Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - Logo Changes

Over its 41 years, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) went through a number of logo changes, some obvious, some subtle.  The original from 1957 was a vertically oriented black rectangle against a white background with the letters “dec” also vertical – within the black book white, but the ascender of the letter “d” extending above the top of the containing rectangle being black. The second version consisted of the letters “d i g i t a l” all lower case, the dots over the letters “i” being squares. Each letter was in its own vertically oriented dark rectangle. There were no white spaces between the rectangles.

Digital Equipment Corporation's first logos, including the
briefly considered all capitals "DIGITAL" in 1965
In 1965 there was an attempt to create a new logo with all capital letters, either DIGITAL dark against a light background or light against a dark background. This did away with the individually boxed letters. It did not ‘take.’ DEC reverted to the individually boxed letters, lower case, letters in various colored rectangles separated by spaces. The letters and spaces were not designed as white. Rather, they were intended to appear as cut-outs in the rectangles, so the color of the letter matched the color of the paper or piece of equipment the logo was on. The dots over the letters “i” were squares. For a while, the different PDP models each had their own color, but the transition to the VAX minicomputers settled to “Digital Blue.”

There was a brief period, circa 1985, when “digital” appeared as white letters within grey rectangles, separated by white lines. In 1987, the background color was changed to burgundy. The “i” dots remained square. A reason for abandoning blue not yet discovered, but one possibility was an intent to differentiate from “Big Blue”, the nickname for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which became popular in media in the early 1980s. That name has an unclear origin, but is generally assumed to refer to the blue tint of the computer cases. Not counting company name and logo changes between founding in 1888 and becoming IBM in 1924, its logo has been through changes: a couple of font changes, 13 stripes, and then the reduction to 8 stripes in 1972.

Blue logo, pre-1987. In 1987 the
rectangle color changed to burgundy.
Finally, in 1993, during the layoffs era, the DEC logo underwent one more set of relatively subtle changes: keep the burgundy, black between the letter rectangles instead of white, from squares to circles over the letters “i” and the ends of the letters “g, t and a” slanted rather than horizontal. This did not save the company from its downward spiral toward the 1998 sale to Compaq.

In 1993 the Digital logo dots over the
"i" letters became circles. 
And then there is being kicked while you are down and REALLY being kicked while you are down. The announcement that Digital Equipment Corporation was being purchased by Compaq Computer Corporation was made January 26, 1998. Two weeks later, Hewlett-Packard, a major competitor, ran an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Business Week, targeting DEC clients who might in theory be worried about future support of their DEC hardware and software by Compaq. The WSJ ad was a double-page spread, a tableau of white space, centered six-inch high lettering: “worried?” Each letter was in its own black rectangle. The two magazine versions matched DEC’s burgundy color for the rectangles. Smaller print at the bottom of the ads read: "You've committed to UNIX by spending millions," the ad said. "But if you chose a Digital system you're probably thinking, 'now what?' " The ad went on to proclaim that H-P's "dedication to Unix ... has never wavered ... and we're not going anywhere."

The advertisement, created by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, was deliberately designed to mimic DEC’s logo. This triggered a cease-and-desist letter from Digital's lawyers, protested trademark infringement, so it ran only the once, and it is impossible to find an image of it on the Internet. In addition to quashing the H-P advertisement, DEC and Compaq ran jointly branded counter-ads that while not specifically naming H-P, promised “Continued success. Continued support." It is totally ironic that only four years after the DEC/Compaq deal, H-P merged with Compaq.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Maynard's Newspapers

I stepped out our front door a few mornings ago to get the Sunday newspaper, which is delivered in a blue plastic bag. Across the street was my neighbor and his young son. The boy pointed to what I was about to pick up, and asked "What's that?" 
  His father answered "Mr. Mark gets a newspaper delivered to his house every morning. It's inside the bag."
  Then the boy asked, "What's a newspaper?"

Concord, our ancient neighbor to the east, had newspapers long before Maynard warranted a bit of local reporting. The Middlesex Gazette was begun in April 1816 as a weekly. Between 1816 and 1852, Concord papers started up and stopped: the Gazette, Observer, Gazette & Yeoman, Yeoman’s Gazette and The Concord Freeman. Those last two, conservative and liberal, overlapped. Oddly, Concord had no paper from 1852 to 1875, news items appearing as a section in the Lowell papers

"Above the fold" for the Beacon-villager.
Maynard has been served by several newspapers through the years. Starting at the present and working backwards, we have the Beacon-Villager, for Maynard and Stow. It’s a weekly. It shows up Thursdays, home delivery and in stores. Holly Camaro has been the editor and major reporter since August 2013. Of late, it runs as 16 pages, but in the past was 24 or even 32 pages. The Beacon-Villager owner had gone by the name Gatehouse Media until November 2019, when Gatehouse acquired Gannett, making it the largest newspaper publisher in the United States, and then took the Gannett name. In Massachusetts, Gatehouse had already owned MetroWest Daily News and more than 100 town weekly papers, publishing in print and at town-by-town websites. Ours is

The Beacon, started in Acton was the forerunner of the Beacon-Villager. It launched in 1945. In the summer of 1953, the Beacon Publishing Company was the first business to move into Maynard’s mill after the conversion from woolen factory to rentable office and industry space. As The Beacon and later The Assabet Valley Beacon it served several towns. In time this evolved to papers for each town, including Acton’s Beacon, the Concord Free Press and the Sudbury Citizen.  

Rolling the years back, “The Maynard News,” a weekly published in Hudson, servicing the towns of Maynard, Hudson, South Acton, Stow and Concord Junction (West Concord). It started in 1899, ceased publication in 1943. What is surprising is how little actual “news” was in the paper. Week after week, the pages were filled with announcement-type items, such as a wrestling match at the Finnish Hall, a lecture on the “White Slave Trade,” engagement announcements and school concerts. Apparently, the main function of the newspapers of a century ago appears to have been akin to what we now think of social media - personal items people wanted to share with the community. Most of the old issues exist as bound folios at the Maynard Historical Society (MHS) and on microfilm at the Maynard Public Library.

“The Enterprise Weekly” later renamed to “Maynard Enterprise,” predated “The Maynard News” by eleven years, and was also printed in Hudson. A century ago, individual copies were three cents, a year’s subscription $1.50. Advertisements are interesting reading: Distasio’s Market offered beef at 15-25¢ per pound. Lerer’s Clothing Store had men’s shoes for $2 and suits for $10-20. An oak dining room table with six chairs for only $25. Ford Motor Company offered car models starting at $700. To put all this into perspective, factory pay was less than two dollars a day. The Enterprise ceased publication in 1970.

The oldest record of newspaper content about Maynard is from an unidentified paper. What exists is a handful of pages in the MHS collection dated 1879. Among the typical coverage of bridge club outings and people taken ill was a mention that the Maynard family was vacationing in New Hampshire, and hoped to visit Mount Washington.

Thoreau – famously – was not a fan of newspapers. “And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, - we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?” He also wrote that he had tried reading one newspaper a week, but even that dulled his awareness and appreciation of nature.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - DEC world & DEC air

This is actually the 1993-changed logo.
Note black spacing between the
rectangles, circle dots over the "i"
letters and subtle font changes.
There was a brief time in the 1980s when Digital Equipment Corporation ruled the computer world, and it was epitomized by the annual DEC-produced, DEC-featured, one company trade show known as DEC World (also as DECworld). In 1987, the event brought 42,000 people to Boston. Just weeks before the September opening day, senior management realized that it had underestimated the housing demand, and that all hotels in Boston were 100 percent booked. The solution? Jack Shields, marketing senior vice-president, proposed chartering ships. DEC contracted to have the Queen Mary II and the Starship Oceanic, also known as the “Big Red Boat” docked at Boston for the duration of the convention. The event cost DEC an estimated twenty million dollars, but generated close to a billion dollars in product orders and service contracts.

Poster for DECWORLD 87 (internet download)
Click on photos to enlarge.
DECworld had started as DEC Town in 1982 as an annual convention for employees – primarily for the sales force to be made familiar with the year’s innovations and new product introductions. According to an anecdote from employee Jack Conaway, Ken Olsen showed up at the Digital exhibit at a CAD/CAM Expo on the west coast, and immersed himself in talking to DEC’s booth staff and the customers. A while later Ken's office announced DEC Town the pre-cursor for the highly successful DEC Worlds that extended this model to all the applications and industries that Digital served.

DECworld 1988 was held in Cannes, France. Two years later the company split the event: DECworld in July in Boston, followed by DECville in Cannes in September. DECworld 1992 was newsworthy on two counts: being the last ever of these conventions, and Bill Gates (CEO of Microsoft) as a keynote speaker to DEC’s major corporate customers. The event, April-May 1992 tallied some 30,000 attendees. Boston estimated that the event brought about $50 million in spending on hotels, meals, transportation, entertainment, etc.

Bill Gates, a tech superstar with a net worth of six billion dollars (who’s first exposure to computers was timesharing on a PDP-10 at his school in 1968), was there to expound on how a newly forged deal to combine DEC’s minicomputers and Microsoft software was going to benefit both companies. He went off script. Gates talked about himself. Or rather, his brand new 66,000 square foot house that incorporated software to run everything. The message was not subtle: software rules, and I am the emperor of software. And he was right on both counts. Microsoft’s current capitalization stands at $1.2 trillion. Ken Olsen, the emperor of hardware, president of the second-largest computer company in the world, was forced to resign in July 1992. The company downsized for six years, then sold what remained to Compaq for $9.6 billion.

Helicopter landing pad
Although never actually called the “DEC Air Force,” Digital had a fleet of six helicopters (more?) that regularly flew routes to nearby-facilities in New Hampshire, and also to Digital’s own gate at Boston's Logan International Airport. The landing pad in Maynard was at the rear of the 55-acre complex on Parker Street, currently being developed as Maynard Crossing. From an article by Jack Farley: “The helicopters were not executive perks at DEC; they were used by any and all employees who wanted to avoid traffic in going from place to place. This egalitarian policy further emphasized just how different DEC was and how indifferent they appeared to be to the cost of anything. In doing the case study, we were told that DEC had state-of-the-art video-conferencing facilities that no one used because it was sexier to take the helicopters.”

Paul V. McGovern, an ex-Marine and Vietnam veteran, was Digital’s first helicopter pilot. Most of the pilots were veterans. One frequent user of the helicopters described how she lived in Wayland and had offices in both Marlborough and Merrimack, New Hampshire. She could drive to the Parker Street complex, park, get on the scheduled helicopter, and she would be in Merrimack about twenty minutes later. There, DEC had built a brand new million square foot facility and out back constructed a little log cabin with a pot-belly stove and a location sign on it as if it were a railroad station to act as a place to keep warm while waiting for the flights to Boston. There was a downside, in that round trips were not guaranteed. If the weather soured or you missed the last helicopter back you might be stuck many miles from home. Fortunately, DEC also had shuttle vans and limo service.

In addition to the hired air force – helicopters and corporate jets – Ken Olsen was himself a certified pilot. He owned his own plane, and at times flew himself to “Woods Meetings” (senior management retreats) in Maine and New Hampshire – a thought that surely worried the rest of senior management at Digital! The solution was not to ask him to stop flying, but rather to insist that he have a professional as a copilot.

Not in the original column: From an email received after June 14, 2021 Zoomed talk, learned that DEC had several Beechcraft prop planes for short distances and an Israeli-built Westwind jet for trips to Colorado Springs or Phoenix. 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Decorated Tree in the Woods

On the Assabet River Walk trail, which can be accessed from Concord Street or Colbert Avenue, there is a fifteen foot tall spruce tree. It is the only spruce tree in the entire forest. This December, for the third year in a row, it has been decorated with more than 100 red, silver and gold bulbs. Toward the end of January almost all of the bulbs will be removed. Until then, anyone essaying a walk in the woods gets a surprise. Walking in from the Colbert Avenue end, there are silver decorations every 20-30 yards, in tree branches above or alongside the trail, decreasing in distance between them as the decorated tree nears. Think 'breadcrumbs,' marking the way.

UPDATES: January 18th, before storm, all silver and gold removed (except near the top, which will require a ladder). Also most of the 'breadcrumbs.' February 8th, removed all but about 20 of the red.

Sometimes winter adds its own decorations in the form of a dusting (or more) of snow. With a bit of snow only the red bulbs stand out, the silver and gold lost against the white snow.

With a lot of snow the whole tree folds up sort of like an umbrella. Snow-covered or not, best effect achieved by approaching the tree from the Colbert Avenue end in the afternoon of a sunny day. Distance from trailhead is about 1/3 mile along a root strewn trail. After rain or thaw there are soggy sections, so best to visit when the ground is dry or frozen.

Mid-January : all non-red bulbs (around 2/3 of total) removed except at top (because that will require  carrying in a ladder). By end of January most of the red will be removed, but a dozen or so will remain until next December. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Digital Equipment Corporation - PCs

Olsen was correctly quoted but misunderstood when in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston he said “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” This statement was repeated in TIME magazine and elsewhere. Keep in mind that the first non-hobbyist ‘personal computers’, including the Apple II, reached the market in 1977, the IBM PC in 1981.

In the full context of Ken’s talk, he was a non-believer in the futuristic idea that we would turn over day-to-day operations of our homes – such as paying bills, turning lights and heat on and off, running security systems, and keeping inventory of food supplies in the house and creating a shopping list accordingly (any yet, here we are). Ken also knew that computers were evolving so rapidly that any purchased home computer would soon become obsolete. (So true!) In his mind the proper solution was to have video screens, keyboards and printers in homes and at businesses, all linked electronically to company-operated computers that would provide the software, software upgrades, and memory. DEC actually launched the first of what became a series of video terminals in August 1978 as the VT100 (superseded in time by VT200 and VT300). The VT series sold millions.    

Digital Equipment Corporation - VT100 terminal (internet download)
As to desktop computers, over decades, DEC had committed itself to selling mid-size computers that generated significant profits by customizing software and providing service. A leap to also making low-priced, low-profit, small computers that would run software provided by other companies saved IBM, but stymied Digital. Only after IBM launched personal computers in August 1981, did DEC decide to enter the fray. It initiated not one, not two, but three separate PC projects, at separate company facilities, with poor communication amongst them. DEC’s standard procedure would have been to then decide which was best and kill the other two. Instead, all three were brought to market – perhaps over-fast – in 1982: the high-end Professional, the DECmate series (offering only word processing) and the more general-purpose Rainbow 100.

DEC being DEC, everything was of high quality and ran various versions of DEC’s software, but by not being open to the flood of software that IBM was allowing all companies to make to run on its machines, DEC failed to set the standard and did not follow the standard. Even for something as simple as floppy disks, DEC used its own proprietary formatting. Disks formatted to the IBM standard worked on IBM clones, but not DEC’s machines, and vice versa. And as a consequence of poor internal communications and DEC’s bias toward proprietary systems, its three microcomputers were also not compatible with each other.

As example of the problems, the Rainbow 100 was priced higher than competing systems targeting the consumer market. DEC did not have a marketing, sales and delivery system that could put its PCs into store or else sell and deliver directly to consumers. PCs did not require the lucrative support and service contracts that followed placement of minicomputers. And finally, as one sales person put it, “Why try to sell 12 Rainbows when you can get the same commission on selling just one VAX?"

A couple of years later a proposal emerged from Engineering to start over, but this time with competitively priced clones of the IBM system, able to run all the software that was making the IBM PCs so successful for business applications. Compaq had already jumped into this niche with the Compaq Deskpro. Dell followed with the Turbo PC, priced at under $800. DEC was already doing cost-effective mass production of desktop systems as video terminals. All it would take was to improve on IBM’s construction short-cuts and turn out a sturdy, fast, high-end clone. Ken Olsen killed the proposal. His attitude had always been that Digital was a leader, not a follower.

By the time Olsen reversed himself on this topic – in 1991 – it was too late. DEC brought out a series of high-end, extremely reliable, IBM-compatible machines under the Prioris, Celebris and Venturis brands. But Compaq, Dell, Gateway and others had a much larger share of what was transitioning to a low profit margin business. When merger talks first started with Compaq in 1996, Digital was manufacturing about one million PCs a year. Compaq was doing twelve times that number. Compaq did not want DEC’s PC business. After the 1998 acquisition, what had been Digital’s PC business was discontinued.