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October 22, 2019

HP's kids: Children who can't say yes, or no

Merry-go-round amusement parkPhoto by Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash

Editor's note: Developer, vendor, and advocate Alan Yeo has passed away at age 65 after a lifetime of work for the 3000 community. His essay below was written in 2005 amid the early years of the computer's Transition Era. He wrote about the damage done after migrations were first triggered by HP's 2001 pullout, then postponed on a fuzzy timeline from the entity the community was calling the virtual HP division for the server, vCSY.

Vendors like Yeo who weathered HP's stormy strategy took on a lot of water because of HP's revision of its end of service deadline. Yeo's use of metaphor and allegory here are a fine tribute to his wit and intelligence that the world has lost. ScreenJet, his company, followed his insight to survive the turmoil.

By Alan Yeo

That's it, children, just give the merry-go-round another shove, just when passengers thought it was stopping and they could get off it and get on with planning the rest of their lives. Oh yes, some of the children will be happy; the period before they have to decide which ride to take next has been extended. But for the adults either already behind schedule, or struggling to get attention-deficit children to concentrate on important decisions, it's just another frustrating delay.

Now it wouldn't be too bad if the very Careless Stupid Youngsters ("vCSY") nudging the merry-go-round on weren't the same vCSY who had planned its retirement, and had then encouraged its customers and partners to seek out new more exciting future-proof rides. But no, to compound the disappointment they caused their passengers when they announced the ride was ending, they now have to say, “We lied, we didn't mean it, the ride's not ending yet!”

Is this because they think their passengers are still having the best ride in the fair? Perhaps they think they can just keep it spinning under their control for a while longer, that there are another 3000 pieces of silver to be extracted for their parents, the only Happy Party ("HP") in this.

And what of vCSY partners, and the encouragement they received to help transport the passengers to other rides when the Merry-go-round stopped. Or even those they encouraged to build an organisation to help those passengers that wanted to stay on the Merry-go-round and even maintain it after the ride had stopped.

For yes, there was an organisation of such Open Minded Passengers Established ("OpenMPE") that hoped to provide counseling and support for those who chose to stay, and even to build a work shop to repair the Merry-go-round Physical Environment ("MPE") for them. What of OpenMPE's chances now? Why would anyone invest in them when they need it, if the HP and vCSY are going to keep the ride spinning and the MPE supported?

And what of those who vCSY encouraged to build the transport for the passengers to other rides — their parents (the HP) had no transport of their own. Those vendors built the busses the planes and the trains, and even migrated some of the passengers to new rides. What are they to do now, just sit there with the engines running for a couple more years whilst the merry-go-round spins on?

And what of those partners vCSY encouraged to build infrastructures to keep old merry-go-round's functioning and provide support for the MPE? For them, the ride has been delayed for two more years, and it has reduced the number of potential passengers to the point where it may not be economic to hang around and wait.

And what of those passengers who vCSY forced to flee early to other rides, with threats of a failing ecosystem and that the ride would become unsafe unless they left before the cock crowed at the dawn of 2007? Was their journey unnecessary, in pointless haste, and to an earlier or higher cost than needed? If some of them felt pricked when vCSY announced the ride was to stop, some of them will surely feel stabbed in the back by the HP who lied.

So what can one say about these children, those who can't say Yes, can't say No, and for whom Maybe is a mantra. Would you trust the support of your merry-go-round to them now? Would you trust them to help enable an ecosystem to maintain the MPE after they finally tire of it? Would you believe them if they told you Y2K came after 1999?

As for me, I would no longer give them the time of day, far less ask it of them, for fear they would get it wrong. What's so unfortunate is that it would be much easier if one could believe that there was some great conspiracy within HP and with vCSY to completely jerk both their customers and partners around. But as someone else has said today, “plain stupid" beats “malevolent" most of the time.

And what do vCSY think they have done for the passengers on the Merry-go-round by keeping it spinning for another two years? If they actually had the ability to support the MPE it would be fine, but the average third party ISV now retains more expertise than the whole of vCSY. A third party will also know what a merry-go-round is if you call them, and will probably charge far less than the HP if you need spares or repairs for your merry-go-round.

This statement is subject to limitations and exclusions based on exact merry-go-round configurations, geographic location, ride transition timelines, and other considerations. All characters are fictional and not intended to portray any person or organisation living, dying or dead.

08:29 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 17, 2019

Alan Yeo, 1954-2019

Yeo at Reunion

Alan Yeo, a software vendor and developer whose business ultimately led to success as a nexus for the 3000 community in its Transition Era, has died at age 65 after a battle with a small cell cancer. He is survived by his wife Helen, a lifetime of creations he designed with partners, and a gripping voice that gathered and rallied MPE customers after HP quit on their marketplace.

Yeo’s company Affirm, Ltd. rose up in the 1980s as a resource for manufacturers who used the HP 3000 to manage their enterprises. He served a group of customers across the UK and began to move in wider circles with the advent of ScreenJet, his software to modernize the 3000’s bedrock VPlus application interfaces.

ScreenJet arose in the years just before Hewlett-Packard scrapped its business developing 3000s and MPE. While the HP decision left Yeo undaunted in his business aspirations, it also led him to a new role as a leader for a 3000 community that was dissolving after the implosion of the Interex user group in 2005.

His first effort surrounded the final date of HP’s manufacture of the system. On Oct. 31, 2003, he organized and led the HP 3000 World Wide Wake, a collective of gatherings to celebrate the server and the people who’d made it their life’s work. Across North America and Europe, customers and managers held parties and met at pubs, bars, and restaurants. Photos from the events poured into a web server that Yeo hosted. Earlier in the year, Yeo asked out loud where else the HP 3000 community might gather in a user conference — a question he posed in a meeting at the Atlanta HP World, where few 3000 customers had appeared.

In the year that followed, he shared his strategy of being a master of one. It was built around the nugat of collaboration that led to his ability to connect.

"We’re starting to see more collaboration between migration tools providers and migration service partners," he said in a NewsWire Q&A. "To get some of this stuff right, you really, really need to know it. I think it’s too big for any one person to do anything right. If you want good fish you go to a fishmonger. If you want good meat, go to a butcher. If you just want food, go to Wal-Mart, and if you just want to eat, you go to McDonalds."

Community meets and reunions

Many of the stranded customers using the HP 3000 got an introduction to Yeo’s voice in those first years of the 3000’s Transition Era. He commissioned an editorial cartoon during 2002 that became a mainstay in his company’s ads, one built around the HP move to end its MPE plans and sever relations with the thousands of companies that grew up using the 3000’s extraordinary solution. The CEO of the company at the time, as well as the 3000 division’s GM Winston Prather, caught the brunt of the brilliance in a cartoon that compared killing off HP's 3000 futures to the evil in a Disney movie.

WinstonDalmations
A few years later, after the user group Interex folded its operations overnight and stranded users’ plans to meet at the now-canceled annual conference, the first of a series of Community Meets sprang up for 3000 owners. After an impromptu gathering in the Bay Area for community members already stuck with nonrefundable hotel reservations and air tickets, a single-afternoon lunch gathered several dozen managers, developers, and owners.

The first Bay Area meet was replicated and expanded twice more with single-day meetings in 2007 and 2009, organized and underwritten by Yeo and his business partner Michael Marxmeier of the database and language vendor Marxmeier Software. Other companies contributed to cover expenses, but the largest share of the organizing always went to Yeo.

In 2011, he and Marxmeier teamed up with some help from the NewsWire to mount the HP3000 Reunion, a multiple-day event with a meeting at the Computer History Museum. In addition to seminars and a group tour of the exhibits, a catered dinner, a briefing on the upcoming 3000 emulator, and a meeting of enterprise resource planning software users made for a busy weekend with dozens of community members.

Alan_Yeo_at_Reunion
Yeo was pragmatic while keeping his lights on for every software customer who’d invested in his products. Marxmeier Software has taken over support and services for ScreenJet Ltd. in the wake of Yeo’s death. ScreenJet and Marxmeier Software have had close ties for a long time. Yeo was a valued board member for Marxmeier Software and Michael Marxmeier is a director at ScreenJet.

To ensure the continuation of ScreenJet products and services, as of June 2019 support, license renewals and upgrades have been administered by Marxmeier Software. "This will not affect any ScreenJet customer product licenses or agreements which will remain with ScreenJet Ltd," said Marxmeier. "The teams at ScreenJet and Marxmeier will combine their long time experience and resources to guarantee efficient and reliable ongoing support and services."

Alan Yeo with dogsWith his beloved dogs at his Gloucester home

Ever-prepared, Yeo worked out the details of a smooth transfer over the months when his cancer recovery had failed. He'd rallied after treatments and recovered enough to race vintage cars on rural road rallies in 2018. In his last months the disease progressed to cut off motor functions of one arm. He resolutely typed long messages one-handed.

Failures were always a topic he could approach with candor as well as compassion. “Most software on the HP 3000 was too expensive, compared with other platforms,” he said in a 2004 interview examining the collapse of HP’s ecosystem. “However, because people could reliably write applications for the system, many of these were developed far too cheaply. Many customers got far too much for the money they actually spent.”

