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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Tool for those that work in STaM

(I asked Eli first before posting this who gave the okay.)

For parnassah I work part time by a Software development company here in Israel. Most notably we created the PowerSefer (www.powersefer.com) app for smartphones, tablets, PC and Mac.

We have worked on many other apps for the Torah/Frum world as well as for the secular world. The preference is always to find ways to make apps and software for frum people but it's a business so we must be willing to branch out. An idea came to mind recently that I would like to get some feedback on from those that work in STaM to see if it would be of any use.

As it is now I know the software used to check STaM via a computer is quite expensive. I'm sure not every person who works in STaM (b'frat in Chutz L'Aretz) or would be checking STaM on a regular basis (perhaps a shliach or a rov in a remote area of the world) would have access to this software. My idea is to create an App for smartphones and tablets that could check STaM just like a computer program would. This would work by utilizing the camera on the device (therefore no need for a scanner and could be done anywhere on the spot.) The technical aspect would seemingly be complicated but all can be worked out. I imagine using the camera to take multiple pictures lets say of tefillin parshiyos (however could be used for a mezuzah or yerios of a Sefer Torah of course.) The app would put the pictures together then check the parsha for missing/extra letters and words as well as smart as we can make it check for possible negia's, tzuras ha'oisios, etc.

My question is if we could create such an app that would be accurate would those that work in chutz l'aretz away from a place where computer checking could easily be done find this useful? Obviously the price would be substantially less than the normal software (I understand it's a few hundred dollars + ?) Is the portable aspect of it of value? I would appreciate anyone who could comment and leave a valuable opinion either way.

10 comments:

  1. Yes!

    The only downside I can really see is that laypeople might think they can use the app to check their sta"m themselves, thinking that the computer scan is enough. I think this is something to brainstorm about. Perhaps a nice disclaimer at the beginning, or an explanation of why sta"m must be checked by a sofer would be in order.

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  2. I think this would be very useful for us in chutz l'arets, as long as the camera in the phone was good enough to pick up the negiot, so the app would have to be clear about limitations. Certainly for missing, extra or mis-spells etc this would be very useful. Portability would be very useful. Sofer sogood's comment is also very valid. All sounds very interesting though.

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  3. For the reason that "sofer sogood" mentioned this is why I've heard Gedolim in Eretz Yisrael come out against the accessibility of these sorts of products. However the point was always over looked that the software as it is now is quite expensive. So I didn't see what the concern was so much. However with such an app (our point to make it cheaper) would then be this exact "problem". It's an issue to deal with. But and a big but, I don't see why this must come on the account of people in chutz l'aretz especially that would benefit from such a thing (those leading communities, rabbonim, shluchim, sofrim magi'im, etc.) I've made some tests before with the camera on the devices that I have (all of them relatively new however) and the idea seems possible. The cameras will only get better. If I see enough support here I'll recommend the project at least as a long term sort of thing.

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  4. I had a talk on this subject with Rabbi Greefield from Vaad Mishmereth Stam in NY. He told me that they made many comparative tests, and the only valid computer checking is for mis-spellings. He told me that he has examples showing how attempts to check for other problems yield many false alarms and also can cause missing real spelling problems.

    I don't see any reason to avoid the scanner (for parshiot and mezuzot). A camera will never give good images. What I suggest is developing an application (if it does not already exist) that will scan the stam and submit the images via the internet to Vaad Mishmereth Stam, and connect with their computer program, looking only for mis-spellings. Negiot and hefsekim can be easily discovered even by a non-expert person.

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  5. Came across this the other day

    http://or-lasofer.com/PAGE20.asp

    Don't know anything about it but seems like they're working on the whole camera thing.

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  6. Yeah I was thinking of the two programs that I am familiar with DikDuk Sofer and the one that Or LaSofer sells. Both work with digital cameras and can be run on an Ipod(if you have a Mac version). Also the price isn't that prohibitive. Between 800-2500shek depending on what version and what you want to be able to check. They also work with digital cameras.

    The problem that I see is that, especially in Israel, sofrim are not allowed to have smart phones(with both Mishmeret Stam and Yad Rafael saying that a sofer that uses a non-"Kosher" phone is possul l'safrut).

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  7. I think its a good idea but as mentioned i dont think the camera on these devices are good enough for this job and also i dont think it would help people for tefillin b/c people dont know how to take it apart and put it back together but bichlalus it sounds good

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  8. In response to Zvi's comment above (Zvi - July 7, 2013 at 6:20 PM):

    Around 10 years ago I had a conversation with mori verebbi Rav Moshe Halberstam Ztz"l about computer checking - I had asked the Rav, theoretically, as to the extent of its reliability assuming we develop a software that can check for all issues including spelling, tzuras ha-osios, etc. and do so with absolute accuracy.

    The Rav was at first reluctant to answer, saying that until such a thing exists and can be examined, there are too many factors to consider.

    After further discussion, the Rav expressed doubt as to the efficacy of software checking for anything other than spelling. Bikhlal, he said that spelling is a metzius, and tools such as a computer can be mevarer a metzius. However, Tzuros HaOsios is a dvar halacha and need reiyah and horaah by a talmud chocham or a sofer mumcheh. If a computer could check for these issues, it would have to be used very carefully and the computer check results reviewed by a sofer mumcheh.


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    Replies
    1. In the best case I see the software aside from checking spelling having the ability to check other factors (tzuras ha'ois, etc) and leaving a general opinion if a possible problem is found that would normally be "over-looked". However this could create a possible reliance on the system that wouldn't also be so accurate. Checking for spelling until now seems like the main function as a tzurah may stand out while if someone is reading the word they might not *chap* the spelling mistake

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  9. In particular, for those who are away from major centres of Jewish life (for example, NYC) it would be great to have something along the lines of a mezuzah-checking app, so that those of us who know tzurat ha'otiot can take a look for those issues without worrying if everything is there already.

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