August 15, 2016
Poster anniversary lingers beyond sunburns
The biggest statement 3000 users made worked its way onto a front page. 847,000 OC Register readers took note.
Twenty years ago this month the HP 3000 community staged its most prominent protest. The stunt landed the server on the front page of a metro daily paper's news section for the only time in the 3000's history. It also produced sunburns and filled a football field. The lasting impact was memories, like so many computer stories. But a world record was set that remained unbroken longer than HP's product futures were intact for the server and MPE.
It was August of 1996 when a team of 3000 users, vendors, and developers gathered on the football field of Anaheim's Loara High School to build the world's largest poster. The stunt was also a message aimed at HP's executives of the time: Glenn Osaka, Wim Roelandts, Bernard Guidon and especially CEO Lew Platt. "Pay attention to the 3000's potential and its pedigree," the poster shouted. Acres of it, mounted under the Southern California sun of summer. Computerworld (above) was skeptical.
Summed up, the organizers led by Wirt Atmar unfurled 2,650 3-foot x 4.5-foot panels needed to say "MPE Users Kick Butt." Atmar was one of the most ardent advocates for the power of MPE and the 3000. He printed those thousands of sheets off a 3000 Micro XE, a Classic 3000 because why would you need a PA-RISC system? It drove an HP755CM DesignJet printer for two weeks, printing the required 463 billion pixels. Atmar said, after he and his employees loaded and drove the 687 pounds of sheets in a U-Haul truck from his New Mexico offices to California, that "moving the paper into the vehicle was our company's corporate fitness program."
They all had to be numbered and sorted and placed on the field. That was a spot where the winds arrived by lunchtime or so. It would be a race against the clock to build it, but the 3000 was always racing against an HP clock. The statement made for the server moved the needle for existing customers. General Manager Harry Sterling was just taking his job that summer and pushed for funding and lab time to bring the 3000 into parity with Unix and Windows NT servers HP sold. Often, it sold them against the 3000.
The image of the poster made it onto the Metro front page of the Orange County Register. The NewsWire provided lunch and recorded the event for our newsletter just celebrating its first birthday that month. We supplied sub sandwiches and pizzas, recording every request for things like a vegetarian kosher option. It was easier to get media attention than get a kosher veggie delivered to the Loara sidelines, it turned out.
There was so much white paper on the ground that the rising sun began to give the volunteers tans —and then sunburns. The project had to be assembled and taken down in less than eight hours, because football practice started at 4 PM. The field turns on its Friday Night Lights once again in about two weeks.
Computerworld noted that test assemblies extrapolated from a field trial showed that it would take four days to assemble, not four hours. The wind arrived as promised. A hasty trip to a local hardware store delivered 97 pounds of gutter nails to tack down the sheets. Each nail was gathered up at the end of the stunt, using the precision that only software engineers can supply for a computer they love.
More than 100 volunteers were organized and recruited using the HP3000-L mailing list. That nexus of noteworthy 3000 news had been our inspiration and font to unfurl the NewsWire at the previous year's Interex conference. Robelle reported on the show in its "What's Up Doc" newsletter, another staple of that era's news.
"According to Interex, 6,000 attended in addition to the over 2,000 vendor show staff. The Monday night keynote speaker was Scott Adams, the cartoonist of the now-famous The Dilbert Zone cartoon strip. The HP World '96 Daily wrote, "Never has the 22-year-old [sic] HP World '96 (Interex) conference opened with so much laughter and good feelings. Everyone left the room smiling and ready to buy an autographed copy of Adams' book Still Pumped from Using the Mouse."
Multiple sources of coverage, front page notice, a world record, a new general manager and fresh budget. What could go wrong?
The sunburns faded while the profile of MPE rose for awhile. HP later tried to usurp the record with a stunt inside a high school gym, but that was a different category—and challenge met—than the one the 3000 mastered. Grassroots efforts on high school grass kept the 3000 in the Guinness Book for years until then. Even today the largest poster, built in India, isn't so much larger than the one that was created by a community instead of a corporation.
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