Thursday, October 17, 2019

Ben Leddy hosts The Rewind

Here’s the latest installment of WGBH’s The Rewind, “The Time WGBH Burnt Down,” hosted by our son Ben. You can find all episodes of The Rewind at YouTube.

Oh, Nancy

[Nancy, October 17, 2019.]

As she announced earlier this week, Nancy is now “an inspirational lifestyle blogger.” And I’m thinking of the painfulness of that movie Eighth Grade (dir. Bo Burnham, 2018).

Related reading
All OCA Nancy posts (Pinboard)

The Great Chicago Fire and type

Daughter Number Three asked in a comment if I knew about the role of the Great Chicago Fire in standardizing type sizes. Not me. She then provided a brief history in another comment. Thank you, DN3.

Between comments, I found this page about type at Sizes: The Online Quantinary. The page covers the development of type sizes, with a nod to the Great Chicago Fire and what looks like an exhaustive list of British and American sizes, from the wee Minikin, or Excelsior, on up.

Excelsior: a type size, the wood shavings used as packing material, the New York State motto, and Jean Shepherd’s rallying cry to his radio audience all those years ago.

Elijah Cummings (1951–2019)

Elijah Cummings, member of Congress (D, Maryland-7), has died at the age of sixty-eight. The Washington Post has an obituary.

From Cummings’s closing words to Michael Cohen at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, February 27, 2019:

“When we’re dancing with the angels, the question will be asked: in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
Elijah Cummings didn’t stand on the sidelines.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Current events

The surprise sprung on the Dunn family . . . “plenty of sand” . . . “no angels” . . . “We can fight our own battles on our own territories” . . . “There are Communists involved, and you guys might like that.” All I can say, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, is

Clickety clack, clickety clack,
Somebody’s mind done got off the goddam track.
That’s from Kirk’s recitation “Clickety Clack,” recorded live at the Keystone Korner, San Francisco, June 1973. From the album Bright Moments (Atlantic, 1973).

Off the goddam track, and for a very long time now.


And now there’s this letter. (It’s real.)

Speeding up the Mac dictionary

Also because it’s National Dictionary Day: How to make your Mac’s dictionary popup way, way faster (Cult of Mac).

Me, I don’t notice a difference, but any tip that gets rid of Siri suggestions is all right by me. Oh, wait: I already have Siri turned off on my Mac.

Egg-cream dispute

Also because it’s National Dictionary Day: “The Disputed Origins of the ‘Egg Cream’” (Merriam-Webster).

Word of the day: brevier

It’s National Dictionary Day (Noah Webster was born on October 16, 1758). So here’s a word I recently looked up:

[From Webster’s Second.]

I puzzled over this word in Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, in which a drop of water falls on a page of a book, and

Through the drop several letters turned from brevier into pica, having swollen as if a reading glass were lying over them.
I like the Webster’s Second entry, with its manicule. But Webster’s Third offers a definition of greater precision: “a size of type between minion and bourgeois, approximately 8 point.” And a different etymology:
prob. fr. D[utch], lit., breviary, fr. M[edieval]L[atin] breviarium; fr. the use of this size of type in the printing of breviaries in 16th cent. Holland & Belgium.
Webster’s Third defines minion as “an old size of type of approximately 7-point and between nonpareil and brevier.” Why minion? The word comes from “F[rench] mignonne, fem. of mignon,” meaning “darling.” I can imagine a scene at a printer’s shop: “What a darling little typeface!” “I know — let us call it minion.”

Bourgeois is “an old size of type (approximately 9 point) between brevier and long primer.” The Oxford English Dictionary says that the word may be “a transferred use of bourgeois middle class,” suggesting either a type size between smaller and larger ones, or type used in “small books suitable for the use of the middle classes.”

Back to Nabokov, and letters turning from brevier into pica. Anyone of a certain age will remember pica, at least vaguely, from typewriter days. Webster’s Third: “a size of typewriter type with 10 characters to the linear inch and six lines to the vertical inch.” But earlier than that: “an old size of type between small pica and english” and “a size of type equivalent to 12 point.” And a surprising suspected origin:
prob. fr. M[edieval]L[atin], collection of church rules, prob. fr. L, magpie; perh. fr. its use in printing the service book and its resemblance to the colors of the bird.
So from small to large: nonpareil, minion, brevier, bourgeois, long primer, small pica, pica, english. This dictionary search has widened in two directions. I’ll leave nonpareil, long primer, and english for a fellow celebrant of National Dictionary Day.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Dancing with Robert Walser

News of a performance already here (or there) and gone:

Choreographer John Heginbotham and artist/writer Maira Kalman co-conceive a new dance-play, HERZ SCHMERZ. Early 20th century Swiss author Robert Walser’s witty writings inspire an eccentric and hyper-detailed landscape of movement, text, visual design, and live chamber music, creating an impressionistic observatory of life's beautiful minutiae and most important themes.
Short reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker. My favorite detail, from the latter, is about one person on the stage: “Susan Bernofsky, Walser’s biographer and the translator of seven of his books, folds and unfolds a white cloth napkin, serenely, for the duration of the show, which lasts a little under an hour.”

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Another free 64-bit app to replace a 32-bit app that won’t run with macOS Catalina: Quiet. Quiet is a white-noise generator that lives in the menu bar. Click on the icon to play. Double-click to quit. If you don’t want the app to load at startup (that’s the default), just remove it from your login items.

I downloaded Quiet to replace Noisy, a pink- and white-noise generator that hasn’t been updated in a long time. In my final years of teaching, I relied on white noise during office hours to mask movies or music playing in a classroom at the end of the hallway. Now I have little need for white noise. But ya never know.

Searching for a replacement for the 32-bit app Free Ruler taught me something: when looking for a small utility app, search GitHub. It’s amazing what you can find there.

[Given early reports, I won’t be updating to Catalina any time soon.]