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Stone Knife Soup with a Side of Bearskins - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
Stone Knife Soup with a Side of Bearskins
How's that mimeograph machine workin' for ya?

Been down to the cellar lately to beat some laundry against a rock?

Check on that big block of ice in the icebox recently?

Your answers range, I expect, from "no"s to "huh?!?"s, as well they should.  Technology moves on. Good ideas get replaced by better ones, and the old ones go by the wayside. Yet there's an insidious exception to this rule, and it makes me crazy every time I'm subjected to its continued use, and even crazier when I consider the ridiculous built-in cost of maintaining it.

What am I referring to? Just the fax, ma'am.


My first law office got its first fax machine sometime in the late 80s.  Prior to that, they were an expensive and boutique item reserved for the biggest firms in town- the ones that also had telexes and similar instant-communication features.  Way back in 1984 ::shoos kids off his lawn::, FedEx went big on trying to bring fax technology to the smaller office on a delivery-by-delivery basis. They called it Zapmail; the company invested in a massive network of then-expensive, high volume fax machines, which they worked into their regular delivery network. Zapper would order a FedEx pickup of his Absolutely Positively Had To Be There In Two Hours document, which would be trucked to their local depot, faxed within their system to the delivery city, and then trucked out to the zappee.  I only ever got a handful of these, but at least one sticks with me enough to prove how permanently annoying the device was: some asshat big-law attorney had one sent to me with a first sentence of I am sending you this letter by Zapmail to impress upon you the importance of your immediate response blah blah blah.....

My immediate response was to throw it in the circular file.

Very quickly, Zapmail turned into Zapfail because fax hardware succumbed to Moore's Law like everything else does and everybody had their own machine, and a dedicated number or three to go with it, in pretty quick order.  The quality improved, from those hideous thermal-paper jobbies of the early 90s to the still-ubiquitous "all-in-one" device of the type that still sits five feet to my right.

And which, for most of the past several years, has done little in its "fax mode" other than cost me $70-plus a month for the dedicated landline and a meaningful percentage of my more-expensive-than-Chanel HP ink.


That same machine, one button down, has a function that utilizes the same optics, the same transmogrification of those optics into a receivable document, and the same ability to reproduce that document perfectly someplace else. It's called a [skan-er], and unlike its aging Uncle Faxey, it does it without requiring the sender OR recipient to use a dedicated landline, or indeed any  line of any kind other than the Internet.  Nor does it necessarily consume ink, or generate paper reports of sending/receiving, on either end- unless the recipient chooses to burn toner to print one out.

How many companies- banks, utilities, and oh, god love'em, those tree-consuming law firms- keep guilting you into "going green" by turning off your paper statements or not printing out their emails?  I'd wager that every stinkin' one of them has at least one, and probably dozens to thousands of, these tree-eating machines on their premises.

So they cost money even when idle (and mostly, these days, they are idle- I send roughly 80 percent of my once-faxed documents through scans these days, and likely receive 60-70 percent that way). Most of the traffic is from realtors (because standard real estate contracts have largely not caught up to technology and allow faxed but not scaned documents to be treated as equal to mailing) and from spammers. Even worse, when one does  come in or has to go out, it monopolizes the all-in-one's brain so you can't print, scan or copy anything else while the AMAZING TRAVEL DEAL or whatever is burning Chanel HP Number 5 564
on the receiver's nickel.

Who benefits? Phone companies, for one. I imagine Verizon profits would drop like a stone if the entire business community cut the cord on this horse-and-buggy communication.  And the hardware makers who enable their profits (and also score big returns on the machines themselves by selling ink cartridges and repair services) are the ones who might otherwise help with a workaround to put these puppies out of their misery once and for all.

I'd like to propose one.

There is existing technology to forward incoming faxes to an email address and then allow them to be received in not-yet-printed form.  This article describes some of that process.  Businesses should be coordinating efforts to make this option normal but also terminal.

What do I mean by that? First, take normal (I know; I'm not one to talk;). Three years ago, did YOU understand what @ signs and #hashtags meant until Twitter made them completely conversational? (And I say that as one who does not and likely will not ever tweet.)  If enough people in the business world make it a point to learn a simple workaround for a stupid reality, and collectively find a technology that works and adopt it, well,


But it'll also be harder, on account of the "terminal" part. Nobody should see this as a long-term solution, but as a bridge to get everybody into scanning and killing off the fax technology completely.  And to do that, the hardware end of things has to be tackled.  If it's a dedicated fax machine, rip it out of the wall. If it's an all-in-one, literally cut the cord.  It'll still work for printing, copying and, yes, the now more important task of scanning, but you'll have made dozens of roofing companies very sad, not to mention killing off the last vestige of your non-existent "corporate travel department."

But what about my fax number? Think of the cliyyyyyyyyinnnnnnttttts!, I hear you cry.

I got the fix for that, too.  Use both the law and the technology to your advantage.  Shop around and find the cheapest mobile service and phone you can- or add a burner to your existing plan for $10 a month. Port your current landline fax number to it; by law (in this country, at least), they are required to do it. Then set up the fax forwarding through something like what's described in the article above.  Finally, stick it in a corner, plug it in, and turn it off.

What are you waiting for? Hell, what am I waiting for?
4 comments or Leave a comment
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: February 3rd, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I solved that problem a long time ago.

My (now-defunct) consulting business had a FAX number. It was an e-fax that, for $49.95/year, would turn faxes into PDFs and send them to me via e-mail. I also have a all-in-one with a scanner that will fax documents. It uses my land-line for sending, but reports it as if the incoming FAX number was where they came from. So total cost is damn little unless I choose to print a FAX off rather than e-filing it.
captainsblog From: captainsblog Date: February 3rd, 2015 11:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you liked the service and wouldn't mind sharing the name, I'd be most obliged:)
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: February 4th, 2015 01:24 am (UTC) (Link)
www.myfax.com or www.efax.com. Slightly different deals, both reputable.

Edited at 2015-02-04 01:26 am (UTC)
warriorsavant From: warriorsavant Date: February 4th, 2015 05:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Again we find that great minds wallow in the same gutters, as just posted something on tech follies http://warriorsavant.livejournal.com/509228.html

I basically agree with you about faxes, but would add a few notes. I have no problems with tech, but am not an "early adopter," who are basically people who think they're cool, or think they are impressive, rather like the lawyers who would Zapmail you things. When faxes came in, I was always contemptuous of people who would ask me to fax them, or offer to fax me, "well, no I haven't spent $100s on useless technology, but for a few pennies, I can have a government agent hand-deliver it to your door."

I don't remember Zapmail, but the central Post Office in a city could fax it to another city for you (to the central Post Office there) and then deliver it via the mail. Useful for International messages, but not a common thing for me.

Then I took command of a National Guard unit in Vermont, 2-3 hours away from where I lived, and had to sign endless paperwork. Suddenly having a fax became essential, and shortly after that, couldn't understand how anyone could conduct business without one. That's the nature of tech. Goes from toy, to maybe useful, to "how did I ever live without it," to passé. I'm not ready to convert to Fax->pdf->print out, because in fact, most of what comes in via my fax I need the hard copy of, but at some point that will go the way of the dodo.
4 comments or Leave a comment