2013: The Year in Review – Part 2: Blogging

The less said about this the better probably; the liveliness and relevance of my limited output this past year can perhaps be gauged by the observation that close to half of the posts I did manage were either obituaries or concerned historical subjects.

Anyway, here’s our top ten posts by traffic:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. On Second Life and addiction
  3. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
  4. Second Life, with graphics, on the iPhone?
  5. Free Pussy Riot!
  6. Zombie Epidemiology
  7. There is no land beyond the Volga
  8. What’s up
  9. Ferrisburg, Vermont
  10. The Social Network

Mostly old favourites, though I was glad to see that our commemoration of the heroes of Stalingrad made the list, since I think it was our best post of the year. I was also encouraged by the popularity of our “Free Pussy Riot!” message, which, who knows, may have been the crucial factor that persuaded President Putin to pardon Nadezhda and Maria (though I’m not entirely sure that everyone who viewed the post after searching for “second life free pussy” would have been similarly satisfied).

We continue to draw traffic from all corners of the globe; a total of 100 countries from Albania to Vietnam. Here’s the top ten:

  1. United States
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Canada
  4. Germany
  5. Australia
  6. France
  7. India
  8. Brazil
  9. Italy
  10. Sweden

So what of next year? Will I keep this blog going? I think so. I know that I have a guaranteed audience; my future self. I always enjoy looking back at my old posts, and reading what I thought about this and that. I’m annoyed that I didn’t write more this year; there were lots of stories that should have inspired me, and would have fitted in well with our general themes – stuff like the Chinese going to the moon, legalised pot in Uruguay (and Colorado and Washington), the omission of internet addiction from the DSM 5 (though Internet Gaming Disorder did make it into section III) – but now I’ll have to trust my unreliable memory to record my reaction to these events. That should spur me to more activity, for a while at least.

And will there be more Second Life content, like I promised not so long ago? Unfortunately my tablet broke down shortly after I posted that, so things will be on hold until I get round to fixing it. Don’t hold your breath…

2013: The Year in Review – Part 1: Culture

After my poor showing on the cultural front in 2012 I set myself some rather modest targets for this year; every month get two new records, read two new books, and see two new films. How hard could that be? Harder than I thought evidently.

I didn’t do too badly with music, managing to acquire 30 albums, mostly new stuff, and getting along a few live shows too.

Here’s this year’s mix tape (and here it is on Spotify, with a couple of substitutions for tracks that aren’t available):

Untitled 28 – The Twilight Sad (Killed My Parents and Hit the Road)
Nil – The Twilight Sad (No One Can Ever Know)
Holy – Frightened Rabbit (Pedestrian Verse)
Xcommunication – My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult (I See Good Spirits And I See Bad Spirits)
Girls Are The New Boys – Saloon ((This Is) What We Call Progress)
Partners in Crime – The Strokes (Comedown Machine)
Subway – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Mosquito)
S.O.S. In Bel Air – Phoenix (Bankrupt!)
Husbands – Savages (Silence Yourself)
Magic Bullet – Wire (Change Becomes Us)
W/ Glass In Foot – Guided By Voices (English Little League)
Turn Each Other Inside Out – Primal Scream (More Light)
I Sat By The Ocean – Queens of the Stone Age (Like Clockwork)
Bad For My Body – Deap Vally (Sistrionix)
Bagboy – Pixies (Bagboy)
Tomorrow Tomorrow – Eleanor Friedberger (Personal Record)
Athsma Attack – The Fiery Furnaces (Gallowsbird’s Barkl)
Navy Nurse – The Fiery Furnaces (Widow City)
Canary Island – Houndstooth (Ride Out The Dark)
Morningstar – Grant Hart (The Argument)
Low F – Superchunk (I Hate Music)
Pandora’s Box – Throwing Muses (Throwing Muses)
Hitch – Speedy Ortiz (Major Arcana)
State Of Mine – Sebadoh (Defend Yourself)
Joan Of Arc – Arcade Fire (Reflektor)
Opiates – Throwing Muses (Purgatory/Paradise)
No Shelter – Blouse (Imperium)
Turning Violent – The Flaming Lips (The Terror)
I Need My Girl – The National (Trouble Will Find Me)
Only Tomorrow – My Bloody Valentine (mbv)

I’d have to admit that my musical tastes haven’t changed much in the last 20 years, hence the somewhat retro look of the above selection. My favourite album of the year – Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz – is a new band’s debut, but the sound is distinctly 90s. Similarly the concerts I attended – Pixies, The Breeders – had a definite nostalgic edge.

It’s downhill from here I’m afraid. I only managed eight full-length novels, though in my defence I would say that I was on a bit of a modernist binge, and books like Gravity’s Rainbow, To the Lighthouse and Umbrella take a while to get through. Rewarding though, and in particular I found Will Self’s tale of psychiatric exploration and wartime loss both structurally intriguing and professionally fascinating, which made it my favourite read this year. In lieu of serious literature I did consume a lot of shorter pieces; reviews, essays, medical and political articles, and rather too many blog posts and other bits of online trivia. I like to think that this is a reflection of the fragmented nature of contemporary cultural discourse, but it probably has more to do with my ageing brain’s declining attention span.

My cinematic experience was similarly underwhelming; I just about managed one film a month. Behind the Candelabra was probably the best of these, and I also liked Before Midnight, though it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as the previous instalments in the series.

So, pass marks for music, but could do better for books and movies. Will things improve over the next twelve months? I’m not sure that I’ll see more films, since I seem to have lost my old cinema habit, but I have bought a few volumes that were on the critics’ “Best of 2013” lists, so I might catch up on current literary trends, albeit a year behind. We’ll see.

The Spy in the Cab

As if we denizens of Second Life were not paranoid enough already, we learned today that US and UK intelligence agencies have been covertly recording our in-world activity over the last few years.

In reports published in the Guardian and the New York Times, drawing on files provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, it was revealed that the spooks viewed virtual worlds like SL and World of Warcraft as a “target-rich communication network”, which could be used by terrorists and subversives as a tool to plot the overthrow of Western civilisation. At one point “so many C.I.A., F.B.I. and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Second Life … that a “deconfliction” group was needed to avoid collisions”, and “while GCHQ was testing its ability to spy on Second Life in real time, British intelligence officers vacuumed up three days’ worth of Second Life chat, instant message and financial transaction data, totaling 176,677 lines of data, which included the content of the communications”.

Interestingly, while Blizzard have denied they were aware of the WoW snooping, both Philip Rosedale and the current Linden Lab management declined to do likewise when invited to comment by the NYT, which also reported that Cory Ondrejka, then Chief Technology Officer at LL (and also apparently “a former Navy officer who had worked at the N.S.A. with a top-secret security clearance”) had “visited the [NSA’s] headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., in May 2007 to speak to staff members”.

I used to believe that no one would ever bother to trawl through the minutiae of SL interaction looking for subversion, but it seems that my faith in the anonymity of the virtual crowd has been badly misplaced. It’s certainly made me think about some of the political conversations I’ve had with people in SL over the years, which, for all I know, may have triggered all sorts of automated warning bells, and landed me on some agency’s watch list. Scary stuff. I’ll certainly be more circumspect in the future.

Nelson Mandela RIP

I’m not going to try to summarise Nelson Mandela’s many contributions to the progress of humanity; that’s been well covered elsewhere, though it should be noted that much of the mainstream media have presented a rather toned-down take on Mandela’s politics, glossing over his more radical side. More than a few of the world leaders now rushing to eulogise Mandela have more in common with his oppressors than the man whose legacy they seek to appropriate.

Mandela’s passing has reminded me once again what a long time ago the 1980s were; looking back at some of the political questions that seemed so important to me in those days – the fight against apartheid, the Cold War, the war in Ireland, and no doubt others I’ve long forgotten – it seems like another planet. On the other hand, the fundamental injustices that underlay the struggles we were involved in back then are still around today; some of them in new forms, but others depressingly familiar.

It can seem that the fight to make a better world is endless, and that our foes hold all the advantages, but the greatest lesson that Mandela taught us was the necessity of taking the long view; it may take decades, and at times things might seem hopeless, but history is on the side of progress, and we will win in the end.