back to article Check your bits: What to do when Unix decides to make a hash of your bill printouts

Fire up the Cossie*! We're going back to the '80s with an On Call tale that combines the drama of a fast Ford motor with the eldritch horror of Unix serial port settings. "Neil," today's Regomised reader, ran a consultancy specialising in Uniplex, an office automation suite compromising the usual suspects: word processing, …

  1. tip pc Silver badge
    Pint

    The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

    Legendary sierra cosworth

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Sierra_RS_Cosworth

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywooLVq3tws

    https://drivetribe.com/p/ford-sierra-cosworth-rs500-QzZQeRatTEyQ16uWGl7teQ

    From what I can tell the escort cosworth came later ~1992.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Escort_(Europe)#Escort_RS_Cosworth

    I always wanted one but couldn’t afford one and didn’t want to do what everyone else did, I.e stole one.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

      The Escort Cosworth was too much plastic fantastic for my liking.

      I wanted an old-school Mk I or Mk II RS2000.

      A friend did have a Capri Mk 3 Laser with a Tickford Turbo conversion, along with the requisite bag of cement over the rear axle.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

        My sisters boyfriend had for the longest time a rally prepped mki Mexico with a 2ltr cortina engine swap.

        It was loud, uncomfortable, difficult to move around in and I wish I got a chance to rag it at least once... The thing moved unlike anything else I'd seen or been in.

      2. slimshady76

        Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

        The Sierra always looked like a gigantic iron (the one used to er... iron clothes) to me. Escort Cosworths were objects of lust and desire OTOH.

        1. Martin J Hooper

          Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

          I grew up in the 80s when the Sierra was being built and I loved the Cosworth and the RS500...

          The normal road car Sierra's looked amazing as well.... :) Loved the posher Ghia models as well as the XR4i which I think was the predecessor sporty Sierra to the original Cosworth!

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

            I liked the Sierra Saphire Cosworth, it looked like a normal Sierra saloon at first glance, but went like stink.

            I was always more interested in low-key Q cars as opposed to the brash plastic tracksuit wearing brigade. The best one I ever drove was the Lotus Carlton - also the long-time camera car platform for Top Gear, because it was a 4 door saloon with a boot, that could keep up with most of the super sport cars they were filming.

            Also, one of my bosses had a Vauxhall Chevette HSR, the homologation version for rallying. That was also a very nice car. A bit of body kit, but not too excessive. I was too young though, she never let me drive it.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

        along with the requisite bag of cement over the rear axle

        A rather extreme anti-rustproofing measure.

    2. Andy A
      WTF?

      Re: The Cossie was the rs500 sierra cosworth

      Never got into the "fast Ford" scene, no matter what their performance figures.

      Something to do with Ford's penchant for putting meaningless strings on the boot lid. Many would make good passwords these days.

      Ford Cortina GTXLRS2000E Automatic (Estate) springs to mind.

  2. Denarius Silver badge

    UniPlex !

    good memories of it. Did not like its old version of Informix as its database but when I first saw M$ Office and found how little it could do next to Uniplex and how slow Windows was on ( for then) high end hardware it was very annoying. I was baffled that it never became popular. I loved embedding SQL queries in spreadsheets ( in 1980s) to do formatting of reports. Just never got the hang of the report writer. COBOL report Writer is a different story. Loved that.

    As for unix tty, yep, hated them but had to maintain and modify RS232 devices until middle 2000s. Ever tried to migrate old IBM RANS to new ones so that every dumb terminal and printer is still in same place. Easy enough once I had the scripts to collect config and recreate it on new hardware. Setting bits, baud, xon /xoff, whatever always made for a bad day on new kit. Especially on SCO boxes. cough, spit. Once working, document, document and make sure the rest of team knew where to find documentation. Have we all come back from a long leave and been told "X is borked, we cant fix it" and found it is a known problem, well documented in the unread, correctly located documentation but still somehow, returnees fault ?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not got any better...

    Having had the misfortune to develop some cross-Unix-platform driver software for an embedded device that speaks 9600-7E1 RS232 recently, I can confirm that Unix serial port handling is still a raging dumpster fire of badly documented random flags.

    My particular favourite on Linux is the IEXTEN flag in `c_lflag`. A naive reading of the documentation might suggest that it just affects the way canonical mode processes characters, but hohoho, of course not. What it actually does is enable random, data mangling, features that vary between different serial port drivers (which means in the modern world of USB dongles, means you can expect every serial dongle you try to mangle the data in slightly different ways.)

    Naturally, it appears to be enabled by default.

    Still, all good fun. I don't get enough excuses to break out the 'scope and logic analyser in this day and age.

    1. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Gimp

      Re: It's not got any better...

      9600-7E1 ??

      You masochist.

      9600-8N1 FTW

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        Re: It's not got any better...

        Sure, me too... but it sounds like the device wants 7E1 and only 7E1 or it throws its bits out of the pram. I've also worked on things where that stuff wasn't user-selectable. A hell of a lot of large expensive plotters, for instance.

        1. John Sager

          Re: It's not got any better...

          I once used a Trimble GPS. The setting for Trimble's protocol in those days was 19200-8O1. That's right, 9 bits!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not a Cossie, but...

    Not IT based, but car story! Many years ago I flew from Aberdeen to Birmingham for a two-day meeting with a major supplier (to "discuss issues" we were having with their product). My company had a standing relationship with one of the car hire companies for a group 3 car at a daily rate below that available to most other folk getting a group 1 (mainly because we self insured). OK, group 3 wasn't great, but I was only going to be driving around a city.

    At the desk, I was offered an Austin Allegro - no way, was my response: that was an appalling car. I said I'd happily take a group 1 or 2 car instead, almost anything that wasn't an Allegro. Nothing available; talk to the manager and there was one car reserved for another client in a couple days - I could have that (a Ford Sierra) if I guaranteed to return it on time. I agreed, signed the forms (~£20pd) took the keys and walked to the car. Yes it was a Sierra - an XR4x4. Not quite the Cossie but I had a couple of fun days with it. Somehow I must have taken a wrong turning on my way to the meeting and ended up going the long way round - and still got there on time :)

    That contrasted with another hire where I got an XR3 (a flashy Ford Escort) at Heathrow - absolute death trap if you wellied it as all the power went through the front wheels, which immediately lost grip and would spin if you tried a quick getaway (e.g. joining the busy roundabout just down the road from the airport).

    And in case posts need an IT angle - I recall the early HP Laserjets - the LJIII was my first decent home printer (took over from a Star dot-matrix one).

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      Ah yes, the joys of hire cars.

      As a much travelled engineer, at least pre-pandemic I used to be in them regularly (the running joke was I had two company cars, one from the company and one from Hertz) and so ended up at the top level of their loyalty card scheme.

      Thus when we had our normal routine rentals (class B) I was entitled to a free upgrade, and usually quite a nice one as in several of their airport locations I was there so often I was (in some cases literally) on first name terms with the staff.

      Always remember the look on one of our directors faces when we were both in France for a meeting with the customer, but arriving separately (I'd been there all week doing some real work, he flitted in just for the meeting). He's there in a nice shiny Ford Focus, and looking quite pleased about it...

      ...at least until I pulled up in a 5-series BMW.

      1. andy the pessimist

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        A teradyne engineer visited a site with a high end BMW. It was better than the site managers car. Big trouble, toys thrown out of crib.

        1. mikepren

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          When I worked for vendors, always carefully used wife's car on site, for first few calls, unless I knew customer was full of petrol heads

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          One company I worked at provided company cars based on actual need, not (self-)impo[r]tance. Managers who mostly didn't really need a company car got either mid-range Escort sized cars or use of a pool car. Field engineers got something a lot better since they were generally doing many 1000's of miles per year. 300 per day wasn't unusual. Managers and directors rarely did long trips and would usually go by train anyway.

          1. Andy A
            Unhappy

            Re: Not a Cossie, but...

            When I became eligible for a company car, I inherited the area manager's cast-off before it went for sale - a Lancia Monte Carlo.

            First seriously quick car I ever drove. Once I floored it, then realised that I was doing 50 in a 30 zone. I had not had time to change up out of first gear.

            Someone else had it for a few weeks after my own allocation arrived. Before it hit the second-hand market, the rear subframe had rusted loose, at less than 2 years old. Built by Communists from Russian steel.

        3. Giles C Silver badge

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          Someone I used to know bought their wife a second hand rolls Royce (cost about £10k), she worked for the local council. The council ordered her to change it as it “gave the wrong image” even when the new Ford that replaced it cost more.

          Mind you my first car was a kit car (still got it), second was an old Porsche, 3rd a bmw 5 series and currently a bmw 3 series. Yes bizarrely I have been driving over 25 years and only owned 4 cars.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        I arrived at Dublin airport once to collect a low grade hire car which they'd run out of. I was asked if I smoked when I said no they said you can have this one the lighter doesn't work, it was a BMW 7 series, a bit of difference to the Fiesta I'd normally have.

        First hire car I had in America was a Pontiac Firebird, in Boston in the winter with lots of snow and ice, managed a nice 360 degree spin on an intestate with out hitting anything.

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          First hire car I had in America was a Pontiac Firebird, in Boston in the winter with lots of snow and ice, managed a nice 360 degree spin on an intestate with out hitting anything.

          Gotta like how the Americans handle these things. Been out to Phoenix a few times, and the "President Circle" cards (aforementioned top tier of loyalty from Hertz) basically gives you a pool of cars to pick what you want from and drive it away.

          Some fairly nice big trucks (at least to my European standards), plus Firebirds, Dodge Challengers, various sporty Mercs and Subarus and my own personal choice every time I did it - the trusty Ford Mustang rag-top.

          And of course, some nice open roads around there once you get out of the city to enjoy, plus not exactly renowned for complications like snow and ice to spoil the fun...

        2. ChrisC Silver badge

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          Similar story for me - back in the days when I only needed a car for one long weekend a year, I used to just hire the cheapest thing the local Avis office could provide - usually a Pug 106 or similar. One year I turned up to collect the car, the guy on the desk double-checked the date I was planning to return the car hadn't changed and that I wasn't going to want to extend the hire once I'd taken the car, then pointed out the window at a brand new Merc E class and said "that's due out on Tuesday, and we really don't fancy having it sat around outside* all weekend, so if you want it then I'll let you upgrade for an extra 20 quid..."

          After taking the scenic route back home, I went and checked the Avis site to see how much it would have cost to hire, and realised just how much of a good deal I'd got. That was also the weekend I realised that everything I'd been told about automatic cars was a bunch of crap, and I decided there and then that once the time came to start owning cars of my own, they'd be automatics.

          * although all of their car storage area was fenced off, it was all visible from the road, so I think they were a bit worried that the local pond life might have taken a fancy to the car if it'd been left parked there for a few nights, given how different it was to the usual assortment of cars that were usually parked there.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Not a Cossie, but...

            Did they even wonder where you might be parking it?

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Not a Cossie, but...

              Doesn't matter if it's on the hirers insurance :-)

      3. keith_w Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        That sounds like a situation where a rules change occurs, requiring all loyalty points to be returned to the company.

        1. Cian_

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          Very hard to take status level off someone even if I you confiscate the miles.

          I had decent Hertz status basically locked in due to some horrific customer service experiences and it being given as an apology so got some nice upgrades without any points changing hands.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Not a Cossie, but...

            "I had decent Hertz status basically locked in due to some horrific customer service experiences and it being given as an apology so got some nice upgrades without any points changing hands."

            I had similar with a local franchise of one of the big multi-national car hire companies. Due to an incident with a camera I'd forgotten and left in the hire car, there were issue after I collected it the next day than had the film developed. After the complaint, my wife got an unexpected and quite expensive bunch of flowers delivered later that same day and every hire car my company paid for was upgraded for free to whatever they currently had in as "best".

    2. tip pc Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      Vauxhall Nova SRi, was a proper death trap.

      I was asked to drive 1 back from a service, I blipped the throttle and it literally jumped from 1 side of the road to the other.

      it didn't weigh anything & the 1.6l engine was far too powerful for anything on it to handle.

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        Similarly, XR2i, 115mph and still pulling, but a 2 foot crumple zone in front to you. No thanks!

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      We were only allowed to book Group 1, but some of the folks who travelled regularly to Glasgow soon learned that the only automatics available were luxurious (for the time) exec-spec Granadas. They would always book Group 1 automatics, rental company had no choice but to upgrade them.

    4. MarkB

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      Didn't the Top Gear team always claim that the fastest car you'd ever drive (or at least the one you'd drive fastest) was a hire car?

      1. CountCadaver

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        Don't know about Top Gear, but Jeff Foxworthy did a piece on it

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAc5wjSi-Jk

      2. GlenP Silver badge

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        Didn't the Top Gear team always claim that the fastest car you'd ever drive (or at least the one you'd drive fastest) was a hire car?

        Everyone knows the fastest vehicle on the roads back in those days was the Astramax van! Top Gear proved it as well, it took on a Porsche in a drag race and won (over about 20 yards).

      3. juice Silver badge

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        > Didn't the Top Gear team always claim that the fastest car you'd ever drive (or at least the one you'd drive fastest) was a hire car?

        Your milage may vary.

        I once hired a car in Barcelona, as there was a little village nearby which I wanted to visit - it has an annual street art festival, so all the buildings are prettied up to the nines.

        Alas, something which I failed to take into consideration is that the queues at the hire-car place would be both spectacularly long and glacially moving; it literally took about 3 hours to eventually get to talk to a human and secure the key to a car. Which the nice lady told me would be an automatic.

        Oddly, it turned out to be a manual. A tiny petrol 1.0 litre Toyota with over 100,000 miles on the clock.

        Perhaps unsurprisingly, that thing struggled to make any speed; I was pretty much standing on the accelerator in third gear just to get it up to 60mph on the motorways.

        However, it did have one major thing going for it: the aircon worked.

        And this was a major blessing, since with all the faff at the hire-place, I ended up arriving at this wee village at mid-day. In June, during a blue-sky day with the sun scorching down at around 40C.

        After an hour of walking around and snapping photos, I pretty much melted back into the car, started the engine and just hugged the dashboard until my extremities stopped glowing...

        And following that, it was time to stand on the accelerator again, for the return journey!

      4. Lord Kipper III

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        Car Magazine once observed that the fastest vehicle seen on the UK motorways would be a white Astra van.

      5. Pangasinan Philippines

        Re: Didn't the Top Gear team always claim

        Didn't the Top Gear team always claim . . . .

        No. That was a white Astra max van!

    5. Dabooka Silver badge

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      I wouldn't want to go to that particular branch for a hire car.

      I would have to check but I'm sure the Allegro ended production early 80s and the Sierra 4x4 was early 90s, so I wouldn't be keen on taking a ten year old Allegro out either.

      I'm not calling 'custard'* on the tale just maybe the cars got mixed up in the midst of time? We are going back a fair bit after all.

      *If you know, you know

      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Not a Cossie, but...

        You called? (or rather didn't)?

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: Not a Cossie, but...

          Sorry, just trifling with you.

    6. John Sager

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      I owned a XR3 decades ago, and never had that problem. It was the carburettor version though before the XR3i. It was great for fast runs around the local country lanes, plus a trip via N roads (eschewed the Autoroute) down to the Midi.

      I booked a small car from Nice airport for navigating the winding narrow roads in Provence but they gave me a Renault Laguna...

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not a Cossie, but...

      I did some work in Germany years ago, We had a basic hire car package and I would be assigned a 'random' car at the check in desk on a Monday Morning. I was working there all week so had Suit Carrier, Suitcase and 'office in a bag' work (laptop, portable printer, personal laptop, external disk, cd write power supplies cables ect typical road warrior ware in a large bag.

      I had a 2 hour drive down the autobahn to get to the client site, One morning after a very delayed flight out due the Hertz desk claimed that they only had a smart car available. I'm not sure if I would have fitted in the car with my winter coat (its cold in Northern Germany) In desperation I claimed I had to pick up passengers at the airport. This got me out of the Smart car and the real fear of death trying to negotiate a 2 lane autobahn with the inside lane doing 50 kph and the outer lane doing 160 KPH. This got me an 'upgrade' to a Vauxhall Zafira, not much more acceleration but at least there was 10 foot more of bodywork between me and the Mercedes which was trying to kill me. On hearing this story one of the client managers offered me use of one of their fleet cars for the duration of the assignment, imagine my delight on being presented with a British Racing Green Rover 45 with BFG plates. This was literally a month after 9/11 so I felt I was driving round with a target on my back.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I quietly disagree

    "You just do not get the same level of job satisfaction or client adulation when supporting clients remotely, do you? "

    I feel fine working from my home office. I have a new customer that wants me on site now, and the highway and parking experience are every bit as horrible as I remember FBC (From Before COVID). Thankfully, that customer only signed for 3 days a week, and it would appear that, some days, I might be able to work remotely again.

