Consumer DNA & Forensic Genealogy

Genealogy carries inherent tension between discovering one’s family history and protecting the privacy of living persons.  I’ve tinkered at it off and on for years, enjoying discovering new ancestors every few years as new resources became available.

I was even intrigued enough by the possibilities of genetic genealogy to have a couple of DNA profiles created a while back.

Then rank amateurs starting abusing public genealogy DNA databases to make criminal accusations against people whose DNA wasn’t even in the databases.  And 23andme sold their customers’ (who had opted in to help academic research) data to commercial pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

Like many other armchair genealogists, these developments prompted me to re-think the wisdom of this data’s very existence, much less its open sharing in the name of genealogy.  So I locked down everything as tightly as possible.  Periodically, I recheck to be sure that it’s still shielded and that I don’t need to adjust more settings.

Today, while researching current opt-out procedures for public genealogy databases, this statement jumped out at me on a professional genealogist’s web site:

It doesn’t matter why [a user] opted out [of sharing his private DNA information on a genealogy service’s database], it is his personal right to do so. … This scenario does support the idea that you should review your DNA matches frequently and record information about them in your own master match listBy promptly recording matching results, you will have them to work with even if the tester decides later on down the road to opt out.

–DNA Guide Diahan Southard

I’m perturbed.  While I appreciate the viewpoint of the author, who profits when more people share their data with her freely, I’m angered that she feels a right to record personal information so that she can continue to use it if the owner later decides not to share after all.  As she acknowledges, it’s none of her business why they may have changed their mind.  It’s their personal information, and they’ve decided that they no longer wish to share it.  From my point of view, she has no right whatsoever to keep a copy in order to circumvent that decision.  If she were behaving ethically, that would be the end of it.

Which raises a thought: perhaps it’s time for a legally binding genealogist’s code of ethics.  One that forbids circumventing personal decisions about private information.  One that forbids using personal data in a way not explicitly allowed by the owner.  One that somehow protects people from the DNA data posted by their (sometimes distant) relatives.  One that carries legal penalties sufficiently painful to discourage abuse.

Perhaps it’s time we got back to respecting the privacy of living people.


Compromised Academic Publishing

Taken directly from SpringerNature’s SpringerOpen website at

Article Processing Charges (APC)

Open access publishing is not without costs. Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education therefore levies an article-processing charge of £755.00/$1180.00/€960.00 for each article accepted for publication,  plus VAT or local taxes where applicable.

If the corresponding author’s institution participates in our open access membership program, some or all of the publication cost may be covered (more details available on the membership page). We routinely waive charges for authors from low-income countries. For other countries, article-processing charge waivers or discounts are granted on a case-by-case basis to authors with insufficient funds. Authors can request a waiver or discount during the submission process. For further details, see our article-processing charge page.

SpringerOpen provides a free open access funding support service to help authors discover and apply for article processing charge funding. Visit our OA funding and policy support page to view our list of research funders and institutions that provide funding for APCs, and to learn more about our email support service.


“Pay to publish” inherently compromises the integrity of anything it touches.  It offers an avenue of last resort for academics suffering under “publish or perish” rules and suggests that their article was not acceptable to reputable journals.  It creates a disincentive for careful peer review and screening on the part of the publisher.

How can any responsible person trust anything published by such a mechanism?  It is tainted throughout by profit motive through a system that must, logically, discourage the thoughtful consideration that has been the hallmark of academic writing for centuries.  It is deeply disturbing — although not surprising.  It is deeply disappointing.

Just Parking This Here

So this was in my Spam folder at work this morning.  It had been sent to an old email address that hasn’t been used in about ten years but that is forwarded to my current one.  Nothing earth-shattering, but if you’re planning to attend any of these conferences, you should know that this person claims to have access to the attendee lists and is offering them for sale online:


From: Susan William via
Are you interested to purchase any of the following event attendees email lists contact list at this time?

1. ACTE’s CareerTech VISION
2. AHIMA Convention And Exhibit 
3. Air Force Information Technology & Cyberpower Conference (AFITC)
4. Annual HR Technology Conference & Expo
5. Annual Meeting & Exposition – American Telemedicine Association
6. APCO Annual Conference & Expo 
7. ARM TechCon
9. ASIS  – ASIS International 63rd Annual Seminar & Exhibits
10. AWS re:Invent- Amazon Web Services
11. BICSI Winter Conference & Exhibition
12. CEDIA- Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association
13. Channel Partners Evolution
14. China (Beijing) International Internet-Era Exposition
15. Cisco Live!
16. Computer-Using Educators
17. Consumer Electronics Show
18. Critical Power Expo
19. CS Week
20. CSUN Annual Conference
21. Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis 
22. Design Automation Conference
23. Digital Signage Expo
24. Dreamforce 
25. EDUCAUSE  Annual Conference
26. Esri UC  – Esri User Conference
27. FIRST Championship  Houston
28. G2E  – Global Gaming Expo
29. GaETC – Georgia Educational Technology Conference
30. Gen Con Indy
33. IFMA’s World Workplace
34. InfoComm
35. INFORMS 17th Annual Conference
36. InterDrone
37. IoT Evolution Expo
38. ISE EXPO (formerly OSP EXPO)
39. ISTE  – International Society for Technology in Education
40. IWCE  – International Wireless Communications Expo
41. LDI for Live Entertainment Production Professionals
42. MS&T ’17 – Materials Science & Technology Conference & Exhibition
43. MWC Americas  – Mobile World Congress Americas
44. NIGA Indian Gaming Trade Show & Convention  
45. NRB International Christian Media Convention & Exposition  
46. NRECA Annual Meeting & TechAdvantage  Conference & Expo
47. Origins Game Fair 
48. POWER-GEN International 
49. PRINT 
50. Rose City Comic Con
51. RSA Conference 
52. SAS Global Forum
53. SC – Supercomputing Conference
54. SEG International Exposition and 87th Annual Meeting
55. SEMICON West 
56. Sensors Expo & Conference 
57. SGIA Expo- Specialty Graphic Imaging Association
59. The 2nd China (Beijing) International “Internet+” Era Exposition
60. The NAB Show  – National Association of Broadcasters
61. Watch Video
62. WEST  – Western Conference & Exhibition
63. Wizard World Comic Con

Please feel free to let me know if you have any other event attendee list requirement at this time, we can supply that to you.

Susan William
Business development
Event Database

Dad Always Said “Listen to Your Gut”

“We won’t even tell you where the resort is until after you’ve paid.  We’re that freaking awesome!”

Back in early 2013, that should’ve been my first clue.

Perusing the website, such as it was, yielded precious little actual information.  Beautiful pictures of smiling, happy, blissed-out yogis graced most pages.  You could almost feel the steam coming off the hot tub.  Roaring water fell down a series of boulders at the end of a long hike, and the birds sang in the distance.  Relaxing, peaceful, surrounded by forest, it seemed like a dream.  With miles of trails, onsite yoga and massage therapists, sauna, hot tub, community meals (okay, intimate dining with complete strangers was a little creepy), opening and closing circles, it should have made my wannabe-hippie heart sing.  Yet it proved maddeningly impossible to locate where the damn thing actually was, much less to find any factual information about it.  They must’ve had one hell of a non-disclosure agreement.  Only two former guests in twenty years had even blogged about the place.  And they didn’t really say anything except how they were just totally in love with it.  Given the price tag for a less-than-two-day experience, and the fact that neither of these guests was named Rockefeller, Kennedy, or Gates, I could only imagine that they had drunk the kool-aid.

Most of the site FAQ was a message extolling the virtues of isolation in their little corner of my home state, Tennessee.  An almost gleeful statement proclaimed that most phones had no service.  However, if you just simply could not live without a connection to the outside world, and if you were lucky enough to get a signal, you should at least keep it out of sight and out of hearing.  The resort’s phone number would be provided to guests in case of emergency back home.  Alcohol has apparently not been found necessary for the experience they were creating, so they didn’t serve it.  (Although, miracle of miracles, we would be allowed to pollute our bodies with coffee — but only at breakfast).  Likewise, meat was not considered essential and would not be available for meals.  Finally, please for the love of all that’s holy, don’t even think about your kids or pets while you’re here.

Given how many red flags were waving in the breeze, I’m still not sure why I thought a weekend at this place might be a good idea.  Hell, it shouldn’t even have seemed tolerable.  Probably, I was just caught up in the enthusiasm.  At any rate, we made a reservation for two, snagging the very, very last available private cabin and avoiding the fate of those poor schmucks who would be sleeping dormitory-style in the main building.  All this was a steal at a mere $700 for 44 hours in their heavenly sanctuary.

If you think you heard sarcasm in that last comment, go with it.

When a month had passed without so much as a confirmation email despite my credit card being charged rather promptly, I finally emailed to find out what was up.  Assured that an information packet was coming in the next couple of days via snail mail (at least they were still supporting the USPS), we went back to waiting.  “Baited breath” hardly does justice to the state of anticipation.

Okay, that wasn’t entirely sarcastic.  At this point, I was still pretty excited about the whole thing.

So we waited another week.  Strange thing about making a Medlock wait: we don’t do it very well.  Patience may be a virtue, but my family appear to be hard-wired to forgo its benefits.  My enthusiasm started to wane.  I began to have doubts.  Why was it so hard to get a straight answer (indeed, any answer at all) from the resort operators?  Where did they say this place was located again?  Why couldn’t I find any reference to the business in their local chamber of commerce, county business licenses, or state tax rolls?  What were they hiding?  My imagination started having a field day.  Apprehension set in.

It was at about this point that I remembered one of my dad’s best pieces of advice: Listen to your gut.  It may not always make sense, but sometimes it’s how the universe keeps you alive.

At long last, the day arrived.  I watched the mailman put a large packet in our mailbox.  This must be the long-anticipated secret signal-light-and-decoder-ring set that we’d been expecting.  We would finally discover what made our chosen blissful retreat so special.

Or maybe not.

From the moment I touched the envelope, I got a negative vibe.  It was like someone had punched me in the stomach.  I had a headache.  I thought I might cry.  I almost tossed my cookies.  I wanted to throw it in the trash.  I needed to wash my hands.  And we still hadn’t actually opened the damn thing.

However, we finally did take a look at their materials.  Right away, several things stood out:

  • Following the driving directions on Google Earth revealed that the resort was as nearly totally isolated as possible. Information available prior to reservation made it appear that the resort was located in a small rural town.  It was, in fact, centrally located between three tiny communities.  It appeared to be surrounded by illegal landfills, rusting cars on cinder blocks, forests, barns, and cattle pastures.  With the closest hamlet 15 miles away, it was not actually near anything resembling civilization.
  • Guests were required to deactivate cell phones even if they had service.  This was contrary to information on the website which requested that guests be discreet in using technology.  It was also a moot point, since they appeared to be located in the signal-shadows of several fairly tall ridges.
  • There was, in fact, no emergency contact phone monitored by resort staff.  The resort’s landline would be turned off Friday afternoon.  Only a mobile voicemail box would be active, and there was no indication that it would be checked.  Given that it appeared to be the owner’s personal cell, and he would be busy tending to guests, it seemed unlikely.  Since we would be asking friends and neighbors to keep an eye on our pets and kid, this was unacceptable.

It was at this point that I decided we would not be enjoying their hospitality, after all.

First and foremost, I don’t appreciate being lied to.  Their website created an impression at odds with the scant information mailed to us.  By this point, I no longer cared which (if either) was truthful.  There still were simply too many questions and not enough data.  I was not willing to be totally cut off from the outside world in a location I didn’t know surrounded by unfamiliar people.  After several weeks of my imagination filling in the blanks, the requirement to give up all contact was just too much.  It felt like a cult, and not a good one.  I kept hearing Mrs. Dudley in The Haunting of Hill House telling Eleanor that “No one can hear you if you scream in the night.”

Without a “no cancellations” policy, deciding a month out that we would not attend should have been simple.  It wasn’t.  Emailed and phoned messages notifying them of our cancellation went unanswered.  The single contact we managed with the resort operator was a promise to call for a follow up.  You can imagine my surprise when he did not, in fact, call for a follow up.

That was sarcasm again, in case you’re keeping score.

In the end, I had to dispute the charge with my bank and demand a chargeback due to the owners’ continuing refusal to communicate with us.  I have some ethical complaints about my card issuer’s business practices, but I cannot say anything negative about their customer service reps nor their treatment of us in this situation.

So realistically, would we have been murdered in our sleep had we gone there?  Probably not.

Would being isolated from the world for less than two days have killed me?  Unlikely.

Was it worth the exorbitantly sky-high cost?  I doubt it.

Would I have had a good time anyway?  No.  Of that, my gut was absolutely certain.

Would I have inadvertently made everyone around me miserable as well?  Yes.  It’s a pattern well-established in my childhood.

Is the owner glad, at the end of the day, that we cancelled so that he doesn’t have to deal with me ever again?  He may not realize it, but yes.  Yes, he is.