The Frankie Roberto Interview

1 Conversation

The Frankie Roberto<br/>

Frankie meets... MaW

on The Special Constabulary, Harry Potter and writers block... amongst other things.

This week I talk to MaW, a fellow contributor to the Post. MaW has recently written an entry on the Special Constabulary. I ask if he is part of this voluntary branch of police force.

'I thought you might ask about that, although I promise I didn't write it just to
make the interview more interesting. Honest. No, I'm not a Special, although if
fate had dealt me a different set of cards I would be. At the present time I am
unable to satisfy one of the requirements for entry into the Specials in all but
one police force that I am aware of. Unfortunately this force is not anywhere
near where I live, so at the moment it's not possible. In the future, though,
the rules may change, and this enlightened force may spread their example to
others. If you've read my Entry well enough, you should even know which force
I'm talking about...'

What MaW is referring to is the different policies which various police forces in the country have towards equal opportunities, for example, setting different eyesight requirements. I ask if MaW thinks it is generally a good idea to
actively encourage a diverse range of employees (including disabled citizens).

'I do. Now, obviously there are limits on various levels of fitness required for
particular positions - it's not going to be very easy to be a PC if you've only
got one leg, for example - but I do not believe that current rules about
eyesight reflect what people with correctable vision are capable of doing.
Obviously I'm biased on this point, but I believe that despite my eyesight I am
capable of doing anything a Special with normal vision can do. Now, if you want
me to comment on people with more severe disabilities, there are a great deal of
tasks within the police service that people who aren't able to be full police
officers could do. The government have proposed the idea of civilian case
managers, who could take over the paperwork after a prisoner has been brought in
to custody, freeing the arresting officer to go back out on patrol, or to
respond to another call. There is no reason why the aforementioned person with
one leg could not be employed for such a role, and there are other support
staff, such as control room operators, and front desk staff, who don't have to
be full police officers and could be staffed by people who aren't able to become
police officers. It has been suggested that perhaps people who want to join the
Specials but, for instance, can't meet the eysight requirements, should be
offered the opportunity to work on a voluntary basis in a support role at the
police station, which is a move I would welcome, although I don't think that
correctable eyesight is a sufficient disability to keep me off the streets.
Still, anything would be better than nothing, and it would still be helping.'

The police often have quite a negative image. I ask if this has affected MaW's
willingness to voluntarily join a division of the service.

'It has given me pause for thought on a few occasions, but anybody who can see
past the negative images enough to want to join in the first place isn't really
going to be put off by it. That Specials aren't paid doesn't really affect my
decision, and I would be no more eager to join if the government do start paying
Speials as they have said that they might. It does tend to make me cautious
about who I tell about my intentions (he says, telling the entire world) because, unfortunately, there are people out there who don't like the police at
all, and definitely don't like people who want to join, but that is
unfortunately something that police all around the world have to live with.'

How's the juggling going?

'The juggling is going well. I'm still a member of the Juggling Society at
University, which according to our rather outdated web page entitles me to shout
"My name's MaW and I'm a juggler" whenever I want. I'm attempting to master the
four ball fountain, which is basically two in one hand, but with two in each
hand simultaneously. This is difficult, especially since I spend most of my time
practising poi, which are a great deal of fun until you get a swing wrong and
they hit you very hard around the back of the head, or in some other tender
spot. However, when I get confident enough to try fire poi, I am sure the effort
will be worthwhile because they look really, really cool. Or should that be hot?'

MaW writes a weekly column for the Post, 'MaW's Musings', in which he talks about various issues, including, more often than not, music. I ask what he generally thinks of the music industry at the moment.

'To put it simply, some of it's bad and some of it's a bit less than bad. When
you say "the music industry" I think more of the record companies than what any
artists are actually turning out, and it seems to me that the record companies
aren't being very nice to people. I can understand them wanting to prevent
piracy of music on the huge scale which the Internet makes possible, but I think
they're going about it in a way which is bound to make people hate them. The
best way to make people do what you want is to get them to agree with you about
how things should be done, and prosecuting anyone and everyone who you think
might possibly have or be developing a technology which might conceivably be
used to copy music freely over the Internet is not the way to go about making
people like you. I'm talking mainly about the RIAA here. Personally, if I like a
CD I buy it rather than downloading it from the Internet - I like to have a
physical copy of the work, and also I think that if the artist has produced
something good, they deserve to be rewarded for it. It's just a shame the record
companies get so much of the money. The Internet is, however, a useful way to
find out if any tracks on an album other than the first single are any good.'

