Now Understands The User

My trusty old graphics tablet can no longer cooperate with contemporary operating systems — alas! — so I splashed out on the cheapest plausible current model I could find. Unfortunately, the Amazon page did not include a screenshot of the helpful directions

Because the hardware different, Understands the hardware each place representative function

or I might have recognised that this was perhaps not the bargain it presented itself as being. Oh, well, I’m getting by with it.

And the house painter says he’ll be done tomorrow, so that’s good.

Breaking Up and Starting Over

Yesterday I was writing my weekly note home to my mother, and the pen — my jade Sheaffer Flat-top with a stub nib — started scratching as thought it were out of ink. But I knew that couldn’t be the problem because I had just filled it from my new bottle of Diamine Ancient Copper ink a couple of days before.

I discreetly gave the section a twist to look at its innards, only to discover that the sac had disintegrated, and the pen hadn’t filled at all; the feed was holding a little ink, but the appearance of having filled was all illusion. This might have dismayed some people, but it delighted me: This was a problem I could repair on my own, as soon as I got home!

Sadly, when I got home I discovered that all my pen repairs tools are up in my clothes room, covered by a vast dropcloth. Repairs will have to wait.

At the same time, this week marked a different turning point for me. I’ve been a long-time lover of J Herbin inks. “Ambre de Birmanie,” “Eclat de Saphir,” “Larmes de Cassis,” all captivated me with rich, saturated colours and gentle shading. Their reputation as an ink that treats pens gently, and (I must admit) the French naming and the pen-holder bottles sealed the deal.

J Herbin colour swatches

But the last few bottles of Herbin ink that I’ve bought have developed SITB, and I’m getting weary of having to throw out the remainder of a bottle of ink when I see the tell-tale string of ink clinging to a nib. I returned one bottle, but I’ve had two more go bad. (Word on the street has it that they had problems with EU chemical regulations and that everything’s OK now — perhaps I bought my ink at the wrong moment, or I’m storing it especially badly — but with all respect to the centuries-old Herbin firm, I’m backing away.

I’m switching to another brand with a good reputation, Liverpool’s Diamine. It’s their Ancient Copper I had just ordered, and they have some handsome alternatives to the Herbin colours I love. And my Herbin bottles won’t run out right away (I’ll keep using them till I detect a problem). But now I have some exploring to do with even more new options from Diamine.

Diamine Colour chart

Last But Two

Mark the House Painter is wrapping up his work on our home. He finished the dining room first; it’s easiest, and made a convenient alternative room for any other ground-floor impedimenta. Then he finished the halls and stairwell and top floor room, for similar reasons.

Eaves Room (Bluebird paint)

Then from that base, he branched out to the first-floor guest room (Margaret’s bookcase room) and the small WC (AKMA’s shaving room, since the larger, more elegant bath doesn’t have a mirror over a sink).

Guest Room

Small WC

Now the kitchen is done, and the lounge as well (I don’t have a photo of the lounge with the furniture moved back into position).

Kitchen Painted

Today Mark begins painting our bedroom and the small room where I hang my clothes. It won’t be long until he’s all finished — he estimated Tuesday. Then all I have to do is move everything into its proper place, and wipe down every surface thoroughly with wet cloths to clean away the paint dust. Meanwhile, I’ll be sleeping in the guest room and marking essays.

We Started Something

Last night I saw the “This Day in blogging History” post on Boing Boing, reminding us that ten years ago yesterday, Larry Lessig turned loose his book Free Culture on a drowsy world. Lessig’s vision of the riptide where digital communication and copyright law converge clarified a great deal of what we saw going on around us, and predicted even more of what we’ve leapt/stumbled/been pushed into — between his book and his famous lecture-presentation of this and related topics, he redefined the terms for informed public discourse on copyright and digital media. Thank you, Larry!

Cover of Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

The day after his book was released under a Creative Commons license, I mused to myself and my blog, “What if a bunch of ordinary people just read the chapters aloud into whatever digital recording device they have, and shared the results as an open, Common, audiobook?” Over the next few days, readers and supporters from around the world cheered, contributed time, effort, recordings, storage, bandwidth, editing and remastering skills, and in very short order a crowd-sourced (I don’t think we had that word yet) audiobook was freely available on the Web. Bingo. (Here’s the version of the audiobook.)

I retrieved the original post, as I say, and reposted it on this blog, added in the comments one by one; I’ll fix up links and names and so on eventually. Some of the original files are still hosted where the original page linked to them; others are gone. Some of the people involved are still in contact with us day on day; others I’ve lost track of.

