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

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