Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Runway Extends Beyond the Horizon

Once or twice a semester, I’m invited to speak to a group of students at one of the many universities in this area. Sometimes I’m asked to talk about a project like Kernest, sometimes I’m asked about web design / information architecture / etc. Tonight, I was asked to talk about my business – not the work. A refreshing distinction.

One of the most insightful questions asked by a student was: Why don’t I have more employees…why am I not focused on growing my business bigger and faster?

It comes down to question of horizon and longevity.

  • Give another listen to my conversation with David Crossland about the OpenFontLibrary, he talks about the OpenFontLibrary being a 10 year project.
  • Wal-mart is nearly 50 years old. It was 25 years old when I first stepped into one. Same for Target and Best Buy. My top-of-the-head calculations, it takes 20 years to build a retail business of any lasting significance.
  • People smarter at urban planning than myself have described public transit as a ‘100 year problem’.
  • The United States of America is only 234 years old.
  • The Japanese construction company Kongo Gumi Co., Ltd was liquidated in 2006 after 1,400 years in business.

Based on my lineage, I can count on another 4 decades – and with even modest advances in quality of life technologies – 2 more decades on top of that. That’s a lot of time to build and grow something to improve lots of people lives and persists beyond my direct involvement.



“Great achievements in knowledge are produced by older innovators today than they were a century ago.…This productivity drop is particularly acute if innovators raw ability is greatest when young.” – Age and Great Invention, Benjamin Jones [pdf]

“Everything you know me for I’ve done since I was 50.” – Doc Searls

“A point on the curve. I’m confident RSS wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stuck with it. And I was 42 when I *started* work on RSS.” – Dave Winer

“A company with $200K per year revenue with a single person and no plans to “exit” would be a failure in [YCombinator], but a huge success for a single founder like me.” – Amber Shah

Stan Lee: 43
Jack Kirby: 44
Julia Child: 40

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Pre-Order eBook for Your iPad or Kindle – $25

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed I’ve been pointing to posts written 1, 2,…5 years ago. You may also notice that I’ve been rambling about ebooks as well.

If you suspected I’m reviewing my 6+ year blog archive and curating it for an ebook – I am, and you are most clever.

How will this be different than just reading here or in my beloved feed reader?

  1. Expanded, ebook only, elaboration on the larger themes and ideas explored here.
  2. Access to the ebook-only discussion group, where I’ll be posting drafts and posing questions.
  3. Organization and categorization more usable on ebook readers.
  4. Pre-orderers will be listed in the Acknowledgements section
  5. Pre-orderers will receive an affiliate link to share with friends – and receive $5 for each ebook ordered with that link.
  6. Part of this experiment is to find out.

What about comments?
At this point – I’m not inclined to include the comments in the ebook version unless they provide significant insight or clarity to the topic – in which case, I’ll link to the comment on the live site.

When can I expect it?
I’m expecting to complete this project before Thanksgiving 2010.
For those of you pre-ordering, I’ll send out updated ebooks as each section is completed – anticipating your comments & feedback. Yes, very similar to Pragmatic Programmers’ Beta Book program that I’m so fond of.

Pre-order: $25

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Seth Godin on Book Publisher’s New Functions

This afternoon, I listened to Seth Godin’s 45 minute talk about now the economics of internet-based publishing and communication are changing book publishing.

In short – ebooks aren’t it.

In fact – it’s not actually about books at all.

It’s about connecting people to ideas. Where the publisher has the people and is continually looking for great ideas to present to them. Something a kin more to magazine publishing…or museum curation…or just plain being a person.

If you’ve spent anytime blogging or podcasting in the past few years – his arguments will be old hat to you. To some degree – they echoed the recommendations I gave a struggling, niche book publisher a few years ago…before they were sold.

Pre-Order eBook for Your iPad or Kindle – $25

Killing Time

This morning, even before my first cup of coffee – I went through my stable of Twitter accounts and started deactivating them. Easier and more straightforward than I expected.

That was before Leo Laporte’s Buzz Kill post hit my radar:

“It makes me feel like everything I’ve posted over the past four years on Twitter, Jaiku, Friendfeed, Plurk, Pownce, and, yes, Google Buzz, has been an immense waste of time. I was shouting into a vast echo chamber where no one could hear me because they were too busy shouting themselves. All this time I’ve been pumping content into the void like some chatterbox Onan. How humiliating. How demoralizing.” – Leo Laporte

Friday, 20 August 2010

Restored: No Longer an iPad and iPod Touch Owner

Somewhere around 2004, I remember writing a post [1] about how I saw the need for more ‘internet-enabled’ applications. Essentially – software applications native to a desktop or laptop computer that sends and receives internet-based data. A simple example of this in the Mac world is, or Adium, or Tweetie.

At the time I wrote the post, the wins seemed obvious to me;

  • local storage keeps information available even without an internet connection
  • local computing performance is always faster than server-based computing + network latency
  • a local application conserves bandwidth by transferring fewer and smaller assets, rather than entire web pages.

Still today, my workflow primarily consists of interactions with applications that live natively on my MacBook Pro and interact with assets on some server;, Adium, TextMate, Sequel Pro, Quicksilver, Calibre, Skype. Web browsers are where I check things, confirm things, identify things. It’s not where I live and work.

So, I was a little surprised when I realized I rarely use any of the more than 2 dozen applications I’ve downloaded for the iPod Touch and iPad. And given a few quiet, idle moments the ones I had any interest in re-opening had some issue – Netflix asked for a password I didn’t have, iBooks nor Kindle had the book I wanted to read, and Music didn’t sync the songs I wanted, and Movies/Video didn’t sync over any video I was in the mood for. In the end I opened up the web browser.

This realization reinforced a sense of stuck and suck I’ve increasingly had with the iPod Touch, iPad, and Apple’s management of their iOS platform.

In that moment, I aborted my ongoing experiments with the iPad and decided to sell it. A sale I completed today.

As I was restoring the iPad to sell, I did the same review of the iPod Touch – noticing the bulk of my satisfying interactions were via its browser – I clicked ‘Restore’ [2].

Yes, this means I am currently sans portable digital media player, address book, calendar, etc [3].

I’ve taken a cursory look around for a new mp3 player – and the Sony Walkmans sound quite promising. Also, the more I investigate, the more the Nokia N900 seems like a really solid all-around device – even comes with Skype pre-installed. Though Nokia’s Ovi app market isn’t as mature as Apple’s App Store or the Android Market – I think I’ll be OK – the default browser is Firefox Mobile.

Add in something like a PogoPlug or TonidoPlug at the home base and the VirginMobile MiFi in my pocket and I’ll have browser-based access to my files and media.

No syncing. No apps. No missing something.

And no longer feeling restricted to Apple’s iOS universe – I feel restored.

Update 21 August 2010.
The most likely iTunes-replacement: Instinctiv. Super minimalist. Reads the pre-existing iTunes library. I love it. And that was before I noticed it’s in the Nokia Ovi store.


“My app library–littered with exactly 87 apps I used once and never touched again–now reminds me of a graveyard of defunct company logos from the dot com boom.” – Aaron Shapiro

1. I haven’t been able to find it in any of my archives or in Google – it may be lost to history.
2. It’s now syncing against Jen’s iTunes.
3. It also means I’m reviewing both Songbird and DoubleTwist as a replacement for iTunes.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Say ‘Hi’ Auggie.

Maybe you’re reading a book, or watching a movie, or working on something with your full concentration – and you realize you’ve been holding your breath.

You have no idea how long you’ve been holding your breath. How long you’ve been focused solely on this one thing. But, it’s been a while. And you snap out of it and return to the world.

Three weeks ago, we welcomed the newest addition to our family, baby Augustus. He’s been very patient and accommodating as the rest of us figure out what being a Family of Five means.


Turns out I was holding breath for, best I can figure, all of 2010.

Totally worth it.

Monday, 9 August 2010

How to Consistently Un-motivate Yourself

“Less blogging, more jogging,” my friends.” – Alex Tabarrok

The above quote is from an excellent post on how incentives – both their creation and manipulation – negatively influence motivation towards a goal.

Feels like part of this phenomenon is covered by Goodhart’s Law (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) and part of it about defining non-distracting success metrics.

Also related:
I’ve mentioned in numerous, offline conversations about my output patterns: “I can either build stuff, or I can write about stuff, I can’t do both simultaneously.”

Wednesday, 4 August 2010’s Interview With Garrick

Sebastian Brink from interviewed me about I took the opportunity to spell out some of the principles guiding Kernest’s ongoing development.

I’m taking the liberty of re-posting this here for archival purposes.

What is Ker­nest? What do you do?
Ker­nest is an font direc­tory and web font ser­ving engine. The web font ser­ving por­tion is powered by the open-source Fontue web font server.

When did you begin to work on it?
I wrote Kernest’s foun­ding docu­ment: ‘A Pro­po­sal to Create the YouTube of Type­faces’ in March of 2008. Then, after a sum­mer of con­ver­sa­ti­ons with type desi­gners and web desi­gners, I map­ped out how I wan­ted it to work and star­ted buil­ding toward a mid-July 2009 launch.

How many sites are using Ker­nest right now?
Ker­nest ser­ves thousands of fonts each day. Desi­gners can also down­load fonts from Ker­nest to host them­sel­ves. The @font-your-face Dru­pal module also pro­vi­des easy access to the fonts wit­hin the Ker­nest via Kernest’s API.

How many font fam­il­ies are cur­rently available?
As of July 2010, Kern­est offers more than 1200 indi­vidual fonts across more than 230 families.

What part of Kernest’s deve­lop­ment have you found to be the most problematical?
One of the big­gest oppor­tu­nities I see is making it easier to find the right font. This pro­blem isn’t uni­que to fonts on the web. It’s not even uni­que to fonts. Fin­ding the right photo, color, lay­out in a world where there are thousands of good opti­ons is a challenge.

Are you working toge­ther with type found­ries or font desi­gners to pro­vide their fonts via Kernest?
Abso­lu­tely. Chank Die­sel has been a huge sup­por­ter Kernest.

I’m always open to working with desi­gners and found­ries to make their web fonts avail­able, whe­ther through Ker­nest or working with them to set up their own web font ser­ver. Ear­lier this year, I open sour­ced Fon­tue, the font ser­ving engine power­ing, under the X11/MIT license in an effort to make it easier for com­pa­nies, found­ries, and desi­gners to set up their own web font servers.

How do you pro­tect them from pir­acy of their fonts?
Tra­di­tion­ally, foundries and font design­ers wrote up their own, dis­tinct license on how their work could and could not be used. More often than not, those licenses expli­citly excluded web use and redis­tri­bu­tion. Kern­est cur­rently recog­nizes 63 font licenses ( ), of those, 5 (OFL, GPL, X11, Cre­at­ive Com­mons Attri­bu­tion, Apache) are pre­ferred. These 5 licenses — and a few oth­ers — allow design­ers and developers to main­tain freedoms — redis­tri­bu­tion, modi­fic­a­tion, unres­tric­ted use — that may be con­sidered ‘pir­acy’ in other licenses.

My con­ver­sa­tions with font design­ers have con­firmed that obscur­ity is more of a con­cern for their work than ‘pir­acy’. For some more writ­ings on the obscur­ity vs. pir­acy issue, I highly recommend:

Lastly, from a tech­nical stand point, Kern­est and Fon­tue are archi­tec­ted to con­serve band­width by only serving fonts to web browsers sup­port­ing @font-face.

Do you think “free” fonts often lack in qua­lity com­pa­red to retail fonts?
Every font has a range of appro­priate use. For some fonts – like a huma­nist sans serif — this range is wider. For other fonts — like Chank’s recently released CoCo Flower­font — that range is narrower.

The bene­fit of openly licen­sed fonts (vs. sim­ply free fonts) is that desi­gners have the free­dom to modify a font to make it more appro­priate to their pro­ject. These modi­fi­ca­ti­ons could be twea­king exis­ting gly­phs to bet­ter match a design, crea­ting new gly­phs, or adding a new weight or style to the family.

For more on this, I highly recom­mend lis­ten­ing to my pod­casts with David Cross­land and Ben Weiner:

Not every font works that well on the screen. How do you decide which fonts to include into the library?
It’s very simple.

I read the font’s license to con­firm that it sup­ports web use and redis­tri­bu­tion (and hope­fully com­mer­cial use). Ide­ally, the license is one of the 5 pre­fer­red licen­ses I men­tio­ned earlier.

After that — I ima­gine if a web page set in that font would make me smile. If so, I run it through Kernest’s font opti­miza­tion engine and add it to

Many of these fonts, I’ve cha­rac­te­ri­zed as ‘web native’ — meaning they have let­ter forms with large x-heights and open coun­ters and are openly licen­sed. More on Web Native fonts in Ker­nest — ‘Web Fonts – Identifying a New Species’ and Kernest’s ‘Web Native’ style tag

Some web­fonts have a much smal­ler x-height com­pared to usu­ally used fonts like Arial. If you define the font-size based on the web­font this will res­ult in a much lar­ger font ren­der­ing if the fall­back font from the stack is used. In this example the x-height of the Rabio­head font is much smal­ler com­pared to Arial and it’s barely read­able. I noticed that this is not the case with the fonts I tried from Kern?est?.com, Tit­il­lium in the example. Are you doing any­thing to equal the x-height of the fonts?
Cur­rently, Kern­est doesn’t modify the let­ter­forms of the fonts. Though, fonts with thin serifs, small x-heights, or high stroke con­trasts may not be con­sist­ently read­able onscreen, it may be the appro­pri­ate choice for the over­all design. If the fall­back is used — that most likely means the browser don’t sup­port a num­ber of web tech­no­lo­gies that will impact how a web­site is presen­ted — not just the @font-face declaration.

I encour­age design­ers to design the most appro­pri­ate exper­i­ence for all of a site’s vis­it­ors. Some­times that means design­ing very dif­fer­ent exper­i­ences for dif­fer­ent browsers and devices; increas­ing but­ton sizes for touch inputs, dif­fer­ent lay­outs, and spe­cify­ing different fonts.

What else are you doing to improve the font ren­de­ring? Spe­ci­fi­cally about the font ren­de­ring issues in dif­fe­rent browsers?
The bulk of the ren­de­ring issues across brow­sers are at the ope­ra­ting sys­tem level. The brow­ser can only ren­der fonts as well as the under­ly­ing OS can. Some brow­sers still don’t sup­port @font-face (Android, Kindle — just to name 2). Devices with web brow­sers are get­ting incre­a­sin­gly diverse, from my per­spec­tive — good web design pro­vi­des the most appro­priate pre­sen­ta­tion for a given devices capa­bi­li­ties. Some devices sup­port more appro­priate fonts, other don’t.

Some deve­l­o­pers are con­cer­ned about the relia­bi­lity of font ser­vices. What will hap­pen if your ser­vice goes down? What’s your response to this?
As I men­tio­ned ear­lier, desi­gners and deve­l­o­pers can down­load fonts from Ker­nest to host on their own servers.

What about the future of Kern­est? If an embed­dable font format like WOFF will become a stand­ard on all browsers do we still bene­fit from using Kernest?

Kern­est has served WOFF files to Fire­fox for quite some time now (since October 2009) and cross-browser font format com­pat­ib­il­ity is just one of the con­veni­ences Kern­est provides. There are a num­ber of ongo­ing pro­jects related to Kern­est in the works. There’s still lots of work to do in web fonts.

Now that desi­gners can use custom fonts on web­sites, what will be the next step to sophisti­ca­ted typography?

I fore­see the deve­lop­ment of web-native typo­gra­phic styles.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Three Things Wrong with Heath Care

Earlier this week, at a local medical facility for a basic checkup – I was presented with a ‘Consent for Treatment’ document.

Here are 3 brief excerpts from that document I feel highlight the incentives healthcare provider have to perform increasing costly services thus inflating healthcare costs.

“I agree to any care (tests, treatment, medicines, etc) my care team believes is needed…”

“…unless I check the boxes below, I agree to let my medical records be used for research…”

“The total charges for my visit will not be known until my care has been completed. I should contact the clinic manager if I want an estimate prior to services…”

Put these three together – and it reads like the clinic is conducting research financed by their patients’ personal healthcare dollars.

And that they’d prefer individual patients didn’t provide a balance, just a check.


In my world, where things are rarely a matter of life and death – no one signs away their wallets like this.