The Marber Grid

Around our house we have a series of framed Penguin book covers on the walls—yes, we are exactly those sorts of people—and I’ve always been interested in their robust, consistent and, well, handsome design.

It turns out that many of them use The Marber Grid. This is a layout for Penguin book covers that was designed by Romek Marber in 1961. It underpins the design of books like this:

Front cover of Penguin book 'The Incredulity of Father Brown'

Before the grid was used, Penguin books used to employ simple typographic covers. Penguin art director Germano Facetti wanted something with more visual appeal. At the time, Marber was designing covers for The Economist (covers which wouldn’t look too out of place nearly 60 years on):

Romek Marber's covers for The Economist

Facetti commissioned Marber to design covers for two Simeon Potter books, “Language in the Modern World” and “Our Language”. These went well, so he went to work on coming up with a design for Penguin’s crime fiction series.

Greg Neville’s post How the Marber grid was made attempts to reverse engineer Marber’s design process, dividing the book cover into sections and generating lines at the intersections:

Nice, eh? Facetti loved Marber’s grid. It was also used on the blue Pelican books—Penguin’s non-fiction imprint—as well, as beyond crime novels, the broader set of orange Penguin fiction books.

On the topic of iconic book publishers, Ladybird are publishing a new Expert Series, including books like Plato’s “Republic” that have been condensed down to 65 pages.

From the You Might Not Know This dept: the recent ‘adult’ Ladybird books, about things like Brexit and hangovers, were co-written by Jason Hazeley. If the name is even slightly familiar to you, it might be from his writing with Charlie Brooker or for The Framley Examiner, a sort of early ’00s provincial British version of The Onion.

But even further back, he was half of musical duo Ben & Jason. I can’t for the life of me work out why they weren’t more famous at the time, or why they’ve not had a re-appraisal since then—they were very, very good. Ben’s voice and guitar playing is sublime and Jason’s arrangements are superb.

While Jason moved into comedy, Ben’s gone on to play in various bands and write music instruction books. He’s also impossibly handsome and takes a good selfie.

One of their albums was entitled “Emoticons” which I suppose places it in a very particular time period. “Air Guitar” is from that record:

So there we are. I don’t suppose many blogs have posts about paperback book design that ramble off and end up praising lost singer-songwriter duos that at one point collaborated with Martine McCutcheon, but that’s probably why those blogs are successful and this one isn’t.

David’s Lemonade: a brand identity

Here’s the corporate identity manual for David’s Lemonade, a non-existent business:

David001

Half spoof, half educational document, it was created by the Sanders Printing Company in 1976 as part of their Folio series.

David002

David007

Unity, clarity and consistency, as defined and explained in this manual are essential to this program. Proper implementation can result in an extremely powerful marketing tool for our corporation.

David009

See also the Sainsbury’s packaging archive and The Daily Stormer’s style guide.

Can’t Unsee is a fun game that tests your ability to spot minor UI innacuracies. It starts off easy but quickly becomes frustratingly hard to spot the differences—until they’re revealed to you, of course.

One of my new SEO clients was suffering from huge page load times, mostly due to them uploading 5MB+ images that weren’t automatically scaled down by their CMS. Throwing the offending files at Squoosh has helped speed things up a lot. A neat web app, and highly recommended.

Relabelling ‘German’, and nested identities

Towards the end of 2018 I read a lot of modern European history, particularly about the First World War as we approached the 100th anniversary of the end of combat.

Among many fascinating things, I was intrigued by the relabelling or disappearance of German-related people, animals and culture in the years following the war.

For example, even the most distinguished families with German names found it convenient to relabel themselves: the Battenbergs as Mountbatten—berg meaning mountain, the Royal family itself (generally known as the House of Hanover but more accurately Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) as the House of Windsor. Wagner’s music was effectively banned.

Michael Howard’s excellent book The First World War has more on this.

Even German Shepherds were rebranded as ‘Alsatians’, and daschunds all but disappeared from the streets:

The direct translation of the name was adopted for use in the official breed registry; however, at the conclusion of World War I, it was believed that the inclusion of the word “German” would harm the breed’s popularity, due to the anti-German sentiment of the era. The breed was officially renamed by the UK Kennel Club to “Alsatian Wolf Dog”, after the French region of Alsace bordering Germany. This name was also adopted by many other international kennel clubs.

Eventually, the appendage “wolf dog” was dropped, after numerous campaigns by breeders who were worried that becoming known as a wolf-dog hybrid would affect the breed’s popularity and legality. The name Alsatian remained for five decades, until 1977, when successful campaigns by dog enthusiasts pressured the British kennel clubs to allow the breed to be registered again as German Shepherds. The word “Alsatian” still appeared in parentheses as part of the formal breed name and was only removed in 2010.

(See also: freedom fries.)

This phenomenon didn’t exist solely outside of Germany, where some citizens shifted slightly in the way they identified themselves.

People who study ethnicity and race talk about the concept of ‘nested identities’. This is where an individual simultaneously identifies (to a greater or lesser degree) with a specific identity (e.g. religion) and others, moving outwards (region, country, continent, global).

For example, a person might variously consider themselves Jewish, a Londoner, English, British and European. (As a topical aside, the EU aimed to deliver the top-most nested identities but they failed in large parts of Europe where people did not buy into the European project.)

In the years after the First World War, many Germans still believed that the war had been imposed on them by their enemies, and that all their sacrifices over the previous five years had been in a noble cause. Further, many felt that they had not been defeated at all. The small number of others who perhaps felt regret or embarrassment by the events of 1914-1918 shifted their primary identity away from ‘German’ further up or down these nested identities, identifying themselves in terms of historical German regions or as post-war European.

Of course, there were Germans long before there was a Germany. This is why the word for ‘Germany’ differs so much in different languages: other countries came up with their own name for Germans long before there was a German state that people might want to refer to uniformly. This overall sense of a collection of German states was strongly reversed with the period of German national renewal associated with Hitler:

German national renewal following defeat in the First World War [emphasised] the importance of a ‘unique’ German culture, particularly the music dramas of Richard Wagner, in the politics of pan-German nationalists, Hitler, and the National Socialist Party. Hitler believed national revival depended on the rebirth of German culture, a concept that predated the war and was popular in völkisch circles and the radical right. Hitler owed his rise from obscurity as much to his appeal to cultural longings, which enabled him to attract the attention of Bavaria’s elite, as he did to his political ideas and abilities.

Another factor in nationalism and nested identities relates to disaporas, such as the way that second, third or fourth generation Americans often consider themselves Italian, Polish, Russian, Scandinavian and many others.

The Italian footballing oriundi—athletes born in Latin America to Italian emigrant parents—were encouraged to adopt an Italian identity, then were treated particularly badly during fascist rule. From John Foot’s Calcio:

Italy’s success at an international level in the 1920s and 1930s would have been much more difficult without the oriundi. Because of the spending power of Italian football, the national team was able to draw on talent from three or four countries. This imbalance was criticized back in South America, where many promising young players were lost to the European game. The transfer of stars was seen in colonial terms, and the authorities did their best to block such moves.

Fascism promoted the ‘Italianness’ of the oriundi, and exalted their role in the triumphs of the 1930s. Fascist ideals of an expansive, colonial ‘great Italy’, which included the Italian diaspora, linked in smoothly with this propagandist exploitation of the oriundi. However, there were ambiguities here. The fascist regime relied on the oriundi to win championships – but then discriminated against them after those victories. In 1934 the three oriundi in the World Cup winning team were refused the special medal given to the other players. Meanwhile, the South Americans accused the oriundi of treachery, and threatened them with exclusion from their national teams if they went to Italy.

All this meandering leaves me very interested to see how the nesting of British and European identity changes, assuming Brexit happens. As well as outright xenophobia and a selfish desire for personal political gain, a clear driving force behind Brexit and (the mostly English) national renewal is the rejection of European as an identity, even as part of the ‘nest’. Others, including me, feel very differently.

Footpaths are made by feet

In England, public paths are made by walking them. You can make a new, legally recognized footpath by simply treading up and down it, with a few friends, for a period of twenty years. Paths that weren’t recorded properly in the fifties have suffered the same fate in reverse. “Cross-field paths are a classic,” Cornish said. Most people who have attempted to walk across farmland in England are familiar with the experience of climbing over a stile into a plowed field, or rows of head-high corn, and having no idea where to go next. If a path isn’t labelled clearly on a map, or walked much, then landowners can be tempted to further confuse the situation, leaving the odd tangle of barbed wire, or a homemade sign, lending the route what Fraser described as “a private feel.” Until 2026, any public path can be reinstated, as long as there is documentary evidence that it used to exist. But, after the deadline, old maps and memories won’t matter any more. “This is a one-shot thing, really,” Cornish said. “So we need to make sure we do it right.”

Source: The Search for England’s Forgotten Footpaths

See also desire paths:

So goes the logic of “desire paths” – described by Robert Macfarlane as “paths & tracks made over time by the wishes & feet of walkers, especially those paths that run contrary to design or planning”; he calls them “free-will ways”. The New Yorker offers other names: “cow paths, pirate paths, social trails, kemonomichi (beast trails), chemins de l’âne (donkey paths), and Olifantenpad (elephant trails)”. JM Barrie described them as “Paths that have Made Themselves”.

14 things that will happen in 2019, according to the movies

And it will still be better than 2018. (via)

The whine of a nose-diving plane

That sound that we associate with nose-diving planes is called a ‘Jericho Trumpet’. It’s a siren mounted on German Ju87 Stuka Dive Bomber planes that was added as a psychological weapon, designed to cause panic and confusion in the enemy.

The slight variation in pitch is due to the Doppler effect. The increasing air speed causes the plane’s propellers to spin faster, increasing the pitch of the engine.

Going into a dive bomb was a difficult task. Stuka pilots would have to ensure:

  • Landing flaps at cruise position
  • Elevator at cruise position
  • Rudder trip at cruise position
  • Contact altimeter ON
  • Contact altimeter set to release altitude
  • Supercharger set at automatic
  • Throttle fully closed
  • Cooler flaps closed
  • Dive brakes open

As soon as the dive brakes were activated, the Stuka’s nose would automatically turn down and the plane would begin its descent. The maximum dive-speed was 600 km/h (373 mph).

In Star Wars, TIE fighters have a similar sound, which probably isn’t an accident:

Sound designer Ben Burtt created the distinctive TIE fighter sound effect by combining an elephant call with a car driving on wet pavement. In the book The Sounds of Star Wars, the engine roar is likened to German Junker Ju 87 “Stuka” bombers, who used sirens to frighten civilians on raids. This could have been a possible inspiration for the sound. Combat scenes between TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon and Rebel Alliance X-wing fighters in Star Wars were meant to be reminiscent of World War II dogfight footage; editors used World War II air combat clips as placeholders while Industrial Light & Magic completed the movie’s special effects.

There’s no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Irish

Noah Ó Donnaile:

Irish is a Celtic language, spoken (spoiler alert) on the island of Ireland. It has 2 grammatical genders, 4-ish grammatical cases, VSO word order, and has no words for “yes” or “no”.

I found this interesting. In English, if you ask the question “is she OK?”, you’ll get ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in response.

Ask the same question in Irish—”an bhfuil sí ceart go leor?”—likely answers are ‘tá’ or ‘níl’. These literally mean “she is” and “she isn’t”.

The answers take the verb from the question and express it positively or negatively. This causes problems with machine translation; the question is needed to provide context, so you’ll often get a seemingly non-sensical answer like “isn’t” instead of ‘no’.

As noted above, Irish has a VSO (verb-subject-object) word order, whereas English uses SVO. Yoda uses OSV.