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Is Virtual For Real?


There's real, there's virtual, and then there's something in between.

In Friday's Five Things You Need to Know, Kevin Depew wrote about a team of Canadian researchers that developed a computer program which can win or draw any game of checkers, no matter who the opponent is.

He said that it "comes as a sharp blow to human isolation and alienation, and if left unchecked, could potentially force human beings to again interact with one another in quiet, pleasant surroundings marred by warmth, kindness and a spirit of intellectual gamesmanship."

When online dating began, it was considered something of a novelty. No longer. The Pew Internet & American Life Project says 15% of American adults-about 30 mln people-say they know someone who has been in a long-term relationship or married someone he or she met online.

About 70 mln people maintain "friendships" on MySpace, which was purchased by News Corp. (NWS) last year for $580 mln.

AOL Time Warner's (TWX) AOL Instant Messenger allows people to chat online in real-time, which has come to feel strangely like actually keeping in touch.

Google's (GOOG) GChat lets GMail users do the same thing.

Then of course, there's Research In Motion's (RIMM) ubiquitous BlackBerry, with 9 mln subscribers as of June, 2007.

In virtual world Second Life, about $500,000 in user-to-user transactions take place every day, with people using Lindens, the Second Life currency, to buy virtual goods, land, and services via their "avatars."

There's even a currency exchange, the LindeX.

US $ Exchanged on Lindex (in Mlns)

And, get this: like the NYSE, the LindeX features automatic "circuit breaker" trading halts based on movement (positive or negative) of the average exchange rate in any given day, as follows:

>10% in any 12-hour period: 1 hour halt

>20% in any 12-hour period: 2 hour halt

>30% in any 12-hour period: market closes until at least noon the next day

The idea of a virtual world is really not entirely new. Disney's (DIS) theme parks are virtual worlds, of sorts.

However, the Swedish Embassy hasn't yet opened an outpost in Disney World, which they have done in Second Life.

Sweden's Second Life "embassy"

The Vancouver Police Department doesn't hold recruitment drives in Disney World, which they do in Second Life.

And Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Microsoft (MSFT), Verizon (VZ) and Sodexho Alliance SA (SDXAY) don't host job fairs in Disney World, which, two months ago, they did in Second Life.

You also can't virtually attend a virtual church and virtually pray at Disney World-which you can do in Second Life.

Splitting the difference is Orlando, Florida's Holy Land Experience, just off of I-4.

Founded by Marv Rosenthal in 2001, the Holy Land Experience was acquired last year by the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Unlike Renaissance Faires or Civil War reenactments, HLE's website site reminds pilgrims that, "for your safety, only Holy Land Experience employees are allowed to dress in costume."

Visitors can meet "Jesus," who is crucified every afternoon:

Families can gaze at a 45x25 foot model of Jerusalem, as it looked in 66 A.D.:

Kids can even take home an official Holy Land Experience Roman soldier shield, complete with the Holy Land Experience logo:

From what I was able to ascertain from the HLE site, hungry visitors cannot partake in loaves and fishes, but are invited to stop by "Simeon's Corner, located at the crossroads across from the Qumran Caves" for a "steaming foot-long hot dog or a giant flavored pretzel."

"As real places get dangerous the way Jerusalem has, one compromise between real and virtual reality is this place that's in between," explained John Stilgoe, an architectural historian at Harvard, to the Chicago Sun-Times. "I have no word for it, but you'll see a lot more of it."

Former airplane mechanic Les Cheveldayoff, Holy Land Experience's "Jesus," doesn't think it's so "in-between."

"When we're out there, though, we're kicking it 150%," he told the Palm Beach Post. "It has to be real. It can't be fake."
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