TIGER OF THE STRIPE

Tiger of the Stripe Blog

Artificial Eyes

Photo Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Set of 50 artificial glass eyes, all shapes and sizes, by E. Muller, Liverpool, English. Detail view. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/Show extended details

Seeing a picture of some artificial eyeballs just now reminded me of visiting Cotswold Collotype many years ago. At one time it was owned by Brooke Bond, the tea people, to print cards (much like cigarette cards) which they put in their packets. The collotype process is screenless and is similar to lithography except that it relies on moisture in the atmosphere. While I was there, I saw sheets of eyes with NHS copyright notices on them. They were destined to be embedded into perspex to make false eyes. The screenless nature of collotype was an advantage as the perspex lens would enlarge the printed image – imagine staring into someone's eyes and seeing halftone dots! It must have been a very long time ago because they only printed blue and grey eyes, which I was told accounted for the vast majority of eyes in the UK. With immigration from many areas where brown eyes predominate, I doubt if that is still the case – my own are hazel.

Oxford University Press used to have a collotype press which was, I think, mostly used for printing illustrations of manuscripts for the Early English Text Society's publications. I have also seen postcards printed by OUP using the process. As far as I know, there are now no collotype presses in the UK.

Parliament not Prorogued after all

To the extent that it allows MPs to frustrate the will of the people, I am not happy that the Supreme Court has decided that Parliament is not prorogued. On the other hand, I must congratulate the court on their well-argued decision and, in particular, Lady Hale for the excellent summary which she presented. This is British justice at its best, even if it makes Brexit even more difficult. It is clearly right that there must be some mechanism to hold the executive to account. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any way to force MPs to make good their promises!

Project Fear: Drug Shortages

I'm getting so fed up with the BBC. It is running an endless stream of anti-Brexit propaganda at the moment. I think BBC reporters and editors really believe they are being balanced but they are too stupid to see that they are being used by the Project Fear rabble.

This morning they had a doctor campaigning against a no-deal Brexit because it threatened drug suppliers to the NHS. Nobody at the BBC questioned how this could be. Does anyone really believe that a no-deal Brexit could cause drug shortages in the UK? If so, I’d like them to explain why to me. Even Yellowhammer, based on a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ assumed that there was ‘a low risk of significant sustained queues at ports outside Kent’, while the authorities in France have ridiculed the idea that there would be any delays at the Channel ports. In addition, Dover only accounts for 5% of the UK’s overall tonnage while other ports have plenty of spare capacity. Unfortunately, Project Fear has been so effective that there have already been shortages attributed to Brexit before we have left the EU, with or without a deal!

ConTeXt: A Steep Learning Curve

Here's a shot of my desktop running ConTeXt. Before I try processing an XML document in ConTeXt, I have to learn the rudiments of that typesetting language. Although I have used TeX, LaTeX and XeTeX in the past, I am finding ConTeXt quite a challenge – mind you, all the TeX-derived systems are. I expect to be able to define font size and body size or leading in a single statement. Instead, I have to specify the font size and then the linespace in terms of height, depth, top, bottom and line. I'm not very sure what some of these are.

The ConTeXt manual recommends using a line break instead of the command \par. The odd thing is that the line breaks within the paragraph change when one goes from a \par to a line break. I haven't yet learnt how to change the relative size of the footnotes. Talking of footnotes, I noticed that the footnote numbers are not lined up with the body text but intrude into the backspace. Very odd. There is certainly a lot to grapple with.

More on Typesetting with ConTeXt

I've spent about a week trying to get ConTeXt to find the fonts in the Mac's /Library/Fonts directory (and search recursively as well). The ConTeXt support documents are rather fragmented, sometimes out of date and often contradictory. This is not to criticise those behind the project. I think that the number of people working (unpaid and in their own time) on ConTeXt is very small compared to those working on TeX and LaTeX and, at the same time, those are mature technologies with little changing and, therefore, not much demand for updated documentation. Anyway, I finally found a solution on Stack Exchange which did the trick.

The great secret to getting tech to work, even something as apparently simple as getting ConTeXt to recognise the path to the fonts, is persistence. That probably applies to getting anything to work. Whether I'll ever have the patience to see through a complete XML workflow remains to be seen! And then there is the question as to whether it will repay the effort.

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