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Archive for July, 2013

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 Android 1.0.8 – Managing Open Books

Posted on: July 16th, 2013 by Michelle Stramel 18 Comments

PocketBible for Android version 1.0.8 has been released on Google Play. If you downloaded the app from Google Play, you will be automatically updated. If you are using a Kindle Fire (or other non-Google Play device), you can download the latest version by browsing to http://lpb.cc/android while on your device.

The new feature in 1.0.8 is the ability to manage open books. Tap on the title bar where the book name is displayed – you’ll see a drop down list of all books you have open in that window or pane. Tap on the X next to a book name to close the book. Or choose the option at the bottom of the list to Open a New Book in that pane.

You can use this feature in a variety of ways in PocketBible. I like to split the screen and keep multiple Bibles open in one pane and my other type books (i.e. commentary, reading plan, dictionary) open in another pane. I have PocketBible set to keep books that are organized by verse on the same verse (Menu | Settings | Program Settings | Bible Synchronization). Then as I move through the Bible, I can tap on my second window to consult commentary or look at other books while I keep my Bibles open in the top pane. I can also easily compare variations of the same verse in the top pane by tapping on the title bar to move quickly to a different translation. Finally, I use the second pane to view my reading plan; then I can view the assigned passage in the top pane so I know where to start and stop.

If you are using PocketBible for iOS, Windows Phone or Windows Store – they all have similar capabilities.

PocketBible for Mac OS Successfully Funded!

Posted on: July 15th, 2013 by Craig Rairdin 3 Comments

PocketBible for Mac OS Kickstarter Project

We Made It!

Well, that was the most fun we’ve had in a long time!

We have been wanting to do a version of PocketBible for Mac OS X for several years. The problem is that we could never find any data to indicate that the market share for Mac was sufficient to justify the time and money we’d have to put into the project. Then earlier this year we had the idea to try Kickstarter to “crowd-fund” the project. This would prove to us that there was, in fact, a market for PocketBible for Mac, and would have the secondary benefit of providing funding for a portion of the project.

The trick was to select a funding goal that was high enough to make the project worthwhile but low enough that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to reach. You can take a guess at what a project like this might cost without me divulging any confidential information by looking at the average salary of a contract Mac programmer for the 10 months or so we think the project is going to take. With salary, taxes, benefits, space, and equipment, a programmer costs about $90K-$100K per year. To make it easy, we’ll use $96K ($8K/month), or $80K over the life of the project. Add our stretch goal of porting BookBuilder for Mac and figure there will be times when there will be a couple people working on the project and it’s pretty easy to get to $100K or more.

We were concerned that $100K might not be a reachable goal. The problem with Kickstarter is if you set a $100K goal and reach $90K, you get $0. So we had to consider what the minimum amount of funding would be that would prove to us there was a market but be reasonably reachable. After adding the cost of rewards and the fees charged by Kickstarter and Amazon, we settled in on $28,500. At the same time, we hoped you would take us past that point to help offset more of the costs.

Over the last 40 days or so, we’ve been anxiously watching how you responded to this project. Our initial email garnered about $12K in pledges. The project slowly climbed to just over $20K during the next three weeks as we approached the Fourth of July holiday. We planned on hitting the project hard once the holiday was past and you came through for us in that last week, taking us past $28,500 on July 10.

With five days remaining before our funding deadline, we re-evaluated our goal and considered what it would cost to add BookBuilder Pro to the project. We thought another $5K would be achievable and would take care of a major share of the added cost to do BookBuilder.

At that time it also occurred to us if we had some rewards to benefit our non-Mac-using customers, they might be willing to help out. So we added some rewards to appeal to our current customers on other platforms.

So we set a “stretch goal” of $33,500. A Kickstarter “stretch goal” is an informal term that someone came up with to describe a funding goal beyond the original goal. Normally the project is expanded in some way in response to reaching the stretch goal. It took less than three days for you to get us past that goal.

Over the last couple days of the campaign we picked up those who were motivated not so much by reaching the goal, but by the desire to lock in low prices on the various PocketBible Library collections and add-on books. Many of you also increased your pledges during that time to add add-on rewards.

What Now?

Kickstarter will begin collecting your pledges immediately. If it has problems collecting, it will make repeated attempts to contact you and encourage you to make good on your pledge. They tell us this process takes a couple weeks. We are not involved in the collection process; it is handled by Amazon. Amazon does not release any funds to us nor does Kickstarter give us access to our final backers list until this process is complete.

Once we get our final backers list, we’ll be contacting you to confirm your selection of add-on rewards. We anticipate this will take a couple more weeks, depending on how quickly everyone responds. Once this is complete, we’ll fulfill rewards for add-on books that can be fulfilled without waiting for the completion of the project. (That is, the six add-on rewards consisting of add-on books for non-Mac platforms.) The rest of the rewards will not be fulfilled until the project is complete, of course.

Also at this point (that is, once funding is received) work will begin in earnest on the project. My plan is to post updates through Kickstarter for our backers on a regular basis, sharing progress with you as often as I can. I’ll also be sharing updates here on the blog, though not as often.

When Will We See Alpha and Beta Test Versions of PocketBible for Mac?

“Alpha” versions of the program are not feature-complete and are used for the purpose of evaluating user interface concepts and testing some functionality of the program. “Beta” versions are feature-complete (or very close to feature-complete) and are intended for more practical testing of all of the features of the program.

At this point I can’t say when those versions will be released, but I can say that distribution of alpha- and beta-test versions of PocketBible for Mac OS will be limited to our Kickstarter backers. As a result, I’ll be making those announcements through Kickstarter in the form of private project updates.

