Archived News for September 2006

"Honest students have nothing to worry about"

I just submitted my first work to - an abstract for an upcoming essay. I feel all slimy inside. I've mentioned before that indexes this website - why, I'm not so sure. There are some old essays I wrote a few years back under the articles system, but their indexer doesn't even go in that deep.

Anyway, the reason I feel so slimy: when you submit work to turnitin, you feel like you've already done something wrong, even if you're damn sure you haven't. Just reading their website makes me feel all horrible. It ranges from bizarre:
"In the trial version of, I have been amazed at the immediate results and feedback for what I suspected. Now I simply threaten them with (like--"You just wait till your father gets home) "I'm going to submit this to"!"
(and syntactically incorrect - try parsing the speech marks) to hilarious:
"I submitted a student's essay because it was suspect. It turned out to be totally plagiarized. It turned into a great teaching moment!"
Doesn't that ...textbite exude cheerful enthusiasm for catching, like, totally plagiarized, like, work. I'm glad I've never had to be a part of such a great teaching moment.

See, that's the thing about turnitin. There's the ability for it to be used as a deterrent - I think that's a great idea. So, if a lecturer thinks a report is suspicious they check it with turnitin and use the results to evaluate it - fine. But that's not how it's being used. Instead, everybody in the class submits their work to turnitin. The reason for this isn't really that it makes it easier for the markers (there are nicer ways to electronically submit work, even at Auckland), but because it's in turnitin's best interests. When you submit your work, as you must for it to be marked, you sign away your rights as the author to turnitin: they get to keep your work in their database and use your original work to make a profit. It's pretty easy to see, then, why turnitin would prefer the model where everybody's work is submitted.

Even the lecturer-submitted model is pretty dodgy: from everything I've read, it seems that even lecturer-submitted work goes into the database. That's a genuine concern: when you submit your paper to your lecturer/professor/whatever, you're doing it for evaluative purposes. There's no reason for you suspect that your work is going to be stored in an American company's database for them to do with as they please. I think as an author (and copyright owner, since NZ law states that an individual's work is placed under copyright as soon as it leaves that person's mind and is placed in some physical form) that's at best a disservice, and at worst dishonest and an insult.

Oh, they'll say it's perfectly fine. Take a look at this sidestepping from Patrick Runkle an 'Editor' at Turnitin.
As always, students are free to advocate changes in the laws of their countries or in the policies of their institutions, but claiming that Turnitin violates current law or forces students to give up their copyrights is simply not accurate.
You see, technically, he's absolutely correct. Turnitin doesn't require that students give up their copyrights. It does, however, (for it to be legal) require students to grant turnitin a license to use their work in whatever way turnitin sees fit. Here, Runkle is using the legal distinction between copyright in a work and a license to use a work to weasel his way out of addressing student concerns. Let's consider another one:
Papers screened by our system are never declared "guilty" or "innocent."
Again, Runkle is correct - it doesn't. It does, however, give a nice number between 0 and 100 - an 'overall similarity index'. Pretending that a figure of, say, 94% won't carry the connotation of the person being 94% guilty is dishonest.

If you're really interested in the legal implications of the service, I suggest the Australian legal document (warning: pdf) they host on their website. There's, as far as I can see, no mention of New Zealand law, but from what I understand the colonies are all pretty similar for copyright law. My favourite bit is:
The likelihood of a copyright owner taking action in respect of an infringement is similarly remote (although not completely inconceivable), especially if an express license were granted by each student, by each student being required to sign an assignment cover sheet which granted such license.
I never signed any such sheet! Anyway, here's an opinion that I endorse.

Edit: ...and that's what you get when you post at 3:30am. Sorry. I'd like to rewrite the bits that don't make sense, but I can't be bothered.

JET magazine

Man, I love JET magazine. There's no better accompaniment for greasy food and bad music from the fifties. When I'm eating, I can't help but wonder what I'm doing with my life - JET has a careers section (that generally tells me to do a course in tourism and hospitality). When I'm eating, I want the latest news on what's cool - JET tells me who the hip-hop group of the month is. And, when I'm eating, I want to read this sort of thing:
"The fact that poor Arctic Monkeys are getting so much attention is purely based on the fact that the mainstream music business is such a bunch of retards, as far as I'm concerned." Thom Yorke of Radiohead, accusing the industry of being slow to get with the internet revolution. Speaking of mentally deficient, you'd have to be to miss the irony in Thom choosing that particular insult, given his somewhat 'unique' looking face.
Exactly that appeared in JET about four months ago. The bold is theirs, but the original appeared in ALL CAPS. Formatting changed to protect the stupid.

Oh my. Well. Don't worry that Yorke's eyelid droop is a result of botched operations to correct the paralysed eye he was born with. Don't worry that he doesn't make a big deal out of it, that he just gets on with doing what he does. No, no, if he's got a funny looking face he must be a retard! Fuck.

Oh, it's 'ironic' he used that insult, is it? It's ironic when people who don't look like us call people who look like us retards? You stupid fucks! The first paragraph of this news item, see that? That is irony. The word you are looking for is 'hypocritical'. Speaking of which, dear author, I find your own stance hypocritical, what with you being mentally deficient and all.

JET is an awful, awful magazine.

If you've done nothing wrong

The title of my turnitin post was "honest students have nothing to worry about" - it's a phrase the company actually uses in their marketing material. I'd like to discuss it because it's very similar to another you see used a lot these days:

If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to worry about.

This phrase is a masterpiece. It's a show-stopper. Worried about domestic spying, about loss of privacy, about the gradual erosion of your personal freedoms, the arming of police, the Christian-right, neo-fascism, dollars and cents, pounds and pence, press dishonesty, and the sucking of young blood? Well, if you're not doing anything wrong....

I was, today, trying to pinpoint the source of this phrase's illegitimate magical power. I think that it's a case of unexpressed premises, as many of these things are. But the amount of compression here is stunning. Here's what I consider to be the fully expressed argument:

  1. X only affects people that have done something wrong
  2. If something doesn't affect you, then you shouldn't worry about it
  3. You haven't done something wrong

  4. You have nothing to worry about

1 and 2 are unexpressed. Both are terribly controversial, for pretty much any value, X, selected from the list two paragraphs above.

There's another criticism of the above argument, offered by Bruce Schneider. His response to the phrase itself is, paraphrastically, 'but that depends on your definition of wrong'. His argument, I would say, differs in the following respect:

  1. X only affects people that have done Y (where Y is some arbitrary value of wrong)
  2. ...
  3. You haven't done Y

  4. ...

Bruce is making it clear that the fact that the people who should be worried are people who have done wrong is of very little value to the argument. Pointing out that wrong might be a relative concept, in a way, abstracts it out of the argument - removing the appeal to emotion (it is good thing that bad people are worried).

Any comments on my analysis?

Outrageous Fortune

Say what you will about Outrageous Fortune, but you can't deny that
  1. They have a kickass theme song (Hello Sailor - Gutter Black)
  2. Antonia Prebble (Loretta West) is hot!
If you're going to try top debate that second point, bear in mind that she's also a Power Ranger. She was silver coloured, and her morph phrase was "S.P.D. Nova Ranger!". Damn that's sexy.

Man, how did I miss her hosting What Now when I was 15.


At Dom's request - I'm here to tell you about X-Moto.  First of all, X-Moto is an open source version of a game I played in 6th form called Elastomania.  The premise is that you are motor cycle rider stuck in a 2 dimensional plane with alarming physics constraints.  You can download X-Moto from the sourceforge web page. Its fun, although very difficult and frustrating.  I'm currently up to level 18.

One of the best features of X-Moto is that it records the world records for each level.  You can also download the replay of the world record and watch how it was done if you can't do a level.

So what I'm doing is porting X-Moto to PSP.  Most of the librarys X-Moto uses have been ported to PSP, which makes things easy, so I have to write code to handle the different file system and screen size and inputs.  I'm probably going to have to do some other optimisations to get it running fast enough.  At the moment, I have the main menu working, and you can watch replays (I transfered some from my computer) although the replays are not quite full speed yet.

Go on, download it, give it a shot.

Newest Posts