midrange.com – In My Humble Opinion

Words of wisdom and insight from the IBM i (System i / iSeries / AS400) community

Let me start off by saying that my server crashed just before the first of the month (taking most of my unread e-mail with it), and if I haven’t replied to you by now I’m probably not going to. I still have everything saved, but AOL doesn’t seem to want to read it. An upgrade to AOL 5.0 on my Win ’98 machine appears to be impossible, yet the only way to retrieve downloaded but unread mail. Since I’ve railed against AOL before, I’ll discuss newly discovered peeves instead.

Peeve number one, Compaq. For those of you that weren’t around prior to Dell, Compaq was Dell on steroids back in the 80’s. Tiny green screen, keyboard that snapped over that screen and the 5 1/4″ drive(s) to allow it to be portable (compact, as it were). The fact that Compaq ran DOS rather than CP/M, coupled with their production capabilities, allowed them to exceed everyone except IBM in the production of “PC compatible” systems and to toast CP/M rivals like Cromemco and Osborne and DOS rival Kaypro. How Compaq could put out such a cruddy machine now (yep, that’s the server that crashed) parallels the company’s stock price.

Number two, badmouthing of consultants. Actually, this is nothing new but seems to have taken on a darker tone of late. Rather than defend my own position, which would then require further defense against those that would “pick nits”, I’ll say this — if you don’t like consultants, you’ve had more than one bad one. If you’ve only had one bad one and still dislike consultants in general, then you’re guilty of gross generalization. Just don’t paint all of us with the same brush.

Peeve number three, the so-called H1-B visa “controversy”. We ran out of these allotments earlier this year than ever before, yet businesses are screaming for more. Why? Nearly every consultant and contractor I know that is out of work has been so for quite some time, and these are GOOD people as opposed to Y2K opportunists. Despite an unemployment rate of 1.4% in my geographical area, IS job listings have been at an all time low around here for the past several months. The only “need” for H1-B visas that I and others see is a need to pay people less than market wages for equivalent work. If area companies like SAS, IBM, Red Hat, Nortel, Cisco and the like need high-tech workers, perhaps they should advertise in the local paper instead of lobbying congress. Back when I had a “real” job (and unemployment wasn’t nearly so low), the paper regularly ran classifieds for computer jobs in excess of five pages. I often caution those coming here from overseas about the business practices of those sponsoring them — it appears that my fears of exploitation for the latter are still valid.

ULTIMATE peeve — “the new economy”. There IS NO “new” economy! There are new companies and technologies in which persons unqualified to do so (because they don’t understand the industry) are investing great bags of cash in the hope of a large return, but these are no more “new economy” than the bloated stock price of Microsoft or the “plastics” from the days of “The Graduate”. Plastics did well long-term, but not as well as they did the first two weeks after that movie opened. Wall Street is legalized gambling, plain and simple. They try to woo you with numbers and statistics but, if you’re betting on a single winner “du jour”, you’d be better off at the track. Long term investments are good stuff, but don’t let anyone fool you into believing in this “new economy” horse emission. The NASDAQ proved it today, but it will take a long-term beating of the idiots that drove companies like Amazon.com over $100 per share to get the idea through everyone’s head. P/E ratios cannot be ignored just because a company has “dot com” at the end of its’ name, nor should a company be allowed to be in business for nearly five years without making a profit and still make up a portion of someone’s retirement fund…

JMHO,

Dean

A great deal of bandwidth has been expended on both MIDRANGE-L and other forums regarding IBM’s advertising (or lack thereof) of the AS/400. The whole “Magic Box” campaign, oft referred to as the “Tragic Box” campaign, appears to have been an attempt to keep those that managed to ruin the fantastic chance OS/2 had to eclipse Windows gainfully employed.

Personally, I’ve been a big detractor of IBM advertising of the AS/400 myself. New directors of the AS/400 come forward offering ad campaigns, only to be quashed by “the powers that be” in Armonk. Anyone attend the New Orleans COMMON where the AS/400 was featured daily in ad’s in the “Times-Picayune”? Out of those, how many actually saw an ad in a local paper? I really WANTED to believe Tom Jarosh when he stated that AS/400 advertising was “going mainstream”, but felt deep down that it would never happen. I was right. I even heard a few local ad’s on the radio afterward — for about a month — yet never saw a single one in the paper that I read cover-to-cover every weekend here at home (where all of IBM’s PC production resides). No wonder I looked askance at the IBM representative in San Francisco when she claimed that Jarosh couldn’t attend this COMMON because he was in Armonk “fighting for the AS/400″. To be fair, I DID receive quite a bit of material and contact information during that particular “Soundoff” regarding getting AS/400 education into my local community college.

Even “Tragic Box” emphasized NetFinity (on which IBM has yet to figure out how to make a profit) and the S/390 (which is still completely misrepresented as a web machine). What about the midrange? I started griping about AS/400 advertising when I saw 390/6000/NetFinity ads without the AS/400 in the “mainstream” press. Now, even the RS/6000 (a poor machine to begin with) is missing — how “Deep Blue” could be represented as an RS/6000 is a mystery to me to this very day. The midrange as a whole seems to be conspicuously absent from today’s advertising by IBM.

Taking an open view, though, current hardware sales pale in comparison to the overall health of IBM. The company still leads the world in patents (thank goodness), but has really focused on the “Global Services” division as far as business is concerned. Paying third-party consultants less that they can make on their own may work for now, but not forever. Either directly (through ownership or training) or indirectly (through 401(k) or mutual funds), we in the US all own a piece of IBM. Their move away from hardware is understandable in a booming economy, but hardware is what sells in a recessive one. In a depressed economy, companies tend to not “give a hoot” about your high priced consultants when all they really NEED is a computer that runs mission-critical applications faster.

IBM cannot continue to alienate the veritable LEGIONS of loyal customers and technicians that service its’ machines. Where IS the IBM that we all know and love? Can Mr. Gerstner continue to promote profits over product during the next several years? I don’t think so. Could the AS/400 be a cornerstone of an improved hardware offering from IBM? Yes, with a few improvements of its’ own. Should we that earn a living on the AS/400 be upset with its marketing? Yes. Will those that don’t learn JAVA be “flipping burgers” instead of programming? I doubt it, if you were any good to begin with.

Wherefore art thou, IBM? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, yet the rose that buoys most of our careers and retirement plans tends to stink of late. Wall Street knoweth you not as do we who strive in your dark bastions, making your name a success and your prowess unopposed. Global Services may earn you a passing profit, but it is indeed your hardware and the dedication of thousands that DO NOT work for “Global Services” that keeps you in the forefront of the technological revolution. Why hath thou forsaken us?

This is NOT really what Dean looks likeTomorrow is my birthday. Other than the (so far unverifiable) fact that that it will be the brightest full moon since the Lakota Sioux supposedly took advantage of it in 1866, a nonevent overall other than that it’s also the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere and that the space shuttle should be about 1/3 through their repair of the Hubbell space telescope. I’m “the Dad” with a birthday too close to Christmas. “Dads” tend to not get too many birthday presents anyhow, and having one this close to Christmas is a “double whammy”.

By the time you read this, the consummate IT event –Y2K, will be over. You’ll either be doing what I plan to do, making jokes at the expense of those that spent thousands of dollars on bunkers, ammunition, gasoline, and canned goods, or you’re trying to buy your way into the local “SPAM smorgasbord” (assuming you actually HAVE any money) without getting shot and I’m wishing I had a generator powerful enough to operate just the pump on my well. Either way, the computers aren’t the problem, are they? Goods and services, that’s where the REAL money is.

As I work a client site prior to the Y2K event, I wonder. “Why do we need Y2K to fault computer systems?” Just today, and nothing to do with Y2K issues, my client’s client/server-based order management system failed. Again. It’s been doing so with great regularity for the past eight months and has no relation to their ERP system other than a recently announced cooperative agreement and a few ODBC connections. A serious bug was discovered in our ERP system that is fully AS/400-based in this regard, and also had no relation to Y2K. The payroll package failed, again, with a decimal data error on some employee record that it will take a week to find — assuming we find it at all — and is also unrelated to Y2K. Fifteen Windows-based PC’s stopped working, and one of those required a reload of the OS — again, nothing to do with Y2K. Using an AS/400 utility to scan a file for a specific value, I missed a record that I shouldn’t have because the utility doesn’t function correctly if you prompt field names a second time. The latter problem has been around for a number of years, but I keep forgetting about it.

My question is, who needs Y2K given the stuff we have to work with on a daily basis? Can Y2K blow things up worse than they already do? I don’t think so, but guess we all know the answer to that question by now. Personally, I don’t see how Y2K can be any worse than dealing with what we already have. Even the imminently “Up” AS/400 failed last week without reason, and we’re still waiting on IBM to attach meaning to the dump tape that the system so generously created without prompting.

Wanna give me a birthday present? Give me some software that works well on a consistent basis — or maybe a can of SPAM…

IMNSHO,

Dean Asmussen

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