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Computer shuts down when foreman leaves the room: Ghost in the machine? Or an all-too-human bit of silliness?

The answer won't surprise you

On Call It's Friday mystery time as a Register reader finds himself embroiled in The Adventure Of The Haunted Computer. Welcome to On Call.

"Paul", for that is not his name, was working in IT for a supplier of automotive parts. The company's production lines worked all day and all night to ensure nobody would want for that critical car component. IT was a key part of the process, and Paul was the person on the other end of the phone when things went wrong.

And go wrong they did. At a most inconvenient time.

The call came in at 3 in the morning from a panicked foreman. The computer responsible for controlling his line was, as Paul put it, "stone dead". Well, kind of. It fired up from time to time, but really needed to stay up if the line was to run.

Time is money, and Paul ran to check out the offending computer. All was well – the unit was humming away. However, as soon as he left, another call was made; the computer had died again. "When he [the foreman] was in the office," explained Paul, "it worked fine but when he stepped out on to the production floor the computer would shut down."

A mystery for sure. Was a worker playing tricks? Could the line be haunted by the Bad Hardware Fairy (the one also responsible for those USB connectors that take three goes to get right)?

It was a puzzle that continued right up until Paul worked a weekend with a different foreman and realised what was happening.

A conscientious fellow, the original foreman cared about conserving electricity and so always turned the lights out when he left his office. Unbeknownst to the foreman (or Paul at the time), when the lights went out so did the power to the outlet in the office. The outlet into which the computer was plugged.

Each time the foreman took a stroll to the production line, he inadvertently cut the computer's power. When he returned, the computer fired up again. There was no Scooby Doo-style villain at work or employee japery, just a switch that did a bit more than the foreman realised. And an operating system that could withstand an unexpected power loss without ejecting its toys on restart.

Sometimes the most mysterious of issues have the simplest of explanations.

Ever been sure there was a ghost in the machine, only to discover the root of the problem was all too human? Or been faced with an initially baffling conundrum that turned out to have an embarrassingly simple solution? Share your tale with an email to On Call. ®

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