Monthly Archives: September 2012

Black Ops

Way back in 1997, give or take a year, I was a computer operator in a mid-range shop (AS400).  We all start somewhere.  One day, a marketing/sales/developer (I’m not sure what his role or title was) inquires if I might be able to extract and render readable to humans a ‘flat file’ that was contained on this reel-to-reel tape he had from another company’s main frame.

Another company’s main frame.
I see.

At this point my technical friends know where this is going.  A flat file, written on reel-to-reel tape is sort of like a paper scroll containing all of the contact information for a long list of clients, separated only by a dash or a comma (delimited).  Only the paper scroll was 1/2 inch magnetic tape and it was written in a foreign language.

Because I was a bad-ass operator and versed in three different systems (main frame, AS400 and PC’s) I took on the project.

I was drinking vodka at the time.  That might have been a factor, too.

1997, folks. We’re talking the infancy of the internet.  Windows 95.  My PC was a 486/40.

No, there were no typos. It was a pre-Pentium processor and ran at 40 MHz. Single core. The output medium was to be 3 1/2 inch floppy disk.  In Fox Pro (trust me, it sucks).

And you bitch about having last year’s iPhone or Droid.

But there was a lot of work to do before that. First, I mounted (screw you) the reel on the AS400 and loaded the information into my system.  The AS400 could read EBCDIC, but it couldn’t display the information properly because it was from a different system (nobody had figured out the compatibility thing as of yet).  Then I called up an acquaintance of mine, a main frame operator at the parent company and enlisted his shadowy assistance.

I uploaded the file to his system where he created an AS400 readable version, which I downloaded to my system (…heh, heh, heh…).  Next, I converted the AS400 version into an ASCII file.

I sent that file to – get this – the Novel file server (version 3.1).  From there I connected via my PC, imported it into Fox Pro (an ancient database application predating Microsoft Access), saved it to disk and presented it, smirking confidently, to Mr. White.

No, really, his name was Mr. White.
I was, obviously, Mr. Black, as in ‘black ops’.

The next day he knocked on the computer room door and presented me with my quid pro quo, as it were.  A sack of 12 ripe limes, which I used to abundantly garnish several evening’s worth of cocktails.

What kind of cocktails, I hear you asking?  Vodka and club soda, double (or triple) lime.

Sure, thinking back on it all I should have pushed for two dozen.  It was quite a feat of data processing.

Now, I’m sure someone, somewhere, (pro’ly you, Hammerhead, or Brian, or Sander), are saying, ‘What’s the big deal?  I can convert OS/2 main frame JCL to EBCDIC and then to ASCII with this free app on my iPad, all the while playing ‘Words with Friends’, in Yiddish, no less.

But I won’t hear any of it.  First, this is a text application and your comments will be recorded as such.  Second, if either of you call me I know you’re going to bitch about this post, so I won’t answer.  And third…eat me.

At the time it was like converting one language to another and then to another using an abacus, a view-finder and an etch-a-sketch.  Not only had nobody in the company done it before, nobody thought it could be done.

But what the fark did I know? I was just an operator.


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