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November 2003

Traveling roads along trails of training

NewsWire Editorial

I drove the roads from my fortnightly novel workshop meeting out to Austin’s “World Wide Wake” for the 3000 in bright sunshine. My course traced a path from my novelist’s future into my journalism beginnings. Several hundred people in the computer’s community took a similar trip on Oct. 31, and thousands more made the journey in their hearts and minds.

The day broke cloudy in my hometown, but soon the sun chased the threat of gloom from the sky and our hearts. When the worst happens, it’s not as bad as we fear, and then we can move onward. We survive, rely on our life lesson training. In many an afterlife we have experiences we couldn’t imagine. This month we all embark on that life, a future that could be more rewarding than it seemed two years ago.

Back in 2001 HP decided the end of its fiscal 2003 would be significant for some of its customers. On that day you wouldn’t be able to buy one of HP’s products from the company any more, much like you can’t get a fresh painting any more from Matisse, hear a new Elvis tune or read a new Hemingway novel. The value of things with an end can rise when they become more rare. If we’re wise, we can use the ending experience to remind ourselves to cherish those things before we have to chronicle their departure.

The last week of October included enough chronicles to remind me about how rare our community has become. The national press finally turned its attention toward the HP 3000 as HP stopped selling the system. Those reporters felt as if the success of this product over three decades wasn’t notable. HP’s departure from a loyal customer base was worth noting, however, even accounting for the modest size of that group.

In Austin I drove out the winding asphalt roads that roll between Westlake’s hills and the hardscrabble relief of limestone cliffs around Lake Travis, toward the Support Group offices. My convertible’s course followed a training ride that I’d pedaled during this year’s cycling, pushing up the steep hills and through the steady wind that the sun had warmed by midday. I thought that this drive to celebrate the end of the 3000’s sales was as unlikely as my newfound skills as an endurance cyclist. I didn’t imagine I would be around to write the end of HP’s chapter in this community, not any more than I could imagine I could ride 104 miles in a single day across three Texas counties. I felt lucky last month when I finished my first century ride — and still luckier on the afternoon I drove a cheery red rag-top car which our 3000 livelihood had paid for, en route to a party to commemorate a computer’s chapter at HP.

Sometimes we can’t imagine what we are capable of, not until we are pressed into the experience. I couldn’t imagine I’d become a century-class rider this year. Maybe you couldn’t imagine an HP that wouldn’t want to sell you a 3000, couldn’t envision a career where your reliance on that computer wouldn’t include the system’s creator. But you’ve probably been on the training trail over these last two years developing new muscles, pumping information about alternatives like I’ve been pumping my calves on my pedals. We remain in training, ready for tomorrow’s climbs.

Good fortune lets our endurance be celebrated. The Wall Street Journal and Computerworld both called the Support Group’s offices, looking for the heart of the story about a computer that has lasted from the 70’s economic recession, through an Internet boom, then out into new low fiscal times, maintaining and enduring across four decades. Maintaining is the mantra at the Support Group, and in your careers, too: the careful stewardship of what we have learned to maintain its value.

I drove without a laptop, digital recorder or PDA on my convertible’s seat, listening to radio music that was fresh when the 3000 was new. I rode as if I were a time traveler, turning away from change. On that afternoon I pushed a pen over a notebook, old-style. I drank a beer whose formula was older than the 3000. I perused documentation and journals so old they had to be photocopied, because the original paper was giving up the ghost.

On that Halloween day many commemorators wanted to invoke the vision of ghosts. I preferred to think of the day as full of spirits, an essence still brimming with life. The wake was a lively afternoon with a lot of laughter. People at the Support Group are moving on with other projects, but are also dedicated to help for the 3000 customer who wants what has always worked best: MPE and IMAGE and cost-effective enterprise computing. It wasn’t by accident that I drove out there. Those are the same things this newsletter stands for today, more than eight years after its creation.

And so we carry the stories on this issue’s pages that show companies in transition, and those whose training can keep them on the other climbing road, maintaining. While HP sells its alternatives, another company offers HP 3000s for purchase in an ad. Not precisely new, but new enough to deliver on the platform’s promise. We find stories about tools and services to migrate, and tales about trails more familiar: extra processors for new business, and new software to save time and effort.

We also pay respects to the passion among you, putting end-of-sales wishes into print back on the OpenMike pages. Those sentiments appear old-style, as ink on paper, instead of simply on a Web page which Google will cache in its hard disk memoirs. I can only hope that some day our page, its original paper yellowed with time, will be copied as it’s being commemorated. Good stories, and heartfelt writing, can compel that kind of survival.

The HP 3000 has been a great story for me to tell over more than 19 years, an ample swath of its lifespan. We expect to provide more chapters in its saga. Like the afterlife of Elvis, or a show of painters who are now in the afterlife, the 3000’s novel-ty remains too compelling for us to close this book. We invite you to keep reading, keep writing, and keep riding along your path. Tomorrow is a great place to train toward.

— Ron Seybold 

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