Erik Harpstead

Student , Carnegie Mellon University - HCI
Pittsburgh, PA, United States

About Erik

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An idea worth spreading

Is it possible that video games are more educational than we generally think they are? I would like to examine what exactly a kid learns while they are grinding away at the next level in World of Warcraft, or whether players in strong virtual economies can apply their training in the digital world to real world economic problems, or if the constant exposure to fluctuating resources in a strategy game better prepares students for complex engineering tasks. My most basic questions is what do children, or adults for that matter, learn already from the activities they already enjoy; and how can an awareness of this be positively integrated into existing curricula to help students learn.

I'm passionate about

The crossroads of Education and Computation. How we can use computers to better teach, how we can better teach people to use computers, and how we can better design computers to facilitate both.

Talk to me about

Education using computers and the teaching of computer science, I may not have the answers you are looking for but I love to talk about them.

People don't know I'm good at

Because I study both a liberal arts and a technical subject people tend to assume I am only good at the first one they encountered. Neither group tends to know I am also an amateur musician.

My TED story

In the spring of my freshman year of college a friend of mine told me about this website, ted.com. I was relatively new to the media aspects of the internet at the time, but I would occasionally watch lectures on sites like fora.tv. I was hooked from the start and have watched almost every video posted since. TED provided for me something that was missing from my education at the time, intellectual heroes. It also helped to cement my desire to pursue a career in higher education and go on to bigger things in graduate school.

Favorite talks

Comments & conversations

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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Has Andrew Bird done a good job with his music, or is technology the only thing carrying him?
That is an interesting question. I have to admit the first time I heard that TED actually had musicians perform I wondered when Andrew Bird was going to do a performance, and I am surprised it took so long. I have actually criticized Bird's work before for unoriginality but it is because I feel he reuses themes between albums a little much, not because I think he lacks talent. His style of playing is actually extremely difficult. Were he playing over pre-recorded loops then I would be more inclined to agree that technology was limiting him, but actively laying on top of yourself is no easy feat.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Is it time to change TEDs official response to the question, "Is TED elitist?"
I have read your other posts and I think I understand what you're trying to say, and to a degree am inclined to agree. However, I feel you misrepresented my statement and I'd like to clarify. What I meant by a sense of equality is that the elite really are not that elite, or elitist may be the better word. the primary method I used to contact all of the potential speakers for the TEDx event I am a part of organizing was googling their name and sending a message to the first e-mail address I found. My sense of equality comes from assuming that it wouldn't be that easy. I now have the deputy director of the Apollo program on my buddy list because he happens to use gmail and I think that is awesome. One thing I also tried to do as part of speaker selection was find people that no one had ever heard of before. I don't really consider them to be elite in their field, I consider them to have done something interesting that I want to hear them talk about. I don't really care who is on stage as long as they are talking about something I find interesting. As for the badge, I honestly don't know how I got 50 points, most other organizers have 30. But hey, its pixels on a screen representing an integer on a hard drive somewhere; not really something I care too much about.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Should anyone be able to upload their TEDTalk to TED.com?
I guess it is my way of distinguishing it from youtube. I feel a lot of the passion and impact that TED Talks have would be lost if it was just one person talking into a webcam. Maybe it doesn't specifically require an audience but I feel it should at least be designed as if it did. I understand a lot of the arguments made here are advocating that the current TED format may leave out some great minds and ideas but that will happen anyway, with nigh 7 billion people in the world. What distinguishes TED to me is not so much the curation and success of its speakers, though that certainly is a part of it, but the format in which the ideas are presented.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Has computer science completely missed the point of a computer -- namely, that it is a creative tool?
I am studying Computer Science and my algorithms professor, today actually, talked about how many technical papers come out of Pixar about new ways to improve rendering of images and simulation of physics by improving algorithms. There is also something to be said about the creativity of programming, and how a computer scientist would consider it a creative act to write an elegant algorithm to do some task better. I totally agree that there should be more instruction in creative programming but there is a degree of knowledge that is required to make a program do something innovative and do it well.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Is it time to change TEDs official response to the question, "Is TED elitist?"
Note: I heavily edited my original post after further reflection I have never known elitist to have a positive connotation, so I was a little surprised by the response on the TED website. I understand the logic behind it but feel the "yes (but in a good way)" may be counter that message. I think the TEDx program is a good example of how TED is not elitist, it is now open to everyone given a little effort. In being a TEDx organizer I have actually felt a strong sense of equality within the TED community and not elitism. I am only a lowly undergraduate student but I have been able to talk to Nobel Laureates, Inventors, and past NASA scientists simply because I wanted to invite them to a conference. The thing that ties them all together is that they have done something interesting, which I guess you could call being elite in their field, but it feels like a poor choice of words. I think elitism connotates greatness in comparison to something else and not greatness in general. Accomplished may be a better word, or maybe exemplary. It sounds like a trivial semantic argument but I guess a lot of people feel offended by the idea of elitism because they perceive it as you saying "we are better than you," when you really want something more along the lines of "we are great." Does this make sense, or am I just talking in circles?
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Create a three minutes version for each TED talk
I have thought before that it would be cool if there was a TEDxUnder6Minutes, where every talk fits into the under 6 minutes category. It's a further intriguing challenge to see speaker condense their ideas down to their very essence but I do not think I would like to see existing talks truncated. There needs to be a mix of length.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames. Is it worth it? How could it be MORE worth it?
To address your second question there is a puzzle-game called Miegakure, currently in development that explores a 3D representation of a 4D space. marctenbosch.com/miegakure/ It may not be entirely theoretically sound but is interesting none-the-less. To attempt to answer your first question, I would say there are times when I will consider life the ultimate game, but there is also an awareness that what is happening in a game is an abstraction of reality. I am certainly more willing to do things in games that I would never consider in real life by the sheer fact that my life is not in danger in a digital world. I would speculate, however, that I use similar mechanisms when weighing decisions in the real world as I do in digital worlds but the consequences are more salient and severe.
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
What's the best hidden gem in the TED archive?
One of the earliest TED Talks I watched, and one that has stuck with me ever since, was Paul Stamets on 6 ways mushrooms can save the world, because of how much passion he displays for such a lowly thing as fungus, which we usually think of as being very minor: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_stamets_on_6_ways_mushrooms_can_save_the_world.html Also along the lines of passion, and partly because I have a friend that acts exactly like him, I enjoyed Clifford Stoll on ... everything. I love seeing people that are extremely passionate about something, its a way to hear ideas that you may have never encountered without them. http://www.ted.com/talks/clifford_stoll_on_everything.html
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Erik Harpstead
Posted about 3 years ago
Should anyone be able to upload their TEDTalk to TED.com?
I am inclined to say no, though with th caveat that it may happen anyway. One thing I have noticed after taking up the job of being a TEDx Organizer and seeing the larger community behind the scenes it occurs to me that there will come a time when the amount of TEDx content will begin to eclipse the original TED content, if it hasn't already. The way that TEDx content bleeds into the system is similar to people adding their own videos but the major difference, and what I love about the format, is that it takes a community to get it there. The fact that it is still a TED style talk is what ties them together and should always be a part of the requirements. It would not bother me much if a video had terrible audio and video quality and was shot on a shaky hand held camera but I would demand that it was 18 minutes and in front of an audience of an audience. Beyond that I really would not care who was giving the talk or what it was about. I think everyone should have the ability to give a TED talk but it would have to be a TED talk. I am also wary of online communities that are based on mass voting systems to determine what is good or bad. In my experience, which is admittedly anecdotal, they tend to form hive mind opinions that begin to reflect the preconceived notions that the community already had. TED's following may be large and diverse enough to avoid this but it is a possibility.