August 22, 2019

Super summary: How 2028 challenges MPE

Joshua-earle-tUb9a0RB04k-unsplashPhoto by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Editor's note: More than five years ago, Denys Beauchemin outlined the future at that time for the coming 2028 date changes in MPE/iX. The years have given 3000 users several solutions for 2028. The technical challenges those solutions overcame are very real.

It's December 31, 2027. The MPE/iX CALENDAR intrinsic uses the leftmost 7 bits to store the year, offset from 1900. But just like Y2K, the effect will start to be felt earlier than that as dealing with future dates will yield interesting results.

For example, using the standard CALENDAR, your new driver's license will expire in -46000 days when you renew it in 2026. Back in 1986, I was writing an article about calendars and Y2K for Supergroup Magazine. I changed the date on an nearby 3000 one night and let it cycle to January 1, 2000, just to see what would happen. The date displayed was funky and I noted a few other things, but I had to reset the clock back quickly for obvious reasons.

I wrote up those findings in the article and closed with something about HP having 14 years to fix it. The 2027 thing is much more difficult to fix than Y2K and given the state of HP support from MPE this millennium, it may not get fixed in time.

The issue is very simple. The calendar intrinsic returns the date in a 16 bit word. That format is basic to the HP 3000 and has been around forever. You could conceivably change the algorithm to make it offset from 2000, or 1950 or whatever, but all the stored value would instantly be incorrect. 

You could decide to rely on something like the Y2K trick of anything less than  50 is offset to 2000 and anything greater than 50 is offset to 1900. I still think 2028 is the final death date of the HP 3000.  But I could be wrong, and do not want to stand in the way of someone trying to fix it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:31 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

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August 20, 2019

More 2028 date help on its way for MPE/iX

January calendarPhoto by Kara Eads on Unsplash

3000 managers are still asking if the year 2028 will be the first one where MPE/iX can't run. The date handling roadblock has been cleared already, both by internal app software adjustments (MANMAN sites, worry not) and also through a third party solution from Beechglen. 

If you've had the Beechglen experience, we'd like to hear from you. The software has been in the 3000 world for almost a year and a half by now.

Beechglen holds one of the Select Seven licenses for MPE/iX source, as do Pivital, Adager, and several other active 3000 vendors. Not much has been discussed about how 2028 has been handled by these solutions, but 3000 owners are such a careful bunch that you can be sure there's been testing.

One source of date-testing software is among the Select Seven. Allegro created Hourglass for the Y2K date hurdle. It rolls date controls forward and back across any user-designated threshold for testing. Hourglass might already be in a lot of the remaining homesteaders' 3000 shops. The ones who still rely on MPE/iX make up a crafty, adept group.

Reggie Monroe manages the HP 3000 at the Mercury Insurance Group in Brea, Calif. He asked on the 3000-L mailing list if his MPE/iX was going to stop running at midnight of Dec. 31, 2027. Several other managers and vendors assured him that MPE/iX has a lifespan beyond that date.

"It doesn't stop running," said Neil Armstrong at Robelle, "but the dates will be incorrect — however, a solution is already available and a number of us vendors have resolved this issue in our software to continue to 2037." Armstrong pointed to an article at Beechglen for some details on one 2028 software workaround.

The latest solution is coming from Stromasys. The company has been referring its emulation customers to third party support for the 2028 fix. This week we heard there's a Stromasys-based workaround on its way, too.

Tracy Johnson suggests a fine idea for anyone who chooses to ignore the year that MPE/iX will report automatically starting on January 1, 2028. The 3000 will roll back to the year 1900 on that day. If you reset the 3000's date to the year 1972, or 2000, then the days of the week will align on the same ones in 2028. The year 2028 is a Leap Year, just like the ones in '72 or 2000.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:49 PM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 15, 2019

How HP-UX has now helped MPE/iX users

Sam-warren-engine-block
Photo by Sam Warren on Unsplash

HP always had multiple operating environments wired into the design for PA-RISC systems. Now there's evidence that the vendor's deep engineering is paying off. Some of that benefit is even flowing down to HP's MPE/iX users.

This week we've heard that Stromasys is praising the improved performance of the company’s HP 3000 emulator Charon. Turns out the engineering the company had to do recently to make Charon ready for HP-UX PA-RISC servers has been a blessing for the MPE system emulation.

Every time software is revised, there's a chance for a little learning, or a lot. Creating an HP-UX edition of Charon was funded by the potential for new Stromasys sales.

HP-UX systems — the ones that run PA-RISC — could be a big new field for Stromasys to explore. Extra Stromasys attention to HP users, though, is a plus for HP 3000 sites. Stromasys is in several markets: Digital and Sun servers are both markets bigger than the HP 3000. A second set of HP customers will mean that good decisions will be easier to make when HP-related software engineering is required.

Maybe it's like being a Chevy Volt owner, as I am. Chevy stopped building and selling the Volt in March. But the Voltec engine, a marvel of blended electric and gas, is part of the new line of Chevy Electric Vehicles. Good news for us Volt owners whose cars are powered by the Voltec. That PA-RISC engine in your datacenter is getting more attention this year, lavished by the company which is emulating that HP design.

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:34 AM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 12, 2019

Turning 35 in an HP career, with older smiles

HPCOct1984

It was 35 years ago this month that the HP 3000 entered my working life. It took several more months to say it had entered my heart and the rest of my life. I usually mark that heartfelt anniversary around December. During that 1984 winter month, I went to a Florida Regional Users Group as my first solo computer trade show. Meeting MPE pros face to face made my career a personal mission.

