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Friday, 25 June 2021


Er, can I just add mechanical keyboard geekery? I just figured I got the perfect deck, with perfect key switches and perfect key caps.

And 20 minutes ago I bought a new circuit board because it has the potential to be perfect.

Sigh, I guess I will just have to add it to the 10 other mechanical keyboards I have (and one still undelivered via a Kickstarter).

I think the geekery is ever-present, although at different levels of obsession, in almost any endeavor. Knitters do indeed talk about favorite needles and gizmos - woodworkers collect Japanese hand planes and classic Craftsman screwdrivers(even talking about the unique smell of the handles!) SUV and Pickup guys accessorize their rides and then start learning how to drive on trails..so yah, it's a human condition. Even when the participants are being hyper-practical - I overhead a very interesting debate on the best hammer from a trio of construction guys at Home Depot while they were waiting on special order to be pulled, the conversation was about cost versus quality and long-term use.

What's neat is that 1 time out of a huge number, those conversations turn into something really neat. A lightweight camera using movie film, for a photographer needing a smaller camera. A hammer that makes it easier to swing all day. A notebook the opens properly(from the top!) and has the exact shade of lining to make writing easier. Even the collectors come up with things to make collecting easier - watch cases that move to recharge self-winding watches and such.

My wife recently, after much handwringing, settled on a throwing wheel. Unfortunately it makes the slightest of bearing noises at certain speeds. A sound my fuzzy ears can barely perceive.
I can confirm potters are gear driven (to a certain extent). Pretty sure no one collects pottery gear that's not a potter... or maybe one or two, who knows !

Hi Mike,
Collecting and owning firearms would probably fall under your article.
That is to say, gun owners fall within a broad spectrum of reason, from purely collecting (but not shooting) for purposes of nostalgia, and for many, the firearm is a combination of art, beauty, function. In fact it may very well possess the perfect balance of the above. Other owners of course are very active hunters and target shooters who use their collection to a very high degree. The intrinsic value of firearms may not be obvious to most. In a time when it seems your cellphone (or CAMERA) is outdated every few months, there is something special about the fact that many of these firearms, either designed and built over a hundred years ago or more or replicas thereof, remain relevant today. I have a Winchester rifle from 1864 that is as good as it was the day it was made and just as useful as any modern firearm. What else can you buy, use for a lifetime, and pass it down to your children, still perfectly suited for its purpose, or sell, and get your money back (and usually much much more)? I think (don't hold me to it) the top three states of TOTAL guns per state ownership is Wyoming, Arizona and Alaska.
Another interesting study, done by the "World Population Review" (look under Guns Per Capita) found that Wyoming led the nation in the number of guns owned per firearms owner: 229 guns per person. The stunning revelation was that the supposedly gun-hating, politically driven Washington, D.C., came in second, at 68 guns per firearms owner. Alaska ranked at number 15, with 21 guns per firearm owner.

Surely some kilns are better than others. For what value of “better”? There are many different kinds of kilns and modes of firing used by craft potters including some, like Raku, that produce unpredictable results (like Holga perhaps?) and many ways of creating pots other than with wheels, though there are varieties of those too. Even the shelving on which you set your pots to dry is important — it used to be asbestos that was popular but I doubt that’s used now. It would be tedious to go on as I expect you’ll be inundated with examples from knitters … the wool and the vegetable or otherwise dyes perhaps :-) .

I have to say, about birdwatching, while I agree that gearheadism and listing as a part of status are the way many people live it, there's also another kind of birdwatchers. I know young people that has been in birdwatching for years using nothing more than a pair of 50 bucks binoculars, and without leaving their region. I'm like that too, birdwatching for me is another way of engaging with the environment, of understanding the many layers of biodiverstity that are around us. So, birdwatching has also a large spectrum of practitioners.

For the readers that understand spanish, I just wrote a very interesting story about a chocolate made in "colaboration" with a woodypecker: http://nubedemonte.com/chocolate-con-carpintero-cheje/

You wrote about trucks: "There's no presumption that you should have any special skills as a driver." When I see how many of these huge new pickups (penis enhancement devices) or SUVs blunder down urban streets and freeways, I know the occupants behind the steering wheels have no special skills.

