Why We're Creating the World's Largest Poster

Good work must continue, even if often unrewarded

By Wirt Atmar

A number of people have asked, "Why the heck are you doing the World's Largest Poster Project?" One reason, certainly, is just to have a good time. Another is make a gentle point. Computerworld says we're doing this because we're starved for attention from HP. They could be right. The poster seems to be kind of Rorschach inkblot test, you see whatever you want to see in it.

As to specific reasons, I can only answer for myself -- and a good portion of my personal reasoning is due to my faith in the HP 3000.

When Computerworld mentions the HP 3000, they almost always put an adjective such as "proprietary" or "legacy" in front the name. And HP has teetered on the edge of calling the machine "mature," which, as we all know, is a death knell for a product line.

I don't believe any of that. If anything, I see the HP 3000 as the machine most representative of the future, as the inevitable design that all commercial computing platforms must become. Ultimately, all technology becomes simple and reliable. It happened with vacuum tube color television sets. It happened with Xerox machines. It will happen with commercial grade computers. Whether or not the HP 3000 survives, all commercial database platforms will become simple to use and manage, very robust, highly resilient and highly productive -- precisely what the HP 3000 has been for the last 20 years.

Productivity is the key: the productivity gains that were promised in the 1960's and 70's, for the most part, haven't been met. Commercial computers are harder to use, more complex and more unreliable than they should be -- by one or two orders of magnitude. That lack of ease of use, simplicity, and reliability has had a direct and profound impact on the productive use of commercial computers in most organizations. And no machine, no matter what it might be called, which requires the presence of group of mechanics hovering over it, adjusting this or that, can be called a productive and useful device. The very presence of such mechanics is an overt sign of design failure.

The HP 3000 has been a persistent exception to these conditions. The vast majority of our customers run their machines without (much of) a data processing staff. The system manager is most often a person that was either assigned to the task, or had a natural penchant for the computer, or whose desk was merely closest to the machine when it was moved in. Yet these people tend to make their HP 3000's sing. They know their businesses well, so they intrinsically know their databases well -- and they know how to get to their data.

Unfortunately, satisfied customers who are as pleased as the average HP 3000 customer rarely make much noise -- which is why Computerworld 's comment about us being starved for attention reminds me of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son that appears in Luke 15 of the New Testament of the Christian Bible.

In this parable, a father had two sons. (The father figure here is obviously HP corporate -- and the two sons are MPE and Unix.) In Jesus' parable, one of the two sons demanded his inheritance and left home to become a citizen of another country, whereupon he wasted his inheritance in extremely nonproductive activities and nearly starved to death. When he'd had enough of harlots and bright lights -- and nights filled with endless streams of technical jargon -- and could endure no more punishment, he abandoned his wasteful behaviors and came home.

Upon his return home, his father greeted him with open arms, threw his best robe around him, killed a fatted calf and made merry.

This unexpected reaction of the father made the good son, who had quietly toiled in the fields, and who had been extremely productive for all those years, very angry. He said (paraphrasing a bit), "Look, Father, I'm the one that's kept this family afloat. I'm the one who's actually getting all the work done -- and you never killed a fatted calf for me. Not even a goat. I can't even get you to advertise my superior qualities to your friends."

The obvious moral to the story is that good work is rarely rewarded, especially if you keep your head down and just do the good work. But you certainly can't give up the good work, regardless of who might temporarily be the center of attention. Perhaps you just have to go out once and while and advertise yourself a bit (with some phrase such as "MPE Users Kick Butt -- Productivity-Wise").

And if in the doing of that, there comes an opportunity for the good children to kill the fatted calf (or at least serve up some fat-free hot dogs), and advertise the qualities that they find truly significant in the HP 3000, and make merry for a day or two -- and set a new world's record in the process -- then those seem sufficiently good enough reasons to put a poster together.

Copyright 1996, The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.