Archive for February, 2010

Something is worth what you pay for it.

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Once, many years ago, I was talking with a department manager in a distribution centre where I worked about his labour costs. I told him that I had a few ideas on how to trim off a little fat.

He asked me what thoughts I had and I said that I held a belief that people value things, to a large degree, based on how much it cost them so he needed to pay me $5000 as a consultant and I would write my recommendations in a report. He balked at the idea and I explained that if I charged him $5000 then he would place that value on my advice, while if I merely told him he would place no value on my suggestions.

Was I out of line?

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A nice, warm, fuzzy thought.

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Years ago, I worked in a plant where a few senior employees were fond of saying, “remember, your life is only worth the cost of training your replacement.”

What I noticed was that whenever a position came up, it was filled by promotion or lateral transfer. What this meant was that everybody went one rung up the ladder and therefore our lives were only worth the cost of training an entry level employee.

Sleep tight.

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Why I don’t own a plasma cutter.

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s amazing how far plasma cutters have come in the last few years…from the giant clunkers that would use different gas mixtures, depending on what you were cutting, to the new machines as big as a shoe box that use compressed air. Now, you just need to turn the dial and pull the trigger.

I actually don’t own a plasma cutter of my own, and there are a few reasons for it. The consumables are expensive and you’ll go through them very quickly if you don’t have clean air for your cutter; get a good dedicated air cleaner for your cutter if you use one.

My biggest reason for not having one is that in most situations there are better ways to cut metal:

-While a plasma cutter is amazing on thin material, a torch in experienced hands leaves a better finish on thicker pieces; plasma cutters tend to slightly bevel one side of the cut and it’s much more apparent when cutting thick material.

-For Aluminum, if a shear won’t do it, I find the cheapest and cleanest way to cut it is with a chop or skill saw and a cheap carbide blade.

-For stainless, I use abrasive wheels, which is a relatively expensive way to cut, but I don’t have much stainless work to do.

In spite of my opinion of plasma cutters, they’re amazing and are very useful; just not for the work I do. I’ve always had a bit of an anti-plasma cutter attitude, and was set straight one day by a coworker who was cutting up an old truck box. Unsolicited, I gave him my standard poo-pooing of plasma cutters. Instead of telling me to buzz off, like he could have, he grabbed his plasma torch and burned his signature into a panel as fast as he would if he were using a pen and said that a machine that could do that was very useful and worth the cost; I had to agree.

For non ferrous cutting and thin steel sheets or heavier pieces where you don’t want as much heat input, they’re amazing. I do have to confess that they’re nice for cutting copes in pipe joints but I’m small potatoes and unless I end up doing a big stainless job, you won’t be seeing one in my shop.

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The militarization of relief efforts

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve been taking a break from following the news for a while but I briefly broke my fast a couple weeks ago and listened to a show on Vancouver Coop Radio about relief efforts in Haiti and became angry when the host and speaker complained about the military presence. It’s been bugging me and I have to write about it.

The host and guest speaker were going on about empire building, the insult of men carrying guns on aid missions, and NGO’s being pushed aside by military efforts. I won’t debate the empire building side of things. The different political and economic forces exerting their influence on Haiti are a complex matter, so let’s put all that aside and get down to the meat of the matter: relief.

We all know that Haitians need aid. If you give it some thought, I’m sure you’ll agree that the organizations that are the most effective at doing tough logistical work are armed forces and I’ll bet that the Americans do large scale logistical jobs better than any other army.

The tough conditions and problems faced on a job like this are an armed force’s bread and butter. I have to say that I don’t know anything about NGO’s or the personnel they employ, but I do know that the regimented work life of soldiers that seems excessive or even preposterous to so many of us is PRECISELY what allows all of these men and women to to pile into planes and boats, travel thousands of kilometers to do a job, and come home again when the work is done. You can debate how effective their mission might be, but I don’t think you’ll find any organization more qualified to do this sort of work than an army; at least not on such a large scale.

As for guns….People waiting for aid can’t be trusted to remain restrained when you bring in supplies. I don’t care how civilized and nice you are; when you pile hunger, thirst, stress, grief, and sleep deprivation on top of each other, you will be seriously tested. If you’ve ever been truly hungery you’ll understand why nice good folks can, and do, mob aid centres and trucks.

Generally speaking, I believe that armed aid efforts help keep everybody safe. Would you reach out to a drowning man with your hand if you had a pole? Most of us know that you can’t judge him for grabbing at you and maybe dragging you in too; you’re not rational when you’re drowning.

On the radio show there was talk of a Vancouver based relief group that was turned away from Haiti twice because the airstrip they were to use was reserved for military flights….People who have survived a near drowning, fire, or any survival situation where rationale goes out the window can personally understand why you use a pole to help a drowning man and also why so many don’t stop and think to use a pole.

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