Forgot your password?

Comment: Hits just keep on coming for lawyers... (Score 1) 97

by ErichTheRed (#47574215) Attached to: "ExamSoft" Bar Exam Software Fails Law Grads

It's actually interesting that the bar exam is administered using software running on somebody's personal computer. All the computer based tests I've taken (GRE, various vendor certification tests) have been at a Prometric or similar testing facility on their hardware. They're actually pretty strict -- no personal items of any kind allowed in the room, the only scratch paper you get is a whiteboard and marker, etc. I know the bar exam isn't a multiple choice test you can memorize the answers to, but even so, how do they guarantee integrity? Wouldn't it be safer for the state to just rent laptops for all these temporary testing locations they set up? (I remember hearing that they use hotel space or similar locations.)

This sounds like ExamSoft is like one of the firms mentioned yesterday that refused to support custom firewall configurations "just because." They have a monopoly on testing software, refuse to update anything, and are pretty much the only game in town, leading to crappy software. I am intimately familiar with companies like this in my little corner of industry.

All that said, I've also heard new lawyers aren't exactly in for a fun ride. Basically, anyone who didn't go to Harvard, Yale or Stanford and didn't finish in the top 10% there is doomed to never make old-school lawyer salaries. Apparently the American Bar Association threw open the floodgates and allowed way too many law graduates onto the market, and accredited way too many law schools. This coupled with the offshoring of routine legal tasks means that there's way fewer jobs at big law the image of the high-powered corporate lawyer in the $1000 suit driving the S-Class is only available to a very select few now and the rest of these law grads are paying off 6 figure debt while scraping for any work they can find. It's kind of sad (yes. yes, lawyers are evil, blah blah blah) to see other professions being hollowed out the way IT and engineering have been. Doctors are still in good shape though -- the AMA ensures that only X doctors graduate medical school each year, and X is always matched to meet or be below demand. Wish we in IT had that kind of representation!

Comment: More common than you think (Score 2) 340

My job requires that I deal with a lot of, to put it politely, vertical market software companies. As in, they're the only game in town for that particular function in the industry I work in. It's extremely common to see stuff like this, and it's usually justified by saying "firewalls won't protect you anyway, so why bother?" I only slightly agree -- in my mind the most important thing is to severely limit the use of admin/root accounts and protect their passwords, since you can shut off any security measures once you're through the door.

Usually, it's just laziness on the part of the vendor. The software is assumed to be running on a closed network with no external access in many cases, and a lot of people don't get that even closed networks aren't really closed anymore. I'm completely platform-agnostic, but I've noticed this a lot with typical Windows DCOM fat client / SQL Server (or worse, Jet/Access DB) pairings. As soon as you try to run these securely on a general purpose desktop, you find that port-based firewalling is very difficult to do without opening a huge range of ports due to the way RPC works. Yes, there are workarounds, but in general the protocol is not firewall-friendly. And, the golden rule of vertical market software is "thou shall not upgrade thy technology stack, ever." I do desktop systems integration -- OMG, getting poorly coded VB6 applications working on Windows 8 is a nightmare even with the compatibility toolkit, etc. Not sure what it is with the market segment I'm in, but I see lots of VB6 married to a Jet database, and lots of craptastic fat Java applications. Both can be killers to fix and get working without access to the code/programmer.

Comment: High stakes testing strikes again (Score 1) 121

If the tests were the sole basis for who gets promoted in a particular group of officers, I can see why the cheating occurred. Since promotion is tied to pay increases, and the job doesn't really change that much (other than you might be the "lead" launch officer or whatever...) people would be tempted to cheat to make sure they get the highest score. If I had a job that was that boring, I sure would want to get paid the most I possibly could for doing it.

This is a common problem with high stakes testing. Standardized tests like the SAT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT etc. have entire industries built around getting the maximum score possible on the test, since it largely determines your future prospects. For example, if you're planning on law school, due to offshoring and the Bar Association not protecting the barriers to entry, the profession is completely dead to anyone who doesn't graduate from Harvard, Yale or Stanford (in the top 10% of their class.) As in, no one should waste their money on law school if they can't get into one of these schools. Guess what a key factor for admission is? Yup, LSAT scores!

