Don’t you love it when you visit a friend’s house and it turns into a tech support call? It happened to me this week, and although the solution didn’t turn out to be some groundbreaking revelation, it was a reminder of one of those time-honored tech support lessons: If there’s no obvious explanation, look for the explanation below the surface. Here’s what happened.

Just one more reason not to eat or drink while computing
My friend told me he couldn’t connect to his ISP. He railed about how long he spent on the phone with the ISP’s tech support. He was baffled; the technician was stumped. They’d tried everything.

“Let’s try to connect and let me see what happens,” I said. So we fired up the PC, double-clicked on the connectoid, and I watched as my friend keyed in his password. I asked the question he’d probably heard a thousand times: “Are you sure you have the right spelling and case?”

He said he was, but we got one of those lovely messages: “The computer you called has disconnected you. Please check your password and try again.”

So I said, “Why don’t you let me try it?” He told me his password, and as I keyed it, I noticed something peculiar. When I pressed the letters “kk,” both the “k” and the “i” keys moved.

“Have you spilled beer or something on your keyboard?” I asked. It turns out he had spilled diet soda on the keyboard. He had rinsed it with some warm water and used a hair dryer on it, but he didn’t get it clean. The keys were sticking! His password wasn’t working because even though it looked like he was pressing the letter “k,” the keyboard was entering “i.”

Why did it take so long?
Some of you may be wondering why my friend didn’t notice the sticky keys sooner. The reason is that he only uses the PC to connect to the Web. When he couldn’t connect, he stopped typing.

In a business environment, of course, your users will probably notice sticky keys right away—they won’t necessarily give up using the PC just because a password doesn’t work. And if you can’t fix a bad keyboard with a blast from a can of compressed air, chances are you’ll just replace the one that’s sticking with a brand new keyboard.

The moral of the story? The next time someone complains that his password isn’t working, don’t blame the network right away. First make sure that user hasn’t been spilling food or drink at the workstation.
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