Fifteen years ago today, the 3000 community was on a quest. Where a conference was supposed to take place, San Francisco, there was nothing but unpaid bills for exhibit halls and meeting rooms. No HP World 2005 would start up, gathering the MPE/iX community for the annual North American meeting as it had for 30 years.
A luncheon was arranged, though, to serve community members who had nonrefundable tickets to the canceled conference. The Interex user group didn't host it, of course. The group was belly-up dead. The effort emerged from the minds of Alan Yeo and Mike Marxmeier, software vendors who faced the prospect of time in the Bay Area and a hunger to meet 3000 folk.
I wrote about how reunions are a part of family life. The 3000 still has a family, even while many of its members are retired. The gatherings are all virtual now in our lives. Such a thing was nearly impossible 15 years ago. My mom is just as departed as Interex by today, gone but well remembered. We love things that leave us, which is a good reason to grasp onto one another until the departures.
Even though we work with machines to compute, we crave the spark of personal contact. I felt that contact this month in the heat of Las Vegas with my brothers and sister. We met in Mom’s hometown to move her. She went down Jones Boulevard just one mile, a significant journey when your next birthday, like Mom’s, will be Number 80.
Our days were filled with strapping tape, corrugated cardboard, and sweat in the desert heat. But the nights and the early mornings carried our laughter and the looks that passed between three adult children remembering the bumpy roads of our youth together. It was a summer reunion, a rich consolation for me in this first season without an HP World after 20 years of meeting old HP friends at Interex shows across North America.
I sat in the airport with my brother Bob and told him the story of the Interex demise, then rattled off the array of cities that have been my summertime stops. Most often, we met in San Francisco. And yes, even Las Vegas once. The Interex show never visited Texas during my summertimes in the market, just like my brother John never has visited me here. That’s why we Seybolds needed a reunion, to fill our cups with the memory of the looks on family faces.
Face time, we call it in business, something to savor and prepare for. The longer we all have stayed in the 3000 community, the better each summer’s reunion became. We could tell stories, gaze into eyes under brows growing gray, recall and dismiss. I would come back from the summer trip full of flint to strike for stories, leads I could track and then transform into news you could use.
So in a summer where I now feel adrift without an HP World reunion, I also give thanks — for the fortune that turned Mom’s apartment complex into condos, forcing a move that rounded up the Seybold kids for the first time in five years. We kids are well connected, here in the early bit of the new century. I don’t mean that we’re movers and shakers, but that we use e-mail, websites, cell phones, and blogs to keep up with our family news. All those links pale compared to that contact, the feel of the firm grip of a handshake or grasp of a heartfelt hug.
We Seybolds have another reunion on our horizon, and there will be one more on the HP 3000 community’s calendar, too. I’m not talking about the meeting next month when HP will host its first Technical Forum, the New Orleans show that contributed to the Interex demise. That won’t have the feel of mom’s 80th birthday this December. We’ll plan and anticipate that event with as much ardor as 3000 veterans, the folks who helped Interex grow for more than a decade.
Instead of New Orleans-bound meetings, the news broke early this month that the 3000 family will have a luncheon as its 2005 reunion. Mike Marxmeier and Alan Yeo made the best of non-refundable tickets to San Francisco and hosted a lunch gathering. A few days later the OpenMPE user group — just about the only one left, now — held a meeting at an HP facility. We’re all wondering how large that OpenMPE family might grow up to be, now that Interex has passed away.
The meeting at the HP campus reminded me of the gentle tug between vendor mother-ship and user tender-craft. Before Interex began to called itself by that name, the group was the HP 3000 Users Group, operated with an eye toward collaboration with the vendor rather than combat. Maybe it’s time to remember, during this month of the Interex flame-out, how that relationship operates when it serves both vendor and user.
My friend Duane Percox at QSS explained it well. The HP 3000 members of Interex — those who founded the group — got more radical and active through the 1990s as their HP options grew slim. The scuffles were fun for a while, but also something a vendor won’t brook endlessly. When HP got the nerve to squash Interex with a competing show, the market's more nimble marketers didn’t hesitate.
Percox said that give-and-take between vendor and users lets both sides save face. Marketing wants a great spin on customer experiences, while the customers want the truth. You must claim to be independent from your very first day — if you want the truth to be your main mission.
“You can’t begrudge marketing for wanting the best spin on things,” he said, “just like you can’t begrudge the users for wanting the truth.” The long-term formula to mix these elements has always been collaboration, something Interex’s founder Doug Mecham recalls in his Q&A interview.
At that 3000 luncheon we got a few hours of face-time with one another — so the 3000 customers and partners might feel like I did right after my family reunion in Las Vegas. All of us went home in the afterglow from a handful of days of hard work, marinated in laughter and yes, some sadness over days past. Toss in that OpenMPE meet, and mid-August felt a bit like the typical Interex week. In Vegas and in the Bay Area, I was getting to know a town better and a hotel or two — like the way we Seybold kids learned the short cuts around the sprawl of Las Vegas Boulevard, or finding the back steps up to the room at the Tropicana.
Because I’ve had my stand-in reunion as well as my family gathering, I’ll miss the Interex show a little less this month. I could count on the family of brilliant, funny, and fulsome people like the 3000’s founders and fans to engineer a replacement reunion.
Face time can give you a chance to hear significant answers. In our last hour together in Vegas, Mom read us questions off a newsletter from her new apartment — good ones like “What event in history would you like to have experienced?” or “If you wrote your autobiography, what would its title be?”
We kids shared many lessons learned in spite of ourselves, something I wish for any group of people who consider themselves family. I hope for other reunions in my future among 3000 folk. You’re a group that can teach lessons about collaborating.