Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The cost of doing more manufacturing in the US may be overstated by many companies

How much would it cost to make iPhones or other popular goods if companies like Apple and various PC manufacturers were not allowed to use low-wage workers (as at Foxconn ) overseas?

Some say that a $600 iPhone would cost $1300, but Business Insider gives much lower estimates, here. The biggest problem would be companies really couldn’t find that many workers quickly.  But there is a “bad karma” problem with US consumers addicted to prices artificially low if actually supported by slave or dorm labor overseas.

But robotics would quickly eat into the job gains.

A relevant issue would be a hidden consumer benefit to doing more manufacturing of PC’s in the US.  Microsoft has trouble correctly integrating all of its massive Windows updates with the hardware and firmware of many manufacturers (HP, Acer, Lenova, Dell).  If more of the manufacturing were one on places like Texas or California, you might see better quality and more stable operating system updates.

Consumers planning new laptop purchases might want to make them soon, if price hikes really happen.  I have thought about the desirability of doing most of my work on a computer actually manufactured for Windows 10 with the 2016 Cumulative Update taken into account.  It’s getting hard to keep most laptops stable for more than three years.  (But a 2009 Dell XPS now on Windows 7 but originally Vista is still pretty stable seven years later.)

Where Trump is really right is that there is a critical national security reason to make more power grid components (especially transformers) in the US, in geographically convenient and stable places like the Shenandoah Valley or Piedmont.

Here is CNN’s account on what really happened when Trump intervened with the Carrier plant in Mike Pence’s Indiana.  (Yes, Indiana wants me.)

There's an obvious issue for many people in that a lot of coding is outsourced (especially to India).  The trend for this started with getting Y2K testing done in the late 1990s.  But companies say without doing so they could not get work done.  

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The mysterious disappearing mouse pointer (another cause could be missing vendor-specific firmware updates)

This is not my most original post ever.  My mouse died on an HP Envy last night, when devicemngr in Windows said all was Ok.  Replaced the mouse, which did not come with a Bluetooth.  Still did not work.  Had to find another mouse (at Best Buy) cheaper, that came with the right bluetooth.  Now works.

But this seems to happen in Windows 10.  The best, and not overly markety reference I can find online is this.

Actually, in my case, there may be another factor.  I had Geek Squad replace the harddrive (after copying the data) six months ago because of occasional crashes and forced restarts due to hard disk errors on the original computer.  That stopped the crashes.  But the HP firmware updates stopped running.  It's likely that one of those vendor-specified firmware updates would have allowed the original Bluetooth (from HP) to accept the new mouse.  Nobody thought of that.  So that's another way a problem like this can happen.  If you have a mystery problem, consider the maintenance you have already had done for other issues.

Update: Dec, 18

Curiously, after the install of the new bluetooth and mouse, HP firmware updates suddenly resumed., with "Pointing Drawing, 5-link micro dongle" whatever that is. (The dongle is apparently the mouse).  So this is apparently an overdue update for W10 to make Bluetooth devices work properly. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bluehost has extended partial outage caused by "network flapping", but the problem with ISP's is more common than most customers realize

Friday afternoon and evening, Wordpress-site hosting provider Bluehost had a partial outage that affected many consumers.

The problem seems to have been caused by “network flapping”, where routers point connections to other routers that turn out to be invalid.  Early Facebook messages suggested that this problem can happen form DDOS but is more often server hardware or software related.  There’s a typical explanation here.   My sties remained up but slow, and Jetpack was not available.
Bluehost “single-tracked” many of the customers (analogous to single-tracking on the Washington DC Metro during SafeTrack) or “single-threaded” to reduce contention and lockouts or loops  It then tested various network segments with the help of a vendor (was that Cisco?) to help locate a “packet switching” problem resulting in infinite or recursive loops.

The Control Panel was made available to costumers shortly after midnight EST.

A DDOS on a major service provider would be a serious incident, requiring investigation by the FBI.  But customers are especially edgy now given all the “scandals” about Russian hacking around the elections.

Service providers don’t identity their customers publicly, but it’s obviously possible for any provider to host a politically unpopular potential target for foreign enemies.  The Democrats would consider my mentioning names as hate speech.

The video below from Cisco's Charles Germany explains how router loops and flapping can commonly occur. Considerable care goes into various fail-safe methods to prevent these problems.

The “Downdetector” thread as well as Facebook threads for Bluehost had a lot of angry comments from customers, some of whom said they were losing a lot or revenue.  This doesn’t affect my income very much, as the ad revenue and book sales are small financially as part of a much bigger picture.

Connections are themselves “objects” on a router database, so I suppose that database could get corrupted.

A similar problem could be “thread death”, at least in java, that used to happen at the mid-tier where I worked in 2001 (ING).

I wonder if any of my old buddies are working for Bluehost (or Cisco) now, and saw action last night.

There was a logically similar problem back in 1974 on a customer Univac 1100 benchmark in Minnesota where simulated database transactions in DMS (similar to IDMS) could lock each other out.

In the DC area, Comcast-Xfinity had some problems of slow Internet service in late 2015 and again in the spring of early 2016, with frequent stalls reaching only certain sites (like those owned by Google).  These could be related to network topology problems,

Update: Dec. 14, 2016

Bluehost has a detailed explanation of what happened, posted on Facebook;  some comments there concern me.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Internal Server Error on Wordpress blog, out of the blue

I had a bizarre outage yesterday on one of my four Wordpress domains, the “media commentary” domain as documented here

I had looked at it around 10 AM Thursday morning (EST) to get the monthly stats from Jetpack.  Around 2:45 PM, I went to it, intending to do a post (for the movie “My Friend Rockefeller).  I got an Internal Server error, HTTP 500, without hesitation, on more than one computer.  On the cell phone, it was just blank.  Only one of the four domains I have with Bluehost had this issue.  

The technician at BlueHost in Chat replaced htaccess and other major files, still didn’t work.  So she restored from a Nov. 30 backup (this is lucky, it was up to date), and that restore took less than one minute.  Then the site worked. 

I had to have the tech remove Jetpack, and then I resintalled it without incident (there was another HTTP 500 the first time on Jetpack when the rest of the site worked).   I also had notice that my own Wordpress account no longer showed the “media commentary” blog under “Write”.  That link came back with the reinstall of Jetpack. 

I went into it and added the post, but then I found I could not edit the posts in Visual mode.  I can edit them in Text mode (html code).  The technician was able to see the visual mode.  I went into users, and looked at my profile, and found the “disable visual mode” unchecked.  So I don’t get why this happens.  Somehow the tech users, even with my user id, can see it.  I’ve noticed that on editing a page (as opposed to a post), that sometimes visual mode fail until you do one more update.   It has always behaved that way.

The error log for the site had shown multiple errors “call to undefined function (wp)” around 1:30 PM EST.  The best information I can find it that Wordpress is vulnerable to corruption from some plugins, or from (C++) “stack overflow” errors when the server doesn’t have enough memory or work space during automated updating (especially of plugins).  This appears to be a server management issue and not hacking, DDOS, etc, to the best that I can tell.

I found a couple of references to this problem on the web.  The Word Press forum, moderated by James Huff, seems to presume that the blogger has much more knowledge of WordPress internals and server internals than I do.  I normally expect the hosting provider (BlueHost) to handle all of this.   This is rather like the C++ bridge to the midtier when I worked at ING, that only one contractor (from Pakistan) knew inside out.  (Zuckerberg is right – we need overseas talent right now – and American users need to be much better trained in OOP coding internals – Here’s a source on stack exchange.   Here’s a source on the Visual Editor. 

Here is a site that explains common Wordpress problems forBeginners.  Wordpress probably requires more coding skill knowledge from users than does Blogger, as the product seems a bit more intricate.  

Wordpress users with hosting providers all need to be familiar with how their hosting company’s backup works.  BlueHost has Site Backup Pro, explained here.  

I make it a practice to back up my own content in image format once a month, and I back up the most critical or valuable postings separately.  These then get backup up by Carbonite, and by me on rotating thumb drives (one of which is in a safe deposit bank),  just like all my unpublished manuscripts. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Judge strikes down Obama's overtime rule

FEE reports that a federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration's mandatory overtime rule, which would have covered formerly "salaried" workers down to about $43000 a year, story here. The judge said that the Labor Department had no authority to issue such an administrative law regulation.

I do wonder how Facebook and Google handle this issue with their production support.

But the rule seems mostly to help people who work in retail and fast food management. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coders rule the world, and hold lives in their programs; should they be licensed?

Business Insider has a revealing story today by Julie Bort on business ethics and programmers, here.
There seem to be two problems.  One is that programmers sometimes agree to do illegal things (or wrong things) to help less scrupulous marketing people make more money.  The other is that more hinges on software than ever before.  People can die, in car or airlines crashes, because of software bugs.  Major power failures are possible (as in 2003).  And all of this skirts the question of malware.
So that brings up the question, should programmers have to be licensed?  There already is plenty of voluntary industry certification in many areas.  I took some certification tests in the mid 1990s, but maintaining them was a pain.  Then I got with Brainbench and had a contract to write a business ethicas certification quiz in early 2003.  I have have it around somewhere.  It was on an Access database.

The article suggests standards for mandatory business ethics training.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Secret Service agents should be paid overtime

Joe Davidson of the Washington Post reports on the way Secret Service agents are paid – on salary, and forced to work grueling overtime to protect the president, candidates, an others connected to the president, om demand, without pay.

That’s pretty much how being on-call for batch production cycles worked for mainframe IT during my career.  Some people took comp time.  People without kids sometimes worked for free for colleagues with families (or when having babies).  I did that a whole weekend in October 1993.

