Sometimes it really is the equipment that isn’t working properly

by Emy Nelson Decker

Do I trust my own judgment? Yes, most of the time, until it comes to computers.

The other day, I had received my slide scanners and was setting them up with my new Mac G5s. What a scanning lab I was going to have! Brand-new, top of the line equipment! I got the three scanners out of their boxes, pulled the plastic wrapping off of them, hurdled past the manual, warranty, free offers, etc. and plugged the first one into my computer.

The first one worked perfectly. I had installed the easy-to-use Nikon software correctly, and it was scanning beautiful images. In fact, it even worked with an old batch feeder attachment (Nikon SF-200) that I had inherited with this job. This accessory allows me to set it to scan a large batch of slides automatically.Things were really going along well.

I set up the other 2 slide scanners with the other computers: one for the students who work part time in the collection and one for the assistant curator. I saw no reason at the time to try them out at the time. I had installed the software in exactly the same fashion, had used the same order of operations as described on the box and figured all was well. I threw away the boxes and went about my day.

A student in the fine arts program approached me later that day and asked if I could scan about 50 slides for him. I was delighted to, it meant using my new scanners. I set him up at the scanning station used by people in the department with scanning requests and students. I set up the batch feeder so that he could go about his day and clicked scan. I went back to my work.

The batch feeder jammed. This happens fairly often, especially if the slides are in cardboard mounts as opposed to Gepe brand plastic and glass mounts. It was when I checked on the saved scans that I noticed the problem. The preview of the images looked fine. The actual scans, however, were very faded and had a striped, almost corduroy-like pattern across them. This was nothing Photoshop was going to be able to fix.

I figured I had missed a setting. It had to have been something I had done or a step I had missed. I moved the batch feeder over to the assistant’s scanner and set it up to work over there while I played around with the Nikon settings on the scanner that had not worked properly. Everything looked fine. I racked my brain trying to figure out how this was different from the one I had that was working with no problems.

I called our tech folks out to take a look at it and they suggested that maybe the scanner was defective. I didn’t believe that too readily because I thought it statistically unlikely that two scanners (with radically different serial numbers) would have the exact same problem. I was sure it had been my mistake – either in installing the software or in arranging the settings.

After hours of this fiddling, I finally broke down and called Nikon tech support. Over the phone, they had me try a bunch of different things. When asked, I told them that the green “on” light had been flashing rapidly, and they said that was a sure sign that the equipment is malfunctioning. The light is supposed to flash slowly and once it is ready to accept a slide, the light steadies. The scanners themselves were broken.

Today I mailed them back to Nikon as I was instructed to do. Of course, the original boxes are gone, though they told me that would not be a problem. I found the warranties, a copy of the e-mail exchange I had with the Nikon folks after the phone call, and something resembling a receipt from the University. I wrote a brief description of the problem and sent them via UPS back to Nikon in New York.

As I was throwing away the boxes, I remember thinking to myself that perhaps I should try the scanners before I toss the boxes and packaging. I convinced myself that it wouldn’t be necessary.

Sometimes equipment doesn’t work properly. That is obvious and I am willing to bet it has happened to almost everyone at some point.

I wish I had kept all of the paperwork and I wish I had tried out the machines before assuming it was going to be fine and leaving myself in a world of hurt trying to find a sturdy box and all of the warranties, etc. to mail back to them. I believed that I had done something incorrectly. Sometimes when the equipment does not work, it is actually because there is something wrong with it.

I think there are two camps of people. The people who assume that if it does not work, then it must be the faulty equipment and the people who assume that they themselves must have done something wrong and will spend hours trying to fix something that simply needs to be shipped back to the company.

I count myself in the latter group. Although this is standard practice for most people, do not throw away anything until you know for sure that the equipment is working properly. At least wait until the warranty expires. Oh, and it helps to read the manual every now and again, too. I will wait now, hoping that my brown, previously used “University Press” box makes it to the Nikon service center and that the contents are repaired quickly, free of charge (they were purchased just a few weeks ago!), and returned very soon.

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