The Commodore Las Vegas
Expo has been around for 12 years. I attended the second
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
of the Fresno Commodore
User Group. Without him, neither our club nor the expo would
There's plenty of
information on line about Commodore Business Machines, the various
computers they made, the current state of Commodore, and company
Tramiel, so I won't go into it here. You'll find links to a lot
of this information at the Commodore
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 Plaza is right across
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
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
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:
1581 disk drive & Dual Test Kit
Saylor: Amiga 2000 computer and
Louis Mazzei: WiModem
Ferrill: Keyrah v2 (connects Commodore/Amiga keyboard to a modern
Awan: Ketek Command Center with two 1541 Disk Drives
Waite: C128D computer
Krantz: WiModem and CMD Hard Drive
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
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.
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").
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.
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.
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).
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