Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Around the World: Copenhagen!

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
I'm blogging from my Toki-Doki room in Hotel Fox in Copenhagen. Each hotel room is designed and decorated by a different artist, and I am thrilled to be sleeping under the watchful eye of Toki-Doki characters. Both my twin sister Kelly and my good friend Natalie carry stylish Toki-Doki handbags, which I could only afford if I weren't traveling around the world staying in fashionable Toki-Doki hotel rooms. However my Natalie had this to say about my email description of the room, which I think is lovely and made made feel all warm and happy: "It is like you are living in a toki doki purse, you and Kiyash have been shrunken down and some young hip girl is carrying you around Copenhagen." I felt much less stressed working on my powerpoint slides for my two talks here this week thinking about being carried around in a hip young girl's handbag! I love it!

Speaking of love... Kiyash and I have much, much love for Copenhagen. Kiyash, in fact, keeps saying "I LOVE Copenhagen!" Like, every 5 minutes. Literally. We are gorging on the crisp winter air, Scandinavian food and design culture.

Last night's meal included Elderberry cocktails, had lunch at the famous Bleu restaruant in Sankt Petri, we went to my favorite bakery in the world today for Sportskage, Alderkage and Rubensteinkage at La Glace, and we had nice mugs of Glogg with gingerbread as our happy hour in the central square. And that's not even 24 hours in Copenhagen! Woo! We are so happy to be here, India was an adventure of a lifetime, but also trying and exhausting. Copenhagen is pure pleasure!

If you are in the area, come to NEXT at ITU on Friday, and ping me if you want to play Werewolf here in Copenhagen!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

4 Indian Wedding ceremonies down, 1 to go!

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
The Indian wedding ceremonies have been beautiful and spectacular. The groom rode an elephant, his two brothers on Arabian horses, the father and mother of the groom on camels... the main ceremony was on a palace floating in the middle of a lake in Udaipur... hundreds of photos from the four days of ceremonies are here in a Flickr set
Kiyash and I are taking a day off from festivities in Delhi to relax, recover (it's hard not to get a little sick traveling around India), prep some notes for my talks in Copenhagen next week, and watch some Bollywood movies in our hotel room hopefully! Tomorrow is the big reception and Sunday we go to the Taj Mahal...

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Citizen Cows in Delhi

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Delhi is too crazy to write a blog post worthy of the (mis)adventures we are having! Also sadly I am not taking nearly enough photos, it is so chaotic preparing for the Indian wedding (the amount of shopping required for our many different outfits for the 5 days' worth of wedding activities is insane) and avoiding being hit by random cabs that photos are not happening alas. However I wanted to say one thing: The fact that cows wander around freely like citizens is so unbelievable cool. As a vegetarian (for over 10 years now) there is something so happy about seeing cows walk around with dignity, not like "cattle" but like individual creatures each. I've never seen a cow with so much dignity before and I love it. The rest of Delhi is a little hard and crazy but we are adjusting. More soon!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Hong Kong Day Five: Buddhist yum yum

HongKongDay5 048
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Kiyash and I visit the brand new Nan Lian Garden, a public park designed in the Tang Dynasty-style, that officially opened for the first time yesterday. It's beautiful, if a bit restricted in terms of activity and interactivity...

We have a Buddhist vegetarian feast at a restaurant that has just opened inside the park. It is a wordless transaction--we sit, and they bring us plate after plate of food, with no description of what any of it is. It is brilliant and delicious and by far the best meal we have enjoyed in Hong Kong!

We visit a nunnery and learn more about Buddhism, which I have to admit, I love for what strikes me as its fundamental parallels with existentialism (my own philosophy/religion of choice -- What Would Sisyphus Do? and all that).

Then we do a bit of shopping in a mall that feels like a theme park. As we take the train all over the city, we are reminded how much we love the MRT!

While I stayed in the hotel to finish up my research article for the MacArthur Foundation (all about collective intelligence gaming), Kiyash did our laundry. I love my husband!

Tonight, we're off to Art Jamming, an all-you-can paint party that is a bit of an institution here. According to the website: "Whether you are solo, or bring friends and family, artjamming has a way of opening up your imagination and pushing aside your inhibitions. Artjamming makes creativity contagious.The price of artjamming includes a canvas for each jammer, a buffet of unlimited acrylic paints, and the use of aprons, brushes, sponges and spatulas. Juices, teas, coffees and mineral water are complimentary for all in-house artjammers. .... Housed in a pre-war building, people from just-about-everywhere come here for a healthy dose of artjamming. There are 2 floors of artjamming; both have high ceilings with great acoustics. The music played rouses inspiration; a cool weave of acid jazz, funk and chill-out bounces off the ceiling joists into your imagination." They call themselves "the pioneers of paintertainment." How can you not love that?

Lucky Timber City! I win! I win!

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Off to the races we go last night... Wednesday is the big night for horse races in Hong Kong, and who am I to miss out on mass live entertainment? At the Sha Tin race track, Kiyash and I each bet 20 Hong Kong Dollars on each of five races. In race #1, I bet on horse #6, the super-underdog Timber City, to place. My horse comes in second! I win! I win! It's the biggest payoff odds of any win the entire night (there are eight races total) I make more than six times my bet back, and it feels great to cash in my winning ticket for $132. However we both lose all the rest of the races all night, so collectively we're down $68, or about $10 USD. That's okay... it was a really beautiful night, watching the horses race in the drizzly cool fresh air, eating turnip cakes and drinking coke light from the food kiosk.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Hong Kong Day 3: "I can feel you touching my spleen!"

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Quickfire notes... must head off to the racetrack soon for some Happy Valley fun time! (Wednesday night is the big horse night racing in Hong Kong... yes, it's Wednesday night here already, we are living in the future as my friend Artur helpfully pointed out!)

Kiyash and I started the day yesterday with a sunrise rooftop dip in the hot tub... then we raided a local bakery (the Hong Kong based Panash chain) for bean buns, mochi donuts, and green tea souffles, which we took to an outdoor eldery recreation park. (A jungle gym for grown-ups, and one of my favorite urban design ideas of all time. I've been obsessed with them since our trip to Beijing and Shanghai in 2004.)

Then we explores some more nooks and crannies of Hong Kong, including the Soho and Hollywood neighborhoods cut into the moutainside. There, we got an hour's worth of foot reflexology, which was so good, I could feel the reflexologist touching my spleen when she yanked on my pinky toe.

We also did my cookie rolling installation, with yam cookie, alongside the urban outdoor escalator. It went really well, local passersby were benevolently intrigued!

Ended the night by browsing and haggling our way through the Temple Street Night Market. Ate rice bowls and very weird flavors of cake in bed and watched a DVD until we fell asleep...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Transits of Delights!

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Hong Kong, Day Two. Summary: There are myriad transits of delight. Nevertheless, our primary means of transit--our legs!-- are very, very tired.

We get up around 7 AM and start the day with a trip to the hotel's pool/fitness center. I run 5K and Kiyash swims laps on the roof... then we have a sushi breakfast, coffee, and it's off to Central via our first trip on the Hong Kong subway, the MRT!

The MRT works just like the BART, only better announcements, maps and lines to get on and off the train. Also, as Kiyash marvels at, the train cars have no partitions... it's infinite train in both directions! (Transit of delight #1)

On arrival in Central, which is the business district on the island (our hotel is on the mainland) we start a loop of the Hong Kong Land Company's aerial concourses. The Land Co. has connected all of the Central properties they own via aerial walkways, which collectively pose a kind of 7-bridges problem: How can we cross all the walkways without doubling back on any of our paths? Unfortunately we do not solve this riddle as we are not really sure how many walkways there are total. Still, a fun puzzle. ^_^ (Transit of delight #2)

Next we take the urban escalator up the mountainside, which has been so densely developed that they have built an outdoor public escalator going block after block after block... imagine San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood with escalators up all the hills! Crazy. We love it. It goes on for 792 meters (Transit of delight #3)

Now we're in a neighborhood called mid-levels and we follow signs to a secret playground, which turns out to be a giant soccer court cut into the side of the mountain, nothing else around in view except for the distant city skyline. Crazy. We love it.

There is a free, open zoo in this area. We see a jaguar, buff-cheeked gibbons monkeys and more.

We make our way to Hong Kong Park, where we see a SARS memorial, a tai chi court, an audio art installation (all about the sound of interior air conditioning!), amazing water sculptures, and more.

We find a supermarket that specializes, apparently, in junk food. Aisle after aisle of international cookies and chocolates and candies (tim tams, Picnic, wine gums...) that inspire us to box up a ton to ship home. So that's our plan for tomorrow: woo! Also, I find the perfect cookies for cookie rolling. Yam cookies, made right here in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The word I'll be rolling... "mountain". We already asked the hotel concierge to show us the Cantonese character so I can install it in the correct language.

There's more, but that's enough for now. :) We still adore Hong Kong, although I had a small ping of panic realizing how far from home we are... and how much further we have to go before we are home. It's a long trip and we are literally flying around the entire world. I will try to ignore the small travel anxiety that tends to creep up on me...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Around the World: Day Zero and Day One

Summary: HATE FLYING to HONG KONG! but also We LOVE HONG KONG! Flickr set tells the story so far in photos...

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Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

It is 6:50 AM when we land.
Hong Kong airport rocks. Easy, fast, calm. LOVE IT. Luggage appears seemingly instantly off the plane, customs/immigration takes less than 5 minutes including the wait in line, everyone smiles as we walk by.
Take a cab ride from the airport with the coolest cowboy rock star taxi driver ever. Straight out of Jarmusch-- the perfect cross between a character from Mystery Train and Night On Earth.
Our hotel is awesome. We're staying at Langham Place in Mong Kok. They let us check in at 8 AM, seven hours early. They are the best.
Our room is amazing and high-tech. It's the ultra-connected home of the future that Intel is always imagining and the Digital Home. There's also a DVD player and a 67-inch High Def widescreen plasma TV and so we are totally going to buy movies on the street and watch them in our room if we have time.
We nap for 3 hours and then walk the streets. Take lots of great photos, scout the local payphones, drink a malted lychee soft drink called Jolly Shandy that may or may not have actually contained beer, we're not sure. Visited a GIRLY arcade called Game Zone where cluster of girls squealed and screamed as they kicked girly claw-game ass. LOVE IT>
Had a high tea buffet... noodles and Earl Grey... just starting to appreciate the British/Chinese culture mix. LOVE IT.
Went to see new Pang brothers (Hong Kong horror film makers) movie at the local teen cinema. We were the oldest people and only non-Asians at the almost sold-out show and it was awesome hanging out with local teens. We are picking up serious style and trend insights here. Also I bought two kawaii tchockes out of a huge bank of vending machines, one is a Lucky Frog toy and the other a bucket of stickers. The movie, Diary, was wicked awesome crazy weird. I won't ruin it by posting any spoilers, but freaky and awesome AND is all about a psycho puppet maker.
We're going for a drink at a bar now... Hong Kong rocks.

Day Zero:

Worst. Flight. Ever. Now, I know I said the very same thing last January, when our SAS flight was diverted from Copenhagen to Stockholm and they lost our luggage for 5 days after the kid sitting in front of me threw up on my legs... but that was bad in a different way. This was bad in WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY DOING FLYING IN THIS WEATHER and make-younever-want-to-fly-again way. First, we rode for about 90 minutes through Tropical Storm Rose, and you know riding through a storm that gets a name means it's not fun. But that was nothing compared to about eight hours in the flight, when thanks to El Nino in the Pacific Ocean, we went through 3 hours worth of horrid storms. I start thinking... "Well, maybe I don't REALLY need to travel so much... I can be very happy just padding around the bay area and taking road trips for the rest of my life." However once you get off the plane, your brain starts to block it out so that you can continue having a normal travel life. Already I am in denial about how awful it was. Let's just say I hope that it really is the worst flight I ever have.^_^

Fortunately, because this is an AROUND THE WORLD TRIP we will not be flying over the Pacific Ocean on our way back! Woo hoo!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

exit stage left, enter far east

Off we go!

Tomorrow marks two big departures for me.

First, and a bit of big news: Tomorrow is my last day as a full-time lead designer at 42 Entertainment.

I'll still be very involved with the company, which is something I'm very happy about, because there are so many amazing immersive entertainment projects on the horizon for us. But leaving full-time employment is a significant change for me, in terms of how I spend my day to day and my ability to work with different organizations.

Going forward, I'll have more time to explore some very exciting opportunities, and I can't wait to see what other cool things pop up. (Needless to say, feel free to contact me -- my dance card still has room for interesting work and engagements over the course of the next year!) I'll save the details on what I already have planned for when I get back from our around-the-world trip. (see below!) For now, I'll just say that I'm looking forward to putting more of my day-to-day energy into future forecasting, design research, publishing, and public speaking. (Not to mention, teaching!)

