fawny: le «blog personnel»


2004.02.29a – It's been a tough month for mice. This one was foraging adorably for food under a dumpster, not hurting anybody. And while I was there, nobody hurt it.  

Lovable vermin: Montage of white speckled mouse under dumpster

Shire Types on TV and in a chapter hed2004.02.29b – At ATypI in Vancouver, which I haven't quite finished updating you on, some tall, lanky, toothsome fellow in a good shirt squeezed in behind me and Marc. It was... Jeremy Tankard, designer of the Shire Types, which we used in my book! “I am not worthy!” I told him joshingly. (It's pronounced Tank-ahrd, by the way, not Tankerd.)

I was channel-surfing last night and found a British documentaryette entitled – and I shit you not – Strictly Hairdressing, about a hairdo competition. The Chyrons were all in Shire! So I PVRed it and was shocked out of my mind to see the closing credit TYPOGRAPHY: JEREMY TANKARD.

Were we ahead of the game? Ahead of the hairdressers, at least?  

2004.02.28As mentioned, last night I did the PEN Canada benefit for Freedom to Read Week. Entitled “Disappearing Languages Appearing,” it was held smack dab in the middle of the ground floor of the Reference Library (or, as my esteemed colleague insists on clarifying it, “the Moriyama Reference Library?”).

I got there right on time and immediately spotted a few people in the corner signing away. (Some seventy people attended.) Over I went. I knew the interpretrix. I wanted to say a few things to the deaf people in attendance, but the interpretrix was busy gushing to authoress Frances Itani, whose novel Deafening, the event’s program told us, “has been sold to 13 countries around the world.” The nearby student interpretrix was not permitted to interpret for me. Once one of the deaf people noticed me I gestured to her and said “This interpreter isn’t allowed to interpret for me,” which, in a paradox of clashing rules that rivals Asimov’s Laws of Robotics or “Mudd’s Women,” she was forced to translate.

I said hello to the two deaf people (and head of an Important Local Charity, who simply has to be a lesbian) and unfortunately, in a journeyman error, let myself get sucker-punched into a discussion of “mainstream” education and how those poor deaf kids don’t get to know other deaf kids. Fortunately for me, just at that moment Haroon Siddiqui started the event. And here are my notes.


PEN Canada suddenly realized it was acting like a resettlement service for foreign or exiled writers, which, it was argued, is not PEN’s job. “No, but we do have a moral obligation to find an audience for them,” and depriving a writer of an audience is like “denial of oxygen.”

Jim Sanders, CNIB

(Also seen at the Bill Gates panegyric.)

The program for the reading session included an enclosure in Braille, which we were led to understand encompassed the entire program text. I know that to be impossible in six pages the same size as the print edition, densely typeset as it was in ten-point Univers.

Sanders believes this is the first time the CNIB has been part of Freedom to Read Week, which “is really about the universal access to books and literature, and those of us who are blind are certainly familar with those restrictions.” He trotted out the usual statistic that at most 3% of books and magazines are published in accessible formats. (If he included any kind of HTML Web publishing that a screen reader could muddle through, that number would increase substantially, at least for magazines. Certainly few books are available in any kind of alternate format.) This, verily, is the reason “why CNIB does and must create and acquire literature in these alternate formats.”

Personal asides:

Still, I’m in violent agreement with Sanders that “Braille is the equivalent of print. Audio is the equivalent of audio.” True literacy for blind people requires Braille, full stop. I have made a conscious decision not to even discuss a Braille edition of my book with CNIB, given the hassle I’ve had, but it’s something I actually want. (It is arguably necessary given the extensive code samples in the book.) “Spelling, grammar, and writing are the building blocks of literature and are only available through Braille.” True.

Sanders, who boasted that he used Braille to read CNIB meeting agendas and budgets that very day, also told us he used Braille to write notes for the speech we were hearing, which dragged on and on and was capped with the humdinger that print “doesn’t make pattern or sense,” what with its many visual forms and upper- and lower-case letters. Why, in Braille, you only have to learn a few dots, and capitals are signified by a simple symbol! Well, by that logic, why don’t we just start writing in Japanese, Armenian, or indeed Hebrew?

And you wouldn’t believe the pained expression on the face of the nabob at the back of the room when I mentioned this was the second trade show I’d attended at which CNIB hosted a table during the period CNIB was still dicking around with my book.


Mark Abley

My whole purpose in coming. Author of Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, which I am indeed reading. Generic Boomer appearance, good black suit, excellent stage presence, solid delivery, stayed within the time alloted. A children’s book of his, Ghost Cat, was produced in a print/Braille version that won an award voted on by blind kids.

Gave blurb about extinction of threatened languages, then read from his book chapter about Yiddish. Noted that “access to literature is also a human-rights issue”; telling the story of endangered languages in his book “involved occasionally telling human-rights stories.” “Part of the reason languages can survive is writers,” he said. But I’d wager we don’t want to end up like Latin – a language with no living native speakers but with a small coven of academics who can read and write it well enough to translate Harry Potter into it.

During intermission, I waited until the old lady finished telling Abley about Manx-speakers she knew and excitedly launched into my spiel: Joe Clark, writer, B.A. in linguistics, I’m here to have you inscribe my copy of your book. He laughed a little. You will now inscribe my copy of your book, I repeated, handing him book and pen. Joe, is it? Yes, Joe as in Joe. First thing I looked for was France and United Kingdom, bit of an obsession with Breton, I’ve got Mozilla on one of my computers speaking Breton. (Was all taken aback. Oh, it’s very easy to get Mozilla to speak a number of languages! He didn’t seem to know what Mozilla was; I didn’t tell him.) Manau? No, I don’t follow any of the Bréton-language— Oh, it’s all in French. History of the Dana clan in French rap with bagpipes. It’s great.

At this point he was into his third round of making noncommittal noises and body language that seemed to be the book-tour equivalent of the Eject button. I looked at his inscription: “To no ordinary Joe, diolch and best wishes. Mark Abley (Toronto, Feb. 2004).”

I got what I wanted, and less. Language isn’t his life’s work; he just wrote a book.

