Thursday, September 30, 2004

What is RSS and ATOM?

RSS and ATOM are your friend. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication" (from what I hear) and I'm not sure what ATOM stands for, but they are essentially ways that a blog or website can announce to the world that they have added or changed something on their website. Now, there are many ways to do this. Websites can have a little "What's New" section or can send out emails to its fan base. This is nice. RSS and ATOM are one more way to let people know.

On the technical side of things, RSS and ATOM are Xml formats. Generally, an rss.xml or atom.xml file is updated on the server (see my ATOM file as an example), and programs that read these kind of files can check to see if they have been updated. This is where newsfeed readers come in really handy (I'll add an entry on those later), because you can have them check a site's RSS or ATOM file every once in a while to see if something is added to the site. That is why these formats are perfect for blogs. Let's say you want to keep track of 50 blogs. Do you want to go to these fifty blogs every day to see if they are updated? Probably not. But a newsreader of some sort can do that for you in just a few seconds. It is a huge timesaver.

So, if you've wondered what RSS and ATOM are, and how that relates to blogging, now you know.

Article on Blogging

Thanks to Sanjeeb for pointing out this article about blogging. Blogging continues to take off. I wonder if blogging will ever get to be ubiquitous as email? Hmmm...

Nice Tech Site

Thanks to this blog for pointing out a site I've never seen before, called Reflection IT. Looks like it has some nice stuff.

Confusing Christian and American Duty

I ran across a link to Progressive Christians Uniting the other day, and it annoyed me enough to say a few things about lessons we can learn from what they are saying. The article linked to above is a consensus statement for what they are trying to do, so I figured that is a good place to find their chief ideas. Here are my problems.

First, it is a consensus statement "By over 1000 Christians." Big freaking deal. There are millions of people who call themselves "Christian", and you can probably find that many to sign just about anything you want them to sign. Especially if you couch it in such noble terms.

Second, they should just call the group "Progressive Christians Uniting So As To Elect Democrats." Who is it that has the responsibility to help the poor? The government. Who's responsibility is it to solve our education problems? The government. And who do they make a point of criticizing? Who do you think they are referring to when they say "rigid religious values of conservative Christians exercise undue sway over public and social policies"? They're talking about the generally Republican Christian constituency. They're probably talking about those Christians who are against homosexual marriage. They're probably talking about those Christians who are trying to enforce a rigid religious value of protecting the life of an unborn child.

For those who would want to agree to this "Progressive Christians Uniting So As To Elect Democrats" thing, let me ask you a question. Is it the government's job to make sure your child is educated? At the judgment, when God looks at your life and how your child ended up growing up to be an irresponsible, stupid person, is he going to toss your goverment into hell for their lack of responsibility? No, he will hold you, the parent, responsible for your child. Or was Jesus wrong when he condemned the leaders of the Jews for not caring about the poor? I guess he was. He should have been critiquing Rome for not taking care of the weak, lame and poor. So I really think we need to revise the name of this group even further. Maybe it should be "People Who Hold Semi-Christian Values Uniting So As To Elect Democrats", or PWHSCVUSTED for short, because biblical reflection is not what is guiding this group.

But to be fair, there are some issues that PWHSCVUSTED hits on that might actually be relevant for, and even the responsibility of, their government. I do think the government should do something about those who would destroy the environment. And sure, the government might be able to help in healthcare (though to what degree is obviously debatable). But PWHSCVUSTED is not all about Christianity and politics as it is saying. Don't confuse Christianity with a Democratic (or Republican) economic or environmental agenda.

Nuff said.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Unicode and Biblical Studies

I just explained to a friend of mine a little bit about unicode, but I thought I would go ahead and blog this, with my thoughts on what the biblical studies fields (and related, really) should do for the benefit of all.

