Archive for February 2012


YouTube loves Tanya Roberts

25.02.2012

Here’s a quickie for tonight. Rather than rewrite it, as it has appeared on my Tumblr, here’s a brief summary.
   YouTube loves Tanya Roberts. No matter what you search for, it will often give you a result about Tanya Roberts and her husband dying. It has been giving us this result for weeks.
   But YouTube doesn’t want to hear your complaints about it loving Tanya Roberts. No matter how short your message, it says it’s too long for the complaints’ box, which has a limit of 8,192 characters. I guess the YouTube people are currently quite happy: ‘Wow, no one has been complaining about our perfect service lately!’
   Since YouTube is owned by Google, I really should have expected more bugs, and, possibly, some more privacy infringements.

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in internet, USA | No Comments »


Testing the browsers: which has the best typography?

23.02.2012

Con Carlyon inspired this post today. He’s kept an eye on the best browser and forwarded me a test from TechCrunch where Firefox, Chrome, IE9 and Opera 11 are pitted against one another. The victors are Firefox and Chrome.
   My needs are quite different from most people. For starters, the number-one criterion for me on any browser is decent typography. Firefox has been, at least since v. 3, the most typographically aware browser, picking up the correct typefaces from stylesheets, and providing access to all installed fonts on a system through its menu.
   I had done these tests before, but I thought it was about time I revisited the main four browsers and their typographic capability. These were all done on the same machine, and the full screen shots are available if anyone wants to see them. Firefox and IE9 were already on my system but were checked to be current and up to date. Chrome and Opera were downloaded today (February 23, 2012).
   This is not a test about Java or overall speed, just typography. But I would have to give the speed crown to Chrome—bearing in mind that my Firefox is full of extensions and add-ons.

The Lucire home page
Not the latest HTML, but there is a fairly standard stylesheet. Here is how the four browsers performed.

Firefox 10.0.2
Firefox
I am used to this, so I don’t see anything unusual. Firefox is my browser of choice (though I have since tried Waterfox 64-bit, and noticed no speed difference). It picks up the web font (Fiduci, in the headline), kerns (see We in Week) and the text font, Dante, is installed on this machine. It’s the first type family specified in the stylesheet.
   Kerning: 1. Font fidelity: 1.

Chrome
Chrome
Not much difference on the left-hand side. However, Chrome fails to pick up Dante, even though it’s installed. It’s opted for Monotype Garamond for the body text. It’s the eighth typeface family specified in the stylesheet—an unusual choice. At least two of the other typeface families preceding Garamond are installed on this machine.
   Kerning: 1. Font fidelity: 0.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
IE9
Awful. IE9’s bugs have already been documented on this blog, and it is very limited on which fonts it allows you to access in its menu (TTFs only). There is no kerning, and Monotype Garamond, again, has been chosen as the text font. There were some even less attractive choices on the home page that I didn’t take a screen shot of.
   Kerning: 0. Font fidelity: 0.

Opera 11.63
Opera
Interestingly, Fiduci is picked up for the headlines and Dante for the text. But a bug that Firefox had back in v. 2 in 2006, and which I filed with the makers of Opera in 2010, remains present. Opera fails to display characters above ASCII 128 properly, and when it hits a ligature, it will change the following characters to a different typeface, in this case, Times. No kerning, either.
   Kerning: 0. Font fidelity: 0·5.

A Lucire news page
Much the same comments apply from the above, but it gave me confirmation of each browser’s issues.

Firefox 10.0.2
Firefox
The first choices in each CSS spec are picked up.

Chrome
Chrome
Instead of the Lucire typeface in the central column, Chrome specifies Verdana, the sixth typeface family for the spec.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9
IE9
Same as Chrome, except without the kerning.

Opera 11.63
Opera
Correct typefaces, but for the changing fonts in the middle of the line.

