UPDATED! Pandemic Diary, January 18th, 2021

Today is officially Day 309 of my working in self-isolation from my apartment for my university library system: 309 days, or 7,416 hours, or 444,960 minutes.

I have not left my home in the past month, except to drop my trash bags into the nearest dumpster, and to start the engine on my car in the parking lot and let it run for 10-15 minutes, to make sure that my car battery doesn’t lose its charge during our bitterly cold Winnipeg winter. (As a matter of fact, I am typing the first part of this blogpost out on my WordPress app on my iPhone, sitting behind the steering wheel of my car in my apartment’s outdoor parking lot, while my car is warming up.)

I’ve actually completely lost track of how long it’s been since I’ve been in the vicinity of another human being! The province of Manitoba is still under a code-red pandemic lockdown, and I don’t expect that any of the social distancing and other restrictions will be relaxed or lifted anytime soon. Vaccination is still mostly limited to front-line healthcare workers, and it is happening here at a frustratingly slow pace, with announcements of vaccine delivery delays by Pfizer over the next few weeks to add to the delays.

My car battery recharged, I come inside from the -18°C/-1°F cold, shed my parka, gloves, and face mask, and thoroughly wash my hands, singing Happy Birthday to myself twice under my breath.*

I have been going through a rough patch these past few weeks, which started as I concluded my Christmas holidays and returned to my full-time paying job with the University of Manitoba Libraries. I know that many people are in much worse circumstances than I am during this pandemic, and I know that I am lucky to be able to work from home. But I do not feel very lucky at the moment. All of the classic symptoms of depression are present: low mood, lack of motivation, insomnia.

My brand new Valve Index VR headset and my fancy Knuckles hand controllers sit on my desktop, infrequently used since I installed them in early January.

The Valve Index VR Headset

I do believe that using my then-new Oculus Rift headset four years ago was instrumental to my recovery from my last bout of serious clinical depression, as I wrote on my blog back in May 2018:

I first got my Oculus Rift headset back in January 2017, when I was on sick leave for depression from my job, and my life was feeling pretty bleak. Shortly afterwards, I also got the Oculus Touch hand controllers to be able to handle objects in VR.

I have no scientific proof, but I do believe that using that VR headset regularly—creating art using TiltBrush and Oculus Medium, using apps like Guided Meditation VR and Nature Treks VR, and interacting with other avatars and exploring new experiences in High Fidelity and the then-closed Sansar beta—was indeed a beneficial factor in my most recent recovery from depression. The best way I can describe it was that VR got my neurons firing again!

Now, I am not feeling as depressed as I did four years ago, but I can already see the warning signs. Therefore, I intend to slip on my Valve Index and explore as many social VR platforms, games, and creative apps as I can over the next few long, cold months, as a sort of preventative inoculation against isolation, depression and acedia. And, of course, blogging about them here.

Stay tuned for reports from my virtual excursions and adventures!

*No, today is not my birthday; I only sang Happy Birthday twice because that is how long you are supposed to wash your hands for. My actual birthday is on January 23rd (hint, hint, hint).

UPDATE January 20th, 2021: Wow! Somebody sent me a $50 Amazon gift card! Thank you!! The gift is much appreciated, and will definitely be put to good use. 🙂

Valve Index: Day One

Today was the day that I finally removed my Oculus Rift VR headset, uninstalled the Oculus software from my home computer, and installed my shiny new Valve Index! Yet another step on the road to my complete emancipation from Facebook Inc.

Setup was a breeze, as I already had SteamVR installed on my computer. However, it is definitely going to take me some time to get used to the new headset and the new hand controllers. I feel as awkward as a teenager again! For now, I am sticking with a seated or standing experience, but I hope to set up room-scale VR once I have rearranged things in my apartment, and thrown out a few things. I cranked up my refresh rate from 90 up to 120 Hz, and marveled as I wandered around my new “home” space (buh-bye, Oculus Home!).

I still have to run through all of the tutorials, but my first port of call was Sansar, where I marveled anew at how beautiful everything looked. I didn’t need to reinstall the Sansar client at all; it worked as flawlessly with the Valve Index as it did with my Oculus Rift (although it doesn’t support individual finger tracking). The sound is amazing!

