Living in a virtual democracy

My reintroduction to Second Life has been quite gradual, as I didn’t stray very far from the SL Book Club at first. But a comment there one evening about the Confederation of Democratic Simulators caught my attention, so much so that I now call it home.

So what is the CDS? It describes itself very simply as the oldest democracy in Second Life, but there’s more to it than that.

Confederation of Democratic Simulators
All are welcome to the CDS to visit, explore, and become a part of our dynamic community. Our estate consists of six regions that have loosely based Germanic, Tuscan, Alpine, and Mediterranean themes, representing different historical periods.

Accompanying its website, there’s a discussion forum, a Flickr group and a Facebook page. There are also a couple of entries in the Second Life Destination Guide.

The Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Destination Guide
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), founded in 2004, is a community-operated by and for its citizens. … Land ownership in the CDS means citizenship, with the right to vote, run for office, and have a say in the direction and projects of the regions.

It’s a vibrant, active community that regularly comes together to celebrate such events as International Women’s Day, Oktoberfest and Dia de los Muertos.

Celebrating International Women’s Day in Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modemworld
The theme for this year’s IWD is #EachForEqual, a call for gender equality, and the day will be marked in Second Life at Celebrating International Women’s Day in SL, a series of events throughout the day organised and hosted by the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS). These will comprise music, dance, live performances and interactive activities.

What marks this place as a little different from the sprawling, homogeneous Linden Homes estates in Bellisseria is its emphasis on democratic, resident-led project development, with its citizens being encouraged to play an active role in the political life of the community. This has been the case from the very start, as this introduction to the CDS from 2007 clearly shows.

Playing democracy in a virtual worldYouTube
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators is an old institution in SecondLife. Are they still alive and well? Is democracy in virtual worlds a delusion or can it be achieved? Newbie virtual journalist Draxtor Despres meets up with residents and administrators to find out how much free will can be handled by a simulated system….

Transcript of my lecture in Second Life on democracy in virtual worldsDavid Orban
Here is the transcript of my inaugural lecture of the Craedo Auditorium in Colonia Nova in Second Life. Welcome to this seminar about “The theory and practice of democracy in virtual worlds”. I want to thank CARE, CRAEDO, and the Confederation of Democratic Simulators for inviting me to give this talk at the inauguration of this auditorium.

It all started with a sim modelled after the town Rothenburg in Bavaria.

What became Neualtenburg was later renamed Neufreistadt.

Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Wiki
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators, CDS in short, is the latest phase in the project that started as the city of Neualtenburg in the mainland sim Anzere, then moved to the private island “Neualtenburg” and after a split-up of the two founders with the rest of the population, the citizens continued under the name “Neufreistadt”. When the project became more than just a single simulator, the name Confederation of Democratic Simulators was adopted for the government and the project in general.

NeufreistadtSecond Life Wiki
Since its inception as a group-owned tiered mainland sim in Anzere, the government model followed a rather long discussion period held mostly on the Linden Lab forums, for a period of about 10 weeks and involving around 20 people interested in jointly presenting a project to Haney Linden, who raised a challenge on Aug 31st, 2004, for projects to “preserve the snow sims”. A proposal based on the forum discussions was elaborated by Ulrika Zugzwang and presented by her and Kendra Bancroft for appreciation; after Haney approved it, the forum discussion moved towards establishing a constitution, a provisory government, and a layout of the city to be built, inspired on the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, and adhering to the “theme” of a medieval Bavarian setting. […]

Linden Lab removed the support to any similar projects after much public claims of favoritism, and a decision was made to move the whole city into a private island, called “Neualtenburg”.

That sim was soon joined by others.

Official blog of Colonia Nova
Currently, the CDS consists of one region, Neufreistadt, with another region in the planning process, Colonia Nova. Neufreistadt is one of Second Life’s oldest resident-governed regions and is widely known for its unique combination of politics, fog, and Bavarian architecture. Colonia Nova, a Roman themed simulator, is currently under development.

Locus Amoenus
Locus Amoenus is the 4th sim of the CDS, which will be built this summer. It will be located west to our Roman sim Colonia Nova, and again, the theme is roman. Main differences are that this sim will be more pastoral in essence, not a city core – and with a sea shore and quay.

This project has more history than I can get my head around. I’m not going to attempt to summarise all the chronologies and controversies here, but to give you an indication of some of the incentives and drivers behind the project, I found this from 2004.

Why discussing governments is so hard…Gwyneth Llewelyn
[T]here is no “easy” way to do it, if you just have a monolithical group with a few team leaders. What happens if the team leader gives up? Or gets angry with the group? Or “sells out” the land? All these questions pop up every time a fantastic project comes to an end because its original proposers, for one reason or another, simply “go away”.

One alternative, as envisioned by the Neualtenburg group, is having a form to “rotate” the leadership of the group, assign people different roles in mantaining the themed sim, get rules for what can be done and what cannot, and so on. The important part to remember here is change. People change, SL changes, the city should change as well. Monolithic group structures do not deal well with change. No matter how good the “Utopia” is, if there is a change, you need to adapt to change. It’s pointless to remain stubborn and insist that you want to “resist change” – SL is not different than RL in that aspect. You don’t want to change – you die.

And this is from 2005.

Neualtenburg – SL’s most hated projectGwyneth Llewelyn
All these issues make sense from a RL point of view: if you want to organise something and make it enduring, the best way we frail humans know to achieve that purpose, is having a democratically elected association of people to work together. That’s what Neualtenburg is about – a project which belongs to the whole group, and not just to a few “group officers”. It seems to be working. The currently elected “president” of the Representative Assembly – the law-passing body of the City Government – is neither a founding member, has no building skills whatsoever, is not an officer of the group, and has not contributed tier or money to the project This is completely alien to the whole concept of Second Life – either from the anarchistic or the capitalist group. And, thus, being alien, the project is viewed with serious distrust.

