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Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

Making More than 30 Years of MPE Magic

Stan Magic

Stan Sieler is as close as our community might come to being source code for MPE and the HP 3000. He recently noted on his LinkedIn page he’s celebrating 30 years with Allegro, the company he co-founded with Steve Cooper. Three decades at a single company is a rare milestone, but Sieler goes back even farther with MPE and the 3000.

Few programmers have more people using their code. He’s the co-author of SPLash!, a compiler that brought the original SPL systems language from the Classic HP 3000s to PA-RISC systems. Then there’s his wide array of free software contributed to the community: things like RAMUSAGE, a tool that reports how HP 3000 RAM is being used. Sieler was honored as an outstanding contributor to the HP user group’s annual Contributed Software Library three times.

Sieler took up the practice of magic 15 years ago, which was evident as he gave a tour of the Computer History Museum at a 3000 software symposium held there in 2008.The patter of the tour was a seamless as our 90-minute talk for this interview. We spoke via his iPad, using the everday magic of Skype, just a few days before our November printed issue went to press. 

Over the years you’ve been at Allegro, what’s changed for the industry?

Everything, and nothing. We’re still bitching about changes that manufacturers do to their software. I’m still trying to do new things. A lot of the things that have changed are simply bigger, faster, more memory and more disk. In terms of software development, the biggest change is the prevalence of more GUIs, of course. But even then, we were foreshadowing that with things like block mode apps, such as VPlus. We didn’t have a mouse, but we were still interacting with screens.

Some of the good guys are gone. I don’t know if we’ve identified the new good guys yet. Some of the new good guys have come and gone; Apple, for me, is in that category, with the restrictions on iOS and the restrictions they’re trying to put on the Mac. They’re removing the fun and the power.

What’s changed in your Allegro work?

It depends on what hour of the day you look at me. Yesterday I was doing work in SPLash! (the company’s SPL compiler for PA-RISC systems) on a product we introduced years ago. The day before that, I was putting an enhancement into X-Over, a product we released in the early ‘90s.

On the other hand, there’s work on things like iAdmin, our app for the iPad. I’m working on finalizing Windows support and MPE support for it. I’m testing the MPE support, but the Windows support is a little harder. Mostly because Windows, despite its power, is missing surprisingly simple concepts: give me a list of hooked up disk drives, so I can directory searches of them without hanging. On MPE, at least, if you do the equivalent of DSTAT ALL, you know what volume sets there are, and you don’t even have to know that to do a LISTF of everything.

You created SPLash!, but what other environments and languages do you develop in after all of these years?

SPLash! is a minor amount. A lot of my work is in C, and some is in HP’s Pascal — which I regret they didn’t port to Itanium, because it’s such a good Pascal. 

Anything you wish you’d studied sooner, looking back?

I was at HP in 1979 learning about DS/3000. I said to myself I didn’t need to learn networking, that there were enough other things to learn. I skipped that area for development, although I’ve been a networking user since 1971 on the ARPANet. I’ve finally changed my mind and have to develop for it now. 

We were about the 21st machine on the net at UC San Diego. As students, a friend and I were doing a project for DARPA, and we got early access to the net.

Wow. ARPANet more than 40 years ago. That’s some way-back-there experience. About the only story I’ve ever heard from a 3000 expert farther back was Fred White, who co-created IMAGE.

Well, I realized that Fred White was like my assistant scoutmaster. He[the assistant scoutmaster] worked for Burroughs, talked about the machine and I knew he was a major figure there. He had daily arguments with [mathematician and physicist] Edgar Dykstra, who was a scholar at the time working for Burroughs. My scoutmaster and Fred White were like peas in a pod. They were different and willing to go their own way and got very interesting things done — and outside small communities, people don’t really know who they are. Getting older, I occasionally think of that myself now: who knows who I am, and do I care?

For next time: The challenge of climbing the tech ladder, new interests, and how to consider being well-versed in work that's not well-known.