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.

Off-Campus Oxford Handbooks Online Ready

Thanks to John Merritt, off-campus access to Oxford Handbooks Online is ready to roll.

Head over to the databases page, and you will see it in the New Databases section on the right side of the screen and in its permanent home in the O-section. Click the link, log in with your normal SBTS login information, and you are good to go.

At the top of the Oxford Handbook Online page you will see a Browse by Subject section. You have access to the religion, philosophy, and history handbooks.

Go ahead and save a bookmark to this address, and next time you can go straight to the login page: http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com.ezproxy.sbts.edu.

Apple Silicone iPhone 7 Case

I’m on my third one, and if I bought a new iPhone today I would purchase another. I just can’t seem go without a case because I do drop my phone and I cannot stand to have scratches and dings on my devices. First world problems, yes, but it drives me absolutely bonkers. Apple likes to talk about how thoroughly drop tested these products are, and I can confirm that my phone has never suffered one bit of damage from the several times it has hit the ground.

Each silicone case that I’ve owned met its demise, however, with the bottom right corner of the case completely chipping off. Yes, each case has hit the group, but they’ve never been dropped even from full standing height. Maybe I get out of the car, and my phone slides off my lap, or maybe it slides off the arm of a camping chair and hits the concrete. These drops will leave the case with a nicked corner or two, but I seriously doubt these small drops are the reason two cases in a row have failed in exactly the same way. So while I sort of understand why someone might be displeased with the case “coming apart” (so dramatic), I completely disagree with the two-star rating you will find on the Apple website.

Apple replaced each case with no questions asked. The last guy I worked with said at this point the issue is well known. He walked to the back grabbed a new case, took mine away, and handed me a brand new one. He even offered me a different color if I wanted to switch things up. To me, that communicates, “Hey, exchanging this product is no problem at all. I’m happy to help you any way I can. Thanks for being our customer.” With both exchanges, I was in and out of the store in less than five minutes.

I’ll purchase an Apple silicone case for the next iPhone I have, too. In addition to Apples five star customer service, these cases are slim, grippy (much more so than Apple’s leather iPhone cases), and they brandish a nice, muted Apple logo on the back. It would be nice if the iPhone 8 cases held up a little better, but it is also nice to have a new case every six to eight months.

Tweaks for Better Twitter

This is another attempt to speak a little grace and hope into the way you think about social media, particularly Twitter. If you use Twitter instead of Facebook, you already have an advatage. Twitter doesn’t require a follow back or “friending,” and this means you can follow whoever you want. Conversely, people can follow you without you having to follow back and see everything they post.

If you are frustrated with Twitter itself, chances are some of your frustration could be allieviated by changing a couple settings: uncheck “show me the best Tweets first” and use the mute feature.

First, I don’t think many people realize that Twitter allows you to mute certain words or hashtags. This means you can filter out just about everything you dislike about social media. For example, I have #SCOTUS, #POTUS, and the word “Trump” muted. Chances are that my Twitter experience is much better than yours because of three simple mutes. Anytime there is an annoying flare up of tweets you don’t like, just add another mute word or hashtag. It takes about 10 seconds. To access the mute settings go to Settings and privacy > Privacy and safety > scroll to the bottom and you will see Blocked accounts, Muted accounts, and Muted words.

Second, the Twitter app tries to show you the tweets they think you will be most interested in based on those you interact with most. You can adjust this setting in the Twitter app, but I don’t think many people know (1) that their timeline isn’t in chronological order by default and (2) they can change it. In the Twitter app, go to Settings and privacy > Timeline and uncheck “Show me the best tweets first.” Now, if you are following a live event, your timeline won’t be interrupted with old tweets. More info on adjusting your timeline settings can be found here.

The only remaining hurdle is ads (“promoted tweets”), and to fix this problem you will have to turn to an app like Tweetbot. Tweetbot is a solid, great looking app that can do all of the above and more. Check out their website for more info.

Should I Tweet This?

I hear people ask that frequently, but it’s something I rarely consider. Maybe I should, but I think people who ask this question have a different perspective on the function of social media than I do.

I get it. People are concerned that others will perceive their tweets as attempts to brag or show off. Maybe you just finished a major reading project and you want to say, “Hey, guys! I did it! I finished (insert book name)!” So you hesitate, and likely do not post. But do you hesitate to share things like that with your day-to-day friends? Should you hesitate to share things like that with your friends? What is a friend if you have to stop every time you want to speak to them and think twice about your words? This is where the breakdown in perspectives comes into play.

In my opinion, social media is for sharing things you love and are excited about. You don’t hesitate to share things you are excited about with your spouse. And what do you do when you sit around a fire pit with friends? You talk about things you are excited about, victories from the week and things you look forward to. You also note things you are excited about in a negative sense. There is a place for both the positive and negative in social media. There is a place for critique; it’s essential for reviews — reviews of products and ideas, not ad hominem attacks. But for me, the stated purpose of social media at the top of this paragraph is primarily intended to be positive. Social media is for sharing things you are happy about with people who are interested in those same things.

Those last few words are where the online platforms are so helpful. You see, you could just share things with people who are physically in your life. But how many people do you have in your day-to-day life who are genuinely stoked out of their mind about WWDC? I have 1. How many people do you see everyday who get more excited about the release of a new lexicon than the latest Marvel movie? I have maybe 5, but I don’t see any of them every day now that Shawn moved across the country. Social media connects you with others who share your niche interests.

That’s who I’m posting for, and that’s why I don’t often ask the question “Should I tweet this?” Posting to Twitter is like pulling up a chair by the fire pit and saying, “Guys, check this out!” You’re with friends. If anyone else is listening in, they can keep scrolling or unfollow.

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

Moving from Google Photos to Apple Photos

Why

I’ve used Google Photos as an automatic photo backup since 2011. I didn’t start using the iCloud/Apple Photos combo until late in 2015. I spent downtime during the past few days making sure copies of everything pre-2015 was moved over to Apple Photos because I’m think about taking all my pics and videos out of Google. Why? Because I am becoming convinced that Apple is more concerned about my privacy than Google is. Exhibit A. I’m also tired of giving Google ten dollars a month for storage.

Why haven’t I moved everything to Apple Photos before now? At first I was taken back by the fact that keeping everything in Apple Photos means you can’t delete pics off your devices and just store them in the cloud. You can in Google Photos. Google Photos also automatically does a bunch of cool stuff with your photos. Without damaging the originals, they will string together a loop of several similar pictures; they’ll create videos of related pics set to music or maybe apply special lighting to a picture they think is a particularly good one. I’ve enjoyed this over the years, but more and more I hear perspectives like the one linked above. It makes sense, and is a little unnerving.

How

Unfortunately, there is no way to move things directly from one cloud service to another. In the Google Drive sync preferences on my MacBook, I selected the folders I wanted to download, waited on the download to finish, and then import them to Apple Photos. I had about 30gb worth of room on my MacBook so I selected only a few months to downloaded at a time, and then after importing them to Apple Photos, I removed them from my MacBook and grabbed a few more months from Google Drive. I added over 15,000 pics to Apple Photos (bringing the total over 20,000) and several hundred videos. 24 hours later, a couple thousand of them are still uploading to iCloud. What’s left must be videos because the last thousand is taking forever. Granted, I’m working with horribly slow internet.

Moving forward

Though not fast, the process was pretty simple. My only lingering concern is that some really important picture didn’t get downloaded. I’ve deleted Google Photos from my mobile devices so I’ll no longer be uploading photos there, but I don’t think I’ll be deleting my stuff from Google Photos for a while — not until I’m absolutely sure every thing has made its way over. I really don’t like the prospect of losing any part of the first few years of my kiddos’ lives.

I’m looking forward to the improved file compression promised in iOS 11, but for the time being I still have enough room on all my devices. It’s nice to know that basically every digital picture I’ve taken in my life is on all of my devices and in the native Apple Photos app. For the first time the data isn’t scattered across two platforms.

One thing I’m still not clear on, however. Apple lets you save space by keeping “optimized” versions of your pics on your devices, while the originals live in iCloud. But what happens when I share a pic or video from one of my mobile devices? Am I sharing the optimized version or the full sized version?

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.