The Printer and I: A Tale of Spinning Fans, Diseased Hearts, and the Tragedy that is Life

psprinter-overview
[Click to embiggen.]

This (see photo) is how I spent my afternoon and evening, today. I have a conference to attend next week and must present a poster paper on some recent research results. Because I know by now that both Old Man Murphy and Loki the Trickster always lie in wait, snickering — I hear you, you bastards — I go to check the large-format printer. It is a Beast, and it turns electrons into poster papers. I flip the power switch, and it makes a horrible noise, won’t boot up, freezes, then whines plaintively, “call HP … call HP … please, won’t you call HP ….” Not very encouraging. Screw you, Loki — thou art a Puck.

As with all things computer that misbehave, I keep trying the same thing over and over, hoping for a different result, though I know full well that no different result will … um … result. Indeed, no dice. Run around the building and check with everybody: nobody knows what’s wrong or what happened. Yeah, sure.

What to do? Go find some screwdrivers, of course. The horrible noise emanates from somewhere around the power supply. Sort of. It’s buried in the guts of the Beast, so it’s hard to tell from the outside. It is a place to start, anyway. I roll up the sleeves of my robe, pick up a Holy Implement of Torx, and get to work …

Several hours later, I finally have figured out, cuss word by cuss word (proper ordering is important), how to get past all the barriers cleverly designed by Evil HP Engineers to make rational disassembly near-impossible. (Ever disassemble a laptop computer, down to the bare metal? This is harder, I kid you not.) Sixty screws later (I count them, twice), I get to the power supply fan. The heart of the Beast is diseased, despoiled. It is not turning quite right, and the motor shaft wiggles a little. It is not supposed to wiggle. Even a little. Culprit apprehended at last? Perhaps. Fortunately, it’s just a cheap $8 cooling fan you can pick up at any Radio Shack.

But Radio Shack does not exist anymore. When did that happen?

We have come round to this place again: what to do? Rummage around in the junk spare parts room, of course. It is a glorious room, beloved of tinkerers on staff. Bingo: six salvaged computer power supplies, just lying there on a shelf, calling to me. No, seven! But I am wise to their siren song. One after another, a closer look reveals frightening ugliness — mostly in the form of caked-on dust and dirt and grime. Their hearts spin, but they are Unclean and Decrepit. Sigh … last one: yay, Cleanliness! The Blessed One, Savior of the Beast, is found.

It believes it has been bestowed a new chance at life. I wish I could be happy for it. Little does it know its fate. Surely it deserves to be told of its pending doom? Yet that would crush its new-found hopes. You are perverse and cruel, you Fates! I do not have the heart to tell it.

True to my calling as Lord High Tinkerer, I pick up the Holy Implement of Torx and sacrifice the Blessed One upon the Ancient Altar of Gorthung (a fifty-year-old, government-issue desk, solid and heavy as a tank, with an ice-cold slate top). I flay its body and cut out its heart. I know no mercy.

Fan in bloody hand (a blood blister acquired some time during printer pieces-parts separation has popped), I trundle down the hill to the electronics lab. There, a colleague — the Wizard of Wire, Lord of Circuit — performs minor surgery. Lo, and behold! Upon application of the Lightning of Zoltar (a 12-volt power supply), the heart of the Blessed One lives again, spinning round and round in a most pleasing whir. Back up the hill.

That dreaded niggle squatting in the back of my mind finds a crack and blossoms. It dawns on me: now I have to put it all back together. Sixty screws. I realize I am tired. I’ll never remember where they all go. Come back tomorrow with freshly caffeinated veins? Pffft. Such is for wusses, unbecoming of a Tinkerer. So, since the operation of my memory — even on a good day — resembles most closely that of a sieve, I have little choice but to re-figure out how to take apart the Beast but in reverse. I am reminded of Ginger Rogers. I miss Ann Richards and her rapier wit. Today is not a good day.

Another hour passes by. I wave hi. We do that a lot, Time and I. My finger leaks on the table; I wipe it. And also on the housing of the reassembled printer power supply. I look at the smear, and I do not wipe it. I have left my mark upon this Beast, I think to myself. I shall not remove it. It will be buried amidst your guts; only you and I will ever know it is there. This token of my toil is enough, I decide. I move on.

At last, it is back together, despite all the King’s men staying home, watching TV. I do not want to plug it in. I’m sure you understand. Don’t you? Even so, I still roll the Beast back to its lair. I reattach its stiff black tail. I notice it is dirty, the cord, this conduit of the Lightning of Zoltar.

We have arrived at the moment of truth: I flip the switch. And wait. As with a pot of water that has yet to boil, it is best not to stare at a booting computer, especially one as slow and dumb as the Beast’s. I stare anyway. I wave hi to passing Time again, then it whirs with a pleasing sound. And dies. And tells me to call HP.

Naturally, I turn it off, wait ten seconds (capacitors can be slow to bleed, you know), and then turn it on again. Maybe something different will happen this time.