Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Blogger Meet Up

By Marcel Mosswood, Virtual Ability community member

Writing is so much fun. And getting money from what I like to do is a blessing. That’s the reason why I like blogging. I’ve been blogging since 2007, but I’m not a blogging expert. Why? Because blogging is more than writing and publishing your writing. It is mainly about technology. About how you manage the technology to make your writing published in its best way.

Blogging is also about working together in teamwork. Brainstorming, collaborating, and supporting each other is how we work. We should collaborate with other bloggers to maintain a significant position in the search engine.

Based on this thought, I want to invite bloggers in the SL to brainstorm, collaborate, and support each other to make our blogging activity more fun. The meet up will be on Thursday, May 23, 5 PM SLT and will repeat every month on the 4th Thursday. Here is the SLURL:

Monday, May 13, 2019

Put Your Phone in a Sleeping Bag and Unplug for a Day

Ms. Fatemeh Rezaee, PhD student at Seoul National University, presented on March 26 at Virtual Ability’s Mental Health Symposium. During her presentation, she mentioned the National Day of Unplugging, which this year had been held March 1-2. Several audience members asked for further information about this, recognizing that they spend an increasing amount of non-quality time engaged with their phones. They seemed particularly intrigued by the idea of a “cell phone sleeping bag” to cut off some of the electronic device’s allure.

Ms. Rezaee sends along a couple of web links that are related to the concept of purposeful unplugging from your cellphone.

The National Day of Unplugging organization has a great deal of information on how to get involved. This page shows their Cell Phone Sleeping Bag: https://www.nationaldayofunplugging.com/sign-up. The page also links to a resource toolkit of activities you or your organization can use to promote the need to unplug once in a while.

Another company that makes cell phone sleeping bags is Bagby: https://bagby.co/collections/all.

Of course, if you are crafty, you don’t need to purchase one of these products. You may be able to knit, crochet, or sew a cover for your phone. One enterprising community member stated that if the one she plans to make for herself works well, then she will think about starting a home business!

Thank you Ms. Rezaee for introducing our audience to this important simple tool we can use to reclaim our lives.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Asperger's Are Us - Comedy About Not Asperger's

By Orange Planer

I recently ran across an article in The Boston Globe regarding a comedy troupe named Asperger’s Are Us.  The members of the group are Noah Britton, New Michael Ingemi, Ethan Finlan, and Jack Hanke.  They met at a summer camp in 2005 where Britton, who had recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s, was a counselor (which makes him older than the others).  They got along well enough that four years later they created their troupe which specializes in absurdist comedy and clever wordplay.

Since then they’ve been touring and have generated an HBO six-part series called “On Tour With Asperger’s Are Us.”  They don’t make a secret of the fact that all of them have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Initially they were seen as “the Asperger’s comedy team,” but they firmly reject that idea.  They formed the group to make people laugh: they just happen to have Asperger’s and do not bring attention to syndrome in any way. In fact, they’re so adamant about it that Britton says he has a response ready for the next time someone takes a patronizing approach at a show.

“Next time someone in the audience says it’s so inspiring what we’re doing, overcoming challenges, I’m going to ask, ‘What do you do?,’ ” Britton says. “Then I’ll say, ‘It’s really inspiring that you have that job, period, rather than that you’re bad or good at it. I won’t comment on that, just that it’s inspiring that you go to work as a secretary.’ Hopefully, then, they’ll sit down.” (Quote courtesy of The Boston Globe.)

I find their sense of humor brainy, multi-leveled, fun, and satirical.  I hope you get a chance to check out the article in The Boston Globe (email address required, no password) and to view their website (both linked above).

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Join the Mental Health Symposium on YouTube Live Stream

By Gentle Heron

Ever wondered how to attend a conference in Second Life if you don’t have a virtual world avatar?

Will you be at work during the conference time, unable to justify having a virtual world open on your computer screen, but willing to listen in to the speakers?

What can you do other than attend the Mental Health Symposium as an avatar?

You can watch it live as it is streamed from Second Life through YouTube.

The best thing to do is to subscribe to the Virtual Ability, Inc. YouTube Channel. Then tune in at 8:30 am Pacific time on Friday, April 26, to view all the conference proceedings.

Or just follow this link at 8:30 am Pacific time on Friday, April 26.

So even if you’re not able to sit in the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability island, you will be able to hear and see the full conference.

Please do join us.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

How do you relate to your avatar?

By Dr. Nicholas Bowman
Dr. Nicholas Bowman
Dr. Nicholas Bowman
Users of virtual environments interact with the environment and with other users through an avatar that is under their control. The avatar is distinct from, but related to, the user. This creates a complex relationship which the audience members at the Mental Health Symposium will be experiencing during the conference.

Dr. Nicholas Bowman will speak about this relationship from noon to 12:45pm Pacific, Friday April 26. The title of his talk is “How do I relate to me? The emotional demands of our online personae.”

Dr. Bowman is an associate professor at the Interaction Lab of the Department of Communication Studies, West Virginia University (US). He views entertainment technology as a place for learning and community discourse. He researches how communication technology such as video games and social media affects the way we interact.

Dr. Bowman will discuss different mechanisms by which users associate with and understand their on-screen avatars. These different mechanisms might have very different emotional components and outcomes. During the presentation, audience members will be asked to actively share their thoughts and experiences with their own avatars.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

Virtual Worlds Serve Military Mental Health Needs

By Dr. Kevin Holloway
Dr. Kevin Holloway
Dr. Kevin Holloway

A Center for Deployment Psychology Training Facility
A Center for Deployment Psychology Training Facility

Members of the military, both veterans and those in service, and their family members deserve the most effective treatments for deployment- and combat-related PTSD, sleep disorders, depression and suicidal ideation. The Center for Deployment Psychology (CDP) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD (US) has piloted virtual-worlds based training programs for mental health providers serving this population.

Dr. Kevin Holloway is the Director of Training and Education at the Center for Deployment Psychology. A licensed clinical psychologist, he is particularly interested in technology solutions, including using virtual worlds to improve access to and quality of professional training. Dr. Holloway’s presentation at the Mental Health Symposium, “Virtual World Training for Mental Health Providers,” will be held from 2-3:30pm Pacific on Friday April 26. He will discuss CDP's synchronous and asynchronous Second Life training models and environments, and preliminary outcomes data regarding effectiveness.

Following Q&A will be an opportunity for the audience to tour two of CDP’s Second Life facilities, the Snoozeum and Operation AVATAR. These sites augment live, instructor-led, virtual training workshops for mental health providers learning evidence-based psychotherapies (EBPs) for insomnia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

Video games, the pluses and minuses

By Dr. Michelle Colder Carras
Dr. Michelle Colder Carras
Dr. Michelle Colder Carras

The Entertainment Software Association’s 2018 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry reports that over 150 million Americans play video games, 60% of them playing daily. Video game play has been shown to provide cognitive benefits, improving basic mental abilities such as attention and executive functioning.

However, there is also a negative side to video gaming. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified “gaming disorder” in the 11th Revision of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).

Dr. Michelle Colder Carras’s presentation, titled “Video games, social interactions, and mental health: Benefits and problems,” will be the 1-1:45pm (Pacific time) session on Friday, April 26 at Virtual Ability’s annual Mental Health Symposium. Dr. Colder Carras is a public mental health researcher and informaticist who specializes in healthy and problematic media and technology use. Her most recent work has focused on how commercial video games can be useful for suicide prevention and improved mental health.

Dr. Colder Carras will discuss the importance of determining the context of game play in deciding if it is helpful or harmful. She will examine both online and offline social interactions by video gamers, and will discuss both potential therapeutic benefits and problematic issues related to gaming.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

Do teens know when they are bullied on social media?

By Dr. Taaha Shakir
Dr. Taaha Shakir
Dr. Taaha Shakir

Teens spend a lot of time online, texting and digital messaging each other. Unfortunately, this high level of connectivity can lead to “potentially troubling and nonconsensual exchanges,” according to a recent Pew Research Center. This report states that 59% of US teens have been bullied or harassed online, mainly through name-calling and rumor-spreading. Schools offer lessons on how to handle being bullied. Out-of-school programs, such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, are equally concerned about the problem of bullying.

The final session of Virtual Ability’s 2019 Mental Health Symposium from 5-5:45pm Pacific time on Friday, April 26 will feature Dr. Taaha Shakir. His talk is titled “Do our adolescents know they are being bullied?” Dr. Shakir is a pediatric hospitalist at Edward Hospital, in Naperville, IL (US).

Dr. Shakir’s current research on the impact of social media on teens assesses the reasons for its negative effects. He fears that the healthcare community has not dealt well with the growth of technology that led to cyberbullying. The goal of his work is to create solutions that will improve teens’ ability to identify and work through stressors in their daily lives and that will assist healthcare providers to identify and support victims of cyberbullying.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

How does participation in a virtual world community help people cope with long term health conditions?

By Evelyn McElhinney Ph.D.
Evelyn McElhinney Ph.D.
Evelyn McElhinney Ph.D.

Evelyn McElhinney Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland). Her research interests lie in the area of emerging and immersive technologies for health and wellbeing. Her Ph.D. was conducted fully within Second Life and consisted of two studies – one investigating the health literacy skills and practices of people in the social virtual world and the influence on physical world behaviour, and the other investigated the importance of people and place to living and coping with long term conditions in the physical world. She has also taught nurse practitioners within Second Life.

How does participation in a virtual world community help people cope with long term health conditions?

This was the topic of Evelyn McElhinney’s Ph.D. research, conducted in Second Life. Now a Senior Lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland), Dr. McElhinney conducted case studies, social network analyses and focus groups to determine the impact of virtual experiences on physical world behaviors. She also studied health literacy skills and practices within the social virtual world.

Dr. Evelyn McElhinney will present “The importance of positive health assets from participation in 3D social virtual world communities to living and coping with long term conditions in the physical world” at this year’s Mental Health Symposium. Her session will be held from 8:30-9:30am Pacific time on Friday, April 26.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

Are you constantly checking your smartphone?

by Fatemeh Rezaee
Fatemeh Rezaee
Fatemeh Rezaee
Deloitte’s U.S. edition of the 2018 Global Mobile Consumer Survey found that average Americans check their smartphones 52 times a day. Also, 39% of smartphone users believe they use them too much.

Monetizing people’s attention is the business model used by companies (e.g.,  Facebook, Google and Apple) to increase their profits by maximizing the length of time they are able to keep the attention of users. Attention engineers develop algorithms and designs that users hooked to their devices even when it is detrimental to their well-being. They exploit human psychology to create deliberate addiction and excessive user engagement.

Fatemeh Rezaee is a Ph.D. candidate at Seoul National University, South Korea. Her Mental Health Symposium presentation, titled “Designed Addiction,” will be offered from 4-5pm Pacific time on Friday, April 26.

The responses of smartphone companies to criticism of the addictive and obsessive effects on people using their products include adding features such as timers (to make users aware of the length of time they spend on their phones) and a a gray scale screen setting (to make them less appealing to use).

Ms. Rezaee feels these solutions have not been effective in addressing the problem of smartphone addiction. She proposes that this is because of a conflict of interest: reducing attention decreases companies’ profits.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

What is problematic gaming?

By Dr. Antonius van Rooij

Are video games addictive? They do activate the same “pleasure centers” in the forebrain that drugs activate… but so does everything else we enjoy. Video games have numerous other effects on the brain as well. A review of the neural basis of video gaming by Marc Palaus at the Cognitive Neurolab in Barcelona, Spain, found that video games affect the portions of the brain involved in “attention, cognitive control, visuospatial skills, cognitive workload, and reward processing.”

Dr. Antonius van Rooij will offer a presentation titled “Gaming, problem gaming, and gaming addiction in the Netherlands: An introduction” from 10 to 10:30am Pacific, Friday April 26. Dr. van Rooij is Project Leader for Gaming, Gambling and Media Literacy at the Trimbos Instituut, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction, Utrecht, the Netherlands.  His research interests are in development of serious games, game-based learning and mental illness assessment.

In this presentation, Dr. van Rooij will introduce a number of concepts that can help us understand gaming 'addiction' more easily. He promotes the responsible and healthy use of video games. He will use the situation in the Netherlands as an example to explore concepts of healthy and unhealthy gaming.

For more information about the Mental Health Symposium and the full schedule of sessions:

Save the Date - April 26 - for the Annual Mental Health Symposium in Second Life

The Virtual Ability community hosts an annual professional conference on topics of interest related to mental health and wellness. The theme of this year's Mental Health Symposium is: "Mental Health in the 21st Century: Digital Destruction or Support?"

This conference is free and open to anyone in Second Life. It will be held Friday, April 26, 7:30 am - 5:45 pm Pacific time. For information on how to join Second Life and attend this conference, please follow the steps given here:
NOTE: All times listed are Pacific time.

  8:30 -  9:30am – Dr. Evelyn McElhinney
10:00 -10:30am – Dr. Antonius van Rooij
10:45 -11:45am – Panel discussion
12:00 -12:45pm – Dr. Nicholas Bowman
  1:00 -  1:45pm – Dr. Michelle Colder Carras
  2:00 -  3:30pm – Dr. Kevin Holloway
  4:00 -  5:00pm – Fatemeh Rezaee
  5:00 -  5:45pm – Casual Networking Mixer

Schedule and information about presenters here:
The conference sessions will also be streamed live. For additional information on how to join through the stream rather than as a Second Life avatar, please watch this space.

Monday, April 15, 2019

April 2019 Bizarre and Unique Holidays

Monthly Celebrations:

  • National Humor Month 
  • Lawn and Garden Month 
  • Records and Information Management Month 
  • Stress Awareness Month 
  • Sexual Assault Awareness Month 

Weekly Celebrations: 

  • Week 1 Library Week 
  • Week 2 Garden Week 
  • Week 3 Organize Your Files Week 
  • Week 3 Medical Labs Week 

April 2019 Daily Holidays, Special and Wacky Days: 

2 Reconciliation Day 

6 National Walk to Work Day - first Friday of month

7 World Health Day
Always April 7
Sponsored by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), World Health Day focuses upon a different health theme each year. It is an international event to emphasize and work on important health issues or problems. Many countries around the world participate. 
14 International Moment of Laughter Day
Always April 14th
International Moment of Laughter Day is a special day that will put a big smile on your face. The objective of this day is to get people to laugh, and to laugh more often. After all, "laughter is the best medicine."

Moment of Laughter Day is also known as National Moment of Laughter Day, and plain old Moment of Laughter Day. We don't care whether you celebrate today as a local, national, or international day. What's important is that you bring about laughter (and happiness) to those you come in contact with today.
To celebrate this special day, simply tell jokes or do funny things that cause people to laugh. A smile is not a good enough reaction. Successful participation in this day results in whole-hearted laughter. 
Origin of "Moment of Laughter Day":
Humorologist Izzy Gesell created Moment of Laughter Day to encourage people to laugh. It sure would be nice to meet the creator of this day in person, so we could share a laugh together.  
We found varying dates for this celebration, all in the month of April. But among them, April 14th is the day designated by the creator as International Moment of Laughter Day. 
16 National Stress Awareness Day
Always April 16th
Is work or school putting on the pressure? Are the kids on your nerves? Is there enough money to pay all of those the bills? There are literally thousands of reasons for you to get stressed out.  
RELAX!!! Today is National Stress Awareness Day. This is your opportunity to recognize that there is plenty of stress in your life... as if you didn't already know. More importantly, today is an opportunity to learn, and to do something about the stress... before it drives you batty or worse. 
April is also designated as Stress Awareness Month.
Did you know? There was method behind the madness. April 16 was designated as Stress Awareness Day, because it is the day after taxes are due!  
Note: The UK also has a National Stress Awareness Day, organized by the International Stress Management Association. It is held in November. The date changes each year. 
Origin of Stress Awareness Day:
Stress Awareness Day and Stress Awareness Month is sponsored by the Health Resource Network (HRN). They started this holiday in 1992, to increase public awareness of the causes and cures of stress. 

20 Volunteer Recognition Day
Always April 20

Volunteer Recognition Day honors the legions of volunteers who dedicate themselves to causes and helping others. They are making big and small differences in the lives of millions of people all over the world. They are saving lives. They are improving lives and providing comfort. They assist people, animals, and nature. 
Most volunteers do not ask for recognition. They just want to help and to "give back" where they can. 
In documenting special and unique days, this author attempts to avoid editorializing, and keeps to reporting the facts. But I will step away from the norm when speaking to this topic. It is vital and essential that more people get involved. There are so many groups and causes that need volunteer efforts. And, the needs are so broad and urgent, that everyone can find someplace to volunteer and make a difference. 
Celebrate this Volunteer Recognition Day by:
  • Thanking volunteers for their work 
  • Getting involved yourself in a volunteer activity. 
  • Donating to a volunteer group 
BTW: Volunteers are keeping a big secret from those that don't volunteer. Volunteer activities are energizing and rewarding. And, it is lots of fun and camaraderie. Try it and you will see! 
22 Earth Day (U.S.)

30 National Honesty Day

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Disabled Barbie

by Isabella

When I grew up, I recall having a Barbie Doll. I remember thinking how perfect she was. Her features were delicate, her hair just perfectly styled, her body just the right shape and proportioned, her clothing looked like it was especially made for her, her makeup impeccable.  And I remember brushing her hair and no matter how many times I did, it always looked perfectly styled. I had this illusion that when I grew up, I was going to look exactly like Barbie.

Well! I grew up and didn't look like Barbie at all.  She was too perfect, while I was imperfectly perfect.  I didn't identify with Barbie. I often wondered if any other little girls feel the same way? Probably..

I recently saw this article about how Barbie now has evolved into a beautiful Barbie with all the imperfections. Oh! How I wish I could go back in time and have those Barbies today. No, I didn't wear a prosthesis and I didn't use a wheelchair, but I do have an invisible disability. Just the fact she wasn't all perfect would have appealed to me.

Those in a wheelchair or wearing a prosthesis would have been able to actually identify. Or someone having a family member with some type of disability or friends or even someone in the neighborhood. I hope Barbie continues to evolve. Perhaps a Barbie or a Ken doll with a service dog, a cane, crutches or walker. There are other types of disabilities that could be included. (Think about the Special Olympics.) The list is endless.

I read this quote somewhere. “There is a lot of beauty in your imperfections, in your uniqueness.”

Here is the article about the new Barbie with disabilities.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

TIP - What are you saving for?

Everyone should save for emergencies. This is the most popular savings goal. You can’t usually plan ahead for a specific emergency, but it’s wise to have some funds held back “just in case.” You should plan to have at least $500 stashed away as emergency savings. Learn more here: https://americasaves.org/for-savers/set-a-goal-what-to-save-for/save-for-emergencies

You might also be thinking of saving toward your education. This is the second most popular savings goal. Improving your education status increases your employability, but college can be costly. Here are some suggestions of ways to save for college, and how to lower the costs of attending: https://americasaves.org/for-savers/set-a-goal-what-to-save-for/save-for-education

If you are presently employed, you will want to invest some of your income in savings for your retirement. Some employers offer a sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k). However, even if your job does not include this benefit, you can save through an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Read about retirement savings here: https://americasaves.org/for-savers/set-a-goal-what-to-save-for/save-for-retirement

Maybe you need a car, to get to school or work. The average American car owner spends $8000 per year on car purchases and maintenance. (Don’t forget that cars come equipped with ongoing costs!) Consider whether alternate forms of transportation would work instead. Then, if you will be needing to buy a car, it’s wise to save up in order to make a larger down payment. Here’s some suggestions: https://americasaves.org/for-savers/set-a-goal-what-to-save-for/save-for-a-car

What are you saving for? Don’t be left out in the cold without adequate financial resources. Start your savings plan today by setting a goal.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Tip - Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Green frog with headphones

There are two types of noise-cancelling headphones: active and passive. Both types reduce distracting background noise, making your listening (or non-listening as the case may be) environment more comfortable and more restful.

Active noise-cancelling headphones contain a miniature microphone in the earpiece to detect ambient noise. This information is sent to noise-cancelling electronics, which then send out a wave that is directly opposite to the noise that needs to be erased. (It’s physics, and it works!) There is also a small battery to power these electronics.

Passive noise-cancelling headphones do not use electronics. They physically cover and seal off the ear, to help block out external noises. There are even in-ear designs that allow for increased fidelity at lower volumes of what you wish to hear.

Why might you want to use noise-cancelling headphones? They are great when traveling in noisy environments, such as planes, trains, and buses. Noise during travel is not just from the engine, but also from fellow passengers conversing. Of course, don’t use noise-cancellation technology if you are driving!

But you may also want to use noise-cancelling headphones when using loud home machinery, such as vacuum cleaners or lawn mowers. It’s much better to listen to a podcast, music, or audio book than to the roar of an engine.

Any time you need to mentally concentrate, noise-cancelling headphones come in handy. A special use case, if you’re trying to understand a lecture or other audio recording that was not well done, noise-cancellation can help you make better sense of what you are hearing at low volume.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Recent Research About the Effects of Children's Screen Time

Children gaming
Children gaming

Pediatricians and concerned parents have paid attention to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations concerning the amount of time youngsters spend watching television or engaged with other electronic media. However recent research calls these recommendations into question. Does additional screen time beyond the AAP recommendations adversely affect children’s mental health?

A UK study published in 2017 in Child Development surveyed parents of 2- to 5-year olds. They were asked how much time their child(ren) spent watching TV, playing video games, or engaged with electronic media (computers, cell phones, handheld electronic devices). They also answered questions about several measures of childhood psychological well-being, including attachment to the caregiver, reliance (bouncing back from not getting their way), curiosity about learning new things, and positive affect (smiling and laughing). The researchers controlled for ethnicity, age, gender, household income, and caregiver education, as these factors were thought to also affect childhood mental health. There was no significant difference between the mental health of children whose parents abided by the APA guideline and youngsters who spent more time in front of a television or other screen.

A different UK study published in 2019 in Nature Human Behavior examined adolescents’ mental health and use of digital technology. Researchers statistically examined three large datasets and found that the relationship between digital technology use and adolescent well-being explained only 0.4% of the variation among individuals. They conclude that “these effects are too small to warrant policy change.”  Apparently, the question of the impact of screen time on the mental health of young people is still open for debate.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Children’s Screen Time

Children and Computers
Children and Computers

In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new guidelines for parents concerning their children’s screen time, encouraging limiting their exposure to television and other forms of electronic media. Among the age-related recommendations:
  • Children under 18 months old should not be exposed at all, except for video-chatting with distant family members.
  • Children from 18 months to 2 years old can be introduced to high quality programs while sitting with and discussing with their parents.
  • Children from 2 to 5 years should continue to watch appropriate programs with their parents, no more than 1 hour per day.
School age children and teens should have consistent rules about use of electronic media, including types and time spent. They should be encouraged to have media-free family time, media-free locations in their homes, and adequate sleep and physical activity.

Parents are encouraged to create a Family Media Plan. The Plan will help family members choose and use online media purposefully, without taking the place of physical exercise, family-oriented time or sleep.

More specific guidance for parents of children under age 5 and for school-age children and teens is available.

Children’s Mental Health Week was February 4-10, 2019

Strengthening Mental Health
Strengthening Mental Health

Those of us who parent or care for children often focus on their physical well being. We want to be sure our children eat healthy foods, stay active, and get enough sleep. But bodies and minds are closely linked, so it’s also important to support our children’s mental health.

Here are some resources to help parents and carers support children’s mental health:

iPhone and Android services for the blind: Opportunities to volunteer

Volunteer Hands
Volunteer Hands

By ArcticPixy, Virtual Ability community member

I'd like to inform everyone about a few services released for iPhone and soon Android to help blind and visually impaired people that I thought some folks might want to assist and volunteer in.

Seeing AIis one of these, but does not require volunteers.
This application has features such as:
      Currency identifier,
      Short text, to be able to read things such as recipes on boxes, names on mail envelopes and packages, and so on,
      Document scanner,
      Product, to be able to scan UPC codes from sellers such as Amazon, Best Buy, and others,
      Person, to recognize your friends and describe other people,
      Scene preview, to let you know what kind of area you are in,
      Color preview, to identify colors of items, and
      Handwriting preview, to enable us to read handwritten notes on paper, blackboards, and so on.

Two services in particular could use volunteer help.

The next application I'd like to bring to your attention is called Be My Eyes.
Basically, the person connects/calls in using the app, and another sighted person gets connected to the one being assisted. The blind user can ask things such as colors of items, what kind of things are on a menu, such as in a vending machine, or touchscreen, and so on.

To get more information and to volunteer for “Be My Eyes,” go to their website: https://www.bemyeyes.com/.

The last and final item I want to share is a pair of smart glasses. The service is called “Aira.”
Similar to Google glasses, I find this service more helpful for traveling, being that they can see everything pretty much from a straight path. The glasses have a camera, and they can help you out much easier.

Aira” can also be used just like “Seeing AI" and “Be My Eyes," but each app has its uses. "Aira" is a little more accurate and steady.

In order to register/volunteer to help with “Aira,” an application has to be filled out, and you will be evaluated. To volunteer, go to their website: https://aira.io/.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Security Tip: Be sure to periodically close and then restart your web browser!

While the advice below is specific to an issue with Google Chrome on March 21, 2019, it is an important general practice that everyone should follow.

"If you are running Google Chrome and its version is below 72.0.3626.121, your computer could be exploited without your knowledge. While it’s true that Chrome features an automatic update component, in order for the patch to be installed you must restart your browser."

Considering how many users keep Chrome and all their tabs opened for days or even weeks without ever restarting the browser, the security impact is real.

In the meantime, if you haven’t done so yet, you should update and relaunch Chrome; and don’t worry about your tabs, they will come right back.

Along with restarting your web browser, it is also important for your computer's security to restart the computer at least once a week.


Friday, March 15, 2019

February 7th (or any day really) is Send A Card To A Friend Day!

By Orange Planer, Virtual Ability community member

There are a wide variety of ways you can send someone a card.
  • Postal Mail!  You write someone a card in your own handwriting, put it in an envelope, add a stamp for just a few cents, and someone picks it up and delivers it for you!  There's nothing more personal and enjoyable.
  • Email!  Who said you had to have a fancy "card"?  All you need is to send them a note that you're thinking of them.  You can add a picture of your own creation (got a cell phone or a camera?), doodles you can make in Windows Paint, the Mac equivalent, or some other application.
  • Online eCard companies!
    • https://www.americangreetings.com:  this is a for-pay site only but it's pretty cheap and the quality is very good.
    • https://www.punchbowl.com:  cards and invitations are sent with advertisements to help them keep the site free.  Some features are for-pay only, such as specialized cards, sending cards with pictures, or removing advertisements.
    • And more:  go to any search engine and look for "free online ecards."
  • Social media sites such as FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Are they nearby?  Call ahead and drop a card off at their house!
  • And more.  Use your imagination and have fun with it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Junk Journaling for Rehab

By OperativePhoenix, Virtual Ability community member

I've been debating over what to do with some of my memory clutters like old photos and school papers.  I couldn't quite come to throw them out since I've been a packrat.  I do organize and clean my room from time to time, but my storage has always been cluttered.  One day, YouTube was recommending some Junk Journal Artist videos.  I clicked them to see what they were.  And boom, they hit me like a thunder.  They recycled garbage and clutter and they created some fascinating junk journals with what they had.

Since the day I discovered what junk journals were all about, I've started my own effort to create my own journals.  My hands struggled to use a craft knife and cut out some shapes, and I was challenged to do some embroidery and sewing with my feeble hands.  However, as I struggled to do some things I used to do before the car accident, I started to find myself enjoying doing something in real life.  Sure, I cut some wrong places, or my sewing are kinda crappy looking.  However, many junk journal artists suggest how there are no mistakes in junk journaling.

Some of the junk journalists even suggested collaging instead of writing.  I'm a habitual skipper of writing a diary or I end up writing negative things in my diary and never bother to go back there.   Junk journalists keep journals on random days.  So, I realized I don't have to worry about keeping a journal every day.  I decided to make mine a gratitude journal.  Only keep something I feel good about.

My life changed completely after I decided to work on my journal.  Everywhere I look now, I think about collaging or getting papers for my journal, paying attention to some positive quotes and pictures.  It's been fun and I feel like I am moving one step forward toward becoming more positive.

Two great YouTube videos about Junk Journaling:

Monday, February 18, 2019

Information for Financial Literacy

Picture of growing money

There are an enormous number of websites offering financial information to help us pay less and spend our money wisely.  Unfortunately that information is hard to find without reading through website after website after website.  Enter Twitter.  One of the great things about it is you can find entries that people have added using hashtags.  Searching for a hashtag (such as #VirtualAbility) finds all comments that have that hashtag.  Also, each account is its own subsite where an organization can post information in its own space.

To use Twitter, go to https://www.twitter.com and sign up for a free account.  You will need to verify the account using a link sent to the email address you used to create the account.  Below are several Twitter hashtags and subsites that will show useful financial tips and tricks, along with associated websites that contain more information.
  • #SavingsTipTuesday
  • #SavingsFactFriday
  • @Career1Stop (https://www.careeronestop.org/):  A great employment starting point for people with disabilities.
  • @RealEconImpact (https://www.nationaldisabilityinstitute.org/):  has free classes on strategies to build financial wellness of people with disabilities.
  • @AmericaSaves (https://www.americasaves.org/):  America Saves is a campaign coordinated by the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America (CFA - https://consumerfed.org/) and is dedicated to helping individuals save money, reduce debt, and build wealth.
  • @IRS (https://www.irs.gov/):  the one and only USA Internal Revenue Service.  While many people denigrate the IRS and try to avoid all dealings with it, there is no question that their website contains the original source material for all Federal tax information.  There are useful pages on how to get free tax preparation help, how to file, etc.
  • @FDICgov (https://www.fdic.gov/):  the official Twitter channel for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is an independent agency created by the Congress to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation's financial system... (https://www.fdic.gov/about/strategic/strategic/mission.html).
Other sources of information:

If you have other good sources of information, comment below!