Saturday, August 22, 2009

Fax machines versus sliced bread

Before I complain any more, let me say that I'd rather have a fax machine than not have one. Without a fax machine, I'm just a dot on the map. With a fax, I'm connected to corporate America. And, however bad it gets, I'm never tempted to throw my fax machine out the window, something I thought of daily when dealing with dot-matrix printers. But the fax machine is not as efficient as everyone seems to think. And a lot of people misuse the beast.
Here are some of the things that get my dander up. I send a three-page fax and then get a call saying that the last page didn't arrive. It left my place intact, slipped right through the scanner and across the phone lines--did it stop for coffee along the way? Or, I send a 10-page fax but get a call saying that pages 2, 5, and 7 are missing. Obviously, those pages went through the fax two at a time. So I have to resend the vagrant pages.
On the receiving end, the same thing happens, often with an additional annoying twist. Ostensibly, I get all the pages that were sent, but here and there I see 5 or 10 blank lines, where part of a page was erased because of a less-than-smooth ride through the fax-feed rollers.
And don't you love newspaper clippings? "Isn't that a great photo?" someone will ask me, referring to a four-by-four-inch blur that looks like a bottom sample from the Mississippi River. Fax machines have controls, such as high and low contrast and fine and superfine mode, which are designed for items such as newsprint and photos. But people don't use them.
Americans love fax machines because we are fascinated by appliances. We just push buttons and the machine does the rest. But even appliances need to be told what to do. Don't people choose warm- or cold-water settings on the washer? Set controls on a toaster? How many people use broadcasting, delayed multiple polling, voice request, turnaround polling, or delayed transmission? Probably as many as program their VCRs. But setting contrast and resolution controls on a fax is no different from adjusting a television picture.
For instance, the documentation for my Hitachi says to use high contrast and superfine resolution for newspapers; for photographs and color, turn on the gray scale. I must admit I'm no more attentive than the next guy when it comes to fine tuning. When sending a news clipping, all my effort goes into guiding it through the rollers so that it doesn't rip into shreds and set off alarms.
I also learned from my documentation that low-contrast pictures or characters in a received copy might be the fault of a dirty scanning unit. "Cleaning should be done once a month," it says. Ha! Have I ever considered cleaning the scanning unit? Have you? Or the feed rollers, which might account for paper sticking together?
Here's another beauty. I fax a note to someone, and a week later, in the course of conversation, I discover that the information I sent was never received. It arrived, but was never routed to the addressee. This problem doesn't occur in home offices, where people can check their fax machines while brushing their teeth, but it is rampant in corporate offices. Not everyone has a secretary to check the fax machine every 10 minutes; and when people do walk by the machine, they pick up and route material of interest only to them or their department.
Try this on for size. I receive a faxed document with handwritten comments on it. The document itself is crystal clear, but the comments look like the last request of a madman. The commentator hasn't read his or her manual, wherein it says to use superfine resolution when sending handwriting. It should also encourage the use of a pen, not a pencil.
One of my least favorite tasks is resending a fax I've received. I get 10 pages of thermal paper, mark them up with my comments (applying ink and observing all rules of good penmanship), and prepare to resend. But if the chances of sending a stack of fresh, clean paper without suffering a jam are slim, the chances of successfully sending a stack of thermal paper are nil. In fact, you're lucky if you can get through the process without ruining one of the pages in a devastating jam that will crinkle it beyond recognition.

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