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)

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!

Pandemic Diary, April 5th, 2021: So Close, So Close and Yet So Far

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.

My eyes adored you
Though I never laid a hand on you,
My eyes adored you
Like a million miles away from me you couldn’t see
How I adored you…
So close, so close and yet so far

My Eyes Adored You, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

Today is officially Day 386 since I began working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system. Since my last Pandemic Diary post, two significant things have occurred:

  1. On March 18th I received my first vaccine shot, and
  2. On March 22nd, I returned to my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries for the first time in over a year.

As someone who is older (age 57), and with several underlying health conditions which put me at risk of a severe, possibly even fatal, response to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (I am severely overweight, plus I have asthma, hypertension, and type II diabetes), I was among the first Manitobans under the age of 60 to get vaccinated at my local pharmacy. I received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with a follow-up shot sometime in July.

I have been following the news reports of possible blood clots in a few people who have received the vaccine, and I am not worried; I know that the chance of me getting a blood clot from the AstraZenca vaccine is much lower than the chance of me getting a blood clot from COVID-19! As a science librarian, I trust the science behind the vaccines, and I am eagerly looking forward to getting my second dose.

Canadians are watching the U.S. roll out an aggressive vaccination campaign with envy. Canada is far, FAR behind the U.S., the U.K., and other countries in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Up here in Canada, we already have had serious outbreaks of variants of concern from the U.K. and Brazil in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, and it seems all but certain the we will experience a third wave of COVID-19 infections and deaths here in Manitoba soon, with a third lockdown (and we never really opened back up from the second lockdown imposed in early November!). We are, indeed, so close and yet so far. It is frustrating beyond belief!

As for my return to the office, I was sitting on the fence about taking an extended sick leave for treatment of depression, when my supervisor told me that the buildings on campus could now be staffed at 40% of regular occupancy (up from 25%). I leapt at the opportunity to be able to work outside my home, after over a year of working from my home, being stuck within the same four walls day after day! I am starting off with just one day a week in the office, but I do have the option of coming in more frequently than that (at least, until the third lockdown happens, and it will).

In fact, the mood improved immediately after spending just one day back in my office, chatting with the few coworkers who are here (masked and socially distanced chats, but still, actual face-to-face conversations!). I even wandered around the library, taking a few snaphots. My office looks much the same as when I left it over a year ago, in near-pristine condition which will not last very long:

My library is still closed to non-librarian faculty, non-Libraries staff, and all students. The library, usually a quiet place even when it was full of students, is now eerily silent:

And I finally brought my work Oculus Rift VR headset back into the office from my apartment, where I had taken it when the pandemic started in March 2020, and spent part of my day today setting it up again. I popped into AltspaceVR and Nature Treks VR, and of course Sansar, just to test that everything was working okay. Instead of having to install countless updates to my Sansar client which had occurred during my yearlong absence from the office, I simply deleted the program and reinstalled it from scratch from the Sansar website, and then I paid a visit to my world, Ryan’s Garden, and its animated carousel, still one of my most cherished virtual possessions!

Yes, I do still have an Oculus Rift headset, which I had originally purchased for my suspended research project. I have an Oculus account for it, and I have absolutely ZERO plans to set up an account on the Facebook social network for it! Good thing that I don’t need to make any account decisions for at least another two years, during which time I will probably spend some of my accumulated Travel & Expense funds to upgrade the Rift to a Valve Index, like I now have at home. This Rift is my final link to Facebook, and I am itching to get rid of it! (I have yet to come up with a new, replacement research project involving virtual reality and libraries, but I have a few ideas.)

Stay safe and stay healthy!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: The L$1 Neo Male Mesh Body by Meta

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.

I wanted to break my hiatus from the blog to announce that I have discovered a very nice dollarbie male mesh head and body package called Neo, from a company called Meta! Here is the link to the Second Life Marketplace listing, which says:

This package will provide you with everything needed to set up your mesh avatar base to build on, which includes a Fitted mesh body with Bento rigged hands and a fully Bento rigged mesh head! The package also includes an Alpha HUD to hide parts of the body to make it easier to wear clothes on.

This product is our gift to the community and is meant for those new users as well as those who want to get [the] hang of mesh avatars!! ENJOY!!

Here is what the Neo male mesh body looks like, right out of the box, with only a minor adjustment to the eyes, and with the included underwear and body shape. It’s actually a very nice head and body, especially for only one Linden dollar!

Here’s what the Neo male mesh body looks like with some hair and clothing; the outfit is from the free Casual Male Starter Pack capsule wardrobe from No Shot, and comes from the Freebie Megastore on the London City sim as shown here:

I found during my testing that clothing and shoes designed for the Signature Gianni mesh body seem to fit this particular body very well (you will need to use the alpha HUD, though):

Now, there are a few drawbacks to this body. For one, although it comes with a HUD with plentiful alpha selections, the Meta Neo body does not support skin appliers or Bakes on Mesh (there is a Bakes on Mesh version of this body for sale for L$999 on the SL Marketplace). You are stuck with the single skin tone for this body. Also, the mesh eyes shown here are included with the mesh head, not separate, and they only come in the light brown colour shown.

Happy freebie shopping! I will add the Meta Neo male body to my ever-expanding list of free and inexpensive mesh heads and bodies for male avatars.