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Huffington Post: Dear ‘Wall Street Journal’: Bill Gates Is Not an Idiot

Huff PostI love the Wall Street Journal, I really do. I read it every day, all the sections. It’s really the only “national” newspaper we have that isn’t a joke. The New York Times is still too local and doesn’t have enough business news, plus it wears its politics not only on its sleeve, but on both sleeves and on its shirtfront as well. USA Today qualifies in the “joke” category. The Washington Post is a mere ghost of its former self. And I read the Wall Street Journal because by and large the articles are pretty factual and don’t seem biased, at least on the surface. Continue reading

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Huffington Post: Here’s What Retirement REALLY Looks Like

Huff PostLet’s first make two simplifying assumptions: first, you have, through personal responsibility or choosing the right work situation or just darn good luck, accumulated sufficient financial resources to continue to do the things and live in the style that you lived in the day before you retired. You’re not suddenly wealthy or suddenly poverty stricken. If you are suddenly wealthy, then stop reading this and good luck to you, you fortunate SOB. Send me your contact information. Continue reading

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Huffington Post: Mommas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Football

Huff PostWhen I was in high school in Alexandria, Virginia, the football players were gods. It didn’t matter that the football team was terrible. It didn’t matter that we had the stupidest name for a football team ever. The school was “George Washington High School,” and thus our teams were named, unfortunately, the Presidents. Even more unfortunately, this was shortened during cheers to “Prexies.” No one was quite sure what a “prexie” was — a small pretzel, perhaps? Evidence of skin disease? But no matter, to be on the varsity football team and get a big, hulky letter jacket to wear around the school was really cool. By the way, none of the other sports got jackets like these.
Continue reading

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Huffington Post: The Flaw in Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Ten Thousand Hour’ Rule

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 3.57.50 PMNot everything works that you try, in business, in love, in sports. Here’s an example: Malcolm Gladwell, in his excellent book called Outliers, expounds an interesting doctrine which most people now call the “ten thousand hour” rule. With apologies for short circuiting it, the idea is that to get really good at something, you have to spend a lot of time working on the particular skill or knowledge set that’s involved, and the minimum time required is ten thousand hours. I believe there is much truth to that. Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but the opposite is by and large true. But there’s a big footnote to that theory. Continue reading
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Huffington Post: Why California’s Drought Policies Are Wrong-headed and Won’t Work

huff-post-greenMuch has been written, a good deal of it on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune and some even in the review section of the New York Times about California’s four-year drought, the shortages it will cause, and what to do about it. Much of it is not particularly sensible. But they’re only reporting what the policy makers have determined. Continue reading

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Huffington Post: 5 International Business Tips for Entrepreneurs and Other Brave Souls

imgresInternational business is a hot topic today. After an unsuccessful attempt six year ago, Coke is even making another stab at an acquisition in China, this time a maker of juices with interesting flavors like walnut, red bean, and oats. But making and selling a product or providing services in a market outside the U.S. can be especially challenging. Continue reading

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Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Tess Gerritsen

gerritsen150Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list.

Her series of novels featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the TNT television series “Rizzoli & Isles” starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander.

Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine.

Tess was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing:

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

When I was seven years old.  I was an avid reader as a kid, and by age seven was already writing my own stories.

 

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to writing?

Figuring out how to tie together all the scenes I’ve already written into a coherent climax and resolution.  I often don’t know who the villain is until I’m about 2/3 through the first draft.

 

What piece of your writing portfolio are you most proud of? 

I’m proudest of my stand-alone novels BONE GARDEN and GRAVITY.

How has writing changed your perspective on other things?

I pay attention to stories all around me.  I think it’s made me more curious about a whole range of topics.  When I travel, I open my eyes and ears to the odd and peculiar or unexplainable, all the little details that make me think: “What if…?”

 

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on book #12 in the “Rizzoli & Isles” crime series.

For readers who are unfamiliar with your books, what title would you recommend they read first? 

If they’re interested in crime novels, then I recommend they start with THE SURGEON, as it’s #1 in the Rizzoli & Isles series.  If they’re interested in history, then I recommend BONE GARDEN.

