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Businesses Technology

eFax Hell? 71

RH Wesson asks: "We use eFax to distribute a 3 page fax once a week to about 75 customers of ours. Yesterday we uploaded a postscript version of our 3 page fax instead of the usual PDF version using the eFax Manager on Windows. We started getting calls from our customers about a 300+ page fax of garbage (it was really postscript source) We spent hours with eFax requesting them to stop the sending of the garbage. eFax was never able to stop it, in fact we spent hours trying to determine if the fax was even in their queue. In short we lost a lot of business that day and managed to piss off ALL of our customers at once. We are going back to using a regular fax machine. Has anyone else had a situation where the danger of technology loosing you business outweigh the efficiencies gained?"
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eFax Hell?

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  • Efax does not accept them as far as I know. That would be mistake #1. What advantages would a PS file possibly have over a PDF, did you just want to try to save in a new format willy nilly? Do you run a business or a fun house?
  • Bwahahaha (Score:3, Funny)

    by snorklebarf ( 775384 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:30PM (#9565539)
    Sorry, that's just funny. But I shouldn't be laughing at your problems.
    Aaaaanyway, the "dangers" of modern day technology! BAH! The SAME THING happened to me ..well, not the SAME thing.. with a regular fax machine. I was going to send a 4 or 5 page fax to a partner... with the fax machine that was known to be "acting up". I just put the papers in the tray, hit the speed dial and Send and left.... only to come back about an hour later to find that the fax was still transmitting. Next day I got a call from our partner, telling me i owed them a roll of fax paper :). Thank God for office supplies.
  • Testing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Prien715 ( 251944 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `epopcitsonga'> on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:33PM (#9565578) Journal
    It sounds like you didn't do much testing. I write programs to do jobs at my work, and though I believe in my abilities, I also don't believe I'm God. Therefore, I test everything thoroughly before I use them in production. And I'm public sector. In the private sector, it's even more crucial as your customers can actually walk away.

    You should've tested this new fax technology, in house and then by setting up a group of "special" customers (give them a small discount as incentive) to beta test it with (and since they know there could be errors and they are being compensated, they won't be pissed when there are bugs). After the new fax technology works for a month or two (depending on how much it's used), then, and only then, begin using for everyone. Repeat this procedure on a smaller scale if you are using the software in a never-before-used-way. This technique really goes for most technology.
    • Re:Testing (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @07:16PM (#9565974)
      That was take as well.

      Why did you change something that was working?
      Why did you not test something before it went live?
      Why are you blaming eFax?
      Why do you still have a job?

      We all screw up but most of us do not broadcast the fact on /.
    • What kind of beta test is that? Someone just output PS instead of PDF. that shoulda worked no problem. Maybe they should have just sent a PS fax to themselves first, and learn to make it a habit.
      • Most PDF viewers do not work with postscript directly (excluding Ghostscript, but it's not very good with PDF). I don't know why you would assume postscript would work.
        • I question your statement that Ghostscript is not very good with PDF. It generates better PDF than anything else I've dealt with; I use it to make PDFs more digestible to our Harlequin RIP. And while it is a bit cumbersome as a PDF viewer, it's not really designed as one -- gsview has that role.
          • It generates better PDF than anything else I've dealt with

            Except Adobe Acrobat.

            And while it is a bit cumbersome as a PDF viewer, it's not really designed as one -- gsview has that role.

            This really shows you're clueless. What do you think the "gs" in "gsview" stands for?
            • Acrobat PDFs suck.

              ghostscript is not gsview. They are separate products. If you think they are the same, you are the one lacking clues.

              I'm done here.
              • ghostscript is not gsview

                I didn't say it was. gsview is Ghostscript. Here's a link [wisc.edu] if you don't believe me. From the linked README: "GSview is a graphical interface for Ghostscript". So I'm "the one lacking clues"?

                Acrobat PDFs are smaller, loader faster, and generally have less problems than those generated by Ghostscript.
          • Ummm... Let's see, it doesn't open half the PDFs I encounter and it doesn't support using the table of contents feature or links, thus making it nearly useless for viewing PDFs. And Adobe Acrobat is definitely much better for generating PDFs.
            • 1. Try upgrading.

              2. TOC and links are damn near useless in my book. The proper role of PDFs is as a portable format for representing material to be printed. Everything else the idiot savants at Adobe have crammed into the spec is gravy designed to suck in dollars for them. There are a thousand document formats that are less cumbersome and more featureful than PDF for online viewing.

              3. On my watch, Distiller has generated PDFs that won't color-separate properly. Ghostscript never has.

              I'm done here.
      • that shoulda worked no problem

        Everything you try "should work". If it were supposed to fail, you wouldn't be doing it at all. That's not an excuse for not testing to confirm.
  • It would never occur to me to even attempt to send EFax a postscript file; what made you think that the driver was compatible?
  • by Cecil ( 37810 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:41PM (#9565663) Homepage
    That's why businesses have policies, procedures, rules, and those sorts of things. I realize they're no fun, but they prevent shit like that from happening.

    Was your switch to eFax just a whim too? I certainly hope not. Was the first thing you sent through it a full-scale mailing to all your clients? I certainly hope not.

    Blaming and dumping eFax is not the solution here. You should've tested your change in procedure. They worked fine with the old procedure. If your your office building burned down, would you move all 50 people back to your company's old 4-person office because it never had that problem?
    • I understand your position and agree with it. But underlying the position is the assumption that the basic technology can't be trusted because it sometimes just doesn't work.

      This is limitation resulting from first generation 20th century software. 21st century software will note that a person is sending an unusually large document and check (using OCR and a spell checker in the local language on the random portions of the file) to see if it is a rogue transmission (like the common occurance cited abov
      • "So I'm going to go against your decision that this was the customer's fault for not closely monitoring a format change"

        It's a case of "caveat emptor", or "let the buyer beware": on the one hand, you could blame eFax for the fault, but at the same time, as anyone who deals with business software knows, you always test first.
      • So I'm going to go against your decision that this was the customer's fault for not closely monitoring a format change. I believe that it's partially eFax's fault for not coding their service against a common and catostophic client error.

        No, eFax's software did *exactly* what it is supposed to do. It is *designed* to accept text input as well as PDF, but not PostScript. This is not a bug, but a feature - you can very easily send faxes just by generating a regular ASCII text file. The PostScript output
        • Shit Happens (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Detritus ( 11846 )
          eFax's software may have met its design specifications, but I would argue that the specifications were not well thought out.

          Back in the Stone Age, when I ran batch jobs on mainframes, it was common feature of the operating system to automatically abort any jobs that exceeded their resource limits. The resources were things like CPU time, memory usage, number of pages printed. There were default values for the limits and the limits could be modified by Job Control Language directives included at the beginn

      • by Cecil ( 37810 ) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @02:46PM (#9573579) Homepage
        That may be your optimal world, but it's not realistic.

        Garbage-in, Garbage-out. The software cannot think of every possible error condition or mistake. Trying to do so like all the shitty Microsoft products do and lulling people into a false sense of security will turn out much worse than keeping them on their toes, never entirely trusting the software.

        The engineers at my company always test their results. Always. No matter how advanced the software becomes, they will always test their results. Because it's very damn important that they're right. Important enough that they will always check. Period.

        It is not the responsibility of the software to do your job for you.

        Now, one could argue that it *IS* still the responsibility of eFax, if you had some sort of agreement with them. Any sort of SLA or contract, such that you were outsourcing this to them. In that case, eFax should be vetting every fax they receive by an actual human being. It would be trivial to glance at the phone numbers being sent to, the first few pages of a fax to make sure they aren't spewing garbage, and various other simple checks.

        Trusting the software to do it is absolutely not the right way to do it. It will never be as accurate as a human. Humans have reasoning and logic. Software only has logic. No amount of logic will make something foolproof. Until someone invents a decent artificial intelligence that does bring some reasoning into the equation, that is the way it will remain.
        • The software cannot think of every possible error condition or mistake.

          No one has ever claimed that it should (and I think you know that). Just because you can't detect every possible error in all cases is not an excuse for failing to try to detect the most common or easily detectable errors and issue a warning. An email containing hundreds of pages of gargabe sent to multiple recipients should trigger some sort of warning to the user that this might not be what they intended.
        • It is not the responsibility of the software to do your job for you.

