The risks and harms of 3rd party tech platforms in academia

by

CW: some strong language, description of abuse

In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the problems that come along with using 3rd party tech companies’ platforms on an institutional level in academia. Tech companies have agendas that are not always compatible with academia, and we have mostly ignored that. Briefly, the core problem with the use of these technologies, and entrenching them into academic life, is that it is an abdication of certain kinds of responsibility. We are giving up control over many of the structures that are necessary to participation in academic work and life, and the people we’re handing the keys to are often hostile to certain members of the academic community, and in a way that is often difficult to see.

I have included a short “too long; didn’t read” at the end of each section, and some potential alternatives.

Using a tech company’s services is risky

There’s an old saying: “There’s no such thing as the cloud; it’s just someone else’s computer.” And it’s true, with all the risks that come associated with using someone else’s computer. The usual response to this is something along the lines of “I don’t care, I have nothing to hide.” But even if that’s true, that isn’t the only reason someone might have for avoiding the use of 3rd party tech companies’ services.

For starters, sometimes tech companies fail on a major scale that could endanger entire projects. Do you remember in 2017 when a bug in Google Docs locked thousands of people out of their own files because they were flagged as a violation of the terms of use?

Or more recently, here’s an example of a guy who got his entire company banned by Google by accident, proving that you can lose everything because of someone else’s actions:

TIFU by getting Google to ban our entire company while on the toilet from tifu

And of course, this gets worse for members of certain kinds of minorities. Google and Facebook for example, both have a real-names policy, which is hostile to people who are trans, and people from our country’s First Nations:

Facebook tells Native Americans that their names aren’t “real”

There are other risks beyond just data loss—for example, if your research involves confidential data, you may even be overstepping the consent of your research subjects, and potentially violating the terms under which your institutional review board granted approval of your study by putting it on a 3rd party server where others can access it. This may also be the case of web apps that include Google Analytics.

tl;dr—If your academic work depends on a 3rd party tech company’s services, you risk: losing your work at a critical time for reasons that have nothing to do with your own conduct; violating research subject consent; and you may be excluding certain kinds of minorities.

Alternatives—In this section, I have mostly focused on data sharing risks. You can avoid using Google Docs and Dropbox by sharing files on a local computer through Syncthing, or by installing an encrypted Nextcloud on a server. If distribution of data sets is your use case, you could use the Dat Project / Beaker Browser.

Tech companies’ agendas are often designed to encourage abuse against certain minorities

I have touched on this already a bit, but it deserves its own section. Tech companies have agendas and biases that do not affect everyone equally. For emphasis: technology is not neutral. It is always a product of the people who built it.

For example, I have been on Twitter since 2011. I have even written Twitter bots. I have been active tweeting for most of that time both personally and about my research. And because I am a queer academic, I have been the target of homophobic trolls nearly constantly.

I have received direct messages and public replies to my tweets in which I was told to kill myself, called a “fag,” and in which a user told me he hopes I get AIDS. Twitter also closed my account for a short period of time because someone reported me for using a “slur”—you see, I used the word “queer.” To describe myself. And for this, there was a short period of time in which I was locked out, and it took some negotiation with Twitter support, and the deletion of some of my tweets to get back on.

I was off Twitter for a number of months because of this and out of a reluctance to continue to provide free content to a website that’s run by a guy who periodically retweets content that is sympathetic to white supremacists:

Twitter CEO slammed for retweeting man who is pro-racial profiling

And this isn’t something that’s incidental to Twitter / Facebook that could be fixed. It is a part of their core business model, which is about maximising engagement. And the main way they do that is by keeping people angry and yelling at each other. These platforms exist to encourage abuse, and they are run by people who will never have to endure it. That’s their meal-ticket, so to speak. And most of that is directed at women, minorities and queers.

I have been told that if I keep my Twitter account “professional” and avoid disclosing my sexuality that I wouldn’t have problems with abuse. I think the trolls would find me again if I did open a new account, but even if it were the case that I could go back into the closet, at least for professional purposes, there are four reasons why I wouldn’t want to:

  • My experience as a queer man and an academic medical ethicist gives me a perspective that is relevant. I can see things that straight people miss, and I have standing to speak about those issues because of my personal experiences.
  • Younger queers in academia shouldn’t have to wonder if they’re the only one in their discipline.
  • As a good friend of mine recently noted, it’s unfair to make me hide who I am, while all the straight men all have “professor, father and husband” or the like in their Twitter bio’s.
  • I shouldn’t have to carefully avoid any mention of my boyfriend or my identity in order to participate in academic discussions, on pain of receiving a barrage of abuse from online trolls.

I’m not saying that everyone who uses Twitter or Facebook is bad. But I am extremely uncomfortable about the institutional use of platforms like Google/Facebook/Twitter for academic communications. When universities, journals, academic departments, etc. use them, they are telling us all that this kind of abuse is the price of entry into academic discussions.

tl;dr—Using 3rd-party tech company platforms for academic communications, etc. excludes certain people or puts them in the way of harm, and this disproportionately affects women, minorities and queers.

Alternatives—In this section, I have mostly focused on academic communications. For micro-blogging, there is Mastodon, for example (there are even instances for science communication and for academics generally). If you are an institution like an academic journal, a working RSS feed (or several, depending on your volume of publications) is better than a lively Twitter account.

Tech companies are not transparent in their decisions, which often cannot be appealed

Some of the problems with using 3rd party tech company platforms go beyond just the inherent risks in using someone else’s computer, or abuse by other users—in many cases, the use of their services is subject to the whims of their support personnel, who may make poor decisions out of carelessness, a discriminatory policy, or for entirely inscrutable or undisclosed reasons. And because these are private companies, there may be nothing that compels them to explain themselves, and no way to appeal such a decision, leaving anyone caught in a situation like this unable to participate in some aspect of academic life.

For example, in the late 00’s, I tried to make a purchase with Paypal and received an error message. I hadn’t used my account for years, and I thought it was just that my credit card needed to be updated. On visiting the Paypal website, I found that my account had been closed permanently. I assumed this was a mistake that could be resolved, so I contacted Paypal support. They informed me that I had somehow violated their terms of use, and that this decision could not be appealed under any circumstance. The best explanation for this situation that I could ever get from them was, to paraphrase, “You know what you did.”

This was baffling to me, as I hadn’t used Paypal in years and I had no idea what I could have possibly done. I tried making a new account with a new email address. When I connected my financial details to this account, it was also automatically closed. I’ve tried to make a new account a few times since, but never with success. As far as I can tell, there is no way for me to ever have a Paypal account again.

And that wasn’t a problem for me until a few months ago when I tried to register for some optional sessions at an academic conference that my department nominated me to attend. In order to confirm my place, I needed to pay a deposit, and the organizers only provided Paypal (not cash or credit card) as a payment option.

And this sort of thing is not unique to my situation either. Paypal has a long, terrible and well-documented history of arbitrarily closing accounts (and appropriating any money involved). This is usually in connexion with Paypal’s bizarre and sometimes contradictory policies around charities, but this also affects people involved in sex work (reminder: being a sex worker is perfectly legal in Canada).

Everything worked out for me in my particular situation at this conference, but it took work. After several emails, I was eventually able to convince them to make an exception and allow me to pay by cash on arrival, but I still had to go through the process of explaining to them why I have no Paypal account, why I could try making a new one, but it wouldn’t work, and that I wasn’t just being a technophobe or difficult to work with on purpose. I was tempted to just opt out of the sessions because I didn’t want to go through the embarrassment of explaining my situation.

And my problem with Paypal was a “respectable” one—it’s just some weird mistake that I’ve never been able to resolve with Paypal. Now imagine trying to navigate a barrier to academic participation like that if you were a person whose Paypal account was closed because you got caught using it for sex work. Do you think you’d even try to explain that to a conference organizer? Or would you just sit those sessions out?

tl;dr—When you use services provided by tech companies, you may be putting up barriers to entry for others that you are unaware of.

Alternatives—This section was about money, and there aren’t that many good solutions. Accept cash. And when someone asks for special accommodation, don’t ask them to justify it.

Conclusion

Technology isn’t neutral. It’s built by people, who have their own biases, agendas and blind-spots. If  we really value academic freedom, and we want to encourage diversity in academic thought, we need to be very critical about the technology that we adopt at the institutional level.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2018-5136,
    title = {The risks and harms of 3rd party tech platforms in academia},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2018-06-11,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2018/06/11/risks-and-harms-of-tech-in-academia/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "The risks and harms of 3rd party tech platforms in academia" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 11 Jun 2018. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2018/06/11/risks-and-harms-of-tech-in-academia/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2018, Jun 11). The risks and harms of 3rd party tech platforms in academia [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2018/06/11/risks-and-harms-of-tech-in-academia/

How to get any medical journal into your RSS reader even if they don’t provide an RSS feed

by

What is RSS?

For the non-initiate, RSS is a very useful protocol that is used all over the web. You can think of it as a way of separating a stream of content from the website where it’s normally viewed. Nearly every blog has an RSS feed, as do news sources, web comics, and even academic journals. Podcasts are like a specialised version of RSS for audio files only.

What makes RSS great is that I can take all the RSS links from all the news sites, blogs, webcomics and journals that I’m interested in and put them together into a single aggregator (I use Feedly). In this way, I don’t have to be constantly checking all these websites to see if there’s new stuff posted.

But what about medical journals that don’t provide RSS?

Unfortunately, there are some medical journals that do not have an RSS feed. For example, the JNCI (the Journal of the National Cancer Institute) does not have one. (If I’m wrong, please put the link in the comments.) So if I want to know what’s been published recently in the JNCI, I have to visit their site, or look on their Twitter. This is annoying, since the whole point of RSS is to have all the content you want to consume (or as much of it as possible) in the same place.

Pubmed allows users to save any search as RSS feeds

Pubmed provides a wonderful and open, standards-compliant service, but almost no one seems to know about it! This is great for people who are actively researching a subject, and also for people who just want to keep up with a particular journal or subject area.

Some of you have probably figured out where I’m going with this by now, but if you haven’t, I’ll spell it out. Let’s continue with the example of JNCI.

How to put new articles from any journal into Feedly

This assumes you already have an account on Feedly, but you can do this with any RSS reader, of course.

  1. Visit Pubmed in your browser
  2. Click “Advanced” under the search field
  3. Under “Builder,” click “All fields” and choose “Journal”
  4. In the text field beside the box where you selected “Journal,” enter the name of the journal you’re interested in (it will autocomplete, if you have done this correctly, you should see something like “Journal of the National Cancer Institute”[Journal] in the uneditable text field at the top)
  5. Click “Search”
  6. Under the search field at the top of the page, click the “Create RSS” link
  7. Choose how far back you want your search to go (I chose 20)
  8. Click the “Create RSS” button
  9. Right-click the orange “XML” button and click “Copy link”
  10. Go to Feedly, and paste the link into the “Search” field at the top right
  11. There should be one result, click “Follow” and choose which collection you want to keep it in

You’re done! Now whenever Pubmed indexes a new entry for that journal, it will appear in your RSS reader!

You can also make RSS feeds for any search you want on Pubmed

Of course, you may not be interested in everything a journal has to say, so you can refine the search to only include “breast cancer” or you can drop the journal identity part of the search entirely. The world is your oyster!

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2017-4894,
    title = {How to get any medical journal into your RSS reader even if they don’t provide an RSS feed},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2017-06-15,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/06/15/how-to-get-any-medical-journal-into-your-rss-reader-even-if-they-dont-provide-an-rss-feed/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to get any medical journal into your RSS reader even if they don’t provide an RSS feed" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 15 Jun 2017. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/06/15/how-to-get-any-medical-journal-into-your-rss-reader-even-if-they-dont-provide-an-rss-feed/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2017, Jun 15). How to get any medical journal into your RSS reader even if they don’t provide an RSS feed [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/06/15/how-to-get-any-medical-journal-into-your-rss-reader-even-if-they-dont-provide-an-rss-feed/

A gift of the fae folk, I assume?

by

What is this thing?

What is this thing?

I tried to go to the Snowden talk at McGill a couple weeks ago. The lineup was too crazy huge for us to get in, so we went to Thomson House, the McGill grad students’ pub, and hooked a laptop into a TV there to watch.

Seriously, what?

Seriously, what?

On the way back, in a pile of stones upturned by the construction between the Leacock and Brown buildings on the McGill campus, I found a little medallion marked with strange symbols. It has a pentagram on one side and Death on the other.

I don’t know what to make of it. I assume it was left for me by the fairy folk, and that it’s a good omen?

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4763,
    title = {A gift of the fae folk, I assume?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-14,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A gift of the fae folk, I assume?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Nov 2016. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 14). A gift of the fae folk, I assume? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/

It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem.

by

Figure 1

Figure 1

It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review your knowledge of Bayes Theorem. Here’s a fun exercise to do: Calculate the probability that a gay man is HIV-negative, given that he tells you he’s HIV-negative.

Definitions

First, let’s define our terms.

h: Does not have HIV
~h: Does have HIV
e: Says he does not have HIV
~e: Says he does have HIV

Goal

So let’s imagine that you’re a gay man, and you’re going to hook up with a guy for Valentine’s Day. You might be interested in calculating the following: P(h|e)

This expression, P(h|e) represents the probability that a gay man does not have HIV given that he says he does not have HIV.

Data

The base rate of HIV infection among gay men who have sex with men is 19%.1

Hence: P(~h) = 0.19; or P(h) = 0.81

See Figure 1 for a graphical representation. The entire square represents all gay men who have sex with men. The blue rectangle takes up 81% of the square, which is proportional to the CDC’s best estimate for the number of gay men who are actually HIV-negative.

From the same source, we can also determine that the probability that a person says he does not have HIV given that he does have HIV to be 44%.1

Hence: P(e|~h) = 0.44

In Figure 1, this is represented by the green rectangle. Given that a person is HIV-positive, there’s a 44% that they don’t know, and so they would likely say that they are “negative.”

The remainder, the yellow rectangle, is the proportion of gay men who are HIV-positive and who know that they are HIV-positive.

Assumptions

I am considering only the population of gay men who have sex with men.

Built into this is the assumption that men who have HIV and don’t know it would report themselves as HIV-negative, or that there wouldn’t be anyone who just says “I don’t know.”

I am also assuming here that 100% of gay men who don’t have HIV will say that they don’t have HIV. Put another way, there is a 0% chance that someone will say he has HIV if, in fact he does not have HIV. This is a simplification, It’s possible that someone is confused about his status, but very unlikely. Hence:

P(e|h) = 1; or P(~e|h) = 0

Bayes Theorem

To calculate our desired value, P(h|e), we should use Bayes Theorem.

P(h|e) = P(h) / ( P(h) + P(e|~h) * P(~h) / P(e|h) )

P(h|e) = 0.81 / ( 0.81 + 0.44 * 0.19 / 1 )

P(h|e) = 0.81 / ( 0.81 + 0.44 * 0.19 )

P(h|e) = 0.91

To illustrate this graphically, in Figure 1, this would represent the chance of your prospective hook-up being in the blue area, given that the only thing you know about him is that he’s either in the blue area or the green area.

Conclusion

Your risk of HIV exposure can be informed by your prospective sexual partner’s response to whether or not he is HIV-negative.

If a person tells you that he’s HIV-positive, he knows his status. No one goes around claiming to be HIV-positive unless they’ve been tested and got a positive result. The best evidence we have indicates that HIV-positive people with an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV.2 So with a sexual partner who’s HIV-positive, you’re not getting any surprises.

If you don’t even ask about your prospective sex partner’s HIV status, you can be 81% certain that he’s HIV-negative, just because of the base rate of HIV prevalence. If you do ask and he tells you that he’s negative, that is a useful piece of information—it allows you to update your estimation of the probability that your prospective sexual partner is HIV-negative to 91%, but there’s still about a 1 in 10 chance that he’s HIV-positive, has no idea, and is not being treated for it.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

References

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5937a2.htm?s_cid=mm5937a2_w
  2. Attia S et al. Sexual transmission of HIV according to viral load and antiretroviral therapy: systematic review and meta-analysis. AIDS. 23(11): 1397–1404, 2009.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4652,
    title = {It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem.},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-02-14,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/02/14/bayes/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem." Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Feb 2016. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/02/14/bayes/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Feb 14). It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem. [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/02/14/bayes/

The answer to the question

by

On October 9, inspired by the STREAM research group’s Forecasting Project, I posed a question to the Internet: “Do you know how the election is going to turn out?” I tweeted it at news anchors, MP’s, celebrities, academics, friends and family alike.

I’m very happy with the response! I got 87 predictions, and only 11 of them were what I would consider “spam.” I took those responses and analysed them to see if there were any variables that predicted better success in forecasting the result of the election.

The take-home message is: No. Nobody saw it coming. The polls had the general proportion of the vote pretty much correct, but since polls do not reflect the distribution of voters in individual ridings, the final seat count was very surprising. This may even suggest that the Liberals got the impetus for a majority result from the fact that everyone expected they would only narrowly eke out a victory over the incumbent Tories.

You can view the final report in web format or download it as a PDF.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4616,
    title = {The answer to the question},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "The answer to the question" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Oct 2015. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 25). The answer to the question [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/

Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?

by

The STREAM (Studies of Translation, Ethics and Medicine) research group at McGill University, of which I’m a part, has been working on a project for the last year or so in which we elicit forecasts of clinical trial results from experts in their field. We want to see how well-calibrated clinical trialists are, and to see which members of a team are better or worse at predicting trial outcomes like patient accrual, safety events and efficacy measures.

Inspired by this, I borrowed some of the code we have been using to get forecasts from clinical trial investigators, and have applied it to the case of Canada’s 42nd federal election, and now I’m asking for you to do your best to predict how many seats each party will get, and who will win in your riding.

Let’s see how well we, as a group, can predict the outcome, and see if there are regional or demographic predictors for who is better or worse at predicting election results. The more people who make predictions, the better the data set I’ll have at the end, so please submit a forecast, and ask your friends!

The link for the forecasting tool is here: http://www.bgcarlisle.com/elxn42/

Just to make it interesting: I will personally buy a beer for the forecaster who gives me the best prediction out of them all.* :)

* If you are younger than 18 years of age, you get a fancy coffee, not a beer. No purchase necessary, only one forecast per person. Forecaster must provide email with the prediction in order for me to contact him/her. In the case of a tie, one lucky beer-receiver will be chosen randomly. Having the beer together with me is conditional on the convenience of both parties (e.g. if you live in Vancouver or something, I’ll just figure out a way to buy you a beer remotely, since I’m in Montreal). You may consult any materials, sources, polls or whatever. This is a test of your prediction ability, not memory, after all. Prediction must be submitted by midnight on October 18, 2015.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4597,
    title = {Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-8,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 08 Oct 2015. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 08). Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/

Gotcha! This is why piracy happens

by

Stata

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.

iTunes

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.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4459,
    title = {Gotcha! This is why piracy happens},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-05-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Gotcha! This is why piracy happens" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 May 2015. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, May 22). Gotcha! This is why piracy happens [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/

Rethinking Research Ethics: The Case of Postmarketing Trials

by

Good news!

Toward the end of the year in which I was working on my thesis, my supervisor had me write up a shorter version of my thesis for an attempt at publication. This was no small feat—imagine trying to compress a 90-page master’s thesis into 2 pages!

After my RA-ship ended, my supervisor, Jonathan Kimmelman, and Alex John London took the paper, made some substantial edits, and submitted it to a couple journals. The paper was accepted, and as of this week, it was published in Science.

Needless to say, I’m thrilled. :D

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2878,
    title = {Rethinking Research Ethics: The Case of Postmarketing Trials},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-05-3,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/03/rethinking-research-ethics-the-case-of-postmarketing-trials/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Rethinking Research Ethics: The Case of Postmarketing Trials" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 03 May 2012. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/03/rethinking-research-ethics-the-case-of-postmarketing-trials/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, May 03). Rethinking Research Ethics: The Case of Postmarketing Trials [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/03/rethinking-research-ethics-the-case-of-postmarketing-trials/

I graduated this week

by

Backward compatibility

I'm getting hit by a tube

I'm getting hit by a tube

I like graduation ceremonies. Don’t get me wrong—hearing the names of a couple hundred students read in order of academic programme isn’t my idea of a wild party, but I’m glad such things exist. There’s a couple things that I like about graduations.

Convocation is the ultimate example of backward compatibility. There’s something positively medieval about them. As the Principal said, the tradition of graduation ceremonies at McGill predates Canadian Confederation. If a person from even ten centuries ago was magically transported to Place-des-Arts on the morning of November 23rd, 2011, that person would probably be able to recognise what is going on, just by seeing all these acamedics in their robes and the giving of certificates.

When I graduated from Western, the procession of professors, chancellors, etc was preceded by a guy carrying a big gold mace. Maces are symbols of power, and historically speaking, they were there to serve the purpose of keeping everyone in line, in case the meeting got out of hand. And at some point in history, someone thought, “Carrying around an implement for bludgeoning rabble-rousers is something that we have to keep doing forever. Just in case.”

When I got the actual paper with my degree printed on it, I discovered that it was all written in Latin. According to the paper, I have a “Magistrum Artium” now. I’m going to take a picture of my degree and get my little sister (whose Latin is much better than mine) to read it at Christmas break.

At McGill by tradition, undergrads are tapped on the head by an academic cap as they graduate. Grad students used to have their hands shaken by the Chancellor, however in the wake of the Swine Flu scare, hand-shaking fell out of fashion. (Not based on any evidence, mind you—Swine Flu is not transmitted by hand-to-hand contact.) Hence, the Chancellor hits graduate students with a tube as they pass him on the stage.

That was the weirdest thing. It was like a knighting (“I dub thee “Magistrum Artium”) except it would have been a whole lot awesomer if they had tapped me on the shoulder with the sword of Gryffindor or something. Actually, I’d settle for the sword of James McGill.

Academic regalia

Hood and robe for MA at McGill

Hood and robe for MA at McGill

What’s also fun (but expensive) is the academic regalia. This time, they let me keep the hat, at least!

I can wear it whenever I want to look smart and make people pay attention to my ideas.

Every programme/faculty/level of achievement has a different robe/hood/hat that they wear to graduate. For a MA at McGill, you get a black robe with funny sleeves that you can’t actually put your arms through, a mortar board and a baby blue hood that goes around the neck. In the attached photo, I’m trying to show what the hood looks like a bit. That’s the interesting part.

Not only do the students all wear different things, but because each professor wears the academic regalia of the school where she earned her PhD (not the school she works at), many professors will have different robes/hoods/hats. Some are boring, some are very eye-catching. The profs who did their PhD at McGill all have funny black McGill hats.

Framing my degree

I looked at the prices of the fancy “McGill” frames that were for sale just outside the theatre and asked them how much they cost. They said they were $200 apiece.

When I stopped laughing, I realised that they were serious and moved on.

Part of me wants to go out and find a “Dora the Explorer” frame for my degree. Something really tacky to keep it in, at least while I’m looking for a frame that won’t require another student loan for me to buy. The only problem with that is that if I do that as a joke while I’m looking for the “real frame,” it might become the “real frame.”

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2500,
    title = {I graduated this week},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-11-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/25/i-graduated-this-week/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "I graduated this week" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Nov 2011. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/25/i-graduated-this-week/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Nov 25). I graduated this week [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/11/25/i-graduated-this-week/

E-thesis final submission

by

This week, my goal was to make final submission of my thesis. All the actual work on the document was finished. I just needed to figure out how to hand it in. As per instructions on the GPS website, my thesis has to be submitted in PDF/A format.

For those of you who are unaware, a PDF/A is not the same thing as a PDF. What’s the difference? It’s more expensive of course.

The thesis has to be converted to PDF/A using special software to ensure that it can still be opened in the future. So, in order to submit my thesis, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies recommends that I buy Adobe Acrobat Pro, at a cost of $101.38 with tax—and that’s the reduced student price.

And the most frustrating thing about this? According to the instructions, “Standard PDF files will be rejected unless the thesis was written in LaTeX.” For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you will recall that up until February, I was using LaTeX to typeset my thesis, and it was a painful and scary transition for me to move to Microsoft Word part-way through.

So ultimately, it came down to a choice between trying to convert my thesis back to LaTeX, or spending $100 to avoid all that hassle.

Laziness won, of course.

On Thursday, I went in to the bookstore and bought the software. When I first installed it and tried to convert my thesis, I got an error. Acrobat couldn’t convert my thesis. This seemed strange, since there wasn’t any strange formatting in it. I fiddled with the settings, tried restarting, but the very expensive software wouldn’t do it. Fortunately after a half hour, it auto-installed an update and after that, the conversion went as planned.

So as of yesterday, I have submitted my thesis to McGill. It’s over! Those are all the requirements for my master’s in bioethics! The only thing that’s left is my supervisor clicking “accept.”

By the way, one of the most satisfying things about making final submission of my thesis is the fact that I can take the ugly EndNote app out of my computer’s dock. It was such an eyesore! :P

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2194,
    title = {E-thesis final submission},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-09-23,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "E-thesis final submission" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 23 Sep 2011. Web. 18 Sep 2018. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Sep 23). E-thesis final submission [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/09/23/e-thesis-final-submission/

Search

Tag bag

Recent comments

Old posts

All content © Benjamin Carlisle