Last weekend I went to Retro Reunited 2009 at Cedar Court Hotel on Ainley Top. RR09 is an exhibition and conference for folks who have little better to do with their time than play with computers and games from 25 years ago; I count myself among those, being a consummate Acorn-head. The show was run by volunteers and this was the first to feature ‘Acorn World’, a completely separate conference room with as much BBC Micro and Acorn kit as we could cram into it: this was the latest incarnation of several years of these events and we’d always wibbled about putting Econet and things around the venue.
I’d volunteered to help set up on the Friday, showing up at the venue around 7pm with a car-ful of lighting, display equipment and a rather beefy PA I’d been asked to fetch along. I’d also packed the BBC Domesday Project for demonstration. Annoyingly it seemed lots of folks had been asked to bring stuff and it wasn’t needed, so quite a bit of kit went back to Wakefield that night (except then it was required, or wasn’t, or was… in the end I just gave up on that bit!).
On Saturday I arrived early enough to acquire one of Mark Haysman’s Retroclinic Datacentres, an ingenious piece of kit which enables you to connect FAT32-formatted USB2 devices to your BBC Micro. I fitted it on the Sunday morning before anyone else showed up and can report it does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a great piece of kit and I was able to download DSD and SSD images from my home fileserver over 3G, pop them on a memory stick, and play games we’d forgotten to bring with us!
Saturday was very very busy. One of the good things about welding conferences together is that there’s a lot of cross-pollenation which worked in favour Acorn World. I was demonstrating the Domesday system for around 6 hours straight and despite the lens focusing mechanism issue it kept up with the demand admirably. Jason over at The Centre For Computing History even brought his own Domesday player for me to faultfind but unfortunately we were unable to get it going.
Rob Sprowson (sprow.co.uk) was exhibiting, although he was on public transport so limited to what stock he could bring. Rob builds and sells add-ons for the BBC Micro and his latest creation is an ethernet interface which talks SMB so you can mount Windows shares from your Beeb. I’d acquired one some time back but hadn’t fitted it: it was a great time to give that a go since he was on-hand to assist. He also gave a smashing talk on the status of RiscOS Open, and inspired me to buy a Beagle board to play with when I get some time (that’ll be around 2039 when I retire then).
The main gaming room had the occasional bout of disaster: the first I knew about was on Saturday lunchtime when someone threw a pint of lager over a 4-way power distributor. Bang, off went he power to the whole room, cue bored-looking gamers in a dark hall. Got sorted quickly by all accounts tho.
There were also a few cancellations – sadly owing to family issues Rob (Irrelevant) couldn’t make it with his Viewdata setup, and chiptune musician pixelh8 pulled out citing health issues. That left things a little quiet on Saturday night, although we had a bit of a discussion about future events and (after some alcohol had been consumed) ended up looking for borderline-nudity on the Domesday system! Oh dear!
On Sunday we had a couple of (in)famous speakers: Mel Pullen who was a contractor at Acorn and engineered the Teletext and Prestel adaptors, and Steve Furber who designed the original BBC Microcomputer. Both were very interesting, and Steve was even requested to sign someone’s BBC Micro. I took a group shot at the end of the show (first time I’ve done that, not a bad attempt) at the request of the organisers – Steve’s the guy wearing the suit in the front row.
Some fun exhibition highlights: a fully-functional homebrew Acorn Electron on an FPGA, finding some of the Beeb music I wrote in 1991 on this Elk, discovering Nazi Tories on the Domesday, Risc OS on a Bush STB, finding the original pizza oven RPC slice which was on show at Acorn World ’95, a Speccy connected to a MicroVAX, and an Acorn Atom with a M128 Econet board.
On the ‘death-knell’ scale, we only had two machines go bang and Jason was hell-bent on fixing the PSUs afterwards. Hey, it wouldn’t be a retro event without the slight tinge of acrid smoke and ozone from a popped capacitor in the air.
There’d been quite a lot of discussion on the maillists about the venue: having organised stands and displays at these sorts of things quite a lot I nipped up with Dave Moore (Acorn organiser) some time back to check power and stuff. Consequently our bit was quite well organised and professional! I must admit I’m surprised ticket numbers were capped at 280 – the venue could have coped with a lot more.
I’d also liked to have seen a social being organised but that’s something for next time. The hotel beer was crap and expensive (£3.20 a pint!) and apparently the Coke was very very very pricey for something poured from a PET bottle – I don’t know, I took my own cans 😛 Nice courteous staff, although I preferred to stay in the Premier Inn about 5 minutes walk down the road, much cheaper and more comfy. The ‘Nag’s Head’ pub is cheaper for ale too.
I’ll look forward to the next one although the format needs some tweaking; well done to Gordon and Dave for organising it!