Posts tagged with: technology

Blog author: jcarter
Monday, February 20, 2012

Gleaning is the traditional Biblical practice of gathering crops that would otherwise be left in the fields to rot, or be plowed under after harvest. The biblical mandate  for the practice comes from Deuteronomy 24:19,

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

Gleaning provided the poor with a way to use their own labor to provide for their needs. For us today, the practice provides a useful Biblical model for how we can help others to help themselves. “Those with wealth are to provide opportunities for the poor to rise out of poverty,” writes Marvin Olasky, in Renewing American Compassion, “the typical starting point in the Old Testament was gleaning.”


Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 9, 2012

Made-in-ChinaThe latest episode of This American Life follows the story of Mike Daisey and his investigation into the origins of Apple products, especially the iPhone which is “Made in China.”

What might the iPhone say if it could speak for itself? Ira Glass provides some answers to such a question in the opening moments of this episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory.” It’s illuminating that Daisey half-jokingly describes his devotion to Apple products in religious terms (this doesn’t prevent him from using the Lord’s name in cursory fashion, however).

Just like the pencil in Leonard Read’s essay, “I, Pencil,” the iPhone is “a mystery,” one “taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.”

There are many, many lessons to learn from the story of I, iPhone. One of these lessons has to do with the dignity of the various people who work together to invent, assemble, market, sell, and distribute such wonders. This is where This American Life largely focuses its energies in this episode.

Another lesson has to do with the lessons about global trade and interdependence. In his book Work: The Meaning of Your Life—A Christian Perspective, Lester DeKoster leads us through a thought experiment, in this case having to do with “I, Chair.”

As seeds multiply themselves into harvest, so work flowers into civilization. The second harvest parallels the first: Civilization,
like the fertile fields, yields far more in return on our efforts than our particular jobs put in.

Verify that a moment by taking a casual look around the room in which you are now sitting. Just how long would it have taken you to make, piece by piece, the things you can lay eyes on?

Let’s look together.

That chair you are lounging in? Could you have made it for yourself? Well, I suppose so, if we mean just the chair!

Perhaps you did in fact go out to buy the wood, the nails, the glue, the stuffing, the springs—and put it all together. But if by making the chair we mean assembling each part from scratch, that’s quite another matter. How do we get, say, the wood? Go and fell a tree? But only after first making the tools for that, and putting together some kind of vehicle to haul the wood, and constructing a mill to do the lumber, and roads to drive on from place to place? In short, a lifetime or two to make one chair! We are physically unable, it is obvious, to provide ourselves from scratch with the household goods we can now see from wherever you and I are sitting — to say nothing of building and furnishing the whole house.

There’s much more to unpack just from these two lessons, of course.

How much of our expectations about the conditions of workers are simply culturally hegemonic forms of colonialism? Don’t Americans tend to assume that the ideal is immediately possible? What about the difficult choices that actually face workers in other countries in their concrete situations?

On these kinds of choices, consider Nicholas Kristof’s “In Praise of the Maligned Sweatshop” (Kristof is also heard from in this episode of This American Life): “We in the West mostly despise sweatshops as exploiters of the poor, while the poor themselves tend to see sweatshops as opportunities.”

As we listen to Daisey’s story, our natural instinct is revulsion. We certainly wouldn’t want to live and work that way. And even apart from concerns about cultural colonialism, Daisey documents real abuses that ought to make both consumers and producers reassess how things are done.

And so what might it mean for someone else to have the opportunity to work their way out of such situations, to have more choices than the binary options of industrial manufacturing and subsistence farming (or starving), and to have these opportunities not merely individually but corporately?

What might true compassion, which places us within the context of the other person in their concrete situations, mean in these kinds of settings?

