Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is corporate security, faced with determined hackers, just a matter of workplace discipline?


Was the Sony Hack by “agents” of a foreign power (that is, the DPRK) really the result of poor IT workplace discipline and procedures?
  
I think that’s possible  A lot of the security lapse seems to have occurred because an administrator’s logon was not encrypted and not properly secured, and probably not changed frequently enough. 
I was involved in a few controversial “scares” during my mostly mainframe career, and the technology involved in each incident would seem simple compare to the complicated scripting explained in US-CERT’s recent bulletin on the brute force authentication hack and SMB Worm. 
  
I won’t go into details tonight, but in every case (going back to the middle 1970s) there were simple procedures that could guarantee that production files could not get corrupted accidentally during testing, or that the source module and load modules being executed in production (after elevation) were consistent.  But one had to remain alert to use the procedures properly.  When updates to elevation procedures were announced, the programmer-analyst needed to pay attention, and realize that the procedure steps, when followed properly, guaranteed integrity.   There were a few occasions where neither myself nor several levels of management fully understood these things at first.  There is a degree of “maturity” required by everyone in staff to grasp the importance of following procedures.  The most serious breach might have occurred in the summer of 1991, when a member of the elevation team (a young male) discovered a serious error in the way some moves have been done for some time.  I remember the employee;  he was attentive, and he brought to the workplace the diligence that companies need all the time.

I do think that major Silicon Valley companies and telecommuncations companies have given more attention to goof-proofing their security than most entertainment companies would have done.  So I’m counting on the security procedures of the companies that provide they platforms upon which I do a lot of my self-expression (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Bluehost, Verio, etc).  The same should be true of banks and financial institutions, and of utilities and power companies.  Still, so much depends upon the attentiveness of every employee. 
  
In 2002, I did spend a lot of time looking at jobs at Warner Brothers, and it looked like a good shop, one that had a lot of both mainframe (DB2) and Internet.  It’s generally true that IBM mainframes are more difficult to compromise than Unix or Linux, and that the Unix-Linux-Mac world seems a bit more solid than Windows, which still has some real problems with very determined attacks.  Also, routers have vulnerabilities that need more attention. 
  
Picture: the Management and Administrative Subsystem of Medicaid MMIS used to be called “MARS”.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hourly workers might not get paid for downtime regarding security checks


The Supreme Court has ruled “unfavorably” for some lower income hourly workers in a case, “Integrity Staffing Solutions v Busk”, where workers in a warehouse supporting Amazon sometimes were detained as long as 25 minutes for a security check to ensure they weren’t pilfering goods before leaving. 
   
The SCOTUS blog has an analysis here.  The slip opinion from December 9, 2014 is here
  
I can recall when working in the summer of 2003 as a debt collector that we didn’t get paid for hours lost if their system went down.  It’s common for hourly workers not to be paid for “non productive” time, whatever the rationalization (as in the Opinion).  

Monday, December 08, 2014

A conversation about whether techies can sell, at Gaylord, right after the Ice slide


Today, on a visit to the Ice attraction at the Gaylord Hotel resort at National Harbor, MD, I passed a lot of tables of people hosting conventions, already irritated for being mistaken for hotel employees. 
After the Ice experience, I happened to sit next to a young woman attending the CPA conference.  She said she was not a CPA herself, but that she marketing CPA services.
  
This led to a discussion of all the unwanted invitations to unsuitable hucksterism jobs that came my way after “retiring” from IT at age 58 at the end of 2001. Become a life insurance agent.  (My disinterest in contact people to sell them things befuddled two companies, as they really needed someone with actual knowledge of how the industry works – which I had from IT – and actually willing to sell it, out of personal karma).  Become a financial planner.  (I do as well on my own.)  Become a tax preparer.  (I don’t want to make a life out of helping people use tax loopholes.) 
Once you enter the world of hucksterism, your whole social media presence becomes someone else’s .  There are no double lives anymore, thanks to Mark Ziuckerberg.  (Look at Lev Grossman’s article in Time today, here. ). 

I also gave the spiel that liberty is not served by no regulation at all.  Look at all the people “sold’ on going into more debt than they needed for more house than they needed.  Look at what happened when banks didn’t have their own skin in the game as mortgages got securitized.  I said, must sound like an Obama man, because the worst happened under the watch of George W. Bush. 

Here’s the fun I had  as "research in motion".

As I left, I ran into her again.  She smirked. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Did by Internet activity and blogging hinder my return to old-fashioned IT?


One question that I sometimes process is why I never found a mainstream IT job after my career had its “cardiac arrest” and fibrillation on Dec. 13, 2001, 92 days after 9/11. Had I been able to do so, the course of my life might have been quite different and some existential issues (as what came up with substitute teaching) might have been avoided.  
    
I had two other complications in my life at that time (when I was 58), the likelihood of my mother’s needing care (which she eventually did, big time), and the visibility on the Internet, in the “good old days” before social media displaced old fashioned forums and flat-file websites with simple hyperlinks (like my old hppub.com) for unregulated self-expression.  By about 2000, it had become apparent that people could become global personalities just because of search engine presence (especially Google) which they did not have to pay for.  No, you didn’t need optimization.  Original and rich content would get indexed and show up highly ranked on its own.
  
