What hobbies do you have? Have you learned anything useful from them?

This is my first “cross-posted” entry. I composed this on Quora. I was asked to answer the title question and I did. I probably won’t do this very often. Still, a little experimenting is fun.

Answer by John Baker:

The short answer is many and yes. The longer answer is pretty much everything I do, that matters to me, is a hobby of some form or other. Some of my major hobbies are:

1.      Amateur Astronomy
2.      Photography
3.      Blogging
4.      Recreational Programming.

Amateur Astronomy has been a lifelong pursuit. I was hooked as a child looking at Venus’s crescent through a small refractor in the badlands of Utah. It’s hard to relate how much I have learned from Amateur Astronomy or how much it has influenced my life but it is a lot and heavily.  My decision to study science in school and later university were outgrowths of this passion. I have traveled all over the world to view eclipses, see spectacular comets, and tour major observatories. Even today the best possible night for me is to stand alone under clear extremely dark high altitude skies and soak in the gentle light of the Milky Way.

Photography is also a lifelong hobby. I shot my first roll of film on a cheap fixed focus camera when I was eight. I blow hot and cold on my hobbies. Sometimes they utterly dominate my every waking hour. Other times they lie dormant, ignored, waiting for me to pick them up again. Photography is such a hobby. Over the decades it has taught me a lot of chemistry: I started picture taking in the “chemical” era. Nowadays I’ve absorbed a wide variety of photography related software skills. I’ve also learned a lot of history. Studying early photographers and how they created some of their iconic images is fascinating.

Blogging is relatively new hobby. I started with the idea that it would be good “composition practice,” a way to learn about web site maintenance, and finally a safe way to vent without serving time for assaulting imbeciles. It has met all these expectations and more. It’s presumptuous for bloggers to describe themselves as writers but you do acquire a greater understanding of what writers do. That old joke about being a drunk with a writing problem is not far from the mark.

As for recreational programming: despite going into work day after day,  year after year, and staring at screens of, please stab my eyes out, “work code.” I still muster the energy to work at home on software projects using unconventional programming languages and tools. Many professional peers have poked fun at my eccentric tastes and others have told me I was wasting my time. The joke has been on them. Many that cast these aspersions are no longer employed while my current job is a direct consequence of knowing things the convention bound do not.

I have learned many specific things from my hobbies but the single best thing I’ve learned is simple intellectual integrity. Nobody is going to do your hobby for you. Paying others to take up your hobbies makes no sense. Cheating on a hobby is crazy. You have to do the work by yourself; you have to learn by yourself; you have to think for yourself! Hobbies refine our individuality; I’d recommend more hobbies for everyone.

What hobbies do you have? Have you learned anything useful from them?

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