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The continuing crisis

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 6, 2003
(Issue 2123, Higher Education)

Is "Counter-Strike" a threat to our way of life?

It is if you ask cops and elected officials in L.A., Orange and Riverside counties – where cyber cafés have become popular political targets in recent years.

A few months ago in this column we looked at a decision in the city of Riverside to deny a city permit to a cyber café, citing concerns from the police about violence at similar businesses in L.A. and Orange Counties. The city even cited the fact that Garden Grove heavily restricted cyber cafés as one reason for its decision.

Since then, a state court has struck down most of the Garden Grove Internet café regulations as unlawful restrictions on the rights of those businesses and their customers.

The judge ruled that mandatory videotaping of customers, requiring security guards and setting special conditions for individual businesses all presented an undue burden on cyber cafés.

The situation that led to the restrictions in the first place were reports of gang-type violence at the cafés – bloody melees in which dozens of teens and young men took to the streets to settle disagreements from the games they were playing on the rented PCs in the cafés.

"Counter-Strike" being the most popular multiplayer game played over PC networks was cited by the police as the reason for the fights – that the hostage vs. cops shoot-'em-up game play put participants in a violent state of mind and led to these incidents.

The judge didn't seem to think much of that argument – nor does it carry much water here.

The fact that the cafés offered cash prizes for the winners might have had something to do with the hot tempers, no? And isn't that a form of gambling – handing out cash to the winner. Sure, winning at "Counter-Strike" is based more on skill than luck, but it still strikes me that having a bunch of young males suffering from testosterone poisoning in a competition with money is asking for trouble.

Truth is, you could have "Sim Golf" running on those PCs and if you're offering cash prizes, you're still going to have hot tempers in a demographic not known for its powers of self-control.

Don't ban the cafés – just tell them to act responsibily in their promotions.

As for Riverside, considering it based its denial of a permit on city laws that have now been struck down, where does that leave the whole mess?

Investing in new digs online

It can't help but serve as another sign of the growing importance of the Internet when even such old-school pursuits as opera and the theater feel the need to upgrade their Web sites.

Here in San Diego, the Old Globe Theatres and the San Diego Opera have both recently unveiled newly redesigned and expanded sites.

Located online at and respectively, the two venerable arts institutions' new sites have slick navigation menus, lots of production photos and – perhaps most importantly – online ticket and membership areas.

It's a competitive market in the arts world, even for nonprofit organizations like the Globe and Opera – and the 'Net is too important a tool to ignore when trying to build subscriptions and ticket sales.

Pounds and euros

And in a sign of the growing international flavor of the Internet, eBay's online payment service, PayPal, now accepts and pays in British pounds and euros in addition to U.S. dollars, Canadian dollars and Japanese Yen – all of which were previously accepted.

If you've ever bought or sold online involving someone in another country, then you know that if you won't or can't accept U.S. payment, it gets expensive. I once bought a Count Basie 45 from England, and getting that $3.50 bid converted to Sterling end up costing me more in currency conversion charges than the record had!

Mea culpa – Yahoo revisited again?

A few weeks back, in response to a query from a reader, I admitted I couldn't find a Web-based Yahoo's instant messenger after all.

Thanks to multiple readers who wrote in with the link – This allows you to use Yahoo Messenger without installing the YM application – useful if you travel and still want access to your contacts.