Burnt Biblical Scroll Deciphered by Digital Technology

A burnt scroll discovered inside in the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel can finally be read thanks to new technology. At first considered a lost cause because it was both wrapped and burnt, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales were able to digitally “unwrap” it to reveal the oldest lines of Leviticus (Lev 1:1-8) discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The combination of high-resolution scanning and the team’s “unwrapping” software made the discovery possible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 at an excavation of Ein Gedi, and is dated to the 6th century AD.

The research team at UK produced the flattened, readable text from the micro-computed tomography of the Ein Gedi scroll via the following successive stages:

1. Volume preparation

The data scan from the micro-CT machine is processed in order to enhance the ability to see the structures in the scan: the surface of the material, and the ink that is written on that material.

2. Surface segmentation

The data scan is carefully partitioned into the surfaces on which there is writing.  This partitioning is automatic and uses computer algorithms that are being developed through research. The result is a 3-D surface that is positioned exactly in the data volume where there is evidence of surfaces and writing.  Because the surfaces are rolled up layers within the scroll, they are shaped like tightly coiled sheets of paper.

3. User guidance

The user revises and improves the surface estimates that were made automatically by the surface segmentation step. The user is guided by views of the data scan and a draft view of how the surface appears in the scan.

4. Texture rendering

The completed surface is rendered as a high quality 3-D surface with the texture (markings, structure and ink evidence) from its precise position in the original data scan. The rendering step also produces a flattened version of the 3-D surface texture. This unwraps the potentially curvy and coiled 3-D surface so that it is a single flat page.

This video explains the process using the tasty medium of pastry.

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How I Work

The How I Pray series was inspired by Lifehacker’s How I Work series, which asks tech and business folks a set of questions about their work habits.  I decided to answer those questions myself as a counterpart to the prayer series: ora et labora. 

Location: The New Jersey Pine Barrens
Current Gig: Writer, editor
One word that best describes how you work: Desultorily
Current mobile device: iPhone 5S, iPad 2
Current computer: Custom desktop PC running Windows 7, and cheapo Dell Inspiron N5050 bought at Walmart

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?
Dropbox, Drafts, and Scrivener.

Dropbox is the repository for everything I do: files, pictures, text, notes: everything.

Drafts is kind of the traffic cop: it allows me to write, clip, and push text anywhere I want. I’ve stopped using Evernote for ideas, lines, and quotes and just use Drafts to append time/date-stamped text to TXT files in Dropbox. I’m really not sure why I still use Evernote, actually. I’m writing this post in it now, and I clip some stuff here now and then, but really that’s just habit.

Finally, Scrivener is the perfect word processor. I like distraction-free plain text editors, but after playing with all of them I still find myself writing straight in Scrivener. I have projects for different subjects (Tech, Catholicism, and individual books), and then keep folders in those projects for each magazine, with other folders for each assignment, and files for each piece of each assignment. It’s nothing but folders all the way down. It’s amazingly easy to use once it’s set up.

Let me also give a shoutout to Boxer (an excellent mobile email app); Verbum, Kindle, GoodReader, Universalis, and Shakespeare Pro (all reading apps); MagicalPad and Textlus (my favorite mind-mapper/outliner and word processor for mobile); and especially Newsify, my RSS reader. I use each of them a lot. And, no, I’m not linking all those.

I use a lot of different pencils and pens so I’m not going to list them all. I like the Palomino Blackwing 602, for the writing quality, and the Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil, because the cap lets me carry it in my pocket. I also carry an Opinel No. 6 folding knife everywhere. I use unlined green Moleskin Volant notebooks in 7-1/2″ x 10″ and 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″. I don’t carry a laptop at all any more. I use an iPad with a Zagg keyboard for all my mobile writing.

What’s your workspace setup like?

Desk

Desk

iPhone screen

iPhone screen

iPad screen

iPad screen

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I send things to Pocket. I subscribe to dozens of RSS feeds and find countless stories that interest me as I browse through them at breakfast. Rather than just watching the morning slip away while I flit from one to the other, I send them to Pocket for future reading. The best part is that I rarely get to most of them, so it’s a built-in time-sink filter. However, when I want to do a quick search for a subject, stories based on my interests are always there.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?
I’ve tried Every. Single. One. Right now I use a combination of Readdle’s Calendars 5 and a whiteboard over my desk. The Calendar tracks assignments, appointments, and general to-dos. At the end of each day I write the next day’s tasks on the whiteboard, sometimes with with times for each one.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?
None. I can live fine without any of them. Pushed to pick one must-have machine, I’d say it’s my well. I drink about a gallon of water a day, straight out of the ground, and it is the best water you’ll find anywhere. Filtering it would actually make it less pure.2015-03-19 16.13.02

I like my coffee maker; my cheap-o blu-ray player is a complete media hub for movies, music, Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix; and I always carry a nifty pen/stylus/flashlight thingie that my father-in-law gave me, but I’d survive if they went away.

