Typography Rising

The idea of “type” as we know it has been around since Gutenberg (or millennia earlier if we’re talking about wood type from China or Korea), but the concept of “typography” or a person known as a “typographer” is a more modern development. As pointed out, via Print magazine, in a new book by typographer and graphic designer David Jury called Mid-Century Type, it wasn’t until after World War II and advances in printing (thanks to book and magazine publishing) that “typography” became such a specialist field.

With advancements in printing came booms within the magazine and book industries, and further technological breakthroughs led to an elevated era of film and television title sequences. Coupled with a thriving travel economy which saw an increased need for signage and advertising, the golden age of the typographer came to the fore. 

Sounds pretty cool:

Each chapter of the compendium is dedicated to a particular sect of design in which typography has played a significant role. These chapters range from categories like Posters and Corporate Identity to Transport to Film & Television. Jury provides insights into European and American typographers within these fields, accompanied by over 500 illustrations of typefaces, advertisements, book covers, specialist journals, posters, and more.

When Doves Cry

Students of printing history may be familiar with Doves Press, a book printer based in Hammersmith, London, which operated for 17 years around the turn of the 20th century. One unique feature of its books was its specially designed typeface, variously referred to the Doves Roman, the Doves Press Fount of Type, or the Doves Type. Doves Press (named after The Dove, a nearby pub) was founded by T. J. Cobden-Sanderson who soon partnered with Emery Walker, an engraver and printer. Cobden-Sanderson tasked Walker with overseeing the design of what became the Doves Type. One of the best examples was the so-called Doves Bible.

Their partnership lasted until 1909, which ended with a nasty fight over the rights to the Doves Type. Rather than give Walker the rights—which were contractually specified to transfer to Walker upon the death of Cobden-Sanderson—in 1913 Cobden-Sanderson instead destroyed the matrices and punches and threw them in the Thames. Over the next several years, Cobden-Sanderson systematically destroyed all the type itself, tossing the lot into the river. Artnet takes up the story.

The letterforms only existed as a unique 16pt edition, meaning that when Cobden-Sanderson decided to “bequeath” every single piece of molded lead to the Thames, he effectively destroyed any prospect of the typeface ever being printed again. That might well have been the case, were it not for several individuals and a particularly tenacious graphic designer.

Enter Robert Green, who became obsessed with the Doves Type in the 2000s. His attempts to replicate it based on extant printed materials were unsuccessful—at least as far as he was concerned—so decided to try to retrieve the originals.  

Using historical accounts and Cobden-Sanderson’s diaries, he pinpointed the exact spot where the printer had offloaded his wares, from a shadowy spot on Hammersmith bridge. “I’d only been down there 20 minutes and I found three pieces,” he said. “So, I got in touch with the Port of London Authority and they came down to search in a meticulous spiral.” The team of scuba divers used the rather low-tech tools of a bucket and a sieve to sift through the riverbed.

He was able to recover 151 sorts (individual bits of type) out of 500,000, but it was enough for him to create a digitized version. With the help of “mudlarks” (people who search riverbanks for lost relics) like Jason Sandy he was able to find even more bits of the Doves Type—and other type as well.

“It is not that unusual to find pieces of type in the river,” Sandy said. “Particularly around Fleet Street, where newspaper typesetters would throw pieces in the water when they couldn’t be bothered to put them back in their cases. But this is a legendary story and we mudlarks love a good challenge.”

Photo Matthew Williams Ellis

You can get Doves Type via Typespec.

Sloppy Seconds

Here’s a new Internet term that we’re sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future: slop. Think of it as the new “spam.” It is defined as “unwanted AI-generated content.”

I’m a big proponent of LLMs as tools for personal productivity, and as software platforms for building interesting applications that can interact with human language.

…Not all promotional content is spam, and not all AI-generated content is slop. But if it’s mindlessly generated and thrust upon someone who didn’t ask for it, slop is the perfect term for it.

Remember that time Microsoft listed the Ottawa Food Bank on an AI-generated “Here’s what you shouldn’t miss!” travel guide? Perfect example of slop.

AI-Yi-Yi, Part the Infinity: Platonic Relationship

Via CNN, archaeologists have finally managed to decipher a set of ancient scrolls that pinpoint the location of where Greek philosopher Plato was buried—and his opinion about the music played on his deathbed.  

The so-called Herculaneum papyrus scrolls, which were charred after being buried under layers of volcanic ash following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, continue to be examined by experts using artificial intelligence and other technologies.

…The text is part of around 1,800 carbonized scrolls discovered in the 18th century in a building believed to have belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar, who lived in Herculaneum, a seaside town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Pompeii.

Experts are using AI along with optical coherence tomography, an imaging technique, and infrared hyperspectral imaging technology to read sequences of previously hidden text from the papyri that had been partially destroyed.

