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Friday, May 30, 2008  


Yesterday, I recounted a little of the INFER command's development history. Today, I want to teach you the basics of this ground-breaking new feature.

Why is it called the INFER command? Because it gives you a way to infer literary connections between two texts.

How does it do this? By building a list of multi-word phrases found in one text and then searching for those phrases in the other one.

How do you use the INFER command? Start by establishing your base text. You might do a verse search for a particular passage or portion of a text. Or you could do a word search and then use the resulting verses as the basis of your INFER search. For now, let's just use an English Bible text (I'm using the HCSB) and do a verse search for Deuteronomy.

Once you've got a base text, you need a second window containing the text you want to search for inferences to that base text. Let's say I want to see how much the prophet Amos quotes from, alludes to, or appeals to the book of Deuteronomy. To do this, I will duplicate the tab containing Deuteronomy (keyboard shortcut: command-D), switch to searching for Words (command-;), and then enter the INFER command (shift-command-I).

If there is only one other tab which can act as a base text, Accordance will insert an INFER command with the default number of words (6) and the name of that tab. If there is more than one window which could serve as the base text, a dialog will appear so you can choose which tab you want to use. This dialog also lets you use more advanced settings, but for now, just stick with the defaults.

Now that I have the INFER command set up, I can limit my search to the book of Amos either by selecting a predefined range from the range pop-up of the More Options, or by entering the AND command (shift-command-A), followed by the RANGE command (shift-command-R), and replacing the question mark inside the RANGE command with "Amos."

When I click OK in this second window, Accordance builds a list of six-word phrases from the book of Deuteronomy (my base text) and then searches for each of those phrases in the book of Amos. By default, the INFER command allows for one word either to be dropped from the phrase or inserted into the phrase, so that approximate rather than exact matches can be found.

This search actually takes a couple of seconds, which is remarkably fast when you consider the number of phrases being searched for. For example, the book of Deuteronomy in the HCSB begins with the words "These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel." From this small portion of just one verse, we can derive four distinct six-word phrases: "These are the words Moses spoke," "are the words Moses spoke to," "the words Moses spoke to all," and "words Moses spoke to all Israel." Imagine how many distinct phrases can be derived from the entire book of Deuteronomy! Now consider that the book of Amos is then being searched for every occurrence of each of these phrases, while accounting for the possibility of omitted or inserted words! There's a lot going on here, and obviously, the larger your base text or your target text, the longer your INFER search will take.

The results of an INFER search are always fascinating. In this case, Accordance returns a series of five-word phrases (remember any one word of the six-word phrases from Deuteronomy can be omitted) in the book of Amos. Many of these, such as the first one in Amos 1:2, (He said: The LORD roars from Zion) can probably be dismissed as merely picking up common expressions rather than demonstrating any kind of literary connection.

We can, of course, test any one of these results by looking at where they came from in the base text. The easiest way to do this is to click in the verse reference of Amos 1:2 to select it, then click and hold the Search button on the Resource palette to bring up the pop-up menu. The second item in the pop-up menu is a new "Search Back" command. Choose this, and Accordance will automatically set up an inference search to find where these phrases come from in the base text. In the case of Amos 1:2, we get Deuteronomy 33:2: "He said: The Lord came from Sinai." Given the fact that in Amos, the LORD is roaring from Zion and in Deuteronomy, the LORD has come from Sinai, I would consider this connection relatively coincidental. Still, Accordance did find the same pattern of expression. In both cases, someone is speaking of something the LORD did from somewhere.

A more significant inference can be found in Amos 2:10: "I brought you from the land of Egypt and led you 40 years in the wilderness." This is actually a series of phrases from Deuteronomy, and if we use that nifty Search Back command (which you can also get by control- or right-clicking on the verse reference for Amos 2:10), we find six verses in Deuteronomy which speak of the Israelites being taken from the land of Egypt or led in the wilderness. In this case, Amos is picking up on an oft-repeated Deuteronomic expression to contrast the LORD's faithfulness to Israel with her unfaithfulness to him.

The INFER command, used in conjunction with the Search Back command, helps to draw your attention to possible literary connections between texts. Obviously, the work comes in sifting through the results and deciding which connections are significant and which are merely common forms of expression. We've done these searches in English, and even a cursory glance has shown at least one interesting connection. Doing such searches in the original Hebrew or Greek would enable us to establish even stronger verbal similarities.

So if you're starting your Ph.D. and aren't sure what to do for your dissertation, you could always start researching literary connections between various passages of the Bible; portions of the Bible with extrabiblical texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Apocryphal Gospels, etc.; or various extrabiblical texts with each other! Your professors will think you're brilliant, and you don't have to tell them how you're finding all these connections. (Although we'd appreciate it if you do!)

Okay, what if you're not a Ph.D. student, but a pastor trying to prepare a sermon? Will the results of an inference search "preach"? It's not hard to see how the connection in Amos 2:10 would. You could take the verses in Deuteronomy which we found using the Search Back command and read through each of those to demonstrate the importance of the Exodus event to the establishment of God's covenant with Israel. If you wanted to carry this exodus theme even further, you could look for inferences to these verses in the New Testament. It shouldn't take long to find much that will preach!

In my next post, we'll pick up where we left off and do even more with these results. Oh and by the way, I'm deliberately coming up with these examples on the fly, rather than following some carefully planned sequence which I know will provide interesting results. I want you to get a feel for how the connections you discover via the INFER command can spark new ideas and new insights which in turn can lead to deeper study.

Thursday, May 29, 2008  

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

A little while after the dust of a new release settles, the development team will meet to discuss the plans for the next release. These are some of my favorite meetings to be a part of, because I get to lobby for the new features I think are really important. I've learned over the years that you can't always get what you want, and some of what you lobby for gets deferred even further into the future. Whenever you get frustrated because a feature you've requested doesn't appear in the latest upgrade, comfort yourself with the knowledge that there are features on our list which I've been pushing for years, and for which I'm still waiting.

Ultimately, we can't do everything at once, so we have to pick and choose those features we think will add the most value. And it's not just Accordance users and OakTree Software employees who sometimes have to wait for hoped-for features. Even our company president and lead programmer has had to see some of his own cool ideas tabled for years. Such was the case with the feature I want to talk about today: the new INFER command.

I can't remember when he first started talking about what he called the "inference engine." I'm thinking it goes back at least to our discussions of what to include in version 4, and it may even go farther back than that. The idea was simple enough, and was first proposed by a couple of Qumran scholars: create a way to search one text for quotations from and allusions to another text. For example, what if you could search the Dead Sea Scrolls for allusions to Genesis, or the Mishna for allusions to the Dead Sea Scrolls? Such a tool would break new ground in intertextual studies. (And lest you assume this is only useful for scholars, such searches would work just as well in English to show literary relationships between various biblical books.)

In spite of this feature's obvious utility, every time our lead programmer would voice his desire to add it, there would always be some more pressing need which, while far less visionary, was likely to have much broader appeal. So the "inference engine" was put off "until the next version" again and again and again.

While the concept of having Accordance infer some kind of literary relationship between texts was simple enough, it raised all kinds of questions: How do you interface such a feature? How do you account for differences in word order? How do you account for words which get dropped from a phrase, or words which get added to it? How do you avoid getting too many false hits, or too few meaningful ones? Frankly, while we all thought the idea was revolutionary, we were afraid it raised too many issues to be worth the effort, at least as long as there were more pressing features to develop.

When we began planning Accordance 8, there were still pressing development needs, but none so important that it would justify further delaying the "inference engine." The new INFER command was therefore one of the first new features developed for version 8, and it is easily the most significant.

Once we had decided to interface the "inference engine" as an additional advanced search command, a working prototype was developed remarkably quickly. Personally, I was amazed at how soon we were able to play with this feature we had put off for so long. And play with it we did. The INFER command was rigorously tested, both by the development team and by serious scholars who saw the potential for this feature in their own work. With their help, we continually tweaked and improved the INFER command so that it would be easier to use and yield better results. Now we're excited to get it into your hands and have you use it in your own studies.

After years of waiting in the conceptual stages, the new INFER command is an idea whose time has come. It's something which has never been done in Bible software before, and you get to be the first to try it.

In my next post, I'll show you how it works! :-)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008  

Accordance 8: It's the Little Things, Part 2

Yesterday, I began listing some of the little enhancements in Accordance 8 which won't necessarily make headlines, but which will certainly improve your user experience. Today, I want to list some more.

Improved Highlighting: In previous versions of Accordance, highlighted text, whether from making a selection or from actually applying a highlight style, would produce a slight white "shadow" around the text. Many of you may never have noticed, but others found it distracting. That has now been removed.

Not only that, but in previous versions, highlights would no longer be shown when a window was in the background. For example, you might switch to a different application, see your Accordance window in the background, and wonder where your highlights went. Accordance 8 now displays the highlights in inactive windows using a slightly dimmed version of the highlight color.

The Highlight palette has also been improved. If you size it so that it is oriented vertically with one column of buttons, its minimum width is the same as the width of the Resource palette, so that the two palettes can be neatly arranged one above the other. You can also open the Define Highlight Styles dialog box directly from the palette now.

Slide Show Palettes: While we're on the subject of palettes, the Instant Details box and Slide Show control palette now automatically fade in and out when you're doing a Slide Show. So if you have a slide of a map and you want to show the elevation of a city, or if you have a slide of tagged Greek text and you want to show the parsing, the Instant Details box will fade into view when you mouse over those items, then fade away again when you mouse away. Likewise the Slide Show controller fades in whenever you move the mouse and fades out when no longer needed.

Links to Accordance Web-site: The Help menu now features links to the Accordance web-site, including the support section, the video demos, and the user forums. Hey, now that I'm thinking about it, why didn't this blog rate a link! ;-)

Paste and Match Style: The new Paste and Match Style command lets you paste text into an Accordance user note or user tool edit window and match the current text style, rather than also pasting the style of the text you copied.

Text Palette Redux: In version 7-point-something we changed the behavior of the text palette so that it would update to show the style of currently selected text. This made it harder to use the Text Palette to quickly reformat text, and so there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. The Text Palette now works the way it used to. (And there was much rejoicing!)

Drag Picture Thumbnails: Want to copy an image from the PhotoGuide or Bible Art into a Pages layout or KeyNote slide? Now you can just drag the thumbnail from Accordance onto the drop-zone of Pages or KeyNote and the full-size image will be copied over. You can also drag to the Desktop to create a Picture clipping.

Save Images as JPEG or PNG: Need to save an image in a graphic format other than PICT? Now you can. Earth-shattering change? No. Nice when you need it? Absolutely.

3D Map Enhancements: 3D Maps can now be manipulated by dragging on the image directly in addition to using the 3D Control palette. Simply dragging will move the map, option-dragging will rotate the map, and command-dragging will raise or lower the map. Using the scroll wheel will zoom in and out.

The 3D map can now be saved, duplicated, and recalled. If you save a session, the 3D map window is now included.

Text Size Buttons in User Notes: User notes windows and panes now include text size buttons for rapidly increasing or decreasing the text size.

More Visual Feedback for Notes: When you create a user note on a verse, a red dot appears next to the verse to indicate that a note exists. But what if you have a note on that verse in two or more separate note files? Until now, the red dot just indicated the presence of a note somewhere, but it gave you no information about which user note files contain that note. You would need to double-click the dot to open every user note file containing a note on that verse.

In Accordance 8, if a verse is annotated in two or more user note files, a red triangle appears next to the verse. Double-clicking the triangle will still open every user note file, but if you click and hold on the red triangle, a menu now lists which note files contain a note on the verse. You can open the one you want by selecting it from the menu.

Custom Ranges in the RANGE Command: Previously, you could define permanent ranges in the range pop-up menu of the More Options, or you could use the RANGE command for temporary ranges of books, chapters, and verses. Why not also make the RANGE command capable of calling your own predefined ranges? With Accordance 8, we've done just that. As long as you enclose the name of your custom range within quotes, you can now enter something like [RANGE "tor"] to specify that you want to search your predefined "Torah" range.

Using the CONTENTS of a Text Window: A couple weeks ago, I showed you how to use the CONTENTS command to search a group of verses listed in a topical Bible like Nave's. The basic steps were: (1) Command-click a link in Nave's to view the verses in a Text window, (2) Select all the verses and add them to a Reference List window, then (3) Use the CONTENTS command to search the Reference List. At the time, no one seemed to notice that adding the verses to a Reference List (step 2) was really an unnecessary extra step. Why not just search the contents of the original text window? We had to make a change to the way Text windows are named to accomplish this, but you can now search the Contents of a Text window rather than having to create a Reference List.

Again, these are all little things, but I think you'll agree that the cumulative effect of all these minor enhancements more than justifies the upgrade price. And I haven't even really gone into detail about the big features yet! In my next post, I plan to tell you all about the most ground-breaking new feature of Accordance 8: the innocuous-sounding INFER command.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008  

Accordance 8: It's the Little Things

Yesterday, we announced the release of version 8 and I listed some of the major new features. I plan to go into these in more detail in the coming days, but right now I want to focus on the "little things" which were added. I'm talking about those minor features and enhancements which don't usually make headlines, but which often make such a meaningful difference in your day-to-day workflow that they more than justify the cost to upgrade. You may not yet see the value of the INFER command and you may not care about Favorite Workspaces, but I'm willing to bet that everyone will find something in the following list to get excited about.

Entering a Verse in Word Mode: In version 7, when you would enter a word search in verse mode, Accordance would present you with an alert explaining your mistake and asking if you meant to do a word search. You would then click a button and Accordance would instantly change the mode and perform the search. But what if you made the opposite mistake: entering a verse reference in word mode? Accordance would just present you with the word list for that text, but would not give you an easy way to switch to searching by verses. In Accordance 8, as long as you enter a clear verse reference (that is: book name, chapter reference, colon or period, and verse reference), Accordance will automatically switch to verse mode and perform the search.

Finding Exact References in Tools: If you search the Scripture field of an Accordance tool for a Scripture reference such as Genesis 1:26, Accordance will find every reference which includes that verse (such as Genesis 1, Genesis 1-11, even multiple book references like Genesis-Deuteronomy). That's a nice feature when you want it, but what if you want to narrow your search just to include explicit references to Genesis 1:26? Until now, you could do it, but it required a rather awkward workaround. Now you just place the equals sign (=) in front of the reference to find that exact reference. If you select a verse reference in a Bible text and then amplify to a Tool, you can specify that you want to search for that exact reference by holding down the option key.

Open Sesame: Ever tried to open an Accordance resource from the Resource palette, only to get an error message because you had selected some text somewhere and Accordance is trying to search the resource you chose for that selected text? Of course you have! Now Accordance will present you with a new error message which asks if you just want to open the tool rather than search it for the selected text. No muss, no fuss!

Live Grow: When you resize a window, the text in the various panes now rewraps while you drag the resize box. This may seem like a little thing, but it makes it much easier to judge when you have the window at the size you want.

Go To Box Pop-up menu: The Go To Box in the bottom right corner of Accordance Search windows now features a pop-up menu from which you can choose the book you'd like to jump to. This may seem like a little thing, but when you're dealing with an extrabiblical corpus with which you're unfamiliar, it nice to have such a convenient listing of book names.

Go To Box Contextuality: While we're on the subject of the Go To box, another nifty little enhancement is that you can now enter contextual references. If you're in the book of Genesis, and you want to scroll quickly to chapter 10, just tab down to the Go To box (hit tab twice) and type "10." Previously you would have had to type the book name. Again, it's a little thing, but if you're a clumsy typist like me, the fewer the keystrokes the better!

Default Font Size When Printing: All these high-resolution monitors are great, but text on screen just seems to get smaller and smaller. If you're like me, you find yourself viewing text on screen at larger font sizes. But then when I print, I have to bump the text back down to a size more suitable for printing. Accordance 8 now lets you set a default font size for printed text in the Print Settings. Again, it's a little thing, but it enables you to view text on screen at one size and print it at another.

Wider Text and Tool Pop-up Menus: Another minor change, but we've widened the text and tool pop-up menus so that they will no longer clip the module name.

At this point, I'm not anywhere near done, but I'm afraid if I list too many more little enhancements in this post you'll miss something really cool. So enjoy playing with these new enhancements today, and I'll tell you about some more tomorrow!

Monday, May 26, 2008  

I Told You It Would Be Soon!

On Friday, I promised that Accordance 8 would be released very soon. I wasn't kidding. I'm pleased to announce that Accordance 8 is now available for purchase and download, so you can start playing with all the new features today.

So what's new? More than I can list in a single blog post, but I'll try to highlight the major changes:

Universal Binary: Many of you have said, "I don't care about new features, just make Accordance available as a Universal Binary." Well, the wait is over. If you're running Accordance on an Intel Mac, you can now enjoy a significant speed boost without the overhead of running Rosetta.

Library Window: With Accordance 7, we introduced the Arrange Modules window, which was designed to let you organize all your Accordance modules. That window has now been expanded into an all-purpose launcher and renamed the Library window. A streamlined design makes it easy to keep this window very narrow and leave it open on the screen all the time. A Find box lets you type a few letters and find all the modules which begin with those letters. Use the arrow buttons to skip to the module you want, and hit return to open the module. You open and close the Library window from the Window menu.

Powerful New Search Capabilities: The new FUZZY and INFER commands make possible some incredibly powerful new searches. The INFER command is so powerful, in fact, that I really can't do it justice in a mere listing of new features. You can get a glimpse of these new search commands in action in the video demo of the new features in 8, and I'll be blogging about them at length later this week. In a nutshell, the FUZZY command lets you search for approximate matches to phrases, and the INFER command lets you find places where one text quotes from or alludes to another.

ANY Tag: Until now, Accordance has always required you to pick a part of speech when searching a grammatically tagged text. Thus, if you wanted to search for all nominatives, you would have to search for all nominative nouns, pronouns, adjectives, participles, etc. The new ANY tag (keyboard shortcut shift-command-Y) lets you search for any tag meeting particular grammatical criteria. Entering "nominative" in the ANY tag will find all nominatives regardless of part of speech.

Key Number Highlighting: When you display a tagged Greek or Hebrew text in parallel with an English Bible with Key Numbers, you can now drag over a word in either text and Accordance will highlight the corresponding word in the other pane. For example, drag over agapas in John 21:15 and the first occurrence of the English word "love" in the NAS95S will be highlighted. Drag across the second "love" in the NAS95S and philo will be highlighted in the Greek text. This feature makes it easy to see the relationship between the original text and the English translation.

Favorite Workspaces: Amplifying to a module lets you instantly search that module for any word you select. Favorite workspaces let you set up predefined sets of modules you can amplify to. For example, you might set up a Hebrew Studies workspace with (1) a tab containing the tagged Hebrew Bible in parallel with several English translations, (2) a tab containing the tagged Qumran in parallel with the Qumran English, (3) tabs containing HALOT, BDB, and TWOT, (4) a tab containing the Old Testament volumes of Word Biblical Commentary. Once you've saved this workspace as a Workspace favorite, you can select any Hebrew word and amplify to this workspace. Doing so will look up that Hebrew word in every one of the resources included in that workspace!

Custom colors and color backgrounds: Tired of black text on a white background? Accordance 8 lets you set up your own custom colors in addition to the standard Accordance color palette, and use those colors for text or the window background. Try coffee-brown text on a parchment yellow background, olive text on a mint background, or even white text on a black background. The possibilities are endless.

Custom leading: Accordance 8 now lets you control the leading (pronounced ledding), or space between lines of text, to improve readability (and keep the graphic designers happy!).

Horizontal Panes: Accordance has always displayed Bibles side-by-side in vertically-oriented panes. With Accordance 8, you can choose horizontal panes and stack parallel Bibles one above the other. This is great when you want to compare a single verse in a wide variety of texts.

Draggable Panes: Let's say you open the KJV, NAS95S, GNT-T (Nestle-Aland), and the GNT-TR (textus receptus) in parallel panes of the same window. You then decide you want them in a different order: say, KJV, GNT-TR, NAS95S, and GNT-T. Until now, you would have had to change the text which is displayed in each pane. In Accordance 8, you can just click and hold on the gray area above each pane and drag that pane to another position in the window.

Support for Arabic: Accordance 8 now supports Arabic Bibles and Arabic text within tools. Arabic modules will be coming soon.

Unicode Import: Accordance 8 now seamlessly imports Unicode Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, and transliterated text. Copy some Greek text out of a web page and paste it into an Accordance search field. Import html documents with Unicode Greek and Hebrew into your own Accordance user tools! Accordance will convert the text to the appropriate Accordance fonts and place it into the appropriate fields of your user tool.

All that's just the big stuff! I haven't even begun to mention all the little enhancements which will make your lives easier. I'll have to talk about those in an upcoming post!

Until then, check out the new features in 8 page of the newly redesigned Accordance web-site.

Friday, May 23, 2008  

Soon and Very Soon

Yesterday I hinted at some of the new features you can expect when the next major upgrade to Accordance is released. I knew doing so would generate a response, but I had no idea how enthusiastic it would be. Apparently our sales staff found themselves suddenly fielding questions about new features, release dates, and upgrade prices which they're really not at liberty to answer just yet. And, of course, several of you interacted with yesterday's post via the comments.

Naturally, there were numerous pleas for further hints as to when version 8 will be released. One person wondered if "soon" means "Six months? A month? A year?"

Let me just say this. We don't make announcements, or even drop teasing little hints, until we are very close to release. The reality of software development is that unexpected snags may cause delays, force you to drop features you had originally planned to do, etc. Making specific promises well in advance of release merely to generate excitement has a tendency to backfire, so we just don't do it. At this point, unless we run into some earth-shattering problem, version 8 should appear sooner than all three of the guesses just quoted. :-)

Thursday, May 22, 2008  

Reasons Our Work is Never Done

In my last post, I reflected on the fact that in software development, as in writing, one can never claim to be finished. I then reminisced about the release of version 5. After the release of Accordance 4, we had addressed most of the crucial needs of our users, and version 5 was an opportunity for us to offer a wide array of extras. Yet instead of shortening our to-do list, we soon found that list growing longer. This can be attributed to a number of factors:

  1. The biggest was that with OS X, the Mac interface was changing. What had worked well in the Classic Mac OS now looked dated and out of place. And of course, each version of OS X had new features which users wanted to have supported.
  2. Another factor was that each new feature we introduce tends to generate requests for further development. For example, user tools were a huge addition which opened all kinds of new possibilities to our users, but they also sparked requests for more features, import options, etc.
  3. Finally, as Mac OS X revitalized the Mac market and drew more and more users away from Windows, we had increasing numbers of users coming to Accordance who were familiar with Windows Bible software. In most cases, they were pleasantly surprised by what Accordance could do, but they also had cherished features they had become accustomed to—features which they now began requesting from us.

All of these factors combined to spark a new period of Accordance development. With version 6, we overhauled the Accordance interface according to OS X conventions and still managed to add a host of new features. Accordance saw no less than 11 free incremental updates over the following two-and-a-half years, and then we released version 7! Accordance 7 was released on my birthday nearly two years ago. It too was a huge release, offering such features as compare texts, slide show, new graphs and charts, root searches, punctuation searches, the ability to apply a highlight style to search hits, etc.

As we've hinted before, a new version of Accordance will be coming soon. What's in store for Accordance 8? The fact that Accordance 8 will now be Universal to run natively on Intel Macs is a long-awaited "must have" and a major low-level change. Much of what Accordance 8 will offer can be categorized as "gravy"—things you could probably have lived without but which you'll be sure to savor. The bulk of its enhancements, however, will be things you didn't know you needed, but which you'll soon be wondering how you ever got along without. That's all I can say for now, except that you can expect Accordance 8 to address all three of the factors listed above.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008  

What My English Teacher Taught Me About Software

My High School English teacher was fond of saying that, "writing is never finished." In fact, she had a general policy of never giving a grade of 100% to a piece of writing, because she wanted to underscore the idea that one's writing can always be improved.

This is true not only of writing but of software development as well. It is never finished. At no point can you sit back and say that you're done.

The closest I came to feeling that way in the development of Accordance was when we were developing version 5. With version 1, Accordance broke ground as the first Macintosh program capable of doing complex grammatical searching of Greek and Hebrew texts. It was also the first program to make such searches easy to do. With version 2, we added Tools, User Notes, Parallels, and Reference Lists to make Accordance a well-rounded Bible study program rather than just a specialized tool for language study. With version 3, we added the Search All window and pioneering language tools like the Diagram and Syntax windows. Version 3.5 saw the addition of the Bible Atlas, which is still leading the field. With version 4, we added a host of new features, but the biggest by far was the addition of Bible texts with Strong's numbers.

It was after version 4 that I felt like Accordance offered everything most users had come to expect in a Bible program, and it was then that Accordance really established itself as the Bible program to have for Mac users.

We don't give codenames to new versions of Accordance, but I remember joking at the time that if we were to give version 5 a codename, it should be "gravy." That's because we were no longer developing must-have features to meet user demand; we were merely adding new features to improve our product and extend our lead. By the time version 5 was released, it was a huge upgrade, introducing major new features like color highlighting, user tools, more advanced search commands, etc. Not only that, but we later released a Carbon version to run on OS X, making Accordance the first OS X-native Bible program.

But then a funny thing happened: we noticed our list of features to add getting longer rather than shorter. Not only that, but our users were once again requesting a variety of "must-have" features.

This extension of our to-do list can be attributed to a number of factors, which I'll talk more about in my next post. For now, suffice it to say that what I learned in high school about writing has proven to be even more true of software development: there's always room for further improvement. And with that thought, I better get back to work!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008  

More on Red-Letter Bibles

In an interesting bit of synchronicity, Peter Head blogs about red-letter Bibles over at Evangelical Textual Criticism. It's well worth checking out.


Hiding Red Letter

Many print Bibles highlight the words of Jesus in red. Some people love this feature, while others hate it. Those who object to it argue that since there were no quotation marks in the Greek, it is not always clear which words are direct quotations from Jesus and which are not.

For example, in John 3, most Bibles interpret verses 10-21 as being directly spoken by Jesus. However, some interpreters think the quotation ends after verse 15, and that verses 16-21 are an explanation by the author of the Gospel. Having all those verses in red, or even enclosing them in quotation marks, is an interpretive decision made by the translators.

Those who are red-green color-blind object to red-letter Bibles for an even more fundamental reason: for them the words of Jesus disappear altogether!

