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Christophers Napkin Sketch by Al Gleichman

In the Trenches with LAROKE

Konsultant's Log, Cyberdate 04.12.1997 (Case of the Phantom Printer)

    Situation Report
    Tactical Navigation Modification
    Navigation & guidance
    Tactical Intelligence
  • CM
    Configuration Management
Previous P2 Articles:

Cyberdate 02.24.1997 Where's my !@#$% FONT MENU??

Later P2 Articles:

Cyberdate 04.19.1997 Moving the HAL 9000

Cyberdate 06.28.1997 Restoring a Flash BIOS Meltdown

Cyberdate 09.20.1997 A Typical week of headbangers

Cyberdate 09.27.1997 Getting P2 ready for his new user

Cyberdate 10.11.1997 P2's transformation slips into high gear

Cyberdate 10.25.1997 More fun with P2, HAL and 4-Bits

Cyberdate 11.08.1997 P2 and 4-Bits - Light at the end of the tunnel

Cyberdate 12.06.1997 P2's configuration suffers a relapse

Cyberdate 12.23.1997 Re-glazing P2

Cyberdate 02.04.1998 P2's lobotomy recovery

Cyberdate 02.23.1998 Moving P2 is as much fun as pulling teeth

Other Sources:

Overview of the Windows 95 Registry by John Woram. This Windows Magazine article, from February 1997, provides an overview of the Windows 95 Registry.


Corel Corporation WordPerfect for Windows 95 v7.0

GENICOM Corporation TI Microlaser printer (formerly Texas Instruments)

Hewlett-Packard HP 4L Laserjet printer

Microsoft Corporation Windows 95


SITREP: The trusty old Texas Instruments Microlaser I use for most of my printing at my day job was acting up, but working well enough for normal printing. My employer, however, had a proposal for me to produce that required the best quality print output we could muster in-house. No problem, I reasoned. When it was finished, I would channel it to the Hewlett-Packard Laserjet 4L connected to the clerical PC across the network.

We were finished with the several drafts of the proposal and ready to print the final. I had composed the proposal in Corel WordPerfect 7.0 for Windows 95 on my workstation, P2. I choose the remote Hewlett-Packard 4L in the printer dialog, and clicked the print button. My system experienced a complete lockup with a kryptic message indicating the problem was in the print spooler (a network software component)

TACNAVMOD: A "three-fingered salute" (CTRL-ALT-DEL) would not free the PC, and this machine does not have a reset switch, so a cold-boot was required to restart it. I decided to make sure this wasn't an isolated "mystery" lockup, so I opened the proposal file in WordPerfect again, chose the remote printer and pushed the print button with some trepidation . . . LOCKUP!

OK, we do have a real problem here, but I have to get the proposal printed, and P2 is the only PC with this version of WordPerfect installed. I went to the Windows 95 "Printer Folder" to check the properties of the HP 4L printer. As soon as I tried to access the properties menu item . . . LOCKUP for the third time. At least I now knew that the WordPerfect application was OK.

I decided to leave the HP 4L printer object alone. ("Doc, it hurts when I do this"..."Well, don't do that"). Since I was pretty sure the printer object was corrupt in some way, maybe adding a new HP 4L printer could get me to the other side of this roadblock. Double-clicking the "Add Printer" icon in the printer folder brought up the Windows 95 "Add Printer Wizard" dialog. The wizard first gives the choice of installing a "Local printer" or a "Network printer" if a network is installed. This was a network printer choice. Next, I had to enter the network path to the printer, in this case "//SYSTEM_12/2" or the second printer (LPT2) on the PC with the network server designation of System_12. The dialog also asks here if you will want to print to this remote printer from legacy DOS programs (which don't understand the network). If the answer is yes, the next step is to "capture a printer port". This means assigning the remote printer to a local printer port so that when the DOS program prints to the local printer (LPT1 for example) which it understands, Windows 95 will "secretly capture" that output and send it to the remote printer (//SYSTEM_12/2), and the DOS program will be none the wiser. This only works for DOS programs running in a "DOS window". It will not work if Windows 95 is not running. Next the wizard displayed the printer "Manufacturer" and "Model" Pick Lists for choice of printer to install. After selecting the HP 4L, I was presented with a new dilemma . . . the wizard dialog informed me a driver for this printer already existed and did I want to use the existing driver or replace it? My intuition told me the existing driver was OK and the network print was the problem, so I opted to keep the existing driver (I could come back here and do this again if I were wrong). The wizard asked me to name the printer, offering "HP Laserjet 4L (Copy 2)" for my consideration, and also whether this was to be the default printer. I accepted the wizard's name and declined to make this printer the default. As a final step the wizard offers to print a test page (recommended). I accepted, and the page printed successfully (the wizard will try to help with some elementary trouble shooting if it does not print). The nice thing about the test page the wizard prints, is that it lists the filenames of the drivers and other important info about the printer you should keep for future troubleshooting use.

I started up WordPerfect again, printed and assembled the final proposals, and got the immediate krisis out of the way.

TACINTEL: Now I could go back and clean up my printer folder. After all, I didn't want to print to the the defective printer object in the future by accident and LOCKUP the system again. I intended to remove the corrupt "HP Laserjet 4L" printer object and then rename the imaginative "HP Laserjet 4L (Copy 2)" back to "HP Laserjet 4L". It is pretty easy to delete printers from the printer folder. Simply click on the object and press the "Delete" key on the keyboard. This is what I did . . . Guess What . . . LOCKUP!

I began to suspect this problem originated with a long-gone beta installation of the Invisible LAN network operating system (NOS) used on these computers. Some history is in order here. Windows 95 is vastly different from Windows 3.x and DOS, and this network has twelve computers, some with each of those operating systems. The built-in peer-to-peer networking that comes with Windows 95 will only work with other Windows 95 and Windows for Workgroups 3.x machines (without tracking down and purchasing additional network components from Microsoft), leaving my Windows 3.x and DOS machines out in the cold. At the time I installed Windows 95 on the first machine in the network (P2), Invisible Software, the publishers of the Invisible LAN network operating system software we use, was burning the midnight oil like everyone else, trying to update their software to work with Windows 95. They did not have the shrink-wrapped operating system ready for sale, but you could download the current "under-construction" software from their web site and use it at your own risk. I followed this route, without hesitation, because it was my only choice. Don't get me wrong. I highly recommend Invisible LAN. The "raw" beta software worked extemely well for the most part, but every time a newer beta version with fewer bugs was released, a tedious uninstallation of the previous version had to be performed before the new beta could be installed because the beta software was not well integrated with the Windows 95 32-bit environment. I could have missed a step somewhere along the timeline, and this is what I suspected. I had upgraded to the final "ready-for-prime-time" software when it was released, and it is working fine. Could this "printer bomb" be an orphaned element of beta code gone rogue? The theory made sense to me since it was the network printer spooler which was Krashing every time.

I wanted this renegade object out of my printer folder! I, somewhat recklessly, deleted all references to it out of the Windows 95 Registry. Don't try this at home, kids, unless you're ready to pay the piper by totally screwing up your Windows 95 installation. I was lucky. When I rebooted, Windows 95 was OK, but when I went to the printers folder, the phantom printer was still there, and it continued to defy me by blowing up the system if I even thought about clicking on it. I was out of ideas. The only course to pursue was to mentally surround the printer object with "bob's barricades" and try to fix the problem at a later date when, hopefully, I would know more.

CM: I am planning to add a new section to this "In the Trenches with LAROKE" area called "Kurrent Konundrums". These will be future "In the Trenches" articles about problems that have not yet been resolved. That is, problems that have me "stumped" and, where I'm asking for help from you, the readers of these articles. When, and if, the problem is solved, it will cease to be a "Kurrent Konundrum" and be reformatted as an "In the trenches" article with proper credit recorded for all who helped.

This phantom printer object seemed the perfect candidate for the first "Kurrent Konundrums" article. I started preparing the article and formatting the new Web site section. I got to the point where I had to reproduce the LOCKUP conditions in order to read and record the error message about the network print spooler. I opened the printer folder, clicked on the rogue printer object and pressed the "Delete" key (the same procedure that produced the last lockup several weeks earlier). To my surprise, the printer object was DELETED this time WITHOUT LOCKUP!? WOT THE HECK IS GOIN' ON HERE?

Well, I no longer had a "Kurrent Konundrum" article. The problem was solved, but I didn't have a Klue as to why. This kind of thing happens to me all too often. I shrug and keep on "keepin' on", but it makes me feel like one of the apes in the movie "2001" hangin' out next to the "monolith". One possibility, which I didn't try previously when I was in the heat of battle with the printer object, is to completely shut down the network and reboot it. If you haven't worked with networks, you would be amazed how often this procedure works . . . I am, every time. I restart the network at least once a week just for general purposes to purge the "ghosts" from the system. After all, the software code that was locking up was the network printer spooler. I like to vanquish a problem, not have it disappear. Too much work ahead of me to puzzle over this any longer . . . on to the next battle.


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LAROKE Microcomputer Consultants
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Issued Saturday April 12, 1997

Updated Monday February 23, 1998

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