I was thinking about a funny tech support issue I ran into many years ago, and thought it would be fun to share it with everyone. All names have been changed to protect the innocent. If you’ve ever had to spend hours chasing down the root of a problem, only to find that it was the dumbest thing possible, you’ll probably relate to this!
Another ticket was opened by the client with the same issue. By now, this was probably the third time Martha put in the request. Thankfully, Martha was patient, and knew we were really working hard to try to get to the bottom of this issue.
Here’s the whole situation. Martha’s role had her up on her feet a lot in the office. She would check people in and coordinate schedules on her computer, but she was also the one who handled printing documents to hand out to the other staff, run the copier, and various other administrative tasks that required moving around the office for a few seconds at a time.
She would print out a document, stand up to put it into the three-hole puncher, stick it into a binder, and hand it off to someone in the desk adjacent to hers, and by the time she sat back down, her computer would lock and she’d need to type in her password and put in 2FA again.
At first, we told her that if you are going to leave your station, you probably want to lock your PC, to prevent others from getting in and seeing that data, and that your computer is set up to automatically lock if you leave it alone for ten minutes.
But that’s not what Martha is doing. She’s still practically standing in front of her computer to do most of the administrative tasks she has, and she’s only doing it for a minute or two at most, and sometimes, it’s even less. She even mentioned that she reached down to take something out of her bag and her computer locked on her.
It wasn’t an end-of-the-world situation, but it was clearly annoying to poor Martha and getting in her way.
We checked all the computers' settings remotely. We babysat it with her remotely while she was away. Everything was fine. All of the settings were correct. We couldn’t experience it.
While we were working on the second ticket, Martha took some time off, and we even had another person at the company sit down at the PC and see if they could recreate it. At this point, it was driving Martha nuts to the point where her office mates all knew she had this cursed computer that locked her out randomly every time she turned her back for a moment.
Each time, we thought we did everything we could, and we thought the issue went away, and when Martha got back into the swing of things, her cursed computer would start locking her out like some sort of cruel goblin.
By the third ticket, our techs were all shrugging our shoulders. What could this be? Should we take the nuclear option and reinstall Windows? Should we just get her a new PC? Maybe we need to open it up and reseat the RAM and just treat it like broken hardware—it was a shot in the dark, but I really wanted to help poor Martha out with this.
I drove onsite and got there while Martha was on lunch. Perfect. I’ll have some time to troubleshoot the heck out of this and figure out what is going wrong.
I quickly opened up the case, reseated the RAM, inspected the PC inside and out, checked all the connections, closed it up, and tested it. I ran through error logs, I ran a virus scan, I looked for any kind of fault or problem I could, but this computer was in pristine condition.
I even pretended I was Martha. I opened up a Word document, printed it, stood up, used the 3-hole puncher, stapled it, and repeated it again. I stood up and walked around Martha’s cubicle in a circle, and I was more-or-less pantomiming myself handing this test document to another person when Martha returned from lunch grasping her leftover salad, probably wondering what the heck I was doing.
She asked if I figured out what the issue was, and I told her that I had not been able to recreate it, but I was happy to stick around for a bit to see if it came back for her.
She sat down at the computer, which was logged in, and it immediately locked her out.
I had her sign back in, and asked her to stand up.
I repeated what she did, I sat down, nudged the chair forward, and the computer remained logged in. She took my place, sat down, pushed in the chair, and the computer locked.
“Martha,” I said, “your computer isn’t cursed, I think it might be you!”
Of course, I was joking, but after repeating this a few times, I caught on, and nearly fell over from how silly this problem was.
You see, Martha had one of those desks where the keyboard is on a tray that slides out from under the surface of the desk. When Martha sits down in her chair and pushes it under her desk, the armrest of the chair is just high enough to push up on the keyboard tray, and the keyboard’s ergonomic shape had the Lock key at just the right height that it nudged up against the underside lip of the desk.
Martha would sit, and pull out the keyboard and that lock key got brushed just hard enough to lock the computer.
I reached in and pulled out the keyboard. It had adjustable feet so it could be lowered a little bit.
I told Martha, “Obviously make sure the keyboard is still comfortable to use, if it’s not we can do something to adjust the desk or the chair, but I think we found our problem, finally!”
The flabbergasted look on Martha made it all worth the effort, and we had a good laugh over it. Then Martha said, “Okay, but why didn’t this happen to anyone else?”
I sat back down in her office chair. I was probably about 40 lbs heavier than Martha, who was about 5’2” tall. When I sat down in the chair, the springs in the chair compressed, pushing the entire chair, including the armrests, down just a little bit. It was a nice, comfy, ergonomic office chair, but it definitely had a little bit of give. I awkwardly shuffled the chair in and out from under the desk while I sat in it. When I sat in the chair, the armrests didn’t graze the keyboard tray.
I pointed to the leftover salad she brought back from her lunch break.
“Probably because I could stand to eat that stuff a little more often!”