Thursday, June 30

One Acceptable Replacement for Mail

I have to say, I'm a little impressed. Wasn't I just ranting about hating all the crap mail my mail slot fills up with on a weekly basis?

This isn't the total solution to this problem but it's a step in the right direction. My city government is working with Zumbox to transition from physical, analog postal mail to digital e-mail distribution! That's kinda cool. So anything that my local government would mail to me will instead go to my Inbox, where my Gmail will reckon with it handily. They're also pushing other big mailers (AT&T, Verizon, State Farm, &c.) to convert as well--that's less paper being printed and less fuel burned to produce and transport it.

I'm all in favor of this. I still want hand-written letters and postcards, but my junk mail and bills would serve me better as e-mail alerts rather than physical clutter.

Tuesday, June 28

Bones to Pick With the Postal System

Okay, I know I dressed down our U.S. infrastructure pertaining to the postal system. I love the postal system, but love doesn't mean turning a blind eye to your object of affection's faults. It means acknowledging them and embracing them as a part of the whole, without which your objet d'amour would be another creature entirely.

And then there are flaws that manifest solely within the postal system's context but are not necessarily the fault of the postal system. By this I mean a few problems or annoyances that only turn up because of the USPS, but problems which are not part of the USPS' agenda or a direct result of its actions. The USPS is a vehicle for an unlimited number of variables--that these variables exploit the USPS, like intestinal parasites, does not mean the USPS is a detriment to modern life. On the contrary: it is up to us, we consumers, to mass up and address these aberrations, to resolve them ourselves.

One common problem is that of the shitty postal carrier. Many postal workers are solid joes: they do their job, they know their dominion, and they accrue valuable experience along the way. Delivering mail is not a simple or uneventful task: carriers can stand in as wardens of their community, if not the glue within a neighborhood.

Yet some carriers don't see it like this. Some of them believe they are destined for greater (albeit ill-defined) things. Some believe they're being oppressed by The Man, and the ongoing state of their employment only serves as evidence of this tyranny. Still others just don't give a rat's ass about the job they do, and that would be true of them in any position: in a restaurant, they would drop your steak on the ground and pick it back up to serve to you; in a bank, they would enter your deposit under the wrong account number; at a repair garage, they would mess your car up worse than you'd delivered it to them.

In the USPS, this can manifest as the jackass who simply crams your mail into your mail slot because he's too ill-tempered to do a reasonable job. Maybe the task is too repetitive for him; maybe his significant other chastises him for lacking ambition; maybe a group of douchebags lollygagged in front of his mail truck, causing him to miss a green light. Whatever the reason, he's inappropriately taken this aggression out on me and decreased the quality of my day in some slight but not unmeasureable way.

What he's done here is jammed the weekly circulars in my mail slot. Jammed them in without an eye toward physical space, crumpled up the very mail he has labored to deliver. Which brings up another issue: I don't want those circulars. None of those ads apply to me at all. They are a shameful waste of resources, both in the gas it took to transport them to me and in the trees that were felled to provide the pulp upon which they would be printed, not to mention the man-hours of labor in every stage of its production and dissemination.

I don't want those damned circulars. Nobody in my building wants those damned circulars. Yet they fill up our mailboxes, not addressed to us but to our addresses solely. Sometimes they say "To Our Friends At" but more often "Resident" or "Customers." It would be worthwhile to note who's advertising in these circulars and specifically boycotting them based on their antiquated, wasteful, debauched advertisement methods.

There's a garbage can at the end of the hall. It's made of metal and large enough that I--all 180 lbs. and 6' of me--could crouch down in it and hide, completely concealed by its lid. Weekly, this capacious container fills up with those blighted, horrid circulars; indeed, that can is there expressly for this function alone, to contain all the trash, garbage, rubbish, and waste that turns up in our mailboxes. (Otherwise, of course, the charming and thoughtful American citizens that live here would simply strew their postal detritus up and down the hallway.) Weekly, this container is over-filled with these accursed circulars and a variety of other junk mail.

What's the solution? I'm not specifically sure. When I meet with the postmaster general to talk about how collection boxes are extincted, I'll also ask if there's a way to opt-out of these colon-lapping circulars, or how one would begin to protest their distribution. Is that the purview of our congresspeople? And is it possible to rally enough support to reverse the tide of this wholly unwanted publication?

Tuesday, June 21

Searching for Mailboxes!

Now that I'm back into my postcard exchange program, I had to get my mail forwarded from where it was being collected (my mom's house) to my apartment. No problem, except I wrote "St" instead of "Ave." Mail still gets to me, but with angry addendum scrawled around the destination address.

Easily fixed: I submitted new address change cards using (at the postal clerk's advisory) the address I'd been using for the last six months and my corrected address. Didn't need to make a note of the mistaken address at all.

Fine and good, but Postcrossing isn't just about receiving mail--it's about sending, too, obviously. There's a mail slot in my apartment building's bank of mailboxes, a slot crudely gouged out of the slender aluminum door, captioned with the taped note "OUTGOING." But this slot is barely big enough for a business envelope and can in no way accommodate a postcard without folding or mutilation. Spindling's not necessary.

Image: LifeHacker
So where do I send my mail? Where, indeed: more USPS mailboxes are being dismantled and removed all the time. In my leisurely perambulations about my neighborhood I've seen nary a one. This means all my outgoing mail has to accumulate in a pile until I have an errand that brings me downtown--if I can find a mailbox downtown, of course.

If I visit my in-laws at their senior living apartments, they have a perfectly adequate mail slot in their postal foyer. That's not always convenient, though, since my wife and I are against owning a car. It would be cheap to rent an Hourcar and visit them for a couple hours, and cheaper still to catch a bus (though the trip down there takes nearly an hour, and an hour back... if we leave while the buses are still running), but seriously?

Seriously? That's the best I can do if I want to send a letter?

Actually, no, I can do better. A very casual Google search turned up two mailbox locators, where you type in your city/state or your ZIP code, and they turn up results for mailboxes in your area.

LifeHacker found this Mailbox Locator program being hosted by Payphone Project (obviously, someone needed to find payphones). It's... okay... It seems to rely on anecdotal evidence for updating its database. People report in and note "this one's no longer here" or "got taken away a couple days ago or so." Maybe that's the best we can go on. Whose responsibility, really, is it to notify us where the mailboxes are? ...Arguably, that of the USPS, would be the first guess I'd hazard. But there's nothing wrong with the citizens rising up and contributing this information, answering a real need.

The responses are entirely text-based, there's no image or pictures here. It would be difficult for me to picture the address locations of each box and I'd end up typing them into Google Maps anyway. Additional confusion ensued when I wasn't keeping track of which search bar I entered my information into. Type it into the one on top for the results you want. Entering it into the search bar just below it (the more obvious one, I think) and you get a bunch of Google results that come up in the Mailbox Locator display window. They don't look like the list of addresses you'd get ordinarily, but both kinds of results do show up after a full window of ads.

But the one I like is Mailbox Map, which uses Google Maps as part of its function. Again, type in your city/state or ZIP code, and it actually provides a graphic illustration of mailboxes (including UPS and USPS offices proper).

I love Google Maps, and I love data aggregators, so this will be the application for me.

Now, the only thing to see is how accurate this tool is. It looks great, but it won't mean anything if the mailboxes aren't where it says they are. And I'd go out and check now, only we're currently experiencing a two-day torrential downpour, so... I guess my postcards will just have to hang out with me a while longer.

UPDATE: I went out looking for the mailboxes in my area when the rain let up. Mailbox Map listed three mailboxes within a three-block area of my apartment. Walking to each site, I confirmed that none of these exist anymore. I suspect the same is true for those mailboxes a few blocks further out in any direction. I tried to look up mailboxes in Mailbox Locator and it simply did not have anything listed for my area at all.

Further UPDATE: Duh. USPS has its own collection box locator. I didn't even think of that. I'm not sure how accurate it is: I found three mailboxes through Mailbox Map and the USPS site doesn't one of the ones I found (again, by walking out to each location). It did list five in my area, however, and I can confirm the location of one of these.

Monday, June 20

The Bushido of Editing: Serving a Corrupt Lord

All right, cats and kitties, this is the real word as it has come down from the mountain.

