2010: The year in review

The year’s end draws nigh, and I feel I should produce some sort if review of the twelve months gone by…

First up, the topic that is dearest to our hearts, this blog. Here’s our top ten posts for the year, by traffic:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Second Life, with graphics, on the iPhone?
  3. On Second Life and addiction
  4. O Superman
  5. What’s up
  6. Zombie Epidemiology
  7. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  8. Anatomy of a scandal
  9. Running Away
  10. That gum you like is going to come back in style

The demographics post is top by miles, with nearly as many hits as the rest put together, thanks to Google deciding that it should be the #1 result for the query “second life demographics 2010“. It got a lot of traffic in October, presumably due to media studies students researching start-of-term assignments, with another surge this month, probably because other SL bloggers are preparing their end-of-year posts. I think that the fact that this very slight essay, which I knocked out over one lunchtime back in April, should still be able to masquerade as an authoritative source says more about the paucity of serious academic interest in the topic than any brilliance in my writing.

Of the others, the addiction post benefited from my efforts to promote it by dropping a link into the comments of any blog post that mentioned the topic; the Superman post got a boost after it was featured in the Herald; “What’s up” gets traffic from people looking for pictures of 4 Non Blondes (a Google quirk that has at various times also given us hits from searches for Laura Palmer, Mae West and Catherine Deneuve/Susan Sarandon); the Zombie post is still getting referrals from the Undead Report; the rest, I don’t know, probably just random clicks.

Other posts from this year that I thought were OK, but that didn’t make the top ten:

I’m not sure if there was a theme to our posts this year; possibly something about the importance of narrative in the formation of identity, or some such pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

The year in Second Life? Stagnation, layoffs and general management chaos are the things that spring to mind; more detailed round-ups can be found at Daniel Voyager’s blog and Your2ndPlace if you’re interested.

In the real world it’s been a busy year politically; the event with the most direct effect on us was the return of a Conservative government to power in the UK. It’s been a bit of a phoney war since the summer, with only some student-led skirmishes, but the cuts will start to really kick in from now on, and the class struggle should get more intense. 2010 saw the right resurgent over in the US too, without much sign of the left regrouping; hopefully that will change in the months ahead.

In our last New Year review I suggested that we would be posting more general cultural comment during 2010; this remained, alas, an unfulfilled ambition, but I have belatedly managed to think about picks for book, film and album of the year.

Choosing a book was the hardest task; looking back I see that I didn’t read a single new novel all year, though I did buy a copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which is glaring at me accusingly from the shelf. Instead I stuck to the classics, of which my favourite was Fielding’s Tom Jones. I hardly saw any new films either; from a restricted field I would have to give the nod to The Social Network. I did buy a lot of new albums; the two I’ve listened to most are Majesty Shredding by Superchunk and The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

And so to the future… I expect I’ll keep this project going, out of habit if nothing else. Things might be a little quiet in January, while I’m busy with my New Year resolutions – do more serious writing, get more exercise – but once these have been discarded it’ll be back to our usual cavalcade of whimsy.

I’ll finish by sending our best wishes for 2011 to all our readers – may the New Year find you happy, healthy and prosperous.

Yuletide Greetings

I’m delighted to extend my best wishes for the season to all our readers. As is our custom in the depths of midwinter, we’ve spent the day, indeed the best part of the week, indoors, eating rich foodstuffs, ingesting various intoxicants, and generally trying to forget about the freezing weather. (Come to think of it, that’s not too different from our midsummer routine, except for the cold.) What better way to honour the true pagan roots of the festival?

Downhill Racer

It’s kept on snowing over the last couple of weeks, so I thought I should follow through on my plans to go skiing. I still couldn’t summon the energy to go up to the actual mountains though, so I figured I should see what Second Life had to offer in the way of winter sports. I got myself kitted out at the Zagoskin Ski Shop, for a surprisingly modest sum – skis, boots, poles, ski-suit and goggles for under L$500 – then headed over to the Nakiska Ski Club to hit the piste:

The panorama was certainly impressive, and the run ahead was invitingly steep, so I pushed off and shot away down the slope:

Down at the bottom there was a futuristic mountain train waiting to take me back up the hill:

It was fun for a while, but after a few runs it began to get a little dull. The AO that came with the skis allows one to steer from side to side, but one can’t really do anything more complicated than zig-zaging down the slope. I guess it might be more exciting if there was a slalom course laid out, or if one was racing with someone else. I should probably check out some of the other Second Life ski resorts to see if they are any more thrilling.

The experience reminded me of nothing more than the classic ZX Spectrum game Horace Goes Skiing. I’ve been similarly underwhelmed by other interactive activities on the grid – nice graphics in the service of eight-bit gameplay seems to be the rule for such things.

I was also a little disappointed, though not entirely surprised, to find that I was the only person at the resort, since I always feel that the conviviality of the après-ski is a crucial part of any winter holiday. It’s a shame it was so quiet, because the one big advantage that Second Life has over stand-alone simulations, the thing that makes up for all the limitations, is its social aspect. Maybe next time I go it will be a bit more lively.

