Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oven Mitts and the Printer From Hell

It once took me six months to buy oven mitts.

I am not, by nature, an indecisive person. But I am a researcher. Before committing to anything, I research extensively to make sure I'm making a good choice: the highest quality for the lowest price within the limits of my budget. I plan, I make lists... to look at my house (and my car) you would not think of me as a type A personality, and according to the tests I found on the internet, I'm not. Experts wrote those, man! But in this one area, I definitely meet the criteria.

In college, I had this neat pair of cow-splotch oven mitts. They (and my cow-splotch canister set and kitchen towel) were a housewarming gift from my grandmother for my first apartment. Those mitts carried countless pans of cookies through college apartments, my first home as a married woman, the birth of my son and the throes of my divorce. They finally burned through to my fingers in my post-divorce apartment.

I had known I needed new mitts, mind you. But these mitts had lasted so long... what if the next pair sucked? I didn't want to be buying new mitts all the time. And what if I didn't like the color? I'd be stuck with it for ten years! You can't just jump into these things. So off and on for six months, I would shop for oven mitts, but there was always a reason to reject them. Until the day my finger actually slipped through the hole and touched the cookie sheet. That week I bought a quilted dark-blue pair and never looked back.

I promise this has something to do with printers.

Three or four years ago, I grew tired of constant paper jams and lousy quality with the Epson printer that came free with my computer. So I commenced research on printers. I was working partly from home by then, so I needed a machine that would really fill in the gaps for the office equipment to which I no longer had regular access: scanner, copier, fax machine. I was also enamored of the idea that I could print my own photos, though I considered that optional. I am a scrapbooker, after all, even if I am about eight years behind.

Most of all, I was not interested in spending a fortune on ink. The cost of Epson ink was about three times what the printer was worth, and it drank ink like a sailor downs beer. I read the reviews on a dozen websites, researched ink costs on every brand, and settled on the Kodak ESP 9250, top of its line. It was not a cheap printer, but it did everything I wanted and boasted of the lowest-cost ink refills in the market. This, at least, was true.

Those who have followed #PrinterFromHell on Twitter know where this is going.

Someone was kind enough to buy me the Kodak as a present. It was a fantastic present. I set it up and it worked marvelously - for three months. Then it stopped printing in color. I figured it was out of ink, so I bought a new ink cartridge. Nothing changed.

Kodak technical support and I became good friends. First it was "replace the printhead." Then it wouldn't print anything but blank pages. Finally they decided the printer itself was defective, and sent me a new one; but told me to use the old printhead. That worked about as well as you'd expect; it printed very poor quality test pages and couldn't find the wireless network with both hands and a flashlight.

Over and over again, months and months, I would schedule Printer Nights where I would do nothing but wrestle with the printer, sometimes with Kodak on the phone, sometimes not. They replaced the printhead two more times, the printer declared itself out of ink with a brand-new cartridge installed, photos became impossible. Then the one-year mark passed, and I couldn't get "help" from Kodak anymore. It never did find the wireless network again.

A few months ago, I had a chance to ditch this oversized paperweight when a friend was upgrading to an HP and offered me his printer. It was an older-model Dell, which likewise did everything I needed it to do. I was so excited; I happily boxed up the Printer From Hell and exiled it to the basement, while I set up my Dell. Which does, in fact, work perfectly.

It just doesn't work with Mac.

I was on the phone with both Dell representatives and Apple Geniuses, which is like conferring with the Hatfields and the McCoys. Apparently, Dell really doesn't want you to buy a Mac, so they refuse to develop drivers for their printers to operate in an Apple OS. And Apple couldn't care less, since every HP, Canon, Epson and (yuck) Kodak printer works fine in their OS. I had the one printer that would never be able to talk to any computer in my house.

Cue laugh track.

Right after car repairs and paying off my last credit card, I have "BUY NEW PRINTER" on my tax-return priority sheet. The money is here, and I have done my research. I've discovered ebates, read the reviews, polled Facebook and gotten testimonials from friends. I have narrowed my choices down to four options.

I am apparently incapable of making the final decision. And I am quite frustrated with myself.

Why? Because I did my due diligence with the Kodak and got burned more badly than my finger slipping through the oven mitt. A printer is a bigger commitment than oven mitts by about tenfold, and I still spent six months on that nonsense.

My choices boil down to a fundamental religion: laser or inkjet? I am nearly persuaded by the laser cult, with their low cost of printing zillions of pages and how often do you need color anyway? But then my friends with their shiny HPs sing the praises of their fantastic printers and I waver....

Here are my options, my friends, and you must help me decide. I don't have six months to wait, here. My wish list is all that I wanted the Kodak to be, though photos are optional (ish; I am getting married, after all, somebody might take pictures) and I really would prefer wireless options so I don't have to run up the stairs to the office every time I want to print an email coupon. Fax is negotiable; I need the option, but the phone line in the office doesn't work and I haven't explored how much it will cost to fix. I really need to RECEIVE faxes more than send them.

