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  • feedwordpress 09:01:00 on 2018/11/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , oldest printed book, printing, , scrolls, , ,   

    “Printing…is the preservative of all arts”*… 

     

    dunhuang-diamond-sutra-frontispiece

    Frontispiece of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra

     

    In 366, the itinerant monk Yuezun was wandering through the arid landscape [around the Western Chinese city of Dunhuang] when a fantastical sight appeared before him: a thousand buddhas, bathed in golden light. (Whether heat, exhaustion or the strange voice of the sands worked themselves on his imagination is anyone’s guess.) Awed by his vision, Yuezun took up hammer and chisel and carved a devotional space into a nearby cliff-face. It soon became a centre for religion and art: Dunhuang was situated at the confluence of two major Silk Road routes, and both departing and returning merchants made offerings. By the time the site fell into disuse in the 14th century, almost 500 temples had been carved from the cliff.

    Among the hundreds of caves was a chamber that served as a storeroom for books. The Library Cave held more than 50,000 texts: religious tracts, business reports, calendars, dictionaries, government documents, shopping lists, and the oldest dated printed book in the world. A colophon at the end of the Dunhuang Diamond Sūtra scroll dates it to 868, nearly six centuries before the first Gutenberg Bible…

    Learn more at: “The Oldest Printed Book in the World.”  Then page through the British Libraries digitization of its restoration.

    * Isaiah Thomas (the 19th century publisher and author, not the basketball player)

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    As we treasure tomes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1990 that  Tim Berners-Lee published a formal proposal for aa “Hypertext project” that he called the World Wide Web (though at the time he rendered it in one word: “WorldWideWeb”)… laying the foundation for a network that has become central to the information age– a network that, with its connected technologies, is believed by many to have sparked a revolution as fundamental and impactful as the revolution ignited by Gutenberg and moveable type.

    Sir_Tim_Berners-Lee_(cropped) source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:59 on 2018/03/26 Permalink
    Tags: Aesop's Fables, , caxton, , , , , printing, The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan, Timur,   

    “There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”*… 

     

    The ascent of the Prophet over the Ka’bah guided by Jibrā’īl and escorted by angels. (via the British Library)

    The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan is a book lover’s fantasy: a bespoke manuscript, hand-painted and hand-written by the greatest artists and calligraphers of its day. The patchwork book is pieced together from a wide range of texts, from epic poetry to learned disquisitions on astrology, medicine, and the interpretation of dreams. It is a fifteenth-century library distilled into a single volume and a relic of another world. In a time before copyright, texts could be borrowed, copied, and recycled into something new. In a time before mass-scale printing, a book could be a deeply personal affair, curated exactly to its patron’s unique set of interests. In a time before the internet, a pocket-sized library was the best way to carry a world of knowledge everywhere you went.

    The Miscellany’s patron was Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, ruler of Shiraz and Isfahan and grandson of the world-famous conqueror Timur…

    The remarkable story in full at “The ultimate bespoke manuscript“; browse the manuscript on the British Library’s Digital Viewer.

    * Edgar Allan Poe

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    As we contemplate comprehensiveness, we might recall that not too long after this exercise in collecting everything relevant to a single reader, there was a seminal move to make a single thing available to many, many readers: on this date in 1484, William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England and was its first book publisher (see here and here), published his English translation of Aesop’s Fables.

    The fable of the farmer and his sons from Caxton’s edition, 1484

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:43 on 2018/02/06 Permalink
    Tags: Aldine Press, , , , italic, libelli portatiles, Manutius, printing, , semicolon,   

    ‘Demography is destiny”*… 

     

    I think we can all benefit from knowing a little more about others who aren’t like us (or who are), no matter how small the tidbits. In the graphic below, select sex, age group, and race to see the demographics of others.

    The percentages are based on estimates from the 2016 American Community Survey. Each grid represents 100 percent, and each cell represents a percentage point…

    The always-illuminating Nathan Yau— Flowing Data– presents an interactive portrait of life in the U.S., sortable by age, gender, and ethnicity; check it out at “The Demographics of Others.”

    * Ben Wattenberg and Richard M. Scammon, paraphrasing Heraclitus in The Real Majority: An Extraordinary Examination of the American Electorate (Often mis-attributed to Auguste Comte– who died before the word “demography” was first cited in print.)

