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December 03, 2013

When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit

Pursuit1As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.

PursuitwriteringsVesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."

Pursuit 2Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.

The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.

"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."

There were others more obscure, but less difficult for the panel. The product number of MPE (HP 32002). The distinguishing feature of the 2641 terminals (an APL command set) and the product which preceeded V/3000 (DEL/3000, for Data Entry Language).

Non-technical trivia was also included. One that had to be answered by the audience was "What does the HP stand for in HP Steak Sauce?" (House of Parliament). And on one question, Eugene himself was humbled by an overlooked answer. He'd asked what four MPE commands can only be executed by the file's creator. The panel found RELEASE, RENAME, ALTSEC and SECURE. But a crowd member said, "There's one more."

"One more?" said Volokh.

"Think about it -- BUILD," came the reply from the crowd.

HP's history offered some political wit in one question. After asking what post David Packard held in the US government (Assistant Secretary of Defense) Volokh added, "and what years did he serve?"

Green, a Canadian, quipped back "In the Nixon administration, which was too long, to be sure."

As the laughs subsided, the Soviet-born US citizen-moderator chided back, "Now, we'll not have foreigners commenting on our government."

But it was an exchange including father and son of that Volokh family that showed the beneficial byproduct of the contest -- expanding the knowledge of HP's engineering roots. Eugene asked the panel, "What is the earliest date of the century the DATELINE intrinsic works with?" A first answer came from the panel, and then Vladimir answered with March 1, 1900.

His son then gave the correct answer: Feb. 29, 1900. "It incorrectly assumes that 1900 was a leap year," Eugene said. "I should know, since Feb. 29 is my birthday."

04:06 PM in Hidden Value, History | Permalink

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