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…

My Journey from Oculus Rift to Valve Index: Buh-Bye, Facebook!

My journey from Oculus Rift to Valve Index started on August 18th, 2020 when I first placed my order for a complete Valve Index VR kit:

Today, I put my money where my mouth is. I went and placed an online order for the complete Valve Index VR Kit. I am told that it will take eight or more weeks to get to me, because of coronavirus-related delays in production. That’s fine. I can wait. And I’m not going anywhere.

I will be boycotting Facebook hardware and software from this point forward. It’s time for me to kick the Facebook habit, once and for all.

Well, after waiting almost three months (due to manufacturing and shipping delays caused by the pandemic), I was able to confirm the purchase of the Valve Index Kit on my credit card today, and now the shipping process begins! I am so excited!

This is not going to be cheap. The total cost, including import fees, comes to CDN$1,477 (which, according to today’s exchange rates, works out to about US$1,131).

It’s expensive, but I can afford it, and I am leaving Facebook (and Oculus) behind for good. My trusty Oculus Rift has served me well for almost four years now, through many memorable adventures and experiences, and I have certainly gotten my money’s worth from it, but I absolutely refuse to set up a new Facebook account in order to use it. (I won’t sell it, because the headset is so worn; I’ll just box it up and keep it in case anything goes wrong with the Valve Index.)

As for my original version Oculus Quest, I must confess that I haven’t touched it in at least eight months. The empty space I had cleared in my bedroom in order to use it is currently piled high with rice, canned soup and beans, Clorox wipes, toilet paper, face masks, surgical gloves, and various other pandemic preparations. (I have already decided to donate my Quest to my sister-in-law’s workplace, where she is part of a team of people who work with developmentally challenged adults. They can put it to good use. I still need to Google to find out exactly how best to wipe all my personal account information and purchased apps off my Quest before I mail it to her.)

The good news is that I haven’t spent a lot of money on games on the Oculus Store, for either my Rift or my Quest (most of what I do in VR is social VR, almost all of which is free to download), so I won’t lose much money there. And, of course, any purchases I made on social VR platforms like Sansar is tied to my Sansar account, and not to Facebook/Oculus. From now on, I will be dealing either with Steam, or downloading software directly from the company’s website.

Buh-bye, Facebook/Oculus! Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. I am going to enjoy uninstalling the Oculus software from my personal computer.

I just paid almost $1,500 just to be able to say this: fuck you, Mark Zuckerberg.

And, once my new Valve Index arrives, I have decided to completely redecorate my living room to convert it into a room-scale VR space. This means I have to throw out some furniture, including my ancient, ratty old sofa and busted, cathode-ray-tube TV set (which died on me at the start of the pandemic). I have zero plans to purchase a new television set; I never watch broadcast TV anymore, and I do not miss it. I can get all the video content I need from streaming services like Netflix.

I currently have four large bookshelves in my living room loaded with books I no longer read or want, so I will be taking them to the nearest dumpster (I would have donated them to the Children’s Hospital Book Market, but that event has been cancelled and they are asking people not to drop off books at local fire halls.) As a librarian, I am really rather surprised at just how easily I can part with paper books these days; I used to be a book packrat who scoured used book sales like the Children’s Hospital Book Market. I also practiced a lot of what the Japanese call tsundoku: buying books but never getting around to reading them!

I will be creating a new category on my blog, called Valve Index (this blogpost will be the first one put into that category). Wish me luck as I embark on a new adventure!

The Valve Index kit I ordered