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2010: Part one

I confess: I'm 45, and running low on flexibility. I need to limber up and try new things.

What do you think I should try in 2010?

(Note: I have no desire to get myself arrested/sent to gaol. Nor would extreme sports/serious adrenaline surges be a good idea, health-wise. I'm monolingual — in English — and do not have access to a bottomless purse with which to buy a ticket to the space station/a yacht/a medium-sized or larger heroin habit. In short, I'm a boringly average middle-class British media luvvie, subtype: overweight, bad eyesight, married, no kids, two elderly cats, writes books for a living and travels a bit.)


Stuff folks have suggested which are contraindicated (for medical reasons or due to general health) include:

* Martial arts, fencing, running, anything requiring good eyesight, serious aerobic exercise, learning to fly

Stuff folks have suggested which are impractical include:

* learning foreign languages (I'm seriously rubbish at them), woodwork/metalshop/crafts (no space in a top-floor apartment), going to Burning Man (wrong side of planet), cycling (if I didn't live on the side of an extinct volcano, maybe ...), photography (see "good eyesight" above)

Stuff folks have suggested which I'm already doing include:

* foreign travel, walking, swimming



Ocean cruise? Get yourself some sort of "author in residence" gig, perhaps? But make sure it has good internet access!


Hmmm... Archery is always a good one.
Out in the fresh air, a bit of a workout on the shoulder & back muscles but not too taxing and it's fun too.
It can get a bit Zen too! It's just you, an arrow and the target...


I'd suggest Blues dancing. It's slow, easy on the body, and a lot of fun.


If you have a TV, throw it out. And no movies, either.

Everything else will magically get more interesting.


Tai Chi. Nice and gentle for a martial art... but practical too, if you get good at it.


Mark@4: I don't think "divorce" is on his list of things he wishes to do, which would be the effect of taking away my Mythbusters supply!


Eat better, drink less, move more.


Take up running or hill walking.

You live in Edinburgh, right? That's not far from some damn fine mountains. Occasional good views, exercise, fresh air and time to think away from tech there for the taking.

Or a whole new set of gadgets and toys and hacking to play with depending on how you look at it.


Well, Yoga has actual proven benefits in double-blind medical studies so that'd be my suggestion.

Swimming is pretty low-impact, though not fantastic for flexibility.

However, ballet might provide us all with some amusing imagery, and isn't that the most important thing Charlie? :-D


@5: I was going to suggest tai chi as well. Or, if you want to get tech-silly, get a Wii and hack Wii fit into something you'd be interested in doing.

Actually, I do know what would get you out and about: bagpipes. If you regularly practiced the bagpipes, you would regularly have to leave the house (unless Feorag actually likes the sound at close range), and you'll have to regularly find new places to practice as the neighbors complain, so you'll get to explore the city. Plus you get all that good aerobic exercise what with blowing to inflate it and managing the air pressure with the bag. And it's *cultural*, so you can play it at the Festival Fringe every year. Just use a pink paisley bag and you'll be in easy. Oh, and you have to keep walking, just to keep ahead of the sound.

Unlike the Uillean pipes, you can't play it and drink at the same time, so that also cuts down on your caloric intake...

(BTW: I do have a chanter that I've played a few times, so I'm allowed)


Fencing is pretty okay for all ages, although depending on your club the people who still train for competitions get all the attention -- and thrash you soundly.
(Non-olympic fencing is rather rare, and you'd have to deal with all the SCA guys and/or the "Western martial arts are superior, by Jove!" crowd)


Try eating strange ethnic foods involving plants and animals not part of European dishes. If I could, I would like to eat every nontoxic animal on the planet, barring primates.


Read "Born To Run" by Christopher McDougall.


Lift weights (free weights are best - start with low weights and high reps) and do yoga. Do this for one month (maybe two at your age ;p) and I promise you'll feel like a totally new man, in addition to shedding a large number of those pounds.

There's an unfortunate false dichotomy in the nerd world: you're either a "jock" or a "nerd" and ne'er the twain shall meet. In reality, your physical condition and your mental condition are deeply intertwined. Work out for two months, keep a daily journal while you do it, and you WILL see an improvement in your ability to concentrate, general creativity, mood, and energy level.

Don't go running. Running sucks. Lift the heavy objects, make the bendy poses. You will not regret it.


I second yoga. I recently took it up, and I gotta say it's a low stress way to increase your activity level gently. Plus instructors tend to be very newbie friendly, and generally happy people. On the other hand, it has a not insignificant price...


Given the popularity of this blog, of late, I'd suggest trying to do a series of posts on X every month, where X is...

* baiting a fandom? (You mentioned something about suspicious anti-Dr-Who sentiments in an earlier post.)

* a topical trans-Atlantic rant?

* a topical political proposal? (I wish to hear more about subjecting my-fellow-Americans to a short, sharp, dose of Communism.)

If all posts in it are well received, you might try to have it sold as a PoD-- especially if some of your "neighbors'" experiments in that area work out.


Sorry, took the critical word metaphorically.


How about learning Krav Maga?

It's the close-combat martial art practiced by the Israeli Defense Force and a number of covert special forces around the world.
How about learning Krav Maga?

It's the close-combat martial art practiced by the Israeli Defense Force and a number of covert special forces around the world.

I took a few months of it back in college. It's a very tactical martial art, all about learning patterns, working with the flow of a situation, finding a way to turn it to your advantage quickly and methodically. It's not showy or steeped in vagaries of new-mysticism either.

On a less violent note, learning a language could be grand. Perhaps with an end goal of visiting the homeland of your new tongue after a year of practice? Gives you some incentive to push on in your studies. A nice Spanish holiday or watching the polar lights while ordering Hákarl in Iceland?

Do not order Hákarl though Charlie. That would fall under Extreme Sports.


Your Mono lingual so change that

Learn Mandarin 1.2 billion people cant be wrong....

(Actualy serioulsy it's interesting to learn - its different as its a tonal language so it makes you have to think of things differently)


I would suggest running. Perhaps a marathon. I was a pack-and-a-half a day man myself up until I hit 40, and if you'd asked me at 39 what I'd be doing 10 years later, running marathons would not be high on the list. Now I run 7 miles three days a week at a 7:30 pace . . . and I'm comfortably older than you, Charlie.

Or you could get a puppy, if your cats would allow it.


Some variant on the theme of flying, if you've never done it. Try an introductory flight at a flight school or paragliding, or both.


I concur: Tai Chi seems like a good idea. It will give you a non-Western perspective to go with the increased energy flow and more balanced mentality.



Here's another one: learn another specialty. (Harrumph), Uh, I might allow that the more people who know mathematics the better, and it's really not a difficult subject.

In the other direction, how about learning how to draw well? You don't have to have "imagination" or "style" or whatever dreck they're pushing on the young 'uns, but you should be able to competently render basic forms. That is, a sketch of your telephone, or a chair, or a building front should be readily recognizable as such. This sort of thing doesn't take talent or innate ability of any sort; it does require practice.

Heck, there's even woodworking, which can be pretty cool if you have the space and tools for it.


Wii Fit Plus has some abbreviated yoga routines (the “salute to the sun” is more of a “wave hi to the flaming ball of gas”) that can help with flexibility, numerous minigames that don’t require the reflexes of an adolescent, and keeps track of your progress with weight, balance tests, etc. It’s my half-hour morning routine.


Take up CNC routing and 3D printing. You have a lot of the conceptual background already, it's not particularly expensive or time-consuming, and it's about as close as we've gotten, at this point, to matter duplication.

Take a look at some time.


By "running low on flexibility," do you mean literally, as in "should maybe try yoga" or more broadly, as in "too set in my ways"?

I'm a year younger than you. At 36, I picked up firedancing, which was a stretch for me in both senses (to date, I have not burned myself badly enough to require medical attention). By 2009, that had led me to Burning Man, which stretched me in the latter sense.


Yoga, yoga, yoga. And ninjutsu. I am not kidding about that last one.


You could have a lobotomy and become a Tory. Your penis would shrink, but your income would go up.


I suggest snorkeling and/or SCUBA. Snorkeling is relatively cheap and has a gentle learning curve; SCUBA requires training but it isn't a bank-breaker. Both require getting somewhere where you can see pretty things under water and maybe go without a wetsuit. If you can get a GoH gig at a convention in, say, San Diego or Miami, go from there. :-)

As a friend once put it, it's hard to underestimate the science fictional aspect of the genuinely weird things that live under the ocean on our own planet.


Try fencing. Good exercise, lots of fun, and your choice of 3 weapons.


I second Darryl@25, but expand it into any kind of workshop craft. Woodworking, metalworking, carpentry, etc. Once you're into it, you spend several hours a day on your feet, doing simple, nonstrenuous movement. Keep your mind in shape working on spatial puzzles.


Maybe learn the hiragana and katakana phonetic systems for your April trip to HALcon, if you don't know them already? Learning even a sliver of a new language always gives me the pleasure of solving a special kind of riddle, so I advocate anything that broadens one's linguistic repertoire.

If you like, you can start here with the game in one tab and a hiragana chart or katakana chart in the other.

The WikiTravel phrasebook is also quite thorough and useful. It explains basic verb tenses and sentence structure in an easily understandable way. It also has phonetic spellings of each phrase, to encourage practise. I'm not sure how much you'll actually use during the con, but I found even my rather minimal knowledge inestimably useful and fun during my trip.


Defend your borders!

Looks like you can hire horses from places like this:

Taiji and mathematics are great suggestions too. I am loving the webcast of Edward Frenkel's course on multivariable calculus:

Round here yoga is mostly taught by trendy white people, which I find a bit culturally-appropriative. YMMV.


How about fixing the "post a comment" form? Anyway, I find myself in a similar situation. I'm a mouse potato and I feel a bit guilty . With two little kids I should be doing something to maintain my health. I've decided to start 2010 with a regular bout of stretching and work my way up to somewhat regular walking and biking. Slow and steady.
I think you might find that walking is really good for the creative process as well as the body. Win-win.
Iain's @ 13 idea has some merit also ;)


1) Wii Fit;
2) Go caving if you've never been;
3) Read 5 poems by a poet you've never heard of every week for all of 2010.


Come to Burning Man. We'll look after you.


Two I really enjoyed.
Taking glassblowing classes. Nothing like learning how to manipulate a several hundred degree blob of molten glass.
Get your pilots license. Nothing changes your worldview more than the freedom to go from point A to point B without having to be constrained by a bunch of pavement. Plus you get a great view.


Two I really enjoyed.
Taking glassblowing classes. Nothing like learning how to manipulate a several hundred degree blob of molten glass.
Get your pilots license. Nothing changes your worldview more than the freedom to go from point A to point B without having to be constrained by a bunch of pavement. Plus you get a great view.


I second hill-walking, Scuba, and Burning Man (take an old bicycle). In each case, you get a reasonable (but not myocardial infarction-inducing) quality of exercise. More importantly, you get to immerse yourself in new, almost-alien ecosystems that will simultaneously blow, soothe, fuel, liberate and expand your mind.

(Especially the underwater 3D ecosystems: the food chains and dependency nets are so much more branchy and interesting. But the ecosystem of hippies/anarchists/metalheads/kinksters/pagans/artists at Burning Man shouldn't be underestimated, either. Or the ecology of your average hill, which gets much more interesting when you walk through it...)

Berkeley/San Francisco is an excellent base from which to initiate all three types of activity (well a bit further south is ideal for Scuba, but not too far)... and you can visit the Bioengineering dept in the University and buddy up with your many Bay Area fans... hint hint :)


I second hill-walking, Scuba, and Burning Man (take an old bicycle). In each case, you get a reasonable (but not myocardial infarction-inducing) quality of exercise. More importantly, you get to immerse yourself in new, almost-alien ecosystems that will simultaneously blow, soothe, fuel, liberate and expand your mind.

(Especially the underwater 3D ecosystems: the food chains and dependency nets are so much more branchy and interesting. But the ecosystem of hippies/anarchists/metalheads/kinksters/pagans/artists at Burning Man shouldn't be underestimated, either. Or the ecology of your average hill, which gets much more interesting when you walk through it...)

Berkeley/San Francisco is an excellent base from which to initiate all three types of activity (well a bit further south is ideal for Scuba, but not too far)... and you can visit the Bioengineering dept in the University and buddy up with your many Bay Area fans... hint hint :)


I second hill-walking, Scuba, and Burning Man (take an old bicycle). In each case, you get a reasonable (but not myocardial infarction-inducing) quality of exercise. More importantly, you get to immerse yourself in new, almost-alien ecosystems that will simultaneously blow, soothe, fuel, liberate and expand your mind.

(Especially the underwater 3D ecosystems: the food chains and dependency nets are so much more branchy and interesting. But the ecosystem of hippies/anarchists/metalheads/kinksters/pagans/artists at Burning Man shouldn't be underestimated, either. Or the ecology of your average hill, which gets much more interesting when you walk through it...)

Berkeley/San Francisco is an excellent base from which to initiate all three types of activity (well a bit further south is ideal for Scuba, but not too far)... and you can visit the Bioengineering dept in the University and buddy up with your many Bay Area fans... hint hint :)


Write a non-fiction book. Banks did one on whisky. Sterling did one on computer hackers. Or you could follow a tried and true path and do a book on writing. Pick a current topic and/or tech trend and write about that.

Alternatively, go rent a flat in some completely different part of the world for six months and get a change of scene while you work.


Take a GPS when you go out hill-walking and do some Geocaching.

Do something analog - keep a sketchbook journal. I recommend "The Creative License" by Danny Gregory as a good entry into this hobby.


If it's mental flexibility you're looking for, how about taking up a craft of some kind? I find there's a lot to be said for having a hobby that produces something more tangible than pixels, and that may be true even if the pixels eventually turn into printed pages.


I've tried weight lifting, running, swimming, and yoga, and I'm still doing all four of them. If I had to pick just one it would be yoga. You can think of yoga as just another form of exercise, but there are very few forms of exercise that work simulatneously on strength, flexibility, and balance. Beyond this, many middle aged people who get started in yoga find that the challenge of yoga helps teaches them that they're not to old to learn new tricks. Yoga has helped me to face up to some of my fears and develop self confidence that I didn't know I was capable of.


Yoga... Hot yoga or a variety that makes you sweat. Good maintenance for our meat chariots.

Teach something to eager minds...


Take a low cost world holiday, student style, travelling by train and by foot, staying on the cheap, visiting out-of-the-way but not dangerously inhospitable places. Try to cram the local lingo before you get to each place - not in the expectation of success, but to help you pick scraps of signal out of the noise, which will augment the "charades" mode of interlingual communication. Try and visit a mix of places where the culture is moving fast, or remaining unmoved. All this would be fun and good for an author, I think.


Try paragliding. I started at the age of 52. It is beautiful to fly, just sitting in a "chair" suspended by a wing. Very relaxing, cheap, fairly easy to learn, no need to be an athlete (in my club the people fly solo between 14 and 70 years of age). Leonardo da Vinci siad it already: "For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return."


Depends if you are looking for something "interesting" to do, or just something to improve your general fitness. If the latter just start walking. If you find it boring download a few spoken word books and take your iPhone along with you. It works for Stephen Fry.

If the former, then the world is your oyster and you have lots of good suggestions already. For mental stimulation, you could go the route Ken MacLeod took and talk to a university about doing a few lectures. Lots of exercise in that, believe me!


Learn an instrument!

I took up the violin at 34 with no prior musical background whatsoever. Not entirely sure I'd recommend THAT, but playing an instrument opens up a whole new world.


A hobby I've taken up recently which I highly recommend if you enjoy swimming (I have no idea if you do) is freediving. Basically, diving without breathing equipment: Just unassisted breath holding.

Wait, wait, I can hear you backing away already. It's really not that scary. :-) If you go to a sensible school for it the emphasis is very much on doing as much as you feel comfortable with, and no more, so it's basically as easy or as challenging as you can cope with.

It's good fun, good exercise, and judging by the looks on peoples' faces when I tell them I do it, definitely something different.


Personally, when I retire from software development, I plan to become a sci-fi writer... oh wait.

Seriously, I'm thinking woodwork. That way, when I near the time to be a grandpa, I'll be proficient enough to build wooden playground sets in backyards of my offspring, for their offspring. (I know you don't have kids, so this motivation alone won't work, but I guess you can find your own). Plus, I find it is actually very close to the hacker mindset. You're still being creative and building stuff, only in the physical world. Neal Stephenson also has a workshop, doesn't he?


You hint at the option of learning a language in the main post, and have suggestions also of Chinese and Japanese from earlier comments.

I would support that suggestion, and further add that going to language classes gets you out of the house on a regular basis which also means a certain amount of exercise.

But you probably don't want to start on one of the many languages in which the talented Feòrag already has a competence; also, it's not as if learning a language for you will be particularly useful - this is a personal development / entertainment project as I understand it.

I myself have been enjoying getting some new insights into my cultural heritage in the last few months by learning Irish. Thinking along similar lines, have you considered Hebrew? It scores in all kinds of ways - interesting alphabet, very different grammar, long literary heritage, and probably not too difficult to locate classes in a major city like Edinburgh.


I'm 42, and also running low on flexibility. I need to limber up and try new things.

I also have no desire to get myself arrested/sent to gaol. Nor would extreme sports/serious adrenaline surges be a good idea, health-wise. I'm monolingual — in English — and do not have access to a bottomless purse either. In short, I'm a boringly average middle-class British software developer, subtype: overweight, poor eyesight, married, one kid, no cats, and write software for a living

So I can sympathise with your troubles Charlie. All the suggestions above of getting more exercise and trying new pursuits are all very well but they probably no more attractive to me than they are to you. I'm not a fan of the gym as it's quite boring and rather expensive but unfortunately necessary.

Buy a change of clothes and shoes. Treat yourself and Feorag to a quality new bed. Try out a goatee for a week. Play some D&D or one of the many other modern RPGs.

You've got cats so you're used to sudden pains, so why not expand on that and try out some kinky sex to break in the new mattress?

Write about something different - I'd love to read your work in a different mode - travel writing, biography, romance, do a car review, a community event, a biker rally.

Design an MMO with a story that people would actually enjoy rather than the feeble efforts game programmers come up with at the moment.


Learn to play the bongos. It worked for Richard Feynman.


Pick up a cheap intro-level electric guitar (I recommend a jet-black Ibanez RG, if only for the sheer sexiness factor) and slowly learn to wail away.

But any instrument'll do, really. I just love how great my guitar looks.


A few of obvious suggestions keep cropping up, so I'll just bump them up, from personal experience.

Learn a non-Germanic language (since English is your base). Do something Romance, Slavic or Asian. It gives you multiple approach lanes to various thought processes. Was born into bilingual (Slavic+Finno-Ugric) and assimilated English at an early age, yet learning to speak French at thirty really shuffled stuff around in the old pumpkin.

Learn to play an instrument. If it's sufficiently non-keyboardy, it will do wonders for your RSI, be heaps of fun and likely annoy the hell out of Feorag and the cats as you practice your scales or play that one favorite tune over and over. Going from the boring old guitar to the (suddenly trendy) ukulele, it's easy to learn, practical to carry around and requires no electricity to fiddle with and produce mirth.


Ian Holmes @40: Burning Man (and San Francisco) are six thousand miles away from where I (and elderly relatives I tend to visit on a monthly basis) live.

Everyone who suggested a martial art (including fencing): I have a low pain threshold, and no binocular vision. Also, as of a couple of years ago, I had an enlarged ventricular wall: my heart rate is about 85 when resting and about 105 when pounding flat-out. This makes aerobic exercise challenging, if not life-threatening -- and rules out flying, dammit.

When I said "monolingual", I did not say "have never tried to learn another language". Experience suggests I'm really shit at languages. (Can't do crosswords or memorize dictionaries either.)

Workshop activities would be a good idea, if I didn't live in a top floor city centre apartment with no basement, garage, or garden shed.

Drawing/sketching/painting/glassblowing: all good ideas, but tend to require better eyesight than I've got. (Layer myopia, astigmatism and presbyopia on top of damaged retinas and I'm not good for detail work.)

(In case all of this sounds a bit negative ... these are mostly the obvious answers to my question. Or stuff I've already tried/done.)


I wholeheartedly endorse James' idea above. Learn an instrument.

Then join a band

The most fun you can have with your clothes on


Learn a language and take advantage of podcasts to improve your comprehension (worked for me when I took french courses); sports-wise, I'd suggest swimming. Or cycling -- a 10km ride every day does miracles...


I second Burning Man. You don't have to stay for a whole month. Two weeks will probably do nicely.

There are alternatives to Bhutan in remote areas of Nepal or Sikkim, but that means walking up mountains. Bhutan means flying in and taking a taxi to enter one of the few societies on the planet, that's truly different. If the visa is to expensive for you, make a deal with them. They will support you, if you write something that promotes Buddhism or Bhutanese culture or their so called "gross happiness".

Papua New-guinea. Goroka Show.


J Boss: did you read my reply @62 before you hit "send"?

Also note -- I travel for about three months of the year already (indeed, cutting down on travel is on my list of interesting things to do).


Well, with the limitations listed above, and if you forego the "learn an instrument" idea... dunno...

Start a religion?


*Larger* heroin habit? I hadn't realised that a smack habit was necessary for Edinburgh residency.

Less flippantly, I'd probably suggest something artisanal and refreshingly analogue, as others have done. Given that your eyesight is an issue, pick something that doesn't require it. What about cheese-making, rough carpentry or bronze casting (there must be evening classes in Edinburgh for the latter two).

Also, what about an allotment?


@Michael Dingler: If you read "Halting State", you might deduce that Charlie lives near - nay is on drinking terms with - a very good Western Martial Arts society indeed. (Google "Dawn Duellists Edinburgh")

However, I think Tai Chi might be more to his taste.


Charlie, based on your post @ 58, I want to again recommend walking. It's low impact, but high reward and you can do it when you travel. If you're coming to N.Z. the week before WorldCon, I'll give you a walking tour around Wellington.


Craig @67: I'm already doing the walking thing (I carry a pedometer). Also swimming (need to get new prescription goggles before I can get back in the pool, though -- they've gone missing, and I literally can't see other swimmers halfway down a 25 metre pool without them).


Forget running. All that jolting really does do irreversible damage to critical body parts. And then you get hooked on the endorphins the system puts into your bloodstream to control the pain. It's called a "vicious circle". >;-)

For mental and social stimulation and thinking new and bigger thoughts, check out . They really have a prospect, now that basic funding has finally been obtained (private/foundation, Nov. '08), of making a small, cheap*, aneutronic fusion generator that can be trucked to anywhere. And intend to license it to all comers to manufacture for (comparative) peanuts. Disruptive technology with bells on. Timeline ~4-6 years. Maybe less.
It'll get your juices flowing.

* Capital and operating costs about 1/20 of best N.A. pricing, about 1/50 best UK pricing.


A different suggestion:

Get your eyes the full overhaul, including laser surgery and intraocular lens implants. You might end up with better eye vision than people who doesn't use glasses. OTOH, you might end up completely blind, and suffering from terrible nightmares about people sticking knives and needles into your eyes.


Dieting is a bad idea, and exercising just for exercising, no matter what the cool methodology, is hard to motivate. You wrote that you travel a lot. Travel, particularly flying, can be a pretty uncomfortable thing. What kind of tasks can you do to make the uncomfortable parts of your life more comfortable/easier?

For example, if a long flight leaves you with a sore back, what things can you do that will strengthen your back?

I did Burning Man this year, and it was a great experience, but not something to take on casually. It's also a significant expense, in particular if one is coming from overseas. That being said, if what you're looking for is something to broaden your perspectives, it's a very good place to do it.

Perhaps instead of adding things, try removing them. See if it's possible to get rid of a tenth of your stuff. The space made by that action in and of itself will give you greater possibilities.


A very familiar plight.

I vote for 'Learn an instrument - join a band'. Bass is best of course, much better than the squeaky six-string variety of guitar. Also, whilst music making is fundamentally an artistic and aesthetic enterprise, there is lots of lovely gear and tech to fiddle with too.


Can I be Frank: there's no medical fix for my retinal troubles, and I have a phobia of having things stuck in my eyes (including contact lenses). Hint: I have surgical scars on my left eyeball.


No room for a workshop but feeling creative? Get a great big lump of plasticine and keep it by the computer.

Sqidge it through your fingers for fun.

Beat it up when you are stressed.

Close your eyes and make weird shapes when the words don't flow.

Or get Fimo so you can 'fire' what you make in the oven and keep it

...but please keep writing!


I started this couch-to-5k running programme a few months ago, it's pretty good
(there are also podcasts, by a guy called Robert Ullrey, which are very handy)
It starts easy enough, and you're always running at the pace you set yourself, just for longer time periods. Set yourself a target race to run in, and keep it up.
Walking isn't enough unless you walk very fast, and for other sports you'd want to get a basic level of cardio fitness first.

And you could try learning another language.


I suggest photography, for many reasons, by my own experience :

- it's art, and the results are immediately viewable (with digital) and showable (flickr gallery)
- the learning curve is gentle (and great learning books are disponible)
- it's not very expensive, you can start with cheap gear and move on with more hardware if you feel restricted later
- it's a good reason to move outside and see the world a bit differently, and i concur with earlier comments about strolls and hiking (especially in a great region like yours)
- since you travel "a bit", think of the opportunities :-)


+1 for bongos! if you're feeling more adventurous, try guitar/bass guitar/saxophone, and find some folks to play with.


Laurent: see "fucked retinas" above. I can't frame a shot in a viewfinder, or focus manually.

Ray: see "medical issues" above. Aerobic exercise in general is a bad idea; running particularly so (bad knee), and cycling is out ((a) Edinburgh is 100% hill, (b) aggressive drivers, and (c) the skin on the palms of my hands is unnaturally thin -- corticosteroid side-effect -- to the point where handle bars rip them open until I bleed).


Charlie - bummer about your health issues there, and the restrictions they impose. I never knew they were so serious. You have my deep sympathies - I say this as someone who is almost blind in one eye (but it never stopped me from fencing - too stubborn I guess). And guess who's the main foil instructor right now? Anyway, if you are interested, e-mail me.

Another you might add would be cycling. Getting out during the warmer parts of the year and pedaling around Edinburgh could be enjoyable - if its safe. I've no idea of the local street conditions and traffic.

I know you've reservations about martial arts, but please consider tai chi. Its low impact, non contact and generally very gentle.

Try learning to sail. Edinburgh is on the water, so lessons should be available and once you've done it, you don't have to anymore. If you like it, there are yacht and sailing clubs. You don't even have to own a boat, they need crews for races. Yes, I know about the North Sea, but one of my main coaches for sailing learned on the North Sea. He learned during the warmer months. If that has no appeal, see if anyone offers navigation classes, using something other than GPS.

Thinking of GPS, ever try geocaching?

Ever try ballroom dance lessons? Might be something you and Feorag can try together. My wife and I have done those (and should again).

Ever consider learning sleight of hand? I speak as a magic geek that its a lot of fun, takes up little space and is very absorbing. If I had the time I'd take it up again since the local adult enrichment classes are offering it in January.

Finally, ever consider rowing? Its hard exercise, but its fun and I know a gentleman who did it up into his 90's. Plus, you can train away from the water.

And with that, I'm off to the Nordic track, PT and fencing drill.


Join OpenStreetMap and help build a free, collaborative map of the world. I found things in my neighbourhood I never knew were there. And, having been compelled to really look around me, I find interesting new things everywhere.

We also have a fun community and there are some social events coming up in Scotland in 2010 . You don't need any equipment, although a GPS and camera are useful.


Photography is a great hobby, because it allows people who haven't any inherent ability to draw or paint to have the opportunity to create art, if they work at it; a good photograph can also complement text in a powerful way.

It's also a highly technical hobby, which appeals to many people like you, with a flair for technology and gadgetry and such. And there are many sub-specializations, from portraits to street photography to landscape to macro photography to just about anything else you can imagine, and some you'd probably rather not, heh.

Heck, if you get good enough at it, you could even shoot your own book covers and jacket author photos.


If you're interested in photography, I'd recommend starting with an advanced point-and-shoot camera which can shoot RAW images (this means you can do a lot of things in post-processing to edit/alter/fix the images, much more so than with JPEG). I'd recommend the Canon S90 or Canon G11 (the S90 has a faster f/2 lens) to start, and Adobe's Lightroom software for post-processing. If you like it, you can look into a dSLR or a rangefinder camera later (I moved from dSLRs to the rangefinder cameras last year, which costs more $$$ than you could or should consider spending, unless and until you're sure photography is something you really care about).

This would also allow you to add some more content of interest to your weblog readership - namely, photos of the places you go, people you see, and even some photos of yourself, from time to time.

At any rate, I'm sure you'll find something to occupy your time. But I hope you do consider photography, as it may turn out to be an appealing mixture of art and tech, sort of like your literary oevure.



Addendum - never mind the cycling. I saw the bit about cycling now. If you try sailing or rowing, wear gloves. It will save your hands even if they form callous.


