Blowing the Dust off of an IBM AS/400 Server

If you’ve never seen an IBM AS/400 machine, don’t feel bad. Most people haven’t. Introduced in 1988 as a mid-range server line, it used a unique object-based operating system and was geared specifically towards business and enterprise customers. Unless you’re a particularly big fan of COBOL you probably won’t have much use for one today, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth playing around with if the opportunity presents itself.

So when a local IT company went belly up and was selling their old hardware, including a late 90’s era IBM AS/400e Series, [Rik te Winkel] jumped at the chance to take this unique piece of computing history home. He knew it was something of a risk, as maintenance and repair tasks for these machines were intended to be done by IBM certified technicians rather than the DIYer, leaving little in the way of documentation or even replacement parts. But in the end it worked out, and best of all, he documented the successful process of dragging this 90’s behemoth into the blinding light of the twenty-first century for all the world to see.

After getting the machine home and sitting through its thirty minute boot process, [Rik] was relieved to see the code 01 B N pop on the server’s display. This meant the system passed all the internal checks and was ready to go, he just had to figure out how to talk to the thing. Built to be a pure server, the machine didn’t offer any video output so he’d have to log into it over the network.

[Rik] noted that there was no new DHCP entry in his router for the server, but of course that was hardly surprising as the machine would have certainly had a static IP when it was in use. So he shut the server down, plugged it directly into his laptop’s Ethernet port, and watched the output of Wireshark as it went through its arduous boot sequence. Eventually he started to pick up packets coming from the IP address, and he had his target.

There are a few clients out there that allow you to remotely log into an AS/400, so he downloaded one and pointed it to the server’s IP. He was surprised to see the operating system was apparently in Dutch, but at least he was in. He tried a few common usernames and passwords, helped along by the fact that this OS from a somewhat more innocent era will actually tell you if you have the username right or wrong, and eventually managed to hack the Gibson with the classic admin/admin combo.

So he was in, but now what? [Rik] decided that he couldn’t truly call this machine bested until he could pull up the Hackaday Retro Edition, so he started work on writing a program to let him pull down the page directly on the AS/400 in IBM’s proprietary Report Program Generator (RPG) programming language. You know, as one does. He didn’t quite feel up to writing a whole HTML parser, but he got as far as generating a HTTP GET request, downloading the page’s source, and opening it up as a local file. That’s good enough for us.

Our very own [Al Williams] documented his adventures poking around an Internet-connected AS/400 machine, which might serve as a helpful primer if you ever find one of these delightfully oddball computers kicking around the local recycling center.

Disrupting The Computer Industry Before it Existed: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

The feature of being easier to write than assembly is often seen as the biggest advantage of high-level programming languages. The other benefit that comes with them is portability. With high-level languages, algorithms can be developed independently from the underlying hardware. This allows software to live on once the hardware becomes obsolete.

The compiler was a concept that was met with resistance when it was first introduced. This was at a time when computers were custom-built machines bearing individual names like ENIAC, UNIVAC and Mark I. A time when the global demand for computers was estimated to be around five units by the CEO of IBM. In this scenario, it took a visionary to foresee a future where the number of computers would outgrow the number of programmers and hardware would evolve so much faster than software that a compiler would make sense. One visionary was [Grace Hopper].

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Hackaday Links: May 29, 2016

Hackaday has a store‽ Yes, it’s true, and we have a Memorial Day sale going on right now. Get a cool robot had t-shirt, a cool clock, or a GoodFET. Spend money. Consume.

Learn COBOL. Seriously, you should learn COBOL. It’s a fact of nature that every computer-minded person will eventually hear that COBOL developers make bank, and you’ll have job security for the rest of your life. Now look at the Hello World for COBOL. Yes, there’s a reason COBOL devs make bank, and they’re still vastly underpaid. [Folkert] figured a way around this problem: he built a Brainfuck to COBOL compiler. Mainframe programming for the rest of us.

[fbustamante] got his hands on an old GP2X Wiz, one of those ARM-based portable media player/emulator things from a few years ago. This is a complete computer, and like the Pandora, it’ll do everything one of those Raspberry Pi laptops can do. The Wiz doesn’t have a keyboard, so [fbustamante] created his own. He etched his own PC, repurposed a keyboard controller from a USB keyboard, and stole the keycaps from an old Sharp digital organizer.

Speaking of portable consoles, [Element18592] built this incredible Nintendo 64 portable. He’s done an XBox 360 laptop and stuffed a Pi into an old brick Game Boy. This N64 mod is great, uses a 3D printed enclosure, and has truly amazing vinyl graphics.

To the surprise of many, [Photonicinduction] is not dead. The drunk brit with a penchant for high voltage electrics and a very, very confused power company is back making videos again. His latest video is a puzzle. It’s a plastic block with a light bulb socket, a UK power outlet, and a switch. Plug in a light bulb, flip the switch, and it turns on. Plug a blender into the outlet, and that turns on too. No wires, so how is he doing it?

Introduced at CES last January, Monoprice – yes, the same place you get HDMI and Ethernet cables from – has released their $200 3D printer. This one is on our radar and there will be a review, but right away the specs are fantastic for a $200 printer. The build area is 120mm³, it has a heated bed, and appears to be not completely locked down like the DaVinci printers were a few years ago.

Visualizing a nanosecond

We’re so glad to have run across this video where [Rear Admiral Grace Hopper] explains how to visualize a nanosecond. Now we had never heard of [Grace Hopper] before, but once you watch the clip (also embedded after the break) you’ll want to know who this person is. We work with divisions of seconds all the time when developing with microcontrollers. But those concepts are so abstract we never had a need to think about them as a physical distance. After all they’re a measure of time, right?

You can’t make it out, but she’s holding a length of wire between her hands. It is 11.8 inches long and represents how far electricity can travel in one nanosecond (one billionth of one second). She goes on to explain that this is a calculation of the distance which light can travel in one nanosecond, then really hits the concept home when she uses it to explain latency in satellite communications. For us, the waste of not putting a chip into sleep mode when it’s just stuck in the loop waiting for an interrupt is where we made the connection.

So back to the woman herself. We think you’ll really enjoy reading through her Wikipedia biography page. [Grace] was a computer science pioneer. She is credited with writing the very first computer compiler. She postulated and articulated the concepts that led to the development of COBOL, and popularized the term ‘debugging’. In short, she is one of the giants whose shoulders we all stand upon.

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