March 13, 2019

Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago

Drummer
LinkedIn likes to remind you about work anniversaries of the people in your network of contacts. Sometimes the reminders can be unfortunate, celebrating entry dates for jobs people no longer hold. That's not the case for my own anniversary this month. Twenty-four years ago in March, the first seeds of the NewsWire were being planted in the heart and soul of my family.

HP has been at hand for most of my fatherhood. I grew up as a dad editing the HP Chronicle for PCI, an Austin company specializing in trade monthlies. One tradition at PCI was a video produced by the staff of editors and ad reps. The movie always appeared at the Christmas party. One year my son Nicky, who was all of four years old, sat in my London Fog trenchcoat and wore my reporter's hat in a bit where my chair spun around and there he was, in place of me. I'm short enough that the joke was on me.

Years later I'd gone out on my own to freelance, still keeping a hand in writing HP news for one publisher or another. Nobody was covering the HP 3000 much, though. The action was all with Unix, either HP's or the systems from Sun, or in the swelling majority of Windows. Digital and IBM had big swaths they were carving, too.

My wife and I had plenty of publication experience from our days in Texas publishing companies. I looked at the growing lines of posts on the 3000-L mailing list, right alongside the precarious nature of marketing and freelance writing. Dreams of a publication about the 3000 were soon on our lips at my house. Nicky was 12, and the NewsWire was on its way to delivery.

We had our realism bridles on for awhile. There was a reason the 3000 news appeared infrequently in the likes of Computerworld. The pages of Open Systems Today where I was freelancing made a little room for MPE, but nobody really wanted to acknowledge future growth for HP's original business server. Not anymore, not with the drumbeat of Unix so loud and HP's ardor for the 3000 so withered.

Then Abby said what many others who wanted to fly in the face of business trends say: "Hey, people made money in the Depression." I had maiden aunts who did just that, mostly on the strength of shrewd stock trades and a little high society retail commerce. I only worried how we'd find out enough to fill a newsletter month after month. Even if we filled it, more than a few key advisors thought the NewsWire would be worth less than a dollar a month. This month a few kind LinkedIn followers called me a legend, or maybe they meant the NewsWire, when that 24th anniversary notice popped up. I know there would be no legend without Abby.

We flew in the face of a trend. We saw plenty of companies doing just that in stories nobody was telling. Change must overcome inertia. Those of you who own 3000s know about staying stalwart about unneeded changes. We could only celebrate this anniversary because of you—plus the companies that made your 3000s reliable. Those advisors of ours were wrong about the one dollar a month. But Abby and I were wrong about what would drive the NewsWire. Sponsors came through when the top end of the subscription pricing was just $99 a year.

Read "Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago" in full

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:19 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

Pivital Solutions: Your complete
HP 3000 resource

March 11, 2019

Hardware magician Winston Kriger dies at 77

Winston-Krieger
Kriger, shown here next to his amateur radio set in Austin, used this call sign since he was 13 years old.

Veteran MPE wizard Winston Kriger, whose work powered 3000 software products from Tymlabs, OPin Systems, and ROC Software, and connected hardware the world over, died this week at his home in Austin, Texas. Kriger made his mark on the MPE community with an advanced understanding of component, bit, and file-level activities that are essential to the 3000's dominance. Anything to do with tapes, software and hardware was his heartland of know-how, one colleague said.

His passing—after several months of a rare, untreatable, and debilitating brain disease impairing muscle control, balance and speech, and finally basic life sustaining functions—was being mourned by colleagues and friends in the 3000's highest technical community.

"Interfacing hardware was his special magic," said Terry Floyd, founder of the Support Group and a 3000 expert from the 1970s onward. With a dry, rapier wit and a massive storehouse of knowledge on subjects as diverse as tesla coils and garden railroading, Kriger left a mark with signature brilliance that reminded Floyd of two other 3000 legends, Fred White and Bruce Toback.

"Winston was up there with Fred and Bruce as far as I’m concerned," Floyd said. As a fellow Austinite, Floyd and worked with Kriger closely, going back to 1978. "I think he somehow tied three HP 3000 Series III’s together, way back there in that timeframe." The magic of such a combination didn't daunt Kriger.

