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August 4, 2009 4:08 AM   Subscribe

David "Wondermark" Malki was curious about how important the dates on the stamps printed by an APC (Automated Postal Center) are. Here are his findings.
posted by Lentrohamsanin (55 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The moral of the story? Perhaps it’s that the Post Office is forgiving.

Nope. The moral of the story is that the Post Office is badly run, especially now with all the economic upheavals. Management hasn't a clue of how to handle the situation so they keep re-organizing. At Raleigh's main branch for example, they pulled everyone off the day shift and put them all on the night shift. Why? No one knows but night shift is now ludicrously over-staffed. The current theory is that because the full timers have union jobs and therefore cannot be fired, management hopes to make things unpleasant enough that people will transfer out or quit.

Expect to see more confusion and bungling as the Post Office attempts to deal with fewer pieces of mail-- the Great Behemoth is far from flexible and the attempts to rein it in have lead to much stumbling. Take Registered Mail. All Foreign mail was once Registered Mail-- meaning only a few isolated workers inside locked cages touched it, but it is now classified as First Class meaning it goes out onto the main floor where many workers can have contact. More recently they changed the status of boxes of stamps that the Post Office sends out to branches-- each box may have up to several thousand dollars worth of stamps-- has been re-classifed as First Class. It is a "Grand Theft Stamp" waiting to happen.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:58 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I have many 'first day issues' that have a similar stamp (from England), stamped only to verify that they were posted on the day of the issue of the stamp (often from the place of issue). Not automated though.
posted by tellurian at 5:00 AM on August 4, 2009


What on earth is a dated stamp and why does he think it some kind of freshness seal that will prevent the PO from delivering the letter? It isn't a postmark, the postmark is the cancellation date, i.e. when the letter actually was sent.
posted by DU at 5:05 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think I may be missing the point of this post (pun). Also, ugly stamps. Look like i-nigma.
posted by tellurian at 5:09 AM on August 4, 2009


And for all the complaining people do about the PO, I've never had a problem with it. Timely, prompt, reasonably gentle handling, etc. My wife frequently sends and receives foreign postcards and has had close to zero problems. (Except China. There seems to be some fundamental disconnect in the Chinese<->US postal chain.)
posted by DU at 5:15 AM on August 4, 2009


I agree with DU. I don't know what happens in their inner workings, but they've always treated me right.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 5:24 AM on August 4, 2009


Complaining about the post-office just seems to be one of the standard anti-government tropes that has little basis in reality but gets used constantly. Not only is the operation of the post-office no worse than any number of huge commercial enterprises it's been only quasi-governmental for a long time anyway.
posted by octothorpe at 5:32 AM on August 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


I'm with you DU. I fucking hate that Chinese PO. Fundamentally wrong. In fact, I've recently heard that a Chinese government agency has instigated a censorship campaign against bloggers and pen pals based on a misreading of an English translation of 'fresheness seal'. What can one say?
posted by tellurian at 5:48 AM on August 4, 2009


Despite it being national in scale, it's the regional variations that'll get you. Being from the Northeast, I never quite understood the complaints. Whether it was Western MA, Upstate New York, or the Boston/Cambridge area, they've always been courteous, prompt, and I never had anything lost or mangled.

On the other hand, the Los Angeles Post Office was absolutely terrible, delivering mail on a whim rather than daily, and being absolutely shitty about packages. When I moved out there and mailed stuff to myself, I had some time on my hands and sat by the mailbox to receive my packages. The postal worker came with a "Sorry we missed you" card already prepared, and when I pointed out that they hadn't missed me, it turned out that the boxes hadn't even been loaded on the truck.

That, and when I moved back East again, a well-packaged, carefully sealed box of books arrived half-empty. It could definitely be that one post office (Westwood/UCLA area of LA) rather than the whole region, but it did open my eyes to why some people say the USPS is incredibly shitty, when I never experience it around here.
posted by explosion at 5:55 AM on August 4, 2009


Being from the Northeast, I never quite understood the complaints. Whether it was Western MA, Upstate New York, or the Boston/Cambridge area, they've always been courteous, prompt, and I never had anything lost or mangled.

