Americans like things either easy or tough, John F. Kennedy once said. In 1962 JFK said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

America does seem to perform best as a nation when the going gets tough. We rose to the occasion during World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. Then we sent a man to the moon to boost our country's level of technology over the rest of the world.

By the same token, no other nation can top Americans when it comes to overindulgence. We denizens of the land of Coca-Cola, Starbucks, DVD players, McDonalds and Disney World always look for better and faster ways to satisfy our various cravings. But, somehow, the nation that invented the roller coaster, the ice-cream cone and television still remains the hardest-working, most inventive country in the world. We like to work hard, but also like to have fun. We enjoy a victory cigar (or whatever) after a job well done — on days that actually do come to an end.

The yin and yang of our work and play ethic is what makes American electrical construction workers the best in the world. Yeah, I know — I'm really going out on a limb with that line. (Bet you didn't think I was even going to get around to talking about electrical work, did you?) But I think it's true. U.S. electrical contractors like time- and labor-saving devices, experiment with new products and methods, love the challenge of getting a job done on time, and know when the game's over and it's Miller Time.

It pays to advertise. It often seems that advertising is the first thing a company cuts when business stops booming. But, actually, some savvy advertisers actually spend more — and worry less — during hard times, according to a recent article in USA Today. Several major marketers are boosting ad spending during this economic downturn and seeing a boost in sales — and even profit — as a result. Smart companies cut non-essential spending such as business travel and management consultants and beef up advertising spending when business slackens. The reason is simple: Your company stands out more when fewer competitors advertise.

It's true that many electrical contractors — even large firms — do just fine without advertising. They operate on the force of the principal's personality and word-of-mouth about their company's quality. And it's also true that the faltering economy has yet to slow electrical construction. The electrical contracting market remains exactly as robust as it was two years ago in most regions. But no one knows how long this economic malaise will last or how it will affect the construction market. In the meanwhile, it always pays to promote your company. Don't scrimp on yellow-page ads; make sure your logos and signage look up to date.

Loose wires cause fires! Stamp out homegrown wiring! There's an enormous market in the United States for rewiring old homes. In fact, some areas have more business than electrical contractors can even handle. On his Web site, Virgil Kelly, Kelly Electric, Lewisburg, W. Va., estimates 90% of homes in southern West Virginia have old, inadequate wiring. “I fear that…we are embarking upon an era of electrical problems (fire and/or electrocution) reaching epidemic proportions,” he said. The Web site offers some great tips on what consumers should look for in an old home: Loose receptacles, open wire splices, over-wattage of light bulbs and blinking of lights.

Meanwhile, across the pond, an English contracting site, www.tradanet.co.uk/conselectricians.htm, offers these tips to homeowners: “Ensure that your electrician uses the best quality components and covers the ‘safety’ aspects with you. Even if you are a keen DIYer, think twice before tackling electrical jobs — can you really do it safely?”

Now define “definition.” Words can be slippery, confusing things — even outside of the technical arena. For instance, “quantum,” as in quantum physics, means something very small — not something very big like it sounds (at least to my ears). Few professions hold greater potential for disaster from confusing language than electrical contracting — particularly for firms that install both power and data wiring. There are just too many new-technology words and acronyms to keep track of. That's why BICSI (which, like CEE News, isn't an acronym for anything) is smart to feature a new BICSI dictionary on its Web site (BICSI.org). The dictionary attempts to build a common language for datacom cabling that anyone can understand.

Fuel cells may well tank in cars, but could be money in the bank for buildings. I know CEE News has been saying this for about five years now, but fuel cells are bound to be in your future. It'll be a long time before enough hydrogen is mass-produced to give fuel-cell-driven cars a go. But reliable fuel-cell technology is a natural for powering homes and businesses — particularly those needing a high quality of power and those in remote areas off the power grid. A good place to start learning is the new 2002 NE Code Article 692, which covers the installation and wiring aspects of fuel-cell technology. We think that when fuel cells finally do catch fire, the market's going to explode.