Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Discrimination of NPR

I’m curious to know if anyone else out there has come to this same realization:

I like classical music and I spend a fair amount of time listening to NPR throughout the work week. I even scan their playlist online regularly just to see what’s coming up – whether it be something already familiar and prized or something unfamiliar that might be worth discovering. Or often I just listen rather casually and something nice that I hadn’t heard before gets played. And so I look it up, making a note of the composer and the composition’s name for further exploration later.

But after several months of this sort of routine it has begun to dawn on me that, with relatively few exceptions, whatever rules are out there governing what gets played on NPR are apparently not all that different from the rules which govern pop-oriented FM radio. Their playlist really does become quite predictable and tired after a while. The heritage which is “classical” music is so rich and so deep and so glorious – but you won’t really gain a healthy appreciation of this fact if all you’re ever exposed to is the rather stingy menu that NPR serves up during their regular air time. I mean, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is a beautiful piece of music, but didn’t we just hear it sometime during the afternoon last week – and the week before that too? Didn’t ‘ole Sergei write some other stuff that might be worth playing?! Sheesh!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love Those Ligatures!

I love to linger over a nice set of ligatures – almost as much as I love to alliterate.

What’s a ligature? Don’t feel bad if you have to ask. I was initiated into such typographical mysteries later than I care to admit. Be forewarned, however: once you discover them you will find it hard – painful, even – to live without them.

The sad fact is that certain lowercase letter forms don’t get along very well together. They can’t seem to keep their arms and ascenders to themselves and are constantly invading the space of their neighbors. The most notorious problem child of them all is f, who behaves particularly badly when placed beside l, i, j, k, b, h or another f. He is even known to cause problems with certain, ordinarily well-behaved punctuation marks when left unsupervised in their vicinity.

In the days when texts were written by hand, scribes often got creative in their handling of some of these letter combinations by binding problematic pairs (or even trios) of letterforms into a single, seamless unit when the situation called for it. (The word ligature comes from the Latin verb ligare, meaning to tie up or to bind together.) With the advent of moveable type, this practice was continued by the creation of separate metal casts for the desired combinations. In the era of digital type, the desired results are (in principal) produced most easily – if the producers of a typeface include the necessary ligatures as part of the font set, if the publishing software makers allow for them to be readily appropriated, and if the end-user knows or cares enough to bother about them at all – a chain of requirements which is tragically broken more often than not in practice.

Notice the variations in the following examples. (The text is set in Adobe Garamond Pro using Adobe InDesign.) In the first example, ligatures are turned off. (In InDesign, the ligature feature can be toggled on or off via the pull down menu on the Character palette.) Notice how the ffi combination in Officina creates some ungainly crowding and uncomfortable tangents, particularly between the terminal on the f and the dot on the i. (Adobe Garamond Pro is actually more generous than some typefaces, where you would find these letters actually colliding and overlapping most abhorrently.)

Now ligatures are turned on.

Ahhhhh, that looks and feels so much better!

Open Type fonts such as Adobe Garamond Pro (for you professional users out there) also often contain extra “discretionary” ligatures which can be appropriated if so desired. (In InDesign, again go to the Character palette, access the pull-down menu and go to Open Type > Discretionary Ligatures. Also, going up to the Type menu and selecting Glyphs will open up a separate palette displaying the complete character set for that font – ligatures, punctuation marks, diacritics and other special characters – which you can explore to your heart’s content. Just place the cursor at the appropriate point in your text box and double-click on the desired glyph to manually insert.) Notice the ct in the example below.

While standard ligatures ought to be just that – standard use for anyone with even a modicum of typographic sensibilities – discretionary ligatures are a bit pretentious and distracting for normal body copy, though they can create some nice results when setting display text, if the added touch of sophistication is desirable. So, be sure to use them as the appellation suggests – with discretion.

Happy ligaturing!

Excerpt from James Jordan

Here’s a little secret I should let you in on: I have relatively few original insights when it comes to most of the stuff I'm posting. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due and in directing others who may be interested to the same wells which I have been refreshed from, I’ll be sharing some of those sources of inspiration as I go along. James Jordan has been a significant one. I’m currently reading The Sociology of the Church and I just came across (quite unexpectedly, in the midst of some seemingly very unrelated matter, I might add) this very nice encapsulation of some of the themes that I have been and will be touching upon in these posts. I thought it well worth sharing:

“The central ritual of the church is the action of Holy Communion. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, distributed it, and they all tasted (evaluated) it, and ate it. This six-fold action (taking, thanking, restructuring, sharing, evaluating, enjoying) is the key to the Christian life in every area. An artist takes raw material, thanks God for it, creates his art and distributes it (playing a concert, exhibiting a painting), and evaluates and enjoys it in fellowship with others. A businessman takes raw material, thanks God for it, works with it and shares it by means of the free market (exchanges it for a share of someone else’s goods), and then evaluates and enjoys it in fellowship with others. This is the Christian life, and it finds it [sic] most concentrated expression in the liturgy of the sacrament.”

—James Jordan, The Sociology of the Church, p189

Monday, February 2, 2009


And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden…and the Lord God took the man, and put him in the Garden of Eden to dress and keep it.
Genesis 2: 8a-15 (AV)

In the previous post on this topic we explored Adam’s duty of dressing the Garden. Now let’s turn our attention to God’s charge to keep the Garden.

As quoted above, the AV renders this Hebrew verb as (to) keep. Most English translations stick with this rendering. The two notable variations would be (to) take care of it (NIV), which I think is rather weak, and (to) watch over it (HCSB), which I really like. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew verb can take the following meanings: to hedge about (as with thorns), to guard, to protect, to beware, to be circumspect, to take heed, to mark, to look narrowly, to observe, to lie in wait.

This conjures up a good many interesting things to consider. The most obvious meaning here is that God appointed Adam as a guardian of the Garden. There are some fascinating and rather ominous undertones here. Even in an unfallen world, Adam was supposed to be on his toes, to mark what what went on around him in the Garden – what was present there, what was done there, what was said there – to sift it all carefully and to be ready to act if some sign of trouble or danger manifested itself. Though one wonders what trouble or danger Adam could possibly have conceived of in his state of innocence, God of course knew what he did not: the serpent was lurking and would be looking for an opportunity to work mischief.

Adam was to be an observant creature – a watchful and thoughtful guardian. He was to examine each thing around him, assessing its latent potentialities – for good, but possibly also for evil (even though he as yet had no knowledge of evil, save perhaps by name only). A sense of foreboding certainly overshadows all of this because we know the rest of the story as recorded in Chapter Three. However, I would submit that Adam’s charge to keep has richer, more glorious and more constructive implications woven into it than these darker associations alone will reveal. Recall everything which was mentioned earlier with regard to dressing and let it sit closely beside the watchful observation which is enjoined here.

Taken together, the entire task would require a good deal of imagination and creativity on Adam’s part. Adam was not created to simply take things – save God’s own words – at face value. He was not created to necessarily accept things as they initially presented themselves to him. He was supposed to examine things up close, and then he was supposed to take a step back from things – to squint at them, to turn his head sideways and look at them cock-eyed. He was supposed to question. He was meant to dig. He was intended to investigate. He was created to explore.

Super Bowl XLIII ads

The planets of sports and advertising had their annual conjunction last night. I checked in somewhere in the second quarter and was in and out, so I did miss a few. There is a good re-cap along with some funny commentary here.,28757,1874549,00.html

My personal favorites:’s “Moose Head” ad
I laughed out loud.

Cash4Gold’s ad featuring Ed McMahon and M.C. Hammer
Again, laugh-out-loud funny – and timely.

Coca Cola’s “Insect Heist” ad
Cleverly creative and impeccably animated.

NFL’s Usama Young ad
A nice combination of humor and father-son sentimentality.


Pepsi’s “MacGruber” ad
I’m sure most MacGyver fans ate this one up, but it didn’t really do anything for me.’s ads featuring Danica Patrick
These were both tasteless and not really all that clever or all that funny.