Tue, Oct
0 New Articles

Adrenaline Rush

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Joe Beaver works in eight-second increments, typically no more than 24 seconds per day. In an average year, Beaver might work as few as 100 days. Reflexively, one is tempted to say, "Nice work if you can get it," except that you probably wouldn't want this work. The pay is irregular and low, the chance of crippling injury persistent and high. And, if you're the world's best, which Beaver is, you get to wear a belt buckle the size of a dinner plate.

On any given day, as I strap myself into my Honda Civic, Beaver straps himself onto the back of an incensed 1,500 lb. bull. As an active member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), Beaver spends his working hours in a precarious search for balance between adrenaline overdose and the need for medical care.

Not long ago, rodeos were the collective efforts of local enthusiasts who gathered to celebrate a fabled and fading way of life. Now, there's change on the range: The roughriders are regulated. Today, the PRCA sanctions 800 rodeos every year and has close to 12,000 members, 5,000 of whom are active competitors chasing $25 million in prize money.

For years, the competitions were tracked manually. Roving secretaries sat in hot, dusty stands armed with pad and pen and recorded what they saw. In the late 1980s, an attempt was made to automate the process on PCs emulating the AS/400. It failed. Tracking multiple events with multiple competitors in multiple cities was, not surprisingly, a multitasking challenge. Kevin Ward, PRCA's MIS director, recognized this fact when he was hired in 1989.

Enter the AS/400, I'm baited to say, in a ten-gallon hat. Well, not exactly. This AS/400 would get lost in a ten-gallon hat. It's the portable-smaller than a briefcase, with the power of a full-sized system. Ward's idea was to equip each secretary in the field with an AS/400 Advanced Portable that could communicate with the AS/400 Advanced System 310 at the PRCA's headquarters in Colorado Springs.

"The only drawback," said Ward, "is that the units are not equipped with pop-up screens." A finicky grievance, he admitted, but one he wishes the developers would remedy. Ward's solution was to connect IBM ThinkPads to the portables, providing the necessary screens. PRCA's scorekeepers could thus employ the AS/400 as a standalone system while exploiting the power of multiple sessions and AS/400-to-AS/400 communications.

It didn't take Ward long to figure out that there just wasn't a whole lot of rodeo circuit software on the retail shelf, so he hired Phil Schwartz to roll his own. As applications development manager, Schwartz discovered the task to be far more challenging and complex than he initially anticipated.

For one thing, the secretaries were responsible for much more than simply recording event results. They collected entrance fees from competing cowboys, were responsible for the assignment of rodeo stock, and tracked rankings through the rodeo's eight events. After each go-round, they would calculate the prize money due competitors, and they were even required to act as timekeepers for some events. During the summer, there could be as many as 30 rodeos per week scattered across the country. Calculating national rankings and keeping them current was akin to herding cats.

All of that paled, however, next to the volume of rules governing rodeo competitions.

"Not rules, per se," amended Schwartz, "but exceptions to the rules." There are 100 pages of irregularities to contend with. Where regulations were concerned, "don't fence me in" seemed to be the dominant rule. Individual rodeos, for example, often used different formulas to calculate prize money. "The ability of the secretaries to download site-specific information from our headquarters' AS/400 was key to maintaining accuracy," Schwartz noted.

At the beginning of a competition, which may last up to a week, the secretaries download relevant data from the headquarters' system in Colorado. Each evening, they back up their day's work to the host AS/400. If problems occur, Ward and his staff can access a field system and even patch through from one remote system to another while the secretaries are working. "One of the great advantages," added Schwartz, "is that software upgrades happen automatically." If an update is required, the secretaries are notified when they log on to the host AS/400, which then effects the necessary changes.

"Another critical consideration for us is reliability," said Ward. The portables visit some pretty remote places, and the secretaries often work in computer-hostile environments. "When the units are returned to us for service, sand and dust just pour out of them," laughed Ward, "but we've never had a failure."

"No bull?" I heard myself reply.

Then, in what was unarguably the best line of the interview, Schwartz added, "They smell real bad, but they run great!"

Currently, PRCA has 11 portable AS/400s, six of which are in the field at any given time. Ward plans to acquire another 20 units over the next several years "to make each of the PRCA's secretaries self-sufficient."

PRCA's success is all the more remarkable because, as Ward recounted, "many of our users had never even seen a computer before." Ward held training classes to introduce the new technology but would get calls from people in the field who, in spite of the training, were initially mystified. "We would say things like, 'plug the thing with the blue screen into the rectangular thing,'" he recalled. But the AS/400's user-friendliness soon put the secretaries at ease and now, said Ward, "they come to us with ideas for improving the system." One such idea would allow secretaries, using a homegrown AS/400 application, to cut checks for the winners-an idea likely to find support among the competitors who must pay their own travel expenses, their own entrance fees, and their own medical costs.

For those of us who lost interest in cowboys after Trigger died, it is perplexing why an otherwise normal person would climb aboard a bull and subject his body to a frontier version of a small thermonuclear explosion. I put that question to Schwartz. "Adrenaline rush," he answered without hesitation. Now, I like a good rush as well as the next person, but riding a bull seems excessive.

"Would you do that?" I asked.

"I don't need it personally," Schwartz said.

I also asked Ward about the animals, since one of PRCA's functions is to ensure the humane treatment of rodeo stock. "The animals," Ward assured me, "never work more than eight seconds per day, and both the PRCA and rodeo stock owners ensure no harm comes to them."

The theory, as Ward explained it, is that the animals will not be mistreated because they are valuable. A good horse or bull may have a 10-15 year career on the rodeo circuit and be worth $20,000, so its owner will not abide abuse. And it is true that a valuable animal, like a valuable car, typically gets good treatment.

So I went to the dictionary. Webster defines humane as "characterized by tenderness, compassion, and empathy...." A challenge, to be sure, with a strap on your genitals or Joe Beaver on your back.

Happy trails to you.

Victor Rozek has 17 years of experience in the data processing industry, including seven years with IBM in Operations Management and Systems Engineering.



Support MC Press Online

$0.00 Raised:

Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: