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Comment PC is necessary in today's world (Score 1) 662

Yes, yes, flame away, but I feel that the world isn't PC enough given the changes in the way discourse is handled.

Before the Internet and easy-to-use social media platforms, people who had social issues could only offend a limited number of people within their local sphere of influence. By this I'm talking about the people who don't have a filter and just let their mouths run without thinking about how they sound or who they're talking to. I know many, and giving people like this access to Facebook, Twitter and the other social platforms just makes them worse. They also tend to pull in more people around them who are attracted to their abrasive style.

PC is required because the loud-mouth crowd is using the concept of free speech as a license to say whatever comes to their minds with no repercussions. If people would simply follow the golden rule of "don't be a total asshat to one another" we wouldn't need it.

The problem with a situation like this is that the loudest mouth wins, whether or not what they have to say is worth listening to. Look at people like Trump, angry conservative talk show hosts, or radical leftists for that matter, and you'll see how extreme positions affect the public narrative. Putting reasonable limits on what people can say to one another is a good idea in my opinion.

Comment Voluntary separations = talent removal spiral (Score 3, Insightful) 216

Layoffs should always be a last resort in positions that require technical talent. This goes double if your staff are more experienced and able to see the writing on the wall. I've chosen companies carefully over the years and have had long tenures at places I've worked. But, when a talented person who can get a job somewhere else sees the layoff balloons going up, the immediate thought is whether or not they'll be next. This causes everyone good to head for the exits, and you're left with the low-talent people who are just hanging on hoping they don't get it in the next round. This has happened to me twice, and I've carefully considered my options both times, opting to leave before things got worse.

This is partially driven by the (irrational) preference to hire only employed people. I know a lot of talented people who've just been blindsided by a sudden layoff, capricious firing or even the business going bankrupt. The road back for these people is very hard and they often have to take lower-salary work or work for companies with less-than-ideal working conditions.

Comment Not surprised (Score 3, Insightful) 428

There have been a lot of stories like this over the brief history of technology. IBM is a really good example. Their senior management is doing everything they can to sell off the company bit by bit while collecting money, and they still can't kill it. Microsoft is another excellent example, riding Windows and Office through to their current states. They're currently poised to pull the ultimate vendor lock-in trick with Azure and subscription software because they have loads of money to spend. Some companies, especially those with huge cash balances, can manage through transitions. Others will just keep beating money out of their cash cows for as long as possible (again, IBM is the perfect example.) Others, like Sun, end up getting bought at fire sale prices. All of the companies mentioned were absolutely dominant at one time or another. IBM is a total joke these days, but in the 70s/80s they represented the state of the art in all things computing.

Apple's problem is that they are now too consumer-focused and don't have a pipeline of expensive gadgets to sell them. Whether they'll use that huge pile of cash they have to buy into the next trend remains to be seen.

Comment I'm amazed it's taken this long (Score 3, Interesting) 37

There are so many vulnerable SCADA systems, device-specific Ethernet adapters and other stuff out there, and it just chugs along for years and years. Especially with public sector stuff, multiple layers of contractors put gear in, barely document it and hand it over to the operating authority. The problem is that since no one permanent knows the ins and outs of the system, it can stay vulnerable for ages. Even if a vendor does release patches, the "don't touch it or 500K customers lose power" mentality around critical infrastructure means they barely ever get applied.

Anything IoT is going to have to be secure by default, as in, hard to get working instead of open and easy. I doubt the "just contract it out" mentality is ever going to go away in the public sector -- I've inherited systems where the only documentation is a statement of work from 5 years back that the contractor cut and pasted from the vendor's manuals.

Comment OK, so our lab isn't that bad after all! (Score 2) 169

It's amazing how much cabling gets forgotten about when you have a chaotic lab environment and new stuff coming in all the time (we do hardware evaluations and other systems integration work.) There's never any money left over for structured cabling once it's been spent on all the fancy new hardware. Even if we invested in structured cabling it would turn into an unstructured mess quickly. I have racks that look like those Magic Eye pictures; the only thing that will solve it is unplugging everything. I'm sure world class scientists can't be bothered to label anything if we can't!

