Friday, January 29, 2021

HP, Apple, and thoughts

 So, here's a sample of what's wrong with American Education

Gurman works for Bloomberg; the San Jose Mercury-News just ran the story.   But the SJ Merc added the headline, which is demonstrably stupid and wrong.   Graduate of a local Bay Area school?

Moving past that faux pas, I was in a conversation with noted MIT researcher Charles Leiserson this week, and we were discussing his role in the CM-5, the first supercomputer to ever head the Famous Fifty list, cited in the last post re Rattner's key machines of the 1996 era.   The CM-5 debuted in 1992, architected by Danny Hillis and Leiserson.   It was the computer used for the movie Jurassic Park, even though the book cited Seymour Cray's X-MP.

Here is a Web quote re the CM-5
The surprise for me was when Leiserson held up his i-Phone 10, and said "this little baby outperforms that CM-5 in every dimension except size, weight, and cost.   The first CM-5 cost $45 million, he averred, but the performance metrics of the $1,000 iPhone 10 exceed the CM-5 'significantly.  WOW!

And I woke up this morning thinking about the combinatorics here:
1. The HP 35 handheld calculator was the "first mobile computer" of consequence, thanks to Hewlett
2. Wozniak worked for HP (and handhelds) and we struggled to see that this PC idea was valuable
3. My Logic State Analyzer team built the tools for HP Computer design, but also provided 50 of our top-end HP 1610As to Danny Hillis for the CM-1.   It was our largest order to date, in 1978. $500K.
4. Rattner (an old HP guy) worked with Hillis and the CM-5, in designing the RED machine for NSF .
5. And now HP, with notable attempts and little success, in mobile computing platforms (e.g phones) is about to deliver a competitive supercomputer for $40 million, shades of the CM-5 in its day

And that reminded me of an Intel friend, Nathan Zeldes, who visited our horse ranch last year, and met my sister-in-law, who asked "what did you do at Intel?"   He pulled out an iPhone, and said "ever seen one of these?"   She was, like, "duh, of course" to which he said, "I helped design the first Intel chips for these things, and this computer in my hand has more compute power than the nation of Israel when I went to work for Intel.   And now, with 900 million of these marvels in the world, we use them to argue with strangers and show pictures of cats."

This, some assert, is amazing progress

What goes 'round, comes 'round . . .

 The San Jose Mercury-News yesterday had two headlines that caused me to scratch my head . . . .

The first said "I-Phones top $100 Billion" but the story didn't support the headline.   We'll discuss that in a subsequent post.

The second said "HP building new supercomputer"       WHAT???

Here's a picture of the supercomputer headline and the first paragraph, along with a picture of "the machine" (must be a mock-up), followed by the citation 

Well, this is a fine "How Do You Do"?   Who'd have thunk that HP, venerable tired phlegmatic HP, would be vying to build a supercomputer, not only such a machine, but a real live competitive machine.

The 'deja vu' of this announcement was, for me, incredibly auspicious.   During my nearly 30 years at HP, of which some 23 were in Colorado, I spent two years working for NCAR because of my role with the Colorado Air Pollution Commission, circa 1970.    That role led to discovery, the first discovery I hasten to note, that emphysema (now lumped into COPD) is NOT just a smoker's disease, nor even primarily a smoker's disease, despite fifty years of the American Medical Association, the American Lung Association, and the recently maligned Center for Disease Control (CDC) insistence that it accounts for 85-90% of all COPD victims.   Pure bullshit, as can be demonstrated with any decent geospatial longitudinal study.   And this fraud is still perpetrated on an unaware America (and world).

The 'deja vu' part is that NCAR and the Colorado Dept of Health had practically no compute power in 1970.   One IBM 360/40 if I recall correctly (though it might have been the scientific configuartion of the 360/44) and access to a CDC 6600, courtesy of Kaman Nuclear next door to our HP Colorado Springs facility.   So when they handed me a stack of Z-fold paper with 2,754 names and 17 fields of data for deceased Colorado residents who were said to have died from emphysema, the question was "what do you do with this stack of stuff?"

Living in Colorado Springs, I had access to one of the first HP 9100A desktop calculators, and also to Lionel Baldwin's distance learning modules from Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, so I could take an advanced statistics course (I never liked that during my college days, but now I needed it)

With these tools, with virtually no one in the world possessed, except for the few hundred folk who had an HP9100 at the time, I was able to construct incredible graphs that demonstrated a different causal agent (in fact, several) that related to sub-micron particulate matter in a toxic gaseous environment--e.g. high mountain valleys with a local cement plant or lumber mill burning slash or with trapped auto exhausts.   One particularly interesting finding--closed-cab air conditioned tractors with smoking drivers or alfalfa dehydrating plants were deadly on the Colorado plains.  See, for example, 

The response, I expected, would be "Wow, that is fascinating" but instead it was "Well, how could you do something like that--our computers don't show that."   It was easy to ignore, and in fact, still is.  People, very often among the smartest, really resist being shown a new way that contradicts their earlier skillset and learning.   Didn't Thomas Kuhn write compellingly about such human behavior?

So, WHAT will NCAR do with this beast?   I think of the week prior to the Katrina hurricane, when NOAA computers predicted the onslaught on New Orleans 96 hours in advance, but NASA (who was the 'climate' agency) forbid them to publish it.    NASA's own computers did not predict the issue until 28 hours in advance, which was too late to get effective evacuations.    NOAA, as it turned out, had better supercomputer technology at the time (NASA was loathe to discuss that, let me assure you), built by Intel's advanced projects team, led by Justin Rattner who had led NSF's ASCI RED supercomputer effort earlier.   Rattner brought both groups to an Intel Fellows meeting, where we heard the story.  The story, as you may surmise, never made the public press.

His success, though, did get noticed.   In December 1996, Rattner was featured as Person of the Week by ABC World News for his visionary work on the Department of Energy ASCI Red System, the first computer to sustain one trillion operations per second (one teraFLOPS) and the fastest computer in the world between 1996 and 2000. In 1997, Rattner was honored as one of the Computing 200, the 200 individuals having the greatest impact on the U.S. computer industry today, and subsequently profiled in Wizards and Their Wonders (ACM Press). See 

I cannot help but add two postscripts here:
1. Rattner worked for HP Computing in the early days (and PARC) before joining Intel in 1973.   
2. And three people from HP in 1997 were honored in that ACM book, Wizards, for the "200 in America who made computing".   Packard, Hewlett, and House (yup, me, imagine).  Should have had Birnbaum and Worley for sure.   John Cocke, who did the RISC work for IBM working for Joel, is in.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Fault tracing

 Years ago, maybe even eons ago, I and a few others at HP Colorado Springs spent time trying to 'Chase Glitches"    The idea was that in the newfangled digital circuits of the day, the gremlins causing the 'real problems' were glitches, transient spikes of energy usually attributed to mis-designed logical paths, or to "race conditions" that had long bedeviled IBM mainframe designers of synchronous circuitry abetted by careful attention to wire cable lengths and timing diagrams for fast logic circuitry.

Bill Farnbach, a brilliant designer in our sampling 'scope labs  understood this problem from a different standpoint, which was that we needed to ignore these spikes and look ONLY where conditions were stable, after a switching event had 'settled down' -- this of course became the basis for HP's valuable Logic State Analyzer approach, and a couple of generations of logic designers got 'relief' from the worst of these transient behaviors.

But this is not a universal panacea, and HP Colorado Springs has continued to be on the forefront of dealing with these issues, even supplanting the 'old standard' Tektronix in this arena.   And a couple of weeks ago, at Greg Peters' urging, I made contact with Brad Doerr, the site manager for HP Colorado Springs, who graciously took me through a tour of their amazing new "Fault Tracer"

Talk about a versatile solution.  This is essentially a fully tailorable 'trigger system' for a 'scope (analog) display, or a logic analyzer (state) display.   The trigger shape, pattern, magnitude, directionality, and duration can all be controlled by the operator -- what we in the olden days would have called a "do-all" trigger function.   I was mesmerized.   The world has definitely evolved from the simple one I knew.

I am attaching the first page of a once-confidential document that describes this for your reading interest.   And I thank Greg and Brad for their patience with my questions about it.   

Monday, December 14, 2020

That kindly 'uncle Dave' and some pithy notes

Cleaning up some old files, and getting ready for yet another personal move (this time from California to Washington to be nearer to our grandchildren), I found some vintage David Packard memos.

Many folk who joined HP from about 1971 onward (about the time Packard was returning from the Defense Department) had this view that Packard was a demi-god, with wisdom and perspective, to whom we could all turn for advice and assistance.   Not exactly doddering, but beneficent and kindly. 

Old-timers knew better, and one shared two notes with me (that should have been included in The HP Phenomenon, but weren't).     Dave's handwriting was not exactly fine penmanship, but it certainly conveyed authenticity.

The third note came out n 1991, near the end of Dave' s 'tour of duty' at HP, when a San Jose Mercury-News story described HP origins without asking Dave. 

Note 1: Sent to Al Bagley, General Manager of the F&T division, circa 1957:   "Bagley     This is both a waste of money and a violation of policy!    DP

Note 2: Note to WFC (Frank Cavier, CFO) and Van B (Ed van Bronkhorst, Corp Treasurer) and Jack Brigham (Corp Sec'y), circa Packard's chief nemesis--Excess Inventory.   He used these examples for the 1966 tour around the company, and again in 1973 to stop HP from borrowing money.  This note is undated, but said to be from the latter "Give 'em Hell" speeches he led (against Hewlett, no less).

