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How the US Postal Service reads terrible handwriting

Tom Scott · Youtube · 52 HN points · 0 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Tom Scott's video "How the US Postal Service reads terrible handwriting".
Youtube Summary
At the Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City, keyers process 1.2 billion images of mail every year. It's a more difficult job than I thought.

Edited by Michelle Martin:
Thanks to Zack from JerryRigEverything for being the camera op:

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Aug 08, 2022 · 52 points, 12 comments · submitted by leohonexus
I was excited to learn PO box numbers are unique in my city and have their own ZIP code so theoretically mail could reach me with an address of only "37939-0002" (ZIP only) or "PO Box 2, Knoxville" (no ZIP) if someone wants to test it out. I'll send something fun in reply.
I used to have a job doing this at a different REC in the mid 2000s and we had terminals that I think were connected to some mainframe system.

The keyboard layout was custom for the application like they show in the video. The software would expect numbers at certain times, so you'd just type numbers using the home row and it'd switch back over the alpha chars after you input the correct number of number chars.

Recently sent mail with Tropical Coast font for addresses. Some got there in a couple days. Some are trickling in 2 weeks later. I was guessing, the auto sorter failed on a few and they had to be manually read.
Single point of failure: only one centre. Fire, flooding, earthquake or non-natural disaster would cause problems for all mail delivery throughout the US.
It would likely fall back to the individual mail sorting centers to manually sort them, just like they said happens if the people keying don't respond fast enough (I think they said within 60s or so).
Not all, but for 1%
Ha ha, obviously!

I meant all sorting depots, not all mail.

Presumably each depot has manual systems, but those systems will be very inefficient and cause backlogs and other subsequent problems. A manual system for a large depot that suddenly gets 20x or more overloaded would struggle with an extended outage of that one centralised system.

Finely tuned flow systems often break down spectacularly with unexpected disturbances: look at the problems at container ports. Or play factorio.

Good point, with their infrastructure I would assume they would’ve allowed some workers to work remotely if required, though I don’t see evidence of that in the video.

If you pause at 4:01 you’ll see a real time model forecasting the number of keyers online within the next few hours. I assume that’s done because everyone still essentially works in that center, though I might be wrong.

I have been involved in the development of systems similar to this one. Typically the systems keeping the data on-site or within jurisdiction do not allow for remote login. Otherwise, keying is done remotely in an area with lower labor costs.
Anybody know which OCR engine they're using?
My grandmother used to send me letters with beautiful (cursive) handwriting but completely random abbreviations and missing portions of the address. They always made it to me. The system is impressively robust.

Also, in the video they show a poster about keying in letters to Santa. You can actually sign up to fulfill the Christmas wishes of random children:

Canada has that too. I like his Canadian address better as he has postal code H0H0H0.
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