Monday, October 26, 2009

Knowledge transfer... in the XXI-st Century takes how long?

An Initiative
to Establish the “European Park Service” (EPS)
and to
place the full weight of EU institutions and legislation
behind attempting to harness all the potential benefits
of a stronger European Policy in protecting natural parks and protected historic sites

In the US, President Woodrow Wilson has established the National Park Service in 1916. It came as a natural continuation of pioneer work by President Theodore Roosevelt having set aside over 150 million acres of public land for conservation purposes.

Today, National Parks in the US are not solely Yellowstone WY and Grand Canyon AZ--the two most well known by people worldwide--but almost 400 different parks receiving a total of about 275 million visitors/year (

The range of types of parks is amazing. They are natural and historic. They protect, preserve, conserve and educate. From a small steel "mill" of late 1700s at Hopewell Furnace to history rich Valley Forge (both 60 km W of Philadelphia), from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Gettysburg in PA or San Antonio Missions in TX, or from Big Bend, Padre Island or Palo Alto Battlefield in TX to Cape Cod in Massachusetts or Mount Denali in Alaska.

When you visit any park you get a familiar feel, friendly rangers welcome you smiling with useful info, you can watch nice documentaries, or take part in very informative activities for children or adults, to say nothing about the well crafted educational Junior Ranger programs, my daughter's favorite.

The NPS has a budget of $2.92 billion with 20,579 employees for FY 2009. An 85 $ annual pass gives you free access to all Parks where an entrance fee is collected.

Could we try to replicate this in Europe (all its 27 EU members, or all 40+ countries)?

In Europe, countries have established and keep adding on their own National Parks. A few resources integrate information about all the parks, among which a great one is the Europarc Federation, at:, or another great resource at: The EU has a number of funding opportunities for preservation and conservation efforts by national/local authorities or NGOs (LIFE+, projects budget for 2009: 249.9 million Euro; Natura 2000 Network).

Yet, there is no integrated body at European level to provide a common ground, strategic vision, enforcement when needed, and sharing of best practices, as well as a common feel to visitors and why not an effective marketing campaign to beneficiaries, children and their families.

Would an integrated effort make sense?

Can it lead to avoiding things like this:

while organizations like the Int'l Committee for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) claim 15 years of success stories:

If so, how can it be achieved best? What would it take to bring such small initiative to the ears of European powerful and influential policy makers? Which doors do we need to knock at?


NOTE: Modestly asked by Dr. Adrian S. Petrescu, father of Mica, a ten years old Romanian-American child having visited and benefited from some forty (out of 391 total) US National (Natural and/or Historic) Parks. As she herself puts it, “I have another 350 to get a Junior Ranger badge from”… Dedicated in deep respectful memory of five men of leadership, US Presidents Abraham Lincoln (IL), Theodore Roosevelt (NY), Dr. Woodrow Wilson (NJ), and Lyndon B. Johnson (TX), and Everett Townsend, a Texan frontier-man and pioneer like few other. It comes in pious remembrance of their contributions to understanding impact on policies by/for children (Lincoln), and to the establishment of US/State (and global) National Parks (Roosevelt, Wilson), or for their love for (Johnson), and relentless initiative to “father” (Townsend) the (TX) Big Bend National Park, respectively.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who "teaches" who? When in doubt, ask... a child...

Lead Change: A Children's Museum in Every Town?

Five years ago a 5 y.o. girl thought of a Children's (Science & Technology Hands On) Museum for every child in the world.

If big people nurture children's innovativeness and their desire to learn from very early on in life, some global issues improve naturally in time.

Starting with knowing why not to let the water run when we brush our teeth, and making it "uncool" to waste the water. All because we saw the cycle of water in nature (at the Toledo COSI Science Center) and we realize that letting the water run kills the "fishies" in the lake...

Or who knows... Children like to play and they are often blind to differences adults see. A child you can play with at the museum or playground is a playmate to a child. To an adult often they have race or color or ethnicity or social status or safety or risks concerns which adults then convey to children. If only it was the other way, if the children would teach the adults instead...

If we would fuel the passion for knowledge with hands on experiences that the children (not the educators!) find well... "cool"... then we could learn from "Mom, did you get my text message? No? Wait, I'll teach you how to open it!"

Let's! What do you think?

We can make this a reality.

It is a small idea my daughter had back in Chicago five years ago (as she just turned five y.o.) and that we want to convince the world it would be a good one. To have a Children's Museum in Every Town, a Hands On broad science experience accessible to children from anywhere and everywhere in the entire wide World...

Spread the Word!

(BTW, if one thinks, this is what Benjamin Franklin used to do back in his days, except it was by regular printing on regular paper. Thank You, Web 2.0 if we have to call it that, for a great medium.)

Thank you,
Daddy/Adrian and Daughter

PS Doing this requires not (just, or necessarily) money, but rather support and a much different vision. Vision support. It could need "face time" with top decision makers. A viral idea self-distribution, much beyond the unfortunately all too old by now "write your representative".

Most models transferring North/West Money to the South were tried and failed. A "solution" made in New York (UN) or Washington DC (World Bank) will not work in Rwanda, but one based on passion and possibility built in Rwanda will...

Even in the US children in SE Michigan could not go in this past decade to the Children's Museum (three are available within 30-50 miles) with their school because _there [was] no money_.

The money is spend on punishing crime which happens in part because we didn't spend _much less_ money on schools/children's museums 15 years ago or less... In case you missed it, read "Freakonomics", by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, here:

Did we go to a Hands On museum as a child? What if we take our children twice a month, take pictures, and we all tell stories about it in school.

Somewhere in farmland Pennsylvania there may be children not having access to one as it is too far can be built by folks donating their used toaster and their time in the old unused firehouse (Ann Arbor MI Hands On Museum was built this way in the 1980s--and it is great and very inspiring)

Talk with other parents and school administrators about it? Write the story by the child to the senator? priceless...

In time it will make it to the UN, the World Bank, and even Bill & Melinda Gates (with Warren Buffett) Foundation,

but mainly to children...they are powerful:

“A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things which you think are important. You may adopt all the policies you please, but how they are carried out depends on him. He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take over your churches, schools, universities, and corporations... the fate of humanity is in his hands.” (Abraham Lincoln)

That is the idea... Can we think of ways to pass it on? Some day some child somewhere where there was not previously a Children's Museum will smile at science or technology... That smile will be a Thank You to all of us! Can we make it happen? Let's!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

It took a Belgian: knowledge transfer, bureaucracies, creative thinking... and... well... Junior Ranger programs...

It took a Belgian...

We have been living in the US for some thirteen years. I have visited the US extensively for fifteen years at the time.

It has been an incredible dream-come-true that I didn't even dare to have as a child, since I was four years old. I first learned about some of this tremendous beauty by looking at pictures, post cards and visitors booklets about Niagara Falls or the Adirondack Region in Northern New York from a big box my parents had (in Romania) from when they were in the US in 1968. I would often sneak in the closet and "steal" the box and I could look at pictures and ask questions about them for hours, until my parents were bored with answering them all...

Many years later, in the US, whenever we had friends visiting from abroad, we'll take them to some nice places to visit, from Washington DC and Philadelphia to Niagara Falls. My parents did it for us, and we did it in our turn with our friends.

One day of July a couple of years ago we were on vacation in Austin TX and somebody suggested to go camp in the Big Bend National Park in the Rio Grande Valley in South Central Texas. The Belgian lady across the table whom I barely knew from the day before was going there. I asked "what's there to see?" "It is pretty, it is a desert mostly, but the canyon the river goes through are impressive, and they are said in the guide to almost resemble Grand Canyon somewhat". The tent and camping equipment was in the car anyway, as we were just coming back from a camping trip through New England. It only took some 10 minutes before my daughter and I decided to take a five day trip... In the next hour (it was about 3 p.m.) we decided to leave that very night, and drive the ten hours on I-10 West by night, to gain one extra full day for the visit.

We, my daughter and I, are avid Children's Museums goers. We have been for years. She must have visited some forty-fifty Science and Technology Museums in a minimum of fifteen US States or more. We lost count long time ago. We search for them and find and visit more of them all the time. Systematically, and with purpose... And we want to facilitate the creation of more, everywhere... as she is the Founder of "A Children's Museum in Every Town" Global Foundation, since she was five years old...

But this time... in the Big Bend National Park, it took a Belgian lady...

We got there in the morning, had coffee, and after stopping on the way to take a few pictures we parked at the Visitor Center, and went in to get a map and information about the park. This is when it happened...

