Friday, February 08, 2008

Where are the Bible study tools?

One of the reasons that this blog has languished over the last few years is that relatively little has changed in the landscape of Bible study oriented software. To my knowledge, there is still no real Tablet PC software designed to aid someone who wishes to study scripture for him- or herself.

e-Sword has been updated a number of times since I first wrote about it. While many of the new features are very nice, none of them provide any support for the pen. The whole landscape of e-Sword Bible import tools has changed substantially in the intervening time, but frankly I haven't bothered to keep up with it. I've already got 30-40 Bibles in e-Sword and any more would just be padding the bookshelves. More commercial Bibles are available, which is a good thing if you want the latest translations and a bad thing if you want them free.

GoBinder, which I mentioned in "The Student, the Fish, Agassiz and the Tablet" back in March of 2005, seems to be at the end of its life. OneNote is up to version 2007, which is a major improvement over OneNote 2003 and highly recommended, but still a general purpose tool, albeit a great one.

But really, there is not a single program that is designed for the student of the Bible who uses a Tablet PC.

I find myself with some time on my hands now, something that hasn't been true for several years. Part of what I am doing with this time is re-honing my programming skills, specifically for the Tablet PC. I would love to tackle a program like this. But in order to do that, I need to know what it should do. If, after all this time, anyone is still "out there" reading this blog, I'm asking you what you would like to see for Bible study aids with a Tablet PC twist. Post your comments here and maybe we can get some discussion going.

Some of the things I have been mulling over include importing or making use of Bibles from e-Sword as the text source, multiple notes sets per passage, flexibility in formatting of the text on the page for inductive study, creation of your own links to other passages, notes pages that parallel the text in addition to ink directly on the text. What else would you like to see?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Yet another advantage to Tablets...

While I haven't written in a while, that isn't because there is nothing new to say (in fact there is lots of news on the BIT front, mostly about a newer program called BeST that is being regularly updated) but mostly because life is just too hectic to even sit and think let alone put my thoughts down.

But there is one thing about Tablets that I discovered today that is a huge boon to those of us who are somewhat klutzy...

Sitting by my wife in church this morning, taking my notes on my Tablet as usual, I accidentally brushed her nice light-colored sweater with the tip of my pen. Let me tell you, digital ink makes significantly less mess than regular ink!

Friday, October 21, 2005

Comments are back

Blogger has a means of thwarting the bots that post comment spam so I am re-enabling comments for this blog. I hope that I can get back on track and actually post some new content, too.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Comment Spam

Owing to the sudden appearance of lots of comment spam, I am disabling comments on my blogs for the time being. This saddens me as the few comments I have received have had good things to say and this could be a good medium for discussion. But, owing to the self-centeredness of a few, the many lose out. Again.

If can get it together to stop this kind of behavior, then I will reinstate comments. In the meantime, please feel free to send me comments at markp(at) I will post the comments (non-spam!) if appropriate.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Extending the Wireless

We recently installed a new pastor, who is interested in using technology as an aid to the work he is doing. Not only did he get a Tablet PC, I was able to help him install wireless networking in the parsonage so that he can use it anywhere in his house--not just in his office.

The first major stumbling block to his productivity, however, was that he wasn't able to connect to the Internet, and his email and research sites thereon, while in his office at church. One option, of course, would have been to arrange for a separate Internet connection in the church itself, but this would have meant paying twice for the same service for him, as he is generally the only one using it in either location. Since his house is directly across the street from the church, we figured that it might be feasible to wirelessly bridge his connection from his home office to his church office.

At my place of work we have a campus-wide wireless network. Most of this network rests on a backbone of fiber runs between the various buildings, but a few of the buildings aren't served by conduit runs that would allow us to pull fiber from a location with existing network connectivity. For those buildings we put in wireless bridges which send a focused beam of radio waves from one building to another. This works well as long as the signal is strong and there is a clear line of sight between the antennas on the two buildings being connected. It is a pricey solution, however, and using the same Cisco equipment we used there was financially out of the question at church.

Whereas a single such connection at work cost close to $1000, we were able to do the bridge at church for about $50. We could have done it for less than $10 if I had had more time (and gumption).

The first way that we saved money was through the donation of two Cisco AP350 wireless radios (called Access Points, or APs) from a local university that was replacing this aging equipment with newer equipment from a different manufacturer. We were very fortunate to receive these radios as Cisco radios are the ones I am most familiar with and have some experience setting up in this fashion. I haven't done significant research to find out what lower cost wireless units support repeater functionality, but the Netgear Model WG602 is one that claims to support this. There are probably others. I do know that the Cisco APs work very well in this regard.

