Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Long Term Unemployed

There is a growing problem not only in NY but nationwide as well. And that is there is a growing population of those that are long term unemployed and the underemployed. By long term unemployed we are talking about those who have been unemployed for a year or more and are no longer collecting unemployment insurance. And for those who are underemployed are people who wind up having to work for minimum to next to minimum wage.

Seeing how this is ever growing after attending numerous workshops here on Long Island such as LISENG, Career Directions Job Club, Sid Jacobson JCC, Maria Frye Boot Camp and others, I have learned first hand how many people that fit in the above categories. A computer programmer having to settle for driving a school bus after he lost his job; an accountant being a funeral home greeter; a MBA working as a receptionist for a doctor; a funeral director of 30 years experience having to stock shelves at Home Depot; a system administrator being unemployed for over 6 years and not being able to find work; a news research analyst being out of work for 5 years and is still looking. All of these people lost their jobs and either wind up working way below their skill sets or not being able to find work at all.

I devised a plan in what could be done to help these people and more and presented it to various NY legislators.

The plan is simple but needs someone with the fortitude to carry it out. This is just some ideas –

1 – Figure out why a person’s resume is not working and see what can be done to correct it.

2 – When a person sends out their resume to a company and do not hear back, the program needs to be able to contact that company to find out why the person was never contacted and make corrections to the person’s resume and cover letter for the next company.

3 – If a person has and interview and does not receive an offer, the program needs to be able to reach out to the company to find out why the person was not selected so corrections could be made for the next interview.

4 – Provide free to low cost training to gain new skills or enhance what they already have.

5 – Work with the person’s creditors to protect the person’s credit standing and to prevent eviction or foreclosure.

6 – Partner with employers who will provide jobs for those who are long term unemployed or underemployed. You could be surprised at the skills they might have which no resume can reflect. This holds especially true for those over 50. They seem to be the hardest hit.

Right now nothing like this exists especially with points 2, 3, 5 and 6.

My inquires and emails to my legislators have gone unanswered. Based on the lack of responses our legislators do not seem to care about the long term unemployed or underemployed.

Former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo was is no fan of the unemployed by a long shot. He slashed benefits in 2012 for those on UI. According to the NYS Department of Labor in Hicksville, NY, there was a bill that would allow long term unemployed workers to collect additional unemployment benefits. Cuomo refused to sign it and was successful in killing the bill. In 2015 he was the first governor to head to Cuba to see about offshoring more NY and American jobs putting more people out of work. In August 2018 he made the comment that America was never that great.

With unemployment higher that ever, not one person in elected office has made any effort to help those who are long term unemployed. They feel that those people who are long term unemployed or under employed simply do not exist.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

A Simplified Look Into What A Database Is

You have probably heard the term “database” and never really gave it a second thought as to what it is. In this entry I am going to simplify what a database is and how it affects you.

We have used databases for many years and it is an integral part of our daily lives. We deal with databases all the time and multiple times a day regardless if we know it or not and have done so long before the electronic age.

Where do we as ordinary people use databases? Point of Sale systems found in stores are databases, library electronic card catalogs, hospitals maintain patient records on them as well as billing, even our cell phones use a simple database for the phone book. So as you can see we are surrounded by databases.

To really simplify a definition of a database, or “DB” we can say that it is a collection or records organized in a searchable format.

A very good example is our old friend the telephone book. Here you can find a person’s name, their address and of course their phone number provided they

have been published in the book. As we know it is a relatively easy process to open the book and find the person’s number. In fact I am going to refer back to the telephone book in this article.

A DB is comprised of four main components. They are the tables, forms, queries and reports. Of course there are other components like macros which automate things and a few others as well but we are not going to address those here.

The first item and is the most important part of a DB are the tables for that is where the data is stored. The tables are divided into rows and columns and where they intersect is a cell. Each cell holds a specific item of data. Very much like a common spreadsheet.

 Back to the phonebook, the first column will be for the person’s name. The next column is their address and finally the phone number in the third column. Of course you can break this down further for a column for the last name, one for the first name, one for the street address, one for the town, one for the state and at last, the phone number.

Let’s say we created a table mimicking the phone book only let’s add in a few extra columns as if we ran a HR department. Right after the phone number we have the person’s date of birth, next is their social security number, finally is their annual gross income.

In a physical phone book we cannot add those unless we have access to the printing presses. And then it would require a massive amount of work to repaginate the layout. In our electronic version you can add as many columns as the program will allow with just a click of the mouse.

Looking at our electronic phone book above with the new information we added like birthdates, social security numbers and salary it should become very apparent how critical the tables are and what needs to be done to protect the data they contain. Tables in a DB can and usually do contain very sensitive information which can not only cause irreversible damage to a business but destroy people’s lives if the wrong person gains access to that data.

Tables can contain sensitive data like that are found in DB’s from Human Resources, financial institutions like banks and credit card companies, hospitals, military, and a whole gambit of other industries. So it really is not unusual at all to have that kind of data and more.

For publicly traded companies that fall under the Sarbanes Oxley Act and other regulations, extra care must be taken to protect the integrity of the tables and the data therein. Any changes to the tables must be documented time and time again to ensure that the data has not manipulated by an outside source.

In many DB’s you will find that they are made up with numerous tables, sometimes in the thousands. Each table can hold say several million pieces of data each. A lot of times these tables are interconnected in some form of relationship which gives rise to the modern relational databases. As you can probably imagine DB’s can be quite large and take up a lot of hard drive space. In several database the tables can get to be so large that they often require their own servers alone. And in these too can be so large like hundreds or thousands of servers just for the tables we would be entering the world known as “Big Data.”

Now it should be obvious that the tables that are the actual heart of any DB.

To make it easier to find and sort the data each table will have one unique piece of data known as the primary key. This key is very important in keeping the data organized. In some tables may have a shared key from another table called the surrogate key especially when it comes to relational databases. This in the simplest terms helps synchronize data between tables.

The next part of the DB are the forms. This is what the user sees on the screen and is used to enter the data in the first place. In many cases forms are often used to display the data after a search or query has been performed. Forms can also be used as control panels with buttons the user can click on to do certain functions.

 I mentioned the term query in the above paragraph. Queries are important to the DB as they retrieve data from the tables in a specified and logical manner for you to use.

In a phone book, you would look up someone based on their last name. This is a manual query and depending on the size of the phone book we are searching through it can take from a few short minutes to hours. In our DB you would enter the search parameters like the last name or address and the query would pull up all the records based upon that in a blink of an eye.

  Queries can be very simple like the one above with one search parameter or very complex with several parameters depending on what the ultimate goal is.

As an example I wrote a trouble ticketing system in my last company that I used for help desk functions. I was able to enter a user’s name as a query parameter and very quickly was able to bring up the entire service history for that user and their computer. This was a lot faster and easier than searching through traditional hand written work orders. Plus it was very useful as a knowledge base.

Finally the last part of a DB are the reports. Reports are generated based upon data retrieved from running a query and then are printed out onto paper or in a paperless environment as a .pdf or similar document. This gives a written account of the data stored in the tables retrieved by the query.

The reports can be written with the DB software or from third party software like Crystal Reports.

The reports can be one page long or several thousand pages depending on what was in the query in the first place. In many instances a massive report is best being produced as a .pdf instead of burning through reams of paper. Yet I have seen people run voluminous reports on paper that I seriously doubt anyone takes the time to read everything they contained which was a true waste of paper. So the .pdf version of the reports would fit perfectly in a paperless office environment.

I tried to implement that at my last company for the accounting officers would go through cases of paper creating reports only to be tossed out. It was met with resistance until they were shown the cost savings alone.

That was a very simple overview on how a DB works. If you sit back and look at it with those four parts, you will see that they are not that bad at all and why they are so very important in our daily lives. Once you understand the principles of how a DB works, then all you need to do is pick up a book so to speak and read how a particular type of DB works like SQL Server, SAP, Oracle, FileMaker Pro, etc.

As you can also see, a DB is the heart and soul of a paperless office solution.  You can read my entry on paperless offices in this blog.

Outsourcing Tech Support, Good For Them, Bad For You

There has been some controversy regarding the outsourcing of IT technical support services.  It is an argument that has been around for years and will remain so as long as computers exist.

For those that are not familiar with the outsourcing of IT support I can sum it up very quickly in one sentence.  Instead of having an IT person on staff you hire an outside company to handle your IT requirements for you.  On the surface it would appear that outsourcing makes perfect sense.  Unfortunately the cold hard reality of it there are many reasons not to outsource IT services.

On a spreadsheet the initial numbers are very misleading in the respect that the company does not have to hire someone for IT support and as such will not have to pay benefits.  Even if an in-house tech costs $150,000 a year in salary it appears to be a savings if that does not have to be paid.  As such a lot of companies are shutting down their IT departments and are moving to outsourcing.

But what is not put into the figures is the cost for an outside tech to support the company.  Let’s say you have an issue with an employee’s desktop PC, you call the outsource tech support company or managed service provider (“MSP”) and place your complaint.  Now you have to wait for someone to call you back.  That can be right away or might be several hours later.

With the later, the employee’s system is sitting idle and you are paying the employee for not working.  The tech now returns your call and is able to resolve the problem say in five minutes.  Most MSP’s bill by the quarter hour.  So for 5 minutes of work you get charged 15 minutes. I have seen some that will charge the full hour just for 5 minutes of work.

Let’s put some numbers to that.  The average rate for tech support by me is $250 an hour billed by the 15 minutes.  The employee in question gets paid $22 an hour.  A rule of thumb for benefits is half of the salary rate is what the benefits cost so that is an extra $11 and hour to the employee.  That employee’s PC is down for 3 hours before a tech calls.  It takes the tech only 5 minutes to rectify the problem. Let’s do the math:

3 hours down time @ $22/hr                                                                                                66.00
Benefits for 3 hours @ $11/hr                                                                                              33.00
15 minutes tech service @250/hr for 5 minutes service                                                          62.50

Net                                                                                                                                $161.50

Let’s say that an employee has a real bad paper jam in a copier.  Generally that falls under the realm of the IT department, but if the IT functions are outsourced the employee calls the MSP about the problem.  They in turn tell the employee to call the copier company unless they do that.  And like before they charge for telling you to call or to make the call for you.

Now what if the problem requires that they send someone on site?  You usually get charged travel time as well.  When you do get charged for travel time is it from around the block or the other side of the county?  Experience has shown it is always from across the county, several hours away.  And let’s say that the tech they send is not familiar with the particular issue and needs to research the issue.  You can and do get charged for that as well.  Let’s put some numbers on that based on a real event.

