Puerto Rico: A Problem Like Maria

I guess we should take a look at the relief effort in Puerto Rico. They are, after all, Americans, just like us Nebraskans. The thing is, it has become so politicized that one hesitates to talk about it. Both the President and his Twitter account and the Democrats need to shut up and get to work. All this noise is doing more harm than good.

Things are getting done, slowly, near as I can tell. Both the ARRL and the Salvation Army have called for Amateur (Ham) radio operators to help restore communications, and are getting a pretty good response, as they always do.

The way Hurricane Maria blew through the island is in many respects the equivalent of the EMP explosion from the NORKs (or others) that we have talked about here in the effects on the US of the destruction of the power grid. That is what happened on Puerto Rico, except that the computers running it may or may not have been but the physical grid was. That is going to take time (and money) to repair. Meantime, without power, there are no communications either. The landlines are fairly obvious, the same things affect them as the power lines. But even cellphones are no good when the towers have no power for a time, and when their battery’s are dead. That’s why the Hams, most of us have portable stations that (at least on low power) can be run on solar, or bicycle chargers or whatnot. Yes, some of it is a rather old model of communications, but not all, we work with almost all forms of emissions that are in commercial service. In fact, Hams developed many of them.

Water distribution has the same problem, you need electricity to pump water, other than diesel, there is no alternative, and I suspect a lot of power in Puerto Rico is diesel powered anyway.

The power grid on the island has been reported as decrepit for many years, and that is part of the reason for the utter destruction. The LA Times tells us:

Puerto Rico officials say it will likely be four to six months before power is fully restored across the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people. The island’s faltering electrical grid, now crippled by the twin blows of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, already was struggling to keep the lights on after a history of poor maintenance, poorly trained staff, allegations of corruption and crushing debt.

As recently as 2016, the island suffered a three-day, island-wide blackout as a result of a fire. A private energy consultant noted then that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “appears to be running on fumes, and … desperately requires an infusion of capital — monetary, human and intellectual — to restore a functional utility.”

Puerto Ricans in early 2016 were suffering power outages at rates four to five times higher than average U.S. customers, said the report from the Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics.

And then came Maria.

The collapse of the power system has tumbled down the infrastructure chain, making it difficult to pump water supplies — the water authority is one of the power authority’s biggest clients — and also to operate the cellular phone system, which also relies on the power grid.

Residents have been scrounging for scarce fuel to power generators long enough to keep refrigerators and a light or two running. At night, many drag mattresses out to balconies and porches to escape the heat. Hospitals have seen life support systems fail and most business has come to a halt.

Funny how that works, but not funny ‘Ha Ha”. Electricity is quite literally the lifeblood of modern life, without it, we go back a hundred years minimum. That’s why these crackpot renewable energy schemes are so dangerous.

But part of that is also that the island is corrupt, and has been for a long time. From The New York Post:

Jorge Rodriguez, 49, is the Harvard-educated CEO of PACIV, an international engineering firm based in Puerto Rico

For the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican government has been completely inept at handling regular societal needs, so I just don’t see it functioning in a crisis like this one. Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.

The governor Ricardo Rossello has little experience. He’s 36 and never really held a job and never dealt with a budget. His entire administration is totally inexperienced and they have no clue how to handle a crisis of this magnitude.

For instance, shortly after the hurricane hit, the government imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and then changed it. Now, it’s 7 pm to 5 am, and makes no sense. The curfew has prevented fuel trucks from transporting their loads. These trucks should have been allowed to run for 24 hours to address our needs, but they have been stalled, and so we have massive lines at gas stations and severe shortages of diesel at our hospitals and supermarkets.

I’m really tired of Puerto Rican government officials blaming the federal government for their woes and for not acting fast enough to help people on the island. Last week I had three federal agents in my office and I was so embarrassed; I went out of my way to apologize to them for the attitude of my government and what they have been saying about the US response. When the hurricane hit we had experts from FEMA from all over the US on the ground and I was really proud of their quick response. The first responders and FEMA have all been outstanding in this crisis, and should be supported.

Well, I’m not sure what the cure is for that. We get the government we vote for, and the Puerto Ricans voted for these people. Still, they do appear to be doing their best, but it is not, and never has been, good enough. But even The National Guard can’t show up. From Deanna Fisher at Victory Girls Blog.

Click to enlarge

It’s so bad that not even their National Guard can show up for duty.

But nine days after Hurricane Maria, a striking trend has emerged: Less than half of the 8,000 members of the Puerto Rico National Guard are on duty. Army Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top U.S. officer overseeing military operations on the island, attributed this to a combination of factors. Many personnel are dealing with the devastation in their own lives, he said, and some are providing help in their full-time jobs as police, firefighters or other first responders rather than through the Guard.

