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Guru's World 10/2000: I have a certain respect for lightning. Sun, Oct-01-2000
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Introduction:(3654 Reads)
Now normally when lightning strikes, you see a flash and you hear the thunder go "KABOOM". Well, I don't think I ever heard the kaboom. Maybe I did and the stress made me immediately forget it. I certainly saw the flash though! The whole shed lit up like I had turned on 500 halogens in a 10 foot by 10 foot photographer's dark room. I saw little tiny arcs and sparks all over the tin roof that looked like the special effects from that 80s movie Weird Science. I threw the GRiD pad across the room and hit the floor.


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I have a certain respect for lightning.

Especially recently.

We were going to go on a trip. Trips are a regular occurrence for us since both my and my wife's parents live across the state. One thing I like to bring on these trips is the old GRiD pad.

Now, GRiD pads are neat. They're compact and rugged laptops that have no keyboard, just a pen. Mine is a 386 33 MHz with Windows for Pen Computing loaded onto it's tiny 300 MB hard drive. If I want to doodle, I can play with Microsoft Paint and the GRiD is always great for the sudden urge to play Solitaire.

I keep the GRiD in the storage shed. For those of you that think that a shed is an odd place for a laptop; let me explain: We live in a very small house that was built in the '50s. It's so small that it has no bedroom except for the carport that was converted into a bedroom. What's funny is that this tiny little house was built smack dab in the middle of TWO LOTS, one of which is a corner lot. So needless to say it's a hell of a lot of property.

Whoever lived here before decided to take the concrete landing that used to be the old shed (part of which is still there) and expand it out to a huge ass A-frame building as big as a two-car garage only with TWO STORIES. The damn building could BE the house except for it's all of the way on the other side of the property and built too close to the road and zoning would not allow residency. I have a friend that keeps bugging me to let him move into the upstairs of it, which I'm cool with, but I don't want to get in trouble.

Pretty much all of our stuff, except for the clothes we wear on our backs everyday and the two PCs my wife and I use everyday, are in that storage shed.

Now that I've completely bored all of you with my living conditions, I'll get back to my story.

Getting ready for this trip, I had to go and get the GRiD pad from the shed. It was a very rainy day that day. In Florida, every other day in the late summer time is a rain day and this was certainly no exception.

I ran out to the shed and walked up to my old dresser. I hit the "No Sale" key on the old cash register that used to be in the bicycle shop I had once owned and pulled the GRiD out from where a cash drawer would normally be. Hey. Have to be resourceful when you are trying to save space. Besides, I think the cash drawer is on the other side of the room and has silverware in it.

I turned around from the dresser and powered up the GRiD. It had been sitting for a while without the charger on it and I wanted to see if it had any juice at all for some quick games of solitaire on the road.

No sooner than I had flipped the power switch on and the memory count started, was the shed struck by lightning.

Now normally when lightning strikes, you see a flash and you hear the thunder go "KABOOM". Well, I don't think I ever heard the kaboom. Maybe I did and the stress made me immediately forget it. I certainly saw the flash though! The whole shed lit up like I had turned on 500 halogens in a 10 foot by 10 foot photographer's dark room. I saw little tiny arcs and sparks all over the tin roof that looked like the special effects from that 80s movie Weird Science. I threw the GRiD pad across the room and hit the floor.

I lay there for quite some time. I don't think I was hurt. I think I was in shock more than anything. When I opened my eyes again, it was very dark. At least it seemed dark since the last time I saw anything before I hit the ground was an immense light.

I still didn't move. That is, until I heard my wife scream my name from the back porch of the house. I jumped up from the floor of the shed and darted out of there like an Olympic sprinter.

I came inside; soaking wet, and my wife told me that she heard very close and loud thunder and asked me if I saw where the last bolt of lightning hit. She heard thunder? Well, chalk that up for experience. If the lightning is right on top of you, you may not hear the thunder. Don't know why yet, but as I said before, after that big flash I didn't hear shit!

Ever since then, when there's thunder and lightning outside, I spend very little time outside and certainly NOT in the big two story shed with the metal roof.

Once inside, I noticed that both computers were still up and running despite the sudden brown out caused by the lightning strike. I have my battery back ups to thank for that, but my wife was unable to get online. Apparently that lightning strike was too close for some piece of equipment, but I had yet to figure out what.

The PCs were up, and mine was still online so I knew the cable modem was still OK. The NICs are also plugged into the batteries, so I doubt the problem is the NICs. That only leaves one thing. The hub. What's weird is that the hub is plugged directly into the cable modem and then from the hub, the UTP cable goes to the batteries, but sure as hell, I moved the cable from the port my wife was using to another port and she was back online. Son of a bitch.

The reason why I bring this up is to show how "random" the damage caused by lightning can be. Think about it. The NICs were protected, but the cable modem was not. You would think that the cable modem would've protected the hub from the surge by blowing up itself, but the surge went right through the modem. What's more is that the surge went into the hub via the uplink port and caused no damage there. No damage occurred until the surge got to the port where my wife's computer was plugged in. Wow! I guess I should consider myself lucky because if it had taken out the uplink port, I'd have to by a new hub and if it took out the cable modem, I'd have to wait for Time Warner to get out here with a new box.

As many of you may know, I'm a tech support person for the RMA department of a large reseller. If this were to happen to one of our customers we would get the following call:

Customer: Yeah. I need to RMA a hub.

Me: OK. What's wrong with it?

Customer: One of the ports is dead.

Me: One of the ports? Only one. The rest work?

Customer: Yes. Just the one port my wife's computer was plugged into. I plugged the cat 5 for that PC into another port and it worked so I know the problem is not the cable or the PC.

Me: Was there a storm recently?

Customer: Yes, but I have a surge suppressor on the wife's computer.

Me: Right. But not on the hub, right?

Customer: No. But all of the computers that are plugged into the hub have their own suppressor.

Me: Right. But not on the hub, right?

Customer: Right, but I do have to tell you that the hub is only otherwise plugged into the cable modem and the cable modem is fine.

Me: Right, but a surge can go through an item and spike its target. That's not uncommon.

Customer: That's ridiculous! You're just trying to get out of replacing a DEFECTIVE HUB!

Me: No sir. Tell you what; send it in, I'll open it up and if there is any components that are burnt, I'll give you a call and tell you so.

Customer: Right! Why should I believe you!?

Me: OK. YOU open the hub and look for ANY charred parts at all. Resistors, caps, etc. They don't burst into flames all by themselves and you did say there was a storm.

Customer: Ooooooooooh no! You're not going to get me there. If I open this hub up, I void my warranty. You should be ashamed! That's entrapment!

Believe me. It happens.

Some people are not even this aware of the issues of lightning. I will often get a call like this:

Customer: My modem stopped working.

Me: Was there a storm recently?

Customer: Why yes! How did you know? How's the weather where you are?

Me: It's nice. Real nice. Umm? Do you have a surge suppressor for the PC? That's why I'm asking about the storm.

Customer: Oh the computer was plugged into the surge strip. The storm has nothing to do with it. The modem just died.

Me: Well, that's fine. The modem has a two-year warranty. They don't just up and die very often, but it does happen. So your surge strip does have phone jacks on it?

Customer: No. Why would a surge strip have phone jacks?

Me: The phone line is just as susceptible to surge and lightning as the power for the computer. You may have zapped the modem.

Customer: All of the phones in the house are just fine and they're all on the same phone line. You're just trying to get out of replacing a DEFECTIVE MODEM!

Me (head spinning suffering from acute déª vu): No sir. Look; you're going to have to pull that modem out of the case anyway. Look at it and see if there are any burnt components on it. The lightning would have this effect on the components. It'll pass through the circuitry until something blows acting as a fuse of sorts. Just start and the line jack and work your way in.

Customer: Well how do I know that they didn't burst into flames all by themselves??

At this point, I'm making a run to the Circle K for another 2 liter of Mountain Dew.

Point is, lightning can kill. It can kill networks, both dial up and local area, it can kill PCs, both power supplies or actual motherboards or other components. A little preventative maintenance is all you need. Sure, it costs a little money at first, but over all you'll spend less money if you end up blowing something up without one.

Think about this too: You or I may swap that video card out three times in two years, but I've got the same OptiUPS Power VS 350 under my desk for two years and it cost me less than my last three video cards!

If you don't do it for yourself and your PC, do it for me. My eyes are going bad from squinting at all of these burnt surface mounted components.




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