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following Jesus, the Word made flesh
March 31st, 2010

Holy Week Visualization

If you’re thinking through the events of Holy Week, let me know what you think about this visualization that i created last year (but apparently failed to tie into the SemanticBible navigation, so you might not easily find it otherwise).  Here’s my previous Blogos post on this. I’m really interested in presentations like this that enable browsing by content rather than having to know the reference in advance.

To recap some of the features:

  • Colored blocks are grouped together by pericope so the presentation is organized by the events, rather than the order of texts themselves. The size of the block indicates how many words are associated with the pericope, and the colors indicate which Gospel provided the material. This helps you immediately see things like the fact that all four Gospels provide quite a bit of detail about the triumphal entry, though only Luke includes Jesus’ sorrow over Jerusalem.
  • The blocks are grouped by day, through the chronology is uncertain in several places, so this is an approximation at best.
  • Clicking on the pericope title takes you to the Composite Gospel page (though apparently some of the indexes are off). Clicking on the colored block takes you to source text at bible.logos.com (and a tooltip indicates the reference). As i recall, i couldn’t figure out a way to use RefTagger to actually display the text more directly in a popup.
March 30th, 2010

BibleTech:2010 Debrief

The BibleTech conference is an annual highlight for those of us who work at the intersection of Bible stuff and technology, and last week’s meeting in San Jose was no exception. This was the third BibleTech — i’ve been fortunate to have attended (and presented at) them all — and there’s always a great mix of new ideas, updates on ongoing projects, and lots of interesting people to talk to. (some other reviews: Rick Brannan, Mike Aubrey, Trey Gourley)

Some of the talks i liked best this year:

  • I was already interested in Pinax before hearing James Tauber’s talk on Using Django and Pinax for Collaborative Linguistics: now i’m itching to get started!
  • Stephen Smith had a nice analysis of the most frequently tweeted Bible passages (though the evidence of vast swaths of Scripture that get very little attention was perhaps a bit depressing).
  • Neil Rees showed Concordance Builder, a program that lets you use a Swahili concordance to bootstrap one for Welsh (or any other pair of languages) with no linguistic knowledge. Building on the Paratext tool, it leverages the verse indexes along with approximate string matching and statistical glossing (technical paper by J D Riding) to produce results that are about 90-95% correct out of the book. This can reduce concordance development to a matter of weeks rather than years.
  • There were several talks related to semantics in addition to mine: Randall Tan talked about more automated methods and fleshed them out relative to the higher-level structure of Galatians, and Andi Wu gave what looked like a really interesting presentation on semantic search based on syntax and cross-language correspondence (alas, i missed it).
  • Weston Ruter talked about APIs they’re developing at OpenScriptures.org (and brought in the Linked Data idea). Logos also unveiled their new API for Biblia.

I felt my talks went well and i got some good feedback. My slides are now posted (if you wrote down URLs at the conference, i didn’t get them quite right 🙁 but here they’re correct):

(As with some previous talks, i did my presentation with Slidy (previous post): i feel like it’s going a little more smoothly each time.)

March 23rd, 2010

Shoutout for Audacity (and FOSS)

Since so much of my days involve pressing against intransigent data problems under they (or i) yield, i love it when things “just work”. I had such an experience a few months back with Audacity, an open-source audio recorder/editor. So i want to give a little back to the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement with some well-deserved praise.

I’ve used Audacity before for some home recording projects, and it’s one of the most popular projects on SourceForge, so nobody who knows about it is likely to be surprised. My task this time was to find a way to convert more than 6000 audio files in WAV format to MP3 (so they take less space: if you’re a Logos customer, you’ll be hearing more about these — literally — in a future update). I really did not want to do

  1. open file
  2. select export
  3. fiddle with parameters
  4. open save dialog
  5. pick a filename
  6. hit save

times 6000!

A quick Google showed that the current Audacity beta provides a batch processing feature. I downloaded it without a hitch. The download page helpfully pointed out i also needed to get an MP3 encoder library (which i remembered from a previous install): also no problems.

First hitch: the documentation here is a little off, there is no Batch tab on the Preferences dialog. Another 60 seconds of search on the Wiki site found this page with the correct information: you do File > Edit Chains to set up the processing sequence, and then Apply Chain to apply it.

I tried a few files, seemed to work okay. When i audaciously tried to do all 6667 files in one go, there was some problem (but that really seemed like too big a bite anyway). So i backed off to groups of a thousand or so. I hadn’t even noticed there were some non-audio files in the directory: Audacity understandably barfed on these, and i had to restart the process after their failures. There were a few other glitches with temp files that couldn’t be saved, but i just kept restarting things.

Was it perfect? No. But come on … conversion of 6000 files took maybe an hour, and cost me nothing. How can you not like that?

March 8th, 2010

Human Internet Proxies

The MIT Technology Review echoes an AP story about how, despite the proliferation of smart phones (and the digerati’s consequent obsession with them), “most wireless use is still centered on laptops”. So what do people do when they’re on the road and need something? They call a friend and ask them to look it up/book it/etc., as a human internet proxy.

Donna and i do this all the time: we don’t have web-connected phones, so if i’m driving and lost, i call her. She’s very likely to be either sitting at or within 50 feet of an Internet-connected computer, so she can relay the information back to me. Maybe not quite as cool as having my own pocket Internet , but very workable, a whole cheaper (no data plan), and it reinforces our relationship at the same time.

Technology Review: Info on the go for travelers without smart phones.

March 3rd, 2010

Bible Data Visualization Blog

camaris has started a Bible Data Visualization blog to practice some visualizations. The goal:

… show 40 visualizations of the Holy Bible. Most of the visualizations will be self-made, but sometimes I will cover the work from other people.

Looks like there’s also some narration of the process, which may be useful if you’re thinking about how to do some visualizations yourself.

March 1st, 2010

Digital Journals for Biblical Studies

John Hobbins over at the Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog has been musing about this question:

What do you think a state-of-the-art electronic journal in biblical studies would look like?

This question lives right where so many interesting discussions are currently taking place around topics like

It’s still too early to know the answers, but here are a few areas of interest to me:

  1. The value of search, hyperlinked information, and other digital conveniences seems indisputable.
  2. There’s a lot of momentum from openness so far. Wikipedia has clearly won the day against the Encyclopedia Britannica, through its combination of free access, timely update of content, and tremendous scope – and despite criticisms of its lack of authoritativeness and editorial control (a caution to those who want peer review to be a control gate). But clearly part of Wikipedia’s real success is its ability to motivate and manage an enormous community of volunteers: it remains to be seen how easily others can replicate that feat. Hobbins rightly questions how this will all work with databases that are behind pay walls.
  3. In the five years of Web 2.0, we’ve all learned the value of having a community that can tag, rate, and comment on content. But the network effects here require a certain critical mass to pay off: how would that be accomplished in a field like Biblical studies? How will authors feel having others leave comments directly on their articles (including those of a contrary nature)?
  4. Can such a thing really work out on the open web, or does it need a rich community of resources like Logos to really thrive?

The technical issues aren’t likely to prove stumbling blocks: there are plenty of solutions there. I expect the tough problems will have a lot more to do with community building, rethinking scholarship and publication, clarifying the value propositions and business issues, and gaining traction.