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  1. Typeface != Font

    Typeface and font.

    A typeface is not a font. A font is not a typeface. It’s been said before, but confusion still resigns supreme; even the Online Etymology Dictionary and the holders of the rights to Georgia get it wrong. So, at the risk of stating the obvious, but in the hope that someone might find this useful, I’m going to attempt a little disambiguation.

    Define: Typeface

    A typeface is designed by a type designer. I think of a typeface as the design of a type family. Like every family, type families have names. An example of a type family name is Georgia. Georgia is a type family — a typeface — not a font.

    Typeface = a type family’s design

    In many non-European cultures like the Chinese, the family name comes before the personal name. For example, my Chinese name is Tan Tek Whah. “Tan” is my family name. “Tek” is my generation name. “Whah” is my first name. The last two are identify me personally. The same is true for fonts. They have a family name (typeface) and personal names (style, variant, size) that identify them uniquely within that family.

    Define: Font

    To understand why a font is not a typeface, it’s useful to know where the term came from. Here’s a (very abridged) bit of history drawn from various sources:

    Font (or previously, fount) is derived from a Middle French word, fonte, meaning something that has been melted. In type founding, metal was melted then poured into a hand mould with a matrix, to cast each individual piece of movable type, known as a sort. Font, fount and fonte have a common ancestor in the Latin word, fons, meaning spring or source (of water). They are all related to the word, fountain. So, now you might be able to see why “font” is a word that describes a variant of a typeface, and a container for casting water on Christian babies’ heads.

    Everytime a specific variant of a typeface was cast at a specific weight, a font was created. Therefore, a font is a particular casting of a typeface belonging to that type family. In electronic publishing nothing is cast, but fonts are still digitised from the design created by a type designer.

    Font = one member of a type family

    In my mind I think of a font as a variant of a typeface.

    Spot the heading error in the Georgia page by Ascender Corp, licensees of the Georgia typeface.

    Using the Georgia typeface example, the “Georgia Regular”, “Georgia Italic”, “Georgia Bold”, and “Georgia Bold Italic” in my library are all fonts of the Georgia typeface.

    Wait though, we’re not done! A font was more granular than just the variant of a typeface: Each size of those variants would, historically, have being cast individually. Therefore, a font is actually any variant in a typeface’s size and style. For example: “9pt Georgia Bold Italic” is a font as is “12pt Georgia Bold Italic”, and “9pt Georgia regular”.

    Electronically evolved terms

    These days, rather than casting specific sizes, we hit a button and the typeface variant changes size. Size has ceased to be so important because changing it has become so easy, and we don’t have to buy typefaces at different sizes. So these days, even people who understand clearly what the word “font” means have been known to use it to just describe a variant like Georgia Italic, or Helvetica Bold Condensed Oblique without reference to a particular size. That seems like a fairly logical evolution of the term to me.

    Why is this stuff important?

    Well, compared to world peace, it’s not. However, nomenclature is important because being understood is important. Struggling with my own ironic typos and awful spelling makes me doubly aware of this. There’s another reason too. I’ve been delving into the font module of CSS for a series of articles and reminded myself how confused the terminology was. The absence of the term, “typeface“ and certain uses of “font”, seemed strange to me; font-variant in particular makes no sense.

    Hopefully this explanation makes a little more sense, or at the very least, gave you an insight into Chinese naming conventions.

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  2. Elastic to… Russian Elastic

    Illustration of a man standing by an anvil.

    It’s been a Russian-flavoured week so far. First came a bit of grappling with the dire unicode support in Fireworks CS3 for Andrei’s Russian-themed twitter background. More on internationalisation — or i18n for the cool kids  —  later. Suffice to say, for a bazillion pounds a license Adobe could get it right, and the core web fonts that don’t have Cyrillic glyphs are suboptimal when I’m trying to post Russian.

    However, the real purpose of this rambling post is to announce that the em and elastic layout article has been kindly translated to Russian! My thanks go to the volunteer efforts of Nickolas Loiko of CSSMake. Thanks Nickolas!

    Next up, I’m expecting a visit from Putin to discuss Georgia with me by accident. I will, of course, redirect him to Ben Ramsey, who’s Georgian all over, or so goats have led me to believe. Just to show how anything can be made into a happy co-incidence, Georgia visited the Welsh last night and won 2–1.

    Any more from me and the confusion will get ridiculous. Therefore, I’ll be going now.

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  3. Events & The Favour Bank

    SXSW 2009.

    Have you ever heard of the Favour Bank? It’s a derivative of karma, using an obviously capitalist metaphor, but Paulo Cohelo used the phrase in his novel, The Zahir. That’s when it first grabbed my attention.

    “Zahir” is an Arabic word meaning visible, evident, obvious, or always present; an obsession; that’s what the novel is about.

    The Favour Bank is something we are all aware of. According to Pablo, we withdrawl from it by receiving the help of friends and contacts when we’re starting out. We also deposit in it by helping others later, after establishing ourselves. Hopefully we end up in credit. An example might be Jeff Croft’s intention to highlight the work of less well-known people who aren’t the usual suspects, but are still doing great work, regardless. I try and do the same in my asides and rare posts. Hopefully you do, too.

    I mention the Favour Bank because it fits neatly with a two events happening over the next few months; both might put all of us in credit at the Favour Bank:

    1. Web Developer’s Conference, 2008

      The Watershed, Bristol, UK. 12 November, 2008.

      This is a conference run by, and for, the students on the Web Design degree course at the University of Western England (UWE). It’s an opportunity for them to meet and mix with industry professionals. There’s some interesting talks by folks such as Patrick H. Lauke. I will be on a panel discussing working in the Southwest with Joe Leech, Rick Hurst and Peter Coles. As of writing this, my profile hasn’t been added to the panels page but everyone else is there, so there’s much more interesting stuff to read.

      The conference is free to attend, and based on last year’s event, should be fun and interesting. If you’re around at the time, consider popping in.

    2. South by Southwest (SXSW) 2009

      Austin, TX, USA. 13–22 March, 2009.

      This time I’m asking for your vote for our typography panel, Quit Bitchin’ and Get your Glyph On. It will be hosted by Samantha Warren, and fellow panel members will be Elliot Jay Stocks, John Boardley, and Ian Cole.

      We’ll be discussing web typography and I have a sneaking feeling that there will be some very different views on the panel so it should be fun. There’s also a fair amount of experience and passion there, too. So, if you can join us I’d love to see you there, but even if not, your vote would be very much appreciated! To vote, go to the panel picker page and either cast it, or quickly sign up to give us a thumbs up. Thanks!

    In other news…

    Locally, BathCamp is happening on the 13th and 14th of September at Invention Studios. I’m going to try valiantly to make it, and drop some typography musings on the unsuspecting crowd, but there’s already a heap of people going so it will be a fantastic day of geekery regardless. Keep in mind, according to BathMaster, Tim Beadle, any talk you give doesn’t have to be technical. Someone gave a talk about growing veg last year; it’s just a chance to geek about your areas of expertise in front of an audience who will appreciate the geekiness of it, no matter what.

    Away from the Southwest, Scripting Enabled takes place on the 19th and 20th of September at the Metropolitan University of London. It’s a two day “conference and hack day” that aims to break down the barriers between disabled users and the social web. The first day will be a summit to discuss and identify the barriers with anecdotal evidence from disabled users. The second day will try and solve some of them — especially in regard to existing sites  — with a hackathon. Sounds like an event bursting with social karma, and thus, very cool. My accessibility lexicon and good mate, Jon Gibbins, will be in attendance, too. I’m tempted to ask you to heckle him if you see him, but I think I’ll reserve that right for myself.

    If you know of any other interesting events coming up, feel free to share them by throwing the relevant HTML in the comments. It’s all good credit in the Favour Bank, or good karma, or however you want to describe the wonderfully seductive and aspirational concept of mudita.

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  4. OSCON 2008, the Year of the Butterfly

    Writing this is my way of remembering my first OSCON. It’s also a good way of taking a break from the research I’m doing into the next web typography post. I’m also a little frazzled by moving house, and a recent period of sleep depravation after my eldest son’s operation. This is my therapy.

    The stage

    Sometime in the very early hours of Monday 21st July, after leaving New York nine hours earlier and being tortured by JetBlue and JFK, Chris and I arrived at the Doubletree in Portland. It was balmy. After the tropical heat of New York, to be cool was a treat.

    The next morning I got chance to explore a little. The center of Portland is a good place. The free tram is a great idea. Tree-lined avenues break up what would otherwise be a sterile business district into human-friendly spaces. You can walk around the city. That might sound like a strange statement to make but, in my experience of the States so far, a walkable city is exceptional enough to highlight. OSCON takes place for a week at the Oregon Convention Center which sits on the Willamette River’s east bank. A pair of glass pyramids and spires call the faithful to prayer from above the main entrance. Architectural comparisons with cathedrals and palaces are hard to resist. The pyramids reminded me of the Louvre in miniature. On closer look, the spires almost seem like an afterthought. OSCON only took up the south end of the centre. In the eery quiet of the other empty concourses a dragon boat and pendulum wait in patient suspense for admiring glances.

