Cold Type Fontograhpy for the masses

Steve Slevinski slevin at SIGNPUDDLE.NET
Fri Feb 11 20:57:20 UTC 2011

Originally, I wrote this message to a list of people who don't 
understand SignWriting, but do understand Unicode and Font technologies.

I'm happy to announce that an official proposal for the symbols of the 
ISWA 2010 may be a reality sooner rather than later.

Unofficially, the proposal for the symbols as plain text has already 
been finalized through the Center for Sutton Movement Writing.  The 
Unicode characters are a small but important aspect to the ISWA 2010 
standard.  Some of the character names may change a little, and 
additional specifications for the ISWA 2010 will be cataloged.

Above the symbols, there is a standard data format for the SignPuddle 
data and several potentials encoding models based on general ideas and 
researched theory.  Fortunately, we'll all be able to use the same 
symbols not matter how we encode the details above plain text.

For the SignPuddle data, I know we need better editors.  I'm hoping that 
Open Office becomes a reality through SIL's Graphite sometime this 
year.  Imagine using SignWriting in a spreadsheet and having it sort 
properly. Cut and paste with the SignPuddle data will be a reality. I am 
one step away from a font file, then we can try a custom Graphite viewer 
and printer.  It will be based on SVG. It is greatly needed for text and 
book presentation. Rather than the current editors, publication is the 
real bottleneck.

Later, keyboarding shouldn't be that hard to restart, although 
perfecting a smooth typing system will take time to develop and master.

Many ideas for text editors will be tried, all using the same symbols.  
Different encoding families will use the same symbols, but with 
different founding philosophies, so that a conversion between the data 
will be required.  Below I try to explain my encoding family and ask for 
your reaction.

Here's the soapbox
Imagine if you will that Valerie created a hotpress catalog of symbol 
glyphs: 37,811 of them.  You can imagine each as a physical block of 
metal.  The history of hotpress is very interesting for Asian scripts. 
Thousands upon thousands of tiny blocks of metal organized by topic and 
size.  Each publishing house had a unique and prized collection of 
slugs.  This attitude continues with font files and technologies.  There 
are amazing craftsmen who do amazing things with text.

In the western world, a much smaller set of hotpress characters created 
the printing press and mass communication.

Since hotpress chunks are physically bound, they can not overlap.  
Recent advances in font technology have enabled glyphs that morph and 
can overlap.  There are several competing visions for how font 
technology should work on the computer.  It's often platform specific.  
I believe True Type is very different that Open Type.  So it is a real 
concern how the Unicode specification and the font features are 
implemented on a wide variety of platforms and devices.

Interesting article here:

I live in a different world.

Cold type is based on the precise placement of potentially overlapping 
images.  Historically, some publication houses used cold type 
technology.  Images were optically displayed and captured by film 
negative.  SignWriting has roots in the cold type family.

Amazingly, Valerie has already passed through the printing press stage.  
Wax symbols were dipped in ink and individually placed on a master sheet 
for copying.  The painstaking work continued for some time.  It was 
never mechanized and dropped out of favor.  One Wikipedian confused the 
wax & ink printing with handwriting.  He foolishly dismissed the writing 
system as too slow to be practical because he didn't understand.

I have continued that vision with the catalog of symbols that Valerie 
created.  It was a unintended continuation, but my work has many 
historical precedents.  I take this as proof that we are writing 
grammatically correct.  Grammar can not be imposed, but must be created 
by a group of people over time and discovered after the fact.

With a cold type mentality, I allow the writer to become the 
fontographer.  We agree that I will not change the general size and 
shape of the symbols and that I'll remember the precise placement of 
each symbol.  The writer has the choice to create something new using 
Valerie's symbols or can use something previously written by themselves 
or another human being.

When the writer has made their choice, I consider it rude to fiddle with 
the appearance.  Suggestions can be offered based on previous writings, 
but nothing should be forced.

This is the writer taking part in the design and perfection of the 
visual representation.  I respect the writer and Valerie's cold type 

To simplify SignWriting's cold type technique, several rules were made 
and one truth was uncovered.

1) Each symbol has a general restriction for size and shape
2) Symbols do not change size individually
3) Symbols do not rotate

I found out that given a cluster of symbols, I can always determine the 
correct visual center.  No matter what symbols the writer used.  No 
matter where the writer placed the symbols.  A simple algorithm could 
find the center.  Very important for sign text layout.

This vision has shaped the existing SignPuddle data.

I hope some of you share the same vision.
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