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Tag Archive: WORDsearch

WORDsearch 11 Product Evaluation Posted

Posted: Monday, March 21, 2016 (11:58 pm), by John W Gillis


I published tonight what I imagine will be the last iteration of my WORDsearch Bible Study software product evaluation page.

It’s a more detailed assessment of the various aspects of the program than I’d probably intended to write, especially given my limited use of it these days, but it’s out there. I still get a fairly steady stream of hits on the site for the WORDsearch page, so I felt somewhat duty-bound to update it. But I’d be surprised if I upgraded when version 12 comes out, so this is probably the end of the line for me as a critic of that product. It feels funny to write that – I’ve been pulling this software apart for 12 years – and that’s just the CROSS-based versions.

With this iteration of the WORDsearch page, the custom hacks …errr… tools I’ve had posted as downloads on that page since WORDsearch 8 have been suppressed.

It was great, and I still miss the Discussion Groups.

Over and out.

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 3 (NoteStacks)

Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2015 (2:02 pm), by John W Gillis


The final element of my evaluation of Lifeway’s version 11 release of their WORDsearch electronic Bible Study platform concerns the only really new feature introduced in this version, which is a brand new knowledge management tool known in various contexts as NoteStack, NoteStacks, Note Stacks, and Card Stacks. This tool seems similar to the Sermons & Illustrations tool that appeared in the prior version, but is geared more toward topically or logically organizing content from library resources. More fundamentally, this is a vastly improved mechanism for annotating non-Bible books in the library, and should replace the use of the “Personal Notes” window available within non-Bibles, which stores annotations in HTML files which are only accessible within the Desktop they were created in, and which not infrequently become unusable after their associated book resource gets updated. For that purpose alone, this tool is a giant step forward. NoteStack notes can be created freehand, but that will not establish links between the Note and the content’s originating resource. However, if you create the NoteStack Note by right-clicking selected text within the original resource, 2-way links are established, and that is how to replace the “Personal Notes” function.

Whereas the created content within the Sermons & Illustrations tool would likely be fairly long-form entries of user-generated writing which may include quotes from library resources, NoteStacks consist of what are essentially electronic index cards (as big or small as you need them to be) which would primarily contain quoted material from library resources, along with associated user notes, reference and/or cross-reference information, and a space to track usage history. These cards are assigned Categories, which serve a very similar purpose to the Tags entries in the Sermons tool. One difference between the tools is that the cards or notes can be bundled together into independent grouping units called stacks, which allows for easy temporary filtering of cards, as for example: identifying a set of cards to group (stack) together as “for next week” without having to create a Category “for next week” and then go and assign (and later un-assign) that Category to each card.

This is a very useful looking tool, which could be employed in a number of different ways. Like pretty much every window in the WORDsearch app, it lacks the polish necessary to really bring the design idea to its full potential, but it is serviceable as-is, and could prove valuable over time to those who use it regularly to annotate and/or tag passages from their non-Bible books.

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 2 (Look & Feel)

Posted: Saturday, October 17, 2015 (2:49 pm), by John W Gillis


The WORDsearch website identifies “Look & Feel” as a new feature, so I will address it as a whole, though the “feature” aspect is really just the new, tabbed user interface as a means of program presentation.

The first thing I noticed upon initial start-up is how grey the interface is now. Anyone who uses the 2013/365 versions of Microsoft Office will find this look familiar. I expect it to be a fad that will pass as soon as Apple releases some new gizmo interface using bright, polished colors. It’s not important either way, and I suppose the overwhelming grey makes those things that are in color stand out all the more in contrast, and is otherwise perhaps less distracting. Of course, some grey color scheme was always an option before, when color schemes were selectable. But now you get grey.

The toolbar icons are supposedly modified to make them easier to find, but they’re mostly not actually very different, except that they are all now basic grey with smatterings of orange, brown, and/or dark blue. The goofy bullhorn icon for the Sermons tool has been replaced by a pulpit figure, so I guess that’s an improvement. However, mostly these buttons were just modified to fit the new color scheme better, and don’t constitute any enhancement. Giving the user the ability to customize the icon locations would be a better means of helping folks find what they’re looking for. Then again, not hiding the NoteStacks icon behind the Sermons icon would be another useful way of helping users find what they’re looking for on the toolbar.

