Ben Crowder

Archive: December 2006

All good things…

So, it’s the last post of the year. (I won’t have Internet access tomorrow.) I suppose I ought to bequeath words of wisdom or something. Oh, wait, I don’t have any. :)

Well, this’ll be the 613th post. There are 852 comments thus far. And no animals hurt.

Never mind. Stats are boring. :) Instead of that, you can check out my latest photographs on Flickr:

Bubbling Brooks
Pointing the Way
Snow Molehills

And many more.

Happy New Year!

Stick to your task

I used to finish every book I started, thinking I had a moral obligation to not be a quitter. In fact, here’s a poem I learned as a kid:

Stick to your task till it sticks to you; Beginners are many, but enders are few. Honor, power, place, and praise Will come, in time, to the one who stays. Stick to your task till it sticks to you; Bend at it, sweat at it, smile at it, too, For out of the bend and the sweat and the smile Will come life’s victories, after awhile.

And I agree. But at the same time, I think it’s important to know when to quit. (I’m mainly talking about creative endeavors, but I suppose the principles could apply elsewhere.)

See, there’s only so much time in a day. “You can’t do everything, but you can do anything,” they say. Finishing what one starts is good, but only if the thing started is worth finishing. And if it’s not? I no longer feel bad about dropping it.

Besides, it’s not always the right time for a project. Some things, like bread, take a while to rise. Stopping work on a project doesn’t have to mean throwing it away; whenever I abandon one, I see it as putting it on the back burner. But if it really is worthless, then I have no qualms about killing it.

What this comes down to, basically, is priorities. For example, it may seem from this blog that I start an awful lot of things that I don’t finish (NaNoWriMo, Random: A Little Bit of Everything, etc.). That’s true. :) And while I used to feel guilty about it, I’ve freed myself from that bondage. I only need to feel guilty about not finishing the things that really do need to be finished. The rest is chaff in the wind.

I see it this way: in my pursuit of the things that matter most, I shouldn’t discount endeavors on face value alone. This means starting lots of projects because I don’t know in advance which ones will succeed and which will fail. But once I have enough data to make a decision, I needn’t feel bad about axing a project that I feel isn’t going anywhere, or that I don’t have enough time for, or enough interest for that matter.

I guess this is my apology (in the “defense” sense) for finishing only half of what I start. But rest assured that I (usually) finish the stuff that matters. At least I hope.

Visual storytelling

I finished reading Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s been years since I read comics (mostly Superman and Pogo and such), but now I think I may pick it up again. The most riveting parts of the book for me were the bits on closure — how our minds fill in the space between panels. I suppose I’m primarily interested in comics from two angles: first, as a storytelling medium (and that’s why closure makes me so excited), and second, as a design/communication tool. They’re quite related, of course. Anyway, I’ll be experimenting. And practicing my drawing skills, since they’re, um, in need of some serious help. :)

In the meantime, here are some comic-ish doodles, with no real point to them:


The font is DigitalStrip from, and I did everything in Illustrator.

Two fallen trees in the road

For the past while — months and months — I’ve run into two main obstacles. The first is making the time for genealogy research. If I don’t have a regular time each week for working on my lines, it generally won’t happen, at least not unless genealogy has a higher priority for me. (And alas, so far it hasn’t. Other endeavors have clambered for attention, successfully.) One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to set aside an hour or so each week for genealogy. Once I get back into the groove, I don’t think it’ll be too hard to keep it up; it’s just a matter of getting started.

The second obstacle is not knowing quite where to start. I’ve done research on two of my lines, but there are hundreds, and it’s hard to know where I ought to start researching. Perhaps the best plan of attack is, I think, to just choose a family and research them. Later on I can develop a better strategy, but for now the random selection (well, hopefully guided by the Spirit :)) seems best.

The Digital Divide

The four-year-old next door already knows how to get on the Internet and find his favorite games. Grandma, on the other hand, still doesn’t know how to double-click.


When adult immigrants enter the U.S., a number of them learn some basic English — barely enough to get by — and then stop learning. Their English skills fossilize. Even after living here for over 30 years, they still speak like a two-year-old (if that).

The same thing happens with the older generation and computers, I think. They might know how to type (since typewriters have been around for a while), but for the most part they have no clue. Not everyone, of course, but too great a number. Does it need to be this way? I don’t think so.

It seems like most of the technophobes out there claim that using computers is too hard. But is it? We’re not talking about coding device drivers in assembly or even understanding how binary works. Basic computer literacy, that’s all. Is it too much to ask for people to understand the concept of folders? Windows? Dragging and dropping?

Besides, these aren’t people of limited intelligence. If a person can drive a car, they can use a computer. (And computers don’t kill you if you mess up. Three points for computers.) So why do people plateau?

I’ve thought about it and this is what I’ve come up with: fear of the new. The accelerated rate of improvement in technology has far exceeded anything the older generation grew up with, and I think that, for them, too much is changing too fast. We of the younger generation, however, were born as the rate began to pick up, and we’ve gotten used to it. It’s hard for us to imagine a world where things don’t change so fast — it’d be like transforming ourselves from a race car into a snail. Unthinkable.

Is there anything innate in this whirlwind of change that excludes the older generation, though? Assuming that someone is healthy enough to drive a car — acceptable motor control, average intelligence, adaptability in face of constantly changing road conditions, etc. — I can’t think of any reason why they shouldn’t be able to use a computer.

Which takes us back to this fear. If it isn’t fear, it’s apathy or laziness, but it’s not nice to claim that all technophobes are apathetic or lazy, so we’ll stick with fear. They’re paralyzed by it. It’s like writer’s block but with computers. Granted, we could just wait for all the old generation to pass on, but I don’t think that’ll necessarily solve the problem, since even some of the younger generation have it — “I’m not very good with computers,” I heard a guy my age say in class not two weeks ago, fumbling with the computer as he prepared to give a presentation.

I do think there’s more to life than computers, of course, but computer literacy needs to be a given here in the 21st century. Computers are everywhere. Not everyone needs to be a programmer, but everyone ought to know the basics. And with a solid foundation, they should be able to figure out things they don’t know when they need to know them. Adaptability is the name of the game.

True, there are plenty of user interfaces which are too complicated or unintelligible or just plain user-unfriendly. I’m not excusing them. Interfaces do need to be well-designed. But I think too many people are just giving up on computers, assuming they’ll never figure it out, even on the basic things. This is a tragedy. Windows and OS X are both simple enough for anyone to understand the basics. If someone can understand that you put manila file folders in a filing cabinet and you put stuff in the file folders, they can understand computer files and folders. It’s not that difficult.

So, what can we do to help change this? There are tons of “For Dummies” books out there, but basic computer literacy could be taught in a couple of pages. There’s really not much to it. Perhaps something akin to a comic book (I’ve been reading Scott McCloud’s excellent book Understanding Comics, but I’ll save that for another post). Lots of pictures. Step-by-step. Simple. If I have extra time before the break ends, I may put together a little pamphlet. We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m interested in y’all’s thoughts on this. Is it priggish to assume that old people should learn how to use computers? Are there other reasons that keep people trapped in technophobia? Other solutions?

Moo MiniCards

My Moo MiniCards came in the mail the other day. They’re beautiful!

Moo MiniCards

I’d heard a lot about them before, and I’ll admit I had some hesitancy when I ordered mine — mainly because my experiences getting stuff printed haven’t always been positive — but I’m deliciously pleased. The cards are very well made, and it’s a delight to see my photos on something so visually aesthetic. Moo will have my business for a long time. Indeed, I can recommend them without reservation, which doesn’t happen often.

The process itself is incredibly easy. Assuming your pictures are already in Flickr — they are, aren’t they? — you select the photos you want (up to 100), crop them, personalize the back, and voila! It’s only $20 for a hundred of these cards. Very handy for giving your e-mail address and phone number to friends, or whatever else you might want to use them for.

If you want to see how others are using these MiniCards, by the way, check out the Flickr pool.

And no, they’re not paying me to say any of this. :)


This morning I read about Synergy in Mordy Golding’s blog. It’s open source software that lets you move your mouse between computers, without having to use any kind of switch. All you do is plug in the hostnames and voila!

I installed it on my Mac and PC here at work, and it’s working very well. I didn’t expect it to be this easy. :) And I can even copy and paste between the two, which is quite nice.

The only slight disadvantage is that I’ve now kind of lost two of my hot corners on my Mac (but I can still get to them if I move the mouse slowly; I just can’t fling my mouse in the corner anymore, eliminating the usefulness). The mouse movement also feels kind of slow on my PC, but it may just be my innate expectation for it to be thus. :) And if I’m in screensaver mode on my Mac, I can move the mouse on the PC but if I click and hold, the mouse moves on the Mac instead. But that’s not really a big deal — I can’t think of any situations where I’d need to have the screensaver up on my Mac and work on my PC at the same time.

For the moment, anyway, the benefit of not having to have a second keyboard and mouse on my desk far outweighs any disadvantages.

Four calling birds

Uno: Last night I biffed it for the first time this season. Came out of it mostly unscathed, luckily — I broke my fall with my left hand, tore it up just a little bit from the concrete, and somehow didn’t end up twisting anything or even getting sore. O spring, where art thou?

Zwei: Lately my productivity at work has waned, but yesterday I started using Minuteur to chunk my day into smaller bits. I work for 20 minutes, then take a “break” for five minutes, and repeat. (I had read Merlin Mann’s post on (10+2)*5 a few months ago, but remembered the numbers incorrectly. Oh well. :)) It’s worked amazingly well so far, and I find myself not wanting to take breaks. The time just flies by. Granted, with twenty-minute chunks it’s a little harder to stay in flow, but so far it hasn’t really been a problem. And whereas I used to find myself aching to clock out and go home, now I lose track of time. (Which is a good thing.) I wanted to pick up a timer from Smith’s last night — so I can use the same method at home, making sure I don’t waste time — but they were out. Soon… (Side note: do I feel my life is becoming over-structured because of this? Not really. I feel more productive, like I’ve been set free instead of bound in shackles. My big challenge before yesterday was wasting time, and using the timer has definitely helped me with that, so it’s a good thing. And I think I can keep it up, too. We’ll see. :))

Trois: I read the first seventy or so pages of Lloyd Alexander’s Book of Three a few days ago. I’d had high hopes for it, but the dialogue is just too stilted for me. And it’s painfully obvious that it’s a derivative of Tolkien — Gurgi is just a poorly done Gollum, and Gwydion is Aragorn reincarnated. I’ll probably finish the book anyway, to see if things get better, but I doubt they will. ‘Tis a pity, really. And in the meantime I’m 100 pages into The Lives of Christopher Chant and loving it. Diana Wynne Jones’s books are quickly earning a spot on the list of my favorite books.

Four: Last week I was walking home and passed one of the guys in my ward. “Hi, Kevin,” I said, then accidentally said, “Good.” Aspirations to host Jeopardy notwithstanding, I think I’ll try to save my answers until after the questions are asked from now on. :)


A couple of weeks ago I came across Family Wheel, Buck DeFore’s ActionScript-based genealogy app:


You can read more about it on the project page. Quite an interesting visualization technique (meaning, as the main “pedigree” of the app; circle charts have been around for ages, but they’ve always been something you printed, not something you worked on directly). The app is fairly simple, too, which is nice.

Linker proof-of-concept

Alrighty, here’s a proof-of-concept for the linker I mentioned in my last post. After I’d used Flickr for a while, the drag-and-drop organizing became addicting, and I realized that it’d be perfect (I think) for organizing the people in your database. Here’s the Flickr layout:

Linker (Flickr)

You find your photos in the strip at the bottom, then drag them into the set you want them in. It’s that easy. So, taking the same idea and applying it to genealogy, I came up with this:


It’s quite rough, I’ll admit, but the gist of it should come across. The software would be smart enough to re-order the children in birth order, I’d imagine. The “Family” text in the upper left would create a new family. (It should be labeled “New Family” instead, on second thought.) “Other” would create other kinds of relationships — friends, employers, neighbors, etc.

So, instead of starting with the pedigree and filling in the blanks, you would enter people instead — without caring (at first) who goes in what families. After you’ve entered the people you’re interested in, then you’d go to the linker, find the people you just added, and drag-and-drop them into families.

Since it’s still just an idea, I don’t know if this is better/easier/faster than the traditional methods. Thoughts?

Homeless to Harvard

I know it’s a little early for New Year’s resolutions, but I watched a movie called Homeless to Harvard with my family yesterday, and it changed my life. It’s a true story about a girl named Liz Murray, and here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia:

Murray was the child of poor, drug-addicted, HIV-infected parents. She became homeless at age 15 when her mother died and her father moved to a shelter. Her life turned around when she began attending the Humanities Preparatory School in Greenwich Village. Though she started high school at a late age and remained without a stable home, she was able to graduate in two years. She was awarded a New York Times scholarship for needy students and accepted into Harvard for the fall of 2000.

Back in my high school days, I cared about school, and I excelled because of it. Somewhere along the way, however, apathy took over. School didn’t seem to be as important as my other projects. My time was my precious, and so I began getting by with the bare minimum, sometimes not even that. Where I once cared about getting A’s in all my classes, I now was content with B’s (though anything lower than that still stung a little).

I regret it.

Watching Liz (well, the portrayal of her) study hard — really hard — brought back memories of the days when I knew I was doing my best, when I strove to excel. Sure, I got very good grades considering my apathy — sorry, I’m one of “those” kinds of people, I’m afraid — and it certainly was nice to make good progress on all my other projects. I pretty much convinced myself that my way was best.

I think I was wrong. Right now I wish I could go back and relive the last three years of college so I could really do my all. Wait, am I actually saying that? Okay, I don’t really wish I could go back, but I do wish I had more than a semester left in which to prove myself. It’s like getting to the last month of your life and realizing that you forgot who you were, everything you stood for, and hardly having enough time to make good. I suppose I have two years of grad school ahead, but still the feeling remains.

This isn’t just about school, though — it’s about excelling in everything you do. I’ve gotten lazy, really. Coasting through life has been my motto, when it really ought to have been discipline and hard work. I rationalized it to myself by joking with others, complaining to my fellow classmates, making up all sorts of excuses for why I shouldn’t care.

Should I?

I think so. Again, it’s not really about the grades or even school itself. It’s about character, about integrity, about holding yourself to a standard and becoming a better person because of it. (And no, I don’t think working hard at school is too extreme of a standard. :))

So, I resolve to work my tail off next semester, doing my level best to master the material and be an excellent student. Laziness will be miles from me. I’ll do whatever it takes — primarily managing my time better, but also staving off the dogs of apathy that stalk me day and night — and I will come off conqueror. And then this nagging feeling of guilt, which has been my shadow for these past few years, will finally disappear. There are few things as sweet as knowing you’ve done your best. Grades still won’t matter to me, of course, but I desperately need the peace of mind that will surely come when I exile this pathetic mediocrity and in its place raise up a banner of excellence.

More or less

I’m not very good at getting presents. I try to respond the way I’m supposed to — with smiles and shrieks of joy and heartfelt gratitude — but inevitably it feels forced, and I feel bad. I don’t think it’s that I’m ungrateful, though I suppose it’s possible.

Lately it’s seemed more a matter of anti-materialism. In all honesty, I would be utterly delighted if I never got another present again in my life. Or at least the empty presents that are easiest to give — if people give me their own creations, whether it be literature or art or music or what have you, then that’s a different story. But most of the time those aren’t the presents you get. Sure, I appreciate the thought and love and friendship behind the gifts, but can’t I just have that and forego the gifts themselves? I don’t need more things. I need less. What I need more of is love, is compassion, is peace, is kindness, is courage, is godliness. And those don’t come from things. A hug would suffice, or a kind word. That’s all.

