It’s been a funny old year. Mary and I stayed well clear of the Coronavirus but it has obliterated most of the happenings that I would normally be blogging about. I am one of the lucky ones, though. As a pensioner, I don’t have to worry about losing my job or loss of income. As one of the least sociable persons on the planet, the lack of face-to-face contact has hardly bothered me at all. And my familiarity with Information Technology in its many forms left me well placed to wander around cyberspace and find new things to enjoy and occupy my time.
And, on the subject of I.T., my frustration with Facebook finally erupted in the Spring. After switching to the Diaspora* social media platform I deleted my Facebook account in July. That was the highlight of an otherwise somewhat dismal 2020 and the best decision I made all year. (For details see the Hubzilla section below.)
All images are stolen from the Web. They do not show me, my family, my friends or my house.
Social Life, At A Distance
Our U3A and Trent 36 groups either went into aestivation or moved online when the first lockdown took effect on 23rd March. By then we had managed to attend two of the three U3A monthly meetings, host a Trent 36 coffee evening, attend a T36 slide show on Albania, and take part in the T36 AGM.
After that, the U3A Making Music and Photography groups were put on hold while the Philosophy group and the Mac Users group continued to meet online. Trent 36 also started to have online quizzes, slide shows and catch-up meetings at roughly fortnightly intervals.
And that’s not all … Having reluctantly accepted what I thought was a non-Trustee position on the Charnwood U3A committee back in 2019 it turned out that all committee members are automatically Trustees, so I had to be registered as such with the Charities Commission. I couldn’t just snooze through our online committee meetings any more. And, when my suggestion of setting up an I.T. Help Desk was approved, I had another reason to pay attention.
Other online events included a talk by a member of the U3A Science and Technology group on “The Birth of Astronomy” and three webinars in the Talking Science series published by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory:
- Engineering Enzymes – beefing up a natural enzyme that eats plastic waste
- Crystals and the Search for Life – microorganisms on Mars may live in liquid trapped in crystals
- Development of a Vaccine Against COVID-19 – telling the story of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine
What would we do without Zoom?
Hubzilla – The Facebook Killer
For me, the most significant event of 2020 was the discovery of the Hubzilla community. As I mentioned in the introduction, I became so exasperated with Facebook in the Spring that I looked around for alternatives. There are several and the one that sounded promising was called Diaspora*. (The asterisk is part of its name but that looks like a footnote marker, which is confusing, so I will omit it from now on.)
Several features of Diaspora sounded attractive: the software is Open Source and free, it runs on a network of independent servers and it puts privacy at its heart. That means that anyone can set up a Diaspora server – it is not controlled by Microsoft or Apple or Google or Facebook, or by any other single organisation. But, best of all, it doesn’t carry advertisements.
So I signed up for a Diaspora account. Confusingly, the Help page was all about Hubzilla. It took a few weeks for me to realise that I had actually signed in to a Hubzilla server that happens to offer the Diaspora service. And Hubzilla offers a lot more than social media feeds. With Hubzilla you also get cloud file storage, a website, a Wiki, a calendar and a raft of optional plugins.
Facebook always was horrible. It’s ugly, complicated and its primary purpose is to make money for Mark Zuckerberg. It doesn’t have to be like this. Come and join me on Hubzilla and let’s get back to apps that actually help us to socialise. Choose a pod from those listed here (I suggest node9.org), create an account and connect to my channel (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll see you there.
At the very beginning of the year we upgraded our en suite. It was given a similar transformation to the bathroom revamp of 2016: new toilet and wash basin integrated into built-in storage units, plus a new, easy-to-clean shower cubicle. The house has also undergone one or two items of routine maintenance: the scrubbery at the front was replaced with a miniature patio of small flagstones; two windows with broken latch mechanisms were fixed; an unusable outside power socket was made useable; a minor roof leak was repaired. The back garden, however, continues to march inexorably towards primordial jungle.
We managed to fit in two concerts before the March lockdown. On 10th March we saw Clannad at the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (see this post on my music blog for details) and the following day the Charnwood U3A’s Little Big Band provided the entertainment at its AGM with yours truly on guitar. The latter was recorded but the sound quality on the video is too poor to be worth publishing.
We had also booked for Brand X and Elbow but both those shows had to be postponed. Oh well, maybe we’ll see them in 2021.
That’s it for 2020. Here’s hoping 2021 will be lighter, brighter, safer and happier.