The best laid schemes

I dined tonight on haggis, tatties and neeps, in honour of our national poet, Robert Burns. January 25th, Burns Night, is always well observed here in Scotland, and all around the world, but this year is particularly special, being the 250th anniversary of his birth.

I’m very partial to haggis at any time of the year; when I was a student there was seldom a week that went by in which I did not consume deep-fried haggis with chips at least once. As the years have passed I have come more to resemble Burns’ description of those who love this particular delicacy:

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.

so I partake of it less, and usually opt for the boiled version rather than the battered one.

Burns has to some extent been buried in the tartan-hued mythology that passes for our national identity, but the character of the man, and the power of his work, transcend any shortbread-tin cliché. The words of “A Man’s A Man For A’ That”, his ode to equality and internationalism, have justly made Burns a hero to movements for social justice the world over:

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

On a personal level, I marvel at the way Burns can conjure a profound insight into the human condition from the seemingly mundane events of day-to-day existence. I often find myself reflecting on the truth of this stanza from “To A Mouse”:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Or this one, from “To A Louse”:

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

More than anything though I love Burns’ comic sensibility, his ability to prick the affectations of the pompous and self-righteous, and to lighten the heart of the honest sinner with the sympathetic recognition of human frailty. My favourite amongst Burns’ poems is a toss-up between “Tam O’Shanter” and “Holy Willie’s Prayer” , for I share both Tam’s weakness for earthly pleasures:

O Tam! had’st thou but been sae wise,
As taen thy ain wife Kate’s advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;
That frae November till October,
Ae market-day thou was na sober;
That ilka melder wi’ the Miller,
Thou sat as lang as thou had siller;
That ev’ry naig was ca’d a shoe on
The Smith and thee gat roarin’ fou on;
That at the Lord’s house, ev’n on Sunday,
Thou drank wi’ Kirkton Jean till Monday,
She prophesied that late or soon,
Thou wad be found, deep drown’d in Doon,
Or catch’d wi’ warlocks in the mirk,
By Alloway’s auld, haunted kirk.

and Willie’s tendency to think well of himself:

I bless and praise Thy matchless might,
When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight,
For gifts an’ grace
A burning and a shining light
To a’ this place.

and remembering Burns’ verses keeps me on the straight and narrow.

The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth
Are higher rank than a’ that

Virtual Monopoly

The buzz around the SL blogosphere this week is all about Linden Labs’ unexpected takeover of XStreet and OnRez, the two biggest and best known of the web-based Second Life marketplaces.

Blogger opinion seems fairly unanimous in regarding this development as A Bad Thing, though reaction varies from mildly disapproving to apoplectic.

Regular readers of SLS will know that we have long been sceptical of the idea that it is possible to make serious money through in-world commerce, but the existence of services like XStreet and OnRez presents a challenge to our doubts, since they provide a route by which cash can be extracted from the grid without showing up on the official Linden Lab statistics. Perhaps sellers in these marketplaces are turning over significant sums, enough to make a living comparable to having a real-life job. Even if this isn’t true, the markets themselves may be handling enough transactions that a commission of even a couple of L$ a time would be enough to make running them a lucrative business.

Does the fact that the Lindens have bought into the action provide any support for the theory that the web-based marketplaces were making money? One might speculate that L-Labs is worried about a fall-off in the subscriber base due to the recession, and is looking to secure other revenue streams. On the other hand, if XStreet and OnRez were profitable it seems strange that their developers would have sold out, unless the offer was irresistible. Throw in the fact that OnRez was owned by virtual world cheerleaders-turned-jeremiahs The Electric Sheep Company, and it begins to look like the picture wasn’t so rosy after all.

Linden Labs may well have taken advantage of the economic crisis to increase their stranglehold over Second Life commerce by snapping up two companies that, had they had time to develop further, may have grown to challenge L-Labs’ dominant position as the people who actually make money from the grid.

Twitter on

Proving once again that when I say “All I know is that I know nothing” I’m right on the money, a report out today reveals that, far from being on its last legs, Twitter use (in the UK at least) is ten times what it was this time last year.

Popular isn’t the same as profitable of course; if you believe Wikipedia (and who doesn’t?) Twitter has yet to accrue a cent in revenue. Twitter monetisation strategies are ten a penny in the blogosphere; it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, especially in the current economic climate.

David Johansen still looks remarkably good, all things considered.

Fool O’Beans

A while ago I wrote about searching for the Church of the SubGenius on the grid, and being directed towards the Fool O’Beans Coffee Shop, only to end up in an empty field.

NTropy Sellers has been in touch to let us know that the establishment’s slurl had been messed up for some reason, and to kindly provide us with the proper reference.

fool_o_beans01

Any place with a giant bong is always going to be cool with us, so we’ve added it to our venue rota.

Gigantic

Attentive readers will have noticed that staffing levels here at SLS have increased by 100% since the start of the year. Now that we are obliged to have editorial meetings we’ve been looking around for quiet places to hang out and talk.

For the time being we’ve settled on the Grey Hare Coffee Shop on Adelebsen Isle:

ed_meeting01

Adelebsen Isle seems to be a centre of Tiny culture; the only other residents we’ve seen around are delightful little fellows like this:

tiny01

We’ve tried talking with the small folk, but they tend to just scurry away. I don’t know if they are naturally timid, or if they just don’t deign to converse with anyone over 50 centimetres tall.

Our other favourite place is the Loki Absinthe Bar in New Babbage, but we tend not to get a lot of work done when we’re there:

ed_meeting02

Here’s today’s song, which is a bit tangential, but I think both title and artist are at least marginally relevant.

Prosaic reality

On second thoughts, maybe I shouldn’t wait for Twitter to go bust before selling my Google shares.

Poetic Truths

I was feeling that I had slightly overdone the negativity in my last post, so I decided to check out the reports on Gwen Bell‘s “Chicks who Click 09” conference, which took place last week. I figured that a gender-based discussion of virtual interaction was bound to be quite interesting, and I was sure that I could find something positive to say about it.

The list of speakers wasn’t too promising however; mostly marketing people and motivational gurus rather than serious academics. Then there was the fact that one whole day out of a two day meeting was devoted to skiing and networking, which suggested that the organisers were perhaps aiming for a less intellectually rigorous ambience.

The formal proceedings of the meeting haven’t been published yet, so all I have to go on is the tweets exchanged by the participants. The medium doesn’t really lend itself to deep and meaningful discussion, but even so the conversations were pretty vacuous.

Some of the comments were almost archetypal in their pseudo-profundity, like “We’re moving from an era of fear-based branding to one of hope, thanks to @barackobama.” It’s like there’s a formula they teach you in Inspirational Writing 101; [Fatuous Generalisation]+[Imaginary Transition]*[Zeitgeisty Buzzword]=[Comment that sounds Meaningful so long as you don’t think about it for more than two seconds].

There was one contribution that I thought made some sort of sense, though perhaps not in the way its author intended. “Twitter is your canary in the coal mine” wrote zenawiest, and I couldn’t agree more. When the “Social Media” industry curls up and dies I’ll know that it’s time to sell my Google shares.

Well, I did start this post with the best of intentions, but I’ve ended up serving another dish of cheerless cynicism, with a side helping of intellectual snobbery and a schadenfreude garnish. I should maybe take up Twittering, it might help me lighten up a bit.

[Update: Read a more balanced review of the event from someone who was actually there.]

Here’s today’s tune. I had thought that the lyrics would be a suitably obscure reference to the content of the post, but of course several bloggers got there before me. All their blogs seem to be defunct, one, poignantly, after just one post; I think that this one is the best.

Modern Romance

Now and again I come across something on the internet that reminds me how disconnected I am from the world of the young. (Actually for “now and again” read “every 20 minutes or so”).