First of all, Unicode is da bomb. Essentially, the idea of unicode is define a universal system of codes whereby every character in every language can be mapped to a specific code. The standardization group who defines what codes go with what character is the Unicode Consortium ( They are an international standards group that all major software groups listen to. Microsoft, Apple, and Linux vendors all do their work according to the standards produced by the consortium and all have unicode fonts by default on their systems. The way they do there work is to separate characters into character sets, or ranges. So the Greek character set would get one range of codes, the Hebrew another, Sanskrit another, etc.

And what it does for you is great. Let's contrast Greek unicode with non-unicode Greek. Generally an html page will have a default font that most of page is written in. Every time you want to depart from showing the default English characters you have to switch fonts to something else, like Mounce, the BibleWorks font, or whatever. And as you know for most Greek fonts used today this basically works by switching, for example, the "a" character with the "α" character. Or the quotation mark for a final sigma. And so you get Greek looking characters showing up on the web, or in print, whatever your medium is. That is the non-unicode way. In the unicode world, you never need to switch fonts to do this. These characters are embedded in one font. To type in the other character set you just switch keyboard layouts. In Windows XP (and 2000, I think), you can setup different keyboard layouts and alternate between them by pushing the alt-shift keys. Right now I have two setup, English and Greek. So to switch to typing Greek I just click alt-shift ανδ Ι αμ τυπινγ ιν Γρεεκ. Those last few words were unicode Greek, BTW. So whenever you write papers or whatever, you just switch keyboards instead of switch fonts. But, for production it isn't really much better than the non-unicode way (though I prefer it a little bit). It is the distribution that makes unicode so incredibly great. Write a paper that uses the Mounce font and the user has to have the Mounce font on his machine to view the Greek. If you decide you like the look of BibleWorks Greek font better than Mounce's you can't just change the font in the document, because the different English keystrokes map to different Greek keystrokes in the fonts. You have to manually change them or get a program that will do it for you. Unicode theoretically solves all of this. All someone would have to have is a unicode font that supports both the English and the Greek character sets (and they aren't hard to find).

So, essentially, that is unicode. Technology is moving that way already. In many areas of technology it is the only way of doing things now. The biblical studies world is lagging behind on this technologically, unfortunately, but that is nothing new. I don't generally like using Libronix very much, but that is one thing they are doing right. They use unicode. No other major Bible software vendor does.

Now, there are issues with regard to unicode. Greek, by in large, is covered well by font vendors and such. Last I heard, though, there was quite a bit of debate about how well Hebrew was doing because Hebrew itself is covered in unicode, but I don't believe all the symbols used in modern critcal editions of the Hebrew Bible are, such as the Masoretic symbols. Coptic, also, has issues. I haven't yet found a unicode font that supports Coptic-looking characters yet. The Coptic character set is lumped in with the Greek character set since they are identical with the exception of a few characters, but even though the Greek alpha and the Coptic alpha are the same letter they are generally formed very differently. So all unicode Greek fonts look Greek and not Coptic, which works out well for Greek and horrible for Coptic.

But, the tech world is ready to move on from the old way of doing fonts in general. Some work still needs to be done. If you're doing Greek, go unicode and save yourself some trouble in a few years when people will start getting annoyed when you don't use unicode.

At some point later (probably several days) I'll post something about specific fonts.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Allepo Codex

For you textual criticism fanatics out there, you might want to take a look at something. The PaleoJudaica blog pointed me to a site dedicated to the Allepo codex, and manuscript of the Old Testament.

First of all, you will definitely want to have some sort of broadband connection to view the mss. The viewer is done in Flash and it loads all the images up for a book at one time, so if could be very slow for dialup folks. There is also some nice information about the manuscript.

Aesthetically, I find it rather pleasing. As far as content is concerned, what is available is fine, though it is apparently not finished. Not all of the books of the OT are available and a number of the links are working for me. But, still cool anyway.

"Smallville" and "The Punisher"

Last night I had a very good TV night. First I watched one of Marvel's recent movies, "The Punisher." And I must say that it should have gotten better reviews. Not good for the whole family, but if you're looking for a good guy flick where lots of stuff gets blown up, you might want to watch.

