Fighter pilot shot down laptops with a flick of his copper-plated wrist

New motherboards wouldn't fix it, but a magnetic personality can work wonders

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On-Call Why hello there readers! It's Friday and that means it's time for another edition of On-Call, our weekly column in which your peers take centre stage by sharing tales of jobs gone wrong.

This week, meet “Len” who tells us he used to work for Dell and was once summoned “to the middle of nowhere in Cumbria.” Perhaps Len could have omitted “in Cumbria” and the sentence would still have worked?

But we digress. Len's mail to us said the job looked scary because it involved an otherwise normal, boring, PC that had been serviced several times in just a couple of years. The machine's motherboard had been changed more than once. Ditto the CPU.

“You name it, it had been replaced,” Len recalls.

So he eventually found the customer's home and made his acquaintance, perhaps with a little trepidation given the machine's long and problematic history.

But Len quickly realised the owner was a “a wonderful man who used to be a fighter pilot on Vampires and similar early jets and had the ejection tie from Martin-Baker* to prove it.”

Len extended the pleasantries into a bit of diagnostic chat, but the customer wasn't in the mood for it: he said he was sick of Dell because the supposedly high-spec laptop constantly shut down when he was working.

Which sounded odd, so Len asked for a demonstration and watched as the machine did indeed shut down. And then started up again and resumed operations, without any data corruption or other problems that would indicate faulty kit.

Len thought about this for a while asked the client to remove the copper bracelet he wore for his rheumatism. Len had spied a couple of magnets on the bracelet and wondered if they might be triggering the sensor that detects when the laptop's lid closed.

Which was just the problem. So Len set the laptop to ignore the sensor and all was well.

At least until he got back to the office, where Dell asked why he hadn't replaced the motherboard.

Len reckons the moral of this story is to listen, really listen, to customers. And clearly to also keep an eye on their jewellery.

What's the weirdest root cause for a problem you've diagnosed? Write to me could pop up in a future On-Call. ®

* Martin-Baker is the world's top manufacturer of ejection seats. The company issues ties to those who have used its products.

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