Whether your reasons for objecting to red-letter Bibles are philosophical or ophthalmological, Accordance allows you to hide the red-lettering in any Bibles which include it. Simply use command-T (the one keyboard shortcut you absolutely must learn) to open the Set Text Display Dialog box for a given Bible, and check the Hide Red Letter option. You can also do this for all Bibles by going to the Text Display settings in the Preferences.

Even if you like red-letter Bibles, there may be times when you want to hide it. Today I ran into one of those. I did a search which seemed to find the phrase "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" in Matthew 23:39. I say "seemed to find" because the search I had done should not have highlighted all the words in that phrase. I was confused until I realized that the Bible I was searching (the HCSB) places the words of Jesus in red and boldfaces Old Testament quotations in the New Testament. Of course, Accordance highlights search hits by making them red and boldfaced, so I was mistakenly assuming that this phrase was part of my search result, when in fact it was merely part of that particular Bible's formatting. When I changed the display settings to hide the red letter, I could then distinguish my search hits from the OT quotations spoken by Jesus. Alternatively, I could have chosen to leave the red letter turned on, and chosen a different color and/or style for my search hits.

Regardless of your reasons for customizing the appearance of a Bible text, it's nice to have the flexibility to do so.

Monday, May 12, 2008  

Highlighting the Past

My senior year of high school, I invested in a good, leather-bound study Bible in preparation for college, and it served me well for years. I recently found it in a box in my garage. It's pretty beat up and I no longer use it, but I've been unable to get rid of it because of the highlights and marginal notes it contains. Those highlights and notes are not particularly extensive, but they are a little window into how I was reading the Bible back in high school and college. So I decided to go through my old college Bible and create Accordance equivalents of whatever notes and highlights I found.

I started by creating a new Highlights file called College Highlights, and duplicating the marking system I used back then. Basically, I had four colors with which I would underline words and verses: black for verses of doctrinal importance, red for verses which I felt were personally applicable, blue for verses of encouragement or beauty, and green for prophecies. I also created a new User Notes file called College Notes.

I then began in Genesis scanning page by page for any highlights or notes. With the exception of a few "encouragement" verses in Genesis, there really wasn't much to speak of until I got to Deuteronomy, which I apparently studied in some depth. Most of the highlighted passages were obviously important: the shema, the commandments, the call to choose life rather than death, etc. Less obvious were passages like Deuteronomy 8:17-18, which I underlined as "encouraging." This passage tells us not to take credit for the wealth we receive but to remember that the Lord gives us the ability to create wealth. Since I had no money in college I'm not sure why this passage jumped out at me, but it is certainly encouraging to me today as I work to provide for my family.

There was only one note scribbled in the margins of Deuteronomy, and that was beside Deuteronomy 10:12-13:

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD'S commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Beside this passage, I wrote simply, "God asks little of us." I dutifully recorded this comment in the College Notes, and then it occurred to me that it might be interesting to interact with this comment from my current perspective. I wrote the following:

20 Years Later: From the perspective of time and having failed many times to fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve him with all I am, and observe his commands, I wonder why in my youth I remarked that God asks little of us. I can only assume that I meant this: that complete devotion is little to ask of those who have been lovingly created and graciously redeemed. If I meant anything other than that, I was a fool.

While the idea of recreating the highlights and notes from an old print Bible may seem tedious, I actually found it to be a good devotional exercise. It was fascinating to find the verses which stood out to me as a young man and to consider how my perspective on those verses has changed with years of work, marriage, fatherhood, and life experience. Best of all, I now have these youthful insights archived in a way I can access any time, rather than tucked inside a Bible in a box in the garage.

Friday, May 09, 2008  

How to Do a Topical Study, Part 3

In my previous two posts, I've been looking at ways to do a topical study using Accordance. In the first post, we opened Nave's Topical Bible and did a search for "Love." We then followed the links under the subheading "Love of Man for God." In the second post, we manually went through each of those 65 verses, marking the ones which made some connection between loving God and keeping his commands. Once we had finished marking the relevant verses, we placed those verses in a separate reference list window for future study.

Today, I want to back up and look at how I might have automated the process of looking for verses which equate loving God with keeping his commands. Rather than reading all 65 verses and manually marking the ones which spoke of keeping God's commands, wouldn't it be easier to search those 65 verses for the word "commands"? Certainly it would.

To do this, I will add all 65 verses to a Reference List, then search those verses using the CONTENTS command. The CONTENTS command enables me to take the list of verses from one window and use them as part of a search argument in another window. If you're following along, here's what to do (I'll go all the way back to the beginning just so we're all on the same page):

  1. Open Nave's from the English Tools pop-up of the Resource palette.
  2. Search the Entry field for "Love."
  3. Command-click any of the verses under the heading "Love of Man for God."
  4. In the text window that appears, select all the verses by clicking in the text pane and choosing Select All from the Edit menu (or using the keyboard shortcut command-A).
  5. Add all those verses to a new Reference List by choosing New Reference List from the Add Selection To submenu of the Selection menu.
  6. Open a new Search window containing whatever Bible text you wish to search.
  7. Click the Search for Words radio button, then enter "commands", the AND command (shift-command-A), and the CONTENTS command (shift-command-C).

    Note: If there is more than one valid window open, Accordance will ask you which window you want to use the contents of. Choose the Reference List window listing the verses from Nave's.
  8. Click OK to perform the search.

When I search the HCSB this way, I get 11 verses which contain the word "commands." Obviously, there are more than 11 verses in the whole Bible which contain the word "commands," but by using the CONTENTS command, I have restricted my search to the 65 verses Nave's listed as pertaining to the love of man for God. Think of the CONTENTS command as a way to create a custom search range out of any list of verses.

Now that I have these 11 verses, I can select them all and add them to a new Reference List which contains only verses which speak of loving God by keeping his commands.

In this post, I've shown how you can use Reference Lists and the CONTENTS command to sift through a list of verses from a topical Bible. Using this strategy, we found the 11 verses which speak of "commands" much faster than we would have using the previous post's strategy of reading through each verse and marking the ones of interest.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008  

How to Do a Topical Study, Part 2

In my previous post, I described how to do a topical study using topical resources like Nave's Topical Bible or Torrey's New Topical Textbook. With these tools, you search for a particular topic and then follow the list of verses provided. In this post, I'll pick up where I left off and look at ways to sift through those verses to find the ones of greatest interest.

When you command-click or click and drag to hypertext to multiple verses (see previous post for more on that), you get a text window displaying each of those verses. In the example we used previously, Nave's article on "love of man for God," we get 65 verses. Let's say I want to go through these verses and find all the ones which make an explicit connection between loving God and keeping his commands. To do that, I would read through each verse and option-click the ones I want to mark. This will place a blue bookmark icon next to the verses clicked.

Once I've marked the verses I want to zero in on, I can place them in a separate verse list window by choosing New Reference List Window from the Add Marked Verses To submenu of the Selection menu. Now that I have this subset of verses collected in one place, I can place a description such as "Loving God means keeping His commands" in the Description field at the top of the window, and save it so that I can call it up again later.

Collecting verses in a reference list window enables me to interact with my search results and focus on particular connections. Now if I wanted to add a note to each of these verses, I could do so relatively quickly, without having to wade past other verses which are not relevant to this particular topic. Or, if I wanted to paste a list of references on this topic into a paper or sermon outline, I could select all the verses in the Reference List and choose References from the Copy As submenu of the Edit menu.

In my next post, I'll talk about ways you can use your reference list as the basis for other searches.

Friday, May 02, 2008  

How to Do a Topical Study

Someone on our forums recently asked for advice on how best to do a topical study and record his findings. The responses he got focused primarily on the question of whether he should record his findings in User Notes or a User Tool, but in this post I want to focus on the entire process of doing a topical study.

The first place to turn for information on a given topic is one of the resources designed for that purpose, such as Nave's Topical Bible or Torrey's New Topical Textbook, both of which are included in every level of the Library CD-ROM. Another excellent resource is The Thompson Chain Reference Bible.

When you open one of these resources and search for a given topic, such as "love," you'll get a listing of verses which relate to that topic, often organized into more manageable subtopics:

Nave's article on love has a long list of verses dealing with the "love of man for God." You can look up these verses in a variety of ways. First, you can simply drag your mouse over each reference to preview it in the Instant Details box. This is a good approach when you're looking for a particular verse and want to zero in on it quickly, but if you're wanting to read through all these passages, it's better to open them all at once.

The easiest way to do that is to command-click on any one of the references in the series. Alternatively, you can drag a selection from anywhere in the middle of the first reference to anywhere in the middle of the last reference, like this:

Either approach will open a new text window displaying all of the references in the paragraph. This makes it easy to scan through the verses quickly. If you want to see the verses in context, simply check the Show all text checkbox at the top of the window.

In my next post, I'll look at ways you can interact with the verses on a given topic.