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A beautiful idea and an excellent time-waster

October 29th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Spell stuff with Flickr!This is what we mean when we talk about elegance in programming. So simple, yet so amazing.

N for Nordic lift o33 A M

B E35 r39 Pewter Uppercase Letter G

n O a m

B E36 r-spo2 Cimetière du Père-Lachaise

Pastry Cutter F O U N. Pastry Cutter D

true Y P DSC_1609 g8 R a- P H - Hyresgästföreningen Y

Thanks to Erik via Carrie-Mae for the link.

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Humanism Vs. Technologism

October 28th, 2008 by Noam Berg

A thread on lead me to this pearl of wisdom from John Maeda (paraphrased here):

Technologist: I do, because I can.

Humanist: I do, because I care.

He talks about being a humanist technologist, finding the balance between these two attitudes. This really spoke to me. Humanism is a big influence on what I like in type and typography: early Rennaisance type, because it was modelled directly from the script hands of the time; the element of craft and human involvement in letterpress and type design; respecting tradition and seeking to maintain continuity.

It’s nice to have it formulated so elegantly.

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Shifts in Direction

October 26th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’m definitely feeling like the documentation and research of digitization/revival philosophies is becoming the main issue of my thesis. Sorry, e-paper. Since the program’s aim is to “explore the design implications of emerging technologies and the evolving connections between technology, design, and the human experience”, then looking at how revivals are done seems like the better option. Instead of just making something with limited use I’m looking at a much broader issue, and contributing new information to the field.

For this coming week our class has been tasked to do a sort of peer-review-user-testing scenario. How does one user-test partially completed typefaces? Arguably my target audience now is (are?) type designers. I’m the only type geek in my class, and there aren’t any other type designers in the grad program. I’m kinda stuck on what to do. The Zen answer would be “do nothing then” and Zen’s pretty cool, so howsabout I politely decline to participate in this recent farce? I have a few other reasons I’m not exacty in the mood to cooperate with the department’s stipulations, some stuff going on that I’m kind of pissed about…let’s just leave it at that. The best thing for me right now is to be left alone to do my work. I’m an adult and I know what I’m doing, just let me do it please.

Okay, Noam’s own drummer…we’re marching!

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Midterm Presentation

October 15th, 2008 by Noam Berg

We had our first round of midterm presentations last night. Lucky for me, I was in this first batch. I stayed up half the night and most of the day getting my damn presentation together…at first I wanted to do something with Flash, have things panning over a big field of data, with a recorded voice over. If I had started on Saturday, I might have been able to pull it off. As it was, I spent most of the previous night just writing out the script. Around 2:30 in the afternoon I realized this just wasn’t going to get done on time, so I abandoned everything and did a simple version of the presentation with Keynote. This actually worked out surprisingly well. Keynote has a very nice template called “Letterpress” which worked well for my presentation. Hey, the default typeface for the template is Hoefler Text, how could you go wrong?

I got some good feedback and critique from the reviewers. It was pointed out that the stuff I’m doing now is going a bit far afield of the e-paper connection, and that if I don’t get that going soon it may be better to abandon it and concentrate on the digital type aspect. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on e-paper yet, but it’s been hard to get any solid info on the stuff. My writing instructor referred to the sample text I showed from Chelmaxioms, that it’s sort of loking at Talmudic sources when I need to start with the torah. He said I need to find my story, my hero’s journey, get back to the Biblical and only then get to the Talmudic. I’m not entirely sure what that meant but it sure sounded pretty.

Another suggestion was maybe to design an actual Hebrew face instead of a Hebrew-inspired latin, have that for e-paper. It’s an interesting idea but I feel like Josh will be able to give me a lot more guidance if I’m doing latin type.

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Off Topic: bad type on the L train

October 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

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Binary Sort lowercase sketch

October 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

The “flag” serifs on the ascenders are problematic. The e doesn’t fit the rest of the characters yet.

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Binary Sort with Illustrator

October 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

As mentioned earlier, I’m experimenting with brush-stroked lines in Adobe Illustrator for the letterforms in Binary sort.

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Probable Phase II: Reviving Van Dijck

October 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’m getting more and more into the idea of doing a typeface revival for the second part of my thesis. The first phase, which I’m in, involves exploration of letterforms as a solution to display issues. The second phase can focus on taking an existing historical typeface and bringing it into the digital age, focusing more on the hinting and rasterization. I’ve been considering Monotype Van Dijck for the revival.

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More Binary Sort development

October 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg
Binary Sort capitals

Binary Sort capitals

I still don’t know how I feel about these yet. I’m doing a parallel version of the letters with Adobe Illusrator. The ones here are constructed from shapes, and in Illustrator I’m using “skeletons” and applying a calligraphic stroke to them. I hope that somewhere in the middle, the right letterforms will emerge. So far the process doesn’t feel very organic. I want forms to emerge that seem like the only possible solution to the problem posed in the design. Nothing feels “right” yet.

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Frustration and Direction

October 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Since the iLiad misadventure made me re-evaluate what I’m doing with thesis, I’ve not had much luck getting things on track. I’m tempted to simply ignore higher-end devices and pretend the Kindle’s type is the best out there. Not really the mature solution, I know. I still want to stick with type design, but I need to reframe my project somehow.

Thesis studio has not been helpful, I’m afraid. It’s really hard to talk about type to people who aren’t into it and get any kind of decent feedback. I’m obviously not doing a good enough jb explaining what I’m trying to do and what’s important to me, because from the comments I get, I don’t think people “get it”. Least of all the instructor. I need to figure out how to organize my thoughts better and present them in a way that my concept and the aspects of it that are important to me come thorugh clearly to laymen.

It’s such a stark contrast to talking with type people about this stuff. Chatting about type with Josh or Ryan (Frisk, my instructor for design process) is such a breath of fresh air. Ryan did the Type & Media program in the Hague, and was pretty skeptical when I told him there’s a type design class at Parsons. His instructors would have a hissyfit at the idea that type design can be taught in a semester. Apparenty they’d “whip my ass” or some such if they heard I was planning to create a typeface (or even family) in half a year. Kinda funny, but I understand where they’re coming from (Holland. With all the history of Duch type design behind them).

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A kindred spirit?

October 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Filipe Fortes is doing some interesting stuff with type online. Might be a good person to talk to!

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Classic questions part 1: Why do we need more fonts?

October 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

This one has been asked and answered sooo many times it’s not even funny, but it came up in class today. Anyway, it’s good practice, just to stay sharp about these things.

So why do we need more fonts?

A typeface is, among other things, an aesthetic statement. Yes, type has a lot to do with pragmatism and structure, but as a set of designed images it represents a certain viewpoint about proportions, shape, symmetry and other artistic considerations. A typeface is a solution to an aesthetic problem. Aesthetics are subjective. It follows that no answer to an aesthetic question can be final and universal.

In normal English, that just means you can’t really create a perfect typeface because nobody will agree on what perfection is. What’s more, type gets called upon to solve many different problems, each requiring a unique solution.

Art, design, and aesthetics in general represent the times and the environment they are from. Typefaces are no exception. Times change and fashion, technology, politics, society and culture change with them. Is there any reason that type should be left out of the party?

The purpose of type is to give form to words. This can be a single word (or even letter) in a  logo, a sentence or two in an ad, or an entire novel. The most utilitarian typefaces are those that need to be legible and readable, and nothing more. What we consider legible and readable changes over time, ans the history of type clearly demonstrates this. So even text typefaces, the most neutral and proletarian of all typefaces, invite subjective evaluation.

Many typefaces were born out of technological necessity. Bell Centennial was designed for phone books: highly condensed, small lettering that maintained legibility and stayed clear when printed rapidly on cheap paper. My classic precedents, Georgia and Verdana, were designed for better screen viewing. Matrix was designed to fit in the limited RAM of early printers. Clearview was designed with all the requirements of effective highway signage in mind (and there are plenty of those). The list goes on. Each of these faces was designed not because the designer felt like making a new typeface, but because new technology created a need that no existing typeface could satisfy.

Why do we need more typefaces? Well, why do we need more shoes? More music? More clothing? More Movies? More of anything that is not purely functional?

I should try tackling this one again soon, when it’s not three in the morning after 14 hours of classes.

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A quick look at the development process

October 7th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Today you get some sceenshots of Binary Sort, starting to take shape in Fontllab. So far the letterforms look pretty clunky and graceless. Hey, it’s a work in progress. I have half a year to tweak this stuff!

