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Time for media to get over oversimplification

Publication Date : 02-05-2013


The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) experienced a never-before-seen incident last week. Signal malfunctions at Taichung Station caused an emergency halt, canceling a total of 44 trains and delaying approximately 35,000 passengers.

It was the first time that the THSR service was suspended for reasons other than natural disasters, such as typhoons or earthquakes. Even Premier Jiang Yi-huah spoke sternly about the incident. “If the government finds out that the malfunction was caused by human error, a harsh punishment will be levied on those found responsible,” Jiang said.

It may be easy to lay fault on the technical engineers over the incident, especially after local reports insisted that the problem could be simply solved by rebooting the system. “A one-minute solution extended to four hours!” headlines screamed.

Angered passengers filled stations, complaining that the responsive measures were “too conservative” and “below average.” Experts also commented on the incident, providing other responsive options that highlighted the THSR's failed solutions.

It is human nature to look for someone to blame, especially in this case, as such a delay is costly for those with a schedule to meet. But providing an oversimplified solution, such as “simply rebooting the system,” is irresponsible.

When there is a malfunction in the system, a computer engineer understands that rebooting the system is not the first solution. Yu Tsung, an angered software developer at Python, published a recent commentary on the Internet saying that the media rushed to judgment, and that rebooting the system was definitely not the solution.

A complicated system that involves a large network of software and hardware calls for more attention and focus from computer engineers, Yu said. A malfunction would mean that there is a software bug in the program and an engineer should do whatever he or she could to debug it, he said, adding that the process of debugging or trying to find the source of the problem requires a significant amount of time.

The engineer also mentioned that taking time to debug could prevent the same problem from happening again. If, in fact, the problem is unsolvable at the moment, the engineer will need time to store all the critical information before rebooting the system, he said.

Among the responsibilities of the media is to monitor the government and legal system, and to find their faults, such as corruption or loopholes. That being said, overstepping a person's professional background, especially one that requires technology as complex as that required to operate the THSR, is irresponsible and manipulative.

Running such headlines is disrespectful to the professionals who are trying to solve the malfunction in such a short amount of time and degrades their efforts.

People believe things they read and will start to believe that the solution to the THSR's problem was simply a reboot. The media should not criticise something that they do not understand or simplify the problem by tossing out a random solution.

Officials from the THSR insisted that the delay was mostly for safety reasons and later apologised to the public, which is something that should be considered reasonable. The safety of a massive transportation system that holds the lives of so many travelers and commuters in Taiwan should always be the first consideration.

It is indisputable that we will again react angrily to a delay on transportation systems that suffer a technical malfunction. It is human nature to react that way when things go wrong in our daily lives. But before we find someone to aim our daggers at, we should think closely about whether we have the right to comment on something that we may not know enough - or indeed anything - about.


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