Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PO Ponder

As some of you know, I have a slightly odd hobby: I collect calculating machines, especially slide rules. The majority of these slide rules are purchased through eBay or some other online source, and then they’re shipped to me. The slide rules come from all over the world, including from places that used to be considered quite exotic: Belarus, Bulgaria, Paraguay, Thailand, and Russia, to name just a few. And of course a lot of them come from the U.S.

Many of the U.S. shippers use a standard box available from the Post Office. This box is roughly 15” x 12” x 3", which is a good fit for a lot of the 12” slide rules (this was a common size). Over time, I’ve received well over a hundred of these boxes.

Which leads to the ponder. These boxes all have, on one end, a little pull tab whose purpose is to give the recipient an easy way to open the box. And such an easy way would be much appreciated. But…on every single one of these boxes I’ve ever received, this pull tab has failed. Usually it’s because the plastic strip you’re pulling is broken or missing somewhere along the line. Sometimes it just breaks. Whatever the reason, the think always fails. It’s become a kind of game with me — each time I get one of these boxes, I try a new way of yanking that strip. I’ve tried slow yanking, fast yanking, and 50 speeds in between. I’ve tried yanking straight up, yanking sideways, wiggling as I yank. All to no avail. Today I tried whistling and standing on one foot while yanking — it broke right in the middle.

What is it with the Post Office (a quasi-government “corporation")? How can they go for years and years buying a faulty product? Well, that’s an easy one — it’s a government agency, and there are no consequences for screwing up. Probably the company who makes these inferior boxes makes the appropriate bribes political contributions, and magically they get the contract each time.

BTW, FedEx and UPS both have a similar box. They work first time, every time. I’ve never had one of theirs fail. I can’t make them fail!

Capitalism works.

Government executes poorly, on a small scale or a large scale.


  1. In the old blog, Steven Coronado said:
    As it happens, I was thinking about USPS boxes only a couple of days ago. I received something in one of the boxes you described, and I said to myself, “Hmmm, I have received a lot of stuff in these boxes over the years, and never once have I tried the little easy-open pull tab. Let’s give it a go."I grabbed the little tab, pulled it, and viola`, the box opened. It opened easily, smoothly, and completely. No muss, no fuss, no problem. I was genuinely surprised that it worked. Like you, I expected it to fail. After all, it was a box imprinted with the US Post Office logo, and everybody knows they are nincompoops. Of course, it was going to fail! But alas, it worked as advertised. I was sort of disappointed.BTW, I have been receiving mail through the US Post Office for over 50 years, and I am not aware that they have ever lost a piece of my mail. Maybe they have, but I don’t know for sure, and if they did, it was certainly not that important, anyway.Capitalism definitely works better than government, and UPS, FedEx, and DHL are all very good examples. Nevertheless, from my personal experience, the US Postal Service ain’t bad.

  2. In the old blog, Tom said:
    ;Thanks for the comment, Steven. On the subject of reliability: the Wall Street Journal and Consumer Reports regularly run tests (and publish the results) of package delivery via the U.S. Post Office vs. the private carriers. I’ve seen perhaps six of these reports in the WSJ over the years, and in every one of them the US Post Office was in a class by itself when it comes to losing packages — more than ten times the rate of loss of all the private carriers. From a personal point of view, I have had several packages (both incoming and outgoing) lost by the Post Office. One of them, many years ago, was a particularly bitter loss: a collection of all the photos (slides) I took as a young man, through the age of about 25 — some 2,000 slides in all. I was sending it home to my parents for safe-keeping; it never arrived and it was never found… I’m still mad at 'em for that one, 30 years ago — but there have been others since then…