Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Buying Stamps

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I’ve been a victim of bad software once again. And by that I don’t want to indicate that I had to use Windows or the Finder. All I wanted to do is buy a single stamp. For your convenience and allegedly their savings the post office has machines to sell stamps to you when their branches are closed or you just aren’t in the proper mood for queueing. Old stamp selling machine. Credit for the image goes to Wikimedia and their user Kandschwar: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bild:Briefmarkenautomaten.jpg That’s a great idea. And those used to be great machines. Rather small sturdy mechanical metal devices which offered little packs of the most common stamps back in the 1980s and 1990s.

But then, a few years ago, the so-called Modern Age caught up with the post office and they realised that their old machines suddenly stopped being good enough. And that they’ll need all shiny colour screen electronic replacements for them. Never mind the new technology, those new machines are a few times as large as the old ones, they need electricity and have a menu-driven interface rather than a fool-proof one. Stamps will be individually printed by the machine and you’ll even receive your change in stamps. Which means that after a while you tend to end up with a hand ful of 1 cent stamps or so which you’ll have to completely cover a letter with at some stage. Despite this great flexibility, the machines didn’t even offer the printing of arbitrary value stamps – a shortcoming that has luckily been fixed by now.

New Stamp selling machine. Credit for the photo from Wikimedia goes to http://www.geldkarte.de Of course there are good things about those machines as well. Like the fact that they’re multi-lingual or that they can advise you on the amount of postage you need depending of its destination and size (look at the cleverly included rulers on the machine!). But their main problem remains that they’re software driven. Which usually means bug driven. And it was such a bug that I ran into today.

When trying to pay for the 55 Cent stamp I had selected, I had already inserted a 50 Cent coin and was trying to add a 5 Cent coin. Which, for some reasons the machine refused to accept several times. After a while of inserting and re-inserting that 5 Cent coin, the machine started telling me that it will cancel the transaction soon if I don’t press buttons or insert money. So I concluded this was hopeless and as I didn’t have any other coins with me pressed the Cancel button myself. After doing that, the machine just reverted to its default state – having forgotten about both my request and the money of mine that it still had. I couldn’t find a way to get that money back.

As those ‘modern’ machines don’t have any mechanical levers to cancel the transaction and get back any money that wasn’t used, I saw no way to get my money. So when I eventually went to the post office to get my stamp, I told them they still owe me 50 Cents. And they were in fact quite friendly about it. Having a form for exactly that problem to fill out and then deducting the lost amount from the stamp price right away. Much less red-tape than I had expected.

In total, I consider this a bad experience as it once more shows that getting too much flashy computer technology into simple machines makes them more prone to failure. It also showed that being prepared to handle such failures immediately makes those failures more tolerable.

The photos up there are taken from Wikimedia: [old machine] by their user Kandschwar and [new machine] by www.geldkarte.de.

November 10, 2005, 0:34

Tagged as software.


Comment by Dave2: User icon

And you just know that the new machines are powered by Windows. You can feel it!

November 10, 2005, 4:52

Comment by ssp: User icon

I thought along those lines as well.

But, I’ve never seen one of those machines crashed (not that I’m watching them closely, but I have seen many other kinds of systems crashed when walking past) and there’s never the giveaway white cursors of Windows based systems.

Screen updates are slow. But that could mean anything. While Windows systems are capable of redrawing a simple screen quickly without doubt, I often find Windows based info systems to be really slow at re-drawing the screen. So this could be a hint. On the other hand, it could always be some simple custom system which just happens to run on slow hardware.

Thus, it remains a mystery for now. Casual Googling didn’t reveal much either. I’d imagine that you should find some evil comments on the web if it were Windows based…

November 10, 2005, 11:01

Comment by dan: User icon

Sin, sin and yet more sin.

November 10, 2005, 15:37

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