Summer Americana – small town carnival, real life and virtual

Every year the volunteer fire company in my small town has a carnival, a fundraiser for their organization. There are several rides, some food booths, a few carnival games, and fireworks. There is neon. This year there was a classic car show. I do not know how the rides and carnival games come to be – are there itinerant carnival operators who contract with various organizations and travel the US, in summer, running the little carnivals? I’ve seen little carnivals used as fundraisers for organizations around here; the church on the border of my small town has one. I have never seen these small carnivals in California. Perhaps small carnivals are local to regions of the US.

I like small town Americana, in limited doses, so I went, early one July evening this year. In a delightful change from other years’ carnivals, it was not broiling hot and humid.

Since I went early, I got parking! Parking is a big deal for me. Without easy parking, I go home.

My black Honda Civic parked. July 2014

My black Honda Civic parked. July 2014

I entered from the side, going past our town’s softball fields, another slice of Americana. None of my photographs show the entrance to the carnival, which is not as pretty as you would think, as there is a parking lot in front of what I would call the “front” of the carnival. And I can’t see an overall theme on how the carnival is arranged, except the food booths are in the front.

Walking to the Carnival. July 2014

Walking to the Carnival. July 2014

Getting closer to the Carnival.  July 2014

Getting closer to the Carnival. July 2014

You can see neon. I like neon.

Carnival neon. July 2014

Carnival neon. July 2014

More Carnival neon. July 2014

More Carnival neon. July 2014

Ticket booth. You need tickets for the rides, not the food.

Ticket booth. July 2014

Ticket booth. July 2014

Funnel cakes are the best carnival and summer festival food. You make a funnel cake by pouring batter into very hot cooking oil, in a circular motion, hence the term funnel cake. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funnel_cake).Funnel cakes are traditionally covered in powdered sugar. Sometimes they are covered with cooked fruit, but I am a funnel cake purist, no fruit for me. If you eat a funnel cake, be forewarned that the sugar and the fat can make you a little sick. It works out better if you eat half a funnel cake.

Funnel cake booth. July 2014

Funnel cake booth. July 2014

This is what my funnel cake looks like.

Funnel cake. July 2014

Funnel cake. July 2014

See how big the funnel cake is! It was yummy.

Walking around, I saw some entrepreneurial people were selling neon sticks. I like neon. I bought two. The neon sticks helped me get to my car. Here they are, lighting up my screened in patio.

Neon sticks. July 2014

Neon sticks. July 2014

I could have stayed for the fireworks, but I decided to go home. Depending on exactly where the fireworks are set off, I can see my town fireworks from my alley, from a couple of blocks away, by the golf course, and sometimes from the second floor of my house. This year I did the alley and walked down to the golf course. The golf course has a tall chain link fence surrounding it, which is new, so the shots from the golf course are not that good.

My other phone had better settings for fireworks. I’ll have to play around with this phone to see if I can get better shots.

Fireworks. July 2014.

Fireworks. July 2014.

I didn’t see the fireworks finale, since my neighbor saw me outside and rushed over to talk to me. Apparently my fence has some openings in it, and her dogs are getting through to my side. Such is life in a small town. I can’t see the damaged fence because my bushes are overgrown; I promised her I will fix my fence after my landscaper tames my overgrown bushes.

My virtual life has a carnival too! I have what is called a smart wallpaper on my Android phone and Android tablet – My Beach HD by DualBoot Games, a 3D beach image. Things move, the scene pans. It is wonderful. I selected the carnival option as the point of interest for July festivities (4th of July is a US holiday). My virtual self can go to a bigger carnival, if I want to! I will have to imagine going there as there are no pictures of the carnival up close. And my real life food is better.

Beach scene and carnival, Android tablet. August 2014

Beach scene and carnival, Android tablet. August 2014

I’m fond of fireworks on my cell phone and tablet. I installed Fireworks Deluxe Full by Jetblack Software.

Fireworks on my phone. July 2014

Fireworks on my phone. July 2014

Happy carnival. Happy fireworks.

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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.

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.

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.