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Amiga Atlanta 10th Anniversary Banquet Report
By: Jason Compton
Since we're just barely clearing the Amiga's 10th anniversary, not many
user groups can claim to have been supporting the Amiga for a decade. And
not many who can would have put on as big--or as good--of a party as Amiga
Atlanta did on January 20th to celebrate their milestone.
They invited me to come, but that was really pretty unimportant compared to
the rest of the lineup. Not only did they secure the trio from this past
autumn's videotaping session (Dave Haynie, Fred Fish, and myself) but they
got Dale Luck and RJ Mical, original Amiga Corporation employees, to come
to the party as well. Toss in hosts Stewart "Computer Chronicles" Cheifet
and Susan "CNN TalkBack Live" Rook, and over a hundred attendees, and
you're talking about a pretty unique Amiga event.
Of course, that was Saturday night. When Katherine Nelson of AR and I
arrived, it took a little while for Eric Webb, our ride, to realize that
we were indeed the people he was looking for. He then proceeded to try to
get us killed while driving us to the Terrace Garden Hotel.
But his plans were foiled and we arrived safely. The afternoon was
interesting (more on that later) but the evening was what everyone paid
At 7 PM, the hallway area outside the banquet room was open. Two Amiga
Tech 4000Ts were on display, as was a large piece of sheet metal with
various Amiga hardware components mounted on it, including an A2000 (with a
leaky battery. Amiga users take note--if you leave your computer to rot
for a long time, when the battery recharges, it will likely leak and
corrode your motherboard.)
At the far end of the hall was a machine running Windows NT. But it
belonged to Motorola and was powered by a PowerPC 604 chip, manned by two
local representatives of Motorola RISC Marketing. Yes, Motorola cared
enough about this event to send reps. They were happily giving away stacks
of PowerPC developer documentation, audio tapes, and refrigerator magnets.
The coolest items, their PowerPC ties, were sadly not available.
Wandering through the halls were legions of banquet attendees, all
seemingly surprised to meet us. IRC nicknames were exchanged like wild.
Standing out of the crowd were a bunch of guys in Newtek jackets. Tim
Jenison, chief of Newtek, put roughly half a dozen of his employees on
vacation and shipped them down to Atlanta, along with himself, for the
party. To put it mildly, the crowd was pleased.
It was also a first for Amiga Report, as three editorial members were in
the same place at the same time (Myself, Assistant Editor Katherine Nelson,
and Contributing Editor Addison Laurent).
Amiga Technologies cancelled at the last minute. Boo, hiss.
For an hour, everyone mingled in the crowded hallway, got their badges, and
drank from the expensive cash bar.
One of the more interesting items keeping the crowd's attention was the
Mindlight. This little device, originally released in the late 80s, plugs
into your joystick port and reacts to the noise around it to make cool
effects on the screen. It's making a comeback and going back into
production, and yes, the software works (but does not support the new
features, apparently, yet) of AGA Amigas, as it was running on an A1200
hidden under a table.
Finally, the doors were opened. The tables were arranged, well, much as
you'd expect a banquet hall to look. Every table got a rather original
display of Amiga balloons held down by an unfortunate 5.25 inch hard drive
After a few opening remarks, we got to eat. Eating up at the head table
wasn't as self-conscious of an experience as you might think. It was that
unique meal known to the universe only as Banquet Chicken.
THEN, it was time to party. Susan Rook of CNN's TalkBack Live show hosted
the first half. For those of you who missed it and can't catch the CuSeeMe
rebroadcasts and can't wait for the banquet tape to be released, I can sum
up the two most memorable elements of her tenure.
1. She doesn't know much about computers. In fact, she reminded the
audience of that fact about every 90 seconds.
2. She flirted a lot with RJ.
The setup of the hall put the speakers at a long head table with a podium
in the center and a big-screen projection TV on the left end (facing it) of
the table, where the multi-camera production could be seen.
One of the original 2 members of the group was on hand to re-tell the story
of the group's inception. Unfortunately, his name isn't listed in the
program. He did memorably please the crowd by relating his tale of the
Newton's OS, which politely kept asking him to let it restart in order to
clear up an error it kept having--to wit, it ate his speech notes. It
recalled a lot of hot meetings in the Atlanta summer, stories of the first
software packages making big splashes...all of that stuff I missed out on
by not getting an Amiga until '91. The former group presidents who were on
hand also took a brief turn addressing the audience, including Joe Torre,
who worked on the original CSA Amiga accelerators.
Fred Fish, infamous among Amiga users, recounted the story of the
inspiration to compile and distribute Amiga software--he couldn't find any.
