I Do Not Have Cancer!

drew-hays-206414-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Yesterday, I went to see my urologist for the results of my biopsy.

I do not have cancer!

The doctor told me that it was just inflammation, and that I had no cancer of any kind. He wants to check my bladder regularly, of course, so I have to see him again in six months for another cystoscopy. He also ordered a couple of extra blood and urine tests.

I’m still digesting the news. I guess you could say that I’m still in a bit of shock that everything is going to turn out all right, after all the stress and worry of the past three weeks. What I really feel right now is tired. I feel like I could sleep for a week.

Good thing that I decided to take two weeks of holidays from work. I thought I would need that time to fall apart and put myself back together when I got the bad news, but now there’s only good news! So I am going to enjoy my holidays.

Thank you to everybody who sent me their best wishes and kept me in their thoughts and prayers.

I’m going to take a break from blogging for a little while. But I’ll be back!

Advertisements

CNN Business Takes a Look at Social VR with Visits to AltspaceVR and High Fidelity

CNN Business teamed up with BEME News to produce a nine-minute segment on avatars in virtual reality, visiting both AltspaceVR and High Fidelity:

How realistic virtual reality experiences impact your mind

Widespread adoption of virtual reality may depend on bringing people together in familiar ways like going to a party, seeing a band, or networking at a conference without leaving your couch. How real do VR connections feel?

Here’s the complete video segment on YouTube:

I like how this segment includes the part where the reporter steps into the Doob scanner to create a photorealistic avatar of herself. I would love to be able to do that, but alas, I live too far away from any of the locations that currently offer this service.

And then, I love the part where Philip Rosedale leads the reporter to a mirror within High Fidelity so she can see what she looks like…absolutely wonderful! (By the way, does Philip do anything else lately besides public relations for social VR in general and HiFi in particular? He’s popping up everywhere lately! Does the man sleep?!??)

And I still chuckle whenever I see tarted-up AltspaceVR avatars (such as Katie Kelly’s avatar in this video), which look way better than the limited default options offered to the regular customers! AltspaceVR avatars are still totally unappealing compared to what other social VR platforms can offer such as Sansar and High Fidelity. When is Altspace going to get off their butts and fix that? They’ve got all that Microsoft money to work with, for Pete’s sake! Do something!!

Anyway, my carping at AltspaceVR’s dreadfully cartoony avatars aside, it’s a great video. The reporter’s sense of awe and wonder were genuine, and quite infectious! This video segment will introduce social VR and its possibilities to a whole new audience. Well done, CNN and BEME!

UPDATED! Are YouTube Celebrities and BetterHelp.com Taking Advantage of Vulnerable People with Mental Health Issues?

claudia-595686-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Claudia on Unsplash

Social media stars are the new superstar celebrities of our age. Their antics attract massive audiences, and companies sometimes use them to shill for their products and services (for a fee, of course, and often a hefty one).

The Atlantic magazine has just published an article that takes a critical look at how some YouTube livestreamers are using their celebrity to profit off their viewers’ vulnerability and depression, by collecting a per-person “finder’s fee” to refer them to a site called BetterHelp.com. (This service has also been advertising heavily on Reddit, among several other places on the internet.)

Titled YouTube Stars Are Being Accused of Profiting Off Fans’ Depression, the article states:

Some of YouTube’s biggest stars have found themselves embroiled in controversy over videos that critics say allow them to profit off fans struggling with depression.

Over the past year, mental health and burnout have become big topics in the YouTube community. Stars like Philip DeFranco and Shane Dawson have posted heartfelt videos about their struggles with depression, encouraging fans to get help with their own issues. At the end of each video, they promote an online counseling service called BetterHelp, and include a referral link that earns them money every time a fan clicks the link and signs up.

…For a starting fee of $35 a week, BetterHelp will match you with an online counselor who you can then speak to via text, phone, or video, theoretically making it easy for tech-savvy and time-strapped teens to get mental-health care. But some people who downloaded the app after being prompted to by their favorite YouTubers have claimed that it has far from helped them.

Eighty-six users have filed complaints about the app with the Better Business Bureau, a nonprofit aimed at holding businesses accountable for bad practices. In a Reddit thread, several users describe being charged excessive fees (likely due to the fact that they didn’t realize the plan they had purchased charged the full annual fee up front), and claim the counselors on the app were unresponsive, unhelpful, or refused them treatment.

As Polygon points out, BetterHelp’s terms of service state that the company can’t guarantee a qualified professional. “We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you,” the terms of service read. “The Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional.”

