Tom Scott - How the US Postal Service reads terrible handwriting

  1. About ~17 years ago, did remote encoding for the PO for about a year whilst earning some extra cash, and while not the same rules as this video, the keyboard is hella weird. For example, best thing I say is that the home row keys also serve as the number keys, depending on if you hit a space bar first or not. Work was mind-numbingly boring, soul crushing and depressing. No disrespect to anyone who worked there, but there were people that had been working there for 20 years and I just couldn't wrap my head around it. The rumor was, or, their reasoning was that at some point the PO was going to make that role a real PO job and not a part-time job, this would have given them all the benefits of an actual postal employee and wages to boot. The lure was that this negotiation had started years ago, and as a result, all hours would be back paid to reflect new wage, so, people were just hanging on - waiting out that big check.

  2. Seems like a job most people wouldn’t want long term, but for some it’s probably fine. Very easy once you’ve learned it, you can just zone out and make your productivity number with probably zero additional expectation, don’t have to interact with any people, no stress, etc.

  3. I did this job for about a year back in the early 2000s! It was basically like being paid to play a very very boring video game. I still remembered the 3+1 format and the numbers being on home row before he mentioned either of them. Even though it's been like 19 years, I feel like I could jump right back into it like it was nothing.

  4. that's why they still send both me and my brother who also worked there post cards every year to try and get us to come back for the holiday season. Sorry no thanks, one of the worst jobs I ever had, ha. But once you're trained you can get back into it really easy.

  5. My dad has had several letters returned due to "illegible address". I'm kind of impressed that he had the computer AND trained personnel scratching their heads going "yeah... no idea, return that chicken scratch to sender." Haha.

  6. I work with shipping apis, so addresses are checked before they go out. The super duper amazingly awesome thing is, usps, ups, fedex, do not validate the same way :)

  7. My dad still keeps an electric typewriter because of this. Takes seconds to do a one-offs like envelopes and forms and saves him tons of headaches because his writing truly is illegible. Might be a nice christmas gift for your dad lol

  8. I had a friend growing up with I believe it's called dysgraphia. He used a small laptop keyboard for note taking and all his work had to be done on computers because he basically couldn't write. We'd have him write and it was chicken scratch that only he could read.

  9. No way to do that without seeing what keys they are hitting. That + the information provided in the video would be sufficient to potentially figure out an address.

  10. We went FAST. You had minimum speeds and accuracy to maintain, but after a couple of weeks you could generally process almost anything in a second or so. You also got good at recognizing the QC images they would put through to make sure you were typing accurately.

  11. Writing in the correct address for a new piece of mail every 4 seconds? That sounds like a godawful job

  12. You are not actually writing in the new address on the piece of mail, usually it was just a matter of keying in the ZIP Code and then part of the street address. The computers recognize the addresses for ZIP Codes, so you didn’t need the whole thing… I averaged well over 1000 images per hour by the time I left the encoding center I worked at. Also different keyboard shortcuts you could use once you got proficient enough to memorize them.

  13. Believe it or not, it was a pretty chill job. Most everyone I knew had an MP3 or CD player and would listen to audio books every hour. I listened to Harry Potter, Left Behind, The Wheel of Time, and a bunch of other books while coding mail.

  14. I worked there. I was never more depressed than when I was there. I hope automation removes that entire facility from the face of the earth. 5 minute breaks. You need to clock out for your breaks. 2 minute to walk to the break room, 1 min to stare out a window, and 2 min to walk back. If I was late by 10 seconds, I’ll hear about it. All they care about is how well you can emulate a robot.

  15. I worked in a call centre doing international directory enquiries, it was probably much the same. The way you key things in was similar too, automated voice greeting says hello what country and I have to type the country in, tag is as country, same with street, town etc

  16. I worked at one in Bowling Green KY and loved it… at the time it was alternating 5 and then 10 minute breaks every 55 minutes. I just took them at my desk and listened to my CD player. (Yeah… early 2000’s, lol.) It was chill minus the nights where mandatory OT hit… those nights could suck.

