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November 2002

Opening Day in a season of superheros

NewsWire Editorial

At only seven o’clock the night sky hovered overhead as black as any evil-doer’s heart. Autumn usually doesn’t arrive in Texas until November, but when it does, the skies can shift as rude as an SUV driver cutting you off on the freeway. On that night we walked toward an evening with an enchanter, while the last remnants of a fortnight of rain spat through the live oaks and pecans that line Georgetown’s University Avenue.

The onslaught of autumn made me conscious of the date: November of 2002, the 30-year anniversary of the HP 3000. But last year HP gave November another, darker hue for their 3000 customers. The intersection of history and tragedy made me wait to the last minute to compose this editorial. Our evening’s speaker supplied the subject I’d been hoping for. We heard about stories of origin, the heart of any superhero’s powers.

Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of the novel The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier & Clay, spun an hour of stories about stories for me, Abby and our friend Melvin. We’d sliced through the darkening night to Southwestern University to hear Chabon’s talk because we all had loved his book with the sort of passion 3000 owners share: not wanting it to end, reading the last chapters ever slower, hoping that no favorite character would die.

Chabon spoke for an hour in a fevered voice about his story’s origins. It’s a novel about two teenagers’ success in the nascent comic book industry of 1939 and 1940, a pair of years with their own dark historic hue. In the center of the novel’s heart beats a scene where these young men dream up the story of origin of their superhero, The Escapist. Like most stories of origin, it starts with great trouble. That makes it like the HP 3000, both 30 years ago and today.

As we walked back from the lecture I thought about what can come from trouble. Heroes are born in such times. Each of you can become a hero in this season, saving livelihoods and capital. The 3000 community is entering a new season this month, one year after it received what’s been perceived as a death sentence.

The 12 months that followed HP’s end of support announcement have delivered sounds far different from a death knell. While migration forces massed, a group of customers has risen up to extend MPE’s lifespan beyond HP’s support. OpenMPE spent a lot of its energy getting HP to listen in its first year. The years that follow can bring much brighter developments to the customer who’s homesteading.

One year ago I reached for the phrase homesteading to describe the customers reluctant or refusing to migrate. We’ve been happy to see it adopted by the 3000 community, a badge of honor to wear against hard times for the MPE market. In US history the homesteaders braved the blackest of weather, the leanest of harvests, the weakest light of hope, and held their ground. But they also grew stronger, raising crops and children and cities. Building was an essential part of homesteading. We believe it can be the same vital element for the 3000 community, because superheros appear in hard times.

We’ve all loved stories of origin since before we sat behind our first desk at grammar school. These tales are like the late innings of the game where the homestead team is behind, like California’s Angels trailed in an elimination game of a World Series they ultimately won. Stories of origin explain the motives behind someone gaining extraordinary powers. As a boy Batman watched his parents gunned down, then developed his crime-fighting prowess. Spiderman lost his Uncle Ben to criminals, then became a scourge to evil.

The HP 3000 has a similar story of origin. Its earliest release was a colossal failure, a computer unable to avoid a crash for more than an hour. Hardly the kind of beginning you’d expect for a product celebrating 30 years of service this month. Standard origin for a superhero.

Chabon didn’t write a Pulitzer Prize winner on his first effort, either. Its origins arrived in many pieces, including what he called a “crushing,” unpublishable failure. First his father loved comics, and passed that love onto his son. Chabon and his best friend created super identities for themselves as 10-year olds. Then he saved one box of the best comics longer than 20 years, through dozens of moves. After he failed at one book, Chabon wrote a very good one in Wonder Boys. A reviewer of that novel noted that Chabon had written well, but showed the talent to do more complex work. Chabon credits the critic for sparking him to try harder. The subsequent story in Kavalier & Clay covers three continents and sprawls across a decade-plus of relationships. This farther-reaching work earned him the Pulitzer.

With my most humble hat in hand, I’d like to do the same kind of prompting as that reviewer. The homesteading movement around OpenMPE has done good work over the last year. The talent is now coming available in the community to tackle a more ambitious task, something that might seem superhuman. Homesteaders need to start growing the MPE-IMAGE future with more powers. That means that HP has to release its grasp on these products, letting the superheroes step out of their phone booths and into OpenMPE labs everywhere.

Thirty years ago HP shipped a failure of a computer that became a success after a bleak beginning. One year ago HP announced what it figured was the death sentence for MPE. But application providers notwithstanding, few in the community have fled the darkest times during the last 12 months. This second year of homesteading is the opening chapter of a new story of origin for you, the heroes who will homestead into the future.

Leap out there and grow.

— Ron Seybold

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