doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts

Whatever happened to …

… ribbon cables?

It always takes me a couple of days to reset up everything when I’m returning from a conference. Like most people, I suspect, I have cables everywhere. Speakers, charging cables, external monitor, USB extender, …

But as I was reconnecting and redoing the velcro cable wraps, there was one cable that I didn’t have to attach – the old ribbon cable for my printer.


Actually, I haven’t had to do that for a number of years. It’s been that long since I had a parallel printer. But, I certainly do remember the process of setup; the cable actually attached to the bottom of my computer and then to the back of the printer.

I remember the cable as being very fragile. At work, we had to replace more than one since all that it took was a crimp and the cable had to be replaced. It was fun though for playing around with the hardware since you could address each of the individual pins to do things. For the most part, we would play around with the content that we’d send to the printer.

Of course, you don’t see these things for sale any more. (At least in the circles that I run) We’ve moved to USB printing or to attaching the printer to the network with an Ethernet cable.

For a Sunday, your thoughts…

  • Have you ever owned a parallel port printer?
  • Have you ever had to replace a broken cable?
  • What kind of printer do you regularly use at home now? I have a Lexmark printer that also doubles as a scanner.
  • I can’t remember the last time I actually printed to the printer. It probably was for an airplane boarding pass years ago. Today’s problem include dried out printer ink. When was the last time you used a printer?
  • Does your printer have faxing capabilities?
  • If you’re like me, is it easier to put what I need on a USB key and go to the drug store to print?
  • Have you ever emailed yourself a document so that you could print it at school?

Please take a moment to share your printing thoughts. Can we judge your age by your use of paper? <grin> Answer in the comments below

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5 responses to “Whatever happened to …”

  1. I work in the cloud on my laptop. If anything needs to be printed I do it at school. I can even go to the resource centre at another school and use the colour printer. For personal things I go to Staples. The price of ink is astounding! Every assignment I’ve submitted for course work has been submitted, marked and returned via Google Docs. It’s amazing!


  2. Good morning Doug! Ahhhh, cables!

    SCSI, parallel, serial, ADB, USB, FireWire 400, USB 2, Firewire 800, Thunderbolt 1, Thunderbolt 2, USB 3, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, USB-C. The ordering is pretty close chronologically.

    What am I forgetting? Ethernet? HDMI? VGA? Display port, Mini display port, DVI, 30 pin, lightning, all the variations on the other end of USB including micro and mini. And don’t get me started on audio cables at all of their variations. I was collecting variations on audio cables before they were computers.

    There have been“generational” cable purges from the storage bins around here over the years as the cables required by older computers were finally no longer needed as new connecters/cables replaced them on the new computers. When I moved house around 2012, all of the serial, SCSI, and parallel cables would’ve gone to the e-waste. By then, USB was is the standard for printers, with ethernet starting to make a charge. Now the FireWire bin is starting to feel the burn as being the next on the list almost about to go out the door.

    Now as for printers around my home today, don’t ask my youngest son that question or you will give him an opening to go on about my printer collection. He likes to start with “How many printers do you have now, dad?“ before moving on to the ever-pending, “Why do you have so many printers, dad?“ Were I to wish to add to his developing line of questions, I might add “Which of your printers are currently hooked up, dad?” I blame it all on the wonderful deals that are too good to pass up at the computer/office supply retailers, and the fact that printer companies realized long ago that they could sell you the printer inexpensively upfront, but make the money over time on ink and toner cartridges.

    However, I think I will answer the question, “When was the last time you printed anything?” I know I printed a couple of images of the ECOO Member 2019 badge to get an off-screen idea of the actual sizing of the finished product before uploading the artwork to the sticker company. Before that, it would’ve been a boarding pass or some other travel document. Ironically, in recent years, I haven’t really bought printers for their printing capability. Let’s just say that the introduction of features like ethernet empowered scan-to-the-cloud were the most recent technological advance that called for an upgrade for my classroom and home printers. The all-in-one devices (copier, scanner, fax machine, printer) are the things to get these days.

    Faxing? Well, the feature is there, but it’s probably been close to 20 years since I used that technology. Scanning and emailing is where it’s at nowadays!

    As for thumb drives and the print shop, although scan-to-the-cloud was a big deal for me for the last few years in my classroom (it was wonderful to be able to slap something down on the scanner, push the button, and then walk up to the SMART board and open the document that had arrived in my Google Drive) I do periodically take documents to be printed at Staples on their large format printer, and for that I use a thumb drive. Staples do support print-from-the-cloud as well, but I guess I’m still old-school enough to want the surety of having my file in hand when I want to print. The celebratory 40th anniversary “ECOO’s Annual Conferences” banner for our recent #BIT19 conference was printed to large-format from a USB 3.0 thumb drive.

    ECOO’s 40th Anniversary

    So yes, I do still have printers, and print upon occasion. But it’s been years and years since I struggled with a parallel printer ribbon cable.

    Now, if you were to ask me about those pesky little ribbon cables for the Pi camera…


  3. I don’t miss those ribbon cables at all. As you said, they break easily. And lining up all those pins could be a problem. I go back quite away with printers. Use line printers for years in university and my early career. And impact printers. I even had a color impact printer with a multi color ribbon.

    I have a fairly nice HP printer (mostly only buy HP as I have had issues with most other brands) that also has FAX capability. Or would if I had a land line. I once had two land lines – one for calling people and one for calling computers and fax machines. I use the scanner and the printing ability rather often. I have trouble reading two column PDF research papers online. I have emailed things to school to print and home to print. I have a color printer at home and don’t always have access to one at school.


  4. […] Sunday –  Whatever happened to … ribbon cables? […]


  5. […] Whatever happened to … – doug — off the record […]


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