Monday, May 30, 2005
Review of The Virtual World Project: first impressions ::

This project, (already blogged by Danny at Deinde and Jim at Biblical Theology) as its opening page indicates offers “a virtual tour of ancient sites along the Eastern Mediterranean”, it aims to be multimedia (as the interactive map and timeline which appear as soon as you choose “enter” suggest) and educational since it claims “Archaeological and material remains can transform the teaching of antiquity” (About the project)

As both a teacher, who tries to make use of interesting audio and visual resources to supplement words, and as someone who seeking to use electronic media to provide information this project is of great interest to me – so I guess to readers of SansBlogue – therefore I am going to review the site in some depth over coming days/weeks.

A first look

The approach of richly visual media presented in ways that encourage the user to explore is brilliant. I can imagine all sorts of ways to encourage students to make use of this resource.

The website already covers several of the most significant iron age sites in Israel and sites in Greece and Turkey too (I’m an Old Testament teacher, so forgive my parochialism). Danny Z can remark:
It is a little unfortunate that Jerusalem is not yet included, but it will come, and in the meantime, this site is impressive enough to forgive it not being done yet.
And, of course there is still a huge amount of work to be done! But just look at what is there, imagine how you can use it in teaching, or to substitute for costly travel, and be thankful for Ronald Simkins, John O’Keefe and their teams at Creighton. Give thanks too for the funders: Wabash Center, and various parts of Creighton University.

A more detailed critique

For a first look I chose Lachish as a sample site to visit.

Selecting the High Resolution Virtual Tour option at the top right of the toc.html screen (which is where you arrive on clicking “enter” on the opening screen, opens a new browser window designed in such a way that it uses most of a 1024x768 screen (it is not fullscreen at this common resolution, nor can the window size be adjusted).

Similarly selecting Low Resolution Virtual Tour opens a new window at a little less than 800x600 resolution.

These windows are divided into four frames so that the material each presents can be independently changed or coordinated. This is a flexible and convenient layout, though it requires that the user spend some time learning how the user interface works.

The top left frame (under a title bar that identifies the site you have chosen to visit) invites you to “choose the location on the site where you would like to begin the virtual tour”, which highlights the feel of exploring. A site plan in the frame below (a plan of the ancient tel not the website!) makes this easy and meaningful, for your choice has a sense of spatial relationship with the other options. Areas that are active are not only named, but highlighted on mouseover. Graphical buttons on either side of the site plan allow access to various features. These include useful information like The “panoramic images” are QuickTime files and open in a new window of the same size as the site window. These QuickTime “movies” which allow one to simulate turning on the spot, or looking up or down, and thus beginning to explore the location. Zooming in or looking wider is also possible (though in Firefox on Windows XP the controls required scrolling as the window overlapped the popup which could not be resized).

The upper right frame shows an image of the location currently selected. The alternative to this image is a key to the colour coding of the site plan showing different strata. The original image seems to be simply a device to avoid an empty screen, since selecting a picture from the list of images (available from the site plan) opens these in a new popup window.

The lower right frame holds textual description of the location, and links that change the image above. Since changing the overall window size is disabled one cannot use the facility offered by browsers to resize the html text with the aim of making it more easily visible as there will then be too few words to each line. On a high resolution monitor (such as my couple of year old laptop) this text is too small for comfort. So the ability to change the window size, and therefore the display size of this text would be useful.

I may have missed some significant difference but the “cubic/spherical images” seem to me to be the same as panoramic images. Both open on clicking a named link, but not by clicking a thumbnail, which seemed to this user to be the natural way.

First Impressions

Despite the niggles, expressed (perhaps too clearly) above (I am an inveterate examiner of the teeth of gift horses) this site is exciting. I am already imagining ways I can use it in teaching. The niggles are more suggestions of ways the site could easily be made more accessible and usable by a wider range of visitors. The presenters are to be congratulated not only on preparing a superb resource, and on making it freely available, but also for giving thought for the usability of their site at different screen resolutions and connection speeds.
The use of Flash means that URLs cannot be cited, and the page itself gives no indication of how it might be referenced, an issue for online multimedia educational and scholarly resources. RETURN

tekel, upharsin ::

No time to blog, hardly to breathe, let alone think... middle (long dark "middle") of a marking crisis! But the mention on the Cartoon Blog of Mene Mene was too good to miss.

