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Some personal updates

I write a lot about the intersection of technology and society here, and lately a lot about AI, but over the last year I’ve written a little less about what I’ve been up to. So, this post is an update about some of that. This isn’t everything, by any means — 2023 was, frankly, a hard year for lots of reasons, which included not a small amount of personal loss and trauma — but I wanted to share some broad strokes.

We’re now based in the Greater Philadelphia area, rather than San Francisco. There have been all kinds of life changes: it’s the ‘burbs, which is weird, but I’m writing this on a train to New York City, which is now easily within reach. I grew up in Oxford and could easily go to London for a day trip; now I have the same relationship with NYC. We haven’t yet brought the baby to the city, but that’s coming. (He’s not a baby anymore: we have a delightful toddler whose favorite things, somehow, are reading books and brushing his teeth.)

I joined ProPublica as Senior Director of Technology after working with the team as an advisor on contract for a while. ProPublica publishes vital American journalism: you might remember the story about Supreme Court Justices with billionaire friends that broke last year, or the story about Peter Thiel’s $5 Billion tax-free IRA. You might also have come across Nonprofit Explorer and other “news apps”. Our technology philosophy is very compatible, and it’s a lovely team. I’m hoping we can revive The Nerd Blog.

I work mostly remotely and spend a lot of my time at my desk looking like this:

The author, alone, in a Google Meet room

(Guess the books! Yes, that’s also an issue of .net — specifically, one from decades ago that showcased Elgg.)

My website is still powered by Known, and I still intend to invest time and resources into that platform. I’ve also finally accepted — between having a toddler, a demanding job, an ongoing project (more on that in a second), and other commitments — that I’m not going to be making a ton of contributions to the codebase myself anytime soon. But there’s a pot of money in the Open Collective, and I’m eager to support open source developers in adding functionality to the platform. The first stop has been adding ActivityPub support to make Known compatible with the fediverse. The next stop will be improving the import / export functionality so that it (1) functions as expected (2) is in line with other platforms.

I’ve been struggling with writing a book. I’ve had the benefit of really great 1:1 coaching through The Novelry, and was making great progress until I realized I needed to revise a major element. It’s been a slog since then: I have printouts of my first draft covered in Sharpie all over my office. My fear of being terrible at this increases with every sideways glance at the unfinished manuscript (which seems, somehow, to be staring back at me). I’m certain that as soon as I send it out into the world I’ll be ridiculed. But I’m determined to get it to the finish line, revise it, send it out, and do it again.

As painful as writing the draft has been, I also love the act of it. Writing has always been my first love, far before computers. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t claim any sort of literary excellence, in the same way that I enjoy making dinner for everyone but would never call myself a chef. I’ve got huge respect for anyone who’s gone down this road and actually succeeded (hi, Sarah, you are radically inspiring to me). It’s a craft that deserves care, attention, and practice, and stretching these muscles is as desperately uncomfortable as it is liberating. I find the whole process of it meditative and freeing, and also simultaneously like pulling every fingernail from my body.

So, uh, we’ll see if the end result is any good.

I’ve been helping a few different organizations with their work (pro bono): two non-profits that are getting off the ground, a startup, and a venture fund. Each of them is doing something really good, and I’m excited to see them emerge into the world.

Also, my universe has been rocked by this recipe for scrambled eggs. So there’s that, too.

What’s up with you?

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