Club Trek

Shiuming Lai shows how not to save 5


At the end of September, it was time for another Cheshunt Computer Club meeting. For a change, I had the day off work, and so did Rob Perry of Gamebase ST (Rob should be familiar to visitors of JagFest UK 2004 and CGEUK 2004). Rob's got back into Atari in a big way, having taken a break to pursue a successful career in that branch of computing owned by Bill Gates. It may put food on the table but it definitely lacks soul, hence his return to the spiritual home. Not only is Rob involved heavily in the Gamebase ST project, this time round, he's catching up with the Atari 8-bit range because in those days he was a Spectrum user. If enough people write to us with requests, we may consider starting a MySinclair magazine.

The obvious thing to do was take Rob along to CCC, so, after my morning's chores and a light lunch, I drove over to East Dulwich in South East London to meet Rob and lead the way to Cheshunt. We agreed to meet at 15:00, thinking this was plenty of time to reach the club - how utterly wrong we were to be! For the uninitiated, London has what is known as the Congestion Charge, a weekday, business-hours penalty of 5 for driving through the city centre, enforced by a perimeter network of computer-controlled cameras. All installed at a cost that could be better spent on improving the road network in the first place, but I digress...

Neither of us wanted to give 5 to a seemingly unworthy cause, but neither of us knew of a good route that just darts around the border of the zone. Central London is a nightmlare of daft one-way systems, massive congestion and diversions, you've got to have passed The Knowledge, as taken by London's black cabbies, to be confident of getting anywhere in a reasonable time.

"No problem, we'll just go back to where I normally make my journey, from Kingston though Richmond, up to Kew and then join the A406 North Circular." to which Rob agreed, because if there's anything we both hate as much as the Congestion Charge, it's the M25. However, I was already thinking what a rubbish idea this was by the time we crawled down to Wandsworth on the A3 from Oval! We hit bottleneck upon bottleneck, most frustrating when all you want is to get to your local Atari club.

Several hours later, and with inevitable lateness for CCC becoming a real possibility, we were finally on the A10. Amazingly, Rob managed to not lose me, the poor fellow must have been wondering what in the world I was doing, taking him on a guided tour of South East England!

We floored it on the home run, reaching Wolsey Hall in what seemed like a blink of an eye, compared to the rest of the journey. Aching backs and sore bottoms aside, Rob pointed out that one of my tail lights was very slightly dimmer than the other. Normally I could count on Rob of all people to notice this, but then he had been staring at them long enough!

[Photo: Rob and Steve having a chat]

More than computers
For a long time it's been clear that the very name of Cheshunt Computer Club is something of an understatement. From my early days at the turn of the century, when the appearance of busted up PCs battled for attention with the Ataris, we now get together and discuss or dissect all manner of techie fodder. Current hot topics are temperamental Bluetooth devices, Mark Branson's new digital video recorder (in addition to his CT60 Falcon which seems to be a never-ending project), monitor repair, and this time I was looking up sport suspension kits to complement my new wheels, with the help of Steve Sweet. In fact it was one night at Ches' we were loading my stuff back into my car, when he looked disdainfully at the large amount of wheel gap in the arches, and planted the apparently nonsensical idea of beefing up the rims. That got me thinking - and spending a whole load of money, very naughty - and I've got to say I've really enjoyed the results (gets me to the club quicker at least, because I can now pull higher Gs around corners). This should be renamed to Cheshunt Technology Club, for the diversity of activity it breeds.

[Image: Atari Daily news]

Rob brought a load of new toys, and after a brief hello-long-time-no-see chat with Steve (still in work uniform but didn't bring his hearse in case he scared those in the ballroom dancing class next door), we went over to Pizza Hut to get some lard, we were really hungry after all that driving. The service was painfully slow, then we went back to stink the place out with the smell of cheese and garlic. Trying to avoid getting grease on the Ataris was difficult as well.

Among Rob's computers to be repaired and upgraded was a Falcon (fitted with 32 MHz accelerator), STE with amnesia and a mint condition 130XE scored off eBay, which literally arrived that day and was still wrapped up in a cardboard box. We couldn't wait to see this and Rob couldn't wait to rip it open and upgrade it, to Warp+ OS, already! Unfortunately he'd been having trouble with the wimpy 15 W soldering iron he got from Maplin, it took him several hours to make an S-Video cable for his 8-bits. Mrs Perry was sent on a mission to change it for an upgraded iron with a bit more poke but that didn't happen in time for the club. Not that it would have mattered, in the chaos that ensued.

I brought some things as well, I wanted to finally try out Jimmy Connors Tennis for the Lynx, which I'd bought at JagFest UK several months ago. Mark and Derryck brought their Lynxes but both seemed to have problems with either the AC adapter power socket or sound outputs (I also brought some speakers with me to make a lot more noise than the built-in tin can). Immediately I was struck by the nice quality sampled speech and fluid animation, a hallmark of Lynx games back in the day. It's a more involved game than Activision Tennis I got for the 2600 for sure, so I didn't manage to get much into it that night, not helped by the washed out appearance of these old Lynx screens. The person who comes up with a solution for new, high quality and high contrast displays for the Lynx will make a small fortune. This is the one thing that really bugs me about enjoying Lynx games and the reason I haven't bought one yet - it's so difficult to see. After rummaging through Mark's Lynx bag, I found a bunch of games he also hadn't played, or even opened from their shrink-wrap since buying them! He totally forgot he had Zarlor Mercenary, a really cool shoot 'em up in the style of Raiden, and I had a lot of fun playing many games I hadn't touched in years.

[Photo: Rob, Steve and Mark look as Rob upgrades his 130XE]

Rob's 130XE even has the original packaging. Here everyone is marvelling at the lack of dust inside this machine, it really is in that good condition.

[Photo: Peter West]

Peter West looking busy.

[Photo: Competition Pro]

It's a baby Competition Pro!

[Photo: Ian Smith playing Pong]

Ian Smith shows Pong who's boss.

[Photo: Rob's 130XE motherboard]

If it ain't broke, it needs tweaking.

Elsewhere in the room Ian Smith and Peter West were tapping away on their machines. Ian had Derryck's Philips RGB monitor on his desk (or rather, I borrowed it from Derryck before he sold it to Felice, and plugged it into the nearest available power outlet), so I could plug in my Atari 10-in-1 joystick TV game device, Ian proved to be pretty good at Pong, although a joystick isn't the ideal method of controlling the bat. At the moment I'm looking to buy the new 10-in-1 which continues the same theme but is modelled on the Atari paddle controllers.

In the middle of the room sat, very conspicuously, my big box of anti-static bags, I couldn't give them away. At recent meetings I've come with boxes full of old computer junk I don't want, dumped them on Steve, who'll then build space ships and time machines out of it, but nobody wanted anti-static bags (however, I'd sneakily stashed some inside the big box for Steve which I then sealed...). They're good for sticking on windows to reflect heat back out. Anyone?

[Photo: James, Felice and Mark]

Club coffee rocks. I'll have an ice mocha, Mark.

[Photo: 3D glasses]

Regulars know of Paul Gibbs' passion for stereoscopic graphics. One day 3D glasses will look cool as well.

As usual it all ended far too soon, especially for Rob, partly because of our late arrival, and partly because he had so many different projects that needed attention. We still had great fun though. After saying our goodbyes, I led Rob down the A10, then at the junction with the A406 he carried on into Shoreditch, near where he used to work (and by this time the Congestion Charge no longer applied) and I went my way. How much petrol did we use that day? More than 5 for sure.

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MyAtari magazine - Feature #4, October 2004

Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine