Gotcha! This is why piracy happens



This summer, I took a two-week long course on systematic reviews and meta-analytic techniques for which there was some required software, in this case, Stata. As a McGill student, I was encouraged to buy the student version, which was about $50 for “Stata Small.” Not bad. I’ve paid more for textbooks. So I got out my credit card, bought the license, installed it on my computer, and ran the very first example command of the course. I immediately got a string of red letter error text.

The error message was telling me that my license did not allow me enough variables to complete the command. I checked the license, and it said I was allowed 120 variables. I checked the “Variable manager” in Stata, and I had only assigned 11 variables. (I checked the variable limit beforehand in fact, and made sure that none of the data sets that we’d be working with had more than 120 variables. None of them came close to that limit.)

So I emailed Stata technical support. It turns out that the meta-analysis package for Stata creates “hidden variables.” Lots of them, apparently. So many that the software cannot accomplish the most basic commands. Then they tried to up-sell me to “Stata SE.” For $100 more, they said, they would send me a license for Stata that would allow me to run the meta-analysis package—for realsies this time.

I asked for a refund and decided that if I really needed Stata, I would use the copy that’s installed on the lab computers. (Now I’m just using the meta package in R, which does everything Stata does, just with a bit more effort.)

For the record: I am perfectly fine with paying for good software. I am not okay with a one-time purchase turning me into a money-pump. I thought that the “small” student license would work. All their documentation suggested it would. If I had upgraded to “Stata SE,” would that have actually met my needs, or would they have forced me to upgrade again later, after I’d already made Stata a part of my workflow?

It probably would have been okay, but the “gotcha” after the fact soured me on the prospect of sending them more money, and provided all the incentive I need to find a way to not use Stata.


A few years ago, I bought a number of pieces of classical music through the iTunes Store. I shopped around, compared different performances, and found recordings that I really liked. This was back when the iTunes store had DRM on their music.

I’ve recently switched to Linux, and now much of the music that I legally bought and paid for can’t be read by my computer. Apple does have a solution for me, of course! For about $25, I can subscribe to a service of theirs that will allow me to download a DRM-free version of the music that I already paid for.

This is why I won’t even consider buying television programmes through the iTunes Store: It’s not that I think that I will want to re-watch the shows over and over and I’m afraid of DRM screwing that up for me. It’s because I’ve had some nasty surprises from iTunes in the past, and I can borrow the DVD’s from the Public Library for free.

For the record: I do not mind paying for digital content. But I won’t send you money if I think there’s a “gotcha” coming after the fact.

I’m really trying my best

People who produce good software or music should be compensated for their work. I don’t mind pulling out my wallet to help make that happen. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being tricked, especially if I’m actually making an effort in good faith to actually pay for something.

Since DRM is almost always fairly easily circumvented, it only punishes those who pay for digital content. And this is why I’m sympathetic to those who pirate software, music, TV shows, etc.


    title = {Gotcha! This is why piracy happens},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-05-22,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Gotcha! This is why piracy happens" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 May 2015. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, May 22). Gotcha! This is why piracy happens [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Conventional computing vs the corporate cloud vs the “personal” cloud


Everyone loves cloud computing. Users love it, tech blogs love it, and tech companies are all trying their hand at it—even ones who have no concept of how to provide a half-decent web service. And yes, I’m talking about Apple’s iTools. I mean, dot-Mac. Oh sorry, it’s called iCloud now. Whatever it’s called, it’s still terrible.

More interesting to me than the corporate offerings of cloud-based services (and in some cases withdrawals of those offerings, e.g. Google Reader) is all the new open-source cloud-based software available for anyone to install on their own web host of choice. To clarify, I’m talking about pieces of software that are more like WordPress than Microsoft Word—this is software that you install on a web server, and that you access through a browser, not software that you install on your own home computer. I will refer to this type of software as “personal” cloud software.

Here are a few examples of different categories of software, and rough equivalents for conventional computing, corporate cloud offerings and “personal” cloud alternatives. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of such services, just a list of examples. Also, the examples given here aren’t meant to be endorsements of the services either.

