Food vs Time: A Jewish Perspective

They say that Jews are obsessed by food – almost every Jewish event is connected with food. Even Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year where we fast for 25 hours, is preceded by a meal

However, in many ways, perhaps we are more obsessed with time. The Jewish calendar is based it the lunar cycle, but the halakhic day is based on cycle of the sun. From time that Shabbat commences and the dates of the Jewish festivals, to what time we can pray, or even eat diary (ah yes food again), all connected to time and the list goes on.

Some of the most expensive watches on the market will include a Jewish day and month complication (that’s the fancy word for the the “extras” you get on a watch). For most of us the day and date will be more than enough but an expensive time piece taking up valuable real estate on your wrist (and a sizable chunk of your bank account) will include more exotic complications such as the phase of moon. Oh and when I say expensive, I’m talking millions of dollars. Here is a nice pocket watch which includes a Jewish calendar which will set you back around $5m: The Vacheron Constantin Reference 57260 pocket watch.

Of course Apple when venturing into the watch market included all of these complications. Sunrise, sunset (no, this isn’t a cue to burst into song, but feel free), lunar calendar, Jewish month the works – it’s all there (well nearly but we’ll get to that). Well of course it is. Apple has had the Jewish calendar on iPhone for ages, so to add it to the watch was easy.
But as a religious Jew, sunrise on its own is of limited value. It didn’t take long for Rusty Brick to come out with an Apple Watch complication to their siddur which gave you more interesting complications such as Daf Yomi and this week’s parasha. What’s even more unique is tapping on the complication will bring up a menu with more options including finding a local minyan (including directions) and even davening including Nikud (and yes I have used it for Mincha). If you have used the app and find it very slow, be rest assured that in WatchOS 3 which should be released some time in September it is very fast.

However my favourite Jewish complication right now is Hayom by Chabad. Although tapping on the complication isn’t useful like Rusty Brick’s offering, what I do love about this complication is that the Jewish date actually changes at sunset. If you like you can also set the complication to tell you the various important davening times such as netz, plag etc.

So now we have established that there are some really interesting complications and apps for the Apple Watch, what about all those bands? My biggest challenge was getting the basic sport band on and off. Great if you want to go for a run, not so great for putting on tefillin in the morning.

I solved this problem last summer by purchasing the leather loop band. It’s really the only upmarket band that goes nicely with the low-end Sport watch that I purchased. This band is designed very cleverly and is perfect for the quick wrist change necessary for morning prayers (especially if you haven’t had your morning caffeine yet).

For those of you that like to daven at netz (crack of dawn) – yes I do get up that early but actually I go for a swim before prayers, then wearing the watch at night allows me to set a silent alarm which taps my wrist when time to get up which my wife really appreciates. Since the current Apple Watch is not waterproof, I take out my  garmin watch for my swim, which is just as well because the battery is normally down to about 15% after 23 hours so I need the opportunity to charge my watch. Just for the record, when I was running, I much preferred my Apple Watch since I was able to control my entertainment on my iPhone from my wrist and when necessary quick reply to any time-sensitive texts without slowing down. Of course if you ever saw me run then you would realise that I run so slowly that it would be hard to go any slower.

Talking of quick replies, Apple is introducing smart replies which are pretty cool. However what I really appreciated that although my watch is set to English,  when somebody texts me in Hebrew, the smart reply feature gives me options in Hebrew.

The main comment that I get from people is what do I do on Shabbat. It’s a funny comment really. Obviously the watch is completely muktze but it would be nice to have a Shabbat mode that would show zmanim and other seasonal options such as sefirat haomer or tzidkatecha. Even a Shabbat alarm clock would be nice.

However, I suppose I should be first try and convince Apple that the Jewish day starts at sunset…


The “Batmobile”

The subject isn’t new but it’s amazing to see what is going on in this space.

I was talking to a friend of mine who was relating that his daughter was learning to drive, and I promptly informed him that my children will not be taking driving lessons. My seven-year-old is not interested in an iPhone – he is waiting for his Apple Car.

What is interesting is how the development is taking place. On the other hand, car manufacturers are slow to take on technologies such as Apple Car Play but on the other hand, others are making self-driving cars. How does this even make sense?

Perhaps more interesting is who is interested in the development and why. For example the Faraday Car has heavy investment from a Chinese media company. Well it makes sense if you think about it, when you get into your car and it drives itself you will want to be entertained. Volvo has understood this and has come up with a solution that will calculate your route, your travel time and then feed you appropriate content for the length of your journey (G-d forbid you should be bored for 3 minutes).

Of course the winners in this brave new world are going to be the car detailing companies. People will soon realise that there is no real need to own a car. Let Siri decide when you need a car based on travel time (although personally I would trust Waze more) and then a car will appear in front of your home ready to take you to your appointment.

But is that car going to be clean? Forget Netflix, who wants to sit in a dirty car! Never mind signage on the future taxis advertising wifi, I want to know who cleaned the car. CarSpa is going to make a killing!




Etiquette in the days of wearable tech – 72 hours with the Apple Watch

About a year or two ago, I was in a meeting with a colleague and a potential client. My colleague was sporting a Pebble watch and at that moment I decided that I wanted one. By the end of the meeting, I had changed my mind. You see throughout the meeting the Pebble was on silent mode, yet it vibrated throughout. Each time, I wondered if my colleague was more curious as to what the notification was or the conversation at hand.

When Apple launched the Apple Watch, they announced their Taptic Engine. Most people haven’t really understood the social significance of this. When the watch was released, certain journalists were given the watch by Apple to review for two weeks. One journalist made a point which was very interesting. He said that he received multiple notifications throughout a meeting and felt that it was rude to keep looking at his watch, since looking at one’s watch signals to the other party that you have somewhere better to be.

IMG_0228But hang on here. Didn’t that journalist completely miss the point? I mean he might as well have put his phone on the table in front and see the notifications as they came in. What was the point of the notifications being on his wrist? Surely the point is that nobody knows that you have a notification. Sit in the meeting, whether it’s a business meeting or dinner with your spouse, and when that event takes a break or ends, then and only then check your phone. Give a person the attention they deserve.

I think that we are so distracted by technology that we feel that we absolutely have to respond to that Facebook post in the middle of conversation with a person standing right in front of you. The same is true of WhatsApp groups etc. And you know what, if you are talking to somebody and your phone dings or vibrates, well you might as well deal with it there and then because the other person knows that you have something way more important to deal with than them. The damage was done the moment the phone dinged.

And this is what interested me about the Apple Watch. I can receive a notification and nobody around me needs to know. The watch doesn’t light up. Only I know that there is something that I might want to deal with later, and whether that later means in 3 minutes when I have finished talking to a colleague, or in an hour after a meeting, either way, the other person knows that I’m talking to them. The same way that they don’t know that I have an important meeting at 2 o’clock and am in a bit of a rush, they also don’t know that somebody posted pictures from my daughter’s kindergarten on whatsapp.

The “Taptic Engine” as Apple calls it, works in one of two ways: It either gives you a “Prominant Haptic” which feels like a vibration (which again only you feel – you can’t hear it) or a simple tap on your wrist. Unlike sound or vibrating alerts, I haven’t yet missed a tap. This is, in my opinion, the killer feature on the Apple Watch. Of course, if you can’t control yourself to wait before looking at your watch, then the feature is useless.

Rather than write yet another review, I thought I would share some some initial unexpected findings after having owned my new Apple toy for nearly three days.

I had expected not to wear the watch whilst working. I usually take my watch off when I start to work since I found it uncomfortable to wear whilst using a keyboard and mouse. However, the Apple Watch is extremely comfortable (I have the 42mm Sport with the plastic band) and I haven’t taken it off during the day.

I also expected that I wouldn’t deal with notifications on my watch whilst working. However, I find that notifications usually fall into three categories: 1) read and ignore; 2) read and short reply and 3) read and reply. Since most fall into the first two categories for me, I actually find it less of a distraction to deal with them on my wrist rather than reaching for my phone to respond on iMessage, messenger or WhatsApp.

Obviously when cleaning the house or being with the kids, not having to take out my phone for each alert has decreased the chances of me dropping it. When I receive a phone call, I can see who it is on my wrist as I put on my bluetooth headset and answer the phone.

nokia-e71-01Another nicety was something that I have found extremely frustrating for many years. I loved the fact that my Nokia E71 would display my appointments when looking at my phone. However even in the latest iteration of iOS, you have to slide down to see your appointments. Now each time I look at my watch to see what time it is, I can see the next appointment or two (depending on the watch face) and I hope that when the new version of the software comes out in September more options will be available with more complications. Of course with a tap you can see all your appointments and calendars but for me to see the next appointment without touching the watch is really nice.

I have never found reminders to be terribly good on iPhone. They work but I often miss them. Therefore I found that setting an alarm more effective since they keep making a noise until you dismiss them (after all if I don’t turn off the oven in ten minutes the food will be burnt!) Reminders work really well on the watch. I don’t miss any of them since I’m notified with a tap.

I think the Apple Watch is different for each person. For some, the ability to look at your watch and see how late the bus is going to be is very useful, for others it’s going to be the convenience of Apple Pay. For me it’s the fantastic and subtle notifications and the ability to act on them in a natural way.


Is Jewish publishing dead in this new digital era?

Often when we think of publishing in the digital age we immediately think of Kindle and iPads. However, the fact remains that the Jewish market to a large extent prefers to buy and read physical books made out of paper rather than glass or plastic.

I tried to investigate this phenomena. Somebody posited that perhaps it is because we are known as the People of the Book. Hmm, er okay. Not sure about that but social inertia is nevertheless strong and we kind of like to show off our books on our bookshelf. After all a living room with an an oak book case with glass doors with a solitary iPad sitting in it is not all that impressive.

Perhaps a more compelling reason is simply a technical one in that the Kindle doesn’t support Hebrew and even a more advanced format such as iBooks doesn’t support a right-to-left book (although Hebrew with nikud and trop within an English paragraph is). So there are some serious technical difficulties in presenting a book either in Hebrew or even an English book with Hebrew text in it. So that makes creating a religious Jewish book somewhat challenging. In my experience of typesetting books of Jewish interest over the past couple of decades, most books do include a Hebrew word here or there.

However, probably the strongest reason is that many of us simply like to read on Shabbat and that combined with the fact that still millions of people (not just Jews) still prefer the experience of reading text on paper for whatever the reason, means that digital books are not yet a viable financial enterprise for Jewish publishing.

In my role as a publisher of Jewish books (both print and digital, but as you might have guessed by now – mainly print), I meet with my potential clients, the authors, to work out how to best maximise the revenue on their book. Their are no illusions – nobody is getting rich here – but how do we get the maximum return on investment.

Meeting with one author some months ago we were working on a strategy on how to make it work. He had already done a number of books in the past so was no stranger to the system. Later I received a phone call: I am going to crowd-fund this book.

Well I said, the first thing you need for an Indiegogo campaign is a good video, so I recommended to him RapidFire. I had used them in the past and was extremely pleased with their results.

Well the video certainly did the trick and with the help of a first-class marketing company (shout out to Tikshoret) his campaign has reached 17% funded after 3 days as the date that this blog has been pressed.

Of course you are all invited to donate a few dollars to the book!


Apple Watch Edition

Is the Apple Watch Edition muktzeh?

My grandmother once explained to me that a gold watch wasn’t muktzeh because if it stopped, you would still continue to wear it on Shabbat since it was jewelry. I’m not sure that was what Tim Cook had in mind when they revealed the Apple Watch Edition.

Many thoughtful articles have been written on Apple Watch and a fare share of not-so-thoughtful ones. At any rate, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Apple are going to be selling this device by the boatload and the real question everyone is asking is how it’s going to change our everyday lives.

Some time ago, I asked a charedi colleague of mine why texting was forbidden in certain streams of ultra-orthodoxy. In fact, you can buy cellphone packages where you can’t receive or send a text message (very annoying when I rely so much on canned replies with SMS when somebody calls me). He explained that the fear was that when somebody could be doing something better with their time, instead they would be texting. Bitul Torah. I have to admit that I have this problem too sometimes, but with me it’s when watching TV rather than learning in the Bet Midrash, and my wife kindly tells me when I should pay attention to the screen (ie the big one) when something important happens in the TV programme that we are watching (I guess that’s why I have an iPhone…)

One thing that I did notice of course, is the habit that I have that when finishing the Amida in shul during the week, I whip out my iPhone to check if I’ve missed anything whilst waiting for the shaliach tzibbur to start the Repetition. On days I feel particularly holy, I will sit closer to the front of shul to prevent me from doing so – no, it’s not my closeness to the aron kodesh that helps, but rather the lack of phone reception.

But it got me thinking. Imagine now, whilst waiting for the Rabbi to finish davening (heck somebody in shul has to have a bit of kavana) we all start looking at our smart watches? I admit the ability for the gabbai to subtly force touch the shaliach tzibbur via his Apple Watch rather than a loud “bakhavod” is nice, but looking at our watches has a different social cue – Nu! / I’m bored / Can I get out of here? At least when looking at a smart phone person can think the best of somebody and can assume that they are reading the parshat hashavua. But a watch? Not sure how easy it’s going to be to pull “Yes I’m davening from my siddur app on my Apple Watch.”

Although I have to say that I still have a dream of putting out a really smart siddur. Of course the problem is that there aren’t enough Jews in the world that would daven from an app that would make it a financial viability, although perhaps I should do an Indiegogo campaign like a local Rabbi is doing for his book – heck he’s raised over $6K so far, but I digress…

It makes me wonder what are the actually truly useful aspects of a smart siddur? Perhaps a Watch app could be interesting and more importantly, more useful. For example simply reminding you to add Yaaleh Veyavo when you get to the Amida. That doesn’t need a full siddur app, but a nice reminder on your watch… Particularly useful for those of us who don’t quite make it to shul and daven at home. Imagine the watch recognising that we took three steps forward and start to schockle away and there was a discrete tap on the wrist to remind you to say the required addition.

There are of course more obvious use-cases such as looking at your watch to see how much time you have left to say keriat shema which actually is more convenient than using iKaluach on your iPhone.

Apple very kindly incorporated the Jewish calendar into iOS 8 but I would really love to see not only the correct Jewish date appearing on my Apple Watch face (which I assume will be built-in) but also the Hebrew date actually changing at shkia rather than at midnight (although apparently many people don’t realise that the Jewish date changes at nightfall so perhaps Apple doesn’t know about this).

Perhaps this will be the killer feature of the Apple Watch so we would finally have a good way of remembering to send the kids to school wearing white shirts on Rosh Chodesh.



Find commercial extensions to save you time and money

So last week I posted a blog and this week something else came up that I decided to share which I thought would be useful if you are using InDesign to typeset long books or documents.

About ten days ago I was working on a project and was very frustrated. In InDesign the only way to make footnotes renumber at each chapter is to create a new section at the beginning of the said chapter. Now if the book has ten chapters, then this is mildly irritating, but if there are more…

I had tried to get a script written to do this, but it never quite worked the way I wanted, so I had given up on the idea…

I’m not sure what happened but I was again looking at scripts and discovered this great script called Mastermatic by Bookraft. Funnily enough even though I didn’t know the site, I knew of the owner.

However, as nice as this script is, it didn’t really solve my problem. Yes, now I could apply master pages according to the content which would definitely save me time, but it didn’t solve the problem that I had to start with.

So I decided to use a little chutzpa and complain that the script didn’t have a completely different feature that I wanted. The response: Yep we have a different script called Sections Stuff.

Who knew!

Well needless to say I am the proud owner of two new scripts in my arsenal which will hopefully speed up my work, and more importantly for my clients, mitigate mistakes.

Oh and as a follow-up to Annotations from DTP Tools that I mentioned last week… What I didn’t mention last week was that there was a bug that I had found. They found the workaround – turn off the Adobe World-Ready Paragraph Composer in InDesign and use the Adobe Paragraph Composer.

Ahh, I said, but that doing so would reverse all my Hebrew…

So if you are using InDesign with Hebrew or Arabic, then you will have to be patient as they iron out that bug. I will keep you posted.


The changing size of displays

You learn something new every day…

One of my clients called me up recently and asked me a question about a book we were typesetting. It turned out that there is some software that would save me countless hours of work: Annotations for InDesign. Now for this to save time, it requires that the editors and proofreaders and often the authors too use Adobe Reader correctly to mark up the PDF.

So finally I decided, rather than spending 20 minutes on the phone each time teaching people and tools such as join.me to screen share the process, I would simply make a little video. So answers to a post on FaceBook gave me a few recommendations and I ended up using ScreencastOMatic which was brilliant.

You can also see text instructions on the Renana Typesetting website. Unfortunately, even though the free Adobe Reader for iPad has improved drastically, most of these features are for Windows or OSX.

Inbox Zero

I receive a lot of email and I was intrigued by a piece of software on my phone called Acompli that among other things allows you to snooze email. In fact it seems that Microsoft were also intrigued and bought the company! However, as much as I enjoy reading emails on my phone, my PC has a larger screen (actually it has 3 screens, but that’s a whole other post) and I much prefer Outlook.

So I decided that there must be a way to do this in Outlook and I found a brilliant post by a guy called Kevin Guyer on how to do this. I encourage you to read his post which includes screenshots etc. It will make you rethink the way you use Outlook. I now have 2 items in my inbox. Not quite inbox zero but the closest I have ever been.

Talking of screens…

nintypeIt is inevitable that many times an email has to be written on your phone. Unfortunately carrying a keyboard as large as my Microsoft keyboard with my phone is somewhat impractical (although the size of phones are increasing…) so I’m always checking out new keyboards on my phone and the latest to impress me Nintype which has now replaced Swype as my favourite phone keyboard. It does have a bit of a learning curve but it’s worth it out since it really is very much faster.

Not just keyboards, but websites too

ktav new logoA new venture of Renana is KTAV.com. One of the challenges was creating a website that would adapt to the size of the screen. Fortunately using Magento and a theme called Ultimo this has become very straightforward. You are encouraged to visit www.ktav.com from different devices to see how this works or if you have a large screen simply resize your screen to see what happens. Magento has tutorials on this which are worth checking out.