Scott Hanselman

Quarantine work is not Remote work

April 16, '20 Comments [24] Posted in Musings | Remote Work
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Empty streets by clindhartsen used under CCIt's hard. Now, to be clear, if you're working at all in these times, you're very fortunate. I am very fortunate to have a job that lets me work from home. Many of my coworkers, friends, and colleagues have been thrown into remote work - some in a frantic "get your laptop and you're now working from home" moment.

I have written a lot about Remote Work and done a number of podcasts on the topic. I've been working from my home now, full time, for 13 years. It's fair to say that I am an experienced Remote Worker if not an expert.

If you're new to Remote Work and you're feeling some kind of way, I want to say this as an expert in remote working - This thing we are doing now isn't remote work.

Quarantine work !== Remote work

Know that and absorb that and know that you're OK and this thing you're feeling - wow, Remote Works SUCKS! - is normal. You're not alone.

Just look at the replies to this tweet:

People are overwhelmed, afraid, and stressed. There's a background pressure - a psychic weight or stress - that is different in these times. This isn't a problem you can fix with a new webcam or a podcasting mic.

Working from home feels freeing and empowering. Working while quarantined is a luxurious prison.

I've got two kids at home suddenly, one who's had their last year before high school cut short and now we struggle as a couple to work our jobs AND educate the kids in an attempt to create some sense of normalcy and continuity. I applaud the single parents and folks trying to work outside the home AND take care of little ones in these times.

We also feel the guilt of working from home at all. We appreciate the front line workers (my wife is a nurse, my brother a firefighter) who don't have this luxury. The garbagemen and women, the grocery store stockers, truck drivers, food processors, and farmers. We do our best to be thankful for their work while still getting our own jobs done.

What's the point of this post? To remind you, the new remote worker, that this isn't normal. This isn't really representative of remote work. Hang in there, things will hopefully go back to some kind of normal and if we're lucky, perhaps you and I will be able to try out remote working and feel ok about it.

Here's some more resources. Be safe.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Take Remote Worker/Educator webcam video calls to the next level with OBS, NDI Tools, and Elgato Stream Deck

March 17, '20 Comments [16] Posted in Remote Work
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Changing cameras dyamically with OBSOver the years I've collected a few webcams, some quality and some not. If you're interested in creating the ultimate remote worker webcam setup on a budget, I've written a blog post on the topic.

However, now that we are a remote workers - my entire company has everyone working remotely until further notice - I've found that an extra webcam or two can really be helpful if I want to point a camera at something on my desk, or get a wider view, look at a whiteboard, etc.

Of course, you can always change video inputs in any application but there's that...pause...that...hang...that moment. You have to switch into your apps Device Settings, do the dropdown, switch, wait, and then you've changed the camera.

What if you could change cameras - scenes - like you were a movie director. But, you have minimal budget. What can you do for nothing or next to nothing? A lot.

What's the goal?

With minimal setup, you can feed all your webcams, your desktop itself, and really anything you can express as a 'scene' into a software video compositor and then output them as a virtual webcam.

Then you select and use that Virtual Webcam in your remote video conferencing tool of choice! The results are amazing.

Setup

First, get OBS and NDI Tools, specifically NDI Virtual Input.

  • OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is free and open source software for video recording and live streaming.
  • NDI Tools and NDI Virtual Input.
    • This is a software package that creates a virtual camera input.
    • NDI Plug for OBS : obs-ndi - This allows the OBS software to send its output to NDI, the virtual camera.
  • ALTERNATE:
    • You can avoid using NDI Tools (which is an extra hop) and use OBS-VirtualCam as plugin instead. It will create a Virtual Camera locally and directly send 1080p video to a Virtual Cam called OBS-VirtualCam.
  • OPTIONAL: Elgato Stream Deck and the Stream Deck Software
    • They've got 6- and 15-key decks. The have full color LCD keys and you can make the icons look however you want. Ya, it's a portable hotkey button machine, but it's amazing. Note in the upper right corner of my Stream Deck I have three OBS buttons, one for each scene and the active one lights up. I've also made buttons to change my primary monitor's resolution. More on that in a future blog post. I've also got Elgato Stream Deck buttons to change my audio inputs an outputs as well, with a how-to.
      My Elgato Stream Deck
    • Don't want to buy a physical device? Use your phone as a Stream Deck with Stream Deck Mobile
    • You could also buy Touch Portal for about $12 and use any old Android phone you have laying around as a remote control for this purpose!

Install these three things and run OBS. When you run OBS after installing the NDI plugin, you'll need to go to Tools, NDI Output Settings and select Main Output. Leave OBS running.

NDI Output Settings in OBS

Then run Virtual Input and right click on it in your tray (near the clock) and set it's output to your computer name | OBS. Mine is IRONHEART in the picture below. If you see None, you likely don't have OBS running.

Taking output from OBS and feeding it into Virtual Input

Define your Scenes. Scenes are a collection of sources.

Add and name a scene, then add a Video Capture Device for your camera. I also like to set the Resolution manually.

BRIO 1080p in OBS

I made one Fullscreen Scene per webcam, and one for my desktop that also includes my camera in PIP in the corner.

NOTE: If you're a teacher, perhaps you share just your lesson plans or browser window and yourself in video another way. You can be split screen, pip, or whatever makes you happy! Your scenes can be as complex as you'd like and include lesson plans, links, resources, and more!

PIP inside OBS

To review:

  • OBS is a compositor that feeds into
  • NDI Virtual Input
  • And Scenes can be changed dynamically (see animation at top of this post) by a Stream Deck, hotkey, or Stream Deck Mobile
  • Select "NewTek NDI Video" as your webcam in Teams or Skype or Zoom!

At this point you can change camera angles and select scenes when you're on a call! The transitions will be be instant and smooth for your viewers. This also works great for workshops and teachers teaching classes!

image

Thanks Jeff Fritz for your help with this! Do you have any OBS teams, dear reader?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Love in a time of Corona Virus - Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Working Remotely

February 28, '20 Comments [21] Posted in Remote Work
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Remote worker ScottIn this time of the Corona Virus and COVID-19, Microsoft has taken the unprecedented move of shutting down their Seattle campus. No one goes in to work until March 25th. That means they're all remote workers! Like me! For 13 years!

Do note that I am deeply sympathetic for the situation we all find ourselves in and I'm deeply aware of the privilege we have as tech/desk workers to be able to do our jobs remotely. I am also (dare I say) looking forward to what I believe will be a dramatic increase in Remote Worker Empathy on the part of the in office folks.

Check out my previous posts on being remote and explore the Remote Work category if you like.

I also want to showcase some of the great tips and suggestion for remote work that are being shared. Here's tips from our own Adrian Murphy who has shared them internally at the company and has given me permission to share them externally. You can follow Adrian on Twitter and thank him his team for sharing all this information and for their kindness!

These tips are written in the context of using Microsoft Teams (which has an extraordinary free plan, BTW) but you can replace those references with Zoom/Skype/Whatever and the tips are the same.

Tips, Tricks and Best Practices for Working Remotely

Working remote can be quite a shift from being in the office, and sometimes the things you take for granted in person suddenly become massive inconveniences when working remotely. Whether this is your first time being remote or you're a remote superstar from the Antarctica office, this collection of tips and best practices may help you get settled.

Communication

  • Be mindful of time zones. Your middle of the day may be someone’s 3:00 am, so when scheduling calls or pinging via Teams, don’t forget to take into account the time zone differences for all involved.
  • Turn on your video when on a call with your team (there’s a bunch of communication which is non-verbal). Occasionally show off your pets on said video. It’s the little things that make it all feel more human.
    • Some might have reduced bandwidth. Consider turning on video at the beginning during intro and turning it off during important parts if you experience hiccups.
  • During calls, make sure to wait a few extra seconds when asking if folks online have any comments. It can take time for folks to un-mute themselves, and sometimes things can chug or hiccup. It’s not as instant as it is face to face, so you don’t want to move on before folks can even get a word out on a call.
    • Some headsets have a hardware mute button and different conference software has hotkeys for mute/unmute. That can make it faster to unmute yourself.
  • If you are in a room full of people with a conference mic, speak loudly and clearly regardless of where you are sitting. While folks in the room may be able to hear you fine from 6-10 feet away, the conference room mic registers barely a whisper for those dialing in.
  • Mute your mic in big meetings, in small meetings it’s up to you—an unmuted mic will also give some of the incidental non-verbal (but vocal) indicators of what you’re thinking/feeling.
  • If you plan to present, prepare for meetings ahead of time by pre-loading web pages, powerpoints, or other presentation materials. During larger calls Teams can sometimes get bogged down, esp with many video sources at once, and this will cause the rest of your software to run slower. Having a room of 15+ people watch a web page load for 30 seconds is a great way to lose friends.
  • Summarize action items or conclusions in the call for everyone when one has been reached. Finalizing a conversation by summarizing the key take away is a great way to make sure the information is correct, and allows the folks on the call have a chance to hear it and respond if need be before the meeting moves on.
  • If you are leading/proctoring a meeting, be prepared to play switchboard operator if multiple people speak up at once. In person we use social cues and body language to naturally reach a speaking order, in a remote call someone is going to have to make sure only one person is speaking at a time, but also that everyone gets heard eventually. It can be as simple as “why don’t we have person A speak first, then person B” and let the conversation flow from there.
    • If someone has something to say but is waiting their turn, and the conversation veers in a different direction for a few mins, make sure to check back with the person who was waiting. It’s possible their comment was addressed during the course of that conversation, but don’t assume so. Offer them the chance to speak before the meeting moves on.
  • If you are presenting from your machine remotely, ZOOM IN. What looks fine to you on a home monitor may be microscopic on a projected screen in a room of 20 people. You can use the free ZoomIt tool from SysInternals and draw on the screen if you like.
  • If possible/acceptable, record meetings in Teams. This allows folks who weren’t able to attend, or may have otherwise missed a moment in the meeting due to a bandwidth hiccup, to catch up after the fact. Add the video link to your meeting notes when sending out (Teams will usually finish processing a recorded video within 10-15 mins of capturing it, and sends a notification to you in outlook that it’s ready).
  • Keep on top of your mails and Teams inboxes. If people can’t walk up to tap you on the shoulder, this is your only interface with your colleagues. Consider enabling pop up notifications or flashing task bar indicators for when you have unread messages.
    • Likewise, be aware that Teams chat is async by nature, just like e-mail. Expect more delay than when you walk to someone’s desk to ask them a question.
  • Never forget that there’s a real person behind every email address, Teams message, and DevOps Tickets.
  • You may have to “read the room” more as a remote worker. You may not be able to see someone’s body language to know whether or not they are joking, smiling, or upset about something.
  • It’s okay to take calls in casual clothes if you're comfortable and able. Don’t wear anything that’s offensive, explicit, etc - use your best judgment - but don’t feel like you have to get super dressed and be uncomfortable all day. Enjoy being home and wear your sweatpants!
  • It’s okay to eat on calls if it’s your dinner or lunch time, we do it all the time in the Boston office! Just mute your mic, chewing sounds are gross!!!!

Equipment

  • Make sure that you machine is properly enrolled in Intune and has VPN access before attempting to work from home
  • Make sure you have at least one of your comm tools (email, teams, slack) on your phone in addition to your laptop, so that you can let people know whats up if you lose power/internet at your home.
  • Keep your laptop batteries charged.
  • Get mobile with unlimited data if possible.
  • Stock up on necessary dongles, adapters, cords, and wires. Lack of necessary connectors can decrease your productivity.
  • Consider a headset for calls, specially ones with an easy to access mute button and fold down mic. It really can improve the quality of your audio. Webcams, specially those not at keyboard level (pointing up your nose) are also important.

Lifestyle

  • Take a little time to make your work environment pleasant. If you’re working in a mop closet with no windows, or the spare-room-equivalent thereof, you probably won’t be that productive. We’re complex beings. Put a plant on your desk, get some music going, clean.
  • You may wish to have a conversation with your kids that goes something like this: “Now, when I’m at my desk this week, it means I’m working. I can be interrupted a little bit sometimes, but most of the time I’ll need to be able to concentrate.”
    • You may wish to choose a work place in your house with a door to make this more explicit for children. “When this door is shut I am at work and you need to find your other parent”
  • EAT. You’ll forget to eat when you’re not surrounded by huge cafeterias or a team of people asking you what you want to do for lunch.
  • Working remotely can be lonely sometimes. Find a way to reproduce the feeling of that office chatter, or the casual hallway/water-cooler conversation. Music, podcast, background TV noise (when appropriate), etc.
  • Get some fresh air from time to time. Normally when you’re at the office you’re walking to/from the office and from your building to the cafeteria for coffee or lunch so you get outside quite a bit, but when working from home and the kitchen is just downstairs, you can very easily go a few days without actually leaving the house. It doesn’t need to be far, and with COVID19 around it probably shouldn’t be, but maybe sit on your porch while you drink your coffee, it helps clear the lungs and the head.
  • Good light is important. Having good lighting closer to natural light wavelengths makes the environment much more pleasant.
  • Build a routine of specific cues to help you switch into “work mode”. For example, you may still get dressed as you would if you were heading into the office to put you into the right mindset for the day.
  • Get interesting drinks and snacks!!! If you drink 12 cans of seltzer a day, make sure you have seltzer in your fridge. If you like getting peanut M&Ms from the team room at 2pm, grab some for your home! You’d be surprised how boring your regular drinks are when you’re used to fridges filled with flavorful things and a huge tea selection etc.

Things to avoid

  • If you are in a meeting room with other folks, try to keep side conversations and noises to a minimum. Imagine you are sitting in the center of the table and hear the things closes to the mic the loudest, because that’s how it is for anyone calling in.
  • Don’t sit right next to the microphone if you are going to be taking notes on a loud keyboard. It will drown out every voice in the room.
  • Don’t disclose sensitive information if there are others in your home office when you’re in a meeting. Generally speaking, it’s better to be using headphones if others are around.
  • Don’t direct a question to more than one individual at a time. This can be mildly awkward in person, but over a call it becomes nearly impossible to figure out who will speak first without any of the visual/bodily cues we normally rely on to resolve speaking order conflicts.
  • Don’t use whiteboards unless they are clearly visible to the room camera (and even then it can be tricky to see). Digital mediums present in Teams are always going to be superior for folks who are calling in.

What are your tips?


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Good, Better, Best creating the ultimate remote worker webcam setup on a budget

August 6, '19 Comments [4] Posted in Remote Work
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I've been a remote worker and an occasional YouTuber for well over a decade. I'm always looking for a better setup because the goal is clear - how can I interact with you and my co-workers in a way that has high-enough fidelity that I don't need to drive to Seattle every week!

I believe if my camera is clear and my audio is clear than I can really have a remote relationship with my team that is effective and true.

Everyone has a webcam these days and can just get on a video call and have a chat - but is it of sufficient quality that you feel like you're really having a good conversation with folks and truly connecting!

Here's a shot of my setup during a meeting I'm in here at Microsoft:

My setup - webcam and camera

Here's my thoughts on Good, Better, add Best set-ups for remotes and YouTubers without spending thousands.

Good

  • High quality video for Webcams and RemotesThe Logitech C270 Webcam can be gotten for as little as $20 or less! It's wholly adequate with enough light.
    • It only does 720p and it's USB2 so I can't enthusiastically recommend it but it's OK again, if you throw light at it. In the dark is just a webcam.
      Logitech C270
  • The Logitech USB Headset H570 is decent, as is the lovely Jabra UC Voice corded headset. I prefer the Jabra because it only covers one ear and doesn't give me the "two covered ears" claustrophobic feeling.
    • To be clear - audio quality matters. Any crappy headset (or quality one as above) will ALWAYS be better than your webcam's default or your laptop's default. Always. Mics need to be closer to your mouth to sound good.
      31kFcFWgIL
  • Small webcam Ringlight.
    • Light light light. Webcams, especially cheap ones NEED LIGHT. It feels weird and I get it but the quality is SO MUCH BETTER with some decent fill light. Get a ring light that's powered by USB and use it on calls. Yes, it looks ridiculous but it WORKS.
      Ringlight

Better

Logitech BrioHow can we improve on the GOOD setup. Clearer videos and better sound/sound feel.

Some folks feel the Logitech Brio is overhyped and I think that's fair. It's a "4k" camera that's not as impressive as it should be. That said, it's a solid camera and arguably the best Logitech has to offer.

If I could suggest a middle of the road solid "BETTER" setup for a remote worker, I'd recommend these

The lights are the magic.

Now, moving beyond USB headsets, I love adding speakerphones - not for the mic, literally for the speaker. I love the Plantronics Portable USB Speakerphone. Requires no drivers, it just shows up as a mic and speaker automatically. I have it front and center in front of my monitor and I use it every day. It makes me feel like my Home Office is a real Office somehow.

Plantronics Calisto 610-M Portable USB Speakerphone

If conversations are private I'll use the headset above for the audio but when I want the sound to "come from the monitor" I'll SPLIT the audio. This is a pro tip. You can set up the Mic input as the headset mic and the Speaker output as a Speakerphone (or your main speakers). I like using the Speakerphone for voice and keeping the computer's output as the main speakers. Having this separate of voice and computer sounds is a small trick I play on myself but it helps to create a sense of location where the remote video person comes out of separate speakers.

Selecting Output Speakers

Best

Let's spend a little bit of money, but not so much that we break the bank.

I'm going to make my own webcam. Rather than a plastic of the shelf single webcam, let's take an actual mirrorless camera - the kind you'd take to a photography class - and make it a HIGH QUALITY webcam.

We need a great camera and it needs to support HDMI out. The camera also needs to be able to stay on all day long, not overheat, and it needs to run on AC power (not on battery).

Here's a list of cameras that have clean HDMI out and can stay on all day. You might have one of these cameras in your closet! I like the Sony A6000 and here's its characteristics.

  • Sony A6000 - I found this on Craigslist for $300.
    • Max resolution: 1080p and a buttery smooth 60fps
    • Clean HDMI: Yes
    • Unlimited runtime: Yes
    • Connection type: Micro HDMI
    • Power: Dummy Battery
    • Verified by: Elgato
    • Notes: Requires dummy battery for power (sold separately) Retains full autofocus with clean HDMI output
      Sony A6000
  • I need a "dummy battery" for this camera. Turns out this is a whole class of thing you can buy. Who knew?
  • This camera has micro-HDMI so I need a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable.
  • Now this is just a loose camera, so how I will mount it on my monitor?
    • I like mounting it INSIDE the Ring Light. If you don't want the light you can just get this clamp mount.
    • Or you can do what I did - get the CLAMP then the LIGHT and then put the CAMERA in that like a sandwic
      Flexible Jaws Clamp Clip Mount Holder
  • This camera and cameras like it output HDMI and I need that HDMI to be inputted into my computer and I want the HDMI output of the camera to look like it's a regular Webcam. The magical device that does this for us is the Elgato CamLink 4k. It's literally a little stick with HDMI input on one end and a USB3 on the other side. It took 5 minutes to install.
    • This device also has the added benefit of being a generic "capture card" if you want to record or broadcast your gaming consoles OR other computers!

      Elgato CamLink 4k

Here's a YouTube video I made that shows you these cameras, before and after - Good, Better, and BEST!

Logitech Brio vs Sony A6000 with Elgato Camlink 4k - No Contest

What do you think? Thanks to John Miller and Jeff Fritz for their help and guidance!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Tragedies of the Remote Worker: "Looks like you're the only one on the call"

March 16, '15 Comments [70] Posted in Remote Work
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You're the only one on the callI'm writing this as I sit alone in a remote meeting room. As a remote worker, this is just one of the tiny, daily paper cuts. To be clear, I like being remote and I wouldn't change it, but some days Being a Remote Worker Sucks.

This is a rant, but if you were remote you'd understand.

You're the only one on the call.

It was nice of them put a link to join the meeting into the invitation, except they never joined the meeting. They've changed their IM status to Do Not Disturb and aren't answering their phones. You're all alone in a virtual room and are now late for a meeting you were originally early for.

When's the next time you're up?

Whenever you are on-site, folks always say "when are you up next?" Seriously. Like I'm just on vacation the other 6 weeks I'm not at the mother ship.

If only there were a global network with cameras and audio that would allow us to have a conversation while I'm away? But, alas, there isn't, so I'll see you again in 6 to 8 weeks.

I'm remote but that doesn't mean I'm not available EVERY WORK DAY.

Fifteen Minutes of "Can you hear me?"

Please. Unmute your damn phone. http://howtounmute.com. Learning how to use your basic VOIP camera and audio is a sign of respect for your remote workers.

You have a Webcam, use it.

You can see each other, but I can't see you. I don't care that you "don't like to use your webcam." We are having a business meeting, turn it on so the remote works can get one of their 5 senses back. Seeing your face is the whole point. It really helps. Bonus points if you adjust your webcam when it's time to see the whiteboard.

Have Empathy - Put yourself in the remote person's shoes

When I came to work here I sent five managers gift-wrapped web cams with a note on how to use them. During my next office visit I found 4 of them opened and shoved off to the side of their desks. If I had a gluten allergy I think you'd be more accommodating. But I don't, I'm a remote worker.

Remote iPad on a Stick - Double Robotics

I'm remote, please add call link to the meeting invite

Thanks for scheduling that meeting. Awesome that you got a room and everything. But I'm going to email you right back and remind you to add a call bridge/goto meeting/lync invite/google hangout. I just need access.

Move closer to the mic

You're in your office talking to me remotely, but not only will you not turn on your camera but you're talking on a speaker phone with your back to me as you spin in your desk chair.

Did the meeting end? Guys? Any one there?

It's so sad when I'm left on the table and you've all left the room. I'm just trapped in the Klingon Phone and you've got feet.

Don't fade away. When someone is remote it's so important to check in as you're closing the meeting.

The Klingon PhoneYour Inability to Deal with Me Remotely

Everyone has some special need. Mine is I'm remote. Your inability to be even slightly flexible to that fact causes me problems literally daily. Remote workers go out of their way to be available.

I'm on Lync, Skype, Slack, Twitter, and my cell phone is published in the company directory.

And you just literally said with a straight face, "I couldn't get ahold of you." O_O

Hearing an Important Conversation...as they hang up

This happens more often than you'd think. The meeting is over and they are hanging up. You can see their hand dropping to hit "End Call" and then someone starts mentioning something TOTALLY IMPORTANT and....dial tone.

Why don't you move up here?

Wow! I never thought of that. After 7 years of working remotely for a dozen reasons, you finally asked the right question! Why don't I just move up there?

Because. Reasons.

What tiny indignities do you deal with as a remote worker? Sound off in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.