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Laridian Website – Server Migration Post-Mortem

Posted on: August 5th, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 10 Comments

Update – Aug 5, 2015 – We discovered that the sync server wasn’t running, so you weren’t able to sync your user data even after the DNS changes propagated. This has been fixed. If you had trouble synchronizing your notes, highlights, and bookmarks, try again.


 

This article will mean very little to most of you but some of you might find it slightly interesting.

I don’t like to get off a perfectly good horse midstream. Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 have been serving us well for a very long time. But Microsoft discontinued support for  Windows Server 2003 last month and that means no more security updates. As a result, our next PCI security scan was doomed to fail, which doesn’t mean your personal data would be at risk (any more than passing the PCI scan protects the data), but it doesn’t make for good PR.

(PCI is the Payment Card Industry and the scan is required to meet their card security standards. Laridian doesn’t store your card data so the requirements for us are pretty light. You’re at significantly more risk when you hand your card to the clerk at Target, and we all know from experience that even though they passed all the security scans it didn’t do them much good.)

Upgrading to Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 meant physically moving the contents of our servers to new hardware, and as long as we were doing that, we decided to shop around for better pricing. We found it at SingleHop.com, which offers the type of dedicated server solutions that we need. And they do it for half the price of the company we had previously been with.

Laridian maintains several large databases. These contain your customer account, your transaction history, all the user-created data you’ve sync’ed to the Laridian Cloud, and the downloadable files that make up our books and Bibles. In addition to those we have a couple others for in-house purposes. Because SQL Server 2000 is past end-of-life, those databases could not be imported directly into SQL Server 2012. We had to first import them into a SQL Server 2008 instance, then import that to SQL Server 2012. The good news was that having done that, the databases functioned exactly the same. In fact, we were able to simply point the old website to the new database, and it would work just fine.

Let me pause for a minute to say this: We cannot build PocketBible 1.0.0 for iOS anymore. Not only would the resulting program not even come close to working on iOS 8, it would fail in the compilation and linking process. PocketBible 1.0.0 was released in September 2009, just six years ago.

Contrast that with the code that runs on our website. In 1998, we contracted with Jomax Technologies — Bob Parsons first Internet company, before he founded GoDaddy — to create our e-commerce site. There is a significant amount of code dating from 1998 still running on our site, especially on our back office site, which is where we generate sales reports, create new product pages, and define priority codes. This code is running unaltered seventeen years later, accessing a database that has been in continuous use for all those years.

When you hear me complaining about the unnecessarily rapid pace of development from Apple (and other companies who drive our industry) and how they create problems due to their lack of regression testing and backwards compatibility, this is what I’m talking about. Because Microsoft knows it would be a huge problem to break millions of websites, they go out of their way to continue to support the technologies on which the internet is built.

But I digress…

This move took place over about a four-week period. (I actually thought it would take twice that long.) The first step was to move the system we use for source code archival (SourceGear Vault). This was necessary because we use Vault to maintain the website. We check code out of Vault, make our changes, and check it back in. Vault populates the website folders from the files we check in. It would be most convenient if we could continue to do this the same way on the new website.

Because we were running Windows Server 2003, we couldn’t upgrade to the latest version of Vault, which requires Windows Server 2008. And because we were running such an old version of Vault (version 5) we couldn’t upgrade to the latest (version 8) directly. We had to first upgrade to version 6, which upgraded our database, then upgrade to version 8, which upgraded it again. With Vault working on the new server, we were able to move software development and book production to the new server within about two weeks.

Prior to moving Vault we had captured a snapshot of the websites and databases and were running those on the new server for testing. This allowed us to do a quick test to verify that the Web pages themselves would run under Windows Server 2012 and IIS 8. They worked just fine.

Next, we knew that during the transition to the new site there would be a period of time while DNS changes were propagating during which we would have to access the new database from the old website. We ran some tests that verified this would work.

Last, we had to build the Laridian Sync Server Service code with Visual Studio 2015 and verify it worked. It did.

At this point we spent a couple days locking down the firewall settings. We had a period of just a few hours when we had an open SMTP (email) server that was exposed to the outside world. I was shocked by how quickly the spammers discovered it (by literally rifling through IP addresses and sniffing for servers). We worked with SingleHop to quickly lock that down.

Now we just needed a procedure to follow for getting a final copy of the database moved to the new host. The problem was that we couldn’t be writing to it while it was being moved, which meant shutting down all commerce, account updates, product registration, and user-data synchronization for some unknown period of time. SingleHop estimated two hours to move the database, but suggested we allow three. I allowed four. (It took five.)

Once we knew what needed to be done, we picked a convenient date and time to do it. We were able to configure much of the code to just shut itself down at 8AM CDT the day of the migration. So, for example, the code to do synchronization of user data from PocketBible for Windows would still be there waiting for connections, but starting at 8AM (7:30, actually) it would return an error code to the client saying that the site was down for maintenance. By automating that process, it meant there were fewer manual actions that needed to be taken in the moments before the migration began. In fact, by the night before the move we were down to where it would take only ten check boxes and about 3-4 button clicks to completely bring Laridian to a stop for the two, three, or four (or five) hours it would take to move the database.

The morning of the move, I discovered SingleHop had left themselves logged into a server, which blocked me from getting in to click on two of my ten check boxes. I asked them to do that for me, which was not a problem. Then I discovered that the person who I was told would be doing the migration hadn’t been told about that fact until 30 minutes after the migration was to have begun. He was rousted out of bed or wherever he was, and started moving the databases.

With that small hurdle overcome, and with the website having automatically stopped processing new transactions to the database, I was able to get in and make three lines of code changes that it took to point the old website to the new database server. That was really all I needed to do during the time while the database was being exported from SQL 2000, imported to SQL 2008, exported from SQL 2008, and imported into SQL 2012.

The last step of the move was to make the DNS changes required to point everyone to the new server. It was at this moment that our registrar (GoDaddy) decided to make buggy changes to their website that kept us from changing our zone file. After two or three hours of attempts, we were finally able to get those changes made.

In the end the move turned out to be easier than I thought and was significantly less time-consuming than I had anticipated. I’m sure we’ll discover small things that are broken, but the major functionality of the new servers appears to be working.

Thank you for your patience during the move.

 

 

Laridian Website – Planned Outage

Posted on: August 4th, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 3 Comments

The server migration we did this morning (Tuesday, August 4) is complete as far as we can tell. The last phase of it is changing the various DNS records for our various sites so that they point to the new server. That has been done, but it takes time for the changes to DNS to propagate throughout the Internet.

Until that time, you’ll see a yellow marquee banner across the top of pages at www.laridian.com and you won’t be able to sync your user data. If you see the yellow banner, the site will be slow because it’s talking across the wire to the database server instead of having it located “right next door” on its own subnet in the same building. Once the DNS change finds its way to your machine, you’ll be back up to full speed at the new site.

I’ll write up a little post-mortem article for the techies among you just for fun.

If you have problems with our site that don’t fix themselves by Wednesday, August 5, drop us an email at support@laridian.com.

Reason for the Outage

Laridian operates services on a variety of servers located at more than one hosting company. From time to time we move these services to new locations either to enhance their capability or to save money or both. We are generally able to do this in a way that minimizes or eliminates downtime. In this case, we are moving our database server, which stores almost everything of importance at Laridian including your customer account, transaction history, user-created data (notes, highlights, and bookmarks), and all our books.

It wasn’t possible in this case to make this transition without actually stopping all updates to the database, copying the data to the new server, and restarting it at its new location. During this brief time, we couldn’t do any operations that cause the database to change, or we risked losing those changes (i.e. they would get written to the “old” location after the database has been moved to the “new” location).

Benefits

Once this whole process is complete, we expect enhanced performance of the website, sync service, downloads, and other related services. Security of all of these services will be increased. And despite the more powerful hardware on which this will all be running, our costs will be lower. This will allow us to continue to produce Bibles and reference materials at prices at or below what you’ll find elsewhere.


Updates

2:45PM Remaining DNS changes complete.

1:35PM Laridian Cloud sync services are back up. The IP address for synchronization has changed, so you may continue to get the “maintenance” message (or not be able to connect at all) until DNS changes propagate to your server. This could take up to 48 hours but in our experience most of you will see the change within a couple hours of it happening (which was actually a couple hours ago).

12:00PM Domain registrar is up and down. We have been able to make some DNS changes, but not all.

11:15AM Our domain registrar chose this time to go down. Of course. This isn’t a big deal, it just means that the sites will be slower. Once we can make DNS changes, the websites and the database server will be on the same subnet. Until then, the websites have to talk across the wire to the database, which means they’ll be slower. The worst part of this is that user data synchronization (Laridian Cloud) can’t be brought back up without changing DNS. We don’t anticipate this will take long.

10:45AM Commerce, product registration, account updates, and Apple App Store in-app purchase downloads are back online. The only thing currently offline is the Laridian Cloud (user data synchronization).

PocketBible 1.x.x for iOS users: If you got a message while trying to sync that said “You’re running a very old version of PocketBible“, it’s because you’re still using version 1.x and we’re currently on version 3. To upgrade, first sync (not just backup, but sync) your user data with the server after this maintenance is over. Then search the App Store for PocketBible. The program is free. Download and run it. Register using the same customer ID and password as you have been using, then turn on automatic synchronization under Manage My Data in the menu. The program will pick up your notes, highlights, and bookmarks and you’ll just have to download your Bibles and reference books.

8:30AM Migration officially started.

8:00AM Commerce, account update, PocketBible 2.x/3.x sync service, and other related services disabled.

7:30AM PocketBible for Windows and PocketBible 1.x sync services disabled.

What’s in the Pipeline?

Posted on: July 27th, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 59 Comments

We often get asked about what we are working on. While you can be sure we are always working, and that our work probably involves some version of PocketBible, we understand you may be interested in a more detailed explanation of what is going on behind the scenes. It is in that spirit that we are going to try something new with an occasional post on what’s in the pipeline for apps and books.

You’ll notice we don’t talk about release dates. We’ve been in this business for a long time and have learned that our best-laid plans often go awry. In fact, in the software business, that’s the rule rather than the exception. So we don’t spit into that wind nor tilt at those windmills. We’re pursuing the goals you see below at our best pace and will release new books and updates to our apps as soon as they’re ready.

Apps

  • PocketBible for Android – Version 1.4.4 is current. Includes support for upcoming BookBuilder improvements with respect to user-created Bibles.
  • PocketBible for iOS – Version 3.2.3 was released on June 1, 2015. We are currently working on some enhancements to the user interface and changing the way we do text-to-speech to make it easier to manage and less expensive.
  • PocketBible for Mac OS X – Version 1.1.5 with support for some upcoming BookBuilder improvements and minor new features was released on April 9, 2015.
  • PocketBible for Windows Phone – Send us your suggestions for enhancements.
  • PocketBible for Windows Store – Send us your suggestions for enhancements.
  • BookBuilder for Mac OS X – Version 1.0.0 was released on 3/6/15. Currently working on some in-house features and better support for user-created Bibles.
  • BookBuilder for Windows Desktop – We’re about done refreshing the Windows version to improve the user interface, improve the integration between the various tools that make up the Professional Edition, and bring it into feature parity with the Mac version.

Books

Here’s what our editorial team has in the queue for you (not in any particular order):

  • Additional volumes of the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (IVP)
  • The Applied New Testament and Old Testament Commentary (Cook)
  • Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon)
  • NASB Bible text Updates
  • Tree of Life Version (TLV)
  • More non-English Bibles (?)

Miscellaneous

In addition to the above we’re currently migrating our entire internet presence to a new hosting company. This takes a significant amount of effort and will cause some brief periods of time when the site will be either slow or entirely shut down as we migrate massive amounts of data from the old servers to the new ones. The benefit to you when we’re done will be additional security and speed. It will also cut our monthly internet service bill in half, which will help us keep our prices the lowest in the industry.


 

Disclaimers: All this is subject to change in priority, feasibility, copyright licensing, etc. That means we reserve the right to never release these features or books. We are sharing with you the current plan which is written in sand, not stone. Also, just because something is not on this list doesn’t mean we are not considering it. Finally, we are open to your requests, suggestions and comments!

King James Version: Red Letters and Paragraphs

Posted on: July 23rd, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 5 Comments

Title_PageBack in October, 2014 we updated our King James Version text. We had taken some criticism for publishing a low-quality edition of the text which couldn’t seem to be traced back to any known edition of the KJV.

Red Letters

When we published that version, we intentionally left out the “words of Christ in red” feature, because the whole goal was to get to a pedigreed version of the text and red letters were not a part of the KJV text until relatively recently.

This didn’t go over well with folks who rely on red ink to know when Jesus is speaking. So we did more research to see if we could come up with an “authoritative” red-letter edition of the KJV on which to base our editorial decisions. To our surprise, we found one.

In 1899, Louis Klopsch (1852-1910), editor of The Christian Herald, was writing an editorial for his magazine when he read Luke 22:20: “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” It struck him that a New Testament with Christ’s words written in “blood” would be both useful and highly symbolic. He approached his mentor, Rev. T DeWitt Talmage with the idea, and the men agreed, “It could do no harm and it most certainly could do much good.”

Klopsch Red Letter BibleRight away they discovered that the KJV contains no quotation marks to delineate those words spoken by Jesus and separate them from those of the narrator or other characters in the story. It also occurred to them that there are instances in the Old Testament where it is believed that Jesus appeared to the Old Testament saints and spoke to them. Should those words be in red? What about the words of Jesus when spoken by others in the book of Acts or the epistles?

Klopsch had to make a few choices (such as in John 3:16ff) about where Jesus’ words end and the narrator’s begin. He opted to omit Old Testament christophanies, but to include New Testament quotes in red. The first red-letter New Testament was published in 1899, and an entire Bible, containing the red-letter New Testament, was published in 1901.

Laridian was able to obtain a 1903 New Testament and a 1913 whole Bible, each with Klopsch’s original red-letter text. The New Testament claims an 1899 copyright and the whole Bible, 1901. From these well-used pages we manually marked up our electronic text to indicate the words of Christ.

Paragraphs

Soon after publishing our updated KJV last year we realized that the text we had worked from did not contain paragraph indicators of any kind. With a little effort we were able to find a source of that information that is consistent with the age and quality of the text itself, and have integrated that information into our text.

The King James Version has historically been printed with each verse starting on a new line, and a pilcrow (¶) marking the start of a new paragraph. We have followed that tradition, which means that in versions of PocketBible that allow you to display the text in paragraph form or one verse per line, you will always see the KJV text presented with each verse starting on a new line.

While some might argue that this format is jarring to the modern reader, we would point out that that KJV itself is “jarring” to the modern reader. We think there is great value in upholding the publishing traditions that add to the unique character of the King James Version of the Bible, and are very happy with the results of this effort to update our version of the text.

