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Service With a Smile?

I’ve just read your article on the postage machine at the Capitol Hill post office that breaks down regularly (“First-Class Debacle,” 7/12), in which U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Deborah Yackley blames the breakdowns on customers who are in a hurry and fail to complete a transaction.

What is completing the transaction? Ignoring the fact that you are in a hurry and taking the time to examine the machine for some sign that you should do something beyond what is necessary to get your stamps, which you now have.

If the customer has inserted his money and received his stamps, the transaction is complete. Perhaps Yackley is blaming the next customer, the one who fails to provide input concerning the previous customer’s transaction before initiating his own?

I’m a computer programmer. I spend a lot of time designing user interfaces. An interface that breaks down because the user doesn’t provide more input than is necessary to achieve the desired result is designed to break down. In this case, it’s designed to break down frequently, because it can’t perform its most commonly performed transaction, the exchange of money for stamps, without breaking down.

Of course, the machine could be used by post-office employees who know how to operate it reliably. The proper place for it is behind the counter, where only the employees could get to it. They could provide a polite, knowledgeable interface between the general public and the postage machine’s delicate, quirky, unreliable user logic.

Arlington, Va.