Nativity pageants come but once a year….
Nativity pageants come but once a year….
By the way, we haven’t gotten anywhere in our humans-vs-ISP struggle to reconnect our flat to the interwebz. You’ll know when we do; for now, we rely on cafés, work, and our iPhones. Fun!
Every few months I read about another exciting new enterprise software package that some university or another has licensed, that’ll have such-and-so amazing effects on the academic environment — and reduce cavities, too! As an academic technology enthusiast, I would love to see one of these that I believed in, but I’m strongly inclined to suppose that almost all of these awesomesauce enhancements to university culture amount to a sad misallocation of funds.
In the first place, universities — properly understood — are the enhancement for which these high-ticket purchasers are looking. If you want to improve the atmosphere, encourage thinking, reading, listening, writing, and so on, then invest in teaching and learning. And if that’s not sexy enough for you, invest in learning and teaching. If you must, invest in sexy learning and teaching, teaching and learning, but us homely academics feel dowdy enough as things stand (and failing a ‘sexy’ standard would be a detrimental side effect. If you’re worried about our appearance, buy us new clothes). Did I say ‘learning and teaching’? Good, ’cos that’s what I meant, that and ‘teaching and learning’.
If there’s no way to invest more in improving the conditions for teachers and learners (hint: you can always spend more to support teachers), and if you really must spend scarce funds on a technological widget, make dead sure to have someone who knows something about software design and coding look over what you’re bidding on. Most administrators know less than zero about software, and a number of companies have gotten rich from seductive brochures advertising gussied-up databases as the solution to all your ed-tech fantasies. Don’t spend without a coder saying, ‘Yeah, looks like value for money’.
So, assuming you’re determined to spend a few hundred thousand pounds and you’re actually about to buy (or license) something sensible (not just an elaborate executive-suite shell game), why buy or license a for-profit company’s product? If you’re a learning institution, why not make it an internal priority to develop such a product for your own institution, on your own terms? Sure, some of you will end up with kludgy unattractive interfaces that don’t actually change campus culture much — but your students and staff will have learned through the process, and besides — if you license the software, you will very likely spend that sum on attractive interfaces that don’t actually change campus culture much. That sounds like 100% loss to me.
Almost all universities, and many other higher-ed institutions, have the staff and students to design and implement most software packages designed for moderate-security online purposes. Why pay licenses to for-profit corporations for packages that don’t quite do what you want (or that do something you didn’t think you wanted till a salesperson pitched it to you), when you can support staff-student partnerships to develop educational software tailored toward actual campus needs (and that you might be able to license to other institutions)?
Twenty-six years ago today I was ordained to the priesthood (that is, ‘the order of priesthood that I didn’t renounce last summer’). Twenty-six years ago, Nate was two, Si had not yet made his outward appearance, Pippa had not yet gleamed in anyone’s eye, and Margaret and I had been married just four years. (Were we ever married only four years? That’s hard to imagine.)
Over those years I have served in New Haven, Durham (NC), St Petersburg, Princeton (and New Brunswick), Evanston, in Blogaria and other digital realms, and now in Glasgow (and Clarkston) as a pastor, a teacher, a friend, and a listener. As far as I can tell, I haven’t left too many muddy footprints behind for others to clean up (but thank you for helping with what I can’t see). Dear people in everyplace I’ve gone have trusted me and opened their lives to share with me, in ways that reach further than just the bounds of shared interests or coincident sentiments: not just pals, but sharers spiritual and carnal as well in a sort of transfusion of life and truth. That’s a bigger offering than I’m equipped for living up to, and yet I have been forgiven for my shortcomings, my inattention, my short-sightedness, my stubbornness, and — well, it would be self-indulgent to extend a litany of my limitations. My sisters and brothers have offered me grace upon grace, for which I will always give thanks.
