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The Things We've Missed, This August

ScottHirshThis week the VMware annual conference is holding court in San Francisco. Three HP 3000 faces are at the conference. Stromasys has its booth up and running, because the company's specialty is virtualization. Scott Hirsh (at right), former chairman of the SIGSYSMAN group in the '90s, is on hand as a member of his new company, virtual storage startup Actifio. Meanwhile, Doug Smith is on the scene, taking a few days away from his HP 3000 consultancy in the Dallas area.

It all reminds me of the way August usually buzzed for your community. This was the month when the printed publications that covered the 3000 swelled in page count. Today there's only one of us left, but August used to promise hefty issues of HP World, or Interact, or HP Professional. Even HP Omni, based in the UK, had a lift from the annual Interex conference, held as a moveable feast around North America.

We are mailing out our usual August issue this week. But it doesn't have a special shipment ahead of the postal service, to arrive at a show hall. The sweet frenzy of booth setup was one of my partner Abby's favorite times, when the vendors and leaders of your community could talk before showtime. This was when we'd usually bring around a small present, often made of leather, as our way of showing thanks for those sponsors. I'm even more grateful this August for our sponsors, fewer in number but just as devoted.

By the time our blog began, the annual conference was gone, a victim of the Interex bankruptcy. We could only report on what was no longer there, and why, what it cost everybody. It was the last time than an August had a conference scheduled with an HP in the title. Now HP Discover is entrenched in Vegas and happens every June.

Virtual shirtWe're also missing the parade of t-shirts that floated through August. A t-shirt offered at an HP conference had to be clever, if it was going to be picked up from a booth worker. Even the Newswire had t-shirts. The ones that HP's handing out this week are a bit threadbare on clever, or even inspiring. You don't often want your marketing message, something as unwieldy as "Proven software-defined innovations from HP," on the front of a shirt. It's another place where HP "needs to do better," as its CEO said while explaining the latest financial results last week. We once designed a shirt, for a vendor out of this market, with a wraparound rocket screen-printed on front and side.

Another thing we've missed this August is the annual HP Management Roundtable. Veterans of the conference trail might remember one of the last roundtables, this one focused on the 3000. On cue, 11 HP executives and managers rose up as one, removing their sportscoats and suit jackets. It was a powerful moment that was supposed to signal that the managers were rolling up their sleeves to do work answering questions. Harry Sterling, the best GM the 3000 division ever had, choreographed that move. He was the only GM ever to appear onstage for a talk wearing a tuxedo.

IMG_4051We miss the stunts and the amiable suffering too. The former included The World's Largest Poster project, where an HP 3000 drove an HP large-format printer, for weeks before the show, creating the poster in strips. The Newswire provided lunch while Wirt Atmar did all the organizing and produced the poster in rolls of paper. It all had to be loaded in a van and driven to Anaheim. Atmar called that toting of the rolls "the corporate fitness program" at his software company.

We're missing those kinds of people we'd see only once a year, the ones who we'd interview or check in with via phone every month. By the time we published our first Newswire during an August, the show called Interex had been renamed HP World. It was an outreach that the user group performed to retain HP's cooperation. For close to two decades by that time, the group had brought the smartest and most ardent users within HP's reach. I had my own moments of joy at those meetings, walking the halls and being hailed with hellos. A conference conversation rarely lasted five minutes and could be interrupted at any time by another attendee, especially a customer. Meeting in person was the best way to close a prospect, or understand a problem.

We also miss the System Improvement Ballot, a way to petition HP for improvements to MPE. The results of these requests were often unveiled at an August conference. It was like unwrapping a Christmas present for some customers, or finding a lump of coal in the stocking for others.

August used to leave your community invigorated, rededicated or just stirred up. But it always brought us closer together. We'll always have August in our memories, our cabinets of memorabilia, and the archives of the printed 3000 Newswire. I'm happy to be replicating one of the elements this year, by shipping out our 139th issue. If you'd like a copy in the US Mail, send me your address. As far back as 16 years ago, we were getting ready for daily coverage like you read in our blog. I'd stay up late each night producing stories for our website overnight. At least the drumbeat of a daily deadline hasn't changed.