Thursday, January 27, 2011

Should employers fire people over clothing that shows "commercial disloyalty": The Pre-SuperBowl fiasco

An auto salesman in Chicago named John Stone was fired after a month on the job for wearing a Green Bay Packer’s tie to work, the day after the Bears lost at home to the Packers in the playoffs.  The auto dealership had a business relationship with the Bears that Stone knew nothing about. Stone was offered his job back, but got another one.  Call this Wardrobe Malfunction II. 

Here's the link for the ABC Chicago story, with a video.  (The embed code wouldn't "compile").

Some years ago, a man was fired for drinking Pepsi Cola while loading Coca Cola machines.

Should companies fire employees for lack of personal brand loyalty?  It’s not common today, thankfully.  But when I was getting out of the Army and starting my “career” in 1970 (in the tone of Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony), people would tell me, “they’ll tell you just what kind of car you should be seen driving.” That didn’t happen.  Although there were subtler forms of intrusion (another posting – “marketing profiles”) which dissipated by the late 1970s.   EDS, remember, used to have an extremely strict dress code because “customers don’t understand computers”.  So did IBM, with prudish requirements for stocking garters!

Think how companies could peruse Facebook for public brand disloyalty (Sunday’s posting).

Quote: “A certain scientist, Galileo’s contemporary, was no more stupid than Galileo. He knew that the earth revolves, but he had a family. And when he got into a carriage with his wife, after accomplishing his betrayal, he reckoned he was advancing his career, but in fact he’d wrecked it,” Yevtushenko, “A Career,” text for last movement of Shostakovich Symphony #13, London CD 41726

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Windows 7 Notification Icons: why does it show my computer to be disconnected when Wireless Internet is working and I am using it?

The “reduced functionality” of Notification Area Icons on the lower right side, of the Status Bar, in Windows 7, seems to stir controversy. Microsoft’s writeup is here. Microsoft takes the position that overuse or misuse of the icons slows down the computer, especially at startup.

This morning (Windows 7 Professional), my wireless Notification Icon kept the red “x” for “not connected” when Internet access on my home Netgear router (Comcast) was clearly working. Clicking on the icon brought up the Control Panel information showing the router and Internet connections active. It also shows other available wireless connections (my Verizon MIFI card upstairs). It does not show cellular wireless networks (such as for my job) and should not. 

Sometimes when the laptop has been asleep, the wireless icon disappears for a while but eventually comes back, particularly once an http access works.

Any comments on why the Wireless Icon shows disconnect status incorrectly would be appreciated. 

Why would the wireless icon stay off when the connection works?

This is on a Dell XPS (2009) retrofitted with W7.  I’ve noticed anomalies on a Toshiba notebook with Windows 7 Starter. 

In the first picture, one can see the red "x" at the lower right. 
Update: on warm reboot, the icon fixed itself. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Old days of mainframe, many programmers took labor abuse

Is it right for an employer to order salaried people to work uncompensated overtime? That happened back in 1977 when I worked for Bradford on the NYS Medicaid MMIS.  The people in the Claims Processing  area got behind, and management, with all of its usual tact, made that edict.

I was in the reporting area (MARS and SURS) so we got out of that, and we moved to a different office in midtown to avoid the stress. I liked working in midtown Manhattan better than the lower end anyway (“Life” was halfway in between, in the village).  In designing the reporting, we had to make an executive decision on whether to go “quick and dirty” (process the accumulated claims detail every month end) or summarize, with the risk that an error would propagate forever. We did “quick and dirty” for about three months. Those were the days that COBOL programmers had trouble keeping matched sequential files “’Nsync” (before Justin Timberlake). There was a technique called the “Balanced Line Method”.  Batch COBOL (and ALC) production cycles presented real challenges, and a way of life. You really learned a lot only when something went into production and you had to stand by it. 

I don’t know how people code MARS and SURS today, but they sound like good candidates for SAS.  Get through the DATA step and it’s a piece of cake.

In the 1980s, at a credit reporting company, one of the best ALC mainframe programmers (a real expert on "coding out of addressability") worked "part time" (32 hours per week). When the company came under financial pressure from being taken private, management disallowed part time work and required every one to be full time.  In the 1990s, during another crunch at another company, a 37.5 hour official work week became 40, and Friday afternoon off and "short days" were eliminated. 

