One Terrifying Way Being SFWA President is Changing My Life

On the advice of my Vice-President, who informs me that in the course of presidentiary activities I will likely need one, I have, for the first time in — what? Seven? Eight? — years, purchased a printer.

Yes. I know. I’m as scared as you are.

The good news is that printers are a lot more inexpensive than they were the better part of a decade ago. I got one that prints, copies, faxes and scans and makes delicious fudge, all for less than $100. The bad news is the ink costs about as much as the printer. Of course, that’s always been the bad news, which was a significant part of why at some point I simply stopped bothering with them.

But hey, these are the sacrifices we make for duty. And at least it makes fudge.

68 Comments on “One Terrifying Way Being SFWA President is Changing My Life”

  1. what kind of printer/scanner did you get? can you recommend it? does it make fudge with and without nuts?

  2. Yours sounds like an inkjet — did you consider a laser? I was told that they are cheaper to run, but I print rarely enough that I’ve stuck with my inkjet.

  3. The bad news is the ink costs about as much as the printer.

    And also, it’s almost always cheaper to buy a new one than to fix the one you’ve got when it inevitably breaks (which happens to me more often than I’d like to admit).

  4. Heh. Still have an old HP Laserwriter 1200 from about 8 years ago. I’ve only bought a $70 toner cartridge for it, twice, so we’re doing pretty well with it. I keep hoping the HP All-in-one color lasers would come down but so far, are just ink jets in our budget range.

    Who knows, we may all have some kind of smart paper tablets by the time color lasers are cheap enough.

  5. You couldn’t pry my networked Laserjet 6 out of my hands, warm or cold.

  6. When I got a 21″ iMac for my birthday, I got a cheap inkjet printer with it — only $30 after mail-in rebate. It also copies and scans. No fudge though. I have to say that print quality on inkjets has gotten way better in the last decade.

  7. The secret to a good printer that lasts more than a few months is to spend over $300 and get an HP.

    At least it works for me. I am still using the HP inkjet/scanner/copier/fax I bought in 2004.

  8. But that c-note shouldn’t take much out of the generous check you receive from SWFA every month, appealingly nestled in a gift basket full of delectable European gourmet chocolates. Right? Right

  9. Corrections and addendum:

    1.) Strike “SWFA”; replace with “SFWA”.

    2.) Add question mark after second “right”.

    3.) Laser printers are cheaper per copy than inkjets, but they’re only worth the added premium and toner cost if you print an awful lot. Our Samsung color laser printer had all four of its toner cartridges dry out after lack of sufficient use, and replacing the whole set was more expensive than buying a brand new, more advanced model. Now we’re back on an all-in-one inkjet.

  10. I was employed by a third party call centre for 4 years doing tech support for HP LaserJet Printers before they sent the support down to Costa Rica. (Yes the support went to hell after it moved, and we know this because we still did email support for a period after it moved down and had to clean up some large messes caused by the Costa Rican team)

    If you have an old HP LaserJet monochrome printer, like a 5si or around that period, hold onto it! Printers made around that time are freaking tanks and will probably outlive us all, and you can still get toner for it from last I heard. HP still makes cartridges because, hey, the printer is only the delivery system for what they are really selling.

    Some other advice, Serial to USB cables suck, so when shopping for a new computer make sure it has a legacy connection if you want to hook up your printer. Drivers for the old printers are often included by default with the newer operating systems, though you may have to deal with some quirks.

    Buy the toner produced by the company that made your printer. I worked with HP and will probably never ever buy one of their products, but if I do I will buy HP branded toner for it. Why, because if I don’t then any damage caused to the printer won’t be covered under warranty, and the print quality may be off.

    Oh, and just so you know, HP has a whole lab devoted to testing toner from other companies to see if it infringes upon any of HP’s patents. They’ll sue if it does.

    And finally, HP scanners suck. Period. Don’t buy one. The hardware itself is spotty, and the software on Windows is more like a virus than anything else, and the software on Mac is lackluster at best when it actually decides to work. This applies to All-In-One units as well. All they are is a crappy scanner slapped on top of a crappy printer.

    Oh wait, there is one more thing. Don’t buy a color printer, ink or laser, unless you plan to do a lot of color printing. On the ink ones the ink will dry out and turn to sludge if not used, and is expensive to replace, you might as well buy a new printer. On the laser ones, each time a sheet is passed through the printer, even if it doesn’t touch the color carts, it racks up against the page count on them leading the printer to think they’re empty much sooner than they are. Also, the lasers quite often will actually use all 4 colors when printing black unless specifically set to not do this, and good luck figuring out what setting to change.

  11. I’ve had an old fashioned B&W-only LaserJet 1300 for about 7 years now, and I’ve never had to buy a new toner cartridge for it. I don’t use it much but when I do it never fails me.

    I’m sure they’ve improved the design now so if you leave the old toner cartridge in them for too long it’ll dry out/clog up and force you to buy a new one every six months. Technological progress, there’s nothing like it!

  12. I recently tried to print some 8×10 enlargements of photos on a cheap (>$60) Inkjet. They looked great, but I quickly realized that at the rate these photos were guzzling ink, I’d go broke, and I only had a dozen or so to do. I put the files on a thumb drive and went to a one-hour photo lab instead, and got them done for less than half the cost of a color cartridge.

    You shouldn’t have too much problem with that as long as you aren’t doing photo enlargements, and you set the printing mode to “Normal” or “Fast”.

  13. Somehow, I knew that buying a printer was going to be the terrifying change. But, they’re not as horrible as they used to be. I use mine to copy documents, scan and print photos more then to actually, well, print, but it works just fine. Plus, you can turn it off on weekends, go outside, and make bubbles with Athena. Also, if it has a flat top, you can put stuff on it you don’t feel like filing yet. Have you found space for it on your spiffy new desk, or is it wireless and on your bookcase?

  14. I bought a small, inexpensive (ca $130) laser printer about three years ago because I had a good deal of “official” work to do, and I haven’t bought a new toner cartridge for it yet. (Now that I’ve said that, we all know what will happen.) It has a USB interface, which even Apple hasn’t abandoned yet.

    Oh, and on a slightly tangential topic – if you had an e-reader with an e-ink display, you’d be able to scan it on that shiny new scanner. Scanning the iPod Touch doesn’t work so well. Just thought I’d mention it in case the cut-and-paste function on your computer quits working.

  15. You just blew my mind, Scalzi! How have you not had a printer in nigh on a decade? Do you not print out drafts of your novels or short stories? I know more publishers are taking digital files than before but not everyone does.

  16. Terrified by the printer, huh? Oosh. Well, I hope Mary’s standing by with a straightjacket when you have to get stamps and envelopes.

  17. George William Herbetr @#14: You really, really don’t want refurbished chocolate cartridges, either.

  18. @ Sihaya, #25
    What about those inkjet cartridge-refilling kits? I know the ink ones have a terrible reputation, but it seems like the chocolate ones might be more fun …

  19. You just shocked the living crap out of me. I’m serious. You bought a printer. It’s the most shocking thing you’ve said in a long time!

  20. Used LaserJet 6L a few years back, $15. (actually 7 of them hence why family & friends also have 6Ls now…) Have used one toner cart since then. Last time I looked at inkjets a Lexmark @ Target w/ink cartridges was ~$60, but the ink cartridges alone were ~$80+.

    For my colour printing I use a local copy shop (Kinkos) & either email the files or bring them in on a USB drive. Way cheaper (overall) as I don’t have to maintain the printer. Photos the same only I go to CVS or Walgreens

  21. @ 17 KW Ramsey,


    Just breathe my friend.

    In and out, innnn and oooouuuut.

    There, doesn’t that feel better?

    Btw, if you’ve ever been to Costa Rica (on 2nd thought, I probably shouldn’t have suggested that), you’ll know it’s a gorgeous country. In such a beautiful natural environment, it’s not surprising no one knows how to fix a printer. They’re all enjoying the sunshine and rum.

  22. The real trick is hooking the thing up so that all of the functions actually work. Without ever needing to move a cable or plug.

    If you can pull that off, I’ll consider that really impressive.

    P.S. If you have to make do without one of the functions, I suggest ditching the fax part of it. Then you can just sneer in a superior manner when you say things like, “Fax? That’s soooooo ten years ago!”

  23. If you print alot a color laserjet is more affordable than an inkjet since the ink cost is much less.

  24. I have a cheap HP 4-in-1. The ink for it is pretty cheap for an inkjet printer. It’s lasted forever now. Color cartridges for it only cost about $18 at Walmart and the black ones are even less. That was a factor in my decision to purchase this particular printer. However, it does not make fudge and have not seen that model in the stores. Would you kindly state the make and model so that I may trade mine in for a more aromatic and flavorful model?

    Also, never get those refilled ink cartridges. My boss used to do that and the quality was HORRIBLE. Plus, they didn’t last as long as the store-bought ones. Ugh. HATED those.

  25. They should just give the printers away when you buy the ink. It would make more sense. I preferred the dot matrix printers. You could use the ribbons over and over again until they were really all gone.

  26. Great, now Scalzi’s hopped up on printer ink. Are you happy now, SFWA? 24 hours in and you have the poor sap eating ink cartridges and thinking they’re fudge.

  27. An inkjet plus after-market continuous ink system is the way to go.

    Aside from that, there’s refilling cartridges. Most say it’s not worth the effort, but the 5 different colour carts for my printer are AUD$25 each and hold about 6ml of ink.

    A few years back I bought five 500ml bottles of ink for $120 all up, and I’ve used half. That translates to 210 cartridge refills, which is equivalent to $5200 saved.

    I hear all the nattering from printer companies about losing your warranty by using refills, but the printer was only $500 in the first place. I’m already 9 new printers ahead by my count.

  28. Forgot to add – it’s usually cheaper to print off batches of family photos at the local department store. No arguments about fading or longevity.

    We use the inkjet for unimportant stuff.

  29. How do you do self-edits without a printer? I’ve tried google docs and I’ve tried in line but at the end of the day what I need to do is print off a copy and edit it by hand.

  30. K.W. Ramsey @ 17:

    The early HP laser printers are tanks indeed. I got a 4L in a package deal in the early 90’s, and my kids still use it for their schoolwork. I found a 5P a few years ago at an estate sale for $15 with a fresh toner cartridge in it, and it’s still cruising right along. I put out 100 pages a week or so, and have never had any trouble with them. The cartridges aren’t cheap but we get 7-8000 pages a cartridge. The newer HP laser printers are a lot faster, but I wonder how long they’ll last under that kind of usage.

    There’s a Kinko’s a few blocks away, so if I need color prints I just go there. Cheaper than getting a color inkjet and (continually) buying the ink cartridges.

  31. Thank you for another euphemism that’s just on the “You Could Say This At Work and Still Have A Job Next Month” edge:

    Why you… you— you overpriced fudgeprinter!


    Congrats on weathering your first day in office, and may the rest of your term be comparatively mild as far as Lifestyle Uphievals go.

  32. s/Uphieval/Upheaval/

    Proofreading cred? Blown, man. Maybe this will teach me not to comment until sober.

  33. Well there’s now nothing preventing you from getting published in “Analog” now, except not having the time to write a story.

  34. I’ve had laser printers for it seems like forever, and they just keep printing on the same cartridge.

    The paper feeder on my laserjet started to feed multiple sheets. Any ideas on how to fix? I know this isn’t a “how to fix your printer” thread, but I figured it’s worth a try.

  35. Just a good tip for everyone! You can buy pretty cheap ink on I have a Brother All in One printer, and the ink is very expensive. Amazon has a few sellers who appear to sell knock off ink refills. I bought about a years supply for about 40 bucks, of black and color.

    I think the seller sells differnet types for all types of printers. They work great, are dirt cheap, and I have no complaints. I’ve been using them for about a year now, and my house hasn’t burned down. Times are hard, and I’ll get a break wherever I can get it! But hopefully this can help anyone else out! Later!

    oh and if the link doesn’t bring you to the page the store front name is “The Factory Depot”

  36. What he said: I edit as I go along. When I’m done writing it’s usually ready to go.

    What I heard: Edits? Who needs to edit? Commercially publishable material flows directly from my fingertips to my keyboard without nary so much as a missing apostrophe. For the last five years in fact, I’ve been using a customized keyboard with no “backspace” key, because, really, why pay money for a key I never need?

    Damn you, John Scalzi, and your fudge-dispensing printer.

  37. @50 Omaha Lisa

    Hey Lisa, try this.

    Get a new ream of paper. Store it overnight at the same location as the printer. Open the ream and take out the paper. Bend it back and forth in a U shape to separate the sheets, but don’t fan it out. Place in printer and print a hardware page to see if it draws more than one; this is often done by pressing a test button on the more simple printers.

    If it doesn’t work at that point, check the rollers and pads in the tray to see if they are worn or shiny. If they are, try taking an eraser and rubbing it on them. I’ve seen this fix this issue.

    If that works then try printing from the computer. If it pulls multiple sheets at this point then something in the software may be affecting the hardware, so I’d recommend calling the manufacturer’s support and see if it’s a know hardware/software issue, or even checking their website.

  38. I should get a fudge printer, the ink cartridges wouldn’t dry out from disuse

  39. Maybe this is obvious, but if it helps even one person then my work here is done:

    I have a Dell All-in-One inkjet. Comes with some handy-dandy software to ‘warn’ you when the ink carts are low and helpfully guide you to the website to order more. I’m assuming that other manufacturers have something similar.

    Here’s the thing: It Lies. Like a dog. Like a rug. Like a dog on a rug. It started bugging me that my carts were low probably 6 months ago. Telling me that they were completely empty maybe 4 months ago. Yet, somehow, I’m still printing. Somebody call the Weekly World News, we’ve got a miracle here!

    So, unless I was accidentally shipped the Ink Cartridge of Holding last time, I think that I may have to consider the possiblilty that this software is not acting in my best interest. Just sayin’.

  40. @The Other Keith

    It’s because the carts track if they are empty based upon page count and not the actual amount left in there. The logic is that you would use a certain amount on each page, so it should be empty after X pages. And if it happens to be set low so that you buy more cartridges, well, even better.

  41. I wouldn’t buy an HP printer these days if you put a gun to my head. They used to be fantastic printers. Hell, they WERE the laser printer industry. The HP printers were tanks, and as a network tech I’d used to find decades old HP II’s that were still cranking along. Slow and low res by current standards, but engineered like a battleship.

    Then Carly Fiorina took over HP, fired half the engineers, alienated the rest, and embroiled the company in a half-baked scheme to buy out Compaq.

    In one fell swoop she destroyed my favorite printer company AND my favorite laptop manufacturer. Now I use a cheap Brother network laser printer and I couldn’t be happier. It’s cheap, it’s durable, the supplies are inexpensive, and it reminds me very much of those old HPs.

  42. I’ve worked on printer chip design. While it is possible to keep track of “total dots printed”, only some of the more recent printer chips actually do that. there are potentially about 600*600*8*11=31 million dots on a page. That’s a rather large counter, and printer chips have always been under pressure to be as cheap as possible, so extra bells and whistles in hardware are usually punted to software when possible. Transistors have shrunk a lot over the years, so now a printer with a processor, a few DSP’s, an internal memory cache, and a bunch of dedicated hardware image processing cores (decompression, for example) isn’t unusual. So, dot counting is now feasible. But hey, if software is telling the customer to spend more money, why would a manufacturer want to change that?

    As for laser printers being cheaper, yeah, you need to watch out about that. There are some laser printer models on the market in the last year or two that are tryign to compete directly with cheap inkjets. They do this by using much smaller (cheaper for them) toner cartridges so you end up spending a lot more on toner.

    If you’re printing a few pages a month, the cost per page is kind of irrelevant. Get a cheap inkjet and sqeeze everything you can out of each cartridge.

    But if your’e printing a lot of pages on a regular basis then the only way to really know which printer is cheapest overall is to compare the cost-per-page cost of each printer, and factor in that you’ll probably replace the printer in maybe two or three years.

    And as far as photos are concerned, some stores like walmart and CVS will let you email your photos to them, they print them out on actual film, and you pick them up next time you’re in the store. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than ink. Besides, aren’t kids these days just viewing photos on their smart phones, laptops, ipads, and electronic picture frames anyway?

    As for the fax function, it’s probably not going away just yet. Contracts requiring signatures have to maintain the signature. And if the contract has a lot of personal information in it, you don’t want to just scan it and email it through the intertubes. Encryption programs are available, but really? There’s the problem of not everyone uses the same one (compatibility), not everyone is goign to use it correctly (insecure), and it costs money (uh, money). Most printers will give you a fax for what is essentially free.

  43. Darling, what kind of American are you, anyway? Everyone knows that when your printer runs out of ink, you buy a new printer. good heavens, man, think of the economy.

  44. Huh! Where can *I* get one that does fudge too?

    I am proud of my 3 year old HP printer/copier/scanner that I bought for the bookstore.
    But, heck, it doesn’t do fudge and some days,
    I _just_ _want_ _chocolate_.

    PS I’m sorry, John, it’s the End of An Age.

  45. @Glen Murie

    I was working tech support during the Carly days. I still laugh over the time one of the agents called her Carly Simon by mistake.

    To illustrate how bad things got, we had one printer where one of the questions we had to ask was, “What color is the smoke?”

  46. ObDisclaimer: I work at a Kinko’s. Or FedEx Office. Or whatever they’re calling us this month.

    My experience with inkjet printers, and customers giving me inkjet prints at work, is: They are great for craft projects, fine for text if the printheads are clean, but color prints of photographs are terrible to attempt to copy. Generally, while the picture itself looks OK, every scanner in our store (there are six different devices if you count the two fax machines) will pick up the dots and actually emphasize them in a copy. This is particularly bad on our photo printer.

    Also, however many features our copiers have, they do not make fudge. (They only make a faint woodsmoke scent when they jam.) Clearly, this is a serious deficiency and must be rectified.

  47. And finally, HP scanners suck. Period. Don’t buy one. The hardware itself is spotty, and the software on Windows is more like a virus than anything else, and the software on Mac is lackluster at best when it actually decides to work. This applies to All-In-One units as well. All they are is a crappy scanner slapped on top of a crappy printer.

    *glances over at HP scanner/printer*

    Really? Crap . . .

    Actually, I haven’t had too many issues with mine. It would be nice if I could persuade the software to let me set my own defaults instead of having to reset the dpi and tell it to knock it off with the sharpening EVERY SINGLE TIME. And once in a while it just gives me something completely WEIRD. But I’ve scanned my Word Art on it and the results seem to come out fine.

    It also helped that it was effectively free, since the rebate I got for buying a new MacBook Pro was enough to cover the price of the printer.

    But, alas, mine does not make delicious fudge.

  48. Omaha Lisa:

    Is it, by chance, a Canon printer? The newer ones are made with cheap rollers that wear out very quickly (the thing is made with a paper-thin material instead of the thicker rubber that the older ones were made with). What my dad does (he repairs these things for a living) is replace them with a roller from an older machine. Works fine. Should be able to find one online pretty cheap, if that’s the problem, that is. Also, some printers have requirements on the type of paper to use, and if it’s not a heavy enough weight paper, it will not feed correctly. Dad says that this is one of the most common issues. Also, if neither of those is the problem, sometimes just giving the thing a good cleaning inside and out will fix a lot of problems. Use a fairly light solution of isopropyl alcohol and a Q-tip. Of course, if it isn’t any of those things, he also gets repair manuals online for free from the manufacturer websites.

    Not my job, so I don’t really know any more than that. Haven’t had any issues with mine, but it’s a low-end model and not meant for large volume printing. I’m a photographer, but it’s always best to take photos to a professional lab than to print them at home. Mine prints fine, but you can get lightjet prints, etc. that are better quality (they are archival) than inkjet or laser printers if you go to a good lab.

  49. For a while I had a printer whose ink cost the same as the actual printer (I think the ink was actually a dollar more)…So every time I needed new ink, I’d buy a new printer and sell the old one on Craigslist or eBay. Even if it was for mondo cheap, it meant a dent in the ink price. Probably not a “green” solution, or maybe it was? I mean, I was providing printers on the cheap for those who needed it. :D

  50. I’ve had nothing but bad experiences with those all-in-one fudge machines. Just promise us we’ll get pictures when you build the trebuchet to launch the accursed thing as far from the house as you can fling it.

%d bloggers like this: