Archive for the ‘Open Source’ Category

Three excuses and a fine old story

I know, I know, I have not been posting as often, or as deeply, as I used to. Let me offer three excuses and a fine old story.

Excuse the first: I am retired and no longer think about teaching the Bible all the time (it is now a hobby, and looking after steers, sheep, pigs, ducks, chooks, fruit trees and vegetable patches are now my “work”). In this connection I have been learning to make proscuitto, salami etc. and experimenting to produce the world’s healthiest chocolate treat.

Excuse the second: the blogsphere has changed and gone “mainstream”, by and large people now only comment on and discuss “celebrity” blogs, it was the discussion and argument I enjoyed, not merely publishing ideas into the wild blue yonder.

Excuse the third: I have been writing and publishing in more academic formats than I used to, witness my CV and my Academia.edu page.

And the fine old story? Well I saved the best to last. Because those of you unfortunate enough to live in places with indecently long copyright terms (the United States of Disney or the Kingdom of Sony spring to mind) must listen illegally if you are to listen to it at all. I have been recording A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and have currently completed six chapters.

The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future: First Impressions

Since this session concerns the background to the emergence of “Israel” in Canaan the Mereneptah Stele is mentioned and shown several times, photo from Wikipedia

When Jacob Wright’s MOOC “The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future” was announced and promoted I posted about it on Facebook.

I’ve enrolled and have begun the first week (the course started on Monday, but my first criticism is that I did not get an email reminder until I visited the course site again today – one of the biggest problems with MOOCs in my experience is lack of feedback for the student1 ).

Jacob is a fine teacher he keeps his material lively, and has an engaging presence and voice. The video “lectures” are broken into convenient chunks (of varied size from a couple of minutes to nearly a quarter of an hour2 which for me works well (as someone who as a teen would have been diagnosed ADHD, if the designation existed in those far off days, I have a short attention span and lectures bore me). Each is closed by one or two simple multichoice questions. This is brilliant, it gives the student instant feedback, and if we get them right instant reward and the sense that we are learning something. (Or if we are ourselves Hebrew Bible teachers at least the sense that we listened closely enough ;)

The videos make very skillful use of animated still shots of artifacts and places with the occasional video clip thrown in to create the sense of a video production. The technical values are as one would expect from an official university production.

That’s the good news, and if you are thinking of enrolling, do! The list is not yet closed, and if I have not yet learned much that is (to me) new, I have gained some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to put the material together. This is a MOOC for beginners that specialists can learn from! A fine achievement.

The bad news is that the videos are not optimised for viewing on tablets or phones. On my Phablet the screen resolution is small enough that the video (if played in the browser) overlaps the screen. I have tried the two different formats, and turning my screen around etc. but so far have not found a comfortable way to use the mobile device. (On a PC, even a netbook, all is fine, I guess university testers unlike poor adjunct faculty and students use phones with hi-res screens!)

At this stage I’ll also add a comment that perhaps reflects my context. Jacob uses a lot of Latin expressions, more than my usual audience of Kiwis, Pacific and Asian people would be comfortable with. I am not sure why, as usually the Latin expression is less familiar to me than kit’s English equivalent (like “divide and rule”) perhaps US audiences need “long words” to demonstrate academic credentials? It’s odd because in most ways the presentation is very simple and accessible with the few technical terms explained…

  1. see below. []
  2. so far. []

Microsoft-in-the-head as repeat offender

One of the key differences between people in prison and those outside is that many of those “inside” are “repeat offenders”. Either they don’t learn their lesson or something drives them to offend time and again.

Microsoft seems to be like that. One of the key “features” that caused my deep loathing for “Vista” was the way it made me wait while it indexed a directory with fancy thumbnails that I did not actually want, before I could “see” (filename, size, date…) the contents. That dreaded green bar!

Techspot has a fix (of sorts):

Needless to say it’s a very frustrating behavior, but thankfully something that can be easily fixed.

In Windows Explorer, right click the Downloads folder (or any folder you are having issues with), then select Properties.
Select the Customize tab
From the drop-down menu, Optimize this folder for: “General Items”

That should do the trick.

Well, maybe…

Note Windows might forget this setting in the future if you keep storing certain types of files (images or videos) and again default to optimize for them. I’ve had to change this setting back a couple of times in the past year, but most important of all, after the fix access is instant when I’m browsing around for my latest downloaded files.

Why, oh why, can I not just tell Microsoft-in-the-head Windows to cease, desist, stop!? Well because some users “want” this feature, and I “might” have switched it off by mistake!

I wish my Bible programs and Camtasia ran reliably under Linux, I am not made for this sort of stupid repeat offending, Windows should be repeat incarcerated.

Tell the Bible Story in 3 minutes!

A group of us met last night to plot a video (probably narration with animation one of the group is a young, skilled and creative animator with friends who are similarly equipped) most of the rest of us are established pastors and teachers.

The goal is to develop something that is sharable on social media and/or websites, and hopefully therefore also attractive and motivating people to share it!

I’ll confess that our starting point was a discussion of an attempt to do something similar that was too long, not really attractive (we thought) to its target audience and theologically narrow.

