Saturday, July 06, 2013

Restraining Bolts

Today I'm being driven crazy trying to print out FiloFax pages on an HP printer.

Although I've created a PDF file of the right size, I have the right size piece of paper, and I've set up the paper-size in the print-driver, the printer is refusing to print because it detects a "paper size mismatch".

A quick look through HP's site reveals a world of pain created by this size-checking-sensor which can't be over-ridden. People are justifiably pissed off.

What's striking is that this is a problem that didn't exist previously. There are many accounts in this forum of people who, on their older printers, happily used incorrect page-size settings in the driver, with odd-sized paper, and just got their job done.

HP by trying to add "smartness" to their product have made it less usable. This is such a common anti-pattern, engineers should be taught it in school : the more smart-constraints you add to a product, the more likely you are going to disempower and piss-off the edge-cases and non-standard users.

Recently I wrote a Quora answer which I brought to ThoughtStorms : MachineGatekeepers . I worried for people who didn't know how to navigate technological problems in a world where we're encaged by technology.

But I have an even greater worry. The road to hell is paved with "helpful constraints" added by idiots. And we're all suffering as technologies which, with a pinch of know-how or intuition we could bend to our will, become iron cages. It's no good knowing how to google the FAQ or engage with tech. support when HP support is effectively non-existent.

The most disturbing thought here is that BigTech knows this, and increasingly takes away our freedom with one hand and sells it back to us on the other. If enough people complain that their HP won't print on FiloFax pages what's the most likely result? That HP release a fix to disable the page-size-sensor? Or that they'll just release a new printer model which also handles FiloFax paper but is otherwise equally restricted?
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