The 3547 Automation Project

Photocopiers, templates, and papercutters. That's how ACR (Address Correction Requested) mail was processed before Fred Hernandez of the Fort Lauderdale Post Office came along and got Tony Hawkins involved in what was to become the end of my Postal career. Tony and Fred engineered the solution, using the high-speed OCR channel sorters to grab the image, and a custom printer designed by Xerox to print and cut them into the address correction cards which got sent back to the mailers (for, at that time, a 50c fee). Tony and I wrote the software in what I call the 'leapfrog', or 'cooperative competition' approach. We each worked on the project our own way, he in C++ on FreeBSD, and I in assembly language using a packet driver on DOS. His approach had the advantage of OS support for the ISO networking protocols, whereas I had to kludge them onto the packet driver. But it turned out FreeBSD's implementation wasn't compatible with the one the USPS used, so I finished first. It's 'cooperative' because each day we'd compare accomplishments and offer each other suggestions to further the project along. I still favor this approach but have found out over the years it can only work with well-chosen people and only under certain circumstances.

Sure, this is a nice award, but I'm still a little bitter about this one. This was what Tony and I busted our asses on for weeks and accomplished something truly remarkable, saving the USPS on the order of $50 million per year, so we heard. I naïvely thought we would get 10% of the first year's savings, $5 million, of which I was planning on sharing my half with the other techs and mechanics who had cooperated (wasn't going to share much, mind you, but a few 10s of thousands at least). (Sure, Fred deserved a reward too, but he was a manager and managers are expected to innovate and save the service money).

Anyway, it wasn't to be. This award was all we saw. What I put into the incentive awards program was ignored completely. And the in-house publication gave the manager, Fred, the credit for writing the programs, and despite my constant bitching they never issued a correction.

I started looking for other work. I thought I'd found it when invited to Owego, NY where Lockheed-Martin was hiring engineers. A couple of my interviewers were impressed with my résumé, but the starting pay was less (probably much less) than $100,000.00, and I couldn't wear jeans. So screw that. Shoot, I had made over $90K the year before, working two fulltime jobs with a lot less hassle than an engineer would have. And Owego was not South Florida.

Anyway, in a little over 2 years after this award was granted, I had found my chance, at Dialtone Internet, where in 1999 I became CTO and quit my USPS job for good.

1996-01-26-01.01 1996-01-26-01.02 1996-01-26-01.03