team of researches at digital must have gotten bored once after lunch, because they decided to experiment with producing light from foodstuffs. Their ‘research’ is summarized in the whitepaper Characterization of Organic Illumination Systems, which is apparently the definitive reference for using pickles as lamps:

There has been a great deal of interest of late in triboluminescence and electroluminescence in organic materials. Triboluminescence in wintergreen Life Savers® has been investigated by many over the years, while electroluminescence in organic thin films is an active area of current research both here and abroad.

In early December 1988, our attention was called to work by Bill Bidermann on electroluminescence in pickles. It was reported that inserting iron electrodes into a dill pickle and energizing with modest alternating currents caused the pickle to glow. Subsequent reports reached us in January 1989 regarding corroborating experiments. We decided to investigate the phenomenon with the aim of improving our understanding of the underlying mechanisms and examining the potential for commercial applications

If you’ve never seen a pickle electrocution, here is a video. (thanks, Galen!)

Know of any other funny examples? Share them in the comments!

16 thoughts on “Engineering humor: joke whitepapers

  1. RocketGuy says:

    The Rockwell RetroEncabulator.

    Just brilliant.

  2. RocketGuy says:

    Updated to use usb flash drives instead of scrolls, the use of homing pigeons has managed to beat T1 and DSL performance for large data transfers. High latency high throughput applications work best.

    I recall this being done successfully in Israel, and more recently in South Africa, where the “RFC 1149 media” also known as “Winston the homing pigeon” beat the local DSL by a landslide. In the time it took to transfer 4GB via Winston, the DSL had done 4% of the same data.

    What I’d like to see now is an Ardupilot Quadcopter with significant mass storage (i.e. 32GB SDHC card) transferring itself from two points automatically, and delivering data completely autonomously. Bonus points for contact serial interface, but even landing zone wireless transfer would be cool.

  3. woode says:

    If you guys can find that spec sheet from the 70s, you will rock… Mentioned on the Jargon File:

    “power off indicator” lol

  4. Alan says:

    Engineers aren’t the only ones writing with tongues in cheeks from time to time. There’s a long history of scientific jokes in the published literature. The Peep Research Project ( is one example. The classic debate in Nature’s letters section about why pizza burns the roof of one’s mouth is another, but that either hasn’t been digitized yet or is just eluding my current web searches on the journal’s site.

  5. Dave H says:

    At one time National Semiconductor marketed a line of “fast” operational amplifiers (that’s what they were called, right there on the data sheet). But they were costly, and some applications didn’t need their (for the time) blistering speed. So they came out with a line of “half fast” op amps.

    Then there was the short-lived magazine advertising campaign for Fluke digital multimeters. Each full-page ad had a headline that said, “If it works, it’s a Fluke.”

  6. Doctroid says:

    “Pessimal algorithms and simplexity analysis” by Andrei Broder and Jorge Stolfi (

    “No other problem shows more clearly the power and elegance of reluctant algorithmics than the sorting of n given numbers. … The slowsort algorithm is a perfect illustration of the multiply and surrender paradigm, which is perhaps the single most important paradigm in the development of reluctant algorithms. The basic multiply and surrender strategy consists in replacing the problem at hand by two or more subproblems, each slightly simpler than the original, and continue multiplying subproblems and subsubproblems recursively in this fashion as long as possible … For practical applications, it is obvious that slowsort is the eminently suitable algorithm whenever your boss sends you to sort something in Paris.”

  7. Shadyman says:

    Hooray for pickle-cution!

    Grissom electrocuted a pickle on CSI once.. I think it was on that episode where the construction worker was electrocuted.

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