Archive for the ‘design’ category


Z cars

11.03.2020

I did say I’d blog when Autocade hit 4,100 models, which it did yesterday. Proof that the hundredth milestones aren’t planned: the model was the Changan Zhixiang (長安志翔 or 长安志翔, depending on which script system you prefer) of 2008, a.k.a. Changan Z-Shine. A less than stellar car with a disappointingly assembled interior, but it did have one thing many period mainland Chinese cars lacked: a self-developed engine.
   It shows the nation’s quick progress. The Zhixiang was Changan’s (back then, we’d have written Chang’an) first effort in the C-segment, after making microvans, then A-, then B-segment cars, with quick progress between each. The Changan Eado, the company’s current C-segment sedan, might still be rather derivative, but the pace of improvement is still impressive.
   After 1949 through to the late 1970s, Chinese cars in the PRC were few in number, with mass production not really considered. The first post-revolution cars had panels that were hand-beaten to the right shape in labour-intensive methods. Some of those cars borrowed heavily from western ones. Then came licensed manufacture (Jeep Cherokee, Peugeot 504, the Daihatsu Charade at Tianjin) as well as clones (Citroën Visa, SEAT Ibiza). By the 1990s some of these licensed vehicles had been adapted and facelifted locally. The PRC started the new century with a mixture of all of the above, but by the dawn of the 2010s, most Chinese press frowned upon clones and praised originality, and the next decade was spent measuring how quickly the local manufacturers were closing the gap with foreign cars. It’s even regarded that some models have surpassed the foreign competition and joint-venture partners’ offerings now. Style-wise, the Landwind Rongyao succeeds the company’s (and Ford affiliate’s) Range Rover Evoque clone, the X7, with a body designed by GFG Style (that’s Giorgetto and Fabrizio Giugiaro, the first production car credited to the father-and-son team’s new firm) and chassis tuned at MIRA. The Roewe RX5 Max is, in terms of quality, technology, and even dynamics, more than a match for the Honda CR-V—a sign of things to come, once we get past viral outbreaks. Styling-wise, it lacks the flair of the Rongyao, but everything else measures up.
   But the Zhixiang was over a decade before these. Changan did the right thing by having an original, contemporary body, and it was shedding Chinese manufacturers’ reliance on Mitsubishi’s and others’ engines. To think that was merely 12 years ago, the same year Autocade started.

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Posted in business, cars, China, design, interests | No Comments »


Reconnecting Facebook on IFTTT

10.03.2020

A few days ago, Facebook became disconnected with my IFTTT applet, which takes the Tweets made on the Lucire account (which themselves are fed through another service) and reposts them to Lucire’s Facebook page, so that none of us have to visit either.
   IFTTT is good enough to send an email to tell you things are broken, but all their ‘Fix it’ links that you get taken to do not remedy the problem. You’ll just get IFTTT’s ‘There was an error during check process.’
   After an hour, which actually necessitated my visiting that horrid Facebook site to see if there was anything there (there isn’t), I found the solution. This is from my reply on Reddit to someone asking something similar, when they got stuck (it seems with both Twitter and Facebook). Italics added other than the one in the last sentence.

Head to https://ifttt.com/settings
Go to Linked accounts
Click on Link your account

This should show what you need to link, in my case, Facebook—I clicked on that, it took me to a verification page on Facebook, I allowed it. Twitter will be the same, and I think you’ll have to select Twitter as well.

Then head to https://ifttt.com/my_services
Select My Services
Choose Facebook pages
Go to Settings
Select Edit your account info

This will take you to https://ifttt.com/channels/facebook_pages/post_activation#_=_ and the page will ask: ‘Which Facebook page would you like to use with IFTTT?’ Select the one you want, then click Update.

For Twitter, I imagine you would have to go to the My Services page again and choose the Twitter account you want to connect, and tinker with the settings.

Then if you head back to your list of applets, run the check again, and it should work.

   I’ll leave this here for anyone else who might come across this problem. It may well be me, since this is the third time I’ve had to do it in the last few months, once because I tried to delete my Facebook account and this was holding me back.

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Directwrite isn’t the culprit

03.03.2020

That was confusing. Yesterday’s blog post was representative of my thinking: given that certain people were upset when Chromium took away the Directwrite toggle in 2016, and type rendering on Chromium-based Vivaldi deteriorated significantly for me with v. 2.10 (it turns out v. 2.9 was the turning-point), then did Chromium only switch fully to Directwrite for me earlier this year? Luckily I wrote a caveat: ‘There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.’
   Snowie2000, one of the developers of MacType, suggested I try Cent Browser, arguably the only Chromium browser that still has a Directwrite toggle: you could still disable it in favour of GDI.
   Cent Browser by default is marginally better than what I was seeing on Edge, Vivaldi 2.10 and others, but once I turned Directwrite off, I saw a very different display, with far heavier type.

Cent Browser, Directwrite switched off

Cent Browser, default

Edge

   It wasn’t what I expected to see, and without taking issue with those who support GDI rendering in Chromium, it lacked fidelity (at least for me) with what the type looked like in print. I can see clearly why it has its adherents: it is superior to the default. But, in other words, what I experienced on Vivaldi between 2007 and January 2020 was using Directwrite, and whatever is going on now is using something else, or ignoring other settings on my PC.
   Yesterday I theorized that if the change happened between Chromium 77 and 78, then I should see that in the source browser. I installed a v. 77 from the repository. As you know, these are stand-alone and can run without a full installation. What I saw was the inferior rendering, so the “switch” didn’t happen then. It may have happened, as I was told on the Vivaldi forums, with Chromium 69, something I am yet to confirm.
   Therefore, whatever Chromium is doing isn’t something that’s been documented, to my knowledge, except for here. And Opera and Opera GX, if they are based on Chromium 79, seem not to be afflicted by this bug. Or they are interacting with other programs I have in order to keep the type rendering faithful, with decent hinting and contrast.
   The question is: what is causing the far inferior type display on Chromium today?

PS.: Trials on Chromium 68 and 69—they’re the same (i.e. poor type display). This may have gone on for quite some time.—JY


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Has Directwrite arrived on my Chromium-based browsers four years after everyone else?

03.03.2020

After considerable searching, the bug that I reported to Vivaldi, and which they cannot reproduce, appears to be one that the general public encountered back in 2016, when Chromium took away the option to disable its Directwrite rendering. I don’t know why I’ve only encountered it in 2020, and as far as I can tell, my experience is unique.
   It’s a good position to be in—not unlike being one of two people (that I know of) who could upload videos of over one minute to Instagram without using IGTV—though it’s a mystery why things have worked properly for me and no one else.
   When I switched to Vivaldi in 2017, I noticed how the type rendering was superior compared with Firefox, and it was only in January this year when it became far inferior for me. Looking at the threads opened on type rendering and Chromium, and the screenshots posted with them, most experienced something like this in 2016—a year before I had adopted Vivaldi. If my PC worked as theirs did, then I doubt I would have been talking about Vivaldi’s superior display.
   There’s a possibility that what I saw from 2017 actually was Directwrite, and whatever they’re using now is yet another technology that no one has made any note of.
   I’ve posted in the Vivaldi and MacType forums where this has been discussed, as my set-up could provide the clue on why things have worked for me and not others. Could it be my font substitutions, or the changes I’ve made to the default display types in Windows? Or the fact that I still have some Postscript fonts installed from the old days? Or something so simple as my plug-ins?
   Tonight I removed Vivaldi 2.11 and went to 2.6. I know 2.5 rendered type properly—Bembo on the Lucire website looks like Bembo in print—so I wondered if I could narrow down the precise version where Vivaldi began to fail on this front. (As explained earlier, after 2.5, no automatic updates came, and I jumped from 2.5 to 2.10.)
   It was 2.9 where the bug began, namely when Vivaldi moved from a Chromium 77 base to a 78 one. This is different to what Ayespy, a moderator on the Vivaldi forums, experienced: version 69 was when they noted a shift. Yet Opera GX, which works fine, has a browser ID that claims it’s Chrome/79.0.3945.130 (though I realize they can put whatever they like here). Brave, Chrome and Edge look awful.
   We can conclude that not all Chromium browsers are created equally (goes without saying) but I understand that the rendering isn’t something that each company (Vivaldi, Opera, etc.) has fiddled with. Therefore, something I’m doing is allowing me to have better results on Opera, Opera GX and Vivaldi versions up to 2.8 inclusive.

Vivaldi 2.8

Opera GX

Firefox Developer Edition 74.0b9

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Posted in design, internet, technology, typography | 1 Comment »


One News is hard to miss on TV, but hidden on the internet

18.02.2020

I wanted to see what TV1 news (I can never remember its official name with all its rebrands over the years—is it One Network News, TVNZ1 News, One News, or something else?) had on GM’s decision to shut Holden, but I missed both the six o’clock and the Plus One screenings. I headed online with some trepidation because I recall that I could never find the most-watched programme on the channel on previous occasions. This time I decided to document my attempt.
   Usually I would get stumped by the log-in process that made me lose my place, so this time I decided to log in first.

Nowhere to be seen. Ah, but it’s a TV1 show, so what if I go to the TV1 page?

Nope. Under news and current affairs, we have Breakfast, Seven Sharp, Fair Go and Te Karere. There’s a 1 News link at the top, what if I go there?

No joy, at least not for the full six o’clock broadcast. I did spy a Kiwi category, and surely TV1 news is Kiwi-made. Let’s see …

Apparently only the Tonight and Midday bulletins count as Kiwi-made.
   Despite my searching for it around 8 p.m., it wasn’t under ‘What’s new on TV’ either. Something that finished broadcasting an hour ago isn’t new.
   By this time what I do is go on Twitter to ask for help and eventually someone finds it for me, which isn’t the most efficient way of doing it, but in the past that’s how I’ve solved it.
   Tonight I put news into the search box and got it there after doing all the above, but why does TVNZ make it this hard? It’s their flagship news programme.
   And Conan Gorbey on Twitter found it for me tonight. Thanks, Conan!

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Posted in design, internet, media, New Zealand, TV | No Comments »


Asus ROG Strix Evolve: a gaming mouse for a non-gamer

18.02.2020

My early 2000s Microsoft Intellimouse 1·1 is still the perfect shape for me. After getting the second-hand one into service last year, I thought that I needed a spare. I’ve several other mice, including no-brand ones, that are a decent size, but I got used to having the forward and back buttons on either side.
   Microsoft makes a Classic Intellimouse these days, but it’s based on a later design, and it appears the side buttons are on the left only, which seems to be the convention in the late 2010s and early 2020s. It’s also had some reviews criticizing the quality, so I knew I couldn’t go with the latest.
   I headed back to Recycling for Charity, where I sourced this Intellimouse, but judging by the stock, I’m not alone in my preference. All that were left were smaller mice, making me wish that I bought multiple Intellimouses a few years ago and stocked up. This surely is a massive hint to mainstream mouse makers on a latent, forgotten market.
   After sampling some during spare time at Noël Leeming in Porirua, which did fit my hand, I opted to look online. The Noël Leeming ones were mostly Logitech, and my experience is that their mice last about two years. I wanted quality.
   After much searching, one mouse that matches the dimensions of the Intellimouse (125 mm × 65 mm × 40 mm) with one millimetre out on the height is the Asus Republic of Gamers (ROG) Strix Evolve, and our old friends at Just Laptops in Albany had them on special at under NZ$70 plus freight. That’s a lot more than the NZ$3 I paid for the used Intellimouse and the NZ$25 I paid for the Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000 in 2015, but with Asus claiming that the switches were good for 50 million clicks—probably 10 times more than regular mice—I decided that three times the price for ten times the longevity (at least in one respect) was acceptable. And it had two switches on each side, which I could program.
   It arrived a (working) day later. A lot of the gaming features are lost on me: the option to have lighting effects, choosing your own colour or having it cycle, for instance. I don’t necessarily need DPI switching. It’s simply vital that I have something my right hand is comfortable with.

