Font of Knowledge

Being in the graphic communications industry, we are intimately familiar with typefaces and fonts, and how font choice can impact what it is we’re trying to communicate. Print magazine discusses this in the context of a recent Washington Post article that let you interactively change the font.

In a recent thought-provoking interactive, The Washington Post points out that, when it comes to text, it’s not just about size. Adjusting the actual font can make a world of difference, not only in how you see the information, but how you receive and process it. Science and a bit of biology lie behind our type preferences. A recent study says that picking the right font for you can increase your screen reading speed by 35%. 

Some of this is age-related—after a certain point, you need to at least increase the point size, sure, but as they point out that’s not the whole story. It can also be a function of what fonts you tended to read—and what medium/media you read—in your youth. (A couple of weeks ago, we linked to an Ars Technica story about the new default font in Microsoft Word—Aptos—and, to be honest, we have been using it, and it actually is very readable onscreen. Whether we would use it in a print publication, well…) Says the Post:

Like clothes, fonts are also functional choices. Just as you wouldn’t wear a bathing suit in a snowstorm

We wouldn’t?

fonts have to fit the technology delivering the words (screen or paper), the space they inhabit (phone alert, page or billboard) and the person doing the reading.

Picking the right font can increase your reading speed on a screen by 35 percent, according to a large recent study.

We know fonts matter, yet research shows no one font works best for everyone. See for yourself: This story includes three mini-experiments that might help you see how you respond to different fonts — and perhaps pick ones that are better for you.

We highly recommend the Post piece. We’ve been immersed in typography for decades but still learned a few new things.

AI-Yi-Yi, Part the Infinity: Leave Our Books Alone!

Generative AI is tout le buzz these days, and millions of pixels have been burned documenting the impact it will have on just about every facet of human life. Wired, though, has an article positing that generative AI will have very little if any impact on books. Indeed, very few new technologies have “disrupted” the book or “upended” book culture in any meaningful way. And that’s because people who still buy and read books prefer to buy and read books.

a tweet passed through the many interlocking corners of Book Twitter. “Imagine if every Book is converted into an Animated Book and made 10x more engaging,” it read. “AI will do this. Huge opportunity here to disrupt Kindle and Audible.”

Everything old is new again. We remember the 1990s when “interactive multimedia” was going to transform books into more engaging electronic presentations. But books have remained books.

To a broader audience, the sweeping proclamation that AI will make “every” book “10x more engaging” seemed absurd, a solution in search of a problem, and one predicated on the idea that people who choose to read narrative prose (instead of, say, watching a film or playing a game) were somehow bored or not engaged with their unanimated tomes. As those who shared the tweet observed, it seems like a lot of book industry “disruptors” just don’t like reading.

That’s readers. What about writers?

Many [tech entrepreneurs] were hawking AI “solutions” they promised would transform the act of writing, the most derided among them Sudowrite’s Story Engine (dubbed in a relatively ambivalent review by The Verge’s Adi Robertson as “the AI novel-writing tool everyone hates”). Story Engine raised frustrations by treating writers as an afterthought and, by its very existence, suggesting that the problems it was trying to bypass weren’t integral to the act of writing itself.

These tech experts also seem to forget that people who write books really like writing.

There has also been floated the idea of readers being able to interact with characters in books—as if fan fiction and role-playing games haven’t existed since…well, likely as long as storytelling has existed.

One reason books haven’t been particularly disruptable might be that many of the people looking to “fix” things couldn’t actually articulate what was broken—whether through their failure to see the real problems facing the industry (namely, Amazon’s stranglehold), or their insistence that books are not particularly enjoyable as a medium. “It’s that arrogance, to come into a community you know nothing about, that you might have studied as you study for an MBA, and think that you can revolutionize anything,” says writer and longtime book-industry observer Maris Kreizman. “There were so many false problems that tech guys created that we didn’t actually have.”

Everything that technology has promised to do to books are actually available as other media. We don’t need animated books because we can go watch cartoons or an animated TV series, if we so desire. And, yes, it is competition from this plethora of other media options that can impact book sales. But book sales have actually been robust; sales spiked during the pandemic lockdown and while they’ve eased off as things opened up, print sales were still nearly 12 percent higher in 2022 than in 2019.

So, sometimes, people just want to read a book. That’s 100% engaging all by itself.

