Saturday, March 31, 2018

Living with Unanswered First World Questions

There was a time I has fairly good at managing the home electronics. This included all the entertainment gizmos and the associated equipment with the home computer like the printer and scanner, back when those were separate items. Hell, my level of expertise even included being able to program the VCR to record certain programs. So, while I couldn't claim the status of a nerdy tech wizard, I at least kept the family electronic ducks in proper order.

Quite honestly, that situation is no longer the case. The home technology thing has moved beyond my abilities and I am beginning to feel about as lost as how old people were portrayed back in the 1980's when they seemed unable to deal with the newer, more sophisticated television remote controls. Now I admit, I was introduced to all that stuff when a VCR was still a gee-whiz device and when the most up to date computer had a hard drive of forty-megabytes. That was during my two-year stint at the local community college where I came out with an Associate Degree in Industrial Electronics. Hindsight being what it is, I should have thought out a more ambitious career path. Needless to say with VCR's now mostly forgotten and being shown off in museums and computer hard drives now ranging in the one-terabyte range, it would have been far better if I had just taken the Industrial Electrician courses.

Still though, you would think something as supposedly simple as the new home wireless printer/scanner/copier/fax machine combos would be something even a technologically lame person like myself could properly manage. Unfortunately, keeping that sort of device up and running is apparently beyond my capability.

This sad story all began a couple of years ago when the quite old HP printer up and died. It had lived a long and useful life but one day, right when my wife needed to print something important, it had what I believe was the equivalent to an electronic stroke. While the little LED showing it had power glowed, all the indicator lights showing status were dark. No problem I thought, we'll just head down and buy one of those nifty new wireless combo printers at Best Buy.

Since the old printer died on a Saturday, my wife and I did a relaxing lunch at a local Italian restaurant before walking into Best Buy. Sure enough, we bought one of those wireless HP printer/everything combos that could also scan and fax documents. Setup was blindingly easy and I had it up and operating within an hour of returning home.

Making matters more convenient, we signed up for the HP ink replacement service since the intelligent little bugger we bought could tell when its ink cartridges were getting low. When that happened, the printer would by itself electronically contact HP ink headquarters and have cartridges replacements sent to us before it ran totally dry. Cool beans, no more wife or kids freaking out over some vital paperwork/homework not being in their hands just seconds after hitting the print symbol on their computer screen.

All was happy in the home office department for over a year. The printer worked great and the new ink cartridges always came before the old ones went totally dry. Then something weird happened, seemingly out of the blue we started getting little warnings that the printer wasn't happy. That it needed to contact HP ink headquarters but couldn't for some reason it wasn't programmed to specify. Nothing was wrong with our internet service and the small screen on the printer said it was linked into the wireless router.

When this happened, I checked everything out, going as far as to reboot both the printer and router. The little screen on the printer would then tell me it was happy and I would then go on my merry way. Finally one day we got a message from the printer that like a petulant brat it wasn't going to work anymore until it talked with HP ink headquarters. Well, given that everyone in my family needed the printer for one thing or the other panic ensued.

Putting on my computer geek thinking cap, I dug out the crappy manual and worked through the vague and badly written troubleshooting guide. But as I just insinuated, the reference materiel the mighty corporate giant provided didn't help. The next step was to peruse the HP printer website in hopes of finding a solution. The information there was more or less the same as the hardcopy manual, it just included more techno babble.

After scrolling through and reading the information on the HP printer website until thoughts of suicide started forming in my head, I broke down and called the actual customer service phone number. Surprisingly, it didn't take long for me reach a person, but the first words out of her mouth was a demand for a credit card number to pay for whatever tech advice she supplied. Now if I wanted to pay a woman to talk to me, the subjects up for discussion would be far different than computer geek stuff. So, I said no thanks and killed the call before things got expensive.

Finally, I surfed various independent computer tech websites and while I did find my problem mentioned, none of the solutions they offered worked. The glorious and nearly new HP printer still refused to print until it could contact headquarters.

About a week passed with no solution with the wife and kids postponing their printing needs until they were at work or school. Everything was cool on the home front but the looks I was getting from them suggested a resolution needed to come fast. I finally talked with a guy at one of the local computer shops and while he happily said they could solve the problem, the cost of just looking at it would be about half the original price of the printer itself.

The other thing about the guy that bothered the hell out of me was the look on his face and the tone in his voice. It reminded me of a lyric from a cheesy country song about a fool looking for a diamond ring at a lost and found in a border town. Without getting deep into the song's storyline, the owner of the missing ring didn't receive a friendly and helpful reception from the lost and found people. Everything about the computer shop guy's manner towards me suggested condescension and that he thought I was a blooming idiot. Given what I feel about the indigenous subspecies of humans that dominate the area I unfortunately find myself living, I thanked the individual and left the shop before either of us spoke our true minds. And in an effort not to confirm to him the true depth of my suspected idiocy, I carefully read the sign on the shop's door on the way out to make sure you pushed it open to get out. Last thing I needed was him silently snickering as I spent several seconds trying to pull the door open.

