Reading with a Diglot

One simple point here: a translation can serve as a tutor. Some think of a diglot as a “cheater’s text,” but it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially when you are trying to work through a text that is beyond your current reading level, you can use a diglot and genuinely learn from the translation on the facing page. If you use that translation well, it can be similar to the experience of working through a text in a classroom setting. In a seminar, or if you are reading at a coffee shop with a friend, when someone gets stuck, another person chimes in with help, pointing out how to understand the syntax or idiom. The translation can do the same thing if used as a tutor.

The key to using a translation well is to look back at the Greek once the translation has been consulted and figure out how the translator got from point A to point B. The process might go like this: The translator says “at his expense.” Where did that come from? Is it ἰδίᾳ? OK, so that is a meaning I’ve never considered. You could at this point consult a lexicon or just use the context of the passage to see if the translation makes sense. You think about the base gloss you learned for ἴδιος, “one’s own,” and you realize that in this context “at his own expense” makes perfect sense. In just a few seconds you’ve learned from a translation the kind of thing that you might learn from an instructor or reading partner.

Using a diglot — perhaps in conjunction with a digital lexicon — is a way of reading you should consider. It can help you become comfortable reading Greek texts that are beyond your current reading level. The whole idea of “cheating” at reading ancient languages is something that should be left behind. Sure, some ways of reading are better than others for memory, but limiting yourself to only reading when you can do it “the best, most thorough way” shortchanges yourself. You cannot read as many texts that way, and I think reading as much Greek as possible is better than digging through every detail of a handful of texts. So dust off those Loebs and enjoy them guilt free, my friends.

Best Blogging Platform, Revisited

For the past couple years Squarespace has been my blogging platform of choice for one reason: even without much knowledge of CSS, Squarespace allowed me to customize the site to my heart’s content. It was partly about the template I used, too. I had a Squarespace template that was close enough to my style preferences that I could use the built in customization features to get things exactly as I wanted them.

The last time I wrote about this I said that customizing your theme/template is necessary because no simple, elegant blogging theme exists on any platform. Well, things have changed. I found a WordPress.com theme that I really like (the one you are looking at), and the move to WordPress brings along several benefits.

Money

The monthly cost of Squarespace is the primary thing that sent me looking for another platform. Squarespace cost me $16/month. WordPress is $4/month. The $4 WordPress personal plan allows me to map my Hover domain to my WordPress.com site. Squarespace is setup to be much more than a blog, and I finally realized I do not need to pay for such a robust platform.

Mobile

One of my biggest frustrations with Squarespace was their mobile apps. Getting a post up was not difficult. I cold write a post in Ulysses, and then copy and paste the markdown directly into Squarespace’s iOS app. But if I wanted to access my site’s dashboard, forget about it. Navigating the Squarespace website is a horrible experience on mobile devices. At one time, when I went to the site to customize the template, I was told I could not proceed on my mobile device; only way to proceed was on a laptop or desktop. Mind boggling.

WordPress on the other hand allows me to post directly from Ulysses, and I can run just about every aspect of the site from my iPhone or iPad using either their website or their mobile apps.

Style

Finding the “Independent Publisher 2” WordPress theme was the turning point. It isn’t perfect, but it is minimal, single column, and prioritizes the reading experience. I like the large sans serif headings and the way the theme allows me to set the main font to Noto Serif, which has a nice, full featured set of Latin and Greek characters.

Final Thoughts

The only drawback to the switch from Squarespace to WordPress was that I had to edit the slug for every post on this site. Initially, every link to my posts was broken. This problem only took a couple hours to fix, and for the reasons above, it was totally worth it.

If you are looking to start a blog, I recommend registering a domain with Hover — great support and not tied to a particular blogging platform — and getting a WordPress.com personal plan.

Teaching Online iPad Only

For the first time, this week I taught a formal online class using only my iPad. By “formal online class” I mean not a one-on-one teaching environment. This class was for an accredited institution with multiple students all over the country. They see a live stream of me teaching, and each student has a microphone they can use when I call on them.

I normally run the digital classroom on my laptop and use my iPad as a white board. The reason I did the class on my iPad yesterday is because my car transmission is shot. It’s not drivable. This means I get rides to work, and on this day I couldn’t get a ride home until after my online class. I happened to forget that all this meant I “needed” to bring my laptop.

The normal workflow was out the window, and it didn’t take long to figure out that I wasn’t going to be able to use the white board in the Adobe Connect iOS app as a normal classroom white board. More on that in a minute. I improvised. Instead of writing everything on the whiteboard, I took screen shots of the key paradigms and exercises in the Logos version of Croy’s grammar and cropped them. In the Adobe app, instead of sharing a whiteboard, I shared the pics. The only problem was that each time I wanted to share a different pic, I had to stop the share and then initiate it again picking a different pic. Each time I selected a pic it had to upload, but the upload was fast. Sharing the photos worked really well otherwise. I could hit a ‘draw’ button and lightly annotate them with no problem. The students seemed to like seeing the paradigms in the way they actually appear in the book, and I might actually shift to doing something like this regularly instead of just writing on the whiteboard.

Even after this overall good experience, if I am able to be home I will use my laptop to run the digital classroom because writing on the white board within Adobe Connect is really, really bad. You write for a couple seconds fluidly, and then it’s like it has to process that writing to actually get it on the board. Whatever you are writing during that processing period isn’t recorded.

The definite take away is that this is yet another scenario I have discovered where I can leave the laptop at home. Now, whether I am doing online private tutoring — for which I use Zoom and it’s amazing — or a formal online class, I can leave my laptop at home. There is no situation when my laptop needs to leave my desk except when (1) I am working on a paper or (2) writing multiple quizzes.

Obstacles to Going iPad Only

Apple’s 2017 hardware and software releases helped me make significant progress towards going iPad-only, but I’m not quite there yet. I now only carry my laptop one or two days a week. What has to change for me to go i-Pad only?

There’s two prongs on this fork, but both have to do with one piece of software: Microsoft Word. There’s (1) what it would take for me to be able to leave my laptop at home every day and (2) what it would take for me to no longer need to own a laptop.

To leave the laptop at home

As a teacher I write quizzes and tests every week, and I need the ability to open multiple Word documents so that I can copy and paste from one document to another. Currently, the only way to do this is to break out the MacBook Pro. I usually write all my assessments for the week on Monday, so this is the only day I have to take the laptop off my home desk and carry it to the office.

Printer Pro is a key app that allows me to be iPad-only for the rest of the week. Printer Pro allows me to print any document to any printer.

To sell the laptop

Word for iOS would have to be a full-blown word processor for me to be able to sell my laptop. I need to be able to typeset a paper for publication. I have to be able to create and edit styles, and I have to have full control over the formatting of footnotes. It would really help if there were a way Zotero and Word for iOS could communicate.

The Accordance iOS app would also need a lot more development. Using the MT-LXX merge search is not currently possible on iOS. It also takes too many clicks to move from text to lexicon, and the information window pop-up is too small to be a solution. I still love and use the iOS app far more than I do the Mac app.

On Teaching Greek

I did a three hour talk today on teaching Greek in a middle/high school context. This was a part of the the Classical Latin School Association teacher training conference.

Here’s a portion of my notes, the online handout.

I wrote the handout in Ulysses‘ iPad app and exported it to PDF using a customized version of the Rough Cut style. Here’s a link to the Ulysses PDF style sheet. You’ll need to download and install the Brill font.

On Reading Groups

There is only one type of reading group I have stuck with and enjoyed, and that’s a digital reading group of two. I once made the mistake of trying to lead a Facebook reading group. Won’t do that again. It just takes too much time to maintain all the join requests and administrative notifications, and if you have a large group, keeping up with the comments drains your time to read, which is the whole point.

For over a year now, my Greek reading group has had only one other member, Abram KJ. He and I just finished a GNT read through and are starting on the Pentateuch. We do not live in the same area so our workflow is completely digital. We don’t meet, but as I mentioned in the last post, we’ve used Todoist to manage a shared reading plan, and it has worked wonderfully. For the GNT we commented on tasks in Todoist to facilitate reading discussion, but for our Pentateuch journey we are trying out Twist (initial thoughts here). We will use use Todoist for the reading plan and Twist to manage our comments. Any sort of live discussion usually takes place on iMessage.

Reading time is in one sense a luxury, but in another sense it’s as essential as food. I work at the library as a research aid for students, and someone asked me the other day how to find time for Greek and Hebrew reading while managing seminar papers and the rest of life. I think you have to prioritize reading on the same level as eating. You simply cannot wait until life isn’t busy to read. Isn’t reading the whole point of the education? You take all these language classes for the purpose of reading the literature written in the languages. Everyone finds time to eat, and everyone can find time to read. Groups help, however, because reading big books can be a lonely journey. It’s always nice to know someone is walking with you.

I think the key for any reading group is to keep everything as simple as possible, even when it comes to expectations. Our “plan” is simply a list of chapters (Abram Gen 1, Brian Gen 1, Abram Gen 2, Brian Gen 2, etc.) Each chapter is a task in a Todoist project called Greek Reading. Ideally, we will both read one chapter a day, but that rarely happens. No worries. Just read when you can, and keep going. If someone falls a little behind, send an encouraging text. If someone falls far behind, the other person can read something else for a week or two and let the other catch up. We are both committed to regular reading, but over the past year each of us fell behind more than once and we always caught up with each other eventually. Schedules vary, and each person has certain seasons that are more busy than others. That’s why the digital notes are so helpful. If I fall behind, I can check out Abram’s comments on each chapter as I catch up.

To sum up, here are my suggestions for digital reading groups:

  • Keep the group as small as you can.
  • Keep the plan as simple as you can.
  • Be flexible and know that you won’t always stay together.
  • Just keep reading.

Twist for Reading Team Communication

The company that makes Todoist just released a team messaging app called Twist. I love Todoist so when a friend messaged me about this I was definitely interested. Having used Twist for a couple days, I’m not so sure if it is going to work for us.

He and I have used Todoist over the past year to keep up with a shared reading plan, and we used the comment features in Todoist to discuss the readings. Todoist was fantastic for keeping up with our shared reading plan, and the way we used the app for discussion was OK. We would create a task for each major section of the book, and then simply comment on that task, turning it from an actual task to a hub for discussion. Not ideal, but functional.

I know a reading team of two is not exactly the sort of team Twist is intended to help. The app may be overkill for our purposes, but I wanted to try it out because it could potentially make our discussions a lot easier to keep up with. If you google twist doist you will find that the headlines describe it as something like “a less distracting take on Slack” (Engadget, for example). I’ve never used Slack, but everyone I know who uses a team communication app does. I’m confident that since Doist is behind this app it will get better and likely be a (the first?) genuine rival to Slack.

Here’s my take after a couple days. At this point, Twist is frustrating, but we’re bearing with it. Part of my frustration comes, no doubt, from the fact that I like to keep my app game as simple as possible, and I’m just experiencing new app growing pains. There are a few other things, however. First, every time I send a message I get a pop up asking me if I’m sure I want to notify everyone in the channel. This happens anytime I comment on anything, and I do not see a way to make it stop (update: a friend showed me that if you only have individuals of a team selected and note some variation of “everyone” the pop up goes away). Second, our reading team of two is now a reading team of three because Twist automatically adds “Ada Bot,” a messaging bot that I can’t figure out how to kill. I asked it, “How can I delete you.” It said, “I need a lot more training. Please contact support …” Just seeing that silly bot everywhere is so annoying. Finally, I’ve struggled a little navigating the various portions of the app — teams, groups, channels, threads, and comments. For me, it’s a bit cumbersome. I’d be interested to hear from Slack users what they think about the Twist UI.

I do like the inbox feature, which allows me to see a list of every post no matter what channel it is posted in. And again, I love that Doist is behind it. Todoist is spectacular, and I expect Twist will be too within a few months.

Twist website

Posts on Writing & Notes Apps

Here are a few posts I’ve written on the four writing and notes apps I use: Apple Notes, GoodNotes, Word, and Ulysses.

I’m pretty happy with this workflow, and each apps seems to be getting better and better. The iOS 11 previews promise a substantial update to Apple notes; GoodNotes has told me about a pretty significant upcoming feature; and Ulysses is king of the hill. Word? It gets a lot of updates, but meh. I hope the iOS app becomes more full features in the future, but it’s fine.

Ulysses is 🔥

Ulysses is the best writing app for Mac and iOS. It is a gorgeous, minimal, markdown writing environment that does just about everything perfectly. I write everything in Ulysses except academic papers and classroom assessments.

First, the app is beautiful. I’m not, however, going to post a bunch of pictures because their website does a fine job showing off the app’s aesthetics.

If you appreciate distraction-free writing environments, in Ulysses command + 3 is your keyboard shortcut. Other files within the same folder can be seen along side your current writing space with command + 2, and command + 1 shows a full view of your folders, files, and current writing space. These easy to remember keyboard shortcuts make navigation a breeze.

If you don’t yet use markdown, check out Renshaw’s post. Markdown is a simple way to write in lightweight text files and still quickly and easily format your text with headings, bold, italic, hyperlinks, and all the rest.

Finally, the Ulysses folks kill it with iCloud sync. Not every app has a dependable iCloud sync in place (ahem, GoodNotes. Still love ya. – Brian), but Ulysses does. I’ve never had a file show up on one of my devices with conflicts. I write on my iPad and MacBook, edit or occasionally write on my iPhone, and everything just stays in sync. If you open Ulysses and your files still need to sync, there is a little down arrow that shows right beside the file name. You wait about 5 seconds or less, the arrow disappears, and you are good to go.

My only complaint with Ulysses is that they do not support inline images. You can add images to files, but the images show up as a hyperlink and look like this: (img). That’s because the idea is that you are going to use Ulysses to write things and then export those things to PDFs or HTML or rich text or something else. Adding support for inline images would make the app so much better for journaling. I have a folder for each month of the year, and each day is an h2. I usually want to drop in a picture each day, and it would be nice to be able to scroll through my month and see each day’s picture without exporting or previewing the files in another format. I’ve expressed this wish to Ulysses, and they’ve heard me so my fingers are crossed.

I love Ulysses because it is a writing app that ideally blends beauty, function, and simplicity — 5 stars and highly recommended. It is worth every penny.

Word for Mac & iOS

For writing anything more than a note, I use two apps: Ulysses and Word. I like one of them and tolerate the other. I’m just going to tell you about Word today, the one I tolerate.

If I weren’t a student and a teacher, I would never touch Word because Ulysses is absolutely sublime. If your document has footnotes, however, you should be using Zotero, and this means using Word on a Mac or Windows computer. So for the dissertation and any conference papers, I turn to Word. Word also gives you more control for precise, quick formatting, which I need for writing assessments.

For about the past year, Word for Mac has worked well with right-to-left scripts like Hebrew and Aramaic. For a couple decades, Word and Mac didn’t play well together. I you were doing anything with Hebrew you had to use something like LibreOffice or Mellel. Many people don’t realize that this era is over. The only remaining Hebrew/Aramaic hang up is the fact that the vowel points in SBL fonts do not align correctly. As I understand the situation, this is SBL’s problem and not Word’s. My school allows the use of Times New Roman font throughout the entire document, and I actually like the look of TNR for Hebrew, Greek, and English. It’s not my preferred font, but for technical writing it’s easy and everyone has it on their devices. The only situation where you will run into a problem with TNR is if you want to put diacritical marks above a Hebrew letter to mark the letter as “partially visible” or something like that. If you are working with DSS transcriptions, you will probably still have to use SBL Hebrew and Mellel at this point. Hopefully SBL will update their fonts soon.

The real draw towards using Word is that your documents are easily shareable. The chances are that whomever you want to share your work with uses Word. But there is another significant benefit: the iOS app works pretty well, especially if all you need to do is edit documents on the fly. During the past school year, I would take only my iPad to class, and when we found a typo in a quiz, I would fix it right away in the Word iOS app. Occasionally, I would print handouts from Word using Readdle’s Printer Pro, and maybe once or twice I actually wrote a quiz in Word for iOS. This became problematic for the vocab sections of the quiz because for some reason with a multi-column layout combined with Greek polytonic characters, Word began acting crazy. The cursor would jump around all over the place when I would start typing.

I don’t think you can create new character and paragraph styles in Word for iOS, but if you open a document that already has styles applied, you can use those styles with the same document. I think you can also save a blank document as a template with the style you want, and just start there.

One other thing the Word iOS app does really well is work with cloud storage. You can log into your Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox accounts and open files within the Word iOS app. Word downloads the latest version and opens it pretty quickly. While you are working in the document, everything automatically saves, and when you leave the document, Word uploads your changes to your cloud service. Everything stays in sync.

I really prefer to write in Markdown, and that’s where Ulysses comes in. But good old rich text word processing is still necessary for the time being, and Word isn’t bad.