The Smaller Joys of 2020

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a strange year. With much of the world in and out of lockdowns, something none of us with have though conceivable only months prior, it has been a watershed moment in many ways. While the news has been consistently awful as we’ve been stuck inside I have taken to appreciating the value of smaller joys of inner life: music, books and podcasts and coding.

Album: Even in Exile

The album cover for "Even in Exile" by James Dean Bradfield.

At this stage in his career, you could be forgiven for being tempted to pass on a solo album by James Dean Bradfield. It’s only the second such album from the Manic Street Preachers singer, but even after all this time it’s perhaps one of the best of his career, including his Manics work. He’s stated in interviews that being a solo album he didn’t have the pressure to write a hit single, and so could just go where his mind took him and indulge a wide range of influences. This is a formula that has worked in the past (their first number one single If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next was originally planned as a b-side) but yet so much of the latter Manics career seems to be trying too hard. By seemingly not trying, he has made a masterpiece. The album is fantastic, full of fresh and heavily prog influenced melodies. Inspired by Chilean activist Víctor Jara the lyrics penned by Patrick Jones are also beautiful and perfectly match the mood of the music.

Book: WOOL

Cover of the book "WOOL"

It was released in 2011, but I only got round to reading it this year. It tells the story of a community who live underground a giant silo, in what appears to be a world where the air outside is poisonous. The silo is big enough support most human needs with farms, schools, its own police department and even a mayor. As the story unfolds, we the reader come to doubt the story that inhabitants have been told over the centuries. What really resonated with me while reading this during lockdown was the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped inside for fear of what you might breath in if you step outside. While the situation in 2020 isn’t anywhere near as bad as the events in WOOL, as I read it I couldn’t help feel that I couldn’t have timed it better. The sequels are also pretty good too, so worth picking up.

Podcast: Do You Love Us?

Podcast artwork for "Do You Love Us?"

Manic Street Preachers are one of my favourite bands. So when this little podcast started in January seemingly out of nowhere I was pretty excited. Far from being a love in, the band are approached from the point of view of two non-fans and one mega fan. They then proceed to critically cover the entire Manic Street Preachers discography. Perfect for anyone looking to get into one of the best bands ever.

Gadget: Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi

Being a Mac/iPhone user has its benefits, everything mostly just works – but it’s not very interesting. Early in in lockdown I ordered myself the latest Raspberry Pi, a £35 ARM computer. After adding a case, fan, HDMI cable and memory card, it was closer to £100 – but still not that expensive all things considered. Within days, I rekindled my love of messing about with computers. I gained a newfound respect for Linux, the free operating system that can do literally anything. I was amazed how much I remembered from my days as a developer. I soon had an AirPlay server up and running allowing me to beam music from my iPhone to my Sonos without having to bother with the frustrating Sonos app. I had an old portable hard drive and SMB network share acting as a NAS drive, PiHole blocking adverts across my entire network, and WireGuard acting as VPN so I can get the benefits of PiHole and access my files when I’m out of the house (not that I was leaving the house much during lockdown). I then moved on to playing about with nodeJS and Apache. For a while I’d been looking to learn a new server side technology, having been a .NET/C# developer many years ago, and so an open source stack that runs on a £35 computer was perfect. I can’t stress how cool it is to be able to take an idea, and a few hours later have something working. If coding is not your thing but games are, try RetroPie.

So that was my lockdown entertainment. What was yours?

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