Monday, October 30, 2006

Zotero! Endnote-free bibliography tool

Now I have Firefox 2.0 at last I can try Zotero! Zotero claims to do most of the things I used to like about Endnote, and much much more, with none of the horrible "side effects" like when Endnote takes over your computer and makes it feel like 286 or Return of 1984.

Even with just half an hour playing with Zotero I am hugely impressed, it:
So far I have only two reservations:
  1. There is not yet a format for book reviews - and although it is not something I often do, sometimes one wants to cite a reviewers comments on a work one is discussing. (I have mentioned this on the Zotero forum, so maybe it will be added, that's a great advantage over this sort of open[ish?] software development.
  2. Though it handles the University Library catalogue brilliantly (it's Voyager) it does not cope with the Carey library (which is Liberty3)


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Eagleton on Dawkins on God ::

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion has been rattling a few cages, predictably. If you enjoy barbed English academic writing try Terry Eagleton's review in the London Review of Books. The literary critic has a whale of a time castigating the evolutionary biologist for his willful ignorance of theology...

He starts:

Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.

...and from there it only gets better (or worse).

Eagleton neatly dismisses Dawkins' missunderstanding of Christian (and Jewish) ideas of God as creator, writing:

To say that he brought it into being ex nihilo is not a measure of how very clever he is, but to suggest that he did it out of love rather than need. ... The Creation is the original acte gratuit. God is an artist who did it for the sheer love or hell of it, not a scientist at work on a magnificently rational design that will impress his research grant body no end.

Possibly my favourite paragraph in the rant is this masterpiece:

Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

I rather wonder why this is not the conclusion:

His God-hating, then, is by no means simply the view of a scientist admirably cleansed of prejudice. It belongs to a specific cultural context. One would not expect to muster many votes for either anarchism or the virgin birth in North Oxford. (I should point out that I use the term North Oxford in an ideological rather than geographical sense. Dawkins may be relieved to know that I don’t actually know where he lives.)

Now I must buy the book... Terry Eagleton's How to Read a Poem that is, not Dawkin's opus. The opening of chapter one sounds promising:

I first thought of writing this book when I realised that hardly any of the students of literature I encountered these days practised what I myself had been trained to regard as literary criticism. Like thatching or clog dancing, literary criticism seems to be something of a dying art.
With a beginning like that.... he's got me.


Free online storage @ Eggdisk::

I am recording a project on Librivox that involves editing together chapter length recordings with others (where another character reads a letter, for example, in a chapter that I am reading) we aim to make an "dramatised" audio recording of Collins The Woman in White available as MP3s. However, the editing needs WAV files for better quality, half an hour of even mono WAV is huge! So we needed a free online file storage service, enter Eggdisk. 6Gigs of free storage, no time limits. The only downside is the 150MB maximum file size... we have one file that's just over 200MB and several that are over 150MB...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Biblical Studies Search from drought to plenty ::

For years I dreamt of a biblical studies search engine, somewhere I could point students and church people to that would achieve several things Google does not:
  • filter out the rubbish
  • focus on the scholarly (or at least accurate)
  • fliter out even good material that is not Bible related (search for "slavery" or whatever on Google and you get too many results that have no bearing on slavery in biblical times)
This desire meant an engine that would only search a restricted (peer reviewed, or at least scholar reviewed) range of sites.

Yesterday JPS pointed out that Google now offered just that possibility! So, both he (Idle Musings) and I (Biblical Studies Search) started experimenting with the service.

Then Danny at Deinde announced that he/they have been slowly working towards a Bible focused search engine, only to be pipped at the post by Google. This is great, now we can all really play with this search thing and make it work the way we want...

My first reaction was I can stop playing with Biblical Studies Search and just help Danny turn Deinde Biblical Studies Search and The Biblioblogs Search into the best of Bible related search engines. And I plan to...

But... then I played with Danny's tool and mine. Danny has hundreds more sites indexed 1600 URL's to only 88, but that very expansiveness means that Deinde results are less focused and more Google-like than Biblical Studies Search. For some terms, like "camel" the difference is small:
However, for some terms (like "slavery") the lack of focus seems to me to make a narrower selection more useful:
So... what I suggest is that we play with both. That you suggest sites to both, and then we see whether (a) one approach (narrow or broad) seems clearly "better" or (b) whether they are good for different tasks/people, and we move into the future on that basis...

I'm aware that even now with under 90 sites indexed I have begun to get both "off topic" results. Should I drop because its inclusion gives this among my first page results:
Yankee Slavery
Evidence of African burial customs has been found on an eighteenth-century plantation in southeastern Connecticut.
Come to that including the Catholic Encyclopedia is dubious, are articles from 1914 really desirable?

So, there are issues to resolve with both approaches, but my view is that trying both for now is a good way to work out and evolve the best Biblical Studies Search we can!

[Note to self: I must ask Danny if we should/could both put both boxes on our pages and ask people to compare them...]

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

First print review of Amos Commentary

The first print review of Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary that I am aware of (do tell me if you know an earlier one!) appeared in the Butlletí de l’Associació Bíblica de Catalunya 93: Sept 2006, 56

Since I cannot really read Catalan I would be delighted if someone could translate for me! Though with a mixture of some Spanish from a holiday during my teenage years and French I managed to decipher most of it.

Isn't it lovely that the first review should come from somewhere as far from NZ as possible in a language that has VERY few native speakers within thousands of miles of here (there must be a Catalan community in Australia, I'd guess).



Google does it again! Biblical Studies Search ::

Thank you JPS, I can usually resist Beta software (I even held off Firefox till the official release;) but not this time! Google have given us something I've wanted for years, the ability to create "custom search engines" that search a selected subset of sites. JPS had put together a small list of sites to search, and I have volunteered to help enlarge his list. But I could not wait to try the facility, and so have also set up Biblical Studies Search which currently searches:
PS Currently this searches over 60 sites! (But I started experimenting with this list.)
  • West Semitic Research Project
  • Eikon imagebase at Yale
  • Keith Hanson's pages
  • Mark's NT Gateway
  • my Amos commentary
  • Chris's iTanakh
  • SBL's site
  • RBL
  • Jim's list
  • ABZU
I'll be adding others, but I'd be delighted for you to help enlarge the list, either make suggestions to this post by "comments" or go to the Google "Homepage" for Biblical Studies Search and "volunteer" to join me in making the list.

Already this is awesome, I just wish one could set it so that it searched all the pages directly listed on the NT Gateway and iTanakh rather than having to add them one by one... Hey Google, there's my first suggestion for improving the service.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Open Bible Translation ::

Writing the post below that mentions Lingamish reminded me that for three weeks I've been meaning to mention his post Open Development Models and Bible Translation the end of the semester (and academic year, with just marking and exams still left!) is such a busy time...

It's a really stimulating discussion starter, based on Raymond’s "evolving book" The Cathedral and the Bazaar. This is in turn based on the ideas in his famous eponymous FirstMonday essay. [For another take on how the ideas of this essay might impact the church see my Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation from issue 37:2 of Colloquium.]

Lingamish begins to think about how these ideas of open development might apply to Bible translation.

As a translator Lingamish translates Raymond into the translation world. So Raymond's:
2. Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
becomes Lingamish's:
2. Modify the Scripture already in use.
If there is an existing church, they are probably using some translation of the Bible. If it is a neighboring language can it be adapted? If it is an antiquated translation can it be revised?
The post is well worth a thought, as a "webby" person I can imagine a translation project that
  1. Takes an existing "old" translation, and puts it online.
  2. Begins to suggest modifications and adaptations - with linked "footnotes" explaining the reasoning (at two levels, technical for trained translators and educated pastors etc. that take the original languages as starting point, and less technical that explain this in "lay" terms) these "notes" would operate like blog posts and have a comments feature.
  3. User feedback would modify and polish the translation. This Temporary English Version (or whatever you called it, and obviously since the English translation market is over supplied NOT TempEV*).
  4. Eventually one might be happy enough with the version to produce a print edition.
People are sure to point out that this process will only work where there is Internet. They will then invoke the great digital divide, as an excuse for not trying such an approach. However, I am told that today in Kenya there is an Internet connection of sorts in many schools. Which means in many communities, since non-Westerners are usually less precious about private property, and more willing to share!

[According to SANGOnet:
Of the approximately 816 million people in Africa in 2001, it is estimated that only:
  • 1 in 4 have a radio (205m)


  • 1 in 160 use the Internet (5m)

That would mean that 5,100,000 people have Internet, but they also note that:
In Africa, each computer with an Internet or email connection usually supports a range of three to five users.
Such an approach is not intended to dismiss the digital divide, or to minimise efforts to reduce it, on the contrary, if the Internet is used for useful (to the average villager or their school teacher or pastor) purposes then that in itself will help bridge the divide!