One of the deaf people present asked Abley if he’d interviewed any deaf people for his book. Boy, was he instantly uncomfortable. No, he said, but I did briefly mention Nicaraguan Sign Language, which only came into existence in the 1980s. (When he says “briefly,” he refers to five lines on page 157.) For the Gazette I had written an article about Langue des signes québécoise, he added. Both he and the deaf person looked directly at the interpretrix while communicating – a major no-no that, were you a hearing person doing it under some circumstances, would cause the meeting to grind to a halt as one or more deaf persons told you to knock it off. It’s always OK when they do it, of course.

Levi Namaseb

(The interpretrix mis-fingerspelled his name as Levy.)

Showstopper of the night. This Namibian grad student in comparative literature, studying for his Ph.D. at UofT, walked smartly up to the podium and right away began reading a tale in Khomani, one of the Khoekhoe languages. (I had him pronounce “Khoekhoe” for me: “Kwaykway.”) You could hear a pin drop, nobody moved a muscle, but still it was obvious we were all freaking out. The interpretrix explained that he was speaking in another language, and then, about four minutes in, explained something else, which caused Levi to stop, beam, and say “Now I am happy. She is translating me!”

(Most speakers mentioned or directed attention to the interpretrix, and/or asked her questions.)

This foreign language is extremely rich in clicks and fricatives, far more than anything I’ve heard in Xhosa or Zulu. To non-native speakers, clicks seem to float timelessly over the other vowels and consonants, but here the vowels and consonants seemed barely shoehorned in between the clicks and fricative. Clicks are always interesting to people, but these clicks were even interesting to a lapsed linguist.

“Through your physical presence,” Levi soon told us, “you have borne witness to a language of which there are only eight speakers. Well, nine including me,” he said, and he’s the only one who can read or write it. (No doubt a writing system was developed later.) “When a speaker dies, a language dies, so that is why I wanted to read quickly!”

I chatted him up at intermission. How many clicks are there in that language? Five, he said. Including bilabial? I asked. Yes, there is bilabial, but it wasn’t in the passage I read. Oh, but I thought I heard that, I said. (It’s the usual three from Xhosa and Zulu – alveolar, dental, and lateral – blus bilabial and palatal, which I am a million years away from even attempting. Plus they have velar fricatives like German and Greek!)

I asked for a bit more of an explanation, and this is what Levi sent along:

[!Khung or !Koo is the language that] is the best-described, [with] records of all five clicks that appear in that language also. Although the two languages [!Khung and Khomani] share the clicks, they are not mutually intelligible....

The name of this language I read is a “new discovery”.... As far as I know they name of this language is #Khomani – that is a palatal click with a affricated click accompaniment. There are some who call the language N|u – that’s a dental click with nasal click accompaniment. The palatal click is, for reasons unknown to me, not present in Zulu or ||Khosa as well as in a related language, today only known as Grikwa. All three of this languages have only three clicks – alveolar, dental and lateral. Khoekhoe has four clicks; #Khomani and !Koo have five. There is no record of a sixth click.

I just love this shit. Not enough to subscribe to the Linguist List, let alone the Lavender Linguists list, but love it I do nonetheless.

Also endured at the benefit was a poncy translatrix of surrealist poetry (oh, you mean she has a day job? Yes, she had a day job at the Reference Library) and a writer-in-exile from Mexico. The interpreter had to leave after intermission, and the program promised that the first act skedded after intermission was a flamenco guitarist. I think not; I went to the gym instead.

But it was a nice inclusive evening, with deaf, blind, nondeaf, nonblind, Canadian, and noncanadian people all gathering to keep languages alive.  

2004.02.26 – A pleasant birthday surprise. (Except for the type, of course.) And it’s a breezy 252 pages. Who knew I could be so concise in Hebrew?  

Hebrew version alongside English original of ‘Building Accessible Websites’

(Official site: נגישות באינטרנט.)

2004.02.24 – I must humbly disagree with my esteemed colleague Cory “NOT SICHA” Doctorow, or, as he shall soon be known, EuroCory.

First, let’s credit the king of postmodern clothing with putting the obvious on record: We’re already reading more and more offa screens, so it is simply bullshit to claim that E-books are too tedious to read. They can be, but need not be – anymore. We know rather a lot more about onscreen reading now, and we have much better tools, than way back in 1990, when I reviewed the already-outdated Voyager CD-ROM entitled From Alice to Ocean for the Voice. (I was the only person to give it the drubbing it richly deserved. Yes, this is another case of “I’ve been doing that for ten years” that I can lord over my detractors.)

And if you’re talking about actual E-books, you’ve got a range of possible forms, though the only important variables are price, data format, and whatever useless “digital rights management” you’re stuck with. I figured I couldn’t come up with anything better than free HTML unencumbered by DRM, so that’s what I used for the E-text of my book.

So I can lord that over my detractors, too: I’m doing it. And I planned it up front: I knew that the creation sequence of XHTML → Word → Quark → hardcopy book could be truncated at any of those points and, separately, could branch off somewhere else. That’s because XHTML gives you structure.


I write all of my books in [BBEdit]. From there, I can convert them into a formatted two-column PDF. I can turn them into an HTML file. I can turn them over to my publisher, who can turn them into galleys, advanced review copies, hardcovers and paperbacks. I can turn them over to my readers, who can convert them to a bewildering array of formats.

When he says he writes in BBEdit, he means plain text, as this screenshot from his PowerPoint presentation shows. (He’s really hurting himself with those fonts.)

‘Eastern Standard Tribe’ screenshot

And if you’re writing in ASCII and you say you can convert to PDF and HTML, well, what do you mean by “can”?

Cory’s aim was to counter oft-heard criticisms of E-books. However, he overcorrects. He overstates the advantages of his kind of electronic text. To do what Cory suggests is effortless actually requires a lot of effort.

If I give you unstructured ASCII text, you may be able to use grep or human bloody-mindedness to mark up the text into something that can be turned into a “formatted” two-column PDF. But it’s not gonna happen automatically. You must go through a stage in which the unstructured text is given structure. And to achieve two columns, you will need to program your own software or use something off the shelf, like Word or InDesign (which can thread multicolumn documents much more reliably).

Cory’s text suffers from its own structurelessness. His reliance on plain ASCII forces him to use ancient Usenet conventions to indicate a block quotation (prefacing every line with >). Not only does blockquote exist for that purpose in HTML, even that old way has been deprecated in favour of something more structural, “format=flowed,” for which my FAQ is only slightly outdated.

