RISC OS South West Show 2014 report

There’s RISC OS in them thar hills!

This year’s RISC OS South West Show took place on the first Saturday in March, rather than its more customary late February Saturday – although it has sneaked into March before – and now, just shy of two weeks later, I am finally able to sit at my own desk long enough to write a show report!

Organised once again by the Dynamic Duo of Richard Brown of Orpheus Internet and Andrew Rawnsley of R-Comp, the show was held at its usual venue, the Webbington Hotel, sitting on the side of a hill just the other side of the M5 from Weston-Super-Mare, and a short drive from Bristol. This makes the show my local RISC OS event, which is why I normally drive to the show on the day – thus allowing me to build up a nice tradition of turning up late. That tradition has now been broken, though, because (with thanks to Richard Brown for organising the room) this year I arrived on the Friday and spent the night at the hotel – which, while it may sound odd given that it’s almost on my doorstep, made for a much more relaxed and, as Andrew Rawnsley put it, civilised start to the Saturday.

In retrospect, though, what I should have done was stayed in bed until the last possible minute, so that I could uphold the tradition of arriving late for the show itself. Oh well.

Speaking as an exhibitor, the show felt busier than usual – though in my case that may be because I was doing something different on my stand, which I’ll come to later – but I am told that the numbers were marginally down on last year, even though there were a few new faces to be seen – and some familiar, but unexpected faces; Dave ‘Druck’ Ruck and wife Louie (along with new son Alexander) came to the show.

The main stands were organised around the outer edge of the room, with the charity stand and a Raspberry Pi area on tables in the central area. I’ll deal with those first, and then – thanks to a decision made for me by my trusty coin – take a clockwise direction around the show for this report.

Steve Drain's Raspberry Pip mark 3 at RISC OS South West 2014
Steve Drain’s Raspberry Pip mark 3 at RISC OS South West 2014

The Raspberry Pi table was occupied by Steve Drain, who had his mark 3 Raspberry Pip on display. Designed as way to put the Raspberry Pi in a small case, suitable for use with a Motorola Atrix Lapdock, and make the necessary connections much less messy, the previous Raspberry Pips featured a modified Pi, fitted in a case about the size and shape of a typical smartphone – the Lapdock’s original purpose was as a docking system for a Motorola mobile phone, giving the user a netbook-sized keyboard and screen.

The mark 3, however, uses a slightly larger case and, therefore, slightly less modification – in particular, less difficult in respect of the HDMI connection – to the Raspberry Pi to make it fit. The newer case, apparently, is intended to hold cigarettes, so using it to hold a Raspberry Pi is definitely the healthier option.

The Charity Stand at RISC OS South West 2014
The Charity Stand at RISC OS South West 2014

The charity stand was run by Moss and a few others, which was this year raising money for Blue Cross, an animal charity that operates a number of veterinary clinics, including a mobile one in London, and rehousing centres around the country, and aims to provide veterinary services to pets whose owners can’t afford private vets fees. As ever, there was plenty of choice of things to buy from the stand, which resulted in £112.67 being raised for the charity. Moss, who sadly lost his eldest son, Michael, a few days after the show, paid for the floorspace for the stand out of his own pocket, ensuring all of the money raised went to the charity.

Immediately to the left of the show entrance, Bryan Hogan was representing ROUGOL – the RISC OS User Group of London – and promoting this year’s London Show, which is to be held again at the St Giles Hotel, Feltham, on 25th October. I’ve already booked my hotel room, so I’ll see you all there!

John Norris' Dumbbell at RISC OS South West 2014
John Norris’ Dumbbell at RISC OS South West 2014

Standing tall and proud in the corner – though I think it would stand taller (well, okay, it’ll still be the same height) and prouder in the middle of the room, and act as a nice centrepiece for the show – was John Norris’ mini dumbbell. The bell itself is made of papier maché, and therefore doesn’t make any sounds. Instead, a sensor attached to the wooden frame detects movement of the faux-bell, and sends that information to a computer, which makes all the necessary sounds.

John’s wife, Mary, had brought along a nice selection of home made jams – and I purchased a jolly nice, and wholly appropriate raspberry jam.

