Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My father's "formation of proper habits" and the workplace

On this New Years Eve, as I “review my life” and walk back (like Benjamin Button) a few decades, I’m quite struck by how long it took me to learn the proper maturity for the IT workplace, especially as it was in the largely batch mainframe environment in the 70s and early 80s, continuing all the way to Y2K in the culture of elevations and nightly (and end-of-month and end-of-year) cycles.
Or, say it’s about “formation of proper habits” as my own father used to lecture.
Maturity in the workplace had a lot to do with understanding the damage you could do before it was discovered.  So the recent flap at Target (in my favored city Minneapolis) has plenty of precedence in the old mainframe world.
One habit had to do with being extremely careful with production files.  It wasn’t until the late 1980s when mainframe installations started implementing security software like “Top Secret” (or simply RACF) that limited ordinary programmer update access to production files.  Chilton (in Dallas) did this in 1987.  At NBC, from 1974-1977 on a Univac 1110 system, we had old TTY terminals at our desk.  You could keep paper trail of your work to prove you did not access production files.  It was important not to lose the paper rolls.
Likewise, production closings at end-of-month were critical.  You learned not to schedule vacation across them.

Another risk was loss of source-load module integrity.  It wasn’t until around 1990 that installations started using source management software like Panvalet, CA-librarian, Endeavor and ChangeMan rigorously.  These packages would require that a source element by locked or “processed” before it could be promoted.  Some companies had these packages for a while before they woke up to the fact that they needed to be used correctly for security.  It was important for employees or associates to pay attention to the capabilities of these packages and follow the rules even if they weren’t always enforced at first.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Misadventures with a Toshiba Satellite synpatics touchpad under Windows 8

Well, I’m having misadventures with the Synaptics touchpad on my Toshiba Satelitte P875-S7102.  It’s jerky and stalls, and sometimes the Windows 8 key becomes inoperable if I use it.

I bought a Logitech keyboard and mouse some time back and that always works. Well, with a couple of caveats.  If the system goes to sleep and the Windows Action Center starts to run, and I shake the mouse to wake the computer up, I sometimes get a “green screen of death”.  But the machine comes back OK if I press the power button on the main laptop once, then it unlocks everything. So apparently the driver code on the Logitech is not accessible when Action Center runs.

The other thing is that I can get the touchpad to wake up by touching it with two fingers.  I’ve read that there are three pads underneath on the Toshiba instead of just two.  But then, when I start using the Logitech, if it goes to sleep and wakes up, the pointer keeps jumping, until I touch the touchpad with two fingers a second time to “close” the original Toshiba driver.  Make sense? 

Today, I bought a Logitech mouse pointer at a Best Buy, because I would need a smaller “pad” to travel with. 

Before I install it, I’ll try to get to the bottom of the problems with the original Toshiba touchpad driver.  It seems to be software, not hardware, based on the evidence.

Maybe a Windows 8.1 install (which requires Toshiba pre-installs) would fix it?
The best site I can find to start looking into this is eHow, here.  Oh, yes, the first time I went to it, Windows stalled on a “cache” issue, and worked the second time after I backed out of the site.  Google Chrome does this, but displays a “waiting for cache”.  Firefox can do it too. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A visit to software alley near Raleigh NC brings back career memories (like SAS programming)

Whenever I drive through North Carolina, around the major cities, the state looks more modern than a lot of Virginia.  Monday I passed through Cary and then Research Triangle Park.  In the later, I saw two entrances (along US 70) to IBM, both gated near the street so there no good place for a picture.  In Cary, the SAS Institute (wiki ) is right off I-40, on the south side, and appears to have a huge and mostly gated campus.
SAS stands for Statistical Analysis System, that comes with a “4th generation language” for retrieving and reporting data that became very popular in the late 1980’s on mainframe systems. A typical SAS “program” would comprise a series of statements (for mainframe SYSIN input) that have the components of a typical batch program, but easy to code.  There would be a DATA step that would describe the format of the input dataset (like a COBOL FD layout) and then build it as a “free form” SAS dataset where the elements could be referred to in subsequent processing steps as if they were names of elements in a table.  SAS Procedures could output reports or other files, and could easily sort and merge files by various keys,  Database formats (like IMS, etc) were available to DATA.  The language became so popular that some installations hired SAS gurus that did nothing else.
At Chilton, in Dallas in the 1980s, the monthly billing job had a SAS merge step before printing the final member statements from an old ALC program. 
At Lewin-ICF, where I worked in 1988-1989, SAS was used heavily to prepare reports for lobbying clients on health care (most of all Medicare operating margins for hospitals).  I remember one report for a podiatry association required data being grouped into “bundles” and that was done easily in SAS. Lewin also used SAS on the PC, because in the computing environment then (an IBM 4341 and 4381) it had to pay for mainframe use.

ING-ReliaStar-USLICO did not use SAS, but instead preferred DYL280 (whith followed the old DYL260 which looked like RPG).  Another popular 4GL was Easytrieve.  

Near the SAS Institute there appears to be a private high school with a most interesting softball field (and foul lines that measure exactly 200 feet), and a half mile away is a wooded state park, whose pine-tree lined trails reminds me of the bivouac at Fort Jackson, SC (160 miles farther south) in 1968, in Basic Combat Training, or perhaps Ft. Bragg (60 miles away).   

Friday, December 13, 2013

Startups fire unfocused new hires very quickly -- they have to

Startups are quick to fire new hires who don’t have the right stuff.  And many hires find that old-fashioned marketing skills, including cold-calling, are far more important than they had expected in this era of “self-sufficiency” and privacy on the Web.  The tension that this produces is odd, and may help account for some of the grossly inappropriate marketing pitches (not just spam) that we all see these days.
That’s the gist of a “Marketplace” story in the Wall Street Journal Friday, At starups, pink slips come early and often; workers who don’t measure up can be gone within weeks; strategy changes devalue some skills”, in a story by Stephanie Gleason and Rachel Feintzeig, link here
One problem for job seekers or hires is that many startups have very narrow focuses on customer needs.  Grandiose results like those of Facebook, Twitter and Google are rare.  The startup “Plated”, belonging to Nick Taranto, for example, sells ingredients for home-cooked meals.  It’s hard to sell a narrow service or item.  Startups that develop new mobile apps (like some auto-parking-finder apps described today on ABC’s World News Tonight) might make a better fit for more technie-like job seekers.  Yet, selling practical household items (some of them make up those 800-number sites that advertise on CNN) may make up a significant portion of the market.  I can think of other startup ideas (like laser depilatory products, often on cable television) that would obviously seem problematic for many people. 
The WSJ article noted that about 6% if people in “established companies” get fired or laid off a year (Facebook is too young to be “established”), whereas about 25% get the ax in startups.

Does anyone know what working at Facebook is like?  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

H-1B program IT workers has sometimes destroyed jobs for US citizens (so they say); should severance have strings attached?

There has been a lot of attention recently to the H-1B Visa Program, and Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to increase visas for foreign workers with specialized technical skills.
But the book “Who Stole the American Dream?” by Hedrick Smith (2012) argues that H-1B workers are indeed taking away IT jobs from Americans, even though legally they are not supposed to be paid less.

I found it common throughout the 1980s and 1990s to work with mainframe programmers from India and Pakistan.  It was an everyday thing, and some workers were very skilled.  No one ever mentioned religious issues pre-9/11.  
On p. 293, Smith describes an incident in 1994 at AIG (the insurance company that tanked in the 2008 financial crisis due to insuring so many credit default swaps) where associates were called in, told they would be laid off in 60 days, and they would have to train H-1B replacements to earn severance.
In the later part of the 1990s, Y2K work was often outsourced to India, or given to H-1B hires, but there was so much work in 1998-1999 that generally people did not believe that regular mainframe jobs could be affected.

The AIG thing tocuhed an odd coincidence. Last night, I had dinner at Kammerbooks on Dupont Circle in Washington.  I used to eat there a lot when I worked for "The Consolidated Consulting Group" which would later merge with Lewin, to become one of the top health care policy consulting firms (by running simulations and reports of policy choices) in the area. Dinner there brought back memories. I happened to sit next do a young man who, at the briefest glance, appeared to be coding java on a laptop (no, I didn't hack); when a girl friend showed up, she started talking about her job offer or internship or something at AIG -- just before I found the story about AIG in the book. What a coincidence, or providence.  The young couple talked loud enough for me to hear everything, and they never mentioned the 2008 crisis.  It was if they were oblivious to recent history.  
To return to the year of Y2K: I was working at ReliaStar in Minneapolis in 1999, we got several hires or consultants (including one project manager) who had been let go from Prudential in Plymouth, MN on Feb. 4, 1999.  People described coming to work that morning and finding themselves locked out of their logons, and they weren’t told what was happening until late morning.
During the wave of layoff at ING-Reliastar, not related to visas, at the end of 2001, some associates were kept until Feb. 15 and told they had to meet certain goals to get severance, but others (including myself) were suddenly cut loose, although with full severance (and health insurance during the severance period, which was pretty generous) suddenly in mid December.  My own logon failed while I was on the phone talking to an internal customer about a problem. 
There is another question here, does severance come with strings?  Usually the employee signs an agreement giving up the right to sue (and often paperwork is shuffled to prove illegal discrimination, especially by age, did not occur, by breaking employees into small groups).  In a few gases employees have to sign non-compete agreements, not to work for a competitor, but I did not encounter that.  If it happens, it is troublesome (and sometimes it is enforced).  I would wonder if non-disparagement clauses (regarding internet and social media postings) could happen in the future.  Again, I haven't seen that.  Of course, confidentiality agreements have to be honored, but usually employees have to surrender all materials and have no further access.  

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Back-ground mainframe processing, and communications among players, for Obamacare has many problems because of lack of mature personnel

It’s becoming ever more apparent that the treatment of older mainframe professionals in the period following Y2K, encouraging early retirement and buyouts and offering at best a questionable mechanism of temporary W2 assignments in various cities (in specific areas like MMIS) has damaged the workforce available to get the processing behind Obamacare right.  The mature talent, used to the full systems development life cycle and the pains of implementation, is no longer around.
On Monday, the New York Times, in an article by Robert Pear and Reed Allison, reported “Insurers claim health website is still flawed; White House praises software upgrade”, link here. The article has a link to a mult-media Visio-style systems flowchart showing how the processing among exchanges, insurance companies, the federal government, and individuals and employers is supposed to work.  The chart reminds me of the overview of the “Combined A&B Medicare System”, or “CABCO”, that seven Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans tried to develop in Dallas, TX in the early 1980s but failed because of turf bickering.  I was employed almost three years in this effort.  The processing was broken into “subsystems” in a dogmatic way with development software from “Pride-Logik”.   Curiously, the management then, although of retirement age now, could have been of help in developing the new system, due to experience.  Did political turf battles hinder this system?
The Washington Post reports Tuesday morning, in a story by Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, “HealthCare.gov makes frequent enrollment errors; up to one-third possibly affected; Some people may not have the coverage they expected”, link here.

The entire workflow is supposed include a daily “reconciliation” which sounds like a mainframe batch job that would send xml files for reports to all the various components (including the insurance companies) linked in the system for daily corrective action.   

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Emails to me consistently show that Obamacare rollout has been plagued by lack of maturity on the mainframe skills side, too

I am still seeing mainframe jobs in my inbox related to health care.  The skills I have seem most recently are a “preference” for knowledge of diagnosis coding (ICD-9, ICD-10), health care operations, familiarity with the new Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (although that could hardly be “required”) and how it can affect operations, and currently active expert level skills in MVS, modern versions of COBOL, JCL, and sometimes CICS, VSAM, and databases (DB2 and sometimes IMS, and sometimes Adabas/Natural).  I’ve actually seen less emphasis on ideas like direct connect, replication, scripting languages.  The tone of more recent emails reflects a concern about basis integrity and skill in implementation where processing cycles and prerequisite are critical (as would be expected with the federal and state exchanges and the complexity of all the rules, and the confusion over them with the public.)

Job requisitions in these emails want to see skills and experience to be current. But I wonder how contractors feel about the older mainframe professionals (in their 50s, 60s, even 70s now) who left the market after the 9/11 recession.  The health care systems workplace seems to be badly lacking in maturity, not just in fancy web programming, but in legacy processing too.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mark Zuckerberg speaks out for more visas for skilled IT workers, and for immigration reform ; we depend on undocumented workers, he says

Mark Zuckerberg appeared on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” Sunday morning, toward the end of the hour, and spoke up for immigration reform as it affects the high-tech labor market.
Zuckerberg seems to believe that American tech companies need to rely on the talent of young adults and teens whose parents were undocumented.  That is an interesting notion from merely a business perspective.  Why are American families unable to produce enough talent?  Zuckerberg has previously made donations to inner city school systems, as in Newark NJ. 
Zuckerberg;s lobbying organization is called “Fwd.us” with link here.
He argued for three proposals:  more visas for workers with skills, allow a clear path to citizenship, and increase border security. Presumably he wants to strengthen the H-1B visa program for skilled workers. 
Zuckerberg has also spoken at the screening of a film “Documented”, by Jose Antonio Vargas, who announced that he was undocumented.  I will look for the film to review (it’s not on Netflix yet). 
I do get the impression that he thinks that overseas kids, maybe because they are raised in more difficult conditions sometimes, develop the cleverness (as well as “curiosity”) that is needed for the job.   

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Technology sites talk about employee social media and blogging policies, and they do affect personal use (and they're not always "free")

Tech Republic sent out an email today with a link to it’s suggestion for a corporate blogging policy.  When I went to the link (here) I found that it wanted a subscription to Tech Pro Research for $299 a year.  I don’t think I need that myself, but here is the link.   

“About.com” has a sample corporate blogging policy which recognizes that the policy needs to cover blogging and social media use both on the job and away from work, with one’s own materials.  The policy is thorough but reasonable, with link here. I would expect Tech Republic’s to be similar. So, you can read “About’s”, and “it’s free”.
Techsoup has a privacy policy for non-profits and charities here.  Toward the end of that policy, there is discussion of the “work v. personal” axis, and it is more explicit in suggesting that employees, when blogging or using social media, should always use privacy settings and only allow whitelisted followers or “friends” to have access.  That would pretty much shut down “broadcast self-publishing” like what I do.  But I have suggested that people with direct reports or underwriting or grading or evaluation responsibilities should adhere to this idea.
The modern social media world has pretty much obliterated the distinction between work life and private life.  Facebook’s policy of requiring real names, and Zuckerberg’s idea that anonymous or pseudonymous speech shows lack of integrity has contributed to this idea.
I see that I discussed corporate use of "social sentry" products on employees on my main blog on Aptil 20, 2011.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Has our job market winnowed down to working in phone banks begging for money?

I get a very large number of landline calls from charities.  Many are identifiable on Comcast Xfinity, and some are repeats (like a clothing pickup service).  Some leave dead air when you pick up the cradle. 
But a number of legitimate charities, ranging from typhoon relief to leukemia and other children’s charities call.  I do my giving through an automated mechanism at a bank, where the charities I prefer (and that were preferred by the estate) receive funds monthly.  A few involve issues I have a longstanding interest in (like gays in the military).

