Saturday, August 31, 2013

What to make of the fast-food and Wal-Mart protests over the living wage?

Well, I haven’t been to a fast food place since Aug 29, and I always have trouble remembering that “McDonald’s” doesn’t have an “a” in the prefix (like a “Big Mac”).
In Washington DC, the mayor considers whether to sign a law requiring Wal-Mart and other large companies to pay at least a “living” wage ($12.50 an hour, or a 50% premium over the supposed minimum).

And in fifty cities around the country, non-unions workers picket for $15 an hour, more than double the federal minimum.  That did not include the DC area, but I thought avoiding fast food places was morally appropriate.

Various studies show that if workers were paid the $15 an hour, fast food meals would typically cost about 50 cents more per person.

And some price increases would happen at stores like Wal-Mart and Target if they paid “living wages”.
So what makes everybody better off?
The libertarian says, let the market set the price.  It says to a worker, you can’t make a living wage because your own personal work skills are not worth that on the open market.  In the professional world (including IT, to the point that we view it as professional) that’s how it has always been.  It’s particularly true in salaried, exempt employment.
So if you want to take care of yourself, get the education, develop the skills so you are “worth” the living wage.  And don’t have a baby (and “complain” about being a single mother) until you can or have a husband (or wife) who can. It’s “your” problem.
Of course, it really doesn’t work that way.  We all live off the labors of people who make below subsistence wages, especially overseas.   And if we expected complete economic self-sufficiency from every parent, we really would experience “demographic winter”.  (Some of that is driving the current crisis over gay rights in Russia.)
It’s not hard to see where this style of thinking leads in the Obamacare debate.
How does someone respond?  By joining in a boycott?  By joining in a picket line?  (By grabbing a hammer?) Or is this just something like “Occupy Wall Street” a year or so ago?
Or maybe one looks at this from a Maoist viewpoint and imagines working a shift at minimum wage and getting yelled at all the time.
A lot of  high-school teens find  fast food or grocery store work as their first summer job.  I see that all the time, even people I recognize from local churches.  Is there something wrong with that if it starts at minimum wage?
After my December 2001 career-ending (so to speak) layoff, I did taste the minimum wage world.  My next job then was $6 an hour plus commissions.  It was “telemarketing”, so-to-speak.  And yet I don’t take telemarketing calls now myself, or accept door-to-door, for security reasons in large part.
Life sure isn’t fair.  Donald Trump preaches that.  But I don't think you can have a reasonable debate about "personal responsibility" without looking at underlying fairness. 

Remember, "Don't be a coward" is itself a double negative.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Many people can code, few can implement; or, why it was hard to learn new tricks in the old mainframe world

About this time in 1987, we were meticulously setting up files and regions to run a complete parallel of a batch daily billing system at Chilton Corporation in Dallas.

For thirty days, we kept listings (Daily Billable Volume) of old and new in a conference room, comparing them by eyeball, and by an assembler program that compared print files.  The compare was written by a young man from Vietnam who, in a hot Texas climate, really could carry notes on sticky pads attached to his legs. 

The management used to say, “Many people can code, but few can implement.”

That was indeed the case.  You spend your time using the same skills, unable to try anything new because everything has to be perfect to go into and stay in production.

That was the culture of the batch (and online) workplace of the 80s and 90s.  It wasn’t that much fun.
I wonder, what is it like to work at Facebook or Google and implement something?

We didn’t have to work nights and weekends as much as people today, because we served mostly businesses.   But we were salaried, and not compensated for overtime. 

Ever heard the saying, "If it works it's production, if it doesn't, it's a test"? 

Ever been accused of having an "astonishing lack of curiosity"? 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

If you open a new window (to see many items at once), you need to be able to go back!

Here's a real small tip.  A lot of news sites, when I insert hyperlinks into blog posts, seem to open new windows whether I want them to or not.

Microsoft says to use the Ctrl-T tabs to provide other windows.  Without doing this first, browsers tend to close all your tabs and not let you see where you came from.  Here is the Microsoft link.

The link above directly applies to Vista but seems to work in Windows 8.

