Happy Birthday, RPG IV

RPGPGM.com notes that 21 years ago today, RPG IV (also known as RPG ILE) was released.

The first version of RPG IV came as part of OS400 V3R1, which was released on November 25 1994. Even though the code was still constrained by columns, the new Definition specifications (D-specs) was introduced, and I could now use variable names that were up to ten characters long. It also made it possible to use Date, Time, and Timestamp data types along with operations codes to be able to easily perform math with them. And I no longer had to use indicators for reads, chains, etc.

This makes me feel a bit old as I remember when RPG ILE was the next big thing. And, without much fanfare, it has continued to evolve — in many ways more rapidly than other, more popular languages. This is both RPG’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

IBM have, over the years, put a great deal of effort into ensuring that, for all the new features, backward compatibility has never been broken. This means that if you are running an i on Power, you can upgrade as and when you are ready without having to worry about all of your applications breaking. There are not many reasons for not staying on a supported release, and fewer valid valid ones.

The downside of this is that there is nothing to force developers to take advantage of any of these new features. You could, if you wanted to, write programs in exactly the way you did 30 years ago. They would still compile, still run and still work as expected. And people do.

RPG today is in the somewhat unfortunate position of being a very modern language that is often perceived as being old fashioned. This is because it lets programmers get into a rut and never learn anything new.

I doubt that there is any way of squaring this particular circle. Backward compatibility is important and business critical applications shouldn’t be put at risk. But remember this: If someone claims that RPG is old, obsolete, or worse, the issue to which they are referring is not a technical one.

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Paris: Some Links

They have the guns. Fuck them, we have the champagne!

They have the guns.
Fuck them, we have the champagne!

Over the past week the press has — not surprisingly — been full of the attacks on Paris, the aftermath and where we go from here. Plenty of opinions have been offered and I really don’t have anything to add. So, instead, here are a few links to articles that particularly struck me.

Starting with Charlie Hebdo, whose absolutely brilliant cover can be seen to the left of this post. It turns out that they also have an English translation of their current edition’s Riss Editorial (click quickly as the layout of their website suggests that this will be replaced when the next print edition is published).

After the horror of the attacks, another ordeal is to be expected. The harassment of analyses, explanations, theories. And it started on Friday night, live on television. So-called specialists pretended that the attacks were the consequences of the French bombings of Daesh’s oil facilities. The hostages of the Bataclan had yet to be released and the same guilty speeches were already delivered. We had been attacked because we had done something wrong. As was the case with the Mahomet cartoons that supposedly spurred everything that went on afterwards, the victims were made responsible. The French would be guilty of taking a stand, of being committed. Of simply existing. In reality, for these criminals, there is no beginning and no end to the responsibility of France. Human rights, free speech, secularism, for them, these values are enough to legitimate their crimes. We are being given “explanations” that sound like “reasons” and end up becoming “justifications”. It is too early yet, but in a few days, when the emotion calms down, the professional scavengers, who always find excuses for the killers, will start to roam around the dead. It is always the same process after an attack –– horror, emotion, acceptance, justification.

During these tragic days, lots of words were uttered. Except one, “religion”. Religion has become embarrassing. Nobody dares say the word but everybody knows that religion was what motivated the murderers, not pseudo geopolitical issues. Even if there are thousands ways to believe and worship and even though you can obviously be a believer and a democrat, have faith and still respect the diversity of opinions, we also know that religion can be turned into a weapon. The other word that is so hard to pronounce is “Islam”. For the past twenty years, Islam has turned into a battlefield on which radicals vowed to exterminate non-believers and to submit moderates by force. French Muslims must feel ill at ease when they see killings committed in the name of their religion while suspicion is creeping around them. And since they cannot expect any support from the Muslim religious authorities in France, who have always been useless, French Muslims must fend for themselves. Threatened to be sidelined by the rest of French society or to be swept over by fundamentalism.

The only ones who have an interest in seeing the French people clash are the terrorists. It is what they are craving for, to see hatred take over the French the same way it took over their brains. Terrorists always seek to draw the rest of the world into their own violence because it is their language and in this field, they will always be stronger than we are. But to avoid the trap of division does not mean we should renounce the right to criticise religion simply because this right can sometimes be seen as irritating. Among all the fundamental rights essential to our lives, this freedom is also what the killers attempted to destroy on Friday night.

In The Guardian, Agnès Poirier strikes a similar note:

France and its capital city seem to have been a particular focus of their abomination. Other European cities have been hit – Madrid, London and Brussels, for instance. But the viciousness those terrorists reserve for France is notable. For obvious reasons: France and Paris are the cradle of the Enlightenment, the birthplace of secularism and the separation between the State and the Church, a beacon of freedom of thought, scepticism and powerful satire. It is also an active player in fighting Islamists in the world, for example in Mali.

Many people will ask questions about failures in intelligence gathering and sharing, about prevention of such acts and they will be right. However, when the danger is so diffuse, no democracy that values freedom of speech and movement is completely safe.

