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The logistical irony of substantive blogging, meaning something closer to essay-writing than link-jockeying, is that it enthusiastically both rewards and consumes time. For quantitatively ideal productivity you need to minimize the amount of time you spend doing anything else in your life, which obviously includes anything orthogonal to blogging like shopping for diaper-containment systems or eating brunch with your friends (unless, obviously, you are running a diaper-containment- or brunch-blog), but also includes whatever it takes to actually generate the material to write about whatever it is you're writing about.  

I only ever came up with two good solutions to this, where by "good" I mean effective in producing output, not necessarily in improving my own life any.  

One was writing about music during a period when most of my spare time was spent listening to and thinking about music anyway. It's a trivial psychological insight to observe that the magnitude of this preoccupation betrays it as an attempt to distract attention, mostly mine, from the absences of other things in my life.  

The other solution was writing about technology, or around technology in the same sense that I wrote around music, during a period when my day-job had devolved into pretty much exclusively sitting around thinking about and around technology. This is a pretty interesting experience to get to have, and as I repeated countless times in the job interviews that followed its inevitable eventual termination, I was never even remotely as well informed about the state of technology when I was actually contributing to it.  

I'm contributing to it again. My new job, still settling past its newness after only a few months, is by far the best job I've ever had. There's one formulation of job ideal where you say "I'd be doing this even if they weren't paying me", and this one is beyond that to "I'd be sitting at home frustrated at being unable to participate without a team around me."  

Several things are different and cooler about this job, at least in my own experience, the top few being that I'm explicitly managing it in addition to leading by design, that we're trying to find the shape of the solution we're building (and of the problem we're defining to solve) instead of being handed a VC precis or business plan to fulfill, and that the development work is not primarily segmented by function.  

The combination of these things is very challenging and extremely engrossing. I discovered a quantum jump in responsibility when I went from being a member of a large design team at Interchange to being the sole designer at eRoom, and it's a similar one from being the designer to being the designer and manager, and maybe another level again to be the person with the most navigational accountability for an exploration undertaken knowingly without a map. The internal pressures intensify radically in both directions: to dismiss inanely crazy ideas to avoid causing magnified distractions, and to take superficially inexplicable intuitions even more seriously for their transformational potential. If you don't know where you're going, exactly, you have to operate as if patience and diligence are doomed.  

Somehow this has resulted, over the past few weeks, in my spending the vast majority of my working hours actually programming. I won't reveal much by saying that we're building a big software system that will, when it's working, take in a large amount of previously scattered and unanalyzed data, and attempt to reduce its disorder. Most of the team has been working, since before my arrival, on the data-acquisition aspects of the project. So without anybody else to assign to the languishing data-analysis portion of the system, I assigned it to myself, and have been maniacally trying to figure out what I mean it to do by writing it.  

I am not, in case I haven't been clear about this, really a professional programmer. Over the course of my career I've written a lot of code in a lot of languages, but almost always in carefully circumscribed senses. The UI architecture of eRoom was devised in no small part with my individual capabilities in mind, so that I could write a large amount of the actual UI code without having to participate in non-goal-oriented conversations about lazy pointer deallocation or rogue mutexes. And even the code I'm writing now is, probably, only a prototype, and I've written lots of prototype code.  

My previous prototyping, though, has always been about faking a system in order to play with how it looks and acts. The easiest way to fake a large system is usually to actually build parts of it more or less for real, of course, but every project I seem to fake a little less. The content-management and discussion-forum systems underlying this website are constrained and minimal, but not faked at all. And although the prototype I'm writing at work will probably be migrated out of my eccentric Ruby improvisation into somebody's tediously meticulous Java for dull scalability reasons, my Ruby version really does do what it says it does.  

This is tremendous fun, but it also pushes me into a part of my brain where my most obsessive nature is most dramatically exacerbated. I sit down at my desk in the morning, and eight or nine hours slide by in an un-self-interrupted continuum. I forget to eat lunch, I forget to check my email, I forget the five-minute phone-call-returning task I'm supposed to do while eating the lunch I forgot to eat, I look up at the clock and realize I was supposed to be home an hour ago, and when you live a block from your office there's no possible excuse. Making information fall magically into order is not the only thing I want to do with my life, but it's one of the ways I think I can make the world better, and in the grip of a particularly involved spell it feels like a calling. Something shadowily like a pattern starts to emerge, and I frown at it, and twitch something I've built to be twitched, and suddenly answers are fountaining out of the screen from their own joy at existing.  

And that's not even the interesting news.  

The interesting news is that Bethany is pregnant. If the tests and milestones keep going as well as they've been going so far, about six months from now we'll have a child. Software isn't easy, exactly, but it's difficult in easy ways. If you know what to twitch, you can know what kind of magic you'll be able to make.  

People are, obviously, far less tractable. I don't know what kind of child we're going to have. I don't know what kind of parents we're going to be. I don't know what's going to be ecstatic and what's going hurt and what's going to be unbearable. I know nothing will ever be this simple again, and I was already barely coping with simplicity's complexity. Beth and I could probably have spent another ten or twenty years just figuring out how to merge two lives most inspiringly, and now we're going to try to make sense of three. My own explanation of wanting to do this is that raising children is the biggest project available to individual humans, and Bethany is the person with whom I feel most capable of the most humanity. I want us to take on the greatest, hardest, most human challenge for which we are eligible.  

As crazy intuitions go, this makes my daftest futurist semantic-web predictions feel like placing wrist-flick roulette bets with free (and mostly unredeemable) chips. I really do believe that the semantic-web project I'm working on has the potential to be the seed of something that changes the dynamics of human interaction with information sufficiently to advance human nature, but I know that that potential is prorated by its likelihood. I have a small team, and there are many teams and bigger, and many factors and convolutions. Most attempts at deliberate innovation fail, and although opportunities for accidental innovation fail at a far greater rate, they arise at an even greater rate than they fail, so the innovations arrived at by luck vastly outnumber and outfascinate the few we make knowingly.  

We will have made this child knowingly, and although accidents will probably outnumber clevernesses even more lopsidedly thereafter, in this project we will not have the luxury or salvation of irrelevance. There are no swarming competitors feverishly plotting to steal away our parent-share or undermine B and my parenting brand. There are no breathless marketers trying to find the most flattering spin on whatever turn out to be our signature family dysfunctions. Nothing will release us from this. There's just us, and a new person nobody on Earth has met yet. Somebody has to care for everybody, and this one is ours.  

So I'm obviously not ready, and can't possibly be, but I'm ready. There are a thousand things to do, and stacks of books and friends and doctors and counselors lining up to add more things to our lists, and I can't imagine how we'll ever get them all done, so I assume and stipulate that we must not have to. I will do whatever it takes to be a good parent, and that will usually be almost enough, and hopefully every once in a while will jubilantly suffice. I will try to be better at this than anything else I have ever done. I don't intend for it to become the only thing I do, but I understand that, like marriage, it is a private commitment that takes precedence over my public aspirations, and that I will make different choices now, and dream of different things. I will have far more important things to write about than b-sides, and rarely even enough time to list them. I will do what I can, and allow myself not to catalogue, even mentally, all the things I would have catalogued when I had time instead of purpose.  

And if this is the most ordinary, and thus in a sense the most mundane, way of raising the stakes for the ways in which I hope to improve the world, and to avoid being even a passive vector of thoughtlessness or evil, then so be it. These swiveling electrical-outlet covers I need to install so a baby that doesn't even exist yet can't stick (I guess) a fork in them, and whatever diaper-containment system we ultimately settle on, and the semantic web and the way we love each other and ourselves, will now all also be part of the inescapably consequential context for a new life. None of this will be faked, or maybe all of it will be, or maybe this is where it stops being meaningful to talk about the difference between what you fake and what you know. This is where suddenly the craziest answers are fountaining out of nowhere into a flood of what it is up to us to make be joy.  

(Discussion on vF...)
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