Tuesday, November 30, 2004
LegoChurch - Sunday "services" for the rising fives ::

About two years ago a group at our church was asked to rework "what we do on Sundays" to focus on children (then under five), and their families as well. It was quite a task as we also have quite a few at the other end of the age range, who also need to be fed and to worship...

After long discussion of what was needed, we decided the "answer" was to break things down into half hour components. When we worked on the components, we realised that we needed to start with the children, and that tight timing was important. We also realised that many of us arrive late - and that would not work without the "traditional" singing slot to allow them to "slip in". So, we decided to start with breakfast! (We wanted to make it attractive so we planned things like Eggs Benedict, Bagels, Bacon and Eggs, Croissants with ham, pineapple [well not me, I'm a food snob, I don't like pineapple with cheese!] and cheese and halfway decent coffee.)

So the morning would look like this:

Children's teaching time
ESOL Group
Prayer meeting
(other adults clear up after Breakfast, or chat)
All-age worship
(Means using things other than songs!
Short snappy items, lots of interaction...)
Adult teaching (Sermon, Prayer, more singing...)
Children play supervised games, or watch video, or do craft.
Coffee and chat...

Though we have not been good at keeping to time, and even though many worship leaders cannot get their heads round all-age, this works quite well. It's revolutionised the feel of the "service", which is now usually a more relational time, it gets kids involved, it allows for other needs and we can slot other things in or drop them out, so long as we have a room free in that "slot".

Monday, November 29, 2004
Cool Tool of the Month! ::

Wow, a while back I was all excited by S5 a neat format for web friendly presentations. The results were small, ideal for the web, but the tool was NOT easy to use. Then, feeling guilty about the rant below, and spurred on by mentioning S5 again in the post below, I finally got round to trying out PowerBullet Presenter.

It is superb!

I tried the free version (1.35) allows one to quickly and easily produce web or email friendly presentations with accompanying narration. (The presentation on Tel Arad was made within an hour or so of downloading the program, and though it measures just under 900kb - so it is a quite slow slide by slide download on a dial-up modem - it lasts over a minute and a half of narrated pictures). Easy simple, and I can email short presentations to distance students weekly. Way better than podcasting! I'm sold. Certainly on the free version, and probably on the paying one too... Now I'll just have to try some presentations for students!

Scholars and technologies (the rant continues) ::

Mark has added to my comment about scholars and technology, basically agreeing - and on the Unicode issue suggesting that education of graduate students will cure it in time. (What a pessimistic, but sadly realistic, view!)

I still feel that a scholar has a responsibility to learn to use the technologies that are basic to their work. In centuries past we expected ability to use chalk and complex library catalogues. So why not Powerpoint (or some smaller lighter alternative) and Unicode today?

The difference as Mark suggests is simply time, we'd all had the required ten generations to learn the older technologies. Some of us still have difficulty with whiteboard pens!


Sunday, November 28, 2004
It's all Greek to you! ::

Mark Goodacre comments (briefly) on technical problems in the SBL session he chaired (presided in American). Among others issues he writes of a colleague who:
had not loaded his Greek font onto his CD, and hadn't embedded it in his presentation, so his Greek-rich presentation came out in Roman characters.
When, oh when, will we hear the last of scholars who - through stubborn determination NOT to learn the first few things about the "new" technology (computers replacing the "older" technology of ink on paper) - ensure that their work is only accessible if others assist them!?

People, there is this "new" thing called Unicode, it means that we are no longer font dependent in the same way. If you type Greek in ANY Unicode compliant font, and if I have ANY Unicode Greek compliant font available, I should see your Greek (or Hebrew or ...). Even if you use Rabbit fonts, but I use MasterFonts+, this is a gain worth learning a small new bag of tricks to perform.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Micropayments and Google Scholar ::

The Schoogle blog has a thought provoking brief post on Google Scholar and micropayments. Basically suggesting that commercial content providers may at last see the economic advantage of micropayments as Google Scholar points users to articles for which they do not want to pay a one year subscription to a journal!

Could 2005 be at last the fabled "Year of the Micropayment"? I for one would be delighted.

I volunteer, for the chocolate trial! ::

What fine scientists are Omar S. Usmani, Maria G. Belvisi, Hema J. Patel, Natascia Crispino, Mark A. Birrell, Márta Korbonits, Dezso Korbonits, and Peter J. Barnes, their paper "Theobromine inhibits sensory nerve activation and cough" in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal is a scientific marvel.

The paper itself is only available to subscribers, but the Guardian report seems to reflect the abstract. Chocolate is an effective cough medicine!
A chemical compound, theobromine, which is found in cocoa, has proved more effective at stopping persistent coughing than codeine.

However there is both - as they say - good news and bad news. The "bad" news is:
Tests have so far involved only 10 people and larger studies are needed, according to a team from Imperial College and the Royal Brompton and St Bartholomew's hospitals in London and a Hungarian company. They described their work in an online journal published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
But the good news is:
Doses used in the tests were equivalent to a 50g bar of dark chocolate, but the researchers said bigger doses might be more effective.
I volunteer! Pick me! I have a bad cough at the moment, it's persistent - as long as the pollen weather lasts. Next time I'm at the shops, I might try self medicating...

Google scholar as one stop shop? ::

Google scholar is a fascinating development, I've kept quiet about it till now despite other bibliobloggers mentioning it, mainly because of the reservation that for those with library access it might just represent another source to search, so not really saving time. Now though I read that Cheryl M. LaGuardia, head of instructional services for Harvard College libraries is way ahead:
“This is the one thing that concerns me most,” she said. “I think I’m inclined to let people know how they can work with library resources to get over this gap.”
LaGuardia said she is looking towards a tool called CrossRef to blend the ease of Google with existing library systems. The utility is being developed by Google in conjunction with 29 major academic publishers.

“It will be the nexus between Google and scholarship,” she said.

(From The Harvard Crimson Online)

Now, that would sell me, one interface to search the Journals my library has prepaid, AND the wider world Google has indexed. I've seen the future, so someone please make it work for me!

BTW there is a good blog about Google Scholar, but it did not seem to mention this interfacing of Google with paid databases, which strikes me as the killer app for GS in a University setting.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Introducing Early Christianity ::

It's made like books used to be, nice cover, pleasant endpapers, good feel and well bound. Laurie Guy's new book is a delight to handle, and knowing Laurie will be a clear, concise and illuminating read. It's just out, and he brought his copy into the staff room at lunch time!

Laurie Guy, Introducing Early Christianity: A Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs and Practices IVP, 2004 has 310 pages and ISBN: 083082698X. The official blurb reads:
Here from Laurie Guy is an introduction to Christianity of the first four centuries that is readable but not lightweight, interesting but not superficial, informative but not technical.
I'm sure they are right!

The Good Book ::

Stu has a thought provoking post that starts being about mood lighting in church, but ends up with musings about why his "youth" get turned off when he reads the Bible. Possible reasons he lists are:
1) it's just too damn familiar to them now : they already know the passages from sunday school.
2) the bible language is associated with boredom and hymns : it's true, but even the message translation leaves them looking round the room
3) the devil is distracting them : um...possible i suppose
4) the bible doesn't really matter to them, but the truth drawn from it does.
5) the bible represents an authority they do not respect
Like me he suspects that it's "all of the above". So, the Bob-the-Builder in me asks, can we "fix it"?

I'd be interested in hearing how an attempt to destabilise this boredom with the Bible would work...

How about reading from a page of printout, from an unfamiliar text like Ecclesiastes or a complaint psalm? Turn that into a window on a life that's struggling with belief, in a world that's all wrong... Most people (especially teens) can relate to that experience!

Subvert the "authority", question God, wrestle with life - like lots of the Two-thirds Bible does, and perhaps the meaning of some well known Gospel story or Pauline preaching will come alive too, as God's answer to the charges!

PS, if you think the above is too creative and too sensible for me thank my recent reading of Yancey, The Bible Jesus Read the chapter on Ecclesiastes is particularly good...

Thursday, November 18, 2004
Needing miracles - the "Virgin Mary Sandwich" ::

Western culture is wonder deprived. The world, and our place in it, is described and explained by an all-encompassing totalitarian belief system of scientific materialism. As a result we can no longer see the wonder in a rat running in the sunlight to jump for a low tree branch, or in the slow ballet of the clouds.

So, we need miracles. Any miracle, it seems, will do. Even a mouldy old cheese sandwich! Yes, folks it's for sale on eBay again. Diana Duyser, 52 (a jewelry designer), says she
took a bite after making it 10 years ago and saw a face staring back at her from the bread. She put the sandwich in a clear plastic box with cotton balls and kept it on her night stand.
According to the CNN report on this miraculous sandwich, it is worth more than $16,000 but bidding ends on Monday so be in quick!

Tackier than Michael Homan's touchdown Jesus? But still showing that while: what we see may be all we get - it is not enough!

Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Gutenberg Bible and movable type ::

The story on the Discovery Channel about a "mock trial of Gutenberg at the recent Festival of Science in Genoa" is fascinating. Despite the dramatics of a mock trial, Bruno Fabbiani, an Italian scholar of print, seems to be on to something important.

He claims that letters in the Bible overlap. If so, they could hardly have been printed using movable type and Fabbiani's suggestion of individual letters pressed to form a mold sounds likely. Certainly a quick look at the image of sample text at the NPR site seems to suggest that some overlapping occurs.

(And again thanks to Mirabilis for pointing me to this!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Canadians are wonderful ::

Ok, my eldest son is a Canadaphile, but I'm getting more and more appreciative of the USA's larger neighbour. Canadians are such fine if restrained eccentrics.

I read Mirabilis' post on "History of Passports" - it stood out from the feed largely because of the mention of Nehemiah and Artaxerxes.

From idle curiosity I also both looked at the Canadian Passport Office page on the "History of Passports", and (in wonder at such a fine piece of bureaucratic informativeness) checked on Google to see who else had written on the subject. Almost all refer to the piece that seems to be by (or at least approved by) Doreen Steidle who is Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Passport Office.

Go Canada!

The everyday spirituality of marking!? ::

Blame Steve Taylor for this post, that or the end of the year has finally got to me... But Steve's post "everyday spirituality of ironing" which reads:
One of the neat things about ironing,
is the chance to pray for those who wear the clothes,
in a whole range of life and work situations.
made me think of marking, it's the boring chore that I do most often. Barbara does the ironing, I do the coking (and I love cooking, little time to think or pray though - when the flame hits the pot!) I suppose I could pray while mowing, but that does not work as well, I'm no St Francis to pray for the Mynas and the Thrushes, or even the cats that prey on them!

But marking, like the huge pile of exam scripts on my desk right now, that I do lots of, and it is boring (largely, though with the occasional gem) and it needs breaking up... So, I'm going to try praying for each student as I finish their script!

Nice one Steve!

Monday, November 15, 2004
A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System (S5) ::

It's small, neat, and it works. S5 (designed by Eric Meyer) is just what it says, it's a standards-based slide show system that is (in many ways) simple.

The system uses CSS to produce slides that adapt easily to a wide range of display sizes and formats, it seems to work in most browsers (all those I tried anyway). It is small and a 12 slide show with several graphics takes only 100kb or so.

It's brilliant for putting a slide show on the web, or for emailing to students. It is no wonder it uses CSS so well, Eric wrote the book (Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition, O'Reilly ISBN 0-596-00525-3)!

The only downside is users must be able to understand how text coding works and change the html contents for themselves to really make it work. For many readers of this blog that will be no problem, but perhaps someone will produce a fill-the-gaps tool for the rest of the teaching profession!

