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January 25th, 2010

BibleTech:2010 Talk – The Logos Controlled Vocabulary

The program for BibleTech:2010 has been up for a couple of weeks now, and i’ve been delinquent in failing to point that out. We’ve got a full roster of really interesting talks that span the gamut from friendly warm technology to hard-core geekishness: Bible translation, social media, Biblical linguistics, mobile computing, preaching, publishing, tweeting, and more. And this year, it’s in San Jose, CA: i’m hoping that will open up attendance to some folks who have the misfortune to not live in the beautiful Pacific NW. The dates are March 26-27, 2010.

I’ll be giving two talks this year: here’s my abstract for the first one, on the Libronix Logos Controlled Vocabulary.


Dozens of books provide terminology from the field of Biblical studies, principally Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other subject-oriented reference works. However, the terminology used varies between books, authors, and publishers, and doesn’t always include all the terms a user might employ to find information.

The Libronix Logos Controlled Vocabulary (LCV) organizes content from multiple Bible dictionaries to integrate information across the Logos library. As a controlled vocabulary, the LCV identifies, organizes, and systematizes a specific set of terms for indexing content, capturing inter-term relationships, and expressing term hierarchies. Like other kinds of metadata, this infrastructure then supports applications in search, discovery, and general knowledge management. The initial version of the LCV (shipping now with Logos 4) comprises some 11,100 terms, and continues to grow as more reference works are added. It also provides the backbone of http://topics.logos.com, a website for user contributions.

This talk will describe the building of the LCV, how we’re using it now, and how we plan to use and extend it in the future. This includes some interesting new capabilities for machine learning from existing prose content. For example:

  • what are the prototypical Bible references, names, or phrases used to discuss a topic?
  • can we learn anything about the importance of topics by looking at how much is written about them, how many dictionaries cover them, and other kinds of automated analysis?
  • what knowledge can be gleaned from the topology of terminology linkage (what links to what)?

Update: we’ve decided in general to retire the “Libronix” name for Logos technologies, so i’m trying to get on board by starting to call this the Logos Controlled Vocabulary.

January 22nd, 2010

Survey: the World of the Bible

The Society of Biblical Literature has received a planning grant to

… develop a website, “The World of the Bible: exploring people, places, and passages.” The site is intended for general audiences and will share scholarly views and encourage critical engagement with the Bible, including its ancient contexts and interpretive legacy.

We encourage you to share this survey with people who are not bible scholars—your students, perhaps, or friends and family. The goal is to gain a diverse representation of our intended audience and to assess their current level of familiarity with and interest in the Bible.

Please feel free to post this link in your blog or webpage.

Here’s the link to the survey: if you’re in their target group, i’d encourage you to give them some feedback. I’ve had some discussion with the principals, who know about Logos’ work on the Bible Knowledgebase (but we don’t have any official role in the project). This could become a useful resource for translating some of the scholarly work on Biblical studies to a wider audience.

(Hat tip: Mike Heiser’s Naked Bible blog)

January 20th, 2010

Resources for Distance Education

My colleagues and I met yesterday with some folks from a seminary who are interested in setting up a distance education program. I did a few blog posts about this subject several years back when i was taking some courses toward a Masters in Distance Education through the University of Maryland University College. After moving to Logos, i didn’t continue in the program, but it’s an area i’m still very interested in, and most of those posts aren’t too relevant now (possibly excepting my brief reflections on whether the Apostle Paul counts as an early distance educator).

In our discussions, the question arose: what’s the one book you’d recommend we read to learn more about distance education? I don’t have an authoritative answer, since i haven’t kept up with the literature for several years now: probably there are better resources now that I’m not familiar with. But here’s my answer anyway, in case it’s helpful to others:

At the top of my list would be Distance Education: A Systems View by Michael Moore (not, not that Michael Moore). Chapter 5 is now made mostly irrelevant by the Internet, but otherwise it’s a good overview of the wide variety of issues that go beyond how you distribute content.

There are a few other titles, all with good content, though perhaps more academic and not as easy to read, or less broad.

  • Learning and Teaching in Distance Education (Otto Peters) is by one of the pioneers in the field (and therefore not completely up to date). My recollection is it focused more on the learning and teaching sides of the process, with less about administration and larger issues
  • Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media (John Daniel) focuses more on the role of technology in education, and has a good chapter on the economics involved.

Though it’s not about distance education per se, i’d also have to include Brain Rules by John Medina. This is a very approachable overview of some important findings in brain science and their practical application to every day life: why you should not talk on your cell phone while driving, how we remember and learn, the myth of multi-tasking, and so forth. It’s both engaging and good science, and i’d make it required reading for every professor/pastor/teacher.

January 15th, 2010

Finding Numerals in the Old Testament

Somebody who knows where i work wrote to ask if there was a way to get a list of all the numerals used in the Old Testament (two, twice, etc.). The answer’s yes, and it’s not hard: but since my first response was overly complicated, i wanted to try again and put the results out for others.

The background: i’m using Logos 4, Syntax Search, with the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis (henceforth AF). If this is new territory for you, you’ll want to start by getting some background from Mike Heiser’s tutorial videos here: the syntax videos are currently down near the bottom.

So here are the steps:

  • Open the Search panel, and select Syntax
  • Set the search to All Passages in Hebrew Bible: Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis
  • Click on Query to create a New Syntax Search
  • In the new panel, click on Add Search Terms here and select Segment. You’ll also want to check Show Details at the top of the panel.
  • On the right side of the Panel, open up the Parts of Speech section, and in the Morph Specification type “@N?[NO]” (or select  the corresponding items from the pop-up: part of speech = Noun, Noun Family = numeral and ordinal). You can then click on Search to run this (i got 7128 results), and click through the results
  • You might want to refine this search in several ways:
    • Limiting the scope to a particular book
    • If you have a deeper understanding of syntax, you may want to elaborate the search specification to only include particular contexts
    • Adding Semantics=Quantity removes two results, which was a little surprising, but i didn’t take the time to figure out which ones
January 9th, 2010

Connecting Christian History to Present Issues

Thanks to my scholarly wife, i receive the weekly Christian History Newsletter (at $12/year, it’s a bargain). One of the articles in today’s issue is entitled “Sasquatches, Unicorns, and . . . the History Assignment that Works“. The title alludes to the challenges teachers face in helping students connect their studies of the past to the issues in the church today. Chris Armstrong, the Bethel Seminary professor who authored the article, has found the assignment he describes to consistently produce high-quality reflection from students that helps them integrate their academic learning (in this case, a course surveying church history ) with contemporary Christian challenges.

Follow the link above for the details (they’re worth reading), but here’s an abbreviated outline:

  1. “Find a single issue in the church today that concerns you personally.”
  2. “Find a single historical crux—that is, a single document, single event, single person’s idea, etc.—from church history in which some version of that same issue emerges …”
  3. “Study that historical crux (document, event, person’s idea, etc.) by reading a balanced bibliography of primary and secondary sources …”
  4. Write a paper addressing the following three points:
    1. Describe your contemporary issue in detail, “… as if you were writing a brief editorial article for Christianity Today.”
    2. “… write a summary/analysis/interpretation of how that issue played out at your chosen historical crux.” (several important additional details here)
    3. Write a conclusion in “your Christianity Today editorial style”.

Does it seem crazy to suggest you write a paper if you’re not required to by some formal academic program?!? Maybe, but current research in learning theory strongly suggests you learn concepts much better when you write about them — writing for learning. So it’s not really about a grade for a course, it’s about your personal education (e.g. discipleship) in  what it means to follow Jesus today, based on knowing more about what’s happened in church history. This kind of writing is one of the reasons i blog: things simply stick better in my head when i take a little time to think them through and communicate them in writing. So you could always blog your response (if so, give it some distinctive tag like christianhistory so it’s more findable).

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