Thanks!

So… we have a lot of work ahead of us. On behalf of everyone here at Laridian I want to thank you for proving there is a market for PocketBible for Mac, being willing to put your money on the line to fund this project, and for having faith in us to complete it successfully. We are grateful for those of you who have contacted us to encourage us and let us know you’re praying for us. We hope to be found worthy of your trust.

PocketBible for Mac OS Stretch Goals and New Add-On Rewards

Posted on: July 10th, 2013 by Craig Rairdin 5 Comments

I was surprised to see that we reached our $28,500 funding goal for PocketBible for Mac OS on the morning of July 10! Thank you so much for your support!

We still have five days left before the Kickstarter project stops accepting pledges, so here’s what we’d like to do: We are announcing a “stretch goal” of $33,500. If we reach that funding level, we’ll include BookBuilder Pro for Mac in the project. And to help us get there, we’re adding some rewards to attract our non-Mac users (and Mac users) to pledge.

BookBuilder Pro is the tool we use in-house to create add-on reference books and Bibles for PocketBible. Right now it’s a Windows-only product. In our effort to make Mac a “first-class” platform for our company, we’d like to be able to offer all the same products we have for Windows on the Mac platform. If you’ll take us to $33,500 we’ll make sure that happens.

We also want to offer some new rewards, most of which would be attractive to all PocketBible users, not just those of you with Macs. We’re adding the following rewards:

  • John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: $20 ($29.99 value, http://LPB.cc/JGEEB)
  • Barne’s Notes on the Bible: $35 ($49.99 value, http://LPB.cc/BNB)
  • John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible: $17 ($24.99 value, not yet completed so no product page to link to)
  • Darby’s Synopsis of the Books of the Bible: $10 ($14.99 value, http://LPB.cc/SYNBB)
  • Laridian Book of Classic Hymns: $9 ($12.99 value, http://LPB.cc/LBCH)
  • Laridian English Dictionary: $9 ($12.99 value, http://LPB.cc/LED)

We will fulfill these rewards as soon as the Kickstarter campaign is complete. They tell us it takes a couple weeks after the campaign closes before we’ll have a final list of backers. The rewards above will be fulfilled as soon as possible after we have that list.

Note that all of the books above are included in the five “PocketBible Library” collections offered as rewards already. So: If you have not pledged yet, you can choose one of these new rewards. If you’ve already pledged something less than $50 for the $50 reward, you can modify your pledge (increasing it if necessary) and choose one of these rewards. Or if you’re at the $25 level you can add to your pledge and at the end of the campaign we’ll contact you and you can tell us to use the excess in your pledge to get one of these rewards.

If we reach our stretch goal, we’ll give you the chance to add BookBuilder Pro, a $49.99 value, to your reward package for $35. If you’re interested in BookBuilder Pro, just go to Kickstarter and modify your pledge to add $35. At the end of the campaign we’ll contact you to find out how you want to allocate the extra funds. At that time you’ll be able to select BookBuilder Pro as an add-on reward, assuming we reach the stretch goal of $33,500.

In summary here’s what you should be thinking about depending on where you’re at with your pledge:

  • Best Value: The absolute best value in the list of rewards is the Exclusive Kickstarter Edition PocketBible Library. Most of the rewards are worth 3% to 30% more than the minimum pledge. The Kickstarter Edition is $900-$950 worth of products for $500. That’s almost twice the value of your pledge. Think of it this way: Your $300 pledge gets you the Platinum Edition Library and Advanced Feature Set, which you’ll be able to get for about $310 the day after PocketBible for Mac ships. But your $500 pledge gets you the Kickstarter Edition Library, which will cost you over $900 when PocketBible for Mac ships. Without a doubt, it is your best value.
  • Mac Users: Add $35 to your pledge. If we top $33,500 we’ll give you the opportunity to add BookBuilder Pro for Mac to your reward.
  • Mac Users pledging less than $50: Add $9 or more to your pledge. You can either select one of the new add-on book rewards if you haven’t selected a reward already, or you’ll be able to add one of those books to your existing $25 reward. We’ll contact you when the campaign is complete to find out what you want to do.
  • Windows/Non-Mac users: Consider helping your Mac-based brothers and sisters out by pledging as little as $9 and selecting one of the new add-on book rewards. We’ll fulfill these rewards as soon as Kickstarter provides us the final backer list.
  • Everyone: Add anything to your pledge to push us over our new stretch goal of $33,500!

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!

PocketBible for Android 1.0.6

Posted on: July 2nd, 2013 by Michelle Stramel 47 Comments

PocketBible for Android version 1.0.6 has been released on Google Play. If you downloaded the app from Google Play, you will be automatically updated. If you are using a Kindle Fire (or other non-Google Play device), you can download the latest version by browsing to http://lpb.cc/android while on your device.

The major new feature in 1.0.6 is the ability to highlight Bible verses. It is easy to do – just tap on a verse and PocketBible will temporarily underline the verse. Choose the pencil icon from the menu to select a color and you’re done!

Along with the highlighting, PocketBible will now sync your highlights with the Laridian Cloud. So if you have highlighted verses in other versions of PocketBible, those will be transferred over to the app as well. In conjunction with this, you’ll find a new setting option on the menu for Sync Settings where you can specify how and how often your data is being synced.

While we were at it we threw in some other popular requests like the ability to view Bible verses one line at a time, set the screen in PocketBible to not time out and the ability to hide the status bar. You’ll find these new options in the Setting menus.

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