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February 2003

Taking measures to guide your projects

NewsWire Editorial

I am learning to become more of a “measure twice, cut once” kind of guy. In this effort I know I am trying to get to a level where our readers already work. The HP 3000 owner and manager defines this ethic. As you lay out your computing lumber for the biggest project of your IT career, measuring before you cut will be your greatest tool.

My lessons with tools take place in East Austin. It’s the economically deprived part of our city, neighborhoods crowded with plenty of working poor and minority families. I volunteer there for Austin’s Habitat for Humanity, helping people become homeowners through our contributed home building labor. While working for Habitat I’ve learned you can do whatever task interests you, because building a house is made of many parts. I have fond memories of helping my dad cut lumber on sunny Ohio weekends, so I tend to take on some sort of trim carpentry job on Saturday mornings.

I am learning how to work better at trim, not necessarily faster. One carpenter’s motto is “measure twice, cut once,” meaning to get your measurements correct before committing to your cut. That seems like good advice to HP 3000 customers this year, since most of you are building either a new infrastructure for your homesteading ownership of a 3000, or planning a move onto another platform.

For the last four months, HP and its Platinum partners have been prodding you to start measuring for migration. Taking the critical business information of your company onto another computer, without interrupting that business, is a big task, much bigger than that Y2K miracle everybody just pulled off. We didn’t hear many stories of Y2K failures, just tales about as serious as cutting a window’s trim the wrong size. There’s wasted materials at Habitat while we make these mistakes, but the house always holds up and looks good when we’re finished.

Migration, though, is more like the building of walls and the cutting of beams and posts to support a home. Even HP will tell you that your failures here can cripple a business, hurt it as much as the wrong kind of lumber hammered into a load-bearing wall. You want studs in a wall, not finger-jointed boards that won’t bear the weight. One of the things I love about my Habitat Saturdays is all that learning of lingo — like story poles, reveals, joist hangers and pearl ends.

Even though Habitat gets me for free on these Saturdays, I’m the fellow that gets the bargain each week. I learn how to load and adjust nail guns, get to use gas-powered Paselode cordless nailers, power up deluxe chop saws, and push routers whose bits cost more than a date night at the movies. Other volunteers teach me about how to rip boards safely, lay out lap siding, the way to cut stringers for steps. I’m grateful for the chance to learn in a lab without consequence for these building lessons. You’re not so lucky, if you’re building for migration or replacing a 3000. The consequences of your lessons are easy to spot, either in your job review or the company’s bottom line.

Because of those consequences, nearly everybody who’s headed down the 3000 migration path is measuring now, if they’re doing anything at all. There’s ample evidence of lots of sites with no work in play today. But many are measuring the impact of changes on app training, the cost of new hardware and databases, the resource to work with the consultants who know the target platforms better than in-house staff. There’s a lot of cuts in that lumber. It looks like the dozens of cuts I did in a morning to turn an 18-foot two-by-four into balusters along 30 feet of ramp railings. Detailed work I was proud of — and felt sore from afterward.

Or you may be eyeing replacement application software, the equivalent of the wall units we build in the Habitat workshop on the rainy Saturdays. Even though these units arrive on the site pre-built, we still must tie them into the floor and integrate them with the roof. Replacing app customers will have their own cuts to make, nails and bolts to drive as they bring packaged apps into the frame of their business processes.

HP tells you, if you talk to its partners long enough and ask questions, that these kinds of projects fail. One in three don’t succeed. That fact is reason enough to measure twice to work better. Sometimes even two measures aren’t enough.

Last week at Habitat I turned a router for two hours — for the first time in my life — to make a finger grip along five feet of ramp rail. Tired after the effort, a fellow volunteer and I cut that routed board incorrectly, simply by following the wrong mark we’d measured twice. We could salvage part of the board for something else, but our labor was wasted. It can happen to anybody, but the potential for waste is always in the middle of building anything. It’s why replacement, or emulation of MPE on HP-UX, seems safer.

Homesteaders have a different kind of construction before them, building up a source of hardware, support and even software enhancements. Their measuring will involve sizing up companies, organizations, independent consultants and support networks. Homesteaders have to raise the walls on new relationships, or test to see what infrastructures they can salvage from the era when HP was always there as a source of last resort for the 3000.

In a few weeks I’ll see the results of my building program, on an afternoon when we dedicate Rose’s house on Cherico Street. She’s been on the site every time I’ve worked, helping in any way that she can to get her home ready for her family. It will be her first house, something that always draws tears from the homeowner as well as some of us in the crusty crew. Dedications are when I feel luckiest, having been a part of a thing that can might change someone’s life.

You will be changing lives too, in the years to come. Your work, either in homesteading, migration or replacement, will keep people working. And the last few quarters have shown us all that employment cannot be taken for granted. Your work is important enough to do on your schedule, not on the vendor’s advice. Take all the measures you need to do that building. We’ll do our best to volunteer information, knowledge we hope will set your crew on a true course.

— Ron Seybold 

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