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Clubbing in Cheshunt

Shiuming Lai hears echoes of JagFest UK near junction 25 of the M25

 

How much fun can you pack into three hours? Pop along to Cheshunt Computer Club (CCC) and you'll find out first-hand. Last month, three of the MyAtari team descended on one of the group's monthly meetings, two of them, Matthew Preston and Thomas Wellicome, for the first time. It turned out to be one of the busiest meetings in recent times, as regulars told me.

I decided to drive this time, so I could bring more than just a camera. Last time I tried to drive, in April 2000, I got hopelessly lost because I hadn't planned a route or brought a map (silly as is sounds), and I didn't want to take the M25. The very principle of taking that confounded carriageway around the houses for a journey that is more or less a straight line of half the length cutting through London seems absurd, besides, I like the scenic route.

There was no question of what to bring. My Falcon system has sprouted a ton of additional peripherals since the last time I actually did manage to get it to Cheshunt (my first ever visit, in 1999), and the trauma of unplugging and boxing it all up only to fail in getting to the club three years ago is a nightmare I still can't forget. My Mega STE it would be, with just the colour monitor for a spot of light entertainment, due to its built-in speakers. I also took a recently-acquired 1040STE, more of that later. To help cart the gear and in case of navigation difficulty, indeed to catch up with gossip, I enlisted the help of my old mate Mike Maranzano (Mr Lego Man - Atari UK 3, issue 26), currently on leave from the army. He brought his Vaio notebook PC, to run Atari Anniversary Edition, reviewed last month. I selected a few disks of my favourite ST games: No Second Prize, Wings of Death, Lethal Xcess, Magic Boy and Stardust. Obesssion was already on the hard disk, my original intention was to have a little competition but once again I'd left things too late to organize it properly.

In actual fact, the route through London was very simple, just straight up the North Circular (going past Peter West's part of town) and then onto the A10. Mike and I loaded up my car and I gave us two hours to get there, setting off at 16:30 and grabbing some nosh from McDonald's en route. Local traffic was usual for this time of day, hence my deliberately early start, but once we got towards Neasden, it was slowing to a stressful crawl because of road works! The weather was muggy and I didn't want to be sniffing diesel fumes so we shut all windows and turned on the air conditioning, except for the air recirculation function to work the air has to be directed downwards (not at the windscreen) and we ended up with frozen feet!

This state of traffic continued onto the A10, where the apparent lack of sign continuity had me worried a couple of times that we may have missed a junction (at least the other direction was not jammed, though). There was also a right-turn almost like a crossroads taking us past a Jehovah's Witness assembly hall. I could have sworn the A10 was pretty much straight according to Streetmap. Once we got past the worst of the jams we were in reasonably familiar territory but still no sign of Cheshunt. I finally stopped and asked a local, "Cheshunt? Another eight miles..." - I gave it some lead foot until I knew exactly where we were, then within a minute we were outside Wolsey Hall on Windmill Lane. Turning into the car park, I could already see Matthew Preston's car. I didn't want to have to carry all this stuff from the car park into the hall though, so turned back out and parked right outside the entrance. Derryck Croker greeted us, in his Daz-white T-shirt (great for my camera's white balance calibration if needed, I thought). We were about five minutes late but the club room was totally empty so we took our pick of tables while Derryck helped bring the equipment inside. Some other guys had arrived, but were in the fish and chip shop next door.

[Photo: Busy club]

By around 19:00 the room was starting to fill with all the regulars. I was most interested to get a glimpse of Mark Branson's Falcon tower project, in preparation for some CT60 acceleration. Steve Sweet worked on this as well as replacing Dallas clock chips on two Falcon motherboards. So, how d'ya do that, Steve?

    Um! Strip Falc' from its case, remove shielding, identify Dallas chip, de-solder with a 50 W temperature controlled iron and de-solder braid, check orientation of replacement (about three varieties are suitable according to Derryck), solder in replacement, make sure the bird is on an insulated surface, connect up bird, boot with floppy and set up Falc's boot res', time, date... using configuration CPX, re-assemble.

Short and snappy, we love it! Maybe we'll give Steve his own Speedy Gonzales DIY column, hardware hacks you can do in the time it takes to boil an egg, for those times when your appetite isn't up for a full-on solder-fest!

I brought a defunct i440BX-based PC motherboard, which I'm sure would work again if the bulging and corroded CPU slot capacitors were changed, for Mark Branson to salvage for parts. Since Atari crimped the floppy drive cable directly to a header on the motherboard in Falcons and 520/1040-class STs, Mark was going to use an extension cable for it to reach the drives mounted in the front of the tower case. I suggested a more elegant method would be to completely remove Atari's cable from the motherboard and solder in its place a 2 x 17 header, even better, one from a PC motherboard with the polarizing, notched plastic guide. I didn't have time to de-solder it from the PC motherboard so gave the whole thing to Mark, good riddance! In my box of tools I also had an IDC crimping tool, Steve used this to make a floppy drive cable of just the right length, helping keep the inside of the tower tidy.

