Ask Humorix: Printer Fire

Feature written by James Baughn on Saturday, January 30, 1999

from the fear-the-daemon dept.

In this second installment of Ask Humorix, the Humorix Oracle responds to this query sent in by Mark Greene: "I just installed Linux on a new computer. Everything appears to be working okay, except for one problem. I keep getting these strange "lp1 on fire" errors from the Linux kernel. What exactly does this mean? Should I buy a sprinkler system for my computer room?"

The Humorix Oracle says:

Dear Immigrant From Windows:

This is a very serious problem! Every Unix system contains a set of daemons which control aspects of the system in the background. However, daemons are not always innocuous software processes that run in the background unattended. These little escapees from hell, when angered, have the power to set fire to your components. Printers are usually the first thing to be ignited because the lpd daemon is particularly hot-tempered. Modems are also another target; the pppd daemon is quite sensitive (just trying to configure PPP to work with your modem is proof of this).

Unfortunately, the "fire" that these deamons set is not immediately visible. It is a wierd kind of slow-burning hellish fire that humans can't sense. (Dogs can smell it, though. If your dog ever starts barking at your printer or computer, you've got a problem!) Thankfully, almost all Linux kernels have a mechanism to detect daemon fire. The "lp1 on fire" message you saw was Linux's way of warning you about this problem. (In an interesting side note, Linus Torvalds had major problems with daemons when he was first developing Linux. He almost rewrote the whole operating system so it would utilize "background tasks" instead of "daemons").

Your first reaction may be to douse your printer with a bucket of luke warm water. This will only make the lpd daemon angrier, and could cause him to set fire to your hard drive. One temporary solution is to fill your printer with flame retardant foam popcorn. These should have been shipped with your printer (you've kept the original box, right?). However, using popcorn will only put out the fire. The daemon will still be angry.

An easy way to stop the lpd daemon is to issue the kill lpd command. However, this is not recommended. As soon as lpd is launched again (you do plan on using your printer again, right?), he'll be angrier than ever and might consider setting fire to your whole system (or worse!).

You need to find a way to pacify the deamon. The lpd daemond, in particular, despises Microsoft software. If you have Windows installed in another partition, I'd recommend you delete it soon. This might be enough to appease the daemon indefinitely. If not, then you'll have to try harder. Daemons behave, in some ways, like children or pets. They want attention, and will do anything they can to annoy you unless you give it to them. Occasionally typing "Good lpd daemon! Good boy!" at a shell prompt may help. The daemon may also be hungry. Send something interesting to the printer (such as a juicy Microsoft joke) to feed it.

If all else fails, you can type in, "Listen here, Mr. Daemon. If you keep misbehaving, I'll have to delete Linux and install Windows! Do we have an understanding?" This should do the trick.

You owe the Humorix Oracle an ATX computer case made from flame-resistant material.

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