20 Jan 2014

Evil (and Pathetically Dumb) Yale Administration Foiled

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The odious Yale Administration recently responded to the technological progress which transferred the printed-on-paper Course Critique (which my colleagues and I on the Yale Daily News first produced in the Fall of 1967) to a more flexible searchable electronic version on the Internet to tyrannically exercise the university’s power as webhost to censor and shut it down.

One has to shake one’s head over the fact that Yale continues to manage to hire and put power into the hands of people who are both so inclined to misuse power and simultaneously so lame. Dean Dodo who made the decision to take that website down obviously had only the dimmest reptilian understanding of the possibilities of technology and the enterprise and skill of the Yale undergraduate.

Sean Haufler stepped up in response.

In January 2012, two Yale students named Harry Yu and Peter Xu built a replacement to Yale’s official course selection website. They it called YBB+ (Yale Bluebook Plus), a “plus” version of the Yale-owned site, called Yale Bluebook. YBB+ offered different functionality from the official site, allowing students to sort courses by average rating and workload. The official Yale Bluebook, rather, showed a visual graph of the distribution of student ratings as well as a list of written student reviews. YBB+ offered a more lightweight user interface and facilitated easier comparison of course statistics. Students loved it. A significant portion of the student body started using it.

Fast-forward two years. Last Friday (1/10/14), Yale blocked YBB+’s IP address on the school network without warning. When contacted, Yale said that YBB+ infringed upon Yale’s trademark. Harry and Peter quickly removed the Yale name from the site, rebranded it as CourseTable and relaunched. Yale blocked the website again, declaring the website to be malicious activity.

Later that weekend, Yale’s administration told the student developers that the school didn’t approve of the use of its course evaluation data, saying that their website “let students see the averaged evaluations far too easily”. Harry and Peter were told to remove the feature from the CourseTable website or else they would be referred to the school’s punishment committee. …

What if someone made a piece of software that displays Yale’s course evaluation data in a way that Yale disapproves of, while also (1) not infringing on Yale’s copyrights or trademarks, (2) not storing any sensitive data, (3) not scraping or collecting Yale’s data, and (4) not causing damages to Yale’s network or servers? If Yale censors this piece of software or punishes the software developer, it would clearly characterize Yale as an institution where having authority over students trumps freedom of speech.

Guess what? I made it last night.

I built a Chrome Extension called Banned Bluebook. It modifies the Chrome browser to add CourseTable’s functionality to Yale’s official course selection website, showing the course’s average rating and workload next to each search result. It also allows students to sort these courses by rating and workload. This is the original site, and this is the site with Banned Bluebook enabled (this demo uses randomly generated rating values).

Banned Bluebook never stores data on any servers. It never talks to any non-Yale servers. Moreover, since my software is smarter at caching data locally than the official Yale course website, I expect that students using this extension will consume less bandwidth over time than students without it. Don’t believe me? You can read the source code. No data ever leaves Yale’s control. Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It’s 100% kosher.

My intent behind Banned Bluebook is to demonstrate two points to Dean Miller and the Yale administration:

    If Yale grants students access to data, the university does not have the right to specify exactly how students must view the data.

    Censorship through IP blocking and Deep Packet Inspection is not only unethical, it’s also futile.

Read the whole thing.

Don’t the Nazi tools they hire to run Yale even go to the cinema? If Dean Wurmser has seen Josh Wheedon’s “Serenity” (2005), he or she would have heard the line from Mr. Universe: You can’t stop the signal, Mal.

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