According to AP style, "e-mail" is now written as "email." The Associated Press issued a wire advisory on March 18, 2011 (yes, I know this is three months later, but I was out of the country, and none of my friends care enough about such things to give me a heads-up).

How do I feel about this? Not happy. Up to this point, I was the keen-edged sword held to the throat of every lazy, uneducated lummox who tried to remove the hyphen from "e-mail." After all, "email" is already a word: a type of pottery design, from 12th century French email, etymologically linked to enamel.

The only reason they're permitting this, this... this damned typographic elision is for the worst reason of all, and it is the reason language changes all over the world, all up and down the timeline. So many people have so consistently gotten it so wrong, the educated bastion of sanity has finally slumped to its desk in defeat and permitted--nay, endorsed, by a cadre of quisling nabobs--this oversight's passage into law. That's all it takes! Language was formed by reason and logic, and it "evolves" because people are too lazy to learn/practice it correctly, so the errors are recorded for posterity!


Imagine you went to buy a car and drove it home, and it fell apart on the highway while you're booting along (at ten miles over the speed limit, in all likelihood. Be honest). Not pretty, right? How could this have happened? It seems a number of workers on the auto assembly line stopped tightening certain bolts. "You know what I meant," they groused. "It looks like a car. There's no breakdown in communication." Factory admin were upset at first, but the workers were so unified and persistent in the remission of their duties, the factory rolled over and made it a rule that no bolt should be tightened.

That's what happened to the hyphen in "electronic mail." Thanks, lunkheads and rubes, you've bludgeoned your way into yet another "evolution" of the language. I accepted "Web site" transitioning to "website," enforced last year. I adjusted to how badly the marketing industry reapplies the word "creative" to mean nearly anything, to the point where this is an acceptable sentence: "The creative creative created a creative creative," when at some point in the past we might've said, "One of our graphic designers produced some illustrations." Oh, corporate speak, don't even get me started on corporate speak! There are some lines in the sand I will not only draw but fortify... but, as an editor, when the new commandment comes down, I have to enforce the misguided doggerel like "email."

But only in AP. Step to me in Chicago or AMA, and I'll speak respectfully of your travails to your next of kin.

Friday, June 17

The Ecologically Minded Correspondent

Okay, so I'm poking around on Postcrossing (the postcard exchange program I cannot stop talking about) (partially because getting anyone else to take 20 minutes out to write me a note is like pulling teeth out of Congress), and I notice a little sidebar. Someone has assembled a small list of Things You Can Do To Make Your Postal Experience Greener!

I'm very eco and green, and I'm very against greenwashing. Traveling around southeast Asia was really hard for me and my wife, in an ecological sense, both because of our awareness of how un-green it is to travel at all, and because we were routinely confronted with the repercussions of climate change our own nation had initiated but for which these developing nations had to suffer. Imagine you're a Lao farmer, you grow your own food, you walk or bike everywhere you need to go, you reuse materials in ingenious ways to suit your needs, and then your lake dries up and your livestock die because Americans need more oil than anyone else, and more every year, and they don't believe in recycling. So the carbon they eject warms up the atmosphere, which traps more moisture, which traps more heat, and all your sources of water dry up. And you can't appeal to your government for relief because it's resolutely corrupt all the way through.

Welcome to scenic Phonsavanh, Laos! Please don't step
off the marked trails as there are still unexploded bombs.
It's heartbreaking to listen to their stories, their confusion at having lived sustainably for several generations, only this year it doesn't work because of what the rest of the world is doing, so they're going to starve to death unless one of their children can learn English and sell enough tours (of their barren, desolate wasteland) to drunken Australians or British lads to bring rice to the table, after repaying their bank loan for a dozen thousand dollars to finance their tuk-tuk, the first of many petrol-guzzling vehicles necessary for these tours. ...But I digress.

So writing letters isn't a very green practice. It involves printing paper with ink, hauling loads of postal cargo across continents and oceans by horrifically fuel-burning vehicles, and all the oil that runs the processing machinery and gets it all sorted. This list of ecologically responsible practices seems... a little pathetic in the face of what the planet is confronting. Very too-little-too-late. I was hoping for some brilliant innovation that I could implement to feel like I was really paying some penance for a lifetime of thoughtfulness. None of that was to be found here, however.

