Thursday, September 4, 2014

Too Much Sport Is Barely Enough

Sport has always been a big part of our family's life.  Both Helen and I have our earliest memories full of images of our fathers playing cricket in the semi-rural (as it was then) south west of Sydney. Our fathers were also skilled rugby league players but had stopped playing by the time we were brought into the world. I also had the pleasure to watch my grandfather umpiring cricket after decades of playing the game. He was an avid baseball and rugby league player in his day as well. 

Our lives as a family has featured all sorts of sporting endeavours from netball to soccer to cricket to basketball and baseball. If we weren't playing it, we were watching it or even officiating it.

What follows are a couple of stories about watching sport this summer, and watching Australian players in particular.

Out to the Ball Game

One of our favourite summer events is the Little League World Series which is held in South Williamsport Pennsylvania every August. Unlike other events where the term "world champion" is bandied about with great recklessness, this baseball tournament does have participants from all parts of the world. Teams participating have made their way from local competitions through to national and regional tournaments in order to qualify to make the trip to the north east of the United States. 

Lamade Stadium
The tournament is covered by ESPN which broadcasts every game using some of the greats of the game like Nomar Garciaparra. Each game is watched in the club houses (dressing rooms in Aussie speak) of the major league ball clubs.

ESPN and ABC Broadcast Booth
Baseball has reached a level of participation now that Australia has become its own region such that the winner of the national tournament has an automatic spot in the International division of the Little League World Series. This year marked the second year where an Australian team was present and, once again, Perth had provided a team to represent the country. 

Pre-game introductions at Volunteer Stadium
So when the opportunity arose to go and watch some other Aussies in action we were only too happy to make the trip for a second time to Williamsport. It's about a 3.5 to 4 hour drive from Leesburg through some very lovely country.  Festooned in national colours and clothing, there would be no mistaking who we were there to support. In fact we got so many comments and questions between the car park and the stadium entrance, that we gave up explaining we were Aussies living in the US and just let people believe we'd made the long trip for the tournament.

The Fergusons go to the LLWS
The great thing about Little League is that it relies almost exclusively on volunteers. Consequently there's no fee to play, but better still there's no fee to watch. So we were soon ensconced in the stadium on opening day to watch Australia take on the powerhouse team from Puerto Rico who were representing the Caribbean region.

Puerto Rico is a strong side with great hitting and pitching
It was always going to be a hard game. However, given that the team had last played in late June, had only made the 35+ hour trip from Perth a few days before, and the first pitch took place at 5.00 am Perth time it was going to be even harder. 

Play Ball
After causing the scorer no trouble after their turn at bat in the first, the Puerto Rican side took the game by the scruff of the neck by posting 13 runs. We all felt for the Aussie kids who kept their heads up and toughed it out. Their coach was a great leader and motivator, keeping it positive in quite dire circumstances.

Australian Coach keeps the team motivated under fire from the Puerto Rican hitters
The result of the game was never in doubt but after that first inning the boys rallied and performed with great credit to them and their coaches. Unlike last year when it took three games for the Australian team to score, they were able to post 3 runs. One of the highlights was a spectacular diving catch by the young left fielder Carter Dowling which ended up being one of the top rated plays of the entire tournament.

Post game handshakes
Later that week, the team recorded the first ever win at the tournament for an Australian team when they outplayed the team from the Czech Republic. Apart from getting its first win, Javier Pelkonen hit the first home run by an Australian player. 

In subsequent games the team lost a very competitive game against another baseball power, Mexico. In fact, the team led for a substantial portion of the match before going down in a very close game.

Family and friends who'd made the trip from Perth
The expression "great ambassadors for their sport" is a term that suffers from so much use it seems to have lost any meaning. However, in the case of this Australian contingent, I definitely think the description is appropriate. The coaches, players, and parents did the country proud. An especially nice touch was that the team had brought hand painted balls by Aborigines from the Geraldton area to give to the other teams. These were featured in the "Parent Interview" segment during the game against the Czechs.

One of the highlights of the LLWS was watching the coach of the New England side. He is the type of coach every kid should have at least once in their lives. Here is his talk to the team after they lost a very close game that had knocked them out of the tournament.

A Brush with Greatness

Our next outing was to the DC United game against the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. 

After watching the World Cup games while we were back in Australia and getting up at ridiculous times in order to do so, we had the opportunity to see one the Australian stars in action. So, while we'd be supporting the Red and Black, we'd be cheering for Tim Cahill
Tim Cahill
Who did we sing for? Not quite, but at least they're Red and Black

In addition, the New York team is captained by the French great Thiery Henry which made it a double brush with greatness.

Thiery Henry

We made a day of things by packing our esky and tail gating before the game. 

Tail Gating

The weather was perfect though the sun was intense. Fortunately, our row 2 seats were in the shade relatively early in the afternoon.

The game itself was entertaining and while Tim Cahill came close to scoring a couple of times, including a shot off the bar, the DC United team came out on top and moved 4 points ahead in their conference.

Cahill and Henry
Cahill is amazing to watch. The game was played in mid-30 temperatures with barely a breeze blowing. He ran from box to box, sideline to sideline for the 90 minutes he was out there. 

Game Over
Our highlight was post-game when Cahill saw the Aussie flag that we'd brought along with us. It might be easily confused by others but it's like a secret handshake with fellow Aussies. He pointed up to us and motioned Kate andAdam (who were in their Australian soccer shirts), and Ashley (in her Sydney Harbour Bridge cap) to meet him at the fence. 

Cahill just after he spotted some Aussies in the crowd

He then spent the next several minutes talking and signing things. He was one of the only non-DC players to spend time with the fans after the game. As he was leaving the stadium he spotted the NY contingent who'd made the trip down I95 from New York for the game. He climbed the fence and made his way up to thank them, sign autographs, have pictures taken, and give his game shirt to one of the fans. Here is another worthy of the title "ambassador". 
Tim Cahill spending time with the fans after 90 minutes in intense heat

Monday, July 28, 2014

The day my grandfather played cricket against Clive Churchill

I was searching through Trove the other day looking for instances of where my father and grandfather played cricket with each other. I found a number of instances which made interesting reading (to me). However, I also came across the following match report that describes a fundraiser my grandfather took part in back in the 1950s. This will only make sense to people familiar with (a) cricket in Australia during that era, (2) the sport of rugby league. My American friends can probably return to the program already in progress...

The Biz - Thursday 1st March 1951 (courtesy of National Library of Australia)

For those who find the type a little hard to read:

Aggressive batting and accurate bowling made very interesting a match in Fairfield Park last Sunday between a combined team of S.D. Cricket Association, and an eleven of international and first grade footballers, and a few first grade cricketers.
Although the public did not attend in very great numbers to help a worthy cause, a tidy sum will benefit the Fairfield Memorial and Honour Avenue.
The turf wicket was in excellent playing condition when the S.D. team went in to bat. Star of the team was Billy Wilkinson, of Fairfield Sports Club, who top-scored with 35, and later also kept wickets very safely; Roger Stimson and G. Diessell compiled a useful 15 each; S.D. total being 94.
The visitors replied with 98, with an exciting finish. They were led by former international cricketer, Tom Andrews, who bowled the first ball. L. (Bockeye) Bell, Newcastle Rugby League full-back, starred for the "Stars," taking five wickets for 11 runs, and top-scored with 37 runs. Promising young N.S.W. representative colt, Ray Flockton, went for two runs; and he subsequently denied a statement that he was going to accept an offer to play for an English club. Ray displayed outstanding fielding ability. Local "champions" Reg ("Bradman") Williams and Charlie ("Gregory") Watts, afterwards gave a very brief glimpse of their former classical strokes, Billy Kearns was bowled whilst trying to explain one of his jokes-his usual hard luck.
Southern District Cricket Association president and secretary, Messrs. Jack Ellis and Ron Hindmarsh, spoke highly of the wonderful hospitality of Fairfield Bowling Club, which made the players honorary members for the day, and the club's splendid amenities were made available to the cricketers.
The refreshment stall manned by Mesdames Williamson, Preston and Talbot netted a useful sum for the good causes.
Veteran umpires, Messrs. Bill Hatch and Bill Lavender, voluntarily officiated for the whole day.
Fairfield Citizens' Band, augmented by several Liverpool bandsmen, played during the afternoon and their musical numbers were greatly appreciated by the committee and the public.
The scores were: S. D. Association: R. Stimson 15, G. Diessell 15, G. Ferguson 0, P. O'Connor 3, K. Bryers 1, W. Wilkinson 35, J. Ellis 13, B. Jones 4, R. Stiles 1, K. Waights 0, R. Wilson 0, R Watts 6, sundries 1, total 94. Bowling: T, Andrews 0/3, L. Bell 5/11, R. Flockton 1/14, C. Churchill 0/12, B. Flynn 1/1, J. Graves 0/20, K. Wolfe 0/17, C. Cowie 1/6, Howick 3/0.
"Internationals." - A. Neilson 7, K. Wolfe 3, R. Flockton 2, B. Flynn 11, L. Bell 37, B. Purcell 16, C. Churchill 4, J. Graves 12, J. Raynor 4, C. Cowie 3, C. Curran 0, J. Brian 0, E. Spencer 5, Howick 1, sundries 3. Bowling: P. O'Connor 2/26, Wilson 2/24, K. Waights 5/33, G. Ferguson 0/15, K. Styles 3/7.
Jack Raynor, speaking at the mid-day meal, proved himself quite an orator, with a natural turn of witty humour.
The visitors were accompanied by some charming ladies.
Unfortunately for my grandfather, a very good cricketer, didn't trouble the scorer at this event.

The event had been advertised in the local paper the previous couple of weeks:
The Biz - 1st February 1951
The Biz - 15th February 1951

A couple of the notable names from the game include Clive Churchill, Bernie Purcell, and Billy Kearns. "Neale!" you exclaim, "I know who Clive Churchill and Bernie Purcell are, but who is Billy Kearns?" 

If I were to say "Hudson, that's 'udson with a haitch" does that ring a bell? Billy was the old man in the Hudson Hardware advertisements from the 1970s and 80s. Unfortunately, I can't find the ad on YouTube our elsewhere, but it still brings a smile to the face. Bill had a long and successful career as a comedian. He died in 1987. 

That's the joy of Trove, you look for one thing and stumble on something quite unexpected. I never knew my grandfather played against such luminaries of the Australia sporting world, let alone a voice from my childhood.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

NCAA reaches agreement on Competitive Eating Program

At a meeting of college Athletic Directors, an in-principle agreement was reached to establish a college competitive eating program. A spokesman for the NCAA stated that following the popularity of the ESPN coverage of the Major League Eating (MLE) events and America's increasing desire for sedentary pursuits it became evident that the time was right for colleges to establish their own programs.

The spokesman went on to say that the new venture would fill a gaping hole in their college championship tournament schedule. "The culmination of the football season occurs in January and basketball has its March madness", he said. "There is a long gap from then until the College World Series, so a Competitive Eating tournament in the April-May timeframe would provide an exciting option for us."

"The colleges also have an obligation to the greater community to promote the next generation of leaders", explained Dan Guerrero, AD of UCLA. "Where are the future Joey Chestnuts going to come from? There is an enormous hole in gluttonous aptitude out there: look at the difference between first and second in the recent Hot Dog championships held over the July 4 weekend. Our goal is to discover and develop talent using the same dedication and scientific approach that goes into our other athletic pursuits."

School presidents are already excited about the potential of the new program. "We have been contacted by a major fast food organization which is proposing to establish a chair in Alternative Nutrition", stated South Carolina president Harris Pastides. "A whole new slate of scholarships will become available to find the best young talent to become Game Cocks."

Rising high school senior Todd Levington of Biloxi, Mississippi, is delighted with the possibility of obtaining a college education subsidized by the new scholarships. "For last three years I've watched as the best baseballers, cheerleaders, and footballers have been signed to full or partial rides that enabled them to study the discipline of their choice. Now it's my turn", he said. 

Levington is already famous for his ability to consume vast quantities of chicken nuggets at lunchtime. His dedication extends outside the cafeteria to the school dumpsters where he is often found honing his craft. "I intend to sit the FATs later this year and achieve at least a 5200 (calories) while maintaining my LDLs above 165."

In keeping with the NCAA's philosophy of promoting the culture of its member colleges, the intramural programs will feature foodstuffs of the region. "Of course our Varsity program will be devoted to the cuisine of the professional leagues, but we recognize that not all our athletes will end up in the professional ranks. So, as it is important to graduate a very well-rounded individual, we will allow the conferences to choose a regional specialty upon which their participants can engorge themselves. For example, the SEC is planning on using 'hush puppies', which will serve as a gateway food for the Varsity hot dog program."

The NCAA has denied its members are being pressured to change their school mascots during Competitive Eating events. Rumors have abounded about Virginia Tech's Hokie Bird being fitted with a  "ButterBall" sash, or that Louisville had created prototypes of the Hamburgler in the livery of the famous college. "Signage and advertising restrictions will be identical to our other sports" stated Morgan Burke, AD at Purdue. "However, we are working with various groups interested in the food and beverage concessions." He went on to add, "Purdue has always had a commitment to quality."

A meeting of NCAA officials in September will finalize details including menus, recruitment guidelines, and scheduling. The current plan is for the first competition to take place in February 2015, a rib-fest at the University of Texas at Austin campus. ESPN-U will be providing coverage of all Division I events.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trove - A National Treasure (or how I got my C8 PhD)

As an amateur genealogist these days are a golden period for doing family research. The Internet is a technology made for this type of investigation. There are so many great sources of information from the New South Wales Births, Deaths and Marriages website, to, to the numerous newspaper sites around the world.

One of the real gems for Australian researchers has been Trove. In its own words:

"Trove is a discovery experience focused on Australia and Australians. It supplements what search engines provide. If you are researching in the fields of the social sciences, literature, local or family history, or need inspiration for your school assignment, then this is the tool for you."
"Trove is the National Library of Australia's flagship discovery service for the public.  It supports the discovery and annotation of items in Australian collections.  The term "Australian collections" encompasses libraries, archives, university repositories and major online collections such as biographical databases, digitised book collections and digitised newspaper collections."

Grandparents' Wedding [1]

I've used it extensively to get all sorts of information about family. I've found game reports from cricket matches of the early 1900s, wedding reports of grandparents and great aunts, the drowning of a great great uncle, and discovered a relative who disappeared under one name to appear under another. This type of information has greatly enhanced the family tree by providing colour and background to the raw data of births, deaths, and marriages.

