Please Read: The Blog Is on Indefinite Hiatus

Next week, I will reach the one-year mark of working from home in self-isolation for my university library system (my full-time paying job). As the pandemic drags on, my chronic clinical depression has become worse and worse. I regret that I am now at the point where I have to put this blog on hold. For how long, I don’t know. At least until I can get my worsening depression under some sort of control.

I am really struggling with my mental state, and I need to do this to focus my limited energies on my paying jobI WANT TO MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR: I AM NOT SUICIDAL!!! I just need to take a break from the blog.

I need to take some time to heal

I will still be active on the Discord server, Twitter, and Clubhouse (where all I have to do is listen), and I will still be showing up at Bray’s Place in Second Life, and perhaps a few other social VR platforms and virtual worlds (I feel very guilty for neglecting Sinespace these past six months). But that’s the extent of what I can do right now.

So this will be my last blogpost for a while. I’m so sorry, you guys. I tried to keep going, but I have to rest and heal for a bit. I hope you understand, but even if you don’t, I am still stepping away from the blog.

Clip ‘n’ Save: Mental Health Resources During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Image source: Kids Help Phone (Canada)

EDITORIAL: The Sansar Community Asks Itself—Is It Time to Give Up on Sansar and Leave?

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I am returning to my self-imposed break from blogging.

Today’s meeting in Sansar

I attended an extraordinary meeting held in Sansar this afternoon, without any Wookey staff present, where the previously unthinkable was discussed quite openly: is it time for the Sansar community to give up on Sansar, and move to another social VR platform?

One of the two moderators, RAG, read the following statement from one user, Henry Grumiaux, in order to get the discussion going:

I suggested this topic [because] I started to suspect that Sansar, as plaform for social and content creation is about to die. Just few months ago, the nights at North America used to be the peak time of Sansar. Now at US/CAN night this is a desert. And all of us actually we just interact one each other in the events. No, I don’t think that Sansar is about to close the doors, but the focus is events. And considering this surge of events that we are experiencing, I believe that Wookey is doing a great job. However as I said…Community is no longer the focus, so Wookey is not doing anything to increase the community. On the last 10 to 12 months we saw huge commercial events with hundreds of people attending, but no one become a Sansarian. Just enjoyed the event and never returned – Or maybe returned and get bored and decide to just return on the next huge event because this is a desert. Yes, Wookey can help, but they don’t. Those people on the events registered the e-mail in order to signup to Sansar. So, it could be easy to Wookey to use this database and produce a simple weekly email containing the events of the community, new experiences, new things that we create and put on the market place, etc… to attract people and make the community grow. Cheap marketing campaign, but Wookey is not interested because there is no interest to invest in community. I respect, as I said: The Focus of the platform is the events, not our events, but you know…commercial events, so I don’t blame Wookey, they are just a company trying to make money and this is not wrong. But we need to think about our future as enthusiasts of metaverses. We like to hangout, we like to create contents, etc… And it could be a good idea for us to share alternatives to Sansar.

While there are a small number of people who joined Sansar because of a live event, they are the exception that proves the rule. It is now very clear that, as RAG said above, that Wookey’s sole focus for Sansar is live events, and all the company’s energy is on that.

The problem is that people who come for events tend not to stick around to become part of the Sansar community. Wookey apparently does not intend to invest in building a community outside of live events, a task which they have left to the current userbase. Dr. Fran said “you ignore the community at your peril,” noting that Wookey staffers no longer bother to attend many community events.

One person present, Tahla, a relatively newer user, said:

Altspace has like admins most of the time in the campfire (main world people start off in) so there’s always someone available to help new people. Sometimes Sansar is completely empty and if I was new and didn’t see anyone at all, I wouldn’t be interested in staying. Thankfully, when I started quite a few people were in here every day. The volunteer greeter thing here was a cool idea but they actually have to be passionate about helping new people when they see them in the Nexus, because getting started here can be confusing when you don’t even know how to dress yourself. There needs to be a full tutorial and a portal for the tutorial in the Nexus.

