Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My old background in clientization and address standardization: in retirement, two "mishaps" in the same day!

Well, when companies and governments lay off or “buy out” older experienced workers. It looks like they lose a little bit of edge on their work ethic, particularly “attention to detail”, especially in systems. When I was “working”, people would ask cynically, “how many of us are any good at our jobs?”

On a just-completed trip to Texas, I left my “postal store” land mailbox address as a contact point for mail with a particular group. I got a call today that the computer system in which they entered my address would not accept more than the first three digits of my box number. And, behold, I noticed that some of the mail I have received recently has only three digits, which means that employees there have to look up the physical box manually.

What happens is that many organizations put their mailing addresses through a “clientization” or “address standardization” software editor, to make it compliant with what the US Postal Service calls “Code 1” and uses for its National Change of Address software, which is maintained by a few contracting companies, including Group 1 Software (Pitney Bowes) and Hart Hanks.  Large companies that do mailing usually purchase interfaces from these contractors.  But mailbox store services also need to make sure that Code 1 has stored correct formats for their actual addresses and box numbers, which is a normal responsibility of a USPS Audit.  I know all this because I worked on NCOA for ING-ReliaStar back in 1998, putting in a complex Group 1 interface.  

In fact, my detailed resume reads “Reduced volume of return mail (by about 20%), by implementing new NCOA (National Change of Address) interface and by clientization of major Vantage system. I analyzed USPS (Postal Service) audit requirements and coded (in COBOL II) forward and reverse interfaces to a client management system (CMS), as well as creating a batch database (IMS) update job. I also helped operations support the Fast Forward and Group-1 (Windows NT) portions of the system. I later helped to convert and test many of the IO modules in this client management system to DB2, using SQL and cursors.”
In the meantime, I luckily get some mail with shortened box numbers, a lot of it recently. Somewhere, somebody made a change to a production system without enough QA testing. The programming problem may have to do with data typing, length parameters, or format options, or even the way some SQL subqueries are coded (there are minor differences between DB2 and other ANSI, but they can matter).
No wonder Brainbench tests for technical proficienty and certifies in all this!

That’s not all. I also found out on my recent trip to Texas that my driver’s license has two digits in my street address permuted.  I had never noticed it.  I checked Arlington’s real estate tax system and found that the address as printed isn’t recognized.  Why didn’t Richmond’s DMV catch it?  In fact, I didn’t get my 2013 tags mailed for a while this summer because of the same problem, but I never thought to look at the license.  I suppose that the TSA, and car rental company or hotel could refuse to accept it. That hasn’t happened yet, but it needs to get fixed before I travel again.

I’ve also noticed that I sometimes get an item or two of other people’s mail.  Casing of mail is not perfect. With more USPS employee cutbacks, these problems will only continue.

Also, when I worked as a substitute teacher, I wasn’t paid properly at first for hours in afterschool extended day assignments.  I found out that was related to how the system’s SQL calls worked. 

Think twice before cutting back on “mature” IT workers.  You’re losing the maturity it takes to “get it right”. 

(See also my "identity security" blog Sept. 25, 2006 for a proposal.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pundits still tell interns they have a privilege in paying to work

There are several variations of a piece “Getting Started: Making the Most of an Internship” around, such as here.  The piece says that an internship is a privilege, not a right, and that an intern holder should “treat the internship like a lucrative full-time position” and that “interns should treat their internships as if they were getting paid lots of money”.  Sure, while students accumulate more debt while not being paid very much or even at all.  This kind of opinion takes some nerve. "Pay your dues" so as not to become a prole.

What about Ross Perlin’s book “Intern Nation” (June 8, 2011 on my books blog). 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Windows 7 on a Notebook -- weird behavior on the road

Weird stuff happens in the field. My little W7 Toshiba notebook gets caught in a loop being booted, with the circle on a dark screen.  On forced restart, it tells you it didn't close normally, then gets caught in a restart loop.  It doesn't present the log on option. Finally, I hit a circle one more time and it books up normally (I turned off the MiFi first, and then back on).

Once in a while, if you try the notification icons after book up before completely ready, it goes get stuck and loops. Don't know why.  I suspect it's specific to Toshiba and I have to get a fix specifically from Toshiba, not Microsoft.

Also, if you let it do updates during the shutdown, it can get stuck. Eventually, you can get it to boot up if you try a few times, and finish the update manually with the machine up, and then everything works. 

It' s beginning to look as thought the Mac world is simpler and more reliable.  With this little computer, there are just too many interruptions with little updates all the time.  And they can break.  Maybe the grass just looks greener across the street (which isn't always the other side).

I was driving around a dam with a big power plant, don't know if electric fields nearby could affect a laptop. Didn't think so.  But it is working now, again!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Microsoft Word hangs during autosave; jumping cursor on some W7 laptops

I type this posting in Microsoft Word 2010, and I’m pretty sure it won’t freeze during autosave, because that’s already happened once this morning since the last reboot in Windows 7.

Sometimes Word can recover the file automatically. Other times, it hangs trying to restart. If you try to open the file, either in Word or Windows explorer, it hangs.  Even when trying to copy the file at the command prompt it hangs and says word can’t open it.  If you try to copy it, Windows says it got an unknown error.
But there is hope.  If you try any of these ideas a second time, they work. As long as you give the file a different name, you can open it and go back to work.

This seems to happen only once after a reboot.  Sometimes when you try to save the file yourself the first time, Autosave tries to run anyway.  I suppose I should disable autosave.

Microsoft forums has a discussion of the problem here.

My machine, a 2009 Dell XPS, could be more vulnerable because it has had a replacement of Vista with Windows 7, and at least one major service pack update.

I’ve also had trouble (on my Dell XPS) with the jumping cursor since W7 replacement, in all applications.  (It doesn’t happen on a small Toshiba Notebook with W7 starter.) The antidote is to type very lightly.  The touchpad picks up the motion or vibrations from the keyboard and interprets them as commands.

Here’s a typical Microsoft answers posting on the problem (link). It doesn’t seem to be limited to Dell.

I don’t have time to play with restore points and rolling back drivers and updates.  I’m thinking of moving a lot of my Word work to the new MacBook upstairs, which seems a lot simpler.  (The Mac boots up much faster, too.)  But a lot of my web work depends on Microsoft Expression (replacing the defunct Front Page), which depends on a .NET environment, which keeps on throwing huge updates. 

By being all things to all people, the Microsoft environment has just gotten too complicated, with too many potential points of failure.  It’s rather like the power grid, when you decide go get a generator.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Facebook is hiring! Mark Zuckerberg visits Harvard

I have to chuckle (or maybe cackle) at this story on MSNBC.

Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of Harvard at 19 in the spring of 2004 to form Facebook, traveled to Cambridge yesterday to recruit there.  Here’s the story. Zuckeberg, now 27 (the biological peak), was in his usual informal jumper and jeans.  He does look “cute”.

Here’s Facebook’s Careers page.    It greeted me with “Hi, John: Facebook is Hiring”.  Some of the areas are Software Engineering, IT and Security, Sales and Business Development, Online Operations. There are links for interns (a dubious concept with me), and new Grads (Masters and PhD’s).

I lost the edge on coding back around 1999 when I think I fumbled the transition from mainframe. You have to actually code a lot of OOP (java, C#, whatever) to learn it, so you need to get in on a development project from the beginning.  (The Time article showed Zuckberberg coding on a Macbook laptop in a Palo Alto CA bar.)

The biggest area of strategy for Facebook is the way it has replaced self-publication with social networking as a primary “purpose” for being online – a concept with enormous legal and social significance.
In the meantime, let Zuckerberg develop his benevolent “timocracy”, which gives him (not Obama or any GOP candidate) the ability to rule the world.   (That’s a good new word for political science, isn’t it; after all, our partisan democracy can't get things done, so it might as well cede power to an extraterrestrial.)

In this Charlie Rose interview, Zuckerberg discusses competition with Google and Amazon, but he says what they do is different. His sister says Facebook is just about the social connection; Facebook isn't where you watch movies or read books and online newspapers (like this blog). 

Picture: no connection to Facebook, but it looks great at night on Washington's Lafayette Square.  

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Good work habits?: check the backups or archives you are responsible for

Here’s another little workplace caution, which I may have mentioned before.

If part of a project you implement has the purpose of archiving something, with a low likelihood that the archive will actually be used soon, it’s important to access and try to validate and use pieces of the archive created by the production elements.  Otherwise, a large inventory of unusable backups could accumulate until the customer suddenly requests it.  It’s part of “good work habits”.

The issue will become more critical now as many company are starting to outsource backup capabilities to “cloud computing”.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

With my 12 years in life insurance IT, could I really have become a "financial" huckster?

Based on some current developments, I’ve had reason to ponder what a second career as a financial planner or insurance agent could have been like.

I’ve had agents court me (both for regular and long term care policies), and there’s a lot of hustling involved to set up meetings, often lunches, with potential clients.  New agents are expected to develop leads very quickly. Because of my brief discussions with two companies in 2005, I still get lots of emails about leads, which simply show me how the business works.

A financial planner may have to do this, particularly if he works for a brokerage company (like in the movie “Margin Call”) but if he or she works for a bank where potential customers are likely to have deposits or more conventional accounts, the job of getting business is obviously “easier”.

With retired clients, or those unlikely to increase income, financial planners often focus, in fact, on offering whole or universal life products for insurance and annuities for income, as if they were the “participating general” agents.

All this sounds like a far cry from Prime Vest’s gimmick of converting as many people as possible from whole life to term.

By the time I was approached for any of this, I was too far gone into the rabbit hole of my own journalism.