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.