We settled on the title (at least for our use) of “The Bible in 3 minutes” and envisage a countdown, to encourage people to stay tuned, and demonstrate our commitment to brevity ;) Jonathan says that 3 minutes is  about 300 words (allowing for something other than words and the desire not to gabble too ;) So here’s the challenge: Can you try to tell me the story of the Bible in 300 words?

The group will share these attempts (anonymously) on Google Docs and pick out the features/ideas we like. There is no pay, and little glory (in this life) on offer, but I’d really appreciate your efforts. I’ve already had some offers but so far every attempt has needed WAY over 300 words ;)

Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

Rudyard Kipling by E.O. Hoppé (1912) from Wikimedia

I have just finished corrections to the last chapters of the three books of Letters of Travel by Rudyard Kipling. Here’s How I’m suggesting the books be described:

“Three books of travel writing (between them covering the USA, Canada, Japan and Egypt) by the Nobel Prize winning author of the Just So Stories and the Jungle Book. Rudyard Kipling (an Englishman born and raised in India) offers an interesting outsider’s view of the places he visits, candid and sharp witted, yet with a deep humanity.

Letters of Travel comprises three books: From Tideway to Tideway 1892-95 contains pieces first published in the Times covering voyages across north America (USA and Canada) and in Japan; his Letters to the Family first appeared in the Morning Post, while Nash’s Magazine was the first publisher of the articles (on Egypt and Sudan) in Egypt of the Magicians.

Kipling’s observations are cast in a wry style that permits, as his work often does, different readings. The unsympathetic reader can hear a banal repetition of the patriarchal, racist and imperialist ideas of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century trotted out. (Or even in his characterisation of the Jewish power behind the pedlar in “The Face of the Desert” a suggestion of something worse.) A more nuanced reading will perceive an amused or wry smile in Kipling’s remembering and the human sympathy that infuses all his writing. (US listeners should be warned that in Kipling’s day “the N word” was in common use, and he therefore uses it naturally to describe people of Sub-Saharan African ancestry.)

A paragraph in the “letter” written on Kipling’s arrival in Japan might serve as example. It closes: “The father-fisher has it by the pink hind leg, and this time it is tucked away, all but the top-knot, out of sight among umber nets and sepia cordage. Being an Oriental it makes no protest, and the boat scuds out to join the little fleet in the offing.” With its flippant tone (“all but the top-knot”), impersonal reference (“it” rather than he or she) and use of racial terms (“Oriental”) and stereotypes (“makes no protest”) this can be presented as an example of the worst of Victorian Imperialist prejudice.

And yet… as the fisher family are introduced, not only was “the perfect order and propriety of the housekeeping” noted but mention was made of “a largish Japanese doll, price two shillings and threepence in Bayswater”, which turns out to be a baby. At first glance this is merely another example of Western bigotry. Note however the words Kipling uses to show us that this is not in fact a doll: “The doll wakes, turns into a Japanese baby something more valuable than money could buy”. The “Japanese doll” is a priceless human child and not a commodity to be bought in Bayswater.

Perhaps the prejudice is not so much on the surface of Kipling’s writing as under the surface of the reader’s presuppositions? Time and again wry observation turns the familiar world into something fresh, and reminds the reader of shared humanity with the strange and foreign people being observed. Kipling as a tourist is no mere gawker whether in strange yet familiar Yokohama or in foreign Vermont.”

For my next project I’ll be reading a work still in copyright in the USA, though out of copyright almost everywhere else (the author died almost a century ago in the First World War) so for the European Legamus.

Popular podcasting

For years it was hard to draw listeners (except a faithful few) to podcasts, while blogs attracted visitors lie nectar draws in bees. However, at last this seems to be changing. 5 minute Bible is now (according to Alexa) more popular than Sansblogue among biblical studies sites. And it regularly attracts also a number of people on Facebook.

I wonder if it is because recently I’ve been posting there more often than here, or does it mark a tidal shift in Internet usage as phones and pads become more common?

Either way I hope it leads people to my series based on Not Only a Father. The first four posts are available as Guest Posts on Sarcaparental:

and as screencasts or audio on 5 Minute Bible:

And of course the whole book Not Only a Father is still available here (in e-format where you can discuss it with others or me) and as a paperback.

 

Referencing (citing) for beginners

One of the biggest hurdles new students face is learning to reference their work “properly”. Schools seldom teach this skill but increasingly Universities and colleges are demanding it. Life is not made easier by the fact that, to all except for OCD suffers getting proper citations is no fun :(

That’s the bad news. However the good news is that “proper” citation has never been easier.

Software

You can use a program that keeps track of all your references and even formats them differently for different teachers at the click of a button. The two commonest ways to do this (at least in NZ) are:

  • EndNote: an expensive program for which many institutions have bought site licences that allow students to install a copy. Its greatest advantage is that it may come with institutional support (e.g. free classes on how to use it). Its greatest disadvantage is that it is a big heavyweight that has a history of slowing your wordprocessor to a crawl and crashing machines. (I’m told it is better behaved now, but have no recent experience to confirm this.) It will do everything you need and 16,000 other things as well.
  • Zotero: a free program that works as a standalone or integrates with your browser1 and both MS and the main free Wordprocessors. It does everything you need and a score or more of things you should need but probably won’t. It has been known to crash, but in my experience less than Endnote.

The choice is probably really simple :)

  1. If your institution offers Endnote and supports it, choose it.
  2. If not choose Zotero.
  3. Unless you like using free software and hate your computer running slowly in which case use Zotero anyway.
  4. Not using either is plain stupid, and if you were stupid you would not be looking at this ;)

Learn to use it. (If there is demand I might do updated Zotero tutorials but I think the ones on the site are good.)

Getting the data

Unless you are a fossil from the dark ages, do not try to enter the data (author’s name, title, etc.) by hand. There are easier ways :)

For books and e-journals your institution’s system should integrate with your bibliography software, on the catalogue page just click the link to “add citation to Endnote” (or however it is phrased).

NB: this data is prepared by librarians so is usually good, but occasionally even librarians have brainstorms or bad hair days. If the author’s name appears in capitals, or the Title includes a description or something, then you may need to “clean up” the data. This is rare, and if you do it in the bibliography software itself you only have to do it once for any item. One piece of “tidying” I often have to do is add the place of publication.

Citing right

Add your citations in your wordprocessor.

Make sure you have chosen the “correct” format. Hint: the “correct” format is the one your teacher told you to use, even if you think a different one is better :(

There are more possible formats than there are days in a leap year, but there are a few in common use:

MLA 7th EdBulkeley, Tim. Not Only a Father: Talk of God As Mother in the Bible & Christian Tradition. Auckland, N.Z: Archer Press, 2011. Print.
APA 6th EdBulkeley, T. (2011). Not only a father: Talk of God as mother in the Bible & Christian tradition. Auckland, N.Z: Archer Press.
TurabianBulkeley, Tim. Not Only a Father: Talk of God As Mother in the Bible & Christian Tradition. Auckland, N.Z.: Archer Press, 2011.
ChicagoBulkeley, Tim. 2011. Not only a father: talk of God as mother in the Bible & Christian tradition. Auckland, N.Z.: Archer Press.

Learn what the ones used at your place look like, so you’ll notice if somehow your document is set to the “wrong” one ;)

What about interesting things like videos, blogs etc.?

Ths is the most frequently asked question. The first answer is this: “Don’t panic”2 The second answer is go to Son of Citation Machine, click the appropriate link, and enter the data (or at least those that you can easily discover, how much effort you make probably depends on how IT savvy your lecturer seems ;)  Though nowadays Zotero or Endnote are probably up to the job without Son of Citation Machine once you have done a few and got the feel of things :)

It should look something like this:

Bulkeley, Tim. Not Only a Father: Talk of God As Mother in the Bible & Christian Tradition. Archer Press, n.d. Web. 7 Apr 2013. <http://bigbible.org/mothergod/>.

  1. on PCs, Macs, iPhone/iPad, Chrome for Android, Android Browser, Firefox Mobile Browser or Opera Mobile/Mini []
  2.  Douglas Adams (1992). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Four Parts. Pan, 537. []

New Media, digital and networked

Among the reading for my MIT MediaLab MOOC, Learning Creative Learning, is the huge report: Mimi Ito et al. (2009): Learning and Living with New MediaMacArthur Foundation.  The executive summary includes this sentence, which reminded me why the term “new media” is so much better than the older “digital” to describe the current cultural shift:

We use the term new media to describe a media ecology where more traditional media such as books, television, and radio are intersecting with digital media, specifically interactive media, online networks, and media for social communication.

Old media like TV and radio (but increasingly also books) are (or at least are at some stages of their production and transmission) digital. But even the most digital TV is not “new media” because it is not networked.1

New media is both:

  • digital:
    • infinitely copiable
    • almost free to transmit or copy
    • malleable (digital media can be changed/edited as well as copied)
  • networked:
    • open to talk back
    • open to reuse
    • open to conversation
    • open to extension


To the extent that something embodies most of these characteristics it is new media, if it mainly or exclusively embodies the first group it is merely digital. The Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary was digital, my 5 minute Bible podcasts are digital moving towards new media. The hard bit, for a media dinosaur2 Is getting the last step. Not Only a Father as a discussable book attempts to be new media, but so far has not generated a community of discussion… I wonder what I can do to encourage that last step…

 

  1. NB I am not here using the term “network” in the sense that the name CNN uses it. But rather of a media environment where communication can and does move in multiple directions. Not just from me to you – a monologue like most traditional TV and radio; or from me to you and you to me – a dialogue – like talkback radio; but between you, me, him and her… severally and sometimes together. []
  2. I grew up with radio, but TV came to our place only when I was almost a teenager. []

Free selling

I’ve long argued that educational institutions could benefit from giving away a first course free. The loss is small, how much does it cost to add each new student to a class you already have to teach? The gain potentially big, many (perhaps, I’d love to see figures, most) people will go on to do a full degree or diploma, even if they don’t they will likely speak favourably about the institution to their contacts and most new students are drawn to their place of study by word of mouth.

Now some big names have got the idea: