The question on everyone’s lips for countless years to come will be “Where were you on 28th October, 2017?”
Okay, they probably won’t be asking that – but I’m asking it now.
Well? Where were you?
I’ll tell you where I was: Feltham. More specifically, the St Giles Hotel – in the conference rooms on the first floor, where this year’s London Show was held. If you weren’t there, I’ll assume you’re reading this because you have an interest in RISC OS, and would like to know what you missed. In which case, read on…
As with this year’s Southwest and Wakefield shows, my camera was notable by its absence and I therefore had to resort to using my phone to grab pictures for use in this report – and because of my dislike of using the phone as a camera, that means there aren’t many photographs. I also needed to be at my own stand a little more because – for the first time in many years – I had software on sale again (more on which later), so even if I had brought a proper camera I had less time to wander around and take pictures, and therefore to get an idea of what was being demonstrated and/or sold by other exhibitors.
Apologies in advance, therefore, if this report turns out to be less detailed than usual – and to anyone I may miss (or simply forget to mention something they were demonstrating). Due to that whole business of having stuff on sale, this may become a standard comment in all my show reports in future. Such is life.
However, enough pre-amble, and on with the report – for which I’ll head in an anti-clockwise path around the main hall, venturing into the two side rooms used for the show itself as dictated by the layout. The third side room – which strictly speaking is the first, but let’s ignore basic geography – is used for the show theatre, and I’ll dip in and out of there as necessary during the report.
After handing over your crisp fiver to gain access to the show, the first exhibitor was MW Software. Once a regular exhibitor at the UK shows, Martin Würthner has been unable to attend quite so often in recent years due to family commitments, so it was very pleasing to have him back once again.
Martin unveiled a new version of ArtWorks at the show – version 2.x3. One benefit of this version is that it is the first release that is fully compatible with the colour arrangements on new hardware such as the Titanium and IGEPv5 boards, whereby the order of the red-green-blue elements is reversed (so-called LTRGB modes). The fix has been demonstrated at the last couple of shows Martin has attended, but hasn’t hit release code until now – and there are other new features in ArtWorks 2.x3, such as a new creative tool that allows you to use a (vector) shape as a brush to draw new shapes, and it can also be used to erase a portion of other objects.
When Martin does exhibit at a RISC OS show he tends to have one of the theatre slots, and London 2017 was no exception. Martin demonstrated the new shape painter/eraser tool – and thanks to the efforts of Leo White, who recorded the various presentations and uploaded them to YouTube, Martin’s talk is available to watch:
Martin Würthner’s talk at London 2017
Soft Rock Software
I had the next stand, and as always I was happily demonstrating and talking about any of the Soft Rock Software products – but as noted above, this year I was actually selling software as well as pointing people to my website to just download it.
Available on either CD or USB flash drive, the Soft Rock Software Collection is a compilation of all of the main products that are available from the website and – to make it worth buying – more besides. So in addition to WebChange, Seek’n’Link, Quicksand, and all the other downloads, the collection also contains a number of games – in many cases, more than one version so that customers can run a version better suited to their hardware.
Moving beyond the doors leading to the show theatre, Steve Fryatt had the next stand. where he was demonstrating his various pieces of software, and selling them on CD with the funds going to charity.
Next to Steve,
Keith Richard Keefe was discussing the progress he has made in the mammoth task of taking Impression, the DTP software originally from Computer Concepts, and turning it into a fully 32-bit compatible version called Impression-X (website still MIA). With the original program having been developed largely in assembler, this is no easy task – and it’s made a touch harder still due to some elements of the source code being missing!
As a slight aside to the London Show, an interview with Richard was published on The Icon Bar on Christmas Eve, and in it he also revealed that he had the source code for a number of other Computer Concepts programs (does that make up for the missing Impression source code?), and that once Impression is out of the way he’d like to have a go at tackling some of those.
Moving a little further up the hall, Rob Coleman was showing off his VideoNuLA project – an advanced graphics card for the BBC Micro. This enhances the humble Beeb’s graphics in a number of ways, such as offering a palette of 4,096 colours, rather than the original sixteen (eight of which were simply alternating combinations – the ‘flashing’ range), and smooth horizontal scrolling, rather than the Beeb’s one byte at a time scroll, with the number of pixels being determined by the screen mode.
A nice touch for this year’s London Show was a larger range of theatre talks, rather than the usual five – and Rob was one of the additional speakers, so for more details about VideoNuLA, including how and why he developed it, look no further than Leo’s recording of his talk:
Rob Coleman talking about VideoNuLA at London 2017
The next stand was home to ABUG – the Acorn and BBC Micro User Group – who organise various events and gatherings for its members, who tend to be users with a particular interest in the retro scene. A particularly notable example was the Acorn World exhibition that took place in May at the Centre for Computing History. ABUG doesn’t have their own website, and instead coordinates things through the Startdot forums.
The first of the side rooms at this year’s show was given over to Jon Abbott and his Archimedes Software Preservation Project – aka JASPP. The project’s aim is to create an archive of old games released for RISC OS – but more than that, it also involves a piece of software, ADFFS, that makes it possible to run those games on a Raspberry Pi.
The room featured a range of Archimedes computers, as well as Raspberry Pis, running a selection of classic games for people to play – including an enhanced version of Zarch running on a machine connected to a projector.
Stepping back into the main hall at this point, games were a large feature of the next stand – though new ones, rather than old. Tony Bartram of AMCOG Games was once again showing off his selection, all written in BBC BASIC and demonstrating just what can be achieved with the language.
The number of games Tony has written for RISC OS – in, it should be noted, a comparatively short space of time – increased at the show, with the addition of hist newest title, Protector, a game modelled on the Defender/Planetoids style, where the player zooms around a planet fending off the aliens that are trying to abduct the planet’s inhabitants.
As well as the games, Tony also had his Development Kit available. The kit is a tool for writing games that includes a number of libraries covering various areas needed for games, such as graphics and sound, as well as a selection of resources – and speaking of sound, he was also discussing RDSP, his very impressive software that gives the RISC OS sound system a much needed boost in capability.
Venturing into the second of the side rooms, immediately between the two sets of doors was the charity stand – which, as per London Show custom, was raising money for Combat Stress, a charity that supports former servicemen and women and their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues.
3rd Event Technologies
Another exhibitor in this room was 3rd Event Technologies, demonstrating the Archimedes Music Creation System – or just AMCS for short – a music sequencing system. Crucially, though, the software isn’t simply an application that runs on RISC OS – instead it includes its very own operating system that is loaded in its place. The software – OS and all – was originally developed to run on an Acorn A3000, but it has since been ported to run on a couple of other ARM-based netbook-type computers.
A shift to the left in this room was also a shift from replacing the operating system to emulating hardware that runs it, by way of RPCEmu from Peter and Matthew Howkins, demonstrating the most recent version.
RISC OS Open Ltd
And a left turn and a shift still further represented a step closer still to the actual operating system. Well, you can’t get much closer to it than the company charged with looking after the source code, release builds, developer tools, documentation, and so on.
The RISC OS Open Ltd stand was manned by Steve Revill and Ben Avison, and they’d brought the usual range of products to discuss and buy, including RISC OS Pi and ePic SD cards for the Raspberry Pi, ROM sets for RiscPCs, RPCEmu all set up and ready to run on USB flash drives, the latest desktop development suite, and more besides.
And less as well, in fact! Nut Pi is now a discontinued product because the contents – a collection of commercial RISC OS software for the Pi – are combined with RISC OS Pi to form ePic.
As well as the usual selection of goodies, though, they also had a nice, shiny new product: A new printed edition of the BBC BASIC Reference Guide, perfect bound and coming in at just over 500 pages. The last version was published by Acorn in October 1992 – a whopping twenty five years ago – so there have been (ahem) ‘one or two’ changes since then, meaning the old guide was now slightly out of date.
Steve Revill also did a stint in the show theatre, where he talked about the plans for a 5.24 stable release of RISC OS and the current state of play with the bounty scheme, amongst other things:
Steve Revill’s talk at London 2017
When he attends shows, Rob Sprowson is usually present as a member of the RISC OS Open Ltd team – but London 2017 marked the first time he has exhibited in his own right as Elesar Ltd, on the very next stand.
