USPS Saturday Solution

Every few years I hear in the new how the Post Office needs reform because it’s in the red, going in the red, or can’t get out of the red. The only ‘solutions’ I ever hear are closing post offices permanently and/or close on Saturday – close post offices, stop delivery, etc. Closing post offices will help, but by itself it’s not enough, and there is always a bunch of whining about which offices to close. The ‘Saturday’ solution isn’t enough as it will just delay more drastic measures needed later.

I have three particular ways the Post Office can cut costs and compete with the non-government-aligned delivery services. And no, I don’t have exact figures because I have no desire to do the research.

The first is to stop the defined benefits pension plan and move to a defined contribution pension plan (e.g. a 401(k) vs. a traditional pension). Then, once in the black, the USPS would be allowed to offer 401(k) matching as an incentive.

Many municipalities have passed laws to change their pension programs such that all new employees have to actually contribute or the organization say it will contribute X and be done with it. Those with the current plans keep them. Perhaps some people can figure out an equitable way to convert current defined benefit to defined contribution plans, but that would be a bonus to this idea.

Immediate savings: minimal. This is more of a long-term fix.

My second idea is a ‘Saturday’ solution, not to close offices on Saturdays or stop delivery on Saturday, but to cut residential delivery to just Saturday. Post offices would keep their current Monday through Saturday hours.

I don’t know about most people but I don’t send much mail. And the majority of mail I do receive I can do without or get all at once. Of the mail I do receive, 10-15% is actually for me or my wife – letters, bills, magazines, or packages. Everything else is either a catalog (just because I ordered from you once it doesn’t mean I need a regular mailing), promotions from business I am a customer of, postal patron mass mailings, or some other form of junk mail.

All bills I’ve ever received could easily have waited until Saturday to be delivered and the next Saturday to be sent. Currently, however, most of my bills I get are electronically paid. For the few I still receive in paper form there is no need for me to turn it around in less than a week.

As a residential customer if I need to send something out on a Tuesday I see no reason I shouldn’t have to take my mail to the Post Office, FedEx, UPS, DHL, or whomever else is in the delivery service. Some people even have the unusual luxury of postal service pickup at work.

Immediate and long-term savings: employee count, gas use, wear and tear on vehicles, actual number of vehicles needed.

My third idea is for business delivery to be cut to Monday through Friday. It only drops one day from their route, but what would they get in six days that they wouldn’t get in five?

As many bills are paid digitally or automatically they aren’t waiting for a large portion of money. And, considering mail is delivered faster now than it ever has been before, they won’t miss that sixth day of delivery.

Immediate and long-term savings: employee count, gas use, wear and tear on vehicles.

The most difficult part will be the downsizing. As I’m not a total cold-hearted jerk I suggest using natural attrition to initially get the employee count down. Unfortunately, natural attrition likely won’t get the employee count down fast enough, so other measures would need to be taken. Companies do this all the time, so there are ways to do it.

Take away: “When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight”*, there are options: FedEx, UPS, etc.

* FedEx, circa 1978-1983

You Went to MIT… Big Deal

Several years ago I learned MIT has some video learning courses you can watch without paying the tuition. And, as I’m kind of a nerd I decided to watch some of them. Which ones? A finance master-level class, solid state chemistry, principles of chemical science, and a few others.

I’ll admit I don’t comprehend everything said as I’m not paying full attention – so it’s just as if I were there – but I’m also not reading the book, studying, or going for a degree so it doesn’t really matter. In one of the classes a multiple choice question was asked, with equivalent answers:

Q: Which of these equations equal 1?
a. 2 – 1
b. 2 / 2
c. 0 + 1
d. 5 + 6 – 10
e. a, b, and c are correct
f. a, b, c, and d are correct

Of course the question was much harder, it is college. Results… 30% of the students said e and 58% of the students said f. The teacher felt that because e is a subset of f, that most of the students got it correct. But doesn’t selecting e imply that d is incorrect?

Following her logic, as a, b, c, and d are each correct and if you add up the responses to a, b, c, d, e, and f everyone technically got it correct; the only way to not get the question correct would be to either not answer it or writing in your own answer (um, not an option in multiple choice).

For multiple choice questions I was always told to choose the ‘most correct’ answer when compared to others. In my example a, b, c, and d are all as correct as each other, e is more correct because you recognize several are the correct answer (though, implying one is incorrect), and f is even more correct than e because you recognize all are correct.

Heck, when I took Calculus in college I had quizzes with five questions I had to take regularly. We never have ‘All of the Above’ as an option, just three to five options and sometimes a ‘None of the Above’. The catch? We had to select ALL answers which were correct. That means solving the problem, and then solving each answer to see if they were equivalent to the problem. If I got two of the three options correct I still missed the problem.

Take away: it’s OK to tell students they’re wrong if they don’t give a full answer.

Star Trek Foreign Language

Yes, I watch Star Trek. I grew up watching ST with my dad, then during the last season of ST: The Next Generation I saw just about every episode of STTNG. I never got into Deep Space Nine or Voyager or Enterprise. Then, about a year ago I decided to watch STTNG on Netflix start to finish. It took some time and there were a few episodes I didn’t recognize, but I got through it. About a month ago I decided to try watching STDSN… It’s a bit better then I expected.

During a particular episode in which Quark was trying to speak Klingon I had a realization about ST’s concept of a universal translator. Warf was helping him and mainly speaking English, but then a few words came out as Klingon, and then back to English. My realization? How? How was it one second everyone is hearing Warf speak English then Klingon and back to English without any button or other device being accessed, shouldn’t the UTs translate the Klingon phrase?

Based on an episode where Quark travels back to 1950’s Earth (USA to be precise) the Universal Translators are in the Ferengis heads, which leads me to assume it is true for all races [in the future] vs. the UTs used by Kirk and Bones in ST6 (The Undiscovered Country) when they are in a Klingon court and sentenced to blah blah blah. If the device is in someone’s head it could lead to the idea that while speaking something I could think, “keep this in my language.” Plausible, except what about the humanoid hearing the word, what’s there to tell the listener to hear the desired language?

I understand the UTs could be networked to send signals back and forth to say what language to hear, but I don’t see that happening. Again, I reference Quark going back to 1950’s Earth. Quark, his brother, and his nephew had the UTs but the humans did not. This implies the UTs can sense the language it needs to translate to and does not network. Or the UT concept is just straight up broken.

Take away: I’m a dork.

Working on <Enter Holiday Here>

Police, firefighters, and nurses & doctors. Truckers, hotel staff, travel staff (pilots, car rentals, cruise ships, flight attendants). Other travel workers (e.g. airport staff such as TSA, food courts, etc.) and parade workers / organizers.

No, these aren’t jobs I dreamed of as a kids – well, a firefighter was one of them. No, these are just a few of the jobs that have people working on Thanksgiving and getting a footnote of attention (if even that much) amongst all the hype of consumer businesses choosing to be open on the fourth Thursday of November. A day dedicated to the celebration of making it through a winter (and subsequent summer) in the new world.

Not a day celebrating the birth of a savior (Christmas), the days God killed first born sons in Egypt except for the Jews (Passover), or any other religious believe. Nope, it’s a celebration of people surviving in the new world where thousands / millions of natives already were surviving.

So what’s the big deal about working on Thanksgiving vs. being at home? “Being with family…” is the common argument I’ve heard. From all the movies I’ve seen everyone dreads being with family this much because all the men will be watching football, aunt so-in-so will get drunk and hit on any of her niece’s husbands or boyfriends, and the kids are noisy.

“No, it’s because corporations are being greedy!” is the another point I’ve heard. Well, I’m not sure how many people are aware of this, but business exist to earn money. Are they being greedy by opening one more day of the year than years past? No.

However, the problem is greed. Consumer greed. That’s right, the shoppers. They want the best deals. They want the newest products. And they want it now! They’ll push, pull, bite, kick, trample, or maim whomever to get the latest doll, video game console, or sweater for their special someones.

Why don’t I blame the business? Because they are reacting to the consumer which is exactly what they should be doing if they want to survive. When shoppers started lining up to get into stores with blow-out sales on Black Friday the stores started opening up earlier and earlier, but still on Friday. Then someone at some company bet they’d have customers on Thanksgiving if they opened on Thursday. And guess what, they did. The next thing you know, more and more companies joined in.

Take away: if you don’t want to work on Thanksgiving, work for the government; heck, you’d have roughly 300 days off a year if you did.

Let’s go Metric

I’ve never understood why the US still uses the Imperial system for measurements. It’s not like metric is a fad or something only third world countries use,. Heck, it’s been around since 1795 (France being the official first adopters) and it took another 29 years until a second country made it official (Portugal), but it’s here to stay.

From my limited research (thanks wikipedia!) it looks like there are only three countries left not using metric (and I one of them is in the process of converting). In this case it does make sense to do it because everyone else is (it’s not like we’d be jumping off a bridge or anything).

All the cool physics and chemistry equations use metric (other sciences may as well, but I am unfamiliar with them). So for students to understand when they drop a 50 lb anvil on one side of the lever from 20 ft up they first have to convert Imperial to metric, do all the equations, then convert the result back to understand how high the ball on the other side will fly up into the are.

Similarly, understanding the factors is much easier (it’s base ten, like the number of fingers most of us have) especially as everything uses the base unit type in its name – e.g. meter vs. inch, foot, mile; or liter vs. teaspoon, ounce, cup, gallon; etc. I’ll admit, I always had a difficult time remembering the prefixes, but that was because outside of class I didn’t use them (and I didn’t study much in grade school). Until you took physics or chemistry in high school when did you ever use nano, micro, milli, centi, kilo, mega, giga, etc.? I’ll tell you… never (in the late ’80s and early ’90s).

Plus, this could actually spur the economy, too. Speed limit signs, cook books, blueprints, clothing tags, thermometers, ovens, the beloved wooden measuring sticks, among other things would all have to be redone (no one would be forced to buy everything new, that’s not the point or practical).

I’m not saying we need to start driving on the left side of the road, that’s just plain stupid. But going metric would make the world a slightly easier place to live. I know a bunch of [phone] apps might lose out on this conversion, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Take away: When I said ‘I didn’t study much in grade school’ what I meant was ‘I didn’t study much in school.’