EuroCory continues:

The other meaning for E-book is a “pirate” or unauthorized electronic edition of a book, usually made by cutting the binding off of a book and scanning it a page at a time, then running the resulting bitmaps through an optical character recognition app to convert them into ASCII text, to be cleaned up by hand. These books are pretty buggy, full of errors introduced by the OCR. [...] Brewster Kahle’s Internet Bookmobile can convert a digital book into a four-color, full-bleed, perfect-bound, laminated-cover, printed-spine paper book in ten minutes, for about a dollar. Try converting a paper book to a PDF or an HTML file or a text file or a RocketBook or a printout for a buck in ten minutes!

Oh, but the pirates are “trying” it, aren’t they? Except it takes them more than ten minutes, because they too cannot escape the First Laws of E-text:

First Laws of E-text

  1. You can upgrade plain text in only one way: To a structured format.
  2. You can upgrade structured text to other structures or downgrade it to plain text.

I took a lot of ribbing for writing a computer book with the attitude that it would, in all its forms, last. Whoever heard of a colophon in a computer book, for example? Well, the fact remains that while some books disappear, many others do not, and many of those outlive their authors.

  1. Even without acid-free paper, the printed book could sit intact for decades.
  2. Its professionally-replicated CD-ROM may remain playable for that length of time, since the earliest CDs still are.
  3. The online text, published in a format that is itself published, could be reconstructed by an alien civilization or a school of evolved dolphins if need be.
  4. And the HTML is mutable into other structured formats as time goes on. (What remains outstanding is fixing the embarrassingly numerous errata.)

Save your documents in plain text and you are essentially burying your bones. Use a structured format and you preserve the whole skeleton. My shit is gonna last because I plan for that in advance.  

Other fun facts:

  1. Feedstock for Amazon’s scanned book images is often created in the “pirate” manner.
  2. Cory’s two books are available in innumerable electronic formats, including valid HTML for both.
  3. I downloaded and printed the first one, though I forget in what format. I know I printed it in columns. I’ve still got it here, actually. It really did turn into a printed artifact, just as Cory predicted. Nonetheless, someone had to unfuck his text for him.
  4. Cory lets you “slice and dice” his text any way you want, but warns:

    No duplicates: If there’s already a file available for the reader you use, don’t send me another one with your favorite tweaks in it – I’m not going to mediate catfights about how big the indents should be in Newton eBook Reader files or whatnot, and besides, civilians who want to download a copy of the book shouldn’t have to puzzle out whether they want the version with the curly quotes or the foot-and-inch marks [neutral quotes].

    Then he turns around and praises Trevor Smith’s duplicate HTML version, this time with anchors added to each paragraph – surely a smaller distinction than quotation marks.
  5. Antonio Cavedoni and I had already done something along those lines.
  6. I covered E-books on NUblog four years ago and a year later.
  7. I’m not wedded to “nonproprietary” formats. I can produce a very good tagged accessible PDF, which is, among other things all at once, XML. People are already working on PDF as an archive format.
  8. Nouveaux Riders also licensed my book to the oddly-named Safari service of O’Reilly, where you can read it in some other kind of PDF. (Recursively enough, Safari can load the Safari PDF right inside the browser, if you must.)  

2004.02.23a – I think we now have just the right text for the recto of the Webstandards.TO T-shirt:

Valid code:
It’s the new <font color="black">

Text for the verso is of course now well known.  

Oh, yes: Bloggers Do Web Standards. Be the first blog on your block.  

2004.02.23b – Given a choice between the local Mr. Goudas and some upstart brand of “ethnic” food, I go Gouda.

Yes, there is a Mr. Gouda, and he has a fan club. It’s just tacky enough, he’s got useful delicacies (“favachick” and rambutan are recurring faves), and he prefers to own part of the factories where the food is made.

Let’s take these in reverse order:

Owning part of the factory
Quality control. It is ethnocentric and racist to assume that if a foodstuff is canned in Thailand it won’t be as clean as something canned in Texas (or Huntsville), but this way Mr. Goudas knows for sure.
Useful delicacies
Drain rambutan for dessert. Sauté favachick with shallots and garlic, which goes well with a grain. Like, say, basmati rice.
Just tacky enough
Mr. Goudas Blue Lake Basmati Rice bag (recto and verso)
The ten-pound bag of Pakistani basmati rice (Mr. Goudas sells multiple kinds of everything) is a work of folk art. Yes, it really does say PRODUIT DE L’PAKISTAN, and that really is a combination of Commercial Script and Balloon Extra Bold. Plus of course Hindi, Arabic, and Urdu. The design features two eye-gouging colours (this is one bag of rice I’m showing you) surrounding pastoral quasi-Hindu scenes that somehow recall grade-school lessons about Egyptian paintings of the harvest. (Where are the oxen separating the chaff?)

I much prefer this kind of disastrous graphical and ethnic train wreck to that “melting pot” nonsense.  

(where one cannot use his typical orthography of Wallpaper<asterisk> because it is sure to ixnay in a script font)

2004.02.21a – Hadani Ditmars (no relation), “Vancouver Movers,”Wallpaper<asterisk>, January–February 2004, pp. 51–2:

Attila Richard Lukacs recently returned to SOMA from New York. “I’ve always loved this neighbourhood,” she says. “I lived here in the 1980s when there was a cutting-edge video culture and I’m living here again because it has all the resources I need as an artist.”

Vancouver is full of drunks and junkies, not roving bands of queer skinhead boys, such bands not actually extant in the world.

She also likes the neighbourhood’s social aspect. “People still come up to me on the street to chat.”

“And naturally they ask about my previously-unannounced sex-change surgery, but I’ve kind of gotten used to that.”  

2004.02.21b – How to translate OpenOffice to Kinyarwanda:

“With only one country in the world speaking this language... I highly doubt that there is anything even close to a monetary incentive to translate any Microsoft utility to Kinyarwanda.... For this project, the motivation is not monetary. The motivation is patriotic.... Our translators aren’t doing it for themselves; they are doing it to open computers to their little brothers and sisters, their parents and relatives.”

And to keep the language afloat.

