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Friday, July 28, 2006  

Featured Item: Pillar New Testament Commentary

One of the perils of getting too consumed with module development is that you forget to mention important stuff, like this month's "Featured Item." If you're not familiar with our featured items, just go to the main page of the Accordance web-site and look in the bottom left corner. Every month we feature a new Accordance module or CD-ROM at a discounted price, in an attempt to expose our users to the vast array of material which is already available. This month, which unfortunately is almost over, we've been offering the eight-volume Pillar New Testament Commentary for $199 ($50 off the regular price).

Personally, I think the Pillar commentary is one of the best we've ever done, and it's become one of the first I consult when looking for help with a passage. This commentary, which covers Matthew, Mark, John, Romans, Ephesians, 1-2 Thessalonians, James, and 1-3 John, offers an excellent balance between depth and accessibility. Where some commentaries leave me wishing for more, while others leave me feeling bogged down in technical details, the Pillar tends to cover each passage in depth without getting lost in minutiae. Put another way, the commentary is easy to read without seeming cursory. This is an ideal combination for the busy pastor who needs help with interpreting a passage, but who doesn't have time to delve into overly technical discussions.

The Pillar New Testament Commentary approaches the Biblical text from an evangelical perspective, and its contributors include such well-known evangelical scholars as D.A. Carson, Leon Morris, and Douglas Moo.

If you don't want or need all eight volumes, you can purchase individual volumes for between $30 and $45, but with the current sale, there's never been a better time to grab the whole thing. I hope this is helpful to some of you, and I apologize for not blogging about it sooner.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006  

Behind the Scenes of Module Development

More than a decade ago, I started a side job developing modules for Accordance Bible Software. At that point, I had been an enthusiastic Mac user for several years, but beyond that, I had absolutely no experience in software development. Back then, we only did Bible modules. Other kinds of modules, such as tools, parallels, map backgrounds, etc., came along later. My first project was the New Jerusalem Bible, and I did my work on an already-aging Performa 600 with a 33 MHz 68030 chip! (Anybody remember that far back?)

Because OakTree Software is a small company, I've gotten to wear several different hats over the years, but the bulk of what I do is still module development. My wife kidded me once when looking over my shoulder that what I do looks a little boring, but I actually find it to be a lot of fun.

Okay, so what's involved in developing an Accordance module? Well, it starts with an e-text. This may be supplied by a publisher, something we find freely available on the web, or occasionally something we actually have e-texted ourselves. The e-texts we get may come in a variety of forms and formats, from Word documents and PDFs to (preferably) various iterations of HTML, XML, etc. My job is to take those e-texts and convert them into the format required by our in-house module building software, compile those modules, and then make sure they're up to Accordance standards.

This isn't always as easy as it sounds. There's a lot to think about, especially when developing the Tool modules which now make up the bulk of our new module development. The first thing we do is evaluate the resource to see what category of tool it should be, what logical search "fields" it should be divided into, what kinds of hypertext links it should have, etc. Our focus is never on creating mere electronic versions of printed works, but on developing resources which are as seamless to use as possible.

Next we begin the process of converting the existing e-text into the form we need. We do this using some third-party text editors which have macro or script writing capabilities. Writing macros or scripts to prepare an e-text is always a bit like trying to solve a puzzle, and it's that mental challenge which makes the work fun.

Once we've got the e-text into a form which is good enough to run through our module-building software, we'll go ahead and build an alpha version of the module and check it out within Accordance. Does the browser look right? Are the fields set up properly? Are there any bad hypertext links or other things which don't work as expected? If so, we've got to fix it, re-run the module, and test it again.

Once we're convinced that we've fixed all known problems, the modules are then beta-tested, and the process of refining the them continues. While few modules are ever really error-free, we do our best to ensure that they are as error-free as possible before we release them.

It's hard to talk about our quality control without looking a little like we're breaking our arms trying to pat ourselves on the back, but I am personally very proud of the lengths to which our little company goes to make sure every module is up to our standards. I'm pretty passionate and perfectionistic about the modules I produce, yet when I present those modules to my employers for final review, they tend to be even more discriminating. It is certainly not unusual for them to spot some little issues that I have to go back and fix. And this is true no matter how behind-schedule that module's release happens to be. For an example of that, check out this post from my long-neglected personal blog.

