February 6th, 2013

Today's Activities Include: Still More Photos

The last of the discs from the APS scanning project have been uploaded to my Flickr account (or deemed Not Upload Worthy). The iMac upstairs really should be looked at; I _think_ I got all the photos off it, but I only found one photo archive CD from that so it's possible one went missing. I should at least check.

Other than that, there are a bunch of photos from random other people that I should probably scan and upload (family photos, mostly). Someday, right?

I am really happy to at least have this piece of it done.

USPS announces no more letters on Saturday, altho package delivery and PO Box delivery will continue

This isn't a hard story to find out about today.

However, there are some interesting aspects to it. Postal customers don't seem to care too much (and would rather lose Saturday delivery vs. a weekday being eliminated, which was previously being considered). The Postmaster General/USPS is doing this without legislative involvement, and some (mostly Democratic?) legislators are saying That's Not Okay. Boehner is saying, yeah, we probably should have gotten around to some enabling legislation, but I question his sincerity, because a lot of the money woes are the result of previous Republican sponsored/party line passed legislation that required pre-payments on trust funds by USPS. Also, there are Republicans (Coburn, Issa -- it makes me feel just awful that I find we are in agreement on this) kind of are happy about the cutback and maybe would like to see USPS go away entirely (_that_ I'm not necessarily in agreement with).

Obviously, the postal union(s) are not happy about this, which may explain the Democratic position -- and may not.

It does seem like it has the potential to reduce the postal service's carbon footprint (not driving to every damn mailbox in the country on Saturday, just the ones with packages to deliver), which is Not Nothing.

I'm sure there are many other ways to frame this change, however, I mostly just don't care. I keep trying to care, and yet, I cannot care. Bye, bye Saturday mail. If you _really_ want your Saturday mail delivery, get a PO Box.

Oh, wait, maybe _that's_ something to think about. Are we moving away from delivery to every address? Hmmmm. Calculating the tradeoffs for _that_ is a really interesting problem.

ETA: This has more detailed coverage, include White House reaction:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2013/02/06/u-s-postal-service-to-halt-saturday-mail-starting-august-1/

Essentially, hey, we/the Senate put a package together and the House didn't act. Don't blame us.

It is beautifully clear who is responsible for this state of affairs. This is unambiguously owned by Republicans.

ETAYA: Also, funny about how the previous ban on going to 5-day was part of appropriations bills. But we don't have one of those right now, either -- just a temporary continuation spending resolution.

A Small Plug for National Broadband, to address access issues

A lot of the people I _want_ to agree with, who are opposed to service reductions by USPS, argue that poor people and/or people in rural areas will suffer disproportionately as a result. Which is true, and I'm sympathetic to social justice issues.

However, I don't necessarily accept the idea that just because we've always provided a certain service in a certain way means we have to keep doing it that way just because some people are Real Reluctant to Change. If there are obstacles to change, well, we should deal with the obstacles: under, over, around or through, type of thing.

I think this is fantastic:

http://www.broadband.gov/plan/6-infrastructure/#r6

Now, I particularly like that, because it's a bunch of Real, Technical, How To Do It that I find compelling. But the whole thing is excellent as well.

http://www.broadband.gov/

The need for package delivery won't go away, of course -- and that isn't even suffering from service reductions and for that matter, USPS will deliver that package on a Sunday if you give them enough money (which, honestly, isn't even that nuts, all things considered). But we could definitely move all the advertising and a lot of the transaction (bills and payments) stuff online, if everyone had broadband.

We're all very used to the idea that most packages have to be dropped off at the post office. If we could eliminate standard/first class letter service, and get used to dropping all our packages off at the post office, there would be no more of this Must Drive to Every Mailbox in the Country, however many days of service we settle on. That _has_ to save some money, right?

Redfin Press Release about the housing market

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/homebuyer-demand-takes-off-in-january-with-home-offers-up-70-tours-up-58-in-redfin-real-time-demand-pulse-2013-02-06

"Particularly in Redfin's Southern California markets, bidding wars involving thirty or more offers have become increasingly common."

