Poke you’re it!

You know the story: Mark Zuckerburg quit college to form what would eventually become Facebook.com. But did you know the origin of the ‘poke’ feature? It’s a nonverbal communication device for Facebook friends to virtually poke someone else. That person gets notified of getting poked and has only two options: respond with a poke or ignore it. Simple, but users loved it. Some people have participated in year long ‘poke wars’ where 2 friends continuously poke each other over time until someone gets bored and stops. Things just for the sake of it may seem trivial, but if it helps keep your users engaged, are they necessarily a bad thing? Here’s Zuck’s explanation for why they added the Poke feature, many, many moons ago: “We thought it would fun to make a feature that has no specific purpose.  So, mess around with it, because you’re not getting an explanation from us.”



What I Learned from the 2018 University of the Sciences “e-Learning Conference 3.0”

It’s always hard to find time to attend a professional development event, with a busy work schedule. But the e-Learning Conference 3.0 in Philadelphia was a really interesting higher ed conference. Here’s a brief summary of what I learned from the various sessions and keynote presentations. Full disclosure: brief translates to about 3,000 words. Lots of innovative ideas were shared!

Session 1: Stop the Snoring! Make Class Less Boring – Gamify!

The problem with high-stakes assignments: It’s a bit like gambling: high risk, high reward. A grade doesn’t necessarily prove one has learned a subject and become competent enough to apply that knowledge to other non-theoretical settings. Regardless, some students will give unnecessary extra attention and effort on securing an A. Is it a bad thing to pursue an A? No, but it’s more important to actually learn something than worry about your GPA. Furthermore, the stakes tend to be high in college courses, for example, a final project that’s worth a whopping grand total of 40% of the student’s final grade. So just by performing poorly on a few key assignments, students may get a low final grade in the class.

Key take away:

Instead of emphasizing perfection on assignments, try the opposite: give students more opportunities to succeed.

This can be in the form of extra credit via supplemental assignments. By overloading the number of total points in one’s grade book, students may be more motivated to focus more on actually learning the subject matter, comprehending it, and synthesizing the concepts to real-world scenarios. It switches the student motivational paradigm away from Positive Punishment (Bad grade = bad student), in which someone is taught by presenting a negative consequence after an undesired behavior is exhibited, making the behavior less likely to happen in the future. More assignments may mean more grading for the instructor, but it lowers the stakes on each individual assignment; this in turn creates a learning environment that’s not solely focused on just getting good grades. Instead, it focuses on mastery of a subject, giving students multiple attempts to fix any significant issue in their submitted coursework. Alternatively, instead of giving students extra credit assignments, consider giving them a specified number of attempts to re-do an assignment that they perform poorly on. This is quite similar to how video games give players a set number of lives (such as 3 attempts) to perform a specific task, such as beat a level, or in an academia setting – make sure their essay covers the prompt properly and is in APA format!

Session 2: Temple University’s FOX School of Business: A Data-Driven Course Design Process

Key take away:

Great Course Design enables an environment for meaningful data analysis – BUT YOU NEED TO CONSISTENTLY USE METADATA!

Contacts: Laura.Gremmel@temple.edu and Keith.Gutierrez@temple.edu

Temple University’s Process & Methodology for Developing High Quality video content:

  • Start of design process – Blueprint document (Session/week, Learning objectives, videos, Readings/assets, Discussions, deliverables, assessments, Synchronous session via WebEx
  • Educational Theory Applied – Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • Instructional design – Backward design
  • Instructional Video Resources & Development – Videos are high quality in-house production (5 – 10 minute microlearning clips)
  • Quiz Development Strategy – Test questions must be linked to the concept or learning objective – you need consistency

Temple University’s strategy for paying SMEs for creating instructional videos:

  • Temple compensates faculty members for developing video content. The amount of the stipend was not discussed.
  • They have an in-house production team that works with subject matter experts (SMEs) to create original high quality video content (5 – 10 minute microlearning clips).
  • These videos are proprietary and they’re owned by Temple.

What is Education Data Mining?

It can be overwhelming to identify what’s important and not important to track. Consider the things you could track that are quantifiable and could be analyzed: Clicks in a course (total #), Page views, Time spent on a page, Time of day, and more. Ask yourself: What are we doing with the data? Don’t collect it just for the sake of it!

Question to consider: Does the order affecting how learners learn things?

  • The “Learning Path” is the flow of assignments and readings that a student takes to achieve mastery of a subject

Free ‘home-grown’ approach to data driven instruction:

  • Temple also pairs test questions with metadata that’s aligned with a specific learning objective, so faculty can generate micro and macro level analytics by exporting the students’ performance data and crunching it into Microsoft’s Power Business Intelligence software. https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/.
  • Essentially, it’s a simple way of identifying what concepts most students aren’t comprehending, so the instructor can then cover that topic in greater detail in an upcoming class.
  • This is a free ‘homegrown’ solution that is separate from the data analytics built into their LMS. I adore the visualizations this data creates.
  • They did all this by linking together 3 data sets, like an Access database with 3 linked tables: test question, video URL, and key concepts (AKA Learning Objective).
  • The MS Power BI tool is free to use at this point
  • The downside to this homegrown solution is scalability: it’s not automated whatsoever, someone has to export the data and then import into the BI tool, and then still create individual reports.

Here’s a couple of photos of the visuals they created with the BI tool:

What software can create these visual dashboards?

  • Microsoft Power Business Intelligence: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/
  • You can extract LMS data locally into EXCEL. Spoof real student’s private contact info such as Name and Bb username. They used a VLOOKUP formula to swap out true student’s info with fake names.
  • Plug into the Excel tables into the Power BI tool to create a visualization for various courses
  • The visualization data live in the cloud, which isn’t a privacy issue since, since you can generate an unlisted link. There’s also no sensitive information shared, other than anonymized student performance data.

Ways to filter the visualization on the per course / assignment level: Slice and dice and deep dives!

  • Filter by week
  • Filter by learning objective and links to the video

Macro level:

  • Which learning objectives did most students perform the best on? You can identify what areas your students are comprehending, and then altering your instruction or the material.
  • Where are users viewing these videos? Shows a geographic heat map of viewer’s location by using their IP address.

Scalability & what a school would need to do to make this happen:

  • Metadata would NEED to be included on all assignments
  • This is a Temple University’s Fox School of Business homegrown solution they generate each and every dashboard (course level, per student, per learning objective, etc.)
  • It’s not fully automated yet. A true LMS integration would bypass the need to export/import data into the BI tool.
  • This solution took 1 person 7 months to create the visual dashboards from scratch. The time investment isn’t feasible to scale this for wide usage without a dedicated person to work on the project.

Data & financial considerations:

  • Take the emphasis off of the instructor. Since the data could be used to easily identify poorly performing faculty, instead try and focus on what areas students need the most help in. The videos are aligned with specific objectives, and this dashboard focuses on which concepts could be better understood with specific videos.
  • Videos are proprietary and they’re owned by Temple/Fox. SMEs receive a stipend for developing an instructional video.

What about other types of assessments with evidence/project-based assessments?

  • You could use an objective rubric to assess a subjective assignment.
  • But since an essay or project may cover multiple learning objectives, it’s more challenging to aggregate this data into this version of the BI tool. It’s probably easiest to start this kind of process with purely quantitative quiz question types.

What about built-in LMS data analytic tools?

  • LMS typically offers just question analysis – This approach lumps together larger trends.
  • The 3rd party publisher tools don’t have a consistent way to normalize the data, without extracting it to EXCEL and fixing up the data.

Keynote Panel consisted of leaders in higher ed:

  • Dr. Bobbe Baggio is currently Associate Provost of the School of Adult and Graduate Education (SAGE) at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA.
  • Dr. Kenneth E. Hartman is an educational entrepreneur, having served the past 30-years as a university president, professor, senior academic administrator, and consultant to companies and investors in the higher education sector. Most recently, Dr. Hartman served as president of Drexel University Online, a for-profit subsidiary of Drexel University.
  • Dr. Paul Katz is the 25th President of the University of the Sciences, home to the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, the nation’s oldest pharmacy school opening in 1821.
  • Dr. Rodney B. Murray is the Executive Director of Academic Technology at the University of the Sciences.

Question 1: How will students differ in 2030?

Paul Katz:

  • Different demographics
  • Change from UG focus to Grad (the market for graduates with a Bachelor’s degree is becoming saturated as the scope of underemployment continues to grow)
  • Lifelong & experiential learning (sharpening the saw on a regular basis)
  • Students picking from an a set of courses at multiple schools and then showing their competency in a portfolio

Ken Hartman:

Quantum computing and Artificial Intelligence will soon grow to where an AI Advisor will help learners identify what courses to take and when to take them.

  • My reaction: Programming languages are nothing more than a set of instructions that computers can understand. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not yet sentient. In fact, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that “Sentient machines may never exist, according to a variation on a leading mathematical model of how our brains create consciousness.” Regardless, computers are much more efficient than humans in performing certain calculations, for example the product of 1,312 and 55,000. Type that into any calculator and it’ll pop right up as 72160000. Most humans wouldn’t be able to read that number without the commas, let alone solve that problem in their head! The human brain is capable of creativity, but it can only hold about 7 pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. If you want to extend your short term memory beyond the 30 seconds it takes to forget something new, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. However, we are the ones who build the calculator. The late Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” Meaning the computational tools we build make us perform certain tasks better than any person could do without the technology. Humans and technology, when used properly, have the potential to change the world in countless positive ways.

Bobbe Baggio:

  • Our challenge isn’t to fight the tech or try and turn back the clock, but acknowledge that humans that humans do certain things better than computers (empathy, creativity, and divergent thinking).

Get past rote memorization, instead move towards critical thinking, soft skills, and real-world application.

Question 2: Will students feel they are completing against the automation technology?

Paul Katz:

  • Colleges need to answer this question:  “What does the student need to attain their desired career goal?” Imagine a college of everywhere, students take different courses from different schools where the credits transfer seamlessly.
  • My Reaction: The Strayer/Capella partnership empowers current students to seamlessly transfer college credit between the two universities. Credit reciprocity between colleges is a wonderful strategy, regardless of which schools allow it. Nothing is more frustrating than having credits not transfer to a new college. After all, who wants to waste time and money?

Bobbe Baggio:

  •  The last few hundred years, it was a ‘Sage on the Stage’ paradigm. Now, where you go for expertise has changed. Technology will become part of everything we do in education.

Rodney B. Murray:

Educators, psychologists, nurses, and computer programmers will likely be the last jobs to be replaced by automation tech.

Bobbe Baggio:

  • Higher education is still heavily involved in creating new knowledge and innovation through empirical research.

Question 3. Where do you see educational entrepreneurship having the greatest impact?

Rodney B. Murray:

Data analytics will allow for higher learning at lower costs. This BIG DATA can be used for personalized AI academic advisors.

Question 4. Which ed tech trend keeps you up at night?

Bobbe Baggio:

Artificial Intelligence and student loan debt

Question 5. What’s the role of Computer Science technologies and academia?

Bobbe Baggio:

AI is here. It’s accessible. As educators, we need to get more involved. Empirical research on the positive and negative effects of AI.

  • We’re living in the age of convenience, but what about the negatives based on the data? Privacy issues, bias in facial recognition, etc.
  • How is culture being changed? WE NEED TO JUMP IN WITH BOTH FEET NOW.

My reaction to these statements:

Under President Obama’s leadership, the White House released a report titled: Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence. I think there’s massive potential and risk and our society should weigh those stark options before moving forward. AI and automation technology is a bit like opening Pandora’s Box.

Rodney B. Murray:

Video games graphics and mechanics need to blend with higher ed.

Paul Katz:

Bipartisan politics are affecting laws and public opinion of the value of higher ed. Regardless of party affiliation, the general public is informed about the rising costs of college and the negative perception of the value of a degree. The public is sick of paying so much for college, getting expensive loans, and pursuing a degree where they can’t get a job.

Question 6: How would you contextualize the answers to these questions in the 2030 political and environmental context?

  • Rodney B. Murray: Online learning will become more important as storms prevent students from coming in on-campus
  • Ken Hartman: Being the son of a holocaust survivor, the nationalism we’re seeing in certain countries is scary.
  •  Bobbe Baggio: I think you’re going to see huge changes in consciousness that will lead to changes in regulatory policies. Most people agree that climate change is real, so in a decade, collectively we should be better educated to make better decisions for the global society.

Question 7: Is college going to change, because of AI/Automation, from career training to a more liberal arts education?

Bobbe Baggio:

  • We don’t know how much and how fast entire industries will change. Blockbuster movie rental stores were replaced by RedBox quite quickly.
  •  Because of self-driving cars, jobs like car insurance will go away and not come back. They’ll simply be displaced.
  • Maybe meaningful work may change from an hourly job to something more intrinsic (not necessarily work to leisure), but to how humans interact and help each other.

Ken Hartman:

Humans will still want to learn together in a physical room. The future is systems thinking and connecting solutions to problems between disciplines.

Wharton University of Pennsylvania SIMPL – The Open Source Simulation Platform

  • Presented by Joseph Lee
  • Session title: SIMPL – The Open Source Simulation Platform
  • Wharton’s Learning Lab: http://simulations.wharton.upenn.edu
  • Gist: Wharton’s Learning Lab built 33 simulations (AKA learning objects) by partnering with a faculty member that has an idea, such an contract negotiation in a virtual training environment
  • Harvard Business Simulations re-sells Wharton’s Learning Objects
  • Created a generic design framework to speed up the process of creating a new simulation

 How many staff are involved?

  • 1 full time specialized simulation developer
  • 1 project manager (what projects to work on)

How much time does it take to build a simulation?

A complex simulation / game takes a lot of time to develop. It took his team about 2 years to build 30+ simulations.

How do you speed up the process of building simulations?

Identify the commonalities, or the design patterns that all of the simulations tend to share. For example:

  • Users and their roles
  • # of players
  •  Rounds (if/then statements to navigate through a branching decision tree)
  • Scenarios, decisions, results based on certain conditions

Keep in mind that building simulations typically requires hiring a software developer/programmer. An alternative would be using a WYSIWYG simulation builder software, such as Articulate Storyline.

What technology and programming languages were used? They hired a software developer that used these:

  • React/Redux
  • Python/Django/Django REST Framework
  • Webhooks (Thorn)
  • WAMP (Crossbar.io/Autobahn)

What is Harvard Business Publishing’s Simulations? 

Simulations defined: “Simulations use real-world contexts to reinforce student learning. They are remarkably teachable, with simple but powerful administration tools.

How could this apply to your school?

It’s not feasible for most schools to replicate this type of software development because of the dedicated human resources required. Instead, it may be better to focus on how they share info about the simulations in a public facing repository and also look into licensing existing learning objects.

  • Other universities can purchase the simulations from Harvard Business Simulations for as little as $25
  • Create an interactive webpage that aggregates the Simulations and makes the filterable by categories. Provide a brief synopsis of its functionality and a preview of how it works.
  • Keep in the know on their newsletter at https://simpl.world.
  • Provide a non-technical video preview of the app (see example below)

Is it worth the time to build a high quality simulation?

“The simulation shouldn’t be used one time a year by 1 faculty member that would cost the ‘learning lab’ $50,000 to develop. Instead, we focus on projects that reach a larger audience. For example, we focus on building something that 10 faculty will use that will touch 10,000 students.”

Additional Conference details:

Did you attend?

What did you think? What’s the coolest new ideas you learned?

Interested in learning more about innovations in ed tech in higher ed? Consider attending Wilmington University’s 2018 Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium on Monday, May 7.

