November 20, 2014

TBT: When Joy of Tech Was Necessary

SuperGroup Fred White


The cover above of the SuperGroup Association magazine from January, 1985 came to mind here on ThrowBack Thursday. Fred White passed away this week, and it's been a delightful trek down the lane of memories to recall his gusto about the art of technology.

The cover above shows some of that gusto which is not easy to describe. SuperGroup understood the MPE and IMAGE technology of the '80s as well or better than any magazine of the day. But that 3000 publication edited by D. David Brown had a sense of humor and whimsy about it no other publication has been able to eclipse. (Even on my best day as HP Chronicle editor I was only cooking up editorial cartoons about PA-RISC that somebody else would illustrate, and there have been those Ken-Do strips from the NewsWire. But nothing as savvy as what was staged above.)

The players in the little romp were, from left, White, Adager's Alfredo Rego, and Robelle's Bob Green. The photo was a teaser into a great technical paper about a perceived need to acknowledge that databases needed "uncomfortable Procrustean designs... [using] methodologies associated wth normalizing and relating."

Procrustean creditsLike the paper that Eugene Volokh wrote in the following year, the technical report put relational databases in their place -- capable of permitting multiple views of data, but with a steep performance price to pay compared to IMAGE/3000. The article was on the vanguard of unmasking the shortcomings of relational databases of that era, as I read it. Also clever and playful, two words not often associated with technical writing. The paper was authored by more than the three in the picture; Allegro's Stan Sieler and Steve Cooper got credits, as did Leslie Keffer de Rego for editing.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:15 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

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November 19, 2014

Fred White, 1924-2014

FredWhiteCourtesy of his long-time collaborator and partner Alfredo Rego, this picture of Fred White was taken in 2004, when Fred was 80 and several years into retirement. The legendary co-creator of IMAGE and the SPL expert in Adager's Labs, White was a Marine Corps veteran. Rego said while offering this portrait, "I took this photo with my Olympus E-1 on October 26, 2004 (just a bit over 10 years ago!) in Cedar City, Utah, where he and Judy lived for a while. Fred invited Judy and me to lunch, and I snapped this image across the table. I loved everything there: The warm light, the delicious food, the stimulating conversation, the young college students rushing about..."

The creator of the heartbeat of the HP 3000, Fred White, passed away on November 18, 2014 at the age of 90. White died peacefully in the presence of his wife Judy and family members, of natural causes. He had relocated to Arizona after retiring from Adager in the year after Y2K. His work in building the essential database for MPE, alongside Jon Bale, was the keystone of the 3000 experience. Rego took note of a key identifier inside the IMAGE internals, one that signified a database was sound and accurate. The flag was FW, or as Rego said in a short tribute to his partner, "%043127, the octal representation of “FW” — the flag for a normal IMAGE/3000 database (and TurboIMAGE, and IMAGE/SQL)."

White's work for the 3000 community came in two stages. The first was his innovations while working for HP, building a network database which won awards until HP stopped selling IMAGE and included it with the HP 3000. (Bundled software would not be considered for prizes like the Datamation award bestowed on IMAGE in 1976.) IMAGE, integrated at a foolproof level with the MPE intrinsics and filesystem, delivered a ready field for a small army of developers to plant applications and tools. Without White's work, the 3000 would have been just a footnote in HP's attempts to enter the computer business.

The second stage of White's gifts to the community began when HP had infuriated him for the last time. Never a fan of large organizations, he left Hewlett-Packard when it became clear the vendor had no interest in enhancing IMAGE. But before he departed HP, White met with Rego when the latter was visiting HP in an effort to learn more about IMAGE from the vendor, in preparation for a forthcoming database manager he'd create. As the legend is told, White decided he'd try to help Rego just to ensure that the creation to be called Adager could emerge a little easier.

"He hoped we would answer his questions," White said in a post-retirement interview. His partner Jon Bale "said that kind of help would be contrary to HP company policy. I said to him, 'Jon, this guy’s going to get this done whether we help him or not. All we’re doing is helping a fellow human. Whatever it takes, Alfredo’s going to do it anyway.' "

"At that point, Jon said it was up to me, but he couldn’t do it because it wasn’t HP company policy. He wished Alfredo the best of luck and left. So I answered his questions, and even told him things he couldn’t possibly have thought of, such as privileged mode intrinsic calling and negative DBOPEN modes, things peculiar to the software rather than the database. We chatted for an hour and a half or so."

The exchange in 1977 pointed toward the door to the Adager segment of White's career. The years between 1980 and 2001 allowed Fred to make up for his reticence inside corporations by becoming the conscience of accuracy and fairness. Innovations for IMAGE finally arrived in the middle 1990s. But White's most saucy moment of advocacy came in Boston when HP was trying to make IMAGE a separate product once again.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:34 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 18, 2014

Replacing rises as migrator's primary choice

Key_to_replacementIt's the end of 2014, just about. Plenty of IT shops have closed down changes for the calendar year. Many 2015 development budgets have been wrapped up, too. Among those HP 3000 operations which are still considering a strategy for transition, there's only one assured choice for most of who's left. They'll need to replace their application. Not many can rehost it.

We've heard this advice from both migration services partners as well as the providers of tools for making a migration. An HP 3000 is pretty likely to be running an application with extensive customization by this year. We've just now edged into the 14th year since HP announced a wrap-up of its interest in all things MPE/iX. Year One began in mid-November of 2011. After completing 13 years on watch during the Transition Era, there's a lot of migration best practices to report. More success has been posted, at a better price and on schedule, when a replacement app can be integrated along with a new server and computing environment.

Of course, massive applications have been moved. One of the largest was in the IT operations of the State of Washington Community College Computing Consortium. It was a project so large it was begun twice, over enough elapsed time that the organization changed its name. The second attempt better understood the nuances of VPlus user interface behaviors. There were 40 staffers and at least four vendor services groups working on the task.

One of the issues that's emerged for rehosting organizations is a reduction in MPE expertise. Companies can still engage some of the world's best developers, project managers, and rewriting wizards for MPE/iX. It's harder to assign enough expert human resources who know your company's business processes. That's why a top-down study of what your apps are doing is the sort of job that's been going out-of-house. By this year, it would be better to engage an outside company to replace what's been reliable. This hired expertise ensures a company doesn't lose any computing capability while it makes a transition.

You'll need the use of tools to manage data in a replacement, though. Everything else is likely to change, even in a replacement, except for the data. "Replacement requires reorganizing data," Birket Foster of MB Foster told us this summer. "You could start cleaning your data now." Foster is presenting a Webinar on the subject of the Three Rs -- Rehosting, Replacing, or Retiring -- tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2PM Eastern Time. 

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:04 PM in Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 17, 2014

HP's 3000 power supply persists in failure

Amid a migration project, Michael Anderson was facing a failure. Not of his project, but a failure of his HP 3000 to start up on a bad morning. HP's original hardware is in line for replacement at customers using the 3000 for a server. Some of these computers are more than 15 years old. But the HP grade of components and engineering is still exemplary.

"I was working with a HP 3000 Series 969, and one morning it was down," he reported. "All power was on, but the system was not running; I got no response from the console. So I power-cycled it, and the display panel (above the key switch) reported the following."

Proceeding to turn DC on

On the console it displayed garbage when the power was turned on, but the message on the display remained. I wasn’t sure what to replace. I was thinking the power supply — but all of the power was on. As it turned out, even in the middle of a power supply failure the 3000 was working to get out a message. The back side, the core I/O, FW SCSI, and so on, all appeared to have power. That is why I found it hard to believe that the power supply was the problem.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:41 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2014

Our World's Greatest Cartoon, Ever

101 MigrationsBecause it's so crucial, and because Alan Yeo was brilliant in commissioning it. Mark your calendars. (Click it for detail)

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:39 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 13, 2014

Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational

As a precocious 18-year-old, Eugene Volokh wrote deep technical papers for HP 3000 users who were two or three times his age. While we pointed to the distinctions between IMAGE master and automatic datasets recently, Eugene's dad Vladimir reminded us about a Eugene paper. It was published in the fall of 1986, a time when debate was raging over the genuine value of relational databases.

