jtrhart

Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Did Anyone Notice Google Reader's New Feature Today?

In technology on May 5, 2008 at 8:59 pm

notesGoogle announced a new feature for their Reader today, they’re calling it Notes. It gives you the ability to share whatever tidbits you find on the web almost instantaneously, you can even add your own commentary to the shared note while you’re at it. Simply copy the stuff you’d like others to see and click on the “Note in Reader” button on your toolbar, a small window pops up allowing you to add commentary if you’d like, otherwise you’re done.

This sharing feature is interesting, for instance, I use the shared feature in Google Reader to share articles with folks that aren’t interested in reading a lot of blogs but would like to read some of the “headline” type posts. I have an aggregator picking up that feed and displaying it for them so they don’t have to learn how to use Google Reader (not that that is very hard, just look at Abraham Piper’s post to learn). The only issue I see with this sharing feature is that you have to befriend folks to really use it, kind of like Facebook. So for instance, if folks subscribe to my blog feed, they would have to also subscribe to my Google-shared feed to get these additional Notes. Not a big deal, but I’m not sure how useful this is yet. Folks always get creative with these things so I’ll be interested to see how this new feature gets used.

A Nerd's Guitar

In technology on April 30, 2008 at 8:54 pm

guitar

This is pretty cool. Here is a Gibson guitar that will automatically tune itself. A combination of DSP, tiny motors, batteries, and utter nerdines make it all possible. Guitar not sounding so hot? Just pull out the knob and wait a few seconds, the motors will turn the pegs until each string is tuned to your preferred settings. Now if they could just make this work on my voice my joyful noise just might be a little less noisy…

A Man's Thought Life

In technology on April 11, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Ambient Corporation has developed and demonstrated a small device that, when worn by someone who does not have the ability to speak, is able to convert their thoughts into either audible speech or device control (wheelchairs for example). Simply think the thought, “wheelchair turn left; wheelchair move forward”, and the wheelchair obeys. At first I thought this was really cool, what a great help to those who don’t have the ability to control a wheelchair by touch or by voice. Then I thought about my thought life and how difficult it is to control my thoughts (Romans 7:15), terrible visions of wheelchairs running wildly down the streets raced into my head and my point was proven….

Ambient

Now That's What I Call Efficient

In technology on April 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm

I stumbled on a neat way to look-up Bible verses (for those of us who don’t have the whole Bible memorized). Have a look at OpenBible.info to see it in action.

Bible Book Browser

Also, there is a way to visually analyze the frequency of a word used in the Bible, for example, “love” is used a lot more in the epistles than in the gospels, but it looks like Psalm has them both beat. Yet another website that makes good use of the ESV’s online presence. Enjoy!

Diagramming Ephesians 1:3-14

In reference on March 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Ephesians diagramThe first section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has always been confusing to me. This is classic Paul-authorship; lots of commas and run-on sentences that provide so much good stuff that your brain can’t stay with Paul’s train of thought. Here is the text from the ESV (I’m really thankful for the folks at Crossway for making the ESV so web-friendly and providing us with a great API):

Ephesians 1:3-14 – 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Try and read it very quickly and you’ll know what I mean about being confused. While I was studying this passage, it was helpful for me to break it up into smaller chunks so I could try and get a feel for what the flow of Paul’s thoughts were. I started doing this in PowerPoint by adding indentations to the breaks and italics where Paul’s mind seems to wander a bit and I realized that arrows and highlights were needed so I switched to Microsoft Visio to help me out with that. Here is what I came up with (click on the picture for a larger version):

Ephesians Diagramming Large

Ephesians Diagramming Small

Click here for a smaller version that might fit better on your screen so you don’t have to scroll all over the place to read it.

I found this helpful for myself to diagram what Paul was trying to say here. If you read from top to bottom, left to right, you’ll see how I broke the passage up into sections. I tried using highlighted blocks to denote similar passages, the blueish color denotes the blessings that Paul mentions we have in Christ in v3, the clouds represent tangents that Paul takes that, while theologically are topics all in themselves, makes it difficult to get a grasp of the whole passage when you get caught up praising God for what He’s done while you read them.

I would like to learn more about diagramming sentences (I will admit I did not pay close enough attention in grammar school to this). If anyone knows of any good resources, please post them in the comment sections. These don’t have to be “Christian” references either, I know there are a lot of fine English grammar books that deal with this topic that would be helpful to me. I found BibleArc to be a good place with a pretty good interface for “arcing” passages, does anyone have others? Thanks!

EDIT: I found this post from Challies blog. On it, there is what looks to be a good, free book from Desiring God Ministries and a few chapters of a book from Thomas R. Schreiner.

How To Spend $3,100,000.00

In news on March 21, 2008 at 7:02 pm

If you had 3.1 million dollars, what would you do with it?

A group of researchers have decided to use their millions to find God, or, as the article puts it, the biological reasons why people believe in God:

Religion cries out for a biological explanation. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon—arguably one of the species markers of Homo sapiens—but a puzzling one. It has none of the obvious benefits of that other marker of humanity, language. Nevertheless, it consumes huge amounts of resources.

Interesting. Have a look at the article, there are a few neat experiments that these folks have in mind.

Clicks Are Important

In personal, technology on March 9, 2008 at 4:52 pm

The other day after Sunday School, a friend stopped me and handed me a newspaper clipping of a Dilbert comic. The comic reminded him of me and he made it a point to cut it out and give it to me next time he saw me.

Before the internet, this was how we hyperlinked things.

Now, I’m a technology nut and I think there are many benefits to what technology allows us to do that we couldn’t do before. But, had he emailed me a link to this comic, I probably wouldn’t have thought too much of it. The fact that it was cut out and hand delivered was a little more meaningful, just like we all still enjoy receiving regular mail. Receiving it by hand was much more valuable to me than receiving it by a mouse click.

Then I got to thinking how important my clicks are to me. I read through a lot of news/blogs/articles everyday on the web. Each thing I read through is found with a single click on a hyperlink somewhere during my daily reading. So when I read through something that isn’t very meaningful or doesn’t cause me to stop and think, I honestly feel like I’ve wasted a click.

This isn’t good. I haven’t timed how long it takes me to click a mouse button but I suspect I’d need something better than a second hand to accurately measure it.

I was reading another biography on Jonathan Edwards the other day and found out that his study habits often found him behind his books for 13 hours a day. Now, this 13 hours included his pastoral duties, but it still offers a glimpse into how much time Jonathan spent studying the Word and those who wrote about the Word. But, the biography continued, he never seemed to be in a hurry to do anything. He never seemed as if he had somewhere better to be or something more important to be doing than whatever he was currently engaged in. How many people can we honestly say are like this?

This seems alien to me. Here I am worried about every click of the mouse and whether or not it is a good use of my time and I’m only spending a fraction of my day in the way that I would like to be. It’s difficult not to become so concerned with my time that I make others around me feel like I am unapproachable because I’m too busy.

We read in Ephesians 5:16 that we should make the best use of the time because the days are evil. Paul is referencing an avoidance of a depraved lifestyle in the passage but certainly we can apply this to this situation if I’m living like the world around me. Maybe this is a good time to clean out my feed reader of some unedifying blogs…

Amazon Kindle Review (With an Eye on Bible Study)

In books, reference, technology on March 8, 2008 at 4:23 pm

kindleSo, here it is. I’ve been using the Amazon Kindle just a few short weeks and it has certainly beat out any expectations I had. It’s not perfect, but we’ll get into that. There are plenty of other reviews of the Kindle out there, but this one is with a focus on using the Kindle as a Bible study tool.

What is a Kindle

I get asked this question a lot as people come across me using this “we only pretended to study the iPod while designing this thing” device. Its main function is to be an e-reader, to let you store multiple books on one device and provide you with a display that is not draining on the eyes after hours of reading. You buy a book (or find free a book) and download it to the Kindle, then you read through it just like you would any normal book, using the buttons on the side of the device to turn the pages forward and backward. Two things set the Kindle apart from other e-readers that have come out in the past: Amazon created it so you know the publishers will be following closely to keep up with their good friends in Seattle and it includes the ability to connect to Sprint’s cellular network and download the books from Amazon.com anywhere you can get a Sprint signal. These are great features, but personally, the thing that set the Kindle apart was the QWERTY keyboard that was included on the device, this allows you to take notes in the margins and highlight passages that interest you. I scribble a lot of notes while I read and now I can go back and read over them and even search through them since they are all electronic.

What Kind of Books Can You Put on the Kindle

From the Kindle you can browse the current selection of books offered at Amazon.com for the device. I will say at this point, the selection of “Christian” books is fairly slim although I don’t necessarily read the types of Christian books you would find in the Christian book store (see my library at LibraryThing). A nice feature to the Kindle is the ability to put your own books on it. There are lots of free books that you can download in html or pdf format that you can put on your Kindle simply by email them as attachments to yourdevicename@free.kindle.com. A few minutes later, you will get an email back from Amazon with a properly formatted azw file to download to your Kindle via USB. I’ve found quite a few books at ccel.org that I’ve been meaning to read through but haven’t because I didn’t want to read them on my desktop computer. Here’s a quick overview of the process:

  1. Download a book to your computer, try Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper.
  2. Compose an email to yourdevicename@free.kindle.com and add the PDF file as an attachment.
  3. Plug in your Kindle to your computer with the USB cable.
  4. After you get an email from Amazon with the azw file attached, download that attachment directly to the “documents” directory on your Kindle. That’s it!

List

Even though these books are free, people still had to spend some cash to get it up on the web, it might be a good idea to make a donation to the websites so that they can continue to offer these great services to us.

What Does the Kindle Mean For Bible Study

I have two versions of the Bible on my Kindle, the NASB and the ESV. Both of them have very awkward navigation methods. When you open the Bible, you start on whatever page you last left off on. This is difficult because if you are in the middle of a chapter, you will have no idea what chapter you are in or what book you are in. The book/chapter reference is not displayed anywhere on the screen except at the beginning of a chapter. The way around this is to change your habits a little and make full use of the search feature. When you want to read Ephesians 3, simply hit search then type in eph 3 and hit enter. You probably won’t be as fast jumping around the Bible on the Kindle as you would with a paper Bible but once you get the hang of it you won’t have any problem keeping up with sermons or Bible studies where the leaders jump from passage to passage. If you know you are going to be in three or four passages and want to flip back and forth between them, you can bookmark each one and jump between bookmarks easily.

ESV

I’ve touched on the cons of using the Kindle for Bible study, now for the pros. Search-ability. Can’t remember that verse you were reading earlier? Type in a word or two and you’re all set. This comes in handy when you’re away from a computer. You can also search any notes you’ve typed into the device, so if you are taking notes for a particular study, it might be good to tag your notes. For example, my Bible study group is going through Desiring God, so I’ll use the term “DG#” to indicate a particular note is for a chapter # in the Desiring God study. This is nothing new, you can do all this from any computer, but having it in a device that weighs almost nothing and has a battery that lasts close to a week is pretty cool. Searching will look through every book/note on your Kindle but the first result comes from the book you are currently reading.

A Few Tips

For any Kindle owners, here are a few things I’ve picked up during my use:

  • All of your notes are stored as txt files so you can download them to your desktop and read through them.
  • Don’t wait for the screen. The redrawing of the screen takes about 0.5 seconds but the Kindle will buffer any commands you give it during the redraw period. For example, if you know how many clicks of the scroll wheel it takes to get to the “Add Note” command you can click on that and begin typing your notes before the screen catches up with you. You can get really fast if you trust yourself and command the Kindle before waiting for the screen to catch up. Typing is similar. Don’t wait for your letters to appear, just type away and don’t wait for the screen to catch up.
  • You can press the Next Page and Prev Page buttons multiple times before the screen redraws. So, if you know you want to jump three pages away, press the Next Page button three times quickly and you will jump that many pages away without having to redraw each page along the way.
  • Make good use of the search function, it’s much faster than navigating.
  • If you create your own books, be mindful of the title you use, if you are creating a reference book, you may want to add a “ZZ” to the beginning of the title, that way all books that start with ZZ will be at the back of your list.
  • Keyboard shortcuts are very helpful. Learn em. A list is here.
  • You can take screenshots on the Kindle and make them your screensaver. I took a screenshot of a passage in 2 Peter that I’ve been memorizing and now it is my screensaver so I can memorize it.

