Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mumpsimus, meaning "a person who persists in a mistaken expression or practice",  or "an erroneous practice, use of language, or belief that is obstinately adhered to". Randomhouse.com claims it is derived from a story by a friend of Sir Thomas More about an elderly priest, who has mistakenly pronounced the mass for forty years by saying "quod in ore mumpsimus" rather than "quod in ore sumpsimus" ('which we have taken into the mouth'). When a younger priest attempted to correct the mistake, the old priest's answer was reportedly "I will not change my old mumpsimus for your new sumpsimus."

A memorable story to help me to be humble, rather than a mumpsimus!


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Courtesy of ThinkChristian, there's a pointer to a very lengthy piece at First Things about the state of Christianity on the Internet. It's mostly from a Catholic perspective (it took me several re-reads of the first paragraph about Pope Michael to figure out what was going on!), but has a nice survey of major sites, blogs, on-line worship, etc.
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"Information wants to be free" -- Steward Brand.

I wrote a lengthy post this morning, documenting my discovery of some crucial first steps in creating a usable Greek-English lexicon in plain text (e.g. not locked up behind some user interface) for programming purposes . My hack uses e-Sword and the Longman Foundation's e-Sword add-on, the updated New American Standard Bible with Strong's numbers, which they sell for a mere $20. Since i've been thinking about related subjects for over two years now, and this is the only modern English translation that keys words in the text of Scripture to any kind of Greek lexicon (as far as i know), i was excited and wanted to share this discovery.

Then i (re-)read the license terms for e-Sword.

"You may not disassemble or reverse engineer e-Sword, nor any of its associated modules." (italics mine) 

Extracting the text from a module seemed like a clear example of disassembly. Thud. Delete post. Feel frustrated.

I guess i can understand the motivation for this restriction: you don't want to make it easy for people to violate publisher's copyrights (whether you agree with them or not), and i certainly wasn't planning on doing that. Since Rick Meyers, the programmer behind e-Sword, made this restriction a condition of my use of his software, it doesn't seem appropriate to post explicit directions for circumventing it (not that i discovered anything you wouldn't learn from googling e-sword and bbl and experimenting a little with what you find: this is all completely public information).

But my real frustration is over the way this restricts information that is freely available in one format (e-Sword's interface) from re-use in other formats. Of course, i couldn't legally redistribute the resulting liberated texts as is, because Longman owns them. But (by a strict interpretation of e-Sword's license) it appears i can't even legitimately create new and derivative works, something that copyright law doesn't forbid. (Aside: this is still something of a gray legal area for me. My belief is that derivative works (e.g. a bilingual lexicon extracted from the texts) that don't allow you to reconstitute the original are not subject to the original copyright. That's the opinion of legal counsel in my work context as well, where we routinely use open source texts to derive large lexicons for speech recognizers or other statistical language modeling purposes. But i don't know of any specific legal precedents. )

Regular Blogos readers may recognize a familiar theme: while applications provide benefit to users, it's data that enables applications, including ones you aren't smart enough to think of. If i had all kinds of spare time, i think i could use this data to create some new Greek-English lexicons for additional modern translations like ESV (that's a real project, not a quick hack). But if i choose to adhere to the terms of my license with e-Sword (as i understand them), creating re-usable data from e-Sword modules is not an option.

Religious truth is captive in a small number of little manuscripts which guard the common treasures, instead of expanding them. Let us break the seal which binds these holy things; let us give wings to truth that it may fly with the Word, no longer prepared at vast expense, but multitudes everlastingly by a machine which never wearies to every soul which enters life. - Johannes Gutenberg (who was responsible for the first mass-produced Bibles)

This quote is on e-Sword's home page. I assume it exemplies Rick Meyer's motivation for making the e-Sword program freely available to all (regardless of whether invidivual Bible texts are free or not), which i'm complete in favor of. It's a great program: i use on both my Windows desktop and my PocketPC, and i'm grateful to Rick Meyers for providing it.  But the irony is that its license conditions don't let me liberate or "give wings" to the data behind it.


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