Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Cloud Party Party

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

First Impressions

First heard about it from an IBM colleague when I was right in the middle of a deadline. Responded to his instant message, asking if we could look together later. The next day, I was asked by another colleague via instant message, "Have you heard of Cloud Party?"

"Just yesterday, actually." I don't recall what more my colleague wrote, if anything. That night, in front of the TV, I opened Facebook and searched for "Cloud Party". Clicked on it. Landed in-world and a stranger tried to chat with me. By default, my avatar sported a brunette, 2012 version of a bob and a body that's half my age in a tight T-shirt and faded jeans. I tested the arrow key to see if I could walk away from, presumably, him. Reminded me of the meaninglessness of Second Life before I had specific reasons to go in-world with groups of IBM managers for learning.

"Look at this, Pat," I said as I discovered that clicking my cursor anywhere in the distance would produce a red hump on the ground, to which my avatar then moved automatically. That was the cool part. Something that confused me: the mobile phone metaphor for navigation; I didn't want to click on it, as I thought Cloud Party was going to try to download itself as an app to my Android phone. The other cool part was getting there via Facebook. But then what? I didn't know, so I left.

Today was different. Almost like the old days in Second Life after my initial, individual visit, where I felt purposeful because I was with IBMers, trying to learn something -- in this case, about Cloud Party itself. One of my colleagues remarked that he liked how he could take photos that then were instantly postable to Facebook. Ooh. That sounded very cool. I went to the mobile phone icon and found the camera. Started taking photos, but discovered that it only saved like the four or five most recent photos -- after taking like 15. Oh, well.

Saved a few -- one, twice.

And then decided to start saving the chat because Cloud Party's CEO, Sam Thompson, kindly showed up and responded to questions rifled at him and his wife/sister(?) Lilli Thompson, who hosted us in Lilli's World. Decided to capture a bunch of it and post it here anonymously, other than Sam and Lilli, where names are, e.g., Yyyyy Yyyyy:

[say] Yyyyy Yyyyy: What are your current priorities?

[say] Sam Thompson: 1. Marketplace + asset transfers, 2. avatar improvements and finalization so content creators can start making clothes

Lilli Thompson cheers

[say] Sam Thompson: After that it is less clear.

[say] Lilli Thompson: As for differentiators for Cloud Party, I think the HTML5 thing is huge

[say] Sam Thompson: Xxxxx: I suppose the most obvious difference is the ease of entry... no client to download, login and account creation is basically instant (as long as you use facebook), and you can just send someone a URL to anywhere in Cloud Party and have them show up seconds later.

[say] Sam Thompson: Yyyyyy: no specific target demographic at this point. I'd say our target is 'the internet'

[say] Aaaaa Aaaa: Would HTML5 suggest that this would be a great place to run videos, integrating them into the 3D experience?

[say] Xxxxx: Full Mesh / Run in web page / No Client Download / No Firewall issues


[say] Sam Thompson: Aaaaaa: hopefully, eventually, yes. We actually got it working at one point a few months ago, but performance was terrible.

[say] Aaaaa Aaaa: (assuming sound, of course)

[say] Sam Thompson: I think it will just take more work on the browser side.

[say] Bbbbbb: @user#whatever - ease of access, better building, better 3D space (you get an island - a volume) not a surface, better integration with social media.

[say] Sam Thompson: Also there are lots of permissions issues with CORS and such.

[say] Ccccc Ccccc: I'd like to see more camera controls, like being able to change your viewpoint for the camera

[say] Sam Thompson: Aaaaaa: there is sound, it's just that most things aren't creating sound right now.

[say] Yyyyyy Yyyy: I just tried to login using my iPad, but no support yet.

[say] Xxxxx: thanks Sam

[say] Lilli Thompson: there's a video on YouTube of someone running Cloud Party on a jailbroken iPad

[say] Sam Thompson: Yyyyyy: that's on apple, unfortunately. They are being very cagey about WebGL support.

[say] Xxxxx: Yyyyyy you can use ipad if hacked and you install Cydia webgl support

[say] Sam Thompson: It'll be interesting to see how they play it.

[say] Aaaa Aaaaa: And of course we'll do nothing but flood Sam with feature requests --- interactive HTML to support in-world whiteboarding and such

[say] Sam Thompson: :)


[say] Ddddddd Ddddd: Having utterly failed to make a red shirt in a week :-) I'm finding the "world created by people like you" line a bit flat.

[say] Lilli Thompson: To some extent--the barrier to entry for content creation is higher. However the awesome thing is that the skills you learn building for cloud party transfer to the real world

[say] Lilli Thompson: it kind of hurts me to think of someone investing hundreds of hours into a proprietary non-transferrable set of skills for building

[say] Lilli Thompson: whereas any game artist can build here

[say] Sam Thompson: We are looking to bridge the gap to some extent between hard core builders and beginners. This is something we'll be looking into after the marketplace and avatar tech is in place.

[say] Lilli Thompson: or just show there stuff here

[say] Eeeeee Eeee: yeah like linden script LOL. What is the scripting language here? Javascript?

[say] Dddddd Ddddd: Ah, but right now they have to invest hundreds of dollars into 3D editing software.

[say] Sam Thompson: Andre: it's javascript with some limitations.

[say] Lilli Thompson: I also think Cloud Party is a really exciting way for 3d artists to share their work and portfolios

[say] User#133825: or go the Blender route

[say] Lilli Thompson: you don't have to--Blender and Sketchup work

[say] Mykael: You can build with tools like Carrera which is pretty cheap and Blender/Sketchup which are free.

[say] User#133825: Blender was my Best Friend in SL =)


At this point, I stopped saving the chat because it was far beyond what I could relate to personally. These colleagues were builders. And my experience in Virtual Worlds was in using what my colleagues built, so that I could include them in social learning experiences we designed for our leaders. Still, was happy to lurk and learn a bit about how the magic got built.

This evening, I spoke with one of the question-riflers, who has premier building experience, and told her, "I chatted privately with Yyyyy Yyyyy and told him that seeing you and him here were my favorite part of this virtual world so far....I imagine that this HTML 5 thing is very big for types like you, though."

"Well, yes, this is the first in Web GL, but only the first, so we'll have to wait and see."

In my Masters thesis, published late last year, I wrote that Virtual Worlds wouldn't catch on virally/universally until they were as simple as FarmVille and had much lower barriers to entry. I should mention that my Lenovo ThinkPad T61 -- which I use for work -- didn't enable me to access Cloud Party due to a video card that needed updating, but which turned out to be a hassle and undoable in the time I'd allotted for doing the update. I had to use the HP Entertainment PC I bought at Costco for home use. Also, during the dialogue with Sam and Lilli, my same colleague brought up the fact that China-based people would not necessarily be able to access Cloud Party, which was a pretty huge barrier to entry, so yes, we'll see. Still, I'm glad I went on the field trip. These in-world jaunts always expand my vista.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

For Israeli Family Photos, See Prior Blog Entry

Everyone on our tour, regardless of gender and sexual orientation, it seemed, including Pat and I, had a crush on the beautiful, brilliant, funny Odelia Shabi, our tour guide (above), who was proudly Yemenite. Abel Pann, one of Israel's premier 20th-century artists, used Yemenite models among others in his art, for example, this image above (see a larger version). If there were an Olympics for country tour guides, Odelia would take the Gold Medal for Israel. How much can I express Pat's and my adoration as fans before embarrassing ourselves, let alone Odelia?

Pat snapped this photo of me (above) looking happy and lovingly at her on our first evening in Jerusalem, when Shabbat was on the way shortly. I couldn't believe we were actually there, together finally. As I wrote in a prior blog-entry, during all of my previous stays in Israel, from 15 onward, I pursued romance with boys and girls and then men and women who might have loved Israel, but who did not love me. In this case, I was finally with someone who loved me back, if not yet who loved Israel. Perhaps for Pat, Israel would be like golf was for me; we always played together because I knew how enormously happy it made her to be on a golf course, but golf was not natively beloved to me.

These two photos (above) depicted Pat & me on our final night in Jerusalem and our fourth day in Israel, under nearly a full moon. If this was for Pat just like a round of golf was for me, then it was an atypical round, where we played the most beautiful, uncrowded course and where I had a hugely successful game and was buoyed by it...because that's how Pat seemed by then -- extraordinarily happy and sated. Or maybe Pat was still mostly loving that I loved Israel, and her extra selflessness released endorphins. I'm not sure which it was, and it didn't seem to matter, since both of us felt ultra-relaxed and pleased for whatever reason, even beyond how we feel, say, on a summer evening when we're rocking in our double rocker on the back-deck of our house.

Our first night in Jerusalem, which was our very first night in Israel together, we ate dinner at Cinematech, which was also the cool place to go in 1985-86, when I was a Hebrew University student for the year. It seemed out of reach to me then, as the place where kids with money went on dates, and I didn't have much of either back then. What a triumph to be having a romantic dinner with my wife Pat, ordering whatever I wanted on the menu and paying with our collective money. And then afterward, we caught a cab to the Kotel (Wall), to watch the dancing there (above). Since Pat & I are both women, unlike opposite-gender couples, we were able to approach the Wall together and touch it side-by-side, and to kiss the same spot of it. As we moved back from it, Pat snapped photos of gorgeous female Israeli soldiers dancing.

So much shame scattered to the winds, thank God; last time I was there at night, I was a 20 year old who felt the way I did in a Women's locker room, forcing myself to look at the ground while in the Women's section, and then who also felt impossibly awkward in the open plaza behind the prayer sections, where other young men and women stood together -- but not too closely, of course -- becoming acquainted.

Our friend Eleanor Horowitz (above, left) lives in Herzliya and is a lawyer and artist. Like me, she was a Freshman and Sophomore at the University of Michigan and also studied at Hebrew University during her Junior year. Unlike me, she stayed in Israel for her Senior year and graduated from Hebrew University, and made aliyah, also graduating from Hebrew U.'s Law school as well as studying at Bezalel, Israel's premier art school. She always seemed heroic to me -- one of the brave ones who flirted with aliyah during her Junior year abroad and then who actually made it.

Both of these books (above) are at the Mt. Scopus campus of Hebrew University, in the library where I hung out a lot as a student, and which I took Pat to visit during our one afternoon that we had free from the tour. The book with the cover in Hebrew is also by Flannery O'Connor; it's the collection of short stories, *A Good Man Is Hard to Find*, translated into Hebrew, and it has the story I chose to include in my Comparative Literature thesis upon my return to Ann Arbor, "Good Country People". I don't remember seeing that book when I found the peacock-covered one in 1986. Both could actually be from that time, since the covers of both have been reinforced with extra cardboard.

Flannery O'Connor was like a friend in Israel back then. "Good Country People" particularly gave me what I needed, a theme that mirrored my life at the time: My emphasis was on objects of desire, rather than on finding real love (and healthy desire) with a similarly-intentioned woman. The desires of Flannery O'Connor's protagonist, along with those of all of the women I compared among the four short stories of my thesis, were thwarted and ultimately damned. Cheery.

Imagine my gratification at returning with my wife Pat to the very place where everything seemed so unsettled and unsettling romantically and being able to stamp it with a happy ending. Here we are a couple of days later at the Dead Sea (above), being photographed by a lovely guy from the tour group, Ishaan.

Pat and I were fortunate to swim in six very different bodies of water during our time in Israel. On the Dead Sea, we floated like cork rafts amid heat of 40 degrees Celcius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit -- that was the *air* temperature and the water felt around the same. I need to update My Swimming Autobiography, but meanwhile, I'll mention the Kibbutz Lavi pool here (above). Prior to our arrival at Lavi, we had been hiking and sweating in Beit She'an, which is in a hotter part of the north. Picture our relief at entering this pool, which was indoors, but which had glass doors and giant windows all open to criss-crossing breezes. Other than a pool in a mountainous Madrid suburb, where I was lucky to swim during a business trip half a decade ago, it was the nicest pool I'd ever enjoyed.

Just as I commented to my American first cousin Sari, I keep thinking about accidents of birth: My mom's friend Chaya (above) is probably 90 years old and her parents and she were born in Israel; my mother will be 87 in November and she says that Chaya is a few years older than she.

Our friends Noga and Hilla (left and right, above) also were born in Israel. Hilla's parents came from Tunisia and then took the family to Canada for eight years, but then ultimately returned to Israel. And Noga's parents were from Poland and the Sudan. I need to resist idealizing Noga and Hilla and trying to turn them into symbols of an ideal Israeli couple. They are just another couple in the world, albeit an especially lovely one, trying to take care of their family and each other, just like Pat and I are trying to do...speaking of which, it's time to feed Phoebe and Toonces, our cats.

Nothing like children to bring me back to the present. Phoebe and Toonces are our feline daughters and this photo (above) is from the day we returned from Israel, after Pat cut a bunch of gladioli that had bloomed in our garden while we were away.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Emotion Parade During Our Trip to Israel

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Ultimately, Relief Is the Grand Marshal

This dusty dirt road belies the rows and rows of spry, young avocado trees behind the hoary trees on the left, but doesn't surprise me with the village's cemetery just around the bend. My father's parents, his sister and her husband are buried there (z"l). In reliving the trip here, I'm not sure how orderly I can make the emotion parade, or how much I should try to do so. Here, I'm posting photos and writing about a place of which I have been conscious for more than 40 years, first through Sabta (my grandmother) and Aunt Tovah -- the generations of our family that moved there in 1948 and '47 respectively.

Until reading the name beneath my grandfather's on his side of the gravestone, I do not know or recall that my grandfather was the son of Chaim Mordechai haLevi, and had chosen to name his eldest son (my dad of blessed memory) after his deceased dad (z"l). One grave sits in a moshav in Israel and the other on the outskirts of Stamford, Connecticut. If my dad had stayed in Israel after serving in WWII in the U.S. Navy, rather than leaving and moving to the Village in New York City, I wouldn't be here to blog about standing in awe at the continuity.

This visit with my family, both dead and alive, doesn't happen till our last day in Israel and I am anticipating it the entire time. Instead of being anticlimactic or even somehow disappointing -- which a number of highly-anticipated events are in my experience -- it is marvelous. Relatively, my first cousins Edna and Meishe are two of seven first cousins with whom I'm the closest; siblings Sarit -- aka Sari -- and Yanai are the others with whom I'm closest. Meishe and Edna have worse luck than the rest of us in that their parents Tovah and Lulu both were buried already, and Uncle Lulu died when they were young, in 1967, just weeks after our grandfather died; Saba died of Leukemia and Uncle Lulu of a freakish bathtub fall if I remember correctly -- 50 years, so far, of Edna and Meishe, leaving stones on Uncle Lulu's grave, and Uncle Lulu never got to see his gorgeous, talented grandchildren, Dvori, Lilach, Anat, Eli and Omri. And Meishe's now a grandfather himself, twice already, of Ori and Hilla. What if Aunt Tovah were still living? She would have gotten to know two delightful great-grandchildren so far. What if my father were still alive? He would have gotten to know four beautiful, stellar grandchildren. What if Uncle Vevy (Zev), the father of Yanai and Sari, were still living? He would have gotten to know all four of his precious, brilliant grandchildren, rather than only Yanai's kids.

So much envy to trudge through: I envy Sari and Yanai for getting to have both of their parents for much longer than I did, and perhaps Edna and Meishe envy Sari and Yanai, too, as well as how my dad lasted a few more years than theirs, till 56, and how my mom, so far, has lasted 20 years longer than theirs. Or maybe I'm the only one who thinks this way. And how does it serve me? In this case, I think, envy is just another type of mourning. This family in Israel is a thick link to my father, who I miss practically continuously, no matter that this November, he'll already have been gone corporeally for 30 years. The ache doesn't lessen. The couple of random memories that Edna and I share about him in the car from Tel Aviv to Beit Herut are incalculably dear to me, including how he used to read her stories in Hebrew and then when he was done, asked her what they were about. "The difference was that your father could read, but couldn't speak, and Uncle Vevy could speak, but couldn't read as well." We leave the cemetery, which had been Meishe's and Edna's profound idea to visit. The white slabs of my lost relatives serve as a peaceful, sad contrast to all of the hopeful colors to come during the rest of my visit.

My one priority other than seeing all of my available relatives is first to stop at the community pool, where I had spent significant times at 15, during the Summer of '80, when I lived with my second cousins, Gila, Shmuel (z"l), Moti, Ron and Nitza. It is a bit out of the way and it is definitely a youngest-child-syndrome moment, where just like my older sisters Deb and Kayla had done for me my whole early life, and perhaps they think they do still, Meishe and Edna are proxies and indulge me. This is the only time Pat intervenes and says, "Sarah, the rest of your relatives are waiting to see you." In response, I feel less guilty than determined to peek at the pool.

Probably, I could pause here to wonder what else Pat was thinking of all of this -- a dimension of my history to which she hasn't had direct access prior -- but the reality is that I am fully self-absorbed and unconsciously taking for granted that Pat can be self-sufficient during the visit, beyond my making initial introductions, where I consciously refer to her as my wife; I follow our dear friends David & Gerard's advice to use the term "wife" as often as possible to make up for all of the years that we couldn't. My cousins prove to be completely, naturally, genuinely welcoming to us. Their warmth makes me feel proudly beloved.

My dad of blessed memory always talked about the *Pirkei Avot*/*Ethics of the Fathers* statement, "K'neh l'chah chaver," which was the concept that friendship is so precious, we should be willing to pay for it. With that in mind -- not knowing how warmly we'd be received -- I bring gifts for family of all ages. Though I am not satisfied that they are amazing enough -- bunches of IBM logo'ed items...a cup, toddler T-shirts, mini golf umbrellas and rebus notebooks, plus a couple of Mickey Mouse paint-sets from my mother, a child's puzzle from the Jewish Museum in New York, and a Beijing Olympics key-ring for Dvori, since I remember that she is a champion swimmer and instructor -- I hand them out quickly upon our arrival, which helps me channel my nervous excitement at being met by known and new faces.

Of course, I need to bring gifts because they always give us gifts, even when we are visiting them in their home-country. Maybe they are similarly familiar with the *Pirkei Avot* saying, or maybe they're just generous. They give Pat & me each some special Dead Sea revitalizing products as well as a fantastic 2012-2013 Israeli art calendar. The thing is, in choosing gifts for them, I can't think of anything American that they don't already have access to, and the IBM-logo'ed products, at least, are not generally, publicly available, and they really are a reflection of how I've spent nearly the past two decades in the States and and India. In fact, my IBM service counts for 22 years this month. We also wish we could have brought them bottles of the New Jersey State Fair-winning Iris honey from the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens, where Pat serves as Treasurer of the Board, here in Montclair, but we figure that it could be a Security challenge, or else disastrous if the bottles break in our luggage.

Also, I'm hoping that some of my memories are bonus gifts for them; theirs are to me, certainly. I've got an aerogramme from Aunt Tovah, dated November, 1980, that refers to Anat's precociousness as a toddler. And as I'm sitting here, reflecting now, I'm recalling how when Dvori was an infant and I was 11, I blew at her eyes to watch her long eyelashes wave at the wind and no one stopped me. Probably, no one other than Dvori saw me do it. She was smiling, or at least, not crying during my experiment, so I don't think I did any lasting harm.

And I've got a nice photo of my oldest cousin Gila with her husband, Shmuel and her parents, if I remember correctly, and me at 15, which I show to Gila and which she asks Meishe to photocopy. Of course, this being 2012, he has a photocopier in his home. And Gila's daughter Nitza recalls two memories that I had forgotten: She took me to school with her during my first or second visit, when I was eight or 11, and she remembers that I ran the 60 meter dash really fast. (It was not a trend.) Nitza also remembers how exciting it was to receive a package from me, from the United States: "You sent those [molded rubber] Sesame Street finger-puppets, and to this day, I can't throw them away. I still have them." (My dad (z"l), who was a game and toy designer, had brought them home -- enough to share some, so I did.)

When Nitza and her mom Gila, along with Nitza's darling young son, enter Meishe and Bina's living room, I spring up and hug them. I also introduce Pat, but want to sit closer to them to be able to talk and leave Pat on the couch. By now, everyone is talking with her and she is enjoying the conversation and a sort of melon that she says later tasted like a more delicious version of cantaloupe, but which isn't the same color.

Pat looks perfectly comfortable, and I take the golden opportunity to sit down especially next to Gila, who is just a few years younger than my mom and she kindly lets me speak halting Hebrew with her, rather than English, even though she understands English perfectly. It is so cool! Gila, Nitza, Edna and Bina all are sitting near me at the same time and we have a history! At this moment, I don't need the Dead Sea serum; I am 30 years younger, just reminiscing with them. And being around typically remote people who still remembered my dear father (z"l) brings him back to life for me for a bit, even if just for the length of our visit.

The time with my Israeli family is too brief, as we are meeting my mom's 90ish-year-old friend for lunch Chaya back in Tel Aviv, but it leaves Pat and me wanting more, and I hope our Beit Herut-based family feels the same way. Gila (second from the left in this last photo) says to me emphatically, "I'm all alone in that big house, so next time you and Pat come to Israel, you must stay with me." We'd love to and hope to. What a rich visit, with 22 of my emotions on parade, some internally and some externally: awe, anticipation, surprise, nostalgia, envy, mourning, ache, appreciation, amusement, peace, sadness, hope, courage, warmth, pride, love, vulnerability, nervousness, excitement, wonderment, and renewal -- with relief leading the way...relief that I could pick up with my family where we left off, that the family, including Pat, warmly received one another, relief that I could communicate in Hebrew, even if at a pre-Kindergarten level, and relief at the ease we felt, being with all of them.