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Wednesday, April 23, 2008  

Anchor Bible Dictionary: Back and Better Than Ever

A while back, I blogged about the importance of Anchor Bible Dictionary, not only as a seminal resource for Biblical studies, but also as the impetus for creating many of the features Accordance users enjoy today.

A few months after that post, Anchor Bible Dictionary was sold to another publisher, and we had to suspend sales of the product until we could negotiate a contract with the new publisher. I'm pleased to say that all of that has now been resolved, and we are once again able to offer Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary for sale.

This new edition of Anchor has been updated with various corrections and extensive improvements to the hypertext links.

If you've been waiting for Anchor to be made available again, the wait is over. Anchor is on sale through the end of May for just $249, and those who already own Anchor (and Accordance 7) can get the updated edition for a whopping ten bucks!





Monday, April 21, 2008  

PhotoGuide Upgraded Again

I'm excited to announce a major new upgrade to the Bible Lands PhotoGuide. With more than 400 new photos and improvements to the quality of many existing ones, this third edition of the PhotoGuide now offers more than 1600 high-resolution photos with in depth annotations.

The articles on Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Caesarea, Caesarea Philippi, Dan, Elah, Gibeon, Nazareth, Capernaum, Masada, Rome, and more have all been extensively updated. The article on Jerusalem includes photos of recent discoveries such as a Canaanite water-tunnel dating to the same period as Warren's shaft, the so-called palace of David, and the possible first-century location of the Pool of Siloam. Additional photos of the Second Temple model help flesh out what the various excavation sites would have looked like in the first century. And a new article on Flora explains the biblical significance of plants such as olive trees, figs, acacia trees, grape vines, wheat, and mustard seeds. Here are a few of the new photos which are included:

Model of Herod's Temple

Herod's palace at Masada was richly decorated with colorful frescoes. New photos such as this one bring that opulence to life.

Worship Center of the Golden Calf at Tell Dan

PhotoGuide 3 is available on our new Graphics DVD, along with our Atlas and Timeline. Upgrade pricing is available for those who own the first or second editions of the PhotoGuide.





Monday, April 14, 2008  

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

This famous saying, which I'd always heard attributed to Mark Twain, apparently originated with Benjamin D'Israeli. Whoever first said it, its meaning is clear: numbers can be very misleading.

Last week, I searched the MT/LXX for all occurrences of the Hebrew word bara using the Merge command, and got 54 hits. Then I searched for all the places where bara is translated with poieo in the Greek Septuagint. The number of hits returned was 30. Next I searched for all the places bara is not translated with poieo. This returned 39 hits.

I then asked you to explain the apparent anomaly in the Hit counts for these various searches. If there are 54 occurrences of bara and 30 of them are translated with poieo, we would expect our search for those cases which are not translated with poieo to number just 24 (54 - 30 = 24), rather than 39.

I only got one response explaining the numbers, but that response was so thorough and clearly written that I suspect no one else felt the need to respond. Here is the explanation given in the comments on the last post:

In the first search where you merge the BHS and the LXX using the AND operator, each occurrence of bara and each occurrence of poiew are counted as hits separately--i.e. each pairing of bara/poiew counts as 2 hits (one for each word). So, the 30 hits reduces to 15 actual results.

In the other search--BHS NOT LXX--this phenomenon doesn't occur since negated search terms don't produce any counted hits. Thus, only the occurrences of bara in the result set are counted as hits, and the 39 hits equals 39 results.

Therefore, the problem with the calculation in the previous post is that you're including the number of hits on poiew from the first search. When you exclude those, the numbers work out as expected: 54 - 15 = 39

That's exactly right, and I couldn't have explained it more clearly. I'm glad the commenter wasn't fooled by my intentional misreading of the numbers. I hope others of you found this little exercise to be illustrative. It's important, when looking at the statistical information in Accordance, to make sure you understand how things are being counted.

In general, any single search element will be counted as a hit. So for example, if I search for "Moses AND Aaron," each occurrence of Moses and each occurrence of Aaron will be counted as a single hit. If, however, I search for the actual phrase "Moses and Aaron," each occurrence of that phrase will be counted as a hit. If the phrase occurs five times, Accordance will give a hit count of 5. If it were counting each word separately, it would give a hit count of 15, which would be confusing in most cases.

If I were to search for two phrases joined by a Search command, such as "Moses and Aaron OR Jacob and Esau," Accordance would count each occurrence of the phrase "Moses and Aaron" and each occurrence of the phrase "Jacob and Esau." It would not count each of the words in those phrases.

Similarly, if I develop a search using a Construct window, each occurrence of the entire contruction is counted as a hit, as opposed to the individual words within that construction.

Finally, as our commenter made clear, negated items are not counted as hits. In the search "Moses NOT Aaron," each occurrence of Moses is counted. Aaron can't be counted because it would not exist in the set of verses returned by such a search.

At first blush, all this talk of what gets counted might seem a little confusing. On the one hand, it might be more consistent just to count each individual word that was found by any search, regardless of whether you were using search commands, searching for phrases, or searching for constructs. But when you search for a three-word phrase, do you really want to have to divide the number of hits by three to get the actual number of times that phrase occurs? I certainly don't. Accordance therefore attempts to count the number of hits as intelligently as possible, so that the number you get is most likely to be the number that makes the most sense.

Nevertheless, if statistics are one of the three kinds of lies, it doesn't hurt to know how Accordance is arriving at the figures it gives.





Thursday, April 10, 2008  

Understanding the Hit Counts

In yesterday's post, I did a series of searches of the MT/LXX. First, I searched for all occurrences of the Hebrew word bara using the Merge command. This returned 54 hits. Then I searched for all the places where bara is translated with poieo in the Greek Septuagint. The number of hits returned was 30. Then I searched for all the places bara is not translated with poieo. This returned 39 hits.

Does anyone see a problem with those numbers? If there are 54 occurrences of bara and 30 of them are translated with poieo, we would expect our search for those cases which are not translated with poieo to number just 24 (54 - 30 = 24), not 39!

There's a logical explanation for these numbers, but I want to see if you can tell me what it is. Feel free to leave your explanations in the comments on this post, and I'll follow up with a more complete explanation.





Wednesday, April 09, 2008  

Determining What Gets Displayed in MT/LXX

Last week, I talked about how the settings in the Show pop-up menu of the Tools window enable you to determine what kind of information gets displayed. This week I want to give you a very practical example of how this feature can be useful in sophisticated tools such as the MT/LXX. But before I can do that, I need to introduce you to the MT/LXX and how it works.

MT/LXX is a tool which places each word or phrase of the Masoretic Hebrew text in parallel with the corresponding Greek words from the Septuagint. This makes possible some very interesting comparisons.

For example, let's say I want to find every place where the Hebrew word bara, "create," is translated by the Greek word poieo.

As with all tools, the MT/LXX is divided into different fields of content. Search the Entry field to find particular verses, the Hebrew field to search for Hebrew words, the Greek field for LXX words, etc.

If I search the Hebrew field for the word bara, I find just 20 occurrences. But when I search the BHS-W4 for this word, I get no less than 54 occurrences. Since the MT/LXX is supposed to have every word in both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Septuagint, shouldn't I expect my search for bara to deliver the same result I get when searching the Hebrew Bible?

The discrepancy is due to the fact that the MT/LXX is not grammatically tagged like the BHS-W4. Thus, when we search the MT/LXX for bara, we will find the twenty times bara appears in that exact inflected form, but miss the 34 times when it appears in other forms.

Fortunately, we can overcome this limitation of the MT/LXX by piggy-backing on the tagging of the Hebrew Bible. We’ll do this through the use of an advanced search command called the MERGE command.

The MERGE command joins two windows together so that they both reflect the same search result. In this case, I need a Search window containing the BHS-W4, and a Tool window containing MT/LXX. In the Search window, I'll search for bara. In the MT/LXX window, I'll enter the MERGE command (by selecting it from the Enter Command submenu of the Search menu) and select the window I want to merge to (BHS-W4). When I click OK in the MT/LXX window, the results of my lexical search of the Hebrew Bible are reflected in the MT/LXX.

Using the MERGE command in this way makes for some very powerful searches, especially when I Merge with additional Search windows. To find every place where the LXX translates the Hebrew word bara by some form of the word poieo, I would need to open a new Search window containing the Septuagint, and search for poieo. I would then return to my MT/LXX window, add the AND command, followed by a second MERGE command which points to the window containing the LXX.

When I click OK, this search turns up 52 hits, and I can see that both the Hebrew word bara and the Greek word poieo are highlighted.

As I scroll down to Genesis 2:4, however, I find a place where bara and poieo both appear in the same verse, but where poieo is actually being used to translate a different Hebrew word.

I can exclude such false hits by opening the More Options section and specifying that I want the Greek and Hebrew words to appear in the same paragraph—that is, on the same line—rather than just in the same article. When I click OK to perform this search again, the number of hits goes down to 30, and Genesis 2:4 becomes excluded.

If I want to see all the places the LXX translates bara with some word other than poieo, I need only change the AND command to a NOT, like this:

Here's where the Show pop-up menu comes in handy. If I set the window to show only the hit paragraphs, I can quickly scan my results to see all the different ways bara is translated.

Of course, the downside of this view is that I can't easily see which verse each hit comes from. The reference for the verse at the top of the pane is shown in the Go To box at the bottom right corner of the window, but I have no easy way of telling where the other hits I'm looking at are found. Choosing Add Titles from the Show pop-up solves this problem by giving me the verse references for each hit.

That was a lot of set up just to reinforce the usefulness of the Show pop-up menu, but hopefully you've also learned something about the MT/LXX, the Merge Command, searching within every paragraph as opposed to every article, etc. The MT/LXX is an extremely powerful tool which is made all the more powerful when you know how to use the various options Accordance provides.





Friday, April 04, 2008  

New Accordance Trainer Shares His Experiences

[Today's guest blogger is Rick Mansfield, one of several new Accordance trainers who have been leading free training seminars across the country this Spring. I asked Rick to share his experience of leading a seminar for the first time, and much of what he's written echoes my own experience of leading seminars. Except, that is, when he chronicles all the preparation he did. I'm afraid I'm not that much of a go-getter! ;-) —David]

Last Fall, OakTree Software invited me and a few others to come down to Florida for a weekend with the purpose of training us to be Accordance trainers. I jumped at the chance because I've been using Accordance for about a decade now and it is absolutely integral to my work and daily routines. It was a great experience to finally meet folks at OakTree with whom I had corresponded over the years, but had never actually met in person. The weekend itself was fairly intense as we spent many hours, sometimes late into the night, going over the workings of Accordance—from the big picture and philosophy of the software to the very minutiae of its extremely powerful capabilities. Then on Monday following our weekend of training, each one of the trainers-in-training took about an hour to present a segment at an actual Accordance Training Seminar in Orlando.

Flash forward six months. This past week, I had my first opportunity to "fly solo" as a trainer: leading a seminar on Friday at Asbury Theological Seminary and on Saturday at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I'm no stranger to the classroom, but one thing I've learned over the years is that whenever I have a new "prep," I don't let the students know I'm teaching something for the first time. I've found that if I demonstrate confidence in my presentation, the students will have confidence in their learning.

But that doesn't mean that I didn't have some initial concerns as I prepared to lead an Accordance seminar completely by myself for the first time. Even though I've used Accordance for almost a decade now, it's no secret that it's a very sophisticated program. It's simple enough for a casual user to sit down and go straight to work, but at the same time it's complex enough for the most advanced biblical scholar.

I'll admit to my own initial anxieties about going on my own for the first time. The Accordance Training Seminars last from 9 AM in the morning to 5 PM in the afternoon. Taking time for breaks and lunch, that still leaves roughly six and a half hours of straight instruction time. Could I possibly talk about Accordance for that long, or would I—like a new minister preaching his first sermon—run through all my material in a mere matter of minutes? And although I use Accordance almost every day, I don't use all of it everyday. I don't build elaborate constructs regularly. What if I got asked questions I couldn't answer? What if the attendees conspired together to play "stump the teacher"?

Fortunately, because I had quite a bit of lead time for my first two seminars, I prepared as if I were studying for the Bar Exam (well maybe not quite that intensely). I had David Lang's own instruction in the very excellent Accordance Training DVD that contains about five and a half hours of material. I watched the entire DVD completely through twice and watched certain segments more than that. I pored through the printed version of the Accordance 7.4 manual, underlining, highlighting, and placing sticky notes all throughout the pages marking significant spots. Perhaps most significantly, I had my own experience to draw from that included not only my own routines for using Accordance, but also little tips and tricks that I've picked up over the years.

Early on in my preparation I prepared a basic outline for what I would cover during a full day's seminar. The morning would be introductory, focused on the philosophy and basics of the Accordance interface including a Resource Palette and Search Window overview. From there, I planned to move to basic searches and cover search commands and symbols. The time after lunch would be reserved for more advanced topics such as Greek and Hebrew searching and the construct window. I also planned to cover topics such as tools and tool searching, the Atlas and Timeline, and creating one's own user tools and Bibles if time allowed. As I continued in my preparation, my outline grew more and more detailed. In some places, I gave myself very simple instructions: "Run through elements of the search window from top to bottom"—a very simple instruction that took 45 minutes or so to actually do. In other places, I wrote down bullet points that included exact elements to put in a search field or in a construct window, step by step. For those kind of demonstrations, I wanted to make sure it worked right the first time, and I wanted to be sure that I had every element in place so that I wouldn't accidentally forget something. By the time I was ready to actually lead the seminar, my notes had grown from that simple outline to an eleven-page document.

I also thought about what the attendees would see from my screen. I have a MacBook that I use for most of my work, but I knew I needed to clean it up a bit. Teaching software is different from teaching a class using presentation software such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Using those programs, learners only see what you've included in the slides. But in teaching software like Accordance, the projected screen is going to mirror my own. So I cleaned up my desktop, placing all those stray files that have been piling up there for a while elsewhere on my hard drive. I downloaded a nice Accordance-themed wallpaper from the Accordance Exchange. I switched the Mac OS X dock to autohide rather than remaining visible so I could use as much of the screen as possible. I removed all the little system icons from the top menu bar except for a basic minimum. Thinking that I might show attendees the Accordance website, forums and Exchange, I set Safari's homepage to accordancebible.com to save time. And finally, although I prefer to use the Accordance toolbar horizontally on top of the screen, I set it back to the default vertical position so as not to confuse new users. In fact, so as to change my habits, I did this a full week before my first presentation so that I would not confuse myself!

All this preparation really paid off. In the end, none of my worries were really warranted (of course careful preparation itself didn't hurt!). I found that a full day's seminar really wasn't enough time to cover everything. In fact, I think I could have very easily used an entire other day as well! That fact, of course, is testimony to the richness of the Accordance program itself.

At the beginning of each session, I informally polled the room in an attempt to determine the various levels of proficiencies among the attendees. I wanted to be careful not to rush into anything too difficult, but I also didn't want the experienced user to get bored during the morning sessions. On each day, there were enough "new" users that I felt justified in not assuming anything and starting with the very basics. At the first break, I asked a few of the folks who had been using Accordance for a while if what I had covered so far was too elementary for them. No one said that it was. Even these users were picking up little tips and tricks or discovering a basic feature here or there that they didn't know about.

These kinds of lightbulb moments lasted all day. The attendees were encouraged to ask questions or even ask me to go through a particular procedure again. The setting was very informal, and even though everyone had his or her own Mac laptop, it was very much a "group" learning experience. We had a variety of ages in attendance ranging from those who were in college, all the way to a 76-year-old retired Greek teacher!

