Help! My printer won't print no matter how much I shout at it!


On Call With the impending weekend comes another tale of courageous souls dispensing the balm of technical knowhow to those who know not. Welcome to On Call.

This week's Regomised reader is "John", who spent long decades at the sharp, pointy end of technical support.

His story takes us back a quarter of a century, to the headquarters of a national agency where he was the sole technical support person and tasked with keeping everything ticking over, from Novell servers to those newfangled Windows 95 desktops.

"I had one client," he told us, "who reacted loudly when anything stopped working."


He was a skater boy. We said, 'see you later, boy' – and the VAX machine mysteriously began to work as intended


Anyone who has never experienced this particular breed should step forward now and hand in their "knows a bit about IT" badge, since dealing with such creatures, their shouty voices, and ALL CAPS EMAILS is a rite of passage for many.

One day, however, the protestations seemed justified: "The only printer for the entire office suddenly quit."

Repeatedly clicking the Print button unsurprisingly failed to coax the HP LaserJet 4 into doing its job. The user therefore did what came naturally and sought a member of IT (in this case John was IT) to blame.

The user "stomped over to inform me of the issue," he sighed. "It's hard to say how many people could hear," he said, but we imagine those in neighbouring towns were suddenly aware of the problem.

John popped over to the user's desk, suspecting a bad job lurking in the print queue or shenanigans in the spooler. He had no joy; clearing the queue and sending a test print didn't help. The PC could definitely "see" the printer – a swift ping confirmed the thing was alive, but nothing would come out of it.

Drivers back then lacked the smarts of today, so John's next port of call was the printer itself. Perhaps it had jammed. There was an alternative, but surely no user would be so lazy?

He popped open the tray in search of the blockage and found…

…no paper had been loaded.

Popping in a ream of paper cured the problem, and the grateful HP device resumed its spewing. "Back in business," John proudly told us. The demon of the empty tray vanquished.

The user, however, had followed and, seeing that the printer was once more printing, asked what the problem was.

No doubt seeking to preserve the mystique of the IT industry, John told us: "I vaguely implied that power-cycling the printer and reseating the paper tray had reset the paper detection," rather than slap the user around the head with an empty paper packet.

This hack always found himself muttering something about having to reseat the flange rebate valve when a user wanted to understand the "magic" behind a visit from the power-cycle fairy.

"Given the embarrassed expression on her face," he said, "I'm pretty sure she saw through that explanation, and she never came to my desk again."

Ever solved a silly problem, but spared the user from office-wide embarrassment with a convoluted explanation for "you forgot to turn it on", or perhaps you were the one that couldn't be bothered to refill the printer? A special place in The Register's On Call archives is but an email away. ®


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