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Why Are We [Still] Here? (and other lofty Helix issues)

17 June 2002--When Matt and I sat down to work last Tuesday morning, the first morning after installing all the machines here in the east, we had no idea what to expect. Our first day had been quiet, but we were just setting things up. We knew Tuesday would be nuts. Apart from some nasty technical difficulties, all of which Matt dependably brought under control before it got too dark to work, before we knew it, we were up to our ears in communication, the very demon that has frightened away so many well-meaning people that have passed this way before.

If Helix was a product with sales on the scale of a FileMaker or an Access, and all the users were as passionate as the participants in the Helix List, this would be a job for a hundred people. At times Tuesday, it became nearly impossible to get to the bathroom when you needed it most. In the crush of all this activity, a correspondence arrived that struck a few very sore nerves. Matt has already responded to one part of this message. I elected to address the other. I tried to take my time with this one, not to react purely on an emotional level.. After all, if Helix was dead, as this correspondence alleged, what's the rush?

What I have to say here goes out with love to anyone on this list who might feel that the temptation to kick Helix when it's down is overwhelmingly irresistible. I have often included myself in this group, having held tightly to my foot now for the better part of 18 years.

Members of this list who know me would probably agree when I say that I can be a sarcastic s.o.b. Still I will try to be as civil as I can herein because what I have to say isn't really personal, though it might sound that way.

Before looking directly into this correspondence, let me refer you to these lines from the June 10th Announcement:

"Going forward, Autograph and Synergy make only the following three promises:

  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 on this web site or in any other forum, unless they believe there is a solid basis upon which to do so.

With that in mind, here is the core of the letter, and my replies...

>While I welcome the announcement of yesterday, I remain with the "helix is dead" hypothesis.

Something about that statement makes me want to ask the question of the ages: "Why are we here?"

In my experience with Helix, the single most "Frequently Asked Question" about Helix has always been "How do you know there will still be a Helix [next year, 2 years from now, in the future]?"

Helix is often depicted like a patient that was born in a hospital and moved immediately into the ICU. In Times Square, when I began working in 1976, there was a camera store called "Going Out of Business." It's still there today.

So is Helix and many of the products it used to compete with years ago are long gone. The "Helix is dead" hypothesis, which I suppose is supported by some of the questions declared as absent of answers below, is based largely IN MY HUMBLE OPINION on emotionally charged notions that are not based on solid reasoning, as I will attempt to illustrate herein:

>Absent... 1. Knowledge of who the owner of Helix is and will be

The owner of Helix is still Brian Turner. This is no secret. Everyone else seems to know this.

>2. Knowledge of what funding is available for future development

This statement essentially says that you would like to know how much money is earmarked for development right now. The question has nothing to do with the future of Helix unless you happen to also know exactly how much it will cost to accomplish what needs to be done. Then, even if the amount of money available were known, which it isn't, and even if it was less than the amount needed, that doesn't mean Helix is dead. Not only has Helix been in this position before and survived, Helix is almost ALWAYS in this position. There has never been enough money to accomplish what needs to be done in Helix. The same is probably true at nearly every software company except Microsoft.

>3. Knowledge whether Larry or another competent programmer is on
> board, can be paid, and has the time for Helix

At this moment, neither Larry nor any other competent programmer is on board with us (we can't speak to what's going on in San Diego). We can't speak to whether or not they have time. For one thing, Larry is way more than competent. Larry is our friend and the living soul of Helix. He also has enough confidence and faith in his creation to know that it will survive even if he has to be an absentee father.

An important fact to bear in mind here is that Helix was resurrected by someone who was not Larry. For many years, even while it was owned by Odesta and HT in Texas, Larry wasn't always an employee. No one knew Steve Hartwell before he came to this community yet he was able to make very powerful and positive contributions to the Helix idiom. There were also other programmers who worked for a time in San Diego who helped move things forward. When a new Helix team is assembled, I see no reason to assume that they will be incompetent and how any of this means that Helix is dead.

>4. What reasonable chance there is for realistic modernization of Helix in
> the near future as expressed by Larry or someone else with current
> knowledge of Helix. The short list for modernization would include
> carbonization and cross platform capability via a PC client or a JDBC
> adapter for Qilan or similar access.

As to reasonable chance, I'd give it at least 50-50. After all, it either will or it won't.

>5. Knowledge as to whether the former apprentice was paid and left the
> carbonization alpha work behind

If the former apprentice (you're referring, of course, to the one in the fairy tale posted to the list the first week in June) had been paid, it would have been because the company had enough money to pay him and all of the events that have occurred since the announcement of hiatus on January 8th would have been a bad dream. As to what was left behind in the form of "carbonization alpha" work, what does this have to do with Helix being dead? When development goes forward, it will either happen with that work or without it. If it happens without it, it will just take longer.

If some of this sounds a bit arcane to many of you, you should be aware that many of the things the author alluded to in his communiqué had to do with a deal to purchase Helix that collapsed earlier this spring. Matt and I were somewhat involved in those negotiations. The writer became privy to this information and unfortunately, he mentioned the possibility of something happening on this list during some of those negotiations, which contributed in part to the deal falling apart.

>...I contend that Helix as a going concern is to all practical intents and
> purposes dead.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm confused by this conclusion.

>With the above questions answered, we could determine if there is a
> chance for resurrection.

I have tried to answer those questions, but I don't believe the answers determine if there is "a chance for resurrection."

>Perhaps some of us might be able to facilitate the process.

Agreed, some of you might be able to facilitate the process, if there is one. After all, if Helix is dead, what need is there of process?

>We still need to hear from Brian.

Aha! The Firesign Theatre once asked "Who am us anyway?" Earlier, you asked who was running Helix, but apparently, you already know. Once again:

"Going forward, Autograph and Synergy make only the following three promises:

  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 on this web site or in any other forum, unless they believe there is a solid basis upon which to do so.

As far as our first week is concerned, here's how we did on the three promises:

  1. All the upgrade orders that came in this week were filled.
  2. We tried our best all week, and will continue to keep the lines of communication open. There will be some days when we have other work that takes us out of the live action, but we'll be there with information as regularly as we can.
  3. Unfortunately, we must do this. We can't tell you a new day is dawning. After all, we played a part in leading everybody to believe there would be a Carbon Helix by last Christmas.

I will say this, however: Helix is alive in the homes and offices of thousands of people and companies in America and around the world. Judging by some of the commentary I saw on the first full day of activity, and in the days that followed, I'd say that more of us want to see Helix live than die.

For the moment, Helix lives. A week ago, inertia in San Diego had Helix users in a state of paralysis. But now an interim channel for sales and support has opened up, and that may mean that development is likely to resume as well, so we shouldn't be so quick to write it off. Matt and I are going to make every effort to fulfill the promises we made; the rest is out of our hands. We may succeed and we may fail. Either way, you will hear it here.

Gil Numeroff

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