by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In last week's issue, Kirk McElhearn reviewed Newton's Telecom Dictionary, a glossary of computer and telecommunications terms (see "BookBITS: Telling the Bits from the Bytes" in TidBITS-547). That inspired us to ask readers which of the following four terms isn't like the others: ligature, Bézier, latency, and moiré.
As with all of our quizzes, the goal isn't to see how many people can get the right or wrong answer, but to have a little fun and convey some useful information that people may not have known. In this case, we took the opportunity to highlight a few desktop publishing terms - ligature, Bézier, and moiré - and a useful networking concept - latency.
Although our intent was that latency was the correct answer because it was a networking versus desktop publishing term, Kirk McElhearn gleefully pointed out that the three incorrect answers are also direct loan words from French, whereas latency comes more indirectly from French. And Alex Hoffman picked even finer nits, noting that of the four words, only latency has more consonants than vowels. Of course, nits could work against us as well, because only Bézier comes from a person's name.
Thirteen percent of respondents chose ligature, which is a special character that combines two or more characters into one. The most common ligatures are fi and fl, which you can create by pressing Shift-Option-5 and Shift-Option-6 in most fonts.
By far the most common choice with 81 percent of the vote, latency is the minimum time necessary for a packet of data to travel from sender to receiver on a network. See our Bandwidth & Latency article series for more information.
The other two options each received a mere three percent of the votes. A Bézier curve (named for Pierre Bézier) is a type of curved line defined by a particular mathematical formula. PostScript fonts are based on Bézier curves because it's more efficient to store an equation which abstractly describes a curve than it is to store all the points on a curve at any particular output resolution: remember, computer screens and high-end Linotypes have very different resolution needs.
A moiré is a (usually) unwanted pattern that can appear in graphic images for a variety of reasons, including scanning a printed image, failing to match the resolution of your image to the printer, or because screen angles weren't applied properly. However, moiré patterns sometimes have their own aesthetic qualities, and have been the subject of occasional t-shirt designs and screensavers.