Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hospital in PA will deny employment based on legal nicotine (tobacco) use even off the job


Geisinger Health Systems in Danville PA says it will screen job applicants for nicotine use (even at home) starting in February of 2012. The CNN story is here.

The hospital says that second hand smoke should not cause positive tests – a concern raised in the past about employer drug screening for marijuana use. I had to undergo one such screening by urinalysis in 1990 for the last job I had – for 12 years – even though the practice was later dropped.

Existing employees will not be affected by the policy.

There have sometimes been controversies over other ideas, like testing for HIV, which some people on the radical right have tried to encourage at times. 

One could also consider the ethics of screening applicants' personal online activity, not only for non-work related activity, but because of the likelihood of identifying wrong people or of believing material posted by others. 

This is probably also not the first time employers have screened for tobacco use.  

Friday, December 30, 2011

Physicist Stephen Hawking has a job opening

Here’s a single job opening: Stephen Hawing is looking for a technical assistant who can maintain the hardware and software he uses to communicate with the world.  I presume the job is in Britain.

Here is the link

You would really have to be a super geek to get and hold down this job.

And you’d need unusual people skills.

Is there anyone out there who can fill the opening?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Production support (and responsibility for live systems) makes the IT professional grow up

My “conventional” information technology “career” (as in the last movement of Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony, maybe) lasted about 32 years (1970-2001), and it’s instructive to see how much of that lapsed time I was actually responsible for stuff that ran in production.

The “first experience” with this didn’t really happen until early 1976, with the NBC General Ledger system, running on a Univac 1110, in “ASCII COBOL”, right in 30 Rock.  (It must have been replaced by now.)  To “get IBM” I moved to Bradford National, and from Nov. 1977 until I left at the end of 1978 I was responsible for batch MMIS end-of-month reports (called “MARS”, no connection to the Viking Lander).  But at the Combined Medicare Consortium (CABCO, of Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans) in Dallas, there was no production from 1979-1981, in fact, a project failure (not good for the resume). I moved to Chilton Credit Reporting, in an Ahmdahl (like IBM MVS) environment with ALC, COBOL, Datacomm DB and DC (sorry, not IMS and CICS) in late 1981, but didn’t move anything to production until Labor Day weekend, 1985, with monthly billing.  I still remember the Sunday morning drive to the office along I-30 to support the production run. Pretty soon, I had made changes to the daily system, and we replaced all the billing in late 1987.  When I went to (effectively) Lewin in 1988 back in Washington, I was responsibl for COBOL and SAS reports (“tables”) given to clients (for health care lobbying support).  And at ING-ReliaStar-USLICO, from 1990-2001 (Arlington VA and then Minneapolis in 1997) I supported a variety of production systems all the time, including a salary deduction billing system that ran all day.  I have to say that in my “post-retirement” world managing an estate, knowledge of life insurance (and the details about how IT processing really works) has come in very handy, particularly recently.  Sometimes I feel as if I had never left work.  It’s déjà vu.

In sum, for about 19 of those 32 years I was exposed to production responsibility (including off-hours on-call support or “nightcall”), including the last 16 years in a row. Most of the time the exposure was daily and could impact weekends.  But that leaves quite a bit of time that I was not (especially 1979-1985, and before 1976), and so some of that help explains why I wasn’t more mature about some things when I should have been.

We all have to pay our dues.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How often did programmers hold down "real jobs" while moonlighting?

How many programmers did I know that also held down “real jobs” at the same time? Over the years, a few.
  
In Dallas, around 1980, when I was working for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Consortium (“CABCO”) and never wrote a line of code (I was a “systems consultant”), a coworker, himself an evangelical Christian and quite open about it (on the “Buckle of the Bible Belt”), took a second job selling cars to “feed his babies”.   
 
In the early 1990s, while at a life insurance company in Arlington VA, a COBOL programmer, returning after just a week on another job he didn’t like, worked evenings for “Tos ‘R’ Us” – and maybe that was for “Babies ‘R” Us”.  
 
And as far back in 1971, an operations research analyst at RCA (then in Princeton, NJ), himself a well-hardened West Pointer and Vietnam veteran, held seminars in his home (I went to one) about starting Amway distributorships. 
 
