My Talk on Six Centuries of Printing and My Year in Residence

As the wonderful culmination of my 2017 designer-in-residence position at the School of Visual Concepts, I gave a talk at the school last night. I covered the entire history of printing and my book-printing project, all tied together with the notion of imitation and creation and duplication. You can watch the talk on YouTube. It was an amazing year and I'm looking forward to new adventures in 2018!

2017 in Review

At the end of a year, I often like to summarize what I accomplished in it, because it goes by so fast it’s hard to realize how much I’ve gotten done at the time. This year was quite busy!

In January, I ran a Kickstarter to fund a project I carried out as Designer in Residence at the School of Visual Concepts (SVC) to print a letterpress book of my work. It funded quickly, I printed the book in the summer, and just mailed out 30 of the limited edition of 100 several days ago. It’s called Not To Put Too Fine a Point on It.

You can get an ebook version of this set of reported and researched articles on type, printing, and language directly from me. The ebook version is expanded to 10 from the 6 articles and essays in the letterpress edition. (Download a PDF excerpt.)

As part of this work, I went from someone who had had experience with letterpress printing to a reasonably competent not-quite-beginner at it. I’m pleased with what I learned and the projects I was able to create.

This residency led me to pitch and write many articles about design and type at several publications and launch another project:

I carried out a lot of other work, travel, and tasks, too:

While this seems like a lot, even to me who did it, it's still only a fraction. I also wrote somewhere around 300 other articles for Macworld, TidBITS, the Economist, and other publications, as well as kept an active blog on my letterpress book’s progress.

What’s in store for 2018? A few features are already on my plate for January. Finishing the writing of London Kerning and producing and having it printed. Seeing if a large book project I envision is feasible. Launching a Patreon to write more deeply and consistently about type, printing, and design. Producing a print version of an ever-larger version of the collection above. And likely writing hundreds more stories of all kinds!

Thanks to everyone who provided moral, financial, emotional, and other support this year! Despite the world burning down around us, I felt buoyed and was able to assert myself artistically in a way I haven't before in my career. My heartfelt thanks.

New book on typography, language, and printing!

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I’ve got a new book out! It’s a collection of 10 researched and reported articles I’ve written over the last two years about the history of punctuation, the future of letterpress, and much more.

The first six chapters are part of the letterpress book I printed this year, and the book was one of the items I committed to make as part of that project. You can download an excerpt that contains a full chapter.

It’s 116 pages long and comes as a bundle of PDF, EPUB, and MOBI. Get your copy here!

Here’s what’s in the book:

  • Nothing Is Lacking: The earliest uses of marking a page as intentionally leaving something out.
  • CAPITAL CRIMES: Why we SHOUT with UPPERCASE. (Included in excerpt.)
  • The Ten-Millennium Safe: A web site plans for the far future.
  • The Quibble with Online Quotes: Will the Internet kill off curly quotes?
  • Look Askew: Slanting type is like stealing sheep.
  • Noto Bene: Google builds a massive typeface to represent all the languages of the world.
  • You Can’t Quote Me on It! Email and forums ape an ancient textual device in marking quotations.
  • A Font of Type: Walt Whitman was a printer, and this poem has deep roots in his background.
  • What a Relief: While letterpress seemed destined for the junk heap, it's making a surprising comeback.
  • A Crank Turns a Letterpress: Your author spent hundreds of hours walking a carriage on a press back and forth and thinking about what it meant.
What does this mean?! Download the excerpt to find out.

What does this mean?! Download the excerpt to find out.

Erik Spiekermann invents digital letterpress

You might know Erik Spiekermann from his prolific work in advertising, as a graphic designer, as a typographer, or as a writer. Now he's a letterpress printer. He’s put a year and €150,000 euros ($180,000) into creating a streamlined process to go from digital to letterpress. His method may sound familiar: I did something similar to print my book this summer. But Erik and his colleagues have taken this several levels further. Here’s my write-up at Medium about how he’s making a deep impression.


Pre-order London Kerning

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The crowdfunding campaign for London Kerning, a small book I’m researching and writing about type design, signage, and letterpress printing in London, went very well! I raised twice my goal, all of which goes towards covering the expenses for my trip and printing a small edition of books.

The ebook will ship in January 2018 and the print edition in February 2018. You can place pre-orders for either version or a discounted bundle via this page!

Three books: disease, a canal, and typesetting races

My work schedule and intensity often prevents me from focusing enough these days to read books, something I find frustrating, and am working to revise. The flip side is that I read thousands of pages of books online this summer and fall in researching articles, and that was absolutely delightful. 

I have completed three books recently, and I'm recommending them all.

Doctor, Doctor, It Hurts When I Read

The first is Get Well Soon: History's Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them (2017, end notes, bibliography) by Jennifer Wright. Jen is delightfully funny on Twitter and also a force to be reckoned with in fighting against misogyny and cruelty. Her book on plagues seemed like a funny match to her public personality, but I enjoyed it from beginning to end. I'll say that she tries to ease us in. The book is written in a sometimes aggressively peppy and informal tone, and the book starts out heavily in that style, and then drops down into a more level pace once we understand that the title will be enjoyable and not a recitation of death and blood.