Indeed, so much has changed in IT since my coming of age. Or has it?  Programmers, guarding their individualism, resist organizing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Should employers make decisions based on clandestine Facebook background investigations, especially of Friends' pages?

We’ve seen numerous stories of people not being hired or actually being fired over Facebook content, but  Bidhan Parmar (from Darden Business School at the University of Virginia here ) has one of the most sobering pieces ever on p G2 of the Sunday, Jan. 23 Washington Post, (website url) here. Note "The Lesson" at the end. 

The article is from a “Case In Point” series and is titled “Should you check Facebook before hiring?” A manager at a consulting firm (hint, sends associates to client sites) on her own checks two candidates online; both are about equal (like “equality” in a chess game, maybe).  One has only professional content and no sharp-edged material (away I go!), but the other, while his own posts are sensible, is founded tagged on a Facebook Friend’s profile drinking and smoking, perhaps approaching bong hits. The candidate was not told about the “background check” and had even marked his own profile private, but the Friend’s profile is public. You can’t control what public Friends say about you (unless you hire a company like “Reputation Defender”). She picks the clean candidate.

Is this ethical?

Good question. My own take is that companies should announce their BI policies, just as with credit checks.  In a real world, a candidate is responsible for cleaning up his own credit history, even if it due to mistakes made by others in reporting, or even due to identity theft. The same seems to be true of online reputation. 

I actually don’t think companies should depend on informal Internet “background checks” but I do understand the dilemma of sending people to clients.  I think the BI should be done with the candidate present  (or at least on the phone in a conference call or by Skype) so he or she can explain what is found.  Remember, an employer’s clients might do the same, out of curiosity, before accepting a candidate, in a W-2 contract hire situation, common in I.T.

Zuckerburg’s face (the notorious Time head shot) is shown in the print version of the article.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Windows 7 and cursor jumping when typing

I’ve found that the cursor moves around a lot and unpredictably when I type fast in Word, within Blogger, or even key in a URL into a browser, in Windows 7, both on my Dell XPS (fitted with W7 pro) and less so on a Toshiba notebook with Windows 7 Starter.  It doesn't happen if I slow down and save frequently. I wonder if it is worse on laptops that had been converted to W7, or it if goes away if you get a wireless keyboard accessory.

Here’s what I found out about it, in a forum. I’ll have to find the touchpad drivers and disable them for typing.  I don't think my palms touch the keypad.

Sometimes whole slices of text get deleted. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What employers want the most; Ambition

AOL has an original today, “The quality that all employers want.”  That, according to Jane Genova, is Macbeth’s quality, “Ambition: The Fire in the Belly Employers Want”, link here

The World Book Encyclopedia had characterized Macbeth’s fatal flaw as “too much ambition”  and my own father repeatedly made this kind of comment about some other males, “Pot belly, no ambition.”  He was given to moralizing.

As to Genova’s story, it could be taken to mean that employers want your ambition to be focused on their purposes.  That wouldn’t set too well with me, to have a production goal in “huckstering” (and back in the early 1970s Univac had complained that “I don’t have a marketing profile”).  Yup, some of them say “We give you the words.”

I guess Mark Zuckerberg probably represents an epitome of self-defined ambition. Look where it led. Could I be ambitious for his purposes if I were a Facebook employee?  I wonder.  My purposes, in retrospect, seem similar. 

Back in 1989 I asked a mainframe recruiter what employers wanted the most, and he said, "Confidence and enthusiasm".  Not exactly the same as ambition. 

I have to mention this Shakespeare quote from Othello somewhere, perhaps to please Entrepreneur Michael Fertik. “…Reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” Employers already think they know your reputation after one Internet search.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Setting up to telecommute for more than one contract or for self and other employers, can be tricky

With more people telecommuting, and more people doing contract work over the Internet from home, keeping assets (connections, content) from becoming intermingled becomes critical.

I can remember back in the 1990s it was common for people to log on to a corporate mainframe through Procomm from home PC’s.  Gradually, it became important for employers to issue laptops for work from home to avoid the possibility of PII or confidential data winding up on employee’s personal computers.  This is a much bigger issue today that it had been imagined to be fifteen years ago.

For home connections, more people are using home networks, supported by a single cable modem. Typically, the router needs to be connected to one computer at home through Ethernet only once, to provision the router properly for Internet and Web access (until provisioned, the router will find only the router manufacturer’s website).  Employers might sometimes use the connection for transmission, but some ISP’s may limit the number of computers that can be connected, and the security for the transmission will be mediated by whatever settings the employee used at home.

A much better method for employers is cellular wireless, which would be limited only by the availability of the cellular connection in the employee’s home, which might located  be in a remote, mountainous area or in some building where access is difficult. Setting standards for cellular wireless fits into the network neutrality debate, but companies and government agencies need the ability to set up wireless arrangements robust enough for all circumstances, even if they have to pay more for them.

Individuals, especially retirees (and sometimes graduate students!) find themselves in the position of working multiple contracts or gigs for various parties, some of which may involve deploying content of their own making (as with artists or musicians). They need the ability to communicate sensitive or proprietary content with various parties in a timely manner without creating conflicts.  This will call for a better level of customer service from telecommunications companies than is generally offered now.

Here’s a write-up on cellular wireless v. WiFi.. The latter depends on having a specific connection device (possibly not secure) at a home or establishment. Business travelers are starting to take similar MiFi cards with them to set up their own hot spots on the road.  

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Accounting firms try to balance "work and family" during tax audit season with flex time

At least one “Big 6” Accounting Firm (Ernst & Young) is trying to “socialize” overtime during the tax auditing season by having meetings to help associates coordinate time off to meet personal needs, according to a New York Times story by Steven Greenhouse Jan. 7, “Flex Time Flourishes in Accounting Industry”, link here

My own personal accounts from people who work in the tax industry sound like midnight hour horror stories, like the days I used to write term papers on my own kitchen table at 3 AM, by hand. (My own “rules” regard 3 AM is midnight [Google time], and the week begins Monday; weekends are cohesive.)

In fact, in 2008, HR Block tried to get me interested in training as a tax advisor, but I declined. I stuck to journalism. I don’t really take care of people.

And I recall the Minneapolis Skyway hikes to my post-layoff job at the Minnesota Orchestra, passing offices of all the accounting firms.

But as for the huge overtime in auditing companies, I wonder how the “families” v. “childless” battle plays out. Ask Elinor Burkett (“The Baby Boon”, 2000). There used to occur some stories about this problem getting worse, as in the Wall Street Journal, back in the 1990s. Eldercare will complicate the picture now.

Accounting professionals would have another time-cruncher during tax season: many have to travel to client sites, and flight all the First Quarter blizzards. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Best Buy/Geek Squad plays Chuck's "Nerd Herd" with XPS Vista to Windows 7 conversion (for me, at least)

So I converted my Dell XPS from Vista to Windows 7 – that is, I “let” Best Buy/Geek Squad do it, while I was away for a week on business. Well, they didn’t fix the broken key – it was supposed to be sent to Louisville, KY to a repair center and come back (I think Louisville is where “Reputation Defender” is located, ironically).  They did back up on a second hard drive, but all the applications are gone. They have to be reinstalled since the operating system changed. So, yes, since I am soon going to try to sell a movie, I’m probably supposed to pay for Office Professional or Business instead of Home, and so I did. With Access DB added, Office Professional is about $500 from Digital River.  Takes about 35 minutes to download from Cable. Enough time for a break to watch NBC’s “Chuck” (I already miss “The Event”).  But this time the Geek Squad wasn’t exactly Chuck’s Nerd Herd (remember "Best Buy = Buy More"; only the trademark is changed to protect the innocent).  As for reading emails telepathically (as in Chuck), that’s the next coming hack.  With telepathy, you could install Facebook on a planet in another solar system.

