2018 Creative Year in Review

Last year was hard to top. I had a designer in residence position at the School of Visual Concepts, printed a book by letterpress, traveled to New York for a Kickstarter event, Wisconsin for the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum Wayzgoose, and to London to research a book.

2018 started weakly. I got the flu on Christmas Eve, recovered briefly, and then was so knocked out with secondary illnesses that it took me about four months to recover fully. During that time, I was also writing a book, finding new publications to write for, and figuring out what I would do across the year.

It turned out pretty well in the end.

In the first part of the year, I finished researching and writing London Kerning, and then designed the book and had it printed—and then shipped it out to hundreds of people. I undersold myself on demand and ran out, and then banged a drum to sell enough copies to create a second printing. And then sent those out! (I wrote about the finances of the project in some depth for those interested.)

I had another book underway, too: the letterpress title I printed in 2017 wasn’t yet fully complete. I ran late in the printing, which cascaded into a large delay for Jules Faye, the bookbinder who created an incredible package for the work. I sent out part of the edition of 100 books in 2017, and the rest by April. I had a few unnumbered artist’s proofs remaining, and sold some of those, too. (There are a very few copies left, if you want one! You can also get a single chapter bound in a translucent vellum.)

This year I also updated some of my tech/how-to titles. Take Control of Wi-Fi Networking and Security hadn’t been updated in a few years when it was uncertain what Apple intended for its in-house Wi-Fi devices. This latest edition is more generally focused, especially for readers who haven’t set up Wi-Fi before or are replacing a whole house or small-office network. I also revised A Practical Guide to Networking and Security in iOS for iOS 12. And I wrote a new title, Take Control of Your Apple ID, which is full of tips and troubleshooting advice for Apple’s surprisingly fraught account-management system. I’m currently revising a Take Control title about using Slack for January 2019.

I continued writing for a slate of publications (not including Slate) that include the Economist, the AtlanticFast CompanyIncrementMacworld, and TidBITS. (You can find a searchable list of nearly everything I’ve ever written at my Authory profile, which also provides a feed of new articles.)

My first article appeared in Smithsonian magazine (about 1923 and the public domain) and at Fortune online, where since June I’ve been writing breaking news every afternoon alongside other reporters.

I apparently wrote over 500 articles this year! That comes in part from the stint at Fortune, where I might file two to four stories a day combined with the Macworld Mac 911 column I’ve now written for years, which usually results in me filing three items a week.

Some of the favorite or most meaningful stories that I wrote and which appeared this year include:

  • Why European-descended Americans seem to want to declare themselves Native Americans (for the Economist). This story’s hook was Elizabeth Warren’s exploration of her past in a way that didn’t involved consulting the native community. I was spoke to Rosanne Cash for the story, someone I’ve known for years due to Twitter, as I’d read her father had once claimed heritage—then discovered he was incorrect. She said he was very disappointed, but he persisted in fighting for native rights.

  • The paper that poisoned its printers (for the Economist). This bit of history arose from my London trip in late 2017. For Queen Victoria’s coronation, one newspaper printed a golden-hued portrait—which sickened many involved in its production. Breaking news from 1838!

  • Why the genome of wheat is so massive (for the Economist). I had a great time learning about this topic, and this “Economist Explains” column found its way into a collection of these explainers, called Seriously Curious that came out in late 2018.

  • The Racism Behind One of the World’s Largest Time Capsules” (for the Atlantic). I was slightly obsessed with this story for two years after discovering its detail. The Atlantic helped me birth it. The time capsule at a college in Georgia is like a dark mirror to the monuments aboveground, over which battles currently rage.

  • A First Look At The Spheres, Amazon’s Wild New Corporate Biodome” (for Co.Design). Amazon gave me early access to their new habitat in January, and I broke the news that the company planned to bring a “titan arum” in—a corpse flower—when one bloomed. They finally did so in October.

  • How Facebook Devalued The Birthday” (for Fast Company). My jeremiad on how when hundreds of people know your birthday, the social currency is wiped out.

  • The history of documentation (for Increment). From Noah (sort of) through Chaucer via sewing machines and farm machinery and to the modern era. Article opens with Squirrel Girl’s Ryan North and his dog, Noam Chompsky.

