Saturday, March 28, 2009

Many work-from-home arrangements are scams, especially "mass mailing"; Teen makes video to help dad find job

Many work-from-home schemes don’t make sense by any reasonable business model, experts say.

Today (March 28) NBC Washington described a scam where the would-be entrepreneur orders software and mailing lists of doctors in order to start a work-from-home medical billing business.

There is no reason for manual stuffing of envelopes and mailing to clients any more, according to experts. Mail operations and promotions are too well automated, and have been so since the 1980s, when credit reporting companies like Chilton (where I worked) encouraged them with promotions. Furthermore, the mailing industry is now technology intensive, with companies like Pitney-Bowes (including Group1).

Political action groups do sometimes hire people to mail items. Mailing lists are sometimes sensitive property and often cannot be used by others without permission, anyway.

Other scams described this morning include assembly-from-home kits.


Maybe this is also afar from "information technology job" but I'll go ahead and post this story:

A teen, Ben Gullett in Florida has made a YouTube video to help his dad find a job. NBC Washington reported this story Saturday (today) and I believe some other networks did. The three-minute video is called "Mark by Ben" and follows here (embedded)

The associated resume (PDF) is here. The resume deals with marketing strategy for professional sporting events. My own first reaction was, major league baseball, maybe? I wonder if the Washington Nationals need some help.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AOL lists good careers for introverts

Walletpop on AOL has a great column today “10 Jobs for Quiet Workers” – that is, career fields for introverts where there is good demand despite recession. The author is Rachel Zupek. The first job on the list is Automotive Service Technician, which has become quite IT driven with all of the chips and engine analyzers (about which there are beaucoup websites). The tenth category was “writers, authors and technical writers”. The most IT driven one was number 6, “network systems analyst.” Business systems analysts take a little more extroversion, at least the ability to sell business plans to management within an organization. Insurance companies have always been big on business systems analysts and formal project leaders. Yup, project leadership takes more extroversion, too.

Tech sales wouldn't be good for introverts -- too much schmoozing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Interactive Strategies": an interesting company presented on local DC television

On Monday March 23, 2009 NBCWashington featured a brief story on a company called “Interactive Strategies”, located in Washington DC. The website is this. There is a link that says “we’re hiring” (despite recession, which seems less severe in the DC area than elsewhere anyway) and the lists of skills are rather specialized and focus on e-marketing, and related items such as CSS/XHMTL, Flash, a MySQL. Actually, I have some of this at home with my own websites (I could tell the company a story about using MySQL and java hosted by a small ISP that I tried working with a few years ago), but it may not be as deep as they would want.

But the main reason that the company is interesting is the Facebook Feed, which is a mechanism to allow small businesses to advertise on the social networking site with very little capital for marketing. The company provides a “Blog to Being a Happy Client” underneath the Facebook link. What I found on Facebook was this (you may need to be a Facebook member and log in to see it). For example, on April 1, 2009 the company offers a Lunchbox session “Learn Search Engine Marketing and Social Media” here.

I couldn’t find the NBCWashington story on their site today.

There is another DC company that I became familiar with a few years ago, “Fierce Markets” (based on Ben Franklin’s saying), and it’s still there.

Picture: From the Washington Monument, August 2007; yes, the smog can be bad in summer.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Telecommuting: an invitation to layoff? Also, lessons from the dot-com bust

Telecommuting has been promoted as a way to reduce traffic, carbon emissions, and save fossil fuels, and money for employees. One trades car expenses to perhaps being responsible for a home PC and broadband connection.

But now during recession, some people feel that showing up at the office less could lead them vulnerable to layoff. Today, March23, the front page of the Washington Post has a cover story by Annys Shin, “As Cuts Loom, Will Working From Home Lead to a Layoff?: Recession Pushes Some to Eschew Flexible Job Policies”, link here.

