Robert, I loved your email. It honestly feels like a relief to know that I'm not the only one out there chasing this kind of thing. I've been duking it out with emacs all week and man has it been rough (spacemacs has been way better, but it's still an adjustment).
Reading what you wrote though - and honestly feeling understood - made me stop and think -- why do I do this kind of thing? For a while now, I've felt like there's this "thing" that gets me involved in all kinds of projects that has gone unnamed for a long time. But I think I have a better idea of what's going on.
I like interesting puzzles that have depth and beauty, where there kind of isn't a "done" but instead a long journey, where each time you sit down with the problem you get to deepen your understanding, love, and appreciation for the evolving complexity of the thing you're looking at. I'm waxing poetic here, but I definitely think that passion is a part of this. I was amazed and delighted when my wife pointed out that amateur literally means someone following a pursuit "for the love of it". Those descriptions feel more true than how I've thought about this in the past -- just doing things the hard way -- and I can see how that shows up in the things I'm chasing:
* I love the game of Go because every game is different and the dynamics that play out each game are interesting.. I love exploring broader ideas of preserving balance during the give and take of the game. It feels fascinating.
* I love ham radio because electromagnetics is just pure magic and the fact that we can manipulate it to talk is amazing. I love building a station that can talk directly to another station all the way around the world. It's a deep problem and I love wrestling with it.
* And I love steno because it is a powerful tool, but also a fascinating system of taking words, putting them in a phonetic space, and mapping them to the steno machine. I love coming across a new word that I can't write and discovering what kind of translations Plover (and folks in the community!) have come up with for it. It's a puzzle that keeps expanding.. just like Go .. just like carrier waves and modulation.
That's enough rambling - it felt really helpful to think about this. Robert, thank you for a thoughtful, funny, and kind reply. It has definitely made my day.