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

Thursday, March 27, 2008  

Apostles and Apostrophes

It sounds a little like some new fantasy role-playing game, but the title of this post actually refers to an interesting search someone recently presented me with. He wanted to search an untagged English text for the plural possessive apostles', and he couldn't figure out how to do it.

By default, Accordance ignores case and apostrophes for purposes of searching. Thus, a search for sons' will find Sons, sons, Son's, son's, Sons', and sons'. If I want to find a specific form, like son's, I simply need to use the equals sign (=), like this: =son's.

But if I want to find a possessive plural, like sons' or apostles', placing the equals sign before those words will not work. If I try to search for =sons', the word list comes up to indicate that this word does not exist.

But it does exist! In Genesis 6:18, most translations have the phrase "your sons' wives." Yet if I try to do an exact search for sons' I get an error. What's going on here?

Whenever we create an Accordance module, we build an index of every word in the text. The list of words in this index is what comes up in the Select Words dialog box whenever you try to enter a word which is not in the text. When the program used to build this index runs across a word followed by an apostrophe, like sons' or apostles', it is ambiguous whether this is an apostrophe which is actually part of the word, or a single quotation mark which is not part of the word. We therefore index these words simply as sons and apostles. If you scan through the word list, you'll notice it has no plural possessives ending in apostrophes.

So how do we find a plural possessive? By searching for a phrase consisting of the plural word followed by an apostrophe. Like this:

The period symbol will find every occurrence of whatever character immediately follows it, and is especially useful for finding punctuation, Greek accents, Hebrew cantillation marks and vowel points, etc. So by entering the word "apostles," a space, and a period followed by an apostrophe, Accordance will find every plural possessive of apostle. Note that because the apostrophe can also be a single quotation mark, this search will also find any occurrence of "apostles" at the end of a quotation enclosed within single quotes.

This has been a pretty drawn out explanation of a relatively simple search, but I wanted you to understand the why as well as the how behind this search for apostles and apostrophes.

Monday, March 24, 2008  

Is the Writing on the Wall? Part 2

On Friday, I began to engage the comments of a blogger who wrote that Accordance has been "left in the dust" by the alpha release of a Mac port of a major Windows Bible program. I don't generally respond to negative reviews here, but I felt it necessary in this case because of this blogger's position as an executive at a Christian publishing house and the misleading nature of his assertions.

In my previous post, I dealt at length with the first of his four reasons that Mac users should opt for the Windows program over Accordance: namely, that it is the "largest provider of digital texts" (true) and "All major Christian publishers are using them as their platform of choice" (simply not true). Today, I want briefly to address the blogger's last three assertions.

His second assertion is that Accordance's historical advantages in terms of original language study have been practically eliminated by this other program's more recent efforts and offerings. That is something users must decide for themselves, and I'll leave it to those who have tried both programs' original language capabilities to make those comparisons. I will simply point out that there are plenty of people who specialize in original language study who would strongly disagree with this blogger's assessment. I would also point out that Accordance is not standing still. Some groundbreaking original language features are slated for the next version of Accordance.

The blogger's third reason for recommending that Mac users eschew Accordance is Accordance's "clunky" interface and failure to keep up with the "evolving Mac interface." I'm really not sure what that means, since Accordance was the first Bible program for OS X, and since we have systematically added support for Aqua interface standards and such OS X technologies as Quartz rendering, OpenGL, Services, Widgets, multiple users, Universal Binary (coming very soon), etc.

I have looked at the Mac alpha to which this gentleman has compared Accordance, and saw nothing particularly Mac-like about the interface. Most of the interface conventions follow a web-browser model rather than anything specific to the Mac, and at least some of the interface widgets are carried over directly from the Windows product rather than replaced with Aqua controls. To be fair, it is an alpha release, and the interface may well change dramatically. My point is simply that this blogger's statements about interface make little sense to me.

Now, as a long-time user of this other Bible program, I can certainly understand this gentleman finding Accordance's radically different interface approach to be disconcerting. Any time you have to adjust to a new way of doing things, the new way can feel awkward and clumsy, even if it is actually more streamlined and efficient.

