Anti-utopian type design according to Monotype’s Charles Nix – gpgmail


Monotype recently introduced a new typeface called Ambiguity, created by its chief type designer, Charles Nix. Its unusual proportions deliberately challenge typographical conventions, going wide where a letter was once narrow and vice versa. I had a chance to talk to Nix about the genesis of Ambiguity and the state of type design; The conversation was interesting enough that I felt I should publish it more or less intact.

The interview has been slightly edited for clarity and conciseness. I started by asking for a little background on Monotype and what Nix does.

Charles Nix: Monotype is a very old company. It’s at least 125 years old, if not hundreds of years, just based on the number of foundries that have consolidated over the last 200 years. The current iteration of Monotype is the largest purveyor of digital fonts in the world.

The Monotype Studio is a discrete section within it that creates and manages type collections. There are around 60 of us, a dozen or so of which are type designers.

We help customers navigate the library, because it’s vast. We make do typeface recommendation, identification, pairing; we also help customers by modifying existing typefaces slightly in order to make them perform more uniquely.

And lastly the studio does custom design work, so we work with customers in order to identify their type needs, then create custom type solutions from the ground up.

Devin Coldewey: You mentioned the company is an amalgamation of foundries and studios from a century and more. The digital era seems like an exciting and weird one to be in type because the tools are so strong and distribution is so straightforward. Is this a good time to be in type versus 10, 20, 50 years ago?

Nix: I mean, you’re talking to a type designer, so any time working on type is a good time. But I agree with what you said, this time and this company, I want to say it’s all been leading up to this moment.

The tools and communication regarding typography, the typographic plenty, the awareness of typographic history, all these things are so amazing and focused at this point, there’s no more exciting time in the history of type to be involved.

Coldewey: What do you think is the biggest change in the last decade or so? Digitally the adoption of high-DPI screens has probably made type look a lot better, but I don’t know whether it’s actually changed what people do, or how it’s designed or approached.

Tools, distribution, and awareness — those three things are coming together to create the greatest typographic plenty in the history of the world.

Nix: There’s a triangulation of factors that are affecting type design at this point. One is the tools — and I always make this distinction, popular tools versus democratic tools. The tools aren’t democratic, but they’re popular enough, and they’re available enough, not freely obviously, but much much more freely and more accessible than any time in the 500 years of type founding, right?

As you pointed out, type is and has been for the last 30 years software. And slightly longer actually, if you look back to the early, early digital type, but now and in the public consciousness, it’s software. So distribution is crazy fast, and widespread.

My mother, she’s a special case because she helped my dad, who was a printer, so she knows more about type than most mothers. But in 1985 she could probably name five or six typefaces off the top of her head. And now she and everybody else’s mother has a favorite typeface, right?

That’s a huge change in the way that the world views type. What will come into sharper focus in the coming years is how those people harness the ability of typefaces to help modulate their own language, to help tell the story of what they say in print.

So tools, distribution, and awareness — those three things are coming together to create the greatest typographic plenty in the history of the world.


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MIT researchers are working on AI-based knitting design software that will let anyone, even novices, make their own clothes – gpgmail


The growing popularity of 3D printing machines and companies like Thingiverse and Shapeways have given previously unimaginable powers to makers, enabling them to create everything from cosplay accessories to replacement parts. But even though 3D printing has created a new world of customized objects, most of us are still buying clothes off the rack. Now researchers at MIT are working on software that will allow anyone to customize or design their own knitwear, even if they have never picked up a ball of yarn.

A team of researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), led by computer scientist Alexandre Kaspar, released two new papers describing the software today. One is about a system called InverseKnit that automatically creates patterns from photos of knitted items. The other one introduces new design software, called CADKnit, that allows people with no knitting or design experience to quickly customize templates, adjusting the size, final shape and decorative details (like the gloves shown below).

The final patterns can be used with a knitting machine, which have been available to home knitters for years, but still require a fair amount of technical knowledge in order to design patterns for.

Gloves made using CADknit

Both CADKnit and InverseKnit want to make designing and making machine-knitted garments as accessible as 3D printing is now. Once the software is commercialized, Kaspar envisions “knitting as a service” for consumers who want to order customized garments. It can also enable clothing designers to spend less time learning how to write knitwear patterns for machines and reduce waste in the prototyping and manufacturing process. Another target audience for the software are hand-knitters who want to try a new way of working with yarn.

“If you think about it like 3D printing, a lot of people have been using 3D printers or hacking 3D printers, so they are great potential users for our system, because they can do that with knitting,” says Kaspar.

One potential partner for CADKnit and InverseKnit is Kniterate, a company that makes a digital knitting machine for hobbyists, makerspaces and small businesses. Kaspar says he has been talking to Kniterate’s team about making knitwear customization more accessible.

CADKnit combines 2D images with CAD and photo-editing software to create customizable templates. It was tested with knitting newbies, who despite having little machine knitting experience were still able to create relatively complex garments, like gloves, and effects including lace motifs and color patterns.

To develop InverseKnit, researchers first created a dataset of knitting patterns with matching images that were used to train a deep neural network to generate machine knitting patterns. The team says that during InverseKnit’s testing, the system produced accurate instructions 94% of the time. There is still work to do before InverseKnit can be commercialized. For example, the machine was tested using one specific type of acrylic yarn, so it needs to be trained to work with other fibers.

“3D printing took a while before people were comfortable enough to think they could do something with it,” says Kaspar. “It will be the same thing with what we do.”


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Apple Could Switch to ARM, But Replacing Xeon Is No Simple Endeavor


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The question of when Apple will switch to building its own custom ARM CPU cores for its software ecosystem rather than using Intel and x86 comes up on a regular basis. On ET, we first covered the topic in 2011, and I’ve hit it several times in the intervening years. My answer has typically been some flavor of “theoretically yes, but practically (and in terms of the near future), no.”

A recent AppleInsider article does a good job of rounding up the reasons why Apple really might be taking this step soon. We’ve previously heard rumors that the company could launch such a product in 2020, and while rumors are not the same thing as a definite launch date, the piece is solid. It makes a reasonable case for why Apple may indeed take this step and references various real-world events, including Intel’s difficulties moving on past 14nm, Apple’s design efforts around GPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and CPUs, the increasing complexity and capability of its SoCs, and the fact that Apple has built its own secondary chips, like the T2 controller.

All of these points are true, and it’s why I think the 2020 rumor deserves to be taken more seriously than the dates and ideas that we used to hear. But there is still a major piece of this puzzle that doesn’t get talked about often enough. Apple can introduce an ARM core running full macOS, but if it wants to replace x86 in its highest-end iMac Pro and Mac Pro products, it’s going to have to take on some significant design challenges that it hasn’t faced before.

Intel’s Skylake mesh interconnect. This is anything but easy to build and design.

Apple has built CPUs, yes. But it’s never tried to build, say, a 28-32-core ARM processor in a multi-socket system. To the best of my knowledge, Apple has never built a server-class chipset or designed a CPU socket for its own product families. During E3, I attended an AMD session on the evolution of its AM4 socket, and how carefully AMD had to work in order to design a 7nm product with chiplets to fit into a socket that initially deployed four identical CPU cores in a 28nm process node. Even if Apple intends to create a platform without upgradable CPUs, it will need to design its own motherboards. The socket design decisions that it makes will impact how quickly it can iterate the platform and how much work has to be done at a later time. Achievable? Absolutely. But not something one does overnight.

The routing on AMD Ryzen 7 3000 PCB. That’s the connection between one chiplet and its I/O die. This isn’t easy to design, either.

Using chiplets makes some aspects of CPU design easier, especially on leading-edge nodes, but it doesn’t simplify everything. Chiplets require interconnects, like AMD’s Infinity Fabric. Apple would need to design its own solution (there are no formal chiplet interconnect standards yet). There’s a lot of custom IP work to be done here if Apple wants to bring a part to market to replace what Intel offers in the Mac Pro.

One simple solution is for Apple to launch new ARM chips in laptops but keep desktop systems on Intel for the time being. In theory, this works fine, provided the ecosystem is ready for it and Apple can deliver appropriate binaries for applications. Software application support and user expectations could be tricky to manage here, but it’s doable. The problems for Apple, in this case, are making sure that its consumers understand any compatibility issues that might exist and that the new ARM-based products are clearly differentiated from the old x86 ones.

Is There a Reason for Apple Not to Build Its Own Mac CPUs?

There is, in fact, a reason for Apple not to build its own CPU cores for Mac. There is a non-trivial amount of work that must be done to launch a laptop/desktop processor line. Doing all of the work of developing interconnects, chiplets, chipsets, and motherboards from the ground up is more difficult and expensive than working with someone else’s pre-defined product standard and manufacturing. There’s an awful lot of work that Intel does on Core that Apple doesn’t have to do.

The question of whether it makes sense for Apple to move away from Intel CPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is therefore partially predicated on what kind of money Apple thinks it can make as a result of doing so. Obviously capturing the value of the microprocessor can sweeten the cost structure, but capturing the value also means capturing the cost. When Apple was a non-x86 shop, its market share was significantly smaller than it is today, and the company gained some market share immediately after switching to x86. It is impossible to tell if it gained that share because its software compatibility was now much improved or because many of its systems, especially laptops, were now far more competitive with their Windows counterparts.

Apple has to consider that it will lose at least some customers if it moves away from x86 compatibility again, either because of software compatibility or because its new chips may not offer a performance improvement in specific workloads relative to Intel. The most valuable CPUs — the ones powering the Mac Pro — are also the most expensive to design and build. If Apple doesn’t think it can command the price premiums that Xeon does, it might hold off on introducing CPUs in these segments until it believes it can. Unlike 2005, when IBM couldn’t produce a G5 that fit into a laptop, Apple isn’t quite that pinched as far as market segments.

I think Apple’s CPUs have evolved enough to make a jump towards ARM and away from x86 plausible in a way it wasn’t back in 2014, but there are still some significant questions to be answered about where Apple would sell the part and whether it would attempt to replace x86 in all products, or in specific mobile SKUs. And, honestly, I think there’s a version of this story where Apple ultimately continues to work with Intel or AMD long into the future, having decidedly to deploy its own ARM IP strategically across the Mac line, or in secondary positions similar to how the T2 chip is used.

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