Category Archives: Tech

New Breviary Feature

I just added a new piece of functionality to the breviary that I think it’s been needing for a long time—but it didn’t click until last night…

Some Twitter friends were talking about bring prayer books on vacation—or using the St Bede’s Breviary instead—and that reminded me of the issues I’ve had when my family and I have tried to use it together. Making sure everyone is literally on the same page can be an issue. You either have to get your preferences all set the same (a real pain, especially if you already like yours) or figure out a good way to share the link.

It hit me as I was climbing into bed that a QR code is the perfect way to solve this. So, this morning on getting up, I did some poking around to see if there was an easy way to do this. Sure enough—there is! There’s a friendly little jQuery library that does this very easily.

Thus, you should see a new link up at the very top of the page. Click it to reveal the QRcode for whatever url you have in your browser, and then have other folks with you take a picture of it (iOS) or use their app (Android), and you’re good to go!

Podcasting Pause and Reflection

Due to several swiftly-approaching deadlines, I’m taking a hiatus from recording the St. Bede Psalmcast for a bit. We’ll see how long “a bit” turn out to be…

I’ve enjoyed doing the podcast. It’s certainly done what it was supposed to do, providing a venue for enforced research for my Cassiodorus/Psalms book. For that alone it’s been beneficial.

I’ve found some aspects of it frustrating as well. Chief among them is that I find it oddly detached from listener data and feedback. I use Soundcloud but it is also pushed to iTunes. I can see how many listens each episode has received on Soundcloud, but have no idea about the iTunes side. I literally have no idea how many people are or aren’t listening to it. Apparently the proper way to do it is to use a self-hosting solution that runs through subscription services so that you can track the number of file downloads directly from the server—but I didn’t do that when I set it up. Hence, I lack data to get a clear sense of when and why I get listeners.

Too, despite Soundcloud having the capability for comments and posting episodes here on the blog, I’ve received very little feedback on the show and its content. I don’t know if I’m connecting with my audience because I know very little of what my audience likes or doesn’t like. Looping back to the original purpose, yes, it helped me do structured research for my book; what it didn’t do was give me a sense of what my book’s target audience thought of what was being produced…

All in all, I like podcasting. If anything, I think the St. Bede Psalmcast might be a little too structured—I’m wondering if a more free-form podcast might be more engaging, particularly if it’s not “purpose-driven” in the same way that this one was. In any case—that’s it for a while, anyway.

Lectionary commentary podcasts?

For whatever reason, my wife and I were discussing lectionary-based podcasts over the weekend. Naturally, my St Bede Psalmcast is a podcast connected to the Revised Common Lectionary, but clearly isn’t an exposition of the readings in any sort of depth; I touch on the “main” readings only so far as I need to to talk about the psalm.

Here’s the question that came up when we were talking, though: what sort of podcast resources are out there for Episcopal preachers?

The only one that she listens to is the Working Preacher podcast. It has a Lutheran perspective and comes from Luther Seminary. We have a soft-spot for this one because one of the hosts, Dr. Karoline Lewis, was one of my colleagues in my PhD program (and was one of the TAs in my first New Testament course in seminary!)

What else is out there? What do you listen to—or would you listen to if it existed?

Update on New Breviary Offices

Since my previous post, I’ve been able to log some significant time getting bugs fixed and features added to the new code base.

Morning Prayer in the new format is here:

I’m happy to announce that Evening Prayer can now be found here:

But…you might be saying…what if I don’t want to have to go to two different places to get my offices? Never fear, this is a temporary intermediate state while I get things functioning correctly. I’ve already thought of a number of possible end-states where you can go to one place and get the offices you’re after. As usual, I’ll play with a couple, and we’ll figure out what you like best…

Some items to note:

  • The Prayer for Mission is now a choice; all of the options are available, but one is made active.
  • If you’re overwhelmed by options, you can get rid of most of them with the “Simplify Options” button.
  • A number of things will appear now as they ought too—hymns, commemorations, etc.
  • The right creeds are with the right rites.
  • Kalendar selections exist now. There are only three options at the moment: Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006 (the official Calendar of the church—more on this anon), Great Cloud of Witnesses (made available at General Convention but not yet published in tangible form), and my own idiosyncratic House Kalendar. I’ll add back more as time allows and as I receive requests.

There are some known issues that I am working on:

  • If you begin on a day with ferial psalm antiphons, select a kalendar that is observing a saint, then decide that you really want to go back and not celebrate the saint, the code has trouble recall the initial ferial antiphons.
  • I’m sure there are more waiting to be found…

There are some things I haven’t gotten to.

