Practical Typography

February 25, 2014

I’ve always had a passing interest in typography as I was curious how some books, reports etc were much easier to read and assimilate than others mainly through the way they were visually presented. Because of this, typography’s a very relevant topic for writers as well as designers.

I’m a member of a local book club and last year we ended up reading Sex and Stravinsky by Barbara Trapido (Bloomsbury Press, 2010) – in case you’re interested, it got a 6 out of 10 rating!

However at the back of the book it had something I’d never seen before, a page entitled ‘A Note on the Type’:

The text in this book is set in Baskerville, and is named after John Baskerville of Birmingham (1706-1775). The original punches cut by him still survive. His widow sold them to Beaumarchais, from where they passed through several French foundries to Deberney & Peignot in Paris, before finding their way to Cambridge University Press.

It then goes on to describe details of the type.

I so liked the font (that I’d not heard of before), it’s now my default for all the notes and writing I do (mainly in Scrivener), I find it really easy on the eye.

Related to this, I recently came across a very clear site that goes through all of the key factors: Practical Typography:

This is a bold claim, but I stand be­hind it: if you learn and fol­low these five ty­pog­ra­phy rules, you will be a bet­ter ty­pog­ra­ph­er than 95% of pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers and 70% of pro­fes­sion­al de­sign­ers. (The rest of this book will raise you to the 99th per­centile in both categories.)

All it takes is ten min­utes—five min­utes to read these rules once, then five min­utes to read them again.

The section on Sample Documents is especially enlightening.

Hunger For The Higgs

February 22, 2014


I was fascinated to read that (see here):

More than 10,000 people have signed up for an online course to study the work of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Professor Peter Higgs.

The free seven-week course, called The Discovery of the Higgs boson, begins this week and is being run by the University of Edinburgh where Prof Higgs worked when he developed the “God particle” theory.

The course is being run on the FutureLearn platform, a partnership of 23 universities.

The requirements seem quite modest: The course requires a basic level of mathematical skills, at the level of a final-year school pupil. A basic knowledge of physics is helpful, but not required.

Although it’s already started, it may be worthwhile joining if you’re interested in the topic as just 2 hours a week is needed. The link to the course is here.

I’ve previously written about the Higgs here and here (I did academic research in this area for over 10 years before moving to the commercial sector).

Picture credit: LiveScience.

A Scary Lack Of Imagination

February 10, 2014

According to security firm SplashData, here’s the top 10 most-used passwords for 2013:

  1. 123456
  2. password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. abc123
  6. 123456789
  7. 111111
  8. 1234567
  9. iloveyou
  10. adobe123

SplashData’s top 25 list was compiled from files containing millions of stolen passwords posted online during the previous year. The company advises consumers or businesses using any of the passwords on the list to change them immediately.

From the picture below, produced by another company Dashlane, it’s clear that this is not helped by the fact that there’s often little encouragement to actually use much better passwords (full details here).



From this infographic

Starting Projects Through Fiddling

February 6, 2014

I often start projects through fiddling around with bits and pieces of ideas and approaches I’ve previously developed. However some of these activities don’t always lead to anything substantial, just other bits and pieces. This can be fun and enlightening but I often think I’d feel better about the time and effort I put in if I ended up further down the road to ‘completion’. I expect this situation is fairly common.

On this subject, over the weekend I came across a related observation from the Macdrifter blog:

My second least favorite part of me is that I meander more than I’d like. I’m a big proponent of fiddling. All of my favorite things came out of fiddling. But I’d like to fiddle more constructively and actually finish things more often than not. I’m too easily excited and frustrated.

My plan to overcome this cultivated defect:

  • Make a plan before spending more than 10 minutes on an idea
  • Write down the goal before making a plan
  • Work on the plan every day for a week (if it takes that long)
  • Avoid scope creep and stick to the plan
  • Choose the projects wisely and review them often

I quite like the points made as this has the possibility of countering what often happens in practice. You get an idea and then investigate it a bit – the possibilities seem endless and exciting! However, as he says, if you’ve spent over 10 minutes on this, it’s really time to stop and think out a simple plan and goal (especially goal).

I think just doing this one thing would be worth it’s weight in gold, even to the extent of briefly recording alternative plan options for hindsight purposes.

The next part is discipline; actually constraining yourself to focus and deliver and not get distracted. A week is actually quite a long time, enough time to know if there’s something useful there or not.

Finally, reviewing projects often and honestly (and hopefully wisely). This is probably the area I need to improve on most.

In my opinion ‘smart reviewing’ is quite a skill. The ability to openly and honestly assess progress (and to re-evaluate how realistic goals are) – both necessarily rather fuzzy characteristics in the bigger picture – is not that common.

Related to this, see also this post on obliquity (why our goals are best achieved indirectly).

Visual Stories In Five Seconds

February 3, 2014


A film director – any guesses?

The answer, and more examples, can be found on Pinterest. The pictures are taken from a fascinating book, Life in Five Seconds: Over 200 Stories for Those With No Time to Waste.

I’m playing around with using this ultra-compact style for summarising (to myself) some business ideas I’ve recently had. It forces you to cut out everything that is inessential (no words allowed)…

It might be helpful to you too?