The Computer Programmer and the Hopi Elder : LUSENET : Lakes Area 2000 : One Thread


A couple of interesting messages with interesting contrasts. The first is from Cory Hamasaki. Cory is a mainframe computer programmer everyone in "y2k world" pays attention to. He's been working with mainframes for about 30 years, knows his stuff, has a sense of humor. The message comes from a list - an online forum - that serious computer programmers use to talk to each other about the year 2000 problem. Some people "eavesdrop" and once in a while forward something they see.

This is the kind of stuff very few people in the regular world read or hear about. It reflects what some of the people actually working on the problem in a big way (in the belly of the beast), see and think which is often different than what people higher up the "chain of command" see, understand, think, communicate.

There are (basically) four kinds of computers in the world: Mainframes, minis, PCs, and embedded systems (the ones built into everything: cars, ships, planes, buildings (heating air conditioning systems), factory machinery, etc. (billions of them). Mainframes were first computers. The big ones. When you read things like "Enterprise systems," or "big iron" below, that's what's being referred to. I put in a couple of "**** skim zones ****" so you won't have to bang your head trying to figure out what he's saying. It's mostly history/background stuff said in the "language" computer people talk to each other in. MIPS (Millions of computer Instructions Per Second), baud, gigs, cps, blahblahblah. Unimportant.

The main thing about mainframes is they are often at the heart of huge companies and government. Often the backbone of "distributed data processing" (DPS): The mainframe is the company info "repository" and workhouse that's data gets distributed outward to all the desktop PCs throughout the building, buildings, world - wherever the organization has offices. When I go to Bremer Bank and make a deposit the transaction goes from the teller's PC to a mainframe somewhere in Minneapolis or Texas (or somewhere), and gets recorded. Anyway... Main idea is they're "big" (they've got a lot of stuff on them, they do a lot), there's lots of 'em (mainly running huge companies, gov organizations), and not that many people know how to work on them anymore (attrition, retirement, reliability of the systems themselves - no need).

Flint, the person asking the >opening question, is another programmer Cory's responding to.

The second note is self explanatory.

Nice day out.

Until later,

Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 00:01:12 PDT
From: Multiple recipients of list
To: Multiple recipients of list
Subject: Y2KFORUM digest 191

Y2KFORUM Digest 191

Topics covered in this issue include:

1) About Large Systems/Response to Flint from Hamasaki

2) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 16:33:05 -0700 (PDT) To:

Subject: About Large Systems/Response to Flint from Hamasaki

------------------------------------------------------------------------------ This message was posted to csy2k (an online forum computer programmers use to communicate with each other concerning y2k) by cory hamasaki - a good historical overview about large enterprise system challenges that suggests one reason why there are such differences in opinion about impacts from y2k.

The group that still understands these large systems is extremely small, and the fast and flexible networked PC world that distributes the data generated on these mainframes sometimes lacks the history.

Perhaps this will help.


(beginning of original message)

Subject: About Large Systems/Response to Flint.
From: (cory hamasaki)
Date: 1999/04/12
On Mon, 12 Apr 1999 00:21:59, "Flint" wrote:

> Good point. Most of the really gloomy geek outlooks come from the Big
> Enterprise Systems quarter. You've said before that these are the computers
> that do the world's work. And as you point out, embedded people think the
> work is done by machinery, and LAN people think the world is a network.
> If your area is where the big problems really lie, maybe we need a clearer
> idea of what these systems do, and what they do NOT do. Does power
> generation and distribution rely on them? Communications systems? Assembly
> lines? Train switching? Water treatment plants? I'd really like to know.

I may expand on this in a future WRP (this isn't a shill for WRP subscriptions so much as pointing out that some of the WRP ramblin's are reprints from articles here, essentially the same natterings, just more of it. )

Enterprise systems, the big honkin' iron, really got rolling in the 1960s. The model then was a .5 to 1 MIPS box, a quarter to a meg of memory, 500 nanosecond was considered fast, with a half dozen or fewer channels and perhaps a half gig of rotating removeable storage. Printer did 1,000 lines per minute (make it 15 pages/minute).

*********** skim zone **************

The first terminals showed up in this timeframe. Mostly these were typewriters hooked up at 10-15 cps, make it 300 or 600 baud. Interestingly, most peripherals were unbuffered. A characteristic of the IBM S/360 channel was that it could sustain single byte transfers directly into the host's memory without interferring with CPU operations. Byte multiplexor channels handled single and two or three byte transfers very efficiently. The Selector channel did the same for blocked data from faster record oriented devices such as tapes, disks, and drums (or fixed head store).

At the dawn of time, 1964, until the early 1970's, the only game in town were mainframes. Large enterprises computerized by building systems using chisels and hammers. Databases showed up toward the end of the 1960's, as DL/I, IMS, CICS/DB, VSAM, MarkIV. I've met and worked with the architect of VSAM, he likes Startrek.

A high performance database was hand built out of assembly language and DBAM or EXCP. I was there, I used these.

In addition to IBM, RCA's Spectra, GE, Honeywell, Amdahl, Magnusson, Itel, Control Data Corporation and others built mainframes.

In the 1970's, the second leg of enterprise systems forked out, Minicomputers. Data General, Digital, Apollo, Wang, Series/1, System 3, there were others.

Every year, the inventory of code increased. I've never done COBOL. I've held the hands of COBOL programmers and helped them debug their applications. In some circumstances, machine language mechanics can debug and fix code faster than COBOL'ers can. I did a year of Fortran IV, followed by PL/I. I've written fairly large systems in PL/I and even after 15 years on C (and recently C++) can still code PL/I faster and safer than C.

C was a step back and even C++ does not have the expressiveness and power of PL/I, but I digress.

***************** end skim zone **************

1960's things start. 1970's systems get larger but some mini's appear.

In the 1980's a bad thing happens. Mainframes get very large and inexpensive. The mainframe applications get so large that they essentially define the organization. Sometime in the 1980's, IBM finally makes mainframes reliable.

The result is dangerous. The things are cheap, reliable, powerful enough to run entire organizations, and already host the aggregate data and software logic of 20 years of corporate history.

Add to the mix the 1980's PeeCees and Un*x; the new talent is siphoned off. I took the last mainframe computer science graduate level class offered at GWU. This was about 1985. Except for a few schools, there have been no CS graduates who understand mainframes, they all want to click on VB or write the next Quake.

***************** skim zone **************

I was an early adopter of PeeCees. In 1975 my friend, Peter, bought an original Altair, we put an 11 slot processor technology backplane in it, Northstar 5.25 floppy, ran a Zilog 4.0 mHz Z80A; he designed and wirewrapped special purpose cards (which is how I know about 74LSxxx devices, 1x8s, decoders, NAND gates, etc.), I wrote code in Z80 assembler which we burned into 4K EPROMs and sold with his boards. In 1983, we connected his much modified Altair to my brand new IBM PC, wrote an async port driver program in IBM BASICA and Northstar Basic and transferred his files to 180KB IBM 5.25 floppy from his 80KB Northstar. We could have named it Laplink but we didn't think it was worth anything.

(This is why my understanding of microelectronics ends about 1980. Note: the IBM PC is really a 1970's type machine. Everything in it is off the shelf, well tested.)

He junked the system shortly afterward and bought a Leading Edge PC.

***************** end skim zone **************

What do these mainframes do? They do the heavy lifting of commerce. Utterly reliable, fast enough to drive all the corporate data through a single point, dirt cheap to run and maintain. Mainframes are the secret weapon of the Fortune 5,000. There are 50,000 IBM style mainframes. These are supported by 400,000 AS/400s and millions of other midicomputers.

Banking, insurance, manufacturing, reservations, chemicals, electronics, communications, any business that was big in the 1960's and 1970's and has a large records problem depends on its mainframes. Given that, direct satellite TV and perhaps Starbucks are safe.

I recall at one SHARE, bumping into a fellow at SCIDS, he was a mainframe systems internal expert from Playtex, the bra people. If mainframes die, Anna Nicole Smith may be left without support.

Single point of failure. The ideal target. At the beginning, banks and other firms used to proudly display their mainframes in glass rooms at street level. I don't think there has been a hit on a mainframe but the risk is so great that now you will never see a mainframe, unless you work on them.

Mainframes are hidden away behind locked doors. Usually there is no external indication that there is a mainframe at the location. There might be a sign reading XYZ Corp Annex-2 but more likely it's just a street number.

Most people working at firms with mainframes do not know that the system exists. It's a secret.

So now, with an inventory of 50,000 mainframes and 263 Days, 6,335 Hours, we don't have time to find and fix all the source and data.

I believe that there are Fortune 5,000 firms that have not yet started. Perhaps the CIO plans to retire, perhaps he doesn't know, perhaps a consulting firm as promised that they will implement SAP or run the code through a factory. For whatever reason, they have not done the work and will fail on roll over.

I believe that there are Fortune 500 firms that are done. I expected BankBoston to announce completion a few months ago, perhaps their acquistion by Fleet muddied the water. I know of two other Fortune 500 firms that are done, remediated, tested, independently certified. I know when they started and how much effort they applied. I don't know why they haven't announced the "Great News!" Perhaps they are retesting or perhaps my info isn't as good as I thought.

