Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report

14 April 2004 11 am | 7 pm

In today’s Report:
God is telling me to become a fisherman
Design is more than meets the eye
Carbon Copy Cloner and Font Corruption

God is telling me to become a fisherman

By ill-timed coincidence, the moment I restored my main Mac to operability, my mail service provider’s RAID array failed. Email on the server was wiped out, gone. Mail service was down from 6 am until 7 pm. It came up for two hours, then died again until after midnight. A work day without email is like breakfast without food.

Design is more than meets the eye

Despite having lost an unknown number of messages, I still got plenty of mail from people who read The Great Panther Disaster of 2004 and wished to comment.

Many kindly souls sent various methods of ejecting CD-ROMs when the machine won’t boot. Some advised me to jam a paperclip into the tiny hole to the side of the CD insertion tray. But there is no tiny hole to the side of the CD insertion tray on my Titanium Powerbook. (Apple is always inventing strange little methods of performing ordinary tasks, and then removing those methods once we get used to them.)

My point was not that it couldn’t be done, one goofy way or another.

My point was that a rudimentary computing task should not require arcane knowledge of secret handshakes.

It’s as if my Lexus (if I had one) rolled down a hill and crashed into a tree because there was no parking brake. And then people wrote to tell me, “To set the parking brake, slide over to the passenger seat, roll down your window, and feel behind the windshield wiper until you notice a barely detectable, curved bump. Stroke it twice, then tug the wiper blade away from the windshield — but only for a second — and then release it. You should hear a very quiet click. The parking brake is now set.”

Lexus would not build a car that way. It would be bad design.

Design is not just about surface appearance; it is also about smooth, easy, intuitive usability. If you can’t eject a disk from a non-booting computer without invoking a non-intuitive (non-guessable) keyboard or mouse sequence that you’ve committed to memory after reading about it in a user forum (because the company that makes the product doesn’t tell you about it) that is not smooth, easy, intuitive usability. Therefore it is bad design, even if the product’s visual design is inspired, inspiring, and award-winning.

The discussion I intended to provoke was not, “Help! How do I eject a disk?”

The discussion I intended to provoke was about the nature of consumer appliance design, separate from its purely visual aspect. Apple is great at the latter and often great at the former, but this is one place where they fall down go boom.

One reader told me,

Trying to save time on an OS installation by upgrading is ridiculously amateur.

I wasn’t aware that I was supposed to be an OS installation “professional.”

If upgrading the OS requires professional expertise and knowledge, then something is wrong with the process — particularly when, for 25 years, the brand has positioned itself as the computer for the rest of us. I don't see words like “expert” or “professional” anywhere in that brand descriptor.

Admittedly most users don’t extend their systems with font management tools, text expanders, Dock replacements, and non-Apple calendar and contact software, so most users won’t face the problems I did. For them, Apple delivers on its promise and then some. And quite probably users who do enhance their systems will perform an Archive and Install as a matter of course. (As I will from now on, assuming I bother to upgrade this machine again.)

Also, if it matters, now that Panther is working, I like it, mostly. Horrible approach to labels (especially ghastly in List View with large icons) but otherwise mainly delicious.

Carbon Copy Cloner and Font Corruption

Mike Bombich’s excellent Carbon Copy Cloner makes it easy to create bootable backups of your Mac OS X internal hard drive. The $5 donationware (non-crippled shareware) package works exactly as you expect it to. Attach a Firewire hard drive, push a couple of buttons in the software interface, and voila: you’ve got a bootable clone, with all the trimmings.

But if you own a large collection of typefaces and use an application like Suitcase to manage them, proceed with caution. In two instances, on two machines, under two different versions of OS X (Jaguar and Panther), after cloning to a Firewire drive I’ve experienced font corruption. Most fonts come through just fine, but a few are tagged “unrepairable” and you will no longer be able to use them.

PostScript, TrueType, and OpenType fonts include ID numbers that are hidden from the end-user. Just as on a web page, each ID is supposed to be unique. If two fonts share the same ID, one or both may become damaged. My guess is that after a successful bootable cloning, the system notices the duplicate IDs and some (just a few, but typically one’s favorites) fonts become corrupted and unusable. Suitcase notices the problem and repairs the fonts when possible, but some (typically one’s favorites) can’t be fixed.

This is no big deal if you run your studio, agency, or home office with some semblance of order. Open the filing cabinet where you’ve alphabetically stored the fonts you’ve bought over the years, and reinstall them. Or drag clean, uncorrupted copies off a CD, DVD, or Zip disk to which you’ve backed them up via drag-and-drop. You may also need to find and delete the system’s font cache (PDF).

But if you run fast and lean — if you are so busy applying logic, order, and (hopefully) inspiration to your client’s problems that you often neglect to perform rudimentary housekeeping, you may need to buy fonts you already own. This problem won’t affect most users but could affect art directors, designers, and type bunnies.

Judging by the extraordinarily high quality of the product, I would not be surprised to see the problem fixed in a future version of Carbon Copy Cloner. Also keep in mind, this is a study of one, not a consumer survey. I’ve not heard of the problem affecting others. But forewarned is forearmed.

Update: Reader Phil Oye had the same problem with font corruption, Suitcase, and Carbon Copy Cloner — but was able to recover because, before cloning, he burned all his fonts to a master CD.

Reader Todd Matthews offered the following suggestion:

An easy fix is to create a read-only disk image (.dmg) of your fonts folder. Save the image into the shared user folder (/users/shared/) so anyone on your machine can access it. You can then mount the image, and drag your fonts into your font manager (I use Suitcase). Next time you launch Suitcase, your disk image is automatically mounted, and your fonts loaded. When you clone your disk next time, you’ll copy the fonts.dmg (or whatever you name it) without worry of corruption.

Highlights from recent Daily Reports

The Great Panther Disaster of 2004
In hindsight, Good Friday may not have been the most propitious day to upgrade my operating system.
A List Apart No. 176
Power to the People: Relative Font Sizes (Bojan Mihelac). Web Accessibility and UK Law: Telling It Like It Is (Trenton Moss).
The Metrics, Reloaded
More on metrics, designing for people, and why our industry seems so focused on tools — on how instead of why and for whom.
Signs that the Apocalypse is nigh
Chomskying at the bit.
I have always been a nervous traveler.
If you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, you must not give a damn about protein
Of all the kinds of conversation that recur on the web as predictably as hemlines rise and fall, the weirdest and least productive is the establishment of an artificial opposition between areas of expertise.
Happy Cog 3.0 redesign
Presenting Happy Cog 3.0, code-named “creme.” We’ve restructured the site to highlight our projects, services, and publications, and to welcome aboard lead information therapist Adam Greenfield of and Moblogging Conference fame. Risotto and liquid non-dairy creamers inspired the color scheme. The feeling is “Distressed Lite.”

There is more

More highlights and back orders may be found in our Essentials Department.