One of my favorite machines is my Classroom Friendly Supplies Groovy Green Pencil Sharpener. I write longhand a lot, and it’s a perfect pencil sharpener.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?
Sequencing tasks. Maybe it’s all those years of computer-gamer training, but I can set up a mental queue of things to do that will group tasks by location, theme, difficulty, whatever, and just knock them off.

What do you listen to while you work?
Usually nothing. I find music distracting most of the time. When I do listen, it’s either medieval or baroque, lounge (Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Esquivel), or soundtracks (Morricone, Carpenter, Tangerine Dream)

What are you currently reading?
I’m doing 15 minutes of Bible and 15 minutes of Shakespeare every day. And by “every day” I mean, “not really every day but I try, really I do.” Like most readers, I’m always in the middle of several things at once. Right now I’m reading Ancient Near Easter Thought and the Old Testament, Terry and the Pirates Vol. 1, and the CUA edition of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great on my Verbum app, along with other odds and ends and Lenten reading.

What has changed over the years since you started and what do you do differently?
When I first started writing professionally, it was on an electronic typewriter. A short time later, I would print out my text on a dot-matrix printer and mail it to the magazine or newspaper along with a floppy disk including the file. I talked on the phone to editors and subjects all the time. I traveled to trade shows and companies to look at products. Now much of what I write never appears on paper, I deal with everyone electronically and avoid talking to people whenever possible, and I don’t travel. And you know what? I like it better this way.

My every day carry

My every day carry

Verbum Bible Software: Enter to Win an iPad Mini and Scholar Edition

Go here and scroll down.  The contest goes until January 6th. Since it’s Rafflecopter, you might be able to enter once a day.

Some good stuff is on sale as well, in case you have some Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket. I liked the Sacra Pagina series, Scott Hahn’s Letter & Spirit series, and, of course, the Ratzinger/Benedict collection. For the hardcore cases, The Fathers of The Church series is also on sale.

Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.

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Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.

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Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.

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Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.

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Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.

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G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

Verbum 6 is Here

Verbum Bible Software (the Catholic version of Logos Bible Software) is the backbone of my research and writing on religion. It allows me to drill into massive amounts of data with ease. Scripture, original language resources, church documents, history, papal writings, theology, philosophy, commentaries, and, most important of all, a huge amount of patristic material is all part of my Verbum library. I can highlight, annotated, clip, export, compare, and do almost anything I need to do with text. I can’t imagine doing some of the work requires for my masters without it. Most recently, the ghost series drew heavily on Verbum.

Version 6 was just rolled out, and it adds some very nice new features. This video provides an overview, but some of the things added are

The Psalm Browser was the new feature that really caught my eye. It allows you sort psalms by type, author, and more using visual tools.

Ancient Literature Tools gather all ancient resources that refer or relate to a passage.

Timeline and Atlas: These tool allows you situation Bible books and events in a historical context, and locate them geographically.

Cultural Concepts is a search result that gather references to ancient cultural ideas (such as anointing or hospitality) found in scripture.

Bible Book Guides provide various kinds of introduction and background material for each book of the Bible.

Word Sense does a good job at distinguishing among various meanings of the same word.

Factbook functions like a heavily linked encyclopedia within Verbum, pulling up information, links, references, and resources for topics and individuals, such as “carpenter” or “St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Media resources have been expanded with some powerful search features and some nifty new items, such as aerial views of locations as they look in Bibles times, and as they look now.

There are more robust search and language tools, enhanced introductions to Greek and Hebrew, and much more in the update. I’m loving it so far, and plan to write about a couple of features in more depth.

You can buy or upgrade Verbum here, and see the full line of Logos/Verbum 6 tutorials here.

“I shall be called John Paul”

On this day in 1978, the newly elected John Paul I explained his choice of name:

Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: “Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.” The other colleague said: “Don’t be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new Pope.” When the moment of decision came, I accepted.John Paul I

Then there was the question of the name, for they also ask what name you wish to take, and I had thought little about it. My thoughts ran along these lines: Pope John had decided to consecrate me himself in St Peter’s Basilica, then, however unworthy, I succeeded him in Venice on the Chair of St Mark, in that Venice which is still full of Pope John. He is remembered by the gondoliers, the Sisters, everyone.

