VCF MW (Midwest) 2023

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PART 1: Intro and Getting There
PART 2: Setting Up and Initial Orientation
PART 3: Things I Liked Best
PART 4: Survey of a few Highlights
PART 5: Items not Covered and Honorable Mentions
PART 6: Final Thoughts


VCF MW 2023 took place during the weekend of September 9-10th.
Click on photos for larger view.

PART 1: Intro and Getting There

For this VCF, I did not get very much time to travel as I had in the past, so this won’t be as detailed on specific items. In addition to some exhibitor material, I also wanted to bring some donation items. So, I ended up needing to bring three large bags. From DFW, they still have curb side check-in available just for this situation (only one station was open, but it wasn’t busy at this 9am flight out). On landing, I was curious to see if my bags rolled off the luggage conveyer belt – but I had a good seat and was off the plane before any bags started rolling out. Also, I recall it started to have a light rain as we were departing, and that rain last several more hours in the area.

ORD (Chicago O’Hare) was as I remembered it, and plenty of signs: just head for “baggage claim.” The airlines App was still not updating which specific baggage claim, so I used the overhead board in the hall to find my flight number and get the baggage claim aisle from that.

The next challenge was how to get all my bags to the car rental myself. I could have used a taxi, but I was hoping to be able to do some sightseeing or exploring, so opted to rent my own car. ORD (Chicago airport) has an ATS red line that goes to the Car Rental complex, but dragging three bags wasn’t going to be practical.

So those rental carts became a life saver. I’d say I was right at max capacity with the three bags on that cart. And remembered to put the heaviest at the bottom. Bags were collected, used the cart, follow signs to the Car Rental. Actually, it wasn’t quite that simple: I did have to ask the lady at the Information booth where the elevator was, since I wasn’t going to try taking that cart on any escalator.

NOTE: Yep, TSA unopened and went through all my bags. But nothing was missing, and they did tape the box back up with their own tape.

For anyone curious, the distance from ORD (Chicago Airport) to the VCF venue (at Clarion Inn, or next door at Waterford Banquet in Elmhurst), is as follows: 26 minutes (14 miles by road).


PART 2: Setting Up and Initial Orientation

Arrived at the venue. Many folks had already setup, but overall, it wasn’t crowded at that time (around 2:30pm), I was able to get right in and setup for the exhibit.

To keep this consistent with my other VCF articles that I have done, I’ll focus on some of the highlights of the VCF from what I was able to experience. But first, a quick topic:

Near my hotel (Courtyard, a few miles north of the venue) were these birds. I thought it was going to be those noisy Honkers like over at VCF East! But fortunately, these didn’t make any noise throughout the night.


Ok, I had been warned this was the largest of the VCF’s, so I was prepared to be overwhelmed. In the combination between Discord, e-mails, and just reading large-font printed signs, I was able to figure out everything I needed: where to donate things, when to wait for VCF-Merch to be available, where talks would be at, when things would start the next day, etc. JasonT was a huge asset, so many thanks to him for being patient and helping me as a newcomer to this VCF.

As warned, there is a lot to this VCF. I don’t have enough photos to really do it justice. Plus, maybe it was the lighting within the conference center rooms, but many of my photos just weren’t that great. As most other reports of this VCF will say, there were a ton of laptops and computers here — and nearly everything was For Sale. I’ve been to the Grand Bizaare in Istanbul (Turkey), and in some ways this reminded me of that: a curious mixture of shows and haggling, and everything was for sale (from $1 items on up to $6000 items).

To begin, a few “programmatics” on how the venue organizers arranged things:

  • Spiral staircase led downstairs to the talks and the auction. There was an elevator across from these stairs, wide enough for wheelchairs, but it had a key lock. It wasn’t intended for this amount of traffic and heavy usage, but I saw a few folks were very much desiring to make use of it if they could.
  • The Free Pile was a mini-recreation of Computer Reset that closed in Dallas a few years ago. Getting there early, we grabbed a couple 4:3 VGA flat panels that were in decent and working condition.
  • A reminder of speaker talks was posted all around on the walls.
  • The last sign isn’t from VCF, but I noticed it at a local restaurant area we tried out for diner. I think its sentiment carries well over to the vintage computer merchants and retro hardware builders.

PART 3: Things I Liked Best

Next, there were a few things that all by themselves made the trip worthwhile to me:

  • The auction was excellent! They went in “random order” and the first item was an unopened NABU. Extreme kudos to JT for making it entertaining, I’m sure he was getting exhausted as I think it went nearly two hours. I had to take a bit of a break myself to refuel with some coffee (which was right up that spiral staircase at the hotel Bistro). The one item I was interested was the VIC-20 printer, but ended up not bidding since didn’t want to risk taking it back on the airplane.
  • There was a phone network setup, which I think a BBS had been setup on that phone network. I’ll talk more about the phone system later (down below), but just to be silly I asked on the BBS about where the quantum computers were at. Next to this, a wireless radio chat was also setup.
  • I met Ward Christensen and chatted for about 10 minutes. With the full beard, he sure didn’t look like he did 20 years ago. His nameplate nickname was “XMODEM” Ha! But I never got a proper photograph of him, and only later noticed a couple candid shots. Here he is volunteering at a kind of soldering iron training station near the bistro (further past the doorway was the 10-system LAN party setup).

