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January 2009

Don't Panic

I’m like a good galactic hitchhiker, roaming the city with my trusty guide and, more importantly, my towel. Why, you ask? Well, once again I’ve been forced to go without hot water all week, so I’ve taken to casting about for friends with available showers when I get too demoralized from yet another wash-up with a saucepan of water heated on the stove. Bringing my own towel under the circumstances just seems polite.

Now, if I could just get that hot water flowing again, I might be able to avoid a complete breakdown.

Teaching new dogs old tricks

My associate Mr. Moore — a popular but occasionally controversial contributor to Design Assembly — has written another great piece. This time around he's kicking off what will hopefully be a series of "old book reviews" by considering the pearls of wisdom contained in Carl Dair's 1952 book Design with Type.

And if your curiosity is piqued after reading Ian's review, you can also find the whole thing preserved at Google Book Search.

Highs and lows

Between Barack Obama's inauguration and my crush postponing what probably wasn't even going to be a date anyway, it's been a very emotional afternoon for me. Please send hugs.

Magical mystery tub

Originally uploaded by ultrasparky.

I’m reading my way through a stack of old issues of Metropolis (my sister recently handed me all the back issues from my subscription that she received after I left the country in September '06), and this Susan Szenasy editorial from March 2007 really resonated with me.

I love having a good soak in a a good tub, a pleasure that’s become an acute craving now that I can't even guarantee a quick shower with hot water in the shithole where I currently live. Oaklands had a pretty spectacular tub, but even that was easily surpassed by the at my friend Tim's flat (shown), where I house-sit from time to time. That one is pure heaven.

I agree with Szenasy's basic requirements for a good tub: deep, made of metal rather than plastic, with a good angle for reclining. I’d add one more feature that can make or break a good bath for me: natural light. There's something about a generous flood of natural light — even weak, midwinter British light — that completes the experience for me.

Sometimes a nice, hot bath can be so perfectly relaxing that I struggle with it. I’m so used to being tense and stressed out that I can feel my whole body rebel against the relaxing effects of a long, hot soak. In a twisted way, I have to concentrate on letting myself unwind. Sad, but true.

The Internet says I know something

It gives me a mild flash of nerdy glee to know that I am now cited as a source for information in not one but two articles on Wikipedia. If you ever have any need or desire to read about Microsoft's Cambria typeface or the ubiquitous Times Roman, you will find sections of those articles that draw directly from my MA dissertation on typefaces for mathematics.

It's flattering, of course, but it's also the kind of thing that reminds me that while Wikipedia is exceptionally useful, articles you find there are not actually great citations in themselves. Information on Wikipedia is supposed to be verifiable. That is, it should ideally point to another source to back up what it says there. In the case of my two citations, Wikipedia points to my dissertation (kindly hosted at Mark Jamra's fantastic Type Culture site). Even that, though, is not a primary source, since everything I wrote is the result of research looking back to the actual primary sources. So the articles on Wikipedia are — in this case, and in many others — references to references to sources, not reliable information in and of themselves. They're useful, sure, but just starting points if you're really trying to get to the bottom of something.

To do: museums

Hunterian MuseumMoBPA

File away for ongoing reference: London's 70 best unseen museums. Once in a while, Time Out does exactly what I want it to do.

This could effectively become my itinerary for the next year. Of particular interest:

Unreleased, untitled Gill typeface

Note: This is really a response to a question posed in this Typophile thread, but I’m also jotting down some info here so I can find it more easily some day.

In September 1935 Gill drew for Monotype a stressed sans-serif type with many prophetic qualities: it looked forward to Hermann Zapf's 'serifless roman' Optima of nearly a quarter of a century later. Although it was given a series number (430), and a few trial sorts were cut, it was never issued to the trade.

— Sebastian Carter, Twentieth Century Type Designers

I dug around a little bit in the archives at Monotype and was finally able to track down a few traces of the Eric Gill's unreleased Series 430, a slightly flared sans serif in the Optima/Albertus mode, made at 30 point.

First of all, here's a scan of a photocopy of the trial print, a test setting a few characters cut to show the basic relationships of caps to lowercase, round shapes to vertical strokes, and the cap and x-heights to the ascenders to descenders. I wasn't able to track down the original print made from the sorts themselves, but this still shows where the design was headed:

Trial setting of Eric Gill's Series 430

The caps look pretty heavy compared to the lowercase letters, at least for my taste, and I can't say I love the overall feeling. It certainly does feel like Eric Gill's work, though. Maybe that’s part of the trouble: it reminds me too much of others typefaces of his, without having quite enough character of its own. Some of the other glyphs are more distinctive, but since not all were cut for the trial it's difficult to say if they would have helped the overall feel.

(Read the rest...)

Girl, get me out of this

Note to self: Beg, borrow, or steal the capital required to move out of this frosty, ramshackle hellhole when lease expires, if not long before.

Hard Knock Life

All this business with the being broke and the tepid heat and the total lack of hot water and the horrifying hallways and the sketchy bathroom seemed really cool and Bohemian when I was 26 and living in a cool warehouse in Brooklyn and just getting on my feet, but I’m 38 and living in the attic of a shithole in Tooting and it's just ghetto now.

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