I Deleted My Twitter Feed (on Purpose)

For the past few weeks I’ve been noticing more and more people on Twitter talking about wiping out their Twitter feeds and starting over. At first I considered it a ridiculous idea. Why would anyone do such a thing?

But the more I thought about it, the more it fascinated me. I started on Twitter back in 2011, and at first I used it as a means of just promoting blog posts; I didn’t really interact with anyone for the first year or so. But since then I’ve used it for a number of different things: networking with colleagues, sharing news, communicating with students, ranting about politics, etc. Suffice it to say that my Twitter history was a bit of a mess.

What finally pushed me over the edge the other day was an anonymous troll who responded to a post I made two years ago. That’s right: someone that I don’t know tried to pick a fight with me over a random post that I made two years ago and had totally forgotten about. To be fair, the post was pretty inflammatory (it was political), so I guess it got the reaction that I had hoped for initially. But I had no memory of writing it, and it got me thinking about how much else I had posted that I had forgotten about.

Rather than wade through ca. 14,000 tweets and delete one every now and again, I decided to just wipe the slate clean and start over. Like ripping off a bandaid.

There are a number of ways to do this. I ended up using a service (recommended by one of my Twitter colleagues) at GoCardigan.com. It worked perfectly.

They recommend first downloading an archive of all your old tweets and then uploading that archive – something about the Twitter database limits them otherwise to only wiping your 3,000 most recent tweets. I did this, clicked go, and watched my history disappear. The process was remarkably quick and entirely painless.

I’ve also just discovered another service called Tweet Delete that keeps your history clean by deleting old tweets when they reach an age that you specify (3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc.). I’m considering setting this up as well.

Curious to hear if any of you have done similar things.

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I Made a Bible Bot: How and Why?

I’ve long been fascinated by Twitter bots — those seemingly-autonomous bits of
programming that retweet, follow, compose and respond to messages, etc. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a bot, but since I have little to no knowledge of coding/programming language, I always assumed that creating my own was just a pipe dream. Turns out I was wrong.

In this post I’d like to first introduce you to my bot and then I’ll tell you how I made it.

After experimenting with a few different iterations over the weekend, I launched a “Bible bot” that is currently alive and well in cyberspace, tweeting its little digital heart out and gathering followers (an impressive amount so far, actually). What is it tweeting, you ask? For the most part, just gibberish that it puts together at random from the text of the King James Bible. But occasionally it comes up with something that (unbeknownst to it, of course) is really pretty clever. Here are a few examples:

I’m not sure what, if anything, I will do to hone or improve the bot in the future. It is currently doing exactly what it was designed to do, namely, amuse people in general and me in particular. It’s only been live for a few days now, so I suppose we shall see what the future holds for it.

So how did I set it up?

From start to finish, the process was actually much easier than I thought it would be, mostly because I found someone else who had already done the “heavy lifting.” That someone is Zach Whalen, an Associate Professor of English, Linguistics, and Communication at the University of Mary Washington.

Thanks to a push in the right direction from another of my Twitter pals, I stumbled upon a helpful post on Zach’s blog where he walks you through creating a Twitter bot using a Google spreadsheet that he designed. (Note that this sheet will only allow you to create a bot that posts; if you are interested in building a bot that can retweet, respond to tweets, or follow accounts, you will need to look elsewhere.) Zach’s post is remarkably clear and detailed, so I will refrain from reproducing a step-by-step here (if I can follow it, then trust me, so can you). All you need to get started is a Twitter account for your bot and a Google account for the spreadsheet.

After the initial linking up of the spreadsheet with Twitter (which can be a tad tricky, but stick with it), there are only a couple of parameters to set: frequency of posting and “data sheet.” Frequency is straightforward: how often do you want your bot to post? Every hour? Twice per hour? Once per day? Etc. “Data sheet” refers, essentially, to how you want your bot to compose its tweets.

lfmU5E0pThere are a few different options in this data sheet category, all of which are useful depending on your goals. I chose the “markov” option, meaning that my bot uses an algorithm to generate random text from a supplied body of text. The supplied body of text can be anything. The spreadsheet comes with the full text of Sense and Sensibility so that you can experiment before copying and pasting in your own text.

