Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"No personal use of work computers": I guess that didn't apply to the SEC; they were too distracted

Well, I thought that the little bit of testing of my own site connections through Telnet back in 1999 from work was venial -- I wasn't working on personal content, just learning technology. And as I said one time, I heard about it.

So you would think that regulators at the SEC who make six figures regulating and watching the financial markets (like Goldmann Sachs) would use government computers for business use only. We know they didn't.  A number of them have been disciplined, but the whole episode is shocking.

Let's say that the watchdogs were very distracted at work.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

IE8 update on Vista; Webroot backup starts to fail

Here we go, Internet Explorer 8 (with the Bing toolbar, etc) suddenly announces itself this morning and invites a download. Webroot and windows Vista ask for the usual permissions, and then there is a restart.

During the restart there is an odd little window with a “singon helper object” that takes almost a minute before Vista itself starts.

There’s another odd thing going on. Webroot backup once again upped its space request. But even though I define a selection set of less than 5 gig and have an allowance of 50 gig purchased, it keeps saying I have selected a backup set too large. And 50 gig is the largest that can be purchased. I can’t tell what gives here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tory Johnson ABC: Always have questions at job interviews!

Tory Johnson (“Women for hire”) has a piece this morning (April 19) “Land That Job: What Interviewers Really Want You to Ask Them: Expert: Ask About Company Culture and Why Job Is Vacant”, link (web url) here.

The worst thing you can do is have no questions – that shows a lack of interest. The most important question to ask at a job interview is probably, “why is this position vacant”? You need to know that. The next is “what one thing would change about this company’s culture?” You need to know if everyone is there sixteen hours a day, or, if it’s a consulting company, if associates think that clients aren’t charged enough (that was a big deal at one company twenty years ago).

You should follow up as you leave the interview. Ask how to contact them, and when they will contact “thee”.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

2010 Census publishes participation rates, relates inversely to duration of temporary enumerator jobs this spring

The 2010 Census has a map and application to track participation rates by state and individual community, with basic link here. This link contains factual data from the Census Bureau and approved by Census for publication now.

Mail participation rates are considered an important indicator of success. It’s possible that higher income communities will show higher participation before the supposed April 16 mail deadline.

The duration of temporary enumerator jobs would depend inversely with participation (many may last less than two months), but other analytical jobs dealing with aggregation and suppression will probably become open later in 2010 for IT professionals and statisticians.

Some people fear answering the census out of fear of misuse (immigration, etc), but census workers, as noted before, are sworn to lifetime confidentiality of data, which cannot legally be shared with other agencies, even for “national security” reasons. The questions (actually of a general nature, linked in earlier postings) deal with households, not individuals, and are used to estimate the need for public services only; nothing of a nature usually seen as “personal” is asked. There has been a political flap (in the press, on both liberal and conservative sides) on the counting of same-sex couple households and marriages in states or jurisdictions were legal, but data will be smoothed in such a way that individuals cannot be identified.

Picture (unrelated): Newark NJ from Amtrak train.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Are companies taking unfair advantage of unpaid or low-paid interns?

Time Magazine, April 12 2010, p 63, has an intriguing article by Eve Tahmincioglu, “Cash Crunch: working for free: in this job market, even midcareer professionals are interning for no pay”, to avoid gaps on resumes. The online version calls the article “The boom in adult interns”, link (web url) here. But volunteering for “for-profit” companies is a legal no-no, and companies can’t fire people and replace them with interns. The Department of Labor has criteria for legitimate internships, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, link here   Often academic credit is a requirement. (Think about medical interns in hospitals and their hours, though; they "pay their dues".)

The Time article tells of a writer who worked unpaid for a website and appreciated the exposure. But she could have done that all on her own.

There is a group in Britain that deals with the issue, “Rights for Interns,” link (web rul) here.

I found an earlier spin on the topic with respect to the Open Source movement on Time by Justin Fox, “Getting Rich off those who work for free”, link here.

But as far back as 1994, after an earlier recession, Bob Weinstein had written a book “I’ll work for free: A short term strategy for a long term payoff”. It sounds a bit of market fundamentalism.

I have seen private companies hire interns from computer programming schools, and I've seen resumes that offer to "volunteer" for a while first. That probably don't show optimum confidence and enthusiasm.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cars will soon offer full wireless Internet, raising both safety and future employment growth issues

The May 2010 issue of Car and Driver offers a prospective article indicating that most new cars will offer voice-operated Internet within five years. The article does not seem to come up online yet, but an article from March 2009 about the Cadillac CTS offering mobile Internet appears, here.  I saw the print article at a Koons Ford this morning while having a car inspected and having an ignition key duplicated (with the programmable security chip).

The development is important for two reasons. One is that states are increasingly concerned (in some part because of Oprah Winfrey!) about distracted driving, and some surveys have found that cell phone users who have hands-free holding devices built in do not necessarily have fewer accidents – the mental distraction of conversation is as important as the mechanical distraction.

So how will the distraction of car web access play out? For one thing, some items (like movies over the web wireless) may be available only in backseats. But Internet access can amplify safety, too; for example, it could warn drivers of the presence of a pedestrian or cyclist from the cell phone signals.

The article would point toward where some of tomorrow’s IT jobs will grow. People with future jobs programming these features are probably in high school and college today. But it’s a pretty good kind of input as to how the education curricula for tomorrow’s IT and engineering professionals need to be set up. The growth of technology and consumer interest seems to outstrip all the politics of auto bailouts.

On April 12, AOL offered an article "Should we worry about the electronics in our cars" here, and it is quite detailed as to the sophistication of s and firmware oftware today.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mental health history issues and getting security clearances

I’ve covered a few of Derrick Dortch’s (Diversa Group) columns before, and on Sunday April 11, The Washington Post “Jobs Chat” column by him on p H1 covered the issue of mental health and background investigations for security clearances. The link is here

He talks candidly.” Getting help by seeing a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist is never a bad thing. If you need the help then you should get it, and do not be ashamed or afraid to do so. I have seen how people have been helped and had their lives changed for the better. With that said, the honest truth is that seeing a mental health services provider will be considered a red flag warranting further attention by a background investigator. It will be taken seriously into consideration by an adjudicator to determine your suitability for a clearance.” He gives a reference here ("Psychological Conditions: Relevance to Security") at the Defense Human Resources Activity (DHRA).

There is one item under “Other Observable Behaviors” that caught my attention because of my own history, “Inability to form personal relationships; limited capacity to express either positive or negative emotions towards others.” Earlier there is mention of the DSRM, but this item sounds descriptive of the so-called “schizoid personality” (almost a “sic”), or possibly related to people with higher functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. The item is a bit “offensive”. It seems as though this item is more related to the need for a person’s “natural family” (I’ve covered the term on my other blogs) or community to beckon emotional response and interaction from him or her rather than from a legitimate concern over someone can function properly with classified information. Of course, there are other personality disorders (“narcissistic personality disorder”) that seem related that do raise concerns about a propensity for criminal behavior later.

After finishing Basic Training in 1968, I was at the Pentagon for three months before I was “mysteriously” transferred to Ft. Eustis after my Top Secret BI had started. I’ve dealt with all this before. In the past, this "observavle behavior" item had been incorrectly associated with homosexuality (or disinterest in procreation), as moral culture used to view things.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Two MLB-licensed baseball gaming systems simulate real stadiums, a boyhood dream

Computer games that simulate baseball do everything we tried to do as boys in the 1950s with cardboard stadiums and incarnations of whiffleball or backyard baseball.

CNN has a story “New baseball games swing for the fences”, about MLB10: The Show (Sony) and “Major League Baseball 2K10” (Visual Concepts, 2K Sports), link here.  Both are licensed by Major League Baseball (site). By the way, unlike many newspapers, MLB has been pretty successful in getting customers to subscribe to and pay for video content.

Both gaming systems simulate all aspects of the game with 3D-imaged systems of real stadiums, based on major league parks (the websites show Boston’s Fenway and Detroit’s Commerica when I looked).

The physics and geometry of baseball and of stadium outfield dimensions can certainly lead to some interesting physics, geometry, and trig test problems in high school, maybe for the ETS.

In 1955, I and some friends had a fantasy baseball season all summer, with a system of evaluating the probable results of fungoed balls. As usual, the Washington Senators finished last (as they did in real life). I no longer have the paper records of that season, regrettably.

By the way, the Nationals won their first game today, 6-5, against the Phillies, the best team in the NL, finishing just before a cloudburst.

Monday, April 05, 2010

"Unvarnished" website for rating "professionals" raises questions about online reputations for IT profressionals

The media stories today about the new “Unvarnished” website and its ability to let people make anonymous comments about other “professionals” – but apparently other “people” – certainly has raised a lot of concerns today.

Programmers and IT people have their own idea of reputation, partly because accuracy and integrity in I.T. is so critical to the very survival of most enterprises. In the decades before the Internet, there was an underground buzz on most people, with some of them eventually driven out of “the business.” I have heard “such and such” (no names here) called a “loser” (in one case when the person could overhear, soap opera fashion), and in other cases, when someone was fired, there was an appearance of an attempt to float the person to other departments of a company.

But now, programmers must wonder what they could find posted about them anonymously. Their “reputations” would center in several areas: “problem solving ability” and “IQ” (we used to joke about giving someone an “IQ test”) and sometimes “curiosity” (necessary to figure out how to get things done in non-linear OOP languages like PowerBuilder or Java), and absolute reliability on the other (does their stuff work when moved into production, can they solve production problems on the fly without help – a favorite mainframe question used to be about solving a dump without AbendAid).

The story reflects a dichotomy in IT: as companies get less stable, individual programmers and techies start thinking about original and risky ideas and business models. But a few of them take and work – but can put other people at risk.

I covered the story tonight in more detail on my main “BillBoushka” blog but it needs to be watched closely.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Has the unemployment situation really bottomed?

Seeking Alpha” has a “Russian Easter” Sunday morning article “Has U.S. employment bottomed?”, with link here.

48000 of the 162000 jobs added in March were temporary census workers, many of them enumerators for about two months. It looks like I will be one of those. Mailed returns of forms seem to be lagging, so the process of counting could take a while, adding a little to employment income for some (hence to tax receipts and even FICA receipts). (By the way, the 2010 Census announcements, talking about "we can't move forward until we know what we need", sound just a tad pink to me in tone; I wonder if Madison avenue wrote the ads.)

The article points out that household surveys indicate a turnaround in employment in the last three months, and the BLS indicates a bottom in blizzard-worn February.

The BLS Economic News Release is here.

Information technology employment, since it is loosely defined, is much harder to track.