The Merits of Attending a VR Conference: Avatar Creation

This past week, I attended my first virtual reality (VR) conference. When I first saw the conference advertised months ago, I was intrigued. The ads mentioned attending as an avatar and walking around a campus. All this while attending sessions from world-class speakers and professionals. The low cost was another selling feature. Attending an in-person conferences is more expensive because of travel, lodging, and food. This was not an issue with a virtual conference.

After some initial mishaps installing the right app, I was in! Luckily customer support called me to guide me through the process. Even more astonishing, the customer support rep “met” me in the virtual world to show me around. Once I entered the world, my first stop was the avatar “dressing room” to create my avatar.

I had fun scrolling through the different options and palettes for things like skin tone, hair, accessories, clothing, shoes, etc. The right side of the screen featured a die. Once selected, it generated a randomly-created avatar based on available options. I tried this a few times before deciding it was too funky for me, even in a VR world.

The avatar dressing room had options for gender (m/f), hats, hair styles, eyes, eyeshadow, glasses, lips, ears, face shape, shirt, jacket, accessories, pants, and shoes. Each option offered approximately 5-10 different styles, in a range of available colors. See left-side panel.

Once in the dressing room, I faced my first VR dilemma. Should I be me? Or should I take advantage of the fun features and create someone totally different? I went for a hybrid approach, blending some of my own style with that of my avatar. For example, I picked a short, funky hairstyle that I would never get for myself. I discovered later it was actually a bun, so not that different. My avatar is wearing glasses, which I don’t wear. And on day 1, I dressed my avatar in yellow, a color I never wear. It was a professional conference, after all, so I didn’t want to look too different from myself.

After creating the avatar, the next step was learning how to move around in the campus. Keyboard commands were available for things like waving, clapping, shaking hands, acting impatient or confused, and dancing. My avatar could sit, stand, run, kick a ball and drive a motorboat.

Stay tuned next week for insights on attending the conference.

Productivity Tip: The Meal Plan

I’d never really considered having a meal plan before this past year. Cooking is a creative outlet for me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make something with what’s available. Even better if that something is a surprise win. A friend of mine recently reminded me of a marinading sauce I concocted years ago. At the time I had a lot of cilantro and limes to use up. Not knowing what else to do with so many, I created a sauce that turned out pretty tasty.

Aside from the creative aspect of cooking, I also find chopping and prepping cathartic. Even better if I’m prepping while catching up on my favorite podcasts, another enjoyable activity for me.

So when I started working again post-pandemic, things got hectic. To make things easy, I started coming up with a weekly meal plan. Surprisingly, I like a lot of things about it.

First of all, it reduces decision fatigue. Thinking about what I’m going to eat, or opening the cupboard to get inspired, is all time and energy saved with the plan. If I feel hungry, I now consult the weekly program to remind myself of the meal.

Secondly, even though I still have to make the food, having the plan has also reduced my prep time. For example, if I know I’m having broccoli for a couple meals, I’ll prep all the broccoli at once. Then leave the washed and cut pieces in the fridge for cooking right when needed throughout the week. I do something similar with onions. After chopping up the onions, I freeze meal-size portions so they’re ready to use.

Some people plan their meals, then go to the grocery store and buy all the right stuff. My preference is to shop, especially if it’s farmer’s market season, then come up with meals. This way, cooking still feels creative, while freeing up some mental space for other things when needed. I also leave a few open options by simply writing fruit or veg. This way I can fill in the blank with whatever is on hand.

I have to say the meal plan is working out pretty well. I spend less than an hour on it each week. I’m sure it saves me more time than that because I’m ready to go. This is critical, especially when there are hangry mouths to feed.

Why Leftovers Always Taste so Good

Why is it that leftovers always taste good? Sometimes, they even taste better than the meal. During the holidays, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about how they almost enjoy the leftovers more than the actual meals. In fact, I think some people do enjoy holiday leftovers more. Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic.

With the pandemic restrictions easing up the last couple of months, I’ve been trying to have a (social-distanced, outdoor, and small) gathering every weekend. Usually we plan some kind of potluck lunch. Every time, I’ve had leftovers. Each time I go to eat them, two important things are happening.

  1. I have an easy, tasty meal. Preparation time is minimal. There’s the added bonus that I might be eating something delicious that somebody else took time to prepare.
  2. The happy outing memories are “baked” into the food. It’s almost as though I can recreate the fun conversation, laughs, and joy from eating the same foods again.

Even before Covid and all the lockdowns and restrictions destroyed social gatherings, I was always a fan of leftovers. This could be because I grew up making and eating a lot of Italian food. Everybody knows Italian food is better when it’s been slow cooked, heated up, and marinated in its own delicious saucy-goodness for a while. Another reason is because I was big on bringing my own lunch to work, when I used to commute. Leftovers provided me with something quick and easy to prep in the morning, or the night before (see no. 1 above). To me this was a more nutritious and less-expensive option than grabbing something from the food court. I would also add, that when I worked downtown, I got food poisoning more than once from eating in the food courts. Another great reason to bring my own food, where I could be confident of the quality and handling practices.

I do know a few (crazy) people that refuse to eat leftovers, but they’re definitely in the minority. I can recall a few times this happened to me. One time I made a large spaghetti squash. I ate it for days and days, hoping it would get moldy so I could toss it without guilt. Eventually, I choked it all down by mixing it with other leftovers.

