Of Parkinson’s, Second Life and a story worth reading

We’re all probably familiar with the story of Fran Swenson, now 86, a Parkinson’s sufferer who has seen something of an overall improvement in her condition which she attributes to Second Life.

It’s a remarkable story, initially broken by Hamlet Au in February 2013, which has again  demonstrated the therapeutic impact of Second Life which is not always obvious to many of us, and which can itself become the subject of wider study.

Now Fran, who is known in-world as Fran Seranade, and her story are again being picked-up by mainstream media as the San Diego Union-Tribune  (Fran is a San Diego resident, rl) provides more insight into Fran’s life and that of her family, together with thoughts and feedback from Tom Boellstorff, an anthropology professor at UC Irvine, who took interest in Fran’s situation back at the start of the year, and Donna Davis, a strategic communications professor at the University of Oregon.

Fran Swenson with her avatar (in the blue gown) Fran Serenade, and her daughter's avatar, Barbi Alchemi (image courtesy of
Fran Swenson with her avatar (in the blue gown) Fran Seranade, and her daughter’s avatar, Barbi Alchemi – image courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune / Bill Wechter

Pam Kragen, author of the piece, provides a very focused and heart-warming article which not only encompasses Fran’s life and her family, it also does much to overturn the “accepted” view of Second Life so often adopted by those outside of SL.

Some of the benefits offered by the platform may appear obvious even to those uninitiated into Second Life, as Fran explains in the article, “It’s a place that gives me great satisfaction. I’m dancing now and I can run, hop, jump and have fun. I’m not just in my apartment, I have the whole world now. It’s thrilling.”

But it’s the underlying benefits which make the real story here, and which have drawn Fran to the attention of Boellstorff and Davis, and now the San Diego U-T. In real life, Fran has reported she feels mentally better as a result of the time she spends engaged in SL; she has seen her physical capabilities and freedom of movement improve, and has felt a corresponding uplift in her overall quality of life.

Having lost her husband to Parkinson’s in 2003, Fran found herself diagnosed with the illness the following year. As a result, her son Ken, living on the other side of the country in Florida, proposed the idea of using Second Life as a means of bringing the family together more easily, offering to build a home for them in-world.

Fran Swenson (Fran Seranade) and her daughter Barbara Richard (Barbi Alchemi) - images courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune / Bill Wechter
Fran Swenson (Fran Seranade) and her daughter Barbara Richard (Barbi Alchemi) – image courtesy of San Diego Union-Tribune / Bill Wechter

Continue reading “Of Parkinson’s, Second Life and a story worth reading”

Virtual Ability announce IDRAC panelists

Virtual AbilityFollowing-on from the initial announcement about the 3rd Annual International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference (IDRAC), which I previewed here, Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability Inc has supplied details of the panellists who will make up the four international panels which will be held during the conference.

IDRAC will take place on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th September 2013 at the Sojourner Auditorium on Virtual Ability Island. The central theme is “Let Me In”, focusing on different perspectives about access that are of interest to persons with disabilities, and seeks to address issues of inclusion and freedom of participation.

As well as keynote speakers on each of the two days and presentations from noted experts and specialists from around the world (again, please refer to my previous post for details), the conference will include four panel sessions over the two days, in which disability rights around the world will be discussed.

The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island - locations of the 3rd IDRAC
The Sojourner Auditorium, Virtual Ability Island – locations of the 3rd IDRAC

In all the four panels comprise:

International Panel 1: Friday September 27th, 17:30 SLT

  • Roth Grut – Brazil
  • Losairam – Ecuador
  • Jens Nerido – Denmark
  • Moderator:  Svea Morane (United States)

International Panel 2: Saturday September 28th, 07:00 SLT

  • Letty Pienaar – Germany
  • Winter Wardhani – Portugal
  • JayJay Zifanwe – Australia
  • Moderator: Tom Bukowski (United States)

International Panel 3: Saturday September 28th, 13:00 SLT

  • Slatan Dryke – Italy
  • Libido Siemens – Greece
  •  jihan wonder – Egypt
  • Moderator: Blu Heron (United States)

International Panel 4: Saturday September 28th, 17:30 SLT

  • LifeSkillsWorker – Canada
  • Loquacia Loon – Malaysia
  • Kiremimi Tigerpaw – Japan
  • Zsuzsa Tomsen – United States
  • Moderator: Kopilo Hallard (Australia)

Commenting on the upcoming conference, organiser Gentle Heron said, “We are so excited! We invite you to attend the conference if you can, and tell your friends about it – bring them along! The slate of presenters is broad and varied. Presenters hail from places as diverse as Germany, South Africa and the Netherlands. Panellists come from places as widespread as Brazil, Italy, Japan, Ecuador, and Denmark.”

For full details on the conference programme schedule, including updates and changes, please refer to the IDRAC Presentation Schedule.

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Grendel’s Seventh Element Hunt

Grendel’s Children is seven years old this year. To mark the event, they’re holding a special hunt, The Seventh Element Hunt, offering participants opportunities for fun, quests and prizes.

The hunt, which started on Sunday September 22nd, progresses over seven days – one day for each year that Grendel’s has been open. But don’t worry about missing the initial days; all the previous days quest paths will remain open through the hunt period, and all seven days will be available for people to participate in them for a short period after the final day has been unveiled, so everyone has time to get involved.

It all starts here: the Cartographer's Office
It all starts here: the Cartographer’s Office

Toady Nakamura invited me to join her in the first stage of the quest, and we met up at the starting-point for our adventure: outside the Cartographer’s office, down in the basement level of Grendel’s.

“Recently, Kobold Scouts came through here and left bottles from their favourite types of cactus juice, all over the place.” Toady informed me, as we waited for the Cartographer. “But you know Kobold traders! They always want everything picked up, so they will give us prizes in return for the bottles. All we have to do is collect the bottles!”

She smiled up at me, continuing, “And of course, Kobolds have a great sense of humour, so watch out, they have some unusual names for beverages! You are more likely to find a Fire bottle, near a fire or a flame, and so on as the days progress.  And the Kobolds may have used them as candle holders, water bottles, or dropped and broken some of them, so be on the lookout!”

In all there are three kinds of bottles to find: Smashed, Misshapen and Complete, and each day hunters must locate and collect three Smashed, two Misshapen and one Complete bottle to trade with the Kobolds when they return.

The bottles represent the seven Kobold mystical elements, with each day’s hunt focused on a particular element: Fire, Acid, Ice, Shadow, Darkness, Lightning, and Earth. Quite where to find them isn’t obvious to start with – Grendel’s is a big place, and as Toady said, the Kobold traders have a sense of humour.

Fortunately, Grendel’s Cartographer has been keeping an eye on things, and has put together of few clues and hints to help people on their way each day, which is why the Cartographer’s office is the starting-point for each stage of the quest.

The Cartographer kindly allowed me to sit at his desk and study the books...
The Cartographer kindly allowed me to sit at his desk and study the books…

“Each day, start here in my office, and touch the new item on my desk for the starting point of the quest, and perhaps, a hint or two,” the Cartographer said after greetings had been exchanged, “Other hints will be offered along the way.

“The first day is the easiest of all days and the hardest of all days.  Easiest because the clues will be very straightforward, but hardest because you have yet to develop a search image for the Kobold’s discarded bottles.  Today’s bottle looks like the one on my desk.

“So now you must find The Book of Fire in the Library, it looks just like this copy on my desk.  Touch it, and begin your quest. Remember! If you find anything really interesting or curious, like bottles or a dragon’s nest, don’t forget to touch it!” And with a wave of a hand, we were dismissed.

The directions for the first day were rather specific, to find The Book of Fire in the library. But as Toady remarked, as we departed the Cartographer’s office and rounded the corner to enter the library, “Where to hide needle is not in haystack but in box of needles…”

The Kobold's village is where you might find bottles to be had - and more!
The Kobold’s village is where you might find bottles to be had – and more!

With 280 titles in the library at Grendel’s, I could see what she meant. Fortunately, Toady has keen eyes, and soon the book was discovered, together with another clue. Touching the book revealed a secret passage with stairs winding ever deeper into the bowels of Grendel’s, leading to pair of passages, one marked by green carpet, the other by lit sconces, the flames illuminating a long tunnel. Follow the fire had been the instruction – and so we did. Heading towards the sound of deep snoring as we set out on our adventure…

Where the clues lead you each day will vary, but you can be sure that with Toady’s and Flea’s inventiveness, you’re in for some fun times. Again, don’t forget that while your main task is to collect the empty cactus juice bottles, there are other things to collect and do along the way. Eggs, for example may give hints and perhaps more to help you on your way. Do be sure to wear your Egg Backpack once you have been given it. And don’t forget the nests, either! Standing near the latter and touching the former will – well, you’ll see, when you join the quest!

With Toady as my companion and guide, it wasn't long before I'd reached the Dragon Temple, location of the day's Complete bottle...
With Toady as my companion and guide, it wasn’t long before I’d reached the Dragon Temple, location of the first day’s Complete bottle…

There are some additional things to keep in mind as well:

  • Bottles have different value, from the least (Smashed) to the greatest (Complete). They can be traded with the Kobolds, when they arrive, for prizes  – however DON’T rez or touch the bottles once you have collected them before the Kobolds arrive. If you do, they will vanish, and you’ll have to start collecting for that day again
  • You’ll need a full set of three Smashed, two Misshapen and one Complete bottle from each day in order to trade for that day’s Pristine bottle. A full set of “Pristine Vessels” will unlock the ultimate prize
  • You may be sent off sim for certain items, suggested locations may be found in the kiosk near the Grendel’s entrance.

Redemption Days: soon after the last day of the hunt, the Kobolds will arrive in their airships. At that time, bottles can be redeemed for goodies from the traders before they continue onwards on their journey.

A full set of rules will be given to you at the start of the quest. Good luck and happy hunting!

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