Flat earthers? Must be a spoof…

Flat earth and the BibleAt first, I thought a story on Tech.mic titled “Meet the People Who Believe the Earth Is Flat” was satire. You know, a parody of those zany conspiracy theorists who believe in such nonsense as chemtrails, gluten-free, the government staged the 9/11 attacks, homeopathy, vaccines cause autism, Trump is a good presidential candidate, astrology, creationism, climate change is a hoax, Collingwood Council has ethics, and the rest of the rampant silliness and stupidity that haunts the Net.

And it would be easy to write: wingnuts are almost too easy to lampoon. But no one can really believe the earth is flat, can they? I mean, come on: how stupid do you have to be? It’s gotta be a spoof.

Flat earth belief – or more properly, platygeism – goes beyond mere gullibility into the realm of a self-induced ignorance coma. As Rational Wiki succinctly puts it:

It is probably impossible for any single example to fully disprove flat-earthism, simply because there is always an ad hoc explanation for any given, apparently-contradictory phenomenon. However, it’s quite difficult for a flat-earthist to explain away all of the problems with flat-earthism and maintain a consistent theory, mostly because the “evidence” they provide is circumstantial, and generally pulled out of their asses.

But the article referenced a Facebook group, sites and some YouTube videos. A lot of them. If it’s a spoof, it’s a convoluted one with lots of seemingly disparate players. As conspiracies go, this one is easily debunked.

And they weren’t the sort of economic “flat earth” believers Thomas Friedman referenced in his book. Nor are they the metaphorical “flat earther” that Trump supporters are often described as. These are the mythical Dark Ages* sort of flat-earther dressed in New Age clothes. You know, the no-science, no-logic, no-education, superstitious piffle sort of believer with access to the internet. The kind that increasingly populate the dark corners of the web to grow conspiracies and wingnut ideas in the dark.

As I read, I started to get worried. This didn’t look spoofish at all. It looked frighteningly real. As if these people actually believed against all reason, all science, all geography, all physics and all astronomy that, yes indeed, we do live on a flat surface. As if these people were actually the most stupid on the planet and proud of it.

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Wolf Hall reviewed

Thomas CromwellI have just finished watching the six-part BBC series, Wolf Hall, based on the two novels by Hilary Mantel. I am also about halfway through my reading of the first of the two, Wolf Hall (with Bring up the Bodies waiting in the bedside pile).

The series conflates the two novels into six one-hour episodes. Given the length of the novels (Wolf Hall is 650 pages itself), compacting them and retaining clarity, plot and drama is quite a feat.

Normally, I would argue for the written word over the adaptation. Any adaptation. As good as they may be, it is rare that a film or TV production can match the richness of any book. But in this instance, I find myself siding with the BBC’s version when recommending a choice to others. It is beautiful, well-crafted production, and visually stunning. But in truth, the two are synergistic.

(digression: the exacting approach of the BBC to history, to production, to costume and sets puts to shame the risible, American TV series, The Tudors).

For me, the period of the Tudors is the most intriguing, exciting, entertaining period of English history. In part it’s because the Renaissance bursts upon European consciousness and radically changes everything – politics, art, philosophy, literature, music, technology et al. And on its heels comes the Protestant Reformation, which rocks the very foundation of everything it touches. Everything was in flux.

It’s also in part because the Tudors themselves are larger-than-life characters in a giant, swirling drama that reaches into the nations and courts across Europe.

Unlike earlier periods, the Tudor era is remarkably well documented – the first period to benefit from the new printing technology that swept the continent. We know much more about the daily lives of the time than we do about previous eras. So it helps make the characters live in our imagination. Plus it is the era of Shakespeare, albeit a generation later than this series portrays.

And then there’s the story itself. Or rather, the many stories – plots and subplots, twists and turns – that arise. Henry VII’s rise from Bosworth to end the War of the Roses, Henry VIII’s unexpected ascension to the throne, and his marital adventures. Elizabeth I and her reign against all odds. Mary. Edward. Five monarchs in all. It’s just such rich stuff, compressed into a mere 120 years. You can’t fail to be drawn in.