Some employers, however, insist that they will promote telecommuting to save office rental costs, and some companies find that upper management supports telecommuting while middle managers in their spans of control tend to use it as a weapon against more marginal subordinates.

Some localities or states have postponed passing even minimal paid family leave ordinance because of the recession.

Today, Tech Republic has a very interesting blog column by Jason Hiner, “Lessons in unemployment from the dot com bust”, an interview with Mrinal Desai, founder of Crossloop: Everyone Helps (a computer tech support company), about his experiences with professional social networking; he worked for LinkedIn.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mozy: offsite backup for home users and small businesses

Well, tonight CNN gave a spot to Mozy Online Backup, as a convenient off-site disaster recovery package for small businesses and home users. Mozy is a trademarked product of Berkeley Data Systems (California).

I went ahead and tried it, at $4.95 a month, but it also sells the first two years at once (a little more than $100) with three free months. It also offers a one year option. You get an exe to download, and install, and then it invites you to make the first baseline backup. The exe is bigger for Windows than for the Mac. It works for Vista, XP, and 2000.

Mine is set to take seven hours. It looks like it backs up everything in your named directories (like documents and settings, 1.7 gig for me) but not root directories that you create yourself. Those you have to go and backup in “expert mode” it looks like. I’ll see how this works out and update here.

Michael Horowitz has an article in CNET on July 30, 2007, “Everybody likes Mozy, except me, Part I” here. Horowitz doesn’t like a program to run in the background all the time (because of the "set it and forget it" design), but I did a ctl-alt-del and saw that it did not significantly increase CPU use while doing the initial backup (nor has it slowed down the computer). He also doesn’t like the idea that if you delete a file accidentally, the automatic backup logic would automatically delete it from the backup. He also, in part II, has an objection to the encryption paradigm.


It took six hours. But to add to backup sets, you go into Configure, and right click on backup sets. But the right click did not seem to work.

Now, the latest wrinkle is this. If I go into File Structure and click on the C drive, the next auto backup (after 20 minutes of non-use) automatically adds the C drive to an existing backup set and starts, for me at least, a 12 hour 4 gig backup.

Here's another wrinkle to think about. Law enforcement or the government could gain access to backups without needing to seize a home PC in certain situations. Maybe that's not a problem if you have nothing to hide. But I do wonder about the 4th Amendment here. I suppose Electronic Frontier Foundation will write about this one of these days.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Ever heard of the EDS "House Interview" (about 1972)?

Ever heard of the “House Interview”? Back in 1978, when I was working for Bradford on New York State MMIS, I worked with several ex-EDS employees who not only had saved printed copies of their notorious dress code, but also told tall tales of the “House Interview.” After passing initial screening and interviews to become a systems engineer, an EDS (Electronic Data Systems). HR person would show up, unannounced at your door for the “house interview.” One employee told of being embarrassed because his wife was in lingerie. You kept your house clean. Private lives didn’t exist.

It almost sounds like EDS then was acting like social services for foster parents, checking up on things. How times have changed. And how EDS has changed, hopefully.

The dress code, which required formal suits, white shirts, and that coats be kept on (supposedly IBM used to check for garters) was based on the idea that customers did not “understand” data processing. I saw the 1972-dated memo once.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The scoop on how to apply for census taker jobs

Some people, including retirees, may be interested in applying for temporary “census taker” jobs for 2010.

I talked to the Census people today, and this is what they said.

Go to this link for the major application forms and maps of local offices. (Note: Look at Dec. 22, 2009 blog posting here for updated link if that one no longer works.)

In many areas, the “first wave” of testing has been completed. But there will probably be “second and third” waves of applications. I was surprised that the processing of applicants had started more than a year ahead of time. If testing has been completed in your area, you will be put on a waiting list by phone number. You come in, fill in the application (which you can download and print from PDF format and pre-fill), and take a computerized assessment test. There will be many assessment centers in every area.

Most positions will start in April 2010 and will run a few weeks. Some jobs will run longer. There will be supervisory jobs which may be short, but some temporary appointments could run as along as one year.

This may be an odd placement for this information (the I.T. blog), but it would seem that over time Census should have more I.T. needs. Keep looking at USAJOBS.

Monday, March 16, 2009

AOL lists 10 companies "desperate for people" -- would you want these jobs?

AOL offered its subscribers a “pleasant surprise” and “ray of hope” (outplacement-wise, that is) Monday May 16 with a headline article “10 Top Companies Hiring This Week”, link here. The lead byline on their home page characterized the companies as “desperate for workers”. Two of the companies involved personal health or custodial care, one involved pest control, and several involved lower-end retail, one involved electronic retail (Radio Shack, which may have benefited from Circuit City’s demise – and Radio Shack has had its own difficulties in past recessions) Another company was KinderCare, and this is teaching and care for very young children. There is a tendency for many of the jobs in these companies to be heavy with sales and “quasi-intimate” people skills, compared to what IT is used to.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Major media sources discussing expansion of freelance work-at-home computer contracting opportunities

The New York Times, on Sunday March 15, has an interesting article, “In Hard Times, Freelancers Turn to the Web”, link here.

The article describes how some people turn to freelance proposal and resume writing and make $50 to $100 an hour. Another possibility is proofreading (you have to know the standard proofreading symbols) and editing for authors. I worked with proofreaders when I wrote my three books. Proofreaders can work with printed page but often will return edited files. Another possibility could be examination writing (of multiple choice questions) for certification tests. I have done this before.

There are companies like oDesk that manage the work and even allow customers or “employers” monitor the work, even at home, of contractors.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

We tossed away our mature "mainframe" talent and now we have a financial crisis; does the government really have a "system" to monitor the "toxins"?

In reading repeated media stories about the financial crisis, I’ve noticed that the government seems to have no straightforward way to calculate the risk that it has taken on.

It is common in public policy organizations (like the Fed, and Treasury, even if they do different things) to run simulation models to predict financial results. A company that I worked for in 1989 did this with Medicare operating margins. We had an analyst who modeled all the equations (based on Propac and the Federal Register rules) and a contract programmer who had coded these equations into a series of COBOL and SAS jobs based on public policy parameters, various medical inputs like case-mix, and claims data.

In a financial simulation, the same overall setup to doing the work should apply. The government would need to run a model that can walk a database that models all the “assets” (that is toxic assets) in a financial institution, and calculate valuations.

The Time Magazine issue from March 9, 2009, p. 30, “One Bad Bond” provides some diagrams that might help illustrate the point. Ordinary mortgage bonds comprising performing mortgages don’t provide much problem, but what Wall Street did was to take the riskiest or “subprime” mortgages and package them as the lower “tranches” of “CDO’s”, in such a way that losses are multiplied.

Each of these securities, however, has a structure that can be represented in a database record on a schema. The structure is relatively hierarchal (as in IMS) or perhaps more networked (as in IDMS) rather than just relational. This sort of data lends itself to being analyzed by traditional batch mainframe (usually COBOL) programming, highly “structured”, with routines to walk through all of the entities in the database (in IDMS they would be SETs that invoke all the original mortgage contracts wherever they appear in the tranches of the CDO’s). The jobs have to be set up to be run automatically according to schedules. The data would have to be converted from various formats that the individual financial institutions would have and loaded into a common format on the database. All of this activity is well known information technology that was “popular” back in the 1980s. It’s not the new sexy world of Web 2.0 or e-commerce. It’s the “boring”, batch, stable, highly secure world of IBM MVS (or OS390) and S0C7’s.

True, some of the banks might have new-age formats for their data, as instances of classes in object oriented environments. But it’s possible to design a system like this with OOP techniques in COBOL.

But from everything I hear, it doesn’t sound as though the government has its arms around any of this. It takes something like a year form IT professionals to develop the information requirements, define the processing, the database, code, test, and QA and validate results. I did this for thirty years. I wonder how in the world the Treasury Department and Fed are going to get this done. They have to make up their minds to do it with technology that is somewhat forgotten, with many of the older professionals used to this kind of work retired,

After Y2K, most employment in this sort of thing tended to be contract-based, related to specific programs or legal changes like MMIS or HIPAA. Perhaps the same will be true of this. But we’ve cast aside a lot of the old fashioned bread-and-butter IT professionalism of the pre-Y2K era, and suddenly we have the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Is there a relationship?

I’m 65, and I think I can help “you” solve this problem. I’ll network, but let me know what “you” think.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Part time job market still may be pretty strong

AOL today has a headline story about partime jobs, some of which are based on working from home. The story is followed by a list of jobs that pay various hourly rates, starting with $60 an hour (sure, investment banker!) The story is by Molly Harman from

Despite the recession, Alpine access is still hiring (as would be some other similar companies) "customer care professionals". These jobs involve taking customer service telephone calls at home for various retail clients. Generally the worker needs to buy a modern PC that will be used only for work, and security requirements are strict; a stable land broadband connection at home is required (wireless is not considered secure enough or reliable enough yet, although that will likely change in the future).

There are a variety of other jobs listed, including tutor, shopper, and specialized blogger.

The article also mentions Odesk, “Hire, Manage and Pay remote contractors as if they were in your office,” link here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

When techies sell, who wants to listen?

The Tech Republic column “CIO for Hire” by Jay Rollins has an interesting column, “How to cut to the chase on the vendor cold call”, here, today.

The blog entry is a contraposition to the more common question, can “techies sell”. Indeed, there has been a lot of hype about the growing market in technology sales, promoting it as a customer service concept rather than “hucksterism.” Now, the emphasis would be on selling technology that can brutally reduce overhead for companies.

Nevertheless, managers resent the interruptions of cold calls at work as much as they resent them at home, given the social resentment of telemarketing that has developed in the past decade. Rollins recommends particular skepticism about vendors who are not very sure about what they have to sell.

Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine some of the innovations that can be coming: Energy consumption management systems (as part of the “green Internet”). New technologies for due diligence in identifying consumers – I’ve written about that on the ID theft blog as see fixing this problem as part of the new president’s “infrastructure” repair. Another innovation area for sales would obviously come in medical recordkeeping. I’d be concerned about still another obvious area – employee background checking and online “reputation management.”

I doubt that salesmen are going away. But the talk of the virtues of salesmanship has a flip side: listening to the salesmen. We don’t always want to.

One other little aside: A woman is selling her husband on Ebay -- opening bid $1 -- that is, she is trying to get him a job on Ebay (source: NBC Today show, March 5, 2009).

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Qwerty" proficiency for programmers?

A funny artifact of my own professional background comes to mind. Shortly after starting a mainframe programming and systems analysis job at an insurance company in January 1990, I noticed that some people had their terminal keyboards blocked out with some sort of plastic overlay. There actually was a course in “keyboard proficiency” offered as part of the company’s training then. I thought that the whole idea was passé and silly. I thought back to my high school days of the 1950s, when people (almost all girls) took typing as an elective. “Clerk-typist” was a real MOS in the Army (and a sought-after one in the Vietnam era, to stay off the front lines).

It seems that programmers learn to type fast and reliably quickly enough, with no prompting or need to stop looking. Just look how quickly Geek Squad guys type in Microsoft XP operating system commands to repair a machine.

“Qwerty” is one of the few words where the Q is not followed by a u. Go to Europe, though, and, as I remember, in every country the keyboards were different. It would throw me, to go into the hotel guest “business” room in Bilbao Spain (with its unusual multiplicity of languages) and find the keyboard totally rearranged.

By the way, I had a mysterious “keyboard error” recently, which went away with a cold boot. I talked about it last week on the internet safety blog.