Friday, March 27, 2009
  Bible societies and dens of theives
I've been meaning to comment thoughtfully and at length on Zhubert and the MorphGNT issue, but selling a house while teaching (laughably but accurately called a "full time job" = it takes up all the time available) has stalled a longer post.

Then David wrote Closing open Bibles saying:
I’m all in favor of open source, but I tend to side with GBS on this. I wouldn’t be surprised if an agreement is worked out regarding the MorphGNT.
I suspect that all we need to do is wait. Bible Societies in general are slow moving beasts with good reason. Don’t mistake cumbersomeness with inefficiency. They are big and think very long term.
This gets my goat, I started writing a "comment" but it was getting long and heated ;)

I am usually very sympathetic to the right of people to be paid a reasonable wage for their work. I can understand that corporations need to "recover their costs".

But Bible Societies, at least the ones I know anything about, get given money by pew sitters like me "to make the Bible available". That money pays the wages of those who do the work (where they were not already paid by their academic institution and did the careful editing work as part of that job).

If GBS (or any other Bibe Society) restricts people making the text freely available, simply to protect the economic viability of their print editions - which are expensive to produce luxury items - then they are betraying the generations of Christians who have coughed up their hard earned cash "to make the Bible available"!

Now, this is an oversimplification, but it seems to me that to take money from someone under false pretences is (more or less) theft. To accept donations to make the Bible available and then restrict its availability to protect the market for an expensive luxury item is therefore theft.

I need some convincing that the German Bible Society is the useful, if somewhat slow elephant David describes, and not rather a den of thieves! For now, I am picturing Jesus, cords at the ready, bursting into their hallowed halls...

PS: I see the guy David referred to has a fine full post on the subject Copyrighting the Holy Spirit's words, then living off the profit... do read it! They also have a declaration of full disclosure, so I'll add one: As far as I know I have never received any payment or benefit from either a Bible Society or their commercial competitors, I did for some years get soft drinks at wholesale prices by sharing my buying with the General Secretary of the Bible Society in Zaire (now again Congo DR).

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Friday, March 20, 2009
  iPod for reading or reading for iPods
There's a fascinating, if slightly wandering post, both on the eponymous sebastianmary and on if::book about how an "iPod for reading" might impact our reading culture.

In it one of the great falacies of most discussion of e-books is exposed. The (probably unconscious, or maybe wishful) assumption is almost ubiquitous that when e-books finally arrive (or if they have with Kindle II, now that they have at last finally arrived ;) they will be just like traditional codex books.

But as the post points out, our idea of a "normal book" is a construct, not of literary decisions but economics:
Length is determined as well, by manufacturing constraints at the top end, and the fixed overheads of printing at the bottom. Bookshops are crammed with full-length books whose contents could just as well be communicated in a short essay, or even in the title alone: I’m thinking of Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, but a glance at the self-help or business shelves of your local bookshop will show you plenty more. And yet to make economic sense they have to be padded out for publication  in ‘proper’ book size.
And since we are thinking iPod for reading, think also of what iPods have done to music. Almost no one buys "albums" for iPods, what people buy is tracks. E-books have no economic constraints on size - in either direction. Yet our electronic reading favours short focused writing.
So, extrapolating from this to an iPod for reading, what is the written equivalent of a single song? In a word (or 300), belles lettres.
Add to this renaissance of belles lettres and essays the electronic capacity for intereaction between writer and reader leads to the dream:
Armed with such a device, creating playlists, mashups, collages of our favourite short works, we might become a generation of digital Montaignes, annotating and expanding our collective discourse. Blogging is already, in effect, the re-emergence of belles lettres; and while blog posts are typically written for the moment, a device that could earn the blogger a small sum (and the cachet of being considered worthy of archiving) for every essay downloaded might well inspire a renaissance in short work written for a longer lifespan.
Sadly this is just the point at which I begin to doubt... I've heard before once or thrice that micro-payments are the salvation of serious culture on the web. See a couple of my old posts and the links there:
PS: do read sebastian mary's article, my summary and sour critique do not do it justice!

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Thursday, March 12, 2009
  Loss of library privileges
Angkor Library Sunset by Stuck in Customs on Flickr
Sven Birkerts, author of the classic Guttenberg Elergies, has written a thoughtful and interesting piece "Resisting the Kindle". There he argues that Kindles represent a move to electronic reading. The convenience and effectiveness of such reading devices hasten (I am not writing from experience, Kindles are not available or usable down here!) is killing something significant in human culture.

Birkets is still a fine writer. He still has a gift for perceiving significant changes beneath the surface of culture. So I have tried to read his piece sympathetically. But, its wrong headed.

Birkets argument (as I understand it) is that the physical manifestation of culture in "books" (by book he means a paper codex) and libraries is important, not just as an organisation of information, knowledge and ideas but somehow for that very physicality. Asa Christian this idea is appealing. Birkets is claiming that the cultural "soul" cannot be split off from its "body".

He argues persuasively that knowledge is contextual, and that a fact retrieved on a handheld electronic device (his example is a Blackberry accessing a service like Wikipedia) decontextualises information. He is right. And this decontextualisation is a major problem with current electronic information systems.

And yet... When he writes:
Turning up a quote by tapping a keyboard is not the same as, say, going to Bartlett’s—it short-circuits all contact with the contextual order that books represent. As I see it, the Kindle ethos—offering print by subscription, arriving from a vast, undifferentiated cyber-emporium out there—abets the decimation of context.
He suggests a weakness in his argument. For surely a dictionary of quotations is itself a decontextualisation of information. Its convenience and its predigestion of knowledge are bookish forerunners of the very electronic systems Birkets bemoans.

For Birkets, like an anti-technophile who deeply loves his favourite technology (the codex and the library) concludes that the medium is the message in a deep and irreplaceable way:
So if it happens that in a few decades—maybe less—we move wholesale into a world where information and texts are called onto the screen by the touch of a button, and libraries survive as information centers rather than as repositories of printed books, we will not simply have replaced one delivery system with another. We will also have modified our imagination of history, our understanding of the causal and associative relationships of ideas and their creators. We may gain an extraordinary dots-per-square-inch level of access to detail, but in the process we will lose much of our sense of the woven narrative consistency of the story. That is the trade-off. Access versus context. As for Pride and Prejudice—Austen’s words will reach the reader’s eye in the same sequence they always have. What will change is the receiving sensibility, the background understanding of what this text was – how it emerged and took its place in the context of other texts—and how it moved through the culture.
Think about this claim. It is another example of the fetishisation of the "book". Somehow for Birkets finding a novel shelved just so in a library evokes the historico-cultural context of the novel that Birkets learned through his education. Finding the same text through an electronic process (even though the contextual information might be presented in more convenient form - accessible even by poor plebs who lack a refined education) will fail. Because it fails to evoke the mystique Birkets desires.

Don't cry for lost manuscript editions, learn to use print effectively. Don't bemoan the supercession of books, learn to recontextualise text in the electronic medium!

Such recontextualisation is precisely what Blackberrying a quote on Wikipedia permits, in a setting where books and libraries are inaccessible. This is potentially a democraisation of knowledge as well as information. Instead of weeping for lost privilege (an expensive education and a library card for the best institutional libraries) learn to assist the masses as we adopt the new technology!

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Friday, January 09, 2009
  Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah
Stephen Cook sent me a copy of his new book:

Stephen L. Cook, Conversations with Scripture : 2 Isaiah (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Pub., 2008).

It arrived yesterday, all nicely wrapped in Christmas paper. Thank you!

The arrangement is that I'll review the book here, since this is a blog and not a journal, I'll not compose one terse magisterial review but will post from time to time as I examine and reflect on the book...

So, First Impressions:

The book is a manageable-sized paper back, 150 pages of largish print, so suggests an easy read rather than a tome to plough. It belongs to a series Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series, and the blurb claims it offers a "uniquely Anglican Bible Study". That already grabs my attention, because I have been increasingly, recently, asking myself what might be distinctive about "Baptist" biblical hermeneutics (by which I mean not what real particular Baptists actually do, which is often just like what similar real Lutherans or Presbyterians actually do) but as an "ideal", so it may be interesting if I can capture from Stephen's study of 2 Isaiah something that is distinctly "Anglican".

Opening the work, the first thing I notice is a number of small sidebar explanations. Sometimes two per page are needed, sometimes several pages pass with none. They are usually only one sentence in length. This is a useful way to explain terms, introduce people... that mimics one property of hypertext - I'm a great fan of sidebars!

The chapter titles too, on the contents page, have me hooked:
  • Second Isaiah and the Theology of Reverence
  • The Inscrutability of God in 2 Isaiah
  • Reverence and the Collapse of Pride and Ignorance
  • Servanthood and the Exuberance of the Holy
  • Atonement and Exuberance
  • The Majesty of Servanthood
Each of these draws me in, I'd happily begin with any of them. (Actually I'll probably be a "good boy" and start at the beginning - most untypically - but who could resist a theological work with "exuberance" in the title?)

There are endnotes (works aimed at a broader readership eschew footnotes) but only a dozen or so per chapter (so looking them up will not be a great hardship).

Stephen's writing is clear and uses mainly short sentences, and I quickly (while dipping here and there) found examples that provoke:
  • "The poem presents a scandalous God. This God is out to disorient people, defy their logic, and make their knees shake". (29) Don't you want to know which poem? Or do you, without looking at Stephen's book, know already?
  • "We simply cannot revere that which is enslaved to our interests, a puppet-god that we manipulate through our prayers and our behavior." (20, sidebar) Nice terse phrasing presents an old truth in a fresh way.
That's enough for today, now I must start writing that article... and tidying the study :(

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Thursday, January 08, 2009
  Textbook purchases
Amazon have what look like great deals on textbooks, any purchased from this link will not only get you their best prices, but also make a small contribution to the costs of the Hypertext Bible Dictionary and Commentary project.

NB: The link and the offers vanish like Cinderella's coach at midnight in the Amazon on St Valentine's Day (Feb 14th). So use it now!

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Saturday, February 02, 2008
  The evolutionary book meme
It was Claude who tagged me with the now improved Book Meme

and it was Duane who first (that I noticed) noticed how the meme has changed since Feb 2005 when it first did the rounds in "our circles" at least. I can see and appreciate how adding the requirement to tag five others with the infection is evolutionarily advantageous, but can see no usefulness or adaptive advantage to the silly requirement to count five sentences and then quote some more. So I will attempt to dilute the less desirable new trait, and offedr this semi-modified "book meme":
Grab the nearest book.
  1. Open the book to page 123.
  2. Find the fifth sentence.
  3. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  4. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.
  5. Tag five others with the infection.
Back then I had a library book, I must have been blogging quietly in bed before the day started:
Our motto: 'We collect strings'.
Still strikes me as a great sentence, but (since I never finished the book - but got bored and dropped it) I still don't understand who or what had the motto concerned! The book was Paul Di Filippo Ribofunk if anybody read beyond p.123, do tell me what it was all about ;-)

Today, with the busyness of preparing to depart for more interesting places, I have work around me, my NRSV Bible is marginally closer than either the PhD or Bar-Efrat's classic Narrative Art in the Bible, so this year's sentence is:
The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.
Which, at least without context seems more than a little injust! However, this book is (I've just noticed with a sigh of relief.) interesting in that it also has a page 123 in the appendix:
When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak, and went on with their teaching.

Which, is less misogynist and still interesting, and if I open the book the "right" way as a Hebraist should is also correct... Actually this edition has the "Apocrypha", which also has a page 123, so you all get a bonus:
They said: Here we send you money; so buy with the money burnt offerings and sin offerings and incense, and offer them on the altar of the Lord our God; and pray for the life of kingNebuchadnezzer of Babylon and for the life of his son Belshazzar, so that their days on earth may be like the days of heaven.
Which, is an appaulingly long sentence! And comes in the middle of the page, so the others are as bad ;) so I have well and truly served mine!

I nominate: Michael Pahl, Judy Redman (who this time I hope I have spelled correctly first time, and from memory), the eponymous Lingamish, Suzanne, and Philip Sumpter to share our infection and the joy of discovery!

