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Why Are Manhole Covers Round?

It’s supposed to be one of the hardest interview questions. I think it’s been asked so often that it’s become a cliche. When I worked for Microsoft, it was common to ask oddball questions. Some of the ones that were used:

  • How many gas stations in the United States?
  • How do they get the coating on M&M candies?

And, of course, the manhole question.


The point of the questions is to figure out how well the candidate thinks on his feet. The interviewer is less concerned with the actual answer than they are with the thought that went into it. Unfortunately, for me, I look at them as real questions with real answers.

The manhole cover was my favorite. There are four reasons that I’ve heard of for why manhole covers are round.

1. They are round because the circle is the most efficient form. You get the most usable space with a circle. It’s also the strongest geometric form. Your circle is going to provide equal support against the manhole collapsing. 

2. They are easier to move. A manhole cover can weigh between 90 and 150 lbs according to Government Security News. That’s a heavy, not to mention bulky object to attempt to move. But, if it’s round, you can move it simply by tipping it on its edge and rolling it. 

3. A round manhole cover cannot fall into the manhole. It’s physically impossible for a manhole cover to fall into the manhole if it’s round. And at potentially 150 lbs, getting it back out of a hole would be challenging. 

However, my favorite answer has nothing to do with geometry or physics. 

4. They are round because the makers decided to make them round. 

Of course, I haven’t been asked this question in years. But, if it comes up in conversation, I’m ready. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Windows Killed My Grass

Should I upgrade to the new version of Microsoft Windows?

I don’t know, Mom, what would the new version do that you can’t do now?

Nothing that I know of.

Then, I would wait.

When I worked for Microsoft, I would get a call like this about every six months or so. It wasn’t always about Windows. Sometimes it was about Office, or some other Microsoft product. Even though I worked for the company, I was a late adopter when it came to recommendations to my family. Especially since I was their first call when it came to technical support. 

I haven’t upgraded to Microsoft Windows 10. Like you, I’ve been bombarded with the ads. I’ve seen those spam-like messages. 

YOU’VE WON A FREE COPY OF WINDOWS 10. CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE

I’m pretty careful to not click on every “Prize” notice I get. I have friends who either couldn’t resist or they like being early adopters. At work, we are mostly a Microsoft shop. I joined an online meeting a few weeks ago and heard this.

Where’s Alex? Didn’t he schedule this meeting?

Yeah, but Windows 10 screwed up his copy of Office. He’s rebooting to see if that will let him join.

Alex is an early adopter. Personally, I’m running Windows 7 on my work laptop, Windows Vista on my home lap machine, and I still have a few copies of Windows XP running on some old, but still running computers.

Windows really did kill a friend of mine’s business. For a lot of years, he realized that Windows XP was a solid program that gave people just about all they needed if all they needed was to surf the web and use Office. He bought and refurbished old hardware and sold computers for $75 that were these barebones systems. When Microsoft killed support for XP, after more than a decade, his business model was no longer sustainable. 

The real point for me, is that computers are tools. They should help us to accomplish some task. I have tools that my grandfather bought when he was young. A few of those tools are obsolete. I’ve eliminated them. A few of them have worn out. I replaced them. But, many of them are just as good as they wore60 years ago. I’m not going to buy new tools just because the manufacturer releases a new version. A wrench is a wrench. 

I treat computers and software the same way. I’m not going to upgrade just because the manufacturer says I should. 

Oh, and the headline to this post? “Windows Killed My Grass”? Doesn’t have anything to do with Microsoft. But, it got me thinking about the destructive power of Windows both the software and the hardware kind. 

Here’s a picture of my lawn. 


I assumed that brown spot, which only shows up in the late summer, was a result of not enough water, or not enough fertilizer. Nope. It’s windows that killed it. That side of my house faces West. In the afternoon, during the hottest part of the day, that section of lawn gets twice the sun as the green grass next to it. My neighbor pointed it out. 

Here’s a picture of the lawn from a different angle.


Not only is my lawn getting the direct sunlight, but that brown patch also gets reflected sunlight from the windows. 

Windows is killing my lawn. I blame Bill Gates. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Beatles, Beethoven and Me

Well early in the morning
I’m a giving you a warning
Don’t you step on my blue suede shoes
Hey diddle diddle
I’ll play my fiddle
Aint’ got nothing to lose
Roll over Beethoven
And tell Tchaikovsky the news

“Roll Over Beethoven” 

When it was being written by Chuck Berry in the 1950’s and later recorded by the Beatles in the 1960’s it was just rock and roll. Today, we’d added the word “classic” rock and roll. I recently found the “classic” rock station in my town. (103.5 The Arrow in the greater Salt Lake City metropolitan area.) I often have it on when my teenagers are in the car. It’s been interesting to watch them hear some of the songs of my youth for the first time. Recently we were driving back from Southern Utah with a van full of scouts. 

Hey Dad, can we access the playlist on your iPad?

Sure. Why?

We want to listen to Queen.

Paul McCartney was once asked what type of music people would be listening to in 20 years. He replied he didn’t know about 20 years, but he could tell you what they’d be listening to in 100 years: Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin. In other words, McCartney didn’t feel that rock and roll was going to replace traditional classical music.  

So, what makes something classic? Or classical? 

I have a 1996 Lexus ES300 that I call Iron Man. (It’s currently on blocks in my driveway getting the heads reground, but the coloring is still red and gold, so sort of Iron Man.) The car has been more of a project car than anything, constantly being one step away from needing a major repair. This year, I could get special plates that designate it as a “classic.” I’ll stick with the IRONMN plate that’s on it now, but the point is that after 20 years, a car becomes a “classic” at least to the DMV. 

There have been some pretty bad cars over the years. The Edsel, the Pinto, the Gremlin. And yet, today, they are classics. Time does that. 

Look at this watch. It’s worthless – ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But, I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years,  it becomes priceless.

Rene Belloq “Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark”

And yet, twenty years later, those cars are classics. 

When I was 16, I went with my dad to help his friend move. My dad’s friend was there with his father to help his grandfather move. The grandfather was in his 90’s. He was old. But, my dad’s friend’s dad was also old. In fact my dad and his friend were old. My dad explained that “old” was anyone that was 15 years older than you are. 

The brilliant Douglas Adams, of “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” fame said,

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

– “The Salmon of Doubt”

1. Classical Music – part of the natural order

2. Computers and the Internet – yep, made a bit of a career out of it

3. . .GET OFF MY LAWN

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The School Was Being Too Accurate

My kids’ Junior High School was doing a bad job of teaching. It wasn’t in Algebra or English or even in History. They were breaking one of the basic rules of science and statistics. 

Like many schools, my kids’ school has an electronic reader board out in front of t he school. In addition to announcing picture day, and thanking Mrs. Gentry for teaching Home Ec for 25 years, it shows the time and the temperature.


There’s just one problem. The degrees of precision are off. It wasn’t 75.5 degrees outside when I took this picture. How hot was it? Probably about 75, but I’m willing to bet a Higgs-Boson particle that it wasn’t exactly seventy five and one half degrees. 

Okay, so who cares, right? It’s a rounding error, or a degree of percision, or a location of the temperature probe issue. But, is it really wrong? Is it important?

Do you know at what temperature water boils? 

Most people would say 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celcius. And they would be right. Now, if I asked 

At what temperature does water boil at my house?

Would you want to change your answer? 


Water boils at about about 203 degrees at my house. Why? Because, the elevation of my house is at about 4700 feet above sea level. When I go camping in the mountains the boiling point drops even further. (It’s about a 1 degree drop for every 500 feet in elevation.) We regularly camp at 7000 feet where the boiling temperature drops below 200 degrees. It’s all very sciency and has to do with pressure, temperature and elevation. However, it can be an important number when you are thinking about boiling the water from a mountain stream to purify it. In fact, it’s one of those, “Do this wrong and you might die. . .or at least get very sick” issues. If you are below 5500 feet, you need to boil your water for 5-10 minutes. The higher you are, the longer to boil it. If you are above 5500 feet, don’t bother. The water will never get hot enough to kill all the nasties living in it. 

The point is that being too accurate, or attempting to be too precise can be an issue. 

I maintain large network systems. My agents take millions of calls per day. When looking at statistics on my sites, I have to be imprecise. If I want to record 10% of the calls, for example, I cannot put a number on that. If my agents take 1,000,000 calls, then 10% is 100,000. But, if I put 100,000 in as my target number of records, I’m never going to be exactly accurate except for that one in a million day when they take exactly 1,000,000 calls. Of course, after the fact, I can calculate how many I recorded, but even then, my percentage is going to be just a little bit off, unless they took a number of calls evenly divisible by 10. ( I can’t record a portion of a call.)