One of course has Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages by Mark Abley, which I’d better bloody well get reading, since he’s coming to town next Friday. Separately, I Googled an old friend from Montreal, I found he was actually putting linguistics to use, tracking and resuscitating “indigenous” languages in South Africa. And there’s Alexandra Aikhenvald hiking through Brazil finding speakers of languages thought to be extinct. (You too would make it seem like nobody spoke your language anymore if the only people who had ever asked you about it were the ones trying to kill it.)

People thought the Web would reduce reading – until they finally noticed that most of what people do on the Web is reading. And people thought the dominance of a very few languages online (mostly English) would limit the use of minority languages. But for a great many languages, it is almost as easy to publish a Web page in that language as in English. (If the comparison is between languages in the same Unicode plane, and if both of them use accents easily typed on the same keyboards in the country in question, they’re exactly as easy to produce – think of Catalan pages in Spain.) On a well-localized computer with correct character encoding, you don’t have to think about anything to publish a page in a different language.

It’s like iTunes: Don’t try to eliminate downloading, compete with it. Let the Anglos write their own pages while you write yours. Fight back, and fight unfair. Use the same tools. Remember, nobody’s gonna de-invent the Internet; get on and start yapping.

Open-source is marginally better in accommodating minority languages than dominant platforms. Microsoft is still remembered with ridicule for refusing to localize Win98 into Icelandic even though Mac OS 8 was already available in Icelandic. They had WordPerfect for DOS in Icelandic, for heaven’s sake. (An agreement was later reached, but despite the list of “supported” languages, I don’t know if you can buy WinXP or Win2K that talks to you in Icelandic from the word go.)

OSUX nominally lets you choose from 84 languages for the operating system, including the rather unlikely Albanian and Quechua, but only a few actually have full language resources installed. And I can’t really get anything to work consistently outside of English.

Except of course Mozilla, which works just fine, thank you, in Arabic, Breton, or Welsh.

Mozilla menus in Arabic, Breton, and Welsh

(Right-to-left issues are notable in the Arabic, admittedly.)

When somebody tells you your language isn’t gonna last, pick up your laptop and tell them “We’re not dead yet.”  

2004.02.21c – Tabs are the best thing that ever happened to the Web browser. If you’re the kind of person who opens the same sites every morning (as upon rising or upon arrival at work), Mozilla’s tabs lets you group bookmarks and open them into multiple tabs all at once.

Morning Weblogs and newspapers in Mozilla tabs

You may add this feature to the myriad reasons not to use IE on Windows – weekly exposure of new security flaws, hideously broken standards compliance, and absurd user interface (what happens when you press Ctrl-N?).

If you want to keep tabs on my site and several others every day, this is the easiest way to do it. And you’ll no longer be using a brain-dead browser. Remember, 96% of Web users can in fact be wrong. This means you.  

2004.02.18 – This one, if uttered by its source, would probably come out in a French accent:

2 for "joe clark is the biggest asshole to ever live"
Arsehole, shurely?!

2004.02.16 – Oh, grow a satire bone, fuckwit.

Gawker is run by a New York Observer contributor named Choire Sicha, whose vibe is that of a young Rex Reed – a man riffing on the superficialities of life with the highly-self-referential banter one expects of a Lower East Side scenester who turns to writing when his dream of being discovered as an underwear model at a gallery opening in SoHo has evaporated.

Choire fucking ran an art gallery.

Sicha’s writing style is composed of a bitchy stream of consciousness peppered with metaphoric comparisons to viscous fluids, queer malapropisms, and three-part neologisms such as “man-f*cking-hattan.”

It’s called tmesis, fuckface.

And as for the claimed “(anti-)black” insensitivity, I guess black Americans can be thudding literalists, too. A posting like this one –

Evidently there’s some sort of national holiday today? Also some election thing is going on in Nebraska or Iowa or some flat state. I didn’t really catch it.

– is satire. Explaining satire kills it. So let’s be all vegan and kill the satire, because it’s all for a greater good, which would be shutting John Lee the fuck up. The national holiday and the election are events of equal undisputed import that Gawker is simply far too soigné and blithe to care about. It’s stating the converse of the obvious to emphasize its obviousness.

But if you start down this path, it’s like talking to a computer. Or an automaton. Worse – an automaton with an agenda. Don’t we have better things to do than explain a delightful satiric belletrist to Africanus of Borg?  

2004.02.15 – I have outed myself in stating that procrastination is the only thing I hate about myself. It is still true.

And this week I felt like a total shit in reading the various reports on the session at ETCON, which I curiously have never been invited to, entitled “Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks.” A few guys and one girl were canvassed, and the consensus (other notes) is that “alpha geeks”:

  1. maintain a to-do list in a text file (which session notes claim everyone calls by the exact same filename, todo.txt)
  2. keep multiple terminal windows open at once
  3. yet mistrust software that crashes, preferring to write their own
  4. yet also use only one program

This is a somewhat contradictory mixture, but the fact remains that they all more or less apply to me.

  1. I typeset my to-do list in InDesign and tape it to my fridge
  2. I always have at least two terminal windows open
  3. I use OS X, in which programs seldom crash; since I also fanatically save documents, I almost never lose work-in-progress
  4. I do nearly everything in BBEdit (which crashed as I attempted to preview this document). I go so far as to write everything in HTML, which is then imported into Word and InDesign (in that order; I would go straight into InDesign were it smart enough)

But I still get bugger-all done and worry most days of the week at just how much I have fallen behind. There are several days each month, including today, when the first thing I think of as soon as consciousness hits in the morning is how far behind I am.

what THING do you expect to get done?
ideally, every thing.
MOST people have to-do lists.
maybe too much.
you produce a huge amount of writing – most of it very specific and researched and authoritative. You go to the gym and follow a strict diet. You support yourself and socialize. You’ve published a book! What else would you like to do?
PLUS you have no reference for comparison. I don’t think you realize how much time most people waste.
does that help?
I was walking around a minute ago imagining what I would write on my Weblog about this.
I spontaneously imagined writing “I need help.”
then I [remembered] that some actress or other [it was Linda Hunt] gave that as her life lesson: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
when I ask for help, people go out of their way to make things worse for me.
with unusual exceptions.
maybe try and find people similar to the ones who give you help – and ask them.
I need someone IN THE HOUSE helping me.
as with Colin in the olden days [when my friend roomed with me and we could work on separate computers but with some social togetherness].
that’s just it – you don’t have a family – most can go to their families for help/guidance. Family is OBLIGED to help.
people also PAY for help. They have this list of people on their payroll. From cleaning ladies to groundskeepers and secretaries and lawyers and accountants.... You don’t have these people – give yourself a break.
another problem is incrementalism vs. completionism.
I am a complete completionist.
it’s insane.

