The Dilbertesque Files: Low Toner

May 18, 2011

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I had a roadtrip for work today, nothing major – a co-worker and I drove in our official state motorpool SUV with a new UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply – I.E. a battery backup) for a server in a local office about 2 hours away. About the biggest pain was the fact that this particular local office feels the need to make their server room double as a storage room, so maneuvering a 70 lb UPS through crates of sodas, stacks of folding chairs, and janitorial buckets was more of a challenge than actually installing it. I shouldn’t complain – it was a nice day for a drive. We weren’t in any particular hurry, and everything seemed just fine when the server came back up and we left, so I was rather surprise when 3 or so hours later we arrived back in the central office to find a trouble ticket for a printer outage there. I promptly remote controlled into the server to see that the particular printer listed on the trouble ticket had already printed 24 jobs just since the server came back up, about 3 and 1/2 hours prior. I went into a detailed inspection of said printer and immediately saw the problem:

toner low

I get this image of your average worker clicking print, pausing for a moment to listen for the sound of a laser printer spitting out a page, not hearing that sound … and clicking print again. Said worker might actually pause whatever else they’re doing the 2nd time they click print to listen for the printer noise, and not hearing it will click print a 3rd time, and then actually do the bare minimum to lean out of their cubical and look in the direction of the printer. Upon staring at the printer output tray for 10 seconds they’ll click print a 4th time, then get up to go look at the empty output tray, completely missing the flashing status light, and then go right for the phone to call the helpdesk to report a printer outage; nevermind that the level 1 helpdesk rep failed to do their job by simply creating a ticket and passing it on to level 2 support rather than going over the troubleshooting basics of “did you power cycle it? did you check the toner? is it plugged in?”

I won’t be mean to the helpdesk people, though, I managed a helpdesk for a while and they can get insanely busy at times. Heck, even I’m guilty of not following procedure and just taking someone at their word when they call in with a problem.

While I’m on the subject of printers, I’ll take a moment to ponder why with a 100 megabit network and a gigabit fiber backbone the half dozen or so network, high-speed, expensive printers in each local office are not enough for the 2 or 3 dozen people they serve. That’s right, probably 75% of the people in my organization have local, directly-attached printers. I suppose this might have changed at some point in the past decade, but when I was originally in the thick of things in IT the whole point of a networked printer was so people could share it and reduce costs; I.E. one big networked printer was less expensive to both purchase and maintain than 5 or more smaller direct-attached printers.

Of course the proliferation of printers leads to another interesting scenario that’s happened at least 7 or 8 times that I’m aware of …

Being a government agency, there’s an annual budget. If you don’t use up your budget one year the people that decide your budget will notice and think “oh, they didn’t use up their budget this year so I won’t give them as much for next year.” (try not to laugh, that’s really how it works) When the fiscal year is coming to an end around the middle of June a lot of local office managers will get new printers to “use up” their budget. We’ll get a lot of job requests to ensure the new printer will work on the existing print queue, tie into the mainframe, be automatically pushed out to the end user’s desk, etc, etc. Well, those old printers don’t magically just sprout wings and fly away to printer Valhalla (I know, I was surprised to find out they didn’t either). They’re usually put in storage, or under a desk somewhere, or even just left turned off in their original spots. Invariably someone – usually someone low on the totem pole – decides they want a printer at their desk that they can share with their immediate cubical mates, and they pick up the old, turned-off printer and plop it on their desk. They then plug it in, click print a few dozen times, and proceed to wonder why it’s not working and call the helpdesk as if it’s worked all along.

For once I’m not even exaggerating, that really happens. I suppose it’s a side-effect of how well computer hardware is engineered these days – it’s nice that people can think the mere act of plugging something in will magically make it work.

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