Tag Archives: lexmark

HP splits in two.

Don’t you feel like trying something new
Don’t you feel like breaking out
Or breaking us in two
You don’t do the things that I do
You want to do things I can’t do
Always something breaking us in two –Joe Jackson

After years of buying up companies, HP is splitting up. While that’s probably more prudent that exiting the desktop PC business, which is another idea they flirted with in the past, it’s anyone’s guess how this is going to work out.

But it’s what all the cool kids are doing, so it’s what the investors want, and that means HP is going to do it. Continue reading HP splits in two.

Expect your HP printer to get 0wnz0r3d shortly

Courtesy of Dan Bowman: You may have seen the brief writeup on Slashdot about how to set printers on fire by messing with the fuser, but in Germany next month there’s going to be a security engineer’s nightmare unleashed, courtesy of the HP printer that’s probably sitting a few feet outside your cubicle and mine.

And there’s a whole lot more to it than just messing with the fuser in hopes of killing a printer or (perhaps) starting a fire. There’s a lot more to a printer than toner and a fuser. As the link above says, a printer contains an embedded Linux or Vxworks system that’s trivially easy to install a rootkit on and that nobody’s paying attention to. Seriously, who watches traffic coming from the printer?

The possibilities are endless.
Continue reading Expect your HP printer to get 0wnz0r3d shortly

Shame on you, Medtronic

Insulin pumps marketed by Minneapolis-based Medtronic have a serious, life-threatening security flaw, and the company couldn’t care less.

For these two reasons, this isn’t your typical security flaw, and Medtronic’s response–in 30 years, we’ve ever seen a problem that we know of–is beyond deplorable. Ford’s infamous decision to pay lawsuits rather than fix a deadly flaw in the Pinto comes to mind.
Continue reading Shame on you, Medtronic

Lenovo and IBM look back at IBM’s PC exit

The Register reports that Lenovo is gloating over its purchase of IBM’s PC division and its turnaround efforts, while IBM doesn’t regret pulling out, at all, even going so far as to call the PC dead. Who’s right?

Lenovo. Though IBM was right to get out–but the PC is only as dead as the television. Old media doesn’t go away quickly. Radio was supposed to make newspapers go away, and it’s only now, 90 years later, that newsprint is hurting. The old stuff adapts and evolves and finds new uses. Some people argue that if newspapers were managed better, they wouldn’t be hurting, but that’s a different issue. Let’s talk IBM PCs.
Continue reading Lenovo and IBM look back at IBM’s PC exit

Buy a used business printer and save a bundle

I’m through with cheap consumer printers.

Due to the nature of my wife’s work, we print a lot by home standards. We buy paper by the case, not the ream, and a case of paper probably lasts us a little more than six months.

Our workload just isn’t practical for the kind of printers you find next to the telephones at consumer electronics stores. So I bought an HP Laserjet 4100. And even if a case of paper lasts you a couple of years, you might want to buy an office-grade printer too.A typical consumer monochrome laser printer, if you shop around for a good sale, costs around 60 bucks. Replacement toner cartridges cost anywhere from $50-$70, depending on capacity. And at some point, which could be as little as 20,000 pages, the drum or the fuser or some other semi-replaceable part will wear out and you’ll have to replace it, at a cost of $100-$150. Most people don’t do it, since it’s cheaper to just buy another printer. And by that point, the printer will be discontinued, replaced by a new model that’s a little smaller, a little faster, a little quieter–and uses different, incompatible toner cartridges. If you got lucky and found toner on sale and stocked up, you’re out of luck.

Let’s do the math. 8 toner cartridges at $60 apiece, plus the printer at $60 gives you a total cost of $540 to print 20,000 pages. That’s 2.7 cents per page over the practical lifespan of the printer.

Businesses are discarding old HP Laserjets like crazy, either because the maintenance contracts on them get to be too expensive, or because they’re replacing them with units that can print color, or units that can scan and fax in addition to printing.

