I must be getting old, but the error messages we see these days aren’t as silly as the ones we used to see. Who can forget: “Non-system disk or disk error – replace disk and strike any key to continue”or “Keyboard error or keyboard not present, press any key to continue.”

While musing on this theme, I was reminded of a perplexing error that was brought to my attention when I was the go-to guy at a technical college in Reading.


A student approached my desk in a state of panic: “Jeff, there’s a virus on my computer, and it’s making the printer go mad. Help! Quick!”

I got up and said, “Show me.”

She led me to the printer, and, sure enough, it was pumping out sheet after sheet of blank paper. “What can we do?”

The first thing was to look at the print server and see what was in the queue. Under her userid was a print job running to over 900 pages. This surprised me, as this girl and her peer group were notorious for doing very little work, preferring to sit at the back and chatter. I cancelled the remaining part of the job and fed the blank pages back into the paper tray.

Back at her desk I looked to see why it had happened. On her screen was the blank page of a Word document. I pressed CTRL+HOME to get to the top of the document, this took awhile but eventually I could see the two short paragraphs of which her essay consisted. At the bottom of the screen I saw the page count shown as 1/963.

Deleting the blank pages I advised her to check the page count before printing. She replied that there must be a problem with the computer because she had noticed it clicking. I couldn’t see what was wrong at that point so I returned to my desk.

A little later I was doing one of my regular walk-arounds and saw her back at her desk, deep in conversation with a fellow student. On the screen I could see page breaks rapidly scrolling up the screen. Then the penny dropped.

While she was talking, she had her head in her hand, her right elbow supporting it. Trouble was that the elbow was on the Enter key.

Sometimes the odd problems have a very ordinary solution. I felt like her primary school teacher when I advised her to sit up straight and keep her elbows off the table.