300

This is our 300th post; it’s taken a little under a year for us to make it from 200, just about as long as it took for our second century, but a good bit faster than our first ton. I’ve been responsible for the vast majority of these posts; at about 250 words a go that’s the equivalent of a fair-sized novel.

Has it all been worthwhile? I’d struggle to say that the world would be a poorer place without the benefit of my bon mots, but I fancy that there may have been an occasional felicitous phrase that brought a smile to the face of one reader or another.

I have no doubt though that the principal beneficiary of all this literary endeavour has been me. There was an interesting article in the Guardian this week, which examined the therapeutic potential of blogging, for those who have experienced life-threatening illness or other trauma. I have never had to face such a trial, thankfully, but I do find that the discipline of composing a regular column is a powerful antidote to the anomie of day-to-day life.

Anyway, I reckon that persevering for this long qualifies me as some sort of blogging guru, so I feel that I should be sharing the benefits of my wisdom with my less-experienced fellows.

What have I learned about the art of blogging? Precious little if I’m honest, but here are a few pointers:

  • Avoid being too restrictive about your subject matter; you may think you have a lot to say about something, but you are likely to find inspiration running dry sooner than you think.
  • Conversely, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself; if you come back to a thought often enough you may eventually express it more or less the way you want.
  • Don’t look at the statistics page too often; no matter how low your expectations your traffic figures are likely to be discouraging.
  • Do read lots of other blogs, and leave lots of comments; if you’re stuck for a topic to write about then rip off someone else’s idea (but do link back to them).
  • Don’t stop; once you let it drift for a while it’s hard to get started again.
  • Finally, and most importantly, don’t ever think about all the useful things you could be doing if you weren’t wasting your time with your stupid blog.

They’re living on nuts and berries

We haven’t had a good Second Life legal story for a while, so I was glad to see that virtual litigation is alive and well, though this time around the action involves residents suing each other rather than targeting Linden Lab.

The case revolves, as far as I can tell, around an attempt by Ozimals (of virtual bunny fame) to claim sole rights to the whole concept of Second Life pets. Expert opinion, or the SL-blog commentariat at least, seems to believe that the suit has no merit, since the original idea is clearly ripped-off from whoever invented Tamagotchi.

I don’t know about that, but if Ozimals do win their case I’m going to get myself a lawyer and go after them, since I reckon I have a good claim to have invented the Second Life animal-nurturing concept way back in 2007 – here’s the blog post to prove it (and an appropriate soundtrack).

Cleaning up

We’ve received three emails over the last couple of weeks from Barbara Dunn at haiwatch.com, encouraging us to share the following message with you, our esteemed readers:

As you may be aware, hospitals still have a lot of work to do to put an end to the ongoing – but solvable – problem of Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs). To help achieve this goal,  Kimberly-Clark Health Care launched “Not on My Watch” (www.haiwatch.com), a website that provides tools and information to help facilities eliminate HAIs.

Ms Dunn is evidently labouring under the misapprehension that we are running some sort of serious health-related website here, but since she’s right about the problem of hospital-acquired infection I feel we should do our part to support this campaign, which I’m sure Kimberly-Clark are backing for purely altruistic reasons, with no commercial agenda at all.

So I’ll encourage anyone who is curious about HAIs, or just wants to know how to wash their hands properly, to head over to the HAI Watch News site, for up-to-the-minute information.

That’s the end of the Public Service Announcement, we’ll return to our normal programming soon…

The time is right for a palace revolution

Picture of the month, if not the year, has to be this one. Normally I would be aghast at the sight of an elderly couple being menaced by an angry mob, but this is one of those iconic images that seem to capture a moment in history, in this case the instant when the bubble around the privileged elite burst, and hard reality forcefully intruded.

Whether this will turn out to be just a fleeting breakdown of deference, or a more serious breach in the established order, only time will tell. There do seem to be a lot of angry people around at the moment; the last time I remember it being quite like this was in the heady days of the Poll Tax protests. I’d like to say that I was in the thick of it back then, but I’ve always been more of a make-sure-the-bus-is-booked-get-the-flyers-printed sort of revolutionary, rather than a street fighting man. I worry sometimes that everyone these days is so busy rioting, and tweeting and blogging about it, that no one will be interested in the boring organisational work that actually gets things done. There are always plenty of would-be bureaucrats (like me) around though, so I probably shouldn’t be too concerned.

In support of Wikileaks

Last month I posted a piece about the Twitter-related travails of Paul Chambers, and commenter LarryE rightly pulled me up for my apparently unsympathetic tone. The point I was trying (and failing) to make wasn’t that I was unsupportive of Chambers, but rather that his case was small beer compared to things like the latest developments in the Wikileaks story.

