Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New SL youtube videos

Second Life have released three new videos, filmed by Ill clan studios, to publicise the Second Life we al know and love: What is Second Life? Shopping in Second Life; Virtual Land in Second Life.

They're pretty good - not too many words, slick editing, not too long, and they convey the message. They'd have come in useful for the slogging around to marketing companies I have done in the past few years.

Oh! and they have a new website too. It's where their website always has been, which makes the tinyurl "sneak peek" message of the day on the login screen very...odd.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pathfinder sims

As for buses, so for blogging... you wait weeks for a new SL post from me, and then get a whole bunch on the same day. Actually it's a displacement activity that avoids me doing what I should be doing - I'll be on to that next.

Having visited Golgothica on the advice of Kora (see previous post) I then went to the Pathfinder sims. This is the slurl for one of them. Initially I must admit that I was a little concerned that I had fallen into thehands of one of those shiny cults which dresses up its cultishness in management-training speak. Then I wondered if it was a cover for a Christian group, who would suddenly appear out of the woodwork to save me. As far as I can see it is neither of those things exactly.

The build does bear some resemblance in parts to the Kingdom of Sand, or maybe it is simply that I begin to recognise the style of Baal Zobel, the builder. I didn't have a lot of time to explore, and parts of the sim still seem to be under construction, but it seems to have some interesting ideas within it, and videos of someone called Adrian Gilpin (Adrian Pathfinder in SL) showing people how to, um, live. There's more information on his website here.

Edited to add: I should have visited the "prices and booking" page of the Pathfinder website. £3500 for a weekend, not incuding travel to Marrakesh! See there's the reason SL is great: it doesn't cost you £3500 to visit a sim, and you don't kill the planet - or bankrupt yourself - getting there

Best of SL: Golgothica

I hadn't realised until this morning that my post on the Kingdom of Sand had drawn a comment from Kora, the owner there, pointing me in the direction of the other builds by Baal Zobel. I am outrageously busy at the moment, but I see exploring in SL as part of that work, as I so often get ideas or learn things from the way that other people do things. So I went this morning to explore Golgothica. You can fnd an SLURL to it here.

The conventions for getting to the build seem roughly the same as for the Kingdom of Sand: you are teleported to an area where you can buy into the role paying game and get clothing that is appropriate, or you can get a guest tag to wear, which will make the teleports work for you. I bought a weapon, which incuded a game controller etc because I was misled into thinking it was essential, and then found I could have worn the guest tag instead... something which contradicts the notecards which are thrown at you when you arrive. Never mind, the income from the weapons helps to keep the sim going, and having seen it, I am glad to support the effort.

Once you are fit to go to the sim, clicking on the crystal ball transports you to the village. It's a no-fly zone, so you have to explore in order to get around. Golgothica is a role playing game with different roles and groups to join. I set my group as traveller and went off to explore. The building, texturing, design is wonderful, and I am sure I simply scratched the surface of what is available there.

I would so love to build something like this with an educational purpose... a sim from the 17th century maybe. Once upon a time I was dismissive of the benefits of role playing and trying ancient crafts for example for oneself, but I have seen enough episodes of Time Team to know that you can learn things by trying out ancient crafts oneself, that it is impossible to learn from any book. It seems to me that there might be things to learn from a role paying historical sim... and things to teach.

My ideal would be a game that is fun and interesting to play, but which provides ones with real information. However, just providing the role playing for fun is good too, especially when the construction is of the high level found here.

Keeping up

When I first came to SL, it wasn't too difficult to keep up with developments. Back then there were only just over a hundred sims and a thousand avatars. There was only one mall, one club, a handful of shops, and it was possible to know nearly everyone in SL.

Gradually, as people joined and the land mass grew, it was possible to keep up by spending inordinate amounts of time exploring, by reading the SL forum and keeping your eyes open... looking at the clothes and shoes and furniture you liked and finding out where it came from.

Then the tide of new people and places began to make it impossible to know everyone and everything, but to keep abreast of the best. This seemed to be remarkably easy for a long time. Although the number of sims exploded, the number of well built, interesting or beautiful sims did not, and so the same sims turned up on the best of lists, over and over again.

Now... now there are so many people, making so many things, and building so many places, it has become impossible to be an all-knowing repository of what is good in SL. The SL search has improved, but not enough to make it a reliable source of information if you are looking for the best hair/skin/clothing. People have set up systems of all different types, allowing you to rate places and things, but I haven't come across one yet which actually allowed the best things to rise to the top. Usually, whatever system you use, it can be gamed by the unscrupulous or the desperate, to bring the same old same old floating up into the popuar list.

Frankly, the best quality top ten list was when the Lindens used to nominate places - and I'm not just saying that because one of my builds was once on it.

I don't know how the face of SL will change in the light of the new adult area. Whether it will, as hoped-for, restrict the adult content in one area, it's impossible to say. Probably if the traffic for the adult areas appears to be higher, it will attract support. But then people with private islands aren't (currently) being asked to move them to the new continent, and so there will still be adult content outside that area. As green dots attract green dots, and so the more people go to a place, the more people will go to it, it will probably become popular if it is popular... if you see what I mean.

The nice thing about the huge world SL has grown into is the variety of things on offer... the bad thing about it is the difficulty of finding the things and the peope you might like. Anyone who cracks that problem will have instant celebrity. Meanwhile I seem to have built up an enormous number of Myrl Karma, and have NO idea what to do with it....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tamiflood, or let's be seen to be doing something, even if it's the wrong thing

A couple of weeks ago I had occasion to phone the National Swine Flu helpline. My son, who is on immune suppressant drug therapy, had developed a sore throat and wasn't feeling well, and I was frankly worried about him.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of the immune suppressant therapy is that he may not spike a high temperature even when he has an infection. The doctor he used to see at Great Ormond Street was a lot more emphatic about this than his current team at UCH: he said it would be a medical emergency should he have a high temperature while on the therapy, the current set, not so much, as far as I can gather from their email.

