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tech support

How to be your own tech support


Last week Mother Rebecca’s HP printer suddenly stopped working for no reason. Has this ever happened to you? Is it happening to you now?  

The printer itself (an HP DeskJet F4480 from the Pleistocene Era, ie, 2012) worked fine on its own. A document inserted into the scanner would print. But all attempts to get the printer to print from the computer, were suddenly going to voice mail.

Wait… printers don’t have voice mail. Silly me. They were going to an error message. They were going nowhere.

giant boulder blocking a road

Mother Rebecca did what any self-respecting person would do: she called her trusty computer place and screamed loudly (but nicely) into the telephone: “HELP!” And do you know what they said? “No can do”.  

“You probably need to buy a new printer” is what they actually said.

Hmm. Mother Rebecca did not want to buy a new printer. Because new printers cost money. And the old one was working fine…except that it wasn’t.  

Mother Rebecca decided to take matters into her own hands (and by “take matters into her own hands” I do not mean, “use her own hands to throw the printer out the window”. Not that the thought had not crossed Mother Rebecca’s mind). Instead, she decided to apply logic, reason, patience, and whatever amount of time it took to analyze and fix the problem.

After five days of tinkering with that there gadget and accumulating various amounts of carpal tunnel syndrome from  2000 repetitive mouse clicks, Mother Rebecca is delighted to inform you that the problem is solved. And she is going to share her hypothesis about what went wrong, and how to fix it, in case the same thing has happened, or is now happening, to you.

(You’re welcome.)

Hypothesis: HP perhaps may have updated their printer driver software, which is why the printer suddenly stopped interfacing with the computer, even though it continued to work fine on its own.

Since the printer was not printing, documents kept generating error messages. Documents stuck in the print queue then rendered all future printing impossible. 

It was necessary to repeatedly turn off  the print spooler, clear the print queue cache, restart the print spooler, and try to print again.

However, trying again resulted in more error messages because the printer driver still was not updated.

Attempts to download and install the new printer driver were unsuccessful because the computer could DETECT the printer, but then stated that the printer was not “plugged in”. Huh? Come again? How can the printer not be plugged in, if the computer is detecting it via the USB cable?

The answer was more complex than one might think:

1) The printer port was set to LPT1 instead of USB. That setting needed to be changed in the Printers dialogue box.  

2) The USB cable was only partly functional. It was functional enough to let the computer detect the printer, and to (very occasionally, when the moon was in Scorpio and the tides were full) print a single document. But it was not functional enough to print consistently.

The ultimate solution was to buy a new USB cable at Staples. The cable I got is called Staples USB 2.0 Gold Cable 24K/ct . It is much cheaper to order it from Staples online than to buy it in the store.

If I had gotten the new cable on day 1 instead of day 5, I would have saved myself a lot of mouse clicks. However I would not have learned about the following nifty resources for self-help printer fixing, which I will now share with you:

Text to use to get access to the Printers folder on your computer after stopping the print spooler as per the directions above: C:\Windows\system32\spool\PRINTERS

(Don’t forget to re-start the print spooler after clearing the print cache).

Once I got the new cable, and reset the printer port to USB 001, the computer was able to not only detect the printer, but to understand that the printer was plugged in. The partially completed installation of the new printer driver, which had been continually getting hung up at step 4 out of 7 by displaying a shocking big red X, now went through all the way.

Hallelujah! Spring had sprung! (even though it was actually August). Birds were singing in the trees.Joyful sounds of printer cartridges creakily rousing themselves into action were heard in the land.

Mother Rebecca’s dear friend, Mr. Know It All, explained the situation thusly: the old printer cable had been a 1.0 USB. It was good enough to carry the old amounts of data transmitted back in the Pleistocene Era (2012), but no longer adequate for the vast data streams that must transport themselves (at the speed of light) across the 4 foot gap between Mother Rebecca’s computer and her printer, today. The old cable was working well enough to let the computer know the printer was there, but not well enough to download the new driver needed to get the printer to actually work, if by “work” one means, print documents from the computer.

Mother Rebecca is not a tech guru (though she often imagines herself playing one on TV). This report is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to fixing your printer. Your mileage may vary. No warranties are made, no responsibility is assumed. This is simply a (hopefully) amusing tale of how one woman went up against the Tech Gods, and won. 

The help desk people said it couldn’t be done. And yet, darlings, Mother Rebecca did it. And she believes that you can do it too.

tech support