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LGM118

Vatsim's structure

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Hi everyone.  I've been thinking a lot about what to do about this situation that I have been confronted with in the Vatsim community, and after a lot of consideration I decided to speak out on it.  I think that there are some serious issues that need to be addressed within the structure of Vatsim.  I guess the best way to do this is to give you my own personal story; about two and a half years ago, I joined Vatsim.  I enjoyed it, but there's always been a bit of an "authoritarian" feel when you start controlling.  Anyone who controls on Vatsim might know what I'm talking about - there's a pretty hierarchical structure.  Anyways, anyone who knows me knows that I am nothing if not a philosophical individual and an individualist.  I had a number of fairly hostile run-ins with several staff members over the extent to which individuals should be empowered to express their opinions and feelings on the network.  This got me on quite a few peoples' bad sides.

 

Back in March, things finally came to a head and, faced with a choice of either being removed or removing myself, I made the decision to remove myself from Vatsim.  I had my account deleted (which in and of itself was a tremendous struggle).  I feel that Vatsim does not show a lot of respect for its individual members.  I want to share a few comments that some Vatsim staff have said.

 

"I strongly encourage you not to respond this email and if you do choose to, that you pick your words extremely careful, because frankly, I don't care if you are here or not." - An e-mail from one of Vatsim's founders to another member (both the specific founder in question and the recipient of said e-mail - who forwarded the e-mail he received from said Vatsim founder to me will be anonymous).

 

 

 

"As I said in a previous communication, VATSIM operates like the military...There is type of chain-of-command." - An e-mail I received from a regional DCRM.

"You need to recognize the wisdom and authority of the Air Traffic Manager and the Air Traffic Director.  Both of these individuals have proven to VATSIM that they possess the skills to hold these positions.  It is NOT your call to question their decisions.  If you disagree, you are free to do so.  You are also free to find another hobby, or join another organization.  What you may not do is undermine the authority of the chain-of-command." - Another statement from the same e-mail.

 

 

I strongly feel that Vatsim has shown a very low accountability towards its individual members.  Whether it's restricting movement between regions and individual FIRs, limiting what can and can't be discussed in their forums, or the liberal use of a number of unsavory policies - my understanding right now is that User Agreement Section 1.6, "The owners of VATSIM.net reserve the right to terminate a Member’s account and/or network access privileges at any time without notice or limitation." is applied on a fairly regular basis.

 

I have no doubt that these kinds of discussions would not be welcome on the Vatsim forums or other media.  I am posting this here in part because since I have no Vatsim account, I obviously can't post in the Vatsim forums.

 

Vatsim can be a wonderful organization, but I feel it has needlessly sacrificed a valuable part of its core mission - to provide an open community of individual opinions and ideas - in the name of creating an orderly and controlled environment.  And no, I don't expect people to agree with me.  It's entirely possible, even likely, that I am reading far too much into the structure of Vatsim because I've been on the wrong end of it so many times (and admittedly mostly through my insistence on expressing my opinions and so on far more than I should).  But I think that given the way in which Vatsim has chosen to create and endorse a strict hierarchy on its members to the extent it has, I would say that these are relevant discussions to have.  Does Vatsim have obligations to its members that should outweigh the rights of its owner/founder members? Should individual members be given more power to assert themselves in Vatsim's organizational decision-making processes?  How do we balance the need for order and civility with the desire for individual expression?

It's unfortunate that these discussions simply don't happen within Vatsim as often as they should, but I think that Avsim is a very open forum for these discussions.


Aaron Z.

Magic: the Gathering and Flight Sim are two very expensive hobbies to have.  Just saying.

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Anyways, anyone who knows me knows that I am nothing if not a philosophical individual and an individualist.

 

LGM118 or Aaron Z. certainly does not help in identifying who you are referring to. Your post is very generic and cannot be properly replied to without mentioning facts.

 

From my own experience being active since 2001 in vatsim I can attest that vatsim is certainly accountable to its members.

From communicating out the procedures happening in the background (like posting publicly meeting minutes etc.)., to having specific rules documented in the Code of Conduct and Code of Regulations, to a full set of disciplinary procedures based on those codes and every time the reason of action taken being communicated to the member who even has the right to appeal like in real judicial systems.

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From communicating out the procedures happening in the background (like posting publicly meeting minutes etc.)., to having specific rules documented in the Code of Conduct and Code of Regulations, to a full set of disciplinary procedures based on those codes and every time the reason of action taken being communicated to the member who even has the right to appeal like in real judicial systems.

The fact that policies are regularly suspended says to me that there aren't really policies.

 

In the past years, I have heard of at least three instances in which, with no warning, Vatsim User Agreement Section 1.6 to remove members with no warning.  Again, I cannot give more specifics without breaking the anonymity of the members involved, but in those cases it was for claimed "bad behavior" - shouldn't they be given the privilege of the proceedings that you describe?

 

I think one or two of the founders have taken it upon themselves to use elements of the CoR and User Agreement (such as UA 1.6, which I quoted in my post) to basically do away with the need for disciplinary proceedings and accountability.

 

Also, what details would you need for you to not consider my post vague?  Do consider that I am against turning this thread into a discussion of individual people and case studies and also that I do not want to violate the right to anonymity that others (including founders) have.  I can provide clarification as needed, but not if it would lead to me naming names.


Aaron Z.

Magic: the Gathering and Flight Sim are two very expensive hobbies to have.  Just saying.

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OK "LGM118" this is the Internet and anyone can post anything especially under the cover of alias names.

I for one do not participate in such discussions without - confirmed as true - substance .

 

Also VATSIM has people in charge of such procedures.

The first person to contact for cases like these is "VP Conflict Resolution" if nothing else works on a local facility level.

 

And to make it easy for you http://www.vatsim.net/%C2'>

 

He is the one you should be talking to with facts and supported arguments if you feel you have been mistreated.

 

Over here or in other forums you will never solve your problem or worries.

 

Kind regards,

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OK "LGM118" this is the Internet and anyone can post anything especially under the cover of alias names.

I for one do not participate in such discussions without - confirmed as true - substance .

 

Also VATSIM has people in charge of such procedures.

The first person to contact for cases like these is "VP Conflict Resolution" if nothing else works on a local facility level.

 

And to make it easy for you

 

He is the one you should be talking to with facts and supported arguments if you feel you have been mistreated.

 

Over here or in other forums you will never solve your problem or worries.

 

Kind regards,

 

You think I didn't go through those processes?

 

Let me lay out the full sequence of events so you have a better understanding.  While I do have my own biases in the case, and I recognize that you will obviously point that out, the reality is that those kinds of biases and perspectives are inevitable.  If you ask someone else, they might have a different opinion, and that's the nature of things.  The wholew thing started in February, with an isolated incident in which I had a minor disagreement with a supervisor over the handling of a specific situation.  I felt the situation was handled improperly and voiced this opinion - note that this was done politely and with no foul language, etc.  I could see it as warranting maybe a 5 or 10 day suspension on the outside (to be fair, I was somewhat rude, but again, no foul language and no overt personal attacks).

 

Several days later, a Lead Supervisor with whom I had a prior history- mainly several negative experiences involving disagreements over several matters of opinion about how Vatsim should and should not be managed - gave me a temporary suspension on the basis that he believed I had violated Section A(1) of the Code of Regulations by dirupting the supervisor's ability to enjoy the network (which I feel was a petty charge).  As I mentioned, I had a bit of a history - I often have trouble with anxiety and chaotic situations, and struggle to maintain my composure at times when under stress (there is a legitimate medical condition involved which I do not care to publicly disclose).  I had been told on a previous occasion by the Vatusa DCRM that Vatsim would not be willing to accomodate or give me flexibility in terms of a few specific requests I had made that I felt would support a more positive environment where I would be able to thrive.  Anyways, The Vatusa DCRM extended the 48-hour temporary suspension to a 15 day suspension to investigate the case.  I felt that given his articulated approach to adjudicating disputes (see the initial post in this thread and a part of an e-mail he sent me) I would not be given a fair investigation and that significant action was all but assured.