Whatever happened to Accountability? Bring the Teacher Back into the Online Classroom

Whatever happened to Accountability? Bring the Teacher Back into the Online Classroom

I recently saw this article, Online Exam Proctoring Catches Cheaters, Raises Concerns, and it got me thinking about the nature of distance learning programs and how the identity of a student is verified if they take an online course. The article address ethical concerns of virtual proctoring tools such as HonorLockExamityRespondus MonitorProctorU, and ProctorTrack. In a nutshell, the business model of these vendors is to record students, via their webcam, while they take an online exam. Why?

Virtual proctoring holds the online student accountable

  1. Virutal proctoring services verify the identity of a student – similar to how you’d use a student ID to enter a physical building while on-campus. Except now you’ll show that same student ID to gain access to a purely virtual classroom.
  2. Virtual proctoring prevents the online student from using unauthorized materials. This means instructors offer a closed-book exam in their online course. It also prevents students from looking up answers on Google.

Many colleges are techy and innovative and already are using virtual proctoring services to improve academic integrity in the online classroom. And other schools just use the honor system, hoping that the student that registered and paid for the course is the same student that actually completes the course work. Because there’s so much potential to scam the system, this isn’t sufficient. There’s already lots of financial aid fraud that directly affects your taxes. Plus, it’s not right that students can cheat their way through entire online degrees. This article, The thriving Russian black market in dissertations, sums up the scope of cheating in that country, where it’s the norm for students to purchase entire dissertations.

Isn’t there always a way to cheat?

Of course there is. And that’s exactly why we have people go though security at airports. For better or worse, we use policing and surveillance technology and procedures to prevent crime.

There’s always going to be ways to scam the testing system: purchase an essay from a paper mill or use a spy cams built-in to a smart watch. Regardless, schools need to educate students to understand the nature of academic integrity, as well take measures to prevent academic integrity violations. The idea isn’t anything new, even students in high school submit essays into a plagiarism detection software, such as TurnItIn.com.

Be Honest: Did you ever have an open book test when you were in high school?

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2012. Since I enjoyed the interaction with other students and my professors, I mainly took in-person classes.

And frankly, I never had an open book quiz in college. I simply studied for an exam and prayed that I didn’t forget everything when I showed up to take the exam.

The Internet has really destroyed the validity of examinations, since you can Google the answers or pay someone that’s more knowledgeable to take the exam for you.

But it’s 2018, in real jobs you can always Google things that you don’t know

True, sometimes. Depends on the job and circumstances. At a job interview, you’re not going to get the opportunity to pull out your iPhone to research the answer your interviewer asked you. You’re going to be expected to answer the question on the spot.

Graduates should have certain requisite skills memorized, so they can talk the talk, and be consciously competent. If you’re a web design major, you should know how write an anchor element without looking up generic source code online. If you’re a nurse, you better be able to properly administer the proper dosages of medication to patients; otherwise, you could harm a patient.

So what can educators do to verify students are actually learning?

As educators, we can and need to DO BETTER. There’s non-technical ways to better prove competency and verify identity. For example: a recorded final presentation, that shows the student’s face. It’s pretty tricky to fake a presentation – you really need to know your stuff and present it well.

It’s no secret: the answers to multiple choice questions will easily pop up on Quizzlet, especially canned questions from textbook publishers that are recycled over and over again. Educators need to require more writing assignments and project based assessments, which are higher on the pyramid of Bloom’s taxonomy.


And teachers need to constantly update their curriculum, so that answers can’t be shared between student in future classes.

I really wonder when, or if, virtual proctoring will be required. There’s simply no accountability otherwise. If colleges offer online degrees and want to maintain their reputation, they need to use some type of virtual proctoring technology to prove the student that paid for the class is the one doing the work. A simple username and password doesn’t suffice.

But I don’t wanna to be recorded!

Is it awkward to be virtually proctored? Sure, it’s a bit creepy. It’s literally Big Brother watching. But it starts to provide parity between the online and physical classroom. And that should be a major goal of any school offering online classes.


And let’s be honest – most people gave up caring about their privacy years ago. We’re constantly recorded while in stores, Alexa listens to your conversations, and Facebook sells ALL of your private inforamtion to advertisers. Yet we still go out in public and use Amazon and Facebook. And let’s not forget about the USA PATRIOT Act.


It is a bit intrusive? Perhaps. But If you went on campus, your instructor would be watching students take the exam. Some schools have always required high stake exam to be completed at official testing centers. Students are going to complain, but this is the age of convenience. And it’s a lot easier to launch a virtual proctoring tool from the comfort of your home, than driving on-campus or getting frisked at a local testing center.

Bring the teacher back into the online classroom, or become irrelevant to MOOCs

Maybe when the Higher Education Act is updated, the law will find ways to require AND PROVE substantive interaction between the online instructor and students. Many schools have completely discussion board driven conversations. I’ve never attended a class in-person where a conversation was completely driven by students.

We need to bring the instructor back into the online classroom. Maybe regional accreditation bodies should get up with the times and require online instructors to offer virtual office hours and have a scheduled, synchronous discussion with students about the subject matter. Otherwise, it’s truly just a web-based correspondence course.

I’ll admit, it’s a bit intrusive. But students generally agree that this type of technology solution promotes academic integrity in online courses.

Questions to consider:

  • How can schools better provide parity between the online and face-to-face classroom?
  • What technical and non-technical solutions are available to improve academic integrity in the online classroom?
  • How much real-time interaction should be required in online classes? Are purely asynchronous online classes an effective learning method?
  • Are virtual proctoring services a violation of privacy? Should all online colleges be required to use these types of services? If so, in how many courses? Only those with outcome assessments, or each and every online course?
  • As a teacher or student, have you ever used a virtual proctoring service? What did you think of the experience?



7 Ways GlassDoor lets Job Searchers Learn about a Company’s Culture, or Lack thereof

This blog post is really just some of my thoughts on a NewYorker article by Lizzie Widdicombe, titled Improving Workplace Culture, One Review at a Time.

Full disclaimer: I adore GlassDoor.com.

What is GlassDoor?

GlassDoor is a website that allows users to learn the inside scoop on companies. It allows people that have worked at a certain company to anonymously share their experiences and opinions about companies they worked for, what the company’s culture was like, what the job responsibilities truly included, how much certain jobs pay, and sometimes you’ll even find copies of the interview questions. It’s a great way to find out what it would really be like to work for a company.

For example, here’s a review I wrote up about the 3 years that I worked at Arby’s. This is one of countless company reviews. I like the way people are genuine and candid in their reviews.

GlassDoor gives students the gist of what it would be like to work at a company

I recently developed a Java course and one of the assignments is for the students to write a 3 page essay on the local job market for an entry level programming job. On one of the pages, they are instructed to go onto Glassdoor.com and review feedback that has been shared about the company that they’re interested in applying for.

This assignment empowers students to evaluate the skills and experience necessary to secure a Java developer position. It can be an entry-level position, or a‘Dream Job’. However, it must be directly related to programming in Java.

This assignment is designed to alleviate ‘culture shock’. Specifically, it help students come to terms with their commitment and interest level in working in the programming industry. The long hours and being stuck behind a desk all day at a computer is not for everyone! But software development pays well. Very well. The average salary for a Java job in Delaware is around $91,744 per year; however, entry level Java developer positions are significantly smaller. And if you land a job at Google or Facebook, the perks are real and they’re spectacular: napping rooms, free hair cuts and meals, and a relaxed culture of collaboration.

How can job searchers use GlassDoor?

You should always go into a job interview knowing a little bit about the company, so you can talk shop. I recommend doing research on the company’s website, as well as 3rd party services such as GlassDoor. You can use it to answer the following questions:

  1. What are others saying about this company’s culture? Is this the kind of workplace culture in which I would thrive and be happy?
  2. Do they often have layoffs or require employees to put in overtime during peak operational periods?
  3. Would you be willing to relocate or travel (domestically or internationally)? Would you be able to tolerate the commute?
  4. Do the hours of the job work for you? Does the job offer any special perks, such as being able to work from home one day per week?
  5. On average, how much do certain positions pay? This knowledge is essential for successful salary negotiations.
  6. What type of benefits are offered (health insurance, paid time off, stock incentives, retirement package, etc.)?
  7. Does the company’s values align with your personal beliefs? For example, some people may not feel comfortable working at a Financial Service company, which offers personal loans with extremely high and arguably immoral interest rates.

Questions to consider:

  • Were you aware of web services such as GlassDoor? If you’ve used it, what was your experience? Was it beneficial during your job search efforts?
  • Have you ever worked somewhere and quickly realized the job wasn’t for you?
  • Do web services like Ratemyprofessor and GlassDoor increase transparency and helps hold corporations more accountable for how they treat employees?

The Death of Innovation & Birth of the Age of Convenience

Mergers and Mergers and Mergers

Natural selection is basically when a bigger, stronger fish eats the meeker, smaller fishes, and then grows bigger. It’s the natural law of survival of the fittest. Not surprising, corporations are evolving to follow this paradigm.

Here’s a few highlights of companies that have merged or been acquired over the years. Notice how it’s a blend of industries? Technology with food services; online education with retail; social media with photography.

  • In 2012, Facebook purchased Instagram for $1 billion. Facebook also tried to scoop up Snapchat, a direct competitor of Instagram. However, Snapchat didn’t sell out. So Facebook played dirty: they updated the Facebook and Instagram mobile apps to have nearly the same exact functionality of the Snapchat app. Specifically, Facebook/Instagram emulated the expiring stories and augmented reality photo filters. (Source: How Much Is Snap Hurting From Facebook’s Imitations?)
  • In 2014, Arizona State University partnered with Starbucks to offer free tuition for ASU’s 60+ online bachelor degree programs for all Starbucks employees that work more than 20 hours per week. Since its inception, over 8,000 Starbucks employees have enrolled in this program. Apparently this has greatly increase employee retention at Starbucks. It makes sense, Starbucks has a well known reputation of treating its employees well. (Source: Starbucks VP: ASU tuition program good for business).
  • In August 2017, Amazon acquired Whole Foods. With this acquisition, Amazon Prime members are able to buy significantly discounted groceries at Whole Foods. For example, a pound of bananas for about 50 cents. To sweeten the deal, all Whole Foods will have self-service kiosks similar to Redbox. But instead of renting a new DVD or video game, customers will conjure up anything using a magical device called an Amazon Locker. It’s a convenient way for Amazon customers to pick up their online orders in person, similar to a PO box at the post office. The benefit is simple: it’s even faster than home delivery. (Source: Amazon Prime members will get special discounts at Whole Foods)
  • In September 2017, Walmart joined forces with Google to sell its products on Google Express. Many believe this was a direct response to the Amazon/Whole Foods merger. Their new business model utilizes the Google Home voice controlled device to enable customers to order products from 40+ retailers like Target and Costco under its Google Express program. (Source: Walmart joins forces with Google on voice-activated shopping)
  • And now in October 2017, two of the largest for-profit schools, Strayer University and Capella University, are merging their companies together. The Strayer/Capella partnership empowers current students to seamlessly transfer college credit between the two universities. Credit reciprocity between colleges is a wonderful strategy, regardless of which schools allow it. Nothing is more frustrating than having credits not transfer to a new college. After all, who wants to waste time and money? (Source: The Strayer/Capella Merger and What it Means for For-Profits).

Whoopty Do, What does it all mean?

As mentioned, corporate team-ups seem to be the way of the future. For example, Disney now owns Marvel and Pixar. So there’s a lot of consolidated power in these huge corporations, which is scary because it limits the choices of consumers and creates a barrier to entry for new business owners looking to offer similar products/services.

Also, I think we’re seeing less new ideas. Instead, it’s a rebundling or new way of thinking about an old idea.

  •  The Convergence of Corporations – These days, it seems like the “mom and pop” companies, the little fish, are getting eaten up but these conglomerate giant sharks in their sector. There’s still plenty of fish in the sea, but the sharks are expanding their territory by redrawing territory lines.
  • Innovation is Dead. Welcome to the Age of Corporate Team-ups – Businesses are investing less in R&D to innovate new products; instead they’re strengthening their foothold in the market with exclusive deals and partnerships, such as discounted or more convenient services. Like ideas for new movies, it seems creativity is pretty much dead. Everything these days tends to be remakes, sequels, or direct-to-Netflix Adam Sandler films.
  • Consumers Value Convenience more than Privacy – No one cares about anything, except convenience anymore. Our personal data is captured, studied, and sold by marketing colossuses (ahem, Facebook). Walmart recently proposed a new service to deliver groceries straight into their customers’ refrigerators (Source). Although it may be initially creepy to have a stranger enter your house and stock your fridge, I think the idea will take off.  People are probably willing to sacrifice their privacy, just to have good food stocked up in their fridge at all times. Who has time to shop at a store anymore?

How can businesses stay relevant with all of this competition? Have a Heart and Use your Brain

  • Socially conscious companies will succeed in the long run – In a survey to millennials, 56% said they would refuse to work for a company that they found to be unfriendly to social and environmental causes. Furthermore, companies that offer corporate social responsibility programs are known for having increased employee retention.  Finally, it makes sense from a financial standpoint: there are many tax credits and deductions for businesses that “Go Green”. Firms need to be held accountable for pollution climate change.
  • Take Care of your Employees – Employees that feel valued perform better. It’s a fact: there’s been countless studies on how a positive work environment has a direct correlation on job performance. Business skills and industry knowledge are constantly in flux. So employees must continuously learn about new trends and dynamics in the market. That’s why organizations provide professional development to their employees. Treating employees well and helping them to adapt and grow professionally can result in gains in profit and productivity. A great example is Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella. He is credited with “saving the company” by stopping infighting, restoring employee morale, and creating more than $250 billion in market value. And he did this by changing the culture of Microsoft from one of “Dog Eat Dog” to a culture of synergistic collaboration. Southwest Airlines, Whole Foods, and Virgin Mobile are also recognized for having a wonderful work environment and culture.
  •  Innovate Faster – The issue with any large company is scalability. It’s hard to innovate with red tape and bureaucratic policies. Look at any large company and you’ll see hundreds of vacant job positions. This may give the advantage to leaner, smaller businesses that can pursue new opportunities.
  • Find Unique Ways to Delight your Customers – Think of products or services that simply delight you. I love that the DMV allows mail-in license plate registration for newer cars. I find it super convenient that my dentist sends me text message reminders of my upcoming appointments. It’s refreshing to walk into the local pizza shop and have a conversation with employees that remember your face. How can smaller businesses and entrepreneurs compete with giant companies that are practically monopolies? Simple, actually: care about and keep in touch with your customers. These days, everything is automatic instead of authentic.
  • Know Thy Customer – It’s amazing how people get entranced to the glow of their iPhone and the constant influx of text messages, Snapchats, and Facebook videos. Because people are getting so comfortable communicating online, it’s sometimes hard to interact with or trust other people. For example, I saw a billboard on the highway this weekend that said something like “Avoid Small Talk. Shop Online!” These days, everything is automated. Sure, it’s convenient. But it gets very impersonal. Now at certain Applebee’s and Olive Garden restaurants, you can pay your bill on a tablet. We live in weird times. Times where convenience is king. I think people may be losing something because of the fancy technology. We all need to slow down and have a conversations with others. Small talk isn’t that bad of a thing, is it? I like it when I walk into a restaurant or store and they know my name. In a way, engaging customers is a great way to generate brand loyalty.

Welcome to Age of Convenience

Questions to Consider:

  • In what ways do you think consumers forfeit their privacy for convenient services?
  • Do you think creativity and innovation are “Dead”?
  • How does company culture and employee morale affect a company’s revenue?
  • What can unestablished companies do to compete against monolithic conglomerates?

My Top 7 Favorite YouTube Musicians


I love music. It’s one of my greatest passions in life. Over the years, I’ve discovered many incredibly talented musicians on YouTube.  Some just do covers, some have created beautiful originals, and some have even made hilarious music videos. I find myself feeling down, from time to time, and when I put my headphones in, I turn on one of these artists and find myself feeling a little better. I tend to listen to upbeat positive music, as well as punk rock. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

1. Wayward Daughter

Why I like this band:

They’re adorable! Are they sisters? Best friends? I’m not sure. But she can play the hell out of the guitar. And the other one’s voice is nothing short of angelic. Plus, their original songs are so beautifully written, albeit, a bit heart breaking at times. At least 200 hits on their channel are from me.



Lydia Evangeline original:


2. Nikyee Heaton

Why I like this musician:

Just like Justin Bieber, this incredibly talented musician started out by covering songs and posting them on YouTube. Then her agent said to her, “What kind of music do you actually like? Cover those songs.” So she covered Trap Queen and got thousands of hits over night. Oh, she’s also strait gorgie.  She recently created her 1st official music video as part of a major label, the song is titled “Bad Intentions”.




3. Chad Neidt

Why I like this musician:

Besides his raw sex appeal, he’s brilliant, has a cool beard, funny, and does some of the best mash-ups out there on the Interwebs. His originals are great too.I love his commitment to perfecting each mash-up.





4. Jenn Fiorentino

Why I like this musician:

When I first saw her play, I thought to myself “I could marry this woman”.

She covers punk songs. Perfectly. Admittedly, I haven’t listened to too many of her originals yet, her covers are just so amazing.

Her ability to keep pace with the song while playing really complicated chords and notes is damn impressive.  I’ve listened to her YouTube playlists for hours strait while at work. Keeps me jamming and feeling positive.



5. Emily Davis

Why I like this musician:

A super talented young woman. I don’t know many people that cover melancholy songs like Death Cab and super punk rocky songs like Eat the Meek by NOFX. She’s also an advocate for mental health care and vlogs to help spread awareness and explain what it’s like to live with a mental health disorder. Mad respect for this woman!



6. Kelsey Kerrigan

Why I like this musician:

I’ve played along with her to songs a few time. She has such a beautiful voice and I like that she covers songs with very divisive lyrics.  I love her passion, vocals, guitar skills, and her bright cherry red guitar. And if she ever sees this, I apologize for the moment I took the screenshot. But it was too cute not to keep.



A more flattering photo:

Kelsey Kerrigan.jpg

7. Lindsey Stirling

Why I like this musician:

I only recently discovered this artist and become an instant addict. I listened to all of her covers in a few hours. Plus, the production quality of her music videos is fantastic! Such beautiful music and her dance moves just may be better than Ellen Degeneres. And yes, that’s her cosplaying as Link in a blue tunic, while dancing on one leg and playing violin. And she’s a “Master Bard” in her Skyrim Cosplay. I love it!


Different takes on songs, and few originals:


Final thoughts:

Thanks for reading! Feel free to share some of your favorite YouTube musicians in the comments below. Or if you’re on this list, please note I will marry you. Even you Chad 😉

I would love to see any of these perform live. Hopefully they all make it big! The world is crazy right now, but music is one thing that can help connect people. You go to a concert and sing with strangers, because you all love that same song.


My Reaction to Joseph Aoun’s Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Joseph Aoun, the president of Northeastern University and a higher ed futurist, was recently published in the Chronicle of Higher Education for this article, Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace. He also just came out with a new book, check out the trailer for it. It’s called “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”.

Quotes from Aoun and my reactions:

Dr. Aoun stated: “Because for all of their dazzling power, machines are incapable of plucking inspiration from the subconscious, forming a new theory of physics after seeing an apple fall to the ground, or seizing a window of opportunity to start a business. Those sorts of cognitive abilities are impervious to automation. They are, indeed, robot-proof.”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam.jpg My response: Robots simply follow a set of instructions that computers can understand. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not yet sentient. In fact, a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that “Sentient machines may never exist, according to a variation on a leading mathematical model of how our brains create consciousness.”  Regardless, computers are much more efficient than humans in performing certain calculations, for example the product of 1,312 and 55,000.  Type that into any calculator and it’ll pop right up as 72160000.  Most humans wouldn’t be able to read that number without the commas, let alone solve that problem in their head!

Takeaway: Regardless of how slow firing neurons, we are the ones who build the calculators.

“Given a world in which machines will perform much of what we view as knowledge work, colleges will have to reduce their emphasis on knowledge transfer, and pivot to building students’ capacity for coming up with original ideas.”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam My thoughts: The human brain is capable of creativity, but it can only hold about 7 pieces of information for less than 30 seconds. If you want to extend your short term memory beyond the 30 seconds it takes to forget something new, you will need to consistently re-expose yourself to the information. What’s the point of remembering facts if you can look up the answers on Google? Knowledge is about understanding the answers that can’t be found on Wikipedia.

In order to remain competitive in the age of the autonomous robot workforce, people must continually learn creative skills that cannot be replicated by machines. Machines are extremely efficient. But humans can innovate big ideas that can change the world:

  • Walmart is thinking of letting ‘runners’ enter into people’s homes and stock their fridge with food – even if the customer isn’t home.  Walmart has partnered with a video surveillance company to verify the delivery driver acts properly while in the customer’s home. Learn more.
  • Elon Musk is like the real life Tony Stark. He founded PayPal, Teslsa Motors, and SpaceX. He’s now pioneering new moonshot ideas like SolarCity and building a livable city on Mars.
  • Companies such as Examity, ProctorU, and Respondus Monitor offer students the option to take online exams using virtual proctoring software.  This is a convenient alternative to requiring students to drive on to a physical testing center on campus.

Takeaway: Convenience and creativity are truly driving the economy these days. Meanwhile, those who don’t adapt, fade into memory. We miss you Blockbuster.

“College should prepare students for meaningful occupations. If workers are fast becoming irrelevant, then how and why should we educate them?”  Joseph_Aoun
 adam My reaction: The answer to this question scares me. IS THERE going to be a demand for workers? The glory days of high pay, low skill jobs are gone.  30 years ago if you didn’t go to college, no big deal. You went and worked at car manufacturing plant or a steel mill and you had a great full time job to earn a decent living. These days, it’s not so simple…

  • Think about all the farming and manufacturing jobs that have been displaced. What happens when Taxi and Uber drivers are replaced by self-driving cars?
  • Are there always going to be a need for cashiers at retail stores? It’s been reported that U.S. retail stores have been closing at a faster rate in 2017 than at any time since the recession in 2008. With more stores closing, it seems the world is moving towards the shipping model.

Counterarguments left in the article’s comments:

  • “Until someone can convince me that creativity will one day be as in-demand, economically, as labor has been up to this point, I cannot see the automated future as anything but a life sentence for my own children.”
  • “The author is being idealistic. The reality is that there will be a new economy the haves and the have nots. The more jobs that are taken the more poverty is going to increase. The rich don’t really give a hoot and if robots are cheaper than hiring people well guess what no more jobs.”

Agreed! The disparity and unequal distribution of wealth may soon reach critical mass. How can a growing population support a new and untested economic model. Unemployment in 2017 is nearly 5%. It’s scary to think about what happens if that number doubles or quadruples.

Technology and machines have destroyed and created jobs over time.
About 100 years ago, most people were farmers. Now less than 1% of US workers are in farming jobs.  There’s been a lot of change in the demand for certain types of workers.  Currently, more than half of jobs worked in the US are white collar jobs.


My final thoughts:


Steve Jobs was quoted saying, “What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.”  Meaning the computational tools we build make us perform certain tasks better than any person could do without the technology.  Humans and technology, when used properly, have the potential to change the world in countless positive ways.

Questions to ponder:

  • As computers get smarter and more ubiquitous, how do you think the modern workforce will change?
  • What jobs will not be automated?
  • Should governments consider modifying laws to regulate the usage of robotics to ensure human workers are not displaced?
  • How can we better prepare students to compete with robotics and AI for high paying jobs?

A Millennial’s Perspective: Why go to College

I have three little sisters.