Update: I wasn't seeing tabs in any browsers, and now it seems as though I see them on all, after doing Ctrl-T just once in W8.  Bizarre.
It used to be that browsers kept all the separate new windows open (almost like frames);  then it seems that on IE did that for a while, while Firefox and Chrome went to just tabs.  Why?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Recollections: A small business merger in 1989; it was "business as usual" until it wasn't

The first Monday after April, 1989 was cool, cloudy and breezy in Washington, with the aroma of petals and blossoms everywhere after a mild winter.  I was working at 20th and M Streets in Washington for a small company called the “Consolidated Consulting Group”, or CCG, which was analyzing Medicare claims data and cranking out reports on usage for various clients, mostly associations of hospitals and health are providers.  This was the world of K Street. 
I was the only true “programmer-analyst”, and there were two terminals (emulated on IBM PC’s) with a link to the mainframes at Healthnet (Blue Cross Blue Sheld of VA) in Richmond, in a cubbyhole at the end of one corridor, next to two large Okidata dot-matrix printers.  Around 11:30 AM,  I was working on a simulation run when I saw “P ad B”, the two big chiefs from Richmond, walk into the office off the elevator. (Hint: there had been just enough time for them to drive up I-95 from Richmond.) 
 Quickly, the word spread that they would meet with each one of us separately that afternoon.
I had a normal hot meal at the Lunch Box, and then found an outdoor shoeshine on M-Street, a block away.   I don’t take the time to shine shoes and iron shirts, which I think makes very little difference (I know the advice to the contrary; I believe in permanent press, even if it takes advantage of low-wage workers overseas).
I was about the sixth person called in to the master office to meet P and B.  I had heard, “well, there will be restructuring”.  I saw them nod as I sat down, with the spring blossoms visible through a second story window.  (We were in what used to be the AARP Building.)   The younger man, B, immediately said, “What we want to do is to sell the business.”   I was part of the team that would go with the sale.  During the month of April, we would have to be acquired. 
Actually, we attracted at last three offers, and in early May were formally acquired by Lewin ICF; Lewin has become a well known health care and public policy consulting firm since then.  We would move over to Vermont Ave and 14th St, and as history would have it, I would stay there until January 1990.  “The rest is history,” as they say.
What was interesting from that point was that we faced a “period of transition”.  There was uncertainty.  There was a need for diligence.  There were details.  But there was confidence that it would be OK.
In fact, a few weeks later, in early May 1989, I went down to Richmond to copy all the files and bring back the data on tapes.  I couldn’t afford to miss anything, or have a wreck on I-95.  It sounds like a curious episode to reflect on more than two decades later, where we are so concerned about personal information, surveillance, and leaks.  Things could not be done that way today.
I bring this anecdote up because some “restructuring” is probably coming up in my online presence.  For one thing, I am working on getting out a “Do Ask Do Tell III” book, after more than a decade; and the rest of my presence may be re-organized to track behind the books the way my sites were when I first started all this in 1997-1998.  I’ll be talking more about it very soon on my main blog.   But my experience with “very small business” back in 1989-1990 (with CCG and Lewin-ICF) was certainly valuable for what it taught me, some of which still influences my thinking today.  I wonder what P and B would say.
Actually, back in September 1981, when I was contemplating CABCO (the Combined Medicare A-B Consortium in Dallas, which couldn’t get off the ground and never implemented anything because of turf protection among the Plans) I was interviewed (after direction from Wells Recruiting) by an entrepreneur running a company called simply “Computer Distribution”. The man was going to develop a property-casualty system on Dec-PDP-VAX minis, popular then.  I would be his only employee, working in a strip mall near where 183 and Stemmons met.  The contemplated salary was $27000 (not so bad for 1981).   It didn’t happen, and I wound up with Chilton (over on Fitzhugh in Oak Lawn) then.  (It would morph too TRW and Experian eventually.) I have no idea whether he got anywhere.  If someone he hired didn’t work out, “I would just have to tell you…” This may be the smallest company I ever heard of in the “mainframe” world.
I can fastforward to September 1, 1994, when, at USLICO in Arlington VA, we learned through the grapevine that we would be bought by NWNL in Minneapolis, to become ReliaStar (eventually ING). I learned about it crossing the street between two buildings.  Pretty soon, the following Monday, we had meetings about the merger, which happened in January 1995. The data center operations did not move to Minneapolis until June 1995, and applications were never merged.

Nevertheless, I recall a period of some months anticipating “change”.  I remember a newspaper ad that read “Change is good”.  That’s not the same as “Greed is good”.    Management will always say, "it's business as usual" until it no longer is.   
The most recent previous post on Lewin was on August 11. 

Picture: Aug. 2007, well before the Aug. 2011 earthquake, when the Washington Monument was open; we were located in the upper left part of picture.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

In Windows 8, Office and Action Center special updates can become disruptive; question on Word and Blogger

This Sunday morning, as I was typing another blog posting in Word, Windows 8 suddenly flashed a little orange notification icon in the shape of a trapezoid, telling me that it had an Office update available.
Word also stopped working,  It would not save the last couple of sentences that I had typed.  I had to go ahead and let it run the update, which took around five minutes.

