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Friday, November 26, 2010

Influencing the Heavens

While it's a lot of fun hanging out with fellow priests discussing liturgy, I think the most fun I've ever had was walking the hallways of mecca itself and getting to talk to the angels and minions of our lord Ib'm. (Especially building 20, which is a football field size room filled with our lord's most holy systems.) It's also very satisfying to know that you've had an influence in such an august environment. My instance of influence was tiny, but no less satisfying.

My support angel had arranged it all. I gave him a list of the subjects and problem areas I wanted to discuss and he set up all of the meetings. What I remember most clearly is that every angel or minion that I met said something along the lines of "this is great, we never get to speak to our ministerial brethren." After awhile I started to conclude that our lord Ib'm made it an unspoken policy to keep them all in darkness writing code away from the light of earthly interaction.

I talked to a lot of people that day and it was a whole lot of years ago, so I don't remember everything that was discussed or every person I met. I do remember speaking to angels and minions involved with PTFs, command definitions, message handling, journaling, work management, CL programming, and request message processing. There are several salient areas that stood out.

The Command Definition angel actually remembered my name because he'd worked on a lot of the PMR's I'd opened over the years. When I thought about it later I figured he was probably also the one that I had argued with on the phone for over an hour about a fix to command prompting that was made on the AS/400, but wasn't done quite as well on the System/38. (If you're reading this now, I'm sorry about that.)

At one point I walked past some cubicles talking with another minion when the hairiest angel I'd ever seen poked his head above the wall and exclaimed "you're a priest? I've never seen a priest before." (It was the theme du jour.) I felt a small pang of jealously because I of course had to cut my hair to get a job. He seemed so happy to see me I had to go over and shake his hand. He said he wrote microcode and judging from his appearance and general demeanor I have to admit that I wasn't the least bit surprised. I'll bet his code was tighter than most.

We'd been having a problem with Mimixing file records to another system. We were using commitment control and therefore everything was journaled, but we were only Mimixing a small subset of files to the other system. Consequently when Mimix was plowing through the journal receivers looking for something to replicate, it got down deep into the microcode, took over the CPU, and didn't come up for air very often. (The minions of our lord Ib'm closed my APAR on that issue as "working as designed".)

At that time a file could only be attached to one journal at a time and one of the requests I'd made of the journaling angel was for the ability to attach a file to more than one journal. With this feature we could journal those files being Mimixed to a 2nd journal and Mimix could then plow through that secondary journal and not take over the system. He said he thought it was a good idea, but he wouldn't say when or if it would ever be available.

In a subsequent release that feature was made available. However with that release the AS/400 also supported two-phase commit and this new feature was a side-effect of that support, so I can't say that I had any influence on the decision. The journaling angel probably knew this support was coming, but wasn't able to reveal it to me at that time.

I also remember speaking to an angel who was responsible for CL and Request Processing. I had designed a lot of applications that processed sub-file options using commands, so every program was a request processor similar QCL or QCMD. The problem I was having was that some commands had password parameters and I wasn't able to hide the parameter's contents using the QCMDEXC API in my request processors.

I asked him if a CL API could be created where I'd give it the message ID of a logged request message and it would handle the execution, prompting, and redaction of sensitive data. He too said he thought it was a good idea, but of course wouldn't commit to it. In a future release the QCAPCMD API appeared and it was exactly what I needed to resolve my issue. Of course that API does a great many different things with various CL environments so I can't be sure that my request had any influence.

The only request I made during that visit where I'm absolutely sure I had a direct influence was with the crew of Work Management minions that I met with. Unlike everyone else in the building they were all wearing ties. I couldn't resist asking them if their manager had made them put them on for my visit and they sheepishly admitted that he had. Meeting with them was fun and afterwards they took me on a tour of the fabled building 20.

One of the Work Management problems my shop was having was with duplicate job names. An operator would enter WRKJOB MYUSERID/MYJOBNAME and the system would send 25 or 50 messages listing all of the jobs whose name and user ID were MYUSERID/MYJOBNAME. Then they'd have to search through the job log and write down the job number (this was in the age of dumb tubes, so copy/paste wasn't possible) and enter it on the command to view the job. Since the messages didn't say anything about when those jobs had been started the operators would invariably pick the wrong job number, and so they'd have go through the list again and pick another one, and on, and on, ad infinitum. It was a pain in the butt.

The three of them didn't think there were any good solutions for this issue given how the commands were already set up. I asked if it was possible that when there were duplicate jobs the command could display a screen where the user could select the job they wanted from a list. One of them exclaimed "Oooh! That's a good idea" and immediately wrote it down. In the very next release the DSPJOB and WRKJOB commands both had a new parameter named DUPJOBOPT (Duplicate Job Option) whose default value was *SELECT. It's the only change to the system where I'm absolutely sure I had an influence.

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