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How Lego conquered the toy industry brick by brick

Legos - it's about the brick

The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.

The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.

This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.

He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.

He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.

What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”

Watch video here.


Empty Bowl Dinner fights hunger and homelessness

Diners get to pick out a hand made bowl

Twenty five percent of Philadelphians live below the poverty level. This somber statistic was delivered last night to hundreds of diners, along with delicious soups and breads donated by dozens of restaurants and caterers, at the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network’s 15th annual “Empty Bowl Dinner”  held at the Lutheran Theological Seminary.

Through a large network of religious congregations and volunteers, the Network (“NPIHN”) provides emergency and transitional housing and support services to families facing homelessness, like the Baez family, now “alumni”, who recounted their continuing personal struggle to support themselves and stay together as a family.

Watch video here.

The Baez family found shelter with the Northwest Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network


New baby, new studio at CH Fall for the Arts Fest

The youngest person at Chestnut Hill’s Fall for the Arts festival Sunday may have been two day-old Xavier Brubaker.  Sleep-deprived but happy parents Japheth and Suzanne recently returned to Chestnut Hill with their 2 year-old daughter, Quinn, to be closer to family. They were the southernmost exhibitors at the festival, promoting their new fitness and personal training studio, "Water and Rock," at 8109 Germantown Avenue. Visit http://waterandrockstudio.com/ for more information.

New baby, new training studio

Watch video interview here.


Stickers her bumper for science and causes

An artist and her bumper stickers I was driving behind a car with interesting bumper stickers on Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill and when it pulled over to park, I pulled over, too, to ask the driver if she might extemporize on her stickers.

Martha Knox was with her four year old daughter, BB, waiting for the post office to open. She was then headed to the UCP (United Cerebral Palsy) Best Friends pre-school where BB is intentionally “reversed mainstreamed” with kids with disabilities.

Knox works professionally as a graphic designer and teacher and identifies strongly as a secular humanist. Her car’s rear bumper graphically and humorously expresses her beliefs. The 2013-2014 “Zombie Hunting Permit,” however, was placed by her husband.

“Honk! If you understand punctuated equilibria” was one sticker that particularly caught my attention. The theory in evolutionary biology, Knox explained, is that genetic changes happen rapidly in “short” periods of time, geologically speaking.

In these four videos, you can also see and hear Knox talk about “Nietzsche is Peachy,” “Evolution happens” both of which she designed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way,” “Support Net Neutrality”and “Schrödinger’s Cat: Dead and Alive.”

Reverse mainstreams her daughter with disabled students

Peace is the way: don't bomb Syria

Embracing evolution through bumper stickers

 


GO MO MATH - Math Museum of NYC

squarewheeltrikespherestickies

We arrived at the Museum of Math one hour before closing on a Saturday in late summer and zipped through it. The exhibits deserved more than the limited time we gave them and these videos, summarized below, will help us understand what we experienced with the intriguing interactive demonstrations. GO MO MATH!

SHAPES OF CONSTANT WIDTH You sit on a boat-shaped platform above a field of irregularly shaped objects and yet glide rather smoothly over them because these objects, such as the Meissner tetrahedron, all have the same constant diameter whichever way they roll.

SQUARE WHEELS, CATENARY CURVES You ride a tricycle with square wheels without any problem. This is because the surface you are riding on is catenary curved (hyperbolic cosine). And, for any shaped wheel, there is a corresponding road that will facilitate locomotion.

A SPECIAL SQUARE When you and others step upon this large lit-from-below square, the square divides into as many differently colored geometric areas as there are people and each point within any one’s area is closer to that person than to any one else.

THE HUMAN FRACTAL TREE On a projection screen, a copy of your body is copied where your arms are and on those projections, your body is again copied where your arms are and so on, forming a fractal pattern of you as a tree.

SOLIDS OF REVOLUTION SLICED TWISTED, REATTACHED AND ROLLED Solids of revolution are cut along the axis of symmetry and then twisted and reattached to form an asymmetric object which then describes a distinct path when it rolls and it’s your job to match up each object with the trail it makes.


"Obama, don't deport my Mama"

Father threatened with deportation Untitled

The Mexican-American and Spanish speaking communities rallied in Norristown Monday evening for immigration reform. They demanded that Congress pass the immigration legislation that is now stalled and overshadowed by the Syrian crisis.  They also gathered signatures on a petition calling on the Norristown police  force not to assist in raids by federal immigration authorities. 

Amidst chants of "Si, se puede" ("Yes we can") speakers discussed how 400 local families have been torn apart by deportation. And parents, joined by their young children testified about how their arrests and the threat of deportation were causing their families severe emotional and economic stress. A Norristown public high school student described her constant fear that her parents might step out to the grocery store and she might never see them again were they to be arrested and deported.

Under the proposed “Dream Act,” undocumented youth who complete college or do two years of military service could earn their way to citizenship over the course of six years.

Calling for human rights and dignity for all, rally participants lit candles as dusk fell,  then circled and sang out loudly in Spanish and English, the civil rights anthem, "We shall overcome."


Night geocaching at Andorra Natural Area

Night geocaching

Scenes from the video featuring Wen-Young and his son Manny of Plymouth  Meeting, PA.

“That’s what we’re looking for- the waypoints”

“It’ll say the gecoache is that way but the trail goes this way or this way.”

“We won’t send you through the woods bushwhacking”

Destination- “Soggy Bottom” at the troll bridge

Garmin device accidentally restarts

Device  now says ready to navigate

On the trail to the cache

“It must be around here”

“Found it!”

What’s inside the cache which is a canteen?

Is it a toy toilet or a stamp out of ink?

No, it’s a star punch to punch our paper to prove we found it.

Another group arrives at Soggy Bottom

Excitement back at campfire

Night geocaching with Wen-Young and Manny

“How was your first geocache experience?”

----  >

“Sweet. Marshmallow- sweet, get it?”

Found 6 caches!

Credits the gps device and the help of friends.

Watch video here


Dancing puppet delights passersby

cu frank moore puppeteer

Frank Moore, a tall muscular man, pulls on the strings of a 2-foot tall high Tina Turner-esque puppet; it lip-syncs and dances to funky music blaring from his boom box in eerie mimicry with his arm and torso motions. Moore and “Tina” (he doesn’t give his puppets names) reeled in passersby at a corner in Old City one evening in downtown Philadelphia. Moore makes his own puppets, and this year’s bunch are ones he has revamped from last year. During the school year he performs at parties. But because practices always go so smoothly at home, during the summer he works the kinks out of his routines in different public spots around the city. This was Tina’s first time out and she was not doing well, Moore joked. In addition to Tina, his current cast includes a young boy, an old man and four others, all siblings, he says. They bear resemblances to each other but dance to different international grooves - German, Korean, Hindi, Chinese, Japanese. Two young girls passing by were visibly intrigued by Moore’s act. Giggling, they hesitantly approached the puppeteer, hanging on to each other for support. Then one dashed forward and stuffed a bill in Moore’s donation bowl. Tina was not putting on too shabby a show after all.

Watch video here.

Dancing puppet delights passersby


Children learn ballroom dance from Champ

Chidren learn ballroom dancing from Ukrainian champ

Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Estonian and Italian can be heard spoken as mothers of these heritages prepare their 5, 6 and 7 year olds for a ballroom dancing class at the Water Tower Recreation Center, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.  Victoria Scotti brings 5 year old Isabella, who also takes ballet, both for the music and the chance to dance with boys.  Instructor Alina Fiorella, a teacher of 17 years,  says she stopped professional competition in ballroom dancing which led her to two Ukrainian national championships when she started a family. But she began instructing young children when she was a teen in the Ukraine and continues to do so, now bringing her class to Chestnut Hill.

Fiorella listens solicitously as one child asks for more snacks and another complains of a sore arm. After addressing their concerns, she firmly directs her students through the hour lesson in both dance etiquette and a variety of dance, along with music or with voice commands alone.

Of the  promenades, polkas and such, the “Box dance” is 7 year old Emma Barton’s favorite. Late in the lesson they heel-toe-heel-toe, “Shuffle off to Buffalo and then come back to Mexico.” And then their tired selves are taken up in their mothers’ arms.

Watch video here.


She advocates to free an Orca at CH Garden Fest

Chestnut Hill Garden Festival 201304

Lolita is an orca “killer” whale who has been performing at the Miami Seaquarium (http://miamiseaquarium.com/Shows/Killer-Whale-and-Dolphin) since 1970 and Gigi Glendinning is the founder of 22reasons.org (http://22reasons.org), an organization that teaches “compassion and reverence for all animals” who believes Lolita deserves a rehabilitative retirement where she has round-the-clock veterinary care and the opportunity to return to the sea.

Glendinning was out advocating at a booth at the Chestnut Hill Garden Festival on Sunday with a niece costumed as a killer whale.  Kids were invited to paint a life size illustration of a killer whale on a huge tarp on the ground.  22Reasons and  several similarly missioned organizations are mounting a petition drive and urging parents to NOT buy tickets to shows like Lolita’s where animals are forced to perform.  It sends a contradictory message to children, Glendinning maintains, to attempt to instill respect for these animals while simultaneously mistreating them.

According to Glendinning, Lolita was illegally captured and is being illegally contained in a concrete pool so small her tail touches the bottom and where, as a member of an exceptionally intelligent and social species, she is deprived of necessary social contact and subject to many confinement-related afflictions.

She presented your correspondent with a copy of the book, “Death at Sea World: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity” by  David Kirby  (St Martins Press 2012) about killer whales in the marine park industry, their advocates and the brutal and sometimes lethal attacks on  trainers over the years, attributed to captivity-related aggressiveness of the orcas. Watch video interview here.

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