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Friday, March 23, 2012

Line printers are underappreciated

Today, the Santa Clara radio communications and dispatch center had a total system outage for about 25 minutes. They had no phones, no computers, and no radio consoles. They were left with whatever battery-operated "hand pack" radios and reference books might have been on hand. 911 calls rolled over to the county comm office.

I got the distinct impression that they were unable to know the last statuses of their police and fire/medic units. I heard the dispatchers manually working through roll calls to find out where everyone was and what their statuses were. It seemed like they didn't have any kind of non-volatile status storage right there.

This sounds like a perfect opportunity for an old-school line printer. It's an append-only medium and it's still there even after you lose all power. That makes it good both for record keeping and for recovery of state after an extreme failure of your computerized tracking systems.

Besides, there's something cool about having a printer with a moving head that emits a "bzzzzttt" every time something important happens. It gives you an interesting sense of relative system activity.

Naturally, I have the calls logged for this event. I wonder if they do?