 

I appealled the decision up the the VP for Conflict Resolution (Norman Blackburn) on the basis of my prior history with the supervisor involved (in the temporary suspension, not the individual incident that led into the larger case).

 

There was a separate issue of whether the initial Supervisor had a conflict of Interest.  On previous occasions, he had made it clear that he was actively looking for ways to discipline me and I felt strongly that it was unfair that he was so involved in trying to punish me with so little cause.  I sent in evidence of this (and my argument that this was the case), which was largely dismissed on face - within minutes of sending an e-mail addressing that topic I received a very straightforward reply indicating that it is not my place to criticize Vatsim staff.

 

Meanwhile, with no notification, I was transferred out of VATUSA (my home region) to a remote area in Asia (I am not the first person to whom this has happened).  This was done by one of the Founders, as it turned out, at the request of the Supervisor in question.  I should point out that this whole sequence, from the time that I sent the e-mail bringing up the conflict of interest to the VP for Conflict Resolution to the time that I was transferred without notice, took place over the course of about 4 hours.  There was definitely little to no review - the Supervisor requested a founder do something, and that decision was made with no warning and no review.  The Founder in question is the same one who I had mentioned in the initial post of this thread.

 

I subsequently demanded my account deleted (it was) because I was so disgusted by the whole proceeding.  Subsequent attempts (several months after) to re-engage with Vatsim staff (including the VP for Conflict Resolution) have been ignored completely.

 

The reason I bring this up here and not through channels that have been closed off to me is because 1) I can't use the normal channels, and 2) I feel that there needs to be a broader understanding of these issues among the general flight simming audience.  I feel that these issues go beyond my individual case and into a broader question of whether Vatsim truly is a respectful environment.  Vatusa specifically has become a very negative environment.  Just as an example, I have heard ARTCC staff routinely make insulting comments about one individual who wanted to control on Vatsim despite being blind.  In my own case, Vatusa refused to make any concessions on my behalf given a diagnosed anxiety/social disorder and in fact used it as direct evidence to claim that I should not be a part of the Vatsim community (which I feel is in and of itself repugnant).

 

Within the past year, Vatusa has promoted a convicted felon to be the Training Administrator in an ARTCC, a 16-year-old, and has seen an exceptionally high turnover rate among staff.  Controller activity declined by about 3% in 2012 compared to 2011 (Vatsim as a whole had about a 0.5% increase overall).  "Vatsim politics" has become a dirty word and yet it is also a very common factor in why so many people are losing interest.  The problem, essentially, is that with so much structure, many people have sought out positions of authority for personal reasons and to enforce personal agendas.  Existing rules more or less make it impossible to remove staff for poor performance; in most of the ARTCCs in Vatusa, activity is very low; the really active ARTCCs are few and far between.

 

And finally, the very existence of Vatsim User Agreement Section 1.6, in my mind, completely negates any benefit of going through the appropriate channels, as those decisions can always be overruled if one of the Vatsim Founders doesn't like you personally or something.


Aaron Z.

Magic: the Gathering and Flight Sim are two very expensive hobbies to have.  Just saying.

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LGM118 or Aaron Z. certainly does not help in identifying who you are referring to. Your post is very generic and cannot be properly replied to without mentioning facts.

 

From my own experience being active since 2001 in vatsim I can attest that vatsim is certainly accountable to its members.

From communicating out the procedures happening in the background (like posting publicly meeting minutes etc.)., to having specific rules documented in the Code of Conduct and Code of Regulations, to a full set of disciplinary procedures based on those codes and every time the reason of action taken being communicated to the member who even has the right to appeal like in real judicial systems.

