Hey, plastic is plastic, right?

This pilot fish does general tech support for a small, family-owned business that makes avionics equipment.

"For some reason we had very high turnover in our administrative assistant positions, particularly the front desk receptionist," says fish. "We would get someone in for a month or two, she would leave, and the temp agency would send over a new one.

"After training two or three people on how to use the laser printer, fax machine and copier, I eventually gave up on training and started just making their copies and sending their faxes if they needed help."

It's also the receptionist's job to order office supplies. So when one of the sales reps uses up the last of the transparencies for a big presentation, she orders transparencies -- or thinks she does, anyway.

What arrives instead is a box of clear plastic report covers. The receptionist makes do the best she can: She uses a paper cutter to slice each report cover in two, stacks them neatly and puts them in the transparencies box that the sales rep has recently emptied.

And how does fish learn about this? The hard way.

"She came to me because a sales rep called and asked her to make some transparencies and overnight them to his hotel," fish says. "He hadn't left her an electronic copy of his presentation, just a printed copy.

"Not knowing how to make copies onto anything other than the paper already loaded into the copier, she brought me the presentation and a stack of 'transparencies' and asked me to set up the copier for her."

Fish loads the 'transparencies' into the manual paper tray, puts the presentation in the feeder and hits the start button. The first page feeds in, the copier makes a glub sound -- and then goes silent.

What kind of transparencies were those? fish asks receptionist. She stammers and finally runs to the supply room to "check."

Fish opens the copier. The plastic report cover has melted -- it's still liquid to the touch. Fish unplugs the copier, hangs an "Out of Order" sign on it, and lets it sit overnight.

"By morning, the plastic had cooled and I was able to pull it out as a single chunk," says fish. "In the end the copier was no worse for wear.

"The receptionist, however, was convinced she had destroyed the copier, and never came back to work. I called the sales rep and explained what happened, and he found a copy shop near his hotel and got his transparencies made. I still don't know why he couldn't have done that in the first place.

"And I wrote notes all through the office supply catalog instructing any future receptionists to check with tech support before ordering any printing or copying supplies."

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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