RISC OS SouthWest 2006
Aaron's show report...
Last issue we previewed the RISC OS South West show, which took place on Saturday the 18th of February at the Webbington Hotel in Somerset. So what was the show actually like?
As an exhibitor I usually stay at the hotel the night before the show, mainly because trying to drive to the west country down the M4 early on a Saturday morning can be murder. Of course we have moved since the last show, but old habits die hard and I still decided to drive down on Friday afternoon. I won't bore you with the latest motoring mishaps, besides which I would only be repeating my editorial, so lets just say that I loaded the car up and left just before 1pm.
As soon as I got on the M42 heading down to Birmingham I encountered the latest in the governments new "dig up the roads plan for congesting traffic" scheme. Then I had to crawl round the outside of Birmingham in the famous M42 variable speed limits. As an aside, how variable can stationary be? Then joined up with the M5 and headed towards Bristol. The aim was to make sure that I was past the great Bristol bottleneck before 5, when the roads grind to a full stop. But the road was already at full stop, caused by a cracking set of roadworks. Having crawled through them I finally arrived at the Webbington just after 5pm. Not bad, four hours to do a two and a half hour drive.
I checked in and went into the exhibition hall. A hotel employee was busy not arranging the tables. So did I recognise any cars in the car park? Yes. I could see Dave Holden's four wheel drive, what I couldn't see was Dave Holden. In the end I discovered that he was just grabbing four hundred winks in his room. By this time the tables had been set up, so we drove the vehicles round to the back of the hotel and unloaded. As usual I had forgotten my floor plan so I did exactly what I did last year and set up next to Dave. The fact that he wasn't sure which tables were his either didn't concern us. The trick is to set up before John Stonier (the show organiser) arrives, then make sure you are absent. That way the rest of the show gets arranged around you.
By six thirty we were set up, but very few other exhibitors had turned up. Later in the evening as the others slowly arrived we discovered why. There had been a very nasty accident on the M5 just before the roadworks. This caused very long delays. Of course in the case of Advantage6 the delay was increased by attempting to find the hotel using a GPS system. Every year someone tries this, and every year, without fail, GPS units send keen RISC OS developers down a tiny country lane ending in a closed gate. Oh well, at least they arrived in the end, even it was nearly 10pm in the evening.
In the meantime Dave and I had carefully sampled the contents of the bar. Then sampled the contents of our plates in the restaurant. I ordered what was described as a Beef Worcestershire. This proved to be a tin of Fry Bentos steak lumps in gravy with some horseradish dolloped on top. Hmmm...lovely. "My compliments to the Chef", he deserves them if he gets away with serving this rubbish.
Next morning dawned bright and clear, so it was two up on me before I had even started. By a combination of careful planning and hunger I arrived at the restaurant dead on 8am, just as it opened. "Would I like tea?", yes please, a pot of Lady Grey if you would be so kind. "What's that?" Ah, it's actually a type of arboreal badger. That didn't work, I settled for a pot of Earl Grey, although it tasted more like Earl Brown. Having carefully loaded my plate with bacon, beans, mushrooms and bacon I sat down to eat. Mike Glover advises me that sausages and eggs have now appeared. "The eggs are in short supply though." Well they are going to be in even shorter supply in a minute.
Having eaten 20 breakfasts I waddle back to my room, grab my stuff, then check out. I then position my car for a quick getaway after the show and enter the exhibition room. It's a lot busier than last night. I do my usual "wander round and annoy people who are trying to set up" routine and before I know it 10 o'clock has come and the show is open. So what was on show?
First stand inside the door was Advantage6. They were demonstrating a number of A9home machines as well as having stocks of various items, including fully populated UniPods. By the end of the show I was informed by Stuart that they had sold all the machines they had bought with them for their developer scheme. This allows people who develop RISC OS software to get hold of an A9, with a beta version of RISC SO Adjust32, for a discount.
Next along was John Norris with a large bell ringing apparatus. I think he might have got a bit tired of people asking if it was a gallows while he was assembling it. Anyway the bell was connected up to a RiscPC so that someone could learn bell ringing strokes. Although it's certainly a niche market it was a very interesting demonstration of what could be done with RISC OS.
Next door were Fortran Friends showing off their own bell ringing software as well as their various Polyhedra programs. Along from them was Dave Holden, from APDL, with his usual large range of RISC OS software. He also has some new Fourth Dimension games CD releases. You can read a review of one of these in this very issue. Next door to APDL was the VirtualAcorn stand. We had VRPC-Adjust on display and I spent quite a lot of the day pointing people over to the RISCOS Ltd stand so they could see the latest build of the Mac version of VRPC.
Across the gangway was Castle Technology's Jack Lillingston with a couple of Iyonix machines. He didn't seem to have any stock but was apparently taking orders for machines and for the DIY Iyonix kit which has been re-launched, at least that's what I was told. This allows customers to build up a machine with their own specification by buying all the standard parts, such as power supplies, drives, memory etc from PC box shifters. According to RISC OS news site Drobe Jack was also saying that the two versions of RISC OS now won't be merged. Hmm, you can spot the 180 degree skid marks from the u-turn a mile away. Jack also gave a talk in the lecture theatre which was similar to the one he gave last year. Surprisingly I didn't see any sign of Castle's technical supremo John Ballance, although I understand he was finishing off a new version of RISC OS 5 for release.
Next to Castle were OreganoUK who were showing off the latest beta version of Oregano3, but were tight lipped about a release date. Across from them R-Comp were doing a steady stream of Messenger upgrades as well as showing a number of new RiscCube computers, which apparently out perform an Iyonix by a considerable margin. Next to them was Chris Evans of CJE Micros. Chris doesn't seem to be having much luck with shows, he damaged his knee just before the Christmas Roadshow and this time his hired van kept breaking down. Luckily he had managed to arrive OK and had a vast range of RISC OS related kit on hand.
Further along Mike Glover was showing the latest versions of TechWriter and EasiWriter to those keen for an upgrade. These new versions ad been built using RISCOS Ltd's StubsG and works across all machines. He also told me the development plans for TechWriter. Although I am sworn to secrecy I'm really looking forward to seeing the applications new features later this year. Next door was Martin Wuerthner showing off ArtWorks2. He was looking very pleased with the interest being generated. He even did a talk in the lecture theatre on how to use Artworks properly. Some of those viewing the talk came out looking a bit gob smacked.
Across the walkway The Arm Club had copies of Eureka, the club magazine, for people to have a look at. Spellings Computer Services were showing the latest versions of the Geminus graphics acceleration package for the Iyonix. Apparently a new version can display large JPEG files at up to 3 times the speed of a standard machine. Next door Finnybank had back issues of Qercus available as well as a wide range of board games all created on RISC OS. RISCOS Ltd had a large stand with a number of machines, including a RiscPC, A9, PC and Iyonix and an iMac all running the same versions of RISC OS 4.4x. Also available were RISC OS Adjust ROMS for the RiscPC/A7000 at a tempting £69 for customers to take away.
The Arm Club and others
Along the aisle Archive publications were selling subscriptions to Archive magazine and Living with Technology. Further along were Mathmagical software, StrongARM systems (who had to leave early) and David Snell selling copies of ProCAD+ and also WebWonder.
So what was the show like? Well it was a bit quieter than I would have liked, especially when any of the talks were going on in the show theatre. Apparently the number of customers who attended was around the 150 mark, which is on a par with last year. Having said that I enjoyed myself and it was well worth attending. The worst bit? Driving all the way back up the M5 in the fog. Mind you, at least it only took just over 3 hours to get home.