Against the Grain

Our Mount Monadnock Media Maven points us to a new exhibition at The Torggler Fine Arts Center in Newport News, Va. Possibilities of Paper includes 13 artists from the U.S. and Canada who have transformed paper into elaborate works of art.

Wall works, freestanding sculptures, and large-scale installations comprise the comprehensive look at paper-based art being made today, including a monumental piece by Michael Velliquette suspended from the ceiling, Samuelle Green’s immersive sphere made of thousands of petals, and Roberto Benavidez’s piñatas inspired by the frenzied characters of Hieronymus Bosch. Many of the artists begin their compositions using pristine, new sheets of paper, while others reinterpret objects like books, maps, and paper plates into woven or carved forms. You might also recognize work from Myriam DionMatthew Shlian, and Eric Standley, among others.

“Michael Velliquette, “Deva Realms” (2023), 90 hanging forms of Bristol paper and string, approx. 1,500 components, dimensions variable”

Many more examples at This Is Colossal. The exhibition runs through October. More info at the gallery’swebsite.

Command Performance

Some of you may recall when TV “clickers” (aka remote controls) actually clicked. The Verge has a regular feature called “Button the Month” “that explores the physical pieces of our phones, tablets, and controllers we interact with every day.” This month, they celebrate the original 1956 Zenith TV remote—and the best thing about it (for those of us who constantly have to wrangle AAs and AAAs) was that it didn’t need batteries.

It was kind of based on an early failed attempt at a remote, the Flash-Matic. As its name indicates, it sent commands to the television using beams of light. However, unless you watched TV in a completely dark room, there was interference from other visible light sources, so the concept lasted about a year. But a year later, they hit on an even better idea, which they called the Space Command.

The Space Command is a product of mechanical engineering rather than electrical. By pressing a button on the remote, you set off a spring-loaded hammer that strikes a solid aluminum rod in the device, which then rings out at an ultrasonic frequency. Each button has a different length rod, thus a different high-frequency tone, which triggers a circuit connected to a microphone in the television to finish the command. 

The sound is too high-frequency for humans to hear, but you could hear the “clicking” of the buttons against the rods—whence  the term “clicker.” One question that may occur is why use ultrasound and not radio? Glad you asked:

It was clear to all of us that we couldn’t use radio. We had a bunch of radio engineers here, there wouldn’t have been much of a problem, but the radio went through walls. And it would work on the next door neighbor’s set, or if you lived in an apartment. 

Now today, of course, you say, well, why don’t you encode the signal?  We can’t encode the signal because we can’t use 100 vacuum tubes. It was a trap. And I came up with ultrasound because I knew that ultrasound in the air would not go through walls, so it was like ordinary speaking…

Now, it wasn’t perfect: the TV could pick up the jingling of keys or coins and accidentally change the channel, and the frequencies of the buttons could be heard by pets—although wouldn’t it be great to control your dog by remote control. Still, the Space Command lasted for 25 years. Before long, ultrasound was replaced with the infrared beams that are still used today. (We recall one early VCR in the 1970s that actually had a remote that physically attached via a long cable—no, that wasn’t a tripping hazard…) Now we have hideously baroque universal remotes with tons of buttons, 90% of which we don’t use.

Note to future TV manufacturers: consider a blocky device with four strong buttons that won’t fall between the couch cushions.

It’s a remote possibility…

Light Speed

Speaking of light-based information transmission, did you know that there is such a thing as “LiFi,” or light-based wireless communication? There is actually a standard that specifies how it works. Says Ars Technica:

LiFi, or 802.11bb, isn't really meant to replace Wi-Fi, but complement it—a good thing for a technology theoretically nullified by a sheet of printer paper. In an announcement of the standard's certification by IEEE(spotted on PC Gamer) and on LiFiCO's FAQ page, the LED-based wireless standard is pitched as an alternative for certain use cases. LiFi could be useful when radio frequencies are inhibited or banned, when the security of the connection is paramount, or just whenever you want speed-of-light transfer at the cost of line-of-sight alignment.

It has its limitations—if you ever need or want to turn the light off (i.e., for someone to sleep) there goes the network, although for many of us that’s a regular occurrence anyway. So what would be the point, especially as radio waves travel just as fast as visible light?