While the work of developing Accordance modules can at time be difficult and even frustrating, it is work which I personally find very rewarding. First there's the puzzle of trying to convert an e-text from some other format to ours, and the sense of accomplishment when a macro actually works! Then there's the excitement of seeing a new resource in Accordance for the first time. And there's the anticipation of how you, our users, will react to all the cool new stuff that's coming. While right now I'm in the thick of finishing up new modules for Library 7, I can't wait to get them into your hands. That's a lot of what keeps me going. :-)

Friday, July 21, 2006  

Light Blogging, Heavy Loads

When I first pushed to start this blog, my employers' biggest hesitation was that I would neglect it once I got too busy. I, of course, assured them that I would not. Well, it would appear they were right, especially since a recent comment observed that "the blog has been really sparse the past few weeks."

Now, in my defense, when I started this blog, I only promised to post "two to three times a week," and to date, there has only been one week (last week) where I only posted once. So the drought hasn't been that bad. ;-) Still, I do apologize for the dearth of blog posts recently. I promise that you can expect a steady stream of new information in the coming weeks.

Okay, so what's been keeping me too busy to listen to my blogging muse? Library 7! Now that we have a new version of Accordance, we need to release new versions of our primary CD-ROM collections, and that means loads of new modules for you.

The Library CD-ROM, which is our primary source for English Bible study resources, has long been a pet project of mine. Every time we update it, I try to see how much new material we can cram in there. This time around, we've added so many new modules of such quality that I think Library 7 will prove to be one of the best Bible software values you can buy. I'll highlight some of the new modules once we're ready to release, but until then, here are some hints of what you can expect:

  • New Greek Resources. Every level of the new Library CD-ROM will include resources for digging deeper into the original Greek behind the New Testament. Until now, we've always placed English resources on the Library CD-ROM, and original language resources on the Scholar's CD-ROM. With Library 7, we're blurring the line between the two just a little—mainly to meet the needs of the pastor who requires more than Bible texts with Strong's numbers, but for whom the Scholar's CD-ROM is overkill.
  • Resources to illustrate the Bible. When I say "illustrate," I mean that both figuratively and literally. I'll leave it to you to figure out what that means.
  • New Systematic Theologies. Library 6 included Calvin's Institutes and Charles Hodge's three-volume Systematic Theology. Library 7 adds several additional works of theology from a wider range of perspectives and traditions.
  • A New Modern Translation of the Bible
  • And, of course, you can expect new commentaries, dictionaries, devotional resources, and historical works. I'm excited to tell you more about all this material, but as I said, I'd better wait until the CD-ROM is released. Don't worry, it won't be too much longer. . .

    Tuesday, July 18, 2006  

    Getting Even More Graphic About Love

    Two weeks ago, we did a search for the principal Greek words for "love," and then began graphing that search in a variety of ways. First, we did the now familiar Analysis Graph, which plots the frequency of each item being analyzed across the entire search range. Next we looked at the Analysis Bar Chart and the Analysis Pie Chart, which plot the total number of occurrences of each item analyzed. Today, I want to look at the Table Bar Chart.

    For those of you who are following along, we're doing a simple OR search for the words agapao, agapé, phileo, and philia. We can do this by entering each word, then hitting shift-command-O to insert the OR command, entering the next word, and so forth. Or we can choose "Enter Lexical Forms..." from the Search menu (or use the keyboard shortcut command-L) and pick the forms we want from the list. The latter approach gets us a search argument that looks like this:

    Click OK to perform this search, then click the Details button. Now select Table Bar Chart from the Graph drop-down menu. Make sure "Average Hits" is selected in the pop-up menu at the bottom right corner of the window. You should now see a graph which looks like this:

    Before I explain the Table Bar Chart, perhaps I'd better review the Table, a form of statistical detail which has been around since Accordance 1.0. Go ahead and click the Table button of the details window, and you'll get a table like this:

    The Table gives a book by book (or chapter by chapter) listing of the total number of hits, the average number of hits, and optionally, the total number of words and verses. The Table Bar Chart simply represents this information graphically.

    If we look again at the Table Bar Chart of Average Hits, we can see immediately that 1 John speaks of love more frequently than any other book of the New Testament. But 1 John is a relatively small book, so while the average hits may be high, there may be larger books which have a higher total number of hits. We can see if that is indeed the case simply by selecting Total Hits from the pop-up menu:

    Here it would appear that the bar for John is actually a bit longer than that for 1 John, indicating that John actually speaks of love more often than 1 John. Unfortunately, the actual count doesn't appear, making it hard to really see how much of a difference exists. The reason the count does not immediately appear is that the default window size is too small to show the count. If you were to click the green jelly-bean button in the top left corner to expand the window, you would see the count displayed on the left side, immediately beneath the book name. Another way to see the count is to use Command-T (the one keyboard shortcut you absolutely must learn) to open the Set Table Bar Chart Display dialog box.

    There you'll see an option to display the count on the right rather than the left. (Looking back now, we should have made that the default display, since it is more likely to show up at smaller window sizes.) You'll also see an option to "Sort by count." If you're following along, go ahead and click both those options, then click OK. You should see something like this:

    Here we can see immediately that John uses these words for love 57 times, while 1 John uses them 46 times. Note how the sort by count option displays each book in descending order based on the count, rather than in canonical order.

    Okay, so the Gospel of John is the book which talks the most about love, but what is the chapter which speaks the most about love? We can find this out by using Command-T again, and checking the option to Show Chapter Detail:

    Wow! 1 John 4 is the clear winner, speaking of love no less than 27 times. That's three times the number of occurrences found in 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter commonly referred to as the "Love Chapter." I guess the person who first came up with that label didn't have Accordance 7!

    In an upcoming post, I'll talk about using the Table Bar Chart to show Total Words and Total Verses. In the meantime, be sure to impress your friends by informing them that 1 Corinthians 13 isn't really the "Love Chapter"; it's 1 John 4. :-)

    Thursday, July 13, 2006  

    Version 7.0.2 Now Available

    I'm pleased to announce that a new update to Accordance 7 is now available for download. Version 7.0.2 of Accordance squashes a number of obscure bugs which have been reported over the past few weeks, and includes a few minor enhancements. You can download it here.

    What's new in the update? Here's a brief summary:

    Minor Enhancements:

    1. Search Commands (such as OR or AND) can now be used with extra search fields in Tools and User Tools. (This is a minor enhancement which makes for VERY powerful searches.)
    2. The asterisk (*) character is now treated as punctuation, so that it does not get included in the selection when an adjacent word is double-clicked. More importantly, it is now ignored when you Compare Texts with Ignore punctuation turned on.
    3. When using the Text Compare feature in Greek with the Ignore Upper Case option set, the final sigma differences between words are also ignored, as when comparing the Codex Bezae (GNT-BEZ) with the GNT-T module.
    4. Improved hypertexting to the Timeline.
    5. In response to user requests, the version number is no longer displayed in the Accordance menu of the menu bar. (The version number is still displayed in the OS X dock, however.)
    6. A couple of other enhancements have been made which relate to upcoming modules releases, but I can't tell you about those yet! ;-)

    Bug Fixes:

    1. Fixed the display of the Analysis Pie Chart and Bar Chart in OS-X when the text and graphics smoothing option is turned off in the Appearance pane in the Preferences dialog. (Since I never have text smoothing turned off, I have no idea what this bug was all about, but hey, it's on the list!)
    2. Fixed crash that can occur when all texts are in folders, and a saved parallel window is opened.
    3. Fixed crash that occurs when selecting the Amplify>Context menu item with a Tool or User Tool as the front window.
    4. Fixed the margins of the User Tools Edit windows so that the text lines up with the left title markers.
    5. Fixed Instant Details display of a Scripture reference in a User Notes window when the Show All Text option is off.
    6. When a Search Window has a User Notes pane that is selected, typing in the lower right Reference box no longer causes the selected User Notes pane to open its Edit User Notes window.
    7. Fixed some minor printing and copying issues.

    There are about eight or nine other bug fixes listed, but honestly, they're all too obscure to be worth mentioning and too hard to explain. Suffice it to say that there are lots of little ways this update to Accordance will improve your life!

    Friday, July 07, 2006  

    Didn't Know You Had It? Hymns and Hymn Writers

    Well, between working hard on new modules and simultaneously celebrating the 4th of July and the birth of my oldest son, this week seems to have gotten away from me. I had intended to blog about the Table Bar Chart, and I just haven't been able to pull that post together. In the meantime, here's another in our series of posts on modules that you may already have in your Accordance library, but which you may not be that aware of. This time, we'll focus on the Hymns and Hymn Writers modules, both of which are included in the Introductory Level of the Library CD-ROM.

    The Hymns module is a general tool containing the lyrics to many of the best-known English hymns. It can be searched by Hymn Titles, Contents, Scripture, or Author. I used this module all the time when I was pressed into service as a worship leader a few years ago. When planning the service, I would search for words related to the pastor's sermon topic, first in the Hymn Titles field, and then in the Contents field. I would scroll through the hits using the Mark buttons and find one or two hymns which seemed most appropriate.

    Thankfully, the worship leading duties at my church have long since been passed to people who are much more musically gifted than myself. Yet occasionally, my wife and I are asked to sing a hymn as special music. At such times, I just locate the hymn, select all the lyrics, and choose "Print Selection..." from the File menu to get a nice little lyric crib sheet.

    The Hymns module can also be extremely useful as a source of sermon illustrations or even of personal inspiration. Simply select a key word in the passage you're studying and then choose the Hymns module from the Resource palette to find every hymn which contains that word. More often than not, you'll find a bit of verse which concisely expresses the idea you're trying to get across, or which helps to focus your thoughts on that subject.

    The Hymn Writers module is an English tool which works hand in hand with the Hymns module. If you stumble across a hymn by an author you don't know, simply select that author's name and amplify to Hymn Writers. The brief biographies provided there can help you understand the theological perspective or denominational background of a particular hymn's author. What's more, the lives of these hymn writers can often be as inspirational as the hymns themselves, and that biographical information can likewise be used to illustrate a sermon or other lesson.

    If you own these resources and aren't taking advantage of them, be sure to give them another look.

    Monday, July 03, 2006  

    A Graphic Discussion of Love

    In this series of posts on the new graphing features of Accordance 7, we've talked at length about the Analysis Graph, which enables you to break down a search by multiple criteria and observe the frequency of each item across the search range. Today I want to introduce you to some of the other new graphs and charts. We'll do that by "looking for love" in the Greek New Testament.

    As most people know, there are several Greek words which are translated by the English word "love." In the Greek New Testament, the principle words are the verbs agapao and phileo, along with their corresponding nouns, agapé and philia. Let's do an OR search to find any of these four words. I can do this by entering each word, then hitting shift-command-O to insert the OR command, entering the next word, and so forth. I can also choose "Enter Lexical Forms..." from the Search menu (or use the keyboard shortcut command-L) and pick the forms I want from the list. If I take the latter approach, the words I select will appear within parentheses, separated by commas, like this:

    Click OK to perform this search, and Accordance will find 285 occurrences. If we click the Details button and choose Analysis Graph from the Graph drop down menu, we can then break down the results of the search across entire the search range. The obvious way to break this search down is by lexical form, so that we can compare where each of the four words we searched for is found:

    Once again, if your Analysis Graph doesn't look exactly like mine, don't panic. I've simply customized the display by using the one keyboard shortcut you absolutely must learn: Command-T. In this case, I've chosen to Stack the area graphs rather than overlaying them on top of each other, and I've chosen a black background with a grid.

    Looking at this graph, there are several things which jump out at us. First, notice how frequent agapao and agapé are, as opposed to phileo and philia, which are used much less frequently. In fact, the great majority of occurrences of phileo appear in a single book: the gospel of John. Within the gospel of John itself, phileo is used most frequently in the famous passage in chapter 21, where agapao and phileo appear in a roughly alternating pattern (note the corresponding spike in the graph of agapao).

    Another thing to note about this graph are the disproportionately high spikes for agapao and agapé around 1st-3rd John. These seriously overshadow the spike of agapé in 1 Corinthians 13. Hmmm, maybe 1 Corinthians 13 isn't really the "love chapter" after all!

    Of course, since the Analysis Graph plots the frequency of occurrence rather than just the number of occurrences, this graph may be skewed in favor of the smaller books. To get a graph of the number of occurrences, we need to turn to the Analysis Bar Chart. To do this, simply choose Analysis Bar Chart from the Graph drop-down menu of the Details Workspace. Make sure you choose LEX in the pop-up menu at the bottom right corner of the window, and you should see something like this:

    The Analysis Bar Chart plots the total number of occurrences of each form, and like the Analysis Graph, you can switch to a different category of information simply by selecting it from the pop-up menu. So, for example, if you wanted to break down the various moods of the verbs included in this search, you could choose Mood. Or if you wanted to compare the cases of the two nouns (along with the participles of the two verbs), you could choose Case. If you choose a form which does not apply to some of the words found by your search, those words are simply ignored.

    The Analysis Pie Chart is similar to the Analysis Bar Chart in that it graphs the total number of occurrences, but it differs in the way that information is displayed. Here's what you'll get if you choose Analysis Pie Chart from the Graph drop-down menu and choose LEX in the pop-up menu:

    The pie chart makes it clear just how much more agapao and agapé are used rather than phileo and philia. If you customize the appearance of the Pie Chart to show the count as a percentage of the total, you'll see that agapao and agapé account for nearly 91% of our search results. And again, if you want to look at another category of information, such as Tense, just select that category from the pop-up menu:

    The final new graph I want to expose you to is the Table Bar Chart; but this post is already pretty long, and I want to give that chart the attention it deserves. We'll therefore save the Table Bar Chart for later in the week. I guess you can expect this search for love to get even more "graphic" in the near future!