Orange You Glad…?

Halloween is almost upon us, so to celebrate, after a fashion, Boing Boing offers up some interesting facts about the color (or, more precisely, the word) orange. Perhaps the most significant fact about it is that the word orange described the fruit long before it was used to refer to a color. Prior to the introduction of the word (and fruit) orange in the 1300s, the color we now know as orange was referred to as “yellow-red” or often just “red.” This is why the red deer, the robin red-breast, and even red-haired people are referred to as such, even though they display a color more akin to orange.

Boing Boing also refers to the fact that orange is notoriously difficult to rhyme.

There's an eye-rhyme for orange: it's "sporange," a botanical for a portion of a fern. Its pronunciation is slightly different, though, so it doesn't really work. If you count proper nouns, then there's also The Blorenge, a mountain in Southeast Wales.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Two Directions

Some of you may be old enough to remember the term “boustrophedon printing,” which described (and may still refer to) a type of computer printer that printed one line from left to right, the following line from right to left, and so on. It has a great etymology—“boustrophedon” comes from the Greek bous (“ox”), stroph? (“turn”), and don (“like, in the manner of”)­—or, essentially, “like the ox turns [while plowing].” The term itself comes from the older technique of boustrophedon writing, whereby every other line is flipped and rendered using reversed characters.

All this leads up to an interesting Boing Boing post about a 1909 patent for a font in which each letter has a vertical axis of symmetry—meaning it can be read forward or backward. Why would anyone want to do this? Scott Perky, the designer of the font, argued that being able to read lines left to right, then right to left, etc., zigzagging down the page, reduced “eye-transit” and the subsequent fatigue. As he put it in his patent:

In ordinary reading where the intelligent action of the brain is exerted through the eyes in movements from left to right with alternate senseless skippings from right to left, there are some disadvantages which have to do, not only with the irrelative exercise of the brain in finding the beginning of the new line while remembering the connection of the text, but also with the rapidly recurring re versions of the eye balls in skipping back ward, which may be compared in effect to the rapid flashes of alternate light and dark through a paling fence as one passes by at high speed.

We are not sure that switching to a new form of reading would be any less taxing on the brain.

Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Fonts of Learning

For those of us in graphic communications, typeface choice is more a question of design aesthetics, with legibility sometimes taking a backseat to design, which was especially the case in the 1990s, when we recall receiving an events calendar from a graphic design association and it was so overdesigned that it took a great deal of scrutiny to make out that it was even an events calendar.

At any rate, for most people outside the design community, typography is given short shrift and often whatever the Microsoft Word default is usually suffices. But an interesting article in Discover points out that typeface choice can impact learning and comprehension—and not in the way one would think (as it were):

According to some studies, hard-to-read fonts such as Bodoni, Comic Sans, Haettenschweiler, or Monotype Corsiva are better for retaining information compared to fonts like Arial or Times New Roman. Participants recalled more information from the material they read when it was presented in a font that was difficult to read, according to a 2010 study published in Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. 

Note to researchers: we cannot condone the use of Comic Sans. We continue.

Additionally, a 2013 study in the Journal of Education Research found that this benefit also applies to students with dyslexia. This can appear counterintuitive, but in reality, the increased demand for mental processing may promote better attention toward the current task and improve the reader’s ability to retain information. 

They go on to add that hard-to-read fonts, as long as they are not distracting (which rules out Comic Sans due to all the vomiting), generate “desirable difficulty”—“the resulting cognitive burdens may improve performance because they require more mental effort.”

Because font disfluency may benefit information retention, a team of designers and behavioral scientists from the RMIT University created Sans Forgetica, a hard-to-read font that was specifically designed to invoke deeper processing. It has an atypical back-slanted design and gapped letters that trigger the brain to complete the letterform. The concept of desirable difficulty was the principle behind Sans Forgetica: Its letterform is just unconventional enough to be of note and trigger memory recall, but not so illegible as to be considered incomprehensible, says Stephen Banham, a typography lecturer at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia who helped create the font.

Font size, style, and color also play a role in memory and comprehension.

Knowing the impact of fonts on our cognitive processes has real-world applications, according to experts. People read roughly thousands of messages a day, Banham points out, which can include safety information that’s helpful to keep in mind.

“Retention of information is also important in most circumstances,” he explains. “The applications of memory-enhancing typographic design based on psychological principles are massive, including specific use in childhood learning as well as dementia research.”

We may use this for the text in our next print edition.

Life’s Little Hacks

Newspapers on the Radio

It’s no secret that newspapers have been shutting down in record numbers, another trend that began before COVID, but which the pandemic only accelerated. The venerable Chicago Sun-Times, also on the ropes, may have found a savior in an unexpected source: public radio. Says The Verge:

Chicago Public Media, which owns the radio station WBEZ, is currently in talks with the Sun-Times to merge. A final deal would combine their newsrooms and audiences in hopes of creating a financially stable enterprise for both teams. Similar mergers and acquisitions have become a common way to bolster the struggling print industry, but if radio were to take on a major newspaper, that would be a first.

