Ten years before buying my first soldering iron...
Measurements held a very early fascination for me. The photo on the left, probably taken in 1958 or 1959, shows the Curator in front of his first homemade oscilloscope. The scope under construction was waiting for its most important part: The Cathode Ray Tube -- a DG7-32-- which was a full year's pocket money for a French teen of that era.
Things became a little bit easier at the beginning of the 60s. The scrapping of US radio equipment by the French army after the end of World War II began to generate an important surplus market. This was a great help to all young radio enthusiasts. The design quality of this equipment still provided a learning model twenty years after the war's end and its performance was not yet equaled by local production until the end of the 60s.
I obtained a Ham Radio license including Morse code proficiency in 1963 with the call sign F5MM. The photo below shows the operator in front of his first HW32, HEATHKIT, SSB transceiver. It included a homebrew linear amplifier, running two grounded grid 813A's with 2250 Volts on the top plate connectors (safety was not yet a daily concern). The glow of direct heating vacuum tubes was magic ! :-)
After one and a half years spent in the French army radio signals corps, the curator went back to civilian life. Soon, an opportunity opened up to create a small company through the highly successful line of HEATHKIT Ham Radio products of that time. The "Do It Yourself" concept (which was very economical and educational), quickly became very trendy on the French electronic hobby market. The HEATHKIT France department agreed to my proposal to become their subcontractor for the Ham Radio product line. This job entailed three main types of activities:
1. Build the kit when the customer chose to buy the "Wired & Tested" option of the equipment; 2. Control and make adjustments for the customer if he builds the equipment himself; and 3. Service equipment needing repair or readjustment during their lifetime.
Looking back, that eight year job was a very attractive period. The products were simple but very efficient and HEATHKIT's skill in design and creation of their "Assembly Manuals" has never been equaled since in the electronic industry. The improvement of communications technology was extensive during that period, even in the amateur radio market. This included migrating from the "good old amplitude modulation" at the end of the 60s to single sideband transmission on the HF bands and the repeater networks on the VHF bands by end of the 70s. Better and better measuring equipment was required for the final adjustments and performance tests, and here begins my 36 years of interest in HP's products.
"Interest" is not quite the right word. In 1970 HP instruments were a nearly-inaccessible dream on this side of the Atlantic . The price tag of an HP 180 series oscilloscope was that of a good new French car. However, owning and working with an instrument of such high quality, raised the credibility of a small company, and was of considerable help in acquiring new customers. Buying new HP products become one of our main investment forecasts each year during the 70s. By the end of 1977, the HP France field engineer in charge of our sales territory (and who became a friend during this time), reported to us their considerable increase in business, and their urgent search for new sales engineers. That information sounded like a hiring proposal. One week later, after meeting two or three HP France sales and marketing managers and talking of my enthusiasm for HP products, I received a job offer. So, I joined HP on November, 1st, 1977 (the beginning of the 1978 fiscal year).
Without any previous education or experience of professional sales, I was a little anxious at the beginning of this new life experience. But I quickly discovered that there was no need to be a performing salesman to sell a Rolls Royce... the customer already knows the brand image and just dreams of the day he will have an HP product to put his hands on. The only contribution of the salesman was just encouraging the dream by making a good demo. And making the demo was such a delight.
To top of it all, I joined HP just at the introduction of the 8568 spectrum analyzer. In 1978, demonstrating the functionalities of the 8568 on this side of the pond was just like science-fiction. Considering that using an 8568 thirty years later is still a very satisfying experience it is easy to remember the surprise of an engineer discovering the leap forward brought by such an instrument. And the 8568 was not alone in the highly successful product listing. Logic Analysis was a very fast growing product line. And most of all, the HP computational products encompassed a product line larger than any competitor, starting with the hand held calculators up to the big Mini HP 3000, through the highly performing scientific desktops: 9825, 9845, HP85 and 9000, 200 and 300 series in the beginning 1980s
All these new products, named "Electronic Data Product" inside HP, generated a lot of change in strategy in every division of the company. 1977 was the major turning-point when the Electronic Data Product's sales just came up to equal that of the "Test and Measurement" group. With 35,000 employees world wide at the end of 1977, the company doubled its personnel count by the end of 1983, with a total of 72,000. It is easy to imagine how such a fast growth required everyone to adapt.
The " HP Way " was already twenty years old, and was of great help in smoothing the changes.
For every person involved in engineering and technology, internal training to adapt and migrate from analog to digital was extensive. Seminars, tutorials, and even specific hardware were developed by the factories to assist service-support, sales and marketing divisions in their daily concern to understand, demonstrate, or repair all those new intrusive technology.
For the personal side of the story, by the end of the 70s, I was not in a hurry to become a digital specialist. The quantity of new innovative measurement instruments produced by the HP factories world wide at this time, and above all, the recent opportunity for me to have the hands on, immediately at their introduction, was a sufficient gift. Digital became really attractive to me in the beginning of the 80s, when almost every new instrument was designed and built to include the Hewlett Packard Interface Bus (HP-IB), giving them the ability to TALK to, or LISTEN from, a computer.
Exchanging data, manipulating their contents and displaying the results nearly became a Hewlett Packard monopoly. Plotting the resulting graph of a measurement on a multi-pen color plotter was the climax of a good demo. I got into the habit of taking special care over this spectacular part of a product demonstration. In 1985, when the first “Graphics Package” software appeared with the HP150 Personal Computer, we saw the need for dedicated competence in optimum use of graphics dump peripherals. This need quickly outgrew the technical staff limit and became a daily concern of every other service of the company. I spent more and more time helping my colleagues to get the best of all these new fast growth technologies. It soon came to a point where I spent more time on this activity than on the one for which I was paid. This too was a good example of the freedom that the HP Way gave to its employees to manage their business to customer needs, but the time had come to find another solution.
I was back to my own business by the second half of 1988, which corresponded with the introduction of the world's first Color InkJet Printer: The HP PaintJet. This was a good sign for the start of a very early electronic print house service business. Our main activity at the beginning consisted of producing overhead transparencies for the needs of HP France. Using slides for internal or customer presentations was very trendy at HP by the end of the 1980s. My best customers were all my previous colleagues who were still good friends, Test and Measurement field engineers, who were at ease in knowing their new product presentations were created by someone who spoke the same jargon.
Evolution of the services provided by the small company closely followed the new hardware and software produced by the various HP divisions. “Diagraph” and “Picture Perfect” on the HP 150 Touchscreen was soon updated by “Drawing Gallery” running on the first HP Vectra PC and the rapidly improving performance of inkjet printing will made plotters obsolete in the early 90s. Sufficient for general purpose document production, the first generation software was very limited when accurate reproduction of drawing, schematics, or company logos was necessary. It soon became mandatory to find a satisfactory answer to the frequent professional requests of new customers for a more powerful graphics tool. The HP Engineering Graphic System (E.G.S.) was the solution. Running on an HP 9836C with the Pascal Operating System in the early 90s it migrated to the HP 9000, 300 series running HP-UX. Learning UNIX was the last step of my complete immersion into the computer world. I must confess, however, that forced like everybody to use Windows today, that I have no regrets, having had the opportunity to learn computers when they were tools, not toys!
Another reason to be comfortable with the HP-UX choice was the highly successful period in the 1990s of HP's Workstation. It is impossible to list here the quantity and challenges of opportunities to do business as an outside HP subcontractor. From the highly serious Computer Aided Design activities with ME10, ME30 and SolidDesigner software, to the most unexpected job: UNIX system administrator one month each year during eight years, on the everyday new finish line of “Le Tour de France.” At the very least, I can say is that there was no place left for monotony.
Back to Basics !
I still have frequent and friendly contact with many “Instrument Group” field and service engineers who were becoming HP old timers, like me. I continued to keep one eye on the test and measurement market evolution. By the end of the 90s, the HP instrument programming workhorse software, HP VEE, was migrating from HP-UX workstation to Windows personal computers. I was frequently able to re-use my first job competence mixed with the newer ones to solve a lot of test automation upgrades in various small and medium companies. Getting my hands on instruments again has been an exciting time. Moreover, the great turn from analog to digital communication technology generated a very active second hand market.
In 1997, as I was ready to retire, I started a project to acquire the "impossible dream," an RF to microwave HP Lab which I had 20 years ago. During that search I frequently found considerable numbers of vintage instruments that I could not resist rescuing from becoming trash. Slowly but surely, I saw the obvious need for a real celebration of the exceptional contribution made by HP to half a century of technology evolution. Three years later, at the beginning of the new century, my accumulated items which were significant to the HP success story were sufficient to start the idea of the “HP Memory Project.”
The main objectives of my project are listed in a PowerPoint Slideshow viewable here in the Presentation chapter. The last two years, 2005 and 2006, have been dedicated to the construction of this web site. Raising the overall Memory Project to the level of quality of the story it relates, will be our permanent next objective.
The Motorcycles actually in use in 2009 - Left to Right:
. . . But I swear, I will never start a Motorcycle collection !