Monday, April 25, 2011

Primerica hires beaucoup agents and wants states to make the licensure test easier

Leslie Schism has an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal Monday April 25, front page in print, “Insurer pushes to weaken license test”, about Primerica, which has an unusual business model. It hires a large number of agents but has lower qualifications, and many fail the state licensure tests.

The print version of the story has some sample test questions, which resemble those of LOMA exams. The online version (paywall subscription required) is here.

Until 2010, Primerica was owned by Citigroup, but there seems to have been a change (Primerica story here).

I reported my own interview with them in Minnesota here on July 26, 2010 (the "we give you the words" spiel). 

Primerica has certainly come under criticism online, as with this blog ("Something I learned today") story

Primerica should not be confused with Primevest, in St. Cloud, MN, belonging to Cetera. It was a subsidiary of ReliaStar in the late 1990s, before ReliaStar was acquired by ING.  Here is the Primevest link.

Picture: A "polecat" (e.g. skunk) on a country road in Pennsylvania, near Sideling Hill.  "America starts here". Wild animals get the right of way.

Friday, April 22, 2011

HP laptops in Vista, dropping devices

Besides goofy behavior of the touchpad on my personal Dell XPS converted from Vista to Windows 7 (if you press too hard, it takes certain keys as commands and jumps or deletes text, in any application), I’ve encountered weird behavior on a Hewlitt-Packard Vista laptop for work. I can’t discuss the work, but I can say there’s goofy behavior, with the touchpad device dropping entirely, and with the cellular wireless card getting disabled. 

It seems from the scuttlebutt that Vista tends to drop devices on some machines, particularly depending on how the machine was booted up. Many organizations specify specific startup scripts and procedures which may differ from what the manufacturer says, particularly to get to an encrypted logon screen.  If these are not followed exactly, occasionally the HP, at least, will lose devices.  It seems the Startup script affects how the devices behave later.  I suspect this would not happen in Windows 7.

There is a way to access the device manager in Vista from the search box, with devmgmt.msc.  Or use the command prompt. About has a writeup here.  

There are some instructions online as to what to do if a VZAccessManager wireless device gets disabled, here

Update: April 25

Tonight, on my own Dell XPS, the wireless icon goes out. Yes, it comes back when I press it (and "enables" in W7), but why did it go out? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Job applicants warned about the "context" of their personal online activity (social media and blogs) and job searches; In 2010, "Social Sentry" can monitor off-work social media use

Here we go again. This morning, MSN has a compelling story on the way people could be kicking their own shins with their use of social media when they’re in the job market.  The link is here.

The title is telling: "Social media can kill your career -- but not the way you think: Why you should avoid being overexposed in a digital world." That's not quite what the article says, however.

It’s not so much about the inappropriate photos (“drunken pirate”, etc). It’s more about creating an online presence that seems to dilute the importance of your career, or even whether you believe in it.

The article makes the suggesting of having at least two social network accounts. Let employers join only the “professional” one (the LinkedIn). Keep the other one (Facebook) social.  (Or maybe the analogy is Facebook:MySpace; a good SAT question.) But it seems unlikely that wouldn’t contradict their other point.  Employers may still see what you’re doing publicly.

There’s more to this. First, remember blogs and social networking profiles work differently, even though the results overlap.  Blogs may expose “sharp edges” that contradict the mission of a job even more than Facebook, partly because of the way search engines work and the way those notorious “privacy settings” are usually implemented.

Morally, it’s a good thing that blogs and social media put employers on edge, particularly in areas involving sales and jobs requiring going out and “soliciting” people for business (whether door-to-door or through online leads).  The old paradigms that sales jobs depended on have weakened as many people think they have become more independent (but maybe they really haven’t; we still have “a community”).  One could ask similar questions about "public relations".  It’s also fair to ask, is it “fair” for employers to monopolize someone’s “public life” (as in “Hannibal” – Anthong Hopkins said it so well) when they can lay people off at will so easily?

Here's another thing. It may be hard to remain "passionate" online about what you "did".  Look at how mainframe systems lost popularity and mainframe employment became episodic. It seems no longer credible to sell oneself as "just" a "mainframe professional".  Or is it?
Later on today, I found a story on Clark Howard news "Employers monitor your social networking profile" here, with software like Social Sentry (look at this other story on Venture Beat here).  The stories date to late March 2010. Howard says six out of ten employers have a social media monitoring policy (for "off work" speech, explicitly) and consider anything you say (at least outside privacy settings) to be not "private" and potentially workplace speech.  I've been warning about this for years!  Workforce Management is also reporting on this (subscription) now.

I could not find this product on the Teneros website today; see the "BillBoushka" blog April 20, 2011 for more details. (I've since been told that the product was purchased by "SocialLogix". See that blog.) 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Another company thinks I am a recruiter!

Recently, I have gotten multiple emails from a Pittsburgh company named iBusiness Solutions (link) where the writer seems to think I am a recruiter able to submit candidates. 

Most of the openings require specific subskill sets in areas of OOP (java), and various databases. 

I suppose that’s because a script has picked up this blog.

No, I don’t recruit, because I’m swamped by what I am doing.  It’s pretty expensive for a small recruiting company to subscribe to Dice, so there is a reason to consolidate, I suppose. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do employers reimburse enough for business use of personal auto? What about $4 gas? What about "business use" auto insurance?

People who take jobs involving their personal autos for business, when they have not done so before (including retirees) may want to be careful about their auto insurance coverage and make sure that the reimbursement rate offered by the employer is adequate for increased premium.

In northern Virginia, coverage for business use (reimbursed and “on the clock” or part of the workday) without special hauling tends to cost about $120 or so for about 6 months for about 200 miles a month of driving, or about 10 cents a mile for business insurance.

Here's a checklist from "Women's Finance" on "Does your vehicle insurance cover business use?"

Or check this question, "Do I need commercial auto coverage", from About, which is more about advice for small business owners, but it says you need it if you use (individually) "titled vehicles" for the conduct of business.

CompuQuotes has an advice page on business use of a personal vehicle, here.

Since gasoline prices have spiked, it’s instructive to do an “Algebra I” “story problem” with gasoline per mile costs. At 20 miles per gallon, $4.00/gallon gasoline would cost 20 cents a mile (5 miles per dollar, like a physics problem  -- school gets easier with real-life allowance problems, doesn’t it).
The IRS business mileage rate for normal passenger vehicle use is 51 cents a mile right now in 2011.  IRS rules are written up in a manner to suggest that insurance was taken into account. But the IRS will certainly face political pressure to raise the rate soon, as was done in 2008. In many urban locations, gasoline is already over $4 a gallon.

Here’s a link about the 2011 rules 

The IRS publication on the matter is here

Here’s a blog on what the IRS did in 2008 (during the Bushie pre-crisis oil price spike), from the point of view of nannies who use cars for business. 

 It was as high as 58 cents a mile at one point.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

McDonald's franchises to add 50000 "real jobs" on April-teenth

As I stopped at a McDonald’s off I-95 at Thornburg, VA (north of Richmond, south of Fredericksburg) today, I saw the sign for their national hiring day April 19  (link), and I thought I even overheard an interview as I walked to the counter.

It’s been said that McDonald’s (or any fast food company) is a test of whether “you can work” at all. It’s a “real job” (which “data processing” is apparently not). 

Remember how Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book “Nickel and Dimed” about how she paid her dues with minimum wage jobs.

“Big Mac” could mean McDonald’s, or it could mean the special bonds sold during the 1975 fiscal crisis for New York City. 

Second picture: after getting sidetracked to Route 1 by an I-95 wreck, I saw this "Great Pyramid" under construction near Woodbridge, VA.  It takes real labor to rebuild The Pyramids.  Ask the Maya. 

Monday, April 04, 2011

Beta testing a film festival's advanced ticket purchase system

Here’s another interesting little wrinkle.  It seems like I’m beta testing other people’s systems since “retiring”.

This month, FilmFestDC has a movie that appears twice the same day at the same venue. The software would not confirm the time or print it on my bar-coded ticket receipt.  I emailed MissionTix for support. At first, it still had me down for the wrong time.  Support had to change it manually.

So, some film festival ticketing systems may not work properly when a particular movie has more than one performance at the same place the same day.

Another annoyance is that many festivals will not let you order the same day as the movie even when there are seats available. 

MissionTix told me it would fix the problem today (Monday). 

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Cell phone companies should bill employers directly for associate business use; but no system knows how to do it

Telecommunications carriers should develop systems to bill separately employer use of associate’s home landline or cellular phone service.

Cellular phone service presents an issue because it typically is based on a maximum minutes allowance during peak hours, and excepts calls made to mobile phones for the same company. If a large number of minutes are used during peak weekday hours for work, the minutes allowance be exceeded.  Landline service billing is often simpler, but in some cities message units limits are present and more area codes are considered long distance.

A work related call could be made with a pin code that tells the telecommunications carrier to bill the employer separately to a different account with fees as negotiated in advance  with the employer for business use.  This is somewhat the “opposite” of the usual workplace problem; here, it’s business use of personal resources.

Architecturally, such a system could have a large mainframe component and could be similar to billing systems I worked on in the past (daily and monthly and consolidated billing for a credit reporting company in the 1980s; salary deduction billing for a life insurance company in the 1990s). I’m surprised I haven’t heard of such a system having been developed by an EDS, IBM, etc for the telecommunications industry to use. 

For readers who remember me working in ALC at Chilton in Dallas in the 1980s (and "coding out of addressability" using R15), the program name "BA165" was a private joke.  A coworker even had a dream about getting fired (or a "pink slip") over it.