Conclusion
If I really didn’t care about type—and most people don’t—I would have a hard time choosing between Chrome and Firefox. On this test alone, Chrome was the fastest—but I suspect a Firefox without add-ons would be comparable. But once you factor in type, Chrome makes some very odd decisions, as does IE9, about which fonts it chooses from the installed base. It doesn’t, consistently, pick the first one—and previous versions did.
   Interestingly, Chrome now displays Facebook in Verdana. When I first encountered it, it displayed Facebook in our in-house Lucire 1, which we had programmed to substitute for Arial on our older machines.
   So somewhere along the line, someone changed the way Chrome picked fonts, but having something installed is no longer a guarantee it will even show up on Google’s browser. That can’t be good for corporate environments where companies have paid a site- or company-wide licence to have the correct fonts installed. But I’m glad Chrome now uses the kerning pair data in fonts, and that’s made a positive difference to legibility.
   IE9 is simply terrible. It made the same wrong calls as Chrome, but, to make things worse, it won’t even use the kerning data. Of the four tested, it comes dead last.
   Opera is not far ahead, mind, at least based on the arbitrary point scale I assigned above. While it picks up the correct typefaces, some might think its irritating habit of changing fonts mid-line to be more annoying. It could well be, as this does nothing for reading. Imagine every quotation mark and every word with a ligature changing—for no apparent reason. As mentioned, this bug was in Firefox in 2006, and Opera knows about it, but evidently Opera users are not displeased with the glitch and it remains unfixed.
   Typographically, Firefox 10.0.2 is the victor—and that’s no surprise. When I discovered bugs in Firefox 4, I was met with professional developers on the forums who actually understood type and the niceties behind the OpenType spec. Those are details some professional typeface designers don’t know. It looks I won’t be changing browsers any time soon.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in internet, technology, typography, USA | 6 Comments »


Stefan Engeseth’s next book, Sharkonomics: in business, what can we learn from sharks and their survival?

22.02.2012

When I talked about Nicholas Ind’s book, Meaning at Work, a few weeks ago, I said there were two titles that I wanted to mention.
   The second is by my friend Stefan Engeseth, who has followed up some very innovative titles—Detective Marketing, One and The Fall of PR and the Rise of Advertising—with Sharkonomics.
   The premise is simple: how have sharks survived millions of years, and can we learn any lessons from them for business?
   I’ve been involved with Sharkonomics since Stefan pitched the idea, and I’ve had word of him heading down to South Africa to dive with the beasts.
   I’ve dived with them, too, many years ago, except mine weren’t as treacherous as the ones he confronted.
   A few of us, in endorsing his book, couldn’t help but use a bunch of shark puns. Don’t let them put you off.
   He wants to get further word out and the first 100 people to do so will get the book for free (details here). You can read a brief summary about it here. It’s published by Marshall Cavendish, the people who published One. Also head to Sharkonomics’ Facebook page—there’ll be more information on the upcoming launches and some of the great ideas Stefan has planned for them.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, marketing, Sweden | 3 Comments »


Looks like the Microsoft man was wrong about this, too

11.02.2012

Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer

A final postscript on my IE9 blank-window bug, again solved, as so many technological matters are here, by not following the advice of a self-proclaimed “expert”.
   Hayton at the McAfee forums—which seem to be populated with polite people—mentioned the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer earlier today. This checks for what updates are missing, etc.
   As I was told that my missing Windows 7 updates were a direct cause of my ‘injudicious’ use of System Restore by the man from Microsoft—who then proceeded to say that the only way to fix my blank-window issue was to format my hard drive—I wanted to confirm that he was wrong about everything.
   You see, he was wrong about the cause of the bug. He missed the basic fact that before my System Restore, IE9 was already not working. And I suspected he was wrong about the updates, since they should have occurred before the System Restore.
   This is what you get with some of these experts: they’re never right.
   And lo and behold, what did I discover?
   Just as I expected: Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer reported that all my updates were up to date and I wasn’t missing a thing.
   Lesson: believe polite people. Disbelieve snarky people. Especially if they tell you to format your hard drive.

Speaking of experts, Conrad Johnston found gold today for our Font Police site. In Whitby, there are some Experts in property—that’s right, with a capital E. If you’ve been to our Font Police site before, you’ve never seen anything this bad yet. One façade, countless offences—it’s the funniest one we’ve ever had.

Finally, here’s a Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 thread that’s even weirder, as one user finds that the browser is incompatible with Helvetica and Neue Helvetica. Mine works with these families, but it looks like the only way William La Martin got his IE9 going was to delete them.
   Based on recent experience, the IE developers at Microsoft really have a problem with handling fonts.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in internet, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work: ïŹnding fulïŹlment in the early 2010s

06.02.2012

Two of my friends have books coming out. I’ll discuss one for now, as it’s been a long long weekend.
   The first is my Medinge Group colleague Nicholas Ind’s Meaning at Work, which has now made it on to Amazon, and is getting wider distribution.
   You can get an idea of what Meaning at Work is about from Nicholas’s own article at the RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) website. But if you’ve followed Nicholas’s work over the years, it’s a logical continuation of his inquiry into making businesses more human and engaged.
   Living the Brand, for example, was an early look into organizations that had successfully implemented their brand at every level. The concepts are familiar to most branding practitioners, but Nicholas brought them to life with real-world examples and analyses of those successful organizations. Fast forward to Branding Governance, and there are useful discussions about corporate citizenship and corporate participation. Meaning at Work looks at what attitudes people need to find fulfilment in their work, with engagement and challenge being the keys.
   I’ve managed to secure chapter one from Nicholas, who in turn got it from the publisher, minus the illustrations (omitted due to copyright reasons), so you can get a better idea of what it entails. In this first chapter, Nicholas discusses what meaning is, and brings to live numerous examples from literature, art and film. If you’ve ever wondered about some of those works you have heard of but not inquired in to—Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or the real meaning behind RĂ©nĂ© Magritte’s La trahison des images—Nicholas draws out the necessary meanings for his book in a very accessible fashion.
   It’s interesting that Nicholas discusses the depth of meaning in this first chapter, because if you take his works over the course of the 21st century, they are getting deeper and deeper into what makes us—and successful organizations—tick. Each can be read independently, of course—Nicholas isn’t out to sell us a series of books—but there is a natural progression that he has as an author. As someone who has only written one book solely—the rest were joint works—it’s a record I admire. Download chapter one of Meaning at Work here, and order it from the publisher or Amazon UK.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, culture, leadership, publishing | 1 Comment »


History has already shown us the better way, so why ape an outmoded market leader?

05.02.2012

A friend had his Gmail hacked, and, much like an Atlantic article I read in the print edition a few months ago, the hackers deleted his entire mailbox. Google says these hacks only happen a few thousand times daily.
   I’m concerned for him because he has to deal with the Google forums, and we all know how unhelpful and obstructive they can be.
   I’ve never trusted Gmail, or any web-based email system, “on the cloud”. I’ve always kept POP3 archives and the worst thing that might happen is that some of the older CDs and DVDs might be less reliable. But this event actually brings to mind something else that has concerned me about my method: the email client.
   I’ve used Eudora since the 1990s. I started with v. 1.2, and for years, my standard client was 4.3. I happily paid for a licence to get the pro version, and used 4.3 till it no longer worked with the settings on our server. That meant I stayed with one email client from 1999 to 2008. I was then forced to upgrade to 7.1, and I have used that since.
   Qualcomm no longer makes Eudora, and for the last half-decade or so, there have been various “Eudorized” versions of Mozilla Thunderbird. That won’t fly with me, because my demand is actually very simple, but it is going completely unmet: I want an email program that has a vertically tiled inbox and outbox. For the majority of my working life, I have used this method as a to-do list of sorts, and I can see at a glance who I have to deal with.
   The sad thing is that the three-window interface has become a standard for email programs, but this does not work for me. I don’t want an email program that syncs with calendars or creates automatic Dropbox links. I just want one that works, where I can have filters and multiple accounts, and where I can have inbox and outbox side by side. This should be, I thought, a relatively simple request, especially as Eudora was, at one point, considerably more popular than it is today.

Eudora window
Above: Eudora 7.1, with an inbox on the left and an outbox on the right. Does anyone else make an email program that does this?

This is the story of many industries, where inferior norms become the standard. As I typed this, Preston Tucker came to mind: a pioneer who created a safe, fast and aerodynamic car with fuel injection, decades before Detroit could manage the same. But the big players won out and Tucker died a broken man. Americans, and indeed the rest of the world, made do with the same old junk till they were forced to innovate and use ideas that Tucker wanted to mainstream in the 1950s. Similarly, I laugh when people talk about the novelty of hybrids, when you consider how prevalent dual-fuel natural gas–petrol cars were in New Zealand 30 years ago.
   In the tech world, I happily used—and still use—WordPerfect. Why? It works. And it still works considerably better than its competition. Even a 20-year-old version will blow modern word processors away in terms of sheer functionality and ease of use, assuming you could install it. The latest versions are buggier because of the small user base and the absence of Unicode compatibility. But I persevere with it because, at the end of the day, these programs are tools, and I get my work done far more quickly with WordPerfect. I might be the one person on the planet who does not know how to use Word.
   I can’t get my head around Word. With WordPerfect, if I set margins and font, it stays that way till I tell it otherwise. Word and its later competitors have a habit of needing styles set, and try to be too clever for their own good. It might tab paragraphs automatically—even when you don’t want it to. It might change margins and fonts on me because it can. And Word’s footnote and endnote creation is still light years behind what WordPerfect could do in 1991.
   But Word is the standard because Microsoft gave it away in the 1990s. When OpenOffice and Libre Office came out, it aped the standard, right down to the crazy way it handled styles. Why? By all means, create versions which would ease the transition, but if you’re to adopt any method, why not start with the best? Word, for years, had WordPerfect transitional settings, to steal customers from the market leader. Before Word became a freebie, friends who I converted to WordPerfect were still thanking me profusely for making their lives easier. It would seem logical for these open-source programs to go with a better underlying technology.
   I have subbed with Word, and regularly do, because most of our team write using it. By the end of the piece I will have noticed the original writer adopt three styles, because Word has done it that way. My editing will have caused another three or more stylistic changes. It is a mess by the time I save it, with my only solace being that no member of the public ever sees it in that state.
   When I open a Word file in WordPerfect, which is what I have to do now with the DOCX format, I see all the superfiuous code (through Reveal Codes—for Dreamweaver users, it’s not unlike HTML source) and it answers precisely why the program lacks any logic. Styles upon styles upon styles. Even Dreamweaver users who have ever had to deal with a Word-created HTML file post-Word 2000 know exactly what I mean. Word is an ineficient program, in every respect of the adjective.

