spaceflight, technology, anime, politics, and whatever else I feel like writing about

The Spark and the PHB

The brilliant "gaslamp fantasy" (steampunk + magic) webcomic Girl Genius is one of the few works of fiction I have encountered that is written by intelligent authors, about intelligent characters, that manages to convey the feeling of the process of creation as I have experienced it. Characters in the world of Girl Genius that have "The Spark of Genius", commonly "the Spark", are themselves referred to as "Sparks" because of how defining a character trait it is. In the setting of course this is played for laughs and exaggerated, with Sparks routinely performing such tasks as building clockwork artificial intelligences, making wood, brass, and glass ray guns fueled by polluted river water, and reanimating the dead, but the general feeling is real enough. Sparks are shown in the grip of creation as recognizable by someone who has been there himself. Ideas leap from one to the next, crackling and forking with the speed and brightness of lightning, and the things you imagine seem to appear fully formed in your hands. Your mood swings from frustrated fury to triumphant elation and back and forth again. Time passes without recognition, perhaps for minutes, perhaps for an entire day, and then you come back to yourself and behold what you have created, slightly surprised as to how you pulled it off. This is "the zone," or "satori," and it is ONLY available to someone who creates doing work that inspires them.

A caution to managers of engineers and software developers: your team has likely all been seized by the Spark and channeled creative lightning through their hands at least once, even if it was back in college on a hobby project. The more you deny them the ability to work on things they genuinely care about, the more they will feel that you are deliberately torturing them by not letting them attempt to reattain paradise. If all your work is boring by nature, well, you're shit out of luck, and should expect rapid turnover if someone building Really Cool Shit in their field (like, say, SpaceX) is hiring. If you're lucky enough to have an inspiring end goal for the things your team is responsible for building, all you need to do is communicate how FUCKING COOL that is to your team (note: you must actually believe this yourself, no faking!) and get out of their way. You'll see "10x engineers" popping up like mushrooms after spring rain. This is essentially the alchemical secret of Bay Area startups, and how they turn sweat, tears, and coffee into world changing products with such regularity, and why nerd culture here is so impenetrable to people who live anywhere else. The politics here is insanely wrongheaded sometimes, but even the most psychotic wannabe Marxist dictator in San Francisco or Sacramento knows who the golden geese inside the Golden Gate are, and doesn't mess with the magic.