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Archive for April, 2008

Quick and Easy Custom “Books” for PocketBible Using BookBuilder

Posted on: April 28th, 2008 by Craig Rairdin 5 Comments

I get the best ideas from customers. I’m corresponding with one now who is lamenting how hard it is to use BookBuilder to bring a text file into PocketBible. That gave me an idea to just tell you how to do it. It’s pretty easy.

Let’s just take the text of my blog posting from April 21 and turn it into a Laridian book. Laridian books are HTML files with some added tags. They all look like this:

<html><head>
<!– meta tags go here –>
</head><body>
<!– your book goes here–>
</body></html>

The meta tag section comes right out of the documentation. Here are the meta tags for a dictionary, which we’ll modify to make our book:

<html><head>
<meta name=”pb_title” content=”Tyndale Bible Dictionary”>
<meta name=”pb_abbrev” content=”TBD”>
<meta name=”pb_copyright” content=”Copyright &copy; 2001 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.”>
<meta name=”pb_publisher” content=”Laridian Electronic Publishing”>
<meta name=”pb_city” content=”Cedar Rapids, IA”>
<meta name=”pb_date” content=”2004″>
<meta name=”pb_pubid” content=”101″>
<meta name=”pb_bookid” content=”35″>
<meta name=”pb_editionid” content=”1″>
<meta name=”pb_revisionid” content=”1″>
<meta name=”pb_synctype” content=”word”>
</head><body>
<!– your book goes here–>
</body></html>

We’ll change a bit of the text in the meta tags to make it make sense for our blog article. We end up with this:

<html><head>
<meta name=”pb_title” content=”April 21 Blog Article”>
<meta name=”pb_abbrev” content=”BLOG”>
<meta name=”pb_copyright” content=”Copyright &copy; 2008 by Craig Rairdin. All rights reserved.”>
<meta name=”pb_publisher” content=”Laridian Electronic Publishing”>
<meta name=”pb_city” content=”Cedar Rapids, IA”>
<meta name=”pb_date” content=”2008″>
<meta name=”pb_pubid” content=”9999″>
<meta name=”pb_bookid” content=”1″>
<meta name=”pb_editionid” content=”1″>
<meta name=”pb_revisionid” content=”1″>
</head><body>
<!– your book goes here–>
</body></html>

In addition to changing the text of the copyright message etc. I also changed the Publisher ID (pb_pubid) just because it doesn’t matter and I didn’t want it the same as the Tyndale Dictionary from which the example was lifted. I set the pb_bookid meta tag to 1, and I would change that for every book I create. And I removed the final pb_synctype tag, because that’s what tells PocketBible this is a dictionary, but my file isn’t a dictionary.

I have to add at least one heading so I have something in the table of contents for the book. So I put that on the top of the text of the blog article. I paste in the text of the blog article and add <p> tags at the start of each line to indicate new paragraphs.

Text in bold is text I modified in some way just so you can see how little I changed from either the sample meta tags or the text of my article.

<html><head>
<meta name=”pb_title” content=”April 21 Blog Article“>
<meta name=”pb_abbrev” content=”BLOG“>
<meta name=”pb_copyright” content=”Copyright &copy; 2008 by Craig Rairdin. All rights reserved.”>
<meta name=”pb_publisher” content=”Laridian Electronic Publishing”>
<meta name=”pb_city” content=”Cedar Rapids, IA”>
<meta name=”pb_date” content=”2008“>
<meta name=”pb_pubid” content=”9999“>
<meta name=”pb_bookid” content=”1“>
<meta name=”pb_editionid” content=”1″>
<meta name=”pb_revisionid” content=”1″>
</head><body>
<h1 pb_toc=visible>On the Problems of Designing User-Friendly Software for PDAs and Smart Phones</h1>
<p>A comment from one of our PocketBible 4 beta testers got me thinking about the nature of what we do and what users complain about. I’ve expressed this with respect to the iPhone but I haven’t put it into a larger context that might help people understand what software designers are up against when we implement a solution, regardless of the platform. These issues are especially true of the mobile device market but the same ideas apply to the desktop and other general-purpose computing platforms.
<p>If you start from the beginning, you find a user with a problem. It might be: “How do I take my contact database with me?” or “How can I work on my spreadsheets on the train?” or “How can I browse the Web when I’m away from my computer?”. Hardware companies like Sony, Apple, HP, and HTC get together with software companies like Microsoft and whatever Palm is calling itself today and come up with a device and operating system software that address those problems. In the course of doing so, they create a way for third parties (that’s us) to create software for their new device/OS platform.
<p>By the time we consumer software companies (independent software vendors or ISVs) get our hands on these products, we’re no longer solving the original customer problem. Instead, we’re programming for a device, and the device is solving the problem. When we program for a device we have certain limitations imposed by the hardware and software. The screen is only so big. There may or may not be a keyboard. There may or may not be much memory. There may or may not be good internet connectivity. The tools provided by the OS software developer may not be very powerful. There are a host of these limitations, and we have no control over them. It is the sandbox in which we have to play if we’re going to play at all.
<p>etc…..
</body></html>

That’s all there is to it. If you can master cut and paste and typing <p> you can create books out of text files. If you know a little HTML you can add bold, italics, underlines, and even tables and lists.

On the Problems of Designing User-Friendly Software for PDAs and Smart Phones

Posted on: April 21st, 2008 by Craig Rairdin 13 Comments

A comment from one of our PocketBible 4 beta testers got me thinking about the nature of what we do and what users complain about. I’ve expressed this with respect to the iPhone but I haven’t put it into a larger context that might help people understand what software designers are up against when we implement a solution, regardless of the platform. These issues are especially true of the mobile device market but the same ideas apply to the desktop and other general-purpose computing platforms.

If you start from the beginning, you find a user with a problem. It might be: “How do I take my contact database with me?” or “How can I work on my spreadsheets on the train?” or “How can I browse the Web when I’m away from my computer?”. Hardware companies like Sony, Apple, HP, and HTC get together with software companies like Microsoft and whatever Palm is calling itself today and come up with a device and operating system software that address those problems. In the course of doing so, they create a way for third parties (that’s us) to create software for their new device/OS platform.

By the time we consumer software companies (independent software vendors or ISVs) get our hands on these products, we’re no longer solving the original customer problem. Instead, we’re programming for a device, and the device is solving the problem. When we program for a device we have certain limitations imposed by the hardware and software. The screen is only so big. There may or may not be a keyboard. There may or may not be much memory. There may or may not be good internet connectivity. The tools provided by the OS software developer may not be very powerful. There are a host of these limitations, and we have no control over them. It is the sandbox in which we have to play if we’re going to play at all.

We might have solved the customer’s original problem differently. But that’s water under the bridge. We can only operate within the limitations of the platform.

Some of the limitations imposed on us are not necessarily firmly fixed in hardware. They might be user interface standards that are intended to give the user a common UI experience as he or she moves from application to application on the device. So we all put scrollbars on the right even though lefties might like them on the left. Menus, buttons, toolbars, etc. are generally drawn from a common source so they all look the same and are sized and placed the same in all applications.

Obeying the philosophical limitations is just as important as obeying the hardware limitations, even though the former is not as rigidly enforced. Depending on the platform, a device from another manufacturer might expect you to have followed the rules. It may implement new features, which, as long as you’ve followed the rules, fit seamlessly into your existing program with no changes. So it’s to our advantage (and by extension, our customers’ advantage) for us to play within all the rules.

So what does this all mean? It means that when you have an iPhone, you don’t have a clipboard. It’s not the case that iPocketBible doesn’t have a clipboard, it’s that your iPhone doesn’t have a clipboard. As of right now, it means that you depend on Internet access because all your third-party apps are Web-based. It’s not that Laridian screwed up by only providing a Web-based application for your iPhone, it’s that Apple screwed up by not supporting native, third-party apps right out of the box.

It means if you have a Nokia phone you can’t tell if software is going to run on it because it doesn’t tell you anywhere what version of the operating system you’re running. Yes, if you’re an expert user you already know you have an S60 or whatever, but the average person who reads the Bible and bought a Nokia phone “because it’s blue” isn’t going to be able to tell whether a particular piece of software will run on the phone or not.

It means that if you have a Pocket PC, it’s hard to operate programs with your fingers instead of a stylus. The buttons are too small, the keyboard input methods are too dumb, and many of the controls are simply impossible to operate with something as big as a man-sized finger. It doesn’t mean that PocketBible is hard to operate with your fingertip, it means that Microsoft expects you to use a stylus and designed their device that way.

Sure, we could make our buttons really big and give you all kinds of flexibility for defining how the d-pad buttons work with our program, but eventually you’re going to have to type a note on that little software keyboard that pops up at the bottom of the screen, or select an option from a little combo box or menu, or try to tap on just one Strong’s number in a sea of blue underlined links. We can’t do enough to overcome the limitations imposed on us by the underlying software and hardware, for which we have no responsibility.

It’s fairly common for people to complain to the wrong party about these things. Since we’re the last link in the OEM – OS – ISV chain, we get blamed for a lot of the problems of our software running on these devices — problems that actually are the result of limitations dictated to us by those who came before us. So if you have fat fingers or you don’t have WiFi at your church, I’m afraid we can’t help you. Someone else stuck you with a bad solution before we got to you. The best we can do is create software that works well on the platform you’ve chosen. Whether that platform is right for you is a decision you have to make, and one that the OEMs and OS developers are more responsible for than we are.

“How Do I Contribute to Your Ministry at Laridian?”

Posted on: April 14th, 2008 by Craig Rairdin 3 Comments

From time to time we’re asked how a person can contribute to our work here. They like what we do and they want to be a part of it. Frankly, we’re really touched by such requests and appreciate the attitude that is contained in questions like that.

Needless to say, we’re a commercial venture. We’re not a charity, nor a “ministry” except in the broadest sense of the word. We pay our bills by selling the product of our programming and editorial efforts. While we think it might be profitable to put a “Donate to Laridian” button on our Web site, we’re concerned about conveying the idea that we’re something different than we really are. We have competitors who are just as profit-minded as we are, yet organize themselves as non-profit organizations and even charitable organizations in order to be able to tug at people’s spiritual sensitivities and hopefully get paid for doing nothing. We don’t want to even come close to being seen that way.

While we make no secret of being a commercial company (and will defend that position from scripture if you press us), we really are humbled when people like what we do so much that they want to just give us money for being us and doing what we do. That’s pretty cool. So what we usually suggest is that they buy one of our CD-ROM or USB Drive collections and give it away. That way they bless us with their purchase and they bless someone else with an unexpected gift of software to help them better comprehend the Bible. Everybody wins.

©2014 Laridian