Jim Albright: Publishing using CSS

Given the explosion of devices, how can we write once and then publish to all the different formats and devices? Jim’s current assignment: figure out how to go from the basic translation programs to other formats using markup languages.

Some deeper details about how to use CSS for specific formatting purposes.

Irresponsible Retirement

A colleague recently described to me a professional meeting he attended for an industry that’s experiencing tremendous market pressures due to changes in technology. He characterized the attitudes of many old-school, late-career executives (who have been living in denial of the fundamental challenges) as “I just hope I can prop things up and keep them running for another 5 years so I can retire.”

Using retirement as an excuse for ignoring a challenge to your business is bad stewardship. If you’re in that kind of industry, you ought to either work to revive and/or redirect it (until the day you retire for the right reasons), or just be honest and quit now. It’s one thing to come to the end of your working career and retire because it’s time for you personally to do so. Industries change and die, and those kinds of transitions are normal too (though traumatic): maybe you need to acknowledge that and start moving your company to whatever comes next. But if you work for a company with customers, assets, and shareholders, you owe it to them to do the best you can with what’s been entrusted to you. Riding the train up to a washed out bridge, knowing that you can jump off at the last minute (even though all the other passengers are going down) is just plain irresponsible.

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.

Building Data Applications – One Piece at a Time

My colleague Steve Runge (Logos bio, blog) made a new connection for me today, between the kind of data work we do at Logos and an old Johnny Cash song. I won’t spoil the surprise if you haven’t heard the song (and we don’t do it by stealing!), but there’s a commonality to the methodology: fact by fact, relation by relation, that’s the way to build a database. And with enough time and perseverance, when you’re done you too can say “… ’cause I have the only one there is around.”

Johnny Cash – One Piece At a Time – on YouTube.

Out-of-place Serendipity

This is a true story.

It’s been quiet for a week or so … Bob, my boss is out of town, i don’t know where … i’m doing a lot of strategic planning, blue sky thinking, exploring new ideas. Yesterday, a colleague sends me a link about a talk on eBooks (i troll through a lot of information in a typical week), The future of digital textbooks. It’s interesting, though brief and sketchy in the way conference talk reports often are … online books lower the price point, student choice isn’t always aligned with faculty choice, students “want learning that’s more efficient, more portable and more affordable”, yada yada yada.

I put it aside, get on with my work, and finally come back to it later in the day, actually read it, and recognize it’s a talk from the O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing (TOC) conference. Oh yeah, that’s going on right now in New York! And last week i had planned to look at last year’s talks and (big surprise) got distracted and forgot.

So i look up the TOC website, intending to follow up on the old talks, which indeed confirms that the conference is going on now, and it has an intriguing link: Watch Keynotes Live Online. Hmm, that’s almost like being there! In fact, i had thought about asking Bob if i could go, but decided it was a little too far afield for me to justify the expense and travel time.

So i click on the link, do the brief registration thing, and sure enough, i’m watching and listening to the conference live, in real-time, as it’s happening. How cool! It really is like being there (except you can’t ask questions). We’re in the part of the program for “Ignite talks”, a rapid pace sequence of 5 minute talks with no more than 20 slides that switch automatically after 15 seconds. Some guy’s giving a talk, i forget who because i’m also reading email and distracted with some other stuff, but it’s vaguely interesting.

His five minutes are up, he walks off the stage, i’m only half-paying attention, and then … Bob walks on the stage, as in, Bob, my boss. He’s at this conference (i guess that’s one reason he’s been gone all week), all the way on the other side of the country, giving one of these Ignite talks, and through this chain of chance digital connections, somehow i managed to tune in 10 minutes before his talk. He gives a great brief overview of Logos 4 from a publishing angle, highlights a few points i hadn’t thought about before (“Logos is like a Bible study answer machine”, and “data sets are like glue”). The physical space between us is collapsed, we’re meeting by the accident of being interested in the same things … all serendipity.

Talk about your Digital Age “Wow” experiences.

LinuxFest Registration is Open

Im going to Linxufest Northwest 2010 April 24-25th If you’re in the Bellingham area, Linuxfest is coming up, and registration is now open. This is a great opportunity to learn more about Linux, Open Source, and a variety of other technical subjects — and it’s free!

Yours truly is hoping to give a talk on using the Django web-application framework for rapid web site development: “From 0 to Website in 60 minutes – with Django“. Please sign up and attend!