This week I bought an HP Laserjet 4100 from a computer recycler for 30 lousy bucks. The toner cartridge still has about 5,000 pages left in it, and the fuser/drum assembly will be good for another 175,000 pages. It’ll take me 17 years to wear that out–and since the printer is already 7-9 years old, I don’t know if the rest of the printer has 17 years left in it.

But there are still Laserjet 4000s in service and that printer came on the market about four years earlier, so I’m pretty confident I’ll get four years out of the hardware.

I’m less confident of current consumer laser printers lasting four years doing what I ask of it.

It’s possible to find toner cartridges for HP 4100s at a cost of anywhere from $20-$50 and last 10,000 pages. The "maintenance kit" that includes a drum and fuser costs about $150. I probably won’t ever need one, but if you find an HP 4100 with more miles on it, you may.

Old toner cartridges have an expiration date on them, but you can ignore that as long as the cartridge is still sealed. Once the cartridge is opened, you can expect it to last 2-2.5 years. So buying old cartridges for $20 or $30 off Amazon or eBay is fine, and stocking up if you see a bunch of them is fine.

Let’s do the math on a less than ideal HP 4100 that needs a maintenance kit and toner cartridge right away. At $50 for the printer, $150 for the maintenance kit, and $100 for two cartridges, you’re looking at a cost of $300 to print 20,000 pages, yielding a cost per page of 1.5 cents.

I’m looking at more like half a cent per page, since I lucked into a low-mileage unit.

Either way you look at it, a used HP 4100 is a better deal than a consumer-grade printer. The cost per page is lower, and it’s a lot more convenient because you’ll be changing toner cartridges and filling the paper tray less often.

Even if you have your heart set on buying new, the economy is similar, but the financial hit up front is a lot higher. The HP 4014 currently costs $800, and the cartridges are around $100. At 10,000 pages per year, the cost per page is a reasonable 1.5 cents over the course of 15 years.

Personally, I’d rather buy a used older model that’s already depreciated, keep the up-front cost low, and recoup the savings quickly.

And yes, I am partial to HP. One of the reasons they’re common is because they work well. When I supported printers for a living, I could almost set HPs up and forget about them. They didn’t even jam all that often. I’ve also supported a lot of Lexmark printers. They were pretty reliable, but we had more strange issues with printing than I ever saw with HPs. And I see the same pattern at work today, though I’m no longer responsible for fixing the printers. The HPs just work, but about once a week the Lexmarks die suddenly with a weird error message.

And by virtue of being the most common, HPs will be easy to find in the first place, and in the long term, it will be a lot easier to find parts and toner for them. I owned a Lexmark 4039 laser printer for many years, but the toner was more expensive than HP toner because it was harder to find, and once the printer was old enough that I needed parts, I couldn’t find them at a reasonable price.

What about cleaning the printer up? Some offices are much more kind to their printers than others. My 4100 seems fairly typical. It had a couple of stickers on it telling where to call for service, and a number of black marks that looked like they came from shoes. Maybe it sat under someone’s desk for a while and got the occasional kick.

Labels come off pretty easily with lighter fluid. Squirt a little lighter fluid onto the end of a napkin or a cotton swab. In the case of paper labels, wipe them until they’re saturated with lighter fluid and let it dry, then repeat the process a couple of times. The label will peel off very easily. If any adhesive residue remains, another wipe or two will take care of it. In the case of plastic or metallic labels, just rub the edges and let the lighter fluid wick under it until one of the corners lifts. Pull that corner up some more, then dab some more lighter fluid underneath. Eventually the adhesive will weaken enough to allow you to peel off the label. Then wipe away any remaining adhesive afterward.

Some marks will come off pretty easily with lighter fluid too. Others don’t even require that much–some will respond just fine to window cleaner, or just a little soap and water.

Stubborn marks will usually come off by buffing with car wax or metal polish.

My 4100 looked a little rough when I brought it home, but it took me about five minutes to make it look more presentable.

So if you’re in the market for a monochrome laser printer, don’t go to any of the big-box stores. Search Craigslist instead for an old HP office printer. HP Laserjet 4000s, 4050s, and 4100s are in a sweet spot right now in regards to pricing and availability of toner cartridges. Toner for the older HP Laserjet 4 and 5 printers (which date to the mid 1990s) is harder to find.

