Building On Sand

Photo By Christine Vaufrey (CC)

Photo By Christine Vaufrey (CC)

I recently attempted to upgrade my Mac to OS X Yosemite. This coincided with a hardware upgrade to an SSD drive, so I was running a clean install of Yosemite while I was forming my opinion of this new operating system. Let’s just say that after about 30 minutes of trying to do real work using Yosemite, I was researching how get my “old” OS X Mavericks back. Ironically this mirrors my experience with iOS 8.

As a developer, I’m actually very excited about the promised features of Yosemite and iOS 8 – particularly iCloud Drive, Continuity, and Extendability. These are features we want to use in our next big update to meBible. Here’s the problem: both iOS 8 and Yosemite have serious bugs and performance problems at the time of this writing. I’ve personally encountered multiple problems in iOS 8 & Yosemite, and there are many well-documented problems covered by leading tech bloggers and publications.

Our original plan was to start work on version 3.0 of meBible in January. Unfortunately, our pace may be slowed by the stability of the platforms we are building on. There are core technologies provided by the operating system that need to be fixed by Apple before we can start building on them. Otherwise we, like the parable warns against, would be building on sand.

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

WashingtonPrayingOn this Thanksgiving day in America, we’re reminded of our country’s rich Christian heritage. Here’s a small look at the history of this day:

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

No Such Thing As A Free Bible App

Hugs may be free, but Bible apps are not. Photo by Ben Husmann (CC)

Hugs may be free, but Bible apps are not. Photo by Ben Husmann (CC)

You’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” I’m going to let you in on a secret, there’s no such thing as a free Bible app. Let’s consider the most popular free Bible app, YouVersion. In 2013, it was estimated that over $20 million dollars has gone into the making and promoting of this software. It’s free for you and me, but someone is obviously contributing to the huge amount of work that it takes to write and support a digital Bible program.

We originally charged $5 for meBible. Most people don’t realize just how complicated meBible is “under the hood.” meBible is not just an icon or text on the screen, it’s tens of thousands of lines of very complex computer code that has been years in the making. So if $5 sounds like a lot for an app, consider that I grew up in an age when a company would easily charge $99 for software like meBible. Five dollars is a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

The thing is, we live in an age when everyone expects everything digital to be free. I’m guilty of this, too. If I see an app that costs more than a couple of dollars, I really hesitate before buying it, even though I truly understand how much time and effort goes into writing these apps. This “downward dive” of perceived value affects not only software, but it’s also affecting books, music, videos, even hardware like cellphones. The news has been full of stories about this very phenomena: Taylor Swift vs. Spotify, Amazon vs. Hachette, etc.

meBible has been a free app for a few years now. The main catalyst behind this was the stipulation of our partners who offer us modern, copyrighted Bible translations. In an age and society that has commercialized the gospel to the point of becoming the “den of thieves” that Jesus rebuked, I’m actually glad we decided to offer meBible for free. I am also very thankful for the ministries like American Bible Society and Faith Comes By Hearing that provide us with free translations and audio!

However, my point remains – there is no such thing as a free Bible – somebody pays the price. I personally have shouldered much of the cost of meBible in the countless hours given to this project. I had hoped that the premium content (styles, notebooks, etc) would help financially compensate for this time, but the truth is that it has not. This is where a large ministry like LifeChurch excels – they have the resources to cover the cost of a “free” Bible app. My little company, not so much.

Please read my blog post entitled meBible – Past, Present, Future to learn more about our future plans for meBible. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of meBible and wish to see our work continue, please consider supporting that work by purchasing some of the premium content that meBible offers. You might also consider purchasing our other Bible study program, Word Cross. Remember, there truly is no such thing as a free Bible app.

My Brand New, Refurbished Last Year’s iPad

I’m not wealthy, not by a long shot, so I just can’t justify paying $499 to have the latest and greatest iPad. However, as a software developer I need a relatively modern iPad in order to test Apple’s new features that we’d like to use in our software. So what did I do? I purchased a brand new, one year old refurbished iPad mini 2 from Apple.