In the early 2000’s, most of the jobs in the market were likely to be W-2 contract jobs where a contractor hired you, once the client had interviewed you (often by phone).  I screened for two jobs, one in Richmond with a PPO, and in Bloomington MN with Express Scripts.  The phone interview (late 2002) with the PPO did not go well, partly because it had been postponed so many times;  the Express Scripts interview (on Sept. 11, 2012) seemed to go well in person, but then the company didn’t have the authorization for the position after all.  I got feedback that I had “tried too hard”.
  
But in early January 2003, I had an interview in suburban Maryland with Group1, part of Pitney Bowes, with the idea of returning immediately from Minnesota if there was a job.  The interview went well enough, and I emailed a thank you when I got back to Minneapolis, but I never heard a thing.  It’s true that when I was at ReliaStar, some people didn’t like Group1’s support and I mentioned that out of candor in the interview.  Did that blow the job?  Maybe, even though that isn’t reasonable. Or did a Google search on my name make me seem controversial and dangerous to have around.  A company would have to worry that someone would make comments about the company on line and others would find it.  A contracting company that places people would have to be particularly sensitive to this risk.
  
Remember that mommy blogger Heather Armstrong had been fired for what she said in a personal blog in 2002.  She went on to be one of the most financially successful bloggers ever, and the verb “dooce” entered the English language.  I didn’t start using blogging platforms as such until 2006.

At the time, I was one of the few people really known for this.  The “risk” was just coming to be understood in the dark days after 9/11. 

Update: Dec. 10

Here's a good piece by Danielle Kurzleben on Vox about "skills erosion" when unemployed from a previous career indefinitely. But I was 58 when my "demise" started. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Who wants to sell door-to-door now?


To close out the meteorological fall, look at this op-ed by Eugene Linden in the New York Times, page 7 of the Review Section Sunday, “Epiphany, with Encylcopedias”, here
  
There was a time when selling door-to-door was almost a virtue.  The author talks about his experience selling the New World Encyclopedia and later Britannica in 1968.  There was a script, there was urgency (helping your kids get ahead), there was “overcoming objections”.  Today, people resist door-to-door because of home invasions, don’t answer telemarketing robocalls, and find half of their email is spam that is never opened.  It is getting a lot harder for a lot of people to make a living in a society so personally competitive.

Yet, there has never been a better time to be a young adult with the right talents and skills.  The kids who write computer viruses in Russia do so because Vladimir Putin (equals evil) has made sure they can’t get legitimate jobs, so they steal.  The same detailed coding talents could get six figures over here sometimes. 

I vaguely remember the visit of the encyclopedia salesman for the World Book in 1950.  It has great colored elevation maps for all the states, the best ever. 
    
My father (1903-1986), who was a manufacturer’s representative (wholesale) for Imperial Glass (now Lennox), always said he could look anyone in the eye and sell him or her anything. Not me.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Suddenly, Comcast Xfinity speed gets erratic during Brown Friday weekend .



Early Black Friday morning, I found my Comcast XFINITY to be extremely slow.  I first thought it was the old Dell XPS laptop I often leave connected through the night.  But trying other laptops gave the same result. 
  
It gradually improved starting about midday, and by evening was about to 80% of what it should be.  I was able to watch a movie on Amazon (“Spanish Lake”) although I had some trouble getting it started after paying for it.  Later in the evening, I watched YouTube with no problem at all.
Saturday morning it was fine, but, intending to go out, I tried Twitter for a moment on Firefox on the older computer.  It seemed that Firefox itself was hung as an extra copy, but it finally loaded.  Then I saw that everything was slow again.  Some sites would work for a while and stall.  Google’s icon would not come up on its home page!

I tried Xfinity’s speed test.  This is what I got.  It stalled completely at 54%.

I went out on the errands.  When I came back, I found the connection working “almost” normally.  It seems that running the test tells Comcast support (is that in Ashburn, VA at a server farm?) to reset your connection.
  
I don’t know what is causing the slowdowns.  Black Friday?  I wonder if Comcast has made some kind of change and will tell me that my modem and Netgear router are too old (vintage 2006) and need to be replaced?  Maybe they are working on a way to clean out the Moon virus that is affecting some home routers intermittently (with practically all IP companies) and will soon require all customers to use newer routers. 
  

The speed test link is here
I'm surprised it's not https.

This post might be relevant to "network neutrality" too.  I'll try to find out if Comcast has somehow changed bandwidth management, but that sounds less likely.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

I get an email advertising a recruiter position -- there's always a first time!


For the very first time ever, that I can remember, I got an email today for a job as an IT recruiter, in Waltham MA, where the agency is Raytheon.  But this seems to be an HR job with a large defense contractor, not a true job as an independent "head hunter".

Back in the 1980s, the best known recruiting agency was Source EDP.  In Dallas, a few other higher profile recruiters were Wells and Perry-White.  One of the most visible W-2 contractors there was Cutler-Williams, which at one time interviewed me for a job at the Glen Rose nuclear power plant (weekly commuting 160 miles from Dallas), one of the most bizarre interviews I ever had. I had already visited the plant with -- believe it or not -- the Sierra Club, back in 1982.

After my December 2001 "career ender" (why that was so will become a later post) I considered becoming an independent recruiter myself, but never got very far.  It would be totally infeasible now, considering how I have managed my social media. I do see that I got some emails in 2011 from parties that thought I was already a recruiter, including on to pre-screen resumes.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Email describes Linux to mainframe conversion, requiring COBOL CICS stored procedures


I got an email about a mainframe job in downtown Minneapolis, my old haunt from more than ten years ago.  The project related to conversion of “Swift” (link ) financial statements in a Linux environment to COBOL stored procedures under CICS.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like this, but the opportunity is about twelve years too late for me.  The contractor is apparently Advantage Resourcing, link and the email mentioned benefits in a W2 environment.  You had to do the interview in person.  (Back a few years ago, phone interviews were common with many clients with many placement companies.)  I lived in Minneapolis from 1997-2003, last visited in 2011.  

Monday, November 03, 2014

Toshiba Satellite displays odd behavior when bringing up Windows 8, sometimes


My replacement Toshiba Satelitte with Windows 8.1 sometimes displays weird behavior when signing on, especially if it hasn't been used for over 24 hours and is run off the battery.  Sometimes the blue log-on screen circles a long time without bringing up the Windows 8 desktop, and then says "Group ID" missing.  If I click one more time, it comes up.   Or it may give a black screen, with the circle spinning, and shows the command prompt a few times, too quickly for me to see the message, before it finally comes up.

The problem is not reproducible, and doesn't seem to happen unless considerable time passed since last use.  Some posts online suggest a CMOS issue.

I will need to depend on this laptop when traveling, and sometimes there would be periods when it isn't used much.  It performed perfectly in New York the last weekend of October, but was used often.
 
The best link I can find on the problem is at Tom's Hardware, link. There is also a link on clearing CMOS here.  It sounds logical from symptom pattern that it could be a CMOS issue.

I sometimes had the "Group-ID" problem on the older Toshiba, that broke in August.

Here's another oddity:  I left the Cannon Power Shot in a USB drive on my HP Envy longer than I needed it, and suddenly a SanDisk ad pop-up occurred.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Snarky speech, that used to be acceptable in the workplace, now adds to social tensions everywhere, since the Internet can amplify it


The norms of accepted workplace behavior have certainly changed in the past few decades.

I can remember, say in the 1970s and early 1980s, that it was acceptable to make snarky remarks under one’s breath about a lot of things.  For example, race in the NFL.  Or the cosmetic deficiencies of a lot of people (men and women both).  Even given the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, gay people didn’t get the verbal beating in “my” workplaces that a lot of others did.  The civil rights movement and perhaps Stonewall had changed some things.   But comments about a lot of other matters, like obesity, were common and took on a moral tone.
  
The Internet has complicated the “game”.  Now, if one has direct reports, subordinates could determine a manager’s own personal prejudices from his or her social media posts or web content, which I’ve often written about as a big conflict of interest problem.  Now, there is a new dimension to all of this.  If international terrorists are willing to manipulate the most psychopathic and unstable people among us online, a lot of older prejudicial content simply serves as more kindling.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

In Windows 8.1 on the HP Envy, USB ports get disabled mysteriously


My latest fiasco with Windows 8.1 is that on my HP Envy, sometimes the two USB ports on the screen attachment stop working, and sometimes even the base-USB port registers but isn’t recognized by the command prompt, although File Explorer sees it. 

The way I got it to work was to put a camera into the base USB port, use the camera software.  I restart the machine (not cut if off, but actually use the restart tab on the tablet desktop).  I go through the process one more time.  Then all the ports work normally, so far.

Microsoft has a KB, but the hotfix test did not work, as it said my machine wasn’t compatible.  Don’t know why.  Here is the link

One other little thing.  Windows 8 is supposed to close flash drives for you.  In Windows 7, you were asked to close it so you could safely remove it.  Maybe that part of this isn’t working right, as Windows admits that a USB flash drive can become disabled after a device is removed.  But the explanation isn’t very clear as to why.
  
Another oddity is that my Carboniite app somehow got uninstalled.   I re-installed when I went to my account.
   
Does anyone know more about this?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who pays for lost-income of workers (outside of health care) quarantined by government because of possible incidental exposure? (to Ebola or anything)


Many people are losing income from work as a result of self-quarantine or CDC “controlled movement’ policies because they were on the same flights as Amber Vinson, or sat near her in the Cleveland-Hopkins airport recently.  The New York Times has a story “Life in Quarantine for Ebola Exposure: 21 Days of Fear and Loathing”, link here.

One couple was asked to stay home by their employer after admitting they had sat next to her.  They may be able to work from home.  IT people may be better off than most – but they could be stuck working with their own personal computers and connections, which could result in privacy and security problems at work 
  
A couple of male strippers and erotic novel authors (Axl Goode and Taylor Goode), who look smooth and buffed in photos, sat near her on the plane and place themselves in voluntary quarantine.  But that may seem more necessary if their work brings them into physical contact, however protected, with others.  The UK Mail story is here.
  
And the owner of the bridal shop which Vinson had visited has closed for three weeks.
   
And a Maine elementary school who visited Dallas and stayed ten miles away is told not to come to work, and parents pull kids from a school in Mississippi after the principal visits Zambia. 

The hospital can give its own nurses extra compensation for the disruption of quarantine, as well it should (as part of a probable legal settlement).  The military has already factored hazard into its pay.  But who pays for the lost wages of “ordinary people” for the capriciousness of health department and CDC behavior?  What about businesses that might never recover from a shutdown?   I’m “retired” but I can certainly envision ways of being affected.  And I don’t have the social connections to get “family and friends” (or “fundme” sites on Facebook) to make up for the negligence of others, most of all government.   So much for my perfect-world justice. 

