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

Monday, February 27, 2006  

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol. I

I'm excited to announce the release of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture for Accordance. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, the ACCS is a new commentary from InterVarsity Press comprised of excerpts from the writings of the Early Church Fathers. For each passage covered, select writings from a wide variety of fathers provide insight into the meaning and/or application of that passage.

For example, in the commentary on Romans 9:11-13, fathers such as Augustine, Pelagius, Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, and Origen all wrestle with what it means that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before the twins had been born or done anything good or bad. Here are a few examples:

Pelagius: God's foreknowledge does not prejudge the sinner, if he is willing to repent.

Ambrosiaster: . . . knowing what each of them would become, God said: "The younger will be worthy and the elder unworthy." In his foreknowledge he chose the one and rejected the other. . .

Augustine: . . . we reply that God did this by foreknowledge, by which he knows what even the unborn will be like in the future. But let no one say God chose the works of the man whom he loved, although these works did not yet exist, because he knew in advance what they would be. If God elected works, why does the apostle say that election is not according to works?

Note that I've only excerpted bits and pieces of the comments by each Father. Some of these fathers give much more detailed arguments than I've included here. But the excerpts I've given show just how far back some theological debates actually go. The question of the role of foreknowledge in election did not originate with Luther, Calvin, Arminius, and Wesley, and those more recent theologians were very much dependent on the insights of earlier commentators.

While the ACCS is certainly fascinating from a historical point of view, I don't believe that to be its primary benefit. First, I think the ACCS is very much a preacher's commentary. It is chock full of pastoral insights and pithy quotes which can help the busy pastor get at the heart of a passage quickly. (Besides, just think how well-read you'll look when you start quoting Theodoret of Cyr and Gennadius of Constantinople in your sermons!)

The ACCS is also helpful in overcoming the chronological snobbery into which many contemporary Christians tend to slip. When we see that sound Biblical exegesis didn't necessarily begin in the sixteenth, or the eighteenth, or the twentieth centuries, we begin to sense a greater connection with the early church.

The ACCS CD-ROM includes the twelve volumes which are currently available in print:

  1. Genesis 1-11
  2. Genesis 12-50
  3. Exodus-Deuteronomy
  4. The Minor Prophets
  5. Matthew 1-13
  6. Matthew 14-28
  7. Mark
  8. Luke
  9. Romans
  10. 1-2 Corinthians
  11. Galatians-Colossians
  12. 1 Thessalonians-Philemon

The ACCS CD-ROM retails for $480, but is currently on sale for $384. For more details and a screenshot, check out this page.





Friday, February 24, 2006  

Managing Module Multiplication

In the previous two posts, I've talked about the five categories into which we've divided the various Accordance tools. It's a simple and understandable system which has worked well, but we now have so many tools available—and so many more on the way—that we needed to start looking for a way to further subdivide them.

We decided that in the next version of Accordance, we'll add submenus to each of the pop-up menus, so that like tools within each category could be grouped together. For example, under Reference Tools, we could distinguish Commentaries, Study Bible Notes, Translator's Notes, Critical Apparatuses, etc. Having such sub-categories should greatly reduce the length of the pop-up menus, while still giving users the quick access to which they've become accustomed.

Of course, these kinds of distinctions go beyond the tool's structure to its genre and content, and once we start divvying things up along those lines, we begin to run into the same ambiguities which I mentioned in Wednesday's post. What if someone doesn't want all his commentaries in a submenu? What if he doesn't have any critical apparatuses—do we clutter the menu with an empty category? What if we classify a module under one sub-category and the user thinks of it as belonging to another?

Then it occurred to us that all of these potential problems could be solved simply by letting the user decide how to subdivide each group of tools. Just as you can create a folder of Bookmarks in a web browser to group related sites, version 7.0 of Accordance will let you add your own subgroupings of tools and arrange them however you like. If you want to put all your commentaries into a single folder, or divide modern commentaries from classic commentaries, or distinguish critical commentaries from devotional commentaries, you'll be able to do it.

This, and other upcoming enhancements which we're not ready to talk about just yet, will make managing a growing list of modules much easier.





Thursday, February 23, 2006  

Knowing Where to Look, Part Deux

In yesterday's post, I talked about how we've organized the various text and tool modules we offer. This system has worked well for us since we first released Tools in version 2.0. However, there have been a few bumps along the way.

One example was the placement of the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT). NIDNTT is a Greek lexicon in which the various Greek words are presented as subcategories of English theological concepts. For example, under the English category "Love," you'll find the words agapao and phileo. We debated whether to make NIDNTT a Greek tool or an English tool. Some of us advocated making it a Greek tool because it is essentially a Greek lexicon with English headings. But strictly speaking, those English headings were the primary way the tool was organized, so others of us urged that we make it an English tool. At that point in time, tools with titles in multiple languages were something new for us, so there were also technical reasons for sticking with NIDNTT's primary system of organization. We thus released NIDNTT as an English tool.

Of course, users who bought NIDNTT naturally went looking for it under Greek tools, and found it confusing that it should appear under English tools. This problem was compounded when we did The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (NIDOTTE), which was clearly organized as a Hebrew tool. Thus, NIDNTT looked even more oddly placed.

We learned our lesson that sometimes a strict interpretation of a tool's structure can be counterintuitive and counterproductive, and when we updated NIDNTT we changed it to a Greek tool. (By that time, the technical obstacles to doing so had also been removed.)

About the only other instance where this structural division has caused confusion is in the case of Greek and Hebrew grammars. Many users assume that those will appear as Greek and Hebrew tools, but if you think about it for a moment, a grammar is not organized according to the Greek and Hebrew alphabets, but according to English grammatical concepts (nouns, verbs, tenses, etc.). Thus, grammars fit under the structural category of General tools.

In this post, I've acknowledged a couple of instances where our division of tools into structural categories has posed challenges and even caused confusion. Overall, however, it's been a system which has worked quite well, enabling our users to access all of their Accordance resources from a few pop-up menus, rather than having to scroll through some unwieldy book browser.

That said, there is one more limitation to this system which has become apparent only recently. Accordance now has so many modules available that some users are finding the pop-up menus for the various categories of tools getting exceptionally long. I'll talk more about that, and what we're doing to deal with that problem, in tomorrow's post.





Wednesday, February 22, 2006  

Knowing Where to Look

In response to my last post, someone e-mailed to say that he wanted to use the Outlines module, but wasn't sure where to find it. So here's a quick rundown of how the Resource palette is organized.

First, we make a major distinction between Texts and Tools:

Texts are basically primary works, works that you study for their own sake. This obviously includes the Bible, but it also includes such extrabiblical works as Josephus, Philo, Pseudepigrapha, Apocryphal Gospels, Mishna, Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), etc. On the resource palette, Texts are distinguished by the scroll icons, and are divided into three categories: English texts, Greek texts, and Hebrew texts. English texts is really something of a misnomer, because it includes any texts which use the Latin alphabet, such as French, German, Spanish, etc.

Tools are secondary resources — that is, works that you study in order to gain insight into the texts you're studying. For example, a Greek lexicon sheds light on the words used in a Greek text; while a commentary examines the meaning of the Biblical text. No one reads a Greek lexicon or a commentary for its own sake; rather, we read them for the sake of better understanding the Bible.

Because there are so many different tools available, we had to find some way of subdividing them. We could have subdivided them according to genre, distinguishing things like devotional, historical, and theological works; but there are two problems with such classifications. (1) Some books could fall into multiple categories. For example, is the Creeds module theological or historical? (2) You might classify a particular module differently than we would, in which case you might go looking for it in the wrong place.

To avoid these ambiguities, we decided to categorize the various tools by the way those tools are organized. In other words, we make distinctions according to structure rather than according to genre:

  1. English tools are those organized alphabetically in English. This includes all English Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, topical Bibles, and our Bible Lands PhotoGuide (which is organized by site name). English tools are distinguished on the Resource palette by the blue book icon with the English letter "A."
  2. Greek tools are those organized alphabetically in Greek. Obviously, that includes your Greek lexicons. Greek tools are distinguished on the Resource palette by the blue book icon with the Greek letter Alpha.
  3. Hebrew tools are those organized alphabetically in Hebrew. Hebrew tools are distinguished on the Resource palette by the blue book icon with the Hebrew letter Aleph.
  4. Reference tools are those organized by verse reference. This is where you'll find all of your commentaries, cross references, translator's notes, study Bibles, and the Outlines module I mentioned the other day. Reference tools are distinguished on the Resource palette by the blue book icon with the one-colon-one (1:1).
  5. General tools are those which do not fit into any of the other four categories. Basically, this will include any book organized by chapter and section rather than alphabetically or by verse reference. Here is where you'll find Creeds, Hymns, Systematic Theologies, Histories, Journals, etc.
If you think for a moment about the way a tool is organized, you'll always know where to look for it. Tomorrow, I'll talk a little more about this system of organization, and perhaps even hint at some upcoming enhancements to it. Stay tuned!





Friday, February 17, 2006  

To Search or Not to Search

Sometimes the quickest way to find something in Accordance is not to perform a search, but to consult the right resource. In yesterday's post, I cited 2 Samuel 8:1-18, which summarizes most of David's various conquests. It's been a while since I've read 2 Samuel, so I'd forgotten that all of those conquests were listed in a single chapter. I thought that the details of David's subjugation of the Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, etc. might be scattered throughout the book, in which case it would have taken me a fair amount of time to assemble all the Biblical references.

Since I'm naturally lazy, I decided not to construct a series of searches for Moab*, Edom*, Ammon*, etc. and then sift through the various hits. Instead, I just opened up the Outlines module (included with every level of our Library CD-ROM) and scanned the literary outline of 2 Samuel. I figured the outline would give me a convenient list of headings such as "David's Conquest of the Moabites" and "David's Wars with the Ammonites" along with the corresponding references. Sure enough, I quickly found the heading "David's Military Conquests (8:1-18)". I then clicked the link to view that passage, and quickly saw that it contained all the information I needed.

Now, if you're really wanting to study the events of David's reign, I wouldn't recommend taking such shortcuts. It's far better to take the time to study a passage in depth. But when you're trying to find a passage quickly, it's often easiest to consult resources such as the Outlines, the various Topical Bibles, etc., rather than doing a series of searches. Best of all, many of these kinds of resources are included in our most affordable packages, so you probably already have them.





Thursday, February 16, 2006  

Search All in Self-Defense

In yesterday's post, I described two features of the Timeline which help to give you the big picture of the historical circumstances surrounding various Biblical narratives. As an example, I pointed out that David was able to expand his empire precisely because he ruled at a time when the great empires of the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Hittites were in decline and disarray. In response, Ken Ristau posted a comment which read simply, "David's empire??"

Now, I'm not sure exactly what Ken meant by this, but since he's working on a Ph.D. in Ancient History and since he strikes me as a stickler for precision, I'm assuming he's questioning my use of the word "empire" in connection with King David.

True, as empires go, David's was certainly not a very large one, and he never actually took the title of "emperor." But according to 2 Samuel 8:1-18, he conquered and exacted tribute from the neighboring Moabites, Edomites, Arameans, and Amalekites. He seized territory from the Philistines and Ammonites, and established alliances with the kings of Phoenicia and Hamath. My use of the term "empire" was meant in the general sense of an expanding kingdom built through conquest.

Still, Ken is the professional historian, not I, so his question had me wondering if I was stretching the term "empire" a little too far. I decided to see if anyone else had referred to David's kingdom as an empire by using the Search All feature of Accordance.

Accordance has had the ability to search every module in a single pass since version 3.0, but it's not really a feature we talk about a lot, since most of the time, you want to narrow a search rather than having to drink from the proverbial firehose. Still, when you do want to do a broad search like this, all you need to do is open a Search All window by selecting "Search All" from the New submenu of the File menu (or just use the keyboard shortcut command-F). In the Search All window, you can choose from a few predefined groups of modules, such as [All], [All Bibles], and [All Tools], or you can define your own custom groups of modules to search. Since I was pretty sure the Bible never speaks of David's kingdom as an "empire," I decided to limit my search to [All Tools]. I then performed a simple search for David* WITHIN 3 WORDS empire. Here's what I found:

As you can see, the word "empire" is frequently used to describe the expansion of David's kingdom. To explore these hits further, I need simply click on the name of each tool to view my search results in a tool window. A quick scan of the results revealed the use of such terms as "Davidic empire," "David's empire," and "empire of David." So while there may still be some technical reason why Ken objects to my use of the term, at least I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I'm not the only one to use it.

