So this October found me travelling to the USA for the first time. I was really pleased to have been invited to attend the 2014 AmiWest Show as special guest of "Friends Of AmiWest" a dark and shadowy organisation if ever there was one :-).
It was going to be a week of firsts, first flight, first long haul flight, first trip to the USA, first Amiga show, first opportunity to perform my music to a mostly American audience.
Travel arrangements were arranged in advance on my behalf so all I had to do was a bit of travel admin., passport, the ETSA thingy etc. etc., and of course get myself to Heathrow Airport by 10pm on Wednesday 22nd. I met up with Matthew Leaman from AmigaKit / A-EON on schedule and we checked in on time and boarded the aircraft, only to find an hours delay on the ground as someone had to be taken off the plane due to illness, which of course meant retrieving their baggage from the hold.
There was a further delay in the air (head winds I suppose) and so we arrived at San Fransisco International airport almost two hours late, having arrived late it seems that the customs shift had swapped over resulting in another hours delay in the customs queue! So my first experience of international air travel was something of a baptism on fire...
Having finally got through we met up with Paul (PJS) who would be giving me a lift to the hotel in Sacramento, dropping Matthew off at his hotel on the way, Matthew would be joining us at the show the following day along with Trevor Dickinson. On the way to the hotel we planned to stop at Bill (tekmage) Borsaris for something to eat, an interesting journey with Paul cursing the Californian road signs and driving eastwards on the "80" instead of west for a while. (Very glad it wasn't me driving with all those lanes to deal with!). Bill eventually guided us in by telephone and we rolled up out side his newly extended house. Bill had ordered in burgers and the veggie burger I had, had to rank as one of the best ever. After eating and a tour round the house we checked out his Amiga collection, and I got my first sight of an Amiga one X5000 in an impressive red and white case with boing ball logo on the side. We grabbed a couple of boxes of gear to take to the show, Bill would bring the rest himself the next day.
After another hours travel we arrived at the hotel where the show was taking place, no one around it seemed, though the airwaves were alive with IRC traffic from the various attendees hiding away in their rooms. As I had been on the go for 25 hours at this point it seemed like a good idea to retire! Especially as there was no bar or beer available!
So up early (for a musician at least ) the next day and down to breakfast, a strange assortment of very American things, like automatic pancake makers, doughnuts (for break fast?) and some oddly cooked eggs. I went for the eggs and multiple refills of the coffee. Various show attendees started to show up, include OS developers Steven Solie and Tony Wyatt, "Epsilon", Bill who we'd met last night, Val (Valiant), Eldee (eliyahu) Stephens, Brian Deneen of SACC and a few other whose names I'm already forgetting , sorry!
Before the show proper started on Friday evening there was going to be a programming seminar / jam, so the first job was to set up all the machines, many had brought their own machines and there was wide range on monitors etc. to borrow. Having come by air I hadn't risked a computer (let alone my guitar!) so my role was to be a wandering coder offering support and advice, where needed.
Steven Solie, AmigaOS 4 Team lead, started proceedings with an introductory talk about the SDK and then the idea was for each of the participants to take on a project of their choosing and the four experienced programmers would give them advice on how to proceed, this free form system seemed to work quite well, especially as every one was at a different level.
The day passed quickly, with much discussion both about programming and about the Amiga scene in general, Trevor and Matthew turned up later in the afternoon. The coding session carried on into the early evening, then we all went out for dinner as a group. A Chinese restaurant was chosen and our group seemed to arrive first, and waited patiently and then not patiently outside for the others to arrive, we were at the point of thinking there must be more than one restaurant when Brian came out and we found the others had beaten us to it, and were waiting inside , they had been there for 15 mins already!
The food started to arrive, it looked fantastic, but only one problem, each course had at least one piece of meat in it! Soup with fish, rice with pork, noodles with beef! Eventually a noodle and pancakes dish with no meat arrived, phew! I commandeered it, finally something to eat!
Back to hotel, we tracked down "Goody" and his legendary supply of craft beer, which was taken back to SSolies room ( I think ) and consumed with much conversation, the porter was remarkably good, I just had to let it warm in the glass for a while, unfortnatly we got a noise complaint! So we decamped to the great room where the breakfast was served to avoid any further issues. Plenty of stories were exchnaged along with the beer and not just amiga related.