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Sunday, November 25, 2007
  Discernment and making decisions
The Theologians without Borders blog mentions a new online resource/book about Decision Making and Discernment it was written by TWN's Dr Geoff Pound. Geoff is a Kiwi Baptist pastor, who among other roles was principal of Whitley College in Melbourne (Australia) having previously been a consultant to Australian Baptists. Through his own varied life journey, and through assisting individuals and communities discover where God was leading Geoff has gained wisdom about making decisions and about discernment. So now he's written the book! The material is organised into forty "days" and seven group studies. It is not called 40 Days of Discernment, probably not to infringe on someone else's copyright ;-) though the image of Jesus' "40 days in the wilderness runs through much of the book.

The material for each "day" is similarly structured containing:
Approach: This is the time to draw near to God, to collect our thoughts and tell God that we are present. There is a suggested prayer to enable us to focus our lives before God.

Scripture: This is normally a short passage but the suggestion is to read it slowly, repeatedly and meditatively, in such a way that it stays with us through the day.

Silence: With the Scripture echoing in your mind, spend a significant time listening to what the Spirit of God is saying to you.

: This provides brief comments related to the Scripture theme and often a story to illustrate some aspect of the practice of discernment.

Journal: It is suggested that you record your changing ideas, concerns and discoveries. You might also find your experience of journaling to be like author, Joan Didion’s who said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”[1]
Don’t see this like writing an examination answer! This is for your eyes only. Get yourself a special notebook or create a discernment file on your computer if you find this method easier. You might want to work through this book at a later time and what you write this time round may be quite different from what you write on a subsequent journey. You might find it useful to doodle or draw as well as to write words.

Selecting a Souvenir: Tourists love to buy souvenirs from the places they have visited. They remind them of a person, a place or an occasion. A souvenir is something that causes us to remember or literally “to come to mind.” Each day on this journey in discernment there is an opportunity to select a souvenir—some word or image that might bring your earlier reflections to mind for further contemplation. For instance the reflection on Day 1 records the habit that Jesus cultivated of weekly worship. The souvenir you select on that day might be the succinct statement, “As was his custom.” Or on the same day you might be taken with the story of The Little Prince and select the souvenir statement of “readying the heart to greet” God. Or on Day 14 when the reflection is about Moses and the burning bush your souvenir could be a thorn (to remind you of the ordinary way that God often appears) or a sandal (to bring to mind the holiness of every place).

Prayer: A short prayer provides a springboard for your own conversation with God and with others. Prayers are often expressed with the ‘we’ rather than the ‘I’ as some may wish to experience these daily times with a friend or partner. If so, take turns and share the different tasks—the leader of the day, the Scripture reader or the leader in prayer.

Commission: At the end of your prayer time, sense God sending you forward afresh on the journey of discovery and service.
If you know someone, or better still some group, who need to work through complex decisions, or who want to nourish the gift of discernment please point them to this book. It is free and online. Geoff is talking of making PDF files available for printout, and may even offer a print version for those who want it.

Since this resource is free, there is no advertising budget, so please if you take a look and like it, make a link or tell your friends, because it's "word of mouth" that will get it used.

(The footnote links currently don't work - this was an artefact from the process of transferring the text from Word to Blogger - I believe Geoff is fixing them.)

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007 must be true!
Q (aka Stephen) quoted Mircea Eliade:
In the presence of the naked woman, one does not find in one's inmost being the same terrifying emotion that one feels before the revelation of the cosmic mystery. There is no rite, there is only a secular act, with all the familiar consequences ….
Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom
He comments drolly:
Eliade never experienced fear in the presence of a naked woman?
Something about this quote did not ring true, I followed Q's link to his source (the Quelle of Q?), and found a post Dangling Listicles dealing with magazine covers (never a strong field of my interest, I read from the "back" like any good Hebraist ;-) Their version of the quote looks even more "wrong", so I checked with Google books (nul return) and Amazon online reader (p.259). Bingo! The quote should read:
The ritual nudity of the yogini has an intrinsic mystical value: if, in the presence of a naked woman, one does not find in one's inmost being the same terrifying emotion that one feels before the revelation of the cosmic mystery, there is no rite, there is only a secular act, with all the familiar consequences…
Much less entertaining, but more accurate I suspect...

And all of it read on the Internet, so "it" must be true!

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Thursday, October 18, 2007
  What I'm buying

It's nearly the end of the year, just the marking tide to survive... I'm looking forward to my sabbatical! So, I'm buying "books"...

The first is delivered in print, I expect/hope to be surprised and delighted with a different perspective, even if the editors are all people whose works already fill my shelves ;-)

The second is actually 58 books the Word Biblical Commentary series. Paper copies of many of these are already on my shelves, but the convenience of adding them to my portable office (alias HP laptop) and to search and jump is just too good to resist... though, I have resisted the new, improved and updated edition with 59 volumes and the updated Isaiah volumes, a few hundred dollars (US!) more for three volumes is too much!

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Monday, July 30, 2007
  Institute for the Future of the Book
Since a few hours after I made the post about IF:Book and CommentPress below the IF:Book blog has seemed to be unobtainable from here. Does anyone know if the URL has changed, the domain is for some reason no longer obtainable in NZ or the site is down for 48 hours?

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Sunday, May 13, 2007
  Sophie: have I seen the future or the past?
There's a story that American journalist Lincoln Steffens visited the USSR and returned, claiming "I've been over into the future and it works!" I have recently begun playing with the Institute for the Future of the Book's alpha release of Sophie, and I have some of the mixed feelings that the Steffens quote elicits today.

Sophie is brilliant, an easy to use editor for complex interactive multimedia. As such it is already superb (though as a pre-release alpha somewhat flaky still), and the plans and dreams of the IFBook people make its future sound even better. If such a tool had existed a few years ago the Amos commentary would have been created using it, and would have emerged very differently from its actual HTML incarnation. Sophie permits rich and varied interactions with multimedia, and will permit comments - creating a community around the media "text". This mix of media with community is evidently the (or at least one) future, and it works! (Or is beginning to work - very well.)

To get a good idea of the possibilities download Mozart's Dissonant Quartet the video with text-over shows some of the possibilities in a timeline based presentation. If you do try it do read the instructions on the page linked above, they will save you (or would have saved me) quite a bit of trying to work out how Sophie works as a reader.

However, to someone used to the free-flowing, largely system independent, world of HTML - and even more so of its more structured and meaningful descendants inhabiting the world of XML - I am frustrated by a system that defines a "page size" (usually a fraction of my screen to accommodate older smaller screens - but pity the user whose screen is too small!) and pages that MUST be turned.

Still, the only demo book I have tried so far Mozart's Dissonant Quartet with its beautiful soundtracks. Here too the ways in which Sophie is "not HTML" can be frustrating, as I said above, till I RTFMed I found the demo far from intuitive to navigate - more of a text adventure with a superb soundtrack than a multimedia experience. Sophie also has a very Macish feel to her, right clicking achieves precisely nothing, though the
interface has Mac's good looks, there are times when Windows comforting convenience is useful! Perhaps when Sophie has her dedicated Reader this will become less of a puzzle. I suspect though it will help if (when IF Book release the "real thing" into the wild) Sophie comes with a firm set of recommended conventions.

Conclusion so far: just one hour in...

Will the limitations of restrictive screen display sizes (so beloved of the graphical designers) be overcome and will the user interface become more intuitive? If so Sophie will make a brilliant environment to produce multimedia instructional materials that can become truly the hub of an interactive communal learning experience... Or is this "future" too restrictive in its polices?

Already - if I was teaching my Bible in an Electronic context course (or in a school) - I can see how students could easily and quickly produce interactive multimedia so easily... I imaging that even some of my IT challenged colleagues could learn to use and love Sophie. And a design that achieves that shows deep wisdom!

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Monday, February 12, 2007
  Using a codex
Funny video clip on You Tube, (Norwegian, but with English surtitles) showing a user interacting with the helpdesk as he struggles with the new technology.


And then perhaps join me in thinking about how we might script it differently...

One thing I'd do is add a sequence where the helpdesk guy (HG) explains how the new technology allows non-sequential reading, and the new user (NU) complains that this will mean that readers will never again experience a book as the author intended, from start to finish.

If I think of more I will add them here (dating them) and if you post ones that tickle my fancy I'll add them too...

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