Wednesday, April 25, 2018

SearchResearch Challenge (4/25/18): What do these symbols mean?

Symbols are supposed to be easy.  

The idea, after all, is that a symbol works across languages and let you glance at it, immediately understand what it means, in order to rapidly understand what's going on.  
In general, it's good to be able to know what the symbols mean (in case you really need to take action).  It's good to know that this means biohazard:  

But in my experience, I see all KINDS of symbols that I don't understand.  So, here are a few symbols I've found in my travels this past week.  Can you tell me what they mean?  I don't know if they're important or not... which kind of defeats the purpose!  

1.  This blue cross (it really IS blue) with a stick and a snake that I found on an inside wall:  What does it mean?  Where would you normally see this?  How important is this to me?  Here's a photo I found in a building:  

2.  Here's another symbol--a box with arrow.  The only clue I have about this is that it was in a parking lot... on the ground, shown on top of a plastic traffic dot that's cemented to the ground.  What does this mean? 

3.  And lastly, a symbol that I've found on the side of a few walls in the city.  What could this possibly mean? 

As always, tell us HOW you found out the meaning of each.  Are they important symbols?  (Meaning, do *I* need to know about them in the course of my daily life?)  

Search on!  

Friday, April 20, 2018

Answer: A few typographic questions?

The naming of parts... 

... can be tricky, but figuring out WHAT the parts of different things are called is an important SearchResearch skill.  

Let's jump right into it (especially since this post is a couple of days late--see at the end for details)... 

1.  What's this part of the numeral 1 called? (That is, the thing sticking like a flange off the front.  Here I've circled it with a yellow dotted oval.) 

Short answer:  It's call an arm, but you could be forgiven for calling it a serif, an ear, or a leg, since they're all close in meaning.  

Here's what I did to search for this. 

My go-to method for looking for the names of parts-of-things is to do an image search with the context term "diagram" -- like this: 
     [ typography parts of a numeral diagram ] 
I admit that I rapidly went through a bunch of queries kind of like this: 
     [ typography font parts diagram ] 
     [ typography font number diagram ] 
and so on until I found that first one which gave me a bunch of diagrams with all of the parts of different characters with neat labels on them.  There are MANY such diagrams, and they're not all consistent, but here's one that I like from Carson Park Design, Sans and Serif.  This is just the relevant bit of their beautiful diagram: 

Their PDF has a nice set of examples of different parts of characters, including the definition of an arm (or leg) as a "..a horizontal stroke that is free on one end."  
This is different than a serif which is a stroke added as a stop to the beginning and end of the main strokes of a character.  Historically it comes from the way characters were chiseled into stone in Roman typography.  

And of course, variations in typeface design can sometimes make it difficult to tell if it's a serif or an arm / leg / ear.  

And, confusingly, some numeral 1s don't have anything!  This is a Gill Sans number 1, which is terrible (in my opinion), especially when its used for part numbers or codes (e.g., I11i)  

Odd thing, I love Gill Sans in general, just not the choice about the I's and the 1s.  

2.  What this line that connects these two characters called? 
Can we use that same context term trick here?  
Yes, you can, and it works fine.  But I found that the query: 
     [ typography connected characters examples ] 
actually works better.  Why? Because here I'm looking for a definition, and not so much a diagram that labels the parts.  
In any case, the Sans and Serif diagram we saw before actually has a nice example of what connected characters are called:  

Just to check if this is a ligature for S and T, I did the query: 
     [ ligature "s t" ] 
and found a bunch of examples:  

On the other hand, if you dig deeply enough (and Miguel Luís clearly pointed out in the comments), you'll find that this connecting line is called a gadzook, and that the pair of letters + the gadzook is collectively called a ligature. 

But as we've discussed before, sometimes the language changes even during your own lifetime.  
This image is from Chris Do's beautiful animated video about many typographic terms.  -- check out the swash at 2:00 and the gadzook at 2:56 

3.  You often see elaborate / decorative characters in type.  Collectively, what are these kinds of characters called?  (This is handy to know if you want to search for them.) 

I admit that this was a bit of an open-ended question.  What I was trying to convey was the idea of the extended strokes--the decorative tail on the A and Z, and the little decorative serif-looking thing at the top of the A.  
I initially did this search by using a Reverse Dictionary, and searching for: 
     [ decorative fonts ] 
and found a lot of terms, but the first one I didn't know in the list was "swash."  What does that mean in the context of typography?  
I did a define: 
     [ define swash ] 
and found that the second definition is what I was looking for: 

This makes sense.  Now, armed with "swash" as a new term, I could do a search for: 
    [ swash typography example ] 
and find all kinds of interesting examples, like this one in Zapfino: 
It's a very calligraphic look, which is what swash is all about.  

4.  Every so often I want to use a character that I KNOW exists, but I don't know the name, so it's hard to find and I'm reduced to manual search.  Here are a couple of such characters.  What are they?  More importantly, how did you find out their names? 

There are many ways to find these characters.  Here's what I did for each: 
1.  What's that upside down A character?  I tried the obvious search: 
     [ upside down A character ] 
and found that "...The upside-down A symbol is the universal quantifier from predicate logic." 
It just means "for all"  as in the expression, "for all values of X, this statement is true..."  For example: 
        ∀ SRS topics X, Remmij will post something on 
2. For the ß character, I did a draw-special-character in Google Docs. 
As you remember, if you create a new doc in Google Docs, you can "Insert Special Character," and draw it in the box on the side, like this: 

Notice that it tells you what this character is ("Latin Small Letter Sharp S"), although it does note that it also looks like a Greek Beta symbol.  
But if I search for: 
     [ sharp s ] 
I land on the Wikipedia page about "Sharp S" (aka Eszett, or Sharfe S).  

3.  I did the same trick with the 3rd character, and found that it's called a thorn character.  The thorn (more properly, the þorn character) is a letter in the Old English, Gothic, Old Norse and modern Icelandic alphabets.   Capital:  Þ, Miniscule form: þ
As Luís and Remmij both pointed out, the web site Shapecatcher does exactly this--you draw in the character, and it identifies it for you.  

Search Lessons 

1. You can search for characters by using the insert special character method in Google Docs.  Easy, and it opens up the world's orthography to you.  

2. Context terms can be really useful, especially when looking to labeled diagrams of things that you don't know.  "Diagram" is my favorite, but note that these context terms vary from language to language.  You'd use schema in German to find more-or-less the same thing. 

What's your favorite context term in your language?

Or, what's your favorite context term in English?  (I'm always finding new ones.  Are there ones you know about that you'd like to share with us?) 

Search on!  


Why is this post delayed?  

Well, it's the conference time of year, and this year I'm in Montreal for the Computer-Human Interaction conference in Montréal, Canada.  Just before coming here, I was visiting Dalhousie University in Halifax, just a 90 minute flight away from Montréal.  

To make things more complicated, I'm finishing up work on my book... so THAT's taking time as well.  

But I'll be back next week, on Wednesday, with a new Challenge.  

Stay tuned for even more searching...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

SearchResearch Challenge (4/11/18): A few typographic questions?

I was looking at some type samples the other day... 

... and I ended up with a bunch of questions that seem like basic typography, but I didn't know the answers!  

Can you help figure these out?   (They seem simple, but might be more complicated that you'd think.)  

1.  What's this part of the numeral 1 called? (That is, the thing sticking like a flange off the front.  Here I've circled it with a yellow dotted oval.) 

2.  What this line that connects these two characters called? 

3.  You often see elaborate / decorative characters in type.  Collectively, what are these kinds of characters called?  (This is handy to know if you want to search for them.) 

4.  Every so often I want to use a character that I KNOW exists, but I don't know the name, so it's hard to find and I'm reduced to manual search.  Here are a couple of such characters.  What are they?  More importantly, how did you find out their names? 

Good luck with these Challenges.  They're mostly for fun, but you just might find that the things we learn here are useful in your future typographic explorations.  Enjoy! 

And... as always, be sure to tell us HOW your figured out the answers to these Challenges.  Tell us how you did it! 

Search on! 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Answer: Can science fiction stories be used to demonstrate prior art in patent cases?

How to find vague concepts? 

Searching for something as vague or open-ended as this week's Challenge can be tough.  How can we find examples of science fiction being used to invalidate patents?   

Was this image from 2001 used to nullify an iPad patent? 

As you remember, I wrote about "prior art" that was first shown in the film 2001: a space odyssey.  (See the artwork for the movie above.  Is that astronaut holding an iPad?)  

This led to two Challenges--#1 is a specific question about a specific prior art, and #2 is the more general question. 

1.  Is it true that there was a lawsuit about iPad technology that claimed the movie 2001: a space odyssey as prior art?  
This led to two Challenges--#1 is a specific question about a specific prior art, and #2 is the more general question. 

My first query worked surprisingly well.  I just did: 

     [ prior art 2001 iPad ] 

and found all kinds of hits to the Samsung / Apple lawsuit.  

9to5Mac points out that Samsung presented a still frame from 2001 to illustrate that the design of the iPad was preceded by the "artwork" in the movie.  

As another, tech patent-watching site (Foss Patents) observed, Samsung says that: 

"...As with the design claimed by the D’889 Patent, [a design patent by Apple filed in 2005] the tablet disclosed in the clip has an overall rectangular shape with a dominant display screen, narrow borders, a predominately flat front surface, a flat back surface (which is evident because the tablets are lying flat on the table's surface), and a thin form factor." 

The story here is that Apple filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to remove Samsung's devices (in particular, the Infuse 4G, Galaxy S 4G, the Droid Charge, and Galaxy Tab 10.1) from the US market.  The claim is that these devices infringe on the 2005 design patent.   

In order for a movie or a novel to qualify as “prior art” that disallows a patent (including a design patent) it must be “enabling.” This means that an average person skilled in the relevant art (industrial design, for example), could actually construct the device based on the fictional description. In this way, the transporter on “Star Trek” would not be considered prior art, because the series doesn’t detail how it works. 

This is particularly interesting to me because when I worked at Apple research in the late 1990s, my team built a prototype of a flat tablet computer (with built-in Wifi, a camera, and a multitouch screen).  We called it the Vademecum (Latin for a book that's always kept with you).  It looked like this in 1994:

As you can see, we built a handle on the thing (so people wouldn't drop it), and mounted the movable camera on the corner.  You can ignore those two potentiometers hanging out of the top on black wires, they were for testing.

This was an early prototype, so it's fairly thick and heavy... but you can see the direction we were heading.  Towards an iPad-like device, as that's the natural direction for such gadgets.  

Interestingly, we later discovered that in 1992, another group at Apple had created the Penlite tablet (which required a pen for touch, and had no camera or integrated Wifi):  

But in 1994, I was told that "there's no market for a tablet computer," and so Apple declined to go forward with it... at the time.  

FWIW, we were also inspired by the multitouch tablet computers that were commonplace on Star Trek, the Original Series (TOS):  

Star Trek tablet, around 1969

I left Apple in late 1997 to join a startup that was making.. tablet computers.  We designed, and built, something that might look familiar.  This is the tablet we built at Uppercase, a startup that was sold to Microsoft in late 1999.  

So, while the movie 2001: a space odyssey was used in the legal arguments, had the lawyers done a bit more of a search, they would have found all KINDS of prior art... within their own company.  

In the final analysis, YES, the movie of 2001 was used in a patent lawsuit.  (FWIW, if you do a Google Scholar search for [ Samsung Apple iPad 2002 film ] you can find that the preliminary injunction was denied on December 2, 2011, which is why you see all kinds of tablets on the market today.)  

2. Have there been other lawsuits that have given similar arguments?  (That is, that technology that was first drawn / filmed / written-about in science fiction invalidated a patent because it was prior art?)  More generally, HOW would you search for such things? 
This could be a bit more tricky:  How can we do a decent search for this broad concept?  (Science Fiction being used to invalidate patents in general) 

My first search was for the two concepts in general: 

     [ "science fiction" as "prior art" ] 

I quoted them both because I wanted those two concepts as entities, and not just accidentally next to something else.  

Somewhat to my surprise, this search led to a number of articles about the legal basis of artwork (especially science fiction) as prior art.  To wit, the Ius mentis legal website says that ".. A patent cannot claim something that already exists, nor can it claim something obvious. To determine this, patent examination always involves looking for prior art, earlier publications that show the invention is not new or is obvious." 

They go on to point out that any publication, in any form can qualify as prior art.  Previous patents are usually used, but in fact, anything--newspaper articles, books, illustrations, movies (and presumably stone carvings)--can be used to demonstrate that someone could build the device given that prior demonstration.  

Prior art must be enabling--that is what we found before: that an average person could, given that prior art, build the invention as described.  Table computer, yes.  Transporter, no.  

With this fairly general search, I was able to find a couple of legal sites that agreed--SF could be used to invalidate inventions as prior art, so long as they could be implemented by an "average" person skilled in the arts.   

So while there's some dispute about how much detail needs to be included in the depiction of the art, if that average Joe could figure it out without too much additional research, it will stand!  

Search Lessons 

Here, the biggest lesson for me was how quickly we could go from something fairly vague, to some fairly detailed information.  

In the query [ "science fiction" as "prior art" ] gave fairly quick access to an entire collection of useful documents and books that bridged the two topical areas.  In the future, we'll have more examples like this--search Challenges that require linking two (or more!) vague concepts to get to something definite.  Imagine finding the connections between any two random concepts... How would you do that?  More soon!  

Search on!