I worked in an office way back in the days of Windows 3.1, and I was surprised to find our secretary complaining about how "clunky" Word for Windows was in comparison to WordPerfect for DOS! This woman had been using WordPerfect for years and knew every arcane alt-ctrl-function key combination by heart. Now all of a sudden she was digging through menus trying to find out how to italicize text. Although most would agree that the menu-driven interface was easier (heck, even the keyboard shortcuts were simpler!), it was clunky to her. The same thing is true for most Windows users who switch to the Mac. They struggle with the differences and find themselves thinking of the Mac as "clunky."

That's not to say that the Accordance interface can't be improved. It certainly can. But if the Accordance interface is judged by how much it is or is not like another program with which a user is more familiar, Accordance will always suffer in the comparison.

This blogger's final reason for recommending his readers choose this other program over Accordance is that it is the only program which offers certain Lutheran resources, such as those published by his employer. This point is hard to argue with, but the reasoning behind it is strikingly circular. If the publishing house has chosen to work exclusively with one Bible software program, then of course that program will offer more of those materials! Conversely, this one real advantage could easily be removed if that company would also choose to license its materials for use with Accordance. As this blogger has himself written, "competition is a good thing." Publishers can choose to squelch competition by deciding which Bible software program their customers must use, or they can encourage competition by licensing to multiple software developers and letting the users decide which is best.

As it was originally stated, this blogger's case against Accordance sounded particularly damning. Fortunately, most of his assertions were based on erroneous assumptions and hasty conclusions. Ultimately, I know that Accordance is not for everyone, and that some people do prefer other approaches to Bible study. There is certainly room in the Macintosh world for competing and complementary Bible software programs. The appearance of one need not spell the death of another. And where Accordance is concerned, you can rest assured it will not.

Friday, March 21, 2008  

Is the Writing on the Wall?

Recently, a major Windows Bible software developer released a preliminary alpha of their long-awaited Mac version. The reaction so far has been decidedly . . . mixed. On the one hand, recent Mac switchers who have long used this program on the PC are happy to be able to access at least some of the resources they once purchased without having to use Parallels or BootCamp. On the other hand, most people have reported that there is still a long way to go before this program is truly ready for release. In spite of claims that the "wait is finally over," it would appear that, in fact, it is not.

The most curious reaction I've seen is from those who are already predicting the inevitable demise of Accordance. It won't be the first time. In the early nineties there were those who questioned our sanity for developing Bible software for the "shrinking Mac market." In 1997 there were those who told us that Apple would soon go out of business and Accordance would sink with them. Three years ago, when this Windows developer announced it would release a Mac version in six months, some predicted that Accordance would be unable to survive the increased competition. This week, I stumbled across the blog of a book publisher who thinks that Accordance has effectively been "left in the dust" by the release of this alpha.

I'm beginning to feel a bit like Mark Twain when he returned from overseas to discover that most Americans believed him to have died: "Ladies and gentlemen, the rumors of [our] demise have been greatly exaggerated."

Normally, I wouldn't bother addressing these gloomy prophecies of our inevitable demise, but the blogger mentioned above actually gave reasons he thought the writing was on the wall. And since his position may give the impression that he actually knows whereof he speaks, I feel it necessary to point out that most of what he's written is simply inaccurate.

First, he argues that this Windows developer is the largest provider of digital texts. That much is true. But he goes on to say that "All major Christian publishers are using them as their platform of choice." That simply is not true.

By all accounts, I would think Zondervan would qualify as a "major" Christian publisher, yet most of their electronic materials are exclusive to their own Pradis software on the PC, and Accordance on the Mac. That means resources like NIDNTT and NIDOTTE, the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Expositor's Bible Commentary, the NIV Study Bible and Student Bible, Mounce's Basics of Biblical Greek grammar, etc. are simply not available for the "largest provider of digital texts." Then there's Hendrickson, which as far as I know, has not licensed materials like Spicq's Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Jenni-Westermann's Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, or the New International Biblical Commentary to the other guys. And of course, if we're talking about resources which are unique to Accordance, there are also numerous original language resources as well as our unparalleled Bible Atlas, PhotoGuide, and Timeline.

Personally, I would prefer not to list all the resources which are "exclusive" to Accordance, because I've always felt that Bible programs should be judged by their feature sets and interfaces rather than by who offers which resource. It is users who are hurt by being forced to use this program or that program in order to have access to a given book, and it's unfortunate that it has to be that way. This is partly the fault of we software developers, and partly the result of publishers' inability or unwillingness to support every conceivable software format. Thus, while unfortunate, the you-need-this-program-for-this-book syndrome in Bible software is not likely to change any time soon. And when pushed, I guess I'm not above listing the resources you can only get here! :-)

There's another thing which is misleading about this blogger's statement that "All major Christian publishers are using them as their platform of choice." It implies that publishers like IVP, Eerdmann's, Brill, University of Chicago Press, Thomas Nelson, Moody, Biblical Archaeology Society, Jewish Publication Society, Broadman and Holman, and countless others are working exclusively with that other software developer. On the contrary, some of these publishers have licensed their materials to multiple Bible software programs. Many have chosen to work with two, and only two, programs. Happily, Accordance is one of the two.

That means Accordance users don't have to go anywhere else for BDAG, HALOT, the IVP Reference Collection, the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Word Biblical Commentary, NIGTC and Pillar, MacArthur's commentary, the JPS Torah Commentary, Context of Scripture, and numerous other major titles. This year we'll offer more journals, massive commentary sets, and lots of other materials I'm not at liberty to talk about yet. Right now, we have all the new material in the pipeline we can handle.

In short, we've worked very hard to put together a library of materials which exceeds that of nearly every other software vendor, including companies which are many times our size. We have a great relationship with a wide range of publishers, including some who have not shown an interest in working with the "largest provider of digital texts." Just as Microsoft's size and the greater number of software titles available for Windows were not enough to bring about the death of Apple, so another Windows Bible program ported to Mac does not make our demise inevitable. Apple didn't stand still in the face of Windows' hegemony, and we certainly aren't standing still either.

Well, I've spent more time than I had intended answering the first of this particular blogger's points. Ultimately, it all boils down to this: Yes, the other guys have more stuff, but most of the really good stuff we already have. Some of the really good stuff we have and they don't, so the available resources argument cuts both ways. Unfortunately, some really good stuff they currently have exclusive access to; and we may or may not ever be able to license it. For those who need that material, this company's new Mac alpha will be a welcome complement to Accordance. If Mac users showed a penchant for choosing quantity over quality, the fact that the other guys offer "more stuff" might be a serious cause for concern. Since Mac users do value quality, we're not likely to be run out of business any time soon!

Well, that's one leg of the argument this blogger put forward which is decidedly weak. As I wrote above, I hesitate to interact with such comments because I know most of you already see through them. But even the best of us can be misled by a little disinformation, so I felt it necessary to clear up the misconceptions being propagated. I'll deal with the rest of those misconceptions in a follow-up post.

Monday, March 17, 2008  

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's St. Patrick's Day, and as with Bible Software, there's a lot of "blarney" out there about this celebrated missionary to Ireland. To get at the truth about Patrick, try consulting the following Accordance resources, many of which you may already have.

St. Patrick: The Premier Level of the Library CD-ROM contains a module called St. Patrick which includes a brief biographical sketch of the man, a more detailed biography excerpted from Wylie's History of the Scottish Nation, Patrick's own Confession, and a prayer attributed to Patrick called the "Shield of St. Patrick."

Church History: All levels of the Library include Sketches of Church History, which contains a brief account of church history from the first century to the eve of the Protestant Reformation. The Church History module contains a good overview of Patrick's life.

Christian Biography: Another module contained in all levels of the Library is Wace's Dictionary of Early Christian Biography. This module contains a quite scholarly treatment of the life of Patrick, including an evaluation of the historical authenticity of the various source documents. This module lists Patrick under the Latin name "Patricius," but Accordance takes all that into account for you, so that you can simply search for "Patrick."

Schaff's History: Our Church Fathers add-on CD-ROM contains 38 volumes of the early church fathers in English, along with Philip Schaff's 8-volume History of the Christian Church. Schaff describes the life of Patrick within the wider context of the Christianization of Ireland as a whole.

