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February 17, 2012

Virtual futures await for early 3000 readers

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    A dream delayed is better than a dream denied. It's a natural element of being human to look into the future, a skill your community has polished over the last decade. Across the same period I've done polishing of my own on a dream that looked denied, but has escaped its delays.

    It's Viral Times, the novel I began to write in earnest once HP stopped writing its futures for the 3000. This month the book is a reality in printed and ebook versions, available at Amazon.com and signed from my Writer's Workshop website, workshopwriter.com. I think of Viral Times as my 3000 emulator. It's a project devised from a sense of necessity, given up for lost at least once, but revived and delivered after a surprising amount of challenges in its creation.

   I'd also like to believe my novel has fans waiting in their seats to experience its magic. Not a bestseller's number of readers, partly because a wide-scale release is no more likely than the prospects for the Stromasys Charon HPA/3000 to reverse the trends of 3000 ownership. But you don't need to be a bestseller to tell a good story with meaning for the future. On the other hand, if you don't tell a good story, there's only a slim chance to become a bestseller. Of small books and modest software projects come enduring classics, if we're patient and lucky.

    There's been plenty of time to practice patience with the emulator. It was first discussed in the fall of 2002, the same time I started my training as a writer of fiction with classes at the Austin Writer's League. The concepts of both these ventures have changed a great deal, just like the fields where they're appearing. The '02 emulator was heading for a specialized hardware design that could mimic PA-RISC processors. Software would be essential, but at one point the leading vendor was looking for PA-RISC chips to be placed in a PC-slot card.

    Viral Times started off in a very different place, too. This story of a star reporter who's disgraced and must redeem himself and recover love in a pandemic opened in 2044. I thought I needed that much elbow room in the future to show a society locked down into virtualized life, even virtualized love to avoid disease. It now starts in 2020. By the time it went into release this month, my shorthand for the tale was "It's a story in a future closer than you think."

   In the emulator's tale, the marketplace believed it needed a 3000 replacement right away to stem the departure of customers from the platform. Anything that would arrive later than HP's exit would be meaningless. The reality of the 3000's future was a more interesting story.  It turned out to be a tale of preserving MPE, not the hardware and software we've come to call the HP 3000.

   Nothing was ever going to reverse the outflow of 3000 customers from this community. Too much change took place as a result of the dot-com Web boom to give vendor-locked computing much of a growth path. For business computing, an open model fed by many allied independent players is the only way to grow. Within the last four years, this kind of virtualized community, working with open specifications, is spinning the story of the future of computing. And storytelling, too. The changes don't signal the end of other kinds of computing, though — not any more than the rise of ebooks means the demise of paperbacks.

    Even through Viral Times will enjoy a long life as an ebook — it will never go out of print — it's also getting a loving debut as a story printed with ink on paper. I've published it using everything the 3000 community has given me the chance to polish: deadlines and printer double-checks, research and feedback (we call that last one "workshopping" in the fiction business). We used to call such books "self-published," a lot like the 3000 market used to call most of its products "third-party."

    But independence from strategies of the past is driving both books and computers. Looking to the future provides the great spark of "what if." HP once enjoyed the same phrase when it first introduced a touchscreen computer, a 9-inch marvel of the MS-DOS heyday, too far ahead of its time.

    Viral Times needed eight years of planning and work (and another half-dozen of dreaming) to become a book I can sign and send to readers. There's the ebook version to download to an e-reader like an Amazon or Apple tablet, yes — but just try signing that one. The act of a human hand pushing ink across paper is one of those pleasures we continue to enjoy. I enjoyed signing at a little release party here in Austin. People enjoyed seeing a writer at work, jotting down personal messages above a signature.

   Your community's emulator needed futuristic changes in its strategy to become a reality, too. Virtualization grew stronger, like a chapter revised and edited, until it became a keystone to extending computing into any budget or set of human resources. The IT datacenter with a troop of white coats has become virtualized, so ethereal it's called the cloud. We used to work with service bureaus because the computers were so expensive. Now we use the cloud because people are so expensive.

   And yet we can't dream of a time when we don't need people to manage computing, not any more than I could dream of a story where love wasn't the most important part of staying healthy in a future filled with danger. What I didn't see coming, but wished for, was virtualizing the publishing field. People tell stories that can be read without a wall of paper to prove their worth. Self-publishing, the old vanity press, has become indie publishing thanks to e-reader technology people slagged — just like emulation — for many years.

    What both the Stromasys emulator and my Viral Times need now are reviews. People need to try out the future to see how it fits them and report back. Take a ride on the indie express, and see if there's joy for you in its future.

07:50 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink

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