Dick Bains, IBM S/38 Giant, Dead at 64

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One of a team of three that included Frank Soltis and Roy Hoffman, Bains helped design the S/38 and subsequent IBM architectures.


Dick Bains, one of the original team of three engineers to develop the IBM S/38, has died.


The news hit IBM i Chief Scientist Frank Soltis--who, with Bains and Roy Hoffman, refined the S/38 and AS/400--like a rock out of the blue. Soltis will retire from IBM at the end of this month.


"Dick was one...of the original designers who worked very closely with me on the architecture of the S/38," Soltis said during a previously scheduled interview with MC Press Online. "It was unexpected.... We had worked together for many, many years, and...this came as a shock to a lot of us."


Bains, 64, died without warning December 13, 2008, of a heart attack while on a trip to Underhill, Wisconsin, where he was visiting his son, Richard Reiland Bains II. A resident of Rushford, Minnesota, Bains retired from IBM in 2000 and worked with his wife, Roxi, also a computer expert, in their consulting business, I.D.E. Associates, Inc.


Born Richard L. Bains II in Chicago on December 30, 1943, Bains worked for IBM for nearly 40 years and made his living from computers for even longer. He taught computer programming at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls and worked as a contract programmer prior to joining IBM in 1968. Having attained the position of Distinguished Engineer with IBM, Bains worked on four IBM platform architectures: the S/38, the AS/400, the S/390, and the IBM PC. He was an applications developer, lead systems programmer, team leader, architect, manager, executive staff member, and executive.


Bains' specialty was compiler architecture, and over the course of three decades, he made a number of important contributions to the evolution of common compiler architecture for several IBM platforms. He also played a leading multi-disciplinary role in developing architectures that exploited concurrent advances in hardware and software technologies. With Soltis and Hoffman, Bains was part of the original three-member architectural team that devised the architectural concept for the S/38. That design, along with its successors, the AS/400 and subsequent iterations through today's Power Systems, resulted in the most successful series of multi-user commercial systems in the history of computing.


Soltis says that Bains was a leading source of ideas resulting in extremely efficient ways to manage the internal interface of the S/38 and subsequent platforms and thereby helped make the concept practical from a performance standpoint.


Bains was a member of the Rochester Advanced Technology Programs, where he co-developed the S/38 Pascal Compiler and the System/C compiler for the AS/400. These compilers helped make possible the new machine interface for the IBM iSeries/System i and became the basis for all of the Integrated Language Environment compilers, including RPG, COBOL, CL, C, and C++, and the backend intermediate code, W-Code, which is used throughout the IBM System z and Power Systems platforms.


Soltis says that he, Bains, and Hoffman became very close working together over the years and that Bains was "one of these people that when he saw a problem, he would just leap at it and solve the problem. We always used to kid him about that."


Soltis recalls a story to illustrate that trait, which once nearly cost Bains his job at IBM. Shortly after he arrived in Rochester, the story goes, he discovered a major security flaw in the company's computer network. "He tried to convince people that he had [found] this flaw in the computer system [but] he couldn't get anyplace," Soltis says. "He wasn't working in that group; he had just come up with this on his own."


Soltis says that Bains couldn't convince anyone to listen to him about the security hole he had found, so he decided to hack into the system and leave a message there instructing whoever found it to call him so that he could explain the flaw. In the process, however, he accidentally overwrote some data, which resulted in getting a number of people quite upset, and for awhile, there was a question of whether he would lose his job.


"Fortunately for all of us," says Soltis, "management recognized that he [had] some real talent" and gave him a reprieve. "He was that kind of individual," says Soltis. "He would just jump in and do things. He was a fun guy to work with."


Bains loved the outdoors and in later years enjoyed golf, fly fishing, and even rollerblading. He was active in promoting youth hockey. As a young man, he was a ski instructor in the Rocky Mountain resort town of Aspen, Colorado.


"When we would be working on the architecture, there would be days when we'd just go down a dead end," says Soltis. "He always threatened he was going to go back to being a ski instructor--'enough of this computer stuff.' "


Bains lived and worked in Rochester, Minnesota, for many years and was the recipient of numerous awards, including an Outstanding Innovation Award for "Innovative Contributions to the Success of IBM Products." He was recognized internationally as an expert on systems performance optimization. Just prior to leaving IBM, he was awarded a patent for "Method and System for Affinity Based Compression of System and Database Journals." He published numerous articles in IBM midrange magazines and was a co-author of the book Application Development Concepts for the IBM AS/400 and a contributor to Lotus Domino for AS/400: Bringing the Best Together for Business.


He is survived by his wife, Roxi; two sons, Richard of Underhill, Wisconsin, and Matthew Bains of Deerfield, Wisconsin; two stepsons, Chad M. Roelofs and Mathew J. Roelofs, both of Rochester; five grandchildren; his parents, Richard Reiland Bains I and Dawn Ehlert Bains; two brothers, Patrick and Christopher; and two sisters, Leighann Bains and Gretchen Anderson. He was preceded in death by his brother, Brian.


Visitation will be from 4:00 p.m.--7:00 p.m. Friday, December 19, at Hoff Funeral Home in Rushford. A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, December 20, at Hoff Funeral Home-Rushford Chapel. Burial of his cremated body will be in Gillett, Wisconsin, in the spring. The family has requested that memorial gifts be sent to the American Red Cross in lieu of flowers. Friends may sign the guest book and leave messages for the family at http://www.hofffuneral.com.