For the Motherboard: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

Hodgkinson and Bridle in The White Review:

Rubaiyat-web-1-1200x700There’s a marvellous lecture by Tim Berners-Lee (‘How the world wide web just happened’) in which he talks about how he came to create what turned out to be the world wide web. He describes growing up as the child of Computer Scientist parents who had worked at Bletchley Park, and building his first circuits from bits of wire, wrapped around nails, hammered into a piece of wood. Once he’d got the hang of that, he was just in time for the invention of the transistor, and then the integrated circuit. As the components available to him got ever smaller, the complexity of the machines they could power increased exponentially. As Berners-Lee tells it – with some modesty – it was a simple, natural progression from crystal radio, to building his own computer, to putting in place the fundamental transfer protocol that most of us use to access the internet. As things shrank, they also became more powerful, more networked, leading inevitably to an almost total, sublime connectivity.

…This book, For the Motherboard: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, takes into account some of the limitations of working at scale across digital devices. The first of these is the display size: in an era of ‘retina screens’, where the pixel density of our displays begins to surpass in definition the clusters of rods and cones in the human eye, we are still limited in print by the apertures of our ink nozzles. This is not a new problem: For the Motherboard… is set in Bell Centennial, a font commissioned by AT&T from the designer Matthew Carter in 1975, to replace Bell Gothic, which it had been using in its phone directories since 1938. Between those years, the number of telephones in the United States alone grew from some twenty million to around 140 million. Carter’s Bell Centennial typeface exists because of explosive, networked growth, addressing both this increased technological density, by condensing the character width, and the limitations of contemporary printing, by adding ‘ink traps’ to the letters, minute nicks in the letterforms to absorb and counter the ink spread caused by rapid printing on newsprint. When printed at sufficient size on coated paper, these traps remain visible, tiny reminders of previous technological limitations.

More here.