All entries for January 2008

January 28, 2008


I mentioned in my last post that I've been looking at PLSA, an evolution of LSA (Latent Semantic Analysis). Well, this term really does need a bit of explaining now that I've posted it.

Basically it's to do with measuring terms used often and together across a range of documents. I could possibly use it because I can look through songs and find which terms occur together - suggesting a theme. For example: 'cross', 'jesus', 'died', 'save', 'blood', 'me' and 'thank' might all appear together in a set of songs quite often. This suggests these songs all share a theme (Jesus' death / salvation in this example). 

I discovered that Google can do this! (Is there anything it can't do?!)

If you search for a term with a tilde ('~') before it, Google will magically perform LSA on it and return results with similar terms to that word.

Combining this with Google's NOT operator ('-'), if you search for '~computer -computer', you will get results that contain similar terms to 'computer' but won't actually search for the word 'computer'. So the results highlight words like 'hardware', 'PC', 'laptop' and 'computing' instead of 'computer' like it would do for a search for 'computer'. Clever!

(If you're really interested - it seems that Google will only search for 5 terms beyond the search term. ie, in my '~computer' example, the results are only for 'computer', 'PC', 'laptop', 'computing' and 'computerized'. If you 'not' all of those terms, nothing gets returned.)


Hi there... if youre reading this, there's a good chance it's because you've just completed my online questionnaire. In which case, thank you very much! If not, please feel free to take the survey.


Although I've been doing lots of reading recently on subjects such as 'Probabilistic Latent Semantic Analysis' (!) in an attempt to find ways of automatically detecting song themes from lyrics alone, there hasn't been much progress made in the last couple of weeks in actually making it work.

But some tweaks have been made to my PSALM program. The mains ones are:

  1. Load database supplied as an argument to the program: (eg. 'java -jar XMLGUI.jar mydb.xml')
  2. Searching for keywords now works as searching for songs containing each word separately rather than as a single phrase. To search for a single phrase, enclose it in "speech marks". This then follows the convention used by Google.

If you're wondering just what PSALM is, it is the software component of my project. Take a look at the progress report or specification for more details. But basically, it is a song organisation system, that will soon also include theme detection & setlist/song recommendation functionality. (PSALM = Personal Software Aid for Leading Music)

So, here is Psalm 1...

Blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
    or stand in the way of sinners
    or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
    and whose leaf does not wither.
    Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

And the newly released 'PSALM 1.1' ...

Download PSALM 1.1 here


January 24, 2008

An aside

I'm currently reading 'Wired for Ministry - How the Internet, Visual Media, and Other New Technologies Can Serve Your Church' (2004) by John P. Jewell. It's a very practical book that for the first part, deals with the pitfalls of technology in the church context. It actually gives some very down-to-earth points, and calls for technology to be looked at from a theological perspective before being blindly used.

Here are some quotes - chosen either for entertainment or because of interesting points they make. I don't necessarily agree with all of them! 

Suffice it to say that the Internet is humungous.

"A computer alone will not help you solve life's problems, save you money, or help you relate to others better... I have a love/hate relationship with computers, and although I rely on them, I'm waiting for the next major solar flare to wipe them all out." (quoted from the

The attempt to define Christian computing is as silly as defining a Christian bumper sticker.

Technolust and the Increase of Urgency.... When we import technology into the life of the church without discernment, we also import the chronic state of alarm that plagues technology.

Four simple words can strike terror into the hearts of thousands...: "The system is down!"

"I suggest we as Christians not view the Internet as technology, but as God's moving to bring the gospel to every man, woman, and child upon the earth." (quoted from The Internet Church, Walter Wilson as an example of the dangers of seeing technology as 'Messianic')

"We need to rethink how to do technology so that technology doesn't do us. The Amish lifestyle sounds pretty good right now" (quoted from Rev. James Wakelin, a student of this book's author)

Technology without theology is a tradgedy for the church.  

January 21, 2008

Online questionnaire

The online version of the questionnaire is now ready and waiting for you at:

Please see the introduction to the questionnaire below.

Feel free to complete either this or the pdf 'hard' copy (you can print it and snail-mail it to me), I don't mind.

Thank you very much!

January 14, 2008

The Questionnaire

First of all, just to say that the first release of PSALM is out, and I've fixed that little thing I mentioned before. So please have a look, test it a bit, use it, distribute it, do whatever to it! Any feedback on it would be greatly appreciated. Thanks :-)

Download PSALM here

And now on to  the Questionnaire...

As a major part of this project, I am researching the current use of IT in churches. Specifically:

  1. What role(s) does IT currently play in churches?
  2. What role(s) could IT potentially have in churches?
  3. What problems exist in a church setting that could be solved using IT, or more specifically, software?

I have built a questionnaire that anyone involved in a church, or other Christian organisation, can fill in to aid me in this task. It will sent out to specific individuals and organisations already identified, and posted to websites that I believe will have users that can help. The questionnaire is NOT just for those interested, or using, IT, in church or outside of church. It is important that a wide spread of views is surveyed to gain as wide an understanding as possible within the scope of this project.

I will put together an online version asap, but please find the master version below. This is the version that will be distributed by post/hand when necessary. I don't mind whether the attached 'hard' copy or the coming online one is used.

If you would like to help, please do! The questionnaire will only take 10-15 minutes, and it is not even necessary to answer every question. Although extra comments would also be appreciated if you like! Your responses will be a great help to my project. 

Please complete and return the questionnaire before the 17th February 2008. Contact details for returning it are included in the questionnaire document itself. Thank you very much!!

Questionnaire: IT in the contemporary church

(added 21 Jan:) or complete the online version of the questionnaire at:

January 11, 2008

Review: 'Beyond the OHP', Jackie Sheppard, 2002.

Published by Spring Harvest, a national Christian umbrella organisation that runs huge festivals every Spring, this book can claim to be fairly authoritative.

The book is helpful in establishing what can be done, why it should be done, and examples of churches that have successfully implemented IT projects.  However, it is focused almost exclusively on 'Sunday morning' meetings and so its scope is relatively limited.

Almost all of the examples are taken from a select few large American churches, alienating much of the audience that a Spring Harvest book would have. Once the authors aims have been laid out, there is also very little holding back on promoting IT in churches. Maybe this approach was needed several years ago, but now many churches seem to have realised IT's potential, and a more balanced approach is necessary. 

Guidance is given on how to put together and work as a team operating the technology (including lighting, sound, and other technology not so related to my project) which is very useful as the author has extensive experience in this area. 

If you need to know what can be done with a wide range of technology, this book is very useful, however it is surprising how it is already feeling a little out of date just six years on. A new balanced approach would help, as would more innovative uses of technology in and out of the main church meetings. 

Review: 'Using Technology in Worship and Mission', The Methodist ICT Project, 2005

You can download this leaflet for yourself at

This leaflet, commissioned by the Methodist Church, lays out guidelines for how ICT can be used in methodist churches (and could then be extended to other churches too). 

It covers why ICT should be used, but warns that it is only a 'means, not an end'. It says, 'Every investment must be evaluated against its contribution to to the Church's mission in contemporary society.' On the whole, the arguments given were pretty well balanced, however the purpose of the leaflet is partly to demonstrate how ICT should/could be used in churches. Because of this, it presents a very good case for using IT in church, whilst warning against the pitfalls, but not really giving any evidence of bad use of IT. 

Many resources are linked to for further information, for example websites with free images for use in presentations. There is are basic ideas for how ICT is commonly used in churches, and some pointers to how to implement these methods. 

It gives some interesting case studies of innovative ICT projects, mostly initiated by the individual churches (often just by tech-savvy individuals within those churches) rather than the Methodist umbrella body. There is a good range of projects and their aims. Many attempt to get young people interested in church, or to include them by using their invariably-extensive IT skills. However there are also examples of projects aimed at older age groups, showing that IT is not just for the youth!

Some of these projects were relatively new, and although they seemed to have been implemented successfully, there is a need for seeing how successful they turned out to be in their 'contribution to to the Church's mission in contemporary society.' It is quite possible that projects may have been later abandoned when the people running them moved on, or funds run out. It is also currently in vogue for churches to be seen as technologically sound and innovative, so once this 'bubble' bursts, will ICT still be a useful and used tool?

Progress Report and First release

I believe it's probably about time I released the progress report. Here it is: progress_report.pdf

Then I am also pleased to announce the first increment of PSALM can be released!

Download PSALM First Increment here (ZIP, ~190kb)

To run it and find instructions for use, please refer to the instructions for the prototype.
This version now displays chords correctly (hooray!), using a handy free monospaced font (Bitstream Vera Sans Mono) that I think will be used for the final release as I think its pretty clear. If you want to change the way the chords are displayed (e.g. the colour or font), please edit the psalm.css file, which should be fairly obvious how to edit, especially if you have used CSS before.

The add/edit/remove song features all now work - although please note that if you download this in the next few hours, this version will actually write to a different file (appending an 'a','e' or 'r' to the filename) than the original loaded database. This, together with a few minor things will be fixed in the next few days. I'll post again to let you know when this is done. 

Please let me know if you have any problems installing/using this, feedback is much appreciated.

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  • Congrats for ur final report,, I dinn have ne problem veiwing the report, its seems to be gud,, ..! … by Veda Informatics on this entry
  • By the way, if you have any problems with viewing the report, or in using PSALM, please still let me… by on this entry
  • It appears that when I tested PSALM, the computer that I tested it on already had the Bitstream Vera… by on this entry
  • Ah… thank you. The font hasn't been picked up. I'll have a look at what needs to be done. by on this entry
  • Chords aren't displayed in the right place for me. The spacing seems to drift slowly left, so that c… by Steve Rumsby on this entry

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