July 13, 2011
The Charms of Pretty Computer History
This fall's HP3000 Reunion is meeting at the Computer History Museum, a building where the roots of your industry are on display. The HP 3000 doesn't stand in any major sector of the Museum, but one of the system's best historians also volunteers a a docent at the Museum. Stan Sieler's tour for a group of 3000 veterans in 2008 illustrates what treasures await anyone who attends the Sept. 24 Reunion.
It's surprising to learn how many 3000 vets have never visited the Museum. About 35 who participated in a day-long 3000 software symposium got Sieler's tour that evening in June. (At left, one of the first ads for the system that in 1974 sold for $170,000, "about one third less than the cost of comparable systems." Click to read that nascent marketing pitch.) That tour 34 years later was a remarkable hour-plus in which the tour group not only appreciated nearly all of Sieler's references -- think of high-grade magic patter and you get the tone -- but the tourists could contribute stories of their own.
That's what's awaiting the Reunion's attendees. Organizer Alan Yeo reported yesterday that the meeting has not only has attracted close to 60 subscribers to the event's blog, but a surprising number have pre-registered, more than two months away from the Reunion's weekend. The meeting, which now has Friday and Saturday socials for CAMUS and 3000 users, is nearly free. Sieler will become part of the festivities, since he lives and works in the Bay Area, a region that includes the Mountain View site of the museum.
To give you a taste of what a computer devotee delivers who's got humor and history on his side, listen to this 2-minute segment of that 2008 tour. Sieler explains why the Cray-2 supercomputers, which included seats around the main processor, was the "prettiest computer ever built." It's all about the bubbles, he explained.The system used a non-conductive liquid, fluorinert, to cool the computer. The fluorinert generated bubbles in the visible tubes during the process, which had the byproduct of impressing donors and directors of organizations like the Lawrence Livermore Labs (which bought one of the first HP 3000s).
By now that Cray can be outperformed by any commonplace PC server. It's possible that HP's rock-bottom Windows-Linux server, the $329 ProLiant MicroServer, will outpace a multi-million dollar system which in its day sparked a bidding war between two government agencies to purchase the first unit Cray shipped.
Reunion attendees will bring their own stories and history to the two-day event -- which is preceded by Thursday training in Eloquence database skills and a migration seminar presented by Speedware. But while these computer pros of your generation will supply the memories, the event is also a way to reconnect with kindred spirits from the start of the modern IT era.
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