CommVEx 2011

Commodore Las Vegas Expo


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It was the best CommVEx ever; it was the worst CommVEx ever.

But before I get to that, a brief preface. This report will focus on the backstage and off stage aspects of the event, and the human interaction. For those interested in classic computers, the demonstrations presented, and the more technical aspects of the event, you can visit the 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo page. You can read about the beginnings of this event and previous shows by clicking on the various Las Vegas Expo links at the bottom of this page. For additional photos of previous events, go to the 2010 page and click on the links at the bottom for the desired year.


On July 22, 2011, I set off for Las Vegas for the 7th annual Commodore Las Vegas Expo. The weather has been unusually cool in the Fresno area this summer, but Las Vegas temperatures were predicted to be above 100. No worries - we spend most of our time indoors anyway.

After the usual trip south to Bakersfield on CA 99 and east on CA 58, with a lunch stop in Tehachapi, I arrived at the hotel a little after 4. There is a 20 million dollar renovation going on at our usual location, the Plaza, so we were across the street at the Las Vegas Club Hotel.

After getting checked in at the inefficient registration desk, and resolving a parking misunderstanding, I met up with Vegas Expo founder and director Robert Bernardo, and his right hand man Larry Anderson (I am his left  hand man). They had already brought in the equipment that is provided by the local Commodore club, and were well on the way to getting things set up.

The usual group of four or five early birds were there, some setting up equipment for demonstrations, or products for sale, and some just getting an early start playing with their favorite toys, vintage Commodore and Amiga computers.

Even before finding Robert and Larry, I had said hello in the halls to Greg Alekel and a couple of other guys from Portland, who were in the room by the time we got there. We were soon joined by Yul Haasmann, a Las Vegas resident who has been a regular at CommVEx from the start. Once we got things mostly ready for the show the next day, we left Larry to guard the room while Robert, Yul and I went to dinner at the Golden Gate Casino, where I had an above average club sandwich. Yul had moved to Las Vegas from Maine, so we discussed the shock of such a major climate change.

Yul also demonstrated his gambling method, which is to put into a slot machine no more than a one dollar bill. If he wins, he cashes out and walks away; if he loses, he walks away, having lost only a dollar. (By the way, every Vegas resident I've talked to who gambles has a secret method, not for winning big, but to avoid losing big.)

Although the hard-core Commodore enthusiasts tend to hang around the meeting room fairly late, I was hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour to rest up from my 8-hour, 400-mile journey. Sadly, this was not to be. The Club hotel is located on Fremont Street, which has become an open air entertainment venue. This includes a screen that is stretched above the street for a full city block, on which movies or any other images can be projected. Down on the sidewalk there are a couple of outdoor stages, and one of them had a very loud rock band playing every night. The music did not stop till 2 a.m., and I was unable to sleep. This experience was repeated Saturday and Sunday night, although the noise ended at 1 a.m. Sunday. Even so, I went three days without enough sleep, and was only able to sneak in a very brief nap a couple of times during the day.

I had booked the hotel through, and I was happy with the price, the ease of booking, and even the hotel itself in general. However, when I received an Email asking me to rate my experience, I let it be known that because of the loud music, this was my first and last time to stay at this particular hotel. So that explains "the worst." (See update #1 below)

The next morning Robert had the room opened at 8 a.m., and I arrived around 9 to help finish setting up. During this time I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Lenard Roach, who is the editor of our club newsletter (Fresno Commodore User Group). It might seem strange that I attend virtually every meeting and had not met the newsletter editor, but it's easily explained by the fact that he lives in Kansas City KS. He attended CommVEx a couple of years ago when I was absent, so I was glad to finally meet him. Lenard has also produced a book compiling some of his best writings about the Commodore, Run/Stop - Restore, available at Amazon.

We had a good talk about writing, and he also showed me his updated version of a checkbook program that I believe he wrote about 15 or 20 years ago. It needed a few tweaks, especially the Y2K issue, since the original program only accepted a two digit year, and when it saw 00, it just stopped working. I asked if he had to make a lot of changes; however, it was not the number of changes, but the need to carefully review every line of code for any date references that needed to be changed.

It was also fun to again see Jeff Krantz and his son Connor, Las Vegas residents and regulars. I first met them in 2006 when Connor was seven, so he's now 12, and we've sort of watched him grow up, at least one day a year. He and Jeff are both enthusiastic Commodore users, and usually try to win a new item of hardware that they don't already have. Connor is also our official ticket puller each year, and even at the jaded age of 12, has not lost his eagerness to help out with this task.

This barely scratches the surface of reporting on the various people I enjoyed talking with, but any attempt to list everyone will fall short due to the difficulty of digging out memories from my sleep-deprived mind. So I'll just say that with 22 people in attendance, I'd happily have dinner with all or any of them any time.

Once the show got under way, it was the usual mix of demonstrations, looking at stuff, informal discussions, and door prize and raffle drawings. Entrance in the door prize drawing is automatic with the entry fee, and although I say I don't need or want anything, I won a few prizes. For the door prizes, one choice was a sheet of customized stamps picturing Jeri Ellsworth, a well-known hardware developer in the Commodore world, and I figured stamps are equally good no matter whose picture they show.

