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Old 04-13-2018, 04:33 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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ZIP codes

With reference to the latest Cecil Column, Where did two-letter postal abbrevs. come from, I'd like to expand on this a bit, as I worked on mailing & shipping software, including barcoding, in the last century.

While ZIP+4 digits are the only ones printed as text, a barcode may include 2 more, called Delivery Point. Cecil mentioned this briefly as 11 digits, but in more detail, the DP numbers actually drill down to a single address. In typical residential addressing, this means the last 2 digits of the street number, i.e., if your address is 1234 Fake Street, your ZIP+4 will have "34" appended. Since the +4 digits define one side of one block, adding DP means each address in the country can be defined with 11 digits. (There are exceptions.)

The neat thing about the 2-character state abbreviations is that it is possible, without too extreme alphabetic manipulations, to define each of the 50 states, 4 territories (and a few more, if needed) with only 2 distinct letters. Remember that this was devised in a day when everything was being computerized, but computers were weaklings compared to now; every digit was valuable and required expensive data storage space, so programmers tried mightily to conserve. Also, computers work better with fixed data fields, and allowing a fixed number of characters rather than a variable amount simplifies and speeds up processing.
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Old 04-13-2018, 06:17 AM
DesertDog DesertDog is offline
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Originally Posted by The Perfect Master
The report also suggests avenues for future growth — notably linking ZIPs with geocoding (latitude and longitude coordinates), to make delivery routes yet more efficient and facilitate better communication with people in high-risk areas like flood or wildfire zones.
There already is a system in place that can specify any spot in the world to a 3-meter square with a three-word code, words because they're easier to remember than a string of digits. For example, there is a locomotive on display at a park near where I live. The front end is info.courtyard.moats while the back end is miracle.brushing.vest. There are currently 14 language sets so you could for example, find your location in English and have it pronounceable for your friend in Berlin.

I think it is way ahead of whatever the USPS has on tap.
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Old 04-13-2018, 10:41 AM
tafinucane tafinucane is offline
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There already is a system in place that can specify any spot in the world to a 3-meter square
...
I think it is way ahead of whatever the USPS has on tap.
The zip codes are not geographic regions, they are portions of a postal route. Cecil vaguely alludes to this when talking about the zip+4. The codes only exist as a collection of mail boxes. This is unfortunate, because organizations use zip codes as a proxy for geolocation for things like, billing, insurance rates, emergency services, etc.


A concrete example I'm familiar with is sports media rights. Usually teams' broadcast regions are defined by zip codes, and the building that the TV cable is hooked up to will correspond to a mail box. Now that this content is consumed on people's phones, the rights holders want the same fine-grained control, but it breaks when a consumer is watching the game from the middle of a lake.

Various organizations maintain their own map of geolocation to zip code, but the post office wisely suggests they should provide such a map themselves.
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Old 04-13-2018, 10:42 AM
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For me, you can't mention the process of abbreviating the state names without mentioning Gary Gulman.

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Old 04-13-2018, 10:49 AM
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I think it is way ahead of whatever the USPS has on tap.
That's debatable. The what3words system is a) proprietary, b) language-dependent, c) not easily machine-readable/codable, and d) completely without geographic correlation. The fact that the two ends of your locomotive have completely different encodings is often considered a bug, not a feature.


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Old 04-13-2018, 01:03 PM
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Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a story about a fad in the early days of the postal system where people would try to come up with cryptic addresses to see if the post office could figure it out. The only one I remember was something like this:

Hill
James
Street
Mass

Which translated to:
James Overstreet
Underhill, Massachusetts

It was delivered correctly.
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Old 04-13-2018, 01:40 PM
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The neat thing about the 2-character state abbreviations is that it is possible, without too extreme alphabetic manipulations, to define each of the 50 states, 4 territories (and a few more, if needed) with only 2 distinct letters.
Not to mention all the provinces and territories of Canada. Do Mexican states have 2-letter abbreviations? Are they all distinct from the US and Canadian ones?
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Old 04-13-2018, 02:39 PM
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Not to mention all the provinces and territories of Canada. Do Mexican states have 2-letter abbreviations? Are they all distinct from the US and Canadian ones?
The Canadian codes do not overlap with the US ones, but I believe the Mexican ones do (BC = British Columbia and Baja California; MI = Michigan and Michoacán).
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Old 04-13-2018, 04:35 PM
El Zagna El Zagna is offline
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I guess BJ for Baja California was too... juvenile.
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Old 04-13-2018, 05:00 PM
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I guess BJ for Baja California was too... juvenile.
Baja California Sur is BS...
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Old 04-13-2018, 07:37 PM
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The zip codes are not geographic regions, they are portions of a postal route. Cecil vaguely alludes to this when talking about the zip+4. The codes only exist as a collection of mail boxes. This is unfortunate, because organizations use zip codes as a proxy for geolocation for things like, billing, insurance rates, emergency services, etc.
Which causes many problems in large rural areas, not so much in concentrated urban areas. I used to live in a dense LA neighborhood with cookie-cutter type houses and the real estate value range was quite narrow; one ZIP code covered only a few blocks.

In my rural neighborhood now we have multi-million dollar coastal properties and broken-down shacks in the same ZIP. Zillow's "average price" numbers are laughingly out of whack with reality and quite useless.
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Old 04-13-2018, 11:03 PM
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The neat thing about the 2-character state abbreviations is that it is possible, without too extreme alphabetic manipulations, to define each of the 50 states, 4 territories (and a few more, if needed) with only 2 distinct letters.
Actually there are more than 4 territories: DC, PR, VI, AS, GU, MP and then three more for Pacific countries that the USPS delivers for: MH, FM, PW. But considering there's 676 two-letter combinations, there's plenty of room for more.

Quote:
Remember that this was devised in a day when everything was being computerized, but computers were weaklings compared to now; every digit was valuable and required expensive data storage space, so programmers tried mightily to conserve. Also, computers work better with fixed data fields, and allowing a fixed number of characters rather than a variable amount simplifies and speeds up processing.
Until I read Cecil's column, I thought computers were the reason for only two letters. Consider that in 1963, if you had any kind of sizeable file, say a customer address file, it would be stored on mag tape. Mag tape drives were horribly slow and increasing each record by even a single letter would significantly increase processing time for all kinds of programs.
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Old 04-13-2018, 11:28 PM
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I live in a city with twelve letters and a space, Oklahoma City, and have simply abbreviated it as OKC many times over the years. Everything has gotten where I sent it so the PO must approve it. Certainly much easier to type.
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Old 04-13-2018, 11:52 PM
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That's debatable. The what3words system is a) proprietary, b) language-dependent, c) not easily machine-readable/codable, and d) completely without geographic correlation. The fact that the two ends of your locomotive have completely different encodings is often considered a bug, not a feature.
Yes, it is proprietary because it was made by a company, not a government agency. People can use it for free.

It is language dependent -- in fourteen of them so far. The 3-word code for a particular location can be received in one language then be expressed in the 3-word code for another by selecting it in a drop down menu.

I would assume the word codes have a numeric equivalent that can be sent from machine to machine when us pesky humans are not involved. If not, there's always OCR.

I have no idea what you mean by "without geographic correlation." A particular code points to a particular point on the earth. That can be translated to a LatLong if you like, as shown in their video or the other way around.

The 3-meter granularity would, say, enable me to guide a friend to where I am in a crowd watching a parade. If that same granularity confuses you because one end of a locomotive has a different code than the other, I guess you could call that a bug.
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Old 04-13-2018, 11:55 PM
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I live in a city with twelve letters and a space, Oklahoma City, and have simply abbreviated it as OKC many times over the years. Everything has gotten where I sent it so the PO must approve it. Certainly much easier to type.
If you use the correct zip code, the name of the city is irrelevant. They only use it if there's an error in the zip code and they have to figure out where you really intended to send the letter. How do they know there's an error in the zip? It could be it's an unassigned zip code. Or if it is assigned, it's very likely that the post office for that zip code does not have the street address in its delivery area.
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Old 04-14-2018, 07:52 AM
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The Canadian codes do not overlap with the US ones, but I believe the Mexican ones do (BC = British Columbia and Baja California; MI = Michigan and Michoacán).
Baja California and Nuevo Leon are the only ones using just 2 letters. The others all have 3 or more.
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Old 04-14-2018, 07:59 AM
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Quoth DesertDog:

I have no idea what you mean by "without geographic correlation." A particular code points to a particular point on the earth. That can be translated to a LatLong if you like, as shown in their video or the other way around.
An example of geographic correlation would be if points next to each other had two of their three words the same. Well, usually, at least; you'd inevitably have some points where you have the equivalent of 12:59:59 rolling over to 1:00:00, where everything changed.

If I tell you two addresses with the same 5-digit ZIP code, you can tell that they're fairly close together. If I tell you two addresses with the first four digits the same, you don't know as much, but it's a good chance that they're in the same metropolitan area. Even if I only tell you the first digit or two, you can narrow it down to a general region of the country.

Or consider latitude and longitude. I can specify a location on the Earth with as much precision as I like, by giving more digits after the decimal point. But even if I just tell you that I'm at 40ish north by 80ish west, you have some idea of where I am. And with a little spherical trig, if you give me the coordinates between two points on the Earth, I can tell you exactly how far apart they are, to within as much precision as you gave me the points. But with the three-word system, it's not meaningful to say "I'm somewhere in the info.courtyard area".

Last edited by Chronos; 04-14-2018 at 08:00 AM.
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Old 04-14-2018, 12:33 PM
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Which causes many problems in large rural areas
In my case, the nearest post office is five miles away but my post office (and ZIP code) is ten miles away in another county.

So, for geolocation purposes, I've ended up memorizing five ZIP codes for different situations: my own (by far the least useful), the nearest town's, representative codes for the two nearest cities, and a code for the nearest major metropolitan area. None of which gets you anywhere near my home, of course.
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Old 04-14-2018, 02:12 PM
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Somewhere in the recesses of my memory is a story about a fad in the early days of the postal system where people would try to come up with cryptic addresses to see if the post office could figure it out. The only one I remember was something like this:

Hill
James
Street
Mass

Which translated to:
James Overstreet
Underhill, Massachusetts

It was delivered correctly.
The version I saw as a kid:

Wood
John
Maine

John Underwood, Andover Maine.

Likely UL.
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Old 04-14-2018, 05:44 PM
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Actually there are more than 4 territories: DC, PR, VI, AS, GU, MP and then three more for Pacific countries that the USPS delivers for: MH, FM, PW. But considering there's 676 two-letter combinations, there's plenty of room for more.



Until I read Cecil's column, I thought computers were the reason for only two letters. Consider that in 1963, if you had any kind of sizeable file, say a customer address file, it would be stored on mag tape. Mag tape drives were horribly slow and increasing each record by even a single letter would significantly increase processing time for all kinds of programs.
In 1963, a lot of stuff was still on paper tape and punch cards ('do not mutilate spindle of fold').

And on paper: a piece of furniture you seldom see today is the fan-fold binder storage rack.
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Old 04-14-2018, 06:19 PM
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There already is a system in place that can specify any spot in the world to a 3-meter square with a three-word code, words because they're easier to remember than a string of digits. For example, there is a locomotive on display at a park near where I live. The front end is info.courtyard.moats while the back end is miracle.brushing.vest. There are currently 14 language sets so you could for example, find your location in English and have it pronounceable for your friend in Berlin.

I think it is way ahead of whatever the USPS has on tap.
For addressing the front and back ends of locomotives in parks. In AUS parks and traffic lights both have independent numbering systems for emergency purposes. On the other hand, the UPS system is very good for delivering to fixed address points, which is what it was developed for. I understand that the post offices in Nigeria and in Mongolia have adopted What3Words, but they aren't starting from the same place.

And if the USPS has free addressing information, it is right to be proud of that. In both the UK and Australia the post office is partly funded by selling that information, which means it is effectively unavailable for any other purpose.

There are other alternatives to What3Words in use in some previously-unaddressed locations, but I can't remember the names of the systems. Anybody else?
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Old 04-14-2018, 06:34 PM
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Even if I only tell you the first digit or two, you can narrow it down to a general region of the country.
What3Words is a naming convention, implemented as a computer app. Given the 3 words name of a longitude and latitude (named on a 3 meter square), , the computer app translates it, and you can have it on any larger scale you want.

The critical difference is that latitude and longitude numbers were used with paper maps: what3words is for use in spoken language with computers.

The question is, is what3words suitable for signage? It's good for memorized addresses: I should be able to remember where I live, and where my mother lives. And it's good for talking to the ambulance if I have my smartphone and can get my phone to tell me where I am. But if I have my smartphone, perhaps I should be letting my phone tell the ambulance where I am. Smartphone geolocation is a massive business, of which what3words is only a tiny, tiny part. And for signage, used for people who don;t have smartphones, there are some competing ideas.
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Old 04-14-2018, 08:30 PM
John W. Kennedy John W. Kennedy is offline
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Actually there are more than 4 territories: DC, PR, VI, AS, GU, MP and then three more for Pacific countries that the USPS delivers for: MH, FM, PW. But considering there's 676 two-letter combinations, there's plenty of room for more.