Piles of iPads

Keeping up with technology can get expensive! Photo by Blake Patterson (CC)

Tip number one – bigger is not always better. This is my first iPad mini, and I immediately prefer the smaller, lighter form-factor over the original iPad (I have a regular computer when I need a bigger screen and keyboard). I’m pleased to say that all our apps – meBible, “Word Cross” and MMM, work wonderfully on the smaller iPad. Because I’m getting last year’s model (see below), the only difference between the normal iPad and iPad mini is size, and oh, $100!

Tip number two – delayed gratification is a great way to save money, especially in computer tech and media. The day before Apple announced the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3, the iPad mini 2 was the latest and greatest Apple had to offer. Immediately after that announcement the mini 2 became “last year’s model”, but that means it also became $100 cheaper! Are these “older models” now obsolete? I don’t believe so, not yet! As my new iPad does become obsolete, it will depreciate much less than the latest iPad, having paid much less for it up-front.

Tip number three – “refurbished” is not a bad word. Apple’s refurbishing program is top-notch. The device I received looks and acts like new, and odds are it went through an even more rigorous quality assurance test before being boxed up and shipped out. This allowed me to get 32 GB model (something I actually need) for the price of a 16 GB model. Oh, and for a bonus, the refurbished iPad mini came with iOS 7 installed! (I currently think iOS 8 is rubbish.)

Long story short, I was able to save $200 over what I would have paid for the same device had I bought it two months ago new, plus an extra $100 for going with the mini instead of the Air. So if you’re a few iPad generations behind and feeling obsolete, but you don’t want to fork $499 or more for the latest, greatest, newest device, check out Apple’s Refurbished Devices Store!

We Will Fix Meeting Monopolizer Monitor

UPDATE: Meeting Monopolizer Monitor is working again! It also works better-than-ever with iOS 7 & 8’s new user interface. The update is now available in the App Store.

Meeting Monopolizer Monitor started as an “experiment” for us, but over the years it’s become a well-known app in many educational institutes. Because of its increased popularity, we scheduled a major update to this timer app, hopefully to be finished before the end of this year.

Unfortunately, we recently learned that MMM stopped working for users who upgraded their Apple devices to iOS 8. Not good! I am hoping that this is an easy fix that we can provide Apple in the coming days. We don’t want to wait until our major new version is finished, so fixing the current version of MMM is our priority this coming week. For those of you who use Meeting Monopolizer Monitor in your daily activities, we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience. Thank your for your patience as we investigate what happened.

As long as we’re talking about MMM, I’ve got a question for teachers and educators who use our app to measure student participation in the classroom. Can you recommend a better name for this app? “Meeting Monopolizer Monitor” was originally inspired by the stereotypical coworker who monopolizes your weekly business meetings (admit it, we all know someone who fits this description). Like I said, it started as a “fun experiment”, but now that it’s being used in more serious ways, we’d like to come up with a more serious name for the app. Please leave a comment on this post if you have a suggestion!

Coding To Lindsey Stirling

Lindsey Stirling performing live. Photo by Pat Kight (cc)

Lindsey Stirling performing live. Photo by Pat Kight (cc)

I often write computer code with instrumental music playing in the background; it helps me think and be creative. This has traditionally been classical music, atmospheric sound tracks, and even Gregorian chant music. Thanks to Amazon’s new Prime Music service, I’ve discovered a new style of music to code to, and it’s pretty amazing!

Lindsey Stirling is a violinist, but not like any I’ve ever listened to. Not only is she very talented, she’s incredibly creative! (I hope some of that creativity rubs off on me as I’m writing software.) Her story is an inspiration – I won’t spoil it for you, you can read all about her rise to stardom at Wikipedia.

One of the things that impresses me with Lindsey and her group is that she has a clean act. It is very refreshing to see a young woman rise to fame because of true, unique talent. Miley Cyrus she is not. Enough said?

