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USPS Server Meltdown

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the neither-snow-nor-rain-nor-storm-of-net dept.

Networking 238

m2pc writes "The US Postal Service is experiencing major server issues for its shipping API web services. After spending about an hour debugging my own eCommerce software for a client, I found the problem was with the USPS shipping servers being unavailable. Further research showed that message boards for OS Commerce and other e-Commerce packages are filling with posts from angry users who are experiencing crashing Web store applications and frustrated customers. Developers are scrambling to find interim solutions, from hard-coding fixed price shipping, to 'rolling their own' shipping calculation APIs based on the USPS Fixed Rate Zone Tables, to disabling the USPS option altogether. One user reported yesterday that a call to USPS yielded the response 'we expect it to be down all day.' As of 9:20 AM PST the service is still unavailable."

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Bailout? (5, Funny)

erik76 (581880) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050807)

Sounds like the USPS is just angling to get some of that federal bailout money! Oh wait...

Re:Bailout? (1)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051299)

So THAT'S why the present I sent to my girlfriend resulted in an e-mail from Amazon that the package was at the Post Office!

This explains a HELL of a lot... mostly, why Amazon said it was detained at the post office, but arrived at the door just about 20 minutes ago...

That's what you get.... (5, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050865)

And that's what you get for writing e-commerce packages that rely on 3rd party sites for basic functionality...

Don't say I didn't tell you so...

Re:That's what you get.... (4, Insightful)

qoncept (599709) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050905)

While in principle I agree with that, what are they supposed to do? They are quoting you a price for a service they don't provide themselves.

Re:That's what you get.... (5, Insightful)

smallshot (1202439) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051377)

If it's important enough they should have a backup. I know it's not always within budget, but their website doesn't have to crash because the USPS service is unavailable, it could simply fall back to an acceptable solution, such as a fixed price, an estimation table, or an error message that says the USPS shipping estimator is down and shipping will be calculated at the time of shipment, or they can try again later. Yeah, they'll lose some business, but they can lose less business with a decent backup.

Re:That's what you get.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051979)

In actuality, they are providing a third party service and should anticipate issues like this. I my head all I can think is, how stupid are they? It's not like the postal rates change that often, certainly not day by day. Yesterday I was having problems with getting rates using Stamps.com software (overpriced crappy service in the first place), now I know why. I was able to manually make stamps instead simply by looking at a postal rates schedule on a trusty piece of paper. I wonder now why Stamps.com wouldn't be able to have access to this same piece of paper for the data they needed, but apparently they didn't think to put this data in their own database - instead they're relying on the postal service to do all the work for them, while they charge me $16/month to make stamps and shipping labels. I'm calling to cancel my account now - inept fools.

Re:That's what you get.... (3, Informative)

tekiegreg (674773) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050909)

Really, you'd think someone in the apparently non-existent risk management departments would ask "what if the USPS Servers went down?" Hopefully the answer wasn't simply "we're screwed."

In any third party connection for an application I've built, I typically consider the implications of such web service/outside API going down, even if I label it "non vital, don't worry about it" to "have a backup plan". Oh well, no sympathies here

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (5, Insightful)

quanticle (843097) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051411)

To be fair, what sort of "backup" calculation would you have done here, short of reverse-engineering the USPS algorithm for calculating shipping rates?

I'm not usually a rabid free-market libertarian, but this here can be seen as a result of the fact that the USPS isn't really beholden to its customers. Can you imagine FedEx or UPS being afflicted by such an issue? And, if they were, would they blow off inquiries with a glib, "We expect the servers to be down for the rest of the day?" Of course not, because, for FedEx, UPS, DHL, et. al. such an outage directly affects the health of the organization. If people can't calculate shipping rates, they can't ship, and if they don't ship, the company doesn't make money. The close linkage between revenue and working services tends to put more impetus behind keeping things working and making sure that they get fixed quickly if they do happen to go down.

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (1)

LandDolphin (1202876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051549)

Why don't more companies just use the old "Shipping & Handling" charge to cover the costs of shipping without having to calculate the rate the the USPS is going ot charge them. Charge a fee that is close to what you expect to pay. Over on a few and under on a few, but should even out at the end.

