Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vox Media seeks developers of news apps

I’ve mentioned job openings at Vox Media in Washington DC before (Feb. 26), but I thought I would pass along a post today for “Data /visual / news apps reports”, link here. The site encourages application with LinkedIn.  The company tweeted ("@voxdotcom") some job openings today. 

You can read the discussion of what a “news app” is here.  The skills required would include html, MySQL, CSS, Ruby, XML (no mention of XSL), and MySQL.

It strikes me off hand that this sounds a bit like am “Opposing Viewpoints” project I envisioned a few years ago, to be out on Microsoft Access and then SQL Server, or alternatively MySQL.  I describe this on the “Bill Boushka” blog on Feb. 29, 2012. 
  
From 2002 until 2006, I had played with a “javastarter” site which I folded when the hosting company collapsed.  This site would have housed a lot of the “opposing viewpoints” logic.  I do have a private version of it with Microsoft Access, and a piece of it is implemented on a Unix site with MySQL and relatively few entries.

I will go back and look at the technical details of this little site, which I set up in late 2006 when the javastarter had failed.

There is also an “Opposing Viewpoints” book series from Michigan, in which I have an essay published, discussion on the Book Review blog, Sept. 19, 2006.

I am rather intrigued by the concepts that Vox is proposing, and expect I will contact the people (a couple of whom I know) in the reasonably near future.  But I have some more of my own homework to get done right now, one major piece of which is to go through and evaluate all of my fiction writing dating back to 1969, because some of it is, I think, actually commercially promising, and I do want to publish some more fiction.  So, in my situation (retired at 70) I need to stay on this until this analysis (or “content evaluation” phase, to borrow a euphemism form Xlibris) is done.
    
I do think that “understanding the news” has a lot to do with “connecting the dots” and seeing how “your” issues have to be view in the context of related issues as they can affect “others”.   Libertarianism has tried reduce policy to very elementary ideas about personal responsibility, but in a real world, our interdependence on the sacrifices of others produces moral questions that, for any one of us, present very definite horizons.  We are all literally at the center of our own universes.  The modern nature of space-time predicts this.    

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Appliance retailer doesn't bother to put in modern information systems to support customer service

About a month ago, I came home and noticed an odd buzzing sound in the home.  It came from the refrigerator, GE, only seven years old.  It would come on and off intermittently.
  
I eventually tracked down the support number in Rockville, MD for Bray and Scarff.  It was about a week before a technician could come out.  He did say that it was a lose blade in the freezing compartment fan.  A part had to be ordered.  Should take 3-5 business days.
  
But then the company calls the following week and has to get my credit card number and doesn’t even order the part until it has the estimate.  No complaint about having to pay for the part then, but why didn’t the technician simply look up the part number and price on his phone to a database and collect the money during the visit?
  
Then I call a few days later and find that the Target Visa was declined.  They hadn’t called back.  I wonder if that is because it’s Target.  I use the card at a Target store, and it works.  OK, maybe I gave the number wrong, but why didn’t they verify it when I was on the phone.  All major customer service centers can do that now.  Now I find it won’t be here until the middle of next week.
  
What is so hard about supplying customer service?  Does the part come from China?  If it comes from an ordinary US location in the South or Midwest, it ought to arrive in two or three days at the most with normal UPS-style shipping, even on the ground.  

No complaint that something is out of warranty or wore out faster than usual.   Life happens.  But why can’t a major company provide modern customer service with modern inventory control for parts?  Autos do this all the time.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Chrome browser gets stuck on everything (not responding) in a Windows 7 environment; why?

Sunday afternoon, I started my Dell Windows 7 XPS Machine, after it had been turned off for about a day while I went to various events.  This time Google Chrome became unresponsive and could not get past New Tab.  Chrome normally shows a page of the most  frequently visited sites or used apps on the first tab.  Other browsers worked. 
  
I checked and found a lot of people have complained about this recently, after some recent updates in Chrome and recent Microsoft updates. 

Microsoft provides this page on the problem, and suggests Malware or other corrupt programs could cause the problem, link.  

Other sources suggest that Chrome can get stuck if the history buffers are too full and didn’t age out. Two links with some details are on Justanswer (here) and Karhost (here). 

I could not get anything from the Chrome menus to work. As Chrome uninstall instructions suggest,   I had to go into the Windows 7 control panel, look for programs, uninstall and delete all history, change default browser, restart the machine, then go into Firefox and re-download and re-install a fresh copy of Chrome.  Then it all worked.
    
Webroot is not showing any malware, but I’ll look further. 

On Windows 8, sometimes Chrome seems to get stuck while loading.  It unsticks if I open another browser (Firefox).  I find that in Windows 8, the best practice is to close Chrome completely before shutting down or restarting the machine for any reason, and to wait at least two minutes after restart before using it (for all startup items to get going and for the Action Center to cycle on).  

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Complexity of IRS reporting and processing, and antiquated systems, likely to lead to more old mainframe IT jobs

Entering my taxes into HRBlock this year, I can see a need for more systems development.
  
For the first time (partly because of a grantor trust), I have a lot of activity in securities sales, as reported on brokerage account 1099’s in the “1099-B” section. The statements don’t show the total long-term and short term capital gains and losses that eventually go onto Schedule D on the front page; you have to dig them out of the statement.  It’s not clear if you have to enter every security, or just the totals in each category.  Furthermore, with older securities the brokerage account may not even know the basis.  Fortunately, Yahoo! Finance has a database online to look up historical stock prices by date in the past.  But this means a lot more work. 
  
The 1099-DIV form states a capital gain distribution, which is also reported on a different line on Schedule D.  That’s a different concept from capital gains from a sale of security.  That is a distribution internal to a mutual fund that is itself a security in a brokerage account. The IRS ought to show both concepts clearly in the main 1040 page itself. 
    
The danger is that a na├»ve taxpayer (perhaps some with new accounts after receiving proceeds from an estate after a death in the family) may not realize everything he or she is expected to report, and get penalized later. 

  
The IRS should insist that Brokerage account 1099’s be clearer, with all the required information summarized on the front page, along with a clear explanation of where it is supposed to wind up on the 1040.  This would require a lot more systems development in companies that sell tax preparation software. That would require more business analyst and mainframe-emphasis jobs.

System changes could require that 1099's point out where any rogue information about securities sold without known basis numbers are reported.  Coding the page on which this appears with traditional Cobol logic can be tricky; I seem to recall running into something like this with commission statements when working in the life insurance industry in the 1990s.  
    
Back in the 1980s. when I did some job hunting in Dallas (before I wound up at Chilton) I found that a lot of the tax preparation software development seemed to be going on there.  I suspect that’s where the actions still is. 
   
I do see emails about jobs with contractors working for the IRS, often in northern Virginia.  It seems like they still look for mainframe assembler programmers.  It seems, judging from various recruiter emails,  as though the IRS has a lot of old systems and is having increasing difficulty finding people able to maintain them. 

Second picture is Dallas DART just south of I-635 and the Galleria area;  third is taken south of downtown Austin.  Is this where the jobs are? 

Monday, March 03, 2014

Brokerage systems have trouble keeping track of old certificates properly, especially after splits or mergers (even reverse splits) ; a security issue?


Here’s a little issue.  In processing my own mother’s estate, there have been issues with at least two company’s securities.  One company, a bank, did a reverse split after the 2008 crisis.  Another had done mergers and then splits back in the 1990s.
   
What has happened is that old stock certificates appear in Mother’s safe deposit box.  We turn them in through channels.  The companies are unable to determine reliably if these are duplicates or reissued certificates.  In a couple of cases, accounts have been shown on my books in more than one place, overstating the value of the estate.
   
This does sound like an old fashioned mainframe IT problem.  Presumably, a public company would be able to look up an account or certificate number (these are separate items) with a transaction that in turn invokes an SQL statement (possibly with a correlated subquery) that returns the location of the security.  The editing rules in the computer system should allow a certificate to be found in only one location.  If a submitted certificate, as found in an estate’s safety deposit box, is a duplicate, it should be rejected, and the certificate “confiscated”.  Executors of estates are not in a position to know how a certificate was handled years in the past and whether it could be a duplicate. 
   
It would be desirable if portfolio listings on investment accounts show users the certificate and full account numbers online. 
   
Problems with the technical integrity of the certificate systems (even on the legacy mainframe side) could invite fraud and hacking.  This could potentially have ramifications for the entire financial system, deserving the attention of the Secret Service.   

Update:  I've been told that brokerages have no access to the location of shares at other brokerages.  But the subject companies should know!