All entries from November 2007

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  1. The Awakening by 4Hero feat. Ursula Rucker

    Great production (as always) characterises The Awakening by 4hero. It features acclaimed poet, Ursula Rucker who wraps her raw insights into smoothly powerful lyrics that mimic a conversation between mother and daughter. Thankfully for me, 4Hero continue the poetic, almost orchestral sound created on other tracks such as Twelve Tribes from the Creating Patterns album — the beats are still warm, driven and complex but the sound is more organic, even if the label says, “electronic”.

    The animation is by Judd Brett. He does a superb job of syncopating the video with the aesthetic of jontangerine.com, and throws in a few bits of caption typography too. Thanks, Judd!

    The Awakening is taken from the recent Album Play With The Changes which you can get in MP3 format via Tune Tribe or the proverbial iTunes.

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  2. Days like these

    Cartoon of a man carrying a ridiculously large box.

    Ever have days like these? (It’s the multi-tasking that does it. What you don’t see is the cats fighting in the box.)

    Sometimes, I think we’re really not all that efficient, no matter how we’ve been conditioned. After all, real efficiency would be working 4 hours a day to feed, cloth and secure ourselves, and then spending the rest of the day laughing in the sun with the kids. Instead, we work 8, 9 or 10 hours a day, and then buy an iPhone.

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  3. Complex Type: CSS Fix, ClearType Miss

    When an elusive penny drops, it’s always a good moment. Earlier today, I was thinking about the complex type rendering problem of a few days back. Skim that post, before you carry on and things will make much more sense.

    Suddenly, I realised what the solution was, and fixed the IE7 CSS problem in 5 minutes: After giving every element some padding and an invisible border—effectively forcing IE to recognise the element dimensions—it now renders the glyphs properly and doesn’t cut off loops or terminals that are outside the conventional em. Tinkering afterwards took another two hours but now the homepage has a new type experiment type folly for the masthead!

    So that’s the CSS sorted. I bumped into a IE7 problem with Eric Meyer’s unitless line heights along the way too, but that needs more research.

    Unfortunately, the ClearType anti-aliasing problem is out of my control. We simply can’t tell Windows to not use it, or to do it better. That’s up to users themselves, or Microsoft. So, for anyone looking at this site using Vista with ClearType enabled, here’s what you're missing:

    Safari screenshot

    Fig 1. OS X/Safari 2 screenshot of the masthead.

    For those of you lucky enough to be viewing using a Mac, or Safari on Windows, here’s what you're not missing:

    IE7 screenshot

    Fig 2. Parallels/Vista/IE7 screenshot of the masthead.

    The difference is stark. Even Windows standard rendering smooths large-sized text better than this. Update: See for yourself:

    Screenshot in IE7 using standard font rendering

    Fig 3. Parallels/Vista/IE7 with ClearType switched for standard rendering.

    ClearType seems to get worse as the font size increases. It sounds impossible that ClearType could be so bad, but my copy of Vista is a virgin Vista Ultimate, running on Parallels. No settings have been changed at all, and the only software installed apart from standard applications are browsers and anti-virus.

    So, there we have it, I predicted my own pedantry wouldn’t allow me to leave it be. With character predilections, as with rendering engines, knowing is only half the battle.

    Let me know what you think of the masthead type. You might even see it completely differently to me with a similar configuration. I’d be very interested in seeing a screenshot. I've not tested it in IE6, so bear with me while I get around to that. Is it worth keeping, even with the absence of decent smoothing in IE7/Vista?

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  4. The iPhone arrives in the UK

    Apple iPhone

    Apple’s hype machine is in full swing with the launch of the iPhone at 18:02 today. That’s two minutes past six this evening in long hand. Catching a brief interview on BBC 5Live just now in the middle of a late lunch I suddenly realised what a load of cobblers this is.

    First of all, the marketing speak was flowing like a 12” with a scratch in it. “Revolutionary user interface”, “iPod, phone and internet all in one”, “exceptional value for a revolutionary product”, “revolutionary internet,” then repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

    Next the reality: Only O2 have the iPhone. Minimum contract 18 months, minimum tariff £35 plus the £269 for the handset. The marketeers would have us believe it’s great value for money. Maybe so. I had the chance to play with Chris’s iPhone earlier this year when he was over here. I liked it. The interface was fun. No quarrel with that bit of the revolution. However, the specs are more complex. The camera is an also–ran. Two MegaPixels, no flash, no great shakes. As a phone it’s just big. The visual voice mail is cool, but the revolutionary network integration seems to cause problems. One example is the lack of automatic roaming for AT&T customers in the States travelling elsewhere. When Chris landed here, he couldn’t get a signal. Even the venerable Stephen Fry had to fight for the right to party roam. Perhaps that will change now with O2 primed and ready. However, regardless of anything else, the sweet spot is the browser and the UI. Safari firing on all cylinders and the pinch, slide and tap of the interface are a peach.

    Wait a second, though.

    As much as I like the interface in a 10 minute playing slot, I didn’t like the housing. “Traitor!” I hear you shout. I know, but although it’s solid, it’s also dangerously pretty. The perfect smooth–cornered, super–shiny device to fly out of my hand onto the pavement/floor/other dink–inducing surface.

    Then there’s Safari. I love that browser. It does lovely things to my body text. However, it’s nothing without the bandwidth to feed it. WiFi at home will make it sing and O2 throw in access to 7,500 Cloud WiFi hotspots as part of the deal. Outside of that we start to struggle. In a country that’s famous for over-priced and slow WiFi (as anyone who’s stayed at a Hotel over here can testify,) poor Safari will gasp for bandwidth unless you have deep pockets. The in–between places where I would get real benefit from decent Web access, like walking down the street needing Google Maps or on a train between the stations, will be frustration zones.

    I sound like a whinging pom, even to myself, but my hype aversion angel is looking out for me this time I think. I’m looking for a new phone. Good Web access on the road from a mobile network would be a valuable bonus. So let’s stop a second and look at an alternative, the 3SkypePhone:

    3SkypePhone

    Its name abuses camel case even more than the iPhone. It costs less. Free with a £12 p/month contract. £50 pay as you go, with a minimum top up of £10 per month, of which you can throw £5 at unlimited Web access on a 3G network. With either option you get unlimited Skype to Skype calls and IM thrown in for good measure. No SkypeOut or SkypeIn (although that may be coming) but still, for that price who can argue? No revolutionary interface, no iPod but a similar camera to the iPhone. All in all a reasonable deal and a phone that can fly out of my hand and I won’t have to grapple with the insurers or cry at the cashpoint to replace.

    I’ll probably end up with an iPhone in my usual late-adopter way. Not because of the marketing hype or because it’s trendy with the cool kids, though. Probably because open WiFi and good connectivity start to become available in places where I need it. The price will come down, too. Probably just after Christmas. After all, the main problems with the iPhone are actually nothing to do with the device itself, but everything to do with monopolistic network pricing and poor network speeds.

    In France, where the excellent anti–trust laws prohibit one company owning retail access to the device, they will probably sell them contract–free, but make sure the price is so prohibitive that it makes no sense to buy one. Already, according to the BBC, Apple and O2 have stated that unlocking the iPhone to use on any network will void the warranty. What a hardware warranty has to do with network locking, I’ll leave you to figure out.

    So I'll be biding my time and seeing how things develop. I'd love to grab one for real world site testing, but an 18 month contract and a heap of cash seem a high price to pay to see if my suspicions are correct. If you are lucky enough to dive right in without a care, let me know how you find it. Did you feel the revolution?

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  5. Rendering Complex Type—Who’s got the Love?

    The home page for this site was always temporary. After losing a year in distractions, work and prevarication I finally caved and whipped it together in a day so I could launch.

    Earlier this week I needed a timeout between sprints of development on our latest project, so I started to play with an idea for the masthead: A celebration of Web font letterforms with a complex <h1>.

    17/11/07: Updated in Complex Type: CSS Fix, ClearType Miss.

    This is where I paused just before I started testing in other browsers:

    Fig 1: Screenshot from Firefox 2 / Mac OS X 10.4.10.

    Jontangerine rendered with complex CSS in Firefox2

    I thought it was fun. I hadn’t yet locked all the distances to the pixel grid, and there was still more to do, but it seemed pretty close in Safari 2 as well.

    Fig 2: Safari 2 / Mac OS X.

    Jontangerine rendered with complex CSS in Safari 2

    Opera 9 also had it right. It also happens to be my favourite browser that I don’t use. If it had a stripped–down version with Chris Pederick’s Web Developer Toolbar you’d have to pay me not to set it as default, it’s core really is that good.

    Fig 3: Opera 9 / Mac OS X. Opera 9 is the only browser in the group to pass the Acid2 test.

    Jontangerine rendered with complex CSS in Opera 9

    Then I fired up IE7 on Vista, running it in Parallels and viewing it on an Apple Cinema Screen. Big Mistake.

    Fig 4: IE7 / Windows Vista Ultimate.

    Jontangerine rendered with complex CSS in IE7

    I can’t even begin to analyse the multiple problems with the rendering of my (albeit complex) type sample in IE7. From Vista’s ClearType jaggies to IE7’s CSS issues it’s simply carnage and a veritable type–crime; a smörgåsbord of bad rendering served with a mallet and a scowl.

    OK, I confess, I despaired for a second, hence the wry rant. I guess I’m asking too much of the browser. Maybe. However, surely we should step out of the cosy confines of tried and trusted methods, and let the creative beastie loose in the privacy of our own websites? Hell, under the hood this is just POSH with a few superfluous <span>s thrown in and a bit of CSS.

    Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton

    In the very first line of the introduction to her fantastic book, Thinking With Type, Ellen Lupton writes:

    The organisation of letters on a blank page—or screen—are the designer’s most basic challenge.

    Perhaps that should apply to browsers too?

    Some of you may have more insight into these problems, and approach them as an intellectual challenge. I’d be interested in seeing any evidence or suggestions you have.

    In a previous article on core Web font rendering I’ve delved into the platform and agent differences, but this is more an emotional reaction. My heart says, “bollocks!” I know I’ll be drawn back to trying to find a way around the problems though, much in the same way as I was with the current logotype on the homepage. Until then, I leave you with the test page so you can hurt yourself with IE7 too, should you have the urge.

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  6. Happy Birthday Son

    Today my eldest son is four years old. As he disappeared out of the door to nursery just now, he ran back to me as he does every day when I’m around to see him off, for a kiss and cuddle.

    Often times, in the middle of playing with Lego or, like this morning, watching him figure out a Transformer, I’ll be drawn into moments of quiet happiness. A spiritual kind of clarity where the presence of him close to me washes away all else. Of course, the next minute, I’m being assaulted by a laughing maelstrom of mischief, complete with our own language like “meatsies” for feet, and “shmambling” for climbing (usually on me.)

    As his great–grandmother said not so long ago, kindness is the most precious of human characteristics. He has it in bags. No matter what else I do in this life, I doubt that anything could make me feel more proud or at peace than him, or his little brother. I’m the audience and stage hand to them, and nothing makes me more happy. As Kahil Gilbran said in The Prophet:

    “Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you, but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

    You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

    I’m honoured to be your guide, son. Happy birthday!

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