25 Years a Bible Software Developer

In 1994, just after I got married, I started working on a DOS program for doing Bible searches. Yesterday, I released version 8.3 of this same program.

Of course, the original code I wrote in 1994 isn’t actually being used any more, but what originally was known as Bible Assistant was consistently re-worked and improved to eventually become the mature application today known as SwordSearcher.

Here’s a picture of me holding up the very first order form I ever received for my Bible software.

Me, holding the very first order for my Bible software.

The order form is dated December 26, 1994. (I’m outside in a short sleeve shirt because I was living in Hawaii.)

At the time this photo was taken, my “real job” was digging ditches and working on septic systems. I didn’t know it back then, but my real job was really writing Bible software.

It took me another seven years to get to the point where I would no longer need to hold down side-jobs to pay the bills. In the early 2000s, I quit my job at RadioShack, where I helped customers find batteries and resistors for five years.

Since then I have spent most of the working hours of my days developing my own Bible software and working as an independent contractor on other people’s projects.

It only dawned on me last night, as I wrote up an announcement for version 8.3 of SwordSearcher, that I had been doing this for 25 years. What tremendous grace of God I have been shown – to be able to work on technology for studying the Bible for nearly my entire adult life!

I released SwordSearcher 8.2 yesterday.

It just goes to show how neglected by blog has been that I forgot to even write about SwordSearcher 8.1 here. Anyway, yesterday I publicly announced SwordSearcher 8.2 (here’s what’s new).

I’m most enthusiastic about the new Word Trees explorer. Here’s the help file section on Word Trees (I still need to make the video tutorial).

I also completely re-designed the SwordSearcher website. It has been six or seven years since I made any significant changes and the site was just not up to par for 2018. Hopefully this will be a bit better, and Google will stop telling me that I am losing traffic because the site wasn’t mobile-friendly… Now I just need to write more content. I much prefer the coding. :-)

SwordSearcher 8 released.

Happy to announce the release of SwordSearcher 8.

My two favorite features from this release:

  • The KJV-TSK for integrated cross-references right in the text of the King James Bible. This is one of those seems-obvious-now-that-it’s-in-there kind of things.  It is also one of those can’t-do-without-it-now-that-I-have-it kind of things.
  • Complete, comprehensive support for Windows 10 scaling functionality. What’s that all mean? Perfect text rendering on ultra-high DPI screens, like the one on the Surface Book. (Believe it or not, this was the single most labor intensive part of the work on this new version, even though it is hardly glamorous and even difficult to demonstrate.)

All the details here.

SwordSearcher 7.2

I’m pleased to announce the release of the latest version of SwordSearcher. This new version includes several new additions to the Deluxe study library, significant speed improvements, commentary “expand to chapter” view, and lots of other useful enhancements.

All the details are here.

This is actually the 20th anniversary edition of SwordSearcher, counting from the first version that had the title “SwordSearcher” in 1995. Here’s the history.

Making better custom Bible reading plans in software

With SwordSearcher 7.1, one of the primary features of Daily Bible and Prayer has been re-designed extensively and incorporated into SwordSearcher.

First, a quick review: Daily Bible and Prayer (DBAP) is a freeware Windows program with three functions:

  1. Prayer tracking
  2. Daily devotional
  3. And most importantly: Bible reading plans.

SwordSearcher is quite different in scope, being a complete Bible study system with a huge library of material and powerful search functions not present at all in DBAP.

A couple of years ago I stopped selling DBAP and made it freeware, and added integrated support for linking DBAP to SwordSearcher so they could be easily used side-by-side.

DBAP’s custom reading plan system is pretty basic: decide what range of verses you want to read and when you want the reading finished. DBAP just divides the verses up for a daily average.

While useful, it’s really not all that powerful or flexible. There are some pretty significant limitations to that approach (the same approach taken in most software-based reading plan designers). The two biggest drawbacks to this “chop up the passage into days” approach are:

  1. Illogical starting and ending points in the text. Dividing readings up by verse count is unnatural and usually doesn’t begin readings at reasonable places in the text, but instead often falls in the middle of a sentence or paragraph.
  2. Inconsistent daily reading times. The shortest verses of the Bible only have two words (Joh 11:35; 1Th 5:16) and the longest verse has 90 words (Esther 8:9) and takes almost half a minute to read out loud. Dividing by verse or even by chapter count can not give a consistent daily reading time.

Earlier this year I was trying to come up with a two-year reading plan to begin with my teenage son, that he, my wife, and I would all do together and consistently. I realized that none of the available custom plan designers (including mine) were up to the task of building a plan I was happy with. I wanted a plan that did this:

  • Read through the Old Testament once
  • Read through the New Testament twice.
  • Read from the OT and NT every day.
  • Consistent daily reading times — 10 minutes today and 3 minutes tomorrow would not be acceptable.

So, even though I was about a week away from finalizing the next update to SwordSearcher, I decided to delay it so that I could build my ideal reading plan system.

This is what is in SwordSearcher 7.1. I designed a reading schedule creator that would allow flexible plans like these (these are just examples):

  • Read the book of Acts for ten minutes a day. (You’ll be done in two weeks.)
  • Spend a half an hour reading the Bible every day straight through. (Did you know this doesn’t even take five months?)
  • Read Paul’s Epistles in a month. (Less than ten minutes a day!)
  • Read the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times in a year, and read from the OT and NT every day.

And importantly:

  • Daily reading times should be as consistent as possible. Why? It’s much easier to make daily reading part of your routine if it is consistent and you know how long it will take.
  • Daily readings, as much as possible, should begin and end on chapter positions (if possible) or at paragraphs. SwordSearcher “tweaks” the daily reading plan within certain ranges to try to push the beginning and ending points to better places in the text. This makes a huge difference in how natural the reading seems.

And of course, it should be possible to read ahead or re-schedule plans if you fall behind and catching up would be too difficult.

I think the delay in releasing SwordSearcher 7.1 was worth it. It has made a huge and unforeseen difference in how I use my own software on a daily basis.

After using the reading schedule system in SwordSearcher for a while personally, here are some things I have found:

  • Having a simple “through the Bible” reading plan is still a great way to stay in the word and listen to God every day.
  • Having an additional, very short daily plan is a great way to jumpstart impromptu Bible study in SwordSearcher every day. For example, set up a plan to read the book of Galatians for five minutes a day. Read the text, and then go back and read each verse again, doing cross-references and Bible searches on words that stick out to you.
  • There is a difference between devotional daily reading, where you allow yourself to become more familiar with the stories and characters in the Bible, allowing it to permeate your mind every day; and deep study reading, where you dig into each verse, comparing Scripture with Scripture, learning doctrine, types, and words. Make reading plans for both!

Here’s a video demonstrating two different types of Bible reading plans in SwordSearcher 7.1:

PS: Did you know it only takes about 72 hours to read the Bible out loud?