Pandemic Diary: September 12th, 2020

It is now Day 181 since I started working in isolation from home for my university library system.

One hundred and eighty-one days since I last worked in my office at the University of Manitoba Libraries (although I have popped in once or twice to use the printer and pick up a few reports). One hundred and eighty-one days since I have set foot in a retail establishment of any kind (I order my groceries online at Walmart, and have them load everything into the back of my car, and I get my prescriptions delivered). One hundred and eight-one days since I ate a meal inside a restaurant (although I have dined outside on a restaurant patio five or six times this summer, something I soon will be unable to do with autumn fast approaching).

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I apologize for the lack of blogposts this week; I just haven’t felt much like writing “news and view about social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse” lately.

Yesterday, game designer Jennifer Sheurle tweeted something that I could utterly relate to, as I near the six-month mark of working from home, lacking in external stimulation and close human contact:

She wrote:

Does anybody else feel like the quarantine has influenced their creative prowess negatively? I feel like my creative energy is at an all-time low with so little external stimuli, rarely going outside, seeing people…. It’s making me feel very sad.

Turns out for me, having time is not the main aspect of making creative things happen. If I have time but no external stimuli, travel, good conversations, food, etc… my creative energy takes a HUGE nosedive. Who knew.

In the office, I love doing brainstorming sessions with colleagues, lock ourselves in a room, whiteboard scribble things out, go for lunch to think and so on. I feel like all my creative strategies have lost all meaning.

Her tweet went viral, and was liked by almost 800 other people, dozens of whom commented that they, too, were struggling to find their creativity, zest, and joy in their work. I responded:

I can completely relate to this, and to many of the comments people have made here. The lack of external stimulation has pitched me into full-blown hibernation mode, and I am struggling just to keep my head above water at work, at a time when I have hard deadlines to meet.

And it’s true: I am struggling. I admit it. All of my energy is going towards work, and my productivity and creativity have been significantly impaired. I find myself sleeping 10, 12, even 14 hours at a stretch, and I often feel exhausted, fighting to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I have gotten up, set the alarm to sleep another two hours, and gone back to bed, unable to face the challenges of the day without a little extra sleep. I am like a grumpy (gay) bear in hibernation mode.

I got myself a subscription to CalmRadio.com, and I find myself listening to soothing music all day, every day. And I keep working away, a vat of black coffee on constant standby. I was hoping that the official start of the academic year this week would help to kick-start my energy and motivation, but I still find myself pushing myself to get things done.

I don’t kid myself; I know that this is the “new normal”, and that things will likely stay this way for at least another six to twelve months, probably well into 2021. Even if good vaccines are found among the first batch that are currently being tested, it will take a long time to manufacture and deliver sufficient quantities to bring society back to some semblance of normality. Canada has already signed major deals with four vaccine producers, and I read in the news that they are close to signing other deals. The pandemic is going to make some people very, very rich and, as usual, the poor (and those without universal healthcare or health insurance) will be screwed.

This week, bowing to public pressure, the provincial health authorities have started breaking down COVID-19 cases by Winnipeg city neighbourhoods:

While the overall numbers are still low compared to many areas in the United States, we have still seen a recent surge in daily cases in Manitoba:

I vacillate between wanting to stay informed on the latest progress in the fight against COVID-19, glued to my newsfeed, and getting so disgusted and demoralized by how some thoughtless, selfish, ignorant people are responding to the crisis that I avoid the news media for days at a stretch. I still don’t have a TV set, but I am spending a lot of time binge watching various Netflix shows on my iPad.

My Valve Index is still on back order, and I don’t expect I will receive my shipment of a complete kit until November at the earliest. I am toying with the idea of throwing out the worn, old sofa in my living room, and completely rearranging the space to set up (for the first time ever) a full-room space devoted to virtual reality. We’ll see.

Stay healthy and stay sane! I will continue to keep you posted on how things are going with me.

Pandemic Diary: August 26th, 2020

My subconscious is starting to rebel against social distancing in new and creative ways.

This morning (on day 164 of working from home in self-imposed isolation due to the pandemic), I dreamed that I was participating in a full-blown, pansexual orgy. (No, you are not getting all the juicy details. But it did take place in a glass-walled house.)

Sebastiano Ricci – Bacchanal in Honour of Pan (circa 1716; source)

I will be honest; I am finding it very hard to stay motivated working from home, even though I have lots of work projects to keep me busy. All the days and times of day—weekdays and weekends; morning, afternoon, evening and night—tend to blur together. I find myself responding to work emails on Sunday morning, and working on PowerPoint slides late into the evening. I don’t seem to have any boundaries between work and non-work life anymore, a common complaint of those of us who find ourselves working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The news here in Manitoba has been not so great, with the number of COVID-19 cases increasing, rising infections in some Hutterite communities, and a serious outbreak in the western Manitoba city of Brandon, leading to new social gathering restrictions being imposed:

I feel a general sense of unease about the current pandemic situation and our response to it. To give you an idea of how little I am leaving my apartment during the pandemic, I filled up my gas tank on March 15th, 2020, and I still have a quarter tank of gas five months later. I have been making an effort to get outside during our all-too-short Canadian summer, though, just to get some external stimulation and some exercise. I need to do more.

I still haven’t decided what to do about my hair, so I am letting it grow out. I am toying with the idea of just growing it long and rocking a ponytail, something I have never done before in my life. Either that, or just shave it all off (unfortunately, I have a distinctly pear-shaped head, and I look horrible in a brush cut).

I am continuing to lose weight; my clothes fit looser, and I am now wearing a belt that I haven’t been able to wear for well over a year. I chalk it up to not eating out at restaurants (not even drive-through or take-out), cooking all my own meals and shopping for all my groceries online via Wal-Mart. I haven’t set foot in a grocery store since March 15th, where I could be tempted by store displays and sales, and I refuse to buy junk food when I am shopping online: no chocolate, no ice cream, no potato chips, no white cheddar popcorn (the crack cocaine of junk food). If I feel hungry before I go to bed, I heat up a can of soup or make some Kraft Dinner.

I have been bingewatching Netflix on my iPad since my TV set died. My taste lately veers towards sci-fi, dystopian and pre/post-apocalyptic fare to match my mood: the televison series The Umbrella Academy, Lucifer, Snowpiercer, Hard Sun, Dark, The Rain, 3%, and movies like The 5th Wave, Io: Last on Earth, How It Ends, 3022, and Only (which depressed the hell out me). I don’t watch the TV series in order; I skip forwards and backwards, and even watch episodes out of order (I did that a lot for Dark to figure out what the hell was going on).

And I have been camping for Lindens in Second Life. Yes, I know a couple of secret spots; no, I am not telling you where they are (most of them I have discovered by randomly searching for keywords under Places in Search, when I was bored). But I did share one tip with you previously, which I will mention again:

I took my alt…over to Escort Oasis, plunked her down on one of the animated burlesque dancer chairs, signed into the tip jar, and let her dance among all the other working girls.

By the way, if you ever do have an avatar short of Linden dollars, this is one of the better spots in Second Life to park yourself on an animated chair, platform, or dance pole, dance your little heart out for a few hours or a half day or so, and take a chance on winning a small mount of Linden dollars (L$2 to L$9) if you are randomly selected when the sploder gives away cash every fifteen minutes.

Of course, it’s an inducement to increase traffic to the Escort Oasis sim, but it is very effective. As long as you don’t have any moral qualms about hanging out in an Adult-rated sim which is meant to be a place where virtual johns meet virtual hookers, why not dress up, go dancing, and maybe earn a few Linden dollars to spend on more fabulous dollarbies and other bargains and deals in SL?

Since I wrote that, Jenwen Walpole, the owner of Escort Oasis, has bumped up the sploder to award between L$5 and L$20 randomly to someone dancing on one of the chairs, stools, platforms, and stripper poles, every fifteen minutes, 24/7/365.

I must confess that at times I have been so bored in the late evening, that I have plopped 5 or 6 anonymous male, female, and transgender alts into Escort Oasis, just to win a few Linden dollars. You do have to check the sessions every 10-15 minutes to answer the anti-camping bot correctly in order to stay perched on your furniture, however (see image above).

You can throw on a nice outfit, dance your little heart out, listen to the music stream (sometimes they have a live DJ), and chat with the working girls or the customers (I have found that a bit of witty banter can sometimes lead to a nice tip). Of course, you do NOT have to escort, despite the name of the sim. Remember, “no” is a very appropriate response to anyone who actually tries to hit you up for pixelsex 😉

Oh, and I forgot to mention: every so often Jenwen will start a round of 30 trivia questions. Be the first to type in the correct answer, and you win L$5 per correct answer!

