But the most legendary example of Joe's "powers" came at his fifth-grade promotion ceremony last year, when the teachers put together a computer slide show of their students' baby pictures. The gym bleachers were packed with parents, and the students sat cross-legged on the floor to watch the presentation.
"They were going through the slide show, and my son was sitting quietly," Joe senior said. "And all of a sudden, the music started to slow down and get distorted, and the pictures were messing up, stuff like that. As parents, we didn't think anything of it, until two teachers sprinted over to get to Joe. We're thinking, 'What did he do? Did he do something wrong?'
"The teachers moved him away to the side of the room, and then the slide show started going again, and the computer went back up to speed," he said. "And then we realized that it wasn't that Joe was misbehaving. They were moving him away from the hard drive so the computer wouldn't crash."
What caused Joe's computer problems? Kelly Robinson, who runs Electrostatic Answers in Rochester, says it had to be static. After a reporter told him about Joe, Robinson was so intrigued that he drove to Pulaski to investigate.
Earlier that day, Joe had problems on an ungrounded PC after working on it for about 10 minutes. Then he successfully used the grounded computer. Joe's problems didn't recur after the expert arrived.
Robinson used an electrostatic field meter to measure Joe's static electricity and determined it was normal. He measured the conductivity of Joe's sneakers and concluded that they were very insulating, so they might have prevented any static on Joe from passing into the ground; hence, it went to the computer. But, Joe's parents pointed out, Joe wore the same type of sneakers as many other students.
Still, Robinson said it had to be "a static issue" because Yerdon solved it with anti-static devices. He said static issues have nothing to do with a person's body chemistry.
"In science, you learn that your body is made up mostly of water, with a little bit of salt and other minerals in it," Robinson said. "That makes the human body a very good conductor of electricity. And even if there's a little bit of variation from person to person, the conductivity will remain very high."
He said the only thing that would cause one person to hold more static charge than another would be their daily routine - whether they wear more insulating shoes or clothes, whether they scuff their feet on the carpet, whether they work in a room with very low humidity. Because these things may vary day-to-day, static problems come and go.
|Tips on reducing static issues at home or work - from the Syracuse Post-Standard |
"That's what keeps me in business," Robinson joked.
Meanwhile, a change of environment seems to have foiled Magneto Boy's powers. This year, the Pulaski School District built a new middle school wing, and Joe's sixth-grade class moved into it. Joe said he hasn't needed a wrist strap to use a computer in the new building.
"We haven't gone on the computer a lot here, but so far I haven't had any trouble," he said.
He thinks his static stayed with him long enough to make him famous in school, and then he didn't need it anymore. Yerdon said no other pupil has come close to Joe's "Magneto Man" reputation in the elementary building.
"It's a mystery," she said.
By Janet Gramza, Contributing Writer
Courtesy of the Syracuse Post-Standard