Sunday, 22 April 2007

Shock in Virginia

The mobile phone footage of what happened at Virginia Tech. contained in this video has been broadcast all over the world:

Obviously everyone's thoughts go out to the grieving parents and students.

There is a major problem with responsiveness though. Cho Seung-Hui, the student who killed all those people and, after that, himself, killed two students and didn't continue until two hours later. Surely that period would have been enough time to make sure everyone is notified and enough time to make sure the university is 'locked down'.

Four emails were sent to the students about the initial shootings just as Cho Seung-Hui started again. Those emails could have been sent quicker, but the uni could also have used other methods to communicate the dangers to the students. Not everyone reads their emails frequently and they won't all necessarily check them at the same time, which would always leave some at risk. What about PA systems? alarms? mass text messaging?

I'm not the only person to think two hours for any notification is slow. The following quote is from this article:
"As America struggles to come to terms with the tragedy, questions are now being asked about why the killer was not detained between the two shootings, and whether the university authorities could have done more to warn students.

Email alerts were only sent out two hours after the first incident, as the second rampage was well under way.

"I think the university has blood on their hands because of their lack of action after the first incident," said Billy Bason, an 18-year-old student."
It's important to note that it wasn't just the university admin who were slow. What about the police? Where were they after the initial shootings? They are on-campus police, so they should have been quick to respond. They may have had to bring other people in to help, but they could have done something while they waited for the others to arrive.

Now lets address a wider problem - use of guns in the USA. It's written into their Constitution (well, it's an amendment to the Constitution in the Bill Of Rights):
"Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."
Naturally, if it's in there, it's very hard to remove. The amendment has been in there for so long, the right to bear arms just seems normal to a lot of US citizens.

There are some people who suggested that some people should have been allowed to have guns at the university so that Cho Seung-Hui could have been stopped much earlier. This is a weak argument though. That just means that there are more people who could shoot others. Not only that - if those guns were owned by responsible people, they could still be stolen by the irresponsible ones. In Britain, we don't have a citizen's right to bear arms and there are far less instances of shootings in educational institutions. Examples of shootings at US educational institutions in recent years are:
  • Sept. 24, 2003 - Cold Spring, Minn. - Two students are killed at Rocori High School by John Jason McLaughlin, 15.
  • March 21, 2005 - Red Lake, Minn. - Jeff Weise, 16, killed grandfather and companion, then arrived at school where he killed a teacher, a security guard, 5 students, and finally himself, leaving a total of 10 dead.
  • Nov. 8, 2005 - Jacksboro, Tenn. - One 15-year-old shot and killed an assistant principal at Campbell County High School and seriously wounded two other administrators.
  • Aug. 24, 2006 - Essex, Vt. - Christopher Williams, 27, looking for his ex-girlfriend at Essex Elementary School, shot two teachers, killing one and wounding another. Before going to the school, he had killed the ex-girlfriend's mother.
  • Sept. 26, 2006 - Bailey, Colo. - Adult male held six students hostage at Platte Canyon High School and then shot and killed Emily Keyes, 16, and himself.
  • Sept. 29, 2006 - Cazenovia, Wis. - A 15-year-old student shot and killed Weston School principal John Klang.
  • Oct. 3, 2006 - Nickel Mines, Pa. - 32-year-old Carl Charles Roberts IV entered the one-room West Nickel Mines Amish School and shot 10 schoolgirls, ranging in age from 6 to 13 years old, and then himself. Five of the girls and Roberts died.
  • Jan. 3, 2007 - Tacoma, Wash. - Douglas Chanthabouly, 18, shot fellow student Samnang Kok, 17, in the hallway of Henry Foss High School.
Is this enough evidence to show that allowing guns in schools, colleges and universities would be bad?

What have we learned from this? Having a right to bear arms can cause all sorts of problems and the police should have been trained to respond to this sort of thing. Virginia Tech might have been a gun-free zone, but some people actually break the law! Also, the Virginia Tech admin should have been much quicker in alerting the students about the dangers of the situation.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Virginia, University, Firearms, Murder

Monday, 9 April 2007

Blogging Code of Conduct

Recently, Tim O'Reilly called for a blogging Code of Conduct. The rules in it were:
  • We take responsibility for our own words and for the comments we allow on our blog.
  • We won't say anything online that we wouldn't say in person.
  • We connect privately before we respond publicly.
  • When we believe someone is unfairly attacking another, we take action.
  • We do not allow anonymous comments.
  • We ignore the trolls.
He also believes that there should be a symbol on blogs that don't comply with the guidelines, which therefore warns any readers that there may be uncensored arguments, etc.

Point 1 makes perfect sense. You type the words on the blog - you should be responsible for what happens as a result of them being published. You could say that something was a throw-away statement, but the millions of potential readers might not necessarily see it in the context that you meant.

Being criticised because of the comments that were left on a post is an interesting one. If they end up offending a group of people and they were on your blog - I can see why people should think the owner of the blog should be ultimately responsible. As a lot of blogs have comment moderation, that's another reason for the owner of the blog to be responsible.

However, there's an argument for you not being responsible for the comments. The comments were made by other people - therefore the opinions expressed in those comments are not necessarily the ones you share.

The second point is more complex. If you are in a position that means e.g. your job could be at risk by expressing your views on something, then you couldn't possibly comply with it. I can see situations such as politicians having a view that might not necessarily follow the party line. If they were to reveal that on the internet - in front of millions of people. It could cause many problems.

Some could call that cowardly though. I think that it depends on the situation. If it's in a work context and you need your wages because you are e.g. the sole earner in your family - you may want to think about it carefully (of course you might also want to look for another job - because that sort of environment doesn't sound perfect). If you are posting e.g. racist views that you know will offend a lot of people and you aren't willing to defend yourself - then that's something very different.

However, I would comply with that point because they are my views and not necessarily the views of the people who I work for (and with). If I have to put a disclaimer at the top of my blogs to clarify that - I will do.

The third point is interesting. I can see the logic behind it - you wouldn't want to post something and then find it's all wrong - you'd want some clarification first. What if it's difficult or impossible to get a response though? Also, the internet contains a vast array of information and opinions to help you clarify something. Maybe the third point isn't necessary.

Point 4 is common sense. If you feel strongly about something (or someone), you wouldn't want to see unfair accusations aimed at it (or them). You would want to defend your view. I would totally agree with that point.

My views about anonymous comments are the same as my views for point 2.

As for ignoring trolls, I think it depends on the situation. You might be faced with something that is like point 4 - which means you would respond to the trolls. However, simple and fact-free comments that are repeated again and again (even after you responded the first time) should be ignored. Perhaps you shouldn't approve them either. When I say 'simple and fact-free', I mean things like "Linux sucks!!!". There is no factual basis and nothing particularly complex. You might only want to respond to that sort of thing once.

I'm not the only one who has these views about the proposed code of conduct. Robert Scoble - 42nd in the Technorati 'Top 100 blogs' list, posted this as a response in his blog:
"I’m not able to currently sign this, either. First I allow anonymous comments. I do watch for hate speech, though, and delete that when it’s found (pretty rare, actually).

Second, I engage with my trolls. Why? Cause if they show up here I think they deserve an answer and I find they often get me to think deeper about the topic that I’m writing about than if we didn’t engage in a little gutter wrestling."
"I do find disquieting the social pressure to get on board with this program. Tim O’Reilly is a guy who really can affect one’s career online (and off, too). I do have to admit that I feel some pressure just to get on board here and that makes me feel very uneasy."
Robert makes an interesting point about the pressure on bloggers to comply with this. I can see the logic, but not everyone reads Tim O'Reilly's blog - some might not read any blogs apart from their own. This means that the message won't get out to everybody and that makes getting the message across more difficult. Of course, not everyone who regularly reads the blog will agree with the code anyway (like Robert).

This was Alfred Thompson's response, which was also a response to Robert Scoble's comments (Alfred is a Microsoft employee involved with education sector. He has several highly popular blogs):
"Without a timely and public reply and correction things can be hard to get corrected. Sometimes it is a great idea to try and get things corrected privately and I have done that myself. Other times it is clear that trying to get a correction in private communication is not going to be sufficient."
"If someone unfairly blocks anonymous comments that word will get out and people may choose not to read, link to or otherwise support that blog. Let the market decide but let bloggers have some principled control over their comment sections."
This is an interesting article on the BBC website which goes into a bit of detail about the reasons why the Code of Conduct was thought up in the first place and a valid point is made about the difficulties of enforcing it. As there are so many blogs out there, it is impossible to make sure everyone complies.

Although the code of conduct is well-intentioned, I don't think you could ever get everyone to agree with it and it could never be enforced.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Blogging, Code of Conduct, Tim O'Reilly

Friday, 6 April 2007

Demand and the loss of human sanity

One of the problems with high demand was highlighted in this Guardian article:
"By 10am, the doors had been knocked off their hinges by the eager shoppers, desperate to get hold of a pair of £8 jeans. By 11am, a floor manager had been knocked to the ground by the hordes, trampling all that was in their path in search of a £2 bikini. And by noon the queue to get in snaked all the way down Oxford Street to Marble Arch with a waiting time estimated at a couple of hours."
One thing that seems to go out of the window when something is popular is patience. There was an opening time for the shop - but people seemed to ignore that. It is a big shop too, so it's not as if only a few people could fit in the place at any one time. Also, Primark tends to have plenty of everything - so it's unlikely that you'll be out of luck if you were to wait. There's also the concept of restocking - people forget that. If something sells out, the business notices that it is popular and therefore thinks it's worthy of ordering more. That means anybody who can't get what they want can always come back later.

There was something else related to this story that I found both amazing and utterly stupid:
"Sheila Drouin, 61, had come up from Bath with a friend for the opening. "When I heard they were opening a flagship store my friend and I decided to make a day of it," she said, clutching a £20 duvet set."
There are other Primark stores across the country - why not go to one that nearer? That would be the sensible option. Oh wait, I forgot - when something's popular sense goes out of the window! Just to prove that the sensible option that I just mentioned is possible, I had a look on Google Maps and found that a store in Bristol(journey takes 31 minutes) is closer to Bath than the store in Oxford Street(journey takes 2hrs and 15 minutes).

One other strange thing about this story was highlighted in this Telegraph article:
"A group of schoolgirls from Westminster said they were there to shop for cheap clothes to lounge around in. "We wouldn't come here for going-out clothes.""
Primark sells cheap clothes - that's why there's always so much of everything. There were queues for cheap clothes that some people only want to "lounger around in". Unbelievable.

In the Independent, there was a quote from a student which mentioned it was bigger than other Primark stores. Ok, if the store is bigger then you have more of a chance to get the stuff you want. That still doesn't excuse the mad rush and the panic that was caused as a result.

This picture was shown in the Daily Mail and it gives a good example of the madness outside the store:

Looking at some reviews of Primark, you can see that the problem with queues is a recurring theme. However, they don't seem to be doing much about it and they are still getting plenty of revenue. It seems that the people who go to Primark don't mind queues and huge crowds.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Queues, Crowds, Demand, Madness