What Is It Like to Be Blind?
As someone who's losing her sight to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), I face this question every day. I, however, have Usher syndrome, which couples deafness and gradual vision loss, so I'm not representative of the average blind and low-vision individual.
That being said, as someone who has moved from sighted into legal blindness, I've noticed certain interesting changes in my lifestyle and how people treat me. This isn't a subject that can be explained briefly, so please forgive me in advance for my lengthiness.
What's the Best Design for a Popsicle-Stick Bridge?
Answer by Isaac Gaetz, licensed structural engineer:
I designed a quick one of these a few months back. It was for a presentation I gave for some middle-school students. To the left is an image of me holding the bridge. It was not something I put a tremendous amount of effort into, just a quick and dirty design to show the concept. Behind me, you can see an image from the computer program I used to model and design the bridge.
I did not build the physical model that you see me holding—a co-worker did, and he did not follow my directions perfectly. He accidentally transposed certain critical areas that needed additional reinforcing with areas that did not require reinforcing. This resulted in the bridge carrying 50 pounds at the time of failure. With my original design, the bridge would have held more than 100 pounds quite easily.
How Do Soldiers Prepare for Deployment to a War Zone?
Answer by Aaron Anderson:
I have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003, but Iraq was my first trip into a combat zone.
My first trip to Iraq was with the original invasion in February 2003. I was serving at this time in 1/75 Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Ga. With the political buildup to the war progressing, my section knew that a deployment was coming, but we didn’t know entirely when. When we did find out, I remember standing in my building with a group of fellow soldiers. My section boss had walked in looking tense and told us we are going. If I remember correctly, this was about a two-week window from notification to deployment. I’m sure other parts of the battalion was taking off ASAP, but I was not a high priority and took off with the main element.
What Are the Logistics of Life on the International Space Station?
Answer by Robert Frost, trained ISS astronauts to operate the motion control system:
There is an entire division called operations division that is dedicated to planning around the logistics of the International Space Station. It is quite complex.
Traffic pattern can be complex. That is the scheduling of visiting vehicles. There are limits on how many vehicles can be there at any one time. They have to take into account the altitude of the ISS—it's easier and cheaper to have vehicles arrive while the ISS is low. Launch windows vary, so sometimes the crew's day and night schedules have to be altered to have them able to support a vehicle arrival.
What’s the Matter With Helvetica, Anyhow?
Like most classic typefaces, the problems with Helvetica are not so much in its design as its misuse. Helvetica as often a “safe choice” for anyone who is too afraid or too lazy to choose something else. The main mistakes I see in its use have to do with a misunderstanding of functionality or context.
Functionality. The digital Helvetica (particularly) that we know today is not great for or . Its tight spacing, uniformity, and relative lack of rhythm and contrast pose significant readability and legibility issues in these kinds of settings.
Context. Designers often choose Helvetica either because it is assumed to be a “neutral” design that is compatible with any kind of content and will not distract from it. As the documentary film Helvetica demonstrated, this may or may not be true depending on the context of the use. Sometimes it is ignored like air; sometimes it is a dramatic shock to the system. Any typeface choice requires an examination of the context (cultural environment, competitive products, format, medium), and often Helvetica is blindly chosen for a project or brand without sufficient examination of its surroundings.
On the flip side, Helvetica is also often picked for reasons opposite of neutrality—the user believing it is a sophisticated and fashionable design choice that will distinguish them in the marketplace. This is also folly..
Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of Helvetica itself (especially the, but in most cases, one should blame ignorant and negligent users, not the typeface. There are , both historical and current, so it’s certainly possible to make it work. The choice just requires proper research, testing, execution, and good taste—like any design decision.
More questions on Typography:
How Do Police Handle a Suspect's Threat of Retaliation?
Answer by Bob Cooke, retired special agent in charge, California Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement:
I was the target of threats on a few occasions, but only a few times did I actually consider the threats of retaliation to be serious. Most crooks believe that law enforcement officers are doing their jobs by investigating them. Cops believe that crooks are doing their jobs by being crooks. Cops are paid to stand their ground and not retreat unless looking for cover. No one would respect the police if we were easily intimidated.
How Does the New York Times Create Its Crossword Puzzles?
Answer by Deb Amlen, writer of Wordplay, the New York Times crossword blog. Constructor of many mainstream and naughty puzzles. Judge at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament since 2006. Judge and contributor to Lollapuzzoolla since 2008:
The best way to answer this is to pass the buck completely and advise you to find a good mentor who has been published, preferably in the New York Times. I'm not saying that because I work for them, but it has long had the reputation for being the gold standard in the industry. So if your mentor has been published there, you have a good chance of learning from someone who knows what they are doing. You can find such a mentor by subscribing to the discussion list on Cruciverb, the online hangout for puzzle constructors. The discussion list is called Cruciverb-L.
How Did Jennifer Lawrence and Sam Claflin Get Ready for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?
Answer by Francis Lawrence, director, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire:
It’s a bit of a process. It starts early on when we talk about the script. I explain my approach to the script and story and how I’m going to adapt the book. Then I’ll typically start talking about any physical transformations that they might need to do so that we might deal with weight loss, weight gain, any training, anything to do with hair, etc.
Jennifer Lawrence had archery training and training to get in shape for some of the action. With some of the other tributes, they had to learn how to use their weapons and do tricks with their weapons.
How Did the U.S. Break Japanese Military Codes Before the Battle of Midway?
Answer by Andrew Warinner, code monkey, expat, utility infielder:
The U.S. had an excellent track record against Japanese codes and ciphers before World War II, and this experience, combined with a variety of other sources of intelligence, helped the U.S.—primarily the radio interception station and decryption center Station HYPO run by Capt. Joseph Rochefort at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii—deduce that an attack on Midway was in the offing.
Book ciphers work like this: The sender composes his message and then consults the code book. Common words and phrases are replaced with a group of numbers and letters, and any remaining text is encoded character by character. The result is transmitted. The receiver then looks up each group in the corresponding code book and reassembles the message. An additional level of security can be added by enciphering the code groups themselves; this is called superenciphering.
High-grade Japanese naval codes since the 1920s had relied on code books and superencipherment to protect their communications, and the U.S., Great Britain, Australia, and Holland all had had considerable success against them. The Imperial Japanese navy did regularly change their code books and the superencipherment technique, but the supherencipherment was generally weak and easily broken (Japanese characters were encoded as romaji for transmission, and this made them vulnerable to standard cryptological attacks such as frequency analysis). The code books themselves were also not radically changed (words and messages were organized alphabetically, and sections of code groups were incremented consecutively).
The main Japanese naval code, the Navy General Operational Code, dubbed JN25 by the U.S., had a code book of 90,000 words and phrases. Even when the superencipherment was stripped to reveal the code groups (nine character combinations in the case of JN25), the meaning of each code group had to be inferred.
Deducing the contents of the JN25 code book was essentially an exercise in puzzle-solving. The meaning of particular code group could be inference by context or by cross-referencing its use in other messages. Codebreakers at Station HYPO were known for their prodigious memories, but they also made extensive use of IBM punch-card sorting machines to find messages using specific code groups. The end result was a huge card catalog representing the inferences and deductions of code groups of the JN25 code book.
So in early 1942 when the U.S. began detecting signs of an impending attack, the target was encoded as "AF." Locations in the JN25 code book were represented by a code group, and AF was not definitively known by the U.S. Other intelligence methods such as traffic analysis pointed to a target in the Central Pacific, but other U.S. naval intelligence organizations, particularly OP-20-G in Washington, D.C., disagreed about the location and timing of the impending attack.
So the codebreakers at Station HYPO devised an ingenious experiment to confirm the identity of AF. Pearl Harbor and Midway Island were connected by an underwater cable that was invulnerable to Japanese interception. Station HYPO sent orders to Midway by cable to broadcast a radio message that the island's desalinization plant had broken down. The radio message was broadcast without encryption to ensure that Japan could read it if it was intercepted.
The radio message was duly intercepted by Japan and reported by a message encoded in JN25 stating that AF's desalinization plant was out of order. That message was intercepted by Station HYPO. AF was thus confirmed as Midway.
There remained the question of the timing of the attack. Station HYPO concluded that the attack would come in late May to early June 1942, while OP-20-G said late June. Station HYPO won out again because they had succeeded in cracking JN25's date encryption and OP-20-G had not.
Station HYPO's intelligence persuaded Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, to risk the three remaining U.S. carriers in the Pacific in an attempt to ambush the Japanese attack on Midway. While Midway was a stunning victory for the U.S.—sinking four Japanese carriers for the loss of one U.S. carrier—that was enabled by intelligence and broke the uninterrupted string of defeats and draws the Imperial Japanese navy had inflicted on the U.S. Navy, much hard fighting remained and more stinging defeats awaited the U.S. in the Pacific.
The bureaucratic feuding between Station HYPO and OP-20-G continued for the remainder of the war. Rochefort became a victim of the infighting; he was never promoted beyond captain, never received the sea command he wanted, and received no decoration or award for his invaluable work at Station HYPO during his lifetime.
More questions on Military History and Wars:
What Is It Like to Be a Geek in Prison?
What is it like to be a geek in prison? Well, as my first cellmate used to say about me: "He kind of strange, but he cool." He got life for shooting a snitch in the head, and he was the one to greet me when I took that long walk across the floor, and yes there was laughter and snickering.
The first assumption that other inmates make is that an older white guy is a pedophile, so the first order of business is showing them your paperwork. Even then, they didn't believe me until I got sent to the camp a few weeks later. Then a doctor decided that camp was "vacation" for me, and I was recalled back inside the fence. So, when I returned from camp, there was my old cellie waiting for me.