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Pizza, LANning and online dating

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on February 6, 2004
(Issue 2206, Thinking Outside the Box)

Each year about this time, I take stock of what new commercial activities have moved online – or which ones I've jumped in and sampled for myself.

Over the past few months, I have, for the first time:

  • Ordered a pizza online.
  • Gone to a cyber café for online gaming
  • Joined an online dating service

I'm obviously not the first to do any of these things – outside of ordering the pizza, these are activities that have been available for years. And yet, most people still haven't done them – even someone such as myself who spends way too much time on the 'Net hadn't done any of them until recently.

But the fact that they're all still here, and growing, shows that society is still slowly acclimating itself to the presence of the Internet, still finding out what activities work online and which don't.

Extra pepperoncinis, please

The online pizza ordering came about as an act of desperation. The kids were hungry, I was tired, and I'd been on hold for about five minutes.

So I hung up the phone, and went to Papa John's web site. From there, they have an online ordering link – it took a couple of minutes to set up an account, find the nearest Papa John's outlet and order. Within 45 minutes, the pizza was there – exactly as I'd ordered.

That's pretty hard to beat – and next time the kids are clamoring for pizza, that's the route I'm likely to go.

Among the national chains, Pizza Hut also has online ordering; Domino's and Little Caesar's don't seem to at this point, although they do have online menus and store locators which are helpful.

A little social killing

Until I started working nights last spring, most Thursday evenings I ended up at my friend Keith's for what he jokingly referred to as "Killing Night." Keith had wired his spare bedroom with a LAN (local area network), and we'd all bring our PCs over and play various multi-player games – but usually first-person shooters like Quake, Half-Life and CounterStrike.

While Keith and the gang still enjoy the weekly gaming get-together, I now spend my Thursday evenings pulling stories to update to the North County Times web site. Not as much fun, to be sure.

But around the corner from the NCT's Escondido office is a new cyber café, Lanstorm. While most cyber cafés are set up to let people browse the Web or check e-mail, Lanstorm's main angle is multiplayer gaming.

There are 32 PCs in Lanstorm, plus an Xbox hooked up to a huge-screen TV (and I do believe "huge-screen" would be the correct technical term in this instance).

The PCs are all P4s with tons of RAM, high-end Nvidea graphics cards, and some of the more popular multiplayer games loaded: Counter-Strike, Unreal Tournament, Warcraft III, Halo and a new favorite, Battlefield 1942.

Lanstorm has a coffee/snack bar that also offers a pretty decent sub; in fact, at noon the place is jumping with local business types stopping in for lunch.

The owners, Michael and Danielle Marinello, are usually around the joint, at least one of them. Michael is an avowed gamer himself, having roots back to the early days of computer and console gaming.

On Friday and Saturday nights, the place is packed – and gives lie to the idea of online gamers as sallow-faced social loners. There are many regulars in there (your loyal correspondent now included), and friendships form during the course of gaming.

Adding significantly to the sense of community at Lanstorm are their semi-regular all-night gaming sessions – usually with a theme. A recent Saturday-Sunday 10 p.m.-10 a.m. session was devoted to the online massively multiplayer "Everquest."

They have live bands and djs in there on weekends from time to time, and the crowd is much broader than you might think – from the typical early 20s male to middle-aged women and parents in there with their younger kids. After school on weekdays, there are usually school kids in there doing homework.

The rates are reasonable, the location (at the corner of Grand and Juniper in downtown Escondido) is clean and well-lit, and the Marinellos have created an atmosphere of safe fun.

Lanstorm is a welcome addition to both Escondido's night life, as well as the local computing community.

Next week: Looking for love in all the online places.