Don’t they have Lego in Russia? Oh well time for a coffee…

dyson_yellow2Finding a cleaner for one’s home usually brings up various different emotions in people. None of them good of course, but for some years now we have been using a cleaning service in Modi’in that has worked out  pretty well. Well except for one little problem – there is always one isn’t there? Well, most of these cleaners don’t speak Hebrew. Or English. Or even Russian (not that I speak Russian either but that’s whole different story. The first job that I always have, is to work out what language they do speak and then I whip out my phone and tap on Google Translate. I of course have no idea if the translation is any good, but they get the idea.

Well until we get to the hoover (that’s a vacuum cleaner for those American folk reading this post). I made the mistake of buying a Dyson. And what’s wrong with a Dyson you ask? Well actually nothing. To use it, you press here, pull there. It’s kind of like Lego® except it seems that they don’t have Lego in Russia, or Poland, or the Ukraine. I’m always amazed as to how they put the thing away with the wire wrapped around the thingymejoozy and attach the parts in…well you get the idea.

But you know, with the help of my iPhone and despite the hoover, we manage to communicate the and house gets clean… well until the kids get home from school and then you wonder why you bothered.


Years ago (and we are talking a couple of decades now), I worked for a printer in Jerusalem called Dfus HaMakor. I worked in the graphics and the digital prepress department. One of my terribly exciting jobs (please add a dollop of sarcasm here) was what we called in Hebrew, “running films.” Basically we would get a pjohnny_coffee_2ostscript file from the client and put it on the computer which would then spew out very large sheets of films with the pages of their book arranged correctly for printing – that’s the short version. Actually it’s the long version too. Anyway, once we pressed the equivalent of “print” on the computer, we would just wait. And wait. Now don’t get me wrong. This was at least ten times faster than doing it the old way, but for me it was well, boring. I had to be there in case something went wrong and had to fix the file. However, often the clients would stick around to wait to make sure everything went smoothly and we would schmooze…

Often we would be there until quite late at night and there were two clients in particular, one  secular and the other a Gerer Chasid that were regulars and often we would have the most amazing conversations discussing the various rifts in Israeli society.


3ladies 2000Twenty years have passed and some things haven’t changed: They are still “running films” or more accurately plates now. And yes the conversations between different religious streams of Judaism continue. However one thing significant has changed… This time it’s not three men sitting by a computer schmoozing, but rather three ladies over their lattes. This time, rather than animated conversations been forgotten, they have been written down and made into a book. It’s a fascinating read and I encourage you to buy the book (yes, yes I’m the publisher so of course I have to encourage you to buy the book!)

So now go and click on and preorder (it should be available for order in the coming days). But wait, there’s more… If you go to the facebook page, you can see where these Three Ladies have been booked to speak.

Now I’m off to rebuild my Dyson hoover…



What is the outlook today? Is the sun going to rise?

OutlookcomI have a confession to make. It’s perhaps not the most dramatic confession ever made on the internet, but it is one that is going to affect my “geek factor” (I was informed by a colleague the other day that I’m a geek – who knew!) You see gmail recently celebrated it’s tenth birthday and well, I hate gmail. You may think that “hate” is a strong word. I don’t. In fact if you are looking for a free e-mail service I now recommend (the successor of Hotmail). But no, that’s not my confession…

My confession is that my email program of choice is Outlook (no, no, not that I mention two seconds ago – thank you Microsoft for making things so confusing), but good old Outlook. The one you have to buy or get free as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription (more about that later). Okay, my geek score just went down to zero since all geeks of course use gmail and Chrome – yes I use Explorer too. I assume some of you will now be so unimpressed with my lack of geekiness, and will stop reading right now so to you I bid farewell.

pizzaFor those of you who are still intrigued by my insistence on continuing to use Outlook, I will recall years ago sitting in Pizza May on Rechov HaPalmach and a friend of mine that we’ll call Dan for the purpose of this conversation, told me that he had just installed the new version of Outlook and informed me that I shouldn’t bother since it was a huge memory hog. Well in those days that kind of mattered. Today I have 64-bit Windows using 64-bit Outlook on a machine with an SSD and 16GB of RAM (hey has my geek status been reinstated?) so I don’t really care. Outlook does for me what I need and gmail most certainly doesn’t. But this post is not about email per se, but rather about how I use Outlook to organize my business.

Nelson-Email-Organizer-thumbOkay, first and foremost, a post like this can’t be written without giving at least one method of organizing one’s email. After all, I am talking about Outlook. I’ve tried different solutions including one of my old favourite’s: NEO. This software actually taught me an excellent way of organizing my email but now my needs are different.

I also used to be a great fan of folders, but my system now is much simpler – I have one folder and it’s the Archive folder. It used to be called the “done” folder but by changing it to the Archive folder, I can file away on my iPhone with one tap on the archive button. That’s it! Email stays in my inbox until I’ve dealt with it. Part two of my system is to make sure that I don’t have more than 30 emails in my inbox (although I must confess right now I have 97 😦 ). Now sometimes I need to keep emails for projects and then I use categories and I do use folders for very special occasions…

RBtOkay, but actually I want to introduce you to a tool that I’ve been using for perhaps a decade. You see as well as wearing the publisher hat, I have another hat and that is as of Typesetter at Renana. I could invent a cool title but I will just leave the word typesetter capitalized and hope you are suitably impressed. Oh and whilst I’m talking about Renana Books, our new website is live selling not only digital books, but our new print books from Renana Publishers too! Go and check it out at

Right, back to the plot…. Clients give me work and of course they want to know when I will be finished with it. The problem with the nature of my work is that I will typeset the first draft of a book, send back to the client and then wait. And wait. It could come back a few days later and it could come back six months later. So I need a way to manage my time.

tasklineThe answer, for me at least, is a piece of software Taskline. They have just come out with a new version and I’ve been using it for years. It also helps me see how long each job actually takes to do and disciplines me. Taskline integrates with Outlook. The coolest thing now is that I keep an iPad on my desk with my calendar open and I see what I have scheduled for me since my calendar is synchronized. Oh and you know that Microsoft finally released Office for iPad? And if you have that Office 365 subscription it’s free – yeah that was the more about that later!

You would think that having a fast computer with three screens would be enough, but funnily enough, I use iOS for a couple of other things, and not my iPad either, but davka my iPhone.

ikaluachThe first is iKaluach. This is the definitive zmanim app on the iPhone. For me it’s critical since often my projects are time critical with the Jewish calendar such as a parshat hashavua but also tells me zmanim based on my location (very useful for davening times). This is an app that you must just go and buy now!

And another app that has become really useful for me due to one feature is Sunrise. What distinguishes this app for me is that it tells me exactly how many minutes to my next appointment (again usually Minḥa).

Anyway, better go an pick up my son from school… Shabbat Shalom!

Glossaries in iBooks created in iBooks Author

So many of the books that we at Renana are doing have footnotes as I mentioned in a previous post which we had to find a novel way of solving since currently there is no support in iBooks Author for footnotes. But there is excellent support for glossaries. Occasionally we use this feature, but in the book The Forgotten Zionist, there was ample opportunity to use this feature.

As you can see from the below screenshots:

It’s an elegant solution and quite straightforward to implement. Unfortunately the work has to be done in iBooks Author itself – I haven’t found a way of importing it from other programs. What is positive about this feature, is that you can create cross-references to other entries. So if you tap on Glossary Index you are taken to this screen:

As you can see from this entry on Trumpeldor, you jump to the Tel Hai Foundation and even see where that appears in the text. Lost? No problem, simply tapping once on the screen brings down the top menu revealing the bookmark icon which will allow you to navigate to the recent pages that you were on (even if you never bother to save any bookmarks!)

It’s a great feature for a book like this with many words that need defining but aren’t in the dictionary. Now just for fun, let’s see what Apple thinks the definition of Zionism is:

Okay, not too bad. Maybe we’ll get them to recognise that Jerusalem is in Israel rather than an independent city with no country!

Realising the potential of an iBook

Actually I’m not allowed to call it an iBook. Apart from referring to an old Apple laptop, the term is reserved for the app in which digital books for the iPad appear. So books that I create for the iPad are created in software called iBooks Author, are sold on the iBookstore and are read on the iBook app, but rather than referring to the books as an “iBook” which would be a succinct way of referring to it, I have to call it “a digital book made for iPad” (oh and next month when the iBooks app will be available on the Mac, then I will have to call it “a digital book made for iPad or for a Mac running the latest version of OSX”). Hmm… Well if Apple reads this blog and complains, I’ll do a search and replace. In the meantime, I’m calling it an iBook.

Last week I was typesetting a new book called Awesome Creation by Rabbi Yosef Bitton as an iBook. There are literally hundreds of footnotes in this book which made for a tremendous amount of work, but I thought if I’m already spending a couple of days doing the popup footnotes, let’s make it more interesting…

The book has many references to Tanach and I thought that perhaps it would be useful, rather than just say Job 1:3, to actually hyperlink it to the text online, after all the iPad is a connected device. I found that Chabad have an online chumash which nicely displays both the Hebrew (with nikud) and English translation and I’m able to hyperlink directly to the pasuk.

For a book of this nature, being able to directly link to the source material is great. Chabad also provide Rashi so when the book reference Rashi on Genesis, I was able to directly link to that too. I’m hoping they expand their online library to include other commentators.

Here is a screenshot from within the book.

Footnotes in e-books created with iBooks Author?

Footnotes have long been a problem in print books. Put them at the bottom of the page and the page becomes ugly (particularly with long footnotes), put them at the end of a book and they are rarely referenced (endnotes). The common practice is that if you want a person to actually look at the footnote then it should be put at the bottom of the page.

So what do we do in digital books. iBooks Author has a great support for glossary entries, but footnotes are not the same as a glossary. Whereas a glossary term is usually a definition of the word, a footnote doesn’t necessarily refer to a word and is, as implied by its name, a note. In print, a footnote is reference either with numbers or with an asterisk. However, how do we solve this problem in e-books and specifically e-books created for the iPad in iBooks?

One solution is the same as print: put a small number and hyperlink this to the note somewhere else in the book. However, apart from the fact that it’s somewhat clumsy, it is also rather hard to tap precisely on that tiny weeny superscripted number. Also the process of jumping around the book is fine if you want to jump to a section or chapter to read, but to jump around the book to read a note that says “Genesis 1:1” is a little unwieldy.

Unfortunately (at the time of writing) iBooks Author doesn’t provide a solution for this so until Apple solves the problem, what is the solution?

Since many of the books by Renana have footnotes we had to come up with something that works. The idea actually came up from Ira Weissman who suggested an image of a thought bubble instead of the asterisk. Tapping on the bubble would bring up the footnote text. This solved the problem of people’s fingers being too large for a small footnote reference whilst simultaneously keeping the reader in the same position.

As you can see in the image on the left from Rabbi Natan Slifkin’s book, Sacred Monsters, tapping on the cloud brings up a pop-up footnotes. Whilst this does take a tremendous amount of time to create in iBooks Author, the resulting digital book in iBooks is much more elegant.

The footnotes, like the text in the book, can contain richly formatted text, hyperlinks and even images.

Where’s the BACK button?

So one of the nice features of an e-book produced for iPad (like the books on is the ability to tap on links in the books and navigate to other parts of the book. However, after tapping away, you suddenly realise that you want to get back to where you were before!

The book, The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy available on the iBookstore.
is a book which makes much use of cross-referencing to different sections and diagrams within the book. The hyperlinking seems a great way of navigating this book (please note that this halacha book is sexually explicity), so how do you go back to the bit that you were reading? Fortunately the iBooks app does have a very slick method of handling it, but unfortunately it’s kind of hidden. I say “kind of” because once you know where it is you see the logic…

All you do is tap on anywhere on the page of your ebook to make the menu bar appear and then tap on the icon of a bookmark on the top right of the page. No, the answer isn’t to create a bookmark before you jump – that would be very annoying… After tapping the bookmark icon, a drop down menu appears where you can choose your recently viewed page and in fact navigate forward and backwards.

Putting this under bookmarks does make sense, but I would have liked to have seen perhaps some gesture or hint. Oh well I guess you can’t have everything.