back to article IBM shows off its sense of humor in not-so-funny letter leak

It turns out IBM, the elder statesman of global IT and a paragon of corporate seriousness, has a sense of humor – but the real joke may be on its customers. The Register brings you this important news after discovering three internal letters announcing the cancellation of products that seem not to exist other than to display a …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge

    Blame AI

    Someone forgot to blame AI for the bad jokes. IBM is turning AwatsonI into a joke machine. You know, machine learning mimicking as AI for funny model languages. And what do you expect when machines have a jab at jokes? Well, what do you get? Well,...?

    1. theblackhand

      Re: Blame AI

      Are ElReg commentards attempting to take over from the Onion in the "accurately predicting the future via sarcasm" game?

      How many months before Watson appears at a comedy festival to demonstrate IBMs advanced in AI?

      1. Snowy Silver badge

        Re: Blame AI

        Seeing as they are not PC anymore they will just get cancelled.

  2. sarusa Silver badge

    IBM: Ha ha we really hate old people who know what they're doing! So we have to go with cheap memes and hope we can be like the Wendy's Twxttxr account!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    explaining a funny joke immediately renders it not so.

    1. as a low-paid, foreign-state agent, I am, nevertheless, emminently grateful for your disclosure. Every little helps, etc.

    2. The story appears vaguely related to my resource pack item No Пе/Фонд/25236-4Д, aka 'The funnniest joke in the world', but I can't (yet) find a direct link, will report.

    p.s. Are you communicating with me directly? I'm open to offers of re-employment!

    1. tekHedd

      Re: explaining a funny joke immediately renders it not so.

      I also point out that just because *most* people don't get a joke doesn't mean it is not funny. It just means most people don't get it. For reference I refer you to a quote that ran in MST3K ads for years and years "We never ask 'who will get this?', we say 'the right people will get this.'" [probably misquote]

      My point is: if most people don't get the joke but you do, this in fact makes the joke funnier...but just to you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: explaining a funny joke immediately renders it not so.

        I was a HUGE MST3K fan in college, along with a lot of my friends.

        One girl was this brainy, quiet, religious girl. We were watching an episode and she starts rolling on the floor laughing. Quite out of character. She finally explained the seriously risque Biblical joke we had all completely missed.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Most established companies have variations on this.

    In fact, you may remember the IBM "Mouse Balls" memo from 1988.

    If you go back a trifle further, you may remember the DEC memo allowing as to how the Brightness Control Knob was not intended to affect the users.

    There are a ton of them out there, all from actual companies, many on actual letterhead, with real names and positions/titles and even telephone numbers and part numbers. They look official, but are actually just the idle musings of bored office staff. They are usually intended for distribution within the local office, but somehow manage to get more widely distributed ... Originally these things were put together by folks who did very early desktop publishing, or people with access to their equipment, and then mimeographed. The widespread use of desktop computers and copiers made it a lot easier, and then use of email made it even easier.

    On the early days, the mimeographed or xeroxed copies would then again be xeroxed, and those copies copied again, etc. until you had copies circulating that were 9th or 10th generation and so full of noise as to be almost unrecognizable. This is one thing that the digital copy has fixed ...

    Fun times. Or not, depending on your perspective.

    1. yoganmahew

      Re: Most established companies have variations on this.

      Write only memory, the bitbucket, a random IPL setting to save the ops the work of restarting the wrong machine (that one may have been internal though).

      1. TimMaher Silver badge

        Re: write only memory.

        Glad you mentioned that. I designed WOMBATS (Write Only Memory Batch And Transaction System) during an exceptionally boring morning, sometime in the early eighties. It used unary maths, which was permanently in either an on or off state. You could have single key keyboards and one pixel screens but they didn’t actually do anything anyway. It was really fast.

    2. LessWileyCoyote

      Re: Most established companies have variations on this.

      Memory dimly recalls what was probably a 1960s jape, a product description of "magnetic ball memory" for mainframes. IIRC the write command was BLOW BALL and the read command was SUCK BALL. Simpler times.

      1. Vincent Ballard

        Re: Most established companies have variations on this.

        I presume that "magnetic" was a brain fart and you intended to type "pneumatic"?

  5. Bebu Silver badge

    Fools' Guild?

    《IBM's joke is therefore a triple zinger that will doubtless be taught in comedy schools for generations to come.》

    Presumably added to the syllabus of Terry Pratchett's Discworld's "The Guild of Fools and Joculators and College of Clowns"

    Pratchett would have the ranks of Foolery (Degrees of Cowning) as:

    • Muggins
    • Gull
    • Dupe
    • Butt
    • Fool (Upon achieving this rank, a student gets his trousers filled with official whitewash)
    • Tomfool
    • Stupid Fool
    • Arch Fool
    • Complete Fool
    We would appear to live in an age graced with a surfeit of high achieving graduates from this Guild.'_Guild

  6. IGotOut Silver badge


    "Packing it in" is a British idiom for concluding a day of work."

    As a Brit, I've NEVER used or heard it in that context. I've only ever heard it as "I'm giving it up completely"

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      I totally agree with IGotOut, although there are several nuanced uses.