His work on Backpack for Tymlabs and on Reveal/3000 from Opin Systems stood out among countless projects, creativity and precision that was often behind important scenes. His time in the marketplace ran from the 1960s to the current decade. In one of his many bemused signatures online, he said he'd been "specializing in 'obsolete' technology since the mid 20th Century." Kriger was a resource who vendors turned to when answers could be found nowhere else.

A Celebration of Life service for Kriger is set for 2 PM on March 16 at the Cook-Walden chapel in Austin. An online memory book for Kriger is at the Cook-Walden website. His is survived by his wife Ruth, son Carey, brother Brett, and brother-in-law Larry Miller.

Kriger was a Vietnam Era veteran who gathered some initial career experience from the Army Signal Corps. Memorial gifts may be sent to Austin Area Salvation Army, or to the National WW II Museum in New Orleans.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:58 PM in Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 08, 2019

It may be later than you think, by Monday

Clock-face
Daylight Saving Time kicks off early on Sunday. By the time you're at work on Monday it might seem late for the amount of light coming in your window. If you're working at home and next to the window, it will amount to the same thing. We lose an hour this weekend.

This reset of our circadian rhythms isn't as automatic as in later-model devices. Like my new Chevy, which is so connected it changes its own clocks, based on its contact with the outer world. HP 3000s and MPE systems like those from Stromasys don't reach out like that on their own. The twice-a-year event demands that HP 3000 owners adjust their system clocks.

Programs can slowly change the 3000's clocks in March and November. You can get a good start with this article by John Burke from our net.digest archives.

The longer that MPE servers stay in on the job, the more their important date manipulations will be to its users. The server already hosts a lot of the longest-lived data in the industry. Not every platform in the business world is so well-tooled to accept changes in time. The AS/400s running older versions of OS400 struggled with this task.

You also need to be sure your 3000's timezone is set correctly. Shawn Gordon explained how his scheduled job takes care of that:

"You only have to change TIMEZONE. For SUNDAY in my job scheduler I have the following set up to automatically handle it:

IF HPMONTH = 3 AND HPDATE > [this year's DST] THEN
   ECHO We are going back to Standard Time
   SETCLOCK TIMEZONE = W8:00
ENDIF
IF HPMONTH = 11 AND HPDATE < [this year's ST] THEN
   ECHO Setting clock for Daylight Savings Time
   SETCLOCK TIMEZONE = W7:00
ENDIF

3000 customers say that HP's help text for SETCLOCK can be confusing:

SETCLOCK  {DATE= date spec; TIME= time spec [;GRADUAL | ;NOW]}
   {CORRECTION= correction spec [;GRADUAL | ;NOW]}
   {TIMEZONE= time zone spec}
   {;CANCEL}

Orbit Software's pocket guide for MPE/iX explains shows the correct syntax. In this case, ;GRADUAL and ;NOW may only be applied as modifiers to the DATE=; TIME= keywords, not to ;CORRECTION=.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:47 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 04, 2019

Playing ball for keeps with MPE

Pete-Rose-ball
In a regular conversation with MPE software vendors, surprising news surfaces. As I was calling into Hillary Software to catch up, I said hello to Carrie in support and sales. We hadn't met but she felt like an old comrade. Some of that has to do with tending to the needs and desires of people who won't let go of their legacy. In this case, the historic need was a sports company.

If you've ever purchased — or been gifted — a major league baseball, there's a good chance the case was made with the help of a 3000. Carrie said the country's largest manufacturer of sports memorabilia cases uses the Hillary Software, byRequest, to move its information into reports. The reports operate in a more modern era than MPE, of course. Excel is just 11 years younger than the HP 3000 and MPE.

At the manufacturer, the focus is on a much older pastime. There's something poetic about the HP 3000, a legacy giant, serving the needs of a company that preserves historic items. The value of a baseball lies in the heart of its collector. Sometimes the value of a legacy system lies in the heart of its manager. Preserving what's meaningful and productive isn't the same thing as protecting a signed baseball.