    I must have been a cave troll in a previous life.

    1. gotes

      Re: I quietly disagree

      Likewise. At the risk of sounding like a miserable sod, driving's an opportunity to get stuck in traffic, or worse, get maimed in an accident.

      That's not to say I don't enjoy driving, but when there's other vehicles around it's usually pretty tedious.

      1. Charlie van Becelaere

        Re: I quietly disagree

        I very much enjoy driving, but I do not miss the daily commute in the least. Not only is my day a bit longer (at least the part that's my own), but my petrol costs are dramatically down - and I can still drive when I like.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: I quietly disagree

        I like "driving" but commuting isn't driving, it's just getting from A to B with as little faff as possble

  6. Flightmode

    Epson printers were not immune to this either.

    I used to have both an FX-100 (landscape printer) and an FX-80 (portrait printer, but with "This printer prints SIDEWAYS(tm)!" sticker, since it had the Sideways(tm) add-on that allowed Lotus 1-2-3 to rotate spreadsheets 90 degrees as they were printed). In order to get either of them to print 8-bit characters, you had to send them a control character first - I believe it was the ¢ (cent symbol), which you sent by means of "echo (Alt-155) > LPT1". Sometimes it even worked, other times it just printed a cent symbol.

  7. KittenHuffer Silver badge

    Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

    .... I would get there on two wheels rather than four. The two wheels being attached to a Suzuki GS1000, the choice of route then became one of the more important decisions! At least I would arrive with a big shit-earing grin before having to deal with the (l)users!

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

      I had a GS1100GL, and I had a Subaru turn in front of me. I hit it so hard, the rear axle (of the car) tore off. Put the driver's husband in a wheelchair, sadly, because they were OAPs.

      Anyway, after 30-odd years of riding bikes, I got a Zero SR electric. I did a firmware update on it this weekend[1], but aside from that, it's an absolute joy to ride, without a clutch, a very smooth power delivery (and lots of it), no heat from the engine (a blessing in Florida) and it's very lightweight. My other bikes are getting rather neglected. It's actually a good example of technology done well, now that they've had 10 years ironing out the bugs.

      [1] via the phone app

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Go

        Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

        Have you been eyeing up the Verge TS recently? There were a couple at "Fully Charged Outside" at the start of this month in Farnborough.

        An electric motorcycle with a HUBLESS hub motor!

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

          Yeah, and I had to get out the eye bleach afterwards. I thought only Suzuki could make something that ugly.

          I'll bet the rear tire is an absolute nightmare to change.

          1. Potty Professor
            Mushroom

            Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

            I was just watching BBC News at One, and saw an article about driverless busses being trialed somewhere. You want ugly? try that. I can't understand why modern vehicles have to be full of angles and swoopy curves, what happened to utilitarian vehicle design, designed for purpose, not to look like something out of a SF movie.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

              "designed for purpose, not to look like something out of a SF movie."

              Because they are one-off concept designs or very low run prototypes. If they ever get into mass production, you can guarantee the bean counters will rip out all that expensively shaped moulding and replace it with a box on wheels. You only have to compare new electric vehicles with the original concept designs first touted to see that in action. Also, production vehicle design is still very conservative, no matter what the coloured pencil department might produce on paper. Cars still look like cars. Look at Tesla. Started from scratch with none of the baggage from decades of tradition, and their cars look just like every other car on the roads. (much of it streamlining, of course, but for short range town cars, that doesn't matter much, but it's still there)

          2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: Back when I used to w**k helldesk ....

            I quite like it, actually.

            Well, except for the motorcycle.

            But the WHEEL looks GREAT!

  8. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    80s LaserJet

    In the mid-80s we did most of our computing - circuit analysis and the like - on a VAX with a dot-matrix printer for the occasional print-out. Then we got an IBM PC (45MB disk!). It was funded by a customer project but the printer we needed to produce decent reports would have to be bought by the company. The boss was famously tight and instead of approving the req. for the HP LaserJet he presented us with a floppy with a near-letter quality driver on it and told us to use that for the reports and get the print-room to copy them onto decent paper and bind them. The dot-matrix printer was in his outer office next to his secretary (as they were called then). We only had to print one multi-page report before she went and told him to either move the printer or buy a quieter one. Moving it would have cost almost as much as buying one, so we got our LaserJet.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: 80s LaserJet

      When I have had the power to purchase things (rarely), my response has always been, "Do you need it? Then buy it."

      False economy never pays in the long run, and often costs more.

      Those who can, do. Those who can't, manage.

  9. Wally Dug
    Happy

    HP LaserJet 4

    The HP LaserJet 4 was a brilliant printer. In the mid-90s, I remember being especially pleased when I printed a postscript desktop publishing file on my Amiga in the house to a 720 KB formatted floppy, took it into the office, and printed it on the LJ4.

    I reckon there must still be some LaserJet 4s kicking about still in use somewhere as they seemed pretty bomb-proof.

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: HP LaserJet 4

      LaserJet 5 here. Second owner (it was a freebie off the porch of a law office), disassembled and repaired a problem with the drive gears and replaced the fuser assembly with a rebuilt one. It had 330k pages through it when I printed the status page.I maxxed out the RAM and added a JetDirect E'net card. It sits in my basement office, on standby, for when we need to print anything. Absolutely the best, most reliable printer I have ever owned.

      The firmware datecode is 19960115, so that's a guess at its age.

      1. Sandtitz Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: HP LaserJet 4

        "The firmware datecode is 19960115, so that's a guess at its age."

        Thereabouts.

        HP printers have typically had the date of manufacturing in the product/serial number label, either in the back of the printer or just inside the cover.

        At least a couple years ago the HP warranty status check page still deciphered 90s devices' serial numbers and showed the warranty start/end dates.

