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January 2001

Growing old holds hope for change

NewsWire Editorial

Growing older demands grace, if we are to enjoy the experience. I recently flew to Las Vegas to surprise my mom for her 75th birthday and learned a few more things from her. This trip’s lessons were about aging, something that seems apt for a computer community among the industry’s oldest.

Mom lives in Vegas because she’s happiest being close to the family member she’s known the longest, her younger sister. They live a few blocks from each other in the southwest part of the city, well away from the garish, glittery glare of The Strip. At her age, mom knows better than to mess with driving, so every few weeks her sister drives her to the library to check out an armload of novels. These two women make time for each other because their relationship is deep. They’ve had the same foundation in life, so things add up in the same way for them.

HP 3000 customers who are happiest are among community, vendors and staff who know their company like family. In this issue we write about a plastics product distributor in Ohio which has a 15-year relationship with Advizex, its reseller. Consolidated Plastics relies on Advizex for its Internet presence, application, and outsourced systems management.

In Europe I saw a similar relationship between Lumley Insurance Consultants and Computing Solutions Ltd., firms that have worked together for more than 20 years. What Lumley and Consolidated Plastics have in common is unwavering faith in their computing platform choice. Both are in fields with lots of change — catalog/online sales and insurance — but neither would change their platform. They know their partners too well to move away from the familiarity of family.

Mom has learned to make much of little pleasures. She eats dinner out infrequently, cooking for herself in a modest kitchen with some utensils that I recall from my boyhood days. When she goes out to eat with my big brother John, they go to Marie Callender’s down the street and order the same thing: a trip to the salad bar and a bowl of soup. It’s honest fare, and simple, but they enjoy it as much as any $50 steak down on The Strip.

On the menu of HP 3000 customers you won’t find all the exotic fare from the leading trade rag headlines. There are fewer bleeding edge technologies ready for this platform. Instead there are the proven entrees, working everywhere: COBOL, and lots of it; a hierarchical database with ample access tools to the rest of the world. A Web server that everybody knows well in Apache, and an operating environment that knows exactly how to recover, gracefully, when the lights go out. These simple things make up the pleasure of computing for years without failures or surprising cost overruns.

There are a few more exotic items available at Marie Callender’s, of course. Oh my, the pies. She ordered a slice of pecan with as much relish as I’ve seen customers weaned on COBOL step into the shimmering promise of Java. “You never order pie,” my big brother said, even though it was her birthday. She just smiled at him, and he seemed to understand.

In the same way, 3000 customers can order their pie from a growing menu of newer technology, things some people couldn’t imagine available for a computer now in its 29th year of service. I went to a Christmas party and talked to programmer here in Austin about the HP 3000. His life is spent in Windows and Unix, and he couldn’t imagine how people could stick with a platform so old. “I’d think spare parts would be a problem,” he said. I told him HP was still building and selling 3000s, and rattled off its new list of pies. That programmer’s world grew a bit bigger that night, seeing how something quite old could remain satisfying.

That’s my mom’s life, I decided after coming back after our Vegas visit. Abby had cooked up the idea for a surprise, and for weeks afterward I heard from family in Vegas that she seemed happier, even though we’d only been there 48 hours. We stood in line together at the post office as I helped her get her first passport, at age 75. For a birthday present Mom and I are going on a trip to Ireland this spring, another first for her: overseas travel. When her passport arrived the other day, she called, excited at its promise. “But what happens when they run out of pages for the visas in the back?” she asked. Apparently for mom, a blank visa page is an invitation to enjoy experience.

I had heard from some of my family that she might not be willing to go to Ireland, afraid of the trouble that’s so infamous over there. But when the chance to sink her fork into this pie came around, Mom showed grace enough to embrace the opportunity and the change. She wants to kiss the Blarney Stone and visit Cork, where some of our people sailed from years ago.

You may hear similar things about your computer platform, based on its age. That it won’t be making changes fast enough or often enough to remain a vital part of business computing. Or that the size of its market share is a millstone around its neck, that only serious growth will secure its future. I expect that even as some customers hear such worries, like my mom knew about Irish unrest, they will discount the concerns and plunge ahead. She raised her thin and aged hand and swore herself into a passport easily, as if she was lifting those utensils I recall from my childhood. Customers will place orders to receive the newest and best e3000s as if they were ordering books on Amazon: because it’s still the best deal, after all, incorporating change with the oldest things in your life.

And so late this spring mom will cross an ocean for the first time in her life. She said she wants to be crossing it in daylight, to see what it looks like. With your eyes wide open you might also take such a trek, into a broader investment in your mature platform. Things will change in our lives, of that we can be certain. But age can bring more than affection for the things that are the same. The certainty of survival can provide the grace to embrace change, as well as the courage to remain in touch with our foundations. I see many of you doing both out there in this community.

I hope to be doing as well as my Mom is when I’m crossing three-quarters of a century. Mixing the new with the old feels like an experience rich enough to wait for, to see what the tide brings in over the years. The joy in her face made aging seem empowering, a surprising lesson to those younger, like me.

— Ron Seybold 



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