Scientists propose ‘Spaceline’ elevator to the Moon – gpgmail


Fans of sci-fi and fringe tech may already be familiar with the idea of the “space elevator,” which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — and totally impossible with today’s technology. But a pair of scientists think they’ve found an alternative: a Moon elevator. And it’s slightly less insane… technically.

The idea of the space elevator, first explored in detail by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel “The Fountains of Paradise,” is essentially a tower so tall it reaches space. Instead of launching ships and materials from the surface of the Earth to orbit, you just put them in the elevator of this tower and when they reach the top, somewhere about 26,000 miles up in geosynchronous orbit, they’re already beyond gravity’s pull, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a fun idea, but the simple fact is that this tower would need to be so strong to support its own weight, and that of the counterweight at the far end, that no known material or even reasonably hypothetical one will do it. Not by a long shot. So the space elevator has remained well on the “fiction” side of science fiction since its first proposal. Hasn’t stopped people from patenting it, though.

But what if I told you that we could make a space elevator even bigger, with materials available today? You’d say I am completely unqualified to engineer such a structure — and you’d be right. But two astronomers from Cambridge and Columbia Universities think they’ve got an alternative. They call it the Spaceline.

The secret is in abandoning the entire concept of anchoring the space elevator to the surface of the Earth. Instead they propose a tower or cable extending the other direction: From the surface of the Moon to geosynchronous orbit around the planet.

Unsurprisingly, this idea has been put out there before, as early as the ’70s. But as Zephyr Penoyre and Emily Sandford put it in their paper:

We present the derivations herein as a full standalone mathematical and physical description of the concept, one that we and authors before us have been surprised to find is eminently plausible and may have been overlooked as a major step in the development of our capacity as a species to move within our solar system.

Math by Cambridge and Columbia. Diagram by MS Paint.

In other words, others have suggested it before, but they did the math. And it actually works out. And it might only cost a few billion dollars.

The Spaceline would be more like a skyhook than a tower. A thin, strong piece of material (think the width of a pencil lead) that extends about 225,000 miles from the surface of the Moon to a safe distance above the planet, where it won’t interfere with satellites or encounter our pesky atmosphere.

Anyone interested in going to the Moon would simply launch to the correct orbit height and sync up with the tip of the Spaceline, where there would no doubt be a station of some kind. From there they could use solar-powered propulsion to zip along the line, no fuel required. At the other end, they simply slow down and have a soft landing at lunar orbit or whatever surface facility we put on the regolith there.

Importantly, the Spaceline would pass through the Earth-Moon Lagrange point, where there is effectively zero gravity and no other physical interference, making construction and storage a snap.

Having only a small team of scientists and engineers at such a base camp would allow hand construction and maintenance of a new generation of space based experiments – one could imagine telescopes, particle accelerators, gravitational wave detectors, vivariums, power generation and launch points for missions to the rest of the solar system.

Sounds nicer than the tiny Lunar Gateway NASA has planned.

While the researchers say this is “not idle theorycrafting,” it most certainly is, with the caveat that the theory is more realistic than a famously unrealistic one no one takes seriously. Still, the possibility is tantalizing now that someone has crunched the numbers. Perhaps one of these space-bound billionaires will make a Moon elevator their next passion project.


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MIT Creates Light-Sensitive ‘Reprogrammable’ Ink



You probably had to agonize over colors the last time you bought a car, a pair of shoes, or anything else where color matters. What if you didn’t have to pick a single color, though? Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a new color-changing ink that you can “reprogram” with light to produce different colors and patterns. Best of all, you can change the colors as many times as you want. 

MIT calls this “PhotoChromeleon” ink, and it’s a mix of multiple polychromatic dyes that can be spray-painted on almost any object. The team started by mixing standard automotive lacquer with cyan, yellow, and magenta polychromatic dyes. Each individual dye changes color when exposed to UV light. 

When you mix all three dyes together, you have a paint that can produce a wide range of colors. By understanding how each dye reacts to light, the researchers are able to precisely control each color channel. It’s similar to the way a modern inkjet printer uses individual cartridges of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink to create almost any shade you want. 

The team tested the programmable ink on various objects like a show, a phone case, and a (quite fittingly) a toy chameleon. The video below demonstrates how the clear ink becomes DLP projector shines high-intensity light onto the object’s surface as it spins on a turntable. However, it does take a few hours to create a pattern on small objects in the lab. The result is a colorized layer that looks like it was painted on. It was in a sense, but you can change the paint job whenever you want. 

This system is an evolution of ColorMod, a previous MIT experiment that used a 3D printer to create objects that could change color. In that case, the printer had to create each “pixel,” so the resulting patterns weren’t very clear. PhotoChromeleon produces crisp images, and you can quickly “reset” the ink with an ultraviolet light. 

