Young Jamaican Animator Launches Arcade-Style Game App

A young animator, 24-year-old Stephen ‘Big Bomb’ Williamson, recently launched his  arcade-style game app called TapKat Fiesta.

Williamson is the director of Jamaica-based Island Interactive Studios, which is trading as Pandsoft. He launched the app in May.

As cellphone users turn to their mobile devices for entertainment, games such as Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja and Temple Run are becoming more popular.

Williamson hopes TapKat Fiesta will also attract the huge number of players these successful games have managed to garner.

TapKat is very simple and allows the player the tap the screen to shoot healing balls at mutated birds.

“You have to watch out for bomb birds that explode on impact and also make enough shots before you run out of fuel,” Williamson told the Jamaica Observer about his game. “It offers classic arcade game-play that mixes elements from Duck Hunt, Fruit Ninja and Sonic.”

Williamson was experienced in the realm of animation and producing digital content, so he knew how to create and market the game.

“Given our background in animation and how attractive the market was, we had already been producing content for marketing companies which represent various major brands, so producing digital content for a global market wasn’t such a great challenge,” he said.

However, he is aware that there are harder challenges ahead. While introducing the game to the market was easy, standing out among a sea of video game apps is difficult.

The success of games like Flappy Bird is rare and the creator of the extremely simple game manages to pull in $50,000 a day.

“An effective growth strategy has to be carefully planned and executed or else the game will just be another game in the app store,” he said.

As of today, TapKat has earned high reviews but has only drawn about 50 downloads in the Google Play market on Android.

While users said they loved the simple game play, some suggested a tutorial to give clearer instructions.

For now, users have to “learn as you go,” but the simplicity of the game allows them to catch on quickly.

If the game attracts more attention, Williamson is prepared to move forward and make his next move quickly.

“If it manages to do well on its own, that success will be short-lived so marketing decisions for successful games are considered before the game is started and continue to influence the design and growth process when the game is launched,” he said. “We plan to grow naturally, like that of a well-nurtured tree seeking sunlight in a forest.”

7 Black Scientists and Engineers Who Helped Make Space Travel Possible



Robert Shurney (1921-2007)

Dr. Robert Shurney was a physicist from Tennessee State University, who worked at NASA. As a Marshall Space Flight Center engineer, he accomplished several major and significant tasks for NASA, including designing the tires for the moon buggy used during the Apollo 15 mission in 1972. His ingenious design used wire mesh in the place of rubber to save weight, yet still provide the needed flexibility.


Christine Darden(1942-)

Christine Darden is an award-winning mathematician and mechanical engineer, who has worked with NASA since 1966 and became a recognized leader in the reduction of shock waves from spacecraft wings and nose cones.

After starting out as a data analyst for NASA, Darden was promoted to aerospace engineer in 1973 and moved into various leadership positions. In 1989, she was appointed technical leader of NASA’s Sonic Boom Group of the Vehicle Integration Branch of the High Speed Research Program, where she was responsible for developing the sonic boom research program internally at NASA.

In October 1994, Darden became the deputy program manager of The TU-144 Experiments Program, an element of NASA’s High Speed Research Program; and in 1999, she was appointed as the director in the Program Management Office of the Aerospace Performing Center at Langley Research Center where she was responsible for Langley research in air traffic management and other aeronautics programs managed at other NASA Centers.

Darden also served as technical consultant on numerous government and private projects, and she is the author of more than fifty publications in the field of high-lift wing design in supersonic flow, flap design, sonic boom prediction, and sonic boom minimization.


Emmett Chappelle (1925-)

Emmett W. Chappelle is a scientist who made valuable contributions in several fields, including medicine, philanthropy, food science and astrochemistry.

In 1958, Chappelle joined the Research Institute for Advanced Studies where he discovered that one-celled plants could convert carbon dioxide to oxygen. This discovery helped to create a safe oxygen supply for astronauts. In 1966, he joined NASA where his research focus was bioluminescence, which is light without heat. He discovered a method for instantly detecting bacteria in water and developed techniques that are still widely used for the detection of bacteria in urine, blood, spinal fluids, drinking water and foods.

Chappelle has been honored as one of the 100 most distinguished African-American scientists of the 20th century, and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007 for his discovery of the lyophilized reaction mixtures  on January 21, 1969, for which he received one of his 14 patents.


Patricia Cowings (1948-)

Dr. Patricia Cowings is a psychologist who has been conducting space flight research for NASA and became the first woman in America to be trained as a scientist astronaut. Although she never made it to space, she has spent her 34-year career at NASA making it better for those who do.

Cowings helps astronauts better adapt to space by studying the effects of gravity on human physiology and performance. She was instrumental in developing and patenting the autogenic-feedback training exercise, a treatment for space motion sickness and headaches.


Shelby Jacobs (1935-)

Shelby Jacobs was a mechanical engineer, who worked on the Apollo space shuttle program. These projects, including the Apollo-Soyuz orbiter space shuttle program for which he was the project manager, are still considered to be one of the most remarkable engineering achievements in the history of mankind.

Jacobs later went on to design the propulsion systems and hydraulics instrumentation, which included a camera ejection system in 1965. He is best known for his role in the design, installation and testing of the camera system, which flew on the unmanned Apollo 6 flight in April 1968. The video footage of the separation between the first and second stages of the shuttle is one of the most repeated images in space history.


Dr. Vance Marchbanks (1905-1973)

Dr. Vance Marchbanks was a heart surgeon and medical specialist for NASA. During his time there, Marchbanks helped develop ways to monitor astronauts’ vital signs during space flight. It was Marchbanks who was responsible for John Glenn’s health during America’s first orbital flight.


George Carruthers (1939-)

Dr. George Carruthers was an astronautical engineer, who built camera systems for NASA that produced some of the most enduring images from space. Carruthers is responsible for developing the far ultraviolet camera/spectrograph for the 1972 Apollo 16 mission, which was used to build the first and only moon-based observatory.

In 1970, using a sounding rocket, Carruthers made the first detection of molecular hydrogen in space. He also developed a rocket instrument that obtained an ultraviolet image of Halley’s Comet, and an instrument with two cameras, with different far-UV wavelength sensitivities, used on the STS-39 space shuttle mission in 1991.

Romona Foster, Social Media Marketing Expert, Talks to Blerds About Finding Her Niche

Romona Foster, a Pennsylvania native, never imagined that her skills as an events planner would lead her to have a strong role in the tech field as a social media consultant. She is revered for her training style and her expertise in social media management and marketing. Foster shares her unexpected journey to becoming a social media trainer and consultant.

Q: What are three words you would use to describe your professional journey?

The first word that I would use to describe this journey is unimaginable. I would have not imagined in a million years that I would be doing what it is that I’m doing today. And I love what I do.

The second word would be difficult. When I first started doing social media management and marketing, I was out of work. Getting to this place where I am now was hard, and many people admire where I am and often think it just happened. It took a lot of hard work.

The last and final word would be amazing. When I look back at the times when I was down and out, I think about how far I have come, and the journey has been amazing. To know that people are looking for me, asking me to be places to help them, are excited about what I have to offer after all this time is still amazing to me. I thank God for the opportunity. Without Him, I wouldn’t be here.

Q: Social media management is definitely a fairly new profession in the technology industry. How far back would you date it?

For me personally, I would say 2003. This is from what I have seen. When I teach my classes, it’s important for me to share facts, and one that I share is that LinkedIn started in 2003. At that time, I didn’t know it even existed. It wasn’t until 2006 that I created a profile. Someone sent me a request. I opened an account and then didn’t look back until about 2010. According to Tom Standage (digital editor of the Economist), social media is actually 2,000 years old. He talks about his philosophy on why it is so old in an article on Tech Crunch. It’s very interesting. You should check it out.

Q: ‘Difficult’ was one of the words you used to describe your journey. What was difficult about it?

Well in 2007, I left my real job, as they would say. I was going to George Washington University for event planning and management. The program required that students do a full-time internship and 160 practicum hours. I completed everything in 2008. Unfortunately, when I was done, I couldn’t find a job; 2008 — that was when the economic crash happened, and so jobs were scarce.

Naturally, I was concerned about what I was going to do about making money. During my internship and practicum, I was building websites, doing email marketing and administrative work. So while I was unemployed, I began to assist people with those things.

Many of the [projects] I received were by request. I would go online and look things up, and then I would teach myself how to do it. I would do a lot of research, a lot of reading, and sometimes I would sign up for free trials for different programs and platforms just to gain skills to effectively help my clients.

About a year after doing this, my pastor asked me to build a Facebook page for the church. I said OK, but, in my mind, I was skeptical about doing it. Most of what I knew about Facebook was that people tend to post their personal business on the site, and that turned me off.  After I did the page, other people started coming to me and asking me about how to use Facebook and LinkedIn. I had no picture on my LinkedIn page, but I updated it and started showing people how to do things but for free.

A couple of years later, I had an idea. I wondered if I did teach a class on social media management and marketing would people come. I decided to try, and so I secured a small venue and advertised the class via email and through an online calendar.

Five people showed up. When the class ended and I did the math of what I made in two hours from five people, I was amazed. The cool thing was that the people who came were people who didn’t know me at all but were interested in what I could teach them. One of the five participants expressed the class was too short and she would have liked more. So I did another class for three hours, and the feedback from that was that that class was too short. So I started a boot camp course that lasted six hours. I could not believe that I could hold people’s interest for six hours. That’s how I got started with the training component of my work. I have to give my pastor credit because if he hadn’t asked me to create that Facebook page, I might not have ever done it.

Q: You mention that you did a lot of research and reading to learn more about social media marketing. Would you say that the time you put into researching exceeded the profits you made when you started?

Yes. In the beginning, I was doing a lot more research than I was making money. Looking back now, I can say that all that reading, researching and learning was all worth it. And now, I don’t have to do that much research, but I do keep informed by reading articles and stay up to date on changing trends and new platforms.

Q: Would you consider yourself an entrepreneur in the technology field?

Yes, I would consider myself an entrepreneur of sorts — or more specifically an independent consultant.

Q: What does a typical workday look like for you?

The first thing I do when I get up at around 5 in the morning is to start posting on various platforms for my clients. My workday consists of meeting with clients, conducting webinars and trainings.

Q: You will be facilitating a workshop at the Code(Her) conference Sept. 13 in Chevy Chase, Maryland. What are some things that attendees can look forward to?

They can look forward to learning new tips and tricks that will help them manage their social media platforms in 60 minutes or less. Many of the people I train are often social media managers, so I hope that if that is the audience for the conference that they walk away learning something new. What I hope happens is that they feel more empowered about the work they are doing and realize that social media management and marketing does not take forever.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring social media managers?

My advice is to learn as much as you can in school about social media management and marketing. However, understand that even after you gain formal training in your school, don’t assume the learning stops there. Many people consider me an expert in this field, but I don’t. Simply because I know there is always some knowledge to be gained, hence why I am always reading about new changes each and every day. I would also encourage them to get into the habit of creating a content calendar.

Q: What is a content calendar?

A content calendar is similar to an editorial calendar for a magazine. Where the editors have each issue planned out a year in advance. For me, I usually create a content calendar for my clients 30 days out. That doesn’t always work depending on how often information is coming in. So some clients need updating every day because of how quickly the information comes in.

Q: What are your overall thoughts about women, specifically women of color, in the STEM fields?

I feel like I can only talk about the technology piece, but as far as technology is concerned, know that there are a lot of women of color in the tech industry, but I have to say that I don’t run into them. And the only reason I know this is because I see them on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t see a lot of women in my region doing what I do. Many of my trainees tell me that they don’t see anyone that looks like me doing what I do.

I hope that more women of color will surface in this field. This is a great profession. It is constantly evolving.


Broadcast by Blerds: New Technology Drives DIY Radio, TV

The dawn of podcasts (the digital medium of episodic audio-recordings that can be downloaded or streamed online) circa 2004, ushered in a new era of independently owned and produced media. Podcasts, a mash-up between the words “broadcast” and “pod,” of iPod fame, have become a popular platform for marginalized voices.

Essentially only requiring a recording device, an Internet connection and a podcast hosting website, podcasts are relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, allowing content creators to produce episodes regularly and frequently.

During the first half of the 20th century, radio broadcasting functioned as the foremost medium for delivering relevant news, music, public affairs, and current events to largely Black audiences. Black radio also played an important role in the development of disc jockeys with powerful on-air personalities that strongly influenced musical tastes and provided discourse and commentary on current events, such as the Civil Rights Movement.

However, with payola scandals and increased corporate sponsorship came increased censorship, standardized scheduling, pressure for ratings, and less focus on issues of concern to the audiences the radio stations were catering to.

In the Internet and smartphone age, podcasts have become a reclamation of radio broadcasting, opening the door  for those who typically have been shut out from producing radio shows where they do not have the backing of corporate sponsorships, access to stations, experience and training, or resources for broadcasting equipment. Many local, community-run organizations, such as PhillyCam in Philadelphia, teach workshops on how to produce podcasts, or provide shared broadcasting space, community radio stations and other resources.

Podcasting opens up the space for important cross-generational conversations, as youth and older generations alike can produce, or tune in to podcast and internet radio shows with the click of a button.

During many shows, the hosts will live tweet, take calls, or open a chat room to broaden the discussion across various platforms. In this way, podcasts deepen the connections and conversations that take place through the Internet, expanding them out in ways that a character-limited textbox cannot always capture.

The audio encapsulated on podcasts, easily archived and shareable, digitizes the oral traditions of our ancestors, allowing us to honor these traditions and tell our stories in ways that gel with our 21st century realities and technologies.

A look at the podcast scene reveals that self-described Black nerds are very active in producing all types of Internet radio shows, and in doing so, are helping to shift the image of the typical nerd to a more realistic view – that no one color, creed, culture, or gender dominates nerd culture.

Podcasts also expand cultural safe spaces for Black nerds who can express themselves directly and personally with other like-minded Black nerds. Below is a list of 9 podcasts and Internet radio shows catering to Black fandom, nerd/geek culture, pop culture, sci-fi, tech, comics, horror, and more.

What are your favorite Black alternative or nerd culture podcasts?

1. Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are, in a world where the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is considered an anomaly.

The BGN Podcast broadcasts weekly and is available for download on iTunes.

2. Black Tribbles

The 2014 winners of the Philly Geek Awards for Streaming Media Project, the Black Tribbles toss around sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons and anything a geek would love, twice weekly on G-town and 900AM WURD.

The Black Tribbles reveal untold stories of geek history, showcase new and upcoming projects, engage in thought-provoking conversation and provide critical insight into a culture that is often devoid of Black influence; all with a humorous irreverent tone that delights as it educates.

3. Black Girls Talking

A pop-culture podcast with four Black women discussing representation of people of color in various forms of media.

4. Black Science Fiction Society

A community that highlights, celebrates and develops science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, horror, movies and games. Every Friday evening, BSFS hosts Genesis Radio with sci-fi author William Hyashi and Penelope Flynne.

The pair discuss relevant topics in science fiction from a Black perspective with special guest authors, illustrators, producers, and other Black sci-fi creators.

5. Blerds on Nerds

#SpreadtheNerd with Blerds on Nerds, a weekly podcast discussing the past week’s highlights in technology, movies, gaming and comics, while paying homage to Black nerds who have paved the way for us all.

6. Geek Soul Brother

Join Geek Soul Brother and The Five Nerdy Venoms in a conversation about the geek universe, including movies, television, comics and special topics, from the old school to the new geeky stuff coming out soon.

7. 3 Black Geeks

Three Black guys reppin’ all geeks everywhere, reviewing the best Black movies, martial arts, action, anime/manga, comics, and everything that white people think Black people aren’t into.

8. Fan Bros

The voice of the urban geek, Fan Bros discusses the week in geek while keeping an ear to the street for the topics and controversies that affect the world of fandom.

Show hosts DJ BenHaMeen and Tatiana King-Jones serve as the cultural guides for this unique show, along with a revolving cast of guests that run the gamut of interests – -from hip-hop and politics, to comics, movies, television and video games.

9. The Black Geeks Radio

A bunch of Black geeks get together and chaos ensues as they discuss movies, television, comics, technology, video games, and all things geek.

Rasheedah Phillips is a Philadelphia public interest attorney, speculative fiction writer, the creator of The AfroFuturist Affair, and a founding member of She recently independently published her first speculative fiction collection, “Recurrence Plot (and Other Time Travel Tales).”

7 Black Nerd Events Worth Attending in 2014

Did you tell yourself that this year would be different, and you were going to be a better professional by attending more conferences? Did you have hopes of expanding your professional network, improving your technical skills, or building your brand?

Were you hoping to get out and mingle with like-minded people who enjoy art in its various forms but haven’t had the chance? Are you disappointed in yourself because it’s almost the end of summer and you have not signed up for one conference or gone to one event?

The summer may be coming to a swift close but the year is not over yet. Here are some worthy conferences and events that you can still check out before 2015 rolls around.


1.Chicago Writers Conference

What: The Chicago Writers Conference is a conference for writers and those aspiring to be writers. The two-day conference offers programs and workshops to help attendees improve their writing skills.

When: Oct. 24-26

Where: Chicago, Illinois,

How: The conference supports writers by providing immersive writing courses and workshops that are focused on skill building such as, writing for the stage and screen, and finding your voice. It also features discussions from bestselling authors.


2. NSBE Professional Development Conference

What: The National Society for Black Engineers is hosting its third annual Professional Development Conference. The three-day conference is meant to create a space for professionals to network, improve skills, and engage with leaders in the industry.

When: Oct 2-Oct 5

Where: Phoenix, Arizona

How: Networking and skill building will occur through a variety of ways, and attendees will have the opportunity to receive one-on-one mentoring through the Executive Mentoring Suite.

There are a series of workshops that cover topics related to increasing success in the field. For example “Networking on the Green”  addresses how to use nontraditional networking skills on and off the golf course.


3. Art Miami

What: An international contemporary and modern artist fair. The fair brings in collection curators, museum professionals, and artists from all over the world. Important artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries will be showcased.

Where: Downtown Miami

When: Dec. 2

How: The fair encompasses seminars, Understanding the Artist: Permanence is Forever, a curator brunch that allows them to mingle and network with other curators around the world, and a variety exhibits.


4. Code(Her) Conference

What: A one-day conference that allows women interested in the tech industry to build a professional network, increase their knowledge of changing trends in the field, learn and improve skills.

When: Sept. 13

Where: Chevy Chase, Md.

How: The Code(Her) conference is unique as it has a series of immersive workshops to help women network and build skills to be competitive in the tech field. The workshops focus on everything from cyber security to branding through social media.


5. The Lean Startup Conference

What: The Lean Startup Conference has been helping entrepreneurs build networks and skills for the past five years. The conference gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who have proven success with their startups.

It allows participants to get the answers to questions such as: How can I get internal services like IT, finance, legal, and HR to act like startups and serve entrepreneurial teams throughout my organization? As well as questions that cover how to get buy-ins from leaders and managers to support entrepreneurial methods.

When: Dec. 8 – 12

Where: San Francisco, California

How: Attendees gain knowledge and support through a series of workshops, sessions, one-on-one meetings, Q&A panels, and group dinners over the course of five days.


6. DC Shorts Film Festival

What: A 10-day festival where the world’s top short films are screened to a wide audience. For this year, over 100 films will be screened from 25 countries. The main purpose of the fair is to create a space for filmmakers and lovers of film to mix and mingle and enjoy great cinematic art.

When: Sept. 11-21

Where: Several locations in Washington, D.C.

How: The film festival helps individuals engage with each other through film screenings, parties, and workshops and competitions.


7. Urban Tech Weekend

What: A two-day conference hosted by the National Black Info Tech Leadership Organization. The goal of the conference is to narrow the diversity gap for Black and Latino-Americans in the technology field.

When: Sept. 25-27

Where: Houston, Texas

How: The conference supports Black and Latino-Americans through networking from various companies. Also available will be  panels with speakers who are leaders in the tech fields, workshops,  and mentorship opportunities.

Today in History: Inventor Alexander Ashbourne, Refiner of Coconut Oil

There is very little known about the inventor Alexander Ashbourne (c. 1820-1915). Aspects of his early life are unknown and undocumented. Ashbourne was born into slavery circa 1820 in Philadelphia, and lived to be 95 years old. He moved to Oakland, California, in the 1880s to run his own grocery store. However, his greatest invention still lives on today.

Ashbourne is best known for his patents that made coconut oil accessible for domestic use.

Today in history, Ashbourne received a patent for treating coconut on Aug. 21, 1877. He received patent number 194,287  for his process. The process for refining the oil includes: filtration, bleaching, heated to a very high temperature, and it is hydrogenated to ensure that no unsaturated fatty acids are left in the oil. The process was difficult at the time because there was a lack of technological advancement. Ashbourne was revolutionary. His process is still used today and has been built upon by food companies worldwide.

He also gained a patent for a process for preparing coconut oil on July 27, 1880. He started working on this refining process in 1875, and continued until 1880.

Thanks to his work, coconut oil is used in hair products, foods and scented products.

In addition to coconut refining, Ashbourne patented his biscuit cutter invention on May 11, 1875. Before the biscuit cutter, cooks had to shape biscuits by hand.

The spring-loaded cutter had a board to load biscuits and unload them easily. There was a metal plate with various shapes. The cook could push down on the plate to cut the dough into shapes.

5 Cartoon Blerds of the ’80s Who Shaped the Blerds of Today

If you’re like me, then you were a Black nerd (“Blerd”) who came of age during the 1980s. You were probably a socially awkward kid who loved not-yet-cool stuff,  like comic books, science fiction, fantasy, computer games, and Dungeons and Dragons. It’s also likely that you had a physical appearance that could best be described as “in progress.” Making friends wasn’t your strong suit, and your parents didn’t know what to do with you since you weren’t involved in athletics, but stayed out of trouble. Finding people who understood you was difficult, but there was one outlet you could turn to for self-actualization: cartoons.

There were two features that made the cartoons of the 1980s better than previous decades. First, the art was better. The growing popularity of anime (“Japanimation”) provided a style that cartoon creators tried to import or emulate. Second, there was a focus on diversity. Quick, name a Black character in “The Flintstones?” How about in “The Jetsons?” If you’re struggling, that’s because most of those pre-1980s cartoons had all white casts. However, the ’80s provided a wealth of diverse casts with strong Black characters. And, somewhat surprisingly, many of them were Blerds.

Here’s a roundup of five cartoon Blerds from the 1980s and the lessons they provided for Blerds of today. The first four are examples of great Blerd role models, but the last one is a cautionary tale.

1. Walter “Doc” Hartford

Series: The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers (1986 – 1989)

Description: Mixing Star Wars with the American Western genre, this series was set in the future when interstellar space travel became possible. The cartoon followed the story of four “rangers” who could unlock superhuman powers by touching their badges and unlocking their Series 5 implants. The four rangers were Zachary Foxx, Shane “Goose” Gooseman, Niko, and, of course, Walter “Doc” Hartford.

Blerd Bonafides: Doc was a master technologist who was responsible for most of the technology used by the team. His Series 5 implant augmented his already immense mastery of computers. Doc’s mobile computer also carried six pet programs (called “tweakers”) that looked like flying sparks of light and helped him understand and control almost any type of technology.

What Doc Taught Us: Being a master of computers doesn’t mean you can’t be cool. Always remaining calm and maintaining an impeccable set of manners can get you far in life. Also, a sense of humor makes you more attractive in both platonic and romantic relationships. However, being mannerly doesn’t make you a punk. Draw your weapons with the quickness when necessary. Finally, before fixing a technology problem, confidently saying out loud, “The doctor will now operate,” increases your chance of success to almost 100 percent.

2. J.D. ‘IQ’ Bennett

Series: Bionic Six (1987 – 1989)

Description: Set in the near future, this show followed a family of bionically enhanced superheroes. They included Bionic-1 (the father), Mother-1 (the mother), Sport-1 (their biological son), Rock-1 (their biological daughter), Karate-1 (their adopted Japanese son), and, the Blerd of the family, IQ (their adopted Black son).

Blerd Bonafides: While IQ is the strongest member of the team, his bionics provided him with super-human intelligence. He is often tasked with providing technological solutions to problems faced by the family or come up with smart solutions to difficult problems.

What IQ Taught Us: You can have a quiet personality and still be an effective team member. While others (sometimes including family members) may try to claim the spotlight with their oversized egos, an introspective nature provides the ability to find innovative answers that they will overlook. Being consistently good is better than momentary flashes of greatness.

3. Baldwin P. ‘Bulletproof’ Vess

Series: COPS (1988 – 1989)

Description: This cartoon was set in the year 2020 and followed a special group of law enforcement agents called COPS (Central Organization of Police Specialists). Their members came from all over the United States and represented various types of law enforcement personnel including vice, K-9, motorcycle patrol, helicopter patrol, and others. They were led by Bulletproof who was given a cybernetic torso after being critically injured during a fight with the main antagonist of the show.

Blerd Bonafides: While rarely using technology, Bulletproof was living technology. His torso consisted of an android replacement that, in keeping with his nickname, made him impervious to gunfire. He also had a computer port in his bionic torso that he could use to attach a cable to machines and control them. His torso also had storage areas that held disks. He could attach these disks to machines that would short-circuit or destroy them.

What Bulletproof Taught Us: Your intimacy with technology can sometimes result in distance between you and others, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a great team leader. In fact, your ability to be objective is an invaluable asset when mediating conflicts between team members. Also, while you may not immediately share it with everyone, always have a plan.

4. Edward ‘Turbo’ Hayes

Series: Rambo: The Force of Freedom (1986)

Description: Capitalizing off the tremendous success of the Rambo movies of the early 1980s, this cartoon portrayed a toned- down Rambo, who is the leader of a special operations group called the Force of Freedom. His team included Katherine Ann Taylor (an Asian master of disguise), White Dragon (also Asian), T.D. Jones, Chief (Native American), and the Blerd of the team, Edward “Turbo” Hayes, a mechanical engineer, pilot, and race car driver.

Blerd Bonafides: Turbo provided the technology tools used by the team and usually handled their transportation needs, whether it was a plane or vehicle. He was always called upon to fix any electrical or mechanical problem.

What Turbo Taught Us: While most of the cartoons of the 1980s focused on the team concept, this one always reinforced Rambo’s superiority. This meant that Rambo often had to “save the day” when the actions of his team mates were portrayed as ineffective.

You may work in an environment with one or more Rambo-type, who excels at emphasizing their accomplishments and making it seem like your contribution is not as important. If that’s the case, you should stay calm, play your position and focus on flawless delivery of your own work. That’s the best way to position yourself for the next opportunity.

5. Black Vulcan

Series: Super Friends (1980 – 1985)

Description: If you were a kid in the 1980s, then you definitely remember the Super Friends cartoons. What you may not remember is that there were several incarnations of the show including The All-New Super Friends Hour and  Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show. The cartoon featured popular DC Comics heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but the creators introduced three characters that did not exist in the comics at the time. They were Apache Chief (Native American), Samurai (Asian), and Black Vulcan (African-American).

Blerd Bonafides: Black Vulcan was a master of electricity with the ability to fire lightning bolts from his hands and fly by transforming his lower torso into electricity. He could also use his powers to fix circuit boards by soldering them, which hints at some level of expertise in electrical engineering.

What Black Vulcan Taught Us: Black Vulcan was an unfortunate example of how to not be a Blerd. He demonstrated that even being an electrical wizard is no replacement for an identity. Everyone else on the Super Friends had a real name, but Black Vulcan was always just Black Vulcan. He also had no back story that explained how he got his powers. You have to let people know that you’re a person with a history outside of work or you risk being treated as an inferior.

If Batman ever runs late for a meeting, then his team mates can say, “Hey, he’s billionaire Bruce Wayne so we’ll cut him some slack.” Or, if Superman ever drops the ball, then it’s understood that he’s reporter Clark Kent so he has to maintain his journalism gig. But, Black Vulcan? He has no excuse.

So, get your work done, but let everyone know you have a personality as well as a personal life. Otherwise, you risk being painted with stereotypes and discarded during times of stress (e.g., layoffs, recessions, etc.)

Anjuan Simmons has worked in the technology industry for over two decades. He is also the author of “Minority Tech: Journaling Through Blackness and Technology” ( You can find out more about him at

Jason Young’s App, Thrive and Shine, Sheds Light on Finances For College Students

Jason Young is the co-founder of MindBlown Labs, an Oakland-based tech company that is responsible for creating an innovative and educational learning tool called Thrive and Shine. The main goal of the app is to increase financial literacy and capability for young Americans.

Young said he “had an idea” and with right help and support, Thrive and Shine was born.  The Harvard  University graduate was just recently appointed to the Special Advisory Council on Financial  Capability for Young Americans by President Obama. This new responsibility has afforded him more access, resources and support to improve  financial capability for our youth.

Q. When you think about young people being financially capable/literate what does that mean to you?

So what that really means to me is that they have the knowledge, skills, mindset and trained behaviors necessary to make financial decisions that will impact their lives.

Q.The national retention rate for college is so low, how much of that do you think is directly attributed to students being financially illiterate?

There are a lot of factors which impact college retention, but I do think that financial literacy and financial capability are very important factors. Financial literacy is having the knowledge, and financial capability is broader. Financial literacy is actual a part of financial capability. A lot of students going to college are not financially capable. They don’t understand how to finance college. My second oldest brother dropped out of college because he didn’t understand the financial aid process and didn’t know where to look for money so he couldn’t pay tuition.

On the other hand, I think there’s another factor which is the understanding of the long-term ramifications of going to college and not finishing. Most students don’t think of college as a financial decision. They don’t understand that, so they don’t understand the decision they’re making when they choose to drop out or to continue.

I think if a lot more students understood that they will still be paying those student loans 10 years later, whether or not they finish, then they would understand the significant impact college could have on income. Knowing that would allow them to make very different choices.

Q. How do you see Thrive and Shine being used as way to help students think about college as a financial decision?

So the high-level answer is that Thrive and Shine does a good job of helping students do what they can’t do in real life, which is to see the consequences of their actions in real time. I think that’s very powerful. Specifically with regards to college, the next version coming out this fall actually will cover the impact of a college education on earning potential, as well as student loans. This will allow them the choice to actually go to college and see what happens if they don’t finish. They can see what happens when they take out loans and they can see what happens if they take out too many loans.

Q.Do they see what happens with private vs. federal loans?

It doesn’t get that detailed, but we’re building a curriculum around that and the curriculum will go into that detail.

Q.In thinking about the curriculum, how would you advise college access counselors to use Thrive and Shine as learning tool for students?

In terms of how it can be used, first and foremost we see it as a tool to get students excited just about the idea of money and some of the concepts related to money. So for most students who haven’t even had a job, how do you talk to them about student loans when they literally don’t understand how much a tank of gas costs?  If they haven’t had a job, they can’t make those kinds of cost relations. The idea is to help them create those connections and not just on individual topics but systematically, which allows them to see how the cost of college relates to their own life.

Now in terms of these particular topics, we’re building experiential curriculum and the idea is to have students play the game, have them become used to the concepts, get excited about those concepts and then the instructor, teacher, or counselor will talk to them about their experiences in the game.

From there, they can build upon those experiences to go more in-depth. Instead of talking about federal vs. private student loans or interests rates, they can talk about the student’s avatar, what happened when student loans were taken out, what happened when the avatar graduated. If the avatar doesn’t graduate, then students can discuss options like what it means to take out loans and not finish college, or what it means to finance college through scholarships or what it means to consider attending a more affordable college.

Essentially, the student and the instructor start to have that conversation and it’s based on at least some part of the student’s reality.

Q.You have an economics background from Harvard. Did your economics background make it challenging for you to create Thrive and Shine?

Well, I definitely had to build an entire to team to do this. There are eight people working on this full-time right now. A lot of the times when people hear you say you created an app they think “Oh wow, that’s easy.” The truth is it takes time and  a lot of energy.

The fact that it’s an educational app adds another layer of complexity. There was a definite learning curve for me when I started working on Thrive and Shine. I actually went to work for a startup before doing this. I worked there for several years learning about technology and working with developers and even then, coming out, there was still a huge learning curve.

I would say it was challenging, but I mean most things worthwhile are challenging. It takes a lot of time and effort. You have to learn and you also have to make sure you have good people around you. This is a team effort. I didn’t build this app. I had an idea. I recruited a team. It really requires a lot of really smart and passionate people and a lot of time. It was very iterative. We had the concepts, we designed it, and we built a little piece of it, and tested it. Overall we’ve tested with nearly 4,000 students and thankfully, before we consider the app to be truly complete, we’ll have tested with 10,000 or 20,000 students.


Q. Thrive and Shine is visually stimulating and engaging. What was the process around tackling the artistic aspects of the app?

Well, most financial literacy instruction just doesn’t work in part because it’s not engaging.

Our No. 1 mandate was to make sure this game was engaging. We wanted to make sure we were creating something students could relate to.  In terms of the avatar, that was also a major focus. What we found at the rudimentary level was that students really engage with the avatar. We had students who played it for 40 or more hours in their free time and they expressed that they wanted their avatar to be successful, so they sent her to college but now they want to help her pay off the loans.

Some expressed that when they stopped playing the game their avatar was sad, so they went back and played some more.  The feedback from the students let us know that the avatar played a key role in the application which was something we didn’t learn from creating it. As a result of the feedback, we invested a lot of resources to rebuild the avatar system from scratch.

Q.This year you were appointed to the Special Advisory Council on Financial  Capability for Young Americans.  What are some of the things you and the other council members are already discussing as far as new initiatives and policies to improve financial capability for young people?

I can only say so much about we’re doing at this point. What I will say is that the council is different from previous councils because it places a large emphasis on public-private partnerships, as well as on partnerships between the members of the council.

We are also more focused on young people and that is huge. We are looking at how we as members can do things and have an impact. One of the things we are focusing on is how we can get high-quality financial capability instruction more widespread so that students, particularly from lower-income backgrounds, can have more access.

Q.Does that mean that you might be going into the schools asking questions?

It’s very likely that we would. Another piece of that is that a lot of the organizations represented in the council work with young people.

 Q.What factors do you think play into the African-American community as a whole as financially illiterate?

I think that as with many things, African-Americans are not doing as well with financial literacy but everyone is doing horrible. Part of it is socio-economic. Ninety-five percent of students graduate financially illiterate. Even up through the middle class, which means our youth don’t know anything about money.

It’s more pronounced in the African-American community because there is a higher level of poverty and a lot more single-parent households and so those issues get exacerbated. However, on a broader spectrum most people are financially illiterate. Most parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about money. So as nation, no one is teaching financial literacy and what it means to be financially capable to our youth.

I think in the African-American community, that gets exacerbated because there are all these other negative cultural influences that promote the exact opposite of financial literacy. But once again, that is a microcosm of what has happened in American culture in general.

We have rap, we have hip-hop which promotes some very negative values these days, at least the mainstream version of it. At the same time, you have The Bachelor and the Real Housewives which essentially promote the same negative values. Financial illiteracy is  not an issue unique to the African-American community.

Financial literacy is a necessity for the nation as whole.


Do You Know the Difference Between Options and Opportunities?

As the summer vacation season quickly draws to a close, I am reminded of the scores of African-American students, young and old,  who will descend onto various places of higher learning to either begin or continue their journey toward that mythical destination known as  “a profession,” in the hopes of finding the elusive career vs. an ordinary job.

Yet before any one of them can realize a true profession — let alone a career — they must learn a critical lesson that is unfortunately often not taught to these students, yet is what often determines who among them will achieve success (whatever that success might look like) and who will know the soul-numbing, joy-stealing ache of failure.

What is this critical lesson that is often withheld from our best and brightest?

It is understanding the dynamic yet subtle relationship between opportunities ( for example, university vs. trade school) and options (for example, UCLA or USC vs. UTI or ITT), while having the courage to consciously make choices instead of simply going along with what you’re handed — that is, letting someone else choose for you.

In this piece we’ll examine the former — opportunities vs. options. The latter — conscious decision-making — we’ll leave for another time.

Opportunities are best defined as “a set of circumstances that make it possible to do something,” while options are best defined as “a thing that is or may be chosen.”

So based upon the definitions, we see that while opportunities contain options, options don’t necessarily contain opportunities. It is very important that young African-Americans who are pursing professions understand this subtle yet important difference. You want to make sure everything you are doing drives the creation of opportunities rather than options. Success is more often than not the result of given set of circumstances (opportunities) that allows you  “to go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm,” as Winston Churchill once said.

