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Archive for the ‘Company Insights’ Category

A Couple Security-Related Issues

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by Craig Rairdin 4 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. :-)

What’s in the Pipeline?

Posted on: March 30th, 2014 by Michelle Stramel 102 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 1.1.2 is the most recent release. We had some personnel changes on this project that have introduced a bit of a hiccup in the schedule but we’re getting back up to speed quickly. We’re currently working on the ability to add notes to your Bibles. Follow us on Google+ for the most up to date info.
  • PocketBible 3.1 for iOS – version 3.1.0 was uploaded to the App Store on 3/28/14. Next major update will probably coincide with whatever iOS changes Apple makes for the iPhone 6 in September.
  • PocketBible for Mac OS – Look for video updates elsewhere on the blog. If you’re a backer of the Kickstarter project that funded this work, you will get more frequent updates through Kickstarter. We’re currently working on navigation features — like going directly to a verse, displaying the table of contents for a book, looking up words in dictionaries, and going to today’s reading in a devotional. Next up will probably be user-created data — notes, highlights, bookmarks, and devotional reading history.
  • PocketBible for Windows Phone – Send us your suggestions for enhancements.
  • PocketBible for Windows Store – Version 2.2.0.318 was released to the Windows Store late in 2013. This update supports Windows 8.1 and adds new advanced features including the ability to listen to any type book and add notes directly from the notes pane.

Books

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

  • Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon)
  • Knowing Jesus (Kingsley Books) – released 4/9/14
  • The Bible Book by Book (Kingsley Books)
  • Essential Truths of Christianity (Kingsley Books)
  • Discovering God’s Way (Kingsley Books)
  • Living the Christian Life (Kingsley Books)
  • Additional volumes of the Cornerstone Commentaries (Tyndale)
  • Framework for Christian Faith (Generation Word)
  • Additional volumes of the Ancient Christian Commentary Series (IVP)

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!

Serendipitous Programming

Posted on: July 27th, 2013 by Craig Rairdin 6 Comments

Today I’ve been working on a new feature for PocketBible for iOS and one thing led to another, and, well, I ended up implementing a feature I didn’t know I was working on, and didn’t realize how much of it was already sitting there, waiting to be exposed to the user.

So the new feature I thought I was working on is the ability to “rename” your highlight colors. That is, you’ll be able to assign a topic to each color. Then when you highlight a verse, instead of seeing a list containing “Khaki”, “Cornflower Blue” and “Hot Pink”, you’ll see “Salvation”, “God’s Love” and “Prophecy”. We’ve been wanting to implement this for a long time. While we were upgrading our cloud synchronization protocol over the last few months, I added the ability to sync highlight color names with the server and we took advantage of that in PocketBible for Windows Phone and Windows Store. The plan has always been to roll that into other platforms as we have the opportunity.

While looking through the code that shows you your list of highlight colors (which I’ll have to modify to show you your user-defined names for those colors) I stumbled into a bit of code that Jeff wrote years ago but then “commented out”. (If we have code that we’d like to retain for reference purposes but don’t want to actually have the computer execute, we turn the code into a “comment” so it will be ignored by the compiler but still be there if we want to see it.)

Those of you who have been with us for a while know that Jeff was my programming partner for 27 years before his death from cancer in May 2012. It’s been a bittersweet year as I’ve had to deal with his passing while surrounded and immersed every day in code that he wrote. I keep running into little things that remind me of him, make me want to give him a call to talk about a problem, or give me a chuckle. So it’s always interesting when I run into a piece of code like this.

What this particular piece of code did was add three additional highlighting styles to the list of colors you can highlight with. These are “underline”, “strikeout”, and “underline+strikeout”. Those look like this, this, and this, respectively.

Now, why would you ever want to strike out a verse? That’s a good question and takes me back fifteen years to the days of the Palm operating system when cameras were cameras, phones were phones, and “portable digital assistants” were all the rage. In those days, color displays were luxuries that cost money, size, weight, and battery life. So most of those devices had monochromatic screens.

On color screens, we could highlight a verse with a background color. But what could we do on these black and white screens? Since our text was coded in HTML, and since HTML offered simple styles like bold, italics, underline, and strikeout, we decided to use those. We ended up not using bold and italics because they could cause the text to re-wrap when they were applied, and in those days of wimpy processors, it just took too long and was disturbing to see. That left us with underline and strikeout, so that’s what we used.

