Wednesday, September 28, 2016

At 50, memories get fuzzy

I mentioned in the previous post, being honored to be included at the HP Labs 50th anniversary celebration.  I was surprised though that there was little focus on what the Labs did to begin, how they got started, who did what, and etc.  Even the products that emerged early weren't mentioned.

Now, this was the PC/handheld devices/printing group, so they might not be expected to enthuse about the HP2116A, which will have its 50th anniversary from introduction on November 7.   So the stories they had were about the imagination to look at a coffee brewer and think of an exploding ink jet bubble as a delivery mechanism for ink.  The HP 35 was prominent in the pictures, and there was an HP 9100, but no HP 2116 that I saw.

And the date for HP Labs founding wasn't exactly Sept 27.  It was November 1, 1966, just as so many other HP organizational things happened at the fiscal year start.  But in truth, Barney started HP Labs in 1961, when the four divisional labs were pulled out from under him, leaving him with what we called "Central Labs."  I was invited to join this group in July 1962, and I had to pass his 'test' of what conformal mapping and convolution integrals meant, and could I handle that mathematics.  (By the way, such math is today very important for computer graphics and 3D modeling).

I then joined the oscilloscope group, which proved fortuitous as a group for the Central Labs.  The issue was we would move to Colorado Springs in 1964, and several key members of the group (including Rod Carlson, Dick Monnier, and Kay Magleby) elected to stay in the Bay.  The 'scope lab was the only group at HP building tools for computer companies in the early 1960s--everyone else was busy with communication tools (radio, TV, and microwave).  I went to Springs.

Well, the upshot was that Magleby went to Stanford for a PhD on HP support, for Paul Stoft in the Central Labs.  He came back with the idea of an Instrument Controller, which became the 2116.  Dick Monnier led the HP 9100 project, the first computer with a built-in CRT; and Rod Carlson became the head of the Network Analyzer which used the 2166 as the data acquisition and processing engine for microwave data.   Meanwhile, I built the HP 1300A in C Springs as the HP 2116 CRT display--whien IBM, DEC, and virtually everyone else insisted that ASR-33 teletypes were enough.

So, in point of fact, HP Labs started not only its computer ideas long before November 1966, but also the semiconductor work for what we called Boff Diodes for sampling heads, three-five compound work that led to LEDs, and SSI for small-scale integration before the semicolon houses were going.

Otherwise, you'd have to say, "Boy, this research lab not only researched, but productized the HP2116 in 7 days--almost Biblical in capability"

Great fun all the way around

HP Labs @ 50

Wow!  I was extremely privileged last night, to be invited to and able to attend the 50th Anniversary of HP Laboratories, in the Customer Service Center of Building 3U at the 1501 Page Mill Site.  This was put on by HP Inc.

It was led by Shane Wall, Global Head of HP Labs for HP Inc., and featured CEO Dion Weisler, plus a panel of two Board members (Stacy Brown-Philpott, and Aida Alvarez)  and HP's HR VP (Tracy Keogh), moderated by a dynamite Fortune magazine writer (Leena Rao).

The theme of the evening was "Where HP is going over the next 30 years" and how Diversity is a big part of that perspective.  Dion gave voice to that with thoughts about creativity and innovation coming from disparate perspectives--he has lived and worked in ten countries on 4 continents.  He had a terrific example of a Japanese engineer trying to build a 'noiseless fan" for a small laptop, who found inspiration in the silent flight of an owl when he went on a nature trip.

I watched our big snowy owl circle our trees at dawn yesterday, probably three major swoops, all silent.  I never tire of watching (and "listening") to owls; we had a Great Horned Owl on our Colorado ranch when I was deep into Logic Analyzers--though I cannot claim the owl helped me invent.

Turns out Aida Alvarez is on HP's Board, was the first Latino Cabinet member for any U.S. President, and long on the Walmart board.  I used my iPhone (wish HP had invented it) to find my daughter's bio--Sharon Orlopp, for those of you interested.  She retired last year as Sr. V.P. of Walmart with the title Global Chief Diversity Officer.  Turns out Aida told a story about Sharon without naming her--building much higher diversity success for 2 million employees.

Natch, I had to ask Alvarez later, and yes, she got excited and said, "Yup, Sharon is 'the one' and if you're her dad, that's a great link for these values--they might just be the OLD HP.  And I thought YES, INDEED.

Shane at the end intro'd a few guests--three of us were HP Labs alumni (only three?  like where was Joel Birnbaum, John Doyle, Gary Gordon, Zvonko Fazarinc or so many others who did great things). There was Chandrakant Patel, HP Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer and there was Keith Moore (who invited me).  And only about 15 other HP folk.  Turns out the room was MOSTLY journalists, and HP was giving them 2 days of 'view' into the future.  

That future revolved around 4 fundamental trends--1. Megacities (10M or more folk) will go from 10 in the world today to 50 by mid-century; 2. More than 50% of people alive in 2050 will be older than 50 years old; 3. The Dark Continent will light up, as will every home on the globe; and 4. Hyper-globalization will result in hyper-localization as 3D mfg takes over 'everywhere' for all products.

It also involves 4 major technologies that HP is working hard on--1. 3d Transformation of Mfg; 2. Internet of "ALL THINGS" (stronger than Cisco's pitch); 3. Microfluidics via MEMS machines; and 4. Hypermobility

CEO Dion captured this well, saying the Old HP used to invent, refine, and then CREATE NEW CATEGORIES, and that somewhere about 20 years ago the CATEGORY CREATION ceased.  He expects and plans to stimulate its return, and he vowed that supporting Diversity is the best way.

I was delighted with the entire evening.  More though from a "historian's view" in the next post.