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December 1999

A calm approach to the eve of construction

NewsWire Editorial

This is a December unlike any other I can remember, even considering it is often a memorable month at my house. We celebrate many holidays here: there’s usually my son Nick’s Hanukkah gifts, and then his birthday at the very end of the month. While December 31 has had extra meaning for me during the last 17 years, this one is special for other reasons.

Of course, we do Christmas, at least with a tree this year. The weather hovers in the mid-70s as I write this, so I wasn’t compelled over the weekend to buy that big blue spruce for the front room. You must have a clear vision of the holidays if you live in Texas, because the weather often seems better suited to summer celebrations, even in December.

This year we are celebrating what we’re calling a Karma Kristmas, one where we don’t buy presents but send the money we would have spent to charities. It’s been almost as much fun to shop the organizations like Meals on Wheels, the Red Cross and Blue Santa as it is to browse through catalogs. (Our regrets to the Smith-Gardner sites sending those catalogs; I expect we’ll continue to receive them even without ordering, because an HP 3000 never forgets you.)

Even accounting for the seasons of giving, I suspect the holiday to receive the most attention from many of us this year is the New Year’s Eve. In lots of years that night has been an afterthought for me, the anticlimax to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and long letters to Santa. Not so in 1999. In a few weeks we will mark a moment like the walk on the moon or the Kennedy assassination: one of those “Where were you?” memories.

Like three out of four Americans, we’ll be in our home town. We’re going even further inside, electing to spend the night at home. We’ve travelled a lot in our lives, seen many beautiful and dazzling places. But the most significant place Dottie and I wanted to be as 2000 arrived was in the sun room of our house, embracing under the skylight, with the quarter moon’s light mixing with candlelight and the gratitude we feel.

New Year’s is a time for introspection and propositions in our house. It’s also time for a great bottle of champagne, affordable caviar and old movies, rented in secret and then drawn from a big hat at random. While the world outside roars, we whisper and cuddle, embracing dreams on the screen, and each other.

We found kindred spirits among our readers who shared their plans in our New Year’s Eve feature. People in this industry aren’t getting to travel, unless they’re in their own employ. Even when that’s the case, those who offer software or services will heed the call to duty, and be available on the night when the 1900s end.

Our own Y2K preparations were modest, because of a lucky choice years ago. Like many companies in publishing, we run our business on Macintosh computers. So do most of our suppliers. It’s a system that was Y2K ready far in advance of this month, even more of a head start than 3000 users enjoy.

It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.

This is a significant weekend for many, but perhaps most so for these people in who make their careers with computers. After all, it’s computers that have generated the drama surrounding the New Year. We are unique among species because we can build tools that help us track time. We felt honored to have so many of you share your plans, personal and professional, for our front page story. I hope the report — our longest in more than four years — gives you ideas, jogs your memory, and allays any fears.

Few of you expect any calamity to arise on January 1. While the idea of an “eve of destruction” has sparked idle conversation and at least one terrible TV movie, most of you see Dec. 31 as the eve of something brighter. After reading your answers, it looks like it will be the 3000 community’s eve of construction, a green light for projects and plans.

The HP 3000 division (CSY) has always considered this date shift to be the most important event of 1999. We believe that’s because more HP 3000s will be making the transition into 2000 than any other enterprise business computer of its heritage. Only IBM’s Series 390 mainframes reach back as far as the 3000. Bringing five-year-old Unix systems or three-year-old NT computers into 2000 doesn’t seem as remarkable — though we’re sure our readers running these alternatives would assure us their Y2K transition was no modest feat.

CSY knew its customers would carry their systems across that threshold of time. Reliability and elegance are timeless virtues. Those who predicted otherwise in the middle of the 1990s didn’t understand that new might be fascinating, but it’s not always better. The 3000s running applications that didn’t get Y2K updated made up the bulk of those that won’t be celebrating the New Year.

In a few weeks, that moment will be upon us, then beyond us. And the world’s information economy, our society of knowledge, will turn to what’s next. Connecting with each other, in commerce and community. Coming closer, by realizing the promise of all this technology built to communicate. I think of 2000 as a land run, like the opening of the Oklahoma territory for pioneers. Companies racing to create, adding ever-more links to that big conference table we call the Internet.

You have an advantage in that land run. It’s your HP 3000, a system that has survived and thrived by using this wealth of knowledge: a user community nearing three decades in depth. In a way, your business computer has been a time machine. That might be why the community is approaching the Eve with a confident stride. Like a pair of faithful and sturdy work boots, your HP 3000s have helped you step up to this eve of construction. We’ll see you on the other side, in what may be the happiest of new years.

— Ron Seybold 


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