March 9, 2006
Random notes.
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Okay, not even getting started on this today until 1:30 pm here in Chicago, so let's see if I can fly through these random notes quickly and get this posted at a decent time.

--So, regular readers know that I'm dealing for the first time these days with a home broadband connection, which is letting me get to try all kinds of things for the first time; from social networking to AJAX sites to chat-based cybersex. And another thing, of course, is streaming video, which I am just so enamored with these days, because it's so damn easy on a broadband connection! The reason I never watched much online video before because it was such a pain in the ass to download an entire file, then watch it, then delete it when you were done; with broadband, though, the data's coming in as fast as it's getting played, so you can simply watch it quickly while you're thinking about it, then be done again. And so that's been getting me over pretty regularly to places like Google Video and YouTube, to see interesting or funny stuff that other people are linking to in their own blogs, which are then coming to my attention. And then of course I mention the ones I like at my account, so that anyone who visits there or subscribes to the feed will know about them too.

And how cool is this? One of the notorious legends about Google, among many others, is that they're always inviting super-interesting people to hold private little talks on the Google campus, for all the brilliant shadowy engineers and other employees there. And these talks are notorious, of course, for supposedly two things: that apparently all the bullshit is put aside, and just very real, very interesting things talked about; and of course that before now they've been closed off from the public. So now Google is starting to post some of these online, for free; and boy, it turns out that they're just as fascinating and bullshit-free as the urban rumor always opined.

I watched an hour-long presentation the other day, for example, from Philip Rosedale and Cory Ondrejka, co-founders of the virtual-reality game Second Life that I'm so utterly fascinated by these days, although I've never gotten to actually play it, and in fact don't know that much about how it actually works. So it was extremely cool, then, to see these guys do a completely bullshit-free talk about SL, one designed mostly for engineers and other fellow dorks, where they just basically and simply went step by step through all the major components of the system, as well as answered questions about coding, monetization, privacy, security attacks and the like.

From how I now understand it, in fact, it sounds like a remarkably easy system, easier than I thought it would be. Basically, to be a member you need to own a piece of land, as I understand it; the smallest one you can buy, for example, will run you about US$25 a month (14 pounds, 20 euros). Second Life is in fact a giant graphical "world," made up of these plots that are sold; you get assigned a random one when you buy, or are given the option to bid of a specific location on the map if more than one person wants it. This space is then considered your home in SL, and you can then basically do whatever you want with it; keep your stuff there, or invite friends over, or make it a clubhouse for a group of members, or make it a large public area for anyone. As the game has progressed, then, there are still a lot of individuals who simply have their little home area; but then some individuals have banded together, apparently, and have actually started forming autonomous communities, where an agreed-upon code of behavior is required. (In fact, the SL guys predict in that video that their world is going to see the birth of self-formed "nations" within the next couple of years.)

The three things I found most fascinating about it all, though, and especially when combined together, are these: that SL has its own currency system, one that can be directly exchanged into real dollars and sent, say, to a Paypal account, as well as a free-market economy not controlled by the administrators; that of course the entire thing is ultimately a graphic layout, with tremendously impressive real-time 3-D animation; and that everything you see in SL is created through a special scripting language invented just for the game, an open-source one so that anyone who wants can create new objects.

So what this means, then, is that all these areas of land that people own are sometimes filled with the most exotic things: mile-high homes that look like they're constantly on fire; giant domino sculpture gardens that are always knocking over and setting themselves back up. And what this also means is that all these other players are always walking around and visiting these places, seeing all this cool stuff, wanting that stuff on their own piece of land as well. And so if you're a hardcore coder, you can just create the stuff for free; it's just bits and bytes, after all. But under SL's free market, you can also sell this code to others, as if it were a physical object, to those who can't program or don't want to, and get real cash for them. (SL has even built security into the virtual objects, so that a person can't view the source code unless they've purchased it.) Which, yeah, means that if you're good at programming, visual design and creativity (like, say, an unemployed videogame employee), you can actually run a small business inside SL, selling virtual goods for real money.

And apparently I'm not the only one who finds this fascinating; over $5 million in real money was exchanged in SL last year, for nothing else but purchasing virtual goods. My God! Such a thing had always sounded a little like a con job to me before, but after watching this video I understand just what a cool thing it is; how it's basically nothing more than like a freelance coder working on a small section of a videogame for a gaming company, but simply selling his small part directly to customers, instead of getting paid by the gaming company itself. Like, those guys talk about a woman who really does have a small business going within SL; she purchases these little $25 blocks of land, builds them up with her fantastical housing, then sub-leases them to others for, say, $35 a month. Once the code is actually created, of course, the replication is endless and free; and so that way she can just do thousands and thousands of these if she wants, and bring in all those $10 profits all over the place to a pretty substantial income.

Okay, so yeah, I admit it; I'm thinking about this myself, and wondering whether it would be worth it for me to get involved, scrape up the $25 a month I'd need to be involved, learn the scripting language and do some research into what stuff might be wanted the most in SL right now. Because it's not just big projects that are in demand; they also talk in that video about an unemployed Indian programmer, who invented this cool little gun that sells for a couple of bucks, and which has netted him hundreds and hundreds of dollars, which of course translates into amazing profits in his section of the world. I wonder if there are little things I could build, that just happen to be original and useful? That way I could do what I initially wanted, to simply get involved with the game and try it out, because I'm so fucking fascinated with it right now; but maybe I could actually make some profit from it too, and save myself having to go back to some horrific, soul-crushing corporate day job again, which is about the last thing in the world I want in my life right now, but necessary because I'm unemployed right now and broke just all the time.

Which, yes, I know, would officially make me "one of those freaky losers who makes money creating virtual goods for Second Life." Which is why I'm hesitating, because I'm not sure if I want to be known as one of those people. But, er, that or be an executive secretary at a banking headquarters in the Loop again? Or a legal assistant? Or a fucking copy editor? (No, wait; I will never fucking take a job again as a copy editor; that's just too much.) You see what I'm saying, right? Anyway, I'm thinking about it these days, at least. And my main point is, how damn cool of Google to start releasing these videos, eh? More please, Google!

(Oh, and on a completely irrelevant side-note: One of the questions I'm often asked by readers and friends is what kinds of guys I find attractive, considering that I'm bisexual but don't date men much. Er, see Philip Rosedale.)

--Oh, and speaking of YouTube, I came across something the other day that you absolutely must check out: filmmaker Kevin Smith, at a recent public event, talking for 20 entire minutes about his notorious experience in the '90s, writing the first script for the infamous Superman remake that still isn't finished. It is without a doubt the funniest, strangest story about Hollywood you will ever hear, delivered in typical Kevin-Smith style, curse-laden and making you want to pee your pants in laughter every two minutes. Unbelievable!

--Oh, and speaking again of Google.... Yes, I was one of the lucky few who ended up downloading that Google forecast Powerpoint presentation, that they accidentally posted at their site, before they realized the mistake and took it back down again. And I really am not in the mood to get sued, which is why I won't be sharing any screenshots or talking about any of their predictions/upcoming projects, although I will admit that they're fascinating. I will share the following, though, because it's all public information but compelling nonetheless. Basically, the report starts with a little one-page roundup of what exactly Google is, and why people should invest in them in the first place. And man, I had never really thought about it, because of course we all think of Google as this unstoppable machine that gets to do whatever it wants. But hey, Google has to go get investors too, right, even if that's big giant investors for big giant projects. They have to have an "elevator pitch" too, right? (Fellow small-business people are laughing right now; the rest of you can skip to the next item, which will probably be much more to your liking.)

So anyway, here's what Google has to say about itself, in its own elevator pitch:

* Largest single source for the world's information
* Powerful, self-reinforcing business model
* World class talent
* Deep pipeline of new products and monetization opportunities
* Extraordinary growth and profitability track record
* Disciplined investments for the long term health of the business

Intriguing, I think, to see what Google itself considers its most valuable assets. And unbelievable, I think, that billion-dollar investments are fundamentally being based on a simple little single page in a Powerpoint presentation like that. Makes me feel so much better about being a small-business owner!

--Regular readers know that I'm finally getting to watch South Park for the first time these days, in that it's now being syndicated on network television here in Chicago (channel 26, every night at midnight). Well, I finally got to see the infamous Catholic episode this week for the very first time, which contained perhaps the funniest bit of dialogue I've heard yet on that show (as the boys are discussing Communion in Sunday School):

"So...Jesus was made of crackers?"


"But crackers are made out of Jesus."


"Oh, I've got it! Jesus wants us to eat him, but he doesn't want us to be cannibals. So he turned himself into crackers so that it'd be okay."


"So what you're saying avoid Hell, we need to eat crackers."


--Jotted in my Treo the other night:

I'm on the Belmont el platform, watching two lesbians in love. They're on the platform opposite from me, under the heat lamps at night, bundled in their little lesbian outfits and shaking their cute little lesbian haircuts. One, the taller one, is laughing infectiously, keeps grabbing her partner and planting little kisses on her lips, cheek, forehead. It makes me wonder what happened that night. Did she win a big award and is now drunk in the moment? Did her first play finally premiere? Or is she simply just that much in love with her partner? Am I simply witnessing this random moment of the infinite power of love to enrich our lives?

It's moments like these that make me glad I live in Chicago, remind me of why I live in the city. There are so many amazing things to be seen on the platforms of Chicago el stops; I've seen so many already, in my first 11 years here, and I'm looking forward to seeing so many more.

--Hey, while I'm here, I just wanted to mention again how amazing a service I'm finding CoComment these days. This is one of those smartypants Web 2.0 companies, to remind you, who have put together this cool little system, so that every time you leave a comment at someone else's site, it gets tracked in real time at a central window at your account. I've been using it for a number of weeks now, and it's just so fucking cool and efficient; what a wonderful thing to be able to just go to one page, and have direct links to all the comments you've scattered around the blogosphere, as far back as you want to track. Anyway, it's free on top of everything else, so I really encourage all your regular commenters to try it out yourselves.

--And finally, I was chatting about this with one of my readers the other day, and they suggested I announce it publicly, to keep myself honest about it. Okay, so I will, because that's a good idea: I've decided to make my ninth attempt at quitting smoking this August. And I'm really fucking hoping that this will be the one that sticks, goddamnit. Why August? Well, because that's a month before my arts center (the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, or CCLAP) opens. And on top of everything else involving the center, I'm going to be hosting one of our live-event series, and actually be on stage interviewing people for an hour. And I just think that will all go a lot smoother if I was a non-smoker; it would improve my voice and breathing, make the nicotine stains on my fingers go away, allow me to mingle during intermission instead of running outside like all the other smokers. So, yeah, August. Ugh. We'll see. Or at least, they tell me the ninth time's a charm.

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