Hess Associates

On May 15 I wrote an article on “Cool Jobs for Seniors” but omitted a job that the Wall Street Journal brought to my attention. According to the WSJ if you are over 60 and you know a computer language that was extremely popular in the early 1960s, namely COBOL, you can definitely find work, (when you feel like working) and be well paid for it.

Maybe being a Cobol programmer isn’t the coolest job for a young coder who prefers coding in Python, Java, C++ or Ruby but for an old coot the chances are that Cobol might just outlast many of these modern computer languages.

The question is why?

The answer is simple. Millions of banking transaction every day are driven by Cobol and the banking industry can’t afford the change and disruption a conversion to newer systems would involve. That’s not even discussing the complexity and the cost of such a conversion. So these dinosaurs, (the banking systems as well as the Cobol programmers) plod onwards.

In 2017, Reuters published a piece of research by Celent, Accenture, IBM and several others:

– 95% of all ATM swipes rely on Cobol
– 80% of in person banking transactions rely on Cobol
– 43% of banking systems are built on Cobol
– 220 billion lines of Cobol code are in use today

These are some of the reasons why Cobol is still around.

Some of the smaller banks have transitioned to newer systems successfully. But with the major banks, there is far too much at stake
if their customers have no access to their accounts.

I must tip my hat to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper who invented Cobol, a compiler that translated high level language into machine language.
That was in 1959 so next year will be Cobol’s 60th birthday.

Herbert Hess is the founder of Hess Associates, a recruitment firm involved in placing contract and permanent staff in the IT, Medical Device, and Biotechnology sectors.

If a stranger came up to you and asked for your phone number, address, email address, birthday, credit card numbers, SINs, or SSNs, passwords, and similar information on all of your family and friends, you would be horrified, tempted to call the police, and would rush away as quickly as possible.

Yet, I repeat, yet, online, you are quite happy and most likely to provide that information willingly, in return, perhaps, for one chance in 10 million of winning a car, a trip, a free movie, a free meal, a book, you get the idea.

At least the stranger showed you his face – online there are billions of faceless faces listening and watching and gathering data. Is not the unknown scary? What happened to the monster in the clothes cupboard or under the bed, that we all knew and feared as kids? Perhaps we were right. Prescient even.

Who are these monsters? Let’s see – Twitter, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, ISPs, telecoms, smartphones, PCs, tablets, banks, insurance companies, retailers, food stores, and more, all of which gather and store unimaginable amounts of personal data and associated other information (known as metadata). This data is salable, attractive, in great demand by the NSA, governments, hackers, big business, onliners, and others.
As far back as 2013, a report in the Washington Post quoted Twitter as saying that “the US government continues to make the most requests for information about the social network’s subscribers”. Why not – it is not illegal. Also, disturbingly, Twitter was actually hacked back in February 2013, with hackers gaining access to information on over 250,000 users (Toronto Star, Feb. 2, 2013). Twitter also mentioned at the time that other companies and organizations were similarly attacked, despite all well-intentioned assurances of security. And up to now, 2020, hearing about breaches has become commonplace.

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former information and privacy commissioner, published “A Primer on Metadata: Separating Fact from Fiction” (https://www.google.com/search?channel=crow2&client=firefox-b-d&q=a+primer+on+metadata+separating+fact+from+fiction) a while ago. She contended that hiding behind the innocent word ‘metadata’ is the way surveillance programs try to downplay the serious implications of the use of this data for digital profiling and invasion of privacy. Again, there are not really any legal restrictions on all of this – we humans created this magic so quickly that we can barely deal with the implications.

This has also led some to question as to who should govern internet privacy. Michael Geist, Toronto Star, July 27, 2013, once brought forward the worry that an internet which became the web which became a surveillance source, may not be safe in the hands of ICANN (an innocent body set up and governed by the US), and that in fact, countries may want to govern their own internet space. This would be a sad outcome indeed, isolationist, the beloved net no longer able to be called the amazing World Wide Web, taken over by greed and big government.