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (3, Insightful)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051731)

Because it's no longer reliable enough. The S&H charges change based on too many values for the few factors (carrier, size, weight, destination, type of delivery, timing of delivery, etc.), and things change. So it's not a necessarily easy calculation to perform.

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (3, Informative)

Yez70 (924200) | more than 5 years ago | (#26052025)

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to look at a postal rate schedule - the postal service does provide them for all shipping services with clearly marked zones to figure out how much to pay for postage.

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (-1, Troll)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051569)

ALL HAIL THE FREE MARKET, praise ayn rand, pass the cigarettes

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051857)

Forget the cigarettes - they are taxed way to heavily on the federal and state level. Well, unless they "fell off a truck".

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (1)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051625)

To be fair, what sort of "backup" calculation would you have done here, short of reverse-engineering the USPS algorithm for calculating shipping rates?

A store can charge whatever they want for shipping. So if they know how much it costs on average to ship their products, they can simply charge everyone that flat rate. Or if they sell something simple, they can charge one simple rate per quantity. Or they could cache the last rates they charged and reuse those. Or they could offer everyone free shipping and eat it as the cost of doing business with the USPS.

Re:That's what you get... for not using FedEx (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051977)

If TFSummary is to be believed, the least they could do is make sure the app didn't crash on bad data returned from an API. There is NO excuse, ever, for a crashing bug in an online store app like that. There's no problem with the USPS servers being funky, there's a problem when people programming dependent apps somehow didn't at least plan on it ever happening.

Re:That's what you get.... (2, Insightful)

KevMar (471257) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051413)

try {

}
catch (exception ex){

}

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

chaim79 (898507) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051583)

Exactly! Any reliance on an external source (even if it's your own external source) should be able to handle that external source going down, that's just good coding.

All those complaints about products crashing or going down because of this should really yell at the developers of that product, they didn't do basic failure handling.

Re:That's what you get.... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051021)

And that's what you get for writing e-commerce packages that rely on 3rd party sites for basic functionality...

Like a credit card processor? How many web stores have more than one?

Re:That's what you get.... (5, Funny)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051461)

that's why i design all my e-commerce sites to accept cash only. (always makes sure the bills are facing up before you feed them into the floppy drive!)

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

queequeg1 (180099) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051545)

But what happens when the cash becomes worthless? Do you have a backup system that defaults to, say, wampum shells?

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051727)

Testing those is hell. But we did get upto 4 shells read before the drive failed from all the sand.

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051767)

Most well run ones, though generally not more than two and there are sometimes hidden connections between the two that leads to a common outage.

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051987)

And if the processor is offline, they deal with it. Store the info until it can be charged, whatever. Crashing or otherwise malfunctioning in the face of 3rd party inaccessibility is definitely an app problem, and never excusable.

Lots of free shipping today. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051061)

Try it. Go to a USofA-based commercial site and check the shipping charges for your purchase.

Most of the sites are offering free shipping. I'm guessing that these two items are related.

Re:Lots of free shipping today. (1)

wizbit (122290) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051509)

Or, you know, it could be that it's the holidays and eating shipping charges is a major factor in converting sales for online retailers.

Re:Lots of free shipping today. (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051759)

Especially such deals are linked to how much a customer buys...

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051751)

And how, pray tell, are you to calculate USPS' shipping rate without relying on the USPS' server?

I suppose you could construct a database of USPS rates for every possible box size and weight you might ship, but that would be a maintenance nightmare as you'd have to update it whenever they change their rates and every time you get a new item in stock.

Re:That's what you get.... (1)

kms_one (1272174) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051851)

Or, for each package you ship, have the code add an entry in your own database with the stats. When USPS goes down, use your own database. This would be self-updating and should work quite well for a large business that ships to all ends of the country with regularity. It would not be feasible for a small business necessarily.

Proof that computers corrupt all!!!! (4, Funny)

banbeans (122547) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050867)

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"

But the computers will!!!

