Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

He who paid the piper, can not hear the tune without paying again

Evan and Jim have responded vigorously to my post below: Secret societies: biblioblogging in Religion Bulletin. Evan points out that:

An annual individual print subscription to the journal is 35 USD in North America, 17.50 GBP elsewhere. What’s your trouble? Do you get TIME magazine for free or something? How is this set-up any different than most any other publishing situation out there

Oh, I agree, if scholarship is a commodity to be bought and sold $35 a year is a snip.

Except, who paid for the writing? Who pays the scholars who did most of the editorial work? In both cases the answer is: “Not the ‘publisher'”. Often the answer is taxpayers and/or church members, with a contribution from students. Shouldn’t such people, let’s call them the general public (for want of a more specific general term ;) get to actually see the results of the work they paid for?

Zotero gets freed from Firefox

Don’t get me wrong, Firefox is still my favourite browser, the only one I use regularly, but it is brilliant news that Zotero will (thanks to a new project Zotero Everywhere) become available for the other major browsers, and as a standalone app. This is a significant step, and makes a flexible, simple yet powerful, free bibliography manager even more free :)

Zotero already works on PC, Linux and Mac. It already cooperates with Open Office and MS Word, and I believe in Linux (at least) with a LaTex front end. Now it is becoming even more platform agnostic. Great news!

Secret societies: biblioblogging in Religion Bulletin

Secret Society, after Harold Lincoln Gray by Mike Licht NotionsCapital.com

Jim West and a number of other well known bloggers on biblical studies related topics have “published” articles about blogging, they appeared in Religion Bulletin:

  • Blogging the Bible: A Short History  Jim West
  • Biblioblogging Our Matrix: Exploring the Potential and Perplexities of Academic Blogging James McGrath
  • The Benefit of Blogging for Archaeology Robert Cargill
  • Why Do I (Biblio)Blog? Roland Boer
  • Biblioblogging, ‘Religion’, and the Manufacturing of Catastrophe James Crossley

You can find it here. However these articles are “published” in the technical academic sense, that is they are announced, but not made available, except to a privileged select few. In this case subscribers to the journal in question or those willing to pay per article.In such specialised usage “to publish” means something close to the opposite of its everyday usage, referring as it does to secret arcane gnosis shared only with a circle of initiates and patrons.

Recently this secrecy that shrouds academic “publishing” has weakened many journals are now collected in substantial electronic journal collections and available through libraries. Sadly. as far as I can see Religion Bulletin is not available in R&P (Religion & Philosophy), ProQuest Religion, or Academic Search Premier. So I can’t see these probably fine articles, and therefore I cannot comment on their content.

Thus academe seeks to protect its sacred and secret arcana from profanation. There is an irony when the topic of the “publication” is a medium as open to public review and scrutiny as blogging is “published” in this way ;)

PS: As part of academic systems that play the secret society game, and reward scholars from hiding gtheir work from the public, I do not blame these bloggers for “publishing” in this way, we all play the games we are employed to play. But it is, I think, worthwhile pointing out from time to time how bizarre and ritualistic the academic game has become in the early 21st centrury. When publishing technology offers the potential to make “publish” really mean “to issue publicly”!

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 Brooke1 ) talking about the possibility of a Free Open Source Old Testament textbook.2

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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  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. []

Write tight

Photo by Dick Rochester

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, to raise the word count 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 of them may be unneeded. Using two words where one will do (tautology) is wasteful: “tightly stretched” only says the same as “stretched”.

Focus

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 should be cut. (Except I like the effect, and am not trying to save words and do help the reader by using parentheses to mark the 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 that1 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

Paragraphs, and even sentences, are seldom  written right first time. Edit cutting 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!

  1. Though notice sometimes it IS needed ;) []

Literacy rates and culture

Traces of the 16 and 12 characters of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions (Wikipedia)

Chris Rollston has a fascinating post “The Probable Inventors of the First Alphabet: Semites Functioning as rather High Status Personnel in a Component of the Egyptian Apparatus.” On the whole it is clear and convincing. But I want to take issue with a side issue. In section II. “Literacy in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean” he is concerned to show that the inventors of the alphabet were most likely to have been members of the elite. Among his arguments he seeks to show that literacy was never a mass phenomenon in the Ancient world. In doing so he poo poos notions that the introduction of the alphabet expanded the availability of literacy so widely as to be able to be seen as a social revolution.

Some have suggested that with the invention of the alphabet, literacy rates rapidly became quite high, with both elites and non-elites writing and reading (note: these two skills are related, but quite different). For example, during the middle of the twentieth century, W.F. Albright stated that “since the forms of the letters are very simple, the 22-letter alphabet could be learned in a day or two by a bright student and in a week or two by the dullest.” And he proceeded to affirm that he did “not doubt for a moment that there were many urchins in various parts of Palestine who could read and write as early as the time of the Judges” (Albright 1960, 123). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, R. Hess made similar statements. For example, regarding ancient Israel, he states that there is “continually increasing evidence for a wide variety of people from all walks of life who could read and write.” In addition, he states that he believes “the whole picture is consistent with a variety of [literate] classes and groups, not merely a few elites” (Hess 2006, passim 342-345).

Now, the Albright quote is wildly exaggerated, and Hess’ claims are probably also over-optimistic. But the literacy estimates quotes show that:

for Egypt, literacy rates are often estimated to be at ca. one-percent or lower, and confined to elites (see Baines and Eyre,1983, 65-96; note that even at Deir el-Medina it is elites that are writing). For Mesopotamia, Larsen believes that one-percent is also a reasonable figure (see Larsen, 1989, 121-148, esp. 134).

While the rates he quotes for societies using alphabetic scripts his estimates are between five and fifteen percent:

Rather, the evidence suggests that the vast majority of the population was not literate. Note, for example, that W. Harris (1989, 114, 267, 22) has argued that literacy rates in Attica were probably ca. five percent to ten percent and those in Italy were probably below fifteen percent (note: within this volume [passim], Harris has cogently critiqued those that have proposed high(er) rates of literacy).

If, as an approximation, we took the middle of this range, the result is that the move from Cuneiform or Hieroglyphic may have merely increased literacy by a factor of ten, or by one thousand percent! My guess is that an increase in literacy levels this dramatic, or even at the lowest level Rollston’s figures suggest (a factor of five or five hundred percent), is quite high enough to produce exciting social consequences.

Isaiah and Empire: Colloquium: Call for Papers

Colloquium and Book

Call for papers:

Aoraki Mt Cook across Lake Pukaki, NZ

This colloquium (sponsored by Laidlaw-Carey Graduate School in Auckland, New Zealand) will explore cultural and theological implications of aspects of the book of Isaiah in the context of empire. Potential papers might include, but are by no means limited to:

  • readings of particular texts in the light of ancient imperial contexts
  • studies of the redaction history of Isaiah
  • Isaiah (or a particular text) in contemporary “imperial” or post-colonial contexts
  • theological reflections
  • cross cultural perspectives on Isaiah in imperial contexts
  • contemporary political reflections

The colloquium will take place in Auckland, NZ, on 14th-15th February 2011 (this is summertime in NZ but after schools have begun for the year). Since we intend to publish a book with the same title in 2011, draft papers will be circulated among participants in 2010 and final form submitted by April 15th 2011.

Please send enquiries and abstracts before 30th September 2010 to:

Dr Tim Bulkeley tim@carey.ac.nz or
Dr Tim Meadowcroft TMeadowcroft@laidlaw.ac.nz

For some reason SBL do not seem to have added this colloquium to their online listing, despite emailing them, though SOTS and some other professional societies have circulated the Call for Papers. In order to make it better known please either repost this, or email the link to any scholar you know with an interest in Isaiah.

WordPress to codex :)

TaDa a codex! (Photo by Friar's Balsam)

The Center for History and New Media, George Mason University the people who brought us Zotero, the neat simple free “just does what it should” bibliography manager have held a One Week | One Tool project funded by the (US) National Endowment for the Humanities. The tool they produced (only 0.3 alpha as yet to be fair) they call Anthologize.

Anthologize is a free, open-source, plugin that transforms WordPress 3.0 into a platform for publishing electronic texts. Grab posts from your WordPress blog, import feeds from external sites, or create new content directly within Anthologize. Then outline, order, and edit your work, crafting it into a single volume for export in several formats, including—in this release—PDF, ePUB, TEI.

I wonder if we could use it with some other WordPress plugins to make making FOSOTT easier? And what about collaborating on and publishing the output of a colloquium? Like the Isaiah and Empire one?

The only trouble is, to get full brownie points in the academic system we may need to use a conventional respected print publisher, and I doubt any of them will be happy with opting into such a system :( How come systems (like the NZ “Performance Based Research Funding” exercise or US tenure committees) end up stifling innovative ways of undertaking basic scholarly tasks like publishing the results of research? Still FOSOTT wouldn’t count for such purposes anyway – it is merely teaching!

HT: Digital Campus

The Gender of Yahweh

Photo by iandeth

Link now working, sorry :(

I am still gradually expanding the open book Not Only a Father. I have added a section concerning “The Gender of Yahweh” to chapter five which (as a whole) is about “Theology of God as both Father and Mother“.

This growing book is an experiment in publishing as discussion, not merely a blog, but a coherent book-length exploration of a topic, but not merely a book online, since each thought and idea can be questioned, commented, challenged or expanded by the readers. The trouble is that unless it gets people visiting the material it does not get discussed, and unless YOU, or others like you who find the topic of using motherly language and pictures interesting, link to the material no one will find it, and the experiment will fail :(