    Players & acts

    I’m averse to some of the more negative aspects of professional conferences. Sometimes, I get a sense of some people’s innate self-consciousness that can go one of two ways in the social mælstrom: Quiet humility that should be treasured, or competitive haughtiness attempting to mask insecurity. The latter is suboptimal. OSCON has almost none of it. Thanks to Chris, from the moment I stepped through the door, to the last night, I seemed to meet a whole bunch of people who were comfortable in their own skin, and with their own proclivities. They even accepted mine. There’s nothing so pleasant than having good things to say about people one meets. These of just a few of the characters:

    The mighty Wez Furlong was possibly the busiest man at OSCON, giving three talks, and sharing his PHP / Cocoa explorations with the world. His obscure cultural reference library is almost as smart as his code, which is saying something. Andrei Zmievski has rightly been called the social director of OSCON before now. He has a unique ability to organise dispersed techies into a night out, and find the best food and drink. Like Wez, he’s also a core developer of PHP; multi-talented like most of the folks I met.

    It was great to meet the Funkatron (Ed Finkler) too; security dude, publisher of a rather fine blog, and Spaz developer (for all of the Twitter fans out there). The Chay, first name Terry, arrived late during a great Tuesday evening at the Doug Fir. Another person who, like Ed, I’d only known via the Metaverse before. Watching Terry in live debate around Rails and PHP was a gift, flavoured with some choice vitriol, and prepended with some Physics.

    Ben Ramsey also contributed his fair share of choice phrases to that particular evening, too. He went from custard to goats to communism, all within the space of two mis-interpretations, and the unique Ramsey filter that emerges to great effect when the sun goes down. Elizabeth Naramore of PHP Women and the forthcoming PHP Appalachia conference also kept me company one Thursday night in the Vault. We put the world to rights, and lamented the joy and pain of younglings. The Vault was also the place of more Ramsey mayhem and obscure cocktails. They included a strange take on the Mojito with lemon grass, a favourite of the beatific Marcus Boerger of Google.

    Mint Restaurant, Portland, Oregon.

    The person who starred in my best picture of OSCON, was security and PHP guru, Damien Seguy. On a mis-guided first attempt to find Mint, the best restaurant in Portland (truly), Damien brought his elephant along. Arguably, his elephant had more directional smarts than us that night. I visited Mint three times during OSCON. Andrei took us there the first time (hence his accolade for finding good food.) Chris and I also dragged his royal amusing contrariness, Theo Schlossnagle there as he flew into town, assaulted the world with his brain (and huge velcro-covered lens) then departed. The third visit topped them all with an en-mass invasion after a glorious afternoon at Brewfest on the Friday. Apart from the strange Brewfest wave of sound — a cheer that started nowhere and undulated around the tents — and the excellent beer, the evian-esque gigantic atomiser was a person favourite. Who would of thought to put an urgency-inducing sprinkler system just before the queue for the loo?

    I also got to spend a bit of time on Friday with those excellent equestrians and technical authors, Luke Welling and Laura Thompson of OmniTI and Mozilla, respectively. Earlier that day, Luke and I shared the affirming experience of donating to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. For me, this was partly to support the EFF’s help for people like Luke, who’s currently dealing with a ridiculous attempt by confirmed spammer, Jim Mirkalami, to sue Luke after he re-published information on his blog that was already in the public domain. Anyway, we got the tshirt, and it was good. After such great company, great food, and drinks, Mint is definitely in my top two Stateside restaurants so far, along with Gen in Brooklyn (it has incredible Japanese-Rastafari sushi). Later that night, Chris and I said a fond farewell to Mint, jumped in a cab and headed to the airport via the Doubletree to soar back to Brooklyn on the red eye. An apt name, for sleep was not forthcoming. After a few hours rest in Chris’s place on Saturday morning, I dragged my bags into town for present shopping. I fell into another flight that evening and landed back in Bristol and the beautiful embrace of my tribe on Sunday morning. Knackered is an understatement. Then we moved house four days later.

    Apropos

    If this post is packed with names, that’s because OSCON was all about the people for me. I haven’t mentioned everyone I met (just those I spent most time with), and didn’t manage to attend many talks, but the atmosphere alone was worth the trip. Chris Shiflett and I gave a talk on experience-driven development which took place on Thursday. A good thing, because some of our best ideas dropped into slides on Wednesday afternoon. It was fun, but still a little raw in its first outing. We got some great feedback—almost all positive—so hopefully it will have more meat and equal amounts of fun the next time around.

    OSCON was a blast. Here’s my OSCON ’08 Flickr photoset if you’d like to see a bit more. It was superbly organised, at a great venue, with some of the best developers in the world exchanging mental energy for a conference pass. Details make big ripples when it comes to conferences. Details like the fantastic help of Shirley Bailes — O’Reilly’s conference speaker manager — who even offered to send me this year’s butterfly t-shirt after I forgot to grab one while I was there. If you wondered at the title of this post, there’s your answer. I only met a handful of people out of the three thousand or so who attended, but they made it great for me. I encourage everyone to consider going in years to come. With luck, I’ll see you next year!

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