Thursday, August 11, 2022

Am I being judgemental?

Well, yes. I'm a judge of the Plain Language Awards in New Zealand, and we're going through the Public Sector entries at the moment. I've been doing this since 2014, and really enjoy the process which is impressively thorough and open - you can see who the judges are, and what they look for. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Using OCR apps as legibility tests

There are now several apps you can use to copy text from books – Microsoft Lens, or Adobe Scan, for example. They are pretty good. You take a photo and it scans it with an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) routine to turn it into editable text.

I've noticed that, much like people, these apps struggle with less legible typefaces. So it's possible to use them for informal legibility testing - a kind of app-based strudel test we might say.

Here's some text from a paper I'm writing which I scanned with Microsoft Lens in three typefaces. One is Baskerville which is a typical book typeface, the other is Caslon Italic which most of us would think a bit less legible than Baskerville, and lastly I've included Pixelated, which recalls the earlier for matrix printers of the 1970s and which is on the threshold of legibility.

Lens read Baskerville perfectly, but here's what it managed to read in the Pixelated font:

It's a lot happier with Caslon Italic, although it joined a lot of words together.

The strudel test

Strudel pastry is said to be thin enough when you can read a newspaper through it. This suggests a legibility test for typefaces – which ones are most legible in these extreme conditions? Can some keen pastry chef set up a test, please?

Rachel Roddy's recipe in the Guardian, from my brief google search, seems to be the only one that actually shows the principle.


Sunday, August 07, 2022

Personalised ads take a sinister turn

Personalised ads in online newspapers sound like a good thing, because you only see stuff you're interested in. Since my seventieth birthday, though, things have taken a depressing turn. Most want me to borrow money against my house using equity release, but today it was...

...yes, coffins. 

On a closer look, though, these are for pets. So the data must have come from an online cat food subscription service that I've mentioned here before, which knows my cat is now of pensionable age.

Monday, August 01, 2022

My cat is not a child and nor am I

Our cat is getting old now, and increasingly fussy about its food. So I've tried a couple of the online subscription firms who claim their food is purer and healthier. 

The cat seems to like it, but this post isn't about the food. It's about the continuous barrage of kitty puns and whimsy. So, note to cat food companies:

  • I am not my cat's parent
  • You asked me if I want to "change my purrefurences". But only one pun per word please. So I suppose you can ask me if I want to 'change my prefurences' (did you spot the word 'fur' there?). Or you can ask me if I want to 'change my purrferences'. But not both.
  • My cat does not observe her birthday, and no one knows when it is.
  • It's made of beef, not "Moo!".
Update the next day: "Concatulations! Your order is on its way." 
Update the next week: pussy won't eat the food, so I have catcelled my subscription. Fur goodness sake, this is cat-ching.

Serifs and old graffiti

I love coming across old graffiti – it's quite common in churches and cathedrals. Look behind the organ in a typical parish church and you'll find generations of bored kids have left their mark while waiting to start pumping again for the next hymn.

You find yourself muttering about thoughtless vandalism, and then realise that it's dated 1630 or 1842.

What's remarkable to me is that almost all old graffiti has serifs. It seems they are considered as essential a part of the letter as, say the cross bar of the A – not just minor decorative flourishes. 

Here's an example from a recent newspaper piece about the discovery of old mine workings: