back to article US nuke arsenal runs on 1970s IBM 'puter waving 8-inch floppies

A US Government Accounting Office (GAO) report has highlighted the parlous state of Uncle Sam's IT infrastructure. As an example, the computer used to coordinate America's nuclear forces is an IBM Series/1 that uses eight‑inch floppy disks capable of storing about 80KB of data each. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department is …

  1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

    Note to computer "scientists" of today.

    Fortran is better than Javascript or even Ruby for doing complex mathematical calculations on N-dimensional data sets on supercomputers.

    Shocking isn't it .....

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      This is precisely why I was tasked with keeping a late 1980's era VAX 4300 running for a single user until he retired seven years ago. That one user was among the foremost authorities on Thermodynamics and used his own custom Fortran programs to model his processes. I got stuck with it because I was the only guy left who remembered how to administer VMS. Good times, in a way.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

        I got stuck with it because I was the only guy left who remembered how to administer VMS

        Fortran is a wonderfully portable language, running it on a newer system should have been pretty tribial, and faster (although a lot less fun).

        1. Warm Braw Silver badge

          Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

          Fortran is a wonderfully portable language

          FORTRAN can be a portable language, but it was extremely easy to use iolder versions in ways that were not portable: anything that involved text handling, for example, used to be notoriously system-specific. Also, most implementations had vendor-specific extensions to cover stuff that wasn't in the FOTRAN standards of the time. I spent a lot of time at one stage trying to port FORTRAN programs from George 3 to MVS and it wasn't a happy experience.

          Modern Fortran has a better chance of being portable, but VAX FORTRAN had a long list of extensions and programmers could rely on being able to call system services and the runtime library directly because of the VAX procedure calling standard. GNU Fortran, among others, will compile the DEC extensions, but can't do much with code that's littered with calls to system libraries.

          1. Mpeler
            Coat

            Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

            Yeah. Some people get really ANSI about non-standard FORTRAN.

            (Ducks....)(Don't DO WHILE NOT)

            The aforementioned HP3000 had some nice DB extensions and function libraries....sniff...

            1. Down not across Silver badge

              Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

              The aforementioned HP3000 had some nice DB extensions and function libraries....sniff...

              Yes it had Image/3000 (later renamed to TurboIMAGE) which was rather good at the time. Yes the intrinsics were quite pleasant to use.

        2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

          @ Phil O'Sophical

          "tribial" - is that a portmanteaux word describing a low level or trivial infestation of Tribles?

          1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

            Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

            I would have picked tribal and trivial.

    2. sed gawk

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      HPC is still C, Fortran, Assembler, then C++

      1. Ian Bush

        Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

        "HPC is still C, Fortran, Assembler, then C++"

        Rather at the top end it's Fortran (~70%), C(~7%), C++(~6%) and other, at least in the UK. See

        http://www.archer.ac.uk/documentation/white-papers/app-usage/UKParallelApplications.pdf

        http://www.archer.ac.uk/documentation/white-papers/

        and

        http://www.archer.ac.uk/documentation/white-papers/app-usage/ARCHER_report.txt

        for details. The numbers haven't changed much over the last few years.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      Lots of space scientists use fortran. It's the language of choice for such work and it's still being taught

      COBOL is a bit harder to find people to keep maintained.

      1. Super Fast Jellyfish

        COBOL people

        Plenty of colleges in India teach it...

        Guess they know which languages will get their graduates a job

    4. Mark 65 Silver badge

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      There aren't that many COBOL and Fortran programmers left, and no one is learning those languages these days

      Also worth noting that Fortran tends to be taught as the programming language of choice to physics undergraduates - apparently it's quite popular in that area - it has an international standards body and is targeted at scientists. It is also pretty damn fast (http://www.hindawi.com/journals/sp/2014/870146/abs/) and, to emphasise a point made above, it is used for large numerical calculations (http://www.moreisdifferent.com/2015/07/16/why-physicsts-still-use-fortran/)

      In the field of high performance computing (HPC), of which large scale numerical simulation is a subset, there are only two languages in use today — C/C++ and “modern Fortran” (Fortran 90/95/03/08).

      1. energystar
        Childcatcher

        Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

        The kind of stability needed for intergenerational 'wisdom' transfer...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Really fast compiled code

        When I was an undergraduate (early 80s) I heard rumours of a FORTRAN compiler that produced machine code that ran so fast it took two STOP statements to stop it!

      3. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
        Mushroom

        Everybody knows COBOL and FORTRAN

        Have a look at the Wikipedia page. There may not be many engineers familiar with the Series/1 hardware, but even fewer programmers that know the assembly language this machine used, nor are many familiar with the EDX or RPS Operating Systems.

        "Systems using EDX were primarily programmed using Event Driven Language (EDL)," I suppose there are not so many programmers left who know that one, compared to the mongiolian hordes of FORTRAN or COBOL coders. But then, learining a new programming language should be a routine occurrence for any experienced code jockey.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Series/1

        1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: Everybody knows COBOL and FORTRAN

          "But then, learining a new programming language should be a routine occurrence for any experienced code jockey." It's IBM which automagically means it's documented and those manuals I cut my eye teeth on. So, yeah.

          I still like reading good engineering manuals. Reading how others have, right or wrongly, tackled problems is my warped idea of fun. I don't imagine I'm alone in that here.

        2. ShearClass
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Everybody knows COBOL and FORTRAN

          Happy days! I did my year out at IBM in Havant working on software to control the automated production line using EDL on Series 1 - compared to COBOL. Algol, Fortran, Lisp etc it was a different gravy. I'm not suprised it's still running to this day - kiddies with their toy languages like Java would not have a Scooby how to run a production line with tons of automated and manual stations on it.

          Paris cos she can handle multiple events at the same time!

          1. Geoff Mitchell

            Re: Everybody knows COBOL and FORTRAN

            I also did my year out at IBM Havant working on software to control the automated production line using EDL on Series/1.

            Our paths must have crossed !

        3. Mpeler
          Boffin

          Re: Everybody knows COBOL and FORTRAN

          How about the HP1000 and RTE? DOD seemed to like them, as did NASA...

    5. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      There was a conference in this building only last week on "Modern FORTRAN". It surprised me, as we are a medical school but our top floor is a biomedical "big data" research institute.

      1. energystar
        Linux

        Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

        R programming language is coded in FORTRAN, C and R itself [Wikipedia says so]...

    6. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      in the 90's I worked in an IT department maintaining a FORTRAN-based database system (ASK/MANMAN and related) that was the company's database on an HP minicomputer. This was actually a very popular product at the time. It also ran on VAX. Not sure if it's still around, but it wouldn't surprise me as it worked pretty well for large corporations and timeshare minicomputer systems.

      it's amazing what you can do with a common block and an EQUIVALENCE statement

      1. Mpeler
        Pint

        Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

        @bombastic bob

        Yep those HP3000s were really something. Also doing financials in ASK was sometimes exciting, as was the LPORTY routine. I had the joy of creating invoices to the specs of 12 different European countries (this was before the EU) and Japan, who (at least then) provided the forms, and the invoice had to match (I'm not kidding!).

        The system ran like a champ. Sadly I can't find my "Don't ASK" button :) Now about that UT, 979...

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

          Yep those HP3000s were really something.

          They were indeed. I had much fun with MPE V's SPL (which was very well documented as most things were those days... HP had its equivalent of DEC's "gray wall" (the meter of few of ring binders full of useful documentation)). The built in image database was nice combination to COBOL.

