I have been tearing my hair out since last night, when I noticed that my blog, which normally looks like this:
Suddenly started looking like this, with all the fonts wrong:
Now, I am very picky about my blog, and this is the kind of thing that drives me crazy! I spent half an hour in live text chat with a WordPress support person early this morning, and it turns out that I had to turn off two plug-ins I regularly use with Firefox, Privacy Badger and uBlock Origin (which I use to block trackers on most websites as I surf the web).
Privacy Badger is a program from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). It’s a browser extension which stops advertisers and other third-party trackers from secretly tracking where you go and what pages you look at on the web. If an advertiser seems to be tracking you across multiple websites without your permission, Privacy Badger automatically blocks that advertiser from loading any more content in your browser. uBlock Origin is an excellent, free-and-open-source (FOSS) ad content blocker, available for several of the most widely used browsers, including: Chrome, Chromium, MS Edge, Opera, Firefox and all Safari releases prior to 13. I can recommend both programs highly, but I sometimes run in trouble (like I did yesterday evening and this morning), when something stops working or doesn’t work properly, and I forget to check to see if either Privacy Badger or uBlock Origin is the source of the problem.
So, if you are visiting my blog, and it looks like the second picture instead of the first, try turning off uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger (or both) if you have them installed. (There are other ad blocker plug-ins like Adblock Plus, which might cause the same problem. I no longer use Adblock Plus, because I find uBlock Origin to be superior in every way.)
Filippa and Lina are two Master’s students in the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University in Lund, Sweden. They are researching how social VR users express identity in virtual environments, and they wish to conduct interviews. Filippa told me via Discord chat:
We are hoping to learn more about how social VR users express identity in virtual environments because we think that it is the future, and we have noticed more and more physical retailers that are showing an interest in selling virtual goods. Our field is called consumer culture theory, so we believe that there is a link between our possessions and identities.
There is a fine art (some would call it, a black art) to giving a VR demonstration to someone who has never been in virtual reality before. And, as someone who does it fairly often, I wanted to share some of what I have learned (often, the hard way!) in giving a number of people at my workplace (the University of Manitoba Libraries) their first taste of VR.
In fact, just last week, I had a recently retired coworker (who had never experienced virtual reality before) come in, at my invitation, to try it out for himself. My current set-up at work is an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, with the traditional Vive “wand” hand controllers, the same set-up which I am proposing for the virtual reality lab project that I am currently working on. (The standard Vive controllers feel more like tools, as opposed to hand extensions, and I can only imagine how much more of a newbie learning curve setting up the Knuckles controllers would be, given how much fidgeting and adjusting I have to do to get my set at home to work “just right”).
Here are some of my tips, tricks, and recommendations for giving inexperienced users a virtual reality demo.
Make sure all your equipment is ready to go and up-to-date. For example, if you use a headset with Steam, run SteamVR ahead of time and let it update. Make sure that any software you plan to demo is fully updated to the latest version. Fully charge your headset and/or hand controllers to ensure that they are ready. Nothing is worse than having to end a session early because a device has run out of power!
Explain what VR sickness is and emphasize that they should stop, and NOT push through it, when/if they start to feel sick. Also impress upon the new user that it takes time and patience to build up your tolerance in a VR headset; expecting an inexperienced user to be able to handle anything over 15 minutes at one stretch is too much. It’s also very important to give the new user time between separate virtual reality experiences, even if it is only a few minutes.
Adjust the headset to the user (head straps, interpupillary distance/IPD dial, etc.), explain to the user how to put the headset on and take it off, and practice that first. You want to do everythig you can to make sure that the new user’s experience is optimal. I have found that it is better to have the user learn how to make adjustments to the headset themselves, although I may fiddle with the head straps and IPD dial a bit, after they have put it on, if they are having problems with the comfort or view.
Start off with an app where the new user just sits and looks around. When I used to give demos at work using my Oculus Rift, I always started new users with a couple of introductory VR programs, where they did not have to use the hand controllers. One of them which I can recommend highly is the excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality by Felix & Paul Studios*, which consists of a series of three-dimensional videos of various scenes, e.g. Cirque de Soleil jugglers; a boat in a floating market; a scene inside a round Mongolian yurt where a family is sharing a meal. The reason I start off with something like this is because I want the user to get comfortable with the immersive aspect of the technology (how the scene changes in the headset when you turn your head, look up and down, etc.), before adding on the hand controllers.
Do NOT put the new and inexperienced user in any app which might make him nauseous! It’s tempting to throw the newbie into the deep end, just to get a reaction from him; I get it. However, do you want to be responsible for making him ill in his first virtual reality experience, and perhaps souring him on VR forever? Save Aircarand the roller coaster simulations for later, once they have gotten their VR legs. 😜
For the demo to my retired coworker last week, on my new Vive Pro 2 headset, I tried to find something similar to Felix & Paul’s Introduction to Virtual Reality, only to realize that all the Felix & Paul titles were Meta/Oculus exclusives. Damn! After a frustrating hunt through Steam to find something similar, and striking out, I decided to use a favourite tropical beach world in VRChat, called Deep Blue. I wanted something relaxing for a first experience; getting into a VR headset can be stressful! (Note that I had already logged into VRChat, and set up the world before my coworker arrived; all I had to do is get him set up and put on his headset.)
First, I just had him sit on the dock and look around, to get used to the way it felt to have the headset on, and how the view changed when he looked around. Then, after 5-10 minutes or so, I gave him the hand controllers, and explained how the buttons on them worked, and had him move around in the environment: explore the beach hut, walk along the beach, even go underwater to see the sea turtle!
Then, after I was satisfied that he was handling that experience well, without any VR sickness, I loaded up Il Divino: Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling in VR. This app nicely illustrates one of the main selling points of virtual reality, in my mind: the ability to visit and explore places that you would not normally be able to go see, unless you bought a plane ticket! Also, the app has very simple, teleporter-type movement control, which is easy to explain to a new user (and the difference in movement controls between the first and second apps is a good teaching moment to explain that every app is set up differently, and has different controls).
Next, I introduced my coworker to Google Earth VR, the virtual reality version of the already-familiar Google Earth. What I like about Google Earth VR is that you can always see at a glance how the buttons on the hand controllers work, and there are easy-to-navigate menus with some of the most popular locations, such as the statue of Christ the Redeemer high over the city of Rio de Janeiro. I just let him explore to his heart’s content, wherever he wanted to go! He really was amazed how he could zoom out and see the entire Earth from outer space, too.
My VR demo with my retired coworker went so well, that we actually did move on to Aircar, piloting a flying car in a rainy, Blade Runner-esque urban sci-fi environment (although I very strongly impressed upon him that he should stop as soon as he began to feel sick, which he did). He loved it! Some people take to VR like a duck to water. (However, see point 6 above; for 95-99% of first-time users, this is a BAD idea. And, on the other end of the spectrum, I have also had to stop VR demos after ten minutes because of VR sickness. Monitor your newbie carefully and stop as soon as they feel nauseous! This is not something you can just “push through,” trust me.)
I hope that you found this list of do’s and don’ts to be helpful! And if you have any particular programs, platforms, or apps which you like to use to give newbies demos, please drop a comment and let us know what they are and why you like them. Thanks!
A special thank you to John, for being my guinea pig, and the first person to whom I have demoed my new HTC Vive Pro 2 headset at work!
*You can experience this title in 360° video on YouTube:
The WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th, 2020, and the world entered lockdown. And now, three years later, I wanted to pause and reflect a little bit on how my life has changed since then. I’ve been working on a rough draft of this blogpost for several months, picking it up and putting it away again, and now seems like a good time to finally publish it.
I had a bit of heads-up, before COVID-19 was on most people’s radar, because I had been watching and preparing for an influenza pandemic. So, it was on January 24th, 2020 that I wrote my first blogpost about a virus which was circulating in and around the city of Wuhan, China. I wrote:
I’m a weird person. (But then, if you’ve been following this blog at all, we’ve already established that fact pretty firmly.) Throughout my life, I have had a somewhat lamentable tendency to go off on weird tangents.
And, back around 2006, my tangent was bird flu. I became obsessed with following and discussing the latest information about the H5N1 avian flu virus with other flu preppers (a.k.a. “flubies”), which for a time looked as though it would develop into a global pandemic. (I just checked, and I still remember my username and password from the FluTrackers.com discussion forum!)
Me and my fellow flubies were constantly worrying, analyzing, and obsessing over the latest case data and news reports.
At the time, I used my very rudimentary PhotoShop skills to create and share some funny pictures with my fellow “flubies” on the FluTrackers.com discussion forum, in an effort to inject some levity into what was a grave and potentially life-threatening global situation. I firmly believe that a sense of humour is a sense of perspective; if you can laugh about (or at) something, it necessarily means that you can look at it with a bit of external perspective. Thankfully, H5N1 bird flu turned out to be somewhat of a bust (although millions of chickens and other birds have been killed, and even as recently as last month, there have been reports of strains of H5N1 influenza jumping from birds to mammals, such as mink and seals).
However, as everybody knows, we were not so lucky this time around with COVID-19, and it was definitely not a laughing matter, either. The very next day, January 25th 2020, I posted my very first coronavirus update on the RyanSchultz.com blog. I felt very strongly, as a librarian who works at a university science library, that I should connect you to the best, most up-to-date sources of information, to help you make the best decisions. And, from time to time, I would hijack my blog to continue to provide the best information I could as the pandemic spread. Many of my blog readers were confused and upset by the sudden change in direction!