When I read the “ten years ago” entry at Boing Boing, I looked back at my original post (retrieved from for the first time in ages. There’s so much I didn’t remember from those days, so many people who got involved, even if only to cheer us on. And Doug Kaye and Eric Rice and Scott Matthews pitched in their capacities, Dave Winer put his energies behind it, and my dear pals from olden blogging days got aboard. In the aftermath, Hugh McGuire founded Librivox on the same principle. I teared up a little when I read through everything and remembered.

I’ll put out word on the social networks, and invite more prominent names to amplify the signal — it would be great if anyone who was associated with that effort, anyone who downloaded those first crude files or who has benefited from the smoothed-out versions that you can find now at, or anyone who participated in Librivox, or anyone who remembered those wild days, cold just stop by and leave a comment. Greater things than these we are now doing, indeed; but for a few days in 2004, making a crowd-sourced audiobook of Free Culture seemed like about the greatest.

Passivity and Pædagogy

HoopoeIf you have encountered me in a pædagogical situation, you have probably heard me moan about the general quality of student writing. If you are a student about whose writing I have moaned, you have probably heard (or “read”) me complain about passive constructions.

Now, I must at this point note that the linguists over at Language Log have a lot to say about the passive voice and passive constructions. In their on-going struggle against Prescriptivism, and especially against its woebegone cousin Uninformed Prescriptivism, they inveigh against the advice always to avoid the passive voice (OK, “to always avoid,” since they inveigh against avoiding split infinitives, too). They point out first that passive constructions serve entirely respectable syntactic purposes, and they’ve been an integral part of expressive English composition for as long as we’ve had expressive English composition. They are correct. Second, they point out — often with considerable glee — that most people who denounce the passive voice in print are themselves quite confused, if not ignorant, about what constitutes a passive construction. Language Log is correct about that, also.

I do know what the passive voice is. I agree that good writers use the passive voice often, to positive effect. I do not spend much time dealing with elegant stylists, though; more of my marking time involves people who could write better essays with a few clues and a little more effort. I offer them some clues, in relatively simple versions, one of which urges them to avoid using the passive voice and passive constructions as a default mode of composition — but I do not say “Never use the passive voice.” (If I did, I would illustrate my mandate with a proper example, but since I don’t, there’s no need.)

Catherine Fox’s recent Lent Talk for the BBC cites Microsoft Word]s annoying “grammar check” function as an example of indiscriminate animus against the passive as the lead-in to her reflections about Christ and power. The column rightly reflects the rhetorical importance of writing deliberately; Fox contrasts the MS Word anti-passive function with the words of the Creed, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The Conciliar Fathers set these phrases in the passive voice (presumably) because Jesus ought to be the subject of the sentence, the most prominent syntactical figure; and the phrases are set in the passive, precisely because Jesus is not the active agent in these events. That, and the Creed is written in Greek, which introduces different colourations of voice anyway. But the broad point remains: the passive voice isn’t bad in itself — the Creed uses the passive properly and effectively — but it is very often used badly by poor writers. The target of our clean-up efforts should be those weak, confusing, vague, colourless uses of the passive.

So by all means use passive constructions, where they work well for the rhetorical effects you have in mind. And avoid passive constructions when you aren’t sure why you’re using the passive rather than an active alternative. (Even then I said “avoid,” since sometimes the passive will be preferable even when you can’t articulate a reason. But usually not.) When it comes to passives, as Jesus says in a famous textual variant to Luke 6:4, “Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law.”

The Colour of Progress

There is no question regarding the relation to our front room and Carolina Blue:

Mimosa paint, front room


If I remember correctly, the front room (and the upstairs guest room, currently being finished — the bookcases got in the way) are coloured “Mimosa”; the top floor room is “Bluebird,” as the dining room is; and a couple of rooms will be “Champagne.” At least one of those colours looks more yellow than they seem in the samples, but there are many variables involved, from the ambient light to colour matching in digital applications. All is fine.

The front room had its first encounter with Mark the House Painter today; the kitchen is preparing for a skirmish. The guest bedroom is nearly done, and the smaller WC and the hall and stairwell are set to go. The master bedroom and the wee room in which I hang my clothes are thus far untouched.

The Revd Prof. Rowan A. Greer

Sometimes it’s handy to gather up obits and memories in one place — and since I’ve seen less attention to Rowan than I’d have thought fitting for a man who had devoted so long and distinguished a life of service to his students, his colleagues, and his church, I wanted to make sure that the Web reserved a little corner for somebody I remember very fondly, very respectfully.

I didn’t know Rowan as well as a good many other people did; I was not a star student in Patristics, nor was I on the staff at Christ Church very long. When he invited Margaret and me home to dinner one night, I’m sure it was more because he appreciated Margaret’s work for Berkeley Divinity School than for my (unremarkable) essays in Church History I or the Anglican Ethos class. I must say, though, that he helped my academic writing considerably; he helped me understand that it was my job as a writer to make myself clear to my reader, rather than his job as my examiner to put the best construction on the overly vague points I was trying to make. He helped me take life at Christ Church less seriously, which was good for my sanity and for my relationship with Fr Miner. Margaret and I did attend the Daily Office and Eucharist regularly during our time at Berkeley, so we were accustomed to seeing him sitting in the back corner, reading along in Syriac to the New Testament lessons. In the sacristy, he would recount droll stories of Christ Church’s history. Over coffee, he would fill in blanks in my understanding of the New Testament, or early Church history, or the Church of England. And wherever there was Rowan, there was also his companion MacGregor (we also knew Rowan as custodian of another Golden, Papageno, whose regular guardians left him with Rowan for a long stint), and his pipe.

Part of formation in training for ministry involves observing the priests whom you admire and those you do not, and piecing together a clerical identity by assimilating, differentiating, and synthesising the bits of of the people you see into a liveable sense of what it means to serve God and God’s people through the Church. While I can’t imagine that anyone who knows me as a priest thinks of Rowan, I have to say that he was in many regards a model for me — even more, now that as I have occasion to look back at those days, than I’d have thought at the time.

Yale Divinity School posted an obituary, and of course the Register did as well. His colleagues are quoted there saying true things about Rowan’s stature in his fields, and his importance to generations of students, but Steve Cook’s more personal recollection rings truer to me. Perhaps this is simply my own recollection, but I have the sense that modern academia did not accord to him the fullest measure of recognition for all that he did. I thought that I remembered that his book Broken Lights and Mended Lives won an award, but the web conceals from me the name of that award; maybe the prize-winning book was Fear of Freedom, but I don’t see anything listed for that, either. At the same time, I never knew Rowan to court acclaim, so perhaps this is more appropriate to Rowan. Whatever the case — I wish the theological academy had more scholars like him.

Rest of Day

I resolved to take today easy, even though Mark the housepainter was arriving at 8:00. I slept till 6:30 or so (my usual, I rarely sleep past 6:30 or 7:00), went for a morning cup of coffee, worked on the thesis I’m reading, wrote notes to my Mom and Margaret, then headed back to the house. Took the bike out for a short spin, watched some TV, made soup, did the washing-up. cleaned some pens, ordered some ink online, made a pizza, watched a film. Tomorrow, I will say mass at the House Chapel, then I need to move some goods around from room to room, so that Mark can paint the remaining rooms. Not a thrill-packed weekend, but the pace and the lack of stress will be delicious. Maybe I’ll blog something substantial tomorrow.

Oh, and I’m disappointed about Duke’s basketball team losing yesterday — but if we have to lose to an underdog, I’m pleased it’s Mercer.

An End

QuadrigaToday was the end of my second term at St Stephen’s House, Hilary Term. Many of the ordinands have left for home; some will be staying around Oxford, studying for the exams that come up during Trinity Term. I’ll be resting and catching up, and maybe even doing some reading and writing. I have an article in mind about John 4; another article about ho Dikaios in early christology; and maybe an essay or something about the role of technical biblical criticism in catholic Anglicanism. I’d like to make a video out of my “Sensual Hermeneutics” presentation. And then there are the essays that follow on from “Code Talking” (one on the problems that come from thinking of X, Y, or Z as “symbolic” or “literal”; one on how we can get along without relying on the idea of subsistent meaning; one on the how textual interpretation and ethics converge).

Of course, I have some marking to mop up, a thesis to examine, a book review or two to write. I have some projects in mind relative to my getting better acquainted with the Common Worship (the Church of England’s authoritative liturgical compendium) and how it’s used here. Some thoughts about spirituality. And a Holy Lent to keep.

Margaret’s safely in Chicago with Si and Laura. The house painter has nearly finished the half of the house he started on week before last, and is about to shift to the half of the house in which I’ve been living. I suspect that my weekend will involve moving things around to make the last three rooms accessible for painting.

But my highest priority is to shed some of the manic term-time stress. Not a vacation, not a holiday, but a saner pace.