Who among us doesn’t know at least the outline of the story of Henry VIII’s wives? Or the defeat of the Spanish Armada under Elizabeth? Mary Queen of Scots? The beheading of Anne?

Little wonder I continue to read and watch stories about them. They are endlessly entertaining.

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Deputy mayor & interim CAO missing in action?

MissingThe headline in the Connection story reads, “Collingwood meets with provincial ministers about waterfront plan.” Well, that’s incorrect: it wasn’t “Collingwood” – it was Mayor Cooper and two staff members at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference this month.

Notably absent from the reporting of these important meetings were the deputy mayor, Brian Saunderson; our interim CAO, John Brown; and senior administrative staff.

Why? Saunderson was at the AMO conference. Was he not invited? Or did he simply disdain to attend? I don’t know.

I doubt the interim CAO attended AMO. I suspect he was too busy hectoring Collus PowerStream staff from his corner office to attend anything as trivial as a major provincial municipal conference where ministers could be met, issues discussed and causes advocated. Not to mention the learning and networking opportunities. Permanent CAOs have attended in the past. Another reason we deserve a permanent CAO.

I don’t know why the other admin staff didn’t attend. I would have thought it beneficial for them to help present a united front on our waterfront plans, discussing funding and support opportunities and the impact on our local economy and budget implications.

The mayor had meetings with the Minister of Tourism, Eleanor McMahon, and the Minister of Economic Development and Growth, Brad Duguid. How important can they be to a town that survives on tourism and desperately needs to maintain and grow its economy? Right…

Hats off to the two staffers who did attend: they, at least, know what’s important for the community.

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A brief update on Collus-PowerStream

Just a brief note to give my readers the opportunity to examine two documents related to Collus-PowerStream and our council’s secretive efforts to sabotage our utility. Both are in PDF format, linked below.

First is the presentation given by the Electricity Distribution Association (EDA) to AMO delegates earlier this month. I referred to this in a recent post about the opportunities this council has thrown away in their headlong rush to fulfill their petty little vendettas.

Collus-PowerStream was mentioned during the presentation (page 14) as one of the leading innovators in LDCs in Ontario. Bet you’ve never heard The Block say anything like that at the table.

Never a good word for all the hard work our utility staff have done comes from The Block. They can’t stand hearing good news about our utility they want to destroy and they never, ever pass any positive news along to you – the actual owners of our utility.

We could have been in the forefront of a remarkable exciting new development, been a player in new organization – had The Block not interfered with their petty, personal agendas. But you’ll never hear them admit it.

Second is the EDA’s weekly newsletter for August 16, 2016 which also provides a summary of the presentation. On page 2, you’ll read how our own utility was profiled for its efficiency:

Collus PowerStream’s SmartMAP which has improved outage restoration and operational efficiency.

Once again, we are being recognized by the provincial association, esteemed in the eyes of LDCs and municipalities across the province. But do you think you’ll ever hear The Block mention this at the council table? Of course not! Nor will you read in in the local media, which, sadly, does little more than regurgitate The Block’s slimy propaganda.

The weekly newsletter is also interesting because it highlights news, issues, events, policy changes and events in the energy sector. Which, of course, The Block never reads because they don’t receive it. That would require them to actually taken an interest in the energy sector and learn something. Both of which are anathema to all Blockheads. Besides, they already know everything. Actually learning something would just confuse them.

The newsletter would normally go to LDC board members, but given who The Block placed on the utility board – their administrative pitbulls – they are unlikely to pass it along to the public, either. It’s kept secret, like everything else done around, with and to our utility. But here, at least this one time, you have a chance to read what The Block doesn’t want you to know.

You’re welcome.

Collingwood deserves better. You deserve better.

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No consultation with customers or neighbours

Collus distribution areaDid you know Collus-PowerStream serves thousands of customers in Stayner, Thornbury and Creemore? More than 4,000 residences, businesses, restaurants, stores, churches, municipal facilities and farms are on the Collus-PowerStream distribution network, along with almost 12,200 in Collingwood.

Do you know how many times Collingwood has consulted with the councils of Town of the Blue Mountains and Clearview over its plan to sell our utility to Hydro One that will crucially and negatively affect those customers in their communities?

Right: none.

The same number of consultations they have had with local customers. It’s all been done furtively: behind closed doors with high-priced, unctuous, lawyers and oleaginous administration staff. A disgraceful breach of public trust.

The Most Secretive Council Ever plans to sell the service on which these customers depend to a utility that will quickly raise their rates roughly 10%. Perhaps even higher.

This will impact the living conditions and quality of life, the economic livelihood and the viability of local businesses and farms in these areas. It will greatly affect the municipalities themselves. How will it affect the already-growing problem some people have making their existing electricity payments?

Right: The Block don’t care. 

Sure, it will make it harder for everyone, especially seniors and those on low or fixed income. All part of The Block’s war on them.

My sources say they haven’t even officially informed our neighbours of anything yet, let alone included them into their secret negotiations. That shows the arrogant level of disrespect this council has for our municipal neighbours and regional partners. They’re just going to let it be a surprise when the bill-shock comes in.

Collingwood deserves better. So do our neighbours.

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It’s not the town doing this: merely staff

Yellow journalism“Collingwood laywer (sic) says town won’t sign confidentiality agreement regarding Collus employee information” says the headline in a story in last week’s Collingwood Connection. Yes, it really does say “laywer….” (ah, proofreading…)

Well, that’s wrong: it’s not “the town” that won’t sign, but rather merely three members of the administrative staff. The Block recently replaced the town’s experienced, democratically-appointed members with staffers in order to push through The Block’s destruction of the relationship with PowerStream. But it’s not “the town” behind it at all.

They would sign it if instructed to by council. But council is controlled by The Block. So that will never happen: it goes against the ideology.

The Block wants this information so badly it hurts them to even think about being thwarted from it. They figure there’s some secret buried there, some imagined evil lurking in the salaries of staff. Rubbish, of course. Their wacky,but viral conspiracy notions have ruined the town, but they continue with the demolition amidst the rubble.

That confidentiality agreement is meant to protect the right to privacy and confidentiality that our utility service employees have. The Block and its pet administration know that, but they want to distribute personal information among themselves and friends. It’s despicable and unethical. Just like The Block’s other actions.

Ask yourself: why does “the town” need this information? It isn’t relevant to anything, certainly not the shared services agreement (what should have been a 30-minute negotiation has taken more than two years and is still in limbo). The information is not relevant to any operational issue or efficiency issue. It doesn’t affect the share value or the town in any way. In the 25 years or so since the corporation was first set up, it’s never been needed for anything.

The utility’s auditors and accountants, the Ontario Energy Board, the former CFO (now on council), the corporation’s lawyers, the municipal partners, and former boards haven’t found anything wrong or improper in the operation that would require making public this information. Why does The Block want it, then?

It’s just part of The Block’s vindictive personal agendas and vendettas against the utility staff. Always has been. You already know that.

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Opportunities Collingwood has lost

I spent two days in the trade show at the AMO conference this week, looking at the booth across the aisle from me. It constantly reminded me of the opportunities for Collingwood this council has thrown away, of what great opportunities we have lost this term.

The booth across from me was announcing the upcoming merger of four of the province’s top utility companies – Horizon, Enersource, Hydro One Brampton and PowerStream. This will make it the largest LDC (local distribution corporation) in Ontario. The four most innovative, customer-oriented, conservation-minded, efficient and forward-thinking utilities are merging.

You remember PowerStream? They are our municipal partners in Collus. So why haven’t you heard about this venture? Because The Block doesn’t want you to know about it.

This will be the start of a powerhouse operation that changes the face of the utility sector in Ontario. It will streamline operations and combine resources – all for the betterment of their customers.

Collingwood could have been part of this exciting new development. Should have been part of it – had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the once-great relationship between the town and our utility partner, PowerStream. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the relationship between our utility, and its excellent, hard-working staff, and the town. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed our town’s reputation and standing in the province.

But, of course, they did, as you, dear reader, know from reading the tragic news here. Deliberately, they pursued personal agendas and private vendettas. And we watch slip away the opportunity to be part of something new, dynamic and exciting. The opportunity to be in the forefront vanishes while we shuffle to the rear.

No one wants Collingwood at the table these days. That was driven home to me during the conference through several conversations with people in the energy sector and other municipalities. No one could understand why our council wants to alienate one of the most progressive LDCs in the province and align with the least efficient, least respected power company – the one with the highest electricity rates and lowest customer satisfaction.

No one could understand why our council insisted on shooting itself in the foot. Again, and again, and again.

To outsiders it seems like madness. Only to the small, myopic circle of Blockheads at the table does it make sense to destroy what everyone else in the energy sector heralded as a brilliantly conceived, mutually beneficial, morale-boosting partnership.

Once lost, we can never recover it. Lost opportunities will be this council’s lasting legacy.
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Why is this man still working for Collingwood?

You're firedI am appalled and disgusted, and you should be, too. In what seems only minutes after council and staff received a remedial presentation on roles and responsibilities that emphasized the MAYOR speaks for the town, no one else, the interim CAO was at it again. Speaking out about town issues and events when it is the mayor’s role and responsibility to do so. Not his.

This breach of etiquette should not be tolerated. It shows no respect for the mayor, or her office, let alone the actual events. Such insubordination undermines her authority.

In a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection, interim CAO John Brown is quoted as saying:

“The 50 per cent share sale has caused this council to spend money which resulted from the activities of the last council. There is always legal fees (as a) result of us doing our due diligence. I think this council is doing a better job than these figures show.”

This is outrageous and misleading.

During the discussion, Brown said the current council has incurred significant legal fees as a result of the sale of 50 per cent of the town’s stake in Collus.

These weasel words falsely attempt to put the blame for THIS council’s egregious and excessive consulting and legal fees on the former council when it is clearly THIS council’s responsibility.

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What did the former council ever do for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?
TIM: What exactly are the demands?

BRIAN: We’re giving Powerstream two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Collus utility, and if they don’t agree immediately, we execute the shotgun clause.

TIM: You mean, cut their nose off?

DEB: Cut all our noses off. To spite our collective faces. Show them we’re not to be trifled with.

BRIAN: Also, we’re demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of the former mayor with his conflicts hangin’ out.

KATHY: What? They’ll never agree to that, Brian.

BRIAN: That’s just a bar– a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we sell our utility and the rates go sky high, and that we shall not submit to blackmail!

BLOCK: No blackmail!

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Time for council to learn the rules? Nah…

vengeance takes timeBeing a councillor is hard work. You have to scurry around in dark corners looking for places in which to hold secret meetings, you have to plan the destruction of town facilities and services, you have to spend whole minutes calculating how much to raise taxes, you have to wrack your brain for hours trying to determine the best way to discourage business, offend developers (except those who are your in-laws), you have to spend countless hours listening to staff drone on and on and on about boring stuff like planning and finances before you can get back to figuring out how much money to pump into an expense account so the Senator can party around the country without having to fly economy or eat in 4-star restaurants (answer: unlimited expenses!).

You have to plot how to make staff morale crumble even further, how to punish anyone who might have even smiled at someone on the former council, and how to squeeze more from the taxpayer to reward those out-of-town lawyers and consultants you’ve become buddy-buddy with this term.

And then there are all those secret meetings and passing along confidential information and emails to your mouthpieces and sycophants so they can fuel their whisper campaigns.

Whew. It sure is a busy life. Vengeance takes a lot of effort. Let up for even a moment and you fall off your path of malice and mayhem. Being petty and vindictive requires all your attention.

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The destruction of Collus

Council wrecking our townThere’s a story in the online Connection that highlights how much this council has spent on lawyers and consultants to further its vendetta against Collus-Powerstream: more than $400,000 so far. Half of it was spent in 2015 (I have seen a document that shows more than $249,000 spent in 2015) and the cash register is still ringing. By the end of this year it may well top $750,000-$1 million.

That’s $400,000 of your tax dollars already spent for nothing. Not in town, not on local companies or services. We got absolutely no benefit from that expense. It wasn’t spent on anything for the greater good, but to pursue a very personal vendetta.

Remember that promised savings of $500,000-$750,000 the CAO bragged about back in March? It seems it’s all going to lawyers and consultants. And they’ll be getting more, too. The bills just keep rolling in.