Closer to home, our county's police force is well-known as an extremely stable, very well paid job opportunity...yes, it means you're a cop and you get all the crap that goes along with that, but it's in a reasonably safe part of the country, you can retire in 20 years with a fully vested pension, health care is completely free, and they're not offshoring cops. As a result, thousands and thousands of people take the police civil service exam every year and they're competing for maybe 50 or 60 spots. When several hundred people get 100% on the exam (and some get more than that due to bonus "status" points,) I'm sure there's extreme pressure to perform. I imagine cheating is dealt with swiftly, and for people who have their heart set on getting the job, not ever being able to compete for it again might be enough of a deterrent. But for these missile launch officers, it might have been different. I can't imagine anything more boring than doing a 24 hour shift waiting for an order that has a 99.9999999% chance of never arriving. The temptation to get ahead and move on with one's career must be huge.

Comment: All large orgs are like this (Score 2) 272

by ErichTheRed (#47483675) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: How Many Employees Does Microsoft Really Need?

I work for a medium-large organization (a few thousand people worldwide, nothing like a Microsoft or IBM.) Both very small and very large organizations have problems. Small businesses are usually run by a tyrannical owner and their family, and all others are treated like "the help". Large organizations develop their own political infrastructure, and yes, they collect a lot of unnecessary employees. I'm not sure which is the bigger problem.

When things get too big, there are some people who get very good at either (a) hiding out and not doing a whole lot, or (b) taking advantage of the size of the organization and slowly building empires around themselves. I'm on a very small (way too small for the amount of actual, real customer work we do) product engineering team and am sometimes amazed at how easily some other groups within our company can just ask for and receive more headcount. Good politicians do very well in large organizations. In addition, there are simply a lot of jobs that involve processes that could be automated, but for whatever reason they're not. How many large-company employees do you know that simply take an input stack of work, perform some sort of transaction on it, and pass it on to the next person in the chain? A lot of this is probably holdover from when companies actually did have thousands of people manually processing paper and requests.

Also, in large organizations with long-term employees, it's very easy for the employees to get wrapped up in the organizational procedures themselves. I have a lot of friends who work for the state university system and in local governments, and they tell me all sorts of stories about people throwing fits over the number of sick days they have banked, etc. just because it's a very important part of their work culture. There's a lot of bureaucracy just for the sake of it, and long-term employees use "the system" to maximum advantage. The problem is that it distracts from the actual work that needs to be done.

I'm not really sure we _should_ get rid of every single inefficient position, for one simple reason...these office jobs keep a huge chunk of middle class with reasonable skills and medium levels of education employed. Take those out everywhere and suddenly millions of people start defaulting on their debts and the economy collapses. In that case, either (a) the economy reorganizes around a Star Trek The Next Generation model, or (b) we start seeing some really bad stuff happening in the near future. Losing manufacturing was bad -- imagine what happens when millions more have nowhere to go and nothing to do.

That said, try to get a bug fixed or feature added in Windows or's not easy and I think I know part of the reason. :-)

Comment: Persistence or raw intelligence (Score 4, Insightful) 96

by ErichTheRed (#47413823) Attached to: The Billionaire Mathematician

" Dr. Simons is quick to say this his persistence, more than his intelligence, is key to his success"

That's a very interesting thought. I'm very interested in science, engineering, etc. but seem to lack the innate math ability to do anything beyond a bachelors degree. I probably would have been a lot happier as a researcher, but by the end of doing a BS in chemistry, I was pretty burned out. What's interesting about that statement and made me think is this -- if we were able to pull in more people who aren't "good at school" but still have something useful to contribute, there could be a lot of talent picked up. Success in early education still hinges on the ability to do well on timed tests that check your ability to remember key facts. Therefore, it favors people who can get the material down quickly and have a photographic memory. And it all builds -- early diagnostic tests in elementary school start identifying people's strengths and determining where they should focus, the SATs and other entrance exams determine to some extent what further education you are able to pursue, and exams in undergrad college courses determine whether you stay in the education game or not. For people who don't do well on tests, this can really discourage any further study, even through there's much less emphasis on this kind of learning/testing cycle in graduate studies. It's an interesting thought now that a lot of "knowledge work" is even disappearing and we have to find something for everyone to do. Identifying talent without equating talent to memory ability is a challenge for the current system. I'm not saying everyone can be a Ph.D researcher, I'm just saying that I think we miss a lot of people who could be good at this stuff along the way.

One of the things that has always struck me about math education is that so little applied math is taught. Now that I don't have the pressure to perform on exams anymore, sometimes I go back and try to figure out some of the math concepts that I never fully understood. Pairing the procedural stuff with a real world example makes it so much easier to understand, and makes it less of a procedure. Simons is a good example of taking something highly theoretical (basic math research) and applying it to something practical (being one of the first hedge funds to do HFT/heavy data analysis.) Unfortunately, it's very difficult to teach applied math to a class of 30 students, some of whom don't care, so a lot of people miss out on this. But it's kind of like have to have a good early education experience to make the jump from chemistry being a jumble of elements, equations, etc. to a set of rules describing how materials interact. People who don't get that exposure in their first chemistry classes aren't likely to continue.

He's right though -- people who work hard and are persistent do get ahead. Not always, and life isn't fair sometimes, but that tends to be true everywhere. Yes, some people just get lucky, and we only hear about those examples in media. But for normals, how well you do is definitely linked with how much effort you put in.

Comment: Who is actually influenced by ads?? (Score 2) 254

by ErichTheRed (#47300433) Attached to: The Bursting Social Media Advertising Bubble

I honestly don't understand the effectiveness of advertising, but that's just because I ignore most of it, and of the stuff that gets put in front of me, none of it influences a single purchase decision I make. I would much rather see a product for myself or rely on a non-sponsored recommendation from an acquaintance.

It boggles my mind that there are humans that are controllable enough to fall for the "Oooo, here's an ad!" --> "Let's click on it!" --> "Psychologically engaging content designed to sell me something" --> "Let's buy that!" chain of events. It must work, otherwise there wouldn't be a whole science behind advertising / consumer psychology, but I don't get it.

It seems to me that if you have a good product, it will sell itself and all you need to do is get a few people to try and recommend it to their friends. If you can do that, then you're just wasting money on traditional ads. Everybody knows Rice Krispies exist, and some people find them tasty. Why does Kellogg's have to tell the world over and over again that they exist?

Oh well, I'm not looking forward to the 40+% drop in stock market values that's coming with the next bubble pop, but I guess that's the way the new new economy goes.

Comment: I guess China is Japan 2.0? (Score 4, Insightful) 431

by ErichTheRed (#47255639) Attached to: Chinese-Built Cars Are Coming To the US Next Year

Growing up in the mid-late 80s, I vaguely remember the US having a total freak-out session about the Japanese taking over. I was a kid, but I've also been told that things like MBA programs did anything they could to jump on the Japan bandwagon, training people in Japanese management techniques, manufacturing processes, etc. People were absolutely convinced that there was some magic that the Japanese people and economy had that absolutely had to be emulated. Even before the 80s, having the Japanese car companies come in and encroach on the Big Three's turf was a huge mind-shift.

I wonder if China is going to succeed where Japan failed sometimes, but I also know we've been down this road. There's no real secret to their success in manufacturing:
- They have a huge population, and most of them are not averse to factory work. (We've taught 2 or 3 generations now in the US that manufacturing is a dead end job.)
- A strong, authoritarian central government in China has control over the people and key industries, and can make instant decisions to bolster growth with zero debate. They can also crush dissent -- can you imagine how much easier life would be in the US without the president having to fight Congress over everything?
- As we've seen, environmental laws aren't enforced the way they are here. Even the most laissez-faire among us can recognize that China has pollution problems.

The one thing I see that's different from the 80s is that people in general in the US aren't as well off as they were. Even back then, there were still a few industries that provided lifetime employment at good wages. Same thing goes for retirement -- pensions were still available to some people, so they didn't have to be paranoid about retirement. Now, everyone needs cheaper and cheaper stuff. China is the home of cheap manufacturing and will continue to be for quite some time. Until people feel more confident and can spend actual income rather than incurring more debt, convincing people to pay more for a higher-quality product is going to be a tough sell. And that's where I think China might have an opening -- what Japan did for high end manufacturing in the 70s/80s, China is doing to the low end to some extent.

