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The International Distress Signal That Predates "SOS"

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Whether you declare “SOS” in Morse code or spell it out in seashells on a desert island, a vast majority of the world will understand that you’re in need of help. But before “SOS” was the international distress symbol, “CQD” did the job.

The signal “CQD” was derived from an earlier code, “CQ,” commonly used by telegraphers and wireless operators to address all stations at once. It was so common, in fact, that it became overused and lost the sense of urgency it was meant to convey.

As the Marconi Company became the leader in wireless telegraphy in the early 1900s, they decided a new signal was needed. They kept “CQ” for its familiarity but modified it with the extra “D” to denote distress. Though some have retroactively applied the phrase “Come Quick Danger” to the letters, Marconi himself once said that the letters weren’t meant to be an acronym: “It [CQD] is a conventional signal which was introduced originally by my company to express a state of danger or peril of a ship that sends it."

Despite Marconi’s push for “CQD,” not all nations were on board. The British used it, but Americans kept “NC,” which meant “call for help without delay.” Meanwhile, the Germans used “SOE,” while Italians liked the unmistakable “SSSDDD.”

By 1906, delegates at the second International Radio Telegraphic Conference realized that an international signal was desperately needed, and proposed “SOS” for its ease of transmission; the pattern ”...---...” in Morse code was simple and immediately recognizable. It was officially ratified by all conference members by 1908—except for the United States, which took a bit longer to adopt the practice.

Still, it took some time for “CQD” to leave the vernacular. In fact, the night the Titanic went down in 1912, the wireless operators were still using it. They also tried “SOS” after junior wireless operator Harold Bride joked to senior operator Jack Phillips that it might be his last chance to use the new distress call. Sadly, it was—Phillips went down with the ship. Not long after that, the U.S. adopted "SOS" as its official distress signal.

Though “CQD” is long gone, “CQ” is still popular with ham radio operators—and it’s still used to establish contact, just as British operators used it more than a century ago.

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Design
Lovely Vintage Manuals Show How to Design for the Human Body
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IA Collaborative

If you're designing something for people to hold and use, you probably want to make sure that it will fit a normal human. You don't want to make a cell phone that people can't hold in their hands (mostly) or a vacuum that will have you throwing out your back every time you clean the house. Ergonomics isn't just for your office desk setup; it's for every product you physically touch.

In the mid-1970s, the office of legendary industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss created a series of manuals for designers working on products that involved the human body. And now, the rare Humanscale manuals from Henry Dreyfuss Associates are about to come back into print with the help of a Kickstarter campaign from a contemporary design firm. Using the work of original Henry Dreyfuss Associates designers Niels Diffrient and Alvin R. Tilley, the guides are getting another life with the help of the Chicago-based design consultancy IA Collaborative.

A Humanscale page illustrates human strength statistics.

The three Humanscale Manuals, published between 1974 and 1981 but long out-of-print, covered 18 different types of human-centric design categories, like typical body measurements, how people stand in public spaces, how hand and foot controls should work, and how to design for wheelchair users within legal requirements. In the mid-20th century, the ergonomics expertise of Dreyfuss and his partners was used in the development of landmark products like the modern telephones made by Bell Labs, the Polaroid camera, Honeywell's round thermostat, and the Hoover vacuum.

IA Collaborative is looking to reissue all three Humanscale manuals which you can currently only find in their printed form as historic documents in places like the Cooper Hewitt design museum in New York. IA Collaborative's Luke Westra and Nathan Ritter worked with some of the original designers to make the guides widely available again. Their goal was to reprint them at a reasonable price for designers. They're not exactly cheap, but the guides are more than just pretty decor for the office. The 60,000-data-point guides, IA Collaborative points out, "include metrics for every facet of human existence."

The manuals come in the form of booklets with wheels inside the page that you spin to reveal standards for different categories of people (strong, tall, short, able-bodied, men, women, children, etc.). There are three booklets, each with three double-sided pages, one for each category. For instance, Humanscale 1/2/3 covers body measurements, link measurements, seating guide, seat/table guide, wheelchair users, and the handicapped and elderly.

A product image of the pages from Humanscale Manual 1/2/3 stacked in a row.

"All products––from office chairs to medical devices—require designs that 'fit' the end user," according to Luke Westra, IA Collective's engineering director. "Finding the human factors data one needs to achieve these ‘fits' can be extremely challenging as it is often scattered across countless sources," he explains in a press release, "unless you've been lucky enough to get your hands on the Humanscale manuals."

Even setting aside the importance of the information they convey, the manuals are beautiful. Before infographics were all over the web, Henry Dreyfuss Associates were creating a huge compendium of visual data by hand. Whether you ever plan to design a desk chair or not, the manuals are worthy collectors' items.

The Kickstarter campaign runs from July 25 to August 24. The three booklets can be purchased individually ($79) or as a full set ($199).

All images courtesy IA Collaborative

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Space
NASA Is Posting Hundreds of Retro Flight Research Videos on YouTube
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If you’re interested in taking a tour through NASA history, head over to the YouTube page of the Armstrong Flight Research Center, located at Edwards Air Force Base, in southern California. According to Motherboard, the agency is in the middle of posting hundreds of rare aircraft videos dating back to the 1940s.

In an effort to open more of its archives to the public, NASA plans to upload 500 historic films to YouTube over the next few months. More than 300 videos have been published so far, and they range from footage of a D-558 Skystreak jet being assembled in 1947 to a clip of the first test flight of an inflatable-winged plane in 2001. Other highlights include the Space Shuttle Endeavour's final flight over Los Angeles and a controlled crash of a Boeing 720 jet.

The research footage was available to the public prior to the mass upload, but viewers had to go through the Dryden Aircraft Movie Collection on the research center’s website to see them. The current catalogue on YouTube is much easier to browse through, with clear playlist categories like supersonic aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles. You can get a taste of what to expect from the page in the sample videos below.

[h/t Motherboard]

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