And at Chilton, in the early 80s, our female manager  “Donna” used to talk about “real jobs” and called the Tuesday afternoon staff meetings “devotionals”.   

And also later in 1971, when I worked at NAVCOSSACT in Washington DC, a friend and co-worker, who got a mathematics thesis published while working there in a professional journal (I proofed it for him), worked weekend nights at the Giant supermarket, even boiling live lobsters.  A former teacher in Florida, he was "just" a GS-7 and had married an "instant family". 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

When working for yourself, you still have to approach "moves" and software changes very carefully


I wanted to reiterate that even when working at home on my own ventures (self-publishing, music composition and soon video or movie making), I find that I have to be “strict” about making software changes.
 
Any time that I contemplate a significant change, I need 3-4 hour uninterrupted time to allow for the possibility that things will break or not work, and that I may have to call and reach support, or, in extreme cases, take a laptop or other item over to the Geek Squad or Apple Store “Genius Bar”  for investigation.  These days (especially during the holiday season), I don’t have a lot of 3-4 hour periods free.  I had hoped that dropping the Census job and completing some major personal travel would free more time, but I still find myself short on periods to work alone without interruptions.
 
It is important, when developing and deploying content, to have extended periods to work on material without disruptions. There are many sources of interruption, from software updates to these unstoppable telemarketing calls.  Volunteer work needs to be meaningful to me and related to my own circumstances, and not just based on emotion or on what “feels good”. 
 
Modern home systems frequently perform automated updates.  Microsoft supplies updates about once a week or two weeks.  These usually work without problems, but one or two have caused problems and disruption.  The Windows Vista and Windows 7 restart process requires “configuration” of updates during both shutdown and restart.  Microsoft does not give very good indication of the progress of the configuration. In one or two cases, configuration processes have hung.  But they never seem to hang if you do the update manually with the system up and restart , rather than at shutdown.  Also, my smaller Windows 7 laptop sometimes does not want to restart without closing the running program (windows  update) and requires manual intervention. 
 
My larger XPS laptop (Dell) had Vista from mid 2009 to the end of 2010, when I had it converted to 7.  At that point, I had to replace the Microsoft Word programs with 2011 versions and new licenses.  All of these changes on an “older” machine could contribute to instability. 
 
I can recall back in 2004 having to load Windows XP Service Pack 2 to a desktop 8300, six months after purchase.  That took about an hour and required multiple restarts, but worked.  Then there was a SP3.
Likewise, Windows 7 has had a Service Pack 1 on each machine. 
 
When one buys a new laptop or any computer, one likes to have current operating systems and service packs and updates.  But it seems that one always has to run multiple updates nonetheless, causing possible instability.   And remember, in my circumstances, stability is everything. I have to get my work done. 
 
PC Security packages also have to be updated.  As noted on my Internet Safety blog, there have been some issues with my Webroot Security Essentials Firewall suddenly overblocking.  Yesterday I got a comment from the company urging me to load the new Security Anywhere product.  But I have to make sure I have several free hours on a weekday when everyone on their end will be at work.   I’m not sure I have that time until after Christmas day (and everyone is back to normal Tuesday Dec. 27). Right now, I still have the current product protecting me satisfactorily despite the glitch, so I can’t take unnecessary “risks” until I have the time. 
 
Remember how it was when I was working?  Moves (elevations, promotions, whatever you call them) were done to applications on Fridays only, before the weekend cycle when there was more time to recover from abends.  System software changes were usually done on weekends (particularly Sundays).  ISP’s typically do their maintenance late on Sunday nights.   These kinds of things need to be scheduled.  


Monday, December 19, 2011

Microsoft Word 2011 continues weird behavior under W7 sometimes


Here’s a good little problem with Word.  I have a particular work file that I found with the Windows 7 “Search” to be on a “Geek Squad Backup” which was done a year ago.  When I try to save the Word document in one of my c: directories, it just doesn’t save it.  Windows Explorer just doesn’t find it. Finally, if I change the name of the file by one character, it saves it. 
 
Weird. 
 
I’ve had trouble with Word 2011 locking up under the autosave.  The first time I try to copy a file that locked up, the copy locks (whether in command mode or Windows Explorer); the second time always works. Weird, again.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

School districts start making rules at personal social media for teachers; what about regular employers? What about pictures taken by others appearing on the Web?


Although it used to be that the rules for computer use just applied to workplace computers, now employers are having to pay much more attention to employee Internet and cell phone use at home with their own dimes.  
 
Jennifer Preston has a front page story in the New York Times about school systems and their new policies for teachers and probably administrators, “Rules to stop pupil and teacher from getting too social online”, link here
  
The obvious issue would be friending between students and teachers, but there are many others.  There have always been implied barriers between teachers and students, like teachers didn’t socialize with kids or call them at home. 

Actually, in some of the newer charter schools, some of those barriers are changing, because teachers are required to be available to help students with legitimate work off hours. 
 
But the broader issue concerns what teachers post on the Internet .  (Yes, some teachers post their course syllabi and materials on the public web, when they could restrict it, for openers.)  Some school districts have policies against postings that show teachers in "questionable" but lawful behavior like drinking.  Why is this a problem. Teachers are adults. (Yup, I wouldn't like to see a pix of a teacher smoking cigarettes now, but when I went to school, teachers had smoking lounges and everyone accepted it.)  What if a teacher appears in a picture drinking, in a picture taken by someone else at a bar or disco and then posted on a blog – and then a student (or school district administrator) recognizes it?  Actually, as I’ve noticed recently, people have become antsier about photography in bars in the past year or so, possibly because of this concern, and possibly because of tagging – although Facebook has supposedly made it easier to avoid being tagged if you don’t want to be. 
  
Another question could concern whether a posting had been intended to be public, or was restricted to a private list.  Social networking sites are refining their capability to target content to specific circles of friends, almost making the postings circulate the way they used to with listservers or virtual offices. 
 
The obvious extension of this question becomes, what about the workplace as a whole? What about online friending between boss and subordinate?  
 
I have, on my blogs, previously discussed my own history with “conflict of interest” and public blog posting.  I’ve said, in the past (as far back as in a 2000 white paper) that people with direct reports in the workplace, or who grade others (many teachers) or make underwriting decisions, have to proceed with great caution about making their views known in public and searchable areas in the web.  Even subtle postings that give hints of various personal prejudices (let’s say, about personal appearance) could create legal problems in the workplace later, if it could be shown that the person “in power” was predisposed to hold certain prejudicial beliefs. 
 
But, in theory, restricting the audience of a posting on a social networking site could answer some of these concerns, if it’s unlikely that subordinates (or students) will actually be able to find it and see it.
As for school districts, there would be a question as to whether the policies apply to substitute teachers as well as regular teachers, especially those who take only short term assignments and don’t grade students. 
 
I’ve had my own personal experience with this sort of issue, actually with a “fictitious” screenplay that I had posted on the web in 2005 in which I “appeared” to be a character who did some bad things.  This led to an incident at West Potomac High School near Alexandria VA in the fall of 2005 when I was subbing there. The details are on the “BillBoushka” blog July 27, 2007.  I also mentioned this yesterday on the Drama blog because of a “coincidence”. 

It's only fair to mention that the argument goes in the other direction. Some school districts try to teach social media use in the technology and sometimes English curriculum. Around 2006, a Fairfax County English teacher (at another school) created some controversy by teaching blogging in her English class -- keeping all the content rated G.  



Picture: Proof of concept.  The disco picture is vague, but theoretically someone in the picture could be presumed be drinking if employed in a school district with such a policy.  No tagging.  But in theory facial recognition software might someday be able to troll the web for violators.  Bring on the “troll hunters” as in a well-known Norwegian horror film. 





Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some employers seem to think you need a large Facebook presence; Linked In is not good enough (no more "separate lives" from work)

Today, the Business Section of the New York Times had an article on people who resist joining or quit Facebook, and offered a comment by “PurloinedKarma” (after Poe) to the effect that some employers have told rejected job applicants that they need a large social media presence, that Linked In (which a couple applicants had without Facebook) is not enough. 

I couldn’t find the exact comment online; it’s at the bottom of p B5 in print.  

The idea seems sinister. Facebook insists that a person has only “one life online” with its “real name” policy, and employers could use such a policy to insist that employees not have separate identities or political initiatives offline. 

The original NY Times story (paywall) is here.

A site called Sodahead had an article, “is your Facebook profile employer friendly?” (Aug. 9, 20110 here 

The Wall Street Journal had an article by Joe Light around Aug 8 about employers trolling Facebook for candidates, here (paywall subscription). 

Seeking Alpha, on Dec. 5, 2011, has an article “Linked In: Living in Facebook’s Shadow”, link here.  The general thrust of the article is that Facebook is more advanced in offering employers applications, and practically every major company is on Facebook.  Therefore, it’s harder to make the case for a “workplace oriented” social network and keep it separate from the rest of the world.




Here's another wrinkle, just in: WJLA in Washington reports that KLM is planning to allow passengers to check Facebook and LinkedIn profiles of passengers in adjacent seats (for people who opted in). The UK Dail Mail reports on it here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Today is the ten-year anniversary of my Big Layoff

Well, ten years ago, at about this time, (9:20 AM CST), my manager stood in my cubicle and said “Bill, we have a meeting.”
 
At 9 AM sharp, I had gotten a message from Netware saying “your account is disabled. Please log off now”, right while I was talking to an internal client resolving a problem in the GUI.  
 
The help desk called back when I returned from the “meeting” saying, yes, my account was disabled.
 
Fourteen of us on the “Fourth Floor” were laid off that day, Dec. 13, 2001, 92 days after 9/11.  One of the people had been on nightcall that week.  The nightcall responsibility was split among the fewer people who remained (a 40% cutback), three days at a time.  
 
I do believe that, had 9/11 been prevented, the layoff, at least on this scale, would not have happened then, not until well into 2002.  9/11 had affected the company.  
 
This would be my first involuntary termination since 1971.  I had worked over thirty years with stability, quite a record, I thought.  
 
I never quite climbed back on the mainframe and conventional IT wagon.  I came close a few times. I’ve rehearsed many of the reasons, but one of them is that I had suddenly become spread too thin.  Exposure to a lot of things was no longer good enough as it had been; you had to be an expert at something.  To get a Medicaid MMIS contract, for example, you would need 5 years MMIS, fairly recent.  A mainframe contracting world would evolve (after 2000 and Y2K) where the same people rotated among similar contracts, much as had been the practice with defense contractors back in the 1970s.  Typically, employing clients already knew who they wanted.  

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic discusses the "hiring crisis" (5 months ago):

Monday, December 12, 2011

No, the Mac is not perfect. Some little glitches appear


Well, Apple is not perfect. In the past few days, I’ve had a few little glitches on my MacBook, which I am using to go through Logic right now, and on which I plan to load Sibelius soon and get my own music encoded. 

Once, when I booted up, the touchpad cursor wouldn’t move. It stayed frozen in the upper left corner.  I powered it off (the button) and hard-rebooted and it then worked.  

The evidence online is that the problem could have something to do with the fact that the touchpad is located right over the battery. 


And here’s another link discussing problems like this. 

I also had a problem with the pulsating circle when I was browsing with Safari. I was on a National Geographic site, getting ready for the show on big cats.  Safari seemed to hang.  Some applications (like iMovie) still worked.  But when I went to shut down from Finder, the circle still pulsated even while tryiny to shut down.  I had to use the silver power button.  Upon restart, everything was normal.  All I could find online was a discussion of hanging on Safari blacklisted sites.  NatGeo should be OK, but there could be a glitch. 

 Here’s a writeup.

Both problems occurred when I was running off battery power. I have not yet had a problem like this with the power cord connected and charging.

I have had some similar problems with my 2002 iMac.  When a DVD gets stuck because of a scratch, the system loops and I have to turn it off and restart it to eject the DVD.  That's very annoying on a rented DVD that forces you to watch all the previews again.  I also had a lot of trouble burning DVD's with it from iMovie -- it would get stuck.  I finally took a digital tape to a studio and had a DVD made, and now find its easier to let CVS process my DVD's (from film stock) than to make them myself -- not too expensive (about $50 for 30 minutes).