back to article Office junior had one job: Tearing perforated bits off tractor-feed dot matrix printer paper

Why look at that! Friday is upon us, which means it’s time to read this week’s edition of On-Call, our weekly column featuring Register readers’ recollections of tech support jobs gone wrong. This week meet “Pablo” who told us that “In the '90s I worked as a field service engineer for one of the leading companies supplying IT …

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  1. Olivier2553

    They fixed it!

    It tends to show they knew how to remove the ribbon cartridge and install it anew.

    And despite that they did not consider installing a new ribbon but they resolved to fix the old one?

    Pablo was too nice, he should have taken the printer for repair, one month delay, and charge full price because that's obviously abuse of the equipment.

    1. JimC Silver badge

      Re: They fixed it!

      You don't understand customers. They did the lash up to get them working while someone ordered the new ribbon, then promptly forgot about it.

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: They fixed it!

      Yeah.. And they said it was urgent and the office junior was about to go home.

      If it was that urgent, the poor little rich boys could have hung around a bit longer and done the mundane paper folding themselves!

  2. jake Silver badge

    "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

    Well, there was that Greek girl I dated at Uni ...

    1. Sam Therapy

      Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

      "I met her at St Martin's College

      She said she had a thirst for knowledge..."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

        An all too common story.

        1. Symon Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

          Ah, the wife of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis!

          https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/12/greek-finance-minister-responds-claim-wife-inspiration-pulp-common-people

          p.s. Shatner anyone?

        2. Korev Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

          "Oh you're so funny."

          I said "Yeah?

          Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here.

          cos there's no rum ad coca-cola icon -->

    2. Celeste Reinard

      Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

      Yes jake, I remember it too. Only I am still not Greek, nor Natasja. O, and btw, I am sure you might be looking for your car keys - they are swimming with the fishes. Inside the aquarium with that BMW-logo on both sides... And, always trying to show my good side, I left a surprise in the locker-thingy, how do you call it, the trunk? No, not Natasja - we are going to get married next week: it's what promisses to be your new laptop (the old one was dirty!).

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

        I think you just b0rked my parser.

        1. Celeste Reinard

          Re: "Has a foreign body caused you grief?"

          So you remember me. And you know how I loved to 'b0rk' your things. Russian style. Maybe we should come back together again, and b0rk a few other things you are attached to. ... What does 'b0rk' mean?

  3. jake Silver badge

    Ah, the "good old days" ...

    Anyone but me remember "bursting" mainframe print jobs? How about jobs that included carbon paper copies? Doing this job manually, one would invariably get thoroughly coated in ink/carbon. Invariably, I would manage to get fairly bad paper cuts in the web between my left thumb and index finger. To this day, I have a "smudge" tattoo in that location, which I guess could be considered a foreign body that gave me grief.

    1. jdoe.700101

      Speaking of carbon paper...

      I used a sheet of it the other day whilst filing my tax return at the Japanese tax office. Can't remember the last time I saw anyone else use carbon paper.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

        "Can't remember the last time I saw anyone else use carbon paper."

        As recently as yesterday evening. Should have been a month ago but my local Civic Society couldn't take subscriptions because the carbon in their receipt book had worn out! They've now got a new sheet.

      2. Andrew Newstead

        Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

        I keep some stashed away for model making projects, It's damn useful for tracing patterns onto sheet plastic.

      3. W4YBO

        Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

        I keep a half dozen sheets of carbon paper in my shop. Great stuff for finding where you need to file or sand to fit parts properly. Useful for transferring measurements from part to paper as well.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

          Great stuff for finding where you need to file

          Dentists also use it for exactly that reason - new filling or crown, put the bit of carbon paper and ask the victim^W patient to bite down on it and wiggle their jaw. The carbon side leaves nice marks on the teeth showing where the filling needs to be filed down in order to fit properly.

        2. Gnomalarta

          Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineer%27s_blue

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. JoJ

        Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

        I deeply approve of carbon paper..now what was the good brand I couldn't get any of my employers to buy, the one with a look of a large After Eight mint to it. Those carbons really did triplicate..and who remembers the quadruplicate wads of stencils for the Gestetner? This was classy carbon, taking the imprint via a bullet stub intermediate sheet, that blunted your Imperial typewriter's cutting edge.

        Bring carbon copies back!

        Why?

        Analog is harder to forge.

