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Brian O' Hanlon
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Re: Building Ireland Television Documentary Series

I got a chance to view, the multi-disciplinary, collaborative architecture, urbanism, engineering and urban geography RTE Irish television documentary series, Building Ireland, on RTE's website. One of the episodes talks about Dame street, and its financial industry expansion in the early 1800's onward. 

One thing, did resonate with me, from the television documentary. It was a comment, by the engineering expert, who spoke about the 'shipping' industry in Dublin in the 1800's. He noted the transformation from timber hulled ships, to steel hulled ships (which were a lot larger in size). 

Recently, the Green minister for Finance, Yanis Varoufakis has come up in news headlines a lot. I recall, in one of Yanis's talks about his economic theories, he reflected on the teachings of his own father, way back in the 1970's had on him, as a young child. Yanis told how his father, had been a chemical engineer, who spent his life working with the technology and chemistry of metals. 

How Yanis tells the story, was that in the change in human history from use of stone and bronze, to using iron material, that human development, began to be measured more in 'centuries', instead of mellenia. This makes sense, because we look at the quickening pace of human development, around what we call the 'medieval' period in urbanism and architecture. 

Later on, commented the Greek finance minister, human beings learned how to use steel as a material, that is around the time of the early 1800's, which is featured in the Irish television documentary about Dame street. The move from 'iron', forward to 'steel', Yanis said, had a consequence, that suddenly human development began to be measured in terms of 'decades' instead of centuries. 

We should be cogniscent about this too, in terms of looking at the history of Dame street and its buildings, and that of the shipping and ocean trading lanes, that connected Dublin city, to the wider world. The one type of engineering, which I think about, and wasn't perhaps mentioned as much in the Irish television documentary, was that of financial engineering. It has to do with the trading of 'options', which were used to finance the shipping of cargo of materials, from far away places, such as India and further afield - cargo, which didn't always arrive - and how you pay for that expense, of moving materials, in advance of their arrival at markets in Europe, and subsequent distribution to customers. 

We didn't actually discover, in financial engineering, to 'value' these kinds of 'options', until the 1970's, but that is a whole other story.

I was present at an excellent lecture given in 2009, by the designer of the first computer, in Ireland. It was a very large computing machine, installed beside the 'sugar company' in Tipperary. The computer there, was needed to replace rooms and rooms, of people who had been required during the sugar beat harvest times in Tipperary, to calculate the complex payments, and loans which farmers had with the sugar company.

But if that extent of 'calculation' had been needed before for the 1950's in Tipperary, to service the sugar beet industry (sugar happens to be a key ingredient that is used all over the place, in the wider food production industry, and Ireland's ability to produce its own sugar, by means of beat, was critical during the world wars), you can imagine the extent of the financial calculations necessary, in order to service the trade in goods, and financing of journeys of various ships, and larger metal hulled ships, that happened in Dublin's port. 

But getting back to the Greek finance minister, Yanis finally commented too, about the present day. He noted, that with the change from 'steel' to materials like silicon, that the pace of human history and development, has speeded up a lot more. Yanis even suggested, that the pace now is measured in years, instead of decades, whenever the new iPhone comes out etc. It is no surprise of course, that in the conversation about development of Dublin city now, we encounter phrases, like 'Silicon Dock', or even 'Google Town', and deals in real estate, for things like Bolands Mills old food production facility, and making it into modern office space. 

One book, about urban geography though, which I can recommend, for readers here to source some time on Amazon as a second hand copy, if they can, was authored by archaeology professor, Christine Finn, shorty after the 'dot com' bubble collapse, in the real Silicon Valley. Entitled, 'Artifacts: An Archaeologist's Year in Silicon Valley', the book which was published by MIT press in 2002, came about, as a result of Ms. Finn's efforts to explain to school children, what archaeology was about. She found, that school children picked up the 'concept' very well, when they could relate archaeology, to new and old things that they understood - such as older versions of gaming consoles, or mobile phones. A phone, which was a couple of years old, was considered 'ancient'. 

But this is the 'world' in which the children of today, are growing up in, and it is probably a world, which those of us, who grew up more in the world of 'steel', which goes back as far as the 1800's and the period described by the team, in the television series 'Building Ireland', explored. BOH. 

February 11, 2015 at 1:46 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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