June 2005

Set memory aside, open your eyes — see what can be

NewsWire Editorial

Our memories fail us. I don’t mean the kind of “senior moments” we joke about once we’re beyond 40. No, I’m talking about our memories of the way things once were. Our recollection of things as we learned to love them can act like a snagged anchor when we sail into a new channel.

It took five miles of soaring concrete and rebar steel to help me see this yesterday. We come to our epiphanies differently, but mine arrived while Abby and I drove out to Lake Travis on a steamy Sunday. I looked up and spotted a smoother road to accepting our future. The changes here have been steady; more are on the way. For more than three years we’ve all belonged to a computer community that’s been focused on the future. Yesterday I realized the longer you live somewhere, the more stifling change can look to your eye.

We drove toward the lake to take a little break from weekend NewsWire work. It had probably been two years since we wandered the roads around Lake Travis. Austin’s deepest and biggest lake has also been the scene of profound changes. New 300-yard-long stone walls now run alongside the two-lane country roads that edge the lake’s cliffs, with multi-story homes rising up behind those short limestone borders. We both remembered the lake as a wilder place, full of rocky trails and cottages, because both of us have lived here since the HP 3000 was a new product.

You may remember running a computer shop as a wilder place, too. Sticking with the best tool was an essential part of success years ago. The computer community was a smaller place, in a way, a lot like the Austin before 1980. You were living in the world of HP users when that was a distinct territory, dominated by landmarks like HP-IB peripheral interfaces and the unique value of MPE and IMAGE. Learning was essential, but you could thrive in the confines of what you needed to know about HP’s products. That memory can hamper your embrace of change. Our first sights of anything we love can dominate our viewpoint for a long time.

Our trek through the wilds of the lakeshore brought us closer to Lakeline, the mall complex that has mushroomed here over the last 10 years. The project has transformed the sleepy, rural landscape so much so that we cannot recognize the roads and intersections anymore. I drove north on RM 620 — the RM stands for Ranch-to-Market — and realized that there’s no ranch out there anymore. It’s all market, with 400-foot highway pylons soaring above the surface roads, support for a emerging cloverleaf of an interchange where the tallest object used to be a 60-foot live oak tree.

The more we remembered the oaks and the quiet pastures dotted with goats in the past, the less we could appreciate what had replaced them. Commerce, entertainment, shopping for value and unfettered choices. If only we didn’t remember the pastures, we might have appreciation for that new Super Target, with a vast grocery, in-store Pizza Hut and Starbucks, and a drug store with 62-cent rubbing alcohol. It stood next to two dozen other outlets that didn’t exist in the 80s, or even the 90s.

If only we could see Lakeline with 21st Century eyes, the view of someone with no past to protect, we might stand in awe. The 400-foot pylons helped along my awe, maybe like the 90-million-system footprint of Windows is helping you accept replacements for your HP 3000.

Some of you don’t care what others choose. Being in the majority never appealed to you as 3000 customers, and now the modest size of the HP-UX base doesn’t trouble you. But if you’re considering Unix, so many of you are giving Sun and IBM a shot that HP’s Unix only runs on about one of four systems we surveyed.

That’s a change in the habits of an HP customer, people loyal to a brand. The same level of change opened enough roads to raise that Super Target. Three new highways, including Austin’s first toll road, will carry enough consumers to make Lakeline a marketing mecca. The goats have been moved to other pastures.

When we try to stop change, the struggle can be costly. But we can be selective about how much change we admit to our lives at once. If you liked being an HP customer, the vendor can remain your systems supplier. But you’ve learned that a vendor-supplied environment is not a forever promise. Computing different with MPE was more effective, but not as secure as the safety of numbers. It’s ownership as different as white-chocolate mochas and white-haired billy goats.

You may have the fortune of seeing change further into your future. Change is happening more slowly south of Austin. The day before our Lakeline trip we bicycled down Old Stagecoach Road, still bumpy and crowded with oaks on its shoulders. Not far from a tinny cascade called the Five-Mile Dam, we passed three wide pastures of those goats, the air spotted with cries from their kids, the stout south breeze bending stalks of the corn poppies while stately sheepdogs looked on.

The pastures survive in an era when the concrete is on the march. Those kids’ descendants may bleat for another two decades. A new generation of ranchers might look at the acreage and give memories a back seat. Those goats will go elsewhere, too.

No matter what kind of pasture you look over this year, you can begin to practice the attitude shift to make change less painful. See your terrain with a newcomer’s eyes once in awhile, even if you choose to honor the way your computing world once was. The goats and the pylons give us perspective. Windows omnipresence balances the certainties of MPE. You can open your eyes wide enough to see a place where awe is inspired by memories of the past.

— Ron Seybold

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