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Open source is 'only reliable way' to preserve human history, argues Vatican

From The Inquirer:

"The main question at the start of our project was which format to save the texts. We needed to make sure [people] could still read the digital files in 50 years' time."

Ammenti explained that, in order for the manuscripts to be readable, the Vatican Library opted for open source tools that do not require proprietary platforms, such as Microsoft Office, to be read.

Ammenti goes on to explain that the Vatican has chosen to use the FITS image format in order to preserve digitized scans of manuscripts and other works for decades, hopefully centuries, into the future.

See past post on OSC: Vatican Secret Archive is Digitizing to Open FITS Format.

The Future of Open Source Catholic

When I started Open Source Catholic in 2009, I was hoping to create a centralized resource for Catholics who were involved in OSS, sharing of ideas, tips and techniques for technology and web use for Catholic organizations, and a forum for Catholic software and app developers.

I was also employed by the Church at the time, and spent a good deal of time working on the problem of the Catholic Church being far behind tech trends in the wider tech world.

Times have changed, this site has basically been on mothballs for a couple years, and besides keeping the site patched for security updates, I haven't really had any incentive/plans to keep the site or the community going.

If someone else in the OSC community would like to take the reins, host the site, etc., I'd be happy to turn this over to them. Otherwise, my plan at this point is to turn the site into a static site, put it on mothballs permanently, and close out the social media accounts.

Are there any objections? Any feedback on this plan? I've been putting off this decision for some time, but it seems the time has come to do something about it, as crawlers (which aren't respecting robots.txt, and which I don't want to spend time fighting) have begun to practically DoS the server this site is on from time to time, and activity throughout the OSC realm has dropped to basically nil.

Church.io OneBody directory and social networking software

While browsing Hacker News today, I noticed a neat project by Tim Morgan, OneBody. It is described as a "private member portal for churches" that offers "church directory and social networking" for your Church.

Church.IO Directory Screenshot

There's a great discussion in the Hacker News thread (Show HN: OneBody Church Directory software I've been hacking on for 7 years), and you can get involved with the project (or just download the software) from Church.IO.

Are you setting up your parish websites for failure?

Earlier this year, a study found that religious websites have more malware than porn websites. Unfortunately, this is not too surprising.

Pornography sites are often run by very profitable media conglomerates, and it's in their best interests to have reliable, fast websites. Religious websites (like your parish website, or a site for a small nonprofit) are often run on a shoestring budget and maintained by volunteers, if at all.

In the past, when websites were mostly static pages, and sites were hosted mostly on shared hosting, where the hosting provider provided (somewhat) timely server patches, leaving things be didn't cause much of an issue. But nowadays, with most parish websites running on Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal, or some other CMS that involves a database, PHP, Django, and/or other layers of services, leaving things be is a very, very bad idea.

Additionally, with many more developers and small development companies seeing the value of VPS hosting instead of shared hosting, servers themselves are lagging behind in terms of updated server software (Apache, PHP, MySQL, Linux, Rails, etc.). In fact, web servers are targeted more than Windows XP by hackers, mostly because so many are way behind on security updates (or have never been updated since they were originally built!).

Free the Word - Allowing Access to Evangelical Church Texts

Brandon Vogt has posted a petition on his website titled Free the Word: Why the Church Needs to Release Her Teachings to the World. I've posted on Open Source Catholic about the same topic in the past (see the links at the bottom of this post), and I'm glad to see this getting more attention.

The problem: Right now, many of the faithful are being restricted from fully sharing Scripture and other teachings of the Church in the most effective ways. We need to be flooding the world with the lumen fidei—the light of faith—yet there are current Church policies preventing this from happening.

The current licensing policies for the most essential texts and teachings of the Church (e.g. the Bible, the Catechism, encyclicals, etc.) are making it difficult, expensive, or impossible for Catholics to fairly reproduce and share them. This well-meaning but imprudent policy is directly hampering the Church's evangelistic mission.

More entries on OSC relating to open access to Church texts:

My Confessor app/service - know when your priest is hearing confessions

God may be omnipresent — but His priests aren’t.

So a holy man in Madison, Wisc., has turned to app development, along with divine guidance, to find a better way to tend to the needs of his 800-family flock.

Father Richard Heilman is launching a My Confessor App that will let his parishioners know when and where he is available to listen to their sins.

After 25 years in the ministry, Heilman believes Catholics could do with a bit more priest-and-me time. His preferred dosage is at least once a month.

“Maybe more often if you’re dealing with repetitive sin,” Heilman told The News. “A lot of us aren’t in a state of grace and confessions help that grace flow freely.”

Continue reading on the New York Daily News website

Rev. Heilman's service, and the priestly ministry from which it flows, is spot-on, and very much needed. I hope he can make the app/service work even better and gain adoption by many more parishes around the country. If I can see how long it will take me to get a haircut anywhere within 100 miles of a city, and schedule my next haircut; why can't I see if a priest is available for confession at one of the hundreds of parishes in any given diocese? To say nothing of mass times, adoration times, etc.

Check out the My Confessor website and app »

A New Kind of Church Directory, Built on Open Source

I recently launched a little site for finding Catholic parishes and mass times called parish.io. It takes a very different approach to gathering parish info and mass times than other sites in this category. Not only is this approach beneficial to users (more accurate and complete mass schedules), I think it's of particular interest to other software developers.

Rather than relying on manual data entry, parish.io gathers all of its info by scraping diocese and parish sites. It took months of hacking to validate the concept and develop the scraping logic, and while it's not perfect (some parishes just don't have sites, or don't provide mass times, or put them in unparseable formats), overall I'm quite happy with the results I'm seeing. Here's what I used to build it:

Python: My programming language of choice. Database aside, everything that follows is a Python library.

lxml: Don't be fooled by the name. lxml is just as capable of parsing HTML as XML, especially given its support for CSS selectors (similar to jQuery). It's very fast, and ably handles most poorly formed HTML. Some people are partial to the API in BeautifulSoup, but a few small hangups aside, lxml has performed so well that I've never been very tempted to switch.

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