Time-Machine Tuesday: The truth is up there

Crackpot theories don’t always involve aliens.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

User calls the help desk to report that a green liquid is coming out of her phone — and she tells pilot fish who takes the call that she has a theory: “The liquid crystals are probably leaking out.” Fish concedes that the LCD on the phone is called, in long form, a “liquid crystal display,” but those crystals aren’t green. But fish goes to check it out.

When he gets to her cube he does find a small puddle of an oily, odorless, green liquid under her phone, and it seems to be weeping from around the phone’s buttons.
But one strike against the user’s theory is that the LCD screen is working fine. All cubicles in this company have bins above the desk, so fish asks user if she has any liquids in there.

The reply is indignant: “Certainly not. That would be against the rules!”

So fish replaces the phone, but as far as he’s concerned, it’s an unsolved mystery.

And he gets another crack at it a few weeks later, along with a chastising email from the user’s boss — cc:’d to the user, fish’s boss and, for good measure, the company president — informing fish that the new phone is oozing green liquid, the problem needs to be fixed immediately, and why didn’t fish fix this weeks ago, since that’s his job?

OK, fish thinks, this is not The X-Files. There is an explanation. And besides, what are the odds that the same user would get the same weird problem with two different phones within a matter of weeks?

With that in mind, when fish returns to the cube, he takes a close look at the underside of the bin that’s right over the phone. And there it is: a small green trickle coming out from under the bin.

Fish asks the user to unlock the bin. Inside, as expected, fish finds a plastic bottle of household cleaner. An old bottle of cleaner — one with a tiny hole near the bottom.
Fish develops his own theory. He figures that the cleaner has been slowly leaking out, dripping onto the phone and running into the case, where the warm electronics helped to evaporate the water. After two weeks, enough concentrated cleaner filled the phone so that it could start to weep green liquid.

Fish informs everyone on the email chain how the situation was resolved, attaching the previous trouble ticket containing the end user’s initial vehement denial of having any liquids in her overhead bin.

One mystery does remain, though. “The odd thing,” fish muses, “is that at no time did either phone stop functioning.”

Sharky counts on a nice steady trickle of true tales of IT life. Send me yours at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter.

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