A repeater, by the way, is an AP that gets its network signal wirelessly from another similar AP, then rebroadcasts it to extend the range of that signal.

In order to make this whole thing work, only a few things are needed: a router which is connected to the Internet, an AP connected to the router by an Ethernet cable, a long range directional antenna attached to that AP, and a second AP with regular omni-directional antennas located in such a way that it can receive the beamed signal from the long range antenna.

By stringing a long Ethernet cable from the router in the home office to an AP located by a window facing the church, we were able to position that AP properly for sending the signal to the church. We purchased a Wireless Garden Super Cantenna to use as our long range antenna. We could have mounted it outside the window on the side of the house, but New England winters being what they are and the antenna housing being on the fragile side we opted instead to use the included tripod mount and set it up inside the window. Connection to the AP was trivial and the antenna worked flawlessly right out of the box.

At this point, we had a 30 degree beam of radio waves pointed across the street at the door of the church located closest to the pastor's office. When I took my Tablet PC across the street, I had a very strong Internet connection standing inside that door. As I walked farther from the door the signal rapidly weakened and was lost just inside the church office.

Fortunately, there is a closet right inside that outer door which was well positioned for placing the repeater AP to receive that beamed signal. We set the repeater AP up at this location and turned it on. When it had booted, it picked up the signal from across the street and rebroadcast it, giving an excellent signal to the office. The signal was so strong, in fact, that we were able to get a decent Internet connection in the sanctuary and even in the pulpit at the far end of the church. (I haven't yet tried to see whether I can get it in my second floor Sunday School room, but that would be a nice benefit as we could use it this year in class.)

I would have preferred to beam the signal to a more central location in the church, but there are shrubs and trees around much of the building and foliage is a very effective blocker of radio signals. Bricks and some other construction materials can also hinder or block this. (We have one old building at work that has chicken wire in the plaster walls and we can't get a decent signal to broadcast anywhere in there.)

All in all, this appears to be an effective and inexpensive solution to our problem. We could have saved even more by building our own antenna, especially since the antenna is mounted inside and protected from the weather. There are several sites on the Internet that give instructions on building your own "cantenna" out of Pringle's potato chip cans. A few such sites are here, here, and here.

The last piece of the equation, and a critical one, is securing the wireless network. This needs to be done for a number of reasons. One of particular importance is the confidentiality of the information that a pastor will be dealing with. It is pretty trivial to sniff a wireless connection that isn't well encrypted and to read the packets that are being broadcast. Unscrupulous individuals could have access to some very personal and potentially embarrassing (or worse) information this way. If you decide to put wireless in, please take the time to secure it. Use the strongest encryption your AP and computers are capable of using. Open wireless networks are invitations for trouble.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Untether the speaker...

We recently had a missions team go to Mexico with YWAM. As is usual, when they returned the team members spoke about the mission trip, what they learned, how they saw God work, the people they met, etc. During the trip, they took between 600 and 700 photos with a digital camera and wanted to show some of them during their presentation. They wanted the photos synchronized with the talks (each of the teens and the one adult who went each spoke for a short while) and had made a stab at producing a QuickTime movie of the slides, timing the transitions to coincide with the speakers.

Unfortunately, the first effort at this didn't work very well and, realistically, it probably wouldn't have been too successful even if they had a good QT movie made, as people usually talk faster or slower, or forget something or remember something, or get out of sequence, and generally don't synchronize well with a fixed timing of slides. At least that is my own experience.

I was asked if perhaps I could come up with a slide show of some sort for them to use, so I spent a little time and made a PowerPoint presentation of the shots they wanted. Nothing fancy, just one picture after another. (I am no fan of fancy transitions or other gewgaws that ultimately detract from the presentation--again, just my opinion.)

Now the downside to something like this is that someone needs to run the presentation, which means sitting or standing at a computer that is tethered to a projector. They must be behind the computer's screen or even sit facing away from the audience. Or rather it used to mean that.

Using my Tablet and a wireless projector I borrowed from work, we were able to untether the speakers and let them move freely around. They could face the audience, yet see what the congregation saw and control the transitions with a touch of the pen. Even better, the process was so simple that the woman who did the bulk of the presentation, who ran the slideshow, and who had never used a Tablet or PowerPoint before, was able to do it with about 2 minutes of instruction.

The wireless projector we used is made by Epson. The current version of the model we used is the PowerLite 737c. It functions just like any other computer projector and has a cable for connecting to the video port of a notebook or Tablet. It is pretty bright, has a good range of projection distance, and all the regular controls you would expect, including automatic keystone correction. Where it shines (ahem, so to speak) is that it accepts a wireless PC-Card network adapter and can project an image it receives via that card. Normally at work, we use it in a mode that lets it actually connect to our wireless infrastructure. However we don't have a wireless network at church (Yet. I'll write more about that when the work is done.) so this wasn't an option. Fortunately, the projector also works as an ad hoc network device, allowing a computer to connect directly to it wirelessly without the need for any access points. (If that is geek to you, it basically is the same as two computers talking directly to each other via a wireless connection, such as two Palm Pilots beaming information back and forth.)

Software is installed on the computer that allows it to send its video image wirelessly, while still displaying on the internal or attached screen. (One really nice feature of this is that, if you have a wireless network, the computer and projector do not even have to be in the same room. This has some interesting ramifications for those places where the local body is too large for one room and has to go into an overflow area.) There is no impact on the performance of the video on the computer, at least none that I've observed. There is only the slightest of delays between the change of the image on the screen and the change of the image on the projector. Unfortunately, this delay is too great to allow projection of a movie.

After the software is installed (which requires administrator access rights on the Tablet), anyone can run it and using it is downright trivial. Of course it may take a bit of technical acumen to make the ad hoc network connection, but after this is done, or if the computer and projector are part of a wireless network, then it is point and click to connect to the projector.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about this, I have written about these projectors from a teaching perspective on my other Blog, here on The Vermont Slate.

There is one other cool thing that I wanted to mention at this point, having to do with PowerPoint. The Office 2003 suite of applications represent Microsoft's starting point of writing software with Tablet PCs in mind. Both Word and PowerPoint have very effective pen tools incorporated into them in these versions. Someone who uses PowerPoint slides as part of presentations regularly (as I saw at Topeka Bible Church a couple of months ago) can interact with those slides by using the pen to annotate, circle, draw, highlight, whatever, directly on the slide during the presentation. Even the most highly spruced-up PowerPoint presentation has something of a static feel to it as the slides are what they are. You can change from one to another, but you can't change them on the fly. With the pen, you can actually interact with the slides in a very dynamic fashion during the presentation. You can save the ink for use later in reworking the slides if you want or discard it when you are done. Very, very cool stuff.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Something My Tablet Doesn't Do...

..but should is to function as a prayer journal.

This is not through any limitation of the technology, but rather owing to a failing on the part of the user. I currently have at least three separate pieces of software installed that would be excellent tools for helping me to track and remember the various things that I need to be constantly praying for or giving thanks and praise for. (Indeed, I wonder how Paul, who speaks of "always" praying and giving thanks for the Romans, the Corinthians, the Philippians, the Colossians, the Thessalonians, Timothy and Philemon, and presumably many other churches and individuals, kept them all straight and in mind. Do you suppose he used a prayer journal of some sort?)

I know of people who keep prayer journals, not only keeping track of things about which they pray regularly, but also of answers to those prayers. Some, I suspect, have filled several of these journals in their lives. How great would it be to have such a thing be perpetual and to always have it with you? Rather than killing a few spare minutes playing Solitaire I could put the time to better use either praying for these things or remembering and giving thanks for God's faithful answers. Whenever I hear of a need, I could not just say "I'll pray for you" and hope I remember to really do so more than once (a big "mea culpa" here). Instead I could immediately enter it into my journal where it would be there as a reminder to pray faithfully. Depending on how it was organized, I could also use it as a reminder to follow up with the person and hear when and how God answered.

As I said, this is one of those things I have known for years--no, decades--that I ought to do. (James 4:17 comes to mind here as a convicting verse.) But I never have. Now more than ever before I have a powerful tool to help me, so I am utterly without excuse - as if I ever had one.

So how about helping me out? Do you keep a prayer journal? How do you organize it? How do you set up each page? Do you have a column for the request, the date you first entered the request, and one for the answer and date of the answer? Do you set up pages for different areas of life, such as family, friends, ministries, etc? Do you set up pages for prayer times on different days of the week? (e.g. you pray for this missionary on Mondays, the Christian School on Tuesdays, etc.) What system works for you and why does it work? If you want to answer but don't want to post publicly, email me:

I really do want to be faithful in this aspect of my life and my Tablet is the perfect resource for helping me to bring my actions in line with my understanding of what I should be doing. If, or when, I get a system that works for me I'll write about it here. Maybe I'll even journal the process and missteps along the way.