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Month: February 2008 Page 1 of 2

Friday Roundup | Link Love

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Are women human?

That’s just one of the titles shortlisted for The Bookseller‘s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The full list of candidates:

  • I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen
  • How to Write a How to Write Book
  • Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues
  • Cheese Problems Solved
  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs
  • People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood

The Bookseller is a a British magazine. This is the first I’ve heard of this prize, but apparently it has been awarded since 1978. The corporate takeover of publishing has not removed all of the quirkiness from the industry.


The naked truth about English pronunciation

comparing english pronunciation

Sound Comparisons is one of those sites that makes you think there just might be something to this internet business. It contains recordings of a variety of words — naked, shown above, is just one — in several English dialects, as well as in related Germanic languages. By hovering your mouse over one of the cells in the table you can hear differences among regions of the U.K. as well as in English-speaking areas around the world — Canada, several regions of the U.S., Singapore, India, South Africa, Australia, and so on — and in languages such as Dutch, German, Yiddish, Icelandic, Danish, and so on. Phonetic history captured on the screen!


via Separated by a Common Language



At a camping store:


Font stars

font stars of 2007

FontShop has a nice offer for anyone wanting to freshen up their typeface collection. Called FontStars 2007, it includes 29 OpenType fonts from 14 foundries at a discounted price ($599 for the lot). It’s a judicious selection that includes six text fonts and eleven display fonts. Shown below are Anziano from OurType, Amalia from Fountain, Clan from FontFont, and Seravek from Process Type Foundry.

Anziano is a kind of laconic old style face that has much of the character of a Venetian typeface but streamlines the serifs and outlines in a modern-seeming way. Amalia is a sharp-edged text serif that brings a fresh approach. Clan is an entry in the squarish sans serif category that comes in a range of weights. Seravek is a really handsome linear sans serif. Check out the FontStars webpage to see more.

The downside of the package is that you only get some of the fonts from each type family. You get the basic regular, bold, and italic fonts, but if you want the Anziano alternates or a larger range of Clan weights, for example, you will need to buy them separately.

four text typefaces

Creative Commons

flickr cc

If you will glance down at the footer on this page (or follow the “about” or “policies” links) you will see that I have replaced my copyright notices with creative commons ones. I’m hardly a leader in this — as a guy who has worked in book publishing for many years I have had the notion of copyright deeply ingrained. And there remain a few pieces, like my article on Gutenberg and the Koreans for example, that need to remain under copyright because of publishing arrangements.

But as a blogger I know that people want and need materials they can use readily and with a minimum of fuss. If I want this for myself, why should I deny it to others? Information, it is said, wants to be free, and I don’t want to be the one to enslave it.

Creative Commons is especially helpful when you need an image to accompany something you’re writing about. Flickr makes this wonderfully easy. By going to you can search for photos that have been uploaded with a CC license. As a photo user I would always start there and only go through the hassle of contacting owners of copywrited photos if really necessary. As you can see from the Flickr CC search page, CC licenses have several flavors:

  • Attribution License
  • Attribution-NoDerivs License
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License
  • Attribution-NonCommercial License
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
  • Attribution-ShareAlike License

I’m not sure which is best — there are arguments for each, I suppose — but I chose Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs, in part because this was the most popular among Flickr users, so it’s probably where the majority of the searches will occur. (Is this the best choice? Let me know your thoughts.)

There are a few websites that automate Flickr CC searches, including:

Behold seems to apply some kind of quality filter to search results. FlickCC lets you browse through thumbnails, at 36 to the page. A screenshot from this site is shown above.

There is also a WordPress plugin called PhotoDropper that lets you search for Flickr CC photos from within the WordPress dashboard. Once a photo is selected it will automatically insert the photo along with any required credit. Cool, but I have not installed it because it sounds like your ability to format the results is limited.

Finally, I would like to see the CC logo — which looks like a copyright symbol but with two cees rather than one — become a standard glyph in fontsets.

creative commons loog



Friday Roundup | Duly Quoted | Link Love

If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which …. – William Butler Yeats

Duly Quoted

  • “The man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”— Muhammad Ali
  • “Many observers believe Fidel Castro will either be replaced by his brother Raul, or by his idiot son, Fidel W. Castro.” — David Letterman

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Recently there has been an uptick in talk about semicolons. Witness:

arabic semicolon

What does this signify? I’m not sure. Could it be another sign of the trend to the literate class becoming a cultural elite, eager to differentiate itself from the hoi polloi?

Well, maybe that’s reading too much into what might just be a random flare-up of semi-colonitis. In any case, I like this exchange from the Colbert link above.

  • Tulugaq: Kurt Vonnegut’s take on it was a little less warlike and more of a mandate: “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.” Me, I like the poor semicolon and the colon alike, so I guess I just have to be a conscientious objector. Sorry, Steve Colbert.
  • The Ridger, FCD: How can a hermaphrodite be a transvestite? Do they dress like asexuals?

For anyone with market aspirations in today’s publishing climate, Vonnegut’s advice remains sound. But what would Flaubert be like without the semicolon as the hinge on which his crafty sentences swing?


Shown: Arabic semicolon from


Hotlinking and its discontents

al filreis's website

Hot Linking: Process by which one links to an image stored on one site yet it appears on one or more other sites. If done without permission, this is considered unethical since one is using bandwidth they [sic] are not paying for. — 2020 Systems Internet Glossary

Al Filreis is Kelly Professor of English, Faculty Director, the Kelly Writers House, and Director, the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. Why did his page on Wallace Stevens, shown above, for a time feature a picture of naked David Haselhoff playing with puppies?

It’s not a bold new take on Stevens. Instead, it’s an illustration of the perils of hotlinking. If you link on your blog or website to an image hosted on someone else’s site you lay yourself open to the old switcheroo. Filreis — ignoring issues of copyright and net courtesy — thought he would take a free ride on someone else’s bandwidth. That made him no friends with the host of the copyrighted image of Wallace Stevens, who switched it to one of Hasselhoff.

That possibility alone should be reason enough not to hotlink; there are others as well. If you want to prevent hotlinking you can use set only certain sites to link to your images using cpanel, but I would rather just edit .htaccess, as described around the web in several places, such as the one shown below (click to go to the source). The second procedure shown below describes how you can serve up an alternate image to a particular site without having to rename your image and update your links.

how to prevent hotlinking using htaccess

Mr. and Mrs. Right Reading at home

Just hanging out on President’s Day.

huge internet following

from the New Yorker, February 11th & 18th, 2008


Friday Roundup | Duly Quoted | Link Love

If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which …. – William Butler Yeats

Duly Quoted

  • An exchange about words as action and the power of words
    CLINTON: Words are not actions. And as beautifully presented and passionately felt as they are, they are not action.
    OBAMA: The truth is, actually, words do inspire, words do help people get involved, words do help members of Congress get into power so that they can be part of a coalition to deliver health-care reform, to deliver a bold energy policy. Don’t discount that power.
  • When I was a boy I used to imagine how wonderful it would be to go through the mirror into looking-glass land … but now that I live here I’m not so sure I like it! — A museum curator

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Refute vs. rebut

When it comes to copy editing, I’m not particularly strict — let the author have some personal style. We all use words a little differently.

But one thing that has been annoying me lately is what I regard as the misuse of the word refute. Newspaper journalists and others consistently use refute when they mean rebut. They will write, “Senator Obama refuted Senator Clinton’s argument that she is the most electable candidate.” What I understand from that sentence is that Obama proved that Clinton’s statement was wrong. Whereas what the author means to say is that Obama responded to Clinton’s assertion and argued for a different point of view — in other words, he rebutted her argument.

  • refute: to prove to be false or erroneous
  • rebut: to oppose by contrary argument

I know that some would say that these words are or can be synonymous, or that words are defined by their usage, which should just be described and not prescribed. But that sacrifices a distinction that we are otherwise able to make, one that seems to me worth preserving.


Business blogs

veer: the skinny

Awareness of blogging has by now reached even the ignorant upper management stratum of most organizations. Unfortunately, an awareness of how to do it has lagged behind the awareness of its existence, at least in the publishing world.

Take a look at publishers’ blogs —David Godine’s, for example, or Chronicle Books’. While these blogs sometimes offer something of interest (Chronicle in particular sometimes serves up actual content, such as recipes or how-to instructions), they will never reach a wide audience as long as they remain extensions of the companies’ publicity operations. Nearly every post on these blogs has only one purpose — to flack the publishers’ books. How many people want to subscribe to a blog that does nothing but promote product?

Compare those blogs to that of the typeface vendor Veer. Its blog, Veer: The Skinny, is interesting and informative, and it rarely promotes Veer’s products in a direct way. Another example of a good business blog is Brittney Gilbert’s Eye on Blogs, a new blog of San Francisco’s CBS5; Gilbert understands that linking out is a good way to build up a blog’s presence.

In blogging as in many other things, publishing is backward compared to other industries. Why is this so often the case?

Can anyone recommend a good publisher’s blog?


Selling chapters

the pickwick club, a serial publicationSo the digital age brings us full circle, back to the serial publishing of the Victorian era. Random House has announced that it will test selling books by the chapter online.

I’m old school enough to prefer a physical book, but certainly there are plenty of indications that readers will commit to an online series if the topic is right. RH begins with Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Apparently it’s a kind of motivational or how-to book. Library Journal offers this short review:

Chip Heath (organizational behavior, Graduate Sch. of Business, Stanford Univ.; Rumor Mills) and brother Dan (consultant, Duke Corporate Education; cofounder, Thinkwell) team up on a tacky topic. They borrow the “stickiness” metaphor from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, which examined the social forces causing ideas to make the leap (“tip”) from small to large groups. The Heaths focus on the traits that contribute to an idea’s ability to catch on, or “stick.” Urban legends—like the one about the traveling businessman who is drugged and wakes up minus a kidney—are prime examples of such stickiness. While totally untrue, these tales make for great retelling, and we seem primed to fall for them. Using engaging examples from around the world, the authors illustrate the six principles of stickiness: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, and Stories (SUCCES!). Their fun-to-read book will appeal to communicators in every field who want their messages to be more effective.

