Jon Olson
Glenn Richter

What’s up with the JA580?

Here’s what I don’t get. (OK, there’s plenty of stuff I don’t get, and not exclusively when it comes to technology: F’rinstance, I don’t even know why the sky’s blue.) But, back to the tech, here are a few items that completely mystify Yrs Trly:

First: Periodically, and for no apparent reason, my combination scanner/copier/fax machine at home (an HP Officejet JA580 All-in-One, or so it says on the control panel, which, small as it is, still has more buttons than I know what to do with) will go through a few seconds of humming and thrumming, clicking and whirring — it even sounds as if the scanning thingamabob is moving across a document — but there’s no document on the glass whoozie, and nobody told it to do anything at all. It’s just as if the fool thing is clearing its virtual throat, and it does this even when the computer’s turned off, even when no one’s even thinking about turning it on. It must do this even when there’s no one home. Creepy.

I did eventually think: “NSA? Maybe they’re using the JA580 to spy on me.” But no, I concluded; a fax machine is way too primitive for those boys.

But my first thought was, well, maybe it’s getting some kind of signal from the hopelessly old-fashioned realm of faxes, wherever that might be. I quickly ruled out “The Cloud,” which all tech-savvy people talk about these days, because it sounds far too modern for fax machines (at first I thought it was sort of a real cloud, only made of info instead of water vapor, that might very well be floating over my house — but, if so, what happens to my data the next time a Piper Cub flies through it?)

But then I thought, no, the technology of the facsimile machine, however it works, has to be much older and simpler than that — sort of like carbon paper compared to what used to be called a Xerox machine — so that eliminates The Cloud as a suspect.

And then I thought, oh wait: How could this odd behavior have anything to do with fax signals, which come over phone lines, when I got rid of my land line years ago? (Don’t tell, but I didn’t make this disconnection connection until after making a couple of dumbbell attempts to send a fax.)

So then I thought, oh wait: All the wires snaking around behind the JA580 are connected to the big black box that I think of as the “server” (even though I strongly suspect I’m not supposed to use that term anymore) and another wire goes to the little black box with the flickering lights — the dumaflinchie from the company that provides my cable TV and Internet service. So now I know that CableCo must be to blame for all these noises (if not for all my problems) and at least now I have someone or something to blame. What a relief.

Second: Other stuff I don’t get includes why all computer manufacturers hide the on/off switch, the most important control on any electronic device.

And how you’re supposed to know when to double-click on something and when to single-click. (Instinct? These two obvious questions are never even mentioned, let alone answered.) And how you’re supposed to be able to read all the tiny type in dialogue boxes and in the controls across the top of the screen. Honestly, some of the words would be a comfortable read only for a spider that happened to be, uh, spider-trotting by.

The list goes on but the page doesn’t, and we’re at the bottom now.

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