The Practice of Recording Meetings: Good Custom or Overload?

I’ve been navigating my new 100% remote-work environment for a few months. I’m still figuring out a few things, such as when to be on/off video, or where to position my camera. When I should book a meeting instead of reaching out by chat for a quick call. Or how to make it through a day of back-to-back meetings. At least for the last challenge, I’m implementing new guidelines to shorten meeting durations by 5 (or 10 minutes) to allow for some breathing room in between.

However, one new thing is how easy it is for anybody in the meeting to make a recording. I think before everybody was 100% remote, recording meetings didn’t happen. Or at least it didn’t happen frequently. This might have been because in a face-to-face scenario, it wasn’t as easy to record without special equipment. Also, making a recording would have required someone to gain consent. And all of this could have been more complicated if some attendees were remote and joining in through phone or video calling.

Now, recording the meeting is as easy as clicking a button. Instantly the recording starts. Participants give their implied consent by remaining in the meeting. To be fair, nobody has made a recording without first mentioning, or asking if this would be okay with the attendees. A red signal indicates recording so everyone knows.

Since I’m in the business of Records and Information Management, I always have to wonder, what happens to all these recordings? Where are they stored? And more importantly, is anybody going to watch through a 30-60 minute recording of a video to refresh their memory? Sometimes when I do interviews, I like to record them for referring back, or filling in gaps in my notes. These recordings are done with consent and only maintained for a limited period of time. Also, without any indexing done on a recording, it can be challenging to find a specific section. Videos are difficult to search.

All of this to say, just because something is easy to do, doesn’t make it a good practice. Additionally, just because something has a perceived usefulness, doesn’t make it useful. Without following up, or reviewing our practices, we can’t know if making these ad-hoc videos is beneficial. Something I’m sure I will have to assess in the future as someone assigned to clean-up these things.

The Infodemic vs. the Pandemic

Over a year into the pandemic, we’re still dealing with a parallel infodemic. The infodemic is the spread of misinformation and disinformation about the pandemic. The misleading, or incorrect, information can be found on social media, TV, newspapers, etc. It can come from professional sources or from regular people.

I blogged about it in Misinformation in the Time of the Pandemic. I made suggestions for improving it in Librarians: The Disinformation Antidote. The infodemic is problematic for many reasons. This pandemic is a scary time for most people. For the last eighteen+ months, we’ve been living our lives according to restrictions, lockdowns, and new protocols. Having up-to-date and accurate information is critical for us to make decisions. Sifting through lots of information, some of which is incorrect, makes this process even more challenging. It’s hard to know who to trust, what to trust, and when to trust. Things change so quickly.

In addition to dealing with all the information (misinformation and disinformation) about the pandemic, we’re also learning about the vaccines. It’s all a lot to take in and absorb. At this point, I’ve known several people who got sick with Covid, and one death. The reality of Covid and the pandemic lives with us, yet we still struggle to get good quality information. Over a year into the pandemic, we’re sifting constantly through a never-ending supply of headlines, sensational stories, lies, truths, inaccuracies, and some trustworthy accurate stuff.

Added to all the misinformation and disinformation are data gaps. There are still some things we just don’t know yet. This is either because the data hasn’t been collected yet or not enough time has passed. For example, how common are breakthrough infections? How easily can someone with a breakthrough infection spread it to someone unvaccinated? How often does a breakthrough infection spread to another vaccinated or unvaccinated person?

In my mind, the infodemic will have more lasting consequences than the actual pandemic. Though it seems that Covid is here to stay, we’ll always be reading, learning, or experiencing it in one form or another. Should the day ever come when we can once again gather, unmasked in large numbers, I wonder how we’ll think about this time. And what resources we will have to rely on.

Talking: The old-fashioned way

As more pandemic restrictions lift, we will have to re-learn how to talk, face to face. The other evening I called a friend. She couldn’t talk because she was out, having drinks and dinner at a bar. It all sounded very magical and exotic. I hear about my friends having more of these experiences. Each time, I pause for a moment, to imagine what it will be like to actually have conversations, again, face to face all the time, instead of an occasional treat.

For the last 15+ months I think most of us have been surviving socially on video calls. But it’s not the same thing. I find on video or conference calls, there can be a lot of awkwardness. For example, it’s hard to know when to speak. Sometimes there’s a slight delay so two people are speaking at the same time. Without important non-verbal communication cues, it’s difficult to know when somebody is about to speak. Or even to gage when they’re finished speaking.

The video calls at work also get challenging. I use two monitors. The camera is on my laptop, but if I’m screen sharing, or taking notes, I’m almost always doing that on my second monitor. Consequently, I’m never looking directly into the camera. I just can’t get the angle right for the laptop and the monitor, so that I’m more squarely visible.

Even talking on video, it’s also hard to figure out when to speak sometimes. During work meetings, I often end up raising my hand, otherwise it can be difficult to jump in. Nobody is making direct eye contact with anyone else, or noticing other non-verbal cues that make up the majority of communication. Reading facial expressions is almost impossible when everybody’s face is a tiny little box, sometimes blurry, or distorted because of using a background setting.

I often wonder, when we’re finally allowed to move about freely, will we have lost the art of communicating? Will it be a chapter in future history books how we used to get along by talking with one another, unmasked, in person, and out in the open?

I suppose we’ll have to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m hoping to keep my face-to-face talking skills sharp by having small, outdoor picnic-style lunches with friends while the weather is still nice.