Posts Tagged ‘fonts’

In which I finally learn what’s in a TrueType font

November 1, 2008

LMNOP Last week someone posted an interestingly bizarre problem in the LilyPond newsgroup: using Times New Roman on Vista, the letter N becomes “Ị.” Go figure. Debugging that seemed like a fun puzzle, so I looked into it a bit, and concluded that there was a bug in the font. Someone who knows more than I do diagnosed it more completely: it turns out that the ‘post’ table assigns the name ‘N’ to three different characters, confusing LilyPond (or pango, or freetype, or whatever). Microsoft already knows that, but have no plans to do anything, presumably because Microsoft software doesn’t use the post table, and Microsoft doesn’t care about any stinkin’ software other than their own.

For reasons that escape me, this was enough to inspire me to learn what’s inside a TrueType font. The format is, not surprisingly, both simple and and Byzantine. I’ve cobbled together a python program to fix the problem with MS’s TNR. In case anyone is curious, it’s below the fold. For heaven’s sake don’t assume it won’t ruin anything you run through it.

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Metal vs Digital Fonts

March 30, 2008

I seem to be on fonts now.

I just ran across an article entitled, “Why Bembo Sucks.” Intrigued–I love Bembo, I think it’s one of the very nicest of typefaces (also, see this!)–I read it, and found that it’s really about “why digital fonts (often) suck” and “why inappropriate and poorly used fonts suck.” It’s a great article; if you’re into this sort of thing, go read it now. One of the main points is that digital fonts tend to be pale and lifeless imitations of their metal originals (many of which, including Bembo, are in turn copies of much older and quirkier typography).

This seemingly superfluous dilemma [which original point size of a metal font to digitize] can only be truly understood when the original metal typefaces are seen in print. Oh, what a joyous sight! The subtle variation of letterform, the slight impression into the paper, the vibrant warmth of a page of text. It is not only beautiful, but an absolute delight to read. The effect of these typefaces is impossible to emulate with their insipid digital ghosts. Modern printing has become so perfect, so uniform and precise that the spirit of the original is crushed. It is like spending a lifetime slurping instant coffee and never experiencing a proper espresso.

That’s a well-known problem with digital typefaces. The great Edward Tufte even went so far as to design his own digital Bembo, having found Monotype’s existing digitization unbearable (there is now what looks like a better one).

Not long ago I was struck by this when reading two books, both set in Fairfield, back-to-back. Here are two examples from books I just picked up off the pile on our coffee table:

ff-old-c.jpg

 new

Maybe you can’t tell from my lousy scans, but I find the older one much livelier and more interesting. The newer one also doesn’t bother with the double-f ligatures (lazybones typesetters!).

How nerdly am I for noticing this?

March 30, 2008

While typing that last post, I noticed a typographical pun(!): my old copy of the Oresteia is set in Electra. I really hope that was on purpose.

Entering Exotic Characters

March 27, 2008

From Bill Poser at Language Log, some really useful resources for entering exotic characters, both as actual characters or as html codepoints (suitable for blogs, for example); and a set of links to nice IPA utilities (I particularly like the clickable pronunciation chart).

I generally get non-ascii characters using either vim digraphs, or a couple of macros I wrote for jEdit.

Another very nice-looking free font with lots of unicode coverage is Junicode, written by a medievalist for medievalists. And of course the DejaVu fonts have lots of coverage as well.