Posts tagged ‘typography’


Title design in 1970: big geometric type rules

11.08.2021

There is something quite elegant about title typography from the turn of the decade as the 1960s become the 1970s.
   There is 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever by Maurice Binder, which apparently is one of Steven Spielberg’s favourites, but I’m thinking of slightly humbler fare from the year before.
   I got thinking about it when watching Kevin Billington’s The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, which has Futura Demi tightly set (it is the 1970s) but arranged in an orderly, modernist fashion, aligned to the left on a grid. Nothing centred here; this is all about a sense of modernity as we entered a new decade.


   Similarly the opening title for Alvin Rakoff’s Hoffman, starring Peter Sellers and Sinéad Cusack. For the most part it’s Kabel Light on our screens, optically aligned either left or right. It’s a shame Matt Monro’s name is spelled wrong, but otherwise it’s nice to see type logically set with a consistent hierarchy and at a size that allows us to appreciate its forms. Monro belts out the lyrics to one of my favourite theme songs, ‘If There Ever Is a Next Time’, by Ron Grainer and Don Black, and the title design fits with them nicely.


   It certainly didn’t stay like this—as the decade wore on I can’t think of type being so prominent in title design on the silver screen. Great title design is also something we seem to lack today in film. I helped out in a minor way on the titles for the documentary Rescued from Hell, also using Futura, though I don’t know how much was retained; given the chance it would be nice to revisit the large geometric type of 1970.

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Why the British people still prefer Boris Johnson

27.06.2021

When you see the utter dog’s dinner the British government has made of COVID-19, namely turning their country into a petri dish for mutations while they plunder the place with impunity, you have to wonder why many there still prefer these current Tories, when even Max Hastings and Sir Nicholas Soames don’t. Is it because Labour has no direction? That they don’t like Sir Phony Blair? The latest balls-up is this, by the Cabinet’s own Karl Pilkington, (now former) health secretary Matt Hancock:

I jokingly Tweeted (italics added): ‘Terrible casting in the Hancock’s Half-Hour remake. I can deal with the sidekick now being a woman called Sydney James but you never saw scenes like this with Tony and the original Sid.’ Not many liked the post so I assume I am getting a bit on the old side for the mainstream to get these references. And I thought I was doing so well matching the grey from the original titles and the Clarendon type.
   The answer of why Boris Johnson still appears to be their preferred prime minister, how he can constantly fall upwards (reference below), appears to lie in Hancock, too, specifically Tony Hancock.

   For those of us old enough to remember Tony Hancock’s sitcoms (note: I saw them as repeats), he played a version of himself, but one who was poorer, more outspoken and exaggerated. (Surely as he was voted Britain’s greatest comedian this side of the 21st century, enough of you must know what I am talking about.) But most of all, he lived in a world of self-delusion, that he was the cleverest man around and if only the right people would just see his genius. This is part of the same British comedy tradition as Alan Partridge and David Brent. As I said in a Toot on Mastodon tonight (inter alia): ‘Audiences sympathize with failures, and none have failed as much as this PM.’

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Fixing Wordpress’s problem of fake bolds and italics

11.06.2021

I haven’t been able to find anything on this bug online, but it’s very common.
   As far as I can recall, all of our online publications that use Wordpress have themes designed or modified by yours truly. However, Lucire Rouge has a mostly bought-in theme, where my changes have been limited to a couple of CSS rules. The theme developer actually came in and helped us with a few modifications, which shows the extent to which he does follow-up for paying customers.
   But there was one thing he was never able to crack, and I don’t think it’s his fault, since it happens on a lot of websites, including Medinge Group’s (also a theme I did not design, though I did earlier ones). On both these sites, there were no bolds and italics. There still aren’t on Medinge’s.
   There are <strong> and <em> codes in there, but the bolding and obliquing are done by the browser. The font files actually aren’t loaded, so what we see are false bolds (the browser attempts to “overprint” the roman, duplicating the outline and shifting it marginally to give the illusion of a heavier typeface) and obliques, not italics (it’s the roman file pushed over 15 degrees or so). The former is particularly bad, as the outlines clash, and the result can be hollow glyphs, something that any font developer will know when one outline winds up accidentally on top of another in Fontographer or Fontlab.
   These Wordpress themes rely on Google Fonts (another sin, in my opinion) so I don’t know if the fault lies with Google or Wordpress, or the developer. If Wordpress does indeed power 70 per cent of websites, then I have to say the bug is awfully common, and I probably do see it on a very high percentage of visited sites.
   The themes allow us to select the font family, but the selection only calls a single font file from the family.


Above: A graphic clipping text from Lucire Rouge that I sent to the developer.

   The solution, as I discovered after months of toing and froing with Lucire Rouge’s theme dev, was to do your own font-linking rules in the CSS file and upload the fonts themselves to the relevant directory on the server. I must note publicly the ‘months’ were not his fault, but due to my own delay. I should not expect computer programmers to be typographers, either.
   It is something that one needs to watch out for, as the fake bolds and italics are horrible to look at, and must look amateur, even to the non-professional.



Above: Fixed at last by yours truly.

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Rotten sequel ideas, no. 1

01.06.2021

I’m not a comedian by any stretch of the imagination (neither are a lot of the people on comedy programmes here in Aotearoa) but every now and then my mind goes to funny places. Such as this:

Commando II

   Since Coming 2 America was so uniformly awful (the best bits are in the trailer), this was another terrible sequel idea that came to mind today. Non-antipodeans who don’t know of Eric Bana’s past might not think his fictional casting here being terribly funny, but for a lot of us he was a comedic actor before he was the Hulk or the Time Traveler (one l, just this time, for the movie). But I couldn’t think of another funny 40-something Australian who had done some action.
   I always felt the way Vernon Wells played Bennett in the original was campy, as though he could see the conceit behind the whole thing of being in a Schwarzenegger movie in the mid-1980s. He wasn’t above parodying himself when he appeared in Weird Science in a role that recalled Wez in Mad Max 2.
   In case this comes up in a search while a Hollywood exec is looking up Commando II, please be advised that this would be a rotten idea.

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Helvetica in metal, 1985

03.03.2021

This was the back of Mum’s 1985 tax assessment slip from the IRD. Helvetica, in metal. The bold looks a bit narrow: a condensed cut, or just a compromised version because of the machinery used?
   Not often seen, since by this time phototypesetting was the norm, though one reason Car magazine was a good read was its use of metal typesetting until very late in the game. I know there are many reasons the more modern forms of typesetting are superior, least of all fidelity to the designed forms, but there’s a literal depth to this that makes me nostalgic.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


From my desk, 1986

24.01.2021

Before this gets recycled, I thought I’d scan it as a memento: a 1986 printout off our Riteman dot matrix printer (which I still have, with spare cartridges), hooked up to a Commodore 64. I forget the printer interface. The image isn’t mine: I only imagine that 14-year-old me was claiming copyright over the layout and text. To me this was all amazing. Dad bought a box of the line-flow paper from the computer store, I believe, a place called Einstein, run by a really nice guy called Raju Badiani (who also sold the computer system). Anything seemed possible, and by the summer of 1986–7 I was hacking the bits and bytes and creating my own bitmap fonts on the 64, trying to make it all look like Eurostile. Nothing as sophisticated as Emigre. The 5¼-inch floppies are still around somewhere!

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How to delete Windows 10 system fonts for real, not just remove registry references to them

13.08.2020

My last post implied that I ego-surfed and found a Wikipedia chat entry about me, but that’s not the case. I was searching for information on how to remove a system-protected font from Windows 10, and seeing as I often post solutions to obscure technical issues on here, I had hoped I recorded my how-to last time. The libel posted by some Australian Wikipedia editor came up during that search.
   Once upon a time, Microsoft didn’t care if you removed system fonts, but at some point, it began protecting Arial, whose design, for reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere, I’ve always considered compromised. There was one stage where you could replace Arial with something else called Arial, and as I had a licence for a very, very old Agfa version of Helvetica (do people remember CG Triumvirate?!), I decided to modify its file name to fool Windows into thinking all was well.
   The last time Windows did an update—version 1909—I had to resort to a safe-mode boot and taking control of the font files as admin, but I really could not remember the specifics. The problem is that when you install the “new” Arial, the existing roman one is used by quite a few applications, and you don’t really replace it—your only solution is to delete it.
   With version 2004, safe mode is quite different, and the command prompt and Powershell commands I knew just didn’t cut it. I realize the usual solution is to go into the registry keys—I’ve used this one for a long, long time—and to remove or modify the references to the offending fonts at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts. I’ve also used the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\FontSubstitutes key to make sure that Helvetica does not map on to Arial (in fact, I make sure Arial maps on to Helvetica). Neither actually works in this case; they are ignored, even bypassed by certain programs. And, really, neither deletes the file; they just attempt to have Windows not load them, something which, as I discovered, doesn’t prevent Windows from loading them.
   By all means, use these methods, but be prepared for the exception where it doesn’t work. The claim that the methods ‘delete’ the fonts is actually untrue: they remain in C:\Windows\Fonts.
   The other methods that do not work are altering the equivalent keys under WOW6432node (which get intercepted and directed from the 32-bit keys anyway), using an elevated command prompt to delete the files (at least not initially), or doing the same from safe mode (which is very different now, as safe mode is in the same resolution and the Windows\Fonts folder displays as it does in the regular mode—so you cannot see the files you have to remove). You cannot take ownership of the font files through an elevated Powershell (errors result), nor can you do this from safe mode. Nothing happens if you delete FNTCACHE.DAT from the system32 directory, and nothing happens if you delete ~fontcache files from the Local directory.
   What was interesting was what kept calling arial.ttf in the fonts’ directory even after “my” Arial was loaded up. The imposter Arial loaded in most programs, but for the Chromium-based browsers (Vivaldi, Edge), somehow these knew to avoid the font registry and access the font directly. This was confirmed by analysing the processes under Process Monitor: sure enough, something had called up and used arial.ttf.
   This Wikihow article was a useful lead, getting us to delete the fonts under the Windows\WinSxS folder, and showing how to take ownership of them. I don’t know if altering these ultimately affected the ones inside Windows\Fonts, but I followed the instructions, to find that the original Arial was being accessed by three programs: Vivaldi, Keybase, and Qt Qtwebengineprocess. I shut each one of these down and removed the Arial family.
   Reboot: it was still there. Then it hit me, and I posted the solution in the Microsoft Answers forum (perhaps inadvertently prompting a Microsoft programmer to make things even harder in future!). Another user had told me it was impossible, but I knew that to be untrue, since it had been possible every other time.
   The solution is pretty simple: since you can’t see the full Windows\Fonts directory with Windows Explorer, then I needed another file manager.
   Luckily, I had 7zip, which I opened as an administrator. It allowed me to go into the folder and view all its contents, not just the fonts called up under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Fonts, which we know is not an accurate representation of the fonts being used by the system. From there I could finally delete the offending four fonts without changing the ownership (which makes me wonder if the Wikihow advice of changing the owner under Windows\WinSxS wound up affecting the Windows\Fonts files). Once again, I had to close Keybase, Vivaldi and Qt Qtwebengineprocess.
   It took from c. 4 p.m., when my desktop PC updated to v. 2004 (my laptop had been on it for many weeks; soon after its release, in fact) to 2 a.m., with a break in between to cook and eat dinner. I’m hoping those hours of having typographic OCD helps others who want to have a font menu where they determine what they should have. Also, user beware: don’t delete stuff that the system really, really needs, including an icon font that Windows uses for rendering its GUI.


Using Google as a last resort—except this search, which I did again as an illustration, now displays in CG Triumvirate rather than Arial. Normally, Google is a big Arial user (Arial and sans-serif are in the CSS specs) and Chromium browsers are all too happy to circumvent the registry-registered fonts and go straight into your hard drive.

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When not having something drives creativity

23.07.2020

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.

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Fixed Vivaldi’s poor type display, thanks to wmjordan

07.03.2020

It took two months but I finally got there.
   Vivaldi now displays type normally though the browser interface is slightly messed up. But I’ll take good type display, thanks.
   On the MacType forums, a user in China called wmjordan was in the same boat but had found a solution. In their words:

For the recent version of Vivaldi 2.10, 2.11, you need to create a shortcut, and modify the command line, append the "--disable-lcd-text" parameter behind the executable name, and MacType will work on the web page content window. The "--disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity" parameter is recommended by snowie2000.

my command line:

vivaldi.exe --disable-lcd-text --disable-features=RendererCodeIntegrity

   I used the latter method, but the type was still quite poor for me. I had to do one more thing: start Vivaldi in Windows 8 compatibility mode.
   It’s messed up the top of the browser a little but it’s a small price to pay to have everything readable again.
   Snowie2000, the main dev for MacType, says a registry hack is their preferred workaround, at github.com/snowie2000/mactype/wiki/Google-Chrome#workaround-for-chrome-78.
   It turns out that Chrome 78 (and presumably Chromium 78, too) did indeed have a change: ‘Starting from Chrome 78, Chrome began to block third-party DLLs from injection. But they provided a way to disable the protection either from the command line or by policy.’
   I was right to have investigated which version of Vivaldi represented the change earlier (it was 2.9, which equated to Chromium 78). After testing wmjordan’s suggestions out on 2.9, I upgraded to 2.11, and it was still fine.
   Opera GX is still the more resolved browser (works as it should out of the box) but there are some aspects of Vivaldi that I’m familiar with after two-and-a-half years (to the day). Looks like I’ll be going back to it for my main browsing, but I know I’ve found another great browser along the way, and I’ve updated my Firefox, too.

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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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