You are currently browsing the daily archive for 1 February 2011.

For once the weather-guessers guessed right, or very close. The forecast was for misty rain congealing into “winter mix”, then snow; overnight low of 24F, accumulation of 2-4″ of snow. They did miss the low temp, because the low according to the weather station at the airport was 19F, but looking out my window I’d say they got the snow right on. We still have strong winds from the north, rattling my wind chime and leaking through the cracks in the windows and doors, and it’s still well below freezing and will probably stay that way most of the day.

In many Northern climes this would constitute a “flurry” hardly worthy of notice. For us it’s the opening blast of the Ice Age. Schools and a lot of businesses will simply shut down awaiting improvement, many if not most people will stay home huddled before the heater, and calls will go out from the improvident to suppliers of propane, hay, and other necessities of cold weather, demanding that they brave the roads. I can afford to be disdainful because my suppliers have been provident — the hay guy came by on Saturday and the propane man yesterday, both offering to deliver before the mess hit and cheerfully offering delayed payment if I was short. This is typical, though most welcome, and in this case it wasn’t necessary for me to short them, even temporarily.

I was afraid of power outages, and my UPS kept beeping at me to let me know there were fluctuations. It’s old, and the battery doesn’t have much capacity any more, so rather than chance it I shut down and snuggled up in bed with the cats. As it happens the power never went out — I still have a few line-powered clocks without battery backup, so I can tell. The primary hazards, here, are from high winds blowing the lines around and people discovering to their dismay that their brakes don’t work too well on an icy surface, with consequent splintering of utility poles. The winds never got high enough to cause more than blips, and the few cars that have gone by have all been notably slow and careful. Really, most are. The day is yet young, however.

It doesn’t seem that there’s an ice storm in the offing. Ice storms happen when there’s a temperature inversion, the clouds being warmer than the surface, so it rains liquid water which freezes on everything exposed. When the sun comes out it’s fairyland, light refracting through the glassy coating on every twig, but it weighs down utility lines, which duly break under the extra load, and turns the roads into skating rinks, which induces more breakage. I’ve seen it where all of northeast Texas from Dallas to Texarkana, Corsicana to the Red River, was without electricity or had only a few bright spots. Once upon a time I had to drive 120 miles, from home to DFW airport, through just such conditions. No problem — I know how to do it — but there weren’t very many others on the road. Mother and Dad elected to stay in a motel rather than hurry to get back, and by their account had an enjoyable couple of days.

One of the Matt Helm spy/adventure stories has a Coloradan tweaking the protagonist about Texans’ inability to cope with winter driving conditions. Helm ripostes, “You need to send us some so we can practice.” We have more people than you might think who know the rules, and driving an unloaded pickup on wet roads in summer, which most of us have done a lot, is a pretty good introduction to slip-and-slide. The teevee newz always has fun showing overhead shots of people who didn’t get the message, but in the Age of YouTube it’s become obvious that you can find interchangeable yobs in Seattle, New York, etc., which makes us feel better.

Brag: Once upon a time I took the company van onto I-25 just south of Denver and drove to Albuquerque, coming in less than an hour over level time for a dry road, and marveling at the sparseness of traffic; it was only later that I found out that the road had been closed. The CDOT must’ve closed the gates just in time to miss my rear bumper. Really, though, the only problem I had was getting through the intersection of I-25 and I-40, which had an inch and a half of skating-rink quality ice on it. What was galling was that I shouldn’t have had to do it at all, but I missed my exit and had to go over and back around to get to my hotel, about two miles total. It took an hour and a half.

The nice thing about it is the knowledge that it’s temporary. Temperatures will dip into single digits at night for a couple of days, but the Sun is already starting to break through the clouds, and by Saturday it’ll probably be in the 50s again, if not higher. With a little luck, the short duration means pipes won’t freeze. We don’t bury things as deeply as is the custom in Wisconsin or New York, and if temperatures stay in the single digits for very long the water mains start producing geysers at the weak spots. My pipes will freeze — one of them already has: the supply line for water to the horse lot. I’ve never bothered to bury it at all, and black polyethylene pipe lying on the surface will be solid all the way from tap to tip. The kitchen tap still runs, though the drain’s frozen, so I can have that necessity of life, hot coffee, and the critters will be fine for the Duration of the Emergency. We’ve toted water in buckets before.

My boss says they have enough cash on hand to let me work a couple of days, but I’m snug here and have no obligations that become pressing before Friday or so. I think I’ll let him use the money for Diesel to run the torpedo heater (a relatively small building with nearly a thousand light bulbs burning in it has no need for central heating even when they’re CFLs, but supplementary warmth is nice in extreme conditions), leave the roads free for the skilled and/or desperate, and hang out here for a while. There’ll be a lot of others doing much the same.

Wisconsin announces tax breaks for businesses moving there from Illinois, and Dan at Chicago Boyz takes approving notice:

We may as well pick off what is left of the Illinois corpse before other states do.

One of his commenters is less approving:

Wonderful. Will the incoming Illinoisians do the jobs Wisconsians won’t do or will they steal jobs from Wisconsins?

You really needn’t worry too much, Tehag. Our experience here in Texas is that it isn’t a problem. The bigger problem is new arrivals bitterly complaining that some nicety available in California, Illinois, New York, or some other blue enclave isn’t available here, and for that we slap them upside the haid and remind them why they had to move in the first place.

It’s not just a new company, it’s a new business — but the business was there before, it was just elsewhere. Immigrants bring with them the customers they had before, which means they also need employees, and experience says a lot of the employees in the old location don’t follow along, preferring to stick it out in their familiar haunts. Whether or not that’s wise, it means the business needs new employees. Competition isn’t an issue — we have free trade within the United States, and a company that competes with a Wisconsin firm from its base in Illinois doesn’t become more competitive by moving.

Tax breaks for companies moving in make a lot of sense, especially if the taxes are somewhat burdensome. Of course they’ll be less or the company wouldn’t move in the first place, but a temporary bit of relief is just that, relief.

Back in the Sixties a man called Robert W. Townsend wrote a short, snappy book on business management called Up the Organization. It’s still very much worth reading today, for the whiplash when you see some of his numbers if nothing else — his breakpoint between a wage slave and a responsible employee was twenty-five dollars a week, for instance. Much of his advice, especially about central control of far-flung enterprises, is timeless even in the age of the Internet, and will be when Star Trek-style transporters replace the telephone.

Townsend spends a good bit of time on disruptions, extraordinary events that put a large burden on management. One of his dicta is “Three moves equals one fire” — even if the insurance covers the cost, replacement of the infrastructure of the business takes a long time and causes confusion, and loss of production while rebuilding allows competitors to rush in where they couldn’t before. A two year tax break sounds about right to relieve the average business from the burdens of one-third of a fire, and Wisconsin businesses won’t see any new competition, just the same old same old with a different Zip code. The delay while the newbies rebuild might even give the guys who’re already there a chance to poach a little revenue, hmm?

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February 2011