As time has gone on, we’ve gotten to where we don’t even include these underline and strikeout highlighting styles in our programs. They’re not in PocketBible for iOS, and we weren’t planning on implementing them in PocketBible for Android. Unfortunately, some of you who were around back then and have sync’ed your highlights from your Palm PDA to PocketBible for Windows to our server and to PocketBible for iPhone expect to see those underlines. So we have to at least be able to display them if they exist, but we don’t let you create them (because we don’t want to proliferate a bad idea).

What I discovered today was Jeff’s original code for being able to create underline, strikeout, and underline+strikeout highlights in PocketBible for iOS. His comment said he had taken them out because the display engine (my code) didn’t support them. Sometime between then and now I implemented those highlight styles but we just never went back into Jeff’s code and turned those choices on.

On a whim, I enabled those lines of code and what do you know — they worked! That put me in the awkward position of trying to decide whether or not to leave them in. I never liked the idea of striking verses from the Bible, and even once you get over that, it makes the text hard to read.

About then it was time for dinner and I set the laptop aside to meet my wife and get something to eat. On the way there it occurred to me that we now have some better styling options that we had back in 1998. New versions of HTML with CSS support dotted and dashed underlines.

When I got home I spent about 30 minutes and implemented the styles you see here. These new styles replace the old styles rather than adding to them. So where you had strikeouts, you’ll have dotted underlines. And where you had strikeout+underline, you’ll have dashed underlines. I think this is a nice way of making your legacy data from your Palm days more usable and it gives you three more highlighting styles to use in PocketBible for iOS. (If you’re having trouble making out the dots and dashes, click on the screen shot to see the original size image.)

One of the cool things about this is that the underlying data storage and cloud synchronization already supports it. We’re not changing the data we save, but rather the interpretation of the data. So nothing changes in any of the other platforms nor on the server.

What I think is special about this — even though it’s not a life-changing feature — is that Jeff left it behind and it only took a little extra work to make it useful. And I like that all the infrastructure both for storing the new highlight styles and displaying them was already there.

Tomorrow I’ll get back to work on naming your highlight colors. But this was a nice little one or two hour detour to give us an unexpected new feature in PocketBible.

PocketBible for Mac OS: Design Principles

Posted on: July 8th, 2013 by Craig Rairdin No Comments

PocketBible for Mac OSWhile it may not be evident from the outside, there are certain philosophies, both of Bible study and software design, that strongly influence each of our Bible study apps regardless of platform. While we’re not at a point where we can give a concrete demonstration of PocketBible for Mac OS, we can talk about how those philosophies will influence our work.

In no particular order:

You should spend most of your time in PocketBible wrestling with the Bible text, not with your Bible software. This means that frequently accessed functionality should be immediately available, and that you shouldn’t have to deal with overlapping windows that obscure the text you’re trying to read. You shouldn’t be thinking about how to arrange things on the screen or how to access basic functions like navigating to a verse or creating a note, but instead be thinking about what you’re reading and how it applies to your life.

While we should consider specific use cases and how they are served by our design, we shouldn’t design around the use cases. We think a lot about all the things you might want to do with your Bible software, like search for a word, compare Bible translations, and view a commentary on a passage. This list of ways that you use our software defines a set of “use cases” (or “user stories”).

Informally, a “use case” or “user story” is a combination of a specific goal (“User must be able to search the text for a given word or phrase”) and a description of the steps or interactions with the program necessary to meet that goal. Programmers use these use cases as part of validating that their solution meets the user’s requirements.

Some Bible software companies make the mistake of creating new user interface elements for every use case. In these programs, when you’re in “search mode” the program looks and behaves differently than it does while just browsing through the text. When you want to compare two translations of the Bible, the second one pops up in a window that may obscure a portion of what you’re reading, and which doesn’t have all the functionality you have in your “main” Bible. And the only way to view a commentary might be to split your Bible window to show a commentary beneath it, with no consideration given to how you might open a second commentary or that you might not want to lose space for Bible text when viewing a commentary. And while you might consider “commentaries” and “dictionaries” to be just “reference books” and expect them to work similarly, the program might display dictionaries in the form of pop-up windows when activated for a particular word, covering other text and behaving differently than commentaries, devotionals and other reference books.

We will try to create a flexible user interface where, for example, search results, bookmark lists, lists of notes, and other “lists of verses” share a common user interface component or pattern, and where opening a Bible to compare to the current one is no different than opening a dictionary, commentary, devotional, or any other book. There’s less to learn and there are fewer surprises.

