Archive for the ‘typography & language’ Category.

News and typesetting snobbery

It’s worth noting that China has frozen Korean money transfers in protest over North Korea’s recent missile tests. I’m a bit surprised that China is willing to take such a strong action against what I thought was a close ally.

The more interesting news is that more chinks in the Bush administration’s monolithic confidence over Iraq are beginning to emerge. October, despite the observance of Ramadan, is already the most deadly month in Iraq for US troops since April. Most importantly, American diplomat Alberto Fernandez told al-Jazeera that the US acted with “arrogance and stupidity” in Iraq, and is now in a nigh unwinnable position. He was later forced to retract his position. The White House seems to be claiming that his statement was a mistranslation, despite the fact that Fernandez is fluent in Arabic (and presumably English, too).

Finally, I give you a history of Arial and Helvetica fonts, including a reason to like Helvetica and dislike Arial (Helvetica:Arial::Java:Javascript, one might say). I also include a guide to spotting the differences between the two. This was brought to my attention on the tex_latex community. I feel weird saying this, but it’s kinda fun being a typesetting snob and noticing the papers that lack ligatures and do paragraph/page spacing wrong.

A bit too advanced…

I figured out the “answer” to my TeX question from yesterday—it’s undecidable! There is no way I can get my code to perform correctly and still finish up in a finite amount of time. The way to show this is similar to the proof that the halting problem is undecidable.

A quick sketch of the proof →

An advanced TeX question

Also posted to tex-latex (page can be found here)

Try typing in the following code:

x  y % two spaces between x and y

% The argument of \eatandx is ignored.
% Note the space after the x.
\newcommand{\eatandx}[1]{x }
\eatandx{z} y

The second paragraph outputted has an extra space between the x and the y. I’m pretty sure this is caused by the fact that \eatandx takes an argument. Ideally, I’d like both paragraphs to look the same in the PDF (like “x-space-y”). Is there any way for the space at the end of the result of \eatandx and the space just after it to be combined into a single space (so it looks like the two spaces from the first paragraph that turned into a single space in the output)? I don’t think \unskip has the right behavior, because \eatandx{z}y should also become “x-space-y” due to the space after the x.

I suspect that this behavior happens because TeX parses the spaces in the first paragraph with its “eyes” (to use Knuth’s term), while macro expansion occurs later (possibly in either the “mouth” or the “bowels” of TeX, I think?). This would cause the first line to become the token list “x-space-y” while the second becomes “x-space-space-y” instead. However, I have no idea how to correct this and get the behavior I want (or even if that’s possible).

Any insight would be most welcome. Thanks very much!

Powerpoint Users

Hey – if you’re going to use Powerpoint (or Beamer or Prosper, or any other slideshow-making program), please, please follow these rules:

Don’t read your slides to me. If I can get this information from the slide, I will. If you read your slides to me, I’m going to start ignoring one or the other, and I like visual things, so I’ll start ignoring you. Use the slides to supplement what you’re saying.

On a related note, don’t put too much text on your slides. A rule of thumb that Dodds seems to use is that for every complete sentence, you need at least one picture. If your slide contains 3 full-length paragraphs, it feels cluttered, and becomes hard to focus on. Ideally, the slide will have a list of 2-5 sentence fragments reminding the presenter about what they are supposed to talk about.

Spend 1-3 minutes on each slide. If you skip through a slide in 5 seconds, it probably wasn’t necessary. If you spend 5 minutes on a slide, it’s probably too complicated.

Only use Powerpoint when it will enhance your presentation. If a slideshow will not help your talk, don’t make one! Saying “it’s the standard; everybody makes one” is no excuse. When I saw security guru Bruce Shneier give a talk, he started out by saying something to the effect of, “I used to have a Powerpoint to go with this talk, but it wasn’t very useful, so I took it out.” For this comment alone, he got a huge ovation.

It seems like everyone is confident that they can use powerpoint well, when actually around 95% of people cannot. Last night, I had this very discussion with my PerCog partner while making our presentation. She had her heart set on a Powerpoint presentation, with her main reason being that everyone else uses them. I stressed several times that we shouldn’t just read the slides to people, and at the end she said she’d make an introduction slide after I left. You know what’s on it? I shall paste the text below:

“[…] Bouhuys, Bloem and Groothuis asked whether music affects our actual perceptions of the facial expression of emotions of other people (5). […] Music had a powerful effect. For example, after listening to depressing music, subjects judged neutral faces to more express rejection/sadness and less invitation/happiness, despite the fact that such emotions were actually not present in those faces.”

I’m almost positive that during our presentation, she will read this verbatim to the class. We also have 3 slides on which we will probably spend less than 5 seconds each. Argh!