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Bloxels: This kids STEM toy uses tangible blocks to build a video game

(TECH NEWS) Bloxels is the STEM toy that is going to give kids their first taste of coding and tech and we’re amped about it.

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Straight out of my dreams

In the eighties I had Nintendo, and my world building included Legos and blocks, drawing, and writing.

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I would never have dreamed there would be a way I could somehow combine all of those things into one, no coding required.

Bloxels

Bloxels is an interactive STEM game that allows you to build out characters, levels, and art to bring stories to life. The 13×13 Bloxels GameBoard is the starting point for every aspect of your game. With the Bloxels GameBoard you can create entire rooms and customize heroes and villains using colored blocks.

Once you are finished with the design elements of the game board, you can then capture the game board on your mobile device to add it to your game.

The majority of the customization comes from the Bloxels Builder app, which allows players to fully flesh out their stories and add personal touches to their levels.

Educational and fun

This is a really cool “gadget/toy” that challenges kids to work visually and think critically about placement of design elements and storylines, but it’s also more than that. Bloxels is an immersive and tangible way for kids with different learning styles that’s a hands-on, brains-on, creativity and technology experience.

And in my opinion, the heart of the effectiveness of Bloxels lies in the undeniable love of video games.

From this, kids “gain greater understanding of important topics like design logic, and computer science and demonstrate their knowledge of history, science and mathematics and more through the games they create.”

The website itself gives you a pretty good idea of how it works, and you can even test drive some of the games created by other players. I played The Adventures of Space Cat! It’s cute, colorful, and allows you to be a cat in space who powers up with some kind of rocket boost and throws bombs and collects energy packs while you jump from space rock to space rock.

I can’t tell you how it ends as I kept losing rocket fuel and falling to my death, but I was impressed that a game with that much nostalgic 8-bit-like detail could be made from blocks on a grid.

Here’s to the next generation

The folks at Bloxels really strive to make kids feel empowered about their ability to create stories and have fun, and I am all for more storytellers in this world. Interactive games that allow people to approach complex ideas like logic and storytelling helps to shape the way that they see the world in addition to how they approach ideas in the world as well.

And who knows, maybe many of these early Bloxels adopters will be future programmers?

#BloxelsRoxels

Ashe Segovia is a Staff Writer at The American Genius with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Southwestern University. A huge film nerd with a passion for acting and 80's movies and synthpop; the pop-cultural references are never-ending.

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Tech News

Not just for gaming: How virtual reality can save PTSD patients

(TECH NEWS) Thanks to its ability to simulate situations safely, virtual reality technologies are proving effective in therapy for PTSD patients.

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Woman wearing a VR headset in warm sunny lighting, PTSD patients treatment

Over the last year, a great many people have developed a new and sometimes dangerous relationship with a new emotional state, anxiety. I know that personally I’d never had a panic attack in my life until the middle of the pandemic. For many these emotions have taken the form of actual disorders. Actual mental influences which affect everyday life on a large scale. One of the most common forms of which is PTSD.

This disorder has many different aspects and can affect people in a number of different and debilitating ways. Finding treatments for PTSD patients and other anxiety disorders – especially treatments that don’t involve drugging people into oblivion has been difficult.

A lot of these disorders require exposure therapy. Putting people back into similar situations which caused the original trauma so that their brains can adjust to the situation and not get stuck in pain or panic loops. But how do you do that for things like battlefield trauma. You can’t just create situations with gunfire and dead bodies! Or can you?

This is where VR starts coming in. Thanks to the falling cost of VR headsets, noted by The Economist, psychologists are more capable of creating these real world situations that can actually help people adjust to their individual trauma.

One therapist went so far as to compare it to easy access opioids for therapy. This tool is so powerful that of the 20 veterans that they started with, 16 of them no longer qualify for the categories of PTSD. That’s a 75% success rate with an over-the-counter medicine. I can think of antihistamines and painkillers that aren’t that good.

I’ve grown up around PTSD patients. The majority of my family have been in the military. I was even looking at a career before I was denied service. I have enough friends that deal with PTSD issues that I have a list of things I remember not to invite certain people to so as not to trigger it. Any and every tool available that could help people adapt to their trauma is worthwhile.

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Tech News

Tired of email spam? This silly, petty solution might provide vindication

(TECH NEWS) If you struggle to keep your inbox clean thanks to a multitude of emails, the widget “You’ve Got Spam” could provide some petty catharsis.

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Email icon with 20 possible spam emails on phone screen.

We’re all spending a lot of time behind our computers and inside of our inboxes these days, so it makes sense that some people—not naming names—might be sick of seeing several unsolicited emails a day from marketers and other unsavory businesses.

While we can’t recommend a mature, adult solution that hasn’t already been beaten to death (looking at you, “inbox zero” crowd), we can recommend a childish one: Signing solicitors up for spam.

If you do decide to go the petty route, “You’ve Got Spam”—a free email widget from MSCHF—has you covered. Upon installing the widget, you can configure it to respond automatically to incoming cold-marketing emails with tons of subscriptions to spam sources, thus resulting in overwhelming the sender with a crowded inbox and cultivating a potentially misplaced sense of catharsis for yourself.

The widget itself is fairly simple: You only need to install it to Gmail from the MSCHF website. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. When you receive an email from a person from whom you can safely assume you’ll never be receiving favors ever again, you can open it and click the “You’ve Got Spam” icon to sign the sender up for spam lists galore.

See? Petty, but effective.

The developer page does fail to make the distinction between the promised “100” subscriptions and the “hundreds of spam subscriptions” discussed on Product Hunt. But one can assume that anyone who dares trespass on the sacred grounds of your squeaky-clean inbox will rue the day they did so regardless of the exact number of cat litter magazine subscriptions they receive.

Of course, actually using something like “You’ve Got Spam” is, realistically, a poor choice. It takes exactly as much effort to type, “We’ll pass – thanks!” as a response to anyone cold-emailing you, and you’re substantially less likely to piss off the actual human being on the other side by doing so. Services like this are heavy on the comedic shock value, but the empathy side tends to lack a discernible presence.

That said, if you absolutely must wreck someone’s day—and inbox—MSCHF’s “You’ve Got Spam” is a pretty ingenious way to do it.

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Tech News

Clubhouse finally made it to Android, but has its time passed?

(TECH NEWS) Social media felt the impact of Clubhouse, but the internet moves fast, and even though it is finally on Android, it’s time may be waning.

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Woman holding book and a phone, with headphones, participating in Clubhouse.

Clubhouse finally got an Android release, and while many people clamored for such a thing months ago, others argue that it’s too little, too late.

If you aren’t familiar with Clubhouse, it’s an audio-only “social platform” that encourages discussions through live chat rooms. Users can drop into various rooms and listen to people talk, request the option to chime in, and follow a variety of rooms (or “topics”) to stay engaged over time. Users can even create their own rooms that feature them as speakers.

Clubhouse also has a certain allure to it in that the app requires new users to put their names on a waitlist that creates an “invite-only” culture of exclusivity.

But while iPhone users have had access to Clubhouse since its inception, Android users have been not-so-patiently waiting for their own release—and, now that Clubhouse for Android is available, it may have outstayed its welcome.

Part of the problem is the launch itself. The Android Clubhouse app launched with limited functionality; Android users weren’t able to follow the topics they like, change their account information, and so on. This made the release feel underwhelming, further highlighting Clubhouse’s affinity for Apple users.

A more complicated problem is the prevalence of audio options in other social media services. Slack, for example, recently released their audio-only rooms, and services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have placed a spotlight on voice-only mediums of expression.

Initially, Clubhouse was the only app to incorporate audio as a strong central focus, but the ubiquitous fascination with voice-posting has expanded to comprise most major communication platforms. As such, Clubhouse’s sought-after exclusivity is no more—something that was also arguably damaged by expanding to Android.

It should be noted that interest in the app itself is decreasing, and not just on Android. Social Media Today reported that, in March of 2021, Clubhouse downloads were down 72 percent from February’s 9.6 million downloads. The publication also pointed out that difficulty finding rooms was a substantial issue that is unlikely to do anything but worsen with a surge of Android users, necessitating some back-end fixes from the owners.

As it sits, Clubhouse is still very much in use, and Android users are poised to reignite interest as iOS users stagnate. Whether or not that interest will persevere in the current social media ecosystem remains to be seen.

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