PocketBible for Mac OS should not necessarily look like PocketBible for Windows, PocketBible for Android, or even PocketBible for iOS. While it should share a lot of design, algorithms, and even code with those platforms, it should look and feel like a Mac app, not a Windows app ported to the Mac or even an iOS app ported to the Mac. We like to take the best features of all our previous apps and combine them with fixes to the mistakes we made in previous apps and wrap them in a user interface that is consistent with the other apps on the target platform.

Mac users should not feel like they are being accommodated, but rather that Laridian considers Mac to be a primary platform for its products, and PocketBible for Mac a flagship product. We confess that we treat certain platforms as second-class citizens. For example, both our BlackBerry and webOS apps were “Bible only” apps, and neither shared the LBK file format used by our other apps. BlackBerry was primarily an enterprise (business) platform, and the future of webOS was always doubtful. This made it difficult to commit the time and money to those platforms that would’ve been necessary to really do them right. Mac OS is different. It is our intention to make it difficult to tell if we’re “Mac people” or “Windows people” because of our level of commitment to both platforms.

PocketBible for Mac OS will focus on the needs of the 99% of Christians who are neither “clergy” nor “Bible scholars”. Most of our customers occupy the pews on Sunday morning and work in secular jobs during the week. While many are Sunday School teachers or Bible study leaders and a few are pastors, most are simply everyday Christians with a love of the Bible. Some have some experience with Greek or Hebrew, but most don’t do their daily devotional reading from the Greek New Testament. PocketBible for Mac OS may include resources like the Greek New Testament and meaty, scholarly commentaries, but its focus will be on concise, accessible works that help the average Christian understand and apply the teachings of the Bible in their daily walk. It’s not that we have a disdain for the original languages, but rather that, as Bible software users and everyday Christians ourselves, we understand there are people out there who understand those languages significantly better than we do, and it’s better, faster, and easier for us to read what they’ve written in English about the Bible than to depend on our own spotty and questionable original language knowledge.

Of course, the 1% of you who dream in Greek will want a different Bible study app. PocketBible may not be for you. We understand that; you’re not our target user.

Given a choice, we will take functionality over complexity; usability over displays of our technical prowess, and simplicity over beauty. We’re not trying to solve every problem in the field of computerized Bible study, but instead we’re trying to provide a tool that can help you solve the most common problems you encounter in your everyday study of the BIble. We’re not trying to flex our programming muscles to win your admiration, but instead give you something you can be expected to use and understand with minimal learning time. We feel that beauty is often only skin-deep; that simplicity and elegance are beautiful in their own way. You may find another girl who looks prettier, but PocketBible is the girl you want to take home to meet your parents and be with forever.

We hope this helps you understand more about how we think about Bible software and from there, maybe infer how that might apply to PocketBible for Mac OS. Of course you’ll be seeing more concrete examples of these principles in practice as we begin to work on PocketBible for Mac OS — assuming, of course, that we reach our funding goal for the project on Kickstarter!

NEW! Export, Share and Publish your PocketBible Notes, Bookmarks and Highlights

Posted on: October 16th, 2012 by Michelle Stramel 24 Comments

Are you a prolific note-taker, highlighter or bookmarker in PocketBible? We have wonderful news for you! We have a new option on our website that lets you instantly pull your personal data (notes, highlights and bookmarks) out of PocketBible for the purpose of sharing, re-purposing or turning into your own PocketBible book (with BookBuilder). Whichever you want to do!

Possibilities abound

Over the years, PocketBible users have asked for the ability to export their valuable personal data out of the program. Yes, you can now do this but we’ve taken it a step further. You choose whether you want to export your notes, highlights or bookmarks. With any of those three options, we provide you with an html file that you can:

  • Use as-is
  • Bring into a text editor and reformat and publish in a format for sharing (i.e. PDF, .doc, .txt, etc.)
  • Publish as a PocketBible book using Laridian BookBuilder program (sold separately)

What kind of book could you publish for PocketBible?

  • A dictionary of your Bible bookmarks, where each dictionary entry is a bookmark category.
  • A commentary based on your verse notes.
  • A dictionary of your Bible highlights, where each dictionary entry is a highlight color.

To encourage your self-publishing efforts, we’ve lowered the prices of both versions of BookBuilder:

There’s never been a better time to consider publishing a PocketBible book!

