Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Whatcha Reading?

My wife and I were talking the other day, when I mentioned that I had read "my book" while riding a stationary bike. She laughed and asked, "Which one? You are always reading six books."

Little does she know.

Not only do I usually have a half-dozen books of various kinds going, I have that many again, or more, in progress on my Tablet. Many are technical, some are for pure enjoyment, several are literary works I never got around to in school, quite a number are of a spiritual bent.

I try never to go anywhere without at least one of the books I am reading with me. I prefer to carry a second (or third!) or a couple of magazines, too. You never know when you'll have to wait somewhere or what kind of reading the environment will be conducive to, and it is good to be prepared. But, carrying around those extra volumes can be bothersome and the magazines tend to get dog-eared and wrinkled long before I have finished them.

I haven't found a good solution for the magazines yet, but there are two programs I use regularly that make reading on the Tablet a pleasure and keep me unencumbered by most of the paper I used to carry. (I must confess, though, that I usually still do have a book or magazine with me.)

One of these programs is, of course, Adobe Acrobat Reader. Acrobat's .PDF file format is widely used on the Internet and a lot of the technical stuff I read is in this format. It is great for works where the layout must be just so: technical drawings, for example, or works where a diagram must be positioned in a specific way relative to the text. I won't go further into this as it is pretty widely known.

The other main program I use for reading on my Tablet is Microsoft Reader. Microsoft has provided an excellent little program in Reader that allows me to treat my Tablet as not just a book, but as a library of books. MS Reader is an underappreciated gem found on Tablet PCs and available free for any recent Microsoft operating system, including the Pocket PC OS.

Reader has a unique approach to presenting the book being read. The application runs at a fixed size and you can't resize it. If you switch your Tablet between landscape and portrait modes, Reader will resize itself to a new size, but it picks it. You don't. Not only that, but it repaginates the book you are reading to fit the new page size. The reason it operates in this peculiar fashion is that Reader always configures itself so as to present an easy-to-read page. If you have ever tried to read a web page that was very wide, you know that it is easy to lose the next line when your eyes scan back to the left. On the other hand, if the column is too narrow, reading seems a choppy rather than smooth-flowing activity. By taking control of the page height and width and keeping them in a reasonable ratio, Reader can consistently present a page that is comfortable to read. Because of the way it handles text, I have finally found reading on a computer as comfortable as reading paper. (Though nothing beats the feel of an old, well-worn book.)

Reader uses a specific format for its books. It would be great if it could read straight text files but it can't. The .LIT extension on a file identifies it as a Reader book. By default, your Tablet has only one such book, Microsoft Reader Help. Useful, I suppose, but not the most enthralling read. For Reader to be useful, you will have to build your library.

One way to do this, of course, is to purchase e-books. A number of commercial books are available in the .LIT format. You can find some on by going to the books page and clicking on "E-Books & E-Docs" in the browse box on the left of the page. The real treat, though, and one way I've built my library is to find free e-books formatted for Reader.

There are a number of sites on the Internet where free e-books are readily available. A word of warning, though: some of them are pretty weird, with a focus on the occult and strange sci-fi. Others are more useful to us Christians (unless, I suppose, you are researching the occult or strange science fiction).

One place where I have gotten a number of free e-books is from the Microsoft Reader Catalog of eBooks. (No one seems to know how e-book/ebook/eBook is definitively spelled, so I'll use whatever spelling of e-book seems appropriate.) This site mixes for-sale e-books in with about 1500 free e-books. To see only the free books, use this link. Most of the free books on this site are hosted elsewhere, so by paying attention to the site you are actually downloading from, you can find other free sites.

One of the biggest of these is the University of Virginia, with approximately 1800 free e-books at their site. In addition to a good general selection, they have a few "religious" books of interest: individual books of the King James Bible and Revised Standard Version, and writings of Calvin, Luther, and Augustine.

Another great source for books of interest to Christians is Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Here you can find .LIT files of great books from the likes of John Bunyan, G.K. Chesterton, Dante, Jonathan Edwards, and George McDonald. All of the books are out of copyright (so you won't see C.S. Lewis or other recent authors) and free for the downloading.

CCEL also has books in a number of other formats. In fact, the majority of its books aren't available in .LIT format. In my next post, I'll tell how I get around this and can turn almost any format e-book into a .LIT file (or a .PDF file if that format is more appropriate) and, best of all, do it for free, too.

A couple of last little details worth noting:

MS Reader can handle many languages besides English. In fact, several of the free e-books on the MSLIT site are language dictionaries. CCEL has books in a couple of non-English languages, though I didn't see any .LIT formatted files. There were a number of .PDF files, however. Hopefully, the tips I give next time will help anyone interested in converting the text files for Reader.

Reader has a built-in dictionary so you can look up words while you are reading. Right-click on the word and select Lookup... from the menu. If you have other language dictionaries installed, you can also translate the word by changing dictionaries on the fly.

Reader can read the books to you. It is a rather robotic and flat voice (you have your choice between three different but equally flat voices) but it does a decent job.

You can vary the font size and ClearType settings to make the books easier on your eyes.

You can use bookmarks within the texts to mark places for later lookup.

You can use ink annotations within the text. This is not perfect when you switch orientations, but is a nice feature nonetheless.

By changing the function of the jog-dial on your Tablet PC to act as PageUp and PageDown you can read without using the pen.

Lastly, a word of caution: I have found reading in Reader so book-like, that I really do treat my Tablet as if it were a book. Normally this is fine. However, one evening when I was pretty tired I was lying down reading and nodded off. I was rudely awakened when my Tablet fell on my face, breaking one of my front teeth. That never would have happened with a paperback.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Student, the Fish, Agassiz and the Tablet

Inductive Bible study is surely one of the best means of understanding God's word, and I am a strong advocate of it. Formerly, my primary study tools were a typed page of the section I wished to study and a pencil. I did use a good Bible dictionary as a secondary tool. My Tablet has changed all that.

My primary tools now are a typed page of the section I wish to study and a pen.

The typed page, of course, is now electronic and the pen spreads digital ink. Actually, several of my Bible dictionaries are electronic, too, though I do still use a couple of paper editions. Plus, I can use colored highlighters and pens easily without having them strewn around my desk.

If you aren't familiar with inductive study, it is a technique in which you approach the Bible itself as the primary source of information. (Inductive study isn't limited to Bible study, of course.) A wonderful treatise describing inductive study is "The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz", which I would encourage everyone to read. It is not only instructive, but it is an enjoyable read. The entire short article is on the website linked and a PDF version is available for download there. Highly recommended.

In brief, the key activities in inductive study are: observation (the vast majority of time is spent on this), interpretation, and application. All three parts are critical, as is the order. There are various techniques to aid in the process, possibly best described in Irving L. Jensen's classic Independent Bible Study (ISBN 0802440509). I think it is out of print, but used copies are available. lists four available as I write this. There are numerous links about inductive Bible study on the web, too. I haven't thoroughly reviewed any, so I won't make any blanket recommendations, but if you would like help finding some, leave me a comment.

The format for the text under study that I have found works best is double spaced text with large margins all around, and with all chapter, verse, and even paragraph breaks removed. Because you will be circling words, drawing lines, and making other notations right in with the text, this amount of space (or even more) between lines of text is important.

I usually pick a section no longer than will fit on a single 8.5 by 11 (or A4) piece of paper. It is a large enough body for context and meaning, yet small enough to not be overwhelming. You can work through an entire book in chunks this size, and fit the sections together for further study after you have completed them individually.

There are a number of ways to set this up and do the study. A very low cost way is to use WordPad to type in the text (or copy verses from e-Sword and paste them in) and get it formatted the way you want. (You will have to manually double-space the text.) Then print it to Journal with the Journal Note Writer virtual printer. You can use Journal to mark it up. Your text isn't searchable, but your ink is.

A better, albeit more costly, way in my opinion is to use Word for both text entry and markup. This leaves your underlying text fully searchable, but not your ink. A lot of your ink will be markings rather than words, though, so this is probably not a big issue. Since I am typing the books of the Bible into Word during my quiet times, I am building quite a collection of scripture in this format for study. (Now if I could only get the time to do the study...)

One could do the same in GoBinder, PlanPlus for Windows, or OneNote. These also allow for searching of the text as well as the ink. If I hadn't already started my texts in Word, I would probably use OneNote for this.

For those who don't want to or can't type in the passages, there are some good options. Rob Bushway runs a site called TabletBible that distributes a few translations already formatted for GoBinder and PlanPlus for Windows. You can also use e-Sword to get a number of translations and languages for copy and paste into another tool. The Bible Gateway has quite a number of translations on-line. They also have the Bible in several different languages. I looked around and couldn't find an acceptable use policy, so I am assuming that copying a section to a local file for study would be acceptable. I do suggest asking specifically before doing this and I wouldn't do large sections as many of their translations are copyrighted. You might also consider making a contribution if you do this regularly, as it is supported by donations. TabletBible also accepts donations, which go toward the medical expenses of Rob's daughter who has cancer.

Paul tells us in 2 Timothy, "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth." By helping us to study God's word, our Tablets can help us to fulfill this command to accurately handle His word.

Monday, March 21, 2005

What About the Children?

This catchy question has been seriously abused by politicians who use it to justify all sorts of power and money grabs for pet programs. I would like to make an effort to redeem it, however, and put it to what I consider to be a better use. I want to talk about things to have on your Tablet to keep the kids (the ones beside you, though they may apply to the ones inside you, too) from wriggling around too much when they need to sit quietly and still for any length of time. Not everyone agrees that this is a good way to handle kids in church and if you are one who doesn't, I encourage you to skip this post.

I trained in early childhood education in college (KU, class of 1980) and really love young children. I have a couple of kids at church who are very dear to me and vice versa. They enjoy sitting with us on Sunday morning, although sitting hasn't always been the right word. They did at least occasionally occupy the seat beside me during the time they were there, though.

During one fidget session, I pulled out my Tablet and showed them ArtRage, a really fabulous, award-winning painting program for Tablet PCs. That kept them quiet and constructively entertained for the whole time they were there. ArtRage is an oil painting emulation, though it also allows you to "use" crayons, pencils, and a couple of other tools. Rather than being a high-end "graphics processing" tool, it is essentially the digital equivalent of a blank canvas and a palette. There has been some terrific work done with it, some of which you can see at the ArtRage web site.

ArtRage did the trick for many months, and I got a few really nice pieces of art out of the deal. However, the "new" eventually wore off and the kids were looking for other things to do. One of them quickly discovered that I had games installed on my Tablet and they wanted to see what was available.

The first game to capture their attention--and hold it during the "boring" parts of the service--was Dots. Most of us probably played this game as kids. Draw a grid of dots on a piece of paper and take turns connecting lines. Whoever connects the line that encloses a box claims the box and gets to draw another line. Microsoft has released a number of PowerToys for the Tablet PC, and one of these is a version of this game. You can find it, along with the other PowerToys for the Tablet PC, here. Players compete against the computer, so the kids have to take turns.

Another game that has recently gained popularity is InkBall, a game that comes with the Tablet PC Operating System. In InkBall, colored balls bounce around the playing area. The user must draw lines to block and redirect the balls, directing them into identically colored sockets. The angle of the line relative to the motion of the ball determines where the ball bounces. Once a line is hit by the ball, it disappears.

I suspect that the kids will lose interest in these games, too. They are actually starting to get old enough that they soon will be expected to be more involved with the service anyway. Still, I'm keeping my eyes open for other kinds of distractions, preferable constructive ones like ArtRage. I would love to hear from anyone who finds any.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What Ever Happened to Sword Drills?

With OneNote and e-Sword on my Tablet, my notes from sermons, conferences, discussions, etc., are more complete than ever before. Not only can I include diagrams and sketches in my notes (just as I could on paper), I can quickly include whole passages of scripture (in any of the 28 translations or languages I have installed!) rather than just the reference. It is wonderfully convenient when I am reviewing my notes to have the whole passage under discussion included right in the middle of them.

One of the standard features of Windows applications is cut and paste, so this probably doesn't seem like anything too special, and in a technical sense it isn't. But it is the combination of handwritten notes, with all their advantages, and full Bible passages rather than just references that makes it so good. Plus, in less time than it would take to locate a passage in a paper Bible, I can find the passage in e-Sword, highlight it, copy the verses in one of several formats, and paste them into my notes. (Finding a book is easy enough in e-Sword to not really require someone to know the order of the Bible books--hence the title of this post.) There I can use a highlighter or pen to mark specific parts of the passage, draw circles, or generally mark it up any way I want. I used to do this in my Bible, but after the second or third reference to the same passage, it was time to find another Bible!

e-Sword offers two ways to copy something, "copy" and "copy verses." "Copy verses" does differ from a regular copy in a couple of significant ways.

First, the "copy" command will only copy exactly what you have highlighted. "Copy verses" will grab the entirety of all verses you have a portion of highlighted. It is much faster as you only need to get a part of the verses at either end of the passage. Sometimes using a pen to get exact locations in text is a pain and can slow things down.

Second, with "copy", you have no control over format. You get plain text, with carriage returns at the end of each verse. With "copy verses" you have the choice of seven alternative ways of formatting the copied verses with regard to separation (or not) of verses, location of reference, etc. You can additionally control whether or not character formatting (i.e., red letters or italics in the original) is copied, whether the translation name is included in the reference, or whether the book name is abbreviated. I have a definite preference for one of the formats, and fortunately, e-Sword remembers this choice for me between sessions.

e-Sword could make this a little more convenient by having a short-cut key to do the verse copy. CTRL-C just does a regular copy. It would also be nice if it allowed some additional options in the verse copy, such as double spacing. But these minor quibbles aside, e-Sword and OneNote or another note-taking application are a dynamite combination when taking notes on a Sunday morning.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

When to Turn Off Your Tablet

Now I don't know if anybody is reading this blog, let alone whether there are any women (other than, I suspect, my wife--Hi, honey) reading it, but I'm going to address these comments mostly to the men.

I tend to have my Tablet with me all of the time and turned on most of the time. We have a campus-wide wireless network at work, and have wireless at home as well. My Tablet has become my one-stop shop for news, communication, work, and entertainment, not to mention all the things I use it for at church (where, fortunately, there is no wireless network). I can check the weather, look up something that Carolyn and I are talking about, get a quick movie review, check or send email, jot something down in my planner, look up a phone number, etc., etc., etc., just about anywhere I happen to be, including most of the local coffee shops.

This past weekend, though, Carolyn and I went to a "Weekend to Remember" conference hosted by Family Life Today. Before the conference, I promised her that, while I was taking my Tablet for note-taking purposes (I ended up not even using it for that), I wouldn't be online or use it for anything else. The weekend was for her and for us and the Tablet was an unwelcome intrusion.

Boy, am I glad I did that!

We had some great conversation time and a wonderful (though not always easy) weekend just to work on our marriage. And to Be Together. Just the two of us, not the three of us...

I know there are other times I need to turn off my Tablet and give her my full attention and I'll be working on those, too, but this one was a big one. I would heartily recommend one of these weekend conferences to any married couple. And don't forget to turn your Tablet off.

Friday, March 11, 2005


OK, so that is probably not the most accurate title for this post, but it will have to do.

I wanted to talk about how I use my Tablet to take sermon notes. I think it is pretty slick and if it doesn't work for you, maybe it will at least give you some fodder for your own thinking.

I use two applications primarily when I am sitting in the pew: OneNote and e-Sword.

If you aren't yet familiar with OneNote, it is a Microsoft Office application that is a wonderful note organizer. You can see it in action here. You can even download a 30 day demo from the site here. Now frankly, the ink in OneNote leaves a lot to be desired. Other note-taking applications are a whole lot better in this regard. Still, I love the way OneNote handles organization. The filing metaphor works well for me and it is wonderful to not have to save files. OneNote saves everything on the fly.

I have created a folder called Church, with sub-folders under it. Originally I had one called Sermons and kept my notes there, but with over a year's worth of notes, I decided to reorganize and create sub-folders under Sermons for each year. In each of these folders, I create a new note for each week and take my notes there. (I should probably give some more detail here, but for now, be aware that folder management in OneNote is a whole 'nother thing than Windows folder management--and worlds easier.)

My preference is to title my note with the date and the name of the speaker. We currently have a few men who are rotating speaking so this works really well. In the assembly where I spent my early years as a Christian, this would be a good technique, too. We will have a new pastor starting soon, so he'll be doing most of the speaking. I guess I'll have to modify this a bit...

The rest of it is just plain note-taking, with one cool exception I'll get to in my next post. (Remember I said I used e-Sword, too?)

Not only does this give me good notes on the sermon, but it lets me carry all of my previous notes with me for reference. This is especially helpful when a topic is carried over between sermons. It is trivial to pop up the notes from the previous week for review or reference.