And here is where we see the absurdity of my anxiety. On the day the above chat session occurred, I had written five Weblog postings, finished Ten Years Ago in Spy, did two sets of dishes, went to the gym, and prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In addition, I breezed through the same reading of enormous numbers of newspaper articles and Weblog and mailing-list postings I do every single day. And I got about 40 non-spam snatchmails.

None of that was for a revenue-producing project (except some of the E-mail), so it doesn’t “count,” right? In fact, whatever passes for my work ethic nags at me that anything I do that isn’t billable is an actual loss. I’d make a good lawyer.

The problem is that I have too much expertise in too-small topics. If I don’t contribute, the field’s gonna get fucked up. Or I happen to be the only watchdog (true in three separate fields). Sounds all too grandiose, but I can back it up, and in any event, I have called for other experts to contribute from what they know best, so it’s not as though I’m not trying to lessen the problem. Nonetheless, it remains.

How does one go from boredom to work to overwork to relaxation? Ask the other source of the way I write, talk, and think, John Cleese. On The South Bank Show with Melvyn (love that y) Bragg, 1986:

Were you yourself bored most of the time as a child?
Yeah, I’ve been bored most of my life, as I’ve begun to realize the last few months, so it just happens to be something that’s bubbling to the surface here at the moment. Yes, I was bored. [...]
I have become sort of resolutely less hard-working, and I really question now whether I feel I need to be very productive for the rest of my life. It may be that I change my mind. But I don’t feel any of that “work ethic” any more.

Thomson’s New Biographical Dictionary of Film lists Cleese’s year of birth as 1939, so he was 47 when he said the above, and by then he’d already starred in multiple comedy troupes and a seminal TV series. He could relax. I’m pushing 39 and I can’t.

On the rare occasions in which I think calmly about this instead of gripping myself with anxiety for being so far behind in everything, I try to explain to myself that the struggle of incrementalism vs. completionism is one of self-similarity: If you’re a completionist, you can only evolve toward incrementalism incrementally. You have so much invested in completionism that it’s the only way you can think. You don’t even register the incremental progress. Yet it’s easy to see in my case. Even I can see it when I look for it. It’s just that I don’t look for it, so I feel like a failure, especially compared to alpha geeks and their perfect fucking organizational systems, a topic about which Cleese has actually written and appeared in training videos.

(On the other hand, I don’t have alpha geeks’ tics; asocial facial expressions, particularly the combo of downturned face, upturned eyes, and Aspergerian smirk; inappropriate whooping laughter [“Always reminds me of somebody machine-gunning a seal”]; and inability to dress other than for warmth. They get more done, but I’m better-rounded.)

Completionism is the same as perfectionism, and my perfectionistic streak extends back to age eight. (Incrementalism is pragmatism.) Completionism leads to a feeling of surprise when you learn that people otherwise unknown to you, or, worse, whom you’ve always underestimated, have been beavering away behind the scenes. We’ve got some benign examples (as in Web standards, where someone works away for weeks to solve a problem, then simply announces it, as with Brothercake’s accessible menus), and then there’s the other kind, where you end up losing a title.

“The New Black Guys” by Chris Jones, Esquire, February 2004 (sections reordered):

[A]ll this time the Atlantic Ocean has been serving as a one-way mirror: While we’ve been busy admiring ourselves, the rest of the world has been studying us, and it’s come out the other side ready to go to work....

Somewhere along the way, [Mehmet Okur] had become America for everybody wearing a rainbow suit and watching that night. [Željko] Rebrača had picked up our comic books, and [“Not Donnie” Darko] Miličić had picked up hiphop... but Okur had picked up our game, and he knew it....

[Coach Larry Brown notes] “They’ve been willing to learn the fundamentals and to play as a team, and that means they’ve closed the gap.... [I]t’s pointed out some deficiencies in our game. I’m hopeful that what happened at the world Championships has shown us that we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing.” ¶ The World Championships, you might not wish to remember [if you are an American], was won in September 2002 by Yugoslavia....

The way to handle this, then, I guess, is to beaver away consistently. What I’m saying is I have a really hard time with that.  

The ridiculously thorough degree of research in the above is itself indicative of the problem. I transcribed from the PVR twice, I dug out a book from the other room, I Googled correct orthographies of Serbian names, I quoted and attributed. But I uploaded it eight ten times before I was happy with it. So this too is recursively self-similar.

Interestingly, in the same interview mentioned above, Cleese also said:

[Graham’s and my] sketches would consist of people coming in and abusing each other out of thesauruses, basically. We both found abuse very, very funny, and we loved people arguing and fighting and being rude to each other. We love also the possibilities of language in that situation, because when you start getting just a little bit more recherché in your vocabulary, and at the same time having the actors very angry, something very funny happens, I think.

So now you know.  

2004.02.13a, 14 – It’s here, a mere 18 years later: The first issue of Spy, October 1986.

Against a marble backdrop, I hold up the October 1986 issue of ‘Spy’

I bought the issue offa eBay as part of a large bundle, and in so doing I recovered another handful of the home soil, a necessity for any vampyr’s healthy and secure living. (After 18 years, I can get allegorical on your arse.)

This maiden issue begat a chain of events that brought me here. (The magazine’s influence on my writing style and entire worldview is something I cannot exaggerate.) And now, that same maiden issue brings you here.

Read how things were in the earliest days.  

2004.02.13b – Weeks in the offing, I can make the epochal announcement that I am now using someone else’s blogging software: Axxlog now resides on young Matt Müllenweg’s server, using his WordPress software, which he laboriously custom-hacked for me. (Thanks, kiddo.)

I used to use Dean’s duct-taped-together software for the Bookblog and NUblog, but that’s now in a state in which I have to use a specific computer to edit an entry. I worry about the longevity of those postings. I may migrate this Weblog and other items to WordPress later, but for the moment, it’s an experiment.

