Tuesday, 18 February 2014

By on February 18th, 2014 in business, news

07:33 – We’re running out of room on the foyer table, with boxes stacked up awaiting shipping that have been accumulating since last Friday. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that USPS will actually show up today, so I’ll print postage labels for all those that aren’t yet labeled.

The lead article in the morning paper is about the textbook shortage in local schools. The state pays for school books, and apparently state funding has dropped over the last five years from $60/student/year to $14/student/year. The average textbook costs between $50 and $75. Some courses have no books at all, and others have only classroom sets that kids can’t take home. Books used to be replaced annually on a five-year rotation for each course, but the last time they did a replacement for any course was six years ago. Local officials are not soliciting donations because they’re afraid that if they replace books themselves the state will cut funding further. And North Carolina has adopted Common Core without providing any funding to support it. No mention in the article of the excellent (and free) CK-12.org textbooks.

10:48 – USPS seems determined to drive me to using UPS or FedEx. I ran a batch of postage labels this morning. When I attempted to pay for them, the USPS Click-and-Ship website rejected the credit card I had on file. I knew it was good, but I entered another credit card and used it to pay for the labels. So then I went to run a second batch of labels. This time, it rejected the original credit card, the new one I’d just entered, a third one I entered then, AND my PayPal account. So I called tech support, who told me that there was a problem on their end, but that he’d “submit your information” to their support group, who wouldn’t take any action on it for the next 48 hours. He said my only option was to wait, and it’d be at least 48 hours before I could print any postage labels.

I told him that wasn’t my only option, and that although I’d been a loyal USPS customer for years and shipped literally tons of packages with them, as soon as I hung up I was going to start looking into switching to UPS or FedEx. Which I did. The change isn’t going to be fast or easy, it’s going to end up costing more, and I don’t even know for sure that I’ll be able to use UPS or FedEx, but USPS’s total non-performance since last Wednesday has been intolerable.

So then I decided to call the local post office and ask it they thought they might get around to delivering our mail today. The woman I talked to was very defensive, and interested only in making excuses. I told her that I understood Thursday. I kind of expected USPS to show up, but I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t. But there was no excuse for not delivering on Friday, and not delivering on Saturday went beyond inexcusable. Her explanation for Saturday was that even though the roads were completely clear, a lot of people hadn’t shown up for work. I was going to ask if they’d all been fired, but it was pointless to waste any more time with her.

So now I need to waste more time looking at alternatives. The change, if indeed I can even make it, will take months. Among other things, I’ll need to get an e-commerce package installed and configured and tested, not to mention redesigning many of our procedures. I’ll need to look into UPS and FedEx requirements for shipping small quantities of hazardous materials, which may be a show-stopper.

But the first thing I need to do is contact my customers to let them know that their kits won’t go out as promised today. Thanks, USPS, for making me look bad to my customers.

29 Comments and discussion on "Tuesday, 18 February 2014"

  1. Stu Nicol says:

    LAUSD is providing iPads at about $800 each for those with book royalties included and considerably less for those without royalty fees. However, none maybe taken home at night.

  2. ech says:

    The support issues in providing tablets to kids are enormous, and they violate ADA. And school districts don’t pay market rates for IT staff, so expect rampant hackery, pr0n downloading, and theft.

  3. ech says:

    One potential downside to having UPS and FexEx making pickups at the house: a neighbor complaining about a business being run out of a residence. USPS is not as obvious to people, as they come by 6-ish days/week.

    Also, they have had more restrictive hazmat regs than USPS, at least they did when I was ordering rocketry supplies.

  4. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    True. As I said, I may end up having to stick with USPS.

    One example of UPS/FedEx being more restrictive is with regard to the CFR 173.4 small quantity exemption, which is what we use for all domestic kits. USPS allows shipping under the SQE by all domestic services, including Priority Mail and Express Mail, which go by air. UPS and FedEx allow only rail and highway transport for 173.4 packages, which would extend our transit time to the west coast from the current 2 or 3 business days to 5 to 7 business days. And UPS/FedEx don’t count Saturdays and Sunday, which USPS does.

  5. Lynn McGuire says:

    Isn’t the local post office open till 5pm? I can just imagine the lines to mail stuff today though.

  6. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Yeah, it’s open until 4:00 (I think). The problems are: (1) they won’t accept the packages I already have labeled, because the counter rate differs from the on-line rate, (2) I can’t afford to leave here and have them show up here while I’m gone, and (3) doing it that way would mess up my accounting.