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    As we put ourselves in perspective, we might spare a thought for Aldus Pius Manutius (AKA Aldo Manuzio); he died on this date in 1515.  A Venetian humanist, scholar, and educator, he became a printer and publisher in his forties when he helped found the Aldine Press.  In the books he published, he introduced a standardized system of punctuation and use of the semicolon; he designed many fonts, and introduced italic type (which he named for Italy); and he popularized the libelli portatiles, or portable little (specifically) classic books: small-format volumes that could be easily carried and read anywhere.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2017/10/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , Coverdale, , , printing, , , ,   

    “Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish”*… 

     

    … and sometimes, it turns out, the reverse is true:

    About 20 per cent of the United States population (60 million out of 300 million people) are non-native speakers of English. Speaking multiple languages has advantages – for example, you get to talk to people from different cultures. But being a non-native or second-language (L2) speaker also has its challenges. In addition to often feeling self-conscious about their accents, L2 speakers can be viewed by native speakers as less intelligent, and less trustworthy.

    Thus it might come as a surprise that, in 1980, Henry Kissinger (the former US secretary of state and a non-native English speaker, originally from Germany) told Arianna Huffington (the Greek immigrant and entrepreneur/writer who would eventually start The Huffington Post) not to worry about [her] accent, ‘because you can never, in American public life, underestimate the advantages of complete and total incomprehensibility’…

    We can think of the errors in non-native English as a noisier language model than a native-speaker model. Listeners expect more errors and are therefore more likely to think that L2 speakers mean something sensible when they say something implausible. But if a native speaker says something nonsensical, listeners are more likely to take them literally, because they know their language model has less noise. Kissinger was advising Huffington that, given her accent, listeners would likely give her the benefit of the doubt…

    An MIT cognitive scientist explains “The unexpected benefits of getting lost in translation.”

    * Euripides, The Bacchae

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    As we filter signal from noise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1535 that The Bible, that is the Holy Scripture of the Old and New Testament, faithfully translated into English— better known as the Coverdale Bible— came off the press in Antwerp.  Prepared by Myles Coverdale, it was the first complete Modern English translation of the Bible (not just the Old Testament or New Testament), and the first complete printed translation into English (using William Tyndale‘s New Testament work together with Coverdale’s own translations from the Latin Vulgate or German text).

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:33 on 2017/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: Baskerville, , , , James Callan, printing, ,   

    “Brief murmurs only just almost never all known”*… 

     

    Q1: What is, traditionally, the principal unit of measurement for measuring floorspace in Taiwan? Taipei 101’s floorspace of 379,296 square meters converts to about 114,737 of the unit in question.

    Q2: If you’re playing Magic: The Gathering, what slangy verb (synonymous with poke, zap, and Tim) might you use to signify dealing one hit point of damage to a target?

    Q3: Analogies: Rosalind is to Ganymede as Éowyn is to Dernhelm as Fa Mulan is to whom?

    Q4: What fictional wanderer, introduced in a 1933 book often read by Captain Kangaroo, lives with “his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins”?

    Q5: What networking utility, first written for 4.2a BSD UNIX in 1983, sends echo request packets and reports on echo replies?

    All is revealed in the 21st installment of James Callan‘s wonderful series of newsletters, “Five Questions, One Answer.”

    * Samuel Beckett, “Ping.”

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    As we sign up for the next pub quiz, we might spare a thought for John Baskerville, English printer and typefounder; he died on this date in 1775.  Among Baskerville’s publications in the British Museum’s collection are Aesop’s Fables (1761), the Bible (1763), and the works of Horace (1770).  And as for his fonts,  Baskerville’s creations (including the famous “Baskerville”) were so successful that his competitors resorted to claims that they damaged the eyes.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:07 on 2016/10/07 Permalink
    Tags: Gregorian Calendar, , , moveable type, , printing, , ,   

    “The more energy you put into trying to control your ideas and what you think about, the more your ideas end up controlling you”*… 

     

    ‘Pope-Donkey’

    Martin Luther’s theological battle with Catholicism and his verbal war against the Pope pioneered an attack technique that we would recognize as trolling.  Luther’s grotesque caricatures of the Pope were certainly in keeping with the sixteenth century polemics that were vulgar, slanderous, and coarse. But importantly, Luther’s attacks were facilitated by a new technology — printing with movable type:

