I went to visit family this past weekend and as the family’s ambassador for technology, I was set to work on their list of electronic aches and pains. My aunt who recently upgraded her abacus-era computer for a new PC was complaining that whenever she would plug her computer into the phone line, all incoming phone calls would chirp once on the house phones, then nothing. She had already talked to the techno-wizards at Radio-Shack who said that she probably had “older 3-wire phone wiring that might not work with her new computer”. I had to bite my tongue. [more]

After some fact finding investigation, it appeared that the house was wired in a loop (not star) configuration. Also, it didn’t matter what phone jack the computer was connected to, the results were still the same single “chirp”. At first I thought the PC might be using some telephony software to try and answer the call, but the behavior remained the same with the system powered off and unplugged from power (but w/ the phone line still connected to it). With her phone line connected to my laptop, incoming calls rang fine.

Adding up all of these factors pointed to a bad PCI modem installed in the computer. My hypothesis is that somewhere in the manufacturing process a path to a capacitor or resistor got messed up so that when the phone rang, the current charged the capacitor thus completing the circuit and dropping the incoming call. The moral of the story… just because something is new and has a manufacturing defect rate of 10,000:1 doesn’t mean you can’t be that one person. Now if I could only get that lucky in the lottery…(oh wait, that would mean I have to actually play it).