Articles for the Month of September 2010

Microsoft nightmares and Linux dreams

Ever since I got this laptop (a lovely light, if a bit too big, Acer 4810T) I have struggled with the operating system. Microsoft Vista is a nightmare made real. However, until last week my gripes and Vista’s delays were never quite enough to drive me to attempt to install a new OS with which I have no experience. (I have two decades of extensive Windows use behind me, and another few years of MS OSes before that.) Last week however, Windows Explorer threw a tantrum, if I tried to send a file to the recycle bin, or to change its name the dialog box would remain open until either I rebooted the system, or Windows Explorer crashed and was restarted by the system – which happened happily often.

For the last few days I have been doing half my work running UberStudent, a Linux (Debian, Ubuntu variant) OS designed for students. I have been suing it from a USB stick, to test, but it has been a dream. Out of the box it supports Firefox with Zotero, Open Office (or if I want to get really sensible in my writing – i.e. uses styles properly and write by function more than appearance – LyX which also integrates with Zotero) and loads of other nice programs and features. It took minutes to add my other Firefox add-ons, and not long to change the look, and put the bars on the sides of my widescreen (thus giving me effectively more vertical space – widescreens are a gift to laptop designers, but a pain for users).

Three things I need were missing:

  1. a good audio editor (I did not need to download drivers for my external soundcard/preamp like I had to in Windows, in Linux such extras seem to work straight out of the box :)
  2. a way to sync my phone diary with a calendar program on the laptop
  3. Dropbox which I can’t now live without, syncing my using files to the cloud is just SO handy and such an easy backup scheme (admission of interest: this Dropbox link will get both and installing the free program will get both of us a bonus of extra storage space)
  4. BibleWorks (yes, I must try one or more of the Linux free Bible programs, but I do appreciate having the Westminster Morph Hebrew text available)

It took a wee while to learn how to get new programs in Linux, but soon I had Audacity installed, and discovered that the OS came with a utility that is on the whole better than Nokia’s phone syncing program (though I still have to discover how to get the diary syncing with Thunderbird). Dropbox also installed easily, the only tricky bit is that the folder needs a different name in Linux and in MS Vista (but that will cease being a problem once I give Vista the heave ;)  That just leaves BibleWorks, and I’m told that’s a simple install under Wine (which again comes preloaded).

I expect that with a couple of hours more playing I’ll happily be dual booting, and probably only seldom returning to the sad difficult and frustrating world of Microsoft.

Free Open Source Old Testament Textbook again

Back in July a bunch of us began (following AKMA’s reply to a Facebook post by Brooke 1Who eventually blogged about the topix here: Open Access Intro to OT ) talking about the possibility of a Free Open Source Old Testament textbook. 2My posts, with links to the others I was aware of are here, though with some other mainly older posts.

The ideas, of course, were not entirely new ;) There are other scholars, as well as us biblical people, who think of these things, not least in the marketing field ;) So it should have been no surprise that there already exists a specialist publishing house that exists to produce and promote such textbooks.

Flat World Knowledge, I love the name :) Now, should we be pitching the itea of a FOSOTT to them, or what?Any volunteers to write chapters, help edit (for surely a group needs so produce guidelines so that the resulting chapters have some consistency…)

HT: Flat World Knowledge’s “Freemium” Textbooks Gain 140,000 Users, Average $34 Per Sale

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Notes   [ + ]

1. Who eventually blogged about the topix here: Open Access Intro to OT
2. My posts, with links to the others I was aware of are here, though with some other mainly older posts.

New Technologies

Johnathan at ξἐνος has posted a striking announcement of an exciting new technological breakthrough:  New Technology Coming Soon!!!!!!! Despite his predilection for exclamation marks, and despite the video being in Spanish, you probably ought to watch it before the one I repeat below (in Norwegian, but both have subtitles for the linguistically challenged) ;)

Posh Nosh!

Extract from Nosh's weekly newsletter.

The posh Auckland foodstore Nosh sends out a weekly email listing specials, since these and other prices instore are often good (particularly for quality produce) I enjoy getting the mail. But this week I was floored by the bargain. Real quality Gorgonzola at half price.

What a shame I can’t afford it, at only $3,950 per Kg half-price there is no way I’ll ever taste the full-price stuff at $7,900/Kg ;)

How can I read blogs now?

Bloglines is near it’s expiry date. But it has spolit me for other RSS readers. Bloglines allowed me to neatly organise my subscriptions and read the new posts (and only the new posts) in whichever group I wanted, when I wanted. It was neat, easy, worked and the screen was unbcluttered.

Several friends claim Google Reader is as good (or better). But Google Readewr has a complex cluttered screen. It displays posts in random order, or newest first, regardless of which of my groups they belong to. It’s useless to me.

But I can’t go back to a bookmark list and clicking the blogs one by one to see what’s new. There are too many blogs now (this is no longer 2005). Can anyone suggest a simple clean, no frills, RSS reader that will take my Bloglines groups and let me read the Biblical Studies blogs when I’m working, and the cooking ones when I’m relaxing, and so on…?

Please, I have a small screen and Google bloat makes it unusable, I have a small brain and 16 things at a time confuse me… so what can I do. At the moment the only answer is to drastically prune my list of blogs to three or four in each category. But that probably means I’ll prune yours! So finding an answer is in your interest too ;)

Write tight

Flabby writing loses readers and marks, write tight!

Photo by Dick Rochester

In the real world flabby writing loses readers. For students, it’s worse flabby writing loses marks. Learn to write tight and gain marks!

In our intro class, students write a summary of the message a biblical text had for its intended audience. This should be one or two sentences and less than 50 words.

Writing a summary is like packing for a journey, some people want to take everything! Then it is an exercise in writing tight. Most students write much as they speak. In speaking we include padding – unneeded words and phrases that allow us time to think. Writing tight involves removing the padding.

Googling “tight writing” produced lots of advice, but many writers could not practise what they preached. (Several high ranked hits were written on contract. A higher word count means more pay for the writer ;)

So, here’s Tim’s guide to writing tighter

Don’t repeat yourself

If a word occurs several times in a paragraph some uses may not be needed. Using two words where one will do (tautology) is wasteful: “tightly stretched” only says the same as “stretched”.


Writers should have something to say. They should say it. Often, though, we also want to say other things. Tight writing omits such diversions. It keeps focused. The asides that often pepper this blog in brackets or as footnotes are examples that I should cut! (Except that I like the effect, and am not trying to save words, and anyway I try to help the reader by using parentheses to mark digressions off from the body text ;)

Don’t be passive

Good Grammar checkers (like MS Word used to have) hate passives. They are correct. Passive sentences are longer, and usually less clear: “The ball was kicked by John” vs. “John kicked the ball”

Cut conjunctions

Long sentences usually waste words, needing extra coordination. Several short sentences work better.

Very that

“That” is often unnecessary. It can often be pruned, it sometimes signals other words that 1Though notice sometimes it IS needed ;) can be pruned. Extra adjectives are also an easy target “very” for example usually adds little. Karen Luna Ray offers this sentence: “See how many unnecessary words that you can remove from this very lengthy sentence that I am writing..” Which becomes: “See how many unnecessary words you can remove from this sentence.”

To be or not to be

The verb “to be” often encourages wasted words. Compare: “She is a powerful writer” with “She writes powerfully.”

Avoid adverbs

Often we employ adverbs when a stronger verb does the job better. Suzanne Lieurance compares:

Flabby: She smiled slightly at the photographer.
Fit: She grinned at the photographer.

Above all, rewrite right

We seldom manage to write paragraphs, and even sentences, right first time. Edit cutting the flab. Read your text aloud. Read it silently. Each reading will show fat to prune.

Have a sit-down and a nice cup of tea

After a break (better a good night’s sleep, but a cup of tea will do), edit again. Cut again!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Though notice sometimes it IS needed ;)

Nests of vipers and biblical studies

In a comment to my previous post Jim West asked:

thanks tim. do you know by chance who captured the #1 spot [in the biblioblog rankings for August]?

1- a badger
2- a viper
3- the antichrist
4- the best of the best

This question deserves serious consideration, so I am promoting it to a post by itself.

Badger is the default FALSE answer so not 1.

Not 3, for none of the expected signs fit.

The intellectual snob in me doubts 4, because if I say that I’d have to claim that Wikipedia MUST be the best encylcopedia ever.

So I guess it must be 2 “a viper”, unless of course Jim West believes that Wikipedia (by far and away the most popular encyclopedia in the world) is the world’s best encyclopedia!

Badgers and biblical studies

Congratulations to my colleague Jonathan Robinson whose fine blog Xenos has just shot into the BiblioBlog Rankings making his first appearance an instant 33rd whiuch does not sound like much, till you realise that he narrowly follows Robert CargillOfficial Blog
and is actually ahead of Mark Goodacre’s classic and thoughtful NT Blog!

Incidentally my headline reflects the fact that as I write Xenos’ latest post is entitled: badgers, mushroom, and links which suggests the breadth of coverage of this blog :) and since “badger” is my default false answer for multichoice questions  he caught my attention ;)