My direct team at Microsoft, which owns content for Visual Studio (pretty much everything you see under https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/visualstudio/) has a new opening for a Content Developer! All the details are on the Microsoft Careers site for job ID 286233. This posting is for a junior position, as the experience bar is set at only 2 years of software-related work, even if it's not directly in content.

What is a Content Developer? Well, we are responsible for the Visual Studio documentation, but content also includes working on videos, sample code, and anything else that helps developers understand how to be productive with Visual Studio and other related tools (I handle the NuGet docs too, for example).

Perhaps this doesn't sound as glamorous as writing code, but consider this: the primary factor today in the adoption of a technology is content, not features. Knowing this, us content developers strive to make that content experience the best it can be because it has so much impact on the success of the products. As Miguel de lcaza tweeted, "When I ask myself "what would have the most impact today?" I sit down and write documentation."

So come join us and have that impact yourself. You can apply directly, of course, but also feel free to contact me directly for more, including @kraigbro on Twitter.


And now for something completely different.

 

I'm pleased to announce that, in contrast to my many appearances at developer events over the years, I'll be speaking at the Conference on Precession and Ancient Knowledge (CPAK), Sept 30-Oct 2 in Palm Springs(Rancho Mirage), CA.

 

TL;DR – if you have any interest in ancient technologies like the Baghdad Battery and the Antikythera device, or in subjects like non-traditional Egyptology and the 10,000 year-old ruins of Gobekli Tepi in Turkey and throw a wrench into mainstream views of cultural evolution, read on.

 

I've attended CPAK in the past, and it's full of intriguing research and reports by some real characters, which I guess now includes me. :) But perhaps what attracts me most is this disclaimer on the conference's About page:

 

Warning: This conference may address untraditional viewpoints subject to prosecution by the paradigm police. If you work in an untenured position in academia or other learning institution where unorthodox thinking is discouraged we advise you to avoid this event.

 

For the curious, the origins of this conference and its subject matter starts back in the late 1800s, with one Swami Sri Yukteswar, who is known as the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi–yes, the book that Steve Jobs, among others, rave about. Sri Yukteswar wrote a short book called The Holy Science that, among other things clarified the ancient Vedic tradition of the "yugas" or cycles of time. Based on faulty calculations in that tradition, many believe that the world is heading into a 432,000 dark age within a cycles of millions of years (abandon all hope, ye who enter here). Yukteswar instead wrote that the cycle is more on the order of 24,000-26,000 years, and is related to the astronomical phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes (see Wikipedia). Accordingly, he pointed out that we today are in an ascending arc of an age of energy, which makes a lot of sense looking at the last couple hundred years. Yogananda made note of this in Autobiography of a Yogi (Chapter 16, read online here or here).

 

Based on Yukteswar's work as well as worldwide traditions about similar cycles–e.g. the Greek traditions of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron ages–a number of historians, scientists, and other researchers have taken an active interest looking for evidence of the cycle within ancient sites and ancient knowledge (e.g. myths and legends). There have been general studies, such as Hamlet's Mill, The Yugas (the author of which is my next door neighbor) and Lost Star of Myth and Time (written by CPAK's organizer), and the DVD The Great Year (narrated by James Earl Jones).

 

There is also a host of more specific, ongoing research, such as the work of Boston University geologist Robert Schoch and Egyptologist John Anthony West, TV programs like The Pyramid Code (on Netflix), and more. I just recently finished reading two books by software engineer Laird Scranton that analyze ancient creation myths of both the Egyptians and a modern-day tribe in Mali called the Dogon, demonstrating that those myths clearly spell the atomic and subatomic theories of matter along with the fundamental tenants of modern string theory. Go figure.

 

Like I said, something completely different, and I'm looking forward to participating as a speaker this year. My topic is Participating in the Cycle of the Ages, Today. Should be fun!

 

Perhaps you might join us! Register at https://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1810152.