The graphic design is an authorized reuse of Noel D. Jackson’s PhotoStack page, and the stylesheet requires improvements. Nonetheless, it’s valid code and it brings me into the 21st century.

Of particular interest is my month-long examination of the accessibility issues with the TiVo-manqué “personal video recorder” I have on loan. Or perhaps not of particular interest. It’s your funeral.

2004.02.10aKynn Bartlett is one of the “enemies” I recommend for jobs. For a moment there I thought that term was a bit harsh, but perhaps not.

I can’t believe that people are arguing that their hack doesn’t work right. Yes, it’s a bug that should be fixed, but they don’t really care about the issue because they want to use aural CSS properties – they care because they’re using a nasty, awful hack which abuses a legitimate CSS property that’s intended to be used to increase accessibility for people with visual disabilities, as well as other audio-output users.

Intentions don’t matter; results do. Aural CSS was a bad idea in the first place, has almost no real-world implementations, and conflicts with blind users’ existing voice settings, among many other deficiencies. It has been deprecated by the CSS Working Group. It’s orphanware.

In my opinion, Zeldman and the other whiners are way off base in claiming this is some catastrophe. If anything, it shows that they didn’t do their homework when they decided to appropriate a perfectly good aural CSS attribute to control visual formatting. If – as Zeldman claims – this bug has been “known” since 2001, why didn’t he and others take this into account when deciding to use the “box model hack” and choose another property which would pass validation?

A fair point, one already made elsewhere. They could indeed have used another property (viz., font-family), and it would have been equally valid. They didn’t. Someone else still could. Like Kynn, for example. We could call it the Box Bartlett Hack. Publish it and people will then have an ever-more-pure alternative.

Nonetheless, the Box Model Hack was chosen because it is ignored by the target of the hack, which makes a certain degree of sense.

Oh, wait, I know. Because “no real designer is going to want to use aural CSS anyway.”

Of course not. It doesn’t work.

Self-centered visually-oriented designers who see themselves as the end consumers of the W3C’s output (as opposed to users of the Web itself) never really care about blind folks and other people who require accessibility. (Witness the continued use of FIR, promoted as “more accessible” even though most screen readers choke on it.)

I’m the one who provided that evidence and I can assure you that people have reduced their usage of FIR as a result. It’s still perfectly viable in some conditions.

Nonetheless, the designers who are aware of FIR in the first place are the ones most likely to stop using it after it was revealed to be invisible to screen readers. These are, by definition, the most responsible designers working today, since they incorporate standards compliance and accessibility into their work.

(And that reminds me: I really need to update my Ten Years Ago in Spy template.)

Let’s get real. There are plenty of ways to deal with “the box model bug” which don’t involve putting in bogus declarations of aural CSS properties. Sad hacks shouldn’t be part of the CSS repertoire any more than sad hacks should be part of (X)HTML design.

This controversy is a tempest in a teapot,

Then STFU, Kynn.

but it does illustrate several things. The self-centered ego of so many “elite” Web designers, the scorn they have for people who might actually use aural CSS, and the hatred they have for the W3C and the people who provide services there.

Nobody but T.V. Raman and Jason White uses aural CSS.

Kooky fun fact: The Box Model Hack was invented by Tantek Çelik, a Microsoft employee (!) and one of the three most informed CSS experts in the world and a leading member of the W3C’s CSS Working Group. I can personally attest to his efforts in improving accessibility through CSS, though many of those efforts have not yet been published. So much for self-centred ego.

And as for the purity of the Box Model Hack? We can live with being slightly impure. Lots of things are permitted but undesirable, as Kynn will evince.  

And speaking of FIR:

2004.02.10b – ...but I can still be translated into Deutsch. It happened before. It’s happened again.  

Facts and Opinion About Fahrner Image Replacement
Tatsachen und Bewertung: Fahrner Image Replacement


A friendly reminder to BoingBoing readers who’d like to submit item suggestions to me, or any of the blog’s co-editors: We love you, we love your ideas – you are what makes this blog fun to produce and fun to read. But please, please, please, please, please, please use our handy online submission form instead of sharing ideas by email. Or (gag) IM.

Really. Even if you’re a personal pal.


Well, how about entering the latter quarter of the 20th century and setting up a single E-mail address for submissions that circulates to all editors, either randomly or in sequence?

How about setting up such an address that auto-blogs the contents of the submissions on a page that only the editors can read – at their leisure?

How about not blaming the contributors to this group Weblog, who are doing half or more the work in the first place, for BoingBoing editors’ own cluelessness, laziness, and peevishness?

Two years ago Cory “Not Sicha” Doctorow made this same plea (transparently in response to my pitching him links via the extremely onerous method of snatchmail), and at the time BoingBoing had a discussion forum, where I told them to get stuffed until they implemented something vaguely resembling a convenient system.

To deploy Cory’s own terminology, the user experience of BoingBoing’s submission form “sucks.” It’s two screens long, has six fields to fill in (all we’re sending you is a URL, people), and carries this disclaimer in red:

Note: if you don’t feel like putting useful information in this field that actually describes the link and why it’s interesting, don’t bother submitting at all

You’ve got a fucking deal!  

2004.02.05bMC May Techno Dance Remix: Comic Sans Watch. I keep forgetting to bookmark Web sites that use it.  

2004.02.05a – Yes, we know blind people want porno! The American Foundation for the Blind reported that 22% of respondents in one survey and 9% in another were interested in watching “Adult (X-Rated)” videos with audio description.

Hey! That gives me an idea! (But don’t get me started about captioning. I’ve already seen it, and it fucks me up.)  

2004.02.04b – The electronic-text researchertrix is quite estimable, you know. And her husband unit is actually applying his linguistics.

  1. How to be a respected text artisan:

    Word processors have made some publishing jobs easier and others harder. The editors and proofers I know will tell you that one key “advantage” of word processors is their ability to allow authors to get in the way of the publishing process. Authors do horrible things with word processors....

    As for typesetting, sure, Quark is easier than, say, Penta. A stupid Quarkster, however, will give you just as crappy a final document as a stupid author with a word processor does a manuscript. You want professional-level typesetting, you better darn well find a professional typesetter.

    Electronic publication has also thrown a new monkey wrench into the works: conversion to multiple output formats.... You want PDF and HTML out of the same process, you got work to do. [...]