Now, I've been picking on Ken throughout this post, and I hope it's clear that this has all been in good fun. After all, I'm not even sure he meant his comment in the way that I took it. I just thought it made for a good example of how to use the Search All window in Accordance.

Now, if only I could have found a way to use Accordance to help my team beat Ken's team in the Orange Bowl . . .





Wednesday, February 15, 2006  

Getting the Big Picture

In my previous post, I showed how you can measure distance in time between various items on the Timeline. But option-dragging from one point to another isn't the only way to see relationships in time. The Timeline has two really cool features which help to give you the big picture of what was happening at any point in Biblical history.

For those who aren't familiar with the Timeline, it's divided into eight major geographical regions: Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Aram (Syria), Mesopotamia, Persia, Asia (Anatolia), Greece, and Rome. Each of these regions is assigned a distinct color (all user-customizable, of course). The cool part is that whenever the people of one region dominate the people of another, that region's color spills over onto the other regions. In the following screenshot, you can see the blue of Mesopotamia swallowing up the northern kingdom of Irael during the Late Assyrian Empire, and extending to the southern kingdom of Judah during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The green of Persia then covers everything from Asia Minor to Egypt. This is followed by a thin sliver of orange representing the short-lived empire of Alexander the Great. (You can click the thumbnail below to get a bigger image.)

In addition to showing the ebb and flow of regional supremacy in this way, the Timeline gives one other way to see everything that is happening at a given point in time. If you click a point, or click and drag a selection in the time scale at the top of the Timeline, Accordance will open a new window listing everything that if happening on the Timeline during the period of time you selected. For example, if I'm looking at the period of David's life (in the Conservative dating scheme), I can drag from 1040 B.C. to about 960 B.C. in the time scale. Like this:

The resulting timeline report tells me that during this period of time, the Latins were just beginning to settle in Rome, Greece was in a dark age between the Mycenaean and Archaic periods, Asia Minor was populated by small Neo-Hittite states after the fall of the Hittite empire, Assyria was in decline, and Egypt was in the Third Intermediate period after the collapse of the powerful New Kingdom. Thus we see that David was able to expand his empire at a time when all the major world powers were in a period of relative weakness and disarray!

In these two ways, the Timeline can give you the big picture of the historical circumstances behind various Biblical people and events.





Monday, February 13, 2006  

Update for Ross Hebrew -- a Confession

Our goal is always and only to produce the best, but sometimes we have to compromise our standards temporarily. When we released Introducing Biblical Hebrew by Allen P. Ross last November, it was already a year late, and we knew that it still needed quite a bit of work. It looked OK, but closer inspection revealed many scanning errors in the Hebrew accents and vowels, as well as some other problems. However, we felt it was such a valuable tool, a first year grammar and an excellent review of Hebrew grammar, that it was worth releasing despite the errors. That's my confession — we let you buy a module with known errors in it!

One of our scholars has now gone through the book with a fine-tooth comb. If any errors escaped his eagle eye, we cannot find them. We cannot wait for a new CD-ROM to release the corrected version, so it is available as a download here. If you have purchased Ross this is a free upgrade, otherwise the unlock code is only $40. I highly recommend Ross Hebrew to anyone who is studying Hebrew, or trying to use the Hebrew they once learned.

We have also posted the NIV Bible with poetic formatting and text styling, as a free upgrade for anyone with the plain NIV text module. Download it here.





 

Measuring Distances in Space and Time

Sure the Accordance Bible Atlas is integrated with the text of the Bible, has animated routes, and lets you fly through 3D maps; but in my opinion, one of the handiest features is one of the least flashy: the ability to measure distances.

