The COVID-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on the pipe-smoking communities around the world. The most obvious impact has been the cancellation of major pipe shows, including the great Chicagoland Pipe Show that had just found a new venue. With it, the UPCA National Pipe Smoking Contest was also cancelled. Do not fret, both the Chicago show and the national slow smoke will be back next year.
But the pandemic has also hit home for all of our local pipe clubs. Social distancing has meant cancelled club meetings and self-isolation for all of us. Fortunately, there is a way to still meet up online.
Zoom has become the go-to method of meeting up with friends, and it is begun to be used by several clubs to meet online. Several clubs are already using it, and yours can too.
As former UPCA president, Doc Garr, put it, “Pipe smoking as a lifestyle (or status group per Max Weber) is something that is done both in solitary and in groups. An online pipe club meeting is like a synthesis of both.”
Zoom is not the only option for online meetings, although it is currently the most popular. Other apps such as GoToMeeting, Facetime, Skype conference calls, and WebEx also offer free meetings. Each one has its own limitations. For example, Skype requires you to create a Microsoft account to create a meeting. Facetime only works with Apple products.
There has been much publicity about security issues with Zoom. Much of it is overblown or outdated. Yes, Zoom has servers in China, but you don’t have to use them. Other security issues, such as lack of end-to-end encryption, are not relevant to pipe club meetings.
The most publicized issue is called Zoombombing, where a bad actor takes over the meeting and puts up pornography or hate speech. This is way overblown and easily defeated. This has yet to happen at a virtual meeting of a pipe club, but if it does, the host can easily drop that person from the meeting and keep him from coming back.
So, let’s get down to the reasons Zoom is so popular. First, it’s easy to install. Click on a link to a Zoom meeting, and if you don’t have the software already installed, it will walk you thru the simple process. Second, it is truly cross-platform. It works on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, tablets and smartphones. Don’t have any of these? You can dial in on a landline.
By the way, don’t use a cell connection with Zoom. It will eat up your data plan and you will have connection issues. Use wifi or an ethernet connection with Zoom (or use a landline).
Don’t have a webcam? No problem. You don’t need one. You can even upload a selfie, if you like. Don’t have a microphone? There is a way around that too. You can join the meeting on your computer and then dial in to the meeting on your landline. Either way, you can see everyone and talk to them, but they can’t see you, except (perhaps) your selfie.
Zoom allows you to have up to 100 people in a meeting, and you can view from 4-20 people in the meeting at once. (The number of people you see depends on the screen resolution of your device and your internet connection.) When there are too many people in the meeting to view on your screen, you can switch viewing modes from the default (gallery mode) to “speaker mode”. You will then see whoever is talking, and Zoom will switch cameras automatically. The host can also designate a screen to be displayed. This is useful when featuring a guest speaker.
Several UPCA clubs have already gone virtual, including the Austin Pipe Club, Seattle Pipe Club, and the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club. There is even a "Virtual Pipe Club" that was formed by David-Dorian Ross ton Facebook hat has meetings only on Zoom. They meet weekly and have people joining from around the world. The Seattle Pipe Club normally meets monthly, but are now meeting twice a month online. There is some talk of continuing to meet online even after the Covid-19 crisis is over.
So what are you waiting for? Sign up your club and get online.