The paper chase

Will someone please make a printer that works?

People get near-erotically excited about chargers, stopwatches, calendars, phone cases. No object in digital life seems too humble to be overdesigned, overhyped, and made cuter, smarter, more revolutionary. No object, that is, except the printer.

Don't pretend you don’t need one. I’ve tried that. Every time I swear them off like landlines or cable—claim I’m done forever with paper jams and the notorious ink racket—there’s a tax waiver to print, a ticket, a W-2 form, a school permission slip.

"Please print this for your records" is mostly a nonsense sentence. (“Records”?) Except when it isn’t, and you’re expected to have a signed, inky, foldable, paper-cut-giving copy of something.

So this week, I intended, once and for all, to find a home printer that works to print oh say a one-page document in black and white. Given all we can do with a Pop Tart-sized device in the digital realm—start wars, sink ships—it seemed a modest enough ambition. But I should have aimed much, much lower.

Five days of research and no fewer than six hours of mix-martial-arts wrestling with the Canon imageCLASS LBP6000 Compact Laser Printer (even the name suggests bunk) and I have exactly zero printed 8.5” x 11” pages to show for my trouble. It turns out that there is no driver yet from Canon for this printer that works with the new OS (Mavericks 10.9) on my one personal computer, a Mac.

I should have known better. Printers don’t work, and also they don’t work. You get these embarrassing, clattery clunkers—Canon, Epson, HP—as freebies, maybe, when you buy a laptop. And from there they suck up money and generate nothing but loathing. This one isn’t really wireless. This one doesn’t come with the right cables. This one says it’s out of paper, though the tray is overbrimming.

And, of course, all of them are out of ink. Not black ink—yellow ink, cyan ink, cinnamon ink. But though you’ve never needed nor wanted to print in anything but black, you need a saffron-sunshine ink cartridge before any of the ink will lay down legible on your page. There’s a new maxim in tech circles: it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than to replace the ink in the one you have.

I ended up with my currently useless Canon imageCLASS LBP6000 only after spotting one at a friend’s house. She told me she has three others, which fail her often, but she was adamant that for printing regular-Joe black-on-white documents, I should get a laser and not an inkjet printer. I committed to the Canon, which got excellent reviews on Amazon and cost less than $100, partly because it’s not color, it’s not all-in-one, and not wireless. I wanted to cut down on variables. Surely I could print one page.

But no. First, the boxy white Canon machine came without the cable necessary to connect it to my MacBook Air. Contemplating a trip to Radio Shack, I felt a foretaste of printer despair. Another losable $25 6-foot USB-A Male to USB-B Male Cable by Gigaware. I have acquired, lost, purged and reacquired more of these serpentine life-stranglers than I care to contemplate.

But at last the Canon was plugged into the wall and into my laptop. I was hunched on the livingroom floor, my temples pounding. Following a long and wordless diagram I had removed clumps of arcane “packing material” that looked and felt so much like integral printer parts I was afraid I had inadvertently murdered the machine before even testing it.

Then I called up the document to print. My Mac reached wirelessly, pointlessly for the last Canon printer I’d had—five years ago, was it? Then I went about wiping out the Mac’s memory of its many old, hated printer companions and trying to teach it to connect with this new one.

We half made the connection. The Canon materials told me to go to usa.canon.com and as that site came up, I knew from that “USA” that we were sunk. Canon is at heart Kyanon kabushiki-gaisha, a Japanese company, where user interface and user experience are as different from Apple’s as Japanese manners are from American.

Two hours later on the Apple support boards I discovered I was just going to have to wait for the new driver to be available for my operating system.

I came to the Canon after dutifully using a wireless Epson Stylus NX430 that Apple urged on me (gratis!) when I bought my MacBook Air. The plastic shield over that device's various LED displays immediately fell off, so it had duct tape on it from day one.

I used it a few times to print black ink on white paper and every time there was a foul-up with the wireless. And then it ran out of honey-colored ink, so none of the ink worked. I ordered more and more but the cerulean-colored ink was the wrong size, so it didn’t fit, and it could never print again.

In that case, I eventually used a black Bic to hand-letter the document I needed in hard copy. Then I signed it with a blue Bic. It was easier that way.

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