Amaze Your Children and Grandchildren When You Explain Blockchain Technology and Bitcoin to Them!

Have you heard the word “Bitcoin”? I’m sure you have. And while it might be confirmation bias (and by “confirmation bias” I mean a Google algorithm) that makes the word show up every day in my news feed, I doubt that can explain why it’s always on ‘World News Tonight with David Muir” or the lead article in my neighborhood newspaper.

As much as I was perfectly willing to audit conversations about Bitcoin (and its bestie, “blockchain”), write about its related scams (“Online Scams (or “How I (Almost) Met An American Hero”), and even listen to friends’ advice about investing in it, I didn’t have a clue what Bitcoin really was, how it works, where it comes from, if it’s legal, if it’s taxable, if it’s capitalized (in both senses!). NOTHING.

Which is like throwing down the gauntlet. If there’s a concept that’s this ubiquitous, Amazon Prime one-day delivery on books, and an entire Internet from which to learn about it …? Well, challenge accepted.

I dove headfirst down that wormhole. I read, “Blockchain for Dummies,” I devoured online articles, and I unabashedly reached out to experts all over the world (at this age, I clearly have no shame left at all). And here’s what I found out: cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are INCREDIBLY hard to explain – mainly because once you learn one tiny fact, you’re compelled to understand hundreds more.

And then I found Anders Brownworth, Maggie Hsu, and Adil Haris – experts who had not only published straight-forward explanations of Bitcoin and blockchain technology, but who offered to answer any questions I might have, so that those of us who are “not yet dead” can get a basic understanding – at least enough to know what all those news stories are all about and to think before investing our hard-earned retirement funds in it.

Adil, a Manager for the Financial Services Innovation team at Ernst and Young, received his Master of Science in Product Management at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science and Tepper School of Business and wrote, “Blockchain — A Short and Simple Explanation with Pictures” (pictures!). Anders, a Principal Architect in Applied Research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and co-taught the first blockchain class at MIT, spoke on the subject extensively from which he created a visual demo of blockchain technology (more pictures! And they move!). Maggie, who leads global business development for Amazon Managed Blockchain and is co-founder of Gold House, sent me a link to this video in which she not only provided me the first understandable explanation of the blockchain and bitcoin, she also illustrated the value of the blockchain technology.

So, here’s a (hopefully) very simple explanation, just to give you a head start. If you want to join me in the wormhole, be sure to click on the links provided by Anders, Maggie, and Adil.

Let’s start with the blockchain

Super simple explanation: Imagine a box (block) filled with information or transactions (data). Kinda like your checkbook ledger, except that it not only shows a record of your transactions, but it can also show a record of the transactions that your payee makes with the payment they receive, and so on, and so on, and so on. Just a big ol’ history of the provenance of that item of value (in this example, dollar) and all of the travels it makes through time.

Now imagine a bunch of computers (nodes) spread out all over the world who verify that the information in that box is accurate (mining) and add their seal of verification (hash). They get paid for this work (verifying that data) in native tokens (bitcoins in the case of the Bitcoin blockchain. Other blockchains may offer other coins or tokens).

Okay, now let’s say a new box of transactions comes along that needs verification (each block can contain a certain amount of information). This new box of data also contains the seal of verification (hash) from the previous box. Once this new box of transactions is verified and is given its own unique seal of verification (hash), it is chained to the previous box (block / chain) so that there’s a running history of verified transactions. The process continues as more and more boxes of data are added and verified. And because all the computers (nodes) running the blockchain have the same list of blocks and transactions and can transparently see these new blocks being filled with new transactions, no one can cheat the system.

All of the information on the blockchain (boxes of data, verified and chained together) is called an “immutable shared public ledger.” An important benefit of this system is that no one can change any of the data or transactions that have occurred (immutable) without affecting the seal of verification (hash) in their blockchain. If they do, it is immediately evident that their hash is different from all of the others who have the same blockchain on their computers, and that their data is not valid. Then the offending (minority) chain is dropped – the nodes simply choose not to talk to the offending node anymore and they carry on maintaining consensus without that node/copy of the blockchain.