Don’t pay any more than 50 bucks for a bare printer. Be prepared to pay more for one that has extras like networking, a duplexer, or an extra tray, but it’s not uncommon for people to sell those parts separately, since they’re often worth more than the printer. Networking is nice to have if you have more than one computer. Duplexing is nice but it won’t help you if you mostly print single-page jobs. If you don’t know what you’d use extra trays for, then you probably don’t need them.

How to buy a laser printer

I had to buy a laser printer in a hurry over the weekend. I bought a Samsung ML-2525, which I believe to be a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best choice I could have made. It’s tiny, whisper quiet, and very fast, and it was on sale for 70 bucks, though sometimes you can get one for as little as $59. At that price, it’s hard for buying it to be a terrible decision.

Please note that this advice is for home and light small-business use. For business use, scroll to the end.For several years, I kept two laser printers on hand: a Lexmark 4039 for volume printing, and a Samsung CLP-300 for color and emergency printing. The Lexmark wore out, and I dragged my feet replacing it, since CLP-300 cartridges cost $15 at 4inkjets.com, making prints from the CLP-300 ring up at just over a penny a page.

That ridiculously low cost per page is the reason I swore off inkjets in 1993. With a little luck, you can get that price per page down even lower than that. But not with an inkjet.

Unfortunately I ran out of toner before my next order of toner came in. So faced with buying a cartridge at retail ($50-$65) or buying a backup printer, I decided to spend a little more right now, get a printer, and have some more options if a printer glitch happens at 9 PM when a bunch of stuff absolutely has to be printed before morning (which has happened before). Printer problems are much easier to fix off deadline.

The Samsung 2525 had the lowest up front cost of any printer I could find at the moment. So that’s what I bought.

What I should have done was look at other printers on the market, visit 4inkjets.com, and compare toner prices. They’ll soon be carrying 2525 toner, for 50 bucks. That comes out to a reasonable but not earth-shattering 2 cents per page. I do expect that price to fall with time, as it did with the CLP-300.

Had I looked more, I would have seen that there are Brother printers with toner cartridges that cost half as much. The up-front cost would be higher (around $99 right now), but I probably would have made up the difference after the second toner cartridge.

Better still, if you have the luxury of time, is to determine which printers currently on the market have the most economical aftermarket toner cartridges, look for any other features you might want (such as networking and duplex printing), then watch the Sunday papers for a sale.

It’s entirely possible that the cost of Samsung 2525 cartridges will come down in time, perhaps even by the time I’ve used up my second one. In the meantime, 2 cents per page still isn’t bad, and the print driver shares some components between the two printers, so I only have to deal with one printer company’s bloat on my computers rather than two.

And what if you’re buying a printer for medium or large offices? You figure out how many pages per month you’re going to print, and you buy the appropriate HP printer. Nothing else offers the combination of software compatibility and reliability of HP’s business-class printers, and there was a time when I would have had the pay stubs to prove it.

Other brands will offer cheaper toner, but if your service contract allows using third-party or refilled toner, that can negate some of the difference. The time you don’t spend paying someone like me to work out printer glitches will more than make up for the rest.

Saying goodbye

Today we hauled my trusty Lexmark 4039 off to recycling. Unfortunately its paper handling was shot, and parts and documentation for that model are nearly impossible to find. I found the alleged service manual, but couldn’t make sense enough of the documentation to fix it.It’s hard to imagine having a sentimental attachment to a laser printer. I guess part of it is because I bought the thing in 1996. Aside from an IBM Model M keyboard, there’s no piece of computer equipment I owned in 1996 that’s still worthy of daily use in 2009. (The true-blue IBM PC/AT case I used in 1996 still sits in my basement, but it’s been a long time since it’s been possible to fit a decent motherboard into that.)

I bought the printer–an ex-demo unit, sold by Onsale, the long-forgotten online auction house–originally intending to go up against the establishment student press at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It was Quixotic, to say the least. The printer didn’t last through the first issue, so I relegated it to personal use. Meanwhile, I stayed around one final year until graduation making a pest of myself.

