Wednesday, February 29, 2012

CNBC reports on long American workweek, short French work year

CNBC last night, in a re-aired broadcast, discussed the length of the American workweek, compared to that in France and other European countries.

Some companies, like Best Buy in Minnesota, have found that telecommuting and work-from-home tremendously increases productivity.

The show talked about job-sharing, and gave an example from New Hampshire where two men each worked 40 hour weeks and were paid 75% a full salary.

The report mentioned a court ruling saying that salaried or exempt employees may sometimes be entitled to extra compensation for overtime work done at home through electronics.  I’ll look at this more soon and report.
The show then went to France, and showed a Paris shuttered in August as tourists flooded in, sometimes unable to find shops and restaurants open.

French workers are more regimented during their 35 hour week and actually focus harder than American workers.  Some economists think that the French model is not sustainable, but many US companies are opening operations in France. 

The show mentioned Connie Meier and her book "Bonjour Paresse" ("Bonjour Laziness"). 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Peter Diamandis, personal space travel entrepreneur, makes pitch for "learning to work" and "incentivized competition" (X-Prize Foundation)

Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Foundation (link) and a big player in personalized space travel, appeared on CNN yesterday and made the argument that Americans ought to get used to paying more for services, especially to people who do the work we don’t want to do ourselves (like providing physical eldercare, domestic work, fast food work, etc). 

He also discussed his concept of “incentivized competition” as a way to improve the economy and the employment situation. 

Here is CNN’s blog entry on him from Oct. 2011, link.“How to innovate?  Be fearless.”

I must say, that after my Dec. 2001 "career ending" layoff at age 58 (and "retirement buyout"), I faced tinkering, in hit-and-miss fashion, with regimented, low-wage jobs that sounded like they came from a Maoist Cultural Revolution, or maybe Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed".  Some aren't so regimented. Want to get up at 2 AM to deliver newspapers?  Want to start a receiving shift at Netflix at around 4 AM?  

Friday, February 17, 2012

Okay, the Droid is nifty.

Okay, my new "Droid" from Motorola (and Google), with Verizon, is going to be much faster than the Blackberry, whose contract ended recently.  It had seemed for about a year that everyone's access on the Metro or in discos was much faster than mine. The Blackberry had been touted to be the same model as the president's.

The directions lose a little to be desired.  If you're unfamiliar with how they work, it's a bit of a mystery. You have to figure out that you're supposed to punch out the SIM card, and then the instructions about the "slot" make sense (I had to look for a YouTube on how to install it).  No instructions discuss the pull out keyboard.

One other news item.  Aflac was advertising heavily for insurance agents on ABC yesterday.  This has always sounded like a difficult field.  The television ad asked "Do you like to help people?"   That's a turn from the reputation that the field has gotten in our individualistic society for hucksterism.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

I just wanted to add a note about Microsoft's automatic update

I just wanted to add a note about Microsoft's automatic update, in both Windows 7 and Vista.  Most updates (those that affect the Registry) ask you to Restart, and go through "configuration" before shut down and then again before Windows is restarted.  Typically, Microsoft advises you on progress up to about 35% and then the configuration sits there until finished, giving the user no clue as to progress.

I have found that this process can hang if it starts itself (as when the machine is left on overnight).  It can hang if done when shutting off the machine.  It never fails if you run it while the machine is up and press Restart as directed.  I have particularly had problems on a Windows 7 Starter Toshiba notebook.

Updates to ".Net security" and to Windows Defender seem to take the longest, but oddly don't force restarts (although the next boot will take longer).

Apple, by comparison, gives the user a sliding graph of the progress of an operating system update (before restart).  I wish Microsoft would do the same.

I'll put a picture of it here when I have one, after the next update.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Certain sites seem to cause temporary cursor freeze in Windows 7

Sometimes, when I visit a new website for the first time since rebooting on my Windows 7 Dell XPS, the cursor freezes.  If I hit any key repeatedly, the cursor recovers in about thirty seconds and the machine operates normally (after sounding a few beeps).   It seems that certain sites (such as Suntrust, a bank, recently) start some kind of script (in any browser) that hogs the CPU until Windows 7 starts some other memory management service.

There are a lot of links on cursor freezeups online, and most are about device incompatibility.  This forum, on annoyances, may be useful. Look at Dave Homan's comment toward the bottom for a series of steps.

This 2009 computer had been converted from Vista (which had gotten too slow) at the beginning of 2011.  I think conversions do invite problems.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Agents: "buying leads that don't close" (I don't buy them!)