RF Hemphill is a former CEO of a multi-billion dollar global electric power and distribution company and is the author of Dust Tea, Dingoes & Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine & Commerce from a Globe-Trekking Executive.

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Welcome to the World of International Business! … Now what?!

UntitledR.F. Hemphill // 22 February 2015

So you’ve done well in the United States, you’ve gotten things done for your company, you’ve learned the corporate standards and products and services and sales pitches and excuses and competition. And the boss likes you and thinks you have great promise, but you need some international experience. You love the idea, but you’ve never been much past Peoria, not that this isn’t an interesting city. Here are some lessons and advice.

No matter how well you prepare, and how much stuff you read, there will be many surprises. The first time I took on an international assignment – “go develop and build a power plant in Perth” — I found that there were both dumb surprises and interesting surprises.  In the first category comes the “gosh, it sure takes a long time to get places” reaction.  I was not an international innocent.  I had lived in Japan for four years as an Air Force dependent, I had been in Vietnam, I had done small amounts of government travel to conferences in Europe, I had visited my parents in Hawaii where they had retired.  And yet I had to look up which country Perth was in. On my first trip to Australia, I flew from Washington to Los Angeles, where we had some business.  Several days later I flew to Hawaii and spent a day with my folks.  Then I got on the plane to Perth, routed via Taipei, Bangkok, and Sydney.  I figured it was now just a couple more hours to Australia.  Not exactly. It took forever, 36 hours to be exact, all in tourist class.  With bleary eyed layovers in each of the three in-route cities.  Sydney to Perth was equivalent to flying across the US.  The distances never changed, I just got smarter and paid much more attention to the routing and the scheduling of departure and arrival times.

One of the most interesting surprises was how important it was, in every place in which we worked, to have an official company person on the ground, living and working not just in the country, but in the province and in the city.  The information flow was enabled, but more important, we finally figured out, was the demonstration of our commitment to the project in that particular location.  Local and national government officials, and local and national suppliers and service providers, were ever so much more cooperative when they saw us as committed to the country and the location.  Finding people willing to move to some of these places was not easy, but once we saw how important it was, we made it a priority for promotion in the company, and we made sure that when people came back from Cheng-du or Ekibastuz or Yaoundé they were put in good jobs and received promotions.  Building relationships is essential to successful business in every country, and you just don’t do that by flying in and out, no matter how charming you are.

Here’s another surprise: you don’t need a “Local Partner.” All the “International Business” courses in all the business schools I am familiar with teach you that the very first thing you do in going to a foreign country is “Find a Local Partner.” This partner should know your business intimately, be well connected politically, be successful in his or her own country, have the highest ethical standards, and be completely devoted to the success of your company. And you’re supposed to get this person the minute you step off the plane. Well sure, why not? This is advice similar to “you should have a perfect wife.” Right. Where do you get one? And if this “partner” is so perfect, why exactly does he need you?

You don’t need a Local Partner, and in fact you can get in trouble having one, especially on the touchy issue of business practices, i.e., paying people off. Local partners may be perfectly comfortable with local customs such as bribery, but that won’t meet the requirements of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Besides, it’s a bad idea regardless. You do need local advisers, and local counsel, and so on, but not a “partner.” They’re too hard to find, they’re an unnecessary crutch, and they’re hard to get rid of.

When you actually end up with business abroad, then there are two related and important but seemingly contradictory pieces of advice:  Don’t complain that you’re not living in the US any more, and do enjoy the differences and the opportunities a foreign location presents. However, never forget that your business skills and experience and values are why you’re there.  Don’t be satisfied with answers that make no sense, with practices that are counter to what you know to be world class, or with delivery schedules and staffing levels that are not as good as what you would find in a similar location or business unit in the US. Don’t be taken in by the “this is how we do things in our country” sort of responses that you will hear too often.  There is no reason that people in [fill in the blank] country cannot perform at the level you would expect in the US—all it takes is leadership, management and resources.  Well, it also does take a bit of time for these expectations to yield results, and more training and encouragement than you expect, but it’s possible anywhere with enough persistence.  Safety is a good example.  We never changed our safety expectations in our power plants, no matter where they were, and we eventually got safety performance across the company (Cameroon, Bulgaria, Pakistan, etc.) that was at the same level as US electric utility averages.  And way better than the averages in the country where our plant or plants were.

Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, one of the very first things you should do before you even set foot in Gazikistan, is to call the US Embassy.  I started out with very low expectations that State Dept. bureaucrats were of any value at all, let alone useful to our specific business.  But that bias was rapidly disproved.  The commercial attaches we dealt with were routinely responsive, knowledgeable and helpful.  Of course they didn’t know the nuts and bolts of the power business, but they knew the service providers and the political process and even the general outlines of the regulatory and permitting regimes.  And they were free!  It is an excellent resource for anyone with a commercial mandate who is entering a new country. And you might as well use it, you’re paying for it.

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Huffington Post: Ways Smart Utility Companies Can Join the Renewable Revolution (Rather than Opposing it and Ending Up as Road Kill)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rf-hemphill/4-ways-smart-utility-comp_b_7225390.html

Posted: R.F. Hemphill

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So, Mr. or MS. CEO, your business is being threatened by a new technology, and competitors who can make your product more cheaply than you can are arising to steal your market. To make matters worse they’re not in China; the competitors are in the form of your formerly docile domestic customers, for goodness sake! So what do you do?

Part one of this discussion addressed 6 Facts About the Impending Renewable Energy Revolution. Part two focused on 5 Reasons Utility Companies Hate Renewables. As a former senior policy official at the Department of Energy and Deputy Manager of Power at the Tennessee Valley Authority and also someone who spent the better part of three decades developing a startup global electric power and distribution company into a company with $18 billion a year in annual revenue and power plants now in 21 countries, I have a very unique perspective on this topic. So now I want to share 4 ways utilities can join the renewable revolution instead of being left behind.

1. Fight fire with fire. There is no reason that you cannot go into the solar or wind business yourself as a utility, and some have started doing this. Duke Energy, for example, is working on developing renewable and efficient power to help customers manage their energy costs. You need the cooperation of your regulator to let you put this new set of capital investments into your business and charge your customers for it, but you have built in advantages over some poor HVAC installer trying to switch from putting air conditioners on pads to panels on roofs. But this initiative will only work well if you need more generation, and since US Kwh consumption is growing very slowly — only 0.9 percent last year — the regulator may well disapprove this plan. And this despite the fact that your customers will continue to merrily festoon their rooftops with solar panels.

2. Grow the market for your product — There is a wonderful opportunity coming down the road, so to speak — electric cars. Yes, current oil prices are at a six year low, but almost no one believes this will last, and batteries, as mentioned earlier, are getting better and cheaper. This plus climate change concerns inevitably lead to more and more plug in hybrids and full battery powered electric vehicles. You will benefit from this, even if you do nothing, as all those cars will need daily charging. Anything you can do to move this along, like investing in a network of convenient charging stations in your service territory, will put you ahead of the game and preserve your business. And this investment will please your regulator, and is one that very few other businesses have the money or talent to undertake.

3. Expand your business horizons. Water is the next coming crisis. Unfortunately water has been “the next coming crisis” for thirty years or so, but now maybe it really is. California and many western states are in the worst shape, water wise, they have been for years, and there is little reason to think this will change soon. The best solution, after conservation, is desalination systems. And both of the principle technologies — low pressure flash desal and reverse osmosis (“RO”) desal, use lots of electricity. The first kind is usually tied to the waste heat of a power plant and so has limited flexibility, but RO systems can function anywhere that there’s salty water. It is perhaps useful to point out that fracking uses a large amount of saline water that when spent currently is reinjected into deep brineous aquifers, at much expense. It is not difficult to imagine setting up RO systems to solve both the potable water availability problems of the western US, and a portion of the environmental problems associated with fracking. The RO systems are big and complicated and capital intensive, and thus a natural for a utility, who can now make both the power and the water that a developed country needs.

4. Cannibalize your neighbors. If you’re stuck in a state with a backward regulatory system, and you can’t build solar or wind and put it in your own rates, then go next door and start stealing the customers of the next utility over. You will need to do this in a non-regulated part of your business, but most utilities have long since established such structures, so this is not a problem. You could even consider buying one of the competing solar rooftop companies to do this, like one of Solar City’s smaller competitors, Vivint Solar or SunRun for example. Your business next door will grow as it diminishes in your home state, and maybe at some point your regulator will come to his senses.

No business likes to fail, and no business likes to change, especially ones that have had the luxury of a monopoly franchise for a product which is critical to modern society. Today’s utility doesn’t have to fail, and can even lower the long run costs to its customers. But if the leadership doesn’t move quickly and aggressively to meet the challenges of the Renewable Revolution, the next CEO will, and he or she will be there soon.

RF Hemphill is a former CEO of a multi-billion dollar global electric power and distribution company and is the author of Dust Tea, Dingoes & Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine & Commerce from a Globe-Trekking Executive.

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Huffington Post: 5 Reasons Utility Companies Hate Renewables

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rf-hemphill/5-reasons-utility-compani_b_7215976.html

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imgresAs noted in part one of this topic (6 Facts About the Impending Renewable Energy Revolution), solar and other renewables have become more and more competitive with traditional ways of generating electricity. And these cost advantages can be easily translated to the customer level. Now you can use these technologies to take control of your own electric supply, regardless of what your local electric distribution company does.

As previously mentioned, I am a former senior policy official at the Department of Energy and Deputy Manager of Power at the Tennessee Valley Authority and I spent the better part of three decades flying 4 million miles on United as I developed a startup global electric power and distribution company into a company with $18 billion a year in annual revenue and power plants now in 21 countries.

That being said, here are 5 reasons why utility companies hate renewables:

1. Bigger used to be better. Utilities have thrived over the last sixty five years by building bigger and bigger power plants, based on the reasonable principle that there are economies of scale in bigness, and fuel costs were trivial. You couldn’t build a power plant in your back yard at any reasonable cost, never mind how mad your neighbors would be. But all of that has changed. Solar especially is a technology where scale doesn’t matter, or at least it doesn’t matter nearly as much as in other technologies. Photovoltaic panels are small, stand alone power plants that can be installed anywhere that there’s enough sun to make them effective. Small wind machines are also moving down the cost curve, although they have more challenges for installation at the residential level.

2. It’s cheaper to run wind and solar plants than it is to run traditional sources of generation, even at the residential level. The absence of fuel costs is obvious, but the operating and maintenance requirements are much lower as well. You can put a small natural gas fired generating set in your basement, but you’ll need engineering and maintenance and careful attention to ventilation, and other complications. Solar panels on your roof have no such requirement, and this is a very attractive feature.

3. The solar industry has matured. There are lots of solar installers around to offer their services. This is no longer an experimental technology, or one only for the environmental nuts, or something you do just to impress your neighbors. It’s here, it works, and it’s getting cheaper and cheaper. The same cannot be said for the electricity from your local supplier.

4. You are pretty likely to save money if you make your own power. The price your utility charges you for energy is always complicated, and not more than two or three customers out of a hundred understand their applicable “rate schedule.” Before the Arabs started the energy crisis and the Mideast became an unending headache, your kilowatt-hour price came down per unit as you used more electricity–think volume discount. This mimicked the utilities’ costs. But that cost structure hasn’t been true for a long time, and rates have been adjusted so that you pay MORE per unit as your consumption goes up. In San Diego, for example, there are four price levels, from 17, 20, 37 and 39 cents, which increase as more electricity is used. This clearly encourages customers to use less rather than more.

5. All this creates a real night mare for the industry. Utilities fundamentally are in business to sell electricity. Having pricing that discourages consumption of your only product is bad enough. Now having a technology that is available and attractive to customers,
t article: 4 Ways Smart Utility Can Join the Renewable Revolution Rather than Opposing it and Ending Up as Road Kill.

RF Hemphill is a former CEO of a multi-billion dollar global electric power and distribution company and is the author of Dust Tea, Dingoes & Dragons: Adventures in Culture, Cuisine & Commerce from a Globe-Trekking Executive.

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