Annals of Employment: PC Load Letter 2.0

Today I had to submit a financial form to the office. I work remotely, so I couldn’t just fill it out and drop it by the finance person’s office. The question was: how to get it there?

The form was an Acrobat PDF. Nowadays, many of these can be filled out as forms onscreen and then printed or emailed or faxed, making them easy to fill out and easy to read. Not this one. So the problem was: how to get it to the office without driving 50 miles in heavy traffic?

As I realized what was necessary, a tear rolled down my cheek.

I printed out the document and filled out both pages in black pen. Then I took them to the scanner/printer device at the other computer. I scanned each one in, which had to be done separately. The first go scanning them in greyscale produced an illegible grey smudge like a 1980s drugstore copy machine. I redid it at 48-bit RGB color and the greyscale document came out right. What the…?

Now I had two scanned-in .PDF documents, each one half of the previous .PDF document. I used Adobe Acrobat Pro to combine these into one document so that I could send it as one fax.

Now it was time to fax. This involved connecting to the other computer and using its modem as a fax printer. It should be simple, but it rarely works the first time. It’s never clear how to find the modem/fax/printer in the first place. Decisions about long-distance prefixes and area codes have to made by trial and error. Feedback from the computer sending the fax is almost nonexistent. To make the whole thing perfect, I was doing all of this over a wireless network.

Because of these things, the promise of faxing over the network with ease is a cruel lie. I walked back and forth at a ratio of five times per page trying to see the status of my fax, hear the fax modem dialing, figure out if it had been sent, etc. The first go was a failure because I’d been given the wrong fax number. The second try vanished ambiguously from my computer, but showed as “sent, okay” on the machine actually attached to the fax modem.

I decided that it had been sent, and fired off an email to the recipient, because of course anything can and will go wrong with the fax on the other end: paper jam, paper loss, toner failure, and inexplicable failure to receive a document or notify anyone that a problem has occurred.

Finally I sat down with relief to do some actual work. This was not to be. From the other room, I could hear an insistent beeping. Perhaps the fax modem hadn’t hung up? Sometimes they decide to stay on the line and one has to manually kill the connection.

I went into the other room to find the fax modem trying manfully to send the first fax, the one with the wrong number. I called up the dialog window to see fax jobs and deleted it. I went back to my desk. Three minutes later the beeping started. I marched into the other room and once again deleted the job. This time I stayed and watched. The same thing happened three more times.

Looking at other system preferences in desperation, I had to unlock one with my administrator password. A light suddenly shone upon me, and I saw the problem. Administrator privileges were required to remove a fax job. Sure enough, after I’d proved I was entitled, the fax job stayed removed. The system never told me that I wasn’t permitted to kill the bad fax without admin privileges: it just cheerfully removed and reinstated the bad fax job, forever.

Now I’m back at my desk, waiting for the email saying the fax was never received.

If anyone has extra peacock plume pens and pots of India ink, I’d be grateful for a loan. I have parchment and papyrus already.

Something something invasion of Normandy, oh this isn’t for me

Payroll company faxes 121 pages of confidential stuff to wrong person

Wrong number faxes are a huge risk. It’s obviously possible to typo an email address, but since so many of them are names or words the sender is doing a visual checksum as the email is written and sent. Punching in a string of numbers is different, and with so very many faxes out there the chance of getting a friendly “okay!” from the wrong number is pretty good.

When I was at the hospital we paid a lot of attention to this because we were frequently faxing medical records to physicians. We had a rule that we would fax nothing to any insurance company, only to the attending physician or a specialist for whom we had written permission from the attending to share records. People always wanted us to fax stuff RIGHT NOW! but it was very important that we refuse.

One day I got an incoming fax that made no sense. The clerk had just dumped it on my desk. It was from one of the big accounting firms, and was about 20 pages of detailed financial information. It had nothing to do with the hospital. On close inspection this was a detailed financial analysis for one of the parties in an impending merger of two large companies.

I called the guy and told him I had it, and that it was okay, I worked at a hospital and I was going to shred it. He nearly cried. “Good thing I didn’t call the recipient, eh?” I said jovially.

Faxes are dumb.