  • Chief among them is a way to capture/save/apply preferences. I think we’re really close on this one; I’m just trying to determine if there are some more elegant ways to make it happen rather than a basic brute force approach.
  • Non-current BCP adds. Some folks have recommended some additional changes not yet included. I am both sympathetic and supportive of these—but not right now. The mission on the SBS is to provide an office with full options that is licit within the rubrics and rules of the ’79 BCP.  I may well consider incorporating some of your earlier or ore far-reaching options once I can get the core material nailed down—but the core material does now and will always take precendence.

Things I’m mulling over…

  • Yes, both canticles deserve antiphons. And, I have a nice model for Evening Prayer in the Palmer Evening Office antiphon book where there are appointed Magnificat antiphons coupled with broadly seasonal Nunc Dimittis antiphons. However, that raises questions. What if the first canticle at EP is something else and the second is the Mag? Where does the Mag antiphon go? With the Second (Gospel) canticle? What about a good source for MP First Canticles?

Let me know what you think, and we’ll keep moving forward here…

Experimental Code for Morning Prayer

As promised earlier, here is a link for Morning Prayer in the new experimental version of the St. Bede’s Breviary code base:

As you’ll see, most of the usual breviary options are present. The two main areas that I intend to get to but have not yet fully addressed are the Calendar/commemorations and a mechanism to save individual options. However, on the latter I think you see that selecting options is no longer the hassle it could be with the earlier editions.

There are probably still some bugs lurking in it, some I’ve discovered, a few I probably haven’t. I am working on the ones I know about in addition to getting Evening Prayer up on line too. Let me know what you think of the new interface and if you run into any problems…

Fun with Logos

I just got a hold of Logos 6… As I mentioned briefly at the end of the last podcast, I’ve been using Logos software to do biblical work since my last couple years of college which are now 20 years ago (!). Back then, it was one of the few software packages to actually offer Greek and Hebrew texts. Clearly, that’s still a huge bonus for me.

In seminary we used to have a reading group where some of the senior MDivs, some of the graduate students and a couple of professors would get together over lunch and read through Genesis in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. It was a fascinating exercise to see how the translation choices were made in the Septuagint and the Vulgate; frequently you could see where the Latin text was definitely being done with one eye on the Hebrew, the other on the Greek. With Logos, this was an easy thing to do—I’d just call up three panes and link them together and they’d move as I scrolled. Too when I was having difficulty parsing the Hebrew, a discrete mouse-over would help me out… (My Hebrew has always been the weakest of the three!)

I haven’t used it as much over the years, since so much of my work has taken me in medieval directions, but returning again to Logos I’m very impressed by the feature set. Basically, I see this system as two tools in one.

First, it is a fully featured biblical analysis tool. I’ve got my key biblical texts in the original languages and in my favorite translations (ancient and modern). Basic search and concordance functions are built in, and they’ve added a large array of tools and guides to make word study, grammatical help, and other forms of textual analysis easier. There’s plenty of interlinear support in the Greek and Hebrew for those who use that. (There isn’t currently interlinear support for the Vulgate, but I understand that may be in the works…)

Second, it is a library system in that it can give you access to a wide variety of secondary sources—commentaries, sermons, doctrinal works, patristic texts, classical texts, etc. There are a lot of these. Do keep a careful eye out here. The easiest way to make a lot of material available electronically is to use texts that have fallen out of copyright and are now in the public domain. This is a tactic that I saw across the religious software market back in the late ’90s and early ’00s when several players decided to get into the game. They would include lots of Bibles and lots of devotional texts, but they tended to be 19th century translations or materials frequently incorporating dubious theology. Too, much of the biblical reference material was sadly out of date.

Now—I have a couple of gigabytes of public domain PDFs on my hard drive, most relating to either medieval or early Anglican liturgical and doctrinal material. Just because a text is old doesn’t mean it’s not worth using (obviously!!). However, I know what the good stuff is, and how I intend to use it. Logos also clued in to this! They now offer denominationally based packages that are curated by people in those various traditions, and who have a sense of what is useful for people in those traditions rather than stuffing the box with material that is theologically at odds with it just because they can. Thus, I’ve got the Anglican package. I’m happy to say, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the material I’ve already collected on PDFs, and what I now have access to in Logos plus a whole pile of material I wouldn’t have otherwise acquired. The advantage of having the material within this system is that, unlike most PDFs, I can search it and locate things easier than before.

As a student of the history of interpretation, though, what I’m really enjoying is the integration between the biblical tools and the denominational material. When I’m in the biblical text, one of the options is the “Passage Guide” which will—by means of cross-references—pull up references to how that passage was used in other texts within your library. When it comes to looking at how patristic and medieval authors used a given text, this feature is invaluable! It’ll pop up a results box identifying specific sermon or commentary references where various writers quoted or alluded to the text being studied. Hence, if you want to look at how a given text was used across a field—say, the Latin Fathers or the monastic tradition—this tool makes it much faster and easier to identify who, what, and where.

The other thing I want to say about it at the moment is that the cross-platform functionality is great; the app version I have on my Kindle and phone syncs with what I have on my desktop. For instance, I’ve been working through VgPs 17 this morning, and when I pull up the app on my Kindle and switch it to the Vulgate, it pulls up VgPs 17:14 which is just where I stopped on my desktop!

(There do seem to be some bugs to work out on the Kindle version, though… My current pain is that I’ve downloaded Cassiodorus’s psalm commentary onto the Kindle, but every time I try to open it the app crashes. Not sure what’s going on there.)

Too, many of the same biblical language features available on the desktop are operative on the Kindle meaning that I can do the same sort of word studies/concordance work when I’m hanging out at ballet on chauffeur duty for the elder daughter.

Since I just got it, I’m still playing with it and am figuring out what all it can do and how to set it up best to help me with my research and writing. What I can say right off, is that I can see some immediate applications for its toolset to improve both the psalmcast and the Cassiodorus book that the psalmcast is supporting. I’m seeing that there are some “community” features that could be interesting in terms of collaborative study; I don’t have much of a sense of these yet, but there could be some interesting directions there too!

Devotional Apps

So—apropos of nothing…

What do you look for in a devotional app?

When I say devotional app, I’m thinking of something like, say, the Forward Movement app for the iDevice prominently featured in my sidebar. It contains the Forward Day by Day devotional and it has the Episcopal Daily Office on it as well as some other stuff. I know Church Publishing has got an app out there as does the Church of England.

What’s your sense of these things? Have you used them? Do you like them? What do you like most? What really annoys you about them? What’s that one thing that would make it even better? More features or less features?

Logos Anglican Base Package

The good folks at Logos Bible Software have sent me a review copy of their latest work, the Anglican Base Packages. I’m going to be writing a formal review for this software for The Living Church, but as a means to prepare for that, I’ll be putting it through its paces and posting informal reviews here as I work through various sections of it.

A little back story… I first used Logos Bible Software when the religion department at St. Olaf got a computer lab and installed it there 20 years ago (!). I liked it enough that I bought a copy for myself that I used through the latter half of college and my first few years in seminary. Looking through the old files on my hard drive, I found a review of it I wrote 10 years ago while assisting in the revision of the third edition of Biblical Exegesis. I liked it then too, but thought its search capabilities at that time came in second to the other big dog on the block, BibleWorks (then version 5). Since then, I haven’t done a lot with Bible software. I’m curious to see how far progress has come in the last ten years!

When I first got involved with Logos, it tended towards two main markets, Bible-studying evangelicals and academics. They were one of the first early systems to have good original language support, but a lot of their English-language library add-ons tended towards conservative evangelical devotional materials—mostly things that had gone out of print. In the days before Google Books, this was a good thing if you wanted such material. These days, post-Google Books, you have to step up your game significantly!

And they have…

In recent years, they have produced a product line specifically geared towards Roman Catholics called Verbum. In addition to biblical materials, they included good resources across the span of church history—from the Fathers through the medieval period up to the modern day.

Now—it’s our turn. Just looking at the number and span of resources in the Anglican Base Packages, I’m blown away. The people who put the list of resources together really knew what they were doing. It has many of the patristic and medieval resources that were in the Catholic set, and includes a wide array of Anglican authors through the centuries and across party divisions. Naturally, it has a strong prayer book section. The biblical material looks great too. I plan to look at all of these areas in detail in further posts, so I won’t dig into them here. Overall, my first impression of the package has been fantastic!

Here’s the official press release on it:

Bellingham, Wash., March 27, 2014 — Logos Bible Software has announced a new line of scholarly libraries tailored to Anglicans/Episcopalians. The new “base package” libraries offer all the features of Logos’ nondenominational base packages, with a resource lineup that meets the specific needs of Anglican scholars and pastors.

