Category Archives: HP

Scientific Frontiers

Historical Posts representing Adventure Continues: Second Quarter

I was young and adventurous, which translates to “Anything is Possible”. I was 26, I had sped through a couple of real jobs, so I had life figured out. The microcomputer revolution was beginning and I was going to be a part of it.

The Gateway to Steamboat – Rabbit Ears Pass

The rationale of doing this from Steamboat Springs was a bit skewed economically, but in line with my passion.

Lester Smith at Trappers Lake

My father helped me move back to Colorado which offered us a bonding opportunity. Taking him backpacking to Trappers Lake in the White River National Forest was a highlight for us. Now settled in Steamboat I had to figure out how you do start your own business. There was no roadmap for starting up a computer store in 1980. There were a few ComputerLands that worked in large metropolitan areas and there were Radio Shacks for the hobbyists, but how was I going to make this happen? I had written a software program on my Apple that calculated and tried to manage Coal Testing Data. However, the managing part was a challenge without a random access storage device. Floppy Disks or even hard disks had not come to the Apple II yet. So I fell back on my original entry into computers and chose the HP 85 desktop computer with a somewhat random accessible high speed tape drive. This was the best option at the time and I totally immersed myself into programming as winter set in. My college buddy Jeff (as referenced in previous post) moved in with us and we set out to launch our computer store. This part of the adventure would hopefully generate revenue to live on but probably more important it connected us to the microcomputer revolution that was just taking off. We came up with the name “Scientific Frontiers” for our company and my sister helped us incorporate. We found space to rent for a store in Steamboat Square above the popular Mazzola’s Italian Restaurant. We bought the cheapest best looking chairs and tables we could find, made some signs and started learning how to acquire inventory. Hewlett Packard was extremely helpful and we focused on Commodore Computers for our core offering and more affordable Atari computers to tap into the entertainment appeal of these new computers. The local newspaper reporter, Ross Dolan, wrote up a nice article to help us launch Scientific Frontier’s Grand Opening on January 30, 1981.

Surprisingly we did survive for a while by selling HP devices to the various engineers in the area. We sold Atari computers to the affluent Steamboaters wanting to play a better version of Space Invaders and the Commodore PET to the new aspiring programmers. However, our real money maker was the Commodore 8032 computer that we sold to most every small business in town. The Commodore offered a dual floppy disk drive that allowed for the software to reside on one side and data on the other. BPI Business Software was our flagship solution along with VisiCalc on the Commodore.

Jeff was our Business Software Expert

I provided the hardware support which was mostly about winging it to keep these early devices working.

It was a fascinating time to be immersed into the birth of microcomputers while living the good life in Steamboat Springs. This is what your 20’s should be all about. Just follow your dreams because there is no failure at this time of your life. Connie also got to follow her passion by getting the opportunity to run the Steamboat Repertory Theatre. So talk about about a strange group of Steamboat friends: Thespians and Geeks.

Snow Day

We would typically have some of the actors stay with us at our Logan Street rental. This is also when I learned to Cross Country Ski since I rarely had enough money to downhill. Although, if we did get a major dump of snow, Scientific Frontiers would be closed so Jeff and I could go skiing. Summers were the best since it was mostly just the locals enjoying their mountain paradise. We did have ballon rodeos and some strange promotions such as a professional boxing matches and vintage car races to help promote Steamboat, but for the most part it was our town. The Yampa River Raft Race was about floating down the river consuming mass quantities of beer, unfortunately this race was cancelled a few years later due to excessive trash. The Winter Carnival was and still is a major event to get the locals through the toughest part of winter. Nothing better than watching the lighted man ski down Howelsen Hill. This was also when I started dabbling with backpacking. I think I had a frame pack and equipment capable of surviving in the summer temps, but I did discover the awesomeness of the wilderness around Steamboat.

Scientific Frontiers was always a financial struggle but it lasted into 1983. The Steamboat Pilot (newspaper) Office Supply Store decided to get into the microcomputer game and they had far more clout than we did, so they got the Apple franchise and later the IBM PC so the writing was on the wall for our demise. But what a great run it was. Our HP rep alerted me to a job opportunity at Union’s Oil Shale operation in Parachute Creek which turned out to be my next Adventure.


The next Post: https://adventurecontinues.org/2021/01/24/union-oil-parachute-oil-shale-adventure

First Encounters with Internet Technology

The following post is my essay I submitted for peer review for my Coursera course, Internet History, Technology, and Security by Charles Severance. The question to be answered: Write an essay about how you first encountered the Internet or an earlier networking technology. Describe the technologies you were using, some of the activities you did “on line”, and tell us how having a new form of communication changed the way you think about the world.

The first two weeks of the course have been an enjoyable stroll down technology memory lane. If you are interested I believe you can still get in the course. Here is my essay:

I was a young chemist sparked by the discovery of computer programming at the end of my college career and then ignited with the purchase of an Apple II computer in 1979. My obsession with this new computational freedom motivated me to open my own computer store with a college buddy in 1980.

Scientific Frontiers Grand Opening 1981

Computer Store Looks to Future

I was programing on an HP 85 and we sold mostly CP/M based computers. Commodore emerged as our main microcomputer product line. A product that we tried to sell which I totally believed in was the “The Source”, it may have been the first online consumer service. Readers Digest believed in this enough to pay 6 million for the service in 1980. It was touted as a self-help service with a Google type dream search of that time. Access to the UPI newswire and conceptually encyclopedia type information had me believing it would change the world. However, technology was based on 300 or maybe 1200 baud acoustic modems with very few local call options. The cost per line of knowledge never built an acceptable ROI, but I do believe we saw the future. I still have one of the coffee mugs that we gave away for promotion.Source Mug

During the same period of time when I owned the computer store I travelled to Las Vegas to attend “Comdex”, pretty sure it was the fall of 1981. I was mostly interested in the battle lines that were forming between Apple and this new IBM PC. But at that show I remember checking out the Xerox Star workstation, famous for presenting the concept of the Graphical User Interface. I was impressed but did not get it. I remember scoffing at the idea of linking your hand via a mouse to activity on the computer screen. Oh well, I was not as imaginative as the Steve Jobs who did see the potential.

After the computer store and a fling with the Oil Shale boom and bust, my career moved to Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Valley, in 1987. I was in heaven, driving through the bay area at that time was like perusing a live PC Magazine. By then I believed in Windows and actually did a lot with HP’s New Wave interface. The Bay area was exciting up until the earthquake in 1989. That combined with the effect of California’s Proposition 13 on public school funding caused me to request that HP move my young family to Cincinnati in 1990. I was a systems engineer supporting the LIMS and LAS market segment, that is Laboratory Information and Instrumentation Management which matched well with my chemistry background. My early viewpoint of the “Internet” was shaped by how great the open access to DOS and Windows apps via the BBS services had become. Do you remember the “Wildcat BBS” software that was the engine for most of those services?

Access to the BBS services in the early 90’s was exploding into viable business opportunities. I used to maintain a “Best of the BBS Apps” floppy disk where I would store the coolest PC tools and screen savers of the day. I would always be asked by my customers for the latest copy of that diskette. The Hayes Smartmodem was reliable, affordable and fast enough to open the door for the geeks of the day to explore the potential of this new world of information. This reminds me of the second technology opportunity that “I did not get”. It was probably late 1992 when a co-worker of mine in Cincinnati was involved with a BBS out of Dayton, OH. He asked me one day if I would be interested in an opportunity to link his BBS to ARPANET a connection he had via a friend at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. There was some cost involved and as I remember access was limited to a small number of users, but my question was more about what value ARPANET would provide. I could envision the potential of public access to what the academic community was playing with and open source collaboration seemed to be alive and well. I didn’t see how a path through ARPANET was going to help. But it wasn’t about ARPANET it was about seeing the potential of what soon became the World Wide Web, WWW. We were actually talking about developments taking place in this arena since we were playing with the early concept of HTML and the MOSAIC project in our X-Terminal environment.

It is fun to look back and second guess. There were lots of winners and losers. Remember Ashton-Tate’s dBASE or VisiCalc? I never thought Microsoft would amount to anything and with respect to the Internet they really didn’t. I remember how brilliant I thought Bill Gates approach was to the Internet in wanting to carve out a cost per transaction. Trouble is he never could gain control of the connection. Oh well, it was fun writing this assignment for my Coursera course “Internet History, Technology, and Security” and I am definitely interested in how this peer review grading is going to work.

Hewlett-Packard Could Still be Great

I was skeptical about HP trying to break into the mobile computing game last summer with WebOS and the TouchPad but I was also pulling for them. They had a chance to be great and they sold out. Now they procrastinate about what should be their next step with WebOS and their PC business. So how close were they? With a real leader they would have been real close. I do believe they were on to something with a line of products that blended the traditional PC which they manufacture with a serious mobile OS strategy. Sure they needed to work out the kinks but the idea was solid. They needed to invest in an app distribution Cloud strategy which would have been challenging but the roadmap was right there in front of them.

Will Hewlett-Packard find the will to be great again or will they just fade away as one of the once great technology companies. This can be asked about a few other the once great technology companies; Microsoft, IBM or Dell who still have a chance, unlike the many others who no longer exist. But it is the leadership component that answers this question and leaders aren’t hired they emerge. Come on HP, you are not dead yet, you can do it, let someone lead you to greatness again.

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