It’s a little late for April Fool’s jokes, but what the hell. This one‘s worth a laugh and a half:
Gerry Nicholls thought he was hallucinating as he kicked back in his seat to take the 35-minute GO train ride to his Oakville home.
About every three seconds, the scrolling electronic sign that usually carries transit updates and advertisements had a very different message that he just could not keep his eyes off.
“Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies. Stephen Harper Eats Babies,” the message kept repeating.
“No one (in the car) seemed to be reacting to it,” said Nicholls, who happens to be vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, the same conservative think-tank formerly headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“You go home and you are trying to rest from work and all of a sudden where they usually talk about Ticketmaster, all of a sudden you see this thing say `Stephen Harper Eats Babies,'” Nicholls said yesterday. “I wasn’t even sure when I got off the train. Was I hallucinating?”
Turns out he wasn’t.
An ingenious hacker, who boarded the Lakeshore GO Transit westbound train, made sure that on Thursday, Friday and yesterday, suburban commuters in at least five different cars continued to get his or her subliminal message
His weapon of choice was a remote control device that can be bought at a Sam’s Club and used to discreetly program scrolling electronic signs found commonly in shop windows — and in every GO Transit train car — from about two metres away.
When Exclusive Advertising, the company that sells interior advertising on GO trains, installed the LED signs about nine years ago, the signs, which have to be individually programmed, couldn’t be password protected, said company president Greg Donohue.
The company sells advertisers $8,690 of space a month to play 15-second messages with 52 characters on a three-minute loop.
Donohue said the hacker appears to have always gotten on the train at the third car from the locomotive and used the upper levels of the train.
“We have never had any problems until now,” said Donahue.
GO Transit spokesperson Ed Shea called it “a case of electronic vandalism.”
“Unfortunately it’s a slur, it’s an offensive message,” said Shea. “We regret it happened and we’re sorry if anybody was offended, including the Prime Minister.”
Not to worry, I don’t think he is offended. He’s not programmed for that response. Craig Lauzon tells me so.