CommVEx 8.0

(Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2012)

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Another July, another trip to Las Vegas for CommVEx, our annual show devoted to Commodore brand computers. People who have not kept track of what has happened in the world of Commodore the last 15 years often express amazement that anyone still uses them. Meanwhile, Commodore enthusiasts continue to create new software and hardware for these machines, making them do things the original designers never dreamed possible.

For example, on Saturday, we watched a Commodore PET 4032 from 1980 display a video film, using the machine's built-in character set. This is the equivalent of printing out a bunch of letters on paper in the shape of a Christmas tee, but animated. Viewed from about ten feet away, the quality was similar to a security video. Mike Hill, the presenter and creator of this program, was two years old when the PET was first introduced.

As always, the event was held in the latter part of July, the 28th and 29th. Last year the Plaza Hotel, site of CommVEx 2 through 6, was closed for remodeling, but we had intended to return this year. However, all meeting rooms were booked a year in advance, so we again scheduled the event for the Las Vegas Club Hotel, across Main Street and under the same ownership.

The room costs a little over $800. We finance the event partly with sales of hardware and software through the year, but this only brings in about $100, so we rely on admission ($10 for the two days) and sales of raffle tickets ($10 for one; $20 for three) to cover most of the expense.

CommVEx founder/director Robert Bernardo arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday to start getting things ready. Since we can't get into the meeting room until Friday, this mostly consisted of arranging to pick up equipment from Al Jackson, president of the Commodore Computer Club of Clark County (commonly called 5C's). Leaving California, Robert's Ford Crown Victoria is already jammed full of Commodore stuff from floorboards to roof, so the ability to borrow equipment locally has been an important  benefit.

I had not planned to attend this year, but Robert's usual right-hand man, Larry Anderson, had a serious illness in his family and could not make it, so I became the new right-hand man by default. I booked my rooms and accepted the fact that I would be driving from the 100+ degree heat of Fresno, with humidity at 20 to 40%, to the 100+ degree heat of Las Vegas, with 4 to 10% humidity. Since we spend all our time inside, and only go outdoors to walk the short distance to another hotel to eat, the weather is not really a big deal. Ultimately, as long as you could be in the shade, it was more comfortable outside than it has ever been (at least as far as I can remember).

Instead of leaving as soon as I was up and dressed and stopping for brunch in Tehachapi, I took the time to eat a good breakfast, and made the 400-mile drive stopping only at rest stops. This allowed me to arrive early enough Friday afternoon to avoid most of the traffic slowdown that plagues the city at the start of weekends. I got checked in, brought in my luggage, and peeked into the meeting room. No one was around, but the presence of several Commodore monitors told me that Robert was not far away, and walking back to my room I met him, along with another early arrival.

Once we start setting up, there is no break for dinner until very late, so after exchanging greetings, I went across the street to the California Hotel for lunch, where I had a Philly steak sandwich that was not bad. Returning to the Las Vegas Club, I started bringing in the items I had brought, mainly three monitors that we were going to sell to 5C's member Al Jackson.

Then I helped Robert empty his overstuffed Crown Vic. Bringing in the equipment means loading it onto carts, pushing or pulling them to the parking garage elevator, going down to the first floor, pushing them up a ramp to the hotel elevator, riding up to the 3rd floor, and transporting them to the meeting room, about 50 feet from the "lifts."

By this time, a number of people had arrived and were setting up equipment for displays and demonstrations. These were mostly regular attendees who like to get together for a pre-CommVEx gathering, and stretch the event to all hours of the night. Although not everything was ready, Robert finally reached a point where he was ready to go to dinner. Everyone else had already eaten, but by this time I was ready for some dessert, so I joined him at the Golden Gate Casino for a sundae, while he had a chicken dinner.

We then returned to the meeting room, but I soon left to try to get some sleep, hoping that I would not be kept awake by the loud music blasting from Fremont Street, as I had experienced last year. Fortunately, I was in the North Tower of the hotel, a block away from the wild night life, and did not hear any sounds from the street. (I did have to call security Saturday night, due to a dog barking in the next room - something I have never experienced in a hotel and never expected to.)

The event officially started at 11 a.m. Saturday, but Robert had arranged for the room to be opened at 8 a.m. I arrived around 9 and set up my laptop and other things needed for my duties as collector of admission fees, seller of raffle tickets, and this year, seller of software for a Commodore dealer who had given Robert two boxes of programs to sell. We had a number of major raffle prizes, and I set up a box for each item, so that attendees could put their tickets in the container for the item they wanted to win. I also had a spread sheet already created that lets me keep track of receipts and maintains a list of names for door prize drawings.

