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Driving a Discontinued Model with Joy

When a chariot has stopped rolling off the line, it might well be the time to buy one. That's what happened to me, unexpectedly, this weekend. I felt a kinship with HP 3000 owners of the previous decade as I weighed my purchase of a new car.

Like the HP 3000, my 2019 Chevy Volt was the ultimate model of a superior design and build. The Volt was Chevy's foundational electric vehicle when the vehicle made its debut in 2011. Back in that year it was costly (true of the 3000, even through most of the 1990s) unproven (MPE/XL 1.0 was called a career move, and not a safe one) and unfamiliar — plugging in a car inside your garage might have been as unique as shopping for applications knowing every one would work with your built-in IMAGE database.

The Volt grew up, improved (like the final generation of 3000 hardware, A-Class and N) and gained a following I've only seen in the best of designs. People love this car. There's a Facebook group for Volt owners, many of whom crow and swagger as they point out things like the intelligence of the car's computer systems or the way that an owner can train a Volt to extend its electric-only range. The latter is a matter of how often the car is charged plus a combination of a paddle on the steering wheel, a gear range, and the right driving mode. H is better sometimes.

Yes, it's as complex as any intrinsic set tuned for a bundled database. The Volt's efficiency rivals the best aspects of a 3000 at the start of the millennium. GM, much like HP, decided the future of the car would not include manufacturing it. Just as I was poised to purchase, after healthy research, I learned its sales had been ended. 

The Facebook group mourned, and one owner said the car would be a collector's item someday. That's when I thought of my 3000 bretheren and signed up for six years of Volt car payments. I had the full faith of two governments behind me, however. Both the US and Texas wanted to reward me for buying something so efficient. That's how this story diverges from the HP decision about the 3000. It was the resellers, as a private group, that made those last 3000s such a great deal.

I remember when the HP cancelation was announced, Pivital Solutions was still in its first 24 months of reselling the 3000. The company remained in the business of shipping new hardware as long as HP would build new systems. Ever since that day in 2003, Pivital has supported the hardware and backstopped the software. Pivital is one of the Source Code Seven, those companies which have licenses to carry MPE/iX into the future.

Pivital and a few others in the community sealed the deal on 3000 ownership in the post-manufacturing era of the computer. No matter how long you decided to own a 3000, you could get a support contract on hardware and software. GM is promising the same to me, for the next 10 years. After that, I'm in the wilds of great fandom and aftermarket service. Your community showed great confidence in that kind of era from 2004 onward.

Companies did not dump their 3000s. HP miscalculated how long that migration would take to begin, let alone finish. Once HP stopped selling the servers, the ultimate models were prized and resold for more than a decade. The value of the investment of the sound hardware build — that remained constant. You got your money's worth buying HP's iron, for a good long while.

Then the moving parts began to wear out in a few places and people worried. That was the situation that sparked my first new car purchase in 11 years. The Dodge minivan wouldn't start one day. Later that afternoon, while getting recall service done, I learned that the components in the IC unit were no longer being manufactured. One dealer wouldn't even diagnose the trouble. AAA got me rolling and I took the car, post-recall work, to the Chevy dealer for a trade-in.

Knowing everything, the dealer still could find several thousand dollars of value in that minivan. The deal there mirrored 3000 purchases, too. A few thousand will get you an A-Class, with an N-Class selling for a few thousand more. Why would people buy something no longer being built? Some are not quite ready yet to go virtual with their MPE/iX hardware. Charon and Stromasys are waiting for that day. There will continue to be 3000 sales until then, even though the hardware will be more than 15 years old at best.

When a thing is confirmed as a superior choice, it gains a status a lot like the Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit. That children’s book is old and has lessons for the very young. And not so young, because one essential part of the story comes from the Skin Horse. As one of the oldest toys in the nursery he’s a pillar of wisdom for new toys like the Rabbit. Becoming real is the dream of the Rabbit. In the early part of the story, the Rabbit asks the Skin Horse, “Then I suppose you are real?” Immediately he thinks it’s a awkward question. The Skin Horse is unperturbed and explains how it happened to him. “Real doesn’t happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Once you are real you can’t be become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The HP 3000 might well last for always, given the virtualization it will enjoy from Charon. Until the day the last model of computer built in the HP Way era is sold, the hardware will make us feel clever and thrifty and efficient. The way it drives is what matters to its fans.