Why a Font?

The choice of a font as a medium for carrying information strikes most people as quite strange. Here I will use a few stories to try convincing you that fonts are, indeed, a sensible choice.

1. Fonts are Timeless

In 2008, I was a graduate student and wished to examine raw data of an experiment done in the mid 1990s. My supervisor kindly dug out the right cardboard box, inside which was the magnetic tape. We then needed to dig out the magnetic tape reader, which we did. The magnetic tape reader, however, connects to machines using some port that doesn’t exist anymore, so we needed to dig up an old computer. The file needs a particular application to open, and the application runs on some particular MS-DOS version, and we just never managed to solve that.

Local computing have lots of dependencies. Few file format endures through time. Times New Roman from Windows 3.1? It still runs on your machine. One-off purchase of the Cantonese Font provides value for your grand-daughter (or just your future self).

2. Not your machine, not your data.

What about online services? (Jon, I hear you are building an online equivalent of the Cantonese font?)

As a curmudgeon growing up with the Internet, I watched services and websites come and go. Online resources rot away sans upkeep, and passion of the moment does not necessarily means upkeep in 5-10 years. Life happens. And sometimes the upkeep itself gets un-upkeepable (looking at you, npm-update and Coffeescript and Meteor).

Moving to a hypothetical world: the Empire wants to civilize the Outer Rim planets. It can do that by mandating Galactic Basic and declaring speaking Shyriiwook a felony (why should anyone speak like a Wookie?). There is no shortage of eager commercial partners: payment processor, server hosts, network filters would all be happy to help ban Shyriiwook. Imperial Security, after all.

The Shyriiwook font on Han Solo’s raspberry pi? Darth Vader can’t touch that.

In a more banal case: your internet is just down.

3. Use it anywhere

Fonts are deeply embedded within computing. Once a feature becomes a standard, the capacity runs across your choice of applications. OpenType features & OpenType-SVG, the two technologies that the Visual Fonts is built on top of, is now reaching this stage (standards move slowly, and there’s fracturing of color fonts support).

Where can you use the Cantonese Visual Font? Use it in your documents, or spreadsheet, or presentation, or graphics design, or 3D animation, or over-ride Chinese text in browsers (with a UserCSS). Use it on screen, use it in print, use it to drive embroidery machines, CNC routers, or 3D printers. Use it to learn, use it to teach, use it to create.

Being app-agnostic also means that there is nothing new to learn: all your existing workflow just got extra smart. If you are teaching Cantonese and use

As the underlying technology gets broader implementation, the choice of how you can use it also expands. Your machine, your data, your freedom.

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