The Belgian lady said "Look, it says here there is a Junior Ranger program you can do." "What is a Junior Ranger program?" came the question. I got all ears. This sounded interesting, and appealing, so I took to read the little brochure myself... Then we shared it with my daughter. "Well, that sounds interesting. You want to do it?" "Yes!" "Then, go ask the lady about it." "Daddy, you go ask!" "Oh, come on, I don't want to be a Junior Ranger. I think they wouldn't let me even if I wanted. I guess the first thing a Ranger does is to be courageous and ask something themselves if they need to know. Are you going to ask?" My daughter got the message and went to ask the National Park Service Ranger and got the brochure...

She was just about to enter third grade at the time... I was teaching public policy and management in graduate school, and have lived in the US some thirteen years, and have visited a few National Parks. I have proposed to my daughter's school teachers and administrators to take the children to Children's Museums.

Yet, I didn't see it. In spite of our always looking for interesting things for my daughter to do, that time it took a Belgian to show us the Junior Ranger program...

...the value of reading brochures and manuals... priceless...

The questions I propose however is why doesn't the NPS have a broad marketing campaign in schools, on TV, in alternative social media, from youtube to twitter... It seems like a decent solution to letting more people know about a great idea and its benefits we could harness in verys simple ways during vacations or weekends... It is already there, it is our tax dollars at work, why not making it widely known and utilizied?

The numbers look very good. About 230 million visits to US National Parks per year in 2008... with the US population at 302 million it could mean that about 75 % of Americans benefit from the richness of the parks... yet, of course that is not the case... more likely about 10 % or less benefit from visiting on average 7 times/parks a year or more... Can we improve that number? Would it be worth it? If so, how? Maybe we need a few more Belgians?;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One million two hundred thousand... portions of Belgian fries?

The other day I had the absolute pleasure and honor to walk to Place Flagey in Brussels Belgium, and have a portion of true Belgian fries.

[The oddity of these being usually called French fries, or even "Liberty" fries, while the proper process of making them has been "invented"--or at least perfected--in Belgium, and of course all that on grounds of the potato being imported from the Americas after Columbus's 1492 discovery, is not the issue here. We shall address these oddities at some later time]

To get the "famous" Place Flagey fries, one has to stay in line about 1 1/2 hours.

[I say famous because they are truly famous. Any Brussels sawy person knows them. I was very fortunate to be first introduced to the Place Flagey fries in 1992, by a friend who at the time was Yugoslav Canadian (while being Macedonian--FYROM--born truly, yet in 1992 that was hard/useless to tell to any border crossing official anywhere). Fifteen years later when I was sharing Brussels stories with a friend, and she mentioned Place Flagey, the fries from 1992 came to mind, and thus I knew where the place was based on my memories of the fries I had there a decade and a half before...]

As we stood in line, a passer by said something to the effect of "you must really like/want your fries to stay in this line..." Indeed, you must. But suffice it to say, they are well worth the wait. However, this is when one looks in perspective. While you wait though, a line is a line.

[Being born where I was and having lived "there" a quarter of a century, lines make me anxious. How else would you feel if for years you had to stay in a 48-72 hours (or more) line to be able to buy three pieces of 350 grams of steak meat?]

Trying to assess the speed of the line, I asked the obvious question: "How long does it take to make and serve a portion of fries?", or of course, the implicit corollary question "How many portions of fries does the gentleman make per hour?".

Experimentally we determined it is three minutes per portion. It is, and it has been the same probably, for twenty years. When we asked the question of the gentleman himself, we learned he didn't know, and nor did he care to know the answer. He said that he cares about other numbers, from the price of potatoes to how many annoying customers he has in an hour. But he has been making his fries, one portion at a time, for twenty years. Never asking himself how many portions of fries he has served, or he is serving his customers...

We did the calculation while we were enjoying our fries, looking at the swans on the pond next to Place Flagey (whether the gentleman owning the small business selling fries there liked it or not--respecting his choice, we did not tell him the result).

[Of course I had to entertain the ubiquitous joke about my "Romanian style" swan eating habits that could have been useful to complement our meal. As I often get the mention, by now not only I am used to smile at it, but I often chose to even introduce myself as the "bastard swan eating Romanian"--just to avoid any confusion right from the start...;)]

One million two hundred thousand portions of fries served over the past twenty years in the business...

This is by far not McDonalds. This is a one man show. One person with his business... alone with his fries, paper cone and sauces, and the sausages or sodas or beer that are sometimes side ordered with the fries. With a great lake view of the swans and the other many birds on the Flagey pond from his "office".

One million tho hundred thousand... one portion at a time... day in and day out...