Also, have you ever had one of those, "I remember someone said ... sometime ... somewhere" moments but you can't for the life of you remember who or when and you certainly can't lay your hands on details about it? Well, OneNote supports searching your hand-written notes so you can pretty reliably find out who, what, when, where, and maybe even why. This has helped me on several occasions to recall something more than just some vague recollection. A quick search on a likely term and all the details are there.

I used to carry a notepad, several pens and pencils (just in case), and a NAS Study Bible with me each Sunday. Plus other things I'll get around to talking about in the future. No more. With e-Sword as my pew Bible and OneNote as my notepad, I've shaved a pound or two and several inches off what I carry with me each Sunday. (My Tablet in its case is thinner than my Bible alone and no bigger in the other dimensions.) Plus, I can carry all of my previous notes and even search them. Quite the pleasant upgrade...

But wait, there's more. Next time.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How Many Bibles Does One Guy Need?

I will freely confess to being a bibliophile and this love of books extends to a love of multiple translations of the Bible. I have a smattering of Greek study in my past and can muddle my way through German text so I like having the Bible in these texts available to me as well. Since adding software to my Tablet doesn't increase the weight or bulk of the computer, why not have a dozen or more Bibles on my machine?

One of the things I love about my Tablet is e-Sword, a Bible software tool written by Rick Meyers and given freely by him to the body of Christ. I've looked at others, such as Theophilos, which I have liked but I kept coming back to e-Sword and ended up installing that one on every Tablet I've owned, my wife's computer, several friends' computers, and even my desktop at work. One of these days, I would like to do a full-blown review of the various Bible software packages and re-evaluate (especially since Theophilos is now free) but for now, the choice for me is e-Sword.

e-Sword gives me the capability mentioned above and more. In fact, I currently have 28 translations, or variations of them, on my Tablet, including my favorite translation, the NASB. In addition, I have 14 commentaries and 12 Bible (or related) dictionaries. Folks, this is an incredible set of resources to have with me everywhere I go!

Now, you could put this same piece of software and all these Bibles, etc., on a notebook computer and technically have them with you in the same way, but a Tablet PC is just so much more usable and unobtrusive that it is no comparison. I don't even carry a paper Bible with me to church anymore. My Tablet goes in the bag I carry (I usually carry a lot of other stuff with me) or under my arm and it is no more inconvenient than a Bible would be. I hold it on my lap, just as I would a Bible. I hold it in my arm when talking to someone about a passage. It's a great combination!

Now, all that said, e-Sword isn't perfect.

For one thing, it is not a Tablet PC application and doesn't understand ink at all. Nor, based on conversations I had with Rick several months ago, is it likely to any time soon. So, if I want to make notes on a passage, I have to copy the verses somewhere else (I use OneNote for this) first. Still, that is only a minor inconvenience, and e-Sword supports several verse layouts for this kind of copying.

For another, it is a bit slow on the Tablet. (Or perhaps more accurately, it is one of those apps that shows the Tablet to be a bit slower than a desktop.) Not too much of a hassle, most of the time, but an issue I wish were different. To be fair, part of this is because I have so many translations... It is faster with fewer installed.

Some people might be turned off because the NIV is not available. This doesn't affect me, but it might others. I did have to pay for the NASB, but then I considered that well worth it. Personally, I would like to see the Modern Language Bible available, but I'm not sure you can even get that in paper anymore.

Still, these are mostly just niggling quibbles. (Well, lack of direct inking is more than that, but there is an acceptable workaround.) This is a piece of software that I highly recommend to anyone who carries a Tablet PC.

Friday, March 04, 2005

What's This?

I'm a regular member of TabletPCBuzz (, which I consider the best source for information on Tablet PCs around. I noticed there that a large number of the members were Christians. The TabletBible ( as far as I know came about because of discussions there. Since public forums like that tend to degenerate too rapidly into flaming and antagonism, I decided to start a blog to foster discussions specifically about the benefits I have found at church from my Tablet PC. I hope it will provide a place for the genteel and considerate discussion of these topics and one where we can all learn to get the most of this marvelous tool in our places of worship. While started by and for Christians, the practitioners of other faiths are more than welcome. The only request is that we keep to the topic and not get off onto dogma, doctrine, or denomination. I'll post more over the next few days, as family, church, and work obligations allow, and share with you some of the ways I have found my Tablet useful as a Christian, worshiper, and Sunday School teacher.