On This Or That Date: November 10


1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.

1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.

1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.

1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.

1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.

1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.

1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.

1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.

2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.

2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.

A Good Sign To See


First the routine news: comic strips on my mathematics blog. Plus I make reasons to include images of two of the comics so there’s no extra clicking through links for that. You like that, don’t you?

Now the exciting news. The auto care place that seems like it might be going through a slow-motion breakup announced by its sign board? It’s switched to this.

Auto Surgeon sign: No Act Of Kindness Is Ever Wasted
If that weren’t enough good news: they found a message that doesn’t require an ‘L’ or ‘7’ so they don’t have to use either of them upside-down to represent the other. I’m pretty sure that ‘W’ is a correct ‘W’ and not an upside-down ‘M’, based on how the vertical strokes on the ‘N’ appear.

Have to say, I don’t see how to read this except as a quiet announcement that there’s been some breakthrough in the cold-war-style relationship they’ve been working out. I’m glad. It’s been an awful year, compounding an absolutely brutal year. That an auto care place can have some chance at happiness can maybe be that first little flower proving that life will come again.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose a point after traders finally got around to listening to the Flophouse Podcast Movie Minute thing where Elliott pitches his Ziggy movie and they’re not sure if they’re more entertained or just awestruck by how he went on for seven and a half minutes possibly without taking a breath.

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About This Typeface


This book was typeset in Moins Michael. The typeface was first crafted by a now-unknown craftsman in 1540s Warsaw. We think he was well-liked in his circles at the time. It stayed behind to wait for the first typesetting machine to reach the Polish capital. This made a good laugh since at the time Krakow was the capital of Poland, and they’d had typesetting machines since like the 1470s. Good joke on everyone, wasn’t it?

The typeface was popular with authors who had much to write about fish. The descenders made for rather good hooks that didn’t tend to catch the boring kinds. This is a rare accomplishment for typefaces of the era. Even much later ones such as Caslon are known to attract interest from ugly and unattractively-named fish that we only catch and eat because we’ve already eaten everything else in the sea.

The typeface was implicated in various partisan struggles during the era of the English Civil War, the Protectorate, and the Restoration. Following a well-placed tip it fled London just ahead of the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Though safe it did lose some of its less interesting letters, such as tet or cade. Though this would lose it much work in the setting of Phoenician texts, the typeface was now more slender and nimble. It enjoyed a reputation for hussling better and this would serve it well in the times ahead.

Moins Michael held out for a long while against an italic form, claiming that such a space-saving form was beneath its dignity. So it might be, but then you have to explain its blackletter variant. The best we can say for that is it was the 1740s. This explains all, to those who are sympathetic.

A major opportunity for the typeface came about in 1869, when it had a chance to appear in the evacuation-of-Moscow sequences in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s War And Peace. This was thanks to the help of some friends playing a prank, whom the typeface later forgave. One of them was only forgiven in 2010, so don’t go thinking it’s a patsy. It’s just willing to be reasonable when there aren’t any alternatives left.

The Great Depression was a difficult time for it, but you could say that about anyone. But, despite temptation, Moins Michael held on to its investment in selenium stocks an as a result had a nifty latter half of the decade. There were persistent rumors the typeface was bribing comedians to make jokes about electric eye and other photo-sensing technologies so as to boost its stocks. But no allegations were ever proven. And most of the investigators recovered from when they accidentally slugged themselves across the back with crowbars eighteen times.

The typeface returned to Warsaw in 1954, but couldn’t find anyone it still remembered and the restaurants didn’t seem any too good. It was being fussy and wouldn’t even talk to anyone. It apologizes for the wasted trip, saying it now understands how to be a good tourist and more open to promising experiences. Case in point, in its 2006 visit it had nothing but great times and in the suburbs found the “most unbelievable” Thai place in existence. We could not verify the most-ness of its unbelievability before press time.

A noteworthy quirk that many of the typeface’s advocates praise is that Moins Michael has no space. Historically typesetters would use spaces from a compatible font, such as Garamond or Bodoni Extra Spaces. Computer versions of the typeface include a space created by the foundry company. Piracy lawsuits are often settled by the tell-tale differences in the interpolated spaces.

Moins Michael had hopes of being the first Western typeface to orbit on a spacecraft. Though it performed well in all the physical exercises it got cut from the program in favor of a sans serif typeface. That was to save weight. It considered bringing a discrimination lawsuit. But the courts have always been unwelcoming to this sort of complaint, being as so many of their documents are filed in monospace. It asserted to have no hard feelings about the matter, and did buy a flight to the International Space Station for one week in 2002.

This text was set in 14 point. It may appear smaller than that, owing to the typeface’s habit of leaving two or three points in the junk drawer just in case.

Momma demands I take back everything bad I ever said about Comic Sans


Over on my mathematics blog I had like a kerspillion comic strips to describe as having mathematics-related themes, so I got that taken care of. None of them involves really deep mathematical concepts, which is kind of a relief, although it does mean I was trying to find if there is anything interesting to say about punning “acute” and “a cute” angle. There isn’t. Sorry.

So let me chat a bit about the ongoing collapse of the very concept of artwork in comic strips. Mell Lazarus’s Momma I’ve mentioned before as shuffling its way toward madness, but lately it’s started intermittently running strips with computer-typeset letters. It’s always sad when a comic strip falls prey to this. The best-off strips are able to get typefaces based on the cartoonist’s lettering, and include some variants of each letter so that the result looks plausibly handwritten again. Lesser strips make do with more generic comic strip typefaces or, if all else fails, Comic Sans, which is not as bad as people make it out to be (admittedly, “Earth being swallowed by a black hole” is not as bad as people make Comic Sans out to be) but which is dull. Momma had fallen prey to Dread Helvetica several times, but here it’s fallen even farther into what I remember as Geneva, back in the early 90s when we thought PageMaker 4 was a pretty slick piece of newspaper-composition software. It’s stunning how a simple choice like typeface can make a wall of text a visually repulsive mass.

Momma reads off an awful lot of text presented in a horribly ugly way.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 25th of January, 2015.

But if you can hack your way through the visual terror you can at least appreciate the dialogue, written in the charming “Ransom note hastily translated into English” dialect, and as you let the syllables wash over you can hear the deranged omnipotent-terror computer of a 1950s movie or a lesser episode of Star Trek getting ready to demand you explain to it what logic there is in a “kiss”.

Margo pauses at a cafe which appears to be unenclosed and to have no counters, tables, seats, or menus, and orders breakfast.
Frank Bolle and Margaret Shulock’s Apartment 3-G for the 26th of January, 2015.

Meanwhile in Apartment 3-G the apparent ongoing war between artist Frank Bolle and writer Margaret Shulock continues, since the text is really sure that Margo is at a Manhattan cafe, while the art seems pretty confident that she’s just whirling around on the sidewalk barking out breakfast orders at random passers-by who kind of look like everybody else in Apartment 3-G only made of slightly dumpier putty. Who is right? Not, I think, the random passer-by who seems to think that wanting to have a Grand Slam Breakfast constitutes a “healthy appetite”.

Calm Urged As Art Exhibited Publicly


I wanted just to share the front page from the Lansing State Journal from the 4th of October. It’s mostly about a perfectly normal incident, the sprucing up of campus by covering some of it with public art. I get the 30-foot-tall pencils. They were one of the best ways to jot down notes back in the olden days when students were over 350 feet tall and used sheets of paper two-thirds the size of a baseball infield for their records. It’s a time worth remembering. I don’t get the bright red squiggly figure but I imagine it’s something useful in a note-taking app or whatever they do in classes anymore.

Lansing State Journal, 4 October 2014

Also I notice that the Lansing State Journal warned, “LCC UNVEILS PUBLIC ART” using a bigger typeface than it saw fit to use for the start of the Korean War. Public art can be confusing and uncertain, sure, but it hardly seems to be that alarming. They could have used a subheadline of maybe “Despair Unwarranted; There Is No Need To Panic”. Nevertheless, it’s a fine typeface they use for that headline, though. That R has character. It’s no Bodoni, I’ll admit that, but as sans serifs go it’s something.

The Modern Moral Crisis


So it started a normal enough morning, checking my social media to see what everybody on my Friends lists is upset about that I never heard of before while the e-mail gets around to loading. Before I could even form an opinion about whatever the Twitter-storm was (I still don’t know, because I’m one of those people so far back I still write e-mail with a hyphen) was the e-mail: if I didn’t send money to the below address soon, they’d have someone come in and redesign all my usual web sites.

