VCF West 2023

To say this is a weekend I had been looking forward to ever since West 2022 ended is an understatement. As soon as West 2022 ended I already had an idea of what I wanted to do this year and I couldn’t wait.

As luck would have it, though, little did any of us know that West was in jeopardy. What had happened was another organization had booked out the venue West usually uses for every Sunday in 2023, and I’m guessing they didn’t want to compromise and lose a single Sunday in the year. From the sound of the closing announcements, it sounded like Erik (the awesome person organizing West) was debating if West would even be worth it if the schedule had to shift. Thankfully, it seemed like it was. While it wasn’t announced that any attendance records were broken (at the time of this writing), this year had the most exhibitors ever, and a good chunk of foot traffic.

What blows my mind is since West had to shift to being held on a Friday and Saturday (instead of Sat/Sun) I would have expected Friday to be quiet, and Saturday to be the big day. Not the case. Saturday was pretty quiet, Friday was still pretty busy. Then again, I suppose it ain’t hard to request a day off if you know it’s coming well in advance.

Anyway: The event, broken down by the days. If you want to see the photo album I have for West 2023…look no further.

Day Zero: Load-in and Prep

First, the characters of the write-up:
  • Ryan: Good friend and co-exhibitor
  • Barry: Legendary volunteer and amazing help
  • Jordan: Also good friend and the guy running the other exhibit we had teamed up with

Our ticket this year was “Supercharged Macs of the 90s and 00s”, which much like last year the theme was upgraded vintage Macs angling to punch way above their weight class. Our final machine lineup was:

  • MacEffects Green Jade SE/30
  • 1.5GHz Power Mac G4 Cube
  • 400MHz G3’d Power Mac 9600 with a Radeon 9200
  • 400MHz G4’d Power Mac G3 Blue/White with a Radeon 9200
  • Various odds and ends

Originally I wanted to bring a 1.4GHz Digital Audio G4 but it was being really particular and didn’t want to play nice. Had to switch to my G3 minitower, but realized that it needed a CPU upgrade to be worthy of the title of our exhibit. Reached out to a good friend (Garth, you know who you are) to ask about borrowing a G4 upgrade I had sold him some time ago, and he responded…by just giving me the whole G3 system it came in. Hey, that works. And the G3’s sure to turn heads, too!

We had made some good friends with another exhibit last year, and they were bringing the same era of systems that we were. So the plan was hatched to network our exhibits and essentially make it one big LAN party with a host of games to take advantage of the network connectivity. As such we requested to be next to them and we had our little corner of 90s and 00s Macs.

Now, Ryan couldn’t attend day 0 as he had work, but I opted to show up because I wanted to make sure my half of the exhibit was dialed in and working. The girlfriend took the day off to come help, and I’m thankful for her and a few others (Barry, if you’re reading this, you’re a legend) because even though I’m approaching my mid thirties, my body feels like it might as well be double that age. Working on trying to improve that, but it’s slow progress. But getting all the help I did on both loading and unloading, I’m thankful for everyone that stepped in to help. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Got my exhibit up and running, helped get Jordan’s exhibit up and running, and met some of the other exhibitors while we were working on things, as well as some awesome volunteers. Most notably:

  • Cara Esten, someone I’ve been following on social media for a while now. She’s awesome.
  • Macintosh Librarian, she’s just as awesome and sweet as she is on video.
  • Lucanis of the IrisVision exhibit, another good friend I made last year, and one of my best hecklers.
  • Project Ivy: Not sure who the person’s name is that ran this, but they came over to my table to chat for a bit and their exhibit was awesome.

All in all, short of a small setback (we broke the switch we were going to use for networking) it was a good day. Got most of the exhibit set up and dialed in, just needed to wait for the other half to show up tomorrow.

We got an email from Erik that there was going to be another event and we needed to pause load-in from 5-6pm. I totally didn’t read this correctly and thought it meant “stop what you’re doing and leave, come back after the event”, not “remain in the grand hall until things die down”. Because we totally decided to raid the free pile on the way out and leave and there was an absolute crowd of people by the time we were angling to be out at 5. We somehow got out (oops) thankfully, but yeah. Oops.

Highlight of this was that someone left a complete and pretty good condition Fractal Define R4 in the free pile. I decided to take it because for people like me who want their 5.25″ bays, the Define cases are definitely sought after. Other than that…it was off to dinner and to get some Mr. Chau’s. With that, day zero was a wrap.

