Everything Else

How precious to communicate

29 November 2003--I learned at a fairly young age how amazing, how important and how nearly impossible it really is to communicate. To take that three dimensional idea in your head and make it move into someone else’s and have it make the same sense to them as it does to you.

A few weeks ago I saw a message, as I sometimes do, where someone said he or she was going to hold off on updating their clients until they saw whether or not Helix survived. Needless to say, if you’re doing what I’m doing right now, you have to try and let a remark like this roll off your back, so to speak. Communicating through anger never communicates as well as communicating through love.

Then it started coming back to me. Interlace, Reflex, Borland, Ashton-Tate, Osborne, Commodore, Amiga, Filevision, MacLion, T/Maker, Farallon. What do all these great old names have in common? That’s it! They’ve all been survived by Helix!

What a dubious distinction! How long does this payment for the sins of the fathers have to go on? Why is it that so many of our users see the solution so clearly while some see it not at all?

Then I have this awful recurring nightmare. I am sitting down with my morning coffee to read my Email. It’s the day after we announce the release of Helix 6. Someone writes, "No new features. I’m going to wait for Helix 7."

Bearing in mind our ongoing analogy about a patient in the operating room, there were months of surgery, followed by brief periods of consciousness during which, eventually the patient stood up and walked around and did a lot of regular stuff. Now its our job at last to get this patient back to life, to a new life in fact, on its own two feet: stability and reliability. Waiting around to see if Helix survives is not the way to see that happen.

There was a time, not that long ago, when we might have had no idea how we were even going to get to where we already are right now. But even with the progress we’ve made, this is still quite a daunting adventure in seemingly endless ways.

When we undertook this project, it was only after doing a great deal of work on far less complicated tasks. We really only had suspicions to guide us as to whether we could handle bringing Helix all the way to macOS. It’s always important, and never more so than now, to keep things in perspective.

I recently found myself driving through my old home town. Even though it’s only ten miles from where I live, I rarely have occasion to go there anymore. As I drove down its main street, the radio said that that week would be the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.

As the old cliché says, anyone alive and aware of the difference between themselves and the world around them on that day remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing. And it’s true, of course.

I was in school. We were in social studies and had just turned off the TV while the motorcade through Dallas, which was being covered live, started to get boring to watch. "I’m turning this off now," the teacher said. "We have to get back to work."

A few seconds later, the PA system crackled to life and the voice of the principal said that everything we ever knew was about to change forever.

That was probably the moment I became aware of how difficult communication was to begin with, let alone how to communicate in the midst of tumultuous events.

Years later, when I started working, I had the great fortune to apprentice in communications at the hands of two brilliant brothers, Larry and Milton Gralla.

The Grallas had elevated trade publishing to an art and ran a string of widely read, wildly successful publications in 20 different industries, trade shows in each industry and much more. They started on a $1,000 investment they each made in the 50s and sold to United Newspapers of London in 1984 for 44 million dollars.

These guys rarely communicated with you at all if you didn’t stick your neck out. And if you didn’t stick your neck out you didn’t last long. If your efforts weren’t satisfactory, you’d get to hear all about it in Milt’s office. You’d only hear from Larry if your efforts reached what he deemed to be the "inspirational level." Naturally, it was a lot more fun, not to mention pure positive reinforcement, to visit Larry.

Larry used to say, "Always go back to your core. What are you? What are you hoping to accomplish?" He believed that at the middle of every endeavor, there was some motivating factor, some reason it was happening. He felt that if you couldn’t reconcile the answers to those two questions, you had no hope of succeeding. "If you can’t get your idea on the back of a business card," he said, "you don’t understand it yourself."

So, at times like this, as I had learned, you had to go back to your core. As to the core of this particular operation, we simplified that one for ourselves by plastering it up on the web the day we started:

  1. They will help you get what you need in the way of product, upgrade, services and support
  2. They will provide you with information, even if that information is simply to tell you that there’s nothing new yet.
  3. They will make a conscious effort NOT to raise your expectations unless they believe there is a solid basis upon which to do so.

Lately, satisfying this second objective has been a bit difficult because of how rare the air is up here. Being between versions of Helix that actually work, it’s hard to say, "here’s what’s happening," because most of what’s happening at this stage is what’s not happening yet.

Nonetheless, work continues on the new and improved TCP/IP code. The improvements to TCP/IP thus far, which we’ve been testing for some time, are wonderful. We wish there was a fast and easy way to get it into the hands of every Helix user out there who has struggled with Helix under TCP/IP. But where is the sense in having come all this way just to rush it out before it’s ready? We have to keep working on it a bit longer.

At some point, we will all begin to become comfortable enough with what’s going on here to say, OK, let’s let everybody take a crack at it. Let’s have a beta. In fact, shortly before we do go beta, we plan to ask for your help with a public test where we get as many users as possible to log into our new TCP/IP. But until that day comes, we’re going to have to make do with pictures. And we’ll promise to put up at least one with each posting until we get there. Starting today, with the new Helix "Save" dialog. Too bad saving Helix isn’t just a matter of point-and-click...

So… what is Helix? Helix is, and always was, quite simply, an evolving enabling technology that lets a person massage data into information in whatever shape it is required.

And what are we doing with Helix? At this point, looking back on the evidence, we’d have to say "Finishing the job."

That job, in case you’ve missed (or tried to avoid reading) any of the lengthy chronology at left, is to get Helix to Helix 7, a place where it can perform in groups with people of persuasions other than merely Macintosh, just like in real life.

It just doesn’t seem fair to keep Helix all bottled up like this. More people could benefit from this technology. Your ongoing support is what has saved Helix so far and what continues to make that future possible. Thanks and keep it going.

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