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January 2006

How far has HP's word gotten out?

Last week in our podcast we talked about the pitfalls in announcing a support extension in the shadow of a holiday week. This week we've heard the first report of how that kind of shady introduction is hampering an HP customer. Some of HP, it appears, doesn't know that 3000 support from the vendor is still on sale through 2008.

Herb Stratham of Cerrowire reported that he's gotten the widest variety of answers from HP's reps about continuing his 3000 support from HP beyond 2006. According to Stratham, who's the Manager of Information Systems at the manufacturer:

I have asked several HP personnel about extended support on my HP e3000 model 959KS-400 and received different answers about support — yes, no and maybe.

Maybe HP's message hasn't drifted deep enough into the waters of a company with more than 100,000 on the payroll. Stratham said he'll keep us posted about what reasons HP is giving for flying more than one course in the skies of support.

"The local Service Delivery Manager did not give a reason," he said, "just that support would not be extended past the current contract end date (11/02/06). However, Jeff Vance (of HP Cupertino) has asked me for the “particulars” and said that he would provide answers. We would like to stay on the e3000 as long as possible."

OpenMPE still open for MPE business

Even though HP put off its source code license until at least the end of 2008, the OpenMPE advocates continue to push the vendor for a better HP 3000 future. The group has elections coming up again this spring, a chance to serve the community many of you will be members of for the rest of this decade.

More important than leadership, however, is the 2006 mission for the group. First up, and very soon, will be independent review of MPE/iX build process at HP. The vendor thinks so much of this that it will pay an outside contractor selected by OpenMPE to do this review. The contractor — Mark Klein, formerly a board member and a developer steeped in MPE/iX internals, is a leading candidate for the job — will tell HP how well they've documented the process to create MPE/iX releases.

There would be only one reason to shore up the documentation for the build process of a 30-year-old operating system. If you were HP, you'd be ensuring that MPE/iX could leave your building. Not that anybody is promising when that will happen — but HP has said that it will license selected parts of MPE/iX to any third parties once HP support ends.

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Conceal or encrypt: MPE can comply, with help

It seems no focus in IT is stronger these days than compliance. With the onslaught of HIPAA, SOX and other regulatory mandates, a manager of a 3000 has plenty of required work being dumped on the to-do list. Security is a big part of this, especially in the 3000 operations that process credit card transactions.

(Don't laugh. Every 3000 running Web commerce data is now in this category. Think Ecometry customers, hundreds of them.)

The recent Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards suggest encryption as a way to comply. (You can also truncate credit card numbers.) The 3000 doesn't do encryption as well as it manages database transactions efficiently. But there's a open source solution that can help.

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The word is out on conversion's value

Converting an HP 3000 to an HP 9000 holds little value for the migrating customer. That's the consensus of a group of users who responded over the 3000 newsgroup to a query about the value in making an MPE/iX system capable of booting up HP-UX. HP simply re-programs a personality chip in your 3000 to make the conversion. It's much harder to make the numbers add up to significant value in the process.

Even the biggest of HP 3000s, the N-Class servers, are plodding, aging models in the HP 9000/HP-UX world. HP has given in and stopped advising customers to repurpose their 3000 hardware; instead, the vendor will apply a trade-in value for your HP 3000 to a purchase of an HP-UX system. How far off the pace are the 3000-grade systems when turned into HP-UX servers. Chuck Ciesinski, an HP-UX System Architect at ACS Educational Solutions and an OpenMPE board member, pointed out that even some Superdomes are considered obsolete by HP: 

On the servers page, take a look at the ‘Discontinued Servers’ link.  HP 3000s and HP 9000s are broken down by various classes.  All the A’s, L’s, K’s, and N’s are already discontinued.  In fact several of the HP ‘Superdomes’ are already on the discontinued list.

Ciesinski went on to add that one application divided over two Unix servers (for active/passive failover) is more the norm than what HP 3000 customers know: a single server hosting lots of apps.

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Caring for orphans of the 3000

While this headline might prompt thoughts of abandoned customers and applications in the 3000 community, there's a more commonplace orphan problem to resolve on many 3000s. Users close their terminal emulators before they log off their 3000s. Go ahead, admit it — you've even done it yourself. It leaves orphaned sessions behind. So how can you detect these orphans and terminate them?

One suggestion, from telnet and HP 3000 advocate Wirt Atmar, is simply to avoid the orphan-ization in the first place with telnet connections, instead of NS/VT. "The problem is associated with the slightly higher complexity of NS/VT and the dissynchronization of state information," Atmar said in a post to the 3000-L newsgroup. "No matter how the user quits their session, a telnet connection cleanly breaks the connection and the session disappears. This behavior is consistent across all versions of MPE and all patches."

If your choice of connection can't be telnet for some reason, HP has supplied a free script to address the task of aborting jobs.

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Reorg module opens new windows on maintenance

Some of the largest databases in the HP 3000 community now have a new path to dramatic performance improvements. This year’s add-on module for Bradmark’s DBGeneral software enables partial dataset reorganizations — a way for companies who “race to daylight” with IMAGE/SQL maintenance to break their race into multiple heats.

Bradmark’s founder Brad Tashenberg came up with the fundamental technology concept, according to the MPE and HP 3000 R&D leader Jerry Fochtman. “About six to eight months ago we came upon the concept to move forward with this enhancement,” he said. Enhancements like Partial Reorg are part of Bradmark's 3000 plan, he added. “When HP made its announcement about leaving the market in 2001, we said we’d stay with the users as long as they needed us.”

BradmarkreorgThere’s more to being a 3000 vendor than just staying in the market. Products that can improve performance need to continue to evolve, particularly in a community where hardware upgrade funding can be hard to justify.

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When timing tells as much as the news

Timing can be everything, but sometimes it just gives us good perspective on what we hear. In our weekly podcast (6MB MP3 file) we take a hard look for about six minutes at the timing of HP's goodwill news about extending 3000 support. A customer might wonder about all those ifs in the offer, as well as why a headline about the extension still doesn't appear on the main HP 3000 page on HP's Web site. Have a listen and let us hear in a comment below if you already knew about the news that slid out in the shadow of the year-end holidays.

Mainstream press speaks: Money makes vendors listen

Money talks, and marketing walks. (If you've heard that phrase worded a little differently, well, sometimes we pull our punches in the interest of civility.) Money talks in the computer world when it comes to defining what's obsolete. The subject came up this week in Computerworld when the magazine took a glance in print at HP's choice to add two years of basic support to its MPE/3000 business. Its columnist Frank Hayes drew good conclusions, ones that are worth translating for the 3000 experience.

On page 52 of this week's Computerworld print edition, a column examined  what obsolesence means to vendors, IT and your users. (Not everything makes it into Computerworld's print; we take that as a sign that this is important.) We were glad to see HP's extension of 3000 support  offered up as a recent example of how obsolete can change its meaning. (Frankly, we're glad to see the HP decision mentioned at all in a wide-circulation periodical. That news surfaced just days before Christmas, a time when lots of IT managers are not even in the office. More on that in our podcast Monday.)

Hayes pointed out that it's not exactly news that vendors determine obsolesence on the basis of revenues. Plainly put, if a platform is not selling as expected, it's not performing the vendor's mission: generate sales revenues and profits for shareholders. No matter what else you hear about any vendor's mission, even the old HP Way had profits and sales as the Number 1 objective for HP. That's something to remember while you estimate how much useful life your 3000 has left. Utility is your Number 1 object, not how much profit the 3000 earns for HP.

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iSeries alternative: Coulda been the 3000?

TattoomarreseWhen HP chose to step out of the 3000 marketplace, changing its thousands of companies' futures, the vendor cited the uphill battle to sell a non-standard IT solution. Platforms not Unix or Windows simply were not going to provide a safe ecosystem, HP said. This week IBM announced news that begs to disagree.

Successor to the AS/400 marketplace, the iSeries, IBM says, is coming off a “milestone year” for the  platform. The vendor claims that the integrated solution most like the HP 3000 had its “highest level of growth in nearly 10 years.” Soon you'll see why, if you're a football fan: IBM will air an iSeries commercial during this coming weekend's Steelers-Broncos playoff game. Not long afterward, new POWER5 Plus i5 servers are expected to be announced. IBM says it's going to intensify its efforts to market the iSeries this year.