I own a European made Volvo (I think it was made in Belgium.) It's almost 10 years old and has 120K miles on it. The engine will run forever, and the car is fine except for the things you would expect to start wearing out around the 10 year mark (belts, bearings, engine mounts, etc.) Volvos are (were?) designed for extremely long service life, kind of like Toyota Land Cruisers. It'll be interesting to see if the new owners keep the quality the same.

One thing's for sure - the next 10 years will be very interesting. I come from the Rust Belt, and being a Rust Belt 80s kid was no fun. Now the god of almighty free market efficiency is coming for the last decent manufacturing jobs. Even more worrisome is the loss of white collar employment, you know, the stuff we studied for so we didn't have to work in a factory. Unless the economy does a complete shift of some kind, we're going to have to get used to extremely high sustained levels of unemployment.

Comment: Bubble bubble... (Score 2, Insightful) 43

by ErichTheRed (#47230519) Attached to: Priceline To Buy OpenTable For $2.6 Billion

The last dotcom bubble left us with huge amounts of equipment, dark fiber and Aeron chairs. I wonder what we're going to get out of this one?

It's a shame to see it happening again, but I guess I'll just sit back and watch like I did last time. I still wonder why I don't jump in and make my millions at the right time during these bubbles, but whatever....

Uber, Lyft, WhatsApp, Twitter and now OpenTable are going to be the next, and

Comment: It actually looks good (Score 1) 379

I have the original Surface Pro, and all the complaints about lousy keyboard covers and the fact that it's not enough of a PC to be a laptop replacement are justified. But, if they bring back more desktop functionality in the next Windows update, this could work for them. 8.1 Update brought back just enough desktop (removing the absolute requirement for the Charms bar, etc.) and if they bring back the Start menu plus a few other tweaks, they might have an audience.

I think everyone just went "OMG iPad, OMG Android tablets" a couple years ago, and went too far over to the "everything's a tablet" camp. Tablets are great for media consumers but really awful for content creation, and that includes any sort of Office for Touch coming out. They do replace the PC for many people, but not all. I still think there is a place for workstations and laptops -- maybe not so much desktop PCs anymore, but I can't see using Excel beyond the simplest uses on a tablet. A laptop that can be docked to a huge monitor, keyboard and mouse can these days be a desktop replacement -- not so much a tablet yet.

This new Surface Pro looks like it's poised to take over the "executive laptop" range like the ThinkPad X series or similar -- small screen, weight optimized, with just enough features to make it usable. I'm actually glad they're not chasing the consumer market by making a Surface Mini, etc. The reality is that Windows will probably be mainly a business OS as the home PC market erodes, so I think they're right to target this market. I also happen to think that there is a lot of life left in the content-creation device market, despite what Gartner, etc. think. Those devices just might not all run Windows, but I don't know if Chrome OS, etc. are the answer either.

The big factors for me are the bigger screen (Surface Pro 3 is just at the low end for usability for me -- I prefer 15" or 14" laptops.) and the keyboard. I really hope they got the keyboard right -- I continue to buy ThinkPads just for the keyboard and TrackPoint. I guess the problem is that they can't just roll out a 14" tablet with a folding keyboard and have a differentiated device.

Comment: Thoughts from the IT side of the house... (Score 1) 466

Yes, I know development is different from IT, but I think we have some of the same issues. I'm finally in a position where I can hire someone to help me with some of the backlog of work, and I'm having a very difficult time doing so. Everyone in my network is either working and doesn't want to leave their current job, and I've only gotten a couple of vague "Well, I know this guy who's been unemployed for a year..." kind of suggestions.

So, going through the usual recruiter garbage dump, I've come to the conclusion that everyone good is employed. I'm also starting to see stuff similar to what was going on in the late 90s -- people graduating programmer bootcamps with no experience, paper certs, etc. I hope the bubble doesn't pop as hard as it did in 2000 -- that was no fun for anyone involved.

I'm looking for a systems engineer, someone who can build out a customer environment in a lab, replicate problems, simulate software rollouts, etc. _and_ document their work and be presentable in front of customers. The only people I've seen so far are in-house IT administrators who can't even spell key items on their resumes correctly. I know grammar isn't a strong suit for some, but it's your resume -- if you can't be bothered to have someone proofread it, you're not going to be able to write clear customer communications. We're willing to train people who look like they have at least the potential to be good at this job, but I haven't even seen that yet. Of the very few whose resumes looked promising, some have been OK, but others are total disasters and I'm not looking for rockstar talent. When someone who has supposedly been s systems engineer for 10 years can't walk through a troubleshooting scenario with me, or articulate at least where they would start looking, that's bad.

For someone in IT or software development, I would say the absolute minimum qualification is good communication skills and excellent troubleshooting skills. You're getting paid to solve problems and communicate these solutions to people who are paying the bill. You need technical skills, of course, but people who lack the ability to write a clear email or document their work kill productivity. There are fewer and fewer positions available for ultra-low-level kernel development, real-time development or other specialties where the communications requirement could be relaxed. Lots of development at least at the business logic and UI level consists of gluing various libraries together, which means that integration skills are also very important.

Comment: I think he's right (Score 5, Insightful) 264

by ErichTheRed (#46894017) Attached to: An MIT Dean's Defense of the Humanities

Disclaimer: I'm a STEM graduate (chemistry) and have been out of school for about 15 years.

The company I work for is essentially an IT services and consulting firm. Since IT and software development is not a profession like engineering or medicine, educational backgrounds differ wildly from person to person. One of the extremely rare traits that is great for our new hires to have is the critical thinking/troubleshooting/organization skills that STEM education provides, combined with a good grasp of communications skills that the humanities provide. While an English or fine arts major may not have the technical background to do some of the work we do, it's sure nice to find a STEM graduate who can write in complete sentences and document their work well.

One of the other things that a well-rounded education does for you is that it makes you a more interesting person. I've had the opportunity to work with lots of people over the years. Those who are 100% tech-focused and those who are 100% "fluff"-focused aren't very pleasant to deal with. Somewhere in the middle of these extremes (further towards the technical in my field) can make a very knowledgeable co-worker who is also plugged into daily life and can talk intelligently about other subjects. People who are all the way over to the techie side do very good technical work, but you certainly wouldn't put them in front of a customer and won't get good documentation of their excellent work.

I'm really not trying for self-promotion here, but I do feel that one of the reasons I haven't been unemployed for a very long time is because I'm flexible enough and have a good enough personality that employers don't feel like they're forced to keep me around just for my knowledge.

When I was in school, bashing my brain finishing my science education, I do remember looking at the humanities, psychology and communications majors and thinking they couldn't possibly amount to anything. Looking back, I'm glad a well-rounded education was forced on me in the form of required general education classes. Allowing someone to get through schooling without at least some attempt at exploring the other side (and this cuts both ways...) means they get the equivalent of a DeVry or ITT Technical Institute education.

Comment: Fun fun fun... (Score 2, Insightful) 1374

by ErichTheRed (#46890133) Attached to: "Smart" Gun Seller Gets the Wrong Kind of Online Attention

My personal opinion is that the second amendment is dated and no one should be allowed to personally own a gun. BUT, I'm aware that there's a huge collection of libertarians, rednecks, whatever who feel they need one. So changing the Constitution is out of the question. Anyone trying that will get the rednecks at their doorstep just like this person did. Either the South and most of the West will secede again, or they'll try to take over.

The problem with the US is that we're way bigger than we were in 1789, and have 300+ million we need to keep happy. We also have little need for an unorganized militia, although the more survivalist among us might disagree on that one. The reality is that gun use is very different in urban areas than it is in cities. In the country, people go shootin' at some food. In cities, they're used primarily in crimes and by the mentally ill to wreak havoc. This is why mayors ban handguns -- not because they think it'll do anything, but because they can't be seen as contributing to the problem.

Anecdotal example about differing opinons -- someone I know who grew up in an urban area moved out to a rural location. Over the years I've known him, he's gone full-on libertarian and is constantly railing against gun control. I have no idea what changed, but I guess it's the differing way guns are viewed. Country = useful tools, city = aids to criminal activity.

I've never had the desire to own a gun, nor do I see the appeal. However, like I said, I realize we're stuck with this state of affairs. It does not make the gun lobby look good in the public eye when someone attempting to make gun ownership safer is threatened by a bunch of kooks. I don't see the anti-gun movement making death threats on gun owners. Even if the people making these threats are only a small sample of the pro-gun group, they sure make a bad impression.

Comment: Always have a way to go back (Score 1) 125

by ErichTheRed (#46871029) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Intelligently Moving From IT Into Management?

I'll agree with almost everyone else on here -- never leave yourself in a position where one person can wreck everything if they decide they're having a bad day. Look at the Terry Childs incident. You can debate the reasons why he did what he did, but the facts of the case are clear. He set things up such that he was the only one who could bring back router configs should they reboot by not storing them in NVRAM. Since he was allowed to do this, his refusal to hand over the console passwords one day essentially made it so that he controlled everything. They key here is not to stand over the new guy, but to make sure there is always a way to take back access should you need to. I'm desperately working to document a set of systems I inherited because I realized the other day that the operations groups who were supposed to know everything about running them didn't. And since I'm in the engineering side of our highly segmented IT organization, my primary focus shouldn't be day to day admin work.

I'd like to think the days of cowboy IT admins are coming to an end, but I'm not so sure. In fact, with everything moving to the cloud, the guys who control the cloud vendor account have tons more power. I'm sure people here could tell plenty of stories of people getting fired, then VPNing in through their "doomsday" back door account and wiping out servers and backups. Just keep the keys and make sure you take them all away when someone leaves. Another story from my previous experience -- no company names because it would scare people to know this happened. But, basically, the "network guy" of a startup that grew super huge in the space of 5 years disagreed with the new CIO and started getting pissy about various things. So much so that the CIO brought in network contractors to start trying to rein the guy in. When the guy refused to work with them, he was fired. Only after that was it discovered that there was absolutely zero written documentation. It took months of very careful probing and the cooperation of the guy's underlings to get the network equipment manageable again.

If you're truly leaving IT behind for pure management, good luck. I just inherited a sorta-lead role in addition to all the other work I need to do, and it really is a different skill set. Humans are way less predictable than computers.

Also, for the sanity of those below you, please do not implement ITIL as a top-down mandate. ITIL is so horribly complex system that vendors like Remedy, CA, BMC, etc. will try to sell you as a prepackaged solution to all your IT problems. The reality is, unless you start cutting out parts of the processes you don't need, IT will become a nightmare world of useless busywork. We're at the point where we have to think about changes in terms of "how much work will this take to get pushed through?" rather than whether it's a good idea.

Comment: Bubble anyone?? (Score 1) 121

by ErichTheRed (#46868493) Attached to: Yahoo To Produce Sci-Fi Streaming Sitcom

In 1999, it was all about eyeballs, clicks and e-commerce. In 2010 it was all about cloud and mobile. Now it's all about tablets and eyeballs again with the entertainment angle. I know interest rates are low and stocks are an attractive investment now, but some of the stuff pumping up this current bubble is even less well thought out than and the like back in '99 and 2000. You would think some people would learn from the last 20 years.

I see how Netflix et al can be a very useful service for entertainment junkies. With two young kids and a very demanding job, I don't get much time to watch movies and TV anymore unless you count Disney stuff. What I don't see is every single company trying to go out and do what Netflix did with their original content creation. It's kind of like Morgan Stanley going into the chocolate business to compete with Hershey simply because their investors told them it was a good idea.

Oh well, I'll just sit back and watch this bubble pop too, and hopefully I'll still be employed in my boring old-school IT job. :-) Oh, look over there, it's a shiny cloud!!!

Comment: Ouch, not good, but not surprising either (Score 1) 100

by ErichTheRed (#46841201) Attached to: HP Server Killer Firmware Update On the Loose

This is one of the first rules of administering servers -- unless it's an absolute necessity, let someone else find these firmware bugs.

This is especially true now that firmware controls so much in modern hardware. I've had business PCs that have gone through more than 10 EFI revisions in their 18 month lifecycle, and all the release notes show that they fix surprisingly low level things.

The unfortunate trend is that these firmware bugs are more and more prevalent. It seems like manufacturers are skimping on QA and testing. I'm not surprised that HP is affected -- their maintenance applications and documentation look like it's now written by an offshore team. So, I wouldn't be surprised if the EEs and SEs sitting in Houston have to write specs and have their offshore counterparts hack up the firmware changes. Worse, since they're getting the NICs from Broadcom, it's engineers --> offshore team --> Broadcom --> Broadcom's offshore team, making it even more likely that confusion will be introduced.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent. -- Sagan