2010.12.24

Hellenic in Prelude: Font Design Failure

Prelude is the font bundled with WebOS in HP/Palm’s Palm Pre. I first saw it, and wrote about it, last summer, a bit after the device went on sale. Back then I wrote that the font was fantastic, but didn’t include any non-Roman characters. Apparently I was wrong.

Eighteen months passed since then, a time during which Palm Pre was quickly consigned to history as an interesting curiosity, Palm was acquired by HP, WebOS remained a promising, fascinating even, operating system for mobile devices. While I downloaded the WebOS SDK back in the day, I quickly lost interest given that Palm did the lousiest job bringing the Pre to Europe — it was never available in Hellas and very few carriers, electronics chains and retailers carried it throughout Europe. Subsequent variants and revisions of the device were also totally absent from the market.

Prelude Hellenic Font.

I did keep an open eye, however, as I find WebOS truly interesting. The other day I read this post on the Palm Development Center Blog. Apparently Prelude now includes support for more alphabets than I previously thought. Among them was Hellenic.

Extracting the Prelude font from the emulator image is very easy, using scp after the emulator has completed booting. I tried the Prelude fonts on my main linux workstation, the machine I spend more than 85% of my time daily. The results were frighteningly bad.

Prelude is a gorgeous font, but the hellenic glyphs look ridiculously bad. They seem like they were designed by someone other than the original designer; or the original designer has no clue as to how hellenic glyphs are designed. I mean look at this lowercase omega, or that totally out of place lowercase alpha. Like a distant, uglier cousin of Futura, that got lost and found shelter in a different font. In addition to being very ugly, with absurd metrics and an æsthetic feel that’s totally different to that of the Roman glyphs in the font, the hellenic glyphs betray complete ignorance of the hellenic alphabet. Needless to say, hellenic in Prelude look like a botched, hurried job, aimed at providing the bare essential support for hellenic, probably added at the last minute, bunched together with cyrillic and eastern european glyphs, for the sole purpose of giving HP/Palm the opportunity to claim international font support in their upcoming products. In reality, hellenic characters in Prelude have very little in common to their roman counterparts. And this is a shame not only because Prelude (for roman characters) is a fantastic font, but also because fonts, contrary to software, are not iteratively designed at the rate that software is and chances are that the botched hellenic glyphs currently found in Prelude will be on HP/Palm devices for a long time to come. What a shame!

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2010.12.17

The spirit of the community (AOSP 2.3 source is out!)

Android 2.3 was announced a few days ago. The previous day, CyanogenMod 6.1, the most popular community mod was released, based on Froyo (2.2). And today, just a short two weeks after the announcement, the source code for the latest version of Android is being released!

The release marks the end of the 2.x era, with Google, most definitely, working hard on the 3.x series aimed for release in the first quarter of 2011 and — hopefully — taking the fight with iOS up a notch. Just an hour ago cyanogen posted this on twitter:

If you need me, I’ll be locked in my room for the next 3 days. #gingerbread

I feel that right now that’s precisely what makes Android sell, and by extension the popularity and characteristics of such projects give many clues on the demographics of those buying Android devices.

In other words, the ‘magic’ of the platform is its rapid evolution and by extension its community (a community that is largely technology oriented), something not to be found in HTC’s or Samsung’s wanna-be iPhone devices (or their mediocre software), Sony Ericsson’s lifestyle apps or Motorola’s ‘macho’ Droid phone and its seriously bad Motoblur. These are commercial parts of a nascent platform that — until now — enthuse few outside the technology community.

Stuff like CyanogenMod are exciting because they evolve extremely fast and at the same time let your imagination run wild with features that half-baked commercial Android ‘flavours’ couldn’t never have. A combination — and even the ‘controlled’, sterile in a way, yet amazingly polished environments like iOS lacks.

And this is, sadly, something that most major Android device manufacturers don’t get, judging by the effort they put in locking their products down, the amount of crapware they bundle with them and the restrictions they place to their customers.

By the way, if you’re using a supported device, like e.g. the HTC Desire, I recommend you get rid of Sense right now, get CyanogenMod, or another mod if so you prefer, and turn the damn thing into a usable gadget. You won’t regret it*.

