Thursday, December 20, 2012

The essay job interview (it's not like "The Apprentice")

I recall a strange interview in April 1989 at Tysons Corner VA with a company named Legent.  The job would have involved telephone support of clients for the company’s mainframe clients.

During the course of the interview, I was asked to write an self-assessment essay, long-hand, cursive.  I’ve never had to do that for an interview at any other time.

I had to get into the fact that I had spent about six years (at the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Consortium “CABCO” and then at Chilton) before I “implemented” anything. I also had some kind of question about the integrity of my goals in taking a job.  I also had to address my apparent disinterest in "advancement" into "management" in conventional thinking.  That can connect up to discussions on moral issues (how we use personal freedom) that I am exploring on my main blog.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do recall one other written essay portion on an interview, three short paragraphs when I interviewed to become a substitute teacher in Arlington VA in 2004.

And, for my first job in 1970 in “Operations Research” at RCA in Princeton, I had to give a technical talk on my Master’s Thesis.  Times have changed. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Census will offer Internet access for some surveys

On Tuesday, December 18, 2012, the Huffington Post reported that the US Census Bureau is moving toward offering an Internet option for future census surveys.

The specific survey in the story is the American Community Survey, which affects federal funding of some programs. This survey is done every year.  I was employed by the Current Population Survey (CPS) for about eight months in 2011.

I had gotten the job as a result of working the diennial survey in 2010.  Surveys like CPS and ACS are done on randomly selected addresses that are revisited or followed up for a period of time by survey employees. There are also health care surveys used by the CDC.
The CPS is used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to generate unemployment statistics.  There is an elaborate software technology, based on statistics, to manage the sampling and classification of addresses. 

I started the job right after my mother died at the end of 2010, and immersion into the job was a bit of cold splash dive.  We did carry laptops and had elaborate software.  We had a week of paid training in Charlotte, NC  (I believe that the regional office has moved to Philadelphia); three weeks after Mother’s death, I was “on the road” in a new life. 

But some respondents (only a small percentage) resisted being contacted by personal visit and phone.  A few suggested that they would be much more cooperative with Internet options.  Of course, by oath,I cannot identify or disclose any information about any specific respondent or address. (Census cannot even share any personal information with other agencies, like law enforcement.)  I did stop after eight months (at the end of August 2011) partly because I was not as convinced about their “need”, partly because of discomfort in having to contact reluctant respondents, and partly t move on to other things.

It’s not clear how soon Internet could affect the CPS or diennial.  It would seem that use of Internet response would reduce the need for as many hourly part-time employees.  However, some employees worked several surveys (which take place during set weeks of the month) and effectively worked full time, and people could advance into supervisory positions.

As I've noted with telemarketing, the public is continuing to resist the idea that it is OK for others to contact people door-to-door or by phone, a major cultural shift that affects employment.  
 The link for the Huffington story by Hope Yen is here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

11 years ago today, an I.T. career dies; new life starts; are phone bank jobs any good at all now?

It was eleven years ago today,  in a cold Minneapolis morning with snow flurries, Thursday, December 13, 2001, that my conventional I.T. career came to its cardiac arrest, on the same day of the week, even – and never quite resumed.  I’ve covered that before.  People over 55 came out of this quite well as far as severance and buyout were concerned.  Still, I can replay the entire day in my mind.  The night before, ABC Nighline had talked about Enron ("Ask why?") .  That morning, I had been more concerned about my own home PC crashing than with the impending layoff.  When they tell everybody to come to work and not work from home, you know something’s up.

The next job that I would take (four months later) would be a part-time evening job calling for contributions for the Minnesota Orchestra Guaranty Fund.  I even saw an ad for the job in a magazine I had picked up in a gay bar. They say it's "telefunding";  in practice, it's telemarketing.  (In late 2003, after moving back to DC, I tried selling National Symphony subscriptions through a company called Arts Marketing. Again, there were both government retirees and laid off professionals trying to get back on their feet selling things for commission that consumers can order for themselves on the Web.)
I was actually pretty successful at it, getting some “blue money on credit” for a while.  It helped to know something about classical music.  I worked there for fourteen months, giving me a sense of stability – then I went on to debt collection.  I actually had two jobs for a couple weeks in May 2003.

Now, my land line phone (an artifact from my Mother’s life) rings about ten times a day. I don’t pick up on all of them, but a lot of them are small organizations (like firemen’s unions) looking for contributions.  There are so many of these,  that I have to cut them off and handle all my contributions in an automated way at the bank.

I even heard people working in this evening job, “You’re working in a phone bank…. These aren’t bad people, but for some people, this is the only kind of job they can get.”  It wasn’t so bad in 2002, but it would be terrible now.  People are even more disconnected socially than ever before.  There was even a time when door-to-door selling was socially acceptable.  Now it poses a security problem.  These changes, a lot related to technology and automation, are not good for some people.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

More employers pressure associates to join corporate wellness programs

I get an unsolicited subscription to "Business Insurance" at my "business" address (a UPS store in Ballston), and the Dec. 10-17 2012 issue is dedicated to "Investing in Wellness" by employers (link).

When I worked for ING (through the end of 2001), we got a small bonus for having an "annual physical".  I remember undergoing this physical in Minneapolis on Dec, 7, 2011, just six days before learning of the layoff (the 11th anniversary of it is tomorrow, on the same day of the week).  I remember soaking in the warm (enclosed) "rooftop" pool at the Churchill Apartments, overlooking downtown Minneapolis, in order to be "relaxed" for the physical, but I still had hypertension.   I had my first EKG since 1998 (only then for the accident breaking my hip).

I wonder if this practice could get intrusive.  Associates would spend more time in company-sponsored activities than in facilities that they choose on their own (like LA Fitness, formerly Bally's -- and I need to make another visit soon).  Associates might be expected to undergo monitoring that could become physically intrusive (like stress tests or even Holter).

That takes me to my next sci-fi scenario -- being monitored opens you to telepathy, and selection.  But that's a topic for another day!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

"Code Academy" enables people to learn website coding skills at home on their own

There is a new startup that enables people to learn some web programming, specifically in  Javascript, HTML, CSS, Python, and Ruby. The “learn to code” site is called “Code Academy” (maybe in the spirit of Khan Academy), and has the logical name, link here.

The website tracks a customer's progress with lessons, and could be included in a resume package in a job search. 
I would need something more like java (itself), Visual Basic or C#, in the appropriate environment, reading a database, as for my knowledge management and opposing viewpoints ideas (“BillBoushka” blog, Feb. 29, 2012).  This would all require the appropriate environment with ASP and ADO.

The founder of Code Academy is 21-year-old Zach Sims, with a typical story here. Sims says that "Coding is 21st Century literacy".  

CNN reported today about an innovation that would allow people wearing certain kinds of contact lenses to see text messages from their smartphones on their contacts.  How would that affect the “distracted driving” issue? 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

NBC Today reports that seasonal delivery jobs "go begging": They're hard work!

Interim jobs, anyone?  How about manual labor?

The NBC Today show today reports that thousands of seasonal jobs for Amazon and UPS, and other retail delivery companies (I suppose they include Laser Express and FedEx) are going unfilled.  Many of the jobs are around Seattle or around Louisville KY. 

People might find their unemployment runs out, and then becomes a problem after the jobs end, depending on what Congress does this month regarding the “Fiscal Cliff”. 

These sorts of jobs are physically demanding, as UPS puts drivers through a week of intense “PT” to learn to do the job efficiently.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Do companies still pay associates for short-term disability?

Are companies keeping short-term disability available to salaried and hourly associates?

Back in January 1998, I fell in a convenience store in downtown Minneapolis and sustained a hip acetabular fracture.  I was turning as I entered the store from the Skyway, and the store hadn’t put down mats to sop up water from an outside entrance.  Ironically, I had walked over for coffee when the mainframe TSO connection went down around 9 AM on a Tuesday morning. 

I wound up in the University of Minnesota hospital for a week with major surgery, in rehab across the River (it seemed like a nursing home) for a week, and then recouped at home.  I recovered very quickly and was back to work in three weeks. 

The company (ReliaStar, later to be bought by ING) paid my full salary under its short term disability policy, without loss of vacation.  I guess that’s the one time that I got a “perk” that I thought that parents with children then unfairly got. 

By the time ING came in the door, however, the short term disability payment was reduced to 80% of salary.  That didn’t affect me, but it could have done so for others.
The case was litigated, but the ReliaStar health insurance was able to collect most of the settlement (after lawyer’s fees) through subrogation.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Microsoft Windows 8 stiffs consumers over Start Menu; I get signed up by Google+ "automatically"

Microsoft has created a flap by not including the Start Menu in its new Tablet-oriented Windows 8.  Users can get an app, Stardock, for $5, to get it back.  And it looks like Microsoft executive Steven Sinofsky will be defrocked as a result.  The USA Today story Wednesday November 14, 2012 was widely circulated (as here, by the Tucson Citizen).

The Stardocklink is here

I suspect most laptops will be sold with Stardock installed.

But the move by Microsoft seems a bit bloated.  Most Microsoft PC owners (including me) have considerable need to conduct business transactions and often to author and publish (and not just to social network lists) volumes of text.  You need all the old-fashioned interfaces to do this easily.

On another matter, YouTube yesterday coaxed me into using my real name (my Facebook name) on my videos.  I approved the change, and found that Google instantly signed me up for Google+.  I immediately got some notifications and friending requests.  How will I keep up with my regular sites. Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, Twitter, and now Google+?  At least I stream my Twitter into Facebook so more people see it (that’s what I want in my circumstances – nothing real “personal” in the teeny-bopper sense gets posted anyway), and get some comments and “likes” that way.  Myspace I’ve lost track of, as well as my skill with MySQL.  Given what is on my plate, that  (the SQL stuff) has to change soon.

By the way, it looks like Facebook shares jumped this morning, even as employees are finally allowed to sell; maybe they didn't need to.   I actually met Mark Z. "accidentally" in 2011 for a moment.  It's not that hard to run into celebrities (including baseball players, it seems, especially when you visit your local medical center on your own business for orthopedic issues -- it is the off season, after all.)

By the way, does Microsoft remember that "Surface" was the name of am NBC sci-fi series about a secret underwater life form back om 2005?  Does the tablet foreshadow a purification from nature? 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

State governments look for mainframe contractors; are "mature technology" skiilsets getting hard to find after so many forced retirements?

Even though I marked my Dice account as "not looking" right now, I have seen a recent uptick in emails looking for mainframe people, often with skillsets that are less specific than in the past, mostly for state government contracts (especially MMIS but also social services programs).  I suspect that in many cases the same contractors tend to rotate among these contracts and are known to specific clients.

For example, yesterday I got an email from TSCTI (link) for skills in COBOL and CMS for state government in Richmond, VA.  The acronym for the company name means "22nd Century Technologies", not exactly "20th Century Fox" (which ought to change its century).

I suspect that so many older programmers have retired, or retooled, or simply done other things after recession (and 9/11) related layoffs than now there really is a developing shortage of mainframe programmers in just the basic stuff.  Is this now going on?

All these layoffs in past years suddenly seem to have been shortsighted.  Companies and governments face real problems in getting work done and keeping legacy systems running.

Mainframe culture was its own world (of batch overnight cycles, CICS, and a certain verbose style of programming and JCL).  No one wanted to stay in it after 2000, it seemed.  What's happening now? 

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

No, I don't have time for constant software updates, or for robocalls

I get prompted all the time to install new software.  Recently, I’ve gotten reminded to update Sibelius  (music composition software) and even replace my entire OS on my MacIntosh.  Recently, my iPad and Droid Motorola smart phone replaced operating systems, and I’m getting prompted to replace the iPad system again.

Coming from a strict business mainframe world, I’m very reluctant to make “moves” without very careful regressive testing, and because I depend on my connectivity for business in a non-contractual environment, I’m very conservative about taking “risks” that could jeopardize my own stability.

That could mean that I don’t “learn” as much.  One time, as I’ve noted, back in 1999, a coworker noted that I had demonstrated an “amazing lack of curiosity” when I wouldn’t download stuff on work computers.

But it is a bit annoying to be interrupted constantly for updates, some of which could take time and be “risky”.
And sometimes, I am very finicky about disruptions.  Unnecessary phone calls and sales pitches.  No, I can’t help somebody make their quota today, or somebody’s share price next week.  Maybe I don’t have the skills for that.  I’d like to think I’m the kind of person who would figure out what we really need to do to sustain ourselves.

I also have to say, that right now, giving of my time can involve real sacrifice. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

How would I have fared when working in New Jersey and New York had a Sandy-like storm hit?

I did have occasion to wonder how I would have fared if a storm like Sandy had struck while I was living and working in northern New Jersey, and then later in New York City.

In 1970, I started out my career working for the David Sarnoff Research Center, the so-called RCA labs, in Princeton NJ, about six miles from my apartment to the east (toward Hightstown) in New Windsor, along a flat road.  I don’t know how that area was directly affected, but it is somewhat inland.

In 1972, I started working for Univac as a site rep, for the Montclair Branch in Montclair NJ, a town on a high Wachtung hill.  I lived in Caldwell, on another hill four miles to the west.  But we often visited accounts in downtown Newark (Public Service), the Whippany area (Bell Labs), and a client that I believe was in the low-lying meadow area, as well as New York City, sometimes.  I transferred to another branch in Piscataway NJ, lower and flatter (near New Brunswick), and lived in an apartment complex toward Bound Brook on River Road, near the Raritan river.  That apartment has flooded a couple times since I left, and may well have flooded during Sandy. 

Without gasoline and power, it would have been impossible for us to drive to client sites.  (IBM supposedly, in those days, had a rule that site reps must have their cars with them and should not use public transportation; Univac did not do that.)   Of course, client companies might well have been closed, but Public Service in Newark could not have afford to be closed (given the need to restore power) and might have found its 1106-1110 data center essential to restoring service to customers.  I don’t know what we would have done.  Univac was very good about putting people up in hotels, but would the hotels have had power or rooms available?  Maybe people would have had to double up, unknown with business travel for major companies, although small businesses (like baseball teams) sometimes make employees double up.  (That was actually an issue in the 1990s DuMuth v. Miller  anti-gay discrimination case, which I have discussed elsewhere.) 

Later, from 1974-1977, I worked for NBC in mainframe (again, Univac 1110) IT in the Rockefeller Center.  I don’t think it would have closed.  But my apartment (on 11th St, at about 100 feet elevation) would not have had power for four days.  I could have walked the three miles to work in about an hour.  I might have camped out in the office to have heat and power.

Then, when I worked for Bradford (to get IBM experience) for a New York State MMIS contract, I first worked in a building on Wall Street on the 17th floor.  We had a one-day power failure in the summer of 1977, but I actually climbed the 17 flights with no difficulty at all; I was pretty fit then (at age 33).  We had offices on Church Street, which would have closed, but also in midtown, where I could have walked to work.  New York State certainly would have extended the MMIS implementation date (which was Nov. 1, 1977) considerably.  

In these pre-Internet days, working from home or telecommuting was not an option,  But it doesn't work for people whose homes don't have power or even cellular service now either.  

I'm not a biker, but I have friends in NYC who are.  This would be a time when bicycling skill and stamina would get you through this.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bank of America man fired for 1998 arrest for oversight on unpaid bill: the perils of background investigations

Check this story on AOL-Huffington about a finance manager at Bank of America, hired in 2006, who was later fired when a background investigation revealed an arrest for an unpaid restaurant bill in Houston in 1998.  He thought another person had paid the bill, and the case was dropped after the bill was paid with a civil fine.

However a background investigation led to his dismissal. The bank has a way of getting him a waiver, but he remains on unpaid leave for months.  He may lose benefits and retirement even if he gets his job back.

The story on Huffington is here (as a video), link

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How much does a Windows 8 Surface do "on the road"?

Katherine A. Boehret  has a “digital solution” article in “Personal Journal” in the Oct. 17 Wall Street Journal in which she discusses the opportunities possible with Microsoft’s new Windows 8, available Oct. 26.
She describes several ways in which the traditional laptop or notebook is bybridized with the “Surface”, to create a machine that can operate by touch for quick operation, and by keyboard (on larger models) for more conventional business use. The online link is here

She also says that some versions of the Surface come only with WiFi possible, without the possibility of cellular wireless (possible on some iPads and most laptops) or conventional direct cable (which a few motels still have – like the Holiday Inn in Chelsea in NYC, from my recollection of 2011).

It’s also unclear if some versions of Surface can work in all applications.  For example, on the iPad, Blogger does not work fully.  It would be a good question whether it works on “Surface”.

In general, it has been difficult for tech support in various manufactures and operating system providers and various specialized applications (like music composing) to guarantee that all apps work in all environments, as it is difficult to determine in advance how a particular environment is to be supported.  Upgrades of operating systems sometimes cause problems, and the whole industry needs a better handle on upward compatibility of everything.