Later I watched "Smallville," which my wife so nicely taped for me from Wednesday. The season is out to a good start, I think. None of my old shows that I liked are on TV anymore except "Smallville" and "Scrubs," so I'm glad both of them are starting off well this season.

CSNTM Update - Check It Out if Interested in TC

Thought I would take a quick break from work.

Just updated the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts site yesterday. If you are interested in textual criticism, or seeing really nice images of New Testament manuscripts, visit the site. And keep visiting. We update fairly regularly.

Crystal Again...

I continue to do Crystal Reports at work and it never ceases to annoy me. Someone pointed it out to me and I think it was John from work. Thanks John! And yes, it does reflect my experience at work sometimes! Here is the source of the following:


Crystal Hell

Into a crystal hell
long time I fell
never knowing
what might be growing
in a once-familiar place whose memory’s now dispelled.

My brain a wad of cotton
i’ve not forgotten
there’s a place
where a friendly face
faithfully awaits my return from among the misbegotten.

Perhaps a day shall come
upon which some
cherished dreams
from out the screams
may yet emerge to spread gossamer wings beneath the sun.

for Amadeus Asmodeus

C#, Open Source

For you C#'ers out there, you might find the C# 2.0 specification intereresting. Thanks to Suresh for pointing out its location. If you're not a sharp coder, I highly recommend switching!

Do you use open source software? Do you ever modify it? Do you know the rules? I rarely do, rarely do, and barely do. But, that may change to a degree at some point. This book, highlighted on Slashdot, supposedly covers some of the legal responsibilities that come with using software licensed by the BSD license, or the GPL. Might be useful if you're in to that sort of thing and you don't want someone like SCO annoying you. Note, I haven't read it, so this is not an official endorsement.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

What Is A Blog?

A blog, which is short for weblog (a log on the web...get it?). They are done for many reasons. Somebody may just want a place to write down what they're feeling. Someone else will use it to teach others on various subjects. Some will use them as convenient notebooks for various pieces of facts. Some just do it for fun. There really are a number of reasons why people blog, and you can literally blog anything you want to blog.

Also, a part of this idea of the blog is that they go on the web. This is one reason why a blog is different from a diary. Blogs are generally public.

You can also generally blog for free. There are a number of free blogging services out there that will allow you to blog in minutes, and for no cost. Blogger is the one I currently use and it is free. So, now you know what a blog is.

Well, want some examples of blogs? Here's a few:

Definitely my favorite tech blogger. He's a Microsoft guy and, as a .NET developer, I find lots of what he says to be interesting.

NT Gateway Weblog
A blog maintained by a biblical scholar. Mostly about topics related to biblical studies.
Not a common use for a blog. Essentially, it is a posting place for a library.

Psalm Eight Photography
This guy uses his blog as a mini photo album (and he has nice pics)

Or, take this blog for example. I have tech stuff. I talk about online games. I talk about excavations of ancient documents. Really, it is just a place for me to talk about random stuff that I find interesting, and think somebody else in this world might as well. Now you're blog, you can make that whatever you want. The glory of blogging.

Back to the Intro to Blogging post.

Intro to Blogs and Blogging

I know lots of people who know nothing at all about blogs. I didn't half a year ago, I guess. But, now I love to blog. Well, this is the beginning (well, one part was written already) of a series of entries on what blogs are. So, friends and strangers, if you are curious, read on. Essentially, the goal is to explain what they are, ideas about blogging, and technologies that make it all so much better. But one thing at a time.

I'll just keep updating this blog with links to the pieces as I write them. I'll also add a link somewhere on the blog where anybody can get here anytime.

1. What Is A Blog? (September 21, 2004)
2. Why Everyone Should Blog (September 21, 2004)
3. What is RSS and ATOM? (September 30, 2004)
4. Feed Readers (January 17, 2005)
5. Podcasting (February 2, 2004)

.NET Connection Lifetime

I think this is the very first explanation of "Connection Lifetime" that I have seen. Thanks Angel. To all .NET Geeks out there who also code for databases, take a look at this.

Why Everyone Should Blog

I'm just not ready to start working yet. So, here are my reasons why everyone should blog. Well, maybe not everyone...but a lot more than do now.

First, it is easy. There is very little barrier to entry. There are free blogging services like the one I use, blogger, that allow you to get up and going quickly.

Second, it is a non-invasive way to tell people about yourself and what is going on in your life. Take, for example, some of my recent posts. If someone likes to hear my technology recommendations, how well I do on online games, or what I think about excavations at Qumran, they can tune into my blog. I don't have to go around to everyone whom I think is interested to tell them these things. That way I'm not telling lots of people things they just don't want to know. If they want to know, they can go to my blog. If they don't, they can avoid it. Or, there are some cases where people might be interested whom I just couldn't imagine would be. Maybe, for some odd reason, they might think I'm intelligent or occassionally have something useful to say. If I have a blog, they can go read these things and don't have to feel left out because I didn't choose to tell lots of people how much I think a particular site is funny. See, it is a non-invasive way of keeping those who care aware of what is going on in my life and in my head.

Third, it is just a great place to put random thoughts that are sometimes very useful. I learn a lot from blogs, because sometimes people post code snippets or advice that is very useful. Usually this is the kind of information that doesn't merit a full article or something, or perhaps needs one but the author doesn't have the time.

Fourth, for many it is therapeutic. It is for me. I got a lot of satisfaction out of complaining about Crystal Reports. Lots of others have bigger problems and actually typing stuff out makes them feel better.

Fifth, one of the problems with most websites is you actually have to go there to get updates, or subscribe to email updates. Such is not the case with blogs. Most blogs use something called RSS or ATOM feeds, which are ways of telling the world what is going on in your blog. You can use programs that will check blogs to see if they have updated their feeds and you can keep up with all the blog changes you care about...and you don't even have to visit the blogs themselves. These programs are often called RSS feed aggregators or something like that. More about this in a later post. Right now I've got 28 RSS feeds that I watch. And to watch them all and to see what is updated takes about 5 seconds. The glory of technology.

So you, yes you, need to blog if you haven't started.

Now to work.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Don't Forget the Yeti!

Well, new high score on Yeti sports. 2975.35 to be exact. Can you beat it?

[Update: September 21, 2004]
Hehe. New high. 3304.76.

Implications of Some New Excavations at Qumran.

It has been my assumption, and the assumption of the scholarly world a majority of the time, that the group at Qumran, the resting place of the Dead Sea Scrolls, were Essenes. That may not be the case.

Haaretz just published a story last month that archaeologists ending a 10 year dig found lots of evidence that Qumran was not in fact inhabited by Essenes. Until their actual findings are actually published we cannot really examine them, but if what is said in the article is true, it appears the Essene theory will be sitting on very shallow evidence.

But who cares, right? Big deal. Actually, it is. One other theory of the scroll's origins is that many of the scrolls held in Jerusalem were taken there to be hidden before Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 by the Romans. If that is the case, which is more likely if Qumran was not Essenic, then the pseudopigraphical works there need to be taken more seriously. One of my seminary profs referred to some of the pseudopigraphical material as "Jewish tabloids," used only by the few and by the unfluential. First, I think that is almost certainly wrong anyway. Second, if these were scrolls hidden by the Jewish leaders before Jerusalem was sacked, then these works were probably used not only by a sectarian group called the Essenes, but by the major Jewish sects of the day. This is something I think seems likely anyway, but this just adds to the importance of that kind of literature for understanding Second Temple Judaism.


NT Transcripts prototype

This is a pretty cool project. Essentially, it is an online textual apparatus for the New Testament called, temporarily I suppose, the New Testament Transcripts Prototype. Here is a description from their website:

"New Testament Transcripts features important Greek manuscripts of the New Testament as transcribed by the Institute for New Testament Textual Research at the University of Münster, Westphalia, Germany. The site is being prepared in collaboration with Scholarly Digital Editions (Leicester, UK) and is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Bonn, Germany)."