And what is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin (BTC) is perhaps the most well-known of more than 6,700 cryptocurrencies in the marketplace (“crypto”). Cryptocurrencies, often called “tokens,” can be used as an online payment for certain goods and services. It’s important to note “online” here, as bitcoin is a digital asset and can only be used digitally.

Cryptocurrency got its name from “cryptography.” Cryptography keeps information secure by using a series of mathematical proofs to both hide (encode and decode) and authenticate (hash/sign) data. These proofs guarantee the security of the transactions or data, the security of the participants, the independence from central authority (like a bank … or a government), and the protection from double spending (ensuring that, like a physical dollar bill, you can only spend it once).

You can purchase bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies via a cryptocurrency exchange. You can also obtain it as a payment for goods and services. And you can “mine” it.

Mining is the process of solving a complex mathematical equation (proofs) first. Then, once your solution is verified by everyone else, you are paid in cryptocurrency. While anyone could ostensibly mine bitcoin by downloading the necessary software on a computer capable of running it, the cost of the computing resources necessary to do so makes mining much less tempting than simply purchasing it on an exchange.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have “value” in that there is a limited amount out there – just like there’s a limited amount of gold. The price fluctuates depending on media attention, rumors, speculation, and availability. That’s the cart-and-horse nature of cryptocurrencies – until they are accepted worldwide as valuable currencies, the volatility will likely continue. And until the volatility as a payment mechanism settles, it is unlikely to gain worldwide acceptance.

What does a blockchain have to do with Bitcoin?

This one is easier to answer. The Bitcoin network relies on blockchain technology to operate because the blockchain technology is what is providing the security, immutability, and historical ledger to the transactions. This organized collective of computers (nodes) is called a peer-to-peer network in that it allows each individual to interact directly with the others. In the case of Bitcoin, the network is built in such a way that each user is broadcasting the transactions of other users. And, crucially, no bank is required as a third party.

How might blockchain technology be used in the future?

Blockchains are decentralized ledgers that can keep track of essentially any data, transaction, asset, etc. If you imagine that every asset can be given a digital identity, then you can imagine how, in the future, all of those assets will be made trackable and unalterable via blockchain technology.

With blockchain technology, there will no longer be a need for third party involvement in many types of transactions. Instead, all of the data will be on the blockchain and accessible to the parties directly involved. Medical records, global financial products, banking, land ownership and real estate transactions, insurance, ID systems, intellectual property, program management within organizations, authentication and tracking can all be put on a blockchain system, one that will be secure, private, and immutable.

Lesson 1: Complete

Despite how confusing it got at times, learning about cryptocurrencies and blockchains was a fun exercise. And while there’s still a debate as to whether “brain training” activities have any effect on dementia, I guarantee you that you’ll know a little bit more the next time you hear someone say “Bitcoin.”

Associated lingo

Cryptography – the field of science that is involved with the authentication and hiding of data using mathematics.

Hash – a unique, fixed-length string of random numbers that is the digital fingerprint of some data. Hashes are produced when a hashing algorithm runs a complex calculation on any data and generates a hash as the result of the calculation. For a great, visual explanation, see Anders Brownworth’s video here.

Miners (not minors) – the computers running the hashing algorithm who are paid in tokens (Bitcoins, for example) for their work.

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) – computers that are connected on the Internet via networks, rather than a central server, so that files can be shared directly.

Private keys and public keys – A private key is produced by a complicated mathematical algorithm that allows you to decrypt data. A public key is created from the private key the same way, so that whatever is encrypted with the public key requires the related private key for decryption and vice versa. The public key is made available to everyone that needs it (it is recorded on the blockchain) while the private key is confidential and only shared with its owner. It is nearly impossible to reverse the process of key generation, such that one could generate a private key from someone’s public key.

Consider this example from Adil Haris’s “BlockchainA Short and Simple Explanation with Pictures”: The public key is like your mailbox which everyone knows about, and can drop you messages. The private key, on the other hand, is like the key to that mailbox. Only you own it, and only you can read the messages inside.

Signature – a cryptographic way to prove ownership. You would use your private key to sign something and then the resulting signature could be verified by everyone against your public key.

Wallet – where you keep all your money – in this case, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Online Scams (or “How I (Almost) Met An American Hero”)

I got a Facebook message recently from Major General Jonathan A. Maddux, the US Army’s Program Executive Officer for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI). 

This man is a real American Hero with awards and decorations including the Legion of Merit with four oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the NATO Medal, and more.

And a smart one too … a B.S. in English, Language and Literature, a B.S. in Business Administration in Operations Research Analysis, a master’s degree in Administration, a master’s degree in Telecommunications, a MSST in Strategy from the United States Army War College – and the list goes on! This is one educated dude!!

So, why, I wonder, did he say:

Dear please don’t be offended,you was suggested to me by facebook  so i got attracted by your profile,so i contacteded  you, so that we can know more about each other if you don’t mind my dear [sic].”

For such a highly educated man, this Jonathan Maddux wasn’t doing a good job of pulling out the Strunk & White’s. And despite how much I would actually like to know MG Maddux, I doubt I top his “100 People I’d Like to Meet” list.

You should know this about me: I don’t trust a lot of people (just ask my therapist). But for that split second, I rationalized that maybe this really was Major General Jonathan A. Maddux. And that’s scary – because if someone like me, who makes my husband show me his license for identification purposes, can have that moment of doubt, then imagine how easily a more trusting soul could be duped.

Was it because I was a “senior” that I almost fell for it? Nope. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, millennials are more likely to fall for an online scam than seniors – 40 percent of adults age 20-29 who have reported fraud ended up losing money in a fraud case. Only 18 percent of consumers 70 and older have lost money in reported fraud cases, but when they DO lose, they lose bigger sums than younger victims.

Online fraud, (scams that aim to obtain your personal information – passwords, account numbers, or Social Security numbers – in order to ultimately get money) probably happens more than you think it does. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) “2019 Internet Crime Report,” 467,361 complaints were received in 2019 – an average of nearly 1,300 every day in the United States – resulting in more than $3.5 billion in losses to individual and business victims (again, in the US, in 2019).

While email is still a common entry point (phishing), fraud also takes place through text messages (“smishing”) and fake websites (“pharming”).

You might laugh at how ridiculous these scams seem, how easily you can see right through them, but the success of many of these scams is their ability to prey on your fears. The fear of COVID-19, the fear of not being able to take care of your family, or just the fear of being alone can open the door to fraud. 

So, having come so close to getting scammed, and as depressing as this is, here’s a list of some of the more typical types of online fraud, with links to (legitimate) sites for more information. 

COVID-19 Vaccination Scams – first, disgusting! Talk about preying on the weak! These scammers may contact you about paying a fee to receive early vaccination access, paying to get on a waiting list, or by saying they are a physician or insurance company asking for personal information for a clinical trial. Want credible information about COVID vaccinations? Click here.

Greeting card scams – “Happy Valentine’s Day! Someone you know has sent you an ecard” – so you open the email (which looks completely legit), and you click on the logo (which also looks completely legit), and you’re sent to a website that is booby-trapped with malicious software (malware) or ransomeware which ultimately can result in your personal information getting into the hands of criminals.

Bank loan or credit card scam – You get a letter that you’ve been pre-approved for a big loan – and then you provide your personal information to cover processing fees (credit card scams also often happen on the telephone.)

Lottery scam – Congratulations! You won the lottery. Your worries are over, you’re an instant billionaire! All you have to do is pay a handling fee (lots of variations on this, but you get the idea). 

Hitman scam – This is just what you think it is – pay up or risk the alternative. And it seems these scammers have taken this even further … in a newer version of this scam, you could receive a letter from “the FBI” saying there’s been an arrest in the (hitman scammer) case, so contact “the FBI” to provide more information so the case can move forward. 

Romance and Online Dating scams – it’s fine for someone to steal your heart. It’s not fine for them to steal your money. More information here on recognizing, avoiding, and reporting romance scams.

Fake antivirus software – “Your computer may be infected with a virus – download this software (or go to this site to purchase antivirus software now).” Close that pop-up window and run legitimate security software you’ve installed on your own device.

Facebook impersonation scam (hijacked profile scam)/ Facebook messenger scam – Facebook is well aware of the scammers out there who hijack accounts, or simply pose as a friend on Messenger, reach out to tell you about the money they just collected from some grant, and how you can cash in on it too. Then all you have to do is give them your personal information, and perhaps a small fee (but what’s $1200 when you’re “guaranteed” $80,000?). More about how you can report Facebook fraud here.

GoFundMe Fakes – On the one hand, it’s nice to know there are that many kind people out there who want to help out someone they’ve never even met before. The problem is that sometimes these stories are fakes taking advantage of your generosity.

Travel scams – Right now, the thought of getting out of our houses and traveling sounds amazing. but watch out for too-good-to-be-true deals that turn out to be fraudulent rental listings, timeshare resales, and fake travel club memberships. 

Event ticket scams – Lured in by great prices or the ability to obtain a ticket to a sold-out event – only to never see the ticket or get to the venue only to find that the barcode doesn’t work, and the ticket is a fake – last year more than 200 reports of ticket scams were received by the Better Business Bureau.

Bitcoin/cryptocurrency scams – This summer, the Twitter accounts of Apple, Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Warren Buffet (a confirmed bitcoin critic!) and other high-profile personalities were hacked giving the address of a (their) bitcoin wallet and promising that any payments made to that address would be doubled and sent back. 

Fake shopping websites – They may be incredibly authentic-looking copycat sites or built-from-scratch sites offering amazing deals, but whether you end up actually buying something (and giving scammers your financial information) or clicking around and downloading malware, if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. (You might remember how many of these sites sprang up playing on consumers’ fears of the Coronavirus.)

Typosquatting – Lookalike domains/URLs (amozon.com instead of amazon.com), that count on our busy lifestyles to overlook that one little typo, hope to fool you into believing you’re on the site you intended, either to defraud you directly from the site, download malware on your computer, obtain your login credentials for the authentic site, or to extort the real domain owner in an attempt to sell back the misspelled domain in order to protect their reputation.

Free Wi-Fi Scams – You’ve probably heard this a million times, but make sure you’re on a SAFE public network when accessing the Internet outside of your trusted network. Either through man-in-the- middle attacks or typosquatting legit Wi-Fi sites (looks just like the name of the site you intended to visit), your login information, credit card information, and other personal information can end up in the hands of criminals.

Loyalty points phishing scam – Here’s an example: you’re contacted via a very legitimate-looking email (or by text) from a representative from your airline rewards program to update your loyalty points program information. You may not only end up giving out personal information, but you may also be giving your points to these scammers.

Job offer scams – Again preying on the COVID crisis, online job scams have increased over the past year, offering remote working opportunities and high salaries. Just pay the fee upfront and give out your personal information. 

Fake Checks, Gift Cards and Overpayment Scams – “Pay your bill by gift card or your utility company will cut off your power.” “Claim your prize (for something you don’t even remember entering) but first, you have to use a gift card to pay fees.” Or someone buys something from you online, sends a check for more than the purchase price, and then asks you to give them the difference on a gift card (oh, and that check they used? It’ll probably turn out to be a fake).

Online Tech Support Scams – These scams seize upon your fear that your computer is not working properly and get you to pay for (unnecessary) tech support. 

Tried and true: The Nigerian scam still rakes in about $700,000 a year. You know this one? Someone who claims to be overseas royalty contacts you to share an investment opportunity. Right, because it’s that easy to get rich.

While these are only some examples of online fraud, and tactics and techniques to defraud online show up every day, the GOOD NEWS is that agencies are making arrests, technologies are being developed to prevent fraud, and there’s a LOT you can do to protect yourself.

“Individuals need to be extremely skeptical and double check everything. In the same way your bank and online accounts have started to require two-factor authentication – apply that to your life,” says IC3 Chief Donna Gregory. “Verify requests in person or by phone, double check web and email addresses, and don’t follow the links provided in any messages.”

It shocked me to (almost) be on the receiving end of a scam. And I’d much rather write about kittens and world peace, but this stuff pisses me off. So if one person can avoid being the victim of fraud as a result of this post, then it’s worth it to write a depressing post.

But unless five-star General Douglas MacArthur reaches out to me from his Arlington National Cemetery Facebook Messenger account to become my friend and then places a hard drive-destroying virus on my computer, I promise I’ll write something funnier next week!

To report an Internet scam, click here

I Can Do WHAT on My Smartphone?

I like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to using new technology to simplify my life and streamline my work. The key words here are “like to think,” because just when I think I’m at the front of the I’m-just-like-the-kids superuser line, something (or in this case, someone) introduces me to a hack that’s been around for about 15 years – and I’m that old-lady Luddite in a babushka, talking about the glory of the days before machines.

So what is this newfangled technology? Get ready: electronic check deposit (and yes, I can hear some of you laughing … but I’ll bet, and by “bet” I mean “hope,” there are a couple of you out there who, like me, haven’t yet joined the check-selfie crowd).

I was introduced to mobile check deposit yesterday when one of my awesome nephews told me to “just deposit the check with your phone.” EXQUEEZE ME? Deposit it with my phone? Okay, yes, I have seen ads about electronic check deposits, but I haven’t DONE it!! I’ve also seen pictures of people giving their personal banking information to strangers in the hopes that those strangers will defraud them and ruin their lives irrevocably, but I haven’t done that either!

Turns out, of all of the possible online banking features, electronic check deposit (you just snap a picture of the front and signed-back of a check on your smartphone and deposit it using your bank’s mobile app) is actually one of the last to catch on. According to a 2018 Harland Clarke “Mobile Deposit Consumer Survey” (the most recent I could find), about 37% of people age 55+ used the feature at that time.

But COVID-19 added a little oomph to mobile banking usage in the last ten months.

In a September 2020 interview with Karen Webster in PYMNTS.com, Mike Diamond, general manager of digital banking at Mitek, said that we’re unlikely to revert to pre-pandemic behavior when it comes to things like going to a bank branch or, God forbid, using a “germ-laden ATM” just to deposit a check. And once banks show consumers how to use mobile check deposit (and illustrate its safety), we’ll all be using the feature regularly.

And all this doesn’t even take into consideration other digital payment channels, like Venmo, that reinforce predictions that paper checks are going the way of … well, paper.

Okay, I think it’s worth a try – according to everything I’ve read, it’s as safe as other online and mobile banking functions. But if you’re going to join me, here are some important considerations:

  • Download your mobile banking app directly from your bank or credit union’s website to make sure it’s the latest version of the official app
  • Only use banking apps downloaded from your phone’s native app store since these can “enforce certificate pinning to avoid man-in-the-middle” attacks which could happen at unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots. (In regular language … certificate pinning is an extra layer of security that ensures that you’re really going to the site you think you’re going to, and “man-in-the-middle” is that asshole who wants to steal your information)
  • Avoid depositing fraudulent checks by only accepting paper checks from people you know and trust (duh)
  • Don’t use public wifi to access your account
  • Use unique passwords and update them often
  • Utilize multi-factor authentication when logging in (like, a password and a one-time code sent to your smartphone)
  • Lock your smartphone using a unique PIN or biometric information (facial recognition, fingerprint recognition)
  • Keep an eye on your account – go through your deposits, interest payments, and debits on a regular basis.

Also, banks may limit the amount you can deposit and you may experience delays in processing and clearing, there may be fees involved, and some types of checks may be excluded. To avoid delays, banks urge mobile deposit customers to ensure their signature is legible (yes, you still have to endorse the check!!), check images are clear (the app will help you with this), and the amount you enter matches the amount on the check.

And don’t forget to submit/send it (according to lots of articles, this happens … frequently!).

Last, they encourage users to keep the paper check until you’ve double “checked” that it has cleared (check images are not stored on your phone) and then shred the paper check.

So, what do you think? Have you used mobile check deposit technology? Do you think you’ll give it a try? Want me to try it first and report back? Send me a check (any amount is fine, but please keep in mind that my bank limits me to $10,000 per month) and I’ll let you know if it works.

Mitek is a software company that specializes in digital identity verification and mobile capture built on artificial intelligence algorithms and allows people to deposit checks via their mobile phones.

The “Silver Snipers” – Superstars

In the field of counterterrorism, 68-year-old Inger “Trigger Finger” Grotteblad and 73-year-old Rick “Crazy BOOmer” LaRoche are considered among the best in the world. Two-fifths of an elite, highly trained unit, Inger and Rick spend their days doing what most “seniors” wouldn’t dream of doing: diffusing bombs and defending hostages using rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols; high-explosive, decoy, and smoke grenades; tasers and teamwork. 

Sure, their logo-emblazoned opponents are generally sitting right next to them in an esports arena, and their thousands of spectators are eagerly cheering for the next kill, but that’s all part of the fun when you’re a “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” senior world champion.

While most players in the $1 billion esports industry retire by the age of 29, companies like Lenovo are out to change the demographic expectations of the industry. To that end, in 2017, the company ran an ad in Stockholm, Sweden looking for men and women with no digital gaming experience, ages 60+, to form the “Silver Snipers,” a Counter Strike esports team to compete in the upcoming Dreamhack digital competition in Sweden. (Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is a multiplayer first-person shooter video game developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment.)

I caught up with Inger and Rick to find out more about what motivated them to become part of the Silver Snipers and what message they want the rest of us to know about bridging generational gaps.

“I saw the ad that Lenovo was looking for three women and two men to become a five-person team,” Inger told me. “They didn’t require any experience, only that you knew a little about computers, could speak English, and that you were interested in learning something new – the game Counter Strike.”

“I asked my kids and grandkids; do you think I should try?” Inger told me. Their response was immediate: “Oh yes grandmother – you’re going to be the greatest grandmother in the world.”

“I was in New York when I received a message asking me to send a video in English (the common language among esports gamers). So I took one of my grandchildren down to 6th Avenue and taped from New York.” 

Inger was one of more than 130 women who made the first cut and was invited to “audition” for the team by exhibiting her use of the computer and completing an interview in English. The field was narrowed to five women, and ultimately Inger was one of the two chosen to join the Silver Snipers. 

A retired US diplomat living in Stockholm, Rick La Roche is a more recent addition to the Silver Snipers team – although a highly qualified one. “The Silver Snipers had already been quite successful, having competed all over the world and generating global media attention (WSJ, CNN, BBC. They even inspired plans to make a movie about the senior gaming community).   So when the idea of creating a world championship came up, another team was formed. This time they were looking for Americans over 60, living in Stockholm. I went ahead and applied and was one of the people selected for the USA team – the “United Senior Assassins.”

Circled in red top row: Inger Grotteblad and bottom row: Rick La Roche

A few months after the Swedish win at Dreamhack 2019 (the “United Senior Assassins, Finland’s Gray Gunners, and Germany’s Germinators made up the final four), Rick was asked to “defect” to the Silver Snipers who were then down a team member. (The three other members of the team are Oivind “Windy” Toverud, age 78; Monica “TeenSlayer” Idenfors, age 65; and Anders “BigBang” Nystrom, age 71).

Neither Inger nor Rick identifies with the typical expectations of people in the “senior” age demographic. “There are a lot of assumptions about people our age,” Rick said, “and the goal of our team is to break those assumptions.”

“I’m always curious about new things and not afraid of trying new things.” Inger said. “When you’re an old person you think this isn’t something I can do because I’m too old. I don’t care about that. I do whatever I like.”

Both feel that playing CS:GO has had a very positive effect on them physically and mentally. “Your attention is better,” Inger told me. “You are thinking more quickly, using your brain in another way … you can’t be slow. You have to be rapid in your reflexes. You have to think four steps ahead to play the game and you have to make rapid decisions. You’re keeping your brain alive. And of course, you’re using your hands, and you have to coordinate everything.”

“Prior to diplomatic work, I was in the military,” Rick said, “so I have some real-world experience in this stuff (not that it helps me in the egames!). I’ve found it’s almost like playing a very animated game of chess. Where the avatars are like chess pieces. You’re thinking ahead to create a diversion … there’s a lot of strategy that goes into it.”

For a team that was constantly travelling and competing (including Moscow, Ukraine, Helsinki., and France), and participating in in-person training every other week at Inferno Online (the largest gaming center), COVID-19 has had a profound effect. But to combat the isolation and keep playing, Inger has started a Facebook group for gaming seniors. “More and more people are joining,” she said, “and the media are very interested in us. Many are seniors who had never realized there were other old people gaming. And we’re making friends around the world.”

But it’s not just their fellow seniors that Rick and Inger have reached through their “Silver Snipers” activity. It’s the connection with the Millennial and Gen Z crowd that also excites them and for whom they advocate. “We are passing on a positive image about the younger generations and they are getting a very different image of the elderly.”