Conventional computing Corporate cloud “Personal” cloud
Document editors Microsoft Word
Google Docs
Microsoft Web Office
OX Documents?
WordPress (sort of?)
Email Outlook
Yahoo Mail
Squirrelmail, etc.
Note-keeping Any text editor, really Evernote
Google Keep
Photos iPhoto
G+ / FB
File storage Hard disc Dropbox
Google Drive
Music iTunes / iPod Your favourite music streaming service
RSS reader Newsfire, etc. Google Reader (hahaha)
Bitcoin wallets Wallet on hard disc May not exist?

Usually the debate is framed as being between conventional computing and corporate cloud computing. Sometimes a very nuanced look into these different services will compare different corporate cloud-based services, but rarely does anyone compare the pros and cons of conventional vs corporate cloud vs “personal” cloud services. So, as far I see them, the following are the major issues to consider. Depending on your own level of technical expertise, your priorities, budget and the level of importance that you assign to a particular task that you wish to perform, you may weight these differently. For simplicity, I assigned each category a value of +1 (this is good), -1 (this is bad) or 0 (this isn’t very good or very bad).

Conventional computing Corporate cloud “Personal” cloud
Who has access to your files? Only you (+1) You, corporation, NSA (-1) You, web host (0)
Who owns the software? You own a licence (0) Corporation (-1) Often open source (+1)
When do you pay? Only once—when you buy the software (0) Never (+1) Every month (-1)
Can a company mine your data for advertising info? No (+1) Yes (-1) No (+1)
Are there advertisements? No (+1) Often, yes (-1) No (+1)
Accidentally losing files? Very possible (-1) Unlikely (+1) Unlikely (+1)
Rolling back to previous versions? Only if you make backups (0) Often yes (+1) Often yes (+1)
Open source software? Sometimes (0) No (-1) Almost always (+1)
Level of technical expertise required to install software? Medium (0) Low (+1) High (-1)
Can the whole service be “Google Reader-ed”? No, but development of your app might be cancelled (0) Yes (-1) No (+1)
Whose computer must be working for you to access your files, etc.? Only yours (+1) The corporation’s (-1) Your web host’s (-1)
Can you collaborate with other users? Not really (unless you count “track changes”) (-1) Yes (+1) Yes (+1)
Accessing / syncing content across multiple devices No (-1) Yes (+1) Yes (+1)
Security depends on whom? You (+1) Corporation (-1) You + web host + software developer (-1)
Is your work available when the internet goes down? Yes (+1) No (-1) No (-1)

If you aren’t scared off by MySQL databases or PHP, the “level of technical expertise” row might be scored differently, or if you doubt your own ability to keep your files secure, you might think that your work’s security depending on Google is a good thing. Haggling over the pros and cons aside, it’s a kind of an interesting result of this exercise that unless you’re really scared of losing work, or unless multi-user collaboration is very important to you, you might be better off avoiding cloud services entirely.

Another interesting result: if it comes down to a choice between a corporate cloud service and a “personal” cloud service, it looks like the “personal” cloud is the way to go—it beats the corporate cloud on every category except price and ease of installation. (And also possibly security.)

Edit (2013 Apr 6): I have added a row for “accessing content across multiple devices.” (Thanks Morty!)

Edit (2013 June 15): In light of recent revelations regarding the NSA’s surveillance, I have added them to the row for “Who has access to your files?”


    title = {Conventional computing vs the corporate cloud vs the “personal” cloud},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-04-5,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Conventional computing vs the corporate cloud vs the “personal” cloud" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 05 Apr 2013. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Apr 05). Conventional computing vs the corporate cloud vs the “personal” cloud [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Book review: “The End of Wall Street” by Roger Lowenstein


I just finished my latest library book, The End of Wall Street, by Roger Lowenstein. I would describe this book as a good medium-level description of the economic factors that led to the financial crisis of 2008. The author does a good job of not getting bogged down in the boring mathematical details (it’s short—only 358 pages, after all), while steering away from becoming such a high-level description that it’s inaccurate or un-informative. The focus is on the motivations of the major actors, and the policies that brought about the crisis of 2008.

