Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For veteran mainframe programmers, some skills are easier to upgrade than others; why?


I’m still seeing recruiters advertise for mainframe (COBOL, CICS, CA DB2) positions with state governments, but where strong object oriented language skills (java server pages, Visual Basic. ASP, SQL Server) is also needed for GUI or mid-tier programming.

There’s one oddity in my own past learning curve.  Back in the 1980s, it was easy for me to pickup mainframe IBM assembler programming working on the Chilton (Dallas) monthly billing system.  That included heavy register usage and “coding out of addressability”.  But in the late 1990s, early 2000’s, OOP (java, or Powerbuilder environments) were very hard to learn when I had to step into someone else’s work in maintenance mode

Monday, December 28, 2015

New York Times discusses life at startups, recalling my own adventures in 1988-89


Sunday, the New York Times offered two stories about “That’s life at a Startup”.

Katie Benner discussed mobile company Good Technology and its sale to Blackberry, and the way that could hurt employees who held mostly common instead of preferred shares.

But a parallel article by David Streitfeld  talked about the typical startup policies for employees at Jet, a sort-of competitor for Amazon (itself known for “brutality”). There was talk of the free lunches, and paid parental leave, but no-negotiation on pay, in a company headquartered on the Path Line in Hoboken NJ.

That’s a long way from the little company that I started at in 1988 in Washington, the Consolidated Consulting Group, an offshoot of Virginia Blue Cross/Blue Shield, that would sell reports and consulting services to health care providers.  It was the smallest employer I ever had (16 people when I started, although CABCO in Dallas in 1979, also founded by the Blues, was small then) and was sold in a somewhat friendly acquisition to Lewin-ICF in 1989. Since I left (in early 1990), the Lewin Group has become quite prominent in health care consulting. Maybe I contributed something crucial in mainframe values in the early days.  CCG had been affiliated with The Computer Company in Richmond (near Staples Mill Road and Broad St.), and I don’t know what TCC finally merged with or became.  If someone knows, please comment.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Whistleblower wins lawsuit, starts collecting judgment after exposing inadequately processed security clearances


The Washington Post has a major story on a whistleblower’s winning a lawsuit against a background-investigation company that had employed him and then fired him. That company is USIS, and apparently in Pennsylvania, Blake Percival had discovered that BI’s were being glossed over to meet revenue goals.  The story by Chris Davenport in the Washington Post is “The whistleblower who exposed U.S.’s flawed security clearance system finally gets his reward.”
 
It isn’t immediately apparent if this was just for lower-level clearances (like Secret).  But given the recent concerns over terror, this is a very big deal.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Should employers influence associate charitable giving and volunteer time?


Workplaces often run drives for well-known established charities like United Way, and getting good participation makes employers look better, they think.  Joe Davidson of the Washington Post has a story on the Combined Federal Campaign, which has seen possibly less money donated but more time.

I can remember being pressured about the United Way donation once in the 1980s when it hadn’t been done.  Once I was pressured, in the 1990s, about blood drives in a way that was insensitive and inappropriate.

Some employers have tried to get associates to volunteer to causes that they deem expressive of the company.  This has happened with some Wall Street firms, who can be aggressive in wanting to look good in terms of "karma".

I’m retired, so this can’t affect me now, but autonomy in my own decisions about these matters is very important to me.  I think that some of the "Give Direct" operations may deserve more attention i the future.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Recent changes in metadata collection rules and urgent anti-terrorism needs could create urgent openings at the NSA


Here’s a little tip that just showed up on CNN.  Recent court opinions and Congressional action has limited the ability of the NSA (National Security Agency) to look at phone metadata for more than 2 years.

However the NSA can look at each telecommunications provider’s records separately and combine these records itself.  All the NSA needs to do is develop a system to automate this.  Guess what:  that means hiring more programmers (possibly including mainframe) and various IT development professionals. True, with extreme security clearance requirements, and it’s unclear if they would work for contractors (as Edward Snowden had) or for the NSA itself, right there halfway between Washington and Baltimore near the Parkway.  Prudence could mean hiring more of the people as direct employees.

It should mean more poly SCI clearance jobs, especially in Maryland, a little closer to Baltimore and Annapolis than DC.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

My recent misadventure with AOL


A very odd problem happened on AOL last night.  My inbox reached 100,000 (partly because I don’t have time to open all the semi-spam from legitimate companies and organizations pleading for money), and suddenly emptied itself out.  About twenty minutes later, the emails showed up in the Sent folder, although I can no longer easily see the “sender” and search for it.

However, I thought I had lost the inbox completely.  I needed to save the stubs for the email addresses that I often send to.  I can do that by opening a hypothetical email and starting to spell the email address, when AOL will fill it in.  I did these for about 30 emails, and tried to send it to myself.  Unfortunately, I did it wrong, and it sent this list to one of the recipients.  My apologies to that recipient. (I’ll call soon.)

All of this shows the indirect cost of spam to everyone.

AOL was the leading provider in the pre-dot-com-bubble mid 90s (besides the rather clownish Prodigy).  It was one of northern Virginia’s largest tech employers, when Steve Case ran it.  It also cost a lot more, depending on time logged on, until it went to flat rate pricing.  One day, in 1996, it was down for 24 hours, putting out a lot of people (including me).  It started replacing its own content with regular web protocols (html) around 1997.  But I still used it, in dialup at 56K, as a main way to get on until about 2003.  It offered FTP as part of the account.  It started Hometown AOL (not allowing multiple text files as a pseudo-website until October 1996), but ended it in 2007, allowing Hometown accounts to be moved free to Blogger.  It rather fell into the midst behind the more glamorous social networking sites and, of course, Google.

Gmail is better, but I started AOL email in 1994 (on an IBM PS1) and have so many business accounts tied to it that I stay.
  
Now, the mail is free, but the subscription includes paywall news content (expanded upon Huffington) and various services (anti-virus, Loclkife, etc.)  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What could have been my most menial job; subtle racial discrimination continues in the workplace


I found a label on the advertising supplement of the Washington Post the day after Black Friday, that reminded me of one of the most “menial” interim jobs I might have taken during my post-layoff period, delivering newspapers, from one’s own car, probably getting up at 2 AM every day.

 Thankfully, not.

Let’s turn to race in the workplace, “Race and Reality in America”, a CNN series with an article “Working while Brown: What discrimination looks like now”, link here.

I was involved tangentially in a racial discrimination case in the workplace in the mid 1990s when I took the place of someone who had been dismissed, and who later sued claiming racial discrimination.  An interesting feature of the case had been that the person claimed he had been promised a promotion, something that I, for my own reasons, would never have wanted.
 
In 1998, Deborah Watts self-published a book “101 Ways to Know Your ‘Black’ in Corporate America”, which she presented in a lunchtime forum at work at ReliaStar in the summer of 1998.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

Retail workers still can't plan personal lives, while tech gets better at family leave


Retail workers find it hard to lead personal lives, and plan travel (which usually requires non-redundable deposits and reservations in advance) because of the short-term nature of retail work schedules, as Think Progress notes in an article about Kmart on Black Friday weekend.  I note, writing this post, the protests in Chicago on Black Friday in the ritzy retail districts, on both wage issues and police profiling. "Profit out of our misery."

No doubt, not only is the opening of stores on Thanksgiving an issue, but the idea of starting work at midnight or 5 AM is something a lot of “bourgeois” people (me) would rather not have to deal with.
 
But, of course, in my own world of IT, the 24x7 nature of the job is more critical today than it was during the peak of my working years.  In mainframe shops, online access (through CICS with customer service reps by phone) tended to be available mostly in the day time.  Night was for running batch cycles.  Of course, you could be on-call.  But for much of the time this was not an issue, and you tended to get better at it as the years went by – and most systems were quite stable in production.
 
They had to be so (or you didn’t keep your job).

Today, of course, end-users as “ordinary people” are more critical, meaning that high tech companies have to keep engineers working round the clock, much as operations (and to some extent systems programmers) did in the 70s through the 90s, during my heyday.