        Even camera sensors are fingerprinted by their analog ADC traces. Anna is good. With a typewriter.

      5. ArtCaffrey

        Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

        anyone remeber last year's Microsoft borking of Epson Dot Matrix printers - 1600 doctor's perscription printers in Republic of Ireland affected; carbons still required

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11/17/windows_update_killed_my_printer/

        1. Captain Obvious
          Pint

          Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

          Sadly, one of my clients who sells supplies to school still have AND use these printers for orders. They still use hand signatures to go across all three copies vs using a tablet for a signature. Even though the paper is getting really expensive, I cannot get them to switch :(

          Yes - they were impacted by the stupid MS updates on Windows 10. No - they do not want WSUS installed either :(

          Need this ====================================>

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

            "They still use hand signatures to go across all three copies vs using a tablet for a signature."

            Ah. Signatures that look like signatures. That's getting rare these days.

          2. DavidRa

            Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

            "Sadly, one of my clients who sells supplies to school still have AND use these printers for orders. They still use hand signatures to go across all three copies vs using a tablet for a signature. Even though the paper is getting really expensive, I cannot get them to switch :(

            Yes - they were impacted by the stupid MS updates on Windows 10. No - they do not want WSUS installed either :("

            Time to fire them as a customer. You have a problem, and there's a known solution. You won't let us implement the solution, and you're still complaining.

            "I'm sorry, but at the termination of our existing contract, tomorrow lunchtime, as governed by section 44.3.7.91(g) 'Unreasonable Customers', we will not be offering a renewal."

        2. Cian Duffy

          Re: Speaking of carbon paper...

          And all the pharmacies dispensing them - although they use Oki units about 95 times out of 100 for whatever reason despite all three software vendors offering Epson also.

          Spent too long in that sector to ever forget how to input page length to a LX300 or LQ590.

    2. John70

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      I remember carbon paper, stuff printed in triplicate. So messy separating the 3 prints from the sandwiched carbon papers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        Maybe once a week, I hear the dot-matrix printer in our office fire up. Apparently there are certain forms (for a regulator, I think) that have to be filled out in carbonless triplicate, which simply isn't possible on a laser/inkjet. So, it's 2018, and we have, and use, a tractor-feed dot-matrix printer. I hear there's a way of submitting the info electronically, but that we're not quite ready for that yet.

        (AC to hide the guilty (and current) employer)

        1. David Nash Silver badge

          Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

          Can't you just print it 3 times?

          1. Stevie Silver badge

            Re: Can't you just print it 3 times?

            Depends. I once entered a room of disgruntled staff who had been waiting "all day" for the printer.

            A fellow consultant had been told to print a bill of materials (a full box of stationery right there) for nine departments and she was on box five. I asked her very quietly why she hadn't sent it to three lots of three-part, and the look on her face was classic.

            Multi-part stationery. Much over three part and the hammer velocity had to be wound up so much the top copy would be a stencil. I remember seeing a box of five-part once. Once.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

            "Can't you just print it 3 times?"

            There are these things called requirements and if the requirement calls for it to be printed in a single pass so there's no possibility of one "copy" being different/altered (regulators can be fussy about these things) then 3-part NCR it is.

        2. Roopee

          Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

          "carbonless triplicate, which simply isn't possible on a laser/inkjet" - Not true; several suppliers produce multi-part NCR A4 sets for laser printing, and I can confirm that it works very well - I use it to create my hand-written job sheets and invoices.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        "I remember carbon paper, stuff printed in triplicate. So messy separating the 3 prints from the sandwiched carbon papers."

        Worst I saw was 7 part self-carbon. Cust reported the printer kept jamming. Adjusted printhead gap and generally cleaned/lubed the printer and got it working but told the cust the printer was only rated for up to 3-part paper and any further calls for this issue would not be covered under contract.

    3. CT

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      We had a "burster" machine, with two rotating knives to slice the tractor-feed sides off, and a device to rip off the perforated sheets and stack them neatly. Made a hell of a racket when it worked, and despite hiding it in a soundproof cupboard, we were all tuned in to the remaining noise, so that any change in tone had us running to the rescue for the frequent hiccups, slips and general paper mangling/automated origami.

      1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        Yup - worked on one of those, waaayyy back.

        And a 'decollator', too

        An upright triangular device... shelf across the bottom where the stack of multi-part stationery sat... drag the paper up to the top of the triangle by hand and separate, one paper 'part' over a rough-coated roller, wind the carbon paper round a spindle, and the remaining 'parts' across a rough roller on the other side.... switch it on, and the rough rollers would provide enough friction to drag the paper through and the spindle would rotate to take up the carbon paper.

        The trick was to adjust the speed of the thing to a maximum that allowed the job to be done without spewing finely creased paper across the room at a high rate of knots.

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        We had a "burster" machine, with two rotating knives to slice the tractor-feed sides off, and a device to rip off the perforated sheets and stack them neatly.

        One of the customers I occasionally visited had a burster/decollator which did the tearing off the perforation by two pinfeed tractors aligned slightly outwards, with the paper itself pinched between rubber rollers. The multiform carbon would then be wound on two spindles, the lower form stacked underneath this part of the machine, still continuous, the middle and top forms being bursted by additional sets of rollers running slightly faster than the first one, then stacked.

        This allowed the rotating knives to be fitted in the corridor to the BOFH den.

      3. JimboSmith Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        We had a "burster" machine, with two rotating knives to slice the tractor-feed sides off, and a device to rip off the perforated sheets and stack them neatly.

        In the post room of a company where I had one of my first jobs (so we're talking many many years ago) they had a device to open envelopes. This was a device with a circular blade that spun round as the letters were fed past. They'd get a lot of letters that didn't have a recipient stated and these needed opening to locate the correct department/person. The machine manual stated that you were supposed to tap the letters so that the contents were clear of the top 3mm of the envelope. Then you just put the stack of letters on the tray in a vertical position with the top down and let the thing feed them through at some speed. However one day they had a work experience in the post room who was doing a week with us spending a day each with several departments. He remembered to tap the letters and had them with the correct gap at the top,

        Sadly he then put them into the machine with the top up. About 100 or so letters were sliced into two at the fold. There was often a 6mm strip that might contain vital information to decoding any sentences that were sliced by the machine. After putting quite a few outgoing letters in the franking machine upside down he was told to go home for the day. HR put him somewhere the next day where he could do less damage.

      4. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. Olivier2553

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      Speaking of the good old days... I don't know elsewhere in the world, but in the early 90's, printer ribbon was expensive, here, in Thailand, the original ribbon cartridges with the name of the printer manufacturer (they invented nothing with the astronomical price of the ink cartridges).

      So we would buy ribbon refill, pry open the plastic cartridge, trash the old and dry ribbon and install the new ribbon that was delivered in a plastic tube like wrapping. It was a dirty job, fresh ribbon, fresh ink that would stick to the fingers, and to arrange the ribbon in the feed rollers of the cartridge, it was almost impossible to use gloves, you would have not enough feeling.

      I think we even experimented with re-inking an old ribbon, but it was not really a usable solution.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        @Olivier2553

        I need a lie down.

        Clicky-clicky

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

          Dabooka,

          Thanks for the link.

          Always wanted to improve my grammar.

          Thought not sure @Olivier2553 is so thankful for the somewhat witty reply :)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

          "I need a lie down. Clicky-clicky"

          Amazing as it might seem, there are some people in the world whose native language is not English.

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        I remeber my parents bought a printer with a 4 colour ribbon which had to changed back out to the black one if you didn't want it smear yellow on everything. It also had tendency to pick up the ink colour on the pin heads so turn the colours black before you knew it (Or make anything yellow mildly red).

        Also remember how the quiet mode did nothing....

      3. Tinslave_the_Barelegged Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        > I think we even experimented with re-inking an old ribbon,

        Ah yes, using a ribbon until it literally fell apart. Not sure what was worse, messy fingers from ribbon re-inking or a messy mind from remembering the dreaded ESC-P codes. Those were... Hang on, no, let's never go back to the printer hell of the 80s and early 90s.

      4. Black Betty

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        Back in my penny pinching days, I recall reloading worn out film ribbon cartridges with regular cloth typewriter ribbon. The print head would gum up every six months or so, but it was easily cleaned.

        Fan fold? That stuff cost money. A roll of butchers paper run through the bandsaw a few times saved more bucks for the important things like a second computer.

