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November 23, 2006

Random Thoughts Early on a Thanksgiving Morning

In no particular order:

* I just got my final four contributor copies of Official US Playstation Magazine in the mail today. They look great, and I'm sad not to be writing for the magazine anymore, and even more sad that it will stop existing at the end of the year. A reminder, as I've noted before, that everything passes, even the really sweet jobs that allow you to write off all your video game, DVD and music purchases.

The good news here is that I've already managed to replace that income, and then some. But I can't go into detail about that yet. Don't worry, I'll explain it later.

* My father-in-law put down some mulch in the garden to prepare it for next year, and it's apparently some pig-based mulch; not only pig manure but also some actual chunks of pig carcass, or something. Naturally, the dog is all over that, and I do mean all over that; she comes into the house smelling like a slaughterhouse. I let her in the house not ten minutes ago and she stank so bad I actually sprayed her down with Fabreeze. Now, I deeply suspect that Febreeze is not meant to be applied to live animals, but, look, you don't have to smell the dog. Now she's got a delightful clean linen scent, which is somewhat better than the rotting pig smell she had before.

* So, if any of you out there actually play in Second Life, you really need to tell me what the big deal is about that place. I've been wandering around in there for the last couple of days and as far as I can see its major attraction is that it gives you something to look at while you're performing IRC. I mean, sure, that's nice and all, but is that all there is? Am I missing something? Someone please explain this to me.

Oddly, Athena finds Second Life far more compelling than I do -- aside from the flying around thing, she eager to explore and poke around odd corners. I'm ambivalent about this since there are lots of places in Second Life that aren't suitable for a seven-year-old, so I haven't let her play on her own. Second Life does have a teen version that I might let her wander around in, however. I would find it deeply amusing if she got in there and passed for a thirteen year old. Although I'm not entirely sure the Linden Labs folks would be happy with me if I let her do that. I'll have to think about it some more.

* I've found or was sent three additional reviews of The Android's Dream: First, a four-star review of the book from Romantic Times Book Review ("A fantastically funny caper... fast paces and dazzlingly inventive"); second, a good review from the San Diego Union Tribune ("The pace is quick-to-breakneck, and Scalzi's obviously had a great deal of fun spinning a light, romping tale"); and third, a review at Fantasybookspot.com ("It is the quintessential page-turner"). This stuff makes me happy. And makes my editor and publicist happy. And makes my mortgage bank happy, hopefully.

* I think I've hinted at this before, but let me come out and say it: having a monitor that flips to portrait mode is Teh Crack. Finally, a computer monitor orientation that fits my need for having a crapload of reading material on the screen at one time without having to scroll the damn article. It makes the Internet the "drinking from the firehose" experience it always should have been. No, it's not perfect for video games or watching movie or whatever, but for those I can just flip the screen back into landscape. Honestly, I'm simply appalled I didn't get a portrait-mode monitor before. I may never be able to forgive myself for wasting all those years. Writers, save your pennies for one of these things. It is so totally worth it.

* Finally, your Geek Envy moment for the day: Last night, I interviewed Jonathan Coulton and you didn't. So ha! Ha on you, I say! The interview is for the Dayton Daily News, because he's coming to town in the first week of December, but there's a good possibility I'll post the interview here as well, at some point. Because even though you didn't get to interview him, you still want and need to see the interview. Admit it, you do.

Posted by john at November 23, 2006 12:53 AM

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Mary Robinette Kowal | November 23, 2006 01:04 AM

You know, I don't get Second Life either, and I'm normally excited by things like that. It just seems pointless, although I did have fun customizing my avatar.

Ron Hogan | November 23, 2006 01:13 AM

It's more than IRC with pictures--it's a MUD with pictures! Or is it a MOO? Somebody who's actually spent time playing with the things in it could probably explain better than me.

Steve | November 23, 2006 01:43 AM

Second Life seems like a high-tech playing with dolls to me ... maybe a more social version.

PixelFish | November 23, 2006 02:07 AM

I think part of the attraction of Second Life comes in that you can make and create things in it--as opposed to most of the MUDs/MOOs. And you retain ownership, can resell them for Linden dollars (which can actually be turned into real money), team up with other people to make the things, and sorta tenant/free-hold a bit of "land". It's like being a pioneer of sorts.

(I got some experience with Second Life after hearing the Linden Labs folks and some of their fans discuss it at a women in gaming conference. They have some nice numbers in terms of their female player ratios, apparently.)

That said, as an artist/graphic designer, and one who sees a lot of video game art in different stages of the production timeline--most of the Second Life tools drive me crazy, and most of the things made with them seem....um....visually basic and a little clunky. Also, I'm not sure how well my SL creations port to other platforms--which according to the Linden spiel, I am allowed to do BUT I think their proprietery tools don't make it super feasible. (I have been thinking about looking more into this however.)

I do tend to feel that it's a glorified IRC, but being that you can even make games and interact and even run your own newspapers, magazines, stores, and night clubs...well....it may have charms that appeal to people who like the social aspect of MMOs, but not the raiding, questing, killing, grinding, pvping aspects.

Karen Swanberg | November 23, 2006 02:07 AM

What model is your monitor?

Alex S. | November 23, 2006 02:18 AM

"it's a MUD with pictures! Or is it a MOO?"
MOO = "MUD, Object Oriented".
Second Life is just another MMORPG, only without all the killing.
(and a MMORPG is just a MUD with pictures, and a kickass server)

Jennie | November 23, 2006 06:31 AM

Overall, I enjoyed TAD immensely but realized that being a long-time reader of your site offered it's own special reward on page 92 when you described the follies "personal shoppers"...

Hao | November 23, 2006 06:33 AM

He has the Dell 2407 WFP, I believe. John mentions that the portrait mode is not perfect for video games, which is mostly true. However it is perfect for Ikaruga in horizontal mode. (Ikaruga is a vertically-scrolling shooter, so it normally leaves large black bars on the left and right sides of the screen. It does have an option to rotate the output to use the full screen, which suits portrait mode perfectly.)

Jim | November 23, 2006 06:38 AM

Like you, I am also baffled by the attraction of Second Life. My employer (that huge multinational high tech company known by its initials -- no, not HAL) for some reason thinks that Second Life may be the wave of the future for meetings. To me it seemed just like an AOL chat room circa 1994 except it requires a high end computer with broadband in order to use it. It would seem to me that if you wanted to teleconferences more involving you would use VOIP -- which would make it just like a telephone conference call which everyone has been doing for years.

Mris | November 23, 2006 07:24 AM

If I can survive my mom spraying my head with StaticGuard, your dog will endure its Febreezing. I'm amazed that works for you, because it totally wouldn't work for me. But the dog'll be fine.

Dean | November 23, 2006 08:32 AM

I think Steve has it right. From what I have seen and heard, SL is a more complex form of The Sims, which was a big hit with women.

For years people who sell video games have been trying to come up with games that appeal to girls (and women). There were the execrable pink solutions with co-operative goals that nobody played because they sucked, and then The Sims came along and showed everybody.

SL is merely (!) a more sophisticated form of that. I'm not at all surprised that they have a large female membership, or that men like John find it largely uninteresting. It's a Mars/Venus game that's squarely in the Venus camp.

That doesn't mean it's stupid, or just 'playing with dolls'. I think it's something much more complex than that. It's a game of social networking and competition, something women are generally (not exclusively) better at and more interested in than men.

I think that SL is probably an important event in the development of computer-based interfaces and social networks. It bears watching.

Kenneth | November 23, 2006 09:05 AM

John, by coincidence I had ordered that beast of a Dell monitor too and mine arrived yesterday, the day after I read your post. WOW seems inconsequential to say about the monitor but...WOW :)

hugh57 | November 23, 2006 09:15 AM

Do you have to have a special video card to go with that monitor (to acheive the portrait mode?)

CJ-in-Weld | November 23, 2006 09:27 AM

Hmm. I Fabreezed the dog one time, but just because he was a little stinky, not because he had just wallowed in pork offal. My wife spot-demoted me from man to boy and suggested I never do that again, which I thought was not in the spirit of science. Maybe if our dog rolled in variety meat like Scalzi's dog, then she'd come around...

John Scalzi | November 23, 2006 09:29 AM

You do have to have a video card that can support the monitor, yes, as far as I know. However, any recent video card (i.e., from the last year or so) should do it. The video cards I have in this computer are in the nVidia 7600 line: good but not extreme high end.

green_knight | November 23, 2006 09:53 AM

I'm looking at widescreen monitors at the moment because while I don't mind scrolling down, I often use two documents side by side, and having two full-width columns would just rock. To each their own.

Jeff Porten | November 23, 2006 10:35 AM

I think the deal with SL is that it's not so much what you can do now, but it's a set of training wheels for a future with Holodecks.

For example, take the SL experience now -- and then modify it with immersive head-mounted video monitors and haptic controls (so your body motions control your avatar, rather than keyboard commands). I'm told that this is about 5-10 years off. Consider what SL will be like then -- if it doesn't become as popular as Google, I'll eat my hat.

