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Small Florida State study shows games can make you smarter.

Byline: Bob and Joy Schwabach

According to researchers at Florida State University, playing the video game "Portal 2'' makes you smarter than training your brain with the well-known Lumosity system.

They divided 77 volunteers into two groups, asking each to play either Lumosity or Portal 2 for eight hours. Standardized tests later measured problem solving, spatial skills and persistence. All Portal-playing volunteers had an edge over the Lumosity volunteers. It's a small study, but it confirms what we've often thought and said: Video games are challenging.

Games are big stuff and command a wide audience. "League of Legends,'' for example, which can be played for free or with a membership fee, has 70 million players who log on at least once a month and 20 million who play every day. Best guess, from a guy we know in the business, League of Legends has about 20 percent of the market. "World of Warcraft,'' which cannot be played for free, has about 10 million regular players. From previous studies we've seen, we know that most players are not teenagers, but are overwhelmingly in their mid 20s to 30s. Joy says she doesn't care about the study. Lumosity is fun and makes her feel smart.

A Reader Scammed

Turns out we aren't the only ones who fall for scams. A reader told us he fell for an offer to extend his McAfee anti-virus software.

He handed over his credit card for a cleanup and backup he really didn't need. (There are worse things: Joy once handed over her Social Security number to a fake debt collection agency.) They then connected to his computer over the Internet and added four bits of malware. He had the good sense to hang up and delete them. Best of all, he got his credit card company to reverse the charges. We second what he said next: "I thought I was prepared to avoid all scams, but these folks are getting ever more clever and I was getting ever more complacent.'' We know the feeling.

Borrowing e-Books

The world has changed since we last wrote about borrowing books on your Kindle. Back then, there were so few titles available that when we complained, we heard from practically every librarian in the country, screaming it wasn't their fault, it was the publishers, which was true. Now, just about anything you want is available free, for tablet, phone or computer.

Start at your local library's website and be prepared to enter your library card number. If a book is available in the Kindle format, you'll be sent directly to its page on Amazon. From there, a single click will send it to your Kindle.

If you don't use a Kindle, you can read it in your Web browser such as Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, or download it in another format. You can have the book for 14 days. If a book isn't available, you can place a hold on it.

Whether or not you own a Kindle, it's nice to download the Kindle app on your tablet and phone. That way, no matter which one you're using, your place is saved. For instance, if you're reading on your phone in the dentist's office, you can plow right ahead, and when you return to your Kindle or tablet, you'll start where you left off.

Good Ol' Cobol

The programs sitting in IBM mainframe computers might be perfectly good, but unusable on today's machines. A company called Raincode is offering a free solution.

Many of those large computers are programmed in COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language). This is particularly true of banks, which are often slow to change.

To translate COBOL into something a modern computer can read, you need what's called a compiler. offers a free one.

The result is code that's as fast as if it had been written for more modern machines.

Mag apps

Joy's friend Frieda loves Atlantic magazine, but never thought to download its app until we suggested it. Come to think of it, we didn't, either. We subscribe to a number of magazines and newspapers, but only recently downloaded their apps.

Apps make it easy to save and share your favorite articles. They replace the piles Joy gets so riled up about when they clutter our apartment.

And you don't have to cut out clips and mail them. Bob hates to throw anything away; now he doesn't have to. We downloaded the apps for "Smithsonian,'' "Science News,'' "Consumer Reports,'' "Barrons,'' "National Geographic'' and others.

App Happy

Google Keep makes it easy to take notes on your phone or tablet.

Instagram's Hyperlapse creates time-lapse videos. It will work with the iPhone's front-facing camera, so you can take time-lapse videos of yourself. (Be still, my selfie heart.)

Photofy adds personal touches to photos.

The new version has stock backgrounds: If you want to make it look like you're lounging in Tahiti, lounge ahead.


Google the words "37 Hacks to Make Your Ikea Stuff Look Expensive'' and find pictures for some clever decorating ideas.

Sometimes it's as simple as replacing the legs on a couch or adding leather drawer pulls to a dresser. Other hacks will bring out your inner crafter. has some remarkable photos. We liked the monkey who adopted an abandoned kitten, a bridge made of trampolines, and sea otters who hold hands in their sleep so they don't drift away from each another. (So cute.)

And there's a picture of a barge carrying a dozen large ships. (Cheaper than sailing them in one by one.) Who would have ever thought the spice tarragon goes with strawberry? We found some interesting suggestions here. (Tarragon, by the way, comes from the Spanish city Tarragona, which was the capital of Roman Spain.) is a site with lots of advice for writers. One suggests giving your writing as a gift.

Instead of buying a toaster oven as a birthday present, create a short story or write a note of gratitude, put it on a scroll or frame it.
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Title Annotation:Business
Author:Bob; Schwabach, Joy
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 11, 2015
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