In alll honesty, maybe the XPS is an order of magnitude faster because GS reformatted the hard drive, too. Last time I went through something like this was with CompUSA in Minneapolis, where I replaced Windows ME (remember that horror?) with XP Pro, on a Sony Vaio, without disturbing the data.  
Picture: Bank of America stadium (that is, NationsBank Stadium -- chase the buyouts back to Maryland National and Americam Security!) in Charlotte.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Tech Pulse article warns that technology can lead to long term structural unemployment

Hunter Richards has a perspective, “Technology, Unemployment, and our Children’s Future”, on the Software Advice Blog, which he advised me about by email Saturday. The story explains, and diagrams with a sequence of some picturesque algebraic graphs, how technology has transformed our society, but made chronic unemployment more likely for many people, including those with less education, fewer familial resources, or cognitive inflexibility. The article also mentions the “Tech Pulse Index”.

In education, there’s a good question as to whether students are learning to do things “for themselves” (like long division, in arithmetic, say) that computers do so efficiently. But when I substitute-taught, I still saw plenty of paper-and-pencil exercises without computers.

Computer and Internet access at home, and the need for parental control (and a “family computer”) could also affect how quickly more advanced students progressed into the areas of opportunity discussed in this piece.

Picture (second): anybody remember the old, coin-operated pay phone?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Is it ethical to "test" programmers by making them "travel"?

Is it ethically legitimate to make a “questionable” programmer travel, and watch his or her work on a business trip, before deciding whether to fire the person?

I actually saw that done once in the late 1990s. The programmer asked questions about link edit things he really should have known (and IBM S0C1’s).  (The subject matter was Vantage which, however it "rules the world", was not what I worked on.) Then, another manager from a consulting firm (the programmer was working for the parent company, but we did have “matrix management”), caught him playing Solitaire or Minesweeper on the PC. I always wondered why corporate IT departments allowed computer games to stay on PC workstations if game playing was forbidden. Just to set up stings to catch the lazy?

He got back on a Thursday night, and the following Tuesday, back home, the boss called him in at 1 PM and said, he could resign, or he could “take the firing” and get two weeks’ severance. He took the firing. But then fifteen months later, on another road trip, I heard that he had asked for references (again).  There had circulated a story that once, while rounding a corner among workplace cubicles, he overheard (in soap opera fashion) a verbal remark that put him in a very unfavorable light (with not-nice words).  That had set up a tense situation for the business trips.

Travel, of course, does sometimes burden an employee; it’s harder to play on the road and lose the home field advantage. I’ve traveled sporadically during my career. For Univac, I traveled from New Jersey to Eagan, MN for benchmarks (anybody know the facility on Pilot Knob Road near 494?), especially in 1974, when I was there for 11 weeks when I desperately wanted to get my personal life going back East. But several trips to Minneapolis (again) in early 1997 set up a corporate transfer that for me turned out perfectly (and was necessary for “ethical” reasons). So road trips have been important in my own past.

It’s clear that there IT environments where games (or puzzle solving, as at Google, where there are combinatorial topology problems on the job interview tests, at least according to a CNBC story) and fun is expected. Try Facebook.

But the IT job environments of the past were certainly conservative and stodgy. Remember EDS and its dress codes?

Picture:  downtown Charlotte, NC can be a treat at sunset.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Mainframe: Vantage rules the world, still (at least in life insurance)

I still get calls from recruiters about some mainframe, especially Vantage (the main life insurance legacy policy administration system, which routed VLN, CFO, etc in the 1980s). But it seems that the old in-house shops keep whittling down to almost nothing, with workplaces becoming tombs of consolidation, while new systems are bought from and tailored by vendors like Vantage, which seems to rule the mainframe world.

And for other projects, say like data warehousing or clientization, big banks and financial companies like to hire contract programmers through agencies at flat rates without renewal.

“Your profession” has to be something you believe in. But the old-style mainframe in-house programming job seems to have gone the way of horse and buggy.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Traveling by air with both workplace and personal laptops

Employers make it “difficult enough” by monitoring use of workplace computers and prohibiting personal use and then sometimes requiring employees to travel with work computers by air.

But apparently the TSA doesn’t object to checking two laptops through security on carryon, as in this Yahoo! forum answer (link). It’s good to know.

Users might also want to check out the TSA “laptop friendly bag” procedures here.

Of course, employers have been monitoring personal use at home, particularly of social networking sites, for corporate "reputational" reasons as covered here Dec. 29.