Our intentions were so good

Regret, both dark and light, plus pop-ups, labradoodles, and the worst font. Also, 7 other things worth your time

We're in a time of chaos now. From chaos, we get progress. Sometimes however, the price of progress is regret.

It can be a big, dark, scary kind of regret, or a lighter regret.

Dark regret would be like, say, Albert Einstein regretting his role in the development of atomic weapons, or Mikhail Kalashnikov waiting until he was near death to admit his "unbearable ... spiritual pain" for having developed the AK-47 assault rifle, or Alfred Nobel regretting his invention of dynamite.

But the lighter regret is more or less harmless, as we stumble amiably on the path to the future.

Since it’s Friday (public service: YES, TODAY IS FRIDAY, in case you’re like me and can barely keep track), there’s no need to go to the dark side.

Let’s focus instead on these happy inventors who later looked back and said, yeah, maybe I shouldn’t have done that. We’ll probably be seeing a few more of them on the other side of our current chaos.

The inventor of the pop-up Internet ad

The consumer Internet was very new when Ethan Zuckerman, 21, who had studied English at Williams College and been a Fulbright scholar in Ghana, got a job at an early Internet company called Tripod.com.

If you knew nothing else about Tripod.com, but I paid you $10 to guess what its business model was, I'll bet you'd say: “Um, advertising?”

You'd be right. And the specific type of advertising that Zuckerman created was the pop-up ad.

This came about, as he explained in a very thoughtful article a few years ago, because a major car company (the advertiser) kind of freaked out when its ad ran on a webpage that extolled the virtues of a certain sexual practice. (Not "brand-safe," as we say.)

So, Zuckerman came up with the idea: why not an ad that automatically created a separate page to host it on, so it couldn't possibly be associated with questionable content?

It sounded great, except that it meant hijacking a user's browser to serve ads. Which people didn't like, and Zuckerman came to regret.

"At this point in the story," he writes, "it’s probably worth reminding you that our intentions were good."

The labradoodle

I remember the first time I saw a golden doodle, maybe 15 or 20 years ago. I was walking around Dupont Circle in Washington one afternoon with some friends, all on our way home after having had a few cups of coffee.

Oh, who am I kidding: it was nighttime, and we'd all been drinking beer and such, which explains my incredibly effusive reaction to this insanely adorable dog.

There have been doodles in my life since then, all incredible dogs, which is why I was surprised to learn that the person credited with originally breeding them now considers it to have been the mistake of his life.

“I opened a Pandora box and released a Frankenstein monster,” the NYT ($) reported breeder Wally Conron told Australian television. “People ask me, ‘Aren’t you proud of yourself?’ I tell them: ‘No! Not in the slightest.’ I’ve done so much harm to pure breeding and made many charlatans quite rich."

I don't even have to name it

Quick, what's the worst font? Yep, you’re right! Comic Sans.

Vincent Connare designed it, and while I am not sure I can say straight-on that he regrets it or hates it, "he sympathizes with the world-wide movement to ban it," according to the WSJ ($).

Connare came up with the font after recoiling at the idea that Microsoft, where he worked, was illustrating computer comics using Times New Roman. It just seemed too corporate.

So, he pulled out a few classic comic books, including Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, and designed the new font using his mouse on a computer screen in 1994 (right around when Zuckerman was designing the pop-up ad).

His timing was great in one sense: It was included in Windows 95, and thus launched on its trajectory of widespread use, followed by mockery.

Now -- or at least, a few years ago, when the WSJ profiled Connare -- his wife "introduces him at parties as the father of Comic Sans," and a friend "claims to know someone who broke up with her boyfriend in a letter written in Comic Sans to soften the blow."

7 other things worth your time

  • The governor of Maryland is using the National Guard to protect mask orders from the federal government. (Daily Mail)

  • Hundreds of protesters, some carrying guns inside the Michigan state Capitol building, protested against the state’s emergency measures. (NBC News)

  • Yesterday it was chicken. Today the big story is that we’re running out of meat. (National Review)

  • Thinking about growing your own food, apropos of nothing? Here are 8 places to start. (Washington Post, $)

  • Delta, American, and JetBlue airlines all say they’ll now require passengers to wear masks on their flights. (Reuters)

  • It used to be the city that never sleeps, but New York City will now shut down the subway system every night to disinfect trains. (The Verge)

  • Finally, today marks the 60th anniversary of the day Francis Gary Powers was shot down in a U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union, thus precipitating a Cold War crisis, and providing part of the fodder for a very popular 2015 Tom Hanks movie. (New York Times, $)

(I almost made today’s entire newsletter about the Powers story, but I’m not quite ready to turn Understandably into “Bill’s Daily Military History Newsletter” after the Midway landing story yesterday.)

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