That’s why the reader board at my kids’ school bothers me. That temperature reading is wrong. I don’t know the right number, but I know it’s not what they are stating. And by implying to the kids that they can measure outdoor temperature that accurately, they do a disservice. I would not make a huge change. After all, I like seeing the temperature when I drive by. I believe it’s about 75 and that’s good enough for me. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Why Is Everyone Just Like Me?

I never noticed how many purple cars there were in my town. . .until I bought one. Now it seems like every other car on the road is purple.

I spent a lot of time in a technical support call center. Even in my job now, I support a call floor. It wasn’t uncommon, when I was supporting Micorosft’s email systems to have someone call in with a problem that I couldn’t duplicate. 

It works on my machine.

The implication is that if you are calling me, you are just like me. 

Hey Rodney, this is Marcus. I have a user who cannot get to your recording database.

Have you tried logging in as them?

Yeah, if I log in with her credentials it works from my machine. It just doesn’t work from her computer.

We tend to assume that people are like us. (Turns out that Marcus had a host file entry that was making his request route through a different firewall than his user.) 

I was waiting for the train yesterday morning with the rest of the commuters. Much of the talk was around first day of school. (The REAL End Of Summer) I overheard a woman say,

My son is a junior this year.

I didn’t hear much of the rest of the conversation. That piece stuck out to me. Four of my kids are juniors this year. She was just like me. 

A little while later the man she was talking to said,

Sure, it would be faster to drive, but I like taking the train. It gives me a chance to write.

It would also be faster for me to drive, but I like taking the train because . . .it gives me a chance to write. He was just like me, too.

It got me thinking about the purple car. If you don’t drive a purple car, I assume you cannot remember the last time you saw one. They are not a common color. If you have a purple car, I’ll bet you can tell me everyone else in your town who also has one. We look for the familier. 

If you go on vacation to Boston, you will see some wonderful sites. The USS Constitution is in Boston. Paul Revere’s work shop. the old North church (one if by land, two if by sea.) But, I’m guessing you will not seek out a native of Boston and randomly strike up a conversation. 

Now, instead of a trip to Boston, imagine you are going to Dubai, a city on the Persian Gulf. You will see some wonderful sites. the Gold Festival was going one when I was there and it was amazing. I also went on a desert safari that was magical. Now suppose you find out that another American, someone from say, Boston is also on the desert safari? Chances are you will strike up a conversation with them. 

What’s the difference? If you were vacationing in Boston, or even another major US city, you wouldn’t seek this person out, but while you are both driving in a Toyota Land Cruiser up and over the sand dunes, you would. I think it’s because we seek out the familiar. It’s why you might pass someone everyday in the hallway at work and never speak, but if you found yourself on a camping trip and they were in the same campground, you might reach out and say hello. It’s why on the train platform I only heard the portions of the portions of the conversation that were “like me.” It’s why the person with a purple car notices all the other purple cars. 

Why is everyone like me? Because I tend to notice the people who are like me: parents of high school kids, a train writer, a purple car owner, an American in the United Arab Emerates. So, don’t feel bad that everyone is like me. Everyone is like you too. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

The Real End Of Summer

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. It’s still two weeks away, September 5th. The official end of summer is marked by the Fall Equinox, on September 22. But for millions of families like mine, today August 22 marks the real end of summer. 

There is very little about my job that is tied to the seasons. Our call volumes go up at certain times of the year. There are holiday parties in December. People typically take more time off during the summer. But, for the most part, anything that we do in August, we could just as easily do in February. Any line of business that launches in June, could just as easily launch in January. 

Our call centers are located all across the country; Kentucky, Virginia, Utah and Louisiana. (Fortunately, not near the flooding. Click here to support the relief efforts.) We have centers that are impacted by snow, or hurricanes, or tornados. It doesn’t really make much of a difference which part of the country we operate in. 

As employees, we generally don’t focus on the date, other than to tie it to projects. I have a big project starting in September and rolling out in January, finishing up in March or April. I’m not concerned about what the weather will be like during my project rollout. 

So, what marks today, Monday August 22, as the real end of Summer? The other 9 people who share my house. Today is the first day of school in Utah. My kids are attending grades 8 through 11. My lovely wife is a teacher’s aid in a special needs classroom. Today is the day that a new year starts. 

We don’t have a lot of traditions around back to school. We buy the kids a new set of school clothes. This despite the fact that we buy them clothes all year long. But, the back to school clothes are a little special. We give each child a special blessing, or family prayer. I offer it while my lovely wife types it up. We then print it out and the kids have it to refer to throughout the year. 