I don’t want to give in to a protection racket, but, it’s a credible threat. There are so many weenie fonts and watery-pastel color choices with excessive whitespace that they could use to make sure I can’t find anything anymore, and I just know the next redesign is going to involve replacing all the nouns out there with blobby, circuit-board-style squiggles inside rounded squares because of the modern fad against having things like “words” look like real things such as “words”. Can I take the chance?

The Shrinking Mountain of New Zealand


I’d like to start out with a proof that I haven’t been to New Zealand. I feel like if I’m going to bring stuff like this to people’s attention I should have a ready alibi. Unfortunately, the fact is that I haven’t ever been to New Zealand — the closest I’ve ever been to New Zealand has been some emotional closeness with imaginary squirrels based out of there — and it is sadly impossible to prove a negative. At least, I think it’s impossible to prove a negative, although I don’t suppose I have seen that demonstrated. Well, it’s probably true enough.

What’s got me on this is that apparently New Zealand’s tallest mountain has come up about a hundred feet shorter than everyone thought it was. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but I also don’t want the hassle of being suspected by New Zealand police or, worse, angry geologists. They’re people who are very skilled with rocks, and I’m very bad at flinching, so all I can do if they’re going to be riled up is not be the person they’re riled at. But according to a survey by the University of Otago in November 2013, Mount Cook, also called Aoraki, comes in at 3,724 meters tall, whereas it used to be figured at 3,754 meters tall, and they’re using the same old meters both cases so don’t go thinking that’s the problem.

So if we’re all agreed that I’m not to blame for shrinking any mountains anywhere near New Zealand, and if we’re not then I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to have a civil conversation and must face the prospect that we’ll learn how well we can flinch from rocks, we can get to wondering where the mountain height went. I guess the first thing to check is if maybe they shrank the typeface they’re using to label the thing “Mount Cook, also called Aoraki”. Maybe someone figured instead of mixed case it should be put up on the mountain in small caps instead, and that makes the whole name just run out too long and they had to make the letters less tall to compensate. You might ask how this could possibly make a difference; I say, don’t underestimate typeface enthusiasts. They’ve got to have been looking at that “r” in Aoraki and thinking how magnificent it would look in capitals, even small capitals. There are some lovely things to be done with a “k” as well, if it’s balanced right. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slipped a “W” into the name, regardless of what it does to the ordering of New Zealand mountain heights.

And apparently it hasn’t done anything about New Zealand mountain height orderings, if I understand right. The second-tallest mountain, Mount Second Tallest Mountain Or Something, is still second-tallest and doesn’t seem to be gaining any. This, of course, rules out a couple possibilities for how Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, might have shrunk. Apparently people weren’t swiping height from the first to boost other mountains that anybody’s caught, for example. I guess we can rule out that everyone’s just standing a little bit taller so the mountains appear to be shorter, since that would affect all the other mountains just as much and we’d be seeing widespread reports of New Zealanders discovering stuff they forgot was on top of the refrigerator.

Of course, wouldn’t it be something if someone were swiping height from Mount Cook, Also Called Aoraki, and were turning it into extra width or depth of other mountains by the simple process of rotating it in three-dimensional space? Has anyone done a careful measurement of just how fat the mountains of New Zealand are lately? If they haven’t, can we be positive this isn’t what’s going on? And before you go chuckling that of course the people responsible for mountain checking would notice and report on any mountain fatness before announcing the mysterious loss of height, consider that these same mountain-checkers didn’t notice exactly when their tallest mountain went and shrunk some. There’s obviously plenty of chances for mischief.

It just struck me I shouldn’t say the mountain has come up a hundred feet shorter. I should probably do something about that.

It’s Somebody’s Business


The history of a company usually has distinct phases, like the step where a small team of like-minded idealists with skills in an exciting new technology realize they’ve been coming to a garage workshop garage for four years now and have almost completed a salable product none too soon because the owner of the garage almost caught them last time. And then there’s a stage where everybody gets quite tense about selecting the right sort of cake for the birthday party for someone who’s out sick anyway. It wasn’t the right day anyway. And then there are also all intermediate stages like deciding what to make for their fifteenth product, and deciding that the company logo has to be redone so it’s at an angle. It can make for fascinating reading to follow all these stages. I plan to do so by putting the logo at an angle and changing its typeface to something sans serif that badly imitates handwriting.