back to article Blame of thrones: Those viral vids of PC monitors going blank when people stand up? Static electricity from chairs

Netizens this week rediscovered and documented in viral videos an electrical interference problem known to researchers for years: standing up from your chair can cause your PC monitors to blank. On Wednesday, The Register confirmed the nature of this weird phenomenon: our office seats trigger an electrostatic discharge (ESD) …

  1. jake Silver badge

    For extra fun ...

    ... put your favorite secretary in the chair while you've got it hooked up to the 'scope.

    Once when testing for this kind of thing, I discovered that the average female office worker can generate upwards of 85KV walking down the hall to get a cuppa, but myself walking along the same path came up static free. Seems my unmentionables were made of cotton, hers were made of silk and petrochemicals. Her heels were leather, my soles were high-carbon rubber.

    It might not be very politically correct to discuss such things these days, but then I don't get paid to be PC, I get paid to fix problems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: For extra fun ...

      The 70s called - they want their stereotypes back.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: For extra fun ...

        I don't care what decade it is... I've not seen that many men wear tights!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: For extra fun ...

          "I don't care what decade it is... I've not seen that many men wear tights!"

          You'd be quite surprised. I love wearing them and I'm a bloke. For pleasure not practical purposes too. AC because other blokes generally aren't very accepting of such things.

          1. Sam Liddicott

            Re: For extra fun ...

            And how many men are you?

        2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: For extra fun ...

          I've not seen that many men wear tights!

          Then you haven't been round proper bikers (ie - the ones that ride in all weathers and don't ride gleaming race-replica bikes in their gleaming race-replica leathers..).

          It's fairly common for them (used to be 'us' but I had to give up riding bikes 15+ years ago because of arthritis) to wear tights unger the leathers since it helps keep you warm.. And, trust me, after an hour on a bike in 2C freezing rain, no matter how good your waterproofs are, you *are* going to be very, very cold.

          1. Gene Cash Silver badge

            Re: For extra fun ...

            And tights under the leathers also helps stop the dreaded phenomenon of "monkey butt"

        3. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

          Re: For extra fun ...

          @AC: "I've not seen that many men wear tights!"

          Clearly the men in tights aren't dropping their trousers for you. You should try being more charming and maybe they will.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: For extra fun ...

        Reporting actual observations used to be hailed as "science", not derided as "stereotypes". Political correctness can kiss my pasty white butt.

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: For extra fun ...

          Personally speaking I think there is a lot to be said for natural lace, cotton and just enough elastine to smooth ones curves into asymptotic bliss.

          That said if anybody pesters me with a '70s stereotype I'm liable to connect my fully-insulated Dr Martens with a more tender area of their anatomy.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: For extra fun ...

            fully-insulated Dr Martens

            Like wot we wore in the late 70s? :-)

            (By coincidence, my random playlist in the car was playing "Wednesday week" by The Undertones as I was driving in to work this morning. Ahh.. I remember them the first time round.. One of the more... musical of the punk bands. Shame that ol' Sharkey went on to ruin himself with teeny pop..)

            1. MyffyW Silver badge

              Re: For extra fun ...

              I was still in Startrite shoes back in the '70s and could only aspire to a pair of DMs. It does amuse me that the Mary-Janes of my childhood now feature on my Doctor Martens wish list.

              And we are in agreement on Feargal, fine lead singer of The Undertones, shite AOR as a soloist.

              1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

                Re: For extra fun ...

                My parents usually put me in "sensible" Clarks shoes when it came to footwear.

            2. J. Cook Silver badge

              Re: For extra fun ...

              Old punks don't die; They switch from Doc Martens to Doc Scholls.

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: For extra fun ...

                Personally, I've always preferred White's. But then I've always worked for a living.

                Tunage: Ian Dury ... you can guess the album.

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: For extra fun ...

            I'm more interested in whats between her ears than what's draped beneath it ... but whatever makes the Wife happy makes me happy. Happy wife, happy life. It's not a platitude, it's my modus vivendi.

            If anybody pesters anybody about anything they ought to be summarily dealt with.

            For the record, she volunteered. Wandered into my lab with something I needed to sign just in time to see & hear a rather large static discharge. She asked what I was doing, and said "Sounds like fun, can I play?" ... She eventually roped in 21 more of her colleagues ... It probably didn't hurt that I had been dating her clandestinely on and off for a couple years (the company had a "no fraternization" rule ... except for upper management, of course. The bastards.).

            1. Muscleguy

              Re: For extra fun ...

              Having worked in Biology labs, lots of women and no carpets* I can confirm that faced with a decent experiment women are just as keen as us men. In science labs the women don't have to pretend to be airheads.

              I find intelligent women sexy too. Mrs Muscleguy has a BA in pure Maths, a BSc in CompSci and an MBA. We bonded over comedy. While she was in labour with the eldest we were listening to old Goons tapes.

        2. Grinning Bandicoot

          Church of Rome vs Galileo

          Understand that you WILL observe what we observe. It is for the good of society

    2. Qarumba

      Re: For extra fun ...

      If only everyone had that attitude, the world would be a less touchy and nicer place to live in.

    3. Richard Jones 1

      Re: For extra fun ...

      I had heard of such problems in the past, but less so recently. Then I suspected that it was down to a complex mix of variables involving a bit of better engineering to be more tolerant, changes of dress styles, perhaps through fashions and perhaps even of personal traits. Once some stories started to circulate everything was put down to e.g. clothing or some such, even though in some memorable cases it was down to faulty fixing of flooring. Above or below a certain weight the floor flexed pinching or releasing cables and so on. The chair issue is very much more specific, though once more I do wonder how the conductivity of clothings, the weight of the user and the way in different people move on and off chairs affects the issue. I am very aware that being (a) heavier than I desire to be and a darned sight more awkward due to spinal issues, my 'technique' or lack of same would involve very different moves than someone lighter and more agile who could just spring off.

      As a footnote, while doing factory acceptance testing in about 1980, during the first week I only had to look at the equipment to produce a system failure, later as the bugs were removed I had to approach closer to 'apparently achieve' the same effect. In fact, the problems were caused by faulty punched cards used to program the device.

    4. Just Enough

      Re: For extra fun ...

      "I discovered that the average female office worker .. "

      No you didn't. You discovered that a female office worker.. Your sample size was too small to reach any other conclusion.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: For extra fun ...

        22 female office workers, when all was said and done.

        1. Just Enough

          Re: For extra fun ...

          Which is not what you said on your first post.

  2. tony2heads

    names of co-workers

    start with Darth maybe?

  3. Baldrickk

    I'd have thought that there would be shielding in place in those cables...

    I know that the clicker from a piezo-electronic igniter (click to make a spark) will cause my keyboard to shut down and require unplugging and replugging into it's USB slot before it comes back on, but I'm yet to find a monitor that replicates the same effect.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Cost, it's that simple.

      Shielded cables cost more to make (and can be a bastard to feed through desks)

      1. J. Cook Silver badge

        Yep. I've run across (more than one) brand new DisplayPort cable that just didn't work as advertised; we had noise coming across it, odd de-sync/re-resync issues, and just pain 'no signal' problems. tried re-seating the cables, the old hack of flipping them end to end, and in the end swapped them for a different cable altogether.

      2. Baldrickk

        With the markup on cables in PC-World, you would think they could afford some decent shielding.

        I mean, seriously, £80 for a 1m HDMI cable?

  4. Mike 137 Silver badge

    The real thing

    Real ESD chairs are conductive all the way to the floor and require to stand on earthed conductive flooring in order to work. No office is going to be kitted out like this.

    I don't have conductive flooring in my electronics shop as it's jolly expensive, but my ESD chair is connected to a protective dissipation point by a cable. That works just as well, but unlike in an office the chair is not expected to move around much.

    The fundamental problem is the prevalent use of insulating synthetic materials in flooring, furniture and clothing. Wearing cotton and using a feather cushion on a wooden or metal chair standing on wool carpet largely avoids static build up in the first place, but it's not "modern" looking enough for the corporate image.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Office refurbishment...

      One place I worked back in late 80/90's we had a small lab, where we handled eproms and processor boards, etc. It was kitted out with antistatic workbenches, etc., as you would expect.

      Then the office got a makeover - new carpets, new chairs, etc. The static zaps you could get when touching door handles, etc., were quite impressive at times. After a few weeks of complaints the office fitters were brought back in and another new carpet laid which cleared the problem.

      Fortunately the office fitters never re-fitted the lab, so we seemed to be safe, but during that time we had to make sure we touched something earthed when entering the room, before sitting at the bench and attaching wrist straps, particularly if the door was open and we hadn't touched the handle on the way in.

      Needless to say the office fitting company were rather bemused by it all and our paranoia.

      1. Bowlers

        Re: Office refurbishment...

