Articles for the Month of March 2010

Five years of progress in machine translation

People who write on the web have an interest in machine translation. If it worked communication could suddenly become much more international. Five years ago yesterday I wrote a post about the state of the art.

Of course, machine translation is still a developing technology, somewhere about the level of voice recognition 10 years ago is my estimate. As a test of the new service I supplied a paragraph chosen pretty much at random from the Amos commentary, the first from a page about city gates:

In the Ancient Near East city gates were neither merely entrances, nor only used for military protection. As a potentially weak point in the defenses, the gates of Israelite walled cities typically had three chambers giving four sets of “doors” and defended spaces between. The gates of Hazor (left – plan above) and Gezer from the time of Solomon show this triple construction.

This gave the almost comprehensible French:

Dans la ville antique du proche Orient les portes n’étaient ni simplement des entrées, ni seulement utilisé pour la protection militaire. Comme point potentiellement faible dans les défenses, les portes d’Israelite ont muré des villes ont typiquement eu trois chambres donner quatre ensembles d'”portes” et d’espaces défendus entre. Les portes de Hazor (laissé – projetez ci-dessus) et de Gezer dès l’exposition de Solomon cette construction triple.

The Iron Age gate at Hazor

The Iron Age gate at Hazor

Either Google translate is more than five years behind that crowd, or the art has gone backwards in the last half decade, here’s Google’s 2010 rendering of the same text:

Dans l’ancienne ville près des portes-Orient ne sont ni seulement les entrées, ni seulement utilisés pour la protection militaire. Comme un point de faiblesse potentielle dans la défense, aux portes des villes d’Israël paroi généralement avait trois chambres donnant quatre séries de “portes” et défendu les espaces entre les deux. Les portes de Hatsor (à gauche – plan ci-dessus) et Gezer du temps de Salomon montrer cette construction triple.

Hmm… well let’s follow the same methodology, now from “French” into German:

In der alten Stadt in der Nähe des East Türen sind nicht nur Eingänge oder nur für den militärischen Schutz. Als Ausgangspunkt der mögliche Schwäche in der Verteidigung vor den Toren der ummauerten Städte Israels in der Regel hatte drei Zimmer gibt vier Gruppen von “Türen” und verteidigte die Zwischenräume. Die Tore von Hazor (links – über Plan) und Gezer Zeit Salomos zeigen, dass der Bau verdreifachen.

Which of course means (in “English”):

In the old city near the East doors are not only inputs or only military for protection. As a point of potential weakness in the defense at the gates of the walled cities of Israel usually had three rooms are four categories of “doors” and defended the gaps. The gates of Hazor (left – show on plan) and Gezer time of Solomon, that tripled the building.

Sadly we still have some way to go,  though, the back translation has actually improved! This was the original version:

In for the military protection antiken of the Near East the doors were neither simple from the entrances nor only use city. When potentially weak point in the defenses the doors have typically three chambers immured of Israelite of cities had to give four whole of “doors” and from areas to which were defended, between. The doors of Hazor (calmly – above you plan) and of Gezer of the exhibition of Solomon to this three-way construction.

Maybe in another five years we’ll have a usable machine translator at our fingertips, and the World Wide Web will really be starting to become world-wide, in the meantime the majority of the world’s population will continue to learn English, providing jobs for Kiwis on their great OE  ;)

Preserving lemons

Another repost original Sept 2009 (to make sure all the preserved lemon material stays together)

Preserved lemons and limes

Preserved lemons and limes

After work today (all that marking ;) I needed some “making something” therapy. Dough for flat bread to eat with the beans in the slow cooker is rising quietly in the kitchen, and there is the joyful sight of a new jar of preserved lemons sitting quietly waiting.

Preserving lemons is real slow food. Alchemy at work as physical and chemical processes, that scientists may understand, but that most cooks seek simply to profit from, work at the lemons (and a few limes for extra zing). The process of sitting quietly in a dark place, marinating in salt and spices softening the nasty bitterness of the white pith extracting the unwanted tastes into the liquid, whilst, paradoxically at the same time transferring the intense zing of the zest to the whole. (I told you it is pure alchemy :)

In a few months time these citrus fruits will be ready for their turn in the slow cooker with chicken and olives…

If you have never preserved lemons, start tomorrow. Beg, borrow or buy some lemons (and ideally a few limes, 1 to 4 is fine). Cut them in quarters, press them down into a jar, witgh plenty of salt. Plenty might be a tablespoon depending on the size of your lemons. This is slow food, do not ask for exact recipes ;) In the jar you have probably put a cinnamon stick, some corriander seeds, a bay leaf or three, and if you must some chilli (other spices too are optional). Over the next few days (slow food remember) as the lemons sink gracefully into the brine, add more. When this process slows top up with oil, and seal the jar.

Wait a few months, hiding the jar in a dark corner so that you can be patient. In a few months, remember this is slow food ;) you can at last unite the lenons with the chicken and the olives in a dish that even lemonophobes and olive haters will enjoy and demand more of.

I’ll give you the recipe soon, as even slow foodies are somewhat impatient, and waiting is half the savour ;)

[If, when you return in a few months, you find black mold on the surface it just means that the oil did not completely cover the mix, scoop it off and pretend it never happened.]

HT: This post was inspired by thre realisation that we only have 1.5 jars left from the Christmas stock, and by Rachel Barenblat the Velveteen Rabbi.

Grilled sardines, with a warm potato and preserved lemon salad

Grilled sardines with warm potato and preserved lemon salad

Grilled sardines with warm potato and preserved lemon salad

Lunch on sabbatical is a great treat! Just taking a 45 min lunch break I can cook and eat delicious snacks like this :)

Thanks to the Aussie Butcher in Mt Roskill (who I am finding despite a supermarket -style shop is a good replacement for Better Butchers in Mt Eden Road, though I am still not enough of a “regular” to ask for special things yet, nor to discuss how I might cook my purchases like I did there) I have some frozen sardines :)

So I grilled them. (Yes, I probably should have brushed them with some very garlicky oil, but this is a quick lunch snack for one, and I had no garlicky oil handy – note to self: get some soaking quick :)

To eat with them I did a warm potato salad:

  • boiled potatoes (still hot)
  • mesclun
  • thin sliced red onion
  • pine nuts (toasted in a dry  frypan while the potatoes boiled)

Dressed with plenty of salt and peper and some olive oil and a few spoonsful of the juice from a jar of preserved lemons and limes.


Thugs seek "election"

Fleeing the Tatmadaw

Fleeing the Tatmadaw

I do not usually post Burma stuff on this blog, but with the “elections” planned for later this year I think it is really important that as many people as possible know something of what is going on in Burma/Myanmar. Many people know about Aung San Su Kyi, the arrested Nobel Prize Winner who should have been the head of state, but few know of the systematic attempts at “ethnic cleansing” of many of the tribal minority groups. This usually involves the army, Tatmadaw, burning villages and crops, so chasing the villagers into hiding in the jungle till at last they join the thousands in the refugee camps or living as illegals in neighbouring countries.  They are also gradually driving back, or bribing (often with the promise of drug money), the ethnic resistance movements. Once an area is “safe” for the army they build a road (to allow easier access) and can begin to control the resource rich hill country.

But this time these thugs have excelled themselves. A week ago, on 22nd March, a bunch of them entered Kaw Hta village and as well as burning slaughtered women and children. The report is here but be warned it contains graphic photos. This information really needs to be known so that when the “elections” are held later this year they cannot gain any shred of respectability allowing the brutal military government to hide its shame. Please post a link to the report ideally mentioning also the elections in Myanmar/Burma.

Blueberry Muffins

We got some frozen blueberries the other day, so I decided to make muffins.

We bought them for making our breakfast porridge (they make a nice change from dried apricots with the nuts) and the frozen ones are cheaper than even the high season price though in porridge not quite as good.  They are brilliant in muffins :)


Slightly burned blueberry muffin from our turbocharged oven

Slightly burned blueberry muffin from our turbocharged oven

1½ cups flour
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp
2 teaspoons baking powder
cup vegetable oil
1 egg (beaten)
1/3 cup non-fat yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
tsp each of cinnamon and nutmeg

4 Tbsp
brown sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 175°C (our oven) or 200°C /400°F (the original recipe since 400F > 200C our oven must run VERY hot). Grease muffin tray or use paper cups.  Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Combine wet ingredients (egg, yogurt, oil).  Mix this with flour mixture. Gently fold in blueberries. Fill cups to the top.

Stir crust ingredients together and sprinkle over.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven till done.

If anyone has experience of substituting ground oats for some of the flour in muffin mixes I think that would make them nuttier and healthier, so can you suggest quantities. Otherwise I plan to experiment ;)

Three wondrous and simple things

Conrad Gempf had a great post a few years back “Three Things ‘Gentile’ Christians May ‘Never’ Understand“. I’ve used this with several classes over the years. It’s fine, it’s well written, and it’s SO true! (Especially if you hear his comment that

These are three things that ordinary western evangelicals without a Jewish mindset will find very difficult to feel comfortable with.

Number one: God talks like a Jew

For someone with what I’m calling a Gentile mindset, “you may never understand” has to do with time and duration. The way I mean it is a very non-western way of saying it. “You may never understand” has little to do with time and everything to do with depth of feeling. Here’s a Gentile: “In a million years, the tectonic plates that define the continental shelf will have shifted to the new positions shown in figure A.” Here’s a Jew: “Never in a million years will I speak to her again.”

He’s right, God (indeed all Bible characters and authors – and most people today in real life, unless we are giving a lecture or instructions on how to cook or build something) do speak relationally rather than “factually”. This failure to understand wrecks many Bible texts – just think of the ugliness of “Creation Science” compared to the beauty of Genesis chapter one!

Number two: Meticulous obedience is not legalism

When we’re reading the Old Testament, we cheer for the Jews who meticulously observe Torah. Suddenly these same people wake up one day in the New Testament and they’re the bad guys?

This one is important for understanding what Jesus is on about in the Gospels, and because it leads to…
Last and most important: Habits of Holiness

Gentile Christians tend to dismiss Jewish practices out of hand as things that “obviously” no longer apply…

Such practices are “habits of holiness“, patterns of a life directed at honouring God.

He uses thankfulness as an example

A typical non-Messianic Jew thinks he or she needs to make themselves feel thankful and only then give thanks. I want to give thanks and allow that to help me to feel thankful.


[But please READ THE ARTICLE!]

Presentation problems

Somehow (due to an upgrade?) my Open Office Impress program is broken, its Powerpoint format output is not longer readable by people using Microsoft Office this is a major blow, though I am sure it will be fixed – and may even have been fixed already, I’ve been too busy to check… But the experience (thank God and the Open Source programers for the output as PDF functions :) led me to notice a post from 2004 on S5: A Simple Standards-Based Slide Show System. Basically S5 uses the wonders of CSS and other web standards to produce neat small and VERY portable presentations.

It’ i small, neat, and it does work. S5 (designed by Eric Meyer) is just what it says, it’s a standards-based slide show system that is (in many ways) simple.

The system uses CSS to produce slides that adapt easily to a wide range of display sizes and formats, it seems to work in most browsers (all those I tried anyway). It is small and a 12 slide show with several graphics takes only 100kb or so.

It’s brilliant for putting a slide show on the web, or for emailing to students. It is no wonder it uses CSS so well, Eric wrote the book (Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide, Second Edition, O’Reilly ISBN 0-596-00525-3)!

The only downside is users must be able to understand how text coding works and change the html contents for themselves to really make it work. For many readers of this blog that will be no problem, but sadly as far as I can see still no one has produced a fill-the-gaps tool for the rest of the teaching profession! Now a GUI interface would turn something really clever into something that was also really really useful…

Theses concerning pastoral education

Material largely posted before in 2004

Out of the comments on my posts below “Face-time and ministerial formation” and “Online Seminary: is virtual formation possible?” and other blogging sources I am beginning to develop some ideas more firmly. I will try to begin presenting these as a series of theses.

To be real formation needs local grounding
The comments on the locus of formation were particularly stimulating both Andrew and Finker highlight a duality. To be real formation needs local grounding – as Rubén and I were stressing – but to be honest effective and challenging it needs a wider dimension too, opening the student to new truth. Andrew sees this opening as happening better with the onsite Seminary experience, rather than the conservatism natural to local churches:

I have a suspicion that one is forced to engage much more with the theological issues when on site. It is much easier to simply write essays and disregard things you don’t agree with when you study by distance…. I have some of the “typical” issues that are associated with fundamentalism and strong conservative theology in mind like creationism, inerrancy etc…When you’re on site you engage in these issues/debates not only with the lecturers but also over coffee with classmates.” (Andrew)

As Finker stresses too that students need the discussion over coffee with their peers, and the challenges we teachers try to present. Yet Andrew’s point about the difficulty of raising hard questions in a local setting reminds me of my deepest dissatisfaction with the onsite seminary. Seminaries are good at presenting students with critical thinking. We can help students understand complex issues around the nature and interpretation of the Bible. And a couple of hundred years of intense academic study has certainly raised such issues. We can also help them to ask awkward questions about the latest fads and quick-fix solutions for church life (questions that often get overlooked by busy pastors of expectant churches). The grounding in classic theology hammered out over centuries through often bitter controversy is also more likely to be taught from a seminary context.

However, as Andrew points out in the pews of many churches such questions and nuancing are seen simply as wrong, unchristian and untrue. Yet, students who have their minds changed while “away at seminary”, do not learn how to preach the new (critical) ideas they are learning. The result is that when they return to a local church – as pastor. They cannot reconcile what they are convinced intellectually is true with what their hearers believe. They risk living in two worlds, “knowing” critically yet preaching like unthinking fundamentalists. Such schizophrenic pasturing cannot be good. Or as Finker says:

You would be amazed at how many of my fellow students (and myself to some extent) end up being dislocated from a full and absorbing church community for their whole period of training. Unhealthy for sure.

If the “head stuff” is true – it needs to be heard. Indeed like AKMA I’m convinced that theological education is all about truth!

But truth (as “head stuff”) needs to be integrated into the “heart and hands” stuff of the life of the church. Not some elitist add-on.

This integration is only likely to occur in a local setting.

So, the first two theses:

#1 The formation of pastors to serve local communities of Christians needs to occur within a framework of long-term relationships of accountability and love in a local worshipping community – warts and all!

#2 Theological education MUST be about truth, even where the search for truth is not comfortable. True formation therefore also needs the seminary effect.

Where #1 is stressed to the detriment of #2 (as it naturally is in distance and internship models) the result is wineskins empty of all but old wine.

Where #2 is stressed to the detriment of #1 (as it almost inevitably is for most onsite “seminary students”) truth becomes arrogant or impractical – it’s not preachable in Andrew’s terms.

Spirituality, Fatherhood and Motherhood

Repost first posted in Sept 2004

Maggi Dawn in her “Three Must-Reads in blogville” drew my attention to John Sloas’ post in Crooked Line titled “motherly spirituality for a dad“. I started to post these thoughts as a comment there, but they grew…

My “kids” are now thoroughly grown and have left the nest. I still love sitting with them, but now it’s more often in the spa than over building blocks. I have no small kids to “parent” except when we borrow some from friends at church.

Holding a baby

Holding a baby by rumpleteaser

There is something really special about looking after a small one that is different, and lovely. Holding a baby or toddler always helps one get in tune with God. Perhaps that’s why parenting (both mother and father) is such a strong biblical picture of what God is like. (On God as mother see my becoming-book: Not Only a Father.)

It is a great shame that so many Western fathers have missed out over the years. And now, keen as we are to provide equal deprivation for all, many mothers miss out as well. Yet these experiences are times when we are open to those rumors of another world. They should not be missed.

Theology that matters

Nuts by s58y


Tash has a really stimulating, really short post “Theology For Our Times. Stu exegetes the post in a comment ;)

All I’ll add here (so you have to go read the post and think for yourself) is that “church leaders” must be nuts if they really think “salvation, end times, church leadership…” are theological issues that really matter in the 21st century!