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…

How to fit three 24″ monitors into a small suitcase

In my past two executive positions that I held it was required of me to wear (at least) two hats: one of the “manager” and one as a productive member of staff. So it’s natural for me in my relatively new role as a publisher to also continue to be productive as a book designer and typesetter and indeed a good portion of my typesetting is for other publishers.

However my blog post is really nothing to do with my job but rather a technological dilemma that a typesetter (and perhaps others) faces when traveling and that is of course, how does one work away from the office. You see my PC setup is very powerful i7 with 16GB RAM and the obligatory SSD, but that can all be squeezed into a laptop. The real problem are the monitors. You see as a typesetter you need a lot of screen real estate and there’s no way I can pack three 24″ monitors into a suitcase.

The second problem is my software and data. I am not dealing with little Word files but rather huge graphic files and software that as little as a year ago came on several DVDs.

So my first dilemma was how to deal with my computer setup. I knew I had access to a PC with a 24″ monitor (no not quite the resolution that I wanted but you can’t have everything in life) but the absolute minimum is two screens.

My second dilemma was a cellphone. But I digress.

So back to the computer. I knew I had a fast internet connection with wifi so my first thought was that I should remotely access my machine. However the connection from the UK to Israel was fine for doing corrections although somewhat cumbersome.

So it was time for plan B.

Recently software has moved to the cloud and Adobe is no exception. People don’t quite know what Adobe Creative Cloud is but apart from the unclear name it’s actually rather marvelous.

I logged into my account on the PC in England and downloaded the creative cloud app onto the computer. From there I chose the software that I needed and then switched on both file and font synchronization. I would like to say that 15 minutes later I was working but despite a 50 Mbit download connection it took quite a while (a day or so) for all the software, and in particular, for all my files to sync.

However once it all synced I had my entire software library and files in England. Remember I was syncing the files and software which meant that the software, Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat were installed locally and the files were copied locally too. You don’t want to be working on a 50MB file that is being accessed on the internet.

My next job was Microsoft Office. I had recently subscribed to Office 365. Now here Microsoft do an amazing job. When I chose to install my software it was extremely fast. You see they install the core code that is needed for the software to run and then in the background the rest of code is downloaded. What this basically meant was that Word was running almost instantly. Now I confess that I’m an Outlook user. I know people swear by gmail, but I like the full version of outlook. Each to their own I guess. Office 365 gives you a 25 GB mailbox so I just synced that and my entire office was now locally synced. Some of my files are on SkyDrive and some are on Dropbox for various reasons beyond the scope of this post but it was trivial syncing them too.

Yes I had a whole bunch of scripts for InDesign that I needed to login remotely to grab them but on the whole I managed to transfer my entire office with a few clicks of the mouse and a lot of waiting.

Fortunately, when I get back to Israel all my files will be back in sync immediately.

Now back to the cellphone. Last time I flew I called up my local cellphone provider and got a deal but it was quite expensive. I also found that I used data a lot more since I wasn’t at home with wifi the whole time.

I was smarter this time. I picked up a Lebara SIM card for £1.10 and added a package for a tenner. It’s actually very good value. I loaded up with 1GB of data and have the option of calling Israel both land lines and mobile for 5p a minute. However, armed with my iPhone with iMessage and FaceTime (particularly FaceTime Audio) I haven’t needed to pay for calls to Israel.

How a green blob led to finding my beshert

The green blob

This is the blob that appears in your system tray

As is the practice of religious singles in the Katamon neighborhood, Shabbat is the time where we would get together for our social. Often on a Friday, if I had no plans, I would call up a bunch of friends and organise a meal by saying, “I have no plans, do you want to ‘Grill Plus-it’?” No this wasn’t a play on google plus but actually the similarities are striking, but rather to the ready-made Shabbat food available for purchase on Rechov HaPalmach.

It was at one of these meals that we were moaning the poor internet speeds at the time. I was lucky and had ISDN offering me 64kbit speeds but this was disappointingly slow. However, the main advantage over POTS was the ability to (almost) instantly connect and make a call at the same time. However, the concept of being always online was still far away.

You have to remember that amongst our motley crew we had some pretty cool computer guys. One of them, let’s call him “Rob” for the sake of this conversation, had actually worked on the very first visual internet browser that Explorer is based on – NCSA Mosaic (and his name was in the credits to prove it) and another, we’ll call him “Daniel” again to protect his (or her) identity had built the network cards in the new Apple iMac (you remember those iconic flavoured Macs?)

Anyway back to the plot. So one of the guys, I think it was “Chaim” if I recall correctly, informed us over lunch that there was this new ADSL experiment going on in Jerusalem. It took me a few minutes to get my head around super fast speeds of 1.5Mbit/sec and being always online. Well sure enough, I wasn’t the only one on the phone to Bezeq the next morning and the technicians were very confused when they came to install the technology that half of the 30 beta testers knew each other and spoke English…

It was at the beginning of 2002 that I started my own typesetting firm, Jerusalem Typesetting. I had my PC and borrowed a lime–flavoured iMac from my friend Daniel. I had ADSL connected to my PC, but Bezeq didn’t provide routers in those days so I needed a way to connect the iMac to the internet. My my friend Daniel yet again came to the rescue. All I had to do was install a small piece of software called AnalogX Proxy. It did two things: one, it allowed other computers, in my case the lime iMac, to use the internet connection on my PC and two, it placed a little green blob at the bottom in my system tray. If there was a problem, the green blob turned red (at least I think it did…well it wasn’t green any more).

Well as it turned out I actually found that I never used the Mac and was able to do everything on my Windows PC, so the iMac was returned but the blog remained.

It was a few years later that a friend of mine moved in upstairs to the block of flats that I lived in. He was moving in literally for one month in between one long-term rental and another. Problem was, he needed internet.

No problem, I said, I have my green blob. I told him to get his hands on some Ethernet cable and I would take care of the rest for him. It took us a few hours of configuring, but he had broadband on his computer. His phone mobile phone rang (and for those of you wandering, no he couldn’t tether his computer to his Nokia 5110) and a female voice spoke. He spoke for a few minutes. I decided it was time for me to speak for a few minutes. Needless to say, she was very impressed with my efforts to help her friend.

Well, as they say, the rest is history.

Updates and upgrades

So I make my living from typesetting books, both print and digital. My tools of the trade are InDesign on the PC for print and iBooks Author on the Mac for digital. 

I resisted the temptation to upgrade to Windows 8.1 when it was in preview (although I had no problems when I had done so for Windows 8) deciding it was prudent to allow Microsoft and Adobe to fully test everything. 
My upgrade to 8.1 was fast and smooth. Everything just worked. Well nearly everything. It turned out that a special part of InDesign that is used by a very small number of people called DPS wasn’t actually compatible. Even though the Adobe website said that it was. They lied. 
I had Adobe on the phone for hours. Last Tuesday from 8 am till 3.45 pm with a half an hour break. And then they continued to remote access. By the time they were finished I had no software, no fonts and no files. A far worse situation than I started. I then spent the next couple of days restoring and ten days later, DPS still doesn’t work. Poor show Adobe. 
Well just to make my life more interesting I updated to OSX Mavericks. This is free update was very exciting for me because it brought iBooks to the Mac!
Upgrade very smooth (not so fast) but… oh no my books are broken!
Turns out after reformatting my Mac that the problem is iBooks Author 2.1. The dot release that came a year later doesn’t fix problems – it breaks the font embedding of custom fonts in the books. Apple now knows of the problem thanks to Talking New Media http://bit.ly/HnkL46 but haven’t taken it down.
Fortunately a colleague found me a copy of 2.0 and sent it to me. 
Well end of rant. Not really sure what to learn from this. 

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 www.renanabooks.com) 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.