    2. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: HP LaserJet 4

      I wouldn't be surprised to find a LaserJet II still working somewhere. More resilient than cockroaches.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: HP LaserJet 4

        LaserJet II? I wouldn't be surprised to find a numberless LaserJet working somewhere. Probably in the ruins of the building that collapsed under its weight.

      2. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: HP LaserJet 4

        You are not wrong. Well a Canon LBP-8II (but uses same Canon SX engine as LaserJet II).

        Admittedly I use the various LaserJet 4s more (and LJ 4700 when I need to print in colour).

    3. Tommy G1

      Re: HP LaserJet 4

      I'm no fan of the modern HP but the LaserJet 4 Plus was possibly the best printer ever made.

      We shipped a LOT of them back in the day and only ever got support calls to help people struggling with the JetDirect networking side of things.

      The Nokia 6210 of printers!

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: HP LaserJet 4

        I believe my second hand JetDirect cost me $15 off an internet used equipment site :-)

        Maybe I should have bought two?

        (it's the only 10Mb device on my network)

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: HP LaserJet 4

          That's the way to do it -- 2nd hand, cheap as chips.

          Tip: Apple Laserwriters. Cheap as chips because PC-heads turn their noses up at them, bombproof, top quality. HP guts, IIRC.

          1. Jeremy Bresley

            Re: HP LaserJet 4

            Actually, Canon guts. Both Apple LaserWriters and HP LaserJet II/III series were Canon engines. The biggest difference between them was the LaserWriters all had Postscript built in rather than PCL used on the HPs.

            If you want to try to get one that requires minimal work to get talking, the LaserWriter IIg's had built in Ethernet, so no requirement for an external Localtalk to Ethernet bridge (aka Gatorbox).

            New and remanufactured toner cartridges for these are likely still available at every office supply place in the world, and usually cheaper than the ones for most modern lasers.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: HP LaserJet 4

              Ah! _Shared_ with the HP -- that must have been the connection. Ta muchly.

            2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: HP LaserJet 4

              "New and remanufactured toner cartridges for these are likely still available at every office supply place in the world, and usually cheaper than the ones for most modern lasers."

              The patents on the cartridges have expired so anyone can make new ones as opposed to re-filling/re-engineering original ones :-)

    4. molletts

      Re: HP LaserJet 4

      Yep, got a 4M Plus, saved from the skip at work about 15 years ago. Sadly, it's started acting its age in the last year or so - it's printing dark-grey-on-light-grey. I haven't yet had time to investigate properly; I suspect it may be the HV PSU dying.

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: HP LaserJet 4

        Service Manuals are available. other sources for the manual exist too.

        LaserJet 4M is almost infinitely repairable.

    5. Andy A
      Happy

      Re: HP LaserJet 4

      I remember tuning in to the online auction following the death of ENRON.

      Bidding was fierce. I remember that hammer price for a LaserJet 4000 was £40 more than a brand new LJ4100 from our usual supplier.

      The LJ4000 had unknown state and had to pay Buyer's Premium and VAT on top.

      The LJ4100 included new consumables, VAT and delivery.

      I didn't bid.

  10. MarkET

    Company transport

    Recall taking the train for a 100 mile trip with a Honeywell DPS memory controller board. Also got 'nicked' by French customs for importing unidentified objects of a security nature. Umm. Probably a Baguette.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don’t think printers will ever work…

    For such a ubiquitous piece of computer hardware, printers are supremely bad at working properly.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: I don’t think printers will ever work…

      At least they're becoming steadily less ubiquitous. I think we might be close to the 'paperless office' we were promised in the 80's.

    2. Wally Dug
      Thumb Down

      Re: I don’t think printers will ever work…

      Well, I find that printers usually work well once installed.

      But, despite my 25 years of professional IT experience, it still took me almost three hours to install my new wireless Canon printer earlier this year. And, yes, that was even with RTFM (albeit after a couple of failed attempts of doing it using my instinct alone!) and even referring to Mr Google.

      In the end, I chucked away the instructions, connected a cable and got the driver installed. Once that was done, the network settings were finally recognised and I was able to connect to the printer wirelessly.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I don’t think printers will ever work…

      You should look for an old HP laser printer.

      1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

        Re: I don’t think printers will ever work…

        Old printer...true. I have a Laserjet 4. On the odd occasions we want to print something - less than once a month - I turn it on, and it prints.

    4. wub
      Happy

      Re: I don’t think printers will ever work…

      Well, mostly printers are a significant pain point.

      Sometimes, just to really hammer that home, things "just work".

      I was the "network admin" (1 man IT dept) at a small company. It was decided that we would make one of our standalone copiers (Konica?) a network printer, and join the modern age.

      When the field engineer needed the network details, I went in and explained the settings he'd need on our network, then walked back to my desk.

      On my desktop, a box had appeared explaining that a new network printer had been discovered, and asking if I wanted to print a test page. I said "Yes' and hot-footed back to the copier to see what would happen. I found the field engineer holding the test page and staring at it. When I walked in, he said, "How did you do this?". I tried to explain the wonders of Linux to him, but I don't think he believed me.

  12. big_D Silver badge

    Disposal...

    I had to dispose of a LaserJet I. The things weighed a proverbial tonne. I think the original LJ weighed in at over 50Kg. I know that the LJ II was a light weight and weighed in at around 25Kg and instructions that it required 2 people to move it.

    I had to lug the LJ 1 from one side of the building to another, around 300M in total, alone! My back was killing me and I'd worked up a real sweat (and probably heart palpitations) by the time I reached the destination!

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Disposal...

      Last year, we did an online refresher course on lifting objects and using steps/step ladders. In the example video of lifting a heavy object requiring two people, it was an HP LasterJet, ie the original one :-)

      (Not that we would be doing much object lifting or using of steps in the middle of lockdown 1.0 and working from home!)

  13. bob, mon!
    Trollface

    A compromising document

    "...an office automation suite compromising the usual suspects: word processing, spreadsheets, email, database and so on."

    Is this the office automation suite for scandal mongers? Or just a lot of apps that are vulnerable to zero-days?

  14. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Holmes

    £ vs #

    My first job, in 1978, was to help design a "glass Teletype" for Data General. I was responsible for the keyboard and the character generators*. While perusing the various country-specific keyboard layouts, I was amused to discover that the "£" symbol replaced, not the "$" on the US keyboard, but the "#". "Pound", get it? I'll bet your LJ had the "American English" character set by default.

    Fun, is going to Montreal for a customer's radiated emissions testing (at their request), and trying to send an email using an "AZERT" keyboard, because that's the way they do it in Quebec.

    * I also did an APL variant, including overstrike capability

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Re: £ vs #

      "I was amused to discover that the "£" symbol replaced, not the "$" on the US keyboard, but the "#"."

      But you need both # and $ for programming. How else are you going to do: OPEN#channel,filename$ ? More sensible is the "UK-ASCII" where £ is CHR$96.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: £ vs #

        The # appears over on the right hand side, no shift key, where your US kbd has the backslash.

    2. Miss Config

      Re: £ vs #

      Just to be clear :

      When an American says 'pound sign', the reference to is what Brits call a 'hash' ( ie. '#' )

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

        Re: £ vs #

        ...and The Bell System callsed "octothorp[e]"

        1. Cederic Silver badge

          Re: £ vs #

          ..and Microsoft call sharp.

          I once got offered a c# programming job, having spent the entire selection day calling it C hash. They were sensible enough to look at what I could do and how I'd do it, rather than get upset that I call a # hash.

          1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

            Re: £ vs #

            And the Unix heads call "crunch".

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: £ vs #

              Which, confusingly in some circles, is the ! character, sometimes called "bang" in both the *nix world and, from many years ago, by BBC Micro users. I've also heard ! called the "pling" character.

              1. wjake

                Re: £ vs # vs !

                ! = "bang" at least to this old left-pondian!

              2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

                Re: £ vs #

                BBC Micro users never called it bang, Beebs are the source of "pling".

                Star Exec Pling Boot.

              3. Andy A

                Re: £ vs #

                .. to any George 3 (or 4) greybeards, it will always be "Shriek".

      2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        Just to be clear :

        When an American says ‘pound sign’, the reference to is what Brits call a ‘hash’ ( i.e. ‘#’ )

        It depends upon the American. In my case, I call “£” a “pound sign”, and “#” a “number sign”.

        1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: Just to be clear :

          Maniac

    3. David Nash

      Re: £ vs #

      I have never understood why Americans call # "pound".

      Does anyone ever use that for pounds weight?

      1. Daedalus Silver badge

        Re: £ vs #

        The short answer is Yes.

        The longer answer is that not only does 5# represent 5 pounds weight in some situations, but #5 will represent "number 5" in others, particularly in the case of apartment addresses. Hand scrawled price tags in produce markets often us "#" for "lb." And I suppose like everything in the USA, it depends where you are. What do you expect from a country where one place says "soda", another says "tonic"?

        1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: £ vs #

          Although on the other hand, I was in a training course a few weeks back where the trainer (a lad almost young enough to be my son) kept insisting on calling # "hashtag" (the course was in relation to programming, not social media).

          I'm obviously showing my age and advanced grumpiness, but for the last quarter of the meeting (it was done via Teams, to make it even more tedious) I had to just sit there on mute or else I'd have shouted at him as it was driving me nuts...

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: £ vs #

            Grrrr. That does my nut in. A hashtag is a hash FOLLOWED BY A TAG. That's. Why. It's. Called. A. Hash. *TAG*.

            Password team reset the password for one of my users a could of days ago. "Tuesday sixty four hash tag" they told me. So I dutifully entered Tuesday64#tag Tuesday64#Tag tuesday64#tag tuesday64#Tag nope, keeps failing, reset it again please. "Tuesday sixty five hash tag" Nope, still failing. Is it hash spelled out aitch aye ess aitch? "Nope just hashtag." Capital tee? "Nope, just hashtag" So, lowercase tee? "Nope, just hashtag." How the hell are you spelling tag??? "What tag?"

        2. AJ MacLeod

          Re: £ vs #

          I still fail to understand why anyone would go to the effort of writing double the number of strokes in order to avoid writing two perfectly normal letters...

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: £ vs #

            Possibly for the same reason people say double you, double you, double you, instead of World Wide Web :-)

            1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

              Re: £ vs #

              It could be worse, they could be saying "wub wub wub"

          2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: £ vs #

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Number_sign#History

            (sic)

            "It is believed" that "lb" weight was written with a cross stroke, then with two cross strokes in a loop, then just as # .

            "Why" probably is to make it distinct from numerals, either Roman or a variety of versions of Arabic numeral i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc., some of which have had very different shapes over time and with development of different types of pen.

            Specifically distinguishing "lb" from an extra 1 is mentioned.

        3. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

          Re: £ vs #

          > What do you expect from a country where one place says "soda", another says "tonic"?

          Gin

      2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

        why Americans call # “pound”

        In some cases, e.g. “20# bond paper” *, “#” is pronounced “pound” because ”#” is a substitute for the avoirdupois pound sign, “℔”. When handwritten hurriedly, ℔ looks something like #. It’s still common in the States to use # for pounds mass when # follows a number.

