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.

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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…

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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!

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 the world. 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, and thinking skills.

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 news feed. I think college 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. The cost of gas is also high! 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 abilities to learn and adapt
  • The ability to think critically and analyze information
  • The ability to communicate effectively in written and spoken word
  • 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 job do you want?
  • What’s the best way to achieve your life goals?

I urge 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?

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard

Can you type faster than you can write using pen and paper? If so, how do you take notes? Do you hand write or type notes during a meeting or lecture? I think that people retain knowledge better by writing things down. When you write your thoughts, you tend to write slower than you type. This make you hold the thoughts in your short term memory for longer, which in turn helps you retain the ideas in your long term memory. When I type notes, I find that I’m not really listening and comprehending the information. It seems it goes in one ear and out the other while transcribing what the speaker is saying.

What style to-do lists do you use? Do you prefer to write down your tasks or use some sort of software to track your activities? I like to write down my tasks for the day on a piece of paper. There’s not greater satisfaction in my opinion than crossing a task off a list by drawing a big line through it.

Do you think writing things down helps you learn the information better than typing notes?

Read more about the psychology behind this theory: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/taking-notes-by-hand-benefits-recall-researchers-find/51411

Work Audit in Highschool

IDEA: What if in high schools, nation wide, there was a mandatory class called “Work Audit”. In a nutshell, each day of the course, students would hear from one person in a certain field, such as lawn care, or doctor, or programmer, or teacher, or chef, or salesperson, or psychologists, or whatever and have them share about their job. To offer perspective. Get some actual ideas churning in young people’s head. Be blunt. Be honest! Have people ask questions like how much it pays and what are the worst frustrations/biggest joys of the job. How much more well rounded would we be with having that real experience hammered into our heads?

What did you want to do when you grew up? What’s your dream job? Would a class like this be useful to high school students?

Should the basic standard of writing proficiency change?

The article on page 11 of the November 2013 edition of Campus Technology expands on this idea.

http://online.qmags.com/CPT1113?sessionID=CC6B730ABEED948B57959CCB7&cid=2331368&eid=18476#pg1&mode1

MOOCs, SMOOCs, or is it all Moot?

​There seems to be a buzz in higher education these days about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Some people say it has changed education since they are free to the world and accessible to anyone. What happens if you ask a senior in high school what a MOOC is? Do they even know what a MOOC is? Probably not.

The premise that MOOCs are going to disrupt the entire education system is premature. According to Andrew Kelly, the director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute,  “The reality is that the vast majority of people who sign up for this type of class already have bachelor’s degrees.”

It’s certainly an admirable goal to target MOOCs to people in Africa, India, China, and elsewhere in the world, but aren’t people more comfortable with learning on the Internet through informal pathways, such as Wikipedia?

Compound this fact with the low number of students who actually complete a MOOC they sign up for – which is fewer than 10%.  I’ve signed up for a MOOC, reviewed the high quality content, but completely ingnored the assessments and discussion boards. It seems like the discussion boards lose their activity over time anyway.

I like the concept of a SMOOC, or a synconous-MOOC. I think people learn better together, so hold virtual online classes seems much more engaging. 

I ask you – are MOOCs the future of Higher Ed, or are they simply a moot fad?

Read this article if you want to learn more: http://www.fastcompany.com/3021473/udacity-sebastian-thrun-uphill-climb

How Robots are Transforming the World

Robots aren’t just characters in science fiction movies anymore. Robots are being used in many different industries for many different uses. Some of the more exciting uses of robots are in the fields of military, medical, and human care. This article focuses on how robots are being used to transform the world.

Transportation Robots

Google’s new autonomous cars that drive themselves in traffic to a specific destination would be a great way to facilitate the mobility of elderly people. My grandmother, for instance, has to call a Dart bus whenever she wants to visit somewhere by herself since she cannot drive herself. When these robot cars are ready for mass production, it will surely grant elderly people more freedom and independence…it will also give the rest of the driving population one less thing to stress out about since they won’t be tailgating drivers who always go 10 miles under the speed limit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdgQpa1pUUE

Helpful Robots in Human Care

First, a couple of examples of what could eventually become robot babysitters:

 

Hanson Robotics is creating robots with realistic facial impressions

The Geminoid DK mimics the movements of its operator. It extremely realistic looking and it actually performs the act of breathing

They’re a bit freaky in my opinion. The robot’s lips sync up to words. Once they develop these robots to walk and “see” via a video camera, you’ve got a robot babysitter that looks like a kid’s parent. Further, once the robot has the functionality to perform basic childcare functions, the robot would not only look like a kid’s parent – it could actually be a child’s parent. Honestly, I don’t think that’s a great idea for a developing child. It just seems to me that it will give a child an unrealistic view of the world. Children should not develop basic trust from a robot.

