Saturday, January 16, 2010
  Internet fast: The degradation of predictability - and knowledge
Interdependence Tree photo by House Of Sims
Nassim N. Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, NYU-Poly, for his contribution [to the online symposium see also my summary of Hillis' post for context] has argued that greater information produces greater confidence, and in this post adds that since the Internet does not merely increase our access to information but also our interdependence (see the previous post). Interdependence increases fads (he uses both Harry Potter and the globalisation of runs on banks as examples). "Such world", he writes, "is more "complex", more moody, much less predictable."

His conclusion is practical and personal, in an attempt to regain wisdom like that shown by the ancients and people from the pre-Internet past, he is enjoying an Internet fast:
I am not entirely deprived of the Internet; this is just a severe diet, with strict rationing. True, technologies are the greatest things in the world, but they have way too monstrous side effects — and ones rarely seen ahead of time. And since spending time in the silence of my library, with little informational pollution, I can feel harmony with my genes; I feel I am growing again.

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  Snippets on how the Internet is changing us
There is a brilliant collection of short essays at Edge, edited by Jonn Brockman in which several digerati reflect on how "the Internet" [a term the first contributor, computer scientist, W. Daniel Hillis notes is not unproblematic] is changing us. They are all good, but here are my highlighted snippets.

Hillis suggests print enabled "the enlightenment" the Internet enables the "entanglement". In the enlightenment we became independent, in the entanglement we are becoming interdependent:
In an Internet-connected world, it is almost impossible to keep track of how systems actually function. Your telephone conversation may be delivered over analog lines one day and by the Internet the next. Your airplane route may be chosen by a computer or a human being, or (most likely) some combination of both. Don't bother asking, because any answer you get is likely to be wrong.

Soon, no human will know the answer. More and more decisions are made by the emergent interaction of multiple communicating systems, and these component systems themselves are constantly adapting, changing the way they work. This is the real impact of the Internet: by allowing adaptive complex systems to interoperate, the Internet has changed the way we make decisions. More and more, it is not individual humans who decide, but an entangled, adaptive network of humans and machines.

He illustrates this discussing Internet Time Protocol the system that allows software to know what time/date it is now, so saving humans from needing to enter the time and date on bootup. The system depends on multiple networked devices, and few if any programmers understand it, we all use it. We are interconnecting not only when we are aware of it, but also and particularly when we are not.

One item only from Hans Ulrich Obrist's (Curator, Serpentine Gallery, London) partial and multiple alphabet of an answer:
D is for Doubt
A certain unreliability of technical and material information on the Internet brings us to the notion of doubt. I feel that doubt has become more pervasive. The artist Carsten Höller has invented the Laboratory of Doubt, which is opposed to mere representation. As he has told me, 'Doubt and perplexity ... are unsightly states of mind we'd rather keep under lock and key because we associate them with uneasiness, with a failure of values'. Höller's credo is not to do; not to intervene. To exist is to do and not to do is a way of doing. 'Doubt is alive; it paralyzes certainty.' (Carsten Höller)
Yes! Now, can we encourage students to begin to understand this?

The ever stimulating Clay Shirky, Social & Technology Network Topology Researcher, provoked me most with this Contrarian gem:
Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba (photo by goldberg)
It is our misfortune to live through the largest increase in expressive capability in the history of the human race, a misfortune because surplus always breaks more things than scarcity. Scarcity means valuable things become more valuable, a conceptually easy change to integrate. Surplus, on the other hand, means previously valuable things stop being valuable, which freaks people out.
This is the lesson Big Music is beginning to learn, the moving image industry has begun to face, that is freaking the publishers, but will change higher education beyond belief (one day, soon?). [See my Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation especially the first section "Return of the Rabbi" 115-121.]

And, I am only about half-way through the articles :) What a cornucopia of stimulating thinking!

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Friday, January 15, 2010
  Google, politics and diplomacy
Commenting on my "Has Google gained a conscience?" post below Bill said:
Timing is so critical. I suspect it's a good thing that Google waited as long as it did to make this a line in the sand. The Chineese people are more likely to notice, now.
This is a really interesting comment, and even more striking are the thoughts it provokes. For Bill is likely spot on. If enough people in China have become Google-dependent, especially families of people with influence, then this new hard line of Google's could be effective.
Image from La Gaceta
If it is, it could also be the point from which future historians date the beginning of the state of Google, Google's definitive entry into politics and diplomacy. Already de facto if not de jure Google controls a huge proportion of the global access to information. It also wields significant economic power, if it adds to that an active use of its "hearts and minds" power Google has the potential to significantly impact global politics and diplomacy. For many years people have worried about the monetary "clout" of large corporations (though these worries may be due more to miscalculations than reality), perhaps though the information barons pose the real threat to democracy, as well as or after the threat they pose to tyranny.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010
  Has Google gained a conscience?
Tank Man — This famous photo, taken on 5 June 1989 by photographer Jeff Widener, shows the PLA's advancing tanks halting for an unknown man near Tiananmen Square.
A while back lots of people complained when Google caved in to Chinese pressure and began systematic censoring of political information on (the example most often used was image searches for "Tianamen Square" which allover the world, except in China, showed most prominently a lonely activist facing down a tank - in China only innocuous tourist photos.

At last thanks to "someone" attempting to unearth information (in part from their Gmail accounts) about Chinese political activists Google has got a conscience and is changing its policy. As a result the Google blog says:
We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.
A moderately large step for a corporation, a giant leap for humanity!

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009
  Twitter a survey
Lifehacker recently ran a survey on Twitter. Interestingly, for a fairly techie blog full of early and enthusiastic adopters, especially given Twitter's apparent cult status among the trendy Digerati. About half (47%) of respondants to the poll have no inclination to twit.
Twitter is
a waste of time
less than passionately interesting
mildly interesting
really significant
the best thing since the previous best thing
my life, my soul, my all free polls

This fits my reaction, unlike other trendy tools I have found potentially interesting and explored (for a recent example take Google's Wave) or tried to explore but given up on (like Second Life), I have never been able to imagine the point of Twitter!

I would be interested to know though whether my readers and their readers have a similarly large number of Twitagnostics, or whether "we" have more Twitter-gnostics ;)

So please vote in the poll here, and/or link to it ( so your readers (at least if they are in the biblical studies and related disciplines whether as professionals or amateurs ;) can vote.

You will see from the questions that this is not entirely serious and scientific, but either by polling or by comments I really would be interested to hear what you all think :)

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
  Homeless in New Orleans: are fraudsters

I have just received an email from the Internet-based booking agency that I used to book my hotel for New Orleans. They have cancelled my booking. I am now homeless for SBL, and have only a week or so to try to find somewhere else. I was stupid I should have checked that the agency was honest :(

All I can do not is warn anyone considering using that they are a bunch of fraudsters! They have had the use of my money for months, multiply that by hundreds of other suckers and they are onto a really good deal.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009
  Citing Internet Ephemera
By its nature the Internet is an ephemeral medium, how many of the Biblioblog 500 still have the same URL as when they started (incidentally the site itself has moved so recently Google still lists the old URL alongside the new one ;) Why, even the venerable NT Gateway used to have a different URL just a few years back.

