January 28, 2005

Time to make topic suggestions

While I did think there might be interest in a resource such as this, I am a bit overwhelmed by the emails and comments I've received expressing enthusiasm for The Macintosh Biblioblog. Let me say with earnestness, when you do email or comment, please give suggestions for subjects/questions to cover. I haven't posted in nearly a week (recovering from surgery), but have much to add in time. I have been postponing a thorough review of word processors, mostly to let the impact of Pages settle in. There is some news with Pages and OpenOffice that we need to share soon. The first major project will be a series on Unicode Greek/Hebrew, from introduction to input methods, to conversion. If you have Unicode questions, be sure to give them now, that I may incorporate them into the posts. Finally, I wanted to say thanks to the Bibliobloggers out there, for your warm reception as well. Some of you I have met personally or know from other online forums. As I looked around, I saw that many of us were using the same template scheme... in shock I quickly customized the Mac Biblioblog a bit... you could say I've begun to "Mac-ify" it.

January 21, 2005

Bible Software Survey

A Bible Software survey is being hosted at surveymonkey.com. It is designed for users of Bible software on any platform (Mac, pc, PDA). Most important is that the results of the survey are being made available to any Bible software developer, so take this opportunity to give valuable feedback for the sake of improving the kind of software we depend upon so frequently. The survey is 30 questions long, most of which are a simple check to click. Also, do your part to make sure we have a good showing in the Macintosh market segment. Click here to go directly to the survey. (Thanks to the Greg Ward for the heads up.)

January 18, 2005

The MacMini -- now your computer support department has NO excuse

Getting your institution to put a Mac in your office just got easier. Apple has now, for the first time ever, entered the low-end desktop market. An often made (and ignorant) complaint regarding Mac computers is that they are more expensive than others. There may be a slight premium on the Apple brand/quality, I'll agree, but for the most part the issue is simply that Apple hasn't made computers in the low-end market. Well, this has changed. The new BYODKM (bring-your-own-display-keyboard-and-mouse) $499 Mac mini was introduced, which is not so much a reduced desktop as it is a computer whose price tag is slashed partially by eliminating extraneous hardware. I propose that the Mac mini brings a complete transformation to the possibility of adding a Mac to your office, in the academy or the church or other office. For such a low price tag, a great piece of Macintosh computer can be put into any current computer station, using the USB keyboard/mouse and VGA/DVI display already there. (Most Computer Support departments on campus have no shortage of extra peripherals.) Apple themselves see desktop-switching in universities as a major niche for the Mac mini. On the web page they say:

"Upgrade Your School Lab Replace your PCs with Mac minis and spend your time teaching advanced topics instead of basic computer maintenance. You already have the keyboards, mice and monitors you need."
Still, the most common denial to professors who request a Mac comes not from administration price tags, but from Information Services people. It is understandable the desire to reduce their burden of knowledge by reducing your choice. But if they have a no-Mac-tolerance policy based on compatibility across the network, it is based 100% on ignorance. The simple fact is that out of the box, a new Mac plugs-in and works on 99% of networks effortlessly.* See the Apple page on plugging into networks. *Update: The folks at iFelix have a nice list of articles discussing more obscure networking issues. I invite anyone to leave a comment to this post, giving a testimonial regarding their Mac working on your building's network.

January 17, 2005

Are you organized?

Do you just throw all your documents into one "Documents" folder? That's not all bad, especially with Apple's increasing ease with which to locate documents. Spotlight is a new feature of the new OS X Tiger due out in the first half of this year making it even simpler to find documents by content with great ease. But, I'm sure you at least break down your folder into some subcategories? Are you interested in the potential for being very organized? I was doing some sorting of files, and thought I'd share my own filing system. Here's a glance at it: In graduate school, I decided to create my own filing system, one tailored to my interests as a minister and a "Bible guy". It also represents the coding I created for research (you know, for the top corner of note cards while in the library). I based it on the American Library of Congress system. I truncate a digit for simplicity, and then fudge some categories in order to make room for my own (I didn't really need a top level category for Naval Science). One benefit is that for my subject areas, I've now memorized the general LC assignments. Here is text file index of the raw folder system that depicts the subfolders of subfolders of folders, etc. Note that it contains some areas that really only match with my interests (such as a folder for Racquetball or for Applescript), but by in large it will match with the interests of ministers and religious scholars in general. If you're inclined to get hyper organized, and would like to use some part of this system, here is a stuffit archive file that contains the complete set of nested folders. And for our Windoze sisters and brothers, here is a .zip file. (Additional note: If you'd like to create your own detailed, tab heierarchy folder list in a text file like the one I provide above, I can send you an Applescript that will use your own text file as a basis and create the entire folder structure, without you having to do any of the grunt work. 1/18) You don't have to worry about trouble finding documents because they are "buried" in subfolders. Take my sermon folders, for instance... Here's a glance: Notice that the sermon folder is selected, and notice that the search box in the window toolbar is set to "Selection". This means all I need do is type in "mark" and the window instantly displays any nested file within the selected folder matching what you type. Well, you can do more with the Find File feature as well. Bringing the Finder to the front and using File/Find is where you need to turn to look for files not just by name but by content. But this should be enough for now.

January 15, 2005

What Word Processor to work with Unicode Hebrew

Pages -- the new kid on the block Apple has announce a new word procesor, Pages. It is part of the application suite, iWork '05, which replaces Appleworks. Pages is a cocoa app, and hence its text engine has surely implemented Right-to-Left support for languages such as Hebrew. This was tentatively verified for me at the Expo. Once we see it in action, it might very well take precedence as the simplest, most wide spread solution for scholars doing work with Hebrew. Mellel, directed towards scholarly work Mellel remains a superior option for doing Unicode work. The developer of Mellel sent me a copy a couple months back, and it is very impressive. Developed by native Hebrew speakers, the application also has a leg up, particularly as it is geared towards academic work. But, it has a major setback regarding it's use among moderate style/font adept users; it's unicode implementation is non-standard and can be confusing. In every other application I've seen, you need not change fonts to a unicode font that supports a particular language character range. So, if in TextEdit you are typing in the Helvetica font, and you switch to a Hebrew keyboard, the font automagically switches to another one which contains Hebrew, say, Lucida Grande. In Mellel, for the sake of having more control over the text, you get those annoying boxes and mystery characters until you manually change the font. In some ways, this eliminates a powerful aspect of using Unicode to begin with (one I'll explain more simply in a future post). In a note, the developer of Mellel told me he's working on making it a user-defined preference to toggle between the "let me stay ignorant of the details" option and the "let me have complete control over which fonts are redering which languages" option. Where is Word in all this? Well, you may have heard the woes of it all. But, the dark truth is that while Microsoft Word for Windows has long supported Right-to-Left Unicode Hebrew, Microsoft chose yet again not to spend the resources on its newest edition Word 2004 to implement support for R2L languages. You can forget Unicode Hebrew with Word 2004. It will not get the character and or word order correct. Furthermore, since the characters will be in the wrong order, the vowel pointing will not be recognized in the order it needs to be in for proper placement, hence they will not be combined with letters. Bottom line... forget it. Hebrew doesn't work with Word 2004. (The exception to that is documents written in Word for Windows using Hebrew can be opened and viewed in Word 2004 for Mac, but don't try any editing.) Much effort went into lobbying, suing, etc. to get Micro$soft to add Hebrew support in the first and the most recent version of Word for OS X. They found it not worth the expense. The problem is that the text engine for Micro$oft Office would have to be rewritten to allow Right-to-Left text, and the work of rewriting the Office text engine is tremendous, for a target market representing a relatively small number of language users. The Information Technology news-source at The Register did a great job of covering the ongoing saga regarding Micro$oft's refusal to do the work to implement right-to-left Unicode support. Several articles covered the story; here is one such article, but you can search for more: You may find particularly interesting the letter written by the head of the Mac Business Unit at Microsoft in response to the issue, where he essentially says, "There aren't enough Mac users in the Right-to-Left world to make it good business to spend the resources on it." He won't state it this way, but here's the real deal: On any new venture to infiltrate a market, a business takes a big hit on front end costs so that eventually Hebrew users could be won over to using Word for Mac; but remember that where they'd be won over from is a Microsoft platform, hence eliminating the incentive all together. Finally, the final incentive for Micro$oft to bite the bullet (and avoid lawsuit for using monopoly power to force users to use a particular OS) and add Hebrew support went away when Open Office, an open source competitor, added R-t-L support last year. Israel institutions began adopting Open Office all over the place. Eventually, a revision of Word WILL include Right-to-Left Unicode support--simply because it is inevitable. This may happen sooner for a tangential reason all together. The Office text engine for Windows is being rewritten, and the Mac Business Unit will be porting it into the next version of Word. This engine will make implementation of Right-to-Left more easy to implement. I've no idea how many years before we see this in fruition in the Mac. So, as scholars who work with Hebrew, what should we be using? I appreciated learning from the perspective an IT department in Israel. Shuki manages the Mac User Group list at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. This is what they suggest for Hebrew to their students: "Two good options: Mellel (by redlex ) or OpenOffice . The latter is an open source software therefore is FREE. It supports also Excel and ppt files. Mellel is a great software too offering some new features to word processing. Its compatibility with Word docs is less good than OO. It costs about $25. If you need Eng only, you could use MS Office 2004 for the Mac OS X. It doesn't support Heb writing but displays Heb files coming from Windows machines quite well." I think we can now add Nisus to that list as well. I've not looked at it. And heck, you can do all your Hebrew work in TextEdit, the simple application that comes with OS X. It works beautifully. But if my suspicions come true, Pages is going to do wonders for this support. We shall see when it ships later this month.

January 14, 2005

Scope of The Macintosh Biblioblog

The primary scope of this blog has to do with addressing issues, covering new developments, explaining technologies, providing howto helps for biblical scholars who use a Macintosh computer to do their work. I intend it in some ways to provide a heads up to bible scholars regarding what they may not yet know about new ways to use their computer, or new tools available for it. Much of the subject matter is of interest to clergy who also use a Mac but are not in the academy but serving in other ministry locations such as the parish, and perhaps even to bible scholars who do not use a Mac. And while I am indeed a Macintosh enthusiast, I have NO interest in Mac evangelism in general, nor any Mac vs. Windoze debate, though who doesn't like a little Micro$oft bashing from time to time. They ask for it. As I anticipate it, major subjects that I will in time address include:

  • Greek and Hebrew language use on OS X
  • Rather spurious comment on topics in NT and especially Synoptic Studies
  • Understanding and using a Unicode Greek keyboard layout
  • Understanding Unicode for your work
  • How to convert you current work for use with Unicode fonts
  • Automating a scholars repetitive work, mostly via Applescript
  • Tips for use with applications bible scholars use: Accordance, Word, Excel, Endnote, even Mail.app, etc.
  • Applications and resources of my own creation
  • The possibility of making use of the Unix underpinning of OS X
  • Web browser compatibility issues
  • Electronic text resources
I will feel quite free to post subject matter on issues in critical biblical scholarship that have nothing to do with using a Macintosh, and there may be a little bit of blogging about Macintosh issues that have little impact for most biblical scholars. But, I feel quite certain that I will make little effort to avoid the occassional post that seems entirely off topic, related to other interests I have. As I peruse blogdom, it is amusing to find the random combination of interests that a blog does make--a reflection of the blogger's interests, of course. Perhaps then I should give a warning of some of my other interests & activities:
  • I pastor a church in Dallas
  • Stay-at-Home Dad 3 days a week
  • Ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
  • Clergy couple with my wife
  • Wariness/weariness of the political activity of the religious right in the U.S.
  • Coding: Applescript, VBA, XML, Perl
  • Sports: Lap swimming, Racquetball, Texas football and basketball
  • Tolkien (my children are named Arwen and Sam, after all)
  • well, surely that's enough warning

January 13, 2005


Through email and various listservs I participate in, and in response to material on my web page, I am often involved in discussing and/or helping with issues regarding the doing of biblical scholarship using Macintosh tools. I had thought there must surely be a place that focuses on issues particular to bible scholars in the Macintosh arena, but as I thought about it, alas there is not. I have done most of my online interaction via email and on listservs (applescript-users and others at Apple, B-Greek, Accordance Forum, Synoptic-L, XTalk, and various less active ones), but I do occasionally peruse a few of the biblioblogs (Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway Weblog foremost among them). Normally when I wish to make something available on the web, I create my own web pages, but I thought I'd experiment with this whole blogging thing as a way to make such a forum available, though I must confess it seems rather egocentric. Does the format necessarily emphasize the personality of the provider? Does the messenger become as important as the message? And, is that really a bad thing? For surely, the real difference in blogging, in contrast to web page development, is the transparency with which we see the one providing the substance. We'll see how it goes.