Tame type troubles

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By the Book: This article is an excerpt from Real World Mac OS X Fonts , by Sharon Zardetto Aker (copyright 2007, TidBits; reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., and Peachpit Press).

Solving a font-related problem is a simple two-step process: figure out what’s causing the problem, and then fix it. OK, maybe it’s not that simple: symptoms can have many causes, and causes can have many possible fixes. But with this guide, you can both use symptoms to pinpoint a probable cause and find the cure most likely to work. Even better, you’ll learn how to avoid some problems altogether.

Problem: Text is totally garbled

You open a document and not just a few characters are wrong—they’re all wrong. The basic possibilities are:

• You’ve disabled or removed a core system font. Activate or replace the font immediately, because your menus and dialog boxes may bite the dust next.

• You have Helvetica Fractions installed, which is notorious for messing up font display in several Apple applications. Times Phonetic has also been implicated. Use Apple’s Font Book (/Applications) to delete them.

• You’ve opened a document in an application other than the one that created it. Force-opening “strange” documents in, say, Apple’s TextEdit results in what looks like garbage characters—but garbage is in the eyes of the beholder, and those characters are actually information about the document that the parent application knows how to interpret. This will happen, for instance, if you try to open a PDF file in your word processor, instead of in a PDF reader.

• If there’s no obvious explanation for the behavior, delete the system font caches. Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger), unlike its OS X predecessors, keeps all its font cache files in a single folder. Just drag the com.apple.ATS folder in /Library/Caches to the Trash and restart your Mac.

Warning: Don’t skip the restarting part! Cache-file information is continually swapped from memory to disk and back to memory. Deleting the cache files doesn’t affect what’s already in memory; if corrupted information is in memory, it gets written right back to the disk files. On the restart—which you may find takes a little longer than usual—new font cache files are created, so even if this doesn’t solve your problem, it won’t hurt anything. It will, however, cause all your disabled fonts in Font Book to become enabled.

Note that all of the files in the com.apple.ATS folder that you just trashed are referred to generally as “system font caches” to differentiate them from font caches that specific applications create. The folder has subfolders for each user account—the first user’s subfolder is 501, the next user’s subfolder is 502, and so on—and one folder, named System, for caches that all the accounts share. They are all, however, considered system font caches.

Problem: Text is garbled in menus

Helvetica is so important to OS X that your menus and dialog boxes can explode if you don’t keep a copy of it around. It doesn’t have to be the Helvetica.font that’s installed by default in /Library/ Fonts; any copy of Helvetica, of any font type, in any Tiger Fonts folder (not a program Fonts folder) will keep things from looking disjointed. Disabling all your Helveticas has the same result as removing them.

Problem: Boxes or incorrect characters are substituted

Occasional boxes or substituted characters are due to the differences between the font originally used for the document and the one being used to open it later. (To add insult to injury, sometimes the document in question was created on your own pre-OS X Mac.) Sometimes the font difference is obvious, and other times it’s subtler:

• You don’t have the original font, and your substitute font doesn’t have all the characters needed. Get the correct font, or try changing the font to one that has the correct characters.

• You seem to have the correct font—it has the same name—but in fact either yours or the originator’s is an older, perhaps non-Unicode-compliant, version. Match the fonts, or reformat the text.

• The document was created in an application that can handle glyphs beyond the Unicode-defined ones, and you’re viewing it in a program that can’t display those glyphs. The best you can do here is ask the originator for a PDF of the file so you can see it correctly.

• The document was created in Windows with older fonts whose character IDs don’t match your font-character IDs. (We inherited this mess from earlier years, when Macs and PCs went their own ways in regard to how they handled character references.) If you know which characters are substituted (say, Ó for a curly apostrophe [’]), it’s possible to perform search-and-replace operations to make the document readable on your end.

Problem: Standard option-key combos, like option-v, enter the wrong characters

Option-V gives you a checkmark (√—OK, it’s really a square-root symbol in most fonts), and option-8 provides the beautifully useful bullet (•). When these and other standard option-key combinations stop working, it’s due to one of three problems:

• You’ve chosen a nonstandard keyboard layout from the Input menu (after you turned on the layout in the International preference pane’s Input Menu tab).

• You’re using the U.S. Extended keyboard layout, which, because it provides so many “dead-key” option combinations for accents, has to sacrifice the input of many standard option-key characters.

• You’re using a font that does not conform to either the old Mac encoding scheme or the new Unicode one. The biggest sinner in this area is the Adobe PostScript Type 1 font Symbol, which clings to its always-been-different key layout. But a special slap on the wrist goes to Apple for including the mixed-up Handwriting-Dakota font with iLife; try typing curly quotation marks or a bullet character, for instance, and you get accented letters instead.

In the first two cases, just switch to a different keyboard layout to enter the character you need, and then switch right back to the layout you were using. If Adobe’s Symbol font or Handwriting-Dakota is the issue and you don’t want to change fonts, use Keyboard Viewer to find the characters you need.

Problem: The letter O followed by a slash turns into an Ø

If you type the letter O followed by a slash (/), and it turns into the letter Ø, you must be using Palatino, Hoefler, Chicago, or New York in a program like TextEdit, Apple’s Pages, or FileMaker.

In cases where “smart fonts do stupid things,” the helpful technology that substitutes a single-character ligature (fi) for the letters f and i or sticks in swashy-tailed lowercase g ’s when you type more than one in a row, is “helpfully” substituting a single, different character when you type an O (capital or lowercase) followed by a slash. (You think an O isn’t often followed by a slash? You forget that Web URLs and Mac OS X path names both use slashes to separate names!)

If you’re in an application that uses the Font panel, you can turn this off:

1. Open the Font panel (command-T).

2. From the Action menu (represented by the gear icon in the lower left of the Font panel), choose Typography.

3. In the Typography panel, expand the Diacritics section (if you don’t have a Diacritics section, select a font—such as Palatino—that offers diacritics).

4. Select Don’t Compose Diacritics.

This turns off the Compose Diacritics option. (A diacritic is a mark, such as an accent, that’s placed above, below, or through a roman character.)

In some programs, like Microsoft Word, this never happens. In others, like FileMaker, it happens, but there’s no Typography panel or equivalent to control it; your only recourse there is to avoid using certain fonts.

Problem: Extra blank lines appear between lines of text

They’re not exactly blank lines, because you can’t remove them; it’s more as though the line spacing changes to quadruple while it’s still officially set to single. This is one of the many things that can be fixed when you delete the system font caches.

Problem: Lucida Grande keeps getting applied to your text

If you use an alternative keyboard and try to type characters not included in your current font, Lucida Grande jumps in to save the day, providing those missing characters.

Problem: Text refuses to change to a new font

If the text includes special characters that aren’t included in the new font, OS X may overrule the font change, leaving the text in a font that contains the characters you’ve typed.

Problem: The font changes when text is pasted between applications or imported

The font may not be available in the second application (Adobe applications have a ton more fonts available to them). But don’t overlook something else, which isn’t a font problem at all: you might have different style definitions in each place. If your Body style is defined as 12-point Verdana in the first document, and the receiving document or application defines Body as 14-point Baskerville, the font is supposed to change.

Problem: Character styles change when text is pasted or imported

This is most often seen with boldface and italic styling, but it’s not limited to those two. The changes all boil down to which typefaces are available on the originating and receiving ends:

• The font is not available in the receiving application, and the font that’s substituted does not have the same variety of typefaces.

• The font versions differ on each end, and one version has more typefaces than the other.

• The same font is used on both ends, and it doesn’t have the typeface in question—but one of the applications faked the style. Microsoft applications, for instance, create fake boldface versions of boldface-less fonts by “overprinting” the text horizontally, with each copy offset by a pixel or two (or three).

• Special formatting options are available in one application but not the other. For instance, the Font panel shadowing options work in few places besides Apple programs.

Problem: iTunes in Hebrew

In the Oddest-of-All category, if Hebrew appears in place of English in Apple’s iTunes, it’s almost always because of an extra copy of Lucida Grande in /Library/ Fonts or your user folder /Library/Fonts. A single copy belongs in /System/ Library/Fonts.

[ Sharon Zardetto Aker has written more than 20 computer books, including several editions of the best-selling compendium The Macintosh Bible (Peachpit Press). ]

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