*If you do, I won’t be held responsible for any damage you may cause to your device.

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2010.12.07

Chrome OS and Cr-48

Still watching the Google Chrome Team Livestream. Google is on a massive release streak that clarifies their strategic outlook for the next two years. In two days we’ve had: Android 2.3 and a short Android 3.0 sneak-peek, the eBook store, (V8) Crankshaft, Chrome Webstore and Chrome OS.

The Store.

Chrome Web store

With the Chrome Web store, Google is attempting to replicate the AppStore model on the Web. From the point of view of a Web user, I find it useless, or in other words a glorified bookmarking system, coupled with a payment processing system and proprietary functionality that ties everything to Google; most of the things that the Chrome Web store offers are already here, although they are not offered by a single company. Payments, for example, take place all the time through trusted third-party payment processors, including Google. Discovery of new sites/apps happens daily through social bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit, a number of trusted publications, word of mouth etc. There’s no doubt that a web site/application directory, or a fancier way to ‘bookmark’ web apps might be useful, but that would be a much more noble proposition to what Google talked about today and it would need to be done in a cross-browser way that would be inclusive to other browser developers and the community as a whole.

The apps. The Web. Openness and Google.

The NY Times Chrome application is just a modern website I visited while the presentation was taking place. Amazon’s WindowShop is a Flash client for their store. A flash game could reside behind a third-party game portal. None of those things have anything to do with the ‘Store’.

The Chrome ‘Webstore’ makes things ‘easier’ and more streamlined for Chrome users and developers, but flies in the face of the openness and independence of the Web. It introduces a new dependency, Google Chrome for its proprietary functionality and Google, for its payment processing services and at the same time raises barriers to entry to other browsers that might very well be standards compliant, but lacking the ‘Web store’ functionality. It ties web applications, their users and developers to Google, even if that’s in the form of the additional work that developers will have to do to provide versions of their applications for the Chrome Web store, the ‘Web’ or even other ‘Stores’, if and when they appear.

There’s no need for any new ‘dependencies’, no need for web apps making use of ‘proprietary’ functionality found in any one browser; we’ve had that nightmare with IE for many years late in the 20th century and for several years the web was the domain of IE.

Google’s intention with the Web store, however, is not at all limited to the Web. It might be that the reasons for the Webstore’s existence fail to convince, but the company’s desire clearly goes far beyond that: Google aims to provide a single place for Applications that fits their upcoming Chrome OS strategy, which, by extension, aims to centralise everything in their own data centres.
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» An enthusiast product for early adopters

This is what Andy Rubin stated in his ‘D: Dive into Mobile’ interview, yesterday. And that’s probably the best descrption of Android I’ve read. Like desktop linux was (and arguably still is in some respects), like Mac OS X was in its first three years and like Windows was for a very long period until — arguably — Windows 95 came out in August 1995. It’s hard for ‘normal’ people to get excited about Android, because there’s little that appeals to normal people. Even from a development standpoint it’s clearly work in progress, with volatile APIs, significant bugs and vastly inferior performance (incl. power management) compared to iOS. As I’ve written before, Android development is moving fast and I reckon it’ll take a couple of years at most for it to reach maturity.

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» Urbanized

The latest film by Gary Hustwit (Helvetica, Objectified). Good to see he keeps working along the same lines. I found both of his films interesting, at the very least. Hopefully this one is going to be equally good (if not better).

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» Why a student should pay a graduate tax on top?

The linked mini-article at ‘A Fistful of Euros’ goes to show how wrong the British Government got it with regards to the tuition fees at British universities. It’s one thing to argue that higher-quality education can only be the product of additional private funding of universities, as opposed to public funding which — as in many other parts of Europe — is being reduced, and another to argue that profit should be made out of the loans students take to fund their studies. Both make little sense to me, but the latter makes no sense at all, besides being totally unfair for those borrowing money to study.

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2010.12.01

Eternal Spring

Climate change is obvious to anyone over twenty five years of age; things have certainly changed since I was a kid. It’s December and the temperature this evening in Athens is 20°C (mornings and afternoons are way worse. Under normal circumstances 15°C would have been considered a very mild evening). At the same time, northern Europe is covered in snow. These temperatures do more than just seem extremely weird for human beings. Take for example my lemon tree: totally confused and blooming, four months before its time (to my knowledge lemon trees bloom between the spring and early summer; definitely not in December). By extension it might be the case that these temperatures affect the whole chain of life; from insects to trees, mammals and fish in some way or another. I would like to believe that nature is resilient enough to cope with this imbalance, but somehow I think it is not.

Lemon tree blooming in December

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2010.11.30

Περί Παράνομων Πινακίδων

Εδώ και αρκετούς μήνες έχει ξεκινήσει η προσπάθεια που γίνεται από την κυβέρνηση για την απομάκρυνση των παράνομων υπαίθριων διαφημιστικών πινακίδων. Από τον ιστότοπο του εγχειρήματος διαβάζω για 893 επιβεβαιωμένες καταγγελίες και 175 αποξηλωμένες πινακίδες. Παρατηρώ πως, δυστυχώς, στο blog της προσπάθειας, αλλά και το twitter επήλθε μια σιωπηρή περίοδος γύρω στα μέσα του περασμένου Οκτωβρίου, ενώ μέχρι τότε γινόταν τακτική ανανέωση με ενημέρωση σχετικά με την πρόοδο των αποξηλώσεων και των καταγγελιών.

Είδα, με ενδιαφέρον, το ντοκυμαντέρ του Μανώλη Ανδριωτάκη σχετικά με το θέμα (θα το βρείτε εδώ, όπου μπορείτε να το υποστηρίξετε και οικονομικά μέσω PayPal). Το ζήτημα είναι τεράστιας σημασίας που αγγίζει την ασφάλεια, την αισθητική, την ποιότητα ζωής μας στην πόλη. Το ενδιαφέρον του κόσμου, ενός κόσμου που έμαθε να ανέχεται μια άσχημη, βρώμικη και επικίνδυνη Αθήνα, είναι σχεδόν ανύπαρκτο. Οι 900 περίπου καταγγελίες είναι νομίζω λίγες δεδομένου του αριθμού των πινακίδων και αφισσών που ρυπαίνουν το αστικό τοπίο, ενώ οι λιγότερες από διακόσιες αποξηλώσεις αυτών ελάχιστες (είναι, βέβαια, σαφές πως αποξηλώνονται πολλές άλλες παράνομες πινακίδες ανεξαρτήτως των καταγγελιών).

Χάρηκα πολύ όταν ανακοινώθηκε το illegalsigns.gov.gr, γιατί θεώρησα πως το ότι δημιουργήθηκε μια — απλοϊκή πλην όμως αποτελεσματική — υπηρεσία διαδικτυακών καταγγελιών ήταν δείγμα σοβαρότητας για την αντιμετώπιση ενός μείζονος προβλήματος της πόλης στην Ελλάδα.

Σήμερα, αρκετούς μήνες μετά, είμαι σχετικά απογοητευμένος· απογοητευμένος διότι οι πρόσφατες εκλογές επιβεβαίωσαν τους φόβους των λιγότερο αισιόδοξων για εφήμερο και χλιαρό ενδιαφέρον της Πολιτείας, την αδυναμία της να επιβάλλει τους Νόμους του κράτους αλλά — πρωτίστως — την αδιαφορία του κόσμου που ζεί και κινείται στην τριτοκοσμική τσιμεντούπολη που οι υπόλοιποι ανεχόμαστε καθημερινά. Στο ντοκυμαντέρ του Ανδριωτάκη, με εικόνες του καλοκαιριού του 2009, διακρίνει κανείς πινακίδες με διαφημίσεις των δυο μεγάλων κομμάτων, των νυν και πρώην πρωθυπουργών, εικόνες από ιστότοπο μεγάλης εταιρίας που δραστηριοποιείται στην παράνομη υπαίθρια διαφήμιση με λογότυπα των μεγαλύτερων εταιριών της χώρας.

Το στοίχημα δεν είναι απλώς η απομάκρυνση των παράνομων πινακίδων, αλλά η κατάρριψη της ιδέας πως είμαστε ανίκανοι, ως κοινωνία, να κατανοήσουμε τους δεκάδες λόγους για τους οποίους δε θα έπρεπε να υπάρχουν εξ’αρχής.

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