Next day was the second programming seminar session and I had a fuzzy head, I really wasn't sure if it was a hangover or jet lag related, but it eased quickly (which my hangovers rarely do) so I assume it was the latter. On this session we set the machines up in the other half of the exhibition space so that they needn't be moved again when the show proper started in the evening. Today as well as helping out with the coding I got together with Valiant to make sure the usb stick with various demos on it would boot on his machine, an X1000 with a brand new video card in it, a bit faster than my own. Every thing worked okay with only minimal tweaks so all was set for the weekend.
During the afternoon Brian Deneen brought in the guitar he was kindly lending me to enable me to perform at the 'banquet' on Saturday night, so I had a welcome break while I tuned it up and ran through a few things to get used to the feel of it.
Friday evening was the real start of the show and the main theme was a repair session primarily for classic hardware. Though some work was also done on bring a SAM 440- flex up the latest OS version with a preview copy of Final edition. Many of the others had arrived by then and it was good to be able to put faces to the any names, including Mike Brantly, Ken Lester, Ken (Sundown) and others. Once the repair session was well under way we all headed out for another meal, this time at an Italian style restaurant, I got to order my own food this time, so chose the butternut squash pizza, and a good many of us joined Tony (the Pieman) Wyatt in ordering pie to follow. Oh, I forgot about the texmex lunch, already I'd eaten more in two days that I would in a week, and Epsilon had been worrying on IRC about there being food available!
Saturday was the first main session, with the various display tables setup on one half of the space and the second half setup for demonstrations and presentations. SACC (the Sacramento Amiga Computer Club) who were our hosts, had setup a truly impressive display of classic amiga hardware, including a CD32, A500, A600, A1200, A1000, A2000, a video toaster, and A3000D and probably some I missed out. All running and sporting different ages of the operating system for people to try out. There was also a wide range of NG hardware scattered across the exhibits, including the latest machine in the form of Bill Borsari's X5000, but also an X1000 and several SAMs and a Pegasos running Final Edition, and Epsilon had a Mac Laptop running Morphos, and a MiniMig.
There was a combined AmigaKit and A-Eon table duaplaying the X5000 and with lots of goodies for sale (including Amiga.org mugs which seemed very popular). Steven Solie and Paul Sadlik, manned the Hyperion table and Eldee the intuitionbase exhibit.
The presentations started arround 11am after a bit of fidling about and a swap of projectors, needing the room layout to be rotated by 90 degrees. Steven Solie drew the short straw and got to go first. He gave the suprise announcent of the Final Edition release of AmigaOS 4.1 which no one was expecting at all *cough*, and also an announcment from Acube about their new SAM 460 CR model, and fielded a few questions from the floor. Also he talked about the wiki where most of the documentation now resides.
Trevor followed up and gave an excellent presentation about what the Radiance multimedia package was and an introduction to AmiStore with a great introductory video. (played using the special radiance version of mplayer), their new hardware X5000 and the new emphasis on content. Also he talked about the Sentinal logger the first xorro board for the X1000!
This lead neatly into my own first presentation which was a demonstration of the various component in Radiance. I focussed intially on the video playing features of te RadeonHD 2.4 driver in combinatin with mplayer, by playing a 1080p video of mplayer playing a DVD with the newly working DVD navigation feature (which as far as I understand was only working on linux before, I certainly hadn't seen it working mysef).
I followed up with a demosntration of CANDI the new animated workbench backdrop, in combination with my own AnimIcons.
Then onto my main contribution to the package PPaint 7.3. I ran through as many of the new features as I could think of. As well as now being a fully native Amiga OS 4.1 program, it has added tablet pressure support, more builtin brush shapes, 100 custom brushes courtesy of Kevin Saunders and quite a bit more, and it will comfortably open on a HD 1920x1080 screen.
Someone (Trevor!) sabotaged me by giving me some "fries" as I was about to start speaking about the package which caused some resumed coughing (did I forget to mention the cold I caught just before getting on the plane?) but I hope it came over okay.
After my presentation Bill (tekmage) Borsari demoed some of the latest AmigaOS games.