I also came across this other candid photo, which I shall title as: Ward Christensen Takes a Stroll Past a Guy in a Mohawk and a Bunch of Fake Computers in 2023. Gratz if you understand the irony here. (hint: he was there when those computers first came out, and the mohawk was becoming popular around that time too)

And one particular item in this “special to me” section…

The DEC 11 gt40 (not exactly sure the model) equipment from c. 1973 (IIRC) had a functional light pen. The two white tabs on the right are clamps to hold the pen. I wasn’t successfully able to land the lander, but the controls were interesting: just move the pen near the up/down slider, and then coarse and fine left/right turn (i.e. do NOT use the pen on the lander module itself). A fellow there with me mention he believed this software was one of the first to have an Easter Egg (even before Adventure?) related to continuously going left – that’s his story anyway, I couldn’t confirm.

Interesting since I hadn’t used a light pen before. I tried finding one for my IBM PC 5150, to see if it could be used for anything on that system, but no luck yet in finding one that connects to the CGA card.

I think there was some other PDP equipment towards the front, being sold. Neat stuff, but nothing I could take back on the plane!


PART 4: Survey of a few Highlights

ITEM #1: Seeing a working Tek 4051 from 1974. This same vendor had two restored and working SOL-20’s as well. An interface at the back is used to load software into the system, making use of the tape deck unnecessary.

ITEM #2: Seeing the Foenix Retro Systems offerings (A2580K and F256K). An interesting mix of “new retro” 8-bit to 32-bit offerings, orders are available now!
https://c256foenix.com/

ITEM #3: Catching up with AJ at Forgotten Machines. Wooden carts and benches, he had basically moved into the place and was also monitoring security.

ITEM #4: The Magic Door – I picked up some Core64 at a prior VCF. But what got my attention was the elevated door to the left of their table. It felt like I was in Narnia, or maybe that Haunted Mansion Ride at Disney (where it asks if the room getting taller or are you getting shorter). I went to the other side of the wall, and indeed the door goes all the way through. My only guess (as to why it is elevated) is they put a stage sometimes in the larger room, maybe for plays or singers, so it is a door for them more gracefully walk off that stage.

ITEM #5: OS/2 Exhibit – although this lady refused to answer any of my questions (apparently not Watson AI enabled yet), she had a nice smile and that was enough to keep me happy. I was into OS/2 in 1993, so Win95 never impressed me much when it first came out. Learned some REXX on OS/2, and even surfed the internet with OS/2 WARP using Gopher, AltaVista, and an early TraceRoute tool.

ITEM #6: The POLY-88’s (an 8080 based system from 1976)! These guys had two POLY-88’s and one of them running. They had a working version of Tetris running on it, but I was so excited playing that I forgot to take a photo of it. This was exciting to me since I just recently got a POLY-88 myself and haven’t yet powered it up. Good to know I won’t be completely in the dark and alone when I start down that adventure.

ITEM #7: The Androbot Topo (from 1983, so 40th year anniversary) powered (or meaning programmed) from an Apple II and designed by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell (of Pong fame). Very cool to see these! In the movie Flight of the Navigator there is a little mail delivery robot (more box looking than these android looking robots), it was used in part of the films plot. Some companies in the 1980s really did use these for in-house mail/package delivery.

ITEM #8: SGi Systems, always looking good and doing powerful stuff.

ITEM #9: Domesticating the Computer Notes (and Commander X16)

I was originally just going to exhibit the Domesticating the Computer mural poster that my daughter and I had created earlier this year (which is part 3 of a planned 4 part series). There is a narration about it here (Mandie Edition) or here (Aaron Edition). If interested in your own print, the mural PNG is available here: (a JPG version is also available at the same github repo)
https://github.com/voidstar78/mural1970/blob/version2/Mural_History_of_PersonalToHomeComputers_5100_3300_Ver2.png

But since I ended up getting one of the X16 DevBoards over the summer, and X16 case, I was asked if I would be able to present it since I’d be coming to VCF anyway. So, sure, that sounded fun and I prepared a demo sequence of on-system titles to show (including two recently developed 3D demos). Originally my daughter was going to come with me, but an important school test came up and she couldn’t travel for that weekend of VCF.

So as an alternative to being there, she decided to sign some of the mural posters. She didn’t want to sign all 80 of them, so she chose: every power of 2 (2, 4, 16, 32, 64), then a few extras (9, 27, 42, 78, 80). For #27 she signed it in reverse so that you need a mirror to read it as normal. And she signs as CRRN now, corresponding to Carrion without the vowels (her original Carrion signature is on the front, bottom left). We also put a sticker note describing the mural on the back (she placed each of those). So, a good print and custom sticker, put it at about $2 for each poster – which is why we had to limit to under 100.

