Chess: The History, Health Benefits, and Where to Play

Because of the pandemic people are getting back to more of the basics and spending more quality time with people in the same household. Canning, crafting, painting, home repairs, and of course board games, have all ricocheted back into the spotlight and with good reason. Keeping your mind occupied whilst enjoying the company of others, be it in person or virtually, can do wonders for one’s mental health. This blog will look at how chess can help give you reprieve from otherwise stressful events. Information in this blog comes from World Chess Day 20 July, The 10 Best Benefits of Playing Chess, and Some of the Craziest Places People Play Chess.

Brief History of Chess and World Chess Day

Chess is a two-player strategy board game where the aim is to move different types of playing pieces, each with a prescribed set of possible moves, around a checkered square board trying to capture the opponents ‘king’ piece. Today there are over 2,000 identifiable variants of the game. One theory is that an early game similar to chess called Chaturanga originated in Northern Indian Subcontinent during the Gupta period (~ 319 – 543 CE) and spread along the Silk Roads west to Persia.

In 900 CE, Abbasid chess masters al-Suli and al-Lajlaj composed works on the techniques and strategy of the game, and by 1000 CE Chess was popular across Europe, and in Russia where it was introduced from the Eurasian Steppe. The Alfonso manuscripts, also known as the Libro de los Juegos (Book of Games), a medieval collection of texts on three different types of popular game from the 13th century CE describe the game of Chess as very similar to Persian Shatranj in rules and gameplay.

On 12 December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 20 July as World Chess Day to mark the date of the establishment of the International Chess Federation (FIDE) in Paris in 1924.

Under initiative of FIDE, July 20 has been observed as International Chess Day by chess players around the world since 1966.

The designation of World Chess Day of the UN will not only recognize the important role of the FIDE in supporting international cooperation for chess activity and aiming to improve friendly harmony among all peoples of the world, but also to provide an important platform to foster, dialogue, solidarity and culture of peace.

Health Benefits of Chess

Throughout history, games and sports have helped humanity to survive times of crisis by reducing anxieties and improving mental health. While the coronavirus outbreak has forced most gaming and sports activities to scale down, chess has demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability and a very strong convening power in time of pandemic.

Over the past few months, the overall interest in chess is reported to have doubled, with more players than ever coming together to participate in chess events that are being increasingly held through online platforms.

According to Rebecca Joy Stanborough MFA, these are the 10 best benefits of playing chess:

  • Chess develops the ability to see from someone else’s perspective. Skilled chess players learn to anticipate an opponent’s next moves. To predict what another person will do next, a player must develop the ability to adopt another person’s perspective and infer what action they are likely to take.
  • Chess improves memory. It might not be surprising to learn that expert chess players have strong memory skills. After all, the game involves memorizing numerous combinations of moves and their potential outcomes. It’s also interesting to note that experienced chess players show higher performance related to a particular kind of recollection: auditory memory. This is the ability to remember what you’ve learned through hearing.
  • Chess increases your intelligence. People with lots of experience playing chess have highly developed thinking abilities in two areas (in addition to memory skills): 1. Fluid intelligence. This is the ability to consider new kinds of problems and use reasoning to solve them. 2. Processing speed. This is the ability to swiftly comprehend tasks and respond efficiently to challenges.
  • Chess enables you to enter a flow state. Flow is a deeply rewarding sense of total involvement, in which you’re operating at a peak performance level in a challenging task. Athletes, artists, and performers often describe entering a kind of time warp, where they are so wholly focused on the task at hand that their awareness of anything beyond the performance seems to disappear.
  • Chess elevates your creativity. Chess increases one’s ability to exercise divergent and creative thinking.
  • Chess leads to better planning skills. Chess games are known for long periods of silent contemplation, during which players consider each move. Players spend time anticipating their opponents’ responses and attempting to predict every eventuality.
  • Chess can make therapy more effective. Some counselors and therapists play chess with clients as a means of increasing self-awareness and building more effective therapeutic relationships.
  • Chess may offer protection against the development of dementia. Researchers found evidence that the game, which challenges memory, calculation, visual-spatial skills, and critical thinking abilities, may help reduce cognitive decline and postpone the effects of dementia as you age.
  • Chess can improve the symptoms of ADHD. Students who participated in this treatment method experienced a 41 percent decrease in both inattentiveness and over-activity following the course of treatment.
  • Electronic chess may help stave off a panic attack. There haven’t been any large-scale studies to support the use of chess apps to help reduce panic attack symptoms. In one 2017 case study, an individual who experienced panic attacks was able to use a chess app on a phone to increase the sense of calm and keep a panic attack from progressing.

Five Unique and Two Traditional Ways to Play Chess

Chess is one of the most ancient, intellectual and cultural games, with a combination of sport, scientific thinking and elements of art. As an affordable and inclusive activity, it can be exercised anywhere and played by all, across the barriers of language, age, gender, physical ability or social status.

Chess games can be enjoyed in a wide variety of venues – at home, at work, school, or even in public parks. There are chess clubs that hold tournaments, and you can even play the game online.

Here are five of the most unique places people have played chess.

Underwater Chess. If you ever visit Motril, Spain, you’ll have your own opportunity for getting deeper into chess. Here you can suit up in full scuba gear and head to the bottom of the ocean. Down there, you’ll find a chess board waiting for you on a small table. They’ll even have two chairs and illumination set up so you can enjoy the game.

On the International Space Station. Greg Chamitoff played a game of chess during his time on the ISS. He was a Canadian astronaut and board game enthusiast. In 2008, when he orbited around the Earth, he’d play each round against grade-school students from around the planet. While his time was kept busy on the space station, he did make the time to play one move per day with the earthbound students. He even got to play an entire third grade championship team.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris. In 1921, at the top of Eiffel Tower, Monsieur Eduard Pape climbed to the top of the structure and placed his chess board in a precarious position, complete with perfectly balanced chess pieces. What makes his chess game so daring is that he’s not on the safe platform near the top of the tower, but outside and between two metal columns of the structure.

A Boxing Ring Match. Chess boxing involves a round of boxing followed by a round of chess, then another round of boxing, and so on. There is a short break between rounds, and both games are usually played in the middle of the ring. The only prerequisite to play are that both players must be thoroughly versed in boxing and chess, so they have a fair chance at winning.

On a Roller Coaster Ride. It seems that this practice is becoming more popular on amusement park rides. However, many of these photos are fake, as the chess pieces have been glued down onto the boards beforehand. The goal is to get a photograph of yourself supposedly playing the game while plunging down a sharp hill or curve on the roller coaster. Apparently, this practice began with an online meme and others thought it would be a good idea.

Then there are the more serious ways to enjoy a good game of chess that anyone can participate in.

In Person Chess: Obviously the most traditional way of playing is in person at a location of the players’ choosing. ILA offers a Tactile Chess Set that has the added benefit of allowing persons with low or no vision the ability to better participate in any face-to-face rounds.

Online Virtual Chess: There are scores of sites available to play a round (or more) of chess depending on what you are looking for with some being free and others having a paid membership. One popular online site is chess.com. (For nine more options please see this article The 10 best places to play chess online put out by Chess Strategy Online)

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All About Braille

Braille is a system of raised dots that can be read with the fingers by people who are blind or who have low vision. Braille is not a language. Rather, it is a code by which many languages—such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and dozens of others—may be written and read. Braille is used by thousands of people all over the world in their native languages and provides a means of literacy for all. How was braille invented? What does it look like? What types of machines are used to create and read braille? Keep reading for these answers along with product suggestions from ILA. Information for this blog came from What is Braille?, Braille Invents His Code, Braille Alphabet and Numbers, Braille Alphabet Guide, Braille Alphabet, and product suggestions from the ILA website.

Night-Writing to Modern Day Braille

The history of braille goes all the way back to the early 1800s. A man named Charles Barbier who served in Napoleon Bonaparte’s French army developed a unique system known as “night writing” so soldiers could communicate safely during the night. As a military veteran, Barbier saw several soldiers killed because they used lamps after dark to read combat messages. As a result of the light shining from the lamps, enemy combatants knew where the French soldiers were and inevitably led to the loss of many men.

Barbier based his “night writing” system on a raised 12-dot cell; two dots wide and six dots tall. Each dot or combination of dots within the cell represented a letter or a phonetic sound. The problem with the military code was that the human fingertip could not feel all the dots with one touch.

Around the same time, Louis Braille was born in the village of Coupvray, France on January 4, 1809. He lost his sight at a very young age after he accidentally stabbed himself in the eye with his father’s awl. (Braille’s father was a leatherworker and poked holes in the leather goods he produced with the awl.)  He attended the National Institute for Blind Youth in Paris, France, as a student.

In 1821, shortly after becoming the Institute’s new director, Dr. Alexandre François-René Pignier invited Charles Barbier to address his students. At eleven years old, Braille found inspiration to modify Charles Barbier’s “night writing” code in an effort to create an efficient written communication system for fellow blind individuals. Between the ages of 13 and 16 Louis worked on perfecting an embossed dot system. Like Barbier’s, Louis’ system used raised dots, but beyond that similarity Louis’ ideas were his own. For three years Louis spent his free time refining his code. On the weekends, evenings, and summer vacations in Coupvray, Louis could be found with paper, slate, and stylus, diligently working.

When at age 15 he felt he had an adequate code, he shared it with Dr. Pignier, who had become his mentor. Louis’ system, based on a six-dot cell, was both simple and elegant.  Dr. Pignier encouraged the students at the Institute to use Louis’ code. With it, they were able to achieve a level of literacy previously unavailable to them.

What Does Braille Look Like?

Braille code is a writing system which enables blind and partially sighted people to read and write through touch. Braille consists of patterns of raised dots arranged in cells of up to six dots in a 3×2 configuration. Each cell represents a braille letter, numeral or punctuation mark. Some frequently used words and letter combinations also have their own single cell patterns. There are 63 possible combinations of raised dots used to represent the letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation.

When every letter of every word is expressed in braille, it is referred to as uncontracted braille. Some books for young children are written in uncontracted braille although it is less widely used for reading material meant for adults.

The standard system used for reproducing most textbooks and publications is known as contracted braille. In this system cells are used individually or in combination with others to form a variety of contractions or whole words. For example, in uncontracted braille the phrase you like him requires twelve cell spaces.

If written in contracted braille, this same phrase would take only six cell spaces to write. This is because the letters y and l are also used for the whole words you and like respectively. Likewise, the word him is formed by combining the letters h and m.

There are 180 different letter contractions used in contracted braille (including 75 short form words like “him” shown above, which are simple abbreviations). These “short cuts” are used to reduce the volume of paper needed for reproducing books in braille and to make the reading process easier. Most children learn contracted braille from kindergarten on, and contracted braille is considered the standard in the United States, used on signs in public places and in general reading material.

Braille Code Versions:

  • Grade 1: consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet and punctuation. It’s mainly used by people who just started reading braille.
  • Grade 2: consists of the 26 standard letters of the alphabet, punctuation, and contractions. The contractions are employed to save space because a braille page cannot fit as much text as a standard printed page. Books, signs in public places, menus, and most other braille materials are written in Grade 2 braille.
  • Grade 3: is used only in personal letters, diaries, and notes. It is a kind of shorthand, with entire words shortened to a few letters.

Braille Readers and Writers

Just as printed matter can be produced with a paper and pencil, typewriter, or printer, braille can also be written in several ways. The braille equivalent of paper and pencil is the slate and stylus. This consists of a slate or template with evenly spaced depressions for the dots of braille cells, and a stylus for creating the individual braille dots. With paper placed in the slate, tactile dots are made by pushing the pointed end of the stylus into the paper over the depressions. The paper bulges on its reverse side forming dots. Because they are inexpensive and portable, the slate and stylus are especially useful for to jot quick notes and for labeling such things as file folders.

Braille is also produced by a machine known as a braillewriter. Unlike a typewriter which has more than fifty keys, the braillewriter has only six keys, a space bar, a line spacer, and a backspace. The six main keys are numbered to correspond with the six dots of a braille cell. Because most braille symbols contain more than a single dot, combinations of the braillewriter keys can be pushed at the same time.

Technological developments in the computer industry have provided and continue to expand additional avenues of literacy for braille users. Software programs and portable electronic braille devices allow users to save and edit their writing, have it displayed back to them either verbally or tactually, and produce a hard copy via a desktop computer-driven braille embosser. Because the use of computers is so common in school, children learn both the braille contractions and also how to spell words out letter for letter so they can spell and write using a keyboard.

Product suggestions:

Orbit Reader 40: The Orbit Reader 40 is a unique 3-in-1 electronic braille device that enables a blind or visually impaired user to read books and documents in braille, take notes and save them as braille or text files, and to easily access all of the functions of a computer or smartphone such as web browsing, email and text messaging. It is the world’s most affordable, full-feature 40-cell braille device and serves as a self- contained note-taker, braille display, and book reader.   It also can connect to a computer or smartphone via USB or Bluetooth. 

Orbit Reader 20 Plus: The Orbit Reader 20 Plus is a unique 3-in-1 electronic braille device that serves as a self-contained note-taker, braille display, and book reader.  It also can connect to a computer or smartphone via USB or Bluetooth. Supported systems and programs include Android, iOS, Windows, Fire OS, Chrome and Linux.  It provides the highest quality braille in the world at the lowest price.

Orbit Writer Keyboard for Smartphones: If you are a braille reader who uses a smartphone, the Orbit Writer is an excellent device which allows a braille keyboard user to have a physical input device for their smartphone.  The Orbit Writer is a small, wireless Perkins-style keyboard that connects to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth, allowing you to control your smartphone or computer with intuitive key combinations. 

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Understanding and Surviving a Heat Wave

Its no secret that much of the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world are experiencing extreme heat this summer. Many areas currently dealing with hotter than normal days are ill-prepared to deal with such intense heat. Hundreds of people and billions of sea life have already perished from the heat and summer still has weeks to rage on. This blog will look at understanding what causes a heat wave through heat domes, who are most susceptible to adverse heat reactions, how to recognize signs of heat illnesses, and tips to stay safe when the temperature looms large.

What are Heat Domes?

Record-breaking heat waves have roasted the western United States several times already this summer. Death Valley has even registered a whopping 130° for only the 5th time in recorded history with a good chance of hitting it again within a few days from the first. At the heart of these heat waves are “heat domes,” sprawling zones of strong high pressure, beneath which the air is compressed and heats up. They are a staple of summertime and the source of most heat waves.

But how do these heat domes work?

Hot air masses, born from the blazing summer sun, expand vertically into the atmosphere, creating a dome of high pressure that diverts weather systems around them.

As high-pressure systems become firmly established, subsiding air beneath them heats the atmosphere and dissipates cloud cover. The high summer sun angle combined with those cloudless skies then further heat the ground.

But amid drought conditions, the vicious feedback loop does not end there. The combination of heat and a parched landscape can work to make a heat wave even more extreme. With very little moisture in soils, heat energy that would normally be used on evaporation — a cooling process — instead directly heats the air and the ground.

This also makes it harder for everything to cool off during the nighttime hours making it even more likely to cause extreme health issues. The body needs to be able to cool off overnight lest it makes it easier to overheat during the day. If nighttime temperatures remain high outdoors and inside, human bodies may not be able to adequately cool off, which can cause heavy sweating, nausea, headaches and even death.

Who are most Susceptible to Adverse Heat Reactions?

On average, heat waves kill more people in the U.S. than any other type of extreme weather. While some people can handle excessive heat better than others, some people are inherently vulnerable to extreme heat, according to the CDC.

  • Adults over the age of 65 because they do not adjust as well as young people to sudden changes in temperature. Certain medications could cause them to be further affected by heat. Also, conditions such as dementia may make it harder to discern whether they are having heat related episodes or not as they may not be able to express that they are feeling overheated.
  • Infants and children — especially those left unattended in parked cars.
  • People who work outdoors and who are not able to cool off and drink water.
  • People in low-income situations, especially those without appropriate resources for water.
  • People with chronic medical conditions may be less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature or could be taking medications that make the effects of extreme heat worse.
  • Athletes who exercise or perform in extreme heat during the hottest part of the day.
  • Pets that are left in a car during hot days or that are left outside with limited shade or water.

How to Recognize Signs of Heat Illness

There are five heat-related illnesses to watch out for when someone is exposed to excessive heat, according to the CDC. Look for these signs.

Heat stroke: High body temperature. Hot, red skin. Fast, strong pulse. Headache. Dizziness. Nausea. Confusion. Losing consciousness.

Heat exhaustion: Heavy sweating. Cold, pale and clammy skin. Fast, weak pulse. Nausea or vomiting. Muscle cramps. Tiredness or weakness. Dizziness. Headache. Fainting.

Heat cramps: Heavy sweating during intense exercise. Muscle pain or spasms.

Sunburn: Warm red skin. Blisters on the skin.

Heat rash: Red clusters of small blisters on skin.

Here are some steps to follow if you suspect someone is in serious danger from the heat.

  • Call 911 immediately, especially if the person loses consciousness.
  • If it is a life-threatening emergency, like a heat stroke, move them out of heat ASAP and find somewhere cool and shaded — preferably indoors with air conditioning.
  • If it is not possible to move them into a cool space, try to move them out of the direct heat and start cooling them. You can do so by wetting their clothes with water and removing any unnecessary layers of clothing.
  • If they are conscious, give them water or clear fluids with electrolytes to sip.

Tips on how to Prevent Heat Exhaustion

In many areas currently experiencing extreme heat, air conditioning is not something readily available. There are other ways to try and beat the heat in lieu of traditional air conditioning. These tips are also especially important for those working or playing outdoors for any length of time.

Stay hydrated. In hotter weather, increase your water intake and avoid sugary drinks and alcohol. If your doctor has limited your daily water intake because of heart failure or another diagnosis, stay in communication with them during a heat wave to avoid medical complications. Feeling a headache or thirst? Drink clear fluids ASAP to prevent from becoming dehydrated.

Rest. Do not exercise or do outdoor chores during the hottest hours of the day – typically between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. – and expect longer recovery time after exercise when heat and humidity are elevated.

Find a cool environment. If you do not have an air-conditioned home or car, try:

  • wearing light, breathable clothing
  • avoiding time in direct sunlight
  • spraying yourself with water and sitting in front of a fan
  • taking a cool bath or shower
  • placing a cold pack on your neck, armpit, or head
  • contacting your local health department about local heat-relief shelters

Check on friends, family, and neighbors. In a heat wave, take time to check in with your elderly neighbors, family, and friends to make sure they have the means to stay cool. If you encounter someone having the symptoms of heat stroke, call 911 to get them to an emergency room for evaluation and treatment.

Information used in this blog was obtained from The science of heat domes and how drought and climate change make them worse, Heat wave death concerns rise with historic temperatures. Why heat kills and what to do, Everything you need to know to stay safe during a heat wave, 3 tips for preventing heat stroke.

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7 Fun Ideas for the Visually Impaired to Enjoy This Summer

July 4th, Independence Day, for many is the “true” beginning of summer. Schools are out, beaches are booming, and people are generally more out and about enjoying parties and the outdoors. Regardless of your ability levels there are a myriad of things to enjoy during the summer months. If you or a loved one lives with any sort of visual impairments here are a few ideas to jumpstart your summer to a great start. The best part is that most of these options are available to enjoy year-round too!

Connect with Your Local Lions Club

One of the main missions for the Lions Club is to assist those persons with visual impairments. There are many ways in which they accomplish this, and some things will differ based on each individual club and what they can do.  Traditionally, Lions have helped members in their communities obtain eye exams, glasses, and access to white canes. Other ways that some clubs have helped is by providing VIP (Visually Impaired Persons) bingo nights, state hosted events such as summer camps or fishing. The only way to know what is available in your area is by contacting your local club and asking. You can find your local club through this link.

Take a Walking Tour with the Help of Be My Eyes App

Whether you are native to your neighborhood or just moved in chances are there are many locations (both new and old) that you have yet to explore. Check online to see if any sort of walking or online tour already exists, contact your local parks and recs department, or create your own journey. Grab a real or virtual friend to help you see the world around you. Be My Eyes is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.  Depending on your weather preference this option can be enjoyed year around.

Try New Foods

Trying new foods can be fun and exciting. Their touch, texture, and taste are just as important, if not more so, than their visual appearance. Have you ever tried raw oysters, escargot or frog’s legs? Maybe you have never had something as simple as sushi. Think of all the things you have yet to taste then go out and try something new. Not sure what to try first? Check out the Weird Food Bucket List: 60 Strange Foods From Around the World or The Food List Challenge’s 100 Foods to Try Before You Die.

Go to a Farmers Marker, Farm or Produce Stand

A farmers market can be a wonderful hands on experience to touch and sample a variety of vegetables and fruits you may not otherwise have a chance to taste. Some locations even give out free samples so do not be afraid to ask. Depending on which option (market, farm, or produce stand) you may also be given the opportunity to pick your own food. This is especially true when it comes to strawberries, but some areas allow for other produce to be self-picked as well.  This option is most prevalent during the summer months but often operate on a reduced day/hour schedule throughout the year as well. The USDA Local Food Directories: National Farmers Market Directory can help you find locations where 2 or more farm vendors are set up to sell produce.

Plant Something

Planting something, whether an indoor herb garden or a tree, bush, or flower bed, is an excellent hands-on experience that allows the gardener to engage all of their senses into the task. It can also develop into a lifelong hobby or interest. Advanced gardeners can even join area clubs and become certified as a Master Gardener.  Not sure what to plant or when? Check out The Old Farmer’s Almanac and input your zip code to find out.

Go to an Outdoor Summer Concert

Many towns across the nation will host free outdoor summer concert series starting around July. Simply go to your area’s website or Facebook page to enquire. These events are usually held in the heart of the town and will have vendors and/or food trucks set up to enjoy a light fare while you partake of the music.

Attend a Book Reading or Be Part of a Book Club

Reading, whether it be braille, large print, normal print, or an audio book can be a fun and immersive experience. It allows you to leave your normal world and dive headfirst into that of another. Both book clubs and book readings can be a fun way to combine this pastime in a more social environment. Sharing your love for the story, authors, or sharing common gripes about plot holes or things that you wish would have been written differently are all great ways to engage with your community. Signup for emails from your local library or join online book clubs to stay in the loop. Not sure where your local library is located? Both the WorldCat and the Libraries and Archives page put out by the US Government are great ways to locate your local library. If you are also looking for items in large print and braille that your local library may not have the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled is also a good choice.

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