A (small) Call to Christian Bloggers

In technology on February 21, 2008 at 8:17 pm

kindle

I would like to suggest to those who blog regularly on Christian topics and would consider their blog to be a “Christian blog” to look into making it available on the Kindle.

  • What this means – anyone who subscribes to your blog would have your posts sent to their Kindles automatically, every day. Subscribers pay between $0.99 and $1.99 per month to Amazon to subscribe to your blog. I doubt bloggers see much, if any, financial profit in this but that’s a rare goal to have in what we do.
  • Why do it – as of now, they have a few categorized blogs available to subscribe to but there is not even a category for “Religion/Spirituality”. Judging from the online form, they are looking to begin one though. So, I would love to see the majority of what I consider the good, Christian blogs out there made available for people.
  • How to do it – if you want to submit your blog to the Amazon Kindle website to have it listed and made available for people to subscribe to, click here. You will fill out a form and then receive an email asking for more information. From what I can tell, someone will read through your blog and see if they want to list it. I haven’t gotten further than this so I can’t tell you what’s next…
  • Why I think this is important -I’ve submitted my blog to Kindle and the email I received back is very crude, which tells me they are really just beginning this process and are early on in the development. My small call is for Christians to be at the forefront of this just in case it actually takes off rather than playing catch-up with technology as we occasionally do. I’m not highly optimistic that a lot of people are going to pay for blogs that they can get for free but, who knows, maybe this fee-based thing will go away soon if the popularity is strong enough (or if advertisers have a chance to play). I think there is a lot of good material out there that folks, believers and non, can benefit from.

Print is Dead?

In technology on February 18, 2008 at 5:03 pm

KindleThere has always been something fascinating to me about those who have written and published a book. A real book. How do you define a real book? Well, for the purpose that I write about today, something of substance and over 100 pages in length. I have a few publications out there, in journals and the school that granted me a degree, but that’s not what I’m describing here. I mean people whose names are on a solid, well-researched book. Where the countless hours poured into the study and writing are all redeemed when the binding is cracked the first time a reader looses themselves in whatever world is detailed. These are the people that fascinate me.

Recently, Steve Jobs (I don’t think it would be a stretch to refer to him as a “trend-setter”) was quoted, saying:

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

The irony of how many people read his comment is almost on par with the fact that my Kindle e-reader came with a 20-page printed user’s manual.

Jeff Gomez has written a book called Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age where he evangelizes authors, publishers, and distributors to get on the digital bandwagon and begin publishing in ways that are accessible to those who spend the majority of their time in front of computers and cell phones and rarely see printed text.

Here’s where I’d like to comment on Amazon’s drive to accomplish this. In conjunction with their release of the Kindle reading device, whose major one-up on all the other e-readers is that you can wirelessly download content in minutes almost anywhere you are, they have started a Digital Text Platform. It gives any author (with or without a publisher) the ability to publish their material for sale in the Kindle store. Just write, upload, set a price, and you’re published. No meetings, no approvals, no waiting.

Obviously making it so easy to become “published” will lead to an increase of poorly-written material being seen. But, it will also make it easier for some really exceptional writers who may not want to go through the processes that publishing houses place on them have their writings available. The great thing about the timing of this technology is that folks can easily comment on the “book” and rate it so that the poorly-written “books” will be weeded out and the well-written ones will become visible quickly.

I am excited about where things are going in this area, especially for Christians. Not necessarily that any Christian should publish anything they feel like, but allowing more pastors and elders to publish their sermons, or seeing more books published as a result of a conference. And making all of this more accessible, search-able, and shareable is the driving force at work.