So if you are flat broke in SL, to the point where you can’t even buy Lindens on your credit card, you might want to consider this as an option, provided that you only need a small amount of Linden dollars. (You ain’t gonna earn that pricey Catwa head you’ve been eyeing this way, honey. Now, watch as the Escort Oasis get inundated with new avatars, like so many other spots with an active sploder. I should have kept my big mouth shut.)

I don’t even know why I am hanging out in Second Life anyway; some days it feels like only a slightly more engaging alternative to playing Solitaire on my computer. I feel brain-dead, like my neurons have been replaced with cotton wool. I just haven’t felt much like putting on my Oculus Rift VR headset to use any social VR apps, and I still can’t use my Oculus Quest because the empty space I had cleared for it in my bedroom is now piled high with pandemic preps like rice, canned soup, and toilet paper.

And frankly, I’m still feeling supremely pissed off at Facebook. My online order of a Valve Index has been confirmed by email, but manufacture and shipping delays due to the coronavirus pandemic mean that I will be waiting at least right weeks or longer to receive it.

I have heard through the grapevine of many other people who are so angry at Facebook that they are also jumping ship, planning to sell or give away their Oculus devices to protest Facebook’s announcement that, henceforth, they will have to set up an account on the Facebook social network in order to use them. (One wag on Reddit commented, “This is an odd advertisement for Valve Index.”)

Oh, and by the way, Oculus is now officially known as “Facebook Reality Labs”.

(No, the eye is not part of the new logo, but it may as well be there;
this modified image was posted to Twitter by LokiEliot)

I am reminded of the ancient Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times”. 2020 has been such a perverse, dumpster-fire year, and it looks like we are going to have an…interesting fall and winter.

Stay safe and healthy, we’ll see you in September!

UPDATED! Pandemic Diary: June 29th, 2020

Today is Day 106 of my self-imposed isolation, since I started working from home for my university library system since March 16th, 2020. The weekend before last, while taking out the garbage to the nearest bin at my apartment complex, I was surprised to find a dragonfly stubbornly perched on the outside door frame of my apartment:

I leaned forward to peer at its closely, and it did not fly away. Ironically, that is the closest that I have come to another living being in three whole months! (Although I have visited with my elderly parents and my best friend, practicing the proper social distancing guidelines of 2 metres/6 feet.)

We up here in the Canadian province of Manitoba (population 1.272 million, the majority of whom live in and around the Winnipeg area) have dodged a bullet so far: only 324 cases of COVID-19 in total, no individuals currently in hospital or intensive care, and only seven deaths so far in the entire province:

Manitoba has been spared the worst of the crisis (so far)

Compared with the absolute clusterfuck that is currently happening down in the United States, we Manitobans have been truly lucky (the following image comes from a recent New York Times article that outlines the spread of the coronavirus from its first cases, documenting how the U.S. has fumbled its response to the crisis):

Newly-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, June 9th to June 23rd, 2020 (source: How the Virus Won, The New York Times)

The border between Canada and the U.S. has remained firmly closed to all except essential workers such as nurses and truckers hauling goods, although a few incredibly selfish and stupid American tourists have been let into the country by using the “Alaska loophole” (if they lie and tell the Canadian Border Services agents that they are driving through Canada to Alaska, apparently they cannot be forbidden from entering Canada). The RCMP has already issued tickets to U.S. tourists discovered in places such as Banff, Alberta.

I have settled into some sort of a regular daily workday routine: getting up at the same time each day, having a shower and applying deodorant (even through there is nobody around to smell me), getting dressed, brewing a large pot of black coffee, and settling down in front of my home computer to sign into my work email and my university’s virtual reference desk software, to face the day. Committee work continues despite the pandemic; some days I have as many as three or four back-to-back virtual meetings using Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex.

I have decided to take a “vacation” from blogging, except for sponsored blogposts for Sinespace (although I find that I have started backsliding on my resolution, making more blogposts lately about Second Life, which has become my preferred means of escape from the pain, suffering, tragedy, and farce of the real world).

And, as someone who routinely went out a restaurant at least once a day for meals, I have discovered the joy of cooking for myself as a result of the pandemic. I keep things pretty simple: pots of homemade Weight Watchers zero-point vegetable soup, baked potatoes with salsa, Hamburger Helper lasagna, Kraft macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, brown rice with a can of heated-up Campbell’s Chunky cream soup poured over top (Butter Chicken and Corn Chowder work well for this). I have even made my first attempts at baking (homemade biscuits, which turned out not too bad with some margarine and honey).

And I have actually lost weight! I have taken in my belt at least two notches over the past three months. I credit two things: not eating any fried, overly-processed restaurant fast food since mid-March (no French fries!) and deliberately not buying junk food as part of my pandemic preps: no popcorn, no potato chips, no chocolate, no ice cream. (I had bought a bag of chocolate chips as part of my pre-pandemic shopping in February, in order to bake cookies, only to stress eat the entire bag one evening. I simply cannot keep away from it if it in the house, so I simply don’t buy it.)

I had bought three large bags of skin milk powder as part of my pandemic preps, and I have discovered I quite like the taste of reconstituted skim milk powder. The taste somehow reminds me of a milkshake, so I mix a large beer mug of this milk with a teaspoon of vanilla extract and three teaspoons of sugar to make a “milkshake”, the only “junk food” treat I permit myself sometimes in the evenings.

I have not set foot in a retail store for three months (except for one early-morning visit last weekend to my local Starbucks, wearing a cloth mask as required and following all the social distancing protocols, to pick up a tall blonde roast, which I enjoyed on the deserted patio outside, where each table was clearly demarcated by tape on the concrete to indicate isolation zones). I order my groceries online via Wal-Mart, drive to the store to have the back of my car loaded up by the staff there, and drive home without entering the store. I call in my prescription renewals and have my medications delivered to my door. I have absolutely zero need to go shopping, or set foot in a store or mall.

And so it goes. I don’t expect my situation to change significantly until there is a viable vaccine, and that is going to take at least another twelve months, if not longer. Everybody knows that, given my underlying health conditions which put me at risk of a severe, possibly lethal, reaction to infection by the coronavirus, that I will be among the very last people to return to working on my university campus. And, by and large, I have accepted that social distancing and all the other precautions are going to be a constant part of my life for the foreseeable future.

My university has already announced that all September classes will be conducted remotely online. An information literacy course for undergraduate science students, which I and my librarian colleagues will be team-teaching, will also be done completely online. It’s the first time we have ever offered a for-credit course as opposed to shorter, in-class orientation sessions for students. I expect that I will be very busy over July and August, working with another librarian on three weeks of content for this fall term course, as well as other projects to which I have been assigned.

I have been enjoying my self-imposed vacation from the blog. It’s been great to just give myself the permission not to obsessively write about every single piece of news about social VR and virtual worlds that comes my way (and, quite often, I don’t even have to go looking for it; it often comes to me now!). I have been reading through my backlog of murder mysteries, exploring Second Life, and venturing outside to enjoy Canada’s warm, all-too-brief summer.

My avatar standing next to the dance floor at Frank’s Jazz Club, listening to the music stream

UPDATE 11:17 p.m.: Well, I suppose I asked for this. One of the regular members of the RyanSchultz.com Discord, itoibo, cheekily posted the following picture:

LOL! Come to think of it, that could indeed be why he was hanging around!

Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg: Second Life Has Seen a 50% Increase in Regular Monthly Users Because of the Pandemic

Second Life’s new logo (more info)

Last year, I wrote:

In the December 2017 issue of The Atlantic magazine, Leslie Jamison wrote an article about Second Life. The webpage for that article has the original article title, Second Life Still Has 600,000 Regular Users (which you can check for yourself by doing a Google search):

However, it would seem that Leslie’s editor at The Atlantic wanted a somewhat punchier title, and so we have The Digital Ruins of a Forgotten Future, which shows up when you click on that link. (I’m pretty sure that Linden Lab is less than pleased with that particular editor.)

There’s a quote from that article which is, to my knowledge, the most up-to-date statistic we have about how many people still use Second Life: “Of the 36 million Second Life accounts that had been created by 2013—the most recent data Linden Lab will provide—only an estimated 600,000 people still regularly use the platform.”

“Only” 600,000? That still makes Second Life, far and away, the most popular metaverse platform, at almost 17 years old. Even popular newer platforms like VRChat don’t have that level of usage. (Note I am talking specifically about open-ended purpose social VR and virtual worlds here, not games like Fortnite which are slowly expanding into non-combat, social environments.)

