They sold my building

For fifteen years I lived in paradise.  When I left, the place existed, frozen in time.  Sometimes I’d think – I’ll move back to my paradise, if I ever move back to California.

It’s not to be.  The owner’s children sold the building and the building is getting all fixed up.  It’s not the same.

I lived in a neighborhood called midtown, in Palo Alto, California, a smallish city on the peninsula south of San Francisco – a city located in what is called Silicon Valley.  Midtown is mostly residential, but my street was zoned for mixed use. There were shops, apartment buildings and detached single family homes.  There was a gas station up the street, but it closed.

Palo Alto is a pricey city, even by pricey San Francisco Bay area standards.  But, midtown Palo Alto was a little less pricey.  My apartment, though ridiculously expensive by what I call “normal” standards, was a good deal by Palo Alto standards.  I like that – I like being the “poor relation” in a pricey area.  There were about thirty apartments built around a central courtyard with trees, two patios, plants, and a pool in the back.  I say “about thirty” because I never noticed the exact number – how California is that!

Building view via Google street view

Apartment building, front view, July 1999

Another view, front of the building, June 2009

Satellite view, apartment complex, 2004

Satellite view, apartment complex, showing location of my apartments

I lived on the second floor,  an apartment with high ceilings, big windows and a screen door which opened up to a view of the inner courtyard.  The apartment I lived in for eleven years was a two bedroom, with a big window facing the inner courtyard and another big window across from it, against the back wall, looking out onto a tree in the condo parking lot next door. I didn’t have a balcony, but there was enough room to place a container garden against the railing, across from my front door.  From my desk near the back window I looked to my left and saw a tree, and to my right I saw the top of another tree from the inner courtyard.  When it was warm I saw my plants from beyond the screen door.  It was magical.  The light, the courtyard, the trees, the plants, the pool, the open layout, the glorious weather – the entire time I was there it felt like I was living in a resort.

My container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

Another view, my container garden, 1st apartment, April 2004

My second apartment was a one bedroom, still on the second floor, across the courtyard from my first apartment.  I was back in school and needed to economize.  While not as wonderful as the first apartment (the layout was different, not as much natural light) – it was still wonderful.  When I was in my second apartment my plants were nestled outside against an exterior wall.

My container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2005

Another view, my container garden, 2nd apartment, May 2009

In most apartment complexes you don’t get to have your own in ground garden; our place was different.   The place had a bit of a funky quality – which I like a lot.  Someone (might have been the apartment managers) had created a space for a garden.  As my plants got bigger I moved them to the garden, along with new plants I bought for the garden.  The garden was a low key affair – put in a few plants, a bit of topsoil, water once or twice a week during the dry season.  That’s it.  Given the soil and the dry climate there were almost no weeds. There was a bird of paradise bush.  In season the lily of the nile, agapanthus, bloomed.  There were hummingbirds.

View, garden and courtyard, May 2004

Another view, garden and courtyard, May 2009

Courtyard with Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus) and Bird of Paradise, July 2007

Courtyard with overflow plants from my container garden, May 2009

And the pool – did I say there was a pool?  There was a pool at the back and it was wonderful.  It wasn’t heated, so the swimming season was only from late May, early June, through September.  Unlike some areas in the US, there was no rule that you have to have a lifeguard or pool attendant, so pool hours were very generous – daytime to around 10 PM at night, though if you live in northern California you know there’s not much night swimming.  Nights, even in the summer, tend to be blissfully cool.   The pool was used, but not heavily.   There were many, many times that I was the only one there.  It was my pool.  When a family member came to visit we spent many happy hours at the pool, swimming, then, using Styrofoam pool toys (“noodles”) lazily kicking our way back and forth, talking and laughing.  I was so happy.  Some summers I lived in my swimsuit on the weekends, putting shorts on over my suit to go to an art exhibit at the Palo Alto Cultural Center or to get the paper, coffee or a burrito.

Apartment pool, November 2007. Too cool for swimming, but still beautiful.

Pool, June 2009, late afternoon. My things are in my usual spot.

Pool, July 2008. Lovely reflections.

Getting ready to get out of the water, June 2009, a month before I left. I'll always think of this as my pool.

The place wasn’t perfect.  The apartments were large but didn’t have much soundproofing.  If you don’t get the right tenants, interior courtyards can be awful – sound carries.  So the apartment managers tried to get responsible tenants who weren’t noisy.   Palo Alto is a desirous place to live and the schools are excellent, so we had a mix of ages and nationalities, singles, couples, people with children.  For fifteen years, this place worked out well for me.  I didn’t want to leave.

I’ve learned that it’s different now.  The former apartment managers told me that the name has changed, and the plants were torn up to put in new patios.  For new tenants the rent is $500 more than it used to be.  I understand.  Given the location and the structure of the building, you could change the place and charge a lot more.  You could take away some of that naturalness, that imperfection, the communal space.   It will be a good place, but it won’t be my place.