Morning will not gild the skies here for another hour or two, but in the darkness before dawn’s promised light that grace sustains me, and if priesthood consists in anything more than charades in outlandish robes, it consists in receiving and honouring and passing along ever further the gifts of trust and love and forgiveness that come through you all, from a source distant and intimate — a receiving and honouring and sharing that knows no end. Who could ask for more?
I upgraded to iTunes 11 a few days ago. I tend to upgrade slowly, waiting for horror stories, so I didn’t jump the moment it was announced. I did, however, see promises of faster and more coherent interface design, and that sounded awfully good to me.
I’m not dissatisfied with most aspects of the interface redesign, and I haven’t had any problems with processing speed. I’m content with those (some interface quibbles to be described later).
I’m mightily exasperated, though, that Apple has eliminated iTunes DJ (formerly ‘Party Shuffle’) from the application. (We should have taken the naming indeterminacy as a sign of possible problems.) I listened to iTunes through that function daily, often for hours a day. Some users have been complaining that they used to hold parties at which guests could use their iPhones to vote for the playlist of dance music. You can probably imagine how heavily we relied on that function. More pertinently to my dissatisfaction, iTunes used to permit users to set up a playlist which would play higher-rated songs more often, only among songs that had not been played in the most recent few weeks. The newest functions in iTunes will shuffle the contents of any playlist — good enough, lacking a better alternative — but not weighted by rating. That’s a big letdown: it means that I’ll hear Patience and Prudence sing ‘A Smile and a Ribbon’ just as often as I’ll hear
Eddie Head and his Family sing ‘Down On Me’. That’s… suboptimal.
In a past iteration of the application, I asked for even more fine-grained weighted control over shuffled results. Only being able to weight music on a zero-to-five ‘rating’ is a gross control; why could the automated DJ not weight selections by how recently they were added to my collection, by genre, by year of release, by beats per minute, and my rating? After all, iTunes is mostly a glorified database; multivariate weighted distribution is the kind of thing databases are for.
I’m not frothing at the mouth about the disappearance of iTunes DJ. I’m shuffling randomly in a pool of all songs rated two stars or more that I haven’t heard in the past 6 weeks, and that’s a viable makeshift. The new ‘Up Next’ window even improves on the old miniplayer in some ways (though I miss the convenience of being able to see the star rating in the window, and change it in one click). But I’m puzzled about why Apple would remove a relatively low-computation function (not like the animated cover display), one that turns out to be more popular than I imagined, with no obvious benefit. I rate iTunes 11 three stars.
Margaret got an email this morning announcing the inaugural issue of a glossy magazine dedicated to linguistics, to be called Babel. We’re interested enough in linguistics that it didn’t seem to be misdirected; I was a little uneasy about a linguistics journal directed to a mass audience — doesn’t that just seem to be begging for the kind of faux-linguistics that populates the peevological columns of conventional newspapers and magazines? — but it seemed to have reputable scholars on its Board of Advisors, so Margaret clicked on the ‘free PDF of first issue’ link, to our mutual disappointment.
The issue begins with an editorial whose first words run:
In the Biblical story of the tower of Babel, God punishes his people for their pride by destroying the enormous tower they have been constructing as a monument to their own greatness. And as if this isn’t enough, he ‘confounds’ their single common language, breaking it up into a myriad of languages and dialects, presumably on the grounds that this act will make it difficult for them to organise themselves to perform such hubristic acts in the future. The myth of Babel is designed to explain the number and variety of human languages. Moreover, it suggests that, for humans, having many thousands of languages is much worse than having a single shared language. One thing we do know about the Babel story, then, is that whoever thought it up was obviously not a linguist.
News flash! Babel myth not accurate about academic linguistics! Woah, my world is shaken! (As students in the New Testament Intro class that I once TA’ed used to say, ‘That existentially confronted me!’)