Frauenhofer HHI, one of the standard’s developers, suggests “classrooms, medical, and industrial scenarios.’ Operating in the optical spectrum, rather than the limited amount of licensed radio wavelengths, “ensures higher reliability and lower latency and jitter,” says Dominic Schulz, lead LiFi developer at Frauenhofer. It also reduces jamming and eavesdropping and enables “centimeter-precision indoor navigation.”

Can you buy it? Why, yes:

you can get into LiFi for $2,200 with the LiFiMax Flex, a kit that is “the most affordable LiFi product on the market today,” according to LiFiCo. For that price, you get a ceiling-mounted access point and antenna, a dongle, and RJ45 cable to run to your connection. If you had $200 more to spend, you could add in a LiFiMax Tab, a tablet in a ruggedized case that does not require a dongle to access LiFi (though, graciously, it also has traditional Wi-Fi connectivity).

But these systems only promise 150Mbps download and 140Mbps upload speeds. So kind of a lateral move if you have decent WiFi already. But the providers promise that it is the “pathway to breakneck speeds.” Maybe one day, we’ll see the light.

Magic Bus

If you have received our latest print edition (official in-home/online date is next week), you know that a theme of the issue is the “Magic Bus” (it’ll all make sense). It’s hard not to associate the thought of a “magic bus” with the iconic 1960s Volkswagen Microbus (aka the Transporter or Kombi), although Pete Townshend was probably thinking more of the London double-decker buses when he wrote the song.

Now, as a tie-in perhaps to our print edition, VW is reintroducing the “microbus,” albeit tricked out for the 21st century. For one thing, it’s electric. Says Core77:

The ID Buzz (it’s officially stylized “ID. Buzz” but I’m not putting that stupid period in there) is electric and will be offered in RWD or AWD variants. It also features snazzy tech like a heads-up display, air-conditioned seats and the showstopper, a gigantic 16-square-foot electrochromic glass panoramic sunroof that can be turned from opaque to transparent by voice (or a touch slider).

ID. Buzz? They should have called it the Magic Buzz. Such a missed opportunity.

VW doesn’t offer many more details, such as driving range per charge or even price. We do know that the US version will be longer and have a larger battery than the European version. It is expected to hit dealerships sometime next year. Get in the queue.

GAS Station

Speaking of car tech, it turns out that car owners are increasingly frustrated by the proliferation of technology in cars. Via The Verge:

According to JD Power’s Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, overall satisfaction among car owners is 845 (on a 1,000-point scale), a decrease of two points from a year ago and three points lower than in 2021. That’s the first time in the 28-year history of the study that the consumer research firm registered a consecutive year-over-year decline in owner satisfaction.

And the cause of that dissatisfaction?

Only 56 percent of owners prefer to use their vehicle’s built-in system to play audio, down from 70 percent in 2020, JD Power found. Less than half of owners said they like using their car’s native controls for navigation, voice recognition, or to make phone calls.

However, when those in-car systems are based on Google Automotive Services (GAS—cute), satisfaction goes up.

That’s surely music to GM’s ears, which recently made the controversial decision to block access to CarPlay and Android Auto in its future EV lineup in favor of a native Google infotainment system. If people are telling JD Power they like cars with GAS, or Google built-in, that could work in GM’s favor, depending on how they choose to move forward. 

Sometimes we miss the simplicity of an old tape deck.

Graphene Senses Something

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! A graphene-based biosensor. From (who else?) Graphene-Info:

The researchers created a prototype sensor that can detect an immune molecule called CXCL12, down to tens or hundreds of parts per billion. This is an important first step towards developing a system that could be used to perform routine screens for hard-to-diagnose cancers or metastatic tumors, or as a highly biomimetic electronic “nose,” the researchers say.

… This type of sensor could potentially be adapted to analyze any bodily fluid, such as blood, tears, or saliva, the researchers say, and could screen for many different targets simultaneously, depending on the type of receptor proteins used.

Plastic People

We missed it; did you know that this week was the “National Week of Injection Molding”? Dang, and we still haven’t finished our shopping. It’s put on by the Society of Plastic Engineers—that’s engineers who develop and work with plastics, not engineers who are themselves plastic, although there could be some overlap. Via Core77, each day this week featured three hours of online presentations, such as Simulation Workflows to Improve Plastic Part Design or Design Considerations for Spinstack Molding. Sometimes it’s nice to spend a little time in a foreign industry—to inject a little variety into one’s day.

96 Stars?

We haven’t checked in with the James Webb Space Telescope in a while, but it looks like it found the question to an answer. Says LiveScience:

Question marks, to be precise. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) team at the European Space Agency (ESA) released an image on Wednesday (June 26) offering the most detailed look yet at two actively forming young stars located 1,470 light-years from Earth in the Vela Constellation. In the image, the stars, named Herbig-Haro 46/47, are surrounded by a disk of material that "feeds" the stars as they grow for millions of years.

But just below those stars, in the background of the stunning deep-space image, is an object resembling a giant cosmic question mark. Is the universe asking us something?

Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA. Image Processing: Joseph DePasquale (STScI)/post-processing inset image Daisy Dobrijevic

“It is probably a distant galaxy, or potentially interacting galaxies (their interactions may have caused the distorted question mark-shape),” representatives of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, which manages JWST’s science operations, told 

…“This may be the first time we’ve seen this particular object,” STScI added. “Additional follow-up would be required to figure out what it is with any certainty. Webb is showing us many new, distant galaxies — so there’s a lot of new science to be done!”

Perhaps it’s home to a race of beings called the Mysterians.

The things we can do.

Looming Deadline

Are you doing anything next spring, specifically May 4–5, 2024? If you’re free, and are up for it, why not participate in the Sheep to Shawl Competition, all part of the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.

Five team members – one shearer, three spinners, and one weaver – will compete to shear a sheep, spin the fleece and weave it into a shawl, all in a couple of hours. 

Adds NPR about this year’s competition:

Preparation is the secret to success, says Margie Wright, team captain of The Fidget Spinners. She spent months looking for the perfect sheep for her team. “The hard part is finding a sheep that's not too greasy,” she explains.

And shearing is just half the battle.

The teams also spent hours getting their looms ready for weaving. Wright explains this can take as long as seven hours to do.

The teams really get into it.

This year's teams were all enthusiastically prepared to earn points for themes and shawl quality alike. The high school students, competing as The Quaker Bakers, wore aprons and made rainbow cupcakes to match their rainbow-themed shawl. The Fidget Spinners chose "I Love Ewe" as their theme and covered their shawl in hearts. The third team, which arguably should have won an award just for their name — "Mutton but Trouble" — wore crocheted acorn hats and made a fall-colored shawl to represent their theme of squirrels.

Once you ace the Sheep to Shawl Competition, you’re ready to take on this guy. From

A TOP sheep shearer has shattered an Irish record after a gruelling nine-hour stint, taking the clippers to a total of 858 lambs.

Strabane farmer Tom Perry (33) had to go at some clip to break the Irish nine-hour solo lamb shearing record of 708, baa-t managed it with an hour and 39 minutes to spare in Templepatrick on Saturday.

That’s one lamb every 45 seconds.

His team said he has been in training since last August to ensure he would be in “peak physical condition to endure the demands of the task”.

Interestingly, none of his family have any hair.

Signs of the Times

Like any music genre, hip hop (aka rap) has evolved since its advent in The Bronx in the 1970s. One interesting variant that has emerged is dip hop—which came out of the hip-hop scene in the Deaf community. Says The Conversation:

Dip hop is one of many styles of rap that have developed over the years. But it stands apart from other subgenres of hip-hop because rappers lay down rhymes in sign languages and craft music informed by their cultural experiences within the Deaf community.

It’s been around longer than one would think.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Deaf DJs and entertainment entrepreneurs organized DIY parties, nightlife events and social gatherings. These venues provided opportunities for rappers, DJs, dancers and other artists to begin to develop and explore their own style of hip-hop and connect with other rappers and DJs. 


Cities with Deaf schools served as cultural hubs for musical networking. Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, New York, have acted as significant sites of production within the U.S. by connecting deaf and hard of hearing students from all over the world.

And it can take many forms.

For example, some dip hop artists work with both oral and manual languages to make their music accessible to hearing people. There are those who perform in both languages simultaneously, and others who prerecord their vocal track, which plays in the background as they rap in sign language.

Some artists collaborate with interpreters. In “Vergiss mich nicht,” artist Deaf Kat Night raps in German sign language, while the lyrics are interpreted orally in German. 

Then there are those who collaborate with hearing or deaf DJs. “Breaking Barrels,” featuring DefStar, is just one of the many collaborations between Wawa and DJ Nicar

Kreme of the Crop

Do you love diabetic comas? If so, then good news! Via Food & Wine:

[Krispy Kreme] has teamed up with M&M’s for the first time (in the United States, at least) to release a line of four regular- and mini-sized doughnuts featuring — or even masquerading as — the iconic letter M-emblazoned candies. Central to that collaboration is a doughnut decorated to look like a giant M&M's candy, but stuffed with a bunch of M&M's Minis.

If there's one thing the Krispy Kreme kitchen seems to love, it's stuffing other sweet treats into its doughnuts. Earlier this year, the team released a doughnut stuffed with a Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookie as part of a cookie-themed collaboration, following last year's Twix Bar-stuffed doughnut.

Yeah, we won’t be stuffing ourselves with those.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

July 31

1703: Author Daniel Defoe is placed in a pillory for the crime of seditious libel after publishing a politically satirical pamphlet, but is pelted with flowers.

1790: The first U.S. patent is issued, to inventor Samuel Hopkins for a potash process.

1919: Italian chemist and author Primo Levi born.

1965: British author and creator of Harry Potter J. K. Rowling born.

August 1

1774: British scientist Joseph Priestley discovers oxygen. (What had everyone been breathing before that?)

1819: American novelist, short story writer, and poet Herman Melville born.

1965: Frank Herbert's novel Dune was published for the first time. It was named as the world’s best-selling science fiction novel in 2003.

1981: MTV begins broadcasting in the United States and airs its first video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.

1981: American author, playwright, and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky dies (b. 1923).

August 2

1790: The first United States Census is conducted.

1870: Tower Subway, the world's first underground tube railway, opens in London, England, United Kingdom.

1922: Scottish-Canadian engineer, inventor of the telephone Alexander Graham Bell dies (b. 1847).

1924: American novelist, poet, and critic James Baldwin born.

1932: The positron (antiparticle of the electron) is discovered by Carl D. Anderson.

1988: American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver dies (b. 1938).

2018: Apple Inc. becomes the first U.S. company to be valued at over $1 trillion.

August 3

1527: The first known letter from North America is sent by John Rut while at St. John's, Newfoundland.

1778: The theatre La Scala in Milan is inaugurated with the première of Antonio Salieri’s Europa riconosciuta.

1811: American businessman, founded the Otis Elevator Company Elisha Otis born.

1859: The American Dental Association is founded in Niagara Falls, New York. (Was their theme song “Bridge Over Troubled Water”?)

1860: French-Scottish actor, director, and producer, inventor of the Kinetoscope William Kennedy Dickson born.

1946: Santa Claus Land, the world’s first theme park, opens in Santa Claus, Ind.

1977: Tandy Corporation announces the TRS-80, one of the world’s first mass-produced personal computers.

August 4

1693: Date traditionally ascribed to Dom Perignon’s invention of champagne.

1792: English poet and playwright Percy Bysshe Shelley born.

1821: The Saturday Evening Post is published for the first time as a weekly newspaper.

1834: English mathematician and philosopher John Venn, inventor of the Venn diagram, born.

1875: Danish novelist, short story writer, and poet Hans Christian Andersen dies (b. 1805).

August 5

1735: New York Weekly Journal writer John Peter Zenger is acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, on the basis that what he had published was true.

1850: French short story writer, novelist, and poet Guy de Maupassant born.

1914: In Cleveland, Ohio, the first electric traffic light is installed.

1930: American pilot, engineer, and astronaut Neil Armstrong born.

1957: American Bandstand, a show dedicated to the teenage “baby-boomers” by playing the songs and showing popular dances of the time, debuts on the ABC television network.

2019: American author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison dies (b. 1931).

August 6

1809: English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, born.

1926: In New York City, the Warner Bros.’ Vitaphone system premieres with the movie Don Juan starring John Barrymore.

1956: After going bankrupt in 1955, the American broadcaster DuMont Television Network makes its final broadcast, a boxing match from St. Nicholas Arena in New York in the Boxing from St. Nicholas Arenaseries.

1991: Tim Berners-Lee releases files describing his idea for the World Wide Web. WWW debuts as a publicly available service on the Internet. (Too bad it never caught on.)