Northern exposure

Picture this: early 1980s, Alaska. Consultant pilot fish is ahead of the curve when it comes to networking PCs, and he and his colleagues keeping pretty busy with that. But given the climate (very low humidity during very long winters), static electricity is a big problem. They spend a lot of time giving instructions on how to avoid problems with static electricity, and most clients get static mats to alleviate them. 

Still, a lot of calls are about this one issue, and fish and his colleagues have gotten quite good at tracking down the staticky culprit when a keyboard suddenly starts blanking screens, rebooting the computers, and causing other strange things to happen. With a static electricity meter, it’s usually pretty easy to spot the chair, the wool sweater or even the hair that’s causing the problem.

So it’s frustrating when a computer in a city office keeps rebooting while defying their detective work. This computer is used for data storage for the other computers on the LAN, so it’s hardly ever touched. But where is the static coming from? The computer stubbornly refuses to reveal this secret, despite hours of troubleshooting Entrepreneurs.

As luck would have it, fish and a colleague are checking all the surfaces for static when the meter suddenly jumps several thousand volts. The computer, of course, reboots. But what caused that surge? Shortly after the computer is back up, there’s another surge, and the computer reboots again.

But fish notices that both times, the same employee was walking by the cubicle where the troubled computer is located, first going one direction and then the other. The consultants ask the employee to walk by again — same result. But they leave the cubicle to watch him this time and see that he drags his fingers along the fabric-clad partition as he walks by. The computer’s coaxial network cable routes from the back of the computer and touches the partition before going down to the floor. So static builds in the partition’s fabric and discharges when the employee touches the fabric, through the network cable to the computer, and out the static mat.

Solution: Move the computer a few inches away from the partition.

Don’t give Sharky static; give me your true tales of IT life.