I guess it’s true – you can’t go home again (apologies to Thomas Wolfe).  Even if I would ever move back to California and live in paradise, it won’t be that paradise.

How much does peace of mind cost, exactly?

Back in the fall of 2010, I went to my primary care doctor with a certain symptom, the specifics of which are not important for this story.  Based on my symptom and my medical history, my doctor sent me to a specialist who recommended that I get a certain test done, the specifics of which are also not important for this story.  This was to rule out a serious medical condition, which I didn’t think I had, but it was something that I could have had, if that makes sense.  I had the test done for peace of mind.

After the test was done and I got the results, I learned that I was perfectly fine; there was no serious problem.  But what was really interesting was the number.  Ordinarily “peace of mind” is an amorphous, unquantifiable thing.  Not in this case — I can tell you exactly how much “peace of mind” cost.

  • Doctor visit, primary care doctor, $20.00 , what insurance did not cover.
  • Doctor visit, specialist, $35.00, what insurance did not cover.
  • Hospital charge, test, $221.88, what insurance did not cover.
  • Specialist charge, test, $291.20, what insurance did not cover.

Peace of mind cost me exactly $568.08.

Here’s a photo of part of the hospital complex, where I had my test.  This photo is from 2009, looking out from a wing in the hospital.  I think these buildings are offices associated with the hospital, but I’m not sure.   The area is pretty.

View, hospital complex, from a wing in the hospital, October 2009

So if anyone asks you, you can tell them.  Peace of mind costs $568.08.

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.

Lunch at the lifestyle center. Being pensive.

I don’t eat out much anymore.  Not working will do that to you.  (Yes, I am still looking for work, and I’m getting interviews, which is good.)

February after Valentine’s Day must be a slow month in restaurant land.  There are restaurant deals around.  There is a fancy mall near me that had what they call “restaurant week”.  From Sunday February 20th through Thursday February 24th, the restaurants at this mall had three course fixed price meals for lunch and dinner, for a very reasonable price.

Correction, this is not a mall, this is a “lifestyle center”.  See the entry in Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_center_%28retail%29.  Lifestyle centers have specialty shops, cafes, upscale restaurants, fancy grocery stores, movie theaters and other forms of entertainment.  Lifestyle centers consist of separate buildings in a mall like space.  They are open air.  They have landscaping.  Here’s a link from the populist USA Today, since, oddly enough lifestyle centers are populist places — http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2007-01-31-anti-mall-usat_x.htm.

I went to Pacifico for lunch.  Here is the description of the restaurant, from open table:

“Extraordinary Latin-influenced cuisine by renowned chef, teacher and cookbook author Rafael Palomino is served in a whimsical atmosphere with seaside flair.”  http://www.opentable.com/pacifico-center-valley

I’m a big fan of designer Mexican restaurants (neighborhood Mexican eateries too), so I decided to try Pacifico.  Here is what I had, the exact description on the menu, because I thought it looked so yummy.

Appetizer: Chicken Tortilla Soup: chicken, avocado, crunchy tortilla, crème fraiche, queso fresco

Entrée:  Sautéed South African Red Snapper: plantain encrusted snapper, crabmeat & quinoa enchiladas with a mole verde sauce

Dessert: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake: vanilla & raspberry sauces

It was yummy!  I had a wonderful time.

Pacifico restaurant. Spot of color on a gloomy day. February 2011.

Pacifico, festive lunch. February 2011.

After lunch I wandered around the shops.  It was a weekday in February, before school let out, so there were only a few people walking around.  I noticed several things.  The place was nicely landscaped, the shops were pretty, and music was playing everywhere, not too loud, from speakers set unobtrusively on the ground.  The music was angst ridden poplar music, young rock musicians singly sadly and tunefully about relationships gone wrong.  If you think about it, although the music was melodic, is this the kind of music you’d play to encourage shopping?  Even L.L. Bean, a store that specializes in clothing and equipment for outdoor adventures, had their own version of pensive music playing in their store.  I guess we can be pensive as we hit the trail.

A view of the shops. February 2011.

L.L. Bean store. Colorful kayaks. February 2011.

The upscale grocery store (think Whole Foods, or Wegmans if you are in the northeast US) had classical music playing.  Perhaps you don’t buy food if you are listening to angst ridden songs about relationships.

The upscale grocery store. You have to go inside to see how fancy it is! February 2011.

I rarely buy things in stores, except for food.  I buy online.  When I do buy in stores, I find it interesting to buy something and take it home the same day – so immediately gratifying, a fun treat!

I have mixed feelings about the commercialism of these kinds of places.  I’m not an urban center purist, nor am I a fan of big cities.  I like convenient parking, well lit safe places, decent signage, cafes and landscaping.  I’m not moral about not spending money, about denying myself.  I’m reasonably materialist.  But, the sameness, that music, and the fact that it’s all about commerce – that sort of thing can wear you down, if you walk by yourself and take the time to really experience the place.  Maybe it can make you pensive, after all.

The landscape surrounding the shopping center, on a cloudy late winter day, February 2011. Ah, the pensive.

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.

The Christmas holidays, or the idea of them. Decorating my phone.

Sometimes I think I like the idea of the Christmas holidays more than the holidays themselves.  My ideal Christmas is very, very low key, with no stress.  You do what you want in your own home.  If you don’t like a tradition, you don’t do it.   If you don’t care for an event, you don’t go to it.  And of course there is no snow or ice or humidity or dampness.  Snow or cold or ice does not mean “Christmas” to me!  I miss being in my home in my California.  Hawaii would be great too, for the Christmas holidays.  In Hawaii the humidity would be worthwhile.

I do like seeing the Christmas lights outside, on the houses and the streets.  And I shop in stores so rarely (online for me!) that when I do, seeing all the holiday “stuff” is rather festive and charming.

I am glad to be of help to my family and I’ve (mostly) accepted the fact that I’m not in California.  And the job scene is looking up – it might be very soon that I have a job!

Speaking of holiday decorations, I never planned to buy this, but I saw it, and then it was in my hands and I was at the checkout station.  It’s a combination night light and snow globe.  It’s nicely designed.  The small amount of heat from the light bulb makes the glitter in the sky move, slowly.  It’s like a snow globe, but I don’t have to shake it.  Isn’t it wonderful?

The Christmas nightlight snow globe combo, December 2010

I decorated my Motorola Droid, my Android OS smartphone, for Christmas, with the Christmas Tree Live Wallpaper, http://www.1473labs.com.    The picture appears on all the screen displays on your phone – my phone has five screen displays.  The snow falls and the lights twinkle.   On one screen  I added a widget, Christmas countdown.  Christmas countdown displays a little image and the number of days until Christmas.  There is a different image for each day of the week.

The wallpaper shows up behind all the icons you have on your phone, the apps, the bookmarks, the folders.  I kept one of the screens of my phone free of icons, so I could look at the wallpaper and the Christmas countdown, all by themselves.

Christmas Tree LIve Wallpaper, Christmas Countdown on my Droid. November 2010

Before I had my Motorola Droid, I used to play fun little games on my Palm TX, a pda, personal digital assistant, like a smartphone but without the phone part and without the internet.  There was a Christmas game I particularly enjoyed, a game where Santa dropped presents, and you had to catch the presents with a cart (or a sleigh, can’t tell).  It was a sweet little way to pass the time.  I haven’t found that game, but I found a Christmas version of a game similar to Bejeweled, called jewellust Xmas, http://www.smartpixgames.com.  Like Bejeweled, you manipulate the icons to make at least three identical icons in a row.  They then go away, and the icons above them roll down.  In this game, your goal is to collect all the mosaic tiles on the screen.  You collect them when you get them to roll off the screen.  The mosaic tiles make a picture.  You have a limited amount of time to collect all the tiles for each picture, but it’s not that hard.  This version of jewellust is Christmasy. The icons make bell like sounds when they drop.   The “three of a kind” icons look like ornaments.  There are candy canes and Christmas scenes.  If you play in Campaign mode, after you complete a level and fill a mosaic tile picture, a Christmas village is displayed, with a line in the snow as you go from one house to the next.  It’s just a line; you have to imagine yourself in the picture!  There are also simple tile puzzles to solve, displaying Christmas ornaments.

I love this game.  It’s a wonderful way to give yourself a little holiday break.

Jewellust Xmas on my Motorola Droid phone, November 2010.

Happy Christmas holiday preparations, if that’s your thing.

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.  http://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

2010 Retrospective, Ocean City, New Jersey

I only went to the ocean (or the shore, as one says here) one time this year.  In August I went with a family member to Ocean City, New Jersey,  for the day, to go to the Boardwalk Art Show.

Ordinarily, even during the height of summer, Ocean City is not that hot at the water’s edge.  The breeze from the ocean cools you off.  However, this was a hot muggy day, with the breeze blowing the wrong way, towards the ocean.  Still, the sun was shining, eating at Hulu’s was great (http://www.hulasauces.com), the ocean was beautiful as always, and it was a lovely drive.  I bought a nice iconic photo of the beach.  And I wasn’t driving – I enjoyed being a passenger on this trip.

Entrance to the bridge to Ocean City. August 2010

Look closely. There is a bird resting on the railing. Bridge to Ocean City. August 2010.

Continuing on the bridge. View of Great Egg Harbor Bay. August 2010.

Welcome to Ocean City. August 2010.

The ocean, beautiful as always. Ocean City. August 2010.

Flags designating swimming areas. Ocean City. August 2010.

Seagull on the prowl. Ocean City. August 2010.

This seagull has places he needs to be! Ocean City. August 2010.

Going home. View of the islands of Great Egg Harbor Bay. August 2010.

On the bridge. I see construction in the distance. August 2010.

On the bridge. View of Sumers Point. August 2010.

Near the end of the bridge. Goodbye Ocean City. August 2010.

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.