Short circuits and tall orders: Tech trouble at the steel mill

The IT crew hunts for a solution -- and another and another -- when network problems hit a computer on a towering crane

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First off, we tried a new computer. We radioed the operator to bring the crane to the dock so that we could swap out the computer with another just like it.

Nothing doing. The problems with the new computer inside the crane remained. However, the computer that had been removed from the crane worked just fine inside the office where we were checking it for problems.

The next thing we tried was swapping out the crane's wireless network equipment. The problem remained.

We then swapped out the CAT-5 cable. Again, the problem persisted.

We regrouped and stepped back from the problem. The computer we'd taken out of the crane was working just fine in the office. We thought through the differences between the environments, narrowing it down to the sources of power. It was worth exploring.

We called the operator to once again come to the dock, carried a UPS unit up to the crane, and plugged the computer into the UPS instead of the power outlet. The computer immediately started communicating on the network. Aha!

It was time to call in the electricians. They investigated, fixed the problem, and reported back that some kind of electrical short or loose connection had caused the power outlet to lose proper grounding. As a result, the network cable was serving as a ground wire, interfering with the network communication.

We were thrilled the issue was finally fixed and moved on to the next one in the queue. Remembering these incidents may not ease the frustration levels the next time around, but it's definitely a sense of accomplishment when a stubborn problem gets solved.

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