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Lunchroom Banter (Volume X)

Posted by Dave Tufts on February 9, 2007.

Jeff picked up the latest issue of Smart Money from the table in the developer room. I mentioned that there was a hilarious article about blogging. The following ensued...

  1. Jeff: What's the article called, How to Make Money With Your Blog?
  2. Fred: Does it talk about the Blogoshere?
  3. Will: Does it mention Bloginars?
  4. Dave: "Bloginar" -- Great term (total sarcasm) We should trademark that (total seriousness)
  5. Will: What would a Bloginar even be? Watching people type?
  6. Dave: A sick real-time ajax-based blog.
  7. Jeff: You mean a chat room?

Cortex Interruptus

Posted by Robert Mohns on February 5, 2007.

I've been reading some interesting articles on interruptions and productivity. In December, Reuters did an article on worker interruptions and productivity. The subhead was "The chances of you finishing this article without getting interrupted or distracted are slim."

I couldn't help but wonder if this is a generational thing — I never read an article online in one sitting. Typically, I read a few paragraphs, then go read something else, or research something the article makes me think of, or just mentally mark it for reading later and minimize it to my Dock. I have absolutely no expectation of doing anything in one sitting.

And yet, this past Friday I ended up staying at work until shortly before 10pm, finishing writing a proposal that I had been unable to make significant headway on all afternoon. Perhaps there is something to this interruption/productivity problem, after all.

Today, a friend sent me an email with a link to the wonderfully titled Cortex Interruptus.

"For more and more people, every day feels like this - one long string of interruptions with only the gaps in between to get anything done. However bad you think it is, it's probably worse. When researchers at the University of California at Irvine set out to quantify the problem, they thought people were probably overreacting, that we probably got in a good quarter of an hour or so between disruptions. But after shadowing a dozen information workers for three days, they found that on average they got just three sustained minutes of work in before being diverted. "I was shocked," says Gloria Mark, who ran the study."

The article continues to describe several technological solution attempts at managing interruptions. Interesting stuff, and I'd love to try them out, if they ever become products I can buy.

43folders has an entire Interruptions category. Some are excellent non-techology approaches, such as David Cheong's recent practical ideas for staying focussed at work, and a handy tips for dealing with interuption and overload.

Particularly good is Stever Robin's tips for managing email overload has some great tips on authoring email messages so they are effective for the recipients. (Our own Nick Grant is already a master of this.) At least this way, when you interrupt someone with email, it won't take as much time or attention.

Lunchroom Banter (Volume IX)

Posted by Dave Tufts on February 2, 2007.

BarberShop is a database-driven forum application. We were discussing the database schema and SQL...

  1. Patrick: Did you know in an earlier version of BarberShop it supported multiple instances?
  2. Dave: Different tables in the same database. The current version still supports multiple instances, just in different databases....
  3. Patrick: Can we do that?
  4. Dave: Sure. CREATE DATABASE barbershop; CREATE DATABASE barbershop_2
  5. Fred: The sequel
  6. Patrick: Don't mention SQL, Dave hates that.
  7. Fred: I didn't.
  8. Will: BarberShop 2, Electric Boogaloo?

Coffee Shop Banter (Volume I)

Posted by Fred LeBlanc on February 1, 2007.

More often than not, we take a trip over to Soufflés each day around 3:00pm for a cup of coffee and some general conversation with the people that work there. (By the way, good coffee, friendly people, check it out sometime.)

Now and then, you'll hear something that just stands out above the rest of the chatter. This happened today about an hour ago. A set up for this conversation, I walked over to hear a random lady with a dog talking to Patrick about the cast on his hand.

  1. Random Lady w/ Dog: I've had problems too, you know. Things like carpel tunnel. What happened to your hand?
  2. Patrick: I hit a wall.
  3. Random Lady w/ Dog: (Talking to her dog as she pulled it closer to her and away from Patrick) Better stay away from him.
  4. Patrick: I really should just start making up excuses.

Lunchroom Banter (Volume VII)

Posted by Dave Tufts on January 19, 2007.

Confusion at the Coffee Shop: Today's Lunchroom Banter is an overheard conversation at the Starbucks across the street.

The customer just purchased two large coffees...

  1. Barista: Would you like a tray for those?
  2. Customer: No thanks, could I have a holder thingy?
  3. Barista: (hands the man a tray)
  4. Customer: Thanks.

A Case For Shorter Lines

Posted by Dave Tufts on January 10, 2007.

Line length, in typography, refers to how many characters occupy a single line in a paragraph. Line length is also called column width, characters per line, measure, or even words per line.

Since most characters - letters, numbers, spaces, punctuation - vary in width, line length is usually thought of as a range.

For instance, right now (as of January 2007), this blog uses a line length of 90-105 characters per line. This is a result of a number of factors, the three most basic being:

  • typeface - Some fonts are wider than others.
  • font size - If we change our text size from 12px to 11px, we fit a more characters on each line.
  • page size- Currently, the area allocated to this blog content is about 520px. If we expand that to 620px, the line length will increase.

However these factors are all interrelated. Using the numbers above, if we change our page size from 520px to 620px, but also increase our font size from 12px to 15px, the characters per line remains about the same.

Line Length on the Web

The following is a list of popular websites and how many characters per line they use.

Chart of the number of characters per line used by various websites

What's the 'correct' line length?

Obviously, there's no 'correct' measure, but most people feel that 50 - 80 characters per line is good.

Here are what some others have to say on the topic of line length:

Elements of Typographic Style – By Robert Bringhurst (from the section, "Choose a comfortable measure.")

Anything from 45 to 75 characters is widely regarded as a satisfactory length of line for a single-column page set in a serifed text face in a text size. The 66-character line (counting both letters and spaces) is widely regarded as ideal. For multiple column work, a better average is 40 to 50 characters.

Grid Systems in Graphic Design – By Josef Muller-Brockmann (from the section, "Column Width")

The question of column width is not merely one of design or of format; the question of legibility is of equal importance.

According to a well-known empirical rule there should be 7 words per line for a text of any length. If we want to have 7-10 words per line, the length of the line can be readily calculated.

Every difficulty standing in the reader's way means loss of quality in communication and memorability. Just as overlong lines tire, so do overshot ones.

Overlong columns are wearying to the eye and also have an adverse psychological effect. Overshort columns can also be disturbing because they interrupt the flow of reading and ut the reader off by obliging the eye to change lines too rapidly.

Sufficient leading between the lines is of the first importance for easy reading. If the lines are too closely set the eye is forced to "take in" the neighboring lines while reading.

About Face - Reviving the rules of typography – By David Jury (from the section, "Words per line")

The full width of a column or length of a single line of type is called the 'measure'.

For readability, the width of a line is less important than the number of characters it contains. Somewhere between 54 and 80 characters and spaces has been found to be the most conducive to efficient 'long distance' reading. At an average of five characters and one interword space per word in English, this means an approximate average of nine to twelve words per line.

The width of a measure might also reflect [...] the commitment expected of the reader. A wider measure [...] suggests an efficient use of the reader's energy appropriate for a longer read. Shorter measures offer a more staccato reading experience, providing a sense of urgency, enabling the reader to scan quickly down the page; an appropriate reading experience for newspapers.

The readability of a wider measure will be dramatically improved by the use of additional leading. It provides stronger definition to the line of text so helping to keep the reader's eye on the line and also enabling the reader to track back to the beginning of the next line of text.

Conclusion

Most websites could benefit from a few less characters on each line.

My favorite approach to specifying a line length is described on the companion site to Robert Bringhurst's book, Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web. On one of the examples there, page size (or column width) is referenced in em's. This is the easiest way to ensure a desired line length.

#content_area { width: 33em; }

Since the average character is about .5em, specifying the column as 33em's means about 66 characters per line, no matter what font-size is specified.

I like that.