Sunday, February 10, 2008

Getting Hebrew Text Right

One of the challenges I've been facing while using the Smartboard this year is finding an effective way to get Hebrew into Notebook. The system I developed works for me, though it is somewhat cumbersome, but a number of people who downloaded my files have told me that they can't read the Hebrew--it's coming out as gibberish.

So this past week I finally got around to exploring different ways to get Hebrew into Notebook to see if I can come up with a universal method that works on everyone's computer.

There are a number of different scenarios where a user would put Hebrew in Notebook. Most often, I'm copying in sections of pesukim, midrashim, gemara, etc. In that case I'll be cutting and pasting from another source. Turning Hebrew support on or off does not seem to affect this. In fact, I find if I have Hebrew turned on when I use Davka (I have version 4), it seems to mess it up, so I've been primarily working with Hebrew support turned off.

The drawback is that I need to go through two steps to get the Hebrew into Notebook: copy from Davka, paste into Microsoft Word, then copy from Word and paste into Notebook. If I skip the Word step then it comes out like gibberish in Notebook. Word seems to be able to convert the text into a font that Notebook recognizes. That brings me to the second drawback: someone without Hebrew fonts sees gibberish, even when I use that two-step process which looks fine on my computer.

Does anyone out there have the latest version of Davka (6) and have you tried pasting text into other software? The list of upgrades seems to indicate that a "copy for Unicode" option is available, which may solve this problem. Has anyone tried it, and have other people been able to read your files even without Davka or Hebrew fonts installed?

The second common scenario is to write a word, a phrase, or a short sentence in Hebrew--sometimes mixed with English, often standing on its own. I'll often write a short phrase from a passuk instead of going to the trouble of tracking down the source, copying and pasting it.

Until now I've been using Davka for this too, primarily because my Hebrew typing skills aren't that good yet, and the onscreen keyboard in Davka is great--it shows you what key you're typing so you can keep an eye on the screen and catch any mistakes. I know I can bring up an onscreen keyboard in Windows to help locate the letters, but it doesn't show what key you're hitting as you type, so I find it less convenient.

Since this method has the same drawbacks I listed above, I decided to try typing these shorter pieces directly into Notebook, by turning on Hebrew language support. It seemed to work well, though I did have one episode where the letters rearranged themselves after I finished the paragraph. That happens occasionally too with the cut and paste method, though, so I think it's a general Hebrew problem. I also don't like the onscreen keyboard nearly as well as the Davka version. Sometimes it gets stuck on English and I have to click back and forth before it registers that I'm working in Hebrew.

I would really appreciate hearing from those of you who use Notebook. If you could download the following file and let me know how the Hebrew looks on the various pages:

I'm especially interested in how it looks on a computer without common Hebrew fonts installed.

Also, if you have a method that works well for you, please share it! I'm especially interested in finding a good cut and paste method that will allow for easy editing in Notebook and other software.

ADDITIONAL NOTE - I haven't been using nekudot at all, since I am teaching high school, but this is certainly an issue when I copy and paste from Davka--I need to strip off the nekudot first or it comes out looking like a mess. Does anyone know how to set up Word and other applications so they support nekudot? Is it just a question of turning on Hebrew support?


Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

I am currently using Davkawriter Platinum 4, if I set my paragraph style to English and set "copy is for" to "English program" , I don't get gibberish even without pasting into Word first.

BTW I am using Notebook version 9.5, I don't know how the upcoming version 10 (currently in Beta) will handle things.

I did have odd results earlier in the year when I had the Hebrew language pack installed but I quickly uninstalled it so I am unsure if it a culprit.

I personally have grown to prefer importing Hebrew text either as a jpeg file (i.e scanned text)or as a PDF file, since I can retain the image and pagination of the texts that my students are using.

Elky Langer said...

I checked my settings in Davka and it is set to copy is for English. So just to test it, I changed it to copying is for Hebrew--and it worked! No gibberish, though it did set it to Hebrew on the language pack. I wonder if it would work if I didn't have the language pack installed.

The only problem with the paste now is if there's a special character, such as a comma, slash, quotation mark--characters that can be English, I guess--it messes up the order and the words following the markings get switched to the wrong location. This doesn't happen when I copy to Word.

You wrote that you "set your paragraph style to English" in Davka. I'm not sure what you mean. If you have existing Hebrew text how do you do that? Maybe that's why we're getting different results.

Regarding importing as a jpg or PDF, are you scanning in pages from the text, or have you found a source with scanned pages? I would love to find the Meor Mikraos Gedolos scanned somewhere, and copy the pages into Notebook to facilitate following the location inside. In general the text I've been copying and pasting has no resemblance to the original image of the text and I like the ability to edit it, for when I don't need the entire section. But this would also be very beneficial.

Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

Davka allows you to enter Hebrew text in two ways. As a Hebrew paragraph or as an English paragraph to which you are adding Hebrew text. I have found that if I have the paragraph set as a Hebrew paragraph and I paste it into an English program (like Word), although it might look OK (it doesn't always) the left to right functions do odd things (like switching directions mid line). As a result, I generally set my paragraph in Davka as English when I want to import to Word or Smart Notebook.

Regarding scanned paged, I doubt you will find something as newly redone as the Meor Mikraos Gedolos available pre-scanned. I generally scan my own pages at 600 dpi with custome brightness and contrast settings. Although there are some pre-scanned Gemara pages available out there on some of the daf yomi sites they tend not be be very good scans (not very hi-rez and they generally appear to be black on grey). Certainly nothing that stands up to being blown up to SmartBoard size!!
When using scans I sometimes use the native Microsoft picture and fax viewer as opposed to Smart Notebook since it lets you which really blow up the text and mark it up since it is Ink Aware!

Elky Langer said...

>> Davka allows you to enter Hebrew text in two ways. As a Hebrew paragraph or as an English paragraph to which you are adding Hebrew text.

I don't seem to be able to find the setting for this. This may be why I have a lot of trouble combining Hebrew and English text in Davka--my paragraph settings must be incorrect. Where do you set this up--do you mind guiding me a bit?

I wonder if it's possible to switch already-typed text. Most of my text is either copied from the Davka text libraries (where I have to go through the process of removing all the nekudos, trop, etc) or copied from Bar Ilan or other text libraries into Davka (not by me) so I don't know if they can be switched after the fact. I will try to set this up for new text I'm typing, though, since as you pointed out, even text that looks good starts acting really strange when you try to edit it in English based software.

Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

One other note...

If you are concerned about the portability of a multi lingual document you can preserve you fonts by setting your Word file save options in the options menu to always embed your fonts.

(in Word 2007 you click the big button, then -word options- -save- then click -embed fonts-)

If you need your document laid out or formatted in a particular way then save it or print it as a pdf file.

If you are running Word 2007 you can download a small add on from Microsoft that allows you to save office docs as pdf files. if you are using an older version then there are a number of shareware or freeware pdf publication options. BTW if you are using OpenOffice it also has the same pdf functionality as Word 2007.

Elky Langer said...

I wasn't aware that Word embeds fonts, that's very useful to know. I wonder if that ability can be added into Notebook to prevent these Hebrew font issues.

I actually own Adobe Distiller (I use it to print documents from Quark) so I usually produce PDF's that way, though I should try the native PDF functionality in Word just to see how it works.

One place where Distiller doesn't work well is in Davka--I often use it to create PDF's of my Davka files for people who don't have the software and won't bother installing the viewer, and the Hebrew sometimes comes out messed up (usually just the first line). Do you have a better PDF solution for Davka?

Rabbi D. Nimchinsky said...

Since the comment section does not allow the posting of screenshots I will email you the screenshots how how DavkaWriter switches Paragrah versus language styles.