 

Also, I'm not going to lie, your previous tenure as the Regional Director for Vatsim Europe Division and a part of the Executive Committee gives you a tremendous bias in the matter.

 

But you can look at a few choice excerpts from BoG Minutes that I was able to pull up.  In the 2012 Q4 meeting, there's the following:

 

"I think that all regions/divisions should have mandatory meetings every now and then so that staff can become closer. Maybe it happens in some places but it should be made standard."

 

BoG Response – [steven Cullen] asks if there is a policy for meeting frequency other than EC which is set by CoR? [Peter Nielson] responds that nothing in our documents defines anything below regions so it also does not mandate meetings or frequency of them.

 

The subsequent Quarterly meeting went into a lot of detail about how redefining Divisions and so on would potentially require further analysis and that further discussion would be needed.  These sorts of cases occur all too often - Vatsim relegates individuals' concerns to the back-burner and focuses on making amendments to the Code of Regulations and so on.  It's basically a structure that has become detached from the needs of its individual members.  As Oscar Wilde once said, "The bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of an expanding bureaucracy."

 

Basically, you just don't see a lot of downward engagement and activity.  Staff sit around in one corner and members in the other.  Kyprianos, you actually are making that point for me because insofar as you are specifically pointing to the downward flow of information (the BoG lists its meeting minutes, etc., appeals systems, etc.) you are saying that openness of the top of the hierarchy being willing to tell those below what they are doing somehow constitutes "accountability"

 

Accountability has to be more than just having rules that give people a few rights.  How about making administrative positions have explicit term limits?  How about putting positions up for internal regiona/division/FIR votes?  Why is it that all of the members of the BoG have been in Vatsim for at least five or six years such that newer members are completely unrepresented?

 

Until those questions are answered, I fail to see how anyone can trust that Vatsim is an accountable system.  Ignoring the problem will not make it go away, it will only make it get worse.


Aaron Z.

Magic: the Gathering and Flight Sim are two very expensive hobbies to have.  Just saying.

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... As I mentioned, I had a bit of a history - I often have trouble with anxiety and chaotic situations, and struggle to maintain my composure at times when under stress ...

 

Methinks ATC is not for you then...

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I once said to a supervisor that he was "acting like an ar#e" - which he was.

 

Norman B who was conflict res at the time (not sure about now) - did not discipline me, - maybe he should have, but seeing as I was not at fault, did he have the right to?

 

He chose not to, which shows great character, both himself and for the institution he was representing, he could have thrown the banhammer at me (which would have kinda been unfair

 

that says it all really.


Paul Westcott

 

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Methinks ATC is not for you then...

Good point lol


 

 

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LGM118 it is very honorable of you mentioning that a diagnosed anxiety/social disorder is involved and that you had "history" of other issues in the past with vatsim.

 

Let me mention a few facts just from thinking freely about what you mentioned but I certainly cannot engage in a discussion on every detail.

 

I assure you I am not biased. I may have been Europe Region Director for 10 years but for the last 2 years I am a humble pilot & ATC like anyone else simply enjoying the hobby, not involved in any staff procedures. I just happen to know the system since I was involved also from the "other side" in the past.

 

The Founders own this private network. Its not a public institution. They choose how its run and the Board of Governors manage it.

We cannot have elections and any other similar stuff that happens in real - off Internet - society simply because this is the Internet.

Between you and the physical person behind your Internet name there will never be a physical match like in real society so the system is open to all sorts of wrong use of individual identity if someone wants to.

 

As long as the network is not breaking any (real) laws it can be run on line in the virtual world as its owner decides.

 

So whatever we moan or not about it we have to understand that "this is it". We like it, we stay, we don't, we let go; as simple as that.

Off course constructive criticism is always welcomed but what happens after its submitted its up to any stakeholder to decide how or if to use it at all.

 

Last but not least.

