Ripley's Curioddities

This was a $5 buy in the remainder bargain area at the local Borders store in Sunnyvale a couple weeks ago.

It's a huge collection of interesting facts (some of them are indeed seriously weird). It contains extraordinary feats accomplished by many committed people (and in some cases, by people who should be committed). I initially bought it thinking in might be of interest to Duncan, but there are a few things in there that I reckon might give him nightmares so I ended up reading it myself and then pointed out all the safe ones I thought we would be interested in.

Running at over 500 pages, there is a lot of stuff here. Typically each double page has between 1-3 pictures and a short story to go with them. The rest of each page is filled up with other facts but with no pictures. I initially found this frustrating, but by googling around, it's possible in a lot of cases, to find images and a much more complete story, to go with the ones that really fascinated me.

Here's a sample of three; all related to blind people.

  • Russian Michail Lasjuv learned to read braille using his lips after losing his hands, vision and hearing during world war II.

  • Mike Newman of England became the fastest blind driver of a car in the world when his Jaguar XJR averaged 144.7 mph (232.8 km/h) over two runs at an abandoned airfield in 2003. The 42 year old bank official, who has been blind since he was eight, was guided via a radio link with his stepfather who was travelling in a vehicle four car lengths behind. [link]

  • British artist Gary Sargeant lost his sight -- but still manages to paint. He visits the scene of the picture and with the help of his wife, measures dimensions, either with his blind stick that is marked in finger-length notches and walking out distances between objects, or feeling textures by touch. By measuring and using masking tape, he builds up the canvas and then starts work. As the paint builds up he "reads" it, and from his many years of experience painting as a sighted person interprets what the picture should look like. [link]

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