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Off Topic: Polish Film Posters

October 4th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Ilovetypography linked to this amazing set of film posters from Poland. These are astounding!

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More sketches and assorted Hebrew visuals

October 1st, 2008 by Noam Berg

From my sketchbooks:

Calligraphic Hebrew Script, as used in Religious texts:

Early Hebrew printing:

Pages from the Talmud:

The Talmud is an anthology of Rabbinical commentary on the Torah, and involves some complex typography to represent the various exigeses accompanying the main text. Different typefaces are used to differentiate between different sources of commentary.

Modern hebrew type:

Precedents! Hebrew-inspired Latin scripts (that aren’t totally hackneyed):

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Hare-Brained Developments

September 24th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I started developing some funky ideas for my typeface. I was thinking about Kevin Larson’s Technology of Text article, comparing a lowercase g with a strong diagonal stroke to one which was more horizontal. So, horizontal strokes…perhaps introducng some squaring off into an old-style serif face will help it perform better onscreen.

This gets me thinking about strong horizontal elements. It just so happens that they’re a defining feature of printed Hebrew text, with which I am intinately familiar (if only by reading it all throuhgout school). What If I looked at early Hebrew types, like the ones used by the Soncino family in Italy? Maybe some Rashi script influences? It’s so crazy it just might work…using antique sources and forms to solve a digital problem is definitely in character for me. Plus, the Soncinos were in operation roughly around the same Time Nicolas Jenson was. It connects nicely with Jewish heritage and culture, which are important to me.

I started doodling some alphabets. They’re a bit funky and I’m not sure this will work. I still want the result to be a usable text face, with which you can set books and other extended texts. A good text face has just enough character to be appealing, but not enough to draw attention to itself. What I have now is far from subtle. Besides, not all Venetian letterforms work with squaring off.

the letters “cordoned off” on the left there are attempts at Rashi script, drawn from memory:

I think I have a cool name for whatever I end up with: Binary Sort. This plays on printing sorts (a sort is a single piece of metal type) and computer sorting algorithms. Hehe. Anarchist Typographer for the New Millennium, folks! He’s a clever one.

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iLiad blues

September 24th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Yesterday we finally got to play with iRex’s iLiad reader in class. I didn’t really have much time to play with it, but from the little I’ve seen, it may pose a problem for my thesis. The text on the device looked really good. Way, way better than the Kindle. Good enough that I doubt it needs specially optimized typefaces to look good. Furthermore, as I understand it, you can upload a PDF and it will display all the fonts you put on there.

If the iLiad represents the direction in which all e-readers are headed, my type design project is rendered obsolete. That said, it may be that lower-res devices like the Kindle will still be with us, as cheaper and faster alternatives to the Behemoth that is the iLiad. In that case, my research will still be relevant.

So where to go? I’m designing a typeface anyway, if only for the course I’m taking (and because it’s cool). I want to keep that as part of the my thesis process. I will, however, probably have to shift my focus a bit. I was talking with Ted Byfield about this, he suggested going more for documentation: what is the process one goes through to try to make a typeface work for low resolutions? It was an interesting point, but I’m not sure that’s the route I want to take. It feels like it’s headed in the direction of an art project, and if there’s one thing I won’t compromise about in my thesis, it’s that I’m not doing an art project. I love art and making art, but that’s not why I’m at Parsons. Another point Ted made was if I’m going the researhc route, I need to think about the durability of my final results. For how long will they be relevant?

Later in Thesis Studio I asked the class for some feedback, where I should go with the project, how I should shift the focus, etc. I got some good feedback from Chris (Chris Kirwan, our thesis instructor). He often talks about us all needing to be curators, gathering all the available knowledge within the domains of our projects. He suggested I look at the broader picture of type in the 21st century, what’s happening with it, where it’s going. i need to become the go-to guy for anything relating to the evolution of type. He came up with a great title, “Typographer for the New Millennium.” Later that was jokingly amended to “Anarchist Typographer for the New Millennium” after I expressed some flippancy about adhering to the department’s structure for the thesis process. I need business cards with that. Letterpressed ones.