[And we have just passed the mark of twenty days of "busy-ing" out from our writing our daily story here...--a whole "long" vacation, by US standards of holiday]

You stay in line, you order, you pay the price, you get your fries... but is this truly the whole story?

You like your fries, and you like them so much that you go there again, and stay in line anew...

What is the gentleman really trading in? Processed potato fries? We suggest this may not be it... by far it isn't it...

One has to see the face of the gentleman making and serving his fries, caring for the image of the filled cone, eliminating the small or over-fried fries, almost caressing the cone and almost saying good bye to it while he places it in the cone holder for the customer to pick up.

Whether he (likes to) know(s) it or not, maybe the gentleman rather trades in something else... very very different...

We offer here that he may actually trade in customer smiles...

One million two hundred thousand smiles offered in a person's professional life...

When is the last time we gave away a smile? When is the last time we counted to one million two hundred thousand of a good thing we did? And what is the value of that giving? Not to the receiver, but to the giver herself?

...Hold those thoughts a little while...

In a loosely related story:

A friend whom I first met over a smile or two, once asked me to write in words about the connection between Ayn Rand’s Howard Rourke’s speech at his trial (here: ), and the principles of KindExcellence (here: ). I have been busy and it’s been a long while since. I fulfilled then my promise by sending her something else I wrote before which was slightly connected and in the same spirit. But I tried the task anew a few days ago.

First of all, I need to say that it is hard if not impossible altogether to comment on Howard Rourke’s speech. Period.

This means that any effort on my part to write anything would most probably be futile. And listening (again and again if need be) to Gary Cooper delivering his fabulous performance of the speech can not be replaced by any comments I (or anybody else) could ever write.

Having said that, I can try a few words. I believe the power of the message is in the listener. Just as the power of KindExcellence principles is in the adopter. This is a strange power, rarely seen. The adopter does not have to know he is using KindExcellence. He doesn’t have to know the principles even exist, or what they are and how they are spelled out and applied in day to day life, from one’s personal life to their professional life and business. She just has to use them. Doing it unknowingly and subconsciously works just as well. If not even better.

Thomas Payne once (“long time” ago) wrote

“my country is the world and my religion is to do good”

The absolute classic book he wrote it in was called “Common Sense”.

Indeed, some things are simply common sense.

“Such is the nature of creation.” says Ayn Rand through the words of Howard Rourke…

There is no satisfying others in elementary creation. James Watt did not improve on the ancient Heron steam engine to have his name written on every electricity bill any one of us receives today. Or to have (or rather not have and thus be forgotten) recognition in a class of twenty first century learners in education in/for science somewhere in Texas as one of the greatest five people having influenced the world at all times. He did what he did simply to satisfy his own inner curiosity. He had a problem and he trusted himself he could solve it in better ways than those used right in front of his eyes. He created the steam engine to pump water faster and easier. That’s it! Did he do it to save more lives of the miners who would otherwise die in the flooded mines? Did he get more satisfaction for himself knowing he was improving a public good—the lives of others—both in the immediate and in the near, medium or far ahead future? We do not know that. Andrew Carnegie who has studied James Watt extensively may have some sense about it. The answer may transpire from the biographical book Carnegie wrote on Watt (here: ).

Yet, in the words of Democritus of Abdera spoken more than two millenniums ago

“There are only atoms and empty spaces between them. Everything else is opinion.”

If Carnegie says Watt had a sense of doing good for humanity, it would be Carnegie’s opinion. We missed the chance to ask Watt himself. And we can never be certain, other than by most probably committing the fallacy of “presentism”, so common all too often among our science and technology history efforts. But does it truly matter?

There is only one way one can tell, suggests Ayn Rand. To try it ourselves, and see why we are doing it.

Indeed, Picasso does not paint to please anybody. If he wanted to please, the roses would be red, not blue!, so to speak.

In fact, like in all the examples Rourke gives, pleasing others is the last thing Picasso accomplishes. At least in his lifetime. Pleasing himself is what he cares for. Like with Watt, the inner satisfaction to know that he achieved his own potential, no matter what others say, is fulfilling in itself.

At first sight then, KindExcellence is 180 degrees opposite to Rand and/or Rourke’s precepts about creation as driven by egoistic individualism and satisfaction deriving from them. Hence, how can one ever attempt to wrap her mind around the two—Rand’s objectivism and KindExcellence—together at the same time? How can one then fit this square peg of objectivism in the round hole of KindExcellence (or vice-versa) other than by force?

We beg to differ however. Looking at things at first sight would most probably leave us tricked. Or simply ignoring the facts.

One smiles to his colleagues in the elevator in the morning exactly why? To expect a smile back? To please them? To show friendliness, which in turn could someday translate in a promotion (or even a few consecutive ones ahead of the pack), or even much needed social recognition? An interested economic agent, driven by self-gain as an ultimate motivator in every single small action?

Or, to ask another way, is Payne the ultimate altruist? What would Rand think of Payne? Or, what did Rand think of Payne? Today, we can ask Leonard Peikoff that question and hope to get an objective enough assessment that keeps Peikoff’s own subjective opinions at bay. Yet, the even more interesting question could be what would Payne think of Ayn Rand’s precepts… This however, we cannot even try to find out, since there is no living connection with Payne as Peikoff is in the case of Rand. Or can’t we?

We do not really have any answers, or not even any comments on the relationship between Ayn Rand and her work on one hand, and KindExcellence on the other. All we can modestly suggest is an approach from Socrates, over 2400 years old, and still yet to be fully comprehended and applied. Something that a Benjamin Franklin would suggest, as he rightly does so in his autobiography, available here:

We can only learn to ask the right questions ourselves. We are certain Payne, Rand, Franklin and so many others, as well as all of their careful followers of today, why not including KindExcellence promoters and practitioners--including the Place Flagey smiles maker selling his carefully made Belgian fries--, could all agree… The answer(s) seem(s) to be in ourselves. So, I guess, let us go find it/them… We can only wish all of us best of success…

...And the questions for today:

Is making someone else smile "innovative"? Or simply doing something, anything, with self-pride and self-satisfaction is the "innovation" here? Do we need some new measure/mode of valuation that we haven't considered yet either necessary, or possible? One which would teach us how to truly count to...

one million two hundred thousand... smiles

all given away along with the actual "traded" exchanged product or service?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Connecting facts... a dying out skill? The valuation of curiosity...

A few times we have asked university students in a few classes, but particularly in theory of knowledge classes for would be educators in science, to think of and give five names of people in all humankind who have influenced the world _most_ over time.

Not little was our surprise to hear names like Oprah Winfrey or even Paris Hilton listed. It has taken pulling teeth to get to a name like James Watt. Ultimately, based in part on reminding students about the unit for measuring energy listed on everybody's electric bill, (kilo-)Watt-Hours, the class was little by little learning the story of who James Watt was and why was he important. Indeed, maybe not as important as others worth mentioning on the top-five list... But, who knows?

The other day we were with a few friends and all of our children at Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts. Among the all too many interesting things to see, learn about, and experience there, from the pilgrims' landing to the birth days of the US Coast Guard as a rescue organization for those stranded at sea in bad weather, there are also the remains (rather ruins) of the Guglielmo Marconi antenna system at the Marconi Cape Cod radio station. The station allowed the first ever trans-Atlantic wireless radio transmission between US President Theodore Roosevelt and His Majesty King Edward VII of the British Empire on January 18, 1903. More details are here:

The story of the evolution of radio transmission to reach its current ubiquity is however not our point here. We were watching our children and ourselves, their parents, as we were all watching the short National Park Service documentary movie about the first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission. It dawned on us that the adults were more interested in the documentary than the children were.

Indeed, they are children after all and they play and they have a shorter attention span, wanting to enjoy each others' company as much as they can, even through little tricks they play on each other or by chatting about who knows what while the movie was on. Our ability to discipline them or their own ability to self-control in a public setting where others were also watching the documentary is again not the point here.

Rather, our point is about the difference in interest expressed by the adults and the children. Our children are around ten years old. Our students in the classes mentioned above are university going (legally) adults, around twenty years old or older. The same difference, a relative lack of curiosity in children or younger adults compared to the older adults, can be traced in middle school students as in university students.

New generations of university students evolve year after year. Or do they really evolve? They want things always clearer, easier to do, their hands held to the library or other resources, with half to three quarters of the homework or learning to be done by the instructor. They often resent creative exercises or assignments as too complicated or not sufficiently well defined. Faced with the challenge of an understanding of an ever changing world, in which instructors today do not have ready made solutions for problems the learners of today will face soon which we do not know about today, they often simply shut-off, like I do all too often when faced with cooking;)

Can we wonder why? Is connecting facts independently a dying out skill set? Are we teaching it? If we do, are we doing it against the wind of complacency affecting even our children, or students seeking advanced degrees? What is happening? And if anything is happening, how do we fix it?