[PS: just to show myself it really works I produced a simple slide show in about 10 minutes, however, in typical tech fashion I had 2-3 minutes of that time with mysterious problems using Mozilla to edit the file, in the end I defaulted to Notepad....]

Friday, November 12, 2004
Access, cash and quality ::

I haven't yet finished reading Eric's material that accompanied the announcement of the NET GEMS project, so I'll save commenting on his ideas directly till later. (It's our end of year exam season!) But I can't resist discussing Rubén Gómez' post on the subject.

Rubén argues that since it is costly to produce quality, then open access materials must be of poorer quality. He concludes:
The bottom line is, somebody has to pay for "open-source" scholarship in order for it to remain scholarship.
It's worth examining who "pays" for current print scholarship. The costs are divided between:
  • costs of authoring: usually paid by the writers' institutions (except for amateur authors who pay their own costs by using "leisure time") - these costs need not shift for Open Access publication as long as the "guild" can ensure that scholars get similar Brownie Points (in research funding rounds) for work published this way.
  • costs of quality control which are currently paid by the publisher out of the price the consumer is charged for access - under most Open Access models these costs are "front loaded": either, as is hoped in the sciences to be paid as part of the initial research grant, or through some other fundraising. They are non-recurring.
  • distribution costs which for print are huge, for electronic media are minute.
So, assuming some form of grant to aid the initial quality control. The work can be free to the end user.

There are also hybrid models possible. For example stable citable editions are sold to libraries, providing the funds needed to maintain a freely available ever changing (and so un-citable) corpus for Open Access...

PS it is interesting (and timely) that, just after writing about this, I should read (cautious and nuanced) support by the Financial Times for the proposal for Open Access science publication that the UK Government recently backed away from! At the same time Nature is a subscribers' only piece ;) reports on support from the Welcome Trust. (According to Peter Stuber, of Open Access News) the article claims:
All papers reporting the results of research funded by the trust will in future have to be placed in a central public archive within six months of publication...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004
An Englishman's Home... ::

;) So, it's not just Tom Wright (the Prince Bishop of Durham) who lives in a castle, Mark Goodacre is also a castle dweller. ;) In fact he seems to defend the practice through ancient usage, after all, he implies, an Englishman's home is his castle. Well, this New Antipodean's ancestors lived in castles, for centuries. They constabled the one at Beaumauris for several of the more recent ones. But, more recently still they gave up oppressing the poor - and began to do real jobs!

I still think that all the trappings of Prince Bishopery, even down to the odd castle, sends the wrong message. But maybe the Telegraph neglected to mention some great and good use that is being made of 80 or so of the 90 rooms... so perhaps I should still my non-conformist ire!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Three wondrous and simple things ::

Conrad Gempf has a great post on "Three Things 'Gentile' Christians May 'Never' Understand". It's fine, it's well written, and it's SO true! (Especially if you hear his comment that
These are three things that ordinary western evangelicals without a Jewish mindset will find very difficult to feel comfortable with.
Number one: God talks like a Jew
For someone with what I'm calling a Gentile mindset, "you may never understand" has to do with time and duration. The way I mean it is a very non-western way of saying it. "You may never understand" has little to do with time and everything to do with depth of feeling. Here's a Gentile: "In a million years, the tectonic plates that define the continental shelf will have shifted to the new positions shown in figure A." Here's a Jew: "Never in a million years will I speak to her again."
He's right, God (indeed all Bible characters and authors - and most non-Western people today) do speak relationally rather than "factually". This failure to understand wrecks many Bible texts - just think of the ugliness of "Creation Science" compared to the beauty of Genesis chapter one!

Number two: Meticulous obedience is not legalism
When we're reading the Old Testament, we cheer for the Jews who meticulously observe Torah. Suddenly these same people wake up one day in the New Testament and they're the bad guys?
This one is important for understanding what Jesus is on about in the Gospels, and because it leads to...
Last and most important: Habits of Holiness
Gentile Christians tend to dismiss Jewish practices out of hand as things that "obviously" no longer apply...
Such practices are "habits of holiness", patterns of a life directed at honouring God.