So paid family leave enters the debate.

In the meantime, just for national security, Congress needs to compensate the Secret Service properly.

HR 6302 is the Overtime Pay for Secret Service Agents Act, as proposed.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Talking about politics in the workplace (and about religion and social issues)

Gavan FitzSimons has a piece in the Sunday New York Times. “Stop trying to sway co-workers”   about talking about politics – or religion – in the workplace.

And talk can consist of appearances – even the car you drive into the company lot, and the stickers on it.

Back when I started working, in 1970, what kind of car you drove was considered to be a social statement.  But so was dress to some extent.  Remember the notorious EDS (and even IBM) dress codes of the past?

Even United Way drives, or particularly blood drives can have political connotations.  The blood drive issue used to be sensitive because of the gay male blood donation ban, which could make a drive an indirect route to “asking and telling.”

Some companies do have their own political PAC's and pressure higher level employees to participate on them.

And, of course, some people will go to work in partisan political jobs.  I won't. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Major conflicts over employee personal blogging still affect the workplace

I am aware of a situation at a particular international employer where there seems to be a dispute with an associate over complaints the associate has made in social media in public mode.

I won’t identify the employer or person now (it’s a non-profit) because many facts, at least in my opinion, seem, contradictory and frankly bizarre,  and the truth is far from clear.
But I want to make a note of it now because I have often written about “conflict of interest” in these blogs concerning an associate’s writings on a personal website, blog, or social media account.  I’ve been concerned about this problem way back to 2000.  I had an issue myself in the 1990s when I was working for a company that served the interests of military officers and wanted to oppose the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy publicly  The circumstances led to a merger-related corporate transfer from northern Virginia to Minneapolis in 1997, which worked out well and led to some of the best years of my own life.
Employers may rightfully regulate public speech by associates who are in a position to make decisions that affect others.  Disputes that can’t be resolved typically lead to terminations or resignations.  That’s not new and not controversial.  Employers, however, may not “hack” or physically interfere with social media accounts actually belonging to the person as an individual.  To do so would potentially constitute a crime.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Andela places immigrants in hard-to-fill software professional positions; what about visas and possible asylum later?

Fareed Zakaria on GPS interviewed an executive from Andela, a company that places information technology professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, and maybe other African countries.  Mark Zuckerberg is said to be backing up Andela.

The company says that in some software areas, there are five jobs in the United States for every applicant.  The company says there are no known cases where a U.S. born employee was laid off to make room for one of its immigrants.

Nigeria has an "academy" to train employees, but only 1% of those who apply are selected and able to complete the course.

Reversing the argument, it is very hard for associates of some US companies to consider assignments in some African countries (especially for humanitarian work) because of the anti-gay policies of some of them.

Immigrants do have to get work visas in the US.  When they expire, immigrants from authoritarian countries (or with vitriolic anti-gay policies, like Nigeria) are more likely to suddenly seek asylum. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Twitter layoff comes as it makes a turnaround, to be more like Facebook?

Twitter has announced a 9% layoff of its staff, but its earnings seem to be turning around.  Note the stories in the New York Times, Vanity Fair, and CNET.

Twitter is considering doing much more work to sequence tweets by topic or user interest (like Facebook) rather than reverse chronology (although it allows one theme tweet to stay at the top).

I haven’t seen much movement on the 140-character problem.

So what would it be like to work as a developer for this company?  How to moves and elevations get done?  How does the 24-hour support work? It seems to be a more precarious life there than at some of its "competitors".

And is Twitter losing out to Instagram in social visibility?  I haven’t found the time to use Instagram that much.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

NSA contractors take work home the old-fashioned way

A story on p. A3 of the Washington Post Thursday morning (Oct. 13) by Ellen Nakashima and Matt Zapotosky, “A low-tech scheme for NSA suspect?” points out a lingering security problem from the past for many employers.  “Officials say he may have simply left workplace with printed-out papers”, the story sidebar says.  The story is here.  I believe there are other office buildings, off the NSA campus, where contractors work in the Columbia MD area, along US 29 or along US 1 toward Baltimore.
When I worked for mainframe shops in the 1980s and 1990s, we took work home all the time.  In the late 1980s, a major billing implementation in Dallas was tested by running full parallels with production data and the QA manager actually took printouts home just to check them.  In the 1990s, I kept full compiles and some file-compare printouts and sample runs at home just to have around to look at, if any problem occurred to me.
Of course, in the 80s and 90s, there was not nearly the sensitivity about consumer PII that there is today. Even so, my own first experience with a personal credit card getting compromised would happen in 1995, with telephone charges in Canada showing up on a Merrill Lynch visa card.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

Criticism of new overtime pay rules; but IT workers probably make too much; more companies offer paid family leave anyway

The Obama administration’s new rule requiring overtime payment to white collar workers who make less than $47476 a year sounds as if it could be disruptive to IT workplaces.  It is already drawing criticism from libertarian sources, as on FEE, particularly with respect to telework from home.

Most IT people are used to production support and being on call, and informal arrangements to take comp time the next day when fighting fires.  Probably most experienced workers make more than that floor now.  In the 1990s, the didn’t (my salary at all ING-related jobs from 1990 to 2001 ranged from $40000 to $73000).

Back in the 1980s, at Chilton in Dallas, everyone supported his own subsystem once in production.  There was never any comp time or expenses paid for coming in to fight fires, because they were presumed to be the associate’s responsibility.

That sort of arrangement hardly sounds realistic today in social media companies where 24x7 support is the norm, and where work is much more fluid.  I’ve wondered what it is like to work for Facebook or Google (or Microsoft or Apple) and how rollouts to hundreds of millions or billions of users in real time are handled, across multiple server farms in many countries.

I recall another story on Atlantic (by Bouree Lam) about being the most “competent” person, whom others rely on to fight production fires. 

The paid family leave debate becomes relevant.  When on-call work is essentially unpaid, people with fewer family obligations tend to do more of it.  When I point this out, someone on Facebook says, my parents must have been suckers when they had me.  I owe it back just for being raised?  Bad karma?

Discovery Communications in Silver Spring MD is now offering very inclusive paid family leave for 12 weeks (includes adoption, foster placement, caregivers).

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Microsoft Windows 10 Update can give a "bugcheck"

On a Toshiba Satellite Laptop, which had converted from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 without difficulty, I allowed the conversion to 10 Anniversary Update.

The startup and restart are much slower, and a couple times required hitting the power button an extra time.

On one occasion the computer restarted after getting a "bugcheck", and then looped in the restart.  I got it to come up normally by holding down the power button for at least five seconds.

Toshiba Service Station has pestered me to uninstall and reinstall a new version of some specialized firmware, which I do not understand .

One problem is that Microsoft (unlike Apple) has to work with to many vendors.  When rolling out massive operating system changes, problems with firmware are inevitable.  Many home users don't have the coding or technical skills to maintain all this on their own, the way corporate IT departments would have.

In its effort to add unusual interactivity for users (and embellish the chat assistant Cortana, who is rather like an AI science fiction character) Microsoft is creating a world that many ordinary users don't have the necessary technical skill (aka Edward Snowden) to maintain.

On a travel notebook Lenovo (whose keyboard is connected by Bluetooth, which sometimes fails until the keyboard's own battery is recharged) Windows 8.1 did a update on shutdown which hung.  I hit the power key and it booted up normally and canceled the update.  I then deleted a few big unnecessary files since the
solid-state hard drive is relatively small, and an update while the machine was still on worked normally.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Sales culture did Wells Fargo employees in

Michael Corkery and Stacey Cowley have a story that explains “sales culture” at Wells Fargo, in the New York Times Saturday, link. Employees were told formally not to set up fake accounts but were pressured to close three or four sales a day to customers somehow to keep their jobs, often low wage.  Almost sounds like debt collection culture.  Or, maybe, “always be closing”. Or what David Callahan calls "The Cheating Culture" (2004). 

Elizabeth Warren took down the Wells Fargo CEO in Sept, 20, CNN story here.  This is not "cross-selling", a buzzword that justifies mergers of financial companies.
CNN Money has a story about the reported tendency of the bank to scheme to fire ethics whistleblowers. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Applicants should ask about security, modernity when applying for software jobs

FEE (the libertarian Foundation for Economic Education) has an interesting list “Ten Questions You Must Ask When Applying for a Software Job” (David Veksler),  Job applicants should interview the employer, too!

The one that caught my eye was the first one, source code control. There was a lapse in an elevation on the job in the summer of 1991 that might have caused a catastrophe.  But mainframe shops as a whole didn’t start taking this seriously until around 1988 or so.

I think it’s interesting that he says coders don’t make good QA testers.  But in my environment three decades ago you tended to “own” your work and you had to be.  I think this remark sheds some light on why Obamacare had so many implementation problems – the older professionals who understood the importance of very thorough testing had been laid off and moved on to other things.

 He also says its important that companies have the latest toolsets.  No more “you make do with what you’ve got” to evade a hostile takeover, like it was getting in the late 80s.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Windows 10 latest build (1607) runs into a problem today (what is the "tmumh service"?

Today, Word seemed to get stuck. This is three days after the newest version of Windows 10 1607. This happened on the HP Envy Windows 10 newest rebuild as of Sept. 1, 2016.

So I tried a restart, and it kept spinning.  I reset the power button and it came up normally, and then did a restart, which worked promptly, and then was able to open Word.

I see a few diagnostics on the Event Log.  Microsoft seems to need to do a fix for this.

"The application-specific permission settings do not grant Local Activation permission for the COM Server application with CLSID
 and APPID
 to the user NT AUTHORITY\LOCAL SERVICE SID (S-1-5-19) from address LocalHost (Using LRPC) running in the application container Unavailable SID (Unavailable). This security permission can be modified using the Component Services administrative tool."


"The tmumh service failed to start due to the following error:
The revision level is unknown."

I have no idea what the "tmumh service" is.  Here is a link.  It seems to come from Trend Micro. Maybe this is a Trend Micro problem interfacing with the new Windows 10 build?

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Windows 10 Anniversary Update runs today when you restart

Tonight, my main HP desktop (which had a replacement hard drive, solid state, installed in June) did a major Windows 10 update, the “anniversary” (13 months), version 1607.

Unlike most updates, the restart went through a complete “updating windows” session, and then did the usual “working on updates” with a restart at 30%.  The entire process took about 25 minutes, much longer than for a usual update.

The features of the update are described here.
 Some of the features are indeed superficial (including more warning messages about settings), but Microsoft claims major security enhancements, hopefully additional protection against execution of scareware or ransomeware.

Update: Sept. 4

On a Toshiba Satellite, the update took about 75 minutes, took a long time especially at 91% on the applying windows updates, and had to hit the power key once to get it to completely come up. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Do companies put homeowners or renters at existential personal risk by hiring door-to-door sales people?

Back in 2002, after my “career-ending layoff”, I did field an employment ad from Time Warner that suggested possible earnings of $75000 a year.  When a recruiter called me back, yes, this was a door-to-door selling job, mostly of cable systems in new real estate developments around the Twin Cities.

Of course, with me that ended the discussion.

It is true that overall crime rate is down, but brazen crime that can ruin individual lives forever is surfacing in menacing ways.  Opening your door to an unannounced solicitor risks home invasion.
Most communities have ordinances requiring solicitors to carry ID.  It probably has to be visible.

 Yet, my experience is that very few people who canvas neighborhoods for sales or for donations or even electioneering display ID properly. People will say they are here to "present" not "sell".

So, a company says, it is providing otherwise economically challenged people jobs as door-to-door salesmen.  People who are better off have a moral obligation to play ball.

Maybe.  But it isn’t far from saying, employer, you’re asking homeowners or renters to take existential risks with the rest of their own lives to even open a door to someone they don’t know -- home invasion.  Imagine being crippled and pitiful, in a nursing home for the rest of your life, because of something someone else who had nothing to lose did.  The term victim gets “useless”.

Here are a couple of missives on the topic, from Crime Doctor and Patch (California).

Okay, we can get into some side discussions.  Insularity of the “well off” is a huge political problem, as well as social, that may feed resentments and divisions further.

Or, we can make the same remarks about other kinds of marketing jobs, including sending emails (spam), or telemarketing (robocalls).  Yes, people are getting desperate to make a living.  Companies want to hire them and want consumers to accept some risk.  After all, you take a risk whenever you drive a car, right?  You can wind up a vegetable because of a drink driver.  It’s the other person’s fault, but you’ll still be what you are.

End-consumer sales used to be a more respected way to make a living than it is today, in many quarters, at least.

Yes, there is a problem.  Many people, who seem stable and productive, have weak social capital, and don’t communicate well with people who really have needs.  They don’t have relations with others where they have each other’s backs against “enemies”.

But in the short run, companies (and political campaigns) have a moral obligation to consider how they run door-door operations.
As the video above says, the ultimate test may be door-door selling of home security.  But why not just sell by appointment when a consumer calls?  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Delta outage said to reveal airlines' aging IT systems, but this was more about hardware

The weekend (August 12) issue of USA Today features a cover story by Charisse Jones and Elizabeth Weise, “Airlines at risk from aging technology”.  Online, the text of the story is slightly updated, “Travel trouble?  Herr’s why your flight is delayed

I recall a little bit about the airlines from my own explorations of the job market in Dallas in the 1980s, when Sabre was touted as American Airlines’s start-of-the-art reservation system.  Airlines have built upon older mainframe systems, and it seems that there are a lot of pieces that have to fit together.

Various media reports indicate that Delta had reported a fire at its server farm in Atlanta, and that some servers did not connect properly to backup power systems.  But this seems more like a “field engineering” issue (as it used to be called) than applications or systems programming.

WJLA has a story about how a missed flight because of the Delta outage saved a family from being in the Silver Spring apartment when the gas explosion happened, link.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Massachusetts bans employer "do ask do tell" policy on applicant salary history; more on why middle class wages and wealth stagnate

A recently passed and signed law for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (the Pay Equity Law) not only requires equal pay by gender for equal work, but it also bans asking salary history.  Kathryn Vasel has the story on CNN Money.

While the bill may be motivated by gender-related potentialities (like gaps for motherhood), in practice people often have trouble getting jobs if they “make too much” or are euphemistically “overqualified”. But this is part of our economic stagnation in the middle.  We can’t make individual work more productive for enough people.

Timothy B, Lee of Vox offers a "Bottom Up" perspective that seems related on his own site as to why middle class wealth is stagnant, here.  (He sees Pokemon Go as a proxy for the post-capitalist economy.) Yes, Tim, you’re barely old enough to run for president, and the GOP would be better off with you as their candidate than Donald Trump, because you articulate reasonable arguments well.  Will “socially liberal” (including loving animals, and respecting the climate) and “fiscally conservative” solve our problems?  I think so, yet there is too much call for “revolution” from the Sanders crowd (read “expropriation”).

Yet, the last comment (Carbalossa) on your “About me” page may getting to the heart of the matter.  In fact, her comment seems more directed at material like my three DADT books than your “Bottom Up” blog.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Video monologue on "Death of the IT Profession"

“Eli the Computer Guy” has a two-hour video on “Death of the IT Profession.”

Indeed, he recalls the days of 56K modems, T1 lines, and family computers – and I guess mainframe culture, even batch cycles and being on-call at night.

Maybe voluntary certifications from vendors weren't enough.  Brainbench tried.  But in my second act of life, if someone asked me "What is your profession?" (like in a screenplay) I'd be put on the spot.

How do you get a YouTube video this long to load?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Trial online contests to get hired by big tech companies

So here is a series of answers to a question on whether Google recruits based on certain searches with a “Foobar” which would take you to an embedded Linux terminal.

It seems that you are presented with a series of algorithmic challenges and deadlines for each.

What seems apparent is that Google is looking for coders with very specific skills.  People who are working in “hot” areas, often on university campuses, are more likely to know the skills.
There’s no question that talented coders can find opportunities to earn a lot even while in school, if in the right places (like around UNC and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, as well as in Silicon Valley or Boston;  other areas like in Texas and Utah are interesting).  Yes, this helps with the student debt issue and gets adult life started sooner.

Some of the coding challenges would remind me of AOPS math problems (at UCLA, Stanford, etc).

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Trump University. "Glengarry Glen Ross", and "100 Mile Rule": making it in the world by pimping other people's products (remember "Hustle and Flow")

The Washington Post has a front page story Sunday, showing the relationship between Trump University and the sales culture depicted in that comedy movie “100 Mile Rule”.  Remember the phrase, “Always Be Closing” (actually, in “Glengarry Glen Ross”).

Rosalind S. Hellman, Tom Hamburger, and Dalton Bennett title the story “Donald Tump said ‘university” was about education. Actually its goal was, ‘Sell, sell, sell’”.  So what if your customer maxes his credit cards;  he's supposed to become competitive enough with people to win all the money back by helping them, right?

Over the years, there have been a lot of these seminars in hotel ballrooms on a variety of buy-in businesses, like telephone card distributorships, cash flow, and various credit counseling and loan operations, and even financial operations like converting whole life insurance to term.  Some of them are “multi-level marketing” which really does work for some people. Trump's was not like Amway, but it still pushes the concept of being someone else’s spokesperson, which I am not willing to be.   I’ve been to some of these in my “retirement” (especially in 2002, right after the Big Layoff).

Remember that song, "It's hard out here for a pimp" in "Hustle and Flow"?  I wonder many times I can say "Donald Trump" in thirty seconds.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

NTSB report on Philadelphia Amtrak crash has implications for personnel, when security automation could have protected workers from their own human errors

There are workplace ethics implications to how we interpret the NTSB findings of the Amtrak train wreck in Philadelphia in May 2015, here. Everything in this post is "impersonal." 

The train engineer lost “situational awareness” when distracted by workplace-related radio chatter (not cell phone) from other trains about rocks thrown at trains in the area.

It’s certainly true, then, that from a personnel issue, there are extenuating circumstances regarding the engineer’s  performance in an unexpected situation.  There was possibly a perceived terror threat, and if perpetrators for the rock throwing were apprehended, they would face prosecution to the full extent of the law. And in one of the most curved sections of track in the NE corridor (I have ridden it many times), Amtrak had not yet implemented “positive train control”, which would have prevented the accident. 

Still, one of the points of the workplace is that the worker, if professional, steps up to the occasion when challenged.  In my experience in IT, a lot of that happened when “on call” for production problems.  More seriously, it was to avoid mistakes in handling production files and software that could cause catastrophe. 

Over time, the security to protect the worker from his own mistakes got better, at least during my own “beautiful career”.  Starting in the late 1980s, it became standard practice in many (IBM) shops to deny applications programmers routine update access to production elements.  By the early 1990s, elevation procedures were typically locked down to guarantee load module integrity. Of course, elevation procedures had to be enforced by management and data control, and in the earliest days sometimes they were not. 

Even so, there is no such thing as a right to be protected from every conceivable mistake one could make in any conceivable situation.  That’s the point of having a job as a human.

I wonder how such security plays out in workplaces like Facebook and Google. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Lower paid "salaried" or exempt workers now must be paid overtime in the US

The New York Times applauds (“Making Overtime Fair Again”) the Obama administration Labor Department rule to require time-and-a-half for overtime for lower paid “salaried” workers (setting a threshold at about $47000) here
This would not help salaried in-house programmers, who usually make more and are often on-call.  It will help workers mainly in retail, convenience, and fast food, more in rural areas. But it's customary to pay W-2 contract employees on IT projects hourly through staffing firms (often with a per diem). 
It would tend to discourage employers from goading workers into lowballing one another (the antithesis of paid family leave).

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TSA screener shortage a problem for those who travel a lot for work; it sounds like a horrible job

The TSA is plagued by a shortage of screeners, as many quit after only a short stint on the job, out of job pressure on tedium. The Port Authority of NYNJ has threatened to go back to private companies.  Here’ s a recent story from San Francisco.

In 2002, the TSA was essentially unreachable by phone as screener jobs opened.  At first, the TSA hired only people with previous experience.  But later it had open houses and was prepared to train many workers.  I went to one such open house in Bloomington, MN in August 2002. I went and quickly determined it was not for me. There had been an extremely long and detailed application from and BI.

But the ability to return to a regimented style of work sounds like a “pay your dues” issue in an unequal economy. You wear a uniform, like you are in the military. (In 2004, Independence Air was hiring gate agents at Dulles for $9.50 an hour, again, uniformed.  I went to that job fair.) 

In late 2003, the TSA advertised for part time screeners at Reagan, and I failed the test given at CompUSA.  There was a personality test (true false, almost 400 questions) and a test in recognizing threats on screening machines.

I was also concerned about the idea of doing pat-downs, a kind of forced intimacy that had followed the military issue.
The screener shortage is especially nettlesome for those who must travel frequently for work.  I last did that in 1997.  

There is increasing concern about the possibility of hard-to-detect plastic explosives being put into carryon laptops.  Could this complicate business travel even further?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Intermittent problem with Micosoft Word doing "Save as" on Windows 10 machine

Recently, on Windows 10 on an HP machine, I’ve had a few glitches with Microsoft Office, specifically Word.

One time, it wouldn’t come up after Restart.  Another Restart fixed it.

Yesterday, I got a “critical process died” when typing into Word.  I had saved the file once, but not yet exited Word.  Usually, it recovers the last saved file.  This time, it didn’t, but that seems to because it was caught trying to save the “Most Recent”.

Then I found Word couldn’t even do a “Save As”.  Finally, after a couple of restarts, the “most recent” seemed to fix itself.  I could save.  But I have trouble saving it in a new directory. I get “Word has stopped working”.  I have to copy it myself with file explorer, then it works.  

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Digital rights management (DRM) complicated playing Amazon videos in some operating environments

I had a problem playing an Amazon Prime rented movie yesterday, in Google Chrome, on both a Windows 10 (Toshiba) and Windows 7 (Dell) machine.  I was able to play it on a MacBook without incident, after Amazon prompted me to install the latest version of Microsoft Silverlight (ironic on the Mac) – with Safari and OS Yosemite.  The obvious help on Amazon had listed mobile devices that could play Prime, but didn’t mention PC;s.  The chat session customer service asked me to try a browser “New Tab” and try again.

Amazon tweeted me a link today with how you resolve Silverlight error 6013.  It’s rather complicated, and it involves issues with Digital Rights Management (DRM), intended to prevent copyright infringement or illegal duplication – much criticized, especially by Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Microsoft "forces" me to go to Windows 10 suddenly on my travel computer; what if I had to catch a plane and had no time?

Well, today, on a Toshiba satellite, Microsoft warned me with it would install Windows 10 in 3 minutes right as I signed on (replacing 8.1), and I wasn’t able to stop it.

It restarted the machine.  The entire process took about 85 minutes.  It seemed to wait a long time at 92% and 69% on the driver installs.

There was a lot of waiting, and more messages, but finally everything came back.  The first time I cold started was slow, and the first restart was slow, but a second start was more normal in time.

Microsoft did not force me to use my Microsoft account password to log on to the machine.

Still, there is a problem with Microsoft doing this.  What if I had to catch a flight and depend on the computer for a business trip that day?

Update: May 19

The New York Times purports to answer my questions in New York Times Tech Fix, "Why Windows 10 Upgrades Go Wrong, and How to Avoid It" (p. B6, Business Day, May 19).  Cheaper laptops may not have upwardly compatible device drivers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Federal government waking up to "agile systems methodology" for health care, FBI, burned by SLDC debacles in the past

Timothy B. Lee has an interesting article on Vox explaining how the federal government and Obama administration is reforming its information technology management at critical agencies, most of all the FBI and HHS.  The 2013 “Healthcare.gov” rollout catastrophe may have been the last straw, and it came rather late.

Lee discusses a project management technique called “agile software development”, whereby users deliver definite capabilities to users live and then reiterate to fine tune the products based on user feedback.  This seems to be a departure from the old SDLC, or “systems development life cycle”, with which familiarity was so essential to job interviews in the past, most of all the 1980s and 1990s, as Y2K approached and as mainframe had to integrate with Internet and other end user GUI platforms.

Source Seek has a discussion of agile methodology and refers whimsically to the “manifestos” out there on software development, and everything else.  “Agile” means “iterative” (and “streamlined” and “timeboxed”) rather than the “waterfall” or “blueprint” technique.  Ever heard the mantrum, “no more changes”?  I have (below), but agile loves change.

The older ideas were certainly in full boil when I worked for a Blue Cross and Blue Shield Consortium, “CABCO” in Dallas from 1979-1981. We depended on various “phases” with walkthroughs (or prototype simulations, as Lee describes), pseudocode, steering committee meetings, CEO meetings, in a repetitive cycle.  The project eventually failed because of squabbling over turf among the plans, when the right concept was to let the end users (affected by conditions and local laws in different states) input many of their requirements, an idea already getting traction in the mainframe world (with CICS interfaces) by the mid and late 1970s.

The skill of the people hired is also maybe an issue.  The transition from old school procedural (often mainframe in verbose languages like COBOL) programming to OOP is not simple for older workers, who need the opportunity to build things from the ground up, not jump in and maintain what other people did.  But there was also a tendency for many “mature” mainframe professionals to leave and go do something else (as I did) after Y2K and then the shock of 9/11.  The recruiting industry and the way contracting firms did projects – with temporary W2 gigs – did not encourage retaining the level of maturity needed to put in a system like “Obamacare” with all its complexities, many of which were oversights in policy as well as technology.

I could have contributed materially to the development of “Obamacare”.  But if I had anything to do with it at a senior level, it would not have gone in with all the problems it had, and I would have squawked about the idea of people paying more under the new system than old, partly because of being forced to buy coverages they personally didn’t need. Maybe that wouldn’t have been my call – but I think nobody could see (or simulate) how this could happen technically.

Of course, talk is cheap, and free.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Lowballing by salaried workers could undermine parental leave for others

Take note today of the Letters to the Editors on the April 10 article in the New York Times (posting here) on digital sweatshops, most of all the letter by Vogel, links.
The letter writer essentially describes the practice of lowballing by salaried workers, especially those with fewer family obligations, making themselves effectively cheaper to keep if there is a downturn. It’s hard to imagine how “paid parental leave” can coexist with this practice.  I remember the use of the term “lowballing” all the way back to the early 1970s when I worked on benchmarks for Univac.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Do Microsoft users have a "fundamental right" to stability so they can do their work? Some discussion of product lifecycles

Do home users and small business owners, and especially would-be journalists have a fundamental right to expect the devices (most of all traditional PC’s, whether Microsoft, Mac, or some other Linux, as well as tablets and smart phones) to be reliable without breakdowns caused by vendor adventureness?

Today I had some misadventures with a Windows 10 “Second Tuesday” update.  One restart got caught in a loop, which I got out of by repowering the machine.  The “Advanced options” tells me one more restart is needed to finish updates, but another screen says they are up to date.  A symptom was Microsoft Word not loading, which would always be fixed by a restart (or even a power off and Windows 10 fast start).

Microsoft, especially, seems to think it has the right to disrupt customer work by scheduling Windows 10 upgrades on older machines with 7 or 8, which are very likely to fail.

Furthermore, on Windows 7, it seems that “checking for updates” gets caught in a loop now, even though essential security support is supposed to continue until 2020.

I see a lot of troubleshooting forums, with widely varying answers to problems, with people who seem to have time to rebuild operating systems and drivers al the time.  How do you get business done if your basic infrastructure is unstable?  Yet, I’ve heard the moral view expressed that every computer owners should be able to rebuild his own operating system from scratch.  It’s like saying car owners and homeowners should be able to do their own repairs. It’s rather Maoist.

Here is the Microsoft product lifecycle factsheet

Here is a discussion of Microsoft mainstream and extended support     You should be able to get security vulnerability patches until extended support ends.

With the Mac, I have fewer stability problems, although I can't say the Mac is perfect.  More about that another time.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What are the "hot" programming languages now? Also, life in a digital sweat shop

Business Insider has a list of eight in-demand programming languages.  Java is no surprise (despite the security concerns that keep if from being offered with many hosting plans). It’s amazing how java rose from release in 1995 to being a productions staple by 2000.  C# is easier, but limited to Microsoft .Net environments pretty much. C++ requires real coding.  But seeing Python and especially “Ruby on Rails” (used at Twitter and Airbnb) surprised me.
Dan Lyons has a whimsical op-ed in the New York Times Review, “Congratulations, you’ve been fired”, about an experience at Hub Spot, a discussion of a digital sweat shop where a gig of employment is like a “tour of duty”,  But isn’t this what agencies offering W-2 contracts specialize in?