How do you call support when the telephones go TITSUP*?

Fix the printer, fix the phones


On Call A story with a difference from the On Call vaults today. Who do you call when the phones stop working? A Register reader reveals all.

We're back in the 1990s for a tale from "Frank" (obviously not his name), who found himself dealing with a problem when all the phones in his company failed. Sure, it meant the On Call phone was quiet. Too quiet.

The company had its own PABX (Private Automatic Branch Exchange), enabling users to call each other and, most importantly, place calls to the outside world. Except for some reason that morning phones were dead.

"And in those days," Frank explained, "that meant the company was defunct. No email existed except internal."

Although nobody could directly place a call for help, Frank's team immediately began investigating. It took half a day, during which time those used to having handsets welded to the side of their heads had to find other ways of looking important (doubtless via the clunky mobile telephones of the day), but the issue was eventually discovered.

"The problem we found after half a day was..." said Frank, pausing for effect (dun, dun, dun), "the protocol printer for printing all calls and the fees being generated off them had run out of paper."

A delightfully low-tech problem, and one that the team had taken a while to understand because, quite frankly, it hadn't been fully understood that this was how accounts tracked people and just how significant the printer was. Someone used the phone and the call was logged and the cost spat out by the printer. However, if the logs could not be printed then the designers of the PABX had made the decision that it was better that nobody be allowed to use the phone at all.

Pop in some more paper, and everyone was happy. Sort of.

There was a flaw in the system, one Frank discovered quite by accident. As he inspected the printouts from the recovered printer, he found no record of his own telephone activities. Even after a particularly expensive call (he did not elaborate), there was no record.

It transpired that while the PABX would stop working for all phones if the paper ran out, it would only actually print fees for the first 100 phones in the company (requiring an expensive upgrade to do so). Phones beyond that first 100 would still work (assuming the printer hadn't dropped offline). But there'd be no incriminating printout. Frank's phone was one of the lucky over-100.

"I kept that to myself, though."

After all, nobody wants to make the walk of shame to the beancounters' office.

Ever fixed one problem, only to find another that you kept very, very quiet about? Or summoned support without access to phone or email? Tell us all about it with an email to On Call. ®

*Total Inability To Service User Phonecalls

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