It’s a growing firestorm of controversy, and some YouTubers who have promoted BetterHelp.com are beginning to feel the backlash:

YouTubers, sensitive to the growing backlash from their fans, have nearly all put their partnership with BetterHelp on hold after others on YouTube began calling them out. In one of her videos, the YouTuber Deschroma, who had never endorsed the app previously, said she “couldn’t in good conscience” recommend the app to others. The YouTube channel Memeology 101 produced a nine-part series on the scandal, calling it “one of the biggest cons pulled by YouTubers in 2018.” PewDiePie, one of the biggest YouTubers on the platform, has denounced the app and the YouTubers promoting it, saying in his own video, “BetterHelp turns out to be … even worse than what I thought.”

On Monday, the YouTuber Boogie2988 posted a 12-minute mea culpa video, apologizing to his 4.5 million subscribers. “Here’s where I really screwed up: I didn’t read the terms of service for myself. I trusted the other YouTubers that were advertising it. And maybe that’s not something I should do moving forward,” he said. He also announced that he’d be donating all the profits he had made through the partnership to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

But YouTubers rely on trust and authenticity to grow their audience, and even an implication that they might be trying to sell a subpar product or service can damage the relationship they have with their fans. “I really wish big youtubers would stop pushing BetterHelp, its a scam and the fact they’re (youtubers) making money off of exploiting mental illness makes me sick,” one fan tweeted. “fyi the therapy service ‘betterhelp’ that youtubers like shane & h3h3 are advertising is a scam & they’re paying these youtubers loads & they’re capitalising ur depression,” another said.

“Why do youtubers shove shit in our face like #betterhelp #freeiphones and stuff without trying it first or doing research?” a fan said today. “I’ve lost respect for some due to this better help crap. We’re not dollar signs. We are supporters.”

Here’s the PewDiePie video mentioned above (it’s quite good):

And here is a YouTube playlist of the Memology 101 video series (also mentioned above), titled Why YouTubers Are DepressedThe series is now up to eleven episodes, and it worth watching, just to get the whole story! It’s quite damning.

As a mental health consumer myself, who has struggled with a chronic form of clinical depression for many years, I can understand the appeal of an online chat service that offers to connect you to a trained and caring professional. But BetterHelp.com goes out their way to warn users in its Our Client Terms & Conditions that:

  1. The Counselors and Counselor Services
    • The Counselors are neither our employees nor agents nor representatives. Furthermore, we assume no responsibility for any act, omission or doing of any Counselor.
    • We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to the willingness or ability of a Counselor to give advice.
    • We make no representation or warranty whatsoever as to whether you will find the Counselor Services relevant, useful, correct, relevant, satisfactory or suitable to your needs.
    • We do not control the quality of the Counselor Services and we do not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service as well as whether a Counselor is categorized correctly or matched correctly to you…
  2. Use of the Platform
    • You agree, confirm and acknowledge that although the Counselor may provide the Counselor Services through the Platform, we cannot assess whether the use of the Counselor, the Counselor Services or the Platform is right and suitable for your needs. THE PLATFORM DOES NOT INCLUDE THE PROVISION OF MEDICAL CARE, MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES, OR OTHER PROFESSIONAL SERVICES BY US. As operators of the Platform, our role is strictly limited to facilitating the communication between you and the Counselor and to enable the provision of the Counselor Services. It is up to you to consider and decide whether these services are appropriate for you or not.
    • You agree, confirm and acknowledge that you are aware of the fact that the Counselor Services are not a complete substitute for a face-to-face examination and/or session by a licensed qualified professional. You should never rely on or make health or well-being decisions which are primarily based on information provided as part of the Counselor Services. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that you will consider seeking advice by having an in-person appointment with a licensed and qualified professional. Never disregard, avoid, or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare counselor, by face-to-face appointment, because of information or advice you received through the Platform.
    • THE PLATFORM IS NOT INTENDED FOR DIAGNOSIS, INCLUDING INFORMATION REGARDING WHICH DRUGS OR TREATMENT THAT MAY BE APPROPRIATE FOR YOU, AND YOU SHOULD DISREGARD ANY SUCH ADVICE IF DELIVERED THROUGH THE PLAFORM.
    • You are advised to exercise a high level of care and caution in the use of the Platform and the Counselor services.
    • IF YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE OR IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING TO TAKE ACTIONS THAT MAY CAUSE HARM TO YOU OR TO OTHERS OR IF YOU FEEL THAT OR ANY OTHER PERSON MAY BE IN ANY DANGER OR IF YOU HAVE ANY MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU MUST IMMEDIATELY CALL THE EMERGENCY SERVICE NUMBER (911 IN THE US) AND NOTIFY THE RELEVANT AUTHORITIES. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE, CONFIRM AND AGREE THAT THE PLATFORM IS NOT DESIGNED FOR USE IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES AND THAT YOU MUST NOT USE THE PLATFORM IN ANY OF THE AFOREMENTIONED CASES.