          The community around MPE was brilliant. Especially with MPE/ix as porting stuff was much easier (I had classic (with 7970 tape drive and some 7914 disks) so no POSIX for me.

          1. Mpeler
            Pint

            Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

            Yep the porting (compatibility mode and switch stubs/mechanism) were quite important to HP and the users (I saw that from both sides - I have a grey wall here to go with my grey hairs some of which came from living deep in the innards of MPE). The system was very well designed (even considering the birth pains so well documented by Bob Green), and the user community was supportive, creative, and downright fun. Where else could you go to a user group meeting and have REINDEER for dinner (RUDOLPH!!!!!! ?).

            The POSIX bits came in MPE/XL 4.5, and allowed a certain, shall we say, DB and apps system to run substantially faster than on, erm, similar hardware with another OS (no telling which, but it's probably easy to guess)(neither ALLBASE nor IMAGE). The POSIX additions made life a lot more interesting, especially if people weren't keeping track of which "side" of things they were coding. Those were the days...

            Look up Lunch, the HP Way which is a tongue-in-cheek view of HP's ordering systems from the 1980s by Stephen Harrison and Noel Magee. They really captured the essence of those days (and ordering from HP :) ).

    7. TechnicalBen Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      Javascript and Ruby are just convenience. I learnt that just reading on the Reg. If others think they are used for their power in computer... um?

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I'll bet those old systems

      Are vastly more secure against hacking than any modern systems.

      1. khjohansen

        Re: I'll bet those old systems

        Yeah - What I worry about are the poor sods running their network on "old" MS code...

      2. bscottm

        Re: I'll bet those old systems

        Actually, it's the physical security and background checks that ensure strategic nuclear force security. On their own, the systems aren't up to today's security standards. Taken as an aggregate, between the physical security, the air-gapped network and the general "lean and mean" software used, it's a pretty robust system that last saw an upgrade ~30 years ago (DEC microVAXen replacements.)

      3. energystar
        Trollface

        Re: I'll bet those old systems

        As for a good starting point, No Twitter API.

    9. Vikingforties

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      Spot on, indeed you can get hold of your own Fortran weather prediction software at Dr Jack's site http://www.drjack.info/RASP/

      And here's the model run for the UK soaring community:

      http://rasp.inn.leedsmet.ac.uk/

      Better than the Met Office (your mileage may vary).

    10. nzok

      Re: Some Department of Commerce weather alert systems use Fortran

      I have copies of three Global Circulation Models and fragments of a fourth.

      I also have some Radio Astronomy codes. All of these are written in Fortran.

      Since modern Fortran is a modular free-format programming language with

      good support for structured programming, user-defined types, even OOP,

      overloading, pointers, and bindings for MPI and OpenACC,

      with compilers that are good at vectorising and some compilers that even

      compile traditional code into GPU code, if you have a problem that needs

      lots of number-crunching you would have to have a very good reason to use

      something else. Price is not the issue: gfortran is free and good. Tools are

      not the issue: there are static checkers and things that plug into Eclipse.

      There are quite a few people learning Fortran.

      Unfortunately, most of them seem to be hard-science PhD students with no

      knowledge of software engineering and no sense of taste, so the code is

      often, um, not as good as it could be. But that's really not Fortran's fault.

      Fortran makes it quite easy to write clean maintainable code. It also makes

      it easy to make a real mess, although in that area it still cannot compete

      with C++.

      It's not really fair to compare Fortran to Javascript or Ruby.

      A fair comparison would be to things like R, NumPy/SciPy, Matlab, Octave, or Julia,

      all of which can link in Fortran modules, so that you can get the best of both worlds.

      The COBOL standard has been revised less often than the Fortran standard, but

      it *has* been modernised, and there is a GnuCOBOL compiler (formerly OpenCOBOL)

      that has caught up with much of COBOL 2014. Considering that the less you touch

      an existing program, the fewer bugs you introduce, there's an economic case to be

      made for paying someone to learn COBOL -- which is not particularly hard -- rather

      than rewriting. Again, there is more COBOL support for Eclipse than you might

      have expected.

  2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    Programming skills .NE. programming languages

    "There aren't that many COBOL and Fortran programmers left, and no one is learning those languages these days."

    It's not that difficult to learn a new programming language. Even easier to learn an old one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      True. Any competent programmer could learn Fortran in a day or two. They might not like it but they could very quickly become proficient in Fortran syntax. The hard bit comes when they are asked to fit a line to some data and refer to "NAG Fortran Library. E02 - Curve and Surface Fitting" and have to select which of the 26 methods is most appropriate.

      Like most programming, understanding the problem is harder than understanding the language.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        You don't need to understand which of the complicated NAG or Cern library numerical integration functions are the most appropriate for your data - you just search on GitHub and pull in the first library with "fitting" in the title.

        Or if it's more complicated just copy the data to Excel and use that.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

          you just search on GitHub and pull in the first library with "fitting" in the title.

          Or if it's more complicated just copy the data to Excel and use that.

          Or like most "programmers" these days, just post your problem to StackOverflow or ExpertSexChange and rely on others to give you a solution, which you can c&p into your project with minimal understanding of its concepts.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge
            1. David 132 Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

              @ Yet Another Anonymous Coward: Thanks for the link, very funny.

              Sort-of-related-to-your-link: I remember reading once that the popular (by the standard of such things) early English choral work by Thomas Tallis, Spem in Alium, which translates from Latin as "Hope In Any Other", is invariably and accidentally mis-spelled by amateur choral societies etc. as "Spem In Allium". Which means that, delightfully, musicians up and down the land have been singing a 40-part choral paean of praise expressing "Hope In The Onion".

              1. Mpeler
                Coat

                Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

                Isn't that what Spem filters are for?

          2. Mark 85 Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

            or ExpertSexChange and rely on others to give you a solution

            I'd use experts-exchange from work and not the one you gave.....

            1. David 132 Silver badge

              Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

              I'd use experts-exchange from work and not the one you gave.....

              (Insert Rainier Wolfcastle "That's The Joke".gif right here.)

              Popular lore has it (and it's too delicious a story to risk ruining it by googling for the truth) that Experts-Exchange didn't have the hyphen originally, leading to a certain amount of, um, ambiguity.

              See also PenIsland.com, Therapist.com, etc.

              1. griessh

                Re: Experts-Exchange

                Sorry, it was always WITH the hyphen. I still have the proof in form of an original t-shirt I received as one of the first moderators

                1. Simon Westerby 1

                  Re: Experts-Exchange

                  Wayback machine thinks otherwise:

                  https://web.archive.org/web/20000301224427/http://expertsexchange.com

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Popular lore

                You are correct. The site used to be expertsexchange.com*. Someone either had a beautiful sense of humor or an extremely naive outlook on the world along with an astonishingly obtuse outlook on the world wide web.

                That was back before you had to register to log in to find out that you still cannot see any meaningful answers without paying for a subscription (at which point I suspect you find out that stackechange has better answers anyhow).

                *It may still be an alternate domain for the version with the dash, I don't want to check, since I'm out of mind bleach.

                1. David 132 Silver badge
                  Coat

                  Re: Popular lore

                  *It may still be an alternate domain for the version with the dash, I don't want to check, since I'm out of mind bleach.

                  Yeah, visiting the non-hyphenated URL really takes balls.

            2. Pomgolian
              Coffee/keyboard

              Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

              +1 for ExpertSexChange. ROFL.

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

              or ExpertSexChange and rely on others to give you a solution

              I'd use experts-exchange from work and not the one you gave.....

              Newbie!

              It was actually ExpertsExchange.com

          3. energystar
            Boffin

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

            Fortune is Scientists would jump out at your advice.

          4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

            "Or like most "programmers" these days, just post your problem to StackOverflow or ExpertSexChange and rely on others to give you a solution, which you can c&p into your project with minimal understanding of its concepts."

            ... which you can c&p into your project with minimal ZERO understanding of its concepts."

            What could possibly go wrong? My background is civil engineering/structural design. IME there are two kinds of engineering software, or rather companies that make engineering software. One usually has its roots in an engineering firm or an university's engineering department. They started writing their own software when computers became affordable. At one point they brought in mathematicians and/or coders to help with the 'heavy lifting', code-wise. At another point they may have been incorporated as a separate firm, but retained both engineers and close ties to the engineers that use their software.

            The other kind is a company that reckoned there was money in engineering software, got a bunch of guys with degrees in CS and gave them a stack of codes and regulations etc.

            Guess which software works better?

          5. Mpeler
            Coat

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages @David132

            "or ExpertSexChange and rely on others to give you a solution"

            So THAT'S what IEBJenner was all about...

      2. goldcd

        With my current hat on

        the programing language is so far down the list of issues as to be irrelevant.

        Identifying what the damn thing needs to do (as opposed to what a disparate collective list of people with random understandings and motivations say they want) is always the issue.

        Change always needs to come top->down - and the hindrance is always the top having completely lost any grip on reality of both the world outside their fiefdom and what they're supposed to be doing.

        Whilst wondrous technologies emerge such as RACs, Clusters, Clouds, pretty HTML5 GUIs and all the rest - I'm pretty convinced they're not always solving the problems, but allowing the papering over the cracks for a little while longer.

        Still. If the world of IT was sane, we'd never have start-ups and stock-options.

        1. energystar
          Windows

          Re: With my current hat on

          Have seen problems solved in 20 miserable lines, If you know which is the right language.

      3. oldcoder

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        Depends on the programmer. Some of the "point-and-click" programmers I've run into couldn't program anything without that point-and-click foundation.

        Much less understand what a COMMON declaration was.

      4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        "NAG Fortran Library. E02 - Curve and Surface Fitting" and have to select which of the 26 methods is most appropriate

        That is in the realm of math now. That is a different story - 40 years ago, math was taught to CS undergrads almost on par with the people who studied just math. That is no longer the case as classes on the magnificence of Java w*nking have to be fitted in the program. That is why someone who has graduated with CS 40 years ago probably will smile and grab the correct subroutine out the library before even finishing his coffee. One of today CS products - I doubt it.

        1. Tartanyak

          Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

          I went to uni about 20 years ago, did Computer Science and that was 70 or 80% maths still. However, even at that time I saw other universities doing that subject as more of a software development course. Basically, what we had to learn as a by-the-by to show a means to an end, they were taught as the entire subject.

          I thought that was so very dull. I hoped that wasn't the way things were going, but I have been very disappointed by people who were scared of new languages ("Oooh, I can't program in C#, I've only done Java!) and knew none of the theory behind anything.

          I started replying to you with the intent of defending the people new to the subject, but after thinking through things, I realised your experiences are in accord with mine. Bollocks.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

            "people who were scared of new languages ("Oooh, I can't program in C#, I've only done Java!)"

            Depressingly, that is all-pervasive in recruitment departments as well. "Ooo, he's a C programmer, ignore him, we need a Java programmer"

            1. DJSpuddyLizard

              Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

              Depressingly, that is all-pervasive in recruitment departments as well. "Ooo, he's a C programmer, ignore him, we need a Java programmer"

              "But we need someone with five years experience in Visual Studio 2013!"

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

            This was certainly my experience 30-odd years ago - a great many hours spent absorbing lots of math that I've never used, and have barely even seen referenced since then. Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the math (I'm weird that way) and maybe even learned a few things in the process (such as don't necessarily take the math at face value, and that math can be used just as much to obscure as it can be to explain), but under the circumstances most those hours would probably have been more usefully spent elsewhere.

            1. Tom 7 Silver badge

              Re:a great many hours spent absorbing lots of math that I've never used

              And now its worth an absolute bloody fortune - but no-ones going to hire someone of our age even if we can do the job with our slide-rules shut.

        2. Simon Westerby 1

          Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

          It was 20 years ago too when I was a CS Undergrad... now its just Java .....

      5. MacroRodent Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        True. Any competent programmer could learn Fortran in a day or two.

        Especially if it is Fortran 77 or later. It is a quite approachable conventional language. The earlier versions might be more challenging. For example, it is possible to write Fortran statements with no white space at all except for the mandatory leading indent (saves time when punching cards!), and anything after the 72. column is ignored by classic compilers. Used this feature once to write a program that is both valid Fortran and ANSI C at the same time! I think I still have somewhere Microsoft Fortran for CP/M with which I tested this hybrid program...

      6. naive

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        Real men use Fortran http://www.ee.ryerson.ca/~elf/hack/realmen.html

    2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      I can write Fortran code in any language!

    3. razorfishsl

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      Yes and many businesses are continually paying for it.

      Half assed attempts at implementing business processes, by people with little or no real understanding of structured thinking , let alone structured coding.

    4. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      It's not that difficult to learn a new programming language. Even easier to learn an old one.

      Exhibit A.

      (although I'm not sure if that particular example supports your assertion or argues against it...)

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        Exhibit A.

        You got the wrong reference. Should have pointed here. Syntax is about the same, so is readability.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      "It's not that difficult to learn a new programming language. Even easier to learn an old one."

      unless your only exposure to coding is C-pound, ".Not", and maybe Node.js, in which case REAL coding will probably confuse you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Damn yanks!

        @ bombastic bob; "unless your only exposure to coding is C-pound"

        What do you have against C£ then? It's a much better language than C#.

        1. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge
          Devil

          Re: Damn yanks!

          C£? Unless C€ certified, you're headed for the BRexit.

          http://www.ce-marking.org/images/cem_red.gif

    6. Ian Bush

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      "There aren't that many COBOL and Fortran programmers left, and no one is learning those languages these days."

      There are plenty of Fortran programmers left, and new people learning the language regularly, just not in computer science departments.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

        FORTRAN!

        I remember that. Great stuff. Wrote my undergraduate thesis code in that - 3D brain atlas of a rat.

    7. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Programming skills .NE. programming languages

      It's not that difficult to learn a new programming language

      If only it were that simple. COBOL programs rarely have much real COBOL in them - they're mainly glue around CICS or ISAM database macros, The real challenge is understanding those...

  3. Ben Liddicott

    Good. Simple is best.

    What should they use? USB flash drives? Why not floppies?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Good. Simple is best.

      Because if you accidentally leave a bunch of 8" floppies on the train, the Daily Mail won't be able to read them.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Good. Simple is best.

        Don't bet on it, I'm sure some of their target readership still has suitable systems in their garages...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Good. Simple is best.

          In the garage? More like up and running to do the household balance sheets while doubling as a space heater and cat perch.

      2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

        Re: Good. Simple is best.

        Well, if they want to upgrade from their 80KB 8" floppy disks, I still have a few 128KB 8" floppies lying around somewhere

        (hoarder? me?)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Mushroom

          Re: Good. Simple is best.

          Hello Joshua!