Re:Proof that computers corrupt all!!!! (1)

lastchance_000 (847415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051317)

"We'll deliver any package you bring to us...with the correct postage! BWAHAHAHAAA!"

USPS (2, Interesting)

gnosi (893875) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051801)

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"

But the computers will!!!

You do realize that this has never been the motto or creed of the USPS.

It is taken from the courier service of the Persian Empire. See Wikipedia.

--
This is not the sig you are looking for... Move along...

Re:USPS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26052047)

Yes I know that but it was still funny :}

What can Brown do for you? (4, Funny)

HeavyD14 (898751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050887)

Provide a web service, apparently.

Re:What can Brown do for you? (0, Flamebait)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050941)

USPS, not UPS.

Re:What can Brown do for you? (4, Informative)

HeavyD14 (898751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051005)

No kidding. UPS *is* up and running, while USPS *is not*. Therfore, Brown can provide a web service.

Re:What can Brown do for you? (1)

morgauo (1303341) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051263)

Umm... it's been a little over a year since I tried to do anything with UPSs webservice but the last I tried it it was pretty much just a random number generator. Or maybe shipping prices for a paralled universe or something. They never matched the quotes from their desktop app which prints the shipping labels.

At least a webservice which is down isn't misleading. I still prefer USPS!!

Re:What can Brown do for you? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051771)

They never matched the quotes from their desktop app which prints the shipping labels.

Also, at the end of the month, they append a "fuel charge" that is completely unpredictable and not represented in the cost at the label printing time in any way, shape or form. You can't derive an estimate for it from the price of oil, from the price of fuel, from last month... no way to do it that I know of, and UPS agrees. Best thing you can do is take last month's charge and distribute it across your best estimate of what this month's shipping will be, then incorporate the cumulative delta into the next month, be it plus or minus.

Also, you should *always* have a general estimate process that can price and ship packages without the exact shipping costs from the shipper. If you don't do this, your entire business can grind to a halt. In order to facilitate this, you need detailed shipping analysis modules that can plug back into the shipping price code, with "fudge" inputs from management as called for. If customers object, a simple letter with an explanation that external services (USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc) were down, requiring an estimate to be used instead of an actual cost, along with a refund if called for. This is simple, fair and will resolve nearly any issue.

Fixed price shipping solves a large amount of this; drive the fixed price from longer term analysis and the whole issue of external pricing moves out of the "can we ship this package, today" zone for your business, and into the shipper's lap (where it belongs, really.)

The only reason shipping should actually fail is if the shipper doesn't show up, or won't accept the package. Otherwise -- if you designed the system, wrote/managed the code -- it's your fault. Every computer in your system should have failover backup, every machine should be backed up across the network to *at least* two machines with the same hardware configuration, ready to take the load with no more than an IP change, and every machine should be on it's own stable, uninterruptible power supply. Spare routers, switches and external interfaces.

UPS creates a bottleneck by providing underpowered, unreliable, non-backed up systems that talk to UPS in order to create shipping labels; when those go down, you're in trouble. This is, in essence, a UPS problem -- not that anyone will be any happier about it. :o) What you can do (and what we do) is put those machines on their own uninteruptable power supplies, add lots of extra RAM to them (never underestimate what this will do for any version of Windows, much less UPS's junky label apps), and keep them clean and well ventilated. Bloody things in our shipping department run Windows 2000. No kidding. Ugh. UPS insists this is what they need.

With the USPS, when all else fails, put everything in a bag and drop it off at the post office with a smile. Hand 'em a check when they give you a total.

Re:What can Brown do for you? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051277)

While UPS is up and USPS is down, do you happen to know if the UPS at USPS is the cause for the UPDT (unplanned down time)?

Re:What can Brown do for you? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051329)

Why don't you bend over and show me your brown eye?

I'll show you what I can do for Brown!

Re:What can Brown do for you? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051363)

UPS is slow as hell though. Plus they have delivered to the wrong house (sometimes not even on the same street) enough time to make me leery. I was sad when Newegg switched to UPS instead of FedEx for their saver shipping.

USPS is much faster than UPS (pretty much any service is faster than UPS) but they piss me off by often not even delivering the package and making me go get it at the post office because the mail dude is too lazy to stop of get out of his truck (once the guy drove across my lawn, making huge ruts, just so he could toss out the package at my front door without getting out).

FedEx and DHL have given me the best service and cheaper than UPS.

Re:What can Brown do for you? (1)

qopax (782239) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051753)

Living in New York, UPS had consistently much faster service for me than Fedex or USPS, and the mailman would even come back later in the evening in case I wasn't home in the afternoon.

Fedex, on the other hand, had left a "no one home" notice SEVERAL times when I was home all day (I suspect due to the fact that I lived on the 4th floor of an apartment building with no elevators), and I always experienced slower delivery times.

This is why anecdotal evidence is worthless.

Great idea! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26050891)

When servers go down, the best idea is to Slashdot them.

Crashing Web store applications? (5, Insightful)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050903)

Only a really terrible developer would hit a web services API and not code for it to fail. No one should expect a third party service to be up 100%. The apps should fail gracefully. Anyone finding their e-commerce software handling this situation poorly should find another package.

If a store offers only the USPS delivery method and the web service is down, the user could be directed to call the sales number to place their order. If the store offers other deliver methods the store front could instruct the user that USPS isn't currently available and they must choose another method.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (5, Informative)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051029)

osCommerce is well know to be a bowl of spaghetti code and in general a P.O.S. Zen Cart forked a long time ago and did a complete code re-write. osCommerce continues to keep their heads up their asses, and only a fool doesn't look for alternatives at the earliest opertunity.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (4, Interesting)

seanadams.com (463190) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051167)

Only a really terrible developer would hit a web services API and not code for it to fail. No one should expect a third party service to be up 100%. The apps should fail gracefully. Anyone finding their e-commerce software handling this situation poorly should find another package.

I have developed a fulfillment system using UPS so I have some experience with this. This was a few years ago, but at the time, UPS's system was designed on the assumption that a shopping cart system would contact UPS during the order placement process (or checkout). USPS appears to be very similar. This is incredibly moronic, because it means that if their server doesn't respond or any reason, you simply lose the sale. Problems AFTER the order has been accepted are far less serious - that just means fulfillment is interrupted - you don't lose orders. It would be even better if you could print the labels without having to reach their server, but they don't provide this (UPS's own software, however, can.)

The only reasonable way to do it (obviously?) is to have your own shopping cart software calculate the shipping rate. At the time I did this in 2001, UPS did not offer reasonable data to let you do this. Their rating system is extremely complicated, and the spreadsheets they gave me had clearly been maintained by hand and needed a lot of massage to get them into a reasonably parseable format. Not only that but it was very difficult to get these tables in the first place, requiring multiple escalations through tech reps and ultimately a "god damn it just give him the tables" from our sales rep.

I imagine things might have improved a little since then and I know there are shopping carts that can now do the rate calculations internally. But if any shipping company forces its customers to contact a server to calculate shipping costs, then they are just as retarded as the merchants who use them (for a web checkout).

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (2, Interesting)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051521)

Most e-commerce sites, including the ones I've built, have a multi-step process to place an order. If the step for shipping (or tax, etc.) failed, then the system would re-load the page with any appropriate messages and option changes. So, for example, if the third-party payment processing service didn't respond before a timeout the user would be asked to call customer service to complete their order. The sales rep could see the order in its incomplete state and finish it over the phone.

You have to do it before. (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051757)

Retail customers expect to check out knowing the full price they will be paying, including shipping. This means that you HAVE TO calculate shipping during order placement (checkout). You're asking for customer service headaches if you have to manually charge shipping after the customer has already (they thought) completed the order.

So your only option, if you don't want to rely on a third-party server for shipping costs, is to have your shopping cart do its own calculations.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051861)

And what happens when they change those tables? Sounds like you're asking for a world of business hurt down the road with the costs to update the code and cover the changed price.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051267)

How about periodically storing the latest pertinent info (shipping rates, etc.) on the local end? When the 3rd party service goes down, you at least have somewhat current data to go off of. You can also put up a notification to let people know that these rates may not be entirely accurate and then proceed to go on with the directions truthsearch gave in his comment.

How much space could a shipping table take up, anyway?

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (2, Interesting)

JoelisHere (992325) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051401)

it's against the agreement/policy/licenses/contract that developer's have to sign before being given access to the web service.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (0, Redundant)

JoelisHere (992325) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051419)

How about periodically storing the latest pertinent info (shipping rates, etc.) on the local end?

It's against the agreement/policy/licenses/contract that developers have to sign before being given access to the web service.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (1)

Itninja (937614) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051337)

True. Even the budget ecomm solutions like Squirrelcart have a 'rules system' that allow 'what if' shipping charges to be provided in case the shippers API service is unavailable.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (1)

nickruiz (1185947) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051537)

Additionally, the system could cache the shipping rates for previously entered zip codes and used the cached rates as a fail-safe mechanism.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051555)

If a store offers only the USPS delivery method and the web service is down, the user could be directed to call the sales number to place their order.

You do realize that using a phone number as your fall back is a just a different disaster waiting to happen.

Very few online stores have enough idle/re-taskable manpower (much less sufficient phone lines) to handle the sales volume that normally goes through their website.

Re:Crashing Web store applications? (1)

truthsearch (249536) | more than 5 years ago | (#26052035)

Then if the third-party service goes down, they should charge a flat rate for shipping or offer it free. Otherwise they deserve to lose customers for not planning for this type of issue.

Ask Slashdot: Why is m2pc's eCommerce app broken? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26050913)

Answer:

Because he wrote it without any error handling, nor the ability to report issues with third party sites back to the eCommerce site administrator.

LOL (1)

xenolion (1371363) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050921)

an again my great tax dollars at work!!!!! Shoot guess they are going to increase taxes again to fix it...

Re:LOL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051587)

an again my postage stamp dollars at work!!!!! Shoot guess they are going to increase the price of postage again to fix it...

fixed that for you

...man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26050923)

If the log rolls over we'll all be dead!

god man Slashdot is becoming pretty dark with all this apocalyptic foreshadowing.

Very poor design (1)

sheldon (2322) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050925)

I don't mean the USPS, I mean the people using their service.

They never thought this might fail?

Re:Very poor design (4, Funny)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051323)

This is why my company ships 2 of everything that is ordered. One via USPS and the other by UPS, just in case one gets lost. Always need redundancy.

Couldn't have come at a worse time (2, Funny)

RemoWilliams84 (1348761) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050933)

This is sure to piss off a lot of people being between that Thanksgiving and Christmas period. Lets hope nobody that ordered me something is having problems.

Through snow and sleet and driving rain... (2, Funny)

NinthAgendaDotCom (1401899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050953)

...but not through server crashes, apparently. :-)

Why SAS fill eventually fail (2, Interesting)

djnewman (1318661) | more than 5 years ago | (#26050991)

This is a great example of why SAS (Software as a Service) in its current form will eventually fail. The very nature of the Internet is to be disconnected and stateless. If there is no guaranteed delivery at the 5 - 9's level (99.999%), then how can business expect to depend on the service? Mind you, I don't have a better model, but we had better come up with one if we intend to continue using the Internet for commerce!

Re:Why SAS fill eventually fail (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051185)

There is a better way. Code your own backup solution, revert to it when the SaS you are counting on fails. In this case, that would be a static shipping 'estimate' process that substitutes data when the USPS service fails. Writing code what depends on a third party is dangerous. If your business depends on that software you are fooling yourself if you think it won't fail. It will. This is where coding disaster recovery functions into your system is important.

Many of the posts here are about how stupid this situation is, but people are like that. There is a better solution: don't rely on SaS to hold your business together on a daily basis.

Re:Why SAS fill eventually fail (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051831)

There is a better way. Code your own backup solution, revert to it when the SaS you are counting on fails.

If you've coded your own solution and you're ready to run it, what the hell do you need SaS for?

