Rare MPE admin gem glitters to lift careers
October 21, 2011
There's not much HP 3000 instruction and education that's still available in published book status. The IMAGE Handbook appeared in the 1980s; there was even a TurboIMAGE Handbook printed by Beechglen's Mike Hornsby, about the same time the market started to see printed anthologies of technical papers from VEsoft's engineers and alllies. Beyond PA-RISC offered a groundbreaking look at the 3000's architecture in 1987. HP engineer Mike Yawn led the publishing of The Legacy Continues, a 1997 book about developing with the 3000 alongside Windows NT and HP-UX. But six months before the end of HP's futures for the server, the first and only specialized and comprehensive book emerged about managing MPE/iX. Jon Diercks wrote the MPE/iX System Administration Handbook and it was published by Prentice Hall in 2001. It's nearly out of print by now; new copies are running at $200 at Amazon.com and used ones at $80.
But this book is still for sale in one way or another. Diercks even brought a few copies to the recent HP3000 Reunion. Author copies, as the publishers call them, and a signed one was given away as a door prize for attendees. Diercks said he sold a couple more to users on both ends of the MPE experience spectrum.
I was pleased that the buyers were at opposite ends of the spectrum. One was an HP veteran who was responsible for the care and feeding of the MPE spooler for many years. I pre-emptively apologized for any inaccuracies, especially in the spooler chapter. He graciously assured me that he was confident I must have been faithful in my rendering of the material, and he was looking forward to reading the whole thing.
The other copy was picked up by a bona fide newbie, a young guy who had shared a table with me during the dinner and is picking up HP 3000 skills for the first time as part of a job that he just started. I was delighted to know that even 10 years later, the book still has new readers who want it not for nostalgia, but precisely for its original purpose. The price was personally negotiated for each sale. I believe the book has great value, but I didn't want price to be a barrier, not at that event, and not among this close-knit community.
There's another way to read the book: subscribe to Safari, the online reader service that gives you access to technical books for $27 monthly for 10 titles you can stock onto a virtual shelf. It's even got a free trial offer to let the technical pro see if the service is right for them.
Once HP cast its doubts upon the future of the HP 3000, HP 3000 Evolution was printed, sold and distributed by Robelle. It's probably the very latest dated paper book about HP 3000, with articles written by community leaders, included from the NewsWire, or revised for an era of migration and homesteading. (That Robelle Evolution link includes an impressive array of technical articles and papers from the community, as do others from Allegro, Adager and others.)
Diercks has his own website where he offers his consulting services as well as code samples from the book. Code samples have actually always been available for free on at diercks.net/mpe/code. And it's a good bet that with the right offer, you might be able to buy one of his remaining paper copies for less than $80. But what's more important is how much lifespan this technical resource deserves and the good work which it still has in front of it.
As for Safari, an all-you-want level of subscription even includes something called Rough Cuts, which lets subscribers "read drafts of pre-published manuscripts online. Interact with authors as they write about the newest technologies."
Safari, Google Books and other e-book avenues are good means to keep technical expertise available throughout the lifespan of any enterprise server -- at least those rich enough to have books published about them. Brian Edminster, who noted those prices on the Diercks book as well as the Safari link, said that offering a tech title on an open license can help future-proof these published techniques.
"The only thing better would be to someday -- perhaps when Safari chooses not to carry it anymore -- release it as an e-book under an appropriate Creative Commons license. This is kind of like what Greg Lehey did with Porting Unix Software, which is why I'm able to host it on www.MPE-OpenSource.org. That's the license that enables another to update a book (or customized it for a specific platform) as long as the end-results aren't used for commercial gain. I'd still buy another copy of either book in 'dead-tree' format though.