So now it’s research on a broader scale, curation of all things digital and typographic, and business cards. I’m looking forward to running some type samples on the iLiad and playing more with the stuff uder the hood. One of my Digital Ink instructors wants to try porting Firefox to it, since it runbs Linux and has X-windows built in. I want to try porting LaTeX, and maybe even Fontforge and Inkscape for real kicks. Not that I’ve ever ported software before…but this is gad school, I’m here to learn, and if it was eaasy then my degree wouldn’t mean jack.

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Design Choices

September 22nd, 2008 by Noam Berg

We started working on our letters today in my Typeface Design class. Since I don’t have much data yet about E-Ink and its physical properties, or about the rendering technology driving it, I’m setting a somewhat arbitrary starting point.

Since my favorite faces are early rennaisance faces, I’m going to be drawing a lot of inspiration from them. I tend to prefer the Jenson-derived faces over Garamond/Jannon-derived ones. My top two favorites are Adobe Jenson Pro and Centaur (which is a bit lighter and feels frail when wet too small). I’m a sucker for those tilted crossbars on the lowercase e. That said, I’m aiming both for clarity and accessibility, and the Jensons are a tad quirky. Apparently Robert Slimbach felt so too, and Arno Pro remains in the Jenson spirit while toning down some of the eccentricities.

In terms of screen-designs for fonts, most serif offreings are based on more modern models than the Rennaisance. Georgia is more of a Transitional face, Constantia is a wedge serif, Lucida Fax is a slab serif (albeit a refined one). I’ll be looking at the various ways these designs were tweaked for low-resolution settings.

Between Arno’s grace and Lucida Fax’s utility, I’m hoping to find my own voice and come up with soething really nifty. As other avenues of research unfold, I’ll have more technical information to inform the work.

Here goes nothing!

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Screen Sizes and Resizing on the Kindle: part 2

September 14th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I ran an experiment this weekend to test the competing notions of kindle screen size. Now, technically the screen is a 600×800 display, but when you think about a displayed image you need to take the GUI stuff into account: the title on top, the scroll bar and indicator icons on the bottom. So, if you want accurate images you need to know how big the available area is, minus the “chrome”. Problem is, the Kindle resizes your images to fit the screen if they’re not the right size, instead of cropping. So how to tell?

I started with a 520×640 image in Photoshop. I created a pattern that would draw 1 pixel lines with 1 pixel space between them. I used it to make some vertical and horizontal srtipes.

I saved it as a PNG and cropped it to 550×450. Same pattern at the same size, just a smaller canvas. Saved that, uploaded both to the Kindle. Instead of my usual method of scanning, I set up at a camera station with a Nikon D80, a Nikkor micro 55mm lens and some lights. Much faster than scanning, but I’m not sure the results are as sharp (ironic since that’s been my problem with scanners). Here’s the result:

As you can see, both images are filling the display space. This means the Kindle is resizing one of the image. Looking at the close-up, it seems that it’s the 450×550 image that’s getting stretched to fit:

Looks like 520×640 pixels is indeed the effective area. This will be useful for making test images in the future.

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Plastic Logic: Full Walkthrough

September 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Read more for a nice demonstration of Plastic Logic’s recently unveiled e-reader.

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Screen Sizes and Resizing on the Kindle

September 13th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I really wish I had some other devices to compare against, but for now the kindle will have to do.

I’m doing some more testing, making images that I diden’t think would resize. Evicence points against that. From this discussion, it seems that the ideal size is either 550×450 pixels or 640×520. I’m gonna do a bit more experimenting, photographing an image at both sizes and comparing the result on the computer. More on this will soon follow.

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What is a Print?

September 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg

This relates more to my former life as an artist-printmaker, but it’s jolly good fun nonetheless. Back in 2001 MoMA had an exhibition about printmaking, and they put up a really nifty interactive Flash piece where litho, intaglio, silkscreen and relief printing are explained. You get to use little animated gouges to carve woodblocks, rollers for ink, the works. As an educational piece I think it’s superbly crafted. When I took Design and Education last year, we talked a lot about scaffolding: allowing novices to operate as if they were experts in the field. This happens in videogames when you’re doing something like racing cars or entering combat. You don’t need to be a NASCAR driver or a green berret to be able to play the game. The MoMA’s piece has simple interactions, it’s true, but they’re effective.

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September 11th, 2008 by Noam Berg

In my last in-class presentation, I showed a sample of Nicolas Jenson’s Original type. I later went on to explain that many regard the Renaissance humanist types as the Golden Standard for book type, against which all others must be measured. A few people were naturally incredulous, since the Jenson sample is old and weathered, plus it’s in Latin. It didn’t seem all that readable!

Sample of roman typeface by Nicolas Jenson, from an edition of "Laertius", printed in Venice 1475. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sample of roman typeface by Nicolas Jenson, from an edition of "Laertius", printed in Venice 1475. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Fair is fair…so I offer in comparison a sample of Adobe Jenson Pro. Fairly faithful to Jenson’s type, with the added advantage of being fresh, new, digital and anti-aliased.

Paragraph set in Adobe Jenson Pro. Text taken from "In the Beginning was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson (

Paragraph set in Adobe Jenson Pro. Text taken from "In the Beginning was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson (

As you can see, it’s very clear. When I get the chance, I’ll update with a proper specimen sheet.

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More fun with Spiro

September 11th, 2008 by Noam Berg

This guy took me all of five minutes to draw from scratch in Inkscape:

I was attempting to recreate one of those great Caslon capital italic Qs. It’s not historically accurate by a long shot, but in terms of time…It would’ve taken half an hour of tweaking to get it right with regular vector tools. I’m getting really excited about this technology.

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Playing with Spiro

September 10th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I decided to go ahead and download the latest development build*(link to .dmg file) of Inkscape for Mac OS 10.5, and played around with Spiro a bit.


Big Whoa.

If you’ve ever tried to draft a classical capital C letterform, you know how tricky the openings are. Last year in digital lettering It would take me forever to get natural looking C’s. Spiro makes it ridiculously easy. I predict this will have quite an effect on type designers…though I expect some of the older hardcore types will turn their noses at the level of automation that Spiro offers.

*In other words, an unfinished beta version with all the latest features, but not all the bugs worked out yet.

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Hacking the Esquire Cover

September 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Sure enough, somebody’s gone and done it! Disppointingly, it seems these are segmented displays and not active matrix displays: in other words, not a grid of pixels that can be manipulated at will. Kinda like those old school handheld games that Bandai and Tomy used to make. This will make it much less fun to play with.

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Plastic Logic’s E-reader on display at DemoFall

September 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Well folks, Plastic Logic have presented their goodies to the Public at the DemoFall conference. From the video that’s out, it looks like it’s still greyscale and has the same slow/flashing refresh as the rest of the pack. I thought they’d worked that out, no?

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NY Times: New E-Newspaper Reader Echoes Look of the Paper

September 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

There’s an article in the Times today about Plastic Logic‘s new e-paper device, designed with electronic newspapers in mind. For a while now people in the news industry have been predicting that E-Ink newspapers would be mainstream reality by late 2009. Seems like they’re on track…it remains to be seen how the device itself performs, how ergonomic it is and how intuitive the interface is. Do a Venn diagram of paper news readers and computer-savvy people and I suspect the overlap would be small. To get people who aren’t comfortable with computers to start using these devices, the interface will have to be ridiculously easy and intuitive.

In other news, looks like the Esquire issue with the e-paper cover is out now. From the look of things, Joel Johnson was right on the money when he said Esquire’s just introduced the blink tag to print. Literally! It’s pretty disappointing, especially since most people were expecting a full page of e-paper. Looks like we get a small square of das blinkelights embedded in it. Weaksauce.

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Notes from class

September 8th, 2008 by Noam Berg

To do:

  1. Comprehensive timeline of media leading up to my project. I’m thinking multiple timelines: letterforms & writing, paper, printing and display technology. Obviously some will go back much further than others.
  2. Macro to micro: more comprehensive explication of precedents, domains, relevant media.
  3. More concrete and systematic research of type on kindle.

I just finished A Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell & Robert Bringhurst. 300 pages in 6 days, not bad. The book itself was enlightening. It also re-affirmed my feelings that oldstyle Venetian typefaces (such as Centaur and Adobe Jenson Pro) are as awesome as type gets. I’m thinking about what kind of model I want when I start to design my typeface? I’d love to model it on Jenson or Arno, but I don’t know if they’ll lend themselves to screen-friendliness. I’ll know more when I understand the rendering and physical make-up of E-Ink better.

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August 31st, 2008 by Noam Berg

Typographer mentions that Inkscape, an open source vector editing application, will be supporting an really nifty curve drawing library called Spiro. This library was created specifically for typeface design, and the demo is impressive:

It’s not in the latest stable release, so I’m gonna wait abit before playing with it. Spiro’s creator has a Carbon app on his site for playing around with the library, but either I’m an idiot or it doesn’t work properly.

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Off Topic: Henman-Bevilacqua Guitars

August 31st, 2008 by Noam Berg

Not only are these custom guitar beautiful, the photography on this website is stunning.

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comparing letterforms, geeking out with Firefox 3

August 29th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I didn’t realize this until two days ago, but Firefox 3 supports auto kerning and ligatures. I happened upon a blog set in Hoefler Text and to my amazement, the text was set with all the classic fi and fl ligatures. Unfortunately the most used fonts on the web (Times New Roman, Arial, Georgia, Verdana) don’t have this stuff built in. It works great with the ClearType faces and any decent adobe OpenType faces. Adobe Jenson Pro looks marvelous.  My test page is here, if you have any of the requisite fonts on your local machine and are using FF3 you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about.

I threw a bunch of typefaces together in Illustrator to see how the letterforms work together. Mainly, I wanted to compare each one against Georgia to get some insight on how web-friendly letterforms are distinct from print faces. Interesting that the g and a seem to be the most varied (which they are of course known for, but it’s cool to see it in action).

Guilty parties involved: Times New Roman, Georgia, Adobe Caslon Pro, Garamond Premium pro, Palatino, Minion Pro. In no particular order.

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Scalable Inman Flash Replacement

August 26th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Looks like somebodys figured out a very elegant way to create custon high-quality typography online, without sacrificing usability (text acts like text, not like a flash movie). Color me impressed! I might experiment with this here on the blog. It would be nice to have my titles in Adobe Jenson Pro or some other nice venetian.

I wonder what it would take to get this sucker running on the iLiad?

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Kindle 2.0?

August 26th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Engadget are talking about a new model (or two) of the Amazon Kindle in the works. I’m very curious to see how it will differ from the current one—what stays, what gets tossed, what gets added.

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Testing your type online

August 25th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I forget if I stumbled upon this or if somebody told me about it, but Typetester is a nifty website where you can compare typefaces to se how they display on the web. Sure, it’s nothing you couldn’t set up yourself in Photoshop in 10 minutes, but it’s a nice service (and not everyone has Photoshop). I lined up Calibri and Corbel against Verdana (shrunk by 0.1em for fairness, since Verdana and Georgia are both large for their point size). I think I like them a bit better—even on my Mac (yeah yeah, horribly blurry anti-aliasing, whatever) where they don’t benefit from ClearType rendering they seem cleaner, a bit more civilized. Similar results comparing Georgia with Cambria and Corbel.

Iiiiiiiiiinteresting… *strokes beard thoughtfully*

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More ClearType on Kindle

August 25th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Constantia and Cambria probably need to be a bit bigger to render nicely. Calibri maintains its poise well. I suspect more of Calibri’s clarity comes from the letterforms, whereas the others rely more on hinting (which is canceled out by the e-ink).

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Calibri on the Kindle

August 21st, 2008 by Noam Berg

Here’s what Calibri looks like on the Kindle:

(click for full size)

More ClearType specimens to come…

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Environmental impact

August 14th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’m curiuos how friendly or harmful the process of making epaper is for the environment. Does the paper-saving aspect balance out the resource consumption and pollution that are part of the manufacture process? I’d be intereswted to know if there are any impartial stats on this.

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In Defense of a dedicated reading device

August 14th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Jeff Gomez has been chronicling his experience with the Kindle on his blog, and one thing he mentioned caught my attention:

One thing that I don’t mind about the Kindle is that it’s an extra device. I used to think that I wanted an integrated device — one thing that did everything — and that I wouldn’t want to carry around yet another device or gadget. But I actually like the fact that the Kindle is (more or less) just a device for the reading of content. Maybe this harkens back to the fact that every book is a destination; you get into bed and pick up a book because you want to read. You don’t pick up a book to take pictures, record video or get your voicemail. So the fact that I don’t use the Kindle to play solitaire is fine with me. True, that means I can’t read something if I leave the house and have just my cell phone in my back pocket. But then again, a cell phone screen is too small, and most books are too big, so carrying a Kindle seems the right compromise.

