The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Fabricus quips again

Published: 2014-04-13 20:52:00
Category: links

Kim Fabricus' "Doodlings", a semi-regular feature on the Faith & Theology blog, continues to warm my heart with humor. This most recent batch produced multiple fits of audible laughter. This was the chief in my estimation:

There are two major legal grounds for divorce in the UK: adultery and “unreasonable behaviour”. Interestingly, these are the same theological grounds on which evangelicals and liberals “divorce” each other – accusations of syncretism on the one hand and irrationality on the other.

So please, help yourself, and subscribe over there.

Readings for March 2014

Published: 2014-04-04 06:00:00
Category: books Tags: J.K. Rowling William Gass

While I try to stay sharp with "literary" fiction, I cannot layoff the popcorn fare. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Sometimes the literature smarties need to relax and read a page-turner.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Here ends the Harry Potter series as well as my re-read. I had actually forgotten a lot of details from the final book in the series - likely due to the film abridging much in service of the film format. What I rediscovered I liked, particularly the narrative of how Dumbledore's youthful pursuit of power shipwrecked his family life.

The series as a whole is of course recommended. It has become an important part of our culture, and it is good reading.

Middle C by William Gass

Gass tells us the story of Joseph Skizzen, the very average man. Skizzen's upbringing was the product of his father's deceptions and ultimate abandonment. Joseph, along with his mother and sister, end up in America, where they must learn their own ways to navigate the American life. In spite of being undocumented and uneducated, Joseph becomes Professor Skizzen, on the music department faculty of a small midwestern university. There he begins cultivation of his private "Inhumanity Museum" and his attempt to express an idea, a single sentence, in its perfect form.

I can honestly say this is the best novel I have read in quite some time. The character Skizzen and his neighbors are a delight to read. Recommended.


  • Harper's March 2014
  • Scientific American September 2013 - I learned a lot from this food-centric issue. One of the most interesting factoids was that humans really need to cook food in order to survive.

The τελος of Greek natural language processing

Published: 2014-03-25 21:11:00
Category: language Tags: Greek NLP

I dream that someday we'll have a full stack of Greek natural language processing tools to facilitate research. These tools will range from transcribing the text to advanced NLP tasks like text classification or sentiment analysis. These tools will of course be open source.

Here is an overview of the components I have imagined (with notes where the tools are already in development):

  • Optical Character Recognition to transcribe the text to a digital form (Rigaudon Polytonic Greek OCR)
  • A user interface for editing the output of the OCR system (a "collaborative corpus linguistics" suite could be used for this and other editing tasks)
  • Collation of related texts for textual criticism.
  • Morphological analysis of the text (Tauber's greek-inflection is a start)
  • Tagging of the text based on above morphological analysis
  • Indexing the text
  • Use of a context-free Grammar or other means to produce syntactical analysis of the text (e.g. syntax trees)
  • A database to store all of this information
  • An API to make this information accessible (towards which Open Scriptures has worked)

We're actually pretty close. And once the full stack is in place, it will greatly increase the speed at which new texts enter the research corpus. This influx of data will improve the results of research and lead to new applications.

Am I missing anything?

Pelican Implementation

Published: 2014-03-21 07:45:00
Category: meta Tags: Pelican

In this post I'll share some of the implementation details for converting this blog from WordPress to Pelican. The process was not difficult, but it did require a bit of figuring to get everything right. Luckily Pelican has good documentation.

File import

Pelican comes with an importer for WordPress XML, so that made things nice and easy. I simply exported from my site and re-imported it into Pelican, converting to Markdown. One thing about the Markdown conversion that did not go well was that the "alt" text of images did not come through correctly. I think this was due to an alternate syntax for links being used by the converter.

