Sunday Selection 2012-04-28

Around the Web

Minecraft, Scrolls, 0x10c: The past, present and future of Mojang as seen through Notch’s eyes. I’m not much of a gamer, but I do like making cool stuff and I love reading about people who are making amazing, beautiful things. Notch is the creator of Minecraft and the anticipated 0x10c and this interview is full of interesting tidbits.

The Terrifying Reality of Long-term Employment As a recent college graduate who has chosen the temporary sanctuary of the ivory tower, the job market is something I can afford to avoid, but it’s still something at the back of my mind. The state of the current market makes me wonder if we need to rethink jobs and value structures in an age where long-term stability is increasingly rare.

The Boston Marathon Bombing: Keep Calm and Carry On. I usually don’t write about current events, partially because I’m never quite sure what to say, and partially because I’d rather not add to the noise if I don’t have something useful to say. That being said, I’m all too happy to point in the direction of people who I think are actually making level-headed and rational comments about the current state of affairs. Bruce Schneier is certainly one of those people and I can’t help but wonder how different the world would be if people like him were in charge of our security.

Software

Capsule: The Developer’s Code Journal. I find that keeping a record of things I’ve done through the day is very useful. It’s a good estimator of where my time went through the day, and an empty log is a sign that things didn’t go quite right.  I normally have a text file on my phone that I just dump everything into. Capsule looks like an interesting solution for programmers (both teams and individuals) to keep a quick and dirty log of what they’ve been up to. I’m probably going to put it on my Linode for a week and give it a try.

Amazon has good customer service

Last week I realized I didn’t have a single usable USB Flash drive. So what do I do? I hope on Amazon and order myself one of course. I got this nice Kingston 32GB drive that looked small enough to fit on my keyring and spent a few minutes in awe of the fact that this tiny thing had more capacity than my first computer’s hard drive (a paltry 20GB).

I ordered it on April 15 at night and since I have Amazon Prime, I got an estimated delivery date of April 18. Unfortunately, the 18th came and went and there was no sign of the package showing up. The tracker on Amazon said that the package had “left the seller” on April 16 but had made on progress since then. Since this was the first time Amazon had been late with a package, I decided to give them some slack and wait a few more days. On Monday, April 21, there was still no sign of the package so I decided to contact and see if I could get some answers.

Once I found the Amazon Contact Us page I was glad to see that there was a live chat option along with the usual phone and email option. The chat experience was really smooth. After some simple questions to narrow down the problem I was talking to a real human (I think) within a few minutes. Once I told them what the problem was, they checked on the package status and immediately offered me a free replacement or refund, without even asking. I went with the replacement and today the package showed up at my doorstep. The process was smooth and quick and entirely without fuss. It’s definitely one of (if not the) smoothest customer service experience I’ve ever had.

It wasn’t perfect: the orders page has options to Track, Return/Replace Items, Leave Package/Delivery Feedback or Write a Review. There’s no way to say that the package delivery seems stuck. Under the Delivery Feedback I can say that I haven’t received the package, but it just tells me to leave more feedback when I get it. It would be great to actually have an option to say that there’s something’s wrong with the delivery and I want Amazon to look into it. Secondly, while the whole contact process was smooth, it was hard to find the contact page in the first place. There doesn’t seem to be a contact button or link on the main Amazon page or site and there’s nothing of the sort on the Track Orders page either. I had to Google for “Amazon contact” to find the page. It was smooth sailing after that point, but it’s definitely something I wish was smoother.

Anyways, the point is that I had a smooth customer service experience with Amazon and though there are rough spots, it was very good on the whole. Now I’m going to stop talking about my first world problems and get back to hacking in OCaml.

Breakfast

Note: This is a boring personal-ish post while mainly to help get back into the habit of writing regularly. If you’re not interested in what I had for breakfast (literally), please check back next week when I’ll have something more interesting to say.

After a few months of trying I’ve managed to get into the habit of making and eating breakfast everyday. A healthy, high-protein, slow-carb breakfast takes me about 20 minutes to cook, eat and clean up. This includes setting up the coffee machine at some point (but drinking the coffee takes a bit longer). 20 minutes is about the length of one episode of any number of TV shows. My choice so far has been the US version of The Office so far. But a few days ago I cancelled my Netflix account for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is wanting to watch less TV. While I’m glad to have the $20 (and the uncounted hours) of savings per month, it leaves the question: what do I do during breakfast?

I could do nothing — just cook and eat breakfast without anything else, but that’s not really my style. While I’m all for being comfortable with solitude, making and eating breakfast in complete silence, all by myself, is a bit much. At the same time, I do enough reading and writing each day as is and I don’t really want to do more of it first thing in the morning. What I would really like is some kind of semi-passive activity that doesn’t shut down my brain in quite the same way that TV does.

To that effect, I’ve been thinking: podcasts. Unfortunately my knowledge of podcasts is pretty limited. I used to listen to some technology podcasts a few years ago, but that kind of thing no longer interests me. (I’d rather be working on the cutting edge of tomorrow’s technology than keeping up with the latest Apple product or Valley startup.) I’ve subscribed to some podcasts that friends have mentioned including NPR Technology, Freakonomics and Debbie Millman’s Design Matters. While I like each of them, they’re generally much more than 20 minutes and usually vary in time. While I enjoy listening to longer podcasts while doing chores and such, my mornings are usually pretty tight and I don’t want to spend more than 20-30 minutes on breakfast related things.

So it’s audience participation time: what are some interesting podcasts that don’t have a popular tech or productivity focus and are reliably 20 to 30 minutes in length? Failing that, what are other mostly passive things I could be doing over breakfast?