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Ed Jaffe on SHARE, JES3, FORTRAN and More

Reg Harbeck: Hi, this is Reg Harbeck and I’m here today with my friend and colleague Ed Jaffe, who is really a mover and shaker in the world of mainframe, really active at SHARE and a major aficionado of JES3 and also of bourbon. Well before giving everything away, Ed, tell us about yourself. How did you end up on the mainframe?

Ed Jaffe: Okay. Thank you very much, Reg. You’re always so enthusiastic on these things so I decided I would sit here with a cup of coffee and see if maybe I can match you, but I’m not going to really try. Anyway—

Reg: Go ahead: install Java on that mainframe.

Ed: I actually started back in 10th grade. I was in a math class and the teacher, Mr. Martin, he gave us a two-week intro to the BASIC language. Most of the kids just took this class, it was over: done. But for me, I thought “hey, this is pretty neat stuff. I want to try to learn.” So they had this teletype machine there in the math lab and it had access to a 370 that was running a system called CALL-OS and on there it had three languages: BASIC, FORTRAN, and PL/I. Any kid could go into the math lab if you had a break or didn’t have a class right then, so I went in there and actually I ended up teaching myself all three of those languages on this thing. I wrote a poker game in BASIC. I wrote an even better one in FORTRAN. And then PL/I I loved, so I wrote this two-dimensional tank battle game in PL/I that used polar coordinates and everything. It was you against all the bad guys and a lot of the people around there were playing it, loved it. And then of course my friend had to outdo me so he came in with a 3-D Star Trek game that used polar coordinates so and I was like “damn, how did he do that?” He was a really smart—

Reg: So which platform was this?

Ed: Pardon me?

Reg: Sorry?

Ed: It was on an IBM mainframe running a 370.

Reg: Oh wow.

Ed: Yes through a teletype that was acoustic coupled modem at 110 baud, old school.

Reg: I remember those.

Ed: We would store our programs on paper tape, the yellow paper tape that punched the little tapes that came out of the teletypes if you remember those. So yeah, it was pretty interesting stuff and this guy was the first hacker I’d ever met. He actually figured out how to hack the FORTRAN runtime so that he could execute arbitrary instructions. In FORTRAN you had these things called a format to help you print stuff, and he could load a format with any data. He had a way with using the equivalents—you know overlay, kind of stuff. Anyway so we ended up writing this Assembler that would emit this FORTRAN and we were basically writing Assembler on a system. We had our own – we didn’t have IBM’s Assembler – and we started snooping around. We played pranks on some people now and then, stuff like that, but it was great fun and that was pretty much it. But when I was there, I decided to volunteer as math lab aide, and I helped these kids learn FORTRAN. The best part of that they had an IBM 29 punch there. The kids would punch their programs in on these things, and then twice a week we’d drive them up to this business called Comsat Labs in Frederick, Maryland. We would drop the cards off. They had an MVT system with the old removable packs and they had a FORTRAN complier called WATFIV. That comes from Canada, Waterloo—

Reg: Waterloo, University of Waterloo – yeah – Martin Timmerman’s home ground.

Ed: Absolutely. So kudos to the Canadians and so it was great because this was a business that donated time to the local school. I don’t know if that’s really being done as much as it was back then, but I thought that was a really cool thing, and the operators were so cool. They let us walk around. We couldn’t touch anything but they would show us everything and while we were waiting, they had this little room that had 3270 terminals and they gave us TSO IDs to play with. So I was 16 years old using TSO—

Reg: Wow.

Ed: And this was before ISPF so—

Reg: Wow.

Ed: We used a thing called FSE, full screen edit. I don’t know if you ever heard of that and they had another one called—

Reg: I’m not sure if I’ve heard of that.

Ed: QED, quick edit, which was like the one that did more of it in memory. FSE, I guess, did everything on disk and I was doing interactive PL/I compiles. It was just a great experience for a 16 year old kid, but for me, it was really just a game. I mean I didn’t take it that seriously and when I graduated high school, I did not consider computing a vocation. It was isolating. It was time consuming. It was a little addictive and I kind of wanted to get away from it and so I had other things I was doing. I was making radio-controlled model airplanes. I was practicing my violin. I was playing in rock bands. Of course rock bands goes with girls. I had some girlfriends and from a job perspective I was really more interested in things like space, physics, astronomy. I just did not really think computing would be the thing I wanted to do. But when I was in college, I was majoring in math, minoring in music, took a bunch of advanced math classes, physics stuff—again not any computers until I needed some credits. I said “wow, I need some credits. I’m going to take a couple of computer classes because it should be easy. I shouldn’t have to work at it.” So I took this PL/I class and I may have told you this story before, but basically this professor put a big subroutine up on the board and I don’t know what got into me that day but I was just in a mood. I raised my hand; I said “I think you could do all of that in one statement.” And this guy goes, “all right, Mr. Jaffe. Why don’t you come up here and show the class?” I was like, “great. What did I get myself into?” So I go up there. I spent a few minutes putting this thing together and eventually come up with one statement that replaces his subroutine. He was a little upset about it. Actually and he said, that’s great, but we’re not here to teach all the built-in functions. We’re trying to show this, that, and the other thing. I really didn’t think about who was in that class. When I graduated, I left school and I started enjoying what I considered to be the good life. I was playing in bands. I was selling fireplaces at a place called Bromwell’s Fireplace shop in Bethesda, Maryland, hanging out with girls. It was a great existence and I wasn’t really ready to join the workforce, but then I got a call from this guy, Jeff Barr, who’s kind of well known now. He’s an AWS advocate for Amazon and he was in that class. He remembered me because I had introduced him to his future wife, but also he remembered me from that day with the professor. He had gotten this gig working for a contractor to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because we were in the DC area – Bethesda, Maryland. They said they wanted to do this project in PL/I. Did he know anybody good? He said, “I remember this guy.” So he went through the whole phonebook, calling every Jaffe until he got to my dad. My dad goes “oh yeah, Edward’s here,” and he handed me the phone. I spoke to Jeff and he wanted to pay me three times what I was making selling fireplaces, so I said okay. So he sort of brought me back into the dark side. I left the good life and switched to a life of computing.

Reg: You say you left the good life, but in fact at SHARE you’ve taught us how to live the good life as mainframers. Your appreciation for good things like fine bourbon I think has influenced all of us.

Ed: Well that’s good. I’m glad to hear I helped somebody live the good life, but actually I’m kind of kidding. Honestly, I love my job. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a great job and I do really truly believe—I don’t know if Confucius said it, but whoever did say this thing about find a job you love and you never work a day in your life. I’m sort of a workaholic but I don’t really see it as working. It’s just part of my life and I really, really enjoy it so it’s a lot of fun.

Reg: Now from PL/I programming to Phoenix, there’s probably a couple of additional steps in there.

Ed: Yeah. I moved from DC to LA, really trying to find a place for music. It had to do with my musical career and I thought about New York, but it was way too cold and the person’s apartment that I stayed with had roaches running all around in there, and I said I think I’m going to go to LA. So I went to LA, I ended up working for this bank, actually Security Pacific Bank. That’s where I met Skip Robinson—

Reg: Oh, good old Skip.

Ed: Yeah. Skip was the assistant programmer there and I was an applications guy, but we were writing Assembler, not PL/I. I got the job because back then they didn’t do it through computers and you didn’t just put your qualifications down. You just sat and interviewed with somebody. I told the guy all the stuff we did in high school and in college and he said “great, you’re hired.” So I worked there and at the same time I was playing in bands, but I worked at this job at the bank for like five or six years. I got a little frustrated because every time I wanted to do something, they kept squashing my enthusiasm. The guy that I was working for, actually my boss’s boss, would say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and I was so interested in development. I was reading all the IBM manuals. In fact I bought a huge library of manuals from the IBM public library and had them delivered to my house—

Reg: Oh wow.

Ed: I’ve got probably 100 old MVS manuals still around out in the garage. So I ended up switching to software development. A thing came up at Phoenix and I took the job back in 1987—

Reg: Wow.

Ed: So, and that was an Assembler job, obviously.

Reg: Now one of the interesting things that happened after you came to Phoenix—I assume it was after—was that you discovered JES3, and of course JES3 and JES2 have both been such an important part of the history of the mainframe since the 1960s. People kind of assume JES2 is the default, but in fact JES3 has a pretty special role which you discovered. Tell us how that ended up being such an important part of your life.

Ed: Well it’s funny because we just didn’t know. Honestly we were not as plugged into this as I guess a lot of other people were. We didn’t even realize there was this sort of rivalry between JES2 and 3. Phoenix was actually a VSE-based company for awhile, but I got there in ’87 and part of what I did was refocus us towards MVS. We were running MVS 3.8 with JES2 and I was saying “look, we need to get a real MVS/SP system installed here.” So we did that, but there was this JES3 and it looked like the one-digit upgrade from 2. We wanted to run the latest, so we installed JES3. I fell in love with it. I just thought the technology was fantastic, but at the bank they were JES2 and they had SDSF. There was no SDSF for JES3, so I ended up writing one and ended up selling it. With Phoenix it was (E)JES. I’m not trying to hawk any product here, I’m just saying—

Reg: That’s okay.

Ed: And so that was part of it. JES3 was just something—I just loved the technology and (E)JES was a big part of it. Once we did that, we became friends with the whole JES3 community and had a lot of people say years later [that] JES-(E)JES really helped save JES3 for us, because the lack of SDSF was a big gap and people do tend to confuse the technology with the tools they have to manage it.

Reg: Right.

Ed: Once they had a good tool, it helped them keep JES3 alive, and now just last year we had sort of an opportunity to do the same thing again. IBM was going to sunset JES3. They didn’t really have the skills anymore to work on it. They didn’t want to invest in that and so we helped them think outside the box. We made a deal and now we are licensing a derivative work called JES3+. So instead of just helping JES3 stay alive, we now have the opportunity to enhance it from within and that’s really exciting.

Reg: Cool.

Ed: I have to say, working with JES3—I think I’ve worked with it now for 32 years—and this is sort of—

Reg: Wow.

Ed: The culmination of that, where now it’s actually in my bailiwick. It’s actually right here and I get to write code on it. And so do other people. It’s almost like a dream come true I’ve got to say. I’m blown away by the whole thing.

Reg: Now I understand you recently added to that code base with an addition acquisition.

Ed: That’s true. I think it was just announced [in December], and yes, we’ve acquired Bulk Data Transfer as well and there’s a component of that that’s important to JES3 customers, the SNA NJE piece. So we didn’t want them to feel like they had to make sudden decisions because IBM announced they’re going to sunset that as well, so we took that over to try to ease the burden of those JES3 customers.

Reg: Now of course one of the ways that you’ve demonstrated your love for JES3 is you actually write music about it, which I think is so cool. This will give me a chance to sort of segue to SHARE in just a moment, but of course SHARE has this old tradition of the JES2 sing-along, and I know that they have that tradition because when Helen Seren retired, she made me the keeper of the JES2 sing-along song book. But just because it was called the JES2 sing-along didn’t mean it couldn’t have a JES3 song, and you made sure of that. So how did that all work out?

Ed: That’s actually a funny story, because you’re right. There were only JES2 songs and I was a JES3 guy at SHARE and a musician and I thought, I’m going to write a song for JES3. So I wrote this song and it goes to the music of “Hey Jude” actually, and they loved it, so they said “great, we’ll put it in.” I was a little worried that they would say “no, this is JES2 only,” but they were cool about it. It was Sylvia Gorman and Paul Seay at the time. So they asked me actually to sing it, so I got up on stage. This was back when there were a lot of people at SHARE too and they had a band and everything – SCIDS, the reception. They had like a karaoke thing going, and I sang it. As I sang it I realized that they had changed the words. So, I was like “what?” So I went and talked to them. I was a little upset about it and I said you guys changed the words on me. They said well we had to change them to make them fit, and I said “they did fit. Trust me. Give me a guitar I’ll prove it.” They said we don’t have a guitar, so I said “okay. If I go home and I play it into a tape or something on a guitar and I can prove the lyrics fit, will you change them back?” They said yeah, we will, and so I did that. Somehow this tape got digitized and it’s been circulated around a bit. I guess maybe you’ve heard it.

Reg: What you should do is put a link to it on your website so we can put that in the transcript.

Ed: I’m not sure how much I want to share that.

Reg: I’ll let you decide.

Ed: I mean it wasn’t meant to be a great production thing. [But] we can maybe do that. I have shared it actually with a few people, so we can do that: Anyway yeah, it was a lot of fun. It just shows how much fun SHARE is even though we don’t have the sing-along anymore. We definitely—

Reg: So far.

Ed: We have a good time.

Reg: I will never give up on us having that sing-along. I’m going to keep looking for ways and of course one of the ways I did that is when we had SHARE virtual this summer, the first iteration of it, I published a few little vignettes on LinkedIn and Twitter. One of these is that Jim Michael very graciously got out his guitar and sang one of the SHARE sing-along songs. We recorded it and published that so if you go to Twitter at @RegHarbeck back in August, you’ll see that ( So yeah, I’m hopeful we will have those active again someday.

Ed: I will definitely download that link—and by the way, Jim Michael is one of my favorite people at SHARE. Was—

Reg: Yes.

Ed: He’s not there anymore but he and I are Facebook friends, Instagram friends and yeah, great guy.

Reg: Absolutely. Hey so speaking of SHARE, how did you end up in SHARE? I mean you’re sort of one of these everything people at SHARE. You’ve been all over the place doing all kinds of stuff. How’d that all happen?

Ed: Well the first SHARE I went to was back in 1990 in Anaheim. I wanted to make contact with other JES3 people, so I went to SHARE and started talking to people there. They were very, very welcoming. I’ve heard rumors here and there. People would say “oh, SHARE is so cliquish,” but I didn’t feel that at all. I immediately got along with people and had a great time. I started volunteering. I’ll be honest: I did not rush up and say “hey, I want to volunteer,” but it was sort of like one of my favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The protagonist, George Bailey, he’s got big dreams, right? He wants to be an architect. He wants to build great things. He wants to travel the world, but he ends up getting sort of roped into the family business. I think this was kind of me. I kind of felt like the George Bailey there at SHARE. Every time somebody needed something or they’d say “hey, you know this person is leaving. Can you edit this newsletter?” I ended up being a newsletter editor and then I was a project officer, then a deputy project manager and then eventually a project manager for JES, and then moved up to MVS core technologies and of course now I’m MVS Program Manager, which I share that title with Skip Robinson. Yeah it’s been nice—

Reg: Skip returns to the conversation.

Ed: Pardon?

Reg: I said Skip returns to the conversation. One of these days I got to do a zTalk with him.

Ed: Yes, you do. He’s got a very long, very interesting story. He spent time in Africa with the Peace Corps, so—

Reg: Wow.

Ed: You can find out a lot of about Skip.

Reg: Yeah definitely. Okay. I’m going to have to reach out to him. Anyway now of course I don’t want to let you go without talking about bourbon, because that’s one of the things you’re known for at SHARE. I mean you have an amazing taste for fine bourbon and you share it so generously with others. You always bring at least one bottle and it just turns into just a neat conversation. How did you acquire this taste for bourbon?

Ed: Well I do bring bourbon to SHARE. I’m not going to drink the whole bottle myself, so I do share, but I guess it’s really intended for me initially, so I don’t want people to think it’s all altruistic. You know it’s funny. I don’t know if I should even admit this but basically I read this book called “The Metrosexual.” It’s actually a very fun kind of a book and before you ask—yes I am completely comfortable with my masculinity and I’m in touch with my feminine side. I can wear pink shirts and I’m good with it. But anyway this book has this very interesting chapter where it ascribes different personalities to different drinks. It would say “somebody that comes into a bar and orders a Sex on the Beach. You immediately think that they’re very immature.” Or if they hear that there’s an order for a Tom Collins, the image that pops into mind is like a white-bearded professor or something like this. All of their characterizations were so spot on and then they had the bourbon drinkers, and it was sort of like the leading man type, the Clint Eastwoods and people like that. I thought “okay, I certainly identify more with them than any of these other guys so I’m going to try bourbon out.” I tried and I really liked it. I read about it and tried a lot of different ones and it sounds odd, but if you drink two different drinks side by side, that is the only way to compare things. You cannot compare [by] drinking something one night and then drinking [something else] another night. You need them side by side to really understand. Actually it was taught to me by a wine aficionado. He never drank just one glass. He always drank two and two different ones, so that’s really how you do it. Actually there’s another SHARE tie-in here too, because the problem with bourbon is it’s kind of an expensive hobby. Let me just say but my everyday bourbon is this stuff called Booker’s. It’s actually the same mash as Knob Creek but it’s the shiny barrel. This guy Booker Noe, he understood this because he had been a taster, and so he sent his guys in to find the shiny barrel. Now the shiny barrel is the one that all the tasters hang around all the time because it’s the best one in the warehouse. So they’re leaning on it and that’s why it’s shiny and not dusty like the other barrels. That’s the one that he would sell as Booker’s.  It’s barrel strength, barrel proof bourbon. It’s really good and the first time I ever tried was at SHARE in Atlanta. I don’t know if you remember that big Marriott Marquee with the huge atrium inside.

Reg: Yeah, it was that cavernous elevator column just goes way up. It’s an amazing—

Ed: If you have vertigo, that’s not the place to stand, but so anyway down at the very bottom of it, they had a whiskey bar. I went in there and there were a bunch of other people sampling the whiskeys. I remember Frank DeGilio was in there and some other people that really like good bourbons, and of all people Donna Hudi, who at the time was SHARE’s executive director and now works for Phoenix as our CMO and director of business development, we tried a Booker’s together and I really enjoyed it, the artistry of it. It was very strong but the artistry was obvious, and it’s now my everyday—so there’s a SHARE tie in there as well.

Reg: Now do you add in a little bit of spring water sometimes or do you just have it straight?

Ed: I am one of the guys that just drinks it the way it comes. I used to put ice and I used to put water and little by little I started saying “well, I really want to taste just the way it is.” I certainly respect and do believe that adding a little water does open up the flavor of any whiskey, scotch, bourbon. They all do that. I personally don’t do that, but I do understand it does open up the flavor.

Reg: Cool. Now this has been really a great and interesting conversation. Before I end it up, is there anything else you’d been hoping to talk about or you really wanted to share with everybody?

Ed: I guess the only thing I would say is I want to get back to the IBM z platform. I’ve been with it a long time. I’ve been super impressed with it. Everything about it’s always been over-engineered from the start. When I sat down at that very first 3270 terminal when I was 16 years old, it was one of those old metal ones where the keys went clack, clack, clack. It was obviously built to last 100 years. I just thought everything was so over-engineered and I was so impressed with everything they did. They did everything right back then. Thomas J. Watson saw to it and they’ve continued that tradition. They still continue to do things great. I love this platform for what it is. I’m proud of the role I’ve played over the last 30-34 years with it and so forth, and I’m truly grateful that I’m still able to work with it because I think it’s a fantastic platform.

Reg: Cool. Well Ed, this has been a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

Ed: Thank you, Reg. It’s really an honor to be on your show and it was really a lot of fun, so thank you very much.

Reg: You bet.