MaW mentioned in one of his columns a while back that he was suffering from 'writer's block'. This is something that Douglas Adams reportedly suffered from quite a lot, and affects all writers to varying degrees, though some people dispute whether it actually exists. MaW explains how it affected him.

'It was terrible. It mostly affected my Post column of course, which was
unpleasant as it was Wednesday and I hadn't written anything, and I didn't have
a clue what to write! Writing about Writer's Block was the best thing I could
think of, and it turned out pretty bad in the end. It also caused me problems
with programming, actually, because the ideas just wouldn't come, and I could
sit there in front of the computer for ages and ages trying to think of things
to write and ways to solve all the problems that would yammering at me (quite
simple ones, mostly), but I'd end up playing those simple card games and puzzle
games that come with most Linux distributions, including the incredibly addictive
GLines, and GNOME-XBill, both of which are really rather silly, simple and
pointless, but they did seem to fit my mood fairly well at the time. I'm just
glad it didn't happen to me today when I had to write an essay analysing this
program I'd written. That one's due in tomorrow at 4pm. Thankfully, it doesn't
usually affect my University work, only personal projects.'

MaW has also written (in a different sense of the word), a nifty windows program called GuidePost, which is a utility to help Researchers use GuideML, and many Researchers do find it useful, especially when joining the site. I ask what the idea behind it was.

'The idea is really very simple - when GuideML first became available for use in
Entries, I learned it and found what a good tool it is for producing really
good-looking and easy to read Guide Entries, not to mention fabulous User
Spaces. It was fairly obvious that the process of writing in GuideML would be
made easier by a dedicated program which had features to help people that were
speccifically designed for GuideML. So, I grabbed hold of my copy of Delphi and
started programming. It sort of snowballed from there. The long-term aim is some
sort of WYSIWYG editor, but I just don't have the time for something like that
right now.'

MaW is also part of the h2g2 Programmers Corner, and is currently studying a computer science degree course. I ask what aspects of computers he finds most interesting.

'Computer software is what I find most interesting. The hardware's good too - the
software wouldn't be much good without it after all, but what I enjoy doing is
coming up with ways to do things using that same hardware that are perhaps a bit
different, and hopefully better, than the other ways of doing things. I've never
come up with anything particularly innovative or spectacular, but there is a
great deal of satisfaction to be had with just making something work.'

I ask what his career aspirations are.

'As for a career, well, over the last summer holiday I worked on web development
- database driven sites scripted in PHP - and did some C++ development for
Windows CE 3 "Pocket PC" platform. It convinced me that software development is
the way to go, but it also showed me that I don't particularly want to do web
work for the rest of my life, and that I never want to go near Microsoft's C++
APIs ever again, unless the .NET platform turns out to be as good as it could
possibly be (in which case I'll be developing for it using DotGNU, a Free
alternative under development by the Free Software Foundation).'

I ask for MaW's opinions on the Harry Potter books and movie, having read that he is a bit of a fan...

'I love Harry Potter. I've read all the books - my sister FABT has three of them
(she doesn't like book two very much) - several times, and I'm planning to go
and see the movie tomorrow afternoon. If I manage to get a seat, I am planning
to write about it in my Musings this week1.'

Another random topic, this time on a more serious note. I ask MaW about his opinions on the current 'war against terrorism'.

'I may be a victim of government propaganda here, but I see it more as a war
against the Taliban regime, who never controlled all of Aghanistan and hopefully
won't control anywhere for much longer. I know it's billed as a war against
terrorism, but I don't think that kind of strategy is going to work to eliminate
terrorism properly and for ever. There are people out there who hate everything
our version of civilisation stands for, with partial good reason, and it's not
only those people who need to change to bring peace to the world.'

Lastly, seeing as he comments during the interview that I am not a very taxing interviewer, I ask him to tell me about
'Quality as the result of a carefully controlled system', which he had to give a last-minute presentation about last week (see last week's Musings).

'In a small peanut shell:

  • Work out what the problem actually is
  • Work out exactly what the solution has to be capable of to correctly and
    completely solve the problem
  • Research materials, tools, manufacturing techniques and customer preferences
  • Brainstorm designs which fulfill customer requirements and also solve the problem as in step 2
  • Choose the best design and build a prototype
  • Evaluate the prototype. If it doesn't work, choose another design or refine
    the current one and try again until it does work
  • Make the thing
  • Sell it
  • Get rich
  • Go home
  • Have a nice hot bath
  • Spend the rest of your life on h2g2

And if you can follow that, then good luck to you!

Frankie Roberto

Next Week: Amy Pawloski.

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1Which he does, infact, do... ed

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