Vive la traduction libre! Say I.

* This name is used for the literal rendering I used for the Amos commentary, it was suggested by my son precisely because I was always changing the rendering in the light of user comments! I will be happy to discuss licensing the name Temporary X Version to any interested millionaires ;-) or impoverished Bible translators who want to make their work available in such a way! [return]

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What's next - future media ::

Christianity Today has an article “What’s Next: Publishing and Broadcasting”. (HT to Think Christian who posted snippets, and before that to Lingamish for noticing!)

Isn't it nice when the “mainstream media” deign to think about the future ;-)

Two items from the comments (on Think Christian) really struck me.

The first is daft, Donnell Duncan writes:

I have a website and I’m publishing a book soon. Even though it’s 2006, for at least another twenty years, I expect the influence of my book to extend just as far as my website.
Well no Donnell, unless your “book” is a fiction bestseller like Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code, it's likely that a website will have far more impact.

Suppose your print book sells 1,000 copies (which at least in Biblical Studies would be strong sales) and 250 of those are to libraries. Suppose, what's more, that on average individual owners loan the book to three other people over the next twenty years, that would make 3,000 readers. Again let's assume that each library copy is read 100 times before falling to bits – 25,000 readers. Wow, that's nearly 30,000 readers over the twenty years :)

Now let's compare my Amos commentary, about 900 different IP addresses “visit” the material each day. Of course most of those are Google visitors who do not find what they want and move on, though since somebody looks at over 8,000 pages per day some visitors are reading quite a bit. If we assume one print page of your book is equivalent to 4 web pages from Amos that would be 2,000 pages of your book each day, if the book is 250 pages long that's 8 cover-to-cover readers daily, or nearly 3,000 per year. So on a conservative estimate (and every year so far readership of the online material has grown) the web “book” is about twice as influential as the print one ;-)

Dusty Bogard by contrast is a future focused commentator. He quotes Jonathan Schwartz, CEO Sun Microsystems:

I was in a European airport a few weeks ago, waiting in a lounge with about 100 other people – when I had to revise my world view. Most people had mobile handsets – we all would’ve predicted that. But no one was talking on their phone. They were all looking at them, and either browsing or text’ing or playing a game – but no one was making a voice call… Which only strengthens my belief that most people in the world will first experience the internet on their handset. Which means most businesses in the world trying to reach those consumers or leverage the internet should broaden their horizons.
Eeek, we need a .mobi domain and site optimised for WAP (and/or XHTML-MP - can anyone tell me which or how?) for the PodBible project, there's a whole bunch of potential listeners we have hardly started to supply. I'll register the domain, does anyone know someone who can turn an RSS podcast feed into a WAP or XHTML-MP site?

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

PodBible makes the GodCast top 100

Currently PodBible is in the GodCast top 100 Christian podcasts when I looked we were at no 23 !

This is really exciting, as such exposure will increase the number of people using the daily podcasts of either a chapter of the Bible or a "chunk" that will let people hear the whole Bible in a year.

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Complaints Department ::

Tyler's been teaching the psalms, inevitably he faces discussing with his students the most frequent genre of psalm in the book -– complaints -– and why complaint is so much less prominent in church today. His headings show the sort of line he is taking:
  • Complaining in Faith to God

  • The Costly Loss of Lament

  • Lament as One Stage in a Journey

[Tyler uses the more "“traditional" name for this sort of psalm "lament"– I'm convinced that Gerstenberger and others are correct and that "“complaint" - a root Tyler uses a lot in the post, but chooses not to use to name the category -– fits the content better. These psalms claim that something is wrong with the world, usually complaining that God has not acted to right the wrong and go on to petition God to put it right. They seldom stop at merely lamenting the wrong.]

In discussing the ways in which complaint is a form of prayer that is deeply faithful (contrary to the contemporary feeling that to complain to the Almighty would show lack of trust) Tyler has the nice line:

No matter how virulent the psalmist gets -— at least the psalmist knew where to direct his complaints!

Which fits with Anon's (I thought that the quote came from Conrad Gempf but can't find it) claim that central to Old Testament talk of God is the understanding that "“The one thing God cannot stand is to be ignored." The Bible consistently tells us the story of a unique God (as opposed to a god), who is passionate ("“jealous") such a God is a natural target for complaint (after all if there is no other power who else can we hold responsible) and "“big enough" to take it. Any less is lack of faith, or lack of trust or relationship!

