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November 5th, 2008

Me and Barry

Given all the election hoopla, you could be forgiven if you missed an important detail about Barack Obama’s successful
path to the presidency. No, i don’t mean his massive fundraising, or his compelling oratory about change. As you’ll learn from his Wikipedia page, though he graduated from Columbia University, he started his education with two years at Occidental College, a small liberal arts school in southern California. His earliest interest in public service developed during his two years there, 1979-1981. What you won’t learn from Wikipedia, though, is who else was there during those formative years: me.Barack

That’s right, Barry (that’s what people called him back then) and i were classmates at Oxy (that’s what we alumni call Occidental), where i was a student from 1976-1980. I was a senior during his freshman year, and i was also around for his sophomore year (after graduating, i worked at Oxy for three additional years as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship).

Barry started out as a basketball player — something i was never any good at — but, as he said in a May 18 speech at Wesleyan University “I began to notice a world beyond myself … I became active in the movement to oppose the apartheid regime of South Africa” (citation). In 1977, just two years previously, i had withdrawn my funds from the local Bank of America in protest, after learning about divestment as an economic tool for fighting against apartheid. While little has been said publicly about my actions and their possible impact on Barry, do you think it’s just coincidence?

As a senior, i was putting in my best efforts as a student, but that wasn’t true initially for Barry. As detailed in a Newsweek story about his Occidental years, he met in the Cooler (an on-campus cafe that i frequented as well) with Roger Boesche, professor of politics, to complain about a poor grade. As Boesche reported to Newsweek:  “I told him he was really smart, but he wasn’t working hard enough”.

Obama confirmed that he transferred to Columbia in 1981 partly “because Occidental was so small, I felt that I had gotten what I needed out of it and the idea of being in New York was very appealing.” But another reported reason was that he had many older friends who were graduating: like i had done, the previous year.

I can’t take credit for everything. For example, i started out as a diplomacy and world affairs major, but later changed to linguistics. Barry went the opposite direction: after leaving Oxy for Columbia, Barry decided to focus on political science. And it was his own idea to go from Barry back to Barack: as recorded in his autobiography, “It was when I made a conscious decision: I want to grow up.” And of course, much of what i knew about presidential politics came from an earlier model: Jack Kemp, Occidental class of ’57 and Republican vice-presidential nominee in 1996.

Like i always say, give credit where due.

November 4th, 2008

More BibleTech 2009 Topics

Like a presidential candidate, i’m down to the wire for deciding what BibleTech talks to propose (happily, unlike them, i haven’t been campaigning for my ideas for months now!). The two i posted about last week — Bible Knowledgebase and Libronix Controlled Vocabulary — are the strongest contenders. But here’s a grab bag of some additional topics i’ve thought about, for you to cheer for, sneer at, or go off and implement yourself (so i don’t have to!). Let me know what you think.

Web Search for Bible References

At BibleTech:2008 i gave a talk on Bibleref: a Microformat for Bible References, as one approach to the problem of how content providers (web site authors, bloggers, etc.) can identify Bible references in what they create. Reftagger provides a different, more automated approach to the same problem.

But as i pointed out last January, that’s really only part of the problem — in fact, the smallest part. Because for every one blogger who adopts bibleref markup or installs Reftagger,  there will be 1000 more who’ve never heard of either one. In the earliest days of the web, you had to add keywords to your HTML to make it easy for search engines to find you: now, Google finds most plain text without any special work on your part. How do we accomplish the same thing for Bible references out on the web, so they can be reliably found regardless of whether the author took special care to identify them, despite differences in abbreviations or punctuation style, and being smart about verse ranges?

Making Bible2.0 Work

For years now, multiple sites on the web have offered Bible texts (in case you didn’t notice, Logos launched a beta version of their own, bible.logos.com, recently). More recently, in the last few years several sites have gone beyond that to a Web 2.0 style that i call “Bible 2.0“, by allowing users to contribute their own content through tags, external links, personal comments, etc. When Web 2.0 first became cool, several arose quickly and then withered (like xpound.org), while others are still out there. YouVersion is perhaps the best developed (Blogos post); Bibleserver is another.

While the concept is still fairly new, there’s enough out there to begin to evaluate:

  • what works well about these sites? what doesn’t work so well?
  • what’s missing to get these kinds of sites to have the same value as more popular Web 2.0 sites like del.icio.us, flickr, etc.?
  • what are some new ways in which Bible2.0 could support Bible study in small groups, informal web communities, etc.?

Audience Choice

If you follow Blogos, what would you suggest i talk about? Any ideas for a visualization you’d love to see, or some other algorithmic/data topic?

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