Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “friends”

Is life without Facebook even possible?

There have been lots of “social media” sites on the web, but Facebook has undoubtedly been the most successful. Some years ago Yahoo made my account inaccessible for 6 months. They hosted my web pages (because they had taken over Geocities), they stopped me managing my mailing lists because they had taken over a mailing list host, and so  to be contactable on the web I registered for MySpace, but MySpace was clunky, its pages were cluttered and it was difficult to navigate. Then I found Facebook, which was clean, simple and easy — but it was only for current students at tertiary institutions. So when Facebook opened for everyone I joined.

Soon afterwards Yahoo! let me back in, but I still found Facebook useful, because Yahoo closed down most of the services I found most useful, including Geocities, MyBlogLog and WebRing. The only useful service they still provide is their mailing-list host, YahooGroups, and they’ve tried pretty hard to make even that less attractive and more user hostile.

Facebook, however, has succeeded in making itself almost indispensable, as this article shows I tried leaving Facebook. I couldn’t – The Verge:

Facebook had replaced much of the emotional labor of social networking that consumed previous generations. We have forgotten (or perhaps never noticed) how many hours our parents spent keeping their address books up to date, knocking on doors to make sure everyone in the neighborhood was invited to the weekend BBQ, doing the rounds of phone calls with relatives, clipping out interesting newspaper articles and mailing them to a friend, putting together the cards for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas, and more. We don’t think about what it’s like to carefully file business cards alphabetically in a Rolodex. People spent a lot of time on these sorts of things, once, because the less of that work you did, the less of a social network you had.

And, as the article also points out, everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook.

Facebook took over from MySpace because they did what MySpace was doing, but they did it better, making it less clunky and cluttered (they’ve cluttered it up now, but after eliminating rivals they don’t need to make it better).

Someone recently invited me to an alternative called MeWe, but they kept sending me e-mail  saying “Please read this message in an HTML capable reader”. I replied to the first couple saying “Please send me this message in plain text format”, but they didn’t, and I got tired of those identical messages, so just filtered them off to the spam bin. If they deliberately choose to make their messages unreadable, then the rest of what they are doing isn’t worth bothering about.

For a while Google had a better alternative to Facebook. It was called Orkut. It retained the simplicity of the early Facebook when Facebook began to get clunky, but it somehow only caught on in South America and South-East Asia, and Google dropped it.

So even though I sometimes find Facebook frustrating, especially when they come up with stupid ideas that make it more difficult to use, I haven’t tried to leave it, because in what it does, even when it tries to place obstacles in the way of doing what it does, it’s the only game in town.

One of the problems with Facebook is that it tries to make itself the only game in town even for the things that it doesn’t do, or doesn’t do well. One of the most egregious examples of that was when they changed everyone’s e-mail addresses in their profile to a Facebook one, and didn’t tell users that they had done so, and also didn’t tell them how to find mail that was sent to the address that they provided. So they tried to force all their users into using an e-mail service without telling them how it worked or even that it was there.

Many people are wary of Facebook because they are concerned about “privacy”. The people at Facebook are aware of these concerns, and they keep nagging me about them. My concern is the opposite — there’s too much privacy. If I want to keep something private, I don’t put it on Facebook. But Facebook doesn’t want that. Facebook wants me to use Facebook for everything. They want Facebook to be the whole Web, and even the whole Internet (as the linked article above shows).

Facebook keeps asking me “Who can read this?” and when I click on it, it tells me that anybody can read this. I’m more interested in knowing who can’t read this. I post links on Facebook thinking that some friends may be interested, but very often Facebook doesn’t show it to those people, but rather shows it to other people who find it boring or irrelevant, who then sometimes make silly or incomprehensible comments on them.

So I sometimes think of leaving Facebook, but I don’t. Why? Because, again as the linked article points out, I would lose contact with friends and relatives that I’ve found through Facebook. The contact is intermittent, scratchy and broken, like an old shortwave radio in a thunderstorm. But at least is there, and if I left Facebook I would lose it.

A couple of days ago we had lunch with Jim Corrigall, an old friend I had last seen more than 40 years ago. He told me by e-mail that he was going to be on Joburg last weekend, and we arranged to meet by phone, but it was through Facebook that we found each other, and without Facebook I would have have had no idea how to get in touch with him.

Jim Corrigall with Steve & Val Hayes, 28 April 2018

Most of my “friends” on Facebook are people like that — old friends who live far away, and in the past, if I stayed in touch with them at all, I might have sent a Christmas card, or a duplicated newsletter once or twice a year. In the days before duplicating, people would send “round robin” letters — write to one member of the family, and ask them to pass the letter on to another member of the family, and so on. Facebook has replaced those functions with something more immediate.

Facebook makes it possible, but Facebook also tries very hard to make it extremely difficult because of the obsession with “privacy”. You might write something in a round robin letter that you think will interest Aunt Joan, but Cousin Pete has fallen out with Aunt Joan and sends it to Uncle Bob instead. And Facebook often behaves like that.

Thirty years ago people use to talk about the “information superhighway”. Facebook built one, but then puts concrete blocks across all but one lane, so you have to negotiate an obstacle course.

Facebook’s “privacy” precautions are just that: obstacles to communication. If you are concerned about privacy and information leaks, then you won’t solve them by leaving Facebook. Disconnect your phone line. Get rid of all your mobile phones. Disconnect from the Internet, and build a high wall so that nosy neighbours can’t see what you are doing. Don’t go out of doors, lest a passing satellite spot you.

You used to be able to go to websites like Zoominfo, where you could find an amazing amount of information about you trawled from the Web.  At one time they used to let you edit it, and identify which applied to you and which didn’t. Now they don’t, so there’s no way of checking for accuracy, but they still sell it. You don’t need to subscribe to it or have ever logged into the site. So worrying about privacy leaks from Facebook is a bit like children playing at damming a stream when a flash flood is on its way.

And everyone is on Facebook because everyone is on Facebook.

Old friends and early spring

This has been a week of re-establishing contact with old friends whom we havent seen for many years.

On Monday we went to Johannesburg to see Pat and Barry Schmidt, whom we knew in Melmoth more than 30 years ago. For the last 21 years they have been living in Queensland, Australia, and we have been in contact with them through Facebook, but they were visiting South Africa, and it was much more satisfactory to chat face-to-face. They were staying with Dareth and Anne Baker, whom we had also met when they visited Melmoth.

Pat & Barry Schmidt, Steve & Val Hayes

Pat & Barry Schmidt, Steve & Val Hayes

On the way home we left the highway at New Road in Midrand to avoid the tolled sections, and went to a relatively new shopping centre, called the Carlsbad Lifestyle Shopping Centre — lifestyles to suit every taste and pocket, presumably. We had lunch at Piatta’s restaurant, where they were offering a special for Mandela Day: 200g rump steak, and one veg, and a glass of wine for R67.00. Not bad for these days, and it was very good. But I looked in my diary and saw that 40 years ago, in July 1976, we had had dinner at the Caister Hotel in Durban with Val’s parents. They had a carvery — three-course meal, soup, main course and pudding. A choice of roast beef, pork and mutton, and a large variety of vegetables, as many or as few, and as much and as little as you choose. The price? R3.40.

Piatto Restaurand at the Carlsbad Lifestyle Shopping Centre in Midrand

Piatto Restaurand at the Carlsbad “Lifestyle Shopping Centre” in Midrand

We resumed our homeward journey, off the tollway, and passed St Sergius Church, whose domes were looking rather nice in the afternoon light.

St Sergius Orthodox Church, Noordwyk, Midrand

St Sergius Orthodox Church, Noordwyk, Midrand

When we got closer to home we saw a strange sight — spring blossoms in Magnolia Dell. This was 18th July, less than a month after the winter solstice, so still really midwinter. Global warming? We have had no frost at all this winter, so it feels that winter hasn’t properly begun yet, and suddenly there are signs of its ending.

Spring blossoms in mid-winter: Magnolia Dell, Pretoria, Tshwane, 18 July 2016

Spring blossoms in mid-winter: Magnolia Dell, Pretoria, Tshwane, 18 July 2016

And then today we had lunch with Allan Anderson, a former colleague in the Missiology Department of the University of South Africa, who has been at a theological research institute at the University of Birmingham in the UK, for research into Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity.

Allan Anderson & Steve Hayes, 21 July 2016

Allan Anderson & Steve Hayes, 21 July 2016

As we are wroking in similar fields, we had a lot of catching up to do.



John Daniel’s Question — Or, Why Searching for the Missing Still Matters for South Africa (A Tribute)

Visiting more old friends in and around Cape Town

Continued from In and around Cape Town: family and friends

On Thurday and Friday last week (27 & 28 August 2015) we visited more old friends in and around Cape Town.

We went to see Sam van den Berg, a former colleague from the Editorial Department at Unisa, and had dinner with him and his son Maritz at the Salty Sea Dog restaurant in Somonstonw.

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Sam got into trouble with the higher-ups at Unisa for objecting to the poor quality of study material from the Education Faculty, which we believed amounted to fraud — taking money from students for rubbish. In those days (early 1990s) Unisa wasn’t interested in quality control. I hope that with all the talk of “transformation” there has now been some improvement, and that it is not just talk.

Then the following evening, after our usual day spent at the archives, we visited Jim and Jeanette Harris. Jeanette was an old friend of Val’s from primary school in Escombe, Natal, and they had not seen each other for many years. Jim had worked in a similar field to me, theologicval education and training for ministry in the Anglican Church, so we had a lot to talk about.

Val Hayes with Jeanetter and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

Val Hayes with Jeanette and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

Continued at More cousins and friends in and around Cape Town

In and around Cape Town

Continued from Vause family in Robertson

We travelled from Robertson to Cape Town and stayed in the Sun 1 Hotel on the Foreshore. We had stayed there before, when it was known as the Formula 1 Hotel. We like it because it is cheap, clean, and within easy reach of the Cape Archives. The main disadvantage is that it is in an area surrounded by office blocks and industrial buildings, so there is nowhere to eat nearby, though it is close to the Artscape Treatre.

Sun 1 Hotel, Cape Town Foreshore

Sun 1 Hotel, Cape Town Foreshore

During our stay in Cape Town last week we spent each moring doing research in the archives in Roeland Street, which is only a short drive from the hotel. The building used to be a jail, so it has a very high wall around it. We were mostly doing research into our family history. When the archives closed at 4:00 pm, we went to visit family and friends who had said they would like to see us.

The Cape Archives Depot, formerly the Roeland Street Jail.

The Cape Archives Depot, formerly the Roeland Street Jail.

Most places in Cape Town have good views, and the archive depot is no exception. On Tuesday when we came out we found the car battery was dead, and had time to take a couple of pictures while waiting for the AA to bring a new battery. We were glad that it decided to die in the middle of Cape Town and not on the road from Hondeklip Bay to Soebatfonteirn or somewhere equally inaccessible. It died with no warning. When we set off for the archives in the morning the car started fine, but it died as 1:08 pm, at least according to the dashboard clcok.

Devil's Peak, from outside the Cape Archives depot.

Devil’s Peak, from outside the Cape Archives depot.

One of the old friends I visitewd was Mike Preston, now living in a nursing home at Tokai. I had met him when I did a three months’ vac job as a student, with the audit firm of E.R. Syfret & Co, where Mike was an articled clerk. Mike was a car enthusiast, and one day after work we went for a test drive in an Austin Mini, then new of the market, and the salesman drove it on and off the kerb to show us the superiority of its rubber suspension. Mike remarked that it made every other small car look obsolete. Now we ourselves are obsolete superannuated has-beens.

Steve Hayes and Mike Preston

Steve Hayes and Mike Preston, Tokai, Western Cape

Visit to Western Cape

friendsWe hope to visit the Western Cape in late August. Unless we win the Lotto or something this will probably be the last time in our lives that we’ll ever go there, and so will be the last opportunity to visit friends and family who live there, so it may be the last chance we’ll ever have to see old old friends, and cousins, some of whom we’ve met, and some of whom we haven’t.

famtreeIf you would like to see us when we are there, please use the form below to give us your contact information, so we can get in touch with you. We would not like to get back home after the trip and have people say, as so often happens, “Why didn’t you get in touch when you were here?”

There are more details about this proposed trip on our family history blog here.

So far the following are on our list of “people to see”:

  • Sam van den Berg
  • Edmund van Wyk
  • Lindsay Walker
  • Michael Preston
  • Sandy Struckmeyer
  • Brenda Coetzee
  • Jean Mary Gray
  • Jeanette Harris
  • Chris Saunders

UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham

Continued from UK trip 15 May 2005: Monastery and Essex Girls | Khanya

We had breakfast at at Ye Olde Swan hotel at 7:30, and left Brightlingsea at about 8:30, driving to London.

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

Dining room at Ye Olde Swan, Brightlingsea, Essex

We stopped for petrol on the way and took a photo of the Fiat Punto that had taken us round Britain for the last two weeks, as we would be handing it back today.

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex.  16 May 2005

The Fiat Punto that took use round Britian, somewhere in Essex. 16 May 2005

We headed for the Thames crossing at Dartford, where I expected to go through the Dartford Tunnel, but there was another change — southbound traffic went over a bridge instead of through the tunnel.

Crossing the Thames at Dartfod, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge.

Crossing the Thames at Dartford, no longer a tunnel, but a bridge. There’s a white van on the right, the kind of vehicle that usually appears in detecive stories as the preferred vehicle for abduction. Could there be an abductee inside?

We went to see Laureen Morrow, whom we had known from Namibia. and found the place she was staying, Ralph Perring Court in Beckenham, with some difficulty, as it was not well marked on the street.

It turned out to be a home for clergy widows, and Bromley College, the place where her husband Ed had been chaplain, was likewise a home for clergy widows. We talked about some of the people we had known in Namibia, and Laureen said that she was the only one who was still active in the church, which I found rather sad. Her husband Ed had died a couple of years earlier.

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

Val Hayes and Lauremn Morrow in Beckenham, Kent. 16 May 2005

We drove around south London, and up through Streatham, where I showed Val the house where I had lived when I worked for London Transport at Brixton Garage nearly 40 years ago. The house had now been painted yellow. All the trees looked bigger than they had 40 years ago, which is probably only to be expected, but I thought that the London trees were so well established that they would have reached their full height long before. Streatham High Street seemed a lot narrower than I remembered it.

Then we drove over to Twickenham, where we found Frank Cranmer’s cottage in First Cross Road, down a narrow passage between two other houses. Frank had been another fellow student at St Chad’s College, Durham, and had said we could use their cottage while we were staying in London. We took our things inside, and then drove to central London to return our car at Bryanston Street in Marble Arch. That incurred a “congestion charge”, and we thought that the car hire company could have been more considerate and sited their garage outside the congestion charge area.We no longer needed the car, as it is a useless encumbrance in London. It had taken almost the whole day to drive across London from north-east to south-west, and London has a good public transport system, though it is very expensive. I was rather sorry to see that London Transport seemed to have been privatised into a number of different firms, though they still had vacancies for bus drivers.

We went to Westminster on the tube and met Frank Cranmer at the central lobby of the House of Commons, where I had met my mother’s cousin Willie Hannan several times before in the 1960s, when he was MP for Maryhill in Glasgoe. But there were now elaborate security precautions to screen people going in, with all bags being X-rayed in a tent on the lawn outside, instead of a single friendly policeman standing at the door. We went for a drink at the strangers bar, again, little changed from before, and then went across to Church House, where Frank’s partner of 21 years, Helen, worked as a kind of parliamentary lobbyist.