Re:Why SAS fill eventually fail (2, Insightful)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051997)

In this case, you might want to only guarantee prices quoted from USPS and use your data as 'estimates' in the event that your own data is wrong and costs change at shipping time.

In yet other cases, the backup plan might simply be to use data from last week or yesterday if that is sufficient, but is data that is held in house on your servers.

Depending on the situation and requirements, any number of solutions are possible. By using a 'back up' solution that is not as good or perhaps as accurate, when the system fails to the back up, you have something that is workable if not 100% perfect or accurate.

You may indeed have a backup solution that is 100% accurate etc. and that is good. It's purpose is still a backup if that is how you configure the systems. You could also choose not to use the SaS and rely totally on your in house solution, but that is not what was being talked about here.

'dotted! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26050997)

thats rhe slashdot effect for ya! :P

Yeah, I noticed that yesterday. (1)

Jonah Bomber (535788) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051011)

I was trying to figure out why one of my Christmas cards to an address got delivered while another one to a different person at the same address got returned marked "VACANT." I called the national number, and the rep I talked to tried to look up the address and said, "Oh, our system is down." But she was still able to give me the number of the PO I needed, so I got my answer from them.

Knew it wasn't just me (1)

The Orange Mage (1057436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051047)

I work at a small used bookstore and we use USPS's own Shipping Assitant program for labels, and I had to do weverything by hand the past two days because the program was whining about some connection error. Lol.

Sounds like fun. (1)

moniker127 (1290002) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051053)

USPS has IT people? Oiy veih I can imagine that job.

Re:Sounds like fun. (4, Interesting)

MadMorf (118601) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051399)

USPS has IT people? Oiy veih I can imagine that job.

A few years ago, I used to be one of them...

Oy Vey, indeed...

Re:Sounds like fun. (3, Funny)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 5 years ago | (#26052053)

Did you get the security guy who came in and told you not to surf porn on company time, then ramble about how the USPS computer network was more important than the DOD? I got that, and they tried to do good cop/bad cop on us - it was comical.

What would USPS do? (4, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051057)

It would probably snailmail patches to all the vendors connecting to their site ;-)

Dare I Submit The Cause : (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051101)

By clicking on this link [cnn.com] , you promise to pay me the sum of Euro 100,000,000 by Jan 1, 2009.

Have an evening.

Cordially,
Kilgore Trout

UPS is flaky too (3, Interesting)

el_gordo101 (643167) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051119)

Our website has been suffering from time outs and dropped connections to the UPS rate calculator web service as well since yesterday. Seems to be intermittent, refreshing the page seems to help and it will eventually connect. Luckily none of our customers see the problem as our sales tools are all internal. Happy Holidays!

Healthcare? (0, Offtopic)

jcnnghm (538570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051123)

The government can't even manage to keep a simple web service online, and people still believe that it would be wise to let them control health care. Once they can handle the trivial, they should be allowed to move onto bigger things.

Re:Healthcare? (5, Insightful)

djnewman (1318661) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051231)

Um... The post office is private, but protected. Even the best hardware and software fails on occasion. That was my point earlier - we need a better service model if we expect SAS to work. If the small Government crowd had their way the post office would still be the Pony Express. Let's see you get a letter acorss the country in a week for less than 50 cents. UPS and FedX can't - they get $5 for the smallest item. So much for off loading services to business!

Re:Healthcare? (1)

jcnnghm (538570) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051301)

The postal service is an independent agency of the US government, like the CIA, the EPA, the FCC, the FTC, NASA, the NSF, the SSS, the SSA, the SEC.

Re:Healthcare? (5, Informative)

Capybara (70415) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051369)

UPS and FedEx can't, because it's illegal [aei.org] .

Real cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051637)

The post office can't do it for 50 cents either. Through various agencies, some less obvious than others, that cost is a subsidized cost.

Re:Healthcare? (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051793)

Let's see you get a letter acorss the country in a week for less than 50 cents. UPS and FedX can't - they get $5 for the smallest item.

Sure they can. However, they aren't allowed to because it is ILLEGAL UNDER FEDERAL LAW. So much for the Post Office being "private".