They had known for ages that he had been buried somewhere on the grounds of the Platonic Academy of Athens, but the deciphered scrolls specify a secret garden near the sacred shrine to Muses inside the Academy, a site that had been reserved for him.

The academy, by the way, was destroyed in 86 B.C.E. by the Roman general Sulla.

As for Plato’s last night:

It had previously been thought that the so-called “sweet notes” played by a slave woman from Thrace were pleasing to Plato, experts said at a presentation in Naples last week.

But the texts now reveal that in fact, despite running a high fever on his deathbed, he found that the flute music had a “scant sense of rhythm,” according to Ranocchia, who said he made the comments to a guest from Mesopotamia.

“He was running a high fever and was bothered by the music they were playing,” Ranocchia said.

He is not reputed to have said, “Either that music goes or I do.”

Fountain Solution

The latest entry in The Verge’s “Button of the Month” is the water fountain button. Some of you may remember that, before there was bottled water—or bottled water dispensers—there were public water fountains, also known in New England as “bubblers” (often pronounced “bubblahs”). At any rate, they still exist, and The Verge think the bubbler button gets as bad rap:

Who among us hasn’t walked up to a drinking fountain, expecting a bubbling stream of life-giving water, only to experience the crushing disappointment of a measly trickle after smashing in that button?

Sure, we’ll grant the premise: most of us have!

I’m beginning to think it’s not the drinking button’s fault; they’re actually some of the most elegant buttons out there. They’re one of the few remaining buttons where your push directly and mechanically controls the result. They’re over a hundred years old. And all the action happens within an inch of the button itself.

When your thumb pushes that metal disc inward, you’re also pressing a button beneath the button that uncaps a spout inside the spout. There’s a seal inside that blocks the flow of water when the button’s sticking out and releases it when you press down. Pushing down moves the seal that normally covers a tiny waterspout inside the mechanism, letting the water through. Then, it’s free to move, fill up the inside of the faucet, and shoot out the fountain at around 0.4 gallons per minute.

If you’re interested in a long history of the water fountain and how it evolved, click through. Ultimately, by the 1960s, the fountain manufacturers started using a cartridge system of which the button was a part. Part of water fountain maintenance was swapping out the cartridge when bits of it began to fail, negatively impacting water flow. Modern cartridge designs allow them to be replaced with a single tool.

But ironically, it’s a lack of even that basic maintenance that turns bubblers into dribblers, Haws technical product manager Josh Linn tells me. Many just need their strainer cleaned out or their height screw adjusted, he says. One of the company’s owners used to carry a little screwdriver around everywhere they went to fix dribbling fountains.

Interestingly (and we use the word advisedly), it is actually illegal for water fountains to be dribblers: the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that public water fountains shoot water out at least four inches high.

Graphene Goes for the Gold

Was it a good week for graphene news? It’s always a good week for graphene news! The Australian Olympic Team will be sporting graphene-enhanced apparel at the Paris Olympics. From (who else?) Graphene-Info:

The eco-friendly water sports apparel by Zhik will be made from sustainable, plant-based Yulex rubber, with superior thermal insulation, comfort and durability, all while generating 80% fewer CO2 emissions than conventional neoprene wetsuits. The fabric is infused with graphene, that can help return up to 20% more body heat, keeping bodies warmer for longer, regulating temperatures during low-intensity activities and aiding the drying process.

Up, Up and Away

Looking for an interesting and unique vacation idea? Why not stay in the house from the movie Up—which actually floats. Or a replica of Shrek’s swamp house. Or even Barbie’s Malibu Dreamhouse. It’s all part of a new Airbnb initiative. Says the New York Times:

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced that it was expanding stunt promotions like these under a new permanent category called “Icons,” featuring unusual and ambitious partnerships with brands and celebrities.

It was headlined by a replica of the floating house from “Up,” the 2009 animated Pixar film, balloons and all. With the help of a giant crane, the house will be suspended high in the air over the New Mexico desert.

Which does raise some practical questions:

Asked whether the house, which does not appear to be connected to the ground by pipes or wiring, had plumbing and electricity, the company said it was “fully functional.” Asked for details, the company said the house “is connected to a generator and other utilities that will be disconnected and reconnected before and after flying.”

OK, then.

Other listings include a recreation of the mansion from the “X-Men ’97” cartoon, built to appear two-dimensional, and the Minneapolis house where Prince’s character lived in the 1984 film “Purple Rain.”

No word on what one of these stays will set you back.

Quantum Leaps

One of the basic tenets of quantum mechanics—the fundamental theory in physics that describes the behavior of nature at and below the atomic level—is the “wave-particle duality.” First conceived by physicist Louis de Broglie in 1924, two years later famous cat owner Erwin Schrödinger expanded on the idea, which states that all quantum-sized objects, and thus all matter, exist as both particles and waves at the same time. His famous “wave equation” demonstrates this. Says LiveScience:

Schrödinger's famous equation is typically interpreted by physicists as stating that atoms exist as packets of wave-like probability in space, which are then collapsed into discrete particles upon observation. While bafflingly counterintuitive, this bizarre property of the quantum world has been witnessed in numerous experiments

However, scientists have now, for the first time, captured a clear image of atoms behaving like a wave.

Image credit: Verstraten et al.

The image shows Lithium atoms cooled to near absolute zero appearing as red dots on the image. By combining several of these images, the authors were able to observe atoms behaving like waves. 

…A microscope camera recorded light emitted by atoms in the particle state at two different times, with atoms behaving like waves in between. By putting together many images, the authors built up the shape of this wave and observed how it expands with time, in perfect agreement with Schrödinger's equation.

Wise After the Event Horizon

Black holes, famously, have such a powerful gravitational pull that light itself is unable to escape beyond its event horizon. So if you were having a really bad day and happened to fall into a black hole, you wouldn’t be able to see anything. (It would also take an infinite amount of time, so you’d definitely miss a meeting or two.) At the edge of a black hole is what is known as its accretion disk—orange-yellow superheated matter that the hole has sucked into its vicinity. 

However, as for the interior, scientists have only ever been able to theorize as to what it would specifically be like, but now, via Gizmodo, NASA researchers have created an animation that takes the viewer into the black hole.

“I simulated two different scenarios, one where a camera—a stand-in for a daring astronaut—just misses the event horizon and slingshots back out, and one where it crosses the boundary, sealing its fate,” said Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in an agency release.

It’s pretty trippy.

Worm Sign!

No, not the planet Arrakis, but the Gobi Desert. Via Atlas Obscura, a group of Czech creature hunters have for decades sought to find the perhaps cryptozoological Mongolian death worm.

It’s a particularly implausible cryptid, supposedly growing up to six feet long, spitting acid poison that rapidly corrodes anything and kills on contact, and possibly shooting electricity. And yet, the worm has never left any physical evidence. The mystery of its existence was also seemingly solved in 1983 when a Soviet scientist demonstrated that the “worm” likely evolved from legends around a harmless local snake, the Tartar sand boa.

But, undaunted, in 1990 the first expedition was undertaken to find the elusive worm.

Initially, they planned to bait traps with the worm’s favorite foods. But locals didn’t know its diet.

Which was not unexpected, since it probably doesn’t exist.

So they took a page from Dunejerry-rigging a “thumper” in hopes its rhythmic pounding would summon the burrowing beasts. 

It didn’t. But they—and others—have launched further expeditions.

One in 1992, using small explosives instead of a thumper. And one in 2004 that used a small aircraft to survey the dunes and scrublands. In the years since, teams of Americans, Brits, and Kiwis have launched several major expeditions in search of the worm, and folks from across the world have journeyed to the Gobi to conduct small, personal searches, too.

It does seem odd that such a debunked creature would still attract such interest (but then people still believe in the Loch Ness Monster), but maybe not:

Sometimes, the need to find a mythic creature like the worm stems from “what we might call an ‘enchanted worldview,’” Baker explains, or a desire “to show the official narrative is wrong.”

More often, “the human fascination with the possibility of undiscovered creatures” motivates cryptid hunters, says Puglia. “The search for cryptids is often motivated by a mix of curiosity, adventure, the desire for discovery, sometimes fame or validation, and certainly the allure of the unknown and the human drive to explore and understand the mysteries of the natural world.”

If There Were the Sound of Water Only

If you are based in the Midwest and the Southwest, you are probably in the midst of cicada fever, as two broods emerge simultaneously for the first time since Thomas Jefferson was President. The New York Timeshas all the cicada news that’s fit to print.

In a rare occurrence, a trillion cicadas from two different broods are expected to begin appearing in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the United States at the end of April.

It’s the first time since 1803 that Brood XIX, or the Great Southern Brood, and Brood XIII, or the Northern Illinois Brood, will appear together in an event known as a dual emergence.

How many bugs are we talking about?

one trillion cicadas, each just over an inch long, would cover 15,782,828 miles if they were placed end to end, said Floyd W. Shockley, an entomologist and collections manager at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Once they emerge, the swarming hordes will last about six weeks. Fortunately, cicadas are not really dangerous in any way.

Cicadas don’t bite or sting, nor do they carry any diseases. But since they’re “not great fliers and even worse landers,” cicadas often end up on sidewalks and city streets, where they can be squished by people or cars and “could conceivably make things slick.”

And in one of those “…make lemonade” scenarios, it turns out cicadas are edible. We’ll spare you the details here if you’re squeamish, but NPR shares some cicada recipe ideas.

Hot Trend

If cicadas are on the menu, one condiment you probably won’t be using on them (or anything else) is sriracha, or at least Huy Fong Sriracha. The past few years have seen no shortage of Huy Fong Sriracha, but this year’s is especially acute. Says Food & Wine:

There is currently a severe drought in Mexico, where Huy Fong’s red winter jalapeño peppers are grown, and the high temperatures and dry conditions can cause the plants to stop ripening altogether, never achieving their prized red color. According to a letter obtained by the Post, the company says the peppers haven’t achieved the ideal shade (they’re still too green), and it would affect the hue of the finished product. As such, Huy Fong will wait until the next growing season later in 2024. 

There are of course many alternative sriracha brands, which don’t appear to be affected by a pepper shortage.

Even now, in the age of endless fusion and experimentation, the rooster bottle’s sweet heat and garlicky punch maintains a dedicated fandom, which is why it’s so important to get the look and feel right. A greener pepper just wouldn’t achieve the desired effect.

If you must have only Huy Fong, there is a thriving secondary market that will likely get pricier as current inventories decline.

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

May 6

1536: King Henry VIII orders English-language Bibles be placed in every church. In 1539 the Great Bible would be provided for this purpose.

1835: James Gordon Bennett, Sr. publishes the first issue of the New York Herald.

1840: The Penny Black postage stamp becomes valid for use in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

1862: American essayist, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau dies (b. 1817).

1889: Typographer, known for work on Times New Roman font, Stanley Morison born.

1915: American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter Orson Welles born.

1940: John Steinbeck is awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Grapes of Wrath.

1949: EDSAC, the first practical electronic digital stored-program computer, runs its first operation.

1960: American singer-songwriter and guitarist (They Might Be Giants) John Flansburgh born.

May 7

1539: Italian printer Ottaviano Petrucci dies (b. 1466).

1711: Scottish economist, historian, and philosopher David Hume born.

1812: English poet and playwright Robert Browning born.

1824: World premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna, Austria.

1840: Russian composer and educator Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky born.

1846: The Cambridge Chronicle, America’s oldest surviving weekly newspaper, is published for the first time in Cambridge, Mass.

1952: The concept of the integrated circuit, the basis for all modern computers, is first published by Geoffrey Dummer.

May 8

1880: French novelist Gustave Flaubert dies (b. 1821).

1886: Pharmacist John Pemberton first sells a carbonated beverage named “Coca-Cola” as a patent medicine.

1912: Paramount Pictures is founded.

1920: American graphic designer and director Saul Bass born.

1926: English environmentalist and television host David Attenborough born.

1926: American comedian and actor Don Rickles born.

1937: American novelist Thomas Pynchon born.

1980: The World Health Organization confirms the eradication of smallpox. (Well, for now, anyway...)

1984: American publisher, co-founder of Reader’s Digest Lila Bell Wallace dies (b. 1890).

1985: American author and critic Theodore Sturgeon dies (b. 1918).

1988: American science fiction writer and screenwriter Robert A. Heinlein dies (b. 1907).

May 9

1911: The works of Gabriele D’Annunzio are placed in the Index of Forbidden Books by the Vatican.

1958: Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo has world premiere in San Francisco.

May 10

1824: The National Gallery in London opens to the public.

1869: The First Transcontinental Railroad, linking the eastern and western United States, is completed at Promontory Summit, Utah with the golden spike.

1902: American director and producer David O. Selznick born.

1954: Bill Haley & His Comets release “Rock Around the Clock,” the first rock and roll record to reach number one on the Billboard charts.

1962: Marvel Comics publishes the first issue of The Incredible Hulk.

1975: Sony introduces the Betamax videocassette recorder in Japan.

May 11

868: A copy of the Diamond Sutra is printed in China, making it the oldest known dated printed book.

1811: Thai-American conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker born.

1854: German-American engineer, invented the Linotype machine Ottmar Mergenthaler born.

1904: Spanish painter and illustrator Salvador Dalí born. (Fish.)

1942: William Faulkner's collections of short stories, Go Down, Moses, is published.

2001: English novelist and screenwriter Douglas Adams dies (b. 1952). So long, and thanks for all the fish.

May 12

1593: London playwright Thomas Kyd is arrested and tortured by the Privy Council for libel.

1812: English poet and illustrator Edward Lear born.

1828: English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti born.

1846: The Donner Party of pioneers departs Independence, Mo., for California, on what will become a year-long journey of hardship and cannibalism.

1937: American comedian, actor, and author George Carlin born.

1941: Konrad Zuse presents the Z3, the world's first working programmable, fully automatic computer, in Berlin.