“Oh, so you think you’re Mr. Genius Man,” the crackly voice said, drowned out by static caused by his cheap VOIP connection. “Enjoy your broken computer, Mr. Genius Man. Goodbye, Mr. Genius Man.”
So ended 23 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back, but I figure it’s 23 minutes he wasn’t spending scamming someone else. I don’t do it often, but my kids were playing nicely and we were all in the same room, so I guess I don’t regret it too much. Continue reading Windows Technical Support calls me again
It was 50 years ago this month that IBM released the first modern mainframe, the System/360. The System/360 was notable for being the first series of systems built with interchangeable parts, rather than being custom-built. It’s also notable because its direct descendants are still in production: In the 1970s, it became the System/370, the System/390 in the 90s, and the z series today. The systems originally ranged from 1 MHz to 50 MHz in speed, and came with anywhere from 8 KB to 8 MB of RAM. To put that in perspective, the low-end model was comparable in power to an early Apple II desktop computer from 1977, and the high-end model was comparable in power to the 486 PCs we ran Windows 3.1 on in the 1993-94 timeframe. Or you could compare it to one of my souped-up Amigas, if you prefer (I do). But the same software that ran on the low-end model would run on the high-end model, and there’s a pretty good chance that software from the 1960s will run on a modern Z series mainframe today, with little to no modification.
Twenty years ago this architecture was supposed to be on its way out, but it never really went away. IBM keeps modernizing it, so I expect z/OS has a long life ahead of it. It’s entrenched, and when technology gets entrenched, there’s no getting rid of it.
There isn’t much new, young mainframe expertise in training these days, and it turns out there are certain jobs that mainframes do better than smaller PCs do. Most large companies have at least one mainframe, and it’s not going anywhere, but the people who can care for it and feed it are retiring fast. If you want some job security, you can do a lot worse than learning everything you can about IBM Z series mainframes in addition to the other things you know.
I’m reading a book called Trade-Off, by former USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney. It’s primarily a marketing book.
Maney argues that all products are a balance of fidelity and convenience, and highly favor one or the other. He additionally argues that failed products fail because they attempted to achieve both, or failed to focus on either one.
An example of a convenient product is an economy car. They’re inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to keep fueled up, but don’t have much glitz and you probably won’t fall in love with it. A high-end sports car or luxury car is a lot less practical, but you’re a lot more likely to fall in love with it, and gain prestige by driving around town in it. Continue reading The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company
I read Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive last week. I always figured it was an autobiography or memoir, not a business book. But it’s a business book. A very good one.
I avoided it because I didn’t like Andy Grove. I’ve never been a fan of Intel’s business practices during the 1990s and 2000s, including using payola to keep competitors’ chips out of large computer systems, but after reading this book, I’m more disappointed than anything. Whichever company had Andy Grove wins, period. No need to cheat. Continue reading Getting past your own biases
Articles like Top 10 collectibles for value, from the Post-Dispatch this week, frequently make me nervous, mostly because of statements like this one:
[D]id you know that computer parts can bring home cash, too?
Statements like that tend to get people’s hopes up way too high. I find the timing interesting though, seeing as a TRS-80 Model 1 sold at a St. Louis estate sale this past weekend. The estate seller’s reaction? “Normally you can’t give that stuff away.”
Continue reading The Post-Dispatch may be giving the wrong idea about the dollar value of vintage computers
It’s the Mac’s 30th birthday. Everyone knows that, unless they’ve been under a rock. But I don’t think anyone would hold it against you if you didn’t know it’s also the IBM PCjr’s 30th birthday.
The PCjr is one of the biggest flops in computing history. Few people know much more about it than that. Continue reading Happy 30th birthday, PCjr!
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