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Unconventional 2001 logo

A photo diary by Shiuming Lai


User group 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.

Thursday 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.

After this, 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.

Upon arrival 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.

Without further 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 down!

A couple 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.

Friday 7 September 2001

Lengenfelder Carneval Club hall entranceLater 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.

Helmut randomly 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.

Helmut Weidner, local organiser

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 shows here!

Decathlon competition

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.

Atari 800XE internal

That 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 mounting holes.

800XE exterior with additional LED

Look at the quality of that LED installation.

Charon's Falcon

First 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.

Mad Butscher's 800XL with Black Box

Mad Butscher's Black Box hard disk interface dressed in an old PC case. Funny to look at, the keyboard is the computer!

1-pin printer from Czech Republic
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.

The White 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!

Fox-1 and TXG painting Pac Man

Two, possibly drunken Dutchmen painting pictures of Pac Man with fangs and heavy artillery.

In the 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?

Topy44's Game Boy music software

Here's the familiar tracker notation screen and the PC-based catridge programmer (inset).

Saturday 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.

Article from local newspaper

Left to right: Mirko Sobe, RIK, Floppy Doc, Helmut Weidner, Carsten Strotmann, Mad Butscher and Shiuming Lai.

Saturday morning

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. 

BOSS-X start screen

Mirko Sobe 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.

BOSS-X desktop

BOSS-X desktop.

BOSS-X desktop with background picture

Background picture, no problem.

BOSS-X font editor

Font editor? You got it.

BOSS-X icon editor

Icon editor with compliments.

BOSS-X text viewer

Text viewer to go.

BOSS-X folder properties

Folder properties.

BOSS-X colour preferences

Choose a colour. The title bar can have an eight-level colour gradient.

Platari from the Czech Republic

Unconventional 2001 T-shirt


Sacha Hofer from Switzerland

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 apart.

Rare Atari goodies for sale

Fox-1's Atari van

It's the Atari van!

Town view from the hall

A nice view of the town below.

Harry Reminder of RAF

Harry Reminder 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.

Everyone 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.

Mad Butscher with the hard disk for throwing

"OK guys, if it ain't broke, use it for a throwing contest..."

Bohdan's Falcon

Bohdan Milar's 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.

Exterior view of the hall

Lengenfeld in the evening

Another stroll into town, this time at 20:00. Everyone in bed already?

Checkered Flag compo

Checkered Flag competition. Mad Butscher won.

Checkered Flag compo

Carsten Strotmann

Carsten Strotmann bashing away at his 8-bit Forth interpreter.

RIK the musician

RIK. Beer. Cigarette. Musician.

Bastian Moritz

Bastian Moritz of Triple A Mag, on his Acorn RiscPC.

Another 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 fold-up bed!

Sunday 9 September 2001

Dutch beer bottles

Awards ceremony

Bohdan showing his prize

The awards 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.

Mad Butscher 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.

Monday 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 magazine.

Into the 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 ST 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, in 1993.

My late awakening meant further touring wasn't possible and soon I was heading to Frankfurt Airport for the journey home. A good time was had by all.

Thanks to the following people:

  • Mad Butscher for the transport and organisation.
  • Helmut Weidner for keeping everything in order.
  • RIK for the pizza menu translations, otherwise I'd have ordered what I thought was chicken for a third time and got ham yet again.
  • All who made the event possible and the other visitors for making it so interesting.

Useful links

MyAtari magazine - Feature #9, September 2001

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Copyright 2001 MyAtari magazine