    We text artisans, we don’t ask much. We really don’t. We do ask that those of you who don’t know how to do what we do admit as much. We ask that you come to us and find out what we do and how we do it before pontificating about how easy it is. We ask that you not mislead others into believing that what we do can be learned in an afternoon or programmed into idiot-level software.

    Because, I tell you, we get real tired of cleaning up after the “it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s fun!” meme.... If you want electronic publications that are as attractive and as durable as print publications, you will have to pay for the work of skilled text artisans, just as you must for print.

    I am pretty sure this advice applies to every field in which I have anything resembling a professional interest. Does it explain how you get frustrated when people screw up what you consider your life’s work? It does for me.

  2. We’re already reading all day:

    All significant costs of journal publication can be eliminated by transferring the journal to electronic form....

    This is simply not true.... Nor will you find too many open-access proponents who take this line, because they know it will (rightly) get them jumped on.

    It is true of dissemination of electronic articles post-publication, mind you, and that I did say earlier. But ignore the real costs of publication, and you’re begging and pleading for trouble.

    The major cost that persists into electronic publishing is text artisanry. Design (visual, structural, and accessibility-related). Editing. Production. Proofreading.... Metadata construction, especially if we’re talking electronic dissemination. And the management that ties these bits of artisanry together. [...]

    And how long should low electronic-production values last, I ask you? It actually irks the living daylights out of me, the horrible crimes against artisanry that E-journals and full-text journal databases get away with. Of bloody course it’s hard to read these things onscreen – absolutely no effort whatever is being put toward making onscreen reading easy and pleasant! We don’t have all the canons of E-text visual design figured out yet, but we do know some of them, and E-journals are ignoring them at an appalling rate. [...]

    So we get people proudly proclaiming that they can’t possibly read onscreen, and the E-text revolution must perforce be delayed until they can.... They’d read onscreen as happily as I do, a lot of them, if the E-journal people would wake the heck up and find some artisans.

    Is this not what Cory Doctorow is going around saying – people already read more words off screens than they do off paper? So why keep saying E-books aren’t gonna work? We already have them; these books are merely divided into electronic mail, instant messaging, Web sites, and of course captioning and subtitling.  

2004.02.04a – Victory was snatched decisively from the jaws of victory last night as a whopping eight habitués of Webstandards.TO were joined by three newbies around the largest table in Byzantium. Conveniently situated as it was in the front vitrine, we were able to admire the passing wastrels of le village, and they us.

Unaccustomed to a venue this far away from Roncy (with, moreover, something other than a sawdust floor), the habitués adapted to the unfamiliar 21st-century décor and place settings. (“ ‘Stemware’?”) Gamely, but with a hint of resignation, attendees contented themselves with whatever jejeune, ordinaire, déclassé microbrews were presently available. Langstroþ tied one on with mocchatini after mocchatini, ever loosening his tie in defiance of OPSEU service and performance parameters.

One was seen to pre-clear, order, and consume the sole veganist dish on offer (if not filet of sole, then not filet of veganist, either), a shockingly successful concoction of marinated tofu (“Bachelor Chow: Now with flavor”), lentils, snap peas and green beans, rapini, potatoes, carrots, and a sectioned fibroid anatomical structure tentatively biopsied as seitan or plantain. (For that component, Langstroþ acted as royal food taster.) A stunning achievement: Tofu and vegetables are hard to get right. Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, macaroni was eaten in dangerous proximity to cheese from within an asymmetrical bowl.

With but a single “Jane, you ignorant slut”–esque ashtray-heaving shitfit during the evening and much sidesplitting merriment (from whom else – Langstroþ and his mocchatinis), shop was talked and shit was shot in equal measure.


Future meetings can be held somewhere else. We can even take the skinheads bowling. If M. Clarke wants to keep tagging along, though, accessibility will have to cease to be hypothetical.

Maudlin on cranberry juice and tofu, and in fact actually tired after laughing for minutes on end, I bid everyone adieu as the table broke up. I sashayed down rue de l’Église, where I immediately bumped into a former bf unit walking out of a porno theatre.  

2004.02.03 – Sorry, John, ol’ bean, but the OmniWeb thumbnails-of-pages-as-tabs idea was proposed for Safari on “1/11/03” (November? January?) based on someone else’s earlier idea.

Further notes:

  1. Command-+ doesn’t increase font size, while Command-minus does decrease it.
  2. The program gets my visited-link colours wrong. Moz on top, OmniWeb below:
    Mozilla’s visited links (purple) and OmniWeb’s (light teal)
  3. OmniWeb hangs punctuation in lists, headings, and paragraphs (and possibly everywhere):
    Quotation mark hung in margin between number and text
    And it gets ligatures right when requested.
  4. OmniWeb can speak Web pages, but it dumbly reads from top to bottom and ignores alt texts (ignores images entirely, in effect) and summary on table.
  5. Under Plug-in Preferences, what the hell is a “DRM Plugin.bundle”?
  6. “Load unrequested windows in the Pop-Up Trap” – which would be where?
  7. History and Bookmarks are essentially the same; OmniWeb gives you folders for Local Web Servers, Most Visited, Shared Bookmarks (an interesting concept), Site Preferences, and, usefully, Unreachable and Unviewed Content (which means what?). You’ve also got a News Feed you can turn on.
  8. If OmniGroup wants OmniWeb to be demonstrably different from Safari, then this get accessibility right. Reasonably complete support of HTML accessibility features and full support of UAAG are in order. (OmniGroup tries to charge money for its browser. If you want me to pay for it, I want it accessible.)
  9. I don’t need another browser. I just need a browser with all the best features of every other browser.  

2004.02.01a – Script typefaces are impure. They are arrivistes, parvenus. They attempt to be all classy in the most obvious way possible. Vulgar people tend to use them in vulgar ways, as by setting them in all capitals. I can prove it, too – I’ve got an entire collection of type photographs in the wings waiting for something vaguely resembling an accessible way to turn them into slideshows. In the interim, what odds do you give that this Joe would ever commit the following atrocity?

Joe the Mover van (with ‘Joe’ in script face)

I think not.

My favourite babaghannouj (use whatever orthography you wish) abuses Mistral – famous from the Night Court opening credits! – and Delphin simultaneously.

