Thursday, September 27, 2012

Librarians in the Classroom

      Today I had another opportunity to get out of my office and interact with the students. I spoke with an English class, freshman composition, talking about the library's resources, Interlibrary loan and what we can do to help the students in their research. I always appreciate the chance to do this, if for not other reason than it give me a chance to talk about a subject that I enjoy. I cannot, however, help but notice that not all of the students react with the same enthusiasm about the library that I have.
      I see a remarkable contrast from one class to another in their reactions. Just last week I met with two classes, back to back, giving the same lecture on the same subject to both. The first group seemed to be paying attention, asking questions and answering the ones I throw out to give them a chance to interact with the material I present. The even laughed at my few laugh lines. I have had to monitor myself to resist the urge to 'play to my audience' and try to be funny.
      The second class had the same number of students, but they spoke not a word. I was only a few minutes into my lecture when I realized that this group was not as 'live' as the previous one. This kind of class is why I don't try to be funny. It's dreadful when you pop a knee-slapper and it dies in the first row. No questions were asked or answered and a dull silence for the rest of the lecture.
      Now which of these two groups got more out of my presentation? I couldn't say. Hopefully, they all got one or two bits of useful information about the research process and I pointed them towards new and appropriate research resources. At least the classroom teachers get to give them quizzes to find out if they've learned anything. Once in a great while I have a student drop by my office to ask for help, so I must at least that often make a positive impression.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When Things Go Bad

     I have on several occasions before referenced Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) as an invaluable resource for understanding the geopolitics of our world, and how that knowledge can be translated into gaming 'worlds' such as Traveller. This article in not only good practical advice for us here in the real world, but it provides some useful tips and tools for handling fight scenes in gaming or in writing fiction. This article is reproduced with permission.

"When Things Go Bad is republished with permission of Stratfor."

When Things Go Bad
By Scott Stewart

Over the past several weeks, we have discussed a number of different situations that can present a common problem to people caught up in them. First, we discussed how domestic terrorism remains a persistent threat in the United States, and that despite improvements in security measures since 2001, soft targets still remain vulnerable to attack by terrorist actors driven by a variety of motivations. Due to the devolution of the jihadist threat toward the grassroots, there is also a growing trend of jihadist actors using armed assaults instead of bombing attacks. We also discussed the continuing problem of workplace violence, and finally, we discussed last week evacuation plans for expatriates due to natural disaster, civil unrest or war.

People caught in any of these situations could find themselves either confronted by an armed assailant or actually coming under fire in an active shooter scenario. Of course, there are other situations where people can find themselves confronted by armed assailants, from street muggings and carjackings to bank robberies. Because of this, we thought it might be useful to our readers to discuss such situations and how to react when caught in one.

Perhaps the most important factor affecting a person's reaction to a life-threatening incident is their mindset going into the situation. As we have previously noted when discussing situational awareness, the way the brain is wired makes it very difficult for a person to go from a state of being "tuned out" and completely unaware of what is going on around them to a state of high alert. When confronted by such a jump, it is not uncommon for people to freeze, go into shock and become totally unable to respond to the situation confronting them. This type of panic-induced paralysis can be extremely deadly, and at that point the only hope of surviving an incident is sheer luck or divine providence. People in such a state can do nothing to save themselves.

Another factor of this mindset is the need for people to recognize that there are bad people in the world who want to hurt innocent people, and that they could be potential targets. This means that people must not only practice situational awareness but also trust their gut when they feel something isn't quite right. Denial can be a very dangerous thing when it overrides or rationalizes away gut feelings of danger. Over my former careers as a special agent and corporate security officer, I have interviewed numerous people who allowed denial to override suspicious indicators they noted, and who then proceeded to do things that resulted in their victimization -- all because they had the mindset that they could not possibly become victims. These situations ranged from a mugging victim, who thought there was something odd about the way three guys on the corner looked at her, to the kidnapping victim who spotted the deployed abduction team but proceeded into the attack zone anyway because he thought the team would target someone with more money than his family had. In shooting situations, I have spoken with victims who did not realize that shots were actually being fired and instead dismissed them as pranks or fireworks. I have seen media reports of similar remarks from witnesses regarding recent shooting incidents, such as the July 20 shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. In short, denial is deadly.

By practicing the proper level of situational awareness and understanding the possibility of being targeted, a person will be mentally prepared to realize that an attack is happening -- something we call attack recognition. The earlier a target recognizes the attack, the better. In the kidnapping case noted above, the victim recognized the attack before it was sprung, and could have avoided a long (and costly) hostage ordeal, had he taken immediate action to avoid the attack site. As we have mentioned repeatedly, criminal and terrorist attacks do not appear out of a vacuum. Instead, they are part of a planning process that can be recognized if one is looking for it. We have also noted over the years that criminals and terrorists tend to be very bad at camouflaging their actions, and their suspicious demeanors often leave them vulnerable to early detection.

Admittedly, there is the slight danger of embarrassment in the aftermath of a false reaction. I have blushed after hitting the ground and rolling to cover in response to unexpected celebratory gunfire in Yemen, but in general it is far better to initially overreact when there is no threat than it is to underreact in a truly dangerous situation.

But even if one cannot avoid an attack, recognizing danger immediately and then quickly taking action to avoid it can often mean the difference between survival and death.
Run, Hide, Fight

Some people have been critical of the simplicity of the "Run, Hide, Fight" public service video available on YouTube, which was produced by the City of Houston and funded by the Department of Homeland Security. In our assessment, the video does a good job achieving its goal of raising awareness of active shooter situations and of providing a simple, easy-to-remember mantra similar to the "stop, drop and roll" fire-prevention slogan. The video also discusses the necessity of having an evacuation plan and being aware of surroundings. Is the video a complete self-defense course? Clearly not, but it does meet its limited objectives.

Once a person has recognized that an attack is taking place, a critical step must be taken before they can decide to run, hide or fight -- they must determine where the gunfire (or threat) is coming from. Without doing so, the victim could run blindly from a position of relative safety into danger. We certainly encourage anyone under attack to get out of the attack site and run away from danger, but you must first ascertain that you are in the attack site before taking action. Many times, the source of the threat will be evident and will not take much time to locate. But sometimes, depending on the location -- whether in a building or out on the street -- the sounds of gunfire can echo and it may take a few seconds to determine the direction it is coming from. In such a scenario, it is prudent to quickly take cover until the direction of the threat can be located. In some instances, there may even be more than one gunman, which can complicate escape plans.

Fortunately, most attackers engaging in active shooter scenarios are not well-trained. They tend to be poor marksmen who lack tactical experience with their weapons. For example, in his attack on a Los Angeles Jewish community center daycare Aug. 10, 1999, Buford Furrow fired 70 shots from an Uzi-style submachine gun but only wounded five people. The Uzi is an effective and highly accurate weapon at short distances, meaning the only reason Furrow did so little damage was his poor marksmanship. During the July 20 shooting in Aurora, James Holmes only managed to kill 12 people -- despite achieving almost total tactical surprise in a fully packed theater -- due to a combination of poor marksmanship and his inability to clear a malfunction from his rifle.

This typical lack of marksmanship implies that most people killed in active shooter situations are shot at very close range. There are some obvious exceptions, like the shooting at the University of Texas on Aug. 1, 1966, when ex-Marine Charles Whitman shot several people from the top of a tower on the college campus. But even then, most of Whitman's victims were shot early on in his attack, and his ability to successfully engage targets declined rapidly as victims realized where the shots were coming from and either moved away from the threat or took cover and waited for the authorities to respond.

As seen in the Whitman case, potential victims can do several things to reduce their chances of being shot, even with a trained shooter. We use an old acronym to describe these steps: MDACC, which stands for motion, distance, angle, cover and concealment.

First, it is much harder to shoot a moving target than a stationary one, especially if that target is moving at a distance. Most tactical shootings happen at distances of less than 7 meters. Indeed, there are very few people who can consistently hit a stationary target beyond 25 meters with a pistol, much less a moving target. Most people can put 25 meters between them and an attacker in just a few seconds, so motion and distance are your friends.

