Shocks from a hairy jumper crashed a PC, but the boss wouldn't believe it
As bizarre tales of tech support go, this may be the GOAT
On Call Many a middle aged man knows that hair today is gone tomorrow, but every Friday you can count on The Register bringing you a new instalment of On-Call, our reader-contributed tales of tech support tasks that required tact in the face of trying truculence.
This week, meet a reader we'll Regomize as "Monty" because in the 1990s he worked as a computer tech British Columbia – lumberjack country.
"The company had a pulp mill in the town of Prince George and several sawmills around Northern BC," Monty told us. Its HQ was in Prince George, a significant timber town in BC, which was where Monty went about his business.
"One cold winter week, we started to get calls from the vice president of Forestry that his computer was acting up," he told On-Call. "It would randomly restart. And at one point, his keyboard completely failed, and had to be replaced."
Bosses are bosses, even when they work in small towns. So the VP of Forestry Monty was trying to help had a shiny new '386 machine while the rest of the company made do with a 286.
The more recent machine's unreliability was therefore a puzzler.
Monty made several trips to the boss's office to check things out and, of course, "as a VP, he was too important to just sit there and watch me try to troubleshoot things, so he always had me come up when he was out of his office," Monty recalled. "I was really puzzled because I just could not find anything that could be causing the problem, and the computer really was very new."
The veep was good humored about the mystery, but one day his machine crashed for the umpteenth time, and he decided it was time to let the tech team interrupt his busy schedule.
Monty strode into his office and immediately spotted the problem.
"Northern British Columbia gets very dry in the middle of winter, and there draped over the back of his chair was a beautiful – and probably very expensive – mohair sweater," Monty told On Call.
That jumper was positioned exactly where the boss would rub his back against it.
At this point readers will probably have had a spark of understanding. Very dry air, very long fibers, lots of rubbing – a perfect scenario to generate static electricity!
Monty's hypothesis was that merely by sitting on his chair, rubbing against mohair, and typing, the veep could be discharging a decent quantity of Coulombs into his keyboard.
- Thanks for fixing the computer lab. Now tell us why we shouldn’t expel you?
- Automation is great. Until it breaks and nobody gets paid
- Techie called out to customer ASAP, then: Do nothing
- Errors logged as 'nut loose on the keyboard' were – ahem – not a hardware problem
The veep scoffed at the suggestion his furry garment could be causing PC problems.
So Monty performed a demo.
"I asked him if I could sit down, then vigorously rubbed my back on his sweater, reached for the keyboard, and a huge static ZZzzzzap! went from my hand to the keyboard, immediately causing his computer to shut down."
"He was very sheepish about it," Monty said – presumably because there isn't a goat-related metaphor to describe the situation. "And he vowed to never wear that sweater to work again. We parted on the best of terms."
Have the forces of nature ever caused crashes you were called upon to correct? C'mon you lot – click here to send On-Call an email so we can feature your story here on a future Friday. The On Call mailbag is a little threadbare so we could use your stories. ®