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 asp.net 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.