My Experiences Learning Greek Part 3

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Track One or Track Two

After deciding on Mounce’s BBG as a grammar I was presented with a small decision to make regarding BBG. Actually the choice was not presented to me right away and I did not realize that Bill Mounce takes a different approach to teaching Biblical Greek than most others do. Most grammars start immediately with verbs while Mounce starts with nouns and depending on which track you take he will either stick with nouns and adjectives until he has exhausted the subject or will break into verbs after chapter 9 and then to bounce back and forth between nouns and verbs.

Mounce explains his reasoning for the two tracks. He shares that he prefers track one because in his experience students tend to confuse nouns with verbs and visa versa. Being so new to greek and knowing Bill I decided to take his word for it and stick with track one.

Looking back I still think track one was the right choice but it did have its fair share of struggles. The biggest struggle for me is that nouns are overall kinda boring, and the fun stuff in greek really is in the verbs. By the time I reached chapter 16 I was tired of nouns and couldn’t wait to get into verbs. All of the translation exercises up to that point always had verbs that had to be translated by the author and so I always felt a little like I was cheating. However, I do feel very comfortable with nouns now and I have not had any issues with getting them confused with verbs, so I do believe that track one was the right track for me, but it was a bit of a long haul. 

So if you have settled on Mounce’s BBG as a Grammar for self study greek then be prepared to make the decision between track one or two and if you have no reason to prefer one over the other, then I say trust Bill’s instinct and go for track one.

I am curious if anyone has any additional input here or if anyone has experience with track two and what your experiences were.

My Experiences Learning Greek Part 2

Grammars Choosing a Greek Grammar

The first decision any self-study Greek student must make is which Grammar to use. This is probably the most important decision you can make because it will be the center of your entire learning experience and if you have a Grammar that is hard to learn from you are going to struggle with learning Greek and learning Greek is no cake walk as it is.

There are a ton of self study web sites out there for learning Greek and they may have all the information necessary to learn Greek but how the information is presented is key to whether you will retain that information long term.

I made the decision to commit to learning Greek in January of 2011. I had been toying with the idea for several years but never took it any further than that. Each time I started thinking about it I would google for learning Greek resources and every time Bill Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek (BBG) would come out as a top suggestion not just by google but by others who were suggesting Grammars to use.

Prior to my commitment to learn Greek Bill Mounce came on staff at Olive Tree and that sealed the deal for me, I decided to start leaning Greek and to use Mounce’s BBG. I ended up getting his “Everything You Need to Learn Greek” package, and to this day I am thankful I did. (Note: Bill is no longer on staff at Olive Tree)

The “Everything” package is a bit pricey and may not be in everyone’s budget so if I had to skimp anywhere I would skimp on the videos. It is not that the videos are bad, in fact they are quiet good, but they only reiterate what the textbook already stated. Bill is very disciplined in the videos to stay on topic and not get distracted which means the student doesn’t get distracted either. I like the videos as they solidify the teachings in the book and they are a great way to hear the Greek vocabulary pronounced. If you don’t get the videos at first, then definitely pick them up later.

You will obviously want the textbook, but you should not skimp on getting the workbook as it is the only way to learn and reinforce the material. Also be sure to get the flash cards, they will save you time creating your own flash cards and are essential to learning the vocabulary. The laminated sheet is nice to have but you can skip it if you are on a tight budget. The ‘answer key’ for the workbook is downloadable for free so skip that unless you are getting the “Everything” package.

As far as I know Mounce’s BBG is the only Grammar available for learning Greek that has everything mentioned here and is really tailored to self-studying Greek as well as for classroom learning. My praise for this Grammar is not because of my affiliation with Bill or Olive Tree, it is simply because it is a great Grammar overall, especially for self-studying Greek.

I should add that I also purchased David Alan Black’s “Learn to Read New Testament Greek” Grammar along with the workbook. It is a good Grammar and it takes a different approach to learning Greek than Mounce’s BBG does which I will cover in a later blog post, but I am convinced that self studying Greek with this Grammar will be 10x harder than if you use Mounce’s BBG. I say this because Mounce has some slick rules that you memorize in place of hundreds of paradigms, and Mounce is good about telling the student which rules, and paradigms are important to memorize and which are optional. Black on the other hand does not suggest to the student as to what to memorize, and I think this is because he is leaving it up to the teacher to determine, which if you are self-studying Greek you don’t have a teacher and those judgement calls are out of your pay grade. Also, Black’s Grammar does have a workbook but the answer key is not available to anyone except professors. This further solidifies to me that this Grammar was not written for the self-study Greek student. However I will add that if you want to supplement BBG with another Grammar this is a nice way to go, and it is what I am doing.

I wanted to quickly talk about the digital version of BBG that Olive Tree offers. I personally rarely use BBG in BibleReader. I prefer the print version. This is rare for me! The main reason why is that when it comes to text books I find that I am a very visual learner and I remember minor details like what side of the page and how far down something was located. You just can’t reproduce that in digital. I also find myself flipping back and forth through the textbook trying to locate information that ties to the current chapter, and this is not as easily done digitally either. Also BBG is laid out in a way that optimizes learning and retention, in the digital version the content is more jumbled together in a linear fashion which tends to overwhelm the student. I do find BBG in BibleReader to be a great supplement to my print version though because I can search it, and its great on the go when I want to read or re-read a chapter and I don’t want to carry the BBG book around. Digital publishing has a long way to go still when it comes to textbooks, and we are already starting to see some very positive changes in that area.

In closing I hope that this post helps those who are trying to find a good Grammar for self-studying Greek. At the very least I hope it helps you know what to be looking for. If I leave you with anything let it be this: get a Grammar that has a workbook and you have access to the answers in that workbook. Take some time to research which Grammar is best for you and for self-studying because the right Grammar can make the difference between learning Greek and giving up on Greek altogether.

What experiences have any of you had with BBG or other Grammars? I would love any feedback you have on this topic.

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My Experiences Learning Greek Part 1

Tonight I am going to start a series of blogs centered around my experiences learning biblical greek.I don’t know how many blog posts this journey will encompass but I have decided I will write shorter posts to spread them out some and to keep from writing one long boring tedious blog post that no one wants to read. :-)

The topics I plan to cover at this point will be my choice of a grammar, and why. Some of my experiences with that grammar so far. I will discuss some of the tools I have used up to now and which I am continuing to use and why.

I will also discuss how bible software has helped me along the way and explain some of the reasons why there are times that I prefer Accordance over BibleReader and visa versa. I apologize for not including Logos in that mix but I started my investment in Accordance over 3 years ago when Logos for the Mac was an additional charge and not as polished as it was on Windows at that time.  I simply don’t have the money to invest into Logos, especially when I have access to all of Olive Tree’s greek resources. So my silence on the Logos front is not because I am biased against it, I simply have no experience with it but I know that Logos does have some very talented and enthusiastic greek geeks on staff like Rick Brannan.

If I seem to be biased towards BibleReader, well I am ;-) because I work for Olive Tree and love every bit of it. That being said I will try to be as balanced and fair as I can be through this journey.

It is my hope that these posts will provide some guidance and insight into self studying biblical greek, and inspire some to take on the journey themselves.

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What’s Going On At Olive Tree?

Since the beginning of the year Olive Tree has been planning some major changes to the iPhone (and now iPad) BibleReader. It began last January with a few large brainstorming sessions and lots of whiteboard space. Then in February we got a bit sidetracked by the arrival of the iPad. The addition of the iPad to our app has been a huge success and from our work on that app we have learned a few things that have caused us to rethink a few of our ideas for the future of BibleReader.

Just as we thought we were getting our feet under us again, we went to WWDC 2010 – and everything changed again. ;-) As soon as we got back from WWDC we resumed our brainstorming sessions trying to incorporate many of the ideas we had been exposed to at WWDC into our BibleReader update. The past two months have been very focused. We have spent a considerable amount of time planning, having meetings, ad-hoc discussions, and friendly debates, all of which have helped us hone in on our new vision for BibleReader. We have also hired a few more people to help us carry out this new vision and now we feel we are ready to dig in and focus more on the work and less on planning.

Its all very exciting to me. Bible readers on mobile devices have been around since the inception of Olive Tree as a company. Since that time mobile devices have evolved and as such so have the readers on those devices. I believe we are still at the defining moments of this technology and Olive Tree plans to lead the way on what that technology will look like, I think you will be quite impressed.

Stay tuned for my next blog post discussing the trials associated with making large changes to an application that people use daily and love.


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Developing BibleReader for the iPad


Well it’s finally here! The Apple iPad. There has been no single technology that I have been more excited about than the iPad. Ever since the tablet rumors started last summer I have been anxious to get one and yesterday I finally did.I have been developing for the iPad since they announced the availability of the SDK in January. It’s been a long road for us at Olive Tree as we worked to prepare our software for the launch of the iPad. Not having the actual hardware in hand has been a bit frustrating for us.

