Tuesday, May 29, 2007

NASA museum shows old Univac, CDC computers from the 60s

The Smithsonian Institution museum at Dulles Airport in Chantilly, VA has an interesting replica of a computer room as it might have been at NASA or a DOD agency in the 1960s or early 1970s (when I worked at the David Taylor Model Basin, and, later, NAVCOSSACT). There is an old Univac machine that probably ran assembly language like SAL and SLA and used special link edits called MITBLDS. (NAVCOSSACT had a Univac 1108 by 1972). There is also a Control Data Corporation machine. Univac had a major testing facility in Eagan, MN (between Minneapolis and St Paul, south of I-494) then, and Control Data had a famous orange building on I-494 to the East a bit. Many chain motels lined the strip, where computer and technical workers often stayed (as I did when I worked on Univac benchmarks in 1973 and 1974).

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Could I become an IT recruiter?

Yes, I have thought about getting into the information technology recruiting business myself. Since I have thirty plus years "in the business" -- starting with Univac, moving to IBM mainframes for many years (mostly in typical production environments with a culture based on overnight and end-of-month cycles as well as online) and then recently to client-server with a particular interest in media and publishing, I think I am quite aware of the range of situations encountered in various requirements.

Many of the agencies are located in the midwest, to take advantage of time zones. Many calls I get for jobs come from people who speak somewhat difficult English. I certainly could do the interviewing and screening of candidates.

Starting an agency is another matter. Typically, to start an agency (and afford the access fees to the major services like Dice), one needs some mass (to be able to have several employees and clients) and one needs a foothold in some employers; one needs to "know people" (as, in the DC area, government agencies and beltway bandits) through quasi-social connections.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Confidentiality Policy: Restatement

During this month, there has been increased activity in my employment search, and it is more likely that I could be re-entering the conventional mainframe employment market sometimes this spring or summer.

I believe that it is most likely that such an opportunity would be an hourly job as an individual contributor, although variations are conceivable.

I do cover a huge variety of topics on my blogs and websites, because I believe that issues are interrelated. I want to re-iterate, however, that I always respect the legal and ethical requirements for respect for confidentiality of information that I may come across in the workplace. Confidential information includes but is not limited to trade secrets, securities related information, personnel matters, names and personal or financial matters of individual stakeholders who are not public figures, and day to day matters of a workplace that would normally remain private.

Most information in a typical large commercial information technology shop is mundane, and would not be of public interest. Normally I will not identify employers or clients on my own sites except in a conventional way on a conventional resume.

Of course, I also always honor the requirement that computer resources of an employer or of its clients be used for legitimate business purposes only.

As a practical matter, I would expect the time available to maintain my own sites to be less, and I would expect to spend more of my own resources to be spent on trying to agent my novels or screenplay scripts or develop the public policy database idea that I have discussed in other postings. However, when employed full time before in Minnesota (most of the time from 1997-2003) I was able to maintain my own sites regularly. I would expect to maintain wireless and other appropriate software on my own laptops in order to maintain the ability to update my sites and blogs while on the road. I will make sure that appropriate contact information is maintained on WHOIS. With more income, I may well make considerable progress in making my own film or video on my materials, although much of that material might remain off-line.

It is important to note that right now, I am talking about individual contributor work. My own practice is that, if I were to take a position requiring direct reports, my speaking in public for the company, or making decisions that affect stakeholders, I would have to remove all of my materials from the public Internet (unless there were additional special circumstances). I am not expecting this to happen at this time. There are some possible scenarios where the sites remain up but where I would not continue updating them. There are also techniques to restrict access of sites to whitelists, but I do not anticipate needing to use these at this time. I may decide that a few specific items should be removed from my sites because of contextual issues that they could present. It is possible that at some point in the future (and this could after some time in a particular job paying income), I could consider removing or closing access to much of my material if it fits my own long term plans to do so (such as spending more efforts on becoming agented). It is worthy of note that, to continue my claim on the use of the name doaskdotell.com, I will need to keep considerable content accessible to the public, with a paradigm of intellectual objectivity.

Finally, I am aware of a couple of other possibilities. I do not go to work for companies in order to “expose” them; I do not accept positions in arrangements known to be illegal or unethical. And I am certainly aware of the “God punishes sinners” issue: that a web publisher must be careful with context, that his or her postings would not be interpreted as having some other meaning that compromises confidentiality. (The phrase was used on “Days of our Lives” when the character Belle gives Shawn hidden instructions as to how to locate her baby by GPS).

As for technical discussions on blogs, I consider it Okay to discuss programming or technology techniques in a generic way (with respect to any language or software like DB2, CICS, etc) with comments that relate to best practices as accepted industry wide (as opposed to company-specific or examination-specific) and knowledge that consultation professionals should normally have in the workplace to do their jobs.

In any employment situation, I expect to retain full intellectual property ownership (as to royalties and advertising revenues) for any of my own writings, as is normally understood in copyright law. I expect to control my own right of publicity (and not turn it over to a “reputation defense” firm). I am aware of some situations that sound problematic (such as insurance companies not allowing agents to have outside income, or companies wanting reputation or public relations firms manage their associates public presence) and in individual contributor jobs these arrangements would not be acceptable.

In some cases, I might ask an employer to sign an intellectual property and publicity agreement as part of a contract. A typical possible agreement form (which may be rewritten, as this dates back to 1999) is here:

My persistence policy is explained more at this link.

The suggested employer blogging policy (2004) is at this link.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Learning something new

He we go again. It’s hard to learn something new. It’s hard the first time, whether its swimming or algebra, or object oriented programming.

There are a lot of social and clinical contexts where the difficulty in bootstrapping learning something has unfavorable consequences.

In school systems, even colleges, one finds that math tends to be something people get or don’t get. Unlike many other academic subjects, there are not a lot of separate “facts” to learn. It’s more a process of thinking in abstractions and perfect logic, usually to reach an abstract result with a typical problem. Over a period of time, a student learns that math solves real problems (maybe starting in physics and chemistry, by eventually in modeling things that happen in real political, social and even family life). It forces thinking to become objective. Students with extreme difficulty in, say, algebra, seem not to have gotten past the “physical” world. They don’t perceive that learning it servers their self-interest. On the other hand, students who do well in it have somehow learned to associate critical and abstract thinking with legitimate self-interest. Not everything is social, relationships, and physical. You have to have a space for your own mind. It does seem true that students from homes with better educated or middle class (or above) parents are more likely to learn this. Racial or ethnic disparities in test scores would reflect this cause.

I already covered on this blog, on Dec. 21, the difficulty in learning different styles of programming and work within the broad area of “information technology.” Again, the workplace has demanded a style of thinking that seems to violate one’s sense of control of one’s own results, with the gain of eventual reduction in cost, increase in productivity and maintainability. Part of the trick in learning this is to connect it with self-interest.

One reason that this matters is that it really is important for people to be able to transcend their own belief systems and understand other points of view. It’s important to be able to do this on one’s own. Yet so many social subsystems (especially many religious groups) purport to do all of one’s thinking about social and moral issues for the individual. This intellectual protectionism seems to make the individual productive within the context of that group, but may compromise the ability of the person to “compete” in a larger global sense.