I recall that when going from Windows Vista to Windows 7, some Dell  ink-jet printers no longer worked and had to be replaced. 

It would be great if a small Windows 8 computer is set up so that absolutely everything works when traveling and dealing with the TSA.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A note about "progressive discipline" in the salaried workplace

I used to hear this term a lot in the 1980s, when things got tough for some people around a big implementation that we did around Oct. 1, 1987 (25 years ago). It’s “progressive discipline”, which usually comprises some steps:  counseling, verbal warning, written warning, and then termination.

One employee, who had been a project leader at one time, couldn’t code and get reliable test results (after turnover to QA) when he had to code himself (just COBOL and DATACOMM).  I remember his being told that if he resigned he could get severance.  He refused.  Three weeks later, on a Monday morning in March, 1987, he was called in to the boss’s office.  He was never seen again.  His cubicle was left “as is” for others to find for a while.  “A_” is no longer with the company”.

A site called “Human Resources” on ""  talks about “progressive discipline” here

At another employer, in the late 90s, the process was called “performance improvement program”, which could take on “a very abbreviated form”.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Companies should give rejected job applicants some constructive feedback

A publication named “Business Management” offers companies some advice on what to tell applicants whom they did not hire. 

The canned “your qualifications don’t match our needs at this time” (note the last three words, everybody has used them ever since I started out in the job market in 1969) may not stand up as reliably to discrimination complaints as it sounds, and may not stop possible harassment.

The article says to give some unbiased constructive “criticism”, in the link here

I can recall having an interview in Bloomington MN, arranged by a headhunter, on Sept. 11, 2002 (I didn’t want to do it that day, but “they” insisted), for a mainframe job at Express Scripts.  A woman interviewed me in the lobby of a gorgeous suburban office part building, palatial surroundings near the Mall of America.  I had some Murach textbooks on DB2 and CICS programming with me to make the point that I knew my technical stuff.  There was one other candidate, probably aiming for a lower rate.

I got the feedback through the headhunter – I remember the call on a old, very unsmart USWest cell phone, that I had “tried too hard”.  Apparently the other candidate also got the same feedback.  The headhunter had told her, really, people are trying hard because the post 9/11 economy was tough and people needed jobs and the post Y2K old style in-house mainframe market was imploding. 

Later, it turned out, according to an email that was forwarded to me by the headhunter, that she never had complete authorization to hire anyone, and was going to meet her needs “in house”.  I have no way to judge what really happened except based on what I was told.

Carrie Krueger on "Job Fully" talks about rejections:

I have been told only once, in a rejection letter, that a company (United Airlines, back in 1969) had "other candidates" who were better.  In another case (ARCO, Dallas, 1983), I was told that the decision among three interviewers was "not unanimous".  And from JC Penny Life Insurance, in 1981 in Dallas (the interview was on a Saturday morning), I was told that I was almost "too logical" and could create conflict among the manager's other subordinates by acting critical of them.  That's interesting!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Pre-employment personality tests coming into question in court, but they seem to be legal by the EEOC

CNN has reported (on television, Saturday October 7) on litigation by a woman against an employer after she “failed” a true-false personality test.  The CNN story isn’t online yet, but both “legal guys” (Avery Freeman and Richard Herman) indicated that job relevancy of the tests would be critical.

In 2010, the southern California Metrolink service created controversy over a personality test seeking to find “focused introverts” who could operate trains without distraction, after a serious commuter rail wreck, link here.

Business Management Daily has a story about guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Dec. 20, 2007.  It’s likely that a court will rule within these guidelines, even if they are five years old.  The link is here.  

In 2002, AT&T required personality tests of job applicants. I took one at home (after my layoff) and was told by computer “based on your responses, you cannot apply for six months”.

The TSA gives a 380-question TF test for screener applicants.

There is litigation where the University of Minnesota is suing someone for posting part of its MMPI online, a “copyright” issue that we’ll discuss later.  It’s clear that companies want to keep the contents of these tests secret.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Job market makes ordinary older workers "justify" themselves

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial Saturday, “Happy Days Are Not Here Again”, and questions the significance of the slightly lower unemployment rate (7.8%) reported this past week right after the presidential debates.  Check the link here

When I got laid off at the end of 2001 and took my severance and retirement package from ING at age 58 (and it was pretty generous, compared to what most people even then got), I still faced a world where, at least until retirement age as Social Security sees it, I was likely to face a lot of interim jobs, and face the idea of “paying my dues” again.

Part of the problem was that retirement packages then assumed you would start taking Social Security at 62 (the Social Security Offset). 

The mainframe market, after Y2K and then 9/11, had deteriorated mostly into rotations of gigs for people with lots of accumulated experience in very specific areas (MMIS, Vantage, HIPAA, etc). 

The jobs around for older middleagers tended to emphasize salesmanship and manipulating other people, in a world where people were becoming more independent and didn’t like to be approached the way people in previous generations had taken as normal.  I did wind up working for 14 months in “telemarketing” for the Minnesota Orchestra Guaranty Fund – and that job actually provided some stability.  Since that time, telemarketing rules have tightened, and even I resist getting marketing calls or donations, and tend not to answer the landline phone.

I also worked as a debt collector, and later as a census taker (the 2010 diennial and then with the Current Population Survey).  These involved approaching people and getting them to “cooperate”.

I also would vet the idea of becoming a TSA screener, and the initial processing (in a hotel) in 2002, is quite an experience.  Could I accept the regimentation of a job like this in uniform, which constant focus and concentration, and handling people, perhaps intimately?

In 2004 I took the tests to be a letter carrier (including the "memory for addresses" section and an inductive reasoning section on sequences) and was almost offered jobs twice -- once as a rural carrier (too hard on car) and then on foot, which would have been a very "physical" job, I was told.  (And you have to be accurate, starting with "casing" the mail.)  The inability to get my medical records from Minnesota (HIPAA makes it very hard) was all that nixed this. TIP: When you move to another city, make sure you check on how you will get any health care records later;  some are not kept for more than four years, and some employers might need to see records of past surgeries.

And in Minneapolis, in 2003, I actually looked at becoming a cabbie.  You rent the cab for $400 a week and are "self-employed".  Sounds like you have to learn to drive aggressively. You need a physical.

I did work for about three years as a substitute teacher, which I have written about elsewhere a lot.  That was probably, in the end, the most interesting of the interim jobs. 

I think I have discussed the approaches made to me about becoming a life insurance agent or tax advisor. Sure, I would "love" to peddle financial and tax schemes to "families".  Oh, yes, new agents need to generate leads and get a "fast start".  Actually, my resistance to these "opportunities" does deserve further explanation.

The attitude of the workplace is that you have to justify your “right” to a normal income, and now even manipulate your online and social media experience for the benefit of the employer (since Facebook says you have only “one identity”).  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

In the workplace, "Bald is powerful"

Wharton Business School  prof Albert Mannes reports in the Wall Street Journal on an experiment that shows how people perceive men in the workplace. The article Wednesday , in Marketplace, was “Bald is powerful”, by Anton Troianovski, link here

There were suggestions that younger men with thinning hair go ahead and shave their heads.

The idea may be less applicable in information technology, where “youth” is in.

Baldness suggests virility, and the ability to survive long enough to reproduce and raise a generation, which is why some cultures see it as attractive.

I can remember studies like this being reported in the Washington Post back in the 1950s.

“Dress for Success” guru John Molloy used to recommend that younger men artificially streak their hair with gray (the Anderson Cooper effect) to show more age and authority.

Others have suggested that less attractive men compensate with unconventional hairstyles or even body art, which would not always go well in business.

And remember what Troy McClain allowed to be done to him “for the team” in an early episode of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Notes on iPad, MacBook operating system upgrade prompts

Last week, my “new iPad” invited me to load the newest operating system, IOS6.  I did so – it took about twenty minutes. 

The iPad behaved differently afterward.  After I powered up, the “slide to unlock” icon would not work until I let it go to sleep at least once.  The Verizon hotspot also worked different.  When before it had to go to sleep once to activate, this time it does not.  The “Wi-Fi” option can say “not connected”, but it “personal hostpot” is on, then other wireless-enabled computers find it (can take up to a minute).  The “iPad” connection on a Windows 7 machine does not continue to assign new numbers and ask you each time to classify your connection (“public” is generally recommended, for security; otherwise it will try to copy all of your previous settings.)

When I try the iPad on an older laptop that does not have a recent iPad connection, it first says "cannot connect", and then Windows 7 troubleshooting finds no problem.  On a second try, it does come up with the screen requesting connection type and assigns a number.  But, apparently, with hotspot iPad running IOS6, it will not ask again on subsequent connects to the iPad.  

My MacBook, which is on Mac OS X 10.6.8, early 2011, is too old to support Cloud processing.  I get prompted to update Sibelius, also.  But that would take quite a commitment of time (I am told by Apple that it takes about two hours to install OS X 10.8, "Mountain Lion") and run the risk of making work I have done unreachable if anything goes wrong.

I think back to my days in the workplace, where companies had whole departments, called “systems programming”, to keep up with releases of everything.  Internal employees had to be trained thoroughly (usually with out of town travel) by vendors on how to manage releases. 

An individual working alone does not have that luxury, and has to keep his operating environment up and stable anyway.  So I am very careful about putting in new releases of anything. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Security was a less-noticed but major issue in the old mainframe world

I was trying to recall today how we used to do mainframe elevations back in the 1980s at Chilton Credit Reporting in Dallas (now Experian).  We had Roscoe but not TSO-ISPF; we had sophisticated RPF’s.
I think when we did an elevation, the programmer submitted only the source, copycode, and link decks.  Another area recreated the production load modules.  This would guarantee integrity.

At USLICO and then ReliaStar, the programmer moved the load modules, too.  We had TSO-ISPF but got Roscoe later. We had used Panvalet, but in 1990 we got CA-Librarian (like Endeavor).  The programmer was supposed to “process” (that is, lock) the source before moves to guarantee integrity, but this did not start getting enforced until late 1991.  Change-Man, used by ReliaStar, automatically forced this kind of integrity.

This sort of issue becomes part of the back story of my novel, where a mysterious mainframe computer hack had occurred fifteen years earlier, as part of the back story of one of the characters coming together to solve an existential mystery. 

Security was a risk in the mainframe world, long before there was widespread use of the public Internet.  
 Tape label processing was considered an important security issue.  In fact, in the 1970s, Sperry-Univac’s 1108-1110 system backup utility was called “@Secure”. 

By the late 1980s, it had become common to block normal update access to production files by programmers.  Some programmers found this inconvenient, and even argued that programmers should be bonded. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

An "opposing viewpoints" database development project would exercise OOP programming skills

I went back and reviewed my previous attempts at setting up an “opposing viewpoints” database, discussed on my main blog Feb. 29, 2012.

My reason for looking was my pondering why I never got off the starting line in becoming proficient in coding Java or C# (or the older C++, or, for that matter, the less rigorous Visual Basic). 

I stayed in the mainframe area in 1999, believing I had a chance to learn DB2 from a conversion.  There were a lot of personal family distractions that year, and work was slower – in the meantime, there were the expected Y2K distractions.

However, a coworker who actually ran a web hosting site called “Virtual Netspace” from home “part time” did move over to another area of the company in early 1999, where he would have the opportunity to practice Java by actually developing something for a year (the “data access” layer of the “mid-tier”, leading to a GUI for the end-user written in Powerbuilder).