The second big departure is this: Tomorrow, Kiyash and I leaving our very first, around-the-world trip! We are flying westward around the entire world, making stops in Hong Kong, Delhi, Udaipur, Agra, and Copenhagen. Because of the opposite climates of Scandinavia and far/south-east, I had to create an Excel spreadsheet to work out how to pack effectively AND fashionably for the extremes of 85 degrees versus 30 degrees in just one suitcase. :)

We'll be gone almost a month, but I'll be on email and blogging and looking forward to staying in touch during the trip! (And in case you're wondering, Meche will be staying with her best friend and our neighbor, Maurice the dachshund, so while we expect to miss her like crazy, we also think she'll be very happy.)

I'll check in again this weekend with initial thoughts on Hong Kong, after our 15-hour Cathay Pacific overnight flight! (I have a feeling MAJOR jet lag is in store.) We'll be spending 5 nights there before flying on to India, where we'll have 10 days, including taking part in a big week-long Indian wedding complete with elephants and camels in the ceremony. Then it's on to Copenhagen for a week, where I get to give some cool lectures and organize some Werewolf games, and finally back to San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It's a happy day in America

I am overjoyed today.

The American voters have restored oversight to our federal government by electing a Democratic House and, it very much looks like, a Democratic Senate. And the rest of the world will see, hopefully, a country that rejects the lawlessness, corruption, incompetence, doublespeak, and cronyism of the Bush administration. I know there is a big international audience for this blog and I hope you all know that we are taking our country back from the edge of the void.

I wept after the previous presidential election and felt dead inside for months. I despaired. I tried with a very heavy heart to understand how people I care about (including conservative members of my family back East) could choose to re-elect the same administration that lied to us about Iraq, passed tax cuts we couldn't afford, gave us the Patriot Act, traded on homophobia, and on and on and on... I know to some this will sound awful, but talking to people who voted for Bush and other republicans again in 2004 was like talking to people who reject evolution and want to teach intelligent design in public schools. It's like a willful ignorance, a conscious choice to screw other people to keep your own fantasy world intact. I'm sorry if conservative readers are offended by that, but honestly, I believe that the damage caused by re-electing Bush in 2004 is so severe that we are owed a public aplogy by every single person who voted him back in. I consider yesterday's election of democratic candidates in so many previous republican strongholds a very good start on that apology.

But... but... but. Today is a new day. It is hard to describe how overwhelmingly good it feels to watch Nancy Pelosi speak on TV, to watch a political leader speak who is not a scumbag, who isn't filled with rage and hate and self-righteousness. I love Nancy Pelosi. A woman speaker of the house! It is a great day in America.

I am relieved, optimistic, and above all else happy that there is hope for change.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

SF Bay Area Gamer Alert! Play with me 11/8/06

Originally uploaded by qio.
Tomorrow, for the first time ever, *I* will get to play Cruel 2 B Kind.

No puppet mastering behind the scenes... I'm going to be out there, on the streets, killing with kindness!

Come play with me on your lunch break if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This game is being organized by urban adventure art groups Rebar and SOEX, and it will be played in a series of neighboring "privately owned public spaces" -- you know, those "public" plazas, rooftops, lobbies and fountain areas that technically are privately owned by by law have to allow the public to use them during certain hours of the day... like the lunch break!

More info about this particular event here

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Everything has a secret

I have a new game that I'm hoping to debut at State of Play IV - Singapore. (The conference on virtual worlds is still looking for sponsors, if you want to support the most interesting conference lineup I've been a part of ever!)

Here's how my participation is described by the organizers:

7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Dinner: Ubiquitous Metaverses
Traditional dinner talk, benign conspiracy or mind-bending event that threatens to unravel your understanding of reality? During this special session, the innovative pioneer of genre-defining alternate reality games (ARGs) and urban superhero games explains how pervasive communication technologies enable the creation of virtual worlds that immerse players in the physicality of real-world people, objects and spaces.

That's a rather daunting description to live up to, so I'm REALLY glad I have a crazy new idea I can't wait to deploy!

So what's the crazy new ubiquitous metaverse game? It's called Something Secret, and it has a future home. There's nothing here yet, but the URL is now mine:

I can't wait to post details, although it might wait until after I deploy (because I want to spring it on the State of Players and catch them unawares!) But for now... Think: benevolent conspiracy meets urban superhero games meets blobjects.