Recently, I got an email (unsolicited but not really spam) about how much it would cost me "as an insurance agent" to purchase leads "that don't close".

I did start the interview process with a life company in 2005 (two of them contacted me, I didn't contact them; same with HRBlock later) and I see what kind of business I could have gotten into. I'm glad I didn't.

But a couple of my parents' best friends were life agents in the 50s and 60s, and in those days, the old-fashioned social circles could become very powerful in sustaining a livelihood and raising a generation. That's much harder today.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

An odd question in a 7-11 about "phone cards"

Yesterday, at a 7-11, a customer was trying to use a phone card bought there, and the clerk couldn’t help him. The clerk actually asked me, a random customer, if I knew how to make it work.  Nothing like this has happened before.

But, back in 2002, after my “layoff” at the end of 2001, I had looked into a variety of “entrepreneurial” operations while still in Minnesota, and one of these was distributing phone cards, mostly to convenience stores like 7-11.  I even remember a forum at a Bloomington hotel (near the Mall of America).

The whole concept seems pointless to me in this day of cell phones.  But it even seemed pointless then. 

Monday, February 06, 2012

Did I "blackball" myself online out of the old mainframe world? (Really?)

So, given all the attention I have given to “online reputation” and the workplace, I have to ask myself, did I get myself blackballed?  Did I shoot myself in the foot?

As I wrote on my main blog yesterday, I think there was a “sea change” in this area in the middle of the last decade.  Conventional wisdom had always been, before then, you had a work life and a personal life online, and you should keep them separate.  Employers had been concerned mainly with misuse of their own computing resources (previously mostly mainframe), all the way back to the 1980s, when my Dallas employer told associates in a memo they would be terminated even if they did their community college homework on company computers (in-house training was the only exception, and the company, Chilton, actually had a pretty good in-house technical skills program in the early 80s).

The change appears to have occurred because of the rise of social networking sites, doing more than just professional referrals.  By 2005 or so, employers (particularly school systems) knew that Myspace could provide a disruption, even from home.  Facebook was taking shape, even if Mark Zuckerberg was only 21 or so then.  Suddenly, around the dawn of 2006, career pundits were talking about “online presence and professionalism” and “cleaning up your digital dirt”.  But no journalists seemed to realize how quickly this problem was evolving, and no one questioned whether employers or HR departments had been behaving ethically (except for Workforce Management, which published a thoughtful essay on the problem sometime around 2007).

I’ve documented (on the main “BillBoushka” blog, including a posting yesterday) how I got snarled as a substitute teacher in 2005.  I can say that the main incident depended partly on some improbable coincidences.  (Even a reporter agreed.)   Now, I look back on the incident and see, ironically, a nice indie movie screenplay in it.  But I may have had issues before that I didn’t want to face.

Remember, back in  March 2000, I had published (on an older site called “”, moved to “”) an essay anticipated “conflicts of interest” that were likely to arise in the future over web self-publishing even in a Web 1.0 environment.  I even got some reaction to it (including from someone at the WSJ in 2002).

As I’ve noted before, my own “legacy” career had a “cardiac arrest” in 2001 with the December layoff.  In the later part of 2002, while still in Minneapolis, I corresponded with a headhunter about a job in Richmond with a PPO regarding HIPAA.  They fooled around for four months, and when they finally called for an interview, it didn’t go that well – but I had already lost interest.  I chalk that one up to a client’s dragging his feet.   On September 11, 2002 (that day!) I had also done an interview on Bloomington MN with Express Scripts (familiar at the local pharmacy), only to find that the hiring manager really didn’t have authorization yet to bring on contractors.  That’s what I was told, as well as the feedback that I had “tried too hard” in the interview. (Who wouldn’t?)

But then it got even more interesting. While I was back in the DC area for Christmas break in 2002-2003 (and was just working part time for the Minnesota Orchestra) I got in touch with Group-1 Software in Lanham, MD (PG County, on Route 50, on the way to the beach). Now part of Pitney Bowes, this had been the vendor that had worked with ReliaStar in 1998 to install NCOA (National Change of Address) processing.  The interview went very well. I flew back to Minneapolis the next day (Saturday Jan. 4) and emailed the company Monday morning.  I was willing to move back starting Jan. 20.  I never heard a thing.  Why?  Was it because of a remark I had made about criticisms that had been made of the company when I used their  software back in 1998?  I was just being candid.  Or had they Googled me and found out about my sharp edges (involvement online with the fight against “don’t ask don’t tell” which had expanded to so many areas).  When companies stop following up on a candidate because of online reputation problems, the candidate never hears about it.  But in early 2003, this problem was not yet “well known”.

