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An UnCommon History Published by: Bob Cozzi on 04 Oct 2011 view comments(2)
© 2011 Robert Cozzi, Jr. All rights reserved.

© Robert Cozzi, Jr. All rights reserved. Reproduction/Redistribution prohibited.
A midrangeNews.com Publication

COMMON at 51 - Cozzi 53

An UnCommon History

It is an interesting thing when you are a 21-year old computer prodigy, working in a shop with 2 mainframes and a brand new IBM System/34 and you hear about COMMON A User Group.

I attended my first COMMON User Group meeting in Cleveland, Ohio in 1980. It was their 20th Anniversary--I still have the "paper weight" give-away around here somewhere. As I said, I was 21 years old at the time and really ate up the content of that event.

The three biggest highlights from that conference are still fresh in my mind, remember this was the first business trip for a 20-something.

Sponsored by: BCD Software

(1) Video Games. The demonstration of a program named something like "Star Trek" or "Star Base" which was a cool little character-based video game that ran on System/34. I seem to recall that it was originally written in Assembly, but was being announced at COMMON as being rewritten in "good old RPG" -- everyone applauded.

(2) Being Mobbed. I was approached by dozens of members for information on a new "keystroke verification" system I created using the popular WSU (Workstation Utility) language. An IBMer asked the question during the Q&A session "How does one do keystroke verification?" I answered with "I wrote one and it works great." As soon as the session ended, everyone turned to the back of the room and headed towards me. Remember, the industry was only just starting to move off of 80-column punch cards--and you folks who think it all started with 96-column cards or 8 inch diskettes are probably reading this on your Sony Betamax Computer.

(3) The People. At that event, I met John Sears, Jim Sloan and the COMMON Board. I also met several COMMONers who only recently stopped attending the event. I believe Charlie Massoglia still goes to COMMON but I heard his employer is moving to SAP, so that era may soon be over as well.

Career Move

Upon returning to work the week following that Cleveland COMMON event, I got a call from a head hunter suggesting that an RPGIII job was opening up at a local telecommunications company, but it was for System/38. I had heard the System/38 Announcement while at my prior employer where I worked as a Computer Operator and had a boss who said "Bob, you'll never be good at programming" which caused me to look for another opportunity--what a dumbass!

So I made the decision to move but I really liked my present employer. So I asked for more money than the new firm was offering--effectively doubling my salary at the time. They said "okay" and I never looked back.

The next COMMON event was in San Diego California. Unfortunately the time was such that I was new at my new employer and the IT Director was actually visiting that COMMON meeting himself. But I got to go to the next one, I believe was in Chicago--so I could drive into the Conference each morning and drive back home.

It was there that I first joined the Resolutions Team. Today they refer to it as Requirements, however its just not the same--back then the system would barely do anything so there were hundreds of resolutions and people lobbied for their favorites--all in the name of improving the System/38. And yes, we used to write them down on a yellow notepad.

Chicago may have even been the site of the birth of the infamous Fountain Hoping excursions. Once each COMMON for nearly a decade, several of us would go out after Resolutions were put to bed and look for a City Fountain. We would then proceed to enjoy the fountain beyond the scope of local ordinances. Then we'd go look for a second victim, uh, fountain and repeat the activities.

It was just before that conference where I decided to start up a newsletter for System/38 programmers. At the conference I asked a few questions and found out what was important to people. I hadn't actually started publishing anything yet, that was to come a few months before the Miami Beach conference.

In Miami Beach COMMON was interesting. I had people come up and say they'd subscribed to Q38 and enjoyed it. A lot of people learned about the newsletter at that event too. It was very satisfying.

At the next conference (I don't remember where it was held) I decided to do my first lecture. Back then you had to make your own copies of your presentation and bring them with you to give to your audience. The copy machine at my employer supported up to 99 copies at a time, so I figured, that should be plenty.

So I lugged them to COMMON and prepared to speak on QCAEXEC and other "APIs". Remember, QCMDEXC is basically QCAEXEC by for the AS/400 vs System/38.

I was pretty surprised to see more than 200 attendees at my very first lecture. There were complaints then about not having enough "hand outs" as they call them. That trend never really resolved itself until I started publishing them as PDF files on the website only a few years ago.

The interesting thing about that first lecture, I was so naive that I did not even know about stage fright. I started out the lecture and about 15 minutes into it, I realized my jaw was trembling and my face was sweating. I didn't know what was going on--I thought I had caught the flu.

It took about 6 lectures before these nerves disappeared during the lecture itself. They gracefully moved up to the night before so I always got a fever the evening before lecturing. What a great time. :)

But then came the 1988 era. In 1988 all that went away and I evolved the Q38 newsletter into Midrange magazine. There was several copycats out there--none are around anymore--but I was first and received the Registered Trademark on the word MIDRANGE.

COMMON Hollywood Florida was held in the Spring of 1988. Many people attended because back then you couldn't get the latest news on new computer equipment until until the next issue of Midrange or Computer World or Small Systems World was published. People wanted to know about this wonder box IBM was not-so secretly developing. You may remember some of its code names, such as Silver Lake, Summit, Mt Rushmore. We mostly called it Silver Lake.

Unfortunately AS/400 wasn't announced at COMMON Spring 1988 so we yet again, had to wait. Then on or about June 21 1988 in New York IBM introduced to much fanfare, the AS/400. The cast of the MASH TV show introduced it to the rest of the world via TV advertising. The only time in history I remember IBM actually marketing this platform.

The next COMMON conference was in Toronto. It held the COMMON attendance record for more than a decade. It was also about that time that I self-published "The Modern RPG Language". Everyone wanted to learn about the new box and there were lots of RPGII programmers who wanted to learn RPGIII. Doing The Modern RPG book was a good decision with great timing.

The AS/400 was hardware running a redeveloped System/38 operating system. System/38 ran CPF (Control Program Facility) while the new AS/400 ran OS/400. Iit also ran System/36 SSP programs and OCL natively--well in the S36E Environment.

Just to show you how humans do NOT like change, at a client I'm working with today, I am still struggling with its legacy S/36 sorts, RPGII logic cycle report and CL; all converted from S/36 and OCL--it's a nightmare! Not what I thought I'd be dealing with 23 years after it was made obsolete.

The next thing COMMON did for our world is provide a platform where we could demand that IBM create RPG IV. Myself and two other prominent COMMON members pushed IBM hard to improve RPGIII. They heard us and the result is the RPG IV language you use today. I might be so brazen to say that if it weren't for my pushing IBM to create RPG IV, we'd be coding legacy RPGIII today while trying to move to C or perhaps even Java.

Before shipping RPGIV, the IBM manager came to me and another COMMON member and asked "We're going to announce this thing soon, so what should we call it? I'm getting push back on certain names, but what do you think?" I said without hesitation "RPGIV". His responce: "RPGIV it is".

In or around 1995 IBM launched RPG IV. The idea was simple, make it work like RPGIII with a few new features--but the biggest challenge for me was to convince IBM that they had to give us an option in PDM to compile an RPG IV program. I said "If you don't allow us to type option 14, and press Enter to create a program, no one will use RPGIV."  Turns out they added CRTBNDRPG for RPGIV which is behind PDM option 14, and also created similar commands for all the other programming languages as well.

Once we got people using RPGIV, IBM could start feature-creep, and they did, almost too slowly and then too fast. We have new features from nearly every release of the operating system making it difficult to maintain applications in a mixed OS-level environment. "Is this feature support on V5R2? No, it is there in V6R1."  Not very customer friendly at all, which is the number one reason why RPG IV programmers write code without leveraging 80% of the new features--either they don't know about them, or they tried them at they didn't work on their release of the operating system.

After another year or so I decided I didn't want to be in the paper magazine business and unloaded most of Midrange magazine to my competitors. I continued to attend COMMON but had been also doing my old Seminar for a decade. In about 1998 I secured RPGIV.com and considered other sites as well--but that was an opportunity lost. I also continued do lectures at User Groups, including COMMON, and doing my own events as well as on-site training. Even though I was now out of the publishing business, I certainly stayed close to what developers where doing.

Since I was semi-retired (colleagues' words, not mine) but still attending COMMON, the membership pushed me to run for the COMMON Board of Directors. I was elected and within 2 years and nearly 20-years to the day, in the year 2000, I was elected President.

During my first term as President the Conference was held in San Diego--I fitting location since the only conference I had missed since 1980 was the one held in San Diego back in 1981. That conference also broke the attendance record, which it still holds today. In addition, I made some serious cuts in the budget in order to turn COMMON's failing fiscal policies around--seems they thought they had a blank check. COMMON a 501(c)3 not-for-profit Corp. was, to be kind, loosing a lot of money each year. Fortunately I was able to turn things around. But once I left office, the fiscal responsibility also seemed to vanish.

San Diego was also the conference before COMMON's 40th Anniversary. We had ask COMMON's primary sponsor for some support for that event, but it was HP who stepped up and sponsored several give-aways. So I called IBM into a meeting in my Presidential Suite at the conference hotel, and served coffee. That coffee was served in custom glass mugs imprinted with "COMMON 40th Anniversary" and the HP logo. I didn't say anything but shortly after the IBM Executive looked at the mug and said "Hmm, COMMON, sponsored by HP" I told him "Oh yes, we asked IBM for funding for our 40th Anniversary party in Baltimore, but they turned us down, so HP is going to sponsor it." Not another word about it was said during that meeting.

About 3 weeks later I got a call from our IBM liaison who told me IBM had decided to give us, effectively a blank check for our 40th Anniversary celebration. I handed it off to our COMMON staff and our IBM support team and we produced a fantastic anniversary party that cost IBM somewhere north of $250,000. Not bad considering just one of the customers at that event had spent 3 times that amount on new AS/400 (I mean eserver iSeries) equipment that year.

After that I started working more closely with my own conferences. Then in around 2005 I partnered with some former IBMers and relaunched my seminar as RPG World. This conference was designed based on what RPG developers wanted and could get approved from their management.  It quickly became a model used by most other non-COMMON conferences and seminars. Later, COMMON also decided to use this model for some of their events.

As RPG World became more popular, I decided I would retire from COMMON--after all 20+ years is long enough. It was time to hand off some of the things I did at COMMON to the next generation. In or about 2006 I discontinued attending--although I have returned to visit for a day or two since then.

Then in 2008 the recession hit and attendance at RPG World and all other events fell off. Some are only now recovering but for the most part people look to on-line training and new sources to get their information. This is why I started MidrangeNews.com -- to continue my legacy of sharing information with RPG developers.

Whether or not you attend COMMON (its a great organization) or present at COMMON or don't have budget to attend any training conferences I would like midrangeNews.com to be your source for information and training while you're at the office.

I've recently launched our Discussion Forum, and while it is evolving into a great resource there is also content on this site that I've created and published for your use.

I have a legacy of supporting our RPG IV and midrange platform developers. MidrangeNews.com is my continuation of that legacy. 

Tell your friends and things will only get better.



Call Me

Bob Cozzi has been providing the solutions to midrange problems, in the form or articles and books since 1983. He is available for consulting/contract development or on-site RPG IV, SQL, and CGI/Web training. Currently many shops are contracting with Cozzi for 1 to 3 days of Q&A and consulting with their RPG staff. Your staff gets to ask real-world questions that apply to their unique development situations. To contact Cozzi, send an email to: bob at rpgworld.com

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Posted by: mcunning
Premium member *
Comment on: RPG Report - 04 OCT 2011
Posted: 8 years 5 months 29 days 9 hours 8 minutes ago

Sounds like we have much in COMMON. I'm at 56 and started on this platform when the S/38 was first announced. The college I word for actually delayed a bid opening until IBM made the announcement and could bid a S/38. We got (and still have) and very low serial number. When we first got the system I had just left an operator position and was a Jr Programmer. We used a screen utility that came with S/38 to build our first "online" (then "online" was a 5250 terminal on twinax) scheduling application to replace punched cards. Still with the platfotm and now a CIO/VP and hope to never leave.

Posted by: bobcozzi
Site Admin ****
Comment on: RPG Report - 04 OCT 2011
Posted: 8 years 5 months 28 days 20 hours 55 minutes ago

Yep, this was an interesting view of the IT world evolution from where we sit.