Friday, July 29, 2011

Will I get paid if the federal government shuts down on August 2, 2011?

Just like last April, a federal government shutdown deadline is rapidly approaching. With only 4 days to go, Americans all over the country are wondering what will happen on August 2, 2011. Will social security recipients, military personal, medicare bills, etc. get paid? What will be open?

To help answer these questions, we've examined a number of stories that listed the federal services that will be affected. While there is no absolute answer to these questions, (because much is at the discretion of the President and Treasury Secretary), the summary below offers a brief overview of what will be open and who may be paid.
  • Congress, Senate, President:  Yes
  • Federal employees: There are about 1.9 million civilian government workers. Of those, approximately 1/2 will remain on the job and the other half will be furloughed. Those who are not deemed as essential will not work and will not be paid. Unless Congress passes a new provision, these people are not entitled to receive back pay when  they return back to work. It is unclear if they will be entitled to unemployment insurance either.
  • Social Security & Disability: The Social Security Trust Fund contains sufficient monies to provide continuous payments to those recipients. While there is little or actual money in the fund, it holds a numerous US Treasury bonds. Some of these may have to be sold or redeemed in order to cover the checks that will be written. However, because the agency may have limited staff, new claims may be delayed.
  • Medicare: Like social security, medicare claims will continue to be paid. However, there may be a delay in the actual payments and new claims may be deferred as well.
  • Veterans: Yes. The Veterans Administration receives yearly funds in advance. This means that money for all services has already been provided.
  • Military: Everyone will continue to work, whether they are uniformed personnel or not. However, many will not be paid until the shutdown is ended. Others may only receive 1/2 pay during the shutdown, but the remainder of the money will be paid afterward as well.
  • Mail delivery: The USPS is a separate self funded entity and will not be affected by a shutdown.
  • Security: All aspects of national security are considered critical functions and all services will continue. This includes Homeland Security, Coast Guard, border patrol, jails, courts, food inspection programs, etc.
  • National Parks: Unfortunately, this will be the first to go. Parks, zoos, and museums will all be closed to the public.
  • Passports: Another inconvenience. If you are applying for a passport, you will probably have to wait unless it is an absolute emergency.
  • IRS: Collection of taxes will remain in operation, but will experience a staff reduction.
  • SBA & FHA: Both the Small Business Administration and Federal Housing Association will suspend approvals during a shutdown.
You can learn more by reading the articles written before the anticipated April shutdown.

Government shutdown: What it means for you
Who gets paid in a shutdown? Congress!
Government shutdown 2011: Will I get paid? What will be open? What can I expect?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three jquery ajax problems encountered and solved

Recently, we decided to retrieve data from our website using jquery's ajax remote data access method, but encountered three problems that we did not know how to solve immediately.

The first problem was obtaining the information in javascript itself. Because we did not know what to do, we used the examples provided in jquery. Writing the remote function was easy. All we had to do was provide a url, specify 'GET', and provide a callback function. To test the working of this script, we wrote a simple script on our remote server to echo back the data. Once we received the data, we would process it later.
  • PROBLEM: It appeared that the data was never being returned but it really was. The problem was that we expected the processing to occur in sequential order, but by default, ajax processes in asyncronous mode. Thus, the data returned much later. 
  • TRICK: To solve this, we added the "async: false," option to the ajax call and it worked!
The second problem was once the data was received, it was a JSON formatted text string. In order to use it, we had to convert it to a javascript object. To do this, we used the "eval" function.
  • PROBLEM: On our first tries, this kept failing.
  • TRICK: Then we discovered that we needed to bracket our returned data with surrounding parenthesis characters and the eval returned an object.
Lastly, the third problem occurred when we began using real data. We wrote and debugged our application using Firefox and all seemed to work.
  • PROBLEM: But, a user informed us that our pages did not work in the IE and Safari browsers.
  • TRICK: The problem was that the json variable "return" in our data structure was being interpreted literally by IE and Safari, and the object conversion failed. When we changed the variable to "returnval", our problem was solved.
A sample of the code data that we were using are shown in the table below. Note that the items we added to correct our problems a highlighted in green. Erroneous values are shown in red.

JavaScript Sample

var remotedata = null;

function getData( ) {

   var dataurl = 'http://www.myurl/getsampledata ;

    var retval = $.ajax({
    type: 'GET',
    url: dataurl ,
     async: false,
    success: function( JSONObject ) {
                       remotedata = eval( '(' + JSONObject + ')' );

Data Sample

{ data: [ { key:'matchstring', datapoint1:25, return:45.2, age:42 } ] } 

{ data: [ { key:'matchstring', datapoint1:25, returnval:45.2, age:42 } ] } 

While this information is detail specific, we are publishing our experiences to help you utilize jquery's ajax in your future applications.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fear Not: the Federal Government has shutdown before and Social Security checks kept flowing

This is the third time during 2011 that Congress and the President have been negotiating a budget, and each time, fears of a Government shutdown loomed. Both in February 2011 and April 2011, short term budgets have rolled the inevitable forward for 3 months at a time.

Now once again, in an interview with Scott Pelley of the CBS Evening News, the President instilled fear in the retirement sector by stating that he couldn't guarantee that Social Security payments would be mailed to recipients.

However, this is not a new tactic for the President, as he provided a similar warning on February 15, 2011 when he said: If there’s a government shutdown, "people don’t get their Social Security checks." However, based on previous shutdowns, we know this is not true. Yet the President insists on holding senior citizens as hostages during the Republican debates.

Since 1976, the Federal Government has been shut down 17 times, and each time, Social Security checks were sent out ( This would be 18th government shutdown in U.S. history ).
  1. 1976: 10 days beginning Thursday September 30
  2. 1977: 12 days beginning Friday September 30
  3. 1977: 8 days beginning Monday October 31
  4. 1977: 8 days beginning Wednesday November 30
  5. 1978: 17 days beginning Saturday September 30
  6. 1979: 11 days beginning Sunday September 30
  7. 1981: 2 days beginning Friday November 20
  8. 1982: 1 day beginning Saturday September 30
  9. 1982: 3 days beginning Tuesday December 21
  10. 1983: 3 days beginning Thursday November 14
  11. 1984: 2 days beginning Sunday September 30
  12. 1984: 1 day beginning Wednesday October 3
  13. 1986: 1 day beginning Thursday October 16
  14. 1987: 1 day beginning Friday December 18
  15. 1990: 3 days beginning Friday October 5
  16. 1995: 5 days beginning Monday November 13
  17. 1995: 10 days beginning Friday December 15
During those dates, many citizens were inconvenienced, but Social Security checks, Medicare, and Law Enforcement obligations were continuously honored and maintained.

Perhaps the biggest disruption of the possible August 2, 2011 shutdown will be to the President who will be celebrating his 50th birthday at a Chicago fund raising bash ( Obama 50th birthday bash set for August 3 ).

For the sake of the country, let's hope the Republicans stand together and block any increase to the federal debt and implementation of new taxes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Who Likes the New Blogger Interface?

Yesterday, Google rolled out the new Blogger User Interface to all users of Blogger in Draft. Since this was not publicized in the blogger in draft blog, most users were caught off guard and surprised to see a totally different layout. This new interface had been released and tested by a smaller subset of beta users since April and many of the bugs were ironed out during that period.

I, for one, have mixed feelings about the new design because some of the features presented on the original Blogger dashboard are missing or not immediately apparent. The old interface listed our blogs with choices to add a new post, list the posts, or view. While this functionality is still there, the access methods are replaced by buttons which are not intuitive.  Next, the bottom of the dashboard listed tabs to view the blogger in draft blog, blogger buzz, and followed blogs. The latter two are present on the dashboard, but the blogger in draft link is gone.

The overall color scheme follows the simplified Google white theme which some like and others do not. However, because Blogger tried to display a page view chart and count along with the number of posts and last update date, the spacing of the new dashboard is not considerably longer.

If you click on the title of one of your blogs, you are brought to a new Overview page which shows your pageviews, top traffic sources and news from blogger. It summarizes your comment counts, pageviews, posts, and followers. This is a second layer of hierarchy that is nice from a blog managerial viewpoint, but not from an authors perspective who simply wishes to write and publish an article.

In exploring the site, I located the Blogger in Draft blog article. I did not prepare screen shots for you because Blogger has already done this, but I strongly encourage everyone to read that post (see URL below). After reading it, I suggest that you then read through the many of comments that users have written. You will learn that many do not like the new interface and are disappointed as well.  One user provides a link to an article that will show you how to revert back to the old blogger in draft interface.

While I am not comfortable with this new interface, I am using it while writing this post. One positive is that the blog post window automatically expands and displays your entire article. So far, I haven't found the Zemanta, Amazon, or other gadget widgets.
If you are using Blogger in Draft, you have probably seen this new interface as well. Do you like it? Or, do you prefer the original interface design better?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Our Fourth of July Celebration

Fireworks on the Fourth of July, 2009; Happy B...Image via Wikipedia
The year of 2011 is half over, and we begin the second half with the Country's 4th of July Celebration. The weather should be good in most parts of the United States this weekend, which will be great for all the parades, barbecues, and firework displays.

Our family will be getting together on the Pennsylvania farm for our annual chicken barbecue. This is usually an all day affair which begins early in the morning. We begin by getting up and preparing the salads: potato, macaroni, beans, and mixed lettuces. The potatoes are peeled, boiled and cut. Then the onions and celery are diced. Eggs are boiled in preparation for deviled eggs.  Then the tables are set up on the porch and the decorations are hung. Afterward, the chicken is cleaned.

Around 10 AM, the men go outside and prepare the charcoal pit. It is cleaned and lined with aluminum foil. A starter fire of kindling wood is made. When a hot bed of coals are ready, we fill the pit with two bags of charcoal.

By 11:30, we are ready to begin cooking our chicken. Each person gets one half of a chicken, which means we will cook about 20 pieces. We sit around the pit drinking beer, soda, and wine. Every 5 to 10 minutes someone flips the chicken and bastes them with a homemade sauce.

Barbeque ChickenImage by Bisayan lady via Flickr
About 12:30 the guests begin to arrive and they join in the grilling. We talk, laugh, and reminisce about all the other good times we've shared.

By 2 PM, the chicken is done and we all go to the porch to begin our feast. Nobody is in a hurry, so we spend a couple of hours eating. After the clean up, we rest for a while and then set up dessert. By 6 or 7 PM, everyone is stuffed and we wait for dark to fall so that we can watch the neighboring town's fireworks illuminate the sky. 

I hope that everyone enjoys their 4th of July Holiday as much as all of us in our family!
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