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.
This blog is closed now. I've moved to http://gempf.com