Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cheap All-In-One Printers: Don't Believe the Hype

The other day I saw an ad from Staples, touting their line of HP All-In-One printers, designed to rival small color laser printers in terms of price and printing quality. The basic message was, "Don't buy a laser printer- buy an Officejet. It's cheaper per page, and lower electricity cost, than laser!". They also had a deal where you could get a $50 discount for bringing in your old printer for recycling (certain printers).

Since I am the manager of several bands, and part of that role is advertising, I realized that we have a need for a good quality color printer. I had a hulking office laser printer that recently died, so I decided to load it into the car and see if there was a deal for me at Staples.

I arrived and had a look at these printers- such as the HP Officejet 6500 Wireless All-in-One Printer, Eco Easy Edition, the HP Officejet J4680 All-in-One Printer, HP Officejet Pro 8500 All-in-One Printer, and a few others. I will say that prices were very low, ranging from under $100 to around $230. They seemed equipped with a fair amount of features, including wireless connectivity, duplex printing, card reader, etc.

However, as I touched and interacted with the printers, the one thing that was screaming out at me the entire time was the old "you get what you pay for". The printer enclosures seemed like cheap, flimsy plastic. Several of the demo printers there were open and wouldn't even close properly. The entire thing seemed like a printer that would last about 1 or 2 years if you were lucky. I read a few reviews which confirmed my suspicion. Stay away from these feature-filled cheapos, because you'll end up spending more money on them in the end, then you would have if you had purchased several separate devices of higher quality. As for electricity cost, the actual amount of electricity a laser printer uses these days is pretty negligable, even if it is several times more than an ink jet.

After looking through all of the printers, I walked out of there with an HP Color Laserjet 2025dn, a beefy color laser with duplexing for about $300. The very campaign that was trying to convince me that an Officejet is a better choice than a laser, had convinced me that a cheap AIO ink jet printer is no replacement for a solid laser printer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why Caller ID Blocking is Dumb

Does this sound familar? You are in the middle of a great movie. Your cellphone or landline rings. Your muscle memory kicks in, you glance at the screen to see who's calling, and observe the following:


Quickly, you think to yourself, "My God, it could be anyone!" Your reaction to this paltry dilemma will most likely be:

A. "Wow, someone who doesn't want me to know their number. It could be important! I'll take the call."

B. "It could be a telemarketer, or someone I really don't want to talk to. I'll err on the side of caution and let it go. Besides, they can leave a voicemail, and if it's important, I'll call them back after the movie is over."

C. "There's a 'special place' in my heart for people who have the nerve to use caller ID blocking.... And it's not the one that encourages me to answer calls."

If you ask most people, the answer will NOT be A. If you choose to employ caller ID blocking on your outgoing phone calls, you should be aware that, in today's society, you are basically signing up for what amounts to "voluntary call blacklisting." Here's some of the things you can look forward to dealing with, in exchange for a supposed measure of added privacy:

  • Be prepared to, at least, go to voicemail a measurable percentage more often than everyone else. At most, you may just plain not be able to reach people.
  • Get used to writing down your phone number for your friends, as they will have to manually enter your number into their phones.
It's possible to make the argument that your circle of friends will know that it's you calling (since so few people choose to add this "feature" to their lines). However, the reality is that there is a chance someone else they receive calls from has a line with blocking, and unless you both happen to be that person's favorite callers, you can bet that they won't be answering your calls. A lot.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Host Your Own Domain's Mail? Here's Your Spam Filter.

Something positive for a change. I thought I'd take a moment to sing the praises of (possibly the only) service that I have dealt with for the last 3 years, without a single reason to complain.

A company that I maintain the e-mail server for has been using for off-site anti-spam, virus scanning and anti-phishing protection. Don't be put off by the sleazy marketing approaches on their website. After 3 years of use, I'm happy to report that the only experiences I've had with them have been:

  • 100% uptime
  • Friendly, prompt, and technically adept tech support, U.S. based, not off-shored
  • Effective filtering that has not required any interaction for tuning, false positives, etc.
  • Affordable service - $19.95 per domain
Setting up the service is easy- point your MX record to the service, supply them the IP of your mail host(s) and lock down your incoming traffic at the firewall. Some people believe it is a bad idea to contract out filtering to an outside server. I have arrived at the conclusion that it is the best choice under most circumstances, as long as you choose the right service. has been the right choice for us, and here are the factors:

  • Their filters have an excellent cross section of sample data with which to recognize malicious e-mail, which makes them very effective. I don't remember having any false positives in 3 years (and yes, I check the spam quarantine regularly).
  • It reduces your drive space, processor, memory, and bandwidth consumption - bad mail that is filtered never hits your mail host.
  • It makes for a leaner security profile - at your firewall, you can lock down the hosts allowed to connect to your mail host to only servers. This is a huge benefit in terms of protecting your server from the badness of the open internet.
  • It works with any MTA server, not just Exchange (a major cost savings right there).
  • Only one proven, robust protocol, SMTP, is employed for mail to come into your server. Not POP3, IMAP, or strange proprietary protocols for mail retrieval to your MTA, a function for which they are not designed.
  • The cost of $19.95/mo per domain is slightly higher than a subscription to mail host plugin service, such as GFI mailessentials, for a domain. However, this minor premium is quickly nullified the first time someone doesn't spend hours fixing a broken Exchange plugin when it breaks (not to mention the mail downtime). As for the individual spam viewers available for $49.95/mo, I have not found these to be necessary, as after 3 years, there are never any false positives.
  • Probably the most important, and unsung feature: They queue your mail when your host goes down. This shields outside servers from any mail server outages due to maintenance, etc. on the customer's mail server. Believe it or not, these days, a deferred /failed message can have a considerable impact on the professional reputation of an organization.

There are lots of ways to deal with spam, virus, and phishing e-mails, but after 3 years of analysis, I'm settled on the best, most cost effective way to deal with it. For my money, it's

Friday, May 22, 2009

Broadvoice Sets Us "Up the Bomb"

So Broadvoice now requires that customers (even ones that have been signed up for years, such as myself) send them a copy of their driver's license, and credit card they use to pay. A notice "requesting" such is triggered when you make any modifications to your payment info (such as changing the credit card on file). I don't think it's Federal regulation, as it seems Broadvoice is the only one doing this, but I'm sure it's some sort of CYA move.

Now, a lot of people complain about Broadvoice, but I personally have had a pretty good experience with them. They have reasonable pricing, excellent tech support, and I have not had a problem with their uptime. The only issue I've ever had is that Verizon Wireless likes to drop Broadvoice exchanges from their routing tables once in a while, which Broadvoice can hardly be blamed for. However, I have not had the pleasure of dealing with their administrative folks until now.


I did some Google searching around, and it seems that they are serious. If you don't send it in within 5 days, they suspend your service. I also learned that they tend to ignore the fact that you have SENT IT IN. Sure enough, when I sent it in on the 4th day, they suspended my service later that day anyway. I called them, and they re enabled my account, saying "it probably just hasn't been processed yet".

This morning, a few days later, I received an e-mail:

"Dear Scott McGrath,

This is a friendly reminder that we have not received the Service Authorization form that was sent to you."

I'm in hell.