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July 2006


One of those nerdly things that makes me break out in a cold sweat from time to time is the extraordinary fragility of digital information. Now that just about every crucial piece of information in my life is stored as bits and bytes, my brain shuts down in a panic whenever I think about how impermanent stuff like that really is. No one is going to find my iPhoto library or blog archives one thousand years from now and be able to study them.

Of course, I have to confront this issue all the time. I regularly back up data, but it's still all going on to the latest flavor of the months used for storage. Over the years I’ve transferred all my work from floppies to Syquests to Zip disks to Jaz disks to DAT tapes to CDs to DVDs to portable hard disks. I have to sweep through all my archives now and then just to make sure nothing's been damaged or corrupted.

However, I still have drawings I made almost thirty years ago, and my original birth certificate. that’s the magic of paper, my friends. Paper is the 800-pound-gorilla of the digital revolution. Even shitty paper tends to last longer than any digital storage medium. Good paper will can easily outlast you and everyone you know. I’ve flipped though stuff printed on paper that’s older than the U.S. Constitution, and every letter on it was still clear as day.

Of course, most of the information stored electronically would be barely intelligible on paper, not to mention really dull. Source code is murky, after all. So maybe out need to record things has grown beyond paper, but our ability to save all those words and numbers and ideas hasn't yet. So, like Tom, the seemingly simple question of what five things would I print out before the collapse of the internet almost paralyzes me with anxiety when I consider the implications. It's like the challenge presented in Fahrenheit 451 (memorize one book to preserve it) or The Time Machine (bring only five books with you to help help rebuild civilization), but even scarier in many ways, because the reality of the problem isn't so far-fetched.

So load up on some toner, some decent paper, and file cabinet kids: you never know what could happen.

I’m So 2-Dimensional

Make yourself a Simpson! (Thanks for the tip-off, Max.)

Sparky Simpson

Feel free to link to you own Simpson in the comments...

Blue Review

Yes, the multicolored Crunchberries they sell these days are just as tasty as ever, but they also use all these blue and green dyes that turn your poo the most alarming, electric shades imaginable. Why don't they say that on the box as a sales incentive? Kids would love it.

Farewell to the SparkyMobile

The latest offering in this Summer's big clearance sale is the rarely used SparkyMobile:


I’ve been planning to have a big "Everything Must Go!" sale in September — and probably still will — but poverty is becoming a real issue at the moment, and I’ve been in a bit of a panic about how I'll actually eat and pay bills and whatnot without liquidating a lot of stuff right away.

This Summer has been a nasty confluence of financial issues: the class I was supposed to teach was cancelled, my health insurance has gone up to a staggering amount of money per month, I’ve been getting a ton of dental work done, and so on and so on. Unless some of those overdue freelance paychecks start rolling in soon, things are going to get pretty bleak.

The maddening part is that I’ve cobbled together a decent plan for next year: loans, scholarships, a steady trickle of freelance income, and socialized medicine will keep me fed and housed will I go to school as long as I maintain modest habits. The unfortunate collapse of my summer budget scheme, though, has ensured that it'll be a minor miracle if I can make it as far as the end of September, when my next chapter gets underway. For the moment I’m out of cash, out of credit, and devoting as much time as I can to finishing up a backlog of freelance work so I can get out the rest of those invoices.


All this could be yours! Cheap!

Although I splurged some on furniture when I fled from Astoria and settled back in Brooklyn, it's been a pretty threadbare year. I’ve been pretty sure for most of it that I’d be leaving this Fall, with very little idea of when or where I’d settle down after school. With the future so cloudy, it's pretty easy to unload so much stuff. Starting from scratch somewhere else seems slightly more appealing than picking up where I left off, or finding a way to haul an apartment full of stuff again. I’ve lugged an absurd amount of stuff from home to home ever since I left for college, and the effort of doing that over and over has made me a lot less sentimental about things than I once was. This will be the third time since coming back to New York that I’ve massively reduced the amount of treasures/crap that I own, and I have to admit that I really wish I could let go of all of it once and for all.

Letting go, though, has never been one of my skills, even though I’m a master of moving on.

The Willow That Never Was

OMG! Unaired Buffy pilot! I had no idea such a thing even existed. Internet, how could you have failed me for so long? You can still see the early seeds of the brilliance that was to come, even with the awkward presence of the clunky girl who would be replaced (wisely) by Alyson Hannigan. Observe...

Another Kind Word

And somehow I missed yet another glowing review from CyberSocket back in February. Thanks guys!

(Read the rest...)

Censorship in 17th-Century England

In Charles T. Jacobi's Gesta Typographica (London, 1897, although I was only reading passages reprinted in 1964 at the Maidstone College of Art), there's a mention of a decree made by the Star Chamber on July 11, 1637, that limited the number of master printers in in England to just twenty, and also limited the number of type-founders to just four.