Uwe Siemon-Netto commemorates the 150th anniversary of the birth of Robert Bosch:

One hundred and fifty years ago, on Sept. 23, 1861, the visionary industrialist Robert Bosch was born in a village near Ulm in Germany. He became a global entrepreneur whose name is ubiquitous in the auto industry to this very day. And 125 years ago, he founded Robert Bosch GmbH, the largest privately owned corporation in the world today. In 1907, Bosch opened its first U.S. subsidiary. By the time World War I broke out, Bosch presided over a worldwide empire. Its business collapsed after the war, soon recovered, and then was annihilated during Hitler’s Third Reich. Bosch and his collaborators financed the German resistance against the Nazis, rescued Jews and tried in vain to persuade the Western powers not to appease Hitler. Today, Robert Bosch GmbH is the world’s largest supplier of automotive parts.

Read the whole thing.

Blog author: jcouretas
Monday, August 29, 2011

The Acton Institute has released a mobile app for smart phones and tablets based on the Android operating system. The free app keeps users up to date with the latest PowerBlog posts, commentaries, events and other goings on at the institute. Point your desktop/laptop computer or smart phone to the Android Market.

In the pipeline — the Acton iPhone app for Apple mobile devices. Stay tuned!

Earlier this month, I spoke at the commencement of Trinity School at Meadow View, a truly impressive private high school school in Falls Church, Va. Most impressive was the valedictory address given by the graduating senior Beau Lovdahl, who is on his way to Princeton in the fall. The story he relates here underscores the philosophy of the Acton Institute in many ways and I wanted to share it with PowerBlog readers. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Beau Lovdahl
Valedictory Address

Mr. Zwerneman; Father Sirico; Trinity faculty; parents, family and friends of the Class of 2011; I thank you for making this day a reality. I would like to congratulate my fellow classmates for finally completing six years of hard work in the classrooms and on the athletic fields. I would especially like to thank our loving and supportive parents for helping us and holding us accountable to get through our schooling. Finally, I would like to thank our faculty for giving us an excellent education. Now I would like to give a brief history lesson on a man that has inspired me the past seven months of my life.

On June 6th, 1884, a talented electrical engineer by the name of Nikola Tesla arrived in New York City from Serbia. All he had was a letter of recommendation from his former boss to Thomas Edison, with the words: “I know two great men and you are one of them; the other is this young man.” So Tesla began to work for Edison Machine Works company. He quickly rose from working on simple engineering matters to working on the company’s biggest problems. Edison offered Tesla 50,000 dollars to redesign the company’s inefficient direct current generators. This sum was worth 1.1 million dollars in today’s money. The very next year Tesla had redesigned the generators and asked Edison for his bonus. To this Edison replied, “Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor,” thus refusing the promised payment.

Having been refused a raise in pay, Tesla resigned his position and left the company. Tesla was forced to dig ditches to make ends meet. Yet while he was doing this he began planning a new system of power distribution, one that was based on alternating current, not Edison’s direct current. In 1888 Tesla showcased an alternating current induction motor to the American Institute for Electrical Engineering. This device would be the answer to the world’s energy needs. Tesla subsequently was hired by the industrialist George Westinghouse. Westinghouse saw great potential in Tesla’s alternating current technology for long distance power distribution. Once Tesla and Westinghouse began work, a “War of the Currents” erupted between Westinghouse and alternating current on the one hand, and Edison and direct current on the other.

Despite being slandered in a propaganda campaign by Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse proved victorious when they won the competition to power the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 with alternating current. Then Tesla designed and built an alternating current power plant at Niagara Falls that successfully powered the city of Buffalo over 15 miles away. Tesla’s alternating current proved far more efficient than Edison’s direct current, and it allowed power to be sent over long distances. This system of power is still used to this day. The way it works is that alternating current electricity is generated by a power plant. The electricity is then stepped up to a very high voltage that allows it to be carried long distances with very little power loss. Then local transformers stepped the voltage down where it can be used to light lamps or heat homes. Thus power is efficiently distributed from the power plant to the common man.

The victory of the War of the Currents cost Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company a great deal since they had to overcome Edison’s propaganda campaign. By 1897 the company was near bankruptcy. So Tesla tore up his royalties contract, freeing Westinghouse from having to pay Tesla for the use of his technology. Had Tesla not done this, he could have been the world’s first billionaire. Yet for the good of the Westinghouse Company and his vision of free energy for the world, Tesla sacrificed this fortune.

Tesla then moved to Colorado Springs where he began research on the wireless transmission of energy. In the 2006 movie The Prestige, Tesla’s assistant shows Hugh Jackman’s character a field of light bulbs that are not connected to any wires. The light bulbs are then illuminated, being powered wirelessly by a generator 15 miles away! This event actually occurred in 1899. After much research in Colorado, Tesla moved back to the east coast to Long Island, where he would test his theories of wireless energy on a larger scale. With $150,000 of funding from the industrialist J.P. Morgan, Tesla constructed Wardenclyffe Tower. Here Tesla hoped to transmit energy across the Atlantic to Paris. Yet four years later, Guglielmo Marconi made a radio transmission across the Atlantic and was credited with the invention of radio using 17 of Tesla’s patents. As a result, J.P. Morgan saw no need to continue funding Tesla’s work, since he believed Marconi had achieved what Tesla was trying to do. Tesla failed to convince Morgan that his research was for something much greater than radio. So in 1905 Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower project died and his dream of a large scale test of the wireless transmission of energy was shattered.

Tesla spent the rest of his life doing research in the fields of radio, remote control and electro-mechanically powered aircraft. He was also reported to have been working with the British government on a “Death Ray” but he never completed a prototype. The Death Ray would have been some sort of particle beam that would charge particles to a very high voltage and then shoot them at enemy armies or airplanes. Tesla hoped that this weapon would be a deterrent to war.

Tesla lived the last 10 years of his life alone in the New Yorker Hotel. He lived on a small pension from his homeland in Yugoslavia and worked on his research. Many thought he was insane. He was reclusive and was probably afflicted by an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The modern world that he helped build had forgotten him. He died alone in 1934 in his hotel room. His belongings were seized by the federal government, and his remains were sent back to Serbia.

This was an ignominious end to such a remarkable life. Yet by no means should we consider his life a tragedy. Tesla’s legacy was tremendous. All electricity from power plants today is generated and brought to us by Tesla’s innovations. After his death, the Supreme Court upheld Tesla as the true inventor of radio. He invented the spark plug device in car engines, and Tesla’s work in the wireless transmission of power brought us inventions such as the Tesla coil, which is used today to generate artificial lightning, and tuned circuits which form the basis of wireless communications today. He exemplified the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Tesla also can show us how we should view the world and the life that we graduates are about to enter. First, Tesla demonstrated us how we should view money. Second, he showed us how we should pursue our goals and interests. Thirdly, he showed us why we should pursue our goals and interests.

Tesla never saw money as an intrinsic good. He did not work for the sake of money but he used the money earned to further his work. He once said,

Money does not represent such a value as men have placed upon it. All my money has been invested into experiments with which I have made new discoveries enabling mankind to have a little easier life.

He used money as a means to the end of advancing his research. He did not use his research as a means to the end of gaining money. Money was of course necessary to all his work and it was the lack of money that prevented him from bringing many of his ideas to fruition. Tesla could have been the world’s first billionaire had he not sacrificed his fortune for the good of his company’s success and the furthering of his technology throughout the world. Rather, he sought greater things than money, and only used money as a means to pursuing greater goods.

Tesla pursued his ideas and interests tirelessly despite being criticized or forgotten. After resigning from Edison’s company, Tesla conceived of today’s power distribution system while he was digging ditches in New York. Before working for Westinghouse, Tesla tried to start his own company, but his investors would not fund research in his idea of an alternating current system. So instead of giving in, Tesla went back to digging ditches. In his later years, Tesla was forgotten and deemed a mad scientist. He continued his research despite this. He did not work solely for the recognition of others. Instead he worked with resolve for something greater. As the Gospel of Mark says, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life.”

Tesla wanted men to live better lives through the use of his technology. Tesla’s goal in the long distance distribution of his electricity and the wireless transmission of energy was to bring men closer together in friendly international relations. Even the goal of his Death Ray was to make a weapon so potent that wars would be put to an end. While these goals may sound cliché, they were what drove Tesla to take part in the creation of the modern world. Tesla showed us that a genuine pursuit of one’s interests for that sake of interest itself and for the sake of the betterment of mankind will lead to great things. He also showed that one should be ready to sacrifice things such as financial success and fame in order to achieve one’s goals. As we go off to start our independent lives we should ask ourselves two things. First, what truly interests us? And second, why pursue that interest? The answer to these questions should provide us with the motivation to pursue our interests with resolve. Tesla has showed us that pursuing one’s interest for a great good will lead one to complete a meaningful life. He found his answer in the pursuit of happiness for the betterment of mankind. The question is, where will we find ours?

May God be with us as we enter upon our life long pursuit.

After hearing about an established Christian publisher recently launching an official blog for their products, I did some thinking about the relationship between the traditional publication outlets and social media.

I’m sure that traditional publishers have a relatively large budget for print advertising, but it seems that they are very slow to hire professionals to do serious social media work, blogging, and online advertising. This seems true at least in the academic markets and relative to their print marketing outreach. And the blogs that publishers do have are usually not very good, although there are exceptions.

All this is true even though there are a number of reasons why digital advertising is better than traditional print. With digital advertising and outreach you can get real numbers in terms of reactions in real-time, seeing almost immediately what is effective and what isn’t. But you are also engaging people in a place where they are much more likely to buy and doing so is far easier.

If someone sees an ad in a magazine, they have to either stop what they are doing and go to a computer or pick up the phone, or remember to do so later after they’re done reading the magazine. When you reach someone on a website, Twitter feed, or a blog, they already poised to buy in that they are always one click away from Amazon, where they already have an account set up, and so on.

And despite many of the rumors of the death of blogging, I liken the relationship of blogging to social media to the relationship of journalism to blogging. Without blogs and the kinds of content generated on blogs, there’s far less to drive social media, just as without journalistic content there’s far less to drive blogging. So I don’t see blogging going away any time soon, but the turnover rate of blogs will continue to be high because of the variety of competitive voices and sources for news, commentary, and promotion. The kinds of transition over at First Things in recent years, which has really become a full-service complement to the print publication, seems to me to be a good model for established publications looking to broaden their digital footprint.

So even though it may seem odd that an established publisher is just now forming an institutional blog, there are some good reasons why starting a blog now is a good idea.

To keep abreast of some of the things going on with Christians and new media, keep an eye on the Christian Web Conference.

We’ve done a lot of thinking here at the PowerBlog on the future of journalism in a digital age. A recent piece in Forbes by Leo Gomez brings into focus (ahem) the question of digital innovation and it’s influence on photojournalism.

In his August 24 “Digital Tools” column, Gomez writes that “cameras are becoming what computers already are: cheap, ubiquitous, powerful and utterly transformational. There are now a billion digital cameras, counting the ones in mobile phones. They are chronicling everything about life on Earth, from birthday parties in Topeka to street protests in Tehran. Many more are on the way.”

With this explosion of video and still pictures, what role will professional photojournalism play? Both written and photojournalism faces the current challenge of a deluge of community and consumer-generated information (word blogs, video blogs, photo-sharing sites, et al.). As the technological developments have tracked with computers, so will the editorial and production side of photojournalism track with the developments in wordsmithing.

And as with the larger world of professional journalism, there will be a corresponding increase in the need for gatekeepers and editorial review to screen through the mass to find and polish the gems. And with regard to the influence of culture, given the increasingly non-verbal (i.e. illiterate) nature of today’s digital consumer, photojournalism might just be a fulcrum of cultural and social formation in the Internet age.

The same issue of Forbes includes a collection of seven profiles of the leaders in Internet video innovation. What’s true for photojournalism is also true for other forms of visual communication, including theatrical and documentary film productions. And so we need Story in the visual as well as the written arts.