Electronic Bermuda Triangles
WServerNews, Vol. 13, #25 - Jun 23, 2008 - Issue #679
Huh? Yes, they exist for real. I was trapped in one this week. No, I'm not talking aliens and tin foil hats. However, to my great surprise, tin foil does play a role in this story. And no, I'm not smoking lunch either. To start off with, I will disclose here that I went to see a live Eddie Izzard show on Tuesday, which tells you something about my warped sense of humor.
The other thing you need to know is that about a year ago I ditched the Jag and I drive a Toyota Camry Hybrid. I live 4 miles from work, so I go to the gas station about once a month. I never took the Camry to downtown Tampa until this week. And that is where I got into a "dead zone."
I park the Camry, and press the ON/OFF button to shut down the engine. So far so good. Next, I get out and use the wireless key fob to lock the car. No luck. Get back in, try to get it started. Error message: "Cannot Detect Key." Car sits in park and is totally dead. I can only lock it manually with the hidden little key in the fob. Call the Toyota Dealership for tech support (this vehicle is basically 30 computers on wheels).
They make me do a few things, but conclude that the battery in the key fob is probably dead. "Call your roadside assistance" was the advice. OK, I get the car towed to the dealership and after the show, I grab a taxi home. Cost? $150 plus the Izzard ticket so I'm over 200 bucks out of pocket. Great show by the way, the man is hi-la-rious.
Next day I call the dealership. They tell me, "Sir your car is fine, it worked when we started it here, and we tried 4 times. You can come pick it up any time". I'm asking customer service: "but, but, but... what caused this?" And then she said, "yeah, it's funny, I had the same problem with some one else this morning, identical car and identical spot in downtown Tampa."
And then the penny finally dropped! I remembered an article a few months back in the Saint Petersburg Times about cars not behaving in two spots in the USA: Around the Empire State Building in New York, and downtown Tampa. Focused electronic interference caused car alarms to go off, kill switches to kick in, cars not starting and similar problems. The suspected reason?
Anything from GPS tracking systems to TV satellites to other cars' alarm systems could be responsible, said Robert Martin, who owns Alarmtek Auto Alarm, a Tampa-based online auto security business. "It could be a combination of all those things downtown," he said. "If you're getting blanket radiation from another frequency, you could be in a field that nullifies the wavelengths used to operate your car's alarm."
Apparently, this also causes Toyotas to lose contact with the key fob and since there is no way to bypass that, you are up the creek without a paddle. But here comes the kicker. The Toyota Dealership Customer Service Rep calls me back and states: "If you hold some tin foil or even a tin can above the key fob, this should not happen." I swear, I'm not making this up! But I'm sure as heck not going to drive to Tampa and try that out. As the story unfolds, I'll keep you updated (I asked Toyota for a refund of my expenses). In the mean time, here is a link to the SP Times article of April 22 that proves I'm not entirely off my rocker. There are probably more of these "Electronic Bermuda Triangles" not yet identified!