 

CPAK-SpeakerPromo-Brockschmidt



Larry Conklin, author of the blog post at http://voixsecurity.blogspot.com/2015/12/privacy-breadcrumbs-and-personally.html, wrote me recently to let me know about this post in which picks up on my mention in Programming Windows Store Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, 2nd Edition about obscuring my geolocation in a screenshot. The point of his post is that with all the other public information out there, it's not all that difficult to get a reasonably good bead on where I live.

I wrote him back, of course, with the note below (also in his blog comment), explaining that the public information isn't quite good enough:

What fun! I don’t mind at all being the subject of your blog, as obviously I put out a fair amount of personal information already. In my particular case, however, the home address that appears by the methods you outline provides my mailing address, but not the location of my physical house. In my community here we have a shared mailroom, which means that 200 residential addresses all start with the same street address. My house itself has a different address that’s used by only a few contractors and service providers. (I should also add that one of the other services came up with me living in Bellevue, WA, which hasn’t been true since 1993, meaning that its pulling from outdated public records. J)

Fortunately, what I have not shared is something like an aerial photo of my house location, because if I did, you’d be able to look around the location of my mailing address and find the house itself.

At the same time, if you drove into my community, you’d probably find a sufficient number of friendly people willing to point to the house especially if you had my name and claimed to be making a special delivery or something.

I should add that quite a few of my neighbors probably aren't entirely sure where our house is, exactly! :)


The other day an old co-worker from my days at Microsoft on the Oslo/M/Quadrant projects, asked if a college friend could pick my brain on being a content developer in advance of his upcoming interview at Microsoft for that role. I wrote back a lengthy reply (because it's fun for me to think about such things), and in the spirit of Scott Hanselman's Keys Left pricinple, I'm sharing all of that here.

To respond to the young man's question, I asked myself, what would I be looking for if I interviewed someone for the job? I had to admit that I've been through only one content-specific interview myself. It was just a couple of hours because I already had such a strong reputation. The interview was really more about getting to know people I’d be working with.

First, let me explain how I see the role of "content developer" vs. "programming writer." I personally like the idea of “content developer” much more because it opens itself to many kinds of content that aren’t just about writing: code, videos, presentations at conferences, improving answers on StackOverflow, etc.

I’ve seen too many people with the title of “writer” get stuck in the mindset that their job is to put words on a page, and that they measure success by how many words they write. A content developer, on the other hand, measures success in terms of effectiveness of communication—does the content I’ve produced help developers get to the needed information and answers quickly? And does it answer the questions they actually have, including one they’ve not identified yet because they’re still learning a technology?

Thinking this way, content development is an ongoing process just like software development. And just as with software, sometimes the right answer in that development is to cull, prune, and even wholesale delete large amounts of previous work because they’re obsolete, unhelpful, or otherwise don’t have much value.

Side note: It’s worth thinking about what this means in terms of metrics collected for content. Traditionally, people have worried about page views and time spent on page, but for developers, this doesn’t necessarily make sense. For developer documentation, the real question is whether they found their answer quickly, which means time spent on page is actually irrelevant. (That measure is really applicable only to sites that have on-page advertising, because more time means they can charge more for that advertising space!)

Next, I looked through the job listing itself (on the Microsoft Careers site) to see what skills it identifies for the role. Here are my thoughts on those:

  • “Enable the creation of amazing apps, innovative services, and creative experiences through the education of the developer ecosystem.” This tells you that the role is very much about education, not performance as an code-monkey. It’s about the ability to effectively and clearly communicate, so be prepared to demonstrate where you’ve had success in this way.
     
  • “It will be your job to learn about Microsoft platforms and technologies in order to teach devs…” I like to say that this role is all about suffering as much as possible in order to save many other developers from suffering. That is, I like to go through pain and anguish to figure out some difficult task because within Microsoft you have the luxury of then going to the engineering teams that create the stuff itself. Nobody on the outside—that is, the customers your serving—have this luxury. So you’re the bridge to take what they know and present it in a way that external people can most effectively utilize. A specific implication of this is that although engineering teams can afford to think in the silo of their particular domain (such as touch input), a content developer has to meaningfully relate those specifics to a much broader picture, such as “gaming apps” that happen to use touch input…and a whole lot of other stuff! So be prepared to demonstrate any experiences you’ve had in being that kind of a bridge, of taking specific details and putting them in a broader context.
     
  • “This role leverages your passion for teaching, writing, and coding.” And in that order! So be prepared to demonstrate that passion. I will add that one of the most important qualities to demonstrate—something I would certainly look for in a candidate—is empathy. You cannot be an effective teacher or writer if you don’t understand the people you’re trying to educate or communicate with. So how do you go about understanding that audience? Think about that and be ready to talk about it, and if people don’t bring up matters of empathy or knowing your customer, bring it into the conversation yourself. I, for one, like to go to developer conferences for this purpose. I also like to read other blogs, monitor questions on forums (and answer a lot of them!). And when I’m writing, I try to keep part of my awareness separate so it can immediately respond to my work as if I was an outside reader. In that way I’ve been able to anticipate questions that someone might have, and then answer them right away.
     
  • In fact, a short time later the description says, “You’ll walk in the shoes of your customers…” This is what empathy is all about!
     
  • “You’ll start by diving into code and collaborating with people across engineering, design, and marketing to understand the end to end story.” Again, big picture thinking is part of the equation here, so demonstrate that you have the ability to collect a lot of specifics and abstract them into the big picture. And clearly, the ability to collaborate is very important. You need to be able to relate well and work with people who aren’t like you, but just as essential to the shared goals. Be prepared to give examples of anything you’ve done along these lines, e.g. working effectively in teams. As a new college grad you won’t be expected to have done too much of this, but even to understand the need is super-valuable.
     
  • “Deliver code samples and technical assistance”: this is where the rubber meets the road, because in the end it is about delivering content. Be prepared to talk through how you’ve managed your own projects and assignments—how you’ve organized tasks, kept yourself to a schedule, and checked for quality.
     
  • “Engaging deeply with the community”: again, this is super-important for developing empathy.
     
  • “Excellent writing skills”: Do you know what the big secret is about writing? That it’s 80% editing. It’s one thing to put your thoughts down on a page. It’s another skill entirely to go through it several more time to make it better and better. If I were conducting an interview I’d actually quiz people on this, i.e. give them a piece of writing and have them think through how to improve it. I’d spend more time on this than I would on code, although I’d probably do the same thing with code (more on this in a moment).
     
  • “Graphics background a plus”: This isn’t so much about being a graphic designer as it is about the ability to express concepts through diagrams and illustrations. Take a look at the latest MSDN magazine article of mine for some examples. Or for a much bigger piece of work, download my free ebook Programming Windows Store Apps with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, 2nd Edition. I did all the illustrations and graphics for that one myself—what’s in the book is straight from my files.
     
  • It’s not mentioned in the job description, but if you’ve done any video production and editing, showing those projects would be a big plus. Take a look at the One Dev Minute video series (https://channel9.msdn.com/Blogs/One-Dev-Minute). These are really working to communicate as efficiently as possible—they have lots of studio and graphics support, but if you have anything to show that approaches thoughtful editing in the video space, that would certainly be a plus.

Now for a few other thoughts:

  • Don’t worry about tooling—you'll learn on the job in a matter of days. At best, familiarity with some industry standards like Markdown might help, but really, you’ll get all the specifics in the process of the job.
     
  • The ability to do on-the-spot coding exercises as is traditional with software development interviews is not all that important to content development. In content, your job is much more about using code as a means for explaining concepts, techniques, and so forth. It’s part of documentation. I would want to make sure a candidate could write good, clean, and well-documented code, especially where the commenting explains the bigger picture of how all the code works and how it might relate to code that uses it. In other words, being able to explain why you chose to do something the way you did is often more important than the simple how or what.
     
  • In fact, what I would potentially ask a candidate is to show me an application project they’ve worked on, walk me through what it does, give me an architectural overview, illustrate the relationships between the key pieces, and explain what pieces could be most useful to other developers writing similar applications, and what parts are more specific to the project itself.
     
  • Let me return to the question of editing. There are two main things you to consider, and perhaps also practice instead of trying to solve coding problems.

