31 August 2007

Just wrote about this to a friend and on pressing 'send,' it occurred to me that it was the sort of short snippet that belonged here as well -- the kind of thing I need to get into the habit of posting rather than saying/sending out and forgetting.

Luther was anxious to replace the Latin of the worship service with common ordinary-folks German. Why did he not also replace the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper with common ordinary-folks beer and pretzels? Answer, predictably: the Bible.

17 August 2007

Virtual reality has been an interest of mine for a long time. In the early 90s, I was very active in educational experiment VRs run by MIT and the University of Pheonix, microMUSE and mariMUSE. It got as far as my actually teaching a 'distance learning' module on the Gospels to two students in different locations in Arizona, as part of their undergrad programmes in America. It was 5 am for me and 10 pm for me when we'd meet in my virtual classroom in cyberspace and I'd use virtual slideshow projectors and discussion for our weekly hour and a half sessions. But text-based wasn't sexy enough for funding, and I watched a mariMUSE close down, a project called Virtual University flounder and fail under fraud charges and microMUSE change hands and focus.

I'm sure the day is coming when virtual environments will have a low enough learning curve and high enough bandwidth that they'll be of use. But that day is not yet.

15 August 2007

Hey, if you liked the lamp with the cord I mentioned a while back. You'll like this one, too. I'd love to have both of them in the room! (But not for that price.)

The Titanic Lamp:
Charles Trevelyan, England
The Titanic Lamp elegantly upsets one's expectations. A diagonal slice through the length of the lamp creates the appearance of floating semi-submerged in water. Combined with a high-gloss white lacquer finish and matching shade, the lamp is dressed in the stark attitude of a museum piece, frozen in time.

14 August 2007

Jeremiah is a ferocious book.

23:23 Am I a God near by, says the Lord, and not a God far off? 24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, “I have dreamed, I have dreamed!” 26 How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart? 27 They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully.

10 August 2007

My problem with Fred Peatross's new Missio Dei (Amazon UK, Amazon US) isn't what it says about reaching out; my problem comes in the assumption behind the book (and behind Michael Frost and Alan Hirsh's works with which Peatross is in cahoots) that the purpose of an institutional church, whether trad or based in a pub, is to serve the congregation and help them connect to Jesus. If I agreed with this premise, I would agree with much else.

I think the institutional church is what happens when Christians try to submit themselves to God in corporate worship. It is more of an act of emptying of self and culture than an act of self-expression and enculturation. Certainly the church, the people, are involved in the other thing -- all the time. And the institutional church can be involved in supporting and facilitating that, but ultimately it is each Christian's job to be a witness, not the job of the Christian community to erect a Lobbying Entity (though I'm sympathetic with those who try to do both).

09 August 2007

I got into a long conversation today with a non-Christian, a particular kind I'm sure you've run across as well -- believes that all human motivation reduces down to selfishness / self-centredness. I'm sure it all comes from reading too much Dawkins.

Anyway, when the notion that love is other-centred rather than self-centred didn't really make a dent in the armour, I went for science: science only advances by people not being self-centred and sticking to their methodological / theoretical guns, but by giving those up and getting out of the way and making the thing they're studying -- the Other -- become more important, more determinative, than themselves.

Then I realized that I wasn't so much arguing for 'selflessness' as I thought I was at the beginning. Love isn't selfless. Science isn't selfless. Music composition, jazz improvisation is not selfless -- else it's just mechanics and we despise it. But neither is it self-centred -- we expect submission to the tempo and key and so on or at least the use of it as a springboard from which to make a musical point. When it is self/ego-centric we also despise it.

Stereotypically, I think God wants us to be ourselves in submission to him. So here's what I'm wondering today. What defines the point when self-denial goes too far to turn Christianity into mechanics and technique? And on the other end, what defines the point where personal response (which I think is good) becomes nothing but self-expression (which I think is bad)? Or am I off-track with all of this and it's all just a matter of taste or something?

06 August 2007

Old blogging crony Fred Peatross has let me read his latest book Missio Dei (Amazon UK, Amazon US). If you see it on a bookshelf, don't be fooled by the footnotes, this is friendly and thoughtful wandering. Here's my favourite sentence... it comes in the context of Fred and his wife spending time travelling with non-believers -- putting into practice his dictum of spending more time with such folks than with Christians: "Each night I prayed behind my non-Christian friends' backs and then told them to their face over a morning bagel."

More about this book later in the week.

01 August 2007

The texts set for this coming Sunday, Col. 3:1-11 and Luke 12:13-21, are both concerned with the renunciation of non-Kingdom priorities and patterns of life. But it's easy to see from them how it is that asceticism and even gnosticism became so prevalent so early. Without balance from other Scriptural texts, it looks as though we are supposed to make a simple distinction: anything non-spiritual is worldly and evil.