Most PocketBible users will see a note on the “Add/Remove Books”, “Cloud Library”, or “Download Books” screen in PocketBible to the effect that the KJV and KJV with Strong’s Numbers texts have been updated. Select the updated product to download it to PocketBible. Windows Desktop users will have to download the setup program for the KJV or KJVEC from the Downloads area of our website.

PocketBible for iOS is Back in the App Store

Posted on: June 2nd, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 25 Comments

PocketBible iOS IconIt appears this story is old news now. 3.2.3 is available on the App Store. A few of you are still upgrading, so I’ll keep the article here for a while.

On May 18 we submitted PocketBible 3.2.0 to Apple for approval. On Thursday, May 28 they approved it and by Friday night it was being downloaded by our users.

When I saw it was available for me to download to my iPad, I updated my personal copy. I got the message I expected, that my data needed to be updated. I went to Manage My Data as instructed but there was no response from the program. I quickly hooked my iPad up to my laptop and ran the program in the debugger. It turned out the Manage My Data screen was being built, but as soon as it was displayed, it was being dismissed by iOS so the user never saw it.

I tried deleting and re-installing to no avail.

During this process, Facebook notified me of some messages from a couple people who I know to be active PocketBible customers. When I visited Facebook I found there were several users having the same experience I was.

I posted a status update to our Facebook followers instructing them not to download the update to their iPads (the program was working fine on my iPhone). After a few more minutes of testing I realized there was no way to work around this and that I was going to have to stop it from being distributed. Unfortunately, Apple does not offer an immediate “off” switch. I pulled the app from the App Store but it would take 24 hours to fully take effect.

I posted a message on the home page of www.laridian.com and wrote a blog article to explain what I knew about the problem. I set up a response on our tech support ticket system that pointed affected users to the blog article for more information. I pulled the update announcement I had made on Thursday from Facebook and our blog. I posted a status update on Facebook pointing to the blog.

Over the next five or six hours I tracked down two related problems in the Apple code. I was able to fix one of them fairly easily because the 15 places in the code that were affected were all in the same file (or, for you programmers, the same class).

Other problems were related to UIAlertView (messages that pop up in the middle of the screen, usually with an “OK” and a “Cancel” button) and UIActionSheet (windows that pop up from the bottom of the screen and contain a simple caption and a column of buttons). I found these to be used in 294 places in the code. Each of these instances had to be reviewed to see how to best work around the problem. In some cases, I changed the implementation to use an alternative method of doing the same thing. But in most cases there was no better alternative.

After doing some research on the Web (programmers use a site called stackoverflow.com to confer, converse, and otherwise hobnob with their fellow wizards) I found a good work-around that required only a simple change to the code in about a dozen places.

By Saturday afternoon I was ready to put the program in the hands of some beta testers. I posted a call for testers on the blog and on Facebook. I knew this would be tough going into Sunday morning, but I got a small number of testers from around the world to run the program through its paces. (I apologize to my fellow church members for taking a few minutes during the announcements to pull out my laptop, add three new beta testers to the provisioning profile, re-sign the program and upload it to the website.)

Interestingly, the only problems they found were bugs that have probably been in PocketBible since version 2.0 or maybe earlier. I made some effort to fix those but under the circumstances didn’t want to take more time than necessary to get the program back up on the App Store.

By Sunday evening, about 48 hours after discovering these debilitating bugs, I was ready to upload the program to the App Store. At the same time, I filed a request for expedited review with Apple. It took them 10 days to review the last version; they’ve taken as little as 2-3 days in the past. I was hoping they’d agree to expedite it, because even after it was approved it would take 24 hours to propagate to all of Apple’s servers. Apple approved the expedited review on Monday morning and an hour later the app itself was approved.

By Tuesday morning everyone was seeing the update (version 3.2.3) and reporting that it was working.

I apologize for the inconvenience. Here are a few FAQs:

What are the symptoms? “Manage My Data”, “Shop for Bibles and Books” and many other menu items don’t do anything. This is especially problematic, since the program tells you that you need to go to “Manage My Data” to update your data due to the program itself being updated. But Manage My Data doesn’t work. Other selections, such as “Copy Passage” and “Register Now” cause the program to crash.

Version 3.2.0 seems to be working on my iPhone. Should I be worried? The problem seems to be limited to the iPad.

Should I remove the program from my iPad? No. When you download the fixed version (3.2.3), it will overwrite the bad version and everything will still be there (books and user data). It is OK to leave it installed and even run it. It’s just that certain functions are disabled. You might also have it crash if you interact with any pop-up choice boxes like the registration prompt. Just leave it installed for now.

