How to Oil Your Hard Drive


Verityper 1010 - top
Compuwriter II - bottom

While the first edition of Electrical Code Simplified (“ECS”) was typed on a Verityper, by the 1980’s P.S. Knight Co. was on the cutting edge of computer technology, to the extent that we could afford it.  P.S. Knight Co.’s first true computer was the Compugraphic Compuwriter II.  The Compuwriter was a phototypesetter, accepting the entry of one line at a time and requiring an encyclopedic cache of codes by the user.  And its casing was actual steel; it was quite heavy.  Very few electronic products are encased in steel these days.

Next on the computer list was the Linoterm Phototypesetter.  This was also encased in steel but it was lighter.  And it was painted orange.  The Linoterm allowed the user to enter multiple lines before burning them to paper.  It was still primitive but it was a big improvement for us.

After the Linoterm came P.S. Knight Co.’s first desktop computer.  It required two boot disks to start it up and it was genuinely useless for all but the most basic accounting.  Alma Knight, who did all the accounting, found it quicker to rely on manual entries.  Still, you know your business has really reached the big leagues when your computer needs two boot disks.

Next was the PC10, followed closely by the PC20.  Both models were notable for their lack of utility.  To avoid attracting hate mail from otherwise friendly PC purists, one should note that apart from accounting, P.S. Knight Co.’s only use for any computer was desktop publishing, an activity that was demonstrably beyond the machines of this vintage.


Linoterm phototypesetter

In the late 1980’s Peter Knight invested in a then state-of-the-art computer from a well-known computer superstore.  This computer, bearing the store’s brand, was marketed as a desktop publishing machine.  Typifying the hilariously oversold product was its user manual.  In those days, the computer’s “on” switch was a large red paddle on the side of the CPU.  It was bright red in a black encasement.  Hard to miss this.  The users manual however, thought it needful to include a paragraph of instruction describing the “on” switch and, further, to include a large photograph of the “on” switch to ensure the readers’ clarity on the matter.  The manual didn’t cover operating particulars, troubleshooting, program or application issues or any of that palaver.  Just the important stuff, like the “on” switch.  One had to call the support line whenever the hard drive crashed.  And it was frequent, this crashing.  Eventually Peter was forwarded up the chain of technical supporters to the supervisor.  Peter was informed that the reason his hard drive kept crashing was that he wasn’t oiling it enough.  Trying not to sound indignant: “Your supposed to oil your hard drive?”  Well, apparently this was all quite normal and the supervisor even advised on the location of the oiling port on the hard drive case and the type of oil to be used.  This was one of those moments when someone makes a claim so absurd that one is tempted to believe it, if on no other basis than nobody would be so daft as to say such a thing were it false.  In this case the absurdity of the advice was quickly apparent.  The experience was the source of much amusement among future IT consultants to P.S. Knight Co.  As they say, if the thing’s a total wash at least you’ve got a good story.

At some point around 1990 Peter discovered the Apple MacIntosh and became an instant convert.  He found that he could do both text and graphics on one machine.  He experienced the end of paste-ups and manual plate burning.  He was pleased.  It took about a year for him to move from Mac convert to Mac fanatic.  Since at least 1991 all ECS publications have been generated on Apple equipment.

By this time the actual printing had been outsourced to a firm in Manitoba, the volumes were just too great for a residential basement printing operation.  This meant that P.S. Knight Co. had an abundance of hugely obsolete equipment to get rid of.  Its said that anything’s salable if the price is low enough, and evidently somebody agreed with that maxim because P.S. Knight Co. sold two truckloads of cheap equipment in one sale.  Among the notable items sold was the Linoterm machine which by then was at least a decade obsolete, a plate burner, suction board and red lighting accompaniment, and a large, pneumatic homemade guillotine for trimming up to 3” thick ECS books.  The equipment purchasers turned out to be a group of middle-aged men who arrived to pick up their purchase while quite drunk.  Their condition is all the more noteworthy given that their purchase was collected no later than 10AM on a weekday morning.  Included in the sale was some rudimentary instruction on operating the Linoterm machine, which was conducted to a fair bit of silence, blank staring and gentle swaying from side to side.