Right now, they’re ages 10, 16, and 19. At dinner a few months back, the 16 year old, Bri, mentioned that she didn’t want to go to college once she graduated high school. So we had a conversation about life after high school and some of the reasons she might want to reconsider going to college.

We started off talking about the most realistic reason for going to college: getting a good job.

Bri said she really wanted to join the Peace Corps. But did you know that most Peace Corps opportunities require a four-year degree? So for now, let’s add that idea to the bottom of the list.

Getting a degree opens you up to a lot of jobs.
Many professions require that you have a degree or a certificate that proves that you have been exposed to some level of study and achieved some level of proficiency in a particular subject. A degree is training for a career. Employer don’t want to pay for your training on the job, since you could take those skills and go get a better job! Colleges serve as the institution responsible for preparing people for the workforce.

The glory days of high pay, low skill jobs are going away. There’s always going to be a need for Sales Associates, but there aren’t great paying car manufacturing jobs readily available these days. The Great Late Johnny Cash said:
“So I simply don’t buy the concept of “Generation X” as the “lost generation.” I see too many good kids out there, kids who are ready and willing to do the right thing, just as Jack was. Their distractions are greater, though. There’s no more simple life with simple choices for the young.”

This is a knowledge-based economy. There aren’t many manufacturing jobs anymore. Sure there will always be a demand for cashiers, barbers, plumbers, mechanics, and trades people, but those jobs tend to be hourly. My family is from Claymont, Delaware. We grew up in a beautiful house, but our parents didn’t have the money to take us on fancy trips. The first time I went to Florida was when I could afford to take myself, which was sometime in my early 20’s. What I’m trying to say is I want my sisters to have an amazing life. I want them to have financial freedom. I want them to be able to travel, go on vacations, and understand our crazy that world we all live in. The fact of the matter is that kind of life style requires a well-paying job.

Further reading on this idea: http://diversifiedfinances.com/finding-a-job-that-suits-the-lifestyle-you-want/

I’m not saying that money buys happiness. I’m saying that not having financial freedom can be very frustrating.

Further, a college education provides a foundation of essential employment skills:

  • That degree instantly tells them that you can commit and follow through with important tasks – without someone looking over your shoulder telling you what to do.
  • It’s 2015. Almost all of human knowledge is readily available by Googling a few keyword around a subject. Course work in college isn’t like high school where students are required to memorize facts and data. College work requires student to learn how to think critically and analyze information. The Internet is a double edge sword. We live in a media saturated society with a lot of misinformation. Also, the facts are often repeated over and over again in different ways. A college education helps you to cut through the nonsense and actually see essential information. It teaches you to read something and afterwards be able to say what new knowledge, if any, you acquired from reading it.

Challenge yourself

My oldest sister Jill is in college right now. She has a brilliant mind. In high school, she was in the International Baccalaureate program at Mount Pleasant. She sometimes complains that college isn’t challenging her enough. She mentioned that in some classes, the professors give information and expect her to memorize it for a quiz. This goes back to the idea that we can Google almost anything. Knowledge is about the answers to questions that can’t be Googled.

I say to her, just because you’re not being challenged, doesn’t mean you can’t challenge yourself. Use college as practice for your career. Think of each paper you write as a statement of excellence. Imagine if all the papers you wrote would be read by a future employer. Once you start working full time at an organization, you’re probably going to want to get promoted. Some people expect upward career mobility after working somewhere for a few years. The thing is, no one tells you that the best way to get ahead at work is by being excellent. That means:

  • Sending emails that are professional
  • Presenting in front of your colleagues and making them think your ideas are brilliant
  • Building up a positive reputation. This means the people above you trust that when you work on a project, it will have a successful outcome.

In a nut shell, organizations want to promote the employees with the most talent. And you must work vigilantly to prove that you are promotable. So use your college course work as a chance to practice the skills which embody excellence.
I haven’t talked about my youngest sister yet, Brooke. I asked her what she wants to be when she grows up. She said a dancer. She’s already an incredible dancer. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid? I wanted to be a video game tester. The point is, even as adults, many of us still don’t know what we want to do when we grow up.

Many people choose a major which they aren’t really all that interested in. To me, that’s horrible considering the time and money you invest by attending college. But if you think about it, it’s a bit of a catch-22. How can you know what career you want if you’ve never actually experienced it? Get experience. You can’t just start following a doctor around a hospital, you’ll get kicked out by security.

I recommend doing your own research. Use the Internet and libraries to identify what you would feel passionate about. All the information you need is out there. If you want to learn about what it’s like to be a doctor or FBI agent, go to the library and borrow an autobiography of someone in that field.

Many people change their majors and some of their credits don’t transfer. So before spending thousands of dollars, predetermine your interest and dedication level.

Although some people get a degree and end up working in an entirely different career path from what they majored in. That’s okay. Frankly, only certain majors actually prepare you for a specific job. Most majors teach a variety of skill sets. What’s important is to graduate with the confidence that you can learn to perform any job, because you’ve enhanced your writing, presenting, thinking skills, and technology competency.

Am I saying you need to go to college to be successful? No.

I’m just saying having a college degree will make yourself more employable. 

It’s a bit of a societal norm to graduate high school, then go to college for the next 4 -5 years to figure out what to do with one’s life.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Richard Branson didn’t get degrees, and they’re doing pretty well. But they are an exception. 

So far, I’ve been talking college in terms of the logical reasons to attend. But what about the experience itself?

  • In college, you meet new people. You have the opportunity to form friendships. You do get exposure to new ideas and people. You learn a lot from people with different opinions and cultures than your own.
  • In college, you’re given the opportunity to do an Internship or Co-op. What a great way of getting real world experience, as well as your foot in the door of an organization!

I think we live in a society where people stop learning once they graduate high school. Many people don’t read much anymore, besides billboards and their Facebook newsfeed. But a college education reminds us of the importance of lifelong learning. College introduces students to a diverse group of people and ideas. Most importantly, college prepares you for a career and opens up invisible doorways. Is underemployment an issue? Of course. But that’s a population issue – there’s more people than good paying jobs.   Therefore, to rise to the top, someone must make their self as employable as possible.

Is the cost of education high? Certainly. But so is the  cost of gas!  Luckily,  financial aid is available for students that need help paying for college. College education is opportunity and is worth the investment. 

We live in a society where more and more jobs are being automated. Depending on the hour I go grocery shopping, I may or may not even have the option to have an actual person help me check out.

In the coming years, more and more jobs will go away as everything becomes automated (http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2012/02/2-billion-jobs-to-disappear-by-2030/). Especially low-level, low-skilled labor positions.

Bill Gates said in a recent Business Insider article titled “Bots Are Taking Away Job”:

“Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. …  Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. …  20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”

The Economist published an article on the Future of Jobs. You can see the jobs that are predicted to go away:

For better or worse, we’re going to see driverless cars. What does that do for FedEx and UPS delivery jobs? We saw what happened to the Print industry. Things are changing. Our society is transforming. This video, although long, really breaks down the scope of these upcoming changes: Humans Need Not Apply.

Some skills will remain valuable no matter what:

  • The ability to communicate effectively in written and spoken word
  • The abilities to learn, adapt, and innovate 
  • The ability to think critically and analyze information
  • The ability to manage one’s time

All skills that one can learn and practice while attending college.

I would do anything for my sisters. I’m their bigger brother, so of course I want them to live happy lives. So I say to Brooke, Bri, and Jill: think seriously about where you want to be in 10 or 15 years?

  • Where do you want to be living?
  • What kind of job do you want as a full-time career?
  • What will make you happy, in your personal and professional life?
  • What’s the best way to achieve your life goals?
  • What are you going to do to accomplish your goals?

I urge all of you to consider going to college as way to fulfill your potential. 

Find your passion and be a contributor to that subject, not just a passive consumer. 

Contribute to the collective knowledge of humanity. 

Go to college because it helps to create a more educated society.

Transform the world by unlocking your own greatness. 