Massively annotated with citations (using end notes, to make the main text readable) and full of bits of history I never knew the full and true story about, Get Well Soon extols a lot of great people, some of whom were forgotten or maligned. She finds mostly heroes and some villains. The chapter on leprosy is particularly moving; on lobotomies, a human plague, a definition I fully agree with after reading it; and on the dancing plague surprising and bizarre. If you wonder how humanity has survived, pick this up. I particularly recommend the subsection in "Bubonic Plague" titled "The Exploding Frog Cure."

Nor the Battle to the Strong

Earlier this year, after discussing with a friend typewriting races—speed competitions for keying in words—I recalled there were words used among typesetters to test speed, too. That led me to the book The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races by Walker Rumble (2003, glossary, end notes, bibliography, index). What the heck?! This monograph helps you understand the life and nature of compositors or typesetters in the 19th century, and led to a number of articles and explorations I made this summer.

Typesetting was a tough job and hadn't changed much since Gutenberg. While everything else in printing sped up, including the manufacture of type, composition largely remained the same, relying on the frailty of humans working as fast as they could. As the century advanced, speed races among typesetters became a fad, and many were held. The fastest compositors were called swifts (and according to one contemporary source I found, fire eaters). But even as these races became popular, the hot-metal Linotype typesetting system became practical and shifted the majority of composition from one-at-a-time hand work to keyboards.

This was an okay change, though: the book notes that in 1850, the average age of death of a printer (including typesetters and pressmen) was 28 years. Horrifying. As the Linotype era started, despite the pots of boiling lead involved, working conditions did, too. The average death age increased year by year until it was about 53 in 1920, the same as other male adults.

It's not all bleak! The swifts had fun, and drank like fish, and had their own typographers' bars, and traveled as journeymen, and led the life of Riley. The book also covers how boys started apprenticing around age 13, the attempt by women to enter the field, and the remarkable anti-union behavior of Susan B. Anthony. The book bogs down into racing statistics at times, but it's generally a rollicking and super-informative slice of life. You understand how typesetters lived and the era that ended.

A Canal Ran Through It

This summer, I went to a talk by David B. Williams, a local author and naturalist who had a co-written book coming out in the fall called Waterway: The Story of Seattle's Locks and Ship Canal (2017, bibliography, index). As a 20-plus-year denizen of Seattle who loves the waterway that winds through the city, and with scattered historical knowledge about how it was fitting together and things cut through—we live near a passage called the Montlake Cut—I enjoyed the heck out of his talk and got the book the moment it was out.

It's lavishly illustrated and beautifully written. He and co-author Jennifer Ott, an environmental historical, trace the massive hydrologic and soil changes carried out by a couple generations of city leaders, local businesspeople, and the Army Corps of Engineers. It's a narrative with relatively little intrigue and corruption, but rather fights among competing visions of restructuring Seattle combined with challenging nature. A river's course is reversed. Another is blocked and effectively removed. A large portion of Elliott Bay is filled—with soil from a canal excavation that was never completed. The one that was lowered Lake Washington by nine feet.

And the book doesn't just look at it from the view of immigrants from the east, but native Americans relationships with the water, and how the reworking affected where they lived, what they ate, and their ability to continue their intertwined lives with salmon.

I think of it as a quintessential Seattle thing to know all the bodies of water and canals between Elliot Bay and Lake Washington, and I see them all with different eyes after reading this book.

(My only quibble is typographic: the book is gorgeously designed and printed in vivid full color, yet the designer opted for a fake (slanted) italic with its body face, which grates on this typographer for its inelegance—why not use a correct, more legible, harmonious italic?)

Protect, Secure, and Network Yourself with My New Book

I’ve just released A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, and Security in iOS 11, the latest version of a book about those three topics that I’ve been updating for about seven years in a couple of different versions. 

My intent is to give you everything you need to manage networking—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, Personal Hotspot, AirPlay, AirDrop, and more—as well as all the ins and outs of what Apple does with your private data and how it controls and restricts access by third-party apps and Web sites to you while you use an iPhone or iPad. I also explain how to pick good passwords, turn on two-factor authentication, use passcodes and Touch ID, and find your missing iPhone or iPad. 

It's a reference work—you probably won't want to read it end to end! But whenever you have a question about any of these topics, it’s there to refer to you. You can purchase it directly from me via the link below, and you get a DRM-free ebook in three different formats, so you can read it anywhere you want on any device. The price includes any updates to this iOS 11 edition. 

Read more about the book here, including a downloadable excerpt and table of contents.

If you purchased any previous edition, you’re entitled to a low-cost upgrade; contact me if you didn’t receive email or other notification. If you’d like this book in print, you can purchase a print-on-demand edition via Amazon.