But what happens with the others is that I have to cut them off if I answer the phone at all.  I simply don’t have time for ten of these conversations a day.  I can be more “efficient” by doing this with a trust account at a bank.  More of the money will go to the charity, including to actual victims in the Philippines, or to children in the developing world.  Less will go to overhead or to callers’ commissions.
This does get callous.  After all, I worked in a phone bank, calling for the Minnesota Orchestra for fourteen months (from 2002-2003) while I still lived in downtown Minneapolis.  (The job was still a quick walk from the Churchill Apartments on the Skyway, only a little more time than to get to ING after the end-of-2001 “forced retirement”.)  I didn’t grasp them how many calls people get.  The job was fun as was the staff, despite the comment from one person “they aren't bad people, but this is the only kind of job some people can get”.
And maybe so.  Yesterday, on the movies blog, I reviewed “Death by China”.  Look at how the manufacturing and even white collar jobs have gone overseas.  What is left for a lot of people to do at home amounts to hucksterism.  Am I supposed to waste for such inefficiency – because it’s not really the best way to raise money.

The Amish may have a point when they say that societies destroy human beings when they become obsessed with “efficiency”.  But then there is the twist in the film “Visioneers” (Movies, Oct. 27).   

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Federal government not getting the best IT people, even from contractors; Silicon Valley salaries are very high for real "talent"

Tom Cochran has in interesting piece on the Washington Post Switch Blog today, about the need for the federal government to get serious about recruiting IT talent, link here. That would seem to apply more to the employees contractors hire.
Cochran compares the entry level salary of a federal IT worker to that in Facebook or a major Silicon Valley company.  I presume that contractors get paid more than GS-7’s – the comparison is interesting, because the $42000 today compares to about $9700 in 1971 (when I worked for the Navy and a friend made that salary).  Top talent in developers can start at $150000, plus stock options, at Facebook. I didn’t realize that.
Cochran also discusses the need for recent college graduates to draw big money to pay back student loans.  The government pay won’t cut it.
I also wonder about another overlooked issue – the mainframe side.  People with those kinds of skills have been retiring, after the job market became fragmented following Y2K.  (The behavior of employer clients in the years following Y2K and 9/11 did not treat older professionals with a lot of respect.)   It sounds like the kind of maturity it takes to thoroughly test a system like “healthcare.gov” behind the scenes, with all the comparisons between insurance plans and the complicated business requirements, wasn’t there in the workforce that developed and deployed the system.  There’s a lot more to worry about than just the website.
Remember, a lot of people can code, but fewer can implement!
Even so, “coding” is important.  Remember the whizbang skills of a young Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in the opening scenes of “The Social Network”.  It was like playing piano.  People don’t get and maintain those skills without some inner psychological drive, and that doesn’t persist forever in one’s career.  Eventually, for most of us, “The Peter Principle” tales over.  We become managers or perhaps “auteurs”.  But we use packages and apps, and leave the methods coding statements for others.  About the only time right now I look at code in my own life is raw HTML (with XSL and XML) when something doesn’t look right after posting. 

The mainframe gigs keep showing up in my AOL mailbox, and some of them are desperate, for an IBM mainframe  ALC guru to fix something in the next three months (maybe related to the processing behind Obamacare) . And I got still another vanilla COBOL-CICS-VSAM-JCL requisition in my mail. They’ve become much more frequent. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

IBM CICS systems programmers: they're still around. Are they a clique?

Well, now I’ve even seen an email job requisition for a CICS systems programmer, in Brooklyn NY.  In this case, the applicant has to be familiar with systems support of everything (COBOL, VSAM, Assembler, Adabas) and with IPC (interactive core process) system dumps.
That used to be a regular job twenty years ago.  In a mainframe shop, the systems programmers installed new releases of everything and installed fixes.  They had to do a lot of their work on nights and weekends.  The applications people, relatively speaking, lived normal lives.

Systems programmers would have binders of IBM manuals along the entire upper spaces of their cubicles. 

Once again, people who stayed in this niche have to build a whole public reputation around this expertise. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Windows 8 Action Center starts misbehaving when daylight savings time ends

On Sunday morning, November 3, the Action Center on my Toshiba Satellite P875 started behaving differently.  Now, the Action Center keeps on displaying a yellow banner message saying it was interrupted and wants to be run.  Yet the log says it was run.  I have started it and let it run with the machine asleep for half an hour or so.  It might be trying to defrag the hard drive, which could take hours, but doesn’t seem necessary. 
The best reference I can find on Action center maintenance is here.  It appears that maintenance stops when the computer is in use.  Does it have to go to sleep (turn blank)?
The Sunday morning is significant because that’s when we shift to standard time, and the auto time for running was set at 3 AM.  Yet, I let it try to start art 3 AM Monday morning and it did not.

I see that I have taken up this subject July 5 and September 19.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Is publishing a book like an IT implementation in the workplace, or like having a baby?

In the near future – I’m saying November 11, 2013 now, which is a “real day” for me – I expect to be formally submitting the complete manuscript for my “Do Ask Do Tell III” book (see Books blog, Oct. 1, 2011). 
I’m going through all my final editing and checklists;  I’ll have to make the final individual chapters absolutely consistent as to style and format, and remove all the comments and tracking;  then I have to concatenate them, correctly, into one.
I also have be absolutely sure of facts and of name changes in the comments in the book that refer to actual people.
All of this calls to mind what would happen before real “moves” or “promotions”, “elevations”, or “implementations” in the “real” workplace of the past.  I recall little rules, like for a move on Friday, elevations had to be “locked” into CA-Librarian or ChangeMan by Wednesday noon.  There was always a move meeting on Thursday morning.
Is publishing a book like a workplace implementation, or like having a baby?

