NOBODY PRINT! Selfless hero saves typing pool from carbon catastrophe

Why would you make carbon copies with a laser printer?


On Call "Because that's how we've always done it" is a mantra we've heard all too often. But what happens when you suggest something different? Take a trip back to the days of carbon paper with On Call.

Today's story comes from "Dan" and takes us back to the early part of the 1990s. The Hubble Space Telescope had just been launched, but the Euro had yet to grace the currency markets.

Dan was working in IT support for a UK local authority. "IT support," he told us, involved "anything with a plug on it." It was fortunate therefore that there were only three sites in the borough, "one of which was small and parochial," he said.

"The council still had typing pool, which even then was an anachronism, with a smaller instance at this particular satellite site (where technicians feared to tread)."

Rather than run the gauntlet of the On Call pager, Dan sensibly spent his time making regular in-person visits to the sites to deal with issues before they became bigger problems as well as to drink some tea and nibble a few Hobnobs (a delightful oaty British biscuit, occasionally covered in chocolate).

The council had just made the move from the Unix-based Uniplex ("my God, it chills me just mention the dark lord's name," said Dan) integrated suite to Microsoft Office. Keen to dunk his biscuit, Dan was at the satellite site when he heard a call ring out through the office: "NOBODY PRINT!"

"I found this odd," he said, "as they had been in receipt of one of Canon's finest in laser technology."

Any pride taxpayers might have felt was undone by what happened next. The workers froze and as one typist rose and headed towards the printer table. Three sheets of paper were selected: one white, one green and one pink. The three sheets were loaded into the apparently always empty paper tray of the printer and printing happened.

The "ALL CLEAR" was sounded, and normal work could then resume.

Dan sat, mouth agape. The typing pool had managed to recreate the world of carbon paper (where one would thump the keys of typewriter in the hope that a character might make its way through to the bottom copy) via the medium of Microsoft Office and a laser printer.

He sidled up to the typist. Would life as they knew it end if the people that normally got colorful paper copies received white paper instead? There was a pause. No. No it would not.

After a bit more discussion the pool agreed that, yes, normal white paper would be fine. Job done, Dan returned to his biscuits, satisfied he had improved productivity in one part of the council at least.

Up until his next visit, when once again his tea and Hobnob ritual was once more interrupted with "NOBODY PRINT!"

What in blue blazes was going on? Dan scuttled over to see the paper selection process being repeated. Except this time from three seemingly identical piles of paper. He took a closer look. Ah…

The first stack had the word "White" handwritten in pencil on every sheet, the second had "Pink" and so on.

Dan tried again. Since each recipient only got one copy, was it really necessary to name the color on each page? Of course it was not, and the penny finally dropped.

Our hero eventually moved on to bigger and better things, "but safe in the knowledge I had made life immeasurably better for the forgotten few in that office."

On the second time around, at least.

Ever saved yourself a call-out by making a courtesy visit? Or faced users determined to continue their old ways even the face of the newest and shiniest? Tell your tale with an email to On Call. ®

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