Because I have underlying health conditions which put me at a higher risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I were to become infected, I am vaccinated (6 times now, including both bivalent boosters!), I still wear facemasks indoors in public spaces, and I still avoid leaving my apartment. I let my guard down rarely, and I have (to my knowledge) not been infected with COVID—but it’s been at a cost.
After three years of pandemic living, I am an extrovert-turned-introvert (or, perhaps more accurately, a social person turned anti-social). I find it ironic indeed that my passionate hobby and research area—virtual worlds, social VR, and virtual reality—allows me to connect with other people from the safety of my own home or office! The only times I leave my apartment are:
going to work (my university still has an indoor facemask mandate in public and shared spaces, although I can take my mask off when I close my office door);
going to doctor’s appointments (I talk to my psychiatrist via Zoom still, though);
visiting my mother and stepfather in their lifelease condo across town; and
picking up the groceries I ordered online via the Walmart website (I always schedule this for Sunday mornings between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., to avoid other people!). In fact, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have actually set foot in a supermarket over the past three years.
Other than that, I stay at home, which has been the biggest change in my life. I used to be one of those people who would often go out to cafés and restaurants, either alone or with friends. Now, instead of going out to eat at restaurants, I cook for myself at home, and this is perhaps the most firmly established new habit that I picked up over the past three years. I am far from a chef, but I have simple tastes, and I now feel much more confident in the kitchen!
While I have met up with friends at outdoor restaurant patios during Winnipeg’s all-too-brief summer, I must confess that I still have not embraced indoor restaurant dining (a coworker, who had a similar rule, broke it only once, and came down with a case of COVID). Again, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have taken off my facemask to eat something indoors with other people: a catered brainstorming session with my coworkers; and the first face-to-face meeting of my arts and entertainment group in 3 years just last month, where we had a potluck.
Even my tastes in music seem to have changed because of the pandemic. Often under stress and struggling with both anxiety and insomnia, I would seek out ways to calm and recenter myself. One day in 2020, I was browsing in a virtual store in Second Life, where the store owner had set the parcel’s audio stream to something called Calm Radio. I was so taken with the peaceful music, and the soothing voice of the woman promoting the service, that I sprung for a subscription! (In fact, I am listening to the Spa station—one of dozens of expertly-curated stations on Calm Radio—as I type this.)
I realize that I can’t keep my guard up forever, of course. I am still living in a kind of limbo, a form of suspended animation, in many respects. And I find myself wondering when things are going to get back to “normal” (and even how to define what “normal” is). While other people have basically decided that the pandemic is over, the fact remains that millions of people have died from COVID-19 (well over one million Americans alone, a statistic which staggers me). Millions more people have been disabled with long COVID, some after only mild initial infections.
This is something that you can’t just shrug and move on from, no matter how much you want to get on with life and pretend nothing serious happened. I am absolutely terrified of getting the “brain fog” associated with long COVID, because I make a living with my brain! And I already have asthma; I certainly don’t want COVID to fuck up my lungs, either! The coronavirus has definitely made me think a lot about my quality of life.
The pandemic also forced me to think about my own mortality, and start preparing for my inevitable death. I have finalized my will with a lawyer my financial planner recommended to me, although I do still need to visit a funeral home to make arrangements for my cremation, and set up a spot at the cemetery, where my final ashes will rest. But when you know people who have passed away from COVID (like my best friend’s 92-year-old mother, last November), it is a powerful motivator to get things like this taken care of, before you need it. It’s just one less thing for your family to deal with when you do die.
Early hopes that a one-and-done (or two-and-done, etc.) vaccination, which would protect against all strains of COVID-19, have unfortunately failed to materialize, as the coronavirus continues to mutate, and people get reinfected. I suspect that we are going to be facing a situation with COVID much like the flu, where you get an annual or semiannual shot which is developed against whatever the predominant strains of the virus are. Scientists are also learning more about how a COVID-19 infection attacks the body (e.g. microclotting), which hopefully should lead to new and improved treatments and prevention measures.
Many of us are still dealing with the situation day by day, and the future seems uncertain. Things even feel a bit precarious to me at times, and I still sometimes struggle with anxiety, insomnia, and depression. There are days when I have problems with motivation, both at home and at work. I feel angry and discouraged that something as science-backed as COVID vaccination was turned into a polarizing political issue. A crisis that should have brought us together seems to have highlighted the divisiveness within society, and just how selfish some people can be. And, of course, many of the ripple effects from the pandemic (such as supply-chain problems) are still impacting us all.
Whether you choose to believe it or not, the pandemic is not over.