Turnitin.com

I’m surprised I have not blogged here about the student lawsuit against Turnitin.com? An anti-plagiarism service, Turnitin has students or faculty members upload papers into the database. By comparing new papers to the database, it gives ratings as to whether it is likely a student plagiarized.

Now the search goes out for any student who has a paper that’s being held by TurnItIn that they did not upload themselves. Students Settle with TurnItIn

In theory I could be someone in this situation. Back in 2005, a coworker asked my mother if someone by my name was related to her. This coworker was taking some classes at the university I attended. Turnitin had threw up a cautionary flag on the Originality Report because it was somewhat similar to something with my name on it. The problem is this product came into use at the university after the time I was a student. So I never submitted anything to it. The department from which I got my degree kept a copy of my papers (many submitted by email) and used this product at the time.

Another possibility is this tidbit about the product: Over 11 Billion Web Pages Crawled & Archived. I was actively blogging before and at the time of the incident. Assuming it could identify my name out of all that content, this match could have come from my blogging.

When I contacted Turnitin about this back in 2005, they told me I would have to remove my paper. I re-explained that I didn’t submit the paper. So Turnitin explained that whoever did put the paper in the system would have to remove it. The guy acknowledged the difficulty of the situation in identifying who posted it.

Blackboard Won Suit Against D2L

Blackboard acquired patent ‘138 and brought a lawsuit against Desire2Learn. I would say 80-90% of the commentary about this case has been from anti-Blackboard crowd with about 90% of the rest from the let’s-wait-and-see crowd. Blackboard very much has been mum on the subject. I do not recall a blog of a single Blackboard supporter saying how great it will be for them to win this case. All I have seen are assurances from Bb they do not intend to sue into the ground open source (after EDUCAUSE got on Bb’s case).

I understand motivations for filing a patent request. I understand why they started the lawsuit after getting the patent. What I don’t understand is the reasoning for why the patent was awarded. Also, I don’t understand why Blackboard won the lawsuit. In truth, I probably both have more and less information.

  1. Examiner’s notes would describe the other bases of information about the decision.
  2. Transcripts of the trial would describe what information the jury heard.

Lacking, this information, I cannot really put myself in the shoes of the people who made these decisions to understand why they were made.

In the realm of public opinion, Blackboard certainly has given its vocal detractors very strong ammunition. Mainly the complaints are about using lawsuits to suppress smaller companies and establish dominance rather than innovation to win over new customers. It is about fear and uncertainty.

Drink the Kool-Aid!!

CC License For No Political Use?

Will It Hold? Its interesting… Rob of Blue Sunbelt is using one of my photos to represent Georgia. It is one of my favorite photos of Grassy Pond near the Georgia-Florida border. My first thought was actually, “There is non-commercial use for Creative Commons. Why not a non-political use?” Not that it would have helped. This particular photo does not have a CC license which allows others to use it. Don’t worry, Rob, I probably will not start a lawsuit over this misuse. Though, how do you teach people to behave?

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Look for a Patent Wiki in 2007

Patent review goes Wiki – August 21, 2006:

That’s the basic concept behind a pilot program sponsored by IBM and other companies [including HP and Microsoft], which the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office appears poised to green-light. The project would apply an advisory version of the wiki approach to the patent-approval process.

The issue is that patent applications have tripled in the past two decades, leaving examiners only 20 hours on average to comb through a complex application, research past inventions, and decide whether a patent should be granted.

As a result, critics contend, quality has declined and lucrative patents have been granted for ideas that weren’t actually new.

One solution is to let astute outsiders weigh in during the patent-review process, as online encyclopedia Wikipedia does, vastly increasing the information available to the patent examiner.

This acknowledges there is a quantity and quality issue with people who are approving patents. The applications are complex (certainly when I read them my eyes glaze over). Do the examiners have access to good research tools? Are the examiners good at digesting the research they find? It sounds like all one needs to do is create a patent full of buzzwords the examiner is not likely to understand.

Personally, I think the USPTO should forbid hand drawn figures. Take the Blackboard patent for an “Internet-Based Education Support System and Methods” granted this year and the basis of a lawsuit against Desire2Learn (who posted the complaint and patent). I know the systems pretty well having supported a few. However, I find these hand drawn figures of a browser screen more difficult to understand than the same figure would be of a screenshot or a CAD drawing. I figure the ubiquitousness of drawing software should make this a fairly reasonable request.

Also, I would like to see more in patents about what existing technology the patent is based upon. The major complaint from people about these patents being granted is the amount of prior art. The USPTO is dependent upon the patent applicant and anyone who reviews these applications to find prior art. In knew of students who had papers rejected because there was obviously not enough references. Why not reject a patent for the same reason? Back when the office was founded, I could understand because it was so difficult to find evidence of other’s work. But the USPTO has given patents to Google! Surely with the wealth of information out there they can tell applicants they need to provide more information about prior art? Even make them provide information about items that are similar?

This project has the potential of an RFC (Request For Comment) to the whole world. To go the wiki route and allow people to change the language of the request seems kind of scary?

USPTO 0 : Bb 1

When you read this, what products come to mind?

A system and methods for implementing education online by providing institutions with the means for allowing the creation of courses to be taken by students online, the courses including assignments, announcements, course materials, chat and whiteboard facilities, and the like, all of which are available to the students over a network such as the Internet. Various levels of functionality are provided through a three-tiered licensing program that suits the needs of the institution offering the program. In addition, an open platform system is provided such that anyone with access to the Internet can create, manage, and offer a course to anyone else with access to the Internet without the need for an affiliation with an institution, thus enabling the virtual classroom to extend worldwide. (Bold added.)

Apparently the USPTO awarded a patent to a company that makes course management systems. US Patent Office Strikes Again: Awards Broad Patent to Blackboard | Academic Commons

So now, everyone else who designs a course management system can come under a lawsuit. The USPTO scares me. I’m not really saying Blackboard should not have gotten the CMS patent. It is just that “a patent for an invention is a grant of property rights by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.” [USPTO FAQ] So if I make something that violates another’s patent, then they can sue me. So Blackboard has filed a lawsuit against Desire2Learn.

Racism

Lacey’s story about her first brush with racism in Houston reminds me that they were well intentioned. I am not very hard on such people because my so very white grandmother has made similar comments. Hers was that the neighborhood was suffering from all the crime, the specific example was that my bike was stolen out of our yard. Actually it was stolen by a white kid on the street.

Despite that my father is black and my mother (her daughter) is white, to my grandmother I wasn’t black. I pointed out that to most people who make similar comments who don’t know me consider me black and part of the crime problem because I am black. She never made such a comment again (at least in my presence). I was 13 or 14 at the time.

A couple years later, a guy who was part of my “crew” told me he believed it was morally wrong for blacks and whites to interbreed. However, he didn’t consider me a bad person. I was highly offended at the time. It took a while for me to understand people have lines they consider good or bad, but the line can be easily moved at whim.

Being a mixed kid, race is something I have to deal with almost every day. For the most part, I have come to have blinders to many things that upset those who are still sensitive. There are plenty of opportunities to get upset:

  • Slow service at a restaurant.
  • Sales people following me in a store.
  • Police officers stopping the path changing directions to shadow me.
  • Evil glares from women of African descent when I am with a woman of European descent.
  • Assumptions about my intelligence.
  • Assumptions about my athletic ability.

Why get upset over other people’s ignorance when it doesn’t have an impact on me? The police officer who arrests me just because I am “black” would, of course, have a lawsuit coming.

Racism

Lacey’s story about her first brush with racism in Houston reminds me that they were well intentioned. I am not very hard on such people because my so very white grandmother has made similar comments. Hers was that the neighborhood was suffering from all the crime, the specific example was that my bike was stolen out of our yard. Actually it was stolen by a white kid on the street.

