Campus closure: reachability

Effective today, the RUB campus has been closed until further notice due to the current health situation. As consistent with the social distancing arrangements, please note that there will be no in-person office hours.

In the next couple of weeks, you can contact the Chair for Ethics of Digital Methods and Technologies by email. If necessary, we can subsequently arrange an appointment for a phone call or video conference.

You can reach my secretary Tanja Markner under tanja.markner@rub.de
You can reach myself under sebastian.weydner-volkmann@rub.de

Vertrauensstiftende Videoüberwachung?

A short journal article titled “Vertrauensstiftende Videoüberwachung?” reports on a privacy respecting concept for video surveillance. It was recently published in the 2019 (4) edition of digma. Zeitschrift für Datenrecht und Informationssicherheit (pp. 218-221). The German article was co-authored by me and my colleague Linus Feiten and it presents a socio-technical concept for a trustworthy implementation of reversible anonymization. The abstract reads like this:

Um berechtigten Bedenken gegenüber Videoüberwachung zu begegnen, wird ein soziotechnisches Konzept vorgeschlagen, das eine reversible Anonymisierung von Bilddaten mit einer (möglichst zivil eingesetzten) Kontrollinstanz kombiniert, um so technische und interpersonelle Vertrauenskonzepte stimmig zu vermitteln.

New Position: Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) at the RUB

GA Building on RUB campus

Starting from 01 February 2020, I will change my place of research: I am happy to announce that I was appointed Assistant Professor for Ethics of Digital Methods and Technologies at the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB). It is a Tenure Track position that I hope will allow me to build on my existing research, especially in applied ethics and the field of civil security research, in order to tackle a new set of philosophical challenges with a high socio-political relevance.

I am excited about this career opportunity and I’m looking forward to new impulses and scholarly exchanges in a new research context. Surely, it won’t be easy to leave Freiburg, my colleagues at the Husserl Archive and at the Centre for Security and Society here in Freiburg, and an unfinished project on border checks with many interesting partners. But I guess this is the way in goes in academia and I am glad to take this next important step.

In the coming months, I will change some aspects about the blog to reflect my new research focus and philosophical activities.

Reference Management: Zotero on iOS and PDF annotation

I’ve been using a reference manager ever since my undergrad years and switched to Zotero for my PhD thesis and it has proven reliable throughout the years. Beside some speed issues after hitting the 250 page mark, it never let me down – and I find this it quite remarkable, because my PhD document saw many version updates of Zotero itself and, more importantly, also one major update of Word (2011 to 2016).

Working with Zotero (or any other reference manager) on iOS, however, is a different matter. As of 2019, things like notes, excerpts or early drafts work just fine, but producing mature academic texts on the iPad just isn’t there, yet: MS Word for iOS does not support Zotero and to my knowledge there currently is neither any other compatible reference manager, nor an alternative word processor that fits my needs. And this is a must for me for academic writing.

However, I find that academic reading certainly is one of the strengths of a tablet. At least for reading and annotating journal articles and other PDFs, I feel that an iPad with Pencil offers a natural interaction for highlighting and adding notes to the margins of PDFs without printing them first. Also, I found that using the text-to-speech function (i.e. having the iPad read the text out loud) while I read it helps me concentrate and read faster at a more consistent pace.

However, this means that my notes and annotations remain digital and the best way to make sure that I find them whenever I need them or stumble across them in the right context means keeping them in my go-to reference manager; Zotero lets me store the annotated PDFs along with the actual reference and it also allows me to add longer, separate notes, excerpts, or images to that reference.

So far so good, but it turns out that working with PDFs and organizing them in Zotero is not as simple as it should be. I really want to avoid having to deal with different versions of annotated PDFs, so an annotation should reliably and seamlessly sync to my computer without having to re-add the annotated PDF to the reference manager in some form.

The only iPad app I found that promises working with PDFs in the desired way in connection with Zotero is Papership; an in-app-purchase allows proper PDF annotations. But I found that this function is lacking in many ways compared to a dedicated PDF app. Also, it looks like this app has basically been abandoned for a couple of years now. It worked OK for a while, but then I started to have synchronizing problems – i.e. I lost annotations. Not good.

Apparently, there is a new iOS app in the making, but I fear that – even if syncing works flawlessly – implementing great PDF editing and annotation functions isn’t a super trivial task and maybe better left to dedicated apps. This would also give me the freedom of choosing the app I like most for PDF annotation!

The following paragraphs have been updated to make use of technical feedback from the Zotero forums.

Originally, my “solution” to this was to change Zotero’s preferences and store the complete Zotero library folder on iCloud drive. This, however, seems to be a very bad idea, as I was promptly told in the (excellent) support forums on zotero.org. The reason for this is that the library database used and maintained by the Zotero app may get corrupted over time. (The risk is especially high if the library data base is also written to by another Zotero installation on a separate computer.)

However, the Zotero documentation mentions another viable route: Keep the library database itself off of cloud services and only use them for the actual storage folder where the PDFs are stored. Unfortunately, Zotero preferences does not offer settings to only change that storage folder – but the documentation suggests to use symbolic links to achieve this goal (here’s an excellent explainer if you aren’t familiar with symbolic links; here’s how to create them for macOS, Windows, Linux).

