Sunday, February 28, 2010

Washington D C feedback

Artie Bienenstock (Stanford's Emeritus Dean of Research) came back from DC this week with the story that several told him "that HP book is terrific"... nice to hear it's getting some 'press'

I spent two days at the NSF-sponsored CyberEducation symposium Friday and Saturday. One of the key topics is educators (esp. the pedagogically pure) need "proof" that these Cyber tech ways of educating are effective. The HP book documents (mostly in Stanford Eng'g Dean Jim Gibbons' words) how well the Honors Co-op program worked -- see pp. 236-241). John Seely Brown also described this more briefly in "A Social Use of Information" a few years ago.

What the book did not describe was how and why the experiment ended, after thirty years of relatively significant success. And the ending is disturbing, to me at least. The official answer is that Stanford administrators got greedy (they use a less pejorative word) and tried to substitute faculty time via email for the on-site tutors -- the faculty, not paid extra for the extra work, said "the hell with you" and voted to end the program, and move their work to the extra-curricular extension program for which they did get extra pay. The unreported and under-researched answer is more compelling -- WHY didn't the beneficiary companies and their off-campus students rebel, go to the Stanford admin, and say, "YOU CANNOT ABANDON THIS!"

I think the answer is that the Valley changed, even more than HP changed. From a mindset that engineers are truly important, and long-term employment is a tremendous goal, the Valley has shifted dramatically to a 'hire-and-fire' mood, where outsourced R&D (yes, Virginia, Santa Claus forgot to show up for this one) and high rotation between companies is accepted if not fully encouraged. HP for four decades had less than 2% annual attrition of professional folk; the Valley average today is reputedly twenty times higher than that. In such a world, the onus is on the student, not the company, to take advantage of further education. And benefits like those that HP derived -- a common skillset and vocabulary across multiple countries that linked their labs -- seem archaic at best, and immaterial to be sure.

As for "proof" for educators today, Gibbons himself said that they never reported the results -- if the results were cited today, they'd be dismissed for their irrelevance (anything happening forty years ago cannot be of value today, right?) if not the fact that it is a "failed experiment". On the other hand, engineering is a relatively 'factual' pursuit in coursework, and some 15,000 students over thirty years outperformed (by a full third of a grade point) an equal-sized extremely selective graduate engineering pool. Wags at our meeting said "well, they were focused and motivated since they were more mature" but that ignores the fact that for the first decade, the same "motivated, focused, mature" individuals did worse by a full third of a grade point until the right technology and tutor focus was put in place.

We could in fact learn from history, if we wanted to. But NIH (not invented here) runs deep...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

HP Way interviews for CHM

For an alcove of the Computer History Museum Timeline project, due to debut at the end of 2010 or so, there is intention to have an "HP WAY" video clip since HP helped pioneer the spirit of Silicon Valley.  I interviewed four 'oldtimers' this week -- Al Bagley, Carl Cottrell, Bob Grimm, and Art Fong.  Each interview was approx 2 hours, and we covered a lot of ground.

The most interesting fact for me was the easy description each of the four had for how they decided things -- Dave and Bill were coaches, not deciders or directors.  Amazing to listen to each man describe significant events -- product strategy, marketing strategy, feature decisions, business approaches -- for which they felt responsible, and for which they made the decisions.

The range of responsibility and the level of trust that was exhibited is almost awe-inspiring.  Hard to imagine most CEOs today allowing such antics.  

errata #2

Last errata was listed Nov 4, 2009. Some additional errata below:
p. 129, 564 Emery Rogers, not Emory. Spelled correctly on p. 544
p. 180 Bill Waters was the SRI marketing person who conducted the focus groups, and concluded that the HP 35 would not sell, due to a very high price and low demand
p, 389 Hennessy, not Hennessey. Correct on pp. 263-64, 417, 629
p. 577 Mark Weiser, also a key XeroxPARC researcher, died prematurely, in 1999. Mark Stefik, still at XeroxPARC, is very much alive -- our apologies
p. 629 Add Fred Gibbons to the index, for citations on pp. 321-22. Remove those pp. from Jim Gibbons' index
p. 51 adopting Fourier analysis "and Laplace transform" mathematics...
pp. 60-61 there were in fact TWO Sonoma meetings -- the Executive Committee and a few others in January, and a General Manager's meeting in June. Bud Eldon supplied data re each
p. 65 Re "Management by Wandering Around" this long-standing practice was named by John Doyle in a speech to the GM meeting in January 1976
p. 70 Doyle also spoke German at the time, but that fact was apparently not known to Hewlett
p. 142 IBM 1401 average rental was $6,500 per month; $2,500 was the cheapest available. See Philip E. Ross, "Rebuilding the 1401", IEEE Spectrum, November 2009
p. 157 Jerry Carlson managed PAD (Palo Alto Div), not AMD (Automated Meas Div, which came later)
pp. 166, 170. 211 "network database", not a 'relational' database
p. 178 BPC stood for Binary Process Controller
p. 197 and p. 341 "Personnel", not 'Human Resources'
p. 309 the crucial product... was the HP 7470A
p. 321 the HP 85 debuted in 1980, not 1981 c.f. p. 309
p. 329 Doyle managed both the Automated Test Division and the Automated Measurements Division for two years
p. 438 "the whole company" is obviously an exaggeration. It is true though that many on the Executive and Management team resisted.
p. 506 the $3.06 million tax break for Ellison was a one-time rebate for the previous three years of taxes paid
p. 572 Footnote 32 -- Doyle gives Hewlett credit for instigating the Corp Training Prgm for high-level execs, not Packard

p. 259 'very' --> "every"
p. 630 IBM 1401, p. 142

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cisco day

Holy smokes! At noon on Wednesday Feb 17 in the Building 3 auditorium at Cisco, some 400+ attendees, 80% by remote technology, 15+ questions at the end, about evenly split between on-site attendees and those on Webex or in video conference rooms. My gracious hostess was Filomena Pereira, who had advertised the talk widely and given me great advice ahead of time.

Joel Bion, Cisco's SVP for R&D, gave me a tremendous introduction, noting that I'd been a key figure in cementing Cisco's first industrial order back in the early days (1986/7), and it accounted for two things -- in 1989 when he joined, it was about 25% of Cisco's annual revenue, and more importantly, HP provided the reference site of value for their sales efforts with other corporations. He provided this without my telling him the story -- amazing to me, but then, he's been there since the early days.... I linked it to the Medal of Defiance in terms of some of the HP exec's enthusiasm for inking this deal -- in truth, the system we built is why the Wizard award happened some years later from Smithsonian.

We had fun! A key point or two revolved around this question of what kind of 21st century corporation will prove most successful and why, and where does Cisco fit in that new world. We'll have a video of the talk online presently!

Fellowship Forum

Tuesday Feb 16 the Palo Alto Fellowship Forum had about fifty folk assembled for the 6th meeting of the 61st year at the Westin Palo Alto hotel -- including HP oldtimers Al Bagley, Don Hammond, Bob Grimm, Skip Ross, and Peter Moseley. This is a group of VERY accomplished individuals, most with long-term Bay area roots, and a lot of perspective about HP history.

I had a lot of fun with some of the sidebar anecdotes that necessarily accompany any talk these days about HP, including the one about the HP 35 market study that member Bill Waters did while at SRI, concluding that it was probably not a winner (something that Hewlett ignored...)

Out of time in the main setting, I had a lot of questions afterwards in a small group. One in particular made a point that he had lived next door to Bill Hewlett for 25 years, "an incredibly nice man". Asked for any specifics, he said, "Bill always dried dishes with his wife Flora" which of course says a lot about this genial giant.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Holiday week

This week features two talks in the local area -- one at the Fellowship Forum in Palo Alto tomorrow (Tues 2-16) and one on Wednesday at Cisco. Both allow guests, if someone from the respective organization sponsors you...

Last week on Monday, Greg Loew sponsored a talk for me at SLAC, the National Linear Accelerator lab. Physicists galore, and great questions. Lots of history from this major facility in terms of Nobel Prizes and other key physics awards. For example, the J.J.Sakurai prize for theoretical physics was awarded to a neighbor, Stan Brodsky, in 2007. The Hans Bethe prize, the Irving Langmuir prize, the James McGroddy prize and the George Pake prize are among other key prizes given annually by the American Physics Society, and this team wins an uncommon number of them.

Mike Roberts, a good friend from Washington D.C. involved in the international nuclear fusion program, has been associated with this group for years. We had a stimulating time, and a great dinner afterwards. What a privilege!

