In the mid to late 70s, I was one of three engineers at Children’s Hospital and Health Center in San Diego. Besides fulfilling my roll in supporting evoked potential research, I was often called upon to address high-tech issues and problems for the hospital/research facility at large.
One day, I was summoned to a lab that had apparently produced an electronic gender detector. It appeared the computers worked for all the men but not for the one woman in the lab. Her computer would just lock up and not respond to her input. None of the men experienced any trouble.
We looked at lots of possibilities, but none bore fruit, so she used another computer, with no problem. A few days later, I received a call from the lab where I was told that one of the male members of the staff was now having a problem with his computer. I visited the lab and asked what was different about that day. I got the stock unhelpful answer, “Nothing!”
I pressed, “Are you sure? Other than wearing different clothes from yesterday, there must be something?”
I had him remove his shoes and operate the computer in his cotton socks. It worked perfectly. I then asked the young woman to go to the ladies room and remove her stockings. When she returned she slipped off her shoes and was able to use the machine without difficulty.
At the time, all of the men in that lab wore leather-soled shoes. The man who had computer trouble had bought new shoes with an insulating, synthetic sole. Those shoes became sufficiently ungrounded. The woman was wearing stockings and shoes with synthetic soles, so she had the same problem.
Later that day, I tore into the machine and, with some effort, found and repaired a loose ground wire.
This entry was submitted by Dave Ussell and edited by Jennifer Campbell.
Dave Ussell is a graduate of San Diego State University with a degree in physics.
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