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How shooting off Moonshot can hit your IT

Find invention at Discover's web, or garages

RulesGarageThe 3000 community recently took note of the MPE departures from HP's ranks. The revelation about what else everybody's doing elsewhere has triggered chatter about HP's ability to invent. This subject can be important to the migrating sites that are sticking with HP's platforms, whether those systems run HP's Unix, Linux, or Windows. Customer Delight can result from inventions, so the matter of whether HP invents anymore can be a part of an evaluation.

To nobody's surprise, the chatter judged HP harshly on its invention score since dropping the 3000 as well as those MPE experts. But HP's Jim Hawkins, one of the select employees still holding MPE skills in his toolbelt, came to his employer's defense. If you'd like to see HP's most recent inventions, he said, going to next week's HP Discover conference would be a good start.

Few 3000 migrators are going to Discover, however. HP recognizes that the majority of its customers can't swing a trip to Vegas and an $1,800 entry fee. So Hewlett-Packard, a company which for a time had the word "invent" bolted onto its logo, will put selected Discover talks on the Web starting June 11. Whether you'll consider those presentations inventive depends on a customer's definition.

"My understanding is that CNBC will be broadcasting live from the [Discover] floor, Hawkins offered up on 3000-L. "If you want to learn what HP is really up to, there's a good place." The engineer whose expertise lies in MPE's IO added that he'd been to a "poster fair" at Hewlett-Packard recently, a gathering of IT inventors who presented their HP Labs concepts for things like network innovation.

If only the customers who've been in IT for decades were an easier crowd to convince. They remember an HP that prized inventing which flowed from the Spirit of the Garage. Plenty of things look like iterations of concepts, rather than inventions. Even Apple and Android-ians are facing that comparison next week. To seek out garage inventing you need to go farther online than vendor websites and conferences, whether Apple's or HP's.

While HP's hawking its advances at Discover, Apple will be presenting the best of its newest mobile software at the World Wide Developer Conference. WWDC sold out in under two minutes this year, at a cost of $1,700 per seat. Last year it took two hours. Even as Apple earned $9 million in 90 seconds or so, it still had to extend a promise of inventions applied to a white-hot mobile market. Registered Apple Developers can watch WWDC presentaations online, too.

"Apple is 'winning' because they're getting what they want in the (former) HP Way," said 3000 consultant Glenn Cole in the discussion. "They make a contribution, with millions of people able to take advantage of the attention to detail that Apple puts into their (still imperfect) products, and they get the cash to be able to invest in pushing the industry forward -- and also be everyone's personal computing design lab."

Computing design used to be paramount at that Hewlett-Packard of the HP Way. Everyone acknowledges that generation of HP is gone. But Hawkins mentioned inventions that won't be a part of Discover. These came from the HP Labs' poster fair. Whether HP's got the spark to market what follows is an answer to discover.

There were some really cool things like a no-glasses 3D display, and a method to determine co-location of devices without GPS or WiFi location information or any communication between the two devices. They use audio from device microphones to establish a pattern of -- background silence -- which is apparently better than the background noise [think two people listening to the same radio station in different locations]. That pattern information would be shared on a server and help you meet-up with people close by.

At the same time there were lots of other things which looked vaguely familiar to someone who's been in commercial computing for a while. There were ways to handle the change in the amount of data (tera-, exa-, pentabyte data sets), to structure unstructured data, to reduce the impact of the mismatch between CPU-to-memory-to-secondary storage.

As this HP-MPE engineer, still working at Hewlett-Packard, went on to examine the prospects of things like a system with memristor memory which could be permanent and as fast as your CPU, 3000 veterans grew quieter. One former reseller even expressed hope HP could return to its invention roots.

"I hope that HP can get back to blazing new trails to the future," said John Lee. The moving-off-MPE customer will likely hear a lot about HP Moonshot servers at Discover, as well as the newest, award-wining Software Defined Network products. "A conversation with HP chief technology officers." But Moonshot looks like a slimmed-down blade server to discerning eyes in the 3000 community

"It was difficult to tell what was innovative, unique or patentable about Moonshot," Lee said in reply to Hawkins' offering of Moonshot and SDN. "I'm not being critical, I'm giving a layman's opinion. HP looks the same as everyone else. Same with the SDN solution. I get product literature from IBM and they make the same claims."

Apple's invention looks just iterative to those who have no more affection for that vendor than the 3000 base does for HP. The Android-driven Samsung has the same problem with its clever Galaxy 4 phones. Waving at a screen to move items looks sexy, but might have its greatest value in a commercial. Skeptics don't like identifying things as inventive anymore.

If you're wondering what invention looks like in 2013, you'd be well served to go elsewhere online. You can find it at sites that serve up news coming from garages. Sites like or show off more than poster presentations. Inventions like an atmospheric water generator that extracts water from humid ambient air, or the Xprotolab portable oscilloscope, logic analyzer, and function generator. Or the biohacking work of Steve Mann, "a professor of electrical and computer engineering who has dedicated his career to inventing, implementing, and researching cyborg technologies, in particular, wearable computing technologies. Mann has been critical to advancing biohacking through his self-implementation of his inventions."

Much this technology got built in a garage, even the likes of the Rostock delta 3D robot printer. The passionate, rogue inventor might feel little comfort working in a corporation. But HP rose up out of a garage. Its first product was an oscilloscope innovation. There is hope for invention from a company so sophisticated that it hosts its own IT conference every June. Tim O'Neil, another 3000 manager, considers Discover the rebirth of the Interex conference. He sees hope in HP's pursuit of eyeballs for its latest products, though.

"After selling the HP chip design team to Intel, they are now going to lead the way towards flash storage and universal memory?" O'Neill said. "Nevertheless, it is encouraging that they actually want customers to attend."