BibleTech:2009 Postlude

BibleTech:2009 is past now, and (just like last year) was a great opportunity both to hear new ideas about Bible and technology, but also meet and talk with many others with common interests. The few scattered thoughts i jotted down as i was live-blogging talks certainly don’t do justice to the richness of many of the presentations: so don’t judge the quality of their talks by my quick-take notes.

I’ve got slides from my talk on the Bible Knowledgebase posted now on SemanticBible: the navigational structure above them isn’t in place yet, but you should be able to follow the link directly to get there. Once again, i’ve used Slidy for the presentation, and that process went a little more smoothly this time (which probably just means i’ve gotten better at it). View the source if you want to see how it works.

[Important note: if you were at my talk and wrote down the URL for the slides, i had it wrong. The correct URL is:

Yes, i know that Cool URIs don’t change, which is why i wanted to make this one adjustment before publishing them, so i won’t have to change it in the future.]

At some point there should be audio from the talk posted on the BibleTech site (probably on the BibleTech speakers page, which has links to talks from last year and audio where available). Future Blogos posts on the Bible Knowledgebase will go in my WordPress category of that name (RSS feed here), and will also be tagged with bk if you want to follow along.

Linne: The Near-Future of the Bible – Scenarios, Methods and Structures of Futures Studies

FutureS with an ‘s’: we don’t know what will happen, but we can imagine a range of possibilities within the cone of plausibility. The farther out you go, the broader the range of possibilities. Kevin Kelly (Wired magazine): the problem with Christianity is that every generation has expected Jesus to return, so they don’t look beyond their generation to think about what Christianity will look like in 1000 years (see

Method: The S-Curve – early adoption, followed by loss of interest, then mass adoption.

Method: Framing – set scope and focus, adjust attitudes, set objectives.

Method: Scanning. Map the system.

Method: Forecasting. Look at drivers and uncertainties. Generate and prioritize ideas.

Method: STEEP. Look at what’s happening in Social, Technological, Economic, Environmental, and Political arenas.

Method: Visioning. What are the implications of our forecasts? Challenge assumptions. Think big.

Method: Planning. Think strategically about what future you want, and develop options for it.

Method: Acting. Communicate results, create an action agenda, and develop strategic thinking.

Some possible future scenarios:

  • the Digitally Illuminated Bible. A convergence of factors: Kindle/iPhone, BibleTech conference, Green Movement. What if paper is outlawed: what happens to Bible publication?
  • the Bible as Service Oriented Architecture. Can we make our meta-aids and interpretations so good that the text itself effectively disappears?
  • the Bible as a Digitally Sacred Cow. What if the Great Firewall of China makes the Bible unavailable online?

Some baseline scenarios for building our own scenarios:

  • in 2040: Human population will hit 8B, and then decline for the first time ever. Average age will be 50/60 years old. 80% of humans will live in cities. China will overtake the US economy. 90% of humanity connected via the internet. True AI will be achieved. Seat of Christianity is NOT the US (today, half of S. Korea is Christian). Read Jesus in Beijing.

Other resources:

Allen: Sermon Painting – Using Digital Projection to Illustrate a Sermon

Our heritage as Christians includes visual elements: stained glass, liturgical colors, the sacraments as visible signs, church architecture, sermon illustrations. Many of these were about contextualization.

Sermon Painting 101: replace every place where you’d have a bullet point with an image. Communion is a great example of a five-sense experience. Sermon painting is not for everyone: it takes more time to prepare, and it’s harder to preach this way.

Some good resources for images: stock.xchng, Wikimedia Commons, Google Images. iStockPhoto is a good source if you have to pay. There are also personal resources: your friends might have images, or be able to track things down for you. Join the “Sermon Painting” group on Facebook. You can use open source tools for the image editing.

Brannan: Stylometry and the Septuagint

Applying Anthony Kenny’s method from Stylometric Study of the New Testament to the Greek Septuagint. Basic approach: identify some number of (boolean) features, and count them. Kenny used 99 features from the Friberg morphology. The subset of interest here: part of speech, aggregated case, number, gender counts, and verb tense/voice/mood.

First problem: comparing by chapters doesn’t provide consistently-sized segments of text. Kenny breaks text into 50-word chunks. [numerous graphs and charts follow] Conclusion: there are some definite concentrations of future tense verbs that don’t obey the expected statistical properties of a binomial distribution.

Wu/Tan: Tree-based Approaches to Biblical Texts

Spoke last year about creating trees: focus this year on how to use the trees. Doing tree alignment to provide a tool to support translation: just released the print version of a new Chinese NT. Once you’ve done tree alignment, you can use that as a metric of how dynamic a translation is: the higher the links, the less word-for-word. This linked data supports other applications.

Translation memory is typically word-based: with aligned trees, it can be chunk-based (word, phrase, or clause) or relation-based (pairs of words in head-modifier relations).  This translation memory gives translators access to how particular phrases have previously been translated, and concordances for how they’re used in their context.

