In medical school, students are taught that when they hear hoof beats, they should look for horses, not zebras. That’s a sound policy in the information technology arena, too. We usually have a pretty good idea about what we’re going to find during a service call based on the initial description of the problem.

There are, however, occasional zebra sightings. We thought we’d end 2012 with a lighthearted look at some of the things we’ve encountered. Perhaps these fun stories will help you spot a few zebras of your own!

Having issues with your keyboard? If it stops working in the morning, it may be asking you to stop bringing it coffee. If the problem arises later in the day, check to see if there are any Cheetos (or other tasty snacks) stuck underneath the control key or space bar.

Is your computer randomly failing to power on? Confirm that nobody plugged your computer into an outlet connected to a wall switch.  It’s amazing how often this happens.  If your power outlet does run off a wall switch, consider duct taping it over, or putting a very prominent warning sign above it.

Did some of your files not make it to your new machine during a data migration, or did they randomly disappear? This would be a great time to stop saving files to that handy directory called “temp.”  Or even worse, in the “Deleted Items” trash can.  They really are called “temp” and “deleted items” for a reason and Windows routinely empties out these folders.

Is your server giving you a pretty blue screen? You may need to restore all your files from backup. And then let everybody know that pressing the power button on the server (unless a technician asks you to do so) is not a good place to start troubleshooting.  Servers tend to be sensitive to quick power off’s – more so than desktops or laptops.

Did your primary network printer stop working for days? You might want to talk to the person who borrowed the power cord to use with his projector to do a PowerPoint presentation.

Do you smell something burning? Take a peek at your battery backup system on your way out the door. Most of the small UPSes that fit under your desk are only designed to run your computer.  If they are plugged into a space heater and a laser printer too – that cooking plastic smell is your UPS being overloaded.

And finally, is the server acting a little sluggish and running out of disk space all the time? If so, check to see how many people have stored their entire iTunes libraries on the server. Or have a dance party. Just remember to invite the zebras. We hear they’re party animals.

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, an IT Managed Services Provider serving the Central Coast and Central Valley. The organization’s Total Systems Management™ (TSM) service model provides preventative IT support at fixed monthly fee levels. For more information, visit