He bought one of the very first A1000s and was a Unix man by day, so he
brought a bunch of source home and made it work, and got the idea to share
it with everyone else. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that he
didn't name them Fish Disks at all, it was Perry Kivolowicz (of ASDG, later
Elastic Reality, and one of the authors on Fish Disk #1) who mentioned to a
user group that he had some new neat "Fish Disks." Fred had been referring
to them as something like "Freely Redistributable Amiga Software Disks",
which isn't nearly as pleasant to say.
RJ gave his speech next, telling assorted tidbits from the history of Amiga
Corporation, the company that built the first Amiga computer. Most
interesting was the story of Jay Miner's dog, who apparently offered design
advice to his owner, shaking or nodding his head at various gates he drew
on the chip layout sheets. (also interesting, the Amiga was designed
largely with paper and pencil.) He also proclaimed somewhere along the
line that he shared Susan Rook's inability to program a VCR, but I would
have thought that the man who worked at the very heart of the Amiga could
handle a few buttons and a flashing LED. RJ still owns a Joyboard, the
device that lead to the naming of the Guru Meditation. Apparently, RJ is
writing some sort of book, but we never actually heard about it...
The hosts changed here, and we were treated to two videos, the first,
produced and edited by Aaron Ruscetta of Amiga Atlanta, was a "Message to
Escom", including clips from AAi members, Dale Larson, and the three of us
brought down for taping. Anchoring the various segments was the now
infamous "clawed hand shooting out of the ground clutching a Boing! ball"
The second, brought by Cheifet, was a brief video history of Computer
Chronicles' coverage of the Amiga, from 1985 to 1993. I never got a chance
to ask what happened to the last 2 years, but I have a sneaking suspicion
it had something to do with the virtually invisible market. It was also an
opportunity to see the Boing! demo, even if it was on video.
Dave Haynie was the speaker up next, and he mostly focused on what makes
the Amiga special, the magic about it. (Not to be confused with the Amiga
Technologies "Amiga Magic" software package.) He kept up what by now was
an absolute tradition by now amongst the speakers--slamming Microsoft, hard
and often, and gave the audience reason to keep up their interest in the
Amiga. Perhaps most surprising of all was that Dave managed to stay
entirely within his alloted time.
Then it was my turn. Since I had virtually no notes worth speaking of,
you'll just have to wait for the tape to hear what I said, because I have a
tough time remembering it. I do remember GVP being in there somewhere,
though, and I got people to applaud for the presence of Newtek and
After my speech (which ran a bit over, so Katie tells me), I was up there
to field questions from the audience. That didn't last long, however. A
question was asked about Newtek, and Tim Jenison was given the mike. He
talked for a good 10 minutes on the future of the Amiga and his confidence
in Amiga Technologies. This got the crowd very excited, and was an
excellent way to close the evening. (He didn't answer the question,
Cheifet closed the evening with some parting comments. He defended his
show and himself by pointing out he still had two Amigas that he loved and
used regularly, to resounding applause.
Finally, around midnight, way over schedule but loving every minute of it,
the banquet ended and it was time to go. Well, all except the AAi crew who
had the unpleasant task of cleaing the place up, breaking down the very
impressive set of video equipment.
I really lost count over the course of the evening as to how many rousing
rounds of applause and standing ovations there were. Reportedly, the wives
of the Motorola PR guys were looking a bit overwhelmed.
Amiga users came here to be entertained, and to find a reason to be
enthusiastic about the Amiga, and they got it. The banquet was a
celebration of 10 years of AAi and the Amiga, and I'd like to be invited
back for #20.
The Side Notes:
Atlanta has some really interesting ideas about restaurants and cuisine.
While looking for a place to have lunch, the most interesting location we
passed was The Rusty Nail, a barbeque joint with a 10 foot long smoking gun
on the front lawn.
The Thai restaurant we had lunch at on Sunday was interesting, too. The
food was great, but the place served Buffalo wings (as apparently ALL
restaurants in Atlanta do) and had jalapeno pepper slices in a jar on every
After the banquet, a lot of people headed to The Bucket Shop, a bar just
down the road from the hotel. The Guiness there wasn't as good as it was
Dale Luck's Boing! optical mouse is now in its final days. He's only got a
limited quantity left and his supplier has stopped building them, since he
was the only guy who actually bought them.
When the question was asked "How many here owned an original A1000?" at the
banquet, well over half the hands in the room shot up, in addition to every
hand at the head table but mine. Man, did I look out of place.
RJ Mical left 3DO earlier this year. Dale Luck remains, as Senior Software
All of the banquet's sponsors had banners up around the room.
Unfortunately, the Computer Chronicles banner kept falling off.
The tape of the banquet should be available soon. It's much more than a
bunch of people eating dinner, it's one of the greatest Amiga events I've
ever been to.