Man and Machine
It sits in the corner of the office, a hulking presence that will undoubtedly be, at one point, your undoing.
No matter that our technology has transformed out practice of architecture, there is one place where technology has seemingly cast a blind eye. And, despite our growing savvy in the use of all things computer related, we are ultimately stopped dead in our tracks by any failure of this single mechanical beast. You know which one I’m talking about.
Funny how we can develop programs to model the exact reflection of light rays on complex surfaces or animate the motion of leaves, and yet be stumped by the loading of a roll of paper into a plotter. Yes, while we can create with ease, producing it still is fraught with pitfalls.
So many things confound me with plotters. Questions like, if we can design a plotter to tell us that the paper is misaligned, why haven’t we gotten to around to making it able to align itself? And loading paper? Could it be any more convoluted? Pull down a lever, put up a hood, insert the edge one way but not another, leave a lot of slack only to tighten the roll later on. It’s like an intricate dance where your partner, while looking for you to take the lead, often refuses to follow suit. And you know what happens after one awkward dance. You become hesitant to step back out on the floor.
I know I am not the only one. All of my co-workers look upon the plotters with hesitancy, even fear. The first time I asked how to change the plotter? I went to four different people before I could find someone had changed it themselves. I’ve only been there a couple of months, but I’ve already replaced the paper in both plotters more times than half the office.
It seems odd to overlook such a crucial aspect of our technological march forward. After all, as I mentioned before, our projects are only as good as our tools of communication. If others can’t understand what you’ve imagined, either because they cannot understand your drawings, or, as the case sometimes is, you can’t get the drawings out onto paper in the first place, then what is the point of all those hours spend waiting for the rendering timer to show complete?
There is, of course, projecting the images somewhere. But powerpoint slideshows can be the death of any salesman, so you take a gamble in pursuing that route. In school, especially at my masters programme, you’d be scoffed at immediately if powerpoint was your mode of communication. Too generic, too business, too corporate. If you were a true “creative type”, then flash would be your answer. Many an AA project presentation will attest to the abilities of selling through an interactive onscreen presentation. But, ultimately, in the office place, we still work with lines on paper, though these days it is shot out through a process of hot ink and lasers.
Somehow, it’s the last thing we think about. The time it takes to print. The possible problems we’ll inevitably have. Paper running out. Ink running out. Color matching not matching. Paper Jams. Large files unable to be processed. Drying time. These are all little things with very big consequences. Like failing to make it to your presentation on time, which not one, not two, but while I was working at my alma mater, dozens of students would flirt with doing come final reviews. Note to you all out there. Because the plotter is located at school, on site and not off at some Kinko’s somewhere, does not mean that you can plot twenty minutes before you plan to present.
An office environment seems to feed the temptation to push the limits of time. Maybe because, unlike school, where the cost for additional prints comes from your own pocket, you’ll be charging the client, for at least some portion of the printing costs. And, in an office, if you have a deadline, your project gets priority. In school, everyone’s deadlines are priorities.
So you get complacent. After all, what’s one more print? One more change? It just means that, where you thought you were leaving the office at six, you will now find yourself leaving at ten. It happens. All the time. I shutter to think the number of trees that have given themselves up in the name of getting the perfect aqua blue. At least we recycle.
And in the end, when you final get approval, get the all clear for that final print, well, that’s when the real countdown begins, when you really notice how long it takes to get everything out. So you stand in front of the plotter, watch the inkheads spread their glorious mixes, line by line, and wait for the plot to finish. Just so you can cancel the extra 40 seconds of drying time, and catch the print before it falls down into the drawing tray, where it would most likely get creased in the process. Because, somehow, 40 seconds makes such a difference to the 4 hours of overtime you’ve just put in.
So, if someone at HP, or some other wonderful company, could come up with a solution to any of my plotting problems, I would be forever grateful. Well, except that, in sorting out my current problems, you’d probably give my boss new reasons to think they can push a deadline. I guess, either way, I’ll be staying late.