     

    • I highly recommend spending time with the existing content produced by the team you’re be interviewing with. For example, if someone was interviewing for the team I'm currently in, I'd want them to go through the topics on MSDN under Cross-Platform Development. Reviewing that material would familiarize you with the technical areas that my team's involved with, but more importantly, pick a few topics that you understand pretty well already and ask: how would I improve this content? And overall, could you think of ways to improve the whole table of contents? Does the ordering of Getting Started material make sense to you? If you were just starting out, would you find this content engaging and effective, or are there changes that might improve it. These are things that writers and content developers should have opinions about.
       
    • If I were doing an interview, instead of having you write code from scratch, I’d show you a few pieces of code and ask how you would improve them to make them more useful as samples or as documentation? (Samples are documentation.) I’ve seen plenty of crappy samples in my time, and could explain to you exactly why they are crappy as a sample (even if they are good code from an engineering standpoint). To that end, find some samples that are relevant to the team you're interested in (including ones they've produced), and study them. Do you think these are good samples? What about them works well as educational material? What about them can be improved and how would you make those improvements? It would probably be helpful to spend more time with one of the samples to the point where you can give an on-the-spot tutorial about how it all works, as I suggested above.

 

In the end, I think content development is a pretty cool career path. You get to be deeply involved in technology, but you don't get so buried in the details of creating it that you lose sight of how it relates to everything else. I, for one, thrive on seeing, understanding, and communicating those relationships, and enjoy serving other developers in this way. In fact, I'm more delighted with a clear, well-written explanation or a clear illustration about how a piece of code works than I am about getting that piece of code to work in the first place. That's why I've always gravitated to content and community work.

If you feel the same way, this is definitely a career path to consider, especially as content is increasingly seen today as one of the keys to technology adoption, which is especially important with startups and innovators.


I was cleaning spam comments off my blog just now. One of them clearly missed going through its pre-processor, because it just posted the source file from which these guys generate their junk. Askimet should have this file! And anyone want to make the kitten setting version?

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today,
yet I never found any interesting article like
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bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be {much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from}
commenting. {Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally
well} written!|


{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I {can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service.
Do {you have|you’ve} any? {Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.
Thanks.|


{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make some
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or {advice|suggestions|tips}. {Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can}
write next articles referring to this article. I {want to|wish to|desire to} read {more|even more} things about it!|


{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make {a few|some}
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I {want to|wish to|desire to} {read|learn} {more|even more} {things|issues} {approximately|about} it!|


{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} {online|on-line} {more than|greater
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{It’s|It is} {lovely|pretty|beautiful} {worth|value|price} {enough|sufficient} for me.
{In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made {just right|good|excellent} {content|content
material} as {you did|you probably did}, the {internet|net|web} {will be|shall be|might be|will probably be|can be|will likely be} {much more|a lot more} {useful|helpful} than ever before.|


Ahaa, its {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {discussion|conversation|dialogue} {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} this {article|post|piece
of writing|paragraph} {here|at this place} at this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}, I have read all that, so {now|at this time} me also commenting {here|at this place}.|


I am sure this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} has touched all the internet {users|people|viewers|visitors}, its
really really {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} on building up new {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}.|


Wow, this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these
kinds of} things, {so|thus|therefore} I am going to
{tell|inform|let know|convey} her.|


{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I love} {your blog|your
site|your web site|your website}!|


Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points! I appreciate you {writing this|penning this} {article|post|write-up} {and
the|and also the|plus the} rest of the {site is|website is} {also very|extremely|very|also really|really} good.|


Hi, {I do believe|I do think} {this is an excellent|this
is a great} {blog|website|web site|site}. I stumbledupon it 😉 {I will|I am going
to|I’m going to|I may} {come back|return|revisit} {once again|yet
again} {since I|since i have} {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} it.
Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change,
may you be rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|


Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the template/theme
of this {site|website|blog}. It’s simple,
yet effective. A lot of times it’s {very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to
get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
I must say {that you’ve|you have|you’ve} done a {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|fantastic|excellent|great} job with this.
{In addition|Additionally|Also}, the blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|


These are {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic}
ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.
You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|


{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up too.

{This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work
and {exposure|coverage|reporting}! Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated||added|included} you guys to
{|my|our||my personal|my own} blogroll.|


{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared
this {site|website} with us so I came to {give it a look|look it over|take a look|check it out}.
I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information. I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my
followers! {Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|


{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be}
up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated|added|included} you
guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|


{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would you mind {stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re
{working with|using}? I’m {looking|planning|going} to start my
own blog {in the near future|soon} but I’m having a {tough|difficult|hard} time {making
a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
The reason I ask is because your {design and style|design|layout} seems
different then most blogs and I’m looking for
something {completely unique|unique}. P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic but I had to ask!|


{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting me
know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re {utilizing|working with|using}?

I’ve loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet
browsers|web browsers|browsers} and I must say this blog loads a lot {quicker|faster} then most.
Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at a {honest|reasonable|fair} price?
{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate it!|


{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together}
and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}. Great {blog|website|site},
{keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!|


Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a amusement
account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?|


{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you a quick
heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to
be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something to do with {web browser|internet browser|browser}
compatibility but I {thought|figured} I’d post to let you know.
The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|


This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart…
{Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank
you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|


It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web}
as compared to {books|textbooks}, as I found this {ar

ticle|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at
this {website|web site|site|web page}.|


Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page?
I’m having {a tough time|problems|trouble} locating it
but, I’d like to {send|shoot} you an {e-mail|email}.
I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your
blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great {site|website|blog}
and I look forward to seeing it {develop|improve|expand|grow} over time.|


{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your
{site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage} to go ahead and give you
a shout out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up
the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!|


Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so
I decided to {check out|browse} your {site|website|blog}
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I’m {shocked|amazed|surprised} at how {quick|fast} your blog
loaded on my {mobile|cell phone|phone} .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..
{Anyhow|Anyways}, {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|good|wonderful|fantastic|excellent|great} {site|blog}!|


Its {like you|such as you} {read|learn} my {mind|thoughts}!
You {seem|appear} {to understand|to know|to grasp} {so much|a lot} {approximately|about} this, {like
you|such as you} wrote the {book|e-book|guide|ebook|e book} in it or something.
{I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you just} {could|can} do with {some|a few} {%|p.c.|percent} to {force|pressure|drive|power} the message
{house|home} {a bit|a little bit}, {however|but} {other than|instead
of} that, {this is|that is} {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent} blog.
{A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be
back.|


I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web sites|web pages|blogs} {but|except|however}
the audio {quality|feature} for audio songs {current|present|existing} at this {website|web site|site|web page} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {marvelous|wonderful|excellent|fabulous|superb}.|


{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and i was just {wondering|curious}
if you get a lot of spam {comments|responses|feedback|remarks}?
If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it,
any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}?
I get so much lately it’s driving me {mad|insane|crazy}
so any {assistance|help|support} is very much appreciated.|


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{It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will
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{Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|


{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like my old one!
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My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince} me to move to .net from
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{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day}! I could have sworn I’ve {been to|visited} {this blog|this web site|this website|this site|your blog} before but after {browsing
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{Hi|Hello} there, {I found|I discovered}
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I’m {experiencing|having} some {minor|small} security {problems|issues} with my latest {site|website|blog} and
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rare to see a {nice|great} blog like this one {these days|nowadays|today}.|


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{improve|enhance} my {website|site|web site}!I suppose its ok to use {some of|a few of} your ideas!!


Most of us are likely accustomed to the kind of "we wish you'd hang up and go away" level of customer service when calling a call center or support line. It's not too hard to notice the strategies that most companies use to attempt to hide the fact that they spend as little money as possible on their call centers. For starters, we're typically shunted into a long series of automated options that seem designed to stall one as long as possible, and even perhaps to discourage continuation of the call.

If you're patient enough to get through the automated tree to "speak to a customer service representative," we're typically told that "we're experiencing higher than normal call volumes." It doesn't seem what time of day I call, I almost always get this message. I pretty much figure it's a euphemism for "we have all of one or two people on staff, or otherwise outsource our call center but spend a little as possible, so of course you're going to have to wait."