Stealing_Home_Front_Cover_Web_July 12_kirkusIn the steaming summer of 1984, however, I'd only begun to press the limits of my suburban newspaper experience. I'd been a sports editor, laying the groundwork for my baseball-and-boyhood memoir Stealing Home that was published this month. I'd interviewed Sonny Bono already, then wrote a feature I banged out on an IBM Selectric in an office in a room beside the presses, a story that was on a front page hours later. Small boys hawked that Williamson County Sun issue on the corners of the Georgetown square. I needed more for my familly than the romance of small town journalism, though.

Thirty-five years ago I answered a two-line job ad in the Austin American Statesman classifieds. The founders of the just-minted Chronicle needed an editor-reporter. With little more than my avid curiosity, a journalism degree with a computer science minor, and the need to find better health insurance for my 19-month old infant son, I took that $21,000 a year job. In 1984, there was an HP 3000 memory board that cost more than that. The Chronicle's founders were so uncertain of their relationship with HP they didn't even use the vendor's initials in the name of the publication.

It was a good year to bring newswriting skills to the 3000 market. HP launched its HP 3000 Series 37 Office Computer, a 112-pound gem you could run in a carpeted office, a couple of weeks after I moved into a wood-paneled office in Northwest Austin just down the street from Texas Instruments. The LaserJet rolled out that August, the HP 150 Touchscreen appeared in the spring, plus the Series 110 laptop. We called the Series 100s portable computers, not laptops, and I lusted after one. I had to content myself with a Kaypro II, a 32-pound portable that used CPM to drive programs it could only run if their floppy disks were inside that Kaypro.

I call these Grandpa IT stories, and I quip about the era of the steam-powered Internet. But I am a genuine grandpa now, so the stories are an even better fit than they were when I told them a decade ago. On that 25th anniversary of my HP 3000 reporting, I shared such stories.

HP sent its first CEO not named Hewlett or Packard to the Interex conference Anaheim in 1984, so long ago that the annual event wasn't even held in the summertime. CEO John Young had to tell customers there a now too-familiar story about the 3000's future. Crucial improvements were going to be delayed. Even worse was the multi-year program to boost the 3000's architecture from 16 to 32 bits was being canceled. Those dreams of Vision would be replaced with the Spectrum Project, but HP painted few technical details about the engineering that would launch HP Precision Architecture Reduced Instruction Set Computing (PA-RISC).

That's the same PA-RISC that Stromasys now emulates using Charon, sold more than three decades later. It can be tricky to predict how long something will be useful. MPE/iX has retained enough value to spark an emulation of that 1984 processor design. Not many people are daunted in the extreme about the coming 2028 date rollover for MPE/iX. Stromasys sells a solution for that. 

I arrived in the Chronicle offices with those echoes of Anaheim written into the nine back issues on the shelves.The 1984 show was the debut for Wilson Publications, the company that created the Chronicle. John and Mary Wilson told me their stories of struggling to get onto the show floor to exhibit at the conference. They'd pre-paid for the booth, but the user group didn't want to admit a competitor to the show. It was a modest affair of 1,600 programmers, vendors, and HP engineers. But it gathered a community with enough potential to spawn three publications already. By that year, Interact magazine and SuperGroup magazine competed with The Chronicle.

Coming from three years of suburban newspapering, I was used to competition. The Highlander was one of two papers on the same block of Burnet, Texas, a town of just 3,500. I started my role in HP competition by getting scooped. The 3000's biggest product rollout of the year was the Series 37, a server nicknamed the Mighty Mouse because it was HP's first minicomputer that could operate outside a specialized computer room. HP called it the HP Office Computer. I called out something else across my office when I learned about the new product, a phrase unsuitable for a family paper. Arriving without any contacts, I didn't know the Mighty Mouse existed when we sent my first Chronicle to the printers without any inkling of the 37. Interact arrived in our mail two weeks later to break the news and humble me.

Once I began to find my sources, HP news flowed faster. It was a time before Fake News. The 3000 was growing small enough to get into offices without raised flooring and computer room cooling. The hum of secrecy and hope of invention filled my first HP year. Getting people to talk meant earning their trust during a time of Non-Disclosure Agreements.

“The mid-80s were a time of transition, endless NDAs, and uncertainty in the HP 3000 world,” recalls Denys Beauchemin, a chairman of the former Interex board who already had seven years of 3000 experience by 1984. “You got in at a very good time.”

It was an era when attending a national Interex conference cost an attendee less than $100 a day. All eyes were aimed toward HP's updates, promised for 18 months after Anaheim. HP needed Spectrum desperately to keep pace with DEC, which was already selling a 32-bit minicomputer system. Within a couple of years, ads printed in silver ink told the 3000 owners "Digital Has It Now." In 1984, HP was four years away from 32-bit systems.

HP kept expanding the 3000's mission to help it get traction, selling what the industry was calling a general-purpose computer. Jim Sartain, who'd become IMAGE lab manager in the 1990s, started at HP in 1984 helping develop HP 3000 graphics products including EasyChart. “At the time, there was no easier way to create a chart that displayed business data represented as a bar, line, or pie chart,” Sartain recalled.

He described an era when most businesses needed an overhead projector for the transparencies they called foils, plastic with cardboard frames that were created with color plotters. “This was before there were any easy-to-use PC programs for this purpose,” he told me 10 years ago.

A lot has changed over these three-and-a-half decades since I began telling 3000 stories. Foils and plotters are gone, the Sun is printed miles away from its reporters' laptop-driven desks, and the paper that became the HP Chronicle is as vanished as Interact. I'm happy to still be on the scene, though, with that curiosity in my heart, plus a smile on these much older lips about this career.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:06 AM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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