  17. The second the manager said "average of 4 seconds an envelope" I knew it would be a miserable place to work. They're treating humans like machines until they don't need them anymore

  18. I applied and tested to work at this facility years ago. The people running the testing were yelling at everyone like military drill instructors. They were acting like the people who were taking the test had already signed on, committed and were under their authority. I tested well and they contacted me occasionally for a year after trying to get me to work there, but better job options won out.

  19. I'm just replying to 100% confirm everything you said. I asked for time off for my college graduation and they said no, so I just resigned. That was my happiest day of that year, including graduation day.

  20. Parents worked there for 30 years. They retired early with a nice pension and a healthy 401k. Now they are living their dream traveling the world. Soul-sucking work but those benefits are hard to beat if you are looking to get into a financially stable job that is pretty easy overall.

  21. Was the job still classified as a data conversion operator and fell under the APWU? If they were making you clock out for your breaks, you should’ve gone and found a steward

  22. My mom used to get in trouble for laughing too much.. the logic was laughing meant you weren't working.. she had a really high productivity rating....

  23. I worked at a REC in Florida and it was not quite that bad. smaller facility, but the same sort of time clock nazi stuff.

  24. Honestly, it's a terrible job but unlike the military, I actually thank you for your services. Your shitty time brought people their mail and that could have saved many lives instead of giving the military industrial complex bodies to get some rich senator money.

  25. I got that impression when I saw this vid, too much pressure and quite monotone work. Hope you have a better job now!

  26. I watched a doc about mass shootings that started with a postal shooting in Michigan. It included a newsreel of one of the shooter’s co-workers, and it went something like this:

  27. direct result of the American conservative mindset that all government money is money wasted and any government worker that isn't treated like this is receiving a handout

  28. The fact that he said something like 7050 keystrokes per hour seems like an insane pace. That’s something like 117 keys per minute, so in the neighborhood of 30~ words per minute … every minute for eight hours a day.

  29. That's how Amazon call centers run too. Everything is tracked to the second and if you spend too much time on a call or anything you get a performance coaching. Quit after 6 months.

  30. Thanks to our fancy modern technology they can use the data generated by the workers to make the OCR better and nobody will be working there.

  31. This is the comment I was looking for. The entire video was giving me some dystopia vibes where humans had to perform as well as robots otherwise they get thrown away into a recycle bin for composting.

  32. And come Christmas time (or any big mail-heavy holiday)...expect to work an extra 3-4 hours. Real fun when you're in college and it's time for finals and the Christmas mail rush.

  33. Yeah, as soon as I heard the processing time for each piece was four seconds, I knew the job would suck BADLY.

  34. I worked at a REC in my 20s. It wasn't bad, since I was in my 20s, but they were very tight on break times. I think we had longer breaks though. Enough time to go smoke a cigarette, etc.

  35. automation would obviously be better but the postal service being underfunded funded/staffed is what's making it bad in the first place

  36. Reminds me of the Simpsons when Bart works at a vineyard and they show him how to pluck grapes. “Now do it a million times!”

  37. After the first couple of weeks it becomes so automatic that you didn't need your full attention. I listened to soooo many audio books doing this job.

  38. There are data entry centres like this for all or most mailing companies around the world. They emphasise strict TPH (task per hour) targets in order to hire as few people as possible to save money (who work minimum wage), not a fun place to work, and people can develop severe health issues if working there long term.

  39. Not just mailing, but many other things you would've imagined they used some sort of image scanning software. I once did computer repair work for a place that people manually typed out what was captured in red light/license plate photos.

  40. I had a job for about 8 months during that sweet spot when it was still kinda unknown how long it took to enter stuff in. I joined a guy who was already doing the job and he non-ironically said almost word for word the office space quote of "Yeah, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I'm working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I'd say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work." and explained that we had it so easy that we could only screw it up by accidentally doing too much work.

  41. There are other people who have written that they got like 2-3x the minimum wage when they worked there, though.

  42. As a mailman I can tell you it’s not always accurate but what doesn’t get there that day will likely get there the following! Have had a fair share of panicked people when a check or something doesn’t arrive the day informed delivery says it will.

  43. Fun fact, USPS do not verify your email address before sending that address shitloads of photos of some guy's mail.

  44. ex Tampa REC employee here. I worked there for several years in the mid-late 2000's before they shut it down.

  45. That job looks fucking awful. I paused the screen when i saw the call center software and it tells you how much money you have lost by being idle

  46. It’s too bad he hates Reddit and refuses to be associated with it. I’d love to see an AMA by him. Lots of little questions I have.

  47. First found him from his hearing CRT noise video. I am quite proud of my set of ears that at the age of 35 can still hear that telltale CRT whine.

  48. I vaguely remember my 4th grade teacher telling my class that the post office would throw away your mail if you didn't write your name clearly.

  49. I do love this man, excluding how terrible the job sounds, Tom makes some wicked videos, find they are really good for lunch breaks as they are still relaxing enough to calm down with yet you still feel you are learning something!

  50. Put a return address in a sticker on the back, as some bulk mailers do for, say, Christmas cards, and the machine will frequently mistake to and from, happily delivering all the cards back to yourself.

  51. If you write in light colored inks on colored envelopes that would end up in RECs a lot back in the early 2000's. Dunno how it is now though.

  52. The machines will weirdly latch on to one number. Plant I worked at had a problem with mail going from CA to Japan. I'd see these letters in the midwest because this law firm's letters included the case number for what was apparently a very long case, and the case number's first 5 digits matched a ZIP in our area.

  53. I worked here for nearly 5 years. It’s obviously a very repetitive job but it’s data entry so what else would you expect? I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts and audiobooks and got paid well to do it. Once you learn all the ins and outs of how to key properly it’s a super simple gig. The only shitty parts of the job was the required overtime during the holidays and the fact that they’d force you to take a pre-scheduled “5 day break” once a year and then “re-hire” you after your break which served as a workaround for them to not offer you any benefits.

  54. One time I sent a letter to a friend, and instead of writing the address, on the outside I scrawled in childlike handwriting, "Dear Mr Postman please take this to Marjorie she is my best friend she lives at 668 St Mark Ave in New York City. Love, Jack".

  55. An old job of mine involved bulk mailing (printing and sending junk mail), and we went through a lot of addresses.

  56. You could probably get away with even less. Once it gets kicked to manual they can read and make good guesses on where it's going. You could even leave Ave off and as long as there isn't a St Mark St or Rd etc. with a 668 address, it'll get there.

  57. And yet I still regularly get mail from someone across town that has same house number but different street number, different street direction, and different zip code and it's clearly typed.

  58. The USPS recruited at my high school back in 2000. I ended up working there for my senior year. I would go in a few days a week and work after school for 4 or 5 hours.

  59. It’s no longer surprising to me how much outdated software is out there, even for relatively modern and technology-based industries.

  60. This software is actually pretty well designed for its intended use case. When you're working with a piece of software day in and day out, efficiency trumps all. You'll happily take a plain UI with minimal distraction and instant refreshes. You're totally on board to learn an unintuitive, terse input method (or even a custom interface like these keyboards) if it allows you to finish the task with as few keypresses as possible. It's the same reason so many people still program in Vim.

  61. Unfortunately good developers tend to not want to work on lower end software. The best devs end up at Amazon Google and so on.

  62. If you put the focus on the dropdown (i.e. select it with the mouse or tab key) you can often just type the first letters of an item to select it.

  63. I do a lot of time booking and by far the top used option is 7th on the list in between 2 choices we're told to never use.

  64. I'm watching the Sandman now on netflix and i can't help but see tom scott every time i look at the Sandman.

  65. I wish they could figure out that CA with a postal code that goes letter-number-letter, number-letter-number means it's supposed to go to Canada, not California. This has happened a number of times now.

