miscellanea tools

Name That Font!

For the non-specialist, trying to identify a font from a small sample is a nearly futile exercise, particularly if it is at all obscure. Most of us can manage to pick out fonts that have been overused to the point of banality (such as Times New Roman, or heaven forfend, Comic Sans). Wouldn’t it be nice if you could discover the name of a font given a sample?

A while back I discussed several tools for identifying music given only a few bars of a tune. During my font search, I happened across several resources to help you chase down an intinerant typeface.

Totally Automated Font Identification

Gulim Bold font sample, created with the Gimp

WhatTheFont should be your first recourse. You supply it with an image of a few characters of the font (ideally, tweaked to accomodate their usage guidelines). To test it out, I picked a relatively typeface that was installed on my system (Gulim Bold), and uploaded to the WTF website. I was immediately prompted with potentially identifications for each letter, which I then had the opportunity to correct. This was unnecessary, as WTF correctly identified each one.

Sample of Prima Sans provided by WhatTheFontNext, I was presented with a list of five matches. I was initially dismayed that Gulim Bold did not appear on the list, but upon closer examination, the first suggestion, Prima Sans Bold, is a dead ringer. I’d have to guess that Gulim is a not-very-subtle clone; I’d be very happy with such a close match if I needed to match Gulim for a project.

The next three choices (variants of Fago Ex) were quite close, but the ‘b’s clearly differ. The final choice, Pragmatica Bold, had the right ‘b’, but overall appeared to be a slightly lighter weight. Want to try the search yourself? Go to the WhatTheFont page, and provide it with the URL of the above Gulim Bold sample image:

Choose Your Own Adventure Font

Identifont takes another path. Rather than automatically analyzing an image, it asks you a sequence of questions about the characteristics of the font to be identified, much like a field identification guide for trees or twenty questions. You start by specifying which characters you have in your sample, to eliminate questions that you won’t be able to answer. After each answer you provide, it narrows the field of possible candidates; after you get through its list of questions, it presents you with its choices for the best thirty matches so you can eyeball them to see which looks like the best fit.

Again using my Gulim Bold sample, above, I walked through the series of fifteen questions. I was unclear on how to answer questions about several of the characteristics, so I selected the option indicating I was uncertain. Finally, I was presented with a list of fonts that seemed to have very little to do with each other and not much to do with Gulim Bold. I went back I tried answering the two questions I was uncertain about, but no luck, no matter which way I answered them. Sorting through the list of fonts was a pain, as well, as you have to click on each to view a sample.
My conclusion? All I know is that it didn’t work for one five-letter sample. For a better test, I might try it with a complete Gulim alphabet, or try another font. Regardless, if WTF doesn’t turn up any matches for you then this might be worth a shot.

Pre-Identified Gameshow Fonts

This is getting a bit specific, but if you’re looking for fonts that were used in a particular game show then a lot of your work may be done already. I’ve happened across collections of show title fonts, fonts used to display scores, and of other miscellaneous game show fonts.

(Oh, and Jeopardy!? There’s a simulacrum of the title font called ‘Gyparody‘, the clues are displayed something very close to in a face named ‘Enchanted‘, and player winnings were displayed [from 1975-1993] in Vane Type II. My information is not yet complete, though. I did find some speculations about the current winnings font and the face used to display categories, but nothing conclusive.)

books organization

A Semblance of Order: Library Management

[Updated 23 July 2007: Minor typographical corrections, added a mention of LibraryThing’s CueCat offer, added a screenshot of the NYPL HLS.]

In which we examine LibraryThing, Delicious Library, and the New York Public Library Home Library System.

Where is human nature so weak as in a bookstore?

—Henry Ward Beecher, 1855

The books continue to accumulate, despite a valiant effort at asceticism . . . I let my guard down for a moment, and there are another couple book-feet sitting on the coffee table. One must face up to the fact that a personal library is not a self-organizing phenomenon.

Well, perhaps that’s not strictly true, but the order that emerges tends to be less than helpful: if I’ve read it recently, it’s lying on some surface (perhaps, I’m sorry to say, on the floor by the bed); if I haven’t read it recently, it’s on a bookshelf somewhere; and if I want to read it, it’s in a box in the attic. It is that last category (and the fear that one of those boxes might actually be mouldering in the basement) that causes the most pain. Getting the books in order is moving up the priority list.

Like any good book-obsessed geek, I’ve been meaning to pick up a bar-code scanner to help automate the tedium of data-entry. Recently, I’ve read about video barcode readers that can pluck and decode the barcodes from a camera. Thus, like any good Linux geek (and being extremely cheap), I started wondering if there were any free or open source software packages I could appropriate. Today, I did some digging.

The best I could dredge up along those lines is /barCode, which looks a bit raw but could perhaps be coaxed to work on my XV6700. During my search, though, I happened across something not free but still quite impressive: Delicious Library.

Delicious Library

Delicious Library is a Mac OS X app with supremely spiffy, live, video barcode recognition. Despite my Linux ways, I’ve been playing around with a MacBook Pro that has an integrated camera, so I figured I’d give it a try.

Delicious Library Screenshot

I sat down next to one of my bookshelves and started scanning. It took a moment to find the right distance and angle, but very quickly there was a beep, and almost instantly DL had sucked down the information from Amazon, displayed a small image of the cover, and read out the title in a synthesized voice. Slick! I proceeded through the first dozen books on the top shelf: of these, three were unrecognized.

DL appears to be performing its primary lookups through the UPC code; as near as I can tell, you have to manually enter the ISBN to run a search if the UPC isn’t found. It took a bit of frustrated poking to figure out how to make that happen . . . for example, there’s no ISBN field visible on the book information entry panel, which was quite vexing. For pre-ISBN books, you appear to be completely out-of-luck. I wanted to just enter the title and have the program give me a list of possible matches from which to choose, but this doesn’t appear to be an option.

Once the books are scanned and recognized, they can be organized by creating shelves and dragging and dropping, but this is about the limit of the interactivity. Books can be rated and notes entered, but there’s no tagging that I could find. The Similar function can be used to list related books on Amazon, but any wishlist management would have to be delegated there; there’s no such capacity in DL.

One theoretically interesting feature is voice search: you can speak the name of any title in your library, and DL will pop it up. I didn’t find this particularly helpful or successful. You need to speak the full title (including subtitle, if any) at just the right speed. Some titles, try as I might, simply would not be recognized. Being able to speak a word or two and get a list of candidates would have been much more useful: if I know exactly what I’m looking for, I hardly need to search for it.

Delicious Library is $40, and the demo will let you scan up to twenty-five books before making you pay. If you’ve got a Mac, it’s definitely worth some experimentation. It allows full import/export, so it might be possible to use the free version to scan the easy parts of your library in 200-book chunks, to be imported into another application.


Delicious Library’s scanning was quite slick, but I could already feel the limitations chafing a bit. I’d glanced at LibraryThing several times over the past few months, but had never felt a serious urge to try it out. Letting the world know what books I’ve purchased doesn’t seem to be particularly necessary. Today, though, the bit was in my teeth, and I plunged right in.

LibraryThing is completely web-based, with a strong social component (finding other people who own the same books, and so on). Sign-up is instant . . . to log on is to create an account, no email address required. As previously mentioned, I don’t yet own a barcode scanner, so ISBN entry was by hand. Typing ten digits by hand isn’t too hard, and very quickly the first book popped up. Once you enter a title, you get a list of matches; for any book for which I had an ISBN, there was only one option, which required clicking on a link.

The data entry flow was pretty smooth. I could leave the mouse hovering over the spot where the link would appear, and after each entry the cursor remained in the search box: type ISBN, hit return, click repeat. Some keyboard shortcuts are definitely indicated, though.

LibraryThing - Adding a Book

The particular bookshelf I selected (after the top shelf) included a few challenges, including relatively recent volumes, books from the fifties without ISBNs, and texts going back to 1871 (including several in Latin that were published in Germany).

Everything with an ISBN was recognized immediately and smoothly. LibraryThing allows searches by Library of Congress number (insanely cool) which handled the several mid-twentieth century books with ease (though I had to switch the search corpus from Amazon to the LoC, and LoC searches sometimes turned up several hits).

One exceptional feature is the ability to search the catalogs of dozens of different libraries, as well as international Amazon listings. Amazingly, I was able to scrape up information from around two-thirds of the nineteenth-century, Leipzig-published books from German libraries, though I had to correct an occasional date field. You can only search one library at a time, though, so I had to perform up to eight searches in some cases before I found a hit.

LibraryThing - Viewing my library

Like Delicious Library, LibraryThing offers a visual display of the covers in your collection (I assume it’s possible to upload covers for volumes that lack them, though I’ve yet to determine how.) The navigation is, unsurprisingly, not as convenient as the desktop application, and lacks the spiffy shelf graphics. There’s no drag and drop, either . . . this is a site that could use a good shot of AJAX.

