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October 29, 2012

My Life with HP, Top to Bottom

Editor's Note: We've invited 3000 veterans to tell their stories of their first HP 3000 encounters, as a way of stocking the 3000 Memoir Project. Some have graced us with full-on accounts, like this one by a manufacturing software pioneer.

By Terry Floyd
The Support Group

Note: I was at first surprised when I counted the number of times I used the word “I” in this article (much less in this very sentence). But then I decided to just let it go and admit that it takes an egoist to attempt to write his own story in the first place.

Forty years ago I was in college taking a FORTRAN IV class on a PDP-11. I went to work for Thermon Manufacturing Company in San Marcos 10 days after graduating from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) in May of 1974. I had a major in Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods and a minor in Accounting. An application called TRACE, running custom FORTRAN heat-transfer calculation software, had been developed in-house on an HP 1000 (2100A) with core memory and 5 MB of disc.

In 1974 with HP 1000
The prior Data Processing Manager, a real pioneer named John Hastings, went to work for Radian in Austin, an early environmental testing company, so I was on my own with the RTE Operating System from the beginning. Somewhat indirectly, I helped figure out how much heat to put on parts of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and into some very large processing plants. Including the nuclear heat-tracing elements, we were actually programming things where lives might be at stake. But mainly, I was hired to “computerize accounting and payroll” which were manual systems.

In 1975 HP came out with a Time Sharing Basic system on RTE with TCS (Terminal Control System) but we ran FORTRAN programs on it, not BASIC. In November of that year I went to a class in Cupertino for something called the IMAGE Database. That may have been the first class HP ever taught on IMAGE (at least for non-employees). There were 10 of us in that class taught by Paul McGillicuddy.

Terry Floyd and Shirt
Floyd in 2003 at the World Wide Wake
The first HP 3000 I ever saw was in 1976 at Futura Press on South Congress Avenue in Austin.  Bill McAfee owned Futura and was a mentor to many of us in Texas. Futura was an HP reseller, and aside from a wonderful printing company, they wrote their own software and some of the first MPE utilities. Interesting people like Morgan Jones hung out around Futura Press in the late 1970's and I can never thank Bill and Anne McAfee enough for the great times.

I had a FORTRAN/IMAGE Payroll system working on RTE by 1976. So that I would really get it right, the CFO, my boss, Kenneth Pitzer, made me do the payroll by hand (no kidding, with a pencil) while developing the code and documentation all by myself. I found out that manual payroll processing for 100 employees took about four days a week (more when I first started) and that Quarter-End and Year-End were special periods of extra torture. Six months of that was all I could stand and fortunately it was enough, because we did go live on my payroll system and never looked back.

I learned a lot when I converted my RTE IMAGE payroll system to the HP 3000; anyone remember the Decimal String Arithmetic Package? It was ASCII math in firmware, precise to 128 digits of accuracy. There were no rounding errors in my FORTRAN payroll system. That payroll system ran at Thermon for about 15 years, long after I had left.

Thermon bought an HP 3000 Series II in mid-1978 and, for just a little bit more money (a special offer from HP), it became a Series III by the time it was delivered two months later. I remember sponsoring a FORTRAN programming class, after working hours at Thermon, and how the local university professor of Computer Science told us that an “Engineering Minicomputer” ran ASCII and that a real business system ran EBCDIC. We showed him different. I remember dialing in at 300 baud on an acoustic coupler from the geodesic dome I had built while in college on the GI Bill. My kids, David and Callie, played HP 3000 games at 300 bps from home when they were 3 years old.

I went to MPE classes in Cupertino and Atlanta and attended the 1978 General Systems Users Group meeting in Denver; that group became Interex and David Packard gave the keynote address. I met a fellow named Orly Larson and another named Alfredo Rego, both of whom liked to talk about databases. I went to IMAGE class again in Houston and worked with Frank Letts and Brad Webb from HP's Houston office throughout 1979. I attended HP classes in Maryland as well.

The main reason we bought an HP 3000 at Thermon was Sandra Kurtzig's MANMAN (Manufacturing Management) MRP software system. The application drove the hardware sale, beating out Univac and IBM. I had called ASK Computer Systems the first time in December of 1975 after reading a 1/8 page ad in Datamation magazine and after learning that MANMAN was priced at $65,000 I spent the next 2 years trying to do it myself thinking that was too much money. After messing around with IMAGE/1000 during 1977 and early 1978, doing A/P manually (this time with an Olivetti 801 “Posting Machine” instead of a pencil) and trying to code that and also thinking about how to write my own Inventory Control software, we decided to buy a software package.

One day the VP of Engineering wanted something on the same day as the VP of Finance and I found out that money talks. Most valuable lesson learned, that. We started the project to acquire a business computer the next day. I was really glad MANMAN was written in FORTRAN with IMAGE (crazy basis for a decision) but it really worked out nicely. MANMAN/3000 became an iconic classic. Birket Foster visited Thermon in 1979 and I hired John Banks before leaving Thermon.

I went to work for ASK Computer Systems in August 1981 and moved from “The Dome” to Houston. We installed over 50 HP 3000 MANMAN systems before I moved on and started my own company, Blanket Solutions, in 1985. From that came a move back to Austin and starting The Support Group in 1994, and the rest is history.

In 1979 my first wife, Nanci, and I went to the 1979 World HP General Systems Users Group meeting in Lyon, France. I still can't believe Thermon approved that, but it's where I met Vladimir Volokh and Bob Green. I remember D. David Brown hitchhiking outside Nice. During all those years, I missed only one of the annual Interex Conferences, in 1984. Together with David Groves, Jane and Tinker Copeland, and Bill McAfee, we hosted the Interex Conference in San Antonio in 1982. A particularly lasting memory is of working with Ron Seybold on the 1994 AllTex RUG Meeting in Lakeway.

I've worked with some great people since I first started programming on HP's RTE and MPE Operating Systems; thousands of people. MANMAN took me to over 350 manufacturing sites in North America where just regular folks were doing the best they could. I think in some small ways I helped them make all those diverse products labeled Made in America. From Greyhound buses to Conner disk drives, from Lowrance fish finders to MagicAire A/C units, from MSI sensors on the space shuttle to Korry's Dreamliner dashboard to Bose speakers and Wave Radios, MANMAN and MPE made things better at over 2500 locations worldwide. Even in 2012, it still does for several hundred companies.

I've spent over 35 years with jobs all related to using the HP 3000: an entire career on one platform. I've seen HP come and go. It ain't over yet. I will only be 77 years old in 2026. My kids will be in their early fifties by then. Time enough to forget about Carly Fiorina. Here's to the future of MPE! May the singularity bring peace and prosperity to everyone associated with HP -- and to you too, Carly.

08:18 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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