        Remember when we put an earthing strap on the back of cars to stop static zapping us when getting out. Perhaps a similar "tail" would do the same trick for a chair?

        1. LoPath

          Re: Office refurbishment...

          We called that the "static strip".

        2. Baldrickk

          Re: Office refurbishment...

          I vaguely remember those... IIRC, they were pretty useless, as the static shock was more commonly a product of bodies moving on seats and generating a charge, than the car generating and retaining a charge - as was evident when one person got out, didn't get shocked, but the second person leaving the vehicle did.

          Incidentally, women are responsible for more petrol station fires because of this - they will often fill the tank, then go back in the car to grab their bag from the passenger side, then get out again, generating a charge as they do so - discharging that can in rare cases ignite petrol vapor.

          Men tend to keep their money in wallets on their person so don't re-enter the car, and so don't generate the additional charge.

          This static discharge from the body is suspected to be the most common source of petrol station fires.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Radio Luxembourg....

    "For those interested in evaluating a chair without an oscilloscope, Smith advised taking an AM radio, tuning it to static, and placing it under the chair in question. If sitting on the chair's cushion (or standing up) generates ESD, the radio may capture the signal as an audible crackle or pop"

    Which suddenly reminded me of getting undressed from 1970's school uniforms and those horrible nylon shirts whilst listening to Radio Luxembourg on the bedside radio.... Was it really that long ago? Kids today, etc........

  6. Sir Awesome

    Happening for months

    This has been happening for ages for me with my AOC 23" monitors, but only when they're switched over to their VGA inputs (work's Dell docking station). Sometimes my USB speaker will crackle and be re-detected by the system at the same time.

    All methods to alleviate this have failed - I've filed into the body of the chair and wired a curly cord from there to the radiator pipe, and done the same with a mesh of wiring under my floor protector, as well as removing the floor protector entirely - still occurs with no change in frequency.

    In rare cases, my router will even shit itself during these instances, requiring a manual restart - I've been convinced this was ESD-related but I just can't stop it happening. I'm using the Ikea Markus chair, for reference.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I run a bank of three asus 23" monitors which use touch sensitive controls for everything.

    unfortunately the controls seem receptive to UHF radio transmissions with random results varying from osd changes & power downs through to a total lockout of the controls.

    for most people this wouldnt be a problem... but I have a UHF repeater sat about 30 feet away.

    End result is that I can never do anything with my monitors controls and have to power them off at the wall.

    1. Mephistro

      Have you considered the possibility of adding tinfoil to your wall? Even covering only the walls nearest to the UHF repeater should make a big difference.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, let me get this straight...

    ... those chairs cause cancer just like 5G masts?

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: So, let me get this straight...

      From the comments other activities such as walking on carpet also causes Cancer!

      1. Andy Non Silver badge

        Re: So, let me get this straight...

        "Rolling" on the carpet with a co-worker can also cause static, carpet burns and even dismissal!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So, let me get this straight...

          As long as it's not premature dismissal.

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: So, let me get this straight...

      And allow illegal immigration

    3. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: So, let me get this straight...

      Yes. And saliva causes stomach cancer - but only when swallowed in small amounts over decades...

  9. brakepad

    Worth trying a simple fix

    I've had a similar experience but one where I actually got a BSOD after reaching for the power button to turn off my PC. For a while I thought it was related to me closing certain applications down and nothing more than coincidental timing with me then reaching for the power button, but eventually twigged that it was static related.

    As a simple experiment I ran some stranded copper wire from the seatpad down to the floor, with each end fanned out into a rudimentary brush shape, after which the problem didn't reoccur, despite the floor being essentially insulated with carpet.

    I'd say it's worth a go if it's causing you a problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: fanned out stranded copper wire

      Brings a smile to may face.

      As part of a prank feud between my dad and his future brothers in laws. My dad (or uncles?) got payback one time by hooking a wire to a spark plug and ran it to under the drivers seat then fanned it out.

      Worked as intended. But I'm not sure if the car starting and running was expected.

  10. Gideon 1

    BS EN 55024

    Have these monitors even been tested to BS EN 55024 including the ESD test EN61000-4-2 ?

    1. horsham_sparky

      Re: BS EN 55024

      Honestly, its not difficult to design electronics to withstand ESD, its just many engineers never bother finding out how.

      I'm still amazed how much equipment that goes on the market never actually makes it to an EMC chamber..