    In 1523 [Martin] Luther and [his ally Philip] Melanchthon collaborated on an illustrated anti-Roman pamphlet based on the alleged appearance of two monstrosities. One, dubbed the ‘pope-­donkey,’ was washed up on the banks of the Tiber river in Rome, and the other, called the ‘monk-calf,’ was born only a few miles from Wittenberg. The pope-donkey was pictured in front of the papal castle at Rome. It was a standing figure with a donkey’s head, a skin of fish scales, female breasts, a hoof and claw for feet, and the end of an elephant’s trunk for its right hand. The head of a dragon protruded from its rear. Luther deemed it a sign of God’s wrath against the papacy and warned that more omens would appear. Relying on a medieval treatise on the Antichrist, Melanchthon offered a similar reading in which, for example, the head protruding from the donkey’s rear signified the decline and demise of the papacy. …

    Why would Luther and Melanchthon point such ugly fingers at the papacy and monasticism? First of all, because niceness was not a virtue in their day; and second, because, by 1523, they had been the butt of similar satire from their opponents. However, they also had more profound reasons, which went to the heart of the reformation. Luther was convinced that laity were being hoodwinked by the medieval church. … For Luther the pope-donkey and the monk­-calf symbolized the futility of trusting in a religious authority that sanc­tioned the pursuit of perfection as the right way to heaven. On the contrary, claimed Luther, a less demanding and more merciful Christianity would liberate people from anxiety about reaching heaven and redirect their concern toward others in place of themselves. Beginning in 1518, an astounding number of people agreed with Luther, left behind the religion of their ancestors, and rallied to his side.

    “Rome, however, did not buckle, and what ensued from 1520 to 1525 was a war of words and images on a scale never previously imagined. The war was made possible by a new, cheaper, and faster technology — printing with movable type. Luther’s facility with words, combined with the artistic skill of Lucas Cranach and his journeymen in Wittenberg, fed a burgeoning printing industry that gave Luther a distinct advantage in the competition to sway religious opinion. In those five years, around sixty Catholic writers produced more than 200 pamphlets and books against Luther and other Protestant authors. Many of these were theological essays of good quality, but they were written in Latin and thus inaccessible for most laypeople. In contrast, Luther wrote in a lively German style that explained clearly and directly the changes he wanted to make and the theological basis for them. It was not a fair fight. Protestant pamphlets outnumbered Catholic publi­cations five to one; Luther alone published twice as many as all his Catholic opponents combined…

    An excerpt from Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer, by Scott H. Hendrix; via Delancey Place.

    * Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

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    As we refrain from feeding the trolls, we might that this date in 1582 was one of ten that simply didn’t happen in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland.  Those countries had introduced the Gregorian calendar.  While this was “October 10” in the rest of the world, those four countries, adopting Pope Gregory XIII’s innovation, skipped ten days– so that there, the date shifted from October 4 to October 15.  With the shift, the calendar was aligned with the equinoxes, and the lunar cycles used to establish the celebration of Easter.  Britain and its colonies resisted this Popish change, and used the Julian calendar for another century and a half, until September 2, 1752.

    From a work published in 1582, the year of the calendar reform; days 5 to 14 October are omitted.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:23 on 2016/09/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , Harpo Marx, , hot lead, linotype, , , printing,   

    “It’s the 8th Wonder of the World”*… 

     

     

    Linotype typecasting machines revolutionized publishing when they were invented in 1886, and remained the industry standard for nearly a century after. The first commercially successful mechanical typesetter, the Linotype significantly sped up the printing process, allowing for larger and more local daily newspapers. In Farewell, etaoin shrdlu (the latter portion of the title taken from the nonsense words created by running your fingers down the letters of the machine’s first two rows), the former New York Times proofreader David Loeb Weiss bids a loving farewell to the Linotype by chronicling its final day of use at the Times on 1 July 1978. An evenhanded treatment of the unremitting march of technological progress, Weiss’s film about an outmoded craft is stylistically vintage yet also immediate in its investigation of modernity…

    Via Aeon: “The last day of hot metal press before computers come in at The New York Times.”

