“I tried to remember if someone owed me a practical joke.”

“We’re having a problem sending email out of the department.”
“What’s the problem?” I asked.
“We can’t send mail more than 500 miles,” the chairman explained.
I choked on my latte. “Come again?”
“We can’t send mail farther than 500 miles from here,” he repeated. “A little bit more, actually. Call it 520 miles. But no farther.”

This is how odd computer problems can be. Read the rest here! Yes it really did happen. Hat tip to Yonathan Zunger for reminding me of this great story.

As a general rule, magic is never*) involved. It’s just that the actual logical cause is very well hidden.**) The history of technology is full of stories like this one. Many of them sound like insane urban legends, but they are usually based on a true story. Here’s one I hadn’t heard before, about a car that is allergic to vanilla ice cream!

*) Okay except that one famous “more magic” switch:

[…] it’s a basic fact of electricity that a switch can’t do anything unless there are two wires connected to it. This switch had a wire connected on one side and no wire on its other side. It was clear that this switch was someone’s idea of a silly joke. Convinced by our reasoning that the switch was inoperative, we flipped it. The computer instantly crashed.

**) I’m trying hard not to make references to homeopathy here.

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