By the time 11 a.m. arrived we had a dozen people in the room, portending a successful event. As the day went on, most of the regulars arrived, as well as quite a few first-time visitors. Raffle sales were not as good as previous years, but attendance was the highest since the first event, which was free, so we covered  our expenses and will have enough for more than half of next year's room cost. The only unknown is where we will be - rumors were that the Las Vegas Club will be shut down for remodeling (badly needed), and we don't know what our actual costs will be.

Throughout the day there were demonstrations and presentations about every hour, and drawings for door prizes and the big raffle prizes (see below). In a tradition going back about four years, door prizes included several bottles of wine with custom labels. This year they mimicked the Jack Daniel's label in a tribute to the late Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore Business Machines.

At the end of the Saturday events, we made our usual trip to Main Street Station, which seems to have the best buffet in downtown Las Vegas. I didn't keep track of who all went, but it was a group of people who have been at most of the expos I've attended, so we all know each other to a certain extent. We ended up in two separate groups of about six each, and had a great dinner with the usual far-ranging topics of conversation.

The demos, raffles, and Commodore discussions continued the next day, which was highlighted by the first ever game competition for cash prizes. First up was the C64Anabalt game, which requires the player to control a man jumping from building to building via joystick. Missing your jump sends you to you death as you smash into the wall, and there are other obstacles to be jumped, some of which are also fatal if you hit them. Once you die, the program reports how many meters you ran.

Although some of the contestants practiced beforehand, the winner was a dark horse, Tim Waite of Orange County, CA, who achieved a score of 2713, thanks to natural dexterity and the clever idea of holding the joystick in his right hand, since the only action required was quick button-pushing. Since he didn't have to worry about operating the lever, he reasoned that he would have faster reaction time on the button with the right hand. With everyone being judged on the best of three tries, Tim also ran up the second highest score at 1419 meters.

Other contestants and their high score were: Steve Davison 1337, Greg Alekel 1107, Connor Krantz 1019, Jim Drew 969, AJ Windholz 933, Vincent Mazzei 865, Jeff Krantz 792, and Yul Haasmann 648.

With near-record attendance, lots of equipment to look at, and lots of demos, we were fortunate to have been given a double room, since the meeting room next to us was not in use.

The demonstrations, not necessarily in order, were:

A filmed opening greeting from R.J. Mical, one of the lead developers of the Amiga computer, who finished his brief message with an invitation to join him in his hot tub, where he was then sitting.

Video interview with the late Jack Tramiel. (shown after hours), taken at the 25th anniversary of the Commodore 64 in 2007 at the Computer History Museum and never before seen.

Lenard Roach (FCUG newsletter editor from Kansas City) briefly talked about his book, Run-Stop Restore, and showed several of his programs, including TEA (an envelope addresser), Checkmate and Check it Out, check-writing and check book management programs; and Money Manager (written by Rex Day and updated by Lenard for Y2K compatibility). He also advised us that the original edition of Run-Stop Restore is available as a PDF download at www.lenardroach.com.

Mike Hill: Digitized video on the PET (uses pet characters to re-create video from any source).

Bruce Gottlieb, who has been a professional game developer and software engineer for over 17 years, showed and discussed Unknown Realm, a game he’s been developing on and off for 20 years. He started out doing it for the C64, then the Amiga, then the PC, then finally came back to C64 with lots of experience, making it easier to finish the project. Bruce got his game development start at age 11 on a TRS-80.

Robert Bernardo gave a demonstration of the CBM C64 Diagnostic Cartridge, the C128 Diagnostic Cartridge, and their wiring harness; a new product, an RBG to VGA adapter for the C128, and showed how he uploads and downloads to and from the Internet with a Commodore and a dial-up shell account from his service provider..

Greg Alekel brought the crowd up to date on the latest developments with the Commodore Server, as well as the Comet+ Commodore Ethernet modem, now with flash memory and disk drive access, and the ability to work with old PCs or Apples that have the RS232 serial port.

Roger Van Pelt: (Via video) Demonstrated printing in color with GEOS & GoDot on an HP Deskjet printer.

Cameron Kaiser showed the latest aspects of his game, Aptitude.

Jim Drew, creator of more than 60 commercial products for Commodore and Amiga computers in the 1980's and 1990's and CBM educational/support representative for Oregon from 1983 to 1985, told stories of those days. He also introduced his new product, SuperCard Pro, and talked about work he has done for movie producer James Cameron and also for the US Military.

Steve Davison had two presentations, "EasyDisk for EasyFlash", his EasyDisk C64 driver that allows you to load and save files on the EasyFlash cartridge; and "PETSCII Animator", his ML-coded program which allows you to easily do GIF-like animated scenes with PETSCII characters on the C64.

As usual, there were some fun and interesting happenings that weren't on the schedule. Connor Krantz of Las Vegas first attended when he was seven, and has become a sort of unofficial mascot of the event. At age 13, he's recently started playing guitar, and spent Saturday at a rock concert, but came on Sunday and did his usual fine job of drawing raffle tickets, as well as winning a prize or two himself.

It's inevitable that some raffle prizes will draw more interest than others. There was lots of competition for the SX64 and the 1581 drive, while other items had only two or three people trying for them. And a couple did not get any interest - or at least not at first. One empty drawing box was for the VIC-20 computer in near mint condition. Sensing an opportunity, ten-year old Vincent Mazzei pulled out $10 of his own money, bought a single ticket, and dropped it into the empty VIC 20 raffle box. Since we were sticklers for protocol, we then called on Connor to draw the winning ticket, which not surprisingly was Vincent.

Other prizes and the winners were: DC Digital TV (Hi Def for the Amiga) - Phil Groven; remote joysticks for any 9-pin input, including Commodore, Amiga, and Atari - Connor Krantz; Comet 64 Commodore Modem - Jeff Krantz; SX-64 Executive Computer - Eric Pratt; MMC Replay Cartridge - Louis Mazzei; 1764 RAM expander - Tim Waite; 1581 Drive - Eric Pratt.

An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) had no takers, but Robert lined up a buyer in Tulare, near his home town of Visalia.

The event ended with a one-on-one competition for a $10 prize between Connor and Vincent, playing the Activison game "Decathlon." The various events require an ever-changing combination of joystick and button pushing, including the grueling 1500-meter run, an over-long event that threatens to leave the player with carpal tunnel from constant joystick operation. Connor ended up the winner by a slight margin and made everyone there proud by splitting his winnings with Vincent.

When the official program ended it was time for the dreaded tear-down and load-out. It was two hours or more of hard work to get all of Robert's stuff loaded into his car, and we immediately realized there was no room for the Las Vegas club's equipment. The Portland Three, Greg Alekel, Rik Magers and Steve Davison, agreed to take these items back to their owner in their rental car before heading to the airport the next morning.

Once the room was empty of all equipment, there were six of us ready to go out for the Sunday night final dinner - the Portland Three, Tim Waite, Robert Bernardo, and Dick Estel. We walked across to the re-modeled Plaza, and checked a couple of restaurants, choosing the Hash House a Go Go. This proved to be a good choice, and we all recommend this location. A couple of the guys ordered breakfast, which consisted of one pancake - but what a pancake! As Greg texted his wife, it's "as big as the spare tire on your Mazda." Indeed, these pancakes were well over a foot in diameter, and were accompanied by eggs, fruit and other goodies. I had a sandwich that included a huge piece of chicken on inch-thick bread, with layers of cheese, tomatoes, and onions. All the other dinners were equally huge, and most of us left carrying take-out boxes.

Finally, we'd like to send out special thanks to the following: Tim Waite for providing a dedicated label printer to make name tags; the Portland Three for help with transporting equipment, Al Jackson for lending the equipment, John Hill for fetching Coke and coffee to keep Robert and me awake after being up way too late, Louis Mazzei for being the new left-hand man, Lenard Roach for guarding the room Saturday night while Robert was out to dinner; Connor, AJ, and Vincent for their ticket-drawing services, Larry Anderson for providing additional equipment, Paul Armstrong for the coin bank he gave us last year along with a sign that says "donate your change to CommVEx" (the bank has a display that shows the denomination of the coin as it is deposited, and the total amount), everyone who dropped change in the jar, Jeff Krantz, who rescued Robert and me from starvation and collapse Sunday by bringing in pizza, and everyone who helped make this one of the most successful Commodore Vegas Expos ever.

--Dick Estel, August 2012

   

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There's always room for one more Commodore item in Robert's faithful Crown Vic A few items on the way into the hotel Commodores plugged in and ready to go
There's always room for one more Commodore item in Robert's faithful Crown Vic A few items on the way into the hotel

Commodores plugged in and ready to go

 
Yul Haasmann's gold C128 This PET 8296-D from England requires an adapter to run on US power Commodore B128 on the left and a Commodore P500 (North American version)
Yul Haasmann's gold C128 This PET 8296-D from England requires an adapter to run on US power

Commodore B128 on the left and a Commodore P500 (North American version)

 
A stack o' disk drives Lots of chips This compact modern monitor works with Commodore as well as newer computers
A stack o' disk drives Lots of chips This compact modern monitor works with Commodore as well as newer computers
 
Our "high tech" raffle system The traditional specialty wine label this year honors Jack Tramiel Jack was the founder of Commodore Business Machines, originally a typewriter repair company
Our "high tech" raffle system The traditional specialty wine label this year honored Jack Tramiel Jack was the founder of Commodore Business Machines, originally a typewriter repair company
 
A few of the coveted raffle prizes Greg Alekel and Rik Magers love everything Commodore Rik works with the SX64 - computer, disk drive and monitor all in one 
A few of the coveted raffle prizes Greg Alekel and Rik Magers love everything Commodore Rik works with the SX64 - computer, disk drive and monitor all in one 
   
Jim Drew demonstrates two of the computer geek's major food groups Even Patton didn't have this much metal on his chest A vintage wagon to haul vintage computers
Jim Drew demonstrates two of the computer geek's major food groups Even Patton didn't have this much metal on his chest A vintage wagon to haul vintage computers
   
Nothing like a bottle of Jack's to keep the registration clerk focused Robert invites donations to the change jar Jeff Krantz of Las Vegas meets Louis Mazzei of Fresno
Nothing like a bottle of Jack's to keep the registration clerk focused

Robert invites donations to the change jar

Jeff Krantz of Las Vegas meets Louis Mazzei of Fresno
   
John & Joanie were there to represent his grandmother, a long-time 5C's member Mike Hill can make an old PET do new tricks Jim Drew talks about his long history with Commodore, copy protection, and much more

John & Joanie were there to represent his grandmother, a long-time 5C's member

Mike Hill can make an old PET do new tricks

Jim Drew talks about his long history with Commodore, copy protection, and much more
      
Lenard expounds on his book and programs he's written Lenard Roach's TEA (The Envelope Addresser) Bruce Gottlieb tells about the work on the game he's been wanting to finish for 20 years
Lenard expounds on his book and programs he's written Lenard Roach's TEA (The Envelope Addresser)

Bruce Gottlieb tells about the work on the game he's been wanting to finish for 20 years

    
Screenshot of Bruce's game, Unknown Realms The Saturday audience Most of the crowd present on Saturday afternoon

Screenshot of Bruce's game, Unknown Realm

The Saturday audience Most of the crowd present on Saturday afternoon
             
A fresh box of free goodies draws a crowd It's mine! NO, it's MINE! Connor shows intense concentration as he prepares for the Sunday competition

A fresh box of free goodies draws a crowd

It's mine! NO, it's MINE! Connor shows intense concentration as he prepares for the Sunday competition
    
Jumping from building to building in the C64Anabalt game Someone's final score C64Anabalt competition - Yul Haasmann and Connor Krantz
Jumping from building to building in the C64Anabalt game Someone's final score C64Anabalt competition - Yul Haasmann and Connor Krantz
    
Greg Alekel and Jeff Krantz AJ Winholz Steve Davison AKA Agent Friday
Greg Alekel and Jeff Krantz AJ Winholz Steve Davison AKA Agent Friday
   
Greg and Jim in the C64Anabalt competition Connor Krantz and Vincent Mazzei compete in the decathlon Long jump competition
Greg and Jim in the C64Anabalt competition Connor Krantz and Vincent Mazzei compete in the decathlon Long jump competition
   
Vincent draws a winner An after hours gathering: Steve Davison, Rik Magers, Tim Waite, Greg Alekel, Yul Haasmann, Jim Drew (seated) Keith Henrickson, Dick Estel at the Saturday night dinner
Vincent draws a winner

An after hours gathering: Steve Davison, Rik Magers, Tim Waite, Greg Alekel, Yul Haasmann, Jim Drew (seated)

Keith Henrickson, Dick Estel at the Saturday night dinner
   
Louis Mazzei, Yul Haasmann at dinner Our Saturday night dinner destination, seen from the 10th floor of the Vegas Club The Commodore Banner still waves
Louis Mazzei, Yul Haasmann at dinner

Our Saturday night dinner destination, seen from the 10th floor of the Vegas Club

The Commodore Banner still waves
         

Photos copyright 2012 by Dick Estel and Robert Bernardo; permission required for reproduction

    
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Updated August 16, 2012