Fortran Friends, a self-help group supporting the use of the Fortran programming language, were next, with a stand on which a number of colourful polyhedra could be seen. These polyhedra – solids with many faces – are stellations of one another, which in simple terms means their edges or faces are extended to form a new shape. Fortran Friends provide software to explore polyhedra and stellations, amongst other things.

Colourful polyhedra - Fortran Friends at RISC OS South West 2014
Colourful polyhedra – Fortran Friends at RISC OS South West 2014

The next stand was occupied Steve Fryatt, who was promoting his wide selection of software, as usual, and he was followed by Christopher Dewhurst, representing on-off-on-off-under new management PDF magazine, Drag ‘n Drop. No new issue was available for the show – the most recent was January, and the next is scheduled for April, so should be out in time for the Wakefield Show – but Christopher was selling a memory stick containing all the back issues for £10. He is also considering the possibility of making available supplements, featuring the series on sprites and BBC Basic from the magazine, for example, but with extra material. Another idea is to make the 55 BBC Micro Books CD available on memory stick, as well.

Next were the Doctor and his travelling companion, Chris Evans and Andrew Conroy, representing CJE Micro’s, who had, as ever, brought along a large selection of hardware and software with which to tempt visitors.

Chris gave one of the three mobile-theatre talks of the day, in which he discussed many of the slightly less common things they have available, and the reasons they came about – such as the version of the Real Time Clock module for the Raspberry Pi, with ‘SuperCaps’. Apparently, one problem with the Motorola Atrix Lapdock, which CJE sells with a Raspberry Pi as a RISC OS laptop solution in the form of the LaPi, is that when the lid is closed or opened, it momentarily cuts power and then restores it. These SuperCaps can provide up to five seconds of power, subject to the amount of drain caused by processing and whatever else is connected to the Pi, and they can therefore keep the Pi running during that momentary loss of power – so loaded documents aren’t lost by closing the Lapdock’s lid.

I was representing Soft Rock Software on the next table and, as I said, I was taking a slightly different approach this year. Normally, my aim is mainly to talk to people about WebChange because that has, for at least the last decade and a half, been Soft Rock Software’s primary product – but 2014 is a special year for me, because Soft Rock Software was born in 1989, making it 25 years old this year (its ‘official’ birthday is 1st July). As such, the time was right for Soft Rock Software to return to its roots – which is one of the reasons why, for the past couple of years, I’ve been trying hard to find copies of the budget games that I originally wrote and sold through the business.

It's all about the games on the Soft Rock Software stand at RISC OS South West 2014
It’s all about the games on the Soft Rock Software stand at RISC OS South West 2014

Although not the original versions, I now have all but one of the games, and that’s what my stand was all about at this year’s show: the games. Three computers were set-up, a Raspberry Pi, and two Windows laptops running emulators, so that people could once again play those old games. One of them, Floopy, was particularly challenging – I haven’t been able to get off the first screen myself at all so far, but at the show Bryan Hogan showed me how it was done, making it all the way to the third screen (only another 37 to go)! Bryan then got himself killed right at the end of the screen, which I thought at first was a bug – but now that I’ve studied how the monsters move, I know it wasn’t; Bryan was a victim of my cruel programming. Bwahahahaha!

The next exhibitor was RISC OS Open Ltd, represented by Steve Revill and Ben Avison. As usual, the latest build of RISC OS was available to see, and they were selling the now familiar memory sticks featuring the latest development tools, etc, and the Nut Pi and RISC OS/pi SD cards.

Steve gave one of the day’s mobile-theatre talks – this one being doubly mobile because not only was it held at one of the stands, so visitors had to make their way to the relevant part of the room, it was actually held on the other side of the room to RISC OS Open’s own stand, so Steve had to trundle over to the ROUGOL stand for the talk (so that he could make use of the projector that Bryan was using).

Steve Revill entertains the crown by playing an invisible piano at RISC OS South West 2014
Steve Revill entertains the crown by playing an invisible piano at RISC OS South West 2014

For the first part of the talk, Steve took us through the history of RISC OS Open Ltd, starting with who is involved with the company, mentioning not only the directors, but also those people who have made notable contributions, describing them as ‘honourable members’ and who are often seen as being a part of the ‘face’ of RISC OS Open, such as Rob ‘Sprow’ Sprowson, Theo Markettos, and Jeffrey Lee.

From this, he moved on to a rough timeline of when certain key things happened – leading up to 2012, which was when the first official release was made of RISC OS for the Raspberry Pi. Steve explained that the exposure from this has been important, with the Raspberry Pi now having some two million users worldwide, and is confident that we have seen an influx of new users as a result.

In 2013, RISC OS Open had their first go at organising a show which, although small, went down very well and it’s possible that they will try their hand at organising more shows – though not necessarily in Portsmouth; they might try to look for other areas in the UK, with the aim of organising ‘speculative’ shows in areas that haven’t been well served by shows in the past. (Related to this, a point made the evening before was that, for any given event, the catchment area is defined by a given radius with the location of the event at the centre, then a coastal location such as Portsmouth is reducing potential visitors because the area covered includes the sea!)

Steve also mentioned a couple of ‘new’ goodies that are included in the disc image that can be downloaded from the ROOL website – in both cases, neither are new pieces of software, but both are new to the ROOL distribution: The classic game Meteors, and Colton Software’s Pipedream.

Jim Nagel was parked in the corner, where he was able to discuss Archive Magazine with visitors, and had a wide selection of old issues available – though, unfortunately, no new issue was available in time for this show; the most recent issue, volume 23 number 7, was published in October of last year.

Martin Wuerthner at RISC OS South West 2014
Martin Wuerthner at RISC OS South West 2014

The platform’s very own Sharp Dressed Man, Martin Wuerthner, was on the next stand, where he was talking about MW Software‘s products, such as Gutenprint and ArtWorks 2. The latter even saw an update produced during the show: Chris Hall had been discussing a problem he was trying to solve, using ArtWorks, on usenet and on the RISC OS Open forum, involving dragging multiple Drawfiles onto Artworks. He specifically needed a way to drag a lot of Drawfiles in one go, but with Artworks putting the first file on the current page, then moving to the next page for the next file, and so on – and Martin updated the software with a method to do just that during the show, resulting in a point increase to version 2.x2.01.

Richard Brown at RISC OS South West 2014
Richard Brown at RISC OS South West 2014

One half of the Dynamic Duo was next, with Richard Brown on hand to discuss the services Orpheus Internet could offer RISC OS users, and Richard also had a range of old hardware for sale on his stand.

The R-Comp stand at RISC OS South West 2014
The R-Comp stand at RISC OS South West 2014

And the final stand was home to the other half of the Dynamic Duo, because that was the R-Comp stand, where Andrew Rawnsley and co had new ARMiniX models and new tablets. Andrew gave another of the mobile-theatre presentations but, unfortunately, it was one where I missed the important points because I was busy talking to someone on my stand when it started, and was only able to wander across later in the talk – and I’m rather annoyed with myself for not quizzing Andrew about what he had before, during or after the show.

The entrance fee for visitors also included a raffle ticket, with a prize of an Acorn Clan sweatshirt and polo shirt, and a RISC OS Open mug, which was won by Kevin Melling.

More photographs from the show have been made available by Steve Fryatt, and Steve Revill once again created a timelapse video of the event:

One of the things that video tells me is that for at least part of the day there was also someone set up on the second of the round tables in the middle of the room, designated the Raspberry Pi area, who I wasn’t aware of and didn’t speak to. Oh well.

Another thing it tells me is that RISC OS Open Ltd are well and truly committed to continuing a new tradition of doing silly dances in their timelapse videos – check out Steve Revill at about the 53 second mark.

So that was RISC OS South West, 2014. Despite the marginally lower attendance, the show seemed a very busy one for me, and it appears to have been so in general judging by the timelapse video. All in, I think it can be considered another successful show.

And just for completeness, because it appeared much too late for the show report, here’s Steve’s timelapse of the London 2013 show:

I’m struggling to see any silly dances in that one – but that may be because of where the camera was placed, in the corner by the RiscDJ atand at one end of the main hall – while RISC OS Open themselves were in one of the other rooms.

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