MM is a great idea, what's the betting Steve Taylor (or his "art intern") pinches it before anyone in Auckland can!?

Friday, May 27, 2005
Interface design ::

Jenifer Tidwell has a really useful brief encyclopedia of user interface design elements and principles, "UI Patterns and Techniques", well worth a browse. I wish there had been something like this while I was tweaking the Amos commentary...

BTW I found the link through The Interaction Designer's Coffeebreak a blog that often provides interesting reading for this Old Testament Scholar's Coffee break!

Thursday, May 26, 2005
Web Hebrew again ::

Thanks to the three of you who passed on the good news of MacOS X. Now, two follow-up questions:
  1. What's the score with MacOS 9 ?
  2. Why did Stephen's screenshot show a sans-serif font, even though he has two serif fonts specified high in the style installed?
The Hebrew was encoded font face="'SBL Hebrew', SPEzra, 'SIL EZRA', Times תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה

Incidentally I have just spotted a mistake there, I'll get them to remove the "SPEzra" it's a legacy font that many people will have installed and it adds nothing! That's what comes of web people with no Hebrew reading the SBL font instruction page!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Hebrew Vocabularies Project ::

At the University of Auckland we are developing a project that will allow scholars to colaborate in producing vocabularies for their Hebrew language classes. (I will be posting details once we have our paper for Singapore ready...) In the meantime, can anyone who uses Macs help me. We are coding the Hebrew as Unicode, and setting the fonts in the style sheet as: SBL Hebrew', SPEzra, 'SIL EZRA', Times, TimesNR, serif Can MacOS 10 users install either the SBL font or the SIL one? If not what can we tell them to do to see the Hebrew?

In case you need a test text here is some Hebrew : תּוֹרָה אַחַת יִהְיֶה

Thanks for any help you Mac gurus can offer!

How would Jesus Blog ::

I don't subscribe to Tall Skinny Kiwi's blog, and I suspect some of you would also miss his great post "If the Bible was Blogged". Amusing and thought provoking estimations of the technologies different Bible characters and writers might choose if they were blogging today.

See what you think... Is Jesus "No doubt a Wiki-man who would have preferred his own Wiki Sandbox." .

How would Jesus blog?

Bloglines, OPML and a cold sweat ::

Eric, at the Coding Humanist, has gone and terrified me, with his tale of lost subscriptions. He writes:
Anything Interesting in the Blogosphere?

I hope not. SharpReader crashed a couple weeks ago and won't recover for me, so I've lost all my feeds and haven't taken the time to rebuild them yet. I'll probably start that tomorrow.
And concludes:
Moral of this sad story: export your feeds to an opml file frequently.
I'm using Bloglines, I have no idea what an OPML file is, and I don't care, but having seen - if only from a distance - a whole sector of my life getting amnesia (I'm not blog addict, honest, I could give up tomorrow... just not today!) does anyone out there know how to make Bloglines give me an OPML file! Please...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Advert Break : Store Wars ::

I don't usually link to advertising material, but the Organic Trade Association's Store Wars is just so good you have to see it for yourself!

Starring Cuke Skywalker, Obi Wan Cannoli, Chewbroccoli and Darth Tater as themselves, it's a hilarious Flash retelling of the Star Wars myth. In true prophetic style it reuses the mythic elements to recast the war between the evil empire and revolution in its own terms.

May the farm be with you!

(PS it's all CC licenced too...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Narrative and Theology ::

AKMA has a nice, short and to the point, post about the uses and limits of narrative: "Power and Powerlessness of Stories".

Because of his context, USA Anglican, it focuses on the Windsor report, but the points he makes could be made with even more justification elsewhere.

AKMA is particularly good demolishing much supposed theological argument in Church, and the misuse of story. So before your next effort at using narrative in theological argument (next week's sermon?) read the post. Having read, maybe like me you'll look forward to a balancing post from him on right use of narrative!

Monday, May 16, 2005
How others see us: part one ::

I had a lovely card from Oriane, our (temporary) French daughter for my birthday, complete with a cartoon picture of me! This is it, and since the cat looks like Quizzy and since she wrote: "merçi pour tous les bons petits plats que tu fais... je me régale!!!" I'm citing it as evidence of my culinary skills...

