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Braille: The reading system that changed the world for the blind

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Born in France in 1809, Louis Braille, at age 3, was an inquisitive, perhaps precocious, kid who loved to work in his father’s horse tack workshop.

One day he was using an awl, a sharp pointed instrument for making holes, to punch through leather. The awl bounced off the hard leather and the point struck him in the eye. The local doctor did everything possible to heal the eye, but without antibiotics, painful infection soon spread to both eyes rendering him blind.

Nonetheless, a diligent child, Braille was a good student and by age 10, he earned the chance to study at the first school for the blind in Paris. There he learned to read by touching raised letters, formed in the shape of ordinary letters. But the few books written in this way were huge and difficult to handle.

In 1821, he heard of a system of raised dots developed for the military so that soldiers on the battlefield could read notes without light. Inspired by the system, at age 15, Braille completed a new system that halved the number of dots required for a letter and made the dot cells small enough to be read with one finger.

Best yet, the system enabled Braille users to easily write.

His system did encounter resistance, but by 1882 blind people throughout the world were using it. Finally, in 1912, it was adopted in North America and a formal English alphabet was formalized by 1932.

Braille, whose health was always fragile, died at age 43. Besides being an inventor, he was an accomplished musician and professor of algebra, history and geometry.

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  1. yenaleM

    January 10, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Thumbs up. Thank you for sharing this story !

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Margarine was once made with whale oil

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Margarine, that spreadable, butter-like substance, was until the 1940s or so made with whale oil.

In fact, whale oil and margarine were so important to the World War II economy that Britain declared it a commodity essential for national defense.

Consumers today would be horrified if margarine contained whale, which is largely thought to be off-limits to hunting these days. Today, margarines are made with vegetable oils.

In fact, popular outrage over whale hunting helped end the practice. It was time, after all. Technology has replaced whales as a source of fuel and fat.

Iceland, Norway and Japan still have whaling industries, although the practice is illegal nearly everywhere else.

During the 1700s and 1800s, whales were relentlessly hunted for their oil. Whale oil, particularly the so-called spermaceti from sperm whales, was used for heating, soaps, and lubricants as well as during the processing of rope and textiles. Demand was highest for its use as lamp fuel because it produced a smokeless flame. It was such an improvement in light quality and consistency that it created the standard for light production that we still use today: the lumen. Fortunately for the whales, kerosene was invented in 1849. Kerosene could be stored for long periods and it burns without a fishy odor.

Margarine saved the whale industry in 1869 when it was used as a cheaper substitute for butter. German per capita consumption was 17.5 pounds per year in 1930, and led to the merger of Lever Brothers and Margarine Unie to create the Unilever company, once the world’s largest purchaser of whale oil, according to Atlas Obscura.

Whale-based products are prohibited today in most of the world.

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Being important, statistically speaking

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You’ve noticed, of course, that marketers are looking for that sweet demographic in everything.

And that demographic starts at the age of the grandkids and ends about 15 years shy of where you are.

Older people don’t spend much money.

Except, as it turns out, in restaurants.

Market research company, the NPD Group, found that during the last five years, restaurant visits by Baby Boomers and older Americans have grown 6 percent, while those by millennials (people under 30) have declined by that much.

See, millennials are supposed to be the ones spending all their money, but it turns out Boomers have more money, they spend it less often, but they like to eat out.

This has caused the restaurant industry to take note.

Some proposed changes may be music to your ears. First, no banging music in your ears. Good first step. Readable menus. Commendable. Comfortable furniture. Obvious.

And professional service, not electronic notepads. Thank you.

Now, where should we eat tonight?

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Jewelry that won’t irritate your skin

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If you’re allergic to your jewelry, nickel’s probably to blame. This inexpensive metal is often mixed with other, finer metals to change their color or make them stronger.

If you have sensitive skin, here are some metals that won’t irritate your skin:

• Stainless steel. A very strong and solid metal that usually doesn’t irritate skin, despite the presence of nickel

• Sterling or 925 silver. High-end silver is mixed with seven-and-a-half percent copper, not nickel

• Copper. While your skin may temporarily turn green, copper won’t cause an allergic reaction unless it’s mixed with nickel

• Platinum. Thirty times more rare than gold, this metal is strong enough that it doesn’t need to be alloyed with other materials to strengthen it.

• Titanium. As strong as steel but less dense, this metal is often used in medical devices because in most cases the human body doesn’t reject it.

• Zamak. This alloy made of silver, zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper never contains nickel.

If you’ve had an allergic reaction to jewelry in the past, talk to a jeweler. He or she will be able to suggest a metal that won’t bother your sensitive skin.

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Winter driving tips: Did you know?

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Regular oil tends to thicken in cold weather, which can cause your engine to run less efficiently and even prevent your vehicle from starting. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, retains its properties in cold temperatures, making it the better choice for your vehicle during winter.

It’s important to clear away the snow and ice in your vehicle’s wheel wells. A build up of ice that rubs against your tires can damage or even puncture them.

You can get rid of ice inside your door’s keyhole by heating your key with a lighter before inserting it in the lock.

GPS technology isn’t foolproof. It’s even been known to, on rare occasions, direct drivers towards frozen—in winter—lakes. If you find yourself in this unlikely circumstance, know that it can take up to three minutes for a vehicle to sink. Passengers who remain calm generally have enough time to escape the vehicle by climbing out a window.

A single gallon of used motor oil can contaminate hundreds of thousands of gallons of drinkable water. Ask your local municipality where you can dispose of your used oil. Many regions have household hazardous waste depots. Otherwise, your local garage will often take it.

During long trips, dimming the lights on your dashboard can help you stay alert by decreasing visual fatigue. Note also that fast driving can heighten fatigue, as drivers have to process a greater amount of information.

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

Remember. Honor. Teach. Group remembers war dead with wreaths

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Like most good ideas, this one began with a problem.

In 1992, the owner of a wreath company in Maine found himself with a surplus near the end of the Christmas season.

What to do?

Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, decided he would use the wreaths to decorate the most inspirational place he saw as a boy: Arlington National Cemetery.

With the help of a senator, he made arrangements to decorate an older section of the cemetery, one with fewer visitors every year. A local trucking company heard about the effort and donated transportation for the wreaths. American Legion and VFW posts volunteered to make red bows. And the Maine State Society helped to lay the wreaths.

It became a mission for veteran and military groups and the idea spread.

By 2007, a non-profit corporation– Wreaths Across America — was formed with the motto: Remember. Honor. Teach.

In 2014 the group placed more than 700,000 wreaths in 1,000 locations from Pearl Harbor to Valley Forge.

If you would like to participate, go to wreathsacrossamerica.org.

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Interesting Things You Need to Know

How we came to know the drummer boy

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One of the most beloved Christmas carols is a sentimental ballad, not grounded in Biblical verse, but well rooted in hearts at Christmas.

Pa rum pa pum pum. The little drummer boy played for the baby Jesus. We don’t worry the drumming woke The Babe because, after all, Mary nodded. And, the little drummer boy, who was a poor boy, too, played his best as a gift for the newborn king. And He smiled.

What more can you ask of a carol than a tear for innocence and a musical ox and lamb that can keep time?

Well, perhaps one thing you could ask, if you were the author, as was Katherine Davis, a Wellesley music teacher, was for a little credit.

Seems in 1941, Davis gave an interview in which she spoke about a tune running through her head for a little Christmas carol that she said practically wrote itself.

About 20 years later, a friend called to say her carol was on the radio.

“What carol?” asked Davis.

“The Little Drummer Boy. It’s everywhere.”

And it certainly was. Davis managed to claim credit (and royalties) for the song, which is now part of the beloved library of uniquely American Christmas carols.

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