This makes scholars nervous of citing digital media. This is bad for scholarship, but good for nostalgia buffs who want to be scholars. They can go on advocating paper for preference.

Enter WebCite...
WebCite®, a member of the International Internet Preservation Consortium, is an on-demand archiving system for webreferences (cited webpages and websites, or other kinds of Internet-accessible digital objects), which can be used by authors, editors, and publishers of scholarly papers and books, to ensure that cited webmaterial will remain available to readers in the future. If cited webreferences in journal articles, books etc. are not archived, future readers may encounter a "404 File Not Found" error when clicking on a cited URL. Try it! Archive a URL here. It's free and takes only 30 seconds.
This needs to be better known, so please pass it on... HT to Suzanne McCarthy

NB: in case you think I should have referenced the Biblioblog Top 50 above I've done it here (so please don't complain ;)

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
  Whatever you do, do NOT tell Jim ;)
Irish student hoaxes world's media with fake quote by AP: Yahoo! Tech
When Dublin university student Shane Fitzgerald posted a poetic but phony quote on Wikipedia, he said he was testing how our globalized, increasingly Internet-dependent media was upholding accuracy and accountability in an age of instant news.

His report card: Wikipedia passed. Journalism flunked.
Yes, famous newspapers published a fake (and rather "purple") quote in their obituaries for Michael Jarre, while Wikipedia (the public encyclopedia) tested the quote, found it wanting and removed it.

Motto trust Wikipedia over a professional journalist any day, diletantism rocks ;)


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
  Thinking about technology
Some authors build for themselves such dominant reputations that they become one-man brands - the names that require no qualification. So in discussion of Christian issues "Barth" (unless qualified by a forename) means Karl-author-of-Romans-and-Church-Dogmatics.

Some authors achieve this status because their thinking is so clear, and their communication so straight and clear that one must either agree or disagree with them - they polarise. [Some of us are so good at seeing every facet of an issue that following our thought is like walking through untracked forest, a series of tiny decisions,rather than one momentous one...] Lewis earned his "brand" that way, and so has Carson.
Photo of DA Carson by jrgordon13
At least in Carson's case his forthright clarity means people usually either love or hate him - and in recent years his pronouncements on "emergent" have earned him much hate. But, whatever you think of Carson the (one-man) brand, he has written a superb editorial for Themelios.

He addresses a Christian approach to technology, and begins (predictaby) with Rom 12:2 and (also predictably?) 2 Cor 10:5. He states that "the most dangerous movements in any age are those that are so widely assumed that it is very hard to see them" supporting his case with reference to history, though any cross-cultural worker will be as aware that today's assumptions by Western Christians look very different in most of the world.

[The geographical difference in assumptions is well illustrated by an example a colleague uses of German and American "Christian Brethren" women meeting - the Americans were shocked that the Germans drank and the Germans felt that the Americans looked like whores with their makeup ;) ]

After an interesting, though to readers of this blog unsurprising, rehearsal of some features of current digital techno-culture he concludes:
We need to hear competing voices of information from the world around us, use our time in the digital world wisely, and learn to shut that world down when it becomes more important to get up in the morning and answer emails than it does to get up and read the Bible and pray. We may also learn much from church history, where we observe fellow believers in other times and cultures learning the shape of faithfulness. We begin to detect how easily the "world" may squeeze us into its mold. We soon learn that adequate response is more than mere mental resolve, mere disciplined observance of the principle "garbage in, garbage out" (after all, we are what we think), though it is not less than that. The gospel is the power of God issuing in salvation. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in the shadow of the cross and resurrection, we find ourselves wanting to be conformed to the Lord Jesus, wanting to be as holy and as wise as pardoned sinners can be this side of the consummation.
Do read the whole editorial (HTML or PDF), and since Themelios does not have a comment feature (how I wish the church, and especially Evangelical Christians, would recognise that openness and discussion are healthy and not persist in old authoritarian modes of discourse) you are welcome to post any short responses

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Thursday, December 18, 2008
  NT Greek music videos and publication
Danny has published another NT Greek music video this time the catchy title is "Present Active Indicative Song". I don't teach Greek, heck I don't even get to teach Hebrew any more, though I still have an interest in Hebrew teaching, but such resources are really useful.

After making this video available to the world and her uncle (if she lets her uncle share her Internet connection, as most of the world [outside Western culture] does [and even inside Western culture close family are usually allowed the odd share]), Danny then ponders the future: "as I am trying to ultimately get them published, I’m not sure how many more to share freely online :-)".
So, let's get this clear, in 21st century biblical studies making something available to almost anyone who wants it is NOT publication. Publication involves somehow controlling access to the resource so only people who pay can use it. That is a necessary, unavoidable (in the current situation) step to getting paid for your work, but what we habitually call publication is really privatization - making a work LESS public.

It is time we stopped calling a spade a "magic wand" and started calling it by the job it does - in this case the job "publishers" would perform for Danny is selling, not publishing.
Photo by teachandlearn
Now, selling is fine and necessary. Without some way to pay for work the "works" do not get produced - except in various amateur (for even when produced by highly trained people and even when those people are employed in the field unpaid work is "amateur") ways. But, "to sell" and "to publish" are two different terms with different meanings. It is high time we had a model for getting people payment for work consumed that allows them to really publish because currently all we have is a model that allows people to get paid for their work by rationning publication.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008
  Nasty Suspicious Mind
I must be a suspicious person, according to Lifehacker only 4% of Internet users got all ten answers correct in the phishing quiz here.

I thought they were mainly easy to spot. I had most difficulty with the ones that were genuine ;) all my instincts screamed things like: "You don't have an account with them! Spam it!"

What do you think?

Have I got a nasty suspicious mind, or were these scams fairly easy to spot?


Tuesday, December 02, 2008
  Google comes down to earth, down under!
Having not yet ceased to marvel at the wonders of the satellite imagery in Google Earth, now at last Google Maps comes down to earth, in NZ (I know those of you in the North have had this for yonks), with Street View. The idea is cause to marvel. For some of us the result is more of a curate's egg. Here is the best result for our home on Street View:

Yes, we are the house behind the trees, down the drive, beside all the mailboxes, you can't miss us!

Well, that was not a lot of help... so here's the bach:

Again, we are the house behind the vegetation, but this time you can see a bit of us, and a great shot of the neighbour's car ;)

However, I've saved the best till last, here is Carey:

I'm not sure what Google's millions have bought us, but frankly I'll return to those beautiful and useful satellite shots. Street View is not getting a slot on my Bookmarks Toolbar :(

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Saturday, November 22, 2008
I've been uploading photos to Panoramio, it makes a change from marking ;) Besides Panoramio is a great tool, you can geocode your photos, so that they are associated with the place you took them, and some get selected for display on Google Earth. This means that increasingly now I can find Creative Commons licenced photos of places, just by "going" there in Google, and clicking on the little square boxes that indicate a view... The photos I've uploaded have mainly been
  • Archaeological sites in Israel
    • Like the olive press at Hazor (above top)
  • or our South Island trip
    • like this moody glacial valley
    • or these pebbles at Birdlings Flat (below)
Really niceis that if you find them on Google Earth or see them in Panoramio (just click an image to try it) you see where they were taken, and maybe other people's photos of the same location :)

My collection is at next I'll have to organise them better with tags... ;)

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Monday, November 17, 2008
  Telling tales in the clouds
How do we communicate serious stuff in the small disjointed fragments that media are becoming?

Mark Brown is promising a blockbuster paper The Digital Revolution and the Church though as yet there's little to suggest what aspects of the huge topic he'll try to tackle... but maybe the issue of whether churchy media are becoming "disjointed fragments" will feature. Meanwhile, from where I type and read, units of communication seem to have been shrinking by the decade. All thanks to digital media. In the seventies TV turned politics into soundbites, in the nineties webpages turned monographs into scan and click mind food, now in the naughties YouTube, TXT and "social networking sites" are turning conversations into an exchange of soundbites and essays into five minute videos.

A significant conversation partner for Mark, and for those like David who are beginning to think of the mobile phone as the major channel, popped into my feed box this morning. With the unlikely name of Catskill Cottage Seed the eponymous CCSeed has a post on Storytelling in Social Media which is full of smart remarks and fine suggestions - interpret both "storytelling" and "social media" widely (and you should!) - and we are all able to learn something, or better still recognise something we already knew, but too often forget!

For me one paragraph stood out, on Hooks:
You never know when or where someone will come across your stream, where or when they will break into the narrative. In a novel, once your (sic.) hooked, other things can develop; character, plot, metaphor; that elusive moment of truth. Even when providing these aspects in social media space, each content packet needs a hook that allows someone stumbling upon it immediate access. Nothing, from a tweet to a e-book, should be floated without a hook.
Much of the rest I'll want to reflect on and mull over, but for now I must not forget:
Scale the content down to the snippet, but not the quality of the content.
But, you my gentle readers, what are your tips and insights into connumication in this brave new world? Do drop us a mention of your favourite recognitions or insights...

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Friday, October 10, 2008
  Cyber Psalms and the vocal Psalterium
David has finished 50 of his cyber psalms, and since his new job allows so little scope for imagination and fun, he has decided to produce a "Psalterium Cyberium:" which will "Illuminate the cyber-psalter".

He's invited the arty to produce art to create "an illustrated manuscript for the 21st century." He is also inviting us to read a cyber psalm for an audio version - and if I can persuade him potentially multi-media version(s). I'm also trying to persuade him to put the text into the public domain, so we could run the audio project on Librivox ;) He plans to put the whole thing online and also sell print copies...

If you are thinking of recording an audio psalm for Psalterium Cyberium please do spare some thought to the equipment you'll use, it can make a huge difference. To illustrate here are two versions of Cyber Psalm 11 recorded on:
To illustrate the importance of the sound card, here is one done on my old laptop (that had a good sound card built in) using the same headset mic:

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Friday, September 26, 2008
  Centripetal and centrifugal Internet communication
Life comes from the tension of opposing "forces". Or at least liveliness does (and I suspect a good case could be made for my opening statement - I'm just too lazy, and busy, to make it this morning). Internet communications are frustrating and enlivening because of just such a tension. I have been having a cluster of "conversations" over (or under?) my morning coffee:
  • by email and/or Flickr messages with photographers whose work I have taken and used in slides for a sermon I preached which was videoed for a CareyMedia DVD. These are people I don't know, may never communicate with again, though they have enriched my life and work, so it is nice to thank them as well as prudent to ensure we have their permission (Does a CC no-commercial use license allow a non-profit sale of a work - my sermon - that includes the licensed image - in a slide?)
  • on MSN (using Pidgin so that I could also potentially chat with one of you on Yahoo without yet another app open) with my son in the Isle of Man about his application for a job in Kenya encouraging microenterprise
  • on Facebook with Jim West, about the mysterious disappearance sometimes of the identifications Oxford or Cambridge from the officers of SOTS online - I thought it was something to do with proteraenvy by those associated with "the other place", but apparently it is merely Facebook being "helpful"
  • among the comments on my blog with Bob McD, about Hebrews' use of the Hebrew Bible
The centrifugal impetus of the web is evident in the simple fact of these conversations, none of the participants (except Tirau Dan) occupies the same hemisphere as me, yet we are drawn on the web into contact. (Notice that oddly in cyberspace - to use the archaic but descriptive term - I am the centre to which conversation is drawn ;)

This sort of experience - and yours I suspect was similar but different - is a bit like sitting in the Carey staff room, with three conversations at once ranging from the mundane to the sublime and back again. But in the staffroom the conversations intertwine, and participants from one or the other move and realign. On the Internet they remain separate, only meeting in me, this is the centripetal tendency in Internet communication. Since "I" (and you, of course, dear reader, are also "I") am the centre the conversation is fragmented.

Ah, well, play time is over, it is 8:30 and time to start work...

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Friday, September 05, 2008
  Gustav, Librivox and Life
There are times, most of the time I guess, when we take for granted the multiple ways in which the Internet changes things. Then something like Gustav happens. As a spare time hobby I read (mainly English humour) out-of-copyright books for Librivox these projects get checked, for glitches, errors and/or indescipherability by proof listeners. Often Librivox as a totally web-based project involves working with people who are merely usernames - marscalling, lil'robert and the like. But occasionally through the private message service you learn a bit more anout someone and they start to become "real people".

I've been reading early PG Wodehouse comedies recently, A Man of Means by P. G. Wodehouse and C. H. Bovill was finished back in May,and since then Three Men and a Maid by Wodehouse alone. I have been praying for one of the proof listeners, so when Gustav threatened their area that became a cause for concern.

Here's what they wrote after the storm was past:
You are so correct about the separation being a very difficult part of this evacuation process. At work, I find that we have a great deal to pray about with our customers searching for family members and pets, who have been separated from each other. At one point, our interstate 59 coming from New Orleans was so backed up that a trip which normally takes 4-6 hours, took one customer 14 hours, with gas stations along the way out of gas, several people including this customer found themselves walking the evacuation route for the last 20 or more miles. Nothing on the news about this though, so all I know is to keep praying for all those who are far from home.

