A visit to Kuala Lumpur

An IBM S/370, similar to the one Swiss Bob worked on at the age of 8
Oliver.obi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Back in the 80s and 90s in my IT life I did a lot of work on something called platform migrations. If your eyes haven’t already glazed over imagine taking Windoze programs and automatically converting them to run on Apple machines. It is is not quite like that but you will probably have more idea of the PC world. In fact one platform was an IBM system called VSE and the other was another IBM system called MVS. I worked for the company who produced the automatic conversion software and had to sign yet another NDA to work on this project. Seeing as it now 30 years ago and I am not going to mention the customer’s name, I may be on safe ground.

Essentially you take all the programs from the old system plus the various control scripts and definitions that run them, convert them automatically and install the new ones on the new system. I don’t intend to get into any detail on how it all worked but suffice to say, you had to ensure you had all the programs to start with before you start converting them. This process was called mapping. The conversion had various ways of checking this plus a few tweaks were available. The missing lists reduce as you work through and resolve any errors.

The project was in Kuala Lumpur for one of the big oil companies and my visit there was concerned with two missing source programs. Many of you may know that you write programs in one of various programming languages which is then translated by a compiler to machine code (executables in Windoze terms). The automatic conversion software processed only source code because sometimes it had to be changed. The customer only had executables for these two programs and these needed to be reverse engineered to source code before they could be converted. This was my job, to take two executables and create the corresponding source code.

I was quite experienced with executable code but had never done this before, anyway I beavered away for a few days and lo and behold, there was the missing source code. One of the programs was called M115X. Now the main program was M115 and it had sub programs from M115A, M115B to about M115R and M115X was way out of range. This was a bit odd to begin with.

M115’s job was to gather all the orders by customer, product and date and produce one or more invoices per customer for the month (hence the M at the start of the name, it ran once a month). Odd naming convention but it was Malaysia, maybe that’s what the M stood for.

Now M115 was their main invoicing program and I could see that M115X was invoked or called by the program that calculated discounts. Having calculated any discount, it then called M115X. Poking around in the code I discovered that this M115X, quite small as it was, had a few customer numbers and a few product codes in it. If it had the customer and product in its list, it gave extra discounts. Logically then this was giving extra discounts to selected customers and this sounded a bit suspect to me. If the programmer had left the source in the normal repository nobody would have been any the wiser but he had squirrelled it away somewhere.

Now I had to go and tell the operations manager about this. He was an Englishman and he was shall we say, very pale. After I explained to him what was happening what little colour he had drained from his face. I hesitate to tell you what he decided, that stays between me and him.

My other guiding memory of this project was that they had a Malaysian chap working on the operating systems side, another of my specialities, and he had seven degrees, yes 7 ! He was as thick as mince and all his degrees were from US institutions who obviously realised he would never get a job in the US so if they awarded him a degree he would never be able to ply his trade on their soil. In fact, I did a few things on their new system which he promptly undid and I had to do again. An absolute plank.

As far as Malaysia went, the hotel I stayed in was 5 star but would be about 9 star here. The staff, mostly Malays, were absolutely wonderful. I worked with one or two Chinese who all wanted to leave because they thought they were treated like dogs and to be fair, they did get the brown end of the stick. The weirdest thing I heard while I was there was a new law that said a muslim could only get his hair cut by a muslim. He couldn’t use a chinese barber for instance. This is because some of the chinese barber shops offered extra services out the back and some of the poor muslims were duped into using them.

I have tried to reduce the technical stuff to a minimum. Those who persevere may have made it to the end, to the others who gave up, I don’t blame you. Anyway, it’s not only the comments you aren’t supposed to read.

© well_chuffed 2022

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