Sunday, 31 March 2013

Game over, man. Game over.

Every year they hold the massive Game Developers Conference in SF, where the brightest and best of the computer games industry come along to show off their fanciest wares.  If you're not a games developer then you can just turn up and play everything.  I went once before, but as passes are $250 I usually have to content myself with sitting at home playing Super Mario 3.

This year my old school friend Gaz flew all the way from Swindon to show off games from his company, Fayju, and kindly slipped me a ticket.  Gaz and I spent seven years sitting by each other on the bus to school, and when we weren't doing the homework we should have done at home we mostly talked rubbish to each other, a lot about video games.  Ah, the heady days of the ZX Spectrum and the Sega Megadrive.  Kids don't know how good they've got it, and Gaz was showing his Amazing Frog on the iPad and new Ouya console.

I did my part by playing the game while shouting things like "awesome!" when people walked past, then wandered the expo floor looking at what Nintendo, Sony, and others are up to.  There were companies that could help you build your game, market it, make it run on five screens at favourite was SpeedTree that grew you digital trees to put into your virtual world - no arboreal experience necessary.

I paid back Gaz and his co-worker Harry by giving them a tailored guided tour of San Fran.  All the sights in four hours: sea lions, soup-in-a-sourdough-bowl, trolley cars, Alcatraz, etc.  I had to take them into the Musee Mechanique of course, home of truly old-school arcade machines.  Sadly they had to abandon the delights of California for Wiltshire, but hopefully their conference networking will lead them to massive venture capital funding and a swift move to Silicon Valley.  Soon, because I didn't get to take them to In'n'Out.

The big boys were here, showing off.

I was always more of a Mario man myself.

Serious screen envy, especially when looking at Lara Croft.

Yay - viva Chile!  There were a lot of country-specific displays that I passed by, but I reserved a "bueno dia" for my spiritual home.

SpeedTree, and a pleasing unreal palm.

It was all about motion capture this year.  Sadly only real dancers got to don the strange suits.

UKIE co-sponsored a lot of small games makers to come out.

And here they are!  Harry and Gaz generated much interest, not least due to my "awesome!"s.

Where does the city tour start?  Blue Bottle Coffee, of course.

Not bad, but not Street Fighter 2 is it.

Neither of us has changed a bit years?  Gulp.

Friday, 29 March 2013


It was time to reward Hannah for her sterling work looking after young Peter while I was away, so I booked her into a fancy hotel for the night.  The fact that she was sharing the room with the baby and me only increased her enjoyment, and I threw in a massage (a proper massage, not a David-special) as well.

The hotel was the slightly dodgy sounding Purple Orchid down in Livermore.  This is a town a little south of us but the short drive takes you into a different world - rolling green hills, vineyards, and olive groves.  Quite strange with the East Bay megalopolis so near, and a proper break from reality.  We wandered the grounds in sunshine and enjoyed the complimentary afternoon wine and nibbles.  The owners have newly bought it, having been wedding photographers in Vegas (speaking of different worlds).  They had a 10-month-old, and there were only a few other guests, so the whole thing resembled a relaxed rural daycare.  With wine.  It was completely fabulous, and just what we needed.

We came back this morning having learned several new things: you can get Indian food almost as good as in Britain around here; Walnut Creek has two wineries (how did we miss them?); after another night of chuckling/singing/ grunting/growling, Peter is old enough to move into his own room.  Maybe Hannah too.

This is the place.

See?  Rather nice.



Cheese and wine is served at 4.30pm, and we don't need telling twice.

If your baby's poo is purple, you're feeding him too much Beaujolais.

One for baby, one for mummy and daddy.

Extending the olive branch - in a few years (says the proprietor) California will be the biggest producer of olives in the world.

Ready for another chicken tikka masala.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Bye bye Blighty

I made it back to warmth - if not civilisation - after a 2.5hr delay to my flight.  The motherland obviously wanted to keep her favoured son a little longer, but not even the words "several technical difficulties" could keep me from boarding that plane.  I arrived home late to be met by a baby that is now three times his birth weight, a bowling ball-sized 9lbs!  He smiled when I saw him, but was then sick, so it probably didn't have much to do with happiness (happy sick?)

The weather did not improve on my last couple of days in England; it snowed in Somerset as I left.  It was lovely to see various people during the visit, which brightened up the whole endeavour, and we'll be back for a full tour in a few months.  Talking of brightening, Hannah kept babbling about something called "sunshine" that seems to come from the sky and make things warm.  I don't remember anything like that existing, so put it down to her delirious joy at my return.

Mum and Dad in their summer outfits.

Ellen gave me a fine send off with a full English...

...and I delivered the takeaway that Hannah ordered.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Seaside holiday

It's the coldest March for 50 years.  Lovely!  To celebrate I went to the beach in Weymouth with my eldest nephew Oliver.  It was even colder down there than when we walked the dog that morning, in the company of four complaining children (and possibly one complaining adult).  Enough whinging - it's character building!  How many hours until I return to California?

What a day to let a dog out on.

Oliver, who's a good deal hardier than me.

Quick, take the photo, before the air itself freezes.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Down comes the snow

I've been enjoying a fantastic display of cold and terrible weather, although the South West has been mostly spared the white stuff in favour of the wet stuff.  I'm currently wearing every item of clothing I brought with me.

Yesterday was Ian's funeral in an absolutely packed church in Woking - the number in attendance tells you plenty about him.  I did the eulogy, which I got through without fainting or wetting myself; a personal triumph, but Ian would have been deeply amused had either of those things happened.  It was something of a uni reunion, and a fitting goodbye.

This morning we awoke to snow, which allowed a (soggy) snowball fight before Meg and I indulged in some Easter egg shopping.  We even found one of the new "true" Easter eggs, although enclosing some stickers of Jesus with the most pagan symbol of spring/rebirth seems a bit theologically dubious.  They also cost £7 each, so we passed by those.

Now I'm back in the warm bosom of Somerset before a trip to the nephews and nieces tomorrow, and then my return to the boiling hot bosom of California.  We should all be back here in July, when there can't possibly be snow.  Unless there is.

Meg, who continually grows up each time I see her.  Scary.

A lovely sight for a March morning.

Flowers regret their early appearance.

Taken shortly before large clumps of slushy ice were thrown at my head.

Ellen enjoys a thoroughly irreligious Easter treat.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Frome is where the heart is

Somerset, so much to answer for.  Frome was founded by St. Aldhelm in 685AD when he built St. John's church (although my friend Simon, a historian, claims this isn't true, but he would because he's from Wiltshire).  It grew into an important market town and wool trading centre.  It's still quite nice, and I enjoyed a chilly wander down to the shops with Mum today.  My goal was to stock up on Teapigs, which I happily achieved.  My suitcase is already full.

Some daffodils shiver in the spring temperatures.

Fine reading material.

Mum in Cheap Street.

Suitcase fillers.

Amazingly, I'm not the most famous person to come from Frome.

And the River Frome that his bridge goes over.

Who doesn't?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The other baby

I went from LHR straight through the miserable English rain to Ely.  "Wintry conditions will persist," said the nice lady on Radio 4, but I remembered to put on my thick coat and hat before leaving Terminal 5 so hopefully retained a little Californian heat.

Thanks to a late arriving aircraft, holding patterns over London, 45 minutes for bags to get from plane to carousel, and a hire car with no petrol in it, I was two hours late getting onto the M25 and so hit rush hour around the capital.  Joy!  It meant that baby Isobel was sleeping when I arrived, but John and Laura were a reasonable substitute and we had a tasty dinner of goulash and tart tatin - a very British meal.

This morning the baby rose and shone, a little dimly because she had a runny nose.  Laura took her and me into Ely for a fine cup of tea (Russian Earl Grey, although I can't tell you what made it Russian) and then I tootled over to Woking to see Ellen and Meg, on to Colehill to see my in-laws, and now I'm in lovely Frome, the heart of the West Country.  Thank goodness for unlimited mileage on hire cars.

Hmmm, somewhat of a different shape from my baby.

Laura has mothering sorted.

Americans, note: this is how you serve tea.

Don't let Peter see my unfaithfulness!

Monday, 18 March 2013


I'm on a quick trip back to the UK.  Not a happy reason, I'm afraid: my friend Ian sadly passed away last week, and his funeral is taking place on Friday.  Before then I'm zipping around the south for a few days, catching up with family and delivering Easter goodies.

Ian and me, back when we were young!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Unanticipated encounters with alien mysteries while searching for exotic hallucinogens

Will NorCal wonders never cease?

A few years ago Hannah and I decided to go full Californian and visit some naked hot springs - they were very naked, and fully Californian.  We made sure to go to Wilbur Hot Springs, which keeps itself above somewhat sketchier establishments by insisting on silence in the springs and promoting a very Northern Californian ethos of environmentalism, sharing, unplugging (no wi-fi!), etc.

I still get advertising from them, which I don't mind a bit when something like this drops into my inbox.  I wanted to share it in case anyone reading would like to attend - spots are limited!  Make sure you pop in to say hello to us at the end of your trip...
Serenity on the Edge of the Abyss: A Weekend with Dr. Dennis McKenna at Wilbur Hot Springs

June 7-9, 2013

Time to slow down and savor life. Enjoy a unique weekend with Dr. Dennis McKenna in the secluded beauty of Wilbur Hot Springs in Northern California.

About Dr. Dennis McKenna

Dr. Dennis McKenna is an ethnopharmacologist who has studied plant hallucinogens for over forty years. Outside of scientific circles he is best known as the brother of Terence McKenna, a cultural icon in the psychedelic community.Together they are co-authors of The Invisible Landscape: Mind, Hallucinogens, and the I Ching and Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower’s Guide.

Their unanticipated encounters with alien mysteries while searching for exotic hallucinogens deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest had a profound impact on their lives, and on late twentieth century culture. In The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, Dennis further explores the complexity of ideas that the two brothers shared, and the peculiar obsessions that led them into some of the strangest uncharted territory ever plumbed by two questing minds.This book is Dennis’ personal story of their intertwined lives.

Dennis McKenna’s professional and personal interests are focused on the interdisciplinary study of ethnopharmacology and plant hallucinogens. He received his doctorate in 1984 from the University of British Columbia, where his doctoral research focused on ethnopharmacological investigations of the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of ayahuasca and oo-koo-he, two orally-active tryptamine-based hallucinogens used by indigenous peoples in the Northwest Amazon.

He received post-doctoral research fellowships in the Laboratory of Clinical Pharmacology, National Institute of Mental Health, and in the Department of Neurology, Stanford University School of Medicine. In 1990 he joined Shaman Pharmaceuticals as Director of Ethnopharmacology, and relocated to Minnesota in 1993 to join the Aveda Corporation as Senior Research Pharmacognosist. He has been an adjunct Assistant Professor at the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota since 2001, where he teaches courses in ethnopharmacology and botanical medicine. He has taught summer field courses in Peru and Ecuador, and has conducted ethnobotanical fieldwork in the Peruvian, Colombian, and Brazilian Amazon.He is a founding board member of the Heffter Research Institute, a non-profit scientific and educational organization focused on the investigation of the potential therapeutic applications of psychedelic medicines. 

June 7-9, 2013  
Serenity on the Edge of the Abyss: A Weekend with Dr. Dennis McKenna
Friday night 8:30 p.m.
Meet and Greet with Dennis McKenna

Introduction by Dr. Richard L. Miller.
Dennis will read excerpts from his new memoir, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss. An informal meeting with Dennis, casual conversation and discussion, Q&A, and book signing.

Saturday workshop 2-4 p.m.
Back from the Abyss
Introduction by Dr. Richard L. Miller.
1. Reflections on the Experiment at La Chorrera, 40 years on and counting: a more in depth reading from the chapter of this title from the book, followed by discussions and questions.
2. Plant-human co-evolution and the Origin of the Human Imagination.

Sunday 10-11:30 a.m. Morning Wrap-Up Session

Q & A, discussion, book signing.

Cost: $100 in addition to 2 night's lodging in the hotel. (Please call for room rates.)