Sunday, February 15, 2009

Write like me

I’ve hate handwriting. I’ve been using keyboards since I learned to write and my fingers just don’t want to use a pen. But there are too many occasions when people expect the “personal” touch of a handwritten document, so I couldn’t get out of it completely.  Until now.  Using the free font-generation software at, I have a whole collection of handwriting fonts that let me give a personalized touch to computer-generated greeting cards and other documents I used to have to break out the pen for.  I even made a “handwritten” CD label for a Valentines present.

The process couldn’t be simpler.  The site is completely free; you don’t even need to register.  Just print a one-sheet template (don’t bother printing the second page, unless you care about special foreign characters).  Scan it and upload to the site.  Double-check that it looks right, and download to your hard drive.  Presto – you have a font you can now use in any of your applications.  I made one for each member of the family.

Here’s mine:

Youfont sample

and here’s the same text “written” by my eleven-year-old:

Youfont sample

It can take a few tries to get it perfect.  You can see a few problems with vertical character placement on the above samples, for example.  But it’s waaay better than writer’s cramp.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Where are the Spragues?

I often run into people who, upon hearing my last name, ask if I’m related to so-and-so other Sprague they know.  Usually the answer is no.  Our family has been in the country since Pilgrim times, so it’s not a terribly rare name, and now there’s a new web site, Dynastree,  that shows name frequencies graphically and statistically. I typed in ‘Sprague” and found this:

  • There are about 30,000 of us spread across the U.S. 
  • We’re the 1210th most common name in the U.S.
Create your family tree at
Distribution of the surname Sprague
Distribution of the surname Sprague

Where does your name come from?

Unfortunately the map is deceptive, since it appears not to correct for the population of each state.  Since California and New York are the largest states, that means just about any name is likely to show red in those places.  Here’s what I got when I sorted to find the top ten states where the name ‘sprague’ is highly frequent.  “Common-ness” tells you how common the name is;  for example In Maine, we are the 175th most common name, even though there are only 507 of us there.

State Common-ness People
Maine 175 507
Vermont 248 157
Rhode Island 416 115
New Hampshire 438 195
Oregon 600 245
Michigan 602 369
Nevada 714 74
Washington 752 331
New York 783 833


The “common-ness” metric still isn’t perfect (I’d rather get a number like frequency per thousand), but it’s much closer to my experience, with many Spragues in the Northeast, and a surprising number in Oregon and Washington.  Here on Mercer Island, there’s only one family of us in the phone book, which feels about right.

I’m not sure I want a name that is super-common.  On the other hand, it would be nice not to have to remind people that we’re pronounced “SPRAYG"  (rhymes with vague) and not “SPRAHHHG” (like the linguistically unrelated city in the Czech Republic).

Monday, February 02, 2009

Chevy Suburban Drivers Get Fewest Tickets

Quality Planning, an auto insurance validator, did a survey of traffic violators that summarizes which types of cars get the most tickets. Leading the list is the Hummer, followed by various versions of the Scion.

I thought it was more interesting to look at the bottom of the list to see which types of drivers are the most careful:

MakeModelBody StyleViolations*
ChevroletC/K- 3500/2500Pickup28%
BuickPark AvenueSedan32%
GMCSierra C1500Pickup40%
*Violations/100,000 miles driven, expressed as percentage of average.

The Prius is not listed in the press release summary, so I assume it falls somewhere in the middle. But next time I see one of those huge Chevy Suburban-driving soccer moms driving too fast through my neighborhood, I guess I’ll take some comfort in knowing that statistically they’re safer than most others.