Then, if you're still patient enough to wait through some minutes of reall bad music played through some dreadful audio system, you finally get to a human being. Now, I usually get to talk to someone who is kind and courteous enough, but there isn't much encouragement for small talk or relating to the representative as a human being. The point, obviously, is to get the issue handled as quickly as possible.

Today I needed to call into Disneyland's service center to complete payment for an upcoming trip. (I'm taking my son to Disneyland in October for his birthday.) And I was delighted with the experience.

For starters, the initial automated response gave only three quick options, and I spent about all of 5 seconds here. Choosing the option for making a payment, I was connected immediately to a human being–no waiting whatsoever, even on a Saturday morning. The woman I spoke to was a real pleasure.

She wasn't in any hurry to collect a payment and let me go. No, while we waited for the reservation record to come up, I joked with her a little about making database queries against backend systems, and how that often takes a while because of the load on the server. She was interested, so we talked a bit about the nature of data centers, and why you can have a really fast computer and a fast internet connection, and still end up waiting because the computer on the other end isn't particularly fast.

Well, we did eventually get to the matters at hand, but still, no hurry. We talked about Disneyland, discussed a few questions I had about things going on during our time there, and so on. In the end, I think my "quick call" to make the final payment on our package ended up being about 20 minutes.

After the call, I completed the short phone survey and also went to disneysurveys.com to express my appreciation. What I enjoyed here was that they asked whether there was any "magic moment" in the conversation I just had, and I was happy to describe my delight at making a real human connection.

In the end, I was left with a deep apprecitation for how much Disney works to make the entire experience enjoyable, including even how their customer service works. It's a model that other companies would do well to follow!


And now for something completely different, and just for fun.

My son and I have been enjoying Minecraft since last fall, working first with the Pocket Edition and mostly with the PC version that supports creating circuitry with the Redstone element. Between my son and I, he’s more of a builder and I’m the one that more enjoys mining.

In one of my worlds,* which I’m just playing by myself, I’ve been working a lot with enchantments for which you need a variety of materials like Lapis Lazuli (necessary to do enchanting) and the quite rare Diamonds (used to make the best armor, tools, and weapons). This has led me to do some systematic mining deep underground where these materials are best found. Because I was specifically looking for diamonds, I concentrated on mining at levels 5-12 (see the Ore page for distribution statistics), where you’ll also find lots of other good stuff too.

This kind of mining is best done systematically. Here’s how I went about it:

  1. Standing on level 11, I circumscribed a 50×50 square tunnel, 2 blocks high (you could do any dimensions), periodically dropping torches on the outer side of the walls for light.
  2. Level 11 is recommended because lava lakes are generated at this same level, so you’ll always come out on the edge of one rather than below one where it’ll drop on you and cook you rather quickly. (Always carry a bucket of water in case you get set on fire, and it’s also handy to dump on top of lava to make obsidian, which is an effective way to remove lava and mine obsidian at the same time.(
  3. I then mines tunnels in one direction all along the square, going every other block. This means that I end up with a bunch of parallel tunnels with a one block wall in between. This accounts for the fact that ores nearly always come in groups of 3 or more blocks, so you don’t have to mine out every last bit to find the ores. You will occasionally miss a single block of something like diamond, but they seldom generate that way.
  4. For the first tunnel near an edge, I don’t bother dropping torches but punch a hole in the wall about every 6 blocks to let light in from the adjacent tunnel. This is pretty sufficient for keeping monsters from generating, though they do show up every now and then. (But they’re in tunnels so very easy to handle.)
  5. I then light the next tunnel (the third) the same way I lit the first. In other words, odd tunnels get light, even tunnels get holes. This way I save on torches.
  6. When I encounter ore, I typically mine the whole thing out, but sometimes leave stuff on lower levels for the next set of tunnels.
  7. Once all the level 11 tunnels were done, I made a hole in each corner for ladders going down to level 8–which allows for a two-block high tunnel with one block for the ceiling.
  8. I then circumscribed the same 50×50 edge tunnels and repeated the parallel tunneling. At level 8 though, you have to listen for lava sources. When you do, be careful as you mine in case lava flows out. However, if you start at level 11, you’ll know where most of these are. When I encounter a lava lake at level 11 I’ll dump water on it to turn it to obsidian and mine a bunch of it out. As lava is exposed at level 10, I’ll water it down too. This reduces the risk of getting cooked, and makes it far less likely to encounter flowing lava in the level 8 tunnels.
  9. Finally, I did the same thing again down to level 5, which is the lowest you can go without encountering bedrock obstacles.