What is a major elevation for employees at Facebook really like?
This will again be “déjà vu” for “moi”.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Major opening working with credit histories in LUA language reported

I got another strange job requisition email yesterday, from a company called Axelon, which said that this was not “corp to corp”, but a long term assignment in one of several modern cities, including Dallas and Charlotte. 
The interesting thing was that it looked for experience in handling credit reporting company data, particularly from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.   It also wanted LUA programming experience. LUA (site ) This seems to be a lightweight scripting language used in gaming. 

I written before here how I worked for Chilton in Dallas from 1981-1988 in the mainframe Datacomm DB/DC environment on the daily and monthly billing systems.  Chilton was sold to Borg-Warner in 1985, and in turn to TRW in 1988.  I came back to DC in the summer of 1988. TRW migrated all of Chilton’s business to LA by 1990, but then spun it off as Experian, which now has a major presence north of Dallas.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Old mainframe skills keep coming back in demand as older programmers retire -- does this affect Obamacare and the IRS?

I received an email this morning about a company with 20+ openings in IBM mainframe assembler near Cincinnati, OH, apparently with W2 pay of $75 /hr  (a few years ago, pay of $30-40 seemed to be common). 

Is this a reflection on the possibility that the skill level in old mainframe disciplines is disappearing as older programmers retire or, as with me, some move on to other things after “career changing” layoffs or forced retirements that occurred after Y2K and then 9/11 (or, more recently, after the 2008 crisis). 

I don’t know whether this opening is related to healthcare; the IRS still uses assembler programming in its legacy systems around the country and is experiencing great difficulty getting work done these days.  The jobs also require COBOL 6, JCL, VSAM, and probably other common mainframe skills like Endeavor.  
One problem with staffing legacy projects is the way professional reputation plays out with social media.  Who wants to sell themselves online as an expert in outmoded technology?  So the same people get gigs in the same technology over and over, but eventually they retire or drop off. 
The current problems being reported in the press with the Obamacare website seem to be more at the presentation layers, with server throughout.  But there are likely to be problems with processing in the legacy areas, with eligibility and interagency processing, and money going between the fibbies and states, and all of this is likely to be old-fashioned mainframe processing.  How was all this system-tested before going into production Oct. 1?  How could something that didn’t exist before be tested? Did the contractors have the usual teams of “business analysts”?

As for this Ohio opening in Assembler, it seems that the company involved is called Maintec, link here, with a client of SLK America. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Windows 8 wireless connection starts dropping intermittently on Toshiba Satellite laptop

Here’s a bizarre problem.  On my Toshiba Satellite P875 I was working in Google, on Blogger.  I get a warning than I am already connected, and the warning drops.  I update a Movies blog posting.  I go to check it, and suddenly the connection drops.  And the Internet connection notification icon isn’t just overlain with an orange block, indicating sleep, it’s gone gray.

I can click on the icon and the WiFi says it is connected, but it isn’t.  The Toshiba WiFi light, on the lower fight, but orange, says it is on. Not in airplane mode.

I go downstairs.  An older Windows 7 computer is still connected to Xfinity on the router. I try the Hotspot on the Satellite.  I get the iPad icon all right, but it still says it can’t connect.  I reboot.  The bars immediately go gray.

I try right clicking.  Windows 8 diagnoses the connection, and doesn’t report a problem but simply turns it back on.  It went gray one more time about ten minutes later for a second, then stayed up solid.
What happened?  Action Center had just run, and then it ran again, which is a little unusual.  During the evening, Webroot warned me on one ad that the Tosbiba IE site tried to serve, but that sometimes happens.

One user reports having to rework everything from an Etherent connection here. You can read his notes at this link

Here’s another try at “ICNerd”, link 

This one looks interesting, too

The Toshiba manual implies that very strong radio signals might interfere with wireless reception. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Snapshot of my I.T. career

Here’s a snapshot of my IT career

1970-02 to 1971-02 l
Princeton, NJ (Cherry Hill, NJ, Indianapolis, IN)
1972-03 to 1972-09 m
US Fed
Washington, DC
1972-09 to 1973-11m
Montclair, NJ
1973-11 to 1974-08 t
Piscataway, NJ (heavy travel to St Paul MN, other NJ, NYS locations)
1974-08 to 1977-05 r
New York, NY
1977-05 to 1979-01 m
Bradford Natl
New York, NY
1979-01 to 1981-10 m
Dallas, TX
1981-11 to 1988-06 m
Dallas, TX
1988-07 to 1989-05 m
Washington, DC (travel to Richmond, VA)
1989-05 to 1990-01 tt
Washington, DC
1990-01 to 1997-08 m
ReliaStar *
Arlington, VA, travel to Minneapolis MN
1997-09 to 2001-12 t,l
Minneapolis, MN
Interim jobs (2001-present)

Note – “*”  NWNL purchased USLICO in January 1995 and renamed the combined company ReliaStar;

ING purchased ReliaStar in September 2000 and left the name intact.

Note the other legend items:

An “m” means a new job, no relation to previous employer; and “l” means an involuntary layoff with severance.

A “t” means a voluntary transfer within the same employer to new management

An “r” means a rehire, with credit (in terms of vesting and seniority) for pervious service. The NBC hire was technically a return from previous RCA layoff for a new job offer.  This happened only once in my IT career.

A “tt” means a transfer as part of a group of employees because of major restructuring by outside purchaser, with similar duties.

