NeosVR Demonstrates Full Mouth Tracking on Their Avatars

Tomáš Mariančík (a.k.a. Frooxius), the creative and talented lead software developer who is building the NeosVR social VR platform, recently shared the following video via Twitter, saying:

The HTC Vive lip tracker dev-kit I integrated into NeosVR really adds a whole new level of expressivity to social VR. Never before [have] I had other people in VR telling me they like to see me smile when there’s something funny, or to go to sleep when I’m yawning!

This is so cool! Of course, most people in VR headsets use hand controllers of some sort to animate thier avatar’s arms and hands. Valve Index hand controllers can even animate individual fingers (although not all platforms can take advantage of this feature).

Many people have also been experimenting for years with using the HTC Vive “pucks” (on platforms such as VRChat, the old High Fidelity, and Sansar), to animate their avatar’s full bodies, attaching them to shoulders, waists, hips, knees, and feet. But adding mouth, lips (even tongue!) movements pushes the envelope even further, and these non-verbal expressions can add so much to conversations in social VR!

It should be noted here that the quest to animate your avatar’s face has been going on for quite some time now, with a variety of different solutions. For example, Sinespace sells a product called an Avatar Facial Driver, which works using your webcam to capture your facial expressions and play them on your avatar’s face (this is for a non-VR, desktop user, though). I blogged about this back in May of 2018.

Congratulations to Tomáš and the entire team at NeosVR for pushing the boundaries in avatar expression!

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UPDATED! Coronavirus Pandemic: What You Are Feeling Is Grief (And What You Are Seeing Is Plagiarism)

I make no secret of the fact that I have been struggling emotionally during the coronavirus pandemic, which is why I found the following five-minute YouTube video to be comforting. Psychologist Dr. Sarb Johal tweeted it with the following comment:

We feel the world has changed, and it has. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. Here’s what’s going on and what you can do.

Now, this is not something that I haven’t already heard from my psychiatrist and other people. But there’s just something about the way Dr. Johal puts it.

If, like me, you are struggling, you need to set aside five minutes and watch this:

Thank you, Dr. Sarb Johal! I thought the least I could so is repost this video, since at the moment it has a criminally low 44 views! So get out there and share this. Thanks!

UPDATE 10:45 p.m.: One of my regular blog readers, Brinlea, just shared with me the following article from the Harvard Business Review: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief, an interview with renowned grief expert David Kessler (thanks, Brinlea!).

Hmmm, this article was written March 23rd, over three weeks ago, and Dr. Johal posted his YouTube video just six hours ago. And the HBR article is pretty much the exact script of what Dr. Johal said in his YouTube video, right down to the examples used. Even the text of Dr. Johal’s tweet (which I quoted up top) is lifted verbatim from the article.

Hmmm… I think at the very least, the good doctor should have credited where he got his information from. Read the Harvard Business Review article and then watch Dr. Johal’s video and you’ll see what I mean. And I wouldn’t even have known about it if it weren’t for Brinlea.

So I will take back my earlier praise. This is still useful information, engagingly imparted, but this is also plagiarism. Dr. Johal basically lifted, almost verbatim, what David Kessler said in his interview with the Harvard Business Review. As a librarian who teaches proper citation style to university students, this is a major no-no.

Not impressed. If you’re going to steal another person’s words, then have the guts to cite your sources. (Do not fuck with the librarians, we will catch you out!)

And if you are looking for some properly cited sources of information about mental health during the pandemic, here is a blogpost I keep updated—to which I have now added two excellent articles from the Harvard Business Review.

Prairie Voices: Ilus Ta Ei Ole

Sign on a Winnipeg Transit bus (source)

As I have written before, Winnipeg is a very special place with its own quirky charm and unique sense of humour. Frankly, I can’t think of any other place I would rather be during a pandemic lockdown.

Because of its relative isolation compared to other cities, Winnipeggers have developed many home-grown arts, cultural, and entertainment events and institutions. For example, the city is home to a large number of community choirs and choruses. (For ten years, I sang tenor with The Rainbow Harmony Project, Winnipeg’s LGBTQ2* Chorus, a time I remember fondly.)

Another well-known Winnipeg community chorus is Prairie Voices, a choir of 18- to 25-year-olds, which released the following music video on YouTube with the preface:

Like so many in the music community, we had to cancel our concert on March 14th, 2020. It was heart breaking. So we decided to channel that heartbreak into creating this video.

This is “Ilus Ta Ei Ole” (“It is not beautiful”) by Pärt Uusberg.

The text begins by describing things that seem ordinary and mundane. But it ends with the realization that all those same things, when put together, are actually extraordinary and beautiful.

We’ve seen this exact same thing happen with the COVID-19 pandemic: humanity is coming together with each of us doing our own small part to keep each other safe and well.

As individuals, we can only achieve so much, but together we can achieve anything.

Together, we can create beauty.

The conductor sent out a video of himself conducting the piece. The choristers recorded themselves on their phones singing their parts. The recordings and videos were compiled together and edited into this incredible video by two members of the choir.

I hope this slow-building, beautiful piece—and the way this video was constructed—inspires you as much as it inspired me tonight, at the end of a stressful, anxious day.

The New York Metropolitan Opera Is Streaming Encore Presentations for Free This Week

If the relentless drumbeat of coronavirus hews is givng you the blues, why not treat it with a little opera?

Starting yesterday, Monday, March 16th and running through to Sunday, March 22nd, New York City’s Metropolitan Opera (which has suspended all its live performances due to the pandemic until March 31st) is offering a different classic opera encore performance every day online for free!

Their press release states:

A day after canceling upcoming performances due to concerns around the coronavirus, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it would stream encore presentations from the award-winning Live in HD series of cinema transmissions on the company website for the duration of the closure. The new offering will begin on Monday, March 16 with the 2010 HD performance of Bizet’s Carmen, conducted by Met Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and starring Elīna Garanča in the title role and Roberto Alagna as Don José.

All “Nightly Met Opera Streams” will begin at 7:30pm EDT and will remain available via the homepage of metopera.org for 20 hours. The homepage link will open the performance on the Met Opera on Demand streaming service. The performance will also  be viewable on all Met Opera on Demand apps.

“We’d like to provide some grand opera solace to opera lovers in these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. “Every night, we’ll be offering a different complete operatic gem from our collection of HD presentations from the past 14 years.”


Here is the schedule (opera glasses are optional!):

Monday, March 16 – Bizet’s Carmen

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna. Transmitted live on January 16, 2010.

Tuesday, March 17 – Puccini’s La Bohème

Conducted by Nicola Luisotti, starring Angela Gheorghiu and Ramón Vargas. Transmitted live on April 5, 2008.

Wednesday, March 18 – Verdi’s Il Trovatore

Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Dolora Zajick, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Transmitted live on October 3, 2015.

Thursday, March 19 – Verdi’s La Traviata

Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, starring Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, and Quinn Kelsey. Transmitted live on December 15, 2018.

Friday, March 20 – Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment

Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. Transmitted live on April 26, 2008.

Saturday, March 21 – Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor

Conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Anna Netrebko, Piotr Beczała, and Mariusz Kwiecien. Transmitted live on February 7, 2009.

Sunday, March 22 – Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

Conducted by Valery Gergiev, starring Renée Fleming, Ramón Vargas, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Transmitted live on February 24, 2007.

The Metropolitan Opera, New York City