Wednesday, January 04, 2006

About a year ago, i started using a PocketPC (a Dell Axim x30), having held my technophilia back for several years. At first i mostly used it for contacts, appointments, notes, etc.: conveniences, but not really enough to justify the cost, and the small screen and awkwardness of the handwriting recognition interface makes it less than optimal. But pretty soon i got a couple of Bible programs, and since then i've all but stopped using paper Bibles. I have both the freeware Pocket E-Sword, with ESV and CEV my primary versions, and also Laridian's PocketBible, which i got primarily so i could have NASB with Strong's numbers. I haven't spent much money on PocketPC programs, but PocketBible was worth it.

It's so much easier to have several versions handy, use hyperlinked resources, and have a search function. I still wish for a bigger screen for more context, but you can't be at your laptop all the time. I don't create verse notes and the like (see previous comment about interface awkwardness), but having learned how each of them works (it took a little longer with some aspects of PocketBible), i find them very convenient. If my PocketPC died, i'd be tempted to buy another for the Bible capabilities alone. So now, if the sermon gets a little boring (did i say that out loud?), i can do some side study on the Greek words, compare different translations, or look more closely at related passages.

Back in December, i happened to notice on Laridian's web site that they were offering BookBuilder, a program you can use to create PocketBible versions of your own content. I'd been wanting to start using the Composite Gospel Index for my own devotional study (which doesn't normally happen at my laptop), partly to see whether i found it personally helpful or not. So i added BookBuilder to my Christmas list, my wife obliged, and i had some time over the holidays to work with it.

They use an special version of HTML (both adding some special tags, and leaving some out) as the input format, which Bookbuilder then compiles into the required format. Once it builds without errors (the error logging has so far been pretty self-explanatory), you just copy it into place on your PocketPC, restart PocketBible, and there you go. Some effort was required to learn the quirks of their particular version of HTML-lite-plus (i might wish they had chosen some more standard conventions for extending it), but if you know HTML it's pretty easy.

Now the fun part! I've believed all along that what makes the Composite Gospel Index (CGI) different from umpteen other Gospel harmonies is that it's reusable XML data. I've looked at a lot of printed tables comparing Gospel passages, but there's a qualitative difference in ease of use when they're live hyperlinks rather than print on a page or screen.

I've been able to re-use the CGI in a number of different ways this past year:

A picture named ppc-mockup.jpg

Now i can add a PocketBible version to the list. Once i got the input format down, it was a SMOP to write the Perl code to format the CGI for BookBuilder. And for a change, it really was pretty simple, though coming up with the right small-screen presentation took a little more effort. I wound up with each page having the sequence number and title of the pericope, followed by a 2x2 table, one cell per Gospel (empty if no source for that pericope), with the reference and previous/next by source hyperlinks. There's not enough room to include the verses themselves, but there's no need to: with View > Two Books turned on, there's enough space to view the CGI in one half, and then jump to the corresponding text in the other half of the screen. You can go back to the index for the CGI to browse through all the pericopes (though this isn't as functional as i'd like). This description won't make much sense if you haven't used the CGI and PocketBible, and i don't have an easy way to include a screenshot, but it looks a little like this browser mockup.

I applaud Laridian for opening their format enough so that you can add to their content (even though you have the buy their tool to do it). If you have PocketBible, you can download my beta version of the Composite Gospel for it here. Important note: i haven't sprung for the Professional version of BookBuilder ($99 versus $25), so this isn't a finished Laridian product, if you build your own books they may collide, future versions may cause you to lose any notes you've added, offer void where prohibited by law, etc.

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