Technology

Remembering Uncle Mike

Today is World Braille Day.

If you’re not already aware,  braille’ is a system of reading and writing for people with no sight. Put simply, although there is a lot more to it than this - it’s a series of raised dots which spell out letters and words. It’s brilliant.

I first came across braille when I was a child.  ‘Uncle Mike’ was a great family friend, and he was blind. I remember his many braille books – large bound copies sitting on a sturdy book shelf, and I was fascinated by the bumps and dots on the pages. I wish now I’d asked him to teach me a bit about reading that way.

Because Uncle Mike WAS a teacher, a headmaster actually at a secondary school for blind pupils in a place called Thika in Kenya in East Africa. Mike was not just an intellect, he was also a man of deep faith, a loving family man, a talented musician (a pianist, playing by ear and blessed with a gorgeous singing voice) very funny and tremendously adventurous – he once climbed Mount Kenya!

But back to the braille and why January 4th is World Braille Day.

It’s because it was on this day back in 1809 that the creator of the reading and writing system - Louis Braille – was born. He was French and was born sighted. Unfortunately, at the age of three he had a terrible accident which blinded him in one eye. An infection followed and spread to both eyes, and by the time he was five, he was completely blind. I read that because he was so young he didn’t realise he had no sight and often asked why it was so dark. His parents were apparently determined that their youngest child would not miss out on life and he was educated and learned to make his way around his village using a cane.

Louis was very bright and eventually received a scholarship to France's Royal Institute for Blind Youth, where he first began to investigate reading and writing systems, including a military cryptography system devised by a chap called Charles Barbier, which allowed night time reading and writing. By 1824 Louis was ready to show his ideas to the world and the system he devised has become a window on to the world for blind and partially sighted people down the years. Although it’s been slightly tweaked from time to time, the system even today remains virtually changed from Louis’ original concepts.

Today – it’s simply known as ‘braille’ and is used across the globe!

And so today – January 4th – is World Braille Day and this month is Braille Literacy Month in some countries, helping us all to celebrate not just Louis Braille’s incredible invention, but also encouraging us to understand the needs of people who have no sight.

As ‘Uncle Mike’ proved to me all those years ago – not by telling me but just by being who he was - just because one has a disability doesn’t mean that the world is closed to us! We can all climb our mountains, even if we think it might be impossible!

Louis Braille - Wikipedia / Braille - Wikipedia / What is World Braille Day? - Braille Works


Simple Things

There are some things in life we just take for granted, aren’t there?

Like picking up a spoon to eat our breakfast cereal.  Grabbing a knife when we need to cut something up?

Or how about a drinking straw with which to sip our cool beverages? 

Just simple things!

Straws have gone a bit out of fashion in recent times ... plastic straws having been identified as possible pollutants. These days, of course, we're encouraged to use the biodegradable kind and lots of different types of drinking straws are being created as alternatives.

But did you know that the modern drinking straw was patented today – Jan 3rd  in 1888 – by an American inventor called Marvin C. Stone?

He was originally in the cigar making industry but came up with an idea to wrap paper around a pencil and apply thick layers of glue to make a drinking straw.  Bit by bit, the process was refined to ensure the straws would survive even strong alcoholic beverages. He created an automated machine to produce the straws and they proved instantly popular. 

But drinking straws go back much further, and some take us back actually to more biodegradable options.

Over 5,000 years ago the ancient Sumerians used straws made from gold and lapis lazuli, a precious stone, to sip beer. Sumer was in Mesopotamia in modern-day Iraq and Kuwait,  and archaeologists have discovered drinking straws in the ruins of cities and tombs dating back to 3000 BC. And it appears that even earlier versions which preceded those had been crafted  in wood or from hollow plants.  Told you - biodegradable!

Meanwhile, in Argentina in South America, there’s evidence that natives also used drinking straws made from wood for several thousand years. Later they developed devices made from metal called "bombilla".

By the 1800s in the USA, the trend for drinking through cheap, easily produced rye grass straws took off, but they were prone to turning to mush when left in liquid for any length of time.  Cue Mr Marvin C Stone!

It’s easy to forget that sometimes even the simple things in life come after much hard work and testing by pioneers who have come before us.  We take for granted the freedoms that most of us enjoy, forgetting the sacrifices that might have been involved to get us to this point.

As we step out into a new year, let us stop to think about the people in our lives who have brought us to this point. Those who have shaped us, who perhaps gave up things and gave something of themselves, including talents, intellect, imagination and expertise, so that WE might have the lives we enjoy today.

Note - http://www.eatingutensils.net/history-of-other-eating-utensils/drinking-straws-history/