Tyler follows Brueggemann in his analysis of the consequences of the loss of complaint in public and private worship. A faith that merely praises, while sileconnivesomplaint conives with stiflings quo, stiffling the personhood of the people, and denying real relationship. In the end such an "“accepting" or stoic faith denies God and demeans humanity!

The main area where I'd have liked to see Tyler go further is in his last section. This is the time to introduce Brueggemann's greatest gift to readers of psalms, the three fold circle (or spiral) of experience expressed in the psalms:

  • Life is good -– psalms that express satisfaction and joy at God's well-ordered world (Brueggemann's psalms of orientation).

  • Life is a mess -– psalms of complaint, confession etc. (Brueggemann's psalms of disorientation).

  • Psalms that at first glance look like the thanksgivings and praise of the orientation phase, but go deeper and recognise that life is a gift (reorientation in Brueggemann's classification)

Brueggemann sees this cycle happening in life, time and again, not just in psalms. This notion seems to resonate with each class of students to whom I've taught this material.

[I wrote about this approach to the psalms as "“appropriate spirituality" back in March 2004. At that time I called the three categories good space, bad space, and God space now I prefer the "“life is good, life is a mess, life is a gift" approach.]

There's a nice scene in the old movie Titanic that captures this. Jack a poor drifter has been invited to the first class dining room (watch the film if you need to know more). He explains that he won his ticket in a poker game, his rich and powerful audience respond in various ways:

BTW the "Bunnies" 30 second version of Titanic is also very good ;-)

  • life's a game of chance

  • a real man makes his own luck

  • I think life is a gift


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On being Tongan today

Aisea (one of the Bible and Electronic Media class) has an interesting post on being Tongan. It's a fascinating meditation from a young man who has grown up and been educated in two very different "worlds".

View Larger Cover ImageParadoxically this post is highly conservative, yet Aisea has an earlier post "How do we deal with changes?" which compares articles by Sven Birkets and Howard Rheingold from Writing Material: Readings from Plato to the Digital Age Evelyn Tribble (Temple University) and Anne Trubek (Oberlin College), which starts with a quote from Birkets that begins "A change is upon us – nothing could be clearer."

This tension is where we all live today.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Stephen's seven meals non-meme ::

Stephen has an interesting post "Food: What's for dinner?", based on an eponymous article from the Listener, in which he proposes a non-meme, a list of seven meals one prepares often. I plan to post my seven here one-by-one (the full list is in a comment to his blog).

Never one to do things in order if another way is possible, I'll start with the last on the list:
When it's a church "PodBible Free Lunch" soup and French Bread
There is such a thing as a (PodBible) Free Lunch. The idea is simple. The result is fun, community formation, and a "spiritual exercise". All you do is spend an hour on Saturday making a BIG pot of good cheap soup (if you don't know how, just ask, it is easy!), then on Sunday invite people over after church (actually it's better if you announce your free lunch the week before, some people plan their Sunday lunch even before the morning service starts ;)

After eating and chatting while the kids amuse themselves in another room with a pile of old toys (if you don't have ones your kids have grown out of try a garage sale) split the people up into groups of 3 (or if need be 4) and give then a few chapters each. The instructions are simple:
  • your task is to come up with something to think about, pray about and do for each chapter
  • skim-read each chapter
  • try to come up with something to think about - do NOT tell them what the Bible means, choose something interesting or puzzling and phrase the "think" to start people off. Just a short sentence forpreferencee...
  • suggest a prayer topic or single-sentence prayer
  • give them something to "do" related to the chapter
  • do not resist being funny
  • be brief
  • be openended
  • resist preaching
When they have done that record the |Think|PrayDo|s for each chapter and go home...

Anyone who wants to organise a Free Lunch and wants help or to know what Bible book to start with just ask...

Lost in Translation ::

For those of us who quite like literal translations (at least at times) Richard Rhodes has a nice post "What's the joke?" on the Better Bibles Blog about translating this cartoon:

Don't worry, he explains the German too!


Monday, October 16, 2006
Worldview and Empire: Esther, David and New Historicism ::

Can I pick your brains? Next year I am sharing in teaching a course "Biblical Texts in Contexts" in which we plan to look at various ways of reading the Bible focusing on several themes and "pairing" these with ways of reading:

Theme: Texts: Tools:
Empire David/Esther New Historicism and other political and historical tools
CosmologicalGenesis 1-3 Worldview
Family ? maybe the end of David's story, or probably Ruth or Patriarchs ?Social Science tools
Religion??Cultural Anthropology

Anyway, I love some suggestions of possible readings or texts or other thoughts. It is a course quite unlike what I've taught before, so I am very open to your comments! (Or if you want more privacy just email me ;-)

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Accents: Regions and a master actor ::

Nothing to do with either Biblical Studies or Hypertext, but found on a blog about web design (Peter Sellers doing various English accents on <editor>Kottke is of course an American, and so geographically challenged ;) Glasgow and Edinburgh are of course in one of the other four countries that with England compose the UK, (and was there a hybrid "Scottish" in there?)</editor> )

Just Brilliant!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Shameless advertisement ::

This post is a shameless advertisement. My only excuse is that Mark Goodacre posted on the TimesOnline piece about the world's top Universities. Mt Taranaki

There's Auckland at no. 46, well ahead of Emory for example. Now did you know that the cost of doing a PhD in New Zealand is much lower than in any other country in the top 50 - much lower cost of living, pay only local student fees (subsidised by the NZ government). And as a bonus you'd get to spend a few years living in one of the most peaceful and beautiful countries on earth...

There are two institutions in Auckland (both in a way consortia) offering PhDs in Biblical Studies or Theology at the top-ranking University of Auckland the School of Theology draws teachers from 4 seminaries, while Carey Baptist College and the Bible College of NZ supply academic staff for the Tyndale-Carey Graduate School (which supervises in Biblical Studies and Theology for the AUT PhD).

Monday, October 09, 2006
How does the Bible teach? ::

Following the discussion that my first two posts on "What is a family?" and "Does the Bible present a preferred pattern of family?" I realised that there's a need to clarify more how we work out what "the Bible teaches" about some topic. For some it is just a question of grabbing a few convenient sentences from here and there, et voilà ! But that wont wash, a sentence out of context is rubbish, (the Bible says "There is no God" ;-) unless the new context just happens to match up enough with the "old" one...

Different genres "teach" differently. Narrative - even a teaching narrative like parable - works very differently to an epistle or legal text... and then there's the question of the apparently free and easy way the New Testament writers (and even Jesus in the Gospels) seem to treat the Old Testament - as if they were mining it for good weird phrases to quote...

So, I've tried to deal with all of that in just over 1000 words! In "Reading the Bible: seeking teaching on family". Let me know (there or here) what you think...

Friday, October 06, 2006
Email : Old - IM : Young ::

Stephen posts about the "Teens: E-mail is for old people" item, adding the interesting comment "If you want responsive and real-time communication, why not incarnate?" with a link to this UserFriendly cartoon.

BUT the cartoon just so does not get it, IM allows communication with multiple others, while not being incarnate, or even wholly "there" to them. Whatever old folks think (and in this conversation I definitely count as - old possibly nearly Paleolithic ;-) whatever oldies think IM is not about "conversation" as a telephone call is (even a hurried mobile call), IM is about communicating whilst doing something else - like homework, or communicating with six other people who form two or three different circles of contacts... IM is to telephone as the SETI project (to use many many PCs downtime to compute) is to running Pacman on a Commodore PET.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Does the Bible present a paradigm of "family"? ::

My post "What is a family?" on the Vision Network site stimulated some interesting discussion. I have tried to pull some of these threads together in a post "Does the Bible present a preferred pattern of family?" that addresses specifically the passages most often used to support a biblical model of family. Hopefully more useful discussion will follow...

Africa and the world ::

All sorts of things have been (re)turning my mind to Africa recently. First Lingamish posted on hospitality "at home" and in Africa; then Paul posted on his recent trip to Zambia. Now Biblische Ausbildung (a blog I only discovered thanks to the Biblioblog Carnival, and where you can find loads of stimulating biblical posts) has linked to "The Miniature Earth" quite a good visualisation of a set of statistics that imagine the whole earth as a village of just 100 people. (Why not watch it and see where you fit?

Someone who has recently seen something of the reality of Africa (and has read even more) expressed surprise that we could have enjoyed our time in Congo. My answer: "People, it's the people who make up that horribly oppressed, impoverished and suffering 13 in every 100 of us who live in Africa, that make Africa lovable and lovely" reminded me to look back at a post I made (turns out in Feb 2004) quoting the Māori proverb "he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata" crudely rendered "people, people, people". Oddly that post included thought about "missions" too...
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