   The mouse comes with a second set of covers, so you can raise it slightly to suit your hand. I tried all permutations: left high, right low, vice versa, both low, both high, before deciding on having both sides in the raised position. The rubber side panels help with grip, and they aid comfort.
   The first negative is that the forward end isn’t as wide as I was used to. The Microsoft mice are a reasonable width all the way down, and the Evolve is slightly narrower. That means my ring finger touches the mouse pad more on the side, as it did with an earlier Lenovo (plenty of those at Recycling for Charity, incidentally). I thought I wouldn’t be able to get used to it, as I didn’t with the Lenovo, and it does continue to be a slight problem. In other words, I haven’t quite got the perfect mouse and it’s a lesson about buying online when your requirements are this strict (though again I wouldn’t have considered this a major problem if manufacturers weren’t skimping on materials and giving people repetitive strain injuries).
   Asus hasn’t deceived about the measurements: it is 125 mm wide at its greatest width, just as Microsoft has it on theirs.
   I may put up with letting my ring finger drop and go along the mouse pad for the time being just for comfort’s sake and see if I’m OK with washing the pad more regularly. Or adjust my hand positioning slightly. But I know I cannot use the modern mice.
   One Tweeter noted that maybe the mouse manufacturers are finally appealing to women, and I had to agree it was nice for us men to experience just once what it’s like for them in a usually male-designed tech world.
   The other features are excellent: the ability to program the switches, which I did very early; and I can turn the lighting off as I see no point to it if my hand is on the mouse obscuring most of it. Then again, I’m not a gamer.
   The mouse wheel and switches are far more solid than anything I’ve encountered, making the 50 million-click claim believable. I do occasionally hit the right button inadvertently, probably out of unfamiliarity, and I must hit the DPI switch from time to time, again accidentally.
   Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my eye out for second-hand Intellimouses. Mine has become the back-up again, and really I didn’t think I was asking for much. Microsoft had a perfect design for which the tooling must be long amortized, so it makes you wonder why they don’t just trot it out again and make a bundle more off us.

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Returning to Firefox?

17.02.2020

I wonder if it’s time to return to Firefox after an absence of two years and five months. After getting the new monitor, the higher res makes Firefox’s and Opera GX’s text rendering fairly similar (though Chrome, Vivaldi and Edge remain oddly poor, and Vivaldi’s tech people haven’t been able to replicate my bug). There’s a part of me that gravitates toward Firefox more than anything with a Google connection, and I imagine many Kiwis like backing underdogs.
   Here are some examples, bearing in mind Windows scales up to 125 per cent on QHD.

Vivaldi (Chrome renders like this, too)

Opera GX (and how Vivaldi used to render)

Firefox

   Opera renders text slightly more widely than Firefox, but the subpixel rendering of both browsers is similar, though not identical. Type in Firefox arguably comes across with slightly less contrast than it should (especially for traditionally paper-based type, where I have a good idea of how it’s “supposed” to look) but I’m willing to experiment to see if I enjoy the switch back.
   In those 29 months, a lot has happened, with Navigational Sounds having vanished as an extension, and I had to get a new Speed Dial (FVD Speed Dial) to put on my favourite sites. FVD uninstalled itself earlier today without any intervention from me, so if that recurs, I’ll be switching to something else. I don’t like computer programs having a will of their own.
   A lot of my saved passwords no longer work, since I change them from time to time, and it was interesting to see what Firefox remembered from my last period of regular use. I’ll have to import some bookmarks, too—that file has been going between computers since Netscape.
   The big problem of 2017—Firefox eating through memory like crazy (6 Gbyte in a short time)—could be fixed now in 2020 by turning off hardware acceleration. It’s actually using less right now than Opera GX, and that’s another point in its favour.
   I also like the Facebook Container that keeps any trackers from Zuck and co. away.
   I did, however, have to get new extensions after having resided in the Vivaldi and Opera space for all that time, such as Privacy Badger.
   If I make Firefox the default I know I’ll have truly switched back. But that Opera GX sure is a good looking browser. I might have to look for some skins to make common-garden Firefox look smarter.

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Andrew Yang’s campaign: #YangGang was just the beginning

13.02.2020


Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

On Andrew Yang’s run for the Democratic nomination in the US:

If Mastodon ever stops supporting that Javascript, I wrote: ‘Pretty stoked at what Andrew Yang has managed to achieve. Certain forces tried to minimize his coverage, to give him as little legitimacy as possible (sounds familiar). Yet he also normalized the idea of an Asian American presidential candidate, paving the way either for himself in 2024 or for someone else. ’. Those forces include some of the Democratic activist media.
   It’s a damned shame. Yang didn’t vilify Republicans, listened to both sides, and was a pragmatist with solutions. Granted, there were areas his policies fell short, but at least he presented the optimistic side of American politics, something so rarely seen in what we outsiders perceive to be such a negative, murky world. Now Americans (and those of us watching from without) will likely face a shouting-match campaign.

And found on the web: a cellphone with a rotary dial that its creator, Justine Haupt, claims is more practical for her, and where calling is faster than with her modern phone. No apps, no SMS, but if you’re after something to call people, it does the job admirably. Her frequently dialled numbers are stored, so it’s only new numbers where she has to dial. The dial also serves as a volume control. Since I’m getting sick of apps, and I can’t be alone, Haupt may be on to something.
   In her words: ‘A truly usable rotary-dial cellphone to replace my flip phone (I don’t use a smart phone). This is a statement against a world of touchscreens, hyperconnectivity, and complacency with big brother watchdogs.’

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Human-centred peripherals should be the norm

02.02.2020

I’ve had a go at software makers before over giving us solutions that are second-best, because second-best has become the convention. While I can think of an explanation for that, viz. Microsoft packaged Windows computers in the 1990s with Word and Outlook Express, it’s harder to explain why peripherals haven’t been human-centred.
   I thought about this with my monitor. It’s “only” 24 inches, despite being QHD. But it works for me, as 27 or more would see me move my neck to view the corners. I was always happy with the 24-inch Imac: I had no desire for it to be larger. If I had 27 inches I might need to sit further back, cancelling out the upsizing. Despite saying this, I can see in some situations where people would be quite happy with 27 (and even larger ones for coders), but it begs the question of why there aren’t more 24-inch QHD monitors on the market. My friend Chelfyn Baxter believes it is the optimum size for productivity (granted, he told me this over five years ago, though I still see little to fault him). Are our suppliers driving us to larger sizes, just as car importers are driving us to automatics here? (The latter is not backed up by any research on preferences, to my knowledge.)
   The same thing applies to keyboards. To me, the optimum width of a keyboard is around 40 cm. Any wider, you’re reaching for your mouse and causing repetitive strain injuries. I’ve stuck to my 40 cm rule for a long time and haven’t had the sort of pain I had in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I had a standard-width keyboard. The mouse is roughly where I expect it to be, and I wouldn’t object if it were closer still. Again, it begs the question of why 40 cm isn’t a standard if it saves us from pain.

   Then there’s the mouse—I now use a Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1 from the early 2000s after my 2005-made, 2015-new one gave up. I know there’s a lot of comedy around the US president having small hands, but we’re no longer in the sort of society whose products change to appease a leader. But regular mice are awfully small, a trend that seemed to have begun in the 2010s. I can’t hold them and maybe I have large hands, but I can’t be alone. In so many places I visit, I see some very uncomfortable hands try to grip a small mouse. I learned that was a bad thing in the days of the round 1999 Apple USB mouse (it wasn’t the Imouse), which created a trade in adapters that snapped on around it.
   Fortunately, mice manufacturers do offer larger sizes, recognizing that not all of us accept a child’s size as the standard. Here I can understand why mice have downsized: the manufacturers attempting to save a few bob and forcing more of us into it. However, there must be a decent part of the population who think, ‘I’ll be uncomfortable with that. I won’t buy it,’ and let the market move accordingly.
   I wonder how much more comfortable and productive a chunk of the population would be by following a few basic rules: have a monitor—whatever size suits you—where you limit strain on your neck; have a keyboard around 40 cm wide or less; and have a mouse which your hand can rest on (and keyboard wrist rests and mouse wrist rests to suit to make you comfortable). But I know most of us will just go, ‘The default is good enough,’ and unnecessarily suffer.

Speaking of practical, I hope Mudita gets its designs on the market sooner rather than later. Who needs pizzazz when we all value simplicity? Technology serving humanity: what a novel idea! Here’s how we can help.

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Sticking with 24 inches, but going to QHD: a pleasant upgrade

31.01.2020


The Dell P2418D: just like the one I’m looking at as I type, but there are way more wires coming out of the thing in real life

Other than at the beginning of my personal computing experience (the early 1980s, and that’s not counting video game consoles), I’ve tended to have a screen that’s better than average. When 640 × 360 was the norm, I had 1,024 × 768. My first modern laptop in 2001 (a Dell Inspiron) had 1,600 pixels across, even back then. It was only in recent years that I thought my LG 23-inch LCD, which did full HD, was good enough, and I didn’t bother going to the extremes of 4K. However, with Lucire and the night-time hours I often work, and because of a scratch to the LG that a friend accidentally made when we moved, I thought it was time for an upgrade.
   Blue light is a problem, and I needed something that would be easier on the eyes. At the same time, an upgrade on res would be nice.
   But there was one catch: I wasn’t prepared to go to 27 inches. I didn’t see the point. I can only focus on so much at any given time, and I didn’t want a monitor so large that I’d have to move my neck heaps to see every corner. On our work Imacs I was pretty happy to work at 24 inches, so I decided I’d do the same for Windows, going up a single inch from where I was. IPS would be fine. I didn’t need a curved screen because my livelihood is in flat media. Finally, I don’t need multiple screens as I don’t need to keep an eye on, say, emails coming in on one screen, or do coding where I need one screen for the code and the other for the preview.
   Oddly, there aren’t many monitor manufacturers doing QHD at 24 inches. There was a very narrow range I could choose from in New Zealand, with neither BenQ nor Viewsonic doing that size and resolution here. Asus has a beautifully designed unit but I was put off by the backlight bleed stories of four years ago that were put down to poor quality control, and it seemed to be a case of hit and miss; while Dell’s P2418D seemed just right, its negative reviews on Amazon and the Dell website largely penned by one person writing multiple entries. I placed the order late one night, and Ascent dispatched it the following day. If not for the courier missing me by an hour, I’d be writing this review a day earlier.
   I realize we’re only hours in to my ownership so there are no strange pixels or noticeable backlight bleed, and assembly and installation were a breeze, other than Windows 10 blocking the installation of one driver (necessitating the use of an elevated command prompt to open the driver executable).
   With my new PC that was made roughly this time last year, I had a Radeon RX580 video card with two Displayport ports, so it was an easy farewell to DVI-D. The new cables came with the monitor. A lot of you will already be used to monitors acting as USB hubs with a downstream cable plugged in, though that is new to me. It does mean, finally, I have a more comfortable location for one of my external HDs, and I may yet relocate the cable to a third external round the back of my PC.
   Windows 10 automatically sized everything to 125 per cent magnification, with a few programs needing that to be overridden (right-click on the program icon, then head into ‘Compatibility’, then ‘Change high DPI settings’).
   Dell’s Display Manager lets you in to brightness, contrast and other settings without fiddling with the hardware buttons, which is very handy. I did have to dial down the brightness and contrast considerably: I’m currently at 45 and 64 per cent respectively.
   And I know it’s just me and not the devices but everything feels faster. Surely I can’t be noticing the 1 ms difference between Displayport and DVI-D?
   I can foresee this being far more productive than my old set-up, and Ascent’s price made it particularly tempting. I can already see more of the in- and outbox detail in Eudora. Plantin looks great here in WordPerfect (which I often prep my long-form writing in), and if type looks good, I’m more inclined to keep working with it. (It never looked quite right at a lower res, though it renders beautifully on my laptop.)
   I feel a little more “late 2010s” than I did before, with the monitor now up to the tech of the desktop PC. Sure, it’s not as razor-sharp as an Imac with a Retina 4K display, but I was happy enough in work situations with the QHD of a 15-inch Macbook Pro, and having that slightly larger feels right. Besides, a 4K monitor at this size—and Dell makes one—was outside what I had budgeted, and I’m not sure if I want to run some of my programs—the ones that don’t use Windows’ magnification—on a 4K screen. Some of their menus would become particularly tiny, and that won’t be great for productivity.
   Maybe when 4K becomes the norm I’ll reconsider, as the programs will have advanced by then, though at this rate I’ll still be using Eudora 7.1, as I do today.

Incidentally, type on Vivaldi (and presumably Chrome) still looks worse than Opera and Firefox. Those who have followed my blogging from the earlier days know this is important to me.

Vivaldi

Opera GX

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Posted in design, internet, publishing, technology, typography | 3 Comments »