Although I spent most of my time teaching the group, I also had the opportunity to provide quite a bit of one-on-one assistance. During the breaks and even after the seminars were officially over each day, I stayed and helped attendees individually by giving further instruction, offering clarification or occasionally troubleshooting something that wasn't working correctly for a user.

In addition to essentially following my initial outline for the day, I also showed attendees how to get more help using the Accordance forums. Plus, I introduced them to the Accordance Exchange and encouraged them to offer up their own user tools to the rest of us. Bravely, I decided to give out my own email address. Although I suggested using the forums or technical support for a first line of defense when needing assistance, I told the attendees that I wouldn't mind helping out as well if I could. Already I've received a handful of emails and have been able to have some positive follow-up correspondence from the seminars.

I should note, too, that as someone who gets to teach adults fairly regularly, I'm used to looking at the back of laptops. But normally, I see Dells and Toshibas and a small number of token Macs. How exciting it was to look out and see nothing but glowing white Apple logos shining back at me! Well…with one exception. On the second day of seminars, there was one lone individual who was actually running Accordance in Windows in the emulator. Such creatures really do exist! She testified that it worked quite well, but has already decided that her next computer will have to be a Mac. Good idea :-)

Even though I led both days by myself as far as the training goes, I wasn't by myself. OakTree sent a member of their sales staff to join me for the purpose of selling any additional Accordance software and modules to the attendees. I believe we made a very good team, and from what I understand, the bags she carried home were much lighter than when she first arrived.

At the end of both days, although I was tired, I also felt very good about the entire experience. It's very rewarding as a teacher to know that I've helped people learn something new. All the feedback (at least what I've heard!) has been very positive. But in reflection, it's not just some random piece of software I've helped folks with. Accordance allows us to study the Bible—God's Word—more efficiently. Studying God's word at any level allows us to understand Him better and our relationship to Him. By helping people better use Accordance, I've been able to instruct people how to "self feed" in their own spiritual journey. When I first agreed to become a trainer, I never realized there was an aspect of ministry to it as well, but there is.

So what now? After the seminars were both over, I was pumped. When's the next one? I'm ready to do this again! We are in talks for me to lead another one, but right now I've been told it would probably take place in the Fall. The Fall? Hey, OakTree, I think I could lead one of these every other week. Line it up, and I'm there!





Thursday, April 03, 2008  

Determining What Gets Displayed, Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about how the settings in the Show pop-up menu of the Tools window enable you to determine what kind of information gets displayed. All text will display your search results in the context of the entire tool. That means every paragraph and article will be displayed regardless of whether it actually contains the word you were searching for. Selecting Articles will show every paragraph of any article which contains your search term. Selecting Paragraphs means that only those paragraphs which actually contain the word you were searching for will be displayed. The narrower the context you select, the easier it is to scan all your search results, but the harder it becomes to know where you are in the broader context.

I said yesterday that the default setting for the Show pop-up menu is All text. For example, if you just open Louw & Nida from the Resource palette, the Show pop-up menu will be set to All text and the entire text of Louw & Nida will be displayed. But now I'm going to let you in on a little secret: this is not what happens when you amplify to Louw & Nida.

Remember that amplifying is what we call it when you select a word before choosing a resource from the Resource palette. If I select the word ginomai in the Greek New Testament and then select Louw & Nida from the Resource palette, Louw & Nida will automatically be searched for the word ginomai. Most readers of this blog already know that. But what you may not have noticed is that when you amplify to Louw & Nida, the Show pop-up menu is set to Articles rather than All text.

Why this difference? When we develop an Accordance tool, we think carefully about how the text should display after you amplify to that tool. Should it show the hits in the context of the entire text, or should it just show the articles which contain a hit, so that you can easily scan all the words that were found?

