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


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.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stories about Amazon, compared to other tech companies, stoke debate on meritocratic "IT Culture"

I’ll pass on an article by Patrick Gray in Tech Republic, “Amazon’s depiction as a ‘bruising workplace’ stokes debate about IT culture”, link here.

The most telling quote from the article, from the perspective of my own experience, is “Anything, from adopting or having a child to suffering a major illness, may allow someone else who is not facing the same major life challenges to out-compete you in the workplace.” This sounds like a pyrrhic invitation to avoid these challenges (like having children).  That sounds bad for the "common good" and family responsibility (or illness) can't always be avoided. 
Indeed, this sort of culture hit its nadir in the late 1980s, as companies were besieged with hostile takeovers and mergers.  The laid-back culture of my own workplace in Dallas then (Chilton, now Experian after passing through TRW) in the early and middle part of the decade changed quickly around early 1987.  I remember the manager saying, “In this economy, those who don’t do their jobs won’t have jobs.”  There was a lot of unpaid overtime by salaried people. It was all about Ayn Rand's idea of absolute "personal responsibility".

This was an environment that encouraged, even exploited, an “introvert advantage” that has allowed different communities of people to drift apart, and contributed to a lot of tensions resurfacing today (including racial).  I really didn’t have to become aware of this until I “retired” at the end of 2001.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

First big problem with Windows 10? Some computers go into reboot loops with automatic update?

The first really big problem that I have heard of with Windows 10 has surfaced.  An automatic update (one of the first pushed) seems to cause some computers to freeze and go into constant reboot loops.  Ordinary users will not be able to fix these on their own. 
The story appears on Global Tech advice, Aug. 13, here. This site does the cheesy "leave this page" to show you more ads;  sorry about that. 
It will be necessary to check this out further before upgrading myself.  No, I can’t afford to be down to be a guinea pig.  This just has to work. 

Forbes has a more detailed story, identifying specific KB's involved, by Amit Chowdhry, here.  But I won't have time to play with specific updates. I'll wait for this to settle down before going to Windows 10 at all. An operating system just has to be stable from the get go. I don't appreciated being goaded to spend four hours going to Windows 10, and then have it be unstable.  I don't like the failed unsolicited upgrade install attempts.  I can't afford disruptions.  I have work to get done every day, like most end users.

It wasn’t clear yet if this was limited to just some manufacturers’ models. 

Update: August 24

I talked to the Geed Squad at a Best Buy Monday afternoon.  GS says that Windows 10 updating works fine when done on a dedicate licensed channel to Microsoft which it has in the store. But the "Reservation mode" for do-it-yourself still has problems with subsequent automatic updates which as of today is still not fixed. GS recommended waiting about thirty more days before doing any conversions at home.  In the meantime, Windows "attempts" an update every day or every time I boot up, and it fails. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Amazon apparently not generous with family perks (compared to other tech companies), but Bezos weighs in today

The media is calling Amazon on the carpet, comparing its culture to other tech companies.
Jeff  Bezos of Amazon has said that he won’t tolerate “callous management practices” according to a New York Times story today by David Streitfeld and Jodi Kantor, link here. The article in turn links to a Sunday “Inside Amazon: Wrestling Ideas in a Bruising Workplace”.

Amazon is reportedly much less generous on perks than Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Netflix, especially with paid maternity (even paternity) leave.  It seems to want to attract a more “Ayn Rand” like culture, according to reports on CNN today. 

But legal observers on CNN defended Amazon on libertarian grounds.  Workers don’t have to go there.  If Amazon can’t keep top talent (especially female) it will probably change its ways.  But Amazon is in a somewhat different business (largely retail) than the other big tech companies, which focus a lot more on content.
My own environment in the 1980s was closer to Amazon in the demands for performance.  Things loosened somewhat in the 90s.

Friday, August 14, 2015

iPhone hotspot for Internet seems to drop connections to random sites, which work with normal cable Internet

I’ve noticed a problem with the iPhone hotspot (at least on iPhone 5).  A site will suddenly start giving DNS errors and not be reachable again from that phone on any PC, even though I can bring up the site on the phone’s own Safari under LTE.  This has happened with cnn and eweek.  When my normal Xfinity returns (after a short outage) those sites can be reached again.
This paper on “OSX Daily” seems to describe a workaround, link here involving DHCP.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Checking with Best Buy on Windows 10 upgrades, and "expired" software subscriptions

I spoke to Geek Squad today, and found out that in my own case, my service agreement would cover their installing Windows 10 on my 8.1 computers (with the “it’s free” update) , so I’ll probably take them up on it.

I may try doing the Lenovo Ultra-book tablet soon myself.  I was told to allow 5 hours and be around, able to check prompts every half hour. The Lenovo Yoga has all solid-state "disk space", which is only 23 Gig.  Windows says the requirement is 16 gig.  It may be necessary to use a thumb drive on USB for scratch space during the install. Windows documents the requirements here.

I’ve noticed that Windows Automatic Update tries to install Windows 10 every time I log on to a computer, and fails (because I haven’t enabled it, I presume).

I did try a demo of Windows 10 today at a Best Buy store, and I like the “W7” environment better than the “W8” tablet. Also, the trackpad should be touched by only one finger at a time.
I’ve also noticed an “annoying” policy that Best Buy follows with software subscriptions. It doesn’t charge your credit card until the expiration date.  This has caused me to get “false alarm” emails from both Webroot and Microsoft about expired licenses, when in fact the software kept working.


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Another reason I did not become a life insurance agent or financial planner back in the 2000's

Just a reminiscence of an interview from the past.  Back in 2005, I went through the first three interviews for becoming a life insurance agent.  (One of the first steps had been a quiz that asked if I was willing to buy things from a salesman!  How telling now.)

Then I was told that, according to Sarbannes-Oxley, an agent could not have any other income.  I’m not sure if that referred in part to income from current investments.  But in my situation an issue was continued royalties (however small) from my self-published books and presumably future revenue from web sites.  This sounded a little like the old conflict of interest in the 1990s over the military issues.  But I suppose if someone is selling investment products to consumers, there could be conflicts that influence which products he tries to get consumers to buy.


Friday, August 07, 2015

Microsoft expands paid parental leave, but more for moms and for biology

Microsoft has also made headway on the paid parental leave bandwagon. It will offer both new mothers and fathers twelve weeks of paid parental leave, and mothers already get eight weeks of “disability leave” when giving birth.

That means that mothers can get a total of twenty weeks of paid leave; fathers get twelve.  Adoptive parents get twelve.  So mothers can get more than fathers, and biological reproduction is “favored” more than adoption of children.

Microsoft also improve the 401k match. 

The entire story by Peter Bright is here on Arctechnica.

It’s apparent that in general, “as the world turns”, young adults should find that eventually they will be “expected” to raise children to be treated equally.  But the change in a landscape in gay marriage and adoption, so rapid, certainly is changing the world for gay men and women on dealing with the “working for a discount” idea or lowballing those with more “responsibilities”, as in the past.

It’s not clear that many companies offer paid leave to take care of parents.  The FMLA of 1993 would mandate unpaid leave.  I did not take advantage of that myself.

Remember, somebody’s paid leave has to be “paid for”, somehow.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Netflix offers paid maternity and paternity leave for up to a year

Netflix is offering its employees paid maternity and paternity leave, unlimited for up to one year after the birth or adoption of a child. Netflix explained its policy in a blog post.  It’s not immediately obvious how long someone has to be with the company.

CNN Money has a blog post here indicating that the US Navy is also increasing paid maternity leave for female sailors and Marines. 

PBS has a video, asking "who pays?", link

I one time thought about an interim job at Netflix.  But I wonder if shifts have to start at 3 AM in order to process incoming DVD’s. 

YouTube’s CEO is also is linked supporting paid maternity leave as good for business. Female talent is retained.  And tech and social media companies actually need the “expertise” that some people have in family and child rearing to come up with new products, which is the big sleeper. 
In time, there will be more social pressure on same-sex couples to become involved in child rearing and adoption (possibly combined with the asylum crisis).  Companies have to deal with very radical changes in how never generations view the family, even if higher earners are remaining interested in marriage (including same-sex or even transgender).
The schism between “sales” and “content contribution” is less than it was when I was “working”.  Developers now are users, too, and “real people.”    


Monday, August 03, 2015

More on paid family leave debate, and on "creative destruction" of old school jobs

Well, I forgot to bring my Kindle or  book with me Sunday on the Metro, and wound up picking up a couple of magazines at BN (Landmark E Street has no cellular access inside). 
A couple of stories on matters that I have discussed before showed up.  One of these was in a curious periodical “In these Times”, Aug. 2015, p. 18, “The real war on families”, by Sharon Lerner.  It claims that 25% of all employed mothers in the U.S. come back to work within two weeks of giving birth.  The link is here  but there is a strict paywall (in a curious twist of Internet policy, this publication says it never posts some content free on line -- which would make it unlikely to spread by Facebook and Twitter to more readers -- why keep it scarce?). 

The article goes on to argue for (mandatory) paid parental leave (especially for mothers) and says that the US is one of few countries (all the others are backwater) that doesn’t require it. 
One of the main arguments against mandatory paid leave is that in salaried workplaces, the childless wind up working more hours without pay to support other people’s children (that is, sex).  But the people who have to come back to work quickly, according to the narrative in the article, would be mostly low income hourly, often minimum wage. 

In IT, many of the jobs are W-2 hourly, and people simply don’t get paid except when they work.  Some personnel companies do keep their consultants on a salary, and would have a big headache managing a mandatory paid family leave policy, at least until associates had been with the firm for a few years.

Derek Thompson has a long article in “The Atlantic”, “The End of Work”, with the cover caption, “Technology will soon erase millions of jobs;  could that be a good thing?” link here.  Much of the article deals with Youngstown, Ohio (which my family used to on my boyhood trips to Ohio when ending the Pennsylvania Turnpike).  Thompson distinguishes among “jobs”, “careers” and “callings”.  He talks about the pretend-jobs in Europe (especially France), similar to what the government did here during the FDR days.  I guess my news and review blogging activity in retirement is a “calling”.