- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2004

JERUSALEM - Israel is a deceptively small country, roughly the size of New Jersey, but packed with so much history and geography that it can seem a lot larger.

I spent last week wandering around the country, and along with friendly people, historic attractions and great food, there’s all sorts of tech surprises.

Israel itself is a high-tech center. Loads of companies — Microsoft, Motorola, Cisco Systems, to name three — have active operations in Israel, where research and development are undertaken, in addition to marketing and support. There’s a very strong local software industry, which produces products for chiefly local consumption (Hebrew word processing software, for example) and items with global appeal, such as Creo’s “Six Degrees” contact management software.

You’ll also find high tech in some unlikely places. The old Roman seaport of Caesarea, where Herod had his summer palace and where Peter was miraculously freed from prison, soon will open a new visitor’s center and restaurant complex.

The visitor’s center will present multimedia displays showing the port as it was and as it is now, highlighting the archaeological discoveries at the site.

Another room houses touch-screen displays. Walk up to one of these kiosks, select a historical character — Queen Helena, Herod Antipas, St. Paul — and video of actors portraying these figures spring to life, in your choice of language. Questions can be selected on the touch screen and answers provided by the characters. It’s a gimmick, but it is impressive and a way to reach a generation reared on video games with the tales of antiquity.

Almost every major tourist attraction has a multimedia display: Qumran, where the Essene scribes may have lived lives of ascetic devotion, has a very nice presentation. At the Western Wall Archaeological Park, a film that benefits from loads of special effects takes viewers back in time to the days of the Second Temple, which was destroyed in 70 A.D.

In Tiberias, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, American and Israeli entrepreneurs offer a more traditional presentation of a show that documents the history of the region as well as the people, ranging from Abraham to Jesus to David Ben Gurion, who had an impact on life in the area.

Eric Morey, the Colorado native who has invested 11 years making “The Galilee Experience,” says that traditional multimedia crafting is no longer feasible; his next revision will be entirely computer-based.

Work responsibilities back home kept me from avoiding e-mail and other necessities on the trip. I had to rely on dial-up connections in Tiberias (a bit of a hit-or-miss affair with global Internet provider IPass) and wireless connections in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The latter, at the Dan Panorama Hotel, about 20 minutes from the Old City, were most successful, thanks to the dogged tech support of SmartNet, a company based near Tel Aviv that has wired many of the country’s hotels for Wi-Fi access.

An initial problem resulted in not one, but two follow-up calls to make sure I was up and running. That’s the kind of customer service many American Internet service providers would do well to copy.

Email MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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