After finishing my residency, I had a lot of letterpress knowledge and research to hand, and decided to restart a Patreon campaign I had tried before. (The previous effort had led directly to the residency.) The new campaign, which looks for recurring pledges of $1 or more a month, provides funds that help me write more about typography, printing, language, and history as they connect. Funds this year gave me the flexibility to travel to TypeCon and give a talk, pay to scan a seminal 1887 book about typesetting races, and buy a high-quality book scanning device so I can turn more public-domain works into resources for the rest of the world.

Also this year, I restarted the podcast The New Disruptors. I produced almost 95 episodes between 2012 and 2014 about creating work independently in the new economy with new models and tools. A number of people asked me to bring the show back, and a Kickstarter in mid-2018 gave me the funds to do so. You can listen to old and new episodes via the Web site or by subcribing to the podcast feed.

I gave a few talks and presentations this year, and you can watch me speak about my year in review of my SVC residnecy, which covers lots of aspects of my work and the history of printing. I also edited up this talk I gave about London and type history at Ada’s Technical books mid-year.

Thank you to everyone who participated in and supported this great year!

The Passing of Roland Hoover, a Design Mentor

Roland Hoover, 1929–2018 (photo via  APHA Chesapeake Chapter )

Roland Hoover, 1929–2018 (photo via APHA Chesapeake Chapter)

Just got the news yesterday that Roland Hoover, a design mentor from college passed away at the age of 89. He was a letterpress printer and designer, known for his fine book and other printing. I knew him as my boss at the Yale University Printing Service where he was the University Printer. He was cranky and demanding, but generous and supportive—you know: a designer!

I learned an enormous amount from him, but my big failing was not studying letterpress printing with him. I thought at the time letterpress was going to be relegated to re-enactments, because of the end of metal-type production and spare parts. I’m so glad I was wrong, and we’re living in a renaissance of craft letterpress printing. (I wrote last year for Wired about why that’s happening.)

Very little of Roland's work can be found online, largely because most letterpress work is in limited editions and handed from person to person or retained by libraries. In more recent times, a lot of letterpress posters and cards can be purchased online, but Roland's work was often perishable or commemorative. Here's a notable piece celebrating Gutenberg.

The printing service was an oddball thing that I worked at as a senior and then for a year after graduation, running its "imaging center," which was what the typesetting department had effectively become. (I had a staff of one: a man 45 years old than me who was the onsite proofreader. I didn't need to do much supervision! Poor Walter, getting a 21-year-old as a boss!)

Roland's role was twofold: To run the place, which had a full offset printing plant and a photocopying and supply arm, and also a print broker arm of in-house staff that arranged for the many larger projects and books (not Yale Press ones) to get printed around the region; and to set a design tone and style for the university, producing and commissioning work as needed, and sometimes designing and printing posters himself. Roland was far better at the latter, and not terribly interested in the former, but had a great "lieutenant," Joe Maynard, who retired a few years ago after decades of service to Yale. Joe taught me a lot about business and negotiation.

Roland and I had a pretty solid relationship, even if I’m sure I drove him nuts. He had little interest in desktop publishing, and I already had five years' experience by 1990 in using PageMaker and then QuarkXPress nearly every day. But we made it work. He was interested in great typography, and so was I, and he taught me a lot of intricacies in thinking about design and how things look on paper. He appreciated the ability to turn ideas into type, but he didn’t always like the type that could be make or the composition that could be set at that time.

I also worked closely with Frank Tierney, the staff designer, and Roland on the re-creation of Yale College diplomas, ones awarded to undergraduates. For decades, a local printing firm produced diploma blanks by letterpress, and kept a Monotype hot-metal system alive mostly for Yale to set all the student names. I believe it cost $70,000 a year to print the undergraduate diplomas (about 1,200 a class at that time), and the outside printer wanted to or said it was going to dump its hot-metal system. We worked to transition to laser printing. This involved design testing and sending resulting work to the college library’s preservation department for age and heat testing to simulate conditions after 300 years. It passed. I spent a lot of time in spring 1991 feeding blank diplomas through a large-format Linotype-Hell laser printer. My Yale College class, 1990, received the last letterpress-printed diplomas; starting in 1991, they were laser printed (and I don’t know if that persisted nor how it’s done today).