Users of the Atlas know that if you drag your mouse across any point on the map, the Instant Details box will show the elevation and coordinates of that point (in longitude/latitude, Israel grid coordinates, and UTM coordinates). What they may not have discovered yet is that if you hold down the option key, you can click and drag from one point to another to measure the distance between those two points. That information is also displayed in the Instant details box.

That's useful, but let's face it, distance as the crow flies is not always the best way to measure distance. It may be 224 miles from Rameses in Egypt to Jericho, but that doesn't really tell me the length of the traditional route of the Exodus. Fortunately, as long as you keep holding down the option key, you can click from point to point to point on the map, changing directions however you like, and Accordance will continue to add up the distance. Thus, I can overlay the Exodus route layer onto the map, and then option-click along the traditional route to find an actual distance of about 870 miles! I use this feature all the time to give people an idea of what these various Biblical journeys involved.

This feature was so useful in the Atlas that we incorporated it into the Timeline as well — only there, you're measuring distance in time rather than distance in space. For example, if you want to know how old David was when he slew Goliath or committed adultery with Bathsheba, just hold down the option key and drag from the beginning of David's life to each of those events. According to the conservative dating scheme, which is based on Eugene Merill's Kingdom of Priests, David was roughly seventeen or eighteen when he slew Goliath, which is about the age we typically imagine when we read 1 Samuel 17. But it's a little surprising to find that David was about 48 years old when he committed adultery with Bathsheba! That information puts a whole new spin on this particular episode in David's life. Rather than being a lustful young king who can have whatever he wants, we see a man who is going through something of a midlife crisis.

Sometimes it's simple things like being able to measure distances in space and time that can help make the Bible come alive like never before.





Saturday, February 11, 2006  

Coming to Chicago and Boston

We are looking forward to visiting these two great cities in March, and making our free training available to users in those areas. See this post for details, which will be updated as necessary.




Wednesday, February 08, 2006  

Make Your Maps Look Even Cooler

We've talked a lot about the features of the latest upgrade to the Accordance Bible Atlas, but today I want to give you a very simple way to improve the appearance of your maps: change the fonts that are used.

Changing the appearance of text on the maps can dramatically change their mood and impact. Here's a quick tutorial on how to do it, along with some examples of cool fonts you might want to use (and probably already have).

You can modify a wide variety of text labels in the Accordance Bible Atlas:

  1. Site names. The names of sites in a site layer can be modified by choosing "Define Site Layers..." from the Sites pop-up menu of the Map window. In the dialog box that opens, you can select the site layer you wish to modify, and then specify the font, color, scale (size), style, and the kind of marker used.

    Note: Since most site layers tend to contain numerous sites, you want to choose a font that is easily readable no matter how closely you zoom in or how far you zoom out. I tend to stick with basic serifed fonts like Adobe Garamond or Palatino, or san-serifed fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Lucida Grande, or Optima. Fancy display fonts tend to be hard to read at small font sizes or when there are many sites in close proximity.
     
  2. Region Names. The names of geographical regions tend to be the largest labels which appear on the map, so changing them can have the greatest impact on how a map looks. To do this, choose "Set Map Display..." from the Display menu when a Map window (or tab) is at the front. In the dialog box that opens, choose "Region Names" from the pop-up menu at the top. You can then set the font, color, and style for the Region Names.

    It's here that you can really have some fun. Cool-looking display fonts can really affect the look of the region names. Here are a few examples:

    Papyrus font:

    Optima font:


    Stencil font:


    Handwriting font:

    The possibilities are endless. Comic Sans, Technical, Moulin Rouge, Herculanum, and others all resulted in interesting new looks. In general, I find that the simpler and bolder display fonts tend to be best. Fonts with lots of flourishes and ornaments tend to look cramped and hard to read, so I stayed away from most script fonts, Old English fonts, etc.
     
  3. Route Site Names: Route sites are sites that are associated with certain route layers, and these appear in addition to any site layers you have displayed. For example, Fair Havens in Crete is a relatively unimportant site that is not likely to appear in most site layers; but when you have Paul's Journey to Rome displayed, Fair Havens will be displayed along with the other sites Paul visited. To modify the appearance of these labels, choose "Set Map Display..." from the Display menu when a Map window (or tab) is at the front. In the dialog box that opens, choose "Route Site Names" from the pop-up menu at the top. You can then set the font, color, and style for the Route Site Names.
     