NIDCC: The Zondervan Scholarly Bible Study Suite CD-ROM includes the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. This dictionary contains a brief entry on Patrick of Ireland, as well as other Christian figures, movements, and theological and liturgical terms.

As you can see, there are lots of places you can turn for information about historical figures such as Patrick of Ireland. Some of these modules you may already have. Others, such as Schaff's History or the NIDCC, you'll definitely want to consider getting.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008  

Shortcuts and Timesavers, Part 3

This third installment in our series on shortcuts and timesavers will focus on ways to speed up the entry of a search argument.

Use command-;. The keyboard shortcut command-; will toggle between word searches and verse searches, enabling you to switch to a different kind of searching without lifting your hands from the keyboard.

Use the tab key. The tab key automatically selects the contents of the argument entry box, enabling you to begin typing a new search right away. Any previous search will be replaced with the new search you enter.

Remember shift-command for search commands. If you want to use Boolean commands like AND, OR, and NOT, proximity commands like WITHIN, or more sophisticated stand-alone commands like COUNT or HITS, you'll find them all listed in the Enter Command submenu of the Search menu. Selecting a command from the menu will insert that command into your search argument.

When you look at the menu, you'll notice that they all use keyboard shortcuts involving the shift and command keys. We have reserved the shift-command keyboard combinations for search commands, so that you'll have easy to remember shortcuts for inserting all these commands. If you can remember shift-command, the rest is easy: A for AND, O for OR, N for NOT, W for WITHIN, etc. Okay, B for FOLLOWED BY and U for COUNT are not quite so obvious, but that's only because we had already used F for FIELD and C for CONTENTS. At any rate, using these keyboard shortcuts is the quickest way to enter these commands into your search arguments, and if you can remember shift-command, they'll soon become second nature.

Use the return key. Hitting the return key after you enter a search is the same as clicking the OK button beside the argument entry box: it will cause Accordance to perform the search and display the results. By hitting the tab key to select the argument entry box, typing your search terms and using shift-command shortcuts to insert search commands, and hitting return to perform the search, you can enter and perform most searches without ever taking your hands away from the keyboard.

Your searches are History. The History pop-up just above the OK button keeps a running history of all the searches you've performed. It even remembers whether the search was for verses or for words. Going back to a search you entered previously is as simple as selecting it from the pop-up menu.

Hopefully at least one of these tips will help you streamline and speed up your Accordance workflow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008  

Wrapping Up the Christmas Challenge Results

It's now March, and I have yet to deliver on my promised third installment of the Accordance Christmas Challenge Results. For those who have forgotten or who have just begun following this blog, I challenged readers to use Accordance to find out why most modern translations of Luke 2:14 read so differently from the KJV's familiar "peace, good will toward men." Twenty-one people responded to this "challenge" by e-mailing me a description of how they found the answer.

In my first post summarizing the different approaches taken, I pointed out that most users turned to the NET Bible Notes for an easy-to-understand summary of the text-critical issues involved. Others turned to Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament for a more in depth answer, while still others compared the actual Greek texts themselves.

In my second post, I summarized some other approaches, such as one user who did a search all for every reference to Luke 2:14, other users who found a helpful discussion in the notes to the Expositor's Bible Commentary, and one user who started out with Accordance and then turned to a favorite print commentary.

In this post, there are a few more approaches to the problem which I need to mention.

One user actually has a workspace with a preset tab for looking up text-critical kinds of issues. In this tab, he has the Nestle-Aland (GNT-T) and Textus Receptus (GNT-TR) Greek texts in parallel, along with the NA27 apparatus. By turning to Luke 2:14, he was able to see the difference between the NA27 and the TR, as well as the manuscript support for each reading.

By the way, this user also mentioned having a tab set up for the purpose of comparing multiple English translations. By setting up these various tabs for different purposes ahead of time, he can turn to them for ready answers to various kinds of questions. This is the kind of forethought which I've been trying to encourage in my recent "Shortcuts and Timesavers" series of posts.

Another user with a preset window arrangement had panes showing three translations, the NET Notes, and Calvin's commentary. Again, all he had to do was look up Luke 2:14 to see the discussion in the NET Notes and Calvin. Interestingly, Calvin does address the textual issue even though he only had access to Greek texts with the "peace, good will toward men" reading. This is because the Latin Vulgate reads "peace to men of good will."

One user, after comparing the Greek texts, was intrigued by this expression "men of good will." He rightly wondered whether these were "men who are characterized by good will, or men who are pleasing to someone else, i.e., to God.; or is it that it is God's pleasure to give peace on earth among men?" He decided to investigate further by control-clicking the Greek word for "good will" and choosing Search for Lemma from the contextual menu. This turned up eight other uses of eudokia in the Greek New Testament, which this user analyzed as follows:

It seems to me to be a quality of the desire or pleasure of one who is doing something, rather than something that is given to others (good will to men) (egs., Ro. 10:1, Eph. 1:5). I found one other use of the word in the genitive case, Php 2:13. In both examples, God is the subject, he is doing something among men, and the sense of the genitive eudokias seems to be that it is according to his (not the men's) good pleasure or will.

The last resource which was used to answer the Christmas Challenge was Mounce's Greek grammar. Two users discovered the following excerpt in Mounce, one by searching for Luke 2:14, and one because he specifically remembered reading the excerpt before:

The Greek manuscripts used to translate the KJV contain εὐδοκία (nominative), whereas the older manuscripts used to translate the modern versions contain εὐδοκίας (genitive)—literally translated, "of good will" or "characterized by [God's] good pleasure." In other words, the peace that the angels sang that belonged to the earth as a result of the birth of Christ is not a generic, worldwide peace for all humankind, but a peace limited to those who obtain favor with God by believing in his Son Jesus (see Romans 5:1). What a difference a single letter can make in the meaning of the text!

If there's anything we've learned from the Christmas Challenge, it is that one letter can indeed make all the difference in the meaning of a passage. Hopefully, you've also learned a few tricks and techniques which will help you use Accordance to solve other "challenges" in the future.

Monday, March 03, 2008  

Shortcuts and Timesavers, Part 2

Last week, we looked at several options in the Preferences which enable you to save time launching Accordance, opening new modules, and closing windows. Today, I want to look at streamlining the way Accordance starts up.

Set up your default Search window. When you first launch Accordance, you get a Search window displaying the entire text of whichever Bible got installed first. If this Bible is not the one you want to start with, you can, of course, change the default. Yet I'm amazed how many people never bother to do this. They'll just change the Bible text every time they launch Accordance! To alleviate this problem, we added a setup assistant for new users in version 7 which will help them set their default Bible; but if you started using Accordance before version 7, the setup assistant doesn't appear (since it would overwrite certain preferences you might have set).

To set your default Bible text, simply go to Preferences and choose the Search window settings. These settings let you specify how you want a new Search window to open. Choose the default Bible in the pop-up labeled Text. You can also set the Search window to open in word search mode rather than verse search mode, specify that you want the More Options section of the window to be open all the time, etc.

Use a default session. Let's say you launch Accordance and your Search window is displaying the right Bible, but you always want your window to display two other Bibles in parallel along with Word Biblical Commentary. You spend a few seconds each time you launch Accordance adding those panes before you start studying. And while we're at it, you always end up looking stuff up in Zondervan's Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (ZPEB), so it would be nice to have that already open when you start up as well. To do this, simply set up a series of Accordance windows as you would like them to appear when you start up.

For example, in the following screenshot, I've set up a Workspace with two tabs. The first contains three Bibles and Word Biblical Commentary displayed in parallel, while the second contains the ZPEB.

If I want to start up with this arrangement every time, I can simply go to the Preferences, choose General settings, then select Default Session from the pop-up menu in the Default Startup section of the dialog. When I choose this option, the Set Default Session button becomes undimmed. Clicking this button will save the current window arrangement as the default session, and I'll get that window arrangement every time I launch Accordance.

Pick up where you left off. The final option in the Default Startup section of the General Preferences lets you start up Accordance using the "Last Session." This means that you'll start up with whatever windows you had open when you last quit Accordance. This is the option I tend to prefer, since I typically want to go back to whatever I was last working on, and I don't want to bother saving my windows before I quit.

However you choose to have Accordance start up, taking a few minutes to customize your start up can save you a tremendous amount of time and effort.