Loopy Loop Mail

April 4th, 2010 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Loop mail? Loop mail! Who knew?

An aged, weary clerk at the Hyde Park post office schooled me yesterday. Apparently this is well known to postal workers. Loop mail seems to live in the computer age at the intersection of automation and lazy programming.

loopmailAfter paying for a priority package, I brought out the troublesome #10 envelope that had visited me three times. I figured I was due for insulting the intelligence and perhaps parentage of a JP USPS employee, but not so.

This envelope that to even the lowest level of functional wit had nothing to do with me, kept returning. Yet, to the clerk it made perfect sense…considering the system.

In early January, a woman in Tennessee had sent a letter to someone in JP with the last name Ballard. I kept getting this letter, despite:

  • Someone at 36 Goodrich writing RETURN TO SENDER. MOVED on the envelope, replete with an arrow pointing to the return address.
  • My name being Ball, not Ballard.
  • Our moving from JP to HP in August — I did not ever live on that side of JP, much less on that street.

The clerk took away my indignation by explaining that it was the computer-generated code at the bottom of the envelope routing, re-routing and re-re-routing this to me. The code, it seems, came from an envelope scan of the first four letters of the last name, the five number zip code and the numbers of the street address (but not the street name).

Under those simple-minded and approximate rules, I sort of fit the recipient…once, twice and three times. She said the best bet was to mark through the USPS code at the bottom. That should spit the envelope out of the automatic system to a human.

Armed with the term loop mail, I found several citations on the net, including a how-to-break-the-loop one here.

Clearly, computers are capable of much higher sorting and more granular discrimination. Those only work when their software tells them what to do. Instead, think of the many folk in JP with those street numbers and the same first four letters. It would seem such an algorithm would work fine in a tiny town and worse and worse the greater the population and quantity of streets.

Regardless, this was my first loop mail ever. Now I know what to do. Just in case though, the HP clerk said if it comes to me again, bring it specifically to her and she’ll call the JP clerks to straighten it out — human to human.

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2 Responses

  1. Uncle says:

    I keep finding up sides to an unusual name; and I suppose my street characters run to the uncommon. Either way, I’ve never had this loop in my home life, though I seem to recall it at a workplace once.

  2. Jay & Jasper says:

    I use a small post office in Greenwoord. It’s nice talking to a Mary versus a computer or automated phone system. It works well with Mary, but Thursday is her day off and another covers. Too bad the cover person does not like her job. On those days I’d take the loop mail J

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