So as Lindsey’s electric violin plays here in the office on this Friday afternoon, I just wanted to take a moment to share this recent find with others. Yes, I’m that impressed! She has a couple albums – here’s a link to one on Amazon that you can download. Also check out her Roundtable Rival video, it’s quite fun.

meBible – Past, Present, Future

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body. (Eccl. 12:12)”  When we started work on meBible, there were very few Bible apps for the newly-released iPad. The Bible software that did exist wasn’t optimized for this new tablet device, and none offered the unique features we envisioned for meBible. You can rightly say that meBible was created to fill a specific void in this space. In fact, I wrote meBible to be MY Bible, because I was dissatisfied with the existing choices at that time.

meBible for iPadNow it seems that every church and every ministry has its own Bible app. “Of the writing of Bible apps there is no end, and much programming wearies the body.” The well-known publishers: Logos, Olive Tree, LifeChurch, and others, have worked hard to optimize their Bible software for the iPad. These large organizations have amazing resources at their disposal, thus how YouVersion can provide almost every translation imaginable, Logos Bible Software can provide such a comprehensive array of study material, and Glo Bible can provide absolutely amazing multimedia, just to name a few. So the question for us is, is there still room in this now very-crowded space for meBible?

I believe the answer is yes. meBible is currently a 5 star app with over 20,000 downloads and a very loyal and engaged user base of Christians around the world, many who are using meBible in their ministry. I have no misconceptions – meBible will never be as popular as YouVersion, Logos Bible, and other major Study Bible apps. I’m okay with that. We serve a niche´ market, so even with the recent flood of Bible apps in the App Store, there remains a strong interest in meBible. It actually boggles my mind when I think about it!

Therefore work will begin on meBible version 3.0 in January, 2015. This will be a fairly significant project, because we aim to bring meBible to the iPhone and Mac PCs. We’re very excited about the new features in iOS 8, including Continuity and iCloud Drive. We have a variety of other features planned that should add greatly to meBible’s usefulness. As it has been since the beginning, many of these new features come from great suggestions from people like you!

What is the future of meBible? They say, “The third time’s the charm.” I believe version 3 with be the last major update to meBible, at least under my watch. I’ve poured countless hours, and my very heart, into meBible over the years. It’s the flagship app of my company, and it’s my own personal Bible study, so we have no plans to abandon it. However, I do want to “finish” it – a strange concept in the software industry, where products never, ever seem to be truly finished.

There’s one last question I’d like to answer. Would we ever sell meBible to another company? The answer is “Yes,” if the terms were right. There’s only so far we can take meBible with our limited resources. If a company or ministry offered to acquire meBible and take it where we cannot, I would be very open to negotiations. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this.

Follow this page for details and an inside-look at our upcoming version 3.0 release. Thank you for your interest in and support of meBible!

iOS 8 Is Not So Great (Yet)

Photo by Zeevveez

Photo by Zeevveez

We’ve been very frustrated with iOS 8. A number of tech pundits have called it the buggiest iOS update ever. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we are definitely having serious issues with it. As a user of iOS 8 on the iPad, I’ve encountered numerous annoying bugs, many in Apple’s own apps. The real annoyance, however, is performance (or lack thereof). We’ve seen a significant degradation in performance with certain key subsystems in iOS 8. This not only affects iOS in general, but it has affected our own apps.

We work very hard to make sure our apps are optimized and highly fluid in their performance. However, we rely on the components that Apple provides us, and if those components become slow or otherwise broken, then our own apps become “broken” as well. For example, meBible has always been fast and fluid, even on older devices. In iOS 8 we’re noticing severe lagging in certain operations. In fact, meBible on the original iPad running iOS 6 is now much more responsive than meBible on a 3rd generation iPad running iOS 8!

Another one of our apps, Meeting Monopolizer Monitor, has been rendered useless by iOS 8. We’re working to fix this issue, but it should never have happened in the first place. (We’ll be completely rewriting MMM in the near future – more on that in a separate post.) We’re not alone in our frustration – many developers are up-in-arms regarding the current state of iOS 8.

You might be wondering how can a company like Apple release an operating system update that has so many problems. We can only speculate, but personally I think they were rushed to release it before it was finished. The new iPhones were scheduled well in advance to release on a certain date, and iOS 8 had to be ready (even if it wasn’t) to go on these new devices. As a software developer myself, I don’t blame the people writing and testing iOS 8. I think they were faced with the impossible task of meeting an unrealistic deadline, especially considering how many changes (including the new Swift programming language) that these developers had to implement. I do not envy their job!

My hope is that Apple is working hard to resolve these problems, and that an iOS 8.2 will be released in the coming months to fix the bugs and severe performance issues. In the meantime, we’ll see what we can do on our end to make our own apps work better in a less-than-perfect environment, but ultimately we’re waiting on Apple to fix the foundation on which we’re building upon.

Why We’re Sticking With Objective-C

Is Swift really that swift? Picture by  Nathan Rupert (CC)

Is Swift really that swift? Picture by Nathan Rupert (CC)

I was quite excited when Apple introduced its new programming language, Swift, this summer. I find many of the features that Swift offers to be quite attractive. Apple also claims that apps written in Swift are often faster than those written in Objective-C (Apple’s original programming language of choice). Our apps were first written back when iOS 4 was the current version, so a few are due for a Spring cleaning. I thought, “What better way to clean up dusty code than to rewrite it in a new, powerful programming language?”

I was excited… Having played with Swift this summer and researched what other developers have experienced, I’ve had a change of heart. Much of this is a personal preference. First off, I actually like Objective-C. I’m used to its syntax and nuances; I’ve spent years using it and learning all the little ins and outs of both the language and its APIs. It’s not perfect by any means, and there are things that Swift does “prettier”, but it’s well-established, well-documented, and for me, well-known.

Swift, on the other hand, is in a state of flux – both the language and the documentation. When I last spent serious time with it, there were parts of the language that were not even finished yet. Other parts have changed dramatically since I last looked at it. And it doesn’t always behave as expected. Oh, and that performance advantage: a variety of benchmarks have shown that Swift is often slower than Objective-C in performing tasks!

I also found things about Swift that I don’t like, things that seem more complex and confusing than Objective-C. For a “simple” language, there seems to be a surprising learning curve to become a true master of it.

So is it worth my time and effort to learn this new language and rewrite tens of thousands of lines of computer code in it? My answer is, “No. No, no, no!” Since Apple has promised to continue supporting Objective-C, and since I’ve already spent years mastering Objective-C, I feel that it is wiser for me to continue using the programming language I know and actually enjoy. I believe our apps will actually be better because of it.

Chasing After The Wind

I love writing great software. I do not love, no I do not even like, marketing that software. Back shortly after I had written each of our apps, I did my best to promote them using a variety of means and tools. This took a tremendous amount of time, time that I wasn’t spending to write software. Worse, this was time (and money) spent with very little return on the investment. Like Solomon so eloquently describes it, we were “chasing after the wind.”

Chasing Bubbles

Photo By Albert Lynn (CC)

This is not to say that SURRAtech won’t do any marketing in the future. As much as I wish the Field Of Dreams quote, “If you build it, they will come” was true, we obviously need to get the word out about what we have to offer.  It’s the “how” we get that word out that we’re approaching differently.

For one, we’re no longer going to chase “likes,” “favorites,” “plus ones,” and “retweets” on social media. We’re focusing on this website instead, but not for the purpose of marketing (though that may be a side-effect), but to offer our friends and users of our software valuable information: hints, tips, behind-the-scenes insight into new features, resources, etc. We’ll notify our friends of Facebook and Twitter when we update our website, referring them back here where we have full control of our content.

The other thing that we (as in, me) will focus on is writing great software. The happier people are with our software, the more likely they will spread the word to others. We’ve gained far more friends and users of our apps over the years through word-of-mouth than any marketing or promotional campaign we’ve attempted.

I suppose this sounds crazy – especially in America, where the world is ruled by advertising. Maybe it is, haha! Or maybe it’s faith in not just what we are doing, but who we are doing it for. So if you like our stuff, help us spread the word, so we can focus on making more great stuff!!