photo diary by Shiuming Lai
meetings are a nice way to lose yourself
with fellow hobbyists for a few hours usually.
If you're looking for more of a good thing,
then perhaps you should consider one of
the international conventions which last
several days, for some serious immersion!
One day I
logged on to the Unconventional web site
and saw I'd been volunteered as an administrative
associate (UK enquiries), so I thought I'd
better go this time. Besides, I'd been working
many weekends as well over the past year
so what better excuse.
6 September 2001
My first day of holiday
this year started on a relaxed, sunny morning.
The plan was to make my way to Heathrow
Airport at 13:00, after lunch (check-in
time was 16:00). At 11:00 I was casually
making the cover artwork for a CD-ROM I
recorded for UC2001. Good job no later than
11:30 I checked my passport, confident it
would be the last of my worries, to find
it had expired by ten days! It didn't seem
that long ago it was stop-gap extended by
two years due to a major case of knickers
in a twist at the UK Passport Office. In
the next 30 minutes I found the emergency
replacement procedure, packed my luggage
(skipped lunch) and made a dash for the
train station because the office was due
to close at 14:00. 98 minutes later, including
a detour to find a main post office for
the application form and shopping for a
black pen to fill it in (I had a pen but
it was the wrong colour, of course), I was
£40 lighter and holding a new passport.
travelling to the airport was a comparatively
pedestrian affair. There was plenty of time
to read a newspaper and magazine as well
as catch up on lunch. Take-off was delayed,
and to compensate, the Lufthansa pilot activated
warp drive, so we landed pretty much on
time only to be delayed again because there
was no available parking space.
at Frankfurt, I somehow ended up appearing
from the departure hall. I soon found the
arrival area one floor below, where Mad
Butscher was waiting in his Atari T-shirt
for easy identification, though I managed
to pick him out of the crowd by the back
of his head.
ado, we embarked on the long drive to Lengenfeld.
Apparently Mad Butscher's driving is slow,
by German standards. Certainly this is so
far the only country I've been where you
can reach 140+ km/h and still be overtaken
like you're not moving. Even when I saw
brake lights ahead, there didn't appear
to be any corresponding sense of slowing
of hours later we stopped at a Burger King
drive-in. Fast-forward a few more hours
and we were at Helmut Weidner's house in
Lengenfeld. Mr XY, RIK, Charon and Floppy
Doc were already assembled with Helmut and
the beer freely flowed. Helmut, Mr XY and
I all stayed at the house while the rest
went up the hill to sleep at the venue.
7 September 2001
Later that morning,
for that's how late it was, we loaded up
two cars with crates of beverages and ST
computers. Inside the hall, Mad Butscher
was one of the first awake and we proceeded
to lay out the floor plan (I mistook a very
detailed game map by Helmut's family for
a plan of the hall, wondering where we'd
get so many tables!). Last year there was
a situation where the first 8-bit guys set
up on one side of the hall and the 16/32-bit
guys the opposite. Thus, all subsequent
arrivals followed the same pattern, negating
the original intention to mix the groups.
Conscious of this we made sure it didn't
happen again this time.
picked the ST, VCS2600 and Jaguar games
to be played in the gaming contests. It
wasn't long before the Dutch woke up. Fox-1,
The White Warrior and TXG.
Once a few
tables and machines had been set up and
a few beers opened, the early visitors got
warmed up by playing a round of VCS2600
Decathlon. This famous joystick-breaker
of a game makes even armchair sportsmen
endure great pain and stress, as Mad Butscher
Being a Friday,
the majority of visitors hadn't yet arrived,
mainly due to work. However, there was already
a good amount of stuff on show. Floppy Doc
was first to set up his systems, consisting
of a 65XE with XEP80 80-character display
adaptor, and an 800XE, all fed from an uninterruptible
power supply. The 800XE was very special
in having a built-in 2.5" 4GB IDE hard
disk. I looked inside and it was very professionally
installed, he even drilled (carefully!)
through the interface PCB to avoid sawing
off a plastic screw mounting post inside
the XE case. Most impressive was the HDD
activity LED mounted in the top-left of
the case, the rectangular hole was cut so
well the LED fitted perfectly and it looked
as if it had come this way from the factory.
Unsurprisingly, Floppy Doc is a highly respected
technical wizard on the 8-bit scene.
fat capacitor filters the drive
stepping disturbances on the
+5V line, which would otherwise
cause system crashes. The drive
itself is secured to the back
of the case by two of its side
Look at the quality
of that LED installation.
we had a small computer with
built-in hard disk, here's Charon's
big computer with the hard disk
hanging out! He was demonstrating
his real-time strategy game
and making peanut butter sandwiches.
Black Box hard disk interface
dressed in an old PC case. Funny
to look at, the keyboard is the
Platari from the
Czech Republic brought an interesting item
made in his home country, a 1-pin printer.
We saw this industrially-built device in
action, and learnt that it's also compatible
with other 8-bit machines.
Warrior had a 16MB RAM board for his Falcon,
populated by four SIMMs. Two were mounted
upright so the top shield had to be cut
and the only nearly suitable tool was a
pair of ordinary scissors. It worked, so
can't argue with that!
Two, possibly drunken
Dutchmen painting pictures of
Pac Man with fangs and heavy
evening we had our first visitor from Switzerland,
Topy44. He's actually a PC owner, but runs
Linux and is not your typical PC user. His
case is sprayed black with airbrush artwork.
He found the Unconventional 2001 by searching
on the internet for interesting and unusual
events. A PC user at an Atari convention
is about as unconventional as it gets! He
showed us a very interesting program on
his Game Boy, a complete tracker-style sequencer
package with graphical synth wave editor!
He also used this opportunity to demonstrate
the 1989 vintage first generation Game Boy's
richer sounding audio circuitry. It's beginning
to look like a revival of premium-priced
analogue synth phenomenon at a pocket-sized
scale. The obvious question is when will
some Atari guys do this on the Lynx?
Here's the familiar
tracker notation screen and
the PC-based catridge programmer
8 September 2001
The chat and games lasted well
into the early hours and I was the last
man standing. Playing Raiden on the Jaguar
all night was immensely draining so I duly
trekked off to the town centre in search
of food and get some oxygen in the brain.
I found a cake shop but it was too early
and so wasn't much on offer. Back up the
hill on an empty stomach, to find the local
newspaper's photographer had arrived and
was waiting for me... Every year the paper
reports on the convention and features the
furthest-travelled visitor. Last year's
winner was Nir Nary from Israel.
Left to right:
Mirko Sobe, RIK, Floppy Doc,
Helmut Weidner, Carsten Strotmann,
Mad Butscher and Shiuming Lai.
Mad Butscher's Mega
ST, for the ST gaming contest stopped working
quite suddenly, a slight drawback which
presented itself as an opportunity for me
to take something apart. Cause of failure
was a ruptured component on the power supply,
this couldn't be fixed on-site so Helmut
conjured up another ST to take over.
used the 800XE with built-in hard disk to
demonstrate his very impressive BOSS-X GUI,
running MyDOS from a 16MB partition. Mirko
has developed BOSS-X for about eight years
and the hard work shows. Rather than try
to ape the ST, it comes from the ground
up and makes good use of the technology
and screen space available on the 8-bits.
It can display proportional fonts, has newly
designed icons (not just ported from the
ST) and tricks like DLIs and PMGs to get
more colours on screen in the high resolution
GR.8 mode. BOSS-X is one smooth operator.
Font editor? You
Icon editor with
Text viewer to
Choose a colour.
The title bar can have an eight-level
Our second Swiss
visitor, Sacha Hofer. He donated
a prize of Swiss chocolate and
a Swiss Army knife. Just the
thing for taking Atari computers
It's the Atari
A nice view of
the town below.
of RAF arrived on Saturday afternoon
with a keyboard, driven by a
MIDI file player on his 800XL.
He even had a MIDI sequencer
up his sleeve.
took part in the hard disk throwing contest.
Mad Butscher demonstrated the discus style
swing (without full rotation), which resulted
in two near-misses of parked cars next to
the field! He nearly got hit himself by
the "ball-boy" returning the battered
chunk of metal in a variety of random throws.
if it ain't broke, use it for
a throwing contest..."
Falcon: On the processor expansion
slot is a Matrix ScreenEye video
capture board, there's a Phantom
bus accelerator and the standard
Atari 4MB RAM board is upgraded
with a 16MB SIMM stuck on and
hand-soldered to the pins with
lots of tiny wires. Amazing.
into town, this time at 20:00.
Everyone in bed already?
Flag competition. Mad Butscher
bashing away at his 8-bit Forth
RIK. Beer. Cigarette.
of Triple A Mag, on his Acorn
day drew to a close and I was starting to
feel the effects of constant activity. I
travelled light, without a sleeping bag,
thinking I'd get a hotel room. None of this
was organised in time and I'd probably have
missed some of the fun by going off to a
hotel. Two options for sleeping were immediately
available, behind the large stage curtain,
or anywhere on the floor of the hall. Eventually
I looked where nobody had thought of looking
before, up on the wooden balcony above the
entrance, and there before my tired eyes
was a sofa-bed. Rather handy! Took a hanging
cloth off the wall for a bed cover and hey
presto, I slept better than anyone with
a cramped sleeping bag or squeaky bone-crunching
9 September 2001
were given out early afternoon, as people
were ready to go home. Mr XY took the first
three of five CD prizes for the gaming contests,
Thomas Grasel won the hard disk throwing
and even I won something, for what I'm not
sure but I chose Fading Twilight CD 1, an
autographed collection of Atari scene music
compiled by MC Laser.
and I packed up at 16:00 along with the
last of the vistors, had a short break at
Helmut's house with Mr XY, RIK and Charon,
then we met again one last time at the local
service station for a fill-up and snack.
For a Sunday afternoon, there was an extraordinary
amount of traffic on the motorways.
10 September 2001
Back at Mad Butscher's
flat in Wiesbaden, I slept until midday,
by which time he'd already written two pages
of the convention report for ABBUC's member
town centre we headed for lunch. Mad Butscher
had to visit the post office en route, and
when we came out, what did we bump into
other than an Atari ST disguised as a business
card vending machine...
Atari in public:
That's what I call a tower case!
These machines are also in service
all over the London Underground
today, and were widely deployed
in Hong Kong when I last visited,
awakening meant further touring wasn't possible
and soon I was heading to Frankfurt Airport
for the journey home. A good time was had
the following people:
Butscher for the transport and organisation.
Weidner for keeping everything in order.
for the pizza menu translations, otherwise
I'd have ordered what I thought was
chicken for a third time and got ham
who made the event possible and the
other visitors for making it so interesting.