Back some years ago, the local library system was taking its first steps to integrate with the Internet. It also installed something called Elvis, which was the acronym for an automated reminder service. Basically, Elvis would phone you up to remind you that your books were due, or that something you had put a hold on was now available, etc.
But then something in Elvis broke (I think it was his troubled marriage to the photocopier) and he started spraying out random calls to people who weren't even on his list. You'd pick up the phone and this creepy mechanized voice would pronounce (for example) Oct. O. Ber. Six. Teen. and then hang up.
Naturally, most people concluded that it was the Grim Reaper, announcing the date for their rendezvous with oblivion. I mean, what else could it be?
We can't hope to reproduce that level of panic among the populace; we can only do our part.
I originally didn't want to use this link -- it was flaky, and it disappeared altogether over the weekend. It's back now, though, and seems steadier.
Basically, it's a script that someone's written that allows you to enter some text and have a machine read it to any phone number (only in the US or Canada).
This is what you fill in:
Number To Call: xxx-xxx-xxxx A ten-digit (with area code) number.
Number on Caller ID: xxx-xxx-xxxx Same deal. You can use a real number or just make one up.
Name on Caller ID: Whatever you like.
Voice: A drop-down list with 11 different male and female voices.
Text To Say: Whatever you like, but no obscenities or threats, please. (The program records IP numbers and repeats them at the end of the message. It blocks messages sent from behind proxy servers.) You're also limited to 25-30 words.
You can put in your own phone number to be on hand when the fun begins. The program queues the calls for five or ten seconds, which will allow you time to get back and pretend to be studying your fingernails when the phone rings.
My mother, sister and 7-year-old niece were over when I gave it a try. I sent a message something like: "Claire [my niece] gets to stay up all night long and watch as much TV as she wants and eat all the candy she likes."
My mother answered the phone and you really should have been there to appreciate the look on her face.
Needless to say, Claire was thrilled by this unsolicited advice. My mother and sister were more suspicious, wondering if it was a wrong number. But as my sister pointed out: How would they know her name?
Sensing that this was spiralling out of control, I confessed to my role in the matter. Or I would have, if I'd been able to catch my breath, because I was doubled up in convulsions by then. I have a theory that laughter, like intestinal gas, must be released immediately, lest it damage major organs.
Link to the program here. (If it goes down again, you can get it here, from Google's cache.) Or you can go directly to the page that it feeds and which actually places the call. (The instructions are a bit more complicated, but you can operate from there.)
If you're at a loss what to say, here's a message thread on Fazed (from where I got the original link) that'll give you some ideas.
A couple of the commenters on Fazed were convinced that this was some sort of scam to get phone numbers for telemarketers. I rather doubt it. There are easier ways to harvest large amounts of valid numbers. Though there is some connection to telemarketing -- the calls come from demos of software intended for that purpose.