Picture: Japanese chess, or shogi.  

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

More intelligence on random Windows 8.1 freezes


I found a couple more useful forum tips on random Windows 8.1 freezes on some machines.
  
Tom’s Hardware has this link where a user documents what sometimes happens for me – the machine always comes back normally when hitting the power button twice and remembers where it was.  
  
Before freezing, the mouse moves normally but the computer progressively fails to respond to most programs – often starting with caching a simple web browse request. 
  
Linus Tech tips has a forum where a user says that problems come from Windows 8 drivers in a Windows 8.1 environment, link here

There are reports of problems with the runtimebroker (KB2895291) and another KB2883200.    

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Some more clues as to why my Toshiba Satellite could have failed going to Windows 8.1


I have my replacement Toshiba Satellite Radius, which Best Buy provided under extended service contract after Toshiba could not replace the motherboard on my previous model.
  
This laptop is slightly smaller and lighter, and does not have a DVD drive on it’s own, and does not have Ethernet.  If you want those, you use an external DVD drive with USB, and you can get an Ethernet port with USB adapter for about $12 online. A few hotels have Ethernet instead of wireless (still) so it’s a good idea to pack the adapter.
  
I’ve noticed an anomaly in the Windows 8.1 bootup.  The Toshiba innovation welcome screen normally spins a few seconds, the screen goes black, and then a blue “please wait” screen comes up, and then your logon comes up.  It’s pretty fast.  Once in a while the innovation screen stops, but the process still continues normally if left alone.  But on a couple of occasions the innovation screen did not come up at all, but the notification icon for Internet access appeared by itself on a black screen.  

The bootup would not continue until I touched the laptop touchpad, when it would then come up.

This is notable.  When my original satellite failed in August, the Innovation screen had stalled, then gone blank, and usually the Internet notification icon appeared.  But the process did not go further.  But my trackpad had long been acting up, as I was using Logitech wireless.  Maybe if the trackpad had been working I could have booted up and never taken the machine in.  There never was a clear explanation as to the damage, except that maybe the fan had failed and the machine had gotten too hot during the Windows 8 to 8.1 conversion (three hour).
  
It may be important to take good care of a trackpad, particularly Toshiba, and not work on it with fingers made greasy, as from food.
 

The HP Envy has failed twice this week since it came back from Best Buy. Once when playing a Netflix film, it threw a false Hard Drive error.  Upon restart, the computer resumed at almost the exact spot on the video and resumed playing it.  The other time was just a random freeze, and it resumed normal operation upon restarting with the power button (takes very little time).   This seems to be an issue with Windows 8.1 talking to HP firmware and it isn’t solved yet.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More on creating HP recovery media; bizarre Microsoft XSL bug affects some Blogger posts originally written in Word with certain video embeds, and how to get around it


Just to follow up on a couple of items:  I took my HP Envy computer into Geek Squad at Best Buy, and GS was able to create the Recovery Media on a USB disk.  But it seemed to bypass HP’s own script, which still warns me that I haven’t created the media, but that won’t ungray a critical panel when I try to do it.  I tried everything (CD’s, USB) and did turn off Internet access as directed.

In another matter, I sometimes find in Blogger that I misspell an item in the post title.  Usually, I can revert to draft, correct the spelling, and republish, and Google searches will find it.  Today, I had a more complicated situation.  I had deleted the posting entirely and reposted it, still had a problem, reverted it, and then republished.  The Blogger software inserted a “_28” at the end of the URL for the post name, because it doesn’t seem to know the other one no longer exists.   But a search finds the URL, which when you go to it, says the post is not there.

If you find this happening with any blog on Blogger, by anyone, try inserting “_28” before the “.html” and you may find the post you were looking for, if the blogger encountered this problem.  I can’t be the only one.

My original problem occurred when I posted a Word 2013 document into the “new post”.  I know, some bloggers advise against using Word.  Usually it is OK, except that Blogger always inserts an extra blank line before the last paragraph, which then has to be removed manually.  Sometimes it changes the font on the last paragraph, but you can avoid this by coding a dummy one-word paragraph after it and then deleting that word. 

But today, I inserted an Embed from NBC’s SNL show (this happened on the TV blog).  This works OK with YouTube, but NBC adds an extra script to white out the background.  Unfortunately, if you put this into a Word 2013 document, the XSL or Macro code in Word misinterprets it and corrupts the background for the rest of the document.  It's interesting that Blogger didn't throw a "dismiss" error for this problem.  


Wordpress advises completely against copying from Word and essentially stopped supporting it with Wordpress 3.9.1.   I prefer to work offline first.  I think that Microsoft should provide a “Blogger mode” that disables many of its Macros and XSL coding (those ridiculous “span” subcommands that get corrupted easily) and that works with both Blogger and Wordpress (and Tumblr).  Then these problems would go away.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

HP Envy has odd TLS "error 70" crashes; more on WLAN; more on recovery partitions for Windows 8.1


Two items:  The recurring instability of my HP ENVY all-in-one seems to be related to this curious message on the Event Log: “A fatal alert was generated and sent to the remote endpoint.  This may result in termination of the connection. The TLS protocol defined fatal error code is 70.  The Windows SChannel error state is 105”, event type 36888.
  
This error seems to occur in the “Transport Layer”, as explained here on msdn.  Microsoft forums have this info, and Arstechnica has a similar reference.
   
The way it happens is that HP suddenly says it needs to restart the system after encountering a problem.  As it “gather information” SmartDrive throws a hard disk error.  But if you turn it off on the power button, wait thirty seconds, and turn it back on, the machine quickly comes back to where it was with all browser sessions intact and responding (although Word or Office has to recover whatever was open). 
   
The machine still sometimes stops responding suddenly, and restarts quickly with the power button, and then does not fail again until shut down for a long time.  There is a warning in the event log that the “ WLAN extensibility module has stopped”. But Internet access continues OK.  
    
These problems may be connected to the Microsoft prncacln.inf driver. 
 

As for the Toshiba Satellite, Best Buy and Geek Squad replaced it with a Radius Satellite for the same price under extended contract, after Toshiba could not find a motherboard (maybe because of overseas problems).  This lighter machine does not have an Ethernet port (you buy a USB-one) or CD drive (external).  Curiously it also doesn’t have a separate drive letter for a recovery partition (discussion).
    
It is apparently common for manufacturers not to create their own recovery disks, and expect users (or retails stores) to do this. 

Update: Oct. 9, 2014

Another false hard drive warning from Smartdrive (while sleeping) was preceded by this message on the Event Viewer (no info at Microsoft): "The server {BF6C1E47-86EC-4194-9CE5-13C15DCB2001} did not register with DCOM within the required timeout". 

Monday, September 15, 2014

HP's ragged customer service: 3 phone numbers, apparently no recovery disks are pre-cut now


I looked around for over an hour today about the factory restore disc for my HP Envy All-in-One 23-o014 and got this page when putting in the product code, here.  That took me to this page about a recovery disk   There doesn’t seem to be any intervening page to purchase a factory recovery disk.  I tried three phone numbers and got put on hold (one of them just wanted to offer a Disney Orlando vacation).  The vacation offer number had been given to me by an HP agent in a chat room.  

The second page makes me wonder:  Is it a factory disk that is needed, or a disk with a backup from a later restore point with most recent windows backups, on the “D” drive anyway.  
  
If someone has to get the system restarted, do they use the restore disk to find a specific “dll” module?  That’s what a Geek Squad tech did in December 2008 when he visited the house (and this person, raised in Minnesota himself before coming to DC, knew his stuff).  Is that what happens now?  Would a later system restore be more appropriate?

Dell always included a system restore CD, and I think another CD with a library of modules.  I don't understand why it is such an issue for HP to burn the appropriate CD's for each specific computer in stock.  That sounds like better customer service and creates less confusion. 

I think the complexity and murky customer service is a workplace problem at HP: hiring short term contractors, not having people committed to putting out consistent documentation.  I saw enough of these kinds of workplace issues in my own career (especially with "CABCO" in Dallas in the eaarly 80s) and I can see how they arise.  
    
There are some restore disks for sale on Ebay for HP Windows 8 64 bit (inexpensive).  If all you need is a source of replacement dll’s, is this good enough? 

I have tried the USB create and I still get a “grayed out” link and can’t proceed.  It doesn’t make sense that the USB can’t be too big or be Windows 8 compatible. 
  
Customer service is not what it was ten years ago anywhere.

I will have to visit Best Buy about this issue in the near future.   

Friday, September 12, 2014

The 2014 customer service season continues to produce losses, interfering with productivity


My customer service boondoggle continues. 
  
My Toshiba Satellite has been at the Geek Squad repair center in Louisville, KY for about a month, and at least four parts have been ordered.  It seems that it is taking a long time to get a motherboard from Toshiba for a computer that is only 16 months old.  The unit apparently overheated during the conversion from Windows 8.0 to 8.1 in early August.  The 3-hour process completed, and the computer restarted, was slow but gradually improved.  But then I turned it off.  When I turned it back on, it never would get past the Toshiba innovations screen.  It seems that it overheated during the process. 
  
My Macbook from 2011 works all right still, on 10.6.8.  The problem is, that’s a 2008 operating system and vendors are stopping supporting it.  To renew the Norton Anti-Virus, I have to get a “renewal code” from Norton, which seems like a complicated process.  I had trouble with the Norton website jumping to wrong links, which may have been related to my not seeing the email to confirm my registration.  The Apple store told me that it no longer supports hardware that is old, and sends people to third-party vendors. The current operating system seems to be 10.9. 
  
The new HP Envy is very fast, but often after a cold boot the machine stops responding randomly.  A press of the power button (off, and then back on after waiting one minute) seems to restart it quickly and the machine picks up where it left off, with all sessions open.  Once in a while, HP says it needs to restart and then Smartdrive throws a hard disc error.  But that goes away with pressing the power button to restart.  I’ve run Microsoft’s scannow and that fixed a few problems, but it couldn’t fix the module “prncacla.inf”. 

HP also signals that it wants me to make a recovery disk.  I did order the blank DVD’s.  It never would work with a USB as advertised (the flash drive must not be Windows 8 compatible, which makes no sense).  But what good is a disk that wipes out the drive back to the factory state, including all of Microsoft’s updates and maybe service pack.  Why can’t HP provide the disc?.  Dell used to do this.