Not really my sort of literature (“SUCCES”? What language is that?) but, okay, it’s the kind of thing that could do well, I suppose, considering all the websites that are out there telling you how to reach a wide audience with your blog or to “copyblog” effectively, etc. etc.

But what I’m not sure about is the pricing. Each of the book’s six chapters plus epilogue will sell for $2.99. That means, let’s see, 3 times 7 less 7 cents … the online book will sell for $20.93. Meanwhile, you can buy the hardcover book from powell’s or from amazon for about the same price, or even a few dollars less. The cost of producing the printed book is surely much more than the cost of producing an electronic version for download, so why isn’t the electronic version much cheaper?

Apparently RH sees the opportunity to make significant profit, and it doesn’t think price is a factor in the print/electronic decision. I guess the premise is that if you want to read electronically you don’t worry about what the print version sells for. I don’t know if they have market research to back this up, but it suggests that there is a developing audience that is resolutely opposed to print.

This is just more evidence that books on paper are reverting to their original function of elite objects for a sort of priestly class.


Motion typography

This is brilliant.

Friday Roundup | Duly Quoted

If Folly link with Elegance no man knows which is which ….
– William Butler Yeats

Duly Quoted

  • “For months Rudy Giuliani was the Republican frontrunner. Then people started voting.” — Jon Stewart
  • Pull quote to reconsider: “Voters may not feel better in November, even with stimulus.” — New York Times, Feb. 4

Words fail …

finer points in the spacing and arrangement of type

via Hoefler & Frere-Jones

Lens blur

While waiting for the Super Tuesday results to come into focus, let’s spend another day on Photoshop before shifting gears to another of our topics. The other day I talked about faking a tilt-shift effect, which basically involves blurring a gradient mask. Because I was blogging from home, where I don’t have a recent version of Photoshop, I used a Gaussian blur instead of a lens blur.

So what’s the difference? In theory, there’s a fundamental difference, which can clearly be seen in the following chart based on a Russell Brown presentation reported on Computer Darkroom.

lens blur versus gaussian blur

You can see that Gaussian blur, in the middle column, erodes edges and grays white areas, while lens blur, in the right column, applies a geometric (somewhat hexagonal) effect similar to that of a camera lens without dulling highlights.

In the real world, however, the results may not be as noticeable. Here is an image with a Gaussian blur (top) and a lens blur (bottom). Because they use different metrics, it was difficult to get the amount of blur identical; nonetheless, the results look fairly similar — maybe the lens blur is a little crisper. That could partially be because I didn’t blur it quite as much, but I think its range of tones is also a little different.

gaussian blur versus lens blur in photoshop

I’m getting to like the lens blur effect. It feels like it gives you a little better control. Right now I’m working on a book about the Chinese artist Zhan Wang. For this book I’ve applied some selective lens blurring to some of the images. Following is an example — original photo on top and modified photo beneath. For this image I applied a quick mask to select the figures and foreground rocks, then lens blurred the rest. (Of course I also did my usual adjustments.) Do you like this effect?

original photo and photo with mask and lens blur.

Working with video in Photoshop

russell brown tutorial animated gifRussel Brown has an interesting sequence of tutorials on working with video in Photoshop.

  • In part one he demonstrates combining two video sequences using a layer mask
  • In part two he shows how to blend objects over time
  • In part three he explores spot colorization and looks further at video blending and painting over time

These techniques require CS3 — guess I’m going to have to upgrade my software.

Recognizing scam publishing offers

Ellen M. Kozak has written a nice summary at Wisconsin Lawyer about “Spotting the Publishing Scam.” You can read the full post there, but I think it’s worth summarizing the main points:

  • Real publishers don’t make offers overnight. A publisher who offers an agreement a couple days after the ms. arrives is pulling a scam.
  • A scam publisher may be especially persistent in pushing its contract
  • Check out the publisher on the web and in bookstores
  • Vanity publishers ask for money; real publishers don’t
  • Token advances, such as $1, should be viewed with suspicion
  • A publisher that grossly overprices books may be hoping to make money off sales to authors — in such cases the contract will likely show a below normal number of free copies (normal tends to be around 10-20 copies)
  • A highly restrictive option clause is a common feature of scam contracts
  • Rights not specifically assigned by the agreement should be reserved by the author, not the publisher

In my experience — having negotiated many book contracts — agents generally represent authors better than lawyers, because lawyers know contracts but agents know the book industry. The author of this article, however, is an exception. She appears to know the law and publishing.


via Adventures in Writing


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