The Paper Shredder

Four years ago, I was a System Administrator fixing wifi and printers. I learned a lot about diagnostics from those jobs. Like this: You don’t fix problems, you understand them. Often, you’re done ten minutes after you figure out what’s happening.

A couple folks in the office told me their wifi would stop working for a few minutes randomly throughout the day. But not every day. Some days it’d break a few times, other days no problems.

Errors logged in the access points? None. One dead access point that devices usually ignored because it had low signal most of the time? Nope. Weird errors in the laptop’s system logs? None. DNS or other non-wifi network problems? No symptoms.

I couldn’t figure it out and ended up telling them to text me next time it happened so I could walk over and do some testing while it was broken. Turns out I wouldn’t need to.

The next morning I was walking in and passed an office supply room where one of the wifi access points was installed. I noticed it had been moved off its shelf. Someone had set it on a paper shredder.

Paper shredders have electric motors in them. Every time someone turned it on it shredded the signal and anyone connected to that access point got disconnected. A few folks weren’t in range of any other access points, so they lost network connection. After the shredding stopped they reconnected. I moved it back. Problem solved.

There is art in solving problems (and sometimes luck), but it’s often not in your solution. The magic is in finding new places to look for causes when you’ve already looked everywhere.

Thanks for reading!

Adam

P.S. I thought about telling this as a story about best practices instead of diagnostics. If the access point had been mounted to the ceiling instead of sitting on a shelf nobody could have moved it. What do you think, should I do a follow up post?

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