“When we talk to young people, they treat us like rockstars,” Inger said. “They think we are so great. We’re old people coming into their community – a community that has been very closed. ‘You are legends,’ they tell us. ‘Can I take a picture with you? can I have your autograph?’’

“People should try this and find out how lovely it is,” she said. “Come see how great the community is and having young friends.”

Rick La Roche concurs: “This is an excellent way of bridging generational fences and promoting greater understanding between these two large demographic groups. The younger generation writes us off, and no one takes advantage of all the expertise and experience we have.” On the other hand, baby boomers tend to write off the game-playing younger generation as time- wasting and disconnected.

“In fact,” Rick continued, “the military is looking seriously at Gen Z kids when they become of military age and at making a concerted effort to recruit them because they believe by that time so much of the war will be cyber-based – and these young kids are ambidextrous, doing many different things at once and assimilating a tsunami of information and making instantaneous decisions.”

“Be nice to young people,” Inger continued, “Don’t be so hard on them for playing. They will be prepared for very interesting jobs and know languages better than we do, and they are meeting people all over the world. They learn how many different people think. It’s good for them and it’s good for you too to stay young at heart. Gamers live about five years longer.” 

And Rick added with a laugh, “which doesn’t sound like much until you’re in those last five years!” 

###

If you want to learn more about the Silver Snipers, visit their team website here and follow them on Facebook

Inger also invites senior gamers (and those interested in learning more) to join her Facebook group, Gaming Senior.

And stay tuned for an upcoming “Superstars” article about Rick La Roche (let’s just say there’s a lot of real-world experience in his gameplay!). In the meantime, follow Rick’s blog here.

No Matter How Bored You Are … DON’T CUT YOUR BANGS!

When I was three years old, I was so excited because I was going to be a flower girl at my aunt’s fancy wedding in Chicago. I had the most beautiful dress, the fanciest shoes, embroidered lacy white bobby socks, … and access to scissors.

So of course, right before the wedding I cut my bangs (and as much hair on my crown as I could reach) right down to the scalp.

I think that was the first time I exercised my penchant for personal hair styling – one that has continued throughout my 64 years, much to the dismay of the PROFESSIONAL stylists who are (un)lucky enough to call me their client.

What have I done to deserve the title “Most Challenging Person Who Has EVER Sat In My Chair”? Well, over the years …

  • I’ve straightened my hair (“Hi Melanie, can you suggest anything for these burns on my scalp?”)
  • I’ve dyed my hair colors that were somehow off the official color spectrum (“Hi, Melanie, can you fix this sort-of-purpley-orange hair?”)
  • I’ve “streaked” my hair (“Hi Melanie, can you do anything about the green color in my hair?”)
  • I’ve cut my hair into a shag (“Hi Melanie, can you even out my layers?”)
  • I’ve, of course, cut my bangs (“Hi Melanie, can you make my hair grow?”)

I’ve even had the nerve to deny doing ANYTHING AT ALL to my hair – while sitting right in front of her all uneven and smelling of formaldehyde.

As you can probably imagine, “Melanie” is the most patient person in the world!! She has not only put up with my scary mistakes, she has actually made me look normal despite whatever challenges I’ve thrown her way. And as time has gone by (and because Melanie assured me she’d see me ANYTIME I wanted to do something so I REALLY didn’t need to do it myself!!!!!) I stopped styling/ruining my own hair and have relied solely on her to keep me looking good (keep in mind what she has to work with).

BUT in March the pandemic hit.

… I think you know where this is going …

FOR NINE MONTHS I HAVE NOT been able to see Melanie. And yep, for some reason, EVEN THOUGH I HAVE NO SOCIAL LIFE, ONLY USE ZOOM ON AUDIO, and barely leave the house at all, I’ve felt compelled to “do” my hair. With lots of time on my hands and access to scissors and an entire array of hair products online, I’ve reawakened my inner stylist. (I even tried to buy professional strength keratin online, but was thwarted by the requirement to enter my professional license number … and YES, I totally considered making one up!)

Let’s just say there’s a reason for the pink wig!

So Melanie – get ready. Because as soon as I get that vaccination, I am heading your way!

You CAN Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

When I was in school, the LAST thing I wanted to do was learn anything. I was much more interested in being with my friends and having fun. That “fun” ranged from playing “Lost in Space” with my BFF Andrea on the playground in elementary school, to a different version of “Lost in Space” in high school that had more to do with Saturday night parties than 60’s television shows.. But education? … Background noise!

Thankfully, despite all my efforts to the contrary, I landed on a college major that really meant something to me: Mass Communications. What a perfect way for a blabbermouth like me to do just what I wanted to do – communicate … to MASSES!! 

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that “lifelong learning” is actually very important to me. I also realized that learning is a LOT MORE FUN when you’re doing it because you WANT TO than HAVE TO! I think that’s why my college education was so exciting for me … I was actually learning what I wanted to learn.

As I’ve grown older and am not confined by time and topics that apply mainly to my work, my choices have become a lot more wide-ranging. A class about computer programming? I’m in. A book about snakes? Rattle me that one, Joker! A course on the Middle Ages? Templars and torture devices … oh yeah!

That’s not to say I remember everything I learn … ha, not by a long shot! But sometimes on Jeopardy, I’ll hear an answer like, “During the Middle Ages, it was thought that women could prevent pregnancy by wearing what around their necks?” and I’ll know what the “question” is! (“What are weasel testicles, Alex?”)

The best part is, there are SO MANY WAYS to learn FOR FREE that there’s just no reason not to pursue ANYTHING that you want to.  Here are a few sites to get your started.

General search

You know you can search for classes and ANY information through any search engine (Google, Firefox, Bing, etc.), but don’t forget YouTube when you want to learn … anything!

The second largest search engine behind Google, with more than three billion searches per month, YouTube is not just a website on which your children and grandchildren watch trending videos like “iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Unboxing!” and “Minecraft Speedrunner VS 4 Hunters REMATCH” (the two highest-trending videos right now … [(confused face]). You can also search YouTube and find free documentaries, video podcasts, movies, and short videos on practically anything you want to learn.

Vetted free college courses

There are lots of sites for free online college courses, but my go-to source is Class Central. Its super-easy-to-use platform aggregates courses from providers like edX, Coursera, and Udacity. You’ll find “the best courses on almost any subject, wherever they exist.” 

Class Central is a search engine and reviews site for free online courses popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses. You can find courses, review courses you’ve taken (and read other people’s reviews), follow universities, subjects and courses to receive personalized updates, and plan and track your learning. 

They also publish TheReport, featuring “news and trends in online learning” as well as several lists including “Free Online Learning Due to Coronavirus” (updated continuously) and “Free Online Ivy League Courses,” and a list of 115 courses with certificates that Coursera is offering for free (many “MOOCs” offer certificates indicating – typically to potential employers –  successful course completion and ensuring the authenticity and value of the credential. There is usually a cost for the certificate option).  

Class Central is funded through advertising and affiliate links. They clearly denote ads and sponsored search results, and their affiliate and advertising relationships don’t influence the course listing, nor do they affect user reviews.

Creativity

A great site to explore your creativity for free is Skillshare. There you’ll find an online learning community with thousands of classes for creative and curious people, on topics including illustration, design, photography, video, freelancing, and more. Note: Skillshare also offers a “Premium” membership for deeper dives into many courses.

Cultural and educational

Open Culture, the self-proclaimed “best free cultural and educational media on the web,” scours the internet for the best educational media. There you’ll find “the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons and educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.” Open Culture is eclectic! I found things like  “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction,” “Ezra Pound’s Fiery 1939 Reading of His Early Poem, ‘Sestina: Altaforte’,” “John Wayne: 26 Free Western Films Online,” and “Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More.”

And speaking of languages

While we’re on language, there are some great sources for free language lessons online. Take a look at Learn a Language, Duolingo, Busuu, Sign Language 101, and Galludet University.

There are millions of sources of free education on the internet (I feel a little bit like Dr. Evil right now … there are probably more like “billions” of them) as long as we’re “not yet dead” they’re right at our fingertips. Let’s enjoy every one of those Jeopardy answers we can still … answer? … ask? Whatever.