October 18, 2017

Hardware icon added tools through 3000

WrenchThe HP 3000 had many notable brands on its roster over the last two decades—Hertz, M&Ms, State Farm. Plenty of well-known businesses leveraged their growth and dominance on MPE/iX apps and Hewlett-Packard hardware. In some places, the legacy kingpin of the 3000 has led datacenters to move data better on other platforms. Tools, as it turns out, can find places to work where owners were heading as well as where they're installed. That's what happened at True Value.

True-valueThere's more than 700 retail True Value stores, but the units operate as a cooperative. Together these stores own their distributor True Value, while they operate independently. Local ownership is bolstered by the bargains behind corporate purchasing. Long's Drug in the western US once boasted the greatest number of retail locations connected by 3000s. When it came to the number of locations supported by 3000 technology, True Value had Long's beat by a factor of two.

Hillary Software installed its byRequest solution at True Value in 2004, when the 3000 had fallen from HP's graces. It was an investment to prolong and improve the value of the 3000. More importantly, it was an investment in data. The software transforms MPE/iX data into the formats of the larger world: Word, PDF and Excel. True Value said byRequest revolutionized data and document management for them. Reports traveled via email to be used in the programs that are available everywhere. For some companies, Excel is a platform because it's essential to every decision.

The Hillary software moved data better than classic MPE/iX reports ever had. The software also helped move the company, when it was ready, onward to its next datacenter platform.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:45 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

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October 16, 2017

Getting the Message Across for MPE/iX

MessagesNot long ago, the HP 3000 community was wondering about the limits of message files in the operating system. HP introduced the feature well back in the 20th Century, but only took Message Files into Native Mode with MPE/iX 5.0. That's certainly within the realm of all operating HP 3000s by today. The message file, according to HP's documentation, is the heart of the 3000's file system InterProcess Communication.

Message files reside partly in memory and partly on disk. MPE XL uses the memory buffer part as much as possible, to achieve the best performance. The disc portion of the message file is used only as secondary storage in case the memory buffer part overflows. For many users of IPC, MPE XL never accesses the disc portion of the message file.

Yes, that says MPE XL up there. The facility has been around a long time.

What do you do with message files? A program could open a message file and write a data record every 2 seconds. The data record could be the dateline plus the 2-word return from the CLOCK intrinsic. In another example, a message file could be used to enable soft interrupts. It might then open a log file to write progress messages from the interrupt handler.

HP's examples of using message files are illustrated using Pascal/XL, so you know this is 3000-specific technology. You'd think they'd be little-used by now, but this month the developers on the 3000 mailing list were asking about limits for the number of message files. An early answer was 63, but Stan Seiler used a classic 3000-era method to discover it: testing.

The answer is 4083. Or, why testing counts.

I just successfully opened 4,083 new message files from one process. Since the max-files-per-process is 4095, I suspect I could probably have squeezed in a couple more, but my test program already had some files open.

That this programming facility is still in use seems to suggest it's got utility left. Multiple programs and processes use message files to communicate. HP explains in an extensive document, "Suppose that a large programming task is to be divided into two processes. One process will interface with the user. This process is referred to as the "supervisor" process. It does some processing tasks itself and offloads others to a "server" process. This process only handles requests from the supervisor and returns the results."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:29 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 13, 2017

Take the Training, A Young 3000 Jedi Can

Jedi-younglingsEarlier this month I enjoyed a cookout at the HQ of The Support Group. The company that migrates MANMAN sites to the cloud of Kenandy and supports homesteading sites had a new face at the office. The young intern was on his way to working for a startup, but was getting some experience in an established software and services company in the legacy market.

He was also learning the HP 3000 for the job. Not yet 35, the intern had a deep array of 3000 expertise to call on while he helped support homesteading sites. Such customers can lose their own deep 3000 workers and then might rely on support for how-to answers.

The intern and some homesteaders are examples of people who'd benefit from 3000 MPE/iX training. When I recounted my experience with trying to learn the mysteries of the Apple Watch, I figured it was safe to say formal MPE training would be out of reach for anybody who didn't have their own support resource. I could be certain HP was unable to teach anyone how to use MPE/iX, at least in person one to one. The HP manuals do remain out in the community on websites outside of HP.

As it turns out, when I state something in the negative, a positive exception emerges. I'm always glad to get news like this. Resources can get overlooked or lose visibility. That's why Paul Edwards reached out this morning to raise his hand in class, as it were. Paul is still offering MPE/iX training.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:26 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 11, 2017

Keeping Watch On Answers From Support

Hp-01_calculator_gf_set_01Getting answers about how to use interfaces can be troublesome. Graphical interfaces never made it to the native MPE/iX applications unless a third party tool helped out. VPlus wasn't graphical, but ScreenJet made it more like a GUI. Powerhouse and Speedware developed graphical skins for MPE/iX apps written in those fourth generation languages.

Underneath all of that is the common language of the 3000, the commands and their prompts. The computer's user base by now has this command interface drilled into memory. Once in awhile the managers and users on the 3000 mailing list ask for a refresher on how to configure a network or a storage device.

A mailing list like that is one way to approach 3000 support. In this, the 44th year of MPE and 3000 life, you could expect users supporting each other to be a popular choice. There is no guarantee about the accuracy of any support you scrape off an email or a website, unless the information comes at a price. "Information wants to be free" drove the concept of user-swapped support. Support ought to flow freely, but paying for it keeps the resources fresh and responsive.

Apple_watch_series_3The 3000's interface seems like an anachronism here in 2017. You might expect that, but it's something companies must accommodate if a 3000 becomes a foreigner in a datacenter without expertise. The OS can seem as obtuse as anything not well known. New owners of smart watches have a learning curve that can seem as steep as knowing which network services to disable in MPE/iX for the stoutest security. I rode that watch curve today and came away sore. The support saddle provided an experience with Apple that reminded me of Hewlett-Packard's customer situation.

A new Apple Watch comes with an interface no user has experienced before. It has little to do with a smartphone's design and nothing at all related to a laptop. You are either pre-Watch or you're Watch-ready; there's no prerequisite warmup ownership to give you a lift. The Watch Series 3 comes with no on-board help, either. This makes it inferior to the 40-years-older MPE, and also makes the Watch something like a high-concept product from HP's past, the HP-01. That was the personal device which, like many products from the HP Way, was way ahead of its time.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:01 PM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 06, 2017

Staying Secure with MPE/iX Now and Then

Account-relationships-securityThe IT news is full of reports about security breeches. If an Equifax system with 143 million records can be breeched, then Yahoo's 3 billion email accounts were not far behind, were they? Security by obscurity for outward-facing MPE/iX systems isn't much protection. That being said, the high-test security that is protecting the world's most public systems seems to failing, too. A few years ago, the US Office of Personnel Management had its systems hacked. Millions of fingerprints were stolen from there.

Hewlett-Packard built good intra-3000 security into MPE/iX, and third parties made it even more robust. Back in the 1980s I wrote a manual for such a product called EnGarde that made MPE/iX permissions easier to manage. Vesoft created Security/3000 as the last word in protecting 3000s and MPE/iX data. Eugene Volokh's Burn Before Reading was an early touchstone. The magic of SM was a topic explored by 3000 legend Bob Green in a Newswire column.

Homesteading managers will do well to make a place in their datacenter budgets for support of the 3000. Security is built-in for MPE/iX, but understanding how it works might be a lost art at some sites.

The fundamentals of securing an MPE/iX system go way back. A wayback server of sorts at the 3k Ranger website provides HP's security advice from 1994. It's still valid for anyone, especially a new operator or datacenter employee who's got a 3000 to manage. They just don't teach this stuff anymore. 3000s get orphaned in datacenters when the MPE/iX pros move on into retirement or new careers.

The printed advice helps. A direct link to the Ranger webpage can be a refresher course for any new generation of 3000 minders.

Managers of MPE/iX systems need to look out for themselves in securing HP 3000s. Hewlett-Packard gave up on the task long ago. In the era that led to the end of 3000 operations at HP, the vendor warned that its software updates for MPE/iX were going to be limited to security repairs after 2008. They weren't kidding. The very last archived HP 3000 security bulletin on the HP Enterprise website had stern advice for a DNS poisoning risk.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:07 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

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