iBook Insanity — Part II

[You can read Part I here]

super_structure on NBC 12

super_structure fea­tured on the local NBC affil­i­ate, for about 1 second.

A reporter from the local NBC affil­i­ate con­tact­ed me via e‑mail Wednes­day after­noon inquir­ing about infor­ma­tion on “all the media inter­est and hype about the ibook mad­ness.” I returned her call, but since she was in route to the stu­dio, we weren’t able to talk at the time. Any­way, she did­n’t call back before the sto­ry aired on the eleven o’clock news, so my inter­net fame is lim­it­ed to brief flash of super_structure on the air. Here’s what I have to say about the nation­al atten­tion, though, as well as the blog cov­er­age I’ve read so far.


I don’t want to write any sort of broad sweep­ing indict­ment of the media, be it main­stream, alter­na­tive, or blog­ging. How­ev­er, my major issue with the sto­ry here is that the over­all pic­ture of armaged­don for some cheap lap­tops is a bit overdone.

There was a rough­ly 5–10 minute peri­od Tues­day morn­ing of peo­ple get­ting tram­pled. Folks act­ed like ani­mals with a insuf­fi­cient food sup­ply when lined up at the gate. Of course the prob­lem with just describ­ing the tram­pling implies how greedy every­one must be; that they’d run over lit­tle old men and baby strollers. How­ev­er, if you have some 5,000 peo­ple close behind you and push­ing (who can­not see them under you), you’re going for­ward whether you like it or not. I’m not going to judge peo­ple in that crowd because as I’ve said pre­vi­ous­ly, it was all over with before I got to the gate. I just walked in amongst the slow­ly mov­ing cars while talk­ing to Angela on my phone in order to find her in line (first crepe-myr­tle on the left, by the way). All I ever saw was the pho­tos and videos, just like most of the coun­try saw. How­ev­er, I can say this, I nev­er saw a riot. I did­n’t see any vio­lent mobs nor did I see much pan­de­mo­ni­um (although I would admit 5 min­utes of tram­pling is far too much may­hem for one day). I did­n’t see any stam­pedes, either. Some head­lines actu­al­ly implied that all 5,500 peo­ple present were involved in this stam­pede. I can only hope that peo­ple read a lit­tle fur­ther to dis­cern the truth. It seems the idea of the sto­ry is far bet­ter than the sto­ry itself.

What isn’t being explained in any way that I can sur­mise from the news is that there was a line pri­or to 7:00 out­side the gates. When these peo­ple saw oth­ers rush­ing in from out­side that line, they surged for­ward. Can you imag­ine wait­ing in a line for up to six hours, only to see some­one just charge ahead of you? Most peo­ple (includ­ing those in blog posts who have been pret­ty quick to judge every­one as une­d­u­cat­ed and poor) would be upset and try and get up there, too. Peo­ple should get a lit­tle back­ground on why the tram­pling occurred, and also real­ize that it was the begin­ning and the end of the may­hem of the day. This line out­side was just the line to get inside to form anoth­er line. Peo­ple up front real­ized this and start­ed run­ning, some with no regard for those around them as it turned out. [I want to be clear that I did­n’t see this in per­son, but I have enough accounts of what did hap­pen that I’m pret­ty con­fi­dent what I’m telling you is accurate.]

Now, how did a few min­utes of may­hem fol­lowed by hours of stand­ing in the sun become a nation­al sto­ry about (but not lim­it­ed to) beat­ings with portable fur­ni­ture, uri­nat­ing on one’s self, riots, pan­de­mo­ni­um, dri­ving over pedes­tri­ans, fren­zy, and so on? Well, oth­er than reports who own the­saurus­es (bed­lam was my favorite), it all seemed to start with either the AP sto­ry which used the word “riot” or the News Chan­nel 12 video, in which Aaron Gilchrist and TaRhon­da Thomas both agreed this was a “riot.” Now, I’ve nev­er been in a riot before, but hav­ing seen some on the news before, I’m pret­ty sure this was not a riot. Yeah, peo­ple were upset, but I sure did­n’t see any of them riot­ing. You gen­er­al­ly don’t riot while sit­ting on one of those cheap can­vas fold­ing chairs from Dicks nor while talk­ing on a cell phone with a friend. It’s bad riot­ing form. Peo­ple don’t sell Pep­si from a push cart for $2 a bot­tle dur­ing riots. That’s just not safe. Fur­ther, you don’t have the SWAT team stand sev­er­al hun­dred feat away under the shade of some large trees dur­ing a riot. You get them in there if it is a riot.

What I did see inside the gate was a large crowd of con­fused and angry cit­i­zens who would like to have known more about what to do and what was going on than what they were told. Things got bet­ter when more offi­cers showed up sim­ply because there was more crowd con­trol. More offi­cers could speak to small­er por­tions of the crowd and get them to respond. I’m no expert in crowds or mob soci­ol­o­gy (if there even is such a thing), but I know that no one should ever expect over 5,000 peo­ple stand­ing in a park­ing lot to just fig­ure out to form two nice lines. I’m not knock­ing the Hen­ri­co Coun­ty Police Depart­ment, as they did a rea­son­ably good job once the cop:citizen ratio increased over 0.001. To their cred­it, some unnamed sources in the news media have leaked that the HCPD warned the school offi­cials the five off-duty cops they had hired would be no where enough for an event this size, and that’s assum­ing they were bank­ing on only 1,000 people.

Henrico County

Back to that SWAT team com­ment, I also did­n’t see police in riot gear until we were leav­ing the RIR. There were rough­ly 20 police cruis­ers and a SWAT team back behind the set of build­ings where the line was formed (again, the line inside the gate, for the lap­tops). There were per­haps 12 offi­cers and sev­er­al fire and emer­gency crew when we were in line. Pri­or to 7:00, there were report­ed to be 5 off-duty offi­cers on hand (we saw three direct­ing traf­fic, not pedes­tri­ans). Hen­ri­co coun­ty offi­cials have since stat­ed they would­n’t have done any­thing dif­fer­ent­ly. How is it that they deter­mined they need­ed the SWAT team and rough­ly 5x the num­ber of cops for half as much crowd as had been present at 7:00 am, and then twice as many offi­cers inside the gate as for the line out­side? [Again, I’m no expert in crowd con­trol] Does it make sense to keep increas­ing the lev­el of force up to small army for a dwin­dling and tir­ing crowd? Per­haps the crowd might get des­per­ate at the end when the sup­ply was gone (as was sug­gest­ed in a news report), but the one thing that pret­ty much every­one did know was that there were only 1,000 lap­tops. How to go about get­ting in line for them seemed to be the ques­tion of the morn­ing; one that no one was around to answer.

Fur­ther, if the coun­ty did­n’t want peo­ple com­ing in dur­ing the night to line up, they should have had the police or some secu­ri­ty there to pre­vent it. They should have had staff or police on hand to walk the lines once formed (both the one out­side the gate and the one inside). Bar­ri­ers should have been erect­ed for lines pri­or to hav­ing the pub­lic there, not 15 min­utes before the lap­tops were to go on sale and near­ly two hours after every­one was already in line. While we all have respon­si­bil­i­ty to act as decent cit­i­zens, we also entrust enforc­ing secu­ri­ty to our offi­cials, both elect­ed and hired offi­cers. The peo­ple involved in the tram­pling cer­tain­ly are guilty of reck­less, if not entire­ly ille­gal, behav­ior. But it is the coun­ties job to make sure that is enforced.

The Story

There are so many things to cri­tique in this story:

  • Why $50 when obvi­ous­ly they sell for more online? They coun­ty states it was to sell them to peo­ple who oth­er­wise could­n’t afford one.
  • Why not donate these if there’s not much mon­ey to be made? I’ve read sec­ond-hand the $50 was to go towards the main­te­nance of the remain­ing iBooks at the mid­dle- and grade-school levels.
  • Why not use a lot­tery or num­bered tick­ets? To me, this ques­tion has not been answered and these options, or sim­i­lar options, would have been allowed under the coun­ty ordi­nance for sur­plus sales. Even if the coun­ty did­n’t think they were, since they were already chang­ing the laws to their lik­ing, why not write it in?
  • Why ever switch to Dell lap­tops in the first place? I can only imag­ine this had to do with mon­ey. There are some argu­ments, how­ev­er flawed I may find them, that par­ents were con­cerned their kids weren’t learn­ing the more com­mon O.S. they might encounter more in the future. Per­son­al­ly, since robots will like­ly take over in the next decade, that argu­ment will be moot.

I could go on and on, but the fact is, the sto­ry is over. The leg­end begins. After anoth­er week, we will all be able to appre­ci­ate those t‑shirts that felt a lit­tle bit like war prof­i­teer­ing on Tues­day. This was just a case of cit­i­zens behav­ing poor­ly and the local gov­ern­ment plan­ning poor­ly for it. No one was seri­ous­ly hurt and 1,000 lucky peo­ple got a real­ly good deal on a lap­top. As for me, all I got was less than one sec­ond of fame. Bare­ly enough time for me to rec­og­nize my own masthead.

Categorized as General

By Jason Coleman

Structural engineer and technical content manager Bentley Systems by day. Geeky father and husband all the rest of time.

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