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December 31, 2013

Date-based deadline looms once again

Y2khqTomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.

For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.

The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.

Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."

ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.

The Y2K story was a success story, perhaps the most shining moment of the HP 3000's history aside from going from 16-bit to 32-bit with PA-RISC without rewriting applications. Y2K was feared, misunderstood, and exploited by competitors who'd already engineered four-digit dates. Windows comes to mind; MPE was among a wave of computers that had suffered from comparisons to those low-priced alternatives. But the independent software vendors created tool after tool to help MPE/iX make it to 2000. And COBOL programmers, who'd become specters in the years since their software went to work, found themselves back in demand and in the spotlight.

The HP 3000 and its community had been serving crucial industries such as healthcare for more than two decades by the time Y2K arrived on the horizon. Established, older systems needed new hope and some re-engineering. Experts who still work on HP 3000s brought in-house and off-the-shelf software into the future. We asked some what they'd be doing at midnight of Dec. 31, 1999. Most had plans to stay close to the phone.

It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.

As you're toasting 2014 tonight, and saying goodbye to 2013, take a moment to recall how collective work and respect for mature skills made January 1, 2000 a safe morning for information technology -- and the world which relied upon it. Some of the 3000's migrated healthcare information customers will be facing a similar deadline, based on a date. Amisys/3000 became Amisys Open while the vendor moved off 3000s. Now the customers are hoping ICD will have the same kind of ending as Y2K.

04:07 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 30, 2013

2013 emboldened 3000 changes for both migration and homesteading practices

As a service to readers who crave summary and broad strokes, we hearby sketch what the year 2013 meant to the 3000 community. It's too much of a cliche to say that the previous 12 months were driven by change. That's been an essential element for the community since 2001. But a dozen years has now spread changes onto the migrating community member, as well as those who have made their mission one to homestead.

The HP 3000 CHARON emulator from Stromasys showed more promise this year, but some of its impact lay in the way it held migrations in check without even being deployed. Another factor came from the economy. By year's end the markets were flying at an all-time high, but the recovery has its blind spots, according to some 3000 users. Couple the proposed savings in keeping MPE apps virtual with with an uncertain future for HP's replacement solutions, and the movement away from the 3000 slowed.

Even with that evidence, some shutdowns of systems stood out. A major installation of 3000s that had been serving the airline industry saw their work moved to .NET replacements, as Open Skies became New Skies. We also saw Hewlett-Packard closing down its own internal HP 3000 operations at long last, powering off the final four systems, just 12 years after advising its customers to do the same.

The year also offered a chance to see what remained on the field a decade after the community marked the World Wide Wake of 2003. The server got its first iPad app when a terminal emulator emerged for iOS, even as other experts found other ways to get an MPE console onto a tablet. And the exit of expertise continued throughout our 3000 world, even as some stalwart resources remained online.

HP set the pieces in place long ago for its 3000 strategy to evolve away from the need for physical hardware. The Apps on Tap strategy that led to the Open Skies offering -- where networked 3000s serve up apps to customers who don't have servers onsite -- is now being echoed in Software as a Service.

Sites that moved off HP 3000 installations for ecommerce software watched their vendor get acquired, then see the open version of their software slip into a 140-product lineup. It was an example of how migrations became a part of life at those 3000 sites that had already left MPE behind. Even among the sites where server migration hasn't occurred, data migration is already afoot. Customers are now looking at a migration off of Windows XP for their users, and some are facing the same reluctance and lack of budget they saw for 3000 diaspora.

Hewlett-Packard had its share of problems to overcome, from shuffling the pathways to MPE documentation online to keeping its enterprise mission critical business from evaporating. Each of the four quarters of revenues for its BCS group posted a 20 percent sales decline from the previous year's numbers. It was a continuation of a 2012 trend. The company's CEO and CFO called the Unix server business a formerly growing venture. Then there was the announcement of curtailing another HP business OS, OpenVMS, starting in 2015 when new Integrity systems won't run on the environment. Things got so critical for BCS and its bretheren that HP reorganized the whole enterprise server operation into a single unit, then removed its executive VP from the job.

Then HP saw its own removal, from the Dow Jones average. One user group executive said it wasn't important to the customer, though.

Emulator news emerged from two fronts. Stromasys built out its management for the CHARON product and opened the doors on its North American rollout with a May Training Day event. The latter was the first 3000-specific event in almost two years. In the snows of February in Europe, a similar event for CHARON recalled HP's final organized event for the 3000, nine years earlier. Early in the fall, a group of freeware developers was trying to create a not-for-commerce version of what it called a simulator of HP 3000 hardware. Successful booting remained elusive.

In the meantime, the offering of an emulator had customers checking HP's rules and processes for license transfers, some three years after the company shut down all other 3000 operations. It helped to be able to ask for the right process, and ask the right person.

Another trend emerged in the longevity of the 3000 expert. Outlasting the 3000 server was a duel that some experts were giving up. One company in LA made a shift to Windows because its IT staff for the 3000 was aged 67 and 72. But among those who continued to keep the MPE lamp lit, techniques to continue 3000 operations still emerged. Replacing HP's disks with third party alternatives got detailed to swap in fresh hardware for decade-old drives. Moving store to disk files with attributes intact is possible with newer open source archiving software

The year showed that change itself has changed for the community. The long run of the HP 3000 unreels into the dark of the as-yet-unlit future. There was even a careful examination of the costs of remaining on the 3000 for 5-10 years. 

04:04 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 27, 2013

Expert's restore job INSTALLS, RELOADS

Mark Ranft, the IT manager who's been stewarding a farm of 3000s at Navitaire/Accenture for many years, recently sent what he calls a geek gift for the holidays. Ranft, who's also done service in the community under his Pro3k service company, offered a restore job for the 3000 console. The job's extra value is preserving error messages.

Here is a HP 3000 geek present for you! I used to do the first system restore interactively on the console, but would occasionally lose some important error messages as they scrolled by and I wasn't able to look back. So I came up with the following expert tip.

After I boot a system, set up disks, tapes and console access and set up the volumes for the MPEXL_SYSTEM_VOLUME_SET, I copy and paste the file below from a PC text file into the console. Once it's complete, the tellop commands simply spell DONE. I wanted it to show so I would notice it more than a single LOGOFF.

Note: I intentionally added the pause to ensure the tape in LDEV 7 reloads before the job starts.

Editor's Note: For those who might not know, the ">" indicates a redirect to a file; two in a row indicates an append to a temporary file. (Thanks to Vladimir Volokh for pointing this MPE fundamental out to us.) You can see a version of the job which you can cut and paste online at the 3000 newsgroup archive.


02:26 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 24, 2013

A Present Under Most Trees for 2013

PresentWe've used our previous three days of blog articles to sketch a current portrait of the HP 3000 and MPE's history and future, courtesy of Allegro Consultants' Stan Sieler. While reviewing this material, taken from our latest printed 3000 Newswire issue, Sieler's even-handed replies showed a gift that's been presented to nearly every 3000 customer, past, present and future: the sparks that fly off the flint of change.

Nobody welcomes change very much if they're in charge of IT today. Change makes the certainty of stability a memory. But it also prompts the need to expand knowledge and skills, a demand for taking risks, and perhaps a reason for looking at life in a new way. If you haven't been reading for a few days, you can look over our interview with Sieler in Part 1, plus Part 2, as well as Part 3. Migration's prospects are considered, as well as the outlook for homesteading and history of our system and community.

As a writer -- which has always been my work, and therefore the means for my 3000 chronicles -- I can compare that flinty present to something I've received in past. I've been handed edits and reviews on my longest work, which meant that some of the years of building a novel had to scrapped or seriously revised. Such is the kind of gift that ensures we keep giving our best, even as we rue the sparks that are a-flying.

We're taking a few days off here to celebrate Christmas with our families. We wish all of our readers and supporters a happy holiday. We'll be back on Friday, December 27 to begin our annual set of year-end roundup stories -- a great way to get a big picture of what that present under our trees means.

12:03 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 23, 2013

2013 makes a new migration definition

GoldfishmigrationsIn our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.

In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?

There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.

We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.

More than a decade ago, Allegro was considering the prospect of creating its own HP 3000 emulator. The issues involved HP's permission, the economics of creating a product, and more. What happened?

We were concerned that at the time, in addition to not yet having HP permission, that we'd face potential legal action if we did anything. We didn't want to open that door to HP. I kind of regret that now, because I would have approached an emulator a little differently than Stromasys, and I think that might have had some payoffs. 

We've certainly reached out to Stromasys several times to help them with performance limitations that they're encountering with their implementation. I'm hoping that with some of the other 3000 vendors in the process, they may be able to put economic arguments in place that will help convince Stromasys to still pursue that help.

What do you think of the prospects for this emulator making a lot of difference for customers staying on the HP 3000?

I think if they can solve their high-end performance challenges, then they might be able to make some big sales to those kinds of customers. The problem: I don't know how many of those people there are.

It's true: managers are moving off the 3000, and so are moving away from IMAGE. Out of all the SQL databases you've seen, which one is the smoothest in replicating what IMAGE does for MPE apps?

Eloquence. I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn't have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It's a win-win situation, it seems to me. 

Do you consider the 3000 has always had a tech boat anchor that made it obvious HP would leave it behind? Is it the equivalent of an unsupported system by now?

It's certainly true about CPU speed and amount of memory, stuff like that. That doesn't mean it won't run perfectly fine.

Are there a set of new tech challenges the 3000 is never going to meet, important challenges?

That would imply that this is going to be a new product you write, and nobody is ever going to write a new product for the HP 3000. If you are doing a new application, it's probably going to talk to a database. Almost anyone you hire will know how to do SQL stuff, not IMAGE stuff. It's just too far behind the times for a new application.

Of all the many projects you're worked on, which stand out at the most fun for you?

For projects, creating SPLash!. I worked with Jacques van Damme. In the very early days, Jason Goertz was helping out. But I remember sitting with Jacques in the HP Migration Center and there was a LaserJet sitting there between us. We had Post-It notes that said things like "tree building" or "generate code." Each was a name of the 20 modules that made up SPLash!. Our source code control system was that if you wanted to modify something, you took the Post-It note off the printer and put it on your terminal. It worked well because you had instant communication with the other developer.

There was that, and then our work with Alfredo Rego on repacking detail datasets. That was Steve and me working with Alfredo, and to some extent Fred White. That was something where data integrity was of absolute importance. Yet it still had a lot of opportunity for using interesting technology, doing things efficiently and fast. 

How do you think practicing magic over the last 15 has had an impact on how you approach your day job?

I've always tried to think outside the box, and with magic it's easier to do. If you're developing a magic effect, you tend to look at the end result and work backwards. That the way I've done a lot of my 3000 stuff — like when I think I was the first person to propose intercepting disk IOs  — I remember sitting down with Joerg Groessler and outlining how it could be done. And so basically giving him the idea for the online backup on the Classic HP 3000s. You could do it behind the operating system's back by intercepting disk IOs.

You don't start out by saying, "what can I do, and where will that lead?" You take the end result, intercepting disk IOs, and work backwards. Sometimes that's the same thing with magic. You say "I want you to be able to look at the card in your hand and see it's not the card you thought it was, but it's a different back, and a bigger card than you thought it was." 

Sometimes a technique comes out for the 3000 and you think of what you can do with them. Like procedure exits came out, and you say, "What can I do with these things?"

If you could talk to the Stan of 30 years ago, what would you tell him to pay attention to?

[Laughing] Buying Apple stock. I would say pay more attention to the Internet and how to link computers together. About 20 years ago, my ophthalmologist asked me where the future of computers is going. I said the future is with computers working together. And I think that's still the answer. We're beginning to get there, but we're not there enough yet. I can't leave this iPad and walk over to my desktop, and resume this conversation yet, like nothing has changed.

07:34 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2013

Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

When Allegro's Stan Sieler announced he'd completed 30 years of employment at the firm, it seemed to spark our curiousity about how things have changed over that period for the creator of so much MPE software -- and parts of IMAGE/SQL, for that matter.

StanMugHe joined HP in 1977, after working on Burroughs systems. Over the years both with HP, and then later, he’s left many fingerprints on the 3000 identity. He proposed multithreading that HP finally implemented for DBPUTs and DELETEs. Wrote STORE on the Classic 3000s, plus can see various aspects of MPE/iX because of his work on the HPE operating system [the MPE/XL predecessor using an instruction set called Vision] before he left HP. A lot of the process management stuff that was his code is still running today. Sieler assisted on Large Files. IMAGE/3000 on the classic systems has intrinsic-level recovery he designed. A week after he left HP, they canceled the Vision project and ported 95 percent of his work to MPE/XL.  

Then came the Allegro work during the era when the 3000 division called the company Cupertino East: Jumbo datasets in IMAGE/SQL. Master dataset expansion. B-trees. By that time he was already in the Interex User Group Hall of Fame. We interviewed him for the Q&A in our November printed issue, and spoke via Skype. Stan used his iPad for the chat.

Second of three parts

How are you coming to terms with being really well-versed with a work that fewer people not only know about, but even use?

Yes, that’s a hard question. I know the two places I’d go if I wasn’t doing Allegro anymore. In both places I think I’d be applying knowledge I’ve learned. It may not specifically be MPE, but it’s things like being careful about maintaining data structures of filesystem and the users’ data. These are lessons we’ve learned for 34 years on the HP machine. I think as we get older, we ought to be able to go up the technical ladder. The problem is that there isn’t enough of a ladder, in most places.

What makes the higher rungs of the corporate ladder hard to reach for someone who’s as experienced as you?

I have a friend who’s a fellow magician, and a senior scientist at Apple. I eat in their cafeteria and we talk magic, and I look around and they’re all young enough to be my kids, except for a smattering of people. He agrees that Apple needs more older people, because we’ll point to things and say, “See this? That shouldn’t have happened. We saw that kind of problem 20 years ago. We’d know better than to do that.”  Apple is one place I think I’d want to work, except I don’t think I could stomach their policies. I could see going to Google, too.

My dream job? Being CTO of Tivo. They have the best DVR, and it’s crap. But everyone else’s is worse. It’s so easy to look at theirs and say they could do this and this better, and they haven’t. I’d like to improve it, so I could use it. It’s a lot like the 3000. A lot of the things I’ve helped push over the years are things that I wanted: The ability to properly handle bigger disk drives, and things like that. But sometimes you don’t get your way

What is the current mix of MPE work in your week, versus all other work?

It varies from day to day, and sometimes it’s hard to tell, because there are a few things that I do that run on MPE as well as HP-UX, three or four products plus a couple of internal tools that run on both platforms. There there are things like Rosetta — where all of the work is done off the 3000, but it’s supporting reading from STORE tapes, so it’s 3000-related. But definitely more than half of the work I do is off the 3000. We’ve got a proposal or two out to enhance our 3000 X-Over tape-copying product for them, and then we could use the enhancements ourselves. We’ve identified a relatively major new feature we could add.

People can see Apple seems to be losing its steam. Does it seem like an echo of what happened to HP and the 3000 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?

I remember when HP was first abandoning the 3000 in favor of Unix. To some extent, Apple’s doing the same thing with touch computing and changes for the interface on the Mac to be more tablet-like. Also, Apple is putting in more restrictions on what your apps can do if you buy through the App Store. In terms of hardware, Apple’s very quick to roll things over. At least with the 3000, things tended to be backward-compatible for a lot longer time. You didn’t really have a problem with a new version of an OS using more resources and rendering the older machines useless.

On the flip side, a lot like the 3000 came out with the A-Class machines and you’d ignore their crippling, that was pretty cool hardware. Apple’s doing the same kind of leap. I used to bring people into the office to see my Mac Pro, and I’d say, “this is technology aliens dropped down to Earth, it’s so advanced.” The Mac Pro black tower? That’s a more advanced race of aliens.

HP’s been through more than a decade now of no futures for the 3000. How much worse has that been for you than the decade leading up to the 2001 announcement? What have we really lost?

It’s a lot worse in terms of number of customers, income, the ability to fund doing interesting projects. That’s why we’ve branched out to do other things. 

Do you handle Unix support calls, for example?

Allegro does. I tend to get pulled in when they’re hard problems. Same thing goes for the 3000, where I tend to not handle the frontline call. 

For next time: redefining 3000 migration, Allegro's emulation considerations, and how practicing magic can impact a tech career.

05:19 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 19, 2013

Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic

Stan Magic

Stan Sieler is as close as our community might come to being source code for MPE and the HP 3000. He recently noted on his LinkedIn page he’s celebrating 30 years with Allegro, the company he co-founded with Steve Cooper. Three decades at a single company is a rare milestone, but Sieler goes back even farther with MPE and the 3000.

Few programmers have more people using their code. He’s the co-author of SPLash!, a compiler that brought the original SPL systems language from the Classic HP 3000s to PA-RISC systems. Then there’s his wide array of free software contributed to the community: things like RAMUSAGE, a tool that reports how HP 3000 RAM is being used. Sieler was honored as an outstanding contributor to the HP user group’s annual Contributed Software Library three times.

Sieler took up the practice of magic 15 years ago, which was evident as he gave a tour of the Computer History Museum at a 3000 software symposium held there in 2008.The patter of the tour was a seamless as our 90-minute talk for this interview. We spoke via his iPad, using the everday magic of Skype, just a few days before our November printed issue went to press. 

Over the years you’ve been at Allegro, what’s changed for the industry?

Everything, and nothing. We’re still bitching about changes that manufacturers do to their software. I’m still trying to do new things. A lot of the things that have changed are simply bigger, faster, more memory and more disk. In terms of software development, the biggest change is the prevalence of more GUIs, of course. But even then, we were foreshadowing that with things like block mode apps, such as VPlus. We didn’t have a mouse, but we were still interacting with screens.

Some of the good guys are gone. I don’t know if we’ve identified the new good guys yet. Some of the new good guys have come and gone; Apple, for me, is in that category, with the restrictions on iOS and the restrictions they’re trying to put on the Mac. They’re removing the fun and the power.

What’s changed in your Allegro work?

It depends on what hour of the day you look at me. Yesterday I was doing work in SPLash! (the company’s SPL compiler for PA-RISC systems) on a product we introduced years ago. The day before that, I was putting an enhancement into X-Over, a product we released in the early ‘90s.

On the other hand, there’s work on things like iAdmin, our app for the iPad. I’m working on finalizing Windows support and MPE support for it. I’m testing the MPE support, but the Windows support is a little harder. Mostly because Windows, despite its power, is missing surprisingly simple concepts: give me a list of hooked up disk drives, so I can directory searches of them without hanging. On MPE, at least, if you do the equivalent of DSTAT ALL, you know what volume sets there are, and you don’t even have to know that to do a LISTF of everything.

You created SPLash!, but what other environments and languages do you develop in after all of these years?

SPLash! is a minor amount. A lot of my work is in C, and some is in HP’s Pascal — which I regret they didn’t port to Itanium, because it’s such a good Pascal. 

Anything you wish you’d studied sooner, looking back?

I was at HP in 1979 learning about DS/3000. I said to myself I didn’t need to learn networking, that there were enough other things to learn. I skipped that area for development, although I’ve been a networking user since 1971 on the ARPANet. I’ve finally changed my mind and have to develop for it now. 

We were about the 21st machine on the net at UC San Diego. As students, a friend and I were doing a project for DARPA, and we got early access to the net.

Wow. ARPANet more than 40 years ago. That’s some way-back-there experience. About the only story I’ve ever heard from a 3000 expert farther back was Fred White, who co-created IMAGE.

Well, I realized that Fred White was like my assistant scoutmaster. He[the assistant scoutmaster] worked for Burroughs, talked about the machine and I knew he was a major figure there. He had daily arguments with [mathematician and physicist] Edgar Dykstra, who was a scholar at the time working for Burroughs. My scoutmaster and Fred White were like peas in a pod. They were different and willing to go their own way and got very interesting things done — and outside small communities, people don’t really know who they are. Getting older, I occasionally think of that myself now: who knows who I am, and do I care?

For next time: The challenge of climbing the tech ladder, new interests, and how to consider being well-versed in work that's not well-known.

10:01 AM in Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (1)

December 18, 2013

Store to Disk preserves backups' attributes

By Brian Edminster

Second of two parts

Yesterday I outlined some of the powers of the Posix program pax, as well as tar, to move MPE/iX backup files offsite. Here’s a warning. There are some file types that cannot be backed up by tar/pax while also storing their attributes:  ;CIR (circular) and ;MSG (message) files (and possibly others. I haven’t tested all possible file types yet.  Also, there is an issue with tar that is a fairly well known and has been discussed on the 3000 newsgroup. Occasionally it does not un-tar correctly.  It is unclear if and when this was fixed, but I’d love to hear from anybody that might be in the know, or which specific situations to avoid.

Regardless of these limitations, I’ve found a simple way around this. Use store-to-disk to make your backup, then tar to wrap it, so as to preserve the store-to-disk files’ characteristics, before shipping the files off-system. Later, when you retrieve your tar backups and un-tar them, you’ll get your original store-to-disk files back without having to specify the proper ‘;REC= , CODE= , and DISC=’ options on an FTP ‘GET’. I’ve been doing this for several months now on several systems, and I have not had any failures.

If you have a version of STORE that has compression, use it to reduce the size of backup.  If not, use the ‘z’ option in the tar/pax archive you create from your store-to-disk backup.  Do not use both.  They don’t play well together, and you may end up with a larger tar file.

But what about the tar archive size limit of 2GB?  There’s an easy way around this as well, as this limit is common on early Unix and Linux systems. Just pipe the output through ‘split’ to create chunks of whatever size you want. Below, there's simple examples for both directions.

Piping Tar Figure 1, just below, is an example of the ‘cksum’ file produced.

Checksum 1 Grey

Below, Figure 2 is an example of a ‘cksum’ created of the files as they’re stored on the NAS. 

Checksum 2 GreyAs both the hashes and #bytes shown in each file are the same as on the MPE/iX server — we know the backups are transferred correctly.  The same technique can be used ‘in reverse’ to verify that when FTP’d back to the FTP server, they’re still intact.

When un-taring this backup, ‘cat’ the pieces together and pipe it through tar.   At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.  Yes, there is a known issue with the MPE/iX Posix shell’s built-in cat command. But I’ve so far been unable to successfully use the external cat command to successfully cat either.  Here’s how this should work for a 2-chunk tar backup:

sh>/bin/cat ./CS1STD1.ustar.aa ./CS1STD1.ustar.ab | tar -xfv - *

Unfortunately, for me at least, it always throws an error indicating bad format for the tar files.There is a work-around, however.  Note that while ‘cat’ing the tar ‘chunks’ didn’t work using the internal or external cat command, untar with multi-file option does work.  Even though it gives a minor error messages, files were returned to proper store-to-disk format, and the recovered store-to-disk backup is intact and has been used to recover the desired files. To do this, use tar like this: 

sh>tar -xfv ./CS1STD1.ustar.aa *  

Also note that when using tar in this way, it will ask for the name of the 2nd-nth component tar files, as it finishes reading each prior piece.  You must give the filename and press return to continue for each.  I believe that it should be possible to script this so that it’s fed the filenames, but I haven’t gotten around to doing that yet.  

Brian Edminster is president of Applied Technologies.

10:06 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 17, 2013

HP 3000 Backup Files, On the Move

By Brian Edminster 

First of two parts

Once store-to-disk backups are regularly being processed, it’s highly desirable to move them offsite — for the same reasons that it’s desirable to rotate tape media to offsite storage. You want to protect against site-wide catastrophic failures. It could be something as simple as fire, flood, or a disgruntled employee, or as unusual as earthquake or act of war.

Regardless of the most pressing reason, it really is important to keep at least some of your backups offsite, so as to facilitate rebuilding / recovering from scratch, either at your own facility, or at a backup/recovery site.

The problem comes in that the MPE/iX file system is far more structured than Unix, Windows, or any other non-MPE/iX file system-based storage mechanisms. While transferring a file off MPE/iX is easy via FTP, sftp/scp, or rsync, retrieving it is problematic, at least if you wish the retrieved files and the original store-to-disk files to be identical (i.e., with the same file characteristics: filecode, recsize, blockfactor, type, and so forth).

What would be optimal is automatic preservation of these attributes, so that a file could be moved to any offsite storage that could communicate with the MPE/iX system. Posix on MPE/iX comes to the rescue.

For FTP transfers between late-model MPE/iX systems this retrieval is automatic, because the FTP client and server recognize themselves as MPE/iX systems.  For retrieving files from other systems, HP has made that somewhat easier by making its FTP client able to specify ‘;REC= , CODE= , and ;DISC=’ on a ‘GET’:

Figure 1If you do not specify the ‘buildparms’ for a file being retrieved, it will default to the file-type implied by the FTP transfer mode: ASCII (the default), binary, or byte-stream (often called ‘tenex’ on Unix systems).  The respective defaults used are shown below:

Figure 2 GreyWhat follows is an example of automatic preservation of these attributes, so that a file could be moved to any offsite storage that could communicate with the MPE/iX system.  And this is yet again where Posix comes to the rescue, via the venerable ‘tar’ (Tape ARchiver), or ‘pax’ archiving utilities.

‘pax’ is a newer backup tool, designed to be able to read/write with tar format archives, newer ‘ustar’ format (that includes Extended Attributes of files). At the same time it has a more ‘normal/consistent’ command syntax (as Unix/Posix stuff goes, anyway), plus a number of other improvements. Think of it as tar’s younger (and supposedly more handsome) brother.

A little known feature of most ‘late-model’ tar and all pax commands is the ability for it to recognize and utilize Extended Attributes.  These will vary with the target implementation platform, but for the tar and pax commands included with releases after v5.5 of MPE/iX this capability is not only present — but contrary to the man command’s output and HP’s Posix Command Line manual, it’s the default! You use the -A switch to turn it off, returning tar to a bytestream-only tool.

While not externally documented, via a little experimentation I’ve determined that the following series of Extended Attributes value-pairs are in the MPE/iX Posix implementation of a tar or pax ‘file header’ for each non-Posix file archived:

MPE.RECORDSIZE= value in bytes
MPE.BLOCKFACTOR= integer value
MPE.RECORDFORMAT= integer value (0=unstructured?)
MPE.CCTL= integer value (0=nocctl)
MPE.ASCII= integer value (0=binary, 1=ascii)
MPE.FILECODE= integer value, absent for ‘0’
MPE.FILELIMIT= value in bytes
MPE.NUMEXTENTS= integer value, may be absent
MPE.NUMUSERLABELS= integer value (0=no user labels), and
MPE.USERLABELS=[binary content of user labels]

04:48 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 16, 2013

XP's exiles as reluctant as MPE's refugees

XP PlansSource: Spiceworks.com

The drumbeat of Windows XP end of life got louder this month, sparked in part by the CDW PC hardware vendor. A tech talk from Spiceworks, the social network of the tech professional, focused on the practical needs of any company that plans to rely on Windows beyond Microsoft's end date. There's a deep set of forum questions being discussed on the Spiceworks site. The commentary echoed the situation that MPE/iX managers muddled through from 2006 to 2010, those grey years when HP seemed to want to exit the 3000 market, but changed its course a few times.

And it has some distinct similarities. Microsoft will sell Custom Support -- at about $200 per PC -- after XP's end of life. This recalls the two years of custom MPE vintage support sold by HP in 2009-10. So naturally, the XP-using community hopes this bodes well for an extension of Microsoft's XP life. From PC World:

Because Microsoft sells Custom Support agreements, it's obligated to come up with patches for critical and important vulnerabilities. And it may be required to do so for years: The company sells Custom Support for up to three years after it retires an operating system. Participants receive patches for vulnerabilities rated "critical" by Microsoft. Bugs ranked as "important," the next step down in Microsoft's four-level threat scoring system, are not automatically patched. Instead, Custom Support contract holders must pay extra for those. Flaws pegged as "moderate" or "low" are not patched at all.

Users are trading their lore and wishes on the Spiceworks site. One question that came up was "what happens on the day that Microsoft support ends?" The answer is similar to the one for the MPE world: XP will continue to operate beyond a vendor's "end of life," in this case, April, 2014. 

I'm assuming no one knows for sure what will happen to XP machines that remain in use after the EOL, but I have my guesses. I'm thinking that a week or two after the EOL, a malware or virus will be released, and since there's no OS patch for it, it will easily spread in the wild. Windows XP machines will then be either useless or very hard to use.

The situation could be more dire for the millions of companies using Windows XP, because malware is aimed at these systems constantly. One theory, however, proposed that the XP community would shrink in size and become less of a target than more current Windows releases.

If the virtual desktops have no Internet access they'll be fine. The only real issue with XP after April will be the lack of patches. If your machines aren't exposed, I don't see why you should be concerned.

There's sometimes sensible logic that can be traced through the security-via-obscurity argument. It helps if your environment was  never targeted to begin with. HP's own Unix continues to draw malware breeches every week, while the diminishing MPE installed base has had no new security problems. "Potential security vulnerabilities have been identified in Java Runtime Environment and Java Developer Kit running on HP-UX," HP reported this month. "These vulnerabilities could allow remote unauthorized access, disclosure of information, and other exploits."

