Good Enough for Government Work

Sunday, January 13th, 2008



We got this in the mail a couple of weeks ago. It’s marked “Airmail,” has twice the regular postage affixed, and pretty clearly says its destination is “Wooloware, Australia,” which I suppose if you squint just right could look like “Alexandria, Virginia.”

Only off by about 9,750 miles, USPS.

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12 Responses to “Good Enough for Government Work”

  1. #1 |  dmarks | 

    They guaranteee same planet, same aeon delivery. Is what happens when forced unionization has a long-term effect on government agencies. Them’s the breaks.

  2. #2 |  Vermin Kol | 

    It has to do with the zip code. Found a thread a couple of weeks back on Owen, WI (used to live there, heh) and Owen, Australia who happen to share very similar numbers in regards to a zip. By coincidence I found this thread a few weeks ago:

    Owen, WI Zip: 54460
    Owen, AU Zip: 5460

    Alexandria, VA Zip: 22301
    Wooloware, AU Zip: 2230

  3. #3 |  j a higginbotham | 

    So they read the 2230 and S from nsw as 22305 zip? How did they get the rest? Must be some connection with your address.
    Pretty impressive, even for the government.

    I buy stamps from the vending machines to get $1 coins in change. The USPS must make lots from people who don’t complain when money is taken with no stamps. I did try ordering stamps online, but they wouldn’t recognize my credit card. And of course there is no human available to talk to.

  4. #4 |  Scott | 

    I would never defend the post office.. they think and run like any other government organization, but think they are a business. (and they really are in some ways. they don’t get any funding from external source.)

    I will say this is not a huge surprise to me. The systems that sort mail of this size are completely automated from the time they are dropped off to the time they are delivered the only hands that touch them are the final carrier. And even (s)he does not sort the mail. It is given to him/her in street address order. So all letter sized mail is pre-bundled for every house/address.

    The system is supposed to read from the bottom up. Sometimes it misses the country line (this is very rare but does happen). And to be fair these machines do it at a rate of 40-60 thousand pieces an hour.

    AU uses a similar zipcode system to ours so the machine got confused.

    Radley if you were wondering. that zip code string at the bottom of the letter is your “complete” zipcode and only applies to your address. (neighborhood – route – house)

    Funny thing is every address is looked up and confirmed… the post office likes you to put a zipcode on your mail, but the truth is it will get there without it. The system looks it up when it is scanned to find the full zipcode which no one knows. (the scanner has a 99.996 accuracy rate at reading addresses)

  5. #5 |  Scott | 

    Oh.. and “Air Mail” means nothing.. the automated system does not look at any other block than the address block. ;-)

  6. #6 |  tarran | 

    This actually was the fault of the high-speed zip-code reading machine, which (as one might guess) does not actually care about postage.

    Basically, the machine read the Australian post code and Province information as being a 9 digit US zipcode. The 9 digit postal code for a residence actually identifies the specific route (or mailbag) the letter should be dropped into for final delivery.

    The machines also sort the letters into the order they are to be delivered. Thus all the letters addressed to one address will be together.

    The mail carrier, thus, looks for the boundary between your house’s mail and the and stuffs everyletter before that boundary into your mailbox. The second or third letter in might never even be scrutinized by a human eye.

    I believe the USPS would love a call from you about this; the use these cases to improve the performance of address recognition machines.

  7. #7 |  diakron | 

    I recently received a piece of mail addressed to ZIP code 65075, which is in Missouri. I live in ZIP code 17602 (Pennsylvania). What WAS similar was the street address — I live at XXX West YYYYYY Street, whereas the addressees live at XXX South YYYYYY Street in their town. The handwriting of the address block was clear and unambiguous — to me, anyway.

    Guess this doesn’t clear anything up.

  8. #8 |  Roy | 

    As others have pointed out, this was probably the result of an error in the automated sorting machinery.

    I, for one, think the USPS does a pretty good job overall, especially when you consider the sheer numbers that get sorted and delivered correctly – yes, including the millions of pieces of junk mail.

    The complaints I sometimes have about my local post office are that my local mail carrier sometimes makes silly mistakes in delivery. One time, he delivered all of the mail on my street one box off. (My neighbor on my right got my mail, and I got the mail intended for the neighbor on the left and so on all the way to the end of the street.) Another time, we all got the mail for the next street over. The house numbers were right, but the street was wrong.

    Hey, it happens. We’re only human.

  9. #9 |  ClubMedSux | 

    Whenever people argue for national health care, I ask them think about the post office and then imagine those people running your health insurance.

    From now on, I’ll forward them this post just to accentuate the point.

  10. #10 |  Zeb | 

    I honestly think it is amazing that the USPS does as well as it does. And I think it does a very good job. I am quite open to speculation that a private mail industry might do even better, but of all of the semi-governmental agencies to bitch about, I really don’t think they are a very good target. Mail generally gets delivered to the right place fairly quickly at a very reasonable price.

  11. #11 |  John Harrold | 

    I should point out that I’ve had more trouble (fraction of things mis-delivered) with completely private folks (UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc.) than I’ve ever had with the USPS.

  12. #12 |  Tom Bux | 

    The USPS believe it or not, is the best post office in the world. Other countries have it worse.

    What I find unfathomable is that if I send something USPS parcel post, the USPS lowest for sending a package, and send the same package to the same place using UPS’s lowest, Ground, UPS beats USPS by about 3 days.