The angle between the target and the shooter is also important, because shooting a target running away in a straight line is easier than shooting a target running away at an angle, since the second scenario would require the shooter to swing the barrel of the weapon and lead the target. Both require a good deal of practice, even with a rifle or shotgun. If the target can run at an angle behind objects like trees, cars, office furniture or walls that obstruct the shooter's view of the target (concealment) or stop bullets (cover), that is even more effective.

Whether running or trying to hide, it is important to distinguish between concealment and cover. Items that provide concealment will hide you from the shooter's eye but will not protect you from bullets. A bush or tree leaves may provide concealment, but only a substantial tree trunk will provide cover. A typical office drywall-construction interior wall will provide concealment but not cover. This means that if a person is forced to hide inside an office or classroom, they might be able to lock the door but the shooter will in all likelihood still be able to fire through the walls and the door, should they choose to do so. Still, if the shooter cannot see his or her target, they will be firing by chance rather than intentionally aiming.

In any case, those hiding inside a room should attempt to find some sort of additional cover, like a filing cabinet or heavy desk. It is always better to find cover than concealment, but even partial cover -- something that will only deflect or fragment the projectiles -- is better than no cover at all.
The Inner Warrior

Mindset also becomes critical when a person is wounded. In active shooter situations it is not unusual for many more people to be wounded than killed; this also relates to the issue of poor marksmanship discussed above. In such a situation, it is extremely important for the wounded person to understand that, unlike what is portrayed in the movies, most wounds are not immediately fatal and rarely immobilize the victim right away. However, it is not uncommon for people to drop to the ground when they are shot and freeze in panic or go into shock. This gives the shooter an opportunity to approach them for a point-blank coup de grace.

It is very important for people to realize that most gunshots are survivable and that, even after being wounded, their bodies can continue to function to get them away from the attack site and to safety. Certainly, once a target gets out of the immediate danger zone they will want to seek first aid or treat themselves with improvised pressure bandages to stop the bleeding and avoid going into shock. Modern trauma medicine is very good, and as seen in the Aurora shooting, most victims wounded in these types of attacks will survive if they get prompt medical assistance.

It is no mistake that training regimens for special operations forces soldiers and serious athletes place so much emphasis on the mental aspect of combat and sports -- that is, learning that your body can keep functioning and continue to do amazing things, even after your mind has told you that it is time to quit. That same sense of drive and determination, the inner warrior, can help keep a person's body functioning after they have been wounded. The inner warrior is also critical when it is time to fight rather than to run or hide, but that is a topic for another time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Things that go on in a library

     I was walking from my office through the computer lab area of our library, and as I came around a corner into a narrow hallway by the elevator, I very nearly tripped over a student, sitting on the floor with legs straight out, resting a laptop on her lap. I pointed out that there were tables nearby, in the area I had just left, to which she responded "but I needed the outlet," pointing to the electrical outlet in the wall next to her. I had often wondered why this narrow hallway needed an electrical outlet. Now I know. As a second effort to get her to stop blocking the hallway (did I mention the elevator?) I suggested that around the corner from where I had just come was another outlet, and the hall was much wider there. That seemed to register as a good idea, and so she moved around the corner, and even found a chair to pull over next to the outlet. At the other end of the hallway, in another study area, I saw any number of tables free that have electrical sockets built right into them. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Print Vs E-books

       I've been asked many times, most recently this past weekend, what my opinion is of e-books and e-book readers, such as the Kindle or Nook. I don't know but I suspect that many folk assume that since I'm a librarian who works with print books, that I must therefore suspect, fear or despise the electronic book. As it turns out, not so much.
      First of all, full disclosure here. I do not own an e-reader, but my wife does, a Kindle. I've picked it up and looked it over but I've never read anything with it. Years ago I wag given a PDA that had a text editor which meant that I could read books from Project Gutenberg, if I could stand only seeing one paragraph a t a time. It was OK, but not great. I read a few novels or parts thereof and went back to reading them on paper. I think I've since lost the PDA.
      Even today, I will use our library's e-book collection, by finding a book I want to read and then printing off a chapter or so, as allowed by the interface and then reading the print copy. I've never taken to reading long texts on a screen. I routinely print off STRATFOR articles or journal articles instead of reading them on-screen.
      Conversely, my wife uses her Kindle frequently. She reads for pleasure, as well as using it in class (she teaches literature as well as homeschooling our children) because it's more portable than a stack of print books, and she can keep all her notes in one place in a way that is difficult to lose. At the same time, she reads in print and listens to audio books.
This is just my opinion, supported by no studies or research, but I do not see the print book going away any time soon. It is a proven technology that has existed for millenia. Books have seen changes before: scrolls to bound books, hand-copying to printing presses, changes in paper, ink and printing methods, print on demand as well as competition from radio, television, movies and the internet. Print has endured. As long as I see piles of printed articles from electronic journals sitting unused by the printer, am not worried about the death of print.
      I see e-books and print books as co-existing very nicely for quite a while. Each format has its advantages and disadvantages, but neither format, in my view, is so superior as to make the other pointless.
      To summarize and answer the question, I think e-books are a useful technology, but one that for the time being I am happy to use only sparingly. I've no objection to anyone else using them but I am not myself that impressed with them.

September 11, 2001

     I don't need to say much and I'm not going to say much about this day and what it means to us as Americans. Yes, we have our political differences but 9-11 wasn't an attack on a political party or candidate, it was an attack on all of us who bear the name American. Even as we wrestle with the important issues of choosing a future course for this country, let us remember that while we may be political opponents, we are all Americans together. 
     May God have mercy upon our nation, and remember with mercy the souls of the departed who were taken from us by our enemies. 

A moment of silence, please. That is all.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

76 Patrons - Custom Build

My second entry in the 76 Patrons contest at the Zhodani Base has been posted here.

The player's & referee's information is here:

Custom Build
for 4+ characters

Patron: Scout Pilot
Skills Required: Technical skills, Administration
Equipment Required: tools

Player's Information:
The PC's are contacted by a detached duty Scout, who is looking 
for help on a building project. He has acquired a starship hull, 
which is sound but lacking some key components. The Scout has 
borrowed against the selling price of the ship to purchase or 
build the required parts. He offers the party a share of the 
selling price, initially 30% to him and 70% split amongst the 
group. The Scout claims to have a buyer already lined up.

Referee's Information:
The situation is as the Scout has explained it, the hull is legally
his, and he has secured funding. Referee can choose the size of 
the ship based upon the size of the PC group and their skills. 
Any starship, even a rebuild should be worth several MCr. The ship
sits on a paved area that used to be a warehouse floor, outside of
the local metropolis, and he has rented some heavy equipment 
necessary to lift large components. The referee must determine the
number of parts still needed and their cost. It is suggested that 
the referee consult the Traveller Book,p. 78 'Repair parts', the 
Starship Operator's Manual page on Maintenance, under Other Tasks,
the JTAS article Starship Malfunctions, (JTAS 15 p.16), and 
'Refitting Ships' and 'Repairs' in Adventure 5: Trillion Credit 
Of course there will be complications. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

RIP Harry Harrison

     The news is no longer current, but I have just learned that author Harry Harrison died on August 15th. Harrison was the author of (among other things) a long running series of sci-fi stories featuring the intergalactic master thief James "Slippery Jim" DiGriz, better known as the Stainless Steel Rat. I first read Harrison's stories in Junior High school because my sister was reading them. I enjoyed the stories immensely, and even tried once to make a home-made audio book of "The Stainless Steel Rat for President". 
     I can't say that Harrison directly influenced any of my Traveller gaming, but I'm going to go back and re-read The Stainless Steel Rat books to mine them for Traveller ideas.

     Some of his works are available for free online from Project Gutenburg and from Librivox, including "Deathworld" and "The Misplaced Battleship". Have a read/listen of some great classic science fiction and say a prayer for the soul of our departed friend. May his memory be eternal!