Hobbies

Exercise

DSCF2361_cropSome years ago, I would have scoffed at the notion that I'd consider exercise a hobby, but even then I commuted by bicycle to and from work (and other places) when I could. Since the turn of the millennium, a major criterion in my choice of residence is its proximity to my place of work; my current house is reasonably close to the Longleaf Trace, which gets me to school in about 20 minutes. One of the upsides to living in Mississippi is that I can do this most of the year without worrying too much about cold weather; even rain tends to pass after a little while. There are periods where I fill my gas tank only once a month!

More recently, I've taken up swimming again. My Italian grandfather praised swimming as the only activity that routinely exercises all the muscles. I'm still not convinced of that, but it's like bicycling in that it isn't especially painful, and I feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Photography

To catch a snowflakeTo call me an “amateur” photographer is an insult to amateurs; I prefer the term, “dilettante”. I can't say my photography has contributed much to the world, but it has had the salutary effect of motivating me to learn about the world around me; not all my hobbies do that. For the first time in my life, I can identify a fairly wide range of birds and flowers, though not as many as some in my family, never mind ordinary folk.

I am somewhat partial to Fuji cameras, on account of the excellent color photos I used to take on a “vintage” 2000-era digital camera. I've tried other companies' cameras, but they don't quite appeal to me.

After a brief dalliance with an HS25 bridge camera, I managed some good deals on the X10 for “short” and the X-S1 for “long”. Fuji carved out a niche by putting old-style manual controls, such as a manual zoom ring and exposure compensation. I can't go back to mechanical zoom rings after that. One day I might try their “serious” line of interchangeable lens cameras, but that's still out of my league for now.

The really fun aspect (to me) is that these cameras use an unusual technology in their image sensors, which allows them to take two simultaneous exposures of different lengths. I sometimes experiment with combining these exposures in different ways, to squeeze out more dynamic range when possible. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one using precalculus functions to combine the exposures, and I'm pretty sure I know why, too: there's a huge tradeoff involved.

La vecchia vetreria La vecchia vetreria
Photo as developed by a raw processor (CaptureOne). Note the sharper image. Photo as developed using my approaches. Note the additional detail in the clouds, leading to a nicer effect (in my opinion).

Programming

I do this for work, but I sometimes enjoy it as a hobby, too. In particular, I've taught myself most of the computer languages I know, mainly from curiosity. I don't generally like the C/C++ languages, but I've made my peace with them.

Recently, I've written code that allows me to automate and experiment with photography, as in the photos above. You can download it, but you would need to install the FreeImage library to make it work, as well as work with a modern C++ compiler. I find to my disappointment that I haven't added as many comments as I thought I did, a major deficiency, but it's short, and structured in such a way that it should be self-explanatory.

Reading

I enjoy reading literature and poetry when I have time and energy. One of my favorite authors is Dostoevsky, with Demons being on I particularly enjoyed.

I have also read a fair amount of Italian literature in the original tongue. I've read some Dante (Inferno and much of Purgatorio) and the obligatory Manzoni (I promessi sposi). A pen pal did me the favor of directing me to The Late Mattia Pascal (Il fu Mattia Pascal), which has great potential for a modern adaptation. I have enjoyed Oriana Fallaci's work (Lettera a un bambino mai nato and Inscialla), which I found surprising at first, but less so as she aged.

Writing

I used to have a lot of pen pals, and still write friends by hand from time to time, but as enriching as I found that, it was too draining a hobby to maintain. The responsibilities of adulthood don't exactly supply additional time and energy necessary to do this.

I write some pretty awful stories and poems. I may eventually post some here, but I'm afraid I have nothing at the moment beyond an Easter hymn with which I remain dissatisfied, though I can't quite put my finger on why.

I used to keep a weblog, but after a while I “woke up” to how badly it was written, and abandoned it.