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  News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Thursday, August 30, 2007  

The Logic of Triple-Clicking

On a recent Forum thread, someone asked for a keyboard equivalent to triple-clicking a word to look it up in a dictionary or commentary. I wrote in and said that we could do something like that, but you would still have to use the mouse to select the word to be looked up.

Shortly after my contribution to the thread, another user chimed in to say that he felt "triple-clicking is a pain" and that "anything past 2 clicks might as well be 20." While I obviously don't agree with him, I felt he had every right to "Amen" a feature request and I didn't give it another thought.

Today, however, I noticed that someone had attributed this user's complaint to me:

I agree with David Lang that triple clicking isn't ideal, although I'm not sure 3 is the same as 20! That would be a pain.

Okay, so now I had to set the record straight, and while I was at it, I figured I might as well explain the logic behind why we make you triple-click. I'll reproduce my post here for the benefit of those of you who don't follow the Accordance Forums:

Don't pin that on me! Someone else said that.

I'm a fan of triple-clicking. I've seen programs use a single-click to look up words, in which case you can't do anything without accidentally getting some dictionary window popping up. Other programs use a double-click, but if I just want to select a word and do something other than look it up, I can't just double-click like I do in every other Mac program.

Triple-clicking is a logical extension of the double-click. The old Macintosh Bible book used to explain that double-clicking an icon in the Finder was really a two-step action: with the first click you selected the file, and with the second you indicated that you wanted to open it. In Accordance, double-clicking a word selects it, and then the third click perfoms an action.

Incidentally, this is why you only have to double-click a label in the Atlas or Timeline. Because those items are not treated as a string of text, you click once to select the label and once more to perform the action. So again, we're consistent with Mac interface standards.

Personally, I don't find triple-clicking any harder than double-clicking, but perhaps I'm more coordinated than some! ;-)

Okay, maybe the jab at the end was a little uncalled for, but I just couldn't resist—particularly since physical coordination has never been my strong suit!

My point was that we thought through the triple-clicking procedure pretty carefully, and felt it achieved the best balance between convenience and consistency with Mac interface standards. It may take some getting used to, but if you're like me, double-clicking took a little getting used to when you first tried your hand at using a mouse. While we'll certainly look into ways to make things even more convenient, there really is a method to our madness! ;-)

Thursday, August 23, 2007  

The Most Heated Seminary Debate

Yesterday I wrote about the challenge I had picking up all the theological lingo at the beginning of my seminary studies. That reminded me of a funny experience I had that first semester. In between classes, I was walking through the courtyard of the seminary when I heard two students engaged in a heated debate. What, I wondered, could be the subject of this controversy? What theological difficulty could have inspired such passion and fervor? Were they debating Calvinism versus Arminianism? Infant versus Believers' Baptism? Biblical inerrancy? The nature of justification? Curious, I came within earshot and eavesdropped on the conversation.

This is what I heard:

"The Mac is the wave of the future."

"How can you say that?!"

This was my rather humorous introduction to the passion with which Mac and PC users debate the merits of their respective computer platforms. Since I did not yet own a computer at that time, it all struck me as rather strange. But it wasn't long after that I chose a side and began defending that choice with almost as much fervor as I had seen that day.

That was back in 1992, and it's been interesting to see how that debate has raged and changed over the years. In the early years, when I would explain that Accordance was developed only for the Mac, I would get raised eyebrows and curious questions as to why in the world we would want to limit ourselves to such a narrow segment of the market. By 1996 and 1997 the quizzical looks were replaced with open sneers and dire predictions of Apple's imminent demise. Today, Apple's resurgence seems to be in full swing, and our Mac-only status is now perceived as more "cool" than "crazy."

Whether Macs are generally seen as nearing extinction or as the "next big thing," our response to the "why Mac only?" question has always been the same: our goal is not to take over the world, but to develop the best Bible software around. Developing for the Mac enables us to do just that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007  

Learning the Lingo

Many seminaries around the country are already beginning classes, and it can be a daunting experience for many new students. For someone like myself, who did not grow up with a strong church background, I heard fellow students tossing out theological terms and religious lingo which I had never heard before. Not wanting to appear stupid, I wasn't about to ask them what a "paedobaptist" is or what "Pelagianism" is. My solution was to buy a reference work called the New Dictionary of Theology. Whenever I stumbled across a theological term, figure, or movement I wasn't familiar with, I would look it up in this resource and find a fairly balanced discussion of its meaning and significance.

When I started working for Accordance, I dreamed of one day getting this valuable resource as an Accordance module, so I was delighted when I learned that it would be included in the Essential IVP Reference Collection. That, along with the pocket dictionaries of Biblical Studies, New Testament Greek, Theological Terms, and Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion, are a great help to new seminarians trying to learn the "lingo."

I've talked about the Essential IVP Reference Collection before, because it contains about $450 worth of IVP Reference Works for just $119 (at the current sale price). That works out to about $10 per volume for dictionaries and commentaries which typically go for about $40 a piece in print. That makes the IVP Collection one of the best values we offer—perfect for cash-strapped seminarians trying to look like they know what everyone's talking about!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007  

Reading the Bible Without Distraction

I've run across several blog posts recently talking about The Books of the Bible, an edition of the TNIV translation which presents the text in a single column without chapter and verse numbers, footnote markers, section headings, and the like. The thinking behind this is that those things tend to break up the text of the Bible, so that we read it as a series of individual aphorisms rather than as a continuous narrative or coherent argument.

While I think the folks behind The Books of the Bible are on the right track in many respects, my first thought when I saw it was, "Big deal, I've been able to do this with Accordance for years!" I hope my Accordance snobbery can be forgiven. I realize that a lot more went into The Books of the Bible than a simple formatting change. I also realize that reading the Bible in software is a different experience than reading it in print. Nevertheless, Accordance offers such flexibility in the way you format the text of the Bible that you can easily remove those elements which distract from continuous reading. Better still, you can enjoy that format in any translation. Heck, you can even view the same translation in side-by-side panes in two different formats!

Ever since version 1.0, Accordance users have been able to remove verse references from the text entirely. In translations which have paragraph markers (most, but not all, do), users could also format the text so that it flows in continuous paragraphs rather than the default format of displaying each verse on a separate line. In later versions, we added the capability to remove superscript characters from the text, to remove poetic formatting, to remove the red letter formatting for the words of Jesus, and even to hide your own highlighting (without removing it permanently). All of these options are available in the Set Text Display dialog box, which is accessible via the one keyboard shortcut you absolutely must learn, command-T.

When we overhauled the Accordance interface in version 6, we realized that many people had never really discovered all of these different formatting options, and that a lot of users wanted to be able to format the text in a way that was more conducive to reading. So we took some of those options which had always been available in the Set Text Display dialog and put them right in the Display menu, so that you could quickly reformat the text of the Bible.

The Show text as submenu lets you choose whether you want the text displayed as Separate Verses or continuous Paragraphs. You can even choose to hide the text and just show the references!

The Hide Verse References option lets you toggle the references on or off on the fly. That way, you can have them when you want them and quickly hide them when you don't.

In the following screenshot, you can see that I've removed the verse references and formatted the text as continuous paragraphs with space before and after each paragraph. I've also hidden all the superscript characters.

As you can see, even though the references are hidden, I can still tell what verse is at the top of the window pane by looking at the Go To box in the bottom right corner of the window. Thus, I still know generally where I am in the text, but the text is not chopped up by all those additional markings. Now if I use the auto-scroll feature of version 7, I can read the text with ease, without being distracted by all the helpful features which have been added to our Bibles over the last 500 hundred years.

Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, August 10, 2007  

Anne of Avonlea in Accordance?

A while back, I read the book Anne of Green Gables to my kids, and we all (including the boys and myself) thoroughly enjoyed it. We were eager to continue with the sequel, Anne of Avonlea, so I went to the Project Gutenberg web-site and downloaded the e-text.

I had no desire to read from the raw e-text, so I did some basic html formatting using a text editor and imported the text into Accordance as a User Tool. I could now specify whatever font I wanted, use the auto-scroll feature as an aid in reading, and even search the text if we needed to look back at something we had previously read. All of these things (except the auto-scroll) could easily be done in most word processors, but for some reason, I found reading from within Accordance more enjoyable. (Perhaps because I use it all the time?)

At any rate, I now have Anne of Avonlea available from within Accordance. Who knows, maybe someday I'll use it to find a suitable illustration for teaching. I've done the same thing with other e-texts, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' various Tarzan adventures. Granted, these kinds of books are not exactly an integral part of my Bible study, but it's nice to have a convenient place to store them and a pleasant environment for reading them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007  

Amplifying Outside of Accordance

In Accordance, amplifying is the process of automatically searching for any text you select. If I select a word in the text of the Bible, and then choose a commentary or dictionary from the Resource palette, that resource I choose will automatically be searched for the word I selected. Alternatively, I can control-click on a word and use the Search For, Search In, or Look Up options to search various resources for that word.

But what if I want to broaden my search a little more? What if I want to search the web for a selected word? What if I want to search the files on my computer for that word? If you're using OS X, you can go to the Services menu in the Accordance menu and choose options like Search with Google or Spotlight. These services can even be invoked with handy keyboard shortcuts.

Using Services like these, you can extend the amplifying capabilities of Accordance to the web or the desktop.

Thursday, August 02, 2007  

Bending the Rules

Occasionally, good interface design means bending the rules somewhat.

According to Apple's interface guidelines, radio buttons should be used when you want to give the user two or more mutually exclusive choices. You can see this in the Search for Words/Verses radio buttons in the Search window. You can pick one or the other, but not both.

If you want to give the user a large number of mutually exclusive choices, your best bet is to use a pop-up menu. The pop-up menu gives you a space-saving way to list numerous options. When the user selects an item from the menu, that item is displayed in the pop-up menu itself. If you click and hold on the pop-up menu to see all the items, the selected item will have a check mark beside it.

If you want to enable the user to select multiple items, you're supposed to use checkboxes. Checkboxes are similar to radio buttons in that each option is visible at the same time, but where only one radio button can be activated at a time, checkboxes can be used to select multiple options in combination.

Now, the problem with checkboxes is that they take up a lot of space, and if you have a bunch of different choices, you end up with so much visual clutter it can be hard to find the boxes you want to check.

One place where users need the ability to enter a variety of options in combination with each other is in the entry of Greek and Hebrew grammatical tags. For example, I may want to find verbs in the first or second person, the aorist, imperfect, or perfect tenses, the middle voice, and the imperative or infinitive moods. That's a lot of different options to select.

Most programs which offer an interface for selecting these kinds of options present their users with a dialog box peppered with checkboxes for each individual grammatical characteristic. Technically, they're using the correct interface element—the one which allows for multiple choices in combination with each other—but the unfortunate side effect is a visually overwhelming interface.

In Accordance, the tag entry dialog box for each part of speech uses a simple series of pop-up menus to present the user with all the available choices:

But remember, a pop-up menu is designed to let the user select just one option, which gets displayed in the pop-up menu itself. So what if you want to select more than one option in each grammatical category?

Here's where we bend the rules a bit. To select more than one option from each pop-up (such as first and second from the Person pop-up), just hold down the shift key while selecting the options you want. The most recent tag you selected will be displayed in the pop-up menu, and any additional tags will be listed to the right of the pop-up. Like so:

As I said, we're bending the rules a bit, but the result is an interface which avoids the visual confusion of innumerable checkboxes while still displaying every option the user selects.

You can do the same thing with the style pop-up menus of the various Text Display dialogs. For example, if you want your Bible text References to appear in bold italic, simply hold the shift key down while selecting both bold and italic from the pop-up menu. Some sample text to the right of the dialog will display all the currently selected styles.

You can also shift-select multiple layers in the Map window to overlay, for example, all three of Paul's Missionary Journeys at once. When you do that, a plus appears in the pop-up beside the first selected layer to indicate that there are additional layers selected. If you click and hold the pop-up menu, a check mark will appear beside all the selected layers.

In every case, when we enable pop-up menus to be used to select multiple items, we offer visual feedback that more than one option has been selected. The result is an interface which is clean and simple, flexible enough to allow for multiple choices, and careful to keep the additional choices visible.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007  

Back to School Sale

Seminary Doesn't Have to be a Burden!
Lighten your load with Accordance Bible Software

Like it or not, it's time to head back to school, and whether you're a seminary student faced with the prospect of buying a ton of books, a professor making preparations for a new class, or someone happily out of school who just likes saving money, you'll want to take advantage of our back to school sale.

I won't repeat all the details here, but the sale lasts through the month of August and offers substantial savings on the Scholar's Collection Core Bundle, all three levels of the Library CD-ROM, the Video Training DVD, the Atlas, PhotoGuide, and Timeline, etc. So leave the heavy books behind and load up your hard drive. You'll save time, money, and most importantly, your back!