I swear to God about nine years ago the three windows at the old Marlborough, MA post office were staffed by a bald guy, a guy with sparse curly red hair, and a guy with a black bowl cut. They actually didn't do a bad job, honestly, but I never did work up the noive to ask how much it would cost to mail a package to Niagara Falls.
posted by Spatch at 6:07 AM on August 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


I can't understand why he's so amazed that the letters didn't get returned. There's no reason for stamps to expire. The only issue is that they're not consistent about canceling the APC stamps, which is hardly newsworthy.
posted by echo target at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2009


The APC machines are a "feature" of post 9/11 America. Postal regulations now prohibit the acceptance of mail over 12 ounces without "face-to-face" contact. An APC takes a picture of you when you use it, and the barcodes on the stickers it produces can be used to trace back to that picture if the mail you sent is for some reason intercepted by the Feds. Somewhere in a prison cell, Ted Kaczynski is smiling!
posted by ackptui at 6:22 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can't understand why he's so amazed that the letters didn't get returned.

Agreed. One minute he's talking about postmarks, then suddenly he's on about dates or purchase. His experiment has no bearing on the anecdote he begins with, let alone the April 15 tax deadline. It's the equivalent of mailing a letter with a couple of H-class stamps (which I still have) and then feigning amazement when it is delivered. Why wouldn't it be?

Now, if he had the guts to try his 50/50 "maybe they won't postmark it" on his actual tax filing, buying a dated stamp on April 15 and using it to mail his taxes in December...that might be worth linking. Although even then, the most it would show is that (1) postal employees are lax about stamping postmarks, or (2) the IRS is lax about imposing penalties for late filings. Neither would be shocking.
posted by cribcage at 6:46 AM on August 4, 2009


Actually, back when I worked for a small ecommerce company, we were told by the post office that all our packages had to be mailed on the same day as the shipdate on the labels. I think it had something to do with their performance metrics.
posted by kmz at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2009


Forgot to mention that of course we weren't using APCs and were doing bulk mailings with shipping manifests and all that, so it was rather different. I just remember how much of a pain in the ass it was to cancel and reprint thousands of labels when the warehouse got a little bit behind.
posted by kmz at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2009


I think it's a business opportunity. Quick little craigslist ad on April 16th reading "Mail your taxes late, buy my Magic Stamps for twenty bucks each!"

Easy money.
posted by adipocere at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2009


This is a nice example of people making up little stories in their head to explain things they see. "Ah! These machine print on demand stamps have a date on them. It must be a like a best before date so I must post quickly".
I actually do think the post office is kind and generous. I know in AU they will happily deliver mail with the old price stamps on them for months afterward, to the point where I discovered I was using year out of date stamps, but my letters were getting through. Admittedly the reason I had such old stamps was my infrequent need to mail stuff.
My old address now has nice people who write my new address on envelopes that don't look like junk mail, and they turn up in my new house without any extra postage a year and a half after I moved.
I realise that people like to whinge about the post, but considering I can get a letter sent 4000km for less than a dollar it is a pretty amazing service.
I can send 10 DVDs - 45Gb of data - across the country for $3 in 24 hours. That is broadband!
posted by bystander at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want to live in a world without regular postal mail. I have no use for it. I throw out everything that comes in anyway. Just have mail come once a month, and be done with it. This "check the mailbox for more crap everyday" business is for the birds.

My bills are paid online, any packages I get are FedEx and UPS, and all my correspondence is done digitally. I have no use for mail, but apparently you cant have a residential address and NOT have it a mailing address, at least in my town.
posted by chambers at 7:03 AM on August 4, 2009


the Post Office is badly run

Are people not getting their mail?!
posted by Brocktoon at 7:21 AM on August 4, 2009


I have no use for it

This is called Charlie Brown Syndrome.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bragging about committing postal fraud on your blog isn't exactly a stroke of genius either.
posted by srboisvert at 7:27 AM on August 4, 2009


I love the APC.