Louw & Nida is a Greek lexicon which groups the words it defines according to semantic domain, or category of meaning. Where a traditional lexicon like BDAG will list each word once, and then list all the different meanings of that word, Louw & Nida will list the various categories of meaning (semantic domains), and then list all of the words which express each meaning. Thus, a word like ginomai, which can express a state of being, the act of becoming, linear movement, behavior, possession, etc. will appear multiple times throughout Louw & Nida, listed under those various semantic domains.

If we were to show All text by default whenever you amplify to Louw & Nida, you might be misled into thinking that the first meaning listed is the only meaning. Because of the way Louw & Nida is arranged, the first meaning listed may not even be the primary meaning of the word. So when we created Louw & Nida, we actually set a flag which tells Accordance to show only the hit Articles after you amplify. That way, someone new to Louw & Nida can easily see that there is more than one entry for the word they wanted to look up.

Now, what if you want to see each entry for that word in its surrounding context? After all, the whole point of Louw & Nida's arrangement is to show you related words within a given semantic domain. To see the surrounding context, simply choose All text from the Show pop-up menu. Because Accordance recycles windows, you only need to change this setting once. The next time you amplify to Louw & Nida, the window will update to show the new word while preserving your All text setting. Of course, if you close the window and then amplify to Louw & Nida later, a new window will open with the Show pop-up set to Articles.

In this way, we try to build our modules so that they deliver the results of a search in a way that makes sense and is not misleading. It's not many tools that we set to show Articles by default after an amplify, but there are a few which make more sense that way. That's just one example of the kind of thought which goes into the development of each Accordance module, as well as the kind of flexibility provided by the Show pop-up menu.





Wednesday, April 02, 2008  

Determining What Gets Displayed

One of the fundamental design elements of the Accordance interface is the ability to determine how the results of a search are displayed. For example, when you do a word search in a Search window, Accordance displays only those verses which contain the word or phrase you were searching for. The advantage of this view is that you can quickly scan the results of a search, without having to scroll past all the surrounding context.

There may be times, however, when you prefer to have your hit verses displayed with a little more context. The Add context pop-up menu in the More options section lets you choose to view a certain number of verses on either side of the hit verse, or to view the hit verses in the context of the entire text.

This concept is pretty easy to grasp when dealing with Bible texts, but did you know you have similar display options for tools? The Show pop-up menu lets you choose how much of the surrounding context you want to see.

For most tools, the Show pop-up menu is set to All Text. This means that when you do a search, the entire text of the tool is displayed, and the hit paragraphs are bookmarked. To advance to the next hit, you would click the down Mark button.

The advantage of viewing the entire text of a tool is that nothing is hidden from view. But there may be times when you want to focus on your search results without having to scroll past the surrounding context.

For example, let's say I want to find all the quotations in Gathered Gold that mention "courage." I search the Content field for the word "courage" and get a variety of quotes in different articles. With the Show pop-up menu set to All text, I need to jump from hit to hit using the Mark button.

If I want an easy way to scan all the quotes that were found, I need only change the Show pop-up menu to Paragraphs:

If I want to see which articles these quotes come from, I can choose Add Titles, which basically shows the hit paragraphs plus the titles of the articles which contain those paragraphs.

Finally, the Articles option lets me see the complete text of any article which contains a hit (as opposed to just the titles).

In this way, I can control how much of the text I deal with at any given time. For example, if I want to print out all the quotes on courage, I can just show the hit paragraphs and print. If your only option was to view the text in its entirety, you would have to jump to each hit paragraph, copy and paste that quote into a word processor, and then print the word processing document you created. By giving you the flexibility to adjust the display to your needs, Accordance makes it easier to work with the information you find.





Tuesday, April 01, 2008  

No Foolin' . . . Serious Savings in April

No, it's not an April Fool's joke. This month, we're offering a sale on all our primary collections: The Library, the Scholar's Collection, the Catholic Collection, and the Jewish Collection. If you've been waiting to buy one of these packages, now's the time to do it.

We're also offering a substantial discount on the Context of Scripture, which is this month's featured module.

So after you're done reading about such revolutionary new products as the iPod Nada, be sure to take advantage of the "serious" savings we're offering. :-)