Thanks to Rubén Gómez for pointing this out.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

What Does "Coding Humanist" Mean?

Good question.

First, what does coding mean? Well, I code for a living. I love to code.
Second, what is a humanist? Well, look to the great wikipedia for the answer. Here's where I'm coming from:

"Renaissance humanism was the cultural movement in Europe beginning in central Italy in the late 14th century, that revived and refined the language (in particular the Greek language), science, philosophy and poetry of classical antiquity."

I have a particular love for Greek. I've been studying it for years. I dig it.

So what is a "Coding Humanist"? He's a person who not only likes to code and study Greek, but one who likes to code to help in the study of Greek. That's me.

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking. I am well aware that being a tech geek and being a Greek geek make me a double-geek. But that's okay. I have embraced my geek-dom.

So now you know why this blog is the blog of the coding humanist.

Firefox is just lovely

OK all you Internet Explorer users out there, let me tell you something. A new web browser is out and I absolutely love it. It is called Firefox. It's just better than sliced bread in my book.

Why is Firefox so great? I would say two things primarily. First, it has tabbed browsing. I LOVE tabbed browsing and just don't see how I could go back. If you're not sure what I mean, I mean that you can open up new web pages in tabs across the top of your screen instead of opening new instances of IE every time you want to have more than one web page open at a time. As one who frequently has over four or five open at a time, this is a great feature. I just love it.

Firefox also comes with a host of free plug-ins. Go to the Firefox website and check out the extensions. You'll notice that there are quite a bit.

I've been using Firefox almost exclusively now for about five months. I must say that I am very pleased. Try it out. If you don't like it, you can always go back to IE!

Open Source Security Is a Myth?

I found this article on open source security very interesting. But here is what I am very curious about. Are more bugs and security flaws found in Microsoft software because their software is more buggy, or is it because those who tend to look for bugs and security flaws are usually non-Windows programmers?

I honestly have no authority to say whether or not MS's software is better than most open source software just because I don't have the experience. But, during my brief period as a programmer I have met lots of avid anti Microsoft programmers and only one outspoken anti open source programmer. In general, most MS programmers I've met just don't give a rat's patootie about the open source community and what they are doing. Do they want to find security flaws in the latest version of Fedora Core? No, of course not.

But is that the case for the pro open source types? Sometimes...and probably usually. BUT, and this is a big but, anti MS types often love to point out all the security flaws/bugs in MS stuff. I get the impression that lots of them just enjoy hearing about stuff like the latest problems with XP Service Pack 2. Why? Because lots of them hate MS.

Does this prove anything? No, of course not. But, what I do think is clearly present is motive. MS haters have every reason to loudly proclaim the latest Windows security issues and even to find more, because the more security issues and bugs the more likely that the world will switch to open source OS's like Linux and open source programs. On the flip side, MS technology programmers just don't have a reason to look for security flaws in stuff like Linux, because at this point they just don't pose a threat (at least to the desktop market). There is no motive to do so.

I could be wrong. These are just my speculations. What do you think?

Eric Sowell

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Funny Site

Many thanks to my friend Jeremy Smith for telling me about Eric Conveys An Emotion. Check it out. You might enjoy it.

Unofficial NT Wright Page

NT Wright...gotta like him. Here is an unofficial NT Wright site that links to lots of lectures and essays, text and audio. I don't agree with everything he says, but IMO, he is just simply working on a different and higher level that most other New Testament scholars. So, if you're not familiar, check out the page. If you are...check out the page.

Eric Sowell

4 Gmail Invites

I've got 4 gmail invitations for anybody who wants one. Just send me a note at eric.sowell at gmail dot com.

Eric Sowell

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Update at

Didn't mention it the other day, but we've updated This is actually a pretty significant update. We've posted our views about the Protestant doctrine of imputation (which are negative towards it), which is something we've wanted to do for some time. It is pretty significant in that I'm pretty sure it is the only piece we have put up that would cause quite a few people to actually anathematize us. But, oh well. Progess needs to be made, and there are a growing number of Protestants who don't really follow their forefathers on this issue. In the words of the reformers themselves, Semper Reformanda.

