Drop #196 (2023-02-09): That's Fontastic!
Deca Exa Giga Mega; Font Fingerprints; Font Rescue
You may have noticed that I'm staying out of this week's "AI Wars" debate. I will likely continue to do so since it's pretty obvious we have neither collective ability nor will to prevent giant, global, multinational companies from experimenting on us, knowing full well the potential harms they are causing now, and will continue to inflict upon liberal democracies and civil society writ large. (Oh, I guess I weighed in after all.)
Lots of attention is being paid to a global humanitarian crisis, a meaningless annual ritual, and the aforementioned coordinated attempt at the intellectual destruction of common society. So, I thought it would be prudent to toss up a “🐿️!!!!” to grab attention away for a bit and let y'all decompress from the information onslaught.
Today's Drop is all about one of my fav topics: fonts!
Deca Exa Giga Mega
As I’ve noted in previous Drops, I primarily consume information (and, lots of it) by reading (vs audio or video). Sure, images — both moving and still — have their place in the information world, but gimme a giant wall of text any day.
Not everyone learns the same way, and some folks have difficulty getting through a given text. Now, there are very legitimate, innate cognitive/biological conditions at play for a subset of humans when it comes to how they best learn new concepts. For those without such conditions, consuming information via text may still be difficult if they are not fluent readers.
The term “fluency” refers to the ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and prosodically (i.e., with expression). If you aren't a fluent reader, longform content, or content that has some complexity associated with it, will be very difficult to comprehend. Sure, those readers may be able to grok the individual words, but fail to find meaning in the passages.
Lack of reading fluency (again, for those who have no innate biological/cognitive condition) can be the result of many environmental factors, one of which — it turns out — may be the way text is displayed.
At the turn of this Century, Dr. Bonnie Shaver-Troup partnered with Google (some parts of Google do remain non-evil) to create Lexend. Lexend is a wicked advanced variable font that borrows a bit from the world of opticians to try to solve this problem. Much like the wrong prescription (for those of us who require extra lenses to see the world clearly) will make it harder to recognize objects, wrongly “tuned” (for any given reader) fonts could impact a given humans fluency ability.
Dr. Shaver-Troup and Google worked to identify the most important typographic factors in reading-proficiency, then built four variable fonts — Deca, Exa, Giga, and Mega — that allow for contextual tuning that meets the needs of individual readers. Their work has been reviewed and validated by credible academics and industry folks. More importantly, they've been released for free.
I'll leave you in the good hands of the Lexend site, which has:
a tool to help you measure your own reading fluency with good ol' (ughbiquitous) Times New Roman
the same tool with the option to choose from Deca, Exa, Giga, and Mega
the same tool, again, but letting you tweak the Deca, Exa, Giga, and Mega settings to see how your fluency might improve
the Deca, Exa, Giga, and Mega font downloads
Even if you experience no fluency issues, learning more about fluency and spreading the knowledge of these fonts around, will help you help others who may just need some display tweaks to level up their information consumption and reading enjoyment.
We'll take today's fontastic opportunity to delve a bit more into one browser fingerprinting technique that we somewhat glossed over back in July 2022.
Do you know that your system font stack might be betraying you?
Yes, those tiny glyphs that often bring joy with every keystroke can also mean the downfall for your internet privacy.
How is this possible?
To see how this font stack fingerprinting works, head over to this site and check the results. Go ahead! I'll grab some ☕️.
Unless you've got an overachieving browser, or have taken other measures (one of which is the point of this section), you likely were informed that you are, alas, quite distinguishable on the World Wide Web.
So, what can you do to prevent this fingerprinting?
Before you head over to this repo that holds the source for a Chrome and Firefox extension to help deceive would be automated digital fingerprint technicians, consider a few questions, first:
do you really want to be soldier in the ever-escalating cat and mouse privacy fight?
are the dangers associated with adding new browser extensions less important than making life harder for trackers?
will the fact that you've joined the few of us privacy-at-all-costs cabal members just add a different fingerprint marker which still sends a signal (albeit a weaker one) to those who seek to usurp your independence?
Unfortunately, your unique fingerprint is not a binary condition. If you go back to the aforementioned July post and hit up the resources there, you'll see that there is a precision continuum to your so-called unique digital identity.
Before grabbing and installing the Canvas Fingerprint Blocker extension, head over to Am I Unique to see your “score” and which attributes are contributing to this score. Focus on ones you can tweak sans extensions, then rely on external components only when necessary to help you blend in with the crowd.
Our last section comes via a tip by Maarten Lambrechts (@email@example.com). I've been following Maarten for quite some time. He's super talented, makes wonderful creations on his own, and also continually surfaces some cool new resources.
The most recent one is Font Rescue, a group of folks who “search for old letters on buildings, tombstones, machines, [etc.]”.
Before these unique, meatspace creations disappear, they work to save them by capturing digital images of meatspace fonts, then performs the heroic feat of turning those captures into fully usable digital typefaces.
Head over to their site to read the other part of their mission and check out which fonts they have saved from extinction.
We'll leave you with a trip to the past to see why Wingdings exists, since I have asked myself that question on numerous occasions. ☮