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…

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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.

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 Outlook.com (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 Outlook.com 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 www.renanabooks.com.

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!

Wearable tech: my new watch

When my father passed away recently I inherited his gold watch. Like most watches, it tells the time. The design is timeless and despite the fact that my father received this for his wedding the watch looks great on my wrist.

Looking at the watch I was admiring how thin the watch was and it occurred to me that there was no battery inside. A wind-up watch. Remember those? I was thinking what features watches have that we take for granted and I realised that the biggest innovation was the battery. Yes watches today might have the date (well even then they had those) or a stopwatch but I think that we look at watches differently; we don’t think of what features a watch has, but rather as being individual pieces of jewelry, perhaps in the case of men, the last bit of jewelry that we are “allowed” to wear (with the possible exception of cuff links.)

siemens-s551Those of you who know me, know that I love technology. I remember bringing a Siemens S55 phone from the UK because not only was it colour, but it had Bluetooth (it also had a clip-on camera with flash!). Bluetooth headsets were expensive and were, well, pretty rubbish. I have had a quite a few Bluetooth headsets over the years and I always gave up pretty quickly for two reasons 1) the sound quality was awful and 2) it was always cumbersome to switch the call from the phone to the headset and vice versa.

voyager-legend_bRecently I decided to try again and this time it was in the form of the Plantronics Voyager Legend. It’s not the scope of this blog post to give it a review but let’s suffice to say that if you are looking for a Bluetooth headset that just works then this is the one to buy. The sound quality is superb and it has built-in intelligence that it knows when it’s on your head or when it’s sitting on your desk making picking up the call very easy. If it is on my desk and somebody calls I have two choices: pickup my mobile phone and not use the headset, or if I want I can simply put the headset over my ear and it answers automatically. Want to switch in the middle of the call? Simply put the headset on. Want to pass the phone to somebody to use without your headset? Simply remove the headset from your head and give them the phone. The call transfers automatically to the phone. You are already wearing the headset and somebody calls? It whispers the name of the person (even if you have an iPhone), and say “answer” or “ignore” – very useful if you have your hands full and you can’t raise your hand to press the button on your headset. Go and buy one!

My business partner has a pebble watch. It made me think. I know how my headset has been so incredibly useful. Would a pebble watch be useful? I’m in a meeting and my watch vibrates to let me know something. Hmm. Is that more subtle than my phone vibrating? Can I look at that notification more discreetly than looking at my phone? Another use-case scenario is sports. I run.
Garmin Forerunner 910XT

Well you know what? I have a Garmin Forerunner 910XT. It has a built-in GPS, doesn’t need to connect to my phone. It also tells me absolutely everything I need to know about my run and even counts how many laps I’ve swam in the pool. Yes, I have to change watch before I go for a run, but I don’t know about you, but I also change my clothes before running too!

I guess my only case-use for a pebble watch is when I’m cleaning the house and rather than taking out my phone every time a notification comes in, I could simply look at my wrist to see the notification, but since I try to avoid cleaning the house…

Truth be told, for a person that is out and about all day, be it a realtor or a doctor doing rounds at a hospital, a pebble watch is probably very useful, but for me, I spend most of my work day in front of a computer so will my next gadget be a smart watch? Not unless you are buying me one 🙂

I suppose the ultimate wearable tech is google glass. I’m not so interested in glass per se, but rather the technology that is coming out of the project.

One such technology is a smart contact lens. No, we are not talking about google glass tech on a contact lens à la Continuum, but rather a way for diabetics to track their glucose without having to take a blood sample. This kind of wearable tech is very exciting.

In the meantime, I will enjoy my father’s gold watch when I wear it on special occasions and admire it’s timeless beauty and sentimentality. For the rest of the time I will continue to wear the watch that I received from my wife and in-laws when I got married which has it’s own individuality and special meaning.

 

My iPhone is at the bottom of the Kinneret…

Thoughts on cloud syncing and backup

download

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how useful it can be when your data files are “synced with the cloud” but a recent interaction with one of my clients made me realise that we don’t always understand how syncing services such as Dropbox work and what the fundamental differences are between syncing and backing up.

On a recent holiday “up north” with my family, my brother-in-law was proud to show me his iPhone that he received from his work. The next day he took his family on a boat trip on the Kinneret. He pulled out his phone and was taking beautiful pictures of his children when his new toy slipped out of his hands down to the bottom of the sea.

When he told me his story, I tried to make him feel a little better by reminding him that at least the iPhone automatically syncs the pictures to the cloud. Except that he decided to turn off that feature… No iPhone and no pictures… Lesson #1: Turn on Photo Stream. Lesson #2: Don’t drop your phone in the Kinneret.

So back to my client. He had “shared” a dropbox folder with me. I am in very mixed minds about this ability to share folders. You see he was actually working on the shared folder. So when I moved things out of it to clear space for another client, the files disappeared out of his computer! He wasn’t using it as a way of transferring files but rather as a hard disk. Not a very safe way to work and to compound matters he had no backup (fortunately I did – several!)

Carbonite_online_backup_rgbSo what is a good backup strategy? I have been a great believer for some years now of paid services such as Carbonite or Backblaze. They work by backing up all your data in the background. They do not sync your files but rather copy your files to their servers via the internet. That means that if you delete a file by mistake (or even on purpose) you can get that file back. Lesson #3: Sign up for your free trial of Carbonite now!

And when it comes to transferring files, I’m still in two minds about this, but I still feel more comfortable emailing small files and using a Hightail for larger files. Called me old-fashioned, but heck I’m still using e-mail.

phanfareI also employ another strategy for my pictures. Call it overkill, but it adds a new dimension to photo sharing and that is phanfare. Yes, another paid service, but it allows you to store and share high quality versions of your pictures with your friends and family (I’m not sure that every picture needs to be shared on facebook) or not share at all (all albums can be password protected). When my NAS drive died and lost my entire photo collection, I downloaded all the pictures in hires from phanfare. The other cute advantage is that I access the 163GB of pictures from my PC, iPhone, iPad etc. I have even set up screensavers for my TV pulling the latest pictures from phanfare that have been taken. That’s a 42″ up-to-date photo frame.

Has the day of the paperless office really come?

printer

So recently I decided to put all this syncing technology to good use.
Recently I purchased a new printer: the HP LaserJet Pro 400 and this rather slick-look printer, apart from being able to print at 1200 dpi (which is why I purchased it), it has a very nice scanner. You see, not only is it fast, but it can also scan duplex in one pass.

onedrive

So I have started to scan all my documents. Every time I received something in the post that needs to be kept, I scan, save to my OneDrive folder (which I personally prefer over Dropbox) and send to Evernote. My OneDrive folder is also being backed up to Carbonite and Backblaze too, so this way my document is kept on my computer and backed up to three separate places on the cloud. Of course I have also started to go back and scan the various piles of papers organised in different places, tag and then bin.

EvernoteSo when my wife asked me this morning for my VAT form from 2013, I simply fired up Evernote, hit F6, typed VAT and… oh it seems that I haven’t yet scanned in that document…