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Keep It Simple



I don't watch a lot of television these days. I prefer to live reality than gawp at other people's artificial nightmares.When I do I enjoy programmes like Channel 4's TimeTeam - as the editor will no doubt claim this is problably because I am expecting to see some of my contempories dug up. But I find the programme has a wonderful balance between the techies who do the extensive and scientific digital exploration of a particular site, and the down-in-the-ditch dirt diggers who lick a thumb and hold it up to the wind, and say why don't we just dig over there?
The answer is usually somewhere between the two and a bit of banging the heads together by Tony Robinson helps solve the riddle in the allotted time. This scenario is much closer to the task we perform everyday than you might initially expect. So often we encounter technical issues which seem to contradict common sense, and fly in the face of any reason or rational explanation.
Invariably this is because of the way some machine or another has been configured, constructed or is creating a more complicated problem than should sensibly be necessary.
In a recent episode, the Time Team dug up a Viking trader, or at least the remains of one, and in his pouch he had a simple set of hand scales and a selection of weights - not much more than a few pieces of metal and some pebbles.This basic but functional device meant he could travel and trade with the assurance that he could accurately asses the value of coinage and other valuables wherever and whenever he needed.
Hopefully, if our recycled paper stock is as faithful as it is labelled, there won't be much of Copy Shop News for future archeologists to dig up from a landfill site, but in checking the weight of the new issue for postage purposes, I had reason to tackle our current state-of-the-art franking machine.
We used to have a nice old one with a great big dial that spun round and stopped at the appropriate amount. Straightforward, optical, obvious. Now we have a digital one that gives you options and you have to get yourself into the mind game that is its operating system. With the old one you could tell instantly by the speed and movement of the dial whether something was light or heavy or somewhere in between. With the new one, no doubt sensitive and accurate to the zillionth micro-gramme, its electronic secrecy instills no confidence, and in untrained hands, takes a lot longer to get the desired results.
And therein is the rub. The training required to operate all manner of machines is dictated not only by the complexity of the machines, but also by the fact that manufacturers develop them, and the interfaces that are their first point of human contact, with apparent independance. I long ago came to the conclusion that if these development engineers were is the motor industry, every car you went to drive would have not only the steering wheel in a different place, but the order of pedals rearranged, and important switches hidden behind the dashboard. Oh, and when it breaks down you need a password to restart it.
One of the issues with training is that engineers from a particular manufacturer may well be very familiar with the family of products they represent, but less aware of others unless they move around and take their experience with them. Most print shops, however, have a mixture of machines, printers, finishers as well as servers and computers, all patched together to make a complete operation. It is taxing anyone to be an expert on all of the machinery on call, hence copy shops tend to compromise and have at least some specialists.
There is also the issue that some operating problems may be caused by the very way the multi-purpose print shop has been pieced together - more often unplanned, most likely reacting to demand. Any addition to the network risks introducing a problem as much as it solves a need. It may be a problem unexpected at the point of installation, but which will become apparent in usage. Then follows the IT detective work to trace what the issue really is.
When we road test machines for Copy Shop News we do try and hang onto them for as long as possible, not only to try their reliability and performance, but in the knowledge that such issues may occur in longer usage. It can work both ways, in that in some cases what was first thought to be a problem, may turn out to be not so serious.
We have taken a second look at Canon's 6100, at their suggestion, as they felt I may have leant a little heavily on the negative in our initial review, although it was originally delivered for a self-install without assistance, for that very purpose. This time it came with an engineer and a briefing for another member of the team to take a fresh look at the challenge, and the result will be featured next month, but it was useful to talk through features with Canon's man having had a previous month's experience of the printer. While it cleared some of my provisional doubts it reinforced others, particularly in the use of an over complicated interface.
What it underlined is that not only do you need the engineer, but you need the experience to ask the engineer the right questions, and possibly anticipate issues that might develop along the way. There may be a very good reason for a machine to be designed in one way, but it may not be completely compatible with the network environment into which it is introduced.
I've always avoided putting large format printers on a network, as well as scanners, because of the large files they use and the likelihood of gridlocking general printer traffic - as well as giving the opportunity for another operator unsited to print out emails on 44 inch canvas!
In testing the KIP 3000 plan printer however, its colour capable scanner meant mating it to a printer for full functionality so we had to link it to our large Canon. Now this is all very well as long as you are familiar with the user interface and know only to copy in colour when you really want to, and have the Canon set up with plain paper at the time. Otherwise, once again, you may end up with a very expensive copy no one is going to pay for.
All these little issues may be small enough in themselves, but they all contribute to the increasing complexity of our working environment - an environment not simulated in spacious, clinical laboratories in Japan or elsewhere. Each makes their own minute contribution to the distracting and frustrating daily grind of actually getting print out.
It would be too much to hope that some boffin somewhere in one of those laboratories would re-invent the knob or the dial.