He uses thankfulness as an example
A typical non-Messianic Jew thinks he or she needs to make themselves feel thankful and only then give thanks. I want to give thanks and allow that to help me to feel thankful.

[But please READ THE ARTICLE!]

Tom Wright or the Prince Bishop of Durham ::

Only in England, surely, could such eccentricity survive! New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop Tom Wright is apparently campaigning to retain a 12th century (AD) castle as his home. (At least according to the [London] Telegraph.)

With 90 rooms - apparently not even counting the private chapel (I wonder if they counted the dunny?) - and handy battlements. The gothic monument must surely be just a tad on the large side for a 21st century pastor and scholar!

Of course in history the Prince Bishops of Durham needed the space to house their private armies. And the battlements to keep at bay the angry Scots, whose homes they often destroyed during the ongoing border wars.

Tom Wright says:
"Every time the Church destroys one if its deep-rooted symbols, it is conniving at that ... That is why it is wrong, not just sad."
Frankly Tom, that kind of symbol the Church of the Crucified Carpenter can do without.

[PS, I am sorry, that should read "My Lord Thomas", I think, but I was never taught how rightly to address a Prince Bishop!]

Thursday, November 04, 2004
Wikis in learning - more thoughts ::

Matt responded to my mention of Wikis as a possible tool for an online collaborative learning project:
Wikis are excellent for collaborating towards a single version of what is being worked on, but not so good for everyone expressing opinions. They also tend to stagnate once the content gets to the "good enough" point, unless new topics are continually added.
What I am envisaging is a group of people whose task is to prepare an assignment together. That is the goal is a commonly agreed final "text". But I take the point about Wikis themselves not being a good way to discuss. Perhaps part of the answer is to combine:
  • a Wiki - where the writing gets done and polished with
  • an email list - where the discussing gets done.
My guess, from experience of students is that if the final result gets marked then most students try for better than "good enough", and I think that the Wikipedia also suggests that better than "good enough" is a possible outcome. Though I must admit that the fate of the Wikipedia article on sausages does not support this claim! (Despite Stephen C's research.)

For ideas on using a Wiki there is a great report "A Catalog of CoWeb Uses" (From way back in 2000!) and the Critical Methods article on "Wikis" is full of good links and cautionary tales to add to Matt's warnings before I let my enthusiasm run away with me!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Wiki, Webnote or Blog for class collaboration ::

Various people, including: AP Campbell and Michael Homan have been causing me to think about the possibility of using some form of online collaboration for an assessment project in a class on the prophets I am teaching next year. At the moment I am toying with three possibilities for the medium:
  • Wiki: which would have the advantage of allowing the students to easily produce a collaborative hypertext, which would be freely available on the web.
  • Webnote: a great easy tool for producing a free, relatively unstructured mind map type environment for gathering notes and ideas - to try it do go and play with my experimental page, add your thoughts!
  • Blogs: Michael seems to have had some success in promoting critical reflection by getting students to blog, but does a blog require too high a level of technical skill?
Having mentioned the Campbell post above I must also note that I am definitely going to think about Podcasting for next year's classes. A great idea!

Students and Style ::

A colleague at the School of Theology, Keith Carley, drew my attention to the Student Supplement to the SBL Handbook of Style it's a 21 page PDF file.

[US format pages. This will mean that to print it, the rest-of-the-world will need to press the override button on their printers 21 times, or tell the printer it has US paper till it has finished then convince the printer it again has International A4 paper... ah, the joy of standards!]

It seems on a quick look to cover the basics of bibliography and referencing really well for biblical studies students, with sensible remarks about Bible Dictionaries and different kinds of commentaries.

Punctuation is left out completely except for in bibliographies and references, I think this is a sad omission.

I'd drop the copious notes on page layout, these seem to me to be areas where different institutions may have different standards (and even individual students different tastes ;) without the style police stepping in!

But a good and useful first draft.

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