That printer printed a lot of stuff for me, including short pieces that became the basis for my 1999 book. And sometimes I’d print a chapter off with that printer and give it the old-fashioned red-pen treatment when I needed a bit more intimacy with my words on paper.

In 2005, when I sold anything and everything in my personal library that had any value to keep the lights on while I looked for jobs, that Lexmark printed the mailing labels and invoices.

But even by then, the printer was outliving its usefulness. Toner was no longer being made for it, so buying toner was a spotty affair. The stuff’s out there, but when you buy it, sometimes it’s what the seller says it is, and sometimes it isn’t. Parts are in short supply. Modern printers have four times the resolution, four times the speed, weigh half as much and take up 1/3 the space. Oh, and they cost less than $100 and you can buy cartridges at the Office Max down the street from me.

Space comes at a real premium now, and for the last year or so the printer has been more trouble than its worth, since the paper handling required a lot of babysitting. So it’s time. Past time. I keep reminding myself it’s just a machine–and a worn-out one at that.

But for about 12 years, long past its life expectancy, that printer served me faithfully. And that’s worth something. Lexmark doesn’t make ’em like that anymore.

Knowing me, I may very well manage to get 12-plus years of service out of some other piece of computer equipment. But that Lexmark printer was the first.

Fixing a phantom paper jam in a Samsung CLP-300

So my Samsung CLP-300 laser printer developed a fake paper jam. I tried to print yesterday and got nothing but a paper jam message after the click that usually precedes the paper feeding through. I looked inside all the covers, even flipping the printer over multiple times, looking for that stray bit of paper munging up the works.

I found nothing. But I needed to print some resumes. So I fixed it.A Google search turned up some weird advice, including changing your USB cable, or moving it to a different port. Whatever. Someone suggested replacing the pickup roller. Now we’re starting to seem reasonable. Someone else suggested cleaning the pickup roller with rubbing alcohol before replacing it.

I’m sure I can’t go to OfficeMax where I bought the printer and get a pickup roller for it. And I’m guessing there’s no place open at 8 pm that would have such a thing, so I liked the idea of cleaning the roller. But I used rubber conditioner/cleaner, made by Caig Labs (the same wonderful people who brought the world De-Oxit) instead. I figured it was less likely to have bad side effects than rubbing alcohol, and I had some on hand. Of course, that’s not the kind of thing most people are likely to keep in their back pocket.

At any rate, it worked.

This seems to be a common complaint with the CLP-300, and the people with the complaint generally say they don’t use the printer much. Truth be told, we don’t use ours much either. Most printing duties go to the ancient Lexmark 4039 I bought in 1996. I don’t think we’ve used it at all since September.

We keep the printer low to the floor, since there’s a spot for the printer on the bottom of this cheap all-in-one computer desk I’ve had for years. It’s not ideal, but it’s there, so we use it. I found lots of dust and Labrador Retriever hair around and behind the printer, which probably means a fair bit of it found its way inside the printer too, none of which sounds good for the life expectancy of a part that’s supposed to grip paper for a living.

Flipping the printer over and cleaning the black pickup roller on the underside of the printer seems to be the best cure for a seldom-used printer that’s exhibiting this problem. And to prevent the problem, raising the printer up a bit so that it’s less likely to find secondary work as a dust collection bin would probably be a good idea, as would making a habit of printing a little something every month just to keep the cobwebs out.

How eBay is ruining itself

A thread on one of the train forums I frequent mentioned today that the number of listings for Marx trains on eBay is down about 50% over what it was a year or so ago. Not only that, the listings are by and large the common, less interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, a debate rages on another forum I read sometimes, frequented by eBay sellers. On one side are the eBay apologists, saying they’ll just change as eBay changes. On the other side, people struggling to make a profit in the ever-changing environment are finding other venues to sell their wares and finding themselves a lot happier.The problem is that eBay is trying to create a sterile, retail experience. The big shareholders and the executives seem to think that’s what the consumer wants.

Another seller’s theory is that the people who sell brand new merchandise in huge quantities are less troublesome, causing fewer headaches for eBay and for the customers.

