SecondLife: Revolutionary Virtual Market or Ponzi Scheme?

Entire article here:

http://randolfe.typepad.com/randolfe/2007/01/secondlife_revo.html

The Ponzi Scheme Epiphany

As we scratched our heads trying to figure out if there weren’t a more clever way of disguising our trades, or perhaps creating our own in-game banks and exchanges in order to arbitrage the other direction, it suddenly dawned upon me.

This game was just a pyramid scheme.

SecondLife is not a dramatic taste of our future, in which markets are virtual, currency is free from government control, taxes are non-existent, and normal people can become real millionaires simply by clicking their mouse a few times.

SecondLife isn’t even a simple virtual economy, with legitimate buying and selling, and opportunity for those who would compete.

No, SecondLife is a classic pyramid scheme. Or, more of an Amway-like pyramid: partially legitimate, partially ponzi. Sure, there are plenty of legitimate SecondLife customers who just like to go there to get their kicks, spend a couple dollars, and be on their way.

But, the buzz isn’t that Joe Sixpack can sit at his computer and gamble a little before bed with a smashingly attractive avatar. The buzz is that Anshe and others are making real millions. And a short visit to the world of SecondLife will reveal the frighteningly large portion of residents who “know someone who makes his or her living” doing something in SecondLife. Just the other night I had an interesting conversation with someone claiming to be a single mom of three, who spends her days turning virtual tricks and arranging for E-Bay payments through SecondLife L$. She didn’t seem to have any idea why her mysterious benefactor would pay her a commission to simply arrange PayPal transfers. More cynically intelligent readers will immediately recognize these transactions for what they are.

Again, the fact that tax evasion, organized crime and money laundering exist in the virtual world doesn’t distress me all that much; these things exist in the real world, and have for a pretty long time. The distressing part is what this single mom said later; the same thing one will hear over and over from SecondLife residents: she was just doing the cybersex and E-Bay stuff to fund her virtual jewelry store. She was a jewelry designer, and had already opened a little shop in a virtual mall. And, to her amazement, she’d already made over L$50,000 after only a month (about $185 USD). I didn’t bother to point out that she hadn’t counted her expenses for renting her virtual shop or accounted for taxes, let alone the fact that she was earning less than 1/100th of what she could get just flipping burgers in the real world.

SadLife

And that’s the story of SecondLife. Like the paid promotion infomercials that run on CNBC, sadly SecondLife is a giant magnet for the desperate, uninformed, easily victimized. Its promises of wealth readily ensnare those who can least afford to lose their money or lives to such scam in exactly the same way that real estate investor seminars convince divorcees with low FICO scores to buy houses sight unseen with no money down.

Even some corporations have dedicated marketing budgets to creating a presence in SecondLife. While few will shed a tear for the frivolousness of these companies’ spending, such adds a false legitimacy to SecondLife. Interestingly, no legitimate, real world corporation has earned net profit from SecondLife activities.

That’s because there are but a very tiny handful that profit off of the SecondLife economy. A handful of casino owners, large scale virtual land flippers, and brothel owners are responsible for nearly all of the real money extracted from the game. And they continue to attract new recruits to the bottom of the pyramid.

After all, Anshe Chung herself started out as a virtual whore, so you too can become a SecondLife millionaire, right?

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Bilingualism delays onset of dementi

Fri Jan 12, 2007 7:33 PM ET

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – People who are fully bilingual and speak both languages every day for most of their lives can delay the onset of dementia by up to four years compared with those who only know one language, Canadian scientists said on Friday.

Researchers said the extra effort involved in using more than one language appeared to boost blood supply to the brain and ensure nerve connections remained healthy — two factors thought to help fight off dementia.

“We are pretty dazzled by the results,” Professor Ellen Bialystok of Toronto’s York University said in a statement.

“In the process of using … two languages, you are engaging parts of your brain, parts of your mind that are active and need that kind of constant exercise and activity, and with that experience (it) stays more robust,” she later told CTV television.

The leading cause of dementia among the elderly is Alzheimer’s disease, which gradually destroys a person’s memory. There is no known cure.

Bialystok’s team focused on 184 elderly patients with signs of dementia who attended a Toronto memory clinic between 2002 and 2005. Of the group, 91 spoke only one language while 93 were bilingual.

“The researchers determined that the mean age of onset of dementia symptoms in the monolingual group was 71.4 years, while the bilingual group was 75.5 years,” the statement said.

“This difference remained even after considering the possible effect of cultural differences, immigration, formal education, employment and even gender as (influences) in the results,” it added.

Bialystok stressed that bilingualism helped delay the start of dementia rather than preventing it altogether.

Psychologist Fergus Craik, another member of the team, said the data showed that being fully bilingual had “a huge protective effect” against the onset of dementia but he added that the study was still a preliminary finding. The team plans more research into the beneficial side-effects of bilingualism.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada described the report as exciting and said it confirmed recent studies that showed that keeping the brain active was a good way to delay the impact of dementia.

“Anything that staves off the time when the risk factor (for dementia) overcomes the defenses is wonderful news,” scientific director Jack Diamond told Reuters.

The society estimates that in 2000 — the latest year for which data is available — Canada spent C$5.5 billion ($4.7 billion) taking care of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Common cold virus may be new weapon to fight cancer

 · Human trials begin this year 
· Scientists say move is ‘exciting’ 

Alok Jha, science correspondent
Thursday January 11, 2007
The Guardian 

British scientists are preparing to launch trials of a radical new way to fight cancer, which kills tumours by infecting them with viruses like the common cold.
If successful, virus therapy could eventually form a third pillar alongside radiotherapy and chemotherapy in the standard arsenal against cancer, while avoiding some of the debilitating side-effects.

Leonard Seymour, a professor of gene therapy at Oxford University, who has been working on the virus therapy with colleagues in London and the US, will lead the trials later this year. Cancer Research UK said yesterday that it was excited by the potential of Prof Seymour’s pioneering techniques.

One of the country’s leading geneticists, Prof Seymour has been working with viruses that kill cancer cells directly, while avoiding harm to healthy tissue. “In principle, you’ve got something which could be many times more effective than regular chemotherapy,” he said.

Cancer-killing viruses exploit the fact that cancer cells suppress the body’s local immune system. “If a cancer doesn’t do that, the immune system wipes it out. If you can get a virus into a tumour, viruses find them a very good place to be because there’s no immune system to stop them replicating. You can regard it as the cancer’s Achilles’ heel.”

Only a small amount of the virus needs to get to the cancer. “They replicate, you get a million copies in each cell and the cell bursts and they infect the tumour cells adjacent and repeat the process,” said Prof Seymour.

Preliminary research on mice shows that the viruses work well on tumours resistant to standard cancer drugs. “It’s an interesting possibility that they may have an advantage in killing drug-resistant tumours, which could be quite different to anything we’ve had before.”

Researchers have known for some time that viruses can kill tumour cells and some aspects of the work have already been published in scientific journals. American scientists have previously injected viruses directly into tumours but this technique will not work if the cancer is inaccessible or has spread throughout the body.

Prof Seymour’s innovative solution is to mask the virus from the body’s immune system, effectively allowing the viruses to do what chemotherapy drugs do – spread through the blood and reach tumours wherever they are. The big hurdle has always been to find a way to deliver viruses to tumours via the bloodstream without the body’s immune system destroying them on the way.

“What we’ve done is make chemical modifications to the virus to put a polymer coat around it – it’s a stealth virus when you inject it,” he said.

After the stealth virus infects the tumour, it replicates, but the copies do not have the chemical modifications. If they escape from the tumour, the copies will be quickly recognised and mopped up by the body’s immune system.

The therapy would be especially useful for secondary cancers, called metastases, which sometimes spread around the body after the first tumour appears. “There’s an awful statistic of patients in the west … with malignant cancers; 75% of them go on to die from metastases,” said Prof Seymour.

Two viruses are likely to be examined in the first clinical trials: adenovirus, which normally causes a cold-like illness, and vaccinia, which causes cowpox and is also used in the vaccine against smallpox. For safety reasons, both will be disabled to make them less pathogenic in the trial, but Prof Seymour said he eventually hopes to use natural viruses.

The first trials will use uncoated adenovirus and vaccinia and will be delivered locally to liver tumours, in order to establish whether the treatment is safe in humans and what dose of virus will be needed. Several more years of trials will be needed, eventually also on the polymer-coated viruses, before the therapy can be considered for use in the NHS. Though the approach will be examined at first for cancers that do not respond to conventional treatments, Prof Seymour hopes that one day it might be applied to all cancers.

Richard Sullivan, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical programmes, said: “We are pleased to be supporting this new and important research. Whilst this approach is still at an early stage of development it has exciting potential, particularly for the treatment of cancer which has spread, a notoriously difficult stage of the disease to treat.”