        * — Used to express paper density; in this case, 500 sheets of “bond” (17″ × 22″) paper weighing 20 pounds, which is about 75.2 g ⁄ m² . Note that “20# bond paper” only expresses the paper’s density, and paper of this density is rarely sold in a 17″ × 22″ size.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: why Americans call # “pound”

          ...meanwhile the rest of the world just says 75 gsm...

    4. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: £ vs #

      AZERT is standard on much of the continent (EDIT: Europe). Real ballache if you need to do any shell work -- no backslash!

      1. Andy A
        Facepalm

        Re: £ vs #

        Nah. QWERTZ was more common where I worked. When I did a Hungarian keyboard layout, things got insane. They used "American" with hotkkeys to switch in characters with enough accents to give most language students nightmares.

    5. Andy A
      Pint

      Re: £ vs #

      At the first company I worked for, I became something of an expert in converting between various character sets.

      The best one I did was for a data prep job for a brewery. We had to produce the equivalent of their ancient key-to-tape equipment as their own staff were snowed under with work.

      1. Data prep done in our own punch room on our Data 100. Mag tape written out in EBCDIC (IBM) format.

      2. Tape read in on ICL 2904 and converted to ICL 6-bit characters.

      3. JCL wrapped round the data and submitted to the George 2++ system in Birmingham. They had the last 7-track mag tape deck in the company.

      4. Conversion program there wrote a 7-track mag tape in Honeywell format.

      5. Tape shipped to customer.

      6. Tape read by Honeywell mainframe - as a non-standard tape (which was normal for them).

      When I did my test run, all characters, including the UK currency symbol, printed perfectly first time.

      The bonus was that I did the tape delivery on a Friday evening, the brewery being on the way to where I spent my weekends. The ops took delivery, then we went to their "club". A round of drinks cost the same as a single pint outside the brewery walls.

  15. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
    Facepalm

    I hired a car in Mallorca once. I kept accidentally punching the door (left) when I was reaching for the gear stick (right).

    I learned that if you say "go right around the round about, go right around.... " and your girlfriend says "remember to go the other way", you'll go left around the roundabout.

    1. H in The Hague Silver badge
      Pint

      "... you'll go left around the roundabout."

      As told to me by a friend:

      "We'd gone on holiday to France and were running late for the ferry back to Blighty. My husband was driving and really floored it. Then we reached a roundabout and he couldn't remember if he had to go left or right, so he went straight on. The incline launched our car into space and I thought we were going to die. Then we landed on some small trees which bent and ensured a soft landing. After a while the French police turned up, checked we were OK, organised a tow truck to get us off the trees, and wished us a safe onward journey. No ticket, no towing fee."

      I've managed to avoid that mistake - so far.

      Here's one for the weekend -->

      [insert customary whinge about the lack of a wine icon]

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        A late cousin-in-law was reputed to occasionally go over a roundabout to save time. And, no, that's nothing to do with him being late - he lived into his 90s. At one stage he owned a car I'd have loved to have had a drive in - a Bristol 406. The family were also keen on caravanning (takes all sorts) and wrote to Bristol for advice about fitting a tow bar. The body was aluminium on a chassis that stopped somewhere about the back axle. They wrote back to say if he worked it out could he let them know. As he co-owned an engineering works he did work it out.

        1. Potty Professor
          FAIL

          The first time my family ventured onto the Continent with our caravan, we arrived in Zeebrugge at some ungodly hour of the morning. We followed another caravan off the ferry and down the access road to the coast road. He turned left onto the left carriageway of the road, while I carefully pulled across to the right hand side. We travelled for about a mile until we reached a set of traffic lights, which were showing red, so I stopped. The other chap, however, was approaching the light from the back side, and so didn't see it as red, so he kept on going away into the distance. I then turned left and headed inland, but I still wonder how far the other chap went before he had a rude awakening and found himself facing an oncoming truck or similar.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      First time I drove abroad, I had a post it note on the dashboard - a diagram of a roundabout with an arrow pointing out the direction.

      That was a few years ago, I'm much better now. Apart from Spainish roundabouts - I seem to have developed a habit of talking back to the satnav. It/she tells me to take the third exit, I talk back "on dos trays" - AKA Basil Faulty.....

  16. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    Cars

    I once flew into Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton airport for a week at a client site. The rental car staff looked at the computer and told me that they were upgrading me to a Lincoln Continental, which I took to mean that they had no smaller cars available. Given that this corner of Pennsylvania and New Jersey is full of large trucks (lorries, I guess in English English) on small roads, I was less grateful than I might have been. I discovered a tendency to drive with my elbows against my ribs, as if that would pull the car in and away from very large vehicles to the left and concrete barriers to the right.

    On the other hand, the staff at the client site was impressed.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Cars

      I nearly got an upgrade to a Lincoln Town Car at Minneapolis airport but ended up with a Ford Crown Vic (only ever driven by cops and renters apparently).

      Not sure whether I go the better deal or not!

    2. Daedalus Silver badge

      Re: Cars

      I assume this was in the later years of the marque. Before the late 80's the name "Continental" could as easily have referred to the size of the vehicle. I still remember my amazement at seeing a gas guzzler version of the Lincoln manage to negotiate a tiny helical ramp in a car park.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Cars

        There is (or was?) one of those ramps in a car park in Sunderland city centre. The walls are scored and stained with various colours from the bumpers of the various cars that have tried to negotiate it. It was built in the 60's when cars tended to be a lot smaller than nowadays.

      2. Potty Professor
        Unhappy

        Re: Cars

        When I was a student, I fell in love. She was a 1959 Chevrolet Parkwood Estate, the (in)famous "Gull Wing" design. I worked on her and enjoyed using her for several years, until she was stolen, used in a ram raid, and written off. I asked the Police if I could have her back after they had finished with their forensic examination, but they wouldn't play ball and scrapped her.