While the author criticizes the laissez-faire policies and regulatory practices that brought about 2008, it’s pretty balanced, based in evidence and well-cited facts, and he never becomes preachy. He’s critical, but then, given what happened, it would be difficult (and probably inaccurate) to be otherwise while writing about this material.

If you’re like me, you’ll need to keep a sticky note handy where you can write the meanings of acronyms you come across. (Wait, what’s a CDO again?) The book is fairly quick-paced, and even though I don’t have any formal training economics, I was glad to have read it.


    title = {Book review: “The End of Wall Street” by Roger Lowenstein},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-03-2,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Book review: “The End of Wall Street” by Roger Lowenstein" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Mar 2013. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Mar 02). Book review: “The End of Wall Street” by Roger Lowenstein [Web log post]. Retrieved from

How doing your taxes is like a singularity


One of the main projects of the natural sciences is to try to formalise complex physical systems in such a way that they can be used to make predictions about the future. For example, if you apply a force of x N to an object of mass y kg on a frictionless surface in a vacuum, the object in question will achieve a certain acceleration (x/y), and this will happen with predictable regularity. The discovery of such laws is one of the great aims of science, and some of the highest triumphs of the scientific age can be expressed in these terms.

In the natural sciences, the word “singularity” is used to refer to a point in a physical system after which the behaviour of the system cannot possibly be predicted. Stephen Hawking describes a singularity like a point in space-time where what follows “will not depend on anything that may have happened before.”

I feel like this accurately describes certain bureaucratic experiences I have encountered. Let’s take doing one’s taxes as an example. I feel like every year at tax time, something surprising and terrible happens, and I can never predict what. A year ago, I went in to get my taxes done by someone, and I figured I would get a generous amount of money back, as I did the year before. My personal financial situation didn’t change very drastically, I was still a student, and so I figured that at the least I would break even.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. I had to go to my financial institution and send a hefty cheque to the government. The explanation offered by the person doing my taxes was something along the lines of, “Well, you made a bit more money in the year previous, which triggered a whole lot of tax benefits, which resulted in a refund.”

I accepted that explanation, even though it doesn’t make too much sense on the surface. I would have thought that people who make more money would have to pay more tax, but that might just be me being naïve. These days, I’m convinced that there really is no way to predict beforehand what will happen, come tax-time. I’m pretty sure that even if you were to somehow produce a micro-physical duplicate of myself, with an identical financial history, we would both come out of the accountant’s office with a different result on our taxes.

So this year, I’m going into it entirely agnostic about what the outcome will be. If anyone asks if I’m expecting a big tax refund, I will explain to them that no one can know what will happen on the other side of the singularity that is doing one’s taxes.

Here are some other things that also constitute bureaucratic singularities:

Can you think of any other ones?


    title = {How doing your taxes is like a singularity},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-02-20,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How doing your taxes is like a singularity" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 Feb 2013. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Feb 20). How doing your taxes is like a singularity [Web log post]. Retrieved from

New house


Sesame Street Colour Collection

Sesame Street Colour Collection

In December of 2012, Alain and I became home-owners for the first time ever. The building that we bought is a duplex. We now live with my little sister in the lower unit and rent out the upper unit to help out with the mortgage.

The house has everything we wanted, and even a few things we didn’t know that we would want. It has a garage, which is great for snowy Montréal winters. It also has a big beautiful back yard with gardens all around. The house is 4 minutes by foot from the métro, and it’s sort of near the Olympic Stadium.

There are two things that we really plan to change about the house: The tile floors in the front hallway and the kitchen need to go, and we’d like to renovate the bathroom. It’s fine, but it isn’t beautiful. Also, the bathtub is kinda shallow.

Cookie Monster paint colours

Cookie Monster paint colours

The previous owner of the house had made some questionable decorating choices, and so when we moved in, painting was in order. When we went to the hardware store to find books of paint samples, one in particular caught our eye: The Sesame Street Colour Collection (see the first image attached to this post). My little sister wanted her room to be coloured “Cookie Monster,” so we painted her room a nice calm light blue with a cream-coloured stripe along the middle. She has darker blue curtains for her window, and we plan to find some pots to paint dark blue and put googly eyes on.