MIT believes PhotoChromeleon technology could eventually make manufacturing more efficient and reduce waste. Imagine that you didn’t need to get two different pairs of shoes in different colors. You could just reset the color and change it to something else whenever you want. Bored with your phone case? Don’t buy a new one, just change the pattern with light. MIT is already working with Ford to advance the PhotoChromeleon project, which also supported the development of ColorMod.

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Hubble spots liquid water on a ‘super-Earth’ 110 light-years away – gpgmail


Water is not uncommon to find in our galaxy in ice or gaseous form, but liquid water is quite rare — and liquid and gaseous water on an Earth-like exoplanet? That’s never been observed… until now. Astronomers spotted this celestial unicorn, called K2-18 b, using the venerable Hubble space telescope.

K2-18 b is a “super-Earth,” a planet with a mass and size approximately like our own. Not only that, it exists in its solar system’s “habitable zone,” meaning a range of temperatures where liquid water can continuously exist. It’s about 110 light-years away in the constellation Leo.

Of course there are many super-Earths, and many planets in habitable zones, and many planets with water — but they’re never one and the same. This is the first time we’ve found the trifecta.

Researchers used past Hubble data to examine the spectral signature of light shining from K2-18 b’s sun through its atmosphere. They found evidence of both liquid and gaseous water, suggesting a water cycle like our own: evaporation, condensation, and all that.

To be clear, this is not an indication of little green men or anything like that; K2-18 b’s red dwarf sun is absolutely bombarding it with radiation. “It is highly unlikely that this world is habitable in any way that we understand based on life as we know it,” the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Hannah Wakeford told Nature.

Too bad — but that wasn’t what scientists were hoping to find. The discovery of an Earth-like planet with an Earth-like water cycle in the habitable zone is amazing, especially considering the relatively small number of exoplanets that have been examined this way. The galaxy is full of them, after all, so finding one with these qualities suggests there are plenty more where K2-18 b came from.

This discovery is an interesting one in another fashion: It was done, like lots of others are these days, by performing after-the-fact analysis on publicly available data (from 2016 and 2017), and the analysis used open-source algorithms. Essentially both the data and the methods were out there in the open — though naturally it takes serious scientific effort to actually put them together.

Two papers were published on K2-18 b, one from the University of Montreal and one from University College London. The former appeared on preprint site Arxiv yesterday, and the other was published in the journal Nature Astronomy today.


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NASA Tests Space Concrete for Future Mars Habitats


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NASA is looking toward a future when humans could visit Mars for an extended period, and Elon Musk is promising to send people there in the next decade. Whenever humans do set foot on Mars, they’re going to need someplace to hang their hat (or spacesuit helmet). Concrete could potentially allow explorers to build structures quickly and easily, assuming it sets correctly without Earth gravity. NASA has conducted experiments aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to assess the strength of concrete mixed in space. 

Scientists believe concrete could be an ideal material for building on other worlds because it’s durable, offers protection from radiation, and it may be possible to make it using materials present on the moon and Mars. Being able to manufacture building materials at your destination (known as in-situ resources) makes missions cheaper and easier to design because you don’t have to launch as much mass from Earth. 

However, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the molecular structure of concrete here on Earth. Concrete is a mixture of sand and gravel with lime or silicate (cement powder). As the cement dissolves in water, it forms crystal complexes that link together the aggregate to make a solid structure. The process of mixing and building with concrete is well established on Earth, but we don’t know how microgravity could affect it. Do we need to modify the ratios? Add additional materials? That’s what the ISS experiment aims to find out. 

ISS concrete above and Earth concrete below.

The experiment, known as Microgravity Investigation of Cement Solidification (MICS), is the first time concrete has been mixed outside of Earth’s gravity. Astronauts aboard the ISS mixed tricalcium silicate and water in varying amounts to create a concrete paste. The astronauts added alcohol to some of the packets to stop the hydration process at set intervals as well. A separate experiment used a centrifuge simulated lunar and Martian gravity on the samples as they mixed. 

The experiment confirms that concrete can harden in microgravity, which is a good thing. That means we can build structures with concrete outside of Earth’s gravity. The primary difference is an increase in pores compared with concrete mixed on Earth, and that could reduce the material’s strength. However, lower gravity on the moon or Mars would also put it under less strain. It may be possible to develop different binders that improve the strength of lunar or Martian concrete, and that may even lead to better concrete here on Earth.

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SpaceX ‘getting ready’ to fly orbital Starship design with new FCC filing – gpgmail


SpaceX is taking the steps necessary to begin test flying the orbital-class version of its Starship spacecraft, with new documents filed by the company (via Teslarati) with the FCC seeking necessary permissions for it to communicate with the prototype while it’s in flight.

The company filed documents with the U.S. regulatory agency this week in advance of the flight, which lists a max altitude of 74,000 feet, which is a far cry from Earth orbit but still a much greater distance vs. the 500 or so feet achieved by the squat ‘Starhopper’ demonstration and test vehicle that SpaceX has been actively operating in preparation for Starship .

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk confirmed that prep was underway via tweet. Musk has previously said that he hoped to follow the Starhopper’s most recent and final successful test quickly with tests of the full-scale vehicle. Like with that low-altitude test, SpaceX will aim to launch and land the Starhopper, with touch down planned just a short distance away.

Assembly and construction of the Starship prototype looks to be well underway, and Musk recently teased a Starship update event for September 28, which is likely when we’ll see this prototype assembled and ready to go ahead of its planned October first test flight window.

Starship is the next generation of SpaceX spacecraft, designed for maximum reusability, and with the aim of creating one vehicle that can serve the needs of current and future customers, eventually replacing both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Starship is also a key ingredient in Musk’s ambitious plan to reach and establish a continuing human presence on Mars.


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Rock Samples From Impact Crater Reveal Details of Dinosaur Extinction


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About 65 million years ago, the dinosaurs and countless other creatures were going about their business on Earth when a space rock dropped out of the sky and brought about the end of the Cretaceous Period. But what was that fateful day like? We have a better idea today thanks to the International Ocean Discovery Program, which collected a pristine sample from the impact site. 

The asteroid struck near the present-day Yucatan Peninsula, producing the Chixculub crater. Most of the crater sits under the Gulf of Mexico, so that’s where the researchers collected their samples more than 1,600 feet below the seafloor. The rock cores taken from the crater paint a bleak but fascinating picture of that day 65 million years ago. 

The object was probably no more than a few miles wide, which isn’t much compared with a planet. However, its high relative velocity caused a devastating release of energy. At the time of the impact, the region was a shallow sea, probably no more than 100 feet deep. The impact produced a tsunami more than a thousand feet tall, and at the same time gouged a massive crater of melted, deformed rock known as shocked rock. 

Based on the core samples (see below), the team estimates the impactor hit with the force of 10 billion Hiroshima atomic bombs. The blast ignited trees thousands of miles away, and the tsunami reached as far inland as present-day Illinois. The water flowed back into the crater several hours later, bringing with it soil and materials like charred trees picked up from the surrounding land.

The team was perhaps most interested by what wasn’t present in the samples: sulfur-rich rocks. The geological area around the crater has large deposits of sulfur, suggesting that the impact vaporized sulfur-bearing minerals and released the sulfur into the atmosphere. The team estimates that 325 billion metric tons of sulfur ended up in the atmosphere after the impact, which is orders of magnitude higher than what escaped during the 1883 Krakatoa volcanic eruption. That event lowered global temperatures by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The sudden high concentration of sulfur resulted in massive temperature drops across the globe, ensuring almost all dinosaurs perished. The only survivors among the dinosaurs were avian species, which eventually became modern-day birds. More research on the sample could reveal even more details about this tumultuous period in Earth’s history.

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Life, the Universe, and Math: 42 Proven to be the Sum of 3 Cubes


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The problem of 42 — at least as it relates to whether the number could be considered the sum of three cubes — has finally been solved. The question of whether every number under 100 could be expressed in this fashion has been a long-standing puzzle in the world of mathematics. Now, two mathematicians, Andrew Sutherland of MIT and Andrew Booker of Bristol, have jointly proven that 42 is indeed the sum of three cubes.

For years, mathematicians have worked to demonstrate that x3+y3+z3 = k, where k is defined as the numbers from 1-100. By 2016, researchers had demonstrated that this theory held true in all cases except for two unproven exceptions: 33 and 42. The formal theory, as expressed by Roger Heath-Brown in 1992, is that every k unequal to 4 or 5 modulo 9 has infinitely many representations as the sum of three cubes. By closing this particular gap, we’ve now proven that all numbers below 113 fit this theory.

Earlier this year, Andrew Booker of Bristol was inspired by a Numberphile video to begin working on a solution. We’ve embedded that video below:

Booker came up with a new, more efficient algorithm to search for a solution to the problem for these two values. The solution for 33 took about three weeks to find once the problem was run through a supercomputer at the UK’s Advanced Computing Research Centre. 42 proved a tougher nut to crack, so Booker paired up with Andrew Sutherland, who is an expert in massively parallel computation in addition to being a mathematician. The two enlisted the help of the Charity Engine, a distributed computing project that allows PCs to make money for charities through the donation of computing time.

Over a million hours of computation later, the team had its solution. In the equation x3+y3+z3 = k, let x = -80538738812075974, y = 80435758145817515, and z = 12602123297335631. Plug it all in, and you get (-80538738812075974)3 + 804357581458175153 + 126021232973356313 = 42. And with that, we’ve found solutions for all the values of k up to 100 (technically, up to 113).

“I feel relieved,” Booker said. “In this game, it’s impossible to be sure that you’ll find something. It’s a bit like trying to predict earthquakes, in that we have only rough probabilities to go by. So, we might find what we’re looking for with a few months of searching, or it might be that the solution isn’t found for another century.”

It may not prove that 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, but Douglas Adams clearly made the case for that solution in the mathematical and philosophical textbook, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Efforts to understand the Ultimate Question remain mired in disgruntled physics equations regarding the intrinsic difficulty of building planet-sized supercomputers with molten iron for a central core.

Top image credit: Martinultima/Wikipedia 

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India loses contact with spacecraft during historic moon landing attempt – gpgmail


India’s attempt to become the first nation to soft land a robotic spacecraft at the moon’s South Pole, an unexplored region, has ended in failure, the space agency said Saturday.

Less than two miles above the lunar surface, the Vikram lander (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program) lost communications with the mission control.

A live broadcast from ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, showed scientists grow tense as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was watching the landing attempt, offered words of encouragement to the scientists and children, who had accompanied him at the ISRO campus.

“Be courageous. Our faith in ISRO has not lost. I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. We are full of confidence that when it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come,” he said.

Space is hard. The lunar surface is filled with debris of spacecrafts that have attempted and failed to land in one piece. Because there is little to no atmosphere on the moon, parachutes can’t be used, leaving landers to rely completely on thrusters to modulate the speed.

Chandrayaan-2, a roughly $140 million mission, is, in part, intended to study moon craters that are believed to contain water deposits, something Chandrayaan-1 found in 2008.

A successful touchdown would have made India the fourth country to successfully complete a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China have accomplished it.

GettyImages 1165864210

Photo by Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

The 142-foot tall spacecraft that blasted off Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15, carried an orbiter, a lunar lander, and a six-wheeled rover. The lander and rover were expected to operate for just a couple of weeks, but the orbiter, which detached from the lander earlier this week, will continue to operate for at least one year.

ISRO has come a long way and specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when components of rockets were transported by bicycles and assembled by hand in the country.

In 2013, ISRO also launched an orbiter to Mars in its maiden $74 million interplanetary mission — a fraction of the $671 million NASA spent for a Mars mission in the same year. In 2017, ISRO also deployed a record 104 satellites into space in just 18 minutes.

Earlier this year, ISRO said it intends to have its own space station in the future and conduct separate missions to study the Sun and Venus. It will begin working on its space station following its first manned mission to space, called Gaganyaan (which means “space vehicle” in Sanskrit), in 2022 — just in time to commemorate 75 years of the country’s independence from Britain. The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crores ($1.5 billion) for the Gaganyaan mission.




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Watch India’s Chandrayaan-2 make its historic moon landing attempt right here – gpgmail


It’s a big day for India’s highly audacious Chandrayaan-2 mission. The nation will attempt to land its lunar orbit on the moon’s surface shortly as it inches closer to become the fourth in the world to complete a successful lunar landing. ISRO, India’s equivalent of NASA, will be live streaming the landing on its website, and YouTube channel.

Additionally, if you are tuning in from India, dozens of channels including Doordarshan (DD1), Disney India, National Geographic, Star Plus and Star Bharat, DD News, will live telecast the India’s mission to the moon. The landing is scheduled for between 1pm and 2pm Pacific Time (4pm to 5pm Eastern Time; 8pm to 9pm GMT).

ISRO launched its 142 feet tall spacecraft from the the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on July 15. The spacecraft consists of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram (named after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space program), and a six-wheeled rover named Pragyaan (Sanskrit for “wisdom”). Earlier this week, the lander that carried the rover detached from the orbiter.

The mission’s budget is just $141 million, significantly lower than those of other countries, and less than half of the recently released blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame.”

Commenting on the landing, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be watching the nation’s attempt at the moon landing from ISRO’s office, said earlier today that, “India, and the rest of the world will yet again see the exemplary prowess of our space scientists.”

Chandrayaan-2 aims to land on a plain surface that covers the ground between two of the moon’s craters, Simpelius N and Manzinus C — that is about 375 miles from the South Pole. It’s an understudied region that no one has seen closely yet.

NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, said in a televised program today, “I just want everyone to know that the whole world is following this and it is not just Indians. This is the first time any country is going to the South Pole of the moon! India is leading this and as a representative of the US, we are nervous and we are hoping for success. This increases the knowledge base of the moon.”


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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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