Theres a subset of birdwatchers that are obsessed with and collect optics such as binoculars, scopes and such. They're often very knowledgeable about the science of optics. In a venn diagram they'd probably share some part of a circle with astronomy aficionados.

I recall reading somewhere that Hollywood producer Joel Silver collects Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

An executive at a company where I used to work bought a house in Malibu Colony on the beach for ~$5M, tore it down and built a new one. Over the next few years he purchased the next three neighbor houses so he could have a place for the grandkids to stay w/ his children, a gym/office and garden, and the last one apparently, to spite the person renting the one immediately next to his original, who complained about the construction work to the owner (I suspect the work was in accordance with what I imagine is heavily enforced HOA rules).


Serious amateur cooks can get pretty crazy about knives. Paying several hundred dollars for a chef's knife is not uncommon. OTOH the best Chef de Cuisine I ever worked for used a carbon steel Chinese chef's knife (mistakenly called a cleaver by some). The one I use today is at least 20 years old. I think I paid about $20 for it.

There’s something oddly familiar about all this… something that sound vaguely like … vanity and chasing after the wind…

I think that the sweet spot is someplace in the middle. If you start out with junky equipment that fails or make life difficult for you, than you are likely to get discouraged and quit whatever it is that you are trying to learn. That said, beginners don’t need the higher end equipment that are pro level or that are directed at rich dilettantes. Do you need a lens costing thousands to take great pictures? It certainly will be better than a knock off brand lens that is being given away, but in general if a beginner sticks to the kit lens from the main manufacturers they won’t go wrong. Will it be the “best” kit that will give great results all of the time? No but it will give reasonable results most of the and allow the person to grow and perhaps encourage them to stick with the hobby and decide what they truly need next.

You should Google, "Shelburne Museum." Located between our place and the bustling metropolis of Burlington, Vermont, the museum constitutes the house and estate of the late Electra Havermeyer-Webb, a distaff cousin of the Vanderbuilts, which I mention mainly for the pure pleasure of using the word "distaff" in a sentence. Her particular hobby was collecting buildings -- entire structures typical of American architecture of the day, which she would have disassembled, carted to her property, and re-assembled there. She also had the last paddlewheel boat on Lake Champlain with brass fittings everywhere, coaxed out of the Lake via a purpose-built set of rails to its current resting place within baseball-throwing distance of Route 7.

The museum has a railway station, a small lighthouse, a school house, a round barn, a modern house made of shipping containers stuck together like the playtime project of a giant with scaled-up Legos. There is an exuberant, idiosyncratic quality to the collection, which perhaps points to another aspect of gearheadism: the sheer madness of material acquisition and accompanying monomania when inspiration strikes.

I do have a dog in this fight: I have, once or twice, pointed out to my wife that owning multiple watches, cameras, or pocket knives is probably better than collecting boats, cars or whole buildings -- at least from the perspective of the family pocket book. But while we are not particularly affluent, except by the world-historical standard of most everyone having not much for most of human history, I wonder if there isn't a certain "affluenza" aspect to this. There is, I think, something about the dopamine hit of acquiring the next object of your obsession, that isn't entirely dissimilar to playing pachinko or gambling.

On the other hand, I am currently down in NYC taking care of my aged parent and, as usual, I brought a bike with me for running errands and tooling around. Which bike did I bring? Well, the one I would mind least if it got stolen, of course. I currently own more bikes than I have had stolen from me over the years, but just barely. The story of their multiplication is best left for another time, but I will say in my defense that it has less to do with collecting (or even purchasing) than the knives or the pocket knives and more to do with bicycles' natural tendency to multiply if left unattended in the barn.

I have a couple of random thoughts about bicycles. A nice light well tuned bike makes everyone who rides it faster. Not sure you can say the same thing about nice cameras. Not to mention if you spend the big bucks for one of the newer e-bikes anyone can outride the best rider on the tour de france. Lots of technology geekiness to be had there in terms of watts, length of charge, top speed etc.

I still regard the last word in gearheadism to be Roger Cicala's 2012 Hammerforum. Collecting, which I don't profess to understand, seems to be something else.

I spent the COVID year figuring out* how to build electric guitars. On the theory that one should learn from mistakes as well as a curiosity about why everyone does A instead of B, I have been deliberately doing things the "wrong" way to see what happens. I have actually made some nice guitars as well as a pile of guitar-shaped things.

Now to figure out how to play guitar.

I'm not sure how that fits into your gearhead** theory.

*"figuring out" is the process of determining what the questions are as opposed to "learning" what the answers are.

**gearhead of course having another meaning in this context

I think faceting birds is generally frowned upon. Someone should have a word with your brother.



Photos taken badly of classic boats.....plus commentary by .......

A fine post, and juicy comments. Thanks!

I've reached the age where I have enough money to buy at least some of the audio equipment that I've yearned for, but my hearing has declined to the point that an mp3 player and a set of earbuds provides all the music that I can appreciate. Passively collecting a wall of audio equipment would be pure vanity, and I'm too old for that, too.

Being a gearhead is something I really hate about myself as a photographer. I don't need cameras, they're just things - all I need is one camera, and one lens. But I like them. I dunno. I had to sell my Hasselblad recently to fund therapy for my wife who suffered a stroke, and it actually hurt. I got attached to a piece of equipment. It's not good, no matter how good said gear actually is.

Don't develop an interest in and taste for home-brewed espresso......that way lies madness, and not from the caffeine.

One side effect of free market consumerism is that, for many items or services, we need to get geeky just to make an informed purchase. Many turn to professional geeks like Consumer Reports or Wirecutter, or more or less specialized reviewers of gear or services. Others find that they've stumbled into a new hobby.

Hi Mike.
I'm surprised no-one has mentioned collecting pens. Whatever you do, don't Google pens or you will have a new pen to go with your new watch.
Cheers, Jeff

Another collecting hobby for people who like finely crafted pieces of engineering (and will exchange large sums of money for) that may or may never be used: classic brass camping stoves (Optimus/Primus type).

I'm kind of a gear head simply because in my late teens I figured out I'm just too poor to buy cheap stuff that breaks too soon, or is no fun to use at all. Tools in general, cameras, lenses, tripods, tents, sleeping bags, bikes (lately of the recumbent trike variety*), you name it.

*the Milan velomobile is hands down the most exiting toy I bought im my life. Kind of the unholy offspring of a dutch bike and a SR-71. Absolutely hilarious to be able to ride at 30+ mph on a flat road under your own (pretty modest) power for miles on end, or bomb down a 1% slope at 50+ mph. ;)
Its also the only vehicle so far, where I get treated better than any other vehicle sharing the road by 95% of all divers.

I like to cycle and brought a carbon fiber bike which was not very pricey (about the price of a 70-200 Canon L lens), but I got it simply because I go faster on it, and speed for me at least is what I enjoy about cycling. Also the lighter the bike, the further I can go without exhaustion, which again adds to variety. So in my case it is practical. However my bike is not truly expensive and there is no point in me buying a more expensive one, since the return will be very small. I cycle largely for exercise and not to compete, and it is indeed true if you cycle solely to burn up the calories then any bike will do. In my youth I broke the frame on my bike from hard riding, so if you take it even vaguely seriously you need a half-decent frame. Poseurs are everywhere, but around us because the terrain is so hilly, most riders are the real thing, no point just having a good bike if you don't want to put in the effort.

Garden Model Railroading is very much a "choose your own level" activity. You can:

Buy everything ready made and lay down some track, and just run it.

Focus heavily on the gardening and water features.

Use your electronics ability to develop controls, switches and layout automation.

Use your creative skills to modify existing stock or "scratch build" your own rolling stock.

Electric or real steam.

Use your photography skills to capture your layout in realistic looking images

And so on and so forth.

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