Print From Any Room

I can’t pass up a deal on a cheap laser printer.

Earlier this week, I was having serious, frustrating problems with my old LaserJet 2100TN printer.

The 2100TN is the third laser printer I’ve owned since jumping into the world of computers back in 1989. The first was an Apple LaserWriter IISC. The SC evidently stood for SCSI, which is how the printer connected to my computer. To my knowledge, it was the only SCSI printer in the world. It was also very expensive — at about $2,000, it was the cheapest laser printer available, with the alternative being dot matrix (inkjet had not yet been invented) — with toner cartridges costing about $110 apiece. Ouch. It wasn’t PostScript-compatible — a big deal in those days — and there were a few tricks you had to know to get it to print good quality text. I learned the tricks and used the printer for years. Then I found myself needing grayscale printing (oh, I didn’t mention that the printer was simple black and white?) and I had to buy a new printer.

The HP LaserJet 4MP came next. It was networkable, via AppleShare (using PhoneNet connectors), and I had a real use for that when I began writing and realized I needed a dedicated computer to run the software I wrote about. The 4MP was smaller and cheaper — I think I “only” spent about $1,000 on it. It lasted for years but, after a while, I started producing documents that were just too darn complex for it. To print these documents I had to save them as PostScript files and then download the files to the printer. It took 1-5 minutes to print each page. (Fortunately, simpler documents, like the ones that came from Word, printed the usual way and a normal print rate.) Around this time, my husband needed a decent printer, so I passed it on to him. He’s still using it and it prints fine. (He doesn’t print from PageMaker like I was doing back then.)

I replaced it with the LaserJet 2100TN I have now. This printer has a network card, so I could plug it into my Ethernet network. (I’d used an adapter to get the old 4MP on Ethernet when I abandoned AppleShare.) I didn’t realize how long I’d had it until I called HP for help the other day. My one-year warranty had run out in 2000. Not bad, considering this was the first real problem I’d had with the printer in all those years.

The problem was ghosting. I’d print a document, perhaps one with the Flying M logo on it. When the document came out, the logo would be at the top of the page, right where I’d put it, but it would be repeated 3-3/4 inches further down the page as a pale ghostly image. Of course, it wasn’t just the logo being repeated. It was everything on the page. The result: the page looked downright dirty.

I used HP’s Web site to look up support documents. The problem wasn’t really addressed much. I pressed magic key combinations to use built-in utilities to clean various parts of the printer. I ran print jobs with lower resolution (600 and 300 dpi vs. 1200) and with the HP resolution feature turned on and off. Nothing helped.

Now I use my printer for correspondence as well as to print off the occasional e-mail or PDF. I have nice, watermarked bond paper with my company logo and contact information in raised red lettering at the top of the page. (Evidently raised lettering is losing popularity on a daily basis, as people go for cheaper printed letterheads.) I have matching envelopes and business cards. What good is having all this nice paper for correspondence when the contents of the letter looks like crap?

I was at the end of my rope when I called HP. While on hold, I started browsing HP’s site for a new printer. I learned that they had a trade-in program that would get me $100 back if I sent them my old printer. No problem there; I didn’t want a printer that printed like that. Then I learned that there had been quite a few developments in the world of printing since I’d bought the 2100TN. I could now buy a color laser printer that could automatically print on both sides of a page for less than I’d spent on the 2100TN. Holy cow! Of course, the color cartridges cost more than $100 each and you had to buy four of them. (Ah, consumables!) For less than $500, I could get an excellent black and white printer that did the duplex thing and could attach to my network. I was trying to figure out how one model differed from another when the tech support person answered the phone.

Her name was Lori and she was a Mac person. How nice. We went through some troubleshooting steps that were not on the Web site and, after about 15 minutes, determined that the toner cartridge was to blame. I don’t know why — it had plenty of toner in it — but it had simply gone bad in the middle of its life. I always have a spare toner cartridge on hand — you never know when you’ll need one and it’s not like they sell them here, at the edge of nowhere. I popped it in, printed a test page, and ta-da! The problem was gone.

Best of all, Lori said she’d send me a new toner cartridge. It arrived the next day.

So my 6-year-old printer is working fine again. My call to HP’s technical support had saved me about $500, which is what I would have spent on a replacement printer. And I continue to be sold on HP printer products.

But the idea of a color laser printer had been firmly planted in my brain. I started thinking about getting an inexpensive one that I could use just for color jobs. Heck, it’s not like you’re limited to one printer. My only problem was that I wasn’t prepared to buy a color printer without seeing an example of its output.

On Wednesday, I had to take Zero-Mike-Lima up to Prescott for its 100-hour inspection. (Can you believe I’ve already flown it 98.7 hours since January 6?) My old 1987 Toyota MR-2 lives up in Prescott, at the airport, so when I dropped off the helicopter, I hopped in the car for a day of shopping.

