The time my custom webfonts stopped working in Chrome and Firefox

When I last rebuilt erica-schultz.com back in 2012, I decided to incorporate a custom webfont in my Design and Judaica sections. In the interest of cross-browser compatibility, I used FontSquirrel’s free Webfont Generator to export EOT, SVG, and WOFF files, which I then called in my CSS @font-face declaration.

Fast forward to late 2016: I discovered that while my font still looked nice in Safari, it had stopped working in Chrome and Firefox. They had apparently gone and changed their font rendering in a way that broke my site. THANKS DUDES.

This week, I finally did a little research into the issue.  Continue reading

New website project launch: DiannaSanchez.com

On Friday, I officially launched my latest website project: an author website for children’s book author Dianna Sanchez, whose debut novel A Witch’s Kitchen is forthcoming in a month from indie YA publisher Dreaming Robot Press. Check out the site!

Backstory: Two months ago, I put out a call to the Universe (via Facebook) for some freelance work. Among the respondents (and there were a few, thank you, Universe) was an old friend from my MIT circles who needed a spiffy new website to go with her first book’s upcoming publication. She had set up a starter website back in April, in WordPress, but it was… rudimentary. (I’d say “basic” but that word has acquired problematic cultural overtones in the last ~5 years.) I never took a screenshot of it, but now I wish I had for posterity, because like most people I love before-and-after stories!  Continue reading

How I make art, Part 1: Resources for Hebrew text

This week, I’ve been working on a new Judaica art piece, which I look forward to releasing next week! But before I get there, I wanted to talk about my process for making art out of text in Hebrew and English.

It starts where everything starts — with an idea. Some words catch my eye and fire my imagination. Most often, it’s either a Biblical text or a passage from the siddur, the Jewish prayerbook. (Frequently, it’s both, as Biblical quotations make up a significant portion of the wording of our formal prayers.) Occasionally, it’s a quote from the Talmud, about which more below.

But how do I get going from there? First, I go to the Internet!

… Why not start on my own bookshelf? I own numerous Bibles in both Hebrew and English (one of my favorite translations, incidentally, is Everett Fox‘s Five Books of Moses, a.k.a. the Schocken Bible). But here’s Confession #1: I’m not so strong on chapter and verse. So I start by doing a Google search for the English phrasing, in order to locate the verse I’m thinking of.

From there, I look up the Hebrew. Mechon Mamre maintains an excellent complete Hebrew-English online Bible, featuring the well-reputed standard English translation by the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). I will usually go here to copy and paste entire passages. Note, though, that they provide “pointed” text, with the nekudot: vowel marks and other punctuation that are positioned around the actual letters (or, in the words of psycholinguist Dorit Ravid, “diacritics ancillary to consonantal graphemes”).* This notation is essential for study purposes, but I generally go on to strip out the nikkud, because I prefer to use just the un-pointed letters in my artwork.

* However, the Ancillary Diacritics is totally my new band name.

My next stop is, perhaps surprisingly, a Christian Bible site, one called Blue Letter Bible. While I tend to steer clear of Christian-sponsored sites, this one offers a spectacular feature that I haven’t found elsewhere: a word-by-word breakdown of the original Hebrew, as well as the Greek from the Septuagint, for every single verse of the Old Testament.

[Blue Letter Bible tools screenshot]

The language tools at Blue Letter Bible. Careful observers will pick up a clue as to the forthcoming new art piece.

My own Hebrew skills are normally sufficient to match up the corresponding words from an English translation; in fact, this is an important element in my artwork, where I frequently color-code specific words or phrases to create explicit visual connections between the texts. But sometimes I feel like the English in front of me doesn’t quite capture the nuance I’m getting from the Hebrew. When I want to refine the translation I’m including in the piece, it can be amazingly helpful to see a range of English translations side-by-side, or to click through to the Strong’s Concordance entry to see how the same word has been interpreted in different contexts. Plus, they provide a box to toggle the “vowel points” (the aforementioned nekudot) on or off, so I can copy a whole verse with just the unpointed letters. Priceless.

Now, what if I am researching a Talmud quotation? Certain sections are easy to find in translation, like the tractate of Avot, better known as Pirkei Avot, or in English as “The Ethics of the Fathers”, which is reproduced in its entirety in most traditional prayerbooks. Often, however, I will see delightful quotes attributed solely to “The Talmud”… which may be technically accurate, but not very helpful! Google is my friend here again. Sometimes it turns out that quotes attributed to “The Talmud” (such as this one, identified here) actually come from Midrash Rabbah, which is a fantastic (and often fantastical) body of interpretive commentaries, but not part of the Talmud.

Once I can get a specific citation, I can look up the Hebrew in Mechon Mamre’s online Talmud Bavli (the “Babylonian” Talmud that is the version commonly studied). Some chapters are available in English at Halakhah.com, at Sacred Texts, and at the Jewish Virtual Library. If I’m looking for Midrash Rabbah, there’s a complete online Hebrew edition at Tsel Harim.

For Hebrew text from the prayerbook, I am more likely to turn to my actual bookshelf. However, there are several useful Web resources, such as the Online Siddur, the Open Siddur Project, and the Free Siddur Project.

There are many more great collections of links and scholarly resources at sites like the following:

One last technical note: I create my artwork in Adobe InDesign. Now, if I copy a line of Hebrew text from a web page, it is almost certainly in Unicode, which the browser knows to render right-to-left… but InDesign pastes in the character sequence from left to right. Because here’s Confession #2: I don’t actually use it to handle Hebrew properly. Now that I’ve upgraded to Creative Suite 6, its World-Ready Composer gives some built-in support for right-to-left sequencing at either the paragraph or character level… but the way it behaves still isn’t very intuitive for me, and I get frustrated after just a few minutes. It’s actually easier for me to cheat with an intermediate step: reversing the string in order to make it come out correctly. On a few old projects, I did this by hand (!), but these days I turn once again to the magic of the Internet, where there are handy web-based utilities for this purpose.

  • Reverse a String Online was my longtime quick-and-dirty favorite for single lines.
  • Text Mechanic’s “Reverse Text Generator” offers an additional option called “Flip Text”, which reverses each line (or technically paragraph), but keeps the lines themselves in the correct top-to-bottom sequence — just what I need for longer sections.

Once I’ve got all my text in place, in Hebrew and English, that’s my raw material. Only then can I start to play with it to create art. But that’s a totally separate process that I will try to address in another, less technical — and probably shorter! — post.

Shabbat shalom!

Big performance news: The Bliss Jockeys

Yesterday, I signed on as a backup vocalist with NYC rock band The Bliss Jockeys, fronted by the remarkable and charismatic Phil Robinson and backed by a gospel-choir-style ensemble of 7 female singers. “Part rock, part gospel & part jam band, The Bliss Jockeys feature a large, over-the-top sound and deliver an energizing and delirious experience every time!” Their debut album, The Birth of Bliss, is close to complete and will be forthcoming in 2013 from Roomful of Sky Records.

How it came about: Last weekend was my 20th (shhh) college reunion at Brandeis University. Phil, along with two of his ’98 classmates (having their 15th), were assigned totally at random as my suitemates in the reunion housing on campus. All of them turned out to be completely awesome and the best thing about my weekend. On Saturday night, after the class dinner, we all sat up until about 2am drinking bourbon and singing a cappella harmonies to the Indigo Girls and Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel, and finally Phil turned to me and said “Hey! You are awesome and should join my band! I need a female vocalist! We rehearse on Monday nights!”

… Now it happened that, within just the past few weeks, I had started having the thought, “Hey, I would really like to look for an a cappella/vocal group to join again. I bet I could find one of those somewhere in NYC that would take me.” (As longtime acquaintances know, in Boston I was a member of Jewish a cappella group Honorable Menschen from 2003 to 2011, and only quit when I moved to NYC. So it was a huge part of my life for 8 years.)

Also, Monday is one of the few nights in the week I had totally free.

While this obviously isn’t a cappella, the opportunity is close enough that it is going on my archival list of “things that have fallen into my lap precisely when I needed and asked the Universe for them”.

Sunday night I returned to NYC; Monday night I sat in on a rehearsal, and I was thoroughly delighted. The rest is history. I will (tentatively) be making my debut with the band on Thursday, July 18, at Tobacco Road in midtown Manhattan.

Talk about bliss: While the BJs’ list of musical influences includes Bruce Springsteen, The Animals, Phish, the Indigo Girls, Cat Stevens, Etta James, KT Tunstall, and musical theater, their “non-musical influences” are specified as Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung. Case in point: We’re booked to play the Center for Symbolic StudiesMidSummer Festival—Ancient Mysteries, Modern Psyche. The CSS, located just outside New Paltz, NY, is “a healing and performing arts center exploring the psyche through the window of myth.” When I realized that this was the "Midsummer Festival" on our gig list, I about fell over and died; I had blithely assumed it was a music festival. COOLEST. VENUE. EVER. [Edited to add: Sadly, this appearance was later cancelled; the festival has chosen to feature performances more directly theme-related, so, ancient Greek music and the Rap Odyssey. Can’t argue there. But the BJ’s are nonetheless still considered the “house band”.]

I am incredibly excited and energized to be a part of this project. Join the email list or follow on Facebook!

I’ve also updated my performance page accordingly. Obligatory geek side note: The brand-new accordion tabs under “Past Appearances” were created with some nifty Javascript from Elated.com. The MP3 embed utility is, I’m almost sorry to say, Yahoo’s WebPlayer, but it’s actually quite slick; a single line of script, and it will auto-embed YouTube links as well as local MP3 and video files.

Free Online ISBN Barcode Generator

My dad says I’ve been “pretty quiet lately”, which is perhaps because I’ve been plugging away solidly for the last month trying to get a book project to press. This is a freelance project on which I’ve been working for over two years at this point, but we’ve been in the home stretch since approximately November 2012.

In the home stretch of the project, as all designers know, come all the nitty-gritty details that you’ve pushed off dealing with until “later”. Guess what? It’s later.

So tonight’s task (while I wait for the copyedited index and last few page corrections from the author) is to get the cover files set up. We’re doing a split bind (about 1/3 stamped cloth case with jacket, 2/3 paperback cover), so I have to do them both ways, according to the measurement templates the printers sent me just this morning.

It also means we have two different ISBNs, and guess what else? I need to create bar codes for them. Back in my early publishing days, we didn’t even HAVE barcodes; then we used to order away for them specially. But I figured in this day and age, there was a good likelihood that the Internet could deliver something instantly, and maybe even for free.

Lo and behold, Google found me the answer:
http://bookcovers.creativindie.com/free-online-isbn-barcode-generator/

These fine folks wrote a slick little utility that will generate an EPS file of your ISBN barcode, complete with the price code add-on (if you have one).

I am grateful, so I’m sharing the love. :-) They also do really nice work on the design side.

Let’s just remember to test both barcodes before we commit ink to paper, okay? And I promise I’ll tell more about the book itself when it actually launches.

Things, and the Getting of them Done

The past several weeks have been much working, much thinking, little writing. A lot of my Rosh Hashanah pondering was about my goals for the year — not so much spiritually as practically, although even practical goals have spiritual implications in terms of what turns out to matter most, no? I swear I am making incremental progress on many important fronts, but it’s hard to see amid the vast chaos. The same could be said of my actual day-job work, of course, too.

In that vein, I’ve started experimenting with Getting Things Done — kind of backwards, in that I spent a while reading around it, largely by means of The Simple Dollar, then spent lots of time looking for a suitable (and free) online tool*, and only then actually sat down and read the book. I have still not done a proper Collection, which they would probably say explains why my anxiety level around my Stuff [to do] has generally risen of late even while I’m spending more focused time tackling it. But, on the whole, a net gain. Like “how could I, of all people, have done without this system for so long?”

*There are a million task- and project-manager sort of things, half a million of which are free, and I signed up for accounts on fully a dozen of them, but none struck the right combination of ease/elegance of use with functional categorization and project-vs-task manipulation. Finally I ended up at one that’s in beta called Nirvana, and I really, really like it. It stays open in the background all day so I can add everything as it comes up — and check it off as it goes out. There are, however, a few features I can already perceive as still missing; I’ll be interested to see what they add in future releases.

I suspect I was going to close this up with something pithy, but I have to go to work. :-}

Type/language/publishing geeking links

In honor of my first day of full-time self-employment (as it were), I present a barrage of links that will interest a certain like-minded subset of readers.

Fonts.com’s For Your Typographic Information:
http://www.fonts.com/AboutFonts/Articles/fyti/index.htm

Type Trading Cards (gotta catch ’em all!):
http://www.fonts.com/AboutFonts/Articles/TypeTradingCards/

Helvetica (a film about typography, screening, incidentally, at MassArt at 7pm on April 11, sayeth ):
http://helveticafilm.com/

Type 1 fonts for TeX use:
CTAN directory: http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/fonts/amsfonts/ps-type1/
AMS: http://www.ams.org/tex/type1-fonts.html

Fontifier: Your own handwriting as a TrueType font for just $9 (yes, I got one and so did ):
http://www.fontifier.com/index.html

Lorem Ipsum (all true typesetting geeks know that this refers to randomized pseudo-Latin filler text) randomizing generator:
http://www.lipsum.com/

Free online graph paper PDFs:
http://www.incompetech.com/beta/plainGraphPaper/

Glossary of bookbinding terms:
http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/preserve/binding/glossary.htm

Non-typographical, but useful: Converting a photo to a “painting” in Photoshop:
http://www.myjanee.com/tuts/painted/painted.htm

Non-publishing-related, but language-geekful: the Speech Accent Archive
http://accent.gmu.edu/index.php

Bookbuilders of Boston’s list of production-related publishing jobs in the greater Boston area:
http://www.bbboston.org/pageJobs.cfm

… And now, to send out a shul e-mail and hit the showers. :-D