It was a startling tidbit, which made slightly more sense after a little digging. The restriction of legally sanctioned printing to a handful of shops in London was intended as a way to make it as easy as possible for all publications in the kingdom to be monitored and censored by the court of Charles I, whose attempts to consolidate power led to the English Civil War. The 1637 decree was the most extreme of an escalating series of attempts to stifle dissent, often spread by means of pamphlets and books published by independent printers throughout the kingdom. Although small presses continued to produce seditious (in this case meaning anything not sanctioned by the crown) pamphlets and books, many unlicensed founders and printers were raided and arrested, and their equipment destroyed.

In terms of type history, I wonder how many punches, matrices, fonts, and examples were lost in all these purges. The literature I’ve seen so far only discusses the printers themselves, and doesn't say much about the foundries, or doesn't make clear if any of the printers had founders working with them under the same roof. It seems possible that entire strands of typographic development may have been snuffed out during this period.

(Note to self: Keep an eye out for other mentions of the censorship by the Star Chamber between 1632 and 1641, thereabouts.)

Next, Please

I got my student visa this morning, making my departure in September seem tht much more real. This also increases the potential disaster of losing my passport, which has been my only form on valid photo ID for the last couple of years. (Note to potential assailants: please go for my electronics and not my only means of proving I’m a real person who can travel at will. Thanks.)

Since I didn't know what the procedure would be at the UK Consulate, I wore the 12-dollar wedding suit so I could make a good impression if I needed to. It was overkill, since the scene was typical bureaucracy: all lines and plexiglass windows. Wearing a suit while out and about is actually a nice way to feel like a capable adult once and a while, but I definitely had to ditch the jacket before I got back to work. I wouldn;t want the engineers to thinking I was making the effort on their account.

They were showing a selection of programming from BBC America in the visa area. It was fun to catch some episodes of The Office again, but maybe not what we all needed to see as we were trappedin British bureaucratic hell already.

FYI, if you ever need to go to the consulate, they do not want you to bring any electronics like cell phones or cameras with you. This is a pretty big hassle if you've finally broken yourself of a watch habit like I have, since my little electronic devices are my only means of telling time. Have you noticed how hard it is to find a clock in a public place these days? Try it and see. I’m sure it's some kind of retail strategy that encourages more shopping in stores, but in other places it just seems like no one bothers any more. SO when the guard outside the consulate told me to come back in 15 minutes to line up for my appointment, I could only walk around the block a coupleof times and hope my estimate was good. When I had to wait an hour for my visa to be finished, I could only guage the passing of time by the number of station IDs on BBC. Clocks! Who knew they'd seem so vital at some point?

Book Design Tips

An informal but pretty clear and useful explanation of how to start designing book interiors, writeen by India Amos at India, Ink.

And while we're on the subject of books, here's a bunch of interesting (maybe even useful) statistics about book publishing, selling, and reading, pulled together by Dan Poynter at Para Publishing.

His Skin Was Pale and His Eye Was Odd

I am deeply, deeply exhausted (and alarmingly impoverished) from a week of entertaining my friend Miki, making a rare guest visit from her native Dubuque. I’m certainly not grumpy: in fact, I’ve had one of the most lovely weeks I’ve had in a while, despite the pace and the incessant hemorrhaging of cash from my already depleted bank account.

Sweeney Todd kills Pirelli

A particular highlight was what will now be known as the Bloodiest Weekend on Broadway. We caught The Lieutenant of Inishmore (dismemberment, on-stage execution-style killings, 5 gallons of stage blood, side-splitting laughs) on Friday night, and then a matinee of Sweeney Todd (throat-slitting, pie-baking, Patti Lupone in a mini-skirt) on Saturday. I also scratched some mosquito bites with more zeal than recommended at Cetral Park on Sunday, but that was slightly less of a bloodbath. A Broadway show is a rare indulgence for me, and two in as many days was a first, but it's hard to regret splurging on half-proce tickets for two such outstanding experiences.

We also saw the mostly unfortunate The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green, which was a much greater tragedy than the plays in terms of entertainment value. Avoid it all costs, I beseech you. One of these days, I'll finally learn to stop giving Quad movies the benefit of the doubt.

Jimmy Olsen and his big lens Superman Returns was a much better movie — a little weak from a dramaturgical point of view, but at least it was really fun and cool to watch. I’m a comics geek, so naturally there were many nits that could be picked, but mostly I liked that the flying was done so much better than ever before, and that he actually looked all muscly and powerful. Brandon Routh (and his alleged super-bulge) was much less wooden in action than he looks in photos, so my worst fears about the movie were laid to rest. Also, I totally have a super-crush on the new Jimmy Olsen. (Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve had a think for just about every Jimmy Olsen, including Grant Morrison's latest All-Star version. It must be my penchant redheads, nerds, and sidekicks coming together in one giant fanboy implosion.)

I’ve also helped Miki consume some of the many varieties of cuisine not readily available in Dubuque. Again, I’m much poorer but quite satisfied by the indulgence. I’m also big as a house, but my student starvation diet will probably take care of that before long.

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