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Expectations and the 2022 Midterms

Breaking news: there’s an election in November of even years.

Expectations are a big part of politics. Midterms tend to cost the president’s party seats, and so the president’s party goes into the midterm year on a defensive footing. The party fields fewer candidates ((non-TLS link) The Green Papers: “2022 Political Parties” counts 843 candidates for Democrats to 957 for Republicans, but that number includes state races; I couldn’t find a good pair of numbers for Congress only. For comparison, their 2018 counts were 706 to 687.), directs funds to shore up incumbents, sees more retirements, and has less energy. The media treats the president’s party as weakened. And then the result comes, either better or worse than predicted, and the media still has a narrative to ride into the new year, while the parties scramble to get ready for the new Congress.

Call it the armored marathon runner scenario. Thinking the race to be defensive, the runner wears full plate armor, which makes them slower. If it turns out they can actually go on offense, it’s harder because they’re still wearing heavy polished metal all over their body. Incumbency helps individual candidates win elections, but incumbents have their job to do while they run. Challengers are more able to campaign, and thus provide a lot of extra energy to their ticket, even if they don’t win.

Now, Democrats have gotten good news. The economy remains strong-ish (? If hot? If not? The question-mark economy.), they passed a transformative climate-plus bill (eureka!), and they passed a bipartisan technology bill, along with the earlier bills on infrastructure and modest gun safety. But predicting how their achievements and the state of things will fare in November—always difficult—is all the harder for the strangeness of these times.

They also got the terrible news—the Dobbs decision—that stripped a fundamental right from millions of women, empowering the worst state legislators, in states with poor records for protecting women’s health, to legislate pain and suffering. But that bad news also means a new skepticism of Republicans: being anti-woman isn’t popular with America. (Statistically, most Americans either are women, or know at least one woman.)

The Democratic party didn’t plan to be in this position. That is, the balloted candidates are mostly baked in. A few states still have primaries, but even there, who decides to run in a president’s-team midterm year is different than who runs alongside the president. It’s a different crop.

Those differences amount to structural problems, alongside others like gerrymandering, which make it a tough race for Democrats. Republicans have their own problems. They have no real agenda beyond opposing President Biden and Democrats, and whatever their post-Dobbs policy may be, they don’t have it yet. But unlike Democrats, Republicans started the year planning to contest more races, planning for a harvest.

This year’s election will not be the election to fully repudiate Dobbs. If we see one, it will likely be in 2024, when Democrats will have had more time to field candidates, to draft policy. By then, the media will have made clear the terrible crime the Repubs on the Supreme Court perpetrated against America. By then, state courts ((Paywall) The Washington Post: 9 August 2022: James Bikales and Praveena Somasundaram: “State supreme courts could soon decide on abortion, raising stakes of their midterm races”) and state legislatures will have worsened, and perhaps in some cases, bettered the state laws around abortion. It will be a more mature issue with abortion rights activists poised to begin cleaning up the mess.

But 2022’s election can still turn out differently than it looked from January 2022. Even wearing armor, the Democrats have a decent chance to win this marathon. Will it come down to turnout? Will it come down to how many people actually show up and cast ballots for each of the two major parties? It very well could.

I urge you to visit to learn how to register to vote. You could also check out Ballotpedia to learn more about what’s on your ballot.

Doing a Typography

So many letters, someone should write a song to help remember them all.

I’ve been working on a new typeface. The filesystem shows the last time I made one was 2014. The one I made before that, I’m not sure when it was, but no later than 2004. Not a skill I’ve kept up with too much, but it’s always an interesting challenge.

There’s a paradox in recreating the alphabet. You have to stick to the known forms, so that readers won’t be confused, but you also have to find some way to make it different enough to be appealing. You want the variations to be consistent between letters, to give your creation a unique feel, but they should be subtle enough to make the font feel consistent with others (particularly if replacement characters are needed; that is, if you aren’t providing full coverage of the thousands of glyphs you could).

It’s a low-stress activity. You see your progress with every letterform completed. You work on one letter at a time. You can tweak them endlessly.

It’s a low-knowledge activity. I use FontForge, which does a lot of work for me. I don’t understand how manual hinting would work, but it has auto-hinting. I don’t know how to control for all the little problems I cause, but it has a “Find Problems” feature that will fix most of them for me.

The website Design with FontForge has some good information to get started, and it’s written with a you-can-do-it tone. I don’t believe that existed the last time I worked on a font. It really is something more people should give a try.

When starting a font, the first question you have to answer is, “What kind of font?” It could be a serif font, or maybe sans-serif. It could be monospace, or it could be variable width. Or it could be a display font—one meant for short bursts of text (signs, headings, like that), not suitable for paragraphs and long reading.

The second question is, “How much coverage should it have?” If you want a usable typeface, you’re talking at least 85 characters: the alphabet twice (for uppercase and lowercase), ten digits, and about 32 other punctuation and special characters available on an plain US keyboard. Plus space. If you want to go all-out, you can create a true italics version, which isn’t simply an oblique rendering of the normal version, but features its own glyphs. You can add ligatures and kerning and wade deep into the Unicode Basic Multilingual Plane or even beyond it. (Don’t believe I’ve ventured beyond Latin-1, myself.)

On the other hand, some characters are easier than others. Hyphen and equals share enough similarity that you can get at least all three done quickly, and you can tweak them later if needed. For brackets, braces, and parentheses, making one gets you its partner without much trouble. And uppercase E and uppercase F are usually pretty similar, just chop off that lower bar on the E. You can rotate your six to make a nine. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even rotate your uppercase N to get uppercase Z, which you can tweak to lowercase z as well. Your stop and comma can be reused to make your colon and your semicolon.

But outside these quicker ones, it’s a matter of one-at-a-time, building the shape, refining, fixing the flaws.

Things look nicer the fewer points you can use, at least initially. The curves won’t get lumpy, won’t require a lot of fiddling to change. You’ll learn a lot about how little attention you’ve paid over the years to these shapes your eyes have passed over billions of times. The basic scribble of your handwriting is very different from forming the letters as vector shapes.

The good news there is that you can open finished fonts inside of FontForge and look at how others made their letters. I should probably do that more. I could stand to learn a lot from that stored knowledge.

But for now I’m just picking a letter and getting it into a rough shape, then straightening what’s meant to be straight and curving what’s meant to be curved, getting the thicknesses consistent, and then moving on. Once I get my basic coverage done, I’ll come back and work on consistency between letters.

It’s a nice, relaxing artistic experience.

Review of Summoner’s Mess

A modern Pac-Man without the ghosts?

Summoner’s Mess is a 2D top-down game similar in appearance to the classic Legend of Zelda. It is a short maze-running game. And I mean short. It took me two hours to beat the game and get all ten achievements.

Graphics are what made me look at this game, as they are meant to be retro pixel sprites (including a rounding effect to give the game a fake-round-screen CRT styling) but are well made and have some modern touches added.

The plot is simple enough: you’re a low-tier member of a death cult that wants to summon evil to do its bidding, but being low-tier pisses you off, so you attempt to summon evil all by yourself, for fame, glory, and leadership of the cult. Army of Darkness-style fumbling with the incantation causes evil to scatter your books across the dungeon, and you need to go find them to take control of the abomination.

The conceit is that you have limited light, so as you make your way through the dark dungeon, you must constantly pick up torches and candles to renew your light. If your torch dies out, as in Zork, you get eaten by a grue. At which point you start anew.

Controls are limited to WASD or arrow keys (or controller), but it’s a simple enough game, which makes it mostly forgivable. You have three inventory slots, and if you pick up more items then you will drop one of them (though you can pick it back up to cycle to the one you choose to drop). The torch is a separate thing, not taking up inventory, and it has a subtle back-fill that indicates how close it is to burning out. It could be more obvious, as I didn’t even notice the background fill until I was writing the review. But I could tell from the lighting alone when I was in danger, so the HUD element wasn’t that important.

There is a speedrun mode, which starts the timer when you move and displays a clock. Pressing the escape key pauses the game, letting you restart. You’ll want to hold down the escape key when starting runs (after your first) to skip the exposition at the start of an attempt.

There are also some accessibility options in the settings if you need them, though it warns you can’t complete achievements while they’re turned on.

Again, it’s a simple and short game. Perhaps too simple, but it’s hard to say what would have added to the game without changing its character entirely. It’s well-made as it is. Adding an enemy to kill or flee wouldn’t have done much. While the avoid-the-dark mechanic is getting to be overused in general, it is well-suited to the pacing of the game. Keep moving, get your books, keep your torch lit.

In all, it was a tidy diversion. If you like retro art, maze-type games, or if you think Cthulu is cthool, it’s worth a look (if you have the light left by which to see).