Most MPE/iX managers have some responsibility in the Windows world. There's a separate topic on the Spiceworks site that deals with the homesteading XP user's needs and concerns. Even as an operating environment loses its vendor protection, the IT managers in the field make the ultimate decision on when the risk outweighs the stability. One XP manager noted that the expense of making a change -- and that's what drives the interest of a company like reseller CDW -- would be hard to justify to top management. (Sound familiar?)

We're in no hurry at all and we have easily over 100 systems on XP.

Problem is, XP works just fine with all our contemporary apps (Office 365, various SQL clients, etc) so transitioning upward only translates to Accounting as a hardware cost without any obvious benefits. Somehow I am unable to sell the idea that email or Excel sheets will be created/sent or edited any faster with a fleet of shiny new PCs using the interface formerly known as Metro.

That said, we will be slowly leaving this low orbit, just without any panic. Maybe if the Microsoft-promised XP targeting malware surfaces on April 15th we'll speed it up. This is no Y2K, replace all your computers or die moment, not by any stretch of the imagination.

And as HP 3000 customers learned, not even Y2K was the calamity that some feared. Replacing computers wasn't necessary in that situation. On the other hand, putting Windows 7 or 8 on systems built 12 years ago will have its performance challenges.

And yes, HP still maintains a code for MPE's software products, included as part of the legend in its Security Bulletins.

08:02 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2013

Euro 3000 allies find a foothold in meeting

Yesterday we made reference to a 2001 Q&A interview with Stan Sieler, the Allegro co-founder interviewed in our latest print issue. Across the top of that page is a 2001 web ad for an entity called Millware Corporation. It was a company whose Dave Wiseman was pushing out a web-enabled dashboard, based inside a free terminal emulator. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo was one of the Millware partners, too. And Yeo has remained a vital force in meetings in 2007, 2009, and the HP3000 Reunion of 2011.

The truth about the HP 3000 community is that remains connected. Yours has always been a social group, long before there was such a concept as social networking via Twitter, Facebook, and the others. Last week the old-style networking was afoot, thanks for Millware's old founder taking a first step.

Dave Wiseman sent the word to more than 50 HP 3000 community members in Europe to gather on December 5, and despite serious storms about Europe on meeting day, he got 10 to make the trek to London. He reports:

A huge thank you to all who made the effort to get to London last week to meet. It was great to see all our old friends and everyone clearly enjoyed the meeting. Amazing to see that apart from going grey or bad, most of us were still recognisable. As far as I am aware, everyone made it safely home, although I had to stay in London, as all trains were cancelled due to storm damage on the line.

Despite the storms in Germany and what ended up as relatively short notice, we still had around 10 of us from as far afield as Berlin, Lyons, Wurzburg, Sheffield and various other places around the UK. With a large sprinkling of beer and a few bottles of wine after, we revived many fond memories of conferences past. Alas, none of us took any photos -- which shows that we’re just not the modern generation who would have all this posted on Twitter before they’d eaten!

Our thanks must also go out to Ian Kilpatrick who generously paid for the meal and the drinks so please visit his website at WickHill

We all resolved to have another meeting in the not too distant future, and so I would ask you all to answer the following questions for me and I’ll happily organise another meeting.

I’ve included my invitation to as many of our overseas friends as I can, so that if they are even thinking of coming to Europe, this might form a focus time to come over. 

Again, if you can think of anyone who might be interested in attending, let me have their details for future mailings. Especially I do not have many contacts form the other European vendors --- so if you are in touch with the vendors in your country, you know what to do.

1. Would you like to come if you can?
2. March/April/May/June?
3. London/Outer London hotel/Amsterdam/somewhere in the sun? Suggestions?
4. Preferred day of the week?
5. Lunch/evening?

I would probably try to organise the next one in a location that has meeting rooms, as well as a bar

11:59 AM in Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 12, 2013

Slow down, you early-adopting laggards

We could all stand to slow down just a little bit, even as the Web and the cloud and the Internet promise to hurtle us ever-faster into the future. As different as that tomorrow will be, many things will remain ever the same. What we need more of are laggards, but a new sort of that sort of pro who’s the very last to change.

One that that won’t change is testing, as un-sexy a subject as anything that ever unreeled off an episode of Lost in Space. Developers dislike it, designers hate it, users outwait it. Only the auditor loves testing, as it lets him assure his masters that all is as to be as it ever was. Testing must now embrace emulation, or virtualization, or whatever phrase you want to use for making one computer behave like it’s using another’s personality.

These doppelgangers of data delivery are now afoot in the world of the HP 3000. Some day they will be in the cloud, a concept we all hooted at from our 1990s office chairs sitting in early 2000s cubicles, hoping we’d be employed after the economy’s crash dust started to settle in the early Teens. The cloud: now it will save our budgets with computers that run anywhere, at least anyplace except the office space of our organization — real estate the corporation would like to reduce, if it could, along with headcounts.

However, the heads of 3000 managers has been wrapped around servers right down the hall or across the plaza or at least in the same city. Now these servers can be racked someplace in a hosting farm and the everyday province of another company. We can see the badge Dell, or Acer, or even IBM, and know that inside beats the heart of MPE. The Stromasys CHARON software makes that kind of magic happen, the sort that makes possible, as our Q&A subject Stan Sieler said in our November print issue, MPE Forever.

But not so fast; remember we are a community made of many laggards by today, even as oracles and wizards like Sieler work in our world.

The last time we interviewed Stan Sieler the HP 3000 was on the cusp of its newest technology and primed for inclusion to the select world of Itanium. Skies were bright and a 3000 customer could be allowed to think they were in line for something nouveau in an N-Class, or avant in an A-Class, any day now.

Things changed, but testing did not. No one made a move onto either of those radically different (and better) servers without certifying things would be the same at month’s end closing. CHARON will require the same audit assurances to take over for HP-branded iron. Sensible managers will know this, but some will assure their owners everything will be the same. They’ll have become early adopting laggards. They’ll be preserving the value of MPE, even as they adopt virtualization for the first time. IO and CPU footprints will have to be examined. Scaling must be studied, although scaling of HP hardware choices is limited to installing more boxes.

CHARON is only going to get better. That’s the way it works with things that are needed and desired, at least the ones where a market appears ready. Your market is ready. Testing will make you slow down a little bit. It will only seem that way if you haven’t told the story of testing along with the sizzle of emulation. After adoption tests, yes, these will just be another 3000 for the proud laggards who maintain MPE value.

09:35 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 11, 2013

In a slowing market, things can shift quickly

Whoa-stopOur November printed edition of The 3000 Newswire carried a headline about the success that the Stromasys CHARON emulator is experiencing in your community. However, one of the green lights we noted in that article turned red during the time between writing and delivery into postal mailboxes.

Ray Legault has checked in to report that the project to virtualize HP 3000s closing down in a soon-to-be-closed disaster recovery site has been called off. The close-out doesn't appear to reflect any shortfall in the value of the CHARON element. But carrying forward applications has proved to be complicated.

Page 1 Nov 13In particular, the costs for license upgrades of third-party software came in for special mention. This isn't standalone application software, like an Ecometry or MANMAN or even an Amisys. That sort of app isn't in wide use in 3000 customer sites, and to be honest, off the shelf solutions never were. The software license that needed a transfer wasn't from HP, either. MPE/iX has a ready, $432 transfer fee to move it to an industry-standard Intel system. No, this well-known development and reporting tool was going to cost more than $100,000 to move to a virtualized HP 3000.

"Our project was cancelled due to other reasons not related to the emulator," Legault said. "Maybe next year things will change. The apps not having a clear migration path seemed to be the issue."

So file this blog report under a correction, or perhaps an update. But I wouldn't want to be the bearer of incorrect news, and there's something virtuous about filing a correction, anyway.

Where we made our mistake was in observing activity in license transfer inquiries, then getting information about a pending CHARON purchase, but not seeing a confirmed PO. That's a document we rarely see here at the Newswire. These days, it's a rare thing for anyone to share a number as specific as, say, $110,000 for a license fee.

For a company which has eight remaining applications to push into the year 2018, and needs to keep those apps hotsite-recoverable, an emulated 3000 with low hardware costs makes good sense. But there are license budgets to resolve in order to proceed with this sort of transition activity. 

Most important, we haven't heard any reports yet of any vendor who flat-out refuses to license their MPE/iX software for CHARON. Perhaps when a vendor has to watch a $110,000 sale disappear, it could spark a different approach to the business proposition of serving a slowing marketplace. Maybe next year, things will change.

In the news business when there's a mistake, we were always taught to close the correction with "We regret the error." In this case, everybody regrets the shift in strategy.

06:21 PM in Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2013

Google's doodle touts COBOL's relevance

Google COBOL DoodleYesterday was the 107th anniversary of the birth for Dr. Grace Hopper, inventor of the world's most widely distributed business language. That's COBOL, which might puzzle Millennials who manage the world's IT. COBOL's historic ranking won't surprise anyone who earned IT stripes in MPE, of course.

DrGraceHopper worked in the US military before her years developing what we call Common Business-Oriented Language. The US Department of Defense provided shelter for researching what we now call the Internet, another technology that's going to have a lifespan longer than its creators'. Dr. Hopper died on New Year's Day 1992, by which time 30 universities had presented her with honorary degrees.  From 1959 to 1961, Hopper led the team that invented COBOL at Remington Rand, a company that swelled in size while it built 45-caliber pistols during WW II.

The last COBOL compiler ever developed for the HP 3000 didn't come from its system creator Hewlett-Packard and its language labs. Acucorp created a version of its AcuCOBOL in 2001 that understood MPE/iX and IMAGE nuances. Bad timing, of course, given the business-oriented decision HP made about the 3000 later that year. But while Acucorp eventually became a cog in the Micro Focus COBOL machine, there are still Acucorp voices out there in the IT market. And they speak a business argot that's being celebrated now in this holiday season.

Micro Focus has been posting a 12 Days of COBOL feature on its website this month. One of the alerts to the information -- which points at new COBOL capabilities and features -- came from Jackie Anglin, the long-time media coordinator for Transoft. She joined Micro Focus several years ago after her service to migration-transformation supplier Transoft.

The 12 Days items on the Micro Focus blog were up to No. 9 as of yesterday.

Say 'hello' to 21st Century COBOL

COBOL hasn't lasted this long by standing still. As well as its rich OO extensions, take a look at the new XML, SQL and Unicode features in Visual COBOL. They’re there to help you bring apps bang up to date with industry standards.

Migration-bound IT directors might roll their eyes at any message that COBOL is keeping up with newer languages. But according to the online technical publisher Safari Books -- where the ultimate MPE/iX administrator's book is still for sale -- COBOL rules an overwhelming share of the world's information for business. "Applications managing about 85 percent of the world's business data are written in COBOL," it reports on a listing for COBOL for the 21st Century.

Micro Focus likes to say that 35 percent of all new business application development is written in COBOL. That fact may not be as objective as Gartner's 85-percent figure -- but even if it's close, Dr. Hopper should be toasted this week. Few inventions have retained their relevance for more than a half-century, especially ones that are based entirely on brainpower. Dr. Hopper dismantled seven clocks in her home before the age of seven. She also set a language to ticking that hasn't run out of time yet.

09:56 AM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 09, 2013

Long run of 3000 unreels beyond the dark

Newswire Editorial

By Ron Seybold

DarktheatreThis is the time of the year when movie critics everywhere assemble their retrospectives of 2013 films. The HP 3000 has been having something of a revival, as they call the movie's screening of old classics, because of the Stromasys emulator. Such an invention never would have gotten traction without HP's mistakes made after November, 2001. People stood by their servers, in part because they got messages from HP that the computer's run would be extended.

While they remained in their seats, CHARON's MPE-on-Intel debut was spooled up on the next projector.

In 2005, after all, there was the rude surprise to the vendors who became ardent partners of migration off the 3000. The deadline of 2006 became 2008, and then finally 2010. One such vendor said it was a disservice to partners who were ready to pick up the pieces. At HP’s support business lair, the company's lifespan of the 3000 was measured in how many months of payments might arrive from large customers. It had nothing to do with the quality of the server’s ecosystem, and everything to do with the quantity of the revenues it created. 

But as the karma police often do, they’ve caught up with the company which made raw business growth its mantra, instead of Next Bench design and Management by Walking Around. Old collegial business got eaten alive by tigers from the PC vendor Compaq, unleashed by the first CEO plucked from outside HP. So when Carly’s proxy fight took HP out of the hands of its family, and then spying and sexual harassment and then being fleeced on acquisitions followed, our friends in this market took bitter solace in seeing karma catch up. The water was still cold out in the sea around that scuttled ship. But at least the captains of the line were getting soaked. Three of every four 3000 owners never bought another HP enterprise server.

But that bitterness, the shaking of our fists at fate, it doesn’t make swimming in the current easier. Better to flatten our hands and stretch our arms into the bracing water and survive, see how it changes our lives. That’s the story we really want to tell, the one that we don’t know how we’ll live though. Only that we know that we will indeed live through it. Just wait. The last reel might be the sweetest.

At the Newswire we’ve lived through more than 18 years to tell some surprising stories. How the spirit and great heart of a community of people who use computers raised thousands of toasts on a single Halloween 10 years ago. You will never see a worldwide wake for a computer again. People love Apple’s products, and Steve Jobs got a floral tribute across the doorsteps of hundreds of his stores. But a little computer line that never had more than 50,000 machines running at once? A number so small that Apple sells that many iPhones in just eight hours? How could something so small ever generate smiles and black armbands and barbecues all at once, around the globe?

It had something to do with people, not with machines. Just like those seats in the dark at the Paramount Theatre had everything to do with light. When the Austin Film Festival opened up this fall, It had been 15 years since I’d been standing on line for a movie, hours at a time. But what was promised was light in black and white with an acting icon (Nebraska, with Bruce Dern at 77, still younger than Fred White) or in color and as obscure as a big-star movie could get (The Art of the Steal with Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon)  released in Canada so quick you couldn’t tune into two episodes of Glee before the movie was gone. Or a searing and sobbing documentary about women who were battling obesity with weight loss surgery, All of Me, the movie that won the audience prize at the Festival.

A400-500 breakdownI waited the longest for the movie with the biggest buzz, the Coens’ Inside Llwellen Davis. After two hours on line and three in the theatre, I felt like somebody who’d been eager for an HP Unix replacement. Good, sure, but not equal to my expectations. I’d been set up by Raising Arizona, Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Blood Simple, and Fargo. The equivalent of the Series III, MPE V, the Series 68, the Mighty Mouse, the Spectrum computers of PA-RISC. The movie was just average by their standards, like the N-Class servers, or the petite A-Class that Dave Snow carried under his arm in the spring of 2001. At the time, it was so coveted somebody wanted to buy that first unit right there in the room of a conference that was also a casualty, SIG-PROF, dead along with Interex. We learned later HP crippled the A, to prop up prices of other 3000s.

We grew bolder as we all grew older, those of us who found a lifeboat, crafting our own raft away from the wreck. We learned things better than we knew a little bit: writing for story and drama, or Ruby on Rails and .NET, or yoga video production, or the art of teaching. Our friend John Burke, he of so many Newswire words, became a mathematics professor. It was just the way things added up for all of us. Everybody had a new plot of daily work, even while they kept cultivating what was left over from the bounty of the 1980s and 1990s.

There are more surprises yet, things as delicious as Susan Sarandon taking questions after another little known gem, the musical Romance and Cigarettes — so under-appreciated its director John Tuturro bought it back from the studio to save it. When the late great James Gandolfini breaks into song, belting out a Tom Jones tune, I didn’t believe it could work until I saw it. Something like the experience I saw in California when MPE booted up on a laptop, and a 3000 vet learned over and said it felt like everything MPE was brand new again.

Tension makes for a good story, the uncertain outcome of the hero’s greatest desire. Our most essential desire is to survive and grow older in peace and wisdom. Our movie’s last reel hasn’t unspooled yet, and the lights haven’t come up while the credits roll. Keep your thick soled shoes nearby. We can get in line together because we know each other, and say, “I wonder what we’ll see today?” Maybe we’ll hear a story a few more times about our escapes and heroic plans for next year. The business of our lives runs on stories.

01:22 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 06, 2013

Waiting in line to see a story of survival

Newswire Editorial

By Ron Seybold

I whiled away hours on the streets of Austin a few weeks ago, waiting to take a place in the dark. The Austin Film Festival was rolling, celebrating its 20th Anniversary with nine days of movies. Anniversaries usually prompt memories. We tell stories of how things used to be in our lives, partly to mark how far we’ve travelled, along with how far we’ve grown.

Film festival ParamountWe don’t like to think about growing older. Not most of us, not when we have to lace on our shoes with extra thick soles like I did to stand on a Congress Avenue concrete sidewalk, waiting for the newest Coen Brothers film to unreel at the gaudy, throwback Paramount Theatre. I stood beside a woman who’d been setting sound stages with props for several decades. She talked for more than an hour about how Bruce Willis loved the tacky statue she chose for Armageddon, loved it so much he bought it after the movie wrapped. I heard that story four times in about 90 minutes.

Some of our readers might feel the same way about the annual November Nightmare story I write, recalling the tacky HP business deke on 3000 owners. It changed all of our lives, though, so it merits its testimony. But as I’ve promised in my last paragraph of this year’s edition of the Nightmare, this year is the last time I’ll tell that story. Everybody knows the Titanic goes down at the end of that North Atlantic voyage. The story we don’t know is how the survivors’ lives went on. Most of all, we want to know what they did next. How did the disaster affect them?

The after-effects of late 2001 surprised most of us. Run down the list and you will find surprised parties at the customer sites, of course, and then at the vendors whose entire living was built on the future of the system. Yes, Abby and I at the Newswire were among those surprised, at least by the timing.

But after all, we were surprised we’d made most of the way through  2001 on her dream of serving news about a computer that everyone said was dead in 1995. We got six swelling, hot-growth years out of the gamble. But then another 12, as of this fall, serving news about the survivors, even how to survive, as well as chronicles of the casualties.

Others who were surprised were competitors. HP’s competitors at IBM, who figured on sweeping up plenty of 3000 customers, but that didn’t happen. The 3000’s competitors at HP, who figured on gathering nearly all of the market into Unix folds. Again, didn’t happen. Customers were now free to choose anything, because everything was a struggle. Swimming toward the Unix lifeboats, the ones with the high gunwales painted with the same vendor colors as the scuttled cruise liner — well, that looked less fruitful than letting their Windows ships hold more business passengers.

HP was also surprised that so many 3000 owners went noplace for years, despite a deadline that should’ve made everyone leap into seas of change. Even our competitors we faced at the Newswire surprised us, by leaving us last standing in the HP-only news business. Good man Tim Cullis at HP User in the UK, the Interex volunteers and allies like Chuck Piercey and his HP World. Also, HP Professional and its magazine mavens. All gone away, gone to good grass pasture, or gone under. We didn’t figure we’d be here, left to turn out the lights on whatever day that finale appears. We’re not eager for the dark.

But many of us crave the dark when there's a great story waiting inside it -- like when we sit in front of a movie screen.

09:20 PM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 05, 2013

3000 vet votes for his IMAGE replacement

Sieler Q&A pageIn the 3000 Newswire's printed edition that's nearly in every subscriber's mailbox, we interviewed Stan Sieler on the occasion of his 30-year anniversary at Allegro Consultants. He co-founded the company with his partner Steve Cooper in the early 1980s, when IMAGE was simply IMAGE/3000, sans Turbo or even SQL in its name.

Sieler and Allegro have written significant parts of the database for HP in those ensuing decades. We figured it would be a fun question to ask him what the best substitute is for IMAGE -- for the 3000 customer who's making a migration. Or the customer who already has migrated, but is finding the obvious Oracle answer doesn't work optimally with lifted-and-shifted code.

Sieler's did the interview with us from his iPad, over Skype, and he's a big fan of Apple products including the Mac Pro. His answer on replacing IMAGE didn't surprise us much, but it's the first time we asked an IMAGE co-creator to weigh in on a replacement.

I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn’t have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It’s a win-win situation, it seems like. The only thing that kind of bothers me is that he doesn’t have a version for the Mac.

When I heard that Stan considered the lack of a native Mac OS Eloquence as his only kind of bother, the issue of emulation came up. (I confess to wanting Eloquence to come up with a perfect record; so many developers have said just that during the previous decade of transition.) Surely virtualizing the Mac would work as well as a virtual HP 3000 has already.

Newswire: Isn’t that something solved by running a virtual machine in the Macintosh?

Stan: Yes, and I don’t know why I never really thought about that.

Newswire: Wow, I can’t believe I actually gave you an idea.

Stan: Well, part of the issue is that some of our applications like Rosetta have the ability to restore into an Eloquence database and create it on the fly. I can’t test that aspect of it on the Mac, versus doing it on a Linux machine or an HP-UX server.

04:42 PM in Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 04, 2013

A-Class servers bid to retain some value

When HP released the A-Class HP 3000 models, the computers represented a new entry point for MPE servers. This lowest-end machine, including an MPE/iX license and the IMAGE/SQL database, sold at retail for $15,900. It ran about 70 percent faster than the 3000's previous low end unit, the Series 918. The customer base was hungry for something this small. HP product manager Dave Snow walked the first one down the aisle at the SIGPROF user meeting.

That was more than 12 years ago. The A-Class was built upon PA-RISC processors, chips that are several generations behind HP's latest Itanium-class CPUs. You might expect that the A-Class boxes could be worth less than one tenth of what they sold for during the year that HP curtailed its 3000 plans.

Cypress Technology has got three of these A-Class servers available via eBay, selling them for $3,400 each. They've been out on the auction website for awhile now -- more than 10 days -- but the Buy It Now price hasn't come down. So far, the sellers are still arranging for a transferrable license for these boxes. That's something that runs up the price of a used 3000. But then, so can the extras.

Let's pause here for a moment and consider the value retention of this piece of IT equipment. A robust PC, tricked out at the top end of 2001 technology, couldn't even manage the price of a doorstop in today's marketplace.

Take HP's fastest laptop of 2001, the Omnibook 6000. Listed at a minimum of $1,799 on its release, the computer

...combines the power of Intel's fastest mobile processor with HP's tradition of providing reliable, manageable, stable, secure and expandable products. Its sleek styling with magnesium alloy cover, rubberized corners and grips, and spill-resistant keyboard, help make this a durable machine that holds up well for people on the go. 

Today on the same eBay website, that $1,799 computer is selling for $95. You can get one as cheap as $40.

HP's computers, whether laptop or rack-mounted, were built to last with above-the-norm components. No, you won't mistake the drives and memory in that Omnibook with those that have the quality of an A400-100-110 HP 3000. But after a dozen years, without a license that would satisfy an auditor, the 3000 sells for more than 20 percent of its list. The Windows-based laptop, portable in a way that only the 3000 user could dream about, is selling for about 5 percent.

These A-Class systems each have a 9GB boot disk (yeah, smaller than a thumb drive's capacity) and a 300GB main storage disk, along with a whopping 2GB of RAM. The sellers report that they're working on getting an auditor-happy license for the pre-installed MPE/iX 7.5 on the A-Class, too.

These came from HP as part of the e3000 trade in program. I am still in the process of getting all the license transferred on all these A400 and A500 boxes that we got. So to answer your question about a licensed copy of MPE/iX, not yet but yes soon, hopefully.

HP took the value protection of its 3000 line a little too seriously. The horsepower on these A-Class boxes was hobbled by MPE/iX, so a chip that ran at 440MhZ was made to perform at 110. But with MPE/iX as its core value, and the fact that these were the ultimate generation of HP-crafted 3000s, several thousand dollars for trade-in servers that are more than a decade old proves a point about value protection.

When you can find someone offering an Omnibook for $195, running the latest Linux and PostgreSQL installed, you'll have something to compare.     

08:23 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2013

When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit

Pursuit1As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.

PursuitwriteringsVesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."

Pursuit 2Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.

The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.

"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."

There were others more obscure, but less difficult for the panel. The product number of MPE (HP 32002). The distinguishing feature of the 2641 terminals (an APL command set) and the product which preceeded V/3000 (DEL/3000, for Data Entry Language).

Non-technical trivia was also included. One that had to be answered by the audience was "What does the HP stand for in HP Steak Sauce?" (House of Parliament). And on one question, Eugene himself was humbled by an overlooked answer. He'd asked what four MPE commands can only be executed by the file's creator. The panel found RELEASE, RENAME, ALTSEC and SECURE. But a crowd member said, "There's one more."

"One more?" said Volokh.

"Think about it -- BUILD," came the reply from the crowd.

HP's history offered some political wit in one question. After asking what post David Packard held in the US government (Assistant Secretary of Defense) Volokh added, "and what years did he serve?"

Green, a Canadian, quipped back "In the Nixon administration, which was too long, to be sure."

As the laughs subsided, the Soviet-born US citizen-moderator chided back, "Now, we'll not have foreigners commenting on our government."

But it was an exchange including father and son of that Volokh family that showed the beneficial byproduct of the contest -- expanding the knowledge of HP's engineering roots. Eugene asked the panel, "What is the earliest date of the century the DATELINE intrinsic works with?" A first answer came from the panel, and then Vladimir answered with March 1, 1900.

His son then gave the correct answer: Feb. 29, 1900. "It incorrectly assumes that 1900 was a leap year," Eugene said. "I should know, since Feb. 29 is my birthday."

04:06 PM in Hidden Value, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 02, 2013

While you were away, what HP put into play

Healthcare.govWe're back after a 4-day holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday period can be interesting times for watchers of Hewlett-Packard. We count ourselves among that group, even though the company has little to do with the lives of homesteading 3000 users. (But not nothing at all -- we heard last week that HP Support contracts for 3000-connected HP peripherals have been altered. End-of-support-life dates have been adjusted, according to our source. Check your contract; indie providers are available as an alternative.) HP announced the Odyssey program to give a Linux future path for Unix customers during the week. Of course, the 3000 exit notice took place just a week before Thanksgiving in 2001.

However, much broader items than tactical details of contracts surfaced over this holiday weekend. The most splashy was the news that Hewlett-Packard is now the company providing infrastructure for the US Healthcare.gov website. That's the site that turned away about 80 percent of users during October because of technical and bandwidth problems.

HP signed a $38 million contract with the US Health and Human Services agency this summer, but Terraform (a subsidiary of Verizon) had built out the website hosting that blocked many an attempt to use it. Over the weekend, healthcare.gov doubled its bandwidth and can now reportedly serve 50,000 users simultaneously. That sounds like a lot, but about 800,000 citizens tried to open an account. (Just as a note, as of 2 PM today, we registered an account and shopped for the first time online.)

The largest simultaneous user count we've ever heard reported for a single HP 3000 server was 2,200. Consider that was a single server, built with PA-RISC (two generation-old chips) using SCSI IO. Redundancy has been an essential high-volume aspect of 3000s since Quest Software built its NetBase/Shareplex replication solution in the 1980s. Quest, now a division of Dell, still supports HP 3000 sites using the product, according to John Saylor there.

The problem at healthcare.gov has been its architecture, rather than the horsepower of the iron. HP seems to have little to lose in taking over this contract. By the accounting at the Wall Street Journal, 36 states rely on application through healthcare.gov and just under 27,000 people were able to enroll in a plan during the first month. The 14 state exchanges enrolled 79,391 people during the same period.

The Journal article says the government has been aware of "certain problems with the Terremark hosting service since late 2010." HHS moved its Medicare and Medicaid service centers to Terremark during a two-year hosting contract. These service centers oversee Healthcare.gov.

The details in the WSJ report include an oversight, which if true, would be laughable in a standard HP 3000 environment: "Its design didn't include a full backup version of the site in a different data center. Healthcare.gov is still housed with a single data center." The HP 3000s which Hewlett-Packard unplugged from its own datacenter in October had backups in Austin. HP also got a $4 million contract in September for healthcare.gov DR services.

On the company valuation trail, HP played out a Q4 2013 report that Buys Time, Not Triumph according to a WSJ analysis. "Tech Giant Arrested Its Slide in Some Key Areas, but Pressures Will Intensify. One good quarter doesn't equal a turnaround." But the numbers which included dreary figures for HP's Unix operations still managed to push HP's stock to a two-year high as of this morning.

The markets were not spooked by the prospect of business critical server sales dipping once more.

HP also opened up access to its board of directors in a vote during the Thanksgiving week. A vote by a simple majority of shareholders will be enough to change HP rules governing the nomination of directors or the size of the board. Previously, a two-thirds supermajority was required. "The change doesn't immediately let activists storm the boardroom, but could lower the gates that keep them out," said a Journal article.

HP got its current board chairman, Ralph Whitworth, when its rules changed in 2011 to admit that principal at "an activist hedge fund Relational Investors LLC."

Right now, you've got to own at least 3 percent of HP's stock for three years to nominate a director. The Journal said only three people have owned that much sstock since the end of 2012. This makes nomination of new directors an insider affair today.

02:52 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)