Why does Office update this way?  This is disruptive.  It is probably adding features I won't use.  Why can't it do this through the normal Windows update process (which usually results in a necessary restart and update configuration).

Also, once in a while, the Microsoft Action Center can hang the mouse or touchpad cursor while it updates, particularly if the machine was turned off at night (when it would have updated at 3 AM).  Since this is a laptop, it's normal for me to turn if off at night or when I leave home.

Here's another issue.  I write my longer blog posts in Word first and copy the post into Blogger.  The process works, but there is a lot of extra XSL coding from Word that complicates the posting if it needs to be fixed manually in HTML mode.  There is a Blogger plugin in Word.  I don't know if I need it or not, but I see it here.  Would this eliminate the problem of so much extra Word-associated HTML in the posts?

The blogs do load quickly on modern powerful laptops with high speed Internet, somewhat more slowly in Mobile (where it gets reformatted automatically for Mobile), and slowly in areas with slow Internet service (as as in rural areas with extensions on my iPad).

Update:  Aug 25

Today, the cursor froze, early this morning, after I had logged on.  Action Center had run. (Conputer had been off overnight).  Then today, while it was idol, it started again about 3:30, and when I tried to awaken the machine, I got a blue screen.   Hard reboot took a little longer than usual.

Action Center appears to run in-line malicious software removal or defender updates, and defragmentation.

This is the best I can find right now, link.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Playing BluRay in Windows 8; Can tablets replace Kindles and Nooks?

This may be more a note for me in the future than anything else.  How do you play BluRay DVD's in Windows 8?  Extreme Tech has a writeup on the problem, here.  It looks like, since I got Windows 8 Basic, I have to upgrade to Pro ($70) and get a third party player like VLC Media Center or Cyberlink PowerDVD as well as the player itself.   It seems to take more doing than it did for Windows 7.

The link for the story (Dec. 2012) is here.

When I came back from a mountain day trip, and turned on my Windows 8 Toshiba Satellite laptop, I immediately got a message from Toshiba to upgrade the Toshiba Video Player.  I didn't right then, because it would take time, and it was late.  But that made me look into this.

It seems that most Windows 8 laptops are being sold as such, not just as tablets.

Here's another question.  Why has the bookselling world embraced the Kindle (or Nook sometimes) a s a specialized e-reader (for when you don't have an Internet connection) when downloading and saving files on an iPad tablet seems to be possible enough?  Here's a technical discussion.  Will e-book business go a different way given iPad and table capabilities?

Toshiba offers a book e-reader on Windows 8, and I presume this will become common with all manufactures.  I keep getting another advisory to upgrade the Book reader.  I know it will take my time.  Can I buy Kindle books from Amazon for it?  I'd have to check. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Could I go back to work in a "leadership role"? Maybe CDA230 could set up a scenario

A good question these days, given that I have passed my 70th birthday (July 10), is, could I go back to work in a “conventional workplace”?

I’m so engrossed in my media work right now that I seem to have left the old world of mainframe and contractor gigs (like those for Obamacare) for good.  I haven’t worked in that kind of environment since the end of 2001.

One motivator, though, can be the debates on Internet freedom and particularly the recent “states-based” threat to Section 230 (of the 1996 Telecommunications Act) that I’ve discussed on my main (“BillBoushka”) and COPA blogs.  It is significant because immunity from downstream liability for service providers is essential for continuing to sponsor unser-generated content on the Web.

A factor in the discussions about this matter is the lack of an effective national system to verify ages of Internet users.  We saw this in the COPA litigation a few years ago.   Conceptually, such a system could be like a national system to verify identities based on the USPS National Change-of-Address databases, which I worked on when I was at ING-ReliaStar (mainly in 1998).   The resistance to such a system would come from recent concerns about privacy and surveillance.  But if it existed and was secure and separate from the public Internet in a normal sense, it could help make life more secure for many more vulnerable people (children) and could help us resolve these existential debates about how to balance freedom, sustainability, fairness, and security.  In that sense, the existence of such a system could help buttress free speech from challenges like ending part of Section 230.

Were there to be a serious appropriation for such a system from Congress, for a large contractor (EDS, IBM, Perot, Computer Sciences, Booz-Allen, etc) to develop, I certainly would be well qualified to participate in developing such a system in a leadership role.  Maybe it could turn out to be the best thing I can do for the ideas I believe in.

I am interested in working with some parts of legacy media.  I worked for NBC as a financial programmer analyst (on the general ledger system, in its Univac 1110 days) in NYC back in the 1970’s.  History sometimes repeats itself.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

AOL's public firing at a conference call is not the way to do it

AOL’s Tim Amstrong apparently wanted to imitate Donald Trump when he fired his creative director publicly in a conference call today, regarding its “”. Would Steve Case have done this?
And HR people everywhere are saying that this is poor form, as in this Today piece
In my own career, most firings that I heard about happened after a series of steps, usually called “progressive discipline” or “performance improvement plan” (or “PIP” as from “Great Expectations”).  It’s possible for that to be quite abbreviated.
Typically, progressive discipline involves counseling, verbal warning, written warning, and then a private termination.  But after a termination, the employee usually has to leave immediately, and take only personal effects. 
I knew, though, of manager’s saying, “that’s a verbal warning”.
And I’ve seen things get brutal, when employees “on discipline” seem desperately trying to save their jobs.

Did the AOL "victim" get any severance?  I've heard of cases where people were told (during a discipline step) they would get a little severance if they would resign quietly, but not if it comes down to firing. 

PBS aired a documentary on firing employees back in the late 1980's.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Unusual company that I worked for has poster in DC Metro

In a Metro station in Washington DC, I saw a poster advertising the company ICF, and engineering company that bought a business I was working for in 1989.
I had come back to Washington DC from Texas in 1988 and gone to work for the “Consolidated Consulting Group” at 20th and M in Washington DC.  It was a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of VA and related to “The Computer Company” in Richmond, intending to earn profits by analysis of health care policy and producing reports for clients, largely from a “Policy Simulation Model” in COBOL, and coded-to-order SAS jobs.
In April 1989 the business was sold to Lewin, then a subsidiary of ICF, since then part of Quorum.  We worked on Vermont Ave in downtown DC, but sometimes went out to the ICF office towers near Fairfax Circle in northern VA. 
I’ve related before what it was like to work as a mainframe programmer for a small business.  At one point, before the sale, I practically saved the business when results were incorrect for one client because the federal government had not followed its own specs in the Federal Register.  Those were the days, my friend.  But they did end. 

Related historical posting, Aug. 3, 2011. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Healthcare mainframe jobs still showing up, requirements seem to get less specific as Obamacare enrollment approaches

I am still seeing emails looking for mainframe IBM skills, and in recent weeks the requirements seem less specific.  One job in Chicago asked for IBM COBOL, JCL, TSO/ISPF, TSO and CICS, and healthcare (not specific).  The requirements typically are for positions of less than one year. 
The jobs do seem driven by the opening of the healthcare exchanges for enrollment in October, and the beginning of the individual mandate in 2014, although the employer mandate has been delayed. 
Some positions ask for Microfocus COBOL still.

I don’t see the emphasis on DB2, SQL, and various Unix connectivity skills that I saw a year ago.  

Monday, August 05, 2013

LinkedIn helps employers find candidates who aren't yet looking, causing more competition for weaker candidates

Employers and recruiters are using Linked-In to look for potential talent who are not necessarily looking for jobs.  This creates even more competition for “weaker” candidates who are looking for new positions.  All of this was explained in a Sunday Washington Post story here.  

Furthermore, LinkedIn is offering recruiters products for looking for talent, as does Dice.  These products tend to be too pricey for very small recruiters and more affordable to larger agencies, as in the past.

I’ve wondered what happened to that staple headhunter of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Source EDP.

And I remember that once rumors about mergers circulated about an employer, it would be common (in these days before voice-mail was sophisticated) to find handwritten notes on your desk about mysterious callers.

LinkedIn tends to be a more effective way to contact someone whom you worked with years ago than Facebook.  In my experience, it has the best “response rate”. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Job seekers, employees, still seem to bear the responsibility for incorrect data stored about them; legal initiatives coming?

The National Employment Law Project estimates that 1.8 million people are subjected to FBI background checks containing incomplete or wrong information.  The original link is here
And even the Justice Department admitted in 2006 that federal government records supporting criminal background checks are often incomplete, link
However, employers are increasingly depending on background checks and credit scores.  And employers tend to believe, “You own your own reputation. Nobody but you can get it fixed if it is wrong.”
At the same time, as reported before, there have been EEOC lawsuits for disparate impact because of background checks, and calls for legislation to ban overusing them for less sensitive jobs.
Michelle Singletary weighed in on all this on July 31, p A11, “Surviving the data blame game”, link here
When I worked for Chilton Credit Reporting, the company decided in 1987 that all its own employees had to pass its own credit check.  There were rumors of “lie detector tests” to catching tampering with reports, but they never took place (and might have been illegal if they had).

But the concern over background checks omits another major area, online reputation, which can so easily be soiled by what others post about “you”.