element14: Hi Mark. Tell us a little about yourself and your technical experience.
Mark: Way back in 1977 I started with our local (New Zealand) telecommunications company which was part of the New Zealand Post Office. I trained as a radio technician there. We worked on radio electronics equipment, right through to microwave links for communications. I left there in 1988 and did a brief stint for a year as a photographer. Then, after that I joined with a partner and we were servicing gaming machines and also doing a lot of nightclub lighting work; mostly control and repair of electronic stuff used in the entertainment industry. In 1991 I joined an electronics company that was looking after the servicing of automated fuel dispensing systems for trucks. I don't think you have them over in America, but here we have an arrangement where the trucks can pull in, put a card into a machine, and immediately authorize that fuel can be delivered. The company also looked after the petrol pump equipment and the servicing and electronics associated with that. In 1998, I left and went to work for a company involved with the gaming industry but they also did a lot of technical research and development of lighting effects and the use of plastic fiber optics. Then, unfortunately, the company manager had a heart attack and they had to wind up the company, which was a shame. I then joined Airways Corporation New Zealand, which looks after all of the air traffic control systems for New Zealand.
Anyway, in Christchurch we basically monitor all of the equipment and provide the help desk function, if you like, for the entire country. We're the first line of support. We also repair and look after all of the equipment used within the center at Christchurch. That covers also a lot of networking equipment and computer systems.
element14: That's where you are presently?
Mark: That's correct, that's where I am presently.
element14: How did you first discover the element14 Community site?
Mark: I had always been using element14 for parts (Editor’s note: In New Zealand, Farnell is now called element14 New Zealand, an operating division of Premier Farnell, a world-leading distributor of electronic components as well as and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) products, hence parts can be purchased in New Zealand from element14). Then, I think I stumbled across the community more or less just before the Raspberry Pi was due to come out. I became involved with the community and it basically escalated from there.
element14: How would you describe your experience contributing to element14 Community? Have you found that you developed contacts you wouldn't have otherwise? Have you developed friends through it?
Mark: I'm in the Top Members' group, which is probably not everyone's cup of tea. But I have, yes, definitely picked up some very interesting contacts, entered into some discussions in areas that I probably would never have touched on before, and been involved with technologies that I probably would have liked to have been involved with, but never had my arm twisted enough to join in.
element14: Can you think of some examples of technologies, or things you weren't aware of, or people that you've then had further contact with?
Mark: It happens quite a lot. I'm chatting on wireless for a start. Some of the boards that element14 have produced or made available for RoadTests, and through some of the RoadTest reviews, I found uses for some of the stuff that has been quite interesting though I'm not sure I can pull a specific on some of them.
element14: Since you mentioned RoadTest. What's your experience been with regard to that? Getting products, reviewing products, finding interesting products to request, can you give me your take on that?
Mark: The RoadTests are a very interesting experience. They do stretch your imagination in an application area, as to what you would use it for and they get you thinking about it. I think element14 Community has more to do with its RoadTests in that some of the, shall we say, recipients are probably not giving out the amount of information that element14 Community readers could use. That's my opinion anyway. I think some of the choices (of reviewers and reviews to publish) are less than what element14 Community could use.
element14: Since you're in New Zealand, have you run into any problems in terms of getting RoadTest product? I’m thinking about potential tariffs and things like that?
Mark: When you order parts from the New Zealand element14 website they are actually shipped from Australia overnight. It's extremely good. There is absolutely no fault with local shipping; from a customer's point of view, it's absolutely brilliant. The RoadTest product is completely separate. They are sent from America, which has its own interesting quirks.
element14: Such as?
Mark: Since they ship generally from America it means that you're given an American version of the power supplies. There are also delays due to the fact that shipping is not overnight. In my opinion a local source should be used if the parts are there.
element14: Is there anything else in particular that you could think of that could be done to improve RoadTest?
Mark: It’s hard for me to say since I don’t know how the RoadTests are normally chosen--whether they are chosen by the manufacturer or element14 Community. But I do know that some of the RoadTest reviews could be beefed up in terms of what is required. I also have seen some good ones. I think that there seems to be a lot of people that only join up for the RoadTests (but don’t contribute to the forum discussions). I don't think that helps the community overall. I think that some of the RoadTests possibly need to have their criteria tightened a little bit. In some of the tests the reviews are minimal at best.
element14: Have you participated in any of the design challenges that are placed on the site from time to time (such as the wireless power challenge), where a supplier gets together with the site and they provide a kit and the member has to describe the project he plans to work on?
Mark: I am involved in the wireless one. It's been challenging and some of my areas of expertise have been shown to be lacking [chuckle]. However, I am learning, so that's one good thing. Some of the other design challenges I have not been involved in, because they're way outside of my realm. I'm a hardware person, not a software person. I have enjoyed some of them (challenges). The energy harvesting challenge I think was extremely good, and I think you do need more of those.
element14: What would you say was the most interesting element14 Community - related project that you've been involved in?
Mark: I think the Pi Camera one was a very good one, the Raspberry Pi Catch Santa challenge was good. Unfortunately, the delivery was after Santa arrived. However, the idea of it and what they did and how it was done was quite useful to people.
element14: element14 Community members are very active with regard to Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Are these areas of the site that you look at regularly?
Mark: Arduino is right up my alley. I have been assisting a local magazine with Arduino. I'm quite familiar with Arduino and I'm quite capable, and can help members with Arduino. As for Raspberry Pi, I'm still learning more than most people probably know. So, I can't support that. However, electronics is electronics and in general developing good practices is the best thing you can teach someone.
element 14: Please talk about element14 Community and Arduino
Mark: element14 Community's process for Arduino is good but I don't know that they have as many projects as they do for other stuff. I can’t really say (comparatively speaking) whether they have a good range of accessories or if it’s at the right price.
Apart from that we see a lot of people coming to element 14 that are from what I call the instant generation. Those are the people who were brought up with a tablet or a phone or an electronic toy in their hands from day one. Yet sometimes it seems as if they are unable to use Google to search for answers. They want them instantly. A lot of those people are coming to element 14 for help, but (otherwise) they're not really contributing to the community.
element14: So you are saying that you think there's a lot of people who come with a question but they're not really contributing beyond that?
Mark: Yes, that is correct, yes.
element14: What other areas of the site do you follow? Do you follow Ben Heck, for example, and his videos?
Mark: Unfortunately, I'm in New Zealand, and as much as we have technology video downloading is, shall we say, rather slow. And while the rest of the world seems to have extremely high speed unlimited broadband, we have what I consider to be third world, or a bit more than third world, video rates. So no, I don't generally follow much of the videos. It's mainly just a problem of the fact that it takes so long to download and then it takes so long to watch, et cetera.
element14: Thanks, Mark, for your contributions to element14 Community
Check out what mcb1 is up to on the element14 Community by clicking over to his profile here.