More significantly, LibraryThing has no concept of shelving. It provides tagging, so I suppose one could approximate a filing system by tagging with shelf names or numbers. I found the tagging interface a bit awkward, though, and nowhere near as smooth as the data entry. Trying to tag multiple books at once involved lots of laborious clicking on tiny checkboxes, and it was very hard to manipulate tags directly. Also, I would have like to have the option of appropriating tags that other have used, rather than having to type everything myself from scratch. Perhaps theses features are there, but I’m not finding them.

I’ve not played much with the social aspects of LibraryThing, and the eclectic set of books I entered has not revealed my bibliodoppelg√§nger. I’ll be poking around some more over the next few days.

LibraryThing is ludicrously affordable: you can keep 200 books in your catalog for free; after that, it’s $10 for a year or $25 for a lifetime membership. They are also offering :CueCat barcode readers for $15, so $40 will get you either the current edition of Delicious Library, or LibraryThing lifetime membership plus a barcode reader.

In a few hours of playing around I scanned 86 books, and I’m deeply tempted to keep going. One of my key requirements, though, is keeping track of which book is in which box, and I’m not sure if the blunt instrument of tagging will be effective.

The New York Public Library Home Library System

I’m going to mention one more product, sold as Your Home Library: The Complete System for Organizing, Locating, Referencing, and Maintaining Your Book Collection This is a kit with personal library software, a binder with parchment-like paper for printing a permanent record, and a 128-page book on home library organization. Knowing my vices (and, I might point out, M——‘s vices), my brothers gave us a copy for Christmas a few years back. I started a bit of cataloguing, but the sheer volume of the task militated against entering the entire collection.

New York Public Library Home Library System Screenshot

The included book is quite a useful little guide on categorization organization strategies and contains some painfully pointed advice on culling one’s collection. The software is written for Windows and Mac (and could probably be coaxed to run under Wine on Linux). Unfortunately, the package is from 2002 or so and written using FileMaker 6.0, and every bit of data entry is manual. It also takes over your entire screen, which I’d have to categorize as “not playing nicely with others”. (It does have explicit support for recording exactly where you’ve filed each book in your collection, which would be nice to see in LibraryThing). Entering a single book takes around five minutes, whereas you can whip through six to ten non-problematic books in a minute with either Delicious or LibraryThing.

You can pick up a used copy for five bucks or so, but in 2007 I’d have to say that Internet lookup of catalog information is a sine qua non.


Delicious Library is slick as hell but with some frustrating limitations. LibraryThing is extremely powerful with unparalleled lookup capabilities; some user interface work and the addition of field for shelving information would suck me in totally. The New York Time Library System has useful information in the included book, but its software is strictly outmoded.

There are several other sites and software packages out there than can fill the personal library management niche, but a quick gloss of the reviews suggest that they remain behind LT for the moment. You can view the LibraryThing test catalog I created, should you so desire. If I decide to use LT as my primary library catalog, I’d have to think long and hard before I made my listing public. Sometimes, one just wants to be alone with one’s books.

languages literature

Dipped in Honey and Sprinkled with Sesame

I’ve been playing at translating a bit of Petronius, which is great fun—when I saw that a LatinStudy Satyricon group was starting up, I couldn’t resist. Perhaps it is somewhat beyond my nascent Latin skills, but it’s a nice change from the Vulgate. I’ve been taking a fairly loose approach, a bit looser than I’d think acceptable for a translation I was reading.

The opening fragment begins with a superb rant. Here’s a bit from my rendering of paragraph II:

Great oratory is, if I may say it, modest. It is not this swollen, disreputable blather; rather, it flows beautifully and naturally. Your flatulent spew of words is a recent migrant to Athens from Asia, a pestiferous, ill-starred exhalation upon the growing minds of our young men. Once established, it rotted our standards of eloquence, rendering us dumb.

Since then, who has risen to the level of a Thucydides or a Hyperides?

Poetry herself glistens with an unhealthy pallor. All the arts, in fact, have been weakened by a diet of this tripe, sapped of their chance to whiten into old age. Even painting has fared no better since those Egyptian poseurs discovered how to ruin that great art with their slapdashery.

There’s something reassuring about millennia-old vituperation.

(The title of this post, incidentally, comes from a line in paragraph I: “. . . sed mellitos verborum globulos, et omnia dicta factaque quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa.)