Post URL format

I used the /year/month/day/slug format for my WordPress posts (e.g. ""). By default Pelican saves the output HTML in a flat structure. If you care about preserving links, this won't do. I used the settings ARTICLE_URL and ARTICLE_URL_SAVEAS to get Pelican to match the output. There are two ways you can go with the SAVEAS setting. Either you can put an index.html file inside the folder path (e.g. /2014/03/21/pelican-implementation/index.html), or you can use some sort of rewrite rule in your web server to point the clean path to the HTML in question. I went with the fool-proof index file method. Here are my versions of these settings:

ARTICLE_URL = '{date:%Y}/{date:%m}/{date:%d}/{slug}/'
ARTICLE_SAVE_AS = '{date:%Y}/{date:%m}/{date:%d}/{slug}/index.html'


Wordpress sticks its uploads in the wp-content directory. You'll probably want to put those contents inside your "images" folder in your Pelican project, and then edit your imported posts to re-point the paths. I used the following to edit the files in place:

for f in *.md; do sed -i "s/wp-content\/uploads/images/g" $f; done



You can use git or another vcs to keep track both of your inputs and outputs. I'd use the following setting in your file to let Pelican know not to mess with git in your output directory:


The End

The majority of the time I spent on this project was on creating my own custom theme. Theming templates was easy with jinja. I am just bad at CSS. I tried to avoid JavaScript for the function of the page. It is only used in my analytics tracking code (Piwik). I also link to Google for some web fonts. But browsers will fall back if the visitor chooses to block remote @fontface calls.

That's it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Greek WOTD - ὑπέρογκος

Published: 2014-03-19 06:03:00
Category: language Tags: Greek WOTD


Meaning "extremely large" or "rather difficult." Spotted in Lamentations 1:9:

ἀκαθαρσία αὐτῆς πρὸς ποδῶν αὐτῆς οὐκ ἐμνήσθη ἔσχατα αὐτῆς καὶ κατεβίβασεν ὑπέρογκα οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ παρακαλῶν αὐτήν ἰδέ κύριε τὴν ταπείνωσίν μου ὅτι ἐμεγαλύνθη ἐχθρός

Updated Platform

Published: 2014-03-17 06:52:00
Category: meta

For quite some time I have been interested by the prospect of converting this blog to a static format. This has been for various reasons, ease of maintenance and security concerns being foremost. I tried various static blog generators, but found little to love in them.

But then some time in the past year I discovered Pelican and knew it was the platform for me. It's based on Python after all! So I had some aborted attempts at a conversion. In case you are wondering, converting a mature WordPress blog to another format is not always easy. Thankfully there is an import tool with Pelican, and a number of configurable options to help match the new environment to the old as much as possible.

I have endeavored to preserve links where prudent. So this includes links to posts, pages, and the syndicated feed. Links to categories, tags, and particular index pages may be broken.

The hardest part of this conversion required the decision to remove comments from posts. This blog will not be using a public commenting system in the future. Pelican offers Disqus, but that is not a solution I would prefer. If you would like to comment on a post, please email me, and I may add it to the site. I will see if I can develop a way to add existing comments back to their respective posts.

So that's it. Onward and upward.

Early Christian Writings

Published: 2014-03-10 07:47:00
Category: links Tags: Greek

Early Christian Writings is an index of pre-Nicean Christian texts. It includes links to texts and translations (where available), as well as commentaries, and all of the works are tied up in a chronology.

Readings for February 2014

Published: 2014-03-05 06:23:00
Category: books Tags: J.K. Rowling readings Robert Jordan

This month: pops!

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

I completed the fourth of umpteen novels in the Wheel of Time series. This installment was a bit longer than the preceding, but hopefully the length will not continue to increase on a linear scale. Jordan does a decent job presenting some core conflicts in this novel which give some immediacy to the conflict I know will not be ultimately resolved for ten more subsequent installments. I do not feel weary on the journey thus far, so I will continue reading these one every few months. Recommended.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I started a re-read of the Harry Potter novels in September of 2008. Let's just say that it has been a fairly slow burn. But having completed the sixth installment, I rush right on to the ultimate, as you, dear reader, will see in my subsequent readings post.

These novels are really enjoyable. In this read-through I am particular enjoying the themes of Harry Potter. Rowling wrote some novels which are interesting to adults not just in a popcorn fashion, but because they appeal to some complex emotions. Which is good! Also: Snape kills Dumbledore. I figure after all this time, I should not need to give a spoiler warning for that. Recommended.


  • Scientific American August 2013 - This issue covers several angles of MOOCs - massively open online courses. I took one on natural language processing through Coursera and liked it quite a bit. The numbers are not great in terms of students completing the course, but even the few who progress all the way represent a large group learning from a single course.