Despite that my father is black and my mother (her daughter) is white, to my grandmother I wasn’t black. I pointed out that to most people who make similar comments who don’t know me consider me black and part of the crime problem because I am black. She never made such a comment again (at least in my presence). I was 13 or 14 at the time.

A couple years later, a guy who was part of my “crew” told me he believed it was morally wrong for blacks and whites to interbreed. However, he didn’t consider me a bad person. I was highly offended at the time. It took a while for me to understand people have lines they consider good or bad, but the line can be easily moved at whim.

Being a mixed kid, race is something I have to deal with almost every day. For the most part, I have come to have blinders to many things that upset those who are still sensitive. There are plenty of opportunities to get upset:

  • Slow service at a restaurant.
  • Sales people following me in a store.
  • Police officers stopping the path to shadow me.

Why get upset over other people’s ignorance when it doesn’t have an impact on me? The police officer who arrests me just because I am “black” would, of course, have a lawsuit coming.

To Redact or Cover Up With a Black Box?

If you don’t want someone to have certain data, then don’t send it to them. Cutesy features like placing a colored box on top of text are next to worthless when it comes to protecting sensitive data. Obscuring the ability of the eye to see the data protects it from 90% of people, yes. However, one can usually get to data in a file in multiple ways. Unfortunately, lawyers and legal assistants are not likely the ones to know this.

Maybe this should be a wake up call to Adobe and other PDF software creators to actually devise a means to redact information from PDFs?

AT&T leaks sensitive info in NSA suit | CNET News.com

Lawyers for AT&T accidentally released sensitive information while defending a lawsuit that accuses the company of facilitating a government wiretapping program, CNET News.com has learned.

AT&T’s attorneys this week filed a 25-page legal brief striped with thick black lines that were intended to obscure portions of three pages and render them unreadable….

But the obscured text nevertheless can be copied and pasted inside some PDF readers, including Preview under Apple Computer’s OS X and the xpdf utility used with X11.

The Value of a Few Extra Clicks

Google Agrees to Settle ‘Click Fraud’ Case – Yahoo! News

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google makes virtually all of its money from text-based advertising links that trigger commissions each time they are clicked on. Besides enriching Google, the system has been a boon for advertisers, whose sales have been boosted by an increased traffic from prospective buyers.

But sometimes mischief makers and scam artists repeatedly click on specific advertising links even though they have no intentions of buying anything. The motives for the malicious activity known as click fraud vary widely, but the net effect is the same: advertisers end up paying for fruitless Web traffic.

The lawsuit alleged Google had conspired with its advertising partners to conceal the magnitude of click fraud to avoid making refunds.

The frequency of click fraud hasn’t been quantified, causing some stock market analysts to worry Google’s profits will falter if it turns out to be a huge problem.

Google executives have repeatedly said the level of click fraud on its ad network is minuscule — a contention that the proposed settlement amount seems to support.

The $90 million translates into less than 1 percent of Google’s $11.2 billion in revenue during the past four years.

Frivolous Lawsuits

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian astrologist who says
NASA has altered her horoscope by crashing a spacecraft into a comet is suing the U.S. space agency for damages of $300 million, local media reported on Monday.

NASA deliberately crashed its probe, named Deep Impact, into the Tempel 1 comet to unleash a spray of material formed billions of years ago which scientists hope will shed new light on the composition of the solar system.

“It is obvious that elements of the comet’s orbit, and correspondingly the ephemeris, will change after the explosion, which interferes with my astrology work and distorts my horoscope,” Izvestia daily quoted astrologist Marina Bai as saying in legal documents submitted before Monday’s collision.

A spokeswoman for a Moscow district court said initial preparations for the case were underway but could not say when the hearing would begin. NASA representatives in Moscow were unavailable for comment.
Source: Russian astrologist sues NASA over comet crash

Bolding my own.

According the NASA scientists on NPR’s Science Friday, the anticipated change in the Temple 1 comet’s orbit would 33ft. Wow… that is about $10 million a ft.