In less than a printed paragraph, the editors have signalled multidimensionally that they’re off to a bad start. First, the adjective ‘biblical’ should be set with a lower-case ‘b’. Second, in the biblical story of the tower of Babel, God does not destroy the tower. Third, although you might well think that human hubris triggers God’s action, the biblical account itself says nothing about punishment or pride. Fourth, the ‘as if that weren’t enough’ clause is entirely pointless, since the only thing God seems to do in this story is confound people’s languages. Fifth, the ‘presumably’ sentence expresses a discordant hesitancy, since the authors have just firmly asserted several imprecise claims; here they say something that’s more or less just what the Bible seems to say itself, and they feel the need to qualify it with ‘presumably’. Presumably, they didn’t bother to look at the Bible before they start writing. And finally, of course, they make the stumbling transition to linguistics by asserting that the story they have just called a ‘myth’ doesn’t reflect the reality of linguistics scholarship. That’s as opposed to all the three-thousand-plus-year-old origin myths that do accurately divine the origins and effects of linguistic difference.
We’re not so annoyed by ‘wrong about the Bible’; hey, presumably it’s not their specialty, and anyone can say silly things about other people’s areas of expertise. The breezy, fatuous glibness does set off my ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ alarms, though, and in a zone characterised by so very much fatuous glibness that runs contrary to reasonable linguistic scholarship, I’m not inclined to trust these editors to be sticklers for accuracy in their presumed area of competence. No subscription sold at this address, guys.
* I did have a student once named Will Robinson. I think I managed to go through our entire pedagogical relationship without making any Lost In Space jokes. At least, I hope so.
Two days with nothing whatever marked on my diary! I love the first weekday after lectures end — the very abrupt relaxation of the schedule, before people catch on to the notion that there’s suddenly more time in which to schedule late committee meetings, before the exams come in for marking, before final course planning for the next semester gets urgently inevitable. Even with the two cm of snow overnight turning into slippery mush this morning, it’s a beautiful and refreshing day. I could get used to this, had I an opportunity.
I’m turning away from putting anything even vaguely substantive on Facebook now; I’ll watch it to keep an eye on others’ posts, and I’ll leave birthday greetings and so on, but the problematic aspects of Facebook — its non-searchability, its claims relative to material published there, its commercialisation of our social networks — leave an increasingly unpleasant, metallic taste in my mouth (as though I held a used twopenny coin on my tongue). Thais means getting back into the habit of using my own blog, hosted here, with my own comments, hosted here, over which I control all the relevant rights (which are Creative Commons non-commerical-by attribution-no derivative works, in case you’re curious) (and I’ll happily enough allow derivative works in almost every case, but just want to be aware of what’s going on).
Now, back to work. I’ll post yesterday’s sermon sometime, and maybe my SBL talk on meaning and Relevance Theory, and comment on version 11 of iTunes, and maybe even get back into the habit of blogging in general — but from now on, when I’m tempted to say something, it’ll be here rather than on FB.
I guess the blogging software still works, ’cos here I am again, and (as usual) I’m interrupting the long quiet on the blog to mention something I’ve written that you can read online. In this case, it’s ‘The Question Concerning Technology and Religion’, an earlier version of which appeared in Introduction to Religious Studies for Paul Myhre and Anslem Academic Press. Share and enjoy!
What else has been going on? Well, I think I’ve been to more meetings in the last week than I remember for years and years. I’ve been banging and hammering on a grant proposal that will, I think, finally be ready in the next day or two. I have an essay for print and a paper for the SBL meeting to write. I have a lot of editing to do for a volume of essays by Glasgow-associated scholars. Oh, Saturday I’m participating in a day-conference on preaching for Trinity College and the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway’s Ministry Development programme.
And every now and then I like to try to clear my mind and not do something.
Friend, scholar, Glasgow PhD, and pioneering digital biblicist Tim Bulkeley launched his most recent book online a couple of weeks ago; I held off on blogging it, at first because I wanted to help sustain the news (rather than just reinforcing the initial buzz), and then — I confess — because life swept me up and entirely swamped my energy for doing anything I didn’t absolutely have to.