To this end, ICANN itself published a very comprehensive blog on What Metadata Are, and what the controversies about its’ collection might be (https://www.icann.org/news/blog/metadata-collection-and-controversy).

How to get around some of this? Pay cash, forget about telling everyone on Facebook what you had for dinner, whom all your relatives are, what you look like, what your newborn baby looks like, and don’t lose your smartphone! Also, apparently there are so called safe search engines such as DuckDuckGo, Qwant, Startpage, Swisscows, SearX and others which promise that they do not collect data (https://itsfoss.com/privacy-search-engines/).

Some of this, not all, as you may not be able to get around having home and car insurance, paying taxes, buying a car, seeing a doctor, filling prescriptions, owning a phone. One news report showed a high security division of an unnamed country going back to good old Underwoods, Royals, and carbon paper.

And remember that the monster in the cupboard and under the bed is there, and wants your data, and wants to sell it to every other monster.

Generally the birth of the internet is regarded as 1993, when Mosaic, the original web browser, was released. [Of course Sir Timothy John “Tim” Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, is best known as the inventor of the world wide web, having made a proposal for an information management system in March 1989, and implementing the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet sometime around mid November 1989].

Since 1993 of course, Mosaic turned into Netscape, other general online search engines were born and devoured, and certainly in North America Google and to a lesser extent Bing (which has incorporated Yahoo) have come to predominate.

Along with this we have seen the dramatic rise of (and in some cases fall of ) a variety of social media sites, including MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, and many more.

The HotDocs festival chose to showcase 3 spell-binding perilous internet scenarios –
(1) Downloaded: The rise and fall of the MP3 music peer-to-peer file-sharing site Napster, outlining how, in 1998, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker (both 18 year old Americans) revolutionized the accessibility of “free” music worldwide, leading to panic amongst musicians and the music industry, creating a no-going-back expectation amongst music fans. Consequences for both Napster and its creators, and the music industry itself, were dire – by the time Napster was shuttered, other file sharing sites had sprung up, and the manner in which music was disseminated or paid for had changed forever. Additionally, the music industry also went after some of the actual users of the service.
Many of the employees of Napster moved to Apple and created iTunes.

(2) The Pirate Bay Away from Keyboard, TPB AFK: the rise and fall of the movie peer-to-peer file sharing site TPB (BitTorrent), again outlines how Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, and Gottfrid Svartholm Warg (young Swedes) affected Hollywood the way Napster affected the music industry. In this case, not only was the site under attack by Hollywood, but one of the creators is in jail in Sweden, one is facing ajail term and one is abroad and is being sought by authorities. In the cases of both Napster and TPB, the creators made it very clear that they did not have the music or movies on their servers, but that they had merely written software allowing people to share with each other if they so chose.

While both of these scenarios lead to much reflection on copyright, copyright laws, and internet freedoms, the third documentary hits closer to home.

(3) Terms and Conditions May Apply: Here we saw how we are all held hostage by the terms and conditions to which we must agree to use many sites. It was pointed out, and we know this, that almost no-one reads these terms and conditions but we merely (and trustingly) put the little check mark in the little box (of course if we don’t, we can’t gain access to the site). The documentary outlines how Google, Facebook, iTunes, and others, have steadily reduced the privacy protection they offer, to the point where pretty much all information gathered is aggregated into large databases, mined, sold for profit, and most likely could be used to infringe on individual freedoms. It was made clear that GPS equipped cell phones, ubiquitous cameras in big cities such as New York, shopping habits (imagine a scenario where your insurance company knows every ailment you may have based on what you picked up at the nearby pharmacy), the seeing computer eye of the CIA, or the NSA, or any agency in whatever country you live, the advent of Google Glass, all may be leading to the ‘Big Brother’ world, if we sit idly by checking “I agree”. Check out www.tacma.net for further details.

TPB AFK is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOKXCEwo_8.
Downloaded is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTOKXCEwo_8
TACMA is in the process of being digitized and should be available soon at https://www.tacma.net.