Today is day one of new adventures in virtual reality! I am quite looking forward to all the worlds I will visit in my Valve Index.

Editorial: Preparing to Move from Oculus Rift to Valve Index (and Why the Oculus Quest Continues to Seduce Me, Despite Myself)

My well-worn Oculus Rift (left) and my yet-to-be-unpacked Valve Index VR kit (large box)

Today, I began preparing for the removal of my Oculus Rift VR headset by uninstalling all my apps in Oculus Home. (Fortunately, I didn’t spend a lot of money on games and apps in the Oculus Store over the past four years. My interest lies more with social VR platforms, which tend to be free to install, as opposed to VR games.)

I won’t actually remove the hardware until tomorrow, after which I will uninstall the Oculus software from my personal computer. Hopefully, by this time tomorrow, I will have broken that shiny multi-coloured seal on the large black box containing my brand new Valve Index VR kit, and gotten it all set up and working properly.

As part of my housecleaning today, I also recharged and updated my Oculus Quest (the original version 1, not the Quest 2). I put it on, fully intending to uninstall all the apps I had installed on it, and prepare it for shipping to my sister-in-law in Alberta…

…and damn if the Oculus Quest technology didn’t seduce me again, a full eight months after I had last picked it up! (The space in my bedroom which I had cleared for it is currently piled high with pandemic preps.) I found myself installing and testing out the controller-free option, where the Quest just tracks your hands in space, and I found that it was great fun! Which led to me playing with a few of the installed apps…and, well, a few hours later, there I was, back in love with the magic of it all. Say what you will about Facebook, but this is a awesome little device!

Which brings me to the following uncomfortable truth: while it will be relatively easy to replace my well-worn, much-loved Oculus Rift with the Valve Index, it will not be so easy to replace my wireless Oculus Quest VR headset—at least, not anytime soon. Perhaps, in a year or two, the marketplace will throw up a competitor or two, but for now, the Quest and Quest 2 are simply in a league of their own.

And that uncomfortable truth leads to an equally uncomfortable decision: do I, on point of principle, continue with my avowed, personal boycott of all things Facebook and Oculus, and give up my Quest? Or do I hold on to it until a non-Facebook alternative comes along, knowing that all the while, I am having my personal data while using the device harvested, strip-mined, and sold to the highest bidder by Mark Zuckerberg and company? It is an ethical dilemma.

I do have a two-year window in which I will not be forced to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use my Oculus Quest (an option which the people who purchased Quest 2 VR headsets this year do not have). And I also know that a lot can happen in two years…

But it looks as though (for now), my sister-in-law will not be receiving my Oculus Quest, just yet.

Damn you, Mark Zuckerberg! I have been seduced by the technology, yet again…

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary: November 18th, 2020

Today is officially Day 248 since I began working from home for my university library system because of the coronavirus pandemic. I am still on holidays this week; I “go back to work” on Monday (while remaining firmly ensconced in my apartment). All my days are blurring together; I thought it was Thursday today until I doubled-checked, and it’s Wednesday! Today I am focusing on cleaning up my apartment, doing the laundry, and putting a mountain of dirty dishes through my dishwasher (and, of course, doing a bit of blogging; this is already my third blogpost of the day, and it’s not even 10:00 a.m. yet!).

The good news is that a tentative agreement has been reached between the University of Manitoba and the faculty association. It still has to be voted on, but if the union membership votes to accept it, it means there will not be a strike by U of M professors, instructors, and librarians this year. And, in the event that the proposal is rejected and there is a strike, I have received assurances from a union negotiator that there is an option to participate in the strike 100% virtually, so I do not have to walk a picket line (which is a huge relief to me, since I am at high risk of a severe case of COVID-19 if I should become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus).

And the Valve Index VR kit I ordered is scheduled to arrive via FedEx sometime today (and, of course, I will be at home to receive the package)*:

Now begins the formidable task of rearranging everything in my apartment to create the room-scale virtual reality space I have always wanted! This will involve throwing out some furniture and books I no longer want to keep, rearranging my stock of rice, flour, canned goods, face masks, hand sanitizer, and other pandemic preps which are currently scattered all over the place into one compact area, etc. I expect that this will take me quite a while; I am a notoriously lazy, lax housekeeper (“slob” is such an ugly word).

Meanwhile, I am absolutely feasting on the schadenfreude as I read news reports about the infighting among the remaining Trump staffers who have not already been fired via Tweet or jumped the rapidly sinking ship, and chortling over some very funny editorial cartoons, such as this gem by Canadian editorial cartoonist Michael de Adder:

“I see losers…” (a reference to the 1999 Bruce Willis film The Sixth Sense)

And I howled with laughter at these two:

Yesterday, I had my first telephone conversation with the lawyer who will be drawing up my will, plus a financial power of attorney, and a healthcare power of attorney. And I have been in touch with all six key contact people whom I want to know my wishes and requests in the event of any emergency involving me (COVID-19 or otherwise).

Now I just need to sit down and write up detailed instructions to share with all six people. For example, I will be giving one of my trusted contacts, whom I know from Sansar and Second Life, my username and password for the RyanSchultz.com blog, so that in any emergency situation, he will be able to post a message if I cannot do so. Doing all this gives me some sense of relief; I am finally taking care of things that I have been putting off for far too long. At least in that area, my anxiety is starting to subside a bit (but I still keep the Lorazepam handy, just in case).

I am—dare I jinx it by saying it out loud?—feeling happy. Or at least, happier overall than I have felt in a long, long time.

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

Well…okay…not that happy. (But you get the picture.)

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay sane in these trying times!

UPDATE 1:52 p.m.: Well, I just checked the news and my happiness has evaporated. In an update to the anti-mask rally held in the Mennonite Bible Belt town of Steinbach (which I first wrote about on November 14th), CBC News reports:

RCMP confirmed on Saturday that several people, believed to attendees at a rally in the city that day against COVID-19 measures, stormed into Steinbach hospital’s emergency room, creating a scene. Mounties said people have come to the hospital, taking photos and yelling at employees.

“I feel just really upset. I think it undermines the message that we are giving,” said Dr. Glen Drobot, a Winnipeg internal medicine doctor who recently worked on a COVID-19 ward at St. Boniface Hospital.

What the fuck?

What the fuck???


And on top of that, Manitoba’s top doctor is upset that stores are advertising Black Friday sales:

With Black Friday coming up, Manitoba’s top doctor is urging Manitobans not to take part in Black Friday sales and shop only for essential items.

Speaking on Tuesday, [Dr. Brent] Roussin noted several businesses have already started advertising their sales for one of the biggest retail days of the year, including in-person sales happening on Nov. 27.

“I think I want to be really clear here; with the numbers, this is irresponsible,” he said after announcing seven more COVID-19 deaths and 270 more cases of the virus in Manitoba.

“We can’t accept this. We’re in code red in Winnipeg right now, we have people dying every day, we have our health-care workers telling us that they’re reaching their limits. This isn’t the time for having a large, in-person sale for non-essential goods or services.”

Yes, this is the actual, honest-to-God news today. I am starting to lose my faith in humanity, folks. If we are only as safe as the stupidest people in our society, then we are in deep, deep trouble here in Manitoba.

And things just keep getting worse and worse by the day:

Manitoba health officials announced 400 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths today as the number of patients in hospital continues to climb and strain the health-care system.

There are a record-high 249 people in hospital, with 40 of them in intensive care.

The five-day provincial test positivity rate also reached a new high of 14.2 per cent.

The COVID-19 outbreak in Manitoba is now the top news cluster on Google News:

I might just go back to bed and pull the covers over head. *sigh*

UPDATE 3:20 p.m.: And here’s a chart to show you all just just how quickly things have gotten out of control here in Manitoba (source: National Post newspaper, COVID-19 denial going strong in Manitoba as experts say hospitals near capacity, Nov. 18th, 2020):

*Update: My Valve Index VR kit arrived this afternoon. Hooray!