Roland inspired my interest in the typeface Albertus, designed in the 1930s by Berthold Wolpe. Roland had a font (or more than one) in metal, and admired it quite a bit. When it came time for my senior project, I wanted to design a font. He and Greer Allen (the previous university printer who lived nearby and was in regularly with projects) suggested reviving Albertus, which at that point wasn’t available in any good form digitally. Greer also had known Wolpe—I’m not sure as well, but one of Wolpe’s kids recalls Greer and his wife Sue visiting when he was a child. (Monotype released an incomplete version that was derived from phototype; it wasn’t until last year that Toshi Omagari’s Monotype revival of Albertus, called Albertus Nova, fulfilled the face electronically.)

I took their advice, and named my version Furioso after the poem Orlando Furioso—Roland the Berserker. It was meant as a compliment, and I got plenty of great feedback from him as I worked up the font for decades. Roland’s inspiration led 30 years later to my trip to London last year and the book London Kerning, which is partly dedicated to Wolpe and Albertus, and which led me to meet Toshi, the revival designer, and Wolpe’s youngest son, Toby, a fellow technology editor and writer.

Roland was a tremendous influence on my creative life, and while I hadn’t been in touch in decades, I still regularly think about the advice he gave me, and use it in my practice.

Apple ID Troubles? I Can Help with a New Book


The Apple ID acts as the pivot point around which Apple’s ecosystem turns. It’s an account that you use to manage iCloud, purchases, subscriptions, and lost devices, among a dozen other purposes.

This account covers everything in the Apple ecosystem, but it’s also difficult to work with, as Apple made it quite inflexible. You can’t merge accounts or split elements out of them. You can’t transfer purchases, nor can you make purchases with a single account in multiple countries, if you live and travel in multiple places regularly.

My new book, Take Control of Your Apple ID, distills everything I’ve learned over many years, including from thousands of emails I’ve received at Macworld in writing the Mac 911 Q&A column. I know the problems people have experienced, and how to solve them—or whether they can be solved at all.

This book is both a source of advice and troubleshooting, but also has two other purposes: I tell you how to better prevent account problems, such as difficulty recovering account access if something goes wrong.

And I describe how to recognize a hack in progress against your account—and how to stop it while it’s underway.

It’s a slim volume at 76 pages, and costs just $7.99. Snag the ebook today!

The New Disruptors Is Back!

I somehow managed to fail to post here that the first episode in the new series of The New Disruptors podcast came out! Last month! I am very good at self-promotion!

Listen to my interview with comics publishing impresario C. Spike Trotman (or use the SoundCloud link below). You can subscribe to the podcast via this link or find it in all podcast directories.

That was episode #100 (I jumped up a few to reset). Episode #101 is coming soon plus a mini-episode. I’ll be creating 12 new full episodes between August 2018 and July 2019, but I also plan some shorter ones in which I ask a creator about their latest project.

You can help support the creation of more episodes and keeping the show running past July 2019 by becoming a monthly or one-time sponsor. Benefits include a private discussion forum, nifty enamel pins, and thanks on the air!

Secure Yourself in iOS 12

Update, Sept. 17: iOS 12 is out today!

Apple hasn’t released iOS 12, the latest update for the iPhone and iPad, but I’m ready—and you can be, too! I’ve updated my book A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security to cover iOS 12 based on the latest public beta releases,  which are close to the final version. You’ll receive free updates to this edition if anything changes after release or for any future changes to iOS 12.

The book offers background information, explanations, and illustrated, step-by-step instructions across a wide range of topics, from connecting securely to Wi-Fi networks to setting privacy preferences for Siri and Safari to blocking unwanted calls and Web trackers to finding your phone or tablet when it’s lost.

The 186-page is long, but not daunting. I wrote it so that you can easily find a topic you want, like Bluetooth pairing or using AirPlay, and then dip in for that information. You don’t need to read it cover to cover to get a benefit, but you’re more than welcome to!

You can read more about the book, see sample pages, read a full list of topics, updates for iOS 12, and the table of contents at the Practical Guides page. You can also order directly via the Add to Cart link on this post!

For a 25% discount, subscribe to my low-volume email list, which I use to send occasional updates about books and projects as I release them.

California Case Dreaming

I’m working on designing a small reproduction of the California job case, the classic compartmentalized drawer designed to hold a full font of metal type. Below is a first pass, and I’m working my way through prototypes.


Patrons can read the whole story (and get early access to buying one) at my Patreon campaign.

(For those in the know: the job case never included the layout guide within the compartments, showing which characters go where. For the version I'm making, however, I'll be engraving those to make it more meaningful to the non-metal-typesetting eye.)

Summer Updates!

Summer came rushing in, and while we swelter, I have a few updates:

  • The New Disruptors podcast crowdfunding campaign met its goal! I'll be producing new episodes starting in August. When the first new episode launches, there will be more ways to help keep it going beyond the 12 episode/1 year schedule I used Kickstarter to fund. It was a nail biter: a very generous supporter came in during the last five minutes to bring the campaign home!
  • My London Kerning book is available in London itself from Magma Books. If you visit London, you can pick up a copy in person, but the company also offers inexpensive shipping across the UK, Ireland, and the rest of Europe.
  • Speaking of London, I visited my books and other sites with the family earlier this month. You can read briefly about that trip and some thoughts about stone lettercarving I saw throughout London at this Patreon post. (Did you know you could pledge a recurring amount as low as $1 a month to help support my typographic and related writing?)
  • Next week, I'll be at TypeCon, a typographic event, held this year in Portland, OR. I'm giving a talk on, what else, typographic archives in London! Do you sense a theme?
  • A few copies remain of my letterpress-printed book, Not To Put Too Fine a Point on It. These are artists' proofs identical to the original numbered edition, except not numbered. They are signed and can be inscribed.
  • In September, I'll be giving a talk at Ada's Books on Johnston Sans, the typeface that's been used for London transportation since 1916. More details to follow. (Ticket will be $5; 21+ venue with soft and hard drinks, plus food, for sale; London Kerning books available.)
  • Since mid-June, I've been writing news every afternoon for Fortune magazine's Briefings section. These are short items about breaking news written to provide quick analysis into what's happening at the moment. It's different than other writing I've done, and invigorating!
Note the mix of new (top) and old (middle) signs. One of the few places in London that retains older signs.

Note the mix of new (top) and old (middle) signs. One of the few places in London that retains older signs.

The New Disruptors Bonus Episode with Lucy Bellwood

My dear friend Lucy Bellwood passed through town last weekend, and stayed with my family as the start of her book tour for 100 Demon Dialogues, a set of cartoons in which she engages with her inner critic, who appears in the form of a smack-talking demon. She’s a talented illustrator and writer, and the book is full of tension and embrace: she doesn’t cast her demon out, but helps him understand her better. You can order a copy of the book via her site or ask your local bookstore to carry it. (You can also order a plush version of the demon, as I did.)

She asked me to have a conversation about creativity and our latest projects in front of a live audience at Brick & Mortar Books in Redmond. (Which, by the way, I highly recommend: the store opened last year, has great selections, and a terrific proprietor and staff.) I recorded our non-demonic dialogue, and produced a special episode of The New Disruptors podcast, which I retired in 2014. (You can subscribe via a podcast app to the feed.)

I started a crowdfunding campaign to bring back The New Disruptors for a new season of at least 12 episodes, and I’m halfway through the fundraising period—and over 55% of the way to the goal. If you’d like to hear more new episodes, please back the campaign. At $25 and above, you get insider rewards; at $100, your name will be read on the air and you’ll get an exclusive enamel pin!

Letterpress Books Available (Limited)

Folks, last year I printed by letterpress a 64-page book that contained six reported articles on typography, printing, and language I’d written in the previous couple of years. This was part of my design residency at the School of Visual Concepts. Every page in the book was painstakingly printed by hand. You can watch a time-lapse video of me printing.

To fund the costs of this project, I ran a Kickstarter campaign that offered a numbered edition of 100 copies to backers. It was a great reciprocity: the project I wanted to create would produce books that funded the project! That edition was bound by Jules Faye, and I’ve just finished sending out the edition of 100 to those backers.

I have a limited number of additional copies of this book that are essentially identical, and will be marked as author’s proofs in the colophon instead of being given a number. I’m happy to sign and inscribe them as you like. Find out more about buying a copy via this link. Some photos below.

In this book, you’ll learn about the history of intentionally blank pages, Google’s effort to create a font that includes all the scripts of all the world’s languages, when people starting SHOUTING IN CAPITAL LETTERS, whether the Internet will kill off curly quotes, the difference between slanted and italic type, and how a Web site planned to archive itself for 10,000 years microscopically. 

You can also read more about the process of making the book. An ebook edition with four additional articles is also available, including how letterpress came back from the dead.

You can also purchase a single chapter of the book in letterpress form: chapter 2, “CAPITAL CRIMES,” about the use of shouting with uppercase. This chapter is bound with a mylar cover and comes with a small note that explains how it was made.