17 - 20, 2015
skipping the event the last two years, I once again took the long,
boring, hot drive to Las Vegas for the 11th annual CommVEx, the
Commodore computer show sponsored by clubs in Fresno and Vegas, and
held this year at the Plaza
already driven through Las Vegas once this year, on my Colorado
Springs trip in June, and will do so again in October when my
daughter and I visit Grand Canyon and some of the national parks of
when I had to drive not THROUGH Vegas, but TO it, I was less than
thrilled. Still, I had a good time, met some new people, renewed old
acquaintances, and heard some interesting new stuff about these old
going into detail here, the Commodore 64 was ahead of its time and
sold more units than any other single model (regardless of Steve
Jobs' claims to the contrary). The Commodore 128 took things a
step further, with more capacity and increased speed, and also sold
in the millions. For a number of reasons, the company did not keep
up with developments in the world of computers, and went
bankrupt in the early 1990s. However, the name lives on, with all
trademarks owned by a Netherlands company, Commodore Holdings B.V.
You can read more about the original company and the various
computers they made here.
were numerous other
models, before and after the C64 and C128, but
those were the biggies. The
next most successful product was the Amiga line, which had three or
four models. It started as a separate
company, but was bought by
Commodore before being brought to market. For many C64 and C128
users it was the next logical step, offering more memory, faster
speed, and a better color palette. I never used an Amiga, but I
would guess that 90% of its users were former 8-bit
of the officers of the Fresno
Commodore Users Group (FCUG) were at the event, one of them for the first
time. They included President Robert Bernardo, Vice President Roger
Van Pelt (our first-timer), treasurer Dick Estel, board member Louis
Mazzei, his son Vincent, Grand Exalted Poobah of the VIC20, and our
newsletter editor, Lenard Roach. Lenard lives in Kansas City KS,
performs his duties long distance, and made the 25 hour drive with
his oldest son and several friends. Robert and Roger drove down
Wednesday in my F150 pickup, to provide more carrying capacity than
Robert's Crown Vic; I drove down Friday, and the Mazzei's left
Thursday after work, arriving very early Friday morning. Most of us
stayed at the Plaza, although Robert and Roger were at another motel
a few miles away.
most of my audience are not Commodore fans, I will focus on
non-technical matters. Robert and Lenard will surely provide reports
on that aspect of the event, and publish them where the proper
audience will see them. When they do, links will appear here and below.
arrived about 5 p.m. Friday, stopped by the meeting room to see what
was going on, then got checked in. Although the show does not
officially start until
Saturday, there are lots of people there Friday evening, setting up their
equipment and greeting other Commodore fans from around the country
and the world. I have to confess I was happy to see that Robert and
Roger had already finished setting up most of the equipment we were
hard core fanatics stay in the room as long as Robert lets them,
which Friday was about 1:30 a.m. I however, was long gone, reading,
relaxing, and getting to bed at my usual time, a little after ten.
show started Saturday at 11, but Robert was there at 7 a.m., driving from his motel several miles
away. Roger, unused to the wild Commodore life of virtually no
sleep, slept in, so at 9:30 I was dispatched to pick him up, along with
more equipment. We then went to a local supermarket to pick up a cake
Robert had ordered in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Amiga and
had good attendance this year, with 47 paid admissions. In addition
there were a couple of special guests who did
not pay. With a few wives and kids not on the registration roster,
we had about 55 people, not all there at once.
the special guest who caused the most excitement was Bil
describes himself as "a recovering Commodore engineer."
Bil worked for the company in the early 1980s, and was one of the
designers of the Commodore 128. He described the development process
as designing a computer to do what the engineers thought it should
do, rather than to meet the goals set by sales and
management. I only made use of the two major Commodore products, of
which there were at least two dozen brought to market, but the C128 seemed
to me to be the perfect computer for its time, capable of many
things that designers of IBM and clone PCs had not yet been able to
is a fascinating speaker, with an endless supply of stories. Some of
them are of
interest mainly to those with considerable technical knowledge, but many
the "human interest" type that would entertain any
audience. Bil spoke for close to an hour, recounting various
experiences and events during his years at Commodore.
then called up our other special guest, Leonard
Tramiel, son of the
founder of Commodore, the late Jack Tramiel. The business started as a
typewriter company, later made office furniture, watches,
calculators and a number of other products, before venturing into
computers in the late 1970s. (Read more about Jack here.) Bil asked
Leonard a series of questions about matters that took place during
the time Bil was with the company, as well as some about the Tramiels' work
at Atari after Jack resigned from Commodore.
of the most fascinating revelations was that Jack was not at all
interested in technology. He was interested in creating a product
that could be sold at a low price to millions of people, and
succeeded wildly in that quest. The first computer he was really
comfortable using was an Apple iPad.
continues to write and speak about his experiences, and there are articles
on line. Click here
for photos of Bil and Jack together at the Commodore 64 25th
they finished their presentations, Bil and Leonard cut the
C128/Amiga 30th anniversary
cake, and all who desired some had a piece.
I am no longer a Commodore user, just sort of a hanger-on-er, most
of the talks and demonstrations were not of great interest to me.
Still, it's always fascinating to see what people are doing with
these machines that were declared "obsolete" over a decade
ago. There is pretty much no modern computer equipment that has not
been made to work with a Commodore or Amiga computer, particularly
various configurations of flash drives and CD-ROM drives.
enjoy seeing the various pieces of equipment that are put on
display, and of course, I have great respect and admiration for the
enthusiasm of these vintage computer fans. However, I had duties
that kept me occupied throughout the day.
usual, I operated the registration
desk, collecting admission and
selling tickets for the prize drawings that are held throughout the
event. The procedure is to have a container for each prize, so that
people can put their tickets into the box for the specific prize(s)
they are interested in. In the past I had used the lightweight
cardboard boxes that CDs and DVDs used to come in, but this year I
hit on the idea of washing out Hershey's cocoa boxes, melting a slot
into the top with a hot screwdriver, and labeling each box. It
worked out well, and gave us a much more durable container, reusable
for many years.
ago I created an Excel spreadsheet file in which I enter the name of
each person and the amount of their admission and raffle ticket
purchases if any. The dollar totals are automatically updated on a
second sheet that shows income and expenses, so at all times we can
see how close we are to covering costs. At the start of the day on
Saturday this was a busy task, but I enjoy it, and get to meet
everyone who comes in, at least briefly.
final "presentation" of the day was actually a round table
discussion of the future of CommVEx. The room we were in was
slightly smaller than the one provided last year, and I believe a
little smaller than what we had three yeas ago at the Las Vegas Club
Hotel. There were more people wanting table space, and of course,
near-record attendance. Therefore the room was crowded, it was hard
to get around, and the various exhibitors were jammed together with
no elbow room whatsoever.
had talked with the hotel about a bigger room. One is available, but
the cost would be nearly double. Since we have been doing just a
little better than breaking even, funding the extra cost was a
concern, so Robert asked everyone present for their thoughts.
exception, everyone felt we needed the bigger room. Several of those
present said they would donate anywhere from $100 to $500 to help
pay for it. We also talked about increasing the admission price,
currently $10 for both days. Many said they would not object to a
higher price. We've never charged for the use of tables, and a
number of those who had set up tables for various purposes said they
would be willing to pay for the privilege. There was also discussion
of making admission free but charging for tables, advance
registration (so we would know before the event how much money was
coming in), making admission good for the entire family (although
few family members attend), and asking for voluntary donations
instead of a set price.
was clear that with money raised this year plus pledges, we could
fund the larger room for next year, and that decision was easy.