My position is one of complete support for what Wikileaks are doing. I don’t have any sympathy with the notion that governments and diplomats need to operate in secrecy; it just buys into the idea that the business of running society should be reserved for the ruling elite, with the rest of us left in the dark. A lack of transparency favours the status quo; anybody who claims to be interested in progressive change has to believe in maximum openness. As Trotsky said, apropos of the Bolsheviks’ decision to publish secret Tsarist diplomatic papers, “Secret diplomacy is a necessary tool for a propertied minority which is compelled to deceive the majority in order to subject it to its interests … The abolition of secret diplomacy is the primary condition for an honest, popular, truly democratic foreign policy.”

The issue of government secrecy shouldn’t be confused with that of personal privacy; it’s perfectly consistent to believe that we should know what they are doing while maintaining the confidentiality of our own activities. Our rulers certainly see the distinction; while they scramble to keep their own secrets intact they are building up the infrastructure needed for a surveillance state.

Now Julian Assange finds himself in prison, and on charges that leftist types like myself will feel uncomfortable about dismissing as trumped-up, no matter how much we feel the timing of the case is very convenient for the authorities. It is of course possible to approve of what Assange has done with Wikileaks without endorsing every aspect of his character, and the allegations against him shouldn’t distract us from the substance of the issues that have been exposed.

It’s heartening to see the Anonymous response to the attacks on Wikileaks, though, as we’ve noted before, it seems unlikely to be sustained enough to really damage ruling-class interests.

Still, this feels like an early battle in what is going to be a protracted war. Even if Wikileaks doesn’t survive this skirmish in its present form, there is now an established community of radicalised internet activists ready to keep the fight going. With a bit more organisation the virtual class struggle might yet get the bourgeoisie on the run.

Panorama on video game addiction

Tonight’s edition of the BBC’s flagship current-affairs programme Panorama covered the topic of video game addiction. I had been looking forward to the show but it was rather disappointing; it contained no information that anyone with even a passing interest in the subject wouldn’t already be familiar with.

After featuring the usual suspects – reformed addict, concerned parent, industry spokesman, academic (Mark Griffiths in this instance) – and taking the obligatory trip to South Korea, the reporter did come to a reasonable, if uncontroversial conclusion – games are fun, most people have no trouble with them, a few develop problematic use, this might become a significant issue as more people play.

I guess it was a good enough introduction, but it felt like a missed opportunity to discuss some of the more controversial aspects of the issue, like the exact nature of the disorder, and treatment approaches, in greater depth. A half-hour TV show has its limitations I suppose.

Anyone who is looking for a (slightly) more substantial review of the topic could do worse (I would humbly suggest) than to refer to this article that we posted earlier this year.

Everybody’s got a bomb

I’ve had a bad cough for the last week or so, what with all the cold weather, and it’s been keeping me awake at night. Consequently I’ve been watching more late-night TV, mostly junk like CSI reruns or televised poker, but also a couple of semi-good movies, including Cold War drama-doc Thirteen Days.

Actually “semi-good” is being generous; the heavily-fictionalised account of the Cuban missile crisis is rather melodramatic, as it portrays the heroic Kennedy brothers (aided by a brooding Kevin Costner) facing down the evil communists, while simultaneously restraining their own gung-ho generals, who are itching to launch a full-scale war. The story is inherently gripping though, and, even though obviously I knew there was going to be a happy ending, I enjoyed the building tension as it looked like the two sides had boxed themselves into an inevitable conflict. (My favourite film about the crisis, which deals with the themes much less earnestly, but rather more effectively, is Joe Dante’s Matinee.)

Watching Thirteen Days reminded me a little of the 1980s, when, after years of relative détente, it looked like Ronald Reagan was determined to start World War Three. I was never one of those kids who got all neurotic about the prospect of nuclear armageddon, but I was a bit freaked out by watching things like The War Game (made and suppressed back in the 60s, but still a favourite at leftist meetings 20 years later) and The Day After, though I wasn’t ever concerned enough to do much beyond going on a couple of CND marches. (Central American solidarity was my main political interest at that time, as I recall).

Then the Soviet Union collapsed, and we all enjoyed the 90s, free, we thought, from the shadow of complete destruction. There was still plenty of war to go around, of course, and not a little millennial angst, but it was probably the safest decade since the end of the Second World War (for those of us in the West anyhow).

Fast-forward to today, and we’re all supposed to be worried about The Bomb again, though this time round it’s not the Reds we’re told we should be scared of, but North Korea, Pakistan and Iran, or al-Qaeda, or just “terrorists” in general. I can’t say that I lose too much sleep over those last three, but North Korea and Pakistan (and to a lesser degree Israel and India) are more concerning. While these countries don’t have the capacity to nuke the whole world (or, hopefully, provoke anyone else into nuking the whole world), that just means they are less restrained by the logic of mutually assured destruction, and might use their weapons for local strategic reasons. At least with the old East/West standoff one had the idea that Washington and Moscow knew that once they started fighting it was going to end badly for everyone, but one can’t be so confident that the smaller nuclear states will never convince themselves that a first-strike strategy might be successful.

There’s not much to be done about it I guess, except to keep on working away at building the sort of progressive international movement that will eventually bring the people of the world together and abolish war altogether.

That, and partying of course.

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