Today's story is a lot like the perennial joke about changing a light bulb. But the object here is not to shed light, but to get a printer to print – so the question is not how many people does it take, but how many days does it take to change a printer cartridge? (The answer is at the end of this column.) A long shaggy dog story follows. Apologies in advance for the length, which I suppose will try the patience of the tech-savvy among you but which I hope will engender sympathy from the rest of humanity.
March 20. I notice that my color laser printer, a Konica 2400w, is out of black ink and can no longer print. I find I have a spare black ink cartridge lying around (great!) and so I open up the printer, thinking I can just stick it in -- a no-brainer. Inside of the lid of the printer I find a set of diagrams illustrating how to pull out the old cartridge and insert the new cartridge. But these diagrams are both primitive and cryptic. I suspect they were drawn by the same person who does all of IKEA's wordless furniture assembly pictures. Which is to say, they are impossible to follow. I decide I need to get hold of the manual. But I'm going on a trip out of town the next day, so I need to do that when I return, in a week's time.
March 28. Knowing that the printer came without a manual (since absolutely nothing comes with a manual anymore), I go to Konica.com to view the instructions online. After I successfully navigate the company's website to find the right model, I come at last to the relevant page of the 100-plus-page PDF document to read the full instructions for changing the cartridge. I attempt to follow the instructions, but am stumped at the outset by the command to locate the "Print Tab" and then choose "Toner Replace." What's this "Print Tab" and where is it located? On the outside of the printer? On the inside? In one of my computer programs? Clearly, I need some help in understanding the terms in the manual. So I spend some more time online looking for a Konica help line, or failing to find that, an email address to send my question, or maybe a web form to fill out to get an answer back the next day. After some searching, I strike out on all three counts. Discouraged, I decide to investigate further another day.
March 29 and 30. On advice of members of my family who are more computer-savvy than I (that is, my husband and my teenager), I decide to Google the question and get some help from people who know how to explain things in plain English, not hieroglyphics. This turns out to be a complicated task, requiring more time than I can put into it on a single day. On the first day, I foolishly enter the name and model of the printer and the cartridge into Google. That gets me a bazillion hits to buy printers and cartridges. I refine my search by adding the words, "change printer cartridge." That takes me straight back to the online manual. I refine my search again, by asking for a forum on troubleshooting problems with this printer. That takes me to multiple discussion forums dealing with every manner of problem that every customer has ever had with this model of printer: installing drivers, uninstalling drivers, unjamming it, changing the drum…everything, it seems, except changing the printer cartridge. Hours pass almost without my realizing it. At midnight on the 30th, I decide it's time to give up.
March 31. I decide I have invested way too many hours of my life into changing this $!#% cartridge on this demonic printer. I am now determined to buy a whole new printer. Yes, that's right. A new one will come with a whole new cartridge in it, ready to use. Amazon can ship one to me overnight, and I'll be printing again tomorrow. I can stop Googling printer instructions, and actually get some work done. It's not such a crazy idea. I can get a new HP color laser printer for just $189. Or I can order up a color inkjet, which goes for a mere $79 -- that's just $9 more than the cost of the replacement laser cartridge! Plus, Amazon's offering me a special deal of $3.99 for next-day delivery. The only thing that stops me from putting this plan into action is what to do with my old printer that merely needs its cartridge changed. I can't throw it away – that's too wasteful. But it seems wrong to give it to some worthy organization. If I can't change the cartridge, why would I expect some poor, underpaid employee of a nonprofit to wrestle with the task? Besides, I tell myself, I am just not the sort of person who gets rid of something out of inability to change a part. I'm smarter than that. It can't defeat me. I won't let it. I'm not going to give away a perfectly good printer just because the instructions are in IKEA-nese. I will crack the code. But not today. Tomorrow, as some determined heroine once vowed, is another day.
April 1 (it's April Fool's day). Back to the challenge. It's back to the Internet. This time I get a few pages into the hits on Google that I've summoned by using yet another, more refined set of keywords. And this time I get somewhere: a third-party site, LaserQuipt, http://www.laserquipt.com/ , that has a page with nice, detailed, clear illustrations – and well written text! -- showing step-by-step how to change the black ink cartridge on my model of printer. If only I could print them out to hold them in front of me while I work! Despite this ironic setback, I am buoyed with hope. I discover that I have missed a crucial step. To make the old cartridge removable, I have to press a button on the printer's control panel that rotates the colors until the low-ink cartridge is positioned so that its pull-tab is face-up. Then and only then can it be dislodged. Bingo. I do that, and triumphantly, I pull the old cartridge out. Now all I have to do is to slip the new one in, and I'm good to go. Right? Wrong! The new one won't fit in. I keep trying at various intervals during the day, until it's no longer April Fool's Day, and then I go to sleep.
Today, April 2, in the morning. I wake up full of energy and resolve, and get back to the problem. I take advice from my husband and in-house tech support, Bill, who suggests that I first power the printer off and back on again. That doesn't help. I try rebooting my computer. (I don't know why I think that would help, but I do it, just because it's one of those things I've been conditioned to do with any type of computer problem.) I go back to trying to force the new cartridge into the slot, where it obviously doesn't fit. I go back to contemplating buying a whole new printer. So close, and yet so far! Then a new thought: Why don't I call one of the highly skilled tech consultants that I can find among the recommendations on the wonderful Cleveland Park Listserv. Yes, it will be a sort of defeat. Yes, that means paying someone $75 essentially to pop in a slab of ink. But at least this long ordeal will be over. I grit my teeth and search for a phone number. For tomorrow, if it comes to that. I'm going to give it one more shot today.
Today, April 2, in the afternoon. I'm re-studying the LaserQuipt instructions, and I notice that the hooks that hold the cartridge in place are shown higher up in the diagram than they are in real life on my printer. Remember that "rotate" button I told you about earlier? It seems that my printer rotated enough to allow me to remove the old cartridge, but not enough to allow me to insert the new cartridge. I press "rotate" again, even though the instructions don't say to do this. My printer whirrs for a second, and when I open the lid, there are the little hooks again, but now moved up by half an inch, just enough to allow me to pop in the new cartridge, which now fits snugly in the slot and makes a satisfying click when it's locked in place. The cover closes and the "ready" light goes on. Hallelujah! Now all I have to do is press print, and I'm good to go, yes? Well…no. It's not that easy. (Is it ever?) Now I find that my computer no longer recognizes my printer. But that's the sort of software problem that I know either my husband or my daughter can solve. Bill sits, opens up some program that I don't even know I have, clicks on some things, and my computer is again on speaking terms with my printer. He gives me back my chair, I open up the document which has the draft of this ordeal that I've written down for my column today, I hit print, and, miracle of miracles, the printer starts whirring and in just seconds, does what it has not done for the past week and a half: It prints!
I proofread the copy on the printed page (an environmentally unfriendly habit, I must admit, that I have retained from my pre-computer-age youth), and then post it as today's All Life Is Local column.
And the answer to the question, "How many days does it take to change a printer cartridge?" Six.
Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com, on April 2, 2010.