Thursday, December 30, 2010

Windows 7 automatic updates on a new computer stalls in "configuring updates" on Restart -- is Windows Live the problem?

I bought a Toshiba Notebook yesterday for incidental road use, my first taste of Windows 7 starter, not so different from Vista. The bootup was slow at first, but, OK, notebooks are slower.

But what I didn’t like was finding that Microsoft wanted to load 61 updates. The update installs stalled on Windows Live (update #36) for about 30 minutes, and resumed when I played with the cursor, and went into Live to finishing the install, then finishing the other “regular” installs. I don't actually use Windows Live for chat.

The restart got through the reconfiguration on shutdown (just as on Vista), but got stuck at 32% on the boot up. I had to go into Safe Mode to back it out, and then saw that all updates to the operating system itself were marked “failed” (the others, like to Office, had succeeded anyway). It took it back to Best Buy to reupdate. During the restart the second time, it picked up at the 32% immediately and finished relatively quickly. Weird.

Windows 7 does have an extra step in shutting down, which lets you opt out of installing updates. I don't know if it interrupts you and forces you to update the way Vista does.

I also keep getting a failed update to Windows Live on my Vista machine because I already have “another flavor” of Live. What is going on?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More people get fired over social media posts, and more employers go looking for them

MSN today has a series-report (many consecutive pages) of people being fired for contents on social media posts that disparage the employer or its customers. The incidents today include a Pizza shop employee, an NFL employee, and a teacher.

Many people do not realize that others besides their “friends” may see the posts, and more employers are systematically checking, according to MSN.

The First Amendment would not protect people from reasonable “blogging policies” instituted by private employers (or even government employers). More and more employers are discovering that this is a sensitive issue, although problems related to personal blogs available to search engines go back as far as 2002 with Heather Armstrong (“dooce”).

I’ve written about this on my “BillBoushka” blog before (Nov. 9, 2010 has the most recent case, of an EMS worker).

Fortunately, it does not seem realistic for employers to regulate social media use at home because it is so widespread, but many jobs require the use of personal social media to support the job, not one’s own agenda. Consider how a life insurance agent has to network with people and get leads, for example.

The Charlotte Observer has a typical story by Eric Frazier about the "online gripe" of the Pizza worker who complained about keeping working late by laid-back customers, and there is an interesting Facebook sequence about it.

Here’s a typical MSN link on the story.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Can employees lawfully disclose an employer's security lapses? The TSA story

So, does your employer have the right to expect you to keep the employer’s security deficiencies secret? Probably so, at least according to a recent incident where the TSA acted against a pilot Charles Liu for posting a YouTube video that exposed the apparently lax screening done on many airport employees as they move about.

Is this legitimate “whistleblowing”?

Part of security is that adversaries don’t know exactly what you’re watching explicit and what you aren’t. The TSA can say that this is part of the policy that they don’t disclose a lot of their practices to the media, or allow air industry employees to do so. This sounds like basic employment “confidentiality” to me.

Friday, December 24, 2010

EEOC sues for-profit university corporation for misuse of credit reports in employment

The New York Times, in a story by Steve Greenhouse (Dec. 21), reports that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a suit against Kaplan Higher Education Corporation, for disparate impact against black applicants as a result of the way it uses credit reports to screen applicants. The link for the story is here.

A number of states, including Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, and Illinois limit the use of credit reports in employment decisions. Generally, they may be used only for jobs involving hiring money.

Regulating the use of credit reports in hiring could have an unintended consequence: companies could stil to "social media" background investigations, which are likely to be really unreliable -- the "online reputation" problem.

Kaplan runs “for profit” universities and trade schools and has come under criticism when graduates, not finding good employment, haven’t been able to pay back federal loans.

Back in 1987, Chilton Corporation (a precursor of TRW and Experian), where I worked in Dallas, required all staffers to pass credit checks but TRW dropped the requirement when acquiring the company in 1988.

I’ve never attended a “trade school”, but after a layoff from RCA as an “Operations Research Trainee” in 1971, I applied for an was accepted by a COBOL programming school with a course that lasted about 14 weeks, in northern Virginia. But I dropped it when I got a job with the Navy Department. I would eventually learn COBOL OJT at Univac and then NBC, all in the early 70s.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Linked IN": avoid trite buzz words on resume; you need a critical mass of 50 Linked In connections!

On Monday morning, during ABC “Good Morning America”, Tory Johnson advised viewers of the three overused buzzwords that “Linked In” says should be left out of resumes. These are:

"Extensive experience"

"Results oriented"

"Team player"

Tory said that to use Linked effectively, you need a minimum of 50 connections. Post about others so they will reciprocate. Once you make the “critical mass” the referrals will start to work.

But it seems that the Internet is making “outside” social interaction more important to the workplace, not less. That’s partly because of Facebook’s own philosophy, that a person has only one real identity, and not separate multiple lives that can be separated. (Then does “Second Life” really make sense?)

This may all be very difficult for older, less “popular” workers. It may make family connections, not less, as we perceived things during the earlier days of the Web a decade or so ago.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

University study of "displaced IT workers" has valuable advice, roadmap for career rebuild (from 2005)

I found this position paper from 2005 from the University of Denver (pdf), “A Career Map for the Displaced IT Worker”, by Jennifer Tierney, Capstone Project, link here.

The paper notes a severe drop in IT hiring and employment after the 2000 recession started (particularly after 9/11), and a failure to rebound in a normal manner for a number of factors, including outsourcing or offshoring, controversy over H1-B immigration, and confusion among employers as to the skill sets they need. There is a comparison to earlier paradigm shifts in manufacturing. The one area with the biggest demand (as of late 2005) was to be security. There is a lot of discussion of published BLS surveys.

