Week 14: Final Post

Hello, kind reader, and thank you for reading this final entry into my Information Tech blog.

Well, this is it, the last post in this particular blog. This class has been an interesting and actually thought provoking class.  It has actually changed much of what I had previously thought about most of the subjects we spoke on in this course.  I will now recount this course to the best of my abilities and discuss what I thought about the subjects I studied in it.

I started the course with just basic computer skills, but that started to change after the first week.  In that first section of the class, we spoke on the history of the computer, the hardware, the soft ware, and binary. I enjoyed learning about the different personalities involved with the history of the computers, and learning interesting facts about those people. The most memorable of those is how Charles Babbage died broke and tortured by organ grinders.  I don’t know why, but the whole organ grinder thing just seemed rather strange to me.

The lesson on software was one of the bigger eye openers to me in that class.  I didn’t know how much the O.S. actually does for the user.  I will try to keep it in mind from now on when I get angry at Windows for messing with me.

I enjoyed building the fictitious computer and looking for the parts for it, even if I have no hope of ever affording that monster. It was interesting to see how all the parts would fit together and form a computer.  And it was not nearly as complex as it looked. I hope that someday I will get to put my knowledge of building a computer to the test.  It was also really cool to finally learn about binary.  That one lesson demystified binary for me and it no longer seems like arbitrary rubbish.  Looking at the ALS was rather interesting as it showed that the CPU isn’t near as complicated as I had first thought.

After the first test we started getting into even deeper subjects. In that section of the course, we talked about the internet, programming, databases, and hacking.   I had no clue how the internet worked before this class, but now I know that it is just a bunch of servers (websites) and clients (PC computers and other stuff like that) working together to share data.  It is most certainly not a series of tubes like that Stevens fellow said. This class also marked my first experience with HTML.  I remember hating the text and image formatting phase of that assignment, but the rest of the assignment was kind of cool.

It was sort of interesting when we spoke on programing, but it wasn’t really anything I didn’t already know. During that lesson, I also got to use Scratch again.  That had to be one of my favorite assignments I have ever done, as it let me practice game design again. Even though the last week of the assignment was one of the worst weeks of my relatively short life, I still think about Scratch quite fondly.  The lesson on databases was rather odd to me.  It was cool that SQL was that close to English, but then Dr. Brown punctuated his lesson with how the government has an information gathering department that just compiles information on the average citizen.  That made me feel angry at how the government can get away with that sort of nonsense with no consequences!  But I won’t rant any more on that rather unsavory subject.

The section on hacking was more frightening to me than thought provoking.  It did prompt me to employ additional precautions for using the computer at home, but it mainly just freaked me out!  I just hope that we find some way to harness this rather destructive force for good before people like Anonymous destroy us!

The third and last section of the course had to be my overall favorite. It covered robotics, AI, and virtual reality and gaming.  The robots were really cool to use.  I am still baffled that they were so easy to program and build!  But then again, they were just Lego robots and not these android like beings that are being produced in laboratories today.  The level of complexity in those robots like Leonardo is mind blowing. The talk on robots has also caused me to really think about the future of that field.  As an avid science fiction fan, I hope for the day when we have something like Data from Star Trek, or a super powered hero like Robocop.  But at the same time I fear the day when we could bring about our own doom with a Terminator style robot, or possibly even bring about a horrible weapon like a Metal Gear (bipedal nuclear tank/mech thing).

When we talked about AI, it simply reinforced the previous ideas that I had on the subject.  Simply put, I still think that AI’s are exceptionally good at doing very stupid things.  They may have improved, but they still are too stupid to do anything good in a game.  They may sneak up on you and kill you in games, but only if you do something dumb too.  The lesson also introduced me to chatbots. They are at least twice as dumb as the AI in video games.