This week, we got the news that Collus Powerstream is one of the top-performing utilities in the province. The Ontario Energy Board released its 2015 Benchmarking Report. in it, Collus Powerstream moved from the third tier (of five) up to second. It’s quite an accomplishment – and owed entirely to the efforts of our great, hardworking utility staff (including the former CEO, Ed Houghton).

It’s ironic that Hydro One remains in tier five – the lowest-performing category. Yet this is who The Block has been secretly trying to sell our utility to: the least efficient utility in the province. Powerstream is, by the way, the second largest municipal utility in this province, with more customers than Toronto Hydro. Powerstream has even more urban customers than Hydro One.

Why do I say costs could top $1 million? Because the Block’s aggressive drive to destroy Collus-Powerstream is about to come to an explosive head. I expect that before the end of summer, Powerstream will be so fed up with the harassment from town hall they will make an offer to buy our share of the utility. And then it will be gone.

We will have lost control over our own hydro rates and services. It will relocate out of town, maybe even out of the region. We will also lose the more than $200,000 a year we get for rent from the building. And any future cash dividends. But we will have the inevitable bills from lawyers to close the deal. Ka-ching!

Now while that purchase is likely the best thing for the staff at Collus – it will get them away from the toxic relationship created by this council and administration – and it will probably benefit the consumer too* – it means we lose a valuable public asset: our electrical utility.

And you, the public haven’t been able to even hear the discussions, let alone provide your input. It’s all been done behind closed doors. Screwed again by The Most Secretive Council Ever.

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Fowler for the 21st Century

Fowler's latest editionOn the desk of every writer, every reporter, every editor, every PR director and every communications officer is a small library of reference books. A good dictionary (Oxford, American Heritage, Merriam Webster, Random House but gods forbid, never a generic Webster’s). A thesaurus (likely Roget’s). A style guide (CP for Canadians, or AP for Americans… Canadians likely have both).  A dictionary of quotations (because the print version is reliable as a source, and the Internet isn’t). And a usage guide.

That’s de rigeur for these professions, and the very minimum that they likely have in front of them every time they write or edit. To ignore these authorities or their guidance would be unprofessional and most professionals will have more of such titles than these basics.

There are many of the latter usage guides to choose from. Strunk and White. Partridge. Gowers. Flesch. Garner. Follett. Wallraff. Pinker. Dozens of books about grammar also fit the bill. The real language wonks have the encyclopedic Chicago Manual of Style (the latest 16th edition…). But Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage will likely hold pride of place. After all, it’s THE guide. We all have at least one copy of it. Writers and editors, that is.

Fowler’s has been the go-to guide for writers and editors since its first publication in 1926, now more a bit of linguistic paleontology than a working guide. It was revised in 1937. It’s still in print, though, nearly a century later. It was revised and edited by Ernest Gowers in the famous second edition, first published in 1965, revised in 1983 and reprinted many times. That’s the version most of my generation used and it’s still a workhorse. But it’s now more than 50 years old, and ,a bit fusty, but Gowers was also a canny wordsmith. As he wrote of Fowler in his introduction:

The truth is that the prime mover of his moralizing was not so much grammatical grundyism as the instincts of a craftsman. ‘Proper words in proper places’, said Swift, ‘make the true definition of a style.’ Fowler thought so too; and, being a perfectionist, could not be satisfied with anything that seemed to him to fall below the highest standard either in the choice of precise words or in their careful and orderly arrangement.

He knew, he said, that ‘what grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize; usage evolves itself little disturbed by their likes and dislikes’. ‘And yet’, he added, ‘the temptation to show how better use might have been made of the material to hand is sometimes irresistible. He has had his reward in his book’s finding a place on the desk of all those who regard writing as a craft, and who like what he called ‘the comfort that springs from feeling that all is shipshape’

Grundyism? Doesn’t that make you want to read it? If so you can find it online in PDF format. Or open your own, well-thumbed edition to page 19.

