Editing Fonts

Font Editors

There are many people who couldn’t give a damn about how their documents appear, they just want to get the message across and don’t care what it looks like.  This is why Times New Roman and Arial are so overused.

Most of these people ignore the excellent typefaces like Constantia, Cambria, Corbel, Candara, Calibri and Consolas which Microsoft have spent a lot of time and effort optimising for good rendering on LCD screens at small point sizes (they also work quite well in printed documents).

I am not one of those people.

Then there are others who want their document to look just the way they want it to, they don’t want to compromise on any detail including the typeface.  They usually have a large collection of fonts none of which they consider perfect.  These are the type of people who are likely to know how to use Open Type features in their documents.

I am one of these people.

I believe there are many people in the situation I was in several years ago, they would like to create their own typeface if they could, or at least alter a typeface they are using to make it more suitable for them.

There were many occasions when I would hunt through my collection of typefaces looking for the one which was just right.  One which had all the right features.  But I became frustrated that none of the typefaces in my collection were completely suitable for the purposes I wanted them for.

It’s all very subjective, but if you want a typeface which is just right for you then why not design it yourself ?

Free Font Editors

As you may have realised from reading this blog I am a fan of free software.  But only where it provides a good usable alternative to commercial software.

There is a free open source font editor called ‘Font Forge‘ however it does have many bugs and the user interface is quite messy.  It can produce good fonts but using Font Forge is much harder work than it needs to be, oh well, at least it’s free.

I used Font Forge for eight months before buying Font Creator.  Font Forge is complicated to use, it opens many independent windows on your monitors and there are many bugs.  When I bought Font Creator editing fonts suddenly became a whole lot easier.

I wish that the open source offering was of a higher quality but unfortunately it is not.

Non Free Font Editors

There are a few commercial Font Editors.  There aren’t as many for Windows as for the Mac but since I only have a Windows computer I have not concerned myself with any of the Mac editors.

High Logic

High Logic is a Dutch company run by Erwin Dennisen.  They produce several font related programs but Font Creator the font editor is their main flagship product.

I use Font Creator, however I have no connection to the High Logic or Erwin Dennisen other than being a user of their products.

Font Creator

There is a full review of Font Creator on Bhikkhu Pesala’s website which also contains his excellent collection of fonts which are free to download and use !

Font Creator is a moderately priced font editor which does most of the things which the very expensive font editors do.  You can edit and create fonts in Postscript (with CFF cubic curves) format and true type/open type fonts using quadratic curves.  It also supports Web Open Font Format (WOFF and WOFF2) and colour fonts.

The ‘Visual OpenType Designer’ for adding or editing open type features is better than the equivalent open type editor on any of the more expensive font editors in my opinion.

At the time of writing the Home edition of Font Creator costs $79.  This version has some restrictions however.  Union and Intersection of contours is not included in this version, also the batch transformation of glyphs is not included.  This version doesn’t have automatic composition of composite characters either.

The more expensive version of Font Creator (Standard) has many features like real time validation and a more thorough validation which can be run to identify and correct errors in your font.

The Standard edition can also automatically Kern your font and of course you can still do the kerning manually if you want.

There is a comparison of the editions on the High Logic website.

At the time of writing the Standard edition of Font Creator costs $149 however this price is set to increase to $199 on 28th September 2018.  The Standard edition has all of the features except for Optical Metrics (setting the spacing of your characters so that text appears to be evenly spaced on the page).

Optical Metrics is useful but not essential and the price jump between the Standard edition and the Professional edition of Font Creator has become quite large.

Even if you know nothing about spacing characters it isn’t rocket science, there is a preview window which can be viewed in which you can display many different strings of characters (including your own strings) and the display adjusts as you alter the spacing of a character.  Just adjust them until they look correct.

Preview Window

The preview window showing a selection of Cherokee characters from the upcoming Munson v2.0 to be released ‘real soon now’.  As you can see these are not correctly spaced yet.

If you want to go a little deeper then get a good book on typography like ‘Letters of Credit’ by Walter Tracey or ‘Optical Character Spacing’ by David Kindersley then you will be able to set the spacing manually without too much trouble, trust your eyes, if it looks right then it’s right.

However I must admit it does save a lot of work to just let the computer do it.

At the time of writing the Professional edition of Font Creator costs $199 however this price is set to increase to $299 on 28th September 2018.  Three hundred dollars is a lot of money, the price has increased a lot since I bought my copy several years ago, this is disappointing as it is getting to be a comparable price to some of the Font Labs editors.  I’m glad that I have kept my license updated to the latest version.

As you might expect the Professional edition has all features enabled.

Overview Window

The overview window showing the Cyrillic characters (itallic) from Munson v2.0

The font overview window is what you see when you first run the program and create a new font or open a font for editing. It displays a view of all the glyphs in the font although you can view a subset of glyphs, for instance a Unicode block or all punctuation or after doing a validation of your font you can display all the glyphs identified as having potential problems.  Double click on a glyph to edit it.

Edit window

The glyph edit window. Toolbars can be placed anywhere round the window and can even be floating.

The glyph edit window is where you edit a single glyph.  Either using cubic (CFF) curves or quadratic (TTF) curves.  You can add shapes, add points or draw freehand to create a glyph.

Open Type Designer

Open Type Designer showing the placement of an anchor used to position diacritic marks relative to a character.

The Open Type designer is an easy way to add and edit open type features to a font.  Although it is complex it is much simpler than editing the code manually although you can still edit the code if you really want to.  In most cases the results of your changes are illustrated in the dialog box so you can see what is happening.

Code Editor

You can also edit the code manually if you want to.

Font Labs

There is an American company called Font Labs which produces font editors amongst other things.  Apart from one (Type Tool) the editors they produce are quite good but very expensive.  Expensive enough to discourage someone who is only mildly interested in producing their own font.

Type Tool

Type Tool is the cheapest font editor that Font Labs produce. The facilities it offers are very basic, so basic that it is not useful for producing anything but the simplest of fonts with no open type features.

At the time of writing Type Tool is being sold at $47.99 which may seem cheap but for that price you don’t get very much.

Why would Font Labs produce such a limited editor ?  They don’t want their customers to see it as a viable alternative to their more expensive editors.

Fontographer

Fontographer is a font editor designed for graphic designers. It is a very competent editor but doesn’t do Open Type features.  Apart from the fact that it doesn’t do Open Type features the interface and features seem somewhat similar to Font Creator.

At the time of writing Fontographer is being sold at $259.

Although the drawing tools are very good the editor is limited in what it can produce.  Open Type features are being supported by more and more software as time passes.  If the font you produce is to be used with a good word processor or desktop publishing program then open type features are important.

I have not used this program but from looking at the available documentation it seems expensive for the features it offers.

FontLab VI

FontLab VI is an extremely competent editor with just about every feature you could want for producing a font.  It does open type features, automatic spacing and kerning.  It has all the facilities which you might need to design fonts.  The user interface is quite complex but the job it is doing is complex so this is perhaps understandable.

At the time of writing FontLab VI is being sold at $459 which in my opinion is quite expensive for what you get.

I have used a trial version of this program and it seemed complicated to use.  Perhaps the user interface would become more comprehensible with time but I didn’t want to spend the money to get a license when I already have a perfectly good program for this purpose.

FontLab Studio 5

At the time of writing FontLab Studio 5 is being sold at $649.

I cannot pass any comments on this program because I have not used it or read the documentation.

Other Companies

There are a few other offerings for those who want to produce a font.

Like DTL FontTools and Letter Modeller or TruFont or even FontArk.

Please note I have only taken a quick look at some of these.  DTL FontTools seems like a commercial editor, Letter Modeller and TruFont seem like they might be free and FontArk is online and runs in your browser.

Conclusions

If I was in the position of wanting a font editor and knowing what I do now, having used some of the products looked at here (albeit some of them only the trial versions) I would still choose Font Creator.

I cannot recommend the free open source ‘Font Forge’ because it has a messy user interface and there are many bugs.

The editors from Font Labs are very good but also very expensive.  Apart from ‘Type Tool’ which is crippled in it’s functionality to the point where it is not a real alternative.

Font Creator does everything you need to create a professional quality font and in my opinion it offers the best value for money, although the prices have risen quite steeply since I bought my copy several years ago.

 

Advertisements

The reality of Brexit

The reality of Brexit is now becoming apparent.

But what I can’t understand is that the government is negotiating to leave the EU, just so they can try to negotiate another arrangement with the EU to give us as much as possible of what we’ve already got, but on considerably inferior terms.

If we don’t get what we want (i.e. the EU benefits we desperately want back after we’ve left), the government has said it will crash out of the EU without any agreement, plunging Britain into a very deep economic crisis.  The so called ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

Does this make any sense at all?

No!

The EU is the world’s largest free trade area. As a member, we receive huge benefits worth enormously more than the net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year.

As a member, we enjoy free, frictionless trade with our biggest trading partner by far, right on our doorstep, where almost half of our exports go to and over half of our imports come from. Nowhere else in the world comes close to that.

The government is desperate to continue to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the EU after we have ended our membership, because they know that our economic survival depends on it.

In Parliament a couple of months ago, Theresa May said:

“We’re committed to delivering on our commitment of no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and ensuring we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union.”

In other words everything we’ve already got as an EU member.

But the UK government has also said it wants to continue to enjoy these EU membership benefits after Brexit:

  • without being part of the EU Single Market or customs union;
  • without agreeing to the rules of the EU and its market;
  • without being subject to the European Court of Justice to oversee those rules;
  • without paying anything to the EU for access.

But it’s not going to happen and Mrs May knows this.

Before the referendum Mrs May said:

“It is not clear why other EU member states would give Britain a better deal than they themselves enjoy”

Yet that’s exactly what Mrs May now wants. She says she aims to achieve a new trade agreement with the EU that’s unique to us, that no other country in the world has ever achieved.

Of course, it’s not going to happen.

What’s the point of having a club if you’re going to allow non-members to enjoy the same or better benefits as members? What club would allow that?

So here’s the bottom line. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU. We need free movement of goods, services, capital and people for our country not just to survive, but to thrive.

We need to continue with the status quo: i.e. the arrangement we have right now.

Has this sunk in yet?

  • We’re leaving all the benefits of the EU, only to desperately try and get back as many of those benefits as we can after we’ve left.
  • We’re going to pay around £40 billion (the so-called ‘divorce settlement’) – money that will come from us, the taxpayers, you and me – to try and achieve what we’ve already got, but less of it, and on considerably inferior terms.

This is complete and utter madness. It will be much better to just keep the current arrangement. It will be cheaper, and we will all be better off.

As an EU member:

  1. We have a say and votes in the running, rules and future direction of our continent.
  2. We have full and free access to the world’s largest free marketplace.
  3. We enjoy the right to live, work, study or retire across a huge expanse of our continent.
  4. We enjoy state healthcare and education when living and working in any other EU country.
  5. We enjoy free or low-cost health care when visiting any EU nation.
  6. We are protected by continent-wide rights that protect us at work, when shopping and travelling.
  7. We benefit from laws that protect our environment (and have, for example, directly resulted in Britain’s beaches being cleaned up).
  8. We enjoy excellent EU trade agreements with around 60 countries, with more on the way, on advantageous terms that Britain is unlikely ever to replicate.

So, we’re going to throw that all away, just so we can get an inferior arrangement with the EU, in which we’d still have to agree to the rules of EU trade (over which we’d have no say) and we’d have less access to our most vital customers and suppliers outside of our home market.

And what are we gaining? Surely something?

No, nothing at all!

All the reasons given to leave in the referendum were based on lies and false promises! There are no good reasons to leave.

