Why Are Social Security Cards So Flimsy?

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IStock

For a card that’s supposed to last your entire life, that's an incredible hassle to replace, and that you may one day need in order to secure a job or obtain a driver’s license, Social Security cards are oddly delicate. Keeping one in your wallet can really beat it up, but attempting to preserve it via lamination is frowned upon by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

It all seems like a cruel joke perpetuated by our elected officials—but there’s a reason behind it all.

Social Security Administration

The numbered cards, which were issued beginning in 1936, are intended to help the SSA track U.S. citizens and their wages to allocate retiree benefits. (A nine-digit code, the first three numbers are based on geographical location.) While they were previously made of cardboard, the agency switched to banknote paper in 1983 and still uses it today. As with currency, which uses similar paper, the material allows the SSA to implement a number of features that deter counterfeiting. The blue, marbleized background tint is erasable, making any changes to the card obvious. Intaglio print has raised lettering that can be felt by touch and is used because it is notoriously hard to replicate. Naturally, laminating the card would interfere with detecting these and other unpublicized security measures.

While the card might appear to be more sophisticated than you’d think, that’s not of much help when it emerges battered and torn from your purse or pocket. Turns out you’re not actually supposed to be carrying it around. The SSA suggests you store the card in a safe place until it’s needed. One handy tip is to keep it in a plastic sleeve meant for baseball card collectors.

If the card's lack of durability is still bothersome, you could write to the SSA requesting they re-consider one early plan: issuing numbers engraved on dog tags.

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

What Makes a Hotel Breakfast 'Continental'?

Hotels often offer a complimentary pastry and fruit breakfast.
Hotels often offer a complimentary pastry and fruit breakfast.
tashka2000/iStock via Getty Images

The continental breakfast, which is typically made up of pastries, fruit, and coffee, is often advertised by hotels as a free perk for guests. But why is it called continental, and why don’t patrons get some eggs and bacon along with it?

The term dates back to 19th century Britain, where residents referred to mainland Europe as “the continent.” Breakfast in this region was usually something light, whereas an English or American breakfast incorporated meat, beans, and other “heavy” menu options.

American hotels that wanted to appeal to European travelers began advertising “continental breakfasts” as a kind of flashing neon sign to indicate guests wouldn’t be limited to American breakfast fare that they found unappealing. The strategy was ideal for hotels, which saved money by offering some muffins, fruit, and coffee and calling it a day.

That affordability as well as convenience—pastries and fruit are shelf-stable, requiring no heat or refrigeration to maintain food safety—is a big reason continental breakfasts have endured. It’s also a carryover from the hybrid model of hotel pricing, where American hotels typically folded the cost of meals into one bill and European hotels billed for food separately. By offering a continental breakfast, guests got the best of both worlds. And while Americans were initially aghast at the lack of sausages and pancakes on offer, they’ve since come around to the appeal of a muffin and some orange juice to get their travel day started.

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