Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gotham, Mon Amour

I don’t know about you, but everywhere I look nowadays I see Gotham. I mean everywhere. Then again, you might not be quite the front nerd I shamelessly am. People who can’t tell Gotham from Helvetica from Futura from (ick) Arial probably have no physical reaction to the name Hoefler & Frere-Jones, the foundry which produced and owns it. It gives people like me what J-Lo calls “goosies.”

You can, however, conjure Gotham up in your mind’s eye if you cast it back to 2008, where it made its cheeky mass-audience debut as the font of Obama’s presidential campaign, through which it suggested a no-nonsense straight-forward New-Yorkish kind of brash confidence. It won the race out of the gate as far as campaign graphics went — and probably had a hand in leveraging votes subconsciously too. Yeah — I’m one of those people who credit typefaces with delivering as much of the message as the words themselves.

Taking its inspiration from New York public building signage and its name from the city too, suggesting a place ruled by a cast of characters — cartoon ones, rather than letter ones. Batman lives in Gotham City, a nickname for New York that long preceded him.

Gotham also draws attention to its most charmingly distinctive feature: the uppercase G. It is a thing of beauty and balance, resting on the baseline snugly yet comfortably on the apex of its bowl. The impression it gives is that it descends every so slightly beyond the baseline, as if it pulled down by its own weight, and appears ready to rock gently back and forth if pushed. The body — the bit that pokes up and around that the C does not have — juts out a little, and is cut square, making a collection of 90 degree angles; the G is all business and city grid in the east and all curves and Pacific Coast Highway in the west. It takes us from the top on in New York, around to Los Angeles via the rust belt, then swings back down through the deep south until it buts up against the Carolinas, rising north to once again point west, right on through the Mason-Dixon line. The Gotham G is as American as apple pie.

The J, too, is lovely to behold, the end of its tail lowered slightly so that meets the 45-degree angle squarely, as if one launch a snowboard off the tip without coming a-cropper. The S is a neat spool of spaghetti on a plate, waiting to be swirled around a fork, and shows off the typeface’s even weight. Subtlety is what font nerds live for, and Gotham has it in all the right places. The lower bowl of the S overshoots the plane of the top one just a fraction, something that is almost invisible to the eye yet allows it to sit on the baseline without tipping over. The same is true of the medial bars in the capital E and F, which at first glance look to be equal to their counterparts above, yet are just a tad shorter. 

I love that Gotham was a commissioned typeface — GQ wanted something new and masculine — but am not so happy with the special face they have designed especially for Obama’s 2012 campaign, which has serifs — chunky, slabby ones. The serif seems to go against everything Gotham is about, making it cluttered and old-fashioned. The headline, “Can We Add Serifs To Gotham? — For The President Of The United States? Yes We Can” begs the retort, you shouldn’t always do a thing just because you can. One thing the Obama paraphernalia highlights, however, is just how well Gotham can be kerned; the logogram “BARACKOBAMA.COM” looks stunning in any weight. Perhaps he lucked out with that particular arrangement of letters.

What are the tell-tale signs you’ve spotted the brash new kid on the block? I always look for the uppercase M, whose inner stems reach a sharp point somewhat above the baseline (whereas the uppercase W is squared off all the way at the top), and the uppercase G, with its squared tongue. And I ask myself, would it look out of place in GQ? And then I ask myself, do I love it? And if the answer’s yes, I know I <3 NY. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sweet Home Mr. Tesla

Without Nikola Tesla we would not have had radio (or at least, not when we did). In 1957, the Supreme Court upheld Tesla's patent # 645576, which formed the basis for patented radio technology. Without radio we would not have been able to enjoy "Sweet Home Alabama."

It would have been even more awesome had the above been set to AC/DC, though, wouldn't it? (Given that Tesla was instrumental in developing AC, while Edison, his hated rival, went for DC.)

Here's a little something about Tesla's final, obsessive compulsive years.
1942 - Nikola Tesla takes a walk around the block

Monday, March 12, 2012

Animal Crackers?

Is It The Animals Who Are Crackers — Or Us? 

We care about animals, right? We have pets and pay to go to zoos so that we can see some of the non-pet species frolic and get fish or bananas or hunks of meat thrown at them by a zookeeper at feeding time. We look at the lions and tigers and just know that they’d eat us if ever they were given the chance. We would think it absurd for the seals to be fed pink, cooked shrimp; we expect the chimps to enjoy their bananas — after all, that’s what they eat in the wild.

But if we love the animals so much, why don’t we give them treats like we give ourselves? Wouldn’t that gorilla like some chocolate? Or a beer and a cigarette after a stressful day being stared at by strangers? Don’t we worry that the leopards will get fat eating all that red meat? And wouldn’t the koalas prefer a little something besides eucalyptus leaves to munch on every once in a while — they must be so bored eating it every single day.

Yes, I know: ha ha ha. We don’t feed animals junk food because we know it’s not good for them and they don’t need it. So why do we eat it ourselves? And how come we think that humans are different in terms of the damage it will do? Just because we can digest a Big Mac doesn’t mean we ought to, and just because the Big Mac (by way of example) looks and smells and tastes like traditional foods — meat, bread, pickle — doesn’t mean it IS real food.

Because we live a long time, humans tend to turn a blind eye towards the incremental. The damage to our bodies that a modern diet does is hidden in plain sight. Instead of listening to our grandparents (and great-grandparents, if we could) for advice on what to eat, we listen to the government. Instead of cooking what Grandma made, we buy a version of it from a supermarket shelf. In so doing, we inadvertently consume what the government wants us to — a surplus of corn and soy and petroleum-derived additives — because it’s in the federal economic interest for us to do so. So what, you say? Corn and soy are natural, right? Well, not so much. And certainly not in the sheer volume in which we consume them.

First, you’re probably trying to remember the last time you ate an ear of corn (last summer?) or popped some edamame or tofu in your mouth (never?). This isn’t the kind of corn and soy I’m talking about. Chances are you eat a big whack of both every single day, though not in a form you’d recognize, and you won’t necessarily know it from reading ingredients labels either, because corn and soy-based items go by other names. Dextrose. Lecithin. High fructose corn syrup.

There’s nothing wrong with eating an ear or corn or some soy beans. It’s how they are changed by processing that is the problem. Even if your lunch doesn’t appear to contain one or the other — potato chips, say — they will have been fried in oils derived from corn or soy that are rich in the kind of fats that cause heart disease. A baked good will have been made with shortening consisting of soy fat to which hydrogen atoms have been added, transforming it into a solid — the same solids that clog your arteries. The estrogen in all that lecithin (an emulsifier, used to bind water and fat in most packaged goods, including almost all chocolate) encourages cancers which rely on a steady stream of estrogen to grow. Since estrogen is also produced in body fat, and all that junk food causes you to put on weight, it is a vicious cycle.

It doesn’t matter how much lo-cal or low-fat or high or low carb of protein stuff you eat, the damage will be done; foods bearing these labels are merely Trojan horses for the additives necessary to make them palatable after all the “dangerous” fat and carbs or protein is removed. The man-made fats we have been assured for many years are good for us are in fact the opposite; because they are not naturally occurring, our bodies don’t know how to handle them and treat them like any other invasion, resulting in inflammation. Inflamed tissues cannot process nutrients properly, resulting in the build-up of goo that ought to move on through and be excreted. High cholesterol occurs because the cholesterol is trapped in us rather than passing out — and the reason it sticks around in the first place is that inflamed arteries attract it like glue. Sadly, the very remedy pushed by the government and thus expressed bountifully in the foods we eat — modified oils — actively exaggerate the inflammation in the first place. In addition, our pancreases are forced to work overtime to try to combat the high blood sugar caused by consuming all that sugar, all those carbs — resulting in both obesity (the excess turning into and being stored as fat) and a burned-up pancreas: diabetes.

The pharmaceutical companies prefer it this way too; they make a lot of money selling the drugs designed to combat the problems caused by high cholesterol and high blood sugar. Heart disease, the complications from diabetes, and cancer are today’s biggest killers, but they are all slow-growers. By the time you realize they’ve got you in their grasp it is often too late to reverse the damage they’ve caused, especially if you are unaware how it happened in the first place, and what you can do to fix it.

Why is there so much corn and soy in our food? Because science has made them highly profitable cash crops by increasing the bushel-per-acre ratio, and large tracts of land are controlled by single entities. Ideally, crop rotation using soy returns nitrogen to the soil that corn has taken out; the boon in soy output in recent decades is not because we all want more soy sauce on our fried rice; it’s because it allows the growth of corn. Finding ways to utilize all this soy has led to its inclusion in packaged foods to offset the cost. In other words, it’s being passed on to the consumer, who ultimately foots the bill with every Twinkie he or she buys. While wheat has also been genetically modified to produce bumper harvests for all that flour, it does not become high fructose syrup, which, because it is cheap to produce (all that subsidized corn) has replaced sugar in almost everything we buy except actual sugar (sugar is an expensive crop to grow and is therefore not cost-effective for use as a sweetener in processed foods).

The answer is simple, but difficult: you must change the way you eat. This means giving up those things to which you have become accustomed and don’t think you can live without. This means eating like your great-grandparents did. You have to learn to eat like an animal again. If you were in a zoo or someone’s pet, what would they be feeding you?