  • More sovereignty? Nonsense. We’ll get less. In the EU, we gain a share of sovereignty of our continent. Outside the EU, we’ll still live on a planet and have to obey thousands of international laws and treaties. We share sovereignty with NATO, for example. Is that a good reason to leave NATO?
  • Fewer migrants? Really? Just think about it. Most EU migrants in Britain are in gainful employment, doing jobs that we simply don’t have enough Britons to do. So if they all left, we’d have to replace them with about the same numbers of migrants as we have now just to get all those jobs done. What’s the bloody point of that?
  • More houses, schools and hospitals? Think again. Without EU migrants, we’ll have fewer builders, teachers, doctors and nurses. Migrants are not the cause of our problems. Blaming them is just an excuse by successive UK governments for not investing sufficiently in our country.
  • Get our country back? We never lost it! If being in the EU means losing your country, why aren’t the 27 other EU member states planning to leave? (Really, none of them are: support for the EU is the highest its been in 35 years).
  • Make our own laws? The vast majority of laws in the UK are our laws and passed by our Parliament in Westminster. But in the EU, we benefit from laws for our continent that no single country alone could ever achieve. Could our UK government have forced the mobile phone companies to scrap mobile roaming charges across the entire EU? Of course not. It took the might of 28 EU countries working together to achieve that, and so much more.
  • The EU is run by faceless bureaucrats? Another lie. The EU is run and ruled by its members, the 28 countries of the EU, along with its democratically elected European Parliament. The European Commission is the servant of the EU, not its master, and the European Parliament has the power to choose, and dismiss, the entire Commission.

We are leaving the EU for no good reason, not one. We are paying around £40 billion (money the UK has agreed we owe to the EU) to settle our debts with the EU, to enable us to have an inferior deal.

We will be poorer, and with less sovereignty, fewer rights and protections, restricted trade, and diminished power after we’ve left.

What’s the point?

There is no point!

This country really has gone crazy!

A Review of Right Note

Right Note by Bauer Apps is easy to use and to understand. It has many useful extra features than a basic two pane outliner/note taker but it also has some limitations which mean that it won’t be taking the prize for the best note-taking program. The interface is a bit cluttered by default but the superfluous icons can be turned off in the options dialog.

I love the many different types of note and the colourful interface and it nearly has a decent tagging system, if it had notes which could be cloned and appear in many places in the tree, a decent calendar with repeating reminders and if it supported Universal Links properly then this would be my ideal note taking application. But it does not have these features and it is unlikely to get any of these features any time soon.

Verdict = Simple to use but not as powerful as some. Potential to be very good and much more useful if a few things were changed. However sometimes an easy to use simple program is all that you need.

40 out of 60

 

1. Connectivity = 5

Right note can have links in its articles which can point to another note in the same Right Note file or to a URL, a file, a folder or a Universal Link. However it provides no mechanism for allowing other programs to use universal links into a Right Note notebase.

So there is only partial support for Universal Links (outgoing). I suspect the support of incoming universal links requires a lot more programming work than outgoing links.

Links are coloured blue with an underline but you cannot just single click on them to follow the link, you have to either double click or press control and then click.

Although a note cannot have attachments there is an ‘attachment’ note type which embeds a file in the notebase and a ‘link’ type note which can point to a file on the local disk (just one file for each attachment/link note). For some types of file a preview of the contents of the file appears in the note. I suppose if you wanted to attach a number of files to one note you would just attach a list of attachment or link type notes as children of that note.

 

2. Classification = 7

The tagging system isn’t hierarchical, just a flat list. But it does have the useful feature that you can refine the search by selecting more Tags, this just does a simple AND between the selected Tags (this AND that) which is all you want most of the time. When you have selected a tag in the Tags panel you can then click on extra tags in the top of the search panel, if you click on another Tag in the tags panel then it will be the only tag selected.

With other programs like Ultra Recall, MyInfo and ConnectedText the searches can be much more sophisticated with combinations of AND, OR, NOT & brackets or a tree to define the order of combination, and in InfoQube you can write an SQL expression to select your results, oh joy!  These complex searches are sometimes nice to have but mostly you just want to locate something by remembering a few salient features of that item and searching for those tags.

The tagging system in Right Note is certainly useful enough for day to day use.

Right Note has many types of note and this might be used to classify information. Also some of the notes may be designated as ‘Folders’. A note designated as being a ‘Folder’ is just the same as any other note except that you can view a list of Folders in a hierarchical tree of their own. It is another option for the classification of information.

As far as classification goes Right Note is just a standard two pane outliner with a flat tagging system. If that is all you need then this program is great but it does not have some of the extra things which make a program much more useful. There is no arbitrary meta-data, the only meta-data a note can have is a list of tags. Again this may not be as much of a limitation as it might at first seem because the meta data can be put in the main body of the note. This approach allows you to search for the meta data but does not allow numeric comparisons (price < 42) only text searches.  Arbitrary meta-data would be nice but I don’t think that will come any time soon either.

The main limitation I find with Right Note is that the trees and outlines are strict hierarchies, an item can only have one parent and this limits the usefulness of the program. As trees get bigger it becomes harder to find one unique place where a note should be placed. As trees get bigger it becomes more likely that there will be several places in the tree which are appropriate for any given note, if the structure of the tree is used to classify notes then you have to choose what you think is the most important category from all the possible categories that the note might fit into. However if the program has transclusion (cloned notes) then the note can be placed in all the appropriate places at the same time. This is not the case with Right Note, a note can only be in one place in the tree.

The ability to have an outline tree as a type of note is also good but not as useful as it might first appear, having a tree as a note type is just the same as placing that same tree as a child of the note, in that way having a tree as a note type is equivalent to a hoist.

All the trees in Right Note suffer from the same restriction, they are strict hierarchies. Notes are restricted to one parent per item and entries can only appear once in a tree. This makes them trees as opposed to directed graphs.

Directed graphs are more useful especially for larger notebases.

 

3. Text Layout and Formatting = 9

The editing facilities of Right Note are excellent, the developer has done a really good job of crafting comfortable well designed text editors for this program. Unicode characters are supported in most of the editors and in the trees.

There are many different note types and some of the names aren’t as self explanatory as they could be, two of the editors are nearly identical and this could be confusing to new users. Yes I know they are based on two different GUI tools but ordinary users don’t want to know about the internal workings of the program they are more interested in editing text.

The available types of note are :-

  • Memo (Plain Text)
  • RichEdit (Word Processor)
  • RichView (Word Processor)
  • Syntax Highlighter (Source Code)
  • Spreadsheet
  • Webpage
  • Evernote
  • Attachment
  • Link
  • Outline
  • Task List

Mostly the rich diversity of note types is a good thing but it has a disadvantage. For instance if you want to store a simple piece of text you can choose either Memo, RichView, RichEdit, Syntax Highlighter or Evernote. Two of these are equivalent (RichView and RichEdit) so one of the pair should be retired and the other re-named, there is little point in having both.

A Memo note is plain text with no formatting.

A Syntax Highlighter note is plain text with no formatting but with syntax highlighting for the language you declare the source code to be in. You set which programming language the note is in by selecting it in a drop down box in the toolbar of the editor, much the same as the text styles in the RichView editor. One nice touch is a thumbnail of your entire note in the top right hand corner of the editor pane, this can be used to scroll to a place of interest in the text by click and drag.

The program supports syntax highlighting for about fifty different programming languages plus ‘Text’, a brief experiment seemed to show there is no highlighting for ‘Text’ but you do have the scrollable thumbnail which could have some advantages for long texts.

The Syntax Highlighter note type ought to have been called the Source Code note type which would be a better representation of it’s purpose in my opinion.

An Evernote type note has all the same characteristics and formatting options as in the Evernote program but in order to use this type of note you must sign up to an Evernote account. All the pages which are of the Evernote type will get synchronised to your Evernote account whenever you go on-line.

RichView and RichEdit note types are both variations on the Rich Text Format but with slightly different capabilities. They are for formatted text. The names are not as well thought out as they could have been in my opinion. Something suggestive of a word processor document would have been better or just RichText.

RichView can contain tables and has better support for hyperlinks and images. This review is being written in a RichView note.

RichEdit supports OLE embedding but cannot contain tables.

I think it was a mistake to have two different types of note with such similar capabilities. This just causes confusion for users. Basically unless you want to embed a file form another program as an OLE object then you can just forget about the RichEdit note type. As a test I tried embedding a small Excel spreadsheet into a RichEdit note and it failed to display (perhaps I was doing something wrong).

The RichView editor has default styles for text and paragraphs which can be easily applied to text so you can set up a customised ‘look’ for the documents and have them all look the same with little effort. Setting up the styles is easy but the paragraph styles could appear a little intimidating until you become familiar with the dialog box, it is a little complex. The option for setting up the styles for both the text and paragraph styles appears in the drop down list at the end of the list.

Apart from these Right Note has spreadsheets as notes. I think this is great! I don’t know about everyone else but most of my use of spreadsheets is as a table. I would say that about three quarters of my spreadsheets have little or no calculations at all, the grid of data is what is useful about it. That and being able to set the background colours, borders and format of cells.

Right_Note_Review_2

A spreadsheet as a note in Right Note

Having spreadsheet type notes is much more useful than it might seem at first. Each of these spreadsheet notes is a fully functional spreadsheet. You can even use them to do calculations with numbers! 🙂  The Spreadsheet note type supports a large number of functions for use in formulas. These spreadsheets are probably suitable for small scale scientific and business number crunching.

Right Note also has outlines and task lists as note types, so you can have an outline within an outline. This may seem innovative but it isn’t quite as innovative as it might seem, it is just a hoist. If you have an outline within an outline this is equivalent to having that outline attached as the child of the parent note and when you are within the child outline it is just the same as if you had hoisted the parent of that outline.

The variation on this theme is the task list which is just the same as the outline note except that it has check-boxes. The addition of check-boxes is quite useful.

There is also a Webpage note type into which you can download and store the contents of a web page and this page is stored as a local copy so you can still view it even if the page on the web is changed or deleted, your local copy remains untouched. It is possible to edit these stored web pages.

This is all very well but special items like mathematical formulas in TeX are not rendered correctly. But it should be able to cope with ordinary web pages that have nothing but text and pictures.

It should be noted that if the web page was generated by a PHP script then it is only the HTML output from the script which is stored so some web pages may not work the same as the ‘live’ version but this same restriction would apply to all systems which store local copies of web pages.

There are attachment notes and link notes, an attachment note may be used to copy a file into the Right Note notebase. The file is stored within the Right Note file. A link note is almost the same except that the file is not stored in the Right Note notebase, the note contains a link to that file on the local file system.

 

4. A sense of Time = 2

There is a very rudimentary reminder system but no repeating reminders and no calendar.

This program allows you to set a reminder on a note, this can be a simple reminder with no date or time or it can have a date and time. If it has a date and time and if the program is running at that date and time then it will bring up a reminder dialog box.  If not then it will bring up the reminder next time you run the program after the date and time.

There is also a ‘Journaling’ mode, if you have ‘Journaling’ switched on then the default title for all new notes is the time and date of the note’s creation. This might be OK for keeping a diary.

 

5. Ease of use = 8

This program is simple and easy to use. Most things in the user interface are where you would expect to find them and most things work as you would expect them to work.

There are keyboard shortcuts for moving notes in the tree and dragging the notes around with the mouse works as you would expect.

There is a limited amount of customisability of the GUI, you can set skins (themes), some of the colours and the font used in the tree. That’s about it. The newer skins are colourful and most of them are good.

You can configure the keyboard shortcuts but you can’t change any of the toolbars.

Apart from having a couple of note types which do the same thing and might cause confusion about which one to use it is a good user interface.

By default there are some superfluous icons in the trees indicating the type of each note, they take up screen space without any clear benefit but they are easy to switch off in the options.

 

6. Visual Appeal = 9

Right Note has a pretty interface. It is colourful and there are several themes to choose from. The default font for the tree and tabs can be set. The user interface is fairly configurable but it is not the most configurable interface I have seen.

Right_Note_Review

A screen shot of a screen shot inserted as an image into this review, containing a screen shot of an image inserted into this review ′

There are a lot of icons with the program which can be used in the program and there is an even larger collection of icons which can be downloaded for free from the Bauer Apps website, this is a single file in the format used by Right Note for it’s icon database. The file is free but is useless to other applications.

These icons can be placed before note titles and assigned to tags and notebooks, but beware, having too many icons on-screen at once can make the display appear too busy and cluttered.

 

Democracy in peril.

I think that democracy is failing.

Politicians all seem to be too busy looking after their own interests or the interests of their cronies. They are isolated and insulated from the views and needs of the great mass of the population.

Government has become so London centric it’s as if the south east of England were a different country.

Yes we have a popularity contest every four years but what then? After the election the Prime Minister gives a press briefing on the steps of number 10 and promises things she has no intention of delivering, just to reassure everyone, the lobbyists line the politicians pockets with silver so big companies and the people with power and money get what they want while the common people who were given so much attention during the election campaign are now simply ignored.

