Turnitin follow up…

Well it’s been a couple of days since I posted my rant about my bad experience with turnitin.com on Ubuntu and (shock horror!) I’ve had a response (thus defying the title of this blog).

The responder was Stephen Sharon via Twitter, he’s written a paper around some of the legal concerns over turnitin and he sent me the link. It’s good reading and confirms some of the things I had heard surrounding the site. I’d encourage everyone reading this to click through and read Stephen’s paper (it’s 38 pages, but double spaced and with much of each page containing references).

I’m not qualified to give legal comment on tunitin (I’m an Engineer not a Lawyer), but I will give my opinion. Before I do I’d like to give the following disclaimer (in true Software Freedom Law Show style):

WARNING: The following DOES NOT (in any way, shape or form) constitute legal advice, it is only my own (perhaps misguided) opinion. I would urge anyone who has any concerns over how their data may have been used by Turnitin to contact someone who actually knows what they a talking about, in this case A LAWYER!

Basically, I think Turnitin is on pretty shaky legal ground both in terms of Copyright and Privacy (certainly under US law). Here in New Zealand we have different privacy laws, but I’m sure they probably say much the same thing. The copyright issues are also concerning, I don’t want to turn over my rights to Turnitin just so I can submit my paper. What if my assignment gave technical details of an invention which I may in future have some financial interest in. Turnitin would have the right to use that information as they see fit.

Realistically I think it’s only a matter of time before Turnitin is taken to court again to face a hard examination of their user agreement, etc. This whole thing brings me back onto the subject of Free Software. I think it really is important for these tools which have such important uses to be Free (as in speech), it would be great to see a Free Network Service replace Turnitin as the dominant player in this market. I would much rather trust that to be transparent and honest than a company driven by profit and market share.

Anyway that’s just my $0.02. Before I finish I’ll encourage you all again to read Stephen’s paper.


Turnitin.com, wtf?

Sorry about this but I really have to say something about this. We had to submit an assignment yesterday via turnitin.com and it broke on me because I wasn’t using a ‘supported operating system’, I was using Ubuntu.

When I logged in I got a message warning me that it might not work, but I honestly don’t see the reason why. Shouldn’t it just be browser specific, not OS specific? I then proceeded to upload my PDF and it seemed to think it actually wasn’t a PDF! Switching to a Windows XP machine and uploading the same PDF worked fine which is the really random thing.

I don’t even see why our University has to use a third party service for this anyway, I’m sure they have the resources to do this in house. Then there is the whole copyright thing, which I’m not altogether happy with either.

Anyway, at least it seems Ubuntu isn’t alone in this, according to a friend Windows 7 also triggers the same error message (albeit without the PDF fail).

Again, sorry for the rant.

Even easier netboot installation…

A while ago I covered netbooting/installation on ubuntu, well I’ve now found an even easier way to do this! It’s probably the easiest way to go about this as it really only involves editing one config file. Some of the info here comes from the official Ubuntu documentation on this, though my approach is actually easier, since you don’t need a separate tftp server.

The main piece of software you will need is dnsmasq, which you can install with the command:

sudo apt-get install dnsmasq

I already had this installed as I’m using it as a DNS cache for my network (which is also pretty useful). It turns out that dnsmasq is a bit of a ‘swiss army knife’, it can do DHCP, DNS and TFTP all together and very easily. You should edit the config file:

sudo nano /etc/dnsmasq.conf Continue reading

Quickly change Debian repositories

Apt is awesome. Plain and simple.

But it is kinda static. By this I mean it’s not particularly suited to environments where things change frequently. For example, we have a local mirror at uni, which of course it much faster than using the external Ubuntu or Debian ones, however as this is only available from internal University of Auckland IP addresses I would have to change my /etc/apt/sources.list file if I wanted to install something from home.

Today I knocked together a quick Python script to fix this, all it does is basically manipulate a symlink which points to the real /etc/apt/sources.list file, but I thought I’d share it anyway: Continue reading

A mobile electronic survey unit – A.K.A. A Cunning Use for Netbooks

Hi, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here, mainly because I’ve been incredibly busy with Uni and work and haven’t had time for hacking on anything interesting at home. However, I’m going to tell you about a really interesting and quite novel use for netbooks that I’ve been setting up at work, hopefully someone else will find it useful and use it in a similar way…

A while ago my boss came to me with an idea. He wanted to purchase a number of netbooks and install LimeSurvey on each of them to be used as a mobile survey unit, that could be taken to schools, colleges, workplaces, etc. and used to collect data for research projects. I pointed out that if we were to install LimeSurvey on all the netbooks each would need an individual webserver and MySQL server, which apart from being a lot of effort would fragment the dataset and make it much more difficult to collect the data together.

Hence, I suggested that we setup one of the machines as the server and set it’s built-in Wifi to work as an access point for the others so they could access the server. This means that no external network access is required, you carry the server with you! Continue reading