Scanner hell

Here are a couple of “life in IT” horror stories, both involving desktop scanners. This is to give some idea of what it’s like when things go wrong while working in information technology. These particular misadventures were more frustrating that terrifying.

While my main responsibilities at work involve programming, I’ve ended up helping out with our imaging system. This means that I set up desktop scanners and configure desktop software to interface with the document management software running on one of our servers. I’ve probably done this kind of thing several dozen times. Although it can be time-consuming, it usually goes pretty smoothly.

Last week it didn’t go smoothly.

It was a brand new scanner and a brand new computer. I installed the scanner drivers off the installation CD, told the installer to download and apply the latest driver updates, hooked up the scanner, and configured the software to allow the user to scan pages (things like transcripts, release forms, etc.) into the imaging system. Like I’ve always done, I enabled the image processing feature to do things like deskew the images (that helps if the paper feeds into the scanner a little bit crooked). Every time I tried scanning a page into the imaging system, the desktop software would crash.

I un-installed the drivers, re-installed the drivers, reconfigured the desktop software, and the same thing happened. So I called technical support at the imaging system software company. A very patient technician made a remote connection to the PC so that he could try fixing it. For two hours I watched him do the same things I’d done with the same result.

He finally tried configuring the software without enabling the image processing feature. I saw him skip that step and almost said something about it, but I was tired and didn’t say anything. And of course that time it worked. Then I asked him to enable the feature, we tried it again, and the software was back to crashing. Disabling the feature again made the software start working again. So we left that feature disabled and called it “good enough.”

So as near as we could determine, the only thing wrong was enabling a helpful feature that I’ve used for years.

The other scanner nightmare was a few years ago. This one was a flatbad scanner–the type where you open a lid, put a single sheet of paper on a glass pane, close the lid, and the scanner moves a lamp back and forth under the page, taking a picture of it.

This was an older scanner that had been in storage for a while. That fact turned out to be significant.

I installed the drivers, hooked up the scanner, and tried to scan a page. I could see the lamp come on, and I could hear it trying to move. It made a delightful kuh-KUNK noise, and it was clear that the lamp wasn’t moving back and forth like it should.

This episode also involved a long phone call to the software vendor. In retrospect I probably should have called the scanner manufacturer, but it wasn’t clear to me where the problem was. The help desk at the software vendor has lots of experience with scanners, and I think they must have a room that’s nothing but scanner after scanner sitting on shelves, because they came up with a scanner just like the one I was struggling with–same manufacturer and model.

After an hour or two, the two technicians on the call were finally able to reproduce the problem I was having. I could hear them chuckling as one of them said, “Pick up the scanner and look on the bottom. Do you see a black slider switch with a couple of little padlock icons? And is the switch in the LOCKED position?”

Some helpful soul had locked the scanner when they put it in storage. So I moved the little switch, and was done setting up the scanner a few minutes later.

This is what happens when they put a programmer in charge of things with moving parts. It always ends in tears.