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How the Post Office Deciphers Bad Handwriting

snow nor rain nor bad handwriting will stop the post office from delivering
mail. But how exactly does the postal service deal with bad handwriting?

With humans. Lots of them.

Barry Newman of the Wall Street Journal tell us what happened to the
letters whose addresses are deemed indecipherable by the post office’s
automated sorting machines:

Computers have since learned to see words in scrawls and squiggles
the way voice-recognition software hears them in hemming and hawing.
The Postal Service says their reading score today is 95%.

What’s left over is the handwriting from hell. It pours into just
two remaining RECs—here and in Wichita, Kan. Their 1,900 clerks
cope with machine-unreadable mail from the whole country. Last year,
that included 714,085,866 chicken-scratch first-class letters.

In late afternoon, when volume peaks at the Salt Lake center, a
blinking panel showed 67,000 letters awaiting attention—from San
Juan, Paducah, Los Angeles, Kokomo. A clerk wearing a headset had hit
a patch of pen-pal letters from pupils in Memphis. She was decrypting
them at a rate of 800 per hour, down from the desired 1,100.

"We ought to teach kids how to address letters," said
Bruce Rhoades, a manager looking over her shoulder. His boss, Karen
Heath, stood watching beside him and sighed, "A lost art."

(Photo: Barry Newman/The Wall Street Journal)

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