As with any kind of democracy, you can’t please all the people all the time. This is from last year.

The Confederation of Democratic Simulators – When democracy…failsThis Island SL
Wandering around the CDS, the place looks good enough, with public amenities, public footpaths and public buildings. However dig deeper and get into the whole political landscape of the CDS, you find the SL democratic equivalent of nepotism. Friends voted in by the RA into places of power within the two commissions. Friends voted into places of power, even though those friends have no clue whatsoever about what that position entails.

Setbacks and infighting notwithstanding, the community has persevered. It’s now certainly a larger, more detailed environment than it was before, with buildings being redeveloped and more regions being added (and with still more to come).

Neufreistadt – The new Antiquariat buildingMizou’s Second Life
This building in Neufreistadt was a replacement of an earlier built dating back to the creation of Neufreistadt. I rebuilt it in 2018 and you can visit it on the Marketplatz in Neufreistadt and familiarise yourself with the history of Confederation of Democratic Simulators.

The MonasterySecond Life Destination Guide
When consciousness first dawned, men and women were equally the two sides of human-ness. In reverence and longing for that balance long since lost, this Monastery is built as a place of remembrance for what may yet again return. The Monastery is based loosely on the “real life” Abbey of St Mary on the tiny Scottish island of Iona.

It’s interesting to compare Draxtor’s admittedly low-res video from 2007 above with his return in 2020, below — a testament to the community’s longevity.

Made in Second Life – Holiday StoriesYouTube
Happy holidays from Second Life! In this special edition of “Made in Second Life,” we hear how several community members are experiencing the holidays in the virtual world as they come together remotely to celebrate amidst the global pandemic.

Starting at around the 2:11 mark, Rosie Gray introduces a wintry CDS and showcases how they mark the change in seasons and celebrate the holidays.

And what excellent timing, to stumble upon that snowy video now, almost exactly a year later, as the weather in both RL and SL gets a little chillier.

Gone? Not really

I’ve just been reading on the internet that Pamela Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, has written a new book.

100 Things We’ve Lost to the InternetPamela Paul
[A] captivating record, enlivened with illustrations, of the world before cyberspace—from voicemails to blind dates to punctuation to civility. There are the small losses: postcards, the blessings of an adolescence largely spared of documentation, the Rolodex, and the genuine surprises at high school reunions. But there are larger repercussions, too: weaker memories, the inability to entertain oneself, and the utter demolition of privacy.

Not really, but go on.

What does tech take from us? Meet the writer who has counted 100 big lossesThe Guardian
“There are a lot of terrible things to say about the internet,” she says. “What I wanted to focus on was not so much all of those doomsday scenarios, although they exist, but to look at all of these forces and say: ‘What does this mean for what we do in our daily lives – from the moment we wake up to the iPhone alarm to the moment when we’re trying to fall asleep at night and we can’t because we’re like: ‘Oh my God, there’s this newsletter that arrives at 11pm, let me just see what it says’? What does it actually mean down here at the level of how we live?”

It’s hard to read that article (about a book I wouldn’t have heard about if it wasn’t for the internet) and not respond with simply, “Ok boomer, whatever.” Yes, the internet’s changed many aspects of society, from book selling to banking, and yes, my predominant response to the web these days is one of disappointment. But I’m not sure many things have been lost, as such. We still have options. We can still make different choices.

She sounds a little pessimistic. Perhaps she should read this.

Pessimists Archive
Welcome to Pessimists Archive, a project created to jog our collective memories about the hysteria, technophobia and moral panic that often greets new technologies, ideas and trends.

There are sections that mark the worrying introduction of television and computing amongst others (Pamela Paul bemoaned the loss of civility, above. That went years ago, apparently), but the archive starts way back in 1858.

TelegraphPessimists Archive
It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet.

There are eight newspaper clippings about telegraphs, including one that claimed “global telegraphy could screw with earths currents and disorder the universe.” But there are 65 clippings about bicycles, and even 17 about teddy bears.

Perhaps Pamela Paul needs to be reminded that being pessimistic about a new thing is not itself a new thing.

Do you want a bag for that?

Remember Aaron Thompson, the Carry a Bag Man? Here’s another high street historian.

A celebration of the humble paper bagThe Guardian
Graphic designer Tim Sumner was introduced to the idea of paper bags as a cultural artefact a decade ago by his tutor at the University of Central Lancashire. “I’ve since amassed over 1,000 bags of my own from around the world.” Now he plans to showcase his collection – the largest in the world, he thinks – in a book, To Have and to Hold, which he’s funding on Kickstarter. “The bag designs document not just social history, but the rise and fall of our high street and changes in culture and fashion.”

If you think paper bags are mundane, Tim Sumner asks you to think againIt’s Nice That
It’s not news that we’ve all become rather consumption-obsessed these days; we must buy the latest and greatest of everything. Tim wants to reflect on our “relatively recent consumer past, social history and the changes in our visual culture”. As a designer, he says that he can’t help but enjoy looking through the archive: “The bags are very nostalgic to everyone, not just designers. They are a smorgasbord of typography, colour, patterns, and illustration spanning over 100 years.” The archive includes recognisable identities from places including Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, The British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as lesser-known and perhaps even more rich designs like “a hand-crafted design that has been created by the local green-grocer”.

Ephemera from a buy-gone era?

The only way is up #2

Universities are seen as key drivers of social mobility; improving access to opportunity and moving people up the economic ladder. But is that the case for all universities? This new report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and The Sutton Trust might have the answer.