So here goes ....

a) Laser Workhorse. Buy a Brother 7860 black-and-white all-in-one. It is the high end - $199 full price - but it has wireless capability, copies and scans and faxes, and the toner cartridge is $45 at full price (and I'm betting there are deals to be found). It supposedly will go 2600 pages on that cartridge. Brother appears to be far more popular in laser than inkjet, and it says it talks to Mac with no issues. Downside: no color, and it is pretty expensive.

b) Laser Cheapout: Buy the $70 Brother laser printer that only prints, and outsource my scanning, copying and faxing to the copy shop. I don't have any real idea how much that will cost over the course of, say, three years, but it's a way to save money. Downside: no wireless... or any of the other stuff I wanted, plus the pain-in-the-ass factor. 

c) Inkjet Awesome. Buy the HP Officejet Pro 8600, which two people I know have purchased and adore. It has wireless and wired capability, a built-in photo card reader and scans up to legal size. It does everything but make you coffee, and HP is apparently THE name in inkjet printers. It's a hefty $250 at full price, but I have spied it on sale as low as $175. Downside: Ink is $28 for black and $20 each for three colors - not the high-yield cartridges, either. That makes it a pricey $88 for all the ink, and who knows how often the ink will need to be replaced?

d) Inkjet Photo Awesome. Buy the HP Photosmart 7520, which is more designed for a home office than an office office. A reasonable $129, it does everything I want plus really nice photos, it's an HP, I can send a photo from my phone to my wireless network at home and the printer has the photo waiting for me when I get home (why this would be necessary, I don't know) and also makes julienne fries. Downside: It does not have wired capability - wireless only - which could be a pain if the network is acting up. Though I do have a fairly stable network, my faith is not with Charter. Black ink is a staggeringly low $12, but there are also three colors AND a "photo black ink" cartridge at $18 each, for about $84 total at regular-yield sizes.

Jimmy and I have bounced this back and forth several times. We're pretty sure we don't want to cheap out completely - after all, this is a work machine, and I am tired of slogging to the copy shop all the time. HP really seems to be on the ball with this whole printer thing, but their cheapest laser all-in-one with wireless capability is $259 with a $68 toner cartridge. And a color laser all-in-one? You must be joking.

I am frustrated with myself that I can't seem to commit, despite my well-known issues with commitment (poor Jimmy). It's a printer, for heaven's sake; in three or four years I'll probably have to buy another one. It's not like we're talking about oven mitts here. Now those really hang around.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I am not a lawyer, but I watch them on TV

Tomorrow I have to go into court and argue a case before a judge. This is slightly outside my job description.

I can't recall a time when I've been so nervous. Getting engaged was less terrifying. Watch me stride on stage and sing a song. Mugged three times, didn't have time to be scared (and won all three fights). Even the Meanest Judge in All the Land wasn't as frightening as this, because at least I didn't know I was going into the lion's den until I got there.

Some folks have asked what the lawsuit is about. This is my attempt to answer that question, and maybe you'll know why I'm nervous.

Some time ago, Jimmy's doctor sent him for an X-ray to the lab next door. We thought it was part of his doctor's office; they have labs in most locations. Turns out it was operated by [Hospital Redacted], which then billed us for $238.

Jimmy's insurance, which was worth about as much as the stick of gum you don't get in a pack of baseball cards anymore, declined to pay. We filed an appeal and asked for Hospital's patience. They showed none and sent it to a lawyer, who then filed a small claims suit. Yes, for $238.

As soon as it was filed, we called the lawyer and negotiated. It was a difficult conversation. I have not been as angry in most of my adult life as I was during that conversation. We tried to tell him we hadn't heard from the insurance company yet on our appeal; he was totally uninterested. The highlight was when he told me to "shut up and maybe you'll learn something."

That made me so angry I handed the phone to Jimmy, because I was going to blow the whole thing if I had to speak one more word. Despite this decidedly unpleasant conversation, we negotiated a settlement on the amount. So be it. Jimmy paid the man $150 to start.

Imagine our surprise to find a default judgment entered against us for more than $800. Apparently we failed to show up in court. Um, yes, because we had reached a settlement. Attorney had no problem cashing our checks, but somehow forgot to mention that we'd settled to the court. And this obscene amount is apparently what the court awarded him.

He didn't tell us about the judgment, either; no one did. In the meantime, Jimmy was laid off. Then Factory of the Damned called him back for a brief two-week stint, and there was a garnishment on his paycheck. We looked into it and surprise! It was from Attorney and Hospital, and now suddenly we've got a packet from a garnishment company and papers from the court. We showed up to file our answers to interrogatories (what interrogatories? none were sent to us) and that's when we saw the default judgment for $800 on the clerk's screen. I thought they had the wrong lawsuit at first.

So we filed an appeal of the judgment, and had to do it right then and there because time was running out, so I'm sure it was a mess. And now we go to court tomorrow.

We have no problem paying the bills that we owe. But this guy pretended we didn't have a settlement so he could ratchet up his fees as high as possible. I cannot stand by and let this lawyer sucker Jimmy for nearly four times the amount of the initial bill because he thinks we're too stupid to stand up for our rights, even if we had that kind of money just lying around. Which, of course, we don't. Jimmy is an honorable man, and has spent what little unemployment he received keeping up on his car payment and child support. It angers me that this much nonsense has embroiled us over a $238 bill, and angers me more that he has to be late to work on his first week in a new job to deal with this.

Jimmy has a job now, and I'll gladly write the check for the remainder on what we initially owed. I'll ask the judge to set aside that default judgment, as it was obtained under false pretenses. But I'm too nervous to breathe, because this is not what I do. I watch the lawyers from the back row, and hear the verdicts so I can write about them. I'm way, way out of my league, and I don't want to make anything worse.

Wish us luck. They say the man who represents himself has a fool for a client...