30 June 2014

Ebooks from Sources

Here’s a link to a minimal, work-in progress web site advertising my ebook consulting services: http://bdenckla.github.io/efs/.

01 May 2014

The Prophet Lorax

One of the most profitable aspects of my Jewish journey has been learning about the Hebrew Prophets, particularly the Latter Prophets. A basic but ongoing challenge to that learning is just trying to understand what a prophet is in our tradition.

Initially, like many people, I thought that the main feature of a prophet is his prediction of the future. In other words, I viewed a prophet as a seer.

But, now I think the main feature of a prophet is his seeing the present more clearly than other people. A prophet's predictions of the future serve only to emphasize his points about the present. To exhort people to change their behavior now, a prophet predicts rewards and punishments.

Although the behaviors the prophet wants to change are often personal, the rewards and punishments he predicts are usually societal, or even global. This system of reward and punishment that the prophet predicts may not appeal to us, or it may appeal to us but seem a naive fantasy. Either way, it may be a "turn-off."

I want to encourage people to get turned back on to the prophets. To that end, I think it may help to view the predicted rewards and punishments as only tactics that the prophets use to achieve goals of the good and the holy.

So, though these tactics may not appeal to us, I earnestly hope that the goals still do.

Particularly at risk is the goal of the holy. The goal of the good is one respected and pursued by many. Good is of course always threatened by evil. And, nowadays, it is threatened by a relativism that has made the categories of good and evil unfashionable. But the greater threat is to the concept of the holy, which is so out of fashion in some circles, and so perverted in others, that I fear for its survival.

A prophet speaks inconvenient truths to try to make us good and make us holy. He also offers us hope that this daunting task can indeed be done. 

Another journey I'm on is raising kids. One of them got The Lorax by Dr. Seuss as a birthday present. As I read it to them, I realized, hey, this guy The Lorax is a prophet!

Well, maybe he's not a prophet, if that seems blasphemous to you, but at least he's a darn good (and fun) illustration of the most important features of a prophet.

I won't review the book here, but suffice it to say that the Lorax spoke inconvenient truths to try to make the Once-ler good. In the end it is the Once-ler, not the Lorax, who offers hope, though, in the form of a seed.

The idea of the holy is missing, or, rather, must be supplied by the reader. Perhaps it is better that way.

The idea of divine inspiration is missing, too. It is missing both from the Lorax and from my discussion of prophets. Perhaps it is better that way.

In closing, let me provide a couple of links showing other people's exploration of the idea of the Lorax as a prophet.

The Lorax, the Prophets, and the iPad

The Lorax and Deuteronomy

09 August 2013

My People's Giant Passover Haggadah

Thanks to the suggestion of Rabbi Joel Nickerson, I have been enjoying My People's Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries (henceforth MPPH).

It got me thinking about the design challenges of Jewish books.

Like many Jewish books, MPPH contains many related texts.

So a design challenge of such a book is to use resources such as layout and font to show how its texts are related. Making these relationships clear makes it easier for the reader to know his or her location within the complex structure of such a book. And it makes it easier for the reader to navigate within such a book.

A Talmud is a great example of such a book. Take a look at this neat PDF (by Joshua Parker) to get a sense of how a Talmud addresses the challenges of presenting multiple related texts.

Part II of MPPH is a sequence of sections. Each section contains a number of elements. The elements are of the following types and "multiplicities" (how many are expected).
  1. 1 Haggadah passage (Hebrew and/or Aramaic)
  2. 1 Translation of the Haggadah passage into English
  3. 1 Summary of the meaning of the passage (a "signpost")
  4. 0..n Ceremonial instructions, each belonging to a location within the Haggadah passage
  5. 0..n Images
  6. 8..11 Commentaries on the passage
(Note that Part II is not be confused with Volume 2. Like many Jewish books, another design challenge of MPPH is that its sheer length requires it to be split into multiple volumes!)

MPPH uses various techniques to show how the elements of a section are related.

The most notable technique it uses is what I will call the anchor spread. (I'm using "spread" to mean two facing pages.)

Here is an example. (I've provided it only at low resolution since I'm only interested in the layout, not the content.)

At the center of the spread is the beginning of the Haggadah passage in question, with English on the left and Hebrew/Aramaic on the right.

Surrounding the passage and its translation are the beginnings of the commentaries. Each commentary beginning is followed by an indication of the page on which the rest of the commentary appears. This indication is also known as a jump line or continuation line. (The Haggadah passage itself has no jump line since it continues immediately after the anchor spread.)

So in some ways the anchor spread resembles the first page of a newspaper section on which many articles are started, but most or all need to be finished elsewhere.

The anchor spread design got me thinking... what if jumps were not needed, i.e. what if the complete commentaries surrounded the complete Haggadah passage?

I.e. what would it be like if you could really see where you were within the "landscape" of the section?

To partly answer this question, I did the following.

  • I extracted the elements of the "4 questions section" from a digital version of MPPH. I hope I didn't break any laws (or breach any contracts) in the process. Just in case, I will not reveal the details of how I did this. I'm sure what I did was ethical, but of course ethics and the law are not always aligned.
  • I laid these elements out on a single giant page using the Scribus open source desktop publishing software.
  • For $10.90, I had a print shop print this out for me on a large-format printer, something like the following.

Here's the result (bill shown for scale):

Here's a link to a redacted PDF version of it on Scribd. This version is redacted to avoid copyright infringement. (Hopefully the picture of the un-redacted version above is low enough resolution to avoid anyone considering this copyright infringement.)

That was fun, but many questions remain. Could you do the whole book this way? How would you bind, or otherwise package, such a giant book? As a flip chart on an easel?

About ten years ago, Michael Hawley published the world's biggest book (at least at that time). I wonder what could be learned from that experience.

Going in a different direction, how can this "jumpless" large format experience be emulated (or improved upon!) digitally? A goal being, how can you, as seamlessly as possbile, zoom out to see structure, and zoom in to view content in detail, without losing a sense of your place within the structure?

I'm sure smart people have come up with interesting approaches to such problems and look forward to learning more about them. Perhaps I'll report what I find out in a subsequent post.

03 February 2013

How I made our computer quiet

One of the two (!) fans in our computer's power supply has been getting more and more raucous over the past few months. I don't know whether this means it was close to actually stopping, but it was certainly close to actually driving me crazy. So, somewhat out of character for me, I decided to finally try to do something about it. Big mistake.

I found the following three options for what to do.
  1. Lubricate the fan.
  2. Replace the fan.
  3. Replace the power supply.
I decided to replace the power supply. It seemed a little wasteful, but lubricating the fan didn't seem guaranteed to succeed and I was scared off of replacing the fan by warnings about capacitors holding a charge for hours.

A brief digression. I found it amusing to see, in an online discussion of what lubricant to use, a British person asking for the equivalent of "gun oil" since shops in his country don't commonly sell it, or sell guns, for that matter! (It was speculated that "sewing machine oil" would be similar.)

So I was determined to get a new power supply but not spend a huge amount of time figuring out what the best one would be. I fear I waste a lot of time shopping online for things, optimizing on margins that don't matter. Well it turns out it would have been worth spending some time figuring out what a correct one would have been, leaving aside the question of what the best one would have been.

I found some random site that offered a nice-looking lookup of power supply by computer name, and trusted it. Big mistake.

It turns out there has been a lot of evolution of the ATX power supply standard over the years. As is so often the case, there's a good Wikipedia article covering it. I only wish I had read it before plugging my new power supply in. (Digression: since it is so often the case that there is a good Wikipedia article about things, I've recently donated to Wikipedia, and plan to do so regularly, and encourage you to do so, too, if you find it useful.)

So, I plugged my new power supply in, and everything seemed fine, but when I came back a few hours later, there was a strange smell in the room and the computer was off and would not turn back on, even with the old-but-noisy power supply plugged back in. Woops.

So, making good on the promise implicit in the title of this post, that's how I made our computer quiet. Very quiet. One might even say silent.

I lack some combination of the skill and the inclination to figure out exactly what happened, but my not-too-wild guess is that you shouldn't plug a 20-pin power supply into a 24-pin motherboard. I guess I was hoping that if it wouldn't work, it just wouldn't work. Meaning, I hoped that if it wouldn't work, it would fail in the following three ways.

  1. obviously
  2. immediately
  3. non-destructively

Well, it did fail obviously. But not immediately, and not non-destructively.

Was my wishful thinking a product of "overly digital" thinking? Though digital systems have plenty of non-obvious, non-immediate, destructive failure modes, somehow I think analog systems have even more.

And power supplies are about as analog as you can get. In fact, they're not even analog: they're power! Power is the analog of nothing! Or, put it this way, I've never heard of power being used as the analog of anything. Voltage, certainly. Current even, sometimes. But power, never.

Returning from that digression, my point is, that what probably happened is that things did work, initially, and then once something heated up, over time, something on the motherboard melted or burned.

It turns out that those 4 extra pins are supplying "redundant" 3.3, 5, and 12 V lines, as well as ground. Not having them forces the other pins to carry more than their "fair share" of the current. Unfortunately I guess the weak point in the system was on the motherboard, not in the power supply. Otherwise plugging the old power supply back in would have worked.

So then I set about spending several should-have-been-sleeping hours researching the current offerings of Dell and HP. In other words, my mistake has led me to the most wasteful option, the following implicit option number 4.
  • Replace entire computer.
Whenever I research buying a new computer I'm always shocked by the way in which each manufacturer divides their products into confusing, overlapping market segments, where it seems like the same computer is being offered over a 4x price range with the only obvious difference being different case design. (It turns out there are deeper differences, you just have to spend several hours to start to get a grasp of them. Whether these differences justify the 4x price range... well, if the market bears it, I guess the answer is revealed to be "yes.")

So, I'll be spending a little quality time over the next few days setting up a hopefully-nice new Windows 8 machine.

Still to be determined whether I will shell out $100 to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro. I am curious to try to run Ubuntu under the "Hyper-V" virtualization built into Pro, but probably I should just save $100 and use VirtualBox, like I do with great success and ease on MacOS on my MacBook Pro.

Also, will we ever want to connect to the machine using Remote Desktop? For that, you need Pro.

Decisions, decisions.

But at least these decisions are back in the realm of software, where I feel more comfortable.

Because if there's one take-home lesson from this experience, it is that I shouldn't have felt comfortable in the realm of power. She is a cruel mistress, the analog of nothing.

28 December 2012

The Chapman Exchange

I spotted the following use of the old "2L-5N" (2 letter, 5 number) dialing instructions on a sign on a fence at Rancho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles.

The sign advertises the Cyclone Fence Division of American Steel & Wire Co.

It also mentions United States Steel. Was American Steel & Wire Co. just a part of that (USS)?

Anyway, the address given is 5532 San Fernando Road, Glendale, Calif.

And the phone number, the reason for my interest, is CHapman 5-2635.

The sign also advertises locations in Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland.

Though the use of 2L-5N is what most caught my attention, the typography is pretty neat, too. In particular, the big fat font used for the main text of "CYCLONE FENCE."

16 November 2012

Digitizing your books

Here's what I've learned so far about digitizing books for personal use.

How should you scan your documents?

The scanning service I've tried is called 1DollarScan. It works well. For a base price of $1 per 100 pages, they will (destructively) turn your book into a PDF. They offer various extra services, each of which costs an additional $1 per 100 pages. Some of these extras are listed below.
  • 600 dpi (instead of 300 dpi)
  • Ship from Amazon.com. That way you can "pretend" any book on Amazon is available as a PDF!
  • OCR. I gave it a try but was not particularly impressed. So now I plan to do the OCR myself using Acrobat. Acrobat has an amazing option called "ClearScan" that replaces recognized characters with their representation in a custom font. I'm still keeping the original scans for reference, in case ClearScan messes up, but so far it has offered me about 18x compression at what appears to be an increase in quality!
  • Use book title as file name. I gave it a try, and it was fine, but now I plan to just name my files using their ISBN, e.g. "ISBN 1234567890". I plan to put the title and author in the PDF metadata. This keeps file names short, though it makes them unfriendly. I'm assuming this unfriendliness won't be a problem since I'll find things by searches of content as well as file name, where the content will include the title metadata as well as the OCR data for the images. If you do go with titles in file names, note that many titles can't be exactly represented as file names since they contain characters prohibited from file names. E.g. on Windows, a colon is prohibited, but it is a very common character separating title from subtitle! As one would expect, the title field of the PDF metadata has no such restrictions.

Now, where should you put your scanned PDF?

I've tried storing PDFs on Dropbox, Google Drive, and Scribd. I think Google Drive is the best overall. Here is a comparison of what these services offer.
  • Dropbox
    • No file size limit
    • 2 Gb overall limit for free accounts
    • Offline access
    • Native viewers (Acrobat, Preview)
    • Native search (Windows Explorer, Mac Finder)
  • Google Drive
    • 25 Mb file size limit for in-browser viewer and in-browser search
    • 5 Gb overall limit for free accounts
    • Offline access
    • Native or in-browser viewer
    • Native or in-browser search
  • Scribd
    • 100 Mb file size limit; much smaller for ClearScan?
    • No overall space limit for free accounts
    • No offline access
    • In-browser viewer
    • In-browser search
For reference, the books I've scanned have been in the 100-200 Mb range. So to accommodate either Google's 25 Mb limit or Scribd's 100 Mb limit, you would have have to split such PDFs up. In Acrobat, you can do this by adding bookmarks at the beginning of each desired section and then telling it to split the document accordingly.

Or, you can compress your documents using Acrobat's ClearScan and then they will probably fit even Google's 25 Mb limit. So far, I haven't gotten Scribd to accept ClearScan files that were bigger than 100 Mb before they were compressed, though. My guess is that when they are converted to Scribd's format, they end up being too big again.

One thing I noticed about Scribd's viewer: it doesn't show you the full resolution of your document, at least not if it is 600 dpi. I suppose you can download the PDF if this is a problem, but that might be mildly annoying.

Unlike Scribd, Google Drive allows files greater than 100 Mb. But, a PDF bigger than 25 Mb won't be searched or shown in the built-in viewer. In other words it is just an opaque (dumb) bunch of bits.

Okay so that's what I have to share about my experiences digitizing books. What follows is a postscript on the narrow issue of how to fix PDF search on 64-bit Windows.

Postscript: How to fix PDF search on 64-bit Windows

One of the big advantages of having your books digitized with OCR is the ability to search within a book and among all your books. To my dismay, this was not working for me on Windows.

The reason, I discovered, to my horror, is that on 64-bit Windows, PDFs won't be indexed unless you install a special "IFilter" program from Adobe. Once I did this and rebuilt the index, PDF search started working.

In my opinion, this is really bush league stuff from an otherwise major league company like Adobe. Though a little weird, I respect their choice to not have a 64-bit version of Acrobat. The 32-bit version works fine and I suppose Acrobat is unlikely to require more than the 2 Gb or so of memory that would trigger the need for a 64-bit version. But, they should have figured out how to install this 64-bit IFilter thing along with the 32-bit application, when it is being installed on a 64-bit OS.

I try not to indulge in Windows-bashing or Mac booster-ism unless I have something specific to say. So I guess I'd modify the adage
If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
If you don't have anything specific to say, don't say anything at all.
Here I have something specific to say. Mac's built-in PDF support is nice. You get a viewer (Preview) and search right out of the box. On Windows, it is mildly annoying that one must install a viewer (usually Acrobat Reader) on each new machine, but it is close to infuriating that indexing (search) doesn't work even when you do that install! Without some intrepid Googling to figure out that this is a 64-bit problem, you won't be able to figure out why indexing works on some machines and not others. (The answer is that some machines are running 32-bit Windows and some machines are running 64-bit Windows!)

17 October 2012

The daleth and the resh, part 1 of 2


Here's what the Hebrew letters daleth and resh look like.


With that in mind, consider the following excerpt about Isaiah 33.8.

The RSV, NRSV, NAB, and NIV follow 1QIsaa in reading
ʾdym [‘ê·ḏîm] [עֵדִ֔ים] [concordance] “witnesses”
instead of the MT
ʾrym [‘ā·rîm] [עָרִ֔ים] [concordance] “cities.”
“Witnesses” seems appropriate to the meaning of the passage, and the interchange of resh for daleth is understandable in light of the similarity of the letter shapes. The NJV also calls attention to this reading in a footnote.
Harold Scanlin, The Dead Sea Scrolls & Modern Translations of the Old Testament, p. 130

This got me thinking, how should one go about writing a sacred text in a way that avoids such problems?

Or, more generally, how should one go about writing a text that needs to be transmitted with high fidelity, i.e. faithfully. Sacred texts are just a specific example of this. The situation reminds me of an old FedEx slogan:

When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight.

So, sacred texts are those where it absolutely, positively must be copied right. Yet, historically, they have fallen far short of this. At least, this is true of the sacred texts of Judaism, which are the only ones I know anything about.

The following is a rambling set of comments on the topic of faithful transmission of text. I'd like to be able to call it something more profound, like an "extended meditation," but it is really just a ramble. As the title suggests, it is the first of what I hope will be a two-part whole.

Avoid homoglyphs

The first rule of faithful transmission is "avoid homoglyphs." Well, really it should be "avoid homoglyphs and near-homoglyphs," but that isn't as catchy. Anyway, it is just a fancy way of saying "use letterforms that look different."

Hebrew homoglyphs

Hebrew is littered with near-homoglyphs. We've already seen the issue with daleth and resh; here it is again, along with various other issues.

נג כב עצ זןו רדך סם

A more detailed presentation of these issues is available on the following web page. (Note that it shows Sofit and Fey Sofit in their cursive form. Their printed forms are not easily confused.)

Similar Hebrew Letters
DIGRESSION By the way, this "Hebrew for Christians" site is an example of a general pattern:
Some of the best resources for studying the Tanakh are for studying the Old Testament.
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, or just a thing, neither good nor bad, I will perhaps opine on in another blog post. But I will remark here that it feels a little strange to me. But that feeling itself is a little strange, since when I step back and think about it, it is not surprising that it should be the case. Our sacred texts our sacred to them, too. And, while numbers don't tell all, I'll just point out that there are something like 150 times as many Christians as Jews in the world.

English homoglyphs

Anyway, back to homoglyphs (and near-homoglyphs). To be fair to Hebrew, English is not immune to this problem. Or, rather, the Latin alphabet and Arabic digits are not immune to this problem. For example consider the following characters.

  • 1 (the digit one)
  • I (the letter capital I as in India) (henceforth "CI")
  • l (the letter lowercase el) (henceforth "LL")

Putting all three together, you get "1 I l." How much these differ depends on whatever font is operative. For some edification and entertainment, I recommend typing "1 I l" in at one of the following sites:

I chose "India" as an example of a word starting with I since that's the choice of the NATO phonetic alphabet, which is designed to give letters different-sounding names, solving a problem analogous to the one we are discussing here.

Are homoglyphs "wrong"?

I think we have to let sans serif fonts off easy on the CI/LL distinction. Though the distinction can be made with full strokes, not just serifs, I feel that it is not really in the charter of a sans serif font to have to make distinctions like that.

More generally, we can't say that any font is wrong if it fails to make one or more of these distinctions. Fonts serve a variety of purposes; their design goals span concerns of form, function, and the great gray area in between. Many of these goals are at odds with each other, and hence trade-offs must be made. In the service of one goal, another goal may be sacrificed, or at least compromised. For example, if simplicity of letterform is allowed to trump distinctness of letterform, then perhaps one, CI, and LL would be allowed to be very similar or even the same.

That having been said, for most purposes, distinctness of letterform is a very important goal for a font. Thus a font intended for general use should give this goal great weight in making its design trade-offs.

One and CI

My particular interest is the one/CI distinction. The most common problem here is a one that looks like CI. The above sites allowed me to quickly identify the following fonts on my computer as "offenders" in this area.

Hoefler Text
Big Caslon

A Roman-style one (henceforth "R1"), i.e. a one that looks like CI, is common as part of what are called old-style numerals or old-style figures (OSF). Such a one may be distinguishable (with effort) from CI since it is usually only x-height. Even then, when mixed with a small caps CI, the problem may persist. This might seem an obscure situation, but the use of small caps for acronyms is a somewhat common style.

Here's the story of how Vice President Al Gore caused the one in the Brioni font to be changed from Roman to Arabic to make it easily distinguishable from CI.

Roman ones and the Great Isaiah Scroll

Let's get back to the sacred. Strangely enough, my first experience of one/CI confusion happened while reading about some famous daleth/resh confusions of more than two thousand years ago! The very perceptive reader may have noticed the opportunity for one/CI confusion in the prickly-looking abbreviation "1QIsa" that appears in my opening quote.

"1QIsa" is an interesting opportunity for confusion. On the positive side, it has a one and a CI, making slight differences between the glyphs easier to see than if they appeared independently and the reader had to find and compare far-flung examples. Also on the positive side, many readers would know, from context, that the third glyph is a CI since it begins an abbreviation for Isaiah. Slightly fewer, but still many readers would know, from context, that the glyph before the Q is supposed to represent a number.

But here begins the real problem. When the one resembles a CI, is the reader to infer that the convention is to use Roman rather than Arabic numerals? For the trivial case of the number one, it doesn't really matter, since they represent the same thing. But for the case of the number eleven, confusion could be serious, since R1 glyphs would make eleven look like the Roman numeral representation for two. And, as it turns out, there was a Cave 11 at Qumran, containing, among other things, the Great Temple Scroll (11QTa).

Let's see how the Great Isaiah Scroll is referred to in the NJPS translation of Prophets (Nevi'im) that was first published in 1978 (ISBN 0-8276-0096-8). (This is not the first publication of its translation of Isaiah; that was in 1973.)

First, we should note that the NJPS Prophets abbreviates Isaiah to just "Is" as opposed to the more standard "Isa." Perhaps that standard had not been established yet, and in any case that's not our issue here.

Our issue here is that its typesetting of "1QIs" visits the whole gamut of the one/CI/LL confusion. The one is represented

  • confusingly, an R1
  • incorrectly, as LL
  • correctly, as an Arabic one (henceforth "A1")

The CI is represented

  • incorrectly, as an LL
  • correctly, as a CI

Below are scans of examples of its different settings of "1QIsa." The page numbers and the representations of one and CI are listed in the first row. Apologies that these are bilevel rather than grayscale images.

356: R1 / LL 368: LL / CI 369: R1 / CI 468: A1 / CI

This was all fixed, to A1/CI, in the 1985 NJPS Tanakh. More generally, the 1985 Tanakh moved to using A1 rather than R1 in footnotes.

And then came the digital age.

What promise it offered, and continues to offer! Yet, what typographic barbarisms it has facilitated. I suppose that only from great heights can great falls happen. Another way I've seen it well-put is:

To err is human; to really screw things up requires a computer.

Don't get me wrong, my Kindle version of the NJPS Tanakh is one of my prized possessions, inasmuch as something so intangible can be thought of as a possession. But somehow one/CI confusion in "1QIs" crept back in, with a vengeance. In particular, the one is usually represented as a CI.

Below are scans of examples of its different settings of "1QIsa." The Kindle locations, Kindle and printed page numbers, and the representations of one and CI are listed in the first row.

16293 / 762 / 633: CI / CI 16330 / 762 / 640: A1 / CI
DIGRESSION In typical great heights/great falls fashion, Kindle locations offer citations of intriguingly high resolution, but all footnotes have been converted to endnotes, and thus all Isaiah footnotes appear to be on the last page of Isaiah, 762. Within the hyper-linked Kindle world, this doesn't really matter. For citations that "work" for the printed version, you need to follow the endnote's hyperlink "backward" to find the real page.

In the Kindle edition, how can we know whether the one is being represented by a CI or an R1? Well, for one thing it is visually identical to other CI glyphs, but, more deeply, if you copy and paste it, it is a CI; and if you search for IQI (CI-Q-CI), you'll find those instances that use it.

An important consequence of this is that if you search for 1QI (one-Q-CI), you won't find the IQI (CI-Q-CI) instances. And here we really find form spilling over into function. So far all my complaints about the typesetting of "1QIs" could be dismissed as the whinings of an aesthete with too much time on his hands. I would mostly disagree with this characterization, but would have to admit that function was only impaired, not destroyed by these problems. If we narrowly define function as transmitting the meaning, "Isaiah manuscript from Cave 1 at Qumran," then these problems probably did not destroy function for most readers. They probably just made it more difficult to decode this meaning, i.e. they only impaired function.

But the digital version adds (or should add) a new function: the ability to search. And this was not just impaired but destroyed by the misrepresentation of one as CI.

DIGRESSION When one is represented as one in the Kindle edition, it shows up as an Arabic, yet old-style, figure. This and other research leads me to believe that Georgia is the font used by the Kindle Reader for Mac. Or at least it is the font used when a serif, proportional font is requested. Note that you can't easily change fonts on any Kindle-reading platform. That's why I said it is "the font," not "the default font." On Kindle hardware, the font seems to be PMN Caecilia, which has a lining one, i.e. a non-old-style one. Some fonts may have an option for both lining and old-style figures, and perhaps even an option for both an Arabic and Roman old-style figure for 1. I'm not sure if either of these fonts do, but the relevant question here is what does their default one look like.


If you have the luxury of making up your own alphabet, avoid homoglyphs. This luxury is rarely available; the only recent example I can think of is the invention of the Klingon alphabet. I wonder how distinguishable its glyphs are.

DIGRESSION Another "I wonder ..." about a recent example: did anything analogous to daleth/resh confusion ever happen with the Book of Mormon?

Back to obvious conclusions: if you, like most of us, are stuck using someone else's alphabet, choose your fonts so as to avoid homoglyphs. For example, avoid fonts with Roman ones if the text you're setting might use them in a way that would cause confusion. Perhaps you don't need to avoid the font altogether if it provides an Arabic one as an alternative.

Finally, let's zoom out to a theological question: if Isaiah's words are holy, why didn't G-d give him a better alphabet to record them in?

My suggestion is, the Hebrew alphabet is no more the alphabet of G-d than the Hebrew language is the language of G-d. Indeed problems like daleth/resh confusion serve a useful purpose. They remind us that we are reading holy words, not G-d's words. Holy words bring us closer to G-d, but they are written in man's imperfect alphabets, and in man's imperfect languages.

To me, the very notion of "G-d's words" unacceptably diminishes G-d by seeing him as acting within the limits of language and therefore possibly constrained by language.

Like anyone else (perhaps more so), I can't claim to know much about G-d. But I'm pretty sure he is without limits. (So I'm also pretty sure he is not a "he" or a "she"!) And I'm pretty sure that if G-d had an alphabet, we surely could not read it.