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July 2002

A journey whose end is unseen

NewsWire Editorial

You must cross Wyoming more than once to see how big the world is. Last month Abby and I did it twice on the way to Montana by car, then back again, ferrying a fountain of a goddess on our return. After 4,219 miles of that trip, I know how HP 3000 owners feel, sitting at the wheel of IT shops on their transition journey.

Many of you can’t see the end of your transition. It must feel like I did behind the wheel of our sturdy steed of a minivan, cutting across hundreds of miles of Wyoming where we couldn’t even see the horizon. The state is as empty as anything in West Texas — ninth biggest, but last in population. Its desolation is alluring, however, because those millions of acres were green while we crossed them.

The first time we crossed Wyoming we drove the longest way, from the capital corner of Cheyenne to the majestic peaks of the Tetons. You might feel like you’re crossing the long way to your IT future if you’re a fan of homesteading, or just leery of jumping into the configuration circus rings of Unix or NT. Like we did on that morning after we left Denver at sunup, you’re crossing lots of days off your calendar without much in the way of features on your horizon. After hundreds of miles we came upon Rock Springs, snaggle-toothed buttes finally breaking the flat landscape.

Now you’ve encountered HP’s official announcement of working with OpenMPE, Inc. Like those buttes, you won’t mistake this rise in your opportunity for the peaks of your desire: a way to buy an emulator that keeps MPE running on cheap Intel hardware, or permission to make MPE better through continued development. If you’re like we were on that bright June afternoon, though, you can muster some relief that the landscape has begun to change.

A couple of Montana natives who moved to Texas have become close friends of ours. When we asked them about the best way to drive between the two states, they had to admit they didn’t know. “We’ve never driven it,” Tom said. “It’s just too far to drive.”

Since he grew up in a place almost as big as Texas, his advice was daunting. In our state we can drive all day and not cross a state line. Knowing our journey was of epic distances — the novel Lonesome Dove follows its heroes from Texas to Montana — we set out anyway. Our fountain, all 450 pounds of bronze and slate cast by an artist in Helena into the likeness of a goddess, was waiting. What else could we do?

You may feel the same way, setting out on a journey you’re taking beyond 2006, more than four years from now. What else can you do? If you can’t cost-justify a migration from a system that’s efficient — like we couldn’t cost-justify paying nearly $1,000 to ship that goddess to Texas — you have to saddle up. In Wyoming they like to say “cowboy up,” meaning to get started patiently on the hard work, then stick to it.

What makes the work of homesteading hard this year is you have to manufacture your own enthusiasm. There’s not much marketing excitement being generated around sticking with what works. That looks like a mistake to us, even considering the limited resources of the OpenMPE movement. I spent hours poring over Web sites, reading guide books and the ample literature of Montana. I was making excitement for the cowboy work ahead. I even pulled my copy of A River Runs Through It down off my shelf, to dip myself in the lyric waters of fly-fishing heaven. I’m a bait fisherman from my boyhood, but fly-fishing looked to be a graduate course in patience and crafty casting.

As a hopeful homesteader your destination can be no less lyric. You head toward waters where you can idle in such settings, away from the continuous tent-raising of those Unix configuration circuses. You’ve always wanted a computer you use more easily because you fix it less. That’s the flat, easy water that a trout fisherman longs for, not the roiling current and swollen banks of 2002, with all of your favorite IT holes now hidden under a blown-out river of doubt.

So for a long while now you’ve had to wait, like those fly fishermen at the Grizzly Hackle outfitters who were anxiously waiting for the Blackfoot and North Clark Fork to recede after June snows and rains blew out the rivers. We are guessing, like the guides who carry those fishermen out on float trips, about when the waters of waiting will roll back. We believe it will be very soon now, before this year’s leaves begin to turn in that rugged country.

So we advise, like any good angler or traveler, that you’ve got to start planning and preparing. This is the cowboy work of a long trip or a quest for the big brown fish. You must look ahead to learn the way, and you’ve got to prepare your gear in order to catch what you’re after. Your big fish is information, the “I” in IT. You will catch more with newer HP 3000s, with fresher techniques, with a wider array of software lures in your vest.

This season is where the messages of migration and homesteading overlap, in that place called planning. Regardless of where your journey is leading you, it’s time to get some advice on moving ahead. Software and services supplier Birket Foster said that doing a transition “is like a vacation: the less you plan, the more it costs.” There’s spending ahead for everybody in the coming years, once our economy rolls out of the drought it’s been led into. Being prepared with advice and the best gear will save you.

If you’re a homesteader, you might feel like you have further to travel than companies who are changing out their HP 3000s. The truth might be that you’re not traveling any further, but that you simply can’t see as much of the road ahead as your fellow-travellers. The commerce of that costly transition is lighting the way to migration. Those who hope to earn new revenues from software and system purchases have that road well-lit with promise.

The homesteading path winds out through darker trails, by comparison. And traveling in the dark is harder by far, because it’s so difficult to measure your progress. The lack of landmarks offers little hope to keep you behind the wheel. We drove none of our miles to Montana and back in the dark, taking advantage of the never-ending daylight of summer’s solstice. A homesteading customer has a harder road to the promised land.

But you can do it, with the consulting advice of people who know the HP 3000 already and are open to a homesteading option. MBS is calling it a choice to “stay,” and your best guides can see homesteading’s trail as well as the better-lit migration path.

While we crossed our miles through the desolate wilderness, we enjoyed books on tape to keep us alert, as well as a seminar on my oldest passion, writing. Anne Lamott gave counsel on how to travel a road that seems too lengthy, an analogy she used to tell writers how to keep moving forward on their novels. She was quoting E.L. Doctrow, telling us on her tape that writing novels is “like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” In her book Bird by Bird, Lamott says this is right up there with the best advice about life she ever heard. There’s nothing quite like hearing it on a long journey, though.

In time, the natural sunlight of your economical computing choice will rise, lighting the way of the homesteaders. Then their road will stretch out like the highway that pours off MacDonald Pass, cresting the Continental Divide outside Helena with a view all the way down. We sat at a scenic turnout and drank in the nectar of our destination, then drove down to take in our goddess. Stay at the wheel, and get a guide and newer gear. You can pull into a valley with as much promise.

— Ron Seybold 

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