Start a (printed) political-cultural magazine.


Well, hell. Guess I need to read more carefully before posting. I know plenty of people with damaged vision who are into photography, as there are various compensating mechansims available for different cameras.

If photography is out due to vision issues, what about doing the journalist/documentary thing? In other words, go out and *interview* people, recording via a decent digital recorder/mic setup (you can also do some of this over Skype, of course), and then doing the digital postproduction work yourself, just to learn the art.

I hestitate to use the term 'podcast' due to perceived geekishly negative connotations, but I'll bet you'd be a good interviewer, and bring out a lot of interesting angles and insights that mightn't occur to others. It would give you a chance to sit the other end of the table, which would likely be entertaining and perphaps insightful in and of itself.


I'd try sailing or canoeing. In both cases you can pick the size of boat/canoe and the venue to make it as exciting, non competative/competative or physicaly demanding as you like. They'll get you fitter and you'll meet strange, intresting and mostly friendly new people. Port Edgar (down at Queensferry, under the bridge I think) would be a good place to start or Edinburgh Uni's outdoor centre on Loch Tay runs all sorts of courses in a laid back manner. Plenty of other schools/clubs around as well.


Given what you've said about your lack of space and vision problems, I'd suggest (as all I really have to bring to the table are visual arts things) collage techniques.

Takes glue, interesting flat things (magazines, newspapers, superannuated packaging, the Internet mediated through inkjet - I often use ebooks), and cardboard, and not much else.

It's easy to do on a kitchen table - I do woodblock printmaking from mine, but that's severely counterindicated for you, given that it involves close-up detail work and the use of incredibly sharp blades very near your hands.

Of course, if you don't use flat things, then it's possible to roll ink over it and print from it too - interesting results, unexpected complexity, and no fine detail work required.


I was going to suggest rock climbing, Edinburgh is an excellent place for it, but it will be no fun with thin skinned hands.



One more suggestion - clear out the flat of stuff that's just been lying around for years and flog it on ebay.

I've had to do a lot of moving in the past few years and it's actually quite a good feeling to get rid of your stuff on ebay, because at least you know it's going to someone who wants it rather than just being dumped.

And the clear space you'll have left over might inspire you more than anything else.


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned LSD or mushrooms.

They are totally unlike booze, heroin or most other experiences. Resultant insights can be life-changing.

Might be contraindicated by health though, I'm no doctor.


Try to find a scientist and bug him (or her) long enough until he agrees to write a paper with you. If you have a remotely interesting story to tell about a field that is tangentially(!) related to the field of the scientist, that shouldn't be much of a problem.

I've heard there's a Nobel Laureate ... anyway. (No seriously, any scientist you get along with and who will get along with you will do.)


Fran: not only do I have thin-skinned hands, I get vertigo standing on a step-stool to change a light-bulb. Rock-climbing gives me the shudders at the mere thought.

Robin: I think a clear-out is a great idea. Unfortunately, there's two of us you need to convince ...

John: re LSD/mushrooms: see the legality wimp-out clause above. (But that's not much of an excuse. More seriously, I hate not being in control inside my own head. Would you want to be trapped in a skull with my imagination, hallucinogens, and no "off" switch?)


If you already like to swim, I wholehearted agree about scuba diving. I a 43, and it certainly keeps me in shape -- and unlike many other activities which could also have kept me in shape, it never gets tedious.


You asked - take the comments seriously. Weight lifting + yoga is a combo that feels stupid at our age but works incredibly well and becomes fun an rewarding once you get over the initial hump.

Learning languages is easier than it seems - take a full time immersion course for a few weeks, ideally in an interesting location. Personally, I can vouch for Spanish in Costa Rica and Chinese in Shanghai.

Travel. And by that I mean leave the cell and the computer, ditch all parts of the media diet and connectivity flood. Hike through Cambodia. Just get the visa and spend some time hanging out in one of the megacities of Asia or Southern America.

The worst mistake is the "can't do" attitude, once you overcome that, you'll be blown away.

Also good: Find a random travelling companion with vastly different interests from your own.


Oh, also: language learning is not about mastering a new skill. It's about adding a tiny bit of knowledge in a fun environment. And the cocktails. :)

Also, swimming tends to be better on a beach with palm trees, and pineapple curry tastes better if the pineapple comes freshly off a tree.

Just saying.


I agree with the various comments about learning instruments above. I've only ever managed a modicum of music learning, but even a small amount is surprisingly satisfying.

Drums of any variety are good fun. If you wanted to add some geek to it you could try a cheap electric guitar and get a guitar port for one of your computers.

Or get a cheap midi controller, a copy of Pro-Tools and take up composition on anything from a keyboard to an orchestra.

Alternatively, pick your favourite local charity (cat-related or otherwise) and volunteer (if you don't already).


I second Thane Walkup about dancing. I started lessons in ballroom and swing dancing 6 years ago and it was the best thing I ever did. And if _I_ can get pretty good at it (was so bad at first I aspired to having two left feet), anyone can.


Brew your own beer.


chalfant @97: why do you think I married a brewer? :)


Photography isn't out just because of your vision problems; you just need to get a bit more creative, and get into the more interesting areas of photography. To address the two specific concerns you put forward, there are (and have always been) lots of cameras that don't use viewfinders, including view cameras and many modern digital cameras. As for focus: modern cameras have autofocus; when you're shooting with wide angle lenses at reasonably small apertures scale focus works just fine (you have a huge depth of field, so it's very hard to get stuff *out* of focus); and with a pinhole camera, the entire image is always in focus.

In fact, your visual limitations might force you into doing something far more creative than you would otherwise. What about making your own photographic paper and doing contact shadow prints in the sun? Or building your own pinhole camera? There's a huge world of photography out there beyond what people usually think of as photography; even the Holga and Lomo stuff is in the fairly "normal" end of the range. (Write me if you want to discuss this further.)

But after all that, that wasn't my idea. :-) How about learning Category Theory (Lawvere and Schanuel's _Conceptual Mathematics_ is a good book, and not too tough going), or Haskell? You're in the neighbourhood for that sort of stuff.


NickGibbins - I've never seen adverts for evening classes of bronze casting in Edinburgh. Its a bit hardcore for most people, which is why i'm doing it in my back garden.
Maybe we should ask Andy if he can reccomend a tai chi class? (he said, looking at Zornhau)


Good question, Charlie. I've often asked myself the same thing - and I'm small, weak, clumsy, with a bad back, and neither my vision nor my hearing is what it used to be. (Not to mention that to me, your elders are members of the younger generation - I'm 70. And female. Typical LOL)

I suppose half your commentors have suggested handicrafts? Or trying out a new art form as a spectator? Dipping into those spectator art forms often relegated to my generation? Or learning something about some obscure corner of history? I could give you a list of books on Anglo-Saxon England if you don't mind seeing the Sassenach viewpoint - took the courses last year.

For kicks and giggles - ballroom dancing. Not the sort you see on the dance shows on TV, which would take an oversexed acrobat to even try, but the good old-fashioned stuff your elders suffered through in dancing class.

Neil Stephenson"s Diamond Age suggested a future in which your cohort turned Victorian after getting thoroughly sick of the "sline" culture (from one of his later books; another brit helpfully translated that for me as "chavs") -- and his books (and many others) have most assuredly reached a Victorian level of length and detail by now.

Heck. Darned if I know. But best wishes to you! From halfway around the wheel from you, it's what keeps a person young.


If learning an instrument sounds difficult: learn to DJ. Seriously. You can do it with inexpensive/open-source software and a fairly low-cost outboard audio box (you want at least four channels, or two stereo pairs of channels, so that you can cue on headphones while playing your mix out on the other stereo channels).

I'm not talking about becoming Fatboy Slim; just learn how to mix and do simple beat-matching on your own MP3/CD collection.

Even better, get Ableton Live and learn how to remix music. It can be a remarkably Zen thing to do, just playing with drum loops and mixing and sampling things.

And it doesn't require great eyesight, ruddy health or any skill other than hearing and the ability to move a mouse (or if you're really fancy like me, a MIDI controller).


So you got the obvious yoga suggestions after mentioning flexibility, but have you considered Feldenkrais ( I'd be surprised if there wasn't at least one teacher near where you are, they pop up everywhere, a lot of good (i.e. -not- aerobic nutjobs) yoga and pilates teachers get qualified. At first it might seem like hokum, but then you suddenly 'get' a lesson and it's pretty impactful, plus very relaxing in a non-mindless kind of way. Interestingly (for us) we've watched our 14 month old son develop his movement and body awareness over the past year plus and realized (as suggested once by our Feldenkrais teacher) that new born babies really are grand masters of the Feldenkrais method. Us old folks just forget it as we get older. I blame hormones, and beer, mostly beer.

And if that doesn't appeal, SIAI is looking for visiting scholars (


Various@all over the place: the gym of which we are members has Tai Chi classes included in the membership, so that would be where we'd start.

I'm the one with the language bump, and he really has no talent for languages at all. I am thinking of getting him to learn katakana, on the grounds that that is mostly used for English words.

me@93: I am the travelling companion with different interests. Do you think he'd have been photographed on various monorails or with Hello Kitty (and both on the same day!) if it were not something to do with me?


For something that'll only take up an hour or two a week, I'd recommend keeping an eye on the seminar listings of the maths/physics/computer science departments.

Maybe many of them won't make perfect sense (they certainly don't to my undergrad arse), but I still attend because the concepts presented often give me ideas to follow up on later.

Anyway: (mailing list)

Of course, there's also the reduced-effort variants where you just get yourself a subscription to Nature or read the arxiv.

*My favourite topics recently have been a comp. sci. one on the equality of classical and quantum computers in proximity to closed timelike curves, and a maths/phys presentation by Sir Michael Atiyah that ended on exotic spheres and their possible connection with spacetime.


Charlie, maybe it's time to get a dog.

I also throw out the "give Tai Chi a try" suggestion.


I would suggest a visit to Central America. Panahachel, Guatemala is a great place to visit.

Also Nicaragua. My wife is from there and going with some friends to visit her family in March. Her family lives on a farm, many miles from the nearest electrical outlet (or indoor plumbing). I'm sure she would love to have you along. You would see the country from a native's perspective.


I second the recommendation for an instrument. I picked up the violin this past summer (having played for a few months twenty years prior), and was very glad I did. I took five or six lessons (which were not unduly expensive) to avoid ingraining bad habits, but really I could have stood fewer with more time between.

Personally, I find it a very nice hobby: it's a non-trivial effort requiring practice and occasionally some help, but it's fairly easy to gauge your own progress. There's a wide variety of music to choose from (though you do get the *oddest* songs stuck in your head for the first few months) It also requires a kind of focus that I personally find helpful: it's very difficult to continue to be irritated about work or a commute while trying to get the fingering right for a high G.

Given your living situation you might look into an instrument that is naturally quiet or can be muted. My grandfather, toward the end of his life, took up the electric organ, which he played while wearing headphones.


You should seriously consider tai chi(chuan) - there's a reason you see 90 year old chinese women doing it - and it *is* called the ultimate martial art for other, more practical reasons. I've studied it for 8 years and am not even close to mastering it. You can't raise your heart rate doing it, unless you're doing it wrong :). It generally lowers mine.

You can also do water jogging/aerobics/swimming. I recently started distance swimming again and it is a great work out - it will get your heart rate up.

I'd recommend tinkering w/digital stuff: arduino, pic, 68hc11, etc - it's fun and takes little space or equipment and requires you to think at multiple levels - stretches the brain.


Feorag: A good old clear out is well worth the hassle, and you can even make a canny profit on it provided you take the time to 'sell' it on ebay - and all from the comfort of your own home.

I really can't emphasise enough how good it feels to make some space in your life. You can go from carrying round a container's worth of stuff to just a vanful without impacting your day to day life. Do you really want to keep all that eighties and nineties memorabilia for the foreseeable future?

Charlie and Feorag: If you did want to give photography a try I and several others here would be more than willing to let you have a go with borrowed kit or make sensible suggestions to overcome limitations. It's a gadget and tech rich field which is ideal for the inner artistic geek, not to mention Mac friendly.


Bonsai. It takes up very little room in your apartment. It can be done by anyone. Small pre-bonsai are very cheap (I bought one for $3). It takes thought and concentration. It is calming and centering.


Another vote for yoga. Don't bother with Wii Fit Yoga - it's a little too contrived to really work. Going to yoga classes is a really good idea, but as someone said, kind of expensive. It's better if you can get a routine and follow it regularly (i.e., not once a week). Personally I'm into the Ashtanga series - it's hard to start out, but if you start slow and work your way up, it's amazingly transformative. It's pretty weird having muscular arms after being a 98-pound weakling all my life. (Well, okay, I weigh about 200#, but who's counting?)

I've found David Swensen's DVDs to be a really helpful way to start out in Ashtanga, although even so I really recommend going to a class. Go to a class that's taught by a serious ashtangi (or other yoga lineage - whatever's available). There will be classes taught by people who are 21, perfect, and completely limber; these probably will not satisfy, because they'll make all sorts of unreasonable demands of you that will leave you sore, embarrassed and/or aching after class. You won't want to come back, and there goes your exercise routine.

Older instructors, and instructors who have actually studied with real yoga masters like Sri Pattabhi Jois or B.K.S. Ayengar or the Shivananda lineage will do much better for you, although you'll have to tolerate a lot more woo from them. Just smile politely and do the exercises and ignore the woo and you'll do fine. They tend not to be pushy about getting you to agree that the woo is true.

As for bicycling, I assume the volcano reference has something to do with the steepness of the terrain? If so, think about getting a mountain bike or a cyclocross bike with good low gearing, and start out slow. If you're at the top of the hill, ride down it for a hundred feet of elevation, then ride back up. If you can't ride all the way up, walk it.

Do not push yourself to the point where you're gasping for breath - just take it easy. If you can't proceed without gasping for breath, get off the bike, get your breath back, and walk it until you come to a less steep part of the slope, then get back on again. When the bit you've bitten off starts to seem easy, go farther.

If you do this on a daily basis, what seems completely impossible right now will seem completely possible in a month. Eventually you will look at the steep climb from the lowest point you need to go to the highest point you need to go as a pleasant, if strenuous, bit of work, rather than an unsurmountable obstacle.

It turns out that cycling in a hilly place is actually a lot more rewarding than cycling in a flat place, because once you're even a little bit in shape, cycling on flat terrain is just boring. Mountains add variety.

The only worry is that if you start doing a daily exercise ritual, you'll find it hard to resist bragging about it when you write. Do resist. :')


Hacking electronics.

I know this might sound a bit over the top, but it's a fairly easy hobby to get into -- the (basic) equipment costs next to nothing, and it's a natural extension of your software hacking habit which mates it with the wonderfully analogue nature of meatspace. With your background it shouldn't take you more than a few days to learn to program a microcontroller and start building simple gadgets, and before you know it you'll start sampling/buying/salvaging sensors, actuators and other components from all over and start creating the truly bizarre.

And if you're worrying about your eyesight as being a handicap, get one of those large, circumferentially lit magnifying glasses that attach to the desk.


Having never been to Edinburgh, I'm running on assumptions here. But I'm pretty sure that Edinburgh has a vibrant (or at least living) arts scene.

Why not try getting involved in community (non-pro) theatre?

Not necessarily acting, though if you've never done it before or haven't since your school days, it's a great way to get you out of your comfort zone. But community or non-pro theatre always needs volunteers for the less glam stuff behind-the-scenes, from front-of-house (box office, etc.) to painting sets and props.

Think it's a good way to stay creative but to be in a more collaborative space than you're (maybe) used to.


Blimey - looks like there's only Morris Dancing left then. Actually, poor eyesight and a healthy beer affinity are probably assets...

Ah, life with bells on!


What's the current state of the law in Scotland regarding home distillation? You have ready access to a brewer and more than enough chemistry in your background to make sure that you don't accidentally drink something that could make you blind, so it might be an interesting joint project if the law allows it.


I've a radical suggestion: write a book.

Actually I'm serious, it's something you (obviously, or we wouldn't all be here) do well and (hopefully) enjoy.

Do something completely different though, something that requires research that involves getting out and about in the real world, at a reasonable pace, going for walks in the country looking at castles, peat bogs, steam trains, whatever gives you an excuse to get some fresh air and stretch the legs.

Don't plan to publish it, or even start writing it, it's just a mental excuse really, and that way it won't intefere with your contracted writing, but maybe in ten years time we'll be reading some crazy mix of arthurian-legend steampunk set in the highlands and I'll have a "thanks for the idea" dedication in the front pages. Oh, whoops, got sidetracked by my own wishlist. :P

Anyway, just a suggestion at a slightly different angle to the lists of the merits of various martial arts.


I'd second any suggestions for Tai Chi/Tai Chi Chuan.


I would say find a book club to join.

It would get you out of the house once a month and give you some mild exercise walking to the meetings and some intellectual stimulation.

Here is a link to a list of Edinburgh book clubs:


Charlie, I'm going to second all of the suggestions regarding yoga. It might seem a little silly at first, but it can be very relaxing and it gives you a good feeling when you are done. It's also something that you can learn at your own pace, letting your body stay within its limitations.

Another suggestion I don't see is taking up fishing or (if you're game), hunting. I'm not quite sure what the legality of hunting is in your area, but I'm sure fishing shouldn't be a problem. It can be very peaceful and you get to see a lot of nice scenery. There's a good deal of variety as well depending on where you fish and what sort of bait you're using. And assuming there aren't any water quality problems you get a good meal out of it.


What about teaching a local writing class or holding a local writers workshop?


I have recently learned Latin dancing and have found that not only is it great fun, but my coordination improved. You also get a moderate aerobic workout.


I'm in agreement with 106, John Murphy: music.

I recommend to people on a regular basis: take up a musical instrument. I played in rock bands when I was young, started playing again 5-6 years ago after pretty much a 30 year hiatus. Found my ear had improved greatly in the off time, and my speed / chops got back to where they used to be after a couple of years. I've actually had a couple of paying gigs in the last few years.

The best thing about it tho, is that it is absolutely the only thing I have found that improves, rather than degrades, after you turn 35. I have researched it, you can continue to improve musical abilities until the day you die. There are actually people who are pretty much completely demented but can still perform their music (Oliver Sacks "Musicophilia"). That's my end-of-life goal, to become "The Human Jukebox" -- no personality left but 100s of tunes ;->

And finally, if you don't think you have much musical ability: I play with one guy who has practiced tons, has very good technical ability, but who I believe is tone deaf. But, he loves music so much that it makes up for it. So, if you do like music, take it up, it will stay with you until you die (or don't die, if you make it to the singularity or methusalarity).


Scuba Diving

Meet all of your criteria :-)

Weights not an issue (I'm on the large size myself), you don't need good eyesite, you can either use contacts or get perscription lenses. It's as expensive as you want it to be. You can do it anywhere around the world it's not extreme... infact it's quite relaxing.


If you want an extreme adventure, you could *have* kids. That will mess up your currently-tidy life in a jiffy. Of course, you're stuck with that adventure for 18+ years....


Since I do tai chi chuan, I'm going to throw out a couple of suggestions:

1. Get involved in a class. It takes a fair amount of discipline to learn on your own.

2. Choose your style: there are four different mainline styles, and they range from deep knee bends (Chen style) to shallow knee bends (sun style). Yang style is most common.

3. Plan on taking 3-6 months to learn a form.

4. The "open secret" in tai chi is that it's powered by standing meditation. The phrase is "tai chi comes from wu chi." Most people think this is philosophical stuff that's been copied from the Tao Te Ching (true), and just learn the form. However, it's also a big ol' hint that the way to get good is to learn standing meditation (zhan zhuang). The reason for this is that tai chi works best when you relax while you move. The best way to learn to relax while move is to first learn to relax while standing (aka zhan zhuang).

The other nice thing about standing meditation is that you can do it in an arbitrarily small flat. Tai chi typically takes about 4-6 square meters open space to practice in.


Learn to spin yarn on a drop spindle. It requires a minimum of tools and material, takes very little space, and demands that you stay relaxed while you do it. It's very tactile but not as stressful on the hands as knitting. You can do it standing up or sitting down. It's portable. it's a slow enough process that you're not going to be in danger of filling the apartment with yarn. And cats tend to find it entertaining.


Knee problems rule out a lot of things, more so than vision and cardiovascular issues. You can improve or compensate the latter, but once your knee's gone, it's gone... (Unless you want to "research advanced cybernetics" on your list).

How big is your "meditative threshold"? From my (limited) experience, a lot of writers are either really good or really bad at this, meaning that they're either able to focus entirely on one thing -- even if that thing is "nothing" -- or they're automatically entering their own fantasy world once outside stimulus is removed. Comes with the business, I guess.

That usually puts a stop on some activities, including highly repetitive activities like running, swimming or knitting. Some forms of Yoga where you remain in a certain position for a long time are culprits, too. Tai Chi has a slightly higher threshold, at least until you learn the basic forms (and most gym-based courses don't offer much more). It's hard to find something low impact that isn't too boring. Everything that keeps you on your feet, usually wrecks those, too. Dancing might be an exception, but not everybody likes it. Partner activities often increase the "I look like a fool!" factor.

Canoeing can be fun, you get around and your legs don't have to do a thing. Also a good group activity.

Sign language could be either harder or easier to learn than a normal language. It definitely will get you in contact with new people, even at home.

And no matter how bad you are at fine manipulation or how old you are, playing around with Lego bricks is fun.


Given your recent update, I also recommend yoga for exercise. Given that you have expressed cardiac/aerobic concerns, this would mean that you'd have to find the right teacher. The right teacher may not exist in your area. You want a very very very slow class. That means you avoid most hot, power, bikram, and vinyasa classes. (I'm assuming that if you don't want to do aerobic exercise, you also don't want to be in a room that's 46 degrees C). Look for instructors who are teaching gentle classes. If you're especially trepidatious, you could look for a class for senior citizens.

You appear to have a LOT of ashtanga yoga there in Edinburgh. Here in the southeast US, that's a lot of cardio. But there are styles of yoga where you will NOT get out of breath. Yin Yoga is a lovely one, but I don't see any yin yoga classes around town there. The Iyengar center might work.

Going to a community class instead of a studio might be better for you. Those are more likely to be targeted toward specific audiences. Around here, at least, there are a lot of yoga classes that are taught 'in the community,' whether they be at churches (I know, I know), schools, offices-after-hours. You just have to keep an eye out for the announcements since they're generally not well publicized.

Since I don't know exactly what your health concerns are, I can't give specific advice for what kind of questions to ask a prospective teacher. But in my classes (across the ocean), you could still come even if you couldn't sit on the floor. We'd just get you a chair!


Flexibility, mental or physical? For mental pick something you consider important and do without it for six weeks for physical I'd go with the Tai-Chi it's not a martial art it's a meditation form :)

Also liked the ideas of learning to dance or play an instrument(if you can't already). Swimming is good if you can do it regularly enough. Throwing out things you aren't using is good too as it forces you to think about your world differently.


Well, if not Burning Man, there's plenty of festivals in this country, and the british countryside is a lot more habitable for us soggy meatsacks than a desert in Nevada. I hear Shambala is nice and a bit less of a trip for you.

Otherwise I suggest taking up (more) computer gaming, it's fairly cheap, sociable, and this time of year, keeps you indoors and away from the bloody weather.
Your cats will probably appreciate an un-moving lap too.


Many of the attractions of learning a foreign language--access to a body of literature, opportunities to use it to talk to people with whom you'd otherwise not share a common language, a chance to use parts of your brain that otherwise don't get exercised--are available to people who can't learn a national language through learning Esperanto.

Esperanto is much, much easier to learn than just about any national language, but it really is a language--you can say anything in Esperanto that you can say in any other language, and people actually use it for personal and cultural expression. And yet, people (like me) who have no particular ability to learn a foreign language, can still learn Esperanto. (Its grammar is perfectly regular and the vocabulary is small, but despite the small vocabulary it's still very expressive, thanks to a clever system of word formation.)

Because so many people who learn Esperanto care deeply about connecting with others, there's a lot of good learning materials available for Esperanto, much of it free.


MArk V #114 - distilaltion of alcohol without a licence is illegal in the UK. I use my distillation equipment for other stuff.
A musical instrument is a good idea. Mouth organ? Harp? Certainly not drum kit (unless electronic) or bagpipes given you have neighbours. Some woodwind might be ok, but obviously not a tuba. Failing that modern electric pianos don't cost a fortunate and can be listened to by headphone rather than out loud, as it were.


The current RepRap implementation has a bill of materials of £395, so if you're the sort of person who buys multiple e-book readers (perhaps you could put up a shelf to keep them on...), there's something to keep you going for a while.


I don't think I've seen it suggested yet, but how about politics? Could be fun.


Tai chi is low impact martial arts. You could always take up bonsai...what's not to like about torturing vegetation?


Oriental calligraphy. You don't have to learn the language (though it would seep in by osmosis), nor do you have to be an accomplished artist, but by the time you've got the basics down, you'll discover a new artistic, free-flowing yet controllable side of yourself. And have some free stuff to fob off on friends and family as home-made gifts.


I'd suggest gardening if you had outdoor space. Perhaps a community garden since yards don't tend to come with top floor apartments. Or some indoor gardening. I spend large chunks of time away from home and nothing makes me feel at home after a long trip quite like tending to the plants growing in my kitchen window. Fellow plant lovers tend to be a friendly bunch and trading cuttings and advice makes what would otherwise be a very isolated hobby into something social.

I'm projecting my own obsessions, but in the same vein having an aquarium can be rewarding. I know with bad eyesight small fish might not fit the bill, but something larger like a Polypterus is hard to miss and easy to care for.


Seriously, photography. Curt Samson at #100 covers a lot of the arguments for photography even through you have poor vision. My own eyesight is rather bad (I give about even odds whether I pass the eye test next time I have to renew my driver's license) but it doesn't really signify in my photography.

Today's cameras are mostly designed with us aging Boomers in mind--excellent eye relief on many DSLR viewfinders, and composing on the LCD of compact cameras or the new EVIL cameras also works pretty well (I can recommend the Panasonic GF-1 from use).

And photography dovetails very well with your lifestyle--you travel extensively, you live in a very photogenic city, you love tech toys.


Found a drama club to put on a play of your own devising which you direct. Then take it to the fringe... (Or have you already done that and I've not noticed?)


I've been using the Wii Fit as my 30minute start to the day. It's working really well for me.


I'd second the pinhole photography idea as an entirely different way of making pictures, one that doesn't require eyes that focus (I have lousy sight: I'm very long sighted with fairly serious presbyopia which means I can't use a 35mm SLR for love nor money any more). Pinhole's a good balance of control and chaos. I'm in Edinburgh, if you want to give me a shout for info on pinhole, or seriously old school wet plate/tinype stuff.


Since I was always wondering how you arrived at the economics/business slant in your novels and initially (that is untill I arrived on this site) thought you an economics or business major:

Do the unthinkable - Sign up for an MBA program! Choose a part time or distance learning program and acquire the foundation for truly dangerous sniping at all those "capitalists". Consider it a course in the metaphorical martial arts...


NB: If I was in town long enough/consistently enough to sign up for a class, I'd already be working on another degree, part-time.

Alas, when I say I travel three months a year, I don't mean "three months in a block" -- I mean "roughly eight to sixteen trips ranging from three days to three weeks at a time, randomly distributed around the calendar".

This is incompatible with a whole lot of activities (hence the problem).


Have you tried playing Go? More cerebral than most of the suggestions above, a very simple game to learn, an almost impossible one to master. The benefits are that you can play it almost anywhere and there's a strong community of online players if that's of interest. I prefer games in person, so will try and find a local Go club if I'm travelling and drop in on them for an evening.


Food -- work on becoming an interesting cook/baker/whatever. You can go a million directions with this one, and there's no limit on how involved you can get or how much effort you can put into it.

Take up knitting/crochet? Low barriers to entry, not particularly eyesight-intensive, and again, there's a pretty much unlimited amount of effort you can put into it.

(Also, not that I'm much of a fencer -- haven't done it since high school -- I think your reasons for ruling it out may be based on misconceptions. Foil is basically no contact/no pain, and isn't terribly strenuous. A bout is just a few minutes -- short enough that you'd hardly get your heart-rate up. There's some strength and a lot of speed required, but it's not really aerobic exercise. And it really is lots and lots of fun.)


When Richard Feynman wanted a break from physics, he tried biology, volunteering in a bio lab at Cal Tech. Why not try helping out in bioinformatics, protein folding, something like that? Apply your computer knowledge to biology and see what you learn about in return.


Some more thoughts:
If you're interested in sketching/painting except for the vision issue, you might consider sumi-e: the wider brushstrokes and high-contrast black ink on white paper might be more friendly to poor eyesight.

