Technology Issues with Surprising Causes

I’ve bookmarked this Hacker News comment thread because it’s full of funny/useful comments about tech problems that seemed to be caused by ghosts but instead had logical solutions. A great reminder for those nearly weekly calls to the Tech Guy show!

It all starts with a printer that wouldn’t print on Tuesdays…


Hehe, excellent.
Reminds me of the PC I upgraded into a box that went beep.
Took me a week of replacing every part except the floppy drive, until I found it was a brass spacer behind the motherboard that didn’t match in the new case.


Our WiFi went out last week.

The RoboVac had bumped into the socket the mesh main unit is plugged into and switched it off.



:joy: that’s hilarious #firstworldproblems

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The number of people in that thread who stuck metal tools into their PSUs is… shocking :joy:

Brilliant thread, love reading these stories.

My favorite story along these lines was about the sales guy who claimed his emails only seem to go about 200 miles before getting rejected. He was actually able to demonstrate this to the surprise of the sysadmin - email to recipient 100 miles away went through but recipient in the next state received a bounceback. This was reproduceable to multiple unrelated destinations.

After some investigation of the mail server config, it turned out the SMTP relay had a very low timeout value for connecting to destination servers, something like 50ms, so any WAN hops that were further than 50ms away (which equated to around 200 miles) would time out before sending SMTP traffic.

Back when I was doing support, I found the most challenging part of it was translating people’s impressions of what is happening to what is actually happening. Often with amusing results.


Haha, yeah the bit you never get any training in is learning to decrypt what people are actually trying to tell you, into something that makes any sense.


The 500 mile limit story is referenced in the HN thread with the original link (it actually happened at a university), and there’s an FAQ:


Oh crap, I’m the faulty line in an internet-based “whisper down the lane” game! Thanks for the source @Leo!

(ps, is there a badge for getting replied to by a TWiT host while they’re on air :grin:?? enjoying WW right now!)


Paging @PHolder Paging @PHolder

Maybe @Leo not so much??? :shushing_face:

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This didn’t end up going the way I originally envisioned, but I kinda like it anyway.



I have one: “Computer shuts down when I’m typing”

User contacts me about problems when typing, I suspected a power button issue (maybe the user pressed it by mistake, maybe it had a faulty contact). I took the laptop tested it, no problems, returned it to user, user still has the problem. I ask her to show me how it happens, she starts to type and then computer goes to sleep after a little bit. Hmmm… then I noticed she was wearing a Fitbit, the Fitbit magnet apparently aligned with the laptop sensor that detects when the lid is closed, bingo!


I had one many years ago which still baffles me.

When I was in phone sales a customer brought in a Nokia N95 with a screen backlight issue (display worked but backlight was completely off). Figured it was a loose connection in the slider and started to pack it up to send for repair.

Taking out the battery (back when you could) I noticed the SIM card being used was old and a bit damaged. SIM replacements would fix a few signal issues back then but I thought why not try it here. Put a fresh SIM card and powered the phone back on; look at that, a working backlight!

Ok, maybe I got lucky and the loose connection was under the SIM tray which fixed itself temporarily when I pushed in the new card. Took it out and tested without a card, backlight still works. Put the old card back in, backlight stops working again.

Still no idea why but the customer was happy to just use the new SIM and have a working phone. Never saw him again to know if it failed again later.