I was asked, at work, to do a translation recently. It was a flyer prepared by the city of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation regarding pickup of bulky items and electronic waste. It did not have much text. It should have taken a grand total of an hour-and-a-half, with some of the work having to be done in primitive style, cutting and taping, because I lack access to some programs. I was a bit occupied and it took me a while to get to. Translating it was easy. Typing it became a nightmare.
I couldn’t help but think of an observation found in one of three books bearing the title Murphy’s Law and Other Reasons Why Things Go Wrong. I learned of these in the %u21870s and bought them later. They are acridly delicious and amusing. But the relevant line from them for this case is, approximately, “With computers, just as many mistakes are made. There’s just no one to blame.”
For compatibility reasons, instead of typing the translation at home, where I have fonts and a keyboard layout that are familiar, I decided to do it at work. I had some fonts loaded, with an unfamiliar layout on my workplace computer, just to read the occasional Armenian document that someone might send me. I’d pecked out one item previously. But, that morning, nothing worked. First, I got gibberish. Then, I got what was familiar to me, except one Armenian letter refused to appear. Any time I pressed that key, a rectangle appeared, not the letter. Finally, I got all rectangles. Ultimately, I ended up removing everything, and reloading one program. It finally worked, after much frustration and embarrassment, not to mention varying levels of assistance from five different people, over the phone.
Why did I encounter such a problem? I was told that the various programs and keyboard layouts for Armenian letters probably messed up one another. Hmmm, that has a familiar ring to it. Why do we have different keyboard layouts? Therein lies the heart of the matter. Early in the computer age, we transitioned from typewriters carrying the same two keyboard layouts that existed: in the Diaspora and Soviet Armenia. Fonts were created for these. Not ideal, but tolerable.
Later, some people decided to create their own keyboard layouts, based on; who knows what, both in the Diaspora and Armenia. Now we have way too many layouts. Some have been developed to the stage where one will “read” the other. There’s one called Sylfaen that’s allegedly the cure-all, but it sure wasn’t for me. The highlight of the day was when one of my telephonic saviors, in a masterful slip of the tongue referred to it as syphilis. All I could think was, “How true!”
It’s time for all the would-be fontificators to set aside their egos and return to the original two layouts. Those may have not been perfect, but they made some sense. Then we have to integrate our dispersed community by creating one rational layout and subsequently designing attractive, easily legible fonts with all the modern trimmings.
Who will be the first to set down his/her ego and organize this effort?

Unrelated but important, go see Red Dog Howls, playing at North Hollywood’s El Portal theatre since May 14. I’ll let you know what I think, but that two weeks later. You don’t want to miss out, do you?


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