Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In life insurance I.T., does "Vantage rule the world", still?

I could say, “I remember Vantage” is a bit like “I remember Mama”.

When I was working for USLICO in the early 1990s (to become ReliaStar and then ING), I was working in a different area, salary deduction (called EPIX), and IDMS and COBOL system, and was a bit too lost in my own world to get into the idea of going onto the new Vantage team across the street.  At the time there were other legacy administrative systems, namely CFO, VLn (which faded but could have become the powerhouse instead of Vantage had it held together)  and a proprietary home-grown assembler system for USL.  A lot of smaller insurance companies had their own homemade applications at the time.

It seemed that Vantage took forever to run, too, for only 30000 policies at first.  The reserves job took all day to run on the mainframe with all the random VSAM access (slow in those days).  I remember even getting an angry SYSM (mainframe email) from someone who wondered why I was so nosey about how long it took to run.

But in time Vantage overcame its resource-consuming architecture, and by the late 90s was running smoothly, and had become the mainframe legacy system that every programmer in the life insurance business needed.  As they say, “Vantage rules the world”.

With systems like these, you had to understand the entire database-driven system, with so many record types and scheduling segments, as well as the calling architecture in the link decks.  People became gurus on the internals of Vantage.  They have remained in the mainframe world, in high demand, while the rest of the economy has its wild fluctuations, and while the old-fashioned mainframe culture (with its nightly batch cycles and S0C7's) declines, in a world where younger people don’t have the patience for it.    The mantra is no longer “IBM”.  But I don't think Facebook can replace legacy insurance systems.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Should webmasters make their sites mobile friendly? How?

In the past months, I have heard a lot more about the desirability of making one’s web presence mobile phone compatible. This issue might, for some people, have an effect on their online reputation, or at least on the market penetration of their business.

For example, Blogger has encourage publishers to make a setting change that causes most blogs to display in simplified single columnar mobile format on most devices.  I have done this so far with my “smaller” blogs.

There are many factors that influence this question. First, not all mobile phones treat content the same way.

Some phones might be able to view content in landscape format and not need the single column view. 

Columnar format does not even work yet on my own Blackberry, but I will talk to Verizon soon about this.  My own blogs (those I have converted) do display “properly” on other people’s Androids.

Generally, content that  has lots of detail and that is relatively static and “academic” in nature probably does not need mobile friendliness much. It is more likely to be viewed on conventional PC’s, Macs, and laptops from both.

However, the way people behave “on the road” is changing. I carry a small Toshiba W7 laptop and MiFi card, and it works almost everywhere, but already it seems cumbersome;  I imagine I will eventually need to be able to work with just a “very smart phone” when on “the road alone” (pun intended).

Generally, mobile content needs to be stored on a database, scraped into areas defined in XML schema components (like DTD’s and XSD’s) and use formatting (various kinds of style sheets) to display the content.  (Wordpress uses MySQL, and Blogger uses a proprietary dababase that functions in a way similar to MySQL, I think.)  This may right now be a lot more work for some webmasters (like me) who have a lot of intricate content, where tables (in traditional HTML) are much more efficient to code.  The mobile-friendly web object will have scripting  (ASP, PHP, etc) that can determine the kind of device accessing the site and format properly accordingly.

Mobile friendliness would be most critical for people who have “breaking news” from a business of a narrow area, or for whom the speed with which customers receive information is of tactical importance.  It’s obviously important, for example, in reporting sports scores, and probably for news sites with quick scoops (as opposed to strategic arguments).   It’s more important for “winning converts” than “winning arguments”.

The best article that I found  on website mobile compatibility is by Arfa Mirza, “How and Why to Make Your Website Mobile Phone Compatible”, link here.

On Plaveb, Web Paradigm Shift, Mark Spenser writes “How to Make Mobile Compatible Website”, link here

On Tech Radar, “How to make your website mobile”, by STE Brennan, link here

XSitePro has this tutorial on YouTube
Note that this service presumes you have a separate site for mobile (with link duplication, which some search engines may not like), but that it provides the ability to update both sites simulataneously. 

Note (Oct 10): I've found with's new home page, that if you use Expression Web to set up the tables, and set up the page in columns, the Blackberry browser will adjust the columns so both fit automatically.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Your email address may indeed affect your professional "online reputation"

Tech Republic has a piece on choosing a professional email address.  In sum, you should have your own domain based on your domain or business  identity, and use that address.  The comment particularly applies to people seeking independent IT consulting jobs, and probably people seeking assignments through staffing firms, the W-2 market.

This also sounds as though it’s not a good idea to use AOL, Yahoo!, Hotmail, gmail, etc. on resumes. 

The Tech Republic article is here.

It looks to another blog that talks about typical mistakes in email addresses, here

Now, I used my AOL address in the early 2000’s, and it might have seemed lazy. It’s hard to say that it hurt me. But in today’s world of “online reputation”, it sounds like if you want to work as a techie, you have to act like one online, and that includes email address. 

Do Facebook employees have public email addresses at Facebook? Does Google use gmail for its employees? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MSN strikes up the workplace dress code wars; it is OK to wear shorts for work?

Workplace dress has the attention of MSN and Bing this morning.  I guess MSN's content editors got out of the right side of bed this Tuesday morning. How about Huffington Post? 

First, let’s get to the spiciest item, wearing shorts at work. After all, mail carriers wear them. So do a lot of delivery drivers. The Workplacebuzz weighs in on it here  as do some readers.   Remember the NY lifeguard who got fired at 61 for wearing too much when he said that older people should be seen “less of” in public?  I feel that way.  Remember how Ronald Reagan looks in “short shorts” in “John Loves Mary"?  The gay rag “Christopher Street” back in the 1980s said that his appearance this way demonstrated heterosexual carelessness.  You don’t want people to see you went down hill fast.  But, then again, maybe you enter bike races or swim meets.

I wouldn't want to be required to wear shorts to work, or remain shirtless.  So I wouldn't look good as a bartender or barback.  One time, at a seminar in Philadelphia in 1998 sponsored by Group-1 Software, at a concluding motivational session, some executives paraded in front of everyone in their shorts while the speaker said "You don't worry about what you can't do anything about." 

Career Builder also has its “10 Commandments of Workplace Dress”,  (website url) here including rules for “business casual” on Fridays.

Remember John Molloy’s notorious old handbook “Dress for Success”?  He actually wanted younger male business executives to add a touch of gray to their hair so they at least look like they’re in their 40s.  For TV host Anderson Cooper, genetics took care of that.  So it will for Prince William; early male pattern baldness may help him look more like an authority figure.   (I think William looks a lot better in casual jeans than in royal ware.)

Remember the dress code for EDS back in the early 70s?  Suits, white shirts, and coats kept on at work.  That help keep computers a “mystery” from the customer.  I actually saw a copy of their policy when I worked for Bradford National in New York City in the 1970s; a coworker had worked for them and had a copy of their policy. 

IBM, in fact, used to check male employees in parking lots for stocking garters, way back in the 60s, even before the 360 was introduced.  That sounds prudish.

By the way, Sept. 13, 2001, ten years ago today, I received an unsolicited call to join Prime Vest.  I was still working and my job at ING-Reliastar had exactly 90 days left to live.  

Picture: from my "Public Speaking Is Easy" experience, "lecturing" about my book at Hamline University, while on crutches in 1998. 

Friday, September 02, 2011

Young adult employment drops while senior employment rises; lack of jobs growth in August jolts stock market on pre-holiday Friday

The stock market is tanking Friday Sept. 2 as the employment figures show no job growth in August, a month that showed the debt ceiling “resolution” and the downgrading of US debt by Standard & Poors.

CNN Money has an interesting video showing that young people age 16-24 have seen a sharp drop in employment since the late 1980s, even accounting for the fact that more are in college; summer employment is weaker. But people over 65 are working more, partly because of longer lifespans and weaker retirement portfolios.