Occasionally though I read a piece that doesn’t just make me feel old and out of the loop, but cynical and misanthropic as well, and not in a good way. The latest example of this is Gwen Bell’s blog, and specifically this post: “A Guide to Falling in Love + Growing a Modern Romance Online“.

Gwen feels qualified to write about this because she met her boyfriend Joel, who is now her fiancé, via Twitter. The story is rather sweet in its own way, especially the bit where her beloved proposes by making an elaborate sign and hanging it up in their favourite coffee shop. They are due to wed later this year; you can follow the build up to the nuptials on their joint website, as well as on Gwen’s Twitter feed.

So why does this happy tale awaken my inner curmudgeon? “A bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person” sums up my personality pretty well at the best of times I guess, but the sort of unselfconscious narcissism that drives people to use a service like Twitter, or to write “A Guide to Falling in Love + Growing a Modern Romance Online” based on their own personal experience of doing so once, is something of a bête noire for me.

(I know that I am the author of a blog which deals mainly with my random thoughts, so we’re deep within “pot, kettle, black” territory here, but, come on, Twitter? Like even your closest friends are so interested in what you are doing right at this minute that they need a constant update on your mundane daily activity? RandomTweets.com, a site dedicated to finding anything on Twitter “humorous, weird, inspiring, newsworthy or just plain cool”, hasn’t been updated since July 15th, presumably the day the webmaster went insane after reading “I’m shopping!!!” once too often).

Gwen’s “Guide” contains so much that feels completely alien to my concept of “Romance” that it’s hard to pick out examples. You really have read the whole thing to appreciate it. This is my favourite bit though (with Gwen’s emphasis):

Joel and I have shared a calendar for about 6 months now. We each had our own Gcalendars (free) associated with our Gmail accounts, and then we set up a joint calendar for shared events. Once a week we go over the details of the week together. We roll over events that we missed.
Most important, we associate a time and date to things so that we get a reminder sent to our phones before it’s time for it to start. Believe it or not, this seemingly small point is a crucial ingredient to the success of our relationship.

This is how the kids live these days? A boy can be so overwhelmed by information that he will forget he has a date with his inamorata unless a computer phones him up to remind him?

If I’m honest though, I have to admit that I’m the one with the problem here, not Gwen. She has the confidence of youth, and I have what Socrates called True Wisdom, that which “comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us”. I could never write a “Guide to Love”, not because I haven’t been around that particular block more than a few times, but because the experience I have had has convinced me that, when it comes to affairs of the human heart, we all have to make our own way. So good luck to Gwen and Joel, may they have many happy years together, and avoid True Wisdom for as long as they can.

[Socrates also said “Enjoy yourself — it’s later than you think”, so from now on I’m going to try to lighten up some of my more dour posts by ending with a link to the song that inspired the post title. Though, come to think of it, this one is a bit of a downer.]

Art star

After buying a couple of posters from the Warhead Rock’n’Roll shop, at L$25 each, I figured it would be cheaper to make my own, since uploading image files is only L$10 a go.

After a quick google for pictures of suitable concert posters I set to work creating objects in Second Life for the first time. They turned out fairly well I think, though I guess making simple two-dimensional shapes isn’t that much of an achievement.

interior02

Pretty neat huh? I should go into the virtual poster business.

Ninja Tool

Looking at my blog stats I discovered an incoming link from “The Samurai Factory Official Website” which, as far as I can tell, is a Japanese record label. That’s more than a little impressive, in my book anyhow, but what’s really cool is that SLS is listed in their “Ninja Tools” section. Obviously no black-clad assassin can contemplate going on a killing spree without first getting armed with some sharp cultural commentary.

Since I read no Japanese it is possible that I’ve completely misinterpreted the site, and that they are in fact mercilessly mocking my writing rather than likening it to the keen edge of a samurai blade, or, perhaps more likely, that they have co-opted SLS into some sort of search engine optimisation scam. Perhaps a reader with the requisite language skills will be good enough to translate the Samurai Factory site and enlighten me.

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