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These Old Bones

Skeleton DanceThese old bones;
You wouldn’t think they’d cut a rug
jitterbug
dance between the rain drops but
once I could.
Once I did.
Danced to the music,
lover in hand,
that time in the park when we didn’t care
laughing in the face of the storm.
The rain, the wind, splashing in the grass.
The music was all in our heads, our breath, our hearts
beat with the tunes we sang inside.

I remember every line, every lyric.

These old bones
knew music.
These old bones knew
the hotcha rhythm of the dance.

You wouldn’t think them spry enough,
not today.
But once they raced the wind.
Lightning bugs in my pants.
Legs pumped like pistons, flailing bicycle pedals,
racing friends along the sidewalks
careening, chasing our imagination.
Look, no hands, circles round you, I’m a race car, I’m an airplane, jet propelled, look at me.
Fearless, made of rubber.
Down the tracks, by the creek, skidding into gravel driveways.
Friends laughing, falling, rising to challenge again,
scraped knees, elbows, didn’t care.

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Where is Che now that we need him?

CheMaybe it’s simple nostalgia, but it seems to me the world was a lot better off when the Soviet Union was around. Really. Bear with me while I explain.

When the USSR was the main enemy of our loudly-proclaimed free and democratic society, we struggled to measure ourselves against its yardstick.

If the USSR claimed to have the best chess players, we had to beat them with Bobby Fischer. If they claimed to have the best students in math or science, well we had to show we had the whizzes. If they claimed their medical system was better, their workers were better treated, their social services and their agricultural output was better, we had to show ours could beat theirs. They put a man in orbit, we walked on the moon.

Anti-Communist propagandaOf course, the USSR – and indeed most Communist nations past and present – were not the workers’ paradise they alleged. We knew that, but we pretended not to. Most were bleak, dreary, economically destitute, brutal dictatorships. They weren’t run by lofty ideologues seeking to craft a society for the betterment of the working class. They were run by an oligarchy of squabbling, irritable competitive sycophants and bullies in a race to see who would be last to face the firing squad.

Communist propagandaContrary to the way the Communists portrayed the West, we weren’t all imperialists, capitalists without a conscience, greedy, warmongering expansionists. At least Canada wasn’t. Mostly. But they weren’t entirely wrong about the West, either. And if they could see us today, they’d be saying the same thing they said back then. To America in particular.

Both sides of this political divide ignored the full reality of the other because it made for better propaganda campaigns. And it was much easier to justify wars, coups, and interference in other nations’ business. The threat of the other side’s emergence was often sufficient. Propaganda was at its pinnacle.

Fischer-SpasskyBut at the same time, the competition between two opposing systems also brought out the best in both. It created the space race and some of the most important scientific and technical developments in a century. It spurred the Civil Rights movement. It created a half-century of exploration, achievement, education and science. It made chess international news: the Fischer-Spassky match briefly put an intellectual pursuit ahead of the corporate sports news. And into headline news at that!

Under pressure from the West, Soviets had to lighten up on dissidents and writers, allowing some to escape to the West. And both sides curbed their nuclear strategies for fear of mutual annihilation.

And because most wingnut terrorist groups were allied to one side or the other and dependent on that side for arms, money and direction, there was at least a modicum of control over what they were allowed to do. There was never an ISIS back then.
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Designing Type

Designing TypeKaren Cheng’s 2005  book, Designing Type, is the third of the recent books on typography I have received*. Of the three, it is the most technical, appealing to the typophile and design geek more than the average reader. But it’s also a reference for layout and graphic artists looking to choose a specific font for a work.

If your goal is to actually design a typeface, she helps appreciate the subtleties of design that differentiate and separate typefaces and letterforms. But it’s not a book about design.

Most books on type and typography focus on the result: working for the combination of readability and legibility that create an emotional, psychological and intellectual effect on the viewer. Cheng takes us on an almost microscopic tour of type, zooming in on the minute parts.

There is a prevailing theory that type should be ‘invisible’ in that the reader doesn’t see the face, simply benefits from its effect. And, I suppose, for the average reader that makes sense. Designers usually don’t want the narrative to be interrupted by a closer examination of the font. Writers don’t want readers to lose track of the plot or theme in order to puzzle over the lack or presence of serifs. But a lot of work and time goes into creating a typeface that accomplishes that goal.

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