Perhaps another reason for “displacement” is decentralization of computing, self-publishing, and social networking, and the growing tendency to depend of open source and “free content”. But that is a trend that could reverse, as I have been discussing on my main blog.

Picture: This bar was trying to design a “solar system” with ceiling Christmas ornaments, as if to celebrate the recent NASA announcements about Gliese, which might have planets supporting life.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When you have a job, you live in its world

If I get into a Tron time machine and go back to legacy systems of the past, I recall how, once one had a mainframe job, it became your whole universe for months or years. That did create a problem for learning new skills.

At NBC in the mid 1970s, life revolved around accounting closings, that ran on Univac 1110 and Exec 8, a good operating system at the time.

At Bradford Administrative Services, for months I developed, coded and tested the reporting end (MARS) of New York Medicaid MMIS. The design was simple by today’s standards: a COBOL extract from claims detail, sorts of the extracted stubs, and then reports based on conventional control break processing in COBOL, in various sequences, with “unduplicated counts” of beneficiaries a big issue. The State would design the test data, and calculate the results by hand, and come down from Albany and for months we would prove would could reproduce their results in a test system. That was our world. The catered lunchtime sandwiches ($3.50 a head then, put paid for by NYS) were a bonus.

But in the real world, IT professionals have to keep up. It’s beginning to look like too much value to just one company can mean less value to everyone else.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The best home based businesses are all "lab practicals"

“Start Up Nation” (link) has a moving slide show on “Money Central”, “The 10 Best Home Based Businesses”, link here.

You may have to slow down the pace to have time to read the captions.

Most of them are very niche oriented, about very specific kinds of needs and events, like weddings.

In a sense, multi-level marketing, which has been around for decades, is effectively a home-based business, and sometimes so is acting as an insurance agent. You have to decide if you want to represent someone else’s brand.

I think another idea could be to help artists or musicians find more venues to perform, such as “private home” concerts (see my “drama blog” yesterday), or even assisted living centers and nursing homes.

But they all are “practical”. They meet monetizable needs. So does Donald Trump’s “selling lemonade”.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Can employers "retaliate" against fiancees and spouses? A couple legal cases in the pipeline

Robert Barnes has a story on p A3 of the Washington Post Dec. 8, Thompson v. North American Stainless, before the Supreme Court yesterday. Apparently Eric Thompson had been fired by the company when his fiancée (now wife) Miriam Regalado, filed a discrimination complaint. An appeals court had ruled that only the direct victim can file an EEOC complaint for retaliation.  The company said that the law, as written, does not protect "relatives" (even spouses) or those "on the sidelines." And what must the Judiciary do, "interpret the law"!

The link for the story is here.

J. Freedom du Lac has a story on the same page about a similar case involving Brown’s Buick and employee Kelly Ashley, when his fiancée Heather Barb filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fewer families buy life insurance; fewer agents work; raising questions "can techies sell?"

Sandra Block has a front-page story in USA Today on Friday Dec 3, “Millions of families missing safety net: fewer people are buying life insurance”; online the title is “Households with life insurance hit the lowest level in 50 years”, link here.

The economy is one reason: families have less “discretionary” income, even though there are more low priced term products, and some companies like PrimeVest launched a campaign to convert people from Whole Life to Term. (I got a call from a recruiter about this two days after 9/11, when I wasn’t “looking.”)

Another reason, according to the article, is fewer agents. I have been contacted in retirement from my IT career, the last twelve years of which were spent at ING-Reliastar-Uslico, by a few companies, including New York Life, which I interviewed in 2005. I actually went through some of the interview process, including a “personality test” that asked if you bought things or services from sales people and thought it was OK to do so. The company described a training bonus system, and a need for a “fast start” for new agents, which included an exercise building 200 leads. I still get occasional emails about leads from that experience. There was a Sarbannes-Oxley requirement that new agents not have any other income if they got a training bonus.

I suppose you can make a particular “moral” argument regarding my karma. If I earned a living off of the life insurance industry for 12 years, so which shouldn’t I prove that I can sell it, especially to prove that I can support OPC (other people’s children) if I don’t have my own (the Phillip Longman stuff). Now, I don’t like personally manipulating people to buy anything.

I can see an anti-matter calling, that figuring out how to make Internet advertising “safer” (without the unintended consequences of “do not track” – see the main “BillBoushka” blog the past few days) and selling the “solution” could be a marketing-related job for some people, including me. There’s no reason that life insurance companies couldn’t do behavioral advertising, too (except for the fear that they could use the information they “tracked” to charge higher premiums).

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Telephone sales not an appealing job, it seems, now

I was laid off from my last major IT job at the end of 2001 (after sudden notification on my workstation that my access was “disabled” on Dec., 2001), and my first interim job thereafter started toward the end of April 2002. It was a part-time job, “telemarketing” or rather telefunding for a symphony orchestra. I worked there part time for 14 months and it was a pretty positive experience.

But, I heard negative things there. One person said, “you’re working for a phone bank. People who work for phone banks aren’t bad people but they can’t get jobs anywhere else.” Indeed, these days, I get annoyed when the landline phone rings and it is a fundraising call.

The “do not call” registry and the “crackdown” on telemarketing in the past decade (which largely allowed non-profits to call) have indeed made telephone fund raising and sales seem like a much less desirable form of interim work or work for retirees than it might have seemed ten years ago.

For example, some number of years ago people would sell orchestra or other arts subscriptions, often to the same people one year after another, and make additional income in retirement.

In the Internet age, we have certainly moved into a mindset where in-person (or telephone) salesmanship gets mixed up with hucksterism, and yet people are resisting the privacy-tracking technology that enables our “do it yourself” lifestyles today.

Music in picture (Minneapolis): Ravel, "Gaspard de la nuite"

Monday, November 29, 2010

Richmond trip recalls past consulting job, a strange experience; Obama wants to freeze federal wages, contractor pay

Well, I passed by an old business “hangout” on Staples Mill Road in Richmond VA, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield (the “Anthem” is new); the IT operation was or has been called "HealthNet". In May 1989, I spent a weekend there copying data to tapes (with IBM mainframe JCL utilities) to prepare the merger of our small company (then called “The Consolidated Consulting Group”) with Lewin-ICF; Lewin has since become a powerhouse consulting firm in health care statistics reporting and interpretation. It has been owned by Quorum and now by the United Health Group.

Even by 1988-1989, IBM had the 3090 (installed at Healthnet BCBS) and it was pretty powerful; it could run million record sorts in a few minutes wall clock.  I remember getting "computer costs" down by sorting and processing sequentially rather than using VSAM.  When we were bought, for a while we used ICF machines like the 4341 (VM) and 4381 (MVS) which were much less powerful than the 3090.

I remember the Sunday afternoon drive on I-95 back to Washington with the reel tapes in boxes in my trunk. Maybe the sunlight heat didn’t hurt them. (These were the days before cartridges, even; I think the tapes had to be created unlabeled.  The whole future of the company was in my car, and riding on whether I did everything right that weekend. I did, and it was pretty simple.)

Near BCBS was an old facility called “The Computer Company” where then Medicaid MMIS work was done (as well as some Medicare). I suspect the facility has been razed and rebuilt with a modern one, but I don’t remember exactly where it was (within a mile or so of BCBS). “The Computer Company” has a website here but I don’t know if it’s the same outfit. It says "We do IT right".

It sticks in my mind that the husband of one of the other consultants worked for the DIA; that flashed back into my mind when I saw that story Saturday about the sudden firing (post on Nov. 27). 

Today President Obama announced his proposal for a freeze on wages of civilian federal employees (as part of deficit control), and this will also affect contractor pay. It does apply to members of the Armed Forces. The President used the word “sacrifice” with a Perot-like flavor. “We have to think about not just the next election but the next generation.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

DIA employee loses clearance, job with no due process or explanation; can it happen to others?

Peter Finn has a story in the Washington Post Saturday Nov. 27, “Security clearance pulled with no explanation why; Fired intelligence analyst left with few options after Pentagon invokes rare clause,” link here.

The story concerns DIA analyst John Dullahan, who was stripped of his clearance on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 (after Obama had taken office) without due process or explanation, and then fired (he was offered the opportunity to resign with benefits). It is rare for people to have clearances revoked with no due process, and usually, the story says, there is a grave threat to national security in the works. In Dullahan’s case, he had some social contact with Soviet diplomats in the 1980s and had fired an unusually invasive polygraph earlier in 2009 apparently with questions concerning those contacts. Of course, it’s interesting that the government would still be so concerned about Soviet activities in the 1980s, unless somehow they were related to the locations of loose nuclear weapons material today. Government probably will soon be in a position to use other polygraph or lie-detection techniques, such as MRI’s.

Most workers outside the world of classified information are covered by the The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 (EPPA), with DOL reference here. When I was working for a credit reporting company in the 1980s, I was told that polygraphs could be given, but in fact they never were.

There have been several incidents in my own life where there was adverse action taken without explanation. In September 1968, when I was stationed at the Pentagon while in the Army, I was suddenly and “mysteriously” transferred to Fort Eustis, VA, after my BI came back (with information concerning my William and Mary expulsion or “psychiatric history” at NIH .

Monday, November 22, 2010

Should IT professionals host their own connections?

Should IT professionals (or, for that matter, information entrepreneurs of any ilk) host their own Internet connections?

Generally, larger ISP’s offer both shared web hosting and dedicated web hosting. Typically with shared hosting, a variety of software products is offered on Windows Server or Unix/Linux or Apple servers, particularly related to whether Microsoft or Apple is proving the product (.NET environments require Windows environments, etc, and generally Unix environments are simpler than Windows ones).

One reason that person might want to host is own connection is to be able to register as a “Copyright agent” so that he can be sure of getting all DMCA safe harbor notifications before facing any litigation. I’ve discussed this on my “BillBoushka” blog, particularly on Nov. 4, 2010. Some authorities say that a blogger or webmaster who accepts contributions from other writers (other than plain comments) can register as a copyright agent. This is still unclear and I will report on that blog when I get a definite answer. (This is related to the Righthaven mass litigation discussed on that blog.)

In the book “Radically Transparent” by Beal and Strauss (mentioned previous blog posting) on p 208, the authors mention the difference between and in terms of the need (with the .org) to install on your own web server, but that can be a regular ISP with shared hosting and Wordpress support, as discussed on March 11 here.

Back in the early to mid 1990s, a coworker actually ran his own connection to the Internet from a 386 machine for a while!  Later in the 1990s he developed a boot Linux distribution disc which he explains on his resume here.  (I once tried it on an old 386 Everex laptop and it did work.)   The person is Tom Oehser, and I link to his resume also to show a great example of a well-written functional resume, showing a lot of focused depth in a number of currently important disciplines.

Another friend at work in Minneapolis ran the ISP (Unix) that I used from home, called "virtualnetspace", at rack space at another entrepreneur's shed in Maryland called "Announce".

If you do your own hosting, as an individual consultant, you probably want to live or work in a home or building that has sound infrstructure and few power disruptions. That's getting harder these days.  Let's home for no big "coronal mass ejections" in 2012.  But we'll all be in the same boat, anyway.

Friday, November 19, 2010

ABC reports on BlogWorld Expo, ideas for Internet entrepreneurs

At Blog World New Media Expo 2010 in Las Vegas workplace editor Tory Johnson appeared and gave some more tips on entrepreneurial blogging, link here.

The News story is “Clicks to Cash: Make Good Money as a Blogger on Your Own Website: Successful Bloggers Share Secrets of Success”, link (website url) here.

Jordan Cooper developed a career writing ebooks , launching from “Not a Pro” (link ) and Football Management Tactics (actually soccer) (website url) here .

Bailey Vincent Clark developed Makeover Momma (link)  Another success was “Shop open sky” (link).

Tory’s advice: Write about a topic you are passionate about, because you will have to go a while before making any money.  Another piece of advice was to carry some gadgetry to enable credit card sales while "on the road", but this could run into legal requirements regarding customer privacy that are likely to get stricter with time.

One can coordinate this story with the 2008 book “Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Your Reputation Online” by Andy Beal and Dr. Judy Strauss, soon to be reviewed in own Books blog.

The grandest success story with blogging of all time is probably Heather Armstrong's mommy blog "Dooce", which she started in 2002 after being fired from her job as a Utah software company for blogging about work (without naming the company or people).  A really interesting tale. "Dooce" has become a real verb.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Small businesses restrict social media access

An increasing number of small to medium sized companies block all access to social media at work, a new report from security firm Webroot reports, in a story by Keith Ferrell in Information Week. A few employers allow such access only during break down, but 21-39% blocked access to YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, or some combination of these, according to a survey of 500 to 1000 firms in the US and UK.

Fear of malware was the biggest reason, along with lack of expertise in proper use of the sites. Legal liability fears also drive the process. Yet many companies would benefit from wise use of social media. Information Week SMB, Technology for Small and Medium-Sized Business has the report here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Your "dream" job: Try it out (Bloggers welcome)

Here’s an interesting Career Builder post from MSN about “try it out” jobs. The most interesting one is bloggers. Those with proven audiences (page requests and acceptable bounce rates, and maybe enought Twitter followers or Facebook friends) might get invitations to commercial premieres (like movies or plays), or even political hearings or trials.   Remember the Englishman that won the job to blog about a dream vacation in the South Pacific?  (You had to be able to snorkel among Great White sharks and avoid the box jellyfish.) The link is here.

Others included video game tester, ice cream (or sherbet) tester, and especially “Critics”.

My movie and book reviews are usually not “criticisms” in the usual sense (how many “stars” and I wouldn’t encroach on Roger Ebert’s trademarked “thumbs up”), but statements as to the significance of the film or book with respect to issues (that’s my branding).

Picture: A friend played matchmaker at a bar; the relationship is fictitious.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Are workplace non-compete agreements (CNC's) for real?

Do non-compete agreements (that is, CNC’s, or “covenants not to compete”) work?

I found a pretty comprehensive article at Nolo, here which warns that they may not been enforceable in Silicone-Valley rich California (look here at Lawzilla ), or perhaps (according to Wikipedia) in Virginia.

A story by April Hunt in the Atlanta Constitution on Nov. 4 reports that a Georgia constitutional amendment will allow courts to modify CNC’s, and claims this will help bring jobs to Georgia, link here.
Maduff Law has a similar resource here

The O’Toole Group, in a posting dated Nov. 10, 2010, offers a white paper on non-compete agreements in health information technology, at this link.

MEL, or “My Employment Laywer”, has a FAQ page on CNC’s here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Law firms advise employers about NLRB litigation over social media policies

Employment law firms are advising employer clients not to restrict employee free speech made off work (on home computers), since the National Labor Relations Board has sued American Medical Response of Hartford for overbroad social media policies that resulted in firing a medical technician for criticizing supervisors on Facebook.

I have a story Nov. 9 on the “BillBoushka” blog and there is a new story by Jenna Green at the National Law Journal, link here.
The NLRB says that the company policy amounted to limiting “water cooler” talk. Maybe so. But what is likely to come out in litigation is the difference between online postings that are directed to a limited audience (listservers and social media postings or even blog postings with certain privacy settings turned on) and blog or web postings open to “Everyone” and available to search engines. Job coaches tell people to be very careful about everything you say online, even with privacy settings on, even with cell phone text messages, because digital messages can be retransmitted and reposted by others. That’s also true. So there is a line to be drawn somewhere.

Another issue is that companies (especially media companies) sometimes have policies against personal and political activism. This would seem to apply mainly to journalists and may have FEC implications when partisanship is involved. But it can also effect personal online speech about controversial issues (rather than about specific stakeholders in a workplace). There could exist issues for people with direct reports, for people who make underwriting decisions, receive training bonuses (when agents), or for people sent to client companies to represent hiring companies (common in IT).

Another good question about social media policy would be how it relates to “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

If you collect unemployment, can you be forced to consider sales?

People collecting unemployment generally must be actively looking for work to remain eligible. (In Minnesota back in 2003, I knew of a case of someone who was forced to return compensation for failing to look.)

If you worked exclusively in information technology (particularly mainframe), I’ve wondered whether you could be forced to consider jobs in other areas like sales. For example, if you worked for twelve years in IT in the life insurance industry, could you be compelled to consider becoming an insurance agent (paid by commission and training bonus only)? This could have a big effect on your other “plans”.

There was a rule that you could not turn down an offer that paid 85% or more of your previous job.

There’s another issue, too: non-compete clauses. Typically, people can’t go to work for competing companies in the same industry, sometimes even if they were laid off (although that might invite legal challenges as to enforcement).

But another question is temperament. Can techies sell? Do they want to? What if they see it as pure hucksterism?

(See "BillBoushka" blog today Nov. 9 for story on National Labor Relations Board and intervention in a Facebook-related firing.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Should employers favor people with families? How should unpaid nightcall work for salaried professionals?

If employers voluntarily offer paid maternal or paternal leave, or more benefits to workers who have families with children, does this come at the expense of the childless?

Elinor Burkett had taken this question up in her 2000 book “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless”, but there’s no question that employers, however good their intentions, would have a potential logical conundrum.

In the 1980s, I was in a shop (a credit reporting company in Dallas, which would eventually become Experian today) where everyone was responsible for his or her own programs or subsystems when they ran in cycle at night. (The only exception was that the shop had a “weekend programmer”.) Generally, this went very well, and I had few disruptions because of production problems, just after implementations. (Although once there was a rerun of some monthly billing because a programming error in assembler, regarding word boundaries, had caused some periodic fixed charges not to be generated.)

In the 1990s, with an insurance company, there was a rotating “nightcall” list, resulting in getting nightcall about every two weeks. The shop was not as stable, but it got much better over time. But there sometimes were some issues, as occasionally people did not take calls, and sometimes this was because of family issues. Some people were more likely to claim “comp time” for nightcall than others. We then had a nighttime programmer, and a list of five people (including me) who filled in when she was out. The manager did increase the salaries of the five of us, but we were not paid overtime or given comp time for incidents; we “ate the risk.”

In general, salaried employees have been expected to work overtime at their own expense; and the Labor Department has been lenient with employers in IT in classifying IT professionals as exempt. Some people have questioned the practice, however.

By the way, Tory Johnson on ABC "Good Morning America" has said that employers should definitely take pains not to play favorites based on personal lifestyle. That works for "mainstream" employers only.

Picture: Department of Labor, Washington DC

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Many big companies have good policies for working moms

Here’s a Career Builder article giving the ten best companies for working mom’s, link.

The article notes that the greatest financial gains in the workplace seem to be with young single women. Once women have children, even in marriage, they have more of the “responsibility”. The old adage that “men don’t do anything” still seems to hold.

Some of the best companies are the big accounting firms and IT firms. But accommodating parents without “burdening” the childless becomes a delicate balancing act for HR departments. By definition, life is never fair.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Now, bedbugs in the workplace?

Well, now the HR world is starting to pay heed to the issue of bedbugs, which have sometimes been found in office spaces, particularly in New York and Washington. Since they attach to clothing and other personal items, they could transit between home and office. Will employers face liability? What about employees or contractors who bring them in, inadvertently. This is all getting a bit silly.

Workforce Management has a story by Jeff Casale here.

One of the suggestions is to reduce cubicle clutter, which can attract vermin and make its detection harder. Now, when people work at desks visible to the public (like at banks) there can be little clutter. IT people sometimes keep a lot of stuff around. Back in the 1990s, I kept a lot of printout, although much of it in binders, to prove I had done all the required testing before elevations. Yup, short term memory wasn’t enough, I wanted the proof for CYA. Actually, today such a practice could raise privacy issues if the test data was extracted from live customer production data (which in those days it always was). Modern tech companies should have automated ways to store QA test results, but that’s a tall order. Another important concept is to use source management and elevation software properly, which tends to guarantee integrity of code and load modules automatically.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Hiring managers should go "lite" on resume keyword scanning

Toni Bowers has an important story for IT managers today at Tech Republic, advising them not to overuse keyword scanning when evaluating resumes. The link is here.

Clients that use staffing companies to fill their project development and management needs (and that seems to be most companies these days) may be even more inclined to look at resumes very superficially, since the manpower companies are supposed to have already done some of the screening.

On the other hand, I know from emails that I get, that many headhunters overuse keyword searches, as I get emails of Powerbuilder gigs when my Powerbuilder, in the grand scheme of things (compared to older mainframe skills) is very weak.

Another problem is that companies tend to want people with a lot of experience in very specific skills, but not in tangentially related skills. If they want Powerbuilder, they generally need a Powerbuilder heavy, because they have technical problems they don’t know how to solve. (I have a friend who moved to Denver in the recession in 2002, was good at both java and Powerbuilder, and “wanted” java, but “got” Powerbuilder.) Think what happens in your home. If you have a problem, you need a contractor with very specific experience in solving that problem. The same tends to be true if you need to have a computer or laptop fixed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Credit histories can haunt job applicants even without security clearance issue

Michelle Singletary’s Sunday column in The Washington Post, “The Color of Money”, continues a discussion that I noted last week about security clearances, “The latest hiring hurdle: your credit history”, link here.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) maintains that this is a bit of a red herring (or “poisson rouge”). Only 13% check all employees, but 60% check some employees.

The article goes on to discuss that credit histories are important to lenders (during the subprime bubble, they should have become more important than they were), but shouldn’t be the business of employers until people are going to handle money or face “temptation”.

Instead, FICO and Vantage scores are starting to be looked at a mathematical, “well-ordered” measures of personal worthiness, in some cases.

One solution is to let employing agencies do the credit checking but keep the “hiring” clients out of the BI loop. In IT employment, that would be a good idea and prevent some potential conflicts of interest.

Unnecessary credit checking by employers could set up a vicious cycle, driving the unemployed deeper into debt.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Microsoft Live Essentials creating problems with automatic updates in Vista, 7

On a Windows Vista Dell XPS laptop, Windows update keeps trying to send me the Windows Live Essentials 2011 “important” update KB2434419. The update fails (allowing me to cancel it), saying I have a different “flavor” of Windows Live. But Windows Update center lists the update as “successful”.

In fact, I usually turn off Windows Live during startup; I chat very little except with tech support at various companies (Comcast, Verizon Wireless, McAfee, Webroot, etc).

Also, since this started, the computer sometimes hangs “shutting down”. It always reboots OK if I wait at least one full minute.

It looks like it’s back to Best Buy and Geek Squad to unravel Microsoft mistakes.

Why is Windows Live an "important" rather than "optional" update?

Here’s a posting about the problem in a Windows 7 environment. Some people say the update hangs all day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Foreclosure crisis and suspensions could jeopardize many TS security clearances; what about DADT?

The confusion over foreclosures, including the various freezes at many banks, may be jeopardizing high level clearances of some federal workers and contractors. About 854000 employees have top-secret clearances, and a third live in the Washington area.

The Washington Post story appear on p A15 on Thursday, Oct. 21, and is by Dina ElBoghdady and Dana Hedgpeth. The link is here.

Federal standards for clearances consider inability to live within one’s means as a security risk. But the standards did not anticipate a financial bubble and then crisis on the scale of the past few years, especially 2008.

However, some employees could actually benefit from the delay in foreclosures.

I applied for top secret clearances twice, once while stationed at the Pentagon when in the Army, and once when working as a computer programmer at the Washington Navy Yard in 1971. Both background investigations produced ambiguous outcomes. One interviewer asked me if I had ever been blackmailed. But for years, I was wary of jobs that required clearances because of my homosexuality. The situation for gay people started to improve in the late 80s or early 90s, about the time of the Persian Gulf wars. It’s obvious that the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in the military could complicate security clearances, particularly if a soldier has a same-sex relationship with a civilian with high clearance. That would make a good idea for a movie script.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some thoughts about "stepping up" when on the job, and someone else drops the ball

How often does it happen that we have to step up in the workplace, and take over when someone else has dropped the ball.

We can’t always. But there are times when we have to. Doing so can make or break a career or at least a future career.

It happens. People write systems and don’t document how they work too well. Someone in support gets a call ticket, has to take it from scratch.

Or a substitute teacher fills in for several classes, all of different levels of maturity, but the regular teacher has left the same lesson plan for all. The sub has to get in there and take over, and wonder what he signed up for. He has to be able to afford to look foolish.

What you need to step up for does depend on my background. In the substitute teaching example, I did have a background in piano, so I probably should have been able to play conductor for some sixth graders.

There’s another aspect of this in what we sometimes call “sales culture” or “hucksterism”. If you made a living off an industry (say, life insurance) as a programmer, you ought to be able to go out and sell what you made a living off of. You’re supposed to be the smart one to advise people how to take care of themselves, or you can “sort of” take care of them. In the past, that’s what social status meant. But now, this seems like going in and annoying people. In a technological society, people can do things for themselves; they don’t need salesmen. Or do they? We seem to have destroyed our need not just for person-to-person selling but for expertise altogether.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Washington Post analyzes increased IT demand in specific areas

The Washington Post, on Sunday Oct. 17, ran a “Technology Career Advice” article “Increased Demand for Tech Professionals: A glance at opportunities in the D.C. area”, link here.

It talks about IT certification, which you can receive in from 1 to 15 weeks (not years). It tracked comparative demand for biomedical engineers, network and data communications analysts, applications computer software engineers (the largest area, probably incorporating mainframe), environmental engineers, and systems software engineers.

The printed Sunday paper had this article in an “advertising supplement” that at a distance looks like a USA Today paper.

But the job opportunities tend to be better for younger professionals, who received formal education in the most current skills or who got in on the ground level with something. Think about how Google and even Facebook got going.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I accidentally witnessed a job interview, in a public place

Well, while sipping coffee and eating banana bread in a kitty corner in a Barnes and Noble coffee shop in northern Virginia this morning, I happen to overhear a job interview in progress at the next table.

I could not hear what the precise job was, but the interviewer was asking the applicant about willingness to work flexible hours, and somewhere I heard a question from the applicant about paid training. I was a little surprised to “witness” an interview in such a public place.

But one time I had an interview myself, on Sept. 11, 2002, in the lobby of a suburban office building (off 494 south of Minneapolis). It was rather public. I had even brought some programming textbooks (on DB2, particularly) to demonstrate my background.

Later I would get feedback that I had “tried too hard.” But it turned out the client’s hiring manager didn’t really have authorization to take on contractors, as we had been told. Had the interview worked out, my life’s course might have been different.

Picture: Back side of the Federal Reserve, Washington DC, with a baseball sculpture.  I did have an applications programming (COBOL, CICS) with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas on July 10, 1981, my 38th birthday, an inteview that would accidentally lead to a new job at Chilton Corproation (now Experian) a few months later after the organizations traded resumes.  It does happen.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Job scams get gullible takers arrested

Sunday, AOL published a story by Lisa Johnson Mandell, “How the FBI and Better Business Bureau are cracking down on job scammers”, link here.

