We did it! How a comment on HackerNews lead to 4 ½ new Unicode characters

On 22 June 2016, Unicode version 9.0 was published. As part of that, 4 new symbols were introduced – and another one was re-purposed.

This is the (brief) story of how a couple of geeks added ⏻, ⏼, ⭘,⏽, ⏾ to Unicode!

On 2nd Dec 2013, I asked this question on HackerNews

I was looking for the electrical “standby” symbol – AKA IEC5009 / IEEE1621. You know, the circle with the line through it. The one that’s on every single bloody piece of electronic equipment produced since the mid-1970s.

It’s not in the Unicode standard.

I can, if I want, have a snowman ☃ or a reversed rotated floral bullet ☙.

What other useful and/or important symbols are missing from Unicode?

The only person to reply was Joe Loughry. He took up the challenge and together we started working on the proposal. We had the very generous help of Bruce Nordman, who was involved in the original IEEE 1621 standard.

Working in the open on GitHub, we wrote up a proposal and created a font. After a lot of hard work – and even more form filling – we submitted the proposal in January 2014.

We then entered a period of emails, conference calls, and technical discussions. Were these the right symbols? (Yes!) Had we shown clear evidence of their use? (Yes!) Were they free of copyright restrictions? (Yes!) Did the members of the Unicode Consortium think the symbols would be a useful addition? (Yes! Yes! Hmmm! Maybe! No!)

Wait?! What?

and were universally liked.

There was some discussion around as several “moon” characters already existed.

☽☾🌑🌒🌓🌔🌕🌖🌗🌘🌙🌚🌛🌜🌝

None of them face the right way, at the correct angle, nor do they convey the semantic meaning of “Sleep” – so was accepted.

Now we came on to and . Off and On. Unicode has lots of straight line and circles. Did they really need their own symbols?

After much intellectual discussion and a round of voting, it was decided that none of the existing characters were suitable for “On” – so became its own character.

Rather than adding yet another circle, the consensus was to imbue heavy circle (U+2B58) with a new semantic meaning.
Heavy Circle-fs8
So, is our ½ character 😉

In February 2014 symbols were approved by the ISO 10646 Working Group 2 (JTC 1/SC 2/WG 2) at the WG2 #62 meeting to go into Amendment 2 to ISO/IEC 10646:2014.

Then – two and a half years of waiting. Occasionally answering questions from interested parties. Trying to convince open source fonts to prepare to accept the new characters. Prodding Wikipedia. And more waiting.

And now, on a rainy midsummer morning, Unicode 9.0 has been published. We did it!

The next stage is up to you!

A huge thanks to everyone who helped out along the way. Whether it was in-depth technical research, or just a tweet of encouragement – you kept us going and helped make us a success.

To The People!

Unicode Code Points

The UTC voted and formally accepted the following characters and code points:

Code Point Name Symbol Character
23FB POWER SYMBOL
23FC POWER ON-OFF SYMBOL
23FD POWER ON SYMBOL
2B58 HEAVY CIRCLE
* power off symbol
x 23FD power on symbol
23FE BLACK WANING CRESCENT MOON
* power sleep symbol
x 23FB power symbol

Notes

There are a lot of circles in Unicode. The decision was taken not to introduce yet another circle character for “Power Off” but rather to re-use the Heavy Circle symbol.

Power Symbol Discussed at #UTC138

Our proposal to include the IEC Power Symbols of ⏻ ⏼ ⏽ ⭘ ⏾ in to Unicode was formally discussed today at Unicode Technical Committee 138.

So, how did it go?

The good news is that the moderator thought the proposal was well formed and that there was no objection to including POWER and POWER ON-OFF .

There was some discussion as to whether the existing Unicode Moon character – ☾ – would suffice for the SLEEP symbol . We think that the semantic meaning is sufficiently different to warrant inclusion – not to mention that crescent and quarter are very different phases of the moon.

Of more concern was the proposal that our ⏽ & ⭘ characters be “unified”. That means they can adequately be represented by other code-points within the Unicode specification. Obvious candidates would be the pipe symbol | and the capital letter O.

We think that unification could be a problem. ISO defined all these symbols to be distinctive and also to be visually cohesive. Recycling characters makes their use more complicated. Searching through a document for the specific character will be a lot easier than wading through all the “O” characters.

We are now awaiting the committee’s ad hoc group to report back to us.

For a more complete picture of what went on, here are Joe’s minutes:


Conference call opened at approximately 1110 AM PST; Joe Loughry, Bruce Nordman, and Terence Eden were all present on the call.

The moderator said the proposal was well formed.

Discussion of unification: several members thought the POWER ON symbol could be unified with ASCII vertical bar, and POWER OFF could be unified with any of several existing circles. There was not uniform agreement, however; at least one member thought that unification would be a bad idea; not just unnecessary, but undesirable because of the potential for confusion.

Discussion of moon phases: the committee members seemed to appreciate that the phase of the moon (last crescent) is significant, and there is no other waning crescent moon symbol to unify it with. Bruce Nordman noted that the moon phase was deliberately chosen by IEEE 1621 to be distinctive.

Discussion of circles and vertical lines: there is no objection to the POWER or POWER ON-OFF symbols, but the vertical line and circle symbols are candidates for unification. There was some discussion of the way the symbols all go together visually, and it would be desirable not to unify the circle and vertical line for that reason alone. Joe Loughry spoke up to argue in favour of not unifying any of the symbols, as it would make them not as easily searchable in technical documentation, particularly as the POWER symbol and ASCII vertical bar would very likely both appear in technical documents, and could be confused.

Discussion of names: SLEEP might better be called SLEEP POWER MODE.

There was a question about whether the moon symbol should be mirrored for right-to-left scripts; Bruce Nordman noted that the symbol is mostly used on equipment, which is used worldwide, and it would not be mirrored on that equipment. The moderator then agreed that the symbol should not be mirrored.

Bruce mentioned that the IEC has a standard template for drawing symbols. This is included in the “precise drawing” of the sleep symbol that can be found at http://energy.lbl.gov/controls/publications/pubsindex.html

The specifics of this are included in another document on that page on “Designing the new Moon Symbol“.

Discussion of shapes: objection that there are no attestations showing distinctive shapes of POWER OFF and POWER ON; writers before now have used any old vertical bar and circle they could find in their fonts to represent them.

Joe noted that the symbols need not be contiguous in the Basic Multilingual Plane (BMP) as they do not specify an implied order.

Overall, there was agreement that POWER and POWER ON-OFF are uncontroversial and should be adopted; SLEEP probably ought to be adopted; and POWER ON and POWER OFF might be unified with existing vertical bar and open circle symbols, although there are good reasons, related to confusion, not to unify them.

The committee asked for a counter-proposal regarding unification; an ad hoc group will meet today at lunchtime about it. They will contact us.

The moderator reiterated that the proposal was well prepared and well thought out.

Call ended 1130 AM PST.


Well, there you have it! I’ll update this blog when we know more.