Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Of a hero, a villain and Wikipedia

Today, we see a new hero, villain and power emerge. With the Virginia Tech shootings, there was enough drama there to last a while. A professor emerged as a hero, a loner gunman was the villain and Wikipedia exerted it's power over traditional news media.

A quick google for "Librescu" will immediately bring you to his staff home page at Virginia Tech. Prof Liviu Librescu was a professor in the mechanics department in the fields of aeroelasticity and aerodynamics. He was a holocaust survivor who was a great engineer. He has won many academic honours and is on the editorial board of several scientific journals. His list of publications and achievements is long. He had a very interesting life story as well, which is chronicled on Wikipedia.

According to the accounts of his students. He held the door of his classroom shut while the gunman Seung-Hui Cho was attempting to enter it. He got shot through the door but was able to prevent the gunman from entering the classroom while his students were escaping through the windows from the second floor. He paid the ultimate price, but because of his actions, the body count didn't get any higher and some kids can live out their lives. I'm sure that his students will remember him forever.

This event also highlighted another great power of Wikipedia. It has the ability to chronicle events and serve as a repository of information, while the event was still happening. Eventhough the official list of victims has not been release, their names are already on Wikipedia, with a chronology of who died where. From the list, it seemed that the victims were utterly random. It was probably a case of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. How unfortunately sad.

The hero and villain of the story, also have got their own personal wikipedia pages. Of course, the one for Seung-Hui Cho isn't quite as nice or complete as the one for the professor. However, it does go on to explain how someone like him was able to to legally purchase and own guns in Virginia. He was said to be a loner and the university was having a hard time finding more information about him. Police identified him from matching the fingerprints taken of the gun with immigration records.

Well, the power of Wikipedia, the new *news* media is evident. Many people may not trust Wikipedia now, because of the fact that it's editable by anyone. However, I've learned to trust it precisely because it is editable by anyone. It is an amazing leveler of information and allows all sides to tell their stories. It's truly an amazing source of information. You just need to be a little discerning about what you read on it.

PS. Maybe Virginia Tech will name a building after Prof Librescu. I think that it's the right thing to do to remind people of his selfless act of courage and heroism.

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