Readings for January 2014

Published: 2014-03-05 06:11:00
Category: books Tags: John Howard Yoder readings Robert Stone

In which I eventually get to documenting my reading adventures.

The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

I was gripped by a desire to re-read this classic sometime back. I first read this back in 2011, and it never left me. Yoder's power in this work is in the unmasking of what is plainly in the gospel texts: Jesus did have a politics which was particular to his time and place, but his politics can nonetheless be applied in the here and now. Now why would this message need to be unmasked? It is due to our culture and our theology and our fixation on our own politics, I think. First-century Palestine was such a remote time and place, it seems to many modern readers that Jesus must have been a mystic on a quest to bring others to enlightenment.

Part of what I appreciate about The Politics of Jesus is that Yoder so convincingly draws the pacifist line between state aggression on the one hand and Christian anarchism on the other. He made space for law and order and taxes and civil government while at the same time rejecting the nationalist fervor which leads to consumptive war. My reading of Yoder's vision saved me in a way, for at the time I was torn between rejecting the brutality of the state on the one hand, but being unable to commit to anarchism on the other.

This is a seminal work of Christian thought in the twentieth century, so it is, of course, recommended.

Children of Light by Robert Stone

I love checking out new authors by way of the library, but alas my local libraries are not very accessible given my commute. So I registered as a patron of the Multnomah County library, and now use their Central branch downtown for getting books close to work. Robert Stone's Children of Light was my first acquisition with my new card.

The novel follows a few days in the lives of two Hollywood personalities, a writer and an actor, erstwhile lovers, as they set out on a crash course towards each other. The characters are soaked with alcohol and drugs, personal demons, horrible friends and bad lack. It is quite like reading about a train wreck in slow motion, with some good nods to classic American literature as signposts on the track. To my astonishment, Stone develops the characters in such a way as to remain pitiful without sentimentalizing them. I grew fond of them, was rooting for them. But be warned, fair reader: this is a tragedy. Recommended.


  • Harper's January 2014 - John P. Davidson's account of a modern school for butlers is both amusing and perplexing - it seems that the ultra-rich cannot help but descend into self-parody.

SBL's Online Critical Pseudepigrapha

Published: 2014-02-09 21:16:00
Category: Christianity Tags: apocrypha

The SBL publishes the Online Critical Pseudepigrapha - an online critical edition of various "old testament" pseudepigrapha. It includes the Greek text of nearly thirty works, and there is a critical apparatus for four of them.

The website has been live for quite some time, but apparently inactive for a time (the latest blog post is from 2009). Still, this provides an excellent opportunity to get one's feet wet with this collection.

Classics, classics everywhere! (Digital Loeb coming)

Published: 2014-02-09 15:15:00
Category: books

A tip of the hat to Daniel R. Streett for pointing out thata digital edition of the Loeb Classic Library is coming. Finally, access to all those great Greek and Latin volumes (with English translation) without having to head to a research library or paying a hefty premium. The best part of the whole project seems to be that there will be a searchable index of all Loeb works, which will be very useful.

So how much will it cost, and how will access be structured? No word on that yet. But I'm definitely interested.

SBL new open access policy

Published: 2014-02-01 10:14:00
Category: Christianity Tags: Christianity and Copyright ethics scripture

Recently the Society of Biblical Literature informed its membership of a new "Green Open Access" policy for works published in SBL publications (including JBL):

This policy allows the author to post or archive a PDF file of the postprint manuscript in specified types of open-access locations—the author’s institutional repository (IR) and the author’s personal or institutional website—following an eighteen-month embargo from publication date. The complete article citation must be provided as specified by SBL.

So eventually the article can be made available if the author takes action. This is generally a move in the right direction. I think this would work better if the works were openly available from SBL itself, since that would provide a centralized, indexed, and searchable repository. As it stands, the articles would be fairly disparate.

In the full text of the policy [PDF] there is a great synopsis of the enduring importance of centralized academic publishers:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing is also a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology.

In spite of the power of internet technologies for self-publishing, JBL and similar journals still serve an important purpose. But following is where I disagree with the SBL:

In order to foster biblical scholarship and scholarly communication, the Society of Biblical Literature allows specific and reasonable dissemination of the results of scholarly research published within its books and journals.

