In my last Throwback Thursday post, I talked about the development of the very first Tool modules for Accordance 2.0. Although version 2.0 was not yet ready for release in November of 1995, we were planning to offer a preview of all the new features to attendees at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in Philadelphia. I did not accompany my employers to ETS, since it was a smaller conference and they could manage the booth without me. I flew in to join them for the start of the larger SBL meeting. I had used that extra time at home to whip out a couple more prototype modules, so I arrived at SBL with some Accordance tools to demonstrate which my employers hadn’t even seen yet.
Today when we attend a conference, we bring laptops and relatively portable flat-screen monitors. Back in 1995, laptops were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. They were expensive, and they had significant drawbacks such as tiny screens or limited speed compared to desktop computers. Fortunately, airline passengers could check more baggage back then. I had to lug my desktop Mac in one box and my 14-inch CRT monitor in another, along with my suitcase, to the airport and hope it all made it to Philadelphia without getting broken, lost, or stolen. Then I had to schlep all that stuff to the hotel and exhibit hall to get it set up. Once it was all set up, I had to be without my computer for the duration of the show.
At that time, we exhibited Accordance under the auspices of the GRAMCORD Institute, which served as the exclusive distributor of Accordance. Basically, we formed the Macintosh side of the GRAMCORD booth.
I actually found an old photo on the GRAMCORD website of Dr. Rex Koivisto, our associate Greek scholar (right), demonstrating Accordance 2.0 to Frederick Danker (the D in BDAG, center) at that very conference. If you look closely at the background, you can see me seated with my back to the camera, demonstrating Accordance to someone else. This was my very first time demoing Accordance to the public, and it was fun to be able to show scholars and students some of the cool stuff we had been working on.
Today when I demonstrate Accordance at ETS and SBL, I can only show a tiny portion of what Accordance can do. It is therefore rare that we offer a sneak peek at any not-yet-released features. Back then, however, we were the new kid on the block, doing our best to show people Accordance’s potential as a Bible study platform. In those early days, we would demonstrate what the current version of Accordance could do, then offer a look at what was coming in the next version.
In the evenings, I got to be part of meetings where we would discuss new feature ideas or new resources we hoped to license, such as the massive Anchor Bible Dictionary. It was all pretty heady stuff for a young kid still in seminary.
One of the most memorable moments of this conference was when I got to tag along to a meeting with a gentleman who had high-resolution atlas data of Israel. As with laptops, such data was far less ubiquitous back then, and this gentleman was looking to establish partnerships to develop computer applications that could utilize his data. This gentleman did not have a booth in the exhibit hall. Instead, he had booked a hotel suite where he was meeting with potential partners. I remember entering his suite and seeing a Silicon Graphics workstation on the desk. Beside it was a large set of goggles. It was in this meeting that I went from the demoer to the demoee. The gentleman handed me the goggles and joked that I should be careful not to drop them, since they cost a substantial amount of money. If I remember correctly, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000. Needless to say, I was very careful not to break them!
Looking through the goggles I saw a three-dimensional image of some portion of Israel. These days I might actually recognize it, but back then it was just an unfamiliar series of hills and valleys. If I remember correctly, it was just a wireframe image, but it was at a resolution that required some serious computing power to generate. Next I was shown a simulated 3D flyover. This was done without the goggles, and I seem to recall that it used actual satellite imagery rather than a mere wireframe. This felt snappier than the wireframe image as well, but that was because it was essentially a pre-rendered animation rather than a 3D image being rendered on the fly. The downside of this was that you couldn’t really navigate the flyover to go wherever you wanted; you merely went where the animator had decided to take you.
This was all very cutting-edge stuff, and I must have seemed like a kid in a candy store. Our discussions centered around how we might use this data to provide Mac users with a 3D Bible Atlas. After all, there were far more people with Macs than with graphics workstations. Apple had recently begun incorporating 3D technologies into the Mac operating system, so the possibilities were tantalizing, but we also knew it would be challenging to deliver acceptable 3D performance on a personal computer.
That meeting helped get us thinking about adding an Atlas component to Accordance, but that wouldn’t actually happen until Accordance 3.5 was released in July of 1998. I’ll tell you the rest of the story behind the Accordance Bible Atlas in a future Throwback Thursday post.
I returned home from that first SBL Conference exhausted but excited about the future of Accordance. At that point I was still only working for Accordance part-time, but I was now officially hooked. I was getting to be a part of the creation of something truly cutting edge, and I had seen how Accordance was changing the lives of its users. Since 1995, I have exhibited Accordance at SBL every year except 1996 (when my second son was born). To this day, I return home from SBL each year both exhausted and excited about the future.
How about you? Were any of you at the 1995 SBL or ETS meetings in Philadelphia? If so, did you stop by for a demo of Accordance?