Sunflower Kitchen babaghannouj

Script faces were always difficult in the days of hot metal because each block of metal was a real block, a tangible rectilinear chunk. Unless your face was custom-manufactured to include ligature forms, or unless it was one of the ultra-expensive matrices that could actually kern across wide distances, your script fonts were little more than tarted-up italics – Klang, for example, which could be the second-best name for a typeface there ever was (after Chopshop). (This same effect accounts for the italic p’s lack of left-side serif in Sabon, which JFP fixed up real good in Sabon Next.) There was also the issue of joining adjacent forms: Script fonts are supposed to flow together by definition. You’d think that wouldn’t be a problem with adjacent blocks of metal, but it was.

Then, in phototypesetting (a word that lends itself to pretentious overpronunciation, what with all those Ts), those constraints disappeared and it was suddenly possible to typeset scripts with no problem whatsoever. This was the beginning of the end, for it begat the use of Park Avenue on business cards for chiropractors and dentists.

Yet things were actually worse for most of the subsequent desktop-publishing era because the software was initially too stupid to handle italics, let alone scripts. (It’s still pretty stupid: Set a few pages in italic in Microsoft Word, for example, with full justification.) This would eventually change as software began to finally understand the metrics in PostScript fonts and as those metrics were improved (Cf. Eras). But that progress was undone by a single face: Zapf Chancery Medium Italic.

ITC Zapf Chancery is a magnificent and unique achievement in 20th-century typography: An entire typeface family based on the Chancery style of calligraphy. I have before me my ancient and priceless Berthold Fototypes E2 book, which I have preserved at cost of life and limb for 20 years. It quite plainly documents that not only did there exist a Zapf Chancery Light, Medium, Demi, and Bold, two of which actually had italics, we also had swash and small-cap variants. In fact, 14 fonts within this astonishing family.

Zapf Chancery specimens, including small capitals
Zapf Chancery specimen-book closeup (with additional visible hand)
Zapf Chancery Medium caps ultra-closeup
Zapf Chancery Medium Swash ultra-closeup

You couldn’t use it to typeset annual reports or anything, but for a printed piece with a personal or epistolary feel, it’s perfect. Zapf Chancery works in text and display; it’s a complete system. It’s perfectly legible if you throw a lot of lead at it. It’s a treasure, and I cannot find a type vendor who sells the whole thing. (It screams for OpenType.)

But in the original LaserWriter fonts (actually, the 22 fonts in the LaserWriter Plus), some brainiac had the bright idea to include Zapf Chancery. But only one face: Medium Italic. Thus was the gene pool poisoned for an entire generation. All it took was a single administrative assistant to typeset a party invitation in all-caps Zapf Chancery and it was game over.

What befell Zapf Chancery is like what happens to dignified old men should they be accused of molesting children: It doesn’t have to be true, but that’s the only image people ever have from that point forward. Depraved misuse of this triumph of typographic design permanently coloured people’s perceptions not only of Zapf Chancery but of every other script face. They became coin of the realm, preferred by jumped-up losers.

No, really. I mean that.

Apple has attempted to rehabilitate the script face. In OS X, you get a few adequate script faces plus an absolute stunner, Zapfino, now a rather old font but suddenly a well-distributed one. (And Zapfino is reminiscent of Le Griffe.)

Zapfino doesn’t work all that well in browsers, but if Sven-S. Porst can use it, I can give it a whirl, too, as I am in headings (h1) this month. The problem seems to be leading. I have set it to an absurd amount here, to limited avail.

So for February, my personal Weblog will dabble in impure script typography. I’ll be writing more about it here and there. Despite the inclusion of every likely alternate script font in existence plus the generic font-family of cursive, expect it to look like arse in Windows. Your problem, really.  

2004.02.01b – I linked an esteemed colleague to a relevant Web page.

ugh, i think she was one who chewed me a new ass for being a sexist or something
even if she did, that doesn’t mean anything.
true. gotta give props for people who actually stay in their field of study
she’s not grudge-cherishing like some people.
yeah, i don’t care
i was just trying to remember why i knew the name
people are always surprised when I recommend people I’ve had bitter arguments with for jobs.
I don’t care if X is an arsehole if X is the most qualified.
well, i don’t think people know that you spar with others for fun, either
I rarely do it for “fun.”
It’s just that I don’t always view it as TREASON.
now, sometimes, yes!
but not always.
en tout cas.
sure, but it’s not like you don’t enjoy it as a diversion if you’re bickering with someone
she may have thought you were a sexist arsehole once, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t take your advice on topics A, B, and C.
unrelated, after all.
besides, it’s speculation.
you’re assuming a rationality most people don’t have
for most people, fighting with someone is a huge emotional affront
“that person is dead to me! we’ll never speak again!”
that happens in unusual cases.
I prefer to simply plot out revenge.
oh, please, that happens in most cases
or comeuppance.
I meant *to me*.
“i’m not going to listen to that guy, he’s a sexist pig”
ah, sorry
Being a Pisces, I embody a duality. I take the weather personally, but will recommend enemies for jobs.
this is the way we are.
notwithstanding the fact, of course, that i’m not actually a sexist pig  

2004.02.01c – Why did I keep thinking of a car wash with lots of girls in hot pants and T-shirts?

just come back from taking the dog for a very muddy, filthy, wet walk... always nice to come into a warm house after something like that
Time to play the delightful game Hose Him Down for Jesus.
the dog just gets a good rub with a towel – she’s not too partial to being dumped in the water trough
Bring her to the car wash, shurely?!
car wash?! I don’t think there’s one within... 20 miles of here
Could be good for a nice run with the hound.
then, after running her home, run her directly back to wash her off from the run home.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
I shall try that next time
went to a very good party last night [...] and then someone tore the head off a pheasant... and things got a little mediæval from there on

And at this point I flashed on the acid trip in Hard Core Logo. As in Pink Flamingos, they actually killed the bird during filming.

odd party, really...
but we skinned and cooked the pheasant in a wood burner, so it didn’t go to waste... hmm, really very odd party...
How appalling.
How extra-appalling.
it was an engagement party for someone, if you can believe it!
The Mansons, apparently.  


Logroll, or “low-threshold links.”

(View linklist separately)

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