Sunday, September 29, 2013

Having worked for Census, I become a respondent myself to the ACS

I got a form from the United States Census recently for the American Community Survey, or ACS.  This time, the opportunity was present to do the survey online, which I did Saturday, before the expected government shutdown.
I had worked for Census in 2010 with the diennial, and with the CPS, or  Current Population Survey until August 2011.  I often received feedback from respondents that all the surveys should be online and should not be predicated on home visits and phone interviews.  The ACS appears to work that way.  If the respondent does not reply online, he or she (that is, the randomly selected address) will get a mailing and eventually a phone call or visit, but this process requires fewer employees. 
The mailing said that answering is required by law.  The CPS was technically voluntary.
One reason I left Census in August 2011 was, besides needing more time for my writing projects, my resentment of being fodder to shutdowns, or other people’s unrelated agendas.   There was a threat to a shutdown in March 2011, and that would have resulted in a whole month’s survey not being done, the way the rules worked.

It may be moot point, but I would not work for the federal government or contractor right now, and be subject to being made to make personal sacrifices for other people’s problems.   

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Will GOP spoil the Obamacare IT jobs boom? Kelly and Michael say employers review Facebook friends' lists of applicants

This morning, Kelly and Michael (that is, on “Live with Kelly on Michael” on ABC from New York) were discussing how most employers now look up who your Facebook friends are, as part of a “background investigation”.  It seems a little overdone.  Pretty soon, people would feel that they have to delete Friends or remove Twitter Followers to protect “online reputation”.

I still get plenty of mainframe job requisitions for Obamacare, all over the country.  I guess recruiters are convinced that the GOP won’t be able to defund Obamacare.  Even if they could, the law goes into effect and the exchanges for individual policies open next Tuesday, October 1.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I paid my dues at my first wage-earning job at age 20; past is prologue

Fifty years ago, I had been working at my first wage-earning job for about a month.  In August 1963, I started working for the National Bureau of Standards of the U.S. Department of Commerce, on a campus of the old Federal City College at Connecticut Ave. and Van Ness.  I worked as a GS-4 laboratory assistant to a chemist, measuring the viscosity of oil samples.  All recording of data was done by hand in a notebook.  I would dread those cart trips to the “oil shed”. I was a GS-4 and made about $4500 a year then.

 NBS would soon move to Gaithersburg, MD. The University of the District of Columbia would be built on the former NBS campus, which had a fascinating network of underground pedestrian tunnels.  
I went to college at night, but had no social life.  This was not an easy time for me at twenty.  I was “paying my dues”.
My most recent wage-paying job was, ironically, with the Department of Commerce, the Census Bureua, with the 2010 diennial census and then the CPS in 2011.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Does Windows 8 mix up Action Center and Automatic Updates? It seems Action Center forces configuration of updates 2 days due.

Today I had another problem with Windows 8 Action Maintenance on my Toshiba Satellite.  I had let it go idle during lunch and "Days of our Lives", and as I retirend, I saw the gray streak on the Action Center flag.  The computer would not respond to any programs, although the mouse worked.  I clicked on Action center and nothing happened.

I let this go on about 15 minutes to let it finish anything, and then I powered it off, waited one minute, and powered it back up.  It took longer than usual for the Toshiba sign to go out, and for the blank screen to resolved, and then it told me it was configuring maintenance.  I thought it was supposed to do this only after Windows Update.  It finally came up normally.

I checked the Action Center under the Control Panel, went to "Maintenance" and it said it had finished normally at 1.14 PM, so the computer had remained frozen about 30 minutes unnecessarily. This sounds like a real Windows 8 Action Center bug.

I don't leave it on at night.  It normally runs Action Center as I boot up, and it normally only takes about a second.  The Action Center flag appears on the notification bar about two minutes after bootup.

I checked Windows Update and it said it had installed on Sept. 16, but I don't recall being prompted to restart with update, which you must normally do within two days.  It appears that Action Center was trying to force that update to be reconfigured.

The best reference I can find on the problem now is here.
Microsoft has yet to do an adequate job of explaining what this Action Center accomplishes. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

I had worked at the Washington Navy Yard in 1971-1972 as a computer programmer; don't know if I was in Building 197 but I might have been

I actually worked at the Washington Navy Yard myself as a “Mathematician” GS-9, from March 1, 1971 to September 22, 1972, at the Naval Command Systems Support Activity (NAVCOSSACT).  I left in 1972 to go to Univac in New Jersey.
My duties most concerned Fortran programming of a missile intercept simulation.  In those days, we punched cards (or had them punched from coding sheets) and submitted compiles and executes in batch and had to wait for them to come back.  Typically, you could get two compiles a day in.
I worked on the third floor of a four-story building not far from the Gate, and often parked on Water Street when I didn’t carpool.  We worked from 7 AM-3:30 PM.  The building was white and concrete.  I don’t know if it could have been Building 197, which could have been renovated with an atrium created in the intervening years.
There was an “inner sanctum” on the third floor for people with Top Secret clearances.  I had a Secret, but the results of my BI for the TS were ambiguous, but I was not asked to leave.
The Univac 1108 computer was on the fourth floor, along with the mailslots for submitting jobs.

I had gotten the job because I knew someone who worked there through chess clubs.  The particular individual had actually played a USCF rated match with me in 1965, and split four games.  (Black won all four games!)  I went to NOVCASSACT after my layoff from RCA in February 1971, my only layoff until 2001.  

Below is the NCIS Building (2008).  If someone knows what building NAVCOSSACT was in, please comment.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Window 8.1 will soon be available; Toshiba requires big pre-updaye

The last two times I have logged on to my Windows 8 Toshiba Sateliite laptop, Toshiba has notified me of a present: a great big firmware update from the manufacturer, mandatory before installing Windows 8.1 any time after October 18, 2013. David Cardinal has a review of 8.1 on Extreme Tech, Sept. 13, here. (Is a "Satellite" like a moon of a planet? Maybe Titan?)
 Apparently the user is allowed to set up the machine to go right to Desktop Mode and use the Start button the way it worked in Windows XP, Vista, 7, even all the way back to Windows 95 and Windows 98 (and the horrific “ME”).  

It is a problem when vendors interrupt you and expect you to make huge updates quickly.  It looks like the whole Toshiba and 8.1 process will take several hours, and require that the person be at home or at work continuously and have time to dedicate to it.  That’s a luxury one cannot presume in my life.  
Oh, yes, regarding these updates. They're "free".  Oh, my time is worth more than "money" right now.

Update: Sept. 15

Toshiba explains that its update allows multiple updates from Microsoft and other vendors (like Adobe) to be downloaded and installed at the same time.  It would apply to Windows 8.0.

I'll wait until I have a little more time before doing a huge and risky update. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Should programmers keep CYA stuff around in paper listings?

Is it a good idea for programmers to keep their own CYA logs?

There was a time when it wasn’t common for programmers to have their own terminals, but when I went to work for NBC in NYC at 30 Rock in 1974, I found everyone had a TTY terminal, attached to a Univac 1110, that had a paper record of everything you entered, as well as system responses, but no video display. Management decided to implement a strict rule in those days of  limited system throughput of “no compiling in demand” between 9 AM and 5 PM.  One time I was “accused”, but saved because I had a TTY printout that showed I had ended a session with a demand compile at 9 AM.

I used to keep paper records for file-compares before elevations, to prove I had done everything to prove the work OK.

I also kept original compile and link printouts, particularly before we started enforcing the “promote” rules in CA-7 (and later ChangeMan) that guaranteed elevation (source-load module) integrity.

And during one parallel implementation in 1987, we filled a conference room in a Dallas office building with printouts of parallel runs of daily billing statements and details.

Implementation in those days was all about attention to detail and accuracy. 

These steps today might sound like a lack of confidence in one’s work.

I wonder what system implementations are like at Facebook or Google.  I’d love to hear from someone who works in the “new age” environment on what QA is really like.   

Monday, September 09, 2013

Microsoft Excel 2013 hides the first row of a spreadsheet for no reason -- how to unhide

Here’s something weird.  I’m working on the spreadsheet that I use for keeping track of Blogger statistics, and the first row gets hidden for no reason.  The totals row works – a symptom.

It seems as though you have to go to Home, Cells, Format, and then select the entire spreadsheet and go to Unhide.  But I don’t know why this happened in the first place, unless it was mouse oversensitivity, interpreting an accidental Passover as a command.

Microsoft’s link is here
This happened in Windows 8 with Office 2013 Excel.
I recall that in the early days of home computing, in the late 1980’s, spreadsheets were a big deal.
In my last two years at ING-Reliastar, in a CSW support group, one of my tasks was to put together the incident spreadsheet (statistics on AHD problem sheets) every Monday morning.  I even recall someone’s finding a “bug” in my spreadsheet.

Picture: at least it's from Minnesota, up north in the summer, 2011. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

An explanation for Windows 7 freezeups on certain web sites?

My 2009  Windows 7 Dell XPS was worked on by Geek Squad but sometimes still freezes once each boot cycle the first time it goes to certain sites, which seem to be sites using Adobe Flash or certain other services.  Any site using Disqus does it.  The computer releases itself when the click pad or mouse is tapped repeatedly for about a minute.   

It appears that Windows 7 Update does not maintain certain drivers properly.  It seems that the hang happens when the application is looking for the proper driver for the rest of that session.  Here’s an explanation on an Adobe forum, link. This doesn’t seem to happen in Windows 8 (or on the Mac, of course). Since this can happen with facilities other than Adobe, this really does seem to be a Microsoft issue.  Time for fingerpointing.  Also, this would explain why Geek Squad couldn't find a specific problem. 

Monday, September 02, 2013

Common sense tips for the office: be careful with scribbles about Nightcall (as well as with Facebook)

Jack Wallen of Tech Republic has a list of “10 Things You Should Keep to Yourself at the Office”, link here.

Most of this should be common sense right now.  People have been fired for scribbling racist remarks on sticky pads and passing them around.  One time (in 2000) I wrote the fictitious url “” on someone’s cubicle white board to make light of the nighttime “on call” issue, and the person looked it up on a wok computer and found a porn (or at least escort service) site, and it didn’t get filtered out.

The most important advice is not to talk about your job, your company, or the people in it on social media (he makes an “exception” with Linked In). 

Again, the development of social media, with “friends” or “followers” lists and the opportunity to whitelist posts, has probably prevented what likely would have happened, the development of very strict blogging policies for people with direct reports.  There was a lot of talk about this around 2002.  But thanks to Mark Zuckerberg, it never went anywhere.   
Picture: a business "Write for you" (Washington DC).  I guess I could have set something like this.  But I like to write my own message.  Yet, they say, "Write what other people want."