          There's a big difference between assuming responsibility and anticipating some boundry condition errors your users may create.

          For instance, if I select all 600 messages in my InBox and hit return, AppleMail will come up and say, "are you sure you want to open 600 windows?"

          It's an error that could reasonably happen and I've done it a few times myself. The engineers wisely added a simple check to help out the user.

          Likewise, the eFax fol
      • This is limitation resulting from first generation 20th century software. 21st century software will note that a person is sending an unusually large document and check (using OCR and a spell checker in the local language on the random portions of the file) to see if it is a rogue transmission

        Good God, I hope not.

        It looks like you're trying to write a letter! Would you like some tips?

        Sounds familiar? That's what you get when some idiot programmer decides to try to outsmart the users by guessing wh

  • by cornice ( 9801 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:45PM (#9565706)
    I have to admit that I have experienced my share of frustration with EFax but this question rings of retribution more than a real request for answers.
  • Heh (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jerf ( 17166 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:48PM (#9565737) Journal
    Only with computers can you make millions of mistakes per second.
  • Dear sir,

    As a large producer of computer programs and utilities, we too have found
    that the advantages of technology do not out weigh their ability to piss off
    customers. On a regular basis our applications commit infractions against the people we are striving to aid.
    We do however endeavour to force people into accepting the fact that
    technology is not infallible and that glitches occasionally occur.
    To this end I must stress that although all our products are tested in controlled
    environments, that u
  • Test fax (Score:5, Funny)

    by k4_pacific ( 736911 ) <k4_pacific@yTEAahoo.com minus caffeine> on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:54PM (#9565803) Homepage Journal
    Perhaps it might be prudent to send the file to a single fax machine first, to make sure that this won't happen in the future. As for the current siuation, perhaps you can fax your customers some blank paper to make up the loss.

    Next week on Ask Slashdot:
    Same guy writes: I faxed my customers an apology for crapflooding their fax machines, but eFax misinterpreted the PostScript file again and they got another 300 pages of garbage. They're really pissed now. Man, is eFax screwy or what?
    • Someone beat me to it. I was about to ask why the hell you didn't try it out on yourself or someone who wouldn't get pissed off first.

      If this is your first time using some form of technology **dig dig**>, someone should have warned you it doesn't always work like it says on the pretty brochure.

  • Once upon a time... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DaveJay ( 133437 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @06:55PM (#9565806)
    When I was new to web programming, about seven years ago, I was making one of my first web sites for a client. It featured a mailing list you could sign up for, so that the client could send you advertising. Ugh. It was initially seeded with a list they obtained from a hastily-made (by someone else) "give us your email address" form on the old site, which also asked for home address and whatnot. Hundreds of people were on the list.

    Well, before the mailing list functionality was finished, the client called -- they wanted the password for posting messages to the list.

    I told them no, because it wasn't done yet. They went to my boss, my boss said "give them the password", to which I said "okay, but make sure they don't use it yet, because it's not working properly. I don't know what would happen."

    Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), they ignored me. That night, they sent out a single-word email to the hundreds of people on the list.

    The email said "test".

    Unfortunately, the email also had, as a Word attachment, THE NAMES AND ADDRESSES OF THOUSANDS OF CUSTOMERS OF THIS CLIENT. I can only assume (they never took the blame) that the owner of the company (who requested the password) wanted to "test" if the mailing list could handle attachments.

    To top it all off, since the functionality wasn't done yet (and I was too naive to think they'd ignore my advice not to use the list yet), the mailing list was broken. The reply-to address was the mailing list's address, and the password feature was, unbeknownst to me, broken.

    Every response to the "test" mailing (usually "why did you send me these people's addresses?!?") was automatically sent out to everyone on the list.

    Uh oh.

    This became a problem around 9am EST, when people started checking their email at work. By the time I found out about it an hour later, thousands of emails were flying around, lawsuits were being threatened, and our client insisted it was ME who sent out the test email. I felt especially bad for the webTV users on the list, who couldn't delete the mail as fast as it was coming in.

    At the end of the day, I spend the entire week calling and emailing people to apologize on behalf of the client -- not because the client wanted it, as the client wanted us to tell the customers to GTH -- but because I felt so awful about clogging their mailboxes with garbage.

    Lessons learned:

    1. Always keep technology disabled until it's tested and ready to be run;
    2. Never develop in a production environment;
    3. Clients never listen, and never own up to their own mistakes;
    4. People do genuinely feel much better when you apologize for your mistakes by phone than they do when you do it by email.

    • Hee hee...

      OK, this is not in the same class as the OP or the parent, but I have found that when I try to print at work using Samba, it has about a 50% probability of hanging the queue until somebody power cycles the printer. A good way to get unpopular and promote negative attitudes about Linux among your co-workers :-)

    • I completely emphathise on two counts. Clients are morons, and would never pass up the oppurtunity to put the blame on you. Which is why I've learnt to document all communication/requests with the client in a fail-safe place. That way, you keep your a** covered when things do go wrong.

      And yup, shifting media when the channels of communication breaks down in one is always a good idea. Not only can you appeal to people at a different level, you can also take a little time off, reflect on the situation and t

  • I use eFax only for receiving faxes, not sending them. I can't imagine why you'd spend the extra money to send faxes. The whole point behind eFax is so that you don't have to have a dedicated phone line and a fax machine connected 24/7.
    • Well, the whole point of his endeavor was to send the same fax to 75 people. With one fax machine, that could be painful.
    • I am very satisfied with eFax. eFax is a pretty good way to send faxes from the road, where all you might have is an internet connection. You do not have to pay $/page to a drugstore or hotel, have someone else's fax header on your transmission, or reveal your physical location to the recipient. eFax is an awesome way to receive faxes, you get your own fax number, your faxes come to your email inbox wherever you are as .TIF attachments. eFax is also useful for scanning documents into your PC in .TIF for
  • by invisik ( 227250 ) * on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @07:05PM (#9565878) Homepage
    I agree with everyone else--you shouldn't have changed from PDF to PS. I can't imagine PS is supported (appears not from your results).

    Internet-based faxing solution are really good things(tm). I don't want a paper fax machine hanging around and I don't want to dink with faxmodem sharing and all that. I really like having everything show up in my Inbox, as I can receive faxes while not at my office.

    I would read up on the capabilities of their service and beg them to let you come back.

  • Has anyone else had a situation where the danger of technology loosing you business outweigh the efficiencies gained?

    Yes, absolutely, every day. This is what most technology jobs are about. If technology was flawless, then most of us wouldn't have jobs at all.

    And technology isn't flawless. In fact, alot of technology gets more and more complex every year. eFax is supposed to be simple to use, yet people still email me eFax attachments every year (Write plain text document in Word, convert the .doc to eFax, email to me. Argggg...)

    In your case, it sounds like you or someone else in your company was too hasty to use PS formats instead of PDFs.

    It's hard to tell if you simply misunderstood how to upload a .ps document into eFax properly, or if you actually triggered a bug within eFax. Either way, you should have tested this major change before pushing it out.
  • by thecampbeln ( 457432 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @07:29PM (#9566078) Homepage
    ...is to have a formal apology letter PERSONALLY signed by your CEO along with a CASE of paper (to make up for the waisted paper from the 300 page fax, and for the toner for that matter). It might cost you a bit, but I think it would go a long way to mend a few fences, so to speak.
  • Yup (Score:2, Funny)

    by DesScorp ( 410532 )
    "Has anyone else had a situation where the danger of technology loosing you business outweigh the efficiencies gained?"

    It was called Windows...
  • Hah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ksc ( 651788 )
    Has anyone else had a situation where the danger of technology loosing you business outweigh the efficiencies gained?

    If the tech industry will continue to be ruled by Business Major idiots, we'll see this every day or every week, and more of it all the time... *sigh*

    I've been in the business for only 10 years, but I've seen this stuff every-day...
  • eFax DOES support PS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @10:13PM (#9567129)
    As seen here> [efax.com]
    Sounds like they screwed you, dude.