In the succeeding years, after coming back to Arlington, I went through a Brainbench recertification cycle, and a had few more phone screenings.  The phone interviews were often done by separate companies hired by clients, and included technical questions on COBOL, JCL, IMS, etc.   The last time I was close to a “contract” was 2007, with Loews in North Carolina.  But, again, I never heard anything.  But, was it credible that I would want to live in the rural North Carolina Piedmont?   (I once got a call about a job in Lynchburg, VA and wouldn’t pursue it because of who I thought it was.)

I’ll say something more soon about my own planned disposition of my “mainframe” career (as I am 68 now;  had I built a more focused reputation in trendy stuff before 2001, all the excursions like substitute teaching [yesterday’s main blog post] might have become moot, but that’s another discussion). There was a time when recruiters were predicting that companies would need workers in their 50s and 60s to come back, because they wouldn’t be able to keep their legacy mainframe applications going.  That really happened.  What has, is that the mainframe world has condensed into niches, where people seem to need “online reputations” as “experts” in order to keep getting contracts.   Some areas, like MMIS, HIPAA, and Vantage (for life insurance and annuities) might well remain vital as centers of personal expertise.

But there really is a problem.  It’s no longer “acceptable” to live multiple lives online. And who wants to put all his “professional reputation” playing cards in one older technology (even something like DB2) that will someday shrink into a cold, dense cinder like a white dwarf star?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A website that tells you how to diagnosis slow bootup of Windows

Since installing Webroot Secure Anywhere, Windows 7 bootup on my Dell XPS laptop (2009) has been faster than it had been before,  but Saturday AM it was a little slower, so I thought I would look up the possible problems that occur.

I tried some of the procedures given here at ‘ITExpert”.  I found that I get an “error” on startup, that generates a report, and offers a lookup, which in turn does not find a matching code.  For “fun”, I presented the XML code that the report generated below.   There’s really a lot that can go wrong with a lot of obscure services and drivers that may not be used often by many people.

Windows (under System and Security, Action Center) is telling me I don’t run Windows Defender (I use Webroot scans) or backup (I use Carbonite).  I don’t know what the memory card reader driver is about.
“Log Name:      Microsoft-Windows-Diagnostics-Performance/Operational
Source:        Microsoft-Windows-Diagnostics-Performance
Date:          2/5/2012 2:12:46 PM
Event ID:      100
Task Category: Boot Performance Monitoring
Level:         Error
Keywords:      Event Log
User:          LOCAL SERVICE
Computer:      Owner-PC
Windows has started up:
     Boot Duration                               :               92241ms
     IsDegradation                               :               false
     Incident Time (UTC)   :               ‎2012‎-‎02‎-‎05T19:10:37.640400300Z
Event Xml:

On a Dell 8300 desktop, the bootup got slower and slower (particularly the NVidia icon part) until it finally failed completely, at the end of 2009, after six years.   A Geek Squad visit had fixed a "blue screen" in December 2008 ("had.dll" on Windows XP, see Dec. 10, 2008).  

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A note about Adobe update

Today, when I came back from the movies and restarted my Dell XPS cold, Adobe Reader updated successfully, and called for a second restart, after having failed several times because of not having some Windows 7 (Professional) permissions.   The only thing different was that I accidentally restarted without the power being on, just battery.  Windows had updated Defender today, that's all.

So far, it seems to work.  Strange.  Adobe forums link is here.

I never ran into this on the Toshiba Windows 7 notebook.  But it has a pw on the only account.  The Dell is set up with an Owner and I am the only possible user.  Perhaps this goes away if I set up a formal Administrator  (Microsoft link here).

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Starbucks supports "Create Jobs for USA"; a note on Apple stores and genius bars

Starbucks has teamed up with Opportunity Finance Network and “Create Jobs for USA” to raise money for community-based small businesses that will actually be able to hire people at reasonable compensation and benefits. Starbucks “sells” a card (“Let’s create Jobs for USA”) in its stores and outlets.  I picked up one at Pentagon City yesterday after going to the Apple store to fix a problem with an occasional Safari hang on a laptop.  (Fix: reinstall, start over with preferences, etc.) 

Here’s the website

I have to pass along the link to this blog posting by pianist Jeremy Denk (“The Exciting New Kindle”) here,  where he provides a description of the Apple store as the victory of gadgetry over content.  
 P.S.  Starbucks employees wear tags, like "I am smooth".  I know, the company thinks its branding its blends.  But there's a double meaning.  And some employees have no shame.