In the meantime, given my interest in content, I never really had a reason to practice and develop the “proficiency” in my own side of my own “business.”  And you can’t really learn OOP by just supporting the work already done by others.

I did take a look at my own "crude" efforts to start an OV database.  I have a Microsoft Access mokup (about 70 entries) which I at one time tried to access from my "doaskdotell" site which is on a Windows server.  I do have access to both MySQL and MSSQL on that server, and played with MySQL a little on it today.  I also have a prototype database on another MySQL server, on Unix, on another small domain. 

An “opposing viewpoints” web application, allowing users to input their own views into debates, would certainly require a lot of web programming of user interfaces, event-handling under already well known.  But, looking deeper, what it would really need is “artificial intelligence”, to match up the views stated by users across many areas (and, digging even deeper, to compare the user's statements with his/her own "moral postulates").  I checked through “Wikimedia” today and I didn’t see anything there that suggested any party in the Wikimedia world had attempted this, but it sounds like a “natural” project for the Wikimedia  Foundation people to start up. Stay tuned. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

NYTimes takes up debate: should parents (and family caregivers) get more paid time-off at the expense of other workers?

Hannah Seligson greets the print customer of the New York Times Sunday Business with the banner article, “When the work-life scales are unequal: flexible hours can engender resentment in the office”. Online, the discussion continues in the “Motherlode: Adventures in Parenting” blog with “In flex-work debates (KJ Dell’Antonia) , parents have unique position”, link (leading to article) here

While the largest and most progressive employers do make a real effort to allow all employees to use flex-time policies in different ways, the practical reality is that need is going to trump.  Parents with children, or people with eldercare responsibility, are going to take more time, and sometimes others will take more of the slack without compensation.  That seems to be Dell’Antonia’s position (but not Seligson’s).

In my case, in October of 1993 I worked an entire weekend finishing end-of-month with no compensation (and no comp time) when the pregnant woman usually assigned to the work had to take off.  But I did get a larger raise than I would have otherwise received next January.  The compound interest value over the rest of my career there (or the cost to my employer, depending on how you look at it) was probably over $10000 total. 

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 is almost entirely irrelevant here because the time-off is uncompensated.

I do recall an article about the "childless worker" issue in the Wall Street Journal back in May, 1997, when a single female lawyer complained she got stuck with all the overtime of her married-with-children colleagues, to no avail. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Companies used to pay interviewing expenses for "journeyman" mainframe programmers

This is a weekend for retrospects of past anniversaries. "The Fall" is coming. 

On Aug. 30, 1972 (thirty years ago, plus three days), a Wednesday that year, I was still living in a south Arlington apartment and working as a Fortran (and finally assembler) programmer for NAVCOSSACT in the Washington Navy Yard.  For a variety of personal reasons, I was game for personal adventure.  Maybe I was even willing to feel “reckless”. 

I had gotten a call from Univac marketing and was flown for the day up to (old) Newark Airport for a day of interviewing with the Montclair Branch (just off Bloomfield Ave. in Montclair, NJ, about fifteen miles from the Lincoln Tunnel).

In those days, companies still paid interviewing expenses, although the practice was already starting to die off.  I got the job as a site rep – they didn’t pay moving expenses, although they started the salary payment a week early.

Car rental was still relatively new then – in those days, there was no unlimited mileage during the week.
That would start a new time in my life, at age 29.  (I had just been to Scandinavia for two weeks in August), away from home (where I had grown up), away from parental influences, especially with ever more frequent forays into New York City.

“They’ll have you followed” my father had warned.  How paranoid!

Actually, I drove up to New Jersey Sunday September 24, and by Monday afternoon, Sept. 25, I was in downtown Newark, in the Public Service building, on my first account visit, in a Univac 1106 installation meeting, wearing a chartreuse green suit.  Univac was not as fastidious about dress code as IBM (or EDS).  And I don't think that's why I lost the mainframe war to IBM. 

First picture:  Claremont Ave. building in Montclair, where Univac ran Montclair sales branch in early 1970s. 

Second picture: Garden apartment in Caldwell, NJ, where I moved in on Oct. 1, 1972,  Then, the rent was $215 a month. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The mainframe is alive and well

The mainframe is alive and well, according to a Business Day article by Steve Lohr in the New York Times on Aug. 28, 2012, “I.B.M. mainframe evolves to serve the digital world”, link here

Companies are still buying or leasing mainframes, because of their reliability, security, and enormous throughput. The article discusses Primemerica's recent acquisition

IBM’s latest model is called the zEnterprise EC12.

In the late 90s, OS390 was the rage. 

Do programmers in IBM shops still maintain JCL and complicated procs?  It was the verbose JCL that was considered difficult to learn back in the 1970s, when Univac 1100, by comparison, offered a syntax a bit like today’s Unix.

Throughput improved enormously in the mid 1990s.  Random VSAM updating was a problem with a “print stacking” application that I implemented 21 years ago yesterday in a salary deduction billing system, as it could take an hour single thread to update 30000 print image records.  (We called the system affectionately, “Bill’s bills”.) Things rapidly got much better by about 1995.  But mainframe batch programmers learned that you could process much faster by sorting and processing sequentially. 

In a previous decade, being able to sort quickly was an accomplishment.  But at Chilton Corporation in Dallas (now Experian), we could sort 200000 300-byte VL records in about two minutes, and that was considered an accomplishment.  By the late 1980s, at a company called Healthnet in Richmond (Blue Cross) on an IBM 3090, we could do something like that in about thirty seconds wall clock. But the 4341 and 4381, which smaller companies (like Lewin  then) bought, processing was much slower.   

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Announcement: My situation in market; Dice change

I have changed the status on my Dice profile to "not looking for a change".  That means that since I am "retired" and am effectively self-employed as a writer-blogger-media-producer, I cannot consider "conventional" information technology positions or contracts at this time.

I also will not try to renew Brainbench (or ICCP) certifications, which generally last three years.  They simply are too time-consuming and not relevant to what I do now.

In practice, I haven't actually had a "conventional" IT job since my "buyout" (and layoff, at age 58) at the end of 2001, although there were two "close calls" in 2002.

I will continue to write about the market and share historical perspectives on the IT workplace.

I'll be more focused soon on my novel and screenplay manuscripts and on getting them into "agency".

That will keep me busy, but I have to avoid conflicts.

I still get a lot of irrelevant contractor inquiries about jobs in which I have not kept up "job-ready" skills (like Powerbuilder, even).

The toy video above should "entertain" -- just a few seconds (rated G, don't worry!) 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reviewing your life, and your old career

As I noted already on my issues blog, I revisited one of my old haunts in northern New Jersey yesterday.
In September 1972, I left the Navy Department (NAVCOSSACT) and went to work for Univac, the Montclair NJ branch, supporting processors (Fortran, Cobol) in the 1100 series.  After a management change, the new powers decided that I didn’t have a “marketing profile” (I wasn’t manipulative enough in personality) and should consider a transfer.

I actually liked the life I had, living close-in (in northern New Jersey), but I did some interviews, including one with a defense branch way out on Long Island (I remember the drive in the fall of 1973).  Bell Laboratories then gave Sperry Univac enough business to justify a whole separate branch in Piscataway NJ (near New Brunswick), and that operation gave the choice of three jobs.  I chose “site support".

But I had to either commute or move myself.  I wound up living in an apartment  near the Raritan River than would have been flooded had I lived there long enough.  As it was, I eventually took a new job with NBC in New York City in August 1974 – ironically while working temporarily at AT&T in Mount Kisco NY, which I also passed through yesterday.

Yesterday, I did stumble upon the high rise building in which I had worked in early 1974, although I would send eleven weeks in St Paul MN (Eagan) on an 1110 benchmark for Bell Labs.

It’s good to review your life, isn’t it. But I do find it hard to remember exactly how we did a lot of things.  More on that soon. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ex-Goldman programmer case tests trade secret law and double jeopardy protections

A story by Peter Lattman in the Business Day section of the New York Times on Friday August 10, 2012 raises the issue of employer trade secrets, particularly when employees leave. The link is here.

Gergey Aleynikov was convicted in federal court for taking some code from Goldman-Sachs with him when he left to form a brokerage software startup. (It was probably something like a java library method.)  Although he served over a year in federal prison, an appeals court overturned the conviction on a technicality in the federal industrial espionage laws.
However, New York State wants to go after him, and generally the “double jeopardy” provision of the Fifth Amendment will not prevent this unless prosecutors work in concert.

It is common for employees to sign non-compete agreements (which can hurt after layoffs), and also to sign papers acknowledging their understanding of federal laws regarding copyright, trade secrets, and even corporate espionage.

However, in the early days of mainframe programming, it was common for programmers (somewhat frivolously) to take code samples (printed on greenbar, sometimes) with them as “how to do” cribsheets  for their next jobs.  I even did this once in the 1970s, even though I would not do this now. 

Update: Sept. 29, 2012

The Sept. 28, 2012 Wall Street Journal has an update article by Reed Albergotti, "Programmer's case is matter of (legal) code", link here.

There is discussion of "pseudo-double jeopardy" in New York State, and of whether Albergotti used only "open source" code in his new contract. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A Facebook "like" can get you fired, at least in a politically sensitive job; is a Like "speech"?

I don’t know if this belongs on a workplace blog or technical one, but I thought I would pass along a story in PC World by Christine Des Marais, in PCWorld, in the case Bland v. Roberts, where some employees in a sheriff’s office were fired for a Facebook like regarding the sheriff’s political opponent.

It wasn’t immediately clear if this was done on a work computer, or whether that mattered.  

But a federal judge ruled that that a Facebook (or YouTube) like is not “protected speech”.

However, some workplace lawyers said that the action was like having a yard sign for a political opponent. 
Was this job a political appointment?  Was "employment at will" involved?  Maybe not with a public position. 
The PC World story is here
Facebook has said that it wants to look into this matter with its own legal staff.
Ars Technica has a perspective on the “speech” aspect by Venkat  Valasubramani, which deserves more detailed attention latter, probably on my “main” blog on speech issues,.  The AT link is here.

The Scribd copy of the court opinion is here
I could also view this question as a “conflict of interest” issue.

In 1992, I wrote an internal email (by CICS SYSM) critical of the department's laxity in giving out free copies of Procomm to take home for night support.  Management complained to me about it, but I was right, as later developments in copyright law would prove.  

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Entrepreneurs don't get paid when infrastructure fails -- and sometimes hourly workers don't either

When you’re on your own in any business area, you learn quickly how dependent you are on infrastructure working.  That’s power (including generator reliability), cable, use of cellular wireless hotspots for backup and for travel. That’s security. 

When you can’t work because infrastructure owned by somebody else fails, you don’t get paid.

In the conventional work world of “salaried professional” employment, I expected full pay and benefits even if “the system was down.” We got used to the idea that “they” were responsible for our infrastructure.  In the entrepreneurial world, there is no “they”.

Another thing is that when you’re deep within a conventional salaried environment, the particular issues of your workplace, however arcane in the grand scheme of things, becomes the subject of a lot personal focus. But after “forced retirement”, you get a taste of what the “real world”—whose infrastructure you depend on – does to survive.  Imagine a world where “volunteer firemen” fix downed power lines.

In fact, in one of my “interim jobs”, the collection agency in 2003, we actually didn’t get paid our hourly wage when the system was down, which did happen for two or three hours at a time on a couple of occasions. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Do today's "salaried" IT workers get overtime or expenses when on-call?