WordPerfect window
Above: This is about as simple a document as you can get and the first I found with public information: one set only in Courier, 14 pt. WordPerfect shows that Word, on which the document was originally prepared, has still inserted Times New Roman font-change codes on every blank line—for no reason whatsoever. This is one of the reasons I dislike Microsoft Word. Had the document been prepared on WordPerfect, every incidence of the Times New Roman code would not have been present.

   I don’t know much about programming, but it seems, from every article I have read about these open suites, the new programs are playing the anti-Tucker game, mostly unconsciously, since the developers I have met are usually generous idealists. Let’s stick with this less productive, less logical method of word processing, because that is where the market is. But with fonts and more complex layouts now what people need, I would have thought that the methods employed by old computerized typesetting machines—which used codes similar to WordPerfect—would have been a more logical start for a word processing program.
   This isn’t an ad for WordPerfect. I simply ask for utility and logic. It doesn’t have to have WordPerfect code. It just needs to be a word processor that does what I tell it to do. Set font, stays in that font. Set margins, stays with those margins. Is this too big an ask? Wouldn’t this save time, which is the whole idea of technology? Why should we become slaves to software, when we created it to be our slave?
   Email clients, then, I find, follow much the same pattern. When I chose Eudora, I have a vague recollection that the New Zealand competitor, Pegasus, was structured in much the same way. The tiled inbox and outbox was a norm, and it worked. People rejoiced.
   Then, Microsoft decided it would adopt the present three-window standard in Outlook, and it gave away Outlook. I resisted it from the get-go: who wants to click just to see their outbox? Isn’t that an extra step? Why can’t I see my lists of emails at a glance? For someone who gets several hundred messages a day, I need to see more than ten. I would rather see 25 or more. And my outbox would have action items, things I had promised people I would do. So I stuck with Eudora.
   It’s not about being in Luddite position. It is going back to basics and saying: what would improve people’s workflow? Forcing them to click to see something or just showing it? (Twitter UI designers, take note.) Is the three-window convention the best way to use that on-screen real estate?
   It seems that Thunderbird, the open-source rival, again missed an opportunity by using an inferior convention as its base. By all means, ape Outlook, to ease a transition. But give the public—you are, after all, on the 11th version now—a chance to move the windows as we see fit. Computers are powerful enough now so it must be possible. It was in the 1990s.
   Let those who love the three-window convention stick with it, but let the rest of us move those windows to our heart’s content, and make life as easy as possible.
   The aim, therefore, is to gather as much success in the next decade before these programs become obsolete, by which time I should either have (a) hired extra folks to take care of these tasks exclusively or (b) pushed for these features in the open-source programmes.

Therefore, making leaps ahead is a good thing, but will people do it? This is always the gamble with predicting future needs: will we go so far that we still miss the boat? We fired but the missile landed in front of her bow.
   But I’m not even talking about creating something that doesn’t exist yet. I’m talking about existing methods, things that have been around for ages, waiting to be rediscovered. Resizing and detaching windows is a standard feature in so many programs. All it takes is being able to grab this stuff from history—a lesson that could well apply to organization memory as well. History has already told us, when the playing field was level, which methods were superior, and what people opted for when confronted with having to spend their own money on software. Before their giveaway periods, the choices were never Word or Outlook.
   The open-source movement, in my opinion, has a wonderful opportunity ahead of it for creating a new round of office efficiency.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in business, design, internet, leadership, technology, typography | 9 Comments »


The revenge of Arial

03.02.2012

Go away Arial

To think, if I actually followed the advice of the Microsoft expert, I would still have a non-functioning Internet Explorer 9 that displayed blank pages. Rule no. 1: when it comes to computing, never follow the advice of a self-righteous expert. An everyday user who found out things the hard way, sure. An expert who has kept an open mind and wants to dig with you, you can probably trust. But an out-of-the-box certified expert who believes in the superiority of a product as though it were a cult, probably not. No more than you should believe members of cults.
   IE9 has never worked on the first installation of any computer I own. But, earlier this week, it worked on my Vista laptop, after blank screens since March 2011. This was curious to me, since the blank screen problem is fairly common on the ’net, just that Microsoft refuses to acknowledge its existence. If the standard replies do not work, the solution is to format your hard drive.
   That already shed doubt on the Microsoft “expert” advice I had, beyond the arguments I made in my last blog post. Obviously, for Vista, Microsoft knew there was a problem and fixed it between March 2011 and February 2012. It only took them 11 months.
   As a failing IE9 also takes out Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee Internet Security, by showing blank screens on those, too, it’s a pretty serious matter.
   Microsoft’s “expert” had told me that my use (or any use?) of System Restore was ‘injudicious’, when with hindsight it appears to have been the most sensible thing I could have done, given that IE9 also took out Firefox on first installation on this machine. This so-called standard installation had had effects far beyond the norm, and had I removed only IE9 the “proper” way, there was no guarantee that Firefox would have returned to normal.
   Yesterday, I ventured on to my laptop to see if McAfee would run. Sure enough, it displayed. But also interestingly, it displayed in Arial Narrow—a font family I know we did not have.
   Microsoft had included Arial Narrow in one of its updates and that was the one key to allowing IE9 to function.
   People who know me, and have heard my speeches, know that the first thing I do, after installing updates and anti-virus, is see to the ugly default fonts. We have numerous licences for Helvetica, and since Arial was designed to supplant a superior design, we install Helvetica. We remove the font substitute line in the Windows registry. And we delete Arial.
   This has been the practice for years, certainly since Windows XP, and we ensure every Mac we use remains Arial-free, too.
   It has never presented a problem at any level.
   Till now.
   Windows 7 doesn’t like Arial being deleted, but I programmed in the usual font substitutes, took out ‘Helvetica=Arial’ (in typographic terms, this is like saying ‘Grace Kelly=Katie Price’) and ensured the four main Arial fonts could not be found by the system on start-up.
   Of course, every program in the world works with these settings. Except IE9 and anything that uses IE9 to render its pages.
   I still doggedly refuse to have Arial on any of our computers because of its poor design. This would be like having Prince William marry Britney Spears and ensuring her future position as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There are just some things that aren’t done.
   So we found a version of Helvetica, one that had been superseded that was not being used on any machine, and renamed it. We saved each of the four variants as an OTF, an OpenType, PostScript-flavoured font. And it worked.


Above: IE9 doesn’t actually need Arial. It just likes knowing it’s there. This is called “security blanket programming”.

   Here’s the great irony. IE9 is still one of the worst browsers typographically, even worse than Opera 11. Even though Windows Vista and 7 support PostScript, TrueType and OpenType fonts natively, IE9 doesn’t show anything but TTFs in its font menus (left). Short of linking your own fonts—and it messes up there as well—the only ones that will ever display are the TTFs you have installed. On the actual pages, a lot of fonts that you know are installed on your machine won’t show in IE9. If you bought licences, too bad.
   Therefore, Arial is actually not needed by IE9: it just likes knowing it’s there, as a security blanket.
   I think this illogical state of affairs shows how poor the product remains. Those who are less typographically inclined might not care, and look at things like speed (frankly, I see little difference—and if anything, it seems slower than Firefox), but since every other program on the planet works quite happily without Arial, my opinion is that Microsoft messed up. IE9 noticeably slows down Photoshop and a few other programs, which begs the question: beyond making sure your Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee work, why bother?
   Fellow computer users: don’t format your hard drive. Only a quitter would do that.

Liberation Sans
On a related note, Steve Matteson’s Liberation Sans (above) shows how it should be done. Steve was faced with the same brief—make a sans serif with the same metrics as Helvetica—and designed something quite beautiful that came as an Ubuntu 10 default. It’s very well hinted, too. You can download it here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in design, humour, internet, technology, typography | 5 Comments »