Then Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St Mark’s Square, he made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!

Furthermore, during his fifteen years of pontificate this Pope has shown, not only to me but to the whole world, how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ.

For that reason I said: “I shall be called John Paul.” I have neither the “wisdom of the heart” of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers.

All of John Paul I’s papal messages, radio talks, and more are available in The Homilies, Audiences, and Other Writings of Pope John Paul I (6 volumes, Latin and English) from Verbum for $25. 

Free Bonhoeffer Book From Logos

The free book of the month from Logos is worth a download: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 3: Creation and Fall:

Creation and Fall originated in lectures given by Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the University of Berlin in the winter semester of 1932–1933 during the demise of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. In the course of these events, Bonhoeffer called his students to focus their attention on the word of God—the word of truth in a time of turmoil.

It’s a commentary on Genesis 1-3.  Grab it while you can.

Jack Lumber [App o the Mornin’]

Jack Lumber hates trees, and he has a good reason: trees killed his beloved granny. Now, Jack has sworn everlasting vengeance against all forms of lumber. He has an axe, he has a mission, and he has a woodchip on his shoulder.

Jack’s tale of vengeance forms the extremely silly connective tissue for this funny, polished riff on the slicing game genre pioneered by Fruit Ninja. In fact, there’s far more to Jack Lumber (PC/Mac: about $8; iOS/Android: $4) than just dexterous slicing. The visuals are terrific, with a sharp cartoon quality and some extremely funny touches. (Fruit Ninja was fun, but nobody would ever accuse it of being funny.)

For example, there is a completely random animal-collecting element which allows you to stack up critters in your log cabin as you encounter them in the game itself. Why is it there? Who knows. They don’t serve any purpose other than a bit of comic relief in between levels. It’s like asking why someone randomly shouts “PLAID” when you make a cut. Why? Because it’s funny.

Each level begins with logs of various shapes and sizes tossed in the air. When you touch the screen, time slows down. You need to trace a single line through the ends of each log, cutting them crosswise. When you lift your finger, the cuts execute all at once. If you missed a log, traced over a side rather than an end, hit an animal, or didn’t cut through every single endpoint, you’re penalized. Enough penalties and you fail the level.

Sometimes you need to pass through the same log multiple times to use it, or break bottles of syrup (purchased back at your cabin) in order to slow down time. There’s a lot less luck involved than in most slicing games. You really need to examine the screen quickly and find the fastest and most effective way through each log. This makes the game more like a rapid maze, since if you take a wrong “turn” with your finger, you’ll mess up.

Good humor, strong production values, and a dexterity element that also requires quick thinking: Jack Lumber is a winner all the way through.

DuckTales Remastered [App o the Mornin’]

I’m too old to have any nostalgic memories of the classic DuckTales game, originally released in 1989 as a tie-in to a popular TV show. My children and I are, however, huge fans and collectors of Disney comics in general, and Duck comics in particular. The Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck books from artists/writers Carl Barks and Don Rosa are some of the best comics ever published, and the DuckTales show and game both used a lot of that material to great effect.

The original DuckTales game has become something of a legend. It may have started life as just another TV tie-in product, but once Capcom got involved with the actual production, it became something more. The Mega Man team took over, and created one of the most beloved and fondly remembered platform games on the NES.

Now Capcom has revisited their classic in DuckTales Remastered (PC/Xbox/PS3/WiiU: $15), a completely faithful update of the original. The five levels from 1989 have been recreated, and two new levels added. These levels are expanded, however, with more areas, more secrets, and different patterns in the way enemies (particularly) boss appear.

The biggest change is in the production. The old 8-bit visuals have been updated to lush, colorful, handpainted graphics that really do the game and its multiple worlds justice. It uses 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds to add depth to each environment. For those who want some of that old retro feel, there’s a toggle to switch back and forth between the new and the old visuals. New cut scenes have been added with full voice support, including the great Alan Young (now 93 years old and best remembered as Wilbur on Mr. Ed), the only man to ever voice Scrooge McDuck.

The gameplay is top-notch. It would be easiest to just say it’s a straight platformer, with lots of jumping and fighting and careful timing, but it’s more than that. Scrooge’s cane can be either a weapon for bashing enemies or a pogo stick for reaching high places. Using your cane to bouncing across the heads of a series of Beagle Boys, knocking them out without ever touching the ground, it just one of those classic game moments resurrected by DuckTales Remastered. It’s a bit sure, but loads of fun.

Content: Rated E for Everyone. Lots of bouncing on enemies and other genial low-level cartoon violence.