Writing Down a Life with the HP 3000
April 24, 2012
I'm celebrating my birthday today, marking how many of my 55 years have included the HP 3000. More than half my life has been devoted to telling stories about this server, but it's a period only two thirds the size of the computer's lifespan. I'm lucky to be living in the 3000's era, and I use the present tense of "to live" to indicate a life with a future.
28 years ago today I was polishing up a feature story about saving the red poppies in Georgetown, Texas for the Williamson County Sun. It was a spirited plea to extend the life of something beautiful. I covered the schools, the festivals, the joyous idle time of life in a small town of 4,500 in 1984. It was work from the first half of my life that prepared me for the next half. You might be feeling the same way, like Craig Proctor bringing his programmer-analyst experience to the next phase of his career, beyond the HP 3000.
In April of 1984 your community was awaiting the future eagerly after a reset. The year's Interex conference had just wrapped up a few weeks earlier, a meeting where HP announced that it was scapping the Vision project to modernize the HP 3000 -- a computer just 10 years old at the time. Vision was HP's plan to turn a 16-bit environment into the 32-bit richness already on offer from Digital and IBM. HP was supposed to deliver a new IMAGE database as part of the program, something based on the ascent of SQL. In a few years HP brought SQL into the 3000 community with Allbase, a product purchased from a third party. Allbase stuck with customers like crushed poppy leaves in the wind.
HP's work during 1984 started the march to RISC computing, the architecture that lives on beyond the iron in the HPA/3000 emulator from Stromasys. Everything we do in life prepares us in some way for what follows, if we connect the dots. I'm about to start a project to help celebrate the dots of the 3000's life. A biography of the HP 3000 is on my menu for this fall, the 40th anniversary of HP's 3000 rollout. I want your stories to spark the 3000's history, so we can see where our lives are leading us.
At the Sun I polished my skills of community reporting, the ones that would serve me while I chronicled the 3000's community lifestyle. I'd already written government news, sports and arts coverage for five communities at another newspaper, plus editorials and obituaries at still another. The Sun's newsroom crackled with the thunder of a half-dozen IBM Selectrics on deadline, reporters sculpting stories by hammering at keyboards to drive the type-balls across rolled paper.
Schools generated some of the most profound passion among 12,000 homes where we were delivered twice a week. The work in education represented the future, hope, and sometimes anger over short-sighted plans and misspent money. It was good practice for the passion of the 3000 community, already full of personalities and problems with meeting the future.
This book that will tell your HP 3000's past includes a future, too. Shaped by the spirit that will fill its early pages, we'll look forward at the Life Beyond the Iron: a virtualized 3000 that will be running after MPE's 55th birthday. At that point at the end of 2027, the CALENDAR bug will arrive like Y2K hit the community. There will be a solution available to keep the 3000 alive. VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh says, "I will only be 90, so I will create one by then." We're all defying age while we expire, adding chapters to our biographies. In the Spring of 1984 your community was eager for Spectrum, the Book Two of the 3000's life. I am eager to hear your stories and gather pictures, too. Together we can polish a vision of the years to come.