Sunday, 6 January 2013

Computer Backups, Essential Free Fonts

Over the Christmas holidays, my computer (well our computer) crashed hard. It wouldn't boot. I put in a different hard drive, found a DVD I'd burned with a copy of Ubuntu Linux (since I don't do Windows), and installed it.

Fortunately or not, I've been burned by computers before and have lost files as a consequence. This time, I had some lines of defence against the dreaded data loss.
  1. an external drive, plugged into a USB port, with copies of my documents, my music collection, and my pictures.
  2. an internet drive called "Ubuntu One" that was set to automatically update itself with the latest changes to all my most active folders. (This means that I didn't lose the latest edits to the books I am writing). There are other services I could have used, since just about everyone is offering free online storage these days (Google, Box, Apple, Microsoft), but there was no downside to using the Ubuntu offering.
  3. a gmail account with the last four years of my e-mail on it. I like to have a local backup, so I downloaded all of those emails into Thunderbird, a free e-mail program from the nice people who bring you Firefox.
Still, something had to get lost. I discovered that I did not have my very oldest folders of e-mail backed up, the ones from before gmail existed. The contents of my fonts folder, holding the fonts that I had collected over the years, were also not backed up, as they should have been. Those fonts, though, can be located and reinstalled quite quickly, since I know them by name.

The first step was to see which fonts could be reinstalled through a trip to the Ubuntu Software Centre, an "App Store" such as the Mac and Windows now boast, but older than either. The advantage of installing them this way is that any updates to the font will be installed automatically, like updates to any program. In this way I installed Gentium, Linux Libertine, Biolinum, and the Ancient Scripts fonts. If this method is not available, though, you can download them from their various homes on the web.
  1. The Gentium font is intended to offer all the letters and accents necessary to write any Western language. It has an attractive, chiselled look, similar to Bitstream Charter. It has spun off several variations, including Gentium Basic, Gentium Book Basic, and Gentium Italic. You can download all of the Gentium fonts from their corporate sponsor, SIL. I used this font for the body text in my poetry textbook.
  2. Linux Libertine and its sans-serif companion Biolinum are lovely fonts that come in a good selection of variants: Small Caps, Italics, Keyboard, etc. There is even an illuminated capitals version under development. The project's home page is and the fonts themselves can be downloaded from Sourceforge.
  3. The Ancient Scripts fonts by George Douros include Egyptian hieroglyphs, Sumerian and Akkadian cuneiform, and so on. These may seem arcane but, even if you never type with them, they are essential for reading historical names on Wikipedia. With these fonts, ancient words display properly; without them, there is only a series of question marks.
The other required fonts are not available through the Ubuntu Software Centre.
  1. The League of Movable Type offers Goudy Bookletter 1911. It is based on the Kennerly Oldstyle typeface, created by Frederic Goudy. Its curved lines give it a lot of character. So, although it does not come with bold or italic variants, I am using it for the body text of my translation of Beowulf.
  2. A collection of good quality free fonts can be downloaded at one swoop from SoftMaker.
  3. The Fell Fonts are recreations of 17th century fonts created for John Fell of the Oxford University Press. They are wonderfully suited for titles and handbills and other display purposes. I used one of them on the title page of my poetry book.
  4. Cardo is a version of Bembo designed for "the needs of classicists, Biblical scholars, medievalists, and linguists. Since it may be used to prepare materials for publication, it also contains features that are required for high-quality typography, such as ligatures, text figures (also known as old style numerals), true small capitals and a variety of punctuation and space characters." The one limitation on its use is that the creator would like you to e-mail him if you use it for a project.
Some of these fonts can be used on the web through the Google Web Fonts service, specifically Gentium Basic and Gentium Book Basic, Goudy Bookletter 1911, and Cardo.

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