Mailing Services and English Nuances

One of the small perks we have at work is the ability to use our corporate mailing center for personal shipments.  I still have to pay the shipping costs, but do get to use our company’s bulk rate rather than normal rates.  It adds up pretty quickly, actually, but that’s not where this post is headed.

I was checking on packing up and mailing a rather large box, though, and decided to check on the size and weight restrictions.  I came across this:

The following items will not be able to be processed for shipping:

  • Packages weighing over 50 pounds and exceeding 120 cubic inches

Certainly, this was a mistake, I thought to myself.  Maybe if they had said "or" instead of "and", but 120 cubic inches is nothing – a 5 inch cube is more!  I also wondered how you could get 50 pounds into 120 cubic inches.  A bit of Wikipedia searching ensued.

Apparently, Osmium is the most dense element known to man, at 22.61 grams per cubic centimeter.  That information yields the following conversion:

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So, it is possible to get 50 pounds of something into 120 cubic inches.  That said, Osmium has a street value of around $400 per troy ounce, which means it would cost $571,771 (and change) to package it.  I don’t think FedEx or UPS would insure that package.

Lead, on the other hand, would be much more cost effective and possible to obtain in large quantities.  Lead weighs 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter.  That would bring is to 49.118 pounds in 120 cubic inches.  Based on pricing at United Nuclear, this would only cost around $160.

image Obviously, the restriction about 120 cubic inches is wrong, and hopefully they’ll fix that wording on the web page soon.  What they likely meant to say was dimensional inches or package girth (which DHL defines as "the sum of 2 times the height plus 2 times the depth").

Mea culpa: This whole topic came up because I didn’t think it was possible to cram 50 pounds into 120 cubic inches, and my initial calculations showed that to be true.  But my initial calculations were wrong, converting square centimeters into cubic inches.  Geometry 101.

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