Which is the most cover-your-ass, weaselly-legalese statement I’ve seen in quite some time. Essentially, BetterHelp.com is not taking responsibility for anything that happens to you from using their service.

So, BetterHelp.com “do[es] not control the quality of the Counselor Services and…do[es] not determine whether any Counselor is qualified to provide any specific service”, eh? That one statement is enough to put me off that service completely. They don’t even bother to vet the counsellors they connect you with? That’s just complete bullshit.

Here’s another recent YouTube video which gives a good explanation of why BetterHelp’s terms and conditions are so terrible:

There are two lessons here. The first lesson is that you should take what anybody on social media tells you with a grain of salt. Ask yourself: What’s their agenda? What are they selling? (Watch the Memology 101 video series from the beginning.)

And the second lesson here? That lesson is to very carefully read the Terms of Service of any online counselling service you are considering spending any of your hard-earned money on. In my opinion, you’d be much better off getting a referral to a real-life, qualified specialist through your family doctor, local clinic, or your community services department.

If you are currently experiencing a mental health or addictions related crisis:

If you are not in crisis, but still need help, here are some other good places to get started:

When you absolutely need someone to talk to online, one of the best places to try is The KindVoice subReddit and Discord channel, both of which are staffed by volunteers:

“Sometimes we need to hear a human voice on the other end of the line telling us that everything’s going to be ok. This subreddit is for people that aren’t in a suicidal crisis, but feel depressed, alone, or want someone to talk to.”

A similar service is called The Haven, another Discord channel for people who need someone to talk to. Both Kind Voice and The Haven are free, volunteer-run services.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. NEVER. Give. Up!


UPDATE Oct. 16th: I have included a professional lawyer’s opinion on BetterHelp.com. This video is by Lior Leser, who specializes in technology, internet and software law:

Here’s Lior in a longer, hour-and-a-half interview with another YouTuber, talking about all this in much more detail:

VR Trivia Battle: Kiss or Kill Relaunches Under a New Title

The social VR game show formerly called Kiss or Kill has now been released with a brand-new name, VR Trivia Battle, on the Viveport subscription service for both HTC Vive and Oculus Rift users, with releases to follow later this month both on Steam and the Oculus Store.

Here’s a brief YouTube promo:

According to the promo video, up to 8 avatars can compete against each other in trivia contests drawn from a quiz bank of over 10,000 questions.

Virtual Universe: What’s Going On?

virtualuniverse

Ever since I had my first guided tour of Virtual Universe back in April, I felt that this was something special. As opposed to so many other blockchain-based virtual worlds that were more hype than substance, VU felt like an actual, solid product, tantalizingly close to a release date. I was excited, and I promoted VU as often as I could on this blog.

But the cryptocurrency markets this year have been rough—absolutely brutal—lately. Many cryptocurrency tokens for various projects have lost a great deal of their initial value. Many people who jumped on board the cryptocurrency bandwagon when certain coins were riding high are now looking at their losses and cursing their bad luck. The Telegram channels I follow have been full of angry, bitter, and demoralized buyers.

Very recently, Virtual Universe decided to turn their VU token sale from public to private. Their only public message about this change was posted to Medium on Sept. 27th:

ICO Update

As the Industry continues to evolve rapidly, the VU Token team has been advised to take our sale private at this time. We want to thank our contributors and supporters for their patience as we continue to pursue private investment sources.

The Company intends that current VU Token owners will receive their tokens upon the conclusion of our token sale.

We remain excited and committed to the creation of Virtual Universe. Stay tuned to our social channels for updates.

The Virtual Universe Team

And then, silence.

In recent days, I have been approached privately by two worried people, one of whom had made a significant purchase of Virtual Universe tokens during their public ICO period, and another one who (like me) was an active participant in the VUtoken Partner Program. Both had the same question: “What’s going on?” I didn’t know what to tell them. I honestly don’t know what’s going on. But the sudden lack of communication is a very troubling sign.

There hasn’t been an “Earn & Win” task posted since early August, and I am starting to feel a little concerned. I’ve posted questions in both the Discord and Telegram channels for the Virtual Universe project, but nobody has responded to my questions.

What’s going on?

What Adam Frisby Has Learned From Working on OpenSim

Adam Frisby.png
Adam Frisby

Adam Frisby, a co-founder of OpenSim and the Chief Product Officer of Sine Wave Entertainment (the creators of the virtual world Sinespace), has written a very insightful article for the Hypergrid Business website.

Titled What I learned about virtual worlds by helping found OpenSim, Adam talks at length about some of the lessons he learned from building virtual worlds over the past 12 years, particularly his experience with OpenSim:

For a while, there were some big names adopting the project in droves. Nearly every major tech company had some involvement — or at least one employee contributing — to OpenSim at some point. IBM had an entire team of OpenSim developers and was running internal conferences using the project. During my involvement, the OpenSim software was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. In the years since, it’s found its way into many surprising places, from NASA to university courses.

It’s gratifying to see OpenSim still soldiering on 12 years later, in great part through the efforts of the educators who’ve embraced it, and through worlds like OSGrid, which maintains a small but dedicated user community, along with a host of other enterprises, projects and grids using the software.

And while OpenSim didn’t become the breakout success we hoped it would, I learned a lot from it, about building virtual world platforms — and what they need.

He stresses the importance of not reinventing the wheel:

Virtual worlds shouldn’t reinvent the wheel

This is true of Second Life and OpenSim, and numerous other virtual worlds and MMOs — attempting to build key features and functionality by creating them from scratch, when better options already exist.

At the time, the list of free or cheap 3D engines could be counted on one hand — Torque, Ogre3D, Irrlicht, etc. But today, we have dozens of fantastic high-end options, including Unity, Unreal, Lumberyard, CryEngine, and Unigine. If you were willing to shell out real cash, Unreal, CryEngine, id Tech and others have been available throughout.

Building your own graphics engine from scratch, however, is a dumb idea. It’s an insanely complex bit of software. Throw in a few thousand graphics cards and chips, various drivers, and you’ve got the recipe for a monumental headache on compatibility and support, let alone trying to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in 3D features. Trying to build your own is just going to result in you wasting a ton of talent reinventing the wheel.

Sinespace is built on top of the Unity engine, which allows it to leverage the usage of such cool, Unity-based tools such as Archimatix. Contrast this with Linden Lab’s Sansar, where Linden Lab has decided to develop their own engine. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches (for example, Sinespace has to scramble to fix bugs introduced by regular Unity updates, something that Linden Lab doesn’t need to worry about as much, since they control everything in-house).

Adam also talks about the importance of addressing non-Windows and mobile users:

Virtual worlds must be accessible — immediately

Even among gamers, the percentage of people willing to downland and install a client, then endure a time-consuming, multi-step login process, is vanishingly small. For the same reason, web and mobile access matter too. We know from our own efforts that if you want someone to download or install something, half of the people who sign up, won’t.

Today’s consumers don’t use desktops either – the web today is mobile, and I find myself using my phone more and more, switching only to my desktop to get work done. You need to be where the users are – and that, in my opinion, means friction- free and device-agnostic experiences.

I note that Sinespace is now available not only on the desktop (with versions for Windows, MacOS, and LINUX), but also for users in VR headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality). They’re also currently testing viewers for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Sinespace even has a viewer that runs completely within a web browser (I’ve tested it and it works fairly well). And they are working on a client for OpenVR viewers for both Windows and Mac, too! I would have to say that, at this point, Sinespace is ahead of the competition in terms of mobile device and multiple platform support. They’ve got all the bases covered!

Offering lots of options for people to access your virtual world (particularly those which don’t involve downloading a client) gives you an advantage in an increasingly crowded market of metaverse products. And if you don’t believe that mobile-accessible virtual worlds are important, you really do need to check out both IMVU and Avakin Life. Both are very popular with children and teenagers, most of whom are on smartphones—and these children and teenagers are future adult consumers! Companies need to be paying attention to this segment of the market.

This is a very good article about virtual worlds from an industry veteran who is doing some innovative things in virtual worlds. I’d encourage you to go over to Hypergrid Business and read it in full!

Sansar and the Scary Game Squad Are Having a Scary World Contest for Halloween!

Someone posted the following YouTube video to the Sansar section of the new VirtualVerse.one forums (formerly known as SLUniverse):

The video description states:

This Halloween you get to scare us! We’re teaming up with Project Sansar to showcase awesome user generated content that is in the VR horror world. Built in the spirit of social VR worlds like Second Life (?) and VRChat, here you can construct your very own land of terror. Winners will be on the ground floor of the hotel and we’ll be playing them! Now it says VR, but don’t worry, you don’t need VR in order to do any of this. Download Sansar for free, join the Scary Game Squad hub, and get to creating!

Now, I do not consider Second Life “social VR” (since you can’t experience it in a VR headset), but that’s a minor quibble with the announcement.

The contest runs between now and Oct. 31st. The 10 winners will get 1,000 Sansar dollars and will have their experiences directly linked to this scary hotel experience. You must include the hashtag #SGS in the Sansar experience title, so that the Scary Game Squad knows it’s a contest entry.

The Scary Game Squad (founded by gamer and comedian Jesse Cox, who has almost a million YouTube subscribers to his videos) is a group that exists to play scary games. It makes perfect sense for them to team up with Sansar to promote a scary experience contest! Hopefully, we will get a lot of creative—and scary!—entries.