Whether we can sustain this is another matter, so the precise method
of admission/table fees etc. will be discussed further by the
organizers of the event, and a decision will be announced later,
after we calculate how various methods would work.
a good sign for the future, several people made immediate donations,
so one way or another, we can look forward to a bigger, better, less
crowded CommVex next year.
In a long-standing tradition,
those of us who wanted to walked to the nearby Main Street Station
to eat at the buffet a little after 5 p.m. This year our group was
17 strong. Due to consuming cake, a very tempting doughnut, and a
peanut butter sandwich, I was not hungry enough to take full
advantage, but I managed to enjoy it anyway.
A lucky few, including myself, were seated
Herd, and were treated to another series of his always
of the best features of the meeting is that many people bring
their own equipment, some to display it, some to sell items, and many to just
play/work. Several of them spent both days sitting at their
computer, working on projects, and talking to people who were
interested in what they were doing. Of course, they also kept an eye
and ear on those presentations that were of interest to them.
presentations covered a wide array of topics, but again the best one
was Bil Herd's second talk. In this case he just called for
questions, but with rare exceptions, each question triggered his
memory of still another fascinating story of the heyday of
Commodore. It was obvious that Bil enjoyed the occasion as much as
closing time arrived and the part of the weekend I enjoy least began
- disconnecting all the computers, packing everything up, and
loading it into the truck. Since Robert does not have room to
transport the extra computers we like to set up, we get some from Al
Jackson, a member of the Las Vegas club. These then have to be
returned Monday, and fitting everything into the truck is a
time I was able to put quite a few things in my car so that Robert could get
all the rest of his and Al's items in the truck, but it would not have been
possible without the packing expertise of one of our guests, Agent
Friday (Steve Davison). He must be an expert at Tetris, because he fitted things
together in the truck bed in ways the rest of us would never have
took about two hours to disassemble and load the equipment, with
some more waiting time as some of the guests finished getting their
own items loaded.
Sunday dinner tradition is a visit to a sit-down restaurant in the
nearby Hotel California, where about 17 of us enjoyed a very good
but very late dinner.
to the Plaza, we detoured through Fremont
Street, but I felt my eardrums being destroyed as soon as we
walked in. I turned back and returned to the hotel, leaving the
others to suffer as best they could. I thought I was going to escape
without being tempted by the casino, but walking back in I put some
money in a slot machine, which paid off less than any other machine
I've ever used. At least the torture was over quickly, and I headed
upstairs to bed.
could not leave before noon on Monday, so it was decided that Roger
would ride home with me. I checked out of the hotel, got gas, and
headed for their motel. I had a hand cart that Robert would need, so
I asked Roger to get the keys and open the truck so I could put it
put his luggage in the Honda, and we left Las Vegas about 9:30. Our
trip home was mostly smooth. We stopped for lunch at Peggy
Sue's Diner near Barstow, then continued on our way. We made a
rest and gas stop in Earlimart, just north of the Kern County line,
about 70 miles from home, and I asked Roger to drive. I then checked
the email on my cell phone, only to discover a very unhappy message
from Robert asking where in heck were the keys to the truck. We
pulled over, and Roger sheepishly pulled them from his pocket.
this time it was after 5:30, so we made arrangements to send them
priority mail the next day, meaning Robert would have to spend
another two nights in Las Vegas. We also agreed that someday we
would look back and laugh, but that it would probably be quite a
dropping Roger off at his apartment I arrived home between
6:30 and 7, a trip of 830 miles. I packaged up the keys, got up
early the next day, and was at the counter at a nearby FedEx before
8 a.m. The following day, Wednesday July 22, the keys arrived at
9:30 a.m. and Robert could finally finish up his duties - returning
Al Jackson's equipment, and signing a contract for next year's
time I am in Las Vegas the crowds, the noise, the traffic, and the
temptation combine to make me swear I will never return. This time
was no different. However, I now think I will have to come back in
2016, if only to see how the new, bigger room works out.
Some of the photos linked from the text above are from previous
Estel, July 2015