10,000 Hours of Something Else

Many, many years ago, before a time when the Toronto Blue Jays were back-to-back World Series champions, I spent a remarkable amount of time playing a tenor saxophone. The instrument was borrowed from the school I attended and, as one would expect, I played in the brass band with 49 fellow students. The saxophone was a wonderful horn with an attractive sound when one learned how to effectively play a reed instrument, and it was something that I wanted to excel at. There was band practice three times a week and, when there wasn't, the sax would be carried home or to a friend's place where it could be put to use for an hour or two before dinner.

There were no illusions of being the next Kenny G, though. While the act of playing music was incredibly enjoyable, it wasn't going to be a career. The last time I had a sax to my lips was in 1991, playing in the band for the graduating class of that year.

While I'm not keen on picking up the saxophone at this point in time, I have been seriously thinking about trying my hand at the acoustic guitar. This is thanks in part to Spotify, which has a seemingly endless supply of playlists dedicated to the instrument.

Classical Gas Sheet Music

A lot of the hobbies that I've invested time into lately have all involved using a computer at some point, be it photography, exoplanet exploration, podcasting1, reading, writing, chatting, sketching, learning, or coding. Everything seems to revolve around a screen and Qwerty keyboard at some point to accomplish a goal2. It would be really nice to do something else for a while, though. Ideally something that will take me away from the computer.

An acoustic guitar would certainly do this3. Just as with the sax, there would be no illusions of a career in music. The purpose would be to play some of my favourite songs and maybe jam with the family from time to time as they play one of the other instruments in our house. We currently have a piano, a violin, and a trumpet; all of which would sound nice with an accompanying guitar.

The only real challenge that I see is dedicating the time. Everything else can be solved with practice and perserverence.


  1. I'm still recording every so often, but rarely ever publishing.

  2. Baking is probably one of the few pastimes where I am not sitting in front of a computer at some point.

  3. As would a lot of other musical instruments, of course.

Passionate Hobbyists

Earlier today I was introduced to Dennis Prager via Fireside Chat Ep. 84, where he strongly suggests people get a hobby. He then goes on to explain why people should have a hobby and why some things people consider a hobby are more of a pastime. Ultimately I agree that people need to have a creative activity that can be enjoyed during leisure time. In my case I have several very different passions that I can engage in when stepping away from the computer, but I understand this is not particularly common in adults. Yet, while I agree with the central idea that people should have hobbies, I wonder just how many people honestly have no creative outlet in their life.

In the YouTube video, Dennis makes a couple of interesting statements:

  • the more passions you have, the happier you'll be1
  • a hobby is to create something beautiful
  • watching something is not the same as creating something, therefore "watching movies" is not a hobby
  • a pastime, such as a video game, is not a hobby
  • technology has made our passions extinct2

The first two points I generally agree with. One could argue the point about creating something beautiful but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The last three points I can disagree with on semantics, as some people enjoy reviewing movies that they watch, making the act of watching part of the hobby. Some people enjoy creative games, such as Minecraft, SimCity, and others. I would contend that people can certainly create something beautiful in the virtual world of a game. The last point, however, I disagree with. Technology may have changed the sorts of pursuits that people are passionate about, but passion is still very much part of what makes our hobbies worthwhile.

Kids Today …

There's no denying that I have a multitude of hobbies that all bring me varying degrees of joy, depending on how knowledgeable and/or competent I might wish to be3. However, I have been described — in polite conversation — as a walking edge case. What I have seen first hand with my community volunteering4, though, is that kids today are just as creative and passionate as I was thirty years ago and as kids likely were a century ago. Where we focus our passions has changed. Nothing more.

One difference that I see with young people around here compared to when I was their age has to do with ramp-up time. If someone wants to try something new, they can generally get started quickly, cheaply, and easily thanks to a plethora of applications and YouTube videos. I've learned more about photography since the boy was born thanks to professional photographers on YouTube sharing concepts like framing, tilt-shifting, bokeh, and more. Sure, an application could probably do all of these things for me, but I want to use my nicer Canon DSLR camera. This means investing the time into learning how to do things with the tools available to me. Kids can do the same with just as much ease.

Case in point is a young girl down the street who wanted to make a cartoon featuring her new kitten. She downloaded an app for her tablet5, did all the preliminary work of drawing, colouring, and adding some music that she composed in GarageBand herself, then showed the whole neighbourhood (literally) what she created. Now she's talking about wanting to become an animator and learning more about this form of art than she might have otherwise. The technology made it possible for her to explore an idea, make something she found amazing, and then springboard to the next level. Whether she chooses to pursue a career in art or animation is irrelevant at this point. She is passionate and she is learning.

Having a creative hobby is a wonderful thing and I would encourage everybody to have at least one. For many, a hobby may be put on hold for a lack of time, a lack of resources, or a lack of "safe space"6. To suggest that a person's lack of passion is the result of modern technology is a bit of a stretch, though.


  1. This is what he calls the Happiness Theory

  2. He is not at all anti-technology. He explains in the video that the amazing technology so many of us take for granted has pacified us with all its convenience.

  3. At last count and not including hobbies that are not related to programming or otherwise non-creative uses of time? Five. Baking, gardening, sketching, writing, podcasting and photography. However, I also really enjoy reading and listening to podcasts. While these may not be creative in the moment, what I learn from the books or audio can certainly be put to use later.

  4. I participate in a robotics course during the summer holidays, teaching kids how to program and think problems through to find solutions. Both girls and boys attend the sessions and they generally range from 7 to 15 years of age.

  5. I think it was her father's tablet, but kids generally use whatever they want. Parents will allow it so long as there's a little bit of quiet in the house.

  6. Try having a nice model railroad set in the house with a toddler. Tears will be shed.

Post 2484

Today was one of those days where you get into work with a plan to do one thing, get side-tracked with an email outlining a different thing, and complete something both wonderful and unexpected half an hour before the end of your Friday shift meaning you might actually have a few minutes of peace before leaving to catch the train home. All in all, it wasn't bad. There is still quite a bit of work waiting to be done after the weekend, but that's par for the course and ultimately good for a person who wishes to be gainfully employed for the next little bit. Unfortunately, while on the way home, the good efforts of the day took a turn for the worse when email was used instead of a telephone call to announce that a server was down at the day job. As one might expect, there's squat I can do with downed servers when outside the corporate network, and VPN access is pretty much forbidden at this point.

But the struggles of work and the institutionalized silliness that one finds in any corporate environment isn't really the topic for this post. Instead I'm thinking more about something very different: the pursuit of happiness.

One of the greatest things anybody can figure out is how to be happy. This is not quite as easy as it sounds, nor is it a static answer. Instead we find that the ultimate set of conditions that go into making a person "happy" expands and contracts over time as one's fickle nature adapts to the changes that accumulate day after day. That being said, the one thing that I have long sought in my own pursuits has been the incredibly fluid and immeasurably precious resource called time. Like millions of others, I want to have more control over how I use my time. Sadly, the only way to do this while enjoying a decent standard of living is to somehow acquire a great deal of money or fall into a time warp like Bill Murray did in the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day.

Time is one thing I will not have a great deal of for quite a while.

Beginner

Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring my complaints about never having time to accomplish the goals I’ve set out to do, I’m doing something utterly reckless. The decision was not made impulsively like so many in the past, but slowly over the course of several months. Like when the resolution was made to leave the familiar world of Windows and pick up a Mac, and like when the commitment to emigrate from Canada for Japan took place, the careful use of time to studiously consider the consequences has served me well. In this particular case, the question was whether I should attempt to make a podcast or not.

Why pick up another hobby, though? Just how many pastimes can a person have and still enjoy each and every one of them? Writing software is both a fancy as well as something I can do at the day job in an informal role. Blogging is an activity that I’ve enjoyed since 2004 when it replaced the older indulgence of journalling1. In addition to this, other pastimes include cooking, designing, sketching, reading, listening to music, listening to podcasts, playing the occasional video game, painting, photography, consuming documentaries, attending lectures on scientific matters, and gazing at the night sky2. Why start yet another activity that I know next to nothing about?

Thinking about this and other hobbies that I’ve picked up over the years, it’s obvious that I’m essentially a beginner. I like to start new things, be it a casual pastime or a serious project. The early stages of discovery is where my heart truly lies. Seeing tasks through to completion, while certainly possible, is not where my focus lies. Heck, one can see this just by looking at the 1,592 incomplete and abandoned blog posts in my drafts folder. I am a beginner.

There are a number of projects that I do carry on for a long period of time, and there are even some blog posts that I manage to get close enough to a state of completion for their publication to become viable. But these are the exceptions to the rule. Unless something is incredibly interesting from start to finish, there just won’t be enough energy or reason to see a task through to the end. I certainly hope this will not be the case shouldI become a father one day.

Into the Great Wide Open

Podcasting is something that I’ve attempted on a few occasions without a reasonable amount of success. Shows were planned, researched, structured, and recorded, but none reached that stage of being “done”. I just wasn’t satisfied with the end result because I didn’t know enough to make the product I ultimately wanted to create. Many months of research later, I believe I have a better understanding of what needs to be done in order to produce a podcast worth listening to. There is still a lot to learn, though. I’m just beginning …

One of the many wonderful things about picking up a new hobby is the search for answers. We are usually full of questions, no matter the subject. We want to know what’s possible. What’s impossible. What can we do? What can’t we do? Who are some of the more professional people we can learn from? How can we accomplish X, Y, or Z? Do we need to A, B, or C in order to D? A thousand questions wait to be answered for those who dare to ask the questions … and I ask a lot of questions3.

Even if podcasting eventually returns to a passive hobby where I simply consume the content put out by many of the great producers across the Internet there will be new skills learned that can be applied to other fields. Programming helped me better understand how to teach people. Teaching people helped me better understand programming. Painting helped me to better appreciate art, just like seeing art helped me better paint. Every new thing we learn can help in other fields, and I expect podcasting will help me better appreciate sound. At the end of the day, what I expect from taking up a hobby is to learn something new, and enjoy the process along the way. Hopefully this is the same reason other people start something new, too.

Not Sharp Enough

Since getting my hands on a 5th Generation iPod Touch and later an iPhone 5, I've been trying to take ever-sharper pictures. We can see all sorts of examples of people taking really amazing photos with their iDevices, and I'd like to join in the fun. Using applications like CortexCam to take really sharp pictures in low-light conditions can help, but the really amazing pictures are those taken in bright daylight. Some of the photos that I've taken in recent months have appeared on this site here, but they are not "direct from the camera". Every picture has been processed in some way using Pixelmator or some other tool to scale, crop, or increase the resolution of the photo. While this works well enough for people viewing the pictures with screen resolutions below 150dpi, people with better screens can spot the fuzziness inherent in my snapshots instantly.

Up Close

Here is a photo that I took an hour ago while out for a walk with Nozomi. The photo was taken with the standard Camera application on my iPhone 5 with standard settings. Before being posted here, it was cropped and scaled, with the 72dpi photo being set at 200dpi in accordance to the image shrink1. It's alright, but not great. To illustrate the difference, here's the image cropped with the original scale and dots per inch:

Up Close (Full Size)

Do you see the difference? I do, and I don't have a high-dpi screen.

I'd really like to find a way to take better, more vibrant pictures at a higher resolution with the iPhone. The question is how? I'd like to stay away from putting really high resolution photos on this site for the sake of clarity. The first image in this post is 123KB in size, while the second is nearly three times that size at 653KB. This isn't breaking the bank by any stretch of the imagination, but why transfer more information than necessary?

First world problems, indeed …

Freight

Growing up in Canada, I rarely ever saw trains that were used to ferry people from one place to another. Trains were these massive vehicles used to carry raw materials to factories, and finished goods to ports. It wasn't until I was in my final year in high school that I even stepped foot on a real train1, taking the venerable GO from Burlington to Mississauga with a friend. So with this in mind, it probably comes as no surprised that I was shocked to see a freight train run through a commuter station on my very first trip to Japan in 2006. In a country where the most common means of killing oneself is to leap in front of these massive engines of steel, one would think the freight trains would be kept a little distant from potentially distraught individuals.

Freight Through Kanayama Station (One)

Like many kids, I had a train set while growing up. One of my favourite cars was the uncovered hopper. Not understanding that an electric toy train was not quite as powerful as the 5,000 horsepower diesel engines, I would try loading up the hoppers with model gravel, or sand. A true hobbyist knows that the gravel and sand available at the shops are typically glued to paper or some sort of plastic to simulate a fully-loaded hopper, but I would dump the entire contents of the bag into two cars, and stack 20 hoppers up. All in all, the rolling weight must have been close to two kilograms … far more than a single SD40-2 model engine could pull. But it tried. Oh, how it tried.

I can still remember the smell of the over-heating windings to this day …

Freight Through Kanayama Station (Two)

Since those youthful days from summers long past, I have considered getting back into model trains. I wouldn't want to go so far as to be a 電車オタク2, but I would enjoy setting up a room with a nice model set that slowly gets built up over time to look like a little town at scale. Doing something like this would get me away from computers for a while and, should the wife and I have children one day, I'd have something tangible to share with my daughter or son.

Like many hobbies, running a model railroad is not cheap. An untold amount of time and money would go into building a make-believe little world from plastic and copper, but the rewards would be innumerable. The problem, though, is that the little 1DK the wife and I live in just does not have the space for such an extravagance.

A man3 can dream, though.

A Constructive Hobby

Bender Bending RodriguezIf you had the time and money to start a new hobby, what would it be?  Would you pick up a sport? Start riding horses? Buy a rocket and explore space? Thanks to the incredible amount of down-time people have in industrialized nations, hobbies have gone from being a fleeting pastime to an absolute necessity in order to remain sane.

Over the years I've picked up quite a few hobbies including writing and studying various sciences including astrology and physics, but lately I've been thinking more and more about something new: robotics.

Robotics is something that I've been interested in since I was a child, but haven't had the opportunity to really work on the types of projects I'd like to embark on.  There was a robotics club at university but, due to internal politics, it was almost impossible to accomplish anything worthwhile.  With the proper tools, what I'd really like to sink my teeth in to are three nice projects:


  1. a semi-autonomous rover - something that would be able to observe its surroundings and navigate from one place to another, occasionally stopping at certain objects, and having the ability to get itself out of problem situations such as fine sand and tipping hazards

  2. a semi-autonomous submarine - something that would be able to navigate lakes and rivers on its own, and perhaps later be upgraded to map parts of the ocean

  3. a space elevator - something that would not use any moving parts while being able to lift 50x its own weight up a kilometer-long tether at high speed


Each one of these projects would come with a huge number of hurdles, especially that last one.  However, each project would also allow me to flex some programming muscles while simultaneously learning something new.  It should be a win-win!

Unfortunately, there's just one little problem: cost.

Building robots is not a cheap endeavor.  Lego has a great little kit called MindStorms NXT 2.0 which sells for about 40,000円 on Amazon, but it's not something most (married) people can easily justify spending money on. As a result my little projects will likely need to wait another few years before they can come to fruition. If the Mrs. and I have kids in the future then it will be much easier to disguise Lego as a gift for the little one while simultaneously acting as a father-child bonding mechanism.

Well … that's all I have to say on the topic. What hobby would you pick up?