God’s Word | our words
meaning, communication, & technology
following Jesus, the Word made flesh
December 28th, 2007

XO Laptop Give One Get One: Only a Few Days Left

One of the exciting technology developments of 2007 is the low-cost XO laptop designed to make networked computing available and affordable for children in developing countries. If you’re a techno-geek, you’ll be amazed at all the features they packed into this device for less than $200 (hardware specs). And if you care about proclaiming the Good News to the poor (Luke.4.18), you won’t have a hard time understanding that the XO could provide a wonderful opportunity to make the Scripture available to some of the world’s neediest children. No, technical gadgets won’t meet basic needs like food, shelter, clean water, and safety (so please keep giving to those causes). But in the longer term, it could provide part of the solution to moving from survival to sustainable development.

The One Laptop Per Child association has a clever plan to jumpstart XO donations (as well as publicity). Under their Give One Get One program, you pay the cost of two laptops ($400 plus shipping): one is donated to a child in a developing country, and one goes to the child of your choice (which often means the big kid/geek ordering it). You get a tax deduction for the donated laptop, as well as an opportunity to learn first-hand about this exciting technology (check out this video review of the XO by David Pogue of the New York Times: he demonstrates its durability by tossing water and dirt on it, then dropping it on a rock!).

Give One Get One ends Dec. 31, so skip the after Christmas sales and give a child an XO instead. Some Bible content is already available for the XO: Tim Bulkeley is also thinking about how it can be used for sharing audio Bibles (see xobible.org for more details). Tim says that BibleTime will also run on the XO (though i couldn’t find more information on their site).

December 8th, 2007

PaperBackSwap Bookmarklet

If you’re a bibliophile, you’ve probably got scads of books that have no significant commercial value (so you can’t sell them used), but that you can’t bear to throw in the trash (because they really are still worthwhile books!). Since that’s us too, i was excited to find PaperBackSwap, a book club that works on a simple cooperative premise: people will share if they’re shared with in return.

Here’s how it works. You post books you’d be willing to give away (without remuneration). In return, after you’ve met the minimum sharing requirement of posting 10 books, you can two credits which you can use to ask others for books they’ve posted. If someone wants your book, you mail it to them and pay the postage: in return, you get an additional credit. When you ask someone else for their book, they pay the postage. While there’s no person-to-person exchange of value (money from me, book from you), it works out overall: people get books they want in some proportion to their willingness to share.

Of course, this is only appealing if you can find books there that you want. As you’d expect, PaperBackSwap isn’t heavy on the latest or most popular titles (but it does include hardbacks, despite the name: there are also companion sites for swapping CDs and DVDs).

The main attraction for me is a less expensive source of books that i can’t find in the local library, and would rather not pay full price for. I generally use Amazon’s Wishlist feature to track books i’m interested in obtaining (feel free to buy me something for Christmas!). So i wrote a bookmarklet (modeled on Jon Udell’s fabulous Library Lookup Project) that simply automates the search for an Amazon book inside PaperBackSwap.

Just drag this link to your link toolbar (see the Library Lookup Project if you need more help on how this works):

PaperBackSwap Lookup

December 8th, 2007

Bible Knowledgebase Write-up at SemanticReport.com

SemanticReport is a relatively new digital newletter about the commercial application of semantic technologies like RDF and OWL. Following on my presentation last May at Semantic Technology 2007, they asked me to write up a brief description of the Bible Knowledgebase (BK) project at Logos (other Blogos posts about BK).

They’ve just released their December edition, which includes my article on Building the Semantic Bible.

Hard-core semantic geeks will be interested to know that:

  • they’re annotating their articles with semantic meta-data, which you can view here in what looks like a Simile-derived viewer. Each article also gets linked to RDF data. However …
  • in what may be a telling point about the whole Semantic Web enterprise, their meta-data production seems to lag a bit. So there isn’t any for my article yet :-/
December 7th, 2007

What’s Your Neighborhood’s Walk Score?

Walk Score is a neat application that shows how “walkable” your neighborhood is. Plug in an address, and it computes a score based on the proximity of grocery stores, restaurants, libraries, etc. So you can choose a place to live where you can maximize walking and minimize driving.

Our house in Ferndale didn’t do so well, but i’m happy to report that Logos‘ office in walkable downtown Bellingham scores a perfect walk score of 100! So you might want to think about working for Logos and getting rid of your car…

(Hat tip to Joel on Software)

December 6th, 2007

Google Charts API

Google announced today their API for embedding charts in webpages, using nothing more than a standard HTTP URL with parameters. If you like showing data, you’re going to love this feature. You’ve probably already seen these charts on various Google properties like Google finance. While this won’t replace Excel, it includes the basic chart types: line charts, bar charts, pie charts, scatter plots, even Venn diagrams. Here’s their API documentation.

Here’s a simple example:

Google Chart example Venn diagram

Here’s a walkthrough of the link text that generated this (split onto multiple lines for exposition and annotated with comments: what you put in a browser’s address box obviously needs to go on a single line, without the comments):

http://chart.apis.google.com/chart? the base URL
cht=v& chart type: v for Venn
chs=400×200& chart size: 400 by 200 pixels
chd=t:119,96,43,67,22,38,16& chart data: the 3 circle sizes, and the intersection areas: see the API for details
chdl=Redundant|Doesn’t-start-pericope|Has-Meta-comment& chart legend
chf=bg,s,efefef chart fill: background = grey

This is really a killer feature when you consider the amount of work it would take to create a diagram like the one above yourself. You’d have to

  • Make a chart in some other application (like Excel) and paste in a picture of it
  • Fool around with SVG or some other complex graphics language (and still have the problem of people not having SVG-capable browsers to see your chart!)

(The best general-purpose and web-friendly charting tool i’ve found is IBM’s ManyEyes site, which has a much richer palette of chart types: but that requires you to upload data tables and do some other configuration work.)
For data geeks like me, another key benefit that may not be obvious is that all the data is exposed here. If i paste in a picture of a chart, the viewer can only get the underlying data (and re-use it, or re-chart it) if i decide to supply it separately, or annotate my picture with it somehow. Here, the data is in the chart reference itself. That also means you can easily generate such charts programmatically.

Since we live in a data-rich world, i’m a big fan of using visualizations to make data easier to understand. Tools like Google Chart and ManyEyes take away one excuse, by making it easier to show what your data means.

About the chart above: you’d have to look at my talk with Steve Runge at the recent SBL meeting to make sense of this, but it shows the following characterizations, for 159 occurrences of vocatives (or nominatives of address) in the New Testament epistles:

  • Redundant: many vocatives in the epistles like “brothers” or “beloved” don’t distinguish who’s being addressed (e.g. they’re not a typical “vocative of address” case). 119 of the 159 vocatives (75%) are like this.
  • Doesn’t start pericope: some have posited that vocatives function to signal textual transitions like pericope breaks. While that’s sometimes true, the 96 (of 159, or 60%) shown here do not.
  • Meta-comment: vocatives often co-occur with meta-comments like “I want you to know that …” (43 of 159, or 27%) See Steve’s work (and forthcoming resources from Logos) for more about this discourse function.
December 5th, 2007

Libronix Links as Knowledge Resources

Wikipedia has proven to be a revolutionary development in online information systems, through features like user-produced content, the breadth of the subjects it addresses, the ability to rapidly update articles, and too many others to list. But one benefit that’s perhaps more subtle is the way that Wikipedia provides a standard set of targets for hyperlinked text.

I use this all the time for my blog posts: as in this recent example, rather than digressing to explain terms like Python and XPath, i just link these terms to their associated Wikipedia articles. Those who know what those terms mean don’t need to follow the links: those who don’t can go find out, if they choose to, or just plow ahead if they don’t want to bother. This hypertext writing style has become much more common in the last decade (thanks in part to the popularity of blogs), and has even spawned new approaches to written communication, like wikis and hypertext fiction.

Once you’ve begun writing (and reading!) hypertext like this, you don’t want to go back: it’s so much more useful to readers to have the additional resources integrated directly into the text. This leads naturally to hyperlinking other kinds of text: for example, i don’t ever write a Bible reference like Luke 11:2-4 without a hyperlink to the verse itself, usually in the English Standard Version (and if you write Bible references like this, you should go look at the bibleref page to see the right way to create these links!).

That’s all background to a realization i had this morning. I was chatting with Dr. Peter Flint, who directs the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University, about my work on the Bible Knowledgebase. Dr. Flint gave an excellent talk in the Logos Lecture series last night about his work on the scrolls, and he visited the office today to talk about other things we’re doing. He was reflecting on how, as a professor, he often provides Wikipedia links for his students as additional on-line resources, and wondered whether the Bible Knowledgebase might someday function that way.

In fact, you can use Libronix that way now, with a little knowledge about keylinks and resources. Here are some sample links (which naturally require that you have Libronix installed locally):

  • Biblical People data for Simon Peter (as opposed to Simon from Luke 2:25). Since these Biblical People pages are disambiguated, and include links to Bible passages and related family members, they’re useful “hubs” for starting a study on an individual.
    • Link targets as text: libronixdls://report|name=ReportBiblicalPeople|page=ID%3APeter-1 and libronixdls://report|name=ReportBiblicalPeople|page=ID%3ASimeon2-1
  • Look up the English term “grace” in your default English dictionary (check your settings under Tools > Options > Keylink, for Data Type = English: by default, it’s probably the Merriam-Webster dictionary).
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]English:Grace
  • Look up the English term “grace” in the New Bible Dictionary.
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]English:Grace|res=LLS:NBD
  • and of course you can link to Bible passages, like this Libronix link to Luke 2:25 in the NIV.
    • Link text: libronixdls://keylink|ref=[en]bible:Luke.2.25|res=LLS:NIV

If you’re publishing your own content (like a blog, web page, or wiki) and your readers might be Libronix users, this can make it very easy for them to get to the data you have in mind, enriching the value of your content, and making your readers happier at the same time! You can put Libronix links in MS Word documents as well. See this page on the Logos blog for more information about hyperlinks to Libronix, and about using a double-link style to combine web links with Libronix links. (note: I use “libronixdls://” instead of simply “libronixdls:” because otherwise WordPress mangles the reference: your mileage may vary, but in general either should work.)

(Disclaimer: there’s significant controversy in the academic community about the appropriate role of secondary sources like Wikipedia. While i’m not trying to open that worm-filled can, there’s no question that, as background resources, Wikipedia and other on-line content has changed the nature of information and education.)

Update (12/7/2007): Phil Gons of Logos has taken this idea further and spelled out lots of cool things you can do with it on the Logos blog.