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

Helen & Frank Cranmer. Twickenham, 16 May 2005

We drove with them back to Twickenham, and Frank made supper, for which we were joined by Alex Griffiths, also a former St Chad’s student, who had, however, left before I arrived there. Helen wanted to know my history, which I told over supper, with many digressions and diversions. Frank looked little changed from St Chad’s days, greyer and sporting a beard, but, unlike Chris Gwilliam, he was quite recognisable. He said he had become a Quaker as a result of visiting Chris and Nina Gwilliam and attending a Quaker meeting with them, in some trepidation, not knowing if he could take an hour of total silence.

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths, Twickenham. 16 May 2005

Alec Griffiths was an Anglican priest and magistrate, but was retiring because of ill health.

Continued at UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005

97% of you have not danced

Sometimes I feel like that generation.

And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept (Luke 7:31-32).

I sometimes feel like that, especially when I look at Facebook and similar web sites, and the kind of communication they promote.

LoveMom2When people repost (“share” in Facebook-speak) something second-hand, trite and derivative, it gets lots of shares. Turn a worn-out cliche into a graphic, and say “97% of you won’t share this” and a lot more than 3% will.

I love my mother, and I love my daughter and I love my sons, and I love my cousins (even if they don’t all love me), and I don’t need to click on some mawkish graphic to prove it. Yet a huge proportion of Facebook “communication” is made up of just such trite trivialities.

Of course quite a lot of these are scams — people set up such a thing to get lots of “likes” for a page or site, and then sell it to the highest bidder. That’s why they say that on web sites like Facebook you are the product that they are selling.

But I have noticed in the last couple of weeks that when I share things that other people have posted, they get a lot more “likes” than actual personal stuff. And even if those things are not just tarted up cliches, I find that rather sad. It might be a news item, or comment that I think is worth thinking about, even if I don’t entirely agree with it. And sometimes people comment on such things too.

97percentBut when I posted something of my own, as opposed to something derivative and second hand, like this, for example, Tuesday 4 August 1914 | Khanya, it got precisely one “like” and one “share”, and no comments, either on the blog itself, or even on Facebook. It’s not that I go soliciting “likes” and “shares”, and I’m not posting this to urge my friends to “like” stuff that they dislike, or that they don’t give a damn about. I am rather noting that Facebook as a medium seems to favour and promote communication in the second-hand and derivative. Much of it seems calculated to appeal to those who are more amenable to our blackmail than our message — like the appeal to mother love above, or the ones that begin “97% of you won’t repost this”.

So I’m not asking people to “like” things that they don’t like, or “share” things that they don’t agree with, though I really do wonder what people are thinking when they imply that I am among the 97% of their friends who love cancer, and just hate their spouses, parents, children and other relatives.

LikeFacebookWhat I would like to solicit, however, is comments — preferably on the blog post itself, but on Facebook if you must. You can comment on something even if you don’t “like” it, and even if you don’t actually like it. You can disagree and say why you disagree. In that way sites like Facebook can facilitate communication between people, rather than just endlessly recycling sentimental cliches. Having said that, if by any chance you do actually like this (or any other post on my blog) there’s a button down at the bottom where you can click to “like” it on Facebook.

97percent2After observing these things, I think I’ll be trying to cut down on the number of second-hand things I recycle on Facebook. I’ll still “like” things that my friends post that are theirs — their photos, their articles, their blog posts. But I’ll try to resist the temptation to repost fancy illustrated slogans, no matter how witty they may be. It’s not that I think they should not be there at all. It’s just the proportions are all wrong. It seems to be 10% personal and 90% derivative. It should be the other way round.

Of course this post is 99% whinge, complaining that “We have piped for you and 97% of you have not danced.”

That’s enough whinging for now, so let there be an end to it.

Dead phones and the power of Twitter

Our phone is working again after being dead for 12 days.

We reported the fault to Telkom as soon as we noticed that the phone wasn’t working, and when it hadn’t been repaired within a day, I posted a message on Twitter & Facebook (via cellphone) to let people that we had problems, so they would understand that we would not be able to respond immediately to e-mail messages and such things. Something similar had happened about 6 months ago, when the phone line was down for a similar period, and when the service was restored I found lots of messages saying “Did you get my previous message?”

