The Saga of Hank

This is a picture of Hank. Hank is a mannequin. Hank was purchased by the Speech Group at Sun Microsystems Laboratories[1] in Massachusetts for a project that involved people talking to their offices. Initial studies suggested that people were freaked out by having a conversation with a room. It was suggested that perhaps these people would be more comfortable speaking with a dummy [2]. So Nicole Yankelovich purchased Hank [3] to act as the dummy.

Unsurprisingly, Hank turned out to have a million and one uses. When Guy Steele returned from vacation, he was startled to discvover that Hank had taken over his office, munching on Guy's bowl of mixed nuts. [4]

Around the same time, the security folks at Sun had changed the emergency phone number. Instead of informing everyone via email, as would be sensible in a major computer company that helped form the foundation of the Internet, they made up thousands of little laminated cards, which they distributed [5] to every single employee inside a plastic case made to look like a giant medicine capsule. Ken Arnold went through the building and collected each and every one of the pill capsules on the grounds that they had to be useful for something. That use became apparent the next week.

Throughout the summer, the researchers and interns at the various Boston area computer research labs[6] took turns visiting each other. The hosts would give talks and demos on the current research going on there. It was Sun's turn to host on a Thursday soon after the capsule delivery. The Speech group knew we had to include Hank in these activities, but adding the capsules was a last minute thought. As our guests arrived they were greeted by the sight of Hank face down in a bowl of pills, with a half empty beer. And that is the photo you see here. 


[1] Now part of Oracle.

[2] It turns out, everyone pretty much thought talking to a dummy was weird too, but most enjoyed it. I have no position on what that says about the test subjects or people in general.

[3] Hank was known as Safe-T-Man when purchased. He was advertized as "a life-size, simulated male, designed as a visual deterrent to give others the impression that you have the protection of a male guardian with you while at home alone or driving in your car." Go Figure.

[4] Within a year, people had taken to hiding Hank in the overhead bins that were built into the desks in the Lab. It became routine to hear cries of fear and surprise as people opened their cabinets and a limp 6 ft tall man tumbled out.

[5] With a half roll of life-savers.

[6] Sun, MERL, CRL[7], and later, Lotus.

[7] Then a part of Digital, later a part of Compaq, now part of Hewlett Packard.