In Politico, Carrie Budoff Brown makes a point that bears repeating:

There was, in fact, a kind of syllogism of terror at work here: a movement that begins by targeting Jews and writers will end by targeting the West at large. Those who extenuated those earlier attacks by pointing to Israeli policies or cartoonists’ provocations may now realize that terrorism is not a form of critique, but a form of attack. Religious pluralism and free speech are the glories of liberalism, and so they are what the enemies of liberalism attack first.

Sadly, I suspect we will continue to see more cases of the ideologically blinded insisting that everything that happens everywhere can only ever be explained n terms of UK/US/EU foreign policy — as if such a coherent thing actually existed.

Bruce Schneier also weighs in with a few links of his own.

Bruce Schneier:

But our job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show’s viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn’t make us any safer.

Paul Krugman:

So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.

Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn’t spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity.

Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.

And an article from Cracked which was written after the attack in January in which Islamic militants massacred an office full of comedians.

The final word goes to those comedians. If you don’t speak French (and even if you do), the text on the cover reads “They have the guns. Fuck them, we have the champagne!”

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Brexit brinkmanship as an alternative to effective government

Many years ago when I lived in the Netherlands, I knew someone who had moved to Holland to look for a job. Being English and, therefore, an EU citizen, he was entitled to relocate but the Dutch authorities made very clear that he had no right to claim any benefits. As I type this, I realise that I can tell a similar story about the time we moved to Belgium.

With this in mind, I have always struggled to understand why UK politicians continue to make such an issue of so-called benefit tourism. If the Dutch and Belgian administrative systems are able to withhold benefits without demanding a treaty change, why can’t Britain.

It’s a question that is touched on by Mark Leonard, who also supplies an answer.

The questions around access to benefits are more sensitive — although many member states are puzzled that the Cameron government doesn’t do more to deal with these issues by changing British policy — rather than demanding European action. Government insiders explain that the reasons are partly to do with the unwillingness of the Department of Work and Pensions, which is reluctant to adapt its archaic systems and struggling IT — they reckon that it would be easier to get treaty change than to change some of these problems.

You read that right. The DWP IT systems are such a mess, that it’s easier to ask 26 other governments to change their IT systems than it is for the DWP to fix their own mess. Do I think this is plausible? Yes, I do.

This is an annoyingly common pattern — and not one confined to the UK. National politicians are all too quick to blame the EU for their own failings and shameless when it comes to taking credit when the EU does something useful or popular.

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Quote of the day: Four Jacobean Lions

The Gunpowder Plotters weren’t freedom fighters at all. They wanted to replace an oppressive Protestant regime with an oppressive Catholic one, and were willing to commit mass slaughter to do it. In other words, Guy Fawkes was a religious terrorist, and not even one of the most important ones. He was the Jacobean equivalent of one of the minor characters from Four Lions.

At any rate, the result of all this is that we’ve ended up with a world that celebrates a semi-competent religious fundamentalist as a freedom fighter, and where people give money to big corporations to buy copies of his face.

Well done, anarchists. Well done on never reading a fucking book.

Jonn Elledge

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Judge Dredd to (finally) take on Ronald McDonald

A page from the now uncensored Cursed Earth storyline. If you are British and of a certain age you will be well aware of 2000AD and you will probably remember the Cursed Earth, in which Judge Dredd travelled across the irradiated wasteland that is the future North America to deliver a vaccine to Mega-City Two.

It turns out that a couple of episodes of that series, in which Dredd took on corporate mascots such as Ronald McDonald, the Burger King, the Michelin Man and the Jolly Green Giant, were pulled due to legal fears.

Now for the good news Comics Alliance (via) reports that “due to recent changes in UK law governing parody” the full story can now be told.

Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth Uncensored, a new printing of the story, will not only restore the pulled episodes but will also reprint reprint Brian Bolland and Mick McMahon’s color spreads.

It’s due to be printed in the US and the UK next July and is going straight on my Amazon wishlist.

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Blood Moon

A couple of evenings ago, as the kids came home, it was dark and the moon was both full and red. Alex decided he had to take a photo of this and rushed in to find a camera. This is the result.

Blood Moon

Not bad for a five year old.

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Happy 30 Year Nostalgia Day

Back to the Future 2 I couldn’t let today go past without a mention as October 21st 2015 is the date in which Marty McFly arrives in Back to the Future 2. Inevitably, there is a website and a Facebook page to celebrate this fact.

Coincidentally, we watched Back to the Future 2 on Sunday and I have to say that the main thing going for the film is nostalgia. It’s not a bad film – by any stretch of the imagination – but it really hasn’t held up as successfully as… Well, the first Back to the Future film. Back to the Future 2 does feel very much like a rerun of the first film but in the future!

It’s not a bad film but I doubt that anyone would be nerding over today’s date if it wasn’t for the fact that Back to the Future was so much better.

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