Celebrating 25 years of publishing

Published July 30, 2019


How to blow up a computer on deadline

By John Toth / The Bulletin

Earlier, I took a trip down memory lane with a story of how my 4-year-old daughter put The Bulletin’s main computer out of commission by jamming a pencil into it. I’ll be balancing that out this week with a tale of how I blew up the same computer, on deadline – of course.

In honor of our 25th anniversary, I’m going to take you down memory lane again, how we operated in the early years, when one mistake could jeopardize the entire issue.

Desktop computers in those days made composing a paper possible, but we were in the stone age compared to today.

The alternative to them was a film-based layout method. That machine was cost-prohibitive for us. It would develop a strip of photographic paper with the article on it that paste-up artists cut up and put on the layout sheet.

We still used layout sheets. Pagination, or electronic layout, had not been invented, but we used a computer and a printer to generate the article that was then cut up and pasted down.

This “paste-up” process was a little tricky. We applied wax with a “waxer” on the backside of the sheet with the formatted text to paste it to the layout sheet. We had to make sure the wax was hot and sticky.

One week, a piece of copy fell off the movie schedule and landed in the middle of a furniture store ad on the adjacent page. Nobody caught it, and that’s how the paper was printed. The name of the movie was “Liar, Liar.”

We didn’t charge for that ad, nor the rerunning of it. And, we apologized – for a long time.

There were all these pitfalls to manual composing, not to mention the comparatively lousy and weak computers we used. But, each week the paper got done.

One week, My main desktop computer needed a part changed out, and it was an easy fix. I have forgotten over the decades what the part was, but in retrospect, the work could have waited. But retrospect doesn’t help.

I was in a hurry. The final touches of the paper needed to be finished. Articles still had to be printed and pasted.

I took the computer cover off and proceeded to try to change out the part. My screwdriver slipped and made contact with the power supply. No, I didn’t unplug it. In retrospect, I should have. But by now, we know what we can do with retrospect.

There was this unforgettable crackling noise as the flames shot out of the power supply. The computer was dead as a doornail.

This was serious. I needed a new power supply, but even if I found one, there was no guarantee that something else wasn’t damaged. I made a decision. I needed a new desktop.

An hour later, a brand new desktop was sitting on my desk. It took me most of the night to transfer files from the old hard drive, which I made into a slave drive on the new computer, and to load the programs.

We needed to be up and running just enough to finish the paper. The rest could be done later. The next day, the layout sheets were delivered to the printer as if nothing had happened. The only thing this mistake cost me was sleep – and a new desktop.

By the way, I bought a power supply later, installed it, and the old desktop fired up – this time not with real fire. My children used it for several years after that. It had miraculously survived a pencil and a screwdriver attack.

(I look forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)