Probabilistic Hebrew synonym finder: existing synonym dictionaries are incomplete, and the whole notion of synonym is continuous, not discrete. Two words are synonymous when their semantic space overlaps. The aligned trees define an equivalency space: all the words that are used to translate a word are semanticly similar. Degree of synonymy is basically the intersection of the sets divided by the union of the sets, scored using joint probability.

You can also look for similar verses: those containing clauses which aren’t identical but have more or less the same meaning. Clause-level similarity is the most useful view.

Taviano: Becoming a Digital Disciple

Currently there’s a huge confusion in the church between “on-line” and “in-person”. But 2Cor 12.9 makes more sense in community. Technology often tends to dimish community and true interaction. Books:

1Pet 4.10: using our gifts to serve. In the holistic worldview, the use of technology is a spiritual practice: what we believe is defined by what i do. “a-musement” = no thinking?! We should find ways to glorify God through our use of technology and enjoy Him in the process.

Ruter: Open Scriptures: Picking up the Mantle of the RE:Greek-Open Source Initiative

The background of this talk: Zack Hubert’s talk from the last BibleTech. Zack developed a very useful web site which ultimately failed because he couldn’t maintain it, and couldn’t get other developers to pitch in and help.

The vision: an open web repository for integrated scriptural data and a platform for building applications of scripture ( What kinds of data? Manuscripts, translations, versification systems, morphosyntactic parsings, user tags/annotations/cross-references. But it takes a lot of effort to get started with all this data, each of which is typically in its own format, and unlinked to other data.

Linked data principles (from timbl):

  • use URIs as names for things
  • use HTTP URIs so that people can look up those names
  • provide useful information behind the URIs
  • and links to other URIs so they can discover more things

“… the more things you have to connect together, the more powerful it is.” Can we connect things together through a unified manuscript that links together semantic units (words, phrases, clauses)?

Manuscript unification: normalize a manuscript (lowercase and remove diacritics: no spelling normalization yet), insert and save links to the unified manuscript. Then for additional manuscripts, normalize, merge links, and save them. Now you’ve got all the attested readings linked together. This unified manuscript now has an automated critical apparatus. [demo here of the manuscript comparator]

Potential applications include:

  • translation comparator (can also help with the versification problem)
  • comprehensive concordance
  • translation-independent cross-references (e.g. NT quotations of the OT)
  • interlinear/bilingual editions

You can automatically link manuscripts in the same language, but not different languages. Use collective intelligence to capture semantic linking between languages. Use the “games with a purpose” (GWAP) approach to gather links.

Copyright is a major challenge: you can’t link texts together if you can’t access them, and you can’t share them if they’re not open. Recently MorphGNT texts have been taken down from several sites because they’re not freely sharable. If the key benefit is connections between data, then data (including texts) should be more valuable if they’re sharable and connected. One solution: an Open Scriptures Platform that connects content owners, developers, and end-users. Passionate developers could build applications based on content licensed to Open Scriptures (as a proxy), and Open Scriptures makes sure than end-users provide revenue to content owners.

Anderson: the Science of Usability Design

Good design requires knowing your audience and thinking hard. Designing a remarkable product means you’ve solved most of your marketing problem: people want to know about remarkable things.

How much do people actually read? A scatterplot at shows duration of visit compared to words on the page: the more words, the lower the percentage of words that actually get read. So keep your copy short, simple, and scannable. Check out typography for lawyers for some very useful data: also i love typography.

Question: how do you decide when to innovate in UI design rather than following a standard?

[he had an interesting iphone app for controlling the presentation!]

Smith: The Need for a Universal Bible Annotation Format

Bible Gateway gets about 6M unique visitors each month. Though 25% are from outside the US, the significant majority are English-speaking. 80-90% of this traffic is for Bible passages (not topics, etc.). Basic problem: personal Bible notes aren’t portable. The solution should be based on open-standards, simple, and device/platform/language-independent.

Some specific requirements:

  1. allow attaching content to Bible passages
  2. enable both “user” (open-ended) and “professional” (editorially-controlled) content
  3. accept text, audio, video, and future formats
  4. people need control over their own content

Proposed solution:

  1. Content format (the data you supply)
  2. Exchange format (metadata: who are you, when was your content provided)
  3. Exchange system (protocols)

Content: (X)HTML is the closest to a universal standard, allows basic formatting, supports Unicode. HTML5 introduces some useful features here. The central problem here: how to encode Bible references? We want them to be independent of source (not just Bible Gateway), and unambiguous. OSIS identifiers might provide a partial solution.

Coakley/Ferch: Using Technology to Teach Exegesis in Higher Education

Challenges in teaching Biblical languages: how to take a toolbox approach and work more top-down? From “Cracking the Old Testament Codes”: need more attention at the paragraph, rather than the word, level. Showed some video from their computer lab showing how their teachers and students are using Logos in the classroom in real-time. One workstation is wired for student interaction, so a student can show what they’re doing to the whole group. Additional discussion about how to manage group licenses and resources. An outstanding need: a screen reader for Greek and Hebrew texts to support greater accessibility for visually-challenged students.