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October 30, 2006

Marvel Comics Super Hero Stamps

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Coming to a post office near you in July of 2007.

Twenty different stamps (above) will appear, 10 featuring super heroes and 10 showcasing classic and modern Marvel comic book covers.

October 30, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Mini Rolling Pin

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Everything's a little out of scale today, have you noticed?

First that giant lamp, and now this.

From the website:

    Kid's Mini Sil-Pin Silicone Rolling Pin

    Made especially for up-and-coming bakers.

    Unique counterbalanced design makes it a breeze to roll, with a nonstick silicone surface for fuss-free cleanup.

    Easy-grip handles.

    Mini 4¼" barrel.

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Red, Blue or Pink.

$9.95.

October 30, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John Gapper — Second Life avatar lurks out of world at the Financial Times

Who woulda thunk it?

Not moi, for sure.

I mean, the Financial Times has this whole section entitled "Digital Business" that appears fairly regularly and purports to enlist bleeding edge writers and commentators to make it all clear to us down here in TechnoDolt™ steerage.

But guess what?

They're small beer compared to Gapper, whose column today, on the Financial Times's op-ed page — right beneath that of one "Larry" Summers, the defrocked Harvard University President who's found a temporary safe harbor while he licks his wounds — is a wonderfully understandable and informative description of Gapper's adventures "in world."

He just looks like a grand panjandrum.

Don't be fooled — this guy's the Clark Kent of the FT.

His column follows.

    A real-life right to virtual property

    I am standing on a tropical island with palm trees and a beautiful ocean view. There is a real estate sign next to me offering a plot of land by the beach for only $50 down and $10 a month. It seems to be a bargain, but is it an illusion?

    In one sense, yes. I am exploring Second Life, the online virtual world that is rapidly becoming a commercial phenomenon. In another, no. If I buy the estate, I will hold rights to it. My avatar will be able to live here, or I can sell it to someone else. If I sell again, perhaps after building a virtual villa, I can take my profit in real dollars or exchange Second Life's synthetic currency for them.

    Second Life is unusual in granting intellectual property rights over clothes, land and buildings to its users. Most virtual worlds, such as Vivendi's popular World of Warcraft game, insist that all such chattels are owned by the publisher. WoW's 7m players are allowed to trade items such as gold trinkets or armour patches inside the game's world of Azeroth but are barred from selling them in the real one.

    These rules are widely flouted, of course. As soon as online worlds were created, a division of labour sprung up. "Gold farmers" in China and Mexico spend hours online amassing virtual gold that can be traded for armour and fiery swords. Both gold and weapons are sold on exchange and auction sites to players willing pay cash for mythical power.

    So the border between virtual worlds and the real one have blurred, despite the efforts of games publishers to keep it intact. The worlds are still divided in legal terms by end-user licences, which players must agree to comply with before being admitted into virtual worlds. Yet these agreements, with their sweeping denials of legal rights, could easily be struck down by courts.

    The inhabitants of many virtual worlds deserve to have their property protected. No player who "buys" hotels in Monopoly with fictional money believes that he or she should keep them when a game ends. But those who live in virtual worlds often invest a lot more time and effort in them than Monopoly players: they may spend hours a day for years building characters and homes.

    As the law professors Dan Hunter and Gregory Lastowka have written, this arguably makes them owners under John Locke's notion of property: "Whatsoever [man] removes out of the state that nature hath provided and left it in, he had mixed his labour with, and joined it to something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property."

    Nor is the money at stake fictional. Entrepreneurs such as the virtual property developer who operates under the name Anshe Chung in Second Life, earn a real-world living by trading virtual goods. A US film-maker spent $100,000 (£53,000) this year to buy a spaceship in the virtual world of Project Entropia. For such participants, these are less games than aspects of their livelihood.

    Finally, the rules of virtual worlds are less clear-cut than board games. There is nothing to stop publishers from changing their worlds in order to keep them exciting or stop one group of users from gaining an advantage over another. They can introduce monsters or create new real estate kingdoms without worrying about who gets killed or suffers property devaluation as a result.

    Even Second Life can be capricious about property. Linden Lab, Second Life's operator, is being sued by Marc Bragg, a US lawyer who dabbles in property development online. Mr Bragg had a plot of land repossessed by Linden Lab after using some sneaky tactics to buy it cheaply: he exploited a software glitch to start an auction before other users were ready.

    Mr Bragg deserved to be hauled into line but Linden Lab went further than that. It allegedly took back all the land and property he had amassed up to that point and refused to return his money. "If you shoplift at Wal-Mart one day, they cannot come around to your house and take everything you have ever bought there," says Jason Archinaco, Mr Bragg's lawyer.

    Worlds that allow users to swap virtual money for real cannot expect to avoid legal liability — or to be able to treat users exactly as they wish - by writing protections into end-user agreements. They are in the same position as a retailer that forces shoppers to sign disclaimers of their right to return faulty goods. It would quickly be overruled in court.