And yet, somehow, the mainstream news media continues to portray Second Life as quaint, outdated, and “forgotten”. In case you doubt that 600,000 figure, it was supported by statistics released by Jessica Lyon, the founder, CEO, and project manager of the Firestorm viewer project:

Let’s get this out of the way first:  542,967 unique users across 9.9 million sessions spending 17.7 million hours logged into Second Life on Firestorm over the last 30-day period. 

If you assume that Firestorm has 90% of the SL viewer market (a reasonable assumption), that still works out to about 600,000 regular monthly users (that is, people who sign into Second Life at least once a month).


Well, in a May 22nd, 2020 VICE story about the boom in business in virtual worlds during the pandemic, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (the makers of Second Life), had this to say:

“The Second Life community, which now has about 900,000 active users monthly, hosts hundreds of events daily,” Ebbe Altberg, the CEO of Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, tells VICE. Altberg reveals that the most regularly attended virtual events include live music performances, shopping fairs, fan fiction conventions, book and poetry readings, academic lectures, fashion shows, and art exhibitions. “Events in Second Life can be held spontaneously or with careful planning,” says Altberg. “We have an events calendar and destination guide that helps the community discover what is happening at any given moment. Inside the Second Life Viewer, many communities also form chat groups that allow for like-minded people to stay informed about the latest events.”

Linden Lab does not often reveal usage statistics, so this is noteworthy. What is also noteworthy is that the number of people who log into Second Life at least once a month has jumped from about 600,000 to approximately 900,000—a 50% increase!

Even though Linden Lab has been trying mightily to promote their virtual world and increase the number of people using Second Life for well over a decade, the company has been caught flat footed by this significant increase in usage (be careful what you wish for!).

In fact, they recently announced that they were unable to respond to a surge in demand for Second Life regions (better known as sims, which is short for “simulators”):

Well, this is awkward…

Due to the ongoing public health crisis, we’ve experienced an unprecedented surge in demand for new Second Life regions. While we are thrilled by the heightened interest, the increased demand has consumed our available inventory of full regions and homesteads (there are still many parcels available on existing regions, both on the mainland and from private estates). 

We are committed to maintaining (and improving) the stability and performance of Second Life. So while we are very gratified that we can be of help to people in these trying times, unfortunately, our current server systems cannot accommodate unlimited growth without adversely impacting that stability and performance. This means that region inventory in Second Life will be extremely limited and may not be readily available until early fall.

As we’ve discussed previously, Second Life is in the process of migrating from our existing dedicated servers to a cloud hosting service. That migration has already moved a number of the most important services and databases, but we are not quite ready to host simulators in the cloud. We have a crack team working on that and are making lots of progress, but there are significant changes needed to make sure that we can provide the performance, stability, and security required. When that process is complete we will have a nearly unlimited region capacity, but until then we are constrained by the size of our existing server fleet.

While our migration project has been underway for some time, even our most optimistic business projections did not anticipate a surge of the magnitude we have seen in recent weeks for additional regions. While we planned for growth driven by improvements to Second Life and other factors, we didn’t expect demand to be created by a global pandemic.

As a result, we are in the unfortunate position of hitting the maximum capacity of our “old” servers until the “new” cloud servers are fully operational.


Of course, Second Life is not the only metaverse platform to see an increase in business because of the global public health crisis. Many other social VR and virtual worlds have seen an increase in use, and they have been receiving many inquiries from educational institutions, businesses, and convention organizers. For example, the Balticon science fiction and fantasy convention, taking place this weekend, set up a virtual convention meeting place in Second Life.

Sensing a business opportunity, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in the number of companies offering platforms supporting remote team work, or (as I prefer to call them) YARTVRA. (This last link will take you to all the blogposts I have written about the remote teamwork marketplace to date.)

And this is not going to be a temporary situation, either. In a best-case scenario, we are going to have to wait 12 to 18 months for a vaccine, which means that social distancing policies, lockdowns, and quarantines are going to be implemented, off an on, for the foreseeable future by governments around the world. We could well see successive waves of coronavirus infection well into 2021, or even 2022!

The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented business opportunity for social VR platforms and virtual worlds. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines!

Photo by Luca Huter on Unsplash