Conventionally, in-depth study requires access to a large physical library and large blocks of time for study and reflection. Logos’ Anglican base packages aim to overcome these barriers — they include hundreds of titles from the Anglican tradition, accessible on a computer or mobile device. All the resources are linked using Logos’ proprietary code, enabling users to jump between Scripture and Tradition with a click. This means Anglican scholars can spend less time on busywork and more time learning and reflecting.

“The Logos Anglican program is one of the best tools for personal spirituality and ministry that I have come across,” said Rev. C. K. Robertson, PhD, canon to the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. “Actually, it is more of a toolbox than just a tool, as there are so many wonderful aspects of it that I am only beginning to discover! Not only are the biblical materials incredibly helpful, but the pieces devoted to the Book of Common Prayer and the other Episcopal resources make this absolutely invaluable. I heartily commend this work to all members of the Episcopal Church.”

Logos has been creating world-class Bible software for more than 20 years. It has almost 2 million users in more than 210 countries, and partners with more than 200 publishers to provide the best content from the scholarly world. Logos’ in-house biblical-language and theological scholars do original research and consult on software development.

Last year, Logos hired an Anglican expert, Ben Amundgaard, to design a product line that would meet the needs of Anglican and Episcopalians. Amundgaard consulted other Anglican scholars and emphasized the classic Anglican integration of Scripture, Reason and Tradition; the result is a biblical and theological library customized to the needs of Anglican scholarship.

“I have happily used Logos software for Bible reference and study since 1995,” said Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. “Every day I open the software to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer 1979, using the Logos resource for the Daily Lectionary. I also have at hand works by foundational writers in the Anglican tradition — theologians like Thomas Cranmer, Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes. I am thrilled to learn that Logos is releasing even more packages from this tradition that I love and call home.”

Thinking about Lent and Books

Lent is officially here. At my house, among other things, we’re taking stock of the way that we do things and what stuff is lying around. It’s time to think again about if, when, and how our stuff is holding us back.

For me this is always challenging work. The bulk of my possessions is easily in one major area: books. I’ve been through lots of schools and accumulated books through my course of study. I’ve also had the opportunity to plunder two good clergy libraries (people who were retiring and gave me an opportunity to go through their shelves and grab what I liked…). I have more bookshelves than can easily be numbered let alone books. And yet—that’s an awful lot of stuff…

In our last cross-country move, I actually had to go back and do the trip again because we had too many things the first time around. And the bulk of it was books…

They say that in letting go of things, you have to remember that relationships are more important than stuff. Sometimes we hold on to clutter and crap because we received various things from various people; we hold onto the material as a way of holding onto the relationship or holding on to the memories. The great mental hurdle is the realization that the relationship doesn’t have to go just because the item does.

But a book is a relationship.

It’s an opportunity to connect with someone else and to see inside their mind.

To let go of the book is to let go of that opportunity.

At least, that’s the way I’ve always rationalized it to myself…

When M and I first discussed getting Kindles (several years ago now), one of the decisions to get them was because of the promise of the reduction of physical books. If you can just have it electronically, then you don’t need to have it physically. Yeah, well, the promise inherent there hasn’t quite materialized yet.

I am getting closer, though. Over the last few days I’ve started thinking more seriously about thinning out the book collection. I won’t say I’m quite ready yet, but forward progress is occurring.

Of course, one of the things making this easier is the growing availability of electronic materials. Amazon has been doing a great job of convincing/coercing publishers into publishing electronically. There are a number of hopeful movements out there. You’ll note that Forward Movement is doing a great job of putting out things electronically (like Fr. John-Julian’s Stars in a Dark World). The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book will be available there soon (I just got word today that it’s finally being sent off to the printer on Wednesday!)

I was going to link to an example of a scholarly book where the hardback was selling for over a hundred dollars and the Kindle version was available for under ten—which is definitely movement in the right direction!—but upon checking I now see that the Kindle version is back above a hundred bucks. Ok—things are still shaking out there.

Additionally, a little competition is never a bad thing… I’ve been a huge fan of Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality series ever since encountering the mystics through it in college. It’s bugged me for a while that none of these books aren’t available for the Kindle. However, I recently got word that Logos is preparing to put out the series for their reference system. Right now they’re offering it in very large chunks: the whole set; or the set in three sections: Pre-Reformation Christianity, Post-Reformation Christianity, and Judaism, Islam, and Native American Religions. They’re in a pre-order state right now; I can only assume that individual volumes will also be available for sale once the set is completed.

Now—once I get a hold of an electronic copy of Meister Eckhart or Johannes Tauler or Jeremy Taylor, does that mean I’ll be willing to part with my paper copy?

Hmm. I’ll have to keep pondering that…