Shark Tank: The voice from beyond the, um, couch

The receptionist at this small accounting firm doubles as network administrator. And she's sharp, reports the consultant pilot fish who provides outside support: "She only called us when she had a really difficult problem.

"One day, she called to tell me she had a problem she didn't know how to approach. Apparently, one of the senior partners said her computer was talking to her."

Fish knows there's no speech software on any of the bean counters' PCs. "Well, what is it saying to her?" he asks.

"I'll find out," receptionist says and hangs up. Next day she calls fish back to report that the computer, in a very faint voice, said, "Hey, I need your help, why won't you talk to me?" And this time, the receptionist has heard the voice herself.

"This warranted a service call, if for nothing more than a good mystery and a possible exorcism," fish says.

"I arrived and pulled the computer out from under the desk, untangled the cabling and noticed the phone line to the modem."

A modem? Then he remembers: This is the partner who took time off the year before to have a baby. "We had installed a modem and remote control software on her computer so she could telecommute for the first six months after the baby was born," fish says.

"The modem connection squeal bothered other people in the office, so we had turned down the volume on the modem speaker."

When the partner returned to work, the phone line was supposed to have been disconnected. But when fish borrows a phone and connects it to the line, he gets a dial tone.

And when the phone rings again, he finally learns the reason for the mysterious, pleading voice.

"Apparently, the phone number had belonged to a psychiatrist several years prior, and an old patient had started calling again," says fish.

"He heard the modem pick up and wait for a connection tone -- as if someone picked up the phone and just listened.

"I explained to the caller that this was no longer his psychiatrist's line. Then I unplugged the cable from the modem, and suggested the company really disconnect the line this time."

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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