This year we added a new tradition. We changed all the wifi settings. We had a family meeting yesterday to decide what the home wifi schedule should be. It turns on at 6:30am then off at 8:00am. It comes back on at 2:30pm and then off at 10:00pm. Weekend times are expanded slightly. For example, we don’t turn it off in the middle of the day except on Sunday during church. 

The kids accepted the new schedules with the typical amount of grumbling and negotiation. 

I think the wifi should turn on at 4:30am.

Why is that?

Because I might need to write a paper before school and I’ll want to get up early and work on it. 

You can let us know if you need to get up early and we’ll turn it on early that day.

But, I wouldn’t want to wake you up.

Yeah, we know. Plan ahead.

We got similar arguments for why it should be on late at night. It’s amazing that kids who have not yet missed a single homework assignment are concerned for their ability to get online after hours. Their dedication to their education is admirable and highly suspect.

As an IT professional and someone who has seen 4 children through high school graduation so far, I was unconvinced by their pleas for access to greater academic resources. Like I said, it was the typical grumpiness and negotiations. We pushed the morning start time back a half hour and agreed to turn it on in the afternoon shortly after the first kids get out of school, but stopped short of turning it on before school officially let out. 

Each summer is the last of it’s kind. This summer we still have eighth graders.  Next year the oldest of them will be preparing for their senior year. I’m sure at that point they’ll have a whole new set of arguments for greater wifi access and of course a new set of clothes.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

Photo Essay: Southern Utah, Kanarraville Falls And Zions Narrows

It’s been a while since I did one of these. I take a lot of pictures when I go hiking. With digitial cameras, there’s really no reason not to. I remember the days of print film, when you were paying for every click of the shutter. 

My trip last weekend involved a stay at a campground outside Cedar City, Utah that was absolutely one of the most beautiful campgrounds in Utah. Then, we visited Cedar Breaks National Monument, Kanarraville Falls and finally The Narrows in Zions National Park. 

Here are some pictures.

Our camping site was one of the nicest I’ve ever been to in Utah. We were up around 6,000 feet, so the nights were cold, but the greenery was nice. And we had to explain to some of the boys that 

No, it didn’t rain. That’s called dew. 

Cedar Breaks National Monument

The next morning it was a short drive up the road to Cedar Breaks National Monument.  The walk from the parking lot was only about 4 minutes. And the view was fantastic. 

Well, the view is good if that old ugly guy would get out of the way. 

That’s more like it. 

Looking south you can see the area around Zions National Park. 

Cedar Breaks is home to some of the oldest living things on the planet. This Bristlecone Pine tree is 2000 years old. The guy in front only slightly younger. 

The Bristlecone pine has the ability to kill off portions of itself when it becomes sick or diseased. That allows the rest of the tree to continue to survive. 

Kanarraville Falls

Next, it was off to Kanarraville Falls, just North of Zions National Park. In previous years, we hiked Kanarravile on Saturdays, but it became too crowded at the falls, so we switched to Fridays.


Like most slot canyons, the hike takes place largely in the water. The entrance is green, but becomes less so the farther up the canyon you go. 

The red walls start to rise immediately when you get to the canyon. 

You soon leave the greenery behind and it’s just you and the water and those walls. 

The first falls has a “nice” ladder. We had no waiting on this hike. In previous years it’s not uncommon to wait here for 45 minutes on a Saturday for your turn to climb up.

A couple of miles into the hike there is a natural water slide. 

The higher you go, the more narrow the canyon becomes. Flash floods are a real danger in these narrow spaces. 

The “ladder” at the second falls is basically a log and a rope. 


The views are majestic. 

 

This being an “out and back” hike, you retrace your footsteps to come back down.

Zions National Park “The Narrows”

On Saturday we headed into Zions National Park to hike the Narrows. Utah is a desert and it shows in the barren landscape.  

Zions is crowded, but they are prepared for the crowds. There are shuttle busses that take you to the various attractions in the park. 

At the Temple of Sinawava, you can hike the mile long boardwalk to reach the Narrows.

As tall as the walls are in Kanarraville, they are even taller in Zions.

A walk at the mall is what it feels like when you start into the Narrows. Lots of people.

The walk is almost entirely in the river from this point. The walls can be over hundred feet tall, and straight up and down.

The walk back to the bus stop.

We had some tired boys at the end of the day.

The walk back to the van and the end of a very enjoyable couple of days in Southern Utah.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 
Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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