OK, so Target is back in the news, and it’s nowhere nearly as bad this time but there’s some posturing and some fluff in the news, so I’ll take it upon myself to demystify some of it. Some of it’s PR fluff, and some of it’s highly technical, so I’ll cut through it.
I’m just glad–I guess–to be talking about this stuff outside of a job interview. Like I said, this time the news isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Continue reading Cutting through the fluff around the Target PIN breach
I’ve been reading David Stephens’ self-published What on Earth is a Mainframe, (also available on Amazon) which is as close to z/OS For Dummies as we’ll ever see.
I deal with mainframes at work from time to time. I interacted with an old IBM mainframe of some sort when I was in college, using it to get on the Internet, do e-mail for classes, and write programs in Pascal. That mainframe has been gone almost 20 years now, but it’s more mainframe experience than most of the people in my department have.
That’s the thing. Mainframes have been on their way out for 20 years–which was why Mizzou retired Mizzou1–but they aren’t any closer to the door now than they were when I was in college. I wouldn’t call it a growth industry, but there are some tasks that haven’t managed to migrate down to smaller iron yet, and if they haven’t by now, maybe they never will. But the universities aren’t producing new mainframe administrators–ahem, IBM calls them system programmers–so while it’s not a growth area from a numbers perspective, it’s a marketable skill that isn’t going away.
That’s where this book helps.
Continue reading What on Earth is a Mainframe?: A review
I’m catching up on reading. Next on my reading list is The Cuckoo’s Egg, (Amazon link), Clifford Stoll’s memoir of chasing down a computer hacker in the late 1980s. In it, he describes a very different world, ruled by mainframes and minicomputers, where Unix was something special, IBM still made PCs, but desktop PCs and Macintoshes only received occasional mention, and academia and the military owned the Internet, almost literally. And, oh, by the way, the Cold War was still raging.
The remarkable thing about this book is that it’s an approachable spy thriller, written in 1989, that explains computer security to an audience that had never seen or heard of the Internet. You don’t have to be a security professional to appreciate it, though it’s a classic in the computer security world–many people read it in the late 1980s and early 1990s and decided to get into the field. Continue reading Hacker chasing, circa 1987
Bill Gates said last week that he regrets the use of Ctrl-Alt-Del as a logon sequence, while David Bradley, the IBM PC engineer who built that feature into the first IBM PC, says he doesn’t know why Microsoft chose to use that sequence for logon anyway.
Both of them, for whatever reason, are forgetting a few things.
Continue reading A non-revisionist take on Ctrl-Alt-Del
I saw an IBM PS/2 Model 55SX at an estate sale this past weekend. It took me back to my first non-food service, non-retail job, doing desktop support at Mizzou.
Well, as a precursor to doing desktop support, they tried me out just building and tearing down machines. I worked out of Room 11, which was at the time a dingy, dark, musty place. But they pay was good and it meant I got to spend my time between classes taking computers apart all day, and that was nice.
My first assignment was to build IBM PC 330 and PC 350 computers to sit on professors’ desks. These were 50 MHz 486DX2s. They were a bit outmoded by then, but they were a lot better than what they were replacing, which was, in most cases, a PS/2 Model 55SX, which was a 386SX running at either 16 or 25 MHz. My second assignment was to disassemble those Model 55SXs, reverting them back to their factory configuration, and sort out all of the add-ins so we could use them to upgrade other machines, and then, sell whatever was left as surplus. Continue reading The 11 Neff Hall chop shop
John Sculley famously fired Steve Jobs in 1985, a move that’s pretty universally panned today. This week, someone asked Sculley about it.
Here’s the money quote:
“He was not a great executive back in those early days. The great Steve Jobs that we know today as maybe the world’s greatest CEO, certainly of our era, he learned a lot in those years in the wilderness.”
Continue reading Sculley on Jobs
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Steve Ballmer is retiring. It’s time. If anything, I agree with the people who say he would have been better off retiring years ago. But I really didn’t expect it. In spite of the immense pressure to step aside, at least in public he never gave any indication of having any intention of doing so.
To a degree it’s understandable. He’s more than set for life, but he’s 57 years old. He’s only worked two years anyplace else–at Proctor & Gamble–since graduating from college. It would seem he could work 10 more years pretty easily. The company is his life.
And I have to believe that if it weren’t for Ballmer, Microsoft could have just as easily flubbed up the IBM deal for PC DOS 1.0–the deal that put Microsoft on the map–as Digital Research did. Ballmer, after all, was the one who told Bill Gates to buy a suit. Early photographs of Microsoft employees that look like a bunch of hippies and transients that have become popular memes date back to before Ballmer joined the company and brought a bit of his alma mater, Harvard Business School, with him. Continue reading Bombshell: Ballmer steps down from Microsoft
I’ve been an Amazon affiliate for more than a decade, which meant that if I mentioned a product, posted a link to Amazon and someone clicked the link and bought it, I got a little bit of money. It didn’t make me rich, but in a good year, I made a couple hundred dollars, which paid for the upkeep of the site.
Well, Amazon and the state of Missouri are fighting, so Amazon is discontinuing the affiliate program for Missouri residents. The loss won’t break me, but by the same token, it’s nice to have that money coming in to pay for things like equipment upgrades. I found Viglink, and I’m going to give that a try.
Continue reading Goodbye Amazon Affiliates, hello Viglink
I’m working right now for a Fortune 25 company. This story is going to sound like bragging, so I’ll ask forgiveness in advance. Maybe if I mention I’m a contractor, then it’s not bragging quite so bad. Continue reading How many Fortune 25 companies does it take to change a light bulb?
An article on Lifehacker this week explained a lot about how I initially became a computer professional. Its advice was to fly by the seat of your pants, try things without guidance or manuals, not be afraid to fail occasionally, and learn before you go to sleep.
So when I spent many nights in my late teens disassembling and reassembling obsolete IBM PC/XT clones to learn how they worked, I was unwittingly doing all of it right.
Continue reading How we learn