Tag Archive: CFI

The Mysterious Malfunction

(Submitted by reader Trevor N)

This is the story of the haunted elevators in my DC condo. I’m a CFI member and a proud skeptic but my dispassion has been tested.

My condo front door is near the elevator lobby on the fourth floor. Shortly after moving in, I soon noticed that as I left my home for work and walked toward the elevators, every few days an elevator door would open for me before I pressed any buttons. It’s always empty and it takes me to the floor I press without any problems.

Same thing began happening every few days when I get home – elevator door in the lobby will open as I walk toward it.

This has been going on for years and I had no idea how an elevator would know I was approaching. Others reported the same phenomenon but no one knew why or how. The property manager was stumped. The popular conclusion was that the elevators are haunted.

Eventually, it was time for major elevator work. They had begun acting erratically and we called in an elevator consultant. I told him the story of the haunted elevators and he investigated.

What he found was illuminating. Elevator banks have home stations – floors to which the elevators return and wait when there’s no demand for them. Our home stations are the lobby and the fourth floor – my floor.

One of the control problems the consultant found is that the doors are malfunctioning and will sometimes open upon return to home station. So, every few days, an elevator will return to its fourth floor home station, cooincidentally,  just as I’m leaving my condo. Sometimes the malfunctioning doors will then open as I walk toward them.

Same thing in the lobby in the evening when I come home – another period of high elevator use.

So, the haunting was explained by statistics – the odds that an elevator would return at exactly the right time and the doors would then malfunction to open for me as if by magic.

The good news is that the mystery is solved. The bad news is the size of owners’ special assessment for elevator repairs.

[EDITOR: The other bad news is the owner can’t get away with trying to collect tourist money for the building being haunted. Unless, of course, the owner just makes something up like most haunted house owners resort to.

This story personally reminds me of a situation I ran into in my last house. The master bedroom’s ceiling fan was also the main light source, and there was a nice control panel by the door that let me adjust the state and intensity of each. But shortly after moving in we began to notice the light would randomly turn itself on or off at unexpected times. Some were innocuous, such as during the day, but occasionally I was awakened in the middle of the night, cast into darkness while working, or a couple of times at some truly hilarious moments (best left to speculation). I assumed a fault in the wiring, but it was quite a few months in before I realized how many people would instead jump to assume a supernatural cause. The details were all there, and it was only my knowledge of confirmation bias and basic understanding of electrical wiring that made one answer more obvious than the others.

Eventually upon moving out of the house I spoke to my landlord (who lived in his own addition off the side of the house, strangely enough), and learned that he had the same system installed in his place and that apparently the two control panels were on the same channel and would occasionally miscommunicate and control the neighbor’s device. He had simply never gotten around to fixing it. So apparently there WAS an intelligence behind the actions, but it was merely my landlord.]

Cruising for a Coincidence

Several years ago I went on the CFI cruise to the Caribbean. I arrived a day early in Orlando and stayed overnight in Orlando’s airport hotel. The next morning at the shuttle service parking area to the cruise ship, I overheard some people talking, and especially some “skeptic buzz words”… and recognized one of the people seated waiting for the shuttle, Eddie Tabash. I asked if I could join them because I recognized him from his lecture at CFI-Los Angeles just a few months earlier, and even remembered that at the time, his favorite candidate for president was General Wesley Clark.

Eddie sat by me in the bus to the ship, and we talked about a lot of skeptic trivia, and boarded the ship together. He promised to introduce me to CFI Founder Paul Kurtz and some of the other luminaries who would be on the cruise, and we went on some of the shore excursions together.

Toward the end of the cruise, we were waiting in line for our dinner seating, and he was complaining about how much work would be awaiting him when he returned to Los Angeles. I offered to help him, and he kidded that he couldn’t wait for me to finish law school. I said I used to do office work part-time for my father who had a civil litigation practice. He asked my father’s name. I told him, and he said, “You are Myron’s daughter?”

It turned out that when Eddie was just beginning to practice law, he came up against my father in court a few times, and my dad cleaned his clock. Eddie had been working for a law firm that was sending him on fools’ errands, and my dad would invite him back to his office, and encourage him to do himself a favor and leave that firm. My dad could see that Eddie was a smart man whose talent was being wasted. Evidently, Eddie took that advice, because he now has his own practice specializing in Constitutional law.

We went to tell Dr. Kurtz about our amazing coincidence — but all Paul would say is “All those lawyers know each other….” I never did help Eddie with his mountain of work after the cruise.  But even I, a confirmed skeptic, and Eddie, a more-than-confirmed skeptic, were amazed at the unlikely confluence of our paths crossing aboard a cruise ship full of skeptics after his friendship with my father that didn’t involve me at all.

Status and Likes

Yesterday, I refreshed my Facebook page when I opened it for the first time about 8 PM.

The Facebook Friend at the top of the page was Ben Radford whose status update was about TV shows of which he’s never seen a complete episode. The next one down was an unrelated friend of mine who was saying she now likes the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.

Ben is the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer. Is that a coincidence, or what?