Facebook to Give Up to Five Awards of US$75,000 Each for Social VR Research Proposals

Facebook Research dropped the following announcement, which I somehow missed, which will be of some interest to academic researchers in the area of social virtual reality:

Facebook is…soliciting proposals to help accelerate research in social VR with the hope of fostering open, welcoming, and safer virtual worlds. There are fairly robust research fields in traditional 2D social platforms, and we hope to drive similar progress in the fields of 3D and virtual reality social interaction. We anticipate awarding a total of five awards of up to $75,000 USD each. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university in the form of a grant awarded by a third-party donor-advised fund, per the Terms & Conditions set forth below.

We strongly encourage researchers from diverse backgrounds and of diverse abilities to apply.

Facebook also provides three topics that they are especially interested in, but also state that “Researchers are encouraged to propose additional topics relevant to the theme of social interactions and social user experiences in VR environments.” The three areas are:

1. How does social VR contribute to social connection?

As with any form of interactive platform, virtual reality can help us better understand user behaviors and psychology. Facebook is interested in learning how immersive 3D VR experiences can help us better understand topics related to social connection, interaction and interpersonal relationships (virtual and real).

Social networks and groups are fundamental forums for interaction on these platforms. We are interested in how groups and communities arise, operate, and facilitate interaction in social VR environments.

2. What lessons in social interaction, social psychology and experience have we learned from 2D social platforms that apply to 3D immersive environments?

Despite immersive social platforms being relatively new to society, there are countless lessons that we can take from research on 2D social platforms that have been in existence for decades.Facebook is interested in discovering how research areas like social interaction, social anxiety and online harassment from a 2D lens can be applied to further understand experiences in 3D social VR environments.

3. How can we ensure user safety for teens in social VR environments?

Facebook is interested in how immersive social VR experiences affect teens (ages 13-18) in particular. Further, Facebook seeks to understand how social VR platforms can mitigate threats such as online addiction, online harassment, cyberbullying, and other safety concerns for younger users.

The deadline for applications is October 29th, 2020. For further details, including the terms and conditions of these awards, please see the Facebook Research website for this award. For a listing of all current research award opportunities, please see Facebook’s Research Awards page.

Another Fifteen-Minute Second Life Avatar Makeover: You Must Be an Angel

No one on earth could feel like this
I’m thrown and overflown with bliss
There must be an angel
Playing with my heart

—There Must Be An Angel (Playing With My Heart), by the Eurythmics

Time for another one of my patented 15-minute Second Life avatar makeovers! I hope that you enjoy these transformation as much as I do 🙂

This time, I have selected an alt which I have styled as a heavenly angel (her actual, Second Life legacy name is Prayerful Vigil, quite fitting!). Here is a before shot from 2018, a classic avatar with a system-layers-and-flexiprims outfit, outfitted with the free Bento wings and sword from the Marcus starter SL avatar:

And here is the after shot. This avatar is a perfect example of one of Ryan’s top ten tips for freebie hunting:

Be patient: Freebies can come and go; freebie stores like The Free Dove and Ajuda SL Brasil rotate their freebies regularly, so it’s worthwhile to visit every couple of months, just to see what’s new. It can take some time to pull together a complete look from various components picked up as freebies at different times from different stores and events.

In this case, the complete look was pulled together by patiently picking up freebies at various times throughout the past two years. I also took full advantage of the then-free Kalhene Ariadna mesh body when it was avialable! The wings and hale were the final two bits I picked up in the past week (please see the style credits below the picture for details).


This avatar is wearing:

  • Mesh Head: the Strong Face Bento mesh head by The Genus Project (free group gift; group is free to join)
  • Mesh Body: the Kalhene Ariadna mesh body (I was lucky enough to pick up the free predecessor of the current Kalhene Anya mesh body, which is now for sale for L$1,695 here; this body is compatible with Maitreya Lara apparel and footwear, and includes a Bento mesh head, not used here)
  • Bakes on Mesh Skin: White Queen skin gift by A&A (free on the SL Marketplace)
  • Hair: I picked this Jessi hair in goth white up from Sn@tch as a free prize in a previous year’s Trick or Treat Lane hunt
  • Necklace: This was a free hunt prize by Dreaming Thicket, in the Spring 2019 edition of the Twisted Hunt (which had a colour theme of gold and white, perfect for this angel avatar!)
  • Gown: This was also a free hunt prize in the Spring 2019 Twisted Hunt, from Appliqué Chic
  • Shoes (not shown): Amy flats from Hilly Haalan (free group gift; group is free to join)
  • Wings: golden Icon angel wings from Blueberry (I was able to pick up the Gold Pack of these wings last weekend, using the L$500 in free store credit which was in the group notices, and taking advantage of their four-day 50% Off Sale; the Blueberry group costs only L$20 to join)
  • Halo: Aether halo by Cubic Cherry (free gift at the current Engine Room shopping event; the event group is free to join; the halo is resizable and I made it smaller)
  • Sword: from the free Marcus starter Second Life avatar
  • Particle Effects: This is the only thing I bought at full retail price! The Valkyrie particle aura is from Cole’s Corner: animated halo, hands, and body particles in either silver or gold! (L$300; more information here, including an animated GIF)

TOTAL COST FOR THIS AVATAR LOOK: Only L$320! (L$20 to join the Blueberry group, and L$300 for the Valkyrie aura particle effects; if you need to purchase the Kalhene Anya mesh body, the cost is L$2,015)


After” pictures taken at the Engine Room shopping event.

Scarborough Fair Visits the Second Life Renaissance Festival

“O, where are you going?” “To Scarborough fair,”
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme;
“Remember me to a lass who lives there,
    For once she was a true love of mine.

“And tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Without any seam or needlework,
    And then she shall be a true love of mine.

“And tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Where no water sprung, nor a drop of rain fell,
    And then she shall be a true love of mine.”

Scarborough Fair, traditional English ballad
Scarborough Fair stands at the entrance bridge to the Second Life Renaissance Fair, wearing a lovely white laced tunic and brown leather girdle, part of an American Cancer Society Villager Outfit (there’s also a separate long purple skirt), for sale for only L$1 here at the Renaissance Fair. Many other historical roleplay outfits are available for sale.

I have a historical roleplay avatar with the actual legacy name of Scarborough Fair (I got very lucky; the last name “Fair” was only available for a two-week period way back in 2008, so I snapped up Vanity Fair and Scarborough Fair immediately!).

Scarborough Fair is usually a medieval troubadour (although she passes with ease in any age from Ancient Greece to the Victorian era). Today, I decided to pay a visit to the Second Life Renaissance Festival, an annual fundraising event for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life (entrance SLURL; official website).

Evocative period music sets the atmosphere in six sims devoted to the world of historical roleplay, with a focus on the European Medieval and Renaissance eras, but touching on other places and periods as well. The Minstrel’s Corner shipyard dock stage offers a variety of live entertainment throughout the festival (here’s the schedule). There’s also storytelling, jousting and archery tournaments, melee fighting, and classes for you to learn how to have the best role-play experience in Second Life, on everything from “Role Play Basics 101” to “Playing Psychopaths”. Check the events calendar for all the details.

And, of course, there is shopping! Many vendors set up elaborate booths to showcase their wares, and many offer limited-edition items for the Renaissance Festival, with some or all of the proceeds going to support the work of the American Cancer Society. Here’s a list of all the vendors participating, with SLURLs to their stores.

A selection of merchandise for sale at the Viki store at the Renaissance Festival

There’s a Stag Hunt, where you are looking among the vendor booths for a small stone statue of a stag. Here are a few of the hunt prizes, modeled by Scarborough Fair (with one exception as noted below, all hunt prizes are L$25 each).

Rosemarie Dress, the Stag Hunt gift from Ari-Pari (L$25; comes with a 4-colour HUD)
A Knight’s Tale women’s armour, the Stag Hunt prize from Elite Equestrian (L$25)
Karmen Dress, from Mara’s Mysteries (this gown comes in a fatpack of ten different colours; best of all, this Stag Hunt prize costs only L$1!)

There’s also a gacha area at the festival, with an array of tempting goodies from many participating vendors to get you to part with some of your hard-earned Lindens! I honestly cannot believe my good luck—I actually won the entire fatpack of this beautiful jewelry set, created by Ari-Pari exclusively for the Renaissance Festival, on the very first pull! Not a bad result for only L$50 spent! Like I said, I was flabbergasted at my good luck!

The Renaissance Festival runs from Sept. 25th to Oct. 4th, 2020. See you there! I leave you with an eight-minute YouTube video by SL vlogger Lexy Nexen, who gives a good overview of what you can see and do at the festival:

Pandemic Diary, September 27th, 2020: Bridge Over Troubled Water

After an early, home-cooked dinner of spaghetti, with a large glass of red wine, I went to bed for an early evening nap (having been up since 4:00 a.m. due to insomnia, once again), and I slept like a baby.

And woke up with one hell of an earworm running through my head—Fancy, by Reba McEntire: Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down…Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me downnnn…. (there, now it’s yours, too; you’re welcome!).

Which gives me an excuse to replay this beautiful, classic song that gives me chills:

Yes, I am one of those people who gets a tingling sensation throughout my body, but especially up my spine and neck and the back of my head, from certain pieces of music (I get the exact same reaction from Céline Dion’s rendition of Oh Holy Night). At its most powerful, it is a dopamine rush which engulfs me, a veritable ear-gasm.

A recent news article on this phenomenon reported:

[Do] you feel chills, a lump in your throat, or perhaps a tingling sensation on the back of your neck? Then you might have a more unique brain than you think.

study, carried out by Ph.D. student Matthew Sachs at the University of Southern California, has revealed that people who get chills from music might have structural differences in their brain.

The research studied 20 students, who listened to three to five pieces of music. Ten of the students admitted to feeling shivers, while the other ten didn’t. The researchers then took brain scans of all the participants.

“[The ten who felt shivers] have a higher volume of fibres that connect their auditory cortex to the areas associated with emotional processing, which means the two areas communicate better,” Matthew told Neuroscience News. These ten participants also had a higher prefrontal cortex, which is involved in certain areas of understanding, like interpreting a song’s meaning (Quartz).

The blog Mental Floss goes into more detail, and gives a good description of what happens to me with certain songs:

When your playlist strikes all the right chords, your body can go on a physiological joyride. Your heart rate increases. Your pupils dilate. Your body temperature rises. Blood redirects to your legs. Your cerebellum—mission control for body movement—becomes more active. Your brain flushes with dopamine and a tingly chill whisks down your back.

About 50 percent of people get chills when listening to music. Research shows that’s because music stimulates an ancient reward pathway in the brain, encouraging dopamine to flood the striatum—a part of the forebrain activated by addiction, reward, and motivation. Music, it seems, may affect our brains the same way that sex, gambling, and potato chips do.

Strangely, those dopamine levels can peak several seconds before the song’s special moment. That’s because your brain is a good listener—it’s constantly predicting what’s going to happen next. (Evolutionarily speaking, it’s a handy habit to have. Making good predictions is essential for survival.)

But music is tricky. It can be unpredictable, teasing our brains and keeping those dopamine triggers guessing. And that’s where the chills may come in. Because when you finally hear that long awaited chord, the striatum sighs with dopamine-soaked satisfaction and—BAM—you get the chills. The greater the build-up, the greater the chill.

I find I have been turning to music to comfort me more and more often during the pandemic. I bought a subscription to Calm Radio, and I keep a tab open in my Web browser while I work during the day, listening to the various musical streams (the Spa one is a new, relaxing favourite). You can listen to Calm Radio for free if you don’t mind the advertising, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pony up.

The shorter days up here in Canada as winter approaches, combined with the continued social isolation as I work from home and the lack of external stimulation, have tipped me over into full-blown hibernation mode. I am a grouchy bear. I have a bad case of brain fog sometimes, and a distinct lack of creative juices, and it can be difficult to motivate myself at times to work or to clean my apartment. I sometimes sleep 10 to 12 hours a day. And after a six-month period of losing weight (the one silver lining of the pandemic), I now find that I am gaining weight again—time to hit the brakes on those large helpings of spaghetti!

Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

As for my vow to avoid social media and the news media until after the U.S. federal election, well, I have been partially successful. I pop into a couple of subject-specific subReddits for the latest Canadian and global coronavirus news, and I steer clear of any other news websites (as I mentioned before, I do not have a television set). I have found that even a momentary dip into Google News or The Globe and Mail tends to send me into a spiral of anxiety and depression, and I do not need that now. For the next six weeks, I will just keep up-to-date on coronavirus pandemic news; the rest I choose to ignore. Donald who? 😉

My wish for you is that you find the comfort and support you need from the places, people, and routines that matter to you—your bridge over troubled water—during these stressful and unpredictable times. Stay sane and stay healthy!