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

Dates
Owner
Employer
location
1970-02 to 1971-02 l
RCA
RCA
Princeton, NJ (Cherry Hill, NJ, Indianapolis, IN)
1972-03 to 1972-09 m
US Fed
Navy
Washington, DC
1972-09 to 1973-11m
Sperry
Univac-MNT
Montclair, NJ
1973-11 to 1974-08 t
Sperry
Univac-Bell
Piscataway, NJ (heavy travel to St Paul MN, other NJ, NYS locations)
1974-08 to 1977-05 r
RCA
NBC
New York, NY
1977-05 to 1979-01 m
Bradford Natl
Bradford-MMIS
New York, NY
1979-01 to 1981-10 m
BCBS
CABCO
Dallas, TX
1981-11 to 1988-06 m
Chilton
Chilton
Dallas, TX
1988-07 to 1989-05 m
BCBS
CCG
Washington, DC (travel to Richmond, VA)
1989-05 to 1990-01 tt
ICF
Lewin-CCG
Washington, DC
1990-01 to 1997-08 m
ReliaStar *
USLICO
Arlington, VA, travel to Minneapolis MN
1997-09 to 2001-12 t,l
ING-ReliaStar
ReliaStar
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.