It’s all about me. Word clouds.

Like many of us I enjoy things that purport to tell me something about me, even if what they tell me does not seem right. I like fanciful things too. I take Facebook surveys – what color would I be if I was a color? I made that one up.

And I like data analysis and data visualization. Data visualization is the new way of saying that you make your data look like a picture – a chart, a graph, a map overlay, something. You visualize it. “Data” is (often) counts of something, by something – number of sales by product (the oblong widget, the square widget), month and year of the sale, area of the world. You can use metrics other than counts, such as averages. What is the average price of a pint of blueberries in Philadelphia, during July 2014? You get the idea.

A word cloud, also called a tag cloud, is a data visualization of all the words in a document or a web site. Wikipedia talks about this in some detail, and includes a formula – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tag_cloud. You do not do this manually; you use an application, a program that count up all the words, and displays the words differently, depending on how often they are used in your source. Words that are used more often are bigger and have more prominence on the page. You omit filler words such as “the”, “and”. The goal is to make a pretty picture that says something interesting about the document or web site.

I decided to use Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) to make a pretty picture of this blog. Wordle is free. You can put Worldle images on your site. Most importantly, the images it generates are attractive.

I could not find an easy way to grab all the words from this blog, so I carefully copied my blog posts into a document, eliminating administrative words such as “posted”, dates of the posts, and the words from the columns on the side of my posts. I wanted wordle to work on what the blog was about. I wanted to see what comes up. Will California still be important?

I generated my word cloud before the last two posts. My word cloud captures how my blog looks before July 19, 2014. I tried a variety of picture formats and took a screenshot of the one I liked.

Word cloud of amarez.com, generated by Wordle, June 2014

Word cloud of amarez.com, generated by Wordle, June 2014

Good news – California is still prominent in my word cloud! There it is, looking blue. You can also see that Wordle is not smart enough to figure out that some words are really one word, even if they look like two. I wrote about Palo Alto, where I lived, but Wordle breaks it up into two words, and distributes the words “Palo” and “Alto” on different parts of the picture.

Next, I wanted to see what my resume looked like, after it went through Wordle. I removed my name and address and let Wordle do its thing. Here it is.

Word cloud of my resume, generated by wordle, June 2014

Word cloud of my resume, generated by wordle, June 2014

From my readings, when you apply for a job, you are supposed to generate a word cloud of a job you like, and then a word cloud of your resume. Then you make the word cloud of your resume match the job as closely as possible. The idea is that your resume fits the job, and so people will want to interview you for the job. I do not know if this works, but I understand the reasoning. But here’s the thing – I am absurdly fond of my how my resume came out on Wordle. I can look at my resume and I see what I care about.  I would not want to change it.

It’s all about me.

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World of Warcraft – I like it, even if I don’t feel special anymore

I’m playing World of Warcraft, a game twelve million people play, except for everyone I know who plays online multiplayer games.   The people I know have either never played World of Warcraft or they moved on to other games.  A few people came back for the new expansion, Cataclysm, but then they moved on too.

So, it’s me and twelve million people I don’t know.  I play on an established roleplay server, and all my characters are at a low level, so my world is not crowded.  I don’t run into a lot of people.  The people I come across are either doing their own thing or they are nice to me.  I may not feel special by playing such a popular game, but this is a good world.  I enjoy playing a game that’s beyond trendy, part of popular culture.  It’s refreshing.

I’m now playing classes (professions) that come with “pets”, but they aren’t really pets – they are magical animal companions.  My hunters get an animal that adventures with me.  My warlocks (a sort of magician) get a demon that helps me defeat my enemies.   If I ever decide to group with people I’m going to keep playing a priest, a healer, since they tend to be in demand for groups.  I do like being sociable, sometimes, in a game, but formal grouping is different – it’s structured, and there can be pressure.  I regard these games as a meditative experience, so grouping may not be for me.

Once you get the hang of it, WoW is designed to keep you playing.  There’s always just one more thing you want to do before you log off. I get my quests from the quest givers, wander around the world, deliver packages or secret letters, buy supplies for a party, and kill monsters, angry wildlife, or enemies.   I get rewards in terms of money, advancement in the game, and stuff.  There’s always a reason given for me doing the things the quest givers ask me to do.  Sometimes I’m interested, and sometimes I don’t care.  It’s enough that the quest gives me a reason to be out in the world.