 

On line live interaction hobbies like VATSIM are perfect for people who can handle interpersonal communications with people they don't know over the Internet. Once the "stress factor" gets involved - especially in ATC services on line -  and something goes wrong between two parties, it is VERY hard to maintain tranquility between people involved because written comm's and people who don't know each other but communicate only via Internet don't go well together. You can very easily misunderstand written text since you never really know what the other person behind the screen looks / feels like at any point.

During those 10 years I witnessed countless such misunderstandings that simply due to the nature of this hobby could not be resolved. I remember that in many cases (like the ones you mention) one of the two parties simply gave up (as you did) or was forced to give up.

Trust me that may be the only way not because someone is bad or unfair or call it whatever you like.

The system simply cannot sustain and even better resolve such misunderstandings because there is no way to solve them like in real life when you have someone face to face and shake hands. That's all there is to it in my humble opinion.

This hobby may not be for you my friend and please don't be offended by this comment. Think about it.

 

Its not about the persons running it, its about the limits that the infrastructure puts to us.

 

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Note:  I originally posted this at about 7:30 PM Eastern USA and I am still editing it for brevity.  Some elements may change as I cut down unnecessary information.

 

Since this is going to be a long post anyways, I'll try to signpost and make it clear where I am in terms of things rather than try to respond to specific quotes.  This is a good discussion and it's worth continuing.  There are essentially two things being discussed.  The first is the question that I was trying to bring up with my original post about the nature of Vatsim's structure an organization, and there's a separate line of thought about the nature of disabilty on Vatsim and online (which can also have implications for aviation as a whole).

 

I'll start with the disabilities discussion.  Having lived with only slight disabilities, my perspective is tinged by the fact that I am always straddling the line between wanting to be "mainsteamed" and needing some help.  Maybe it's the disability studies literature I've read, maybe it's my own personal history of being faced with situations eerily like this, but I have always hoped that people would attempt to be more patient and willing to understand these exact differences.  A fun fact about me that I rarely share with people is that about 5 years ago, while applying for colleges, I was accepted into the University of Illinois' Aviation school (specifically, the Human Factors in Aviation subprogram).  I ended up choosing not to go 1) because University of Illinois is in the middle of nowhere, and 2) because I was worried that aviation would be too stressful of a career choice for me.  Maybe it was the right decision, maybe not.  What I do know is that I was forced to make a sacrifice between what I was most interested in doing and what was a practical decision. 

 

People without disabilities do not have to make these kinds of decisions.  Other disabilities are more severe and create more pervasive limitations, but the reality is the same; despite tremendous progress, those with disabilities do not get a lot of accomodations and have to spend time basically every day thinking about the things they can and can't do.  If you want a really good analysis of the issue from a political perspective, I'd highly recommend taking a look at Make them Go Away:  Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve & the Case Against Disability Rights by Mary Johnson.  There's also a really good documentary about inclusion and disability rights from a less political perspective, Including Samuel that I can't recommend enough.  One of my big undergraduate papers (not for my major, but still, it was a very fascinating class) discussed emergent Autism Culture and how it's developing.  Disability Rights and the Disability Studies field are really aiming to get people thinking about how we as a society conceive of disability and it's something that needs to happen.  I'm far from the only person with this kind of perspective on disability.  Inclusion is the emerging concensus.  Yes, the internet can make that harder at times, but I feel that organizations like Vatsim are about 20 years behind right now.

 

Consider this:  When I was about three, I was in a special needs early childhood program.  Had I been born in 1979 instead of 1989, there's a good chance I would have spent my life in an institution based on that - my own development and growth was specifically facilitated by being given opportunities to be included despite some early issues.  Saying that those with disabilities can't participate in certain things because that's the way those things are structured is a form of institutionalized discrimination.

 

The point is, when you look at comments like "Methinks ATC is not for you then..", imagine if instead of having an anxiety disorder, I were black.  When it comes right down to it, this point about how those with disabilities just can't do certain things is the modern carryover from the Eugenics movements that were prevalant in the 1920's.  I'm not blaming you - most people don't even think about disability rights, but think about it from the context of a person with a disability and consider how it might feel to be told that because of something you were born with you can't do something that is really interesting to you.  How is that any different from growing up black in the 1910's and being told "black people can't fly planes"?  There's a reason some have taken to calling Disability Rights the last great civil rights cause.