Minor changes to the icons on the book windows themselves seem to better reflect the button function (e.g. the Carousel and Change Book buttons), though the changes to the Sync indicator button, with the new teeny-tiny “D” in the middle of the arrows on “Driver” windows, makes it quite a bit tougher, according to my eyes, to see that status.

The big change in terms of Look & Feel is the three tabs across the top, just below the menu bar. These tabs are now used to display three distinct areas of the application interface: Home, Study, and Library.

The Home tab is a replacement for the EasyStart Screen which used to present itself at program startup. Essentially, it’s a page for ads. It also has some links to external sites, and is not user-editable. There has long been an option in Settings to select a startup screen other than the EasyStart, but EasyStart would ignore that preference setting and impose itself at startup, presumably only if there was new “news” (=new ads) to display in EasyStart, though I never took the time to analyze exactly when/how the preference failed to take. Unfortunately, it looks like the Home tab acts the same way. I was really hoping to be able to permanently hide it. When I’m starting up the application, it’s to get work done, not to read ads. I know where to go if I want to see “what’s new”.

The Study tab displays the primary work environment, which is almost unchanged from what, perhaps confusingly, used to be called the library view. I say “almost” because the row of three tabs under the menu bar actually reduces the vertical space available for your resource windows by about two lines of normal text, and also because the Resource Panel is now gone from the left-hand side, increasing the horizontal space available by either about a two-character width (if you did not keep your Resource Panel “pinned”), or by whatever width you kept your Resource Panel at.

The real significant change here is the replacement for the Resource Panel, which is the Library tab.

The new Library view provides a lot more real estate and an eye-pleasing “covers” view of your books (they call it Grid view), without the logistical challenges of the old Resources pane – which would push your book windows back and forth off the right-hand edge of the display when opening or closing in pinned mode, or hover in a tenuous display over the top of the left-hand windows when set in unpinned mode. However, there is surprisingly little functionality: the text filter remains, but there are no sort options, no visible information beyond book title, and the ability to change/customize the resource Category appears to be gone (this used to be a right-click option on the book).

Right-clicking also used to get you a method to add a resource to Favorites; it is also gone. In viewing the Library (i.e. books) subsection on the Library tab, there is a selectable star for setting and indicating Favorites status, but there is nothing comparable for Verse Lists or Documents. In either available View option (List or Grid), the contents of the main (right-hand) pane is an alphabetical listing of the resources which are contained within the category selected in a small pane to the left. Resources in sub-categories are not displayed when the parent category is selected, nor are the sub-categories themselves displayed, as these are only visible via a manual expanding of the category listing on the left panel. This leads to the odd experience of seeing zero resources available in the selection pane when selecting the Literature category, under which my library currently has 138 resources cataloged in sub-categories.

List view is a single column of titles only, in a large text format, which seems to waste a lot of screen real estate which could now be used for other useful information about each resource (e.g. author, publisher, publishing date, or even user-supplied tags, if the Library function could be made to support them). Multi-select is not available in either view mode.

The user-created resources that have also moved into this screen from the old Resource Panel (Verse Lists, Documents, User Books) have only a List View available, again with no information displayed except titles. While User Books can still belong to Categories, the category info is not visible in the Library tab – it is simply an alphabetical list of all User Book titles. Nor is there any kind of visual cue as to what kind of User Book each item is (in the WS10 Resource Panel, there were different icons for the three types: verse-based (commentaries); word-based (dictionaries); and date-based (journals). The category is shown in the Properties dialog when opened from the button on a User Book’s ribbon in the Study pane, but at least as of this build, the Properties dialog for these resources is completely empty in the Library tab.

Similarly, the List view for Documents no longer provides icon indicators to distinguish between PDFs and HTML files. Document folder locations appear as prefixes to document titles, so I suppose the information displayed is not exactly title only for them, but rather is the filename as a path relative to the WORDsearch “My Documents” folder, minus the filename extension. Gone also are the right-click methods to move documents to another folder, or to add to Favorites, which have taken a significant step backwards in functionality.

Favorites, within the context of the Library tab, has been demoted from a major display category of resources, capable of advertising multiple kinds of resources (e.g. books, documents, verse lists, bookmarks, web links), to a filtering tool within the books resource type. The other resource types are no longer visible within Favorites, although the internal browser continues to display saved web links within its own Favorites listing on the browser’s otherwise uneditable Home Page, which was a secondary way of accessing them before, beyond the Resource Panel’s comprehensive Favorites section.

Unlike documents and verse lists, which can no longer be added to Favorites, favorites in the form of bookmarks can still be created within books, but there is currently no way to view them or access them. The WORDsearch Help page claims that all these are managed within Favorites on the Library tab, so perhaps there is a plan to rehabilitate the classic, multi-purpose Favorites concept (which was quite useful in prior versions), but it is clearly not in place as of version 11.0.3.15.

Finally, there appears to be no connection between the Library tab and Collections, which is not any kind of departure from former design, but which seems to be a missed opportunity to use all the screen real estate now available for managing the library.

All-in-all, as much as I like browsing the cover thumbnails, the new Library tab is functionally inferior to what it replaced, and the inability to see the workspace simultaneously as you browse and open books effectively makes this pane act like the intrusive “pinned” mode of the old Resource Panel only worse – it pushes all books completely out of sight!

Coupled with the fact that it eats up some valuable vertical screen space unnecessarily, I think the development team at WORDsearch might want to re-think this tabbed interface. The “Home” tab is almost completely useless, and could just as well be reverted to a selection item on the View menu, leaving only two real views to consider: Study and Library.

The Library “tab” functionality would be better exposed as a button on the far left of the toolbar (where the F9 Open Book dialog box was just placed), which could be opened up as a resizable window – with at least all its old functionalities restored, please! – and would be a perfect candidate for a window capable of being displayed in the new second workspace.

There’s definitely something to work with here, but the eye candy just doesn’t get any work done by itself.

WORDsearch 11: New Features, Part 1

Posted: Wednesday, October 14, 2015 (1:21 am), by John W Gillis


Having addressed the installation and setup of the WORDsearch 11 upgrade last week, I have been evaluating the new release, with a particular interest in identifying and assessing what has changed in the upgrade.

The WORDsearch website identifies the following features as new:

  • New! New Look & Feel
    New! LESSONmaker Integration
    New! Cloud Backup/Restore
    New! Second Monitor Support
    New! NoteStack Window
    New! Customizable Toolbar
    New! Topic Explorer and Cross-Reference Explorer Speedup
    New! "Open Book" button on the Toolbar
    The New INFO Panel

Some of these changes are more substantive than others. The reference to “The New INFO Panel” is notable in how it differs in presentation from the other “New!” inducements in the product feature listing. It is also notable in that the Info panel is not new at all, and does not appear to have changed since version 10.

The “Open Book” toolbar button is indeed a new button, which brings up the very handy “F9” library filtering/selection dialog box, but that feature has been available via keystroke for several versions now, and since you need to type into the resulting dialog box to use it, I’m not sure how much help it will be to be able to invoke it with a toolbar mouse-click before typing into it, instead of just hitting F9 and then continuing to type. No harm in having it there, of course, and I can always hide it if I want to, because of the new “Customizable Toolbar” feature…

What that feature consists of is a list within Program Settings of the names of each toolbar button, and an option to select/deselect each. That option allowed me to hide another new button which was a hotlink to smallgroup.com – apparently a commercial partner offering a premium service to WS users. However, what I really would have liked to be able to do with the new “Open Book” button is to move it from its position at the far left end of the toolbar – next to the search-related buttons – down to the area near the middle with the other buttons that are used to open books. That level of customization is not available.

I also feel I should call attention to a strange anomaly on the new toolbar’s configuration: the button for the new NoteStack tool occupies the exact same location as the button for the Sermons & Illustrations tool, and a drop-down arrow is provided to allow the user to set which button is visible. I don’t quite know what to say about that.

The “Speedup” for the Topic Explorer and Cross-Reference Explorer tools appears to be real, based on some side-by-side testing I did of lookups using both WS11 and WS10 on the same PC, but on my machine, that meant the searches went from taking about less than a second to something even faster. That’s great, I guess. For someone with a significantly slower computer, this improvement could deliver more benefit, but it’s an improvement of an already very good performance attribute. For reference, the computer I used is a two and a half year-old HP Envy laptop, running 64-bit Windows 10 Pro on a single Quad-Core i7-4700MQ CPU @ 2.4Ghz, with a 5400-rpm hybrid hard drive, and 16GB RAM (note: the WORDsearch program is 32-bit, so it executes in a 4GB memory space). That’s not exactly cutting edge today, but it is more computer than some WORDsearch users may have available. As they say, your mileage may vary.

There’s not much to say about the new cloud-based option for Backup/Restore, except that it works. It’s a nice option to have, and could be a useful way to keep multiple computers in sync in terms of personal data. I’m a little surprised WS is still backing up Unlock Information, since that is effectively handled now within the cloud by the users’ WORDsearch/LifeWay ID logons.

LESSONmaker is now an integrated piece of WORDsearch. This tool has been around for many years. I think it was previously integrated into the program at one point, but has also at various times been available as a stand-alone program, either bundled with WORDsearch or sold separately. This program combines canned small-group studies on passages or topics with relevant content from selected library resources to produce handouts for study groups. The related library content generation is essentially the Instant Verse Study function without the option of getting content from personal Bible Notes. It simply appends that generated content to the bottom of a study guide for the passage(s) contained within the study chosen from a list of purchased studies. The few studies I’ve looked at over the years seem to consist mostly of the banal “How do you feel about yourself?” variety of questions, though there may be some good lessons material out there I’m not aware of. Again, your mileage may vary. I don’t use it.

One of the more substantive new features is the option to open a second workspace in a child window on a second display, which is opened by activating a toggle button on the toolbar. This is a long-awaited feature which is nice to finally have, but it has its peculiarities.

The only way to place a window in the secondary workspace is to drag it there using the window’s drag handle. So you can drag all the books you want – Bibles, commentaries, lexicons, even User Books – over to the second window, and arrange and dock them as you want. But because only windows with drag handles can occupy the workspace, there are a lot of tools that cannot be moved to the second window:

  • Documents/Word Processor
  • Verse Lists
  • Topic Explorer
  • Xref Explorer
  • Morphological Explorer
  • Verse Explorer
  • Bible Notes
  • Sermons & Illustrations window
  • Card Stacks (aka NoteStack) window
  • Word Definition window
  • History window
  • web browser window

Nor can you place your Search Results window in the second pane. Nor can you show your Library tab in the second window. These are windows that would be very useful to have placed on a second display, especially since many of them take up a lot of screen real estate, and since they have no drag handles are, by definition, not dockable within the program.

You could invert the logic, putting your primary windows like Bibles, dictionaries and commentaries on the second display, and use the various tool windows on the primary display, but you need to note carefully that if you re-click the 2nd Display toggle button on the toolbar, the Workspace pane will close, closing all the resource windows open within it.

Furthermore, neither the Workspace pane nor the resources within it are saved with the Desktop settings if you Save Window Positions, so when you reopen WORDsearch, they will not be open, and you’ll have to open and re-populate the Workspace pane. Still, despite its limitations, it is a welcome improvement.

I will follow-up with analysis of the other two substantive program changes: NoteStacks and the overall application interface (i.e. “Look & Feel”).

WORDsearch 11, initial thoughts: Setup

Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2015 (1:22 am), by John W Gillis


I purchased and installed the new WS11 upgrade last week. I hadn’t been sure I’d actually do it, but after attending a free training session to get some exposure to the new StackNotes feature, I was impressed enough with the potential of the tool to lay out the $40 upgrade fee and give the new version a try.

I downloaded the installer to a network share and ran it on my Windows 10 laptop, but the installer failed with a non-descriptive error, so I copied the installer file to my local desktop, and it ran through to successful completion.

However, the installer did not find my WS10 personal data to import – a fact I attribute to the installer asking for Administrator account authentication, which account it then apparently ran the entire installation under, thus creating the user-specific links and folders in the Administrator user profile instead of under my own user profile. After completion of the installation, the application launched under the Administrator account (as I figured out later), and I did a little preliminary poking around after going through the Settings Helper wizard. As suspected, not much had changed with the application, though it had a somewhat cleaner but duller look (very grey, like the new MS Office). There were a few new things, but aside from appearance, it seemed to be functionally pretty much the same app as WS10. It was several days before I had the chance to look at it again, during which time my PC updated and rebooted.

Prior to re-opening the app, I wanted to find a way to get my WS10 personal data available in WS11. No migration utility presented itself, so I figured I’d live chat tech support to see if there was any programmatic conversion that needed to take place during migration, or if I could just copy and paste. However, it was evening (after work), and I discovered that tech support is only available during the day. Not wanting to wait, and correctly assuming there’s be no harm in copying the user data over, I used the Support Info (Help|About|Support Info) link to my WORDsearch “UserData” folder to jump to the folder within my Windows user profile, then navigated between the WS11 and WS10 folders there to find and copy the data (Desktops/Templates; Collections; Bible Notes; Illustrations database; Favorites; Carousel configurations).

Upon starting up the app, I was prompted to go through the Settings Helper wizard again – likely because the application was now running under my Windows user logon, not the Administrator user. However, the next time I started up the application, I was prompted to install a program update (to 11.0.3.15), which I did. As with the original install, the installer again asked for administrative credentials to execute, after which it launched the WS11 application under the Administrator user ID. This was obvious to me at this point, because I no longer had my personal data available, and the Desktop that loaded was the one I’d been monkeying around with the first night I installed the app. Checking the UserData path in Support Info confirmed this. I shut it down and restarted, and it came up using my user profile. That condition could be pretty confusing for users who don’t understand the underlying PC technology that will be making it look like user data is disappearing and reappearing after running updates.

Having completed setup with a modest amount of pain, I’ve had a chance to investigate a little deeper some of the new (and newer) tools and features, and I hope to post my observations over the next few days, then get my WORDsearch product eval page updated for the new version.

Rumblings From a Deep Slumber

Posted: Saturday, September 12, 2015 (3:23 pm), by John W Gillis


Rumblings from out of a deep slumber at MaybeToday.org, as I turn the lights back on to note some activity…

WORDsearch

LifeWay this week released WORDsearch 11, which is the first major version release in almost four years. I haven’t run the new version yet, and very well may not, at least for the foreseeable future, as the marketing approach being taken ($50 for an engine-only upgrade, discounted to $40 through September) seems hard to reconcile against new product descriptions that identify a few nice-sounding but hardly game-changing improvements to what appears to be basically the same program as version 10.6. It’s not unusual for Bible Study software vendors to provide their engines for free, making their money on either ad-hoc or bundled sales of licenses for ebooks and other resources. It is a complicated situation, and there’s really no way to make apples-to-apples comparisons, but LifeWay’s still seems like an odd approach, at best. I would have expected at least WS11-based packages to be available alongside the engine-only offering.

QuickVerse

With the release of the WS11 upgrade, QuickVerse appears to have disappeared from the wordsearchbible.com store website. In fact, a search for “quickverse” on the website comes back with no results! I’m assuming this spells the end of the line for QuickVerse as a brand. Subsequently, I’ve decided to archive the software evaluation page I had published on the legacy QuickVerse product back in 2009.

Olive Tree

On the other hand, I have begun using Olive Tree’s Bible Study tools, and published a product assessment last night. the app is limited, but a terrific solution for mobile needs.

Publishing assessments of various electronic Bible Study programs was one of my original goals for this site, but that effort got derailed pretty quickly, getting no further than entries for QuickVerse and WORDsearch. I’m telling myself it is a good time to pick up that torch again, but I’ve told myself that before – we’ll see how it goes. It would be a lot of work both to create and to maintain any even remotely comprehensive set of assessments.

Taking Stock

Posted: Sunday, September 15, 2013 (11:32 pm), by John W Gillis


I went out to fetch some Chinese take-out this evening, and found myself driving past Saint Patrick’s just a few minutes before classes were to start for the beginning of the new CCD year. I sped up just a little. This is the first year in almost a decade that I will not be teaching a class of teenagers. It is a strange feeling, and I already miss the camaraderie of the classroom. I’ve really loved my charges over the years, and they’ve been a great source of joy and satisfaction for me.

There’s no good reason to expound upon why I wouldn’t go back this year: it is sufficient to say it’s not because I was tired of teaching. Nonetheless, I will be living a rather different kind of life this year; I am in a new mode, at least for now. I have time for other things, but I will need to choose wisely. I have time to correct deficiencies and address needs. I do not have time to read the “news”.

For some reason, I’m not quite prepared to abandon this blog/website, so I need to do something to correct its dysfunction, for a moribund, unused web site is dysfunctional. I will be re-thinking its purpose.

When I launched the site, in March 2008, I anticipated having a heavy focus on Bible Study tools, resources, and methods – which represented a significant aspect of my intellectual efforts at the time. But I was also just beginning my studies at Franciscan University, and my early plans would prove not only overly ambitious, but also of receding interest to me. I’ve moved on.

In light of that, I do not expect to produce pages analyzing software products beyond the two I managed to get published last decade: WORDsearch and QuickVerse. Ironically, they have been merged into essentially a single product since the purchase of QuickVerse by WORDsearch in mid-2011. I suppose I should simply suppress my existing QuickVerse analysis page, since it has no more independent interest. That would leave only my WORDsearch eval page in that section of the site, and I’m not sure why it should have any permanency. I’ve already (tonight) suppressed the “WORDsearch Versions Comparison” sub-page. I published (again, tonight) a revision to the WORDsearch page, updating it to account for all that has happened in the busy two and a half years since I’d last revised the page: the QuickVerse purchase, the sale to Lifeway, and the releases of WORDsearch versions 10, 10.5 and 10.6. My attention, however, has turned elsewhere, and the website needs to reflect that change in focus – assuming I can get around to it!

Some Concluding, Year-End Musings on 2012

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


Logos: Logos Bible Research scored huge in my estimation this year. I had struggled to be productive with earlier versions of their software, but version 4, released just about 3 years ago, represented a dramatic improvement in usability and performance, and I started drifting toward it then – especially since they were also beginning to release quality Catholic resources (e.g. works by Aquinas). Then, this Spring, they put together a series of terrific Catholic base packages, all of which included an outstanding edition of the CatechismCatechism of the Catholic Church. Logos version 5, released a couple months ago, adds some nice capabilities to an already terrific product, and has also been published in a separately-branded Catholic product line called Verbum.

Like the standard Logos 5 offerings, the base packages seem disproportionally weighted toward the upper end of the price range, but the entry-level Catholic package, The Catechism of the Catholic Church Collection (in the $50 range), is simply the best set of resources available at anywhere near that price for Catholics looking for a digital study platform. Check it out. It lacks an NAB, but that can be surmounted – and the versions it contains, the RSVCE and Douay, are better versions, anyway. Besides the CCC, it includes the Roman Catechism, the conciliar documents from both Vatican Councils as well as Trent, the essential dogmatic reference works of Denzinger and Ott, and the (daily) Catholic Lectionary. It is an outstanding value, and the resources work together brilliantly. I’m really impressed.

WORDsearch: Continuing the Bible Study Software theme… After rushing WS10 out the door last Christmas week, Lifeway finally got the product to the right spot with a series of version 10.5-enumerated updates released to WS10 owners beginning in June of this year. With a (Greek only) morphological search tool, user-created book types, a History window, and a sermon management tool, WS finally filled some long-standing functionality gaps. But for me, it’s too little, too late. I’ve been a loyal WS user since 1992 – my first (DOS) version of WS came with the NAB, NJB, NRSV, and a Strong’s-tagged KJV, plus TSK; it was Bible Study bliss. No application has served me better over the past 20 years, but it’s time to move on. This program simply cannot compete with the heavyweights. New owner Lifeway (i.e. the Southern Baptist Convention) has had a year and a half to demonstrate a commitment to improved professionalism with the product, and it has not materialized. The only changes I’ve sensed are an increased interest in chasing the latest cultural fads (you can now tweet your Bible Study results from within the program, if that’s your thing), and a decreased likelihood that the platform will be seeing anything like the excellent Catholic resources that are showing up steadily from Logos. On the increasingly rare occasions that I’ve opened the app to work with it recently, it has usually been crashing. Forget it. Thanks for everything; it was great while it lasted.

New English Translation of the Roman Missal: It’s been just over a year now since the introduction of the new translations of many of the prayers in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although they can be awkward and clumsy at times, and although I still haven’t memorized the new versions of the Gloria or the Creed, I think they are overall a big improvement, and are working quite well, with the exception of the Sanctus. I get the Isaiah basis for the change, and consider it an important corrective, but of the half-dozen or so churches where I worship with some regularity, there is not a single congregation that proclaims it smoothly. There’s even one where the priest himself still says “God of power and might” – probably because of the difficulty of getting his people to use a common cadence in proclaiming the new version. It needs attention.

On Obama’s Reelection: I have to admit, I was stunned by the election results. I was quite confident the country would reject Obama, after having four years to see for themselves what you get when you vote for someone based on the color of his skin – as so many people have openly (even gleefully) admitted to doing during the messianic frenzy of 2008. Mitt Romney was admittedly not the easiest guy to get behind, but he offered a genuine chance to correct some of mistakes that have been made, get the economy growing again, and bridge some of the rancor that has afflicted US politics since the Nixon years, but which has reached utterly dysfunctional levels now under this most divisive and partisan of chief executives.

Romney’s loss was disheartening. Partly, that’s because the “kill Romney” character assassination campaign strategy worked for the Democrats, despite the fact that Mitt Romney might just be the most decent guy to have ever run for that office – he’d certainly have to be a serious candidate in any such ranking. That is not a good omen for the future state of presidential politics in this country. But it’s disheartening also partly because of the sheer political force displayed in it by the progressive movement. The Democrats didn’t just convince too many potential Romney supporters to stay home, they wielded a large voting bloc that was willing to support the progressive agenda in plain daylight, not just as a kneejerk reaction to Bush burnout.

It could very well be that we’ve reached – or at least come close to – a tipping point as a culture, where a majority of citizens are willing to vote themselves “other people’s money” from the public till, and to delegate to the state the responsibilities of human freedom, from citizenship to family to personal health and well-being. If this is so, then we have reached the end of the usefulness of the great democratic experiment, and are descending into tyranny – one that will surely tout the infamous conceit of manifesting the will of “the people”. I wouldn’t expect it to end any better than its leftist forerunners have.

On perhaps a bright note, this debacle has produced in me a certain loss of faith in both the American people and in the political process – faith that was in reality misplaced to begin with. It has caused me to lose a good deal of interest in politics – or more accurately, in current events – which should serve both to free up time for less ephemeral concerns, and to orient my priorities more meaningfully.

On the Vapidity of the American “Opinion” Bureaucracies: Related to the collapsing opposition to leftist thinking in America is the success on the part of the progressive movement to establish a fifth column focused on the formation of opinion and the control of knowledge for political ends. I refer, of course, to the thorough progressive domination of the agenda-setting and opinion-defining institutions of education (both mandatory K-12and university-level) and mass media. As it is abundantly clear to me that the greatest threat to America as a place of “liberty and justice for all” comes from a combination of the “news” media and the educational institutions, I’m all in here with Pat Caddell, in his rant from this past autumn:

On Gun Control Hysteria: On this, the Feast of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents, it seems appropriate to complain that I was deeply distressed by the (media-driven) national meltdown of propriety and circumspection following the dreadful grade-school massacre in Newtown CT a few weeks ago. The notion that so many people were ready and willing to exploit the situation for dubious political purposes before the bodies of the dead children were even cold is chilling. Perhaps especially galling is the site of notoriously pro-abortion politicians crying crocodile tears over the carnage while intoning that “we must get serious” and “something must be done” to “protect the children”. Would it be impolitic to point out that during that very day, well in excess of 3,000 children were murdered in this country using devices – and furthermore, in the performance of acts! – that were not only perfectly legal, but which boast the unbending political protection of the very hypocrites who wailed the most loudly into the megaphones of self-righteous convenience on that sorry day? I hope those of us who retain some semblance of intelligence will be permitted a healthy degree of skepticism at the proposal that the repetition of such senseless bloodshed might be avoided by limiting the capacities of ammunition clips available to law-abiding citizens, causing mass murderers (of the gun-toting type, not the forceps wielding sort) to have to either buy their clips on the black market, or stop to reload a few times in the middle of mowing down a screaming group of defenseless women and children.

On Christmas: I’ve disliked the holiday we call Christmas at least since I was a young father without two spare nickels to rub together. As I’ve gotten older, my financial wherewithal has (predictably) improved significantly, and my Catholic faith has taken root and flourished into a principal self-understanding, but I don’t like the holiday any more. I refer to the holiday celebrated a few days ago that marked the close of the “Christmas Season”, a largely secular and irreligious period of consumer indulgence that began some time around Thanksgiving.

There is another day, a Christian Holy Day, also celebrated a few days ago, at the conclusion of the Advent season, and which marks the beginning of a Christian Christmas season, which has several permutations, being in the first place an Octave that concludes on January 1st, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God; in the second place a traditional period of gaiety extending twelve days, until the eve of the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th, though this can get moved to a Sunday), and thirdly as a liturgical season extending through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, on the Sunday following Epiphany. This Holy Day and season celebrates the most remarkable thing that ever happened: the Incarnation of God in human flesh – in the flesh of a baby borne of a woman.

I’ve never been able to figure out how to celebrate the Holy Day amidst all the silly hoopla of the holiday, and I need to figure it out before I find myself thrown in to deep depression some one of these years.

WORDsearch, LifeWay, and the Future of Bible Study Software

Posted: Monday, September 5, 2011 (10:22 pm), by John W Gillis


It’s been a couple of months now since the Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing arm, LifeWay, announced that they had gotten into the Bible Study Software publishing market by buying WORDsearch – a sale that included QuickVerse, which had just been bought by WORDsearch a couple months earlier. I wasn’t thrilled by either of these announcements (especially the second one), and the passing of time has not made me feel much better.

As I mention in the summary of my analysis of QuickVerse, I think the sale to WORDsearch was a good thing overall for QuickVerse users: QuickVerse didn’t appear to have a future as an independent platform, WORDsearch has a better overall tool set, had a good portion of QV’s STEP resources already available in their own CROSS format, and had in place some  established processes to convert from the STEP platform to CROSS. It would also mean a significantly enlarged base of potential customers for CROSS resources, which should have increased revenue for WS without increasing their costs, while providing a much wider selection of resources for legacy QuickVerse users. Sounds like a win-win, and it is, but my chief complaint about WORDsearch over the past few years has been what I’ve perceived as an over-emphasis on expanding markets, at the expense of putting some finishing, professional touches on a toolset that is very interesting, but under-developed. This move seemed to all about libraries, not toolsets.

The LifeWay purchase opens up an entirely different can of worms, as WORDsearch now effectively becomes a denominational Bible study platform – and at that, a denomination not known for their pluralism (pretty ironic, actually, given the role of Baptists in the codification of religious pluralism in the United States). There’s no way to tell at this point how things will play out, in terms of which resources will and will not be made available by LifeWay for the WORDsearch platform going forward.

I wish I were more optimistic than I am that the Bible study platform will not be used as a football for denominational politics and bigfooting. I can’t help but be reminded of the waste that was Zondervan’s development of Pradis as a tool for their own works. The circumstances are quite different in several ways, but I think there may be some real analogy in terms of the danger (from a user/student/consumer perspective) of combining the toolset and the e-book publishing platform under a single, proprietary copyright.

I’m glad LifeWay wants to get into the e-book publishing business for Bible Study software, I just wish people who have invested in the software tools required to utilize those resources weren’t financially locked into LifeWay as a publisher now. LifeWay should be able to publish what they want – and only what they want – and users should be able to use the tools they have invested in to work with resources published by various publishing houses, as they see fit. Likewise, I wish LifeWay were able to produce e-books that were capable of being used on the broadest set of software tools (readers, search tools, content aggregators, indexers, virtual annotation tools, etc.).

The software/publishing houses don’t want to hear this, but I am more and more convinced that publishers, content owners, developers, and users of Bible Study tools & resources would all be much better served if an e-book standard could be developed – open source, I say, and using a plug-in framework similar to Logos’ data type components. In simple terms, here is how I see everyone benefiting from an industry-wide agreement:

  1. Users would only have to license an e-book once, and could then use it with anybody’s toolset – and it’s viability over an extended period of time would be guaranteed.
  2. Publishers would have the broadest possible potential customer base to sell to.
  3. Copyright owners would be free to license to a single publisher if they prefer (or not!), without compromising potential market share.
  4. Developers would be free to focus on quality tool development, differentiating themselves by functionality, usability, and ability to keep up with “data types” established by publishers, which would be available on a level playing field.

I’m convinced that an e-book standard is coming – whether from Amazon, Google, or somewhere else, and that users are going to get fed up with having to “buy” books several times just to keep using them in a changing software landscape. The question is whether the Bible Study software community can get out in front of the emerging standard to ensure it is rich enough to support the rather elaborate requirements of modern, computerized Bible study, or if they will squabble to the end, leaving us with standards developed by and for the entertainment establishment.

Updated WORDsearch Tweaks

Posted: Monday, January 31, 2011 (11:09 am), by John W Gillis


From the better-late-than-never department, I’ve updated my Overview of WORDsearch Bible Study software to account for version 9. I’ve also updated the customizations under the Tweaks tab: more color schemes, more Internet dictionary resources, and a minor re-work of my Bible Search Range Defaults file that works better with the new indexer engine in WS9. This can all be found here.