Blog Echoes for 2009-06-06

An anthology of interesting posts that passed through my reader this week:

A Review of Oxford Biblical Studies Online

A number of bibliobloggers have been helping Oxford University Press advertise their new on-line website, Oxford Biblical Studies Online, with a free-access pass good through the end of May (I learned of it through my colleague Mike Heiser’s blog). Since i wasn’t one of them 🙂 i can give an honest evaluation of the time i spent perusing their site. 

Their site offers an integrated tool for accessing

  • Six different Bibles, along with concordances and the Oxford Bible Commentary
  • Reference tools that span nine different sources (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford Bible Atlas, Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, etc.)
  • A collection of about 1000 images and maps.

Whether this is helpful to you will be strongly determined by whether you value Oxford’s resources, of course: this is a walled (publisher) garden in that respect. But in my opinion (and those of real scholars as well) there’s a lot of very good material here. They provide an integrated search feature so you can search by keyword across all the reference works, Bible texts, and image resources. You can also limit that search by some general domains like Archaeology, Geography, Material Culture, etc.: that’s a nice way to make the search results a little more manageable in size. 

There’s also a timeline feature, with links to the reference works (like Oxford History of the Biblical World and Companion to the Bible). I found that an interesting way to navigate to relevant information: you can find an item in the timeline (“Manasseh is king of Judah”) and then follow a link to an article on Manasseh.This kind of interface, where you can get to new information without first having to know exactly what you’re looking for, is important for those who aren’t already specialists in the domain of Biblical studies. 

One very helpful feature is that dictionary-type articles have some number of terms hyperlinked: Bible references, of course, but also maps and other articles. So the article on Manasseh links to articles on Chronicles, Deuteronomic History, Ephraim (for the “other” Manasseh: the article combines both), and others. These links are also displayed in a sidebar, not just embedded in the text. This feature is limited somewhat, though, by the fact that the links are only within the current reference. What would make this feature really useful would be to link across their collection, so you could also easily get to e.g. the Bible Dictionary article on Ephraim. Of course, you can do that by going back to the search interface, but that’s some added friction. Also, it would appear that at least some of the links were automatically generated: the prose about Manasseh (son of Joseph the patriarch) links to “Joseph (Husband of Mary)”. 

I found a few things i didn’t like as well. While the “unbundled” content of the reference tools is available, in some cases (for example, the Companion to the Bible) i couldn’t figure out a way to actually read the books as books: i could only get to them as disembodied search results. I suppose that’s all right for strict reference purposes, since search is probably the normal way you’d access them. But since some other volumes (like the Illustrated History of the Bible) can be read sequentially, i don’t quite understand why this isn’t possible for all of them. Another mild annoyance: while they helpfully link Bible references to their text, they only put the chapter and verse in the hyperlink, like this:

Amos 9: 9        

In addition to looking a little weird, it also makes for a smaller (and therefore harder to hit) mouse target. I can understand doing this in a list of references where the book name isn’t repeated: but where the book is adjacent in the text, i don’t see the rationale. I also noticed that some features of the site (like Look It Up) didn’t seem to work quite right with Google Chrome.

These are pretty mild complaints, however. Overall, i’d say there’s a lot of very valuable information available here. The annual subscription price of $295 would seem to best fit serious professional users, however. I’d encourage you to take advantage of the free trial period and investigate it for yourself. 

[This seems like as good an opportunity as any to point out that i followed the good example of my colleague Rick Brannan and created a Disclosures page, to avoid any potential confusion about my financial relationship to the things i write about. In this context, full disclosure: i work for a company that is partially in competition with Oxford’s site. ]


I’m not in the habit of posting YouTube videos here, but this one seemed like a great illustration of an important lesson. Have a look first before reading on below, or the rest won’t make sense.

Susan Boyle

If i’m honest,  i’d have to admit my first reactions to seeing this rather plain, unemployed middle-aged woman who lives alone in a small village in England were no different than many in the audience (of course, the producers of the show played up this angle a bit). I couldn’t help thinking of 1 Sam 16:7 and how many people i walk by each day who look like nothing on the outside but have a tremendous gift inside, if only i could perceive it.

Our brains are wired to work this way: we make thousands of quick judgments throughout the day based on what we see, and we’d have a hard time coping with the complexity of life without this ability. But precisely because of this tendency, we need to constantly guard against persisting in these perceptions, when instead we should take the time to listen.

[hat tip to my sister-in-law Doreen for passing this along to us: thanks a lot for making us cry first thing in the day!]

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 http://qideas.org/shorts/)

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: