Geek-O-Laterns

It doesn’t get much better than these.  Happy Holloween everybody!

Wind it Up! Gwen Stefani Concert in San Diego

Last night Gwen Stefani made her “Sweet Escape Tour” stop in San Diego.  It was truly a special event because all the proceeds from the show were donated to the victims of the recent San Diego fires.

This is the first concert that I’ve gone to in 5 or 6 years since I went to see Bjork’s Vespertine Tour when it came to the Hollywood Bowl.  At that time I thought it was pretty cool that Bjork introduced her system administrator as part of the band ;p.  This time, the experience was very different because the glow of cigarette lighters and the like were replaced with the glow of digital camera and cell phone screens.  Wow!  I forgot to bring my camera (I was so sad), but I’d say nearly everyone else in the arena had some so sort of way of taking a digital image or video.  This was truly amazing because recording is not always allowed at concerts.

I think the show lasted about 1.5 hours (we missed Sean Kingston, the opening act — we were not very sad about that) and within in that 90-minutes, there was lots of singing, dancing, costume changes, set changes, and direct interaction with audience.  Gwen Stephani really puts on a good show.  It was also nice that she left the dancing to her dancers so she could concentrate on singing (Her dancers were really good.  It was obvious that some of them were former gymnasts).  The show itself was very audience participatory.  We were encouraged to get on our feet to dance and sing.  I’m a sucker for a sing-a-long and bass, so I had a really good time singing and doing my little Jen-dance.  I sung my voice out by the end of the concert and I’m still feeling the effects of the loud singing today.

In an Emergency … Part 3 (End)

Once again we listened to the news via AM radio.  As we drove down the 15 we passed in and out of fire zones.  At the end of the Cajon Pass we spotted at least 6 or 7 big rig trucks in various conditions toppled on their sides in response to the Santa Ana winds.  The same Wal-Mart truck we saw downed when we drove to Vegas was still there.  The drive passed Fallbrook was the most telling of the disaster.  The air was thick with smoke so it was hard to breathe and visibility was greatly limited to a few car lengths ahead.  We saw burned out houses and still burning flames eating brush on the side of the road.  We drove on hoping that this is not what it is like at home.  I took pictures a long the way and I had to take pictures of a few land marks as there is no geotagging yet in current consumer cameras. As we approached Escondido, the air cleared and we were relieved to see that there were no signs of fire near home.  Later we would find out that the fire in San Marcos was a very small brush fire next to Cal State San Marcos that was quickly put out.  When we got home, Snowball cheerfully greeted us with “fweets” of joy and bounced all around his cage.  He wanted his welcome home treat.

The local news was surreal.  They were referring to pages in the Thomas Guide to help people identify locations of active fires and areas under evacuation.  The local government was informing people to leave their houses via reverse 911 calls and because telephone service was cut off, the local government was relying on TV to relay the message to evacuate to a remote community in San Diego.  Where were the SMS messages, Google maps, and mash-ups of web services to keep people in the know?  My company seemed on the forefront with a wiki.  What good is technology for people camping out in Qualcomm Stadium when cellphone “circuits” are jammed and batteries are dying?   How are the millennials surviving without text messaging?  For 2 – 3 days, SD was put back 10 – 15-years.  We were calling over land lines, watching TV, listening to AM radio, and using the Thomas Guide.  It seems to me to be a scary and out-of-control situation made worse by a communication breakdown when we need to communicate the most.

The web is very much still in it’s infancy and all it takes is a disaster to show just how “loose” the web is.  We’ve been thinking a lot about paper in a Web 2.0 world and, well, I think we’ve got a while to go before paper goes out of style.

In an Emergency, Technology Falls to the Lowest Denominator

One of the take-aways from my days as an earthquake engineering student is in a disaster, the first thing that happens is the power goes out.  Another thing that happens is people are asked to limit telephone and cell phone calls so emergency and support people can keep in touch.  Hence, in an emergency all of our wonderful electronic gadgets and web enable do-dads become useless little boxes of plastic, silicon, and metal at a time when we need to be connected the most.

The journey from Las Vegas back to our home in San Marcos is a tale of failed electronics and a reversion to analog methods of communication, including paper.  Our tale begins Sunday night after Steve and I had just settled in for the night and were getting ready to go to sleep.  We turned on the TV to find out what was going on within and outside of “La-La Land.”  The news of the moment was the fires in Malibu and the potential of displaced movie stars.  This happens every year, so we didn’t pay too much attention to it.  We went to sleep, peacefully, only to awaken the next morning to the news that San Diego was on fire. 

The worst thing about being out of state when there’s a disaster at home is getting accurate and timely news.  Too often the news is generalized and exaggerated for a national audience so it’s difficult to know what’s real and what isn’t.  I got on the Internet to check the websites of news stations local to SD and the Union-Tribune website.  It was early Monday morning and the SD’s local news websites were not working well.  The upload and download speeds were very slow.  I was frustrated because CNN was making it seem like the state was under the influence of a wall of fire that extended from Malibu to the US/Mexico border.  Steve’s cellphone started ringing.  It was his manager calling to discuss what needed to be done IT-wise to shutdown their worksite.  While I was fighting with the Internet, I finally got some news from SD, an e-mail informing me that the HP SD Site is closed.  Technology was working okay so far and when I finally got through to the Internet, the coverage websites were simply enacted.  There was a picture of flames and the same information from CNN.  As the morning progressed, the coverage was turned into a running blog and as the locations of the fires were learned, the locations were overlaid on Google Maps — a “mash-up.”  This was very helpful but as the same time misleading — as there was a flame symbol sitting on top of my hometown, San Marcos.  Meanwhile, Steve was on his cell phone initiating emergency plans and, over the Internet, moving data and doing whatever to save data and sever the electronic link from the SD site of his company from the rest of the company.   I called my parents who were in Atlanta at the time.  They informed me that my Dad was flying back to San Diego.


Gaming 3.0 ???

Here’s a reprint of an opinion article from Game Daily Biz.  I’m not sure if buy the the definitions of gaming 1.0, 2.0, or for that matter gaming 3.0.  I think the opinion author forgot all about the arcade games and non-electronic games before that (how about about the socializing that happens around a board game ???).  The latest revolution is see is the inclusion of advertising into gaming … Oh, but wait, what about all those specialized additions of Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit ;p.  It just goes to show what’s old is new again.


Opinion: Games Industry 3.0 is Here

While Internet continues to undergo its own Web 2.0 revolution, the video game industry is in the midst of sweeping changes as well. GameDaily publisher Mark Friedler takes a look at the Games 3.0 phenomenon and what game companies need to learn from the big media corporations.

Everyone is talking about “Web 2.0” where hot brands such as YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Zillow and others deliver distributed services to a community of growing users. Just last week the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco drew heavyweights including Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, AOL founders Steve Case and Ted Leonsis and a who’s who of the new web titans.

These new web services have smashed the old paradigm of software products that were developed, “gold mastered” and then sold into a few predictable channels. Companies had traditional barriers of increasing costs of product development, infrastructure, sales, marketing and distribution. Now companies are built in a few weeks on “mash ups” of several existing products and technologies to become big in a matter of months on shoestring budgets.

I think there is a revolution happening now in the games industry – one that many have labeled as “Games 3.0” Last year I wrote about the games business being broken and how to fix it. For a little perspective, the Games 1.0 epoch was from the early 1980s-1995 with the early Sega, Atari and Nintendo game consoles that were eventually outdistanced by the radically different Sony PlayStation. The model was simple; sell a hardware box and “attach” as many games as possible to each one. The channel was retail and stuff was sold in boxes. PC games were still mostly standalone though early MUDs were becoming more sophisticated and geeks connected over Telnet and a newly developing technology called the Internet.

The next evolutionary step was Games 2.0 that ran from 1996-2004. This era was categorized with “next gen” consoles. Sega Dreamcast started things off on the console side with revolutionary modem connectivity. Sony followed with the enormously successful PS2 and Microsoft entered the market with Xbox. Handheld gaming was catching on in a big way and Nintendo had one word for it – Game Boy. The big game publishers experimented with connected games. EA’s Majestic was innovative and a few years before its time. MMORPGs caught on. Everquest became a (gamers’) household name and subscription services began to gain impressive numbers. Casual games were emerging as fun, simple entertainment that legitimized the download and buy model. For the first time, a lot of women were playing games on computers. Business models were still about shipping boxes to retail, attach rates and licensing fees. Big brand licensing got bigger and every movie had to have a game.

We’ve been in the Games 3.0 period since 2005. I peg the start of it as the launch of the Xbox 360 where connected broadband gaming was now table stakes. Everyone was now doing an MMO and PC gaming was getting cool and profitable. World of Warcraft changed everything.

So What is Games 3.0?

There are a few necessary components of the Games 3.0 world:

  1. Broadband connectivity

  2. Community and user engagement

  3. Non-retail business models

  4. User controls and openness

  5. Feeds, widgets and viral content

The BIG idea around Games 3.0 is “Games as Media, NOT as product.” This is a big shock for most existing game publishers whose lifeblood comes from the retail channel. For over 10 years, everyone has paid lip service to digital distribution yet it has not become a meaningful part of any major publishers’ business. Revenues of downloadable games have been laughable with the exception of casual games. Microsoft has been bold with its moves around Xbox Live Arcade that will democratize the existing console oligarchy. The publishers are trying to mold Web 2.0 services and ideas to a Games 1.0 model, i.e. sell as many retail boxes as possible with additional bells and whistles. Nintendo has created a bridge between these worlds with the Wii and Internet channels.

In Games 3.0 the community is a major part of the entertainment… be it on Halo 3 or Club Penguin. Look at Facebook and you see that all the traffic and potential revenue is derived from their community of user generated content. Engaged users drive excitement. The challenge for the game industry is that media understands games are important and they are jumping in. Look at the investments from Viacom, Fox, Disney and Time Warner/AOL (owners of GameDaily). They understand they need a games component to be credible in a larger media context. They have all invested in community platforms, game publishers, developers, in-game ad companies and virtual worlds. However, many game companies fail to see themselves as what they must be – engaged media companies. The winners in Games 3.0 understand the right mix of media and games. The main competition for games companies is not other games but other media. There are 100 million people on social networks who weren’t there three years ago. They are spending time, lots of it. The competition is for their time and attention.

The disruptors in this space are all around us: the free MMOs selling in-game items, virtual goods and ads; free web-based games that are easy to use like casual games yet their content looks like video games; casual games that drive huge audiences in web-based competitions. A major rule of web publishing is that 90 percent of your customers at any given time are NOT on your website. Hence the popularity of RSS feeds and widgets that bring popular experiences out to users wherever and whenever. The value of a product franchise is not just the projected sell through on version 4.0 of the same license property, but rather the value of their community of engaged users and how they can be monetized through a variety of models. If the user base shows super engagement the value can be enormous (not that Facebook should be a measurement for future valuation). The challenge for game companies is to act more widely and openly to bring what have been closed, “walled garden” experiences out to users who now expect to cobble together their entertainment experiences when and where they want.

Games 3.0 is here and it’s time for our industry to harness our creativity and innovate like growing media companies.

by Mark Friedler

itunes Brought to Starbucks Locally via Akamai

Here’s a very interesting article from the Boston Globe about how Starbucks, Apple, and Akamai are partnering to bring iTunes downloads locally to each Starbucks location.  The intent is to increase download speed and provide unique music experiences for Starbucks customers.  I think this wonderful and can sprout so many other services available to people if similar services are offered widely at other brick-and-mortar stores.  The first thing that comes to mind is that each Starbucks location can customize their music selection based on what customers actually download within the store.  In this way instead of having a generic “Starbucks sounds”, each store could  have a “my local Starbucks Sound.”  I would love to have something like this in the grocery store so I could download a movie to watch for the evening while I grocery shop for the next few nights’ dinner.  Or, what if through my portable device I could listen to songs I like while I shop in the grocery store and the store still gets to broadcast specials and advertisements to me.  This would also enable inventory lists for shoppers so they could easily locate items in the store or order them if they are not available through a portable device.  There are so many possibilities!

In an Emergency … Part 2

We decided to go home, after some deliberation, to rescue our guinea pig, Snowball.  I know that seems kinda silly, but Snowball is our beloved little ornery pet and we like his company a lot.  Strangely enough, we felt that everything else was okay since we had our laptops, cellphones, and 3-days worth of clothes each.  Our pictures are on Flickr, so if our house goes up, it’s okay as long as we get our pet out.  We left Las Vegas 2-days earlier than we had planned (I was supposed to leave that night from LV to Vancouver).  We must have looked very troubled because the hotel clerked responded to us with a lot of sympathy and asked if everything was ok.  We got on the road and cut off from the Internet we tried to find an AM news station out of So. Cal to listen to the latest news. 

Traffic was fairly smooth until we hit Victorville where traffic came to a halt because the 15 was closed through the Cajon Pass due to the fire (the news reported that the fire had caused some power lines to overheat).  We were stuck in traffic with no information for 3 – 4 hours, believing that we were going to be detoured another way through the San Bernardino forest.  The news kept describing a mythical route of back roads that would get us into LA.  Meanwhile, off to the left a fire was visibly raging in the mountains.  We later learned this was the “Lake Arrowhead Fire” and we were actually watching people’s houses burning down.  My husband was surprisingly calm and wished he had his long lost GPS gadget.  We finally got to the road closure and instead of being detoured, we were routed north-bound on the 15 back to Victorville.  For the love of Google Maps!  In a moment of inspiration I called my little brother who lives in Georgia.  He’s a college student so we knew he would be up despite it being 1 in the morning on his coast.  We called him and asked him to find us an alternate route home using Google Maps.  He and Steve fought the computer locally and remotely and finally came up with some bizarre routes through the forest, but not having current information about road closures we had no idea whether any of these routes were viable.  Then there was another problem … what good is Google Maps when you can’t see it.  I then remembered that we have Thomas Guides in the car for SD and LA.    Oh, sadness, neither of these cover Victorville, but alas, my husband remembered we have another LA map in the glove compartment and it covers Victorville!  Yay!

A paper map can be bewildering when you’ve become used to Google Maps and the like.  We actually had to find our origin and destination and then find roads that connect the two.  It took a while, but we came up with two routes – one Northwest and one Southwest.  But we still didn’t have any road closure information.  For that we decided to take a break in a fast food restaurant.  My husband has one of those “smart phones” that is supposedly Internet friendly.  The problem is that government websites are not web friendly.  Government websites are basically paper forms put directly online without any thought to web optimization.  Navigation of the Caltrans website was difficult and form driven and every announcement was a 300KB+ PDF — not at all mobile device friendly.  They are clearly stuck in a world of paper.  We finally found a list of road closures, but the information was old and we ended up getting information from the radio.  Of course our routes of escape were on fire and there was no exit from Victorville.

This is where something like “What to do” would come in handy.  What’s there to do in Victorville/ Barstow?  Where are the hotels, which ones have vacancies?  Let’s reserve a room now instead of driving around in a 30-mile radius looking for a place rest our tired bodies.  We ended up driving around randomly looking for hotels and at one point we drove into the empty parking lot of the “Sterling Inn”, celebrating because it seemed as though we had found an empty nice hotel that was away from the freeway.  Strangely the “hotel” was locked down and we couldn’t get in, so I 411ed the place and asked the person who answered the phone if there were vacancies.  The person on the other side asked if I was confused.  I asked if this isn’t a hotel, then what is this place and she replied, “It’s a senior home.”  And we were off again.  We ended up 2-hours and 30 miles later in Barstow at a run down Value Inn that was located for us by a well connected (by ground phone line) and kind clerk at the local Holiday Inn Express.  No comment on the hotel … In the morning we got access to the wireless Internet from the hotel owner and we checked the Caltrans webpage to see if the 15 was open.  It was and we were off again.