Something which might cheer you: I took mp3 copies of your Wodehouse project with me to work, during the rain squals (they usuallky lasted about 20 mins) I played tracks from them for the travelers standing around. Many loved the book and asked about it, one woman in particular stayed while I cooked a pizza for her family and listened to 2 tracks. It turned out she had heard of LibriVox and planned to download Three Men and a Maid when she gets back into her New Orleans area home. I can't seem to say this very well, but I'm trying to say that for at least 2 carrivans of people, your reading gave resspite, comfort and the first real laughter I'd heard all day as our friend Smith the bulldog stole the show that fateful night that auntie returned.
So, more to pray about, but some thanfulness and joy mixed with the "pleases", isn't the Internet wonderful. How else could an Old Testament teacher in New Zealand be able to brush against the lives of people far away at a time of crisis? BTW Smith the Bulldog is indeed quite a show-stealing act ;)

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
  Creativity in Theological Education
A while back Geoff Pound (of Theologians Without Borders) put some effort into collecting ideas and stories about Creativity in Theological Education quite a bit of this material appeared in "one off" posts on the TWB blog, but he also collected together a summary post. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the "finished" feel of the posts they have not generated the discussion they might have if these things had been said in instutional staff rooms ;)

Readers of Sansblogue are likely to be stroppy, strong minded individuals, and many are likely to have strong opinions about theological education. So, if you have not done so already please go and explore these posts on TWB and disagree, express your strong opinions, generate discussion - the honour of the blogsphere is at stake, surely this electronic medium is no worse than a college staff room at discussing ideas?!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
  Wikipedia: wiser than Socrates
Jim West that kindly, yet simple soul, has posted yet another urban myth about the fount of all knowledge and wisdom the great and wonderful Wikipedia (blessed be its name). He even has a "screenshot" to demonstrate the truth that Socrates is absent from the cornucopia or the information age. The truth, as a quick search reveals is otherwise. Not only is the ancient Greek well treated, but Jim West himself features in the encyclopedia (see below), now where did I put the $40,000 worth in 94 volumes of that other print encyclopedia so I can see how it treats poor Jim!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
  Firefox scrolling problem
PS: Update the comments below show that this strange problem is a "feature" just pressing F7 turns caret browsing on and off, thus for some reason turing the problem on and off as well :)

I have a puzzling problem with my favourite browser. For the last couple of days Firefox has begun to behave strangely when scrolling (especially when scrolling through the new posts on Bloglines. Instead of the down arrow key moving the screen a line or two, and the Page Down moving it down roughly a screenful, what happens is that it jumps to the end of a blog. This is infuriating, I am reading the blog before yours, looking forward to your latest wisdom or humour, I press either Page Down of Arrow Down and behold I am at the end of the last post of yours that is still live, all ready for the next blog :(

It is driving me nuts, if it continues I may have to move to that browser that Microsoft make :( So, if you know a fix please let me know :)

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008
  Why free is useless for significant ongoing work
There are a host of wonderful, inspiring and exciting free services available currently. Ranging from video sharing to file format converting, with mindmapping and other tasks in between. If you want an electronic service, the chances are someone out there is offering it for free.

This is great fun, and is driving a burst of creativity and colaboration. This easy availability of great free services is in large part responsible for the hype over Web 2.0 (which somehow refuses to fade quietly into the background like other twee slogans - but is rather perhaps being mainstreamed ;)

Yet there are feet of clay to all this. In the 1990s many of us started our first websites on "free" hosts like Geocities, but soon moved on to paying hosts. In that case it was advertising that caused many of us to move. Other were driven by restrictive policies or lack of space. Something similar could happen to the current crop of great "free" services.

As GOS the "Unofficial news and tips about Google" blog recently noted in a post about Google Page Creator closing:
This year, Google discontinued a lot of services: Browser Sync, Hello, Send to SMS and Send to Phone extension.
So, how safe are free services? The provider can drop or change them at any time. Don't rely on them! Use a free online file conversion tool, if you need to convert a few files in a hurry, but not if you convert files regularly. Use a free video sharing tool, to share video freely ( seems the best at hosting, but YouTube draws more of an audience) but if reliability matters to you, do make sure you have a backup plan!

Free is fun, but it is also vulnerable. Google is great - as a search engine (though even there one shudders to recognise the power they wield) but not to be trusted with your website!

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
  Website backup and restore
You'd think it would be easy, all I wanted to do was backup my website, by downloading it to my PC, and then be able to restore it again. First I asked a friendly guru. We got it working, though it required a bit of fiddling and two different programs. Then my laptop died...

This time I thought I'll use the power of Google. I searched for various terms "website backup and restore", "reviews website backup and restore", "magazine reviews website backup and restore" and the like. I found and installed trial or free versions of dozens (well actually nearer to half a dozen) programs. None worked well. Some backed up fine, but could not restore. Some did both, but only to the same FTP site, so no use if I have to change hosts. Some seemed to have difficulties with my system and kept hanging up...

So, does anyone have a suggestion of a Windows program that makes backing up and restoring a website:
  • simple: don't tell me about Chegwin and the rest of them, twenty years ago I wrote mean batch files, but I have no desire now at 60 to start that learning curve againworks to do incremental backups
  • will restore to another FTP site
  • costs less than US$60
Then please let me know!

One batch file was really mean, we snuck it into a colleague's autoexec.bat without him noticing, on bootup on April 1st it ran another file, his screen fell to bits, characters dropping and gradualy the screen went blank, for one minute nothing worked, then a new screen appeared, like the WordPerfect 5.1 startup, except it said: "a pirate copy of WordPerfect has been detected on this computer, contact the WordPerfect corporation, do not touch any key, do not switch the computer off" since the poor guy was in the middle of Africa this was difficult ;) when eventually heart in mouth he pulled the plug at the wall (nothing else not even CTRL-ALT-Delete did anything we'd piped the console to NUL) his DOS prompt now read "C: Never mind Richard WE love you!" [return]

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Wednesday, August 06, 2008
  PodBible audio Bible on FaceBook
Wayne (really is an early adopter ;) I'd hardly started to promote the FaceBook page I'm making for PodBible, than he had a post "PodBible on Facebook".

Basically the idea is to enable/encourage people to:
  • listen to the Bible
  • share things that they have thought, prayed or done as a result of listening
  • encourage each other to respond to the biblical chapters they hear
To join in just go to the PodBible everyone's audio Bible page and click "become a fan".

If you are a FaceBook guru I'd be very glad of suggestions on how to make this "work" better. If you are a keen Bible listener, then do add some stories to the page!

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  I've seen the future...
Well, maybe... this Aurora concept video presents one possible future user experience for the Web, it was created by Adaptive Path as part of the Mozilla Labs concept browser series.

