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Andrew Rawnsley writes...
One of the most wonderful aspects of the RISC OS scene is its thriving collection of usergroups and the members who attend their meetings. It is always a pleasant task to present new software or hardware to the various groups, and never is this more so than with the Big Ben Club in the Netherlands.
Our association with the club began in the late 1990s. The enthusiastic Dutch RISC OS supporters would come over on a bus to attend shows like Acorn World or Wakefield. I forget the exact details but, as R-Comp, we were involved in supporting this. I'm tempted to use the word "sponsor" but I suspect that may be too formal. I just recall how thrilled I was to think that people were so keen to come to RISC OS shows that they would come on a "coach trip" to the exhibition.
The Big Ben Club.
Each year, the Big Ben Club would organise an "Expo" of their own. This was not a show in quite the normal sense. At least, not as a British RISC OS show attendee would expect. Each region of the club had their own table and exhibited what they had been up to, so that other regions could get up to date. The various Dutch, German and Belgian dealers would also be there, along with a handful of UK companies such as Icon Technology, Castle, RISC OS Ltd and Archive . My R-Comp team was a regular attendee.
It's LAN party time.
This year's RISC OS eXperience show took place in Zaanstad, north-west of Amsterdam. Being based near Manchester, my wife and I travelled overnight on the Hull-Zeebrugge boat. Rotterdam would have been closer, but the Zeebrugge boat is quieter and cheaper. I'd advise anyone travelling on this ferry to try the a-la-carte restaurant. It's calm and civilised. Once various special offers are taken into account it's cheaper than the cattle-farm of the main self-service restaurant.
The Zaanstad show has the flavour of a large LAN party. For those unfamiliar with this geeky custom, desks are laid out in rows or squares, and enthusiasts bring their computers and set them up on one big network. This would usually be for playing games, but in this case the club members spend most of their time showing each other what they've been up to, discussing their favourite software or projects and troubleshooting any issues. This year, the only UK companies present were ourselves and the redoubtable Jim Nagel of Archive Magazine. It was good to see Martin Wurthner of Artworks and Techwriter fame present too. He was missed last year.
When we arrived, Jim seemed fast asleep in a side room. Perhaps he was just resting his eyes... I guessed that, like me, he'd not slept well on the boat.
Presenting the ARMini.
In keeping with the philosophy of a traditional LAN party, the RISC OS eXperience 2011 was not billed as a sales-oriented show. Obviously, R-Comp try to cover costs, but that is not the primary objective. This year we were presenting our new ARMini ARM-powered computer. Having sold all of our initial stock of ARMinis before leaving the UK, I only had my own machine available.
The afternoon saw me giving a presentation to the various club members in a side room. I demonstrated the capabilities of the ARMini, and managed to avoid the Microsoft curse of crashes during live demos. I'm told Steve Jobs only does carefully scripted and rehearsed routines to avoid such embarrassments. So, I'm well aware that the "flying by the seat of your pants" demos that I favour is a dangerous strategy but it keeps me sharp. They often involve trying something for the first time, as a result of a customer's question. One day this will end in tears. Thankfully, everything went smoothly. I sold the demonstration ARMini, then took orders knowing that a new batch of parts had been delivered to R-Comp back in the UK three hours after we'd set off for the Netherlands. The new SafeStore 2 backup software was also demonstrated, and went down well. In summary, the day was pleasurable and productive. The hospitality of the Big Ben club members really does have to be experienced to be believed. In many ways it is somewhat humbling, and one feels a great urge to support the club in any way possible.
Two of the R-Comp team.
Alan Wrigley (left) and Andrew Rawnsley.
Now that we're back in the UK, fuelled with a fresh supply of parts, the priority is to clear the backlog of ARMini orders. This is slow work, as each machine takes about half a day to assemble (bespoke parts), duplicate, configure, test and package. Because the ARMini is a fully licensed RISC OS machine, we have to keep track of serial numbers, OS keys and owners, which means a whole series of stickers, leaflets and manuals have to be assembled and attached for each machine. The end result is pleasing, but we need to find ways to streamline things, without sacrificing attention-to-detail.
Our RISCube range of RISC OS / Windows hybrid machines is known for its build-quality and reliability. Each takes about two days to set up. We try to ensure that the ARMinis are of a similar quality. Time overheads are less because these are RISC OS only. However, as with the RISCubes, the bespoke nature of each machine means that we can't take shortcuts.
Moving house amidst it all.
The SafeStore 2.01 upgrade should ship this week - it has passed our own tests, and we're awaiting results from external testers. This is mostly a post-launch, maintenance release (aka bugfix) based on user feedback, but also contains improvements to how the software reports any problems that occur during backups.
If that isn't enough, as this is published, we're moving house. Don't worry, the usual R-Comp address remains unchanged, but we'll be a bit disorganised for a few days. If someone can explain to me why ISPs and phone companies can't manage to move services on the same day as a house move, please tell me!
After that, it'll be off up North to deliver some RISCubes to one of our business customers. We also need to start thinking about the Midlands RISC OS summer show on 9th July. There's always something going on in RISC OS Land!
Thinking of attending the show next year ?
When we attended the Expo historically, it took place in the town of Nieuwegein (roughly pronounced nee-vech-aaayn, although with rather more phlegm!), just south of Utrecht, which is, itself, just south of Amsterdam. Although the show has moved to Zaanstad, you may like to know that it is still worth making a pilgrimage to Nieuwegein, thanks to the tasty wares of the Mr Crocker snack bar. Lots of dutch food, plus steak and schnitzel for very reasonable prices. In fact, pretty much everything is under a tenner. I recommend pofferidges (a plate of tiny pancakes) for desert...Yum! I try and avoid the temptations of the "Free Record Shop" (actually not free, but reasonably placed Blu-Rays, DVDs and music), but usually fail. My excuse this year was that the Die Hard Blu-Ray set hadn't been released in the UK.
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