Getting Started

The first step is to synchronize your PocketBible data with the Laridian Server. A synchronization option is available in every version of PocketBible (except Android OS – still to come!) The second step is to login to your account on the Laridian website and choose the new My Data link. You’ll find complete information on what you can do with your data and how to do it.

Let us know what you think

We hope you like this new flexibility in using your personal PocketBible data. Is this something you will use? Let us know how you will share your writings in the comments below.

Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned from Ronald McDonald

Posted on: September 4th, 2012 by Craig Rairdin 1 Comment

The other day I was joking with my wife that I should write a book of life lessons that I learned from my first job: Flipping hamburgers at McDonalds. Today one of those lessons played out in real life.

McDonalds was known back in the 70′s for its fast service. As long as you didn’t want your burger with no pickles or your fries with no salt, we usually had your order cooked before you arrived. We counted heads in the lobby and had a formula for how much meat to put on the grill. It usually worked out pretty well.

Sometimes, though, we ended up throwing away food that sat under the heat lamps too long. At the end of the day, the manager had to dig through a big garbage can full of that day’s waste and count how many of each type of sandwich was in there so he could do inventory. This was especially nasty if there were milkshakes mixed in with the Quarter Pounders and Big Macs.

One night, one of the girls who worked the cash registers asked the boss, “Why don’t you just write down each thing as you throw it away so you don’t have to count it at the end of the day?” He looked at her for a second then looked at his garbage can full of Shamrock-shake-soaked McMuffins, muttered something unsuitable for inclusion here, and the next day there was a clipboard by the heat lamps and no more counting waste.

Today one of our publishers asked if we could send them their royalties on an annual rather than a quarterly basis. They said they’re trying to reduce their processing costs and they’d rather handle one giant report at the end of the year than four smaller ones sent four times throughout the year. That’s kind of a pain in the neck for us, because we’re set up to do everything quarterly.

So I suggested that they cash our checks every quarter (that just requires a rubber stamp endorsement) but file away the detailed report until the end of the year, at which time they can pull four quarterly reports out of the file and do whatever it is they have to do with them that is so complicated. My guess is they won’t be very receptive to that idea, so I’ll just do the same here: When I get their check from our accountant I’ll shred it and file away the report. At the end of the year when they email me to ask “Where are our royalties?” I’ll get out the reports, add up the total, get a check issued, and send it to them.

Maybe this is the opposite of what I learned at McDonalds (“Sometimes it’s easier to keep track as you go than to do it all at one time.”). But it’s close. What are you doing that would be easier if you either put it off until you could do the sum of a few smaller tasks all at one time, or if you kept track as you went along instead of doing it all at once later?

What’s free with PocketBible?

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by Michelle Stramel 2 Comments

Free PocketBible Books

We often get asked about what free books are available for use with PocketBible. Here’s a one-stop answer to that question.

We offer a variety of free books in different book categories so you can try the program out and see what it can do as well as build your library. Step one is to make sure you actually own PocketBible (or one of our related readers/software programs). Or in other words, you need a reader even to use the free books we offer.

All versions of PocketBible are free to download. This includes PocketBible for iOS (aka iPhone/iPad/iPod touch), Android OS, Windows PC, Windows Mobile and Palm OS. Laridian Bibles also work with Simple Bible Pro for webOS and Noah Bible Study Viewer for BlackBerry (non-PocketBible programs have to be purchased – see product pages for details).

Once you have PocketBible downloaded for your smartphone, tablet or PC, you can download and access our free books (as well as any titles you purchase). For iOS and Android OS, the books are available to you upon registration automatically. Simply log in to your Laridian account within the program and download them. For other platforms or devices, you must order them on our web site (links are below) to add them to your Laridian account for download.

We can offer these titles free because they are in the public domain (not copyrighted). If you have any suggestions for other public domain titles you’d like to see us publish, let us know in the comments below.

Jeff Wheeler

Posted on: May 7th, 2012 by Craig Rairdin 48 Comments

My friend and Laridian co-founder Jeff Wheeler passed away this morning, the victim of a rare and particularly aggressive form of cancer. He was 49.

Jeff and I worked together for 27 years at three different companies and founded Laridian together. The features that you love in QuickVerse and PocketBible and which you often praise me for were likely Jeff’s ideas and his doing. If I didn’t build on Jeff’s foundation, he would dig me a new foundation while I was paying attention to something else. He was my sounding board and my reference library. While being all this to me, he still managed to deeply impact his family for Christ and touch others through his home school choir, his leadership in his local church, and his service to his denomination’s state board.