Why does PocketBible require you to go to Manage My Data anyway? Previous versions of PocketBible tried to maintain the integrity of your user data (notes, highlights, bookmarks, etc.) by detecting when you have logged into a different account, then asking you to say how you wanted to handle your existing data with respect to the new account (i.e. replace your local data with the data on the server or merge your local data with the data on the server). Unfortunately, it assumed that simply changing your password meant you were logging into a new account. This new version of PocketBible uses the same technique as PocketBible for OS X, which records the customer ID you use when you sync your data, then compares that customer ID to the one you are logged into. That way you can change your password or even log out and log back in, and PocketBible won’t get confused. Since the old version did not keep track of your customer ID, and since you may have logged in with your email address instead of your customer ID, PocketBible has to log into your account and ask the server for your customer ID. This is quick and painless — unless you can’t get to Manage My Data to do it!

I’m a programmer. What’s really going on? Apple changed the way that UIPopoverController, UIAlertView, and UIActionSheet dismiss their views. In each case, we previously could assume that after dismissing those views we could display another modal view or otherwise act as if the view was gone (whether it was actually gone from the display at this point is irrelevant — I know that takes another cycle through the run loop). But some recent update to the SDK made it so that dismissing UIPopoverController resulted in any modal view displayed after that to be dismissed along with the requested UIPopoverController.

UIPopoverController does not notify its delegate when it is programmatically dismissed, only when it is dismissed by a tap outside its view. So we have no way of knowing when it is done. There are various techniques to discover whether or not the view has been dismissed. I chose a very simple polling technique that doesn’t make assumptions about whether or not it takes only one pass through the run loop, as other solutions do. For UIAlertView and UIActionSheet, I changed the delegate method I use to act on a button press from the “button pressed” delegate method to the “dismissed with button press” delegate method. This assures that the view has been dismissed before we continue.

 

Does It Matter Where Your Bible App Comes From?

Posted on: February 5th, 2015 by Craig Rairdin 12 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 12.08.58 PMTrevor McKendrick is an atheist who wrote one of the top-selling Bible apps for iOS. A former Mormon, McKendrick saw an unserved niche market on the App Store and created a Spanish audio Bible to fill it. Now he’s banking over $100,000 per year selling the app. He compares the Bible to Harry Potter and describes Christians as people who learn the spells in the book and try to use them to heal their children. He compares them to people who teach The Lord of the Rings as real history.

Does it make any difference whether or not the people who create the products you use for Bible study agree with the materials they publish?

When I started writing Bible software in 1988 there were very few other products on the market. I purchased the King James Bible from Public Brand Software, a distributor of freeware and shareware programs for MS-DOS. While browsing their catalog (paper catalog — this was before the Web) I saw a Bible program called WordWorker and picked up a copy of that, too.

WordWorker was pretty impressive compared to other programs available at the time. My problem with it was that the programmer who wrote it was associated with The Way International, which denies key teachings of historic Christianity and adds a few of their own. They encourage severing ties with family and friends and living with other “believers” instead, which many argue qualifies them as a “cult”.

Coincidentally I had been unsuccessfully recruited by a member of The Way while in college. Noticing a strange-looking guy observing me playing pinball at the student union, I struck up a conversation and bought him a couple games (he had never played pinball). He invited me to join his “twig fellowship”. As a brand new Christian with very little foundation in the Bible, I struggled with figuring out if this was God’s direction or not. Fortunately I dodged that bullet, and got involved with a local church that had a strong emphasis on the Bible and Bible study, which is what eventually led me into developing Bible software.

It was difficult to get excited about using WordWorker because I felt like I was supporting a cult. Even if it coincidentally met my needs, it was hard to recommend to others or even use enthusiastically because I knew where it came from. One benefit of using Bible software that comes from a person with whom you share a common faith is that you don’t have to feel guilty about supporting something with which you disagree. You and I may not agree on every fine point of doctrine, and we may not share a common worship style preference, but I bet we’re closer to agreeing with each other on the fundamentals of the faith than you would be with an atheist.

I originally wrote my Bible study software as a tool for myself to use. Its features were designed to meet my needs, which I obviously knew well. I didn’t have to do any research to figure out what people who read the Bible wanted; I wrote what I wanted.

I took my Bible program (QuickVerse) to Parsons Technology in 1988, where, over the next ten years, I employed a couple dozen different programmers. Not all of them were practicing Christians, but they were good programmers. Jeff Wheeler (who would later leave Parsons with me to start Laridian) and I led the development of the program. Both of us were Bible-believing Christians who were not just developers, but users of the program.

Having real Christians write your Bible study app guarantees that it is designed to meet the needs of someone who really studies the Bible.

Parsons Technology was not a “Christian company”. It was a plain-old software company that happened to have a Church Software Division that published church management and Bible study software. Parsons was eventually purchased by Intuit (1994), which sold us to Broderbund (1997), which was purchased by The Learning Company (1998), which was purchased by Mattel (1999), which sold the Church Software Division to a dormant company that was rumored to have previously been a booking agency for Las Vegas acts (2000). During those years we were faced with a number of demands from our pagan overlords that compromised the quality of QuickVerse. They saw “unserved niches” on store shelves and wanted us to create products that were just old versions of QuickVerse with a new cover. They weren’t interested in meeting needs, but in making money.

This was the final straw for me. When it got to where creating Bible software was about duping people into buying old versions of our program at a cheap price because BestBuy or Costco was looking for 25-cent CD-ROMs to fill an end-cap, I bailed out and started Laridian in 1998.

Our goal has always been to focus on our customers and our product, not on creating a company to sell to the highest bidder. The features and reference materials you see in PocketBible come from customer feedback (and from our own needs as our product’s first customers). We bristle at doing things like renaming our product “@Bible” so that it pops up first in alphabetic search results on the App Store, or calling our program “Bible App” to cause it to come up first when you do a generic search for a Bible app, or seeding the store with identical products, all with different names, so it appears more often in your search results. This is what marketeers do to trick people into buying shoddy products. We aim for letting the quality and usability of our apps speak for themselves.

So another benefit of having real Christians write your Bible study app is that they’re not just seeing you as a rube who will spend their hard-earned money on a quickly thrown-together, shallow product, but rather they are committed to creating not just one download but an ecosystem of products that will meet your Bible study needs not only today, but for years to come.

I don’t have a doctrinal test for people with whom I do business, but I expect my Bible study materials to come from people who are as firmly committed to the Bible as I am. It’s not that they’re the only ones who I can trust to create useful products, but it is at least more likely that they’re doing a better job.

Choosing a Commentary for the way you study

Posted on: January 27th, 2015 by Michelle Stramel 10 Comments

Stack of booksFrom the early church fathers to Matthew Henry and beyond, Bible scholars and teachers continue to find different approaches for explaining the meaning of the Bible text to us. While we all appreciate their efforts, it can be difficult to choose from so many options. Here is a guide to help you easily navigate the commentary choices for use with PocketBible.

Concise Commentary

Brief but comprehensive is how the dictionary defines “concise.” You may see adjectives such as “overview,” “passage-by-passage” or “chapter-by-chapter” in the description for a concise commentary. Study Bibles generally fall into this category. As do Bible Handbooks which, among other features, offer brief commentary on the Bible text. The benefit of these types of commentaries is that they are brief and to the point. They either focus on the main or most important points of a verse or passage or provide overviews of Scripture in sections.

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Last Minute Gift Idea: PocketBible Books

Posted on: December 18th, 2014 by Michelle Stramel No Comments

gift ideasNo shipping required. No wrapping needed. A PocketBible book is the perfect gift for the last minute Christmas rush or any time of the year!

The only requirement to giving the gift of PocketBible is that your recipient have a compatible smartphone, tablet, PC or Mac where they can use the free PocketBible app. We offer versions of PocketBible that are compatible with iPhones, iPads, Macs, Android OS smartphones and tablets, all Kindle Fire devices, Windows Phones and PCs. You can simply purchase any PocketBible Bible, book or library using your current Laridian account. Check the gift option when you check out and we’ll send you instructions on how to communicate your gift to the recipient. If they aren’t already a PocketBible user, they will need to first download the free PocketBible app for their device and register it, to create their own account with us, before they can accept the gift from you. You can find complete details here.

No cost gift idea! While we mention this in our Gift FAQ, it bears repeating here. You can give any of your past purchased books away as well. For example, if you have a devotional that you’ve already read through and don’t plan on using again, you could gift this to someone else. While you may have paid for this item previously, it won’t cost you anything today because you will be giving an item you purchased in the past.

New to PocketBible! If your recipient is new to PocketBible, here are some gift suggestions to consider:

  • 2015 PocketBible Libraries – these collections of Bibles and books are deeply discounted (over “sold separate” price) and are ideal for jump-starting Bible study.
  • Under $25 – Bible translation + study Bible Note set. Bible translation + devotional. Both are good starter combinations that will normally keep your purchase under $25. Some suggested titles:
  • Over $40 and Save 15% – if you choose a combination of 2 or more PocketBible books that totals over $40, you can use our BUNDLEOFFER code at checkout to save 15%. (Excludes PocketBible Libraries and the NIV Bible)

Updated King James Version for PocketBible

Posted on: October 9th, 2014 by Craig Rairdin 22 Comments

Title_PageWe’ve just updated the text of the King James Version we use in PocketBible. Whether you’re a devoted reader of the KJV or only have it installed because it came bundled with your copy of PocketBible, you should welcome this move to a more pedigreed version of the text.

Laridian has long been criticized for the perceived lack of attention we’ve paid to our KJV text by those for whom the accuracy of this text is a major issue. The previous version of our text was from an unknown source and contained American spellings and modern replacements for many archaic words. In some cases, these aspects of the text went unnoticed but in others they were very apparent and called into question the quality of the rest of the text.

The most commonly cited problem was our use of the word thoroughly in 2 Timothy 3:17, where the original 1611 KJV uses the archaic word throughly. While it is the case that the word throughly is defined as “thoroughly; completely”, there are some who feel the original word conveys some additional meaning that is lost by the change to thoroughly. This, despite the fact that Vine’s Expository Dictionary says “For THROUGHLY see THOROUGHLY” and even Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary says “For this, thoroughly is now used”.  This is just one example, though arguably the most significant, of about 100 spelling changes between our previous edition of the KJV and our newest release.