When I learned that Ward Christensen was in the area, I randomly grabbed a remaining poster to ask him to sign it. It ended up being poster #78, very appropriate since his initial BBS work took place in 1978 (during a 3-day winter storm there in Chicago). The equipment he used to run the BBS (CBBS software that he wrote, and a custom IMASI-like 8080 system) is depicted in the 1978 year column of this mural. As of this year, 2023, Ward stated that he does still have that equipment.

Anyhow, that is how these two things ended up getting mixed together. Two other key X16 Developers (Wavicle {kernel} and MooingLemur {emulator, Modius track player, and various software support}) were also able to be present and help answer questions about the Commander X16 system. Excited and happy to represent the X16, though the VCF experience here was still new to us, so a few things we probably could have done better (but as we were all coming from out of town, we did have to travel light).

Commander X16™ Home – Commander X16™ Community

ITEM #10: The VCF Phone Network! I don’t know much on exactly how it was setup, but I think it was a standalone phone network (not sure what area code they picked). Luckily no trenching or high pole work was necessary!

Various phones were placed throughout the venue and would ring throughout the day. They were a combination of pay phones and retro desk phones, and a phone directory was available at the VCF website. Then some exhibitors hosted a BBS on these phone lines if they so wished.

Bil Herd mentioned someone had developed a full emulated modem such that you could “hear” it dialing and doing the classic carrier-detection noises. That’s something the WiModem that I have so far don’t do, which would be nice a gimmick to hear (similar to how some floppy emulators now also emulate the disk drive noises).

ITEM #11: CoCo Computers! I’m always partial to Color Computers since I grew up with a CoCo2 hand me down from my father. CoCoNut was present, along with several other exhibitor tables with Tandy and Color Computer equipment. Recall the CoCo systems are based on a Motorola 6809 (CoCo3’s can go up to 2MHz and are pin compatible with the Hitachi 6309 CPU also).

One thing I learned, or re-realized, is two different CoCo2 keyboards: one with flat “melted keys” and the other with “normal” keys (as far as all the CoCo2’s that I ever saw) which are more raised keys. I assume at some point a shop back in the day offered this alternative low profile keyboard, I don’t think it was a Tandy factory option.

ITEM #12: Vendors! Lots of vendors along the main hall as you enter. During the main rush of Saturday, this caused a bottleneck getting into and out of the exhibitor halls. Also it wasn’t clear to some that another set of restrooms was towards the back of the building also. While it was “chaotic” the vendor experience, to me, is still great. It probably wasn’t profitable that day for all the vendors, but it’s a kind of advertising that people will keep in mind (so it is a good public awareness activity to present that all these kinds of things can still be obtained and used).

For me, one particular item I’ve been looking for a 486DX based laptop that also has a CD-ROM, such that it has a good chance of being able to install OS/2 on it (I do have the original disks installation, but would really like to try from a CD). One vendor had a set of 3-ring binders prepared with an inventory list of system configurations, which I found two contender systems in there. One ended up being a tower instead of a laptop, and the laptop one didn’t actually have an optical drive.

It’s great that these mid-1990s systems are still being maintained, and also modernized with solid state storage media. The CPUs “run hot” (use a lot of power) by todays standards, but they are viable processors and plenty of good LCD panels in the laptops. Cameras were being sold, then collector items like keychains, shirts, coasters, and many various other things. But for those there Saturday, a lot of patience in line was needed.

ITEM #13: Outside the weather on Saturday was great! Next to the main vendor aisle inside, another “virtual aisle” appeared on the sidewalk. At the time I explored it, it had mostly software. There was another larger setup at the front entrance outside and in the parking lot, but I didn’t get a chance to go explore those parts.


PART 5: Items not Covered and Honorable Mentions

So there is still a lot not covered. Obviously there was LGR, since I figured many other folks will cover all that (loved his pyramid computer donation!). Here are some that I recall from memory (but didn’t get a good photo or was too crowded at the time):

  • kokoscript (see here), I checked out WordHopper for DOS, cute stuff
  • Genericable with the Weather Station demo (getting our attention with random weather alerts throughout the day!)
  • Connor Krukosky and his interesting set of hardware
  • Amiga of Rochester doing the cap repairs!
  • Jim Drew of CBMSTUFF, who does hardware stuff for a lot more than just CBM!
  • Many others!

PART 6: Final Thoughts

So, as first time to VCF MW, I enjoyed it. Met many great exhibitors, saw the various YT legends in person, and got a few merch items from vendors for myself and the fam. And hopefully we increased awareness of the X16 a bit as well.

Shout out and thanks to the Bistro staff at the hotel, I’m sure dealing with that many people was stressful – but it was a great backup way to get liquids and snacks if we couldn’t step off the site (and risk losing our parking space!). Speaking of parking, I didn’t have to use the overflow next door, so I’m not sure how all that worked out.

I have a second page of VCF MW 2023 Miscellaneous Highlights. They aren’t grouped in any particular way, but just a variety of images that may be of interest. Feel free to use for any other discussion or commentary, I know a lot of exhibitors don’t get a chance to get out and walk the floor. They are available at the following link:

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