Oooh. That's gotta hurt if you're trying to buy. No inventory and too much competition. Maybe all that shadow inventory will finally get listed.

h/t calculated risk

Meanwhile, BloombergTV has been running a bit about Spanish home prices:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-06/spain-home-prices-halt-decline-after-dropping-36-straight-months.html

Transactions and the Postal Service

Last October, I was finally caught up enough with the ongoing series of crises that had been my life for several years to dig into the backlog. I got rid of books. I replaced furniture (and got rid of some without replacing it). I went through paperwork. I went through photos. I purged closets. Etc.

I also got a password manager and started migrating everything I could from paper mail to online transactions. This is, hands down, one of the best things I've ever done. I did it to reduce the paper-in-process (which I knew was a part of the ongoing clutter problem), but I also had in the back of my mind that I just wasn't really confident about the postal service and paper checks being a permanent way of doing business.

Along the way, I've discovered a number of things (Check21 -- who knew? The end of fleets of airplanes whose sole reason for existing was to move paper checks from point A to point B and then back to point A again) and I was reminded of a few things (I tried the whole get-away-from-paper thing back in 2003, and it sort of failed, because everything kept reverting to paper and I got sick of fighting it). Lately, I've started to get interested in how many other people are going through the same process I am -- and how many other people are not.

I can say one thing from reading about Check 21: people really don't write checks at point of sale any more. But the reduction in check writing to pay bills through the mail has barely dropped at all, and people aren't really expecting it to drop. That is, as near as I can tell, the wonk-y community that thinks and writes about payment systems doesn't see Everyone doing what I've been doing lately. Are they right?

When I look at comments in response to people advocating much deeper cuts in USPS, on the basis that we can do all this stuff online anyway, I see an incredible amount of hostility, and it isn't limited to one end of the spectrum. I interpret that to mean that whatever the reason given, the people who are hostile to cuts are hostile at least in part because they, personally, would be dramatically affected by big reductions in USPS. Once you go relentlessly paper free -- once you set up everything to be paid online, and bills to be delivered online and blah blah bleeping blah -- that fear goes away. I can say that for sure, because that's been my personal experience (and it wasn't, honestly, one that I expected). We all like social justice (hey, pretend, okay? so I don't have to question your merit as a human), but when we're defending things because poor people will be screwed but we won't, it tends to look a little different than when we're defending ourselves as well as people who have less than we do.

And I see a lot of highly personal fear in response to the prospect of deep cuts at USPS. Until we see a big transition to online transactions (bill receipt and payment), B2C and B2B -- a lot bigger than we've seen so far -- further cuts to service days will be hotly contested in a way that Saturday cuts are not being contested.

Here's an interesting bit from 2010:

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/05/20/online-bill-paying-makes-people-happier-research-shows/

I don't know that I totally agree, but I was always a pay-it-when-it-arrives person, so I don't have the stack-of-old-bills-all-the-money-disappears-at-once experience. The part I _do_ agree with is this:

"And if you're a company that has been trying to get your customers to go paperless, understand the reasons they're not doing it: they don't trust your website, think it's too complicated, and worry about not having access to archived bills and statements. Deal with those factors. Then don't appeal to their greener instincts"

Realistically, this isn't enough. To get everyone converted, we're going to have to quit making people set up payment information from the websites of who they owe money to. It needs to work better from the bank side (or the non-bank side, for users of things like Mint, or Simple, which I could see being the basis for a really big future change).

ETA: I've seen conflicting information about payments by check vs. electronic payments. I'm still trying to track down current information.

ETAYA: Customer switches to EBPP, fails to receive an e-notification that a statement is available/payment is due, fails to make payment, gets late fee, customer service is Not Nice about it, customer goes elsewhere.

http://blog.infotrends.com/?p=2575

I had exactly the same thing happen when I was living on Jackson St in Seattle: a paper bill never arrived, so I didn't send a check that month, I got a late fee, I called customer service, customer service was Not Nice about it, I went elsewhere.

So this is by no means unique to EBPP, however, it's entirely possible it happens more with EBPP than with paper. Hard to know for sure.