          How about a nice game of TIC-TAC-TOE?

    2. TheWeenie

      Re: Good. Simple is best.

      What should they use? USB flash drives? Why not floppies?

      Well, I am not 100% sure, but I'm going to guess that the answer to that would probably be "The Cloud".

      1. Mpeler
        Coat

        Re: Good. Simple is best. The Cloud...

        The CLOUD is what you get after the systems have been used...

        (Gets me lead coat, tries to run)...

  4. Dadmin
    Go

    The solution is...

    Tear out the interior walls surrounding these legacy systems, wrap them in glass, then charge people to; Come Visit The Department of <Your dept name here> Computer Museum! Sell some fun T-shirts at the reception desk. Problem solved.

    NEXT!

  5. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

    Security by obsurity

    Shitting crikey.

    1. Barbarian At the Gates

      Re: Security by obsurity

      I wonder which CERT vulnerability fridge magnets fall under....

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Security by obsurity

        they generally fall under the fridge and stop the door closing!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bet that old IBM nuke cobtrol system is hard to hack into...

    1) it's an old OS that's mozt likely not connected to the web

    2) the kids don't have the patience to wait 5 seconds for a screen output

    3) doesn't support emoji

    1. Ropewash
      Joke

      Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

      It should be running on Windows 10 so MS can collect some real telemetry.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

        It should be running on Windows 10 so MS can collect some real telemetry.

        Oh dear Lord, I know you're joking, but no no no.

        "General?"

        "Soldier.. the balloon has gone up. This is the big one. We're at war. Set the coordinates for Cardiff and Llandudno* and LAUNCH!"

        "Sorry General, the launch control system is installing Update 7 of 944 and we can't interrupt it. Also, LAUNCH.EXE doesn't pass SafeScreen and UAC has prevented it from running."

        *Footnote: I know, right? Who'd have thought that tensions with Cymru would have escalated so quickly?

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

          @ David 132

          *Footnote: I know, right? Who'd have thought that tensions with Cymru would have escalated so quickly?

          I think the world has nothing to fear from the Welsh (except Anne Robinson). On the other hand Scotland...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

            I think the world has nothing to fear from the Welsh

            Hmmm, weren't the Welsh one of the many enforcement arms of the British Empire (thinking of many likely now merged Welsh regiments)?

            1. David 132 Silver badge
              Coat

              Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

              Hmmm, weren't the Welsh one of the many enforcement arms of the British Empire (thinking of many likely now merged Welsh regiments)?

              You're correct. Even more than other regiments, they weren't afraid to Dai and would usually Wyn. Red uniforms, khaki ones - all Huws, basically...

              1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

                Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

                And famous for their massed charges when an English officer inadvertentley ordered Jones to attack that position

                1. David 132 Silver badge
                  Coat

                  Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

                  And famous for their massed charges when an English officer inadvertentley ordered Jones to attack that position

                  Good 'Evans, you're right. It Wrexham every time.

              2. Mpeler
                Coat

                Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

                Sadly, there's not that many of them since they've merged - they're now the Welsh Rarebits...

                (Grabs me bullet/mortar/tank/singing-proof coat and runs)...

                (Not too harsh lads, my Pop was was Welsh...).

        2. Tom 64

          Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

          I mean, why the hell not?

          Blighey's warships are running a 'hardened' variant of Windows 2000, after all?

          *shudder*

        3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

          > Who'd have thought that tensions with Cymru would have escalated so quickly?

          Please wait until the wind is from the east before nuking Cardiff. Those of us in the west of England[1] prefer not to glow with reflected glory..

          [1] Or Cornwall. Which I'm assured by She Who Knows All isn't *really* part of England. Kernow am byth!

          1. Mpeler
            Coat

            Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

            Well then what's this all about "Land of Hope and Glory" then...

        4. Ian Bush

          Re: US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter using 8-inch floppies

          Personally I've now got visions of the Windows10 upgrade interrupting the whole procedure

      2. Ken 16 Silver badge
        Terminator

        Blue Screen?

        OF DEATH!!!

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      I bet that old IBM nuke cobtrol system is hard to hack into...

      And anyone who can should be hired by DoD immediately.

    3. c0al

      Yeah. The kids would give up halfway through IPLing it via a teletype.

    4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Well, sort of. It's impossible to hack remotely because it knows nothing of the Internet, WiFi, cell networking. On the other hand, most old computers have a console or debugger switch that will let you inspect and change memory. The programs are simple enough to be hijacked by keyboard entry. Program wants a password? Break, inspect the subroutine's entry point, alter a register, advance the program counter, and resume.

  7. Caustic Soda

    Just because it takes several terabits/s of bandwidth to transmit pictures of cats around teh intarwebz it doesn't mean that you can't target missiles on old computers. The Nazis managed to target ballistic missiles with a clockwork computer.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Mushroom

      The Nazis managed to target ballistic missiles with a clockwork computer.

      Because the electronic ones suffered from Braun-outs?

      (while on the subject: a thousand thanks to the forgotten Reg commentard who mentioned, many moons ago, John D Clark's book Ignition! - An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants, thereby introducing me to one of the most well-explained, informative, and hilariously witty (yes, really) books ever written about the history of rocketry. Seek it out.)

      1. A Ghost
        Flame

        I remember that commentard. Even though I also forget their name.

        Apparently the original work was something like 800 quid, and the .pdf was notoriously hard to find. So I had to have a go. An hour or so later, I'd sourced a copy.

        Very interesting reading indeed.

        But jesus, some of those propellants and chemicals they were working with sounded a bit 'unsavoury'. Wouldn't want to splash them on your cornflakes by mistake in the morning.

        1. A Ghost
          WTF?

          Addendum

          My memory seems to be playing tricks on me.

          The book comes up first search result (pdf). Obviously not that hard to find now.

          Then again, the thing has disappeared off my hard drive.

          For some reason, the one thing I thought I made up - the price - was uncannily spot on: 710 quid for a hard copy.

          Memory is indeed a very peculiar thing.

          1. David 132 Silver badge

            Re: Addendum

            The book comes up first search result (pdf).

            For me, at least, that first PDF copy seems to be corrupted - many of the pages from #3 onwards are blank. Try another result; if all else fails I have a good quality PDF and would be happy to share it.

            1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

              Re: Addendum

              +1 for mentioning "Ignition". I wanted to read it on a Kindle, so hacked the PDF with Calibre. The MOBI output (even the equations) is tolerable, if imperfect.

            2. Ian 55

              Re: Addendum

              Thanks for the pointer. The PDF works fine in atril.

            3. ChrisBedford

              Re: Addendum

              "For me, at least, that first PDF copy seems to be corrupted - many of the pages from #3 onwards are blank."

              In fact the first page is blank, followed by the two frontispiece photos on 2 and 3, and then blanks on every page from 4 onwards.

              I found a couple of other sources of PDF versions of this book, some more phishing-oriented than others ;-). Eventually I had to use usenet, which turned up a page-image version, not text. Not great, but readable.

            4. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Addendum

              that first PDF copy seems to be corrupted - many of the pages from #3 onwards are blank.

              Open's okay in Foxit Reader 7.2, just have to wait a couple of seconds for the text to display (file size 3,688,461 bytes).

              Aside: I see from the Google results Elon Musk rates it up there with Lord of the Rings and Hitchhikers's!

              https://teslamotorsclub.com/tmc/threads/9-books-that-elon-musk-thinks-everyone-should-read.36713/

      2. Vic

        Because the electronic ones suffered from Braun-outs?

        That was a Krupp pun...

        Vic.

      3. Camilla Smythe Silver badge

        Crap..!

        Thanks for, not, wasting me a night of reading. I have run out of steam at page 188 and will not be able to give me Mum her Friday 9:00AM call but I have an excuse. Also mentioned to "in the pipeline". Time for bed.

      4. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Ignition!

        Might be this 2013 thread:

        m.forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2013/04/02/race_for_space_1/

  8. Grikath Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    well...

    The shuttles still used ye olde core memory...

    You'd almost get the feeling that kind of legacy is by design, not oversight..

    1. Dave Bell

      Re: well...

      There were some changes to the Shuttle systems, including the memory, but core storage is pretty much immune to the effects of cosmic rays. And they could load a program into memory and know it would be ready to run if they needed it.

      It was a good bet in the 1970s. And changing the system without adding new risks was hardly easy.

      The Shuttle was around for a long time

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Shuttle core memory

        That was all changed out after Challenger.

        The computers went from taking 5 7 foot racks to 1/4 of one of them. The new empty space was promptly filled with other stuff.

        1. Simon Harris Silver badge

          Re: Shuttle core memory

          "The computers went from taking 5 7 foot racks to 1/4 of one of them. The new empty space was promptly filled with other stuff."

          That sounds like my boss's attempts to get me to tidy my desk!

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: well...

        Don't forget the half-dozen or so HP(?) programmable calculators velcro'ed onto the dashboard to show the next AOS* for the approaching ground stations when orbiting.

        * Aquisition of Signal- when the next Big Dish comes up over the horizon and can be used.

    2. elDog Silver badge

      Re: well...

      Wonder what one of those fabled magneto-waves would do to said cores.

      Next up: memories build on gravity forces?

  9. PaulM 1
    Mushroom

    It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

    Mission critical software developers only write around 6 lines of working code each day. It is usually cheaper to spend £50,000 a Year on maintaining an ancient mainframe than writing a million lines of new code.

    An important consideration is that legacy software will usually work just as effectively on a simulation of an old computer as on the computer itself. Many legacy computers can be simulated on a PC and will run faster than they did on the original hardware. I know of two different companies who have replaced a Vax minicomputer by a HP supported Vax simulator for a PC.

    Many people run Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari St and console games on their PCs with no problem.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

      " I know of two different companies who have replaced a Vax minicomputer by a HP supported Vax simulator for a PC."

      We recently priced VMS on an emulator. it's about $15k/year

      1. oldcoder

        Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

        I think that is only for support.

        If you already HAVE a license, I didn't think there was a charge...

      2. david 136

        Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

        compared to what on a real processor?

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

      An important consideration is that legacy software will usually work just as effectively on a simulation of an old computer as on the computer itself

      But for a critical application like the nuke one being discussed, I guess you'd need guarantees about the reliability of the underlying emulator. Last thing you want is for the emulator to glitch and for the programming running on it to thing that the bDeclareWarOnChina register has been set to 1.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

        "Last thing you want is for the emulator to glitch and for the programming running on it to thing that the bDeclareWarOnChina register has been set to 1."

        Not to mention the ancient hardware interfaces that need to be re-created for the modern hardware and certified. On a smaller and less critical scale, at least one university department I deal with still specify proper RS232C interfaces on new PCs because that's a lot cheaper than replacing the £20,000 bit of kit it controls. USB to RS232C is not reliable in this instance. Or, for that matter, the early adopter schools with RS232C controlled smart whiteboards/projectors.

        1. PaulM 1

          Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

          The VAX applications that I mentioned used VAX RS232C interfaces. The well supported VAX simulator bought from HP perfectly simulates VAX RS232C interfaces and so there were no glitches when the old VAX software was run. The only downside was the cost. I think that both companies paid about £50,000 for two HP PCs running VAX emulation software. HP owns the remnants of DEC and so HP employs many ex-DEC programmers who could be expected to write a perfect VAX simulator.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: It costs more to write new software than to maintain old hardware

      Ther might be other factors as well to consider...

  10. John Savard Silver badge

    Degrees of Obsolescence

    The use of an eight-year-old z10 mainframe doesn't sound so terribly awful to me. Why run out and replace something that still works? And FORTRAN and COBOL are still living computer languages.

    But a Series/1 with 8-inch floppy disks, yes, that is utterly ridiculous; and a 56-year-old IBM mainframe, as opposed to its 8-year-old descendant is also... unwise. They would be better off emulating those systems on a contemporary computer.

    Oh, wait a minute: this is 2016. 56 years ago, it was 1960. I can believe that the Treasury Department is still using an IBM 370 computer; the IBM 360 computers (introduced in 1964) were stripped of parts for one that was used by the FAA. But I find it hard to believe that they still have a 7090 - or a 7010 or a 7070 - in service at this date.

    Ah. I see the original report says the "agency-reported age" of the computer is 56 years, and the actual type of the computer is unnamed. So the error, if such there is, is due to a Treasury Department employee and not anyone at The Register.

    1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

      Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

      I was the administrator of a 360.. on 1999.

      The system was disconnected just before 2000, so humm, maybe a 360?

      Note: it was extremely UN reliable, as it was just too old, having been run nonstop for so many years.

      1. John Savard Silver badge

        Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

        Incidentally, the Series/1 computer used for missiles had an "agency-reported age" of 53 years. Which would have meant that IBM delivered a Series/1 to the Department of Defense in 1963, which would mean they were using classified technology far ahead of what the civilian sector had - they only had access to the Series/1 in 1976. And the 8-inch floppy was revealed to the public for microcode loading on the 370/145, introduced to the public in 1970.

        So a Series/1 should have been 40 years old, not 53 years old.

        1. yoganmahew

          Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

          Well, I call BS on all of that. The system I run on is likewise 56 years old and is one of the largest and most successful of it's kind. It has been continually updated by a cast of thousands and is currently migrating to z13 processors. It is mostly written in assembler and I will go to my day job of writing said assembler as soon as the first mug of coffee hits the spot. It is quicker to develop on than the open systems it communicates with, though DevOps has slowed down our deployment speed something terrible recently. It has continuous uptime 24x7x365.25 well past five nines through software updates, through hardware updates, through peak loads. The only thing that comes close is my casio alarm clock from 1984, but that has downtime when I have to change the battery...

    2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

      "Ah. I see the original report says the "agency-reported age" of the computer is 56 years"

      I believe that the Royal Navy did this: during periods when they were not allowed to build new ships, they simply "repaired" an old one, which consisted of removing any non-rotted timber for reuse, and building a new ship of the same name. The chance of a bureaucrat from London risking the dirt and footpads on the road to Chatham to check up was remote.

      So it's possible this is just an accounting trick, and the "system overhaul" reported some time in the past was a total replacement.

      On the other hand, 2N404s are still available, and even still manufactured, so someone is using them.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

        Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

        "I believe that the Royal Navy did this: during periods when they were not allowed to build new ships, they simply "repaired" an old one.."

        Ah, the 'I've still got my great-grandfather's axe' approach...

    3. David Roberts Silver badge

      Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

      Eight year old hardware is modern.

      Two years newer than first release of Windows Vista so newer than a lot of PCs still in general use.

      COBOL is a tried and tested language and if the program requirements are stable then you are far safer maintaining this than handing it over to the equivalent of GDS to re-imagineer.

      What would be the expected gains in re-implementing all this (apart from financial to consultancies)?