English universities ranked on their contributions to social mobility – and the least selective post-1992 universities come out on topInstitute for Fiscal Studies
Today, in by far the most comprehensive exercise of this nature to have happened in the UK, the Institute for Fiscal Studies is publishing a new report, in partnership with the Sutton Trust, that ranks universities in terms of their contributions to social mobility. It looks both at the share of students from low-income backgrounds at the university, and whether those students have moved up to the top of the income ladder. Specifically, for each university it calculates a “mobility rate”, which shows the proportion of students at the university who were FSM eligible and are amongst the top 20% of earners at age 30.

Some of the key findings:

The average mobility rate across all universities based on those who entered in the mid-2000s is 1.3%. This means just over one in every 100 graduates was eligible for FSM when they were at school and is in the top 20% of earnings at age 30. This compares to the 4.4 students in every 100 graduates we would get if there were equal access to university for all income groups and undergraduates from all income backgrounds had the same chance of making it into the top 20%.

Many of the most selective and prestigious universities do not do well on this ranking. While students from low-income families who go to Russell Group institutions do very well in the labour market, these universities admit very few FSM students, leading to an average mobility rate of just 1%.

Overall, the least selective post-1992 institutions do best, often combining relatively high access rates of FSM students (more than one in every ten students) with slightly below average rates of reaching the top 20%. More selective post-1992 have the lowest mobility rates. They take in fewer FSM students than pre-1992 universities, but have far worse labour market outcomes. […]

Bradford, Aston, Newman University (Birmingham), Birmingham City and Liverpool John Moores are the highest mobility institutions which are not based in or around London.

You can explore the data for yourself with this interactive chart from the Sutton Trust.

Universities and social mobility: Data explorerSutton Trust
These interactive charts use data from our ‘Universities and Social Mobility’ report with the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Explore how social mobility varies by university, subject and individual courses.

The full report and background data is available on the IFS website as well as on GOV.UK.

Which university degrees are best for intergenerational mobility?Institute for Fiscal Studies
Higher education is often seen as a crucial vehicle for improving intergenerational mobility. Previous research in the UK has generally looked in isolation at access to, or outcomes from, university for students coming from low-income backgrounds. Here, we put these components together to investigate the extent to which individual universities, subjects and courses promote intergenerational mobility.

The best university degrees for intergenerational mobilityGOV.UK
Analysis of the impact of different undergraduate degrees on the social mobility of graduates.

What happens after Glasgow?

Despite what some people might think, the climate crisis is real and won’t go away by itself. The UN Climate Change Conference has been and gone — has anything changed? Yes and no.

The most impactful actions at COP26 point to progress on climate changeUN News
Ms. Donlon noted that the pact calls for a phase down of coal and a phase out of fossil fuel subsidies, “two key issues that had never been explicitly mentioned in a decision at climate talks before – despite coal, oil and gas being the key drivers of global warming”. According to the UN official, Glasgow signaled “an accelerated shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy”.

Most City investors could not care less about ESG and sustainabilityCity A.M.
With COP26 only weeks behind us, more than half of UK investors admit sustainable investing is not a priority for them, with just under 45 per cent saying it is important and it is a priority in their investment portfolio. In fact, less than a third of British investors say COP26 and the UK government’s stance on climate change have accelerated their ESG investment plans to pump capital into sustainable assets.

The crisis continues, however.

New Delhi’s air turns toxic, and the finger-pointing beginsThe New York Times
The airborne murk and the towers stand as symbols of India’s deep political dysfunction. The choking pollution has become an annual phenomenon, and the country’s scientists can accurately predict the worst days. But deep partisanship and official intransigence have hindered steps that could help clear the air. […]

Broadly, India’s air quality suffers from its appetite for fossil fuels, which has only grown after two decades of rapid economic growth. Last year, India was home to 15 of the 20 cities with the most hazardous air globally, and health experts have detailed how such conditions can lead to brain damage, respiratory problems and early death.

Here’s a different take on the move to electric cars (complete with an unexpected reference to my sister’s favourite 80s boy band).

Norway is running out of gas-guzzling cars to taxWIRED UK
When it comes to sales of electric cars, Norway is in a league of its own. In September, battery-powered electric vehicles accounted for 77.5 percent of all new cars sold. That figure makes Norway a world leader by a long way—leapfrogging over the UK, where 15 percent of new car sales were electric as of October, and the US, where that number is just 2.6 percent. Norway’s electric dream has been credited to a series of tax breaks and other financial carrots that mean brands like Tesla can compete on price with combustion engines. But these incentives—and their success—have created a unique predicament: Norway is running out of dirty cars to tax.

Lots to unpack from COP26. Will subsequent generations see it as a decisive moment? It’s interesting to see how various aspects of the Climate Pact were strengthened and weakened through the first, second, third and final drafts.

Will the Glasgow climate pact curb emissions — or is it doomed for failure?Wake Up To Politics
Like the Montreal pact [the 1987 treaty that targeted substances responsible for degradation of the ozone layer], the Glasgow agreement also acknowledged these varying degrees of responsibility — but it did not provide any sort of financial incentive to follow reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. The Montreal agreement was also made stronger because of the nature of the problem it addressed: with a focus on a specific type of emissions, it was easy to ensure adherence to the protocol with transfers. The Glasgow summit’s target — climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions — is much broader, and therefore harder to mitigate.

6 essential numbers to understand the Glasgow Climate PactWIRED UK
A noteworthy breakthrough at COP26 was the pledge from Scotland to give £2 million ($2.7 million) to vulnerable countries for loss and damage caused by the climate crisis. No developed country has ever offered up such money before, so while the amount is small in terms of the actual cash on offer, it is significant in terms of its politics.

Loss and damage refers to the harms done by climate change which can no longer simply be adapted to, such as climate migration due to droughts or island territory lost to rising sea levels. The Paris Agreement acknowledges it as an issue, but rich countries have been extremely hesitant to offer up any kind of finance for it, including at COP26.

So Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s comments last week that “the rich developed industrialized countries that have caused climate change … have a responsibility to step up, recognize that and address it” were a surprise breakthrough. Her use of the words “reparation” and “debt” in this context are also significant, considering the huge resistance from many developed countries, especially the US, to use this kind of language.

That line above, “island territory lost to rising sea levels,” can seem a little abstract from where I’m sitting. But it must be terrifying for those in the thick of it.

To hell with drowningThe Atlantic
In my corner, Micronesia, the facts are frightening. We are seeing a rate of sea-level rise two to three times the global average. Some scientists theorize that most of our low-lying coral-atoll nations may become uninhabitable as early as 2030. Faced with the prospect of climate-induced relocation, some leaders have contemplated buying land in other countries in anticipation of having to move some or all of their people.

Tuvalu looking at legal ways to be a state if it is submergedReuters
“We’re actually imagining a worst-case scenario where we are forced to relocate or our lands are submerged,” the minister, Simon Kofe, told Reuters in an interview. “We’re looking at legal avenues where we can retain our ownership of our maritime zones, retain our recognition as a state under international law. So those are steps that we are taking, looking into the future,” he said.

Twenty photographs of the weekThe Guardian
Bangkok, Thailand. Residents sit on the doorsteps of their flooded home as water from the Chao Praya river floods low lying areas around the district of Bang Phlat. […]

Chennai, India. People wade with their bicycles through a waterlogged road during incessant heavy rains in Chennai. According to the intergovernmental panel on climate change, major coastal cities like Mumbai, Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Chennai could go underwater by the end of the century.

Will we be seeing similar images next year, after COP27 in Egypt? And the year after, when the UAE hosts COP28?

Good news and mad news

It’s good to read some positive news about the pandemic.

Pfizer will allow its Covid pill to be made and sold cheaply in poor countriesThe New York Times
The agreement follows a similar arrangement negotiated by Merck last month, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand global production of two simple antiviral pills that could alter the course of the pandemic by preventing severe illness from the coronavirus. The agreement follows a similar arrangement negotiated by Merck last month, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand global production of two simple antiviral pills that could alter the course of the pandemic by preventing severe illness from the coronavirus.

But then you read things like this.

Covid denial to climate denial: How conspiracists are shifting focusBBC News
Anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine Telegram groups, which once focused exclusively on the pandemic, are now injecting the climate change debate with the same conspiratorial narratives they use to explain the pandemic. The posts go far beyond political criticism and debate – they’re full of incorrect information, fake stories and pseudoscience. According to researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a think tank that researches global disinformation trends, some anti-lockdown groups have become polluted by misleading posts about climate change being overplayed, or even a so-called “hoax” designed to control people.

“Increasingly, terminology around Covid-19 measures is being used to stoke fear and mobilise against climate action,” says the ISD’s Jennie King. She says this isn’t really about climate as a policy issue. “It’s the fact that these are really neat vectors to get themes like power, personal freedom, agency, citizen against state, loss of traditional lifestyles – to get all of those ideas to a much broader audience.”

Is this progress?

Another melancholic series of photographs documenting our changing environment, this time of the United Arab Emirates.

Depicted through poignant landscapes, the grim reality of consumption by Richard Allenby-PrattIGNANT
The UAE is less than half a century old; before the formation of its federation, the region had only really changed on a geological timescale—“a timescale so vast that the human mind cannot even begin to perceive it,” he explains, “and yet, in one human generation, we have altered or in some way touched, almost every square kilometer.” In the series, Allenby-Pratt depicts exactly this disruption, with otherworldly scenes that seem both futuristic and as if time was standing still. He portrays structures that should appear totally out of context, if not for human intervention: endless fields of solar panels and carparks, nuclear facilities under construction, and power lines far out into the ocean, are just some of the creations humankind applauds as progress, while ignoring the more vitally important creations of nature.

We’ve sadly not reached peak NFT yet

None of this makes sense. It didn’t make sense back in March when I first tried to get my head around it all, and I’m none the wiser now.

Miramax is suing Tarantino over Pulp Fiction NFT auctionQuartz
Earlier this month, Tarantino announced plans to auction off unique digital versions of items from the 1994 cult classic, including scanned copies of script pages for seven scenes that didn’t make the final cut. The “secret” NFTs will only be viewable by whoever purchases them. But here’s the five-dollar shake: Miramax claims these NFTs are not Tarantino’s to sell.

Interpol and David Lynch release 2011 collaboration as limited NFT seriesNME
The New York band joined forces with the renowned Twin Peaks director for their 2011 Coachella performance, during which they combined Lynch’s I Touch A Red Button Man short film with their 2010 single ‘Lights’. Fans can now own the unique piece of work, with a limited series of eight NFTs up for grabs through the new Lynch x Interpol website. The non-fungible tokens include “newly recorded versions of ‘Lights’ joining Lynch’s engrossing animations”.

A fake Banksy sold for $330K is a perfect symbol of a wild NFT marketThe Next Web
There are numerous reports of NFT fraudsters selling fake artworks, stealing credit card information, and hacking into cryptocurrency accounts. Perhaps the most notorious example yet is this week’s sale of a fake Banksy NFT. […] As well as not looking like a Banksy, the piece was reportedly unsigned and hadn’t been authenticated by the artist’s agency. The true mastermind may forever remain a mystery. Whoever they may be, their ruse has further exposed the risks of buying NFTs.

Boy, 12, makes £290,000 in non-fungible tokens with digital whale artThe Guardian
Benyamin Ahmed’s collection of pixelated artworks called Weird Whales went viral during the school holidays. His success may be a harbinger of the digital business models that could disrupt the banking sector. His father, Imran, a software developer, described the artwork as similar to “digital Pokémon cards” and said they had been a big success because collectors realised their historical significance.

Their “historical significance”??

An inspector calls?

Last week, the government announced their GCSE and A Level exam contingency plan, in case things go wrong again

Contingency plans confirmed for GCSEs, AS and A levelsGOV.UK
The government intends for exams to take place next summer. But if they cannot go ahead safely or fairly due to the pandemic, contingency arrangements will be in place to ensure that schools and colleges are well prepared to enable students to achieve their qualifications. Following a consultation, the department and qualifications regulator Ofqual have confirmed students would receive Teacher Assessed Grades based on a range of their work, similar to this summer.

… and released the necessary guidance.

Guidance for schools, colleges and other exam centres on contingency arrangements for students entering GCSEs, AS and A levels, the Advanced Extension Award and Project qualifications in summer 2022GOV.UK
Although the government is firmly committed to exams going ahead in summer 2022, we need to have contingency plans in place for the unlikely event that exams have to be cancelled again because of the pandemic. This guidance sets out what teachers should do during the remainder of the academic year 2021 to 2022, until exams are taken, as a contingency. It follows the outcome of a consultation on contingency arrangements.

This week, they’ve announced plans to speed up Ofsted inspections.

Ofsted accelerates inspections for schools and further education providersGOV.UK
This will mean parents and learners will get up-to-date assurance about the quality of education that their children or they are receiving. Schools, colleges and other FE providers will receive timely information to inform their improvement plans. Beginning with last term’s inspections, all schools and FE providers will be inspected at least once by summer 2025.

You can imagine how that went down.

Plan to speed up Ofsted inspections of schools in England sparks furyThe Guardian
“Government ministers are showing, yet again, that they have no understanding of the exhaustion and stress felt by teachers and leaders,” said Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union.

Nick Brook, the deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, added: “Given the pressure schools are currently under and the recent calls to pause inspections this term, the announcement of more to come feels completely tone-deaf.” […]

Former school inspectors have added their voices to the growing disenchantment, among them Frank Norris, a former senior HMI with Ofsted, who expressed “deep concern”. “I’m based in the north and the pandemic has hit some of our communities the hardest. Schools have managed amazingly well and kept things rolling,” Norris said. “It is shameful that Ofsted inspectors apparently choose to give this crucial area of work little attention when they produce their inspection reports.”

Ofsted strips most ‘outstanding’ schools of top rating in first round of reportsEvening Standard
More than two in three schools previously judged as outstanding have been stripped of their top rating following Ofsted inspections in September, an analysis by PA news agency suggests. All schools previously judged by Ofsted as outstanding are no longer exempt from routine inspection.

Worrying about inspections is possibly the last things teachers need at the moment.

How to handle the student disrespect sweeping the countrySmart Classroom Management
Since returning to in-person learning, respect has taken a nosedive. Students are just different. We all see it. We all know it. The question is, what to do about it? Well, the usual keys are still in play: Clear Boundaries; 100% Consistency; Calm Enforcement. Keeping your cool regardless of what a student does or says, and doing what you say you’re going to do, are now more important than ever before. Fail on this front and the battles will be constant, the disrespect unrelenting. However, the time has come for something more.

We’re virtually there already

It’s great to hear Draxtor bringing a little pragmatism to the metaverse debate in this interview with PC Gamer.

Virtual worlds are already better than the metaverse will ever bePC Gamer
For seven years Drax has been documenting the smaller, more personal side of the Second Life community, one he tells me has continued to thrive even as Second Life largely receded from the public eye. His documentaries focus on the ways people use Second Life to overcome disability; explore how the Black Lives Matter movement manifested in the game; or simply record regular book clubs held inside Second Life. […]

As Drax notes, total physical immersion is almost besides the point: “The secret sauce of [Second Life] is community. Loads of people feel completely immersed although they have no headset. I am personally psyched about where headset tech goes but Silicon Valley needs to understand that for a lot of people, this does not mean an increased sense of being there. The level of perceived immersion has to do with what people contribute to their communities”.

And here’s someone else who thinks a more real metaverse is already here.

Lucy in the sky with asteroids

Well done to the data team at The Economist, having to visualise a 12-year journey of a space probe as it makes a flying visit to eight different asteroids. They’ve made a very complicated journey look quite straightforward and elegant.

A probe intended to study the Trojan asteroids takes offThe Economist
Lucy, as this planetary-ancestor-investigating mission is dubbed, after a well-known specimen of Australopithecus, an early hominid, blasted off from Cape Canaveral, in Florida, and will now follow one of the most complex paths around the solar system yet devised by NASA’s orbital navigators. The diagram which shows Lucy’s journey, indicates how the craft will first pick up speed using two velocity-boosting fly-bys of Earth. It will then head for the Greek camp, passing, for a practice run at observation, by way of a convenient main-belt asteroid that the mission’s scientists have named Donaldjohanson, in honour of the discoverer of Lucy the Australopithecine. When it arrives at L4 in 2027, it will encounter five bodies: Eurybates and its tiny satellite Queta, Polymele, Leucus and Orus. Having examined each of these, it will leave the Greek camp in 2028 and cross, via another velocity-boosting fly-by of Earth, to the Trojan camp at L5. Its final planned encounter, when it reaches L5 in 2033, is with Patroclus and Menoetius.

Fortunately, they were able to call on the team at NASA’s Scientific Visualisation Studio for help.

Lucy mission trajectoryNASA Scientific Visualization Studio
Lucy will launch in October 2021 and, with boosts from Earth’s gravity, will complete a twelve-year journey to eight different asteroids — a Main Belt asteroid and seven Jupiter Trojans, the last two members of a “two-for-the-price-of-one” binary system. Lucy’s complex path will take it to both clusters of Trojans and give us our first close-up view of all three major types of bodies in the swarms (so-called C-, P- and D-types).

A young refugee’s giant footsteps

The refugee crisis is often in the news, and like other complex, global issues it can be hard to relate to. Perhaps focussing on the arduous journey of just one unaccompanied minor would help.