Occasionally the ASDL Internet connection worked, even when the voice line was dead, It worked for an hour or so, perhaps once every 3-4 days, and then would die again.

On the Twitter messge I used the #hashtag #Telkom, and was interested to see that it was picked up by @TelkomBusiness, who asked for the phone number, and then followed up with the technical department, and after we had been without the phone for 10 days asked them to “escalate” our fault. Whther as a result of that or something else, the phone started working again today, and with it the Internet connection. So thanks to @TelkomBusiness for the role they played in that. It just goes to show that someone out there keeps an eye on the hashtags, and picked up the #Telkom one, and followed it up. It also shows the power of Twitter. Thanks to the people at @TelkomBusiness for their readiness to help.

It will take some time to deal with all the accumulated mail: when I downloaded it in the brief windows when the ADSL was working I would sort it into various “To Reply” folders, sometimes with a quick note that I would deal with it when the line was working again, and delete the spam. Apologies for the notes that were perhaps curt and abrupt, or full of typos. I was typing fast to try to get it off before the connection died again.

Gideon Iileka, Steve Hayes, Thomas Ruhozo, at Kamanjab, Namibia, 5 October 1971And here’s a picture that shows the bloke who was sending the notes; that’s me, in the middle.

The picture is over 40 years old, but then some of the people I send e-mail to I haven’t seen for 40 years, and so they will be more likely to remember me looking like that. And the two other blokes in the picture I haven’t seen for 40 years either. But I like the picture, and I’d like to see them again, and perhaps take a follow-up picture.

There’s one other thing to add.

I posted this to let people know that our phone line is working again, and over the next few days I’ll be working to deal with the accumulated mail. But when I tried to write this, I couldn’t. WordPress would not let me.  The WordPress editor simply would not let me type the text. So I thought I’d try to write the message on my Tumblr bloglet, Marginalia, but that wouldn’t let me edit it either. So eventually I tried loading Internet Explorer instead of Firefox, and that seemed to do the trick. So it looks like the current edition of Firefox is broken, and needs an update.


Seeing old friends

We have visited several old friends on our holiday travels so far, most of whiom we had not seen for quite a long time.

In Clarens we saw Dons and Anneke Kritzinger. Dons was a missiologist at the University of Pretoria, and once produced an interesting series of booklets on the uncompleted missionary task in the Transvaal. Even though they are now some 30 years old, they are probably still useful. Dons and Anneke retired to Clarens some years ago, and Dons is still active in the local congregation of the Uniting Reformed Church, and in an ecumenical clergy group in the town.

We stayed overnight in Barrydale, and saw Dick and Josephine Usher. I had not seen Dick for many years, and had never met Josephine. I knew Dick as a journalist on the Daily News in Durban in 1969, when he was a member of our Christian Institute youth groups, and we produced a magazine called Ikon, which proved far too radical for the Christian Institute, so we had to withdraw the first issue and publish it independently.I went to Namibia and Dick went to the USA, so we lost touch, though Dick later returned to South Africa and worked on the Sunday Tribune and The Friend in Bloemfontein. The timing of our visit wasn’t too good, as Dick has cancer, and has to travel to Somerset West for treatment once a week, and found company rather tiring, but it was good to see him.

We went on to Robertson, where we visited a cousin, Sandy Struckmeyer, whom I had not met before, and then saw Fr Zacharias van Wyk (in the world Edmund), who has established an Orthodox centre just outside the town. The centre is described by Archbishop Sergios as almost a monastery, and certainly has the atmosphere of peace one finds in monasteries, Fr Zacharias used to come to Johannesburg to visit our parish of St Nicholas of Japan in Brixton.

We went on to Hermanus, where we stayed at the Volmoed community, and saw two old friends there. One was John de Gruchy, with whom I am writing a book on the charismatic renewal movement in South Africa, and the other is Barry Wood, whom I had met about 45 years ago at student conferences and the like, and last saw in 1982. We spent four days at Volmoed, which was very peaceful and beautiful, and then went to Villiersdorp and Cape Town.

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