Ernie and Bert paint colours

Ernie and Bert paint colours

As for me and Alain, we really didn’t have a choice when we saw that there was a “Bert and Ernie” theme. This turned out to be a lot of work, although the official story is that the whole paint-job took 20 minutes. When it was half-way done, I was a little worried about how it would look when it was finished, but then by the end, it  turned out much better than I had anticipated. The doors to the bedroom have orange translucent glass panels in them, which happened to work with the orange lines in the paint—not by design, but purely by accident. You can see in the video below the way that the paint looked when the green masking tape was still on the walls.



    title = {New house},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-01-13,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "New house" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 13 Jan 2013. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Jan 13). New house [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Things I wish I had known about the McGill direct-entry master’s in nursing


There are a number of things I wish I had known before I accepted the offer of a spot in the direct-entry master’s in nursing at McGill. You may still want to go into this programme, but these are a few of the things that I wish I had known, going into it. This may be of interest to people who are deciding whether or not to apply over the next few months.

It will not be possible to go to all your classes

The direct-entry programme schedules your clinical in conflict with other required courses. This means that you actually can’t possibly go to all your classes, because you have to go to clinical instead. Complain all you like, and the professors will agree with you, cluck their tongues and say it’s terrible, but nothing will be done to change it.

There are major administrative problems that the programme refuses to acknowledge

The venue of my first clinical assignment had no idea that my classmates and I were coming. McGill told us to go to a retirement home that had not invited us to come. We were a complete surprise to them when we showed up. Eventually we were given contact information for residents to follow, but the person that I was told had “volunteered” to be followed by a nursing student for the semester refused to meet with me, saying that she had never been asked, and that she was uninterested.

When I took this up with the professor running my clinical assignment, she expressed that she felt it was a failure on my part, that I would be marked accordingly and that I should have “done nursing” anyway. Attempts to clarify what she meant by “nursing” in this context were unsuccessful. Requests for help in this impossible assignment were considered hostile by the professors.

This sort of administrative failure was in my experience typical of the programme as a whole.

The direct-entry programme is not recognised by the College of Nurses of Ontario

This is a more recent development that occurred in January of 2012, but the direct-entry nursing programme recently lost recognition from the College of Nurses of Ontario, which means that it is impossible to directly apply for licensure in Ontario, and it may take a great deal more time and money to become a nurse in Ontario.

This may be fixed before you graduate, or it may not. Enter at your own risk. The administration of the programme generally don’t think that this is a big deal, but if you are planning on going to Ontario to practice after graduation, you may not be able to do so.

The programme is very expensive if you are not from Québec

I am a Canadian citizen, but I grew up in Ontario, and so for the purposes of tuition, I am not a Québec resident as far as McGill is concerned (even though I have been working and paying taxes in the province for the last few years). This means that tuition is higher for me. If you are coming from another province, you will be in the same situation. If you are coming from America or another country, it will cost you even more.

On June 28, 2011 I went in and asked the nursing department directly how much the programme would cost. They told me that there was absolutely no way that they could make an estimate, and that I should ask the registrar. I went to the registrar, who told me that they couldn’t give me any indication about the cost of the programme until after I choose my courses.

Come September, I was shocked to receive a bill for about $11,000 in the first semester. All told, I estimate that you should probably have somewhere in the area of $20,000 set aside for one year of the three-year programme.

You will receive no financial support from McGill

Students in the first year of the direct-entry programme are not considered to be full-time master’s students, since (for historical and administrative reasons) the first year is officially designated a “qualifying year.” Hence, if you request help from Financial Aid at McGill, they will decline to help you. I stood in line at Financial Aid and asked for help, and I was given an email address to contact after I filled out a questionnaire on my programme and financial status. Upon receiving and reviewing my questionnaire by email, I received the following response:

We are unable to assist you at this time.  Please contact us later on in the semester.  Remember to update your Financial Aid Profile if your situation should change.

