pierres photo

Pierre Beemans

You know how it always starts. You bend down absentmindedly to flick away a loose chip of paint on the dining room baseboard, then you scratch off a bit more, and next thing you know, you’re repainting the whole room and remodelling the kitchen.

Or you start off in the morning with your real estate agent to look at a few modestly priced townhouses, but you decide along the way that you need more storage space in the basement and preferably closer to a park and some shops, and you wind up the afternoon putting in a bid for a three-storey brick house in the Glebe around the corner from the Canal.

In my case, it was the printer -- or going even further back, the digital camera I got my wife for her birthday. I mean, we wound up taking so many pictures and it was costing an arm and a leg to get them developed. It just seemed so much simpler to load them on the hard drive of our old laptop and invest in a low-cost color printer to go with it.

Well, as the spotty-faced juvenile at Best Buy explained to me, if I wanted to print photos, I’d have to get a photo printer, which moved me into the $99.99 and up range. “How’s that? You’d like to be able to print other sizes besides your basic 4x6? Well, you might want to look at this model at $179.99.....”

While we are having this conversation, my daughter is down the aisle and comes back saying, “Dad, if you’re going to put out that kind of money, you ought to think about getting something that can scan and copy as well. There’s a multifunctional printer over here for $249.99.”

I’ve never actually felt it necessary to copy or scan anything at home for the past 25 years. Whenever the need arose, I would just trot around to Mailboxes Etc. or Staples and pay them 25 cents a page to do the job. Plus GST, of course. But I could see as how it would be quite handy to be able to do this at home; in fact, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed that there were actually quite a few things that could do with copying or scanning.

One of the things that I have learned over a long professional career of managing the public’s money is that you don’t want to rush into any major spending decisions. Do the background research, look at alternatives, evaluate the options. So I made copious notes on all the multifunctional printers in the store and went home to put in some time on the Web.

What a wondrous thing is the Internet! Google ‘multifunctional printer’ and you get 645,00 hits (this is a fact). You get manufacturer’s sites, retailers’ sites, technical service sites, magazine sites, security sites, encyclopeadia sites and, most fascinating of all, user sites with bulletin boards filled with all sorts of arcane reviews, debates and critiques of multifunctional printers by hundreds of people from Tokyo to Toronto.

“Good grief”, I thought, “don’t these people have a life?” I mean, I could think of other ways than reviewing gadgets to while away my evenings (like, for example, writing articles about purchasing gadgets). Still, if there were any secrets in the arcane world of multifunctional printers, they had not escaped these fellows.,

The general sense seemed to be that the $249.99 machines that I had been looking at were unreliable, if not downright trashy and that I shouldn’t be thinking of paying less than $300.

Right around now, my wife wandered in and asked, “Is this new printer going to be able to make copies of those slides and negatives that we have stored in boxes and boxes in the basement?” Back to the internet.

Ho ho! Yes, there are several multifunctional printers that say they do precisely that. And several that receive general approval from the dedicated cybercritics on the Internet. Two, in fact, get rave reviews.

It was almost Christmas, after all, and I found myself handing over my debit card to the cashier at Staples for $399.99 for an HP Photosmart 3210 All-in-one.

While the turkey was in the oven on Christmas day, I hustled upstairs with my unwrapped present to myself and got down to setting it up and plugging it into my laptop. I got about 12 seconds into the Wizard when my laptop froze. That seemed strange. After the fifth try, I concluded that there must be something wrong with the printer.

Next day, I placed a call to the HP 24-7 help line where some voice in Houston (or maybe it was Hyderabad, who knows?) asked me to give him some of the specs for my laptop. “Oh, I said, it’s a great little thing. Has served me well for six years or so. 450 Mhz chip and 128 MB of RAM.”

It may have been static on the line, but it seemed to me that I heard an uncontrollable fit of laughing on the other end of the phone. In fact, I could swear I heard someone slapping his thigh. After a bit more hooting noises, Houston/Hyderabad said to me, “Well, I think’s there’s your problem, sir. Your computer isn’t powerful enough to support that particular model. In fact, I don’t think it would support any of our photo printers.”

I must have missed that particular page on the Internet. So, here I am with a $400 (plus tax) paperweight at the end of my desk.

Well, I reflected, it was time that I got a new computer, anway. My laptop had developed an annoying habit of conking out in the middle of an email message, and I’d already had to have it sanitized several times because of nasty infections it picked up while I surfed the web.

Next day I started looking at computers. One well-known manufacturer’s outlet (no names mentioned here for legal reasons) that kept on stuffing flyers into my mailbox had a Boxing Week special for $799, with a 17” LCD screen, a chip with a couple Ghz, 512 MB of Ram, 80 GB of hard drive, and lots of upgrades and extras thrown in. Except that I didn’t need another printer, nor a digital camera (which was what had got me into this in the first place!).

The manager of the west-end outlet was a pleasant enough chap, and when I told him that I wanted a machine that would give me a few good years of trouble-free service, he confided that maybe I should be looking at something a bit more upscale, like the $1299 model over there, because after all, you get what you pay for.

$1299. Back to the Internet. Hmmm. Another well-known manufacturer (who only sells on-line and also stuffs my mailbox with flyers) had what looked like a pretty decent model, for $899. But the monitor was extra. And the hard drive seemed a bit small. All of this could be resolved with upgrades, of course, but each of those seemed to add another $99 - $199 to the price. By the end, I was looking at about $1299 for a decent computer setup.

At which point, I began to think about those references to Apple that kept on cropping up as I trawled the Internet. Click,click, Oooo, look at that iMac G5, with everything built into the 17” LCD screen, lots of chip and RAM power, huge hard drive, elegant styling, lots of applications, sterling reviews, almost impervious to worms, viruses and other beasties. And only $1599 (plus GST, of course), just a bit more than what I was looking at for a PC. There was, of course, a more macho model at $1999, 20” screen, even more Ghz and RAM and HD, but I reminded myself sternly that restraint is what is called for when spending large sums.

So, driving my daughter home to Toronto after New Year’s, I swung into the Apple Store in the Yorkdale Mall, eyeballed the iMacs and walked out with the 17” model. Plus, of course, the $200 full-coverage three year protection and service plan (a prudent investment).

Nevertheless, when spending large sums, one also wants to think to the future, to plan ahead, to anticipate needs and circumstances 5-10 years down the line. I mean, had I done that in 1999 when I bought my laptop and put out another $500 for a more powerful model, I wouldn’t be facing the need to buy a new computer to go with my printer.

So, on the way back to Ottawa the following day, I swung back into the Yorkdate Mall, walked into the Apple store with my (unopened) iMac, and walked out 10 minutes later with the 20” model.

I love my iMac, and my printer does things of beauty. And I almost never stop to think about how many of those rolls of film and boxes of slides I could have had developed for $2990.

Tags: Pierre Beemans