Day: December 10, 2011

Saturday, 10 December 2011

09:22 – Well, this latest summit was widely considered to be the last chance to save the EU and the euro. Instead of concentrating on the immediate crisis and coming up with measures to address it, the participants focused on how to avoid future crises, doing essentially nothing to deal with the current mess. They fooled no one, nor was their attempt to make the UK the scapegoat successful.

Nor was there any sign of their so-called “big bazooka”. I was about to say “stupidly-named big bazooka”, but in fact it’s well-named when you think about it. Ordinarily in a situation like this, people talk about bringing out “the artillery”, crew-served weapons that fire large and effective charges. A bazooka was a personal weapon that fired a small and usually ineffective charge, which makes the comparison exact with what the EU had done to date. They’ve essentially lined up to piss on a 5-alarm fire, and nothing decided at this most recent summit changes that.

One of the reasons we redesigned the latest batch of chemistry kits was to allow them to fit into a USPS priority mail large regional-rate box rather than the priority mail large flat-rate box we’d been using. The large regional-rate box is just enough smaller than the large flat-rate box that the earlier version of the kit wouldn’t fit.

The upside to the change is that we expected it to reduce shipping costs. The large flat-rate box costs $14.95 to ship anywhere in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii. The large regional-rate box costs anything from $5.81 to $14.62, depending on the destination.

So, yesterday I drove out to the post office to mail the first batch of the kits in regional-rate boxes. When I got to the counter, the guy told me that the USPS didn’t offer counter service for regional-rate boxes. He could still ship them, but he’d have to charge me standard priority mail rates according to the weights and destinations of the boxes. If I wanted the regional-rate postage rates, I had to generate the label on-line with postage. Crap. I’d never been able to get the USPS Click-N-Ship web site to produce a label. When I tried to produce a test label, the site just went into an endless loop.

After he weighed the boxes and told me the postage cost for each, I told him I didn’t have any alternative, so to go ahead and ship them. The postage costs were all over the place, but all were higher than they would have been for regional-rate. For example, one box going to Pennsylvania would have been $6.88 under regional-rate postage but ended up costing $10.95 under standard priority mail rates. Another, going to New Jersey, would have been $8.06 regional rate, but cost $12.40 at standard PM rates. Another, going to New Hampshire, would have been $10.51 regional rate, but ended up costing $17.45, which is actually more than the large flat-rate box would have cost. And so on.

I drove home fuming, because I’d seen nothing anywhere on the USPS site that mentioned that local post offices don’t accept regional-rate boxes at regional-rate postage rates. So I spent a while looking around the USPS site, and finally found one place where it does mention that. Otherwise, I’d have fired off a nasty email to the Postmaster General. I may do that anyway, because the notice is extremely easy to overlook. Most people who’d used Priority Mail flat-rate boxes would probably assume, as I did, that if the USPS accepted flat-rate boxes at the counter they’d also accept regional-rate boxes.

But the story does have a happy ending. I’ve made my last trip to the post office. While I was on the USPS site, I decided to try once more printing a sample Click-N-Ship label. This time it worked. Apparently, even though I had the latest available Linux version of Adobe Reader installed, it wasn’t compatible with the USPS web site. I got rid of Adobe Reader and just used a native Linux PDF reader, which worked fine.

So, no more carrying boxes out to the post office to ship them. USPS will pick them up at my front door. Printing labels and postage on-line also provides a discount over the rates charged at the counter, even for flat-rate stuff, and they include delivery confirmation for free. It’s a no-brainer to use the on-line service, and I would have been using it all along if I’d been able to get it to work.

With the USPS pushing so hard to get people to buy postage and print labels on-line, I have to wonder if this is part of a larger plan eventually to eliminate local branch offices. When you think about it, there’s not really much need for them, and they are extremely expensive to operate both in terms of staffing and facilities costs. There are all kinds of places that rent PO boxes. You can buy stamps at Costco. A huge percentage of mail volume comes from corporate mailers, who don’t need the services provided by local branches. Closing all of those local branches and firing the staff would go a long way toward putting the USPS on a sound financial footing.

10:47 – The Open/Libre Office standard dictionary never ceases to surprise me with what’s included and what’s not. As I write the biology book, I’ve had to add a large number of pretty common scientific terms to the dictionary, so I’ve gotten used to it. But today I typed the phrase “monocotyledonous or dicotyledonous”, fully expecting to see squiggly red underlines for both words. Nope. Both were already in the standard dictionary.

Read the comments: 32 Comments
// ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- // end of file archive.php // -------------------------------------------------------------------------------