Mailing stuff in a normal envelope

It might also have to do with the thiness of the packaging. Comparing my Netflix DVD to one of the more expensive (and thicker) greeting cards we have laying around, they are about the same thickness - the Netflix slightly thinner, in fact. So the very fact that they package it in a paper wrapper and not a DVD amaray, (and, contrary to popular opinion, DVDs are flexible - certainly to a 10"radius) - these may make them “card-like” enough to arrive intact most of the time.

“Popcorn” and “peanuts” are pretty standard slang for the little hunks of Styrofoam™ packing material you can buy from shipping companies. Very few people ship products packed in actual popcorn or peanut shells these days, although it was popular for a little while in the environmentally-friendly days of yore.

And the depressing footnote to this story is that I mailed the padded package this morning, and the desk clerk said it would probably be delayed due to what had happened in London. Rather nasty way to find out about that.

Indeed. I was all set to mail a package to London on 9/12/01. I had to wait till 9/19/01.

It got there January 23, 2002.

My old fraternity brother maintains letter sorting machines for the USPS. Over a coupla beers one day, he told me about things that go wrong inside the machine. The three kinds of mail most likely to get mangled are flypaper, parachutes, and lumpies.

Flypaper is ad mail on very lightweight paper. The mail zips through the sorter at a very high rate of speed, and some flypaper will develop lift and rise out of the track into the greasy gears and belts.

Parachutes are newsletters folded into thirds and not taped. When they reach 60 mph inside the sorter, they pop open, and they get wadded up by the next set of wheels.

Lumpies are envelopes that are thin on one end and thick on the other. Your stack of photos at one end of an envelope is like that. The stream of letters starts out many letters wide, and counter-rotating wheels at the sides kick some back. After several progressively narrower pair of wheels, you’re down to one letter. Another set of wheels shoots it forward. Now, if the back end of your envelope is three letters thick, the kicker wheels pull back on the thick part while the puller wheels yank it forward. The fat part gets skinned open. When they clean out the bottom of the machine, they mightbe able to piece together your envelope, and maybe even recover your pix. Lots of lumpies get through, and yours might, if it goes in fat-part-first.

A few years back, a brand of disposable diapers ran a promotion where you could save a little bear picture from the package. If you collected forty bears, you could send them in to get something or other. It was badly thought out. Many folks put the stack of forty bears into a corner of the envelope and sent it off. The mail sorter would peel off the stack of bears, and the diaper maker got thousands of empty, torn envelopes. Post offices all over America were ankle-deep in little bears. Oy.

You might wonder, “What if the letter is backwards or upside down?” There are optical readers on both sides of the track, and they can read upside down, at thousands of pieces per minute. They are programmed to read terrible handwriting, too, and when the machine kicks out a “can’t read,” the techies can “teach” it to read that, too.

Thanks AskNott. That is a very good piece. Quite accurate. If the rest of you want even more detail, I can supply it. If not, I’ll understand. :smiley:

I’m in agreement with all that you said. In our university office we send out a lot by post to the nether regions of the world (Africa, Indian Sub-continent) and a lot of it is horribly trashed if its ever returned to us.

I remember picking up a few posters from someone in EBay in person to save on postage, he recounted how another seller was going to have to be told that his US dollars were not in the ripped envelope that had reached Belfast from the States :smack:

Why not protect the CD with a piece of cardboard?

I’ve had pretty good luck sending CDs simply wrapped in a couple sheets of typing paper.

Because it wouldn’t provide the slightest protection against what they’re describing?

If the mail is bent to a significant degree, the CD could easily spontaneously shatter. And I bet different CDs will tolerate different amounts of bending before they do so, judging by a bored adolescence spent breaking AOL discs. So even if CDs generally survive that treatment, that doesn’t mean that you can be perfectly certain any given CD will hold up.

There is a small amount of “give” in the belt system the sorting machines use. For example, if you made a CD out of steel and ran it through the machine in a normal envelope, it wouldn’t bend to any significant degree, but would actually force the belts away from the wheel at two points (near the edges of the CD). Providing cardboard reinforcement would act in a similar way, but there would be no guarantees (and the envelope would start getting too thick anyway).

I should also add that I screwed up earlier - I meant to say 10" diameter, not radius. My brain was out to lunch after having to think outside the metric system for y’all. Anyway, it gets worse. On some machines there is no actual wheel where the mail does a 180 degree turn through the belts. Instead, the belts pass a series of metal rollers, so instead of following a smooth curve, the mail follows a kind of octagonal path. These rollers are only about two inches in diameter, although each only deflects the mail’s path by twenty degrees or so. Then the mail follows a straight path to the next roller for a further twenty degree turn. It’s being bent and straightened out again over and over, at speed.

The reasonable limit for what can be put safely through a machine is a credit card. I’ve even seen those smashed too, but rarely. Above that size, you take your chances. This thread is full of people saying “hey, I get away with it all the time”, and others saying they’ve had stuff smashed. You take your chances.