That reality of modern computing may have one  indirect beneficial effect: making the most prosperous tech companies more generous with paid leave, including family leave, as Mark Zuckerberg’s own recent fatherhood demonstrates very publicly now.  But, this tends to help only the more highly skilled professionals.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Xfinity ships new modem-router boxes, as usual require some practice and experience to "get it right"; one little glitch with Windows 10? with Kaspersky?


I did install the new Xfinity “Internet/Voice” modem-router combination, offering 2.4 and 5 gig rates.
 
As usual, there were a few glitches in installing. The splitter end on my existing service had a longer needle than the new cords shipped, but after some difficulty I got it to screw on.

The device powered up fairly quickly.  Use the exact router name and use full password pasted on the machine (not the pin).   You have to go through "www.comcast.com/activate", which will connect even though the computer shows No Internet on the icon (and gives the name of the router pasted on the device).  I found that if I didn’t completely turn off power to the old router, the computer would keep going back to it, disrupting activation.  Also, the activation step did work when I logged on with my “Comcast.net” email username and password, but simply using the account and phone somehow didn’t work.  (The second time around you use the names and pw you created, not the one taped on the box; you don't need this with Ethernet, which almost no one has now.)  After “activation” the service prompts creation of a new name for the router and new password.  Even with a long password, it rated by strength as average.” Finally, it accepted website access.
 
Kaspersky warns me that the connection may not be secure, but Windows 10 says it is secure.
 
After installation, the first restart of a HP Envy Windows 10 crashed immediately.  I had left the printer and one camera connected.  A push-button restart worked.   The Windows event log says “user data access 84639e service not available”.  The problem has not recurred.  It may be something that fails “the first time” because of some kind of caching.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Windows 10 goes to a new "build", requiring a one-hour update


This evening, Windows 10 invited me to load the next build, as explained here.   It is called “windows 10 Home, version 1511, 10586”.

The update started with two downloads and updates (10 minutes), and then a full configuration step (to 100%), then up to three restarts, to copy files, copy drivers and features, and reconfigure the registry.  The entire process took about one full hour (HP Envy).

But I had not been aware of what upgrading to a new build means.  Kaspersky had to be restarted manually.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A short tale about customer service


About a week ago I went to a matinee movie on a weekday at an older suburban theater, one with older concession concepts.  Even with a low crowd, the attendant had trouble finishing a customer before me.  She apologized and said this was her second day on the job. Then, when I asked for a coffee, it had to be brewed.  Then she told me that the machine did not brew coffee without cream, which a coworker backed up.  I’ve never heard of a coffee machine that won’t brew without additives.  The machine looked like the kind that serves free coffee at car dealerships.
 
Yet, it would not be pleasant for me to take a minimum wage job, work under regimentation, and not stumble.  Ask Barbara Ehrenreich when she wrote “Nickel and Dimed” in 2001.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Offhand train conversation raises a question about employee background checks


‘Whenever I take Amtrak or fly, I usually overhear a lot of workplace conversations.  No, I’m not the NSA.  People just talk rather loudly.  It seems a lot of people are furiously finishing spreadsheets for meetings on the airbooks.  Some are talking about their “negotiating positions”.  It seems that this world out there is awfully competitive. 

I heard a guy talking about his background investigation, and a concern that his name isn’t on a girl friend’s lease where he was living.   
  
I thought, what might have happened from 2003 on when I came back “home” to look after mother, but my name wasn’t on any lease or title.  Maybe I could have been denied a job or a clearance.  I wondered. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Worker told to stay home without pay after admitting her apartment has bedbugs


Karla L. Miller of the Washington Post reports (in “@WorkAdvice”) that a worker in a family-owned firm (apparently in Maryland) was told to stay home unpaid after she asked for two days off to help her landlord clean her apartment of bedbugs, until she could certify that he home was free of infestation!  I’ve never heard of a workplace incident like this!  The employer was worried about downstream liability if she brought bedbugs to work in her clothes.  The employer had once paid a lot of money to rid the establishment of a prior infestation.  The link is here.

