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Meet Ivo… ♦ Super User Mod ♦

May 11, 2011 by . 2 comments

This weeks interview is a little bit different from all others… this time we interview the interviewer! Ivo Flipse has been with Super User since its creation and is one of its ♦ Mods.  Besides Diago, he and Troggy are Super User’s most experienced Mods.  Ivo hails from the Netherlands, and is currently working on a PAWS program which we’ll talk about later. Winking smile Here is his story:

First off, how exactly do you pronounce your name?

I can’t stand it when you English lot try to pronounce my name the way it’s written. It sounds like ‘eye-voo’, I prefer when people say ‘ee-vo’, like in evolution. Interestingly enough, that’s also the way they use my name in Latin America (thank you Wikipedia).

My name (Kronos), obviously means the all powerful mighty Father of Zeus.  Does your name mean anything significant in Dutch?

Nothing as noteworthy as your name. It resembles the Slavic word for yew bows. Even my Steam nickname, Guzhno, means nothing special. It was actually an attempt to call my Counter Strike character after an orc, Grishnákh, but my alcohol induced-memory loss caused me to get it totally wrong… Later on, I started using Espilfovi in World of Warcraft, because a cousin of mine had nicked the name on his server!

 

 

On Super User I used to go by ‘Ivo’, but because there’s another Ivo Flipse my Google vanity searches got polluted with results about him, I decided to abuse Super Users Google-fu and switch my username to ‘Ivo Flipse’. I like Googling myself again ever since :-)

So Ivo, tell us a little about yourself, who are you and how did you grow up to become a Super User?

Actually I wasn’t very interested in computers until I got one on my room near the end of my high school period. Even then I’m really a user, I didn’t meddle with my hardware, didn’t try to program and didn’t dare to mess up my parents network :-P As I got older, I started building my own PC, because I could built a bigger bang for the bucks than buying a pre-built system.

While I’m almost exclusively a Windows user, I have about over a decade worth of experience meddling with it (even from Windows 3.1). Because I never had any formal computer education, I learned everything from (often painful) experience. I remember one time I was cleaning up my C: drive and spotted some files from 2004, whilst the computer was installed in 2006. I decided they must be worthless, so I deleted boot.ini, NTDLR and NTDETECT… Another painful experience was formatting the wrong drive during an installation and me having to go to the store to get a second 500 Gb drive to restore all the files to. I managed to get the files back, but you can imagine my horror at seeing my Data-drive formatted.

Later on, I went on to study Human Movement Science and got more involved with using various technologies for measuring movement. When I landed an internship at a company that produces pressure measurement systems, I was asked to help gather requirements and come up with user interface designs. This sparked even more interest in technology and computer software in general. Amonst all my searching for information I stumbled upon Joel on Software and Codinghorror and read nearly all blog posts. This sparked my interest in Stack Overflow, however because I wasn’t a programmer, I didn’t have much use of it, but I greatly enjoyed watching the site grow.

Then as I ended up working for the company, Super User launched and I was instantly hooked. While I often knew what the answer was, I almost Google for sources to ‘prove’ my answer was the right one. To beat the fastest guns in the West, you can imagine the frantic Googling at times to get the answer in on time.

Every time you eat waffles, do you always wear your Super User T-Shirt?

I wear my Super User T-shirt so often, my girl friend is complaining about it ;-)

You’re not from the country known as the United States, but came and visited. What did you think?

Well I guess these pictures say enough :-D

So, you’re one of the first mods to the site, and have been here since it’s inception.  What changes have you seen to Super User that you have liked? Disliked? What changes do you want to see in the future?

I feel that the questions have become more and more obscure over time. Case in point: How to select the account on the login screen of Windows 7 by start typing the name? While such questions might do the name Super User honor, I feel it no longer has anything to do with actually using the computer. This is probably caused by the fact that a lot of the initial users of Super User came from Stack Overflow and thus have a mindset that anything on a computer can or should be changed.

Personally, I’d prefer if we catered to an audience that knows something is possible with the existing capabilities of the software, but simply doesn’t know how or with what tools to perform it. I’ve learned about a lot of great tools through trying to answer questions on Super User or reading those of others like: SyncBack, TreeSize, TerraCopy, Camtasia or Handbrake. Other great examples are questions such as Freeze row and columns in Excel (and the same time) or questions where I’ve messed up Windows Win + E keyboard shortcut stopped working. Such things worked perfectly before and need to be fixed, that’s where a Super User comes in to save the day!

I think things are improving, especially thanks to the explosive growth of Stack Exchange, Super User seems to get more and more new users. These bring in different questions and diversify the topics we cover. With the tight moderation we have on Super User, I’m quite optimistic that we’ll keep moving in the right direction.

What do you enjoy about being a Super User ♦ moderator?

I’ve always did my best to help hold up the standards of quality on Super User, but it was difficult to reach 10k rep needed to get access to more user friendly moderator tools. We’ve also had quite a struggle to get sufficient 3k rep users, who would help in voting to close questions or perform other moderator tasks. Then there were problems with web app questions becoming off-topic and Stack Overflow using us as a their trashcan. So the only real way to keep the site clean was by having the moderators do it. For a long time TheTXI, splattne and Diago were the only mods, but we burned out mods so quickly that after half a year or so Troggy and I had to come help Diago, who until then had been doing most of the work on his own. From then on, I was really able to aid in keeping the site clean. While I’m sure some users think ‘we should let the community take care of it’, they forget that 80% of Super Users community are drive-by Google visits. These users don’t know nor care very much about how Stack Exchange works and tend to leave a lot of crap, doing my part in helping keep the site clean feels like a great way to repay the site.

You don’t really have time to answer questions on Super User due to you duties as a Mod.  Is this a disappointment or does the ♦ make up for it?

While as a ♦-mod I don’t need to wait for the general consensus of the community when performing moderating tasks, most of the time I’m just cleaning up flags the community left for us. Before the introduction of the moderator dashboard, I would look at what questions had close votes and check whether I agreed or not. Given most users will regularly check the site for questions to answer, every time I come back to the site, there are new flags waiting for me! That way it can be quite hard as a moderator to still find some time to actually spent on answering questions too.

While we got a great fresh batch of new mods, which have taken most of the moderating tasks from my hands, I’m still often too busy to answer questions on Super User. I frequently check Meta.SuperUser, (Meta.)Gaming, Meta.StackOverflow, Fitness and Discuss.Area51 for questions/discussions to participate in. I also have the Super User and Gaming blogs take up a lot of attention and between all that I still need to try and get work done!

You’re a very active user on other Stack Exchange sites including Gaming, even a pro tempore mod on Fitness & Nutrition.  What draws you to these other sites?  Do you have a favorite?

Currently I must actually admit that Fitness is my favorite Stack Exchange-site, though its having a hard time establishing itself between the other sites that draw the network-users attention. But finally there’s a site where I can truly call myself an expert!

I’m lucky in that nearly every Stack Exchange site, I’d like to participate in now exists (Android, Gaming, Fitness), though I always keep an eye out for new interesting sites on Area51. Since the launch of Chat, there’s also a moderator chatroom, where mods can discuss problems and which is a great way for new mods to get some peer review. Given there’s no moderators.stackexchange, I’ve spent quite some time helping out mods from the new sites.

The most important lesson I’ve learned as a moderator, mostly from Diago and random, is that:

“If you want popular, be ready to close the off topic questions that are sure to flood through while you’re in the incubation stage (and steel your resolve)” [quote from random]

The discussions on Gaming about [game-rec] are a great example of this problem. If you know these problems are going to be a problem, you need a zero tolerance approach to keep them from the site. When you make exceptions, be sure to have some vocal users on Meta call you out for it.

Another thing to remember is that:

“There’s going to be a vocal group of users who want “anything goes” & will try to push the envelope any chance they get. Then there are the helpful people who take cues from what they perceive as what the rest of the community is doing for moderation. Then there is the silent group of experts you want to keep on your site who will just leave if they start to see a crappy site. The goal of the moderator is to keep the 1st group in check, educate the 2nd group, and make sure the 3rd group is happy” [quote from Mark Trapp]

This is why its useful to have fellow moderators peer review your decisions, because they help you sanity check against the often quite vocal resistance of a small group of users.

While helping my fellow mods, I’ve lurked around nearly every SE-site and left comments on their meta’s to share my own experiences. And off course, I still get to answer some questions, which in the end is what’s Stack Exchange is all about.

Are there any other SE-sites you like to use or wished they existed?

 

While I love Movies and discuss them much like they do on SciFi.SE, I fear that the initial audience won’t be the users at which the site is actually targeted. Other than that, I’d love sites about 3D printing and modelling, but until I can get my hands on a nice 3D printer, I wouldn’t be much use on the site. I’m also interested in the Computational Natural Science proposal, but I fear I’ll first have to study some more to be able to participate…

What do you like to do with your spare time when not browsing the Stack Exchange network?

What spare time…? I’m active on so many sites, that you can easily spent/waste (make a pick) a whole day with just doing that. Then there’s the chat rooms, where I get to discuss stuff with interesting people and like I said earlier the blogs that need to be managed.

But granted, I occasionally play games (Starcraft 2 or Portal 2) and I recently bought Rock Band 3 with a Squire Stratocaster, about which you’ll probably read more in the near future on the Gaming blog ;-) I’m also a major movie geek, which I mostly watch while doing other stuff on the computer or I go see them in the cinema. I also started Running again (after being injured and a cold winter), which off course fits nicely with me being a moderator on the Fitness site! I just had the 10th workout of my marathon program, which is quite intense…

Between all that I’m very addicted to reading tech news (though cutting back lately), which fills up all the gaps in between very nicely. Google Reader, Twitter and Pulse can provide me with a lot of stuff to waste even more time on.

We can see that you’re working on a pretty major project with… Paws?! What exactly is that project?

I’m doing a project with a veterinary clinic to analyse pressure measurements with dogs! I asked a couple of Stack Overflow questions, one of which even became a Stellar question. But while the votes and the attention are great, the top notch answers are even better. Big props should go out to Joe Kington who has answered nearly all my important questions.

I’m slightly amazed how much I’ve been able to learn since I started working on this project about 9 months ago. I started to work for myself to be able to full-time work on projects like this, even though I had no real programming experience. Working my way through a big stack of Python books and with the frequent help of Stack Overflow, I feel like I’ve come quite the way. The GUI you see below is a rough 0.1 version of my PawsRUs app, which I rant a lot about to DMA57361 in the Fake Programmers chatroom.

user image

You’ve also been involved with this Blog since it’s inception, and continue to further help the creation of other blogs.  Do you feel that we’ve made the right move with these blogs?  Any suggestions?

I’ve given an elaborate write up about the blogs on this MSO answer, but I reckon its clear that I think the blogs are the next best thing after chat. We get to highlight awesome content from the sites; get to review products we like or warn the community if we dislike them; write more canonical posts to address frequently asked questions and learn to become better writers in the process. Its bi-WINNING if you ask me :-)

But I’m ambitious and want to help other Stack Exchange sites organize their own blogs. The Stack Exchange team is currently working on a theme for Blogoverflow, the staging ground for Stack Exchange blogs. When this is finished, they will start hosting the blogs for us (currently Thomas McDonald from WordPress hosted them). As soon as Gaming’s blog becomes more self-sufficient, I’m hoping to get a Fitness blog going as well.

However, its clear that blogging doesn’t scale across communities automagically. It only works if there are sufficient users who want to help write posts regularly. Especially because the current way the blogs work, the blog’s editors are in charge and determine what gets published or not. Obviously that bar of entry both maintains a certain level of quality, but also shuts out users who don’t want this kind of peer review.

I’m not sure whether these privileges could be tied in with rep, because high rep users aren’t necessarily the best bloggers and the rep boundaries aren’t the same on each Stack Exchange site (10k rep is peanuts on SO). For now, I guess our current organization will work the best, because in the end quality > quantity…

Is there a user that you’re dying to read the next interview with?

I’m cheating, but I picked all the users I’ve interviewed so far and off course I can continue to do so ;-) It would actually be interesting to start interviewing people from outside the network as well, so if anyone has any ideas: I’m all ears!

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2 Comments

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  • studiohack says:

    well done Ivo and KronoS, excellent interview!

  • Finally got to read this last night! Had it open for ages…

    I finally know how to say your name – I guessed incorrectly that it was eye-vough… will remember evo now!

    It sounds like we have had similar experiences! I remember deleting an important partition once! And… did something similar to your deleting system files… but a bit more stupid… that can wait for another day!

    Brilliant interview guys!

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