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How to Monitor Your Postal MDD Scanner's Battery Drain and Reset Screen Freezes

Mel Carriere spends his time reporting on all things postal, so that you don't have to.

Mel delivers his approval rating for the postal MDD scanner

Mel delivers his approval rating for the postal MDD scanner

Brain Freeze vs. Screen Freeze

Brain freeze is good. Screen freeze is bad. Brain freeze implies that it is a scorching day and a postal customer has given you a popsicle, which you swallow whole to get some blessed coolness into your body fast. The blinding brain freeze ache creeping up your sweating forehead is blissful in such circumstances.

On the other hand, screen freeze is also painful, but not in a good way. Instead, it is excruciatingly time-wasting and embarrassing. You've been there before—the little red light on top of the MDD (Mobile Delivery Device) scanner comes on and won't shut off. You frantically push buttons on the keyboard to enter the scan data, but nothing happens. The escape button accomplishes squat. Even the power button will not respond.

Such a predicament can be particularly embarrassing when the scanned item is a certified letter requiring a signature, and the postal customer is standing there fidgeting in the doorway in his or her bathrobe, fighting back that ankle-biting Chihuahua that is trying to lunge out the door at you while keeping the bathrobe shut with the other hand. Meanwhile, there you are, messing around, trying to kickstart the clunky scanner that was antiquated the day it first plopped down into its postal charging cradle two years ago.

What do you do? Call your supervisor? Your supervisor is on the phone with that customer's spouse, calling from a back room to complain that you don't know how to do your job. No quarter there.

An even worse slow-death-by-scanner scenario is when it is 5:30 at night and you are scrambling to do your last few deliveries before the dreaded 6:00 PM postal witching hour. As you reach for the small pile of six or seven parcels in the back of your vehicle, the MDD picks that moment to drop dead. No juice. Dark screen. Completely out of gas. Lucky for you, you've got your personal cell phone in your pocket. Even though the Postal Service does not reimburse your phone bill, you take pictures of the bar codes on each package, which you will then have to input manually into a fresh scanner when you get back to the office. Meanwhile, your nervous and annoyed supervisor will be standing there tapping his foot, keeping one evil eye affixed on you and the other on the time clock, which is rapidly clicking away into the danger zone.

Been there, done that? I have.

Don't worry! Help is on the way. Keeping you from singing the dead scanner blues is the Postal Service's top priority. To prove this, my station manager ordered spare batteries—but oh darn, she neglected to order the associated battery chargers, so this solution to the dead battery issue has been put on cold storage for who can predict how long.

Until those new batteries roll in, or whatever makeshift fix is in line for your office, you are going to be at your scanner's mercy and will have to plan your strategy around its whims and caprices. Therefore, the ultimate aim of this article is to get you back home from the ball before your scanner turns into a pumpkin or dies of paralysis, with the objective of keeping your wicked stepmother supervisor off your butt.

Is monitoring your battery bars enough to make sure you have enough giddyup to ride this scanner home?

Is monitoring your battery bars enough to make sure you have enough giddyup to ride this scanner home?

Piss-Poor Postal Planning Revisited

In the Navy, they used to preach that piss-poor planning leads to poor performance. Another loosely associated adage is that beating a dead horse won't make that moribund nag giddy-up any quicker. Those of you who believe me to be clinically insane will feel vindicated as I am now going to beat that dead horse again, expecting different results. Anew, I am going to complain about how inferior postal technology, implemented after a head-in-the-sand decision-making process, leads to inefficiency, reduced productivity, and lost dollars and cents.

Even though the MDD scanner battery drain issue seems to have only started rearing its ugly head in the last few months, there were dire warnings on the horizon about the lackluster performance of this device even before most of us laid eyes upon it.

A July 17, 2015, article on the Postal Reporter website summarized an OIG (Office of Inspector General) investigation into the performance of the new MDD scanners. Although the study found that "Phase 1 MDD deployment was adequate and ahead of schedule..." there were flaws discovered in the overall performance of the hand-held devices. The three identified common functionality issues listed were "screen freezes, laser beam reader freezes, and insufficient battery life." The report chastised letter carriers for how they responded to these glitches, citing "ineffective or inefficient workarounds, often counter to operating instructions when MDDs did not work as designed" but then admitted that "the MDD training program needs improvement."

Needs improvement? What training program? I can't speak for you, of course, but I don't remember a single service talk devoted to how to properly use the postal MDD scanner or how to correctly reset it in the event of screen or laser beam reader freezes. Basically, letter carriers have had to come up with the "inefficient workarounds" on our own because nobody taught us to do otherwise.

Another rather ominous aspect of this OIG report is that the scanner batteries were already draining away quickly to nothingness when the machines first rolled off the assembly line. With the zero-dark-thirty, only see the family while they are sleeping lifestyle that a lot of overtime list carriers lead throughout the country, the limitations of this defective battery were a glaring overlook. A year and a half later, the faulty little power plants aren't packing any more punch than they used to.

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So instead of hearing me rant, let's ramble our way over to those inefficient workarounds, which is what you came here for.

The OIG report on the functionality of the MDD scanner was less than flattering.

The OIG report on the functionality of the MDD scanner was less than flattering.

Inefficient Workarounds: Go Beyond the Bars

Even though the OIG report pinpointed significant faults in the MDD scanner from the get-go, I personally didn't experience battery drain problems until the 2016 Christmas season. Nor was it an issue with other letter carriers in my office, as far as I know.

Anybody who has crawled out of the stone age on their knuckles and finally purchased a cell phone knows that their batteries wear down with time. The MDD scanner is basically just a slightly more sophisticated version (maybe) of the cell phone without the phone, so its battery is going to gradually deteriorate.

Hmm, except that I never had a problem with the previous postal scanners dying. Of course, those low-tech dinosaurs were not being used for a thousand other things other than scanning. Anyhow, I digress. The point is that the Postal Brain Trust did not plan for the increased power requirements of the MDDs, and around Christmas, the poor performance brought about by their PPP (see above) was driven home in a bad way.

At about 5:30 one night, while sliding down the last few chimneys on my route to spread Christmas cheer, my scanner unexpectedly gave me the cold blank stare. Prior to this, it had never occurred to me to monitor the battery. I had simply assumed that the scanner power lasted into infinity and beyond and remained blissfully oblivious to the battery icon in the lower right corner.

Luckily I only had three parcels to go, so I took pictures of their bar codes to input into another scanner when I returned to the office. But this was just the opening salvo in a scanner war that was going to escalate out of control before some kind of negotiated peace could be achieved. Now I was scanner paranoid. I began to pester my supervisor with phone calls when my battery dipped ominously into the one-bar level. She did her best to send somebody out with a fresh scanner, but after a couple of days of this, I could tell by her tone of voice that I was wearing thin.

The major problem with providing me with a fresh scanner when mine dies is that there just aren't enough of them to go around. Insufficient spares were purchased to keep the Regular City Carriers, Rural Carriers, and CCAs in our office fully equipped with the new devices. As a result, the scanners have a tendency to sneak away when one is not looking. At first glance, the smart thing might be to pick that scanner up off the cradle first thing in the morning before it can fall into evil hands, but with dying batteries now the problem, grabbing it early means it is going to die a premature death in an awkward moment.

I have now learned that in order to extend my battery life into the evening, I have to leave that baby in the cradle until I am ready to go to the street. Fortunately, my route case is located close to the chargers, so I can spin around and shoot the evil eye at potential scanner thieves surreptitiously slinking around over there. By now, the word is spreading not to mess with the grouchy old guy's scanner. Even so, when I have to go out to the parking lot to load parcels, I post an angry DON'T TOUCH sticky note on the scanner screen. Definitely a low-tech workaround, but it seems to get the job done.

Last week we were given some good news about the ongoing scanner crisis, which is that charging cradles are going to be installed in our vehicles. While this seems to be a long-term solution, the boss didn't offer any specifics on when exactly the process is going to start. She probably doesn't know either, and in typical postal deflect the blame style, she may be offering up false assurances to keep us off her back.

In the meantime, in order to get through the day with a locked and loaded scanner, I have learned to monitor its battery life more efficiently. The bars on the bottom give a general idea of how much juice is left, but one bar could mean anywhere from about 30% to zero. 30% will last a while, so before you pick up your phone and start nagging your boss that your scanner is dying, you need to find out exactly how much charge is left. Here's how you do it.

  1. On the scanner interface, hit the red button and "D."
  2. Select option 7—Power Status.
  3. The device will prompt you to press any key to start the battery monitoring process.
  4. In a second or two, the battery percentage appears.
Left: power keys required for battery test. Center: power menu. Right: power percentage listed under capacity.

Left: power keys required for battery test. Center: power menu. Right: power percentage listed under capacity.

Screen Freeze Is Not of the Tastee Variety

Remember Tastee-Freez? Despite the questionable literacy level of the logo maker, everybody loved The Original Soft Serve Ice Cream. On the other hand, nobody loves screen freezes, which are awkward, inconvenient, and downright tasteless.

I have no idea why the screen freezes on the MDD scanner are occurring. I can only speculate it is because the Postal Service is trying to do too much with them at one time. Not only are carriers scanning over 100 items on a slow day now, but some supervisor in a hidden black ops room, where he mans a computer next to the janitor's deep sink, is pinging your device 400 plus times a day to monitor your "bread crumbs." Bread crumbs are a method of making sure you are where you are supposed to be. Sometimes this NSA rejects bread crumb tracking supervisor—demoted from monitoring the movements of sexy Russian agents to timing how long it takes for you to pee, switches into spy mode, and watches you on the MDD camera. Viewing your under-motivated butt on video eases the monotony of an otherwise tediously dull round of tracking the trail of dots your vehicle makes on-screen as you chug along and can even lead to a few laffs when the other bored supervisors gather round to watch you pick your nose. Something has to pay the processing price for this frivolity, however, and that something is your scanner.

In addition, the MDD scanners are also spitting out SPM requests to scan intelligent mail barcodes at different addresses along your route. All of this adds up to a lot of work for that tiny computer in your hand, and sometimes the package barcode you are desperately trying to scan gets in the way of the multitude of other processes it is trying to handle at once.

Was it coincidence, or cause and effect, when an SPM request I received at the same time I was trying to scan a barcode was followed by my scanner freezing beyond all hope of defrosting, even though the mercury was pegging near 90 that day? I didn't know what to do, so naturally, I had to call and pester my supervisor. Surprisingly, she knew the answer, so I'll pass along this information to you at the price of one Tastee-Freez soft serve. You get off cheap. Here it is:

Escape-Alt-Power keys, pressed simultaneously, will reset the MDD scanner in the event of a freeze.

Unfortunately, this takes you back to Windows Embedded, after which you will be prompted to set up the scanner again.

Power + Alt + Escape will reset a screen freeze.

Power + Alt + Escape will reset a screen freeze.

The Float Test

Okay, I admit that was about 2,000 words of fluff and filler for about five lines of useful information, but we had fun, didn't we? Well, at least I did.

Unfortunately, your MDD scanner is an electronic leash that tethers you to your pitbull supervisor, who really should be the one on the chain. Regrettably, it is also a lifeline that connects you to just about every task the Postal Service requires you to carry out in the course of the day. When not charged and working properly, it is useless dead weight, and you will be dead in the water as well, cast adrift in your LLV without a paddle. Yes, I would love to toss mine in the Tijuana River to see if it floats and would pay money to watch that spycam-monitoring supervisor's reaction to the 140 million gallons of human sewage floating by the lens on the way to the Pacific Ocean. Maybe I'll save that one for my last day.

In the meantime, we're stuck with this little blue devil, so we might as well learn to handle its serious flaws and limitations, all as part of a postal day's work.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Rob on January 09, 2018:

Why don't you quit if it is soooo hard to use? Its your job. Shut up and do it. People like you is why the post office pays so much in unnecessary grievances. Oh no I have to push a button? that's it I need a 96 and union time, I cant take this harassment. Case, pull, carry, clock out 8 hours. That is if your route is accutually 8 hours long. I bet not.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2017:

Good suggestion, Mr. Needsabrewski. From what I have seen, the battery is not easy to take out. I'll have to investigate. That's why I write this, so people can chime in and contribute. Thank you.

Needsabrewski on March 15, 2017:

Tldr; The fastest way to recover from a locked up scanner is to simply open and close the battery cover. That's it.

No need to remove or replace the battery, no reset, no reboot, no waiting.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 09, 2017:

Thanks Linda. You are always a faithful reader and I am glad I could take a topic that is irrelevant to everybody outside the Postal service and make it partially entertaining. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 09, 2017:

Thank you Bill. I know on its face it is a dull topic. The title is dull, but I try to give the Google devil his due. It pleases me that you gave it a shot anyway and were able to find some value.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 09, 2017:

I will probably never encounter an MDD scanner in my life, but it was definitely interesting to read about it! Thanks for sharing your frustrations in such an entertaining way, Mel.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 09, 2017:

I'm with Eric. I didn't give a damn about how to monitor the scanner, but I knew your approach to the lesson would be worth the read...and it was.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 08, 2017:

You are awesome. Congratulations to your son for raising you.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 08, 2017:

I don't know how long ago your private sector experience occurred, Larry, but this technology updates really fast and these gizmos become obsolete in a couple years. The guy at the Home Depot has a scanner that can run circles around mine, and he complains about it. Postal Technology usually gets changed out on the order of every ten years, which is a glacial pace in today's delivery biz. Customers want to know where their stuff is every minute of the day now. We're even going to start tracking first class letters, for a fee. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 08, 2017:

Mills, brain freeze is good as long as it lasts until the popsicle melts, and doesn't become chronic and permanent. If your job is like mine, some of the customers exhibit symptoms of chronic brain freeze and this 1 percent results in 99 percent of your headaches. Thanks for dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 08, 2017:

Eric they have a pile of hay in the back to feed the horse and a hamster on a treadmill charging the scanner. All told, it works better than the regular battery. Thanks for reading.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on March 08, 2017:

Oh the joys of technology:-) not to make it a competition, but I shipped stuff through the private sector and I woulda killed to have as reliable technology as you guys.

Great read!

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on March 08, 2017:

Thanks for making me feel glad my job doesn't involve a scanner. I just have to deal with some folks who think my department has a terminal case of brain freeze.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 08, 2017:

OK I must admit I only read this for the wit of the author. I don't think your people out here in Sprung Valley have them fancy doohickeys. And I do not think their horse drawn delivery vehicles have any juice in them.

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