 

My point about disabilities aside, the larger discussion of Vatsim's structure.  Just because you can do something, that doesn't mean you should.  Organizations like Vatsim precisely thrive on the selflessness of their members.  Imagine if Ross Carlson had decided not to make VRC available for general use?  What if Gergely Csernak had done the same with Euroscope?  Vatsim as we know it would not exist because we'd still be using antiquated software (or someone else would have stepped up) One of the things that contributed the most to my decision to leave was the attitude among many staff that their positions were "positions of authority."  Vatsim is a volunteer organization; people can choose to stay or leave.  The primary job of any person in a staff position is to convince people that staying is good.  Vatsim staff positions should be considered "positions of responsibility" not "positions of authority" and yet I feel that right now there is a trend towards the latter. 

 

Vatsim's upper-level staff have a very insular focus right now - go look at the the BoG and EC minutes and count how many times the topic of adding and retaining members gets mentioned in the past year - and that's a problem now that the internet has grown so much.  Vatsim can't continue to turn a blind eye towards the world around it.  You can't do that if you're relying on Quarterly meetings between 40 year-olds as your change agent.  I'm not saying that experience and age don't have value, but it needs to be tempered against the modern realities.  Sure, the argument can be made that Vatsim is a private organization and that the founders can choose not to heed this, but that's basically saying that a private organization's owners have the right to burn it to the ground.  It's true, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea let alone something we should encourage or enable.


Aaron Z.

Magic: the Gathering and Flight Sim are two very expensive hobbies to have.  Just saying.

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I am epileptic and take a good amount of epilepsy meds - which leaves me quite forgetful and easily confused - especially when it comes to things I know nothing about.

 

People may get fed up with helping me - that's the way it is, people may get fed up with having to repeat themselves - or they may say "I have already told him I aint telling him again" or they may say - "I aint gonna answer him because he is a nugget" or whatever - so what - I deal with it, I do tend to attract that kind of attitude from people, but again - from my shoes - it's not my fault - do I write in every post when asking for help "please understand I may not understand or it may seem like I am not listening, please do not discriminate"

It's a little disheartening, but so what - I do not make a song and dance about it.

 

Being discriminated is not nice - and it's not right, but that's the way half of the world works.

 

 

When I fell out with the vatsim sup, it was due to me spending too much time observing (in his eyes), it was not a fault of mine.

 

This rant should be on the vatsim forums as said.


Paul Westcott

 

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This rant should be on the vatsim forums as said.

VATSIM forum appears to be non-functional at the moment as a result of a hack some time last week.


Captain Kevin

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Air Kevin 124 heavy, wind calm, runway 4 left, cleared for take-off.

Live streams of my flights here.

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VATSIM forum appears to be non-functional at the moment as a result of a hack some time last week.

granted, but the rant didn't have to come out when it did, - he could have held on to it till the site was up again.

 

Apart from Kip, it's VERY unlikely VATSIM will respond to it here.


Paul Westcott

 

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OP, It really sounds like it is time to cut your losses, and move on.
 
While this may seem difficult to do at the moment, after so much investment, I think you must know in your hear that this is the best thing you "need" to do.
 
Plenty of other choices  and ways you can again enjoy Flight Simulation as a Hobby.
 
It should be a fun and enjoyably experience, not a frustration that causes you distress.
 
 

 

“One of the mistakes many of us make is that we feel sorry for ourselves, or for others, thinking that life should be fair, or that someday it will be. It's not and it won't.
.
When we make this mistake we tend to spend a lot of time wallowing and/or complaining about what's wrong with life. "It's not fair," we complain, not realizing that, perhaps, it was never intended to be.”
Richard Carlson, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life

( No,  NOT the Richard Carlson from Vatsim  !!!  :LMAO: )
 

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