There shouldn’t be anyone in the RISC OS community who isn’t aware that as Elesar, Rob developed the Titanium – the first system board in a very long time that was designed specifically with RISC OS in mind – but in the unlikely event there is anyone lacking that basic piece of knowledge: As Elesar, Rob developed.. okay, you get the picture.
As well as the Titanium (and some related products), Elesar is also responsible for new software such as CloudFS, and bringing back and updating old software such as Look Systems’ Font Directory Pro – and newly launched at the London Show, an add-on board for the Raspberry Pi.
The adapter, which uses the ‘Hardware Attached on Top’ standard for Raspberry Pi add-ons, is called the S&P HAT – the S&P stands for Serial and Parallel, which are the two types of connection it provides for the Pi.
The final stand in the final side room was home to the – no THE – personal information manager for RISC OS, Organizer, with both Martin Avison and Nigel Willmott present.
The latest version of the software is 2.28 and in its ‘on-a-stick’ version was being sold on a 4GB USB stick with the latest version of RPCEmu (8.15) with RISC OS 5.22, all set-up and ready to run when plugged into a PC. Benefits of Organizer 2.28 include enhanced layouts for the Anniversary, Diary, and Planner – and those users with extra-wide displays will truly see the benefit of the multi-column, scalable displays.
Back in the main hall, the very end was occupied by R-Comp, who were showing off a version of their Titanium-based TiMachine driving a display at 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, in 64,000 colours.
This was achieved by some simple, yet cunning trickery. The Titanium is limited to a 2,048 pixel wide display, but that is on each of its two video outputs – the board is hardware-equipped to drive two separate displays, although RISC OS support for this is still in its early stages, and when outputting to two screens the OS currently ‘thinks’ it’s simply driving a single, wide screen.
The monitor itself that is used for a wider display has multiple inputs, and – most importantly – the ability to split the screen and display the image from one input on the left hand side, and from another input on the right hand side. This is combined with Titanium’s dual-head capability; the computer ‘thinks’ it is driving two separate displays of 1,280 x 1,440 pixels, when what it’s actually doing is driving two separate halves of a single display.
There’s also a delicious irony in the set up as you follow it through: RISC OS thinks it is driving one screen, the hardware thinks it’s driving two, and the monitor itself thinks it’s displaying the output of two distinct systems – with the end result being the single, wide display that RISC OS thinks it’s outputting in the first place.
On the software front, a new version of NetFetch was also launched at the show, featuring a significant update to Hermes, the email transport that is included as part of the package. There was particular emphasis on security protocols, and support for SPF, or Sender Policy Framework. This is a simple email validation system which aims to detect email sender spoofing, whereby email from a particular address or domain is expected to be injected into the system through specific, authorised mail servers. To support this, Hermes can now be configured to use specific outgoing mail servers for specific email addresses – and will even re-identify itself (and the host computer) as necessary for some email systems.
R-Comp’s Andrew Rawnsley also gave one of the theatre presentations, in which he talked about the above and more:
Andrew Rawnsley’s theatre presentation at London 2017
Orpheus Internet and RISC OS Developments Ltd
Richard Brown could be found on the next stand, where visitors could chat to him either about the services provided by Orpheus Internet, or about the relatively new company RISC OS Developments Ltd (website MIA) and its aims and aspirations – or indeed both.
Orpheus Internet, of course, is the most RISC OS-friendly ISP imaginable. It was founded by the late Paul Vigay in 2005 with RISC OS users in mind, and has been run by Richard since 2009. It can provide internet connectivity, domain registration and a range of hosting services, and can even supply the necessary equipment and cables if you need them.
RISC OS Developments, on the other hand, is much newer. It was founded only this year, and is the result of a conversation with/request from a RISC OS user at the Southwest Show, which led to Richard discussing the issue further with Andrew Rawnsley and subsequently approaching developers and other key players in the community – and by Wakefield, a company had been formed. At that show, Richard gave a brief talk on the subject, and at London he reprised that talk and provided an update on the progress made by the company:
Richard Brown’s talk at London 2017
A nice point made by Richard in reply to a question from the audience, which was also mentioned by Steve Revill in his talk, was that RISC OS Developments have completed funding of one of the RISC OS Open Ltd bounties – TCP/IP stack overhaul (step 1 of 4) – bringing it up to 100% funded at the date of the show.