So the “updated solution” is to first make sure you have a current backup! Then (1) fully exit the Zotero app; (2) go to Zotero’s main folder (by default, it’s “Zotero” in the user’s home directory); (3) move the “storage” folder onto your iCloud Drive; (4) create a symbolic link called “storage” in Zotero’s main folder, which soft-links to the folder you moved to the iCloud directory (macOS hint for using terminal: the path to the iCloud Drive is a bit complicated, but you can simply drag and drop the “storage” folder on iCloud into the terminal window – it will enter the correct path to that folder into the terminal window); (5) double-click on the “storage” link in Zotero’s main folder to check if it is correctly linked to the folder on iCloud; (6) start Zotero, everything should work exactly like before.

This will leave the database alone and only move the storage folder that includes the PDFs etc. to iCloud. This will also mean that all PDFs stored in Zotero will be indexed by Spotlight/Siri on the iPad. So when I search for (parts of) a title, for an author and year, or for combinations of that, the PDF is found promptly. I can edit it with any PDF app I choose and the changes are saved and reliably synced back to my computer without further interaction.

Entering a text like "weydner 2019" will find corresponding PDFs in the complicated Zotero folder structure on iCloud – even when added under Zotero as Weydner-Volkmann
Searching for part of an author’s name and year will find PDFs in an iCloud stored Zotero library

This function at least partly relies on Zotero automatically renaming PDFs upon adding them on my desktop according to a sensible scheme (author’s last name – year – title). So even if the content of a PDF is not ORCed (i.e. just scanned images of pages), it will still find what is being searched. Otherwise, full text search in the content of PDFs works as well. What doesn’t work, however, is searching for Zotero’s tags etc.

For annotating existing entries, this is indeed a very good solution, as they are conveniently synced across all devices that use iCloud. Dealing with the Zotero library itself (including the search for tags etc.) on iOS remains a bit complicated, but it can be done through the (recently updated) Zotero website and new entries can be added through bookmarklets. I hardly do that on the iPad, though; this is work that I prefer using a mouse and a bigger screen for. Until a decent app is available again for iOS, I find this a decent solution at least for my own workflow.

Announcement: Advanced seminar on the concept “lifeworld”

In the summer term 2019, I will be teaching a German language advanced seminar on the concept of the lifeworld. The title of the seminar will be “‘Die Lebenswelt’: Phänomenologische und pragmatische Perspektiven” and the seminar description reads like this:

„Lebenswelt“ ist in der Philosophie und in angrenzenden Disziplinen ein äußerst präsenter, bisweilen gar inflationär gebrauchter Begriff, dem das Hauptseminar in einigen seiner unterschiedlichen argumentativen Funktionen nachspüren wird. Ausgehen werden wir von Husserls Einführung des Begriffs in der Krisis-Schrift. „Lebenswelt“ wird hier in Abgrenzung zu einer technisch-mathematischen Weltsicht in den neuzeitlichen Wissenschaften gebraucht, die das menschliche Erleben auf Kategorien der bloßen Objektivität verkürze. In Konsequenz würden „Fragen nach Sinn oder Sinnlosigkeit dieses ganzen menschlichen Daseins“, so Husserl, prinzipiell ausgeschlossen. Über Texte weiterer Autoren soll das Konzept „Lebenswelt“ auch im Kontext von sozialphilosophischen (Schütz) und ordnungstheoretischen (Waldenfels) Untersuchungen erschlossen werden. Neben dieser phänomenologisch geprägten Perspektive werden wir über Autoren des klassischen amerikanischen Pragmatismus (James, Dewey) zudem untersuchen, inwiefern hier ein ähnlicher argumentativer Rückgriff auf vortheoretisches, alltagsweltliches Erleben stattfindet, der zudem ein durchweg praxis-orientiertes Verständnis von Philosophie erschließen soll. 

The seminar will focus on different argumentative functions a reference to the “lifeworld” serves. We will read phenomenological texts from Husserl, Schütz and Waldenfels, but we will also look at how American Pragmatism (James, Dewey) uses a quite similar concept.

Parental leave until mid-March 2019

For me, certainly, the most important and happy event in 2018 was not an academic one, but rather the birth of my son Max. I am am happy and grateful to be offered the chance to spend the next four months closely with him during my parental leave. It will be a challenge of a very different nature, and I’m looking forward to so many new experiences of what it means to start a family!

Max


Research Collaboration Stay at Penn State University

As part of the “Freiburg – Penn State Collaboration Development Program 2018” (organized on the Freiburg side by FRIAS) I was involved the drafting of the winning proposal “Philosophy in the Age of New Wars“, lead by Prof. Dr. Hans-Helmuth Gander on the Freiburg side and Prof. Dr. Nicolas de Warren on the Penn State side. The collaboration project aims at fostering a collaborative, sustainable, self‐supporting cooperation between faculty and junior researchers from both universities.

The project will run for 12 months, starting in September 2018. As part of the project, I will spend a 3 week collaboration stay during November 2018 at Pennsylvania State University. The goal is to develop collaboration ideas around philosophical research in the Age of New Wars. Apart from topics such as robotics and drone warfare, my main interest lies in the ethical reflection of automated and self-learning decision making, especially with regard to security technologies “at home” (e.g. automated traveler classification as potential terrorists).