Mail Processing Technology, an error and some answers : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

I' like to thank everyone for their support. I just had to say what I see in my job as transpiring due to stupidity and shortsidedness on the part of the policy makers at the PO. Thank you, No Spam Please, for the past link. Would you please link this to the other thread(s).

The rumor mill Says NDSS is now sent by tape from San Mateo CA to the processing plants. That's my error,sorry bout that.No one will give me a straight answer what computers San Mateo uses to maintain the directory but I'm sure it's a VAX using open ended VMS(Geek talk for a high end DEC computer with versatile software).

There have been inspections of ET's tool boxes and "Unauthorized Software" confiscated. So known good backup's are being pulled out of the hands of people who coule ameliorate the problem of hosed software. It hasn't happened in my plant but the writing is on the wall.

I've been told that the model 881 Flat Sorters are now compliant since they shifted to QNX software. Good news for me because I like my magazines.

As to predicting failure rates, and consequences,lint in my navel prevents me from seeing the crystal ball. I will say the USPS handles a little better than a third of the worlds mail and when we suffer a problem you'll know about it.A flip answer , about a 30% failure rate. Could be less , could be a hell of a lot more. I don't know if the infrastructure we need will be there.

On the international mail question, I've been in school with Brits, Germans, Canadians, Australians and New Zealanders. They all use the same gear as the PO. The designs belong to Telefunken Gmbh or what ever they are called these days. The US licensee is Electrocom Automation out of Arlington TX, a subsidary of Siemans Corp. So I expect them to have the same problems we'll have.

If you've got a business and do letter mailing, get in touch with your local Postal Business Center and have a Customer Service Rep. talk to you about readability. That's what they get paid the big bucks for. First and foremost, OCR's are very literal. They live in a world of black and white. Black is data and White is not. Since the machine only has about 110 milliseconds to figure out the address on your letter and determine what Postnet code if any to place on the envelope, I can give your 2 real helpful hints. Use a simple type font with your basic white on white envelope. Use a fairly liberal pitch so the machine doesn't have to work too hard to find character spacing. Second hint, lose the windowed envelopes. Especially if it has a cellophane window. Glare off the window kills the image and the machine will time out and reject your letter. RBCS will be dead in the water and you don't want your letter processed manually, takes too long.

One other thing I just thought of, get a copy of software which allows you to print a Postnet code on your envelope. If the PO gets it with the Postnet code on it, any BCS can read it which cuts out steps in the processing chain. With you PRE bar coding you might qualify for a mailing discount. Simple is better. Ideally you'd want to hand carry the letter and place it in the recipients hand. But that ain't happening.

For private folks, use preprinted bar coded envelopes to pay your bills. On the ones not preprinted same advice as to the business guys. Basic black on white. Works fine lasts a long time.

What I see is a very stressed system and these little things might make it or break it if your letter gets there or not.

There have been long "what if" talks at the mail factory and the basic consensus is martial law will be declared and we(postal workers) will be detained and possibly interned for the duration of the crisis. But we'll be in good company. Our view is everyone who has an infrastructure job ( basic goods and services) will be impacted. (politician talk for, "assume the position of submission"). We all know what happens after that.

Sorry for the typos.

-- nine (, March 17, 1999


Hope this is the right thread ....

-- Shelia (, March 17, 1999.

Thank you Shelia that's it.

-- nine (, March 17, 1999.

But with the volume you handle - seems like even a small reduction in efficiency would end up very quickly disabling things.

Now, for example, you may have an error (return) rate of less than 0.01-.005% somewhere less than 1 in 10,000 pieces of mail received "stay" undelivered in the Post Office, or get returned and you have to handle it again.

But if you get hit with problems, and only 95% gets through, then you have 5% left "on the floor" or in bags waiting till the next day. Then repeat, and you now have 10% in bags and boxes in your way aftert he second day is through.

Very soon, you are physically stuffed with old mail - so the new mail (even that properly adressed) can't get through. If you get a 99% success rate using manual sorting, the problem is reduced, but you still run out of room in less than 3 weeks.

-- Robert A. Cook, P.E. (Kennesaw, GA) (, March 17, 1999.

Mr Cook, you've hit the nail on the head.From what I see we run in the range of about 90% capacity. The other 10% is a surge volume if you will.It's only used on selected times of the year.Like valentines day, April 15, mothers day. But major manual volume increases will bury us. Like if the machines go tits up, bad programming, power excursions, incoming transit failures. Go to and look at the contract(I think it's there). Article 8(overtime) has a clause which removes the Doubletime overtime payment requirement for the month of DEC. WHY, because they get worked twelve hour a day, every day for the month.And then powers that be wonder why they get sick in JAN. I think the PO will be stressed out due to the mail volume shift from automated to manual.Later, got to go to bed.

-- nine (, March 17, 1999.


Your input has been invaluable. Thank you for answering my questions. Please hang around here and keep us updated on the USPS system. Its a critical system that is important to so many of us here and our fragile economical livelihoods depend on it. I'm immediately ditching my window envelopes and checking into the bar code software.

-- Cary Mc from Tx (, March 17, 1999.

If the usps goes down for only three or four days, I would think that the backlog would cripple the services for months.

-- SCOTTY (, March 17, 1999.

Thank you nine. Your threads have been quite an eye opener. Thanks too for the tips on adressing envelopes, I'll never look at one the same way again.

I'll use my own 10" white envelopes to pay bills instead of the return ones with the windows. It's easy enough to store the addresses in Word and then print them. And I'll look into that bar code software too.

-- Chris (, March 17, 1999.

Have you heard any talk about banning junk mail, magazines and catalogs? If TSHTF, could they (temporarily) limit mail to actual letters, bills etc? What percentage of the mail that the USPS handles is cinsidered junk mail?

-- Online2Much (, March 17, 1999.

This isn't profound and has been said before, but let's add in 'x' tens of millions per day of "certified return receipt" mail post 1/1/2000 to "make sure" mail was delivered.

If I understood you, nine, realizing you've got some lint there, you're saying 30% of the mail will get lost, less or more. I find it difficult to see how the USPS "system" can remain functional, especially considering that, much like the banks, it is confidence driven.

Although I spose one could argue (quite rationally) that the volume of mail might drop by 50% or more within 60 days once it was clear that sending it was like playing roulette. This will aid in mixed manual-automatic restoration over time.

I stand by my prediction that, IF telecom/Internet remains 80% up, we will see improvisation and, yes, innovative business/consumer switches to expanded use of email for routing, certifying transactions. That's no bandaid (with USPS hosed, plus, um, a few other economic problems, we're depression bound in 2000) but it suggests some interesting post-TWOTWAWKI directions for recovery. And some ways that businesses might be preparing now ....

-- BigDog (, March 17, 1999.

OnLine2Much -

And I thought I was going to be original by asking your question. Let's extrapolate on that for a moment. IF there's a reduction (mandatory or not) in the volume of "junk" mail, what happens to the companies that depend on direct mail for their advertising? What happens to the printers that depend on it for their income? and the mailing services and database companies? and the graphic designers who design the stuff? And the paper and ink manufacturers? The company that makes all those little plastic windows? Will Ed McMahon still get royalties?

I know it sounds kinda like fun to imagine a world without junk mail, but a sudden decrease in its volume could have noticeable economic effects. True with anything...

-- pshannon (, March 17, 1999.

Yeah, there sure would be cascading economic consequences, but what would the alternatives be? The complete collapse of the USPS would be a much larger problem in the big picture. In a discussion about transportation problems, someone once said "well, if we have problems, we allocate what shipping we have left to necessities. Who cares if Furbies don't get to Toys-R-Us". Ummm... the people who make and sell furbies care about having a job, but other then that....

I think those are the kind of choices we as a society will be forced to make. We may have to put the Furbie factory (or print shop) out of business (temporarily?) for the good of society. Will they squack? Sure, I would too. But if it needs to be done......

The lawyers will have a field day....sigh.

-- Online2much (, March 17, 1999.

"The lawyers will have a field day....sigh."

They always have a field day, month, year, decade, eon, eternity. Even when they're sleeping.

Got spray?

-- fly .:. (.@...), March 17, 1999.

Right you are...

Can a company that is forced to close its doors, because Furbys or the catalogs that it depends on for its income reopen its doors again? If it's a short disruption, sure. But can a small company sustain a two month closure? What about the employees of that company that are forced to find another way to support themselves? Can a small company reopen if half of its staff can't come back to work? Will they be able to train new people and still get furbys out the door? will there still be people to buy those furbys?

The USPS is just as important in the long run as the power companies are in the short run. The furby manufacturers and direct mail soliciters and catalog retailers and small foreign manufacturers and Ed McMahon are just as important to the system, as it is, as the banks are...

-- pshannon (, March 17, 1999.


I have read this with great interest and along with the Inspector General's Report I can see that the USPS is in deep trouble. This is one of those information packed threads that I love to find on this forum. There is nothing like a viewpoint from one immersed in the situation. Thanks for the time you took to enlighten us all.

-- Mike Lang (, March 17, 1999.

I just got up and boy do ya'll ask hard questions.

First of all, the mail will get worked eventually(it has to by law or it's a federal pop for all us posties). What they'll do is work first class mail first, then second class and on and on til it's all worked. The way that's accomplished is maximizing personnel by calling overtime.And there are contractual provisions allowing them to have me throw mail which I'm normally prohibited from doing.

And I have had on rare ocassions worked 14 and 16 hours a day getting equipment back up so they can run it.

If you throw mail out woe be unto you. The inspection service will come out of the walls, throw your ass in chains and haul you away. I've seen it done.Scares the hell out of you, these people don't screw around. And they have absolutly NO SENCE OF HUMOR. Why do you think they have about a 97% conviction rate.If you tangle with them stick a fork in your self cause you're done.

SO Big Dog, It'll get there but I think everything else is gonna be in shambles. They might even bring back mail trains.But they are mandated to deliver and that Neither rain nor snow nor sleet crap really means something.But like I said they may have a hard time of it. And nothing is gonna get thrown out. And if it does whoever did it is will pound rocks in Kansas.But in the mean time the mortgage co gets a case of the redass cause you haven't paid in 3 mo.

CATSY, PLEASE don't throw out the preprinted envelopes that the utility companys etc send you. They have done their home work. SEARS, PG&E etc made their stuff work by going and being sure their return envelopes read.If their stuff has a window, they have made damn sure it'll read. My remark was aimed at Joe's garage who only mails out maybe 200 letters a month or so and got suckered by the local stationary company to buy odd envelopes. The non preprinted stuff I referred to was the letter to Aunt May in Podunk ID. Type Write it and get her Zipcode and/or put your own bar code on it. What you want is to make the process as seamless as possible. Ideally you'd like it to be cancelled, then ran on a DBCS/BCS,dispatched,recieved,ran on a DBCS/BCS, and delivered. And you don't want it to go round and round cause you got it sent to Evansville Indiana with the ZIPcode while the worded address actually said Evansville Wyoming. I see that stuff also.

Got to go now,she who must be obeyed(my lovely wife) calls.

-- nine (, March 17, 1999.

Again, thanks nine. Staying with it because this is an important subject. OK, you're saying our mail may be delayed one week, one month, three months but will eventually get there. Let's leave out of the picture how other breakdowns (the mail trains?) may aggravate and feed USPS woes and vice versa, the old "systemic" problem ....

I still suspect based on your report a massive fall-off in mail due to loss of confidence in delivery from, say, late January thru April (minimum, maybe indefinitely). In other words, at some point, the USPS will find equilibrium in 2000 and beyond.

.... big, online opportunities for new business niches if the Net stays up (you guys who think TEOTWAWKI is TEOTW have never gotten it, I'm VERY interested in prospering post-TEOTWAWKI).

-- BigDog (, March 17, 1999.

Nine -

Thanks so much for all this valuable info. My neighbor is a USPS supervisor and I'm going to pass this along.

I too refer to Herself as "She Who Must Be Obeyed." You a Rumpole fan, or is it based on the original Rider Haggard title?

-- Mac (, March 17, 1999.

I can pretty much guarantee that the P.O. will not stop accepting junk mail. Your 33 cent stamp doesn't put much food on my table, but that $33,000 for the mailing Sears (or Penneys, or Publisher Clearing)sends out is what fills my paycheck. The P.O. is self supporting and doesn't get any federal money or tax money. They will welcome any and all junk mail.

-- M. Labor (, March 17, 1999.

Thanks for the great story nine, but when you finally get it out of your door, what conveyance are you going to put it on?

-- dave (, March 17, 1999.

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