Is Blogging Like Sex?

Bloggers tend to interact a lot with other bloggers. Particularly the use of features like trackbacks and pringbacks encourage sites to to link to blogs because the favor can be returned with a link exchange. The purpose of this technology, as well as the use of comments, is to facilitate topical discussion between blogs, which it does quite well… Just look at how many blogs have sprung up lately.

Rosevibe points out that this interactive behavior is very much like sex. She writes:

1) Sex – better when someone else is interacting with you, blogging – better when someone interacts with you.

2) Sex – there’s always someone claiming to be an ‘expert’ telling you that ‘this is how you do it, these are the tools you need.. There’s books, videos, you name it and someone’s writing about it.. Oh wait, was that sex or blogging I was talking about there..?

Certainly no argument here. Getting a comment or an incoming link is always much appreciated, and we’re constantly kicking around ideas to make our blogs better. Her point is mostly that blogging about blogging is similar to sex.

I mean C’mon! People are making money blogging about blogging – does this make them the porn stars of the blogosphere?

I don’t know if I totally buy into that, but the interactive discussions and link sharing certainly have some resemblance. It’s an interesting point anyhow.

Premarital Sex Wins 10 to 1

A Guttmacher Institute study released Tuesday, December 19, 2006 shows that, More than nine out of 10 Americans have had premarital sex. These high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past and lending credit to Casey’s contention that generations of the past were at least as sexual as those of the present.

“This is reality-check research,” said the study’s author, Lawrence Finer. “The vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage, including those who abstained from sex during their teenage years.” To me this study simply shows the obvious; premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and it has been for decades. I have a feeling, though, that the religious right may have a problem with it.

Montana Meth Project

I’m not naive enough to believe that the “war on drugs” is anymore winnable than this country’s ludicrous “war on terror”, but those who know me, know that I hate drugs… So, I was happy to learn that, facing a huge meth-amphetamine problem, an organization backed by corporations called The Montana Meth Project has sprung to life and made a seriously concerted effort to dissuade Montana’s youth from using meth.

Yep… You read that one correctly. I’m usually not one to give corporations much credit since they are usually happy to ignore civic responsibility if it will increase the bottom line for their shareholders, but in this case, a group of them have seriously stepped up to the plate, and are attempting to make a real difference.

Using some pretty hard-core TV, radio, and billboard ads, the Montana Meth Project is trying to keep kids off meth by putting the consequences of addiction right in front of their faces. They’ve realized that the usual anti-drug image of police officers droning on about jail time and fines if you are caught with drugs only reinforces the “us against them” attitude and often turns kids towards drugs rather than away from them. By instead focusing on the much more real and humanistic repercussions of drug addiction, they are hoping that Montana’s youth will avoid meth not to simply doge a meaningless fine, but to avoid screwing up their lives.

I, for one, think this is a great idea, and hold myself as an example of why it will work. I have little to no respect for the law, but I do have respect for my own life, health, and well-being. It is for these reasons alone that I have never tried drugs. Let’s hope Montana’s kids find these messages compelling.


Montana Meth Project PSA – That Guy from Cliff Pearson on Vimeo.


Montana Meth Project PSA – Just Once from Cliff Pearson on Vimeo.


Montana Meth Project PSA – Laundry from Cliff Pearson on Vimeo.


Montana Meth Project PSA – Eybrows from Cliff Pearson on Vimeo.


Montana Meth Project PSA – Bathroom from Cliff Pearson on Vimeo.

MIT Guide to Lock Picking – Appendix A

This appendix describes the design and construction of lock picking tools.

A.1 Pick Shapes

Picks come in several shapes and sizes. Figure A.1 shows the most common shapes. The handle and tang of a pick are the same for all picks. The handle must be comfortable and the tang must be thin enough to avoid bumping pins unnecessarily. If the tang is too thin, then it will act like a spring and you will loose the feel of the tip interacting with the pins. The shape of the tip determines how easily the pick passes over the pins and what kind of feedback you get from each pin.

The design of a tip is a compromise between ease of insertion, ease of withdrawal and feel of the interaction. The half diamond tip with shallow angles is easy to insert and remove, so you can apply pressure when the pick is moving in either direction. It can quickly pick a lock that has little variation in the lengths of the key pins. If the lock requires a key that has a deep cut between two shallow cuts, the pick may not be able to push the middle pin down far enough. The half diamond pick with steep angles could deal with such a lock, and in general steep angles give you better feedback about the pins. Unfortunately, the steep angles make it harder to move the pick in the lock. A tip that has a shallow front angle and a steep back angle works well for Yale locks.

The half round tip works well in disk tumbler locks. See section 9.13. The full diamond and full round tips are useful for locks that have pins at the top and bottom of the keyway. The rake tip is designed for picking pins one by one. It can also be used to rake over the pins, but the pressure can only be applied as the pick is withdrawn. The rake tip allows you to carefully feel each pin and apply varying amounts of pressure. Some rake tips are flat or dented on the top to makes it easier to align the pick on the pin. The primary benefit of picking pins one at a time is that you avoid scratching the pins. Scrubbing scratches the tips of the pins and the keyway, and it spreads metal dust throughout the lock. If you want to avoid leaving traces, you must avoid scrubbing.

The snake tip can be used for scrubbing or picking. When scrubbing, the multiple bumps generate more action than a regular pick. The snake tip is particularly good at opening five pin household locks. When a snake tip is used for picking, it can set two or three pins at once. Basically, the snake pick acts like a segment of a key which can be adjusted by lifting and lowering the tip, by tilting it back and forth, and by using either to top or bottom of the tip. You should use moderate to heavy torque with a snake pick to allow several pins to bind at the same time. This style of picking is faster than using a rake and it leaves as little evidence.

A.2 Street cleaner bristles

The spring steel bristles used on street cleaners make excellen tools for lock picking. The bristles have the right thickness and width, and they are easy to grind into the desired shape. The resulting tools are springy and strong. Section A.3 describes how to make tools that are less springy.

The first step in making tools is to sand off any rust on the bristles. Course grit sand paper works fine as does a steel wool cleaning pad (not copper wool). If the edges or tip of the bristle are worn down, use a file to make them square.

A torque wrench has a head and a handle as shown in figure A.2. The head is usually 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long and the handle varies from 2 to 4 inches long. The head and the handle are separated by a bend that is about 80 degrees. The head must be long enough to reach over any protrusions (such as a grip-proof collar) and firmly engage the plug. A long handle allows delicate control over the torque, but if it is too long, it will bump against
the doorframe. The handle, head and bend angle can be made quite small if you want to make tools that are easy to conceal (e.g., in a pen, flashlight, or belt buckle). Some torque wrenches have a 90 degree twist in the handle. The twist makes it easy to control the torque by controlling how far the handle has been deflected from its restposition. The handle acts as a spring which sets the torque. The disadvantage of this method of setting the torque is that you get less feedback about the rotation of the plug. To pick difficult locks you will need to learn how to apply a steady torque via a stiff handled torque wrench.

The width of the head of a torque wrench determines how well it will fit the keyway. Locks with narrow keyways (e.g., desk locks) need torque wrenches with narrow heads. Before bending the bristle, file the head to the desired width. A general purpose wrench can be made by narrowing the tip (about 1/4 inch) of the head. The tip fits small keyways while the rest of the head is wide enough to grab a normal keyway.

The hard part of making a torque wrench is bending the bristle without cracking it. To make the 90 degree handle twist, clamp the head of the bristle (about one inch) in a vise and use pliers to grasp the bristle about 3/8 of an inch above the vise. You can use another pair of pliers instead of a vise. Apply a 45 degree twist. Try to keep the axis of the twist lined up with the axis of the bristle. Now move the pliers back another 3/8 inch and apply the remaining 45 45 degrees. You will need to twist the bristle more than 90 degrees in order to set a permanent 90 degree twist.


