By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
The Gaians Come to Houston
You probably just don't understand.
Raccoon and bunny tails. Pirate and samurai hats. Pizza and bowling. Teenagers and snooping parents. Anime and Manga. Virtual versus the real world. And DJ Helsing behind the microphone on behalf of Gaia Online. That's what a recent Saturday at Lucky Strike in downtown Houston was about.
Maybe you've heard of Facebook — photos, status updates, poking, etc. Well, Online is sort of its geeky, Anime, virtual reality cousin. Users spend countless hours customizing their avatar (a virtual representation), playing various interactive games and messaging in forums, all in the hopes of accumulating digital gold. The appeal didn't make much sense to Hair Balls...until we logged on and created an avatar of our own. But that's beside the point.
The Saturday night in question was, as DJ Helsing put it, "Gaians coming and meeting in real life."
Everyone wore name tags, most of which had user IDs. According to DJ Helsing (a.k.a. Chris Castagnetto), the event manager for Gaia Online, the aim of the real-life events was to put a face to the user names in the hopes that some in attendance will create real connections. You know, real friendships. Seems like an outdated concept at times.
Gaia Online, which has more than eight million users across the globe, hosted the "meet-up," with Castagnetto, 24, serving as MC. Before the bowling began, after welcoming the group of 200-plus Gaians — some of whom drove as much as eight hours to attend — he unveiled some sneak peeks into developments on the Web site. It was almost like a mini MacWorld, with the attendees hanging on each slide, ready to cheer every new element: from new weapons for avatars to possess to an "OMG Hat" to the expansion of "Buccaneer Boardwalk."
We swear, this all makes sense once you use the Web site.
This was No. 14 of 20 meet-ups Gaia Online will host across the country this year, but the only time the event comes to Houston. Each gathering brings anywhere from 150 to 450 Gaians to a single location.
Midway through the evening, those who opted to dress up for the occasions were able to display their creativity in a runway-type setting. One by one they came to the front of the crowd, introducing the inspiration for the outfit and waiting on audience applause for approval. The clear favorite was the Captain Hook-like costume, worn by Melissa Logan. For her win, she was awarded a small card granting her online character a "Wing Anklet." Logan was clearly disappointed: "The other items were amazing," Logan said afterward. "I just have bad luck." The OMG Hat was among the other items.
Hair Balls wondered how parents felt about the gathering, if they were worried about their kids coming to a location and meeting people they had, in most cases, only known on the Internet. We found one parent hiding behind a column, trying to catch a glimpse of her 16-year-old daughter, who was with her new boyfriend.
Before the evening came to a close, many of the kids sought out Castagnetto for a photo. He smiled, posed in different positions, and we believe we saw one or two autograph requests fulfilled.
We too wish to one day be a big-damn-deal online.
God Hates the KTRU Deal
Recently word broke that the University of Houston's KUHF station was buying up Rice's unique KTRU station.
There were howls of protest. Sunday, August 22, there was an actual protest, on the Rice campus.
Shortly thereafter, God weighed in. And apparently He's a KTRU fan.
A "massive lightning strike" made a direct hit on the KUHF tower August 24, knocking out power for an hour or so, says UH spokesman Richard Bonnin.
That's about as clear a statement of "Play Me some more Pan-African/fusion jazz!!" as we can imagine.
"That antenna is off the air and in the process of being repaired," Bonnin tells Hair Balls. "After the lightning damage, KUHF switched over to its back-up transmitter and antenna, which does not quite have the reach of the main antenna. Thus, some areas to the north, such as The Woodlands, had trouble receiving KUHF."
Other parts of town went black, too, for a while.
Bonnin says there is no estimate on how long repairs will take. God was unavailable for comment.
DOING IT DAILY
There is a ton of new stuff each day on the Houston Press blogs; youre only getting a taste of it here in the print edition. Head to http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs (or /rocks or /eating) and under Tools on the top-right side of the page, use the categories drop-down menu to find these stories: