Newspaper awaits German saviors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Call me a sucker for good marketing. Although I&8217;ve been a passenger in quite a few, I&8217;ve never owned one of the famed &8220;German engineered&8221; vehicles.

OK, well my current Jeep is an American cousin, I suppose, since DaimlerChrysler owns Jeep. It&8217;s the same company that owns Mercedes-Benz.

Yet despite much first-hand experience, I&8217;ve always swallowed the belief that &8220;German engineering&8221; is somehow better.

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I swallowed it hook, line and sinker. This week it became clear that while they&8217;re good, those German engineers are not perfect.

The proof was right there on the pages of The Natchez Democrat.

Lately the Volkswagen company has ramped up its focus on the quality of German engineering with a marketing plan featuring, &8220;Dr. Z.&8221;

The real &8220;Dr. Z&8221; is Dr. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of DaimlerChrysler. The commercials feature a sharply dressed Dr. Z impressing folks on the features of his company&8217;s vehicles with a heavy German accent flowing from beneath and equally heavy moustache.

So what does this have to do with your newspaper?

I thought you&8217;d never ask.

The machine that we use to convert a computer version of the newspaper into something our hippy-era press can digest is called a platesetter.

It&8217;s a huge machine that works kind of like a laser printer with the exception that the platesetter prints on aluminum plates instead of paper.

Those plates are then installed on the printing press and they help transfer the words and pictures onto the paper as it&8217;s fed through the press. The platesetter was designed and built in Germany.

Last Monday, the platesetter choked. It took a few engineers (both American and German) to figure out what had occurred.

In the end, it seemed to be a relatively simple problem. The hard drive that feeds information to the brain of the computerized machine had died.

&8220;No problem,&8221; we were told.

&8220;We&8217;ll just install a new one, reinstall the information from the back-up disk and you&8217;ll be as good as new.&8221;

To make a long story, a bit briefer, an American engineer arrived and things started getting worse.

OK, that&8217;s not fair. I made it sound as if it was his fault. It wasn&8217;t. He was just the messenger.

Apparently, our back-up software we had in the building was bad. The disk had corrupted information so it wouldn&8217;t reinstall.

&8220;No problem, the German engineers keep a copy,&8221; the technician said.

A quick e-mail to the factory and we were downloading a huge file that we&8217;d eventually transfer to a new disk.

No dice. The Germans&8217; back-up disk was corrupt, too.

And there&8217;s the rub, as Hamlet might say.

Apparently, the Germans &8212; or at least the ones who built the platesetter &8212; don&8217;t believe in making things really simple and transferable.

The Mississippi boys had the logical idea that, &8220;Couldn&8217;t we just get software from a similar machine and install it on this one?&8221;


No dice. The software, apparently, is tailor made for each machine.

And now we wait for a German engineering solution to fix the problem. The plan is for a German expatriate &8212; by way of Colorado &8212; to arrive next week with a solution.

The result has been that we&8217;ve made your newspaper for a few days with our older (ca. 1996) back-up system. And, while it&8217;s a bit slower it works just fine.

The only &8220;hiccups&8221; have been when we&8217;ve forgotten exactly how to tweak the computers for the old system. The results are a few pages that were darker than they should have been and a few light spots that slipped past us, too.

With a little luck and some American ingenuity, we&8217;ll get things fixed soon. In the meantime, thanks for your patience and if you see &8220;Dr. Z&8221; give him directions to 503 N. Canal St. Thanks for reading us.

Kevin Cooper

is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or