  17. DavyPaul
    Facepalm

    Advertising Company halts bill printing

    back in my local government days, we used to print out Business Rates bills etc.

    Suddenly, one batch of printing would just stop after printing MORE O

    more o "what"?

    Turns out it was a bill to More O'Fearal advertising/hoardings company - and that was the problem.

    After scanning the VME LIST_RECORDS output for the print file, I eventually learned that the rates junior had updated the customer name from

    More O'Fearal to More O`Fearal

    Did you spot the difference?

    they had used 'grave' apostrophe rather than apostrophe , which the ICL Line Printer (upper case only) had interpreted as HALT.

    took days to find that one. :-(

  18. trevorde Silver badge

    Postscript is human readable

    Company I worked at in the early 90s had an HP Laser Jet 4. At least once a week someone tried to print with a Postscript printer driver. Used to waste a ream of paper each time :-(

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Postscript is human readable

      Had the same in a similar era when I was a Uni undergrad.

      Fortunately I was on good terms with the department BOFH, so talked him into giving me admin privs on the print queue so I could nuke the jobs (after pulling the paper drawer on the printer to stop things temporarily).

      And of course I never ever used the privs to jump the print queue when it was busy and I was in a hurry (or just couldn't be bothered to wait), honest guv'nor...

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Re: Postscript is human readable

        For a student at the time, this was a good source of A4 paper, only one side was used, so don't knock it!!!

  19. GlenP Silver badge

    Serial Issues

    Way back in the mid-eighties (so exact details may be hazy) we had issues hooking up plotters to the VAXes, coincidentally at both my first two jobs. In both cases we didn't have any spare serial lines to dedicate to the plotters so they needed to share with the associated VT terminals.

    First one we managed to develop a simple splitter which seemed to work, on the second one the support for the department had managed to hook up the plotter on pass-through from the terminal but every now and then it would just stop. I was asked to take a look and tracked it down to an escape code for the terminal being sent as part of the data for the plotter. A bit of tweaking of the driver to disable the terminal during plotting fixed the problem.

    Now where's my serial BoB*?

    *Break Out Box

  20. Alex Read
    Coat

    "money was no object"... so, they suite wasn't coded in smalltalk then?

    I'll get my coat...

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      I'm imagining the fax arriving, "Purchase order, To: emergency support, Payable: #1200.00"

      Btw as a point of order, the £ symbol isn't ASCII anything. ASCII (US-ASCII) actually does stop at decimal 127 which was a type of Delete code (DEL), and basically, only US needs are served by ASCII.

      I think I recall that certain (Epson?) printers could be set for UK use by a DIP switch setting that mainly caused £ to be printed on paper when the ASCII code of # was received. So the PC could be allowed to output # when it wanted £.

      £ was decimal code 156 on a PC, and then 163 in what Windows calls "ANSI", which is just an acronym of a US standards body. So you could and can (?) hold down Alt and key 156 on the PC number pad to type £, but in Windows you also can do Alt and 0163.

      These and Unicode UTF-8 include at least the printable codes of ASCII, but codes outside the range decimal 0 to 127 are not ASCII.

      1. MJB7

        Re: ASCII (US-ASCII) actually does stop at decimal 127

        Yup. ASCII was 7-bit. And for some reason Prime engineers decided to fill the extra bit in an 8-bit byte with '1' - so text was always negative if treated as an integer. (I think this was to make bugs more obvious. Negative numbers tend to fail faster.)

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        On most printers the language is soft selectable, so anybody should be able to write a printer driver that starts up in US ASCI and when a £ is wanted the driver sends ESC<lang><uk>#ESC<lang><us>.

        Hmmmm..... ESC R if I recall. ESC R 03 23 ESC R 00

  21. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Odd printer issue

    Had a customer who was complaining their HP LJ8000 was broken. Every now and then it would just stop with an undetermined error. It'd happened 4 times in the last 5 days. I visited a couple of times, and couldn't find any issues. I asked if they could leave it stopped next time and I'd get there as quickly as possible to have a look. They were unsure as it was the primary office printer and couldn't afford the down time. A week later, after 4 more stoppages, they agreed. Got there, and sure enough, it was stopped. It didn't help me. No reported error. It just stopped. Lots of tests, lots of diags. Phoned HP who were stumped. I eventually elicited from them that it was always the same document being printed when it stopped. Forehead slapping moment. Why had no one mentioned this sooner? The long and the short of it was that HP were aware of an issue printing certain PDF documents created on a certain package that sent some code that the HP PDF interpreter choked on. Opening the file in a different PDF creator and saving it again "fixed" the issue, reported this back to HP and their comment? Oh, yeah, we know about that. It's a "will not fix" issue, those printers are nearly EOL now.

  22. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Hah, had to fiddle with DIP switches on my LX-400 to change some character code table back in the day.

    Lovely to have a blast from the past, when things was more innocent.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Flat Bed Printer

    Was working on a DoD project that used a flat bed printer. This project was delivered to many facilities around the world. One day got a call from one such facility in the middle of the Pacific. Seems they could no longer get the print out to align correctly. Much discussion ensued and it was decided to send the print driver developer to the facility and be on-site until it was fixed. Ticket purchased, hotel booked, he flies to this beautiful island in the Pacific. He is picked up by a junior officer and driven to the facility. At the facility he is assigned an armed Marine guard and told don't go where you should not. He follows the junior officer thru multiple security checks and finally into the inner sanctum where the flat bed printer located. He then asked the operators to show him the problem. He watches the tech put the paper on the printer. He tells them to wait a moment. He walks over to the printer, moves the paper up and to the left (as the instructions clearly say to do) and the print job works. He is then escorted back out to the fresh air sans one Marine. The junior officer drives him back to the airport where he flies home.

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