Men like this do not pass this way often. Well lived, Jeff.

Why Have All My Books Been Updated?

Posted on: February 1st, 2012 by Craig Rairdin 2 Comments
If you’re using PocketBible on your iPhone or iPad, you may have noticed a message on the “Add/Remove Books” screen saying that many of your books have been updated. You’ll also see a similar message if you use PocketBible for Windows or one of the older mobile platforms and visit the “Downloads” page in your account at our website.

I mentioned in a recent Android update that we were going to have to rebuild all our books to support some new search features in the Android version of PocketBible. That turned out to be a 6-8 week rather than a 1-2 week exercise. Part of the reason is that since we had to touch every book that we publish, we used that opportunity to fix all the reported errors that we had on file for each book.

Many of these errors are all but invisible to the user. As a result we tend to let them accumulate for a while rather than jumping on every typo and minor formatting error as soon as we hear about it. The problem is that those things add up after a while and frankly our list had gotten overwhelming. We had one BookBuilder customer who volunteered to help a while back. He did a few books but then gave up. So this seemed like a great opportunity to just clean that list out since we had to look at every single book anyway.

In order to minimize the load on the server from everyone being told all their books had been updated, we created a way we could update the files on the server without the server thinking they had been updated. So the only time we allowed the server to know a particular book had been updated was if it was on the list of books in which noticeable changes had been made. If all we did was change “Laridian Electronic Publishing” to “Laridian, Inc.” (because one is our name and one is not) in the book’s meta data, we didn’t bother to have the server tell you about the change. But if we fixed a number of links or typographical errors — something you would notice — we had the server tell you about it.

We were also a little concerned about the load on the server if everyone went out and started re-downloading all their books. So we didn’t make a big deal about it, and we uploaded the books a few at a time over the last couple of months.

So if PocketBible or our website is telling you that a book has been updated, it means we fixed something that you might notice if you were paying close attention. In reality all the books were updated, but none of our programs currently make use of the new features that necessitated the update. So it’s only necessary to update the ones that say they need to be updated, and then you really only need to update them if you’re picky about every little typo.

We’re not virtual anymore!

Posted on: January 29th, 2012 by Michelle Stramel 11 Comments

If you’ve ever visited the About page on our website in the past, you may have read:

This is as close as you’re going to come to visiting our “facilities”. Laridian is a virtual corporation where employees work from their homes. Currently we’re spread out over three states. We rely heavily on electronic means of communication, though those of us working in our hometown of Cedar Rapids, IA frequently meet in person just to keep from going crazy, if nothing else.

Well, times have changed and we’d like to officially announce that we have left our home-based, coffee shop, Skype’ing days behind us for a physical location where we all work together in one office in Cedar Rapids, IA. Yes, there are a few unhappy coffee shop owners in the area but for Laridian it has been a great move. We all loved the perks of working from home (i.e. optional showering, work in your pj’s) but now, having tried the alternative, we have to admit that there are some definite advantages to working together in the same building. We’ve already seen improvements in productivity in every area of the company. And as far as communication goes, we only have to get up and take a short walk to find out what is going on with a co-worker. We’ve replaced our “virtual” reality with a “new” reality that isn’t half bad and might just be worth having to take a daily shower.

Why the change? Until this summer we had used a number of outside contractors and companies to create the books and Bibles that go into PocketBible. When this process was working, it worked well. But recently, two of our best outside contractors had changes in their situations that robbed them of the free time they were devoting to tagging books. As a result it was taking longer and longer to get finished books. So we decided to bring this operation in-house. In addition to having more control over the schedule, we thought it would be easier to manage.

When putting together the budget for the new employees, we decided to include office space, office furniture, computers, internet connections, and everything else we’d need to operate a “real” office. It turned out the cost wasn’t really that bad, and the benefit of having the new people sitting right next to seasoned veterans made training a breeze. So we rented some office space close to Craig and Jeff’s house, then hired the editors. The result is that you saw more new titles from us in the last quarter of 2011 than in some previous entire years.

Just this month, the last of our home-based employees moved into the office with us. Yesterday, we made it official by putting a sign up on the door telling the world (and the FedEx driver) we’re here. So you won’t find us out in the virtual world any longer – we’ve come down to earth and we hope it will be for your benefit.

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