Friday, July 31, 2015

Businessman argues for restraint in criminal background checks; one-strike can ruin a life

Doug Deason has an op-ed on p. A23 of the Thursday July 30 New York Times, “Ruining lives with criminal ‘justice’”, link here

Deason is now a Dallas businessman  (Wiki link) but his narrative indicates that he almost got a felony on his record for throwing a party at a neighbor’s house while they were away when he was 17 (the topic of a few comedy movies to be sure).  It was plead down to a misdemeanor and expunged.
Deason notes that many major companies, including Walmart, Home Depot, and Koch Industries have eliminated most criminal record questions from their applications.

I believe that most companies that I applied to during my “career” did ask.  For Bradford (for New York State MMIS in 1977) we had to pass a fingerprint check, and for USLICO in 1990, we had a drug test, which was soon eliminated.  But the concern over criminal backgrounds increases with cybersecurity and consumer privacy needs. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Should you go from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 immediately? "It's free". And it may uncover hidden hardware problems

Pundits are recommending immediate installation of Windows 10 to replace Windows 8, tomorrow July 29.  “It’s free”.  But it would sound as if Microsoft and companies like Geek Squad could be overwhelmed if everyone does it at once.
Digital Friends has a flash video giving 5 reasons to upgrade, here,  including a return to a more user-friendly start menu for computer users (the tablet stuff got in the way), a speech feature Cortana, and the ability to fragment the desktop into tiles, like in the movies.

Computerworld has a more complete list here,  which include hooks for biometric login and more flexible updating.

One question would be, how long does the download and install and numerous restarts take?  Will hidden hardware problems show up (as happened last year with a Toshiba Satellite going from 8.0 to 8.1, when the mother board burned up, on a computer still under contract support – thought to be a hidden manufacturing problem). 

Will Geek Squad do this on its contract plans?  I have been told that computers under warranty should have this done right away to uncover any hidden hardware problems.  There is a “risk” that any upgrade can expose hardware weaknesses than the previous system tolerated.
Something else I've noticed in W8:  when in Windows Explorer, if you want to remame a file, be very careful that the cursor is over rename and not delete, right above it.  Even if you type in a new name, if the cursor is too high, it deletes the item.  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Should employers let associates use their own hardware or choose their own tools? Also, two or more laptops and the TSA

The Wall Street Journal has a story by Steven Rosenbush where the writer interviews Google CIO Ben Fried, on how Google handles IT tools it provides for its workers, link here.
In fact, Google often lets its engineers choose their own tools, because part of the job is often to develop the entire concept of how future users will use a product or app. 
It also notes that, in customer support, initial responders are able to close about 90% of problems on their own. 
The implication is that sometimes employers use their own hardware. 
It’s apparent that this could introduce security problems, but in the past I usually used my own computers when supporting systems from home (partly because I wanted “clean money” and to avoid “conflict of interest” with my own book business). 
And it’s interesting that a few years ago, some companies were hiring customer service workers to work from home on their own desktop computers.  But given today’s concerns about consumer information security, it would sound as though most companies would have to provide a separate work-only laptop for their associates to use at home. That gets interesting when employees travel, but it seems (from the literature) that it usually isn’t a problem to take two laptops (work and personal) through the TSA (although would they have to be in one bag?)  Here’s a forum link on that question. It might be stricter with overseas flights. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Traveling with the Lenovo Yoga-2 Ultrabook (Windows 8.1) with Bluetooth and slow-charging issues

I bought a new travel computer before my jaunt to Orlando.  It was a Lenovo Yoga 2 Tablet-hybrid “Ultrabook” with Windows 8.1
The keyboard-touchpad is separate, runs on Bluetooth and needs to be within about seven feet of the tablet. The keyboard can be connected the first time by keying in “Bluetooth” on the tablet and clicking for the appropriate unit. The keyboard has separate power and takes about three hours to power up.
The main tablet unit powers up very slowly, and seems to take about eight hours to even go from 80% to 100%. 
Lenovo recommends keeping the battery in the 60% range.  Charging should not be attempted if it is over 90%.  There is overcharging protection.

The unit worked pretty well the first three nights, but Sunday night I ran into problems with the Bluetooth dropping. When typing in Word, the last character would stick.
On one occasion, the unit seemed to fail, as I had trouble turning it off.  Finally I did so (you have to hold the power button for eight seconds). Generally, a full Restart would stabilize the Bluetooth for a while.
I had bought the unit from Best Buy in Falls Church VA.  Monday night, I drove to a Best Buy on E Colonial Drive in Orlando (just east of Semoran) and a Geek Squad representative was quite helpful. He unchecked a power management option that will disable Bluetooth automatically sometimes to save power.  He also adjusted some other settings.
But it seems that the main cause of the instability of the Bluetooth may have been the environment in the hotel.  Some nearby older Bluetooth devices can confuse the polling unit on the tablet unit.  Geek Squad says his can be a problem with some Windows based tablet ultrabooks.  A firmware fix from Lenovo might be needed to fix this.  The unit was more stable in the store, airport boarding area or at home than in the hotel.

The tech in Orlando recommended that owners of Windows 8 or 8.1 computers still in warranty (or with Geek Squad contracts) upgrade to Windows 10 as soon as available on July 29.  The reason is that W10 is said to be simpler and should be more stable.
He also confirmed my experience that Apple tends to be more reliable than most Microsoft-based PC's because Apple can manage its own manufacturing.  Microsoft has to work with many manufacturers (hence complicating firmware interfaces), although it sometimes forms more closely supervised relationships with some companies (HP and Dell) for some products.  Very small hardware problems can build up over time and cause sudden failures, like when a computer is stressed by major updates. 
I was not asked to turn on any electronics at either Reagan airport in Washington or in Orlando. I don't see how an airport security staff could get this done for every traveler.  In fact, in Orlando, we were asked to put all loose electronic items (including the cell phone) in one carry-on bag. The laptop or ultrabook should be left in a "TSA-friendly" bag. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Massive corporate outages: lessons from the past

So, the NYSE trading floor outage on Wednesday was due to a “botched move” – colloquial for “elevation” or “promotion”. 

News stories have compared modern Internet systems uptime reliability to Ma Bell’s in the monopolist past – with the enormous manpower it took to keep reliability.

United Airlines's problems were due to a bad router.  WSJ's were unexplained. 

I remember how we used to brace for “moves” – with a Wednesday noon deadline for freezing changes, with most elevations only on Fridays for weekend cycles. In the early 1990s, most shops adopted change-control management (like CA-Librarian) that froze various components and guaranteed move integrity,

It’s also interesting right now how recollections from my last two years in a customer service workbench support (2000-2001) helps me solve problems “on the road” today.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Federal appeals court potentially gives employers more leeway in using interns (Fox Searchlight case)

A federal appeals court has set aside a lower court ruling against Fox Searchlight Pictures brought by two former interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, and narrowed the standard for when employers may use unpaid interns.  It has thrown out some detailed Labor Department rules and focuses on whether the intern “benefits” more than the employer, and whether there is some kind of educational institutional supervision.
The link in the Business Day section of the New York Times is here.  This seems like "pay your dues" on steroids! 

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Marijuana may be legal in some states and and DC, but allowed in a lot of federal employment

On Tuesday, June 30, Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti provided a front page New York Times story, “Is marijuana legal in your state? Perhaps not for federal work.”  Online the article is “State marijuana laws complicate federal job recruitment”, link here

Many agencies still test for marijuana use, and evidence of use can stay in the body for 30 days.  Second hand exposure is unlikely to cause a positive test, but it might be conceivable. Other tests, like hair samples, might show use for longer.    The CIA asks if you have been drug free for one year, the FBI, three years.  The State Department has no waiting period, but sometimes tests randomly.
Apparently medical use would not be recognized as legitimate by some agencies, since federal law still views even medical use as illegal, although it is becoming acceptable in many cases and obviously helps many patients.

I had only one drug screening in my career, at end of 1989 when I applied for the job at USLICO that would start a 12-year hitch winding up with ING.   

It would seem reasonable that drug abstinence periods should be based on what can actually affect doing a job.  Alcohol is legal, but pilots may not use it for 24 hours before flying.  Marijuana policies should be similar.  
Complicating the issue is that home recreational use of marijuana is now legal in the District of Columbia, and possession of up to six plant is permitted.  In some areas, it is possible for marijuana to grow wild on a property and not be noticed by the owner.