I no longer own a Commodore computer, so despite being a member of a user group, I am what one fellow club member described as "a user in name only." Still, I enjoy seeing what new developments are taking place for this supposedly obsolete machine, and I especially enjoy meeting and talking with the wide variety of people who gather for this event. Thinking maybe I should have a Commodore, I also entered the raffle for one of the "big" prizes, an SX64 Commodore, which was an early "portable," or more accurately, a "luggable." I also tried for this prize last year, and met defeat with a mixture of disappointment and relief both times. (See update 2 below)

The next day I took a different approach to the raffle, putting my ticket in for an IBM PC that one of our attendees had donated, and this time I won. Of course, I don't have a place to put a second PC, but surely it will come in handy somehow. (See update 3 below)

At the end of Saturday's activities, a large group of us went to dinner at the Main Street Station, which has become our traditional Saturday buffet dinner location. This is a typical casino buffet, with various food choices (Mexican, Asian, American), and a large and very tempting dessert section. This is usually my downfall, and I had a piece of carrot cake plus some ice cream.

Although Sunday's program is similar to Saturday's, there is a looseness and maybe a bit of goofiness that creeps in and makes it even more fun (how else can you explain this picture?). By Sunday afternoon everyone has had too much Vegas and not enough sleep; everyone has become a little more comfortable with everyone else, and it takes on the atmosphere of a bunch of friends discussing a common interest, rather than a formal show.

Sunday night's dinner involved eight of us going to the California Hotel dining room, a sit down restaurant, where I had a fantastic fried chicken dinner (although their salad bar is about the lamest such facility I've ever seen, with very limited selection). The conversation ranged far and wide, including a discussion of "handedness" (left vs. right). Issues covered included whether you can brush your teeth with either hand (some said no, some said yes, one said "I'm ambidextrous"), and the long-standing custom of cutting meat with the right hand, then switching the fork from left to right to take a bite (works better for lefties).

We also talked about gambling and the odds of winning and losing, including one man's attempts to convince his young grandson that putting quarters in a claw machine is just gambling for kids, with odds of winning no better than a casino. (See update 5 below)

When we left the restaurant we somehow got separated into two groups, and I have not yet found out what the first group did. The rest of us were heading toward Fremont street, planning to catch up with the others, but got distracted by a presentation of 80s rock hits featuring about ten attractive young people in tight outfits singing and dancing. Although it was way too loud, I recognized most of the songs and enjoyed several of them. After that it was off to my hotel room, to read until the music stopped and I could get to sleep.

So - why the best? Meeting Lenard for the first time, watching Connor grow, the non-Commodore dinner conversation (nothing wrong with the Commodore part either), finding out what people I met at earlier shows are up to today, and not losing more than $21 in the slot machines.

The next day (Monday), I got started for home about 9:30, but took nine hours including a lunch stop in Barstow and a traffic jam in Bakersfield. Robert and the Andersons had to return equipment to the Las Vegas club, so didn't leave for a few more hours. Their destination was Stockton, which they reached about 10:45 p.m.

There's always a bit of concern planning the coming year's event...will we get enough people to cover the costs? Some money comes from sales of Commodore hardware and software during the year, but the biggest source of financing is admission and the raffle. Fortunately this year's event income was enough to cover remaining costs, and provide around half of next year's funding, so CommVEx 2012, number eight, will be back next July, and back at the Plaza, where perhaps I'll be able to get some sleep at night. (See update 4 below)

--Dick Estel, July 2011


2012 Updates

1. As it turned out, we were back at the Club in 2012, but my room was in the North Tower, were I did not hear any of the noise from Fremont Street.

2. Thanks to a donation of equipment and other Commodore stuff from the now defunct Jason-Ranheim Company, I am now the proud owner of an SX64, which sits in a corner out of the way and gets plugged in once every month or two. (Eventually I sold this machine to Lenard.)

3. I set up this PC next to my TV/Stereo system and use it to show photos on the HD TV, better than a slide projector.

4. It turned out that the Plaza was booked a year in advance, so we ended up back at the Las Vegas Club in 2012 also.

2015 Update

5. That young kid, my younger grandson, turned 18 in July 2015, and celebrated with his family at a Fresno area Indian casino. After dinner he played some blackjack, having received good advice from his father, an experienced player. He played conservatively, and won $40. After he cashed in he said, "Well, that'll be fun to do again in five years or so." This is a smart kid.


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window) 


Greg Alekel is happy to be at CommVEx Lenard Roach brings in his equipment Yul Haasmann makes a presentation
Connor wins the light-up Halloween cup Robert explains the radio-controlled
flight simulator program
Larry Anderson presents the
Multiple Classic Computer
The whole gang, Sunday afternoon Dick Estel, Greg Alekel,
Larry Anderson, Steve Davison
Robert's PET 8296-D from England
Lenard is a published author! SUX 64 Sound Expander One of many multiple-game devices
Related Links
Larry Anderson FCUG Portland Commodore Users Group
Las Vegas Club Hotel 2011 Las Vegas Commodore Expo page Amiga
Commodore Fremont Street Experience Lenard's CommVEx Report
Part 1           Part 2
The whole gang, Sunday afternoon
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