It’s the world that’s compelling – worlds of winter, magical woods, medieval looking towns, crazy mad hatter towns, tropical islands — and I’ve only seen a little of the world!  I travel long distances by paying for a ride on a fantastic flying animal.  At higher levels in the game I’ll be able to get my own mount.

You can have up to ten characters on one server, which means you can try different races and classes (professions).  Each race starts out in a different area in the world, which gives you a reason to play different races.

World of Warcraft has two factions, the Horde and the Alliance, two loosely coupled groups of races that are fighting for domination in the world.   This affects the overall story, and it can affect you if you engage in player versus player combat, which I don’t do.  If you are playing an Alliance race, and you meet someone from one of the Horde races, you can’t text chat with them because you supposedly don’t understand their language.    I realize that this is the way the game world is set up, but I think it’s silly.   People from different groups come together all the time. Why should I have to see another group as my enemy?  I’m not a purist. If I am playing a character, and I’m given a quest to kill some NPC (non player characters) from the other faction (there’s always a reason) of course I do it, so I can keep going in the game.  But for my personal story, this whole war thing is ridiculous.  Why can’t there be peace.

I was playing Alliance characters exclusively.  Originally the Alliance was thought of as “good”, but it’s more complicated than that.  I play Alliance characters because they tend to be the more attractive characters – I have Night Elf, Human, Draenei (alien humanoid looking creatures, with hooves), and Dwarf.   But then I started playing two Horde characters, Goblin and Blood Elf.

Goblins are the nutty trade obsessed technologists in the game.   They are wacky characters.   The story of my goblin character is funny, clever and enjoyable.   I was all set to become a “trade princess” (who wouldn’t want to be that?) but things didn’t work out.  Somehow, after I was told to blow up a building for the insurance money, I ended up on an island with a bunch of other not too happy goblins.  No one is very happy, but we are making do.

I’m also playing a blood elf, because the world of the blood elf is simply beautiful.  I play a blood elf even though I look like elf Barbie with a dark side.  There’s something about the blood elves that remind me of Malificent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty; there’s some menace with all that beauty. The Blood Elves got into trouble by focusing on dark magic, but I don’t care.  In their beautiful world – there are brooms that sweep all by themselves!  Along with all that beauty, who wouldn’t want a world where the inanimate objects did housework!

Another great thing about World of Warcraft – there is all kinds of stuff about the game.  There is something called The Armory, a “searchable database of information for World of Warcraft – taken straight from the real servers and presented in a user-friendly interface”, from wowarmory.org.    I can look up my characters in the Armory, outside of the game.  Even better, there is an Android application, Droid Armory, which accesses the World of Warcraft Armory database.  I can look up my characters on my Motorola Droid smartphone and view my characters in 3D.  I can save a picture of my characters from my phone.  The app and the pictures aren’t perfect, as you will see, but it’s still wonderful.  I can have my characters with me, wherever I go!

Pictures of my characters taken via the Droid Amory app on my Motorola Droid smartphone, using data in the World of Warcraft Armory.

World of Warcraft Night Elf Priest. March 2011

World of Warcraft Human Warlock. March 2011

World of Warcraft Dwarf Hunter. March 2011

World of Warcraft Blood Elf Hunter. Looks like elf Barbie with a touch of Malificent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty. I love this character. March 2011.

My virtual life, getting back into online games, descriptions, explanations, opinions

My New Year’s resolutions, as posted on twitter, were as follows:

  • Get really good at a new job
  • Play more video games
  • Go swimming
  • Read more novels

People talk about online game addiction.  Sometimes I think – gee, do I wish!  Aside from going to parties in Second Life, less weird then you might think, I haven’t been doing any online gaming.

I’m not sure if I like online games.  What I like is being in a virtual world.  However, with nothing to do in a virtual world, no reason for being there, the world is very boring.  I know about this, having been in the world of Uru, on an off, since 2003.  There was precious little to do in Uru back in 2003.  Now, with no new content being released, there is nothing new to do, apart from socializing with fellow players.  Uru is boring.  So, you need something to do.

Most MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) have combat as the main thing you do. I have mixed feelings about combat.  I think the games have combat as their core gameplay because the combat mechanism is well worked out, people understand it, it gives your game focus, allows you to tell a story, and it can be exciting.  I’ll do combat if I’m fighting to defeat the evil in the world.  I prefer PvE, player versus environment play, where we don’t fight each other; we battle the evil in the world.  I don’t do PvP, player versus player combat.

I don’t play online games set in a virtual world for the challenge, or to be the best, though people have been playing competitive games for as long as there have been people.  Everyone, including me, is competitive about something.  I’m just not competitive about games.  I play to relax and to be in a beautiful online world.  I don’t want to turn my online world into a competition or another job.  I like my gameplay as easy as possible.  This is not something you can generally say on game forums; many people are very serious about these games, and very competitive.

Playing with other people isn’t as easy as you would think.  When I first started playing MMORPGs, I thought – “great, I’ll make some friends and we’ll play together”.  For most games, this is not the way it works.  In order to do something “together” you have to be at the same level of expertise in the game, and you have to have a balanced party, a mix of people in the right roles, for example, a healer, a hunter, a warrior.   Your play time is structured by the group event, the quest, the instance.  Once you start your group thing, you can’t leave without disrupting your party.  This is way too much structure for me, though I might do it occasionally, with a small group.  I like being with people in an online world, but I’d rather do things in the game by myself, seeing players as I wander through the world, occasionally talking to them.

Fortunately most MMOs today have a fair amount of solo play.  You do your game things yourself (fight some monsters, find things), periodically running into other people.  In some games such as World of Warcraft, it’s easier to level (make progress) if you solo.

Another thing I didn’t know, when I first started, is that MMORPGs had end game content.  I thought you just kept playing, enjoying your world, and periodically the developers would release new stuff.  Wrong!  Many games have end game content.  Often this consists of raids, lengthy difficult structured gameplay with twenty-five to a hundred people.  You defeat a difficult enemy and see wondrous things.  I’m not joking, developers devote time and people to make the hard long things exciting and good looking, with colorful scenes and special effects and in game videos.  Another common feature of end game content is PvP (player versus player) battlegrounds.

I might play with a small group, but I never intend to do the structured play with larger groups, the ten or twenty-five or fifty person “raids”.  I just can’t do it.

Some games in the genre work a little differently.  In Guild Wars you can reach end game with a small number of people.  You can also do it yourself by having your party include characters played by the computer, using artificial intelligence.  I like that.

What am I playing now?

Rift – the beta

I participated in the beta test of an upcoming game, Rift.  This is an open beta, so we can talk about it.  Rift is beautiful game, but the intro levels are intensely combat focused, to the exclusion of everything else.  I realize the Rift world is at war, but I did not enjoy the battleground atmosphere, and the random crying and screaming of the NPCs (non player characters) did not add to my enjoyment.   The intro levels were also crowded, which made for a surreal experience.  You saw lots of people running around (no random strolling, exploring), playing solo, killing their particular set of monsters for their quests, their missions.  Since there were so many people, the monsters spawned (reappeared) at a quick rate, to give everyone enough to do.  Something about the structure struck me as more “game” than world.  I’ve read that that the higher levels have more of a beautiful real world feel, but I doubt if I’ll get there.  Rift is in beta, but I’m reasonably sure the game will be essentially the same game when it is released, this March.

Rift beta, Alliance side, just out of the starter area, January 2011

Rift beta, Guardian side, the starting building, January 2011

Guild Wars – taking a break

I’ve played Guild Wars for several years, very slowly.  I love the look of the world, the look of the player characters, and I like how the world is structured.  You see people in towns, but your adventures are always in your own copy of the world.  This is called instancing.  But, I’m taking a break from it, possibly because I’m at the point where it’s getting hard.  I’ll get back into it later.

World of Warcraft – just started

I’ve never played World of Warcraft (half an hour four years ago, doesn’t count!), but I decided to give it a try.  Online gamers who don’t play World of Warcraft criticize the game a lot – it’s too easy, other players are mean, everyone plays (not just “real” gamers!), players aren’t serious, all that.  There’s resentment that World of Warcraft is so popular, with its huge player base of around 12 million subscribers.  Apparently, popular is bad, which seems silly to me because games are part of popular culture!  Given the publicity about the new content released, Cataclysm, and the amount of criticism in the Rift forum, I decided to give it a try.  I’ve read that some World of Warcraft game servers have more mean people playing on them than nice people, though you can ignore people and they can’t hurt you.  Role playing servers, where you pretend to be your character, tend to have nicer people. I’m not a serious roleplayer, but I wanted to run into nice people, so I decided to give a roleplay server a try.

