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Re: trip report

A few comments about Don Kaiser's trip report and some comments of my

The meeting is the national meeting of SLUG.  There was an unfortunate
error a couple of years ago in which it was called SNUG.  That is not
the name of the group sponsoring the meeting (SLUG, Inc.) or the
meeting.  (I think I recall some problem about that name being used
by another user's group.)

The name is J. Wurts, not Jay Wurts.  In my discussions with some of
the developers at Symbolics, they were uniformally impressed with him.
I take this as a very positive sign (although not absolutely positive
as the popularity of the CEO or president does not necessarily mean the
company will make money).  By the way, there were some people concerned
about the possibility of a take-over of Symbolics.  In my opinion, the
software part of Symbolics has the perfect poison-pill against a
hostile take-over.  If the developers leave the company, most of us
would lose much of the reason for chosing Symbolics over their

The comment about $11M was something to the effect that at the end of
March the company had $11M in the bank and they have almost that much
now.  I do remember J. Wurts (or was it the CFO?) saying that they had
a line of credit in case they needed it and they had never borrowed against
it.  (I don't remember them stating that they don't have any debts....
I presume that at any point they have bills that they haven't yet paid
just as any individual or business has.)

One thing that wasn't mentioned at this meeting (as far as I recall) was
an Ivory board for existing L-Bus machines (3600, 364x, 367x).  That was
promised by the then CEO last year.  I had been counting on that as an
upgrade path for our machines.  If these are not to be, then I hope
Symbolics will provide some other upgrade path.

I was somewhat bothered at the strong complaints about maintenance at
the meeting of the panel (not the board of directors) of Symbolics
management.  I certainly understand the complaints and they are probably
quite valid.  It's just that the maintenance organization has so
improved in the past year or so, that I felt there needed to be some
pats on the back for them.  This has happened despite changes at the
highest levels in that part of Symbolics and also at the levels of the
people that directly handle software support.  The local hardware
support people have also been hit by the layoffs.  Re software
support: I have been quite disappointed that Symbolics always seems to
lose (or get rid of) the people that answer the software support
queries just when they have gotten fully up to speed.  I think this
has happened twice that I recall (once associated with the move to
Chatsworth).  However I am encouraged recently by very reasonable and
studied replies to my mail messages to
see that Mike Hilgenberg hadn't been quite as aware of the mail to
customer support as he was of the phone calls.  I think he is now
quite aware of it.  He also indicated he was working on a system for
getting bug reports and/or fixes out to a larger audience.  I hope
this will not take as long as some earlier promises on getting the
hardware maintenance problem tracking onto a database system.  Re
hardware maintenance: I am fortunate to have a good working
relationship with our CSE.  I don't have any problems with our local
organization.  We do have problems with DOAs and problems with
supplies.  The IFU/DP pair of boards are particularly troublesome but
I consider that to be a faulty design.  I do wish Symbolics would get
this fixed once and for all.  Their redesign of last fall was, in my
opinion, a miserable failure.  We had working systems then but as they
fail now, the replacement boards are always a big question mark.
Other boards or systems have DOAs too.  I'm often protected from them
because our CSE handles them but we have extended down time.

Those of you who didn't attend SLUG's national meeting have missed a
great opportunity to learn.  There are typically some tutorials that
are at various levels (but I usually consider them less advanced than
I would want).  Symbolics has been very supporting of SLUG and education
services has provided tutorials at the SLUG meetings.  These are probably
quite useful to those who are interested in learning new areas of using
the Symbolics.  I find the talks given by the developers to be one of
the very useful aspects of this conference.  I just wish I could get
more of our people to attend SLUG so they could learn at the level that
is appropriate for them.

My reasons for attending (and supporting) SLUG are:
1)  Symbolics management gets to hear the users' points of view and to
present their story to the customers.  I'm sure that Symbolics tries to
listen to their customers but often that input is very limited in scope
and filtered by salesmen (who may have different objectives than the
customers or the company as a whole).
2)  There are developers that attend SLUG.  This is often an excellent
chance to let the developers know what is of concern to you or your
organization.  (This isn't the only chance though, as some of them
listen in to this mailing list.)  
3)  There is an excellent chance to learn as described above.
4)  You get the chance to compare notes with other users.  At the
site manager's SIG one night, we discovered two sites that were having
the same network problems.  The comparison of their sites has led to
some ideas on what is causing the problem and the right way to get it

Although we had a reasonably-sized group at SLUG this year, I hope that
more of you will be able to attend next year.  It may be very useful to
pitch SLUG as an educational trip rather than just a user's group meeting.