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"Playing" with a 9820

Posted by Joe Hallett on 24 Aug 2002, 3:53 p.m.

One of my favorite stories from a past life concerns an HP9820 that I purchased for my R&D lab back n the '70s. The justification was that it would be useful for running automatic test setups, which it was. But the real problem was to introduce its use at a time when the normal process of "doing a job on the computer" meant sitting with an analyst for a few hours, then waiting for days or weeks while the problem was coded and run on a centralized machine. The beauty of the 9820 - which introduced a high level Basic-like programming language - was its accessibilty for hands-on work by people who weren't computer experts.

I tried to make the 9820 more accessible by putting it in its own little cubicle where people could make mistakes in private. And I spread the word that there was no access control. Anyone could use the machine whenever it was open. Conficting uses would be resolved case by case.

The result was predictable by today's standards. People started to play. A lab tech with no prior computer experience - who happened to manage the bowling league.- set the key precedent. Bowling stats started to appear on people's desks the morning after league play. People wondered how he did that!

The real challenge was keeping my boss out of the area. (I think his office was too close to the finance managers.) He was under pressure from the computer resource people to keep our people from wasting their time. So "playing" was an outrage!

The bottom line is - I guess - to never lose sight of the benefits to be derived from people doing what they enjoy.


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