The typography of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?”

I couldn’t help but notice how jar­ring the titles for Showtime’s “Who Is Amer­i­ca?” are, but I couldn’t put my fin­ger on why. It’s clear­ly some con­densed extra bold, which are often pret­ty ungain­ly, with some excep­tions (Futu­ra Bold Codensed, of Nike fame). My first thought was that it might be some­thing like Cal­ib­ri or Tahoma, some unsight­ly human­ist sans that was even pos­si­bly man­u­al­ly stretched.

I Googled around for a screen­shot of the titles, and what I found instead was a lot of pro­mo­tion­al mate­r­i­al that pri­mar­i­ly does use Futu­ra Bold Con­densed:

(And Ari­al Bold, unfor­tu­nate­ly.)

I can’t help but won­der if the design­ers behind the titles in the aired show were try­ing to mim­ic Futu­ra Bold Con­densed, but either weren’t able to or didn’t know they weren’t using the same type­face.

I admit I had to look it up, but the type­face they are using is Aba­di Con­densed Extra Bold. Why this type­face? After a lit­tle more Googling I learned that Aba­di is includ­ed in sev­er­al Microsoft prod­ucts.

What isn’t includ­ed in most Microsoft prod­ucts? Futu­ra Bold Con­densed.

That’s just not what “is the new” means

I know I’m the last and prob­a­bly least sig­nif­i­cant per­son to weigh in on this, but this “Safari is the New IE” arti­cle that I didn’t read when it came out three months ago has been tucked away in the back of my mind since then, and I’ve final­ly put my fin­ger on the sim­ple rea­son it both­ers me.

[M]y point was to com­pare Safari to IE in terms of 1) not keep­ing up with new stan­dards, 2) main­tain­ing a cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy, and 3) play­ing a monop­o­lis­tic role, by not allow­ing oth­er ren­der­ing engines on iOS. Those accu­sa­tions are pret­ty unde­ni­able.

[…]

Per­son­al­ly what I want out of this whole debate is for Apple to real­ize that the web is start­ing to move on with­out them, and that their weird iso­la­tion­ism and glacial release cycle are not going to win them any favors in this new, dynam­ic web com­mu­ni­ty.

First of all, what does it mean to “be an Inter­net Explor­er”? What did Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent? A monop­oly, sure, to con­sumers and cor­po­rate attor­neys from the 1990s. “A cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy”? Maybe, though that’s not what comes to my mind. It also had a blue icon and a six-syl­la­ble name, but these are acci­dents — they’re not what Inter­net Explor­er was.

What Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent­ed to web devel­op­ers, the bulk of that article’s audi­ence, is not a pop­u­lar brows­er lag­ging behind mod­ern stan­dards, but a pop­u­lar brows­er egre­gious­ly dis­obey­ing estab­lished stan­dards. There is no Safari equiv­a­lent (that I know of, and almost cer­tain­ly not as sig­nif­i­cant) as, say, IE’s dou­ble-mar­gin bug. Every web devel­op­er who’s wres­tled with IE has tear­ful­ly ref­er­enced Explor­er Exposed! and QuirksMode for the sixth time in a week, their links in Google’s results seem­ing an even deep­er pur­ple than oth­ers. Every web devel­op­er has har­bored a sense of loom­ing dread as they glee­ful­ly devel­op in Chrome and Fire­fox, know­ing that there will soon be the reck­on­ing of hav­ing to fix what­ev­er IE bugs they’re will­ful­ly ignor­ing, but for right now it feels so good not to have to write ter­ri­ble, hacky code to sup­port a ten-year-old brows­er, and maybe my boss will announce tomor­row that we offi­cial­ly don’t sup­port IE 6 any­more?

This, I think, is where the back­lash comes from. “Devel­op­ing for Safari” is bare­ly a thing. “Devel­op­ing for IE” was hell. To see the two com­pared in — yes — a click­baity way is mad­den­ing.

Chris Coyi­er on PostC­SS:

We know that specs change. It hap­pens all the time. Seems weird to base a syn­tax on a non-final spec. What hap­pens when the spec changes? Do you change the lan­guage and let exist­ing code break? How is that future-proof? Or sup­port all past for­mats? Mean­ing the lan­guage isn’t real­ly based on future CSS, it’s based on any exper­i­men­tal idea that was con­sid­ered?

These have been exact­ly my thoughts since hear­ing about CSS post-proces­sors. How can peo­ple hon­est­ly believe that the code they’re writ­ing is future-proof? Sass source files cer­tain­ly are prone to “spec rot”, but the CSS they gen­er­ate isn’t (at least, inso­far as any­thing can be immune to it).

On writ­ing real CSS (again) | CSS-Tricks

Understanding GNU Screen’s hardstatus strings

My cur­rent devel­op­ment set­up revolves main­ly around Vim and GNU Screen. I use Screen only to keep ses­sions run­ning between work days or in case I get dis­con­nect­ed, but late­ly I’ve been tempt­ed to try using dif­fer­ent win­dows inside Screen. In order to make this eas­i­er, I want­ed one of those sta­tus lines that shows you all your win­dows as “tabs”.

Con­fig­ur­ing this sta­tus line (the “hard­ware sta­tus line” or, as I’ll call it, “hard­sta­tus”) is done with a sin­gle, often long string of char­ac­ters in ~/.screenrc that at first can look entire­ly baf­fling:

hardstatus string "%{= KW} %H [%`] %{= Kw}|%{-} %-Lw%{= bW}%n%f %t%{-}%+Lw %=%C%a %Y-%M-%d"

Exact­ly.

To my dis­may, almost every­thing I can find about hard­sta­tus through Google are just dumps of oth­er people’s strings, with lit­tle to no expla­na­tion about why they do what they do – it’s easy to imag­ine that the peo­ple who post them hard­ly know why they do what they do, either. GNU’s offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion isn’t ter­ri­bly help­ful.

After final­ly deci­pher­ing a lot of what goes on in these strings, I want­ed to spell it out to any­body else who might be hunt­ing around for half a clue about this voodoo. There are (more than?) a few things I haven’t cov­ered here, of course – trun­ca­tion and con­di­tion­als, name­ly – but this should be enough to get you start­ed.

Con­tin­ue →

A fairer, more conscientious alternative to AdBlock Plus

Hav­ing just stum­bled across an arti­cle advo­cat­ing against AdBlock Plus (via Lea Ver­ou), I decid­ed to revis­it my set­tings for rel­a­tive­ly nui­sance-free brows­ing in Fire­fox.

For a long time I’ve done devel­op­ment work and writ­ing for a site that keeps its lights on through adver­tis­ing, so I sym­pa­thize with con­tent-cre­ators’ need for (and frus­tra­tion with) ads. It’s a nec­es­sary evil, and I’ve always found it a bit dis­heart­en­ing to see AdBlock Plus at the top of every “Pop­u­lar Plu­g­ins” list (whether for Chrome, Fire­fox, or Safari). Worse, there seems to be a sense of enti­tle­ment among savvy inter­net users, telling them that they shouldn’t have to endure ads. Com­mon­ly this might be veiled as being “anti-cor­po­rate” or some oth­er such vague excuse, but the real rea­sons are usu­al­ly the same as those behind pira­cy: it’s just nice not to have to pay for things, whether through eye­balls, band­width, or dol­lars.

(None of this is to say that I am entire­ly inno­cent on these points.)

Still, there are some trou­bling com­mon prac­tices among the more insid­i­ous of these JavaScript embeds, and I think there is some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in cir­cum­vent­ing them. But one doesn’t need to block every adver­tise­ment to severe­ly dimin­ish adver­tis­ers’ abil­i­ty to, say, keep track of one’s brows­ing habits.

Here are the things you can do to make your brows­ing a lit­tle more pri­vate and safe, while still (most­ly) allow­ing the sites you love to pay their bills. These tips will be writ­ten for Fire­fox users (though the equiv­a­lent plu­g­ins are read­i­ly avail­able in Chrome and Safari), and won’t include things that read­ers of this site will prob­a­bly already know about (e.g., avoid­ing “watch movies free” sites and their ilk, and dis­abling pop-ups).

Con­tin­ue →

If Apple makes a watch

I don’t claim to be any kind of Apple pun­dit, but I have some hunch­es about what their watch will be like if and when they release one.

The two fac­tors I see as being vital are price and sim­plic­i­ty.

Price

The Galaxy Gear starts at $299, which is a lot more, I think, than the aver­age per­son (i.e., non-Android zealots) are will­ing to spend on a watch that they have to charge every night. A suc­cess­ful watch, one that gets into the hands of mil­lions of peo­ple, will have to be clos­er to the “Apple impulse buy” price of the iPods Nano — at most $249, but I think they could do it for $199. (The Peb­ble E Ink watch is $150.) To reach that price point, an Apple watch will lack, for instance, a cam­era and a speak­er, which are includ­ed in the Galaxy Gear.

Con­tin­ue →

HTML indent settings in Vim

Despite not agree­ing with all of it, “Just Use Sub­lime Text” (an invec­tive against Vim — or, more accu­rate­ly, against rec­om­mend­ing Vim to any­one who isn’t already indoc­tri­nat­ed by it) by Andrew Ray is an inter­est­ing read. The sec­tion deal­ing with indent­ing in par­tic­u­lar struck a chord with me:

Paste this into an emp­ty buffer:

<div>
<p>
<span>foo</span>
</p>
</div>

:set ft=html and then gg=G. Let me know what you get. In all seri­ous­ness, nev­er, ever tell me what you get.

As I said in a tweet, what I got didn’t offend me too much. But many peo­ple would argue that the <span> tag should be indent­ed inside the <p> tag. I’d prob­a­bly do this myself, actu­al­ly — and there have been aspects of Vim’s indent­ing that irk me. So I set about find­ing a solu­tion.

Con­tin­ue →

Things I’ve noticed about the Kindle Paperwhite

First of all, it’s ter­rif­ic.

I was sur­prised to find that the front­light can nev­er be turned com­plete­ly off while the Kin­dle is awake.

Also regard­ing the front­light, I’m pleas­ant­ly sur­prised that, when it’s set at a mod­est lev­el in a dim­ly-lit room, it has the appear­ance of not being lit at all, but mere­ly of being more “white” than it is and as a result reflect­ing more ambi­ent light, almost mag­i­cal­ly so. I didn’t expect to want to leave the light on all the time, but for this rea­son, I do.

When set too high, or when in a too-dark room, there is an appear­ance of uneven­ness with the light­ing, but it’s not ter­ri­bly dis­tract­ing.

What is a bit dis­tract­ing is how sur­re­al it can look when some­thing (like your thumb or head) is cast­ing a shad­ow on the sur­face in cer­tain light­ing; the area around the shad­ow looks most­ly illu­mi­nat­ed by the ambi­ent light, and the area under the shad­ow has an odd blue glow to it, since the frontlight’s effect is more appar­ent there.

Hav­ing fonts oth­er than Cae­cil­ia is nice, although I can’t imag­ine any­body want­i­ng to read for any length of time in Futu­ra or Hel­veti­ca. Baskerville is of course clas­sic for type­set­ting books, but because of its del­i­cate let­ter­forms and small x-height doesn’t real­ly suit the (rel­a­tive­ly) low-con­trast and (rel­a­tive­ly) low-res­o­lu­tion Kin­dle. There doesn’t seem to be an ide­al “small” font size for Baskerville, at least not for my eyes. For these rea­sons I’ve so far stuck with Palati­no, a font that I don’t real­ly like very much, but which is less “artificial”-feeling than Cae­cil­ia, any­way.

The new UI ele­ments (and the font in which they’re set, some Futu­ra-like geo­met­ric I can’t iden­ti­fy) are real­ly attrac­tive. You can tell a lot of time was spent here and it gives the device a lot more per­son­al­i­ty and fin­ish.

As expect­ed, I’m frus­trat­ed by the lack of a hard­ware page-turn but­ton, par­tic­u­lar­ly while read­ing in bed, where (with the face of the Kin­dle point­ed slight­ly down­ward) my thumb becomes a cru­cial sup­port point, and is there­fore not free to tap the screen to turn pages. In oth­er inter­ac­tions I’m also forced to use two hands quite a bit.

It was worth the upgrade even if only for the front­light, and despite its small and few draw­backs, the over­all improve­ment (over the Kin­dle 3, I should men­tion) make it a no-brain­er.