Public media stations, by virtue of being nonprofits, have maintained their financial health even through the pandemic. And some of them are helping out their print brethren.

To stay afloat, some smaller newsrooms have given up independence, being bought by news conglomerates or becoming joint entities with other local outlets — and public radio and TV stations have increasingly offered themselves up as partnersNew York Public Radio acquiring the website Gothamist was one of nine similar deals in recent years, triggering researchers to document the trend by creating the Public Media Mergers Project. Public radio has been a particularly strong force, holding its ground amid digitization and the podcasting craze (partially because it’s participated in it), and it might be strong enough to help print do the same thing.

The tragic loss that has stemmed from the decline in local newspapers is that of local investigative journalism—which may benefit from a public media merger.

certain types of local reporting — public-service and investigative journalism in particular — are often the most expensive, says Friedlich. Many local public-service stories involve “long lead times” and “deep investigations,” he says, as well as steps that are relevant to a story’s locale, like doing environmental testing or submitting freedom of information requests to local government.

When donations are incentivized by nonprofit status, they can help cover those costs. In 2016, The Lenfest Institute, a nonprofit, acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper, making contributions tax-deductible if they’re made to the institute to support the Inquirer. Under this arrangement, Friedlich says, the resulting donor support has comprised “a critical 5 percent” of the paper’s annual revenue, being used for “meaningful initiatives in digital transformation, investigative news, and diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Coffee Talk

Sinking Your Teeth into Graphene

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! Everyone’s favorite miracle material is now being used in dentistry! Spain-based Graphenano is studying the use of graphene nanotechnology for products such as the G-CAM disc for CAD/CAM milling systems, where graphene is a useful alternative to zirconia. Says Graphene-info:

“Unlike zirconia, for example, which is still widely used, our graphene nano-reinforced biopolymer G-CAM disc has excellent blending properties,” explained Graphenano Dental General Manager Jesús Martínez. He went on to say that “the appearance is extremely natural and resolves all the mechanical, physico-chemical and biological failures of the rest of the materials currently used in the industry”.

“Our material also benefits patients, of course, as it is really light and a lot softer than zirconia. A zirconia prosthesis that weighs 70 g may only weigh as little as 12 g when manufactured using the resin and graphene combination. With G-CAM, patients feel no difference to their natural teeth,” Martínez added.

The Important Questions

Having a Fling

Here’s an interesting conundrum. Say, you want to make paintings, but you really hate painting. (Some of us kind of feel that way occasionally when we have articles to write….) What do you do? Of course: create a robot that can paint. Or, more precisely, that can fling paint. To that end, JBV Creative’s Flingbot.

Unlike most robots, which are designed to do tasks in a predictable, repeatable way, flingbot was designed to do the complete opposite- Create completely unrepeatable, wildly unpredictable, works of art. This was achieved using a combination of mechanical parameters and code that randomly picks from these parameters. This meant the engineering process was focused on designing for each one of the parameters.

Those parameters included fling strength, fling angle, paint options, paint amount, colors per throw, throws per canvas, and scoop profile.

All in all, accounting for all the different parameters, there are almost 3 trillion paintings that Flingbot can make. The number is likely even higher than this because there are even more variables to consider that are out of Flingbot’s control.  These include the consistency of the paint, the angle of the canvas, the temperature in the room...the list goes on.  It's safe to say that each one of Flingbot's painting is truly one of a kind. 

Watch Flingbot in action:

Jackson Pollock, eat your heart out.

All Maps Amazing and Terrible, Part the Infinity

Great Resignation

As we point out in today’s Friday data dump, new business applications have been skyrocketing since the pandemic, and, not coincidentally, worker resignations have also similarly been soaring, as anyone who runs a business can attest. The Atlantic reports on the so-called Great Resignation.

Nearly 7 percent of employees in the “accommodations and food services” sector left their job in August. That means one in 14 hotel clerks, restaurant servers, and barbacks said sayonara in a single month. Thanks to several pandemic-relief checks, a rent moratorium, and student-loan forgiveness, everybody, particularly if they are young and have a low income, has more freedom to quit jobs they hate and hop to something else.

Slackers and loafers, right? Quite the opposite.

this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better. You may have heard the story that in the golden age of American labor, 20th-century workers stayed in one job for 40 years and retired with a gold watch. But that’s a total myth. The truth is people in the 1960s and ’70s quit their jobs more often than they have in the past 20 years, and the economy was better off for it. Since the 1980s, Americans have quit less, and many have clung to crappy jobs for fear that the safety net wouldn’t support them while they looked for a new one. But Americans seem to be done with sticking it out. And they’re being rewarded for their lack of patience: Wages for low-income workers are rising at their fastest rate since the Great Recession. The Great Resignation is, literally, great.

The article also points out why so many—especially those in travel hospitality, and leisure—have been quitting: the Great Rudeness.

Airlines in the United States reported that, by June 2021, the number of unruly passengers had already broken records—doubling the previous all-time pace of orneriness. The Atlantic writer Amanda Mull has chronicled America’s epidemic of bad behavior, from Trader Joe’s tirades to a poor Cape Cod restaurant that had to close briefly in the hope that its clientele would calm down after a few days in the time-out box. Cabin-fevered and filled with rage, American customers have poured into the late-pandemic economy with abandon, like the unfurling of so many angry pinched hoses. I don’t blame thousands of servers and clerks for deciding that suffering nonstop rudeness should never be a job requirement.

Even in the Before Times, many of the folks we knew who worked as waiters and/or bartenders often complained of being abused both by employers and by customers. Who can blame them for quitting? Adds Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture:

The CARES Act monies flowed to people mandated to shelter in place at home. Many of them did not spend the year sitting around with their feet up, collecting bennies — they improved their lot in life. Some learned new skills, got degrees online, trained themselves for new careers.

…I suspect the people who have been blaming the worker shortage on lazy workers have gotten it exactly backward: It’s not that these folks do not want work, it is that they have been motivated to improve their lot in life. Many have changed careers, and not only that, lots of these people have been launching new businesses to capitalize on their newfound skills, and to pursue a better life for themselves. New business formation has been huge, and in 2020 it was near record-breaking pace.

Whether this will continue past 2021/2022 remains to be seen, but hope springs eternal.

Us and They

Jenny, Jenny, Don’t Change Your Number

Chalk it up to the power of persistence. Boyan Slat, a Dutch inventor, announced, at age 18, that he had a plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste. Youthful ebullience, perhaps, but nearly 10 years later, he may very well be able to at least come close to his goal. And it took no small amount of trial and error. Says Business Insider:

The Ocean Cleanup launched its first attempt at a plastic-catching device in 2018, but the prototype broke in the water. A newer model, released in 2019, did a better job of collecting plastic, but the organization estimated that it would need hundreds of those devices to clean the world's oceans.

Naysayers gotta nay, but Slat persisted.

But over the summer, the organization pinned its hopes on a new device, which it nicknamed Jenny. The installation is essentially an artificial floating coastline that catches plastic in its fold like a giant arm, then funnels the garbage into a woven funnel-shaped net. Two vessels tow it through the water at about 1.5 knots (slower than normal walking speed), and the ocean current pushes floating garbage toward the giant net.

They tried it out in the Great Pacific Gyre, aka the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive trash-filled vortex the size of Texas which Ocean Cleanup estimates includes more than 1.8 trillion pieces. How did Jenny do?

Last week, Jenny faced its final test as the organization sought to determine whether it could bring large amounts of plastic to shore without breaking or malfunctioning. The Ocean Cleanup said the device hauled 9,000 kilograms, or nearly 20,000 pounds, of trash out of the Pacific Ocean - proof that the garbage patch could eventually be cleaned up. "Holy mother of god," Slat tweeted that afternoon, adding, "It all worked!!!"

When the plastic is brought to shore it’s recycled, at present being used to make sunglasses, which are then sold to raise funds to continue to process. Ocean Cleanup estimates that it will take 10 Jennys to clean up 50% of the Garbage Patch in five years. And while critics point out that even more plastic exists below the surface or on the ocean floor—which Jenny can’t reach—at least someone is doing something.

Plan B

The CCTV That Mistook a Woman for a Car

More and more traffic departments are using cameras to photograph and scan car license plates for the purposes of electronic tolling, collecting congestion fees (in London), or automatically sending tickets for various violations. However, they are not perfect, as driver in England discovered. According to The Guardian, David Knight was surprised and not a little confused to receive a fine for driving in a bus lane in Bath—a good 120 miles from Dorking, Surrey, where he lived. But he was equally bemused when he was presented with the photographic evidence of his violation. Turns out, the system analyzing the photograph confused a woman wearing a T-shirt that read “Knitter” with Knight’s registered license plate: “KN19TER.”

Paula Knight, David’s wife, contacted the officials who “burst out laughing” at the mix-up. “‘Obviously no one had looked at the picture and it had been computer-generated.’ She added: ‘We’ve been laughing about it a lot. There was no way I was going to pay for a woman walking in a bus lane with a funny T-shirt on.’”

Seems reasonable.

So That’s Who That Was

They Grow Up So Fast

This just seems wrong somehow. Via Gizmodo: “Fisher Price's Iconic Toy Telephone Now Actually Makes Phone Calls.”

Its iconic Chatter Telephone has been enjoyed by toddlers for 60 years now, and to celebrate that anniversary, Mattel has turned the toy into a fully-functional smartphone accessory that can actually be used to place or take phone calls.

Some of us remember having one, many many years ago when it actually resembled adult phones (well, except for the wheels and eyes).

The upgraded Chatter Telephone connects to a smartphone over Bluetooth, so the rotary dial can actually be used to place calls by dialing the person’s phone number, digit by digit (which is something most of us will probably have to look up in our phone’s contact list). When a call comes in it can be answered by simply picking up the Chatter Telephone’s red handset and talking into it, or by pressing the speakerphone button on the toy, which is the only real indication that this version is different from the toy.]

Now, if it could also place a call to a child’s dead grandmother, they’d be on to something.

Stay in Your Lane

Concert Hall of Fame

Here’s a good holiday gift for the classic rock lover in your life: Fillmore East: The Venue that Changed Rock Music Forever, by Frank Mastropolo.

Opened in 1968 by Bill Graham, New York City’s Fillmore East “set a new standard for rock concerts, introducing fans to giants of jazz, blues, and folk music. The hall’s stellar acoustics and Joshua Light Show’s psychedelic imagery made Fillmore East concerts unforgettable.” The book is a tribute to this venerable venue:

Interviews with ninety musicians and crew members include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Steve Miller, Roger McGuinn, Dave Mason, Robert Lamm, John Lodge, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen. More than 130 rare and exclusive performance and backstage images, posters and memorabilia will transport you to a musical era that will never be duplicated.

Points In Their Favor


There can be a fine line between cute and terrifying, and this may very well be it. What child—or adult, for that matter—wouldn’t want to cuddle up with this tarantula pillow?

Says Laughing Squid:

Ukrainian artist Nataliia Bondarieva creates incredibly lifelike, plush tarantulas in all sorts of colors and sizes. Perhaps her most remarkable line of these arachnids is her giant sleeping spider pillows that measure up to 75 inches (190 cm) across. Each of these giant pillows is constructed with faux fur and wire for bendable legs. Bondarieva states that many of her clients have bought her spiders in order to overcome their own arachnophobia.

These and other designs are available for purchase through the Lifelike Spider Art Etsy Shop.

We have to get a set of these for the guest room…

Hmmm…August Printing Shipments, Maybe?

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

October 25

1977: Digital Equipment Corporation releases OpenVMS V1.0.

2001: Microsoft releases Windows XP, becoming one of Microsoft’s most successful operating systems.

October 26

1825: The Erie Canal opens, allowing direct passage from the Hudson River to Lake Erie.

1861: The Pony Express officially ceases operations.

1892: Ida B. Wells publishes Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.

1946: Puerto Rican actress and author Holly Woodlawn born to walk on the wild side.

1958: Pan American Airways makes the first commercial flight of the Boeing 707 from New York City to Paris.

October 27

1858: Theodore Roosevelt born.

1904: The first underground New York City Subway line opens, later designated as the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line.

1914: Welsh poet and author Dylan Thomas born.

1923: American painter and sculptor Roy Lichtenstein born.

1932: American poet, novelist, and short story writer Sylvia Plath born.

1939: English actor, comedian, screenwriter, and producer John Cleese born.  

1977: American journalist and author James M. Cain dies (b. 1892).

2004: The Boston Red Sox defeat the St. Louis Cardinals to win their first World Series in 86 years.

October 28

1726: The novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift is published.

1886: In New York Harbor, President Grover Cleveland dedicates the Statue of Liberty. The first ticker tape parade takes place in New York City when office workers spontaneously throw ticker tape into the streets as the statue is dedicated.

1899: German-American engineer and inventor of the Linotype machine Ottmar Mergenthaler dies (b. 1854).

October 29

1675: Leibniz makes the first use of the long s (∫) as a symbol of the integral in calculus.

1787: Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni receives its first performance in Prague.

1911: Hungarian-American publisher, lawyer, and politician, founded Pulitzer, Inc. Joseph Pulitzer dies (b. 1847).

1969: The first-ever computer-to-computer link is established on ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet.

October 30

1466: German printer Johann Fust dies (b. c. 1400).

1885: American poet Ezra Pound born.

1938: Legitimately fake news—Orson Welles broadcasts his radio play of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, causing anxiety in some of the audience in the United States.

October 31

1795: English poet John Keats born.

1941: After 14 years of work, Mount Rushmore is completed.

1963: English singer-songwriter and guitarist Johnny Marr born.

1993: Italian director and screenwriter Federico Fellini dies (b. 1920).

2000: American journalist and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. dies (b. 1915).

Stay fresh, Cheese Bags!