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.