Fashion faux pas leads to laptop lockdown

When the CIO's laptop keeps inexplicably locking, the IT team tracks down an unconventional culprit

Fashion faux pas leads to laptop lockdown
Credit: Thinkstock

Stop and take a look in the mirror. Believe it or not, the cause of your computer problem could be on your body. In case your brain isn't already filled with troubleshooting scenarios involving drives, CPUs, and log files, start thinking fashion too -- your users could be one accessory away from utter technical failure.

A new CIO started at our company, and she was furnished with the latest and greatest equipment: A laptop model new to the company and an OS that was barely out of beta. She was and still is an advocate for early adoption of new technology, and our IT department was thrilled with the idea.

We weren't thrilled, though, when her new equipment began acting up. She had a strange and intermittent laptop problem that was worked on time and again by our support group, but nobody could solve it.

Try, try again

At inexplicable times, her machine would lock -- not freeze, but go to the lock screen, as though somebody had hit Windows-L (when asked, she said that she wasn't doing so).

After many failed attempts to duplicate the issue, let alone resolve it, the support group sent the case on to see if we could figure it out. Part of what our team does is set up operating systems and test new hardware and software. It was our turn.

After using the machine for a whole day to try to replicate the issue on my own, checking every log available, examining every group policy, and otherwise exhausting every lead, I was beginning to question whether this locking problem was happening at all.

I wondered if there was more going on. Was the new CIO simply testing her new IT department? Whether or not it was a trial, were we demonstrating our worth?

At several points, I was ready to take back her fancy new laptop and give her another model with the older OS. My frustration grew, but I wasn't ready to give up.

Problem solved

I mentally took a step back from all the research I'd done, all the things we had tried, and questioning whether this was some kind of executive challenge we weren't meeting and looked at the problem in a pure and simple way: What at a very basic level could cause the machine to lock?

From the logs, I noticed the machine seemed to think the lid was being closed, thus causing it to lock. Was it a bug in the OS? Faulty hardware? Since this was a new laptop, there was no physical mechanism that closed the lid and flipped a switch that caused the computer to lock. What caused it then?

After a few minutes of research, I had a new theory: magnets. Using the magnetic bill-clip built into my wallet, I started waving it at every area of the laptop as a test. My co-workers likely thought I had finally lost it.

But as I waved the magnet right around the spot one's wrist would be while typing, the computer locked!

I returned triumphantly to the CIO's office, spotted her bracelet, and asked (already knowing the answer) whether the clasp was magnetic. Yes, it was. I explained what must be happening, and we were able to replicate the issue. Problem solved! And no, it had not been a test of the IT department's skill.

The CIO was quite amused and relieved to have the problem fixed. Alas, my visions of being labeled the company genius, promoted, and given a huge raise did not come true, but I wore this achievement as a point of pride.

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