An unexpected link between computer science and the ethics of consent in the acutely comatose

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Yesterday, Dr Weijer from Western U came to the STREAM research group at McGill to give a talk on the ethics of fMRI studies on acutely comatose patients in the intensive care unit. One of the topics he briefly covered (not the main topic of his talk) was that of patients who may be “awake,” but generally unaware of their surroundings, while in an acutely comatose state of some kind. Using an fMRI, questions can be asked of some of these subjects, by telling them to imagine playing tennis for “yes,” and to imagine navigating their home for “no.” Since the areas of the brain for these two tasks are very different, these can be used to distinguish responses with some accuracy. In some rare cases, patients in this condition are able to consistently answer biographical questions, indicating that they are in some sense, conscious.

One of the questions that arises is: Could we use this method to involve a comatose patient in decision-making regarding her own care, in cases where we were able to establish this sort of communication?

Informed consent in medical ethics is usually conceived in terms of: disclosure, capacity and voluntariness, and the most obvious question to arise in the types of cases we’re considering is whether or not you could ever know with certainty that a comatose person has the capacity to make such decisions in such a state. (Indeed, a comatose patient is often the example given of someone who does not have the capacity to consent.) Dr Weijer was generally sceptical on that front.

Partway through his discussion, I had the impression that the problem was strangely familiar. If we abstract away some of the details of the situation in question, we are left with an experimenter who is sending natural language queries into a black box system, which replies with a digital (0/1) output, and then the experimenter has to make the best evaluation she can as to whether the black box contains a person, or if it is just an “automatic” response of some kind.

For those of you with some background in computer science, you will recognise this as the Turing Test. Over the 65 years since it was first suggested, for one reason or another, most people have abandoned the Turing Test as a way to address the question of artificial intelligence, although it still holds a certain popular sway, as claims of chatbots that can beat the Turing Test still make the news. While many would reject that it is even an important question whether a chatbot can make you believe it is a person, at least in the fMRI/coma patient version, no one can dispute whether there is something important at stake.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4345,
    title = {An unexpected link between computer science and the ethics of consent in the acutely comatose},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-01-13,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/01/13/an-unexpected-link-between-computer-science-and-the-ethics-of-consent-in-the-acutely-comatose/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "An unexpected link between computer science and the ethics of consent in the acutely comatose" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 13 Jan 2015. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/01/13/an-unexpected-link-between-computer-science-and-the-ethics-of-consent-in-the-acutely-comatose/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Jan 13). An unexpected link between computer science and the ethics of consent in the acutely comatose [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/01/13/an-unexpected-link-between-computer-science-and-the-ethics-of-consent-in-the-acutely-comatose/


How to automatically back up WordPress or ownCloud using cron jobs

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Recently I set up WordPress for my research group in the Medical Ethics Unit. We will be blogging our journal clubs, posting links to our publications and upcoming events. In related news, my research group has been using DropBox to coordinate papers in progress, sharing of raw data, citations, and all manner of other information. This was working pretty well, but we have been bumping up against the upper limit of our capacity on DropBox for a while, so I installed ownCloud on the web host we got for the research group blog. I’m pretty happy with how nice it is to use and administer.

Of course one of our concerns is making sure that we don’t lose any data in the case of the failure of our web host. This is unlikely, but it does happen, and we don’t want to run into a situation where we try to log in to our cloud-based file storage / sharing service and find that months’ worth of research is gone forever.

For a few weeks, the following was more-or-less my workflow for making backups:

  1. Log in to phpMyAdmin
  2. Make a dump file of the WP database (choose database > Export > Save as file … )
  3. Make a dump file of the ownCloud database
  4. Save to computer and label with appropriate date
  5. Log in to web server using FTP
  6. Copy contents of WP’s /wp-content/ to a date-labelled folder on my computer
  7. Copy contents of ownCloud’s /data/ to a date-labelled folder on my computer

This worked pretty well, except that it was a pain for me to have to do this every day, and I know that if I ever forgot to do it, that would be when something terrible happened. Fortunately for me, my boss mentioned that he had an old but still serviceable iMac sitting in his office that he wanted to put to some good purpose.