    * Thomas Edison, speaking of the linotype machine

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    As we agree with John O’Hara that “hot lead can be almost as effective coming from a linotype as from a firearm,” we might spare a thought for a communicator of a very different sort, Arthur Duer “Harpo” Marx; he died on this date in 1964.  A comedian, actor, mime, and musician, he was the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers.  Harpo was a master of both the clown and pantomime traditions; he wore a curly reddish blonde wig, never spoke during performances, and of course, played the harp in each of the Marx Brothers’ films.  A man of wide and varied friendships, he was a member of the Algonquin Roundtable.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:19 on 2016/09/15 Permalink
    Tags: Carl Malamud, , , printing, public access, public information, Public.Resource.Org, typesetting,   

    “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both”*… 

     

    For the past 25 years or so, Carl Malamud’s lonely mission has been to seize on the internet’s potential for spreading information — public information that people have a right to see, hear, and read. “Heroes for me are ones who take risks in pursuit of something they think is good,” says Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and a frequent collaborator of Malamud’s. “He is in that category.”

    Indeed, Malamud has had remarkable success and true impact. If you have accessed EDGAR, the free Securities and Exchange Commission database of corporate information, you owe a debt to Malamud. Same with the database of patents, or the opinions of the US Court of Appeals. Without Malamud, the contents of the Federal Register might still cost $1,700 instead of nothing. If you have listened to a podcast, note that it was Carl Malamud who pioneered the idea of radio-like content on internet audio — in 1993. And so on. As much as any human being on the planet, this unassuming-looking proprietor of a one-man nonprofit — a bald, diminutive, bespectacled 57-year-old — has understood and exploited the net (and the power of the printed word, as well) for disseminating information for the public good…

    @StevenLevy‘s profile of the man who has led the fight to make public information public: “Carl Malamud Has Standards.”

    “If a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law.”

    -Justice Stephen Breyer

    * President James Madison, 1822

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    As we illuminate the “open” signs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1857 that Timothy Alden was granted U.S. Patent No. 18,175 for the design of a typesetting machine, the first such machine that actually operated… though not terrifically trustworthily nor effectively.  Still it spawned a number of competitors– and finally, in 1884, the Linotype machine, which became an industry standard.

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  • feedwordpress 09:01:06 on 2015/12/22 Permalink
    Tags: Bay Psalm Book, Cambridge Press, , , John Glover, printing, Stephen Day, , twitterbot,   

    “… you just can’t differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans”*… 

     

    … least of all when it comes to amusing Twitter feeds:

    To improve your experience on Twitter next year, try following fewer humans and more bots. Automated accounts add whimsy, serendipity, and occasional inspiration to an otherwise drab timeline of tweets.

    Bots get a bad rap, in part because they are often confused with spam and aren’t particularly attractive to advertisers seeking human customers. Twitter, perhaps sensing those mixed feelings, also hasn’t done much to encourage or highlight bots on its platform. That’s a shame because bot makers, particularly the #botALLY community, are responsible for some of the most creative work on Twitter right now…

    Check ’em out for yourself at “The best Twitter bots of 2015.”

    * Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

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    As we unrestrainedly retweet, we might spare a thought for Stephen Day; he died on this date in 1668.  An indebted locksmith in London, Day was brought to America 1939 by a John Glover, a clergyman who had purchased Day’s indenture.  On the same crossing, Glover imported the New World’s first printing press, which Day was to operate.  Glover died on the voyage, but his widow and Day established the Cambridge Press on Holyoke Street and produced the first book printed in America, the Bay Psalm Book (1640).

    Stephen Day’s press

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:46 on 2014/07/24 Permalink
    Tags: , design principles, history of publishing, , printing, , rotary press, , web press   

    “Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design”*… 

     

    email readers click here for video

    Although not anyone can be a designer, everyone who wants to can learn the elements of visual design: contrast, transparency, hierarchy, randomness, and so on. In fact, it doesn’t even take all that long. Just watch this 50-second video.

    Animated by Toronto-based art director and motion designer Matt Greenwood, this video walks you through 24 of the most important visual design principles, ranging from rhythm to texture to color. It won’t teach you everything you need to know to be a designer, but it’s a good start…

    More at “24 Of Design’s Most Important Principles, Animated.”

    * Charles Eames

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    As we seek elegance in all, we might recall that it was on this date in 1847 that Richard M. Hoe patented the rotary printing press.  Hoe had invented the press a couple of years earlier and improved it before submission. His creation greatly increased the speed of printing, as it involved rolling a cylinder over stationary plates of inked type, using the cylinder to make an impression on paper– thus eliminating the need to make impressions from pressing type plates, which were heavy and difficult to maneuver.  In 1871, Hoe added the ability to print to continuous rolls of paper, creating the “web press” that revolutionized newspaper and magazine printing.  His first customer was Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.

    Hoe’s Hoe “web perfecting press,” with continuous feed

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