Memories of a printer

I have a friend who hates printers. I’ll call him “Mark”, because that, incidentally, is his name. His hatred for printers is partly my fault, but that is, ahem, a story for another time that involves him returning from a battle with a printer with a combination of weld dust, toner, and a deep scowl on his face.

I also tend to hate printers. Driver issues, crinkled paper, toner spilling all over the place…. everybody hates printers.

But there is exactly one printer that I have never hated. It’s almost 20 years old, and has some stories to tell.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was about to move out of my parents’ house, and I needed a printer. I bought a LaserJet 6MP. This printer ought to have been made by Nokia. It’s still running fine, 18 years later. It turned out to be one of the best investments in computing equipment I’ve ever made. Its operating costs, by now, are cheaper than just about any printer you can buy today — less than one cent per page. It has been supported by every major operating system for years.

PostScript was important, because back then running Ghostscript to convert to PCL was both slow and a little error-prone. PostScript meant I didn’t need a finicky lpr/lprng driver on my Linux workstation to print. It just… printed. (Hat tip to anyone else that remembers the trial and error of constructing an /etc/printcap that would print both ASCII and PostScript files correctly!)

Out of this printer have come plane and train tickets, taking me across the country to visit family and across the world to visit friends. It’s printed resumes and recipes, music and university papers. I even printed wedding invitations and envelopes on them two years ago, painstakingly typeset in LaTeX and TeXmacs. I remember standing at the printer in the basement one evening, feeding envelope after envelope into the manual feed slot. (OK, so it did choke on a couple of envelopes, but overall it all worked great.)

The problem, though, is that it needs a parallel port. I haven’t had a PC with one of those in a long while. A few years ago, in a moment of foresight, I bought a little converter box that has an Ethernet port and a parallel port, with the idea that it would be pay for itself by letting me not maintain some old PC just to print. Well, it did, but now the converter box is dying! And they don’t make them anymore. So I finally threw in the towel and bought a new LaserJet.

It cost a third of what the 6MP did, has a copier, scanner, prints in color, does duplexing, has wifi… and, yes, still supports PostScript — strangely enough, a deciding factor in going with HP over Brother once again. (The other was image quality)

We shall see if I am still using it when I’m 50.

11 thoughts on “Memories of a printer

  1. OK, you’re killing me. Which printer did you buy?

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    HP M277dw. Seems to get good reviews, supported by HPLIP.

    Reply

    Fabian Reply:

    Oh, fun! I ordered the same one just yesterday, what an incident. Let’s see how it works out. ;)

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    So far, so good. Had to get hplip from the Ubuntu repo (built the debs from source though, easy enough) and it needed some sort of proprietary plugin. Make sure to install the hplip postscript drivers package in order to get duplexing to work.

  2. I can almost safely say that you will not be running it in less than 10 years, unfortunately… :(

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    You are probably right, but I’m trying to pretend that you aren’t ;-)

    Reply

  3. There are usb parallel port adapter-cables, that do work for printer use.

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    John Goerzen Reply:

    Hah, now I do see those are still out there. Thanks for mentioning that.

    I had been looking solely for the network converter boxes because I no longer have a PC near the printer. But thanks for mentioning this.

    Reply

  4. Any cheap old router with a USB port and OpenWRT support can replace one of those network printing boxes. Just add the USB-to-parallel adapter. Consider it when your new printer dies ;-)

    Reply

  5. I thought this was an article about how you jailbroke your printer and figured out it was storing all your documents for decades.

    Reply

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