I arrived in Prescott at 7:15 AM and Zero-Mike-Lima wouldn’t be ready until 3 PM at the earliest. That meant I had to kill eight hours.

Sure, I could have driven home. Wickenburg is only 90 minutes away by car. But why waste three hours of my day driving?

I did a lot of shopping that day. Unfortunately, I had the valet key for the Toyota, so I couldn’t open the tiny rear trunk. (The trunk release had broken years ago.) That meant I had to pile all my purchases up on the passenger seat. The car got fuller and fuller as I made my way around Prescott. Home Depot, Office Max, Michael’s, Linens and Things, Pier One, PetSmart — I was a woman on a mission. The mission was to see all I could see and buy whatever I wanted, provided that it that would fit in the car (and later, in the helicopter).

I’ll discuss the concept of information overload and how it applies to people living on the edge of nowhere in another entry.

I wound up hitting the Best Buy store in Prescott, which is pretty new. They put it on a pad outside the Prescott Gateway mall. It’s isn’t a big store — not like the Fry’s down on Thunderbird near I-17 — but it has a nice selection. I browsed the printers. I saw sample output from a color LaserJet. I was relatively impressed. Fortunately, they didn’t have the networkable model in stock.

I also tried three times to get an oil change for my faithful Toyota. It had been about a year and maybe 2,000 miles since I got the oil changed and it was time. But I soon discovered (and was shown) a huge dent in the car’s oil pan. No one wanted to pull the drain plug because they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to get it back in. They let me look at it from the pit where the oil change guys work. I was just amazed that the pan hadn’t burst. I knew the culprit: me, of course, speeding down the roads at Howard Mesa last summer. Oh well. Looks like I’ll be bringing the MR-2 back to Wickenburg after all. My mechanic, Dan, is the only one I trust with that car.

On the way back to the airport, I hit the Staples store near downtown Prescott. I wanted to buy a notebook. I’m picky about notebooks. They need to be spiral bound with the spiral on top and each page has to be perforated so you can tear it off cleanly if you need to. The cover should be plastic (not cardboard).

Staples had printers, too. And that’s when I saw it: a Brother laser printer for only $119 (after rebate). Holy cow! This was a far cry from my first printer, which had cost 16 times as much. The printer had a USB connection and was both Mac and Windows compatible. My brain made a cosmic leap. This would be an excellent printer for the house.

Unlike many other writers, I don’t work at home. I moved my office out of the house about four years ago and now work out of a condo in downtown Wickenburg. It’s about a five mile drive from my house. Too far to drive if I’ve created a document on my PowerBook and need hard copy. On those occasions, I’d hook up the computer to a phone line and fax the document to the fax machine at the house. Not the best quality, but it did work. Wouldn’t it be nicer to have a laser printer instead?

Of course it would.

I’ll admit it: I’m a laser printer snob. I don’t like inkjet printers. There are two reasons: 1) you usually need special paper to get a good image from an inkjet and 2) the desert environment in which I live is so dry that the inkjets get clogged up if you don’t use the printer every day. (My Epson photo printer has this problem and it requires that I clean the nozzles several times each time I use it. That wastes time and ink.) In addition, the space I wanted to put the printer (on a bookshelf that was already pretty full) had no room for those stupid vertical paper feed trays that inkjet printers seem to like. (Bad enough the fax machine, on the next shelf down, has one.) This Brother printer was very small and would require less than a foot of vertical space.

And the price! Sheesh! It’s a no-brainer.

So that’s how I went into a Staples store for a notebook and emerged with a laser printer. It was the last thing I managed to squeeze into the car. I had to put a few things in the car’s front trunk to make it fit.

I hooked it all up the next day. I was very angry to learn that the printer was preowned — someone had bought it, printed 20 pages, and returned it. Staples sold it to me as new. I had a talk with the store manager about that and was assured that they’d take it back for replacement if anything went wrong with it within the next year. He also said I could bring it back the next time I was in Prescott, but the way I see it is that if it works, there’s no reason to bring it back. It just bugs me that I bought an opened box after being assured by the sales guy that it had not been opened.

I connected it via USB to the Airport Extreme base station I have at home in the room we call the library. (It has a futon, a desk, and a lot of books. Oddly enough, not a single book is mine.) Then I installed the driver on the iBook I keep in the library and, within minutes, was printing a sample page. I installed the driver on my PowerBook, in the kitchen, and printed out an outline I’d been working on. The print quality isn’t as good as my 2100TN, but it’s certainly acceptable. Sure beats faxing it to myself.

And I can print from any room in the house. Or even from outside on the patio, where I’m writing and publishing this.

Isn’t technology great?

What do you think?