October 22, 2001

I think I’m feeling better. I’m not sighing every few minutes, anyway. Still, while I’ve never particularly looked forward to work on Sunday evenings, I can’t recall such an evening when I’ve looked forward to it less.

No doubt I’ll need to make a decision about whether or not to go for the condo, as well. The hopeful part of me says that I’ll probably get a job soon enough that I won’t have to miss payments, and a commute isn’t that terrible a thing. But the rest of me points out just how much the purchase would deplete my savings and the foolishness of moving to a place that’s far from every part of my life except the one that’s about to end.

The world goes on, though, and here are some items I might have dealt with sooner were it not for recent events. #

Character issues

The most recent issue of A List Apart is devoted to typography, discussing how to get decent punctuation and why you should bother. Typography, like linguistics, is one of those esoteric fields that fascinate me for reasons I can’t fully explain. I will seek out articles dealing with glyph selection and proper punctuation marks, and I actually own a book about Macintosh fonts. Not the font architecture, or how to make fonts—a book about the fonts themselves.

Initial versions of the web were focused mainly on making things work (and then, once Netscape got rolling, on making things look flashy and kewl). A worthwhile goal, since a non-working web is of little value to anyone, but it did set things back to the dark ages of computer typography. Only one space character, the same symbol for open and close quotation marks, no way to distinguish hyphens, minus signs, and en-dashes, and the double hyphen representing em-dashes.

My primary computer use prior to discovering the web was on Macintoshes, where real quotes have always been available, either through key combinations (Option-[ and Option-Shift-[, respectively) or a “smart quotes” feature in your word processor. Coming to the web and learning that I had to make do with typewriter quotes was irritating, as can be seen in this excerpt from an antiquated questions-and-answers page from the depths of my archives:

Later in life, [Dave] built this web site, lovingly crafting each character by hand, occasionally grumbling about the strange lack of “smart quotes” in the ISO-Latin-1 character set, which is the standard for the web.

A year and a bit later, I switched to HTML 4.0, noting: “[It] gives me the option to exploit Unicode’s expanded character set, specifically the ability to use real quotation marks instead of straight quotes.” Sadly, browser incompatibilities meant that I didn’t do much with that ability, aside from the stray em-dash and experimental piece, until last November, when I began using curly quotes extensively.

And as long as we’re on the subject of typography, let me mention the horrifying emergence of Lord of the Rings/America On-Line cross-marketing. (Read the article, and you’ll see what that has to do with typography.) #

“I am above the law!”

It seems the SSSCA isn’t the only bit of evil the content industries have dreamed up for us. The RIAA has announced its intention to purposely overload file-swapping networks in the hopes that users will become frustrated by the resulting poor performance and go back to relying on album releases and the mythical industry-approved music downloading services that might appear in some distant future.

You can make all sort of legitimate complaints about this strategy—pointing out, for instance, that many of these systems are also used for non-piracy-related purposes—but this is actually better then what the industry had planned previously. They actually tried to pass a law giving them free reign to break into your computer: they would officially not be responsible for any damage performed while looking for copyright violations. If they spread an e-mail virus that supposedly only deleted stolen Britney Spears MP3s, but it malfunctioned and deleted your hard drive, you wouldn’t be able to sue.

That’s madness, of course, and even though they tried to tie it to the recent terrorist attacks (thus compounding an audacious power-grab with poor taste) it didn’t fare too well in Congress.

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: When an industry finds itself at war with its own customers, it’s probably a good idea to start rethinking things. (via InfoAnarchy via Hack the Planet) #