The eBay business books I’ve read talk a lot about people who drop-ship pool tables and other merchandise in large quantities, never touching any of it, and supposedly becoming millionaires by doing it.

But the people who put eBay on the map are the people like the ones I see every Saturday morning. They study classified ads the way a devout monk would study Scripture, looking for clues and carefully plotting out their routes. They get up before dawn and drive to their carefully chosen site. Their prey: The estate sale. They line up in the driveway hours before the sale opens, like bargain hunters the day after Thanksgiving. When the sale finally opens, shoppers come in, 10, 20, or 50 at a time, depending on the size of the house, while those who arrived later wait their turn. Any time someone leaves, those in the driveway gawk, trying to see what he or she purchased.

It doesn’t matter what item you can name, I know someone who goes out every Saturday looking for it. Some of these people are collectors, but some of them hawk their finds on eBay. They buy on Saturday and Sunday, then they spend hours the following week figuring out what exactly they have, carefully photographing and describing each item, then listing it, hoping to attract bidders.

The typical eBay addict doesn’t go there to buy a pool table, or the kind of things they sell at a suburban mall. Certainly there are people who buy those sorts of things on eBay. But those tend to be occasional shoppers. The biggest eBay addicts are the fanatics–the serious collectors who spend hours every day scouring new eBay listings, looking for items they don’t have in their collections.

And guess what? These collectors don’t buy from drop-shippers who duplicate the retail experience. The drop-shippers can’t get those kinds of collectibles. It’s the people who get up at 5 a.m. each Saturday to be first in line to prowl around in someone’s attic or basement who get that stuff.

The problem is that the people who do get that stuff have a difficult time becoming (and remaining) Powersellers. A Powerseller has to sell 100 items or $1,000 worth of inventory per month. If I wanted to sell vintage trains on eBay, there’s no way I could locate 1,200 items each year. Not in St. Louis. The $1,000 mark wouldn’t be much easier to hit.

So eBay is driving away that kind of seller. And as a result, eBay is going to lose that type of buyer as well.

I know for a fact there are plenty of collectors in Europe and elsewhere who are eager to take advantage of the low value of the dollar and buy a bunch of collectible American trains at bargain prices due to the exchange rate. Unfortunately the timing is horrible. The new eBay policies have driven away a lot of the people who sell the best items. So the foreigners with money to spend end up spending a lot less than they would like. Sure, they’ll buy the $10 items that are listed, but they’d really rather buy the $100 and $1,000 items that were listed last year but are conspicuously absent today.

Ten years ago, eBay was flying high. They weren’t the first online auction, but they were the most successful, precisely because they allowed ordinary people to sell ordinary (and extraordinary) things. I bought a number of things from online auctions in the mid 1990s, including the Lexmark 4039 laser printer I still use every day. I don’t remember now the name of the auction house where I bought it. I do know it went out of business shortly after eBay became widely known.

Lots of other companies wanted in on the action. Amazon, Yahoo, and others launched auction sites that looked and acted a lot like eBay. But they never went anywhere. The best sellers put their best stuff on eBay. The wannabes tended to just have second-rate stuff sold by second-rate sellers. Case point: I once tried to buy a lot of vintage train magazines from an Amazon auction. I won, paid my money, and waited. And waited. A week later I e-mailed the seller. No response. Finally after another week he responded, saying he’d been having computer trouble and asking if I still wanted the magazines. Well, since he offered me the refund, I took it. I spent the money on eBay instead.

Yahoo auctions are gone, closed about a year ago. If Amazon’s auctions are still open, they’re sure doing a good job of hiding them.

If another company wants to get a piece of eBay’s business, the time is right. There are lots of refugee eBay sellers looking for someplace a little cheaper, with a little more stable set of rules where they can sell. And if a large enough group of them take up shop somewhere, there are plenty of buyers more than willing to follow them there.

It may not happen this year. But I do think it’s only a matter of time.

No reason for brand wars

On one of the train forums I frequent, a legitimate question quickly degenerated into brand wars. And brand wars are one thing, but when people hold their preferred company to a different standard than the other company–in other words, one company is evil because it does something, but their preferred company does the same thing, it isn’t productive.

Actually, I see very little reason for brand loyalty as it is. I drive a Honda and I use a Compaq computer. Do either of those companies have any loyalty to me? No. To them, I’m just a source of income from yesterday.I don’t like the categorization of companies as "good" and "evil." Companies don’t exist to be good or evil. Companies exist for one reason: Make money. And one thing to remember is that companies will always do exactly what they think they can get away with.

In the case of the toy train wars, the two antagonists are Lionel and MTH. MTH is a scrappy underdog that got its start building trains as a subcontractor for Lionel. A business deal went bad–in short, Lionel left MTH high and dry on a multimillion dollar project, so MTH decided to go on its own and sell the product Lionel decided it didn’t want, but Lionel didn’t like the idea of one of its subcontractors competing with it while also making product for them, and understandably so.

MTH and Lionel have been mortal enemies ever since.

A few years ago, MTH accused Lionel of stealing trade secrets. The specifics are difficult to sort out, but someone with intimate knowledge of some of MTH’s products started designing equivalent products for Lionel. MTH sued and won, to the tune of $40 million. The case is now in appeal.

There’s no question that Lionel benefited from this contractor’s knowledge of the competing product. The question is who knew this was going on, who authorized it, and what an appropriate punishment would be. The only people who are questioning guilt have blinders on. There is no innocence here–just possible degrees of guilt. The other question is appropriateness. Lionel doesn’t have $40 million in the bank. Arguably the company isn’t worth a lot more than $40 million. So that $40 million judgment is essentially the corporate death penalty.

MTH is anything but perfect and holy, however. The thing that bothers me most about MTH is its attempt to patent elements of DCC (Digital Command Control), a method for automating train layouts. It’s an open industry standard, widely used by HO and N scale hobbyists. So MTH was seeking to collect royalties on something that’s supposed to be free for everyone to use. That’s a particular pet peeve of mine, and it’s the reason I haven’t bought any MTH products since 2003.

I came close to relenting this weekend though, when I saw some people bashing MTH while holding Lionel up as some kind of perfect, holy standard. It made me want to go buy a bunch of MTH gear, photograph myself with it, and post it on some forums so I could watch these guys have a stroke about it. Fortunately for them, I have better things to do with $200 right now. I also looked on my layout, and I don’t know where I could put the things I would have considered buying.

I’m more familiar with the computer industry than I am with anything else, and if you mention any computer company, I can probably think of something they did that would fit most people’s definition of evil. HP? Print cartridges that lie about being empty. Lexmark? Same thing, plus using the DMCA to keep you from refilling them. Dell? Nonstandard pinouts on power supplies that look standard, but blow up your motherboard if you try to use non-Dell equipment. IBM? Microchannel. Microsoft? Don’t get me started. Apple? Lying in ads.

As far as I’m concerned though, the most evil company of all is Disney. Disney, of all people? Yes. Disney is the main reason for the many complicated rewrites of copyright law that we’ve had in recent decades. Whenever something Disney values might fall into the public domain, Disney buys enough congressmen to get the laws changed. Never mind that early in its history, Disney exploited the public domain for its gain as much as anyone (which was its legal right), even to the point of waiting for The Jungle Book to fall into the public domain before making the movie, in order to avoid paying royalties to Rudyard Kipling. The problem is that now that Disney is the biggest kid on the block, it’s changing the rules it used to get there, so that nobody else can do it.

Unfortunately I’ve even seen not-for-profit corporations, companies that exist mostly to give away money, do dishonest things and essentially steal. If a charity can and will do these things, you can be certain that a for-profit corporation will.

So I don’t see any reason for brand loyalty, aside from liking a product. If you buy a company’s products and you like them, fine. Keep buying them. But that doesn’t make the people who prefer a competitor’s product evil. They didn’t sign off on the decisions, and your favorite company has done its own share of underhanded things too, whether you know it or not.

And there’s certainly no reason to go to war for your company of choice. It wouldn’t do the same for you.