Backing up, backing up, backing up, backing up

What do you use for backing up your computer files? I’ve had a number of close calls in my academic career, and so I compulsively back everything up. Here’s how I do it:

First, I keep multiple revisions of my thesis in folders on my own personal computer. So I have the first revision of my thesis in a folder marked with the date I started it, and then when I make changes to it, I just copy the whole thesis folder and change the date. That way, if I really mess it up somehow and then push “save” by accident, the previous version is there, at least.

The next level of backing up is my periodic Time Machine backups. At the risk of sounding like an Apple commercial, I do actually like the way that my computer backs up my files. I just plug in the hard disc, and click on the little clock in my menu, and then it backs up all the files on my computer. This particular piece of software has saved me a number of times that I can think of. It is, in fact, one of the top five reasons why I would be reluctant to switch to Linux as my main computer of choice—there just isn’t any really comparable backup software that I could find.

That said, if someone wants to enlighten me as to some software for Ubuntu that does what Time Machine does—backs up the computer’s entire hard disc onto an external hard disc, and gives a nice interface for restoring old files, only backs up files that have been modified and doesn’t do anything weird—then please leave a comment!

What’s nice about using the Time Machine backup is knowing that even if someone were to steal my computer while I’m at the library or something like that, I would still have a copy of it in my backup at home.

The highest level of paranoia that I reach is that every once in a while, when I remember, I compress the most recent revision of my thesis into a .zip file, and then upload that to my Google Documents account.

This way, even if my apartment were to burn down and both my computer and external hard disc were destroyed in the blaze, my thesis would be alive and well, in the cloud.

Do you back up your files? How? Four points for anyone who has a more elaborate backup scheme than me!

A non-paternalistic justification for human research subject protections

Just this morning I had a great meeting with my prof regarding my thesis. I showed him the outline for my thesis and we put together a schedule for completing it. He even gave me a few references to go on in terms of researching the topic. I’m starting to feel good about it.

I’ve had a number of people asking me what my thesis is about, so here it is in brief:

There are restrictions that institutions place on the sorts of human research that can be done, and the justification for such restrictions are usually given in terms of subject harm or benefit. Unfortunately, such justifications are paternalistic. By that, I mean there is a sense in which, if someone wants to engage in a very risky research protocol as the subject, what right does the institution’s ethics board have to stand in her way?

That said, there is also a sense in which we do not want human research to just be a free-for-all house of horrors, where anything goes. My thesis is that we should rather justify human research subject protections in terms of protecting the integrity of the human research project as a whole.

So, in colloquial terms, I’m suggesting that rather than saying, “We won’t let you do that risky research because we know better than you what ends you should be pursuing,” rather we should say something more like, “We won’t allow such risky research because allowing such research to go on would make the human research enterprise look sketchy.”

An interesting application of this thesis is in the area of phase IV human research studies. A phase IV study is one that occurs after the drug is already approved for use, and it is essentially a marketing study. The drug company wants to see how to best market the drug to doctors and patients. Often it is even the marketing division of the drug company that applies for the phase IV study.

Ethicists have generally been trying to criticise phase IV studies on the basis of some sort of risk that it may pose to the research subjects. This position is difficult to hold because really, the drug has already been approved for use on humans. I will argue that it is much more defensible to say that such studies are unethical because they do violence to the integrity of human research.

Et voilà. My thesis. All I have to do now is write 80 pages on that, and I’m golden.

The Bioethics Unit party

My classmates at Vendome station after the Bioethics Unit party
My classmates at Vendome station after the Bioethics Unit party

Today was the Bioethics Unit party, held at the beautiful home of the director of the Bioethics Unit. I finally got a bunch of long-awaited details on exactly how the programme works.

We discussed supervisors, length of thesis (no more than 100 pages – darn :P) and details regarding the practicum that will be happening in the Winter term. The majority of the evening was spent getting to know my classmates and other members of the Unit.

It was both a “Welcome to the Bioethics Unit” party and a “Happy Retirement” party for one of the profs who will be stepping down as the Unit director.

Pictured to the right are two of my four classmates at Vendome station. They were headed in the opposite direction from where I was going, so I took the opportunity to photograph them from the opposite platform.