Whatever. Here are the facts. Some large percentage of the systems running on the 50,000 mainframes and several millions of mini's (or midi's) will fail. The nature of the failures will be such that they cannot be fixed, patched, restarted in 3-6 hours. In some cases, these systems will never be fixed, the owning organization will fail and there will not be the resources to execute the repairs.

Experts in embeddeds, LANs, PeeCees, Telcos, power generation, whatever, if your area is fine, good for you. I'm telling you that the enterprise systems are not OK. I expect a major bank to fall over, same with a major insurance company, brokerage house, chemical manufacturer, etc. I am not optimistic about the prospects of any sector. Something bad is about to happen.

Perhaps there is enough parallelism that even when we see multiple failures, as happened with S&L's, we will be able to jump to the surviving firms.

Perhaps when the economy tanks as a result of the widespread failures that we will be able to restart it, as we weren't able to do in 1929-1939.

Who knows, I don't. I'm glad that there are big-brains out there who are certain that everything will be fine. Please, denialists, keep flooding c.s.y2k with your "Great News!", I need the laughs.

Something bad is about to happen.

cory hamasaki 263 Days,

You can view this message and the related discussion by following this link: recnum=%3c7kepWhCNP4qd-pn2-5fIrGHBgFdqd@localhost%3e%231/2

We hope to see you soon at Deja News, the discussion network.

Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 16:33:13 -0700 (PDT) From:

Subject: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This is from Cho Qosh, who spoke at the Oakland Y2k conference in March, forwarded on by Gary Gach.

It is a synopsis of one message that the Hopi Elders have for us now as we face the uncertainties of these times. I find the guidelines extremely useful.



1. Where do you live (not just geographically)?

2. What is it that you do?

3. How are your relationships?

4. Are you in right relation with the Earth?

5. Where is your water?

6. Know your garden (and nature around you).

7. Speak your truth; it is time now.

8. Be good to each other.

9. Don't look outside yourself for the leader.

10. This could be a good time.

-- Bill (, April 28, 1999


This reply to the above note from Lielle Sussman. She works with large industry organizations in Portland, Oregon...

From: "Leille"

Subject: RE: About Large Systems/Response to Flint - hamasaki

Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999

I do not usually get into discussion at this kind of detail - but do want to add my two-penneth worth - and naturally, it is just another opinion to add to the pot...

I have worked on mainframes, done significant cobol coding and managed major projects in this arena. My experience with many fortune 100 companies and IS staff suggests the following. 1-these IS people are probably the most senior and experienced staff of all with detailed systems and application knowledge, 2- troubleshooting, while difficult, can be rapid, also the opposite :)! -- but we usually can come up with some bandaid to limp around for awhile, and 3-I believe these are the companies who wil be the most prepared with contingency plans, expectations for problems, staff on hand and physically and emotionally prepared. I think there is an incredible effort going on, with less than anticipated problems, and my expectation is that problems will start occuring before 1/1. This should mitigate the potential impacts.

Now having said all that positive 'stuff' (technical term ) I have to say I am appalled at how really knowledgeable, experienced and educated people are thoroughly discounting the potentially devastating impact of our interconnectedness - and our lack of ability to plan and communicate.I really appreciated and agreed with Doug Carmichael's comments on the impact on our families - and I suggest that differences of opinions between partners is a model of why this is so hard and frustrating. I actually think that what we are experiencing now, in our disconnect on the seriousness and urgency of Y2k, the various perceptions and actions being promulgated, and the extent of the range of opionions is a model for what is to come. We will move closer together because we will have live situations to respond to -- but we will have the same human responses that we have now - and that includes different agendas, differing priorities, chaotic communications and different value systems - at a global level. I am a New Zealander (been here for 20 years in Portland Oregon and consider myself a native) and have family all around the world. I believe our foreign dependence is significantly understated and the global impact will be extremely negative.

I really have no prediction what will happen, but the RISKS are real, significant, and could so easily be realised - either directly or indirectly. My gut feeling is that things will not change overnight. We will have breakdowns,but we will see people rise to the challenge and we will see phenomenal and effective response to immediate problems, but that over an extended period of time we are going to feel changes in many areas, resulting in significant pain for many people.

I poll attendees at my presentations and the lack of completion of fixes and lack of preparedness scares - and saddens me. I hope the impacts will be minimal but I am working as hard as I can to to play my role in reducing impacts. And other than that have to let the rest go... Regards to all and thanks for the comprehensive and thought- provoking messages you all write..

-- Bill (, April 30, 1999.

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