Contrary to the terms of this new "open access policy," the reasonable dissemination of scholarship would involve providing immediate open access to the works, preferably under a permissive license. After all, how better could SBL serve the biblical studies ecosystem than by releasing the results of research to everyone? It could only improve the scholarly dialogue.

I suspect the only reason for closed access is so that SBL can monetize the articles by using restrictive copyright licenses. The selection of candidate articles, peer-review process, editing, and type-setting cost money, after all. However I think it would be best to cover those expenses up-front. I would like to imagine that my SBL dues and JBL subscription fee would be enough to cover these expenses. If they are not, I would be willing to pay more, if it meant that the articles published in JBL had unqualified open access.

This is definitely a positive development, so I hesitate to criticize this fresh policy change. But I think SBL needs to keep moving in the direction of freely-accessible content, for the good of all.

I pledge allegiance to the metonym and to its referent

Published: 2014-01-21 20:30:00
Category: language Tags: humor

I was contemplating the US Pledge of Allegiance today and was struck by something odd. The beginning:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America . . .

It is silly to pledge allegiance to a flag, so this is an obvious metonymy for the United States government. But then it continues:

. . . and to the Republic for which it stands . . .

Wait, what? I'm pledging allegiance to the metonym, and to its referent? This makes no sense. I checked the revision history of the pledge, and this twofold distinction has been present since the beginning. Why doesn't this redundancy sound strange to the hundreds of millions who have recited the pledge? Or is there really a distinction in meaning between the flag and the republic for which it stands that I am missing?

To whom are sales of biblical studies books marketed?

Published: 2014-01-20 20:32:00
Category: education

I read a post recently about a topic which is near and dear to me - the ridiculous cost of some works of biblical scholarship. Larry Hurtado's solution was to plead with the publishers for better pricing, which is a nice gesture, though unlikely to be effective. I, being me, suggested that authors freely-license their works and then publishers can compete on the quality of their offering, not based on an exclusive copyright license. There were others in the thread who had the same basic stance as me, which was encouraging. But I digress from my intended topic.

Part of the reason why academic publishers can get away with very high prices on limited runs is that they are marketing first and foremost to libraries. A research library will pay a heavy sum for a new hardback, knowing that the value will be reaped by many patrons who might use that work in the future. My first thought on this was that it was sort of shameful that biblical scholarship is marketed mostly to libraries (and doesn't that say something interesting about the nature of current scholarship?).

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that marketing scholarship has many positive arguments in its favor.

Sustainability - The ego of the author or the investors of a publisher might want to see high sales numbers, but printing one copy of a book for each time it will be read is a silly waste of resources. Better to print the book once to be shared among many future readers, so as to earn the best return on the natural resources invested in the printing.

Practicality - When I first thought of books marketed to libraries, reference books came to mind. But then I realized that reference books are the works which scholars use regularly and perennially, and so could make good use of a private copy. It is the individual texts, commentaries, and topical studies which a scholar will need to consult for only a season. The library lends itself perfectly to the ebbs and flows of scholarship. It's just too expensive to buy each of the works I would need to thoroughly research a proposition.

Community - Nothing symbolizes epistemic openness better than the library. The benefit of one location having all the books you might need is that it also has books which may argue against your point, or merely interest you. And there are other people at the library who can share their learning and opinions as well. If I am a scholar building a personal library of books which suit my own interest, I run the risk of submersing myself in bias.

So fear not, biblical scholars. It is true that some books are so expensive, only libraries can afford them. But that is not such a bad thing!

Readings for December 2013

Published: 2014-01-05 21:12:00
Category: books Tags: readings

We moved this month.


  • Scientific American July 2013 - Michael D. Lemonick's report on progress in the study of the atmospheres of exoplanets is very fascinating. It is amazing what can be inferred from such a distance.
  • Tin House 57 - Lawrence Osborne's "Camino Real" starts off in the model of the classic narrative of a man down on his luck getting in over his head, but it takes a sideways turn which makes for a good finish.

Year-end notes

In 2013 I read:

  • 31 magazines
  • 17 books
  • 10,085 pages
  • or about 28 pages per day

In comparison with last year's numbers, I need to get back into better reading habits.



© Nathan D. Smith
This work is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.