The text you supply the markov algorithm can be pretty much anything (I think). Because my bot is a Bible bot, my text is the Bible — King James translation. I chose King James for two reasons: 1) because I thought (rightly) that it would be funnier; and 2) because I found the King James Bible in spreadsheet form online, which meant that I could copy and paste the whole thing in about twenty minutes. Win.

With all of the text inputted, I set my bot to post a new tweet every thirty minutes (every fifteen minutes strikes me as excessive, and I got impatient having to wait an hour to see new content) and hit “start.” The results so far have been quite amusing.

And that’s why and how I made a Bible Twitter bot! Follow (or just observe) it on Twitter by clicking here.

And follow me by clicking here!

Hauerwas Goes to the Movies (Week 5)

This post is part of a series on teaching religion in film using the work of Stanley Hauerwas. You can get caught up on our progress so far by reading the posts from Week 1Week 2Week 3, and Week 4.

For this week students read the fourth chapter in Hauerwas’s A Community of Character — “The Church and Liberal Democracy: The Moral Limits of a Secular Polity.” This chapter’s central claim is that Christianity and Liberalism are characterized by competing and irreconcilable ideologies. I therefore anticipated that it would generate some pushback from students, and it did, but not to the extent that I had feared (or hoped?). Discussion at the start of class was fruitful, and I found that many students seem to appreciate the line that Hauerwas draws.

One of the things they seem to have found most compelling in this chapter is its analysis of Liberalism’s emphasis on personal freedom and self-interest as cardinal virtues of sorts. Hauerwas notes that in the early days of Liberalism (liberal democracy in the United States, specifically), the assumption underlying liberal ideology was that people were, in fact, virtuous. Yet as time progresses, the situation will change. Now, Hauerwas argues, “people feel their only public duty is to follow their own interests as far as possible, limited only by the rule that we do not unfairly limit others’ freedom” (79). “Liberalism,” Hauerwas maintains, “thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; a social order that is designed to work on the presumption that people are self-interested tends to produce that kind of people” (ibid).

Below is a word cloud generated from student essays on this chapter.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 2.59.25 PM

Over the past few weeks one of the things I’ve noticed in essays and in our class discussion is that students have started asking serious questions about what precisely Hauerwas envisions when he speaks of “the church.” In a previous post I mentioned that one student went so far as to argue that he seemed to be advocating for a sort of “secret clubhouse” mentality.

As we’ve moved further into the book, questions about the relationship of the church to the world have become increasingly more common. Many found the section at the end of this chapter on contrasts between Liberalism and the church to be helpful, and we spent some time at the start of class going over this section.

After some preliminary discussion we watched M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village (2004). To be honest, I actually don’t care much for the film; it’s quite tedious at points, and it’s far from Shyamalan’s best work (in my opinion). But it’s a fantastic illustration of what a truly sectarian society looks like in practice, and in my mind it is a perfect antithesis to how Hauerwas conceives of the church.

“The Village” is made up of people who seem to be living in the late-nineteenth century, deep in the forest and far from civilization. The woods that surround them are said to populated by vicious monsters who are drawn to the color red. Toward the end of the film it becomes clear that these monsters were created by “the elders,” the group of people who started the community. The stories of the monsters function to keep people in the community and to keep them at peace with one another.

At first glance the village seems like a suitable analog for the church. The people are loving, peaceful, and faithful, and they consider money the root of evil and don’t use it in their society. It is only when you consider the means by which the society is maintained that the serious issues with it become clear. In contrast to Hauerwas’s insistence that the church be formed and sustained by narratives/stories that are “sufficiently true/truthful,” the village is a society built on a series of elaborate lies.

What is more, the story of the monsters is in fact contrary to the values that the elders wish to instill in their progeny. They want their children to be peaceful and loving, but they teach them to be peaceful and loving people by surrounding them with threats of violence: “The monsters are drawn to the color red, so if you cause someone to bleed the monsters will come and get you.” Even though this threat of violence is intended as a preventative measure, it nevertheless instills in the people the belief that violence is a legitimate way to solve problems. And this ends up having disastrous consequences for more than a few characters.

Our post-film discussion was rich; students seemed to enjoy the film, and I was impressed at how effectively they were able to grasp its mythology. One of the critical differences they identified between the village and Hauerwas’s conception of the church is that the former in no way benefits the world that it has chosen to exist apart from. The elders seek to build a society of faith, hope, peace, and love, but they do so in radical isolation from the world that they perceive as violent. The church, on the other hand, seeks to cultivate similar virtue in its members, but this is always done in the context of the world. The church is an alternative to secular polities, but if it is to be a true alternative, then it must exist within sight of the polity to which it is serving as an alternative.

More next time!

How I Force My Students to Read Their Bibles

A post I wrote a few weeks back for TheoDepot.

TheoDepot

Half of my teaching load is a survey of the Bible course. Genesis to Revelation in one semester. Fun, right? For the most part, it is. The most challenging part of this course is not the pace; it is convincing my students to complete the readings.

The majority of my students self-identify as some variety of Christian (whether they are practicing or not is a different question). Most come from relatively conservative backgrounds, and many will use language like “inspired and literal word of God” in reference to the biblical texts. This is to say that a good portion of my students enter my class with the conviction that, somehow, God wrote the Bible. Literally. It’s interesting to me, then, that with such a lofty view of the words on the page, they seem so resistant to actually reading them.Unknown

This semester I am trying an experiment that is…

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Teaching Textual Criticism to Undergraduates

TheoDepot

A prominent and passionate textual critic once described his field as follows: “Textual criticism may be the only approach to the biblical text where the difference between ‘rod’ and ‘staff’ is significant. It has the capacity to be uniquely boring work, more so than any other critical method.”

With that being said, I spend an entire day in my Literature of the Bible class (a freshman-level survey course) teaching textual criticism. To the utter shock of my colleagues, this is frequently one of the most enjoyable days of the semester, and many students speak fondly of it in their course evaluations. Here’s how I approach it.

I set the stage by describing the transmission of biblical texts as a game of written telephone that involves thousands of writers over thousands of years. Because these texts were copied by hand, I explain, small errors (variants) were introduced over time. I introduce textual criticism as the process…

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Another Apple for Wittgenstein

Those familiar with Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations will chuckle at the title of this post while they are reading it. Those not familiar will not get it, but they will still enjoy the post.

Wednesdays at our house, at least this semester, are “papa days.” That is, they are the days that I stay at home, all day, with Jane, the rambunctious two-year-old that I’m proud to call my daughter.

This morning we were hanging out in the living room after Ellen left for work. I started going through what we had to get done before it was time for her nap. “We need to go to Trader Joe’s to pick up some dessert for tonight, and then we are going to the Apple Store to pick up a special cable for my laptop.”

You know, of course, that the Apple Store is the place you go to covet all those shiny computers, phones, and tablets. But if you had never been there before, and you had never even heard of such a place, you may imagine that it is a store that sells fruit.

And that is what Jane thought it was: a store that sells fruit.

We hopped in the car and I said, “Where are we going?” She responded, “The Apple Store!”

The whole way there she sang in the back seat (to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star), “Apple store, apple store, apple store, apple store” (go on, try it – it’s adorable).

When we got to the Apple Store her enthusiasm waned. “Here we are,” I said. She looked at me with the saddest face I’ve ever seen. “Where the Apples go?”

It was only then that I realized my mistake. I had spent the last hour getting my daughter excited about going to a store filled with one of her favorite foods. She began to cry, so I picked her up and promised that she could have as many apples as she wanted for lunch. I then offered to buy her an iPad. She said no.

Language is powerful. So is innocence.