12 December, 2007
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 7
It's hard to begrudge the polish and flexibility of a good pixel, but I'll always have a soft spot for the earlier technologies. Mechanical and electronic displays with fixed images were somehow knowable in a way that screens are not, lending a palpable something to the things they inhabited. Has train travel been the same since the disappearance of the thip-thip-thipping flap display? Didn't buses seem more resolute when emblazoned with hand-lettered roll signs, before today's dot-matrix mayhem doomed them to speak in half-hearted and confounding abbreviations (or cheerily exclaim Out of Service as they malingered along?) Has the person yet walked the earth who has fond feelings for the starburst display of a credit card terminal?
One of my favorite outmoded technologies is the nixie tube. A tiny vacuum tube containing individual glowing cathodes for each digit, nixies were once a staple of high-end office calculators and measuring devices. Every few years, someone unearths a cache of virgin nixies and brings a nixie clock to market, which promptly sells out; this year's offering is the Chronotronix V400 Nixie Tube Clock, an especially attractive contender in a polished cherry case, candidly offered in a limited edition. —JH
12 November, 2007
Robots have long been useful in completing challenging or hazardous tasks: dismantling explosives, assembling automobiles, winning chess tournaments, etc. Robotlab in Karlsruhe, Germany, is training them for another purpose: calligraphy. Above, an articulated limb renders the Luther Bible in a primitive but serviceable version of the schwabacher script.
This innovation can't come a moment to soon. For thousands of years, human calligraphers have subjected themselves to years of difficult study, exposing themselves to demanding physical conditions in the service of the written word. Even with the advent of non-toxic ink and cruelty-free vellum, calligraphy is not without its hazards: in addition to carpal tunnel syndrome and asthenopic eye strain, careless practicioners often suffer the socially sclerotic effects of Renaissance Faire attendance or absorptive Tolkienism. Most chillingly, mounting evidence suggests that even in industrialized nations, calligraphy is becoming a popular pastime among children.
Thankfully, technology is coming to our rescue. As these photos suggest, robot calligraphers may soon be employed to create that common household object, the hand-lettered bible in roll form. And overhead, without any fuss, the stars are going out. —JH