1 August 2006
Vengeful little paperweight
"Why do you name your cars?" people occasionally ask me. And typically they give me the classic Spockian eyebrow raise when I explain, "I don't name them. I live with them for a while, and eventually they tell me."
A common response to this boils down to "You shouldn't anthropomorphize mere machinery," to which I reply, "If they object, they'll say so."
If this seems like imputing some form of intelligence to mere hardware, listen up.
About twelve years ago, we took delivery of a nice console printer, which was assigned number 2. It did far spiffier graphics than the machine it replaced, at somewhere between two and three times the speed. And it performed valiantly until the moment when a newer model was moved in beside it at the number-1 spot.
Number 2 was furious. First its powered stack mechanism began acting up, shredding parts as though there were no tomorrow. It got so bad that one year while I was on a World Tour the sysadmin summoned tech support and bade them rip that frigging stacker out of the box and throw it away.
Which they did. Meanwhile, the machine was beginning to suffer memory problems, as in "Oh, I just lost all my 183 different configuration settings." These could be keyed back in, albeit tediously, but eventually Number 2 figured out that this was extending its useful life, and began burning up system boards, which meant that not only did you have to rekey all the configs, but you had to reload the microcode from a floppy disk read by a notebook computer connected to the machine's otherwise-unused parallel port.
To make sure its appetite for boards was addressed, Number 2 devised a system whereby on every third power-up it would stick halfway through the process. I don't know how many boards for this model actually exist on earth, but I doubt seriously there's one we never used; at one point we were going through one or two a week.
Eventually tech support figured out that for their three grand a year, they'd put roughly $150,000 worth of parts into a $15,000 printer, and they threw up their hands and begged, "Please, no more."
A new printer was ordered, and old Number 2 was powered off and left there to collect dust and random paper boxes. Scheduled date for the new box: 1 August 2006.
This morning I started powering up Number 1 when a message came across the console: "Failure, Printer 2."
"How in the hell can it be failing? It's not even varied on!"
Despite a lack of life signs, somehow something got across its section of the controller, and onto Number 1, which wait for it had lost all of its configuration settings. It took the better part of half a day to get it back to normal.
I swear, the miserable little washing machine was laughing at us.
And no, the new box didn't arrive today.Posted at 6:07 PM to PEBKAC