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September 03, 2015

TBT: In the Thick of Proceedings Season

ProceedingsBefore you even left your house for a flight to an HP user conference in the Eighties, you had to leave room in your suitcase for the thick books of proceedings. So much room, by the middle of that decade when the 3000 grew fastest, that you might have leave behind the booth swag you snagged from conferences like Interex annual meetings.

Word Star30 years ago this week, I was packing for my first national HP user conference. The Interex meeting was scheduled for Washington DC, the first time a HP 3000 users conference would meet in a national capital. We learned things afterward by packing up these fat tomes in our bags for the return trip. It was an era where you advanced your skill set by reading papers, printed in monotype Courier off HP 3000s which were running HP Word, or WordStar off a PC. HP could provide WordStar on its HP-150 Touchscreen PCs. It hadn't earned good notice for the utility of its touchscreen functions, though.

Road to SuccessThe graphic design for proceedings was spartan at best. At least half of the papers were written by users, and every professional who attended a show went home and hoovered up that wisdom that was shared without regard for reader comfort. The 200 papers from the Interex '87 show required three volumes of more than 700 pages each. The papers were printed in alphabetical order of authors' names, and nary a page number is to be found.

In addition to meeting in DC for the first and only time, 3000 users in September, 1985 could hear a speech from an HP CEO. David Packard was a former CEO and current HP board member when he addressed the multitudes at the conference. While Packard's speech has been lost to the wilds, those proceedings papers remain in closets, online, or fixed in the skill sets of the 3000 managers who have moved on to other platforms. Most printed advice that did not yet have the benefits of HP's LaserJet marked milestones on those hundreds of sheets printed each year.

Presenting a paper helped your career, whether you were a rock star of the community or just a hard worker moving up. Eugene Volokh, at age 17, published a 53-page paper in that 1985 proceedings set on The Secrets of System Tables.. Revealed! The paper started with parody of a Norse poem, revised to include 3000 terms.

During an era when the work in computing was called Data Processing, one paper from HP Major Accounts rep Bill Franklin cited a survey showing "in many organizations, less than 1 percent of all management decisions are being made using on-line interactive systems." Batch was big, apparently, but another paper provided methods to alleviate the 3000's "grave failings as a batch job machine." 

It was a time when the fastest growing segment for 3000s enabled a practice being called Office Automation. HP rolled out the Series 37 during the year that led to Washington, and the vendor dubbed it The Office Computer. You could use what the industry still called a minicomputer without special cooling or a raised floor for cabling. Setting up a 3000 on a carpet was still a fresh achievement.

"Our office workers had little if any, access to computing," Ellie East of Media General wrote in one paper. Her DP department "established the company-wide use of the HP 150 computer by approximately 150 executives, managers, accountants and secretaries." Those Touchscreen 150s were in the mix to reduce the computing load of the 17 HP 3000s across the company. Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets made that happen.

Proceedings FormatSpell-checking from word processing was not as important as vetting concepts and DP practices for the papers. You were more likely to get called out for formatting errors on your printed report. One paper delivered 10 pages of tips on "Writing Intellegent Software." It was an era when "compatability" could appear in a headline that I wrote the next year, a gaffe that didn't trigger even a handful of calls. At least that DP pro in DC could point to tech skills that I could not claim, not from the HP Chronicle editor's chair. Our very first booth, one we'd built ourselves, was a DIY number so heavy that it needed a fork lift to make it onto the expo floor, down in the basement hall of the Washington DC Hilton. The ceilings were not 10 feet high. We were upstarts in that hall, tilting at the Interex publications windmill with an editor who was more newspaper writer than proceedings aficionado. 

In that Washington DC September week, there was evidence of volunteering on every proceedings page. Interex '85, billed as The Information Crossroads of the 80s, was hosted by the Baltimore-Washington Regional Users Group. At the meeting's pinnacle where the volunteers took a bow, they all sported red blazers, the ones they'd been wearing all week. The RUG officers told us the coats were an invitation to "ask me" for help about finding which talk to attend, or where an event could be located.

The Interex 85 conference was among the last to be driven by a focused users group. 3000 managers and vendors from the Southeastern Michigan Regional Users Group hosted Interex 86 in Detroit. Users took home another two-volume set of proceedings. By Interex 87, held in Las Vegas in another September, the role of the RUG in national meetings was on the wane. An icon as flashy as a red jacket would not appear on the stage of another meeting. Those tomes of technical paper, gathering the advantage of desktop publishing to reduce their page counts, would survive for another 14 years of conferences.

A sampling of such classic proceedings from the 1970s through the end of the Interex era is online at the OpenMPE website. I've got no idea how those thousands of pages were driven into digital images, but the brute force that must have been required matched the rolled-up sleeve approach to 3000 DP of 1985. Captured in those online pages is advice on software which still runs on 3000s of today, such as IMAGE and its logging capabilities. The first TurboIMAGE Textbook was still four years away from that week in DC, and it also caught a 3000 wave that was powered by paper.

08:06 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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