The video dramatises new ways we could interact with the future Web these ideas are "based on projected technological trends and real-world scenarios."

It also illustrates how strong the "Apple is cool" meme is right now ;) But do I really want one of those annoying "wheel" things, or is this one time when reinventing the wheel is a bad idea? Reactions on the LifeHacker blog (HT) to the 3d cluster arrangement were very mixed, so I suspect that this is something us kinesthetic/visual learners may love, but some other people will hate. I wonder if in ten years time we'll be able to get more choice in how the interface works?

I will agree with one LH commenter, it would drive me NUTS if the computer kept rearranging the icons without asking me, as the speaker seemed to suggest - that would me MS desktop at its worst behaved ;)


Tuesday, August 05, 2008
  Sansblogue scoops the BBC or serendipity
On Monday, 4th, at just after 9am NZ time I published my little post about flat-earthers Interesting questions Peter Kirk points out that at 11:03 GMT the BBC posted this: Do they really think the earth is flat?With a nice (faked?) picture.

Though not the one I am displaying thanks to Thomas Hawk - the BBC one had "copyright" wirtten all over it (metaphorically speaking)!


Thursday, July 31, 2008
  This Amerigocentric Internet
I've been playing with Facebook recently, the main reason for starting was to see if it could be useful as a way of letting PodBible users share with each other. So I am setting up a PodBible page. It is still rough around the edges, but I can see that it might work. But in exploring FB I've begun to notice other things, not only the cool ways FB allows you to maintain or enhance what would otherwise be somewhat distant "friend"ships, but also how appalingly amerigocentric the Internet is. Take the neat and amusing little toy Where I've Been (the link is to their main website so you do not need to use FB to see it).

Now, you may have noticed in my post "Spot the Differences" below that if I add Russia, India and China to my list the score still stays at 14% of the world, but if I add Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Dellaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island I jump to a whopping 16%. This means that 9 smallish states of the USA count for much more than three of the largest, and most diverse countries. Take note people, for "where I've been" size does not matter, people do not count, nor is it a function of cultural diversity (not that I doubt the cultural diversity of Rhode Island, nor its rich cultural difference from Massachusetts, not having visited either I can hardly comment - though I do suspect that the cultural and geographical diversity of India and China might be considered greater by some people).

The Internet though now a worldwide phenomenon is also an American space. You might argue that this Amerigocentrism is the natural since the USA invented the Internet, you are probably right, but I'd argue back that it is now time we freed the 'net from this colonial past. Renaming the cool tool "Where I've been in America" could be a small start ;)


Monday, July 28, 2008
  Nanotechnology and the Britannica Blog
It is a real puzzle, Tasha Moideen on the Britannica Blog had a somewhat striking post Nanotechnolgy as Fashion Accessory:The Morph Concept by Nokia which read:
The Morph Concept by Nokia shows what role nanotechnology can play in facilitating the use of communication devices in everyday life. These gadgets are flexible, they can discern harmful substances in the environment, and they can even be worn as fashion accessories, as this video makes plain.
The post contained a link to a You Tube video, which is "no longer available" the post on Britannica has also been pulled over the weekend.

I wonder what is going on? Any suggestions, or better still firm information would be appreciated!


Thursday, July 24, 2008
  Will Jim rejoice? Can "knol" become trendy? Will the wicked Wiki die?
Closeup from photo of Pottsville Conglomerate from Wikipedia
Google's latest toy is available. It's a "proper" encyclopedia, one that looks for "authoritative" individuals, so I expect Jim and other Wikipedia bashers to get in boots and all!

Mind you they need to. At present the front page of Googlepedia features clogged toilets and how to backpack. Ah, the joys of a fully "authoritative" and commercial encyclopedia, so much better than Wikipedia - NOT! Yesterday to illustrate the genre of the Torah I needed a photo of conglomerate, I found this on Wikipedia. I wonder if the googleplex will ever match that? For now - until the authorities get busier - don't bother looking for biblical material on Google, "Isaiah", and the like are blank, though there is an article on "David". Jim won't like it though ;) But for the rest of us it even has a photo!

Photo of "David" from the Googleplex

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Monday, July 21, 2008
  Internet use and aging
Mary Hess linked to this, in the original the headlines almost shout ;)
New Study Released By The Center For The Digital Future and AARP Shows Internet Users 50+ Are Rapidly Closing the Digital Divide with Booming Online Activity
News Release
June 19, 2008
Think about it people, round these parts "the Internet" became popular from the early nineties. The early nineties is now ten to fifteen years ago. People who are now just 50+ were then just 35-40+ is anyone really surprised that they actually use the Internet? I'm now 60+ and I've been publishing content and using "social networking" sites and email groups (a surviving pre-Web 2.0 social networking technology) since the early to mid nineties... Back then I did not feel particularly old to be involved, the surprise would be if few people in the 50-70 age bracket were making significant Internet use.

Mary's response was politer than mine, but she seems equally unimpressed by this totally unsurprising research.

This was a "dog bites man" headline. About as much of a surprise as being told that Winston Peters was economical with the truth!

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Sunday, July 20, 2008
  Israel: a virtual study tour
I had an interesting email the other day, a parent wants to take their son on a virtual study tour to Israel. I was asked to suggest ten places to "visit", selected because of their "historical importance, but also of picturesque value". I had to admit that I am biased, I teach only Old Testament and so when in Israel I never visited the
places that mattered to Jesus!

A task for you

So, I thought I'd make a start and ask you all to join in. I'll post my fragmentary list, with some reasons, either in comments here or on your blog (in which case please place a comment with a link to the post here, so that I can gather the posts into a full listing in a future post. Nominate places giving a short description of your reasons.

First some ground rules:
  1. though we must end up with a list of ten we can discuss more places before we narrow the list
  2. the list is fosused on enriching understanding of the Bible
  3. places should be either of great historical or geographical significance
  4. we will need a balance of places of significance for the Jewish/ChristianHebrew Bible, and also the Christian New Testament, as well as those that illustrate the geography of the land
  5. the surrounding geography will form part of the virtual visit, so below I suggest Megiddo in part because of its location.
Notice that the list is intended to be of use for understanding of the Bible story - so e.g. Tel Azekah and the Elah Valley might get in, regardless of one's estimation of the historicity or otherwise of the characters David and Goliath, since a visit to a Shephellah valley would assist understanding the stories of Judges-Kings.
Photo from Wikipedia
My first suggestion
  • Megiddo: (a) geographically significant to explain the Plain of Jezreel (b) significance of trade routes (c) site of battles including (?) the one talked about in Revelation in the NT (d) Iron Age administrative centre (e) importance of water supply (f) gate complex and (g) Bronze Age cultic site.
Note that this makes it less likely that Hazor (trade routes, gates and Bronze Age cult) or Beersheba (gates, administrative centre, water supply) will make the final cut - places like this that serve multiple functions are especially useful!

