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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 5 Issue 1January 2011
In This Issue
Your inkjet printer's dirty little secret
I recommend: Emerson Over-The-Head Bluetooth Headset
Your inkjet printer has a secret that you should learn about. Here's my advice on this simple but potentially messy issue.
Your inkjet printer's dirty little secret

The problem you can see
If you use an inkjet printer, have you ever seen thin horizontal "white lines" in your printouts? This is caused by some of the printer's "jets" getting clogged, which prevents them from spraying their tiny, precisely-formed drops of ink onto the paper. Your printer may even have produced large white areas, which occurs when most or all of its jets get clogged.

What causes clogs?
There are two main causes of clogged ink jets:
  • The tiny bit of ink at the jet's opening dries up and blocks the nozzle, much like leaving a pen uncapped would dry out the ink at its tip.
  • Changing ink cartridges introduces air into the print head, and the air bubbles interfere with the flow of ink and can also create dried specks of ink inside the cartridge. (In printers where the print heads and cartridges are a single unit, replacing the ink also replaces the print head, so this particular problem doesn't occur, but the combined cartridge/print heads cost more to replace.)
The solution that you can see
Most inkjet printers have a "cleaning" function you can invoke, either by using the printer software on your computer or by pushing the correct sequence of buttons on the printer's front panel. The cleaning function shoots ink through all of the nozzles in an attempt to moisten and dislodge any clogged ink. Since this doesn't always clear all of the clogs on the first try, you will sometimes have to run the cleaning cycle more than once. Some of the time you may even find that the clogs get worse!

The explanation that you can't see
If you think about the nozzle-cleaning process, you might ask yourself: Where does that waste ink go? Your inkjet printer has a power cord and a parallel or USB data cable, but it doesn't have a waste ink drainpipe, and it doesn't spray that excess ink onto a piece of paper during the cleaning process.

For consumer-level inkjet printers, there seem to be two solutions to this problem:
  • Some models (including Epson printers) have absorbent pads or sponges in a pan under the print mechanism that collect the waste ink.
  • Other models (including HP printers) have an open plastic tray (called the "spittoon") where the waste ink collects.
In either design, the waste ink is collected in an internal container that is open to the air, so it will dry out to some degree, but ink sludge will build up over time and eventually overflow or interfere with the printer's ability to function. Don't panic! This will take a number of years. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for the average consumer to take a printer apart and clean out or replace this container.

Some printers try to protect you
In January 2001 I bought a very good inkjet printer, an Epson Stylus Color 860. It still works well today, although in recent years it has developed a minor problem with envelopes. In April 2010 it suddenly stopped printing, and its front panel displayed a pattern (all lights flashing) that was not listed in the user manual. I searched online and eventually found the explanation: My printer's "Protection Counter" had exceeded the recommended level. It turns out that all these years the software inside my printer has kept track of how much waste ink the cleaning function has ever consumed. Like a specialized odometer, this Protection Counter is the printer's way of predicting when its overflow ink pads may be near their capacity. When I learned how complicated it was just to get inside the printer and get access to the pads, I decided it wasn't worth the time and effort. I also found a little program that reset my printer's Protection Counter back to 0, so I can print once again, but I've also put some paper towels under it to catch the inevitable ink spill from the overflow pad.

Older printers may give you an unwelcome surprise
In 2009, a client of mine bought a new computer, which also came with a free printer. Her old Epson Stylus C40UX inkjet printer was still working fine, but since she didn't need two printers she gave the older one to me to find it a good home. I brought it back to my house, but in the course of carrying it to and from my car, I wasn't careful to keep it level at all times. She had been using that printer long before I started working with her in 2005, so it was probably at least 5 years old. As you can imagine, some ink started to drip out from one end of the printer, most likely from the overflow ink pads. It was far too much work to try to open it up and clean the mess, so I brought it to a local electronics recycling place.

Where to go from here
  • When your inkjet printer develops clogged jets, I recommend using the cleaning function to clear its nozzles no more than three times before switching to replacing the corresponding ink cartridges, so you don't waste more ink than necessary.
  • If your inkjet printer is more than 5 or 6 years old, I recommend putting some paper towels under it in case its waste ink collection tray overflows. Also, be careful when moving an old printer, as you may tilt it and spill the ink in its overflow tray, which can create a surprising mess.
  • See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inkjet_spittoon for some photos of an HP inkjet spittoon.
  • If your printer no longer works, rather than throwing it in the trash, consider recycling it. Many towns have local electronics recycling programs, and many printer manufacturers will recycle it for you as well. For example, if you go to http://www.epson.com or http://www.hp.com and type "recycle" into the Search box, you'll find that Epson and Hewlett-Packard offer many recycling options.
If you're confused or frustrated by something on your computer, I like to say, "You can do it!" You might just need a little encouragement, or information, or change of perspective, and that's where I come in.
I recommend: Emerson Over-The-Head Bluetooth Headset

I spend a fair amount of time on the phone. I like using a headset, and over the years I've found good headsets for both landline phones and cell phones. These headsets have all had two things in common:
  • They connected to the phone using a wire that plugs into the phone's 2.5mm headset jack, and
  • They have an over-the-head band, which I find more comfortable than an in-ear earbud or an over-the-ear clip design.
In 2008 I tried an over-the-ear Bluetooth headset with my Bluetooth-capable cell phone in order to eliminate that wire. (Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology that permits two devices to communicate up to 30 feet apart.) I found that not only was its ear clip uncomfortable, even at maximum volume it was difficult to hear well, especially in noisy environments, even when pressing it against my ear. I had tried to find Bluetooth headsets with an over-the-head design, but there were very few models on the market, and they were very expensive.

In 2010 I happened to take another look, and found that over-the-head Bluetooth headsets had become more widely available, and at much more reasonable prices. After reading reviews of various models, one particular comment convinced me to try the Emerson Over-The-Head Bluetooth Headset, model nr. EM-237C. It was from a long-distance trucker who explained that even in his extremely noisy truck, he had to turn that headset's volume down to hear his calls on his cell phone.

More information about this product:
  • Prices range: $32 to $45
  • Some vendors list the model number as "EM-237C", others as "EM237C".
  • It runs on a built-in rechargeable battery. It comes with a car charger, a wall charger, and a USB cable that also lets you charge the battery using your computer.
  • With a wired headset you would plug its cord into a headset jack on your phone. Like any other Bluetooth (wireless) headset, you have to "pair" the EM-237C with your cell phone before you can use it. This is a little procedure you perform that "introduces" it to your phone.
  • Company web site: http://www.emersonphones.com
  • User manual: http://southerntelecom.com/emersonsupport/downloads/EM237.pdf
  • Important feature not mentioned in the manual (this happens with the unit that I have, I assume they all do this): The headset will turn itself off after 10 minutes of being idle, probably to save battery power. In other words, if you've powered on the headset and made some calls, then spend more than 10 minutes off the phone, you will need to turn the headset back on before you make another call or you'll find yourself wondering why you can't hear anything through the headset even though your call has gone through.
  • This headset also works with Bluetooth-enabled computers, which makes it useful with other technologies like Skype, as well as listening to music or watching movies on your computer.
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2011 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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