The Magnetic Boy

i-75fa6f7cebb4145668724f37f5a52b36-steve_icon_medium.jpgSince I'm on a superhero kick today I figured I'd highlight a kid who messes up nearly every computer he comes across. According to Engadget:

Joe Falciatano III from Pulaski, New York, seems to have simply the worst luck ever -- and some think it could be do to an overly magnetized touch. While using PCs at this elementary school, Joe -- who dubbed himself "Magneto Man" -- found that every system he laid his hands on went totally haywire. Only after a teacher suggested he use a grounded, anti-static wrist strap did the systems experience relief from his Geek Squad-inducing grasp.

The kid has even worse luck than silly computer systems at school... he keeps freezing his XBox 360 at home! Then again those things freeze all the time anyway. There also doesn't seem to be a source of this effect. Joe has had a number of tests run on him with nothing interesting popping up.

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This story leads us to the concept of people being able to erase video tapes, like in the new Jack Black Movie, Be Kind Rewind. In a recent Slate article Juliet Lapidos explores whether a person can become a magnet. She concludes that unless you don't mind dying (maybe you could be brought back to life afterwards?) there is only one plausible way to erase a magnetic tape:

A typical lightning bolt conveys tens of thousands of amps (and thus generates a strong magnetic field), but when a person gets struck, only a small fraction of that energy penetrates the skin. The rest passes over the surface of the body. So, if you were to get zapped by lightning while holding a VHS and survive (as 80 percent to 90 percent of strike victims do), you'd end up with a blank tape.

Anyone want to give this a try? Can any of you come up with another way of doing this?

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Edited for brevity ... Dec 23 Joseph Smith born, 1805 Dec 23 Emperor's Birthday in Japan Dec 23 Victory Day in Egypt Dec 23* Hanukkah (Fourth day) Dec 23 First G&S collaboration, Thespis, 1871 Dec 24 KKK formed in Pulaski, Tenn, 1865 Dec 24 Christmas Eve
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A grounding strap wouldn't do anything for magnetism, it is for dissipating static electricity. What needs testing is probably Joe's shoes, or the carpeting in the room with the X-box.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 03 Mar 2008 #permalink

I'd agree with the first comment. Static electricity is the problem. I often get electric shocks from doorknobs, the car, the radio station where I volunteer...it has to do with the shoes and if I am wearing a fleece shirt or acrylic sweaters and am sitting on an upholstered chair...it works up a charge.
I don't use a grounding strap...but I always remove my shoes and offending sweaters when I am opening up computer equipment. And of course, touch the metal chassis of the computer to release any static, before I touch anything else. The shocks can be very painful and would definitely mess up a computer if I weren't so careful.

By Graciepoo (not verified) on 03 Mar 2008 #permalink

Guys, I know it's not possible for someone to 'become magnetic' but I can tell you from first hand knowledge, some folks DO have what appears to be an elevated magneticism within their bodies.

My father can 'witch' a well. He will show you how it's done, let you try it, and when you fail, he can put his hands over yours and it will work. I kid you not, I've seen it hundreds of times - the stick will turn in your hands while his are over top of yours, and it will point to the underground water as you walk over it. He will tell you how deep that water is based on how many steps it is between the first twitch and when the stick is pointing straight down (and he's within a couple feet every time). He also can not wear a watch for more than a month or two, they just quit working. It doesn't matter how cheap or expensive the watch, they just die and never work again. AFAIK, he doesn't kill computers or gaming consoles, (mostly because he's a technophobe).

He's always attributed this to magneticism concentrated in his wrists. Anyone got a better theory?

I agree magnetism is out. Hard drives use electromagnetic components for recording and mechanical actuation, but the field strength required to disrupt this from outside would require the kid to have swallowed a functioning MRI machine.

Static electricity doesn't really cut it either. It can damage computer components, but for this reason the parts subject to this sort of damage are usually protected by a nice box. Unless you touch exposed connectors, no effect. Also, static discharge on sensitive components generally results in permanent damage.

Sufficiently powerful radio frequency emission can temporarily disrupt microelectronics, but unless he's carrying around something like a microwave magnetron and a large power source, this won't do either.

So what could cause this ?

Space probes routinely suffer from single event upset due to cosmic radiation. Anyone hooked this kid up to a Geiger counter ? He could be the next radioactive boy scout!

Tongue firmly in cheek ;)

One of my brothers says he kills wristwatch batteries, so he wears a watch with a clip that he can hang from a belt loop. My mom says she can't wear a windup watch because they'll run slow or stop completely. Oddly enough, she has no trouble at all with battery-powered ones. I had no idea this kind of thing was so common.

I've never had a problem with watches, but if only I could get my digital camera to stop eating batteries for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snacks.........

By themadlolscientist (not verified) on 03 Mar 2008 #permalink

There was a time, when I was doing electron microscope work, that my presence seemed to mess up the instruments - just being near them on certain days appeared to disturb the beam properties. And we may have been a lab of scientists, but everybody learned that on very rare occasions, I needed to be elsewhere. I had one tech who claimed to know when I had walked into the lab, without having seen me.

Since, the only comparable occurrence happened when every photocopier in a building went nuts when I got near it - I went through four before convincing someone to do my copies for me.

I'm not claiming that it makes any sense, however.

but if only I could get my digital camera to stop eating batteries for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snacks.........

If you camera has a viewfinder, you can get a lot more mileage ou of the batteries by turning off the LCD viewscreen.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 04 Mar 2008 #permalink