Day One

I had some modifications I needed to make, and in the spirit of overestimating how bad traffic would be I decided to leave super early and get there around 8am just to make sure everything was running right.
Check-in was interesting, notably because this year they finally switched up badges (they had been using the same one for years if I recall) but also because they had no record of Ryan on the roster. Small hiccup that was easily handled.
Consignment was also radically changed from last year, and thankfully it was much, much better managed. Last year it was horrible, the line extending almost into the grand hall and checkout taking forever. I normally don’t buy anything from consignment (I think last year I only did because an older gentleman approached our table seeing we had similar era Macs, and offered us two beige G3s for $20 because they weren’t selling and he didn’t want to take them home) but this year I spotted something very relevant to my interests, and also cheap: a 2nd gen iPod mini with an HP logo on it.
I already had a mini, but unfortunately it was trashed because the headphone jack connector managed to break off the logic board. So I was already in search of a mini at some point, and this was the perfect excuse. Great condition. $20. Sign me up. There was also a 4th gen iPod for the same price but I passed on those because they’re arguably easier to find.
There was also an entire damn case of eMates for $30 a pop. If I could have justified one…but I couldn’t. Ryan picked one up, though!
Day one was a surprise because it was a weekday, and I had expected that not many people would show up and it would be Saturday that’s the busy day. Nope. Even though the schedule had shifted, by far the most people showed up on Friday. Amazing.
Thankfully Barry–the legend from the day before–brought us a switch and router so we could get our exhibit networked. Jordan took care of all of the networking stuff because I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with it. Again: Legendary. Before I even knew it he had all our machines networked up.
To demonstrate, we got Quake 3 running over the LAN on 4 machines: His PowerCenter, his 9600, my 9600, and my G3 B/W, with the G3 running the server. It worked. It just. all. worked. And it was awesome and we actually got a fair bit of attention over it.
The only main issue was running the server from the G3 presented the issue of “what happens when someone quits the game on the G3?” Of course, the server cuts and kicks all the other machines off. Not good. So on a whim Jordan got the server software running on my PowerBook G4, and we were able to keep that machine away from the exhibit and running things smoothly. At least with Quake 3. With Unreal Tournament for whatever reason it didn’t want to work on the PowerBook, so we had to let the G3 run the server (and that went about as well as you could expect. People kept quitting it.)
This segues nicely into another problem: Some people were getting tired of Quake, so we switched games. This didn’t seem to sit well with this set of children who kept coming by (and kinda hogging the exhibit if we’re honest but that’s neither here nor there) so they’d quit whatever we had up and figure out how to get back to Quake. Which I suppose isn’t all that bad (hey, at least they’re not asking if these old machines can run Fortnite, right?)
But sometimes this would cause…other issues. Sometimes the server would hiccup, so they’d quit out of the networked game and make their own single player games. Which…fair enough, but this resulted in us not really catching when one or two of the machines were no longer in the LAN match and we’d have to apologize to people sitting down actually expecting to beat the stuffing out of their friends in a networked game we were running. So it goes. Just meant that we had to keep close tabs on our exhibit and the server logs and quickly intervene when one of the kids pulled one of the machines out of the LAN match.
We weren’t the only ones having a spot of trouble: Our friends at the IrisVision exhibit spent the first few hours trying to get their exhibit running because it was being particular. (And watching them cheer when it finally came up was great!)
I did also get to run into a good friend of mine, Alex Handy! He had been by my table last year but I wasn’t there, so we completely missed each other. This time though…one of our mutual friends was running the Mac-on-tosh exhibit right next to me so he had reason to hop on over and hang out for a bit. He took one of the few photos of me that I surprisingly like.
Past that, day one wasn’t much because we couldn’t really wander due to having to keep constant tabs on our exhibit, making sure the LAN was still running and such.
I did stick around a little bit past close and had a bit of a scare with the G3, as it very suddenly wasn’t recognizing its SATA card. After enough panicking and reboots, however, it eventually came back to life. Whew. (Though I had the entire system cloned to the internal ATA drive so even if it like, mega died, we were still in good shape.)
Day one complete, I hopped in my car, drove to Taco Bell, stuffed my face, and slept in preparation to do this all over again.

Day Two

Despite getting more sleep this morning, I felt like a total zombie. Sleep cycles, man.

Thankfully halfway to the venue I started snapping out of it, somewhat. Though it could be due to the fact that VCF started an hour earlier, so I had to be up a little bit earlier.

Today–despite it being a weekend–was actually quieter. It was definitely quiet for the first leg of the day because when I walked in I was damn near the only one there alongside Ryan, because it seemed like no one got the memo that the day was starting a full hour earlier. Whoops. That was fine though, because not many attendees showed for the opening Saturday.

Got the exhibit spun up, and went around to see some of the other exhibits during the lull. Some of my favorites:

  • Tele-typin’ Zone! Put together by someone who’s actually deaf and depends on assistive tech to get by. Really cool exhibit. Also helped along by one of the other exhibitors with telephony equipment.
  • Unlikely Partnership between SGI and IBM: AKA the IrisVision exhibit. Seeing a DOS-era machine render 3D graphics and have a DOS prompt up on a second monitor at the same time was pretty cool.
  • Portable Macintosh Garden: Every significant Mac laptop from the 90s? It was here.
  • The VintNerd: YouTuber with some awesome stickers and also very friendly. Heard of him via VCF Southwest, glad to see him here too.
  • Macintosh Librarian: Because of course she deserves a spot, Maccy is awesome.
  • Mac-on-tosh: Always cool seeing a Pippin in the flesh. Also the amazing set top box made an appearance!
  • AmiWest: Their transparent side paneled Amiga 3000 looked friggin’ sweet (and is an inspiration for what I want to eventually do to my Power Mac 9600…)
  • Project Ivy: Pretty much every eccentric ThinkPad you could find, it was on this table. The person running the table is also pretty awesome, they stopped by my table during load-in and talked shop with us for a bit.

I’m sure there are more, but that’s what my brain remembers. (It’s like, weeks later, and I’m trying to finish this piece during a bout of insomnia. Give me a break.)

I did also make a stop by Rabbit Hole Computing, mostly because I’ve been long curious about their SATA card. I was actually the one who consolidated info and wrote a bit of a more approachable guide to flashing SATA cards over on Tinker Different, so hey, this stuff kinda interests me. Unfortunately the main man of the show (Alex) was a bit tied up in conversation with someone else but I still got to talk to the other person manning the booth (if you’re reading this, I forgot your name! I apologize! I enjoyed the conversation though!) and saw the SATA card in person. It’s a bit rich for my blood (otherwise I’d have bought one to have in my bag ‘o tricks), but the design is certainly interesting (and actually pretty cool if you’re in a situation where like, running SATA cables and power can be tricky).

Also got to see the interesting setup they have to demo ZuluSCSI’s initiator mode. Once again, another thing I’d throw in my bag of tricks if I had the extra cash, because while I’m pretty neutral on the whole SCSI debate, initiator mode is the one thing the Zulu can do that the BlueSCSI can’t.

Besides that, the only real eventful thing that happened on day two was the G4 Cube falling on its face and not working. We had no idea why at the time, we thought it was overheating. Turns out it needed an OS 9 patch to work with its CPU upgrade (1.5GHz). Oops. Didn’t figure that out until a few days after the show.

For the awards, we won the title of “Gotta crash fast!” Despite us agreeing that I’d keep the award this year…nah, Ryan deserved that one for the Cube snafu. HA

Load out was different this year, for me at least. Ryan and Barry got our stuff out in record time, but I hung around a bit to talk shop with people and say my goodbyes for the year. It was kind of bittersweet watching the show floor get torn down to bits and reduced to nothing, because man. What a year. Even with the compromised schedule, it was still an absolute blast and from what we were told if we didn’t break attendance records we came damn close.

This was also an amazing year because this year I knew more people in the local community and got to meet a bunch of people I had only ever known online. I didn’t feel so out of place this year.

Eyes to 2024?

Unlike last year…this year the dates for VCF West 2024 were announced almost directly after the event. From what I’ve heard, some circumstances have changed and thus they’re able to commit to it this early on (rather than us waiting until March or so). Same deal as this year though, happening on a Fri/Sat.

In a previous draft of this post I had written, I excitedly said that I have plans for next year already bubbling in my head, but on the flip I’m also wondering if I shouldn’t take a year off. The reasoning for this is the organizers of West put out a survey, and the results of said survey came back as of when I’m typing this. Among the “what did you dislike” section…

Considering our exhibits had like 9 Macs between them, this stung a fair bit. We had decent turnout at our combined table, but…yeah. I’m not sure who did a webcomic on this, but I remember one a while back about someone getting a ton of praise, but one bad comment was enough to send them into a spiral. I suppose that’s how I’m feeling right now.

I’m halfway between just taking a year off so someone more worthy can take my spot, and going anyway out of spite to flip the bird to the people who try to gatekeep the retrocomputing hobby and tell people what they can and can’t celebrate.

The demands are also kinda…yeah. To quote a friendo on one of the Discords I’m on:

Okay wait
Did they expect people to drag in whole ass mainframes???
It isn’t like the event is hosted on top of the Computer History Museum. If you wanted big-ass mainframes, they’re literally downstairs. They’re not interactive, mind. But they’re there.
This is unfortunately the result of a debate that will rage on until the heat death of the universe. What constitutes retrocomputing? What is vintage? And if the answer isn’t “vintage is what you make it”, I feel that you probably should adjust your worldview a bit because ultimately, retrocomputing is celebrating what we grew up with and what we consider to be nostalgic to us. That means that yes, eventually Intel Macs will become vintage, much to the chagrin of the vintage Apple communities that exist now. There will even be a day when Apple Silicon Macs will become as such. Time doesn’t stop for anything, and eventually even the newest stuff today will become vintage.
It’s just a matter of when, not if. And it is imperative to keep an open mind, because in dipping their toes into this hobby, the younger generation are likely to explore eras of computing that existed before they did. (Hell, Jordan’s interested in S100 stuff! Which is definitely, definitely before his time. And mine too, while we’re at it.)
That’s how you ensure the appreciation for your preferred generation lives on. Encourage people to explore the retrocomputing hobby.
Not gatekeep it because you can’t help but yuck their yum.
That said, enough kvetching about the survey. Will I do 2024? The answer is that I really don’t know yet. I need to think about it. If I do, however, I can say the 9600 won’t be showing up: I’ve already done the beige era enough, it’s time to do something different. What that something different is? To be determined.