Frankie meets... Colonel Sellers
Colonel Sellers arrived at h2g2 very early on in its development. Working his way through the Starship Titanic game (made by Douglas Adams), he managed to complete the game with a little help from the forums on the game's website. After finishing the game, he stayed a while on the forums to repay some of the favours by helping other people out on the game. Someone
mentioned h2g2, and he took to it like a duck to water.
'I've always been a wannabe writer, and this gave me an opportunity to write and receive feedback. My older Guide entries were crap, as everyone was trying to emulate DNA. It needed the
community as a whole to figure out what direction we
wanted to take this thing, and we're still talking
about it. I've been a part of a lot of phases of
evolution on this site, and have very much enjoyed the
experience. The staff do a fantastic job of
taking feedback and making it into something that
works. I've had some of my own personal
suggestions/complaints/whines accomodated, so I feel
like I've had some small role in building the Guide,
beyond my article contributions.'
I ask him to explain some of the changes he has been involved in and the influence he might have had on the development of the guide. Modesty cuts in, however.
'Most of them would be the result of conversations where many other people have contributed their own input. It's a collaborative environment, and I wouldn't like to be seen as stealing full credit for any ideas that involved many other people. My conceit has its limits1.'
I ask him what his favourite forums are on h2g2.
'My favorite hangout would have to be the Freedom From
Faith Foundation, which was set up as a sort
of zealot-free zone to discuss religion and related
issues. If I'm not there, or in Askh2g2, I'm
probably bouncing around in Peer Review. I've been a
Scout for as long as there have been Scouts, because
I'd gotten such great feedback on previous articles...
too late. This was a great opportunity to improve
Guide content, and I've enjoyed being a part of it.
It's just another in a long series of evolutions that
have made the experience so great. I stay around here
because I feel like I am *part* of the Guide. If
anyone else out there doesn't get that sense, too,
then maybe they should become more involved.'
I ask him to elaborate on what 'being part of the guide' entails...
'Well, contributing, I guess. Giving of your time not
just for your own agenda, but also to help h2g2
develop. There are countless ways to do so. You can
volunteer, you can write, provide feedback
(constructive), whatever. I come here to write and
exchange ideas. The scouting, the feedback, the Guide
to Clubs (see my page for link), those are things I
provide to give back to the community, and h2g2 as a
whole. I've probably given Mark and the rest of the gang a
reason to cringe whenever they see my name at the top
of a post, because I'm just as loud and opinionated as
anyone, and I have a way of sticking my nose into
everything. But if they're cringing inside, they're
not showing it.'
The future development of the guide is a constant topic of conversation on
h2g2. Researchers care passionately about the guide, and everyone has their
own ideas about the directions it should be heading. It seems all
communities like to talk about themselves quite a lot. Currently there are
some differences in opinion over what the goal, or aim, or the guide should
be. Should it become a comprehensive formal encyclopedia or a rough informal
'The goal the Guide should be headed for is whatever
the Guide decides it should be. It's completely
community driven. Every individual comes here to get
something different, and every individual airs their
opinions on every little subject. And, amazingly
enough, the people running the show are listening,
taking down notes, turning those personal whines and
rants into new tools, features, etc. People here write comprehensive
far surpass the content and quality of professional
resources (MS Encarta comes to mind), and that should
continue. But it should also be an informal guide.
Those articles belong here, too. The things that
should be here are whatever the people here want to
contribute. There is room for all of that, if not
necessarily in the Edited Guide.'
There has been much discussion of the editorial system and Peer Review
recently. I ask what Colonel Sellers thinks the next improvement should be.
'There has already been some discussion on this, and
people have come up with some great ideas. The big
problem we have right now is Peer Review. It doesn't
work very smoothly, and writers are not happy with it,
and rightly so. We've really just been experimenting
with it since it came about, now the Towers have a
laundry list of lessons-learned and suggestions for
improvement. We need a way to look at PR threads in
the order that they were created, so we can find those
threads for great articles that are slipping past the
Scouts. We need to automate the process by which we
sort threads between PR, the Writing Workshop, and the
Sin Bin, which will make the gems that much easier to
find. The current process is something akin to
shoveling snow in a blizzard... it makes a difference,
but not very well, and not for very long. Automatic
tools would enable us to snowplow through.'
'As far as the editing, there is some discussion right
now over whether it would be A Good Thing(tm) to allow
writers to have a look at subbed entries before the
sub has lost all control over it, to make comments.
This measure has my full support.'
A twenty-something 'computer geek' from Southern
California, Colonel Sellers describes himself as muddling his way through
life as best he
can, currently employed in a low-paid job where he is under-appreciated and
'But then, aren't we all?'
he adds with a note of
myself to be one lottery ticket away from realizing my
Putting aside the discussion on the odds of winning the
lottery, I ask if he has any ambitions, perhaps to make it as a writer.
'Professionally, all I write are emails and computer
procedures... boring. I need h2g2 for a bit of
stimulation. Ultimately I, like everyone else on this
site, I suppose, hope to write the Great Novel. It's
an idea that has been germinating in my head for about
10 years now. I won't go into much detail on it, but
I will say that it will be an epic fantasy of at least
three volumes, and it will also be a vehicle to
expound on some of my socio-political opinions.'
Probing what these 'socio-political opinions' might be, I ask first about his
opinions on the recent presidential campaign in America.
'I think GW Bush
is an awful choice. I thought Gore would be an awful
choice. That's why I couldn't really find myself
getting caught up in the election drama. I honestly
couldn't care which one of them made it in.'
'What really disappointed me is when people told me
that they liked Nader, but voted for Gore, because
they feared Bush. This is an example of people trying
to act like a collective, and getting it all wrong.
When a leader is elected by only
something like 20% of the voting age population, that
isn't democracy and when a large proportion of those
only voted for him because they considered him a
lesser of two evils, then the whole purpose of
democracy is lost. If they just obeyed their individual convictions,
democracy would work, and maybe we'd be here today to
congratulate President Nader. I didn't even vote for
Nader, but at least he was a man with convictions and
principles... not all of which I agree with, but I
respect him for standing by them. But, as we've seen,
those are handicapping qualities in a presidential
There has already been huge critism of George Bush from across the world. I
ask if the future is doomed.
'I really don't think that this government is going to
doom the world. GW Bush is simply not that powerful.
He's that stupid, but not that powerful. But things
could be better. I see the global situation like a
maturing teenager... it has so much potential that it
doesn't even realize it, and if it would just wake up
that potential, it would become reality. It wants to
settle for middle management, when it could be so much
'People have to start
trusting in themselves as individuals again.
Representative government can work... if you vote for
the right representative. When people vote for the
least disgusting candidate, that's who they get. They
have no reason to complain. They did it to
themselves. If they would get up and vote, and
actually vote for who they want, then it would work.
We cannot be represented by a two-party system. It
doesn't work. Most of us are neither left nor right,
but somewhere in the middle. If we all rejected the
polarities, and voted for the guy in the middle that
we truly wanted, without caring whether or not he
could actually win, we'd make the system work.'
'The only way we can
really tell them what we think is to vote. I have no
confidence in the current regime, and that lack of
confidence is reflected in my ballot. A write-in vote
for Mickey Mouse sends a more constructive message
than a vote for a candidate that you do not support,
simply to keep out the guy you really hate. The
candidate you don't support interprets those votes as
full support, and thinks he is speaking with the voice
of all those who voted for him.'
So is it simply a case of informing people about how to use their vote in
elections, or does there need to be more direct action and campaigning?
'There has to be more direct action, because the voters
are not the only problem. We *have* to get
corporations out of politics, at least here in
America. The problem with Bush and the Kyoto treaty,
which has the whole world up in arms, is that it has corporate
sponsorship written all over it. Bush was indebted to
those companies even more than a president usually is
because of the great expense of the legal battle in
Florida. Without all that campaign spending,
government officials would be accountable to the
people first, and the corporations second. Here, that
is simply not the case.'
I ask him what he is doing as an individual to try and change things.
'I spout my rants, such as this one, wherever I think I
might find an audience which is willing to hear. I
follow my own advice, and I am proud to say that I
haven't voted for anyone who actually won since I cast
my first ballot in 1992. I can point my finger at the
people who voted for someone just to be on the winning
side, or who voted for the major party candidate they
disliked the least, and say "This is YOUR fault, not
Moving away from politics, I come back to something he mentioned near the
beginning, the Freedom from Faith Foundation. I ask if he is 'free from
faith' and what the problem with faith is.
'As a devout atheist, I'm plenty free from faith. I
look at religion and think, 'What is the point?' I'd
like to think that we've all reached, as a society, an
age where we can put aside childish things. We know
that the Tooth Fairy isn't buying baby teeth at a
dollar each. We know that a fat man isn't shoving
himself down chimneys to bring our children
transforming, karate-kicking robot/cars. We know
there is no Boogie Man waiting to snatch us up if
we're outside after dark. Our parents told us these
things to make us behave. We're grown up now. We
know how to behave. Well, all except the religious
kids, if the Palestinian or Afghani examples are any
So religion is basically another Santa Claus. A way of getting people to do
as they are told?
'Religion is whatever that religion makes it. The
Taliban is a form of social control. On varying
levels, so are all of the other Judeo-Christian
religions. They can also be a coping mechanism. That
aspect of them is so built-up that people believe they
*need* religion. It's the other way around. Religion
'Unfortunately, too many religions teach people to
feel, rather than to think. They talk about tolerance
while they foster bigotry. And religion can be the
excuse for a level of atrocity that can't be motivated
by any other factors, save perhaps jingoism or
insanity. Religion isn't the whole problem with the
world, but a lot of problems would be resolved if we
simply did without.'
Noticing that his views may be perhaps controversial, though not neccesarily
unfair, I wonder if he provokes much of a reaction on h2g2.
'As I'm sure this interview will show, I am opinionated
and not just a little conceited, and I'm not afraid of
showing it. But I do make apologies where
appropriate, and admit when I'm wrong and/or stupid,
which happens more often than I'd like.
'There are very few things that I take seriously, and
I'm usually the first person to point out the
absurdity in any tragedy. My girlfriend thinks I
should take up professional comedy... but then, she's
supposed to tell me lies like that. It's a side of me
that rarely comes across on h2g2, though, because it's
so easy to misunderstand humour when there are no clues
from tone, inflection, or body language available. My
sort of humour is a bit morbid and rough, and if taken
literally, generates lots of flaming posts. I manage
to provoke enough of them when I'm serious.'
It's easy to see how Colonel Sellers can provoke a heated debate, but there
is always a need for serious discussion. h2g2 is not just a place of fun and
games, online communities have always been areas that can facilitate good
discussion and conversation. The Colonel himself puts up a good argument,
much of which I agree with. Above all, he is dedicated to h2g2 and responds
well to other people, and I leave the interview keeping an open eye out for
his name on the h2g2 forums.
Next Week: Ottox the Ace on the h2g2 addiction...
Subscribe to this series of Interviews and be notified when each interview is published!
The Frankie Roberto Interview index