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BOFH: Tenacious B and the Printer of Destiny

It's not a f*&%ing driver problem, mmm'kay?

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The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Episode 10 "The printer's jammed again," the Director's PA says, ducking into Mission Control for a brief status update.

To be fair the PFY asked for this level of information when he suggested she notify him of any problems. As far as poorly thought-out pickup techniques this one has far outlasted his patience. The moment an orange light goes on, the whirring noise gets a little louder or someone suggests the air is a little bit 'ozoney' (my personal favourite) she's down here like a shot to give the PFY a heads-up.

Course after the first 20 visits the PFY latched onto the old faithful leave-me-alone excuse of: "Yes, I'm actively monitoring that with SNMP traps", but that didn't help because she could still beat a non-existent SNMP monitor to Mission Control, so then she started helping with the diagnosis of the SNMP fault. (ie, "Loose wire?", "No network?", "Wrong type of paper loaded?").

This would all fade into irrelevance except that she's also communicated our interest in the state of printers in general to the rest of the staff, who have now started emailing us about the state of their printers.

And let's face it, the quality of a printer is inversely proportional to it's distance from organisational power. So while the CEO has multicolour production quality monstrosity which can fax, scan, staple, bind, double side, laminate and make coffee, your average beancounter's 'laser' printer is an inkjet device which starts losing print registration about halfway through the original colour cartridge. And we'll make the poor bastard use it for three years before we replace it. (Again, as opposed to the CEO's printing unit which will be upgraded to the new model moments after he's printed the latest brochure about it. (single-sided, greyscale, unbound, unlaminated, unstapled and he'll get his PA to make a coffee).

So anyway, the Inbox at Mission Control is getting a little swamped with helpful observations about printing idiosyncrasies. So much so that I append another bullet point to the Company's anti-spam policy and direct emailers to it.

The Director's printer, though, is a whole different kettle of rats. It's going to have to be fixed. Luckily that printer is a per-page rental unit, complete with management card which allows it to communicate errors, printer status, toner levels and waster toner levels to the printer company so that they can ship new consumables and engineers as needed.

That said, the PFY and I have started to suspect that the management interface concerned is simply a randomly blinking LED and that the printing company just ships toner cartridges at us every month or so and bills us some large amounts of pages. Whatever it's doing, the engineer only turns up when you call them...

"It's a driver problem," he says, pulling a crumpled piece of A3 out of the guts of the printer.

"It's NOT a driver problem," the PFY responds tersely.

"Yeah, it is. If they update their driver it'll sort it out."

I bloody hate talking to printer engineers.

"HOW can it be a bloody driver problem?" the PFY asks. "It only jams on A3."

"Oh. It's probably a humidity problem - your paper will be too damp. It curls," he responds.

"No, we tried that - we got new paper, put it straight in, and it jammed," the PFY lies

"Oh. Well it's a driver problem."

"IT'S NOT A F***ING DRIVER PROBLEM!" the PFY says, losing his rag.

"Look," the engineer says, tapping in the secret code that they only use for maintenance and pulling 'chicks'. Sad, sad 'chicks' who are impressed by photocopier stories.

>bip< >bip< >bip< >whirrrrrrrrrrrr<.

"See, perfect," he says, holding up an A3 test page. "And if you go Print a Test Page from your printer it'll work too. Just not this printout - because it's a driver problem."

"How can it possibly be a driver problem?" I ask.

"Well," he says, looking around carefully in case undercover agents from another printer company (did I already say "sad, sad 'chicks'"?) is listening in. "There's a 10 mil margin around the page that you can't print into, because the printer was designed around the Egyptian A3 standard."

"The Egyptian A3 standard?"

"Yes!" he replies with thinly disguised disgust. "The Egyptians invented paper - and the paper standards. The Egyptian A3 standard is slightly smaller than the common A3 standard - because it's metric."

"Have you ever heard the phrase: 'Don't bullshit a bullshitter?' I ask, pulling out the cattleprod with a newly upgraded inverter."

"I... What's that?" our engineer asks nervously.

"This? This is a management interface. You plug it in and push the button and you get told the state of things. Admittedly it's not guaranteed to work first time, but after four or five goes it usually pays for itself. Or someone pays you to stop using it. Either way, it's money well spent."

"It's a driver problem!" he whines "NO! WAIT! If you update the driver the pages will print!!!"

"Somehow I don't think I'm getting the full story..." I hint.

"It... Chops the top off your pages." he blurts. "It's a design fault - the feeder pages are too near the toner deposition and so the page skews if you print too close to the edge. If you upgrade the driver it'll chop the top and bottom of your page off and print OK."

"Finally, the truth!" the PFY says. "So you'll be replacing the printer with one that works?"

"Yes, yes of course. But you'd have to sign up for another two-year term. And..."

"And?"

"You'd need to stock up on some Chinese standard A4. The latest printer uses the Chinese A4 standard. After all, they were the first people to use wood derived paper and they set the original standard for A >KZZZZEEERRRRRT<"

"Wow!" I say as the PFY and I help the engineer back into his van a few minutes later. "That prod is getting bloody warm. Do you think it's a driver problem?"

"No... THAT," the PFY says moments later as the van mounts the pavement and stops halfway into a bollard "is a driver problem". ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

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