    If real-world rights and legal protections dominated every virtual world, an element of their charm would be lost. The pleasure of some worlds is that they are spaces for role-playing and fantasy. It is fun to play a goblin whose hut is at risk of being burned down arbitrarily by a barbarian horde. If every goblin could go to court to seek compensation, the thrill would be gone.

    So some distinction is needed between virtual worlds whose outcomes spill over into real life and those that are merely games. Edward Castronova, a professor at Indiana University, argues that "open worlds" with tradeable assets and convertible currencies should be subject to law while "closed world" games should have limited liability.

    As games publishers have found, enforcing the distinction is harder in practice than it sounds in theory. But it is becoming easier as worlds that allow property rights and currency convertibility spring up, giving users a choice between the two approaches. I would not risk my own money on a hut in the vicinity of a barbarian horde but a tropical beach house in Second Life should do nicely.

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FunFact: Gapper co-authored — with one Nicholas Denton, now of Gawker Media fame and fortune — "All That Glitters," an account of the collapse of Barings in 1995.

Read an extract here.

October 30, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Max Lamp — Is 9 feet tall big enough for you?

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A gigantic take on a standard anglepoise desk lamp, made from powder-coated steel and aluminum.

Nine feet high with a base diameter of 19.5" and 21" shade diameter.

Black, White, Red or Chrome.

$3,500.

October 30, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Metropolitan Opera — Live Streaming Performance Tonight

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Tonight marks the second episode of the Met's new weekly live performance streaming via its website.

At 8 p.m., the curtain goes up for "Pagliacci" and "Cavalleria Rusticana."

Tune in, turn on and click here.
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Addendum at 1:02 p.m. today: Not only do I know nothing about orchids, but I know even less about opera.

Witness the following email, just in from someone who does:

    Writes giam:

    Whoa, Joe. Pagliacci is the name of the opera, which is usually "bundled," to use a computer program term, with Cavalleria Rusticana. "Pag and Cav" are an operatic double-header, to use a baseball term.

Message received.

Thanks so much, giam.

October 30, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

In Vitro Orchid — 'Sprouts at home'

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I'm not much of an orchid person, but I do like to look at them.

Stephen Treffinger, in the October 26, 2006 New York Times, featured this new wave orchid technology; his story follows.

    If You're All Thumbs, None Green

    Unless you have a biotechnology lab in your basement, sprouting an orchid at home is virtually impossible. But the In Vitro Orchid, above, from Japan, comes close to making it happen.

    The tube houses a tiny sprout in a sterile environment, to protect it from deadly fungi, and allows it to grow in a nutrient-rich gel medium. It just has to be kept somewhere that is bright (though out of direct sunlight) and not too cold (above 50 degrees). No need to water or, well, do anything. Just don’t pull the stopper. The youngster will take about a year to reach the top of the tube. Then it will be time to replant.

$32 from The Gardener, 1836 Fourth Street, Berkeley, Calif.; 510-548-4545.

[via Stephen Treffinger and the New York Times]

October 30, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'No Backpacks?' — No problem: Attending a big game in the 21st century

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Until this past Saturday I hadn't attended a football game at UVA's Scott Stadium for many years.

Before we left I checked the website to see what I could and couldn't bring in: "Backpacks, bags, carryalls and totes are prohibited inside the stadium."

Okay — that's good news and bad news.

The good news is that policy makes it much easier to prepare: back in the day, when I used to be able to take a big packpack in, I had to use a long checklist to make sure I didn't forget any of the many pretty much nonsensical things I carried "just in case."

The bad news is that I did want to take a few things — binoculars, seat cushion, jacket, gloves, headband, glasses case — without having my hands full for the mile-long walk from and to the car.

Then the penny dropped: Use those plastic bags hotels leave in the closet for laundry.

They're sturdy, fairly large, have built-in carrying handles and are ultra-lightweight.

Done.

But joe, what are you going to do at the stadium gate when the ticket taker or security person says "You can't bring that bag in?"

Come on — you didn't think I'd leave you to make the trip home without the same ease of transport you enjoyed on the way in, did you?

I mean, there's a reason I charge my exorbitant subscription fee.

Before you go, take a back-up bag and fold it down into a 1" x 2" piece of compressed plastic, put a rubber band around it and stuff it in a corner of your jacket.

When they confiscate bag #1 on the way, you're good to go-home.

w00t!

October 30, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Z Table

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Designed by London-based Nick Melville, who notes on his website that it was "designed for my sister who likes to read, eat, watch TV and occasionally sleep in bed."

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Three floating shelves made of solid robinia wood, "used in an attempt to battle against the forces of Ikea already present in her room."

Supported by a single diagonal steel tube.

About £500 (€745; $948); built on commission.

Email: nick_melville@yahoo.com

October 30, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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