The South West Show is dead – long live The South West Show

This year’s RISC OS South West Show almost didn’t happen. Paul Middleton of RISCOS Ltd, the show’s organiser for the last few years, revealed recently that he normally waits for the Webbington Hotel, the show’s usual venue, to reduce the prices of the rooms in which the show can be held – and it seems even more recently (early January, according to Archive 23:4, p4), Paul said that he wouldn’t be organising another show. Richard Brown of Orpheus Internet soon stepped up, with Andrew Rawnsley and R-Comp joining him to make sure we still had a show in the South West.

Considering that neither had any experience of actually organising a show, and that they only had a very short time in which to do it in order to ensure the show took place at its normal time of year, they should both be applauded for their efforts: Both visitors and exhibitors alike seem to have found the show an enjoyable and successful one.

Including me!

That’s right, for the first time in at least ten years, with my Soft Rock Software hat on (well, it’s a baseball cap actually, and I can’t find it at the moment, so I didn’t actually have it on – but then, I wouldn’t when sat at a desk, so I don’t know why I even mentioned it), I booked a stand at my local show.

Normally, I don’t bother with this show because I’m simply too busy at this time of year, and I tend to make that worse by taking a holiday in February (which has itself clashed directly with the show occasionally), and this year was originally set to be no different: I had no intention of attending as an exhibitor, though I had decided to come along as a visitor (which I’d also managed to do for the 2011 South West Show). However, late in the afternoon on Tuesday 25th February, I started thinking about booking in as an exhibitor, even though I had almost no time to prepare, and emailed Andrew about it. By the end of the evening I had decided: I’d have a stand.

I couldn’t really do much to prepare, other than quickly churn out an up to date flyer for the Bristol RISC OS Users (a user group and mailing list formed from the ashes of BARUG, the old Bristol Area RISC OS User group – long after those ashes had been dispersed by the wind). Needless to say, there was a mistake on the flyer which Trevor Johnson, my co-conspirator in the group’s formation, spotted part way through the show: I’d included the wrong postcode for the pub at which we plan to hold our meetings over the course of 2012 (checking now, it turns out to be the postcode of the pub in which we held the first meeting – which Trevor speculated it might be).

There was one aspect of preparing for the show that I didn’t need to worry about: I didn’t have to drag my display stand out of storage to put in the car, because it was still in the car from the last one I attended – the 2011 London Show in October.

Come Saturday morning and the need to load the car, I decided that rather than disconnect everything from my TV and take that along (it is my normal monitor for both the IYONIX and the ARMini), I’d dig an old monitor out that I knew was in my bedroom cupboard. What I didn’t realise when I made that decision was that it was right at the back: As I ventured further and further in, piling more and more stuff on the bed, it became obvious that disconnecting the TV would have been much more sensible – but by then I’d started, so I was definitely going to finish, and out came the 15″ monitor, with a native resolution of 1024×768 (compared to the TV on my desk: a 27″ one, which I run at 1920×1080!); I quickly booted up the IYONIX and set it to that resolution, before disconnecting it from the TV, loaded the car, and I was away.

I then encountered another problem. One of the first times I’d ever been to the South West Show, I’d accidentally (in that I’d taken a wrong turn) found an alternative route to the hotel – and I then used that route again each time I went along. After the long gap, when I attended again as a visitor last year my sat nav took me the way I’d gone in the past – and this year, without the aid of my sat-nav (which I believe may now be living as a hermit in a gap in some rocks on a mountain in the Brecon Beacons), I turned off the A38 at the same place, intending to take that same route… and promptly took a wrong turn off the route I originally found as a result of taking a wrong turn!

The sensible thing to do at this point would have been to double back, and try to find the right turning – but I’m not well known for doing sensible things in that sort of situation, and I didn’t want to break that tradition, so instead I started turning down random lanes that looked like they might lead in roughly the right direction, but didn’t. In other words, I got lost!

Eventually, I encountered a white van man and asked if he could direct me to the Webbington. It turned out that he was about to head off somewhere that would take him right past the entrance, so suggested I follow him – which I did, and arrived (late) at the hotel. Many thanks to him for getting me there!

Of course, being late and being so unprepared was sure to have an impact on my day at the show – and one such impact was that I found I had less time to wander around and talk to other exhibitors as I have done at other shows; I managed to chat to a couple, but that’s all. However, in an unusual move, while there was no show theatre organised, during the afternoon the main hall became a ‘mobile theatre’, with most of the people at the show gathering around certain exhibitors stands so that those exhibitors could offer a short talk. (I also have no photographs at all this time – the batteries in my camera were all but flat, and when I changed them for the spare set I keep in the camera case, I discovered they were just about flat as well.)

One of the exhibitors I did speak to was John Norris, who had brought along his ‘mini dumbbell for the home’ – a papier-mâché bell attached to a wooden headstock with an MDF wheel (mounted for the show on a wooden tower), which is linked to a computer running software such as John’s own Stringing. (The bell itself doesn’t actually ring – that’s done in software, so there’s no need to worry about noise complaints from the neighbours!) It’s an impressive piece of kit, which would be – and it seems often is – a welcome addition to any campanologist’s home. John also enthused about The Wickham Ring, which came about when the need arose to put a new roof on his garage; the intention was to use the storage space gained from doing so to hold dumbbells ready for sale, but it seemed an obvious idea to actually to connect up a set of eight dumbbells, with the ropes going through to the garage below. The Wickham Ring is also known affectionately as the Austin Eight, because the garage below is normally home to an Austin Seven!

John also had on his stand a copy of the latest edition of his book, The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – which was produced on RISC OS, and which can be ordered directly from him.

I also had a chat with Paul Stewart, who published volume 3 issue 2 of Drag ‘n Drop in January. The latest issue features part 10 of the series by Dave Stratford, All Sorted, which doesn’t, as the name might suggest, deal with a popular brand of sweets but instead with sorting algorithms. A new series, by Jon Robinson, begins in this issue dealing with programming RISC OS in BASIC, taking the approach of writing a desktop front end for a command line program ported to RISC OS from Linux. Other features include an article about Docktor, a simple application launcher, and another about presentation software, Fade – both from The Really Small Software Company – along with various other articles.

Keith Dunlop, of Usable Range, was demonstrating R-Comp’s Music Man 2, which was launched at the show. Music Man 2 allows you to lift the music from your CDs and store them on a hard drive in a variety of formats, such as the obvious MP3 format, or the increasingly popular FLAC format (which is lossless and, as such, provides better quality sound than MP3). An important feature of this new version of Music Man 2 is that it can now play CDs digitally, which means it’s now possible once again to play audio CDs on modern RISC OS hardware, using modern CD ROM drives. Previously, this would be done using an analogue connection from the drive, but modern drives lack the necessary analogue connection, making this approach impossible. Music Man 2 simply reads the CD digitally (using the same process it would if it was being used to ‘rip’ the CD), and plays the music from the information it has read.

While chatting with Keith, he played the best version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody I’ve ever heard – William Shatner’s cover version.

R-Comp themselves were obviously selling Music Man 2, along with their usual range of hardware and software. Notable items were a CMOS RAM Widget for the ARMini – a very small piece of kit that connects to the BeagleBoard-xm at the heart of the machine to provide the battery backed CMOS RAM that allows the various configuration settings of a RISC OS computer to be stored between sessions, and therefore recognised when the computer is next powered up. They also had CDs containing the latest version of Fireworkz Pro for RISC OS, with an added bonus: The CDs now also contain the latest version of Fireworkz for Windows, which is a particular boon to me – and, ironically, having an up to date and file compatible version of Fireworkz running on Windows could actually result in my RISC OS machines being switched on more often.

Which naturally leads me to my own stand, on which I was talking mainly about WebChange and the desktop version of Quicksand; I’ve still done nothing further to the latter since I rushed to get it running by the 2011 Midlands Show, but with WebChange I have made some very good progress on putting together what was originally intended as a temporary guide to the script language, until I could write something better – but it is actually turning into that something better, so likely to lose the word ‘temporary’ from the name! The ‘work in progress’ manual was shown to a number of WebChange users who visited my stand. The connection with this and Fireworkz is that the manual as it stands has been written in OpenOffice – but now that I again have Fireworkz running on both RISC OS and Windows, it’s more than likely that I’ll transfer it into that so that I can work on it on both platforms.

Martin Weurthner was, as usual, in attendance with a space spanning several desks, although he was only really occupying one end. I’ve commented about this before to Martin, and did so again at this show – and he pointed out that he needed the space for all his posters lining the wall behind the full width of his stand! I didn’t really have a proper chat with Martin, so I don’t know if he had anything new at the show, but I seem to recall him telling me at a previous show that he tends to time any new versions of his software to coincide with the bigger shows – Wakefield and London.

Jim Nagel managed to arrive even later than me, which I later suggested to him might give me a case to sue for trademark infringement when it comes to this show (when I exhibited here in the past, I had usually arrived late), but he redeemed himself by bringing along a new issue of Archive Magazine (volume 23 issue 4).  This latest issue is a 64 page affair, with a number of interesting articles, ranging from a review of Peter Nowosad’s Charm programming language, to a feature about using the Amazon Kindle with RISC OS. Considering the near miss the show had, with Paul Middleton deciding not to organise it this year, the news section also includes a brief history of the show – and it includes the dates for two shows, the announcements for which I must have missed! (I’ll deal with these in a separate post, so that they don’t go unnoticed in this report).

Next to Jim was Chris Johnson, who had brought along a few pieces of software to demonstrate. Chris talked about the HTML version of Archive Magazine, which is available on a DVD, showing the various ways in which different articles are linked. He also demonstrated ID3TagEd, his software for editing tags in MP3 files, and Snapper, David Pilling’s tool, which Chris now maintains, for grabbing snapshots of the RISC OS desktop, either the whole screen, individual windows, or a specified area.

RISC OS Open Ltd were also at the show, along with Theo Markettos. Although Theo was, unfortunately, not able to bring a Raspberry Pi along to the show (apparently the BBC were filming, and hadn’t finished by the time he had to set off – so I guess we should all keep an eye on the BBC for an upcoming feature about the Pi), he talked about the computer, explaining the reasoning behind it, describing the specifications of the two versions (model A and model B, echoing the two versions of the BBC Microcomputer some 30 years ago) and so on. On the subject of RISC OS, it seems that one of the people involved in the Raspberry Pi Foundation is very keen to see RISC OS as an available option for the device because, when he was younger, a RISC OS computer was something he coveted, but couldn’t afford!

Chris Evans of CJE Micro’s fame also talked about the Raspberry Pi, with emphasis on the hardware side of things because, he said, he is more of a hardware person, so plans to sell various hardware items for or related to it, “up to and including complete systems”. In that regard, he had a mini ITX case to hand as an example of the sort of case it might be put in. He also talked about a much smaller case, with a bracket attached with two holes set exactly 100mm apart – which would be ideal for mounting on the back of a monitor, since 100mm is the spacing for the VESA (MIS-D) mounting standard. Between them, Chris and Andrew Conroy have designed a real time clock to plug into the board’s GPIO socket and noticing there was still space, though the board doesn’t need one, realised they could also fit a temperature sensor – which would allow users to show their friends that their computer actually runs at room temperature!

I think that covers everyone I spoke to or who took part in the show’s mobile theatre. Other exhibitors included Steve Fryatt, who would no doubt have been talking to people about CashBook and PrintPDF, amongst other things, Trevor Johnson talking about WikiProject RISC OS, David Snell, demonstrating ProCAD+ and WebWonder – and, of course, Orpheus Internet, the RISC OS friendly ISP.

I’m fairly sure I said to Richard towards the end of the day that I probably didn’t have much material I could use to write up a show report, so probably wouldn’t this time around.

I guess I was wrong about that, then.

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2 Thoughts to “The South West Show is dead – long live The South West Show”

  1. trevj

    Nice one – I hope you managed to find your way back home without too much difficulty 😉

    1. Funnily enough, when I left I chose to go the “proper” way and discovered just how much easier that route is than the way I was going before. I think my old route is more scenic, though.

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