Evidently the first thing the folks at OPERA should have done when going over all their lab results after they found neutrinos beating the speed of light by 60ns (also covered further, and further still, previously on my blog), was to check all the cables.
According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed.
Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.
As a relatively high-level computer geek, this is one of the troubleshooting steps that I often forget myself. If the software is working, and everything seems to be fine, but things are slightly slow or packet-lossy, I usually suspect something foreign stealing all the bandwidth before I’ll suspect the physical cords, no matter how long it’s been since said cords have been touched or checked or replaced. And this same mentality has bit me in the ass in the past, even once I get to the physical part of the troubleshoot. Cords that I “know” are good, turn out to be bad or loose very seldom, but certainly often enough that I should think to check them now and again. And yet I’ll repunch the Cat5 jack before I’ll think to check the cable to the switch or to the computer.
There’s another way to look at this though. Maybe the trick to going faster than light is to just loosen all the cables running your FTL starship engine. No wonder Scotty’s solutions were all bubble gum and scotch tape. (Heh. Scotch. Get it?) Anyway, Star Trek universe, here we come!