Justin & Karen Pope

Robert Bernardo

Las Vegas Expo 2008
  
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July 26, 2008: It’s late July and for the last four years that has meant the annual Commodore Las Vegas expo (CommVEx). This is a small gathering of enthusiasts who continue to work with and advance the 1980s era Commodore brand of computers. Although the C64 was the biggest selling computer in history, and the first introduction to computing for many, it has been replaced by faster, newer machines, and relegated to the category of “classic,” along with its immediate successor, the highly popular C128.

Even so, diehard Commodore fans have developed ways to make their machines come close in performance to more modern Windows-based PCs – including high-speed Internet connections, printing with laser printers, and working with CD-ROMs.

This show was the brainchild of Robert Bernardo, president of the Fresno Commodore Club (FCUG), along with a couple of other dedicated Commodorians in Canada and Nevada. Las Vegas was chosen because it’s a “happening” place, and the local club was able to provide support and equipment.

Although I virtually never use my Commodore any more, I have remained a loyal member of FCUG, and planned to attend all the expos. Various circumstances prevented me from coming to #1 and #3, but I was here in 2006 and I am here again in 2008, at the Plaza Hotel in old downtown Vegas. In addition to helping Robert carry in and set up equipment, as club treasurer I am the registrar, ticket seller, and accountant.

I left home early yesterday, getting on the road about 6:30 a.m. I’m driving the Honda, not towing a trailer, so I was able to move along pretty fast. I stopped in Tehachapi for an early lunch at about 10 a.m., and arrived in Vegas about 3:30.

It’s been a year of change, which caused this to be my longest trip of the summer. I had planned to travel across the southern U.S. with my grandson Mikie, as far as Alabama, but I changed my mind. I moved in June, so a trip of that nature was just not a good idea. Then we decided to make it a week long trip to northern California, which would have delayed my move to July, but neither of us was very enthusiastic about this journey, so I decided to stay home and get moved a little earlier.

The visit to Las Vegas was going to be the final stop on my long southern journey, so I was pretty much committed to being here one way or another, and now I am.

We put in a few hours setting up last night, and have been here since about 8:30 this morning, with the official opening of the show ten minutes away at 11 a.m. We already have eight people here, most of whom will be doing some kind of demonstration during the show. Since the expenses come out of Robert’s pocket, everyone pays admission regardless of their duties or level of participation.

In the early days of Commodore, there were several print magazines devoted to the brand, as well as one disk-based magazine called Loadstar. Amazingly, although all the print publications are long gone, Loadstar continues on, and the current editor/publisher, Dave Moorman and his wife Shari, are here for their first CommVEx show.

Also in attendance is Justin Pope, whose focus is the Amiga computer, a Commodore product that followed the highly successful C128. The Amiga uses a graphic based interface (like Windows and McIntosh), but was an innovator in quality sound and graphics before they were routine on other PCs. Justin has four different Amiga models set up for demonstration. His family had a video production company when he was a kid, and he started working with the Amiga at around age 11.

A repeat attendee is Yul Haasmann of Las Vegas, who has set up a MIDI keyboard connected to his Commodore. These computers were known for good sound in their heyday, and work well with various music accessories and programs.

Robert Bernardo showed off the 20-minute video he created which gave a look at Commodore/Amiga club activities in California, as well as how the band, Warp 11, is connected to Amiga. The video included the proceedings of the Southern California Commodore Amiga Network (SCCAN), The Other Group of Amigoids (TOGA), and the Fresno Commodore User Group, including our giant club storage facility for abandoned equipment. He had shown this video in England, the Netherlands, and Belgium, and the crowds at those European shows and clubs found it highly entertaining.

My small contribution was a discussion of the Font Resource Directory (FRD), a printout of over 1000 fonts used in the GEOS program. GEOS was a disk-based, alternate operating system for the Commodore 64/128 that turned it into a point and click machine, similar to Macintosh.  When I was editing the club’s newsletter, I wanted a way to see what the different fonts available looked like. I made a printout showing each character in the available fonts, starting with about 30 pages. Eventually the FRD grew to ten times that size. I made it available at cost to fellow Commodore users, selling around 100 copies over several years.


July 27: We’re getting ready for the second and final day, starting in about 90 minutes. Attendance yesterday was not what we had hoped, but we were afraid that interest might be declining. Also some of the regular Commodore people who attract attention could not attend this year. Even so, everyone is having a good time – meeting and talking with other Commodore enthusiasts, looking at rare equipment, and watching the demonstrations. The highlight yesterday was a teleconference with Bil Herd and Andy Finkle, two men who worked for Commodore during the early days, and helped design the C128 and Amiga.

In the realm of equipment, we have some items that were made only in Europe (the Commodore was heavily promoted and very successful overseas), and lots of newer items made to enhance the computer’s performance for the 21st Century.

Two more repeat visitors are Jeff Krantz and his 9-year old son, Connor. Connor has been pressed into service to draw the tickets for the various raffles for the last three years, and is eager and enthusiastic in performing his duties. I think if he had his way, the event would be one long raffle.

We had three or four drawings this morning before Connor arrived, so we chose the next youngest person present, Josh Shiflet, who is over 21 but probably under 25. Josh did his best Connor impersonation, jumping up and down excitedly when it was time to draw, although I thought his enthusiasm waned a bit by the fourth drawing. Fortunately, the Krantzes arrived in time to take care of most of the work in that area.


When the show ended yesterday, about eight of us enjoyed the hotel’s $7.77 buffet, then came back to the meeting room. After this, everyone did their own thing…some went home, I went to my room with my current novel, and a couple of diehards played with the toys till nearly midnight.

This morning I tried my hand at the slot machines with little success – win a few, lose a lot. I cashed out when I had about $4 left, hoping that voucher would be my key to riches later today.

I went back downstairs a little later and put my $4 voucher in a nickel machine. I would bet five and win two, so switched machines, got down to my last nickel, then hit a $40 jackpot, doubling my initial investment. When that happens, it’s time to quit – but will I? (In the evening I tried my hand again, but quit when my winnings were down to $15 – enough to pay for my two buffet dinners.)

We’ve had a few more people in today, plus most of yesterday’s attendees have returned, and we have a full schedule of demonstrations. My own contribution was going to be a discussion of Big Blue Reader, a program that allows the conversion of Commodore text files to PC format. This has been a boon for many former Commodore users who have their life story, genealogy files or even a book they were writing on a bunch of Commodore disks, which can’t be used in any existing Windows PC. BBR converts most Commodore formats to plain text files, which can then be loaded and edited in any PC word processor. Our club has provided this service for two or three years, and has made a number of folks happy who thought their old files were lost forever. Sadly for the attendees at this event, we ran out of time before I could do my demonstration.

There were several interesting demos today. The highlights:

Dot.Basic by Dave Moorman

DotBASIC Plus, an object oriented BASIC extension for the C-64, with a library of some 90 commands now, including bitmaps and SID playing.

C64HDriver by Dave Moorman

Using Robert Bernardo ’s 64 HDD Loadstar Tower, Dave demonstrated this graphical user interface which simplifies use of the 64 HDD. He mentioned that a C128 version of this HDriver GUI is being developed.

The Video Toaster by Justin Pope

During the prime years of the Amiga, a third party company developed an accessory called the Video Toaster. Combined with the Amiga, this amazing $1500 device allowed the creation of special video effects previously possible only with expensive professional equipment costing ten times as much. Justin’s family made use of the unit as part of a video production company they operated for a number of years.

1541 Ultimate by Josh Shiflet

After Robert Bernardo showed his interview with the developer of the 1541 Ultimate, Josh gave his presentation. The 1541 Ultimate is a European SD-card product that emulates the classic Commodore 1541 drive, right down to the familiar grinding and head-knocking sounds (digitally reproduced). Among other things, it allows loading files directly from D64 emulation disks.

Amiga Forever by Michael Battilana

Michael is from Italy, where he works for a software developer whose products include a CD ROM package (Amiga Forever) that preserves thousands of Amiga games and demos. The package includes everything needed to run different emulation engines, operating system versions, games and demo productions in simple one-click steps. Michael generously made a copy of the product available as a raffle prize.

We finished up around 5 p.m., and began the laborious project of hauling everything out of the meeting room. I had brought a small luggage carrier, and had about three loads of stuff to take to my car, up a ramp, then up the elevator one story, and out to the garage. Robert had to return a carload of items to Al Jackson of the Las Vegas club, who kindly provided a half dozen or more set-ups, including monitors, keyboards, and disk drives. We made about five trips, up the ramp, but at least not up the elevator.

Then we had another carload of items that Robert had brought from his home in Visalia, which all had to go up the elevator to his room on the 8th floor. We made at least four trips with this material. Our thanks go out to Dave, Sheri, and Josh, who helped with this project.

We had dinner at the buffet again, staying and talking long after dinner was finished, until we got kicked out by employees eager to clean up and go home. We headed for our respective hotel rooms, with another successful Commodore Vegas Expo behind us.

I left about 8:30 the next morning, and stopped at the Sizzler in Barstow about 11:30. It was virtually empty when I walked in, but soon four busloads of tourists came in, filling the place to near capacity, and making it a battle to get back to the salad bar. Even so, I managed to eat too much. I continued my long and tiring trip, getting into Fresno about 5 p.m.

--Dick Estel, July 2008

 

Photos

The Commodore Flag waves over CommVEx Dave & Sheri Moorman When not drawing tickets, Connor kept busy with games
The Commodore Flag waves over CommVEx Dave & Sheri Moorman When not drawing tickets, Connor kept busy with games
 
Justin & Karen Pope & their raffle prize Robert Bernardo Keith Henrickson meets the Moormans
Justin & Karen Pope & their raffle prize Robert Bernardo Keith Henrickson meets the Moormans
 
Michael Battilana from Italy explains the Amiga Forever project Josh with his Commodore soccer jersey Jeff Krantz & Paul Armstrong of the Las Vegas club
Michael Battilana from Italy explains the Amiga Forever project Josh with his Commodore soccer jersey Jeff Krantz & Paul Armstrong of the Las Vegas club
 
Yul Haasmann of Las Vegas Jeff Krantz & Paul Armstrong of the Las Vegas club  

Dr. Cameron Kaiser is Ready

Yul Haasmann of Las Vegas Jeff Krantz & Paul Armstrong of the Las Vegas club Dr. Cameron Kaiser is Ready
 
For many more photos, go to the official CommVEx photo page
 

Related Links

Justin Pope Profile FCUG Larry Anderson
Amiga Forever Commodore Information Center CommVEx 2005
Cameron Kaiser's Web Site CommVEx 2006 Changes & Updates to Commodore Pages
Loadstar Loadstar C64 Wiki Dave Moorman
  
Connor Krantz

Josh with his Commodore soccer jersey

 
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Updated July 21, 2017