As many readers know, I last “enjoyed” stable information technology employment at ING-ReliaStar through the end of 2001, for about three months after 9/11.  Most of my career was that of a “salaried professional” in a mainframe area, with a modest move to client-server in a support role for the last two years.

Typically, the official work week was Monday-Friday and theoretically 40 hours, with a great deal of on-call rotation to support nightly (and especially end-of-month) batch cycles. (Remember the phrase, “End of month is on fire!”)  Technically, because we were exempt and salaried, there was no compensation for on-call duty, whether done from home (either through company terminals or laptops or on one’s own PC through software like ProComm), or by coming back into the office. There was no compensation  or mileage allowance for extra commutes or trips.

However, in the mid 1990s, I was on a “first tier” team that responded to on-call emergencies, in an arrangement where there was one night-time programmer scheduled to be there.  Most duties happened when she couldn’t work (as toward the end of a pregnancy).   Just once, I was “there” almost all weekend for an end-of-month.  Those with fewer family responsibilities (often singles and/or childless) tended to pay their dues more.

There was indirect compensation, however, in the form of annual raises probably 2% greater than they would have been.  So for the remainder of my “career” the accumulated extra compensation (for playing “volunteer fire department”) was probably around $10000. 

In today’s information technology work environment, so much more geared to the home consumer and to managing Internet connectivity and user-generated content platforms, I suspect that a much larger portion of the “professional” workforce does work planned odd hours.  This seems to be the case with tech support at my own ISP.

Can anyone described the work culture now at Facebook?  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Workforce has article on hiring autistic workers

Susan Ladika has an article “Companies find fruitful results when hiring autistic workers” in “Workforce”, link here.  This scope includes workers with Asperger's syndrome. 

But the specific jobs in the article referred mainly to manual labor, repetitive tasks, and farm work, and possibly a desire to hire someone who would be satisfied with the detail of the work.  Morally, it sounded like a dubious concept.

Yet, I remember my own “occupational therapy” at NIH, back in 1962; part of the gig was learning to focus on “repetitive tasks”, like assembly line work, something that would eventually get outsourced. Talk about exploitation.

Maybe this is a question of “paying your dues.”

Later, as I entered programming, I did learn that a lot of it was about becoming meticulous: about attention to detail, desk checking.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Vanity Fair describes the sinking of Microsoft under Ballmer

Kurt Eichenwald has a major story on p. 108 of the August 2012 Vanity Fair, “Microsoft’s Lost Decade: How Microsoft Lost its Mojo”, introductory link here.

Eichenwald describes a corporate culture that developed in the 90s, where systems engineers were more concerned about their “appearance”, particularly to managers other than those of their own teams, than with innovation. The stiffening of the company developed under Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor.  

And there was a corporate mentality that focused on formal, business-like ways of doing things inherited from the mainframe world.

In the meantime, Apple (whatever the complexity of its own history with Steve Jobs) was much more in tune with what younger consumers really wanted.   At least one classical musician friend of mine has blogged extensively about Apple’s contributions to the capability of artists to become more productive, a need that Microsoft completely missed.

I was a little confused by the remark that C# (an OOP somewhat simpler than java) was sidetracked. It still appears to be part of .NET.

In 2002, in the middle of a major recession after 9/11, Microsoft’s .NET was regarded as a “hot” skill.  But basing major platforms on it seems to have been overrun by the world of social media. 

But I took evening courses in C# and XML at a suburban Minneapolis technical college in the fall of 2002, expecting the world to go in a different direction than it finally did. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fifteen years ago: some major serendipity and transfer ends a major conflict of interest

Friday, July 11, 1997 – fifteen years ago – was the day that I officially “published” my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book by mailing the required registration copies to the Library of Congress, at about 4:30 PM in the afternoon. I remember the moment well.

When I got over to my mother’s home nearby, for dinner, afterward, I had a message waiting there.  I don’t know why the call went there rather than my own number.  It was from HR at my own employer, regarding my interest in transferring to the company that had acquired us, in Minneapolis.  It was an unusual time for such a message, late on a Friday afternoon.

The timing was perfect.  I needed to report to a different division of the company to avoid a potentially serious conflict, because my book “reported” on the military (about a controversial issue), and the division of the company that I had worked for in northern Virginia focused on sales of insurance to military officers.

Sometimes mergers and acquisitions are actually good for employees.  This one worked out really well for me, even though I remember the tears when the acquisition was announced in the fall of 1994.  Mainframe programmers were not affected because legacy applications were not combined (they would be replicated to a mid-tier and GUI).  But data centers were merged and operators were let go in the early summer of 1995. 

Sometimes in the work world, serendipity really works. 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Contractors need to prepare clients for downtime; could "technical executors" be required in the future

Tech Republic has a useful article by Chip Camden for IT consultants, “Preparing for the day you don’t come back”. 

Self-employed people have to prepare their clients for downtime, such as when they might need medical attention, or for outages caused by infrastructure or storm problems (particularly relevant now).

It seems to me that this is also true for people who run major websites, networks and even blogs.  If they are offline for any reason (even something rare and unpredictable like jury duty sequestration, or perhaps overseas travel to primitive or autocratic countries, they might not be able to respond to problems, which could cause issues for service providers. 

Camden recommends that everyone appoint a “technical executor” in a power of attorney.  The situation could develop in the future that service providers might even require one as part of a TOS agreement, an idea I had never considered.  (There is a clause like that in my will.)

Actually, a quick Internet search shows that right now ISP's and social networks often have been unwilling to give executors access to accounts, but I expect that to change in the future -- disability or travel can be an issue as well as death.  I'll cover this soon in my main blog. 

The link is here.