  1. Choose recycled postcards or postcards made with fibre that comes from sustainable forests. For instance, FSC certified postcards.
  2. Reuse/Recycle envelopes (it can be fun!)
  3. Use envelopes/writing pads made of 100% unbleached recycled paper.
  4. Walk, or ride your bike to take your mail to the Post Office.
  5. Write your postcards during daylight, or outside in the fresh air, and save on energy.
  6. When soaking off your stamps do them all at the same time and reuse the water as much as possible.
  7. Use refillable pens/highlighters etc.
  8. Print on both sides of the paper or reuse old study courses etc. to print things for personal use.
  9. When wrapping things, reuse gift paper. Be creative! You can use old maps, newspapers, pages from magazines etc.
  10. Get your electricity from a company that provides it from sustainable energy sources such as wind farms, solar energy, hydro energy, etc.
  11. Support an environmental organisation such as Climate care, WWF, Greenpeace etc.
Here's my categorical response to each item in this list.
  1. I don't know where to get recycled postcards. I haven't seen any that market themselves as such. I've tried making my own postcards, but many users specifically request not to receive these things.
  2. (See #1) I have made my own envelopes out of whimsical materials, and it can be fun, but it is still 1/16th of a drop in the bucket.
  3. This is a postcard group, and they're offering advice on pads of paper. I don't use pads of paper when writing postcards. The only pads of paper I use, I use as mousepads so I can quickly write notes while I'm surfing online, and those pads were salvaged from a dumpster, were purchased four decades ago, which is pretty good for reusing materials instead of buying new ones.
  4. Absolutely, I walk or ride my bike everywhere, or use my city's wonderful mass transit services (bus and LRT).
  5. The fact that I write my postcards during the daytime in no way mitigates how much light I use at night.
  6. I don't soak off my stamps. If I wish to save them, I scan them in.
  7. Absolutely, I prefer fountain pens that require refilling.
  8. When I write letters, I always write on both sides, but again, this is a postcard club.
  9. My sister and I wrap our presents in the same sheet of cloth we've reused for years. There's a wonderful website put out by the Japanese government, providing citizens with ingenious wrapping methods (furoshiki) for variously sized and proportioned gifts, to promote the reuse of cloth wrappers rather than paper.
  10. I have no idea how our electric company gets its power. There is no competition for it, however.
  11. Support those groups, but research them first. There are far too many groups doing the same work but diffusing donor funds too thinly to be very effective. There are also corrupt or at least wasteful, inefficient non-profits who don't know how to bring their administrative costs down. Maybe you want to support a powerhouse like Greenpeace, but maybe you don't want to support domestic terrorists like Greenpeace.


Oh my gosh, I apologize! I let the custom domain name here lapse, but I totally forgot about the repercussions. There's no need for me to maintain the custom URL, it's just something fancy and nice--but the discount many registrars offer for the first year or two evaporates and it can be kind of costly to maintain several of these (and since returning to the States two months ago, my wife and I have been unable to find employment).

But it totally escaped my attention that my blog was set to redirect to that custom URL! And what that meant is that anyone trying to read this blog--not that I have anything to post anymore--would be redirected to a place-holder, complete with the stock image of the cute college student so overused by domain-squatters.

This oversight has been rectified: I will not be renewing the domain name, but I deleted the redirect and anyone who thinks to Google my titular neologism will find me again.

Like I said before, I'm back on Postcrossing and loving it. Lacking a scanner (it's in storage... somewhere...), I find it's entirely sufficient to take a good photo of the cards I send out, with high resolution, and crop them down in Picasa for uploading to the Postcrossing site. It's unnecessary, it's just a neat little feature in which you can maintain albums of postcards you send and receive. I like to do it. But for a while, it seemed I could only write to Asia: the last batch saw two postcards going to China and four to Taiwan! Today, however, I scored a Finland address and balance begins to restore.

So I hope everyone can find me again, and I apologize deeply for the confusion.