Bluehost keeps pestering me to load Wordpress 4.0.   After some outages with 3.9.1 a couple weeks ago, do I know that it is stable?
   
I have a lot of work to do to become “competitive”.  I don’t have time to Beta-test new software releases or not get customer service that is paid for, or deal with contradictory information in discussion forums.  Why don’t vendors write more details on the problems and fixes? 

Does someone really understand Windows 8.1?  Is it buggy for everyone, still?   

Thursday, September 04, 2014

HP seems sloppy in notifications on firmware update progress; illogical requirements for recovery disk; "Prncacla.inf" errors continue


The saga of my new HP ENVY continues. 

HP Support Center keeps prompting me to create a factory recovery disk.  Why doesn’t HP supply one with the computer? 
  
It says that it can be created on a USB flash drive, but the capacity must be exactly 32G, and it must NOT be Windows 8 compatible (source). 

Where would you buy such a device?

And you can order a suitable blank DVD from them to burn the recovery disk, for $17 including shipping.

A recovery disk doesn’t help too much, unless it can go back to the most recent recovery point for Windows and, of course, get your data back quickly from a Seagate or Cloud backup.
   

I did switch to a Broadcom Bluetooth for the wireless keyboard and mouse.  I did the firmware update, and curiously the status page never tells you it has completed the installation, but apparently it did. This Bluetooth has its own little status light.  
   
Once in a while, the machine stops responding.  It always restarts by pushing the power button, taking only a little more time than a normal Windows 8.1 start.  It keeps all browser sessions open, where they were.  For the first time today, it failed a second time after one restart, but only after Adobe had updated Shockwave.  Various sessions said that Shockwave had failed, and the computer gradually stopped responding, until the power button was pushed again. 

Once in a great while, HP says it wants to restart the computer because of a problem, and then gets a false hard drive error.  It always restarts quickly then by pressing the power button, and remembers where it was, to the point of resuming a video in the right place. 
  

The only common denominator I find in these crashes is the module prncacla.inf.  Does somebody understand this problem in Windows 8.1? 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Dice says severe mainframe programmer shortage is building, as people retire of take other careers; banks, social security, insurers could have a hard time


Dice offered a major piece on the growing shortage of mainframe talent back in 2012.  Further it says that many executives are not aware how quickly the problem is growing, as mainframe programmers retire.  Some did not return after layoffs that followed Y2K and 9/11 over a decade ago.  The Dice link is here. It's pretty obvious that the complexity of Obamacare will add to demand. In fact, health care is turning into the new "Y2K' of the job market.  

There has been a proliferation of “work from home” mainframe jobs  There are numerous sites with these jobs; one of the best appears to be “Job Is Job”, here

What I’m not sure of is if these jobs are 100% at home, and who bears the cost of the Internet connection and of maintaining the software and hardware on home PC’s (surely Windows or Linux based) an keeping it stable – and particularly secure, when there is sometimes the possibility of seeing consumer personal information.  

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Is Linked In different from other social media? Why I can't brag about my own "career" on it


Erin Carson has a nice little video on Tech Republic, “4 Steps to a Better Linked In Profile”, link here.    The ideas are pretty simple:  get a custom name for your profile, make detailed posts, add projects, and most of all, get recommendations from others.
  
I have sometimes gotten requests to comport with the latter in the past.  And given the track my life in “retirement” has taken in recent years, I find it clumsy to remember how to use.
   
One of the problems is selling your expertise.  I have the impression, in retrospect, that I was “behind the 8 ball” for much of my career.   I made the switch from defense and site support to commercial applications after having worked for 4-1/2 years.  Then I had to make a switch from Univac to IBM.  I took a hit with a failed Medicare project when I moved to Dallas, and wound up working on credit applications with less standard software.  When I came back to DC in the 90s, I got back to a more standard environment (like with IDMS) but did projects that, however I could tout them, don’t sound very impressive by today’s standards.   I moved to Minneapolis in 1997, but tried to make the change out of mainframe to “client server” in 2000 and that turned out to be much more ephemeral than I had thought.  Then the big career cardiac arrest came after 9/11, in December 2001.  That was indeed not the year for a Space Odyssey. Remember, the last movement of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony is called "A Career".  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

More on the Windows 8.1 fast boot and "hybrid reboot"


The latest news in the saga of my burn-in with the HP Envy All-in-one is that I still get some freezes after a cold boot. 
  
What I’ve noticed is that when I power it off, and power it right back on, the “reboot” is still pretty quick, and the work session is as it was before the crash.  That’s because in 8.1, as long as there is power to the machine (it doesn’t have a battery but I do have it plugged in to a UPS) the firmware stays active, so the computer is in a kind of hibernation or “rem sleep”.   I don’t seem to get crashes or freezes after the second boot.  Tech Republic explains this here. The symptoms suggest that the cold boot doesn’t start everything the computer needs, and that second boot finishes bringing up everything. Maybe that’s a startup menu or registry issue. 
  
In a previous post, I just added HP’s own instructions for self-check and repair of the hard drive, which seems to take place at a deeper level than Microsoft’s “scannow”, available to an administrator at the command prompt.  I haven’t tried the HP protocol yet, but right now the problems appear to be more software and firmware, despite the fact that the machine throws a “hard disk error” if it tries to reboot itself after a freeze.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Women's pay seems to lag in the "interim job market"


The heavy occurrence of part-time jobs in working women who have children is keeping their earnings, even at an hourly rate, less than that of men, and with a much greater disparity than in professions, according to a study by Claudia Goldin, as reported in the New York Times Wednesday Aug, 20 by Claire Cain Miller in a column called “The Upshot”, link.  Companies pay less per hour to cover overhead for employees not there all the time.  Women in service jobs are less likely to return to work quickly after pregnancy and are less likely to have household help with husbands.
  
I really didn’t encounter this observation in my own years in the “interim job market” after my own “first career” ended in 2001. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Windows 8.1 on HP, corruption of prncacla.inf, and hash mismatch


I followed the instructions on the post two days ago and ran "sfc /scannow" as administrator.

It took about 20 minutes.

Then I browsed C:\windows\logs\CBS\CBS.log.  It looked like it repaired all errors but one with prncacla.inf, at the very end.  The message says some corrupted files might not be repaired.  This may relate to printer drivers.

Windows 8.1 on the C drive with Properties and Tools tells me that it find no errors on the drive now.

I will have to look into this.

One reference from SYSNATIVE is here. Another, from Microsoft, on hash mishmash, is here.

This is a developing issue.  I will post more as I learn more.
Please comment if you know anything.  Comments are moderated.

Update: Aug. 26.  

There are sporadic symptoms:  a hang, or a forced restart with a hard drive error

HP's support instructions now seem to be this and this

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Coders" will be "Gone baby gone" from the job market by age 40; app developers have to work with kids


Young adult candidates for programming jobs face “code on command” at job interviews and may face limited careers, over by 40, according to this article in Bloomberg, by Norman Matloff.   Coding jobs may  pay better than most others for those in their 20s, but after 40 it will be hard to move on without specializing in something hot or learning how to sell, this article suggests.  Employers will want more (cheaper) twenty-somethings. 

My own mainframe career lasted until age 58 (at the end of 2001), although in in retrospect it seems it took me much longer to mature than it should have.   The last two years I was in customer support “fixing bugs” in something I had not developed.  

In another area, the NBC show Today show on Monday morning demonstrated how app developers work with small children to test apps.  Even quasi-parenting is suddenly a desired skill. 

Also, Tech Republic has a story by Erin Carson "The tech resume may not be dead yet, but its pulse is fading", link here.  Now the trend is "social media intelligence" or "social listening", and for some jobs, to see what code people have created in open source.  Somehow this reminds me both of "remote viewing" and of the "forward observer" idea in Army artillery.  There's a new job-matching site called "Loose Monkies" here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

HP Firmware updates care that you use the right Bluetooth driver


Early Sunday morning the HP Support Center, for my HP Envy, immediately advised me it wanted to do firmware updates.  It did several, and took about 15 minutes.  The "install" portion remained "x" while the download portion had green checks. After a restart, which follows the pattern of Windows updates, the Support Center was still advising that it had not done the Broadcom 20702 Bluetooth update.

That seems to be because I have an Insignia bluetooth for the wireless keyboard, because I couldn't find the Bluetooth in the box.

I got one more hang this morning, on Amazon.com, looking for the device!    Maybe that is related.  It seems to happen when going to a complicated web page and then taking the hand off the mouse for a while.  The mouse will move, but the computer doesn't respond. even to tapping the Windows sign on the lower left corner of the screen.

Update: Aug. 19

Geek Squad says that the firmware update is unnecessary if a different Bluetooth works.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

More issues with HP ENVY stability during burn-in


A little more experience with the HP Envy.  It is very fast.  But I had a second forced hard drive error Thursday from SMART.  So far, it seems to happen only after a Microsoft update if I let the computer go to sleep before shutting down normally and doing a cold restart.  So this may be firmware.

I also had the second PC freeze.  I had just booted up normally.  Maybe I didn't wait very long, until going to my own site in Chrome.  It seemed to freeze after a shockwave YouTube embed had loaded.  I tried tapping the windows symbol on the tablet screen, and it was frozen.  So I had to turn it off and wait two minutes.  Boot up was OK, slightly slower than usual.  Action Center tells me in Reliability that Windows was not shut down normally.

So I worked a while, OK, then turned it off normally, waited two minutes, and turned it back on.  (The HP power button won't work for about two minutes).  So far, so good.  It boots very fast, but it seems to be a minute or so before the circle stops spinning.  I took a little more time.

I'll leave this link (for my own future reference) for how you check an HP harddrive for errors or any corruption and fix it.  The link from an HP discussion forum is here. There are details here as to how to look for corrupted sectors and fix them, while running as administrator.  Guess I'll print it out.  Or look at it on the iPad.

Update: Aug, 19

Microsoft has a KB on this kind of problem, which seems to be fairly common, link(about a "clean boot") here.

Later Aug 19:  Windows signed on once with a temporary profile.  A hard reboot fixed it.  But here is what Microsoft says about it.  My experience with 8.1 so far is that seems a little unstable.  More bugs to fix.

Got a crash while in Google account.  HP said it needed to restart, but got a hard drive error


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Burn-in report on Hewlitt-Packard HP Envy All-in-one


In one day of use of the HP ENVY All-in-One, here is what has happened:

Carbonite was installed, and did the complete 34G backup in about 18 hours.  It really did speed up when the system wasn't in use.  The backup was complicated by the fact that the Geek Squad backup actually has a second copy of everything under :Desktop".

Windows 8 froze once,  This happened in Google Chrome when browsing a complicated page on cnn.com.  Chrome was trying to locate a particular ad file (I might have passed the cursor over).  I had to turn off the machine and cold boot.  It took a little longer than usual but then everything worked.  Windows 8 does not warn you that it was not properly closed down.

Overnight, Windows applied a huge number of 8.1 updates to the new computer.  The Restart process, with all the configuration steps, took about 20 minutes but worked OK.

A while ago, the HP gave a blue screen with a hard drive error.  No f-keys worked.  I simply turned the machine off and on, and the machine booted normally, although it took slightly longer than usual.  Then I closed Windows normally, turned the machine off, and then rebooted and it was very fast. The error may have occurred as the computer was going to sleep when I was away from it to make lunch.

I went into the HP Support Assistant and signed up for all the crash reports and automatic notifications of firmware downloads

HP has a writeup on hard-drive errors, here.  There is a firmware system called SMART which warns of hard drive failures.  The writeup admits that "false positive" errors can occur.  It recommends defragging the hard drive frequently, which Microsoft Action Center in Windows 8 is supposed to do.  The Action Center did not show the failure in its Reliability Report.

Update: Aug 14

The Hard Drive Error occurred tonight, after I had let the machine go to sleep after a successful Windows update, which was massive.  The machine started OK when turned off and on.  I found some of the updates had failed.  I redid them, and they worked.  Then I closed the machine normally.  I cold started it normally.  It seems that I don't have a problem if I do a cold normal start shortly after finishing an update.  HP has a firmware update scheduled Aug 17.  This sounds more like firmware than hardware per se.  Will take a picture if it happens again.  May ask Geek Squad in a phone call tomorrow,  Best link seems to be this.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A "final solution" for my Windows 8.1 upgrade problem -- cheat

tp 

Well, to keep things moving, I had to get a more modern computer again. the HP ENVY-All-in-one, Windows 8.1.  There is a wide screen, a stand, with wireless keyboard and mouse, and standalone DVD player.  There are four USB ports.  It's possible to get it with wired keyboard and mouse.

Now, new Microsoft Office licenses come with Office 365.  The Personal version is "rented" for $69 a year with a license for 1 PC/Mac and one Tablet.  It offers all the usual products (Access must be downloaded separately), link here.


This unit does not have its own battery.  So I bought a CyberPower for $64.99.  It takes 8 hours to store a supply of energy.  But I found that the Brothers Laser Printer would not run on it;  it would shut the power supply off immediately (it will run through the surge protection side only). That caused the HP to get shut off. Bootup was a little slower than usual, and it doesn't tell you that Windows did not shut down normally.  The power button must be pressed on the right side of the lever.

The Toshiba Satellite has been sent out to Toshiba in Kentucky.  Geek Squad says that the mother board failed completely (as had the fan and touchpad).  Why this would happen on the first cold boot after a successful restart in 8.1 remains a mystery.


Update: Sept. 6

The GeekSquad report sheet indicates that up to four parts have been ordered.  It seems that the unit overheated during the Windows 8.1 update.  After being allowed to cool a few minutes after shutdown, it cracked.  I think the fan, touchpad, thermostat were replaced first, and now the complete mother board.  This sounds like a Toshiba large laptop engineering design problem, not able to take the stress of a prolonged service update from Microsoft.  I suppose the same thing could happen with a major service pack.



Thursday, August 07, 2014

Going from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 -- slow!


I did install Windows 8.1 on my Toshiba Satellite computer this evening. 

The process starts by going to the Windows Store and clicking on the visible icon to install it.

It did not give someone the option of waiting to install later.  The download took about 30 minutes on a typical Comcast XFinity high speed connection.  It then prompted me to Restart.  It did not give me a choice on the matter (to wait up to two days).

The Restart went through many separate phases, each with a scale of 0-100% done.

There was a separate phase for devices, and another one for miscellaneous stuff.

It finally made me log on to my Microsoft account and sent me a 2-step verification code (which can be on a smart phone or on another computer by email). 

It hung in an “almost ready” mode for a long time before finally coming up.

The computer was very slow for a while.  It took about 20 minutes for sound to work.  Shockwave didn’t work for about 10 minutes, so YouTube and most videos did not. 

Windows Explorer was tricky.  Cameras took a long time to be recognized even after the drivers had reloaded.  Finally, if you clicked on a message that popped up, the device would show up in Windows Explorer.

Windows Explorer was slow to copy files.

The original Microsoft Word templates seem to be missing. 
  
We’ll see what happens with the first restart.  

Update: Later.

I tried a cold boot.

Well, it's a NoGo.  The Toshiba banner comes up, and the screen goes blank,  The little circle spins, and curiously the Internet access bars appear at the lower left, and nothing else

I will have to take this to BestBuy and Geek Squad immediately tomorrow morning to resolve.  I seems to have something to do with fast boot.  I hope this is something simple.


Update: Aug. 9

Geek Squad says the mother board died and the computer has to be sent to Toshiba in Kentucky.  Why would an update fry the motheboard?

There had been a couple other problems -- the trackpad had gotten jerky, and the fan was seen to be failing.  It might have overheated during the update process.