Monday 13 March 2017

comic snas

For any field of endeavour or discovery there are people who really know their stuff, there is the rest of us who, on this topic at least, a plug ignorant because we cannot like Keats and Shelley know everything about, say, chemistry [quip by JBS Haldane]. That's fine, but usually there is a layer of annoyingly pretentious gits in between who make like they know what they are talking about but are actually mouthing the shibboleths of knowledge to make the honest-ignorant look stupid. I've spent my whole life in teaching, especially in The Institute, telling kids that ignorance is not the same as stupidity.  You get pretentious gittery all over:
  • HR managers who stick rigidly to the diktats, rules and small-print of contracts so that compassionate flexibility is never allowed and pretty much everyone starts working-to-rule in retaliation. The "Human Resources" - what used to be called employees - are being mobilised but with gross inefficiency and unhappiness
  • Wine: the percent of people who a) taste <swirl swirl sniff sniff sip sip nod nod> wine in restaurants and b) know the difference between tannin and Tannhäuser is, to the nearest whole number, nil.
  • comic sans: the font we all love to hate even when we can't spell kerning or serif and think a ligature is something to do with field-dressings; anyone for ascenders
Most of the comic snobs will allow that the font is (barely) okay announcing the price of coffee in the office kitchenette but deprecate its use pretty much everywhere else . . . AND use it as stick to beat up on their colleagues who transgress this one rule of typography while using Calibri everywhere all the time because it is the current default with MS-Word. Many places, including The Institute, lock on to Times New Roman 12pt as the official submission font because that allows a more or less direct match between page-count and word-count. TNR is a good font because it is always available and also compact. This is particularly important when, for example, writing grant proposals where you have to keep your winning prose within a finite text-box. You can get more in with TNR than with Arial, which is a bit of  a fatty. Here's a recent example of designers getting all aghast in Vancouver.

In my life as in immunologist, we got loadsa money through the Food Institutional Research Measure FIRM of the Irish Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The bureaucrats at DAFF wanted to know that the money was being spent sensibly and that meant completing six-monthly progress reports. The ideal was that, in the original proposal, you would have submitted a Gantt Chart saying what was going to happen in each 6mo period, and the science had progressed like a train to a German time-table. It rarely happened, but that's a other story. The disconcerting thing about the official Progress Report Forms was that they were written in . . . comic sans. Which <font-snot> looked like it came from a primary school nutrition poster</font-snot>.  How we larfed at the hopeless rubes in DAFF head-office. But we were really careful to fill in all the boxes because the money for the Christmas party depended on doing it right. We also used TNR because we could fit more explanatory bamboozlage about why the project wasn't q u i t e on schedule.

Well it turns out that, if you follow the argument by synecdoche, by knocking comic sans you are disrespecting all the world's dyslexics. Oh really? Well that's an interesting position to put out there because up to a tuthree years ago, I hadn't really reflected on, or analysed, how life might be as a dyslexic. Then I had a work-study intern one Summer, who was really rather useful about the lab. Towards the end of her stint, and approaching final year she asked if she could do a research project, under my supervision, about the genetic roots of dyslexia. Super-wonderful! That way a) I could find out something about which I knew bugger-all b) I could watch a good worker become a diligent and resourceful finder-outer. Well, it turns out that there are about a dozen genes and sites in the human genome which are associated with dyslexia in epidemiological and family pedigree studies. That says that being able to read requires the effective meshing of numerous different biochemical and neurological pathways; it is a concerted activity that can be banjaxed by a lesion in any one of a dozen different places. That strongly suggests that your dyslexia may be different from my dyslexia and her solution may not work for his problem. For some dyslexics, for example, blue-tinted spectacles are a boon, or making the page green. For others, the fact about comic sans which riles up typographers - its internal inconsistency and ugly asymmetry - is a huge help for discerning the difference between similar letters: b vs d; p vs q. And compact, old fashioned, seriffed Times New Roman? Why that is the divil itself to decode especially if printed small. There are dyslexia-specific fonts, some of them free, and some of them work for some people, but comic sans is a boon for others and comic snots should cut those people some slack

I picked this story up from Metafilter where, as often, the comments give insight and critical evaluation.  Some kick-back pro comic sans. You can steal a march on comic-sans slaggers by taking a strong position against Papyrus.

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