  4. Extra Site and Region Names: "Extra" sites and regions are those which appear on the map whenever you do a search. For example, if you're reading in Joshua about Gibeon, you can select the name Gibeon and click the Map button to locate it on the map. Whether or not Gibeon is included in whatever site layer you have displayed, it will appear as an extra site displayed in red. The same goes for region names such as "Israel" or "Egypt." You can set the appearance of these "extra" site and region labels by choosing "Set Map Display..." from the Display menu, choosing "Extra Site Names" or "Extra Region Names" from the pop-up menu at the top, and then setting the font, color, scale, and style. Personally, I like to keep the font consistent with whatever font I'm using for my normal site and region labels, but you can heighten the impact of these extra site and region labels by choosing a different font if you like.

As I hope you can see, the Accordance Bible Atlas gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility with respect to the display of text on the maps. Be sure to play around with different fonts and styles until you arrive at a look that practically jumps off the screen.





Tuesday, February 07, 2006  

How Much is an Upgrade Worth?

In yesterday's post, I talked about how the feedback of our users has helped us to add lots of little refinements to the Accordance user interface. The vast majority of these refinements end up being released as free downloadable program updates, such as the 6.9.2 update that we just released.

That's one reason our users ought to keep up with the latest Accordance updates. Almost without exception, our free incremental updates contain numerous minor enhancements which help to make Accordance insanely great. Take a look at the Version History in the Manuals and Documents folder inside your Accordance folder to see some of the cool things that have been added since version 6 was released. Those users who paid $29 to upgrade to version 6 in November of 2003 have seen that investment amortized across no less than eleven incremental updates since then. That works out to be less than three dollars per update. Not too shabby.

That's something to consider when version 7 is released later this year. In addition to all the new features and enhancements you'll get with the initial upgrade (and believe me, the list will be considerable!), you can count on numerous free updates over the course of that next upgrade cycle.





Monday, February 06, 2006  

6.9.2 Upgrade

We have posted an upgrade to 6.9.2, see the Forum announcement.




 

Insanely Great Users

Last week, I said that our decision to develop Mac-only Bible software was a product of our desire to build "insanely great software." I wrote: "Where except on a Mac can you create insanely great software?"

There's a reason the Mac platform is the place to create insanely great software. It's not primarily the architecture of the Mac which makes insanely great software possible (though that's part of it); and it's certainly not that Apple is so easy to work with (this I can tell you from experience). Ultimately, insanely great software is the result of developing for insanely great users.

This fact was dramatically illustrated to me when I sat in on a training seminar for a Windows software program. At first, I found myself shaking my head in dumbfounded disbelief at the hoops Windows developers are willing to make their users jump through, and by the end of the seminar, I was actually angry about it. Time and time again I saw a potentially excellent feature ruined by a failure to consider the way a user might actually work with the software. The poor woman sitting next to me repeatedly got confused and asked me for help, and when I would help her, she would explain that she was tired or apologize that she just wasn't technically savvy enough. I wanted to shake her and yell, "It's not your fault! This doesn't make sense to you because it just doesn't make sense!"

In general, Windows users seem to have been trained to blame their confusion on their own ignorance or inability to adapt. This self-doubt makes them less likely to demand that Windows developers deliver a more refined user experience. Mac users have been trained to blame their confusion on the poor interface design of the application. I think the superior usability of the Mac and Mac applications is largely a result of this cultural difference between the users of the two platforms. Accordance users are constantly pushing us to make the software better—to refine it in ways we may not have thought of and to adapt it to uses we may not have anticipated.

Admittedly, we sometimes get frustrated when the little refinements we are asked to make delay the development of the big new features we're eager to add. But it's those little things which often have the greatest impact on our users' lives. Saving a step here and a mouse-click there may not seem like much, but it makes all the difference in the world when those steps are repeated over and over again. As I said in last week's post, it is often the little things which separate the insanely great programs from the merely mediocre. If Accordance really does qualify as insanely great, we owe much of the credit to the feedback and suggestions of our users.





Friday, February 03, 2006  

How's That for Constructive Criticism?

Joe Weaks of the Macintosh Biblioblog recently pointed his readers to this blog, but not without offering a little constructive criticism. He pointed out that we did not have a link to our RSS feed on the blog itself and suggested that we do "a little more design work" so that the blog would better match the rest of the Accordance web-site. But Joe didn't stop with making helpful suggestions; he actually took the time to develop a new template for the blog which dealt with both his suggestions. Thanks, Joe!

Oh, Joe did have one other thing to say. He said I was being "cheeky" when I wrote: "where except on the Mac can you create insanely great software?" Can you believe it? Cheeky!

Okay, maybe it was a little cheeky, but there was a reason I wrote that, and it wasn't just Mac fanaticism. I'll explain what I meant in an upcoming post. Until then, thanks again for the help, Joe.





 

Worth the Upgrade?

In response to yesterday's post on the new Bible Atlas, someone identifying himself only as "poor" left a comment expressing frustration with the $39 upgrade price. After all, he had bought the old Atlas outright a few months ago for $49, and now we're asking him to pay almost that amount for the new Atlas. This, he argued, amounts to ripping off our faithful customers.

I can certainly sympathize with "poor's" perspective. I mean, I personally chafe at having to pay full price to upgrade to the latest versions of Apple's iLife and iWork applications, and I definitely don't want Accordance users to feel the same way about our upgrades. But as Helen explained in a followup comment, the $49 price this user paid was not the full retail price of the old Atlas. Precisely to avoid ripping off our faithful customers, we reduced the price of the Atlas from $69 to $49 roughly six months prior to releasing the new version. The price of the new Atlas is $89, so those who bought the old Atlas for $49 and who upgrade to the new one for $39 will end up paying $88 total. Believe me, we've made every effort to be fair to our faithful users with respect to this new Atlas release.

In fact, much of the work which we did for the new Atlas is actually available to users of the old Atlas for FREE.

You see, when we decided to upgrade the Atlas, we made two kinds of improvements:

  1. We added new features to the Accordance application
  2. We improved the Atlas data modules in the ways described in my previous post: increasing resolution, adding new backgrounds, and adding new sites, routes, and regions.

Enhancements to the Accordance application included support for the higher resolution data, OpenGL rendering of 3-D maps, Quartz rendering of map layers, new easier ways to display multiple layers of the same type, new ways to navigate the maps, and the display of UTM coordinates. These new features were added in a series of freely downloadable updates to Accordance, and immediately became available to users of the old Atlas. There is no need to upgrade to the new high-resolution Atlas data in order to take advantage of these features.

Thus, when you upgrade to the new version of the Atlas, you get really awesome high-resolution maps, new map backgrounds, and new site and region layers. But any user of version 6.x and the old Atlas can freely download a major upgrade—without paying one red cent!

I'll talk more about our upgrade philosophy in a future post, particularly with respect to how our free updates figure into the value of our paid upgrades. In the meantime, I hope this post gives you some insight into the thinking behind our Atlas upgrade.





Thursday, February 02, 2006  

More on the New Bible Atlas

Way back in July of 1998, we released the Accordance Bible Atlas. More than just a collection of static maps, the Bible Atlas featured numerous map backgrounds, an extensive database of ancient sites, regions, and animated routes, and even a customizable user layer. The resolution of the Atlas was not what we had hoped it would be, but back then, inquiries into high-resolution altitude data of the Middle East tended to be met with suspicious questions or outrageous licensing fees. So we settled for 1-kilometer per pixel data and interpolated it to half a kilometer. While other developers were offering wireframe models of Israel, we used Apple's QuickDraw 3D technology to enable our users to explore 3D maps from Italy to Persia.

That was nearly eight years ago, and in that time I have yet to see another Bible Atlas even come close to ours. Now we're extending that lead with a major new upgrade to the Atlas.

The biggest improvement to the new Atlas is that it features ten times the resolution, with each pixel now representing 90 meters. This results in an incredible level of detail—especially as you zoom in close. My favorite example is Jerusalem. With the old Atlas, zooming all the way in on Jerusalem would result in a blotchy patchwork of pixels, making it impossible to distinguish the hill of David from the western ridge traditionally (and erroneously) known as Mount Zion. With the new Atlas, zooming all the way in results in a remarkable level of detail. In the image below, both ridges are clearly distinguishable, along with the Kidron, Hinnom, and Tyropoean valleys, as well as the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Offense.

    

As you can see, this dramatic improvement in resolution opens up a whole new level of insight into the Bible lands. It also makes the 3D maps that much cooler!

The original Atlas contained a database of more than a thousand sites, dozens of regions (with hundreds of subregions), and about seventy animated routes covering just about every Biblical journey and battle. Yet strangely, we would occasionally get feedback over the years that there weren't nearly enough of these sites, regions, and routes. We eventually realized that the problem was not that the information was not already there, but that our users weren't AWARE that it was there. To see each of these sites, regions, and routes in the appropriate menus, they need to be defined as a site, region, or route layer. When we shipped the original Atlas, we included predefined layers for the most obvious sites, regions, and routes, but we wrongly assumed that users wouldn't want to have to scroll past fifty Old Testament routes in order to select something like Paul's Second Missionary Journey.

This time around, we are including a new Map Settings file with all available layers already predefined. And although most of these layers were already available, those who hadn't yet discovered them will be blown away by the number of options available to them.

Another major improvement to the new Atlas is the addition of modern sites and nations, making it easy to locate Biblical events within the context of today's political boundaries.

Finally, the new Atlas adds two new background color schemes: Light Browns and Satellite. Light Browns looks like the mercator maps you often find published by National Geographic. The colors are subtle enough that they don't conflict with any superimposed region layers, yet striking enough to show a high degree of geographic detail.

Satellite is designed to mimic the appearance of the satellite photos which you now see on the web or in the back of the NET Bible notes, yet without every modern town or farm. It's darker than most other backgrounds, so you might want to set the font color for labels to yellow or white, but it gives a fairly realistic look.

All in all, the new Atlas is a major upgrade of an old favorite. After eight years, the Accordance Bible Atlas was still superior to anything else on the market. Now, with ten times the resolution, greater access to existing layers, and the addition of new backgrounds and modern boundaries, our new Atlas is even better.

Best of all, the new Atlas is just $89. Owners of the previous Atlas can upgrade for $39.





Wednesday, February 01, 2006  

Highly Resolved

It was a long time in coming, but at last we can announce a major upgrade of the Atlas to Version 2. See this Forum page for details.




 

Insanely Great

A few weeks ago, we were exhibiting Accordance at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco.

MacWorld Expo is always exciting for many reasons, but for me, the best part is seeing the reactions of the people to whom I demonstrate Accordance. There are plenty of "Oohs" and "Aahhs" and "Wows," but my favorite reaction is the incredulous look which seems to say, "It's crazy that you guys even thought of all this!"

I wish I had a dime for every time I've been asked why we would develop Accordance as a Mac-only program. Why in the world would we neglect ninety-percent of the computer users out there to focus on such a small minority? Why would we eschew all those potential sales to serve such a "limited" market? The answer is simple: We aren't out to take over the world, we just want to create Bible software which is "insanely great." And where except on the Mac can you create insanely great software?

I'll leave it to you, our users, to judge whether Accordance really qualifies as "insanely great." Still, whenever I get that "you guys are crazy" look, I tend to see it as an affirmation of insanely-greatness. It is an indication that we have met a need our users may not even have been aware that they had.

Interestingly, it is often the little things that elicit the crazy-in-a-good-way look. But that's a subject for another post . . .





 

Adventures in Blogging

Okay, we admit it: we're not always—or often—on the cutting edge of internet technology. That's partly because we're too busy trying to stay on the cutting edge of Bible study software, and partly because we tend to wait and see which new forms of online communication will stand the test of time. So we know we're a little late to the whole blogging phenomenon, but at the risk of sounding cliché: better late than never.

That said, we're excited to offer this blog as a resource for our users, and we hope that it will help you in a variety of ways to get the most out of Accordance Bible Software. We'll make it our goal to post new blog entries about two to three times a week, so please check back often, or better yet, subscribe to the RSS feed.