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Comment: The problem is private insurance (Score 0) 44

I would imagine that the NFL is completely self-insured. It's rare today, but there are still organizations where the members don't have a traditional insurance company doing things for them...instead, your medical bills get sent to Mabel in HR and the organization's insurance fund reimburses the provider. Without knowing exactly what goes on, I'll bet something like that happens now with the NFL -- all the teams and players' union pay into a central fund and therefore it's no big deal if someone sees your health record. That would go double for football players who are frequently injured and often in a strange city.

Other than the tinfoil hat crowd, one of the major issues with having universal EHRs is the worry that insurers will discriminate against you as soon as they find you're not as healthy as their average customer. The ACA outlaws some of this, but (a) not everything is off the table, and (b) if the Republicans win the presidency in 2016 the whole law will be flushed down the toilet on Day 1 and we'll go back to the old system. If life and health insurers weren't allowed to see or use this data, people would probably feel differently about it. Health and life insurance are basically making bets against you dying or getting very sick during the policy term.

National-level EHRs would only work with universal health care, where insurance companies wouldn't exist. Only in specialized situations like the NFL is something like this possible now. A sudden illness is unlikely to wipe an NFL player out -- but that same illness will cause bankruptcy in a person whose insurance company dropped them just before they got sick.

Comment: "Security experts" can sometimes be idiots (Score 4, Insightful) 251

by ErichTheRed (#49494771) Attached to: FBI Accuses Researcher of Hacking Plane, Seizes Equipment

Up front, let me say this guy does have a point. Avionics systems were never designed to be secure, since the technology for unauthorized users to access them didn't exist when they were developed. If you're an Airbus designer building the A320's core messaging bus back in the late 80s, do you assume people are going to have wireless network access and phones with the power of laptops in their pockets? Of course, you do now...but not back in the 80s. And once an aircraft system gets certified, changing it is an extremely drawn out process, hence the inertia. If you want another example, look at magstripe credit cards -- another system where, when it was invented, magnetic readers/encoders were "magical devices" that only huge companies could afford, so therefore there was no encryption.

Now, that said, there are way better methods for getting the word out on stuff like this. I'm assuming he already went to the vendors on this, but if he acted anything like what he displayed here, they may have just ignored him as a crackpot. If the guy doesn't have a lot of emotional intelligence, it can significantly impact his credibility in the eyes of the "normal" population. That seems to be a problem with a lot of the security types -- they're obviously very intelligent and spend vast amounts of time digging around in the internals of the systems they're hacking. When it comes time to communicate this knowledge to others, they can do so in ways that might get them lumped into the "nerd living in Mom's basement" camp, deserved or not. Threatening to demonstrate your latest find in a live environment would certainly not be my first choice. Imagine if he had turned on the passenger oxygen warning -- air crews don't go back and check whether a warning like that is legit or not. Pilots follow checklists, and I would imagine the first thing they do is descend very quickly to a safe altitude just in case the cabin actually did depressurize!!

Comment: The root problem is the body shop mentality (Score 5, Interesting) 288

by ErichTheRed (#49487567) Attached to: IT Worker's Lawsuit Accuses Tata of Discrimination

I work for a specialty IT services firm. The company is European, I'm an American. Even though we do a lot of the same services that Tata, CSC, Wipro and the others do, the company is single-industry focused and therefore most of our employees have some clue what they're doing. The discrimination claim is going to be nearly impossible to prove unless there's a real smoking gun hanging out there

The problem with IT services is that when a company outsources their IT, a new layer of abstraction is created between them and their systems. That layer also needs to make money. I know there are MBA accounting tricks that make this arrangement look better on paper, but the reality is that the outsourcing costs more in real dollars and time lost than the company could save by doing it in house. These IT services firms want the maximum profit from the arrangement, so they bill like crazy, and are constantly testing ways to provide the absolute lowest level of service they can get away with. In the case of, say, IBM or Accenture, this is done by swapping the labor out to whatever country is cheapest that year, and only keeping project managers and absolutely key people in high-cost countries. In the case of Tata or Infosys, that's accomplished by a mix of H-1B sponsorships and doing the work in India. The result is very clear, and has been for years -- unless the IT services company is willing to leave some money on the table and someone with a clue at the customer, the customer will get the minimum service level that won't breach the contract, and pay more for bad work product. The problem, like I said, lies in the MBA accounting tricks that make this look like a good idea.

That said, we have the same problem in our company, but not to the same extent as the complaint alleges. All the top leadership is European, it's been that way for quite a while, and the company is very Euro-centric. What we don't have is what this guy is describing -- our engineering group isn't given crap work assignments, etc. But, I highly doubt anyone from the US could move beyond the VP level. That's fine by me, because I have no ambition to do that. What the lawsuit alleges is that there's no opportunity at the lower ranks either.

The thing I worry about for the future is firms like Tata squeezing out the entry-level IT jobs that allow IT professionals the ability to learn and grow into better IT jobs. It's not about the people's national origin -- my job involves working with a worldwide group of employees and customers, and there are great, fair and abysmal examples of IT professionals in all countries, all races, etc. Culture can be a problem, especially in mono-culture firms. The root problem is that if someone can make more money as a...whatever...instead of an entry level IT tech, then there will be no more job/career progression for anyone, and the domestic job market in IT will stagnate.

Comment: Aren't the odds vanishingly small anyway? (Score 1) 494

From what I've seen, getting a tenured STEM position is like winning the lottery these days, regardless of who you are or how good you are. Maybe this is just the system balancing itself out? There just aren't enough positions to go around anyway. Also, STEM departments in most places are overwhelmingly male, but correlation != causation.

This was one of several things that kept me from going on to graduate studies in chemistry. Other than just being burnt out on school by the point I had to decide, the odds of landing a permanent job were low even when I graduated (90s.) It's funny too, because I would be one of those strange individuals who would work harder because of me, it would represent freedom to concentrate on work and not worry about having a job. I know that most people aren't like that, so that's why they have to be incredibly picky and careful.

Comment: Oh yeah, don't forget MUMPS (Score 3, Interesting) 183

Sorry for double posting, but one other thing to note is this...behind all the whizzy new web interface screens, many EHR systems are based on some of the oldest, creakiest standards imaginable, including a programming language-and-database combo called MUMPS. Look it up - it's positively ancient, and it should be obvious why they have trouble finding people willing to specialize in writing code for it.

The VA system has one of the oldest EHR implementations in the country, and even though the GUI is semi modern, the guts of the system are this MUMPS mess. (You can download most of the source code for the system online since it's a government created product. The language was designed in an era where preserving memory was the only concern, all variables are global (!!), and keywords can be abbreviated to one letter...that should tell you enough about MUMPS right there!) Any industry you can think of that has used computers long enough has problems like this -- my area of expertise (airline systems) has standards going back 40-50 years, from when every single byte sent down a communications link was precious.

Most systems like this do a very good job of hiding the complexity from the end user, but it also reduces the amount of spontaneous change you can introduce. For example, in airline reservation systems, no one would dare change the layout of the mainframe emulator screens because so many up-level systems depend on scraping that data exactly the same way they've been doing it for 30 years. Everything an end user sees passes through many layers on the way down to the core, and systems like this are built on nested layers of wrapper code.

Comment: Complex workflows + doctors = disaster (Score 4, Insightful) 183

It's not limited to electronic medical records -- it's the insane user interfaces in modern software that were obviously coded by a developer who never has to use the systems for work.

I'm not a doctor, but know many. Most of them are not happy at all with the shift to EHR, for the reasons cited. Most of the doctors I see for actual visits are attached to the large state university hospital nearby, and so they all use the same EHR system (I think it's McKesson.) The doctors often spend half the visit clicking through mandatory screens and cursing the computer. The insanely complex workflow is the problem. I work in airline IT, and the main reservation system providers do absolutely everything in their power to eliminate duplicate keystrokes and actions when booking a reservation or doing a check-in. It's optimized so much that agents trained on the system can do the entire transaction in real time while talking to the customer, with very few pauses. The real expert agents can eliminate any delays by using the terminal provided they've memorized the insane commands to do various tasks. The main reason for this is that airlines are insanely stingy, low margin businesses. Any delay for the agent decreases customer throughput and increases the chance they will need to put more agents on a shift.

In the IT world, I can't count the number of crappy end user applications I've integrated, where I've just shaken my head and thanked $deity that I don't have to use them for my job. And also, don't forget the ITIL-driven service desk and change management applications. The big vendors (Remedy, CA, etc.) will sell a company the "cheap" out-of-box package that implements _every single feature_ but charge them millions to customize it. Most companies don't bother, and you end up with systems where you spend almost an hour filling out a change request.

I'll bet most of this problem stems from that "out of box" deployment syndrome...where you get a product that technically functions, but is suicide-inducing unless the customer pays for customizations, in the "light a bag of money on fire" realm. How many hundreds of integration points does an EHR product have? Prescribing systems, records storage, insurance company connections, etc, etc, etc... Doctors must hate it because they can't just order a PA or nurse to do their transcriptions for them like they used to.

Comment: Re:Not one quarter but six quarters since Oct 22,2 (Score 1) 238

"The problem with NY is that they are offering as a perk something which is offered by other states for free, without even asking, such as low taxes and pro-business government."

Here's a very interesting question for the business owners...what exactly is a pro-business government? What regulations exist in one state, that don't exist in another, and overly burden a business's ability to operate? I know the tax code in many states is a huge pain in the butt, but all you have to do is hire one tax lawyer/accountant and the problem goes away.

I agree that entrepreneurial spirit is good, and business owners work hard, etc...but one of the things that bothers me is how much cheerleading they do for themselves trying to drum up sympathy for the over-regulated, over-taxed plight they're in. Small business owners have it pretty good as far as taxes go -- everything they buy or do is a business expense, hence reducing their tax liability. Wage earners can't do that. Even better if the business is a corporation -- they can pay themselves a $1 salary and have the company pay for all their personal expenses. [1]

So sure, let business owners create, innovate, whatever...but they're not doing as badly as they would have you think they are.

[1] I'm not saying that's legal, and the IRS can "pierce the corporate veil" if they really suspect something shady, but it does happen.

Comment: It's a start, but won't solve all of NY's problems (Score 1) 238

I live here, and have seen the ads for this program. One of the problems facing New York, both the metro area and upstate, is the loss of old-line employers, both in manufacturing and services:
- Upstate NY had huge numbers of manufacturing jobs as recently as 20 years ago. Most of the actual jobs have either been automated or the companies themselves have moved to other states or countries. Steel mills and auto plants in Buffalo, Kodak in Rochester, Carrier in Syracuse, Corning Glass in Corning are just examples I can think of off the top of my head (yes, I'm a former upstater.)
- The huge tax generator for the state, financial services, only keeps the high end jobs in NYC. Other jobs like IT support, etc. are mostly in cheaper parts of the country.
- IBM was, and still is to some degree, a very big New York State employer. They have large operations in the Hudson Valley and HQ is in Westchester County. However, everyone sees the writing on the wall with IBM -- they are getting rid of or outsourcing any job that doesn't generate outsized revenue for the company and dumping product lines/businesses left and right. I think it won't be long before their influence is done as well.
- Kodak's bankruptcy basically dropped a bomb in Rochester's economy. Not just manufacturing jobs were lost -- tons and tons of service jobs went away too.
- In addition, New York City is no longer seen as a place where companies have to have an office. It certainly was in the early to mid 20th Century. Even if a company does locate here, you aren't seeing the 50s and 60s style "seas of desks" where people manually worked on paper records and company headquarters were the size of a city block, filled with 50 floors of this. (I worked for MetLife early in my career -- it was very interesting to hear the old timers talk of a time when 20,000 people worked in one building.)

One of the issues that I see, having lived both upstate and downstate, is that New York, like California and Massachusetts, are good places to live. Even rural school districts are adequate, the state university system is great and still a good deal, and local services are decent for the most part. The problem is that this requires money, and the anti-tax crowd is all about cutting that off. In addition, low- or no-tax states like Texas and Florida constantly go trolling for companies to move there. No taxes for 20 years? Sure. Free utilities for 10 years? No problem. Want us to build you a headquarters for free? We'll sign the deal tomorrow. I'm not saying taxes should be as high as they are, but that's a far cry from the anti-tax zealots proposing that we gut the entire state government in the name of savings. High tax states like NY, CA, CT, MA, MD, etc. can't win a game of Prisoner's Dilemma with TX, FL, TN, AL, etc.

I don't think programs like this will solve everything, nor will they fix the big mess that happened when companies got rid of all the low- to mid-skill work. But, it's a start and early on in the program. I don't really see a startup with 5 guys sporting hipster beards and writing iPhone apps replacing the labor force NY used to have, or the manufacturing base they had. I think the only long term fix is one of two things -- (1) bring manufacturing back to the level it was at, or (2) accept that a chunk of the population is going to be under- or un-employed forever and subsidize them enough to prevent increases in crime.

Comment: Where will future workers be trained? (Score 2, Insightful) 442

I'm in systems engineering/administration, and have been through many, many outsourcing/offshoring exercises. I consider myself extremely lucky, having gotten into the tech field in the early 90s and building up enough experience to stay employed despite this. Younger people just graduating, in my opinion, don't have as many opportunities. In addition, us older experienced types (just turning 40 this year, so much fun...) are increasingly jumping from place to place as IT is offshored. Eventually, no one will have anywhere to jump to, and that's my major concern with the abuse of the H1-B program.

I've mentioned before that H1-B is used for two primary purposes. The first is the intended one -- short term hiring of extremely talented people who really possess a skill that can't be found. I've seen this used in product development and other arenas, and I support that use because it really does work. The second is the "cheap labor" use where foreign workers with masters' degrees and above are brought in to do low level coding or administration work. This just drives wages down for everyone. Also, it's not universal, but in my experience the quality of work is much lower simply because the outsourcer doesn't have any insight into how the stuff they're doing fits into an organization's plans. There are far more H1-B cheap labor users than there are talent importers.

Raising the H1-B cap is simply a way to lower wages and make the profession less attractive to native workers who demand a higher salary. I've worked with tons of people, foreign and native, and the reality is that some are awesome, some are OK, and some shouldn't be working in this matter where they came from. The problem comes when offshoring firms compete with each other to see how cheaply they can offer a service, still get away with the awful level of service the customer gets, and make greater profits.

I don't know the answer, beyond setting up a guild/apprenticeship system, which techies would never go for. If we could make entry level labor cheap enough to compete, weighing the cost of having to redo offshored work vs. having it done here, etc. and have a slower wage progression over a career, that might do something. I'm not trying to be an apologist, but I do see some companies' points when they have to hire a "rockstar Ruby developer" for $200K who turns out to not be a rockstar. Improvements in education might help as well, but companies need to understand that their workforce needs to be trained. Not everyone is a drop-in replacement for the guy who just left.

Comment: Good only if the work is there (Score 5, Insightful) 149

by ErichTheRed (#49320857) Attached to: Obama To Announce $240M In New Pledges For STEM Education

A lot of people will see this as just a handout or lip service, but realistically, what else is there to do? Automation is going to destroy pretty much every service and office job slowly but surely over the next 40 or 50 years. People coming out of school have to do something. The "default choices" used to be that if you didn't go to college or failed at college, you got a trades or service job, and if you graduated, you got some random corporate job. These are the typical jobs we in IT see our customers doing -- some random reporting job or moving numbers around in Excel and emailing the results around, or middle management. Now, automation will be coming for the corporate jobs, and trades are becoming less and less desirable to work in due to low wages and limited to no union protection. So, what's left?

I doubt everyone can be taught enough to be a good STEM worker, but maybe enough can to sustain the rest of the economy. Even having someone who understands enough logic to troubleshoot things pays off in other fields as well. If you focus on core stuff like that, rather than getting everyone to write "Hello, World!" in Python or Ruby, you may have something. Otherwise, I agree, it'll just be a box to check during your high school career and very few people will be interested in pursuing it further.

Comment: This is one reason why IT doesn't get respect (Score 4, Insightful) 765

For the record, I'm a man who works in IT. I don't know enough about this project to take a stand one way or the other, but I do know that crap like this is why the IT profession (if you can call it that) struggles for respect. I see this sort of stuff all the time, and it's frustrating because I really thought we were beyond the stereotype of "asexual nerds living with Mom in the basement." Not everyone in IT has a juvenile sense of humor, but oh boy, those who do can sometimes make workplaces pretty uncomfortable. And no, I'm not easily offended, but it's not exactly the most professional interaction when you have to listen to someone talk about their adventures at the strip club in detail. Not the content so much, but usually it's because the people saying these things just make you think, "eww, gross." If I was a woman, I would sure select myself out of an environment like that.

For everyone who is going to respond to this in a "Fuck you, I can say and do whatever I want" fashion, can you please explain why it is so difficult to refrain from inappropriate jokes in an office environment? Does anyone in a work situation really need to hear about what you'd like to do with the hot new intern, etc.? I've worked both in "normal" office environments, and environments where behavior like this is tolerated or encouraged. Normal workplaces are a lot better in my opinion.

Same thing goes for overt sexual harassment -- I often wonder why we need to watch HR's presentation over and over again on this subject, then I see real issues in the news that I just can't believe. I wouldn't even think about saying/doing some of the stuff some guys are accused of, and it just amazes me that this goes in in 2015. I know there are a few people who develop a "rockstar" aura and can be untouchable in the eyes of management, but it would seem to me that unless you are the sole author of a company's core money making product, or an executive, you can't get away with this stuff anymore.

Comment: IT outsourcing may be the cause? (Score 1) 69

by ErichTheRed (#49286559) Attached to: Personal Healthcare Info of Over 11M Premera Customers Compromised

One thing I've noticed about these data breaches is that they happen at companies who don't really care that much about IT. Almost everywhere these days, IT departments in organizations like that have been outsourced. So the question is, does that extra layer of abstraction cause in-house staff to miss stuff?

Let's assume the outsourcer is competent and doing an OK job. Even with that assumption, you now have another level that any IT change has to go through before it is implemented. Is it possible that the patch schedule takes so long to complete that key system vulnerabilities sit around for months while ITIL and friends approve the approval process to kickoff the change control meeting, notify all stakeholders, have meetings to schedule change planning meetings, etc. etc. etc.? (You can tell I've been on both sides of this fence...) It gets so bad that staff sometimes try to avoid making necessary changes because they don't want to fill out 2 hours' worth of ITIL paperwork.

The other problem is that outsourcing inserts another layer that has to make money. I guarantee you that the best and brightest are not working for outsourcers for the most part, and they squeeze every single nickel out of every process and employee. We'll see what the security consultants dig up on this one, but I'll bet it has something to do with this.

Comment: Re:It can be interpreted other way too (Score 1) 127

by ErichTheRed (#49275627) Attached to: Analysis: People Who Use Firefox Or Chrome Make Better Employees

"Or it says that you are an arrogant shithead who doesn't want to use the tools that the company provides."

That can go either way. As-provided end user computing stuff stinks. I know, I help provide it and have to design everything to the lowest common denominator. Thankfully the place I'm at no longer has a hard dependency for all users on IE 6, but stuff like that exists. You also need to design the "for the masses" stuff in such a way that they can't mess it up too badly, to reduce help desk calls. I wouldn't blame someone who had a clue and knew how to circumvent the permissions for installing something they need as long as it wasn't a licensing liability and they didn't complain if it crashed their system or something, and they had the ability to fix their own problems if they have one. The "having a clue" part is the key. Those who don't have a clue and use the computer as a tool to do their job only are not part of this group.

Understand that no one *wants* to support IE 6 because the crappy line of business application everyone uses was written eons ago and costs millions to upgrade. IT costs money, and custom or strange software is often the reason for "irrational" choices in technology.

It crosses over into the "Arrogant shithead" realm when they loudly announce their disdain for your puny little technology choices and demand support for their stuff. Imagine a Windows or Mac guy in a Linux-only enterprise criticizing the choice of OS, distro or whatever. Same goes for the loud angry Linux guy in a Windows-only environment. Quietly using what you like and not demanding attention from IT is the difference. And yes, that often involves restrictions on access, etc. that may not affect users who use the defaults.

Comment: Not sure I like this idea (Score 1) 498

by ErichTheRed (#49224979) Attached to: Mental Health Experts Seek To Block the Paths To Suicide

One of the problems I have with people passing anti-suicide laws is the fact that some people really don't want to live. Everyone says "oh, it's a temporary condition, it can be fixed with meds, etc." but the reality is that peoples' lives are messy. If they feel that this is what they need to do to stop suffering on a regular basis, then that option should be open to them. Whether or not they're thinking clearly, it's their choice.

How would you feel about forcing someone to live through the suffering of terminal cancer or some other debilitating illness? That's what you would be doing.

The other larger macro-level problem to think about is population control. In the near future when automation has completely taken over, unemployment is high and no one can feed themselves anymore, do you really want to force a population floor? Sounds pretty cold hearted, but so is the reality of 90% unemployment and widespread poverty that awaits us shortly...

Comment: It cuts both ways (Score 2) 292

by ErichTheRed (#49216645) Attached to: Do Tech Companies Ask For Way Too Much From Job Candidates?

Having faced these huge walls of product names, operating systems and languages as a job candidate, it can be very intimidating and scare people away from applying. No one is a complete expert on everything. What I do offer is the ability to be flexible, learn what is needed and pick it up as I go. Companies don't like that because they want a drop-in replacement for whoever left, plus someone they don't have to train. This is why the consultant market is so lucrative for those who don't mind the vagabond lifestyle.

And, having sifted through resumes and conducted interviews, now that I also have a say in hiring, companies often have the reverse problem. Candidates put a "wall of experience" on their resume because (a) they know that's the only way to get past the zero-clue HR filters, and (b) they see what companies are doing, and feel that if they've seen something once it needs to go on the resume. Also, I know there's a lot of debate about the skills shortage, but in some sectors there really is one. It takes a lot of sifting through resumes to find a group to interview, and it's very frustrating to bring someone in only to find that they have grossly misrepresented their familiarity with a requirement of the job. I'm in the systems integration world, so we hire a lot of system admin types. One of the most common misrepresentations I've seen is someone with Windows administration experience, who lists scripting and automation on their resume. When you bring them in, you find out that they were just running other people's scripts, and don't have any background or knowledge to build on. Last year I interviewed someone with 10+ years of Windows Server experience, who proudly proclaimed "I don't do scripts."

I'm not sure how to solve it. Recruiters aren't the answer -- they're often the offenders in this case, editing the candidate's resume. I think the only "solution" would be to guarantee at least a phone interview to everyone who applies, just as a basic BS filter. That doesn't scale, but if candidates can't trust job descriptions and employers can't trust candidates, what's the fix?

Behind every great computer sits a skinny little geek.