Trove also allows (and encourages) you to submit corrections to the optical character recognition process that creates transcripts from the text images. There are thousands of contributors, including me, that have provided hundreds of thousands of updates to the site.

In addition to family research, just reading the old newspapers is fascinating. Reports filed during World War 2 have a real sense of immediacy and urgency than a history text book. 

Trove has also allowed me to have some great fun.

A couple of years ago, as a devoted reader of the Sydney Morning Herald, I came across an item in Column 8 (a section devoted to weird and amusing readers' questions and observations). In this particular item a reader had recalled a memory from the 1940s when, as a child, he overheard someone talking on a public 'phone. All he recalled from that snippet of conversation was the telephone number "FL3289". 

As a past contributor to Column 8 I decided I'd see how far I could get tracking down information about that number. My tool of choice was Trove given its vast archive of Australian newspapers that go back to the early 1800s.

By using the 'phone number as the search keyword I was presented with a few pages of hits, most of which were misses but one, a classified advertisement for a car, seemed to hit the mark. I contributed the information to Column 8 who published it:

1938 Dodge D8 - credit Alf van Beem
We have to hand an astonishing piece of research, undertaken by Neale Ferguson, of Leesburg, Virginia, into the mysterious phone number FL3289 (Column 8, for some days): ''From the Herald of Saturday March 16, 1940,'' Neale quotes, ''in the section 'For Sale. Motor Cars, Lorries, Etc.: DODGE 1938 D.8. 7-Passenger Sedan, driven by owner only, dark blue duco. Great opportunity for private hire businessman. Registered for 12 months with H.C. Plate. No dealers. 1 Ormond Street, Paddington. Phone FL3289.'''

Using the address information I attempted to find out about the possible seller of the Dodge and the owner of the FL3289 telephone number. Trove came up with a number of candidates. I chose the most likely of these and (again) submitted it to Column 8 who printed it the next day:

The game was afoot! Neale dug deeper: ''A search of this address shows a death notice in the Herald from Wednesday, December 7, 1949: 'CUTHBERT, Alexandra [sic] - December 4, 1949 of 1 Ormond St. Paddington, beloved husband of Maria, aged 73. Privately interred, Botany Cemetery, December 6, 1949.' NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages lists his name as Alexander, possibly the son of John Thomas Cuthbert and Amelia White (m. 1859). He married Marie Saunders in 1920. The 1943 and 1949 Electoral Rolls lists his occupation as a 'Houseman' and hers as 'Home Duties'. Hopefully, this is not just sticky-beaking and is C8PhD-worthy!''

Next I used Trove, Wikipedia and Google Maps to see if I could find out a bit more about the 1 Ormond Street address which is next to 250 Oxford Street where Juniper Hall is located:
''Further to my email linking the phone number FL3289
Juniper Hall Paddington
with the address of 1 Ormond Street, Paddington,'' adds the diligent Neale Ferguson (Column 8, yesterday), ''this address turns out to be the site of Juniper Hall, originally the home of Robert Cooper, a gin distiller. He designed the house himself and had it built circa 1825. It appears the location may have been used for flats around the time in question.'' Ah, it all falls into place. This impressive building still stands, across the road from the Paddington Town Hall.
A search of Trove also revealed a large number of articles about the property and its owner, including some correspondence from Robert Cooper in the 1820s.

Following another exchange or two with Column 8 they bestowed the C8PhD title upon me. Better still was the original author of the FL3289 question had been following the exchange and contacted Column 8 to wrap things up:

''I am completely gobsmacked,'' sputters John Martin, of phone number fame. ''Arising from my mention in Column 8 a few days ago, of the phone number FL 3289, which I overheard being repeated in a public phone box over 70 years ago and still strangely remember, the following has transpired. Thanks to the amazing research conducted by Neale Ferguson, who clearly hasn't got a real job, I now know that the number FL 3289 was that of an Alexander Cuthbert. I also now know his wife's name, where they lived, when he died and where he is buried. I even know what type of vehicle he drove and when he sold it. In addition to all this, since explaining that my remembering of the prefix FL was based on the initial letters of a schoolmate of the time at Drummoyne Primary, Frankie Lampard, I have since been contacted by a Rod Moffet, who was also a contemporary of ours at Drummoyne Primary. Rod has sent me a class photograph from 1941 in which Frankie Lampard is in the front row. Column 8 certainly works in mysterious ways.''
Trove really is an Australian National Treasure, one that puts the history of the nation as close as a URL.


  1. WEDDING BELLS FERGUSON—KOBOROFF. (1939, April 20). The Biz (Fairfield, NSW : 1928 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from

Friday, April 25, 2014

Finally, about some cats

Ashley and Sydney
Almost four years ago when my middle child moved away to college some four hours or so from us, we knew she'd miss our menagerie of animals - especially her favourite cat Sydney. So I decided I'd try and send her a picture of one or more of them as close to daily as I could manage.

Ashley will graduate in a just over two weeks and the count of "Puss of the Day" (POTD) pictures - which includes a dog
- is nearing or may have surpassed 800. In that time there has been no net change in the clowder but there have been changes in the personnel (or felinenel) as two have shuffled off this mortal coil, three new ones joined us, and one of those
Scruffy 2000-2014

Simpson (aka Duddles) 2003-2012
taken when our eldest moved to her own apartment.

I created a photostream on Flickr with most of the POTD album to place them somewhere off premises (and camera) just in case.

Our other two children joined in on getting POTD updates but with our youngest in his junior year the end may be nearing for this ritual. However, Ashley has indicated she'd like to return to Australia and do her Masters over there so may be the animals aren't safe from the camera just yet. 

Raj and Mr Boodle



The Muffin

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Quick Trip to Joburg

After I wrote my Mainframe History blog , I received an invitation to present at a 50th Anniversary event in Johannesburg. The event was a lot of fun, and I got to meet a heap of great people and fellow mainframe enthusiasts. I created a presentation based on that blog and have subsequently created a video from it. 

A couple of notes:

  • The first 6 minutes is a collage of mainframe clips that I've found on YouTube. The attribution is shown at the end of the collage
  • The presentation proper contains images whose attributions I am still compiling and will add as soon as I have them all
I only got to spend a few days in Johannesburg but thanks to my host, Klaus Bergmann, I was able to play tourist for a day.

We did the "Big Red Bus" tour of the city. For someone who's never been to a given city, I like these types of tours (for example, San Diego's and Washington DC's trolley tours) as you get to see an assortment of things although not in any depth. However, they do you give you ideas of places you'd like to revisit in detail.

I wasn't able to visit the Apartheid Museum as it's recommended that you spend several hours there. I did visit the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto which was very powerful and moving. 

There was so much in Joburg that reminded me of Australia: rugby fields, netball courts, cricket on the TV, and use of the word "Tuckshop". So in that respect it felt familiar. However, given its history and native cultures, it was very different.

As a true sports' fan I did get to make a pilgrimage to The Wanderers cricket ground (at least its outside), the World Cup soccer stadium, and a quick glimpse of Ellis Park.

Another nice bonus of being in South Africa was trying some of the local wines. I had never had Pinotage before and quite enjoyed the ones my hosts had recommended. 

One last thing: I really liked the Hotel I was staying at: Radisson Blu Gautrain. They certainly understood the mindset of the sports' fan as you can see by the view from the shower! 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mainframe Memories

At the time of writing, it is approaching the 50th anniversary of the announcement of the IBM System/360 aka "The Mainframe". By now, anyone who's been even tangentially involved with this beast is familiar with the number of times it's been written off: most notably in 1991 when the prediction was made that the last mainframe would be switched off in 1996.

Of course, that never happened. There have been notable losses, including one site dear to my heart, but the mainframe has one thing in common with Mark Twain: "rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated". Indeed since Linux became available on the platform the mainframe has shaken off its "legacy" (how I loath that term) badge and is at the leading edge of innovation.

I started with my first mainframe in 1981, when I received a cadetship at the New South Wales Totalizator Agency Board (aka TAB). This was the state government's off-track betting agency which had set up a computer science cadetship scheme where high school graduates would work part time and do university part time for two years before doing the final two years of a Computer Science degree full time. This was a wonderful scheme, the brainchild of its former CEO, the late Allen Windross.
Allen Windross
Although 1981 was the first time I ever got to touch a mainframe, it was a few years earlier that I was first exposed to the technology. I started my high school's basketball program when I was in year 9 and as part of getting it off the ground I scrounged for equipment and supplies wherever I could. One lunch time I was given the okay to go into the sports' storeroom whereupon I came across a box full of manuals and correspondence.

I don't know how they ended up where they did but in that box were IBM manuals including an introduction to System/360 (S/360), a self-paced assembler course, functional manuals of the S/360 model 20 (sometimes referred to a S/360 in name only), a 1401 autocoder manual, and the minutes of the local S/360 user group.

Over the next couple of years I taught myself assembler and COBOL but had no way of seeing if the programs would even assemble or compile. No matter, I was smitten with the technology.

As part of the cadetship I was required to work all three shifts in the computer room or three months during my first year. In those days the shifts were 3 x 8 hours starting at 8am, 4pm and midnight. Consequently, I was able to work with a variety of equipment.

For the hard-core geek here's a run down of the equipment I encountered during my 18 year stay with the TAB. Thanks go to Phil Steele who compiled the list of equipment.