In short, there was nothing that McGill could do to help. Be prepared for the worst. Look into bank loans. McGill takes an attitude toward direct-entry master’s of nursing students that could be best summed up as: “you’re on your own, and you should be ashamed for asking for help.”

Bullying within the programme

During my time as a direct-entry master’s student in nursing at McGill, I was attacked on a personal and academic level by professors in a number of different ways. I was told explicitly by two of my evaluators that a particular professor was giving them instructions to decrease my mark for reasons unrelated to my performance. They told me so because they were shocked that a professor would act in this way, and thought I should know.

By the end of my time as a student, I had absolutely no confidence that I would be given a fair shot at a decent grade in the programme. With this evidence that there was no relationship between my work and my mark, I lost any faith in the credibility of the school. I spoke to the Ombudsperson, who advised me that there was nothing that could be done.

Beyond concerns about my grades, I was the object of weekly intimidation from a particular professor during my clinical assignment. Every week, she would find me at the hospital to undermine me in front of my peers, and make my assignment a negative and humiliating experience for me.

I withdrew from the programme at the end of the qualifying year for this reason and for the reasons outlined above. The McGill master of nursing programme was the worst educational experience of my life and I cannot recommend it to others.

Recommendations for applicants

With all these considerations in mind, you may still want to pursue this as a career option, but be aware that there are some very serious issues with the programme as it currently stands. These issues may have been addressed in the time since I left, so I do recommend asking about each of these major categories specifically before accepting an offer of admission.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

  • Will I be expected to keep up with courses that have conflicting schedules? For example, is it still “one of the first-year challenges” that pathology and clinical are scheduled to occur at the same time?
  • In which provinces is this programme currently officially recognised? Is it currently recognised in every province in Canada? How long has it been recognised, and has there been any changes in its official status in the last five years, as far as the colleges of nurses of other provinces are concerned?
  • How much will the programme cost? (Do not accept “we can’t tell you” for an answer. Press them on this. Try phrases like, “Will it cost more than $100,000 per year?” if they’re being stubborn about it.)
  • Is there any hope for financial aid for DE students?
  • What recourse do I have in case I experience abuse or bullying from my professors?

If there has been progress on these issues, or if you get an official response, I would love to see you post it in the comments below!


    title = {Things I wish I had known about the McGill direct-entry master’s in nursing},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-12-16,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Things I wish I had known about the McGill direct-entry master’s in nursing" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 16 Dec 2012. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Dec 16). Things I wish I had known about the McGill direct-entry master’s in nursing [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP


Dear Andrew Williams and Randy Pettapiece,

Recently, my father was hospitalised for schizophrenia in the psychiatric ward at the Stratford General Hospital. This was good news. It was a welcome change after months of increasingly abusive and dangerous behaviour on his part that affected the entire family. Not only was he suffering from disordered thoughts and paranoid delusions, he lost his impulse control with regard to money (and some other things as well). Due to his condition he lacks the ability to deal with his own finances. He was admitted to the Stratford General Hospital and shortly thereafter, a medical tribunal determined that he was not competent to make his own medical decisions. My mother was assigned to be his medical decision-maker and power of attorney.

Yesterday, we found out that some unscrupulous lawyer visited the Stratford General Hospital to arrange the papers so that my dad could transfer his medical decision-making and power of attorney away from my mother, and give it to another patient on the psychiatric ward. As far as we know, this other patient is just some guy that my dad met less than two weeks ago when he was admitted. The name sounds made-up, though, so for all we know, it’s not his real name. This “other patient” could even be a delusion of my dad’s.

Needless to say, we were upset.

We contacted the lawyer to ask him what he thought he was doing. He said he didn’t do anything—that it was my dad who made it happen, and that he had training to determine when someone was competent to make such decisions. We will be inquiring about what legal options we have against this individual.

When we told our own lawyer about the problem, his administrative assistant broke out laughing, because it was such a ridiculous turn of affairs. He advised us to get a letter from dad’s psychiatrist, and on the basis of such a letter, it would be possible to have this transfer of power of attorney reversed. This seemed reasonable. On contacting the doctor, we were told that he could not release such a letter, since my dad has requested that his medical information not be shared with us (one of his paranoid delusions is that we’re out to get him), and my mother no longer had her status as his medical decision-maker and power of attorney.

In the face of this Catch-22, we’re not sure what to do next. As of today, the doctors at the Stratford General are still refusing to provide a letter indicating my dad’s condition, because they are afraid of being sued.

I’d like to emphasise at this point that the unscrupulous lawyer got paid for what he did. Paid with money. He came in to the locked ward of the Stratford General and walked out substantially richer, thanks to money he took from a person who was determined by a medical tribunal to be incapable of making his own medical decisions.

If someone walked into a hospital and found an old woman with dementia and exploited her condition for his own financial gain and gave her nothing in return, that conduct would be reprehensible, but it still wouldn’t be as bad as what this lawyer did to my dad yesterday. Not only did he take money from someone whose mental condition renders him incompetent to handle his own financial affairs, but he made it a thousand times harder for us to get my dad back on his meds to stop the paranoia and abuse.

But the really perverse part about this whole system is that if I were to march into his office and punch his face in like he deserves, somehow I would become the bad guy. (For the record, though, I would never do this.)

I have two questions. One for the CEO of the hospital and one for the MPP for Wellington-Perth.

Andrew Williams: When do your doctors plan on doing the right thing for their patient and his family?

Randy Pettapiece: What pressure are you going to bring to bear on this situation? Can you help us to ensure that the lawyer is dismissed from the bar in Ontario, and that my father receives the care he needs?

Yours angrily,

Benjamin Carlisle MA (Biomedical ethics)

Cc: Leona Aglukkaq MP, Deb Matthews MPP, Dr Brian Goldman (feel free to spread this around)

(Edit 21h00—the original version had more cursing, but as my friend advised, “Try not to swear so that your interlocutor doesn’t have an excuse to dismiss you.”)


    title = {Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-11-16,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 16 Nov 2012. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Nov 16). Catch-22 in mental health: An open letter to Andrew Williams, CEO of Stratford General Hospital and Randy Pettapiece, MPP [Web log post]. Retrieved from

McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back


I have a hard time throwing away books. It doesn’t matter if the book is total garbage, I have had it burned into my brain from a young age that throwing a book away is something that civilised humans just don’t do. That said, now that I have an e-reader, if I could, I would get rid of every single book I own in favour of the e-book version. Given the technology that we have today, there is no reason for me to ever have to carry a heavy book around, or to forget a book, or to lose a notation or a book lent to a friend.

There are of course a number of books that I own and will keep because I think they might be useful later on. A few of them I’m keeping because they look nice, or for sentimental reasons. As for the rest, if I can replace the book with an e-book, I will. I’m no purist.

Toward this end, I have been trying to thin out my library a bit in the past little while, mostly by posting books on Kijiji. Then yesterday I remembered that the McGill Bookstore will buy back your textbooks, so I went through my shelves and found three textbooks that I was sure I wouldn’t need in the future. The first two were on Cognition and on Developmental Psychology—I have better books on both of those subjects. I bought them both online last year for about twenty dollars apiece. The third was a copy of the Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle, of which I had two copies of that exact edition. One I bought for two dollars at a used book store, the other I received for free when I was a TA for Intro to Moral Theory.

I sold these three texts to the bookstore for fifty-nine dollars, turning a profit on the deal. I’m pretty happy with myself all considered.

On a related note, let me know if you’re interested in buying the following books for cheap. (Some of these I just no longer want, and some I’m planning on replacing with the e-book version if I can sell the printed version.) I’m trying to get rid of the following:

  • Our Culture, What’s Left Of It, by Theodore Dalrymple
  • Reasons without Rationalism, by Kieran Setiya
  • The Really Hard Problem, by Owen Flanagan
  • God is the Gospel, by John Piper
  • Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, by John Piper
  • When Sex Seems Impossible, by Pacik
  • Habits of the Mind, by Sire
  • Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ, by John Piper
  • Doubting, by McGrath
  • A Hunger for God, by John Piper
  • Soul Cravings, by McManus


    title = {McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-08-17,
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Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 17 Aug 2012. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Aug 17). McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Semantic video indexing app


The newest version of Mac OS, called “Mountain Lion,” includes “Dictation,” which is a piece of system software that takes speech and converts it to text. This is nothing new, of course. I remember that I had a piece of dictation software for my old Windows 98 PC. You had to “train” the software to understand what you said, and even then it was wildly inaccurate, but in principle, this sort of software has existed for a long time. Dictation on Mac OS is much better than the one I had back in 1998, but of course it is not perfect.

That particular piece of software I had on my PC was not built in to the operating system. I had to pay for it. Not only that, but because it didn’t work very well, I never got another dictation programme again. But now that this one is built into the OS, I think I’m going to try an experiment.

Here’s my inspiration: In Star Trek, every character keeps a “log,” and because it’s the future, it’s an audio log. In The Next Generation, they were often shown as video (b)logs. Sometimes, in order to advance the plot, a character would be shown searching through his own (or another person’s) logs. What was interesting was that the search would usually be a semantic keyword search. Something like, “Computer, show me all log entries relating to the warp core” (or whatever they were interested in at the time). With dictation software now a standard feature in OS X, we’re at a point where we could write an app that does exactly what the computer did in Star Trek.

The workflow will be as follows: Take a video (or a set of videos) that you’re interested in, and extract the audio. Divide the one big audio file into hundreds of smaller (say, ten-second-long), overlapping audio files that are annotated with their start time in the original video. For each of these smaller files, pass them through the dictation software and generate a text file that includes the text that has been generated by the system’s text-to-speech dictation software. And voilà, you have generated a time-encoded text index for your video—just like the one on YouTube, but you wouldn’t have to upload the file.

Wrap this all up in a shiny OS X app wrapping and put it on the App Store. Sell it for $0.99.

Then, if you had a bunch of videos—say, seasons 5–6 of Doctor Who, and you wanted to find all references to “the Silence,” you could install the app, have it index your iTunes library, and then do a search through your videos for certain keywords or phrases.

Actually, this might work. If anyone wants to collaborate with me on this one, hit me up in the comments.

Edit: I take it back. A quick experiment with Dictation indicates that we are nowhere near having the technology to be able to do this.


    title = {Semantic video indexing app},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-08-16,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Semantic video indexing app" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 16 Aug 2012. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Aug 16). Semantic video indexing app [Web log post]. Retrieved from



The following is a long and angry post. To get some of the back-story, you might also want to read my post from September, Gambling with OSAP. Basically, this is a timeline of many of the ways that OSAP, the National Student Loans Centre and McGill Financial Aid have been screwing around with me all semester.

Email from me to Financial Aid at McGill, October 19, 2011:

Hi there,

I came in last week to speak to someone about the state of my OSAP. I repaid a $2222 loan overpayment in September, and I was told over the phone by the NSLC that they would let OSAP know that the overpayment was dealt with.

When I went in to see someone in person at McGill Financial Aid last week, I was told that someone would email OSAP to find out what’s going on with my student loans, and that I would be emailed as soon as they send an answer.

Could you advise regarding the status of this inquiry?

Benjamin Carlisle
MSc(A) Nursing Student

I never got a response to that email. I went in to see them in person on October 24th, and demanded to know what was going on with my student loan. After much confusion, eventually they told me that the information I received from the National Student Loans Centre was inaccurate. It turns out that I had to get them to fax a proof of payment to McGill, who would then fax it to OSAP for processing.

I would like to emphasise at this point that I phoned the National Student Loans Centre on September 15th, 2011 to ask them specifically if I needed to do anything so that OSAP would know that I dealt with the overpayment. They explicitly told me that, no I did not have to do a blasted thing. This was a lie.

Two days later, on October 26th, I received the following email from Financial Aid at McGill:

Hello Benjamin,

Just wanted to give you an update on your OSAP status. The following message is the one I received from OSAP when I inquired about your file.

Documentation was received Sept 21, but has not been reviewed.

With regards to LOP [Loan Over-Payment] the student must provide a letter from NSLSC indicating the amount that he repaid and the date of repayment. This should be sent to the ministry marked clearance.

Please note I have received your received your proof of payment and the copy was faxed to OSAP today.

While your file is being sorted out, please note should you require emergency funds kindly meet with one of our financial counselors and we will be happy to process a loan to assist you with emergency aid.

In addition, I strongly encourage you to fill out the continuation of interest free form found at the following link and return it to me by fax or as a scanned email attachment. Please note this will prevent you from going into re-payment mode as of November 1st.

Our fax number is 514-398-7352 and my email address is [removed].

Best regards

I went back in to the office and asked how long I should expect to wait for an answer regarding my loan. The answer at the desk: four to six weeks. Six weeks later, on December 7th, I went back in to the Financial Aid Office and asked them what the status of my loan was. I was told that the only person who could possibly help me with this would only be available on Tuesday, 6 days later.

Keep in mind that I have been waiting for fully 3 months, not knowing whether I should expect any financial assistance at all. By this time, I had actually received my bill for next semester’s tuition. I was getting very antsy about this.

Tuesday, December 13th rolls around, and I receive the following email:

Hi Benjamin,

We re-faxed your proof of payment to OSAP today.  The Financial Aid counsellor also provided you with a tuition deferral for fall and winter.


I would like to note a couple of things at this point. This email was worse than unhelpful. It raised more questions than it answered and it illustrated clearly that the people at Financial Aid had no understanding of my situation.

First, there is no explanation of why my proof of payment was re-faxed. Did OSAP say they never received it? Did McGill fail to fax it in the first place? I emailed twice to ask, and they have not responded.

Second, a tuition deferral at that point would have been of absolutely no help to me at all. Tuition deferrals are helpful only if you know that you have some money coming, but you need some time for it to be processed. Tuition deferrals are not helpful in the slightest if the NSLSC, OSAP and McGill have been collectively screwing around with you for the last 3 months, and you have no guarantee of any kind that even a single penny will be coming in the form of student loans. It’s not like OSAP told me that they would be sending me a large sum of money, and I just didn’t know when. I was still waiting for them to assess me for eligibility for a loan. If OSAP decided not to give me money, or if OSAP decided to give me an amount that isn’t enough for me to live on, then a few more weeks to pay my tuition would not have helped—I would have needed to drop out of school to find a job!

I went in to the Financial Aid Office to explain this to them. I told them that the tuition due in January was a sum greater than my current total assets in the world. The person at the desk said that she would see if she could encourage OSAP to work on this faster.

On December 15th, I received the following:

Hello Benjamin,

Please note I have been following up with OSAP and have asked them to expedite your funding and provide me with an update on your OSAP application, the latest email I received from them is as follows:

I have just processed Benjamin’s file. I am unable to determine what his assessment will be. Please have him check back at the end of the week.

If I hear anything further I will let you know. In the meantime if you need emergency aid feel free to come by to schedule an appointment with an advisor and we will assist you until your funds come in. In the meantime I have processed a fee deferral for the Fall and Winter tuition fees.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards

What’s surprising about this email is the offer of “emergency aid.” In September, I asked about “emergency aid” from McGill and received the following email:

Hello Benjamin,

We are unable to assist you at this time. Please contact us later on in the semester. Remember to update your Financial Aid Profile if your situation should change.

That email, by the way, was in response to a request for a meeting to discuss my financial situation. That’s right. Financial Aid at McGill declined even to meet with me about this.

I did check back at the end of the week as the email suggested, and I was told by the person at the desk that she couldn’t find any notes about my case, and that there was no reason for me to have come in. I stayed and insisted that I received an email telling me to come in at the end of that week, and it was only after I showed her the email on my phone that she asked one of her colleagues about it.

Finally, I was told that on Wednesday the 21st (today), my loan documents might be at McGill for me to pick up, and I could expect my loan to be processed by early January.

I’ll believe it when the money is in my bank account.


    title = {OSAP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-21,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "OSAP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 21 Dec 2011. Web. 26 Sep 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 21). OSAP [Web log post]. Retrieved from


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