About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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We cannot allow engineers to build products for an idealized rational user when real humans are irrational: we must design for the way users actually behave.

Jakob Nielsen, "The Paradox of the Active User"



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 7/24/2017

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Posts - 2442
Comments - 2553
Hits - 1,968,922

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Entries/day - 0.47
Comments/entry - 1.05
Hits/day - 383

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 5:36 AM Pacific


  11:55 PM

Friday words! We had a hiatus last week due to work, so much of it. But we're back, with extra wordy word fun.

The first new-to-me word is a word that's common enough, but that I saw used in a new way. Here's the cite where I found it, which appeared in an article in Wired about Google's new Noto font:
Something funny happens when your computer or phone can’t display a font: A blank rectangular box pops up in place of the missing glyph. This little box is called .notdef, or “not defined,” in coder lingo, but everyone else just calls it tofu.
Perhaps you've seen this. Here's an example in a jokey context:

One of the design goals for the new font is that it has glyphs for so many characters that when designers use the font, users should never see the little tofu box, no matter what language the text is in.

The scope of the "everyone else" who uses tofu in this sense is perhaps generously imagined here, but it's not untrue that people in the Unicode community use it. There aren't a huge number of references, but there's an Adobe blog entry (I think it is) from May, 2016, and another blog entry on the Keyman site that both use tofu with this meaning. And then there is the fact that Google itself says that the name "Noto" conveys the idea of "no more tofu."

Why "tofu"? Apparently the white block that represents the notdef character reminded people of a cube of tofu.

The second new-to-me term this week is isarithmic. This is somewhat obscure because it's a technical term; it came up at work because I work with map nerds. Isarithmic refers to a kind of map where lines (isolines) mark areas with common values. A good example is a contour map (isolines mark equal elevation), as well as this kind of weather map, where the isolines show barometric pressure:


As an aside, the isolines on this map are isobars, since they show equal pressure, which is measured in bars (centimeter-gram-seconds). It turns out that there's a whole vocabulary of isolines—isobars (pressure), isodose (radiation), isogloss (words or other linguistic features), and isohyet (rain) These and many others are listed in an article on the ever-useful About.com site.

Surprising etymology today is the word tennis, which the writer and editor James Harbeck used as an example of words that shift meanings. Most directly, tennis (probably) comes from tenez, a form in French of "take" or "get." (Compare the Spanish verb tener.) The theory is that it's something the server might have called out before putting the ball into play.

As Harbeck describes, tennis entered English in the 1400s to refer to game that sounds like a version of handball, played indoors. Then they added racquets. Then the game went dark for a while, and a somewhat different game was invented in the 1800s that was played outdoors (with racquets). So tennis has been around quite a while, but has described at least three different games. The version played indoors with racquets is now called real tennis, where real is a variant on royal. This version was played by Henry VIII, as shown here on that era's version of Instagram:



Like this? Read all the Friday words.

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