It's safe to say that like the 3000 community, the iSeries users wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak.

While that IBM solution got a fair bit of notice in our NewsWire special editions of 2002 and 2004 — and some persistent advertising from COBOL transformation shop PIR Group in those issues — we were puzzled about the lack of takeup for this 3000 alternative. (For the record, PIR Group has said it will be interested in supporting the HP 3000 conference of 2006. We also wrote up Flax Art, a former Ecometry site, as one of several 3000 customers gone the way of Big Blue.) Some of that resistance might have come from companies still smarting from long-ago wounds at the hands of IBM's mainframe-centralized culture. But a lot of the hesitation might be chalked up to the general slow pace of migration. Things are picking up this year. The iSeries could pick up some more 3000 business, among those companies dissatisfied with the Unix or Windows choice. After all, it's about the target applications, not the environment, right?   

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Turn back time to save applications

Some HP 3000s are reduced to a single application these days. But the one program that will never move off the platform, however vital it might be, could see its support disappear on a particular date — with no help available from the creators of the software.

A few utilities can help rescue such applications. These products were popular during the Y2K era, when systems needed their dates moved back and forth to test Year 2000 compatibility. Now that some HP 3000 programs are being orphaned, clock rollback utilities are getting a new mission.

A customer of SpeedEdit, the HP 3000 programmer's tool, had lost the ability to run the program at the start of 2006. Both Allegro Consultants and former NewsWire Inside COBOL columnist Shawn Gordon offer products to roll back the 3000's clock. These companies don't sanction using their software to dodge legitimate licensing limits. But if a software vendor has left your building, so to speak, then HourGlass/3000 or TimeWarp/3000 (both reviewed) are worth a try to get things running again.

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Houston, we have a show: 3000 gets its own 2006 conference

Board members of the Greater Houston Regional User Group (GHRUG) have announced "the only user-driven HP 3000 conference in the world" for 2006, a meeting scheduled for November in that Texas city. GHRUG has mounted user conferences in years past, including a multiple-day meeting for several years until HP announced its exit from the 3000 market.

Houston is also the site of HP's Technology Forum for 2006, a meeting that will take place September 17-22. The Technology Forum will only include information about migrating away from HP 3000s. The GHRUG meeting promises a track on homesteading on the platform as well as migration advice.

Denys Beauchemin, former chairman of the Interex HP users group and a Houston-area member of the GHRUG group, posted a notice that explained the group had been considering a "last hurrah" show for the 3000 in 2006. But due to HP's recent extension of its basic-reactive support of the 3000 to 2008, the group had to "hold off a bit to ponder such a move."

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Inside, We're All the Same: Just Listen

After a week out at my very first Macworld, I came back with a bag full of show floor gimcracks and a feeling that HP and Apple customers are sailing in the same boat these days. There's a lot more wind in Apple's sails, of course, something we talk about in our 8-minute report (7 MB MP3 file). Intel is inside both HP's future systems — the ones HP recommends as a 3000 replacement — as well as those shipping this week from Apple for the first time. Watching Intel march across a Macworld stage, instead of an HP World stage, showed how high theater can take the sting out of migration. No, not the kind the 3000 is facing — the kind that HP's Unix customers have in their future. Just like Apple's.

Low volts, high volts: What's the differential, anyway?

HP 3000 disc devices have been through many generations of design. Old-timers out there tell stories of the 7933 units as big as today's washing machines, all to store a few hundred MB. Things have come a long way in disc technology since those units of the 1980s. Sometimes they've come along too fast to keep up with all the voltage details.

For an example, a recent question scrolled by the steady stream of advice in the 3000-L newsgroup:

I’m attempting to upgrade from 4.3GB drives to HP's 18GB drives (ST318404LC), on our Series 979.  I inserted the new drives into existing Jamaica-style disc enclosure units. I carefully plugged in the SCSI adapter from the enclosure into the drive, and then slid the enclosure units into the  Jamaica. They power up okay and go through self test in the Jamaica okay. But the paths of the 18GB  drives then do not show up in MAPPER.  Both the smaller and bigger drives are F/W SCSI, so cabling should be okay, right? What's going wrong here?

Chuck Shimada, a 3000 hardware expert who donated countless hours of configuration service to Interex during the former user group's conferences, had a quick answer. "First, you are trying to attach a Low Voltage Differential device to a High Voltage Differential interface.  This cannot work without an LVD to HVD adapter on each drive, or Parlan LVD/SE to HVD box between the last HVD device on the SCSI chain and the first LVD device."

Shimada had lots of detailed advice on how to manage the difference in volts on 3000 discs.

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Take note of support levels

HP's two extra years of 3000 support have been celebrated by some, scrutinized by many. But it's important to evaluate how much service you can expect from a vendor which has been plain about getting out of the HP 3000 marketplace — even if the exit is slower than HP first planned.

The third party support community now has an extra two years to either endure, or build up, before moving away from HP support becomes a necessity. There are already 3000 hardware and software support options available from providers such as Pivital Solutions and Genisys. Today's third parties make a case that moving today is a better choice than waiting for the level of HP's support practices to ebb.

One newcomer to the 3000 total-support market, Bay Pointe Technology, shared some comments with us on this subject. Bay Pointe reports that it has recently "joined with some of the top MPE consultants and hardware professionals in the US to form a 'one stop shop' for 3000 users looking for hardware and operating support as well as selling and installing hardware upgrades," Bob Sigworth said. "I am still overly concerned about the level of support from HP that an end user will experience once a support call is actually logged. Any vendor can take a support contract. It’s what you do with that account once a call is generated."

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Sitting in the Reality Distortion Field

Why would anyone walk the streets of San Francisco before dawn to line up for a keynote speech? Across 21 years of conferences, from the old Interex shows to European HP meetings to the more recent HP Worlds and last fall's HP Technology Forum, keynotes were often my conference consolation prize. Dave Barry, Scott Adams, even Al Franken: those funnymen drew a great crowd at shows including the HP 3000.  But nobody would wait three hours in line to see them, like a Stones concert.

No, for rock star hubris and stock-splitting swagger at a computer show you must go to MacWorld in San Francisco. This week I make my pilgrimage for the first time in 19 years of using Macs. I sat in Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, as the attendees called his hour-plus keynote. It was a personal way to experience what I've reported from the 3000 community over those 21 years: Customer passion for a product, like your devotion to the HP 3000. Even if you wouldn't get within a few desks of a Mac, your community has much in common with the heart of the Apple customer.

Some might call it blind faith, maybe misguided. But the true believer follows the less-traveled path, which yesterday unreeled from the front doors of the Moscone Center, snaked down Howard Street, wrapped around the corner and down Third, thousands lined up at 5:45 AM. Ten minutes later I spotted a 3000 expert on his way inside to register. Ever register for a  show at 6 AM? You might, if your vendor had withstood 15 years of being pronounced dead and kept releasing improved product, meanwhile fattening profits and showing the most imporant computing feature: leadership.

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More on Classic Car Clubs and 3000 User Groups

A Comparison, Part 2

By Paul Edwards

[Ed. note: OpenMPE board member and 3000 education resource Paul Edwards has been promising us he would write this article for several years. This is the second of two parts. Edwards explains, "Recent events have finally put this comparison into sharper focus. There are so many parallels between each community that I felt I had to write about the comparisons so that others in the HP 3000 world could possibly use this information for their own future."]

Social Interaction

Social interaction has always been an important part of the HP 3000 meetings and conferences. We had a chance to renew old friendships and make new acquaintances. Important contacts were made for future information exchanges.

The classic car and truck meetings are very social and have a family atmosphere. Spouses and children are encouraged to participate in the many activities. The renewing of friendships and acquiring new contacts are valuable as well.

Equipment Purchase and Sale

Used HP 3000 equipment availability from the many broker companies will continue to be very important to the ongoing hardware support of the homesteading users. Having the ability to patch or rebuild the MPE operating system has been the goal of the OpenMPE organization, and it hopes to provide the software support requirements of the users for many years to come. This will depend on the outcome of the announcement by HP, expected by the end of this year, of the final disposition of the MPE source code.