The comparatively small number of Guard troops on duty in Puerto Rico appears to underscore a disconnect between pleas made on the ground by civilians on the ground since the storm, and the federal government’s relatively modest response at first. It also may have slowed awareness of how bad the destruction was, with fewer personnel responding early and cataloguing needs. […]

And the problem is not that the supplies aren’t present – as you can clearly see behind the mayor. The problem is getting the supplies where they need to be.

Col. Valle is a firsthand witness of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) response supporting FEMA in Puerto Rico, and as a Puerto Rican himself with family members living in the devastation, his passion for the people is second to none. “It’s just not true,” Col. Valle says of the major disconnect today between the perception of a lack of response from Washington verses what is really going on on the ground. “I have family here. My parents’ home is here. My uncles, aunts, cousins, are all here. As a Puerto Rican, I can tell you that the problem has nothing to do with the U.S. military, FEMA, or the DoD.”

“The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help; moving those supplies, in particular, fuel, is the issue right now,” says Col. Valle. Until power can be restored, generators are critical for hospitals and shelter facilities and more. But, and it’s a big but, they can’t get the fuel to run the generators.

They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

“It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” says Col. Valle.

Eventually,  it will work out, but not without a lot of angst and pain for all concerned, both aid givers, and aided. The real question is, will Puerto Rico learn from the disaster, as we all learned from Katrina, or simply keep on with same old, same old, and we have to do it all again in 5, 20, or 50 years. That’s their part of the story.


Grenfell Tower

So let’s try to unpack this horror a bit, shall we? I happened to watch it almost in real time (on Sky) and I was appalled as it went up. As I said yesterday, it reminded me of the WTC more than anything – essentially all the heroism in the world from the emergency services (and they were, as always) of very little utility, the effects were more like the actions of a particularly malevolent god than anything else.

The best general write up I’ve read as to underlying causes was, not surprisingly on The Conservative Woman. In the immense comment stream, it degenerates a bit into partisan backbiting. Well, what doesn’t these days?

But here’s what I think I know.

  • It’s a high rise (24 stories) with one staircase and two elevators. Not uncommon, there or here, but one must always remember that once you get past roughly 10 floors the fire department is restricted to internal access. 150 feet is about all mobile equipment can reach.
  • Supposedly it was constructed to contain fire, reinforced concrete construction, fire doors and such. Normal stuff, not all that expensive, usually effective. Failed here.
  • A cladding was applied to the building, for appearance and insulation. Some reports say it was not fire resistant. It’s possible it wasn’t, but apply enough heat and almost anything will burn. What appeared to happen here is that fire got behind the cladding and into the insulation. I’ve heard that insulation described as Celotex (may or may not be true), but almost all insulation will either burn or melt, and if it does behind the cladding, it will form a flue (much like a chimney) and heat will rise very quickly feeding the flames. That is what the fire looked like on TV.
  • No sprinklers. May or may not have mattered in the public spaces. Which is all that is usually required. If they had been installed in the apartments may well have contained it, and most also have an automatic alarm, both local and fire department, which would help. Apparently, this building grandfathered the requirement, but best practice would have seen them installed.
  • No (or inaudible) local fire alarm. Inexcusable, in my mind at least.
  • Open windows. England has little air conditioning, and none here, so windows were open, increasing draft for the fire. Well, not really a lot you can do about that.
  • Lots of immigrants in the building. Not a big deal, maybe, but cultural practices do matter. May have been lots of flammable artifacts about, prayer rugs, this, that, and the other. I have also seen immigrants here cooking over open flames (improvised firepits and such) very dangerous in a multi-story building. Don’t know, but might be worth looking at. Also were firedoors kept shut? Canada, for instance, requires that the door to a connected garage have an self-closing mechanism.
  • One that will surprise Americans. There are reports of an exploding refrigerator. That’s something that just doesn’t happen here. Why? Because we use CFCs for refrigerants. If they leak and burn, they can cause phosgene poisoning, but the systems are sealed and pretty much bulletproof. Never, not once, in the last 50 years have I heard of a problem. Europe is different. They use Isobutane, essentially what we call LP gas. Yeah, the same stuff that we use in our barbecue grills, and sometimes stoves and furnaces where natural gas is not available. I won’t have it in my house for any reason, not least because, unlike natural gas, it is heavier than air and will accumulate, and a very small spark (static electricity from a woolen rug, say) can set it off. The other thing is, it’s a small molecule (unlike CFCs) and much harder to seal permanently. LP is every bit as flammable as acetylene that is used for welding, in fact, Oxy-propane is very often used for cutting torches because it burns hotter. Now get a leak in your refrigerator, and a spark in the thermostat, and you have an explosion, and not a small one. Why do they do this? Because the EU has banned CFCs for environmental reasons (we’ve changed our formulations too. The new ones aren’t as effective, but less damaging to the ozone layer).¹

