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Virtual swingers

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on May 19, 2006
(Issue 2420, Biological Computers)

From the truth is stranger than fiction department comes an April 7 report from that there exist a handful of online multiplayer games in which the participants have "virtual" sex.

No, I don't know exactly what the details and, to be honest, wasn't really curious enough to find out.

While online dating, online communities and most other forms of online gathering have all been defended in this space, everyone has a line they just won't cross, and "cybersex" would be that line here.

The game developers are at least requiring that participants be 21 to take part, but there is still a taste factor here – let's call it the Charlie Sheen factor – that can't be overlooked.

If you're sitting at home playing "Red Light Center" or "Rapture Online" instead of going out and meeting people, you might as well stencil "geek" on your forehead.

Beyond TV Land

If you can't get your fill of classic TV shows on the TV Land cable channel, you can try finding your favorite shows on DVD. specializes in classic TV shows

You actually purchase the films from (and whomever assembled the listings gets a referral fee for each purchase), but the organization here is far superior to anything has yet to put together.

For instance, you can browse by year the show ran – or, if you don't know that, browse by year the DVD was issued.

Or, easiest of all, browse by title.

It's a pretty complete collection, too. Ozzie & Harriet. Andy Griffith. Even less well-known series like Bat Masterson and "Have Gun – Will Travel." (You can even get "The Joey Bishop Show," although why anyone would want to is a bit of a mystery.)

The site also lists Oscar-winning movies by year, so you can go back and build your classic film library as well.

Not another toolbar?

Toolbars are becoming as ubiquitous as "portals" were a decade ago, with seemingly every major site offering them. Google, Yahoo and many others offer these little add-on menus for your browser that allow you to search without going to their home page, view local weather, see the latest news headlines.

Dealio is now offering a specialized toolbar for online comparison shopping. I don't use IE, so I couldn't try it, but it seems straightforward enough. You type in a keyword for the product you are looking to buy into the Dealio toolbar, and you get a list of merchants carrying it, along with their prices.

From the screenshots on their Web site, it looks an awful lot like Google's Froogle product search engine – but without having to go to Google first.

And whereas Google makes money (or at least hopes to) from Froogle through Google Ads on the search pages (just as Google makes billions off its regular search engine page), Dealio's income stream will come from merchants who pay to have their listings appear at the top.

To their credit, Dealio marks these as "Featured Results" – very similar to how eBay handles its extra-charge featured listings.

Another eBay alternative

A reader, Megan, wrote in a few months ago with another suggestion for readers annoyed with eBay's lousy customer service. is a pretty straightforward auction site; of course, it doesn't have nearly the number of users eBay has. Nor even that of Yahoo auctions or auctions.

Still, the day we visited there were tens of thousands of items up for sale – depending on your specific interests, there may be that magical critical mass of users that will make it worthwhile for you.

eBay obsolete?

Besides, eBay may become less dominant with the rise and growing popularity of the "freecycle" groups. The site connects you to your local community in a sort of large-scale "pass it on" circle.

Here's how it works: You subscribe to the e-mail list of your local community freecycle (there are more than 800 members in my Escondido freecycle group) and, if you like, any adjoining communities. (It would make sense for me to also join the San Marcos group as well, with another 780 some members.)

You are then added to a Yahoo group. When any member has an item they no longer want, they post a notice to the group. Everyone in the group then gets an e-mail (or, if you prefer, you can check messages on the group Web site only); first to respond gets the item.

It's a perfect way for getting rid of stuff you don't want and don't feel like listing on eBay.

Trust me, listing stuff on eBay is time-consuming: Taking a picture, sizing it, moving the picture to a server, then typing in a description, choosing the right category and opening bid price – when I was selling some collectable books on eBay last year, it took me about 20 minutes per listing. And that was after I got fast at it! With some of the books only going for a buck or two, it really wasn't worth my while. The next batch wen to the local friends of the library.

But I've got a bunch of old Atari documentation in the garage – historic stuff, but unlikely to find a good home at Goodwill or the Salvation Army. I keep meaning to get it listed on eBay so I can reclaim my garage.

But the San Diego freecycle group has more than 9,000 members.

I think I'll go sign up.