I do not believe that SmartNotebook has an embed font function unless it is being saved as a graphic. Maybe in version 10....11..... 12? The Multi-lingual support seems to cause more problems than it solves.

Andrea Hernandez said...

I don't know if you are still having the issue, but I downloaded your notebook file. I am on a mac w/no Hebrew fonts (Davka is not even available for mac osx). I could see the Hebrew on pages 2, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Pages 4 and 5 looked like gibberish English. Hope that helps.
I use a screenshot type program to save snippets of Hebrew as image files for use in programs that don't support Hebrew. It is labor-intensive, but it works. It seems, though, that you have found a solution for SMART notebook.

Elky Langer said...

Andrea, thanks for the feedback. Your experience confirms the difference between having the Hebrew support turned on and copying for Hebrew vs. copying for English and relying on the Davka fonts to sort it out.

I actually just turned off the Hebrew support, even though it does make the Hebrew more universal, because Notebook had developed the bad habit of reverting to Hebrew whenever I wanted to type text, which usually was meant to be in English. There are also certain bugs associated with typing Hebrew into Notebook. I spent some time with smarttech support demonstrating the problem and they assured me they're working on it.

For now, I'm back to my copy from Davka to Word to Notebook system, even though it means that extra step and that many people can't read my fonts. An unfortunate side effect, but Hebrew support was making things too complicated.

I'm hoping it gets sorted out in the next version!

Yosaif said...

Can someone please tell me how to type nekudos (nekudot) in word 2007. I have been typing hebrew in word 2003 for a while. But word 2007 (Vista)the nekoudos don't seem to come from the number keys. Plesae help. Than you! Tizku Lemitzvos!

Tova B. said...

Ok for all of you out there utilizing Word 2007 and need nekudos here is how: Go to the Insert tab and all the way at the right end their is a symbol icon. Select the symbol icon and on the pull down select more symbols. Than you can choose exactly which font you are using and the subset should be on Hebrew. You will see all the nekudos and letters. When you select the nekudah you want, it will inform you on the bottom what the shortcut key. I hope this helps!

Tova B. said...

make sure your cursor is in front of the letter the nekudah is going under!

Yael said...

Hi! I'm new to the blog. I've been working with smart notebook and smart ideas in my chumash class and preparation.

Smart ideas is able to handle cut and pastes of Hebrew without nikudot. I was able to copy mepharshim from bar ilan and daat and paste them in smart ideas. But I can't seem to find an online tanach without nikkud that will paste into smart ideas. Has any one been successful with this?

If not - I think the picture caption tool might be the best solution even though its tedious and the resolution/ size is not always best.

Y Pollock said...

2 clarifications
1) A friend showed me that n Davka if you select copy for English program and then copy the text to Notebook, it come out in Gibberish. Then you highlight the text and change it back to the font you used in Davka and the Gibberish willl turn back to Hebrew.

2) To type Nekudos on word: Make sure you are on the Hebrew Keyboard (All and Shift) and hit the Caps Lock button. Then if you hit Shift while pressing a number it will type the Nekudos.

Anonymous said...

I tried the caps-lock, shift, and numbers thing. It worked but how do you get them under the letters?

An alternative, does anyone know where I can find an online copy of birkat hamazon with nekudot & 'תהילת ה

Anonymous said...

Using Hebrew has been an uphill battle on smartboard. If there is punctuation in the paragraph then everything moves. Imgenerallynuse the camera tool for texts frim daat and machin mamre. Sometimes i copynthe text into word where i dona paste special/unfirmatted text, remove all punctuation and then copy to smartboard. For Hebrew teaching i type straight into smartboard and as long as you don't try to edit a text box it starys, once you try to amke a chnagr everything moves. Smartboard support are aware of the problems and they are hoping to resolve the issue in the next version. Maybe if many of us frustrated users wrote to smartboard they will see there is a real need to resolve this issue.