What we seem to have is a system made up of liars who would promise anything just to get re-elected, they would sell their soul to the devil just to secure that chair in the house.

If you look at the arguments put forward by politicians and think about the meaning of what they are actually saying it basically boils down to “Vote for us because we aren’t as bad as the other lot”.

Wait ? Why can’t I vote for someone good ?

Well I could but good luck getting them to win. What we have is a system which strengthens oligarchs and screws the ordinary citizen, over.

The problem is getting worse. Technology is being used to ‘Fix’ elections and referenda by micro targeting individuals with messages customised to their own prejudices and beliefs. Politicians can tell whatever lies they like without the fear of being held to account for any of their lies.

In the recent European Referendum the Brexit campaign used micro targeting of messages on social media and lots of other dirty tricks to exert undue influence on the voters. I do not regard the results of that referendum to be fair and unbiased.

The system is loaded, it isn’t the party with the best policies that wins, it’s the one with the biggest advertising budget. There are supposed to be rules on how much money each party or faction can spend on their campaign but there are ways around these rules for the unscrupulous.

This was not the way it was supposed to be. The internet and the world wide web were hailed as bringing information to the masses. It was supposed to make elections fairer by promoting a well informed electorate, any lies told by politicians would be exposed immediately.

That is not the way it turned out !

What went wrong ?

People vote with their hearts not their minds, you can influence more people with an emotive article or a graphic picture than with an article which contains reasoned arguments and verified facts. Facts don’t tug at the heart strings. And when you are freed from the constraints of telling the truth you can construct some very effective propaganda.

Micro targeting allows you to tailor the message to the recipient and so this becomes a very powerful tool to influence voters.

But this is a slippery slope that we are on.

The success of this strategy will lead to a greater demand for big data about people, and this in turn will lead to politicians relaxing regulations on user surveillance and monitoring, after all it is in their interests to provide themselves with the best tools available to win elections. And that is what it is all about, that is the goal of politicians, to win the next election, not to look after the people or the security of the country or the economy, all these are just the side effects of the need to win the next election. They must be seen to be doing the right thing by the country even if it is an illusion.

What we should be doing is passing laws and regulations to limit the amount of user surveillance and monitoring but this is unlikely to happen and if it does it will be crafted in such a way as to be ineffective, just for show, because it’s popular with the voters.

I don’t have any solutions.

I think I know what the nature of the problem is, but nothing will change unless we’re prepared to have very broad based discussions that get away from the normal platitudes you get in any political campaign “everything’s going to be OK next year if you just vote for me”, it’s a load of crap. This goes for all the major political parties. You know what they are telling you is a load of crap and they aren’t actually going to solve anything.

Note Taking Software, back to basics.

There are many note taking programs but there are none which are ideal in my opinion. Many of them do a lot more things that I don’t need and don’t do all the things which I do need. A couple of them do come tantalisingly close to my ideal.

So what do I actually need from a note taking program. Let’s build it up from basics.

I like things to be simple!

What is the simplest note taking system?

A pencil and paper!

But a pencil and paper is not connected, you can’t search a large paper document easily. Organising and re-organising paper documents is difficult even if you have scissors and glue.

It would be more useful if it were electronic and on a computer.

So what is the simplest note taking system on a computer ?

Plain text files!

This is true, but having lots of plain text files scattered about on a hard disk can also be frustrating.

“I’m sure I had that information in a text file somewhere, if only I could remember what it was called and what folder it was in, dammit!”

There are problems with organising and re-organising a body of information which is contained in plain text files. What is needed is a way of structuring them and indexing their contents so they can be searched as a whole.

Keeping all your notes together is a good idea. Being able to add structure to them so that they can be grouped by their salient features is a good idea. Being able to explicitly express the salient features of a note (tags & metadata) is a good idea. Having a mechanism whereby one note can refer to another note (or indeed something outside the program) is a good idea. That is why note taking programs are a good idea.

With a note taking program you can keep all your notes in one place, link them together and define a logical structure, add meta-data to express the significant features of the data, link to other files or websites and search for things which you want to find.

Everything over and above this is either the icing on the cake or superfluous and unnecessary depending on your point of view.

Of course there are programs which provide a myriad of extra facilities and functions but if they fail to provide these basic facilities then they still fall short.

All the extra functions do is obfuscate the basic functionality. I am not saying that programs should not offer extended functionality but if the basic functionality ends up hidden in a sub-menu of a sub menu or in a context menu somewhere obscure then that is a bad thing.

The basic and most often used functions should be in obvious places, the extra functionality can be hidden in obscure places. The developers task is to decide which functions are the most often used and which ones get used once in a blue moon by just a few people.

If a program tries to be all things to all people then what usually happens is the user interface becomes complicated in one way or another.

 

Organisation

Almost all note taking programs organise their notes in either a tree or a directed graph. Most of the other types of organisation are either trees or directed graphs if you look at their topology.

A wiki might be thought of as a free form structure but the notes are connected by links and thus it is actually a directed graph. A mind map might be thought of as different from an outline but they are both trees, they are just displayed differently.

Directed graphs are more useful than trees.

Trees have the problem that as they get bigger it becomes more difficult to place nodes within them, that is, it becomes more difficult to find a single place which is correct for that node. There are usually several places where it could plausibly fit. That is why directed graphs are more useful.

For example, if a node could fit in the tree under the project it is part of or under the person whose responsibility it is or under the problem which the project is supposed to address then with a tree you have to select which is the most important feature of the node. This leads to difficulty in finding the node later when you have forgotten what your original decision was. It also leads to inconsistency of placement.

With a directed graph you can put the node in all the appropriate places simultaneously. If a node in a tree can have more than one parent then that tree is a directed graph. If you can ‘clone’ a node so that it appears more than once in a tree then that tree is really a directed graph.

It should be noted that a clone is not a copy, it is the same node which appears in more than one place.

 

Tags

Tagging nodes to indicate properties of the node is a necessary feature of a note taking system in my opinion. Well thought out tags are very useful.

Hierarchical tagging systems are in my opinion most useful, but few note taking programs have hierarchical tagging systems. Ideally the use of a tag should also imply the node having the parent tag as well (inheritance) i.e. if the node is tagged as belonging to this electronics project then it should also be tagged with the parent tag of ‘electronics’ and if electronics is the descendant of another tag then it should inherit that one too, recursively right back to the root of the tree.

One caveat with this is that when selecting the tags to apply to a node the list should be just a flat list of all the tags in alphabetical order, i.e. the tree should be flattened out.

Tagging systems can become a mess if the user doesn’t think about what the significant features of their data are. If the collection of tags just develops ad-hoc then they will probably be inconsistent with each other and this can lead to confusion.

A tagging system is even more useful if on can refine a search by selecting from a list of tags held by the results of the current search. Similar to the system used by the website ‘Del.icio.us’ before it was discontinued to make way for Pinboard’s subscription service. One alternative to this is if you can build a query using tags combined with AND, OR, NOT and brackets.

Meta-data is just another form of tagging, the meta-data expresses something about the node and as such it should be able to be searched and nodes should be able to be grouped on properties expressed in the meta-data.

One unhelpful characteristic of many programs is that their meta-data is common to all nodes. For example, let us suppose I have a notebase in which I have some notes on a selection of vacuum cleaners in order to choose which one to buy. One of the pieces of meta-data I might define for those nodes is ‘price’ and give each vacuum cleaner a number which represents it’s price. In a well designed note taking program that ‘price’ meta-data would only exist for those items I had assigned it to. In a badly designed note taking program all nodes in the notebase would now have a ‘price’ even where it is inappropriate. This would make the list of meta-data extremely long for every node because every node has an entry for every piece of meta-data defined for any node in the entire notebase.

Tags are all that is really necessary, other meta-data can be placed in the text of the node in a minimalist system.

 

Links

Linking notes together makes them much more useful. The information in one node can refer to information in another node and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The basic link is like a hypertext link and occurs in the text of a node, it refers to another node. Clicking on the link takes you to the node which the link points to. This basic link is all that is necessary in a note taking system. Just with this type of basic link you can build a wiki.

There are usually other types of link in a system, especially if it is structured as a tree or graph. The structure of the tree implies parent/child links and this is used to arrange the nodes on the screen.

In my opinion there also needs to be links where the information in one node needs to cite or refer to the information in another node. There needs to be a mechanism whereby a node can list other nodes which provide supporting or related information. These are sometimes called ‘see also’ or ‘related items’ or ‘reference’.

 

Text

The function of a note taking system is to hold notes, i.e. information. This can be plain text but the necessity of including links to other nodes implies something more than just plain text. And a bit of formatting is quite nice too.

The inclusion of pictures and diagrams is really useful as well. There is an old saying that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, pictures can aid comprehension and understanding of the information. The inclusion of pictures in the text of a node although not strictly necessary is a good feature to have.

Tables are also quite useful.

 

Conclusions

So my ideal note taking program would not have a lot of extra features which I don’t use but would include the all the basic functionality described in this article.

What would such a program look like?

It would have a directed graph structure presented as either a tree (or many trees) or preferably as a network (map). Each node could appear many times in the network/tree as a clone of the same node.

If the structure is presented as a map then the map should centre on the node which has the focus and if the user moves to a new node then the map should be re-drawn with the new node as the centre of the map, this allows you to see the node of interest ‘centre stage’ whilst still being able to see it’s context.

If displayed as a tree then it would be able to ‘Hoist’ a node so that it becomes the centre of attention and would be able to expand/collapse branches of the directed graph/tree.

Each node would be associated with a pane of text which could contain pictures, diagrams, tables and links to other nodes. Links should be opened by a simple single click just like a web browser. In addition each node would be associated with a list of ‘related’ nodes and/or a list of files associated with that node each of which could be opened by clicking on the entry in the list. Ideally the text pane should be floating so that it can be placed on a second monitor.

There would be a hierarchical tagging system with inheritance which could be searched by clicking on the tag in the tag tree but in which the search could be refined by clicking on further tags narrowing down the selection each time, similar to the system used by the ‘Del.icio.us’ website.

The text of each node would be indexed so that full text searches can be carried out quickly. In addition complex searches would be possible by building search criteria in a ‘search table’ each row having columns defining what is being searched for, what is being searched (node text, tags, meta-data etc.), what the conditions are (greater than or equal to, less than, equal to, text contains, matches wildcard etc.) and what the relationship is to the other search criteria (AND, OR), maybe a tree structure would be more useful here instead of brackets. Furthermore these complex searches should be able to be saved for later re-use. This does not mean that a quick and simple search should not be available as well.

There are a few (very few) programs which come close but there isn’t yet a program which ticks all the boxes for me.

This is a bit more complicated than a simple pencil and paper but I think it would be a lot more useful.

 

Munson & Cadman

Since designing the Kelvinch font I have not been idle.  In my spare time I have been working on two more fonts.

Kelvinch was designed when I was just starting to learn about typography and so it is a little rough round the edges, it was my first font.  When I look back at Kelvinch I see many things which should have been done better, so I have started to design a replacement for Kelvinch.  The replacement has a provisional name but it will not be revealed until the font is released, just in case someone else decides to use it.

The two current fonts are Munson and Cadman.  The Munson font was released on 20th July 2017 and the Cadman font was released on 22nd February 2018.

 

Munson

Munsonator

Late in 2016 I needed a Victorian style slab serif font for a graphic design project I was working on at home.  I couldn’t find any good free Victorian slab serifs.  Most of the free ones weren’t any good, there were some very good commercial fonts available which would have been perfect for the job but I like free stuff.  I couldn’t find any free ones with good quality and a decent design of italic.

Some of the free fonts were passable but their designers thought that italic is the same as oblique which is not the case.

For this type of font italic should be a more cursive design not just the upright character slanted.

About the same time as this I was asked to be a beta tester for the new version of the font editing software I use and for this I needed a new font project.

This gave me the nudge I needed and so I decided to design my own my own Victorian Slab serif.

The name Munson is a reference to Audrey Munson who was the model for many of the bronze statues in New York from around the 1920’s era.

The inspiration for the font itself came from a typeface by a company called Stephenson Blake & Co. in my home town of Sheffield. This typeface was made around 1815 and was called Consort. It was a bracketed slab serif face with ball terminals where appropriate. I obtained scanned documents and photographs of typeface samples from that era which depict the Consort typeface and I attempted to re-create the look and style of that typeface in a modern font.

I have photographs of an incomplete set of the Consort typeface, I filled in the gaps and some of the characters in the Consort typeface were not to my liking so I designed Munson according to my own aesthetic preferences and with a great deal of artistic license.

There is also much of Clarendon in Munson. The Clarendon typeface was made by Robert Besley in London in 1845 and is particularly well known.

Munson is an amalgamation of all these influences, a sort of hybrid between the Consort and Clarendon with much of my own influence thrown in for good measure.

This is a font which I have created myself without using anything directly digitally copied from other fonts. This typeface is my property.

There was copying but this was done by hand and eye rather than by copy and paste.

Munson is now available for free download under the SIL Open Font license which means you can use it for whatever purpose you want personal or commercial, you may pass it on to others and modify it if you wish.  You may pass on your modified version (under a different name).

The only thing you can’t do with my font is sell it.

 

Cadman

Cadmanator

I have two friends who are dyslexic and they both expressed the need for a clear and legible font so I made one.

The name of the font is an indirect reference to one of these people who is a colleague at work and spends a lot of his time using CAD systems.

I don’t know if a specific font for dyslexia is a good thing or not, certainly some fonts are more legible than others.

My hypothesis is that the success of fonts which have been specifically designed for people with dyslexia is a placebo effect. The reader expects the special font to be easier to read so they put extra effort into reading the type. Knowing that a typeface has been specifically created to address one’s needs may well provide useful motivation that enhances concentration and engagement. Then, having better understood text for having made an effort to read it, the reader credits the enhanced comprehension to the special font rather than them having put in extra effort to comprehend it.

However having said that some fonts are easier to read and comprehend than other so why not make a font which fulfils all the criteria, it certainly cannot make the situation any worse.

The Cadman font has been designed to be as legible as possible. There is a lot of opinion on the Internet about which fonts are suitable for dyslexic people and much of it is contradictory. This is only to be expected, people are different from one another and what is suitable for one is not suitable for all.

However there are some characteristics which are commonly accepted as making a font more suitable for use by dyslexic people.

  • Sans Serif
  • Good ascenders and descenders
  • Wide apertures
  • b and d distinguished from each other not just mirrored
  • p and q distinguished from each other not just mirrored
  • Different forms for capital I, lowercase l and digit 1
  • Rounded g and rounded a as in handwriting
  • r & n together (rn) should not look like m
  • The f character has a descender to make it more unlike a turned t
  • M and W should be distinguished from each other and not just be mirrored
  • 6 and 9 distinguished from each other not just rotated
  • The use of distinct letterforms where confusion could arise
  • A slightly looser spacing than normal

Cadman fulfils all these criteria. But Cadman is not just for people with dyslexia.

Cadman is suitable wherever a clear and legible sans serif font is required. It has Bold, Italic and Bold Italic.

There are many open type features including SMALL CAPITALS, fractions and ordinals. There are two stylistic alternatives which change the digit zero from dotted to slashed zero or blank zero.

My colleague who uses CAD systems a lot wanted the font for scientific writing so Cadman contains a Greek alphabet suitable for mathematics and many Mathematical Operators, Letterlike Symbols, Miscellaneous Symbols and Dingbats.

Cadman is available for free download under the SIL Open Font license which means you can use it for whatever purpose you want personal or commercial, you may pass it on to others and modify it if you wish. You may pass on your modified version (under a different name).

The only thing you can’t do with this font is sell it as a font, however it may be packaged along with other software which is being sold, in which case the price charged is for whatever is packaged with it and the font is just a free bonus.

Enjoy !

 

Will Technology destroy Democracy ?

Technology has made some wonderful advances, it looks like we will fairly soon have self driving cars, just tell it where you want to go and it will take you there. Your fridge will know when things were bought and when they are likely to go off, it may also give you dietary advice. You might have a personal assistant on your desk listening to your every word you say and controlling your connected home, remembering all of your appointments so you don’t have to and answering any question you ask it.  There are many technologies which are ‘just around the corner’ so the next few years could see some interesting changes.

So how is it that with all the incredible advances in technology we have today and with increasing automation the rewards have not been spread more evenly ?

It seems to me that there is something very wrong about how technology is benefiting the world today. There is also a fundamental threat to democracy which few people seem to be aware of.

It is said that we have entered a new ‘Information Age’ but the information economy seems to be about endless austerity, jobless recoveries, lack of social mobility, and intense concentration of wealth and power for the few whilst most people struggle to make ends meet.

One of the principles of the information age seems to be the spread of free information and services. For example social media, Wikipedia, free software, free ‘Cloud’ storage (which is just your data stored on someone else’s server), free online education and many variations of the above.

Most people would think that this is a good thing. It spreads the power of information to the many. Control of this information has passed out of the hands of a few elites and into the hands of anyone who cares to download it.

But there is a problem. There are consequences which nobody seems to have anticipated.

Revelations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica came as a shock to many people but this should be a wake up call! I think that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that Cambridge Analytica was not unique among companies.

The actual problem runs far deeper and this is just one example of a struggle which is going on between technology and democracy. There are some benefits to free stuff online but this has blinded us to the fundamental ways technology is eroding our democracies.

A typical server, many racks each containing many computers all linked together.

A server is a group of computers linked together to perform a particular function. The computers in a server are linked to a network and provide services to other computers on that network. Computer programs can be split up to run on many computers in parallel and get results much faster than if the program was running on just one computer. A server may consist of a few tens of computers up to many thousands of computers.

All the servers that crunch ‘big data’ are physically similar. They are placed in obscure sites in anonymous buildings and have lots of security. Because they are very valuable.

When people share information freely, those who own the biggest and fastest servers benefit in ways that ordinary people can’t even imagine let alone emulate. Companies with large servers can simply calculate wealth and power out of free information.

While the free and open information ideal feels empowering, it is actually enriching those with the biggest servers to such an extreme that it is weakening democracy. The uses to which some of this data is put is also weakening democracy, I’m talking about micro-targeting here.

It doesn’t matter if the servers run social media sites, national intelligence agencies, giant online stores, big political campaigns, insurance companies, or search engines. What they are all doing in the background is remarkably similar.

All these servers gather data about people and then process that data to find out all they can about the people the data is about. This data might include emails and tweets or social media likes and sharing, private documents on ‘cloud’ storage, sightings through cloud-connected cameras, or commercial and medical dossiers. There are no limits to the snooping.

All these sites (apart from the national intelligence agencies) need a ‘hook’ something to entice people into this asymmetrical information relationship.

The hook might be free Internet services or music, or easy-to-get mortgages. But there is a price to be paid for these ‘free’ services.

Ordinary people are the sole providers of the information that makes the big servers so powerful and valuable, and ordinary people do get some benefit for providing their data.

They get the benefits of an informal economy usually associated with the developing world, like reputation and access to barter. The real monetary benefits are given to those who own the servers.

More and more ordinary people are thrust into a winner-takes-all economy. Social media sharers can make all the noise they want, but they forfeit the real wealth and clout needed to be politically powerful.

In most cases there was no evil plot, it is just a result of human nature. Many of the people who own the servers are genuinely nice people. But a lot of the people who use the data they harvest have their own agendas. And the people who have wealth and power want what almost all people with wealth and power want … more wealth and more power.

In a world of free information, the economy will shrink as automation rises radically. This is because in an ultra-automated economy, there won’t be much to trade other than information.

The threats to democracy come from the uses to which the data is put.

Our democracies evolved for an analogue age and they developed alongside institutions which support them like a free press and citizens who all have access to the same information. There are rules to follow like the secret ballot and expenditure limits. These institutions and rules keep the whole thing fair and equitable.

But in the past few years things have changed drastically and things are still changing. Most people don’t realise how much things have changed already.

Digital technology works by a different set of rules to those which evolved alongside democracy. It is de-centralised and difficult to control and it is improving at an incredible rate.

Western democracies have rules to make sure that all their voters have access to the same set of information for an election. The statements which a candidate makes are on the whole accurate because they know that if they make a false statement this will be picked up by news organisations and the media and they will be found out. Issues are debated in the media with representations being made from both sides of each argument.

But now we have ‘Big Data’ and micro targeted messaging and the rules which ensure free and fair elections don’t apply anymore.

Using Big Data analysis servers can build up very accurate and detailed psychological profiles of millions of individuals and politicians who pay for the services of companies like Cambridge Analytica can target each one of them with a highly personalised message. They can exploit our psychological vulnerabilities and prejudices on a vast scale and in a way that no regulator has access to.

It is out with the old shared frame of reference against which new information can be judged and in with millions of private frames of reference which may or may not bear any resemblance to the shared frame of reference.

How can we hope to hold politicians to account for their statements if everyone gets a different message and nobody knows what anyone else was told?

But it gets even worse.

Facebook have algorithms which can build up a very accurate psychological profile from what seems like innocent, unconnected and irrelevant pieces of information. The original purpose of these algorithms was to give you more content that you like in order to keep you on the Facebook website longer and therefore expose you to more targeted advertising.

But it didn’t stop there when Facebook amassed all this data about its users the next question was “How can we make more money out of all this data?”

It isn’t just Facebook who are tracking their users, Google, Microsoft and Amazon are doing much the same thing along with a host of other companies and national security agencies of many countries.

The more data they get about you the more accurate their psychological profile becomes, they can make predictions about your political and religious beliefs, how likely you are to take risks, how introverted or extrovert you are and many other aspects of your character which you might not have wanted to share with others.

Pretty soon your car will know about every journey you take, where you started from, where you went to and what time you set off and arrived, your fridge will know everything about your diet and if you like to buy the yellow label discount items from the supermarket and your personal assistant will know how you feel because of your tone of voice and all this information about you will be correlated and cross referenced against all the other sources of information about you.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All this information will reveal more than you ever wanted to share with the rest of the world. In such a world as I describe there will be no such thing as privacy.

You will be constantly bombarded with messages based on all this information and that will open up a whole new level of manipulation targeted at you personally.

But there is another aspect to this which is fracturing society. In the social media realm we create our own reality which alienates us from one another. This is a result of the algorithms whose purpose it is to keep us hooked to Facebook and other social media platforms.

Democracies need informed citizens who all have access to the same shared base of information but in the social media realm we create our own reality. Social media gives us more of what we want so if we ‘like’ a post with a particular political leaning the AI on the server takes note and makes it more likely that we will see more posts from that particular political leaning in order to keep us looking at the social media platform longer and be exposed to more targeted advertising.

On social media we create our own reality, our own mix of opinion, information, misinformation, real news and fake news. This creates our own bubble in which we only see what we want to see and only hear the views of those people who agree with us.

This is making people more angry and more extreme in their views and it makes it much less likely that we will compromise with each other.

In the end there will only be one winner in the struggle. Either technology will destroy democracy and the existing social order will be destroyed or the current political system will exert its authority and control over the digital revolution.

As things stand at the moment technology is winning and unless things change dramatically democracy will be washed away just like communism, feudalism and absolute monarchies have been.

It will be regarded as a system which persisted for a while but could not adapt to the new technology.

If democracy is washed away what would replace it ?

I think it will be authoritarianism, but not like anything which has gone before !

Corporatocracy. Huge multinational corporations too big to fail will dominate the global landscape and a very few people in the world will, and already do, hold the vast majority of wealth and power.

Their wealth and influence being the key to influence global politics to favour their own needs. They will have and feel no responsibility to the rest of humanity.

Big business has already had such a tight grip on politics that for a long time now people have just accepted that you can’t budge big business and that the worker is in no position to fight back or negotiate.

They monitor us with advanced technology and have built a consumer society which seeps into our cultural psyche. We slowly, through globalisation, will become homogenous until all there are only two classes. The consumer, alienated and kept down by the exploiting classes and the capitalist, who demands a homogenous class of downtrodden and subdued consumers to keep themselves rich, and who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing !

Even now the ruling elites are plotting behind the backs of millions to set up trade deals and line their own pockets and have been doing so since the rise of neoliberalism – oligarchs are pulling the strings of our ‘democratic’ nations. In effect, these past few decades have simply been a restoration of power back to private industry and history is once again repeating itself. Over and over again it is the same struggle between humanity (the working people), and the ruling elites.

In such a world ruled by big business they would probably keep governments and elections just to keep a sham of democracy but government would be under the control of big business. Corporate interests, profits, growth, and returns would come before all else !