In Letterspace, No One Can Hear You Kern


79 Responses to “In Letterspace, No One Can Hear You Kern”

  1. kjoonlee says:

    Maybe it was made with Inkscape for Windows, which has had this exact bug for many years.

    I hear it will be fixed for the next version.

  2. oldtaku says:

    And the first self-portrait they took with MAHLI was the fat girl angle shot.

    Perhaps they should work with Apple on this, but then the target would be immaculately typeset with chintzy stitched fake leather.

    [/total snark, I <3 Curiousity]

  3. Ashley Yakeley says:

    No, that’s Arial. Look at the way the C, S, a, t terminals are not quite horizontal.

  4. Lex says:

    Arial, not Helvetica. Check out the top of the -second- t in Target.

  5. TPAktsne says:

    Anyone know the meaning of the characters inside the zero of the “1.0″?

    • jere7my says:

      They are gamma-delta-beta-gamma. A Google search suggests a possible Caltech origin: “…another quadgraph, a lowercase Greek gamma-delta-beta-gamma. This is known to have originated during the 1970s when a Caltech security guard responding to some campus antics was overheard saying that it must be the ‘God Damn Blacker Gang’,” referring to Blacker Hovse: “…one of 8 undergraduate houses at Caltech. The closest description is a non-greek, co-ed fraternity.”

      • ROSSINDETROIT says:

        So we put swears on Mars?  Actually I approve of that in this case.

      • SamLL says:

        I was a member of Blacker House. GDBG is a long-running inside joke / signature for the House – sort of a customized “Kilroy was here” – running slightly behind Dabney House’s DEI. Actually I think the closer analogy to Caltech’s undergrad houses these days is the student houses in Harry Potter.

    • grimc says:

      Found it! Caltech student house.

      Why Gamma Delta Beta Gamma?
      In the late 1970s Blacker was heavy into elevator trolling and keys. One day a few Moles lead by Charles Scott Reynolds (fr: 1975) were sitting on top of an elevator. Some security guards came in and happened to use that elevator. The guards were complaining about something that the “God Damned Blacker Gang” had done (contemporaries confirm that it was “Gang” and not “Guys” as some versions of the story have mentioned). So the next Blacker RF was signed with “Gamma Delta Beta Gamma”…

  6. grimc says:

    Anyone know what the 4 Greek letters inside the zero mean? I think it’s gamma-delta-beta-gamma.

  7. annomination says:

    I would like to know what the “gamma delta beta gamma” inside the largest zero stands for. Oooh… intrigue!

  8. annomination says:

    More info and a picture of the whole calibration target at the following link: 

  9. Ted Bautista says:

    relevant xkcd:

    “if you really hate someone, teach them to recognize bad kerning”

  10. yawn…non-story but you type nerds have fun why us NASA guys land shift on different planets…

  11. geekd says:

    And this is why typesetters don’t get invited to parties.

  12. sean nelson says:

    The dullest folks of all- font nerds.

  13. SedanChair says:

    Arial is NASA’s way of saying “Typefaces? Sorry, we’re a little busy going to space

  14. I would hate to think that they hefted an entire penny all the way to Mars — as opposed to the topmost few microns of it.  How massively spendthrift that would have been!

    Anyhow, what typeface do we want to send to Mars?  Futura Extra Bold?  Optima?  The floor is open.

    And I close with this: “LT. WATAVA was fond of kerning”.

  15. signsofrain says:

    It’s hard for me to describe how much I hate fonts, and discussing their minutiae. Fellow IT people who’ve had to service departments full of graphic artists will understand what I mean.

    • Ryan_T_H says:

      Then I guess you wandered into the wrong article. I, and everyone else who designs graphics/text, need to pay attention to this kind of thing. Because the rest of the world generally only notices when we screw it up.

      You might loath thinking about fonts. But I bet you notice quick if the menu at the restaurant is hard to read due to crappy font and layout.

      • BillStewart2012 says:

        I go to a lot of ethnic restaurants.  Random spellings and obviously-non-native-speaker word choices win out over font and layout problems.  (E.g. “loath” and “quick-without-ly” :-)

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      You don’t have to know anything about fonts or kerning to find the space between the T and the a unsettling.  It’s just wrong.

      • cleek says:

         i could stare at that picture all day and never notice the space after the T.

        kerning-sensitivity must be some kind of rare affliction, like perfect pitch or cilantro-soap-mouth.

        • Thorzdad says:

           No. It’s called taking care of the details like a pro. It’s like writing clean, efficient code. Sure, the sloppy code will probably run just fine, but a craftsman will take the time to clean their code up. It’s a point of pride.

        • The point of graphic design and typography isn’t to make subtle things obvious. Rather, it is to make sure the fine points are so well executed that they carry that sense to normal people who don’t look for such things. It’s like looking at beautifully made cabinetry in a kitchen, and while one might not be able to explain or appreciate the specific reasons why it looks great, the craftsmanship is apparent and carries the knowledge of quality.

          Fundamentally, type that is set well and with care is easier to read, too.

          • cleek says:

            Rather, it is to make sure the fine points are so well executed that they carry that sense to normal people who don’t look for such things.

            so the assumption here is that people who don’t look for these things are nevertheless deeply aware of them?

            keep in mind that the text in question is entirely superfluous; there is absolutely no reason for there to be any text whatsoever there. it is essentially graffiti. that text will never again be read by anyone . and it will only be seen by a digital camera on the articulated arm of a robot, the operators of which are not at all interested in text.

            getting that text to Mars is the accomplishment. the 0.03″ spacing between those letters is irrelevant.

          • Cleek, there is a thing known as “humor” and “juxtapositional irony” that perhaps might be found in a lexicon.

            “that text will never again be read by anyone”: Viz., photo.

      • SummerFang says:

        Oh, but when we point out spelling or grammer mistakes, we’re accused of pedantry.

    • I suppose it’s a lot more satisfying managing Microsoft office licenses than a font server.

    • Thorzdad says:

       Then don’t discuss them. Problem solved.
      Every profession has their minutiae that the pros have to pay attention to. That’s what makes them valuable pros. That you arrogantly devalue what you don’t understand doesn’t make it any less important.

    • I’ve actually done both.  If you’re annoyed that your users require decent typefaces–and clearly you are, since you “had to service” machines used by a graphic arts department–vacate your position to make room for someone who actually gives a damn about doing a good job.

  16. 10xor01 says:

    Given that it’s NASA, I would have expected a fixed width terminal font.

  17. Gabriel Meister says:

    Would be funny if we started receiving a Morse code signal through SETI that repeated: “LOL LEARN TO KERN, BRAH!  LOL LEARN TO KERN, BRAH!  LOL LEARN TO KERN, BRAH! …”

  18. Ron Hipschman says:

    Actually, there is another color target that the 7 cameras on the mast can see. The color chips are on the corners of the sundial which is mounted on the top deck of the rover midways from from to back on the right side.

  19. cegev says:

    It seems quite likely that Arial and bad kerning were employed specifically to annoy people who notice such things.

    • ImmutableMichael says:

      I can’t tell you how much I wish this was true. If there is a conspiracy to subtly annoy font nerds just teach me the goddamn handshake….

  20. social_maladroit says:

    You, sir, should be ashamed of yourself. As the British would say: “Honi soit qui MAHLI pense.”

  21. Raum187 says:

    “As a former typesetter”. And yet, unable to distinguish between Arial and Helvetica??

    Bull.  Never happened. Someone fed you some link-bait! Those fonts are nothing alike! This is horse shiFt.

    • Arial and Helvetica have a number of features in common, as can be evidenced by several sites that compare features or offer “tests” to see if you can guess which of two chunks of type is Arial and which Helvetica. I checked several features on many lowercase letters, but missed the telltale C.

      I was a typesetter for several years two decades ago, and have worked extensively with type for 30 years. Arial and Helvetica still get me.

  22. Hugh Johnson says:

    When this thing gets found by intergalactic travelers in about a million years, they are going to have a giant alien “WTF?” moment because of that penny.

  23. Tim Warman says:

    Any real geologist will tell you you NEVER use coins for scale, since a scale by definition is something whose size is universally and instantly understood. As a rough guess, there’s probably an order of magnitude range in the diameter of coins in circulation across the world.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      Given that, until pretty recently, the only difference between the definition of a ‘meter’ and the definition of a ‘penny-width’ was that one was an object made from platinum/iridium alloy by the French and one was an object made from copper by the Americans, I’m not seeing the major issue with using one for scale…

      The world has all sorts of wacky coins out there; but US pennies are of reasonably fixed size, minus circulation wear-and-tear.

  24. User 100 says:

    I’m sorry, but that’s actually some pretty well kerned text on that display (and I worked 8 years for a type foundry whose main selling point was their impeccable kerning).
    Considering that it’s a pretty heavy font, and the display is fairly small, all you would end up with if you kerned the “Ta” much tighter would be a big blob of “ink” (as the blown up image above is significantly bigger than it is in reality, it’s not really representative of how it would appear at a 1:1 scale).

    •  No one who worked for a type foundry would claim that this was kerned at all; and the letterspacing is quite broad. The “Ta” pair has plenty of room to tighten without creating a blob, given all the type here is essentially perfectly reproduced. There’s no spreading or blurring.

    • Youkai says:

       It does look a lot better than what you would get if you simply opened up Word and typed out those letters in Arial.

  25. James Mason says:

    1909 penny – in 100,000 years there will be a conspiracy theory wide enough to drive a truck through regarding when this curiosity was actually sent to Mars.

  26. duncancreamer says:

    I feel your pain. This is my old licence plate:

    Also the parenthese are too high in (MAHLI)

  27. tedder42 says:

    you mentioned the  sundial, but did you know Bill Nye was involved on all the mars sundials? See his TED talk, Nerdist podcast, etc.

  28. Bazinga! says:

    The penny’s date of 1909 was chosen because that was the original launch date of  the MSL mission before it was delayed.  By that time, the target with its coin in place had already been made.  This I heard in a JPL teleconference when someone asked the significance of the 1909 date.

  29. ewiebe says:

    Since this is a story about being (overly?) fussy about something almost no actually notices or cares about I will tell you all that “a homage” hurts my head when I see it. 

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