    Or you had some app that barfed out nonstandard PS code.
    • That still doesn't answer the question of why switch from a format known to work to another without testing it. This is a production system. Someone wasn't thinking and they want eFax to take all the blame rather than own up to their share of it.
    • In my experience, if you don't tell your postscript printer to use ascii coded image data you can get crazy compatibility errors. That is probably why efax screwed up.
  • "Loosing" (Score:4, Informative)

    by antizeus ( 47491 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2004 @10:15PM (#9567137)
    See here: Loose-Lose [bgu.edu]
    • You, sir, should be modded up.

      It's bad enough when this "loose" trash ends up in the comments. But on the front page?! Drives me absolutely crazy
  • by stvangel ( 638594 ) on Wednesday June 30, 2004 @02:04AM (#9568461)
    It's the #1 fax server in the country and quite probably the world. Modesty forbids telling you which one, but it starts with an 'R'. I didn't write the core code, but I've written a lot of the additional functionality and touched the majority of the code base over the years. I trust it to be nice and stable, and it has a reputation for reliability and consistency.

    Having said that, whenever I send a fax I always send it with "Hold for Preview" so I can look at it first. There is often a big difference between the way a document looks when printed and it looks when faxed, and I want to make sure it looks good and is exactly what I want it to be. The best you can get out of fax is 200x200 black & white if you want to have any general compatibility with the fax machines of the world. If for some reason I can't preview it, I send a test one back to myself and make sure that looks ok. Then I forward it to the real destination or send it to them with exactly the same settings and the exact same source.

    People have said "don't you trust your server" and I'm like "would you type a letter and print it out and mail it sight unseen?" There are often differences between the on-screen representation, the printed output, and the faxed output. In particular if you don't realize that fax resolution is 1/6 to 2/3 the resolution of a document printed on a regular printer. I've had people try to fax 600dpi color photos to a 200dpi black and white fax machine then complain about how bad it looks. What do you expect? You have to understand the limitations of your media.
    • Maybe you could fix the SMTP gateway functionality in "R"? Can't change the message it sends (Registry -> SMTP_MSGS_0 = You have recieved a fax), can't disable notification of "Bad characters in fax number" and a few other quirks. Plus, UTF-8 would be nice :-) bah. don't listen to me.
      • What version of "R" are you using? I'll agree with you that it's quirky. This is one of those sections that I only touched on and the original author has left long ago. There was work done specifically for UTF-8 in some of the recent releases and I believe it actually works, but the problem is that the core database of "R" isn't Unicode yet so it's not as complete as it could be. The SMTP gateway doesn't get as much development resources as it should because it's a freebie for most installations. Notes
        • I'm actually quite happy with R. I don't use it, my company sells and supports it (maybe 1000 or more installations in our country). The work that is going on is probably because of my (or my bosses') requests :-) I'm glad you replied, as its nice to meet people on slashdot that you actually relate to in some way. Anyways, R is quite a reliable and easy-going software, our support calls are usually along the lines of "How do I make a cover page?" instead of "My system is b**rked, wtf is going on?" that yo
    • It's the #1 fax server in the country and quite probably the world. Modesty forbids telling you which one, but it starts with an 'R'.


  • Instead of sending out your newsletter by fax, you might want to set it up to work over email. Or give your customers the option to receive either one.

  • We had a similar experience happen to us when we introduced some new/different technology (albeit not with eFax).

    As part of a flood remediation process, we had developed a system for transporting fluids out of a containment area into a waste exhaust line. The base component of the system was a scopa, sometimes also called a besen. Anyway, the system's production was fine until it reached a certain volume threshold, at which point it would become overwhelmed and lag behind. So, one of our junior engineers (
  • Yep, I had that happen to me, too. I wrote a broadcast fax system for my local Chamber of Commerce. It uses Ghostscript to convert PDFs to PostScript, and then uses efax (the Linux command-line fax utility, not the efax.com service) to send the faxes out to their 800+ members and contacts.

    One time, a PDF didn't convert properly, and the recipients started getting faxes with 300 pages of PostScript gibberish. Fortunately we managed to stop it before too many of the faxes went out.

    So, here's what I did t
  • Go out and spend a couple of thousand dollars, get your own fax server.
    Biscom (http://www.biscom.com/) will sell you a Linux-based solution.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.