Voodoo Electronics?

Brief by Central Staff

Electronics – April 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine

Our computers made it through Y2K just fine, but for the past month, they’ve been fractious. And the telephone system has been worse — much of Central Colorado was cut off from the world one March afternoon, and a week later, phone service throughout the state was tenuous at best for a day.

According to U.S. West, the first phone outage was a result of high wind which shifted a microwave relay antenna west of Colorado Springs. As for the rest, we don’t have a clue.

We did have a theory, anyway. This is the peak of the 11-year sunspot cycle. At such times, there are more solar flares and storms, which send tremendous amounts of electromagnetic radiation toward earth. When these meet the electrical fields around high-voltage power lines, surges can result that knock out electrical service.

Our electricity has been just fine, but it led us to theorize that the increased cosmic energy might be hitting our computers and their components and cables. After all, we’re at a fairly high altitude and so we don’t have as much atmospheric protection as the lowlanders. Thus these disturbances wouldn’t be noticed by the mainstream, where a mere 4,000 feet is considered “high altitude” on cake mixes.

However, our friends in Leadville report nothing unusual on their computers. And the experts we asked said that the radiation from solar storms could flip a bit once in a while, but wouldn’t cause the persistent computer ailments we’ve been fighting.

So we don’t know what’s responsible for mysterious lockups and random resets and keystrokes that misbehave. Computers are supposed to be the ultimate rational machines, but sometimes they sure act as though they’ve been hexed.