# Forever Free Fonts

There are fonts and there are fonts. One of my earliest recollections of cognising that there are different “fonts” is from a typewritten letter I saw in my childhood (perhaps in the early-mid 90s). Though I didn’t know the term “font” then. Now I had seen typewritten materials earlier, as our exam papers were typewritten. But this said letter was somehow “different”. I didn’t know exactly what was different, but that letter and the typewritten text felt so elegant and aesthetic (again these words I didn’t know then, but trying to reconstruct my feelings from that time) as compared to the other typewritten documents that I had seen. The fact that I still remember that letter implies that it must have had some impact on my mind at that time. After that the printed “text” was never the same. I always tried to “see” the shapes of the text that I would read. Hence I “discovered” that the “fonts” in my school textbooks, and other books are different. I also discovered sans and serif in this way, but didn’t know the terms for them till a few years later. Thus began the journey to look at fonts keenly. Even with my handwriting, I developed 3-4 different scripts. None were cursive. I would play with the slant, then height of the letters, and my fountain pens did play the capable tools. With the computers came in plethora of fonts, more than you could count and keep track of. In the various image editing programmes the fonts achieve prime importance. A good font can make or break a document. It can render something mundane or render it to aesthetic appeal.
A good scientific question to think about is how does our cognitive system recognise that it is the same letter even if it is written in different fonts? Everyone’s handwriting is different even then (if they are legible) we can read and understand what they have written. This would imply that our cognitive system for recognising font faces as particular characters of language must be very very flexible. Any rigidity and we would not communicate. Douglas Hofstadter considers this very question in one of his essays Variations on a Theme as the Crux of Creativity in the Metamagical Themas (an anagram of “Mathematical Games”  by Martin Gardner whose columns Hofstadter replaced) column in Scientific American. The compilation of the columns was later published as a book in 1985.

FIGURE 12-3. 56 As in different styles, all drawn from a recent Letraset catalogue. The names of their respective typefaces are given on the facing page. To native readers of the Latin alphabet, it is an almost immediate visual experience to recognize how any one of them is an ‘A’. No conscious processing is required. A couple of these seem far-fetched, but the rest are quite obvious. The most canonical of all 56 is probably Univers (D-3). Note that no single feature, such as having a pointed top or a horizontal crossbar (or even a crossbar at all!) is reliable. Even being open at the bottom is unreliable. What is going on here? p. 243

Hence we have more and more fonts. Some very legible and some not so much.
Though I never somehow liked Times New Roman or Arial, which arguably might be the most popular fonts in documents (how do you find out the most used font?). Might be because they are default fonts on MS Word. One of my earliest, serious documents that I had to prepare on the computer was the project report of my bachelors programme. I did use MS Word, but the font used was Bookman Old Style. And the document did look different than the rest.

I did have a lot of fonts at that point. I installed all fonts that I could get my hands on. Remember this is early 2000, finding free resources on the internet was not easy, and downloading and getting them to your computer was even a bigger an issue (particularly large files). I owe to Viktor Juliet Papa most of my computer knowledge. Because of his mentoring I could muster guts to take out my HDD to cafe where he was the manager, to get downloaded stuff back. (Again only, portable data transfer devices were 3.5 inch floppy drives with 1.44 MB memory. Good luck with transferring 100s of MBs!, my main disk was 8G for reference) So much to risk, but no risk no gain.
Then in that summer during my internship at the University, I discovered LaTeX. And Computer Modern. It looked sooo elegant compared to TNR or Arial. And it had all the mathematical symbols too. At that point, you had to edit the tex file separately, and then compile it via terminal. It would produce a dvi file, which you would convert to postscript via dvi2ps, and then to pdf via ps2pdf. But it was all worth it! The output was divine compared to plebian MS Word. They say LaTeX doesn’t work well for people who have sold their souls! So my report for masters just two years later was in LaTeX. And I never switched back for most serious documents.

In the earliest days, there were very limited fonts in LaTeX. But with packages like XeLaTeX and LuaLaTeX you can use any system fonts in your documents, including non-Roman scripts also. Now there are native packages also which have a variety of fonts. So in my PhD I used Linux Libertine as the main font and associated Linux Biolinum as the Sans font. Wikipedia logo uses Linux Libertine.

Now with libertinus package you can use it with pdfLaTeX, no need to use XeLaTeX/LuaLaTeX (though some might find this step regressive). The font  comes with full math support, so that you can write the documents seamlessly.

Another nice set of fonts with full math support are kpfonts. Though I do not personally like the default sans that is bundled with it.

And one of the more elegant math fonts is urw-garamond, garamondx with mathdesign. Though this set has licensing restrictions that you may not like.

A sans math variant, that I have used occasionally is the GFS Neohellenic from the Greek Font Society.

These days for most of my Office documents (including google docs) I use EB Garamond for serif. It is too good.

And Quattracento Sans. For monofonts, particularly to be used in text editors (Emacs, I still use Linux Biolinum

in TeXShop I use Average Mono.

Some of the other sans fonts that I do use often are
GeoSans Light, Comfortaa and Josefin Sans.
For fixed width fonts, Latin Modern and Inconsolata, TeX Gyre Cursor are used. See the programming fonts in the list below

For handwriting effect there are several nice fonts that I have used. The best ones are Purisa, Comili

Amatic SC is a very elegant font for titles

New fonts will be continually developed. And for me fonts being free  (as in freedom) is the most significant aspect. Given this there is a large number of fonts which have been released under GPL, OFL and similar open licenses. Fonts released GPL license come with the font exception. Below is a partial list of free (as in freedom) fonts which you can browse to get the font for your needs (though some might have non-free content). The listing is alphabetical
Arkandis Digital Foundry  Not updated since 2015, but has nice fonts

Font Library (a largish list of Free Fonts with various licenses)

Google Fonts  Several nice fonts, in different scripts too.

LaTeX Font Catalog contains OTF and TTF files as well, my go to site for choosing LaTeX fonts

Lesser Known Programming Fonts
Programming Fonts (check individual licenses)
Let me know any other links to font databases which have free (as in freedom) fonts.
Happy typesetting!

# In defense of digital freedom

We need to defend democratic principles not only against outside attacks, but also against erosion from within.
The strength of an open society is tested especially when it comes under (perceived) threat.

# Something to Hide

You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.

via Wired

# Why I am an Atheist

Beliefs make it easier to go through hardships, even make them pleasant.
You go against popular feelings; you criticise a hero, a great man who is generally believed to be above criticism. What happens? No one will answer your arguments in a rational way; rather you will be considered vainglorious. Its reason is mental insipidity. Merciless criticism and independent thinking are the two necessary traits of revolutionary thinking. As Mahatmaji is great, he is above criticism; as he has risen above, all that he says in the field of politics, religion, Ethics is right. You agree or not, it is binding upon you to take it as truth. This is not constructive thinking. We do not take a leap forward; we go many steps back.
It is necessary for every person who stands for progress to criticise every tenet of old beliefs. Item by item he has to challenge the efficacy of old faith. He has to analyse and understand all the details. If after rigorous reasoning, one is led to believe in any theory of philosophy, his faith is appreciated. His reasoning may be mistaken and even fallacious. But there is chance that he will be corrected because Reason is the guiding principle of his life. But belief, I should say blind belief is disastrous. It deprives a man of his understanding power and makes him reactionary.
Open your eyes and see millions of people dying of hunger in slums and huts dirtier than the grim dungeons of prisons; just see the labourers patiently or say apathetically while the rich vampires suck their blood; bring to mind the wastage of human energy that will make a man with a little common sense shiver in horror. Just observe rich nations throwing their surplus produce into the sea instead of distributing it among the needy and deprived. There are palaces of kings built upon the foundations laid with human bones. Let them see all this and say “All is well in God’s Kingdom.” Why so? This is my question.
One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, “When your last days come, you will begin to believe.” I said, “No, dear sir, Never shall it happen. I consider it to be an act of degradation and demoralisation. For such petty selfish motives, I shall never pray.” Reader and friends, is it vanity? If it is, I stand for it.
via Why I am an Atheist.

# Kindle, Lego and E-Books

What do you do when Digital Restrictions Management prevents you from doing a lot of things on your own device. I do not know if we can even say it is a device we own, as the company offering books to us can revoke the books at will, without asking you. This was infamously and ironically seen in the removal of Nineteen Eighty Four from Kindle devices without their owners permission.
This is what RMS has to say about Kindle and its practices by Amazon:

“This malicious device designed to attack the traditional freedoms of readers: There’s the freedom to acquire a book anonymously, paying cash — impossible with the Kindle for all well-known recent books. There’s the freedom to give, lend, or sell a book to anyone you wish — blocked by DRM and unjust licenses. Then there’s the freedom to keep a book — denied by a back door for remote deletion of books.”Richard Stallman

So what do you do against such mal-practices and devices operations which are defective by design?
Since these companies do all in their power to prevent users from taking any stuff out, using all hi-fi programming, what can one do about them?
Here is one low tech solution! And one fine use of Lego Mindstorms!
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/73675285 w=400&h=225]
via DIY kindle scanner
Also if you are rather old-fashioned, and even lower tech solution would be to simply one can just make a carbon-copy of the Kindle e-book from a copier or scanner, thanks to their E ink technology, it is as good as a printed book.

# Open Access Manifesto

Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it
for themselves. The world's entire scientific and cultural heritage, published
over centuries in books and journals, is increasingly being digitized and locked
up by a handful of private corporations. Want to read the papers featuring the
most famous results of the sciences? You'll need to send enormous amounts to
publishers like Reed Elsevier.
There are those struggling to change this. The Open Access Movement has fought
valiantly to ensure that scientists do not sign their copyrights away but
instead ensure their work is published on the Internet, under terms that allow
anyone to access it. But even under the best scenarios, their work will only
apply to things published in the future.  Everything up until now will have been
lost.
That is too high a price to pay. Forcing academics to pay money to read the work
of their colleagues? Scanning entire libraries but only allowing the folks at
Google to read them?  Providing scientific articles to those at elite
universities in the First World, but not to children in the Global South? It's
outrageous and unacceptable.
"I agree," many say, "but what can we do? The companies hold the copyrights,
they make enormous amounts of money by charging for access, and it's perfectly
legal - there's nothing we can do to stop them." But there is something we can,
something that's already being done: we can fight back.
Those with access to these resources - students, librarians, scientists - you
have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while
the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not - indeed, morally, you
cannot - keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with
requests for friends.
Meanwhile, those who have been locked out are not standing idly by. You have
been sneaking through holes and climbing over fences, liberating the information
locked up by the publishers and sharing them with your friends.
But all of this action goes on in the dark, hidden underground. It's called
stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral
equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn't
immoral - it's a moral imperative. Only those blinded by greed would refuse to
let a friend make a copy.
Large corporations, of course, are blinded by greed. The laws under which they
operate require it - their shareholders would revolt at anything less. And the
politicians they have bought off back them, passing laws giving them the
exclusive power to decide who can make copies.
There is no justice in following unjust laws. It's time to come into the light
and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to
this private theft of public culture.
We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and share
them with the world. We need to take stuff that's out of copyright and add it to
the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the Web. We need to
download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing networks. We need
to fight for Guerilla Open Access.
With enough of us, around the world, we'll not just send a strong message
opposing the privatization of knowledge - we'll make it a thing of the past.
Aaron Swartz
July 2008, Eremo, Italy
via | Open Access Manifesto


# On Privacy…

Privacy protects us from abuses by those in power, even if we’re doing nothing wrong at the time of surveillance.
Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control. Tyranny, whether it arises under threat of foreign physical attack or under constant domestic authoritative scrutiny, is still tyranny. Liberty requires security without intrusion, security plus privacy. Widespread police surveillance is the very definition of a police state. And that’s why we should champion privacy even when we have nothing to hide.

# Sharing knowledge and learning collaboratively at schools

(This article was written for a college magazine.)

We have a vision for a better society in which the values of sharing and collaborating knowledge and technical know-how form an integral part. There are two aspects to this issue. One is why it should be done, and given the current social structure how it can be done. Though the why question is as important as the how one in this article we will try to focus more on how it can be done with aid of proper technology and what are the possible implications of this intervention to the citizens of the future.

The current education system does little to promote and impart the ideas of sharing knowledge with peers to the students who will be the future citizens. In our educational system it is more like each-one-for-oneself; if you help your peers you will be at a loss in the future. Another aspect is that the educational system by its nature is consumerist. By consumerist we mean that the schools system treat the students more like consumers, who are then passively fed in what has already been produced by others. There is no or little scope left for students to produce or construct anything meaningful. So the platform/technology which will address these issues should have the following qualities:

• It should be based on principles of Free Software (see http://gnu.org/education).
• It should allow for collaboration / sharing of knowledge.
• It should allow for active, meaningful and collaborative production / construction contexts, through which students will learn.
• It should give immediate feedback to the student, not the delayed one (year end) which the current school system has. This is essential as it makes children reflective about the work that they are doing.

Learning in the context of constructing some tangible thing is a philosophy of education proposed by Seymour Papert, called constructionism. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. A closely related term that you might have heard is that of constructivism, but there are differences though.

The potential for transforming classrooms in a revolutionary way is present in the constructionist way of learning, which the existing CBTs (computer based tutorials) do not challenge but reinforce. The advances in technology have made it possible now to implement constructionist ways of learning to masses. So where are the examples of this?

The Sugar learning platform  is just one such example which is specifically developed keeping in mind the above considerations. But the idea of constructionist learning is not limited only to using computers. displayed. The very idea of the platform is centered around the idea of constructionism. Though initially developed for OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) Project, now it can run on almost all computers. Learning in an environment where sharing knowledge is an inherent principle rather than an added externality provides the students with a whole new way of learning. Each activity on Sugar is designed keeping in mind the collaborative, construction context and immediate feedback principles.

The Sugar platform provides construction contexts from different areas to learn collaboratively like language, mathematics, science, drawing, music, games, programming, photography, audio and video recording among other things. For each of this activity can be done collaboratively by the students and can be shared with others. This also provides students to make meaningful connections between different concepts. In this context we have seen a strong urge in the children to share the knowledge and activities that they have with others, but in the current school system there is no or little provision for this. Sharing of activities provides context for feedback from peers, which in turn is fruitful in improving learning. Thus we see that the tools and time is ripe for changing our perspective towards education for a more inclusive and better society, whose core values are sharing of knowledge and collaboration.

There are pilot projects of Sugar running at many places across India, one is the Khairat Project which is running successfully for past 4 years at a primary tribal school of first generation learners near Mumbai, another one is at Merces School near Panaji in state of Goa.

# RMS on Success

“Success” is not our goal; we’re not here to win a race, we are here to win freedom. I didn’t write GCC with the idea of making a “better” C compiler. I wrote it so there would be a freedom-respecting C compiler, and while I was at it, I did the best job I knew how. We didn’t develop GNU to have a “better” operating system than Unix; we developed it so we could have a freedom-respecting operating system. It’s the same today.

# The Illusion Of Democracy

But, of course, corporate media professionals have long propped up the illusion that the public is offered an ‘impartial’ selection of facts, opinions and perspectives from which any individual can derive a well-informed world view. Simply put, ‘impartiality’ is what the establishment says is impartial.
The major political parties offer no real choice. They all represent essentially the same interests crushing any moves towards meaningful public participation in the shaping of policy; or towards genuine concern for all members of society, particularly the weak and the vulnerable.
US media analyst Robert McChesney observes:

‘In many respects we now live in a society that is only formally democratic, as the great mass of citizens have minimal say on the major public issues of the day, and such issues are scarcely debated at all in any meaningful sense in the electoral arena.’ (McChesney, Rich Media, Poor Democracy, The New Press, 2000, p. 260).

via The Illusion Of Democracy.
PS: Somehow as of today 2-1-2012 1330 hrs IST medialens server is not working and is giving a Forbidden 403 error from my connection. I do not know what the cause is? Is the medialens server down?