It is opportunity (not options) that explains why Michael Vick was able to resume his professional football career, while Allen Iverson basically has been exiled from professional basketball.

Options only give you the chance to choose between what “you will have;” Google Iverson and see what he had and lost as $200 million buys a lot of stuff.

Opportunities give you the chance to create more opportunities. As Sun Tzu noted, “Opportunities multiply as they are seized,” thus they enable you to choose what “you will be;” Google Michael Vicks’ 60 Minutes interview and hear him describe what he has become due to opportunities from his incarceration and a second chance in the NFL.

When Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” he was referencing the power of opportunity, as it’s only through opportunity do you get the ability to make the kind of choices that impact the person you are or will become.

So for those of you who are starting your collegiate careers, think carefully about your choice of major. Psychology or sociology, often a favorite, might be interesting or even considered “easy” but as Ann Landers said, “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work so people don’t recognize them.”  If I were you I’d be leery of anything “easy” as few (if any) opportunities await within.

To those who are already well down the path of a given major, look for ways to maximize your opportunities upon graduation. While often not easy nor convenient, changing institutions is often a way to increase your opportunities;  a psychology degree from University of Southern California (USC) carries with it more opportunities than one from Long Beach State (CSU-LB).

So I leave you with the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready.”

So what will you be? For that, my friends, is the only question.

 Tre Green is a 25yr veteran of the IT industry who specializes in solving “mission impossible” for Fortune 500 organizations. When not adding to his frequent flier miles and preferred guest status Tre can be often be found at home relaxing with his motely crew of pets.

Power to the Tweeple

When crisis hits, the most natural and human reaction is to want to help those who are suffering. After a hurricane, we send clothes and rebuild houses. After a terrorist attack, we mourn together and reaffirm our devotion to our nation. But after social injustice hits us, we don’t know what to do.

How can we help? What can a person in Seattle, Dallas or any town in America do to ease the pain of a mother grieving for her son, or fight a system built on a tradition of racism and injustice?

In this, as in most things, technology provides us with an answer and an opportunity.

The phrase “hashtag advocacy” has been derided, debunked and devalued. Countless bloggers, critics and media personalities have poked fun at people who tweet as a response to a crisis somewhere in the world. They say that 140 characters can’t change anything, that if you speak against injustice without immediately giving away all of your worldly possessions and devoting your life to a cause, that it doesn’t make a difference. That if you’re tweeting #IamTrayvon one day and #BringBackOurGirls the next, you’re flighty and just following a trend.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. We don’t tweet for justice for Trayvon Martin, the return of the stolen girls in Nigeria, and the crises in Ferguson, Mo., and the Gaza Strip because we’re being trendy. Social tweets are not an equivalent to a day trip to Forever 21.

We tweet because there is so much injustice, so much anger and pain and so many, many causes that need our help, that sometimes the best we can do is call attention by screaming out loud in the one way that is sure to be heard. We use hashtags to prove that we are not alone in our feelings, but that there are hundreds, thousands, millions of voices who believe what we believe, who are angered and appalled at the world around us. We use hashtags to prove that we cannot be ignored.

Hashtag advocacy leads to media stories, leads to organized protests, leads to attention, leads to change. Just ask the tweeters of the Arab Spring.

Hashtags pressured the cops to arrest George Zimmerman.

Hashtags forced the government to act in Nigeria.

Hashtags got celebrity chef Paula Deen fired.

Hashtags allowed the people of #Ferguson to tell their story even when the police tried to push the media out.

Is hashtag advocacy a solution? Of course not. It’s a tool, a way to bring together a chorus of voices to aid, assist and force action. It’s vocal protest, in 140 characters or less. Like all protest, it requires action. We can’t all fight for everything, but we can lend our voices to each other’s causes, to help each other in the fight.

Hashtags organize protests, on-the-ground movements that prove that people aren’t just willing to type, they’re willing to stand for what they believe in. Hundreds of thousands of people have shown solidarity for Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown in organized protests around the country. And because of those movements, because of hashtag advocacy, Zimmerman was arrested and tried (no comment on the result, jurors aren’t allowed to read Twitter), Congress is investigating the militarization of local police, and people with no voice are being heard.

Don’t believe that protests work? I think you and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  need to have a conversation. You can meet him in Selma.

Tech is the great equalizer in more ways than one. It allows everyday people to bring attention to issues that may be ignored, speak truth to power, and record the history that others may not want us to see. King wasn’t marching for his health. He marched because he knew that the sight of thousands of Americans marching on Selma, the National Mall, and countless other places, demanding equal rights, was the first step in making serious, systemic change. He learned that from Ghandi.

Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem marched for women’s rights, and you better believe they would have tweeted too. Because the leaders of the great movements of our time didn’t just march. They wrote letters, songs, articles, plays and poems. They ran races in defiance of Hitler and pumped Black power fists on the Olympic medal stand. They danced and painted and played one hell of a game of tennis. They used every voice, every talent and every avenue to fight for their rights. To fight for change.

Every great community organizer has marshaled the power of popular opinion in the most current and relevant form. Right now, that’s Twitter. It’s working. Who are we to argue?

Power to the Tweeple.

Kat Calvin is a social entrepreneur, writer and advocate for the empowerment of women, entrepreneurs and the black community. She is the founder of Michelle in Training, a mentoring and educational organization. You can follow her at @KatCalvinDC.