For one thing we didn’t know what the performance of some of the features we were adding would actually be. Developing for the iPhone has taught us that the simulator runs things typically faster than the device and there are things that the simulator will let you get away with that the actual hardware would never let you get away with. So we have gotten into the habit of testing on the device and testing often to be sure we are not getting to far down the road with some performance bottleneck. This was one luxury we did not have with the iPad.

Second and just as important is usability and user experience. We knew from day one that this was not just a big iPhone, anyone who says it is doesn’t get the iPad, it’s a whole new device that the world has never seen. It is true that developers had access to the simulator from the first day the SDK was released but the iPad can not be fully experienced in a simulated environment. Let me put it this way the iPad is not simply software it’s the whole package, hardware, software and Apple magic. As such new and innovative approaches have to be developed along the way to capture that experience and you can really only do that with a real device in hand. So when we were faced with a design question that we just couldn’t answer with an iPhone we typically took the safe route and developed something we knew was familiar to most users rather than developing something so totally new and foreign to users which in the end could potentially be unusable on the iPad. I think time will tell but I believe our initial release will be a strong contender in not only the bible software arena but also in the eBook reader realm as well.

So finally getting the device in hand yesterday was exciting because for the first time in two months of solid development at Olive Tree we were finally able to see our software in action on this amazing new device. I was expecting the worst but amazingly everything worked and worked well right out of the box! From a usability perspective I think we did well, and do feel we have more room for improvement but our initial launch on the iPad is a strong one.

Make no mistake we are not done with BibleReader on the iPad we are only just getting started. iPhone users can also take heart in the fact that we have not stopped iPhone development either. We have so many plans for our upcoming releases that we will busy improving our product for years to come.

I wrote this on my iPad ;-)


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A Call for Beta Testers

In recent months I have been mulling over the idea of writing some apps to sell in the app store. I kept holding off for the perfect app idea until I decided that I was not going to come up with anything anytime soon and settled on an app that I knew I would use myself, an application that stores passwords and other valuable information.

Ever since my first Palm OS 4 device I have stored my passwords on my PDA. Back then it was the open source app Keyring then I moved on to WinMo and purchased Spb Wallet and kept Spb Wallet on the iPhone although I must say Spb Wallet on the iPhone is severely lacking in eye candy and feels more like a WinMo app than an iPhone app. Reluctant to switch to another app that I would then have to import all my passwords into I decided I would only do it if it was an app I wrote, hence the birth of Password Caddy™.

I have been quietly working away on this app both in Photoshop and XCode and have come up with something I think is going to be a hit. It is my goal to have a password application that is as much fun to use as it is useful.

I am about 80% of the way finished and am looking for beta testers to help me work out any wrinkles that may be in my app (I am sure there are going to be many at first). Testers should use it as though it was their only password application but not rely on the app as their only storage location for their passwords since it is after all beta. If you are interested in being a beta tester drop a comment my way and I will be sure to keep you in mind. I plan to open up 20 spots for testers and all active testers will get a promo code for a free download once its released in the app store.

As a side note I should make it clear this is something I am doing on my own time and is in no way affiliated with Olive Tree Bible Software. It is also not something I am doing to replace my job at Olive Tree as I love my job, its the best job I have ever had to date, and I have no desire to run my own business at this time. (I see the stress it puts on our fearless leader Drew) I am just trying to supplement my family’s income some in hopes that we can pay off a credit card and put a down on a house soon.

As another side note I can only take testers from within the US and Canada as Password Caddy uses AES 256 bit encryption which is strong enough that the US Government will not allow me to distribute the app outside of the US and Canada. I am looking into obtaining a license to do so but it will take some time to do that.