I was quite pleased with everything I was able to extract, especially as I used a pickaxe with the Fortune III enchantment when mining lapis, diamond, coal, and redstone to increase the yield. What I found interesting, though, is that the return on mining at level 5 wasn’t nearly as good as levels 8 and 11 as these numbers illustrate

Coal Iron Gold Diamond Redstone Lapis
Levels 8-12 654 243 38 74 1,637 78
Level 5-6 150 83 4 11 254 0
Totals 804 326 42 85 1,891 78
% Level 8-12 81% 75% 90% 87% 87% 100%
% Level 5-6 19% 25% 10% 13% 13% 0%

 

In short, the effort to mine at level 5 really wasn’t worth it. I’d have been better off extending the range of the tunnels at levels 8 and 11, or, if looking for Lapis, to extend up to make tunnels at level 14.

In any case, I got quite a good haul out of this effort!

* For this world I used the seed “St Louis” because we’d just visited there. It’s a great challenge, as you spawn on a set of mesa islands with just a single tree to work with, and a little bit of grass from which to get seeds. But that was plenty, as I have a whole forest and farms going strong. There’s also an ocean monument nearby, and if you go straight east for a while (use a boat) from the southeast islands you’ll cross a couple more islands and then get to a desert village and a number of other villages nearby.


Similar to my previous post, but perhaps not quite as fun, is an account from Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain, by Len Deighton, which I just finished.

Any comparison of the Merlin engine [as used in the RAF Spitfire and Hurricanes] and the Daimler-Benz DB 601A [as used in Messerschmidt Bf109’s] must begin by mentioning the latter’s fuel-injection system. …

Fuel injection, which puts a measured amount of fuel into each cylinder according to temperature and engine speed, etc., was demonstrably superior to the carburetors that the Merlins used. Carburetors are, at best, subject to the changes of temperature that air combat inevitably brings. At worst they bring a risk of freezing or catching fire. And with such large, high-performance engines, the carburetor system seldom delivers exactly the same amount of fuel simultaneously to each cylinder. Worst of all, the carburetor was subject to the centrifugal effect, so that it starved, and missed a beat or two, as it went into a dive.

The RAF pilots learned how to half-roll before diving, so that fuel from the carburetor was thrown into the engine instead of out of it, but in battle this could be a dangerous time-wasting necessity.


Engineers–those on trains–in the 1800s got a good start in the art of hacking. This is from The Story of American Railroads, a thoroughly well-written and entertaining book by Stewart H. Holbrook written in the 1940s that provides many quotable passages:

Although neither the Santa Fe [railroad] or most of the other roads were in a hurry to adopt new inventions, the Santa Fe held in high esteem a gadget known as a Dutch clock. This device, perhaps the most unpopular one with railroad men of the day, was set up in the caboose and it noted and recorded on a tape the speed at which the train traveled. The rule was that freights should maintain a speed of eighteen miles an hour, no more, no less. The Dutch clock soon brought reprimands to all freight conductors who tried to make up time for the breakdowns of equipment that were forever happening.

After considerable discussion of the Dutch clock, the boys figured out a method of handling the menace. On the first sidetrack out of the terminal, the crew would uncouple the caboose, then uncouple the engine, bring it back to the rear on the main line, set it in behind the caboose, then use it to slam the caboose into the standing train at a speed of exactly 18 miles an hour. This, it had been discovered, so affected the Dutch clock’s insides that thereafter it continued to clock 18 miles an hour regardless of the speed developed. This fixing the Dutch clock was considered fine sport, and always left the train crew with a sense of immoderate satisfaction.