Joseph F. Turcotte, PhD

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Monthly Archives: April 2010


A message to Chris Bosh…

Please circulate widely. I can’t imagine how the team will look (and more importantly, play) without him.

Full credit to the video’s creators; well done.


From the Archives: “Student privacy at Laurier”

Continuing my reminiscing and updating, this piece originally appeared 17 October 2007 in The Cord Weekly. Please click the article title to see the original PDF.

Student Privacy at Laurier
17 October 2007
Joe Turcotte
Special Projects Editor

Luckily for the majority of Laurier students, issues relating to privacy and personal information are of little concern. Having never lived in a repressive police state or been victim to identity theft, most students walk around campus unaware that their personal information is being collected and stored.

While this information is not being used for malicious reasons, it may come as a surprise that the lives of students may not be as private as they believe they are. Although many students are not overly concerned with their privacy, many members of the Laurier community are. Currently, Dr. Martin Dowding, an assistant professor in the communication studies department,
is looking into privacy issues relating to students.

“[At Laurier] people don’t seem all that excited about [privacy] or interested in it,” Dowding says, talking about students in particular. “There’s a kind of carelessness that we’ve had on campus. There’s been a kind of trust. We’ve been isolated for so long but as the university becomes bigger here at Laurier we need to be more careful.”

But while Dowding is concerned with how information is tracked, he points out that there’s a delicate balance
between privacy and security that must be maintained. “There’s a real tension,” says Dowding. “We want to feel free and yet at the same time we want to be secure.”

With the majority of the Waterloo campus contained within one city block, many students feel secure in the knowledge that their campus is safe. Adding to this sense of security is the fact that campus security has over 130 digital security cameras at its disposal. This coverage amounts to “about 80% of the exterior of campus” says director of Campus Safety & Security
(CS&S) Rod Curran, and various interior places around campus including the Concourse, library, the Peters Building, the Bookstore and in and around the Dr. Alvin Woods Building.

But Curran is quick to point out that CS&S respects the privacy of the school’s students. “We’re not intruding on anybody’s rights here, we’re just doing the outside of campus,” says Curran. “We’re not in the residences.”
For Curran, the cameras are merely a means for ensuring that the campus
remains safe. “It’s part of our security plan; we only have 12 special constables on campus,” says Curran of the need for the camera coverage, “so the security cameras assist us in monitoring emergency situations and also if we see suspicious characters
coming on campus.”

With the irregular hours that many students keep, CS&S works to ensure that the campus remains under the watchful eye of the cameras long after most people have gone to sleep. “The [cameras] are monitored here 24/7 by our student dispatch,” says Curran. “The cameras assist us greatly,” he continues, providing an example of how the cameras are utilized. “Earlier
in the spring, it was really busy one Saturday night. Some people were stealing furniture out of a residence;
they were followed on camera over to Albert Street. Two days later, the police were called and we got our furniture back.”
However, while CS&S preach the virtues of cameras on-campus, Dr. Dowding is wary of the use of these sorts of surveillance techniques. “We could very well be in trouble if we watch each other too much, ” he says.

“In the event that we have this entire surveillance infrastructure set up and we have a reasonable government,
that’s all well and fine,” he continues and explains his hesitations regarding surveillance, “but what happens if things slip a little bit and we have a very different kind of government? That’s what worries me.”

The use of video cameras as a surveillance technique is not the only way that the personal information and privacy of students is monitored on campus. Information relating to the use of things as innocuous as our OneCards, Emails and computer use, and school records are maintained in extensive databases.

“Your complete financial history is kept,” explains OneCard Manager Nick Tomljenovic. “For a lot of locations, your complete access history is kept, just for example, for sensitive doors in the science building.”

“As soon as you swipe your card we have a record of where you’ve been,” Tomljenovic continues.
This information is then stored in a mass database for an indefinite period of time and can be accessed by the individual student at any time. “It’s like banking information,” explains Tomljenovic. “It’s kept indefinitely just in case you should ever need to pull it up, or if you should come back years later and decide you want to look at it.”

While this information is readily available to the individual student, by accessing it online or at the OneCard
office, it is not available to any other student or to faculty or staff. And the information that is stored within the database is not used for targeted marketing purposes by campus businesses or the Student’s Union.

“We use it for things like Food Services to see how they’re doing in terms of sales. The Students’ Union uses the OneCard system to see their sales breakdowns by units, but that’s all sort of internal breakdowns done by themselves,” he explains. “We don’t really bother to see who’s eating

Despite the fact that such targeted marketing or the tracing of particular students has not occurred,
Tomljenovic admits that the use of the digital database makes such actions possible. “The only people that could actually call on it would be security,” he says. “If there’s an incident at a particular location and they wanted to know the last person to swipe in, then we could tell them who that is.”

With the amount of information that is relayed by the OneCard and contained in the digital database, it becomes imperative that this information is protected from hackers or other breaches to the system. While the firewalls that protect the OneCard servers are “state of the art” and “very secure”, Tomljenovic admits that they are not perfect. “There’s no such thing as a 10, but I would say we’re as close to it as we could possibly be,” he says.

Such imperfections are the sorts of things that worry Dr. Dowding and like-minded individuals. “Every time a new technology is developed, somebody’s going to figure out how to do an end-run,” says Dowding, which “all has to do with who can break a firewall.”

As the amount of spam that regularly fills the email inboxes of Laurier students’ school accounts demonstrates,
there is no shortage of people willing to try and circumvent the system and maliciously use personal information.
While this spam is a nuisance that is potentially dangerous, Carl Langford ,manager of network
operations for Information Technology Services, assures us that ITS is doing its best to keep Laurier Email account information

Since the Ontario government implemented the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) last year, the ways in which students’ Email account information has been distributed had to be changed.

Until that time Laurier had an online database where the Email addresses for students, faculty and staff could be accessed. “We were notified by the Privacy Officer that that was no longer acceptable, so within a few minutes that was turned off,” explains John Kearney, director of Information Technology Services. This move was done to ensure that students’ account information could not easily be discovered on the school’s website. Another aspect of the Email system that ITS seeks to keep private are the actual Email accounts themselves.

As Langford explains, “We cannot see the actual message, and in fact we cannot see who it is from. Basically
the message is a black box; we can tell it’s there but we don’t know who sent it, when they sent it, we just know that something’s there.”

The Email systems are not the only account information that falls underneath of the ITS umbrella. Each time a student logs into a computer on campus, that information is stored in a protected database for a short period of time.

“We keep limited logs so that we can tell the last couple of times that you may have logged in,” says Langford, “It does not tell us where you have logged in, it tells us when.”

This information that is collected through the use of the OneCard and ITS is protected by an elaborate system of firewalls. At the same time these firewalls also serve to protect the information that is held at the Registrar’s Office. “Most of the information we gather from students starts at the admissions stage,” explains Ray Darling, Laurier’s Registrar. “Right away you’ve got all of your wallet information, you’ve got all of the institutions that you’ve attended, you’ve got your grades, the programs that you’ve applied to here, your date of birth.”

This information is then sorted into individual files and stored in an extensive database for an indefinite period of time. “It’s stored in Banner. You would know it as LORIS, that’s kind of the front end of it. But the database underneath it is called Banner,” explains Darling. The information contained in Banner is used for administrative purposes and to determine whether or not students have met the progression requirements. “We have to have a good reason to ask for private information,”
Darling says. Determining what is and is not a “good reason” comes down to what is laid out in the recently enacted Privacy
Act. The job of dealing with the changes brought on by the act and how the school goes about maintaining
the privacy of its students falls on Dr. John Metcalfe, director of the universityinformation and privacy office, and ombudsperson.

“Each piece of information has a different access class around it,” explains Metcalfe. “For example, the names of people in courses would likely be highly accessible across the campus to employees of the university who need that for their work. But something like your grades would be much less accessible.”

In terms of total access to university information, Metcalfe explains that only the school’s president, Dr. Max Blouw, has the ability to see everything, as “he has the exclusive right, as the guy who runs the show.” By limiting who has the ability to view certain kinds of student information, Metcalfe hopes that he is protecting the privacy of the school’s students and upholding a moral responsibility to each student as an individual.

“Our moral and our legal responsibility is to restrict our asking for information to just that information that is necessary to run the university,” says Metcalfe. “Because your freedom as a citizen in this country, and anywhere in the world, is based on your privacy. It’s your ability to control what other people know about you that really gives you some sort of control over your liberty.”
Although students themselves may take their privacy for granted, Metcalfe believes that “in ten years some students will kick themselves for what they did. Lots of it’s very innocuous and benign, but there are three corner stones of identity theft: name, date of birth and social insurance number.”

With two of these three things being placed in electronic files by various institutions at the school, and oftentimes being willingly placed online on sites such as Facebook it makes it possible for, “you to compile lots of little bits of information on people and create a dossier,” says Metcalfe.

With identity theft becoming increasingly prevalent in our society, and the possibility for credit fraud and other malicious actions being particularly damaging to a student’s future, the need to better protect one’s personal information should begin to be taken more seriously.

Metcalfe’s advice on how and where you use your personal information is that “you just have to be cautious. Don’t be crazy about it.”

From the Archives: “The Future of Music”

I’m currently in the process of updating my website to include some of the work I did as a student journalist. This piece originally appeared in The Cord Weekly on 12 March 2008. Please click the article’s title to view the PDF.

The Future of Music
12 March 2008
Joe Turcotte
Special Projects Editor

As record sales continue to plummet, this year’s Canadian Music Week became a venue for industry insiders and visionaries to share their thoughts on the future. The Cord was there to listen and speak to the people involved and to try and map out where the industry is headed

It has been a little over a decade since the North American music industry was in its prime. In the mid-to-late 1990s, album sales were buoyed by pop megastars like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, ’NSync and the Spice Girls, and the numbers indicated it: in 2000, sales reached their peak, as approximately 940 million copies were sold across the continent, according the Record Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Canadian Recording Industry (CRIA).

However, that was before Napster and the Internet changed the way that fans could access music.

In 1999, Shawn Fanning, a student at Northeastern University, wrote the program for a file-sharing service that allowed users to access the digital music catalogues of people across the world over the Internet. With Napster, the means of obtaining music were forever changed, as the recording industry no longer held a monopoly over the distribution
of music.

Almost ten years since the rise of Napster, the music industry is still struggling to come to terms with the way that the Internet facilitates access to music. With albums sales falling to about 620 million in 2006, the industry is now beginning to seriously probe how to best utilize the Internet and other new media to ensure its own sustainability.
“It’s fundamentally changing the way people access, consume and distribute media – period,” said Alan Cross, program director at the Edge 102.1 (CFNY-FM) in Toronto, of the Internet during an interview following his appearance at a panel discussion at last week’s Canadian Music Week (CMW). “All you have to do is look at the Internet: that’s revolutionizing the way that people are accessing and discovering new music, through Myspace, through Facebook, through, or whatever,” said Cross. “There’s just so much more out there, and so many more ways to find it and so many more ways to tell other people about it,” he continued.

Much of the focus of this year’s CMW, an annual event that mixes industry conference discussions and a four-day, city-wide music festival, was set upon how to deal with new media and the Internet and to try to envision how to proceed. While many media outlets predict doomsday scenarios for the music industry, many of the speakers at this year’s CMW were optimistic about the future.

“It’s a really exciting time in the music business,” said Jack Ross, a vice-president and agent at The Agency Group in Toronto, during a panel discussion entitled “Artist Development: Building Tomorrow’s Classic Rock Today”.

“The fan is in charge,” said Ross, commenting on the ability for music fans to dictate how they listen to music and when.

Similarly, Steve Kane, president of Warner Music Canada and another member of the panel, pointed to the rise of digital media as a way of allowing artists that have been previously overlooked to reach the spotlight. “With the fragmentation of media and the localization of media,” said Kane, “I think one of the things we’re seeing is the rise in regional music and local musicians.”
An example of this trend can be found in Laurier’s own Will Currie & The Country French, who made their debut during this year’s festival.

Having honed their musical skills by playing shows at the WLU campus as well as in and around Southern Ontario
for the past year and a half, the six-member band, made up primarily of students in the school’s Faculty of Music, served as an opening act for Sloan at the murderecords label re-launch party.

The group has recently been signed to murderecords, a label that was first founded by the members of Sloan in the early ’90s. In an interview outside of the Supermarket following the band’s performance, they expressed their excitement about having opened for one of Canada’s best known rock acts.

With their hard work and commitment to playing shows and honing their performance, the band exemplifies
the work ethic necessary to get noticed and signed. While this may be the traditional means of establishing any music career, the band has also employed the use of new media to help gain attention. “At first, we just gave tons away. We just a put a pile of CDs at the front of the stage and said ‘come get them’ and people just stormed the stage to grab free music,” explained vocalist Amanda Currie, of the band’s use of inexpensive and easily burnable demo discs.

Having used free as way of establishing a fan base, the members of Will Currie & The Country French also looked to the Internet as a means of reaching an audience outside of people who were able to attend their shows. “It’s the cheapest promotion that you can do for your band. Anyone can sign up for a Myspace page, you can put your recordings up for free, they can get all the way around the world and you don’t have to pay for those costs,” said percussionist Steve Wood.

And while many in the music industry bemoan the Internet for making songs available to download for free, the members of the band feel that this ability has a positive impact on their career and the careers of other musicians from small or independent groups. “Because we’re not Jay-Z or something, we really don’t care how many records we sell,” said Will Currie, the founder and vocalist for the band. “But the Internet is really useful for indie bands because you’ve got Myspace and you’ve got these podcasts and things – that’s what gets your name out there, that’s what plays your songs,” he continued.

Like the members of Will Currie & The Country French, Toronto-based pop-musician Lights has turned to untraditional ways to get her music heard. Having recently signed a deal with Old Navy to have her songs featured in an advertising campaign, Lights has become a fast-rising star in Toronto’s music scene. After her buzz-worthy performance at the Rivoli on Friday night, Lights explained that because of the changing landscape of the music industry, bands are forced to market themselves in innovative ways. In her case, rather than release a traditional full-length album on CD, Lights has looked to iTunes as a way to distribute her first EP.

“One of the big things is that I think the need for a full-length album, and the hard copy in your hand, is becoming a little bit obsolete,” explained the 20-year-old pop singer. “It’s just more accessible to everyone all across the globe. You can, with a click of a mouse, get the song that you want and you don’t have to buy all of them. I think that’s just a more practical means of finding new music you like,” she continued.

While Myspace and iTunes are becoming industry standards for both new and established acts, Lights is also looking to explore further distribution methods in other ways. “I’m really open to experimenting with a lot of cool ideas in the coming years. Maybe an EP after an after an EP, or even USB bracelets with songs on them – just cool ideas. I think the market’s changing so much and no one knows where it’s going to go; it’s time to experiment,” said Lights. As more and more bands begin to drift away from the traditional means of producing and distributing music, the industry itself has also begun to find ways other than the CD or hard-copy format as a way of selling music.

At the “Digital Music & Media Futures: New Business Models” demonstration, music futurist, author and CEO of Sonific LLC, Gerd Leonhard discussed the problems facing the music industry and the ways in which they can be turned into opportunities instead. Stating that the major record labels have forever lost the “control” that they once held over the means of distribution,

Leonhard argued that it is time for the industry to embrace the changes that are occurring. “What we see right now is basically wasted enormous potential,” Leonhard said during his keynote address.

Rather than turning to distribution models like iTunes, which essentially attempt to transfer the old model of selling tracks or albums to a digital world, Leonhard advocates an entirely different business model. Under Leonhard’s model, publishing and distribution agreements will be re-written in order to allow music fans and consumers to access music without having to pay for each song or album.

Under this approach, music will be used as a form of content, which is licensed to various websites, who will in turn use advertising money to pay for the licensing fees. “Consumers will pay with attention,” said Leonhard, as he argued that advertising will offset the costs associated with producing and distributing music.

However, in order for a networked approach to selling music to work this will take “collaboration and agreements
to get the music out there,” said Leonhard. While these approaches have yet to reach the mainstream, they are already
being developed and are set to launch.

Online portals – such as Kanoid, which allows users to send friends song recommendations directly to their cell phones; Slacker, an online radio station with pre-programmed stations as well as stations that are automatically tailored to the preferences of the individual user; and Project Opus, which is an online music community that allows users to share their musical preferences
with friends – offer a glimpse of where the music industry may be headed.

The president of Arts & Crafts Records, Jeffrey Remedios, said that while digital media offers some drawbacks, it also presents opportunities to further expand the industry. “Music, digital technology becomes the great curse but it’s also the great liberator, so we’ve tried to take the great liberator approach to it and embrace it widely, except that it’s not up to us to decide how people consume their music,” explained Remedios, who is the president of the label that helped use Apple’s iPod to give Feist a new level of commercial success.

In essence, he said, the onus is on those involved with creating and distributing the music to accept the digital
revolution and ensure the sustainability of the music industry.

As Remedios explained in an interview following his participation in a panel discussion, “It’s up to us to make sure that our music is available to them where they want to have it consumed, how they want to have it consumed.”

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