Illinois trip

Last week, landing in the middle of a "nice" snowstorm in Chicago and driving 140 miles on black ice to State Farm's headquarters in Bloomington, IL was an exciting time. Apparently readers of the HP book thought so too -- Amazon sales boomed over the three-day weekend something phenomenal. Started on Saturday morning, hitting #13,329 by 8:30am, then #9,453 by 1:20pm and #9,022 by 4:10pm (I don't watch these numbers very often...). By 6:10pm, it hit #8,080, and then on Sunday it hit #7,143 by 2:20pm, ending the day at #8.675 at 9:15pm while watching the Short Track skating at the Olympics. It has relaxed today back to #13,509 at 11:30am, still "phenomenal" given that it has been out for several months, with NO advertising

Ray Price and I did have a nice presentation at the Champaign-Urbana campus on Thursday, and we were featured on a local TV show that day as well (to be aired later). Ray's colleagues were wonderfully supportive and we had a great set of questions and discussion later. We agreed that this has been quite the experience, one to savor for the friendships and the deep inquiry that it seems to have stimulated. We are indeed "lucky pups"

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Google Engineering Management Week

A rare privilege today, to talk at Google's author series for the engineering teams and managers. Kepler's supported the event, selling a dozen or more books on site. Probably a hundred attendees, plus others in separate 'beamed-in' rooms. The theme I used was "relevance to today"

I began with the New York Times quote this morning from ex Microsoft VP Dick Blass, where he posed the question of why Microsoft is 'killing innovation'. It was a compelling article, easy to lay alongside the sad spectacle of the Presidential Commission on Competitiveness, and say "what the hell is going on in our boardrooms and at the top of our companies?"

Then posing the three issues we see at Media X -- collaboration, participation, and complexity -- I outlined how Media X comes at those questions, and then suggested that the book is a direct outgrowth of such inquiry. From there it was a simple and fun task to select a couple of projects as examples.

A key thing -- easy to do -- was to correlate Google practices today with the "old HP", especially with respect to "Citizenship" and "Employee Dignity". Another statement that resonated was about the satisfaction / happiness factor for employees. How many stay late at night, because they love what they're doing rather than fearful about losing their job?

Stimulating questions -- lots around HP Culture and its modification since 2000; some around the apparent success of HP in the last decade on Rev/Profit/Growth, with much higher feeling of pressure or worse. I left, feeling enormously energized by the teams at Google -- this is a very talented, very dedicated, very confident group!

CMU presentation

Tuesday Feb 2 I had a wonderful afternoon at Carnegie Mellon West Coast Campus, talking mostly about the HP book, but also reminiscing with some of the faculty (Steve Rosenberg, Ted Selker, Stuart Evans) about how design criteria have changed, along with the companies.

A surprise for me -- shouldn't have been, but was -- is how unaware most of the students were with the heritage of their own school. Herb Simon and Allan Newell were 'unknowns' to the entire room, and granted, it was 55 years ago that they started the AI program at Carnegie Tech (which was a name they'd not heard either). SEI -- the Software Engineering Institute -- which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month -- was likewise a "zero" for the students. For me, SEI was a 'zero' -- they persisted in teaching process to the near-total exclusion of tools until you get to Level 4, thereby setting back software engineering practice a full ten to fifteen years, but ensuring their own consulting fees for that entire period.

Code coverage tools, which they disdain to this day, likely could have uncovered the issues bedeviling Toyota's "fly-by-wire" gas pedal -- such tools adopted twenty years ago would have altered the safety of airliners, automobiles, and most every 'real-time' software environment in the meantime. Instead, we all fly on, drive on, or ride in elevators, etc. "the lowest bidder"

Good questions at the end, especially re distinctions between invention and innovation. It is easy to think they should 'know' some of the things I find important; there is no question that they know a host of things that ARE important that I will never learn -- the kids today are smart, Smart, SMART, and it is such a privilege to get to talk with them on occasion.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I missed your speeches so far...

Well, we learned some fascinating news last week

Out of a list of hundreds of books, ours was the #3 best seller in the Stanford Press catalog for the first four months of fiscal 2009/10 (from September 1 thru Dec 31). Since ours wasn't available until late October, that's amazing. All told, sixteen or eighteen hundred books to date

The keys undoubtedly were two events in early December:
1. the NPR radio show, which is available in case you missed it, at
2. the Computer History Museum YouTube video, is at

Both of these were ably moderated by Dave Iverson, of KQED. Wonderful host

Attending a February event?

Some of the talks (listed in the last Post) are open to the public, such as the two at universities -- Carnegie Mellon, and University of Illinois @ Champaign-Urbana

The person to contact for CMU is Stacy Marshall @ (tomorrow @ 1:30pm)

The person for UIUC on Feb 11 is Ray Price @

The Google talk this Thursday is open only to Google employees and guests. Contact Shoshana Abrass with questions at

The SLAC talk, next Monday Feb 8, is hosted at the Panovsky Auditorium at 4:15pm; it is open to Stanford faculty and staff and their guests. Contact is Greg Loew,

The Fellowship Forum in Palo Alto Feb 16 is open to members and their guests only; Skip Ross is the contact at

The Cisco talk is on Feb 17, open to Cisco employees and their guests. Filomena Pereira is the organizer, at