The haunting of seat 6F

The haunting of seat 6F

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read
A weird and scary thing happened to me on my flight down to PC Forum. I opened up my ThinkPad X41 laptop to do some work, and the machine wouldn't start up. I thought maybe it was a sleep mode problem (the machine had been in standby), so I turned off the laptop and restarted it. Then I got a hard disk controller error I had never seen before. I restarted, and it happened again. Slightly worried (but not too much, since I am obsessive about backups), I powered down, took out the battery, waited a few seconds, then reassembled the laptop and started it up again. It worked. By this time we were descending, so I had to power down right away. I chalked up the error to a random glitch. At PC Forum, I had no problems and was able to blog away merrily.

But on the flight back, the same thing happened. I opened up the laptop and got an error. And this time, nothing I did would get the machine to work. Yet when I got home, everything was fine. What happened?

Here are the working theories:

1. I was in the same seat, 6F, on both flights. Possibly I was on the same airplane. Perhaps there was some strange electromagnetic phenomenon (or a ghost) that kept my hard disk from working.

2. The ThinkPad has a protection system that parks the hard disk when it detects shock or excess vibration. It could be that the vibration of the airplane kicked in the protection system and kept the hard disk from working.

3. The lower atmospheric pressure in the cabin may have affected the hard disk or a cable connecting it. That would explain why the machine started working during descent. An editor I work with at CNET says her iPod acts up in airplanes; another has a similar problem with his PSP.

What else could it be? Should I get a new laptop?