November 30, 2020

MICHAEL WOLSEY: ‘A paper jam is what your printer creates when you try to run an A4 sheet through its evil, word-devouring works’

I BOUGHT my first home computer more than 30 years ago. It was a huge contraption. The actual computer rested in a box on the floor with the keyboard and screen on a sturdy table above it.

The table had to be sturdy to cope with the weight of the equipment. It was nearly as big and heavy as my television.

If that seems an odd statement, you obviously don’t remember what television sets were like 30 years ago. The screen was tiny by today’s standards; the frame encasing it was gigantic, a cumbersome hulk that stretched out the back for about half-a-metre. It was nearly as big and heavy as my vacuum cleaner.

If that seems an odd statement, you obviously don’t remember what vacuum cleaners were like 30 years ago. They bore close resemblance to the devices road sweepers use for cleaning pavements, with long handles, a variety of nozzles and what looked like a mile of (usually tangled) flex.

Home computers, television sets and vacuum cleaners have all changed in the last 30 years. They are light, they are slim, they are better.

About the same time I bought that first computer, I bought a desktop printer. I have bought six or seven of them since.

I bought the latest one a few weeks ago. I am staring at it now. It doesn’t work. The one it replaced doesn’t work either. It sits on the other side of the room – a different make and model but they look alike.

All desktop printers look alike because, unlike computers, televisions and vacuum cleaners, it appears that nobody has ever tried producing a better one. They all look like a cross between an old manual typewriter, with its sliding carriage and inky ribbon, and that teleprinter thing that used to produce football results for the BBC.

Printers rarely work but they are selective about when they down tools and they aim for maximum effect.

There’s a taxi waiting and all you need to do is print off your train tickets/boarding pass/theatre reservation. You bought the damned printer two months ago, you’ve only used it twice, it’s as good as new so … whoa … what’s this? Paper jam … invalid driver … replace cyan cartridge … print is not aligned.

None of it makes sense. What in God’s name is a cyan cartridge and to whom is the print not aligned? Fianna Fail? Labour? That might explain why it’s not working.

And why is the driver invalid? Has he been drinking or run up a pile of penalty points? Maybe he just failed to renew his licence. Probably couldn’t print off the documents.

At least I know what a paper jam is. It’s what your printer creates when you try to run one clear, clean sheet of A4 paper through its evil, word-devouring works.

In goes the nice clean sheet. One chugging noise later it is locked in the guts of the printer, inaccessible by any of the useless trap doors that are meant to let you enter.

Not only will this sheet not come out but no more paper will go in until you grab the one little piece showing and yank it through the machine.

This, my manual tells me, will totally invalidate the warranty. Doesn’t matter, really, since I’m about to throw the printer out the window.

Printers are quite cheap to replace. They are extremely expensive to run. Printing ink, per litre, costs way more than petrol, whiskey or any other liquid I can think of. Not that  anyone buys it by the litre. That would require a second mortgage on your house.

I used to wonder how I got through so much of this precious ink in a device I didn’t often use and which rarely worked when I did try to use it. Then I discovered the meaning of that little whurly, whizzy sound an ink printer makes you turn it on.

What it’s up to, apparently, is squirting ink to clear its jets. That ink costs more per drop than liquid gold and my printer is using it as a cleaning product.

It is possible to run a cartridge dry simply by turning the printer on and off. And that is not a fanciful notion, since turning it on and off seems to be about all I can ever do with a printer.

I am speaking here of ink jet printers. I had thought of buying a more expensive laser printer until I inquired about the difference.

“The technology used for inkjet cartridges is simpler and the parts are less expensive than the laser toners,” was the online advice “Laser toners use a more elaborate and complex technology.”

Here is someone who thinks inkjet technology is simple and inexpensive. Should I take advice from this mad person and opt for “a more elaborate and complex technology”?

Maybe I’ll print out this online guide and compare the two types at at my leisure. Right after I’ve checked on the pig that has just flown past my window.

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