Figure A.1: Selection of pick shapes

Figure A.1: Selection of pick shapes

To make the 80 degree head bend, lift the bristle out of the vise by about 1/4 inch (so 3/4 inch is still in the vise). Place the shank of a screw driver against the bristle and bend the spring steel around it about 90 degrees. This should set a permanent 80 degree bend in the metal. Try to keep the axis of the bend perpendicular to the handle. The screwdriver shank ensures that the radius of curvature will not be too small. Any rounded object will work (e.g., drill bit, needle nose pliers, or a pen cap). If you have trouble with this method, try grasping the bristle with two pliers separated by about 1/2 inch and bend. This method produces a gentle curve that won’t break the bristle.

A grinding wheel will greatly speed the job of making a pick. It takes a bit of practice to learn how make smooth cuts with a grinding wheel, but it takes less time to practice and make two or three picks than it does to hand file a single pick. The first step is to cut the front angle of the pick. Use the front of the wheel to do this. Hold the bristle at 45 degrees to the wheel and move the bristle side to side as you grind away the metal. Grind slowly to avoid overheating the metal, which makes it brittle. If the metal changes color (to dark blue), you have overheated it, and you should grind away the colored portion. Next, cut the back angle of the tip using the corner of the wheel. Usually one corner is sharper than the other, and you should use that one. Hold the pick at the desired angle and slowly push it into the corner of the wheel. The side of the stone should cut the back angle. Be sure that the tip of the pick is supported. If the grinding wheel stage is not close enough to the wheel to support the tip, use needle nose pliers to hold the tip. The cut should pass though about 2/3 of the width of the bristle. If the tip came out well, continue. Otherwise break it off and try again. You can break the bristle by clamping it into a vise and bending it sharply.

The corner of the wheel is also used to grind the tang of the pick. Put a scratch mark to indicate how far back the tang should go. The tang should be long enough to allow the tip to pass over the back pin of a seven pin lock. Cut the tang by making several smooth passes over the corner. Each pass starts at the tip and moves to thescratch mark. Try to remove less than a 1/16th of an inch of metal with each pass. I use two fingers to hold the bristle on the stage at the proper angle while my other hand pushes the handle of the pick to move the tang along the corner. Use whatever technique works best for you.

Use a hand file to finish the pick. It should feel smooth if you run a finger nail over it. Any roughness will add noise to the feedback you want to get from the lock.

The outer sheath of phone cable can be used as a handle for the pick. Remove three or four of the wires from a length of cable and push it over the pick. If the sheath won’t stay in place, you can put some epoxy on the handle before pushing the sheath over it.

A.3 Bicycle spokes

An alternative to making tools out of street cleaner bristles is to make them out of nails and bicycle spokes. These materials are easily accessible and when they are heat treated, they will be stronger than tools made from bristles.


Figure A.2: Torque wrenches

Figure A.2: Torque wrenches

A strong torque wrench can be constructed from an 8-penny nail (about .1 inch diameter). First heat up the point with a propane torch until it glows red, slowly remove it from the flame, and let it air cool; this softens it. The burner of a gas stove can be used instead of a torch. Grind it down into the shape of a skinny screwdriver bladeand bend it to about 80 degrees. The bend should be less than a right angle because some lock faces are recessed behind a plate (called an escutcheon) and you want the head of the wrench to be able to reach about half an inch into the plug. Temper (harden) the torque wrench by heating to bright orange and dunking it into ice water. You will wind up with a virtually indestructible bent screwdriver that will last for years under brutal use.

Bicycle spokes make excellent picks. Bend one to the shape you want and file the sides of the business end flat such that it’s strong in the vertical and flexy in the horizontal direction. Try a righ t-angle hunk about an inch long for a handle. For smaller picks, which you need for those really tiny keyways, find any large-diameter spring and unbend it. If you’re careful you don’t have to play any metallurgical games.

A.4 Brick Strap

For perfectly serviceable key blanks that you can’t otherwise find at the store, use the metal strap they wrap around bricks for shipping. It’s wonderfully handy stuff for just about anything you want to manufacture. To get around side wards in the keyway, you can bend the strap lengthwise by clamping it in a vice and tapping on the protruding part to bend the piece to the required angle.

Brick strap is very hard. It can ruin a grinding wheel or key cutting machine. A hand file is the recommended tool for milling brick strap.

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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 6

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by Spiralbound.net on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

Conclusion:
Going into this study, it was my expectation that That non deviant citizens of other Western, industrialized countries would take on more personal responsibility for deviants, and prove more willing to make accommodations for them than Americans. Given this, Americans would, without exception, be more likely than Europeans to label deviant any person addressed by the five social policies in my survey. This is to say that whether a person is on death row for homicide, or poverty stricken and in need of shelter, food, clothing, medical attention or treatment for drug addiction, that person would acquire a label of deviance more quickly in the United States than in Europe.

In two ways, this turned out to be the case. As expected, when it came to sentencing a person to death Americans were decidedly more likely to agree, than Europeans, effectively applying the label of criminal with indelible ink. This label cannot be removed, since the person is to be executed, which tells us that, while not given out lightly, it is applied by Americans with extreme confidence.

Similarly, Americans seem more reluctant than Europeans to remove the label of drug user. This is not to suggest that they to not favor programs designed to help in addiction recovery (55% in fact believed America should have such a nationally funded policy), but to note that far more (76%) of Europeans agreed with this policy and were less likely to be skeptical about the addict’s actual motivation to recover.

The results become more ambiguous however when it comes to questions about nationalized health care and welfare. America and Europe ran pretty much dead even in the statistics here, which, at least initially, suggests that being poor and in need of health care is not thought of as particularly deviant in either culture. Like drug addiction, however, there does seem to be more of a tendency amongst Americans to look at these program’s beneficiaries with distrust, and thus less societal responsibility is accepted by the American individual. This again suggests a willingness but strong reluctance amongst Americans to remove a deviant label.

Finally, there is the question that broke all the rules. Given the fact that United States tends to be more conservative sexually than many European nations, I would have thought, that if anything was to be labeled more deviant in the United States it would be sexuality. Perhaps this is the case, and a willingness to provide nationally funded birth control is not a valid measurement, or perhaps I simply had it wrong. Whatever the case, it would appear, since more Americans than Europeans favor such a program, that sexuality is more likely to receive a deviant label in Europe.

Ultimately, while it does seem that these findings support my original hypothesis, they do so in a slightly different way than I had anticipated. It appears that neither culture is decidedly more or less likely to apply a label of deviance to the acts in question, but rather that Europeans tend to be more willing than Americans to remove a deviant label.

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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 5

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by Spiralbound.net on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

Results:
So, having examined the overall purpose of this project, the research design and its limitations, the time has come to look at the data, and to see if the findings support my original hypothesis that non deviant citizens of other Western, industrialized countries take on more personal responsibility for deviants, and are more willing than Americans to make accommodations for them. In the first part of this section, I will present a basic overview of the survey results, beginning with the quantitative percentages, then moving on to the qualitative comments for elaboration. In the second part, I will take a moment for the discussion of labeling theory, then move on to discuss the conclusions which can be drawn from this research.

Taking a quick glance at the initial quantitative results, it is unclear if the data supports this study’s hypothesis. See the following table:

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

Sex Drugs and Public Hangings Table 3

There exists some supporting evidence when we see that Europeans were far less likely to favor the death penalty, and far more likely to support nationality funded treatment for drug abusers than Americans. These findings come as no surprise because of policies which already exist in our two European countries. Germany has no death penalty what- so-ever, and the United Kingdom abolished this punishment for all ordinary (non-military) offenses in1973. (Heiner p. 221) On a similar note, the United Kingdom tried out “hard line” methods to control drug abuse in the ’70s and ’80s, but only found themselves with “more drugs, more crime and more addicts, so they went back to their way, letting doctors prescribe whatever drug a particular addict was hooked on.” (Heiner p. 190)

Surprisingly, however, the other issues were much closer in the percentages. Americans proved only slightly less likely to support nationality funded health care, and much to my surprise, they were actually more likely to favor financial support for publicly funded birth control and those living in poverty. While these returns are interesting from the standpoint of changing American viewpoints, they hardly support my hypothesis. Even given the likelihood that I had reached a more liberal subset of the American public, these results were far from what I had expected to find. I would clearly have to dig deeper into qualitative meaning behind these answers if I was to have any hope of proving my hypothesis.

Looking through the comments the research subjects made, two things become clear. First, the explanations given by Europeans for supporting social policy designed to aid deviants are filled with decidedly fewer limitations, ifs’, ands’ or buts’ than those given by American subjects. This provides evidence that the tendency to submit a “Yes” answer, simply so that a comment could be given, was indeed artificially inflated by the design of the survey. Secondly, certain national trends seem to emerge with respect to each question, leading to the conclusion that there is at least some homogeny amongst those surveyed. Let us now take the time to view each question individually, comparing the comments made by American respondents with their European counterparts.

Question #1: Do you believe your country should have a death penalty?
From the American perspective the majority (59%) of those surveyed did not believe that there should be a death penalty in the United States. However, particularly when compared with the much lower European return of 9%, there remains a significant percentage of American subjects who favor capital punishment. What were their reasons? Of those nine Americans who answered “Yes” the most common circumstance given under which a death sentence would be acceptable was murder. Some respondents elaborated further, stating, for instance that such a punishment would only be appropriate in the event of the most “heinous” murder, serial killings, or a crime where the victim was “tortured either before or after being killed”, but In short, every American who favored the death penalty cited the killing of another human being as an act under which capital punishment would be acceptable.

In Europe, however, the overwhelming majority of respondents did not believe that their country should have a death penalty. Only two of the twenty-one European subjects answered “Yes” to this question, and of these, only one provided an explanation, stating that execution should only be carried out in the event of first degree murder or rape.

Interestingly, the American legal system does not treat rape as seriously as murder. Certainly this is because the life of the victim is not terminated in the criminal act. I mention this because in addition to murder, (and treason, cited only once) rape was named by three Americans and one European as a reason for the use of capital punishment. Two conclusions can be drawn from this. First, it would seem that the general public of America, and Europe is taking the issue of rape much more seriously than they had in the past, and secondly, since neither Americans or Europeans seem to favor using the death penalty lightly, it would appear that whatever mental condition it is that causes a person to commit rape is being thought of as not only despicable, but untreatable as well.

Question #2: Do you feel health care should be provided by your government?
Generally, those surveyed in the united States and in Europe agreed that there should be some kind of nationalized health care system, which makes it curious that no such program exists in the US. When asked to elaborate on their answers, statements like “Free for all, period.” and ” I think there should be national health care for every citizen of our country – regardless of economic status, race, age, etc.” were quite common throughout both American and European survey returns.

While it seems that many of those favoring nationalized health care from both sides of the Atlantic feel that everyone should receive government health care, Europeans seemed less worried about the prospect of a person receiving free health care without first having paid into the system. Out of the eighteen Europeans and the Nineteen Americans who answered in favor of a nationalized health care plan, five Americans and only one European suggested that treatment should be provided only to those who have paid into the system. Similarly, Six Europeans and only two Americans specifically named the poor as a group who should receive treatment.

In part, since the US does not as of yet have a national health care system, and because of books such as Malcolm K. Sparrow’s “License to Steel”, which discusses the highly automated, easy to take advantage of systems entrusted with processing claims and issuing checks (Sparrow pp. 162 163), it makes sense why Americans tend to be a bit more worried about where the funding for such a program will come from. In general, both groups seem to believe first that their country should provide at least essential health care services, and secondly, that most, if not all citizens should have access to it.

Question #3: Do you believe your country should provide financial support for those living in poverty?
Like socialized medicine, welfare is a social program funded by the public, and as such has the potential of being abused. In other words, it is possible that people may use the service without contributing to the pool of money which funds it. For this reason it makes sense that the answers from this question would be similar to those on nationality funded health care. Indeed this is the case. Seventeen Europeans and twenty-three Americans answered that their respective countries should provide financial support to those living in poverty, and when asked to qualify their answers, most subjects from both Europe and the United States agreed that this program should not be a way of life, but rather a service to those trying to find a job or better their situation.

Americans did however, tend to be a bit more concerned with the possibility of people getting something for nothing. The most common statements amongst US subjects who believe financial aid to the poor should be offered was that this service should provide the basic costs of living such as food, clothing and housing only to those trying to find a job, or unable to work because of disability. One subject wrote for example that “People should receive welfare only for a short time, and during that time, the person should have to prove they are looking for a job by meeting with a counselor twice a week. Welfare needs strict regulations, but in a way that still helps the person receiving it”.

Like the Americans, European respondents believed that welfare should provide for the basic necessities of life. However, statements like, “welfare should be provided under all circumstances, so that people do not die from starvation, and have basic clothing and basic housing” were far more common. Furthermore, the idea that welfare should help the underemployed and working poor was commonly addressed among European respondents, and only twice was it explicitly suggested that this service should be limited to those actively seeking employment. In short, Europeans seemed a good deal more trusting that the welfare system would not be abused.

Question #4: Do you believe your country should provide publicly funded birth control?
Amongst those from United States who responded “Yes” to this question, the almost universal answer was something like “to anyone and everyone who wants it.” Many subjects from Europe also answered this way, but added that birth control should also be provided to teenagers, suggesting, if nothing else, that Europeans are more comfortable with the idea of their children having sex than Americans.

The thing that most amazed me about the results from this question, however, was the number of people who said “No”. It was my original thought that anyone willing to support nationalized medicine or welfare would also support government funded birth control. The final tally did not prove this, showing that out of twenty-one Europeans and twenty-seven Americans surveyed, only nine and seventeen respondents supported such a program respectively. This suggests one of two possible conclusions. Either sex and childbearing are something that both cultures feel is a personal matter and don’t want to see the government getting involved with, or it was thought that by birth control I meant abortion, which is understandably a far more controversial topic than basic prevention methods. In any event, it would seem that Americans are a bit more comfortable with this issue than the Europeans.

Question #5: Do you feel your country should provide treatment for drug abusers?
This final question was inspired by the 60 Minutes episode entitled “Rx Drugs”, in which England’s approach to managing national drug problems was addressed. Unlike the United States, which has declared “war” on drugs, England has decided to fund a program which provides free, “clean” drugs to addicts by way of prescription, thus decriminalizing the act of use. (Heiner p. 189) Knowing about this program, I though it would be interesting to see how well supported public treatment for drug addicts was overseas, and moreover, if Americans were interested in paying the bill to help users overcome their addiction.

In the end, this question came back mostly as I expected. As can be seen by the returns, 76% of European subjects favored such a policy, compared to 55% of Americans. When asked to qualify a “Yes” answer, both groups agreed nearly across the board that anyone who wants help should receive it. One American respondent stated that “Our country should provide similar treatment to England’s program”, and several suggested that treatment should not continue if the patient is not doing his or her part to recover. It was, perhaps a bit surprising that so many Americans favored this type of program, but it seems most are beginning to conclude that the “war on drugs” is not working and have began to seek an alternative.

Because the following interpretation of this data is to be grounded in the school of symbolic interactionism, and labeling theory, it is important, before moving on, that I give a brief overview of of this theoretical framework. Taken from the writings of George Herbert Mead, symbolic interactionism asserts that people learn how to behave based on the subjective meanings of their social interaction “as perceived from the standpoint of the actor.” (Hagen p. 192) In other words, individuals watch how others react to their behavior and apply meaning to their actions based on what they see. Labeling theory, then, “says that individuals are deviant mainly because they have been labeled as deviant by social control agencies or others.” (Hagen p. 192) There is, based on this theory, nothing intrinsically deviant in the criminal act itself, only in the reaction of the audience and in the label that is applied to the actor; “that is, a crime is a label, not an act.” (Hagen p.192)

By this assertion, we are moving the focus of the study away from the deviant people of America and Europe and on to the “law abiding citizens” of these countries who react to and label deviance. The question now becomes not how deviant people are dealt with on both sides of the Atlantic, but exactly which acts cause each respective society to apply a label of deviance.

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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
© Cliff Pearson & Spiralbound.net
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Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings – Part 4

Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by Spiralbound.net on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe

Design Limitations:
No research project is without its limitations, and even before the original research strategy had to be changed this one was no exception. In the end, the limitations of this study can best be broken down to, and discussed in three separate sections: the the survey recipients, the newsgroups used to contact European subjects, and the survey itself. Allow me now to take a few moments to discuss each of these separately, before moving on to analyze the the data.

Recipients:
Ideally, I would have been able to obtain a totally random, reasonably large sample from each of the four countries. As I hinted at above, this may have been possible in the United States, but without either traveling to Europe, or having a very dedicated contact in each country, doing this in across the Atlantic would be nearly impossible. Thus, in order to be a t all practical, I would have to take what I could get in terms of survey respondents.

In the United States, I can be certain that those who took the survey were either randomly selected Plymouth State College students, or college Information Technology Department staff. The first, and most obvious limitation of this group is the fact that they are associated with a college. Colleges and universities tend to be, almost by definition, more liberal than the median of American society, and as such, these subjects were no doubt more likely to answer in favor of social programs designed to aid deviants than a true cross-section of the American public. Also, we must consider the demographics of those associated with colleges and universities. This group is likely to be younger, more educated, and wealthier than the average, randomly selected person, which is almost certain to account for an increased tendency to answer in support of social programs. Secondly, the survey was only made available to those who used e-mail. While it is difficult to find a student or college staff member who does not use this technology, they certainly do exist, and as a result, the less tech-savvy would have been eliminated as a research subject. Finally, the issue of geography needs to be addressed. The survey was only distributed to those living, in the North Eastern United States. This is important to remember because this region (aside from New Hampshire) tends to be slightly more liberal than the rest of the United States, and many people at Plymouth State College originally come from surrounding states.

Overseas, some of the same problems were faced such as the non computer / Internet users being eliminated as a subject, but the most important limitations come from the way the respondents were contacted.

Newsgroups:
Since the bulk of my European respondents found the survey listed on one of the three Usenet newsgroups listed in the table above, it is absolutely critical that the limitations of this method be addressed. Newsgroups are organized in terms of subject, and as such a person subscribes to a newsgroup only if that person is interested in reading the discussions therein. Knowing this, it becomes clear that I have reached only a very limited audience. I chose the newsgroups I did, not because of their subject matter, but rather because of their large readership, and since the only requirement for completing the survey was that the person be from either Germany or England (I had, at this point, given up on France), I wished to reach as many people as possible. Thus, the most apparent limitation of news groups is the narrow scope of their readership. Since I posted to only three groups, it is easy to see that I did not reach a very diverse audience.

Another thing that is important to know about newsgroups is that they can be read by anyone, regardless of nationality. Just because a group is part of the “UK” or “DK” domain does not mean that someone from another country is eliminated from reading it, so there is the risk that a person who completed the German survey, for instance, was not, in fact German. In an attempt to control for this, I kept an eye on my UNIX server’s web access log, and ensured that the number of British or German surveys matched up with the number of British or German connections. Even with this control, however, I can only confirm that the page was accessed from a given country, and I have no way of verifying that the individual taking it was actually British or German. I had to depend on the honor system for this.

One final note about newsgroups: it is important to note that Usenet readers can, and do, become VERY hostile should they run across a posting which they don’t like. Survey postings on the newsgroups are very unpopular, and are thought of by most to be inappropriate. Knowing this. I realized that it would become necessary to keep a careful eye on the returns to ensure that no malicious subject would intentionally corrupt my data. Aside from receiving a few e-mail messages asking why I had not included certain questions, I only ended up having to throw out two responses. The first, clearly malicious, stated among other things that there should be a death penalty for “crosposting twits on newsgroups”, and that the state should provide free healthcare for people who have suffered mental trauma caused by “crosposting twits on newsgroups.” The second throw away was simply a religious rant.

The Survey:
While not perfect, I do feel that the actual construction of the survey was good, as it yielded some very useful results. I was approached by several people throughout the study who stated that it was “fun” to take, and that they had enjoyed putting in their own “two cents”. There are, however, three important ways I believe the survey could be improved. First, as I stated above, I believe the option for subjects to qualify a “No” answer should have been added. Secondly, I believe there should have been a mechanism built into the PHP database front end to ensure that the same person did not take the survey twice. Finally, I would have liked to employ a system by which I could verify that the person taking the survey was actually a citizen of the the country he or she claimed. Unfortunately, this would mean collecting personal data which may have prevented the study from passing the Human Subjects Committee.

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