Surfing to Improve Your Brain

brainImage by TZA via Flickr
Ready to exercise your brain cells? If recent news reports are accurate, I’d say the answer is yes. Apparently, millions of people are taking advantage of free classes online.
According to Apple, its online store’s educational section has hit more than 300 million downloads. Currently, more than 800 universities have iTunes U sites, and almost half of those schools, including Harvard University and Oxford University, offer content through the iTunes Store. Apple said that users can now access “over 350,000 audio and video files” through iTunes U. (Read more)
I’ve been enjoying the free online classes in iTunes for quite some time. So far, I’ve taken classes on astrophysics, algebra, calculus, introduction to music, European art, writing, reasoning, and more. It’s FREE folks, and you all know how I love a good freebie.
But if you’re not a fan of iTunes, fear not! There are many other ways to expand your mind with free online classes.

You probably think of Youtube as the place to watch stupid videos of cats playing the piano, but there are actually a lot of opportunities to expand your mind. A lot of professors are recording their lectures and making them available on the site. For instance, Professor Marc Davis, UC Berkley, gives an excellent course on Introduction to Astronomy.
Many of the colleges have sites that let you participate in complete courses by linking the lectures to a choice of mediums. You can select whether you want to subscribe to the broadcast on itunes, youtube, or in some cased just download the entire series. Wanna brag that you took a class at Yale? One really cool one for the geeks out there is Game Theory with Yale professor Ben Polak. This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere. The course is taught on the Yale campus twice a week, but you don’t have to go there to enjoy it. You don’t even have to download the video to benefit from the class. If you’re taking a long trip, you can just save the audio casts to your cell and learn something on the long drive.
If you have a hobby, a great way to learn more about your subject or hear what others are doing is to subscribe to podcasts. One of my absolute favorites is “The Genealogy Guys” podcast, which covers a vast range of topics of interest to genealogists. However, with the huge number of podcasts, it would be more helpful to send you to their website at, so you can pick among the specific podcast titles by using their handy search tool.
You don’t have to take online courses to expand your mind. Experts say that keeping our minds active can greatly improve the quality of life in later years. You can do that by playing mind games. No, I’m not talking about playing some mean trick on someone. I’m talking about brain teasers, puzzles, quizzes and other online games that exercise your brain muscles. There are tons of brain-expanding sites to help you. A few of my favorites are:

And, believe-it-or-not, you can exercise your brain at Facebook. Challenge your friends to a game of Scrabble with Words with Friends. OK. I know, it know. Its by the dreaded folks at Zynga. But, the great thing about the game is that you can play it anywhere. On FB or on your iphone or Droid. Or, if you prefer Chess, there’s also Chess with Friends. Believe me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how intelligent your Facebook friends really are.
You can also exercise your brain and benefit your overall health by learning a new activity, such as a new dance. My friends over at Thrill Visalia! are planning a group Thriller dance in October. In it, they give free lessons on learning the 3-minute version of Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller video. Their event is part of the world-wide Thrill the World event, so even if you’re not in the area, you can find participating groups near you or just view their videos and learn at home.
I hope that this post gave you some food for thought, but I don’t want to leave you feeling frustrated with brain overload. While it’s important to exercise our brains, it is also very important to learn to relax them. Our world is so full of stress these days so it’s more important than ever to take a little time to relax. There are a number of ways to do this and if you go to mind-energy, you can learn specific techniques to quickly calm over-tired brain muscles.

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I’m not cutout to be a virtual superhero

It started over a year ago. A dear friend called me in a panic and the terror in her voice was apparent. “Please help me!” she said, her tone quivering with impending danger.
“Anything! What do you need?” I said trying to calm her down. I knew she was out of town and figured she was stranded somewhere. Uneasy about the tiny size of my bank account, I crossed my fingers that she didn’t need money.
Since this was a phone call, I wasn’t worried about it being some kind of hacker, who pretends to be a friend and says they’re stuck in England and needs thousands to get home. I’ve had those kind of text messages and emails and had the fortune to recognize it for what it was: a scam. No, I knew her voice and, besides, my cell showed that her phone number was correct. No, this wasn’t a scam, my friend was in serious trouble. My husband, who’d been making dinner, came out of the kitchen, hearing the concern in my voice, and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“What is it?” his eyes said.
“I don’t know,” my eyes replied.
I waited with bated breath for my friend to explain her dilemma…

“My crops are about to wither and I can’t get internet access here!” she cried. I was relieved and somewhat bewildered. I bit my lip to keep from belting out a huge guffaw. We were Farmville neighbors so I knew what she meant. She gave me her Facebook password and I resolved her problem.
Over the past year, I’ve become a VirtualHero for some dozen or so friends who’ve had similar panic attacks. I’ve even received emails from one friend or another asking if I could tend their crops, or whatever, while they were on vacation.
Armed with superhuman strength, I’ve supplied my talents to feeding virtual fish, petting SuperPets, sending back gifts, completing quests–you name it–if its a game on Facebook, I’ve helped out.
Which brings me to the inevitable question: Why hasn’t some enterprising go-getter, started a business for this? If there’s a need, there’s always a business created to fill it. Right?

There is definitely a need. There are entire websites dedicated to Farmville addicts. Dr. Phil even did a TV show about it.  Wired magazine posted about executives excusing themselves from a meeting because their crops were about to wither. We’ve all heard about these game addicts, some of us are addicts ourselves. Even if you don’t play the game, you’d have to be a hermit if you’ve never heard of it.

When Harold Camping proclaimed that the Rapture would occur on May 21st, enterprising atheists set up websites offering services to take care of your pets in case you weren’t around to do it. Don’t believe me? See Eternal-Earthbound-Pets or After the Rapture Pet Care. So, why isn’t there a business setup to help these panicked gamers?
It’s not as though my idea is very original. I mean, Farm Town already allows you to hire others to harvest for you, and gives you 25 percent more profit to boot. But, still, you actually have to BE on your farm to hire them.
This morning I spent a few hours Googling for Facebook game assistance businesses, but the closest I could find was automation software for Farmville.

Farmville Automizer:

“The key to getting everything you want in Farmville is not to play for outrageous amounts of hours but to maximize your profits by using automation software.”

Also with extra plugins to fertilize your neighbors crops and lots more. (Cost is $27) The software, however, is for windows users only so I couldn’t try it out without logging out of my Mac and firing up Bootcamp, a chore I really hate because Windows takes so long to load.
Another one is Bot for Farmville: Bot will plant and harvest crops, plow, harvest trees, help neighbors, harvest buildings and animals. You can also add more tasks by adding the plugins. It also is a PC-only software, but it says its free.
There are also websites offering ghost posting services for businesses and celebrities on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.
The need is definitely out there. I, however, would never think of charging my friends for these services. Nor, would I want to offer the services. I play Farmville too much any way. Lately, I sign on just to send friends gifts and even that’s too much.
With a little bit of programming knowledge, such a service shouldn’t take that much time. A programmer could even adapt existing Firefox or Greasemonkey plugins to handle a lot of the work. Some extensions are: Clean my Wall, Facebook Mass Accept, Boost (automatically poke anyone who pokes you), not to mention all the grabber bars for collecting prizes for all the different games.
I do have some tips for any programmer who wants to make a few bucks and come up with such a service.
Number 1: is don’t get your client’s account banned. Facebook’s security setup is based on the location a user signs in from. If Facebook sees a person signing in in San Francisco California, and then seconds later, signing in in Atlanta, Georgia, Facebook will sometimes put a hold on the account. Sometimes the hold can last for as long as two hours during which time a person’s crops have withered. Some Work arounds might be: to re-write your IP address to your customer’s IP. The second work around, is a bit more convoluted. Facebook will sometimes question that the person signed in is the true owner of the account, by making you identify a random photo in a random gallery of the person. In this case, you should know have a local copy of the person’s galleries.

Number 2: Know the games for the services you offer as well as the your client does. I’ve had the unfortunate event of having “killed” an animal someone paid real cash for because I wasn’t familiar enough with the game to know a certain sequence of events to keep the animal alive. Since I was this person’s friend, she was kind and said, “oh well,” and dropped it. But, people who pay you for your services won’t be so kind. You might have to pay back the person for their loss or put some kind of statement that you’re not responsible in those kind of circumstances.
I’m sure there are a lot of programmers who could start providing such a service. It would really be a relief for over-used “friends” like myself.
I’m really not cut out to be a Virtual Superhero.