Saturday, October 31, 2020

Are hobbies about the activity or the equipment?

I've noticed a commonality over the course of many years and several hobbies. And the hobby doesn't seem to matter - the commonality is universal for many people.

At a recent meeting of fellow R/C flyers, I was a passive listener to an interesting conversation of how to compare 2-stroke fuel engines to electric motors to determine equivalent performance. I just want to learn to fly better but these guys are masters and are now seriously into design.

Initially, we are attracted to a hobby because its activity appeals. For a while, that's enough.

With ham radio, we want to communicate. Photographers want to make interesting photos, usually of a particular subject matter. Amateur astronomers want to view/photograph the moon, planets, double stars, etc. R/C aficionados want to fly models.

And all of the above want to get better at what they do. That is the Phase 1 goal of a hobbyist, I think - to get better at whatever it is we do.

But somewhere along the way it becomes more about the equipment and the intricacies involved in its design and specifications rather than the activity that the equipment enables.

Photographers have endless debates about sharpness at f/8 vs. f/16, etc. They pay close attention to things like chromatic aberration, pixel/bin size and other things they were unaware of when they were first attracted to photography. Things more technical than artistic.

Astronomers, during cloudy sessions, discuss things like color fringing and optical design. Achromatic or apochromatic? Double apo or triple? Batinov mask or individual test shots? Deep Sky Stacker or Sequator?

Shooters are no longer content just to improve their accuracy; they become reloaders and experiment with powder charge and ballistic weight as it pertains to trajectory and fall at X meters. Should your AR-15 have 8 inches per turn rifling or 10? What are the trade-offs and benefits of each?

We don't all morph into Phase 2 hobbyists, but many do. For them/us, the hobby has become about the gear rather than the activity.

I am that way regarding ham radio but not (yet?) in photography or other hobbies. I like to put a new rig on the air and see how it performs and compare it with what I'm used to. I am content to have one camera, but not just one ham radio.

At what point do we begin to enjoy the design aspects of a hobby and the minutia of its intricacies rather than the hobby's stated activity - and what is the catalyst? I have no idea; I'm just an observer ;-)


Multiply the size of a 2-stroke glow engine (in cubic inches) by 2000 to get the electric power equivalent in watts.




  1. For photography, I was very lucky to find, where Alain Briot and his wife, Natalie run workshops in the Southwest, based on artistic ideas. As an engineer (and a former vision engineer at that), I tend to obsess over the bits, bytes, and pixels. Alain showed me how to approach my photography as an artistic passion. I ended up going to dozens of workshops over a 10+ year period, and have many beautiful prints to show for it, and a great appreciation for fine art photography.

    1. Thanks for the reminder - I had been aware of this website but hadn't looked in years. Then, with my new camera rejuvenating my interest, I started looking for the site but couldn't remember the name. Instead, I found this similarly named one:

      I think as hams, we do tend to obsess over the technical - it's part and parcel of the hobby. Photography is a good counterpoint (or at least it can be) for exercising the other side of the brain - if only I can stop thinking about pixels, digital noise, etc...and focus on things that are truly difficult for me, like composition. I admire those who are fluent in those aspects of the hobby but I am not among them.

      73 - John

  2. Excellent post and it reflects what I have also seen and experienced. I wrote this a little while ago which also touches on this:

  3. John, that's a very astute observation, and is true of many hobbies.
    With ham radio, though, I believe some of us *start* at 'phase 2' - that is, we get involved because we have an interest/fascination/obsession with electronics and the *technology* of radio. Using the gear to communicate with other people is secondary - it's a way to test that the gear is working properly.
    I think that's borne out by the content of many QSOs - the subject of the conversation is often centered on radio gear.

    I was a ham for many years before I got involved to any degree in the social and communication aspects of it - maybe I'm approaching it backwards?

    Anyhow, I believe many of us spend a lot more time tinkering with the station, building stuff, and testing things than making contacts. Or maybe that's just me :)

    73 de W0ZF

    1. Even as I was writing this, a little voice kept telling me that ham radio is an exception.

      I can see where someone might enter the hobby, as you said, already in Phase 2. Proof of this is the "maker" generation. A lot of these guys just want to design, build, prove and then move on. Numerous small (and some not so small) projects have been made available for sale to the public as a result of their work...Red Pitaya and others I can't think of this pre-coffee morning.

      This ability of our hobby to be approached from either direction probably plays a large part in accounting for its longevity among those of us who practice it. There are many lifers in this hobby due to its broad appeal.

      73 - John