Eric Sowell

Home Site Found By Google

It is a very small thing, I know (I was made fun of by a friend for pointing a similar incident out a month ago), but Google has now found my homepage. It took Google 25 or 26 days to find this blog, but only took them from September 10 (which it was originally launched) to September 15 to find So, woohoo!

Eric Sowell

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Remembering September 11, 2001

Three years ago today I was walking with some classmates at Dallas Theological Seminary. We entered Dr. Pyne's soteriology class to hear him announcing what he had just heard, that a plane had rammed into one of the towers of the WTC. Because of the gravity of the event he dismissed class and we went home.

I didn't know anyone who worked in the WTC. But it made me very sad and angry anyway. The US has begun executing earthly justice in this matter. For those, like me, who would like to see this continue, may their tribe increase.

Eric Sowell

Public School Teachers and Private Schools

So, does it surprise you that in many places public school teachers are more likely to send their children to private schools than the general population? It surprised me a little as well. Check out this article for an overview of the results of one study.

Biblical Studies Blogs

I found some links to a number of blogs related to biblical studies. You might find some of them interesting. I haven't read them extensively, so I can't say yet whether they are that great or not, so don't scream too loudly if one of them turns out to be less than useful.

Bible Software Review
Philo of Alexandria Blog
The Bible and Interpretation

Eric Sowell

My Tech Geek Website Is Born!

Well, I now have a little bit more of a web presence than before. My website is Feel free to visit...and I hope you think I'm not too vain :).

Eric Sowell

Friday, September 10, 2004

Yeti Sports

This flash game is lots of fun. My first run I got a 1947.45. How high can you get on your first try? Oh, and you'll probably want to have high-speed internet access to do this.

Eric Sowell

[Update 9/15/2004]
Got my highest score yet. 2788.42. The scoreboard is filled with outrageously high scores at the moment which couldn't be real. They must have found a way to hack the site. Which is a bummer.

Crystal Woes

I've been using Crystal Reports 8.5 now for several weeks at work now. And I'm understating it when I say that I just absolutely cannot stand using the product. It is buggy to the nth degree. I would think that after 8.5 versions a reporting package wouldn't be so hard to use. The ide likes to crash when something is wrong with the stored proc query, and even with all the right ide settings it is just impossible to position elements exactly where you want them sometimes. Ahhhhhhh!!!!! I just had to let my frustration out.

If you have to do reporting, I would recommend going with another product. Sure, my job is behind several versions of the product, so it might get better. But, go with another product because IMHO it is way too buggy, expensive, (and in general) low quality to actual consider spending money on it and time using it.

I feel much better.

Eric Sowell

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Terminating The Democratic Girlie-men

I thoroughly enjoyed Arnold last night at the Republican National Convention (no, I wasn't there...TV). Loved it. Tuned out when the Bush daughters started talking and thus missed the first lady (unfortunately), but thoroughly enjoyed Arnold.

What was his appeal? Well, the obvious goal of the speech was to re-elect Bush to the Whitehouse, but there was a whole lot less of that than I expected (rightly or wrongly, I suppose). His appeal was an appeal on two fronts. First, we should be patriotic because America just kicks political, humanitarian, and economic butt. Second, there is no place in the world that an immigrant like himself could get a better chance than in America. This was a very pro-America speech; more pro-America than it was pro-Bush. But, of course, he tied it in to Bush by saying that he was the best one to protect these truths about America.

I thought it was great. There were several movie lines of his that he threw in for good measure and I didn't think they were overdone (though I still can't help but laugh sometimes when I think that the Terminator is governor of California). I'm hoping that the perceived audience of this, the immigrants of the US, will find what Arnold said to be motivating enough to go to the voting booth in November and vote for W. And it would be especially great if a Republican actually won the presidential race in California. Highly unlikely...but that would be just fabulous.