The lawyers say this was perfectly legal under employment at will.

So this sounds like “don’t ask don’t tell”.  Again, it reminds me of EDS house interviews in the 1960s.


Monday, November 02, 2015

Should employers pretend their workers are like "family"?


Does it make sense for employers to talk about treating associates as “family”, or is that just an insult to what it takes to have and raise a family?  Laura Vanderkam explores the issue in Fortune, on Oct. 30, 2015, here.  The company at issue is Barry-Wehmiller, as discussed by CEO in a book “Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family” (with Raj Sisodia, published by Portfolio).  Is this what Facebook and Google (but not Amazon) employment is like?
 
Maybe these ideas comport with those of Anne-Marie Slaughter (Sept 20 here), in her calling for a caring culture (and lots of paid family leave), and attacking the traditional “toxic workplace” in her own book “Unfinished Business” (book blog, Oct. 24).
 
That’s a little hard to see in companies obsessed with the short-term bottom line, and pressured by mergers (New York Times editorial Sunday, “How mergers damage the economy”, link here) .  The editorial reminds me of the rhetoric against hostile takeovers in the late 1980s.  In my experience, many employees actually benefitted from mergers (as I did when ReliaStar took over USLICO in the 1990s, enabling me to move away from a potential conflict of interest).  My eventual layoff from ING at the end of 2001 was partly merger related, but there is plenty of evidence  (including an HR comment I heard at the final exit interview when all of my rather ample severance and retirement was set up) I would have stayed working there longer had 9/11 not taken place.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Now you can do "house interviews" by Skype; does anybody remember EDS?


For the first time that I can recall, I got an email offering an interview by Skype, for a contract mainframe position with state government in Raleigh, NC.

I’ve done plenty of phone screenings in the past.  I don’t recall ever being asked to use Skype before.
 
That would mean the candidate needs to spruce up and dress (maybe with a coat and tie for men), and remove any distracting clutter in the room behind where his or her face would show.  The candidate would need to pay heed to lighting (including natural sunlight) and any glare issues.  Possibly a touch a makeup would be needed.

This reminds me of the practice of giving unannounced “house interviews” by EDS (then H. Ross Perot's company -- and Perot hasn't become the subject of multiple movies the way Steve Jobs has) of job candidates back in the 1960s.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Quirks in browsers, telecommunications providers can make blogs fail to load


Interesting little problem on my TV reviews blog, but it shows what happens when blogging packages generate code.  Yesterday, I embedded a video from Washington DC’s NBC affiliate, coded with javascript rather than the more common “iframe”.

Today, when I looked at the blog on Chrome or Firefox on Comcast Xfinity, the blog stopped displaying at the point of embed, while waiting on “nbcwashington.com”.   I walked outside with my iPhone, to get away from my own WiFi and pick up Verizon 4G, and found everything worked normally on Safari.  The circumstantial evidence was that Comcast could not reach the nbcwashington server (all of this seems to happen in Ashburn VA)  but Verizon could.

After returning from an errand, everything was working, as Comcast was picking up the nbc site normally.  I noticed that the nbc “embed” code did not have “div” around it (and “/div”) so I put that in manually, thinking that should stop the embed from hanging the page if the site goes down again.

But I haven’t seen this happen before.  And I don’t think this would have hung in Wordpress, just Blogger.  Somewhere in all of this, maybe there was some "unsafe code" (although C# seems to be the only language that uses this term, as I recall from a 2002 technical college course).

Occasionally, Blogger sites with embeds display the wrong embeds (back one day) when all are displayed together.  Navigating to the individual post gets the right embed.  But I haven't seen this caching problem on Wordpress.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Microsoft lets Windows 10 get in the way of normal Windows 7 and updates this week


This week, Microsoft offered its usual mid-month Wednesday morning (or Tuesday night) Windows updates, but a bit of a twist.

If you go to updates in the Control Panel in Windows 8.1 (or 8, or 7) and “check for updates”, now you get prompted to download and install Windows 10, which I have not checked a “reservation” for.  (I did have Geek Squad put in Windows 10 on my largest computer, with some issues that I have described already).  If you look closely, you can see “Show all available updates” just below, for your current operating system,  But when you check the updates individually and click OK, nothing happens. Furthermore, the "updates were installed on" doesn't show.

To get the updates to install, so that it doesn’t install with the machine logged off, when I can’t tell if it is even working, I had to go to the settings and up the time to do the automatic update to the next hour, and indeed that worked, on a Toshiba Satellite (8.1) and older Dell XPS (7).  In time, the list of installed updates would populate.  But there seems to be no way to do the updates “manually” and watch them the way I used to.

Later Wednesday I found that a Lenovo ultra-book and older Gateway with 7 worked normally, but this could because more time had elapsed since Microsoft published the updates Tuesday evening.


Friday, October 09, 2015

In the midst of debates over family leave and scheduling of hourly workers, one company demands its salaried workers "volunteer" for free weekend production work

 
I see another back-door wrinkle in the paid paternal and family leave debate.

As retail companies give up the practice of expecting hourly workers to be “on call” to come in suddenly when needed, suddenly at least one asks salaried employees to “volunteer” to work weekend shifts to prepare packages for shipment.  That’s Urban Outfitters. ABC News has the story here. Oh, yes, the company paid meals and transportation. It's supposed to be for "team building."

This certainly sounds abusive.  Will people on family leave get out of this while those without it have to work for free (as “slaves”?) 

When at NBC in the 1970s, as salaried programmer I “volunteered” for strike duty filming soaps during the 1976 NABET strike, and was paid double (about eight weeks).

Petula Dvorak weights in on DC’s “legislated humanity” with its proposed (not yet passed) generous mandatory paid leave program for Washington DC residents (see Issue blog Oct. 7) in the Washington Post.   But you have to be “part of a family”.  Everyone belongs.  (As in Martin Fowler’s book, Aug 27, 2014 on my Books blog).  But if you don’t belong somewhere, you pay for someone else who does.  Dvorak denies that this is “socialism”.  The link is here.  No, the world is not one big intentional community.
 
Second picture: This expectant tabby wants paid parental leave, right now.
  

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A few "unpredictable" glitches with loading and viewing Blogger images in Windows 10


I did run into a bizarre glitch when uploading pictures to blog posts yesterday after starting to use it with Windows 10, refreshed on my HP Envy "desktop".

The picture would import, but show on the Blogger panel as an lost connection small icon.  But when the post was browsed, the picture was oversized.  I found I could bring the picture back to normal size by adding the parameters ‘ width=”320” height = “240” ‘ to the HTML code for the picture.  Blogger resequences the parameters to suit itself even when the parameters are coded manually in HTML. Even then, the picture would not show on the Blogger panel for a while.

This did not always happen, as some pictures imported normally.  It seems as though a picture imported into the middle of the page (not on the top line) is less likely to encounter this problem.
The Blogger Help forums indicate some issues with this in August.  Some bloggers said that the pictures would not load at all (circle spinning) and one claimed she had to revert to Windows 8.1 (and that was marked as a “best answer”).  One blogger said none of her pictures, even on old posts, would display (probably unrelated). 

Rumor has it that numerous third part apps are having some difficulty working properly in Windows 10, which may have new techniques for memory caching. 

Update: later Oct. 8 

Later today, I noticed that a failure to display the image even when "fixed" manually can occur when looking at it through https (as when logged on to Blogger), or when the blog is https enabled.  So the bug may have something to do with a kind of "accidental encryption".

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Some Windows 10 conversions may leave some Windows 8 code lying around


I did get my HP Envy with Windows 10 back a second time today from Geek Squad. 

The main problem was that, starting around Sunday, after a cold Restart,  the File Explorer “quick access” started hanging, trying to fill the green bar with “working on it”, and not displaying thumbnails or the proper icons.  If you right-clicked on any file (like to rename) File Explorer hung and could only be resolved by restarting (hard or cold) the system. Oddly, if you continued working about two hours, the problem would start to fix itself.

The problem seems to have possibly been caused by some Windows 8 drivers left in the system and not replaced.  Geek Squad “refreshed” the system, a new option (since Windows 8) that does not affect data files on the hard drive, but requires re-installation of all apps (including Office, Final Draft, Carbonite, all of which require user passwords or product codes).  The computer, after refresh, requires re-entry of all major site passwords and possibly 2-step verification. 
   
Geek Squad also replaced the WiFi drivers, on the theory that one of them might have been causing previous crashes. (So far, so good.)

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Tech companies and medical schools want candidates to fit into groups well, and learn empathy


Tech companies are placing much more emphasis on people skills in assessing new hires than a lot of applicants realize, at least according to Fareed Zakaria Sunday morning, as this article in Salon shows, link.  The new focus in the future will be "relationship workers".  Zakaria presented the topic in defense of liberal arts education, which school systems in some countries are starting to drop as kids learn to code. 
   
Companies are looking for people who can recruit and build teams, according to the article.  This is anathema to me, who doesn’t like to be recruited for narrow causes.

This seems to go a little deeper than the “Team Handbook” and “Total Quality Management” seminars of the mid 1990s.
  
Zakaria also reports that some medical schools want their students to read fiction – to get used to thinking about future patients as people with complex social interactions and motvies.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Email to me describes a position of a "recruiter intern"


I did get a curious email job opening yesterday,  about a job for a recruiter intern in northern Virginia.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a position like this before.  The candidate would pre-screen applicants, manage appointments, group interviews, and so on.  The client would be civilian DOD agencies.

I had thought about trying to become a recruiter after my layoff at the end of 2001.  At the time, my leading a double life on the web was more feasible than it could be now. 

I get lots of emails for positions that really wouldn’t have matched my “official resume” even when I was still in the market some years ago.  I did deactivate my resume on Dice. There is an official version online here.  
  
I also at one time thought about doing recruiting solo, but I found out that Dice is very expensive until an agency has some scale and is large enough

  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I now have Windows 10 -- one instance of it


Well, I have Windows 10 now on one computer, the HP Envy.

Preliminary impressions are that it is simpler than Windows 8.  But when I tried to find the Action Center, Microsoft goaded me to log on to the account.  It also advised me I could set up a Pin. 

The next time turned the machine on (and the power had been disconnected once totally to move the electric outlet back to UIP, the machine forced me to log on to Windows 10 with my email and my Microsoft password, which I had fortunately memorized.  I didn’t realize it would do this.

The notification icons are different.  There is some controversy over which security company should be used, which I’ll talk about tomorrow on the Internet Safety blog – still getting facts from vendors on Twitter messaging.

Some sites (AOL) required reentry of passwords (but Facebook and Twitter did not).  Final Draft required re-activation with the product code to get out of read-only mode. 
  
Another concern as again a hurricane approaches is staying connected (I’m not near the Ocean and about 300 feet above sea level).  The iPhone hotspot to Verizon LTE works almost as well as the Comcast connection through a home router.  A UIP and a generator are a good idea. 
  
I’ll have to keep tabs on the question as to whether the update process causes hangs.  I’m told by Geek Squad that there were problems with “reservation mode” updates at home, which in-store conversions to W10 at Best Buy should circumvent, but these problems may have been resolved by now. 

Update: Oct. 1

One little problem.  Sometimes, the keyboard input (the letters) stops working if the machine goes to sleep.  A restart always recovers the function.  Will check further.


Update: Oct 2

Got the same fake hardware error after an attempted random HP restart even in W10.  Resetting power button does bring the machine back up.

Update: Oct 4

Today I had some trouble with Quick Access in the File Explorer, which caused thumbnails to be invisible, and for renaming and copying to directories in Explorer to be impossible (it still worked in command prompt).  The problem went away when I forced closed it when hung once.   

Sunday, September 20, 2015

NYTimes columnist slams "toxic work world" as suitable only for those without families


Take a look at this op-ed in the New York Times Sunday morning, by Anne-Marie Slaughter, “A Toxic Work World”, link here.  Note the sentence at the beginning that the modern competitive workplace works only for those young, healthy and wealthy enough “not to have to care for family members.”  That could be read as, the deliberately childless, except that with an aging population, the demand to care for parents can now ambush anyone.

But it’s also true that back in the 1980s, in the narrower mainframe culture, programmers were typically absolutely responsible for their own work and nothing else.  They were always on call for just their work. In the 90s that tended to change, as systems became more automatically interconnected.

But read he columnist’s analysis and suggestions.   She points out the that workplace even three decades ago had evolved out of a world of one-earner families (husbands).  That had changed by the late 70s, but the workplace was slow to catch up.


Update: Sept. 27

Readers's letters are here

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wikipedia wants contract developers for development of a Digital Library Card Platform


Wikipedia is looking for developers to create a Digital Library Card Platform, announcement here. 

The project will streamline the process by which Wikipedia editors gain access to paywalled research accounts. 

The developers will work on a Unix platform.  The contract description does not mention which languages are needed?  (Java?? C++??)
  
The project comes about as part of improving open source and open access, addressing ultimately some of the problems that Aaron Swartz had one faced.

 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Male participation in the workplace is dropping; is "hyperindividualism" in H.R. the reason?


CNN Money has a telling article, “Why have so many men stopped working?”, link here. It starts out with the resume of a man who had been a database manager and business analyst until the early 90s and was laid off in the brief post-Gulf War recession.  He became a house-husband and stay-at-home dad and never found another IT job, even as the economy took off under Bill Clinton.
  
The article discusses the drop in the percentage of working-age men in the workforce. Many causes – including female competition, but a major reason that companies didn’t manage keeping workers trained very well after the mid 1980s.  One reason Obamacare floundered technically was that older professionals, who might have been more thorough in testing the systems, had left mainframe IT, after mismanagement  (and short term thinking leading to constant turnover) earlier. 
    
I took a job with a small company in 1988 (rather than stretching my luck with an upcoming merger of Chilton in Dallas), then moved to a more stable company in life insurance in early 1990, where I would be stable until after 9/11. 

 

Monday, September 07, 2015

Lithium battery safety and laptops, notebooks, and smartphones


Do laptop computer and possibly smartphone users really need to be concerned about fires from lithium ion batteries? 

NBC Washington covered the problem tonight, before the first day of school

The main pointers, besides not damaging the equipment with careless use, seems to be, first, use only replacement batteries from the manufacture, and second, don’t overcharge (most batteries today should not be plugged in when the charge is between 40 and 90 percent), and use on a hard, non-metallic surface with airspace. And pay attention to safety recalls.  It is also recommended that charging be done when someone is awake and attending. 
   

There have been a few house or apartment fires around the country from laptop batteries, but a lot more from power strips that really weren’t surge protectors.  There has also been controversy about the batteries on planes, but usually they would have been already charged (already becoming a TSA requirement sometimes).

Josh Kirschner has an article on “Techolicious”, here;   and here is the chemistry lesson. 


 

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Ever consider Open Office?


Here’s an interesting debate:  Is Office365 (which you renew every year) a better deal still (with its relatively modest cost compared to past box purchases) in practice than Open Office (developed by Sun)?
  
Apparently, Apache Open Office can be used on Windows (7 or later) or Linux (or Unix), but I don’t see it available directly on the Mac – but it would be logical that it should be, because the Max OS is “partially” built upon Linux underneath (more like a cousin than a sibling – as explained here ).  The terminal mode commands are similar.
  
Here’s a perspective by Nick Heath of Tech Republic, on the practical considerations for organizations in choosing between Office 365 and Open Office,  link
  
I’ve never considered using Open Office at home.  No one talks about it.
  
One thing about the Best Buy renewal of Office 365 – Best Buy doesn’t process the credit card until the day of the renewal, which means you can get a premature expiration notice from Microsoft (Aug 13 posting).

 

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

HP Envy: suddenly, the video display goes extraterrestrial with the colors


Tonight, a very strange video card problem.  On my HPEnvy desktop, the Microsoft extra-solar planet shore scene came up with interesting colors, red instead of blue for the shore.  It really looked like Titan, maybe. But then when I played videos or looked at stills, there was a lot of bleeding red where it did not belong.

I restarted the machine, and the problem did not go away, an in fact the black screen had a red tint.

So I unplugged the machine for a minute, replugged it, then brought it up under Windows 8.1 abbreviated startup as usual. This time the problem went away and the colors were normal (the book took longer than usual for a quick-start).  The best reference I could find on the problem so far was here

 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

In aftermath of Virginia journalist shooting, observers want tort reform to allow honest reference checks and stop "passing the trash"


CNN legal analyst Phillip Holloway has an opinion piece arguing for tort reform, protecting employers as long as they use “good faith” in answering reference requests, link here.  The Journal of Business Inquiry had addressed this problem in an article by Bruce Elder and Sarah Gedes here
Holloway is criticizing a business custom of “passing the trash” in the employer reference mechanism to avoid the possibility of expensive, if frivolous, litigation. All of this discussion is motivated by the horrible event in Virginia with the shooting of two reporters on live TV by a former fired photojournalist.

However, other articles in the past have maintained that some employers will give honest or “unfavorable” references, as in USNews here.

My own experience in job hunting was that most agencies wanted you to have three references ready to give to clients.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Labor relations board gives W-2 contractors more rights against "real" employer; shortages in trade jobs


A federal labor board (the National Labor Relations Board) has voted to modify the relationship among a personnel company, employee of the company, and contracting customer, allowing employees more right to unionize with respect to the “actual” employer in some cases.  Lydia DePillis has a front page “Wonk Blog” story in the Washington Post today, link here.  Reuters has another story that says this is a "game changer", here. 
   
That would mean when a staffing company sends a lot of employees to a major employer but the employees are paid by the staffing company (common in IT, especially in mainframe) the employees might have some legal bargaining rights with the “real” employer, who usually makes the decision anyway when the staffing company first hires the employee.  I had many telephone interviews for such situations after my end-of-2001 layoff.

But it could compromise other kinds of situations, such as when people hire caregivers from agencies but don’t want to have the legal responsibilities and possible conflicts of “employers” (a situation I also had).

Here’s a story that the labor movement will like. Paul Davidson of USA Today reports Thursday on a labor shortage in the construction industry – both trade skills and hard physical labor (what my father extolled), link

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Two more customer service fiascoes


Well, here’s a little more customer service legacy. 

In June, my 2009 Focus was “totaled” in an accident.  I’m not at fault, but I won’t go into details in social media.  I replaced the car with a new 2015, which turned out to be cheaper to start new at Ford (with dealer or Ford rebates) than the insurance company’s own offers (for used cars).  I was told that the Ford ESP on the old car would be canceled.

Two months later, it was still billing.  Finally, it’s canceled now, but not until I sent a fax and did a lot of legwork myself. 

It seems that Ford’s own IT systems should have taken care of this without my having to spend so much time.  Business analysts, please?

Then another customer service fiasco, indirectly.  I hadn’t been to my LA Fitness for a while (took over Bally’s).  Today, I found a convenient location in northern Virginia closed.  I knew where the nearest one (a remodeled club was), and was told that the landlord at the location had failed three times to fix the air conditioning, so the club moved out.

Companies don’t seem to give customer service until the feel incentivized.

 

Monday, August 24, 2015

What is a "KERNEL-DATA-INPAGE-ERROR"?


Today, while I was working in Google analytics, I got a sudden stop on my HP Envy (W 8.1), saying the PC needed to be restarted, with an error code “KERNEL-DATA-INPAGE-ERROR”. The disk scan would not advance, so I just “restarted” the computer with the power button as usual.

Microsoft help seems to indicate this is a real hard drive error. It can happen on much earlier operating systems. 

But I noted on the Windows reliability history that Intel had done a driver update at exactly the same time as the crash.