The lesson on gaming was very thought provoking to me, and my favorite lesson of this term.  The TED talks we watched on gaming have caused me to double my efforts on not just making my games fun, but also thought provoking and something that the player will be emotionally invested in.  Also the talk of AR games in this and other lessons has prompted me to jot my own ideas for that field on paper.  I think that gaming has come a long way since its start and I see nothing but more and more progress for the field in the future.

In conclusion, this class has certainly opened my eyes to the various fields of computer science and has also taught me that everything about the computer is neither good nor bad, but can be used for both.  It has probably been my favorite class this rather odd term, and one I will to remember for quite some time.

So God bless you, kind reader, and have an excellent life and a very merry Christmas!

-Joshua Howell Curtis

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Week 13: Virtual Reality and Gaming

Hello reader and thank you for reading this blog post.  This week, we briefly spoke on virtual worlds and gaming.  I have been playing video games for most of my life and have no intention of stopping any time soon.  Several people I know would take great pleasure in pointing out how I “waste my life playing games” and how “nothing good will come of playing games on a regular basis”.  But I personally think that the good outweighs the bad in many cases.  Like with me, playing the games I do has helped me as a game designer in training to see what is good and what is not and has helped me come up with fun new concepts I am hoping to try when I start making games professionally.  Games also improve hand-eye coordination, can improve team work, and even improve some management skills if you are a big RTS fan (which I am unfortunately not).  The only cons I have found with gaming are the rare cases when a player becomes so addicted to the game that the player neglects his responsibilities. Like the freaking retard that starved their child just to play World of Warcraft!  This sort of behavior is what fuels the arguments of the vicious game haters out in the world.  But I will stop my rant here.

In this assignment, I was asked to show a picture of one of my many game avatars.  Normally, I would just show my current Skyrim character, but, as I cannot get a decent picture of him, I will just show you one of my other avatars.

This is Ben Carmine, my Gears of War 2 avatar.

I usually pick him because I can relate to the character’s skill level most days!

 

This has been a pretty interesting week. Gaming is one of my favorite subjects. I just wish we had more of a chance to talk about it.  I am looking forward to the next week’s subject.

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Week 12: AI and Robotics

Hello reader and thanks for reading my blog.  This week we spoke about AI and worked more on the Lego Mindstorms robots.  The robot my team did was a line following robot with treads instead of wheels.  It works quite nicely until it tries to go through the start of the track again, then it seems to want to go and explore the class room.  It had some problems at first with one tread seemingly not getting enough power, but the problem was remedied when Dr. Brown unplugged and replugged a different servo on the robot. I have no bloody clue why that worked, but for some reason it did.  Working with the robot was very fun and interesting.  It was really cool how the color sensor would actually pick out colors very well.  The only object that it didn’t seem to pick the color right on was my light green shirt. It thought that my shirt was white for some reason. Any how, like I said before, the robots were very cool and maybe some day I will purchase one of the Mindstorms kits.

Now on to my thoughts on AI. It has come a long way since the early days of the field, but it is still no match for a human when it comes to dealing with the unexpected or doing something involving pattern matching.  It is also still remarkably stupid when it comes to gaming.  Marines in Halo still try to run you over, stand on grenades, and shoot you in the back.  And that all happens on a good day!  In other games, the AI displays such great tactics like “stand here and stare at the player”, or “run in a straight line and avoid all cover”, or even the good old anomaly like “jump off the cliff and die” routine.  AI still, in my opinion, has to come a long way before it can accurately simulate an enemy soldier or even an angry troll.  It was pretty interesting to talk about AI this week, and I look forward to learning about it even more in the future. I am also very excited to talk about video games and simulations next week.

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Week 11: Robots

Hello reader and thank you for reading this blog post.  This week we started speaking on robots and tinkering with the Lego Mindstorms robot kits.  The kits so far have been easy to assemble and the programing for them looks very easy like scratch.  It is quite interesting to see the robot take form from just a pile of Lego things.   These seem to be far sturdier than the other Lego crap I have used over the years, as it doesn’t fall apart during use or collapse if you look at it wrong.  So far the robot my team is building is not quite ready, but I am confident it will be done today.  It looks as though it will be a robot that rolls along on treads like a tank, but has a claw on the front for some reason.  It will be fun to see it start to move around and what not.

 

We also watched some videos about robots this week.  The robots ranged from a strange, furry, little creature named Leonardo who looked as though he thought things through like a toddler, to the military recon bots that the army uses to scout out buildings and other areas that the enemy is prone to hide in.  These robots caused me to pause a bit.  I had no idea that they could make a robot as life like as Leonardo or as sturdy as the recon bots.  If the technology keeps advancing at this rate, we will start hearing of infantry droids clearing buildings and caves instead of human soldiers.  This could have both good and bad ramifications.  The good would be that human soldiers could stop going into highly dangerous areas and getting maimed or killed.  The bad would be that the robots could start to see humans as stupid or weak and wipe us out, and since we were using them in the military, they would have access to advanced armaments and what not.  As you can tell, I have watched the Terminator series and other things involving robots, so I may just be paranoid.  I really hope that is the case, because Dr. Brown said that the government wants a fifth (I think) of all soldiers to be robots by 2015, so I really hope I am just being paranoid again.  Other than boosting my extreme robo-phobia, this has been an interesting topic and I am looking forward to talking about AI next week.

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Week 9: Security and hacking

Hello reader, and thanks for reading my blog.  This week in class we spoke on issues related to hacking and security.  This has probably been the most interesting week so far and also the most helpful. The many ways that hackers can attack is staggering to me. I had heard of the Trojan horse, the virus, and the spy ware, but the worm and other things that they do, as well as the methods of attack like the SQL injection and the Zombie computer were quite new to me.

This week also taught me that not all hackers are evil, vicious individuals out to steal your information. Some are just curious people like Mr. Wozniak or Mr. Draper, while others, like the people who hacked Sony, are evil and malicious. Even though I am not a big fan of Sony, it’s stuff like this that’s enough to make me seethe with anger!

While I am on the subject of hacking, what we spoke of this week, and the discussion we had the Friday before the break, makes me wonder even more about if our nation is safe from other governments hacking into our records or other sensitive places. I mean, If a small organization like Wiki Leaks can get us, what could a well funded, government sanctioned, organization do to us.  What’s stopping Iran from hiring hackers to steal our nuke’s blue prints or launch codes, or some other disaster like that. It’s thoughts like this that keep me up some nights.  I just hope that security tech can keep up with the constant threat of evil hackers.  I also hope that we hire some of the good hackers to help with the security stuff.

This week was a very good week, and I am looking forward to what ever is next in this class.

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Week 8: Scratch and Programming

Hello reader, and thank you for reading my blog.  This week  in class, we started looking at a program called Scratch.  It is sort of a little programing language that can be used for animation and games. I have actually used Scratch before this assignment and have been using it since my brother took this class before me.  It is a neat little program and is very easy to use.  The only problems I usually have with it are hit detection type problems.  Like trying to make two sprites bounce away from each other when they touch each other is the problem I am working on right now.  Other than the hit detection, A.I. can be rather tricky to manage when you are just now trying it.  Right now I am trying to get the enemy to move and attack you when you start the little game I am working on.  Over all, however, Scratch is probably one of the easier programs of its nature to use.

We also looked at a lecture given by the now sadly dead Randy Pausch. It was a rather interesting lecture and has given me a lot to think about. It has sort of strengthened my resolve to become a game designer when I get out of college. I also liked his method of teaching programming through something like Alice or Scratch.  I agree that if you make some hard task like programming fun, then people would learn it quite a bit easier.  I think that this may work for other subjects like history or science as well.

This weeks topic was interesting to me and I am looking forward to next week (time to get more paranoid through the study of Computer Security!)