The lack of tutorials for such basic things as how to dress yourself is seen as a significant problem in Sansar. In addition, there is no easy way to find user-created games in Sansar, since Wookey has never bothered to create a category for games in the Codex! Throw in the unfavourable cash-out rates for content creators in Sansar, and it all adds up to a highly frustrating situation for those people who have stuck around.

In short, Sansar has been in serious trouble for quite some time, and there are few signals that Wookey is even listening to its current userbase in their focus on live events. People are getting fed up, and there is now an open revolt being discussed.

At today’s meeting, I said something that I have never blogged previously: that there is a 50/50 chance that Wookey-run Sansar will fold this year or next, a statement with which many of the people present agreed.

The remainder of the our conversation centered on which social VR platforms were worthy of investigation as suitable possible destinations for the Sansar diaspora. Among the platforms whose pros and cons were discussed were:

  • Sinespace
  • VRChat
  • AltspaceVR
  • Neos VR
  • Tivoli Cloud VR (which is based on the old High Fidelity source code)
  • Vircadia (which is also is based on the old High Fidelity source code)
  • Helios
  • Core (a games platform which I have not written about before; more info here).
Many issues of concern were raised at today’s meeup

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: the L$1 Stacy Mesh Body by Rose & Gothica

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I am returning to my self-imposed break from blogging.

It’s been brought to my attention that there is yet another dollarbie mesh female body on the SL Marketplace, put out by a company called Rose & Gothica, called Stacy. So I thought I would put Stacy through the paces on this sleepy Sunday morning, just to see how well she works out.

One of the images used to advertise the Stacy body on the SL Marketplace

The package you receive when you purchase Stacy for L$1 is a bit bewildering. In the main folder is everything you would need to set up your avatar—except the body! And there appears to be a duplicate, non-Bakes-on-Mesh version of this body in the folder marked Update 2.0. And there’s a Bakes on Mesh version of the Stacy body in the Bakes on Mesh Version folder! It’s all rather confusing indeed. (I did try the skin fixes in the Update – Skin Fix folder, but they did not appear to have any effect whatsoever.)

Here is what the Stacy body looks like, straight out of the box, using a system head and the included skin and shape with zero adjustments to the sliders, along with the alpha sections HUD:

Stacy comes with the shoes you see here, plus two rather revealing dresses, two different hairstyles with HUDs, some underwear, and a separate clothing layer with a HUD to control it.

The Stacy body also comes with a Bakes on Mesh head in the BOM Mesh Head folder, but it’s nothing to write home about, and it comes with a strange built-in alpha which I assume is supposed to be covered by your hair! I would strongly recommend that you find yourself another head to use with this body (notice the neck seam as well):

The Bakes on Mesh head included in the Stacy package is nothing to write home about (I would suggest using another head with this body).

I decided to try out the Bakes on Mesh version of Stacy with a few skin tones (maple and fudge) of the Elvira skin which I picked up for free last year at 7 Deadly S[k]ins, and pairing it with the recent group gift of the CATWA HDPRO Queen Bento mesh head, with rather satisfactory results (remember that you do have to remove the head and body alphas, but add an eye alpha, when switching from the non-BoM to the BoM versions of Stacy!).

Most clothing designed for Maitreya Lara (such as this set of lingerie) appears to fit the Stacy body well.
This pink dress is one of two skimpy dresses that come with the Stacy body
The Stacy body paired with the CATWA HDPRO Queen head, wearing the fudge skin tone of the Elvira skin from 7 Deadly S[k]ins

One drawback is the long nails, which come in only one nail colour (there are tintable tattoo layers for the shorter finger and toe nails). One problem I noticed is the slight seam at the wrists, which you can see here with the default skin:

There’s also a slight ankle seam, which is more noticeable with some lighter Bakes on Mesh skins than on the fudge tone of the Elvira skin shown below:

So, what do I think overall? I think this is a somewhat confusing body, with a lack of documentation, that you will need to spend some time puzzling out and testing various options before you obtain a pleasing result. But you certainly can’t beat the price: one measly little Linden dollar! (Personally, the wrist and ankle seams are the deal-breaker for me.)

I will add Stacy to my ever-growing list of free and inexpensive mesh heads and bodies for female avatars. Happy freebie shopping!

Goofing Around in NeosVR (Plus a Look at the Vive Facial Tracker in Action)

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I am returning to my self-imposed break from blogging.

Overall, the fact that I can have an expressive, fully animated avatar inside a metaverse is blowing my mind.

—Ari Tarr

Not too long ago, I was invited by Carlos Austin and Jason Moore to pay a long-overdue visit to NeosVR, where we met up with XRiEL (a.k.a. Ari Tarr), went over to Jason’s workshop, tried on some cool avatars, and rode some fun vehicles!

Here’s the full one-and-a-quarter hour video which Carlos kindly posted to YouTube:

Enjoy! As you can tell we had a lot of fun. Carlos was the cameraman capturing the shenanigans, and we were later joined by iBrews (a.k.a. Alex Coulombe). This video also makes a great introduction to NeosVR if you have never visited before! Of particular interest is Ari showing just how easy it is to rig an avatar within NeosVR:

Jason showing Ari how to rig an avatar in NeosVR
Ari attempting to rig the rest of his body (after the head and hands were done)

Thanks to Jason, Ari, Carlos, and Alex for a wonderful afternoon! I had to bow out a little early (at the 50-minute mark in this video) to avoid becoming VR sick, but the antics continued after I departed!

At the 53-minute mark, XRiEL/Ari demonstrates what he can do with his avatar, wearing a Vive Eye Pro VR headset with eye tracking, the Vive Facial Tracker, plus Valve Index hand and finger trackers, and also three Vive pucks attached to his hip and both his feet. Yes, his eyes and mouth are mirroring his facial motion in real time!

Pandemic Diary, April 8th, 2021: Power Failure

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.

So I am writing this blogpost on my iPhone, sitting in the last good light of this damp and overcast day on my bedroom patio, facing the forest behind my apartment. Why? Because there has been a massive power failure in most of south And east Winnipeg this afternoon.

After waiting for an hour for the power to come back on, I finally gave up, put on my scarf and a fleece-lined jacket, and deposited myself outside with my iPhone. I am in a grumpy mood. The province next door, Ontario, just imposed a one-month stay-at-home order for 30 days, starting at noon today, and I believe that it is only a matter of time before we have a lockdown here in Manitoba too (in fact, they never really released most of the restrictions imposed in the second lockdown in early November!).

Manitoba Hydro failed us BIG TIME today…

I am prepared should the power remain out all evening; as part of my pandemic preparations from 15-16 years ago I have a portable camp stove and fuel, and I also have a converter to allow me to plug devices like my iPhone in to recharge from my car’s battery.

I spent part of the time standing outside in the cold drizzle, having a socially distanced chat with my upstairs neighbor oasis she stood on her 2nd floor balcony having a cigarette. Yes, I was reduced to TALKING TO PEOPLE while my computer was down!

I now have no less than three virtual conferences to prepare for:

1. The Virtual Ability Mental Health Symposium to be held April 16th in Second Life, where I will talking about acedia during the coronavirus pandemic. They asked me to speak because of the blogpost I wrote on the topic, which apparently several people had told them about.

2. I have just been accepted to present on developing a taxonomy of social VR platforms at the 2021 Immersive Learning Research Network conference, to be held in VirBELA.

3. Finally, I’ve been asked to moderate a panel discussion at the 2021 Educators in VR virtual conference taking place in AltspaceVR this coming May.

So, as you can see, I am going to be quite busy the next few months!

The power just came back on after over 2-1/2 hours, so I guess I’d better crank up my PC to make sure it’s OK.

Stay safe and stay healthy!