PS: the service seemed to go well, the Pentecost worksheet from Dave Walker at CartoonChurch was a hit, sparked a real buzz of conversation when I told all the under 30s that since in Bible times they would not have had the right to speak in public they would need to take a worksheet and find someone over 30 to fill it out for them, and then we discussed the answers. Sadly there were only three votes for Firefox - though I suppose I should be glad we did better on the biblical questions, and being open ended they did provoke useful discussion...

...and, at least some people seemed to find the multilingual Joel recording a useful way to enter the story.

On this day ::

Today is Pentecost, birthday of the church. and as Jim notes, On this day fifty-seven years ago the state of Israel began, also on this day also fifty-seven years ago I began... What a conglomeration of birthdays!

Saturday, May 14, 2005
Multilingual Peter for Pentecost ::

As a bit of fun for our all-age Pentecost service with some friends from college we prepared a recording of Peter's speech from Acts 2:14b-21 with the Joel quotation read in six languages at once! The English is fairly audible but the Cantonese (Female); German (Female); Greek (Male); Hebrew (Male) & Maori (Male) voices will need attentive ears to catch the message. Sorry as yet I have no African or South American voices! The recordings are here, so if you want to download and use in your service (or just for fun) please do...

I'll be getting a teenager to read the narrator's part (missing out the place names) and then cut in with Peter's speech over the sound system.

PS: I'll also be using the excellent Pentecost cartoon worksheet from Cartoon Church.

It's Claude Lévi-Strauss - but not as we knew him : The Bible and Literary Critics ::

The Bible Dudes are back! This time they've turned their attention to Literary Criticism, and the Camel and Donkey get stuck into Erich Auerbach (with a reprint of the "Odysseus' Scar" chapter) and Claude Lévi-Strauss joining the usual suspects...

It gives as good an introduction as you can expect from a mere smear 1000 words! Though I think it could do with a link to a good short simple example of biblical lit-crit, maybe a chapter of Robert Alter's, or one of David Clines' online articles?

Another small niggle, it does not quite ring true to me to have Lévi-Strauss (even in translation) saying "Well, even before Hollywood was big, this dude named Vladimir Propp noticed the same thing with Russian fairy tales." I'd keep the surfer-talk for the surfer, camel speak for the camel, and academic for the academics!

Friday, May 13, 2005
The Empire strikes back? ::

Seth L. Sanders has a great post on Serving the Word titled "Where Do Empires Come From? Israel, Assyria, and the Question of U.S. Imperialism".

He begins a fascinatingly succinct summary of Cyntha Chapman's doctoral thesis, now book, The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-Assyrian Encounter, and continues to remark of Israelite writers that "Empire was imprinted on their consciousness."

Then he uses Psalm 89 to illustrate this saying:
I would argue that what we see here [Ps 89:21ff.], in the precise imprint left by an empire on a subject people, is nothing less than the secret of empire itself: that people learn from it, imitate it, and use these lessons to form new empires. The Bible carries the marks of Assyria and Persia and was used as a model for new empires after Rome.
He then sells me on the desire to read two other books, one still unpublished! A fine day's work ;) Now all I have to do is find time to read one or both...

While, if you haven't yet, you should read his post!

Thursday, May 12, 2005
Hell hath no fury like a pedant scorned? ::

Thank you Mirablis for this fascinating footnote to (very recent) history, from the Globe and Mail. Father Reginald (Reggie) Foster has served four popes over the last 36 years, speaks classical Latin fluently, but has a scholar's temperament:
When Karol Wojtyla began signing papal documents in Latin as "Joannes Paulus II," instead of "Ioannes Paulus II" after being elected pope 26 years ago, Father Foster quickly pointed out to a papal adviser that there is no letter "J" in Latin. "I said, 'By the way, friend, there's no J,' " he recalled. "And the answer kind of came back that the pope said 'Well, now there is.' Well, fine, fine. He's the boss. And if you look at his tomb, the J is gone. One of my brethren said, 'Well, he enjoyed his J for 26 years, and now it's gone.' His tombstone has 'I'"
Wise advice for the week: Do not, oh best beloved, cross a scholar in the performance of his duties!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Protest4 not against ::

Maggi Dawn just blogged about Protest4 a site/movement that she and some friends are setting up. She explains the idea like this:
Protest4 is mostly about creating the means by which "ordinary" people, who feel powerless to do something about the injustices in society, can find ways of addressing them. Don't protest AGAINST, Protest FOR a better society.
The site is still in its early days, their first project:
In order to address the demand side of human trafficking, our first project is a beer mat campaign being organised in London by the “London collective”. We hope that this beer mat campaign may be copied nationwide. We invite you to form a similar collective in your town or city.
Sounds intriguing, but as yet there is no link with details. But this looks like another resource for my prophets course next semester!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Learning styles: online test and good advice ::

On the Adult Education blog I came across this online test of learning styles, it's quick and easy. Except, the questions are a bit luddite - when I want to know how to spell a word I don't write various possible spellings on a piece of paper, I use the spellchecker! But, on the whole you "know what they mean" - at least an old fogey like me does...

It's the advice that follows that I found good. Sensible, and - at least for me - creative in that it suggested a few tricks I hadn't thought of. Well worth a look for both teachers and students!

BTW - for the record - I'm a "Visual/ Nonverbal Learner". But only just - by 2 points, with the others within a couple of points top to bottom. For once in my life a test that shows me to be well-balanced!

Monday, May 09, 2005
Hebrew Unicode entry tool gets better ::

Ami, who provides the neat webbased tool for typing Hebrew Unicode that I mentioned before, has left a note, and posted in his blog that it now has a keyboard map to make it easier to use! This Am ha-Aretz Translit is a really good tool for anyone who works in a roman alphabet, but needs to type the odd chunk of Hebrew.

Though, since I am known often to examine the teeth of horses that people give to me ;) I will just say that I'd really like either to see the map on the Translit page, or at least a link there!

Saturday, May 07, 2005
18th Century Bulkeley's diary online ::

Photo of some more recent (1990) Bulkeleys at Beaumaris Castle

BBC Wales has a piece on a project to put the diaries of one of our more flamboyant ancestors online. The University of Wales, Bangor has a grant to digitise William Bulkeley's diary. Since it was William's Daughter who married a pirate I expect they will make good reading!

I've always said Bulkeley's were early adopters, but William is a posthumous adopter, does that make him a "late" adopter?

Friday, May 06, 2005
The psychology of learning from the Bible ::

Sean Boisen on Blogos has a post with this title "Scripture and the Psychology of Learning". Before I became, first a pastor, and then a Bible teacher, once upon a time I studied psychology, (and liked it so much I married a psychologist!) so this topic caught my eye. Sean lists some:
"roles for Biblical instruction:
  • We learn facts we didn't know before, and taught basic principles about spiritual life
  • We're directed to specific thoughts and deeds, and warned against sinful living.
  • We're given motivation and encouragement to do what's right
  • We see examples of how to (and how not to) live out godly principles, in the lives of the characters described there
  • We're invited to worship God through psalms and poems
Now, I don't have very coherent ideas (at least not here and now), but I would stress that not all learning is cognitive. Emotional and attitudinal learning is (if anything) more important. These are what change the way we act. Now, stories - when we read them as stories, and not as sources for cognitive learning - because they "engage" us - lead us into them and get us to identify with the characters - cause such learning of attitudes and emotions. Poems do this too, though in different ways. The Bible is 9/10ths story and poem - which perhaps tells us which kind of learning God most seeks in his creatures!

Thursday, May 05, 2005
PodBible, Translations and Culture ::

The issues relating to the possibility of podcasting the Bible has grown more complex for me since my last post. We were having a discussion in my (local) church elders meeting saddened that in a congregation in the Evangelical stream of the church so few people read the Bible regularly.

The older folk (predictably) tended to see the issue as one of promoting Bible reading notes more vigorously. (The internal equivalent of the "shout louder" school of evangelism ;) But it seemed to some of us that the real issue is that many people don't read, it is not that they don't read the Bible, they only read the newspaper and the odd article from a magazine.

In the light of that and discussions with colleagues in our (college, physical) staffroom, I have gone back to the idea of 'casting the Bible, a chapter per day, with two or three questions to provoke thought/prayer. We might also offer the Revised common Lectionary readings as an alternative presentation (again with reflection questions) and after a trial month get users to discuss which was more helpful, and whether the idea is helpful at all...