Overall, this was a systemic failure, old Murphy was working overtime. The problems just piled one on the other, and as a result, likely more than a hundred people are dead and died horribly. If I understand the building was council owned (rather like an overpowered city council combined with the zoning board) and managed by a (no doubt connected) non-profit. Strikes me as plenty of room for corruption to sneak in as well, although I have no proof of anything like that. But the one thing we know about bureaucrats is that they can almost never be forced to take responsibility for anything. I doubt anything different than that here.

And yes, the pseudo pious virtue signaling, blame passing, and all those games have already started. Not to mention the wingeing about how we don’t have enough money.


Don’t do this at home (or at work)!

Time to lighten up a bit, thanks to Oyia Brown.







This safety meeting is adjourned.

Common Sense Tuesday

binsite1Most of you know that I really like the liberal arts, especially history and English. Kind of shows in the blog, doesn’t it? Taught properly they teach one critical thinking skills that one needs to get through life properly.

But they are my avocation, I spent many years as an electrician and a lineman, and that’s what I identify as. The guy with the most common sense that I know of is Mike Rowe, and he’s been on Tucker Carlson’s show a couple of times. Let’s see what he has to say.


Tucker makes a good point here, there is a real satisfaction in doing good. I’ve never seen a lineman that was real unhappy when we come in from storm work, bone tired, grumpy, and cold, yes, but also very happy that we got the lights back on. Yeah, we all like the money, but the job satisfaction is priceless. Besides, basic liberal arts should be taught at the secondary level, it was when I was a kid, that’s the basis of what I know, sure I’ve read a lot since then, but the basic structure of it all comes from high school, and to be honest, so did my vocational choice. Here’s another from Mike and Tucker.


He’s right, of course, if you can stand the lifestyle, Dakota is write your-own-ticket-land for a skilled man or woman. It’s rough, it’s lonely, and part of the year it’s cold as the dickens and summer is hot as hell. I’d be there twenty years ago, cause it’s also fun, and a lot of guys work from March or April till about Thanksgiving, and go south for the winter. Especially for a young guy without a family, booming, as we call it, is great fun. But if you want a settled life, in any of the technical trades, it’s pretty good there too, you won’t make as much, but you’ll be home at night, and you’ll do fine.

Another thing Mike doesn’t talk about here is that I know exactly one electrician on my level younger than forty. No doubt there are others, I like the rural lifestyle, and you’ll probably find more in the cities. My level is to be able to take a block diagram of a system and make it work safely and efficiently. Like one I did twenty-five years ago, before we computer controlled everything, where Joe Farmer drives up to his bin site and dumps wet corn in the pit and the system puts 14% moisture corn in the bin, automatically. Yes, it’s easier now, with computer controls instead of relays and discrete sensor systems, but it’s still not easy. It looked a lot like the one that leads this article

And it’s the same in all the trades, one generation behind me, it’s going to end if somebody, like Mike, doesn’t get people excited about it. It takes some brains, a willingness to learn, and an ability to do the work, and the combination is exceedingly rare. It’s also a big part of how we got here, the ability to solve problems in the field, without calling in every time we hit a snag.

But yeah, I’m one of the guys that will argue with engineers trained in the classroom. I’ll win too, not always, but often. I know because I’ve spent a lifetime doing this stuff, and I’ve pretty much kept up with technology, even if I write crap code. It’s at least as challenging as anything you can learn to do, and the job satisfaction, when it all works, is simply incredible, and the money isn’t bad.

And way back up in the first video, Tucker was right, people who deal with the real world, don’t burn the flag, mostly because we’re too busy earning a damned good living at 25 without student debt to have time to be silly like that. And besides, even if we are liberal (and some are) we know damned well that without America much of this wouldn’t exist. And it’s a lot more fun than sitting in an office playing with a computer, especially if you don’t get much feedback on how you’re doing.

And hey, Kipling even wrote a poem about us, don’t think he did that for junior accountants with a quarter million in student debt, It’s called the Sons of Martha

THE Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

They say to mountains, ” Be ye removèd” They say to the lesser floods ” Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd – they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their job when they damn-well choose.
As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that !
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd – they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons !

Mike Rowe “Don’t follow your Passion, Live it”

There are only a few guys or girls that you see on TV that I really like. Leading that group is Mike Rowe. Why? because he tells us all the common sense things that many of us know. But there is a difference when I say it or Mike does. I suspect a fair number of you have seen this video from Prager University, but let’s watch it again together.


He’s right you know, the world doesn’t really need another gender studies major, but we do need people to keep the lights on and the toilets working, and you know, they get paid pretty damned well, if they’re good at it. I’m a fair example, I think, when I was in school, I had a pair of passions, first to fly Air Force bombers, and secondly to be an engineer. Well, I had hay fever and the Air Force (with good cause, once I understood it) didn’t want me anywhere near the cockpit of a B-52. You’ll understand if you’ve ever flown with a head cold. As for the engineering, well my brother in law was dead on when he said, he can do the work, but he’ll never make it through school. Maybe if I’d had better math teachers, but well, I didn’t.

But you know, I got my journeyman card as a power lineman on my 18th birthday, and by the time I was twenty-five, I was a master electrician. As an aside, it worked out for the best, I would’ve gone crazy stuck in an office when I was in my twenties, even my thirties. And I’ve made a pretty good living all these years, some better and some worse, of course. And I’ve turned into a near engineer as well. I’m one of those guys that can figure out how to do almost anything.

But Mike also did an interview lately that doesn’t have the 300K + views that the video above does. In it, he tells how he got to where he is today. I think it, although a bit longer, is even more powerful. Here it is. See if you don’t agree

And you know, that’s important. Look at everything around you in our civilized world, and think about this, most of what you (and I) take for granted, every day, was beyond the dreams of King George III, or Thomas Jefferson, or even the Pope. We have it because people, mostly without degrees, figured out how to do each and every step to get us here. I’d call that a pretty damned noble calling, especially when at oh dark thirty in the middle of a Nebraska blizzard, I don’t have to use a whale oil lantern to find the outhouse.

But somebody has to keep all this stuff working, and they get paid (usually well) to do it. Do you have what it takes to make it in my world?

Not many do.

Stop Doing Low-Value Work

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAbSAAAAJGE3YjEwMjU0LWRlNDItNGY3Yi05ZDA1LTFjYjg1NDkxMjdiMQThis is from the Harvard Business Review, and it’s very true. I’m a small business guy, which means I’m a generalist, it also means that as much as possible, I lean on technology to take care of all the details, it works surprisingly well. Here’s some from Priscilla Claman’s article.

In the past, time management experts would recommend that you divide up your work into A tasks, B tasks, and C tasks. The concept was to do the A tasks first, then the B tasks, then the C tasks, when you can get to them. If priorities changed, you just changed the order of your As, Bs, and Cs. Doing all aspects of a job seemed possible then, if you just followed some basic time management rules.

That kind of thinking ended during the recession of 2007-2009. Between January 2008 and February 2010, 8.8 million jobs were lost. Although the jobs went away, much of the work didn’t. Teachers ended up with more children in a classroom; customer service representatives ended up with more phone calls; and managers ended up with more people to manage as teams were consolidated. No matter the job, everyone ended up with a lot more work. And although there have been real gains in productivity since then, the days of A, B, and C tasks are over. Overwhelmed is the new normal.

Therefore, it’s actually a matter of professional life or death to get rid of your low-value work – tasks that mean little or nothing to customers or colleagues. Take an active approach. Design a new, do-able job for yourself. Here’s when to do it:

via Stop Doing Low-Value Work

All true, but as usual, designed for corporate life, and for those of us in small business, it looks a bit different. Mostly we don’t do all those reports she speaks of, we’ve never had time, or the manpower, for that. And to be honest, when the management team is 5-10 people, neither have we had the need. One of the things about small business life is that we don’t have the underfoot for lily-gilding overhead, usually we don’t have the taste either.

In many ways, that’s why the regulatory burden falls so heavily on us. We have neither the people nor the taste to do endless forms, that don’t fit our system, and contribute nothing to our operations. From our chair, they are simply a waste of time. None of us, for example, have any desire to get our people hurt, but multi-thousand pages of OSHA regulation will never, in our mind, be as good, as supervisors with a modicum of common sense. Same in almost all areas.

In fact, that is why I’ve never been afraid to compete with the ‘big boys’, I’m so much more maneuverable, that they don’t have a chance. Sadly, that’s not as true anymore, their cronies in the government have saddled us all with so much nonsense paperwork, required by law, that we’re bogging down. True for us, true for the small banks, I think, true for almost all small business.

We’re still having lots of good ideas out here, in the office, and the field, but they’re getting set aside, we can’t find people willing to work 16/7/365 and do it productively.

In fact, we’re not either. The Sad part is, I don’t see anyone on the horizon that is likely to make any difference to this imposed cost, none at all.

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