The vocals just aren’t there, dawg! (For that matter, neither is anything else)

Randy and PaulaYikes. I just opened up the iTunes Store and was confronted with the new Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul single, “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow.” Yeah, that’s just what the world needed. Actually, it’s pretty instructive for American Idol contestants in terms of not taking Paula’s (or Randy’s, for that matter) opinion too seriously. Paula’s voice is so pitch-corrected that she sounds like one of the text-to-speech automatons built into Mac OS X. And the arrangement and production are so blandly unoriginal that… well… honestly, it’s hard to even describe them because, how do you describe “nothing”?

Let’s just hope Simon Cowell didn’t have anything to do with this.

The R’s have it… “It” being the most distinguishable difference between Helvetica and Arial

The R’s have itWhether or not my aesthetic sense and artistic ability really warrant the appellation “designer,” design has been a part of what I do for my entire career, and I’ve had the eye for detail (minutiae?) since I was a kid. It follows naturally that I have an unhealthy fixation on fonts. Just ask anyone how I feel about Verdana to erase all doubts on that point.

My obsessions seem slightly less unhealthy working in the publishing field, and they’re downright validated at moments like last Friday, when the recent documentary honoring the 50th anniversary of Helvetica was screened in our boardroom over lunch. I loved it.

While I unequivocally loathe Verdana (unless, that is, it’s displayed at such a small point size that it’s hard to tell what it is), I hold Helvetica in high regard. It’s rather plain, I’ll admit, but it’s just such a perfectly realized vision that in its relatively short lifetime it has become the norm. Helvetica is just how letters should look, and any other font’s uniqueness is judged most clearly by how it differs from that norm.

Unfortunately, on-screen type is a world of its own. Although with the advent of Mac OS X, system-wide anti-aliasing has made smooth font rendering possible, most computer systems still look better when fonts are specially tooled for the low-resolution environment of a CRT or LCD display. And for the most part, Helvetica has never really fared too well in such an environment.

So when, in the mid-’90s, Microsoft made what might have been their single most thoroughly positive contribution to the world by releasing a set of standard fonts to be used on web pages that look (reasonably) good on computer screens, I embraced them wholeheartedly (Verdana notwithstanding).

The closest counterpart to Helvetica in this set of fonts is Arial. Many people hate Arial, for reasons generally too arcane even for me to appreciate, but ultimately, for me, the fact that it doesn’t quite hit the mark of being a pure Helvetica clone, it tends to render much better on-screen than Helvetica does, and it’s become my own personal standard (along with another of the Microsoft web fonts, Georgia) for web design.

But this Helvetica movie has turned my world on its ear. For the last week I’ve been hyper-sensitive to fonts, noticing Helvetica everywhere I turn all day long, and becoming acutely aware of every slight difference between Helvetica and its web font doppelgänger, Arial. I think I’ve hit upon the most easily identifiable difference between the two fonts: the right “foot” of the capital R.

To be honest, I don’t really like the capital R in Helvetica. That wavy little foot seems too jaunty, too incongruously immoderate next to its supremely efficient and utilitarian siblings. But if anything is worse than the capital R in Helvetica, it’s the capital R in Arial! What the heck is that? It’s almost enough to make me want to give Verdana another chance. (After all, it’s even used on the Helvetica site.)

A ludicrously large bar of soap

A ludicrously large bar of soap!I meant to post about this a few weeks ago, but I just never got around to it. Then today when I discovered (never mind how or why, exactly) that Google does not have one single page in its index containing the phrase “ludicrously large bar of soap” I simply knew that I must finally make a post concerning the ludicrously large bar of soap.

For, you see, there is presently in the shower at my house a ludicrously large bar of soap. My wife received it as a Christmas present from her mom. Her mom is great with gifts, and she loves to go all-out. This year that meant finding an incomprehensibly, ludicrously large bar of soap.

Your average “large” bar of bath soap, you see, is somewhere in the realm of 4.5 ounces. This “Egyptian Cotton Moisturizing Bath Bar,” however, is a whopping 12 ounces. But knowing that it’s slightly less than three times the mass of an ordinary bar of soap does little to convey just how ludicrously large it really is. In its dimensions, it is roughly the equivalent of six ordinary bars of soap, stacked three in a row, two deep. The first time I attempted to use it I dropped it and the colossal thud was enough to raise the ire of the neighbors’ dogs. Woe to the poor fool who drops it on their foot!

But it is a very nice bar of soap. It has a pleasantly subtle, gender-neutral aroma, and it produces a wonderful creamy lather that is more than adequate for my daily cleansing needs. Plus, I don’t think I’ll need to buy another bar of soap until my kids are in college.

I hoped to locate an image of this wondrous bar of soap online, and surprisingly enough someone is apparently selling them on eBay. But this photo alone cannot possibly do justice to the magnificent size of the thing. In fact, even holding it in the wrapper, it’s hard to imagine how ludicrously large it will actually look once you take it out.

In order to better convey the relative size of this bar of soap to other, more familiar objects, I have prepared the following handy visual aid:

That bar of soap is ludicrously large!

Addendum, 2 minutes later: Just to see how frighteningly omniscient Google really is, I went there immediately after posting this, and once again searched for the phrase “ludicrously large bar of soap.” And yes, it was already there. It even said “2 minutes ago” in the search results.