A reach for personal connections

The ScreenJet product was a recovery from a valiant effort to make the 3000 a vital part of the dot-com PC world. Millware was to deliver software that gave 3000 customers a way to make their VPlus interfaces behave like modern graphical interfaces. The software was to be free in exchange for giving over some of the screen real estate to messages from vendors. Before that user base could be established, dot-com computing staggered, a blow to the vendor element of the formula.

Yeo also picked up the pieces from the effort to market ScreenJet, developed as a connectivity product and sold by Millware.com until that marketing company went bust during the dot-com implosion. ScreenJet earned an award for migration solutions from Acucorp. But for all of his effort toward helping migration customers, Yeo was clear-eyed about 3000 transitions. ScreenJet achieved its best technical release just one month before HP announced its withdrawal from the 3000 market — and the product’s development up to that point was not driven by any need to move companies away from the platform.

Yeo also took a role as producer in a new feature for 3000 customers long abandoned by HP: Transact users. The advanced development language was kicked to HP’s curb in the middle 1990s, but sites continued to run extensive Transact applications, long after the “strategic” badge fell off the language. The TransAction software from his team give Transact sites service and tools to move programs to COBOL, a way to prepare for the journey away from the HP 3000.

Marxmeier, who reached out to break the news about Yeo's death, said he would miss his ally's organizational gifts, but even more so, Yeo's ability to write and speak with, well, eloquence. After drafting a heartfelt letter to inform the ScreenJet customers about the founders' demise, Marxmeier said he already felt a gap in the story. "It's something I would have liked Alan to read, before I released it," he said.

Yeo said he wanted no florid speeches of eulogy at his passing. Months before he died, he said if there was any afterlife at all, "I could be a little sprite, one who could occassionally make it rain on somebody who was being pompous, that would do me quite nicely." It's fair to say his narrative for the 3000's transition era was rich with the words that rained on misfortune and miscalculation.

Carly_cartoon_dalmations

07:15 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 14, 2019

How to make databases live past shutdown

Index card file drawer
Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

In 2011, a systems manager for the power utility at the City of Anchorage was looking toward a shutdown of the municipal HP 3000. It's a situation that surfaces from time to time even now. Back in 2011, the manager could see another 10 years of useful service for the 3000. His management had other ideas. This might sound familiar.

Wayne Johnson said, "We have an HP 3000 that we are going to decommission, sadly. I have powers that be who want it turned off sometime next year, although I think it will be longer than that. Is there a service that will read DLT IV tapes or convert them to some other usable format on a Windows platform or some Unix server?"

He went on to say that most of his data files were TurboImage database files. They were for archival purposes only. "Of course, the simple solution is to run the HP 3000 N-Class, probably for the next 10 years. It never goes down. But that call is not mine to make. They want to unplug it."

Alan Yeo of ScreenJet supplied a database tape migration solution that still works today.

"One very simple but elegant solution is to get a copy of Marxmeier's Eloquence database which is very inexpensive for your choice of Windows, Linux, or HP-UX and just load the databases in. Then either with the Query3K tool or with ODBC, you can just access the data as and when required.

"You could copy the volume sets to Network Attached Storage. I'll make a bet that the smallest NAS device you can buy for less than $400 will comfortably store more data than you managed to create on the HP 3000 in its lifetime.

"Allegro has a product, Rosetta Store, that will directly load Eloquence from databases in STORE format on tape, if you want to skip the step of restoring from the 3000 tapes and then unloading for import into Eloquence. I think the Allegro product will also do flat file conversion."

Beyond the Marxmeier and Allegro software, there was another suggestion offered in 2011 about a product that has come to change the way MPE databases live on beyond hardware shutdown. HP's iron, after all, isn't the final resting place for 3000 applications and data.

"Before you scrap the N-Class," said Tracy Johnson, "you may want to take note about its details. It may qualify for a license transfer to the up and coming 3000 hardware emulator by Stromasys." 

"Thus in theory, you could keep your IMAGE data running on some Intel platform, as is."

11:41 AM in Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 10, 2019

Who's to blame when the lights go out?

Power-lines-towers
Photo by Peddi Sai hrithik on Unsplash

Yesterday the lights didn't come on in Northern California. Everywhere, it seems, because the Pacific Gas & Electric corporation didn't want to be sued for windstorm damages to its power lines. They cut the juice to prevent lawsuits. Tesla owners got a dashboard warning.

The surprise about the outage was as complete as the shock over Interex dowsing its lights overnight in 2005. Except the cynics could see the PG&E blackout coming.

Solar panel-owning residents of California and electric car owners were most surprised. I went to a 3000 tech mailing list to look for people worried about topping up their Teslas, because some people who picked 3000s are pioneers, so Teslas are well represented among MPE veterans. Like the usual chaff on a mailing list, there were turds of political opinion floating there about who's to blame for California's darkness.

So I wasn't surprised to see more attacks on the state of California. "A third world country" is the shorthand smear, although you can say lots of the US isn't a first world country any longer. In the exchange on the mailing list, it was apparently too much trouble to keep a state’s government separate from talk about Pacific Gas & Electric’s corporate moves. Once PG&E goes bankrupt, then the private corporation’s demise will be blamed on California voters, using that logic. It’s easier than keeping commerce and government separate, I suppose. 

Blaming the tough regulations about state rate hikes for the disaster that is PG&E business is having it both ways: Government is crucial, and government is ridiculous. On and on it goes, until we are supposed to trust a government that lets PG&E do whatever it wants, so long as profits stay high. 
 
Because every corporation with ample profits has always taken care of its customers in every need. 
 
Some people on that mailing list sure have a short memory about such nonsense. We are all survivors of a meltdown of a business model where corporate profits were ensured — because revenue growth was the only thing that mattered — while legacy technology got scrapped. Millions of dollars of investments, the fate of hundreds of vendors, and thousands of careers were lost.
 
The mailing list name still has the numerals 3000 in it. You’d think people would remember what brought us into each others' lives, along with the lesson we learned the hard way together. Oversight is important. The problem which hit the Hewlett-Packard 3000 customers was a lack of oversight from top-level management and the board of directors. It's sometimes hard to know what to do while things are changing (the computer business) and ambitions are high (make HP bigger than anybody, so it will win every deal).
 
A good rule to follow, though, is like a physician. First, do no harm. The 3000 community got treated by HP like a limb that had gone gangrenous. Old history that'll never be changed, yes. Also, a lesson for managers on how to treat older bodies like an operating system and software that's not new but is still performing well.  
 
Complaining about oversight, when you'd rather have none at all, is what got HP into the state it's in today. Two corporations, neither growing, both unable to honor the promises of forever-computing that drove companies to buy its products. HP's cut itself loose from the future of OpenVMS, and the thousands of companies that rely on that legacy OS need to trust VMS Software Inc., new owners of the OS's future.
 
It's a better deal than the one HP gave its 3000 customers. Private money would've taken over MPE futures in 2002. HP wouldn't sell or license it, but again, that's just history. Now that the lights aren't going on for the 3000 at HP anymore — so many of HP's 3000 web pages are dead or buried alive — it evokes the powerless situation in California.
The political noisemakers just would rather let PG&E do what it wants with rates, and then blame it on California when the light switches on the solar-paneled houses do nothing.
 
It turns out we need the grid even when we’re off the grid. 3000 folks needed a vendor who knew how to give a forever-computing solution an endless tomorrow by licensing an OS future.
 
The noisemakers like to ridicule the powerless Californians by saying that the state's not a first world entity anymore. It's not crazy to call California a country; its economy is bigger than all but nine of the countries in the world.
 
In one rude wisecrack, a child asks their father about how to see now that the California lights have gone out. Maybe the answer goes like this, not lit by the candles from the noisemaker's punch line.
 
"Daddy, what did the founding fathers use to write the Consitution?"
 
"Oil lamps, sweetie. Bring that one there closer to the table, while I finish writing this letter on the laptop.”
 
“Daddy, why are you writing the California attorney general?”
 
“Because we still have a state government. The founders always wanted the states to be different.”
 
“You mean we can’t be Texas?”
 
“There’s enough Texas already, sweetie."
 
I'm writing with my windows open this morning, because it’s the first day in Texas with both rain and weather below 70 since April. It's getting hotter in Texas, so we all have to make plans to get our houses cool enough to live in for half the year. I'm not about to blame Texas government for that. It won't help me with with the solution, though. They're leaving that to the corporations. 3000 people learned a hard lesson about that life without oversight.

11:23 AM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 08, 2019

Debugging the diagnostics

Fire-ant
Photo by Mikhail Vasilyev on Unsplash

The Command Support Tools Manager (CSTM) replaced SYSDIAG as of MPE/iX 6.5. Managers who are keeping MPE/iX working here in 2019 rely on CSTM, just as they did SYSDIAG before it.

There's evidence out there that CSTM has problems while running on 6.5 MPE/iX systems. One well-schooled developer recently noted while trying to run CSTM on his MPE/iX system that the diagnostic told him on startup, "an error dialog could not be built to display an error."

The developer community suggested a few fixes for this problem with the diagnostic software. CSTM was ported onto the HP 3000 from HP-UX, so the repairs that CSTM itself suggested regarding memory (increasing it, removing processes, reconfiguring kernel memory limits) probably don't fit.  CSTM has a special page in the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise website devoted to the problem.

The developer at least had another 3000 running the same version of MPE/iX, a system where CSTM was starting up without a problem. One bit of advice suggests that while using console debug, "check out what a your working system looks like at the CSTM prompt when idle. Use psuedomap “XL” to get symbols from the libraries and program. Attempt to set some breakpoints near initial program launch."

Using DEBUG, the open heart surgery of HP 3000 management, is sometimes a required diagnosis. When your diagnostics software requires diagnosis, nothing but DEBUG will get the job done.

Much more detail followed on using DEBUG to discover what's failing in CSTM.

Stan Sieler had explicit instructions on how to run DEBUG to find a CSTM bug.

Run both programs side-by-side, using Debug, to find where they deviate. I'd avoid doing something easy like:  s 10000;tr   over and over, because that can land you in the middle of sensitive kernel stuff. Instead, I'd do smaller leaps (perhaps "s 100; tr") and when a new routine is entered, set a temp breakpoint at the exit and "c" to run for awhile. It's a tad more tedious, but safer.

You could also put a breakpoint at traphandler in each, and (with luck) only the failing one might hit it (e.g., if a file system problem occurred).  Sadly, the file system was not well designed with respect to error handling, and they use non-local escapes in many places, which are expensive and potentially risky.

Sometimes you can get the best/quickest idea by using Debug to put a breakpoint at 'printf' or 'fprintf' (since it's in C), or possible FWRITE ... trying to catch the program where it displays the error message.  

Sometimes, you'll find that a 'tr' will show you the calling function and it's clear that's the one that failed (if the output was generated inside the failing function).

E.g.:    function this_is_the_one_with_problems (...)
                ...  stuff...
                if an error was found then
                     printf ("oops")
                ...
 
Other times, you'll have to look at the caller (or back a few frames) and backtrack
in the code from that point.
 
E.g.:      rslt = this_is_the_one_with_problems (...);
              ... (possibly no extra code, possibly something like "if rslt < 0 goto got_error")
             if rslt < 0 then
                printf ("oops");

04:50 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 01, 2019

Shrink ray 3000 services: what you'd pay

Lens-shrink effect

Photo by Stephen Kraakmo on Unsplash

The number of MPE and HP 3000 experts is declining. It could hardly go in any other direction but downward, given the age of the expertise. There's still a number of companies — no one is sure how many — using the servers and wondering how they'll get along when something goes wrong.

One solution that's been successful up to now is shrinking the footprint of resources needed for using MPE/iX. Rather than each customer using up environmental conditioning and physical space for a server, owners of 3000s can have their systems hosted in a centralized location. It's co-location, but offered by companies which have MPE/iX and 3000 experience. The latter is most important because the components in an HP server are specialized. 

Good answers for hardware issues are the prize in a shrink ray hosted offering. Browsing the postings on the 3000-L newsgroup this month, I'm struck by the number of questions that are not only specific to MPE, but focused on component problems. Sending a 3000 off to a co-located datacenter has been offered for many years by now. The Support Group, an Austin-area firm for helping MANMAN owners, built a disaster-proof datacenter on its site that houses 3000s from customers.

There are others in this market who do the same service for 3000 owners. Beechglen Development has services that will harbor a 3000 and take the computer out of the everyday management stream for participating companies. Solutions for reducing the 3000's footprint to zero, while keeping MPE apps at work, use the shrink ray effect.

Less easier to measure: what such shrink ray services should cost, or what the remaining 3000 owners would be willing to pay. It's far better to imagine the cost of that fading HP iron becoming unresponsive, as they like to say when you're holding the line on life at an advancing age. Good resuscitation can be priceless; that's why people move into continuum of care facilities in their most golden of years.

A good friend has moved into one of the best independent living facilities in Chicago. When she had a heart scare this summer, though, she was able to get to a hospital through the help of her friend. Returning to her apartment the next day, she checked in with the facility director to see if the building's staff might look in on her that night. That's assisted-living, she was told, not independent living.

Some of the 3000 hardware still in production is too old for independent living. Shrinking it before sending it to assisted living is a good first step. Reducing a footprint, by shipping it away to a support company with a disaster-proof datacenter, is the shrink ray magic that can keep MPE alive for years to come.

08:36 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)