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June 2006


Friends, don't let this happen to you: "Publisher in £80,000 font raid"

A publishing firm fell foul of the law by using unlicensed typefaces worth £80,000, according to licensing lobby group the Business Software Alliance (BSA).

The publishing firm had claimed to be using just one font but in fact was found using 11,000.

There is, naturally, a maddening Slashdot discussion about this where all kinds of justifications for piracy are tossed around, but it think it comes down to a few key points for me (and I freely admit my personal bias when it comes to people doing the right thing and paying for software and typefaces):

Now, I know it's hard. I was, in the days of my youth, an unspeakably shameless software and font pirate. But I found it to be very ethically murky territory after a while, not to mention the whole "illegal" thing. I now own valid licenses for the software I use, but it's still challenging to restrict type usage to the ones I’ve actually paid for. (And that’s coming from someone who has spent a small fortune on properly licensed typefaces.) I pay for all the type I use for freelance projects (since if my business is making with them, then the foundry should get their fair share), and I’ve been weening myself off the illegal copies, slowly but surely.

It's hard, because even though there are lots of free fonts out there, most of them are shockingly craptacular. Others are sketchy copies of other fonts, which is still bad form, even if the legality technically toes the line. (The short version: you can't copyright type designs in the U.S., but individual fonts are software, which can be copyrighted.) There are some decent options out there, such as some of the ones found on here, but even with those the usage is often limited to stuff where you're not making money off of someone else's hard work.

So be a good sport and buy a typeface today. Someone, somewhere could probably use the royalty check.

The Art of Kissing

The Art of Kissing, Part 2This charming little booklet was published by the Haldeman-Julius Company of Girard, Kansas. The put out all sorts of teeny newsprint screeds like this, sadly undated. This particular edition is mostly sweet, occasionally tongue-in-cheek (pun intended, I confess), and occasionally exactly what you'd expect from something of a certain era...

It has nothing to do with this doozy of the same title, even though they share an equally sophisticated point of view on the subject matter.


(Read the rest...)

The Original Boy Butter

Happy Boy Margarine

I don't even know where to begin. Should I talk about the photo (wretched but intriguing, like a Stepford kid), the typography (strangely modernistic for a product with that down-to-earth feel), or the very notion that a package like this is supposed to entice someone to buy a cheap and greasy butter substitute? You be the judge. My mind is already reeling.

A Kind Word or Two

Thank you, Cybersocket, for the very kind words: "POSEABLE THUMBS: We couldn't offer a tour of seedy but effulgent art-porn without neglecting the consistently superb Poseable Thumbs, whose Tom of Finland-derived action figure sex remains to be both hot in a rather disturbing manner, and soaked in faultlessly-saturated Technicolor."

Modern Typography, Part I

I finished Kinross' Modern Typography last week, but it will take a while (and probably a few subsequent readings of things in it) before I really digest all of it. It might be the most lucid examination of the whole notion of "Modernism" I’ve ever read, because it views it not as a stylistic period, but as a fundamental change in the way things were done that naturally influenced the end results. From this perspective, the whole history of movable type in the West is a result of modernism, and so the book examines the layers of causes and reactions and counter-reactions that are all a part of Modernism in some way or another.

Note to self: Pick up Natalia Ilyin's Chasing the Perfect one of these days. She seems to have similar ideas about opening up the definition of Modernism and modernity.

Kinross, Robin, Modern Typography. London, Hyphen Press, 1992

Ugly-Ass Math

Although I’m open to serendipity (or pragmatism) when it comes to choosing a thesis topic for next year, I’m leaning very heavily in the direction of working out a type family with closely integrated Greeks and math characters.

It's a topic that’s been particularly prominent in my thoughts for years, since my job has involved lots (lots!) of work integrating math and other technical notation into text for engineering books. My hands have been largely tied when it comes to making real improvements, since the publisher has been so resistant to substantive changes, but it's given me lots of time to analyze the problems:

So, there are a few key elements that lend themselves to a meaty solution: a Latin face that’s clear and robust enough to withstand low quality display and reproduction, a really full assortment of glyphs to be used at small sizes, Greeks that are designed to be easily distinguished from the Latins instead of designed to match, and a full set of Unicode-ready math and technical symbols designed to integrate with the basic text.

I know: sounds like a huge undertaking, right? Maybe I can save it for a PhD instead.

The need for someone to do this well is really clear, though, if you look at what's out there. The available options are an unsatisfying assortment of incomplete character sets and poor design. A consortium of publishers is working on the STIX Project, whose goal is to build a set of fonts that will include the full Unicode character sets for Latin, Greek, math, and symbols, but it doesn't look like they're going to release OpenType versions. Also, judging from the existing work from the company designing the fonts, the quality of the type design is still going to be problematic. Although I’m all for the work the STIX Project is doing ("preparation of a comprehensive set of fonts that serve the scientific and engineering community in the process from manuscript creation through final publication"), I cringe at the thought of their low-quality, free fonts being the only option out there ("the STIX fonts will be made available, under royalty-free license, to anyone, including publishers, software developers, scientists, students, and the general public"), since they will really result in even lower standards for technical publishing.

Bagel with Cream Cheese

The Ceiling Above My Bed

I really love the battered concrete ceiling of my apartment, with its beams and patches and embedded pipes. I love its irregularities, and the different shapes made by its elements as they cross one another. I love having a ceiling that’s not just blank, like most tend to be, since it gives me something to stare at when I don't feel like getting out of bed yet.

I spend a surprising amount of time staring at the ceiling, not just because it's interesting, but because there are many, many days (stormy days or winter weekends in particular) when I can't really face the thought of getting out of bed and functioning like a normal human. It's not a lazy thing so much as it's a depression thing. When I’m fully engaged in something it's easy to be chipper and energetic, but when I get a chance to relax I often collapse into a kind of mental hibernation as my mind tries to go numb for a while. To some extent or another, depression is always licking at my heels, and I’m either keeping it at bay or letting it wash over me until I have the energy to smack it back down again. When I’m done sleeping but not quite ready to be human yet, I tend to gaze at the ceiling until enough neurons fire for me to go about daily life again.

It's not an especially fun way to go through life, but it's least comfortably familiar at this point. It's not bad enough these days to outweigh the hardships of medicating myself against it — it was really obvious when the scales tipped in the opposite direction and I needed to do something to save myself — but I regularly pay a toll for choosing to struggle with the problem instead of the treatment. The toll takes the form of a paradox: I feel better when I’m around people and actively engaged in something other than the wanderings of my thoughts, but once I’m alone I usually lack the willpower to seek people out, since I feel like I’m saving my mental energy for the next round of the battle. that’s why I tend to avoid making phone calls or making plans: it's incredibly exhausting to think about doing those things, despite the incredible tonic they offer. I usually rely on people getting in touch with me during the moments when I have the energy to respond — or spring into action, even better — a wussy coping mechanism that has pretty much alienated everyone I know.

Deadlines and work schedules provide just enough structure to help me maintain the upper hand in this ongoing battle, as does the simple need to take medicine on a full stomach every morning. Routines bore me silly, but a regular handful of recurring obligations is my magic elixir. that’s the stuff that keeps me interacting with the world, which is always what works best.

Wow, this started out as a quick entry about how the only real flaw to my apartment is the lack of access to a fresh toasted bagel in the immediate vicinity, but look what happened. Hmmm, that’s why I keep writing, I think. I surprise even myself when I see what actually comes out once I start.

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