Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Communicate is not so easy and hardware is vicious

Even the title "My meta done" of my weblog seems a joke, the materials I wish to discuss are always serious, but not academic.

I've however several real life stories which can show the difference between the plan and the reality.

The bone stuck in my throat

In the year 1989, I was invited by the AFIM (Association française des ingénieurs et responsables de maintenance) Organization to give a conference about GraphTalk in Switzerland for a "Forum International de la maintenance".

There was not really links with GraphTalk, but Sales people at Rank Xerox France want to use one occasion to talk about Xerox in an IT conference. The sales map of the French subsidiary included Switzerland (It is often the case in international high-tech company where Switzerland and Belgium are consider sometimes as French province ....).

Very early in the morning we (my boss, Leopold Wilhelm (a senior developer), myself) took the airplane from Paris to Geneva, with in on our luggage only the hard disk of the Xerox 1186 AI machine.
The Local Xerox subsidiary lent to us the workstation.

We joined the local office at the end of the morning before the lunch (sandwiches).
No stress, the conference was planned at 5 o'clock in the afternoon.

At the beginning of the afternoon, I was unable to pronounce any word with an understandable voice. At this time, I smoked 3 boxes of "Craven A" without filter per day and I'm feeling a bit throaty.

My conference was announced in the seminar program, and it was not imaginable to be outside the game.
We found a special medicine in the chemist's shop, but without success.

At 5 o'clock, we were in the amphitheater, with quite 150 people waiting for the conference.
It was dramatic.
My boss invented a tricky story with the fact Swiss customs officers made some problem with the Xerox AI machine, so we were not ready to produce the original conference, but we had something to present.

Leopold and I were staying at the gallery.
Because words were sticking in my throat, I was reduced to point and click with the mouse on each element of the presentation, talked kind of words in the ear of Léopold with the voice of Marlon Brando in the Godfather, and Léopold repeated them very conscientiously and loudly.

The nightmare's duration was around one hour. It was a complete disaster.
At 6 o'clock, only 25 people were always in the amphitheater.

Sometimes, when I looked at Woody Allen's movies, I remember this glorious day at Geneva...

Don't worry for my health, I don't smoke anymore.

Why I prefer software to hardware

In the year 1990, Xerox invited a lot of people in the wide amphitheater of the IT organization @ Aulnay sous Bois, near Paris and where I hidden to work on GraphTalk ....
It was a quarter frequency based meeting and French Sales people want to show to customers, working in organization domain in large French companies, how the know-how and the technology of Rank Xerox can help them to do their job.

All GraphTalk stuff in this period was running only on AI Xerox machine.
For expert, it was a Xerox 1108 with a look similar to the Xerox Star workstation, or it was a Xerox 1186 which had some common part with the OIS Viewpoint workstation, but the hardware was different: a big hard disk, additional memory (Lisp is very consuming) and specific chips.
So to demonstrate GraphTalk in these years, we need to have athletic developers (at the beginning of the GraphTalk project, only developers were able to demonstrate the product).

The demo conference was planned and announced for 2 o'clock.
So we had time to lunch to internal restaurant and to install the workstation in the amphitheater at 1 o'clock and half.

The amphitheater's doors were opened to the visitors a quarter before 2 o'clock.

We push the button to boot the machine at this moment, but the screen was very quickly and definitively freezed and the machine out of order.

We decided quickly to take a developer's machine, 3 stairs upstairs.

At 2 o'clock, around 120 people were sitting in the amphitheater and we consumed already two workstations. We started to use the third.

Visitors were surprised mainly by three things:

  • First one, to see so many different people manipulating large screens and desktops with a huge tension.
  • Second one, the meeting didn’t' start on time and for a meeting about organization, it was strange to be late and at this period in the Xerox company, there were large poster about they items of quality, the first one was about punctuality.
  • Last one, to see a devastation field of 4 refurbished machines in the gallery

We resolved the issue with a fourth machine at 2 o'clock and half.

The beginning of the demo with a thunderous applause helped us to hide the external tensions and the internal stress.

Developers were disappointed without workstation during the afternoon.

This day, I started to understand it will be difficult to sell technology like Software Engineering products in IT departments, if our products continue to run only on Lisp machine.
Our competitors haven't sexy product like GraphTalk, but their products were running on PCs with GEM and a lot of RAM.
An AI workstation was more aggressive than a simple PC in the IT area.

In this period, people made often the confusion between languages, like Lisp or Prolog, and scientific subjects like AI (Artificial Intelligence) for example. This fuzzy argument was not convincing to facilitate the GraphTalk launch.

Why "My meta done"

  • Google asked me to give a name to the bog ....
  • "My meta done" was the displayed message in the prompt window of the Xerox machine when we compiled any GraphTalk metamodel to obtain the graph editors


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