The Font Wagon

.. Only it turned out to be like rushing for tending the calf when someone called out the bull has delivered..  Read More…

 April 6, 2014, Sunday:  When global media outlets from CNN  to  the Economic Times reported the story of a 14-year old middle school student Mirchandani from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who claimed the government could save nearly half a billion dollars a year by switching the font in official documents from Times New Roman to the light-stroked typeface Garamond, most people jumped into the bandwagon. Only it turned out to be like rushing for tending the calf when someone called out the bull has delivered!
The Garamond font family

The Garamond font family

To begin with let’s take a close look at how the 14-year old Mirchandani arrived at his conclusion. As part of his science project he measured four different fonts (Times New Roman, Garamond, Comic Sans, and Century Gothic) to discover that Garamond’s thin, light strokes consumed 24% less ink. In his paper published in the ‘Journal of Emerging Investigators’  he concluded that if the federal and state agencies came on board, it could save close to half a billion dollars a year.

However, what people have not been told by the media outlets is that the cost savings of switching to Garamond is largely imaginary, because at the same size, Garamond doesn’t actually use less ink than the other fonts. The biggest issue with Mirchandani’s argument is that he didn’t quite well understand the oddity of the way fonts are measured, and he measured Garamond at the wrong size! Type expert Thomas Phinney explains how.

Fonts are traditionally measured in a system called points, with one point corresponding to 1/72nd of an inch. This is true in both physical and digital printing. Rationally, then, it seems obvious that a 12-point font should be 1/6th of an inch tall, when printed. But the reality is much different. There is no guarantee that when you print out a font at 12-points that the letters will be 12-points tall. Only the line which the letters will be printed on will be 12-points tall.

Imagine that you have a metal block for a 12-point letter “l”. When you dip this block in ink for printing, the raised “l” will end up rubbing off on a piece of paper, but depending on how that “l” was designed, it is unlikely that it will actually be 1/6th of an inch tall. The 12-point measurement instead refers to the size of the type bodythe flat metal part of the type that never touches ink.

What makes a 12-point font a 12-point font, then, has nothing do with ink. It’s invisible on the page. This means that, depending on how a typeface is designed, some fonts at 12 points will be physically smaller (and therefore less readable than others at the same size). You could, in theory, have a 12-point font with letters that were almost invisible to the naked eye, but that wouldn’t make it a more efficient font when it comes to ink savings or readability.

This is the major trap Mirchandani fell into. Garamond’s letters are significantly smaller at the same font size than those of Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and Century Gothic. As Phinney notes, in fact, Garamond is about 15% smaller than the average of the fonts that our 14-year-old compared it to, which translates into a 28% savings in surface area – pretty close to Mirchandani’s alleged 24% savings in ink.

What this all means is that if you printed any of the other fonts to match Garamond’s actual size, you would get almost the same savings in ink cost, at the same expense of readability. Garamond doesn’t really use less ink than Times New Roman, Comic Sans, or Century Gothic. It’s just the equivalent of a 10-point font rendered on a 12-point line. And sure enough, if you look at Mirchandani’s sample text, Garamond looks like it has been rendered at a much smaller point size than the other fonts; it’s obviously harder to read. If you printed any of the other fonts to match Garamond’s actual size, you’d get almost the same savings in ink cost.

Secondly, governments and corporations habitually supplements inkjets with laser printers, which use toner. Toner costs about half as much as printer ink per page, but Mirchandani’s study assumes they cost the same.

Just cutting down on the ink that a font uses can’t substantially reduce the governments’ and corporations’ printing budget. Mirchandani’s study assumes the governments and corporations printed all of its documents on a cheap HP inkjet.

Using less ink, Of course, might cost the government slightly less money, but it’s not going to come from switching to Garamond. Garamond’s letters are smaller at the same height as other fonts, making it less legible at the same size when printed out. And even if a government or a corporation did switch to a font that maintained legibility at the same size as Times New Roman while using less ink, it is unlikely that the government or corporation would save much money by switching to it.



Forbidden Love

He was the prime minister of a new born nation, she was the wife of the last Viceroy representing an empire where, once it was said, the sun never set..  Read More…

 January 26, 2014, Sunday: Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Edwina Mountbatten continuously for twelve long years from 1948 and chose not to be discreet about it, says one of his biographers. Nehru at that time was 68 and Edwina ten years younger. Little did they realize that time was not in their favor. A year later, in 1960, Edwina died alone in her sleep while on a trip to Borneo. Beside her bed was her treasure of Nehru’s letters, and the blue satin ribbon that held them together lay open.

A private moment: Nehru and Edwina.

After India had acquired independence from Britain, the Mountbattens made many visits to the country. The biographer in the family and the younger daughter of the Mountbattens Pamela Hicks acknowledges that it was at this time love blossomed between the lonely Nehru and her mother. ’My mother already had lovers. My father was inured to it. It broke his heart the first time, but it was somehow different with Nehru,’ she wrote. Mountbatten himself at that stage confided to his elder daughter Patricia, ‘She and Jawaharlal (Nehru) are so sweet together, they really dote on each other.’

However, back in Britain the Mountbattens’ public romance with India did not go down very well. At Gandhiji’s funeral in 1948 the Mountbattens had no qualms in sitting cross legged on the cremation ground like anybody else while the last rites were performed. When those pictures appeared in the British newspapers Churchill felt that the Mountbattens had gone too far by behaving like natives and disgracing themselves. He even refused to shake Mountbatten’s hand when they returned home. That did not stop Edwina from visiting Nehru every year. At that time Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit was the Indian High Commissioner in Britain and he also made reciprocal visits to Edwina.

Before Nehru’s own death in 1964, after a chance meeting with him, writer and journalist Dom Moraes said that Nehru spoke more like a poet rather than a statesman. During Nehru’s 17-year-long prime ministerial tenure, from the day of India’s independence to the  day  he  died,  there  never  was

Before the Nehruvian dreams faltered and hope was traded for skepticism: Indira Gandhi watching over her father's body in Teen Murti Bhavan.

Before the Nehruvian dreams faltered and hope was traded for skepticism: Indira Gandhi watching over her father’s body in Teen Murti Bhavan.

a direct challenge to his leadership. Despite the steady decline in the number of seats the Congress party held in parliament during the 3 elections in his life time, as if aided by some magic wand, he could always strike a chord with the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man). While Gandhiji’s repartee was focused mainly on the glories of ancient India, Nehru dreamed of leading the nation to the modern age through implementing scientific and industrial projects adaptable to Indian conditions. Like in the case of his contemporaries US President John Kennedy and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia, the count of Nehru’s achievements was not just a few, as were his failures. Whatever said and done the India of today stands on firm ground over the cornerstones he had laid.

Obviously the nagging problem of Kashmir, the debacle of the 1962 war with China, the rampant government bureaucracy, were all thorns around the rose Nehru always wore over the lapel of his áchkan’ (knee length coat). At the same time in establishing a constitution within two and half years after independence, investments made in primary and higher education, the plurality in governance, setting up of the Atomic Energy Commission and the sustenance of democracy, the equation appears to some degree balancing. As the general elections grew closer unsavory references appeared in public over the Nehru-Patel relationship. Perhaps what Patel had to say of Nehru in an October 1949 article would speak for itself.


“.. Gifted with an idealism of high order, a devotee of beauty and art in life, and equipped with an infinite capacity to magnetize and inspire others and a personality which would be remarkable in any gathering of world’s foremost men, Jawaharlal has gone from strength to strength as a political leader.
.. It was, therefore, in the fitness of things that in the twilight preceding the dawn of independence he should have been our leading light, and that when India was faced with crises after crises, following the achievement of our freedom, he should have been the upholder of our faith and the leader of our legions. No one knows better than myself how much he has labored for his country in the last two years of our difficult existence. I have seen him age quickly during that period, on account of the worries of the high office that he holds and the tremendous responsibilities that he wields.
…. Contrary to the impression created by some interested persons and eagerly accepted in credulous circles, we have worked together as lifelong friends and colleagues, adjusting ourselves to each other’s advice as only those who have confidence in each other can.”

Yet what the Indians miss most from the Nehru era is the old world charm of greater courtesy, gallantry, comradery and compassion among themselves.

In 1967, Syed Akhthar Hussein Rizvi (popularly known as Kaifi Azmi) penned a song for a film titled ‘Naunihal’ which was picturised over the funeral procession of Nehru. The opening lines of the song ran:

Meri aawaaz suno, Pyar ka raaz suno, Maine ek phool jo seene pe saja rakha tha, Uske parde mein tumhe dil se laga rakha tha, Tha juda sabse mere ishq ka andaaz suno..

This article appeared in print in ‘Khaleej Times’ published from Dubai (United Arab Emirates) on January 26, 2014.