  11. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Hold my LaCroix

    On one day a single office air conditioner unit was stuck on and freezing all the moisture from the air. I stood on a slab of styrofoam packing then lifted a vinyl chair mat from the floor to over my head to see how much voltage it could create. It was a really bad idea.

    1. LoPath

      Re: Hold my LaCroix

      If ever there needed to be a video...

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Hold my LaCroix

      "It was a really bad idea."

      One might say shockingly bad, I'd imagine.

  12. paulc

    so the monitors are susceptible?

    Wonder how they managed to pass an EMI test as part of getting the CE marking.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: so the monitors are susceptible?

      Because the majority of tests are to ensure the equipment does not cause interference rather than cannot be interfered with.

      most electrical gear ends up with the usual FCC statement on it in addition to other marks for different regions. The bit in (2) spells out where the problem lies.

      This device complies with part 15 of the FCC rules. Operation is subject to the following two conditions: (1) This device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.

      1. horsham_sparky

        Re: so the monitors are susceptible?

        nope, there are actually more immunity tests than emissions tests. its just that emissions tends to be the ones that are more likely to fail.

        ESD is included in the standard suite of tests, so there's no excuses. The monitors shouldn't be failing like this, but the reality is that cost is king, and many manufacturers don't bother with testing..

  13. Overcharged Aussie

    Chair Cushions?

    No cushions on my Aeron Office Chair.

    See there is a valid reason apart from comforting my aging and spreading butt while I work on code. Code I might add that all the young folks in the office refuse to work on because, "That is so '90s granddad, no-one writes C with inline assembler code any more."

    1. Graham 2

      All the best

      No cushion, but a whacking great gas lift...

  14. martinusher Silver badge

    Fabric softener

    A spray bottle with dilute fabric softener ("Downey") works wonders.

    In real life you can get flooring materials - carpet and tile - that's conductive. If you're getting offices refurbished then that's a great alternative to explore but if you're still stuck with the lighning a la "Office Space" then the spray works well -- you don't need to soak things, just a fine mist will work for days.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Personnel detecting monitors

    Great stuff.

    Sorry Boss, can't do anything today.

  16. SuperGeek

    On tape?

    "One of our office chairs turns off monitors... we couldn't believe it, but we have it on tape."

    Really? Where's the VCR?? When will people stop saying "taped it" and just say, "video'ed it". I haven't used tape in 15 years!

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: On tape?

      "Taped it" is syllables shorter, falls off the tongue smoothly, and has been in the common vernacular world-wide for a few generations already. The exact meaning of words mutates over time, this is a prime example. I'd choose another crusade if I were you; life's too short to fight meaningless battles.

    2. Warm Braw

      Re: On tape?

      One of my pet peeves is the continued use of the word "footage" to describe a video recording, though I wouldn't suggest "gibibytage" as an alternative. There are others - like "mercury" as a synonym for "temperature" - but that's my peevishness quota for the day.

  17. Graham 2

    So that's it then

    I've been wondering why my monitor's been doing this for ages... every time I stand up it goes blank for about 1/2 a second. I've spent ages checking and rechecking the cables, I thought one might have been loose, but obviously not. I'm suspecting it's the DisplayPort cable that's the cause rather than the monitor itself... but that's easier to check.

    It's a relief to know the reason.

  18. Nastybirdy

    Same problem

    Same issue here. I recently bought one of the Secret Labs chairs and went for the fabric option rather than pleather. And now almost every time when I stand up, one or more of my monitors cuts out and has to be turned off and on again. I reached out to Secret Labs about it and they recommended getting a humidifier for my office which does SEEM to help...a little.

    What an utter ballache.

    This is with 3 23" AOC monitors as well, but oddly it almost always seems to only impact the middle and left one, never the one on the right.

  19. kaio

    Observing this ESD effect when using HDMI cable instead of DisplayPort

    I'm observing this ESD effect on my display as well. I have an external display from Dell and a recently acquired gas cylinder chair with cushioned seat from IKEA. Quickly getting up from the chair causes an audible electrostatic discharge, and if my laptop is connected to the display via HDMI cable, the screen will go blank for a second, without me having to touch any parts of the computer equipment. I can prevent the ESD by keeping one hand on the fabric of the seat while getting up. I also noticed that I can prevent an ESD in the chair from affecting my display by connecting the devices with my USB-C DisplayPort cable instead of my HDMI cable. I don't know whether my DisplayPort cable happens to have better electric shielding or whether the electrical specification of DisplayPort makes it inherently more resilient.

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