Using the iPad for Scholarship

JHS Article in Kindle

I have been using my iPad for a little over a year now and it has become an indispensable tool for reading and research. About a year ago I wrote “Top Bible Apps for the iPad” on Reading Acts, and it remains a good starting place for people looking to use their iPad for Biblical Studies. The Bible Apps I review then have all been upgraded over the last year, but the functionality is about the same.

In the last year I find myself using my iPad to read not only books but also journal articles from databases as well as proofing things I have written. Although my experience is on the iPad, these tips will work for an Android device as well. Since much of what I say here concerns the Kindle App on the iPad it is all applicable toa real Kindle device.

The first tool you need to get is the Kindle app from the iTunes store. This is a free download, Amazon gives away the reader to tempt you into buying books. This strategy certainly worked on me since Amazon usually has a “deal of the day.”  I have picked up a remarkable number of good books free (or cheap) for reading with the Kindle App. When you register your Kindle app, Amazon will assign you a Kindle email address. You should make a note of this address and authorize your own personal email under the “Manage your Devices” tab in the Kindle store.

The second tool you need is the Send to Kindle app from Amazon (Windows and Mac versions are available). Once you install this app, you can right-click on a file and send it to your Kindle email address. You can send a number of different formats, including PDF and DOC. Assuming that you have authorized your own email, the file will appear on your Kindle, or iPad Kindle App, as a book which can be read as any other Kindle book. If you send a DOC file you can highlight and annotate, but PDF’s cannot be highlighted or annotated at this time.

Reading Acts in Kindle

Another handy tool for reading on a Kindle is a Chrome extension, Send to Kindle. This little extension works in the Chrome browser and will send a web page to your Kindle for reading later. I use this for longer web-pages or to archive a biblioblog that I think I may need later. These HTML pages are converted to a PDF format and can be highlighted or annotated with the Kindle.

I use my iPad for most often for reading journal articles. Using the ATLA database through our library, I find an article of interest and send the PDF to my email. I can either copy it to my DropBox or send it to my Kindle as described above. Prior to buying an iPad, I either read the article online, or printed it for future reference. Anyone who has written a dissertation knows that you end up with a small forest of printed papers when researching, by reading on my iPad I save some time and money by not printing out articles. I sometimes send several articles on a topic to my Kindle app and head off to a coffee shop. Naturally this method will work with any online database that allows students to save files for offline reading.

There are other readers available, including Google Books, CloudReader, Bluefire Reader, Stanza and (of course) iBooks, but my preference at this point is the Kindle reader. All of these readers are really front-ends for online book stores and they all have nearly the same functionality. If you want to transfer PDF files to one of these other readers, I recommend using DropBox. Copy the PDF to your DropBox folder, then select it on your device, and choose a program from the “open with” menu. Alternatively, you can copy the files using iTunes.

I should mention that the Bluefire Reader allows you to read DRM-protected Adobe Digital documents. This is necessary for reading galley proofs from publishers from services like NetGalley. If you have an Adobe ID, you can authorize Bluefire to read your secure books.

Kostenberger in Logos, with Notes

I use the Logos Bible App daily. It is the best app for reading books, although the books must be purchased through the Logos or Vyrso store. There is no import function for Kindle books or other e-reader formats at this time. While this seems like a negative, the Logos Library is rich in material for biblical studies. If a book is available in Logos and Kindle, I will always choose Logos version. This is primarily because Logos books have real page numbers (not “locations”) and the footnotes appear at the bottom of the page you are currently reading. Logos has an excellent note-taking system with a wide variety of highlighting features. Notes I make on my iPad are automatically saved online, and they are immediately available on my desktop version of Logos.  I have several notes files for various topics (Gospel of John, for example), and as I read I add highlights and annotations.  I can cut  and paste these notes into my word processor when I am reading to write.

These tools will get you reading on your iPad, in the next installment, I will comment on a few note-taking programs for the iPad.

“The Big Sale” at the Kindle Store

Amazon’s Kindle Store has a “Big Deal” sale running through July 27.  I browsed through the “religion and spirituality” section and found a few things which might be of interest.  Looks to me like the best books are all HarperCollins / Zondervan.

NIV Archaeological Study Bible ($2.99).  This is an excellent resource, many well written sidebars and good notes on historical and archaeological items in the text.  I would say that it is targeted at the interested layman rather than expert.  Well worth the three bucks.

Quest Study Bible ($3.99).  I used to call this the “Things to Do During a Boring Sermon” Bible, since every page is festooned with short notes with interesting trivia or facts which illuminate the text.  It is really the Pop-Up Video of Study Bibles.  Sometimes the “questions” are not what I was thinking about, but they are almost always informative.

N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone (Part 1) ($2.99),  This whole series is an easy to read introductory commentary, although it is extremely light on details.  I think these are best used in a small group Bible study.

Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth ($2.99).  This is a classic intro to Bible Study Methods.  Nothing revolutionary, just some solid tools for how to take your Bible reading to a deeper level.  This book is often used as a textbook for a basic Bible Study methods class.

Bart Erhman, Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene: The Followers of Jesus in History and Legend ($1.99).  I always like reading Bart Erhman, after I get past the shock title and cover art (which I assume comes from HarperCollins), I usually find a well written and generally accurate book on a historical level, with about a dozen edgy ideas intended to stir up controversy. It is sorting out the edgy stuff from the valuable which is the challenge.

Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist: When You Believe in God But Live as if He Doesn’t Exist ($2.99).  This book is controversial, and I get questions all the time from people who want to know my “take” on Christian Atheism.  If you are working with college-age people, this might be worth a read.

There are several titles which are usually described as representing the “emergent church.”  Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals ($2.99) and The Irresistible Revolution ($2.99).  I enjoyed The Irresistible Revolution, although there is a great deal of irony attached to reading it on a Kindle or iPad.  Claiborne is something like a Richard Foster for the Millennials, arguing for simplicity and discipline in an overly commercialized word.  He is a good balance to Joel Osteen, although I am not ready to give up my iPod yet.  Might be a little to hippie for most people.

Rob Bell is something of a poster child for the emergent church, although in my view he is not at all “emergent” in his church (but that is for another posting…)  Velvet Elvis ($2.99) was something of an initial shot of Emergence for many of my students, and is an unusually polarizing book.  Two other books from Bell are on sale:  Sex God ($1.99) and Jesus Want to Save Christians ($2.99).

Those are the Kindle “books” which caught my attention.  My guess is that most of these are available as cheap used copies, but this is a great chance to add to your Kindle Library without spending much money.

Vyrso and Logos for the iPad

Logos has launched their new website, Vyrso.  The App has been available in the AppStore for a little while (May 5, 2011), but in the last day there has been a flurry of activity and social media marketing (like this for a chance to win an iPad, etc.)  I am a long-time Logos user, and I use the software on my laptop daily for lecture or sermon preparation.  I have an incredibly large library amassed over the years, so when I got my iPad the first App I downloaded was Logos.  The fact that my purchased books would be available on my mobile device made Logos the “killer app” which made the iPad indispensable for me.

The Vyrso App appears to be nearly the same software as the Logos App. I loaded the ESV Bible and at least on the surface, the interface is identical.  It is a very readable text with all of the e-book features you would expect.  Like most cloud-based Apps, Vyrso works best with wireless or 3G, although books can be set to “available offline.”  I think Vyrso is a bit faster than the Logos App, especially searching on text.  Like the Logos App, there is no highlighting or note-taking feature.

What makes Vyrso attractive to me is that it will read your Logos books. This means I already have a huge library “in the cloud” which I can read in Vyrso.  For example, since I own the Anchor Bible Dictionary, I loaded into Vyrso and was able to immediately search the Dictionary.  I entered Arad in the Reference Box and the article loaded in a few seconds.  Highlighted text functions example like the Logos App.  I can click on a linked article (Arad Ostraca), get a gloss for an abbreviation, or read a reference to the Bible in the text.  References function exactly like the Logos App.  I can either read the verse in a pop-up or “jump to reference” in a Bible. Again, this is all exactly like the Logos App.

There are some differences in Vyrso, especially with respect to original languages.  I opened the Nestle-Aland 27 Greek New Testament in Vyrso and highlighted a word, κόσμος in John 1:10.  Two options appear:  copy and search.  There is no “look up” tool as in the Logos App, nor is there any attempt to parse the word or give a lexical form.  The search tool found all references to the word in my library, including TDNT and EDNT.  Since Vyrso does not have an option for lexical form, searching on a dative singular of κόσμος results in only the exact form.  Since I own the Lexham Syntactical Greek New Testament, I can identify the form in the search window, but this is not ideal.  (Frankly, if you are looking up dative singular forms of κόσμος you need to spend more time with your paradigms, but that is my prejudice!)

The search is not refined at all at this point, the hits are in somewhat random order (TDNT was first, then a series of biblical references, and then EDNT). I would rather see biblical occurrences separate from other books.  I think that a “search in this book” would help as well, since I could then create a mini-concordance with the search tool.  What is more, I would like to be able to set the order of books searched, something like the “keylink” feature in the desktop version of Logos.

I also loaded Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia, with Westminster 4.2 Morphology. The text is readable, but I do not like the “each verse on a new line” look.  I would much rather see the text arranged by paragraph, like the printed page.  The search function is less useful in Hebrew, since lexical forms are more important for Hebrew words.  For example, searching on ברא in Gen 1:1 yields good results, but the Qal Imperfect form of אמר in verse 3 does not really result in useful information.

I think that these problems are simply a result of the fact that Vyrso is not intended to be an original language tool.  For reading English books, Vyrso is excellent, but differs little from Logos.  When the Vyrso Store launches Logos promises a huge number of books not currently available in Logos.  As one of the early reviewers at the AppStore asked, “what is the point of this app”?  It is a slightly lighter version of the Logos App which will be a platform for many people to access Christian books.  If you are going to work with Greek and Hebrew, stick with Logos. Vyrso is a good eBook reader which takes advantage of the already formidable Logos library.

I look forward to seeing what the Logos will do with the Vyrso store in the future.