To expand on LizardBreath's suggestion of cooking: As a technically-minded person I think you'd get a real kick out of some molecular gastronomy techniques (and would produce some fascinating blog posts in the process...) like sous vide or gel-making, and even though you can't distill, you can make your own liqueurs like limoncello or nocino from store-bought spirits. There is just no comparison to homemade limoncello. Or herringcello if you're so inclined. I've also gotten a great deal of enjoyment out of coffee-roasting, which can be done relatively cheaply --and if you've got a pot-a-day habit like mine, it can save you money in the long run.


Rich @148: because I'm, like, a decade out of the programming biz (read: obsolete), was burned out when I quit, and am not a Nobel laureate?

Cooking is a problematic option. My wife is vegan; I'm not. Spot the potential source of friction.

(NB: Any suggestions for new and interesting activities which are predicated on me getting a divorce are unlikely to be adopted.)


Adopt a child? Nothing will test the limits of your personality like being a parent. There's nothing more sobering than seeing your own worst traits reflected right back at you.


Knitting. It can be cheap, very portable and doesn't have to take up a lot of space. It has the benefit of being meditative and you get an end product to enjoy. There's a good yarn shop in Edinburgh, K1 Yarns, I believe.

You could also try handspinning on a drop spindle. Very cheap to get started and an ancient craft that is still relevant today.

As I mentioned to you once in an email, is a great site for knitters, crocheters, weavers (not a good craft for someone without much living space but has lots of parallels with computing so would probably suit you from that point of view) and spinners. There are plenty of other free internet resources for knitting, is good.

Alternatively, how about looking at the courses the Open University offers? You could try out something completely different like Art History or a foreign language or even law.


I love kayaking and I didn't see it mentioned yet. About two thirds of the planet is covered in water so you can do it anywhere. It's good exercise but not too strenuous, quite easy on the knees (despite what you might think if you haven't tried it) and a great way to be outside enjoying nature.

I find kayaking much more enjoyable than canoeing- you sit lower in the boat, so it's much more stable and the double bladed paddle is brilliant.

The basic technique is consistent in all different kinds of boats and environments so if you learn one the right way, it's pretty easy to switch (lakes, rivers, oceans.) You might not be able to do it in some places in some seasons (like right now in the UK) without crossing into the extreme sport arena, but it's easy to rent a boat in most places you would travel to.

I would recommend starting with a *good* lesson to make sure you learn the basics well-- otherwise you'll end up having to unlearn bad habits later (or more likely not enjoy it.) The main thing is to learn to paddle with your whole body rather than just your arms. Same as almost every other sport, you really want to tap into your core strength.

Anyway, thought I'd share that even though I almost never comment online. I periodically lurk around antipope and I love your books. Thanks and keep them coming!


My wife is vegan; I'm not.

If the source of conflict is that you don't enjoy vegan food much, so it's hard to share food, this sounds like an excellent reason to get into cooking, if only for the sake of finding vegan food that you think is worth eating.

(And come to think of it, knee problems probably rule out fencing, so bringing it up again was useless. Sorry about that.)


Model-making? As in Airfix kits, paints and the like? Eyesight problems are not such an issue - if you can read text you can paint a model Spitfire (or Nostromo, or whatever).

Get back into playing/running RPGs

Second fishing, it can be fun - certainly relaxing.

Improv comedy. Seriously, it's terrifying, but it's a lot of fun :)


Charlie: re LSD/mushrooms: "Would you want to be trapped in a skull with my imagination, hallucinogens, and no "off" switch?"

Why, are you selling tickets? 'Cause I'd buy one.

But seriously, I've got a pretty good nightmare machine of my own which has generated the corresponding ugly trips, and discovered some ground rules that help a lot. (Rule #2, *always* do it with a non-tripping person you can trust.)

However Rule #1 is: never do it unless you really want to, and I respect your desire to avoid such things.


For pure entertainment value, you should start a long, drawn out, public, and utterly ridiculous feud with John Scalzi. See who can one-up the other with OOT vitriol.

OK, this might not amuse or exercise you, but I'd probably enjoy it.

Actually helpful suggestion: have you considered volunteering to help out a cause you are in favor of in a manner that might get you out, exposed to other people, and light exercise?


Charlie @150 said: because I'm, like, a decade out of the programming biz (read: obsolete), was burned out when I quit, and am not a Nobel laureate

One use for obsolete programming skills that you might enjoy is in cracking obsolete ciphers -- cipher types that one can encrypt with pencil and paper. Every two months the American Cryptogram Association ( publishes a magazine with about 100 ciphers sent in by members. According to a survey, the ACA membership has written cipher cracking programs using BASIC, Pascal, C/C++, java, python, perl, assembler, Logo, Modula-2, Forth, Algol, dBase IV, Spitbol, tcl, and PL/1.


Let's see, you like walking, travel irregularly...

How about some sort of unholy mashup involving clues to a next Halting State/Laundry Novel scattered all over the globe, linked to some sort of kludged-together IPhone App (programable on a Mac) so that you're obsessed fans can go racing around trying to find obscure and esoteric clues to your next novels in Edinburgh and other places you travel. Think of it as geocaching with a twist. All you'd have to do is autograph a few novels to give out to the winners, and make sure that at least part of your travel is incognito.

If you don't want to travel incognito, you could also start a conspiracy among said fans to hide clues all over the globe, and that would guarantee that you'd have lots of nice places to walk while meeting with the cells of the conspiracy...

Learn a new, cottage-level programming skill (iPhone Apps), get outside, and mess with the minds of hundreds of people. What could be more fun?


How about nordic skiing (if there is any snow this winter, that is)? Classic technique is easy on the knees and the cardiovascular system, does not require perfect balance, is relatively inexpensive to get into and seems to help limber up the joints, especially the back.
Falling down in snow is also (relatively) painless, if cold.


Steve @146: Charlie's regular cat-sitter helps run the Edinburgh Go club so if Charlie wanted to learn there's an ready source of tuition and merciless thrashings available on tap (a visiting Japanese 5-dan played some exhibition games with the club once and complained about their tendency to attack all-out rather than play in a balanced fashion...)


Become involved. Politically speaking.


Charlie, I have a scar in my left eye and was able to wear gas-permeable contact lenses until I needed progressives. But I can put just about anything in my eyes without problems. An optometrist once sent me home with someone else's contacts in and I didn't notice.

You might want to try water aerobics. The water supports your weight so you don't get the pressure on your knees and feet, and it also has more resistance than air, so it's actually more exercise. This is the only thing I can do, and I hope the doctors let me go back soon.


Come the spring you could make walking more interesting by going barefoot. Once your toes become wiggly you could put a trackball on the floor and use your feet to help to control your computer. That would slightly reduce the strain on your wrists.


Extend the horizons of your walking (literally) by trying some of Britain's gentler long distance walking paths.

The Great Glen Way from Fort William to Inverness is mostly flat*, following canals and lochs, and can be done in less than a week. Have your main baggage carried from one B&B to the next with a carrier service so you're just out with a day pack.

*There is one day of walking mostly uphill but you should be exercised enough by then or able to seek an alternate path.

The Hadrian's Wall coast to coast path is also a gentle week-long stroll, filled with historical sites.


Anybody mention 10-Pin bowling?

There's a club along at Murrayfield where I play. There are team leagues of various standards. Not too strenuous or expensive, but pretty sociable (good cross section of folk including at least one of your readers) and being part of a team means that your absence due to trips away is not a show stopper.

In about 2-3 years you will be able to get the tram pretty much door to door!


@146, @161: I second playing Go, and I'd also recommend Go club. Warning: it seems to be capable of absorbing endless amount of time.


Hello Charlie,

I would add in for scuba, but given your stated heart condition it will almost certainly require a dive medical before you could attend a course. However some of the best diving I have ever done is in Scotland. You could go and talk to Dougie at the Edinburgh Dive Centre at 1 Watson Crescent, even if it just to see his photos from diving on the ships at Bikini Atoll.

I would also second cooking simply because given your home setup it would be a challenge. However I think given your travels to Japan you would find Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji very interesting and useful. The vast majority of japanese recipes can be made vegan through substituting kelp/shiitake dashi for bonito dashi, using agar-agar etc. without compromising the actual dish.

As an attempt at third time lucky, have you ever done balsa wood gliders? Salsibury Crags give you a perfect launch pad, you can amble along to collect them, all the assembly work is in the near field. You don't have any issues with blood clotting do you, 'cause those craft knifes can be vicious?

Anyway, all the best for the New Year.

P.S. do you have room for a compact hydroponic plant? Would tie in nicely with you finding what the minimum requirements for self sustaining colony is.......Just remembered you have cats.


I just chipped my tooth on a sponge cake! World first?

Train to be a dentist and fix me up!

Back on topic, what about reviewing? You could review games, books, websites, countries, films, or come up with something more interesting, review reviewers! Whatever.

If you did it with your work-hat on you might even reach a new marketable audience.


Start up an ezine.

In the words of generations past: I double-dog dare you.


Construct or acquire a costume from a (sci-fi/fantasy/comic/etc.) film or TV show or publication you like, and attend a (sci-fi/fantasy/comic/etc.) convention wearing it.


This probably sounds pretty off the wall, but you might try making and eating more raw food (which is also often vegan). My favorite starting out recipe book is Raw Food/Real World -- the recipes are actually pretty tasty.


Do a short OU course in something you have absolutely no knowledge of (foundation courses can last 10 weeks - 6 months and generaly consists of a book and computer access). I generally work 12-14 hours a day and still manage the course I'm doing slowly in odd hours, although my wife objects to the weird thing I want to do with soup..........

Volunteer work will get you out and doing something different - Cats Protection, Local Hospice, etc (warning on the CPL though - my wife "aquired" a number of unadopted spares which is why half our cats are "defective"). Most volunteer organisations can use a computer literate type even if it's just to publish the newsletter.

Oh grief - I just had visions of the Strossian cthuluesque Cats Protection League newsletter.

OK - maybe a bad idea.


+1 on weight lifting. A decade ago: 30 y.o. w/ chronic back pain and sporadic mousing-related RSI, stiff, trouble lifting heavy groceries. Now: 40 y.o., no back pain or RSI, can throw around a 55 pound child with ease. Difference is 2 or 3 days a week of lifting for 30-60 minutes, with several hiatuses of more than a month. I've only added about 10 pounds of muscle to a slender frame, but it's made all the difference. Get Pearl's "Getting Stronger", read the first third, and do one of the beginner programs.




Some kinds of yoga might work.

As for crafts - the space needed depends on the craft. Some want lots of space, others can be much smaller. (I knit while commuting. Seven pairs of socks in the last four months.)



Have you tried playing Go? More cerebral than most of the suggestions above, a very simple game to learn, an almost impossible one to master. The benefits are that you can play it almost anywhere and there's a strong community of online players if that's of interest. I prefer games in person, so will try and find a local Go club if I'm travelling and drop in on them for an evening.

Steve, if I read the situation correctly, the last thing Charlie needs are activities involving abstract symbol manipulation. He needs to get out of his head and into his large muscle groups, or his fingertips, or ears, etc. Anything that doesn't set up an interior monologue. People have suggested walking tours, which might squeeze past Charlies medical prescriptions. They also have the nice benefit of keeping him out from underfoot of his wife.


Charlie @{sorry my iPhone scrollbar is broken}:
Given that you're already walking, will probably need a dive medical to do scuba (but I'd reckon you should try anyway - it's more of a relaxation exercise than an extreme sport - the goal being to minimize your breathing rate) and Burning Man will have to wait for a contemporaneous scifi meeting or book tour out here...

I'd second playing an instrument... and doing some bioinformatics. The latter does not require Nobel skills (I do it for a living and would love to collaborate!)


What about spending time with children? Three year old kids have an amazing ability to reshape your preconceptions simply because they don't have any. They adopt ideas and will defend them to the point of screaming, but can also walk away from them without a second thought. Chaotic yes, but an extremely intense learning process. Fun to watch, incredible to engage with.
Not sure where you'd get access to young kids aside from having some of your own or borrowing friends or relatives. Although offering some free babysitting to relatives or friends is a really amazingly cool thing.


What a lot of fencers there do seem to be. There have been some very good one eyed fencers. There used to be good paraplegic fencing in Edinburgh, if the knees are a problem. However, it will put some strain on the heart, (the last fatality in the UK was a heart attack).So maybe not.

If I were taking up an instrument, I'd consider a tin whistle. Take it anywhere, not too noisy and ridiculously cheap. .

Randomly throwing out some hooks:


Amateur dramatics?


Kittens? (Always have a succession plan. And the turf wars...)



One thing I haven't seen mentioned is charity work: I am told that this can be challenging, frustrating and rewarding.


Hello Mr. Stross.

As regards learning Go, it's a horrible idea. It's too much a time-sink for someone in your position, and it takes a decade or so to get decent at it. Great game; too great.

You might consider learning everything there is to know at making fancy (and actually edible) vegan pastries.


I'll third or fourth or whatever the suggestion for geocaching. Just by looking at the terrain and difficulty ratings of the caches, it can be adjusted from a simple stroll to serious mountaineering, or from no-brains treasurehunt to heavy-duty brain burner puzzles just to figure out the coordinates.

It works in a local area, but it's even more fun if you travel. Whenever you find yourself in a new place and don't know what to do, just have a look at the nearest geocaches and they have a good probability of being places of interest (but not necessarily the touristy kind).


I suggest plunging head first into COMICS, no matter what reasoning held you back in the past time. Close your eyes, hold breath and just jump (I guess for you comics mean writing scripts, but if bad eyesight doesn't prevent it, why not plunging into the whole thing: thinking up the stories and then illustrating em). In several posts in the last years I read reasons why comics aren't an option for you. But hey, 45, maybe it's the right time to try it!

Marius K.



If you haven't already, try teaching anything (say, hm, writing? :) Here's the benefits:

- shame you to master your craft (writing, i suppose) in ways you can't motivate yourself. There's no better way to learn, than to teach.

- stun you with their ignorance of basic information you were forced to learn in school.

- ignite your righteous rage,

- give you a shocking insight into the digital natives' daily habits

- humble you with their fiery, high-speed intelligence

- amuse you with their wacky childlike behaviors

- ego-stroke you by accepting your personal opinions as some kind of general truth about the world

- earn you a bit of money, without imposing on your existing life much. no commitment needed.

- give you something else to do when you're traveling (guest lecture around the world)

You've already got the skills most new teachers lack - passionate, articulate, and compelling storyteller.

I suggest trialing it with a few guest lectures at a decent nearby uni. Online's not as good - you don't get much from it. If things go well, offer to lead some writing workshops. Start with University students, then address younger kids until you can't stand their juvenility.