The idea would be to get several churches involved, so a team from each could do a Bible book, or a month's lectionary twice a year, till the whole cycle is complete...

So, the issue of translation returns. There are two possible ways out. A colleague has a friend who knows someone who may control copyright of a suitable version. Failing that (I believe that) the American Bible Society gives permission to use up to half of any book from one of their translations, perhaps we could get permission if we asked to use some whole books... Or failing all else use two or more translations taking sections of the book from each.... Aaagh, the very idea of copyright seems SO plain wrong when applied to the Bible!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005
Yippee... ? ::

Chris Wilson lead program manager for the web platform in MS Internet Explorer and a member of the IE team since the dawn of time (1995) back in Marchleaked hints about features in IE7. In guarded phrasing, like this:
We know we have a lot more work to do in addressing our consistency issues with CSS and furthering our coverage of these standards. Expect to see more detail on our plans in IE7 in the future.
He seems to promise that IE was becoming more standards compliant, particularly with regard to CSS. This would be great news, because having to hack Style Sheets so that they work both for standards compliant (more or less) browsers AND for IE has been a pain, and a barrier to wider implementation of a really good technology. More recently Chris gave a few details.

He wrote:
The first couple of things they’ve done are:
  • Support the alpha channel in PNG images. We’ve actually had this on our radar for a long time, and have had it supported in the code for a while now. We have certainly heard the clear feedback from the web design community that per-pixel alpha is a really important feature.
  • Address CSS consistency problems. Our first and most important goal with our Cascading Style Sheet support is to remove the major inconsistencies so that web developers have a consistent set of functionality on which they can rely.
Now this is great news. Personally I am most excited about the CSS, I don't yet use PNG graphics, partly because of the different and dodgy ways different browsers render them, but CSS I now use "all the time", it is just such a clean neat and economical way of making things look right. So if IE removes its "major inconsistencies" and does give us "functionality on which we can rely" then we'll have taken a nice step in the right direction. However, I've been bitten by IE "inconsistencies" (read failure to provide basic support for 3WC standards) at previous new version releases. So, a cautious "Yippee!"

Sunday, May 01, 2005
PodBible (again) ::

Two people have commented on my post about podcasting the Bible. Neither suggests a translation, Stephen points out “If I want to hear the Bible out loud each day there are a myriad of places online (& offline) to get this”. Both he and hyperorbiter seem to me to suggest that a mix of serious biblical study and devotional is the way to go.

Their comments sound like what I first envisaged, but balked at because of the time involved… I had even (in my head, in the spa one evening) worked out the sort of thing I would do with Genesis 1. I suppose on the time issue I could do it weekly (or even irregularly), which might to be manageable.

It still leaves the question of translation. To do my own rendering, as hyperorbiter suggests would greatly increase the time needed, and anyway a decent translation even a very literal one requires a period of shaking down, which the Temporary English Version for Amos has in fact had, with irregular small changes over the decade it’s been in preparation. That, temporary and revisable quality, was the stimulus for the name my son suggested!

So, assuming I do work on short study/reflections of Old Testament passages, which translation should I use? It still needs to be available without charge, as I would plan to do whole books…

Every Child Counts ::

Stephen (Greenflame) pointed to this new organisation Every Child Counts set up by loads of the groups that work with and for kids. Their goals are clear:
What are we seeking?

Every Child Counts wants to encourage all political parties to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable social and economic development by putting children at the centre of policy development.

While political parties may have different views on the detailed policy initiatives required, those committed to children will:
  • Commit to putting children and families at the centre of policy development and implementation
  • Ensure every child gets a good start
  • End child poverty
  • Reduce child abuse and neglect
These four issues are priorities for political action. Evidence shows they impact directly on prospects for New Zealand children.

Policy Overview

IF you (a) live in NZ or are a Kiwi and (b) want to get involved THEN they have an "advocacy toolkit" to help you get started. They are also involved with or holding events round the country, though if you live in Auckland and are not a Girl Guide there's nothing listed for the next month or so...

What's this post doing on a "biblioblog"? Well, the Bible has lots to say about a God who is the strong "redeemer" of orphans, the protector of the helpless, and also a bit to say about our duty to get stuck in too!

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