S/360 Model 44 - we had two of these, the only other two in the country were at the Pine Gap facility in the Northern Territory. These were grand beasts, complete with flashing light front panel and golf ball typewriter console. These were acquired in 1971.
Front Panel of S/360 44

The configuration included:

  • Each processor had 128K memory storage and operated in dual, master/slave, modes. During the system set-up the storage was extended to 256K each. The software used the IBM Assembler language and eventually ran a specially customised version of DOS Release 19. (Programmers had to get special permission to use storage-to-storage instructions as these were emulated on the '44.)
  • Four IBM 3967 telecommunications processors (which I think were special purpose S/360 processors, but I could be wrong. In any event they had that remarkable TROS technology). 
  • 12 IBM 3970 telecommunications adapters. 
  • 5 IBM 2314 disk drives for each central processor. 
  • One IBM 2415 magnetic tape drive for each central processor. 
  • One IBM 1403-N1 and One 1443-N1 printer (shared via 2914 switch) 
  • One IBM 2501 card reader for each central processor. 
  • One IBM 1442 Card Punch (shared via 2914 switch - note this picture's from one on sale on eBay!) 
  • One IBM 2848 visual display unit controller for each central processor supporting six 2260 VDUs
  • Two IBM 1053 golf ball type printers.
  • Model 29 card punch
2501 Card Reader
2260 VDU

The 44's were fun to operate: front panel lights always made you feel like that real work was being done. 

One story I only came across recently, states that a ruggedized redundant version of the 360/44, the System/4 pi, flew on the space shuttle. Supposedly they whacked an axe into it for a demonstration and it kept running.

A novel feature of the 2314 was that their addressing could be changed by moving magnetic plugs on the front of the drive.
2314 - The address plugs are the circular entities in the grey area of the top panels

The 2315 tape drives also had a personality all their own. There was nothing quite like the noise they used to make when you loaded a tape and the vacuum started.

The 1443 printer was sometimes a real pain in the arse. Night shift was a good experience. Most of the time offline processing was finished by 4am so as a junior member of the team would often be able to go home rather than stay until the next shift started. Often we'd start the offline jobs and head out to "Pancakes on the Rocks" for a very early breakfast and then watch the sun rise over Sydney harbour and the Opera House - spectacular. How I wish we had cell 'phones with cameras then: Instagram would be overflowing with such pictures.

The only fly in the ointment was the weekly (or was it monthly) credit union statement printing jobs. For some reason, the output was directed to the 1443 rather than the infinitely more reliable 1403. The 1443 in operation was a sight to behold. You could watch the hammers rise and fall as they impacted the ribbon and be amazed that they didn't get caught up with each other. Unfortunately they sometimes did. Usually when we were on our second batch of pancakes! Many times we'd return and the print job had failed because the printer hammers had become stuck. There was no going home early on these days.

By 1985, the 360/44s were retired. The front panel of one was salvaged but the rest and the peripherals were unceremoniously dumped on the back of a truck that was 60cm lower than the loading dock. There was so much gold in those boxes that they were destined for the smelters instead of a museum. 


By 1977, the S/360 machines had been joined by S/370. The equipment included:

In our point of sales branches and agencies there were:
Of particular interest to me was the 3410 tape drives which looked like roll-top desks, and the 3704 looked like some sort of mutant washing machine. (For the uber-geeks amongst us the 3705/3704 Principles of Operation makes compelling reading.) 
3705 Front Panel

For the Star Trek fan, the 3340 data module was always fun with which to work.
3340 Data Module - aka NCC-1701

By the time I arrived at TAB, the S/370 135 had been replaced but still in the computer room and was used by the head operator as his own VM/370 host. Robert Bayliss is still involved with mainframe and, like me, is an ex-pat Aussie living in the USA. His choice of password for the user MAINT, however, was the very definition of a weak password (being his favourite 4 letter expletive). So I had fun logging on to a class A user and exploring the ins and outs of the world's best virtualization technology.

By 1980, the S/370 145 was joined by additional equipment:

You will note that we started to refer to the processors by colour. From this point on whenever we acquired additional hardware, one of the requirements was that its doors had to be a different colour to what was currently installed. Consequently, our VM systems were given system identifiers such as "BLUE", "RED", "GREY", "GREEN", and "BROWN". At one point, IBM had to spray paint the doors for us!

The 3031 was the beginning of the "sterile" mainframe. Gone were the flashing lights, the IPL device dials, and the "stop", "reset" and "load" buttons. There was nothing quite like IPL'ing the earlier boxes: it really felt as if you were doing something as you spun dials and clicked buttons. The 3031 did have an early form of the "System Activity Display" aka "SAD" that let you see what the system was up to, but it just wasn't the same.

As for human interfaces: Now, I don't know about you, but the 3278 was my all-time favourite terminal. Especially if it had the silk screen protection. There was nothing quite like the feel of the keyboard. Not even the 3279, 3179 etc. came close to the ergonomic perfection that was the 3278. 

The TAB took a slightly backward step in 1982, when it added capacity in the form of a S/370-148 for the new Telephone Betting system. It was bought second hand from a Western Australia-based Iron Ore producer. It was still covered in ore dust when we received it. The box also came with microcode listings which made fascinating reading to a computer-tragic such as me.
IBM S/370 148

The early 1980s also saw the acquisition of the 4341 to replace the older S/370 boxes. Whereas the older boxes looked like "real" computers, the 4341 looked like a rather oversized coffee or card table. However, under the hood it packed a punch for its day with its use of ECPS microcode. It did, however, have one problem for which IBM developed a special RPQ: the stop button on the console is where the PA2 is on a normal 3278. Consequently, operators would sometimes accidentally stop the system when they wanted to clear the screen,

A 4341-L1 (2MB and 0.4 MIPs) was purchased for exclusive use of the Management Information System (MIS).  Two 4341-K1 (2MB and 0.9 MIPs) were acquired for our cash betting system and for test and development. Quite soon, owing to growth in our betting systems, these were all upgraded to 4341-L12 (4MB and 1.7 MIPs).
IBM 4341
Like our S/360 systems, the TAB online systems (Tabmark 1, Tabmark 2, Telephone Betting, and Race Day Control) were all home-grown transaction systems: written in assembler for speed running on a customized DOS and DOS/VSE operating system. Tabmark 1 and Telebet both had home-grown telecom access methods and we programmed the 3704/3705 devices ourselves. Tabmark 2 used VTAM but it had been modified such that it skipped a couple of the upper levels (which we called VTAM fast-path). 

By the mid-1980s, with the upgrade to 4341-P02 (16MB and 2.8 MIPS) processor speed had caught up to our requirements and we eliminated the VTAM "fast path" and made the decision to use a high-level language (PL/I - still one of my favourites!) for the re-write of our Telephone Betting application which was to be called PhoneTAB.

Also, at this time we commissioned a second site for disaster/recovery and split operations. As part of this, the decision was made to run our DOS systems under VM. We had been a VM shop since 1974 and it became an integral part of our system operations and D/R strategy. Communication between these sites was via microwave using Hyperchannel technology to connect the online systems. 

By this stage we were running VM/SP Release 4: easily my favourite of that family of operating systems. We now had VTAM that enabled connection between our VM systems and our DOS (VSE) based betting systems. The Group Control System (GCS) that was introduced to enable VTAM, being a subset of MVS, also enabled me to write an online system in PL/I that communicated via NPSI to the race courses throughout the state of New South Wales. This coincided with the introduction of the 3725 and, soon after, 3745 communications controllers which replace the aging 3704/3705 devices.
IBM 3745 Communications Controller

The 3340 devices were retired and the 3380 was introduced. Once again, the more aesthetically pleasing hardware was replaced with a bland box: technologically superior but not as pleasing to the eye. 
3380 Drive Assembly

Efficiency Drives Growth which Drives Efficiency

Growth of TAB continued at a rapid rate throughout the late 80s and into the 90s. The new PhoneTAB system was commissioned and soon it was apparent that additional capacity was required. First the 4381-P03 (16MB and 3.5 MIPs) was introduced, but soon an architectural leap forward was undertaken with the introduction of the 3090-150E (32MB and 10.5 MIPs). This leap necessitated the introduction of VM/HPO 4.2 to take advantage of the additional memory. 
IBM 3090 Complex

One of my favourite memories from this time was when we commissioned one of the 3090 boxes located at our disaster recovery site. My wife was with friends so I had charge of my 18 month old daughter Kate. I had to set up and initiate the IOCDS of the "BROWN" system so had to take Kate with me. I sat down at the console and did some work before noticing she was no longer with me. A quick search of the complex revealed her hiding in the cabinet where the bus-and-tag channel cables plugged into the processor. She was quite pleased with herself at finding such a clever hiding spot. Fortunately the statute of limitations has expired on any child endangerment charges I may have faced, besides she's now a 24 year old college graduate - so no harm-no foul!

Another pleasing result of the 3090 acquisitions was that we made a deal with IBM that they would stop bugging us to get off VSE and onto MVS!

The rest of 1989-1990 was dominated by re-writes of the Tabmark systems called "Cashbet" and the splitting of the state between the central and remote sites. The intent was that if there were two outlets in close proximity the loss of one site would only affect one of those outlets. This was to be a demonstrated on the TAB's busiest day of the year.

Melbourne Cup Day 1991

For those readers outside Australia, Melbourne Cup Day, which occurs on the first Tuesday in November, is an event that really does stop the nation. Just after 3pm a 3200m race is run. During the lead up to the race hundreds of millions of dollars are waged. Our systems would take a pounding but would make it through the ordeal with great aplomb. 
Melbourne Cup

Unfortunately, in 1991 this was not to be the case. A long-standing but undiscovered bug in the Cashbet system revealed itself 15 minutes before race start time, taking down half of the state of New South Wales' betting outlets. I had spent my day, as normal, collecting one minutes statistics from our RTM/SF system (aka SMART). (In the old days we'd go down and watch the select light on the 3420 to see how rapidly data was being logged.) On this day the figures were coming in as expected. However, when the bug revealed itself I watched as processor utilization fell through the floor. There's nothing to compare to the feeling in the pit of the stomach as the realization hits you that several million dollars has just been lost. 

The next 24-48 hours were a blur as the follow-on affects were felt. It was a miserable time. I even made the evening news as background material: my boss, Peter Turner, and I pointed at some GDDM/PGF graphs I called up on the 3279-3 while the CEO spoke to the cameras in front of us.

The only upside was that I and one of my co-workers, Brook Mathews, were rewarded for our efforts at recovery by becoming part of the crew of "Kookaburra 3" on Sydney Harbour with the (ultimately unsuccessful) Australian America's Cup crew. (This boat had lost to Stars and Stripes in 1987.)

Evolution and Sophistication

The remainder of the 1990s was a study in evolution rather than revolution. Our 3380 devices were upgraded to 3390s and RAMAC, our 3090-150Es were upgraded to 3090-17T (64MB and 18MIPs), then to 9021-330s (96MB real/128MB expanded and 23.5MIPS) and then replaced entirely by the 9672-RB5 (Dual processor with 2GB and 89MIPs). The 3420 devices were replaced with 3480s and eventually by 3590s. 1993 saw the introduction of ESCON technology at the TAB with the installation of 2 x 9033 directors.

Operating systems-wise, by the end of the 1990s (and the end of my time at TAB) we were running VM/ESA and VSE/ESA. TCP/IP had been introduced in the early 1990s with our first e-commerce site selling its first bet in March of 1997.

I should also mention that we got our systems running on the P/370, which provided me a great excuse to learn FBA channel programming. We had two of the prototype cards and did the early testing of the SDLC support. 

We were also very early users of SQL/DS and based our management information systems (and our credit union) on this technology.

The NSW TAB also set up operations for the Northern Territory TAB as well internationalizing the code when we set up the Hungary on and off-course operations in 1991 running on a small 9021. 

So Long and Thanks for the Processors

By this time, the New South Wales government had privatized the former Statutory Authority. I left TAB in October, 1999. Unfortunately, the management team that replaced CEO Allen Windross were the case study for the riddle: "Q: How do you start someone off in a small business? A: You give them a big one." and relinquished the TABs former number one position such that its former rival, VicTAB - now known as TabCorp, found it ripe for the picking. 

To the victors go the spoils and that includes the choice of betting system and hardware platform. Over a period of years the old NSW TAB systems were decommissioned and its 30+ year association with IBM was ended. I'm so glad I wasn't there to see it.

The people working at the NSW TAB of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s were innovative, collegial, and masters of doing a lot with very little. I remarked at the time of my leaving that I hadn't encountered any team quite like the group I worked with (and that goes outside the technology group). I haven't changed my opinion in the 14+ years that have intervened.

Incontinent Nostalgia 

The 18 years at TAB were a great ride that I took along with the mainframe. But you should understand that while all the model numbers evoke a certain nostalgia, they don't tell the whole story. It was the people and experiences that made my time with the TAB and its mainframes memorable. 

[Caveat: I'm going to offend people by my poor memory for names, so apologies in advance if you are not mentioned - it's not intentional!]

From working shifts in the computer room with people like Mark Loftus, John Charlton, John Hay, Laurie Sparks, Mark Dimento, Ziggy, Dave Cowperthwaite (and Patsy from PhoneTAB), the Doctor (yes he had a scarf like Tom Baker), Edie Fiallos, Andrew Cantwell and people whose names are on the tip of my tongue but I can't recall. 

To my 18 years in the technology group where life long friendships were forged: Brook and Annette Mathews, Chris and Alison Brooks, Bob Peoples, Phil Steele, Tony and Louise Simon, Peter Turner, Bernie Wilkson, Linda and Gonzo, Robyn Lynch, Renata Koch, Greg Conroy, Victor Voros, and scores of others. [By the way Gonzo I finally worked out why NPSI has an error called "Illegal Procedure" - it appears one of the architects was an American Football fan where that's a type of violation.]

Our IBM account manager, CSRs, and SEs were part of our team - not just guns for hire. Glen Boreham, Tony Best, Peter Allen, Don Krone were amongst of the best of them.
A get together of TAB and IBM old timers
It was people like Dot, Betty and Elaine - our tea ladies; Gordon Williams, Tony Hayes and Peter Brennan from Control Centre; Peter De Low, Peter Harris and so many others, that made my work on the mainframe systems worthwhile. 

It was the childcare centre where all three of my kids went, where I had the pleasure of dropping them off or dropping in on them that made it nice to go to work.

It was the Glasgow Arms every Friday afternoon where stories were told and retold until they no longer resembled the facts from which they were derived. It was also the place where many a million dollar design idea began as a scribble on a coaster.
Glasgow Arms Hotel

Thanks for the Memories and the Seeds of Destruction

So with this being the 50th anniversary of the mainframe I hope IBM also realizes that it's the people and not just its machines or Nobel prizes that have made it what it is. That these same people love what they do and will put up with a lot in order to do it, but there are limits. The mainframe is a great technology but it won't take much to resurrect the low point of 1991 in the interest of short term gain. It's superiority in reliability and virtualization requires cultivation and not slash and burn to squeeze the last cent out of it.


I created a video based on this blog: