Vintage Car
Mainframe

New Year, Old Stuff; And New…

What can I say? I’m an old guy and I like old stuff.

The best example of this is my 1968 Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible. I bought it about 10 years ago, a little bit before my 50th birthday. I’ve had older cars before – in my 30’s I had a beautiful 1968 Camaro – that was my second of three Camaros in my life. But then I got married, had kids, and dumped my last Camaro (a 1984 version) for the first of a long line of SUVs and trucks. But I started to miss having an old car, so in my early 40’s I asked my wife if she’s be okay if I bought another one. She said that she’d be okay with it, but only if it was a convertible. So, I remembered that, and came home with an A-body 1968 Cutlass several years later. By then she had forgotten, and probably didn’t think I was serious anyway.

It’s a beautiful car; black with gorgeous lines, and a 350 Rocket under the hood. At some point I decided that a pony car (like a Camaro or a Mustang) was for younger dudes, and I decided that an A-body was now more suitable for me – an older dude. I put it away for the winter – which is over 6 months up here in frigid Canada. And like any old car, it’s a money pit – but that’s okay – it’s a toy, and I can spend money on it or not.

But it’s not just old – it will soon be upgraded; I have decided to install a new General Motors LT1 crate engine into it.

My love of old stuff does not end with vintage cars. My other hobby, or illness as some might call it, is collecting vintage audio equipment. It started in college with a friend who had Tannoy Arden speakers. They were my dream speakers, but I could not afford them when I was in college, nor could I afford them long after college – family, kids and things were always a higher priority. But about 20 years ago, I started small. I bought a smaller set of Tannoy speakers (Chertsey cabinets with 12 inch drivers). To drive them, I found a Carver TFM-15 power amplifier on eBay, and a Carver CT-17 tuner/preamp to go with it. I then moved to a better preamp, a Carver C-16, after going through a nice Technics preamp and an awesome SAE preamp. Today my collection includes 2 decent quality CD players (and a mixing board with 2 more), 2 decent quality reel-to-reel tape decks, 2 decent quality cassette tape decks, an 8-track tape deck, 3 turntables (a Bang and Olufsen, a Dual 505 and a Technics SL-1200), a complete Technics Pro-Flat Series set of separates, and a wide variety of tuners and speakers. Speaking of speakers, I now have a nice set of Tannoy Ardens.

But it’s not just old gear – I recently added a new Mcintosh amplifier into the mix.

I live in an older house that was built in 1968. My wife and I shopped around a lot and looked at 50 houses, yes, 50! The average number of houses a buyer saw before buying at that time was 3 houses; we saw 50. It’s not the greatest – it’s a bungalow with a cathedral ceiling and a finished basement. A carport, but no garage. While it was built over 50 years ago, it doesn’t look like it now; we have been renovating it pretty much non-stop since we bought it 25 years ago, so we are very comfortable there, and will retire there some day (ha! as if…). The latest addition was a super-high-efficiency furnace.

I also collect old tools. Recently my father-in-law passed away; he was a frugal farmer, and never threw anything away – ever. So, for several months we’ve been cleaning out his giant tool shed / barn. It’s huge, and it’s full of stuff – including a lot of old tools. His hobby was buying tools and other equipment at rural auction sales. One prize I found there was a brand-new back-up generator. That will fit very nicely at our house!

My own father was a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot, and after he passed away, I inherited his military paraphernalia. This includes some pretty cool stuff – the joy stick controller from a T-33 trainer (a two-seat version of the Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star), photos from when he was a hot-shot fighter pilot in the mid-to-late 1950s, all of his books – including his RCAF log book. Not all of it was old stuff though – there are also some bits and pieces of an F-18 fighter jet.

Books – you guessed it; old books. Old atlases, reference materials, etc. But more than that, I like reading about history – from ancient history (written by Pliny, Tacitus, Livy) to more recent history – WW2 books – like An Army at Dawn and two others by Rick Atkinson, and First Man by James R. Hansen, the life of Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11. But that’s not my only interest; I’m also into science fiction – sure the older stuff by Heinlein, Clarke, and Bradbury, but also newer stuff by authors like Peter F. Hamilton, Jack Campbell and Taylor Anderson.

But the hobby for which I get paid is mainframe computing. I manage this blog, but I also have a couple of clients in the mainframe business. Recently, I helped one client make up a cool calendar chronicling the history of the IBM mainframe computer. It showed old -time systems like the 700 series and the System/360, but also included the latest and greatest cutting-edge z15.

The big difference between my other hobbies and my paid hobby is that my collectibles are mostly old stuff while the IBM mainframe, while being around for over 50 years, is actually still cutting-edge technology. How does that work? As I’ve said many times, the mainframe from 50 years ago looks nothing like today’s z14 and z15 mainframe systems. There are some mainframe shops that are running old COBOL code, and limping along. But most of the COBOL shops are continuously updating their applications – in many cases their most valuable IT assets – and many are supplementing their COBOL code base with code from newer technologies from C++ and Java, to Python, Ruby and Swift, or practically anything else.

My interests in ‘old stuff’ is actually ‘old stuff supplemented by newer stuff’. The mainframe though, is different – while the older systems are all retired now, today’s systems are brand-spanking new, with code bases that are continuously updated and upgraded. Anyone in-the-know realizes that the mainframe systems of today are hardly old, clunky, dusty, or any other adjective that competitors’ marketers will use – but rather they are the among the most modern systems on the planet, and indeed, run the most important processing for most of the biggest financial services companies world wide.

Happy new year to you all, and please keep coming back to read about the world’s oldest, greatest, and newest computing platform.

Keith Allingham
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