In the meantime, SL has the following things to recommend it:

1) almost all of it is user-created. Personally, I usually just go exploring, because what other people have built there is frequently fascinating.

2) the virtual economy aspects are interesting if you're into that sort of petri dish kind of thing. I have a few ideas for making some real world money in SL, but haven't yet accumulated the skills for doing so.

Beyond that, yes, it does seem to generate a sort of fascination that isn't entirely grasped by the rest of us -- and I say this as a former MOO addict. I recommend reading some of the blogs on the topic -- and let me recommend my buddy Rik's The Click Heard Round the World, as a good example of cutting edge stuff happening there:


Brian | November 23, 2006 11:27 AM

a four-star review of the book from Romantic Times Book Review

Did your original cover have a shirtless Fabio holding a reclining android with a heaving bosom? Or does the name of the magazine mislead a wee bit?

John Scalzi | November 23, 2006 11:32 AM

Hey, even romance readers read something else from time to time. Also, there's the little matter that romance readers read a lot, possibly even more than SF geeks. So getting a review in that particular publication is a good thing for me.

Annalee Flower Horne | November 23, 2006 12:09 PM

Fabreezing the dog=awesome. I tried to fabreeze my roommate once... it didn't go over so well (in my defense, she was boycotting soap at the time).

I'm tempted to try fabreeze on my furball, but he licks himself clean. The vet says it's not dangerous to animals, though (I wonder how vigorously they tested that? Did they fabreeze dogs?).

Paul | November 23, 2006 12:19 PM

I've never actually heard of Second Life before.

Joe Hass | November 23, 2006 02:16 PM


What truly sucks is to have the aforementioned monitor, but have it hooked up to a Mac, for which Dell has informed me (and my IT staff) that I do NOT have the capability to use in the portrait mode.



Stephen G | November 23, 2006 05:27 PM

A Jonathan Coulton interview? Hot damn. I've been flogging his music ever since I discovered it early this year. He's fabulous.

Jon Marcus | November 23, 2006 10:55 PM

My 9 year old loves messing around in Second Life, but I'm not willing to let him do so on his own. Even in the teen area he's going to run into, well...teens. I wouldn't want him hanging out in a high school lunch room by himself either.

I've no doubt Athena's more mature than many 13-year-olds. But I think you might want to be on hand to moderate or intercept the nastiness rowdy teens could throw around.

Also, there seems to be a level of difference in the interaction when there are "avatars" involved instead of straight IRC. Even a child schooled in internet safety might be a little more willing to reveal more than might be advisable when talking "face to face" with someone.

Shawn Struck | November 23, 2006 11:20 PM

Also cool about second life:

The in-game money people pay you for your own creations, games, etc.. can be converted directy to real-life USD.

Gary S | November 23, 2006 11:44 PM

Second Life is, in essence, a powerful 3D chat room.  And like a chat room, one can go into it just for fun, to see what's going on, to meet new people, to be a jerk without risk of bodily harm, or to escape from one's First Life.

It's very wise of you to not let Athena explore there unattended.  John Gabriel's theory about Unreal Tournament applies even more so to SL.

Jude | November 24, 2006 12:23 AM

As a librarian, I attended a Library of Congress OPAL workshop about the Second Life library, so I tried it once. I couldn't get excited about SL. At the time I took the workshop, they were hoping to answer actual reference questions in the library and perhaps check out ebooks. I have 3 blogs, 1 wiki, and I've instructed teachers in podcasting and vlogging, but I still couldn't get interested in spending time in Second Life--maybe because First Life is too much fun at the moment.

Steve Buchheit | November 24, 2006 01:00 AM

And even more great turkey stuff, I mean turkey stuffing, I mean stuff for turkey day, John Joseph Adams has posted the extras from your interview here.

Oh, man, now I'm stuffed.

Josh | November 24, 2006 10:36 AM

We don't have any pig manure mulch, but I do live very close to the Ohio River (a few blocks away). Whenever my dog, who is half Beagle, gets loose, he always comes back smelling of rotting fish, or other unsavory things found down by the river. Yeck.

Johnny Carruthers | November 24, 2006 02:33 PM

Febreezing the dog -- is this anything like baconing the cat?

Adam Rakunas | November 24, 2006 04:01 PM

My ad agency is turning SL into one of the Cool Things To Do For Clients. After you've built a web site, whipped up banner ads, bought keywords, done some viral video...well, what then?

We've built an office where people can check through our agency's portfolio. We've had meetings with potential clients, running them through presentations that would normally require us to fly around and present in real life. We're playing around with a VoIP application that will let us do conference calls just by walking into a room.

We're building a SL version of one client's nanofabrication plant, one that'll operate the same way as the real life one, except we'll be able to click a button and show people, "See, this is the molecule-eye view of the process. Everyone wave to the electrons!" That'll be a bear to construct, especially since Linden Scripting Language is clunky, but I'm pretty confident we'll hammer out something that'll wow our client's clients. Part of it is the PR value, but as the tools mature (and they'll have to mature if Linden Labs wants to survive), I think SL is going to become an open-ended platform that'll allow you to do all kinds of cool stuff, whether it's holding meetings, running simulations or creating your own RPG.

Also, there will be boobies, and you can't create a successful economy without those.

Chang, who gets nothing done without caffeine | November 24, 2006 09:10 PM

I don't get 2nd LIFE EITHER.

I suspect it's a generation thing. Or maybe I am not a geek.

As for Athena, she and you might like Club Penguin. Sophia is on it. And it meets my approval.

Natalie | November 24, 2006 11:59 PM

Brian, you may not see this comment, but I'm making it anyhow.

I am the person who reviewed TAD for Romantic Times. All I review for the magazine is science fiction and fantasy--in fact, I select probably 90% of what the magazine covers in terms of SF/F (the balance is books that the marketing department wants covered, usually). I take this (very part time and freelance) job extremely seriously; I do a lot of research into what books I should be reviewing and I do my damndest to do the best job I can for what really isn't a whole lot of money. I love SF/F and in a cheesy sort of way, I see writing for Romantic Times as a kind of evangelism for my favorite genres.

Erbo | November 25, 2006 12:52 AM

John, welcome to our world! I'm sorry that I haven't been in SL for a few days...I've been in San Diego and unable to get in-world, or I'd have done my best to help you figure out what's going on.

SL is, quite simply, an attempt to create the Metaverse, as seen in Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash (which was a huge inspiration for it, incidentally). The things people have done with it are extraordinary. Check out the breathtaking beauty of the Lost Gardens of Apollo, or the Victorian charm of Caledon, or the sheer Star Trek geekery of Galaxy. Consider the installations of real-life corporations that have bought into the vision, like Pontiac's Motorati, Dell Island, the Sun Pavilion, and Reuters' in-world news bureau. Or just wander around the Mainland, see what things people have come up with, the manifold possibilities of existence...which you can add to, if possessed of both the knowledge (which can be easily acquired) and the vision. Especially, if you can, take in a live music event or two, such as the jazzy-folky music of Frogg Marlowe and Jaycatt Nico, the folk strummings of Cylindrian Rutabaga, or the "boogie blues" of Komuso Tokugawa, just to name a few. And do get to know some of the people therein. Many of the good ones have blogs of their own; World of SL is a good place to start in looking for them.

And, needless to say, if you come by our place, you'll be welcome...

- Erbo Evans, Co-Owner, The Gin Rummy and Don't Panic! Designs, South Sunset

Becky | November 25, 2006 05:57 PM

Never tried SL, but you've peaked my interest. I'm a huge fan of The Sims, but found myself playing less because my 4 year old was frantic to try it. I signed us up for Toon Town (toontown.com) and my 4 year old is a wiz! I think it's more for the 8-12 year old set, but I've found quite a few adults who are Toon fans too. We love it (the husband is totally addicted). I think Athena would dig its old school WB cartoon sensibility (yeah, it's Disney themed sorta, but the gags are totally Acme.)

Kami | November 27, 2006 01:06 PM

Video cards and portait mode:
any non-integrated graphics card should work. ATI has been doing this since before the Radeon 7500, which was new back in 2002. Right click on desktop, display settings, (or graphics options), pick rotate 90 degrees, done. You can set up hotkeys for this, if you install the fancy-dancy manufacturer driver. The generic windows driver should let you do this.

A great many video cards have two video out sockets: one for vga, one for dvi. You can get a dvi-to-vga adaptor and hook up a second monitor, and rotate that one 90 degrees. (Big not LCD monitors are cheap nowdays, btw.)

Joe Hass, I'm not surprised that dell is claiming ignorace of mac-compatible drivers. However, try hitting up Apple, or you graphics card manufacturer - Apple uses ATI, now, right? They may be able to help you. You might be stuck with having to create hotkeys to switch from one mode the next - all you are doing is telling the video card to swap resolutions.

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