In my experience, the quality of the post office and friendliness of the staff is tied pretty directly to the SES of the zip. I'm pretty sure the same standard is used to determine placement of an APC, but if there is an APC the staff get 25% friendlier right away.

The Cambridge post office was amazing. The JP post office (late 90s, mind you) was OK.

The East Cleveland post office was a horrorshow. 1.5 miles away, the Cleveland Heights post office was great!

The post office in my neighborhood in the Bronx was worse than East Cleveland! On a typical weekday, the line would be out the door and take 30 minutes to get through. The folks at the windows were unimaginably surly and would reject any cardboard box that wasn't wrapped in brown paper - even boxes that I'd just received something in!

Now, my CT post office is staffed with very nice folks, who happily spent 20 minutes taking a passport photo of my 8-month-old.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2009


There's no reason for stamps to expire.

Letter from the 1940s lands in local mailbox - 60 years after sent.

Now that's snail mail. Letter delivered 22 years later.
posted by ericb at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Complaining about the post-office just seems to be one of the standard anti-government tropes that has little basis in reality but gets used constantly. Not only is the operation of the post-office no worse than any number of huge commercial enterprises it's been only quasi-governmental for a long time anyway.

The type of service you get varies so highly between postal workers. At my mother's house, in central, suburban New Jersey, the mail carrier hated delivering packages. She wouldn't even bring them to the door--she certainly wouldn't knock, instead just leaving a "we missed you!" slip every single time. This meant that any time we were expecting a package, we'd have to trek to the local post office, which had awful hours. The postal carrier also wouldn't take mail left out for delivery about half the time.

My mail carrier in Gainesville, FL is wonderful, though. I haven't had a single problem in three years, and he even helped me sort out a dispute with my landlord when the landlord thought I stole some antique mailbox and replaced it with a cheaper one (which had been there when I moved in). Mail delivery is also incredibly fast here. I'm not sure why, but I get packages and letters from New Jersey in three days, tops.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2009


"Nobody knew cared that I hadn’t actually mailed the check on the day I was supposed to."
posted by no_moniker at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2009


I do agree with the variability of post office retail staff.
On my commute, I pass two post office "shops" as the privatised post offices are called in Oz. One is open at 8am with no queues and staff happy to help. The other has people lined up at 8:55am while the staff potter around inside not looking anybody outside in the eye. The one with queues doesn't have paarticularly surly staff, just staff that have what I will call a 'union' mindset. The other has staff with a service mindset. Funny ways to run identical businesses.
posted by bystander at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2009


I want to live in a world without regular postal mail. I have no use for it.

Well, since it's all about you, we'll get right on that, Your Majesty.
posted by grubi at 7:39 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


To clarify: I thought this was an interesting and whimsical experiment. I don't think Malki is making a "big government post office sux foam foam rahr" point, and I'm certainly not. I love APCs, apart from the fact that you can't do Media Mail at them.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:41 AM on August 4, 2009


I swear to God about nine years ago the three windows at the old Marlborough, MA post office were staffed by a bald guy, a guy with sparse curly red hair, and a guy with a black bowl cut. They actually didn't do a bad job, honestly, but I never did work up the noive to ask how much it would cost to mail a package to Niagara Falls.

Slowly I turn...
posted by schleppo at 7:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jiffy Express!

posted by Xoebe at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2009


I want to live in a world without regular postal mail. I have no use for it.

Hrm.... I like getting mail... Who doesn't like mail? And packages are SUPER mail!

(Ignore me, my glass will always be half-full.)
posted by indiebass at 7:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, since it's all about you, we'll get right on that, Your Majesty.

My apologies for coming off high-handed, it's just that only about 1% of the actual mail I receive, I actually need. It's essentially some guy coming to my house on a daily basis and saying "Here's some stuff for you to throw away." Sure, the postal system CAN be useful, but when the signal-to-noise ratio is like this, you start to wonder if you even need it. Then to find out IT CAN NEVER BE STOPPED, well, it's a bit irritating.

It's like the Terminator:
That (postal service) is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.
posted by chambers at 7:57 AM on August 4, 2009


One minute he's talking about postmarks, then suddenly he's on about dates or purchase. His experiment has no bearing on the anecdote he begins with, let alone the April 15 tax deadline.

Well, he surmises that there's a connection, noting that "dated" stamps fail to be followed by a postmark about 50% of the time (though he himself notes that he hasn't done this enough times for any kind of statistical validity) -- permitting perhaps an inference of an earlier mailing date, and also re-use of the stamp. What he lacks, however, is a control group -- undated stamps. Perhaps stamps aren't postmarked half the time regardless. But he does hypothesize a connection.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2009


Stamp canceling and stamp dating are COMPLETELY UNRELATED.
posted by DU at 8:02 AM on August 4, 2009


My apologies for coming off high-handed, it's just that only about 1% of the actual mail I receive, I actually need.

Well, you can hand in your phone then. I have little use for mine.

It's essentially some guy coming to my house on a daily basis and saying "Here's some stuff for you to throw away."

That never happens to us. That's because we have this extremely costly technological marvel that prevents it: a piece of masking tape on which "NO FLYERS" is printed in spidery, faded black marker. But I'm guessing your 1% is some flyer you occasionally get from that one store you like and so you're willing to simultaneously accept the lot and then complain about it. Correct me if I'm wrong. Just a guess.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


DU just posted what I was about to. I'd be more interested if he did a control study where he sent mail using traditional stamps to see how many were cancelled and how many were not.
posted by mikeh at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2009


Stamp canceling and stamp dating are COMPLETELY UNRELATED.

Well that's what I would expect. I'm just saying that he does actually propose a connection (and then fail to adequately test for it).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:04 AM on August 4, 2009


That's because we have this extremely costly technological marvel that prevents it: a piece of masking tape on which "NO FLYERS" is printed in spidery, faded black marker.

I've never heard of this. Is this a courtesy thing or an Official Thing? If the latter, I may get my Snail Mail Hit Rate up from ~70% to ~99%.
posted by DU at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2009


I like getting mail but it is a bit tiring to go through about a kitchen trash bag's worth of junk mail I have to shred every month.
posted by kmz at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2009


Is this a courtesy thing or an Official Thing?

In Canada, it's an Official Thing. Not sure about the U.S., though I would be pretty pissed off if the post kept delivering junk mail contrary to explicit request, even if it's not official. But "prevent" was perhaps a tad too conclusive given a mostly USian readership.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:25 AM on August 4, 2009


I didn't see anything on the USPS site. That said, the flyers I would most like to discontinue don't even have an address. So presumably they are optional.
posted by DU at 8:31 AM on August 4, 2009


To address your guess above, Durn, I do have a "no unsolicited mail" note above my mailbox. It still keeps coming. It's not just flyers, it circulars, credit card offers, coupon books, neighborhood ads, cable TV/Internet/Phone offers, take-out menus, all sorts of things. Some have my name and address on them, so they can't be considered "unsolicited."
posted by chambers at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2009


An APC takes a picture of you when you use it

Citation needed.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2009


I found this about photos being taken. Nothing from a .gov site, though.
posted by adipocere at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2009


That sucks, chambers, both for you and for wasted trees. I wonder if your municipality might be able to affect provision of a national service.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2009


> Well, you can hand in your phone then. I have little use for mine.

No one forces you to have a phone or service -- you cannot opt out of receiving mail, though. I don't feel strongly about this, but it is a bit irritating. I get roughly 3-5 pieces of mail a day that is garbage -- credit card offers and bulk mailers, mostly. All my business and correspondence is handled online. Just seems pointless and wasteful, I would "cancel" my residential mailing address if that were possible.
posted by cj_ at 9:00 AM on August 4, 2009


I found that after registering (online | snail mail) with the DMA (Direct Marketing Association)'s "opt-out" mail preference I have been receiving less (not "all") unsolicited mail.
"When you register, your name and address are placed in a 'do not mail' file which is updated monthly. DMA members are required to update their lists at least quarterly, and some do it monthly. Businesses who are not members of the DMA may also take advantage of this 'do not mail' list, so registering with the DMA will reduce much of your junk mail."
You must re-register ever 3 years.
posted by ericb at 9:30 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


cj, if mail bothers you that much, you could always just take your mailbox down. The only problem would be that mail is sometimes important. Jury summons, tax bills, stuff like that.
posted by faceonmars at 9:31 AM on August 4, 2009


When I moved out there and mailed stuff to myself, I had some time on my hands and sat by the mailbox to receive my packages. The postal worker came with a "Sorry we missed you" card already prepared, and when I pointed out that they hadn't missed me, it turned out that the boxes hadn't even been loaded on the truck.

This particular maneuver made getting wedding presents an absolute nightmare.
posted by kathrineg at 10:31 AM on August 4, 2009


I also love the APC for off-hour or long-line-days mailing, except for the fact that you can't mail International Mail (besides letters) from it because of the need for a clerk to stamp the customs forms. And I'm pretty sure there is a HAL-like camera lens smack dab in the middle of the APC right beside the credit card slot. Oh, and I drive past two Post Office branches to go to the one with the friendly and helpful staff.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2009


I find it hard to believe cj has ABSOLUTELY no need for the post, sending or receiving.

Methinks an exaggeration exists.
posted by grubi at 11:31 AM on August 4, 2009


I cannot think of one thing that was sent to me, or sent by me with the USPS in the last 10 years that could not have been sent digitally, or gone to a government office to pick up. Due to many bad experiences with the USPS, I only use other private couriers(UPS, FedEX, etc) to send or receive packages.

What gets me the most is cj's point that you cannot stop the mail service at all. At the least, I wish there was an option to refuse all mail but government mail. So at least you could be legally tied to an address, but not have to deal with anything else. Everyone wins, the company who created the advertisement doesn't waste money on an ad I will never read(as anyone who isn't signed up for it is a more receptive audience than I), the carrier doesn't have to carry as much mail, the USPS cuts costs by not having to ship as much mail, the environment has less resources used, and I don't have to deal with worthless mail that I will never open or read.
posted by chambers at 2:55 PM on August 4, 2009


> I find it hard to believe cj has ABSOLUTELY no need for the post, sending or receiving. Methinks an exaggeration exists.

No, I really don't. I haven't sent or received a legitimate snail mail in nearly a decade. I use private couriers for shipments, bills are paid online. Everyone that bills me has an option to receive statements as email only. The only purpose my mailbox serves is to collect about 30-50 pieces of spam that go into the garbage. I suppose a jury summons is the only thing I would want it for, as I get my tax documents from our internal employee system.

Not sure I get the extreme reaction to the point of view that I would like to opt out of mail. I also don't have a land telephone line! EGADS!
posted by cj_ at 6:51 PM on August 4, 2009


Also, it occurs to me you are reading into this some belief on my part which doesn't exist. No, I don't want to abolish the mail system, or privatize it, or stop paying for it, or feel it's horrible because it's government run. I just don't use it, personally. I understand other people do, and that is awesome for them. I'm glad it exists. I just think it would be nifty if I could opt out of it.
posted by cj_ at 6:56 PM on August 4, 2009


I love Wondermark, but hate David Malki. "Isn't everything I do precious and interesting?" No, David. No, it isn't.
posted by Eideteker at 9:00 PM on August 4, 2009


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