This is the second of two stories from the "Pitch a WTF" panel at PenguiCon. It's presented anonymously, only because my notes were caught in a horrific game of "keep away" perpetrated by reprogrammed assembly line robots I forgot to write down the submitter's email address. So if you're the submitter and would like me to 1984 your name back into the story, drop me a line.
Of all the things the lab's new printer could do, printing Bob's document didn't seem to be one of them. The printer sat in the hallway, hooked up to an old PC that was the de facto print server. Bob logged on, and pulled up the print queue. His print job sat patiently beneath the only other job.
The other job had been running for almost an hour, but was only a few bytes long. It hadn't even started printing yet. Something must have just gotten stuck in the wrong place or something. He killed the job, and two things happened simultaneously -- his report printed, and an angry, annoyed grunt emanated from the offices down the hall.
Someone Bob didn't know rounded the corner, following the grunt like a disgruntled Doppler effect. He wore a suit that was, at best, a concession to the lab's dress code. The rumpled jacket had seen an iron probably as many times as the crooked tie had seen a proper half-Windsor. He pushed past Bob, hunched over the print server's keyboard, and glared at the screen.
"Did you kill my job?"
Bob shuffled back to reclaim his personal space-- which was promptly re-invaded. "Yes, I needed--"
"Don't!" he batted at the paper in Bob's hand. "Is that a results report for funding?"
Bob held the document to his chest. "No, it's--"
"Then it isn't important!"
Bob wanted to hold up his hands, to say 'whoa there'-- but there was barely enough space between the two of them for his document, let alone hand gestures. "It's just that it had been in the queue for--"
"Don't talk to me about print queues. I've programmed more queues than you've ever used. So don't screw with my jobs."
The young man stomped away, muttering. Bob just stood there, unsure if he should go back to his desk, or to HR. After all, it was the deadline for funding applications-- a stressful time for everyone. He'd heard of worse things happening.
The print queue flashed a job-- the same tiny job from the same tiny user. And like before, it just sat there, jammed. Bob shrugged. He had his document-- it wasn't his problem now.
Until the next day...
Of all the things the line of people in the hallway was, being a straight and orderly line wasn't one of them.
"Excuse me. Pardon me." Bob weaved his way through the crowded hall. Had the head researcher sprung for doughnuts again? Those were always a good stress relief around this time. But Bob's visions of a healthy dose of a trans-saturated glucose were quickly dashed.
Everyone was gathered around the printer.
"What's the problem?" Bob asked a power-skirt at the head of the line.
"I don't know," she said. "I tapped the paper, shook the toner-- I even turned it off and on. Nothing's printing!"
"Did you check the queue?"
She visibly flinched at the "q"-word. "No," she said quietly. "We aren't supposed to." She slunk a step back from the PC.
There was a note taped to the monitor. The message in twenty-eight point font warned
Do Not Kill Job
Bob hesitated at the keyboard, struggling with the natural instinct to obey signs in labs. But there were people waiting...
He sighed, and logged on to the PC. Sure enough, a job of only a few bytes by yes-indeed-that-guy was holding up the queue. Nothing was printing. It was just stuck at "processing...". He glanced around the corner, but that particular desk was empty.
"He'll realize his job was stillborn, and resubmit it. I'm doing him a favor," Bob justified aloud to himself, and hit 'delete'. Documents poured forth, but the hands that collected them were apprehensive. Not a thank you to be heard. Bob shrugged-- he had his own numbers to worry about. Surely this would just sort itself out. It wasn't his problem now.
Until the next day...
Of all the things the problem that wasn't his was, being not his problem wasn't one of them.
The wall of people gathered around the printer just stood there, shoulders slumped, unmoving. But as he rounded the corner, they all looked up at him. All at once.
"Seriously?" he said as hopeful eyes turned to him. He pushed his way through, heading towards the print server. Taped to the chassis was a sign that screamed in 48 point bold font
DO NOT KILL JOB UNTIL FRIDAY!
Two things struck Bob as odd. First, was that Friday was two days away; and second, that the note was taped to the chassis because that's all what was left of the PC. The keyboard, mouse and monitor were gone.
Up until that moment, it may not have been Bob's problem. But now he made it so.
Bob stormed towards that one desk, where that one guy sat-- right next to the missing peripherals.
"Your print job," Bob stated. "Kill it."
"No," the guy said, not even looking up from his monitor. "My funding depends on my numbers being run."
"And everyone else's numbers depend on being able to print! Including my own!"
"You all can make do with the old dot matrix like you used to. My numbers are far more important."
"I don't care how important you think your numbers are, there's no way you need to print for two days straight!"
"Print?" the guy scoffed. "I don't need to print anything. My numbers are too massive for this piece of crap PC to crunch. I need the printer's extra CPU and RAM power."
"What are you talking about?" Bob exploded, "The print server is patently worse that everyone's PC, yours included!"
"You fool!" He swiveled towards Bob. "You don't understand at all. That job is a piece of PostScript code. The print server isn't running my numbers. The PRINTER is! It's far more powerful than you can imagine!"
Bob stepped back like he'd been slapped with Schrödinger's Stupid-- unable to determine if the idea was good or not unless he thought about it. And despite himself, he couldn't help but think about it-- about the print job that wasn't a print job. No, it was still a job that ran through a print server. A fully configurable print server.
Bob scrounged up some extra peripherals, logged on, and made a change to the print queue manager. Now the job was the problem of a priority rule set to "low", and a virtual printer.
He scribbled an addendum to the sign taped to the print server, which now read
DO NOT KILL JOB UNTIL FRIDAY
(or try to use the printer as your personal mainframe)
And of all the things that sign was, being read wasn't one of them because as long as the documents flowed-- no one had a problem.
And if a certain someone did have a problem, Bob would be more than happy to have a conversation about how of all the things shared resources were-- being shared was most certainly one of them.