I decided to make a fully automatic setup that would make backups of our remotely hosted data and save it locally without any input on my part, so I can just forget about it. I made it with cron jobs.

Server side cron jobs

First, I set up some cron jobs on the server side. The first one waits until midnight every day, then dumps all the MySQL databases into a gzipped file on my web host, then zips up the WordPress /wp-content/ and ownCloud /data/ folders and puts them in the backup folder as well. The second server-side cron job empties the backup folder every day at 23h00.

  • 0 0 * * * PREFIX=`date +%y-%m-%d`; mysqldump -u USERNAME -h HOSTNAME -pPASSWORD –all-databases | gzip > /path/to/backup/folder/${PREFIX}-DBNAME-db.sql.gz; zip -r /path/to/backup/folder/${PREFIX}-wordpress-files.zip /path/to/wordpress/wp-content/; zip -r /path/to/backup/folder/${PREFIX}-owncloud-files.zip /path/to/owncloud/data/;
  • 0 23 * * * rm -r /path/to/backup/folder/*

A few notes for someone trying to copy this set-up

  • Your web host might be in a different time zone, so you might need to keep that in mind when coordinating cron jobs on your web host with ones on a local machine.
  • My web host provided a cron job editor that automatically escapes special characters like %, but you might have to add back-slashes to make yours work if you’re manually editing with crontab -e.
  • You might want to put a .htaccess file in your backup directory with the following in it: “Options -Indexes” (remove the quotes of course). This stops other people from going to your backup directory in a browser and helping themselves to your files. You could also name your backup directory with a random hash of letters and numbers if you wanted to make it difficult for people to steal your backed-up data.

Local cron job

Then on the local machine, the old iMac, I set up the following cron job. It downloads the files and saves them to a folder on an external hard disc every day at 6h00.

  • 0 6 * * * PREFIX=`date +%y-%m-%d`; curl http://www.your-web-site.com/back-up/${PREFIX}-DBNAME-db.sql.gz > /Volumes/External HD/Back-ups/${PREFIX}-DBNAME-db.sql.gz; curl http://www.your-web-site.com/back-up/${PREFIX}-wordpress-files.zip > /Volumes/External HD/Back-ups/${PREFIX}-wordpress-files.zip; curl http://www.your-web-site.com/back-up/${PREFIX}-owncloud-files.zip > /Volumes/External HD/Back-ups/${PREFIX}-owncloud-files.zip;

If you were super-paranoid about losing data, you could install this on multiple local machines, or you change the timing so that the cron jobs run twice a day, or as often as you liked, really. As long as they’re always turned on, connected to the internet and they have access to the folder where the backups will go, they should work fine.

Stoop-n-scoop

This isn’t a super-secure way to back up your files, but then we’re more worried about losing data accidentally than having it stolen maliciously. I don’t think the world of medical ethics is cut-throat enough that our academic rivals would stoop to stealing our data in an effort to scoop our papers before we can publish them. That said, I’m not about to give away the exact URL where our backups are stored, either.

The practical upshot of all this is that now we have at least three copies of any file we’re working on. There’s one on the computer being used to edit the document, there’s one stored remotely on our web host, and there’s a copy of all our files backed up once a day on the old iMac at the Medical Ethics Unit.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3552,
    title = {How to automatically back up WordPress or ownCloud using cron jobs},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-05-20,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/20/how-to-automatically-back-up-wordpress-or-owncloud-using-cron-jobs/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to automatically back up WordPress or ownCloud using cron jobs" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 May 2013. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/20/how-to-automatically-back-up-wordpress-or-owncloud-using-cron-jobs/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, May 20). How to automatically back up WordPress or ownCloud using cron jobs [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/20/how-to-automatically-back-up-wordpress-or-owncloud-using-cron-jobs/


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

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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!

