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March 2007

Box o' Crack

Care Package

Dave knows me intimately well, as only one's best friend or deadliest foe truly can. Sometimes he can be both all in one, as shown by this care package he sent me. On the one hand, I melted with joy when I got back form Italy to discover a box filled with three month's worth of comics, a Hot Wheels Batmobile, and a bag of my favorite candy. (Yes, at heart we are both ten years old. Deal with it.) On the other hand, that bag was twice as full yesterday and I’ve spent a lot of time in bed reading comics that might have been spent doing laundry or possibly...I don't know...working on my typeface or dissertation after a week of living in denial about them. Damn you, Zubkoff! And thank you.

And while I’ve been faffing about with candy, comics, and catching up with life, one of the undergrads on the trip has been processing, printing, and posting some of the most extraordinarily lovely photos of Rome and Florence you ever did see. Oh, to be young and have that much energy again!

Cuteness Trumps Kerning

Diesel SweetiesOh, my beloved Diesel Sweeties, you've done it again. At its worst — and it's rarely bad — this comic is still adorable and comfortably nerdy. At its best, it's like those crazy pixelated robots have escaped from the eccentric universe inside my own soul. It's funny because it's true.

This sums up everything that makes me occasionally feel like it's futile to worry about good typography. Should I really ditch my increasingly high-quality solid text face with its dash of "salt and pepper" and just do something cute? Cuteness will always trump kerning in this world. Sigh.

The Weary Traveller

Morning in Reading

This is what morning looks like after getting back in the middle of the night from an action- and inscription-packed week in Rome and Florence. All in all, that was one class trip that beat the hell out of a going to Bear Mountain for a picnic and a student-faculty basketball game. Aside from a handful of acutely bittersweet moments, it was an incredible week and a nice way for my classmates and I to enjoy ourselves outside of scenic Reading. But I am damn tired, so for the next few days there will be many naps to take, many errands to run, many e-mails to write, and many, many, many photos to sort and edit. More to come...

First Blooms of Spring

Everywhere I’ve studied and everywhere I’ve taught have exposed me to the same phenomenon: at the first blush of Spring, there will be an explosion of delicious manflesh wandering about basking in the end of Winter and making it hard for me to concentrate. Good grief.

The 20th Century Was So Colorful!

The Early Swanktuary

I was sorting some old files and found this picture from the early glory days of the Swanktuary, as my old apartment in Brooklyn came to be known. It's actually kind of difficult to look at (and no, I’m not talking about the colorful palette — I like that part): life would get so complicated for the next few years, and I totally failed to handle the complications gracefully or effectively. I was almost a fully functioning member of society back then. But before illness, depression, bungled friendships, and damaged relationships there was this big room where I could finally show off all my cool stuff and have lots of friends over for parties and enjoy the fin de siècle in style.


Wow, that was a bad idea. I posted a sample image of the typeface I’ve been working on, but I looked at it for a few seconds and realized it looks really, really shitty on screen. It's slowly — sloooooooooowly — coming together, at least in print, but there's nothing like a fresh view to send you back to the drawing board. Learning is hard!

(But at least I did really well on my first big essay, so I’m not a total fuck-up.)

Lunar Module

Sadly, I now know that a full lunar eclipse isn't quite as cool-looking as a solar eclipse. It has its mysterious charm, but it's not quite so dramatic. Also? Much less photogenic.

But maybe the lunar eclipse really does have some paganistic magic power, and that power is punishing me for my lack of reverence. When I turned on my camera this morning to retrieve my blurry photos, I got a disturbing "lens error" that leaves my camera — and this is the good effectively useless. That would be crappy enough on its own, but I leave for a school trip to Rome and Florence in a couple of weeks, and I doubt I can get Nikon to service the damn thing before I leave. Curses! Maybe if I sacrifice a stray cat or something in the cemetery up the road tonight things will snap back to normal.

Sparky and the busted camera

Essay Feedback

Box of matrices

We're finally getting feedback on the essays we completed back in January, drawing a long period of uncertainty to a conclusion. I haven't done any kind of academic writing in quite a long time, and considering the rather modest expectations placed on writing for people in art programs in the States, it might be said that I’ve never done any serious academic writing.

It was hard just to choose a topic for the essay. It was suggested that it should be no less an effort than a dissertation, just restricted to about 4,000 words. that’s more than I’ve written at one time before, but still short enough to demand a pretty tight focus for a topic. I finally settled on an overview of Monotype's 4-line system for setting math in hot metal, a technique they introduced back in the 50s to try and automate the setting of math a bit more than had been possible before. I knew I wanted to do something about math so I could make a little headway on my dissertation topic, and the more I read back in the Fall the more it seemed that everything happening in the early and mid 20th century came down to Monotype. I had a hunch that whatever Monotype made available had a huge effect on how people expected math to look ever since, so I wanted to see what their type for math was all about.

I started worrying that it would be hard to write enough, but after a lot of research at St. Bride, in Spur H, and in Special Collections, and a couple of invaluable demos of hot-metal equipment (first by David Bolton at the Alembic Press, and then by Mick Stocks here in the department) I began to realize that I easily had enough for a full dissertation and would have to struggle to present it concisely enough for the essay. I would have to explain the basics of hot-metal composition clearly enough to make it clear what was different about the 4-line method, and I would also have to analyze the new version of Times New Roman that was introduced to work with 4-line math. The topic was basically a history, and it was a struggle to find something original to say. It would have been easy enough to make suppositions, but it was a lot herder to arrange the facts in a way that set up a final conclusion.

In the end it turned out well. I certainly wasn't convinced of that, but Gerry's feedback started out with: "This was a real pleasure." He thought there were a couple of details that could have used elaboration (more illustration of how character widths were controlled in the caster, more primary-source reactions from customers who used the 4-line system) but on the whole he though I did a good job of presenting the facts, and he liked that I went beyond just the technical details and concluded some things about the business decisions at play and why Monotype went for an evolutionary solution rather than a revolutionary one. He also said that he was very curious about some ideas I threw in at the end about how digital typesetting took off in other directions, and that’s good, since that’s basically what my dissertation will be all about. "Publishable" was probably the best word that came up during the feedback, which was gratifying.

The whole thing can be read here, if you're nerdy enough to be curious.

Monotype Caster

End of Day

Whiteknights Sunset

Nice weather is too rare in these parts to let it pass unnoticed.

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