31 March 2008

What's Your Type?


I have long been fascinated by typeface design. I think at least part of my fascination may be an outgrowth of my love of all things related to books and the written word. I love the way books look, and feel, and even smell. And I always consider it an extra treat when there is an explanatory paragraph at the end of a book describing the typeface in which the book was set.


Back in college my friend Colin was studying art and design and I was fascinated by the big volumes of typeface collections he checked out of the library. At the time he was heavily into Futura--the same font as all of those letters on Sesame Street. My fascination was with the typeface that was designed especially for the London Undground system. This Futura-like font is unique and recognizable and is used on everthing in the underground from the directional signage to the warnings on the fire extinguishers. When you are on the Tube there is never any doubt which signs are official and which aren't. The New York Subway system's committment to Helvetica doesn't seem quite as unifying as London's use of the Johnston font. Perhaps it is the ubiquitous nature of Helvetica--it is EVERYWHERE--but I never really thought I was a fan of Helvetica.


That is until I watched the documentary Helvetica. I am not saying I am a total fan of Helvetica (the font) but I am a huge fan of Helvetica (the film). Like most things Modern (with a capital M) Helvetica can be beautiful and perfect when used in the hands of a real talent, and can look really boring and downright bad when used by some second rate hack. The film does a wonderful job exploring the origins and use of the font as well as the Helvetica backlash in the era of postmodern and "grunge" typefaces. For anyone with even a passing interest in graphic design or typefaces Helvetica is a must see.


19 March 2008

My Apocryphal Heimlich Maneuver

I recieved this email in response to my last post and the reference to Dr. Heimlich.

Hello Thomas,

I came across your blog item which included:

A few years ago I read a story about Dr. Heimlich of the Heimlich Maneuver fame. Apparently he was ill and reaching the end of his life and had never had the opportunity to actually use his maneuver on a choking victim. Despite all of the lives he had indirectly saved he was troubled that he never got to use the maneuver. So he started hanging out at restaurants and other places where people eat in public as much as possible just hoping that someone would begin to choke and need his assistance.

You may be referring to my September 17, 2005 article, Bankers Club, 2001: Dr. Heimlich To The Rescue? If so, allow me to clarify.


Briefly, reporters at major media outlets - The New Yorker, BBC News, and the Chicago Sun-Times - all published a story that Dr. Heimlich told them, that in 2001 he rescued a choking victim using the Heimlich maneuver at the Banker's Club, a well-known private club here in Cincinnati. Despite repeated attempts to verify the story with Dr. Heimlich, his press agent, and a Banker's Club employee who provided the information to one reporter, no one would provide any facts which might substantiate the story: the date, the alleged victim's name, any witnesses, etc.

So did those major media outlets get snookered? If so, nobody's talking. For example, shortly after The New Yorker published the item, I wrote and asked them to fact-check what they'd published. They refused. This from a magazine that endlessly trumpets its fact-checking department? I guess their corrections department isn't as diligent.

By the way, I'm not sure where you got the information about Dr. Heimlich being ill. I understand he turned 88 last month, is in good health, and still travels.

Sincerely,


The Dean of Cincinnati
The Cincinnati Beacon

09 March 2008

My 15 Minutes of Fame

(photo credit: Darrow Montgomery)

Now that the media frenzy surrounding my appearance in the Washington City Paper has finally died down, I have some time to reflect on fame. Well, I guess there isn't much to reflect on. It was certainly a lot of fun to see my mug in print as well as to see my Womenfolk quest reaching a wider audience, but I wasn't exactly mobbed on the way to work. It was really nice to get email from a few strangers who had similar affection for the Womenfolk and a few people who were friends with or were related to the late Joyce James. And I think some of my friends finally paid attention (for the first time) to MyPorch. But a week in the life of the City Paper goes by pretty quickly and soon all the old copies laying around in coffee shops and on the Metro are replaced by the newest issue. A few years ago I read a story about Dr. Heimlich of the Heimlich Maneuver fame. Apparently he was ill and reaching the end of his life and had never had the opportunity to actually use his maneuver on a choking victim. Despite all of the lives he had indirectly saved he was troubled that he never got to use the maneuver himself to save anyone's life. So he started hanging out at restaurants and other places where people eat in public as much as possible just hoping that someone would begin to choke and need his assistance. For a moment I felt a bit like Dr. Heimlich, albeit without having saved any lives, directly or indirectly. But I did manage to resist the urge to place copies of the City Paper (all opened to page 42 of course) around various Starbucks and on benches, and other places where people are bored enough to start reading a random article.

Although I didn't become a media star I did get some fun reactions from people who know me. There were two things that came up almost universally in comments from my friends and family:

Adams Morgan is not a travel agency
Those who aren't that familiar with Washington DC, thought that "Adams Morgan travel agent" meant that I worked at an agency called Adams Morgan. Rather Adams Morgan refers to the neighborhood I live in. I actually work for a firm in Alexandria, Virginia--if you need help planning your next vacation drop me a line, I do fantastic work if I do say so myself.

Working for the Federal Government
Almost everyone I know commented on the quote in the story about having done much of my Womenfolk research while I was a federal employee. First I would like to say that most of that happened while I was on lunch break or after hours. And GSA has a policy that allows such reasonable use on our personal time. Now, I know that many government employees do really amazing things, saving lives, sending people into space, predicting hurricanes (that other government employees ignore), but there are also a whole lot of federal employees who do nothing or next to nothing. Or if they do manage to get something done, you wish they hadn't because their level of incompetence is so stunningly bad. For most of my time in the government I outperformed and outworked most of my peers, always did what was asked of me (and more), always put in great effort to produce excellent work. So taxpayers need not worry that I bilked the government, but they should be worried that thousands of others do day in and day out.