Anyway, I got through to an adviser on the helpline, and the first question he asked, was did he have a temperature? I rehearsed my argument that this may not be a good indicator for my son, given his immune suppressant therapy, but I got in reply a variation on "the computer says NO" as they were using high temperature as their main sorter symptom: if you have a high temperature you move on to the next level of questions, but according to the system, if you don't have a temperature, you can't have flu.

The end result was that I was advised to phone my GP, the duty doctor at the GP said that the guidelines were clear, he had to be seen by a GP in order to be diagnosed, and so I had to take him along. The GP we saw was bemused as to why I was there, and diagnosed a throat infection.

In the meantime, I looked up Tamiflu and its pros and cons. I found it pretty hard to find any good evidence about it, but by the time I had finished my researches a few things were clear. It looked as though there were some pretty severe side effects for quite a lot of the people who take it; it may only reduce the length of the symptoms by a day; flu is becoming resistant to this therapy; there is little good evidence that it is effective in reducing complications in vulnerable people.

It is hard for me, as a layperson, to know what sort of risks I am taking with my son's health if I refuse a treatment, but one of the most shocking discoveries was that Tamiflu had been implicated in the suicide of around 60 teenagers in Japan - something which had led the Japanese to advise that it should not be prescribed for children aged 10-19 (my son is 19). There was an argument that depression was a part of the normal symptom of flu, and that may be so, but I think the post-flu depression and throwing yourself off the nearest tall building are different by such a magnitude that it is obvious there may be something sinister about the action of the drug. I, however, don't know what the normal suicide rate would be for the large number of people prescribed Tamiflu in Japan. Good evidence of the drug's effectiveness OR its dangers seem to be quite hard to find online.

A couple of days ago, the Guardian reported that the government's own advisers had advised that Tamiflu should not be prescribed for Swine flu. All the indications were that it was a mild illness for the vast majority of people, and their suggestion was that people should be tld to take paracetamol until it went away again.

The government, however, decided that they could not tell this to people, most especially since they were sitting on a monumental pile of Tamiflu in case of epidemic. The trouble is, the pile was really for a variant on bird flu, where the reported death rate was 50% and the illness severe, where any reduction in complications and prophylactic effct for family members might have been worth the risk of side effects.

So, the likelihood is that by flooding the country with Tamiflu they have potentially screwed its effectiveness for a more serious epidemic, and for no demonstrable good effect. Like many other people, I assumed this was a wonder drug which would provide good protection from the serious complications, particularly for vulnerable people like my son... but it seems I was misled in this.

It's hard not to overreact and to overestimate the dangers of swine flu as an individual: the message of the papers in the last few weeks seems to have been "It's a mild illness... BUT YOU MAY DIE!" I know it is probably the case that many hundreds of people die every year from Flu and I simply don't know about it. Do you know anyone who has died of flu? In my case, not until the swine flu hit the country, and a six year old locally got a sore throat one day and was dead two days later. That's scary, and of course makes people worry that they - or their children - are next. It's no good telling them hundreds die every year from flu if they haven't ever heard of anyone dying from it until swine flu hit here.

But the government are paid to take objective decisions for us as a community, and not to panic and throw a drug, which may be rendered useless as a treatment, at us if that's pointless and unnecessary. I feel quite angry that they don't provide us with good information to enable us to participate in decisions about our health, for example, some guidance over how the flu progresses if you are that one in a million - currently - person who may die from it, and what symptoms it is appropriate to panic over.

I've always been quite suspicious about the government's ability to make good public health decisions, and this hasn't really helped.

Monday, August 17, 2009

NHS rules, OK?

Until I joined SL, I swallowed quite a lot of the propaganda about American Healthcare. OK, so if you were poor or suffered from a chronic illness or had no insurance, it was possible to lose your house and your everything in trying to afford healthcare, but for those who have insurance, it's the best in the world, isn't it?

Contact with real people in the virtual world has disabused me of that notion. While I have the option to sign up with any of the local GPs, my friends in the US can only sign up with the family doctors who are approved by their insurance company. When my GP decides I need to be referred to a consultant at a hospital, I can veto the local hospital and choose one which suits me. They are stuck with the approved list again.

Only rich people access the best of American healthcare... and they have to be very rich not to need to count the cost if they need intensive care or ong stays in hospital.

At the other end of the scale, I have friends in SL whose grandchildren can't even afford the diagnostic tests, let alone the treatment, for hormonal disorders, and another who suspects that their GP refuses to refer them to hospital at all, because they prefer to collect the fee for seeing and treating her themselves.

Any health system has its good and bad points, but one of the most impressive in the NHS is that healthcare is universally available to all, separate from your ability to pay for it. When my son was prescribed a liquid diet for six weeks, I didn't have to worry about how I was going to find the £15-£20 a day that would have cost me if I had been paying for it. I was provided with the liquid.

My family have had good and bad experiences at the hands of the NHS, and I would imagine that this is true for any healthcare system. Medical science isn't a science at all, but an art, and a dark art at that. Many of the people who die every year in both healthcare systems will die as the result of treatment, or reactions to treatment, or inappropriate care. Estimates about the number of "unnecessary" deaths varies, but I wouldn't expect it to be much different, despite the differences in the way the systems are run.

What our system has in favour of it, is that there will be no unnecessary deaths outside the system, because patients were too poor to afford a treatment that could save their life. And that's a big thing, a great thing, and something worth celebrating.