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Saturday, July 19, 2008
  Google > Stoopid?
Most people (from whom one might expect a comment) have already posted responses to Nicholas Carr's The Atlantic article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" I wanted time to think before I wrote (remember I'm introverted ;) Many of the kneejerk responses have been along the lines of "Carr's right, and it's a disaster! Now let's move on to the next topic..." Demonstrating nicely that Carr is right, in part the phenomenon he discusses of shorter attention spans when reading, and often writing, and therefore thinking online not only exists, but afflicts most of us. Carr provides a nice example to illustrate the phenomenon:
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”
Reading online is different from reading print, think Jakob Nielsen's studies back in the 90s which showed that online readers scan. Then bring it up to date and apply it to "academic" readers as well as the metaphorical "ordinary user":
As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it.
Factor in the fact that today we live online much more than we did then, and the result is obvious: "the Internet" is changing the way we think. Reducing our capacity to process lengthy complex writing. In short, making us stupid!

But, is different worse? The authors of the study mentioned above wrote:
It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.
Carr's argument presupposes that "reading in the traditional sense" is both traditional and good. Yet for the purposes of the "readers" assessed by the study, academics researching prior literature on a topic, reading has perhaps never been the long drawn out sequential process Carr inagines. I have been trying to teach students "How to avoid reading books" for decades. Why? Because scanning not reading works, for researching prior literature scanning beats reading! As MarkG commented "

Reading differently is not necessarily reading worse.

Carr also argues that the structures and processes of the Internet shape and control how we think, claiming:
The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
In other words: reading differently is worse because we lose the capacity for sustained attention. This is like Socrates argument in Plato's Phaedrus that the new technology of alphabetic writing (to which ironically we owe our "memory" of Socrates) "will produce forgetfulness in those who have learned it. They will not need to exercise their memories, being able to rely on what is written."

So Carr is in fine company. Like Socrates he is correct, memory has been eroded by writing and the capacity for sequential sustained reading is being eroded by the Internet. Also, like Socrates, he is wrong, the human capacity for living is not eroded so easily and the new mental states are not (most of us believe - since few today voluntarily give up writing and advocate burning libraries to the ground) worse ;)

Google need not make you stoopid, but it is making us think differently, and that needs serious practice and study.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008
  The Rhetoric of Hypertext
No, not all the hype, though I am still happy to hype hypertext but an interesting teaching tool on Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature, in proper 2.0 style the site is described as "beta"... Thanks to the stimulating Grand Text Auto for the link.

On the site Deena provides (in her introduction to "links") a classification of different sorts of link:
  • Denotative: The link goes to a node that provides either the site or text itself (such as a link to Google) or a definition or clarification of the linked word or phrase. This is a common type of link in encyclopedias, newspapers, etc.
  • Connotative: The link between the origin text and destination text implies something that is not explicitly stated--the originating node gives a new context to the destination node that can suggest some other meanings are lurking under the surface.
  • Similar or repetitive: The link goes to a similar node or a continuation of the same theme as the originating text.
  • Opposition or contradiction: The link goes to a node that contradicts or opposes the originating text.
  • Descriptive: The link goes to a further description or explanation of the linked word or originating text.
  • Advertisements: The link goes to a site that sells that particular item. While this is a common type of link in commercial websites (as many sites receive their funding from these links by counting hits and click throughs), this has been used in electronic literature. The link from Deena Larsen's Disappearing Rain: "How many credit cards are in it?" goes to a credit card site. (These outside links are thus commented on within the story and subvert these commercial endeavors into playing a role in tracking down Anna, a missing character from the novel).
  • Political: The piece hopes to provoke a reaction in the reader and provides a link to follow up on that reaction. For example, Jennifer Ley's War Games shows the horrors of land mines and connects to Adopt a Minefield.
This is much fuller and richer than the simple binary choice we plan to give to authors of the HBC_ volumes. We just offer the choice of "explanation" or "justification" and links to HBD_ articles or Bible references. But then our goals are much more focused... Her "descriptive" sounds like our "explanation" but I don't find in her list anything that corresponds to our "justification" yet intuitively I suspect that we are not the only ones wanting to link to material that gives in more details the reasons that justify a particular ideas expressed.

What do you think:
  • Is her list complete, are there other types she does not discuss?
  • Does she cover our "justification" type of link?
  • Would it help our navigation of the web (and other hypertexts) if there was a more standard and understood "rhetoric" of linking?

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Monday, June 09, 2008
  The Tale of Ginger and Pickles
We had a long weekend recently - to celebrate the Queen's Birthday, so I celebrated by getting some more Beatrix Potter stories ready to narrate. The first of this Royal Birthday collection is available on YouTube and the Internet Archive. If you have small kids around you have a good excuse to watch it - if you don't, enjoy anyway!

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Friday, June 06, 2008
  Britannica does Wiki
And I missed it, it was there on the Britannica Blog sitting in my feedreader since Tuesday, but I've been so busy with a laptop that is almost dead, and another that is nearly ready to take its place (though it has not battery life, or microphone :( that I nearly missed it.

As I understand it, the post Britannica’s New Site: More Participation, Collaboration from Experts and Readers basically announces that the Wikipedia model has so much going for it that Britannica has to adopt elements from its greatest rival's method of working. By that I mean that the announcement clearly hopes that something of the incredible energy and diversity of the Wikipedia community involvement will be able to be harnessed into a more controlled and even attributed and peer reviewed environment. It is a grand dream. It looks well thought out.

Among many ideas, this one stood out for me:
Britannica will help them with research and publishing tools and by allowing them to easily use text and non-text material from Encyclopaedia Britannica in their work. We will publish the final products on our site for the benefit of all readers, with all due attribution and credit to the people who created them. The authors will have the option of collaborating with others on their work, but each author will retain
control of his or her own work.
Is this Britannica "getting" the commercial potential of Web 2.0, and like Google and YouTube planning to profit from it, or is it more?
You can preview the new site, which is still in beta testing, at A portion of the people who visit Britannica Online today are being routed to this site and are using it now; soon it will replace our current site at entirely, and the new features we have described above will be introduced in the weeks and months ahead.
I can't wait to see how this attempt to marry the best of the new with the best of the old works out, in the years and decades, rather than weeks and months ahead! One thing is for sure, at last the "old" is gone, buried and dead... I still wonder what the new will look like, and wonder at what it has already given us.

In the post that preceded the announcement and anticipated it a contributor, Jorge Cauz, three important principles:
  • "ownership" - by which he means attribution and responsibility - about which none need fear or quibble
  • "the voices and powers of experts" which is a much less attractive phrase than the Britannica's official "community of scholars" I hope the official version wins out, I would hate to be at the mercy of the power of experts, since the "experts" of the past become in the present fools
  • "objectivity" which he claims is merely "difficult to attain", my view is that it is an impossible though perhaps desirable dream!
While there is much in this post that is sensible (as Jim W will doubtless have pointed out back on Tuesday) there is a tone that I fear:
We believe that to provide lively and intelligent coverage of complex subjects requires experts and knowledgeable editors who can make astute judgments that cut through the on a topic.
This reads to me dangerously like the tyranny of "experts" that every successful totalitarian regime in the 20th century ensured.Give me the "cacophony of competing and often
confusing viewpoints
" over the bland, expert unitary point of view - but then I believe truth is more important than "standing" ;-)

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008
  Oh, use your Moodle!
Geoff (at Theologians Without Borders) has been asking to hear about creativity in theological education, in an off blog email "conversation" he has asked about how we use our use of the Moodle CMS in Carey's distance program. I also agreed to do some guest posts with the theme "What if..." dreaming of things that could be done to enrich distance teaching of theology. Here's what I am thinking as a "What if..." post about Moodle. Please tell me what I've missed, or missed explaining - before I send it in to Geoff!

What if... we really used Moodle to the full

Some years ago at Carey we began to "move our distance teaching to the next level". Part of the plan was to install, and make good use of, an open source (means free) online "Course Management System" called Moodle.

Moodle allows:
  • a central store of documentation for a course, which can be updated as soon as something changes
  • students to be reminded of assignments that are due soon and other important dates
  • one central place to email a whole class
  • a place to store and deliver marked assignments
  • a place to provide course related material like pictures, videos, links, PDF files of readings that did not get into the course anthology...
  • teachers to set simple "quizzes" (with questions in various formats like multiple choice, short answer etc.) that can either count towards the course marks or simply provide feedback to students or check that they have done required reading
Moodle is:
  • cheap - no software costs, and even a professionally hosted option is not expensive
  • easy - it takes very little time and instruction for even our less techie colleagues to work the basics, and usually not too long for someone to show you how achieve the less obvious goals
  • scalable - anything from one course with one teacher to the whole British Open University (which with over 150,000 students is a but bigger than the average theological seminary ;-)
  • fairly easy to manage, and there are plenty of people around with experience who can help.
In short Moodle is great, and even better value, and it will allow a Seminary to really support Internet connected distance students, and through discussion forums and emails integrate them into a "class".

Some courses at Carey really quickly began to make real use of the system. Brian Smith (our retired principal who had not used a computer before retirement) clocked up the most student contributions to a discussion simply by asking really thought -provoking leading questions. I used the tests to reward students with up to 10% simply by doing the "required reading" and as a result turned what I think before was 80% of the class in real life do about 20% of the reading, to 80% of the class do at least 80% of the reading.

But there are gaps. Some teachers hardly use Moodle - though not difficult it is one more thing to learn in a life that is too busy. Few of us actually get organised to post pictures and links relevant to our courses... So, implementation and take up of the possibilities are a bit hit and miss...

What if...
  1. We had a "Moodle consultant" (alias a technically minded senior student) who could spend an hour or two each week helping us to use Moodle more or better - guess how much more most teachers would achieve!
  2. We had a policy that all teachers and students in every class promised to take a serious look at the discussion forums for that class at least twice each week (maybe one or two hours of work to timetable in each week, but think of the greater communication with distance students and how much more time effective than individual emails replying one-on-one to questions)
  3. One of the Moodle consultant's jobs was to check what pictures and other resources we used in teaching the class onsite, and helped us make them available to distance students.
  4. A scattering of our courses set as an assignment to present readings online and then interact with other students presentations - I have seen such an assignment put a student in South-East Asia in contact with one in the South Island of NZ and "watched" the experience open the student's eyes to a wider world producing real formative change.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008
  YouPod (help wanted)
For the Podbible project (audio CEV Bible podcast a chapter a day) we want to add the possibility of people posting their responses to the Bible readings. Ideally we will do this simply by creating a blog that each day posts the current day's chapter as the title of a post, which can other wise be blank or better with just a short invitation like "Tell us our responses to this passage here:"

The chapters are podcast using PHP to read the directories and create both the RSS feeds and the corresponding web pages. So... what I need is someone who can help me create a blog using the same (sort of?) mechanism.

If you know someone who might (a) be interested in helping and (b) might have the necessary skills please let me know!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008
  Scholarly prejudice against electronic publication, among biblical scholars
Torrey has a short post taking notice of the Prophecy and Apocalyptic: Additional Bibliography that the Institute for Biblical Research has put up on their website. Sandy and O’Hare write:
This collection of sources supplements a bibliography published by Baker under the auspices of the Institute for Biblical Research: D. Brent Sandy and Daniel M. O’Hare, Prophecy and Apocalyptic: An Annotated Bibliography (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

In the process of compiling sources, hundreds were entered into our data base (many of which were annotated), but in the end they could not be included in the final selection for the printed edition of the bibliography. Hence, those sources are here made available.

Which is great, a sort of bonus for those who have the print book. Well done! However, they also write:
One advantage of this
digital version of the bibliography is that you may search for specific
words pertinent to your research.
Which is not so great... because what it means is that I can easily search the supplementary material, but the material in the print book must be inconveniently searched by hand. In other words the bibliography would have been better published online or at least electronically in the first place! BUT some criterion other than the advantage to the user caused it to be published in print, and now in order that the print book may sell the online more convenient and usable version cannot contain the full dataset.

The scholarly prejudice against e-publication strikes again!

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008
  Biblical Studies Publishing in an Internet-dominated economy
Sean in a post Unbundling Biblical Studies a few days ago (I'm busy trying to write a paper on Baptist Hermeneutics, so I missed a few days, OK!) starts from discussion on the Britannica Blog related to their "Newspapers & the Net Forum" the first post starts from "The New Economics of Culture" noting that many traditional roles of Newspapers are becoming free services on the 'net.

print journalism is going through a wrenching transformation, and its future is in doubt. Over the past two decades, newspaper readership in the United States has plummeted. After peaking in 1984, at 63 million copies, the daily circulation of American papers fell steadily at a rate of about 1 percent a year until 2004 when it hit 55 million. Since then, the pace of the decline has accelerated. Circulation fell by more than 2 percent in 2005 and by about 3 percent in 2006.
A print newspaper is a "bundle" of services but:
When a newspaper moves online, the bundle falls apart. Readers don’t flip through a mix of stories, advertisements, and other bits of content. They go directly to a particular story that interests them, often ignoring everything else.
This, it is sometimes argued, is promoting an "unbundling" of traditional newspaper services, with some becoming free on the Internet, and other more specialised services being paid for, yet users do not want to pay online, and:
few newspapers, other than specialized ones like the Wall Street Journal, are able to charge anything for their content online, the success of a story as a product is judged by the advertising revenues it generates. Advertisers no longer have to pay to appear in a bundle.
Neither the first article, nor Clay Shirky's followup, which argues that What Newspapers and Journalism Need Now: Experimentation, Not Nostalgia, really offers a clear prediction of the future of investigative journalism, though Clay seems to see blogging filling this role [?] ;).

Sean asks some sensible questions:
If you take as a given that academic publishing must change to meet the new realities of the Internet economy (i do), which parts will become essentially free goods, and which parts will continue to require a high level of professional competence. Even more importantly, assuming some of these services can’t be easily replaced, what are the new economic models that will provide the required compensation for them?
My answers really haven't changed much over recent years. I still see the "content" of tertiary education (textbooks and lectures typically in the current system) becoming free, or at least dirt cheap. See "Gatekeepers, Open Courseware and the future of the University". That others have joined MIT since 2004 just reinforces this view. Nichthus will ask: How will such content be financed? Basically I suspect long term through either advertising or cheap prices and high volume (a sort of iTunes University ;-)

So, what will teachers, like me, offer to justify our excessive salaries: guidance, tuition, the things we have traditionally provided, since time immemorial. See: Tim Bulkeley
to the Future: virtual theologising as recapitulation
" Colloquium,
2005, 37,2, 115-130.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008
  Writing differently
Writing online needs to be different from writing destined for print publication. (Unless it intends merely to use its online existence as a delivery medium, being printed out once the reader has downloaded the text. For the purposes of this discussion I do not count such hybrid publication as "online".) This is no less true of academic and "literary" writing than of the more commercial writing in which the online world abounds! Two thinking bloggers have addressed this topic recently. Since it is one that I've been thinking and experimenting with since the 90s I'll add my 2c here and hope to garner some interesting discussion.

Sebastian Mary begins a post "on writing less" with the famous Pascal quote:
Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parceque je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte." Pascal, Lettres provinciales, 16, Dec.14,1656.
It is a cliche among preachers too that 'less is more', to speak shorter takes more preparation but is usually more effective. There is a virtue in brevity.

It is, however, a virtue that belles lettres and scholarship have largely ignored or deliberately flouted. Among scholars (particularly in the German and [hence?] American traditions) it has become the norm to act as if to write incomprehensibly is a sign of profundity. It has also often been assumed that length is equivalent to quality - as if one bought ideas by weight, like potatoes!

In the scan and click mental world which most of us inhabit online prolixity is hardly productive. Numerous studies have shown that in an online hypertext environment writing less - if one can do it while still saying the same things - is more effective. SM attributes this, in part at least, to readers unwillingness to scroll "below the fold". Yet that web folklore idea (which SM cites unthinkingly) has been shown to be untrue. If they are interested readers will scroll.

The problem is that if the writing is verbose, readers are not interested. They click elsewhere. To retain readers' interest in this environment one must write differently and firstly one must write more briefly and simply. This is not the same as saying one must "write down" to the audience. The audience of Sansblogue (at least judging by the audience I know through comments and links) is highly educated and articulate. To write down would be to loose readers. What is required is to write, discussing complex and interesting ideas, simply and briefly. That's harder. One does not always - or even ever - hit the target, but such a goal is necessary in academic writing online.

The second "problem" with academic writing online is that coherent sustained argument is not easily conducted in this medium. (As I have argued in my "Form, Medium and Function: The Rhetorics and Poetics of Text and Hypertext in Humanities Publishing", International Journal of the Book 1, 2003, 317-327.) Ian Bogost, more recently and more clearly expresses much the same points in his "Reading Online Sucks: Reflections on scholarly writing on the web". In the paper I argued that coherent sustained argument (such as the monograph form) probably "works" better in print than in a hypertext environment.

I would like to qualify that somewhat, in the light of experience. In the Amos commentary I had some points that I wanted to argue that would more usually be presented in a monograph style publication. Sure enough most readers have failed to spot these arguments. They have mined the commentary for the information they needed, and moved on. But one academic reviewer spotted and commented on these arguments. The difference was (I think) not that he was an academic reviewer, but that he is preparing to write a commentary on Amos himself. For him my theories about the book's construction and about the place of the Day of the Lord in its composition were not extra, unneeded details, but rather the reason he was reading this work!

Here the differently that one must write is not to dispose of large ideas or sweeping arguments, but rather that one must write so that readers who are not interested in these particular big ideas need not be troubled by them, while readers for whom the ideas are significant can follow the thread that allows you to sustain the argument. Again the hypertext environment requires writing differently. Sadly most writing online (except that which sells) is shovelware. Even when written for the web, the author has not troubled to adapt to the new medium.

Writing differently, according to rules that are as yet only half-baked is difficult and requires experimentation. It is great to see that at last some of the "traditional" print publishers have begun sponsoring such play. The Penguin Books We Tell Stories site is a prime example.

See also: my Writing for screen: Time to rethink? from August 2007.

PS: Judy has now posted the response she mentions below "Writing for the web vs writing for print".

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Friday, April 11, 2008
  How might scholarship and community interact online
Bob Stein on if:book asks stimulating questions about the interaction of scholarship and (online) community:
  • what are new graphical and information design paradigms for orienting
    readers and enabling them to navigate within a multi-layered,
    multi-modal work?
  • how do you distinguish between the reading space and the work space? how porous is the boundary between them?
  • what do readers expect of authors in the context of a "networked" book?
  • what new authorial skill sets need to be cultivated?
  • what range of mechanisms for reader participation and author/reader
    interaction should we explore? (i.e. blog-style commenting, social
    filtering, rating mechanisms, annotation tools, social
    bookmarking/curating, personalized collection-building, tagging, etc.)
  • how do readers become "trusted" within an open community? what are
    the social protocols required for a successful community-based project:
    terms of participation, quality control/vetting procedures, delegation
    of roles etc.
  • what does "community" mean in the context of a specific scholarly work?
  • how will scholars and students cite the contents of dynamic, evolving
    works that are not "stable" like printed pages? how does the project
    get archived? how do you deal with versioning?
  • if asynchronous online conversation becomes a powerful new mode of
    developing scholarship, how do we visualize these conversations and
    make them navigable, readable, and enjoyable?
He raises these issues in his post "where minds meet: new architectures for the study of history and music" as part of the planning for two colloquia that they are organising around "multi-layered, multi-modal digital publications" so it is no surprise that they are facing many of the same issues that we must address in envisaging the future of the Hypertext Bible Commentary and Dictionary.

Their projects include a repurposing of music commentary CDs:
and a networked version of a history text:
How I'd love to be part of their conversations! I wonder if the colloquia will themselves have a networked/virtual component?

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