So, what does one do when all avenues have been exhausted and you have family members getting frustrated? I admitted defeat and we bought another printer. This time a really simple Epson that while being wireless as well didn't have a complicated replacement service for the ink cartridges.

With the HP printer/combo now a glorified boat anchor it became yet another fixture in the dining/storage room my wife uses to keep her junk. Without elaborating, the dining room in our house has only rarely been used for its intended purpose. In truth, I tend to block out its existence and only say something about its cluttered nature when we have people over and they ask. I half-jokingly tell them we're taking an online course to become professional hoarders.

Months went by with the HP printer/combo becoming my white whale. Far more times than I want to admit, I'd power the damn thing back up and go through all the supposed solutions as well as performing various half-assed experiments in hopes of a miracle occurring. The only problem though was that during those frustrating attempts, I felt as if the answer was hovering just a few centimeters in front of my face. Like I was trying to put the proverbial round peg into the square hole with the correct orifice right beside it. Anyway, nothing ever worked with me finally welcoming the offer of one of my son's girlfriends to take it back to her house so her little brother could use it for parts.

A truly weird thing happened just a few days after my son's girlfriend left with the HP. My wife, who signed us up for the automatic ink cartridge replacement got an email essentially saying the technical issue with the printer had been resolved. Long story short, it appears that the girlfriend's little brother was able to get the printer back into operation.

Of course my curiosity was killing me, so much that I contacted my son at college to get him to ask how that little bastard untied the Gordian knot. Well, like they say about an emergency for one person not necessarily meaning anyone else was required to feel any urgency on their part, days if not a week passed without the answer filtering down to me.

That's pretty much when my white whale up and smacked me with its giant tail before swimming off forever. My son and that particular girlfriend broke up. The relationship, for reasons I have no idea about, ended badly with the two apparently going to extremes never to see each other on campus again. Needless to say, that also meant I wasn't going to learn how her brother fixed the HP printer.

A great deal of time has passed since I gave up any hope of learning the mysterious answer to HP printer problem. The wireless Epson printer that replaced it is like the little steam engine that could. It keeps printing and scanning without whiny complaints that it can't talk to home. So, long story short I came to accept my technical inadequacies, in fact there is some thing to be said about not being in charge of setup or fixing any electronic issues that might arise. My wife now calls on our daughter when there's an electronics-based issue or she screws up somehow. Yes, it sort of makes me feel like the VCR up in the attic, but there are worse fates I guess.


Harry Hamid said...

I've pretty much given up on printers. I am around one every day at work and can generally put off my printing until then. And even in that case, we have to get the company behind our perinter/copier service out on just about a weekly basis, it seems.

We're not living in the golden era of printers yet.

Pixel Peeper said...

We've been lucky - our old printer made it to the ripe old age of almost 10 years old. We just replaced it with one of those wireless printer/scanner/copier/fax machine combos. I can print from my iPad and even my phone now, imagine that.

Though I can't figure out why, when I try to print from my laptop, the printer is "offline" and won't print...for a long while. It does print, eventually, after me waiting and getting frustrated and trying to adjust my settings, all the while saying "offline."

Ever since we cut cable and switched to antenna/Netflix/Amazon Prime/Roku, I can't figure out the TV any more. When my husband was out of town for a week, I couldn't turn it on for that entire time. Yet I tell myself it's because I'm too lazy to learn it - not because I'm an old fuddy-duddy.

BrightenedBoy said...

"...with the HP printer/combo becoming my white whale."

Ha ha ha. I don't know what's funnier, that metaphor or your equating your son's breakup with a lost IT guy.

Honestly, I'm 29 and those printers are total mysteries to me. Even the social media stuff that my younger sister is really into leaves me in the dust, and I sort of feel like an old fuddy before my time where tech is concerned.

goatman said...

HP downsized my cousin a year before he could collect full benefits.
We used to run a dot matrix printer for years with no problems; you could address each pixel with a Pascal program which was handy for fractals' graphics.

The Bug said...

When we try to print to our Canon, it sometimes randomly tells us that another computer is using it. Even when no other computer is even ON. Usually have to shut everything down & restart to get it to work. VERY annoying! But when I print from my iPad it mostly works without a hitch. Maybe if we could combine the best parts of all these printers we could get one reliable one... Nah - we'd probably just get one truly evil one.

And that totally sucks about not knowing how he got the printer to work!

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