A company of 80 end users was hit with a nasty virus that wiped out the user login in database known as Active Directory in the primary server or domain controller.  The problem was escalated with the affect hitting other domain controllers in the network through replication.  This had the effect of locking out all of the end users from their computers so no one could work.  They had to call in the MSP.

The average salary for the staff we will say is $60 an hour which includes the senior execs.  Again 50% of the salary rate goes to benefits.  The server went down at 10AM and the outside tech was called.  He did not respond until 5PM.  The tech spent 9 hours researching the problem and making a diagnosis before repairs could made.  An additional 3 hours to do the actual repair.  The rate was $250/hr. and they tacked on 2 hours traveling time at $250/hr.  Quitting time for the company is 5PM, which means the staff was idle for 7hrs.  And the tech that responded was not familiar with the company’s network environment.

Let’s look at it:

80 end users with an average salary of $60/hr                                      4,800.00
Plus benefits @30/hr for all 80 users                                                   2,400.00

Net salaries with benefits                                                                                            7,200.00

Times 7 hours idle time for the staff                                                                            50,400.00
2 hours travel charge                                                                             500.00
9 hours to research the problem                                                          2,250.00
3 hours to implement the repair                                                              750.00

Net service charge                                                                                                      3,500.00

Total money lost due to no on site tech                                                                    $ 53,900.00

What if it took the tech say a day or more to arrive?  How much money was lost by paying people to stand around?

Now this was an extreme but realistic example. If you add that $54K to the rest of the calls to the MSP for the year and you could be shocked.

Now in this example the client had to wait seven hours before someone showed up.  What level of priority was given to this client?  Obviously it was not high up on the outsource tech firms list.  The client can be told that they have top priority but in reality the MSP firm could have the client on the bottom of the pile.

With my previous company I reduced outsourcing of tech calls which meant that while I was there I handled about 19K hours of service calls.  Multiply that by the MSP rate of $250 an hour you will find that was a savings of $4.8 million.  Who’s laughing now?

Most companies do not have a tech savvy person on staff and the MSP‘s know this all too well.  What is to say that they bill for services that were not done or that were not necessary?  It happens and they can get away with it.

Here is an example, an MSP had a sales meeting with a client.  As part of the meeting they brought along one of the field techs to the meeting which was not requested by the client.  The MSP billed the client not only for the tech to be there at their hourly rate, but three hours travel time for the tech as well as lunch for him.

Labor is not the only costs that the MSP firm can embellish or control.  A lot of times they state that they can and will supply all the hardware at the best pricing available.  A savvy company would know that they can get better pricing for the same items by going elsewhere like PC Mall, Tiger Direct, New Egg and factory direct like HP and Dell.

As an example an MSP wanted to sell Dell computers to a client.  The client already had an account with Dell but was open to price comparison to see if they could get a better price.  When the MSP provided their quote, the client went to Dell and built out the same computer for 40% less and is able to get the computer faster since it was shipped directly to them.  Obviously the MSP did not get the sale.

Many times the MSP will try and is often successful in selling hardware, software and services that are not needed.  They upsell whenever they can.  After all it is in their best interest not the clients.

As an example there is a publicly traded company not far from me.  Their network environment was simple and did not require virtualization.  A MSP made it to one of the senior executives and sold them on the idea of going virtual.  Not only that they convinced the executive to eliminate the in-house tech staff so they could run the show.  In under a year the MSP cost the company over $1 million and the network has more bugs in it than you can imagine which of course equates to more billable service calls.

Another example a MSP wanted to sell a client all new desktop computers.  The ones that they had were one to two years old but the MSP tried to convince them that their machines were outdated and were failing.  They were looking at trying to sell 120 new systems at once which would have given them a $200,000 sale.

In once aspect it did make sense to replace all of the computers at once to keep them all the same.  This way you can create what is known as one image of a computer with all the software on it and simply clone that to many others.  This makes deploying and replacing computers easy.  At the same time it would be prudent to have a few others of the same types on hand should you get a new employee or a system should fail.  The image would be very useful here.  But it is not a cost effective method by a long shot.

A lot of times the MSP will insist and put it into their service agreement that they get an exclusive to service your systems.  In an event like what I went into earlier where it took the tech 7 hours to respond if the company had access to another MSP then they might not have been down that length of time.  Unfortunately that company was in an exclusive agreement with the original MSP.

Some MSP’s feel that they own the clients network and the systems attached.  The client has no idea what is going on and as such the MSP runs the show.  They can and sometimes do withhold from the client a lot of vital information that the client has a right to.

As an example with the administration passwords.  These are the master top level passwords to the systems that the client has.  Being a tech myself I can say that it can be a bad thing to give these to the client.  A lot of times it has been seen that an executive who has these passwords logs into a system, like a server just to snoop around.  They feel that because they are an executive that give them the knowledge to access the server and generally will click on the wrong thing and cause all kinds of havoc.  In some cases the executive or someone else with no tech skills reads in a magazine how to do things and invariably tries what they read and messes things up as well.  I have seen this on several occasions.

But the client owns the systems and has a right to the passwords.  The MSP can come up with some excuse in not giving them to the client.  If the client has them, then they can, provided they know what to do can lock out the MSP from accessing the network.  This is a good practice and should be set in place.  This way if the tech firm needs access then the client can grant it on an as needed basis.  Plus the client will have the freedom to have someone else look at the systems if they desire.

Granted most of the time the client has no clue as to what is going on.  This is where the MSP needs to but does not educate the client to the nitty-gritty details.  But they often do not do so just to keep the client in the dark.

With your own IT staff they know the systems inside and out in know how everything works better than an outside company can.  In many cases it is the in-house tech staff that built the network from the ground up.  This gives them the advantage over an outside company for they can respond to emergencies a lot faster.  Plus the in-house staff would have extensive documentation on the network which an outsourced company would not have nor provide.  True an outside company can learn your network but there is a learning curve involved which costs money as pointed out earlier.

Another bit of familiarity comes not from the hardware but from the end-users as well.  With an in-house tech they would know how to interact with the rest of the staff.  Plus a level of trust is built up between everyone something that an MSP could not hope to achieve.  Sometimes an outside tech may have rubbed someone the wrong way and the company can actually prevent the tech from servicing them.  And in with an MSP you may not get the same tech in twice.

A major factor to consider is security. Who are these people?  They have no vested interested in the clients company, just their own.  Who is to say that an outside tech does not walk off with crucial data on a flash drive or external hard drive?  The client will never know.  What is the outside tech doing with that data, sharing it with another client?  What if the tech leaves the hard drive unattended in a car and that gets broken into and the external drive is stolen.  Corporate espionage is a very real threat.  An in-house tech would treat your data with more care and security than an outsider will.  Granted even internal staff can steal data, but the chances are lower than an outsider.

A very good example is there is a company that had an outsourced tech there.  An argument ensued between him and one of the staff.  The tech blabbed his mouth off about the clients operation to one of his other clients who in turn shared that information with one of their clients.  Where is the level of trust and security there?  How often do things like this happen?

With an MSP you the client have no control over what goes on in your network.  Keeping your network environment in operation at all times should not be left to outsiders for they do what they want, when they want and charge you for everything possible.  Even with a network of 20 users would pay to have someone on staff to maintain your network for you, even if it means they have to do other jobs to justify them being there.

Outsource tech companies can and do have some usefulness.  They see changes in technology faster than you can and are on top of these changes.  They also can pull from a larger resource of knowledge to get a job done because you are not their only client.  Someone else may have had a similar problem and that experience can be beneficial.  So in some aspects it pays to have an MSP or two as standby help.  But not as your primary tech support.

Ultimately the decision is yours.  But the prudent thing is not to outsource your tech support.  Of course the MSP’s would highly disagree with what is presented here, after all like I said earlier they are out for their best interest not yours.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Is The Carousel For Our Seniors Coming?

We are supposed to honor and take care of our seniors as they get older and can no longer help themselves, right? Not according to the medical community.

In today’s medical society a senior citizen is more of hindrance than anything else, especially when they can no longer fend for themselves. Oh the medical society does provide care, but only so much and for so long before they toss in the towel and send the senior off to die.

Let me tell you about Roger, an 83 year old Korean War veteran that served in a MASH unit until the end of the war. Roger married, bought a house, raised a family and had a good civil service job. In his later years he was diagnosed with melanoma, or skin cancer.

He went to the doctor many times to have it removed, which the doctor did. But the doctor never recommended or suggested chemotherapy because of his general health. Eventually the cancer became metastatic and spread through Roger's body affecting every organ in his body.

As the disease progressed he became weaker and more susceptible to illnesses like the flu and pneumonia. He did contract pneumonia during Super Storm Sandy after the power went out for he and his wife stayed in their cold and damp home without power for two weeks. He refused to leave his house and go to a shelter to stay warm.

He had to go by ambulance twice to the hospital emergency room with breathing difficulties and had to be admitted each time. On his last visit to the hospital a doctor came into Roger's hospital room, listened to his lungs with a stethoscope and declared that there was no sign of pneumonia. Roger was diagnosed with it just a day earlier by several other doctors and as a serious case.

Then the social workers came into Roger's room within the hour and convinced Roger to sign a DNR and sent him home to die. They said hospice would come to his house and give palliative care which they never showed up. Roger died in his front room a few days later.

The hospital simply gave up on the man instead of treating him.

Joanne, an 85 year old house wife and widow contracted esophageal cancer which made it difficult for her to swallow food. Due to her age and general poor health surgery was not recommended. Radiation was out of the question for that would only cause swelling of the esophagus preventing her from eating complicating things even further. So chemo at half strength was given to try and shrink the tumor, which it did.

Like with a lot of elderly, Joanne didn't drink that much in the way of fluids and became dehydrated. She thought she was drinking enough but in reality wasn't. She had to be brought to the ER several times for dehydration. The hospital would admit her, hang fluids to rehydrate her and a few days later, send her home.

Then one day she went back in again for dehydration and a low grade fever of 101. The hospital once again hung fluids and said they had no idea why she was running the fever. Instead of going the extra mile to find why she was running a fever, and since she was there so many times they tried to convince her and her caregiver to sign a DNR and talked about hospice and palliative care. Not once but several times the caregiver was approached by hospital staff and doctors insisting that she sign a DNR. Which the caregiver refused to do.