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2728,
    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 = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/16/things-i-wish-i-had-known-about-the-mcgill-direct-entry-masters-in-nursing/}
}

MLA

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. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/16/things-i-wish-i-had-known-about-the-mcgill-direct-entry-masters-in-nursing/>

APA

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 https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/12/16/things-i-wish-i-had-known-about-the-mcgill-direct-entry-masters-in-nursing/


McGill wins the Canada Cup again—surprise ending this time

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McGill wins the Canada Cup ... again!

McGill wins the Canada Cup … again!

For the second year in a row, McGill University left the Canada Cup as the national champions in the sport of quidditch. For the record, there have only ever been 2 Canada Cups. There were some really intense and close games—ones that were too close to call until the final snitch grab—which made them very exciting to watch.

I went to the Cup this year as one of the golden snitches. This tournament was remarkable for a couple reasons. First off, it was very well organised. I can honestly say that I haven’t been to any tournament that was better-run than this one. The weather was ideal: brisk and sunny. The grounds were perfect for off-field snitching: a million places to hide. It was great. Also, there were about a million snitches, too. Almost every quidditch tournament I’ve been to has been lacking in snitches, and this one had an overabundance.

This was why I felt so honoured to be able to snitch for the consolation match (the match to determine 3rd and 4th place). I didn’t want to snitch the finals, since McGill was playing, and I just don’t want questions like, “did you let the McGill seeker catch you?”

The consolation match ended up going later than the final match, and I enlisted some of my McGill snitch friends to engage in some on-field mischief.

When I came back to the field, the score was 30-0, which meant that the snitch-catch tied the game. It’s sometimes said in quidditch that the only player who’s guaranteed to lose every match is the golden snitch. Tonight I made history, because the only possible exception is that of a tied game: When a game is tied, it goes into overtime in which the snitch does not leave the field, and at the end, the team with the most points wins. Overtime ends after a period of 5 minutes or by a snitch-catch. The five-minutes of overtime came and went, and by the end of it, I hadn’t been caught.

Carleton, the team that won, hoisted me up on their shoulders. I won the game! As the golden snitch! This almost never happens. It was the perfect conclusion to a fantastic tournament: my team won (congrats McGill!) and I won too!

Below is a video of me snitching another game earlier in the day. It’s not as consequential as the consolation match later in the day, but it gives you an idea. :)

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-3119,
    title = {McGill wins the Canada Cup again—surprise ending this time},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-11-12,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/12/mcgill-wins-the-canada-cup-again-surprise-ending-this-time/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "McGill wins the Canada Cup again—surprise ending this time" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 12 Nov 2012. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/12/mcgill-wins-the-canada-cup-again-surprise-ending-this-time/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Nov 12). McGill wins the Canada Cup again—surprise ending this time [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/11/12/mcgill-wins-the-canada-cup-again-surprise-ending-this-time/


McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back

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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

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2986,
    title = {McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-08-17,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/17/mcgill-bookstore-textbook-buy-back/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 17 Aug 2012. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/17/mcgill-bookstore-textbook-buy-back/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Aug 17). McGill Bookstore textbook buy-back [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/17/mcgill-bookstore-textbook-buy-back/


Rethinking Research Ethics: The Case of Postmarketing Trials

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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.

So far, I have seen the following references in the media to the paper:

These are just news tickers and a press release from McGill, but my supervisor is hoping for the article to be picked up and actually commented on by others in the field of bioethics.

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. 24 May 2017. <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/


Pathology midterm results

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My pathology midterm was three weeks ago. I went to the exam feeling cautiously optimistic, but when I started talking to my classmates in the hall before the exam, my confidence was shaken. I wrote the exam in my usual way: I answered the questions as quickly as possible and then left before I had a chance to turn correct answers into wrong ones. I didn’t feel very good about my performance afterward. I felt a little bit better when a classmate mentioned that she also had a lot of 5’s in a row, but I still had no idea how I did, and I feared the worst. I mean I actually was afraid of receiving a failing mark.

Yesterday I finally decided to check my grade online. I did really well. Unexpectedly well. Suspiciously well.

This, on the one hand, is great news. Who doesn’t want a good result on a challenging exam? The only problem is that it was a multiple choice exam and so I don’t know whether I just happened to guess the correct answers, or if it wasn’t as difficult as I made it out to be in retrospect. I don’t know if I was adequately prepared, or if it was just a stroke of luck.

To be certain, there were a number of questions I wasn’t sure of, but then, because of the structure of the exam itself (it was multiple multiple choice) I was able to narrow down most questions I wasn’t sure of to two or three options.

I suppose in the big world of academic problems that I could be having, this one’s not so bad.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2738,
    title = {Pathology midterm results},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-03-7,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/03/07/pathology-midterm-results/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Pathology midterm results" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 07 Mar 2012. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/03/07/pathology-midterm-results/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Mar 07). Pathology midterm results [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/03/07/pathology-midterm-results/


It’s midterm week and what is wrong with Google Docs?

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It’s midterm week right now, so I’m behind in my blogging. Apologies! I promise I’ll write a whole lot more when I get back.

Google Docs preferences

Google Docs preferences

In the meantime, here’s a little bug I’ve found in Google Docs, and it’s one that has come up recently, because I have been actively using this feature, and I’m not sure how it broke.

Google Docs has a great feature: automatic substitution. When you type “(c)” and then hit the spacebar, Google Docs immediately changes your “(c)” into a “©” like magic! There was one substitution I was using all the time, namely, the “–>” into “→” substitution.

I specifically remember having used it in January extensively in my notes.

If anyone has a tip or a clue as to how to fix this, that would be appreciated. Google’s documentation is lacking. I’ve done a few searches, and found nothing helpful.

Failure to replace

Failure to replace

I’ve checked my Google Docs preferences (see previous image) and the other substitutions work fine, but no matter what I do, I can’t get it to change my “–>” into a “→”.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2710,
    title = {It’s midterm week and what is wrong with Google Docs?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-02-15,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/02/15/its-midterm-week-and-what-is-wrong-with-google-docs/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "It’s midterm week and what is wrong with Google Docs?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 15 Feb 2012. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/02/15/its-midterm-week-and-what-is-wrong-with-google-docs/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Feb 15). It’s midterm week and what is wrong with Google Docs? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/02/15/its-midterm-week-and-what-is-wrong-with-google-docs/


Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?

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Today I received the following letter in the post from the OIIQ (the Order of nurses and man-nurses of Québec) which I will quote at length.

Le 22 décembre 2011

Monsieur Benjamin Gregory Carlisle,

Subject: Return of your registration certificate

Your name did not appear on the lists of students registered in nursing that we received from the educational institutions. Accordingly, please return your registration certificate as soon as possible in the enclosed return envelope.

Conversely, if you are still registered, contact your educational institution without delay so that they may confirm that information to us.

For any inquiry, please contact the Registrar’s Office.

We thank you for your cooperation.

Regards

This sort of thing makes me wonder at what point I should start thinking that I fell for one of those “cash for degrees” scams. On the one hand, the classes that I took were held in buildings on the McGill campus, but on the other hand, I don’t think I ever asked my teachers for proof that they work for McGill. In fact, if I wasn’t actually enrolled at McGill, that might explain the terrible difficulty I’ve been having with Financial Aid at McGill and with OSAP.

I sent an email to the administrative assistant for nursing at McGill, but she is out of the office until January 9th. I guess I’ll find out then what’s going on.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-2607,
    title = {Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-12-28,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 28 Dec 2011. Web. 24 May 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Dec 28). Is McGill a “cash for degrees” scam? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/12/28/is-mcgill-a-cash-for-degrees-scam/


I graduated this week

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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. 24 May 2017. <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/


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