The Walk – One little girl. One BIG hope.
In 2021, from the Syria-Turkey border all the way to the UK, The Walk brought together celebrated artists, major cultural institutions, community groups and humanitarian organisations, creating one of the most innovative and adventurous public artworks ever attempted. At the heart of The Walk is ‘Little Amal’, a 3.5 metre-tall puppet of a young refugee girl, created by the acclaimed Handspring Puppet Company. Representing all displaced children, many separated from their families, Little Amal is travelling over 8,000km embodying the urgent message “Don’t forget about us”.

Four months, 5,000 miles: A refugee puppet looks for homeThe New York Times
The puppeteers were watching Tamara closely in order to mimic her behavior and create a 9-year-old Syrian refugee named Little Amal, the lead character in “The Walk,” one of the year’s most ambitious pieces of theater — and certainly the piece of theater with the biggest stage. The plot of “The Walk” was simple: Little Amal had lost her mother, and was looking to find her. But the logistics to pull off the almost $4 million project — a 5,000 mile journey from Turkey to England — were anything but.

She set off from Turkey in July.

Puppet of young Syrian refugee embarks on 5,000-mile journeyEuronews
Walking through the streets of Gaziantep, Turkey, a 12-foot-tall puppet of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee girl, called ‘Little Amal’, attracts the attention of passersby. Towering over crowds, it’s the beginning of a transcontinental trip that organisers hope will bring awareness to the refugee crisis, and the plight of millions of displaced children around the world.

And arrived in England in October.

Refugee puppet Little Amal welcomed at St Paul’s Cathedralindy100
The crowd cheered as Little Amal neared St Paul’s, and a group of children chanted “Amal! Amal! Amal!” The 3.5-metre tall puppet then climbed the cathedral’s steps before handing a gift – a wood carving of a ship at sea from St Paul’s birthplace at Tarsus in Turkey – to the dean, David Ison. Dr Ison addressed the puppet, saying: “The dome of St Paul’s is known around the world. Our doors are big enough to receive you. Our hope here for London is that it is big enough to receive all those who seek refuge in this city.”

The journey of Little AmalThe Atlantic
Amir Nizar Zuabi, the project’s artistic director, says, “The purpose of The Walk is to highlight the potential of the refugee, not just their dire circumstances. Little Amal is 3.5 meters tall because we want the world to grow big enough to greet her.”

Highlighting these journeys is a contentious issue, however.

Giant puppet ruffles some feathers on a long walk through GreeceThe New York Times
On Monday, the local council of Meteora, a municipality in central Greece, voted to ban Amal from walking through a village in the area, which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its cluster of Orthodox monasteries built on towering rock formations. The objection raised by several council members was that a puppet depicting a Muslim refugee should not be permitted to perform in a space of such importance to Greek Orthodox believers. The local bishop opposed the project for that reason, while a local heritage group complained that the initiative could bring more refugees to a country that has already taken in tens of thousands.

The Walk: Little Amal puppet’s 8,000 km march across Europe to highlight refugee crisisWorld Socialist Web Site
If Amal was a real girl, she would not have made her way to Manchester so easily. Her way would have been blocked by barbed wire and national borders. Most likely, she would not have passed through Turkey, but would have been thrown into a concentration camp funded by the European Union (EU) as part of its Fortress Europe barring the way to asylum seekers. An EU deal signed in 2016 allows Greece to deport refugees that manage to reach its territory to Turkey. […]

Had Amal managed the journey across Europe, at the mercy of people smugglers, on reaching the port of Calais in northern France she would have joined 2,000 migrants, including 300 unaccompanied children stranded at the site of “The Jungle”—1.5 square miles (3.9 sq km) of refugee camps demolished in 2016. Police in Calais carry out daily evictions there, seizing tents, sleeping bags and blankets. They placed boulders to impede access to aid agency vehicles providing water, food and clothing.

But she did make it to Manchester, and then continued further north to the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow this week.

Migrant justice = Climate justiceUN Climate Change Conference (COP26)
The climate crisis is forcing people to move, and it will force millions more to move in the future. The issue of safe passage is an urgent one. Little Amal, a young refugee and 3.5m high puppet, has just completed a remarkable 8000km journey – The Walk, produced by Good Chance Theatre in association with Handspring Puppet Company. Along the way, Amal met with refugees like her, many affected directly by the consequences of the climate crisis. As borders are raised, how should we respond to this growing need to move to find safety?

Giant Syrian refugee puppet Amal attend COP26 in GlasgowThe Scotsman
The giant puppet’s visit comes at the Gender + Science and Innovation Day at the conference. The day focuses on not only the ways in which women, girls and marginalised people are disproportionately impacted by climate change, but also the importance of their leadership and participation in driving solutions.

Lessons from social media’s predecessors

The Online Safety Bill is a proposed Act of the Parliament intended to improve internet safety.

UK online safety bill could set tone for global social media regulationThe Guardian
Even before the arrival of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, social media companies were feeling the heat from regulators and politicians. It is white-hot now. We were well past the tipping point of mild concern from governments and watchdogs anyway, but Haugen’s document leaks and Senate testimony have given greater legitimacy and impetus to those who say something has to be done.

Something has to be done, but what?

Telegrams (a one-to-one system with messages carried “under lock and key”) and radio stations (broadcasting, with a “public interest standard”) were cutting edge technologies once, requiring new approaches to regulation and legislation. Here, Nicholas Carr takes us on a trip back in time to draw interesting comparisons between how those approaches came about and what might be required to improve our experience of social media. It’s not going to fix itself.

