Rejecting Discord and Google Colab
university proprietary testimony
This semester I took Deep Learning at SIUe. Deep learning is a senior level CS elective course. I’ll call the professor, “Professor X” to preserve anonymity.
In Deep Learning class, after the lectures, we had to get into groups for our class project. The class project consisted of designing and implementing our own neural network which would do some novel task. It didn’t take me long to get into a group. The issue as always was finding a communication platform that we could all use that was free software. Since most students opt for proprietary walled gardens instead such as Discord, I had a lot of difficulty because I wasn’t willing to use Discord. Our whole group of four agreed on using Discord except for me. Email wouldn’t be viable. It’s not great for real time communication and file sharing. Even after I explained that I don’t use proprietary software, the group still did not want to budge as I expected. So the admin of the Discord “channel” and I got together and set up a Matrix bridge. I was surprised at how easy this was. Because Matrix has a Matrix-Discord bridge available and there is a public bot called t2bot, I was able to use Riot.im client instead of Discord. Riot.im is free software and Matrix is an open protocol which is more acceptable than the proprietary walled garden of Discord. The bot allowed me to create a Matrix room which bridged Discord and the Matrix network. It took less than ten minutes to set up. Now that I got the hang of using it, I’m able to get it working in less than five minutes. There are a few quirks but overall it works fantastically and it’s completely free. I recommend donating if you use the bot since there is no charge for using it. It’s a great tool for avoiding proprietary Discord and Slack.
There were other problems with the class as well not related to proprietary software. I believe the average grade on the midterm was below 50%. There was a lot of background needed to understand the concepts in class that many students didn’t have. I felt like my time was being wasted every day in the class because too much material was being covered way too quickly to really learn anything. I don’t say that about many classes because there’s always the student responsibility to study, but if you ask me that class was a mess. So after I found out my GPU wouldn’t work and I couldn’t train our group’s network myself, I completely lost motivation for the project. There was no way for me to run the code since I refused to sign up to Google Colab. I couldn’t even check if my code ran and due to COVID-19, I couldn’t get with any group members who had a GPU. The only option was to rent a VPS with a GPU and neural network training capabilities. I decided ultimately that I shouldn’t have to and wasn’t going to rent a VPS just to pass a class. Despite having our midpoint report finished and a working neural network, I wasn’t really learning anything to the depth I wanted to in that class, and the proprietary Google Colab had me discouraged, so I dropped the class.