Key to the Future: Franklin's Kite?

I would be remiss if I didn't point out an important anniversary that takes place this month: The 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin. One of my favorite American historical figures, Dr. Franklin is owed a debt of gratitude by all of us, not only for helping to launch this nation, but also for his pioneering work in electrical power.

01/01/2006


I would be remiss if I didn't point out an important anniversary that takes place this month: The 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin. One of my favorite American historical figures, Dr. Franklin is owed a debt of gratitude by all of us, not only for helping to launch this nation, but also for his pioneering work in electrical power. I think we all recall the legend of Ben tying a key to a kite, but beyond this, Dr. Franklin had many hypotheses about electricity and conducted a number of important experiments. One of his most critical discoveries was of positive and negative electrical forces. The good doctor also coined a number of terms we still use today: charge, battery, conductor, condenser , etc. Franklin, to his wife's dismay, even connected a lightning rod on top of his house to a set of bells, one of which was grounded; thus, when a storm arose, if the rod was struck, the bells would sound and create sparks that illuminated his house.

I'm abuzz with the subject of electricity, having recently returned from the Power-Gen conference in Las Vegas, where new EPA diesel emissions requirements for stationary generators was the talk of the show (see In the News, p. 19). But Franklin, and particularly his wise proverbs, remain on my mind in another context: this issue's universities theme, and more specifically, catering to the young people who attend them. In our cover story Barb Horwitz reports that amenities are all the rage in campus design today, as dorms now regularly feature media lounges, cyber-cafes and mall-like food courts. It made me think of a famous Franklin adage: "Eat to live, and not live to eat." But more so, in editing this story, I thought, "What a bunch of spoiled brats." And I know this to be true from experience, as both of my older boys, in visiting universities, flat out rejected a number of schools because of the caliber of their dorms. Last time I checked, college was about education, not about luxury conditions in one's residence. Perhaps another Franklin quote is in order, as I'm fearful the pampered students of today may be learning no real wisdom at all: "Tim was so learned, that he could name a horse in nine languages. So ignorant, that he bought a cow to ride on."

To come full circle to electricity and sound education, keep an eye out for our monthly electrical e-news-letter in which we will be running an updated version of our popular "Art of Protecting Electrical Systems" series, which contained some very Franklin-like wisdom from the late Frank Valvoda and his still-active co-author George Farrell (check out last month's Letters). May it augment your staff's electrical libraries.

So as not to be a total curmudgeon, I must also heed more great Franklin advice: "He that speaks much, is much mistaken." And, of course, perhaps with future generations of college students in mind, Dr. Franklin also said: "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Let's hope our youngsters seek out the words of Franklin in this Brave New World.





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