How to fix social mediaThe New Atlantis
Disentangling personal speech and public speech is clarifying. It reveals the dual roles that social media companies play. They transmit personal messages on behalf of individuals, and they broadcast a variety of content to the general public. The two businesses have very different characteristics, as we’ve seen, and they demand different kinds of oversight. The two-pronged regulatory approach of the last century, far from being obsolete, remains vital. It can once again help bring order to a chaotic media environment. For a Congress struggling with the complexities of the social media crisis, it might even serve as the basis of a broad new law — a Digital Communications Act in the tradition of the original Communications Act — that both protects the privacy of personal correspondence and conversation and secures the public’s interest in broadcasting.

Landscape doodling

Clive Thompson had a very specific way of doodling when he was a kid, quite etch-a-sketchy. It reminded me of the patterns I found myself making at school when I should have been doing something more productive. He’s turned his into a web app, so we can all take our lines for a meander round the screen.

A machine for helping you doodleBetter Humans
Doodling helps cognition — so I built an app based on the strange way I doodled back in elementary school.

But why limit ourselves to just a computer monitor? Let’s take our lines for a wander around the whole world.

Land lines: Start with a line, let the planet complete the pictureChrome Experiments
Satellite images provide a wealth of visual data from which we can visualize in interesting ways. Land Lines is an experiment that lets you explore Google Earth satellite imagery through gesture. “Draw” to find satellite images that match your every line; “Drag” to create an infinite line of connected rivers, highways and coastlines.

Metaverse schmetaverse

Another set of reactions to Meta’s easy-to-mock metaverse announcement, and reminders that its sci-fi inspirations were dystopian novels.

Mocking Meta: Facebook’s virtual reality name change prompts backlashThe Guardian
Satirical late night news programme the Daily Show tweaked Zuckerberg’s Meta presentation video by superimposing the tech billionaire onto footage of the January 6 Capitol riots and the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist march. Both events were organised on Facebook. “Imagine you’ve put on your glasses or headset and you’re instantly in your home space and it has an incredibly inspiring view of whatever you find most beautiful,” Zuckerberg says as footage of Capital rioters and a group of tiki torch-bearing white supremacists plays in the background.

Meanings of the metaverse: Productizing realityRough Type
Facebook, it’s now widely accepted, has been a calamity for the world. The obvious solution, most people would agree, is to get rid of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg has a different idea: Get rid of the world.

Experts warn Facebook’s metaverse poses ‘terrifying dangers’New York Post
Professor Reid is concerned about the vast amount of data that could be collected from the metaverse and who controls it. He also fears that avatars could be hacked and you could end up interacting with cybercriminals rather than people you know and trust. Reid explained: “The metaverse’s ultimate aim is not just virtual reality or augmented reality, it’s mixed reality (MR). It’s blending the digital and the real world together. Ultimately this blend may be so good, and so pervasive, that the virtual and the real become indistinguishable. And the market for that is gigantic. Whoever controls it, will basically have control over your entire reality.”

From ‘metaverse’ to ‘metacapitalism’.

Metaverse: how Facebook rebrand reflects a dangerous trend in growing power of tech monopoliesThe Conversation
The backlash has ranged from moral outrage over Facebook itself, to ridiculing Zuckerberg’s new vision for technology. What is overlooked is how this represents the desire to create metacapitalism – which uses technology to shape, exploit and profit from human interaction. It is a completely marketised virtual reality world fuelled by the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, unjust global working conditions and the constant invasion of users’ data privacy for private financial gain. […]

These moves play into a broader strategy to socially rebrand metacapitalism positively. The introduction of the metaverse is part of a new trend of what business ethics academic Carl Rhodes has referred to it as “woke capitalism”, noting in a recent article that “progressive gestures from big business aren’t just useless – they’re dangerous”. Whether it is the Gates Foundation initially opposing the spread of global vaccines in order to protect patent rights, or Elon Musk promising to create an “multi-planet civilisation” – while avoiding paying much-needed taxes here on Earth – corporations are now increasingly using philanthropy and utopian visions to hide their present day misdeeds.

Do you think he’s worried, though? Doubt it.

Meta and the Facebook Papers: Why Mark Zuckerberg has nothing to fearSalon.com
[L]et’s face it: Investors aren’t foolish if they continue to act as if there’s no chance in hell that the behemoth social network will face serious consequences for anti-social behavior. On the contrary, anyone taking a look at Capitol Hill right now would be surprised if that American leadership could reliably regulate a dodgeball game, much less an international company that is eroding our collective faith in humanity. […]

Zuckerberg has proved, time and again, that he cannot be trusted to do the right thing when it conflicts with his profit motive. Yet politicians at a federal level look like they’re powerless against a company they supposedly have a legal right to regulate. So, as much fun as it is to imagine Facebook will be toppled by this deluge of scandals, right now, the smart bet is that they’ll come out on the other end of this doing just fine. The rest of the world, however, won’t be so lucky.

Still, this is all some way off.

Metaverse: five things to know – and what it could mean for youThe Conversation
Different corporations will probably have their own visions or even local versions of the metaverse but, like the internet, they will all be connected, so you can move from one to the other. … I suspect Facebook will need to be in this for the long haul and that their vision of the metaverse is still many years off becoming a (virtual) reality.

Metaverse! Metaverse? Metaverse!!Benedict Evans
So, all of this is rather like standing in front of a whiteboard in the early 1990s and writing words like interactive TV, hypertext, broadband, AOL, multimedia, and maybe video and games, and then drawing a box around them all and labelling the box ‘information superhighway’. That vision of all consumers everywhere being connected to something was entirely correct, but not like that, and many of those components were blind alleys. ‘Metaverse’ today is again a label for a bunch of words on a whiteboard, some of which are more real than others, and which might well all end up combined, but not necessarily like that.

This article from PC Gamer has been my favourite take-down of all this metaverse hype, I think.

The metaverse is bulls**tPC Gamer
The metaverse is bulls**t because tech moguls missed the part where cyberpunk is dystopian. More than NFTs or cryptocurrency or any of the other brain-melting nonsense tied up in the tech landscape of 2021, this is the part that truly makes me want to stick my entire fist in my mouth and bite down. The push to create the metaverse, at least from companies like Epic and Facebook, seems entirely built on a teenage boy’s reading of Snow Crash: zeroing in on the awesome vision of future technology while totally missing the book’s satirical skewering of capitalism.

Microsoft’s making a start, though.

Microsoft takes on Facebook by launching metaverse on TeamsFinancial Times
The US software giant said that in the first half of next year, users of its Teams collaboration software would be able to appear as avatars — or animated cartoons — in video meetings. Remote workers will also be able to use their avatars to visit virtual work spaces, which would eventually include replicas of their employers’ offices. … “With 250m people around the world using Teams, the introduction of avatars will be the first real metaverse element to seem real,” said Jared Spataro, the head of Teams.

The metaverse will mostly be for workQuartz
For all of the chatter from Facebook/Meta, Nvidia, and other companies about building the metaverse, though, he thinks the metaverse will be mostly empty. That is to say, there won’t necessarily be a lot of things to do in this immersive version of the internet. While social experiences and games could come to define the space, Bailenson, who founded Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, is betting that education and work will remain the “killer apps” of virtual reality (VR) in the years to come.

How dull. I know where I’d rather be.

Zuckerberg’s metaverse: Lessons from Second LifeBBC News
Rei’s concern about a metaverse monopoly is one shared by many, including Anya Kanevsky, vice-president of product management at Linden Lab – the company running Second Life. Anya has watched with interest as several tech giants have started to talk about the new idea of a life online. Second Life has been going since 2003.

“I’m a little bit concerned about the dystopian nature that the conversation seems to be taking on right now,” she says. “The entry of a slightly oversized and outsized player into the space seems to signal to people that they are not the owners of it, that someone else is going to be setting the rules and kind of running the show and they will just be the consumers.”

As has been pointed out many times now, it was Neal Stephenson’s dystopian Snow Crash that first gave us this term, back in 1992.

Snow Crash and four other novels which are required reading for the Facebook generationVerdict
Arguably the most prescient element of the novel is the government’s failure to legislate to curb the technology which controls the world. At one point, the villain of the novel notes: “Y’know, watching government regulators trying to keep up with the world is my favourite sport… It’s like if they figured out a way to regulate horses at the same time the [Ford] Model T and the airplane were being introduced.”

What’s he working on these days?

Sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson finally takes on global warmingWIRED
[H] read journalist Oliver Morton’s 2015 book The Planet Remade, about solving the problem of climate change with scientific and technological trickery on a planetary scale. That idea made Stephenson think there might be a novel there. “Nothing else matters in comparison. It’s going to be the issue for 100 years,” Stephenson says. “I’m a guy who found a niche writing fiction about technical and scientific topics. It seemed odd to me that I should get to the end of my career and never take a whack at it.”

Another sci-fi author whose name crops up when discussing the metaverse is Ernest Cline. Here, he shares with us some thoughts on his debut novel, Ready Player One.

Ernest Cline’s Kindle notes & highlights for Ready Player OneGoodreads
“Besides, now that everyone could vote from home, via the OASIS, the only people who could get elected were movie stars, reality TV personalities, or radical televangelists.”

When I wrote this back in 2011, several movie stars had already been elected to public office here in the United States, and it was becoming obvious that fame and familiarity had the power to sway a lot of voters. In trying to envision my future dystopian reality of 2045, I imagined that at some point, only movie stars, radical televangelists and reality TV personalities would be able to get elected. I didn’t expect that it would take less than a decade for a reality TV personality to be elected to the highest office in the land.

When all’s said and done, other social networks are always available, as John Atkinson reminds us.

A century of social networkingWrong Hands

What makes a classic?

Are all these articles I’m sharing about covers of books, rather than the books themselves, making me look a little shallow? So it goes.

How Penguin’s Modern Classics dared us to judge a book by its coverThe Guardian
“From the beginning, built into the DNA of Penguin, has been this idea that the books need to be beautifully designed,” [says Henry Eliot, author of The Penguin Modern Classics Book]. “If anything has characterised the Penguin design ethos, it’s a kind of elegant simplicity – there’s something deceptively simple about a Penguin cover. It takes a huge amount of work to put them together.” […]

More unsettling is the work of Hungarian-born French cartoonist André Francois. Eliot singles out his cover of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, “where each eye of the face is made up of a mouth with another set of eyes. It’s just such a scary, striking image. It reminds me of Escher or one of Borges’s short stories – there’s something queasy and vertiginous about it.”

A tale of two (or 1,001?) Warhols

Imagine finding millions of dollars in your garage.

Rock Legend Alice Cooper is selling the Warhol he forgot he owned—then found in his garageThe Art Newspaper
Cooper rediscovered the silkscreen—which had been given to him by his girlfriend, Cindy Lang, “during some crazy years”—a few years ago, rolled up in a tube in his garage. “One day I was talking to [the actor] Dennis Hopper when he was still alive and he said he was selling a couple of his Warhols and I remembered mine and said ‘I think I have still a Warhol somewhere. So I went digging around looking for it.”

Here’s a slightly different approach to selling art, reminiscent of how Banksy would sometimes troll the art market.

Hundreds of Andy Warhol fakes, and one original drawing worth $20k, sold for $250 eachThe Art Newspaper
The original Warhol was scanned and 999 copies were redrawn by a robotic arm. According to a video on the collective’s website, each copy then underwent a degradation process before being authenticated as Possibly Real Copy Of ‘Fairies’ by Andy Warhol by MSCHF, then shuffled together and sold for $250 each. The drawing was supposedly purchased in 2016 for $8,125.