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

      > 56-year-old IBM mainframe, as opposed to its 8-year-old descendant is also... unwise

      Why? As long as you can get parts, people to fix it and people to code[1] for it then I don't see a problem..

      [1] Even me (in a pinch) - many, many years ago I was a TPF[2] programmer on IBM mainframes. I probably still have a POPS manual somewhere at home..

      [2] Which, at that time, only supported assembler. Which is why we were paid (relatively) well. Required a *lot* of effort to make sure stuff worked. And we also had a QA department with real teeth. When a catastrophic core-dump can take the mainframe down and cost you roughly $6m per hour (in early 90's money) you tend to be a bit careful about what you load..

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

        "When a catastrophic core-dump can take the mainframe down and cost you roughly $6m per hour (in early 90's money) you tend to be a bit careful about what you load.."

        But not, seemingly, about a usage that could lead to an error of 1000 one way or 1000000 the other way. The rest of the world uses SI symbols, using m or M for 1000 is rather high risk.

        1. kventin

          Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

          @Voyna i Mor

          i daresay 'm' and 'M' SI prefixes can usually be discerned from context rather well; vide this fine example: "roughly $6m per hour (in early 90's money)".

          should 'm' stand for milli-, the sum would have meant 6 tenth of a cent, which is implausible (especially as the context contains terms 'mainframe' and 'cost' in juxtaposition).

          however, the very last sentence ("using m or M for 1000") suggests you might be a tad confused about the real meaning of said prefixes, not to say their usage.

          don't worry, though. a simple perusal of any good introductory text on natural sciences will clarify any misconception about the subject.

          at least no-one uttered 'billion'. or 'trillion'. it's always fun figuring how much money that should really mean (for a bonus filter it through a hapless translator. idk why, but they always end up working for news agencies)

    5. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: Degrees of Obsolescence

      I have a 23 year old 486 that still works. I have an MK14 that must be 10 years older that still works. Anything with a gell capacitor in it over 3 years old is kaput.

  11. Montreal Sean

    At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

    Or randomly updated and bricked machines...

    1. elDog Silver badge

      Re: At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

      It'd be very interesting to see what would happen if they clicked "Accept". Or in the case of Microsoft, just didn't acknowledge the query within the allotted 4 minutes.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

        As long as the boot up and any self-tests after that don't force a launch... but then again... no telling what MS would do with the telemetry it got back. Re-program the missiles for Cupertino?

        1. Oengus Silver badge

          Re: At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

          Yes but the MS programmers would get the co-ordinates wrong and Nuke Redmond.

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

            > MS programmers would get the co-ordinates wrong and Nuke Redmond.

            Deliberately. During their 3 hours of annual leave.

            1. Mpeler
              Mushroom

              Re: At least they aren't getting Windows 10 upgrade offers.

              "MS programmers would get the co-ordinates wrong and Nuke Redmond"

              Then it would be considered "Customer Feedback"...

  12. FozzyBear Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Would you like to play a game?

    1. tic-tac-toe

    2. Global thermonuclear War

    3. Chess

    >

    1. David 132 Silver badge

      Re: Would you like to play a game?

      4. Premium Freecell - Only $9.99 with your Microsoft Account!

  13. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Size matters?

    8 inch - Floppy

    5 1/4 inch - Floppy

    3 1/2 inch - Hard

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Size matters?

      You missed out on the next progression point: 22mm - Solid (m.2 SSD width)

      (I am ignoring 1.8" and 2.5" drives as they can he "hard" or "solid")

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Size matters?

      As I understand it, in South Africa the 3.5" disks were known as "Stiffies"

      1. #define INFINITY -1 Bronze badge

        Re: Size matters?

        Didn't know that was only around here.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old tech?

    IBM Series/1 is way better that using c*cks*cking PCs made in CHINA

  15. k317

    COBOL I remember that. Series-1 also offered reel to reel tape drive

    1. c0al

      This system is Assembly.

      It is B3 multi-level secure so it has some interesting requirements.

  16. Wade Burchette

    Greeting Professor Falken ...

    How about a nice game of chess?

  17. spold Bronze badge

    Umm Visual Fortran, Fortran 2008?

    Let's talk Algol 60 or Cesil, or if IBM how about PL/AS or Rexx...

    Paper tape anyone?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Let's talk Algol 60"

      The most I ever got paid in real terms was for writing CORAL 66.

  18. c0al

    Holy cow.

    I programmed on this system at HQ SAC in 1991-1994.

    Nice to know the the old system is still around. :)

    I keep hoping to see an SCP setup with a couple VDU/KB and LPUs out at the SAC museum. That would make kind of a cool, interactive cold war exhibit. Send and Ack some EAMs. Watch the 8" floppy jukeboxes rattle and grind. Peer through the tempest/EMP hardened screen at the monitor. Mash on the :)

    So, replace away (and good luck - difficult technical requirements)! The hardware was obsolete in 1991 too.

    But, move the STF gear or OSCP to the museum when you do, please.

    1. The Real Tony Smith
      Mushroom

      Re: Holy cow.

      > Peer through the tempest/EMP hardened screen at the monitor

      Fond memories of hours spent in front of a Beta Bandit :-)

      Icon because it was during the Cold War, and if we got it wrong............

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cloud

    The ageing nuclear arsenal is a perfect use case for cloud. I presume there are no onerous security considerations?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cloud

      And I think there's an email server that can be repurposed....

    2. energystar
      Mushroom

      Re: Cloud

      Recommending Amazon Services...

    3. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Cloud

      infinitely elastic until the world ends.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Cloud

        More Mushroom Cloud than Elastic Cloud, I think.

    4. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Cloud

      The fallout will surely be cloudy...

  20. Paul J Turner

    Now we know

    Why insisting that Government departments adopt IPv6 never got anywhere.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let It Be, Let It Be, Let It Be, Let It Be

    If the choice is leaving it as is, or having this administration oversee the migration to newer code and systems: For God's sake, let it be.

  22. energystar
    Windows

    Eyebrow raising... [Don't believe of the whole] But better something they know by the bit, that some mysterious 'magic' under the Red Button.

  23. Malcolm Weir Silver badge

    Worth remembering that the warheads themselves are getting on a bit, too: I understand the average age of a US nuke warhead is itself more than 25 years... so managing something made in the 1980s with a system build in the 1970s doesn't sound so bad.

  24. ralphh

    8" floppies have their place

    Would you like to play a game?

    CPE 1704 TKS

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    US nuke arsenal run by 1970s IBM 'puter waving 8-inch floppies

    What we didn't realise is that we were hours away from World War III after Microsoft attempted to force Windows 10 onto it.

  26. bombastic bob Silver badge

    TIme to emulate old hardware on RPi with simh

    well, an emulation package for all that old hardware already exists, capable of running on an RPi last I checked, as long as we can get some disk images.

    Then, migrate the disk images to some USB 'ramstick' drives, program the RPi to boot up into a console that looks like the old system, make some custom boards to emulate any specialty hardware, put USB hubs and plug in anything else you might want, and VOILA!

    well, not instantaneous, but pretty good nonetheless, and a LOT cheaper to maintain.

    1. energystar
      Mushroom

      Re: TIme to emulate old hardware on RPi with simh

      Over UEFI, of course -as you say- add USB and VOILÁ!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Eh? Can't they just virtualise the bloody thing

    And save some space?

  28. DougS Silver badge

    The reason they can't update these systems is simple

    If they decide to begin a clean sheet redesign, a committee will be created which spins off numerous subcommittees, each of which will want to insert their list of pet ideas / enhancements.

    If they replaced the tax system with one that simply did the same thing it did but using modern hardware and languages, and THEN worried about enhancements, it wouldn't be that difficult. But such projects will quickly spiral out of control if you try to satisfy everyone with version 1.0.

    Replacing the nuclear control system computers should be easy since what they do is so tightly defined and would need so little change for 2016 versus when they were designed in 1960 or whatever. On the other hand, if they have spare parts from decommissioned silos maybe it isn't worth bothering with - it would provide an incentive to continue decommissioning more of them over time to keep the flow of spares coming!

  29. Brett Weaver

    Nobody has mentioned

    Its an EBCDIC processor, which makes it bloody secure :-)

    Yes, Ascii terminals could be attached through a RS-232 port, but they were emulating ebcdic terminals.

    I remember being pretty impressed when they were marketing them as air traffic controlling machines in '78.. A lot flasher than the S/3's 32's etc I was working with

    1. Mpeler
      Coat

      Re: Nobody has mentioned - Its an EBCDIC processor

      Yep, we wouldn't want a half-ASCII processor in these environments...

      (Grabs me plugboard, slide rule, format card, and runs)....

  30. M7S

    Someone got it right, we should respect that

    after all a system working* after all that time has, regardless of any bumping up the price that may have occurred by the original contractor, probably given value for money over its lifetime.

    It's certainly lasting longer than much of the stuff we have to buy these days (even at enterprise level), so its sort of the series land-rover of computing. Not very fast but it will do the job and any lack of understanding of how to fix it is down to the current staff not having the skills, not the people who built it way back when.

    *Hopefully we won't need a launch to check every feature still works

  31. TRT Silver badge

    I'm shocked...

    that Microsoft hasn't found a way of updating them to Windows 10 automatically.

  32. John Robson Silver badge

    So we complain

    when the develop new stuff,

    and we complain when they keep systems running for decades. Whatever the budget overrun back then it's probably still cheaper than they thought it was in terms of years of operation...

  33. Scott Broukell

    I was always taught to store 8" disks upright (on edge then), in their wallet, in the shade and preferably in a dry, cool, place. Still, a lot easier to handle than punched tape and cards don't yer know.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      8 inch disk storage

      I was taught that too. There was also a procedure for dealing with disks that had become unreliable, which involved frisbeeing them across the lab, extracting the disk and putting it through the guillotine, just to be sure. But we called them "Shugart disks".

      1. Down not across Silver badge

        Re: 8 inch disk storage

        It would more make more sense to call 5.25" floppy a "shugart disk" (as opposed to 8") given that Alan Shugart's company introduced the 5.25" (SA-400) in mid 70s. Alan did work at IBM and Memorex before setting up his own company so he had roots in 8" disks in that sense.

  34. Efros

    If it's secure and fully functional

    Then there isn't a problem. TBH it gives me some sense of security that ICBM control systems are older technology that don't have a convenient USB or internet connection.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It is a disgrace that the chinese can freely add hercules to their distros to practice hacking into the mainframes, but still have to buy AIX with EDX/MAX emulation to practice hacking into the nuclear stuff.

  36. Custard Fridge

    Tax codes still generated on a 56 year old mainframe

    All of a sudden I feel yong again...

  37. Winkypop Silver badge
    Happy

    COBOL

    Those were the days

  38. Mario Becroft
    Thumb Down

    Mainframe and Fortran > LAMP

    So what are they going to replace it with? Some unweildy Java EE platform that nobody really understands? Maybe MySQL and PHP/Python on commodity x86 hardware that throws runtime errors whenever the version of the PHP interpreter is updated? You have to be joking.

    I feel far more secure with half the world's nukes controlled by a straight-forward, time-tested IBM mainframe designed from the ground up for reliability, using a language like Fortran that has been around for a long time, is not going away, and does the job it was designed to do well. BTW, Fortran is arguably the most popular language in scientific computing.

    Replacing a bespoke COBOL HR program running on zSeries just because it is only 8 years old? Insanity. I bet the system they have works fine and does its intended job. If there is a problem with it, address the problem.

    If this practice were applied in any other engineering discipline, we would laugh. What, we're going to tear down this skyscraper because it is 8 years old and there are now new materials that are arguably better? Replace that multi-million dollar bridge because it is a suspension design from the 50s, and these days concrete/steel truss is in vogue?

    1. Mpeler
      Flame

      Re: Mainframe and Fortran > LAMP [suspension bridge]

      Yeah. A section of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge was replaced, thanks to WillieBrown™, and it appears that the new part is lower quality than the original, perhaps much lower quality. Gives one pause while considering the possibility of "the big one" occurring.

      When they built the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate bridge, they built to a spec of "the best possible, as we don't know just how strong earthquakes can get". Anymore, they build to "cheap as possible, highest margins on lowest bid(s), and hope the customer doesn't notice". Chinese cranes, steel, equipment, and workers.

      The real tragedy in all of this (hoping that "the big one" never happens, of course) is that it's not likely that we could build the likes of these two bridges again, as we have neither the equipment, the expertise, the materials at hand, nor the budget.

      And I say that as a Bay Area native, and it breaks my heart.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Mainframe and Fortran > LAMP

      There are a lot of options, but in the end, it all comes down to the surety process. One could conceivably run the software on a RPi. But how do you create an RPi package that can't be tampered with, will survive the EMP? How do you propagate software upgrades? How do you test the software? Etc.

      The surety process is the major cost driver in the upgrade.

  39. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Alien8n Silver badge

      Re: Stuff that woks

      There's a good argument for not trying to fix stuff that works...

      Old company of mine ran some software written in MUMPS. Software worked for all but one client, turned out the IT manager (who claimed to be vastly more intelligent than anyone else, friends with Richard Branson, was once an Olympic archer, etc) had written some client specific code for handling billing. Turned out he hadn't tested it and it had been running for about 3 years when I arrived there. The bug? Customer makes a partial payment, instead of allocating against the bill and generating a new balance it tries to reallocate against all bills. Result is a random error, plus or minus pennies to thousands of pounds (sometimes tens of thousands). The "fix" wasn't to look at the code generating the error but to manually adjust out the errors in the billing export file as the code clearly couldn't be wrong. I finally found out where the error was occurring and got the vendor to fix the code, which promptly resulted in me leaving the company as the IT manager blamed me for all the fixed bills that hadn't been called due to his code. Needless to say the company doesn't exist anymore.

    2. Mpeler
      Joke

      Re: Stuff that woks - all calculations are done in LSD

      Now that explains a lot. Mario Druggie and the negative interest scam, et. al.

      (Don't know whether to laugh or to cry...).

    3. Ropewash

      Re: Stuff that woks

      Stuff that woks = Yan can cook.

      I read your second sentence as 'To this day all calculations are done ON LSD.'

      Thought it went some way in explaining banking in general.

  40. athame

    Stuff that works

    This reminds of the central clearing bank. To this day all calcs are still done in LSD.Post decimalisation a conversion module was tacked on the end. The reason being to preserve the investment of 4 billion man hours of fully debugged Cobol. You don't fix stuff that is not broken. Can you imagine the dangers inherent in rewriting strategic nuke software from scratch? Or putting it on a modern PC OS - "Cortana can you nuke Moscow for me please"

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "There aren't that many COBOL and Fortran programmers left, and no one is learning those languages these days"

    I can assure you the bank I work for still trains many COBOL coders. Usually grunt work churning specs into code though,

  42. Captain Badmouth
    Windows

    Software bloat

    That software is also, probably, entirely free from bloat I would have thought.

    I have some 8" flopy drives sitting in the loft somewhere and a couple of packs of floppies.

  43. Jean-Paul

    Cobol 74 qualified

    I have a qualification in Cobol 74 :) For the right fee I'm happy to help out....

  44. Cuddles Silver badge

    Does it work?

    If so, what exactly is the problem? People might be desperate to upgrade their phone or whatever every few months, but it's not generally necessary to replace perfectly functional equipment just because it's over some arbitrary age.

    Of course, given that we're talking about firing nuclear weapons, some might argue we'd actually be better off if it doesn't work, especially if no-one else knows that it's broken so the deterrent effect is still there.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Does it work?

      The real problem here is that we've generally lost our ability to repair/replace/recreate hardware components (of a great many types) without depending on the Chinese or whoever, or raiding parts from old or discarded stock. Also, young people today are generally deathly afraid of having to deal with any old stuff - where "old" in their minds may be as little as six months.

  45. GrumpyOldMan

    If it ain't broke...

    I seem to remember that when the millennium bug was going to wipe us all out they brought the COBOL and Fortran old timers out of retirement and they worked as contractors and consultants for a couple of years and made an absolute mint.

  46. Chris 58

    I'd disagree on the "outdated" statement regarding COBOL or Fortran. I think you'd be surprised about just how much big data is handled via COBOL today and those systems dont generally have any plans to be migrated to a different language either....especially in the financial sector. It's still difficult to beat the performance that COBOL can have over newer languages, especially in a mainframe world. And like it or not, mainframes are still produced and are very popular and will kick the pants off any web-based GUI in terms of performance metrics.

  47. onceuponatime

    Fortran? Cobol? I took Fortran in college and it was actually a fun language to learn. Also covered ADA a little bit and I'm sure there is ADA still running around the goobernment complex as well. I'm not a programmer though and while I can write simple tools to make my life easier I would not want to program. Most fun I had was assembly though.

    1. BostonEddie

      SNOBOL! Autocoder! Had a cartridge in my RS CoCo that would let me program in assembler for...6502 was it? Still got it too.

  48. AJ MacLeod

    The BBC's version of this story

    included a very useful "what is a floppy disk?" info panel which included such gems as "floppy disks aren't actually floppy." Clearly their experience doesn't go back even as far as 5.25" floppies then, never mind the 8" ones mentioned in the actual article!

    1. abubasim

      Re: The BBC's version of this story

      5.25" and 8" were floppy but you were not supposed to bend them.

      If the A/C broke down in the server room you would not take an 8" floppy to fan yourself with.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > There aren't that many COBOL and Fortran programmers left, and no one is learning those languages these days

    How utterly clueless of you to make that statement. There are plenty left, I was trained in FORTRAN for my Physics in the early 80s and made a good living out of it until the late 90s. I could easily go back to it if I wished. Bloody millennials think they know everything when they really know Jack Shite!

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      How utterly clueless of you to make that statement. There are plenty left,

      Sssshhhh, no, the comment above is mistaken, don't listen to him, there really are very few left and getting scarcer by the day. So any company wishing to hire one must be prepared to pay them big money. Really big.

  50. Francis412

    I was a Series 1 Expert with IBM. The Air Force loves them.

    4956 is the last model of CPU unit IBM made.

    Maintenance starts with booting the Maintenance Disk to 38F0. that is 0011100011110000.

    If you did not have 7 books called MAPS open you were not working on a Series 1.

    Series/1's are famous for working without error for 15 years.

    Breaking and being down for a week while the problems and connectors were resolved Oh and the Systems were vacuumed out of 15 years of accumulated dust that usually locked the boards into their slots..

    Then working for another 15 years.

    Ahh! Those were the days. Six figure incomes and never saw the family.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I was a Series 1 Expert with IBM. The Air Force loves them.

      Damn Whipper Snapper.

      Try working with the WIMMICS systems that we had to boot using Paper Tape.

      Or the 128k of Core Memory used in the Radar Systems

      ;-)

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surety is the upgrade cost driver

    Nuclear surety is the primary cost driver for the strategic force upgrades. You want to make darned sure that the system can't be tampered with, can't be accidentally triggered or launched, not spoofed, codes are secure and used only once, etc. The surety process accounts for anywhere from 50-80% of the cost of the upgrade.

    All snarky comments aside (see /.), the system works and there's a lot of analysis that goes on to ensure surety. Want to upgrade to fiber? Sure -- but, doesn't glass darken when exposed to hard radiation? Won't it break under blast pressure? Want to use point-to-point wireless? Ok, but how do you secure those links? Can you protect them from the blast ESD pulse? What's the backup when those links fail? What's the backup to that backup?

    The system may be antiquated vis a vis our age of continual technology improvement utopia, but it just works and has been working since the last major upgrade over 30 years ago. Upgrading the system is a Major Effort with many factors.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Is it all that bad?

    We may be better off with the nukes being controlled by some ancient unhackable system.

    The last thing I want is the control system for a nuke sending out a LinkedIn friend request or being held to ransom by some hacker wanting 1000 bitcoin to relinquish control!!

    And when the real crunch comes, "we can't launch the missiles at the critical moment because the paperclip icon is trying to convince us we need an OS update"

    We've had some truly great advances in IT that these systems have missed out on.

    ;)

    1. Mpeler
      Mushroom

      Re: Is it all that bad?

      Now if they launched the nukes at the ransomware hacker and the source of windows 10 nagware (is there really any difference?), then it might be OK...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it all that bad?

      The "ancient" setup does not bother me. A "modernised" version scares the hell oout of me.

  53. abubasim

    Legacy System = Shoes Worn Until Comfortable

    The advantages with a legacy system that has been in use for decades are that you are less likely to bump into bugs you haven't discovered years ago and know how to circumvent, and that there's no need for frequent updates to patch for security defects. And I doubt there are any crooks out there writing ransomware for System/1....

  54. Lord_Beavis
    Trollface

    Dr. Falken

    Shall we play a game?

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I call overblown BS on this story. Strategic C&C is way too complex for a single mainframe. The system they're talking about (SACCS) may have *an* old mainframe, but it's a huge leap of logic to present that as meaning the final C&C of an arsenal is dependent on a 50yo piece of hardware. The GAO doc (yes I read it) doesn't explain in any detail what the system component does and/or what the consequences of failure would be. I'm guessing IBM doesn't have too many spare parts on the shelf for that hardware.

  56. BostonEddie

    I know a guy who maintained COBOL programs until just a few years ago. Financial systems, he did. After so many decades they figured the bugs had all been worked out.

    Then there was the guy around boston who many years ago agreed to have installed the first telephone line in the area. As an inducement the local telco gave him the line for free and agreed to let him have it for no charge. Free calls. For as long as he lived. He lived to be very old and took up genealogy as a hobby. Free calls. To Europe. Long discussions searching for European relatives. For years...

  57. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm so thriled that they performed proper Y2K testing *eyeroll*

    Too bad they couldn't run it on an emulator …

    Oh Wait !

    (Mainrame)

    http://www.hercules-390.eu/

    (IBM PC/XT)

    http://emulation.gametechwiki.com/index.php/IBM_PC/XT_emulators

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