What I do with my Copious Free Time

You know, of course, that I'm being ironic in referring to Copious Free Time. The bottom line is that there never seems to be enough time to do all the things I would like to do.

Still, I do manage to find time for some things besides work. (I don't know about Jack, but all work and no play would certainly make me a dull boy!) Here are some of them:

Computers

I really do spend way too much time with my computers. But I talk about that subject a lot more in the work section, so I won't say anything more here.

Bicycling

For me, the bicycle is both an important method of transportation and a recreational activity. I currently have three working bikes: a 1984 Cannondale ST500 touring bike (my main ride), a Giant Iguana mountain bike (occasionally taken off-road, but used mostly as my winter commuting bike), and a Dahon folding bike (not as much fun as the others, but a lot easier to transport). If you're insatiably curious (or a bike geek yourself), you can read more about my bikes. You can also read about Mark Dulcey's Big Adventures.

Mostly, I ride on the road, and I start most of my rides from my house. The whole concept of driving to a bike ride (except for special occasions like a century) bothers me. Part of the reason I ride is to lower my impact on the environment; driving a car to get to a bike ride destroys that benefit.

In 1996, I rode the Boston-New York AIDS Ride. You can read about my experiences here. I had planned to ride in 1997, but circumstances made the fundraising impossible. I'm not going this year (1998), but I'm considering having another go at it in 1999.

I belong to a number of bicycle organizations, though I only occasionally manage to get out on a group ride. (Mostly, it involves getting up too early on weekend mornings, and sacrificing some of my less-than-abundant snuggle time with Marian.)

The Society for Creative Anachronism

I've been involved with the SCA for over twenty years now. I'm in the Barony of Carolingia, in the East Kingdom. (In other words, Boston, Massachusetts.)

But I've never really cared all that much about the Middle Ages; for me, it's something I do because there are lots of neat people to hang out with, you get to dress up in more interesting clothes than us 20th-century men usually wear, and there are a lot of opportunities for dancing and flirting.

Dancing

I was a late bloomer here. Back in grade school, the nuns tried to teach me some dances (waltz and so forth), but none of it took. Of course, being at an age where it was socially awkward to admit that you actually liked the idea of touching a girl didn't help. (I never went through the phase of not liking girls that a lot of boys seem to. Many of my best friends throughout life have been girls and women.) And in high school, I was much too socially awkward to do much of the sort of social dancing that teenagers do.

Things started to change when I got to MIT, and discovered the weekly folk dances. Here was a form of dance that was simple to learn, and that didn't require finding a partner - I could deal with that. And I quickly discovered that the movement of dance was a joy, and that the hugs that the dancers shared at the end of the evening were another.

Then I found the SCA, and SCA dance practice. The dances were a bit more complex, but the dance practice setting was a low-pressure way to learn them. And I actually got pretty good at it after a while.

More recently, I discovered contra dancing. It's more physically intense than folk or medieval dancing, and there's a joy to that - getting hot and sweaty in the company of other like-minded people. Recently, I have especially been enjoying the gender-free dances in Jamaica Plain.

I have also gotten involved in morris dancing. I have admired morris dancers for many years (ever since seeing them in The Christmas Revels. A bit over three years ago, I took a morris workshop with The Black Jokers. They tried to get me to join the team then, but I wasn't ready to make the time commitment yet. Two years and three NEFFAs later, I was finally convinced - I would do this thing! (That was in the spring of 1997.) I started practicing with the Jokers a few weeks later, and danced with them in public for the first time at NEFFA this year (1998). More recently, I have also been roped into MOTley Morris, a border (border of England and Wales, that is) morris team. (The MOT in MOTley stands for "My Other Team"; just about everybody in MOTley is also on another morris team.)

Besides all of that, I also sometimes do Regency dancing at science fiction conventions, an occasional session of English Country (we also do early ECD in the SCA, but the modern form has mutated considerably, with a lot of cross-fertilization with contra), and occasionally go to a dance club and boogie-oogie-oogie 'til I just can't boogie no more (though I prefer alternative-rock to disco music).

Science fiction and conventions

I've been reading SF for a long time. The first genre book I remember reading was The Green Hills of Earth, a story collection by Robert Heinlein; I read that way back in grade school, when it inexplicably showed up on the order list of Scholastic Book Services. But I didn't follow up with other SF then; stores and libraries in northeastern PA didn't carry the stuff.

I continued my lifetime love affair with SF in high school. My brother, Chuck, started reading it, and brought home a lot of books. (More than I could have; he is three years older, so he had a bigger allowance and a driver's license.) So I read them, too.

Then I went to MIT, and discovered a real candy store: the MIT Science Fiction Society. The MITSFS has a hugecollection of books and magazines. (When University Microfilms decided to offer old SF magazines on microfiche, they turned to the MITSFS to get their source books - the publishers didn't have them anymore!)

In 1976, I discovered SF conventions. I went to Boskone that year, and most of the years since. Back then, it was the only Boston-area convention; since 1990, there is also another, Arisia. I go to both now. I also sometimes get to Readercon, Albacon, Lunacon, and maybe occasionally something else. And I get to a Worldcon once in a while; my next will probably be Philadelphia in 2001.

So what's the draw of conventions, anyway? Well, the programming is one thing; the panels can be interesting and fun. The events are a bigger draw: dances, plays, and other fun stuff. The dealer's room is always nice to visit. But mostly I go to see my friends, hang out, and flirt and cuddle at parties. (Sensing a theme here?)

Amateur Radio

I first got interested in ham radio way back when I was in ninth grade (even before I found computers!). I took electronics shop, and the teacher, Mr. Tamuk, was a ham, and taught me Morse code and theory after school there. I never operated the Robert Cushman Murphy J.H.S. station, though; my first license (WN2ORV, Novice) arrived a week after the school year ended.

The following year I moved on to a new school, Ward Melville H.S., a new electronics shop, and a new teacher, Mr. Pomfret. By the middle of my first year there, I had earned a new Advanced license (WA2ORV), and spent quite a bit of time in the shop operating the school station, K2TKE. The school had an amazing setup, including a full Drake C-line receiver and transmitter and a 5-element beam for 15 meters.

The Extra license (KE1L) came much later. For years, that 20wpm Morse code requirement scared me, and I never thought seriously about getting an Extra, especially since I had never gotten interested in doing anything on the air for which my Advanced was insufficient. But the fall and winter of 1993-4 changed that. I was in Pennsylvania for a few months, living with my parents, and dealing with being unemployed and broke. There wasn't a whole lot to do there, so one of the ways I spent my time was to set up a ham station (using a old Swan transceiver that I had gotten cheaply at a flea market) and spending a lot of time on the air. I fell in with the local traffic handlers and started checking into the CW nets regularly, and I got better at the code. One day I was tuning across the band, and stumbled into a W1AW code practice transmission. I was listening along, copying it easily, thinking "that's slow; must be 13wpm or thereabouts" - and just about fell off my chair when they reached the end of that sequence and sent "end of 25wpm"! I had the sudden realization that I could have a serious go at Extra, and got it a few months later when I returned to Boston. (Back in those days, the tests were still given by the FCC, so you had to travel to their offices to be tested.)

It wasn't until a couple of years later that I discovered an actual use for Extra. I was living in Burlington with Dan at the time, and had joined the Billerica Amateur Radio Society (more commonly known as BARS). BARS does a serious Field Day operation every year. Most years, I don't get to do Field Day, because it conflicts with the Buttery Birthday Party - but once in a while, they don't conflict. (Field Day is the last weekend of June; the party is the last Saturday. When the last Saturday is June 30, they're not the same weekend.) The point is that this big-time contest operation includes a serious CW effort - and an Extra license is de rigeur for CW contesting.

Over the many years of being a ham, I have gone through periods of being quite active on the air, and periods of inactivity. Right now is mostly an inactive period. It's hard to find enough time in the days for all the things I like to do, so some of them fall by the wayside for a while. But I still have my license, and I'll be back...