Re:Healthcare? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051245)

Yes, because health care under private insurance is so much better... just like letting the markets regulate themselves.

Sorry, I couldn't resist matching your own flawed analogy with my own.

Re:Healthcare? (4, Insightful)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051649)

The government can't even manage to keep a simple web service online, and people still believe that it would be wise to let them control health care.

Get real. On several occasions, I've had to manually intervene to fix idiotic billing f*ckups between my PRIVATE insurer and a PRIVATE hospital, who had entered into mutual contracts to be in the same "network". For some reason, they couldn't get their own computers to talk to each other and I had to fix their bugs by going deciphering cryptic paper printouts myself and wasting hours calling customer service. This kind of stupid private healthcare IT problem happens routinely to millions of people every year. Therefore, using your reasoning I conclude that due to a clear history of incompetence, it is unwise to let private parties handle health care, and such practice should be banned.

Same here (5, Informative)

Rorschach1 (174480) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051219)

I came in yesterday morning to find the USPS module non-functional. Worse, the only working option was DHL overnight - and in case you've missed the news, DHL is now about an order of magnitude worse than the post office for domestic delivery. Even for places they say they can do next-day delivery to, actual delivery can take more than a week.

Why? Because they hand it off to the post office rather than deliver it themselves. Why it takes the post office a week to deliver it when I can get it there in two days by sending it by priority mail myself is a mystery. In any case, DHL's out of the (US) domestic game entirely next month.

My site was up last time I checked, but if the USPS option goes down again, I think it's time for a 'free economy shipping' promotion. No messy rate tables to deal with!

Re:Same here (1)

The Moof (859402) | more than 5 years ago | (#26052009)

DHL is now about an order of magnitude worse than the post office for domestic delivery. Even for places they say they can do next-day delivery to, actual delivery can take more than a week.

I'll second that. Last year, their next-day delivery took 3 weeks.
(No, that's not sarcasm, it actually took three weeks.)

Re:Same here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26052015)

I had a customer recently decline to use the UPS shipping calculator API, instead just giving me their account's rate table.

Now, I you may not know much about UPS's pricing structure, but I can tell you it's about 27 miles beyond ridiculous on the complexity scale.

The rate sheet is good for their account only and from their current ZIP code only. The rates are per pound (there's a separate rate for each pound, it's not a calculated "multiply the weight in pounds by X" function), per shipping type (ground, red, blue, orange, etc.), per destination type (commercial or residential), per "zone".

This last one is the real doozy. A "zone" is a numeric designation for how far away the shipper's ZIP code is from the destination ZIP code. It also encodes the shipping type (ground, red, blue, orange, etc.), as if redundancy was needed for that. So a nearby "zone" for ground service is 003, for 3-day (orange) that same destination is 103, 2-day (blue) is 203, and so on. Zone maps show that these zones expand outward from the shipper's ZIP code in rings... sorta. There are odd exceptions where the depots are, where a "zone" has an "island" since it's easier to ship to certain locations due to nearby depots and hubs.

This all boils down to needing 1) a ZIP code database, 2) a "zone" map/ZIP code matching database, 3) a zone-to-shipping type table, and 4) a price/zone/destination type table that actually gives you the prices. Oh, and you need all of that for EVERY LOCATION YOU SHIP FROM.

UPS is friggin' insane. I can see why they price it that way, but it's still friggin' insane.

usps is next on the bailout list (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051237)

After I indirectly purchase a Ford, Chevy and Chrysler at the same time with my already paid tax-dollars - guess I'll be throwing more cash at the USPS computer infrastructure. I think I have some old blade servers with a single working power supply in the shroud you can have instead of my tax money.

Express Delivery (5, Funny)

Statecraftsman (718862) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051239)

An unexpected error occurred. An exception occured in module:

USPS

at address: 0x1234 Main St., Hometown USA, zc=0x10001

Re:Express Delivery (0, Flamebait)

Smidge207 (1278042) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051525)

That sure was funny. You fucking asshole.

=Smidge=

I know why (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051305)

posting anonymously to cover my ass... We upgraded to MySQL 5.1 last week. We had some major table corruption and no backups. Sadly, no one will be fired or even reprimanded for any of this major cluster fuck.