"Digital Postal Mail" by Zumbox and other EBPP consolidation services

Never heard of it before? Neither had I.

https://www.zumbox.com/home

I suppose this is one way to avoid having to sign up at Every Damn Company you owe money to.

Not sure what I think of it, beyond that I've already gone paperless on everything that seems like it might arrive via this service. I'll have to take a closer look to be sure.

ETA: Looks like Manilla is the same idea, but with perhaps more providers, according to this review:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/digital-postal-mail-zumbox-review.html

I first encountered Manilla at the Paperless 2013 site (which I first heard about when a bunch of paper-focused companies decided to pick on it over on Twitter, and then bragged about what they had accomplished in blogs). I couldn't figure out what Manilla did, so I sort of ignored it in favor of looking into HelloSign, which is Awesome.

ETAYA: the comments thread on that review is interesting, digging into some issues associated with how PDFs are handled and what does/not display well. Switching to viewing Chase stuff through a PDF statement would be a significant downgrade from my user experience on the Chase website (they have just about the best one out there, IMO).

ETA still more: Doxo is Yet Another Consolidator. They offer sort of a password/userid/location file along with an archive of statements/bills etc. I find these things really confusing; I think the industry will probably have to go through some sort of consolidation before anything really takes off -- altho maybe not. Payment systems have historically been insanely complex in order to serve all comers.

http://www.doxo.com/how-it-works/

On the whole, this one seems very cool as an all-in-one-solution, however this reviewer:

http://www.lockergnome.com/net/2011/06/27/new-doxo-app-for-web-and-iphone-is-your-digital-file-cabinet-sound-familiar/

Notes that it's like a not-great mashup of Evernote, Shoeboxed and LastPass, with significant pieces missing. Hmmmm.

It is exciting to think about what our future might hold, once somebody "wins" and becomes a comprehensive solution. I thought my collection of Flickr, Google Drive, a blog, a website, Evernote, and LastPass in conjunction with a bunch of more specialized accounts was pretty cool. The integration potential is even better.

Losing Saturday Delivery Is Personal

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/politics/2013/02/biggest-losers-todays-postal-service-announcement-freelancers/4609/

Emily Badger notes that freelance writers are paid by check, and particularly when later days in the month are Saturdays, the prospect of not getting paid before the rent (etc.) is due can be daunting.

Couple things to point out here:

(1) Freelancers have been complaining about the difficulty of the companies they supply paying them late and only by check for a while now.

(2) Freelancers do not necessarily understand that what this really means is that the accounts payable department of the people they are selling to is ... not particularly automated. Certainly, a lot less automated than we might innocently imagine. The time to process an invoice is shockingly long (think: over three weeks. Typically. In a not unusual case).

It's a problem, no doubt about it. But this isn't unique to freelancers. This is what _every fucking business which supplies stuff to another business deals with all the fucking time_. The difference between freelancers and Every Other Supplier is that a lot of the other suppliers don't collect their Saturday mail until the following Monday.

Suppliers cope with delays associated with invoices in a variety of ways. They borrow money to cover their costs. They pay _their_ suppliers late. They try to build up a cash cushion. While companies with lots of suppliers moved to eInvoicing for other reasons, once they'd gotten well along in the process, they noticed that they could actually get a significant discount from suppliers by paying them Really Fast (this should not have been a surprise; this is how Amazon exists on margins that destroy everyone else).

So it is worth remembering that. If you, as a freelancer, find someone to sell your work to who reliably pays really promptly, they will probably convince you to take slightly less money for your work because you are so happy for the promptness of the payment.

And we really all ought to be expending a bit more of our blogging energy poking at why eInvoicing is taking so freaking long to take off, especially here in the United States. Our expectations are lower, and fewer companies _have_ expectations. Why are we putting up with this? (Answer: elsewhere in the world, tax compliance is so heinous they _had_ to automate sooner. But never mind that now. http://www.paystreamadvisors.com/eResearch/eResearch.cfm?eResearch=Global%20Electronic%20Invoicing%3A%20The%20State%20of%20AP%20Automation%20Worldwide).