Comment End of the bubble is coming (Score 1) 125

I saw this back in the late 90s. People I knew with very shaky skills were getting paid 6 figures to design website back-ends, simply because the demand was so astronomical. Come 2001, a lot of those people were unemployed or were being paid a lot less. The point is that the bubble is coming to an end:
- CS enrollments are at an all time high (just in time for grads to get out into the nonexistent job market...)
- Companies are paying insane salaries due to the bubble and hype around apps, social media, etc.
- More and more semi-skilled people are jumping on the bandwagon, getting into the "exciting world of development"

As a counterpoint, look at the story about Disney's H-1B replacement workers still on the front page. That seems to be what's coming for the low end of the market. The high end is cyclical -- BS artist consultants on the latest fad come and go, really good consultants and employees can still command a good salary if they know how to market themselves correctly.

Comment Lawsuits won't fix this (Score 5, Interesting) 243

It's interesting to see a new angle on this, and to see a group actually fighting back against such a large employer. But...lawsuits won't fix this long term. What is going to fix this is a professional organization with a little more teeth than something like the IEEE or ACM. IT Professionals (developers, systems guys, DevOps people, whatever) need to start standing up against stuff like this before any hope of combating it goes away.

I walk the line between worker and manager in a lead position, so I see both sides of an employers' argument. Here's the uncomfortable truth -- there really is a shortage of qualified people, always has been. You need to find and hang on to qualified people for dear life, because you're not going to get a department full of superstars. The problem is that a lot of unqualified people can BS their way to a $150K+ job, and employers often don't know the difference between good and bad. Because of this, they're always looking to cut costs. So when Tata or Infosys comes in, and tells the CIO to write them a monster check to make their lazy good-for-nothing IT department go away, the argument holds water. Anyone working in an offshored IT environment knows that it never works out, but we do a very poor job of communicating our value to the business in some cases.

Other professionals are much smarter than we are about this. They saw companies moving to limit their power and formed professional organizations. The AMA pays for legislation, makes political campaign donations, and ensures its members still continue to command high salaries. If they ever let up, United Healthcare or similar would buy a law saying that nurses or medical assistants could perform advanced procedures for 1/10 the cost. Same thing with engineers, accountants, etc. There is an accepted barrier to entry (medical school, accreditation, licensure, etc.) to weed out the first-level BS artists. Imagine if an IT professional with X years' experience came with a full well-rounded education in computing fundamentals and their speciality, as opposed to graduating from a certification bootcamp. Or if a developer could be guaranteed to know something other than the JQuery and Python scripting he was taught in Coder Academy. As an employer, I'd pay for that instead of having to cycle endlessly through crappy onshore and offshore employees.

The point is that both sides have to give a little. Employers need to stop offshoring to the lowest bidder long enough to allow a talent pool to grow domestically, and IT professionals need to embrace the idea of a profession with salary progression commensurate with experience. If I were king and were able to form the IT Professionals Association tomorrow, here's what would happen:
- A huge collection would have to be taken up from members to purchase legislation banning the most obvious abuses of the current visa system. (Not an outright ban, because the original idea is good.)
- Some fundamental standards and practices would need to be established. This is the really hard part, because everyone is used to things going a million miles an hour and vendors promoting lock-in at every turn. But we're big boys and girls now, and computers are a part of our daily lives; their use should be more like a branch of engineering than a mad scientists' lab or skunkworks.
- Experience levels would need to be set, and training requirements to reach the next level would need to be established. Yes, this includes the idea of licensure, and at the lower levels, the dirty word "apprenticeship." This would allow employers to pay less for lower-skilled domestic labor. Does that sound like a skilled trade? It should -- the fundamentals of computing are becoming skilled labor now, and the creative engineering work should be done higher up the stack by people who have done the grunt work before.
- Members of the profession would need to start taking responsibility for their work, PE or medical malpractice style. It infuriates me when I've walked into projects where someone messed things up so badly they were fired, and they just clean up their resume and move on like nothing happened. That would be part of the bargain with employers -- they would get quality work or compensation in the case of incompetence.
- Vendor neutral lifelong continuing education, period.
- For this to work, it can't be a union-style seniority over all arrangement. Veteran workers who have kept up with technology all through the lifecycles don't deserve to train their replacements, but I'm not sure how I feel about the mainframe programmer who has never done anything different and has no interest in cross-training.

The H-1B program is being used for an unintended purpose -- getting rid of long term domestic employees and replacing them with "equivalent" workers. I'm fine with the original purpose, allowing truly talented people who really deserve it to come work here. I've been able to work with a few people like this, but I've also worked in IT sweatshop environments as one of the last onshore guys as they rotate less-than-qualified people in and out on H-1Bs. I think this needs to be fixed, but it's only the first step. We need to grow up and start advocating for our profession the same way employers advocate for their positions. And yes, that involves slimy lobbyists and paying for what you want.

Comment This sounds a lot like e-discovery rules (Score 5, Insightful) 231

I've worked in a few corporate environments where they were extremely paranoid about e-discovery (back when this was a new thing.) Almost always, the answer was to set the retention policy to 30 days, as in, no email backups older than 30 days, no (sanctioned) way to archive email, and everything older than 30 days was purged from mailboxes. This allowed the company to say with a straight face, "I'd love to give you the messages relevant to such-and-such business deal gone bad 5 years ago, but I simply cannot."

It sounds a lot like what Apple's doing -- they purposely built the encryption system with no way to bypass it so they can push it right back on the police and courts -- "Sorry, can't help you!" That gets them tons of great customer PR, as opposed to Google/Android, so it makes sense.

Comment You need something engaging with kids (Score 1) 214

The problem with introducing software development is that environments like Scratch are the easiest way these days to get a kid to write something and get immediate feedback. How many old timers remember:
10 PRINT "I am Cool"
20 GOTO 10
as their first BASIC program on one of the old home computer platforms of the 80s?

Scratch is like that. You stitch together simple statements and make something actually happen on the screen. You could argue that you could teach them a little JavaScript or something similar. but you still need enough syntax and backstory to get them to do something interesting. This is especially true now that most kids are being raised with "consume only" mobile devices and tablet OSes as their main computing platforms. The Wolfram language is similar -- very easy to pick up, -but- for a beginner the syntax is a barrier. Now that programming is so abstract from the actual hardware, it takes a little effort to introduce the concepts slowly and walk back all that abstraction.

Comment Industrial controls are having their "XP Moment" (Score 1) 162

I work with lots of serial-to-Ethernet stuff, various gateways, etc. in an industry with a lot of old technology. The truth is that the vendors of this stuff make it easy to set up, open access by default, and almost never updated. Patches for known things like ssh vulnerabilities or kernel bugs take months. What often happens is some lowest-bid contractor is hired by the utility company to implement control systems, leaves them wide open and the company has no idea how to secure them.

Remember Windows XP SP2? This was the first client OS update after Microsoft started acknowledging security issues. Before that, the firewall was off and everything was on by default, including remote access to system files and services. That was a pretty big shift - before this, very little in the way of security hardening was done because the goal was to make it as easy as possible to use the system. The same thing probably has to happen for these SCADA vendors and other "magic Ethernet converter" device manufacturers to make it difficult to access things remotely by default.

Comment Business model has to change. (Score 2) 442

The problem with online ads now is how much CPU/battery/data they use up. Since people are desensitized to them now, the advertisers respond by making the ads more interactive, flashier and in-your-face, which eats all these resources. Your computer needs to run a million JavaScript snippets that go out to all sorts of web addresses to collect content, update cookies, etc.

I don't run ad blockers at some, simply because I'm not really bothered by them that much. But on my work PC, which is on a very slow connection (proxy server in another country,) I have to run them to make browsing tolerable. The problem is that if ads go away, people will need to pay for content. I doubt many people are under the illusion that Google is giving its massive amount of (very helpful) services for free. Given how helpful Google is to my daily work, I'd gladly pay a monthly fee for a "do not track me" version. But how many others would do the same?

Comment Go go IoT!! (Score 2) 35

This is going to get very interesting as the IoT bubble continues inflating. I'm not in the industrial space, but I do work in an environment with lots of legacy serial devices. There is serious denial that these things still exist to a big extent -- most non-technical people assume everything is USB or has some other connectivity. PC manufacturers have gotten away from shipping PCs with serial ports, and often the solution touted is serial-to-Ethernet bridges like the ones in the article. This is especially true as the pressure to lighten up the edge devices increases (i.e. replace a PC with a tablet.)

The truth is that in any vertical market, very little is done to keep up with security. Look at the link - it took from November 11 to December 30 for the vendor to patch the firmware, and this was for a public, open-authentication level bug. If the IoT is going to catch on, stuff like this needs to be fixed. You can't just put a magic "put it on the Internet" box in front of a legacy device and assume the vendor is doing everything possible to find and fix flaws. This goes double for stuff like serial gateways that don't get much use outside of a few key sectors. (Hint: those key sectors tend to control a lot of very important infrastructure!!)

Comment Smartphonization of PCs (Score 4, Interesting) 458

Microsoft really wants everyone off Windows 7 ASAP, apparently. They probably just want to make sure there are no more XP-style holdouts like last time. By saying you can't put anything other than Windows 10 on new hardware you get from manufacturers, that's a pretty big stake in the ground for traditional enterprise desktop customers. Traditional desktops are on an 18-month production cycle, but companies typically stick with the same OS version for as long as possible unless there's a real reason to upgrade. This is going to pretty much force enterprises to move to 10 at the next hardware cycle. So, Windows 7 will probably be done on new hardware pretty soon. I'm not a big fan of making PCs appliances, but I'm an old fart so I might as well get with the times. :-)

On the other hand, it might be interesting to see what happens to Windows when the need to support all the legacy hardware falls away. Part of OS design for an open platform is a compromise because you can't use every single cool new chipset feature, you have to provide support for IDE hard disks, you need to allow for 10 year old architectures, etc. Phone manufacturers like Apple write the OS directly for the processor and hardware in the devices which might allow them to take advantage of a very specific feature and assume it will always be available on any system the OS runs on.

I wonder how Microsoft is going to handle VMs.

Comment Weren't the Japanese supposed to take over then? (Score 1) 112

It's very strange to look back on the Cold War now -- Russia and the US wasted trillions of dollars and built a huge nuclear arsenal basically to stare each other down. If Epcot opened a few years later (mid to late 80s) I wonder if they would be targeting the Japanese pavilion as a possible hotbed of industrial espionage. When you walk through there today, you can feel a little bit of the ghost of the Japanese economic bubble. For those not old enough to remember, this was the time where there were breathless articles published about Japanese takeovers of the US economy. They were also buying up landmarks like Rockefeller Center in NYC basically as "trophies." And it was an interesting time, Japanese car makers had cracked the US car market, their semiconductor and computer industry was going like crazy, and even Marty McFly said "All the best stuff is made in Japan." It's not unlike the Chinese manufacturing takeover we're experiencing. The question is this - Japan's economic bubble popped, but China has much more control over their markets and will this "takeover" last?

I actually like Epcot, but I know it's not as well loved as the other Disney parks. It kind of represents an ideal science-driven technocratic vision of the future that I'd like to see sometime before I'm dead. It also allows typical Muricans to at least be exposed to a couple of sanitized new cultural ideas here and there -- it's very telling that the population holding a passport is still pretty small. (Yes, yes, I know the US is a huge country, but I've never heard people complain so bitterly about getting a passport to go to whatever Caribbean destination their cruise is stopping at.)

Comment Echo Chamber + Too Much Choice + GIFWT (Score 2) 311

I think it's a two-fold problem:

1. To quote The Matrix, "The problem is choice." There are tons and tons of choices for news services these days, and they're of varying quality. By quality, I'm referring to well-researched reporting mostly sticking to the facts (I'm well aware that all news sources have some bias.) Quality costs money. You have to pay for an NYT subscription to keep their journalists writing, the BBC has to collect TV license fees to run World Service, and the major news channels need to be paid by advertisers. By nature, people are cheap and gravitate to "free" services. Online, that means random blogger dudes paying the bills using Google ad revenue, or targeted news sites that have an obvious agenda and may be funded by someone without the best of intentions. Random blogger dudes don't have the resources to do actual investigative journalism, i.e. exposing corruption or keeping officials honest. Outside groups have an interest in selling people on their way of thinking, so the bias that's there anyway gets magnified many times over in favor of that group's POV.

2. This leads to Internet journalism becoming a sort of echo chamber for some people. Someone who's conservative isn't going to read the Huffington Post, no matter what they say. A liberal wouldn't read the Drudge Report. This is magnified _again_ by social media honing in on your preferences and likes, and only presenting you content that you would personally be interested in. You may think you're immune to this, but the unfortunate fact is that the Public writ large is not very bright, and many are very influenced by targeted news. (Mainstream examples: MSNBC, Fox News, etc.)

3. Finally, there's the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory -- and yes, I never thought I'd ever reference this in a post. People love to tout how awful SJWs are and how stifling political correctness is, but frankly there is a lot less civil discourse of any kind these days. People who make the most bombastic statements are the ones who are listened to. People aren't nice because nice doesn't get noticed in all the chaos. Look at Trump -- agree or disagree with his agenda, but he gets attention because he's loud, angry, and taps into the loud angry conservative mindset. Even the mainstream Republicans are trying to keep things somewhat civil, but people gravitate towards the angriest most outrageous voices.

It's really too bad, because I've been feeling lately like we might as well just pack it in and establish a monarchy to keep order. When people aren't educated in politics, and can't see the compromises that are required to run a civil society that doesn't end up eating itself alive, the only thing to do is just take the decisions out of the hands of the common man. I don't think it should happen, but I think it could if it gets bad enough!

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