Notice than in my career, I had 11 separate work environments in 6 states. There were two layoffs (1971, 2001), with a rehire in 1974 after the first layoff.  Were I still in the market, I believe a second rehire (to ING) would be at least conceivable.  There were 6 job changes to totally new employers.  There were two voluntary internal transfers, and one involuntary mass transfer. 

Note that some ownerships have changed.  I believe NBC has belonged to GE and then to Universal Pictures and Comcast.  Chilton was purchased by TRW and eventually became Experian.  Lewin was eventually sold to Quorum.  Bradford became part of McDonnell –Douglas.  ING is still one of the world’s largest financial services companies. 
Was I a job hopper?  Not really.  I think I was regarded as a very stable person by all managements that I worked for. 
Most of my years (except for 19 months with the Federal government) were spent with private industry.

I now draw social security and an ING pension, but for Census purposes I should be counted also as self-employed.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Windows 8.1 to be available Oct. 18; Toshiba requires considerable updating as a prerequisite

Today, I finally got around to visiting the “Toshiba Service Station” and apply four updates recommend or required for Windows 8.1.  The “required” update had to do with simultaneous operating system updates.  The recommended updates included one for “Eco”, one for the Desktop Assistant, and one for Function Keys, the last of which required a Restart.  When a Restart is required, the Service Station no longer will continue working until it is done, and the Restart may take longer than usual.
The whole process of downloads and updates took around forty minutes.
I think Toshiba could give better information on the progress of installs as they occur, rather than flashing the command prompt off and on.
I found a CNET review (by Shara Tibken) of Windows 8.1, which apparently adds the ability to keep the computer in “desktop” mode with the usual start bar and programs menu.  It may fix some annoying bugs (like the possibility of a freeze when an Action Center update won’t let go). 
Windows 8.1 is to be available on a DVD Oct. 18, 2013, story here. I doubt too many businesses will rush out to get it. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

ObamaCare really did give hourly wage employers an incentive to force workers into part time in early 2013

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal explaining why Obamacare is problematic for some employers owning small businesses, especially in the franchise world where people own a few stores of a larger franchise. It’s “A CEO’s Eye-View of ObamaCare”, link here. A basic concept is that the employer mandate is based on full time hours in the previous year.  

Around July 1, 2013, President Obama delayed the employer mandate until January 1, 2015 (Huffington story here) , but that means that employers had an incentive, through the first half of 2013 (before the delay), to reduce the number of full-time employees and increase the number of part-timers to get the work done. They will have the same incentive throughout all of 2014.  Puzder's article wasn't quite clear on the way the timing of the delay really worked, but the general concept of his argument is right.

There is no question that the part-time issue is a serious flaw in Obamacare with unintended consequences, and it should be changed quickly, but not until the debt ceiling controversy is resolved and the government reopens.   
This is more the case in service businesses and low-wage areas, the kind that Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about in “Nickel and Dimed”.   In the world of salaried professionals, employers still have plenty of incentive to offer insurance and generally don’t want people to be full time because of the continuity of the work.
It seems that skimping on insurance is like skimping on wages.  People at the low end of the service world don’t have much market power on their own, and don’t have the ability to organize.  So, like low wage workers in manufacturing overseas, upper middle class American consumers tend to exploit them without realizing it.  Is it any surprise that employers do the same?  The problem reminds me of the debate in the District of Columbia over the “living wage bill” and Wal-Mart. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"I had a dream" that I was beta-testing a Treasury mainframe system to prioritize payments after debt default

I mentioned yesterday that corporate mergers and buyouts have often, in practice, resulted in job loss and resulted in existential challenges to the careers of many IT professionals, just as national crises, like the debt ceiling (and debt itself) crisis is an existential threat to the savings of everyone.

I also mentioned that I sometimes benefited from mergers because of some unusual personal circumstances with outside activities. 

There is a platitude, “Change is good.”  The changes that come from mergers often benefit technology employees who are the most current on the “hot skills” and who can pick up new skills very quickly, a necessity that become challenging to older employees particularly with Object Oriented Programming, particularly when professionals are expected to drop into someone else’s world. The fact that java went from a toy to a major production language in about four years didn’t make it easier.

Another important aspect of navigating change caused by external forces (someone “walks in the door”) is people skills.  Anyone has to “sell” to internal customers.  But a major adjustment is being able to sell someone else’s product to the outside world.
I must say that “I had a dream” last night.  I was working (in New Mexico, I don’t know why) on a Treasury system to prioritize payments after the debt ceiling was exceeded and cash was short.  I was running simulations in a test region on the mainframe and getting S0C7’s, and had to get the job done before the stock market opened.  In the dream, the courts had ruled that the president could authorize all bond payments, but no social security payments without permission of Congress when we ran out of money (because of “Flemming v. Nestor”).  I had to go back to work in mainframe because my own Social Security had been stopped forever and my own savings had plummeted in value.

Just as in 1987 with daily billing at Chilton, we had a conference room filled with listings.  The prioritization module was in IBM mainframe assembler, just like the old "BA162" at Chilton. 

But I still wasn’t ready to become a huckster.  I can’t protect other people’s families by selling them financial products in this world.  

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Content-oriented people have to fight off hucksterism when "doomsday preppers" come knocking on their doors

I just want to mention again the pressure I have gotten from various parties over recent years from various parties That is, to go to work for them selling something.  Some of the overtures, always unsolicited, were legitimate.  For example, become a life insurance agent.  Become a tax advisor for HR Block.  Become a supervisor of teens who populate malls or go door-to-door to solicit donations.  The last one sounds a bit scamy, maybe.  And there have been the calls for personal debt restructuring and other “services”. 

Even the legitimate ideas are problematic for me.  I would have to shut down all my own sites and dedicate my social media presence to selling (or hucksterizing) their agenda rather than mine.  Life insurance agents, especially, have to build up large numbers of “leads” quickly.  When I looked at all this, back in the spring of 2005, social media were not as well developed are a large a part of the picture as they are now (MySpace ruled the social world then, but it was not very business oriented), but they became such very quickly thereafter. The one social media site that seems to serve business in a  way that doesn’t corrupt personal online activity is, of course, LinkedIn.

There is a good question as to why my old career as an information technology (mostly or “just” mainframe for most years) evaporated.  I’ve taken that up before.  Part of the problem is that I was slow to “advance” or “move up”, and you can only run in place for so long.  And another problem, over the long haul, was my maturity, hindered by a long period (1979-1985) where I never implemented anything and didn’t have any responsibility for what happened in production, so I didn’t mature the way I should have.  I did grow up fast with the Daily Billing (and monthly) project at Chilton in Dallas, implemented in late 1987, before the TRW purchase in 1988.  I probably was never more critical to one employer with a production system than in late 1987, except maybe in 1978 with the MARS reporting system with New York State Medicaid MMIS at Bradford National.

I did try to make the "transition" from "mainframe" to "client server" -- that's a bit of an oversimplification to put it that way.  But I found it very difficult to support OOP applications that I had not written or had not been involved in the details of developing.  You learn a language when you build something with it ground up.  One-week classes in Powerbuilder or Java aren't enough. 
But one can remain a "coder" only so long.  The fact is, there is a tendency for careers to migrate from “content orientation” to “people orientation”, or particularly sales, over time.  That’s the old question, “can techies sell?”  How about, can artists sell?  Well, they have to sell their own work, but can they mass market to others?  I saw this with a company called Arts Marketing in 2003, when we were selling National Symphony subscriptions.  That seems like a fitting use of my piano background.  There was a young man from the company’s Toronto headquarters who was supposed to help us sell more, and he had a music degree.  Of course, it sounds like a corruption of one’s own life to become a huckster like this.  That’s a far cry from simple professionalism, which you can see easily if you visit the sites of various new generation NYC musicians (I’m familiar with a few like Timo Andres and David Kaplan).  Even in the world of self-published books, I get unwelcome calls trying to goad me into mass marketing my books in ways that could never be appropriate for my content.   But, yes, a lot of people have to make a living, and a lot of people depend on commissions.

I bring this up today because it does seem that the world is becoming more volatile and unstable, and I’m going to hit some very challenging angles of this observation soon on my main blog.  In the past, there was business instability because of so much merging and consolidation of big companie (sometimes with hostile takeovers), but I personally came out of all of these mergers relatively well, and the NWNL-ReliaStar purchase of USLICO, the insurance company that I worked for, selling to the military, in teh1990s, actually protected me from a serious conflict of interest.   I even came out of the 2008 crisis pretty well (by the time a few months had passed), but that’s partly because then Congress could come together and do what was absolutely necessary to save the financial system.  That’s no longer true, judging from recent headlines over the debt ceiling issue.   One doesn’t have to think too much (like Cassius) to see how a financial collapse caused deliberately by a “doomsday prepper” or “cold turkey” mentality by an asymmetric right wing minority in Congress could affect the plans of people like “me” or “us”.  I’ve made a “second career” out of the “free entry” model for Internet business, which is dependent on certain assumptions (like downstream liability immunity most of the time for service providers as under Section 230) that may not be around forever.   The world has a lot of tensions over “inequality for all”, and revolution, or at least extreme disruption, can come from either the extreme Left or extreme Right.  None of us can forever remain personally aloof to interpersonal challenges from people who don’t appeal to us as much as do the people who can “turn us on”.  Sometimes unwanted guests ring doorbells.  Sometimes they walk right through the doors. 

I would like to wind up with a “real” career in journalism.  I can see myself working in a media outlet, “keeping them honest”, (almost a synonym for “do ask, do tell”)  but that is the opposite of hucksterism.  I can only get there by finishing my “homework” without undue disruption from the “outside” world.  

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Problems with new Obamacare website put pressure on Democrats in debt ceiling, shutdown standoff; Is the company related to Experian-TRW-Chilton?

Only a few thousand people have been able to create accounts on the new “Obamacare” website “Healthcare.gov” (link), and the site has experienced enormous problems since rollout Oct. 1, according to a story Monday by Christopher Weaver, Shira Ovide, and Louise Radnofsky, “Software and design defects cripple health-care website”, link here. The difficulties could add to political pressure on Democrats to postpone some of Obamacare's requirements in current shutdown and debt ceiling crises. The site has the obvious url.  

The site seems slow because of inefficiencies, such as the idea that more infrequently used methods could have been executed in server-side rather than client-side computing.
The company maintaining the software is Experian PLC. Apparently it may be related to Experian credit reporting, which used to be TRW and which had bought Chilton, which I had worked for in the 1980’s.  I had worked in Dallas in the Oak Lawn area, and Experian has a large facility north of Plano, TX on Highway 175.  However, the company’s website says it traded on the London Exchange, here.  I don’t know where the healthcare.gov software was developed, but there’s a good chance that a lot of the employees are in Texas.  I would have expected EDS or Perot Systems to be heavily involved. 
The web hosting company is Media Temple.
I can remember some traumatic rollouts or implementations in my own career.  On November 1, 1977, Bradford Administrative Services on Church Street in NYC (near the WTC) rolled out a new mainframe MMIS for New York State.  I worked on the MARS reporting system, which started in production one month later, and I worked on Broadway in a separate office, for Bradford National Corporation.
On October 1, 1987, Chilton rolled out a new Daily Billing System, all mainframe, for which I had a very major part. 
I can imagine what it must be like to work for Experian PLC right now, around the clock.  A lot of people can code, but few can implement.  Comments are welcome.   Many people can code, few can implement!

Update: Oct. 10

Now there's a snafu with the password reset logic on the Obamacare website, story here.
Last picture: One egg with twin yolks.  Not sure if this is a political metaphor.  

Monday, October 07, 2013

I.T. workplace culture shows our hypercritical attitude of the moral mass of individual people

I want to recall an incident in the workplace back in 1997, because it sets up a discussion I will engage soon on my main blog.

There was a particular male mainframe programmer-analyst working on the Vantage applications.  I had interface with him without any particular problem.  But he did not enjoy a good reputation on the job.  One day, some people verbally referred to him as a “loser” when he walked in on the discussion an overheard them, soap opera style.

He was sent to another city on a project for a few days at a time, and I was on the same trips.  Once he was caught playing computer games on a work computer when he hadn’t completed a task because of a straightforward, JCL-related abend.  When he returned, he was fired.

The point of this little parable is to note the attitudes we have about people who don’t do as well.  I discussed this on my main blog on September 18, 2013 and will take it up again.

In my job at the “Combined A&B Medicare Consortium” (CABCO), from 1979-1981, there was a young analyst who had a low opinion of me in terms of basic “ability” and said so.  But no one else joined him.  On an MCC Dallas church retreat in the Texas prairie in 1979, there was still another person who made a similar comment to others while embracing me.  What a set up.  

Saturday, October 05, 2013

YouTube sound doesn't work in Windows environments today, except in Chrome

Here's an odd system problem. Today, on Windows 8 (Toshiba) and Windows 7 (Dell), YouTube videos will not play sound, whether played directly or from embeds, except in Googe Chrome.  YouTube sound does not work in Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari (in W7 in my seftup).

YouTube sound does work on the MacBook in Safari. It  also works on my Motorola Droid smart phone.  And it works on my iPad. (Is that what "Don Jon" means by "My Pad"?)

Did Google make a server change that somehow doesn't recognize Windows sound drivers for videos\?

Vimeo does work in these browser in Windows.  Just try this in Windows 7 or 8, link.

Private setups that don't use YouTube for video work in Firefox (and everything else) in Windows.  Try IgigiStudios, typical music video, here. Or try Timo Andres (composer), for example, here. At least, my own followers know some of my favorite video and music sites and artists.

My own mp3 files (of my own music) work in all environment (standalone, from my "doaskdotell.com" website as explained on my "drama" blog Oct. 5).

What hath YouTube done to us?

Back in March 2012, embedded YouTube videos stopped working for about half a day on a Saturday while I was in New York City, for everyone.  Expanded YouTube embeds (introduced a few months ago) do not seem to work on the iPad even now.  I don't know why/

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Libertarian commentator says that spreading unemployment to government workers in shutdown is a kind of Maoist justice; Obamacare website technology questioned

Today, there was an “a-ha” moment on CNN.  A Cato Institute person said that federal workers have it easy compared to people with “real jobs” in real America, and maybe it was time for them to have a taste of hardship. That was a comment about “sob stories” and emotional empathy for people losing pay during their furloughs.  That’s over 800,000 federal workers and probably many contractors and subsidiary small businesses.  Maybe the federal workers will get back pay (they have in past shutdowns).  But they may have trouble with bills until then.

Another speaker paused and said something like "Really?"  It was if the libertarian Cato Institute had advocated a Maoist view that every person take turns experiencing misery and peasantry and lower class life, taking orders from others. 
These problems could get worse for many more people if we really do go over the debt limit in a few weeks and the federal government really does default.  Do people need a lesson about social interdependence (aka social capital)?
I wanted to make a note on “Likeonomics” (books blog, Dec. 19, 2012).  I do get requests to like things on Facebook (usually honored) or YouTube, and sometimes to endorse on LinkedIn.  I don’t used LinkedIn often and have trouble signing on and making it work, maybe because of lack of experience with it.  So be patient if you sent such a request to me.  I do find LinkedIn to be a useful way to contact some people. 
If I were in the business of hiring people, I would take “numbers” on social media sites with a grain of salt.  The same goes with review sites.
It seems there are questions on the web today about the technical skill of the people who set up the Obamacare “healthcare.gov” site.  I wonder what mainframe transactions run underneath (maybe CICS).  I also wonder how sudden defunding or postponing of some requirements of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” would affect IT contract jobs already in place or in the pipeline. 

If I did lose a job because of a government shutdown and got another one, I probably would never come back.