Friday, June 25, 2010

Opinion: Ban the Vuvuzela

Following is an excerpt from a engineering eMagazine I subscribe to that shared an opinion about the Vuvuzela, albeit in a software test/risk management sense. The following is courtesy of

World Cup Buzz

Excitement for the 2010 World Cup is reaching a crescendo worldwide. But there's one note that has the power to drown out that crescendo, and it's falling flat—B flat to be exact. At first you may think it's an elephant trumpeting. Then the sound builds, heralding not a swarm of locus or giant bees, but of thousands of soccer fans blowing the vuvuzela, a meter-long South African plastic instrument you'll either embrace or loathe. Tuning it out would take a small miracle, deafness, or a mute button.

After months of debate, FIFA the international governing body of association football, is allowing fans to bring the vuvuzela into the stadiums even though the noise they make poses a health hazard, according to the US government. Before the African Premiere Match and the Confederations Cup in South Africa, FIFA banned the vuvuzelas in the stadiums. But FIFA quietly scratched the rule. When the games aired, vuvuzelas created quite a buzz, literally. During the Confederations Cup, soccer teams complained about the noise. FIFA countered that Latin American countries have their version of the vuvuzela, the cometa. Banning the vuvuzela in South Africa wouldn't be fair to the host country and all other countries' rowdy soccer fans. At American Major league Soccer games, fans beat drums and play trumpets, cometas, and other horns. People chant and yell songs. A variety of noise makers fill the air around the pitch. The difference is the decibels don't rise so high that players can't communicate with each other on the field, as was the case at the Confederations Cup matches. FIFA says banning the vuvuzela from the World Cup would be like "Europeanizing" the game in Africa, and FIFA doesn't want to do that. So it turns a deaf ear on complaints. (Seems they've already been permanently affected by the instrument.)

I hate the noise and remember how distracting it was to hear that incessant buzz during the Confederations Cup matches. Sometimes it was so annoying and disruptive that I opted to mute the television. The noise simply bugged me, so what was it like for the people in the stadium?

During a South African Premier League match, the noise within the stadium peaked at 144 decibels. That's like standing one hundred feet from a jet engine at full throttle (140 dB) for two hours. It's louder than a rock concert (115dB) and more deafening than a NASCAR race. The Occupational Safety and Health Administrations daily permissible noise level exposure at 115 db—with hearing protection—is limited to a quarter of an hour. Anything louder and at longer exposures, especially without hearing protection, will cause permanent damage. Putting this into perspective, each World Cup game lasts about two hours. Sixty-four World Cup games are scheduled over the course of the next month; that's 128 hours worth of exposure to this hazardous noise.

Host cities have already complained that the orchestra of vuvuzelas can be heard citywide. A few shopkeepers in Johannesburg close their open-market stores when parades of soccer fans march down their streets while blowing vuvuzelas.

The World Cup is a much larger event than the Confederations Cup. I can't help but wonder what risks FIFA negotiated and accepted in order to let the host country allow this instrument into the stadiums. It baffles me that FIFA—for the sake of allowing South Africans to make noise in their fashion and not to offend their culture—allow vuvuzelas, even if it causes permanent hearing damage to the fans, players, and officials. Fans at home have a workaround—the mute button. I hope the fans in the stadiums bring excellent ear plugs.

Next time you're debating the immediate and long-term effects of a flaw that you'll be releasing with software, think of the vuvuzela. One of these instruments alone is benign. En masse, they potentially can cause irreversible or permanent hearing damage. Do the effects of a bug on a single user seem insignificant? What happens when thousands of users experience the same problem? Is it then worth getting the software out the door on time? Do your customers have a workaround that allows them to accept or reject the bug? If there is no workaround, is the risk of releasing the bug worthwhile if, in the end, complaints and damage outweigh profit?

As much as I wish I could be in South Africa parading with soccer fans through the streets—sans a vuvuzela—I am thrilled not to risk my precious hearing in exchange for the experience. Plus, from the comfort of my home, the almighty mute button has the power to silence the deafening and annoying buzz. Yet I can still enjoy the thrill of watching the best soccer players in the world fight for the coveted World Cup. I just hope they'll be able to hear each other while out on the pitch.

Until next time, live well, practice good risk management, and build better software.

Francesca Matteu

For more articles on time and project management, software development, and testing, visit the StickyLetter archive.

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