The joy of creation

When’s the last time you made something? (credit)

I’ll let you in on a little secret.

I’m now officially in my ‘early 30s’. Yep, once again the spinning of the Earth around the Sun has crept up on me and I’ve been another year on this planet. And it’s the age where you start thinking “Holy crap I graduated from University a decade ago! Where’d the bloody time go in the middle?!”.

I knew this was coming of course, but in the past couple of months I’ve really been trying to reflect on my life and what it is I want to do with it. With the certain circumstances the world is in right now anyway, I wonder if more people are reflecting on exactly what they thought life would be like. A majority of us seem to have clawed back at least an hour or two in the day from the lack of a commute or more flexible working-from-home hours. Despite my expectation that I might be furloughed in the near-future it seems like the company I work for is busier than ever and needs more man power to chuck at the projects!

Remembering the future

Anyway, I got the idea to write this post when a few months ago I came across an old notebook I’d jotted notes and sketches in when I was about a third younger than I am today. It was fascinating to read and a whole bunch of memories came back about a bunch of ideas and plans I’d had.

For example, in these notes was a pretty well planned out and designed (if I do so say myself) side-scrolling hack and slash game with a bunch of different enemies, how I would program them and what cool special attacks they would have. Looking at it now, with some actual knowledge of game design and proper computer work under my belt, I can’t help but think “Aww bless, he thought it would be that easy to put in some animation and hit detection”.

There were also some notes about the “Ultimate Gaming PC” I would need to build to be able to properly design, develop, and test my amazing creations with such cutting edge features as:

  • Intel i5 2500K CPU (quad core obviously),
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 (~£400 in 2010 money),
  • 8 GB of RAM, and a
  • 1TB 7200 RPM hard disk

Though of course back then this was merely a pipe dream. I didn’t have that amount of money to spend on something that would of probably been a fanciful but likely unfeasible past time. I spent a rather worrying amount of my time in my college and university days playing the incredibly popular MMO World of Warcraft. Having a top spec gaming PC would no doubt have lead me down the path of more time playing WoW (at fancier resolutions and settings of course) and boy am I glad I purposely dodged that bullet!

Oh God, they’ve brought back the original version I played… and I still remember my login details…

You can see where I invested my time and energy instead by reading through my financial history post. Despite a bumpy start, once I got going I decided to hit my career hard and spent long hours improving my skills and becoming known as a reliable deliverer of solid work, while taking a few steps into adulthood along the way – namely buying my first car, my first property and meeting and marrying the love of my life along the way. Oh and saving hard.

Perhaps a little too hard?

Being a child with the funds

This wasn’t in the notebook but I distinctly remember thinking back then that I wanted what I had right then: time to think, time to create, time to tinker, time to see friends and not worry about the next day – but with a bigger budget. A perfect mix of time, energy and money and the limitless possibilities that could be done with that.

I’ve got the money now. I’m still young and fit. The time had been missing element. It took a bloody pandemic to hit for me to slow down and realise, but I actually have just that bit more time than I once did. What did I always want to do in those younger days when time was so abundant and I wasn’t working late into the night to deliver to someone else’s deadline?

Learn. And then apply this knowledge to create.

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the world of electronics, computers, software and coding. I like my job as it allows me a degree of flexibility to solve problems with computer code and software – but I don’t love it. The study and examinations I have to do to progress and stay relevant at my job feel far too much like work for me to enjoy the learning process.

Whereas something I choose to do, such as experimenting with electronics, originally through the excellent Lego Mindstorms kits (by the way have you seen all the kit you can get with them these days, wow!), and by proxy robotics and sensors and all that good stuff still captures my childhood-like imagination. And I honestly think there is no better time to dive into that pool of knowledge than right now!

Old habits die hard

But I have a problem. Much like The Saving Ninja, I’m allergic to spending money on things for myself. I don’t second guess blowing money for a nice meal out with friends. I’m more than happy to buy a round of drinks even if I’m the driver. I like to get people nice birthday gifts. But for myself I go through endless agonising trying to justify to myself that I can spend £15 on a new T-shirt (the old one was a bit ropey) or do I really want to spend that £3 on a sandwich when I could just make one at home.

I’ve been getting better at the spending aspect. We’re not talking about upping my lifestyle inflation to gourmet lunches out every day, ordering a massive £3,000 top sec computer and getting an Uber to travel 50 metres up the road every time, but I have decided to cut myself some slack. I’m doing well in life. I have enough savings that if I was fired tomorrow, for some reason, I could still make all my monthly payments for the next 6 years. Hell, a small part of why I bought my electric car was to prove I could spend the money (after going through the spreadsheet triage of justifications of course).

But what really drove me writing this post and reflect on just how much I had missed out on learning and creating new things was this post by Ermine. Both the post itself and the following discussion in the comments where he shared some knowledge on analogue thermistors (um, turns out I have a digital one, sorry Ermine) sparked something in me. I had been dabbling very lightly in some Python coding and I had an old Raspberry Pi 3 B from a few years ago I found under my bed and started tinkering with it again.

The joy of creation

Next thing I knew, I’d written web service calls, a text parser and was messing with a graphing API to deliver this majestic image of my house’s daily electricity consumption:

A Raspberry Pi calculating and displaying our household’s energy consumption for the day

And I can honestly say it was the best 4 hours of alone time I have enjoyed in these past few months of quarantine. I was immediately trying to work out how to add sensors, or a display, or would I be able to run it all off a battery or can I add a solid state drive to this or…

So I think, inadvertently, I have re-discovered some of the great joys of life that had seeped away unbeknown to me: curiosity of the unknown, the love of knowledge, experimentation and that feeling of success when all the different splayed out strands come together and your bloody code works exactly as you knew it (eventually) would!

And so over the past few weeks, I’ve dusted off some of my old discarded toys and purchased a whole load of new ones to play with:

I may have hit ‘peak’ Raspberry Pi accessories… still might get the new one though…

I’d like to think my past self is smiling, nodding, and saying “About damn time! Let’s get down to business!”.

5 thoughts on “The joy of creation

  1. My commute wasn’t so big so I’ve not found that I’ve had a lot more time than usual during lockdown, which means I’ve not been able to dedicate myself to any new hobby or revisit an old one, aside from a spot of gaming (ex-Wow player here)..

    The joys of creation you mention resonates with me in that I look forward to the time when I am no longer working full time so that I can re-indulge in the craft type hobbies I loved doing when I was younger and do them just for enjoyment and not turn such hobbies into money making side hustles, which to me, would just suck the joy out of them.

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    • It’s been quite different for me as I’m usually away 4/5 days a week (sometimes abroad), so actually having access to my own ‘stuff’ has made me realise we need to improve the house a bit. I also have more time to sleep (!) and tinker with some gadgets which I’m enjoying 🙂 Great to meet a fellow ex-WoW player! Have you been tempted back by the Classic servers at all?

      Creating things for fun is my main goal too – I’m not looking to make money out of my things. I used to love just making random things in Lego, because why not? I feel like I forgot how to have fun like when I was younger for a bit. I’m sure once lock down has loosened up a bit and I can visit my friends more I’ll feel better. I missed your last couple of posts, will have to go read them now as well.

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      • My ex-guildies tried to coax me back into classic WoW but I can’t dedicate the time to play, not in the way I want to play (as in hours on end!) Have you been tempted? Horde FTW! 😉

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        • Alas it’s been about 12 years since I last played and back then I had way way more time. All the online buddies I made in my guild have long since moved on with their lives sadly. I know it wouldn’t be the same – I’d have to find a new set of people to play with. I’ll always have fond memories of killing Ragnaros and Nefarian with them though 😀

          Oh dear, a Hordie… if only you guys had Paladins right at the beginning 😉 kek *bubble hearths away*

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          • I didn’t start playing until 2009 (Wrath of the Lich King) and stopped in 2016 (Legion). My main toon was a Troll Hunter, my second a Blood Elf paladin, so I missed the outrage when they weren’t available for the Horde! 🙂
            A few of my online buddies (who I met up with several times in real life for ‘WoW meet ups!) still play but most have moved on.
            I still have a Blizzard account as I occasionally play Hearthstone and in the first week or so of lockdown, I made the most of playing Diablo III for free.
            Recently, I’ve been playibng Guild Wars II, which is enjoyable enough but it’s not WoW!

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