Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

March of Progress

I recently got a new 20“ iMac G5. It’s very nice. I had been plugging along with my old Sawtooth since 2000, and felt I was past due for an upgrade.

While it is great having a faster machine, I’m more impressed by the industrial design of this thing. It’s like an abstraction of a computer, with the messy parts that make it work almost completely invisible (the outsized bezel and optical-disc slot are the only clues that there’s more here than a screen). When I show it to people who haven’t seen one before and point out ”that’s all there is“, they are dumbstruck. But pop the back off and the parts are laid out before you as if at a buffet table.

One grave annoyance with the new machine–the updated operating system, more likely–was printing. My old printer, which I’d had since 1995, had always been somewhat fussy, but now there were some documents that I simply could not print, even after trying many workarounds. I came very close to reenacting a scene from Office Space with it.

So after doing a little research (and getting a job I couldn’t print) I drove up to Fry’s yesterday and replaced it with an HP 1320. Now I can print. With my old printer, it was a bad sign when it started ejecting pages quickly–that meant that it was spewing postscript gibberish. The new one prints just as fast, but it is actually printing what I want it to print.

It’s also interesting to look at how the industrial design of printers has changed.

The Lexmark was a real workhorse. It weighed a ton. The whole top flipped up like the hood of a car, with a complex hinge and spring mechanism. The left side swung open to reveal the logic board. In short, it was designed for serviceability. It had a LCD screen with some buttons that allowed the user to control many of its output options (redundant, considering this can be done through the computer).

Since then, the big change in the exciting world of printers has probably been with inkjets, which have gotten very good, and are cheap enough to hand out as party favors. This has no doubt forced the laser-printer segment of the market to compete harder on price, and it shows in my new printer, which is much lighter. No LCD screen, almost no buttons, no easy access for service. It’s also much smaller and sleeker, and somehow manages to fit in a duplexer. And, of course, cost about a quarter what the old one did.

2 Comments

  1. There’s a reason the printers are party favor priced now, Adam. The profit is in the ink.

  2. Well, the profit is there because that’s the pricing model the printer makers have chosen, and have forced the purchase of their expensive ink (once you are locked in with them) with outrageous zeal in some cases.

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