This reminded me of the theories about “sleep hygiene”. It’s recommended that you don’t do anything aside from sleeping (and the Boinky Thing if you’re lucky) in bed. No homework, no taxes, no TV watching. Psychologically, if the bed becomes associated with things other than sleep (especially work), you’re less likely to get decent rest. I’ll bet something similar applies to reading. If you use a device for reading, and only reading, might it not make the experience more pleasurable than reading on your computer screen, which you associate with work? Daily Lit, for example, sends you chapters to read by email, but reading an email is not necessarily something you associate with pleasure. Email, your browser/mail client, the computer itself, are all part of the work environment. Leisure activity involves an escape from work, and physical separation surely reinforces the feeling being at play, and not work.

Things get tricky when you consider books you don’t read for fun. Your iLiad or Sony reader may have your favorite Vernor Vinge and Isaac Asimov, but also some O’Reilly php books and some technical PDFs from the office. What does this do to your reading experience, when your device isn’t “sanctified” for leisure reading? Then consider using these devices as web browsers and email reader. At the moment, I doubt most people are willing to have separate e-readers for leisure reading and work material (okay, maybe Woz would have a bookshelf full of iLiads, but not the rest of us mortals). Maybe someday when (and if) epaper devices become cheaper and more ubiquitous, this could be more feasible. It fits with the current predictions of magazine and news people on how you’d use epaper.

Posted in eBooks, ePaper having 1 comment »

August 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg

Bill Hill alerted me to this interesting development: Esquire are going with an e-paper cover for their October issue. Great way to get some displays for real cheap! Sure, the kindle did a lot for e-paper’s visibility, but now the price of entry is a mere…um…whatever Esquire costs, which I’m guessing is a bit less than $350. If this was Wired doing it instead of Esquire, they’d be including a more easily hackable controller. But it ain’t. So we’ll just have to figure this one out. By which I mean, of course, wait for some clever soul to figure out how to hack it and then post the HOWTO online.

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Bitmapped Text on the Kindle

August 12th, 2008 by Noam Berg

As promised, I have some results to share from my homebrew Kindle experiments.  Here’s an uploaded file where three blocks of text were input as an image, and the last bit as regular text and hence rendered in the Kindle’s default tyeface.  Scanned at 720ppi, shown here at 300ppi.

And a 720ppi comparison:

While the default Kindle text is blacker, it’s not much better (if at all) in terms of anti-aliasing and elegance.  Georgia expecially looks nice here, IMO.  Minion’s nice as well, but a bit thin.

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Further experiments

August 4th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’m playing around with the Kindle, seeing what can be done by feeding it PDF files of different sorts.  Text as outlines, text as bitmaps, that sort of thing.  I’d uploaded some articles that were scanned from print sources, and some of the texts looked better than the default typeface that the Kindle uses.  I’m hoping this might shed some light on the workings of the text rasterizer.  Might be easier just to ask somebody at Amazon…

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Books in Sci-Fi, part 1: Asimov

July 30th, 2008 by Noam Berg

As part of my research I’m looking at how various speculative fiction authors and futurists have imagined the evolution of print media. It seems only fitting to start with Isaac Asimov. In the book Prelude to Foundation, the Good Doctor describes a religious text which shows many characteristics of epaper. The volume looks like a book of blank pages, which at the flip of an activation switch become covered in slow-scrolling print. Apparently each page can store a limited amount of text, and when it scrolls down to its limit it resets (scrolling speed is adjustable). About the odd combination of old and new, the protagonist says of the books makers: “The Mycogenians are stubbornly primitivistic, but not entirely so. They will keep to the essence of the primitive, but have no objection to using modern technology to modify it for convenience’s sake. Who knows?”  Read on for the excerpt after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

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David Lynch hates iPhones (probably)

July 20th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I saw this on Jeff Gomez’s blog, it cracked me up.

Warning: not safe for work; Lynch has a potty-mouth.

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Print is dead: the Book and the Blog

July 19th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’m reading a very insightful book by Jeff Gomez called Print is Dead: Books in our Digital Age.  Jeff has some very good answers to most of the anti-ebook rhetoric that’s been flying around the past few years.  He’s done his homework and can back up his claims with relevant research and stats.  He also keeps a nice blog that continues his thoughts about the future of books ad reading, as well as related news stories.

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You never know when a good book will turn up

July 15th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I’ve been spending some time with my Aunt and Uncle in Charlottesville VA.  In a small downtown bookstore, I found a first US edition copy of Walter Tracy’s “Letters of Credit: A View of Type Design”.  I couldn’t find this book in NYC, and it turns up here.  funny how these things go.

The book itself is delightful, very English and very opinionated about type, type designers, their triumphs and especially their failings.  Tracy obviously had some fun writing this volume.  It’s been cited extensively in a lot of the other texts I’ve been reading, so apparently his opinions hold some currency with other typographers.

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Credit where credit is due

July 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

You’re hardly a graphic designer if you don’t post examples of bad design on your blog every now and then.  However, evey now and again you seee some totally unexpected good design—such as this mysteriously well-typeset no tresspassing sign I’ve encountered in various spots in Manhattan.  This specific one was somewhere on East 13th street near Union Square.  I guess the person doing the signs for the Manhattan DA’s Office has InDesign…

Ligatures and all

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The Sears Roebuck 1897 Catalogue: A graphic design tour-de-force

July 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I Picked it up at Strand Books today.  I was actually hunting for Letters of Credit by Walter Tracy, and instead walked out with the catalog, a Rocky & Bullwinkle book (alas, no hushaboom formula!), some 50s clip-art volumes and Lynd Ward’s woodcut novel God’s Man.  Anyway, this catalog is fantastic.  You know those fancy logos companies used to have, complete with an engraving of their company headquarters?  Michael Bierut complains about them in Helvetica.  Well, the Sears catalog has one for every…single…department.  All Amazingly executed, of course.  The reprint was published and copyright 1963, but I’m not sure if that means the illustrations inside count as public domain or not.  I sure hope so, it’s the best victorian clipart book ever!

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Kindle: 1, Noam: 0

July 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

I put together a lovely specimen sheet to test out on the Kindle.  Ben Bacon lent me his device today, with the PDF uploaded and ready to rock.  Imagine my dismay when I load the file, and all the text is in PMN Caecilia!  I had samples of Georgia, Verdana, Garamond, Jenson, Brush Script MT, all the ClearView typefaces…and the damn Kindle over-rode ’em all.  Seems that when confronted with text input, the Kindle ignores whatever type you feed it.  This makes it a poor platform for exploring type rasterization, since you can’t do any sort of comparative work.

I worked with what I had, trying both photographing the device and scanning it at 9600 dpi.  Unfortunately, since the screen isn’t flush with the surface of the device, the real close-up scans just didn’t have the depth of field to remain focused.  Here are some details I picked out (clikc on an image to see it full-sized):

The infamous Lorem Ipsum

Jeff Bezos’s signature

Screensaver portrait of Charlotte Brönte

And one from a photo I took with a Nikon D-80:

You can see how “salty” the display is.  Also, it certainly looks like the screen’s smallest pixel size is much larger than a single microcapsule.

What I was really hoping for was something more like this:

e-paper on the cover of nature (images taken from Molecular Machines web page)

In order to have some images like this to work with, I either need to get into a lab with a high-powered microscope, or convince the Molecular Machines group at the MIT Media Lab to give me some of their materials.  To that end I’ll be trying to contact the principal investigator.

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Useless Fonts

July 9th, 2008 by Noam Berg

A nice little parody of free font sites.  I had me a chuckle.

Posted in Art & Design, Off Topic having no comments »

About the Mad Scientist Running this Show

Noam Berg is a graduate Student in the Design and Technology MFA program at Parsons School for Design in New York City. He is also the (debatably) creative force behind Exfish Studio. Noam is obsessed with old vacuum tubes, type design, computers, guitars and comic books. Noam likes Thai sweet chili sauce, hats, suits & ties, Wacom tablets, Japanese green tea (with the toasted rice), nerdy science girls, many varieties of music, SLR cameras, AnarchoJudaism, lithography and pocket watches. Noam's not a big fan of cell phones, the cool kids, ugly and over-used fonts (you know who you are!) and talking about himself in the third person. Seriously, this is really weird. I'm gonna stop doing it now.