      Such as "Pack it in" said to someone to tell them to stop what they're doing (I'm sure I heard Reagan and Carter say this frequently in "The Sweeny")

      Or "I'm packing this job in" meaning that you're going to change what you do for a living.

    2. JimC

      Re: Really?

      'Packing it in for the day' is legit though.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really?

      El Reg is continuing its USAzian journey, giving sloppy translations of whacky British usage.

    4. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      Speaking as a North Country girl, many is the time I would hear weary mothers on the bus shouting at their misbehaving progeny "Pack it in, our Wayne or I'll get yer Dad to leather you". Such tender maternal care! This demi-paradise! This nurse, this teeming womb of royal kings! Sigh ... makes you proud to be ... half-Welsh

    5. tiggity Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      As for idiom, maybe a bit more care on using rimshot...

      It has a few meanings other than the badum ting after a joke

      Browse through

      .. some NSFW obviously

    6. Mark 85

      Re: Really?

      I've heard it a lot here in the States over the decades. Was surprised by this revelation.

  7. david 12 Silver badge

    At list some humor fans

    Editors here had The Register liked it well enough to publish it. Can't say that I agree with their decision.

  8. Mike 137 Silver badge

    You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

    "weak and predictable puns delivered by middle-aged men in the utterly unfounded belief they represent comedy gold"

    Middle aged male IBM-ers are far from being the only perpetrators. All the 'top 10' jokes at the Edinburgh Fringe are of much the same standard, the winner being "I started dating a zookeeper, but it turned out he was a cheetah". We used to just groan at quips like these when found in cheap Christmas crackers -- now they win prizes. And actually, the IBM quips are less glaringly obvious than the Edinburgh set.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

      > We used to just groan at quips like these when found in cheap Christmas crackers -- now they win prizes

      The Fringe winners hope to Carry On and win the new prize at the Cannes Comedy Festival, the coveted Palmes Dork.

    2. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

      In fact, as far as I can tell, there are only two marginally non-awful jokes on that list.

      Someone was on the radio the other day (or maybe it was the BBC News website) moaning that the way this "competition" is run is that comedians - or more likely their publicists - submit the jokes a couple of weeks ahead of the festival itself and they are judged "offline" as it were. This favours artists who script their entire performance and disadvantages those who are better at reacting to events on-the-fly or ad-libbing. It also disadvantages new comedians who are not familiar with the way things work, and especially those without publicists to work for them.

      The other thing the competition is for, and arguably what it is really for, is not to help up-and-coming comedians, it's to get the name of the sponsor onto all the news websites, newspapers and TV and radio "and finally" segments.


    3. Johnb89

      Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

      I saw that joke on the news last night and thought 'Every single 7 year old learning African animals in school made that joke within 5 minutes of reading the word 'cheetah'. Every one of them.'

      Is this where we are now?

      1. WageSlave5678

        Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

        TBF the Fringe jokes are voted on by the general public,

        who are known for making smart, informed and well-thought-through decisions.

        Although I was surpised at even their lapse in standards.

        Only a couple of years back Tim Vine's winner was " - a site for sore eyes"

        which streets ahead of this year's very poor effort.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

      "We used to just groan at quips like these when found in cheap Christmas crackers -- now they win prizes."

      True, most joke are like that when taken in isolation. In the context of a comedy show, where the audience are generally prepared and predisposed to laugh at something "funny", it's more about the surrounding patter and delivery of the line. As Frank Carson used to say (a lot!), "It's the way I tell 'em!"

      1. Mike 137 Silver badge

        Re: You don't have to be from IBM or middle-aged

        "where the audience are generally prepared and predisposed to laugh"

        Admittedly many years ago, I attended a BBC live radio show, and the audience was signalled when to laugh by a guy on the sidelines.

  9. Christoph

    IBM gave the PowerPC chip an assembly language instruction Enforce In-order Execution of I/O.

    The Assembler directive is EIEIO.

    1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

      Remember when Windows had the Burgermaster and the BitBlt raster blaster?

  10. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    And there was me thinking ....

    .... that there weren't any middle-aged men left at IBM! I thought they'd all been offered the opportunity to "excel in a different environment"

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: And there was me thinking ....

      Which is why all these products are being retracted: no one left to support them.

  11. NightFox

    "While the content of the letters is seemingly intended for IBM staff only, Big Blue's customers that rely on the venerable firm to care for their important data might perhaps wish to ask how this silliness made it into view."

    Suggesting that the only thing that has less of a sense of humour than IBM is IBM customers.

    1. GruntyMcPugh

      Well, IBM probably bill extra for delivering service with a smile.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No, the issue is that something they wanted kept secret was leaked, as the quoted text basically says.

      1. jake Silver badge

        It's not that they "wanted" it kept secret, it's more that they didn't expect a microphone at the water-cooler feeding a 50K Watt clear-channel.

        It's a (usually) unwritten law that intra-office humo(u)r should be kept there, away from client's eyes. In some places this is explicitly emphasized, for example "Hospital Humo(u)r".

  12. short a sandwich

    Dad Jokes

    Surely the joy of dad jokes is that both parties to "the joke" are aware that they are experiencing/delivering the worst of the genre.

    1. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Dad Jokes

      Not sure about that. I had occasion to fit a radio mic to someone at work the other day. I was met with:

      How many sound engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?

      One-two, one-two, one-two

      as if I thought it would be funny.

      Even the children who had arrived early for the performance looked blank.


      1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        Re: Dad Jokes

        Did some tumbleweed blow past as the bell of a small church rang in the distance and a dog barked?

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Dad Jokes

          "Did some tumbleweed blow past as the bell of a small church rang in the distance and a dog barked?"

          That's what happens when you yell "Theater!" in a crowded[0] small-town firehouse.

          Followed by a deep voice somewhere in the back intoning "Git a rope ... ".

          [0] Yearly open-house. Recommended.

  13. mtategcps

    CPak could also refer to IBM's Cloud Pak offerings which are pre-configured commodity hardware at Big Iron prices.

  14. Michael Strorm Silver badge

    While I suspect that the jokes weren't comedy gold, it's probably not because they needed explaining to *us*, as they were only ever intended for IBM co-workers who'd have known what all that meant.

  15. Howard Sway Silver badge

    IBM shows off its sense of humor

    Here's another one for the mirthmeisters :

    Q: What do a misconfigured AIX HACMP cluster and a 50 year old IBM engineer have in common?

    A: They've both been idiotically set up for redundancy!

  16. Roj Blake Silver badge


    Wang did their "Wang Cares" marketing campaign back in the day, although that particular joke may not have been intentional.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Wang

      Many moons ago An Wang told a roomful of Silly Con Valley luminaries and hangers-on that he got over the locker-room derived humo(u)r of his name during his first year at Harvard, but we should feel free to snicker at it if we liked. In his opinion, it said more about the person doing the snickering than the owner of the name. He further said this applied to any name.

      Smart man, Dr. Wang. RIP

  17. hammarbtyp

    Internal jokes is like helium. Eventually they will escape

    You have to be careful with in jokes.

    I once created a fake product release notice for April fools because we were being taken over and it celebrated the supposed merging of the two company product lines.

    Despite being total bullshit, every couple of years I get an email asking when it will be released

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Internal jokes is like helium. Eventually they will escape

      "Despite being total bullshit, every couple of years I get an email asking when it will be released"

      Probably from the Marketing Dept., who already have a budget allocation and a whole campaign set up and ready to roll. Clearly they are champing at the bit and have no idea they a flogging a dead horse.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Internal jokes is like helium. Eventually they will escape

      In 1988, working for a third-party company, IBM and Apple tried to recruit my group into the Taligent/Pink kludge. I have a T-shirt that has the IBM logo of the time superimposed on the colo(u)r Apple logo of the time on the front, and the words "Your brain, on drugs" on the back. We were informed that if we wore them at work again, we'd be fired ...

    3. JimC

      Re: Internal jokes is like helium. Eventually they will escape

      Indeed. I once deliberately started a rumour about a daft policy change for amusement, and six weeks later management implemented it...

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Internal jokes is like helium. Eventually they will escape

        About a billion years ago in internet time (call it 1986), I filed a bug report on a batch of bad EEPROMs that were throwing spurious errors. In the bug report, on a lark (and to see if anyone actually read the bugr), I suggested that it was probably Alpha particles off the heavy metals concentrated from sea water evaporation in the salt pile in Redwood City, which was just off our shipping & receiving dock.

        PhD Engineers scurried about for about a week, until I confessed to the joke. I nearly got fired. It's amazing how little highly trained people know about stuff outside their field. Me, I generalize ... seems to keep me saner than most.

        Note that back then there WERE some EEPROMS that were contaminated by Alpha particles[0], but that was caused by a manufacturing error before they were sealed up. If you know anything about such things, you'd know why my hoax was obviously bullshit.

        Why bring this up here? In the thirty five years since then, I've heard the story of the salt pile in Redwood City ruining electronics "due to Alpha Particles" half a dozen times, at half a dozen companies, in three states, Canada, the UK and Australia. Usually in relation to spurious errors in electronic gear. I suspect the hoax will out-live me by many decades. If you run across it in your meanderings and it causes you any trouble, I apologize ... have a homebrew on me :-)

        [0] Ours turned out to be part of the contaminated in manufacturing batch. Something about helium inadvertently getting introduced into the ceramic.

  18. trevorde Silver badge

    IBM Humour

    Resource Actions will continue until morale improves

  19. spold Silver badge

    A long long time ago the IBM Hursley s/w dev labs IBM actually produced a poster for CICS that went on many walls and was a stream of definitions of what it stood for, many humorous - e.g. Creates IBM Cash Surplus

  20. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    It's even worse making a "news" story of this...

  21. Ilgaz

    Seinfeld quote

    Father: And this offends you as a Jewish person.

    Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian. And it'll interest you that he's also telling Catholic jokes.

  22. bertkaye

    the Aristocrats

    Okay, but it's not as bad as IBM's attempt to do an Amish version of the Aristocrats joke.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

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