In a few cases, people have taken “at home” jobs “laundering” merchandise that turns out to be stolen and gotten arrested. It’s not clear if they could defend themselves from charges as accomplices.

These may be clever variations of well known “Nigerian-type” scams that arrive by spam email.

I got a “job offer” by email to be a Craigslist Agent a few minutes ago on AOL. It would pay just $100 a week and requires a mobile phone ready to chat. I have no idea whether it’s any good or not. I’ll have to look around and see if Craigslist posts warnings to the public about this. It sounds a bit phishy.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

In a theaterm a recruiter calls, about obscure skills from the past

Well, while listening to Michelle Rhee talk in the movie “Waiting for ‘Superman’:, my cell phone (actually Blackberry), low on battery, vibrates, and when I get home, recharge it and check messages, I find out it’s from a recruiter who notes my resume talks about my “interim jobs”, but that she has a client in Nebraska (I think it's the state, unicameral legislature and all) that needs PowerBuilder.

Well, my PowerBuilder is nine years old, and it’s the kind of thing you need to focus on and do a lot. COBOL you don’t forget, but the newer stuff you have to do a lot and keep at it. “As time goes by” there’s less reason to actually do it.

I’m starting to wonder about that resume out there. It may have to become much more specific as to what I really “want”.

I remember back in 2002, that another "chum" wanted java but "got" Powerbuilder in Denver.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Future careers: Cybrarian and Futurist sound up my alley

Here’s another Career Builder article that caught my eye, “That’s a real job? 5 careers you might not have heard of”, link here.

Social media manager is rather obvious. Companies are needing to figure out their social media strategy. They may have to determine individual blogging policies.

But particularly interesting to me are “cybrarian” and “futurist”, and even “risk manager”. I do think I am already parts of these (in writing these blogs).

Imagine these on the 50s quiz show "What's my line?"

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Future workplace will be less greedy, more supportive of creativity

Bing and MSN ran a careerbuilder article today “10 Ways the 2020 Workplace will Work for You”, by By Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd, Co-Authors: "The 2020 Workplace", from Harper Business.

A couple of concepts are important: one is openness in sharing and connectivity, and probably only one “public persona” for everyone. That’s a concept that Facebook has pushed. Most people will live online, not exactly as Second Life.

The other is that, while monetary return on investment matters, other values will matter more, such as social sustainability or helping people, and self-expression and “creativity” are likely to be recognized as virtues, when compared to returns that can be measured in money, than today.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How much gear at home should you have for your jobsearch? What about air travel with two laptops?

Does it help to have a fax machine and a laser printer (instead of inkjet) at home, even if you don’t use them a lot? (They can come together in one unit.) Judging from a recent experience with a government employer, probably so. People still use fax a lot for signature documents and affidavits (although you can subscribe to a service like jfax and get your faxes as email attachments).

It seems as though I wind up printing a lot more than I had expected.

Another thing that may be helpful is Mozilla’s recent offering of automatic encryption (https everywhere). Employers seem to like this for transmitting application documents, and Mozilla may be the easiest browser to use in jobsearch work.

I’m also told that people who travel for work often do carry two laptops on planes – one for work and one for personal. That always sounded like too much of a hassle, but “they” tell me that this is OK with the TSA. Any experience with this?

Here's another issue:  Cable companies have been making home customers switch to wireless routers to hook up multiple PC's at home.  But some workplace computers don't have wireless cards because of sercurity (wardriving) concerns. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Carbonite can make Vista shutdown hang, it seems

Here’s a little tip with Vista. If you have Carbonite, and it decides to run one of its big backups of all kinds of system files, and you try to restart or logoff, the machine will keep “Sutting Down” forever.

Either Vista or Carbonite ought to be smarter.

In the mainframe world, I have fond memories of backups. On old Univac 1110 there was @SECURE. On IBM, we used to run GVBackup and Restore for all vsam files as part of our production data backups. I remember that when we had Dispatch (instead of SAR) the backup used to take two hours before cycle ran. And typically test datasets that were unused would roll out in about three days.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Telecommuting and "The Green Lantern"

In Brian Palmer’s  (not "Brian de Palma") “The Green Lantern” column in the Washington Post (no relation to the Washington DC bar/disco) in the Washington Post on Tuesday Morning, Sept. 7, makes a good point for “Traffic Tuesday”, the first day after summer vacations at Martha’s Vineyard end. His story is “Environmental benefits of telecommuting are not universal” and he doesn’t mean “NBC Universal”. The link is here.

He calculates the carbon dioxide, “Venusian” output of a typical day in a home office, compared to a cubicle at work, and finds that the economy of scale at work offsets the commuting carbon output for many people. (Those economies of scale seem even more relevant in hip workplaces like Google and Facebook.)

In fact, people who can take the Metro or subway to work, or at least do not have to use cars (other than electric cars or hybrids) probably save more carbon output by going to work. That raises an interesting question about high-density living. In urban jobs, people who live in the City or within easy public transit distance can put in more hours easily, a fact not lost on some employers. In the past, this set of affairs actually worked to the benefit of childless or LGBT employees, who often did take up the slack in crunch time and became more “valuable” (or perhaps taken advantage of).

In Minneapolis it was possible to walk to many jobs on the Skyway if you lived in one of the downtown apartments, especially the Churchill. Even on foot, one could be at work at ING in five minutes, and at the Minnesota Orchestra in 15 minutes, with no carbon output (other than one’s own breath).

In IT, it’s being on call that is the hooker, and that usually means now a company laptop at home, which preferably has a home wireless network router connected to broadband cable, for multiple computers (keeping work, personal, and kids all separate). That can mean that the employee is using his own cable for work (even in a salaried position), which in rare cases could involve overage issues, as discussed before on my network neutrality blog. It could also raise questions about network security, but corporate laptops for production support would normally have top-line firewalls for outgoing protection from wardriving.

This doesn’t include discussion of some home customer service jobs, like Alpine and Liveops, where the employee must use his or her own computer and connection, and do almost all work from home.

When I was an IT employee, I had a legal conflict of interest rule that any computers in my apartment had to be my own. That didn’t matter because in Minneapolis I could walk to work on the Skyway. I would not need to follow that rule today. I don’t mind saying publicly that my feet could see ING again, or Census, or an orchestra, or a school system.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

MiFi device with unlimited bandwidth could help with "business travel and personal access" problem.

David Pogue has an important technology report in today’s (Sept. 2) New York Times, “Your own hot spot, and cheap”, link here

This concerns the Virgin Mobile MiFi card, which taps into Sprint’s 3G cell network for an Internet signal, costs about $150, and offers medium speed service, unlimited bandwidth, for $40 a month, no contract, or $10 for a ten day period. Verizon and Sprint offer similar devices, but not unlimited plans at the moment.

The coverage area over the country is about 260 million people, perhaps a little smaller than full Verizon service. One big advantage is that the customer doesn’t have to watch consumption volumes. 5 Gig is not a lot.

Verizon, by comparison, offers 5 Gig through its Blackberry or cell phone, which must be attached through USB to the computer, so that the cell phone acts as an antenna for Verizon’s service.

The computer must, of course, have a wireless card.

Here is Virgin’s own “Broadband2Go” link

Apparently the device can be purchased at retail outlets, such as BestBuy, with this link .

The device would seem to be particularly useful to people who travel for work but want to have their own reliable personal and securable quasi-broadband access "on the road."

It would be interesting to ponder who this innovation plays into the network neutrality debate (another blog of mine).

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

MSN/Career Builder follows Huffington Post on reporting firings for Facebook postings

Kaitlin Malden has an article from Career Builder, posted on MSN this morning Sept. 1, “12 Ways to Get Fired for Facebook”, link here .

I covered a similar story in the Huffington Post on Aug. 6, 2010 on my “BillBoushka” blog, and yesterday (Aug. 31) covered “social media policies” and blogging policies on that blog.

This story includes an interesting new case about a teacher, fired (or forced to resign) from a Georgia public school district for vacation pictures showing her sipping wine on her own Facebook page. She will sue. She said “I did not think that any of this could jeopardize my job because I was just doing what adults do and have drinks on vacation and being responsible about it”. It seems that some school districts have a very low bar on “public role modeling.”

Other people have been fired for criticizing their bosses, coworkers, or companies on social media. In 2002, Heather Armstrong was fired from a software development company in Utah for comments on her own blog about her workplace, which she says did not identify the company. She went on to become famous for her mommy blog,, which (with her husband as programmer/technical support) makes much more money than most jobs.

It seems some employers really will pull the trigger on off-the-job Internet postings that could affect business.  Libertarians are going to say that, with private employers, this is OK. Government employment (and public school districts) are a different matter.

Also, check this story Sept. 1 in The Washington Post by Howard Kurtz, "Post sportswriter Mike Wise suspended for Roethlisberger hoax on Twitter", link here. Yup, it could have happened on Facebook, too. Also, the Post reports Sept 2 (J. Freedom duLac) that the Washington Nationals baseball team fired contract radio announcer Ron Dibble for an insensitive remark about pitcher Stephen Strasburg's upcoming Tommy John surger.

(No, there's no drinking or drug use in the image above.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Should resumes give exact dates and complete work and educational histories, and down periods?

Tory Johnson did another interesting report this morning (Aug. 30) on ABC Good Morning America, on the five resume mistakes to avoid.

One is using an unprofessional-sounding email address, or using your current employer’s email server domain name.

I buy her advice on keeping dates of employment down to the year if you have been out of work for a while. But I question whether you can leave off dates of degrees, or should leave off older jobs.

In 2007 or so, a recruiter (in the mainframe area) told me that clients want to see a complete reverse chronological history, with all time periods filled in. She (from Baltimore) told me then that employers and clients appreciate honesty and candor.

It was on Aug. 30, 1972 (I believe a Wednesday) that I took a shuttle from DCA to Newark, rented a car, and interviewed Univac in Montclair NJ, for a job I would take and that would take me from “home” again on a long sequence of my life. That was 38 years ago today.  The interview expenses were company-paid.

I recall an earlier interview in maybe June 1972 at Bell Labs that year, at a Univac contract around Morristown NJ, where a Univac project leader asked “Do you like programming.” An odd question.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Images show examples of OOP

If you look at any of my Blogger images “from the Right” in Google Chrome, you’ll see the html code, and on the right you’ll see the CSS panel for the image with a log of “inherited from” tags. These would give “the OOP student” and idea of just how inheritance works in the real world.

During my last two years at ING in 2000-2001, we did have a some classes in OOP and especially UML from a local Twin Cities guru.

I still strikes me as remarkable that java had been barely invented by 1996, was used to rewrite the Data Access layer of the Customer Service Workbench at ING as early as 1999, and as well accepted in a production environment by 2000. It was becoming a skill people needed to have, so quickly.