  7. Lynn McGuire says:

    they won’t accept the packages I already have labeled, because the counter rate differs from the on-line rate

    That is totally crazy and why we use UPS. But, we only ship 2 or 3 packages a week.

    USPS needs to be rebooted.

  8. MrAtoz says:

    “One potential downside to having UPS and FexEx making pickups at the house: a neighbor complaining about a business being run out of a residence.”

    I’ve been working out of the house for 17 years. The HOAs and neighborhoods I’ve been in only get concerned if you have clients come to your house. Most HOAs have covenants against operating a biz out of your home, but it’s allowed if you have no clients show up.

  9. MrAtoz says:

    “they won’t accept the packages I already have labeled, because the counter rate differs from the on-line rate”

    Is that because you used Click n Ship? I use shipstation which has a discounted Priority Mail service (Express 1). I usually drop the boxes at the PO. Several hundred with no problems.

  10. Rod Schaffter says:

    On the lighter side… 🙂

    “Look, Simba. Everything the light touches is Raleigh….”


    Cheers, Rod

  11. SteveF says:

    USPS needs to be rebooted.


  12. OFD says:

    That really sucks, Bob; we’re also starting to see really shoddy service up here from the drug store chains; prescriptions are hell getting the refills for, and then they don’t tell you when they’re in, and then when you show up for them, they don’t have them after all, or only have a partial order, etc., etc. And/or can’t find you in their “system.” This doesn’t affect me right now, but it most certainly affects Mrs. OFD who has a potentially terminal medical issue/disease. Misses a week and she’s DOA. A cousin of hers has the same issue and if he misses a day he’s DOA.

    While I’m ranting, I might also mention corporate HR departments; they also suck, and are getting worse by the day. Plus they’re increasingly being tasked to use IT tools to snoop on their employees.

    The government also sucks, as does the media, academia, and much of the corporate sector. Everything is getting worse, not better, the law of entropy, I guess.

  13. SteveF says:

    Just tell yourself, “Soon it’ll be the knight of the long knives.” It’s what gets me through the day.

  14. OFD says:

    Ah yes, …die Nacht der langen Messer …not soon enough…

    But repeating it seems to help…thanks, mate!


    …and singing along does, too!

  15. OFD says:

    Damn it. I knew I’d screwed up somewhere.

    I played football in high skool. I coulda gone on to college right after that, instead of slaving for Uncle’s murder squads overseas.

    Then I coulda worked on advanced educationist degrees at whatever shit-hole university while coaching football; at some point I woulda hadda make a choice: football coach or dean. Either way, slicker than goose shit on a doorknob, I’d be a zillionaire by now instead of sweating job interviews to be a dipshit IT drone somewhere for my last decades of life on the planet. And “decades” is being optimistic tonight; what the hell, I’ve had some Rolled Gold stick pretzels and a liter of Moxie; life is phat!

    Now off to the land of Nod for a few hours; read myself to sleep with some interesting writings of the late Ezra Pound. (had enuff of trying to get the HP Pavilion box running RHEL 6.5 to recognize the goddamned Atheros 8161 ethernet controller, no Linux drivers for it yet. Been all over the net and RHEL bugzilla over this and no joy in OFDland….)

  16. Chuck W says:

    BBC reports this morning that a mercenary group hired to assist the police force at the riots in Kiev, are firing live rounds and killing people. The police are using only rubber bullets. That would probably be what could be looked forward to should any dissent of that scale ever break out here.

  17. Ray Thompson says:

    dipshit IT drone somewhere for my last decades of life on the planet

    You need to quit being such an optimist.

  18. OFD says:


    “The main difference is that Westerners have been brainwashed into believing that the civilized people voice their grievances in a voting booth rather than doing battle in the streets.”

  19. Lynn McGuire says:

    We have tried that outside the voting booth thing before here in the USA. It was called the War of Northern Aggression. Some people call it the First American Civil War.

    I pray that we do not have a Second American Civil War. It may not go as well as the first one did.

    On the other hand, one quarter of the USA military forces are from The Great State of Texas.

  20. OFD says:

    Well, like the man sez, a revolution/civil war will end up simply replacing the current regime tyrants with some other band of thieves writ large; how do we know this? From several thousand years of recorded human history.

