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Shining Knight

It is common for people to lie about their appearance on the internet. The ugliest nerd can be transformed into an attractive 21-year-old model by the simple uploading of a photo.

And in the online universe of Second Life, where people adopt "avatar" cartoons to represent themselves, you can appear as almost anything you want.

So when Jim Knight, the schools minister, addressed a conference of IT teachers by virtual link-up in Second Life, he was faced with the dilemma of how honest to be.

"Those of you familiar with virtual worlds will understand the problems," the follicly challenged minister told a teachers' conference recently. "How honest about hair loss should we be? How can we preserve ministerial dignity?"

He admitted that the press office at the Department for Children, Schools and Families was having "palpitations" over the avatar.

In an aside later, Mr Knight said Ed Balls, his boss, had been a boy scout in his youth.

"That's why he's so keen on children swearing allegiance to the Queen," he said.

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