Astronomy enthusiasts have an expression: first light. That’s the first view through a new telescope, the thrilling moment when something you’ve long anticipated, maybe built by hand, is finally real. First light is the beginning of a telescope’s life. It’s cherished for the excitement but it’s also a way to honor all the work, use, and joy to come.

I have a problem with first light. I love the experience of building something new, the moment when a bunch of abstract work and thinking results in the first tangible, visible product. I’m pretty good at achieving first light, at exploring a new idea or area and figuring out how to get something working.

But first light should be the beginning of an endeavour, not the end. Real products come from months or years of polishing, refining, tuning. Astronomers enjoy the thrill of first light through a new telescope, but real astronomy comes from folks like William Herschel or JLE Dryer spending years using those telescopes to systematically catalog the skies. Years of minute, careful work; ultimately rewarding, but terribly repetitive and fiddly.

I don’t have much patience for consistent finishing work. And since my last full time job (in 2006!) I haven’t had requirements to finish things, to turn random software experiments into real usable artifacts. And so I have a string of half-finished prototypes not worth showing people. I find that intensely frustrating.

  2013-01-16 18:59 Z