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I own lots of objects that have nothing to do with sports but are nonetheless very interesting from a design perspective. I’ve decided to start discussing them here occasionally, beginning with the Braille magazine that you see above. It was given to me several years ago by a friend of a friend after she’d been told that I tended to like “unusual things.”
Like most sighted people, I can’t read Braille, so the magazine is just gibberish to me. But it’s a remarkably satisfying object. The paper is thick, like Kraft paper, so it can stand up to the embossing. The pages, as you’d expect, are extremely tactile, very pleasing to the touch. And the embossing patterns — language to a blind person but just abstractions to me — are beautiful:
I used to work in book publishing, and we were always concerned about the two sides of a given page aligning, so that the top, bottom, left, and right edges would be in perfect register. But as I looked through the magazine, I quickly realized that the two embossing plates for a given Braille page are purposely misaligned — they have to be, in order to ensure that the same spot on the page doesn’t end up being embossed in both directions. For example, look at this random section of a random page from the magazine:
If the two embossing plates (or stamping dies, or whatever they use) for that page had been perfectly aligned — in other words, if the one punching the impressions from the side we’re looking at onto the other side had been positioned slightly lower and to the left — the areas that I’ve highlighted would end up like this:
And that wouldn’t work, because the same spot can’t be embossed in both directions.
Braille has been around for nearly 200 years, which I gather is a testament to what a good system it is. Looking at it, though, it’s hard to conceive of it as a mode of communication. I’ve tried closing my eyes, running my fingers along the pages, and imagining that the embossed patterns are letters and words — it’s hard to imagine how it works. Of course, I can stare at any page printed in an unfamiliar alphabet (Chinese, Cyrillic, whatever) and probably get the same effect, but at least I can see those and imagine myself learning them. It’s harder to imagine myself — or anyone — learning Braille. Really makes you appreciate and respect the people who’ve done so.
Meanwhile, are you wondering what publication this is? I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning that until now, because it’s my favorite thing about the magazine. Take a look:
Seems like an improbable choice for a Braille translation, right? Like, is a blind person really gonna do the 17-step recipe? Is a blind person gonna create the fancy table centerpiece, or the floral wreath, or any of the other projects outlined in Martha Stewart Living? The only less suitable candidate for a Braille treatment would seem to be Hustler.
Then again, most sighted people don’t actually do most of the Martha Stewart projects either — they just like looking at them, thinking about them, dreaming about them. In fact, the Hustler comparison is quite apt in a way, because Martha Stewart is in the lifestyle porn biz, and her readers are primarily escapists, fantasists, just like Larry Flynt’s readers. I’m assuming blind people can fantasize as well as the rest of us (maybe better, given their circumstances), so why shouldn’t they get to lose themselves in the alternate reality that Martha constructs?
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t been able to find any references to a Braille version of Hustler (although someone has imagined what it might look like). There are quite a few references, however, to Braille Playboy.
And while we’re at it: Yes, there’s also a Braille version of ESPN the Magazine.
ESPN reminder: In case you missed it yesterday, my latest ESPN column — the annual NBA season preview — is available here.
Last chance: The deadline for entering this year’s Uni Watch Reader Appreciation Raffle is tonight at 7pm. For details, look here. I’ll announce the winners on Christmas Day.
Uni Watch News Ticker: I never thought meat could give me the creeps, but that was before my buddy Shane Arbogast sent me this. … The “modification” to the Wisconsin uniform for the Rose Bowl apparently involves rose petal-patterned numbering (big thanks to John Okray). … Small item on this page indicates that Michael Cuddyer, now with the Rockies, will wear No. 3 as a tribute to
the guy on the MLB logo Harmon Killebrew. … The Capitals all wore No. 22 during warm-ups to commemorate Mike Knuble’s 1000th game (from Jason Mott). … Ethan Allen reports that the LSU hoops coaching staff has worn matching sweater vests for every game this season. … Never seen this version of the Oriole bird before (good find by Gary Streeting). … Marty Hick has a little Xmas mini-tree in his basement, decorated with mini-helmets. “Back in the day I used to adorn it with old-school gumball helmets,” he says. “I even hand-painted all of the white facemasks. I wish I still had those helmets. I’ve since replaced them with some larger, newer versions from some stupid game I can’t even remember the name of (I never played it). I made the tree topper back in 1995 — hence the old NFL logo. Some of the helmets have already changed. When all of these teams undergo these changes, they never think of the little guy and his tree.” Words to live by right there. … NSFW: Here’s one of the odder uses of the NFL’s old white/nighttime football. That eBay seller has several additional shots from the same photo session. … A new study conducted at Oregon concludes that academic performance at the university has declined as the football team has gotten better. So if the uniforms have contributed to the team’s upswing, as many folks believe, then they’ve also hurt the university’s core mission. … Ross Forest of TCU had some helmet decal issues last night (screen shot by Frank Mercogliano). … Very interesting submission from Denis Hurley, who writes: “Adidas is famous for having three stripes on its garments. But in Ireland, another company, O’Neills, also uses three stripes regularly. In the 1980s Adidas took O’Neills to court but the verdict ended up being that O’Neills is allowed to use the three stripes within Ireland only.”