The hospital went as far as suggesting to the caregiver that if there was a medical emergency with Joanne again, do not call an ambulance but instead call for hospice and let the woman die.

Again like with Roger, the hospital simply gave up helping a senior citizen instead of using the latest technologies and care to help her. They wanted the bed for someone else with fresh insurance to charge for tests and procedures instead of taking care of a senior citizen.

Even her doctor gave up on her and refused to see her any further. So much for the Hippocratic Oath

And let's add in the insurance equation, insurance companies will pay only so much for care and even less for those over a certain age requiring acute care unless it is short term.

Karen went into the hospital with breathing problems from a severe flu and ultra high blood sugar that was caused by taking OTC cold medicine frequently plus dehydration. While in the hospital she suffered from numerous other maladies and eventually lost the ability to walk. Once the initial problems were solved she was transferred to a sub-acute facility for rehab to learn to walk again.

After a week and a half in rehab, she made very little progress. The insurance company was not pleased and decided not to cover her therapy any longer. The sub-acute facility appealed which was promptly turned down by the insurance company within 2 hours of receipt of the appeal. Karen was left to pay for staying at the sub-acute facility out of pocket.

She and her husband did not have the money so she was brought home against medical advice where the husband, a computer analyst had to give up his job to care for her and give her physical therapy and was able to teach her to walk again. Here the hospital made no effort to figure out why Karen lost the ability to walk and the insurance company refused to participate in her rehab. Due to his age, Karen’s husband is unable to find work again.

The conditions of the rehab facility were deplorable as well with black mold in the air conditioning vents, the aides would empty and clean the bed pan in the patient’s sink, not answer the call bell for up to two hours at a time, there was a lot of particulate matter in the water from the ice machine, the aides would cover any mess in the bed with fresh linen and expect Joanne to lie in it, they would not get her out of bed for therapy on several occasions. The doctor would bill the insurance patient and insurance company without ever seeing Joanne. Meanwhile the health department saw nothing wrong with the place. This is how all of the seniors in the facility were expected to live.

Enter Medicare which is supposed to provide insurance coverage for seniors. Part A is for hospitalization and comes at no charge to the senior. Part B which covers doctors has a cost and those fees come out of the seniors Social Security Retirement fund. Once that is exhausted then the senior has to apply for Medicaid.

Now in NY, Medicaid can and does apply a lien to the seniors assets to recover their costs. This lien includes the home, life insurance, any savings, stocks and bonds, real property and possessions. Only under certain conditions and with legal help can some of the assets be protected. Meanwhile Medicaid has been paid for by the senior though the taxes they paid all their lives.

Take this as an example, Linda who was a neighbor of mine who was a physically disabled woman who had to go into a sub-acute care facility for an extended period of time. She had no choice but to go onto Medicaid who put a lien on her house and all of the contents inside including her retirement and life insurance. She died in the sub-acute facility and before she was put into the ground, Medicaid took possession of the house and it’s contents and evicted her mentally disabled son onto the streets with only the clothes on his back. Medicaid took everything else.

Back to Medicare. There are other parts, C & D but these the senior has also have to pay for out of their pockets. Part D being for medicines and the premiums for Part D can be cost prohibitive and as such the senior has to go without their medications. There are numerous private supplementary plans available but those also have to come out of pocket with their premiums also being cost prohibitive. A lot of seniors live on a fixed income and many are barely making ends meet to begin with. Again the senior has to do without their medications.

So much for the Obama Affordable Health Care Act, which by the way the senior is no longer eligible for due to the fact that they must apply for Medicare.

Speaking of which, John was on the ObamaCare in NY and is turning 65. The NY State Of Health ended his healthcare insurance early and he was told to apply for Medicare and Medicaid otherwise he could buy health insurance from them. For the least expensive plan he was quoted $140 a month with an $8,000 deduction. With a senior on a fixed income and no other sources of income, they would have to do without food or medicines because of the high deductible. And again ObamaCare has failed our seniors.

This same basic attitude toward our seniors even comes from our politicians. As an example, in 2011 during a TV interview New York Westchester County Executive, Rob Astorino was asked about dental care namely dentures for seniors, said "soup is good" inferring that seniors do not require dental care.

So what happens to our seniors who are unable to fend for themselves? The medical community simply wants us to toss the senior aside into a sub-acute facility or home to die instead of giving them the care that they deserve. Will the carousel from Logan's Run become a reality in the not too distant future?

Note-All of the examples above are true, I changed their names to protect their privacy.

Free College Level Education

Years ago if you wanted to know how to program a computer or do just about anything on one you needed to obtain an advanced degree in math, electronics, engineering and what have you.  That ran you into tens of thousands of dollars.

As an example, you want to learn a programming language, say JAVA.  JAVA seems to be the language of preference in most computer science classes.  You could attend a formal class at a college to learn the basics of JAVA but that can cost you from $1,000 to $3,000 or more.  OK, if you are going for a degree you will have no choice but go that route.

But let’s say you are not degree bound or just want to learn JAVA or are in a degree program and need extra help.  There are plenty of free tutorials on the internet that do a great job of teaching JAVA.  Even Oracle, the owner of JAVA (formally Sun Computers owned it until they were bought by Oracle) has free tutorials on JAVA.  You can borrow books from your library as well.  Plus on YouTube you can find tutorials on it as well with other sites.  As an example The New Boston,  http://www.thenewboston.org, has loads of free tutorials on various subjects including JAVA.   With some work on your part you will know the language for free.

JAVA is not the only computer language you can learn for free.  COBOL, ASSEMBLER, FORTRAN, C+, and many other languages can be learned at no cost that way.

Some universities are offering free college level courses as well on the internet.  M.I.T. and Berkley are two just universities doing this.  You can get some great college level education for free.  But not every course the university gives is offered for free and sometimes the course is pretty skimpy, that is they simply did not do good job preparing it and leave you hanging. Plus the courses might be a few years dated as to what the current curriculum is, but the knowledge is sound. Unfortunately you will not get any credit for taking those what so ever plus you might not be able to interact with the professors. In any case you can take college level courses for free.

Computer programming is not the only thing you can learn for free, CISCO, HTML, CSS, Photoshop, FileMaker Pro, MS Office and many other subjects can be learned for free.  You just need to search them out.

Let’s look at CISCO.  Like JAVA there are plenty of sources on the internet where you can get free tutorials.  To practice CISCO you could go to eBay and buy some routers and switches which can cost from a few hundred to over a thousand or with a little digging you can get CISCO’s PacketTracer which simulates the hardware only it is free.  Since it is a computer simulator and draws no power, your wallet will love the fact there is no increase in your electric bill nor is there any additional hardware to buy.

In some areas you will need to buy the software to use to learn on but that is the fraction of the cost for a college degree.  A lot of times you can get software to learn on fairly inexpensively on eBay.  Granted a lot of it is not the latest but there is nothing wrong with it to learn on while saving money.

As an example you want to learn Visual Basic then you need Visual Studio to learn on. I have seen Visual Studio for sale on PC Mall for over $4,000. At the same time go to eBay and I’ve seen it for under $100.

By the way, if programming is what you seek then you will find that most compilers are available for free.

Let me get you started with some links to some free education:

  • 800 Free Online Courses From Top Universities -http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses
  • MIT Open Courseware - http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm
  • Learning the Java Language by Oracle - http://docs.oracle.com/javase/tutorial/java/TOC.html
  • The New Boston – Bucky Roberts had produced numerous computer related courses plus a few others as well – http://thenewboston.org
  • Alison – they have several courses ranging from computers to Risk Management to Math and much more - https://alison.com/
  • COBOL programming - http://www.csis.ul.ie/cobol/course/Default.htm
  • Harvard Online courses – these are the free ones, they do have online courses for credit but they will charge you for those - http://online-learning.harvard.edu/courses?sort_by=date_added&cost[]=free
  • University of California Berkeley on iTunes has some free courses
  • University of Irvine has a few courses - http://ocw.uci.edu/
  • UMass Boston has a nice selection - http://ocw.umb.edu/index.html
  • Carnegie Mellon University also has a nice selection - http://oli.cmu.edu/learn-with-oli/see-our-free-open-courses/
  • CodeAcademy is another great resource if you want to learn programming - https://www.codecademy.com/

There is another resource that I found while not free is very cost effective, Lynda.com. Here are some great tutorials available at a very low price. All you need to do is sign up for monthly access and you can access all of the tutorials that they have for the one price. Some public libraries may grant you free access to that site just by being a patron so you can take an unlimited amount of courses from Lynda.com for free. So it pays to check with your local library.

So with a little effort on your part you can find some great sources for free or nearly free such as computer education as well as other subjects and become more valuable in this highly competitive job market.

Paperless Office is For Everyone

Ever since the first bit of data that was spit out by a computer, the idea of eliminating paper in the office was born but never really took hold.  The “paperless office” became a dream that has been hard to adopt even by the largest companies.  It has been called “paperless office”, “e-filecabinet”, “document management” and a few others.

The term ‘paperless office’ conjures images of an office environment that runs totally without any paper what so ever anywhere.  Where in some industries this can be obtainable but for most companies it is really out of reach.  The term ‘reduced paper office’ is a more realistic approach for just about any company regardless of what industry it is in and no matter how large or small the company is.  Even home owners can utilize and reap the benefits of a reduced paper office as well.

What really hinders the making of a true paperless office is that there are certain regulatory forms that must be in paper.  Not all vendors are paperless and will still send out paper invoices, statements and packing slips.  A lot of legal documents must be in hard copy as well as well as many utility bills.  So we can quickly see that a true paperless office is a difficult task to obtain.  So we have to settle for a reduced paper office instead.  But for discussion sake we will refer to the term of paperless office.

Some of the advantages of having a paperless office are:

  • Reduce the need for file cabinets and reclaim usable floor space or even reduce the size of your physical location thereby saving on rent and utilities. A smaller place generally requires less to heat and cool. 
  • Save on printing costs by not needing cases of paper, a stock pile of toner, and buying new printers every few years. By reducing the need for having cases of paper and all those toner cartridges you again reclaim storage space and never have to worry about running out.
  • Considering how paper burns pretty easily, by not having paper in the building can increase the chance of reducing the risk of fire and could make a fire easier to extinguish.
  • Document collaboration is a snap by having team members able to access the documents instantly. Even across the globe.
  • Security can be increased by limiting who can gain access to certain documents by the click of a mouse.
  • No more lost documents which is a real big advantage since they will always be available. No more of the ‘who’s got such-and-such document’ scenario which is so popular in many offices.
  • Disaster recovery can be greatly enhanced especially if a hosted solution is in place. Mission critical documents can be safely stored and retrieved at any time in the event of a disaster as long as you have an internet connection.

But a paperless office is not fully a bed of roses for there are some disadvantages as well, but a lot of these are easy enough to overcome:

  • Security is possibly the most important aspect. You need to be very diligent on who has access to the documents and how secure your network infrastructure is.
  • Like file cabinets, storage can be an issue. The hard drive of a computer can hold just so much data.  Here you might think of using a Network Area Storage (NAS) or Storage Area Network (SAN) device where you can add drives as needed to increase the capacity or look at a hosted solution to hold the images.  Thankfully hard drives are fairly cheap and take up very little physical room so adding storage to a NAS is really a non-issue.
  • If your building is destroyed and your paperless office solution is in your building then you are in as bad a shape as you would be with paper. Here a hosted solution would be the best course of action.  Of course you need to review their service level agreement before taking them on to ensure uptime and accessibility.
  • Not all paperless software solutions are alike. They each have their own little quirks and learning curves.  And they all come in a variety of prices from under $200 to several thousand for custom made ones.  Unless you are comfortable with and know databases then you can make your own solution which is not that hard to do.
  • There are various documents that due to regulatory constraints must be in physical paper form, but those are dwindling down. Here you will need to consult with your lawyers and accountants to see what physical documents you need to keep.
  • End users love paper and retraining will be needed to reduce the amount of paper that they do indeed print. Granted there are times paper will need to be used but with proper training this can be greatly reduced.

Not that long ago only the largest companies could afford having a paperless office.  But as technologies improved and computers and scanners have gotten cheaper even the smallest businesses can take advantage of having a paperless office.

Let’s start with a simple office.  All the documents that you create on your computer are already in the paperless format as well as digital photos and email attachments which are stored in a folder on your computer or server.  All that is needed is to migrate the documents into your paperless office.  As far as paper documents you need a scanner that can create .pdf, .tiff or .jpg images.  Most copiers and scanners today have that capability with the software that is bundled with the machines plus the software will run Optical Character Recognition (OCR) on a PDF document to make it searchable.  These documents then can be migrated into your paperless office.

The fax machine is not dead, at least not yet and many companies still use them.  By connecting the fax line to a computer or server with a modem installed, add the appropriate software like eFax® and now all of your incoming and outgoing faxes will be paperless.  These can also be incorporated into your paperless office after ‘e-printing’ them.

You will need to research the various fax software package for some like eFax® limit how many free faxes you can make and require you to have a monthly or annual subscription.  Plus if you have several computers that you are going to fax from then multiple licenses are going to be required along with the subscription fees.  Best way around this is by setting up a simple print server that handles all of the faxing.

A lot of office copiers will have electronic faxing built into them so it might pay to discuss that with your copier supply company.

Of course you need someplace to store the images or e-documents like on a computer, server, NAS or hosted storage.  Most importantly you need the paperless office software and selecting one can be a daunting task since there are so many on the market like PaperPort Professional® and others.

 If you decide make a paperless office it would be to your exact needs instead of having you adjust to premade software.  Plus the potential savings in purchasing and licensing costs.  In addition even though there are providers that will build and host one for you they still can have a very high cost to set up plus monthly fees as well which can add up at the end of the year.

Of course there are other advantages to having one built and hosted for you.  Like uptime in the event that a disaster destroys your building, the host takes care of hardware and software upgrades, the host also backs up the data to help prevent loss on their end.

If you are knowledgeable in databases then you could conceivably make your own version of a paperless office.  But you would be responsible for all of the maintenance, upgrades and backups.

If you are up to the task of building your own paperless office you need some form of database management system (DBMS) like SQL Server, MySQL®, FileMaker Pro®, MS Access®, Oracle® or SAP®.  These can run from free like MySql to the $400 price range for MS Access® and FileMaker Pro® standalone version, to about a thousand for SQL Server to the hundreds of thousands for Oracle® and SAP®.

Next you need someone who knows the DBMS you wish to use to do the creation of the system.  Next a webpage designer to create the front end which is what the user sees on their PC unless the person who does the database work knows html, especially if you want web access to it.  But that can be optional depending on how you want the paperless office setup.   FileMaker Pro® and MS Access® plus a few others will allow you to create a front end that the user sees.

You can even do this on your own but you need to take classes on database and the particular DBMS first plus a course on webpage design would be in order as well.  None of this is rocket science and it is within the scope of just about anyone to get a grasp on.  Plus you can get various tutorials on the internet covering databases as well with many of them being free or very low cost.  Not to mention there are tons of textbooks you can purchase from places like Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In my own home office environment I wrote a simple paperless office using FileMaker Pro® that we use on a daily basis.  It is not loaded with all kinds of bells and whistles to be sure.  But it does the job that we need and I confess although I have a good grasp of databases I am no guru.

And like any other paperless offices you still need some way to scan your documents into your computer.  This can be from a simple flatbed scanner all the way up to a copy machine or high speed scanner.

 And finally like all data you need to back it up nightly either in house or with a cloud provider.

So building your own paperless office is an undertaking that you may decide to tackle.  It will take time and will come with some frustration but it is something that is very doable.

For a few hundred dollars any small business or home owner can have a paperless office solution in place.  Of course you can still spend thousands for a very robust system that has unlimited storage.  Paperless Office technology has been dramatically improved since the early days of computing to a more efficient and user friendly tool.  Now anyone can implement one in their environment.

Monday, January 31, 2022

Age Discrimination And How Employers Get Around It

In 1967 the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was enacted to protect employees over the age of 40 from discrimination on the basis of age in hiring, promotions, discharge, compensation, or terms, conditions or privileges of employment. The Older Worker Benefit Protection Act amended several sections of the ADEA. In addition, section 115 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-166) amended section 7(e) of the ADEA (29 U. S.C. 626(e. The agency who is tasked to handle violations of the ADEA is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

This law sounds like a good idea to protect the older worker but in reality it falls way short of doing just that. Crafty employers have found a way to get around the law now making it legal to discriminate.

Let's show a few examples and for this we will use a fictitious person we will call 'Peter' a 58 year old man married and has 2 children all over the age of 20 and he is a computer programmer by trade.

Peter applied to a company 'Acme Widgets' for a position as a computer programmer which he did not get because of his age. The interviewer was so bold as to tell Peter that he was too old for the position. Peter files a complaint with the EEOC who investigates the compliant. The company simply responds that they were bringing in a new technology and that Peter was not qualified for the job. Case Closed.

But what if Peter recorded the conversation? Great idea-Not. First it would not be admissible as evidence since it was not ordered by the courts and as such it does not exist. Secondly since Peter supplied the recorder and not an investigating agency the recordings would be suspect for Peter could have faked the interview with the help of a friend. And since the recorder might have been hidden in his jacket the sound quality would not be the best making it hard to distinguish the interviewers voice from someone else. Case Closed.

Let's say that the interviewer had a second interviewer with them. All that is needed to do is that the second interviewer deny that any statements were made and to keep their job they most certainly will deny any wrong doing.  Case Closed. 

OK, Peter is employed by the company and has been turned down time and time again for promotions while others who have not been with the company as long as Peter has been get promoted.  The company responds by saying that Peter's job performance was not up to their criteria for promotion.  Case Closed.

Janet, a 24 year old who just graduated college is hired to work in the copy room.  The company gives her a fantastic benefit package with a 410K that the company contributes 50% to.  Peter on the other hand as a meager package and the company contributes only 1% to the 401K.  The companies response again goes to Peter's "poor job performance".  At the same time generally there is no statute stating that everyone has to have the same package or any package at all.  Case Closed.

One of the most insidious ways that an employer can discriminate is in states that are 'employment-at-will'. Here the employer does not need an excuse to terminate employees for they can terminate anyone at any time.  So Peter being 58 is replaced by Eric an inexperienced 24 year old.  Again the companies response would be that they no longer need Peter's service and there is no other place to put him, or his skill set is not up to par, or worse yet they claim that he was sleeping on the job or mouthed off to a supervisor.  Mind you all of these are not true.  Peter loses, the company wins, again.  Case Closed.

Peter was terminated because of his age and was replaced by Eric.  The company told Peter that they wanted to weed out all of the older workers and replace them with younger and fresher blood.  Here the company openly admits to practicing age discrimination knowing that they can get away with it.  

Case in point, I know a guy that was 58 who was the CTO of a public company when he was terminated for his age. The firm said they were going to outsource the tech department but instead hired a 26 year old who had no experience to run the I.T. department.  The firm knew that they could freely discriminate based on age.

Now one of the biggest loop holes in the law that companies can use actually makes age discrimination legal.

Peter contacts the EEOC and files a complain on age discrimination.  The EEOC investigates and a month later sides with Peter that he was indeed harmed by the company.  As powerful as they seem, the EEOC has no authority to enforce the law instead they present Peter with a paper with their findings and tell him he has to hire a lawyer to sue the company.

Peter seeks out a lawyer and find that most want a hefty retainer up front like around $30,000 to start with. Unlike an accident which lawyers take on contingency cases like this require a retainer up front.  Peter does not have the $30K.  The company wins, Peter loses.  Case Closed.

Let's say that Peter does have the $30K or finds a lawyer that will take a lower retainer of waived the retainer fee altogether.  Peter loses again.  Why?

The minute the lawyer files the law suit against Acme Widgets it becomes public knowledge.  Unlike what you see on TV shows, law suits can take from 2 to 5 years or more to settle.  Most never go to trial and are settled out of court.  Peter needs to be able to pay his bills and feed his family and cannot wait that 5 years to settle so he needs to find a job in the meantime.

A lot of companies utilize employment screening firms to try and dig up dirt on an applicant.  In Peter's case it was discovered that he is suing Acme Widgets.  He is labeled as a trouble maker and no company wants a trouble maker in their ranks.  So Peter loses out on opportunities. Because of the filing, Peter cannot find work and has to settle for a low paying part time job flipping burgers.  Acme Widgets wins and Peter loses.  Case Closed.

Companies know this and can use it to their advantage and practice age discrimination openly and freely knowing that little is anything will happen to them.

The laws need to be changed and made stronger to protect the older worker and to give the EEOC the authority to enforce the ADEA through civil and criminal action.