Bill and Vincent at the VIC 20

Robert shows off Tim Waite's CommVEx t-shirt 

A tasty VIC 20

Las Vegas Commodore Expo 2016

  

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The Commodore Las Vegas Expo has been around for 12 years. I attended the second one, and more than half the others, including CommVEx V12 this year, July 30 and 31, 2016. Reports on all but the first one are linked below

They laughed when someone proposed a show for a computer line that became "obsolete" in the late 90s, made by a company that exists now in name only, but over the years the event has become ever more successful. We don't need a huge attendance to support the minimal costs of a 2,000 square foot ballroom in the Plaza Hotel, on Main Street in old downtown Las Vegas. What the show may lack in size it makes up in enthusiasm. The founder and director of the show is Robert Bernardo, president of the Fresno Commodore User Group. Without him, neither our club nor the expo would exist.

There's plenty of information on line about Commodore Business Machines, the various computers they made, the current state of Commodore, and company founder Jack Tramiel, so I won't go into it here. You'll find links to a lot of this information at the Commodore Information Center.

In 2015 we had one of the larger crowds, 47 paid admissions, but we were in a small room and everyone felt crowded. So after much discussion and analysis of various financial models, it was decided to raise the admission price and rent a larger room for 2016. The area we paid for was 2,000 square feet, twice as big as previous years, but there was no one using the adjacent room, so we were allowed to open the partition and have a full 4,000 feet, more than enough.

Since Robert takes a lot of equipment to the show, I let him use my pickup, and he arrived in Las Vegas late Wednesday night. I got started about 8:30 on Friday morning, with temperatures predicted to be 110 both in Fresno and Las Vegas. They say "getting there is half the fun," but not when you're getting to Las Vegas. Friday afternoon traffic between Barstow and Baker jams up and creates clumps of slow-moving vehicles off and on all along this stretch. There's no apparent reason for it, and eventually the pace speeds up again.

Having had an early breakfast, I was hungry for lunch when I got to Baker a little after 2 p.m., so I went to Denny's, hastening from car to restaurant in 117 degree heat. Heading out from there, the road goes up in 15 miles from 900 to 4,000 feet. On top of the pass it was a cool 105. Over the next pass, there was some misty rain and it was 88, but it soon warmed up to 100 as I dropped down to the Nevada state line.

The final annoyance on this trip is Friday evening traffic through Las Vegas. It is always slow beside the Strip, so I was glad to finally reach my exit, and make the short drive from freeway to the Plaza. I got a parking spot on the third level, where our show is, and went to the meeting room where I was greeted by Robert and a number of other Commodore fans who were setting up their gear.

After checking in (a 30 minute wait in line), I brought in my luggage, then set up the registration table in the ballroom. Everything was going smoothly with several people helping Robert, so I soon went to my room for the night.

The Plaza is right across from Fremont Street, an outdoor party scene where loud music blasts forth till 1 or 2 a.m., and in previous years I have had trouble sleeping. This time I had a room on the opposite side from Fremont, and didn't hear any noise at all the entire time, a rare blessing.

My room also had an excellent view of the downtown Las Vegas Strip, with all the flashing lights, high rise buildings, and other features of the city skyline. I kept the curtains open until I went to bed, enjoying the view every time I looked that way. Saturday morning when I opened the drapes I was surprised to see, or more accurately, NOT see anything except a hazy outline. There was a veil of smoke or smog or something over the city that locals said was unlike anything they had seen in a long time. There had been smoke from nearby fires a week earlier, but we never really learned what caused this haze. Fortunately it was gone by evening.

Each year the show officially starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, but Robert is there by 8 a.m., and others start drifting in soon after that. This year was the 35th anniversary of the VIC 20, an early Commodore machine that pre-dated the iconic C-64, so Robert had ordered a birthday cake, and I was dispatched to pick it up at a local market.

I got back just at 11, and started collecting admission fees and selling raffle tickets. As usual, this is a job that is busy for a while, then requires sporadic attention the rest of the day. I was able to wander around and look at the exhibits, listen to some presentations, and make a quick trip to my room where I had cold pizza and Coke that I had brought along. I had learned the first year that there is no lunch break and little opportunity to go out for a meal during the day, so I brought stuff for lunch and breakfast from home.

As always there were a number of talks and demonstrations throughout the day. The most unusual, in fact surely unique, was Ricardo Quesada demonstrating the use of a unicycle to control movement in a computer game. Yes, a unicycle. He had an app on his smart phone that used the device's motion detector to send signals to the computer, taped the phone to a pedal, and controlled game play by moving the unicycle in various directions. You really had to see it to appreciate it to the fullest.

Although FCUG member Roger Van Pelt could not be present, Robert had filmed two presentations that Roger had discussed at our club meetings. There was a talk on VIC 20 maintenance by Louis Mazzei. Hardware developer Jim Drew showed some of the things he has created or is working on, including a device that lets the Commodore connect to the Internet via WiFi and display PETSCII graphics with an appropriate terminal program and website/BBS.

Late in the afternoon we enjoyed the VIC 20 birthday cake. Our special guest this year was Bill Seiler, an engineer for Commodore who had worked on the PET and VIC 20 machines. We asked him to do the honors in cutting the cake, which he did in a computer-appropriate binary manner, cutting the cake in half, then cutting each subsequent piece in half.

The day concluded with a round table talk with Bill, who discussed various behind the scenes aspects of the production of several Commodore machines. During Q&A he was asked how he got started in his life's work, and he explained, "I was the kid who was out in the yard taking clocks apart. Eventually I learned how to put them back together, and it went from there."

Once the day's events were over, a number of us made our traditional Saturday night walk to the nearby Main Street Station for the buffet. I didn't get a count, but we had at least a dozen for dinner.

After dinner many show-goers returned to the ballroom, to play and talk until all hours, although I headed for my room and was in bed by 9:30. Unfortunately, I missed a special guest who dropped into the room that night. Todd Bridges, child star of Different Strokes and Fish, was in town for a show, and made a short visit to "CommVEx After Hours." It turned out that he had been a Commodore owner back in the day.

The next day, we continued our demonstrations, talks, raffle drawings, socializing, and informal computer discussions. One thing that was new this year was the availability of commemorative T-Shirts, which regular attendee Tim Waite had designed and offered for sale. Here's a picture of your reporter dressed for CommVEx.

One of the main raffle prizes was a Commodore PET 8032, one of the earliest machines from CBM. It had a problem that Commodore repairman Ray Carlsen of Washington did not want to deal with, so he gave it to Robert. We fully disclosed that the item was offered "as is." Bill Seiler took this as a challenge, and worked on the machine off and on throughout both days. At first it looked like he was only going to be able to get it partly working, but near the final hour of the show, he resolved the problem, and we had a real working PET to give away. Bill drew the winning ticket, which belonged to Josh Johnston.

For the raffle prizes, we had boxes labeled with each item. People would buy as many tickets as they wanted, and drop them into the box for the prize(s) they wanted to win. A few items drew only three or four tickets, but quite a few of the boxes were well filled. When the show ended, in addition to Josh, the winners were:

Ricardo Quesada: 1581 disk drive & Dual Test Kit

Tyler Saylor: Amiga 2000 computer and SID Cartridge

Louis Mazzei: WiModem

Phillip Groven: WiModem

John Ferrill: Keyrah v2 (connects Commodore/Amiga keyboard to a modern computer)

Saj Awan: Ketek Command Center with two 1541 Disk Drives

Tim Waite: C128D computer

Jeff Krantz: WiModem and CMD Hard Drive

The WiModem, developed by Jim Drew, emulates a standard Hayes compatible modem, and allows the user to connect to bulletin board systems via the local router. He donated three of them for prizes, and sold a number of them to visitors at the event.

Although paid attendance was a little lower than last year, the increased admission and excellent raffle ticket sales made the event a success, leaving us less than $100 short of paying for the larger room for 2017.

In a development that unaccountably disappointed some people, I advised Robert and a few others I've come to know over the years that this would be my last time at CommVEx. There are a number of reasons, all valid to me, but in all honesty it comes down to "I'm too old for this stuff" (or maybe it's just "too lazy").

However, there are plans in the works for something new in June of 2017 - PaCommEx, the Pacific Commodore Expo Northwest, a Commodore show at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. Will I attend? The location is not far from Olympic National Park, so I will go to the Expo, then indulge my real love, hiking and sight-seeing in the beauty of nature.

With everyone happy about the larger room, the excellent prizes, and the delightful company, the show ended on a high note at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. We then began the arduous task of hauling all the equipment out to our vehicles, a job that takes several hours. Once this was done, about ten of us continued the tradition of Sunday night dinner at the California Hotel, just down Main Street from the Plaza. We got in line to be seated just after 9 p.m. so instead of the 9:30 bedtime I'd been able to observe Friday and Saturday I didn't get my night's rest started till 11 p.m.

I got on the road just after 8 a.m., Monday, August 1, and had a much more pleasant drive home. I ate the last of my snacks at the rest stop near Boron, finding a bit of shade in the 100 degree heat. Up the grade in Tehachapi it was 87 degrees, but 97 when I got back down to the San Joaquin Valley. My final stop was at the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains at Murray Farms, where I bought some grapes (fair) and peaches (excellent).

Since I stop at most rest stops, and take a brief nap if I feel sleepy, it was almost 5 p.m. when I rolled into my garage in Clovis, after a total trip of 811 miles.


--Dick Estel, August 2016

 

Photos (Click enlarge; photos open in a new window)

   

The local club is a big part of CommVEx

Portland's active user group has been at CommVEx for years New for 2016 - flashing lights!
The local club is a big part of CommVEx Portland's active user group has been at CommVEx for years New for 2016 - flashing lights! (Thanks to John Ferrell)
  
Assorted equipment, with a Commodore up on top Lots of toys for sale Lots of choices for raffle ticket buyers
Assorted equipment, with a Commodore up on top Lots of toys for sale

Lots of choices for raffle ticket buyers

   
Some of Jim Drew's equipment Preparing the unicycle joystick Ricardo Quesada controls game play with his unicycle
Some of Jim Drew's equipment Preparing the unicycle joystick Ricardo Quesada controls game play with his unicycle
   
Jim Drew and Owen Diamond Vincent and Louis Mazzei chat with Bill Seiler Bill and Vincent at the VIC 20
Jim Drew and Owen Diamond

Vincent and Louis Mazzei chat with Bill Seiler

Bill and Vincent at the VIC 20
 
James Williams and Josh Johnston Louis discusses VIC 20 maintenance Vincent with his pride and joy, a near-mint VIC 20

James Williams and Josh Johnston

Louis discusses VIC 20 maintenance Vincent with his pride and joy, a near-mint VIC 20
 
VIC 20 games Ketek Command Center with two 1541 Disk Drives Jim Drew and Greg Alekel sneak a snack
VIC 20 games Ketek Command Center with two 1541 Disk Drives

Jim Drew and Greg Alekel sneak a snack

 
A tasty VIC 20 Bill cuts the cake in a binary manner Robert shows off Tim Waite's CommVEx t-shirt 
A tasty VIC 20 Bill cuts the cake in a binary manner Robert shows off Tim Waite's CommVEx t-shirt 
 
Jim Drew delivers a talk on a bunch of subjects Bill Seiler with the PET that he repaired during the show Robert awaits Bill's announcement of the PET winner 
Jim Drew delivers a talk on a bunch of subjects Bill Seiler with the PET that he repaired during the show Robert awaits Bill's announcement of the PET winner 
 
The whole gang
The whole gang
 
Vince and actor Todd Bridges A smoggy morning in Las Vegas Fortunately it cleared off by the evening
Vince and actor Todd Bridges A smoggy morning in Las Vegas

Fortunately it cleared off by the evening

 
Related Links
History of Commodore CommVEx Forum Commodore Information Center
Old Downtown Las Vegas Another view of Downtown Fremont Street Experience
Fresno Commodore User Group Jim Drew's CBM Stuff VIC 20
Pacific Commodore Expo NW Carlsen Commodore Repair More CommVEx Photos
  Living Computer Museum Bill Seiler Video Jim Drew Video
C64 to Linux Transfer UniJoystiCle for the C64 Todd Bridges Chat
  
Previous CommVEx Reports and Photos
CommVEx 2006 CommVEX 2007 CommVEx 2008
CommVEx 2009 CommVEx 2010 CommVEx 2011
CommVEx 2012 CommVEx 2013 CommVEx 2014
   CommVEx 2015   
   
Fortunately it cleared off by the evening

Jim Drew and Greg Alekel sneak a snack

Some of Jim Drew's equipment

 
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Updated August 25, 2016