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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stone tablets and holiday shots

Ed Stephens Jr.

Now that four full weeks have elapsed since Christmas, I’ve still yet to make good on promises to send holiday photos to kith and kin. By photos I mean actual prints. Yes, even in this digital age, some people prefer prints, and, even for the folks getting the digital format, prints can be a nice touch when put into a little mini-album.

So, what next? Print them myself, or pay a store to print them? I’m changing my answer this year. I’m heading to the store.

Saipan is shutterbug central, so I’m sure a lot of people have to weigh the store vs. self-printing decision.

I used to print photos from my office to save the hassle of going to a store. But now I’m going to the store to save the hassle of messing with my printers.

That’s not a shortcoming of small office/ home office (“SOHO") technology. It’s just a function of scale. For the past few years, I’ve only been printing out 20 or so pictures a year.

So, for me, the “photo printer” shares status with “hydraulic floor jack” as something that always belongs somewhere, but for 364.9 days per year that somewhere is somewhere else. And at that point, it’s easy to just forget about it entirely.

I’ve got three photo printers. No, make that four, if we include the junk box in the garage where a sturdy old Epson shares space with a 1976 Ford F250 distributor, a cigar box full of Lucky Lager bottle caps from college, and a random assortment of automotive chemicals.

Alas, as I discovered after Christmas, none of my printers are in a state of readiness. All need new ink, because photo printers always need new ink.

This morning I ordered new ink for the oldest printer, but five seconds after I hit the “Place Order” button I realized I can’t find the parallel cable, which is why I had exiled the thing to the garage.

Naturally, all of my printers take different sizes of ink cartridges, and this ink won’t be of use in any other printer.

So if anyone out there has a parallel cable that you’d like to trade for a pack of grape Hubba Bubba bubble gum and a (mostly) full can of WD40, then give me a call.

As for the newest printer, we could never figure out how to use it. Its precocious software makes even the simplest task more grueling than a wind sprint through quicksand. It’s just not worth the slog to dash off a few quick snapshots. This is why we hung on to the older printers; they were easier to use, at least if I haven’t managed to lose the cable yet.

And don’t forget the photo paper. The good stuff is expensive. And the bad stuff, well, what’s the point of going to all this trouble to use the bad stuff?

If we want, we can entertain ourselves with tidy notions about how the “cost per print” of doing it yourself is merely dimes (or whatever; I don’t follow this any longer) per shot. But that’s assuming enough throughput that the ink cartridge hasn’t run try after you’ve only used 2 percent of it, that some phantom cleaner-upper in the household hasn’t relocated the printer paper to under the toilet plunger, and that the time you allocate to messing with the printer is tallied at zero opportunity cost as “leisure” time and not “labor.”

On the other hand, one of the advantages of SOHO equipment is that you can mess with things and tweak them as you see fit. So I’m not suggesting that SOHO photo printing isn’t a good idea. It served me well for many years. I’m just noting that once my utilization dropped beneath a certain threshold, it went from really good idea to petty distraction.

Taking the long view, I wonder if physical prints will have much appeal to the younger people who have never known anything but digital technology. Do teenagers even make photo prints? I never thought to notice. For these generations, a physical print might seem as clunky and awkward as a stone tablet.

Maybe I’m among a fading breed of gray hairs who have a preference for the physical photos. Until we all fade away entirely, though, I’ll be going to the store a couple of times a year to get my photos printed, just like I did back in 1973. Ah, now that’s progress!

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Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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