But by all means go over to check it out — this is terrain Tim’s been working on for years, it’s timely and informative and well-written. Those who think they have gender and biblical theology all sorted may find that there’s more here to chew on than they had reckoned, and those who don’t already know it all will find Not Only A Father a big boost toward further knowledge. It’s a strong, thoughtful, reasoned case for thinking further about the Bible, God, and gender. Hey, you can even buy a printed copy!
We stayed up late last night checking, and we woke early this morning to see; and this afternoon, on our way home from church, we caught Eamonn Clarke’s message on Twitter, saying that Michael O’Connor Clarke had died.
For the last couple of days, Margaret and I had strayed from internet connections only most reluctantly; we’ve been worried, and yesterday while I was writing this morning’s sermon, Michael was all I could think about. It’s a tricky business, writing a sermon when you’re thinking about someone in particular, but the readings were about judgement and kindness and justice, and with Michael standing at the threshold they all ran together. He’s in the sermon several times, though in my final draft I took his name out; you’ll recognise him. He’s a hard man to miss.
So we’re sitting at home crying, thinking back, hoping and praying. If you are too, imagine us there beside you. Every now and then someone will give your arm a squeeze, pass you a tissue, tell a story. Together, we’ll all miss him a lot. Keep him in your heart, remember Leona and Charlie, Lily, and Ruairi, and see if you can keep some of Michael’s wit and kindness glowing in your neighbourhood.
As usual, when I’ve fallen off the tracks of blogging, I can be relied upon to clamber back on the rails by posting a sermon. I was up today at the cathedral, at the end of a positively mad week of work (meetings, appointments, changes in plan, changes in room expectation, form-filling-out, et cetera). This week will be mad, too, in different ways: Teaching begins, Margaret and I will go offer our biometric features to the Home Office, more meetings, midweek worship for both the Kirk and the Episcopal congregation at the Uni, and so on — but I’m not preaching next week, so that’s a relief.
Today’s sermon came out in a rush in the preparation stage, but when I preached it I wasn’t sure how it went. A number of people offered favourable assessments, though, so it probably didn’t harm anyone. It proved difficult, wen I thought about James, to avoid giving a fascinating lecture on the intricacies of these verses — the curse of the commentary hanging over me. That, and the oddity of me preaching on a text warning against becoming a teacher (or preacher), combined to balk some of my compositional impulses.
Anyway, the sermon is below, in the ‘More reading’ section. Margaret and I are writing overdue notes to family and friends, and preparing our lectures for next week. The weather in Glasgow has turned markedly autumnal — not inappropriate for the season, but a decisive end to a never-fully-convincing summer. Three months till the days start heading back in the correct direction.
Yesterday afternoon, my colleague Doug ducked into my office with his mother-in-law’s copy of Robert Lee’s The Outlined Bible, and I had a thrill of delight to see an example of visually-sophisticated pedagogy:
Now, I don’t endorse this example uncritically! There’s plenty I would change about it. But here someone has manifestly thought about just what to put onto a one-page overview of the biblical book. Type, layout, and exposition have to work together to compose an effective tool for learning. (Witness likewise the famous Larkin Bible Charts, which add such persuasive force to dispensationalist theology.) And if one were to read James with this outline page in hand, or in memory, one would likely derive greater satisfaction from one’s reading (albeit an unsatisfactory satisfaction, from my perspective as a 21st-century critical scholar of James).
The Outlined Bible suggests that there’s no reason that design and teaching might not be allied in teaching materials for biblical studies. Instead, though, most of us produce words about words, a dessicated, immaterial, invisible alternative to visible, tangible, pedagogical rhetoric. It wouldn’t cost any denominational body much to put together a decent scholar and a decent designer to produce teaching materials to make a visual argument for sensible theological, biblical, ethical, historical learning. That’s what lay behind my Theologians Trading Cards (hat tip to the Revd Prof. Steve Lahey for the art) and the Early Church History ‘Top Trumps’ card game. I’m not holding them up as the best anyone can do — far from it! (though I’d put Steve’s drawings up against any pro’s) — but underscoring that we’ve got to make the effort. Come on!