You have to love Chicago’s mail service

You know your mail service is awesome when an envelope mailed First Class from Portland, OR, to Chicago takes exactly one month. That’s incredible service. They must be using only the fastest horses nowadays.

The reason it takes so long is that this envelope is large and yellow and padded. That means, to the local post office here (I won’t say which branch or zip code), that it’s not mail — it’s a package! And, as we all know, delivery of packages is optional. Even FIRST CLASS packages.

Normal mail shows up here every day. It’s even usually at the same time every day, not too late. Unless we get the one carrier that seems to do poor work, the mail isn’t usually stuffed into our box or damaged in any other way.

But packages — now, they get delivered once a month on the random days when no one from the post office is on vacation or calls in sick.

About two weeks ago I was waiting for a package. I had tracking information for it, because it was from Amazon and they put delivery confirmation on their packages. So I saw it come to Chicago (took two days or so), and I saw it get dropped at our local post office. There it sat. Nothing changed for two weeks. During that time, I called the post office four times. One time I spoke with someone who said they would find and deliver it (that didn’t happen). The other three times I sat on hold for twenty-plus minutes, then gave up.

I emailed the national USPS customer support department, which was very responsive and promised to have the local post office call me to resolve this. They promised that four times. Finally, one morning I received a call from a supervisor at the post office. She was polite and explained they were going to be catching up on packages that day. Sure enough, it was delivered that day after two weeks at the post office.

The next thing I ordered came via UPS. I thought that was great. If they refuse to leave it without a signature, I have it redirected to the local UPS store and get it the next day. But this wasn’t real UPS shipping — it was some sort of cheap-ass UPS service where the USPS does the last mile of the delivery. Guess what? The package made its way to the local post office very quickly courtesy of UPS — then it sat there for almost a week before I got it.

And today a package arrived for Kari. It was shipped on June 11th from Portland. It’s July 11th. First Class postage was paid, and the envelope is cleared stamped “First Class Mail.” Judging by their performance on the last few packages, I would bet this also was the local post office’s fault.

It’s not the carriers. The one that I ran into one day while waiting for the Amazon package searched his truck while I waited — it wasn’t on there. It doesn’t appear that the people at this post office are ruder than most or care any less about getting the packages delivered — at least judging by the few I’ve spoken to on the phone.

According to newspapers and USPS personnel, it’s a lack of funding and staffing. How hard can it be to fix this problem?! They send the truck out here every day, but they don’t have someone to go around sorting packages? USPS is supposedly a business like any other (operationally), but they fall back on the government thing that allows them to live up to the general expectation of poor service. And don’t get me started on their ridiculous monopoly on letter carrying and mailbox access.

If they’re going to keep collecting revenue off each package, they need to spend it in a way that ensures that I get timely delivery, which is all we pay them to do.

Flickr page

I finally started posting pictures to my Flickr account: I’ve started to put a couple of sets up, but they’re mostly pictures that were already part of the albums on this site. I needed to start somewhere to get the hang of it.

I should have done this a long time ago… say, before I spent a lot of time making dedicated photo album pages. Flickr was certainly around when I did that, and it was already huge. But I didn’t really buy into Web 2.0 stuff — tagging and all that. I still don’t know if I do. Even with this simple example of tagged photos at Flickr, the tagging is too inconsistent, and the amount of information that has to be waded through to find relevant pictures is too great. I still like search engines and static, unrelated websites for finding things, including pictures. I’m sure someone’s working on how to improve that, and I’ll be proven wrong at some point.

There are benefits to doing this, obviously. It’s much easier to upload pictures to Flickr and add titles, descriptions and tags than it is to make a dedicated album page, resize the pictures, and upload it to my web server. There’s the use of comments/feedback, which is good until strangers start drawing those little highlight boxes around parts of pictures. And there’s the relational aspect, which lets you know when people post additional pictures.

Frankly, though, Flickr has in some ways a very confusing interface. The handoffs between groups, sets, “photos tagged with…”, and “public photos tagged with…” could be handled much better. I’m not sure why they haven’t substantially changed that. One other complaint is that I like things in albums (sets) — both my pictures and others’. Flickr’s emphasis is on individual pictures, and tghe list of sets always occupies a sidebar, not the main focus.

I can see advantages to where this is headed, such as this demonstration of an amazing piece of software called Photosynth, used in the demo for coordinating (I guess that starts to describe what it does, though describes it poorly) thousands of related pictures: (video). If you haven’t seen that, take a look, because it is the most amazing piece of software you will see for a while. The entire, short video is good, but look for the Notre Dame demonstration about halfway through.

Anyway, the Flickr page is up, and I won’t be posting any additional photo pages on this website.