Until I read Cecil's column, I thought computers were the reason for only two letters. Consider that in 1963, if you had any kind of sizeable file, say a customer address file, it would be stored on mag tape. Mag tape drives were horribly slow and increasing each record by even a single letter would significantly increase processing time for all kinds of programs.
Not as bad as that. It was the systems that used punched cards, both small computers like the 1401 and sub-computers like the 402 or 407, that were the main squeeze. Cards contained 80 characters and no more, and that was that. In fact, back then, IBM supplied two-digit codes for the states and state-like objects, which could then be expanded to “MASS”, “CALIF”, etc., as needed for printing.
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Old 04-15-2018, 06:05 PM
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But with the three-word system, it's not meaningful to say "I'm somewhere in the info.courtyard area".
I downloaded the What3Words app on my phone and spent a few minutes playing around with it. The first thing I noticed was the wildly unrelated word combinations for the various areas of my tiny condominium. The codes are meaningless unless you're using the W3W website or their app.

So where do I live, according to What3Words? I guess you could go with the front door as my "address," although my next-door neighbor's front door is only a few feet away and appears to have the same location code. The system also appears to be two-dimensional; I live on the third floor, and the person living directly below probably has the same "address" as I do. USPS doesn't deliver to my front door anyway; everything goes to the complex's mail kiosk, which has its own three-word location.

It's a pretty cool system, and I can imagine it being useful in situations like finding your friend at a huge, crowded festival; they could text you "I'm at purple.monkey.dishwasher" and you could find them with the app. But I can't see this displacing the zip code system.
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Old 04-15-2018, 06:30 PM
AHunter3 AHunter3 is offline
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I have a somewhat-related question.

The US devised the format "City, XX 12345", as in "Valdosta, GA 31601" or "Albuquerque NM, 87131" or whatever.

Pretty much everywhere else, the format is a mixture of letters and numbers, though:

28-29 Haymarket
London SW1Y 4SP
United Kingdom


20033-520 Kerr Street
Oakville
Ontario L6K 3C7
Canada


a) Which format came first?

b) Why was a second format adopted instead of everyone chiming in with the one already established?

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Old 04-15-2018, 06:53 PM
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The current English system was first implemented in 1959, though it took them 15 years (with some revisions) to complete the national implementation of it. So, it predates the US ZIP Code system (which began in 1963), although ZIP was implemented nationally first.
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Old 04-15-2018, 07:36 PM
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a) Which format came first?

b) Why was a second format adopted instead of everyone chiming in with the one already established?
Because the second format was better....

You are only looking at the user-visible side of the system. Letters were used because they needed a much larger zip code. Using letters and large zip code makes sorting harder. The USA went with a shorter zip code, and was able to use just numbers. Aus came even later, and due to the tiny population was able to use a 4 digit numeric zip code.

Although population, and population distribution, are important factors in designing a zip code system, and will be different for different countries, the more important difference between the earlier English system and the later American system is that the UK zip codes are tied to delivery routes, and the American zip codes are tied to delivery areas.

That makes the UK zip codes more immediately useful, and makes the American system more flexible and easier to maintain.

In database design terms, it's like the difference between using a natural key and an artificial key. In software design terms, it like the difference between using literals and named literals.

In Aus, zip codes are a legacy technology. Bulk mail uses address points, and private mail uses location names. Zip codes are mostly used when you enter your address on a form on a web page. That's used to generate an address point. So our actual system of zip codes is largely irrelevant now: any arbitrary zip code system could be used.
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Old 04-15-2018, 11:08 PM
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As for the all-number system, it's worth remembering that ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Program. The scheme was simply a nationwide expansion of the zone numbers that had been introduced in big cities during World War II to help inexperienced clerks sort mail. In the new five-digit scheme, the first three digits told what sectional center served that part of the country, and the last two told what individual post office delivered to that address. In nearly all cases, the last two digits were the old zone number: Chicago 33, Illinois, became Chicago IL 60633. The last two digits for small town offices (that never had zone numbers) were often simply assigned in alphabetical order, though there were many exceptions and many new ZIP Codes have been introduced in between over the last 55 years.
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Old 04-16-2018, 05:36 PM
Johnny L.A. Johnny L.A. is online now
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So what is the postal abbreviation for Rancho Santa Margarita? I'm allowed 20 characters, so I use RANCHO STA MARGARITA.
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Old 04-16-2018, 11:12 PM
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So what is the postal abbreviation for Rancho Santa Margarita?
RCHO STA MARG

The old ZIP Code directories had a list in the back, but I can't immediately find it online. More useful to me, as a cartographer, was their recommendations for streetname suffixes.
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Old 04-17-2018, 11:14 AM
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If that same granularity confuses you because one end of a locomotive has a different code than the other, I guess you could call that a bug.
The 'bug' is that the fact that both ends of the locomotive have completely different codes with no correlation. If you tell me the lat/long coordinates for the front and back of the locomotive, I can easily tell that they're close together that they're probably connected in some way, even if I have no internet or map access. With the word codes, if you tell them to me they convey no useful information unless I look them up with a computer. If someone gives me plantain.shoehorn.ham and plantain.shoehorn.eggs, I'd expect the two locations to be related in some way, but they're not actually.
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Old 04-18-2018, 11:00 AM
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Yes, it is proprietary because it was made by a company, not a government agency. People can use it for free.
Sure, until the company decides they need another revenue stream. And they can change any part of the system at any time without any recourse by its users.


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Originally Posted by DesertDog View Post
It is language dependent -- in fourteen of them so far. The 3-word code for a particular location can be received in one language then be expressed in the 3-word code for another by selecting it in a drop down menu.
So two people speaking different languages have completely different identifiers for the same location. Not very good for communication.


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I have no idea what you mean by "without geographic correlation."
This was explained earlier by others. What I mean is that the three-word code for a particular location has no meaning by itself. It's completely arbitrary and tells you nothing at all without the secret sauce contained within the company's proprietary app.


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Originally Posted by DesertDog View Post
The 3-meter granularity would, say, enable me to guide a friend to where I am in a crowd watching a parade. If that same granularity confuses you because one end of a locomotive has a different code than the other, I guess you could call that a bug.
It all depends on what you're using it for. I didn't claim W3W was useless; but chalking it up as better than anything the post office is working on seems a ridiculous claim. It may be better for some scenarios, but certainly not for all, or even most.


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Last edited by Powers; 04-18-2018 at 11:00 AM.
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Old 04-18-2018, 01:32 PM
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If I'm trying to tell someone where I am at the parade, I'll say "I'm between 4th and 6th, in front of the Chipotle", or the like. It's not quite as fine-grained as W3W, but it'll get them close enough that they can see me waving. And they can do that no matter what apps either of us have on our phones.

And suppose that we do both have the same app on our phones. Then the solution isn't for me to call him up and tell him three words; the solution is for me to push the button in my app that says "tell my friend where I am", and then pick out his name from my contacts list, whereupon my phone would transmit to his latitude and longitude with sufficient digits after the decimal point, and with a checksum and error-correction, much more reliably and quickly than I could tell him the three words and have him type them in.
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Old 04-19-2018, 05:41 AM
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There already is a system in place that can specify any spot in the world to a 3-meter square with a three-word code, words because they're easier to remember than a string of digits. For example, there is a locomotive on display at a park near where I live. The front end is info.courtyard.moats while the back end is miracle.brushing.vest. There are currently 14 language sets so you could for example, find your location in English and have it pronounceable for your friend in Berlin.

I think it is way ahead of whatever the USPS has on tap.
How cool. I need to test this out.
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Old 04-19-2018, 08:23 PM
Elendil's Heir Elendil's Heir is online now
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...

Which translated to:
James Overstreet
Underhill, Massachusetts

It was delivered correctly.
Supposedly a letter was once successfully delivered to Ripley's Believe It Or Not addressed, in its entirety, as "?"

Quote:
Originally Posted by mamafrogger View Post
I live in a city with twelve letters and a space, Oklahoma City, and have simply abbreviated it as OKC many times over the years. Everything has gotten where I sent it so the PO must approve it. Certainly much easier to type.
I've gotten in the habit of addressing letters to friends in Shaker Heights, Ohio as "SHO" followed by the ZIP, and they get there every time.
  #36  
Old 04-20-2018, 11:19 PM
Melbourne Melbourne is offline
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Here's another alternative: Google's "Plus Codes". (Open Location Code) Tied to google maps:

Google India is pushing it now: spoken in 6 Indian languages. The Wikipedia article has links to a couple of other systems.
  #37  
Old 04-21-2018, 07:47 AM
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PoppaSan PoppaSan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Melbourne View Post
Here's another alternative: Google's "Plus Codes". (Open Location Code) Tied to google maps:

Google India is pushing it now: spoken in 6 Indian languages. The Wikipedia article has links to a couple of other systems.
The reasoning behind the three word method was because words are easier to remember. Any code can be used elsewise, you just need to remember a long string of letters and numbers. Then again 5th decimal place of longitude and latitude can differentiate between trees in a forest while the sixth can measure glacier flow.
You want words in that case? Come up with 360 words for longitude and use the first one eighty for latitude. Break the decimals into groups of two and keep repeating the first 100 until your chosen resolution.
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Last edited by PoppaSan; 04-21-2018 at 07:51 AM.
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