I’m playing a draenei, a peaceful race, which works well for me.  I’m a shaman, a healer.  World of Warcraft is stylized, but beautiful.  I like the look of the world, but I’ve never liked the look of the characters.  This character is ok, though she’s way too busty, a not uncommon feature of online multiplayer games.  The server I’m playing on is an established server, so I haven’t run across many people.  Most of them are probably at the higher level areas.  I ran into a couple of people, one waved.  It was nice.  I’m poking along, still at a very low level, level 3.  The music is evocative; this part of the world is eerie and lovely.  I like it.

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Draenel.  My character does have facial features, but the sun is on her face, washing it out.  January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Dreanel.  Beautiful area.  January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Draenel. My character does have facial features, but the sun is on her face, washing it out. January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting area for the Dreanel. Beautiful area. January 2011

World of Warcraft, Alliance side, starting are for the Dreanel. Those things that look like big pansies have legs and walk around. January 2011

Next time I’ll talk about Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, and Lord of the Rings Online.

2010 retrospective. My online multiplayer world – I come for the parties

Lately I’ve been a very intermittent online gamer.   I come for the parties.  My plan next year is to actually play some games.  Until then, here’s my year in retrospective.

Swing party in the snow, Second Life, December 2009.

Second Life is a virtual world where you build things or go experience what other people build.  This was a party given by people in the Guild of Healers, a small group of people who played Uru and have a location in Second Life where they make things.   It’s a great group of people.  I always have a great time at their parties.   This was a swing party, as in…we swung on swings!  I liked the area so much I came back later and played around and took some pictures of my character, my avatar.  The people who own this piece of land in SL (yes, it’s thought of as property, as land) created this space specifically for the party.

People ask me sometimes if the parties are like parties in real life.  If you know the people from your virtual life, and if the people are sociable, it feels like a gathering.  Good virtual environments give you something to do, something that makes it seem like your persona is there.  There’s music.  There are activities such as dancing — click on something or type in a command and there you are, dancing on the screen.  Some online worlds and groups support the use of microphones, where your voice is heard.  This group tends to use text chat, mostly.  You can text chat either to the group, or privately to a person.

I met these people when I was playing Uru.  The concept of a guild, a group of people with a shared goal, is common to online games.  This guild came from the idea of expanding the traditional guild structure in Uru.

I’m the figure with the cropped pants, flat shoes, and wings, because why would you not have wings?  Even without wings, in Second Life you can fly.

People change their looks in Second Life a lot. It’s a costumey place.  I tend to keep my look the same, now that I found something that suits me.  I got some free clothes (people give things away) and paid a small amount of money to get my hair style and my wings.

Swing Party, Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009

Swing Party. You had the option of wearing a snowman head, a fun if surreal experience. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009

Amarez, my avatar in Second Life, swinging by herself. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009

Meditation, Guild of Healers, Second Life, December 2009

I’m not much for meditation, but the group is so nice that I wanted to check this out.  I could use some peace in my life.  In this event, the person leading the meditation used a mike to conduct the meditation.  We sat on cushions in the lovely space, and the sky changed from night to day.  I enjoyed being with the people, but I got distracted.  I’m still not much of a meditation person.  As I stated before, this space was created by the people who own this “land” in Second Life.

Meditation during the Second Life night, Guild of Healers retreat. Second Life, December 2009.

Dawn, Guild of Healers retreat. Second Life, December 2009.

The meditation continues. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009.

Retirement party for Lord Chaos, Second Life, December 2009

Lord Chaos, also known as Ktahdn (game names) took early retirement from his job.  Sometimes organizations will offer economic incentives for people to retire earlier than they had planned.  It can be a very good deal for the person.  The Guild of Healers had a retirement party in Second Life.  We started in an indoor building in a festive space, then ended up outside.  As the party progressed and we greeted the Second Life day, we got quieter, more reflective.  Changes in your life will do that to you.

Retirement party. We talk and are festive. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009.

Retirement party. We move outside. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009.

Retirement party. We greet the day. Notice the whimsical elements. Guild of Healers retreat, Second Life, December 2009

Fifth anniversary radio show by Lord Chaos, Uru, June 2010

Uru is an online multiplayer game.  You cannot create your own content in Uru.  This means that you cannot do any customization for an event.    It is, however, a beautiful space, so people have events and parties in Uru, because they want to.   I’m rarely in Uru, nowadays, but I made sure to attend the fifth anniversary radio show given by Lord Chaos.  Lord Chaos is his game name.

Online radio shows are a feature of the internet world.   People create their own radio shows, their own playlists and private music streams for friends.  Some people provide their own commentary, like a true DJ.   Lord Chaos does that, a mixture of music and commentary. Since you can’t change the music in Uru, you turn the music in the game off, and then stream the radio show from an internet site.

Lord Chaos has great musical sensibilities, eclectic and melodic.  Some shows are dance oriented, some are more reflective, and some are a mixture of both.  It’s always a great musical experience.

Fifth anniversary radio show, Lord Chaos. The Watchers Sanctuary, Uru. June 2010

Fifth anniversary radio show, Lord Chaos. Minkata, Uru. June 2010.

Fifth anniversary radio show. Lord Chaos. At the bottom you can see we are talking, text chat. Minkata, Uru. June 2010.

Silk Road Journey, revisited, Second Life, June 2010

The Silk Road is a collection of trade routes that were used to connect China and the Mediterranean.  (http://www.ess.uci.edu/~oliver/silk.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road, there are many, many other references).

In a previous post, I talked about a radio show described as musical journey along the Silk Road.  https://amarez.com/2009/06/14/second-life-the-silk-road-a-virtual-journey/.

Lord Chaos has done a series of radio shows about the Silk Road.  The radio show is structured as a journey, a trip.  During breaks in the music, Lord Chaos talks about where we are on the journey, the time of day, the weather and how we are feeling.  It’s an interesting experience, very evocative.  It has the feeling of an actual journey.  This was a very long radio show, eight hours, but not everyone stayed for the whole show, and we had breaks in the music for talking and (virtual) dancing.   Second Life is a good venue for this – a virtual stage for the musical journey.  I had a fantastic time.

The Silk Road, a musical journey. We gather around the campfire. Notice the map in the background. Second Life, Guild of Healers, July 2010.

The Silk Road, a musical journey. The setting for the journey. Second Life, July 2010.

The Silk Road, a musical journey. We start to dance. Second Life, July 2010.

The Silk Road, a musical journey. Amarez, my avatar, is dancing. Second Life, July 2010.

Ktahdn dance party, Second Life, July 2010

I went to a dance party in Second Life, at the Guild of Healers retreat.  Lord Chaos/Ktahdn (game name) was the DJ.  We danced from Second Life night to dawn!  To be fair, the day night cycle is speedy, not a twenty four hour cycle, so that’s easy to do.

Ktahdn dance party, Guild of Healers. I’m in the front, the one with the wings. Second Life, July 2010.

Ktahdn dance party. We danced through the night! Second Life, July 2010

Ghaelen’s graduation party, Second Life, November 2010

Ghaelen (game name) completed her dissertation for her PhD.  So, the Guild of Healers had a party.  It was wonderfully festive.

Ghaelen’s graduation party. Ghaelen is in the back, wearing a graduation robe. Second Life, November 2010

Ghaelen’s graduation party. Dancing the night away. Second Life, November 2010

Ghaelen’s graduation party. As we dance, we float! Second Life, November 2010.

There will be another party before the end of the year, but I’ll save that  for next time.

My avatar, Amarez, in the Guild of Healers retreat. I can fly! Second Life, December 2009

Interop 2010 New York was fun

http://www.interop.com/newyork/

Javits Convention Center. Registration for Interop New York 2010. It’s a big space. October 2010

I went to the Interop 2010 conference in New York City, for the day, on Wednesday, October 20th.

I’m not Interop material.  I’m not someone running a data center or a network, nor am I someone paying the bills for one.  I’ve mostly not been on the computer operations side of the fence.  Still, I like to keep up.  I like to have educated opinions on technology.  It’s fun to see what this world is up to.  I also hope, one day, to make business decisions about these things.

I went to the keynote presentation, with speakers James Whitehurst, President and CEO, Red Hat, Ben Gibson, Vice President Data Center/Virtualization, Cisco, Dirk Gates, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Xirrus.

Aside from getting what the presenters are trying to tell me, I like to see what the presentations tell me about the industry, the subtext, the background.  So I noticed that the speakers were very polished.  They looked at the audience, they moved around the stage, they owned the space; they were in control of their shiny pretty presentations. They were sincere, compelling and enthusiastic.  The slides were colorful, with attractive graphics and the right amount of text for a presentation. I’m not slamming the presenters, not at all.  It’s just interesting to note that what I call “big tech” and Silicon Valley in general is very media savvy.  The presenters move and talk like actors, like performers.  And the place is beautiful.

Keynote stage, Interop New York 2010, October 2010.

Then I looked for the passion, what you might call the hype, the evangelism, the “next big thing”.  Tech has always had a messianic flavor to it.  It’s always been about…..wandering around in the wilderness, lost in the darkness, ignorant, and, then magically, because of a new thing, coming into the light.  It’s about being saved.  And this evangelism isn’t about glamorous stuff.  I remember the zeal about structured programming and relational databases, which is about a non glamorous as you can get!

The hype in the keynotes was a little more subdued this year, probably due to the economy.  Still, there were the obligatory “laws” referenced, such as Moore’s law, generally used to reference how fast computing power is growing (definition: the number of transistors that can be placed on a circuit doubles every two years – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law)

My favorite “law” was from Dirk Gates, Amara’s Law – “We tend to overestimate the effect a technology has in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”  Interesting.

The new tropes, cloud computing and virtualization, were referenced.   Here’s a definition of cloud computing from Wikipedia – “Cloud computing is Internet-based computing, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like the electricity grid” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing/.  There is still a fight over the definition over at Wikipedia, but it basically means that the computer hardware and software that you need to do stuff is somewhere else, rather than being under your desk or in the computer room downstairs.  You access it when you need it, on the cloud.  If you store some files on a Microsoft Skydrive (http://explore.live.com/windows-live-skydrive-access-anywhere), you are accessing the cloud.

Virtualization is more fun.  From Wikipedia, “Virtualization is the creation of a virtual (rather than actual) version of something, such as an operating system, a server, a storage device or network resources.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtualization.  What this means is that a program runs on a machine that pretends to be another machine, it’s “virtual”.  There are technical reasons why you do this, but it’s still fun to think about – interesting that something so important could be all pretend!

Dirk Gates’ presentation was a bit more technical, though still accessible.  He spoke about developing an enterprise class wireless network, not the usual mix of wired and wireless components.  This is like the wireless network you might have in your home, but bigger, more robust, “on steroids”, as I would say.  My favorite comment from him – “it’s not your father’s access points!”  I felt old – my father doesn’t know about access points! Dirk also had a demo, which was pretty swell.

I went to a couple of the free talks, which were good, though they tended to be on the salesy side.  My favorite salesy talk was the presentation on Microsoft’s CRM, customer relationship management system, something you use to manage sales and customer support.  It makes sense that it was my favorite, as the product is geared to business functions rather than operations.

I went to one talk that was part of the paid content (came free with my ticket) – Key Issues in Wireless and Mobile, with Paul DeBeasi, Research Vice President, Gartner, Alex Wolfe, Editor In Chief, InformationWeek.com, Michael Brandenburg, Technical Editor, TechTarget, Inc, and Craig Mathias, Principal, Farpoint Group.  The presenters addressed issues such as device management, security, wireless 4G (super fast), the threat and promise of mobile applications….all kinds of issues.

Per the panel, there is a gradual migration away from the ubiquitous Blackberry phone to a multitude of phones, such as the iPhone and Android phones.  Instead of being satisfied with the traditional “my way or the highway” approaches of wireless operations, employees want what they want.  If the company won’t buy it, no small number of them will bring it in themselves.  They bring in their own phones, or they want the company to buy them what they want.  They want to put fun apps on their phones, such as the ubiquitous Angry Birds, which I talked about it on a previous blog entry.

From my perspective, mobile devices are becoming a person’s “everything”, a thing for work communication, personal communication, work pastimes and fun pastimes, including games, videos and music. It makes sense that fun would be included, when what you use for work blends into the rest of your life.  And people are more resistant to have the company’s wireless department tell them what to do.  I recognize the significant issues with managing a wireless network, but I thought there was an interesting subtext among some of the presenters and the audience, on wanting it like the old days, when people did what IT told them to do.  One member of the audience asked, rather plaintively, if he could convince people at his company to use the new Microsoft OS smartphone, rather than an iPhone, as it has a touch screen, like the iPhone.  The argument is that Microsoft OS devices provide more tools for wireless management.  The panel was not optimistic that he could do this.

As always, the expo area was gorgeous.  The booths were colorful, eye catching, futuristic.  When people want to sell you expensive products in tech land, this sort of thing happens.  I enjoyed walking around.

The Expo floor, Internet New York 2010. Futuristic. October 2010.

I’ll conclude with saying that I scored the best swag!  At the ScriptLogic booth (http://www.scriptlogic.com/) I got a token for a tee shirt, a monkey, and I won a drawing for an American Express Gift Card!

A monkey and a gift card, shown with my plants from California. November 2010.

Playing games on my Android phone

I used to be the sort of person who played games on my PC – big games, games in beautiful or mysterious settings.  I’ve played MMO games – massively multiplayer online games.  I’m a fan of Guild Wars, I’m waiting for Guild Wars 2, and I have a lifetime subscription to Lord of the Rings Online.   I have accounts with Second Life and Free Realms.  Note to self – I am going to get an Xbox 360, and a Nintendo WII.

In February 2010 I got my Motorola Droid smartphone, Android operating system. The screen is small, but it’s beautiful.  When I hold it close it fills much of my field of vision.  And it’s so darn convenient, and it’s right there, and the games are, mostly, designed to be played in little blocks of time – though you might end up playing them for a long time!  Something about a game being really accessible makes you want to play.

I’ve tried many games.  Here are my favorites.  The screenshots of my Motorola Droid are taken with my digital camera, as there currently is no easy to use a screenshot app for an Android phone.

Simple physics games.

Physics games are games where objects have physical properties and behave like they would in the “real world”.  The games usually involve dealing with gravity and manipulating an object that has mass.

What could be simpler than a game where you throw a balled up piece of paper in the trash?   If you get it right, the thing goes into the trash can with a rewarding clunk.  The challenge is throwing the ball in the trash basket when a fan is blowing at varying speeds.  The game is Paper Toss by Back Flip Studios, http://www.backflipstudios.com.

One of the settings of Paper Toss perfectly exemplifies the noisy ennui of waiting for your plane at the airport, the ambient noise, the announcements over the intercom, and the sounds of the annoyed passengers you hit when the ball goes off the screen.

Paper Toss, at the airport, October 2010

Toss It is a similar game, Boolba Labs, http://www.boolbalabs.com. This game has beautiful levels, including a funny one where you toss your iPhone into a trash basket!

Toss It, ready to toss the paper ball, October 2010

Toss It, iPhone setting, October 2010

Tile Puzzles

Kittens Puzzle, Playgamesite, http://www.playgamesite.com/ .  An adorable jigsaw puzzle game where you switch tiles around to make a picture of a kitten.  You can save the pictures to your SD card.  There are many levels.   The game is relaxing, and the kittens are adorable.

Kittens Puzzle, a puzzle, October 2010

Kittens Puzzle, a puzzle solved, October 2010

Games that tell a story

Kongregate has a site where you can play free Flash games – http://www.kongregate.com.  Some games are optimized for mobile devices.  The Butterfly Fantasy series, developed by Garbuz Games (http://www.garbuzgames.com) is a “click the differences” game.  You are presented with two nearly identical screens and you click on what is different on each screen.  After you find the differences, the next screen is presented.  Each successive screen unfolds the story.

The story progresses via pictures, no dialogue but a soundtrack.  It looks like a graphic novel. This is very moving story, nicely done, with fantasy elements and a beautiful look.  I loved this series.  Parts 1 and 2 of the trilogy are available for mobile devices and PC and Mac. Part 3 is not available for mobile devices, only PC or Mac.

The tag line for the first game is “What can happen when the last hope disappears and it seems there is no way out.”  What could be more evocative?

Butterfly Fantasy, it begins, October 2010

Butterfly Fantasy, wonderful scene, October 2010

Butterfly Fantasy 2, scary stalkers, October 2010

Angry Bird, Rovio, http://www.rovio.com/

The back-story is that some mean pigs stole eggs from birds.  The birds are very, very angry and they seek revenge.

You use your finger to launch the birds against the pigs’ strongholds.  This is a physics game – you have to figure out how to control the birds’ trajectory.

It’s hard to explain how addicting this game is.  The cartoon graphics are engaging.  The angry birds are very funny in looks and sounds.  The pigs are funnily “piggy”.   There are many levels.  Some levels are easier than others, but with practice you always get it.   This is one of the great games of all times.

Angry Birds. Those birds sure are angry! October 2010

Angry Birds. A pig in a piggie fort! October 2010

Pocket Legends, a big game on a little phone

Spacetime Studios, http://www.spacetimestudios.com/

Pocket Legends is an MMORPG, a massively multiplayer RPG, role playing game, very similar to games played on the PC.  You take on the role of a bear warrior, a cat enchantress, or a bird archer.  You join with other people to battle monsters and acquire money or objects that you can use, such as weapons or clothing.

There are towns where you can meet with other players and receive your quests.  There areas where you and around four other players go on quests.

Pocket Legends will automatically group you with people. You can also start a quest and have people join you (they always do), or pick a group and join them.  Quests are short.  You can get something done in about fifteen minutes.

It’s possible to chat with other people in the game, but it’s awkward.  You don’t have a keyboard and you have to move your player on the screen and shoot weapons or cast spells or heal other players (auto attack works well).   I really like this game.

Pocket Legends. Intro screen. November 2010

Pocket Legends. My character. November 2010

Pocket Legends. In town. November 2010

Pocket Legends. I get a reward. November 2010

Pocket Legends - my group defeated an enemy. November 2010

I’ll keep you updated on new games I enjoy, as I find them.

Farmville – Fantasy Farming, a Spaceship, a Picture, Issues

Farmville — a fun casual simulation game, played in your browser via Facebook. The look of the game is a bit cartoony, but it’s pretty and appealing. Your goal is to build and manage a farm — couple of clicks, nothing hard. You grow crops and trees and keep animals. When you harvest the fruit trees, the crops, collect eggs (all with a click on the item) you get money to expand your farm.  “Farm” is loosely defined. My “farm” has a crashed alien spaceship, green cows (think spaceship radiation), a Ferris wheel, a variety of farm animals, some reindeer, nine small plots of land, a citrus orchard, and more. On the animals — you do collect eggs, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no animal killing.  When your pigs are ready to produce something, they give you truffles!

What makes Farmville manageable is that time progresses when you aren’t there, and what you do in the game is limited.  If a crop is ready to harvest in two days, it’s two calendar days.  Farmville is a nice complement to Facebook. The social aspect happens when your Facebook friends give you Farmville “gifts” (trees, sheep, etc), and when you go help out on your friends farms — simple clicking to get rid of weeds, all that. Advancement is based on two things, making money, and gaining XP, experience. As you progress in experience, you unlock more levels and can buy more stuff.

The trick in playing Farmville is to limit the amount of things you pay for, using real money.  The game is free to play, but there are some things that take a long time to acquire, and some things that can only be bought with real money. Zynga, the developer, is an expert at the microtransaction business — getting you to pay for stuff. You can have a perfectly great time without microtransactions, but it’s hard to resist, since the extras are very appealing. I have not completely resisted — I really had to buy that spaceship and the Ferris wheel! Farmville also has seasonal items, some of which you can buy with cash you earn in game, while some, as far as I can tell, requires spending a little “real” money.

Zynga, the developer, structures it so that, if you let it, you end up automatically posting your progress on Facebook, a lot.  That’s the whole point — it’s social and it’s also an advertisement for the game. The posting is optional. I tend to limit what I let Farmville post on Facebook. Unless your Facebook friends are only there to play Farmville, they will get tired of seeing all your Farmville posts, if you let Farmville post every one of your accomplishment.

Most of my Facebook friends do not play Farmville, but enough do so that I have Farmville “neighbors”. I like it. It’s also a fun way to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in years, people who would never play any other kind of video game.

As for the company itself, Zynga is the darling of the business world — their casual browser based games bring in money.  Unfortunately, Zynga does have questionable business practices. There are a several articles about their practices.  The Wikipedia article isn’t too bad. Techcrunch also has some good articles. Here’s an interesting article —

http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/10/31/scamville-the-social-gaming-ecosystem-of-hell/.

The issue isn’t paying for extra items — that’s all up front, nothing wrong about that. The issue is in getting your Farmville “cash” for things you need for Farmville, Mafia Wars, Fishville, or other games via lead generation practices. As long as you stay away from signing up for questionable services, Farmville is fun and safe to play.  To give he Facebook people credit, they’ve been responding to the issues.

Getting back to the fun of Farmville, here’s a picture of my farm.  I’m trying for the European villa look, but I got distracted by the Roswell specials, as well as the festival specials.  I like the look of my orchard, which rings the farm.  I like my big pond and my little pond.  I like the science fiction touch. It’s a fantasy farm, so all my animals roam freely, and there’s no mess and no predators.  Even the cats are nice to the other animals in my Farmville fantasy!

My Farmville Farm, December 1, 2009