It Won’t Print Again: The HP LaserJet P1102W Redux

Several months ago I wrote about how I solved a wireless printing problem with my HP LaserJet P1102W. One tiny little change to the settings made all the difference in the world.

Recently I returned home from vacation to find that – once again – it wouldn’t print. I started by taking a look at the list of devices connected to my home network. Sure enough, the P1102W was missing. This time though, I suspected that it didn’t have anything to do with the channel on the wireless access point. My hunch was that some other device had grabbed the printer’s IP address.

All of the devices on my home network are using dynamically assigned IP addresses rather than static addresses. (However, I may rethink that after this latest issue.) My theory was that the printer had been off for over a week, so its IP address hadn’t been active on the network. Perhaps when we returned, one of the other devices leased the printer’s address. When we returned from vacation, we brought with us two iPhones, two iPads, one iPod, and one laptop.

For this issue it turned out to be a fairly easy fix. I turned off WiFi on the iPads and phones, and sure enough the printer popped up on the network again. When I re-enabled WiFi on the other devices, they leased new addresses and everything was back to normal. That made me start thinking about how many devices we have on the home network, and once I totaled them up, I was a little surprised.

2 iPhones
2 iPads
1 iPod
3 laptops
1 desktop
1 Wii
1 X-box
1 DVD player

That’s twelve devices on the home network. I realized that we had a lot of gadgets sitting around, but it was interesting to see how many network connected devices we have.

Well . . . interesting until they all start talking to each other and take over the world.

It Won’t Print!: Or, the HP LaserJet P1102w and Me

UPDATED 07/18/12

To cut to the chase: Try changing your wireless access point to Channel 11.

The follow-up post may also be of interest: It Won’t Print Again.

Keep reading for the original post.

I have a friend who used to work in another nearby department on campus. He used to call me up just for fun and say, “It won’t print.” That’s all. No “Hello.” No “How are you doing?” Just “It won’t print.” It was kind of a running joke because I used to tell him about a number of the really strange printing problems I tackled.

It’s strange that in this age of being able to do so many things completely electronically people still like to print. They still like things on paper. I’m no different. Some things I just really want on paper. If a company doesn’t send me an e-mail confirmation within about five minutes of an online order, I’ll print the confirmation page. I’ve tried electronic boarding passes before, and I’ve let the airline scan my phone. Somehow though, I feel better with a paper boarding pass. Why? Maybe I feel that I’m more likely to lose my phone than that magic piece of paper. Perhaps my phone battery might die. Or how about this one? Maybe my phone will crash. It has happened before. My paper boarding pass has never crashed. Oh, it might get a little wrinkled and smudged, but the airline has never had a problem scanning it.

Whatever. I still want to print things sometimes.

About a year ago I built a new computer. It didn’t have a parallel port, and the USB-to-parallel cable didn’t work, so I wound up abandoning my trusty old HP LaserJet 6P for a new LaserJet P1102w. As these things often do, it went swimmingly at first. I installed the driver, printed a test page, and all was well. The wireless printing was fine as well, so I installed the driver on another laptop or two. Over the past year, it got gradually worse. It reached the point where it wouldn’t print without a lot of coaxing. I ignored it thinking that I would get around to it someday. Someday finally came when some visiting relatives needed to print their boarding passes and it wouldn’t print ANYTHING – not a test page or even a page of mojibake.

I took a shortcut by printing from a USB connection before settling in to finally tackle the problem. I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the troubleshooting, but anyone who has ever tried to solve a problem knows that there are a number of possible problems with just the printer and the computer. Add wireless printing into the mix and you introduce a number of other interesting variables.

I Googled. I poured over the HP forums. I removed the software and tried reinstalling it. I tried reconnecting to the wireless access point. I finally determined that the printer absolutely was not connecting to the AP. It wasn’t leasing an IP address, and its MAC address wasn’t showing up in the list of devices attached to the access point. Somewhere I finally came across a web posting where someone noted that the printer seemed to work best with the wireless access point was set to channel 11. I changed mine from channel 5 to 11, and I had the proverbial “Voila!” moment. Everything started working again across all devices. Printing was rock solid after reboots, after idle time, and after printer hibernation. I was back in business.

I’ve been doing computer support since the mid-nineties, so I remember exactly how we used to do our troubleshooting before there was such a wealth of technical support material online. Of course people were solving problems like this long before there was any online information, but it sure makes a difference! That experience notwithstanding, I still find myself occasionally asking, “How do we ever do this before the Internet?”

I guess I should also be asking, “How long until I can stop printing?”

Gamers and Troubleshooting

A colleague and I were recently talking about some Internet access trouble he was having at home. Strangely enough, this trouble only seems to manifest itself when he is in the middle of a World of Warcraft raid, and stranger still, it seems to affect only World of Warcraft. All other Internet apps continue to work properly. This discussion led to some of the exotic troubleshooting techniques he has seen suggested on various support forums.

For quite a long time, I have felt that most of the significant hardware advances we see are the result of gamers. Gamers’ needs push hardware development. If it weren’t their needs for better sound, better graphics, more RAM, more processing horsepower, and larger/faster hard drives, most standard productivity applications probably wouldn’t be nearly as advanced as they are today. The GUIs wouldn’t be as advanced. The programs probably wouldn’t be as powerful because the baseline for processors and RAM would be much lower.

Just as games have pushed hardware along, I think they are also pushing along troubleshooting skills – at least for gamers. Gamers are working with firewall issues and router configurations. They’re checking software and driver conflicts. They’re installing new components to optimize their computers for the game-playing experience. They’re exploring the innards of their computers in ways that their peers find intimidating. The result is a group of people who, from a young age, are being trained to diagnose and solve technology problems. I find it interesting that it takes a game to draw some people into the realm of troubleshooting. But more people developing these skills should be a good thing, right?

The Art of Troubleshooting

I’m thinking about Meredith‘s survey again this morning. In particular I’m thinking about one of my responses to question # 4: What skills and competencies do you think are most important for librarians to have today?

In answering this question, one of my replies had to do with troubleshooting. As libraries add more electronic resources, new online services, and more computing facilities, troubleshooting and technology problem-solving skills become more and more important.

However, even though I gave this answer within the context of a survey on library education, I don’t know how easily troubleshooting skills can actually be taught. With many troubleshooting issues, intuition, instinct, and gut feelings all play a part.

Of course there are certain things that people can be taught to check systematically. But this is only one part of troubleshooting, and those who rely exclusively on a list of steps are somewhat akin to a telemarketer sticking to a badly-written sales script.

Consider some of the steps in troubleshooting a problem with an attached printer. Many things are both obvious and easy to check.

Is the printer plugged into a power source?
Is the printer connected to the computer?
Is the printer turned on?
Does the printer have paper?
Does the printer have toner?
Is the printer displaying any error lights or codes?

Moving beyond this initial list, there are still a number of basic things to check.

Is the application sending the print job to the correct printer?
Has anything changed on the computer or has anything new been installed recently?
Does Device Manager (for Windows users) show any hardware errors?
Is the correct printer driver installed?
Is the printer driver up-to-date?
Does the printer work properly with another computer?
Does the computer print properly to another printer?
Is there any sort of local security software that might be interfering?

Having exhausted the obvious possibilities, that’s when troubleshooting has to get creative.

Can you print a document from another application? I once saw an odd problem where a printer experienced memory overflow errors when trying to print PDFs, but all other document types were fine. the manufacturer’s official solution was to lie to the printer: tell it you’re using a different model, and that solves the problem.

When you move into the more exotic troubleshooting like this, it becomes more a matter of methodical trial and error guided by instinct, and that’s hard to teach. How can you tell someone to follow a hunch if they never get the hunch in the first place? I’ve worked with a number of people who had great troubleshooting skills, and they sometimes seemed to pull solutions out of thin air. It’s great when it happens, but how do you teach that?

I like this phrase!

A couple of years ago Karen Coombs wrote a post describing a small fix that blossomed into a major issue – an event she termed technological quicksand. What a delightfully descriptive phrase! We’ve all been there. A little fix . . . a minor upgrade . . . the unsettling feeling that something has just gone very wrong. Suddenly we’re sinking. We’re being sucked into a troubleshooting/repair/restore nightmare that will consume hours or days! And it always seems to start with some itty bitty little thing, doesn’t it? Technological quicksand indeed!