Today’s postal service has a reputation for being slow and hopelessly stuck in the old ways. The term “snail mail” doesn’t sound much like a product that Google would be rolling out anytime soon. But it hasn’t always been this way: The U.S. Postal Service has a long history of exploiting technology to offer alternate means of message transmission. At it’s inception, part of the Postal Department’s mandate was the construction of a network of post roads for mail to travel along, infrastructure with obvious secondary benefits for the young nation. From there, mail traveled by pony express, railroad and steamship, surmounting the technical problems to keep communication on pace with the country’s expansion. Soon after the development of powered flight, the USPS innovated again by delivering mail by plane. Time and time again, circumstances have driven innovation, Between 1942 and 1945, “V-Mail” (for “Victory Mail”) service was available for […]
In many countries, it is not uncommon for the postal service to offer savings accounts. These often serve low-income populations with small savings who may not get the best deal from checking accounts geared toward salaried 9-5ers. The U.S. Postal Service formerly had such a system, offering savings accounts from 1911 – 1966 that paid out 2% annually on deposits. This might be just the moment to reinstate a postal savings account system. Personal savings are increasing while banks are cutting down on the freebies and easy access to checking and savings accounts that proliferated before the economic downturn (free checking and savings accounts are often only for students and direct deposit users). Free and easy bank accounts could go a long ways towards reducing the poor’s reliance on check cashing services that skim off a percentage of their earnings and could increase their personal savings rate. There’s also the […]
OK, let’s pretend that Mike Kuniavsky’s idea of postal service as DNS service has come to fruition and let’s say I’ve paid for the distinction of being Aaron Cael, U.S. Thus, all anybody has to do to direct any physical object to me would be to slap on adequate postage and write “Aaron Cael, U.S.” on it. Bitchin’, right? Well let’s say I’m something of a jetsetter, the type who regularly doesn’t see their mailbox for days or weeks at a time. Having one’s vital communiques and well-wishes bound to something as old-fashioned as a physical location is the sort of thing that wears on a modern mind. But what if one’s “postal DNS” resolved not to one physical location but to where ever one’s body happened to be? Sync your calendar up with your postal account and that letter from your grandma and those sneakers you ordered off Amazon […]
Again I’ll say it: the U.S. Postal Service is a strange and doomed beast, constantly hounded and bleeding from a thousand cuts but cursed to never die. And maybe that’s why I love it. A ways back we solicited opinions on how best to transform the struggling U.S. Postal Service, stirring up barely a leaf’s rustle of feedback.Said feedback suggested that we could best “help the postal mails by solicitously expediting transfer of good faith monies” to the Nigerian bank account specified. Nearly a year later and I’m still waiting for my fortune in embezzled oil wealth. But nothing’s changed. The postal service is still hemorrhaging cash, still viewed as antiquated and a dead-tree dependent business that is haunted by technological changes, rather than an institution that stands to benefit from them. Apropos of nothing but my own surging interest, I hereby declare June 3 through June 10th TITLE OF […]
Last week Obama introduced the new United States budget– which notably kills the American space program. There is one way the zombie that is NASA can return from the dead: a lottery. NASA has been in the sick ward for some time. Few come to visit these days. The Shuttle is a flying Betamax of technolgy. NASA has been reduced to finding parts on eBay. Perhaps the only thing George W Bush did I concur with was give NASA a reboot. The proposed Constellation Program was Apollo on steroids. After all, we have computers, CAD, and iPods so let’s use that awesome technology to go to the moon. Using proven rocket technolgy from the design of Saturn V and Soyuz rockets, the Ares would take us back to the moon. It might have, but now the money and interest is gone. This has been the problem with manned spaceflight since […]
Libraries are storage repositories for books, but just certain books, not your books. No, you have to store those yourself. Most of the time, those books are speed bumps or structural elements because most of the time you aren’t reading them. While a well-stocked bookcase or two can be good for showing off to friends and potential mates when you have them round the place, there’s something to be said for not having a half ton of dead tree hanging about the place, taking up valuable space that could be used for holding broken electronics or a knife throwing range. See where I’m going with this yet? Two things about me: I’ve got no money and I live in what would be considered a treehouse if it was in a tree, rather than over a store that sells do-rags and tire chains. Thus I think a lot about making use […]
“Give me half a tanker of iron and I will give you an ice age.” — Russ George Russ George in the volume 18 issue of Make magazine says he has a solution for global warming. His plan sounds like a deus ex machina solution for our global warming problems: get some iron (0.5 micron hematite), drop it in the ocean, spread at the right times and places, plankton eats iron, plankton grows, and global warming and dying fish go bye-bye. He has also written a Google Knol article (yes, someone uses Google Knol) on the subject as well. His company, Plantoks Science bills themselves as a “privately held ecorestoration and ocean biotechnology company” though this sounds like “MacGyver style fix to global warming.” Science to the rescue or psuedo-science fraud?
Alright, I confess: I still write and send actual, physical letters to people. People I know even. For non-special occasions, not even as a ritual or an outdated formality. I’m a sucker for physical objects, what can I say. As often as I think that I’m the last non-corporate entity who still uses the post office, there’s still that enormous line at every sad outpost of the U.S. Mail. Weird. Who are these people? Before this devolves into a pointless antiquarian rant, let me get to the meat: there’s an article brewing that I want to get a conversation going about before it starts. Topic: how would you go about making the postal service relevant? Included in this would be the issues of improving the user experience, competing with email for ease of use, making all those hackneyed storefronts do something and running it all without just digging a big […]