Articles for the Month of April 2010

iPad + Kindle = future?

OK “everyone” has had their say on the iPad, and the fuss is dying down it’s time for us introverts having had a chance to think ;) to start discussing the iPad and the future.

Let’s grant that (according to those who’ve seen and used them) iPads are great for all sorts of purposes, except reading in bed, or in day light areas.They also allow all sorts of Internet related and basic laptop activities to be performed. While the Kindle is what it is advertised as being a portable reader that can present a whole library and download more on demand.

Robert Graham summed up one difference display technology:

The devices have different trade-offs. The Kindles use “e-ink” technology that requires no power to maintain its state. Thus, the device wakes up to redraw the page, then goes back to sleep while you read it. This means it has fantastic battery life, going for a week between charges even under heavy use. The iPad, though, will only go 10 hours between charges. Because of the battery life, I’d rather travel with my Kindle than an iPad.

But there’s another difference, the use the two gadgets make of their network connection, till now Kindles basically use it to download books, while iPads use it for all the stuff iPhone fanatics rave about ;) BUT that’s changing and we are seeing (here’s a real surprise folks) convergence. As Gizmondo put it Kindle 2.5 Update Details: Kindle Gets Facebook After Your Grandparents Did:

Hey, kids… heard of this Facebook thing that’s been hitting the internet? Amazon did! And they’re integrating it, along with some newfangled Twitter whatnot, in their Kindle 2.5 software update—along with some other, less-belated goodies.

Now, the huge gulf of difference in display technology is likely to diminish, if not go away completely (LCDs are for TVs with mains power, e-paper is for reading and battery life, hence once it is fast and colourful enough for portable devices). Take the really networked nature of the iPad, mix in the really good for reading, go anywhere nature of the Kindle, and presto a device to use something like Googles ChromeOS and to make Microsoft very afraid!

The Invention of Hebrew: Chapter 3: Empires and Alphabets

Letter from Abdi-Hepa (ruler of Jesusalem) to Amenophis III in syllabic cuneiform Canaano-Akkadian

My reading of this chapter was rather interrupted. It has taken me weeks, which is a shame as this is the material which most interests me :( The off/on schedule was partly caused by “life”, but partly I think because I could have done with revising a noddy guide to writing in the late Bronze to early Iron Ages before reading it. (This is not Seth’s fault, he provides a clear and full but also brief summary as he goes along, the fault was mine reading in installments with enough gap to forget between – I’ll have to reread the chapter in one sitting some day :)

Basically the argument is that in this period the different formas of writing were used in different ways by different people. The empires and their local agents using cuneiform syllabic writing, (at least some/one) local power(s) using alphabetic cuneiform and the marginalised using a linear alphabetic script (pretty much what we think of when we say alphabet signs scratched or drawn rather than impressed like cuneiform). The linear script was almost only used to label things or places, there are no letters or literary texts from this period, and the training “texts” are simply practice alphabets. By contrast there is evidence of training of scribes in cuneiform.

Wadi el-Hol alphabetic writing from Bruce Zuckermann in collaboration with Lynn Swartz Dodd "Pots and Alphabets: Refractions of Reflections on Typological Method" (MAARAV, A Journal for the Study of the Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 10, p. 89)

He also argues that neither writing system represented a “language”. Canaano-akkadian was a system allowing the transmission of messages between specialists who probably translated in turning the message from writing to speech, it was not anyone’s spoken language.  At the other end the alphabet was used to name things, so in a different way does not really represent a language. Ugarit was the main exception known to us, there cuneiform was used to communicate a local language in alphabetic form, this was a conscious mimicing and alternative to the langauge forms of empire. It flourished at a time when both Mesopotamian and Egyptian powers were weak.

This is fascinating stuff, especially when (as he promises to do in the next chapter) you put it together with his thesis about the different political cultures related to these linguistic and technological expressions.

I do hope I haven’t mangled this chapter’s argument too badly. I half wonder if I should read it properly before posting this, but (a) I MUST finish the Amos article and (b) I want to read the next chapter (this is a page-turner) and (c) I am trying to podcast reflections on the E100 at a rate of 2 per day, so that when my sabbatical ends I’ll have a stockpile to see me through the lean weeks while I am teaching ;)

So… if you have read ch.3, and think I’ve got it wrong, please comment so I can correct this post and not mislead people!

Interesting use of YouTube

Still from the Execration Texts video

Robert Cargill has been making interesting use of YouTube. Basically it seems (I am judging by the videos, I have not asked him) he videos class sessions (with the screen as well as the lecturer in shot) then later extracts interesting short focused segments of few minutes on a topic. As I write the most recent were on the Gihon Spring and the Triumphal Entry of Jesus and the Execration Texts and Jerusalem. He has also, as the screenshot on the right shows added “annotations” in YouTube which provide concise explanations of terms used and other technical matters.

I think both these two things make his videos more useful than the average recorded class:

  • their short length and focus: means they offer people a manageable chunk that is on the topic they are interested in, not merely a record of a class – that is, you or I could point our students to one of these for a quick fix on their topic
  • the annotations: make the videos more useful for both his own students revising, and for your or mine looking for a noddy guide

I’d love to try this, it seems like the next step up from my current audio recordings (for my students) and 5minuteBible podcasts (for the rest of the world). More work, but potentially richer (than the audio) and more reusable (than the class recordings).

HT: Jim West.

Computers in class :: or a false view of teaching?

I am reposting this, because it has had an excellent comment added today :)

Photo by Hari Bilalic

Another teacher fires a round in the war against laptops in class “Computers in the Classroom…Not All They’re Cracked Up to Be?” Is this a “Dog Bites Man” headline, or what? R. Scott Clark talks sense about the fact that students who make handwritten notes are likely to do better than those who try to typewrite a transcription of the lecture. Students and other profs chime in to complain about the clacking noise… yada, yada, yada…

BUT, the whole conversation is again so wrong. The “lecture” should not ne something you can, or would want to transcribe! Think about it, if it is transcribable why not just buy the book, a $20 paperback costs far less per student than a teacher and you can read it when you want – and you can choose a “better” teacher ;-) The lecture as a means to transfer information and ideas (as data) is inefficient and inconvenient, compared to print. Use the “lecture” time to do more, add value, get students engaging with the ideas and information and long term they will learn more.

Photo by peiqianlong

If one dictates a “lecture”, and students write a transcription (or even – though this is much better – makes selected notes) by hand or on a laptop then the teacher was replaced by technology over 500 years back! When Herr Gutenberg invented moveable type he made the printed book cheap – why take lecture notes, if the teacher just “lectures” save travel-time, boycott the class and buy the book….

HT to Joe Fleener

Ruth and romance

копия гравюры В. Фаворского. Фронтиспис 3-й главы Книги Руфь. Ксилография. 1924 WikiMedia

This post is stimulated by two things:

  • last night I was interviewed before I preached on the Song of Songs, and was asked the interesting question of how experience crossing cultures (which has been a feature of my life into Congo, then New Zealand and more recently the Karen people in the refugee camp in Thailand) influences how I read the Song
  • Claude’s post on a neat little textual issue in Ruth 3:15 Who Went Back to the City?

It’s not Claude’s text criticism I want to discuss, but things he says, or that I assume he implies, or fear his readers will infer, earlier in introducing the question:

It is phrases like: “The love affair between Ruth and Boaz began…” that I want to investigate. Now, before I start I’d better say I do think Ruth (the book) tells of love between Ruth and Boaz, and Boaz and Ruth. I see signs of it in chapter 2 and stronger signs in ch.3. But read in my cultural context, phrases like the one I have quoted suggest that Ruth (the book) is at least in part (and possibly among other things) a “love story”. We Westerners have been, throughout our history suckers for a good love story.

[Yes, I know, “real men” only watch “chick flicks” because their wives, sisters, girlfriends… give them an excuse to, but facts are facts, and men – at least in our Western culture – are actually more “romantic” than women. So I’ll stick with tarring both genders of Westerner with the same brush.]

However, I do not think the book of Ruth is about love. It’s about חֶסֶד hesed (an amalgam of faithfulness to family or covenant relationships and great kindness). This virtue was a primary family and social value in Ancient Israel. Love was a luxury, but חֶסֶד hesed was what made the world go round.

So, did Boaz “fancy” Ruth? Probably – notice how he assumes that any of the young (and he is not young, so appreciates the value of youth) men of the village would have wanted to marry her (Rt 3:10). Why? She was a foreign (strike one) widow (strike two) who was childless after ten years of marriage (strike three). Boaz has to be imputing his own motives to them ;) Did Ruth “fancy” Boaz? Perhaps – notice how she teases him in the field (Rt 2:10,13)! But that’s not what the story is about, it is about the much more significant issues of חֶסֶד hesed.

There is a love story in the Bible (at least in the Song), but Rutrh is not it, even though it may allow its heroes to experience love as well.

Audio week again: More William

Cover of Richmal Crompton's More William

I did say this was audio week round here, didn’t I? Well the Richmal Crompton  project More William that Barbara and I collaborated to read has appeared. It had a somewhat checkered history, a victim of house sales and buying, and B’s new job in Tauranga, but over Easter we finished the reading and now it’s all available.

More William by Richmal Crompton (free audio book) also at

“It was on Christmas Day that the centipede appeared on Aunt Evangeline’s plate, the library clock was found mysteriously dismantled, and the conjuring trick with the egg went disastrously wrong. But as William’s Aunt Lucy told him, A Busy Day is a Happy Day – and William is always eager to please adults.
The terror of the Brown family is back, leaving a trail of havoc behind him – with the very best of intentions.” (More William book jacket)

Lovers of British family sitcoms are either already William fans, or are likely to become avid followers of the dogged and imaginative child and his not always patient family.

Richmal Crompton’s William series of books tells the relationship between adults and children from a child’s perspective hilariously highlighting the different viewpoints. Most of us have been William (e.g. children who cannot understand the strange and arbitrary or contradictory rules the adult world imposes) or have dealt with a William (never sure whether he is the little boy pointing out the emperor’s lack of clothes or a nuisance defending his crimes with infuriating [il]logic. Although the world of middle class homes with cooks and gardeners has long vanished generations of adults and children alike laugh at William’s explotis, and often sympathise with either the hero or his long-suffering family.

Somehow Crompton’s William is so real, though somewhat larger than life, that he reduces the other characters to bit-players, and her female leads seem restricted to mere supporting roles. Despite (or perhaps because of) this her stories are enjoyed by girls as much as boys.

More William is the second book in the series and was published in 1922. It contains fourteen hilarious family comedies.

Procrastinating usefully

My daughter (in Glasgow as an exchange student) has been posting recently on Facebook about procrastination (it’s nearly the exam season there, and revision does not beckon like she thinks it should. Shopping, cooking, buying tickets… her list of procrastinatory activities are different from mine. But today I am procrastinating too!

I’m supposed to be polishing (off) a talk for tomorrow night on Song of Songs (I guess since I am the only person many people know who has preached on the Song I deserve the invitation ;) but that experience does not really make preparing to preach on the Song easy – so I procrastinate…

Actually this post is both related to the preparation (since the stimulus was seeing that Dale, who invited me to preach, uses a neat plugin to post from his blog to Facebook) and is actually useful – at least if this post appears in FB as well as on the blog.

Anyway enough procrastination, back to the Song of Songs.

Audio April: Kipling’s Just So Stories

Old Man Kangaroo by Rudyard Kipling

April has just been declared Audio Month in the Bulkeley household, as well as starting nearly daily podcasts on the Essential 100 Bible readings over on 5 Minute Bible, I have just completed another – rather different – project I am rather proud of :) I’ve been reading Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories for Librivox. During the reading I “discovered” a new-to-me story “The Tabu Tale” and also read the picture descriptions (which really are vintage Kipling). This together makes this the most full and complete audio edition ever (so far*) of these magnificent children’s stories that adults love to read, and listen to.

If you want entertaining on a journey, or just want to listen to a new Just So do try them!

* There might one day be a more complete edition, one which includes the “bogus” story “Ham and the Porcupine” an item of biblical pseudigrapha (yes, that Ham not the forbidden one) from Kipling’s final years – but it has almost never been collected in print with the originals, so as well as still being in copyright in the USA, not in the same category with “The Tabu Tale” which was in the first US edition of 1903.

What do we do with all those negatives?

Jewish men of Jerusalem, 1898-1914: from

No, not old photographs, that’s easy – just scan them in, but all the times when something seems missing, and the absence seems to us to make sense… For a book I am helping edit, on Land and Gospel, one a couple of authors want to make bricks from absent straws. That is they notice that Paul (and both are studying the Pauline letters) does not mention land, temple etc… and then want to draw from this absence the conclusion that for him the coming of Christ in some way removes “land” from the very significant place it occupies in OT theologies.

Which is fine and good, and may well be an accurate presentation of Paul’s thinking. What’s missing for me is an argument that diaspora Jewish thinkers of the immediate post-Second Temple period still gave an important place to “land”. You see just saying: “Paul does not talk about land here” makes me want to ask: “Well, what made you think he might?”

Arguing from silence is one of the plagues of biblical studies ;)