  66. I work for Canada Post as a mail carrier. We have a similar system for poorly addressed mail, but I'd never seen that side of it. This was really great to watch!

  67. I used to work in distribution with journalist graduates who thought cursive was okay no matter how bad it was. I started telling them, after the second time going to them for clarification that I was just going to start guessing at the addresses. Did not go over very well.

  68. So, now I finally understand why the badly scribbled get well cards sent to the VA hospital in another city keep showing up here despite having nothing in common with the actual address except the street number (ie 123 Main St) and the state.

  69. I trained to work at one of the 55 centers back in the late '90s. Pay was good for a college job (equivalent of $18/hr today) but the hours were terrible (mostly overnight). Also ours was a dimly lit, windowless room. I found something else right before graduating to live mail. The one thing I'll never forget is the numbers across the home row.

  70. If I remember correctly from back when I worked there, you were actually supposed to look out for a Return to Sender on the image, and if there was one, you were supposed to key the return address.

  71. Are we just not gonna talk about the person at 3:00 who apparently has seven monitors and three keyboards on their one desk?

  72. Sometimes I get letters that are such a mess of chicken-scratch and bad street numbers that I don’t know how they got to me. They couldn’t be sorted normally but ended up on the right route so I could piece it together.

  73. Have worked there for almost 9 years. We have some that are still there from when the first one opened in SLC in 1994.

  74. I remember in the 90s wondering how was it that the postal service coped with some of the god-awful envelopes we received, yet consumer end software could barely handle OCR of a printed arial font size 40.

  75. As a carrier, ill say this, Americans can’t write or spell. I see letters from fucking India or whereeverthefuckistan I can deliver easier than a letter from your sister in Tacoma.

  76. I feel like if you can’t be bothered to hand write well enough for an extremely advanced OCR to read it, you deserve to get it thrown out…

  77. I did this from 2000-2004. Loved the job, amazing pay, great overtime opportunities. Breaks every hour. We were the fasted REC in the south east U.S.A. Our general manager was embezzling however which led to us getting shut down. They threw events for us constantly, but apparently she was billing even more than they gave us and pocketing the difference.

  78. First he started using arrows in his video thumbnails, and now he's gone all-in with the stupid facial expression, too. I know the stupid algorithm pushes youtubers to make these stupid thumbnails, but shit, is it off-putting. I hate it.

  79. I stopped looking for new content years ago. Can't tell the shitty reaction channels from the actual decent content, and 98% of the time it's gonna be the former.

  80. I loved it. Worked in the Kalamazoo REC in 1999/2000. Sitting in an ergonomic chair, in temperature controlled environment while I listen to books on tape?? I'd work that job again in a heartbeat.

  81. My best friend, from childhood, works real hard at the postal office. If your not one of these people, disregard this rant:

  82. My late father worked in the main P.O. of a large cìty. They had crew of guys who did nothing but read mail with bad handwriting and incomplete addresses. Seriously.

  83. They were called "Quiz Clerks." I knew a couple of people who did that, they had to know the whole city. I knew my zone really well, actually knew where people had moved from and to after years and got them mail that would have been returned.

  84. I love the services provided by USPS but holy shit that place sounds like hell to work at. Requiring 4s between inputs is ridiculous. They either need to remove the requirement to keep up with the automated sorting or set up another facility so workers can have more reasonable conditions.

  85. I have to do a similar job for a few hundred about once a month. It can be a bit rough. Every day would be horrendous, and I'm not averse to data entry.

  86. Honestly, the way he describes what your productivity rate has to be makes me think this makes for a miserable work experience of constant stress

  87. The Postal Service does amazing work. People who gripe about it are either uninformed or trying to sell you on moving business to a private courier service that will do a worse job and at higher cost.

  88. Honestly, I have when people don’t bother writing normal characters. Like why do they need to write in cursive? If somebody is supposed to read it, why not put an effort to write like a 1st grader, with each letter being separate.

  89. I wonder how big those recirc lines are in the factories? Are they standardized to prevent one factory from producing more manual labor?

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