Go to college because it will lead you on the path to an excellent life.
Questions to consider:

  • With all the free accessible information on the Internet, is a college education necessary to learn?
  • Would you prefer to find a job that you love or a job that pays well? Are these mutually exclusive or are both attainable?
  • What do you think is more important: a college degree or the abilities to critically think and effectively communicate?

Movie Review: Death Note on Netflix (2017) is Great, DESPITE THE HATERS! 

To the Death Note haters (Netflix movie), I say this (spoilers): It’s a Great movie. I’ve watched it twice and was entranced. There’s a lot of set-up, but the plot certainly picks up after the first 40 minutes. 

A few of my favorite parts:

  • The reimagined L really worked for me. A severely Different interpretation, but I loved his take as an antisocial genius. And Watari’s school explained as a way of molding orphans into the world’s best detectives was pretty damn cool and scary. 
  • The emotion from the characters was powerful, like when Light’s father threatened to kill L.
  •  The brilliant reveal of how Light survived the fall at the end was an appropriate replacement for the intellectual mind games in the show. Getting inside others minds and planning 10 steps ahead is the crux of the original manga. 
  • I like how they portrayed Ryuk as a Death god that loves killing: “dealer’s choice” and he decides death by machine gun. 

If it would have simply followed the source material, you’d know what to expect. It was transformative and it did a few things BETTER than the original:

  1. Showed in length how far that Kira followers would go to, to protect their God. On the show it’s implied there were many followers that supported his Dogma of a crime free world. In the show, a random person that believes does what’s necessary to protect his leader and saves Kira.
  2. Stretching the logistical capabilities of the Notebook. In the show, season 1 (pre L’s death) Light investigates the limits of the Book’s power. Yet in the movie, he writes something so detailed and Grandiose that he’s able to manipulate gravity, reality, and destiny itself!
  3. The car and on-foot chase scene of L & Light…great live action directing style that followed the design of the anime. 
  4. Misa Misa was comic relief in the anime, but was diabolical in the movie (was she Light’s girlfriend? I didn’t pay attention or care). In the movie, she betrayed Light and was manipulative, clever (stealing the book, eliminating the FBI pursuers, smuggling the page out of the house surrounded by cops, etc), and more grounded. The less aggressive Death Gods from the anime (Len and the timid doppelgänger of Anima {FFX references}) didn’t add *too* much to the series. I thought they were just brief cameos and plot advancement devices. 

In general, the movie was fun, fast-paced, and. exciting. 

Final thoughts: Remember it’s a movie, not a 30 hour manga. And the end I loved the Ambiguity.  

Light and L survived, but does L write his name? I always thought L deserved revenge! It’s implied by Ryuk’s laughter in the hospital room that he does finally kill Light, but it certainly leaves the possibility of a sequel. One which I will certainly watch! 

Plus, I loved this scene at the school dance. A subtle reminder that it’s just teenagers that decided to become mass murderers when given the opportunity 

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

My First 3 Playthroughs of Skyrim Were Legendary

[spoilers, obviously]

Play-thru 1: Adam the Argonian

I was a virgin to the Elder Scrolls series. I don’t really remember why I bought the game or who got it for me.  I remember building my first character, I really took my time. Reading through the special skills for each race. Contemplating over the perfect pair of horns.  Ultimately, I decided to create an argonian and named him after myself. It was a role playing game, after all. His face was red, not from the fear of his imminent execution, but his scales always shined a bright cherry red in the sunlight. The cool thing about playing as an Argonian is you truly look the part of the Dragonborn.

The game starts out so epic.  A dragon attacks Helgen and I learn the basic gameplay controls while making a desperate escape from the fire raining from the sky. Little did I know my fellow escapee was none other than Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm and leader of the Stormcloak rebellion. I loot bodies for weapons and armor, while madly chasing the destination on the map’s radar. Eventually I find my way down to an underground tunnel, beneath a stone tower.

Now the real fun begins.  You’re in a wet and dark cave. The action from outside has finally quieted down. you see a giant bear, far away in the shadowy distance.  I could try to sneak up and fight the beast with a rusty iron sword, but the shield I was holding looked a bit rickety. And I’d recently seen the Revenant. If Leo couldn’t kill a bear with a musket, I didn’t think my level 1 lizard-man was up to the challenge. So I borrowed the bow and arrows that a nearby decaying skeleton was clutching onto for the last few decades or so.  Pulling back on the string, I let go and watched my character level up his stealth skill.  The bear roared and charged me and I quickly realized that one arrow wouldn’t suffice.

You can imagine what happened from there. I played the game.  I completely and totally immersed myself in it. Making my way to Riverwood for the first time. Slaying dragons with huge fireball blasts and then ripping their bones off to sell to local merchants. Destroying undead zombies in ancient tombs with a trusty two handed battle ax.  But mainly exploring the wondrous land of Tamriel. Beating dungeons. Discovering new cities. Helping out strangers not for money, but just because I wanted to. I was entranced. The first play through, I actually read a lot of the books. Until I discovered the College of Winterhold’s library.

This was where my character really stared to specialize.  I didn’t really have a clear plan for my build. He was starting to become a warrior that wielded heavy armor and two handed weapons.  But his healing and destruction magic were strong.  I completed the epic storyline of the college.  I remember the final boss fight was with the Thalmor wizard and he was tough. I used a lot of potions to heal myself, since I didn’t fight him completely with magic. With Savos Aren dead, I donned the late Arch-Mage’s robes.  Suddenly my magic was unstoppable. Combined with the impact perk, my fireballs now staggered enemies.  One-on-one fights in open spaces with dragons and giants became significantly easier.  But the longer I played, I discovered new challenges: Death lords, Master-level wizards, and ambushes by those damned Falmer’s poison arrows.

A few memories still stand out.  The first few times I fought giants.  You remember: you’d already decimated a dozen or so dragons.  At this point, my heavy armor was pretty strong and I wasn’t really scared about the muted and hairless Sasquatch. And dear Daedra was I wrong.  The first time I fought a giant, his club smashed me into the sky, soaring past Meridia and into the heavens above.

I just played the game for fun the first time around. I went really far and got up to a high level.  Eventually the game became too easy.  I hadn’t yet discovered how much more fun the game was by adjusting the difficulty at key points.  My final build used maxed out heavy armor, I believe it was a full matching set of ebony armor, with a wicked ebony war hammer, enchanted with extra flame damage.

I found and destroyed most of the Dragon Priests on my 1st play-thru. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about the secret dungeon that requires all of the masks to gain entry.  As of writing this, I’ve still yet to complete that mission.  I thought I’d completed the majority of Skyrim’s storyline and missions, but I was mistaken.

Play-thru 2: Julian the Trailer Park Nord

Why I started playing again is anyone’s guess. I was in a huge Trailer Park Boy’s phase at the time, so I designed a character that looked exactly like Julian.  Ironically, it was one of the pre-set faces for an ancient Nord.

This play-through was all about mastery.  I leveled up blacksmithing to 100 so I could create Daedric and dragon bone armors.  I used archery and conjuration magic much more this play through. I also level up my enchanting perks.  My character was an unstoppable Demi-God by the end.  I played on high difficulty settings.

This play-through I discovered one of my favorite side-campaigns: The Dark Brotherhood.  It was completely unlike other missions.  It reminded me of the multi-mission saga of the College of Winterhold.  It turned me on to the fun of being a silent assassin.  It’s an epic storyline that ends up with you impersonating the Gourmet, becoming the Listener, and successfully being the first member of the Dark Brotherhood to kill the emperor of Skyrim in centuries.

I also joined the Companions and went through the arduous ritual to become a werewolf.  Other than navigating Skyrim on foot at super fast speeds, I didn’t really find it that useful to be a werewolf.  I even joined the Bard’s college in Solitude.  Just to be a completionist, I even sided with the Stormcloaks and won the civil war with my magical Warhammer.

My disk for the PS3 version of Skyrim was starting to not work correctly, so I purchased a new copy with the Dragonborn DLC.  This was a pretty amazing edition, especially for players like me that nearly completed all of the main story missions.  I bought land from a Jarl and build a huge house.  It shows off all of my armors I’d collected and put them on display.  I joined the Dawnguard, but couldn’t complete the campaign because of a bug, which I’ll describe in detail to hopefully prevent others from making the same mistake.  Right before opening the portal to realm where Serena’s mother is hiding, I preemptively collected void salts in the room and made a potion.  Because of this mistake, I couldn’t complete the mission and the auto-saves were already too far gone to restore my mistake. I think this is exactly when I stopped playing my 2nd play-thru.

But I did enjoy everything about Solstheim.  The new ice-type weapons, all of the new and curious conjurations, the bizarre realm of Apocrypha, and riding a dragon for the first time.  Not to mention finally learning some powerful conjuration magic spells, like the Ash Guardian. And the new enemy types were incredible: Lurkers, fire spriggans, seekers, the evil smurfs, frost giants, and the surprisingly strong ash spawn.

This play-thru I amassed countless spells and shouts. One of my favorite finds were spells. One was a transmutation spell that literally turned iron ore into gold.  Another was Equilibrium, a rare alternation spell that converted physical health into magic energy.  But combined with an apprentice level healing spell, one could quickly level up their healing and alternation levels.

Play-thru 3: Aimee the Dark Archer

I had a plan for this play-thru right from the start: complete the Dawnguard DLC and this time join the vampires.  But it wasn’t as simple as I expected. I choose to travel with Serena for much of this game.  We ended up betraying her father, Lord Harkon.  I enjoyed being a Vampire Lord and did some missions to level up my skills, but I quickly realized how overpowered it was.  I did enjoy being able to levitate over water, but the weakness to sunlight was annoying. I often traveled during the night, to avoid the harsh sunlight.  To keep the game fun, I stopped using the Vampire Lord form and just completed the missions as a mortal.

This character was a dark elf, with a small frame to maximize the benefits of sneaking.  What surprised me was making the character’s height a bit smaller actually lowered where the cursor sat in the middle of the screen.  It was sometimes tricky to tell at a glance if I was crouching or standing.

Part of vampire missions involved finding Auriel’s Bow.  It’s a complicated process to earn it, but you work with the spirits of snow elves to do a special pilgrimage. Eventually you wander the Forgotten Vale, a beautiful valley covered in snow and breathing with wildlife.  It’s the first time you see a Frost Giant, with massive devil horns protruding out of his head.  You also get to read an Elder Scroll!

But what I really loved was fighting a pair of dragons, Naaslaarum and Voslaarum.  Playing on Adept difficulty, these dragons killed me, the Spectral Assassin, my Flame Atronach, and Serena many times.  They not only escaped to the skies, but also dived into the freezing waters above the frozen lake on which our battle took place.

And the fight with Lord Harkon was nothing short of epic.  It truly felt like a traditional video game last boss fight.  He had a way of healing his self while in a magic sphere of blood.  Auriel’s bow had the power to break through this barrier.  All the while he summons undead and gargoyles to attack you from both sides. And being a vampire, he can teleport around the room and attack you to recover health. I think it took me 20 minutes to finally beat him.
One of my favorite parts was learning about the origin of the Falmer. They were always an intriguing mystery to me.  Apparently they are fallen snow elves, that live in old Dwemmer ruins.  After fighting the twin dragons, an ancient vampire snow elf reveals this to you. The Falmer live underground and were blinded after ingesting an herb that causes blindness.  Somehow this trait is inherited over generations. In exchange  for protection from the Nords, the Falmer traded their sight with the Dwemmer.

After that I just jumped back into playing.  Once again I infiltrated the Dark Brotherhood. I took out that annoying Jester again, forgetting that it was actually Astrid that betrays you.  This time I’m focused on archery. I recently maxed it out so that I have a chance of paralyzing the target for a few seconds.  I have a bow that absorbs Stamina, so I can stay in slow motion for much longer while aiming. Because of a stealth perk, unseen bows cause triple damage.  I also have a bound bow that absorbs souls.  Using charm, a dragon priest mask, Cicero’s cloths, an amulet, I can sell any type of item in my inventory to any merchant, including a summoneded Daedra. I hope to further master the school of conjuration.  My ultimate goal this time is to complete the mission that requires all of the dragon priest masks.

This play-through I was a Skyrim master.  Puzzles in dungeons rarely slowed me down. I only died a handful of times in battle.  And I didn’t really loot bodies like I used to. I finally realized to only take the valuables, since it’s too heavy to carry around multiple sets of armor.  Without really trying, I became rich. To the point that guards in cities would try to arrest me, and I’d just pay off the bounty on the spot.  I stopped caring about collecting alchemy ingredients (except for Daedra hearts of course).  If there was one specialty for this Dark Archer, it would be stealing souls.  This character carried dozens of full and empty soul gems. Enchanted weapons are always fully charged.  And many poor Skyrim inhabitants lost their bodies and souls, to further increase my power.  I fully understood and played the stealth ability to steal items.  I also learned that my character and companion were quite apathetic to chaos and mayhem.  Abandoning one’s conscious can be quite liberating. I guess it’s hard to reflect on your actions when you’re an immortal vampire.

Initially I tried to use a light-armor build, but I just like the defense of heavy armor too much.  This time I mainly used ancient Nord armor, which resembles a panda bear.  I knew what perks were the best and how to become a badass quickly.

One thing that surprised me was how powerful the random encounters with Dawnguard could be.  Deadly bolts from their cross bows seem to spontaneously appear from the void and dwindle half of my vampire health in one powerful hit.  Trying to fight them without a bow, arrow, and Atronach was pretty much suicide.  Serena, curse her ancient undead heart, was no help, since Dawnguard weapon cause extra damage to vampires.


What delighted me was finding new and interesting ways to play:

  • A stamina siphoning bow, for example, constantly kept me dodging attack in slow motion. Combined with the Slow Time shout, this is a blast.
  • I finally unlocked the paralyze enchantment, which is super fun when duel wielding one-handed swords.
  • During an assassination job in Solitude, I was in full Dark Brotherhood garbs. Next thing I know, I had 7 guards trapping my way off of the castle wall.  I decided to try a shout that didn’t do any damage: Ice form. Since they were all directly in front of me, I flash froze all of them. Then simply walked by them and easily escaped.
  • Using Vampiric Grip to throw enemies through the air, like a Sith Lord.
  • Silently eliminating a group of pirates with nothing but an enchanted dagger that does 15 times stealth damage.
  • Quickly stealth shooting a pack of wolves from far away, then watching their petty souls drift towards you from the distance.
  • Using the Aura detect shout, I learned to better navigate through environments stealthily and land hits on unwitting opponents. I even killed a few Deathlords without detection.
  • I played the entire game as a vampire. But Namira’s followers eat a strange diet…


Ideas for the next Elder Scrolls game:

  • I think Skyrim needs more enemies! If there’s one thing Bethesda got right with Fallout 4 on PS4, it’s adding more enemies on the map at one time.
  • Solstheim was awesome because of the creative enemies and setting. I didn’t like the ashy skies that never got fully light or dark.
  • Better UI (without using mods). I’d love to have an easy way to switch between my Stealth equipment and my heavy armor.  The quick start menu helps, but it grows to be really long after playing for a long time (that’s what she said).

Tips for new players to keep the game interesting and fun!

  • When you’re exploring outside, turn off the HUD and experience the true beauty of Skyrim. Everything looks cooler without the clutter of menus. In general, many games are more immersive when you play this way.
  • Learn to adjust the difficulty. You’ll learn skills faster and be more challenged.
  • Discover and complete the Daedric prince missions to earn their weapons. They’re a ton of fun to play and their relics are really powerful.
  • Complete the main story line. For some reason, people write it off as lame or unessential. But it’s a lot of fun, you get unique shouts, and you get to visit Sovngarde.
  • Save (AKA Wait) often, especially in a long dungeon before the boss fight.
  • Join the Dark Brotherhood.

Comment with your favorite memories of Skyrim!