While the relational database is as certain in our current firmament as the position of any planet, the concept was pushing aside proven technology 28 years ago. IMAGE, created by Fred White and Jon Bale at HP, was not relational. Or was it? Eugene offered the paper below to explore what all the relative fuss was about. Vladimir pointed us to the page on the fine Adager website where the paper lives in its original formatting.

COBO HallThe relationships between master and automatic and detail datasets pointed the way to how IMAGE would remain viable even during the onslaught of relational databases. Soon enough, even Structured Query Language would enter the toolbox of IMAGE. But even in the year this paper emerged, while the 3000 still didn't have a PA-RISC model or MPE/XL to drive it, there was a correlation between relational DBs and IMAGE. Relational databases rely on indexes, "which is what most relational systems use in the same way that IMAGE uses automatic masters," Eugene wrote in his paper presented at COBO Hall in Detroit (above). QUERY/3000 was a relational query language, he added, albeit one less easy to use.

Vladimir admits that very few IT professionals are building IMAGE/SQL databases anymore. "But they do look at them, and they should know what they're looking at," he explained.

Relational Databases Vs. IMAGE:
What The Fuss Is All About

By Eugene Volokh, VESOFT

What are "relational databases" anyway? Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by. It seems like HP will finally have its own relational system out for Spectrum (or whatever they call it these days). I hope that this paper will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds relational databases, and will point out the substantive advantages and disadvantages that relational databases have over network systems like IMAGE.

What is a relational database? Let's think for a while about a database design problem.

We want to build a parts requisition system. We have many possible suppliers, and many different parts. Each supplier can sell us several kinds of parts, and each part can be bought from one of several suppliers.

Easy, right? We just have a supplier master, a parts master, and a supplier/parts cross-reference detail:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 1Every supplier has a record in the SUPPLIERS master, every part has a record in the PARTS master, and each (supplier, part-supplied) pair has a record in the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset.

Now, why did we set things up this way? We could have, for instance, made the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset a master, with a key of SUPPLIERS#+PART#.  Or,  we  could have made all three datasets stand-alone details, with no masters at all. The point is that the proof of a database is in the using. The design we showed -- two masters and a detail -- allows us to very efficiently do the following things:

  • Look up supplier information by the unique supplier #.
  • Look up parts information by the unique part #.
  • For each part, look up all its suppliers (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
  • For each supplier, look up all the parts it sells (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).

This is what IMAGE is good at -- allowing quick retrieval from a master using the master's unique key and allowing quick retrieval from a detail chain using one of the detail's search items. 

Read "Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational" in full

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:48 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 12, 2014

Public server with a mission: CHARON cloud

About a month ago, Stromasys announced that the CHARON HP 3000 emulator was going to be finding a home in the cloud. The company says it's talking to prospective partners to put such a 3000 capability onto a standard cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services. That would establish a working environment where the 3000 has already performed a mission. More than a decade ago, Hewlett-Packard believed that a 3000 for public use would help the 3000 community.

The server was dubbed Invent3K, because its mission was to further the 3000's lifespan through the invention of software. HP stocked it with subsystems, offered accounts for free, and let development commence. Some useful products came out of Invent3K. The first that comes to mind is a version of perl ready for MPE/iX. That's a version that continues to work.

Now CHARON might do similar work to help extend the MPE/iX lifespan. Plenty of people want to experience the emulator's powers. Tapping a free server, including free accounts where homesteaders' applications and test databases could reside, would offer the world a useful test bed for transition onto Intel hardware and away from HP-branded boxes.

Last fall the MPE expertise inside Stromasys suggested if there would be interest, from a volunteer, in putting a public-access CHARON-fueled machine on the Internet." It's the sort of mission OpenMPE might have done in its heyday. A lot has changed since HP's labs shut down and OpenMPE was left without much mission. A public access server for the world's only HP 3000 emulator would get ample traffic. It could also be a vital proof of concept for using a 3000 based in the cloud.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:27 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 11, 2014

Veterans get volunteered for transition's day

1stCavHere on Veteran's Day — I'm a vet of the '70's-era military — I'm remembering there are IT pros with another kind of veteran status. They are people who count more than a couple of decades of experience with the HP 3000, managing their servers since before the time that Windows was the default computing strategy. They've been through a different kind of conflict.

I've learned that the most embattled managers employ a surprising tool. It's a sense of humor, reflected in the tone of their descriptions of mothballing the likes of 25-year-old independent apps during migrations. They have to laugh and get to do so, because their attempts to advance their positions might seem like folly at first look, or even in a second attempt.

Really, an assignment like putting Transact code into an HP-UX environment? Or take the case of working around a financial app software from Bi-Tech -- an indie vendor that "really stopped developing it for the 3000 years ago," according to City of Sparks, Nevada Operations & Systems Administrator Steve Davidek. There's been some really old stuff doing everyday duty in HP 3000 shops. The age of the applications was often in line with the tenure of the project's management.

These pros typify the definition of veterans, a term we'll use liberally in the US today to celebrate their sacrifices and courage. Facing battle and bullets is not on par with understanding aged code and logic. But two groups of people do have something similar at heart. Both kinds of veterans have been tested and know how to improve the odds of success in a conflict. Youthful passion is important to bring fresh energy to any engagement, military or technological. What earns the peace is experience, however grey-haired it looks next to Windows warriors.

With each mission accomplished -- from what looks like the Y2K effort of 14 years ago to embracing a roll-your-own Unix that replaced MPE's integrated toolset -- these veterans moved forward in their careers. "Our knowledge base is renewed with this work," one said after migrating apps that served 34 Washington state colleges. "We're on the latest products."

Recruiting IT talent into small towns — and the 3000 runs in many small cities where manufacturing labor is less costly — meant hiring for Windows experience. Adopting Windows into an organization means leaving proprietary environments even more popular than MPE/iX. Like HP-UX.

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:23 PM in Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 10, 2014

Sharing the Source of SLEEPER for MPE

Sleepy penguin,jpgSLEEPER is one of the best-known Contributed Software Library (CSL) programs in the history of the HP user group Interex. For years after the user group shut down, the CSL tapes -- created once a year and refreshed with new programs after every annual user meeting -- were the most significant Interex asset left to the community. But making the CSL a public asset, after the Interex shutdown, encountered a snag. How could those useful programs like SLEEPER get shared, if they didn't have clearance from the contributing companies?

SLEEPER and BOUNCER were the programs most often cited in the snags, since they were shared by way of the 3000 shop at Boeing. It was heard a lot, this caution, while people were searching for CSL collections after the Interex meltdown. "Oh, we can't go and release that swap tape," people like the Interex curators would say. "There's BOUNCER on there, and we'd have to get permission from Boeing." Well, that's not exactly true.

Maybe one email would've gotten the process of permission started. It's different times by now. The SPL source for SLEEP, a progeny of SLEEPER, was shared up on the 3000-L mailing list last week. (That's a link to the 3000-L archive message, containing the code in the message body.) Ray Legault offered the code when John Korb, a 3000 consultant, was asking around for it.

Korb thinks so highly of SLEEPER that wants to port the program to PHP, for use on a Linux system. "My goal is to create a PHP version of SLEEPER," he said, "something that can run on Linux desktops and servers and Windows 8.1 desktops -- so I can avoid cron on the Linux box, and avoid the Windows task scheduler."

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Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:39 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 07, 2014

Manual and Automatic Masters, Detailed

A few days ago we included a Hidden Value question about how manual and automatic masters work in TurboIMAGE. Our ally and friend Vladimir Volokh called to note that in part of the question, the system manager had found "one detail data set that has thousands of entries which do not appear to be connected to any master.

It wasn't exactly a question, but in a reply on the 3000-L mailing list and newsgroup, Roy Brown gave a fine tutorial on how these features do their jobs for MPE and the 3000 -- as well as how a detail dataset might have zero key fields.

Manual masters can contain data which you define, like Detail sets can, along with a single Key field. Automatic masters contain only the Key field.

In both cases, there can be only one record for a given key value in a Master dataset.

A Detail dataset contains data fields plus zero, one, or many key fields. There can be as many records as you like for a given key value, and these form a chain accessible from the Master record key value. This chain may be sorted, or it may just be in chronological order of adding the records.

Zero key fields in a Detail dataset would be unusual, but is permissible.

Read "Manual and Automatic Masters, Detailed" in full

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:55 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

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