As the very first photo in this report indicates, navigation may have been an issue for visitors to the London Show. It was lucky for visitors, then, that Chris Hall was exhibiting with his GPS unit, so he could tell them exactly where they were.
The hardware aspect of the system is based around a Raspberry Pi and includes a GPS HAT, OLED and e-ink displays, a battery, and other associated items, all housed in a box that can fit in a jacket pocket. It runs Chris’ SatNav application, which reads and processes the data supplied by the GPS HAT and displays the results on the displays – and when running from the battery it will power cycle itself, coming on long enough to process the data and update the e-ink display, in order to make the battery last as long as possible.
SatNav uses RISC OS messages to transmit the location as read from the GPS unit, which can be intercepted by Sine Nomine’s RiscOSM if it is running, so if a proper display is attached (which Chris did in fact have at the show), the user’s location can be updated in real time on screen.
It was no coincidence, therefore, that the stand next to Chris’ was home to Sine Nomine, where Matthew and Hilary Phillips were demonstrating the latest developments in RiscOSM, as well as their various other products such as database Impact and puzzle game Wrangler.
Something mentioned by Matthew in his talk at Wakefield was that they were looking into the possibility of adding contour lines to RiscOSM, because Ordnance Survey had made the necessary data available under a suitable licence. This is now a reality, though I gather it is not quite ready for release yet.
There is also an obvious limitation with the Ordnance Survey data, in that it only covers Great Britain – but, as Matthew points out in his talk, there is another source of contour data that they have been able to draw on:
Matthew Phillips’ talk at London 2017
At around the half-way mark through Matthew’s talk, he is joined by Andy Marks from RISCOSbits – who, in another example of not a coincidence at all, was on the next stand – to demonstrate and talk about Wispy. The product is in essence a Wi-Fi solution for RISC OS, and consists of an Orange Pi (one of the alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that have been brought out in light of its success) and some supporting software. Andy offers it either as a kit including the Orange Pi, or just as the software supplied on a USB flash drive (technically, the software is free, but a charge is necessary to cover the cost of the drive.)
The initial idea has been brewing for some time, and has even been demonstrated by Andy at various stages of development, but Matthew recently came on board and has moved it along significantly, and the software component is now not only fully configurable from RISC OS, but it even sports its own icon bar icon showing the signal strength of the wireless connection.
Another benefit of the Wispy package is that because the Orange Pi is a small computer in its own right, running a version of Linux, it can run alternative web browsers, such as Firefox – and by using an RDP client, that browser becomes accessible from RISC OS.
The Pi-Top – as used in the demonstration – is a laptop, so is an obvious use-case for Wispy; it is the type of machine where the owner is most likely to want (or need) to connect to different wireless networks, but it is not exclusively for the Pi-Top; it can also be used with other systems.
Robert Lazarus was on the next stand with his hardware add-on for the BBC Micro. BeebOPL is a sound card for the 8-bit machine that gives it much better sound capabilities than the original Texas Instruments chip built into the machine by Acorn. The ‘OPL’ part of the name refers to the Yamaha sound chips used in the project, and stands for FM OPerator Type L, with the YM3812 being the specific chip used. This is the same chip used in add-on sound cards for PC computers such as the AdLib and Sound Blaster in the 1990s, leading to BeebOPL being described as an AdLib/Sound Blaster type add-on.
Retro Software and Tricky Gaming
While Robert was offering new hardware for old machines, the next two stand(s) were the place to be if you wanted new software for them – or to play old software. They were Jason Nicholls representing Retro Software, and Richard Broadhurst representing Tricky Gaming, which I’ve grouped together in this report because I’m not entirely sure where one ended and the next began – and the fact that I didn’t speak to either of them really doesn’t help from a memory perspective, so let’s just gloss over this with a photograph:
On the next stand, Neil Fazakerley was demonstrating the various ways external devices could be driven from RISC OS running on the Raspberry Pi – with various robot arms set up for visitors to try their hand at manipulating from the keyboard.
BBC Media Preservation
Paul Emerton, who runs a TV advertising and video production company called Concept Television Studios Ltd, brought along his BBC Media Preservation exhibit once again.
During 2016, Paul took delivery of a stock of Acorn equipment from the BBC’s Special Projects department – equipment that was used for on-screen graphics shown during broadcast television shows such as the National Lottery results draws. He has set about restoring the equipment, recovering data where necessary (where it is stored on old media that may be teetering on the end of its life, for example) and is therefore able to talk about and demonstrate what the BBC used to do with Acorn gear.
Paul gave one of the show’s presentations, during which he revealed how the whole project came about – when he was much younger, there was a phone-in game on a children’s TV show, and when he saw that it was run on an Archimedes A310 computer, he wrote to the BBC asking if he could have a copy. That request was met with a stony silence, but many years later he saw an eBay listing for a computer that may have been used for the game – so he bid on it in the hope that he would finally get a copy of the game! One damaged delivery later, and he was in contact with the seller – a chap from a company called Round One, formed after the closure of the Special Projects department – and the outcome of that was Paul acquiring the remaining equipment with a view to restoring and preserving it.
To hear that story and more, including the processes Paul has been using to recover the contents of the media – and what he found on it – not to mention some examples of what equipment was used in what programmes, look no further than Leo’s video recording of his talk:
Paul Emerton’s BBC Media Preservation talk at London 2017
CJE Micro’s and 4d
The almost-but-not-quite-depending-how-you-look-at-it penultimate stand was where Chris Evans and Andrew Conroy were representing the little shop with a lot of stock – CJE Micro’s.
As ever, they had brought along a healthy supply of that stock, with something for just about everyone – if you needed anything from a particular cable all the way up to a full-blown computer, the chances are CJE would have had it on sale.
Amongst that stock, at the full-blown computer end, they had the RaspberryRO Lite which, having been launched in July of this year, has not been brought to a show before. A computer they had hoped to have at the show was a new version of the Pi-Top – but that was unfortunately not possible because it hadn’t been delivered in time for the show.
Chris took one of the theatre slots as usual – and in a not so usual move he made use of the projector, although not as much as he could or should have. This was done by way of a camera set up on the table, so that when he would normally hold up something small for the audience to squint at, he could instead hold it in front of the camera so that it was shown on the big screen. I imagine this was set up by Leo, who was handling the show theatre on his own this year, so well done (and thanks) for doing that – a very welcome move.
And speaking of Chris’ talk, now would seem an appropriate point to embed it in this report:
Chris Evans’ talk at London 2017
The reason for the CJE Micro’s stand being the almost-but-not-quite-depending-how-you-look-at-it penultimate stand was because the penultimate stand should have belonged to Archive Magazine, but unfortunately Jim Nagel was unable to make it.
The stand was therefore unmanned, but last minute arrangements saw a note put on the table, referring anyone who might have wanted to leave anything for Jim to seek out Bernard Boase, who was to be found at the show all day, albeit without a stand of his own.
The final stand belonged to the show organisers – the RISC OS User Group of London – who were there not only to oversee the show, but to remind people where and when they meet, and persuade them to come along to those meetings if possible.
It’s hard to gauge how busy the show was this year for a couple of reasons; firstly, I’ve become a little busier on my own stand since I began selling the RiscPiC cases – and while they are running down (I’m down to very little stock now, and I’m unlikely to have any more made due to the value of Sterling), as mentioned near the start of this report I’ve now started selling software again. And secondly, the show tends to quieten down when any of the theatre presentations take place, and at this show there were more of them!
The bottom line for me, though, is that it was an enjoyable show – and it’s always a positive sign when the next show is scheduled (27th October, 2018, folks), so thanks to the organisers (of this and other shows), as well as to everyone who attends, both as a visitor and an exhibitor. That support is needed for the shows to continue – and long may they do so!
The only thing left to add is that the last few of my (just about usable) photographs are below – but you might also wish to check out the following links for thoughts on the show from a different perspective, not to mention better pictures:
- Mark Stephens’ show report, his photographs, and his notes on the theatre talks, all on the Icon Bar.
- Peter Howkins’ photographs.
- A video diary/report on the show by the AmigaLads.