[Photo: Steve Sweet's son and Mike Maranzano]

[Photo: Derryck Croker and Matthew Preston]

[Photo: Mark Branson and Steve Sweet]

[Photo: Wide angle shot looking towards bar area]

Other people I know but had not previously known to go to Cheshunt before were Felice, and Ian Smith, a MyAtari reader I'd met at JagFest. He's local to Peter West so they travelled together, both bringing their Falcons. Matthew Preston travelled light, bringing a small world of Atari goodies in his pocket, running on his (over-clocked!) iPaq. Atari people set up on the side of the room with windows, while the PC dadz set up on the other side (so that's why they call it so?!) with no windows except the one running on their machines. One chap had brought a 21" Trinitron monitor, I'm surprised the flimsy looking table didn't collapse under the weight. At least it was put to good use, I saw Peter West using it to read MyAtari in glorious high resolution and photo-realistic colour, after giving up on an iffy pre-2.x CAB in 16 colours where the page layout was also messed up! Speaking of MyAtari, I had a CD-ROM copy of the completed July issue, all 10 MB of it, to save dial-up modem users the long download.

Thomas Wellicome was stylishly late once more - but at least he delivers his MyAtari copy when he says he will! We went to the car park and excavated a 520STE from his car. You see, the 1040STE I had bought was fitted with 2 MB, but TOS 1.6, and as this is to be a project machine, it would be nice to have the less buggy 1.62. Thomas had recently got 1.62 in this 520STE which he got with two other STs and 600 disks for the meagre sum of 30, wiping the smug grin I had on my face for landing my 1040STE for 25 (and that's still a full 2 more than what the master of bargains paid for a fully working TT!).

Between snapping photos at every available opportunity I took care of the games running on my Mega STE. First up was Obsession, the slick STE pinball game, this proved popular as ever though I didn't get to set any new records. I once spent three hours straight, as long as a full CCC meeting, setting my highest score on that.

Next was No Second Prize, I got Mike to have a go at this first, since he's a biker and should appreciate the sensitive control of a motorcycle at speed. Off the bike he came, several times! Yep, I was right about the controls. Glad he doesn't ride like that in real life. I then borrowed a joystick from Ian Smith for a session of shooting in space, with Stardust. Mike had been playing Asteroids, upon which Stardust is based, from the Atari Anniversary Edition compilation earlier. Gorgeous new graphics but the same fantastic old game-play.

Hunger was setting in for some - I headed out to the chip shop with Ian Smith and Mike. Too bad it was closed, so we walked a bit further around the corner to the local Tesco supermarket (incidentally, Tesco's company headquarters is also in Cheshunt). Mike grabbed some salad and I got a chicken and sweetcorn sandwich and a couple of bottles of Coke, one of them the newfangled Vanilla Coke. Matthew Preston didn't appreciate this at first taste, but the trick is to drink it expecting cream soda, not standard Coca-Cola. Then the mind doesn't get confused! Of course, if you don't like cream soda then don't even bother trying this stuff.

The last game to be played on my Mega STE was Magic Boy, a very nice and colourful platformer. Again, this was enjoyed by all who played.

[Photo: Steve Sweet's son playing Magic Boy]

[Photo: Outside view of the club room]

[Photo: Sea-sickness camera handling!]

[Photo: Paul Gibbs, Thomas Wellicome and Matthew Preston]

Towards the end of the evening, I plugged my camera into the composite video input of my Philips monitor and ran a slideshow of all the JagFest UK pictures I took, which were still on the Memory Stick. This included many pictures not used in my final report last issue, so was a treat for everyone, not only those who didn't go to the event. For a moment a few people thought my Mega STE was a TT with graphics card, showing these photographic quality images! Topping it off and making it feel like JagFest all over again, while the slideshow was running, I had my Mega STE running ProTracker and playing the actual mod-file music from the Tempest 2000 game, specifically, Mind's Eye, the instantly recognizable tune that was constantly blasting out over that sunny weekend in Kent. Meanwhile, a game of classic mode Pong was running on Mike's notebook. Here he is playing against Steve Sweet's ten year old son, and losing!

[Photo: Mike Maranzano playing Pong against Steve Sweet's son]

Mike and I were the first to leave, as he had other things to attend to. Thomas had just finished the TOS chip swap operation. My STE didn't have any screws or internal shielding, for easy access. He had lots of screws left over after re-assembling his machine, as is always the way! My stuff was packed away with military efficiency then we were pelting back down the A10, to hit more road works. Three lanes into one at 22:00, figure that one out. We still got back quicker than it took to get there. Another day closed, with renewed energy.

shiuming@myatari.net

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, August 2003

 
Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine