Fax Machine Thoughts

The fax spammers are coming...almost.I have had a fax machine of some sort operational for many years. Many machines have come and gone over the years for various reasons. Most of them were simply given to other family members and then replaced with another.

It used to be that my fax machine sat idle for most of the day. Then one day some brilliant fool thought it would be a great idea to send unsolicited ("junk") faxes to my fax machine. Suddenly a quiet and inexpensive machine got a lot more expensive and intrusive. I put up with it until the day my basement flooded back in May 2004. Since the fax machine (an HP OfficeJet 500 at that time) was underwater, but unplugged at the time, I figured it was probably fixable. So I set it aside for a few months before I did finally end up taking it totally apart and cleaning it, after which it worked just fine. More on that later.

In the meantime...

My dad bought a simple Sharp fax machine after having no fax machine at all for several months. He set it up--and here is the part I don't understand--the junk faxes just started pouring in like mad once again. They were actually worse than before. While this fax machine wasn't fancy (and it was only a fax machine, nothing more) it loved to devour hard to find, short lived and expensive (US $40) ink cartridges. This in itself was very irritating. There was one other fatal flaw, however. When junk faxes came in, there was no stopping the printing. Come Hell or high water, this thing would print any fax and no amount of hitting STOP or any other button on it would make it stop. Not even pulling the plug was enough. I decided I'd had enough after replacing another one of the $40 inks and then having about 10 junk faxes from earlier start printing. I took the machine out of service and set in to configuring my PC to receive faxes. This ended up being more trouble than it was worth. I didn't know it, but Microsoft crippled the TAPI system in Windows 2000 and higher by removing distinctive ring services from it...which were just what I needed. I scrapped that plan and sent my father out to find a multifunction device, confident that any of them could simply save a fax to the PC.

I would love to have someone from Microsoft explain to me just what nutbar thought it would be a good idea to cripple their TAPI implementation so badly by removing a very important option from it...

You might ask why I didn't just take action against the junk faxers*. There are some reasons why I didn't and some reasons why I couldn't do so. First, I don't have and don't want caller ID service. (I don't really want a phone either, but one diatribe at a time now...) Secondly, my fax and voice phones share the same line. I use distinctive ringing service, and I'm not sure how or if caller ID or *69 service would identify calls to the fax number. Finally, I just don't have the time to wade through dealing with piles of junk faxes. My time is worth more than the cost of the ink and trouble that I'd likely end up going to.

My father returned with a cheap Lexmark multifunction device. I suppose it was a nice enough printer and scanner, but the faxing...well, it left a LOT to the imagination and barely supported the distinctive ring service. There were no PC-side controls other than fax sending and this machine didn't appear to support saving faxes to the attached PC anyway. So back it went.

Knowing that Lexmark is the former printing and typewriter business of IBM, I have to wonder what the hell went so badly wrong over there. This machine was cheaply made and not like anything IBM would have put their name on...

The next device was a Brother brand machine of better seeming quality. It was even worse than the Lexmark in terms of feature set. There was no distinctive ring support whatsoever (do I live in the only place this is offered or something? I think know not.)

I had reached my breaking point. In a fit of rage directed at the stupidity of computer hardware makers (something that boils up every now and then) I retrieved the OfficeJet 500, ripped it apart on the kitchen table and painstakingly cleaned it until things worked again. It needed some repair to the partially vaporized phone line interface board (some weird kind of electrolysis took place and ate both traces and small parts) but eventually I got it to the point where it could answer the phone again. And when it was happy--despite having sat for months coated in muck and without power--it printed three faxes that had been held in its memory.

I breathed a loud sigh and hooked up the OfficeJet 500 to my computer. After loading the software, I set the OfficeJet to save faxes to the PC (quick, somebody alert the media!!) AND support my distinctive ring service. It works amazingly well...which is to say that after several test faxes, it works perfectly. To this day, it is still working perfectly.

I know what you're going to ask next...

So why didn't you do that first, stupid?

Because I do things the hard way. All the time, every time. Okay, not really. At least not usually. Actually, the OfficeJet uses a parallel port to do its work with the computer. My computer has a parallel port, but I really didn't want to bump my HP DeskJet 870Cse off of that port, since I use it quite often. But after beating my head against the wall and trying to understand what some of these multifunction device makers are thinking, or if they are thinking at all, I decided that the DeskJet can learn to work with a USB > Parallel adapter. (And so far, it has.)

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Copyright 2004-2009 by Walsh Computer Technology. All Rights Reserved.

* I have --at times-- gotten back at junk faxers when they were foolish enough to put valid return numbers on stuff. I used to copy and tape their faxes together, thusly creating a fax belt that ran through my fax machine a whole bunch of times and then faxed a whole long string of their ad to their receiving machine. If I didn't do that (it was a lot of work to get the belt started and stopped) I would write long nasty letters, often with things such as shaded shapes that took a long time to send.