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April 2007

Smashing Time

There was a touch of crazy in the air this past weekend in London. The good kind, granted — the serendipitous kind that makes cities lots of fun. It just kept coming at me, though.

I went in to meet up with an old pal who was spending the weekend in town, and that seemed like a good enough reason to blow off schoolwork and actually enjoy my last official weekend of spring break.

(Read the rest...)

No Turning Back

I finally had to change the region encoding on my laptop's DVD player this weekend so that I could start watching the complete first season of The Bionic Woman, perhaps my all-time favorite show from childhood. (She was so capable yet so sensitive! And fembots! I had no power to resist.) You are only allowed to change your encoding a few times, so clearly I can't take the risk of ever moving back to the United States.

Where Angels Go, Auntie Mame Follows

As a survivor of an all-boys Catholic school that threw the most hotly anticipated Catholic school dances on the Upper East Side, I completely adore and understand that clip from the sweet-n-sassy 1969 classic Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. In fact, I love that whole movie so much that I urge you to appreciate that clip for its low-budget quirks and total lack of lip-synching, because you need to give yourself over to how much that ass is being kicked by that snappy Boyce & Hart. If you ever see the whole movie (and you should) that tune will work its way into the deepest crevices of your consciousness for days to come. Just have a listen:

And if you love Rosalind Russell as a tart, uptight nun (and really, why wouldn't you?) you have to see The Trouble with Angels, to which this was a sequel.

As you can imagine, I have a soft spot for any movie that makes Catholic school look like a crazy time filled with the endless capers of vivacious scamps just trying to have a little fun despite the earnest hand-wringing or the frustrated bellows of exasperated nuns and clergymen. (See also Heaven Help Us, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, et al.) Catholic school was nothing like that (well, not most of the time, and certainly not until high school), but it's nice to remember it like as if it were.


I imagine there are about 10 people who still bother to read this, and that small handful of you probably just check in now and then in case I happen to post pictures of some interesting typeface or start talking about something salacious and personal (just like in the old days when there were salacious things that actually happened to me). I guess my mom still checks to make sure I haven't died or something, too.

But just in case, I wanted to mention that I’m heading to Frankfurt next week to go to the TypoTechnica conference (to learn stuff and hopefully shmooze anyone willing to hire me in a few months), and then after that I'll be passing through Amsterdam and Brussels. In case you are among the microscopic subsection of people out there who I have actually met and who might actually be at that conference or in either of those cities, let me know so we can hang out!

In the meantime, it's back to numerals and italics and back episodes of Doctor Who (I finally understand the appeal) for me.

Death and...

I owe thousands of dollars in taxes! (This comes as no surprise.) I am owed thousands of dollars in overdue paychecks! (This also comes as no surprise.) I don't have what it takes to turn tricks for tax money! (Again, not a shocker.)

Sigh. Life goes on.

Jeepers Creepers

Venus Fly Trap

I had pinkeye when I was a kid and got so annoyed with how my eyelids kept getting stuck together with gunk that I cut off all my eyelashes with a pair of scissors. Big scissors, if I recall. Remarkably, I didn't stab myself in the eye, but my mom was kind of freaked and furious about the whole thing. Aside from the obvious "you could have blinded yourself for life" line of reasoning, she insisted that my eyelashes would never grow back. I calmly responded that they were hair, so there was no reason why they wouldn't. (Well, I thought it. Under the circumstances I don't remember if I dared to contradict her.)

Guess who was right?

However, if baldness comes from the maternal gene, then she's having the last laugh, isn't she?

Passport Control

US Passport, old style

I was happy when I renewed my passport last year and knew that I could go for a decade or so with a chip-free passport, kicking it all old-skool without worrying about how easily my primary form of ID might be hacked (or the inevitable problems that will come when the chip itself proves to be obsolete). I also figured that the graphic design of the passport would only go downhill, from something a bit uninspired but understated to something downright garish. And I was right! Phew, I dodged a bullet there. Maybe by the time I renew in 2015 our passports will feature a bit more refined taste and fewer cringe-inducing Photoshop-y collages of American Mythology 101.

Nationalism — any country's nationalism — always sets me on edge a bit, and I guess a passport is not the kind of artifact that would avoid it, but could we do it with a little more class? Perhaps a bit more visual sophistication? Security features are nice and good, but there are plenty of examples out there of how to implement them with a bit more elegance. have you ever seen a Swiss passport? Super classy (and the pictures at that link don't even show the prettiest bits). It's bad enough the that the most striking feature of our currency redesign was the suggestion of a stain from some spilled tea: couldn't the new passports have strived for a little more elegance?

Settling on Proportions

We had an informal group crit a couple of weeks ago, and it was good to get feedback from more people after so much time alone with my typeface. It was no surprise that there are still a bunch of glyphs I need to finesse, but overall the comments made it clear that I needed to take a good, hard look at the overall proportions before I got locked in any further. I had played with the ratio of the x-height to the ascenders and descenders a bit in the earlier stages of development, but it was hard to evaluate the differences when I was just making manual changes to a limited character set.

Since I’m mostly happy with the overall design of the alphabet — and since other people seem to agree that the proportions aren't quite right yet — I decided it was time to conquer my fear of multiple masters and run some tests. Luckily, setting up the masters was as easy as I’d hoped (although there's probably a more efficient way to do it than I did). I took the most recent version of the font for Master 1, and then made a copy with a few adjustments for Master 2:

  1. I increased the overall size by 110%

  2. I dropped the ascenders, descenders, and caps back down to their original heights.

  3. I decreased the overall size by 90.91% to restore the original x-height and horizontal metrics, but with short ascenders, descenders, and caps.

I combined the two versions into a multiple master with an optical scaling axis and started generating some instances for comparison, extrapolating a bit past the original masters just for good measure. Here are a few sample glyphs to show the range (highlighting the ones I’m leaning toward at the moment):

Overall comparison

Text was still easy enough to read at the far end of the scale, with the very short descenders and caps, but I think it would be too challenging for lengthy book text. Also, assuming that mathematical and technical texts will mix a lot of material in with typical text, a little bit more detail above the x-height ought to make it easier to pick out the symbols and formulas mixed in with the words. Also, I’d still like to leave a little room for the ascenders and descenders to contract for small optical sizes.

I noticed looking at the tests there seems to be a point at which individual letters start to become tricky to recognize on their own. They might still combine into recognizable word shapes, but as stand-alone symbols, they could be a little tricky to identify readily. At a certain point the extenders become so out of scale with the x-height counters that they look more like awkward stems than anything else. I think the sweet spot falls between the original and my test:


Around this point the extenders hold their own and the caps stop looking quite so condensed at they did in the original. I think an instance with slightly taller ascenders will be the best point from which to move forward. Once I pick the right one, I'll need to fix the curves and details and scale the whole set up to fit the em square better. I want to get these vertical proportions settled before I move onto the figures and italics, though, since those will be harder to scale.

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