And, years later, still strident, in a note to a young, hapless PR woman:

Friday, December 4, 2020

HOUSTON? Honestly, Dorothy, we're not in Kansas any more

 HOUSTON?   Really?   It was bad enough when Palo Alto was forsaken by HP (or was it HPE?), arguing that San Jose was more 'hospitable'.    But Houston?    So Compaq finally won after all?   Even though the Compaq products are more significant for HP Inc. than for HPE?

Oh, sorry, I forgot that Tandem, another Bay Area start-up, is the chief residual product family for HPE, and that was acquired for HP via the Compaq acquisition (or merger, or take-over . . . ).

So the San Jose Mercury-News story spends much time explaining that the "new San Jose" headquarters will now be repurposed to become the lead for HP Labs and a host of researchy-like things, and TRUST US,  the employment in the area will NOT BE AFFECTED.   Right, except maybe for the salary ranges.

And the Houston Chronicle spends much time saying that even though it won't change employment in Houston either, it will be "A RENAISSANCE" for the area, since HP is such a bellwether attraction for other company leaderships.   Really?   Google might be, but HP?   These days?

The Washington Post had a somewhat different slant on the story.   It foretells a MUCH LARGER HPE Houston  Since they quoted CEO Antonio Neri, it might be closer to the truth: “As we look to the future, our business needs, opportunities for cost savings, and team members’ preferences about the future of work, we are excited to relocate HPE’s headquarters to the Houston region,” CEO Antonio Neri said in a written statement Tuesday.

I don't quite understand the comment:"team members' preferences about the future of work"  Wasn't it HP that Rob Enderle extolled in ComputerWorld in May about "remote work"? Rob is that rare commentator who still says what's on his mind without regard for politics.   Title: The HP example: How to do collaboration and remote work right  First Sentence:  Companies that figure out how to carry on successfully with a distributed workforce can emerge from the ongoing pandemic stronger than before. HP offers lessons on how to do that."   Note that he did NOT say, "by moving to Houston"

So. lessee, now.   Agilent moved to Santa Clara from Palo Alto; Keysight moved from Santa Clara to Santa Rosa; HPE moved from Palo Alto to San Jose to Houston.  Oh, yes, there is still HP Inc.  (or HP INK, as some call it). and it's still in Palo Alto, right?

Would Hewlett and Packard be rolling in their graves?  Or had they long since quit worrying?

Where has the time gone? And where did "Free Ink" go?

 There undoubtedly are those who think this Blog has ended (some might say, mercifully).   SURPRISE!

I'm still alive and kickin', a Covid bout in March notwithstanding, and still interested in things HP.  It's just that my connections with the company have been much more modest in recent years, and if there's nothing to say except pass along Obituaries of PIPs (Previously Important People), it seems almost wasted ink.

Oh, THERE's a topic.   INK, as in HP Ink-Jets and derivatives.    Chris Goward, who runs a fabulous consulting firm called WiderFunnel, recently interviewed Anthony Napolitano, who runs the HP service business regarding "Ink as a Service".   See the short Facebook clip showing Anthony and the idea:

I did a most enjoyable workshop for VP Steve Nigro and about 100 HP execs in the printing world in 2013.   Steve retired from HP in 2019.   Many know of Steve's impressive resume: 

Stephen Nigro is an industry veteran who has spent more than 37 years at HP working in a variety of capacities, most recently as President of 3D Printing, overseeing the global build out and execution of that business segment. Prior to that, Nigro was Senior Vice President of Imaging and Printing, leading all of HP’s printing businesses including HP Inkjet, HP LaserJet and HP Graphics.

Other senior leadership positions at HP that were held in the past by Nigro, included Senior Vice President of Inkjet and Graphics business, Senior Vice President of Retail and Web Solutions, Senior Vice President of Graphics and Imaging, and Senior Vice President of Technology Platforms.

Most notably, Nigro led the creation of the graphics arts business, 3D business and expansion of HP’s global inkjet business.

Nigro holds a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from UC Santa Barbara.

Out of that workshop, the "Ink as a Service" idea gained strength, and Napolitano has led it since.  I was invited to become a 'charter member' and we in fact did use it for awhile, but it was designed for the casual home-user (as in 15 pages per month), and we are prodigious users of HP printers and ink for reasons I'll spare you for now.

Then along came the Marketeers, and it became "FREE INK FOR A LIFETIME" (which, for our usage would have been welcome indeed--we spend ten times the our printers' cost for ink for them annually).

But today, comes this surprise announcement (granted, it is from Apple News, and hence suspect)" Read in Mashable:

It turns out HP's "free ink for life" plan wasn't actually "for life."

HP recently informed Instant Ink plan customers that after just three years, it was ending its "free ink for life" deal, according to Consumer Reports. It becomes not-so-free as of Friday.

What was this deal? The company remotely monitored printer buyers' ink usage (creepy!), and sent a "free" cartridge when they were running low...with some caveats.

Printing (and ink) was not unlimited. Users were allowed to print 15 pages per month. Subscribers also had to have a credit card on file with HP. If you went over 15 pages, HP would charge you a dollar for 10 additional pages. 

Oh, another fun component of the plan: Every five pages, HP would PRINT AN AD on your printer. Don't worry, the ad wouldn't count against your quota. Phew!

But now those halcyon days are gone. HP will charge participants in the program 99 cents per month for their 15 pages. Sure, nearly $12 a year doesn't sound like a lot, but, again, they signed up for FREE ink for life.

There are tiers that cost between 99 cents to $24.99/month for more pages, based on your printing needs. One positive change to the plan is that you can roll over your unused pages up to a cap.

The bait-and-switch "free ink for life" deal is just the latest trick pulled by HP (and other printer companies) to make as much money as possible from their machines. Writer Cory Doctorow broke down how HP has milked its customers dry with “security chips” in ink cartridges that stop your printer from working if you try to use (cheaper) ink from a third party.

Printer makers face the same challenge as every other hardware company: How to get people to keep spending money once they've made the initial investment. The winning formula is subscriptions, which is why you see tiered pricing plans for everything from fitness classes on Peloton to cloud storage from Apple. So, of course, Big Printer is in on the action. 

We've been tempted but never tried to use (cheaper) ink from a third party, so I don't know if my workhorse HP 8600 OfficeJet Pro (or my wife's either) have these reputed 'security chips' installed.  I do know from bitter experience at several past companies that our HP printers have been far more reliable and dependable than those that places like Stanford have tried for cost reasons.  But I bridle (or is it bristle) when someone asserts that the machine is set up to detect 'false ink' whether in fact it is or not.  Shades of the Shell gas truck stopping to fill the reservoir at 7-Eleven, but your Shell card doesn't work.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Roy Clay with Dave Packard

One of the curious things about HP's entry into computing is that neither of the founders seemed particularly stimulated about being in that business.  It was the fastest growing, most 'high tech' of the businesses emerging after World War II, but HP assiduously avoided joining the fray.  It wasn't for lack of talent.  Doug Engelbart hired into HP in 1957, only to discover that Hewlett in particular and Barney Oliver (running HP Labs) weren't interested.  He quit the next day, and found work at what became SRI, where he pioneered much of the modern PC world, starting with the mouse and networks.

They nearly let Kay Magleby go, but by defining the first HP computer as an Instrument controller, Packard was appeased enough to let the project proceed.  Clay would run afoul of Hewlett on several occasions, one being Clay's penchant for playing early morning golf before coming to work.  As Clay told us two days ago, he liked a 6:00 or 6:30 am starting time, which allowed finishing by 9:30 or so, and getting to work by noon.  Hewlett was incensed when he learned from son Jim what they were doing.  Jimm working for Clay,  also liked golf as it turned out.   Vindication for Clay and his team came when one night about ten pm Hewlett's home machine failed, and they answered his call to the plant since they were still working.

Magleby and Clay would go on to hire Jimmy Treybig, Jim Kasson, Mike Green and others who later formed the Tandem founding team when Hewlett got nervous and cancelled the Holiday Inn order because it was "too much business and not enough scientific"

Top managers for the computer group at HP were on a merry-go-round.  First Bob Grimm, then  Jack Melchor, then Tom Perkins, then Clay on an interim basis awaiting George Newman, followed by Carl Cottrell and Bill Terry before Paul Ely--eight GMs in five years, a worse record than HP CEOs since Carly.   Magleby gave up when Perkins was hired; Clay gave up when Newman was hired.  Perkins started a fabulous VC firm when he left, and promptly hired all of Clay's team, using Clay as an advisor.  

Packard was away at the Defense department for President Nixon; when he returned,  he asked Clay to return to HP "to get us out of computing altogether"--this mere months before the disastrous HP 3000 introduction in autumn 1972.  When Clay refused, Packard wouldn't talk to him for five years.  And then Paul Ely proved to be the right selection, and the rest, as they say, is history.

No wonder these names aren't enshrined--HP for several years was just 'not sure' whether this was a good idea.  And the cultural clash was profound as well.  Years later, both Hewlett and Packard would agree that actually they were timid, to say the least--Packard volunteering, "Well, we didn't really louse it up too badly."  Small solace for those who worked so hard to make HP successful in this game.