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HTML Part 2

Hello reader, and thank you for reading this blog.  Well, this concludes my experience with HTML.  I have a far greater respect for the people who do this sort of thing for a living.  It was a rather interesting and fun experience except for the blasted formatting of the page.  It was rather tedious to hand code all of the text and what not, but I think that it looks good and is a rather fun and informative page.  Uploading it was easy to and I had no trouble using the Secure Transfer Client at school.

We also looked at SQL and data bases this week. SQL looks very easy to use and I thought it was cool how close to English it actually is. The part on data bases was both interesting and rather frightening at the same time. I had already had experience with “flat files” from the C++ class I took last spring, but I had never thought about what they would look like if they were bigger than the ones that I made. Now I am very thankful for database stuff for if I ever have to use it. Now for what scared me. I didn’t know about that information gathering department that Dr. Brown spoke of and also didn’t know that the government can get any data it wants on you through any means it sees fit, whether those means are ethical or not.  That made me distrust our government even more, which I thought was impossible to do.  But I will stop talking about our government.  I enjoyed this weeks lecture and am looking forward to the next one.

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Week 6: HTML Part 1

Hello reader, and thank you for reading this blog.  This week in class we started speaking of networks and HTML. The bit on networks was interesting, but this post will primarily be about my experience hand coding HTML.

My first impressions of HTML were like my first impressions of about everything we have covered so far, and that would be thinking it is much harder than it actually is.  Sure HTML is not near as neat or organized as C++ or Java, but it is certainly easier than either of these languages. And I should know, I am taking an intro Java course this term and have already taken intro C++. It can also be fun to see your hard work show up on your web browser after staring at a rather messy looking text file.  However, It can be very tedious and formatting the page is a pain in the backside! I still have not gotten my page 100% formatted yet, but it is coming along as nicely as it can.  I also still need to put in a few more links and maybe a few more pictures. I think I may also have to shrink some of the pictures I have on it now so that it will load faster on a slow computer.  Other than those things, the page is pretty much done. It has taken quite a while to do but it looks pretty good for my first time with this stuff. I just hope that the rest of the formatting goes smoothly.

The networking segment of the class was pretty interesting and was very informative. I didn’t really know quite how the internet worked before that. I had never really thought of it until this week. But now I know that it is just a bunch of networks networked together. I also never knew that the web and the internet are different things. I didn’t know that the web is the thing that helps us find almost any information that we want and that the internet is just a network that this information is stored on. I will try in the future to not use these words synonymously.

So far, this HTML coding assignment has been a fun, but still sort of frustrating, experience, and I am looking forward to see what comes next in this class.

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Week 4: ALS and software

Hello, reader, and thank you for reading this blog.  This week in class, we studied software and the assembly language simulator (ALS).  The ALS was a neat little program that showed us sort of what goes on inside your computers CPU. It was not near as complicated as I had would have expected. Even though this simulator was rather basic as it only handled I.O., math, and logic, it still was a pretty good example of the CPU. I used it to do the examples and assignments that Doctor Brown put out and tried to test its limits a bit in my spare time. By that I mean I tried to see what would happen if I put too many commands or tried to go beyond memory and, fortunately, I didn’t break the program too badly or fry the computer.  The next thing we spoke on was the software end of the computer.  It was very interesting learning all that the operating system does in the computer.  It really changed my view of Windows a lot, as life would actually be quite a bit harder without it, even though it can be very obnoxious.  This lecture really ties together all of the stuff we have learned so far. It shows how we need the software to control all the hardware we spoke of, like the mind controls the body.  I also think it was pretty cool how the hard drive can be used as a sort of “fake” RAM, almost like a military force disguises their numbers, making themselves look larger than they actually are.  It was also cool to learn a little about the various personalities in the computer business. I think my favorite speech was actually by Steve Jobs. Even though his philosophy is dreadfully morbid at times, he made some very good points about doing what you love and finding your talent and using it.   This was a nice change of pace from “Just do it to make money” like so many other people say.  I really enjoyed this lecture and am looking forward to the next one.

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Week 3: Building a computer

Hello, reader, and thank you for reading this blog. This week in class we were told to spec out a computer. The following list is what I would personally choose for the components and the reason or reasons why I would do it.  For the CPU, I picked the Intel Core i7-990X Extreme Edition Gulftown. This is supposed to be one of the fastest CPUs available and was also very good for gaming. Its price is very steep but I figured it didn’t matter much because I have no intention of trying to build this computer anyhow.  You may find it here

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115079

For the motherboard, I picked the ASUS Rampage III Black Edition LGA 1366 Intel X58 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Extended ATX Intel Motherboard.  This thing is also highly recommended for gaming.  It is also rather pricey though, but I suppose that’s what happens when you want quality. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131726&cm_sp=Pers_StoreTopSellerMore-_-13-131-726_20_TS_-_-1_20_

For the graphics card, I picked the MSI N580GTX Lightning Xtreme Edition GeForce GTX 580 (Fermi) 3072MB 384-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Support Video Card.  It is supposed to be very good for overclocking and also comes with a free batman game while supplies last. You can’t possibly say no to free stuff. My only beef with the card is you can’t chain two of them together, but, the way the site spoke of it, you probably won’t need to. Also at the time of this post it is sadly out of stock. I guess I’ll have to wait to build my entirely hypothetical computer.  It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127589&cm_sp=Pers_StoreTopSellerMore-_-14-127-589_2_TS_-_-1_38__ so long as it’s in stock!

For the RAM, I picked the CORSAIR Vengeance 16GB (4 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMZ16GX3M4A1600C9B bundle.  It was also designed with overclocking in mind and I also figure I won’t run out of RAM while gaming with 16 gig of it in the machine. It is also blue, which I figure is a plus even though, after it goes into the machine, I probably will not see it. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820145347&cm_sp=Pers_StoreMostWishedMore-_-20-145-347_11_CWsh_-_

For the hard drives, I chose to use at least 3 Crucial M4 CT512M4SSD2 2.5″ 512GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drives. These are supposed to be extremely fast drives, and I really like a lot of speed when it comes to computers. These are pretty expensive, so that could hinder some from using them.  You can find this drive here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148444&cm_sp=Pers_StoreMostWishedMore-_-20-148-444_11_TWsh_-_-1_119___

For the sound card, I picked the ASUS XONAR_XENSE 7.1 Channels 24-bit 192KHz PCI Express x1 Interface Sound Card. This card is supposed to be really good when using headphones or surround sound and is exceptional for gaming. It also comes with a pretty good set of headphones. I didn’t see anything about this card I didn’t like except it, like any other quality computer parts, is expensive. You can find it here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16829132018

For the power supply, I chose the CORSAIR Professional Series HX850 (CMPSU-850HX) 850W ATX12V 2.3 / EPS12V 2.91 80 PLUS SILVER Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply. I figured that 850 watts would power a gaming machine adequately and it also had better reviews than the 1200 watt supply I had looked at earlier. It also has a nice big fan in it to keep it cool and keep my machine from burning up.  There were no flaws that I found with this supply. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139011

For the CPU cooling system, I picked the CORSAIR H100 (CWCH100) Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler. I have heard that liquid cooling is supposed to be great for overclocking a machine, so I picked the cooler that had some of the best reviews on the site. The only downside to the system I can see is that if it screws up and busts, your computer is pretty much dead, as I’ve heard that water and electronics tend not to mix well. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835181017

For the case I chose, the Rosewill BLACKHAWK Gaming ATX Mid Tower Computer Case.  I don’t really have a great reason for the case other than it has blue lights and fits with the motherboard.  It can be found here

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811147107

For the monitor I picked, the LG 55LW5600 55″ Class Cinema 3D LED LCD HDTV. Yes, this monitor is a big 3d TV, and that is exactly why I chose it! It is big and very cool looking and the tag on the site mentioned something about PC support so I figured that it was good.  The only downside is that this thing is nearly two grand. It can be found here http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=7287792&CatId=5472

For the speakers, I chose the Klipsch HD300 Home Theater Speaker System.  I like surround sound and I figured it would go nicely with the large TV and expensive gaming computer. The only downside is that the amp for it was rumored to have heating problems, so I might have to train some fans on it in order to keep it cool. It can be found here

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=4553266&sku=K55-1100

For the DVD drives, I chose to use at least 2 TEAC Black 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE/ATAPI DVD-ROM Drives. I don’t know much about DVD drives, so I just winged it on this one. It looked like it would fit in the case anyhow.  Also, I picked the Sony Optiarc 24X DVD Burner as a DVD burner, just in case I have to burn something. Again, I just winged it on this choice. You can find the DVD drive here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827139040 , and the burner here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827118067

For the keyboard, I picked the LITE-ON SK-1688U/B Black 104 Normal Keys USB Wired Standard Keyboard. I didn’t like the look of a lot of the gaming keyboards, so I picked this cheap little keyboard. I didn’t see the need for fifty extra buttons and other features like that. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823107128

For the Mouse, I chose the Logitech G700 Black 13 Buttons Tilt Wheel USB RF Wireless Laser 5700 dpi Gaming Mouse. This time I did see the need for extra buttons and I also like a wireless mouse better than a wired mouse. I have always hated wired mice because they always get bound up or tangled up with other wires. The extra buttons could come in handy if I have to hot key something and don’t feel like using the keyboard. It can be found here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826104377

I figured for the OS that I would use Windows 7. I may like XP more, but XP probably can’t run Skyrim or Battlefield 3.  You can find Windows 7 here http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16832116997

 

Well, now that the parts I would pick have been listed, I will tell you how I would put them together. This is the first time I have ever even thought of doing this, so here goes nothing.

First, I would get the parts laid out and ground myself to the case. This would prevent accidentally frying any components.  Second, I would take the CPU and attach it to the CPU slot on the motherboard, all the while trying to avoid contact between the prongs on the bottom of the CPU and my hand. Third, I would latch my liquid cooling unit on top of the CPU, making sure to get a nice, snug fit. After that, I would push the RAM into its designated slot on the motherboard. Then, I would snap the slots for the keyboard, mouse, and other things like that into the back of the computer.  Next, I would carefully slide the motherboard into the case, careful to line up the holes in the motherboard with the holes in the case, and then screw it in. After that, I would push out the drive cage, screw in my hard drives, and return the drive cage to its place in my case and screw that in.  Next, I would remove the front covers of the case and slide in my disk drives and burner and screw them in.  Then, I would start connecting the connectors in their respective places on the block, making sure to get the polarities right if my hard drives have lights. Then I would connect the block to the motherboard. After that, I would start connecting the USB, headphone jacks, and other things like that into their spots along the bottom of the mother board.  Next, I would slide the power supply into the case and screw it in. Then, I would start to plug the various cables needed to power the machine into the power supply. After that, I would slide the video card into an available PC1 slot and screw it in. Then I would do the same for the sound card. Next, I would plug the power wires into my hard drive, graphics card, sound card, and various drives. After that, I would start connecting the SATA wires to my hard drive, my disk drives, and my burner. Then, I would start to connect the fans to the power supply.  Now that the machine is built, I would then set it up right, hook up the keyboard and mouse, hook it up to the big TV, and install windows and the various drivers needed for the machine to work.  Then I would update windows and start hooking up the surround sound.  That should be all the steps to building my gaming PC. I only wish it didn’t cost an arm and a leg, I might actually try to build it if it didn’t.  The final cost of the machine would be, if I am not mistaken, $7,526.83 counting the multiple hard drives and disk drives and not counting the shipping.

Well, that’s it. The computer has been described. This has been an interesting lecture and assignment and I am looking forward to next week.

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