    So I see two possible means of dealing with it:

    1.) Human nature has to change in such a way so as to make us place more value on being self-reliant than being dependent on a state, or, the aforementioned band of thieves writ large. I don’t see much hope for this in the aggregate; maybe regions, towns, rural areas, but the cities are deathtraps of repression and dependence.

    2.) Simply render unto Caesar and keep our heads down and try to get through the day as painlessly as possible; this becomes more problematic as conditions devolve from the current Happy Motoring stage to Gulag and then Hobbesian ‘state of nature.’

    I see us here trying to hold on with a combination of those two methods.

    And let’s hope that huge chunk of the Murkan military in Texas comes down on the right side when the chips start flying.

  21. lynn mcguire says:

    Reminds me of an old saying, “no one ever expects the Spanish inquisition”.

    Human nature is not going to change. People will continue to use freebies and vote for freebies any time that they can.

    The VA hospital in south Dallas was awesome. I have never seen so many handicapped stickers or tags in my life. There was probably 5,000 cars in the various parking lots for guests. And the number of vets barely able to move themselves like my FIL is scary. Very scary.

    BTW, I believe the VA hospital system to be the future in USA medicine. Both the good and bad.

  22. Rolf Grunsky says:

    Remember, “The Night of the Long Knives”, only rearranged (disturbed?) the scum at the top. The serfs at the bottom were no better off after than they were before.

  23. OFD says:

    True, that. As I said elsewhere here, it will take more than just another bloody revolution or civil war to begin to make things right.

  24. brad says:

    Seems to me that there is another possibility, a peaceful one. Both Scotland and Catalonia are holding popular votes on secession this year. While these votes are not, directly, actual secessions, what they intend is to start the process that should ultimately reach that goal.

    What would happen if the States were to secede en masse, and join together in a new cooperative? If enough States had the guts to do this, there would be no possible response from D.C., certainly no civil war. D.C. would be left with a bankrupt core of States with no guts, clinging to the tattered glories of yesteryear. Hows that for poetic?

    There are lots of secession movements around, but until now they’ve failed to gain traction. If things keep going down the rat hole, maybe that will change…

  25. OFD says:

    Secede to survive. That would be nice. But as you point out, it would take a preponderance of states to make the move, and most are tied too stringently to the Fed apron strings. If only a couple of states tried it, the Fed troops would roll in and crush it forthwith; if twenty states did, a different story. This is a long way off, if at all.

  26. brad says:

    You’re likely right. Sadly, it’s the only solution I see that would avoid massive chaos and probably some really bad outcomes. With secession, the infrastructure of the local governments would remain in place.

    Being tied to the federal apron strings – true, but of course the local populace would no longer be paying federal taxes either.

    Of course, not only are populations as a whole risk-averse, the State politicians are even more so. Too many of them hope to advance one day to the payola available at the federal level, and would not want anything to endanger their chances…

  27. OFD says:

    There it is. I do think, however, that various factors may come into play that necessitate secession and a breakup into a loose confederacy at some point, and thus avoid the potential chaos and violence. A financial collapse/default and/or Grid-down situation may, with any luck, bring about a gradual move to local and regional governments and communities. But I am told that there are tons of cash and tons of money and resources available in this country and no shortage of fat and riches to plunder for the foreseeable future. We are too rich and too big to fail, in other words. And we will drill, frack, and blow up the planet and poison its atmosphere and soil and water forever, and commit our children to endless wars in the Sandbox and central Asia just to keep the Happy Motoring circus alive for a few more years.

  28. Chuck W says:

    There will not be any US state secessions, just like there are not any happening in the EU. Reason is that very few states could survive it alone — or even in union with a few more. Maine secede? One of the poorest states alive. And so were the Dakotas until fracking started a few years ago. States rely on redistribution the same as individuals.

    Government and big business are cut from the same pattern: they redistribute wealth from the successful to the bankrupt. I have mentioned before that in Naptown, most radio stations are owned by just a few. Among those are quite a few that are losing money (especially the AM stations). But, for some reason, they are supported by the other profitable ones in the same chain of ownership. Just like states. If all stations were under separate ownership, many would disappear entirely!

    Just as some businesses cannot go it alone and have to be subsidized by a bigger brother, so is it with states. Very few could keep up their infrastructures without the help of Big Brother in DC. And imagine if you did and were a successful state, the hassle and cost of negotiating international agreements from scratch to continue with business abroad — especially if DC lobbies against them, which they will. There won’t be any secessions in our future.

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