Re:I know why (1)

longhairedgnome (610579) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051471)

You're not posting from work, are you?

What? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051359)

So that's why I haven't been getting any orders from my website.

hosted vs downloaded/licensed e-commerce (5, Interesting)

jrozzi (1279772) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051409)

The company I work for provides a hosted e-commerce shopping cart solution, SEO-Cart, which supports the USPS Web Tools. Of course the first call coming in for the day was from a client using USPS and having incorrect shipping prices being calculated for their store.

I went ahead and called USPS and the lady who answered was quite rude and explained to me that they had a Worldwide outage which affected other applications than just their Webtools API, and also that they hire a 3rd party company to handle their Webtools API software. She couldn't provide any other information at all and I told her a company of that size should have some sort of fail over plan in place to prevent them from being down as long as they have been. I was really disappointed in the fact she didn't even ask me for my name, phone number, or company by time the conversation was over, but she was probably being bombarded with phone calls all day.

After figuring out that USPS was completely down, I looked through our fail over code and found the following equations seem to come close to the USPS pricing:

National shipping: [cart-weight]*1.6+3.00
International shipping: [cart-weight]*1.6+15.00

These also include pricing for insurance.

After tweaking the fail over pricing code to this, it seemed that everyone using USPS were happy with the results. We also had to decrease the connection timeout set for the request to the USPS Webtools API which was also slowing things down.

The Webtools API seems to be both up and down today, with some orders having shipping prices directly from USPS and others having the fallback pricing. Either way, hopefully their IT department learns from this and also provide us information as to what exactly went wrong.

On that note, this is a prime example that I use when speaking to prospects about the advantages of using a hosted shopping cart solution rather than a licensed/free download solution. Besides the obvious IT benefits that you get with a good hosted shopping cart solution, hosted shopping cart software is typically a centralized application that can provide quick updates to problems like these. Of course this is assuming that the prospect is serious about their online store and doesn't want to handle technical support themselves.

No kidding (1)

xerxesVII (707232) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051415)

That's why I use Virgania Horsen's Pony Express.

Serves em Right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26051425)

Serves em right for not producing a Mac version. :)

Oh, Crap! (1)

beadfulthings (975812) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051427)

This explains why my Christmas sales are in the toilet. I'm glad I took a break and decided to read Slashdot. I've had fairly good luck with my OSC connection directly into USPS. Guess not now, huh?

Cant Get Rebate... (1)

jjborton (198368) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051559)

I currently cannot sign up for a rebate, because MSI's rebate center REQUIRES the address to be verified by USPS, and for 2 hours last night all I was getting was Gateway Not Responding or Server not found errors. they better get it back up by my rebate deadline or I will be pissed.

Oh, and I am already upset that they wont send the rebate to a PO Box, because my street address has never been in the USPS database due to our town requiring us to use their PO Boxes.

An hour?? (1)

AndyWit (1238658) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051775)

how about logging when the damn service is down???

USPS rate API SUCKS (4, Interesting)

Bitsy Boffin (110334) | more than 5 years ago | (#26051957)

Apart from the trouble reported in this /. article which I found occuring on one of the existing sites I wrote yesterday (simply because there were no USPS prices being returned, no error, but took about 30 seconds to work out what happened), USPS simply sucks ass.

Here's why:

Some time ago, they had an API to get rates, it was called RateV2.
Then they "updated", and now have RateV3.
RateV3 is the only specification published.
To get access to the Rate API servers, you must first test your implementation against thier testing servers successfully, when they see that they let you on the production server....

Thier testing servers only work with a limited version of RateV2.

So, in order to use the USPS API, you must:

    Write to the now unpublished RateV2.
    Test that RateV2 on the test servers.
    Ask USPS to allow you to use Production (and get the keys etc) because you have successfully tested.
    Write completely new code against RateV3.
    Test that RateV3 on the production servers.

And if you try and show the USPS staff the logical problem in this process, they will reply "I can not put you on production servers, until you have done three successful tests on the test servers".

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