    5. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      In my first computer-related job in the 1980's, me and other trainees had among others the task of printing and mailing monthly reports to branch offices around the country from a line printer, with ink ribbons that resembled Torah scrolls. I recall the printer itself rarely caused grief (apart from the regular need to change the scrolls and clean the print head), but whoever had written the reporting software (for the Honeywell Bull mainframe) did not bother to sort the output by office. So we implemented a manual sort algorithm on the mailing room floor. That was to most time-consuming part. But I guess trainee time was cheaper than CPU time in those days...

      1. ds6 Bronze badge

        Re: Classical wizardry

        I surely hope you made jokes about casting spells. If not, bring your 1980s self a bit closer and get hit a little.

    6. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      We used a burster and trimmer, which separated the sheets and cut the perfs off at the same time, but I digress...

      One of our clients (I used to work in an ICL service bureau) supplied input data on paper tape. This arrived as several pieces of tape, each rolled up, end of tape outside, start inside with a rubber band round it to stop it unrolling. So, the first thing our computer operators did was to remove the band, dump the tape in a bin and wind it up again so the start leader was on the outside. This was done with a tape winder clamped on the bin.

      One day the client had run out of rubber bands and used a bit of sellotape to keep one of the rolls from unrolling. It was thrown in the bin and rewound as usual, but the operator forgot to remove the bit of tape from what was now the end of the roll.

      Result: the tape shot through the 1000 cps reader as usual, but the tape on its end stuck to the reader's capstan and promptly sucked a metre or two of tape back into the reader's close fitting, transparent cover jamming the thing solid. It took the engineers an hour to work out how to remove the wedged-on cover without breaking it, get the paper tape clear of the reader, and allow the operators to feed in the rest of the tapes.

      I think we were all startled at the amount of tape that reader had managed to cram into itself: it had a remarkably powerful drive motor.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        "I think we were all startled at the amount of tape that reader had managed to cram into itself:"

        ICL card duplicators had interesting ways of cramming cards into output hoppers. User standing nonchalantly beside the duplicator that was swallowing his stack of cards but not looking at the hoppers. One of them was somehow managing to crease the cards as they went into it. The hopper was filling up with a sort of random corrugated cardboard. Fortunately it was only one hopper.

      2. W.S.Gosset Bronze badge

        Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

        Martin, you're an ICL man? Are you aware of the various collected stories of ICL by its old-boys?

        Anthology I :

        http://www.bitsandbytes.shedlandz.co.uk/icl_anthology.pdf

        e.g.: Hot stuff, c. 1974 Chris Horrobin

        In the 2903, all the mechanics of the peripherals were controlled by programming in the central processor rather than by their own electronics. Of particular note was the pair of instructions to switch the card reader’s ‘picker’ solenoid on and off. The solenoid was rated for dissipating heat on the basis of only being ‘on’ for extremely short periods. This led to the famous software failure known as ‘select card reader and catch fire’.

        Anthology II:

        http://www.bitsandbytes.shedlandz.co.uk/anotherICL_anthology.pdf

        source of the great Sales word Apolocolocyntosis: extravagant or absurdly uncritical glorification

        .

        Also stories in the pension newsletters, eg:

        http://www.bitsandbytes.shedlandz.co.uk/B&B36%20spring%202013v3.pdf

        > Bert Morton and Jim Woodhead were members of Doc Keene's development team during the 1939 - 45 war, and to us new starters, they were characters in their own right. Bert never used an Avo to time camshafts on his machines. 110v (the general machine voltage) was his accepted safe voltage and he generally used his right hand with his two middle fingers withdrawn to his palm, and index and little fingers extended as probes, to "feel" the open and closed voltage conditions at the cam contact points. He warned his team against trying to emulate his success in this measuring technique.

        .

        I think my favourite story was ICL trying to install a machine for an outpost of an African railway. Couldn't get an electrical Ground so couldn't fire it up. Lots of attempts, culminating in digging a vast hole with mechanical diggers, wiring together a dozen junked cars and pushing them in with the diggers, refilling the hole then soaking it thoroughly, and... still nothing.

        Finally someone twigged. There's a thousand miles of railtrack passing by the building. Run a line out, quick spot of soldering, tada -- they have a ground.

        .

        Charles Dickens's grandson has some glorious stories there -- an outstanding tech.manager, with precisely 0 tech knowledge.

    7. Rtbcomp

      Re: Ah, the "good old days" ...

      We had a machine to do that, but it wasn't very good, we called it an inferior decollator.

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