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App Review: Tetris Blitz

2014 marks the 30th anniversary of the most important technological development of all time: Tetris. There are probably many of you out there that will insist that the Macintosh computer was the most important tech release of 1984, and I will grant that it is a close second, but I am still standing behind the classic tile-matching puzzle video game.

For those of you who don’t know, Tetris is a very simple game in which any of seven different blocks, which are every possible combination of four smaller square blocks that have adjoining sides, fall from above and your job is to move them side-to-side and/or rotate them in order to complete horizontal lines which disappear when completed. The ultimate move is to leave only one vertical line incomplete and drop the “line” piece in to complete four horizontal lines at once. This is a Tetris and you will be rewarded with big points, flashing graphics, sound effects, and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Tetris was originally developed by Alexey Pajitnov in the Soviet Union, and was the first video game exported from the USSR to the US. Its popularity skyrocketed when a version was released for the Nintendo GameBoy in 1989, and versions have since been released for just about every console, operating system, personal electronic device, and has even been played by using the windows in a large building as the blocks.

While the 8-bit NES version will always be my favorite, I have been playing a new version on my iPhone: Tetris Blitz by Electronic Arts. This version takes the classic gameplay and condenses it into a two-minute speed round in which the goal is to score maximum points. They have added a number of power-up blocks which trigger different actions, such as lasers that burn up several lines for you or masses of blocks that drop all at once. You can play in single player mode, head-to-head against strangers or your Facebook friends, as well as in special tournaments which often have different rules or game mechanics for added variety. This app is free, but employs what has come to be known as the freemium model, which means that there are a fair number of in-app ads and in-app purchases that are available. If you can learn to ignore these, this app is a fun addition to the Tetris family and only wastes uses two minutes at a time.

The best part? Tetris is good for you! According to research, playing half-an-hour a day for three months boosts general cognitive functions such as critical thinking, reasoning, language and processing and increases cerebral cortex thickness. It has also been shown to be a potential therapy for preventing PTSD as well as a way to help quit smoking. See here for more information.

Download Tetris Blitz for iOS FREE here!

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Apps For Valentine's Day

Every year after one of the most masculine days of the year (Super Bowl Sunday), we have Valentine’s Day to maintain balance in the world. That’s right it’s that time of year again. If you’re an extremely prepared individual, you most likely have every aspect planned out for a extraordinarily romantic Valentine’s Day. However, if you are like many of us, you just realized you still have nothing planned: no card, flowers, dinner reservations… Keep reading, because we are here to help! You’re just a few taps and swipes away from making it look like you spent months putting together the perfect day.

Here are just a few apps to get you thinking about the upcoming celebration.

1. Red Stamp – FREE

Email, text, tweet, post to Facebook and Instagram, or go old school and mail personalized paper photo cards or notes right from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The perfect way to say “I’m thinking of you this Valentine’s Day.” Red Stamp is packed with hundreds of modern artistic designs to set your Valentine’s Day card above the rest!

2. OpenTable – FREE

It’s mid-afternoon on Valentine’s Day and your date asks you where the two of you are going for dinner. You reply that it’s a surprise, and it is. The problem is, it’s a surprise to you too since you forgot to make reservations. See what local favorites are still serving and save yourself a seat with OpenTable.

3. Vivino – FREE

Impress your date with how much you know about wine and find the perfect complement to your home cooked meal. Vivino uses your phone’s camera to help you research wines while you’re at the grocery store wine aisle.

4 Yummly – FREE

A recipe discovery app that allows you to filter recipes by the ingredients you have on hand. Because who doesn’t want to come home to a home cooked meal?

5. 8 Tracks – FREE

Get lost in the music! Simply enter any artist, genre, activity, or mood and 8 Tracks will find a playlist just right for the occasion.

6. Match – FREE (offers in-app purchases)

If you’re single and would love to spend the holiday on a first date then it is the perfect time to get on that dating site that your friends keep recommending. There’s no harm in putting yourself out there.

And as always there are many, MANY more apps out there to help you plan a special day. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Black History Month - The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a huge network of people who helped fugitive slaves escape to the North and to Canada. It was not run by any single organization or person. Rather, it consisted of many individuals — many whites but predominently black — who knew only of the local efforts to aid fugitives and not of the overall operation. Yet, it effectively moved hundreds of slaves northward each year — according to one estimate, the South lost 100,000 slaves between 1810 and 1850.

An organized system to assist runaway slaves seems to have begun towards the end of the 18th century. In 1786 George Washington complained about how one of his runaway slaves was helped by a “society of Quakers, formed for such purposes.” The system grew, and around 1831 it was dubbed “The Underground Railroad,” after the then emerging steam railroads. The system even used terms used in railroading: the homes and businesses where fugitives would rest and eat were called “stations” and “depots” and were run by “stationmasters,” those who contributed money or goods were “stockholders,” and the “conductor” was responsible for moving fugitives from one station to the next.

For the slave, running away to the North was anything but easy. The first step was to escape from the slaveholder. For many slaves, this meant relying on his or her own resources. Sometimes a “conductor,” posing as a slave, would enter a plantation and then guide the runaways northward. The fugitives would move at night. They would generally travel between 10 and 20 miles to the next station, where they would rest and eat, hiding in barns and other out-of-the-way places. While they waited, a message would be sent to the next station to alert its stationmaster.

The fugitives would also travel by train and boat — conveyances that sometimes had to be paid for. Money was also needed to improve the appearance of the runaways — a black man, woman, or child in tattered clothes would invariably attract suspicious eyes. This money was donated by individuals and also raised by various groups, including vigilance committees.

Vigilance committees sprang up in the larger towns and cities of the North, most prominently in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. In addition to soliciting money, the organizations provided food, lodging and money, and helped the fugitives settle into a community by helping them find jobs and providing letters of recommendation.

The Underground Railroad had many notable participants, including John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slaveholding family, who made many daring rescues, Levi Coffin, a Quaker who assisted more than 3,000 slaves, and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

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Black History Month - Rosa Parks

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks (February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005) was an African American civil rights activist, whom the U.S. Congress later called “the first lady of civil rights”, and “the mother of the freedom movement”.

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks, age 42, refused to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Her action was not the first of its kind. Irene Morgan in 1946, and Sarah Louise Keys in 1955, had won rulings before the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Interstate Commerce Commission, respectively, in the area of interstate bus travel.

Nine months before Parks refused to give up her seat, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin refused to move from her seat on the same bus system. In New York City, in 1854, Lizzie Jennings engaged in similar activity, leading to the desegregation of the horsecars and horse-drawn omnibuses of that city. But unlike these previous individual actions of civil disobedience, Parks’ action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Parks’ act of defiance became an important symbol of the modern Civil Rights Movement and Parks became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. She organized and collaborated with civil rights leaders, including boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr., helping to launch him to national prominence in the civil rights movement.

At the time of her action, Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and had recently attended the Highlander Folk School, a Tennessee center for workers’ rights and racial equality. Nonetheless, she took her action as a private citizen “tired of giving in”. Although widely honored in later years for her action, she suffered for it, losing her job as a seamstress in a local department store.

Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan, where she found similar work. From 1965 to 1988 she served as secretary and receptionist to African-American U.S. Representative John Conyers. After retirement from this position, she wrote an autobiography and lived a largely private life in Detroit. In her final years she suffered from dementia and became embroiled in a lawsuit filed on her behalf against American hip-hop duo OutKast.

Parks eventually received many honors ranging from the 1979 Spingarn Medal to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Her death in 2005 was a major story in the United States’ leading newspapers. She was granted the posthumous honor of lying in honor at the Capitol Rotunda.

On February 4, 2013, the U.S. Postal Service issued a special Rosa Parks Forever stamp on what would have been the late civil rights icon’s 100th birthday.


Black History Month - Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells Barnett was a co-founder of the NAACP, an anti-lynch crusader and a Black female journalist. After earning degrees from Rust College and Fisk University, she taught in Memphis Tennessee and began writing articles for the Black Newspaper, Free Speech. She is well known for being outspoken against the senseless lynching of Blacks and often traveled to Europe to publicize the facts she learned. Ida was the most famous Black female journalist of her time. She wrote articles for the Memphis Watchman, Detroit Plain Dealer, Indianapolis World, Little Rock Sun, and many others.


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