Thursday, 31 January 2008

Thinking with Type

My first experience working with typefaces ("muka taip", as it was called then) was in my Form 2 art class. Our teacher Mr. A made us create our own set of fonts using his cardboard strip method. This was followed by a few weeks designing a poster, using the font we made ourselves. At the time, I thought of all this as nothing more than a just another school work.

Years later when I started working with Powerpoint and web design, I realised how valuable the lessons Mr. A gave us were. Different fonts and types can convey different meanings. Picking the right font to use is an art by itself.

I may not understand the subject better than any formally-trained arts graduate. But at least I can have a conversation with someone with that background (like my cousin's husband, an arts lecturer.) I'm indebted to Mr. A for opening my eyes to the world of typography and font design.

I decided to further educate myself on this subject with Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors and Students. Ellen Lupton, the author, opens the book with a brilliant quote:
Typography is what language looks like.
This book however is not intended for general reading. It is slightly heavy with terminology. There are explanations but nothing in detail. It is more on the intermediate side. As a beginner, I had to refer elsewhere as well.

The book is divided into four parts: Letter, Text, Grid and Appendix (compiling advice, warnings and other useful notes.)

In Letter, readers are started off on a historical tour on typography. Ever wondered why italics are called that? Italics is actually a branch of typography. In the 15th century, Italian typographers created types that captures the cursiveness of natural handwriting, which is slanted to one side. This part also includes a brief lesson the anatomy of types.

The following part, Text, takes everything in last one to a higher level. Text are after all letters in formation. I was surprised to learn that the paragraph is actually a necessary invention for text. Of course, since none of us talk in paragraphs. But text flowing on and on without any paragraph is certainly unbearable.

Grid, or more familiar to us as layout, talks about the many possibilities in arranging letters and text on a page's space. Grid is a new concept for me. I once tried to produce an assignment in a magazine format, and I struggled to get everything in place. If I had viewed everything in terms of grid, I might have saved a lot time and effort.

Even without any arts background, anyone can learn to appreciate types and typography from reading this book, thanks to the informative essays and the loads of example and photo. Lupton generously shares a sizeable portion of the book on the book's website. Thinking with Type is not just an essential design reading; it's a visual thinker's delight.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Vet in Harness

Vet in Harness continues the story of James Herriot, young vet, animal lover and a familiar friendly face to farmers and pet owners of Darrowby (a made-up name of an actual Yorkshire district).

This book is as delightful as the earlier ones. In this one Herriot is now a husband. He married his wife Helen at the end of Let Sleeping Vet Lie and at around the same time got promoted to partner of the practice at where he worked.

I'm slowly warming up to the fact that the James Herriot (which is a pseudonym, by the way) books are at best semi-autobiographical. The stories are funny, inspiring, with a few that are poignant. Herriot confesses in another book that many details about the events, people, animals and places in his books are not exactly true. For example, some of recurring characters are actually composites of two or more real persons.

It's Herriot's unwavering optimism keeps me coming back, especially when he's faced with a sick animal with unusual circumstances. His job now gets more interesting after knowing Granville Bennett, an eccentric animal surgeon who's a colourful addition to the already fascinating social landscape of Darrowby, at least in the way Herriot describes it.

Herriot's books have rekindled my interest in animals. As a kid I devoured book after book on animals, regardless whether I understood them or not. There's something about animals books that fills me with joy and amazement. They are many signs of God's greatness in animals, and I believe that's what draws me to them. (I did however tried reading a zoology book once but got overwhelmed. No offence, to any zoologist reading this. Zoology is a field I greatly respect and appreciate. It's just that I'm not quite the scientific-minded.)

Another things these books have taught me is how to appreciate what I do for a living. Herriot points out many times that being a vet isn't a comfortable job. I can't imagine myself looking up farm animals' rectums for days on end, despite my interest in animals. Getting calls in the middle of night about birthing cows and getting bitten by your patient are just some of the many inconveniences a country vet must endure. At least I can go home from work without bite marks or bandages.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Ubuntu and XP (sitting in a tree...)

Several weeks have passed since I started my Ubuntu Linux project. The journey has been a long one, and the short version of it: I've picked up a lot of new knowledge and sweated a lot during that time.

Now my PC is dual-boot. Dual boot means when it is switched on, a menu will appear and asks which operating system (OS) we would like to use. Ubuntu or XP? Dual doesn't necessarily mean just two but applies to multiple number of OSes. The good thing about dual booting is we can use Ubuntu Linux side by side with Windows XP and not have them interfere with one another.

Dual booting is a great for long time Windows users like me to get started on Linux. Keep Windows, and play around Linux. Have it both ways. No sacrificing necessary.

Ubuntu does this using GRUB (Grand Unified Bootloader). By default, GRUB will make Ubuntu the first OS in dual-boot menu I mentioned.

If we want to change GRUB's setting, like make XP the default OS, we need to edit GRUB's menu.lst file. This is done by changing values in that file.

And this where many Linux newcomer mess up. GRUB handles some of the most sensitive processes of the PC, i.e. the loading (or boot loading, whichever term you prefer) of an OS. In a nutshell, you don't want to mess with the loading process. If this process goes wonky, you're going to end up with PC that cannot start. This is because almost everything with PC is managed by the OS. I've been there, my friend, and I was sweating buckets.

The simple solution to this problem is to install QGRUBEditor, a graphical GRUB tool that makes changing its setting a whole lot easier.

There's another wonderful feature of Ubuntu that allows it to co-exist peacefully with XP. Ubuntu can open and save files from and to Windows drives.

But first Ubuntu needs to add a Windows drive to the list of drives. This process is known as "mounting". It is similar to when we plug in a USB thumbdrive into our computer's USB socket. We will then be notified that a USB device is detected. It really means that the USB thumbdrive is mounted and ready for use.

Being able to work effortless from Windows drives is a huge factor why I'm jumping to Linux. This morning, I typed my dad's letter to the bank while I was using XP. Later in the afternoon I opened it when I was using Ubuntu and printed it out. Everything went a-OK.

(One the first things I did after installing Ubuntu was making sure my printer could work in it. I'm using a Canon Pixma printer, a low-cost model with ink cartridges that cost less than RM50. Great if you're mostly printing document.)

As I've said, it has been a journey. They were mountains to climb and fields to roam. But I can honestly say Ubuntu and other Linux distributions are slowing closing in on Windows' territory. Windows is in for a fight for its own survival, at least when it comes to tech-savvy users.

In getting through to beginner users, the less tech-savvy crowd, Linux has a lot more ground to cover. Microsoft is a megabrand that even people who don't the computer recognise. Linux needs to convince people that it is a good alternative to Windows. They need to do so in simple words, not dumb down but make people see things clearly without any confusing technospeak. I'm hoping to see the day when people say, "Linux? No sweat!"

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Tom Peters Essentials - Design

To Muslims readers, a blessed and successful year ahead insya-Allah.

Tom Peters isn't another brash, young Wall Streeter with some 'ideas' or a milion-dollars-making head of a major corporation. He's a business thinker, writer, consultant and a 65-year-old. You can't fault him for being short of insight.

The first few pages of his book, Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age, is in red. The guy's really angry about the wrong things that is going on in the business world and how they repeated almost endlessly. I, on the hand, nearly fell off the couch. This is not just another management book. This guy is on to something.

I didn't finish reading Re-imagine (my library membership expired). However, I found this book, which is distilled from points discussed Re-imagine (and much cheaper). It is part of a series that includes Leadership, Trends and Talent.

Design, according to Peters, is the new soul of the enterprise. Business is not just about the numbers, it is also about the experience. About beauty. About love.

Sounds a bit far-fetched? Maybe to someone who doesn't think much about design. Personally I think about time a book like this is written.

The core ideas of this book correlates business with design thinking in order to guide companies to become spectacular and scintillating. Settle for nothing less than this. Create experiences, not just transactions. Wow everyone.

Peters also practices what he preach. This book looks more like a coffee table book than a business book. I have sneaky feeling Peters has a long-hidden designer side that finally came out (and had a blast) when he wrote Re-imagine and the later books.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Branding exercise

The new year (both Gregorian and Hijrah) is time to move on to new things. So here I am, trying to make changes in my life, this blog included.

For this blog, I was thinking of giving it a makeover. A new template that makes reading much easier, if possible. Yesterday afternoon was spent doing that. I uploaded a few snazzy templates and tested how they looked with respect to the content. (One of them was a radically impressive.)

Unfortunately none of them were met my expectations. Some had brilliant colours but tiny font size. One in particular (the radically impressive) makes everything look like they are on a canvas sheet. But it has a tiny space for the title.

I could go through the codes' template line by line and tweak them to my liking. But I realise that I do have as much free time as I used to. My CSS knowledge has also gone rusty a bit.

Maybe I'll try again some other day. I was really hoping to get this blog looking brand new immediately.

One change that has made here, if haven't noticed it already, is the title. This blog is roughly 3 years old, and it has undergone name changes more times than its age number. (Yes, branding isn't quite my forte.)

The previous sidebar blog title sign is now replaced with a central header. It's quite big. If you experience loading lags because of it, please let me know.

Finally, I hope the new year and changes will bring good things, insya-Allah. For all of us.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Recuva: user-friendly file recovery tool

I think most of us have accidentally deleted a file at one time or another. We scour the Recycle Bin and the file is not there. How do we get it back?

One useful tool for this job is Recuva. It scans your drives for deleted files, gives you a report of their state (Excellent, Poor, Uncoverable, and so on) and restores the ones that are still recoverable.

Recuva is a freeware and very user-friendly. It can even recover deleted files from USB drives, but I think they need to connected first.

(Tip: you're more likely to recover a recently deleted file than an old one, but there's no harm in trying. All the best!)

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Dah 2008 dah ke?

(Ailurus fulgens yang terlalu comel.)

Buat semua, semoga tahun ini diberkati serta dipenuhi kejayaan dunia akhirat. Dan berbanyak-banyak terima kasih, ampun dan maaf daripada saya. Jika teringat, tolong sebutlah saya dalam doa kalian.
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