A Little History

The Authorized or King James Version of the Bible was the result of a project to revise the text of the Bishops’ Bible, which was the Bible of the Church of England at the turn of the 17th century. In 1604, a committee of fifty-four men were appointed to undertake the revision. Work was delayed until 1607, by which time only forty-seven of the original appointees were available to work on the project. The instructions given to the translators were to alter the text of the Bishops’ Bible as little as possible and to use the text of Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Whitchurch, or Geneva when those translations agree more closely with the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The editors worked in several teams, each tackling a portion of the books of the Bible. When the work was complete, representatives of each group oversaw a final editorial pass through the text and two men worked closely with the printer to supervise the first printing in 1611.

A number of factors made it impossible for any two early print runs of the KJV to be identical. First, the printing technology at the time required that a single page be created by laying out individual pieces of type (each representing one letter, punctuation mark, or space) to create a form. Once the entire print run for that page was completed, the type was reclaimed to create the next page. By necessity, then, the second and subsequent printings of the Bible had to be re-set from scratch using the original documents or the previous printing as a guide. While errors in the previous printings could be corrected at this time, the resetting of every page made it possibile for new errors to be introduced. In 1725, printers at Cambridge University came up with the idea of making a plaster mould of an entire form, then using this to cast a metal stereotype or cliché from which identical subsequent prints could be made. This helped reduce the errors from constant resetting of the text.

A second source of variation in the text was the lack of a standard English orthography (spelling). Most people in the 16th and 17th centuries experienced reading vicariously — the actors in Shakespeare’s plays repeated his words on stage, and the clergy read the Bible aloud to the congregation. As long as the words could be pronounced in a way the hearer could understand, the spelling of the word on the page was irrelevant. It would be another 150 years before the idea of “standard” spelling and even the concept of a dictionary of the English language would come about. In the meantime, there might be two or more different spellings of the same word within one printing of the Bible (or any book for that matter).

To complicate this further, and because correct spelling simply wasn’t an issue, typesetters would add or remove letters from words to make them fit better on a line of type. This introduced another opportunity for variation.

Even after stereotyping made it possible for one publisher to maintain consistency between printings of the same book, each publisher created their own forms and thereby introduced their own changes into the text. Publishers also felt free to add or remove footnotes, change punctuation, and revise the spelling or word usage for their particular audience.

The result of all of this is that we have literally hundreds of different versions of the King James Version text on bookshelves around the world, created over a period of more than 400 years by dozens of publishers using a variety of printing techniques. Each of these is labelled “King James Version” and none come with a list of how they differ from the printing before them, let alone the original 1611 text.

The Age of Electronic Publishing

In the late 20th century it became possible for anyone with a high-speed scanner and optical character recognition software to create an electronic copy of the King James Version text — and they did. Our previous King James Version text was the product of one such person’s efforts. We don’t know which of hundreds of available versions of the KJV text they used, but we know it had Americanized spellings (honorable for honourablerazor for rasorcounseller for counsellor, etc) and modern proper names (Jeremiah instead of Jeremy or JeremiasNoah instead of NoeIsaiah instead of Esaias, etc.). It also used a number of modern words in place of their archaic counterparts (the previously cited thoroughly in place of throughlyprivately in place of privilyfood in place of meattwo in place of twain, etc.).

Laridian’s Historic Position

Because the KJV has been around for 400 years; because it lived through every significant improvement in publishing since moveable type; and because we could find no two KJV Bibles (especially from different publishers) which agreed with each other, we took the position that there was no “best” KJV text. In every case cited by a customer, we could find an example of a KJV Bible from a major publisher that agreed with our version and another that agreed with them.

Lacking an obvious answer to the question “Which KJV is the KJV?” short of the 1611 text (which nobody reads since it uses “u” for “v”, “j” for “i”, and something like “f” for “long s”, rendering it virtually unreadable), we turned to two authoritative sources. First was Cambridge University, which is the steward of the Crown’s copyright on the King James Version in the United Kingdom. During a conversation over a meal, I asked if they had electronic files for the “official” King James Version — assuming there was such a thing, perhaps in a vault buried deep under London. Had I not been paying for their dinner, I would’ve been laughed out of the room. They repeated much of what I’ve stated above, and added the fact that every publisher over the years has made their own “corrections” and changes to the text, including Cambridge itself. They could offer me no advice other than to use one of their more recent printings (for which they had no electronic files). Since that would carry no more weight of being “the” KJV than the one we already had, that seemed like a waste of time.

I next turned to Dr. Peter Ruckman, perhaps the most well-known authority on the “KJV Only” position. Dr. Ruckman argues not only that the KJV is the only accurate English Bible in existence, but that it supersedes the original Hebrew and Greek texts in any question over interpretation of the Word of God. According to Dr. Ruckman, translations of the Bible should be made from it, not from Hebrew and Greek. I wrote Dr. Ruckman a letter asking for his recommendations for an “official” text of the King James Version that would satisfy the requirements of his most vocal followers for an accurate text. Dr. Ruckman scrawled “IDIOT” over my letter and sent it back to me, with the comment “any Gideon Bible”. I pulled my Gideon Bible off the shelf and found it to be a modern English version, not the KJV at all. Of course, I don’t believe Ruckman was making the case that the Gideons were the Keepers of the Authoritative King James Version Bible Text, but rather that I could literally grab any KJV Bible off the shelf, even the free Gideon Bible I found in a hotel, and use it in our software.

When the appeal to authority failed, we simply settled into distributing the KJV that we had and left it at that.

The Pure/Standard Cambridge Edition

Once or twice a year we are contacted by PocketBible users who have a serious problem with our KJV (usually citing the use of thoroughly in 2 Tim 3:17) and encouraging us to publish “the” KJV (and threatening us if we don’t). None of these users have ever been able to point to a definitive, authoritative source for this text, but recently we were directed to two sources: The Pure Cambridge Edition (PCE) at www.bibleprotector.com and Brandon Staggs’ Common Cambridge Edition at av1611.com. Both of these sites claim to have done extensive research to produce an electronic edition of the text that matches that in use by Cambridge University Press around 1900-1910, down to the last punctuation mark, capital letter, and use of italics.

We downloaded these texts and compared them to each other. They differ in about a dozen places, none of which are anywhere near as significant as the use of thoroughly for throughly in 2 Tim 3:17. After looking at some other similar sources, we settled on a version of the text that draws mostly from the Pure Cambridge Edition except in a couple places where we felt the Common Cambridge Edition was better. (In particular, we hyphenate Elelohe-Israel and Meribah-Kadesh instead of creating the “camel-case” spellings EleloheIsrael and MeribahKadesh used in the PCE, and we chose to leave out the footers THE END OF THE PROPHETS after Malachi 4:6 and THE END after Revelation 22:21.)

It was fairly trivial to convert this text to PocketBible format. The hard part was merging Strong’s numbers into it, but we’ve done that to create an updated version of our King James Version With Strong’s Numbers product as well. This has the additional benefit of bringing these two texts into agreement with each other, as even our own KJV and KJV/Strong’s texts had disagreed in a number of places.

Lessons Learned

We’ve gained a new appreciation not just for the King James Version in this process, but also for the history of the English language and printing technology. The myriad variations on the KJV text had led us to “give up” and settle for what was easy. However, this project created the desire to produce something of historical validity and significance, even if it can’t be said to be “the” KJV.

While we don’t agree with those who argue that the KJV is the only English Bible we should be reading, we do agree that it has historical significance and that we should provide a version of it that meets with the approval of those who put it on a taller pedestal than we do. We believe this edition of the KJV for PocketBible meets that standard.

We’re considering publishing some earlier editions of the KJV just for their historical value. While we don’t find reading the 1611 text to be particularly edifying, we do find it interesting. For example:

“And as Moses lifted vp the serpent in the wildernesse : euen so must the Sonne of man be lifted vp : That whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue eternall life. For God so loued yͤ world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne : that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.”

I’m particularly intrigued by the shorthand rendition of the word “the” in “God so loued yͤ world”. This comes from the Early Middle English spelling of “the”, which was þe (the archaic letter thorn followed by e). When printed in the common black letter or gothic font, thorn looked very similar to y, and printers (especially in France where thorn did not exist in their alphabet) would substitute the letter y. When needed to make the words better fit on a line, the e would be placed above the y as you see here. (Another example is the word thou which was often shortened to yͧ.) It’s easy to imagine how yͤ became “ye” in “Ye Olde Book Shoppe”, and why “Ye” in this context should be pronounced with a “th” sound like “the”.

Anyway, I digress….

You can simply download the KJV from within PocketBible if you’re running PocketBible on a platform that supports that feature, or, if you have PocketBible for Windows Desktop, go to your download account at our site to download a new installation program for the KJV or KJVEC (KJV with Strong’s Numbers).

 

A Couple Security-Related Issues

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Craig Rairdin 6 Comments

HeartbleedJust a couple brief comments  on two unrelated security issues. You’ve probably heard about the Heartbleed vulnerability that affected many websites this week. For some reason, the media didn’t mention that the affected servers are running Linux. (There are issues with certain programs running on other servers, but the primary impact was for those sites running Linux-based servers.) They’re quick to jump on Microsoft when it comes to security flaws in Windows, but I guess Linux doesn’t get the same treatment. Weird.

Anyway, we run Windows servers here and don’t appear to be affected by Heartbleed. This blog is on a Linux box, but there’s nothing valuable here except for my rambling a on various topics, and those are only mildly worth stealing.

Coincidentally, we were working on another security-related issue when we heard about Heartbleed. A few of you have given us grief in the past for sending password reminders in email. While your Laridian password doesn’t expose any personal information of import, except perhaps your mailing address — which is widely available elsewhere — it was still disconcerting to see your password show up in clear text.

So we’ve made some changes now so that we don’t send out passwords but instead send a link to a page where you can reset your password.  This should provide a little more security, especially if you’re in the habit of using the same password everywhere. :-)

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