@168: you might be surprised to know that my wife's a few years into the learning Japanese thing ... and in the process of translating Japanese vegan recipes into English. (There may be a cookbook in her future.)

And, er, she makes flyable balsa-wood model aeroplanes. And is into football and beer.

(We have a non-standard distribution of gender stereotypes in this household.)


Two other suggestions that I second are:
a) volunteering at a local charity/political organization/no-profit company. I personally did volunteer work in civil protecticon service and Red Cross first-aid.
This could also mean maybe starting contributing something to an open-source project, if you want to minimize interpersonal contact: choose one that you like, and feel thats a bit undermanned and near your competences, and start helping them a bit.

b) Starting again with role play games. If you want to make some new experiences, you could even try live-action role play games: not to everybody's taste, but some love it...

You could also participate in some re-enactors groups, if you've some in your area.

Anbother thing you could do, is writing a video-game: I don't mean a big-budget mega-production, but partnering with some young local programmer brimming with coding energy, and feeding them a bit of industry-expertise and nice creative ideas, could produce something interesting in the indipendent market. Contrary to many indipendent producers, you would have at least the advantage of a faithful readership that would love such a product!

Another thing you could do is re-discovering some desires you had as a kid, and fulfill them: for example, I loved Lego as a toy when I was a kid. During a period when I was very stressed out from work and a bit depressed, following the ispiration of some websites about them, I bought some boxes of lego and started building a bit. A bit silly, but it helped a lot... my inner child was really happy about that. (By the way, Lego Mindstorm is simply fantastic!).

Another funny thing that some of my friends do, is playing board-games. I don't mean the old classics like Risiko, Monopoly and such, many other exotic ones do exists, and collecting a bunch of friends to play some strange outrageous board-game while drinking beer and eating chips, do recapture most of the fun of student's day rpg sessions, allowing for a much more casual experience.

You could also play at your strenghts in writing, and trying doing a bit of journalism. You already did something similar for software magazines, if I remember your bio, but you could try doing something for local newspaper on political/social/technical topics.

Going in the more financially heavy stuff, you could start hunting for some country houses in bad shapes and in good places on the cheap, and do a bit of renovation yourself. Guaranteed to give you something to do during weekends and summer for years to come, with the side benefit of having a coutry house for holidays in the nature, space to do a lot of other possible hobbies, like gardening, growing vegetables, doing a bit of carpentry or similar stuff, storing tons of furniture, books and old trinkets, change your panorama when you're retiring to write something hard, etc. etc.


I second the idea of standing for election, if you haven't done it before. I really enjoyed both my runs for the local council; you meet a lot of odd people, get to know the urban space differently, and you're contributing to democracy. And I discovered I had a reputation locally and it wasn't what I thought it was.

Also, it's hard work and you'll have to haul your arse all over the ward to have any chance of success and to get any of the benefits. If you really want to do something strange, you could stand for the Commons and make a serious effort - although the chances of being elected as something other than a Bameronite or Labservative must be significantly better at Holyrood, if only for smaller constituencies and vaguely proportional voting. Vote Space and Freedom in Edinburgh X!


Bootstraps, people! Charlie has health issues which prevent him from doing a lot of the things on this list - so let's work around those first.

First, Charlie, you should learn to build robots. They're teaching it in school these days (lucky kids, eh?) so there's plenty of resources for the motivated pre-supervillain.

(Seriously, robots actually sound right up your alley. Of course, they may also destroy your alley if you get enthusiastic.)

After the robots come the powered exoskeleton, and all the physical activities that people have suggested become bug testing.

But I fear that your thoughts have strayed down this path many times, since you're the one who wrote Accelerando after all. Then again, that was all about mental expansion, rather than physical.

I also suggest kinetic art. It's like constructing a Rube Goldbergian machine that has its own mysterious purpose known only in some complex Platonic realm. It's also a lot like robotics, except you're not trying to make something that scuttles around and washes the cups one leaves on the floor. Which, by the way, is a patent waiting to happen - in-situ automatic dishwasher! That way, you can leave mugs and plates all over the place in convenient locations, but they're always clean!



Antipaganda@188: He will have to tear my Mindstorms set from my cold dead hands!


Speaking of interesting forms of photography not requiring perfect vision, here's a fellow who makes photos with a Van de Graaf generator sending electricity through the film:

I'd go for the tintype stuff myself, though, since you've got someone in the neighbourhood. I've always wanted to get into that sort of thing.


Have you tried Bikram yoga? It is done in high heat and high humidity. It is a very good non-aerobic work out that improves flaxibility quite a bit. Furthermore the 90 minute session (meditation is what they call it) is very good for clearing your mind and calming you down, not a bad idea for a hypertensive person. Also, if you like fringe medicine, the intense sweating does seem to remove body toxins.


OK, I know someone recommended MMO game design above, but I think there's still a huge amount of space to innovate in the type of tabletop gaming that is amenable to digital crossover. Why not try your hand at meta-world-building (that is, building frameworks that allow for the creation of internally consistent worlds) for the purpose of gaming? It has the advantage of not requiring anything but your mind, which is, after all, what most of us are paying you for ;)


Let mine be another voice in support of Tai Chi Chuan. In my school if practice is done properly it should be no more aerobic than walking. Beginners are encouraged to very gently learn how to extend their posture, so being stiff and having limited mobility is no barrier to starting. Among the benefits I have experienced are being a lot calmer, having better balance, and experiencing an altered sense of consciousness on a daily basis. As stated in the post above though, finding a teacher and a class that you enjoy going to regularly is the key.


This might be too obvious or lame, but what about starting a book club? That seems to be on the order of low impact to your existing life style, but with the added discussion dimension. The only trouble is finding people who you'd ever want to discuss with.


I have a suggestion for Feorag: if you can't get Charlie out and about more, perhaps you should rig a stationary bicycle to a generator. Then either build a riding/writing desk so that he can power his laptop by pedaling while he writes, or alternatively, he can power the telly while you watch. Or you can have a separate station for each.

Not a new hobby, but it is fairly low impact and will be healthy. It will also allow you two to fiddle with angles on the keyboard, which *might* (no guarantees) help with any carpal tunnel issues. It will also be green-ish.


I have a suggestion for Feorag: if you can't get Charlie out and about more, perhaps you should rig a stationary bicycle to a generator. Then either build a riding/writing desk so that he can power his laptop by pedaling while he writes, or alternatively, he can power the telly while you watch. Or you can have a separate station for each.

Not a new hobby, but it is fairly low impact and will be a way to use calories to do useful work. It will also allow you two to fiddle with the angles on the keyboard and arm supports, which *might* (no guarantees) help with any carpal tunnel issues. It will also be planet friendly, particularly if you are re-purposing existing equipment.


You didn't mention losing weight - I lost twenty pounds by going for a no sugar/starch/refined grains diet and everything feels better. I read good calories, bad calories by Gary Taubes - great science story - and that got me to invent my own version of an atkins-style diet - essentially, shitloads of fruit and veg, but no grains, starch (potatoes, bananas), or sweet stuff (sugar, honey, dried fruit, etc). I still eat like a pig, but steadily lost weight. Mostly eat meat, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, and the aforementioned fruit and veg, and feel like a million bucks.

Beyond that, I agree with the cheap, easy solutions of walking everywhere, alwasy taking the stairs,getting enough sleep, and doing pushups every day (check out the royal canadian air force 5BX regime -


Take up fossil hunting. You get out in the fresh air, gentle exercise, mild danger (falling rocks, slippery foreshores, tidal cutoff) and you can find interesting, perhaps unique things. It's a nice excuse for a weekend at the seaside, and you learn quite a bit of biology and geology along the way.


Lots of people suggested it and I will too, tai chi, Taoist Tai Chi Society run loads of classes in Edinburgh, some local to you, monthly sub allows you as many classes a week at your level as you want. There are several alternative tai chi types, not as numerous, some are taught as martial art (Taoist tai chi is not martial). email me for details if interested.

Alternatively Yoga, there is Iyengar yoga at Bruntsfield/morningside road/holy corner, a possibly strenuous type as practiced by madonna at Canonmills/powderhall and several others round town.

Hillwalking, some £100 walking boots, a fleece and a small pack and a flask is all it takes, (and maybe a good umbrella or waterproofs). You don't need to go high or get muddy, a gps & map reading/compass course would also help. Scotland has endless low level routes and trails as well as alpine type mountaineering adn everything in between.


I'm a new reader to this blog so forgive me if this suggestion is tired or tried. I think theatre is woefully lacking science fiction-themed stories (in the U.S. anyway). SF isn't really about whiz-bang contraptions and special effects, right? TV and movies are awash in SF but not so in stage productions. The main stream viewing public is primed for SF themes - not so foreign and geeky now. Why not develop a play that can speak to an idea that is difficult to resolve in text alone? Maybe get really fancy and find a collaborator for a musical!


Yoga can vary from contemplating your navel while stretched out on a slightly padded mat (warning, do not start snoring, the aficionados tend to get hostile), to doubling up like a pretzel and then attempting power moves. Hatha yoga is a gentle form and good for beginners. The flexibility you'll develop will be good for anything else you want to try.

The elliptical is my favorite form of torture, I've built up to an hour on the horrible thing.

I have health issues myself and neither of these kill me.

Really, it doesn't matter what you pick, just get moving and stay moving.


Geocaching is a problem in the US because the police think the boxes might be bombs. I don't know how it works in Scotland.

Both yoga and tai chi require you to be stable and to be able to get to the floor and back up by yourself, without falling. I can't do those things; I don't know if Charlie can.


Human bodies are the product of being hunter/gatherers for thousands of years. Sitting at a fixed position is not optimal for the body. You will get a lot of compression of the disks, resulting in back pain and even worse things. In addition, the body is not moving so the calory intake is overloading the body, resulting in overweight, even more pressure on the backs as well as causing other problems such as hypertension as well as the first stages to diabetes.

I personally think the best thing to do is to walk. Either during daytime, or then in the evenings and weekends. There are many beautiful moors in Scotland to explore. This is a very simple way of getting back to shape.

Also explore the option of working while standing, like the medieval scholars did. This minimizes the compression on the disk as well as your core muscles will get stronger and this way minimize future back problems as the core muscles hold up the rest of the body. You still need to take rests by sitting now and then.

Yoga is also good but beware! It is easy to get into a competition mode with yoga, either with others or oneself, leading to all kinds of nasty accidents.

I think software developers and writers have something in common concerning sitting concentrated for long periods, leading to a compressed back or neck and getting overweight...


Birdwatching is something I've never personally seen the appeal of, but if it's the sort of thing you're interested in at all it gets you out of the house, involves you in a new social group, works really well with erratic travel (that is, suddenly spending a few days in Germany is a chance to spend an extra weekend and collect the Lesser Schwartzwold Finch, or whatever. I assume there are birds in Germany), and can be taken to any necessary level of obsessiveness.

For an entirely different idea, journalism/advocacy? Pick a cause, any cause, and start involving yourself in it and writing magazine pieces on it? More writing may not be exactly what you're looking for, and if it cut down on your fiction output I'd be sad. But the point would be activism -- the writing end of it just seems like the the most useful way for someone with your skills to get involved in working for a political cause.


Back again after a day on the road, followed by one of kid wrangling. That is not something I'd suggest as a hobby, BTW.

I'm going to suggest geocaching again - its something you might be able to do when you travel.

Also, I'll be the second to suggest juggling. If you can throw a balled up sock from one hand to the other, you can learn to juggle. It can start with scarves and move on up to rings, clubs, devil sticks, diabolos, etc., etc. And IIRC, doesn't Edinburgh have the fringe festival? Which suggests some jugglers that might be able to teach. I will suggest practicing away from home - the downstairs neighbors might be annoyed by frequently dropped balls...


I can suggest pilates---one of my aunts, slightly older than your age, took it up about a year ago, and she's made great progress. I'm a fairly active early-thirties person, and her core strength is much better than mine by this point. It improves flexibility and muscle tone, but does nothing bad to your joints, and is not aerobic.

She learned from videos, as I understand, after taking an introductory class. I have seen some good books around, too.


have you tried painting/drawing? dont worry if you're crap you dont have to show it to anybody but it sure is rewarding.


Charlie@185 - Not entirely surprised at what your wife is up to, definitely interested though! Let us know if any book results. As an off topic aside what is used for beer finings in vegan recipes?

A slightly random suggestion, but how about making and using japanese (or korean, or pakistani or etc.) fighting kites! Although Feorag may have a slight advantage here given her hobbies.


Modularized version of @43: "Write a non-fiction book." Write several science/computer science/sociology of knowledge generation papers, submit to peer reviewed conferences and journals. Once N of them, for small nonzero value of N, have been accepted, then a book proposal is plausible. It is akin to writing an inverse fix-up novel, where chapters are submitted as written to magazines. Or an album whose songs are released as singles.

Not to knock drumming in general, but I assure you that Feynman had unusual firmware. He was one of the world's top self-taught percussionists, and could do what only a handful of others on Earth can do. I saw him more than once ask people for two relatively prime numbers under 30, and then, let's say the person said "14 and 23" he'd play a 14 against 23 on the bongos. Analysis by tape recorder and oscilloscope showed he was indeed doing it. That is, he had some sort of serial/parallel coupling control on his hands is dependent/independent. Not clear how much was in motor cortex and how much in spinal cord.

So, the multiple papers, which can always be collected into a book later if desired. And, as with short stories that can be expanded later to novellas, or novellas to novels, or novels to trilogies, there's no telling what sequels a paper can spawn.

And again, co-authors. My guess is (I'm not volunteering, mind you) you'd find a nonfiction paper collaborator less painful than a fiction collaborator.

I speak from my experience, and that of my many collaborators. I have coauthors I've never met f2f. As I say, the killer app of the web is collaborationware.

Side effect: you could be an adjunct professor some time, not necessarily in a field where you have a degree. Teaching gives typing muscles a rest. Someplace that you want to be, and your significant other as well. Kind like a GoH at a minor con at a major university. There are quite a few SFWA members who do professoring as a day job. Ask Joe Haldeman or Goeff Landis (MIT) or Rudy Rucker (SJSU). We could name many more. Vernor Vinge prefers writing novels to teaching. Likewise, Dave Brin stopped his tenure-track hunt once his novels were selling well enough.

I only completed 129,000 words of short fiction in 2009, almost all still in submissionland. This overlaps sets of chapters of novels-in-progress and collections-in-progress. But several nonfiction papers presented in China, published in India, and so forth. Your Tales of the Dotcom boom are, in essence, a nonfiction paper or set of papers. Likewise your deconstruction of the myths of interstellar colonization and/or generation ships. I gave a talk and paper in a proceedings once at an international software conference called "how not to develop software." And my opening hook was tear a $1 bill into pieces and throw them at the front row.


Hmmm; I don't see photography as requiring good eyesight. In fact I had a girlfriend in college who liked to take landscape pictures partly because she could see things in the photos that she couldn't see in the real world. And another friend who is again quite a good photographer, after auto-focus came along and her inability to see well enough to focus stopped being a major problem. I know you see well enough to drive, and to read a lot, so that sets some limits on how bad your eyes could be.

Since I know you've done snapshot photography, I can only conclude that I'm overlooking something, since your conclusion must be based on experience taking photos. If you can tell what it is I'm overlooking I'd appreciate learning something here. (I can easily see how eyesight might interfere with doing particular types of photography with particular equipment, of course.)


Charlie @ 145:

Have you considered distance learning? Lots of places here do correspondence courses, and while I don't know if you could complete a degree by correspondence, it would at least allow you to start taking classes again...

Oh, and for experimenting with cooking check out Heidi is vegetarian, and most of her recipes are easily converted to vegan. For my tastes, cut back on the salt and olive oil from what she has, but the recipes are delicious and the photography is amazing. :)


To clarify one thing: Charlie, I know you're not a vegan. Neither am I. I am a happy omnivore - but once in a while I really enjoy meatless meals. Hence my interest in Heidi's site. Thought you might, too. :)


Doing Burning Man in 2010 might not be in the cards but can I suggest that you consider 2011. Worldcon is in Reno in 2011 in August and Burning Man starts about a week after Worldcon ends. Reno is the nearest city to the area where Burning Man is held and where a lot of Burners stock up on their supplies. For most people if you have gotten as far as Reno then you are more that half way to Burning Man.

I have been six times and it is still an incredible experience each time. As you know I am older than you are and have some of the same problems such as presbyopia and myopia (I now have intraocular implants which have helped a lot) and I have no problems functioning and enjoying myself at Burning Man.


About the steroid-thinned skin: get some glycerol from the chemist's, and use ad lib. It is a potent skin regenerator and healing agent. It happens also to be powerfully hygroscopic, and will dehydrate and kill bacteria on contact. If raw flesh is exposed, you might like to dilute it somewhat, as in pure form, if the flesh is badly irrigated, with poor local circulation, the temporary sudden 'drying' of the tissue is reported by local nerves as burning (the usual reason for sudden drying). For the same reason, keep away from the eyes (corneas have few capillaries!).

As a side note,if you'd like to prolong the possession of all your teeth, brush with it (straight). It works to eliminate bacteria on and under the gums, and is a marvellous general tonic for them. I've seen teeth rescued from imminent release and loss by it.

BTW, the term "glycerin" is used in NA, but it's the same stuff. 3-carbon alcohol, syrupy, non-volatile. Approved food additive: raisins are soaked in it to keep them moist and soft, e.g.


Though you suck at languages, you might like to learn Esperanto. It is invariant in its grammar rules, and can be picked up in a week or weekend to simple conversational level. Sounds good, somewhat like latinized Spanish. Surprising number of books translated or written in it; I have Quo Vadis and the Bible as e.g.s . There are associations and pockets of speakers world-wide; you can get local enthusiastic contacts and guides and hosts and translators anywhere if you 'belong to the club'.

It has the singular and interesting side-effect of making other languages easier, sort of as though your brain had been provided with a graph-paper overlay that serves as reference grid for shifting from one set of curved and kinked speech rules to another.


Tango. The social dance, not the bright orange drink. And not the ridiculous stuff you see occasionally on 'Strictly Come Dancing'. There's an active tango scene in Edinburgh which is pretty friendly, and the dance itself is hardly hard physical exercise. It does seem to be very absorbing for the first year or two, though, which might not be helpful in meeting publishers' deadlines.


None of these are genius suggestions, but I figured I'd fire off a few anyway.

Tabletop roleplaying games? Improvisational theatre? Kite flying. Board games--I saw Go suggested upthread. Beekeeping. Juggling. Drumming. Not parkour, given your health limitations. Hiking? Something outside would be nice.

Start a pirate radio station. Or maybe a micronation.

Visit Sealand, and write about it.


I am amused that nobody has suggested I take up gambling or smoking :)


Well most of us here actually like you.

Did have one though re learning a language - you've got the beard for learning Klingon.

I've noticed that for some strange reason Rule 34 doesn't seem to apply to Klingons. Why is that?


Watch all of Ghost in the Shell. (Movies, Series etc.)

As for learning foreign languages one very effective method is courses/tapes based on the Pimsleur method.

Read science and skeptic blogs etc. (See: Science Based Medicine etc.)

Do a ten-day Vipassana meditation course. ( )


Zack@217: I should have thought of that one! Yes, joining a local theater company is an excellent idea. I'm more or less press-ganged because my daughter and her mother are involved, and they always need someone to paint scenery, go prop hunting, etc.

With his skills, Charlie could work the light board (though here at least, that's a jealously guarded prerogative), come up with special effects, etc. He could even do some acting. This might include singing as well. If he hasn't learned how yet, this might be the time.



From my recollection of the smoke content of Edinburgh pubs, I'd say that suggesting taking up smoking would be redundant.

How about becoming a vegan yourself?


I'd second your running in next year's General Election. While I doubt you'd keep your deposit, you'd be a welcome change from both the mainstream clones and the descendants of the Monster Raving Loony party, and might even grab a few headlines.


Others have suggested most of the things I thought of, so I'll offer just two, and the first is just a modification of something you already do.

Get yourself a swimming coach or join a group that swims with a coach. This should be someone who understands your need for some physical exertion as well as limitations as you define them. Having someone give you a series of directions while discreetly monitoring your output while all you do is count (and muse) is preferable to your churning through a set distance and the boredom that accompanies it. (By the way, this should not be a coach for the Olympic-bound teenager crew. Rather she/he should be a coach who works with older folks who are there for basic fitness. I am older than you so I can say that.) Also, the combination of a little swimming, a little yoga and a little weight lifting can be synergistic in their cumulative effects.

The second activity to consider is one I offer with some considerable hesitation. Given that 1) you occasionally visit the US where it's easy to do this, and 2) you use this as a plot device in several of your books and series, and 3) it is not physically strenuous but is both physical and mental, and lastly 4) there is little investment for you personally, there is little risk and reasonable reward: learn to shoot firearms, preferably handguns.

On your trips to the US, if you have a few hours free, you can usually find an indoor range that offers instruction, rental of the tools, and purchase of the consumables which you leave behind when finished. You'll spend no more than an hour or two per session, and you get to learn about something that has direct application to your profession (inasmuch as your characters use, or have available, firearms of different sorts). There is considerable physical training* and effort involved though it is not tiring, and there is considerable mental discipline and training required too, to attain proficiency. Note that you will only be punching small holes in paper, so no harm will come to any living thing. It may be difficult to do this in Scotland or the U.K., but there may be clubs or associations which you can join that have the hardware and instruction available.

* e.g. trigger control is critical, breath control is important, muscles in tension for correct stance while lining up your sight picture, et cetera


Really, even if your fitness is challenged, given your age you need to start doing some kind of physical exercise. If you don't take up some kind of regular exercise, whatever mild forms you can do, then between the weight problem you mentioned and general aging, you're probably going to challenge your heart much worse. Have you discussed this with your doctor?

I too recommend you start adding "free weights" as well as your current walking/hiking. Work up the weight levels slowly so you don't over-challenge your heart, as that's a concern.

I am (mumble) years older than you - though I lucked out on genetics in having a lean build - and several years back I discovered that as I aged, I was no longer staying even moderately fit from day-to-day activities. I went to the gym for a while but couldn't fit it into my schedule, and felt self-conscious there, so I bought a set of dumbbell and plate weights for them, and try to do basic curls, presses, etc. semi-regularly at home. I'm crappy at keeping to a regular exercise schedule, but as long as I keep coming back to it, it does me a lot of good.

As a bonus, exercise also improves moods, as shown in numerous studies. (And for a further bonus, there's the smug self-satisfaction - hey look, I'm improving myself!)

As to the martial arts suggestions - I know you're resistant, but they're also damn good ideas. If you pick the right one, you'll get gentle and progressive aerobic exercise and stretching, which it sounds like you do need.

IMHO, aikido or tai ch'i would seem to be among the best bets for you, as tending to suit pacifists. With either of those, if your pain threshold ever becomes a factor UR DOIN IT WRONG!

Talk to the teachers of whatever group you check out and make sure they aren't macho and can deal with people with health problems. If you pick a group doing ki-aikido (one of the schools/styles of aikido practice) in my experience they happily cater to complete newbies, klutzes, and wimps. Disclaimer: I haven't practiced aikido in years, but it significantly improved my life when I was doing it, and I keep thinking about restarting it.

Just promise us this - whatever you do take up, don't become one of those writers who annoyingly work their latest craze into every damn story they write.


Rob @221: pub in Edinburgh went non-smoking some years ago.

And no, I like the taste of flesh too much to go vegan -- not to mention eggs and cheese.

Dano @223: Already doing the firearm thing (occasionally, on firing ranges during visits to the US). However, my tendency to end up in Massachusetts or New York tends to restrict this ...

clifton @225: You (and many other commenters) seem to have missed the essential fact that I'm already doing the walking and swimming thing, as exercise.


Addendum: I'm not sure it entirely fits the mental challenge or flexibility theme, but one thing I've taken to lately is monthly social get-togethers with a group of old friends for an afternoon of board games. I had not been having much of a social life for several years - everyone including me being too busy - and for whatever reasons, it seems easier to get people together when you all have a specific goal and activity in mind.

One of our current faves is a Lovecraft-themed board game called 'Arkham Horror' which I promptly became quite obsessed with - it's kind of a "Call of Cthulhu"-lite RPG/board-game hybrid, which you can set up and play with friends in a few hours instead of taking hours just to create characters. You might enjoy that. Other recent fave games have included 'Risk 2210' (classic Risk + moon and undersea colonies and some wild cards), 'Super Scrabble' (double-sized board, going up to quadruple letter/word scores), and anything from Cheapass Games - the 'Girl Genius' card game, 'Give me the Brain!', etc. The latter tend to have really interesting game mechanics and a great sense of humor.


Build yourself a quadcopter.
If you find a cheap digicam slap it on there.
The dogfights with your wifes balsa planes might be interesting to watch. :)


Charlie, no, I didn't miss it - indeed I mentioned the hiking part. My personal experience has been that for me, at least, walking or hiking and swimming is not enough. But as some strange psychic feeling tells me you've heard quite enough about the subject, I will not pitch any more such suggestions.

(FWIW, I also have health problems, though different ones than you - chronic degenerative arthritis of unexplained cause - and have had a difficult time working around those limitations myself. If I overdo it a little, I end up limping when I walk and having to tape my fingers so I can even use a keyboard or mouse. In other words, I am not insensitive to the problems of insensitive health-minded suggestions.)


What sort of Flexibility are you after?

Physical; Tai Chi, Yoga.
Mental; Roleplaying, Board gaming, Puzzle Books.
Social; Getting back on the programming horse and making flash games for others to review and play, going to a different pub to see what it's like there on your normal pub night('s).
Ethical; Study Corporate Law.
Spiritual; Study various faith's from around the world to see if any fit (DO NOT FOUND A RELIGION!!! The last time a sci-fi author did was once too many).
Fiscal; Set up either a fantasy or actual share day fund and see how you do.
Emotional; Find and map or disable your triggers (The sounds, sights and smells that set off unwanted emotional responses).

That's about all can think of off the top of may head.



Why are you assuming I want an exercise/physical fitness regime?


No more exercise suggestions. Period.

(Getting annoyed now.)


So that's a NO! to physical them.

Any of the others a non-goer?

and how about collectable gaming like this


How about trying out astrophotography? You don't need to have good eyes necessarily, you just need a modern telescope with GPS that can auto-calibrate and point itself and then add something as meager as a webcam and you can be up and imaging in no time. Modern hardware and software can have you producing images that can outdo what professional telescopes were doing in the 80s. Amateur astronomers who are interested in doing science can do significant work these days too.

A basic setup can be had for less than $1000 USD. You don't have to be in shape, you get to play with very cool robotics and optics, you learn a lot about the universe around us and you will seriously impress just about everyone that you show your pictures to. Shooting is done from your computer so if you can see the screen you can do the imaging runs. Post-processing involves a lot of really interesting software, algorithms and workflows too (not just Photoshop).


How about radio control baots/yachts/hovercraft. They are easy to control, fairly easy to build (eyesight shouldn't be an issue), they don't take up much space. All you need is suitable water (are there any boating lakes in Edinburgh?)
If not that then fine cheese appreciate does it for me...


I would encourage music. Either playing or enhancing or remixing. I reckon that the easiest way in would be to start off with mixing multitrack recordings of pieces of music. It has a relatively low barrier to entry, but will very rapidly give you an idea as to whether it is something that amuses you or not.

If this amuses you as a concept then drop me a mail and we can have a chat about where it might be possible to obtain some data to play around with...


Pigeons. Start raising pigeons on the roof. Hey, if Darwin can do it and get a couple of good chapters out of it for some minor book or other, I'll bet you can get some utility out of it too (or some squab, at least).

Anyway, if you're going to detail your medical issues, you're going to get people pitching some way to alleviate them. What did you expect?


So you want something different to stretch your mind without exercising the body? or should that be that any bodily activity be incidental to the new things to try?

I have a little list, but the bundle of hurdles that your life creates means that few to none are going to be acceptable without compromises somewhere. Take photography for example your initial reaction was 'bad eyesight', Sorry insufficient, the best photographer I knew had severe glaucoma, diabetes and was over eighty before he finally put away the camera - this was when digital cameras were custom built for NASA and autofocus was in it's infancy- and until the gluacoma killed his night vision did his own darkroom work - years before he finally put down the camera for the last time, and years after he had to surrender his driving licence.

Assorted crafts options similarly, Woodworking - if you make jewelery boxes timber can be bought prethicknessed and your workspace can be about the same size as your desk if marquetry one drawer of that desk, carving - keep it small and an old shoebox can hold all you need,

If the idea was to stretch you in a direction you've never tried, then think on this, Just because you're unlikely to become another Ansel Adams or Lord Lindley is no reason not to at least try, hell even mobile phones have halfway decent imaging systems these days. We don't need or even want to see the results so your miscut dovetails or decapitated images it's your private learning experience

Change the mindset. Not; I can't do X because... but;If I did it this way maybe...

If you have access to the roof try beekeeping, or grow orchids or carnivorous plants in the window.

If nothing else Go all retro and use a goose quill pen and home made ink on vellum for your next short story.


I hear your grumpiness, Charlie, but I also recall you saying, often enough, how travelling gets in the way of your usual exercise, swimming. It takes time to get going again.

Tai Chi might help there.

Heck, some of this stuff, you might get an article for a local newspaper out of going and finding out more.

Small-space craft skills: desk-stand magnifiers may make a big difference. Anything new is going to seem difficult at first. and that's the same whatever your eyes are like. Find something cheap to try.

I was going to suggest model soldiers, the size of stuff Games Workshop sells. There are plenty of alternative suppliers and you don't have to buy into their fantasy/sci-fi imagery, but you can get all the basics there. They'll just try to sell you lots of paints you might not need. The secret is that, instead of having a specific colour to paint a shadow. you can mix two paints to get the colour you need.

The modern paints don't stink the house out, brushes wash clean in water, and it's a different sort of mental activity to staring at the keyboard. Magazines such as Military Modelling and Wargames Illustrated will intimidate you with what can be done.

There might be something else on that sort of scale which appeals more. But I'd say it fits with limited space, and being different from writing.


@232: I live in a city centre, with sky glare, in an apartment (no back yard with a view of the sky). Ten miles north there's a refinery with gas flares. So: view of sky? Pretty poor.

@233: the nearest bodies of water are unsuitable for model boating -- viz. fast-flowing or tidal. The nearest lake is a good two to four miles away which, to someone whose main form of transportation is walking, is somewhat unattractive.

@236: Already growing carnivorous plants on the only windowsill that gets any amount of sunlight.


Television? Not the broadcast nonsense you get if you just turn the thing on, but get a good flatscreen and a good dvd player- Start with the better HBO stuff from recent years (Sopranos, Wire, Deadwood).


If there's no water you could go for a model hovercraft then, it'll work anywhere. I got a simple kit for my dad for less than £100 including the radio gear.


Chris M@240: I also have several model hovercraft, including one home-built one, and the infamous Black Tentacle.


* Perfect the vegan souffle, macaron or marshmallow.
* Walk every street in Edinburgh.
* Write a smell map based on your wanders.
* Invent a word a week and hide it in a post. See how long it takes us to find it and define it accurately.
* Try all of those obscure grains that get mentioned in veg recipes.
* Open the DSM-IV TR at random. This is your fun new psychiatric disorder for the day!
* Learn every swimming style there is and invent a couple new ones.
* Write paragraphs predicting the future from the POVs of an 18th century feminist, a medieval monk, an Edwardian dandy, an Ancient Egyptian and a trilobite.
* Visit all the old and pretty churches in Edinburgh.
* Mispronounce Feorag's name for a day.
* Follow a letter (A, B, C...) each day for a month, using it to select food, mood activities etc.
* Switch coffee for tea, or tea for coffee.
* Re-read your favorite childhood picture books.
* After writing potentially controversial posts, come up with a ridiculous or dull rebuttal and predict how many replies it will take before someone writes this.
* Become a rabid supporter of a local primary age soccer team (without disturbing the parents).
* Dress up as Hello Kitty and go for a walk.
* Pick a totem animal and model your day by it.
* Listen to the number 1 song in every country this week.


Have kids?

(sound of rapidly receding footsteps)


Here you go, Charlie -- a guru owns an island in Scotland and he'll heal you via ayurveda. ;)


You can learn to fly even with bad eyesight, so long as you have corrective lenses (which I'm guessing you do).

In my twenties I learnt to fly despite having specs that resembled the bottom of coke bottles. It was a dream I had cherished for years and one day I just went for it.

It's expensive, and I had to discontinue it after I'd managed a few solo flights (took about twenty hours of instruction) but if you've ever wondered about being a pilot then I would seriously encourage you to give flying a try.

And I did manage a few hours of aerobatic training - quite possibly the best fun I've ever had in a vehicle. Imagine a roller-coaster that follows any path you choose. :-)

An alternative might be an extreme driving course, something I've also thought about. I will never be able to afford a ferrari, but even I can justify spending a weekend messing about in high powered automobiles.

Of course, if you're not interested in speed and momentum then my suggestion is probably not very helpful - on the other hand, travelling faster and in ways we were never meant to gives you a new (and very cool) perspective.


deaks, it's more likely that the night blindness/retinal damage, or the cardiovascular issues, would be enough for me to fail a medical.

NB: I hate and fear roller coasters. I am not an adrenaline junkie; quite the opposite.


Buy a TeslaMotors Roadster, or reserve their Model S for late 2011 delivery. Silent high-G fun!


Brian H:

1. No charge points in the UK.

2. I couldn't install a charger in my garage because I don't have one -- like 95% of the folks hereabouts, I park on the street, because this town predates the automobile by a few centuries.

3. My typical driving task is to (a) carry two humans plus luggage on a 600-mile road trip (not suitable for EVs), or (b) carry human plus large lump of furniture home from IKEA (not suitable for sports cars).

4. I am not made out of money.

5. Even if these were not insuperable obstacles? I don't enjoy driving!


Ah, well. In a few years the cost of the Model S or its successor will have dropped a lot, and the range will have multiplied to cover your 600 mi. easily (new battery tech is amazing!). The M-S is being designed to be compatible with swappable batteries, so that might take car of the 'refuelling' problem. The running cost is about 1-2p / mile, so the total cost of a leased Tesla EV would be equivalent to that of a gasser about 60% of the sticker price.
The M-S can carry 2-5 passengers and a large TV AND a bicycle AND a skateboard AND luggage. Or 7 passengers (counting two child seats facing rear at the back in lieu of some of the cargo space) and luggage. More than many SUVs. www.teslamotors/s
Just keep your eye on developments for a few years.

About the heart: have some of the stem-cell regen researchers grow you a new one. :) Coming soon to a non-government-run health care country near you!


Brian H: seriously, I dislike automobiles. Not just the act of driving, but the fact that other idiots are routinely allowed to apply their makeup while yacking on the phone/watching TV while maneuvering a couple of tons of steel and explosive fuel in the presence of vulnerable pedestrian fleshbodies.

Never forget: in the USA alone, human-controlled road vehicles kill and injure a 9/11's worth of people every six weeks -- many or most of whom are innocent third parties. Fewer over here (we have stricter driving standards), but it's still about 3000 dead and 12,000 wounded per year. In the developing world, the carnage is on the same scale as the effects of war.

Once we have good enough autonomous vehicle guidance tech, I'd like to ban humans from driving on the public highways. Or at least yank the insurance premium through the stratosphere for any vehicle that still has a steering wheel and a "go" pedal. (Race tracks or private land: no problem. Public roads where they can kill or maim other people through inattention? Total ban.)



Brief summary with detail below. I'm 49, faced some of the same challenges you just described, and have 3 rules below. Ten years ago, Cisco's Doctor (Chris Simmons) for some of their corporate officers was on retainer at my last company, Openwave, and I have since stuck with him as my primary physician. He started me on the nutrition part of a simple set of preventive health rules. There are three rules that work well for me, and I'd classify them as 'rules for people over 40':

1)Exercising and weight control are largely independent, and both are critical to long-term health.
2)Exercise moderately 30 minutes a day, and vary the routine.
3)Eat with a goal of 1600 calories a day.

1a) You can't burn off college-level eating habits, particularly after age 40. There are 3500 calories in a pound. Example: after 40, it would take approximately 3 hours of 'high moderate' exercise, e.g. 15 miles on a treadmill, to burn off approximately 2500 calories, which is the calories in a milkshake, fries and a 'loaded' hamburger.
1b) The consumer food companies are absolutely dependent on us eating too much in order to maintain profitability. Look at all fast food and chain restaurants, and think 'smoking'.
2a) I, too, swim regularly. I'm convinced swimming is the best long-term exersize, e.g. it has minimal long-term debilitating impact on your body. I'm also convinced the swimming increases your mental alertness,and I believe you reach the runner's equivalent of a 'zen' state.
2b) It's helped me to keep a log of exercise, and have done so for most of the past 20 years. e.g. this year I swam 210 miles, at roughly 35 minutes a mile.
2c) mix it up. I rotate between 6 or so different types of cardiovascular exercise.
2d) moderation, don't go for speed records.
3a) During a couple of startup/IPO years, I completely stopped exercising, and my weight ballooned up quickly, along with cholesterol count, blood pressure, etc. My doctor 'prescribed' me on a John Hopkins program called 'Medifast', which transformed my eating habits and knocked the weight off, and kept it off. I think this programme is over-the-counter now.

Last month, at a doctor's appt, my numbers were 120, 80 (blood pressure) 50 (pulse) 99 (oxygen level) 203 (I'm 6' 3'').

Hope this helps. You're way to good a writer and contribute to many people's lives, and should live a full life.


Nick Abbott


Fair enough re: the dislike of roller-coasters, they're not for everyone (heathen!!!)

Night-blindness and/or colour blindness would restrict you to daytime VFR flying only - but then flying at night or using instruments is only for the hardcore. I once did twenty minutes in a simulator and just keeping my "plane" straight and level whilst staring at some dials made me sweat more than I like to say.

I have no idea about cardio-vascular issues. I was in my twenties when I had the medical and managed to pass it then despite my complete lack of exercise and questionable diet (ah, youth).

I get you re: cars and other road users. It's really quite amazing the tolerance we have for the carnage they cause. I wish I could say I was a model driver but there are things I did as a kid whilst driving that today make me shiver in horror and shame. Luckily I now live in London and am happy to limit myself to public transport and walking.

I still like to drive, but I satisfy that urge with Forza 3.

Or when I'm feeling reckless, MotorStorm. :-)


Amateur musicology/film studies for your own amusement. It's easy, pretty cheap, and as sedentary as you want it to be.

Never hurts to learn how to make a favorite comfort food really well.

German board games.


Donate your um...genetic material to an appropriate donation bank. Let the world have more Charlie Strosses!


Want to learn flexibility? Have a baby. Good luck!


Hmmm. Bad eyes, cardiovascular problems, and wanting to cut down on travel because you do too much of it already.

Have you considered taking up writing as a hobby at all?


Perhaps more seriously :D
Have you considered archery at all? Bad eyesight isn't a hindrance, there are clubs all over the UK (it seems to be a close runner-up to soccer as a national sport), it isn't an aerobic sport, it doesn't require any great physical strength, and on a sunny day it's very pleasant indeed. On a more typical day, granted, you have to wear base layers, but you live in Scotland, you should be used to the loss of sensation in your extremities by now ;)

Yoga's still in there, of course. You can do it blind, it isn't aerobic (or anaerobic either really, it's as strenuous as folding towels), it does wonders for physical flexibility, it's been proven to be beneficial in double-blind medical studies, and if you don't go for the 18-year-old nutcase who wants to teach some sort of mix between proper hatha yoga and breakdancing, you'll find it doesn't ever push you too hard (it just pushes your limits back gradually) and all you ever need to practice it is a mat and stretch pants. And those are just so you don't look like you fell over badly in your y-fronts while reaching for the TV remote control in the hotel room...

I'd suggest target shooting as well (which is just as prevalent as archery in the UK, and Scotland has some exceptionally talented olympic shooters), but if you can't see something clearly out of one eye when it's about one metre away from you even with glasses, you wouldn't be able to do it. If you can, well that's different - again, it's not aerobic, it's basicly one of those sports that isn't based on who's the faster/stronger/better chemist. It's based instead on self-control. I've always found it a bit engrossing:

And then there's always painting of course.

No, seriously. Shut up about the eyes. Monet was blind, for pete's sake. And besides, are you really going to say anyone's ever seen an Old One? Not every painter is Constable...


How about video games?

It's been mentioned earlier, but there are some really good ones out there. And with ps3/xbox360 consoles wired into the net, you can have good fun competing against others around the world - whether it be in the area of racing/shooting/puzzling/stategy-ing/etc etc.

I just downloaded BattleZone and it's serious fun (with delightfully retro graphics) despite how old and simple the game is.

Although I'd stay away from World of WarCraft. I have a former flatmate who became addicted... and I do believe addicted is the word

And for relaxation purposes there is always Aqua Vita or Flower.


I'll say it again - sleight of hand.

Small, reasonably cheap, demanding of the brain (though time consuming) and makes you begin to realize the perceptual barriers we humans labor against. For a overview of this -

More humorously, (for certain nerdy values of humor) I'll also suggest joining CISCOP, or just take up going to churches as it strikes you and look for what parts of the brain are being triggered by the ritual.

Tah, and Happy New Year/Hogmanay!


I agree with Dano@224

I found using firearms while living in the states a really engaging experience. and not one you can easily experience anywhere else in the english speaking world - when I asked my local australian firing range (only semiautomatic handguns chained and firing arc restrained) whether they had any AR-15's or MP-5's they looked like they couldn't decide whether to laugh or call the police. I'm not an advocate for lax gun laws (and have no interest in owning a gun) but while they exist in the states, I'd certainly take advantage of them.


I'm not sure whether this is not slightly ludicrous. (I strongly believe in the matter at hand, I just don't know how the proposition will come across.)

I suggest getting involved in the advocacy of life extension technologies. Extremely good folks like the ones from Aubrey de Grey's Methuselah Foundation ( can always need help with strategizing, outreach programs etc.

Ok, I'm saying another at least faintly strange thing: There's a chance that prominently working with projects like MF will give Charlie another shot at immortality (in the metaphorical sense, of course!) in addition to his books :-)

It beats Martial Arts in any case, IMVHO!


How's about a motorbike?
Although not so much in this weather....


Seconding Mark@258, if the target shooting thing appeals, as a local target shooter I could suggest some local clubs... Your best bet as a novice is in Balerno (sensible club, nice people).

Doesn't have to be cartridge rifle, or even rifle - an acquaintance who retired recently has taken up air pistol. If you can lift a pint glass, you can cope with the exertions involved.

Very Zen-and-archery, airguns under 12 ft/lb can be purchased without restriction (for now; the SNP is trying to change that, in spite of police advice to the contrary). The Olympic disciplines also seem to lack the b1g-gunz-R-k3wl "enthusiasts".

:) If you're at the OCD end of the spectrum, try smallbore (0.22 rimfire) or airguns; if you're ADHD, try shotgun; if you went to a good school, try fullbore :)


Kites. Build them, then fly them, (then race them).

The construction is non-trivial but suitable for urban living. Flying them gets you out in the fresh air in a relatively non-stressful way. And there is a test and learn cycle as you move on to more ambitious projects. If you get hooked.

And who knows - you might invent electricity along the way.



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on December 22, 2009 12:18 AM.

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