Plus, if this robot automates the majority of the trivial processes involved in raising a child, what’s to become of the role of a parent? TV is notorious for raising children these days, but think what life would be like if a robot fed, cleaned, and rocked a baby to sleep at night? Parents everywhere would just sit around and play Farmville all night while tweeting about how easy it is to raise a child. The real question is are these robots truly helping us or just making people everywhere lazier?

Finally, virtual pets are coming down the pike. It’s true: robots that look and act like pets. They even interact with their owners. We’ve all heard that having a pet is good for an elderly person’s mental health. However, this is a suitable alternative for owners that have special needs and are not able to own a real pet.

Further, people usually outlive their pets, so this is a great way to gain the benefits, such as companionship and other therapeutic services, but not deal with the realities of death. The question isn’t really can humans truly bond with AI robots, but should they? What if a child had this type of robot as a pet? It would probably be harder to understand life and death when the child’s best friend is an immortal furry metal robot…

There’s definitely value in automating truly trivial tasks such as vacuuming or cleaning a pool. The iRobot Roomba 560 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner is a great way elderly people can clean their house and play with their cats! Finally, cats can clean up their own hairballs. The iRobot Verro Pool Cleaning Robot would be especially useful for an elderly person because strenuous activity could be a health risk. However, that dependency on robots could certainly be detrimental to human health and wellbeing in the long run due to inactivity.

Military & Firefighting Robots

A lot of advances have been made in regards to military robots. These Exoskeleton Robotic Suits (AKA the suit that turns you into a real Iron Man) are a really great example: Read more about the XOS 2 robotics suit.

There’s surly a line between “right” and “wrong” we should consider. For instance, Robokiyu is robot created by the Tokyo Fire Department; its original purpose was to help rescue people asphyxiated by smoke inhalation inside burning buildings. Obviously, this task can be dangerous for fire fighters, so this robot is very helpful. However, when officials realized how versatile this robot could be, they started using it for other duties…such as moving corpses and “dormant” (AKA drunk) people. I think this robot proves it that robots should not be involved in certain processes, despite how helpful they may seem. Shouldn’t the sanctity of death be treated with a little more dignity and respect? Likewise, could you imagine passing out drunk and waking up inside a robot’s belly?

Read more at: http://www.weirdasianews.com/2008/04/20/robot-scooper/

Ethics – where do we draw the line?

If a malfunction occurred, should the corporation that created and sold the robot should be held responsible? Shouldn’t the corporation have tested the robot to always work properly? Obviously, if the consumer didn’t follow the instructions and caused the problem, it would probably void the warranty and any ensuring law suits. I feel that there really needs to exhaustive testing. With software, you can just fix bugs as they occur with relatively minimal repercussions. However, robots have physical power which could potentially injure or kill someone.

Who do you think should be held responsible if there is a problem with one of these robots? The engineers, programmers, corporation, consumer? 

Do you know of any other interesting robots? What are some of the ethical and safety considerations that robots create? Do you have any predictions about how robots will change society? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Digital Rights Management: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

The Father Digital Rights Management: Peer-to-Peer file sharing

Peer-to-peer file applications have left a scar on the music and movie industries. Just a few years ago, it was commonplace for users to use peer-to-peer file sharing apps such as Limewire and Napster to download entire albums and movies – completely free. At the time, it seemed like everyone was doing it and nothing was “wrong” with doing it. However, musicians do own the copyright to their music meaning it is illegal to download without paying. For big musicians like Lincoln Park, it’s hard for most people to sympathize since they’re rich anyway. Imagine for a minute how harmful free distribution of music is to a smaller band just trying to make a living and get by.

In terms of the music industry, digital rights management is an issue that has been hard to solve. Some banks, like Metallica, perceive the ownership of their music’s license like a fire-and-brimstone issue – they once sued fans and Napster for using P2P sites to down download their albums:

Metallica Sues Napster Universities Fans 

Sure, it’s is a serious issue for musicians, but suing one’s own fans is a bit extreme. Metallica isn’t exactly going broke because of this. Technically, Metallica was justified because they own the copyright to their music, but do you think that it was “right” of the band to go after individuals? What do you think Metallica should have done?

The other end of the spectrum is bands who think that Digital Rights Management is killing the music industry all together and encourage fans to listen to their music – by any means necessary. Radiohead, for instance, allowed fans to download their entire new album, for free, but allowed fans to donate however much they deemed fit :
Radiohead’s Donation Album Idea Spread Over the InternetAngels and Airwaves let fans download their album from their website during a 24 hour promotional period. I attended a concert once where the band Thursday said to get ahold of their music – even if that meant downloading it off the Internet for free! Obviously, there is some debate as to a solution for solving the illegal peer-to-peer file applications.

Congress is even proposing to impose penalties for people for making YouTube videos with copyrighted content. If I want to use my favorite band as the background music for my skate video, should I be put in jail? If anything, I’m spreading awareness about the band!

Read more at: http://act.demandprogress.org/sign/ten_strikes/ 

Usage Enforcement and its Effect on Consumers

Hollywood and record companies have taken 1 giant step to protect the copyright of the media they license: this step is usage enforcement. Usage enforcement is a very sophisticated, yet inconvenient, technology which changes the file format of media to enforce copyright. For instance, if you buy a music track from iTunes, the track is configured so that you can only store the file on a certain number of devices. In other words, even though you bought the track, it’s not completely yours to use however you’d like. The reason usage enforcement was implemented was to cut down on the sharing of files.

It’s quite possible that video games and movies will soon do something similar to cut down on sharing. They could use the Internet to register a video, therefore tracking the number of licenses which a certain video has used. This is also inconvenient because you’d need to be connected to the Internet just to register. Think of it this way: you wouldn’t be able to play a music file which you copied from a flash drive to a PC without first registering it. While most people view P2P file sharing as stealing, do you think it should be considered stealing to simply burn an album on to a CD for a friend?

Of course the copyright owner has the legal right to limit the use of an audio/video file license. However, usage enforcement is typically considered extremely unfair to people who are not distributing the music illegally. It comes as no surprise that the UK is updating their copyright laws to incorporate common sense: Changes Outdated Copyright Law Set Legalise Format Shifting Do you think that this is a good move forward for the industry? Do you think that the US should follow suit?

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Taxing Radio

Radio broadcasts are a live performance of music. Live performances are definitely covered in the constraints of copyright law. Due to this, however, law makers are pushing to tax radio. Because local radio stations would not be able to cover the royalty fees to play songs, this law would hurt many local radio stations. Where do you stand on this issue? Should radio be taxed? Aren’t radio stations just providing free advertisement for musicians and a great way for people to discover new music?

The Business Model of “Hollywood” and “Big record labels”

Technology and the Internet are surely changing the business models of Hollywood and Big music record labels, but they aren’t completely obsolete. It’s great to have a label to provide structure, funding, and marketing. The traditional model of purchasing an entire album is outdated – thus Apple’s popular model of purchasing tracks. However, being limited with how many systems or devices a track can be licensed to is very frustrating to users.

I’m for a subscription model where users pay a monthly fee and never own music, but rent it. Netflix does this with movies and they put Blockbuster out of business. Obviously, it works for the film industry, now we need a mainstream way of doing this with music. Rhapsody offers this, but it needs more buzz and better access methods to become mainstream: Will DRM Free Music Subscription Model Threaten iTunes?. In short, big record labels are quickly becoming obsolete.

Obviously, the music industry is changing with the times. It’s probably just a matter of time before paying for music is a thing of the past. Pandora, for instance, let you listen to music for free from a web browser. What happens when Internet speeds are powerful and widespread enough for users to consistently access free music from mobile devices?

Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist at Google & also the person recognized as The Father of the Internet, wrote on his blog in 2008: “In the next decade, around 70% of the human population will have fixed or mobile access to the Internet at increasingly high speeds, up to gigabits per second. We can reliably expect that mobile devices will become a major component of the Internet”

The music industry has to evolve its business strategy. Advertising will likely be a big part of it considering that’s how free services like Google and Facebook make a profit.

Hollywood certainly isn’t obsolete by any means. Even with the exponential growth of self-produced media – like Shane Dawson’s YouTube channel – I just don’t see Hollywood going away anytime soon. People love movies – high quality movies. Simply put, YouTube videos will never be better than Paranormal Activity 3. There’s still a big demand for blockbuster movies.

Accessing music and movies

I use Pandora when I have access to a PC or laptop. If I want to hear a specific song, I just go to YouTube and look it up with the word “Lyrics” after the band name & song title. Otherwise, you’ll get the band’s label page (usually VEVO) and typically have to watch an advertisement…a long advertisement (almost 30 seconds!)…an advertisement you can’t always skip. Otherwise, I use my iPod when I’m driving in the car.

Just a few years ago I only used CDs and never thought anything of burning a copy for a friend. There’s an old saying that if you love a book don’t let friend borrow it. The rational is you’re costing the author from gaining a potential profit. I don’t agree with that quote. I think you’re helping promote the book (or band if you’re burning a CD). Further, the person might get hooked on the series of books or band and start purchasing concert tickets or book sequels. You wouldn’t want to waste you’re money on a bad book or CD, so this is a great way to test the waters.

Big labels are just too controlling. Recently, Justin Bieber uploaded his own song to YouTube on his personal account and that video was removed – by his own record label, Universal Music Group. Here is a link to the full article:Justin Bieber infringes copyright of his own songs by uploading YouTube video Shouldn’t the copyright to a song belong to the person who created it or do the creators sacrifice that right when they sell the copyright’s exclusive license?

For more reading about Digital Rights Management, check out:
The Top 10 Arguments Against DRM 
Digital Rights Management Controversy

QUESTIONS TO YOU:

How has copyright affected the way you listen and acquire music and videos? Have you ever been frustrated by the overbearingness of usage enforcement? What changes do you see occurring in the music and movie industries in the future? 

Do you or have you ever used a peer-to-peer file sharing application to download music or movies? Do you consider it stealing? Is it stealing to burn an album on to a CD for a friend?

To be (a cloud computing user), or not to be: that is the question.

In 2009, the CEO of Animoto Brad Jefferson said:
“Cloud computing is really a no-brainer for any start-up because it allows you to test your business plan very quickly for little money. Every start-up, or even a division within a company that has an idea for something new, should be figuring out how to use cloud computing in its plan.” 

A Visual Overview of Cloud Computing

Yale Begins Move to Google Apps

Yale University is currently working with Google on migrating to Google Apps for Education . This project is expected to be completed by the end of the 2011-2012 academic year for students and the 2012-2013 year for faculty and staff. Yale isn’t the only institution making the switch – more than 200 higher education institutions use Google Apps (including Wilmington University for student email). Google is offering this service for free to Yale. 

Benefits of Google Apps for Education:

  • Email, IM, phone and video calls from a single interface
  • More reliable than an internal email server & virus free
  • Large storage; disaster recovery built in
  • Google Docs and Calendar enable ‘smart scheduling’ when planning meetings
  • Publish school event calendars
  • Students can share course schedules

Besides the new technology services this move will make available to staff and students, Yale was also motivated because using Google Apps will reduce staffing costs and make less of a burden on physical resources. Additionally, with the IT staff freed up from maintaining these services internally, they will be able to focus on other projects. 

The push to cloud computing saves money and gives the Yale community with new services. In theory, this is a win-win; however, there are security and privacy concerns regarding the storage of data on external servers. Yale has already stated that not all of their staff will make the switch due to privacy convers: “Some faculty and staff members with special circumstances — like those dealing with electronic protected health information (ePHI) — will most likely stay on a locally-hosted email system.” 

Students’; academic records are protected under Federal FERPA regulationsto ensure that students’ privacy is respected; FERPA requires student’s personal information to be properly safeguarded and only used for legitimate purposes. On an institution’s local servers, it’s seems like it would be safer since the data is under lock and key. Google addresses these concerns with a detailed Privacy Policy – it states that Google will not inappropriately share or use personal information placed in their systems. 

It seems too good to be true. How does Google benefit from this? The emails are advertisement free. Google states: that Google Apps for educations does not share personal information with advertisers or other 3rd parties without your consent. Due to FERPA, shouldn’t there not even an option for institutions to consent to sharing data? Personally, I love Google and its products, but remember the Google Buzz controversy? Google obviously doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to privacy. Even though Google states says that Yale owns the data, Google’s word reliable enough when it comes to academic records? When you entrust your data to 3rd parties, they could potentially go out of business (I know this might be silly to think this in regards to Google, but you never know).

To be (a cloud computing user), or not to be: that is the question.

For more reading on cloud computing, check out these articles:

QUESTIONS TO YOU:

Do you use a cloud computing service? What do you like or dislike about it? 

What privacy or security concerns do you see with cloud computing or other software as a service (SaaS) technologies? 

Can you trust cloud companies to protect your data – what if they change their terms of service and suddenly no longer have access to your files?

The Slippery Slope of SOPA: Censorship in America

I strongly oppose SOPA and PIPA as they represent a big step towards Internet censorship in America.  The United States government currently censors content in schools and libraries – they have filters used for blocking certain websites due to their obscene/pornographic nature; I agree with this type of censorship as it helps to protect our young children. Other than those filters, the American government doesn’t censor the Internet – nor should it.

Authoritarian governments, such as China, see the massive power the Internet has, so they limited it as a means of controlling its people.  That is why when things get dicey, authoritarian governments just flip the kill switch and start turning off parts of the Internet.  That’s what happened during the protests in Egypt in January 2011.  In America, I hope that the Internet remains uncensored to ensure our First Amendment right of freedom of expression remains protected. The First Amendment guarantees the creation of any US laws against freedom of speech or of the press. Basically this means individuals can legally express themselves anyway they want without the government saying otherwise.  SOPA and PIPA would circumvent these first amendment rights and ultimately fail to do what it was created to do – enforce copyright licenses. While the rights of copyright owners do need to be protected, SOPA and PIPA are not the answer.

What do you think is the answer to enforce copyright licenses?

PS – Kudos to Wikipedia for taking a stand and blacking out their site down for entire day to protest this.

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