Towards the end of the Saturday session, a guy walked in with a Chelsea football shirt on with an Amiga advertising logo, Trevor went over to talk o him and it turned out to be none other than Colin Proudfoot MD of Commodore UK! He'd come down after seeing the event advertised on Facebook I believe, he agreed to speak at the Banquet, after my own contribution of course, I wasn't getting off that easily!
So after that, the presentation room was cleared for the Banquet, and people generally milled around, I went and returned to my room, playing the guitar a bit before changing into gig mode and coming down stairs again. Not being a regular public speaker, I planned to blend a gig style approach with a talk about how I used the Amiga during my music career at different stages both of musical activity and technological ability.
So after a pleasant meal, (no vegetable main course but plenty of vegetable side dishes, including courgettes and asparagus which did me fine), Brian Deneen gave out the awards to the sponsors of the event and to the SACC members who had contributed the most during the year, a regular aspect of the show.
To settle myself in I started with a song "Good Feeling" my usual gig starter, and very appropriate given the friendliness of everyone there. A good response! I worked my way through the talk inserting a song every time I thought I was rambling to much. Passing round my CDs as examples of the DTP you can do on Amiga, strangley people kept the CDs and forced me to accept these strange pieces of paper with pictures of presidents on them. All the CDs I took remained in the USA, which I was not at all displeased at!
Colin then took over after a short introduction from Trevor and told some stories of the attempt to buy the main Commodore business at the bankruptcy auction and how they were beaten by Escom in a surprise switch of sides by the manufacturer they had lined up, also some stores about the Commodore management style and the famous To Be This Good Will Take Sega Ages CD32 ad.
After this we retired to the great room for more of Goody's beer .... till about 2am I believe...
Sunday was day two of the show proper. I was due to do my SketchBlock demo, but before that Eldee (eliyahu) did a very good presentation of the Final Edition features, the camera was turned of for this due to an agreement for an exclusive with Amiga Future magazine, but during the presentation the streaming machine crashed, and when it came back up it streamed the end of the presentation, oops! Well these things happen ...
So next it was my turn again, demonstrating my own application SketchBlock, I demoed the new themeing system and some of the features, such as layers, paths the new brushes, selection masks etc. etc.
I hope it came over well, I tried to answer as many questions as possible.
After me Epsilon gave a great demo of Amiga OS 4 Classic running on a laptop and AlexP aka MR_BIOS gave a demo of linux on the new X5000.
So now the show was coming to an end and all the stalls were being disassembled.
Traditionally it seems most of the attendees go for a final meal so we gathered at another restaurant. Group photos were taken and goodbyes started to be said. Food wise I chose the vegan burger, not a good choice, the complete antithesis of the burger provided by Bill upon my arrival!
Trevor, Matthew, Paul and I then headed off to San Francisco where we would stay over night before catching our various planes. Paul took the lead and got to San Francisco far enough ahead of the other two that we could drive round the city for half an hour checking out some of the sites, such as China Town, Lombard Street, the cable car tracks (with the cables hissing under the ground!) and in the distance the Golden Gate bridge, and still beat them to the hotel!
Next day we had to be at the airport early to drop off the cars, but the flight didn't leave till 8pm so whilst Trevor and Matthew worked on their press releases I took the BART (which I'm guessing means something like Bay Area Rapid Transit and isn't named after a Simpsons character) back into San Francisco and took a walk around. Having got the lay of the land the previous night I managed to work out how to get to the Ferry Building then planned to walk far enough round to see the Golden Gate, but I only made it as far as the Alcatraz tour before running out of time and having to turn back. Still worth the effort though, and much better than a day in the airport! I got a coffee and a Greek salad from a cafe next to the BART station once I knew I was safely inside my time limits.
Flight back was much easier than the way out, no delays, in fact slightly ahead of schedule, the plane seemed to overshoot Heathrow, giving a great view of the London skyline, gherkins and all.
Overall, no complaints about a really great weekend, really good to meet the people behind the nicks and avatars on IRC and the amiga forums, great to see all the different hardware in one place, and really good to have an opportunity to play my music in America.
Must go back, maybe with guitar in hand next time....