Heaven knows, the hyperbole is necessary to shock some people and cultures into restoring balance, and we do well to feel the force of such passages. But the New Testament church did not set out to hate the world per se, only to love the Lord so very much that all else paled into insignificance -- to hate the world in a relative sense. And speaking of a 'relative' sense, this, of course, is also how to understand the passages where Jesus tells you to hate your family.

30 July 2007

Do you top-post or bottom-post?

From The Jargon File:

top-post: v. To put the newly-added portion of an email or Usenet response before the quoted part, as opposed to the more logical sequence of quoted portion first with original following. The problem with this practice is neatly summed up by the following FAQ entry:
A: No.
Q: Should I include quotations after my reply?

bottom-post: v. In a news or mail reply, to put the response to a news or email message after the quoted content from the parent message. This is correct form, and until around 2000 was so universal on the Internet that neither the term ‘bottom-post’ nor its antonym top-post existed. Hackers consider that the best practice is actually to excerpt only the relevent portions of the parent message, then intersperse the poster's response in such a way that each section of response appears directly after the excerpt it applies to. This reduces message bulk, keeps thread content in a logical order, and facilitates reading.

26 July 2007

I was going to stay up last night (whoops... night-before-last now) to attend a Bible Study in the Second Life virtual world. (I didn't make it because their system went down for a while.) A Bible Study I could go along with. I still unsure about a worship service. And yet I have real trouble articulating why. Many of the initial objections are illusory. This may be a virtual community, but it's not an imaginary one -- the people are real, with gifts and with problems. The fact that it's a virtual computer-based thing may colour our view unnecessarily. It's difficult to see how it is different to a club in any RL hobby -- a chess club meeting or quilting group. Imagine you were in one of those activities rather than a virtual environment, and imagine the meeting was made up of thousands of people in a big warehouse. Wouldn't it be nice to sometimes have the Christians in the group get together and pray and hang out?

But can the virtuality really be left out of the equation? To celebrate the Incarnation in a land made of patterns which only imitate bodily form? That doesn't really add up. -- More thinking needed.

24 July 2007

I spent a significant part of the weekend exploring the virtual reality environment "Second Life." I'd visited before, back when the first Macintosh client software came out, but I found it excruciatingly slow and buggy and didn't stay.

Some of you will know that years ago I did a lot of work on three text-based virtual educational environments, designing Museums on the University of Pheonix's MariMuse and MIT's MicroMuse, and designing the main classroom objects and programming for an ill-fated Virtual University project. I also taught a class on the Gospels via the virtual environment in MariMuse. It was with an eye to the educational possibilities that I went exploring.

It's a fascinating place to visit. I don't find the system particularly friendly -- with all virtual environments I've been in there is a very steep initial learning curve. But once you're well and truly in, there is a wealth of stuff — the good and the despicable —  to see.

23 July 2007

The lectionary Gospel reading last week was the Mary & Martha story from Luke 10:38-42. I'm pretty sure that I've written about it elsewhere, but it doesn't show up in a quick search of my offline blog storage. It's such a lovely story. And it's so typical of the New Testament that the most radical teaching about the equality of the role of women is not about rights but about access and humility: Mary sitting at Jesus' feet. That, of course, is the appropriate place for a student in those days. Except that as a woman she wasn't really an appropriate person to be there (there were some exceptions, but as a rule it was the role of women to feed the men who were engaged in the study).

Verse 42 struck me this time through. Jesus says that Martha is troubled by many things, but only a few things are necessary and really only one. That so reminds me of the saying of Jesus in Mark 10:21, one of my favourite passages. Jesus says the rich young ruler lacks one thing, then lists a few things (that boil down to one, really).

19 July 2007

Apparently, Nathaniel Hawthorne once wrote:

'Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you.'

Sounds like good quality greeting-card sentiment.

But is it barbed?

The American Declaration of Independence says that 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' are God-given rights. Is part of the problem with the West that we take that phrase literally and out of the context of our relationship with God (and even with each other). We seem to want those rights to be fundamental to our relationships -- the rules that they obey -- rather than the other way round.

17 July 2007

There are quite a few New Testament questions that still baffle me. One of them came up in House Group the other night: the ending of Mark. Your Bible probably gives you 20 verses of chapter 16. But in most versions, verses 9-20 are printed in a different style or with a disclaimer before verse 9. My old King James Bible is one version that doesn't. That's because when the old King was doing his stuff, most of the ancient texts that were available included 9-20. We've found a lot more texts since then and learned a lot more about how to read even the ones that we had. These days, most everyone agrees that 9-20 is not by the author of Mark's gospel on the basis of vocabulary and style, that it doesn't really fit into the narrative flow and that the content has probably been pieced together from other parts of the New Testament.

16 July 2007

I started blogging because some of my former students blogged first. I read their stuff and enjoyed being able to keep up with them and what they were thinking about even though they'd left college. The natural thing to do seemed not only to comment on theirs but to start my own.

12 July 2007

WARNING: Nothing but spoilers coming. Watch the trailer first. It's filmed on a handheld camera, so let it load first, so you don't confuse the jitteryness of download with the intended jitteryness of the genre. Trailer is available in high quality on Apple's site.

[whoops. it's gone now. sorry.]

11 July 2007

My name is Theo Jansen. I'm a kinetic sculptor.

10 July 2007


Upload your photo and voila.

09 July 2007

Someone wrote to me:
Another theological question: If the greatest commandments
are to love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as
yourself, and bearing in mind that Jesus gives an example of this (Luke)
in the good Samaritan, immediately after making this statement - does
this mean that non-jews and non-Christians who love God with all their
hearts and their neighbour as themselves are obeying all the
commandments and will therefore also get eternal life?

You don't earn it by following the greatest or the least commandments. He's not waiting at the gate with a commandments checklist. It's not about that.

You get there by loving him and being loved by him. And that implies not rejecting him. John 3:16-18. Yes, of course, non-Jews who and non-Christians who are willing to love God and not refuse the gift he offers are welcomed in. That's the revolution that Christ brought to Judaism: relationship isn't limited to blood/family/tribal ties. They're welcomed in not because they have followed commandments but because they have loved and said yes to God and his way, Jesus. But in doing so, they are no longer non-Christians.

The question is a little like asking "how many keys does there need to be on a computer keyboard for it to be connected to the internet?" "It says to 'mouse-click here'; does that mean a trackpad won't do it, only a mouse?" No. The internet isn't really about that. It's about being able to send and receive signals and, once you can receive them, not turning signals away.

Jesus is being typically playfully paradoxical with the guy. Jesus says If you love me you'll keep my commandments. And what are his commandments? Essentially, that you love him.

Some of the guys that ask Jesus similar questions have a problem: they are trying to justify themselves. They are examining the wording to find out whether they can fit into the definition without changing. "Ah, but who IS my neighbour?" Jesus told the Good Samaritan parable not in order that the guy might jack up his commandment-compliance an extra notch, but so that he would change his attitude. Such people are in trouble not because there are commandments that they are violating, but because their attitude is not one of loving God, but of asking "how little can I get away with and still have it be called 'love'?" That, of course, is not a question love asks. Love asks, "What can I do to show you I love you?" not "How little can I do and still have you think I love you?"

06 July 2007

A friend of mine asked about the Dead Sea Scrolls the other day. She'd studied theology years ago, when the text of the Scrolls had been published but not many folks knew what to do with them yet. She asked me for an update: how have these ancient documents informed our understanding of the New Testament and Christian origins?

I wasn't prepared, of course. I had to say that I thought Vermes's volume was still the standard entry point. As for how our knowledge of the Scrolls has influenced NT studies, I thought of some of the discussions of Christology, particularly divine mediators, but other than Hurtado's stuff, not much of this has any trickle down value to the folks facing the pews.

But then something occurred to me that hadn't before. It's still a half-baked notion, but.... here goes. Part of the reason for the imbalances and errors in Tom Wright's reconstruction of Jesus and Judaism might lie precisely in his great awareness/knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

05 July 2007

Behold; the FlapFlap lamp from Büro für Form. When I was a kid, touristy shops at the seaside would sell empty dog collars with stiff leashes/leads... you'd walk with them as if you had an invisible dog. This is almost as fun.

It'd be even more fun if they sold it paired with an identical lamp with an ordinary cord. Then you could change one for the other while your house guests were in the other room.

04 July 2007

I noted a wickedly clever quotation from Richard Bauckham's wonderful Eyewitnesses book. He's talking about the many versions of Jesus on offer at present - "...the Jesus of Dominic Crossan, the Jesus of Marcus Borg, the Jesus of NT (Tom) Wright... and many others." Of these, he writes: "...in all cases the result is a Jesus reconstructed by the historian... in effect, to provide an alternative to the Gospels' constructions of Jesus." (p. 3)

This is clever. All of us will want to use this quotation about our enemies' interpretation of Jesus. But it's naughty of him not to make crystal-clear that we must also say this about our favourite book about Jesus. Even worse, it's true of any of us, not just professional historians. No earthling has access to the "Gospels' constructions of Jesus" untainted by our own interpretations and presuppositions. It isn't, thus, a choice between Wright's Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels, but a choice between Wright's Jesus and your own Jesus. What you're hoping is that your favourite historians portray a Jesus who is closer to the Gospels' own rendition than your own is.

Bauckham is again naughty on the next page, where he writes: "Historical work, by its very nature, is always putting two and two together and making five -- or twelve or seventeen."

Wrongety-wrong-wrong. Not 'always.' Rather, historical work at its best is putting two and two together and not only making four, but deducing the existence and nature of one and three.

In fact, in thinking about how I would use the metaphor, it is the applied theologians, not the historians, who are interested in what two and two "make," arriving at five, twelve or seventeen. And the hermeneuts? They don't care about the numbers all that much; they want to explore what we mean by "and" and "make."

(ps A better, funnier, challenge would be that conservative Evangelical NT guys like me tend to put two and two together and get twenty-two.)

01 June 2007

Oh so true, from Merlin Mann:

Email is such a funny thing. People hand you these single little messages that are no heavier than a river pebble. But it doesn’t take long until you have acquired a pile of pebbles that’s taller than you and heavier than you could ever hope to move, even if you wanted to do it over a few dozen trips. But for the person who took the time to hand you their pebble, it seems outrageous that you can’t handle that one tiny thing. “What ‘pile’? It’s just a #!@* pebble!”

14 May 2007

Feeling better; making progress; entertaining the idea of blogging again once I get the final-year projects and this PhD I'm examining read and marked.... This has to be the longest time I've been away (and the longest time I've been doing virtually no writing) since I started blogging.

05 April 2007

As is my custom, when I'm terribly behind in work stuff, marking and lectures to be written piling up and literally hundreds of e-mails are waiting to be answered, I shut down blogging (and lots of other stuff) till I get back within sight of land. I'm lookin' at waves at the moment. No tidal waves or tsunamis, no horrible storms. Just lots and lots of water.

I should finish a set of marking today. Might celebrate by turning the office 'phone back on.

Hope you're faring better wherever you are.

07 March 2007

Hey, there. It's me, leaning forward, arm shielding my eyes, attempting to trudge forward against the gales of massive waves of Problems Of My Own Making. As well as the day job, I've been away speaking last week. Battling to prepare things for preaching in chapel next week and what can only be described as Lesson Plans for 'speaking' at a big-name christian 'event' later. I never should have said yes to that one!

Meanwhile, here's something I woulda wrote about if I'd had time: Jesus' family grave. Alleged. Read about it in the New York Times and nice response by Richard Bauckham on Chris Tilling's blog. (Lots of interesting comments in the latter as well, including a fun sub-plot about the difference between the english words 'people' and 'persons.'

22 February 2007

I'm pretty sure that having one of these would cheer me up. [link via Kottke] Unfortunately, there are folks who need the million pounds more than I need cheering up.

21 February 2007

Nice stuff to listen to while worrying at the corners of your work. Explosions in the Sky ... from their own website or from reloda.

16 February 2007

Antony sent me a reference the other day. It was a short article suggesting that the prayer in Nehemiah 9 might corroborate NT Wright's idea that Jews during the post-exilic, intertestamental and new testament times still thought of themselves as 'in exile.' The prayer seems to go through covenant history without ever explicitly talking about a return from exile and characterises the people's situation now in this way: 'Behold, we are slaves to this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold we are slaves' (Neh 9:36). Doesn't this make it look like they're still in exile?

Well, not if you read Nehemiah carefully. In Neh. 1:1, 1:3 and 8:17 the author does explicitly characterise these people as those who survived or returned from exile. And in chapter 9, if you look closely, you'll see the language of the end of the prayer is an echo of phrases used to describe the ungodly monarchies in Israel and Judah rather than the exile. In 36-38 we are not in the position of having refused admonishment, and not 'in the hands of our enemies' as in v 30 about the exile. Instead, we are once again in the position of being 'ruled over by our enemies' and 'being admonished by leaders' as in vv 27-28 when the exile was looming.

Wright's redefinition of exile-while-not-in-exile seems to have blinded many readers to the genuine history. Think!

12 February 2007

What a find! Quite by accident, I stumbled across a Bruce Cockburn contribution to a Pete Seeger Tribute album on iTunes. I guess I'm not the only one who's found it because, at least on the UK iTunes Store, it's one of his 5 most downloaded.

If it's not on that list when you go there, search for Cockburn, click on his name, then click a box that says "See all songs by this artist" and scroll down to "Turn, Turn, Turn."

There's also a cover of "Ribbon of Darkness," from an album saluting Gordon Lightfoot.

On the USA iTMS, there's a song called "Wise Users" from an ecology benefit album, and a few collaborations.

09 February 2007

Exquisite timing from my perspective. Sudden snow storm yesterday morning resulted in school closures and even College closure. The whole family was home (except Shanese had always had conference calls scheduled for most of the day -- with folks from Houston etc. so they weren't cancelled). The kids built their biggest snowperson ever and I managed to take the whole day off from my paralyzing anxieties about upcoming speaking engagements, new teaching and lack of writing. It felt great and the snow was beautiful.

But anyway, here's a couple of fun things that you all might be able to make some use of. My daughter knitted (knit?) me something amazing: a mobius scarf! She just made a fairly normal (though nicely coloured and very soft) scarf, but then gave it a half twist and somehow knit (knitted?) the ends together. How great is that!? Get someone to knit you one. (Out of curiousity, just now, I did a search on the web and found these directions for knitting one from the edge! Freaky.) Next, I want her to make me a Klein bottle jacket!

Then here's your pay-off for reading this: two lovely animations I found the other day while chasing down stuff on digital rights management. The first cartoon is by Benjamin Stephan and Lutz Vogel. It's about the so-called 'Trusted Computing' initiative. (That's 'trusted' as in 'you're not.')

But the second is even better; a wonderful piece of art showing the randomness and despair of the powderpoint generation, called Le Grand Content by Clemens Kogler and Karo Szmit, inspired by the often-marvelous blog indexed by Jessica Hagy.

08 February 2007

Since 2004, gmail or google-mail, has been offering e-mail accounts with large amounts of storage for free. Until now, though, you've had to have someone 'invite' you to join. Now anyone can join by visiting their web page.

I collected free e-mail addresses at one time. My favourite, reallyserious@twinkie.com, has expired. Like many others, it was a useful trophy, but not very nice to use. Google's mail is great to use. And Google doesn't place ads in messages you send, unlike Yahoo and Microsoft's Hotmail. It's the one free e-mail address that I use every week. Now there's a version for mobile phones, as well.

The main argument against it is that Google is getting to the point of knowing entirely too much about us. They can scan incoming as well as outgoing e-mail from your account and can add to that what they know about you from cookie-tracking your searches not to mention the fact that you might blog via 'blogger' which they own now. And you don't read your RSS stuff via GoogleReader, do you?

There's a serious point there. I've got nothing to hide, but do I really want to assist any corporation in gaining that much power? Maybe I oughta reconsider that google account....

07 February 2007

People seem to think that the reason that the iPod is so popular is that folks are somehow 'locked in' to using it because they've bought stuff on iTunes that won't work with any music player that uses Windows Media Format files, nor will it play any files bought on an online store that sells Windows Media Format files.

Steve Jobs, who presides over Apple's iPod/iTunes empire, has published an open letter asking the record industry to stop using DRM -- digital rights management -- to 'protect' their assets by limiting their use. If they dropped DRM, he'd convert the whole iTunes system 'in a heartbeat.' (And it has to be said that the way DRM is implemented in their system, it could be dropped quickly.)

It's great to see a call for openness from an industry leader! So are the various consumer groups angling for open rights going to rally around this call, and even if they cynically think Steve is bluffing, work to call his bluff? Are they after open rights or are they after Apple's blood? Torgier Waterhouse of the Norwegian Consumer Council has replied and missed the opportunity to work with Apple to open up the record company's attitudes, instead continuing to treat Apple as the enemy. Sad. (See also former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble's blog.)

ADDITION: This is no change of tactic for His Steveness. In an interview almost five years ago (!), back when the iPod was accused of fostering piracy, he'd argued that the record companies need to loosen their grip: 'If you legally acquire music, you need to have the right to manage it on all other devices that you own.' The interview is still online at MacWorld. [Thanks, Mark]

06 February 2007

I'm a frustrated and unhappy boy today, but that's not what I'm going to write about. Grrr.

Instead I'm going to write about a little bit of elegance for PeeCees. For a while now Macs have had a piece of freeware that brings the best features of a command line to the Mac GUI. It's called Quicksilver and it's powerful as anything but I reckon most of us only use the bit where we invoke it and type in the name of the app we want to open. I love it.

Anyway, someone's made a similar program for Windows computer and I'll be goosewoggled if it isn't just as elegant or even more eleganter (ermm...) as Quicksilver. This baby oozes sophistication. Sorry, I'm being silly, but I am genuinely impressed by it. Enso Launcher costs $20 rather than being free, but that's reasonable.

They also sell a spellcheck/dictionary for the same price, but I wasn't as impressed by that somehow. My SpellCatcher is old-fashioned looking but works less intrusively. You can have a look though. It's called Enso Words.

ADDITION: Blog-reader leeb has written another for-Windows Quicksilver-like app called Kodachi and needs beta-testers.

05 February 2007

Derek Tidball led the Staff Prayer session this morning with a little thing that was just right for those of us who feel we've got nothing but lost battles to wage, for those of us who feel we're not making a dent.

"She did what she could." She couldn't fix the world's problems all by herself. She didn't do less that she could, she gave it the best she had. She didn't pretend to be other than what she was. She just did what she could.

Read Mark 14:3-9 and you'll understand. How cool would it be to hear Jesus intervene for you: "Hey, leave him alone!"

02 February 2007

Here's something my friend Brett will like: an article in the New York Times about eating right that takes us away from basing our diets around 'nutrients' and back to 'foods.'

The advice? It includes:

'Don't eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

'Avoid food products that come bearing health claims.

'Especially avoid food products containing more than five ingredients.

'Pay more, eat less.

'Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.'

The article is written by Michael Pollan who has also written a book called The Omnivore's Dilemma.

01 February 2007

If you're a BBC licence-payer, let me urge you to go to their site and take part in a 'Public Consultation.' If you put an optimistic spin on it, it may be a chance for human beings to influence this powerful institution in favour of adopting open standards in the media that they distribute. If you put a pessimistic conspiracy spin on it, it may be our last chance to stop it becoming MSBBC (Microsoft BBC).

There are some PDFs that you need to wade through in order to answer the questions and they're not fun to read. But it might be worth it to have a crack at answering questions like:
"How important is it that the proposed seven-day catch-up service over the internet is available to consumers who are not using Microsoft software?"
(fascinating that even with ubiquitous iPods, their strategy revolves not around 'should we say yes or no to Apple's formats?' but around Microsoft!)

Me? I'd want them to not just be platform-agnostic (like WMF + RealPlayer) but to go platform-independent -- to deliberately avoid both the Microsoft lock-in WindowsMediaPlayer AND Apple's FairPlayAAC. I'd want them to go instead with mp3s and MPEG-4s which everyone can play.

Here's that link again: BBC Open Consultation.

(thanks to Brett for the heads-up.)

31 January 2007

Some web pages have words with double-underlining. And if your mouse strays anywhere near them a balloon opens, obscuring the article and offering to take you to some other webpage where you'll be able to buy something of marginal relevance.

Have you seen it yet? If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer, you're likely to have been looking at it for a long time. If, like me, you're using Safari on OS-X, you may not have seen it at all. I've only really noticed it since December.

This is a money-making scheme being pursued by several companies, notably 'Vibrant Media' which calls the system IntelliTXT. (Others are Kontera, Adbrite, Ontok)

29 January 2007

Part of an on-going discussion with a colleague about teaching styles & the place of scholarship:

An investigator in any field stands on the shoulders of giants. But I ain't primarily up there to study their shoulders. Nor am I primarily there to hear them describe what they see. I'm there to look at what they're looking at.

My job as a teacher is to point people toward what I think is true about the subject. I believe that the best hope we have at arriving in the neighbourhood of this truth is through careful examination, the scholarly process. It therefore behooves me to teach and to model this process as well. I believe that I do my students and my own pursuit of the truth a disservice if I am not in, and not showing them that I am in, constant dialogue with the ideas that the scholarly process throws up, especially ones that are 1) spectacularly insightful, 2) prevalent and powerful among my peers or theirs, 3) spectacularly and instructively wrong, or 4) instructive in modeling how investigative examination should work. But equally important is nurturing a faith perspective about Scripture and a critical enquiring attitude toward the work of human beings. Woe is me if I talk glowingly about scholarly results rather than about the process.

My goal is not people who are fed enough information to answer questions on an exam, but people who are changed into the kind of folks who can think deeply enough to answer questions on an exam. I'd like an exam to be less 'a one-off challenge to rise to' and more a 'measurement of where folks have gotten to.' We do that in my classes by confronting the subject matter together and alongside the ideas from scholarship, being surprised at the turning points along the way and learning to make sense by allowing ourselves to, initially, see the problem.

I want to teach in such a way that in 20 years time, when the particulars of the scholarly landscape have changed, and students come to their notes from or memories of the class, they don't think 'rats, we never covered X and Y because they hadn't written yet' but rather 'probably I should approach the ideas of X and Y just like we approached scholarly ideas in those days -- throw myself into thinking about the text and the subject.'

25 January 2007

FontShop Germany got a pretty distinguished panel of experts to pick the 100 'best' typefaces. It's an interesting list and more understandable if you read a little German: it should really be called the 100 most important typefaces. Aesthetic quality of the face only counts for 30% of the decision. A full 40% is for how well the typeface has sold and another 30% for its historical significance.

The top 10 are: Helvetica, Garamond, Frutiger, Bodoni, Futura, Times, Akzidenz Grotesk, Officina, Gill Sans, Univers. Some surprises there. Though I wouldn't choose Helvetica or Times very often for anything (much less their ugly pirate half-sisters, Times New Roman and Arial), I can understand their inclusion so near the top. But some of the others...? I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Officina -- enough to have bought it -- but on what criteria does it go so far ahead of its more expensive and extensive relative, Meta (on the list at 18)? And how does it rank ahead of Gill Sans on any of the three criteria?

There's a web site and also a PDF to download, but they're auf Deutsch and, oddly, they only show a letter or so from each typeface, so you're just as well looking them up in an online catalog.

24 January 2007

Here's a few titles for books that no one would publish because no one would buy:

- Maybe the Problem is with You, Not with Your Church

- Actually, the Bible Means Pretty Much What It Says

- Perhaps We ALREADY Understand Modern Media Better than Our Bibles

- Maybe God is More Interested in Your Goal than Your Journey

Now you think up some...

23 January 2007

The Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up is the end of the Nazareth sermon episode in Luke 4:21-30.

Over the past 25 years or so, everyone's been much more interested in the first half of the passage, which has all sorts of overtones of the Year of Jubilee and social action and so on. Maybe for a preacher in the late 20th century that's where the substance of the pericope lies.

For the storyteller and narrative critic though, the first part of the story is only what we would expect after the build-up placed on Jesus in chapters 1-3. All the surprises and curiousities are here in the second part: the people speak well of him but he seems to deliberately alienate them; after the nationalism voiced in the early chapters (cf Zecheriah's song) Jesus goes out of his way to renounce it; when their hopes are rebutted the people's attitude turns hostile and murderous (prefiguring some pretty important events later on in Luke's two-volume work).

Here's a bit I find very curious historically. In verse 30, where they intend to kill him but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way, I think Luke must intend us to see something supernatural going on. He also probably intends us to eventually parallel this with his yielding to his foes in the Garden of Gethsemane later. But note the preceding verse. He doesn't do this walking through their midst trick until after he has allowed them to drive him out of the town and onto this brow of a hill. Narratively this is useful and much more dramatic as well as explicit foreshadowing. But is that why the historical Jesus played it this way (assuming that, like me, you believe that the episodes in the gospels happened the way that they're described)?

The turn in this crowd's mood highlights the curious and uncomfortable knife-edge borderline between this mob and the one that he knew wanted to make him king by force (John 6:15). From that crowd, too, he withdrew and went his own way -- a way, ironically, that included both being killed and being king.

22 January 2007

Yeah, we've all heard this before. New word processor designed with writers in mind. Will revolutionize the way you do your writing. Blah blah blah.

I'm as cynical as the next guy. But the final version of Scrivener was released over the weekend. If you're using Mac OS - X 10.4 and write projects rather than memos, you really ought to give this a try. The program is under $40 (£20) but it will work for a month for free. It comes with a step-by-step tutorial document that they estimate will take you a half-hour to go through.

It actually took me a little longer than a half-hour but that might be because I kept stopping, looking up at the ceiling, shaking my head and saying things like "Whoa!" or "Seriously!" or "No way. This is great!" I found I had to do this a lot.

Scrivener 1.0, by "Literature and Latte". Deal me in.

19 January 2007

The popsci website explains. You'll need some glass microscope slides, some runny-style 'superglue,' access to a fridge/freezer and a decent pair of tweezers. You won't actually be saving the snowflake, but making a 'fossil' of it. You chill the slides and runny superglue, tweezer your snowflake onto them, cover it, pop it in the freezer for a couple of weeks. By then the thin and runny glue will have flowed all around the tiny arms and holes in the snowflake and hardened. At that point you can take the thing out of the freezer. The snowflake itself will melt, but you'll be left with its imprint in all its detail.

18 January 2007

Fun weather! The TV report talked about 'damaging winds' but it doesn't feel like that at all. Feels more like 'show-offy' winds; more 'watch this!' than 'take that!' There's rain, but not much. My glasses spot up but my clothes feel dry. There's a bracing edge, but no bitter cold. It's just blowy and fun to be walking in. I'm so fortunate to be able to walk to work.

As for work itself, it hasn't been a spectacularly successful return from sabbatical. The trip to the States was great and all, but all momentum on every project and task is dead. Mr Inertia, that's me, with inert being the operative ingredient. There're twelve things on my to-do list on a typical day, and at the end I can tick off two or three of them.

One of the fun projects I was going to do with some extra time some day was make up a web site that looked and acted like a virtual PDA. It was going to be the apostle Peter's Palm. And the person visiting the web site would be able to navigate through Peter's calendars for the years of Jesus' public ministry, see Peter's to do categories and lists, things he'd ticked off and things he hadn't. There'd also be notes on Jesus' sermons and stuff Peter wanted to ask later.

But I wonder how folks like Peter and Paul viewed their goals and action-lists. I wonder if it ever occurred to them to make lists of things that they should get done today or if they just internalised their long term goals and then reacted to stuff happening around them in a way that would be in line with long term goals and objectives. Would Paul have embraced systems like filofaxes and Getting Things Done or would he have laughed or found it petty?

17 January 2007

Okay, maybe I'm taking this too far, since it's all speculation about events beyond our understanding. But I'm so curious about what happened. See, here's a weird thing.

You know when Jesus does the thing with the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5; Jn 21)? Did Jesus create a whole bunch of fish that hadn't existed before or did he cause a bunches of fish that were there to all be at the same place? I'll bet that like me, you gravitate toward the latter, right?

But here's the thing: when Jesus fed the multitudes (Mt 14, 15; Mk 6, 8) he was involved in creating stuff that wasn't there before. In this case, he would have been creating, or, to use the old term for this miracle, multiplying.

But what is that he's creating? It's, basically, a dead animal. But that strikes me as really weird: that Jesus created/multiplied dead animals. And if he created it without life, then can it be said to be dead? Or was it just material that was molecular identical to a dead fish? And did he only multiply the digestable bits, or did the basketfuls of scraps leftover include a heap of little bones as if there'd been that many fish instead of just five?

15 January 2007

Put enough water into a bowl of cornstarch ('cornflour' in the UK) so that it takes on the kind of consistency of that white glue you used in school. You now have a substance with some very odd properties. Specifically, it flows like a liquid normally but acts just like a solid when you put it under pressure. So, for instance, if you try to quickly jab at it with your fingers, it will stop you at the surface. But if you just push your fingers slowly, they'll sink in and you'll be able to touch the bottom of the bowl easily. You can take a bit of it between your two hands and start moving them. The stuff will react like a doughy solid, rolling into a firm tight ball. But as soon as you stop the rolling and hold it in the palm of your hand, the ball melts and runs out between your fingers.

This is because the finely ground particles don't actually dissolve in water the way that sugar or salt would. Instead, they remain dispersed in the water as particles. It's a 'suspension' not a 'solution.' It's still counter-intuitive and therefore really prim to play with.

Well, Kottke pointed to a YouTube video the other day of something I've always wanted to do. For a foreign television show, somebody made up a huge container of the stuff. Large enough for a person to jump into. Here's what happened.

12 January 2007

Kat and Emma were playing with words the other day and through a long and fairly random process hit upon a word which reminded them of the sound of the actual word prim. Yeah, as in prim and proper. They decided it would be time to bring it back. Its dictionary meaning is something like stuffy, stiff and formal. But, hey, in the past, we've redefined words like random and wicked to mean something good, why not prim?

Let's join them in bringing it back. Use it on your unsuspecting friends today. 'That was totally prim.'

11 January 2007

Sorry about that. I got back from the States last week, but I've moved to a new computer (15" MacBookPro 233MHz Core 2 Duo. Nice.) and one of the few programs that had trouble with the automatic transfer of my registration details and licences was my obscure blog client. Time to move. Previous blog entries are still available at http://homepage.mac.com/conrad.gempf/blogwavestudio/index.html

Anyway, I wanted to share a great quotation from Tom Wright. I spend a lot of my time picking at stuff he's done that I'm sure is wrong but he also deserves a lot of credit for the many insightful things he does right. His Bible for Everyone series commentary on Galatians is the best thing I've ever read on Galatians (except for his infuriating decision to use lower-case 's's for both the Spirit and Satan, because he's convinced that the latter isn't a person and he doesn't think that Paul thought that the former was at this point. Grrr). See? Even when I try and praise him...!

But he's interviewed in the Jan. 2007 issue of Christianity Today, and bits of it are wonderful. He's thought further than I have but along the same lines on the Gospel of Judas. I'd written in my blog that the Gnostics were not radicals but people who liked Christianity but thought it was too radical and watered it down. His paragraph on this is so much better than mine it's amazing.

The pull-quote on page 41 really caught my eye and brain:
If you simply address the God-shaped blank that people think they've got, the God that you end up with is the God shaped by the blank.

There are bits of the interview I don't like, including some bad decisions of Greek exegesis. That sentence about God-shaped blanks is a gem, however -- not just insightful and incisive, but a brilliantly crafted sentence.
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