But they are the same in one special way. Decades from now, these balls will retain their memories of happiness. To be fair, it's MPE that will retain that happiness. Microsoft Excel began its life as Multiplan, a spreadsheet created in the days of CP/M. DOS overtook CP/M, just like Windows overtook DOS. The essence of what's great about Excel remains from those early days.

It's a joyful moment to see something of a legacy era doing everyday work. I found particular pleasure in seeing a software product, built to connect newer tools to an older OS and apps, help to create a preservation tool. Simple boxes. A simple solution.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:47 AM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 01, 2019

There's more of this all the time, so dust

Vacuum-cleaner
Newswire Classic

By John Burke

As equipment gets older and as we neglect the maintenance habits we learned, we will see more messages like this.

Upon arrival this morning the console had locked up. I re-started the unit, but the SCSI drives do not seem to be powering up. The green lights flash on for a second after the power is applied, but that is it. The cooling fan does not turn either. I am able to boot, but get the following messages: LDEVS 5, 8, 4, 3, 2 are not available and FILE SYSTEM ERROR READING $STDIN (CIERR 1807).

When I try to log on as manager.sys, I must do so HIPRI, and get the following: Couldn’t open UDC directory file, COMMAND.PUB.SYS. (CIERR 1910) If I had to guess, I would say the SCSI drives are not working. Is there a quick fix, or are all the files lost? I should add that I just inherited this system. It has been neglected, but running, for close to two years. Is it time to pull the plug?

Tom Emerson responded

This sounds very familiar. I’d say the power supply on the drive cabinet is either going or gone [does the fan ‘not spin’ due to being gunked up with dust and grease, or just ‘no power’?] I’m thinking that the power supply is detecting a problem and shutting down moments after powering up [hence why you see a ‘momentary flicker’].

Tim Atwood added

"I concur. The power supply on the drive cabinet has probably gone bad. If this is an HP6000 series SCSI disc enclosure for two and four GB SCSI drives, move very quickly. Third-party hardware suppliers are having trouble getting these power supplies. I know the 4GB drives are near impossible to find. So, if it is an HP6000 series you may want to stock up on power supplies if you find them. Or take this opportunity to convert to another drive type that is supported.”

The person posting the original question replied, “Your post gave me the courage to open the box and the design is pretty straight forward. It appears to be the power supply. As I recall now, the cooling fan that is built into the supply was making noise last week. I will shop around for a replacement. I can’t believe the amount of dust inside!”

Which prompted Denys Beauchemin to respond

The dust inside the power supply probably contributed to its early demise. It is a good idea to get a couple of cans of compressed air and clean out the fans and power supplies every once in a while. That goes for PCs, desktops, servers, and other electronic equipment. The electrical current is a magnet for dust bunnies and other such putrid creatures.

Wayne Boyer of Cal-Logic had this to say; useful because supplies may be hard to locate

Fixing these power supplies should run around $75 to $100. Any modular power supply like these is relatively easy to service. I never understand reports of common and fairly recent equipment being in short supply. It is good advice to stock up on spares for older equipment. Just because it’s available somewhere and not too expensive doesn’t mean that you can afford to be down while fussing around with getting a spare shipped in.

The compressed air cans work, but to really do a good job on blowing out computer equipment, you need to use an air compressor and strip the covers off of the equipment. We run our air compressor at 100 PSI. Note that you want to do this blasting outside! Otherwise you will get the dust all over whereever you are working. This is especially important with printers, as you get paper dust, excess toner, etc. building up inside the equipment. I try and give our office equipment a blow out once a year or so. Good to do that if a system is powered down for some other reason.

Bob J. of Ideal Computer Services added

The truth sucks. There are support companies that don’t stock spare parts. The convenient excuse when a part is needed is to claim that ‘parts are tough to get.’ Next they start looking for a source for that part. One of my former employers always pulled that crap.

Unfortunately, quality companies get grouped with the bad apples. I always suggest system managers ask to visit the support supplier's local parts warehouse. The parts in their warehouse should resemble the units on support. No reason to assume the OEM has the most complete local stock either. Remember HP's snow job suggesting that 9x7 parts would become scarce and expensive? Different motive, but still nonsense.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:09 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading, Newswire Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

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