The most surreal thing I have had to do recently is to port a VB.NET program to an HP3000. This may not mean a lot to non-techhie people out there, but it boils down to this: imagine having to design a computer out of coconut and bamboo. VB.NET is currently one of the most advanced popular programming language out there below C (at least, in my company). The HP3000 was invented in the 1970s. It's old. It's clunky.
Now before I start hearing people scream and balk at this ("Punkie, you have a Compaq Personal III!"), I will admit that the HP3000 is quite a machine, like the DC-3 is quite an airplane. Sure, there are a lot more modern, sleek, and efficient machines out there, but nothing has the old world charm of an old, reliable piece of hardware. I admit (not to my coworkers, they'd kill me) that the HP3000 is an impressive tribute to lasting fortitude. I have a soft spot of antique hardware.
But not when I have to rely on it for my job. My boss ordered this behemoth, which the day he bought it, HP announced they were giving it EOL ("End of Life"). The joke around the office was my boss finally bought the last one. HP only continued to support it as far as they did because so many government offices still use it (they never upgrade anything). That's why my boss got one. His previous job was in the Navy, where he learned every nook and cranny of how this fridge-sized juggernaut of 1980s computing power worked. He's very good at it. There's even a user group devoted to it. But the learning curve, for outdated technology, is steep and uphill in the wrong direction. Sun Tzu would have slaughtered my boss over this choice. I like my boss, and don't want to see him slaughtered.
What he wants me to do SOUNDS simple. Compose a byte data stream with a 6-byte header in VB.NET, and send it to a listening port on his end to send data back and forth between the HP3000 and several hundred WindowsXP machines. This would be easier if I knew VB.NET. I know VB6, but that's history. I know Perl, but the machine we are running this on won't have Perl. So this job has been surreal. Reminds me of the old, old computer courses I took in the 1970s, 80s, and even early 90s, when I had to work with Pascal and the FanTek BBS, which ran NiteLine BBS (developed by Paul Swanson), which ran in ALICE Pascal. Double byte headers. Enough to put anyone to sleep.
Work after the layoffs have tossed everything up into the air. It used to be my boss, a guy named MG, and then he was under someone named GM. GM got promoted and left our division. Then the new guy, JS, reorganized the whole group, which is another word for "layoffs." He put a new guy, MM in charge of another new guy, MF. MF replaced MG, and is now my boss's new boss. Now, before I sound bitter, I like JS. But now I am further removed from him by one layer of new management. I liked who he replaced, GM, because she was a hard core, non-nonsense, take charge kind of person. But JS is nice, too. He's a bit more jovial and informal. We had lunch the other day, and talked about our operations in Europe. He really had a good idea about where he wants our team to go. He seems to have his wits about him, and I am confident with him in charge for now.
JS had a big meeting yesterday. I can't stand meetings because they are usually boring and have nothing directly to do with what I am doing. Years ago, my company used to give out freebies and food to big meetings, but that disappeared when things got lean. This meeting, not only did we get a nice breakfast, but there was a free polo shirt with our new company logo on it, and we were supposed to get a book. Now, in the past, our company was like all those other corporate "buy anything that sounds remotely motivational" whores. If there was some sort of best selling management, employee, or customer book... they'd pawn it off on us. The last book was terrible and very tacky, and kind of ended that nonsense. It was called, "Who Moved My Cheese?" and it was a 120-page hardcover booklet that... well, let me save you $10.00 by giving you the message it was trying to convey: "Things change, get used to it, change or you will die. Now keep moving." During all the layoffs, it was considered unusually harsh and a poor demotivational piece at a very inappropriate time. JS was the first to give us all freebie books since that time, and soon, I will own another copy of, get this, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," by Robert Fulghum. He picked it because we were merging two departments together, and his recent survey of everyone's jobs showed the biggest complaint was how unfriendly people had seem to become. He didn't shovel out BS, either. Remember my previous entry about how a company I used to work for paid some clown $50,000 to come up with a doughy mission statement? He also mentioned that he was not going to pay $75,000 for such a stupid idea, and gave us a concise mission statement in plain English that basically said, "Stay the course, work smarter." Then there was 2 hours of awards where my team got mentioned. Yay!
Of course, there's always a bitter person in the crowd. Some people are at their happiest when they predict everything will go to hell before you predicted it. Now, I am a worrier. I have said that before. But sometimes even I roll my eyes when someone takes every little statement and turns it into some evil conspiracy. "He's patronizing us by giving us this book," said one guy. "Treating us like kids. That's a tone of things to come." Okay. If you say so. "The fruit tray was never restocked," says another. "They hate vegetarians. I'd better look for another job while I still can." Man, whatever. I mean, if JS said, "In one year, you'll all be replaced by guys from Snuzbaristan, because even a trained monkey can do what you do. Hah!" then yeah, I'd be worried. But give the guy a chance!
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000191.html