Through a vast array of catalogs for parts purchase, the classic car and truck community can rebuild and repair their favorite vehicle. Many parts are NOS (New Old Stock) that was acquired by dealers from the car companies as they emptied their warehouses of obsolete parts. Reproduction parts are also available. You can almost build a new vehicle from all the parts offered in the catalogs for the most popular models.

Continue reading "More on Classic Car Clubs and 3000 User Groups" »

Classic Car & Truck Clubs, and 3000 User Groups

A Comparison, by Paul Edwards

[Ed. note: OpenMPE board member and 3000 education resource Paul Edwards has been promising us he would write this article for several years. We present it here in two parts, today and tomorrow. He explains, "Recent events have finally put this comparison into sharper focus. There are so many parallels between each community that I felt I had to write about the comparisons so that others in the HP3000 world could possibly use this information for their own future."]


I have been a member of the HP3000 community since 1976 and an Interex member since 1982. A few years ago, I decided there had to be other hobby interests for me than just computers and at the same time I had quadruple by-pass heart surgery. These events caused me to evaluate my future life direction. I have always been a hands-on person and have enjoyed working with tools in building and repair projects.

ElcaminopaulSo, I acquired a 1971 Chevrolet El Camino truck to initially enable me to haul home improvement materials. It was like the one I bought in 1969 after my return from our Navy squadron’s cruise to Vietnam. Then, after attending a few car and truck shows, I got hooked on the classic car and truck hobby. I started to finish the restoration of my truck that was mostly completed by the previous owners. I quickly found that any restoration project is never really finished, but is a constant work in progress with continuing cash outflow.

The classic cars and trucks are like the ones we drove in high school and college during the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. They consist of hot rods, convertibles, customs, sedans, wagons, trucks, and sports cars of that era. The “muscle” cars are very popular now and command a high price in a properly restored condition.

I have worked on most HP 3000 systems from the Series II to the N-Class and MPE II through MPE/iX 7.5. I currently have an HP 3000/928LX in my home office.

Continue reading "Classic Car & Truck Clubs, and 3000 User Groups" »

NewsWire TV: Watch a restoration of faith

All last year, HP was working on repairing its history. Its founders started the IT giant in a garage, and during 2005 HP worked to restore that structure to its 1938 glory. (We took a quick look at it in a December blog entry, too, complete with a link to HP's film.)

I think the project represents what's best about this vendor that gave us the HP 3000 to improve upon. On a recent Silicon Valley visit I made our pilgrimage to The Garage, just a few blocks from Peninsula Creamery, in business since 1923. The creamery's founder's grandson, now running the business, said his grandad was approached by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard about investing in their company. His grandad decided to put the money into new freezers instead. "Big mistake," the grandson said with a grin.

Sometimes you just can't tell how the future will pan out. HP's extension of support seemed to prove that last month. Some customers report they feel better about believing in the vendor as a result of two extra years to transition.

Have a look at our own short film (3 minute .mov Quicktime file) to feel what might inspire you to restore your own faith in the 3000's creators. Or simply listen to our podcast (3MB MP3 file) if you just want to hear the sound of restoration. Burned, believer, or just shy for now, there's a way for some customers to put aside the recent history, if HP's past means even more toward your future faith.

Advice on Web graphics: We're WMF-free

The computer community kicked into high alert this week over a nasty virus which infects Windows-based systems. The malware uses an exploit — sort of a trojan horse — to ride inside Windows Meta File graphics, then break into Windows systems. Microsoft is working on a patch, but doesn't expect it to be ready until Jan. 10. Infections are already breaking out, delivering more than 70 different viruses so far.

This blog and the 3000 NewsWire Web site don't use any WMF graphics files. We never have, because we have always published using the Mac. There's no trojans in here to carry any WMF-based virus. As we read in one IT news journal Q&A: "Are Mac, Linux or Unix systems vulnerable? Very funny."

You can advise your Windows XP and Windows 2003 users to take these precautions about graphics, according to a Computerworld article:
1.  Exercise caution when clicking on attachments, even from known e-mail addresses or IM pals.
2. Switching from HTML e-mail to text-only e-mail is also a good idea.
3. Those using the Internet Explorer browser should temporarily disable downloads by changing their browser’s Internet Zone security to “high.” Firefox and Opera users are prompted before WMF files are opened; these users should be encouraged not to open the files.

Be careful, but take heart: As the Texas Longhorns proved last night, Trojans can be defeated.

Customers eye impact of HP decision

More customer commentary has trickled in over HP's decision to extend the vendor's support lifespan of the HP 3000. While the skepticism is rife among partners and customers, many see a silver lining in the moving cloud bank covering the 3000's future.

Duane Percox of K-12 solution provider QSS chimed in quickly to note that HP might be viewed differently as a partner by some in the 3000 community. "While the information is ‘the story’ I can’t keep from thinking the real story is that HP was willing to adjust the date after careful review. It shouldn’t change anyone’s migration plan, but it should give everyone something to think about when they consider how they view HP as a partner today and into the future."

For others, the move lessens the sting, but doesn't make the poison less lethal.

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HP outlines limits to lengthen support

While customers were happy about HP's 3000 support extension to December, 2008, there are limits to the longer path that HP Services will walk alongside your systems. HP's announcement noted

The [support] offers... are subject to limitations and exclusions based on hardware and software configurations, geographic location, customer transition timelines, and other considerations.  Pricing variances may apply.

When we checked with HP e3000 Business Manager Dave Wilde and HP Services on those limits and exclusions, it sounded like most, but not every 3000 site, could continue HP's support for two extra years. "Most customers will have access on a worldwide basis for basic reactive support for very substantial parts of their configurations," Wilde said in HP's interview with us. "Over time, some of those limitations could change over time and on a regional basis — but the intent is that customers will be able to renew that basic reactive support."

He was candid about what to expect from HP in support. "The 2007-2008 timeframe is going to be less than what they had before," he said.

We also tried to focus in our interview on the need to migrate toward HP to get additional HP support. This time around HP is not insisting, at least for the basic reactive support. Mission-critical levels of support — which HP has not extended on a "most customers" basis — will require talks with HP to establish such support beyond December, 2006. But staying with HP's solutions is not necessarily a mandate.

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Straight shooting with one eye winked

[Ed. note: Roy Brown, one of our favorite writers in the HP 3000 world, penned a little poke in the ribs over the holiday weekend in honor of HP's announcement of more time to catch the migration stage out of Old 3000 Town. Brown wrote a bang-up set of migration articles for the NewsWire in the fall of 2004, stories you can find on our main Web site August, September and October '04 editions. This time out, we'll let him kick off your new year with this tale of old behavior from the New West.]

By Roy Brown

We've heard tell that the preferred metaphor for HP's extension of HP 3000 support for two more years is kind of like where there's a queue for the stagecoaches out of Dodge. With only a few stages leaving town each day, and all full of migrators when they leave, the customers still standing in line waiting need to be protected.

And now it's come to the notice of those kind folks doing the protecting that not everybody that wants to can get out of town by sundown, when the protection stops. So the protectors decide to work later into the night.


So we sent intrepid reporter Ron Yesroman, from that well-known stockfeed journal The Haywire, out to Dodge to interview the Sheriff and report on the situation first-hand. Here's what he just filed:

"Greetings, Sheriff, and thanks for talking to me. First off, I'd like to know about the queues for the stagecoaches. How long do you think it will take to get all the citizens out of town?"

"Aw, hell, Ron, ain't no queues out there. Not of townsfolks, leastwise. Mebbe there's a queue of *stagecoaches*, wantin' to take folks out of town. And mebbe one or two folks go out and ask how long the journey might be, and what it's likely to cost. But when they git the answers, there's precious few of them seem to want to rush to be leavin' right now".

"Well, I see Sheriff. But I though migration was supposed to be easy — isn't there a straight road out of here to Unix?"

"Yes, sure, that's the trail we want them to take, and we've made it as easy as possible — fresh horses at every stop along the way. But we ain't paying no fares, and they still got to build anew when they git there. Puts a lot of folks off."

"But migration is still the safest option, isn't it?"

"Hell, yes, Ron, and if they know what's good for them, it's what they'll do. No, hang on, that din't come out right — I mean that's what's in their best interests. I just wish we had more citizens like those fine upstandin' Donners, who took their party out with high hopes, not a day or so back."

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