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The Technology Economy November 3, 2012

Posted by Jeff Block in Business Innovation, Economics, Engineering, Technology.
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The Technology Economy, by Jeff Block

Economists are now commonly referring to our modern post-industrial economy as the “information economy”. I suppose I understand that. But I’m not sure it’s the best possible label for what is (or should be) going on in the post-industrial modern world. And I don’t mean just America, but Western Europe, much of Asia, and key parts of the rest of the world as well.

I think the reason economists are hung up on information is that, in their estimation, “information” has become and will increasingly continue to be the currency of trade between nations and corporations and people. Thus, they feel it drives the economy. In many ways, they’re probably right. But to me, an economy isn’t named by what it trades or produces, it should be named by what drives the economy forward, causes it to grow, makes it successful, etc.

The agricultural economy of the 19th century was driven by agriculture. Yes, we traded fruits and vegetables, cows and chickens as the currency of the day (even after gold, silver, and paper bills became common), but the economic time was labeled “agricultural” for the powerful influence hunting, gathering, and farming had over the growth of the economy. The key roles were the farmer (production) and the eater (consumption).

The industrial economy of the 20th century was driven by industry. We were builders of things you can see and touch and feel. Once built, we sold them, and that produced money, which we moved around in huge quantities to represent “value”, because it was impractical to trade cows and chickens any longer. Smart people created marketing, which in turn created “consumerism” to tap into the insatiable desire of the human heart to have. So we bought and produced and bought and produced. The key roles here were the manufacturer (or engineer) and the shopper.

The modern economy – which will shape our thinking and our wallets well into the 21st century – is an economy driven by technology. Information technology, computer technology, mobile technology, cloud technology. Medical advances, social networking, and other factors will play huge roles as well, but they will all be driven into existence (or not) by technology.

People seem to be creating a philosophy about this new economy that implies the key role is the CEO. And sometimes it feels like everyone else will either work at Starbucks (so the CEO can get his coffee in the morning) or be on welfare (because the CEO replaced all their jobs with A) robots or B) outsourcing). I understand how people have come to this conclusion, and like you, I feel the Orwellian theme music playing in the background when it’s given voice, but I fundamentally reject this view of the future as a necessary answer to “what’s next?”.

It’s up to us to make the world something totally different. Not with bigger government or more programs that somehow try to even things out, but with innovation. Rather than invest in shuffling around what exists, let’s make more for everyone.

How? Well, I submit that the engineer is still the key role. But it’s a different kind of engineer. The engineer of the 20th century was industrial or mechanical or electrical. They built buildings and roads, plastic moldings and bridges, assembly lines and monuments – ever striving for bigger and more visible. The engineer of the 21st century are the computer scientists and ECE’s (electrical and computer engineers) – the guys making everything smaller and writing invisible software to run on it. These are the artists of the social, cloud, and mobile movements. They’re the guys who figure out how to slam together Google maps, the iPhone, and GPS technology so that my wife knows when I leave work and can get dinner started. These engineers are tackling the challenge of Big Data so that companies can manage reputation on line and governments can add cyber divisions to their anti-terrorism units. It’s these advances that will lead to nanotechnology and cars that drive themselves, augmented reality glasses and evensmarterphones.

But I also submit that it isn’t these science-soon-to-be-non-fiction cases that are the most interesting. Perhaps the most impactful to the modern economy is the potential of information, mobile, cloud and other technologies to move your existing businesses forward. For example, if you’re a $50-100M business in America today and cloud, mobile and social haven’t made what you do cheaper and created opportunity to do things you couldn’t do 5 years ago, then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Right now, today, technology holds the power to increase your revenue, reduce your costs, lower your risk, improve your employees, expand your reach, and much more. And at cost models that are shrinking on the same curve as the cost of your favorite TV at your favorite big box store.

How? If it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone doing it? Well, it’s not “easy”, but it is “straightforward”. It’s a matter of right placement of the investment. It’s a matter of understanding business and the technology, and knowing how to make technology work for you. Like you trust a financial planner to make your money work for you or a tax attorney to make the tax code work for you, so should you invest in the right resources to make technology work for you. That guy isn’t the easiest person to find, but I submit, you’ll know him when you see him.

Antonia’s Fortress November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Engineering, News, Politics and Culture, Travel.
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Antonia's Fortress

Antonia’s fortress was built by Herod the Great in 34 BC, as part of his fairly significant expansion of the temple and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Situated on the northwest corner of the expanded temple mount esplanade, the fortress later became the headquarters of Pontius Pilate. Pilate is of course the Roman Prefect (Governor of the Roman province of Judea) who tried Jesus and ultimately approved His crucifixion. (See Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19)

By the way, I’ve always been a little confused at who all these Roman officials were in Jesus’ day and life. Let me take a quick second to try to clear up my own confusion, and perhaps you’ll find it beneficial as well. Rome made the region we now know as the State of Israel a province in 63 BC, following the Third Mithridatic War. After the war ended General Pompeius Magnus (also known as Pompey the Great) remained to secure the area. Subsequently, Herod the Great was installed as a “client king” over the region, called the Judaea Province. A client kingdom is a “term used to describe the subordination of one state to a more powerful state in international affairs” (Wikipedia). We might also call this a satellite, puppet, or vassal state. In Jesus’ day, this was called the Herodian Kingdom.

So, Pompey conquered the region in 63 BC. Herod the Great became king of Israel under Roman rule in 37 or 36 BC (there’s some dispute), and ruled until 4 BC when he died, ostensibly of natural causes. And here’s an interesting (read: sick) tidbit…

From the Wikipedia: Josephus Flavius (a prominent secular historian) records that Herod was so concerned that no one would mourn his death, that he commanded a large group of distinguished men to come to Jericho, and he gave order that they should be killed at the time of his death so that the displays of grief that he craved would take place. Fortunately for them, Herod’s son Archilaus and sister Salome did not carry out this wish. Wild!

Anyway, Pompey conquers in 63 BC. Herod the Great rules from 37ish BC to 4 BC, establishing the Herodian Dynasty. When he died, the kingdom was divided among his three sons:

  • Herod Archelaus received the largest part of the kingdom of Judaea including Jerusalem and the bulk of what we currently know as the State of Israel. He also retained the title of “king”. His only real reference in scripture is in the dream Joseph had in Matthew 2, in which an angel warned him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt because Herod (the Great) was going to have all the children killed. Joseph ultimately returned to Galilee instead of Judaea to avoid Herod Archelaus, who was known to be as ruthless as his father.
  • Herod Antipas became the Tetrarch of Galilee and a small slice of the territory beyond the Jordan River. This is the “Herod” we read about throughout the gospels in connection with Jesus’ life and death.
  • Herod Philip II because the Tetrarch of much of what we now know as Jordan. This is the Philip who built Caesarea Philippi, and whose wife Salome so delighted Herod Antipas with her dancing (and whatever else) that he had John the Baptist killed in Matthew 14.

Here’s a map of the region from Wikipedia:

Herod's Judaean Kingtom

Herod the Great was king. His sons became Tetrarchs, which were like joint-lesser-kings. And Pilate was a Prefect or Governor for Rome in Judaea. Governors were responsible for taxation and financial management, they were the province’s chief judge, and they commanded the military forces within the province. In the Roman world, there two primary types of provinces:

  • Imperial, over which the Emporer ruled directly
  • Senatorial, over which the Roman Senate appointed governors

There were also equestrian provinces, which were “smaller, but potentially difficult provinces” (Wikipedia) that required special attention. These were typically newly-conquered provinces or places where the natives were particularly restless. Judaea was one of these provices. According to legend, Pontius Pilate was a particularly cruel, intractible man, so it makes sense that the Emporer or the local King (Herod) would appoint him over the Jews, because they were routinely rebelling and causing all manner of trouble for Rome.

So, it’s into this environment that Jesus was brought before Pilate in the fortress we explored today. Of course, that ancient building was completely gone, replaced by busy markets in the Muslim quarter. But we were able to go down under the city into what I would call “catacombs”. These were the foundations of the original Antonio’s fortress.

The foundations were the classic Roman arch architecture, which was used throughout Herod the Great’s design of the expanded temple mount esplanade. The arch was designed according to the fundamental principle of “compressive stresses”, which made it extremely strong, even when supporting extreme weight. In fact, our tour guide went out of his way more than once to talk about how these arches got stronger the more weight you put on top of them. I’ll have to research that more; maybe my phsycist brother will shed some light for us.

Anyway, we saw the arches that formed the foundation of the fortress, and the huge storerooms and cisterns which resulted. Some was original, some wasn’t. We even saw an etching in the concrete that was an ancient Roman game, I think called “Four Kings”. This is thought to possibly the game the soldiers were playing when they “cast lots for Jesus’ clothes” in John 19, for example.

Bet She’an National Park November 10, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Bible Stories, Engineering, Travel.
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Bet She'an

Located 30 minutes south of the southernmost tip of the Sea of Galilee, we stopped at Bet She’an as part of our pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This is the site of the largest archeological dig in Israel. It really was magnificent. Acres of ruins from the Byzantine era (a few hundred years after Jesus’ time). .

Millennia before that, however, Saul confronted the Philistines for the final time on Mount Gilboa just to the southwest of this Philistine stronghold. Saul had begun to build up a serious track record of sin against God, and the last straw (evidently) was when he consulted a witch at En-dor before going into battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 28). Because of his sin, God handed the Israelites over to the Philistines and they slaughtered Saul, his three sons, and a large portion of the Israelite army. After the battle, the Philistines cut off the heads of Saul and his sons, and sent them to various Philistine cities/strongholds to encourage their troops. They then “fastened [Saul's] body to the wall of Beth-shan” (1 Samuel 31:10b ESV), which today is called Bet She’an, which is the site we visited.

While there, our tour guide taught us about the Roman architectural pattern for “main streets”, which is still in use today in the US and other parts of the world. The Romans would always create two main roads in any city: the Cardo Maximus, which formed a straight line down the middle of the city from north to south, and the Decumanus Maximus, which similarly ran between east and west. A row of shops under a covered colonnade typically ran down either side of these main streets to form the Roman equivalent of the modern “Main Street”. Then, a grid system of Cardo and Decumanus roads are then typically built radiating out from these main roads, similar to the way the roads align in a grid from Michigan Ave (the Cardo Maximus) and Madison Ave (the Decumanus Maximus) in Chicago.

In addition to the maximus roads and the mall (the covered colonnades along the Cardo Maximus), there was also a large Roman bath house, stables, a theater, and an amphitheater. In the distance, at the other end of the Cardo Maximus is a Biblical tel, into which several layers of civilization have been stacked to create a rather large mound. Excavation of this tel is ongoing.

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