What ETS Taught Me About User Interface Design

This week was quite a week for me. I had the honor of going to New Orleans and being one of Olive Tree Bible Software’s representatives at the ETS conference this year. I wasn’t sure at first what to think of the trip before I left but I can say today (as I am flying home) that I really enjoyed it and hope to go again next year and maybe even stay for SBL as well (which I am told is even more exciting than ETS). I probably enjoyed the conference in a far different way than most who attend because I did not attend any of the talks but instead manned our booth in the Expo Hall. This meant that I was able to interact with our users on a more personal way and they got to put a few faces to Olive Tree at the same time.
The interactions ranged from general questions about the product to tech support issues that they were dealing with. It was always fun to help people who just couldn’t figure something out. Their questions typically started with “I am probably dumb or something but…” followed with a question that almost always ended up being a design flaw in our interface where we thought something would be obvious to the user was clearly not obvious and watching them interact with the application really helped me see some changes we can make to in order to make our BibleReader more intuitive to the average user. You might ask why we didn’t catch these issues during our extensive beta testing and I think there are two reasons for this. The first reason is that most of our users are not tech savvy yet beta testers do tend to be more tech savvy and pick things up more quickly even if it’s not immediately obvious. Secondly we have many new users and our user base is growing rapidly each day which means we need to tailor our app to users who have never used a bible app and who may not be of the tech savvy crowd. Thus we need to find a way to do this in a way that still satisfies our hardcore users. It’s a balancing act which we can always improve upon, and we will improve upon as we learn from our users.
If you stopped by the booth the week of ETS I wanted to say thank you, it was a pleasure meeting so many satisfied BibleReader customers. Hope to see you again next year.


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Up Next…

With 4.10 out the door I am able to finally start on a project I have been dying to work on for a couple of years now. I authored the ReadingPlanner for the Palm OS several years ago and have been wanting to get back to it ever since.

When I was being interviewed for my position Drew, the CEO of Olive Tree, asked me what I would work on if I had unlimited resources to devote to that project. Daily reading came to mind almost immediately, and he suggested that one of my projects at Olive Tree could be daily reading.

That excited me but I tried not to get my hopes up to high as I know that real day to day work tends to trump pet projects, especially when you have to generate a paycheck from your work. Simply getting to work at Olive Tree was enough for me but daily reading would be a bonus.

I hadn’t been at Olive Tree a week and the subject of daily reading came up. Stephen mentioned to me that they were seriously wanting me to work on daily reading but we had a few other things to get done first.

Now that 4.10 is out the door that list has grown short enough that it has suddenly become the time to start work on this project, and I am excited to say the work has already begun. I don’t want to go into too many details for what I have planned but I think many of our users will never see daily reading plans in the same way again.

I would like to hear from you as to what you think would make daily reading more useable and interactive. Any ideas on how we can integrate daily reading into the social media? What are some of the limiting factors of traditional daily reading schedules?


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Evernote Backup – Progress…

I have been working nearly full time on the Evernote backup implementation and things are shaping up nicely. I became inspired by Tweetie 2′s refresh tweets idea so I decided to implement something similar in our app. I have been wondering for a while how we could have a sync button without a sync button and this works perfectly. Simply pull the table view down beyond the end of the list and release. If the user does not want to sync they can push the list back up before releasing and no sync will occur.
The beta testers have been testing it although we do not have as many testers for this round due to my warning to our testers that this may very well wreck your notes. Users are pretty partial to those things so only a few have been brave enough to try it and so far its gone well. None of our testers, to my knowledge, have lost any of their notes, and as an added bonus their notes are making their way to the evernote server and back.
I am hoping to release another beta to our users later this week as we are shooting for a final release to Apple by the end of the month so that we can have something to show off at ETS next month.


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iPhone BibleReader Progress Update

So after a slight delay I finally posted a new beta for our beta testers today. It was a long haul but worth every bit of work in the end. I totally underestimated how much work would need to be done on our end when using someone else’s services. I figured that since they were doing the heavy lifting we had it easy, but I was wrong. There is just as much book keeping on our end as there is on their end. Adding the concept of a trash bin is what really tripped me up and exposed some hidden bugs in our already existing notes system.
See, when I promised a beta last week I had not yet added the trash bin and really didn’t give it much thought, but as I played with the two together I found not having the trash bin on our side was clumsy and short-sighted so I decided to add it. That unraveled everything on my end for a few days and in the end I learned something about myself.
Isn’t God amazing, He uses my simple little problems at work to teach me something about myself. What I learned is that I am easily unsettled and expect everything to go smoothly. I feel like just because I ask God for a good day at work He should grant it. (After all I am doing the Lord’s work, right?) Then I hit these obstacles, and I freak out inside. If you could have seen me (inside) these last few days you would laugh, because I was pretty frantic trying to pin down what ended up being about 3 bugs stacked on top of each other. Funny thing is I should expect that this is going to happen as I write code, that I am human and do not write perfect code, but I don’t always do that, I rarely do that. Instead I freak out that my code does not work and second guess every design decision I have made in the last week. Things might have gone more smoothly had I been a bit more calm inside.
I think I might try that next time.
Matthew 6:25-34
Prov 12:25
1Pe 5:7


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