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BOFH: Don't be afraid - we won't hurt your delicate, flimsy inkjet printer

'Member when engineers studied ENGINEERING?

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Episode 5

"There's a problem with my printer," a user whines down the phone at the PFY.

"The multifunction - what, is it jamming again?" the PFY asks.

"No, it's my desktop printer."

"Put it in the bin and use the printer in reception," the PFY says in a manner that bears all the hallmarks of professionalism.

"No, no, it's just not working. I just need it to work."

"And I just need two thousand quid to waste on eBay buying geeky stuff that I'll use once and get bored with. No, three thousand: I just saw a huge remote control helicopter that can drop objects weighing up to 10 kilograms. I mean carry."

"It's only 3 weeks old," the user remarks.

"Is it an inkjet printer?"

"Yes!"

"Then pop it in the bin."

"I've only printed about 30 pages!"

"Oh, right! Count your blessings - and then pop it in the bin."

It seems as if only seconds passed before the Boss was in Mission Control with a resigned expression.

"Which of you was dealing with the guy in HR?" he sighs.

The PFY and I look at each other blankly.

"That printer that's not working?" the Boss prompts.

"Oh, You mean the inkjet guy?"

"Yes."

"Well that's not TECHNICALLY a problem. I told him to put it in the bin. That's pretty much problem solved."

"I think we can do a little better than that," the PFY counters.

"We could, but we shouldn't," I reply.

"Why not?"

"Because inkjet manufacturers are in the business of selling ink cartridges, not printers. Some inkjets are magical and will print thousands of pages without a fault while others couldn't get a test page out without jamming four times, streaking across the page and then misfeeding the output," I snap.

"And all too many of them tend towards the latter..." I add, feeling a diatribe coming on.

"In the OLD days, printers were made of STEEL! If one FELL on you they just amputated the limb at the joint because anything under the printer was PASTE!

"And if an engineer's tie got caught in a drum printer they had about 10 seconds to scratch out a message to their next of kin before they choked to death. AND THE PRINTER WOULD KEEP ON RUNNING! You could print three-layer fan-fold forms WITH carbon sheets in between and the only warning you EVER got was a PAPER OUT light when the box was empty. There was NO jam. EVER."

"Yes, well I'm sure there have been many advances in prin..."

"There were no printer monitors running in the taskbar to tell you that magenta was getting low or that it was performing a routine clean and that your ink level was going to drop by 10 per cent - you just changed the ribbon when you thought it needed it."

"I..."

"And feed problems! The only way the printer would misfeed is if you put the box in the wrong position, so you just marked the box location out on the floor for the benefit of the idiots on night shift - otherwise the printer'd keep on running week in, week out. "

"Yes but..."

"And we had ENGINEERS. REAL engineers - people who studied ENGINEERING at a technical college, not sociology. They could take your printer to bits, put it back together, give you about 10 parts that they couldn't remember where they came from - AND THE PRINTER WOULD STILL WORK! *AND* they could help you put the engine back in your car in the weekend!"

"Yes I'm sure things were much better back then," the Boss remarks drily.

"They were! We've still got a hammer action drum printer in the basement that's done over a million pages. A *MILLION*! At 600 lines a minute!

"Probably NONE of it is the original machine any more but still - *A MILLION*!! You'd consider yourself blessed these days if an inkjet did 100! We ran out of paper and ribbon for the machine years ago so we just taped over the paper-out and ribbon-out micro switches and feed stuff in it to be destroyed. "

"Stuff?"

"Oh you know, paper, cardboard, body parts. It's a bit like a chipper, only messier. Then you just tip isopropyl in the top to clean it."

"I... I'm not sure our users really care about the resilience of 40-year-old printers..." the Boss ventures.

"They should," I sigh as the PFY tromps off up to HR. "The gears of new printers are made of the cheapest nylon so print registration is a crapshoot. They update the drivers a couple of times then discontinue the model for another model - exactly the same - only the inkjet cartridge is minutely different and completely incompatible with any other one."

10 minutes later... "But people need desktop printers for quick one-off jobs!" the Boss says, still trying to win me over.

"Turns out he doesn't," the PFY says popping back into Mission Control.

"Really?" the Boss asks

"Really. I showed him the value of new technology compared to old..."

"You fed his printer into the drum printer, didn't you?" I ask.

"Sure, but he saw up close how old-tech was quality gear and he was completely convinced."

"And then you fed his tie into the printer."

"Yes, but only for nine seconds"

"And he decided to flag the desktop printer when you let him out?" the Boss asks drily.

"Let him out?" the PFY says. "Yes, I should probably do that. I mean if he were to accidentally put it back online again..."

"That would be pretty much problem solved..." I say, as the Boss trundles down to the basement at top speed. ®

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