A change of heart

The e-mails and comments I’ve gotten over the past week or so have resurrected my resolve to make Beyond a reality. After all, I do have free time; it’s just a matter of deciding how I spend it. And while making books is all well and good, I think Beyond probably deserves a higher priority.

That said, I’m now trying to figure out just what Beyond will be. There are a few problems that need solving, particularly collaboration, visualization, and user interfaces. I think I’ll focus on those. Stretching myself too thin — like butter on too much bread — will be bad.

What do I expect to come out of this? I do hope that my work here will result in a usable web app that I can use to do my genealogy, but I still see myself more as an R&D lab. If developers want to take these ideas and run with them, I’d be ecstatic. (Assuming the ideas are good, that is. :)) And yet I’m rather interested in writing a minimalist genealogy app as well. So we’ll see what happens.

I have an idea for a way to link families together, in a more user-friendly way, but it’s still in the works and I’m at my parents’ home so I don’t have access to Photoshop right now (and I won’t use MS Paint!), so suffice it to say that it’s kind of like organizing Flickr sets — people at the bottom, drag and drop into families or whatever kinds of relationships you want. (I’m still a firm believer that the new generation of genealogy apps needs to handle non-family relationships — friends, employers, debtors, whatever.)

I feel kind of tacky asking for continued comments and e-mails, but they really do make a difference. It’s probably part of being human. :)

Captain’s log

For a while I’ve been meaning to take my journals (I always called them logs, probably after Star Trek, but that could be confused with the logs in /var/logs, so we’ll call them journals) and make them accessible to me wherever I go. The gDrive still hasn’t launched, however, so in the meantime I’ve uploaded them to my server and added an index:


(“By Box” is because they’re mostly by the computer I wrote them on.) 1.9 million words. That’s a lot. From 2000-2002, and from 2004 to March 2006, these logfiles were my main journals. (Before 2000 I had a paper journal; 2002-2004 I was on my mission; and since March I’ve been writing in a paper journal again.)

The nice thing now is that I can get to them from anywhere. Eventually I’ll digitize my paper journals and get them up as well. Then I’ll have an off-site backup in case there’s a fire or earthquake or something here. That’s a good thing.

Enough blogging today. :)

Sparkles, footprints, and hat hair

Looks like it’s a blogging morning. :) Today on my walk up to campus, trudging through the half-inch or so of snow which had fallen in the night, I realized for the first time in my life that snow sparkles. It makes sense — light bouncing off tiny crystals — but I’d never noticed it before. It’s…magical. :)

Then as I was walking past the McKay Building, I noticed a pair of footprints leading away from the entrance. Last night on my way home I went up to the news stand next to the door to get some week-old newspapers for wrapping presents (tangent: I don’t really have any qualms about wrapping presents in newspaper or even old rags or scrap paper, since the paper isn’t the point of the present. I’d even say the present isn’t the point of the present. But I digress…), and so I wondered if those footprints were mine. They looked about the same size. It was hard to gauge if the stride length was right, but it also looked roughly the same. And there was what seemed to be the proper amount of snow on top of them, considering that I’d walked home at around 5:30 or 6 last night. So I followed the tracks back up towards the JFSB, where I’d come from. There were some spots where newer footprints — a woman’s — had gone over them, but I was able to keep to the trail. Until I got to the bike rack area. Then I lost it entirely. I checked on the stairs of the JFSB to see if I could spot them again, but alas, they were nowhere to be found. So I suppose they weren’t mine after all. ~sigh~ But that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that tracking footprints is awfully fun. :)

What isn’t fun is hat hair. And my hair’s long enough right now that wearing a hat (or whatever we call these things — winter headdress? ;) It’s a ski cap, I guess. Or something like that) twists my hair around in all sorts of unbecoming ways. When I take the cap off, it looks like I put my head in a blender. Option A: boycott hats. (Disadvantage: cold head, frozen ears, etc.) Option B: buzz all my hair off. (Disadvantage: definitely not my style.) Option C: create a gel sculpture in my hair. (Disadvantage: gel really isn’t my style either.) Option D: take a break from blogging for today. :)

By its cover

As a librarian-in-the-making, it warms my heart to see people reading. One of my roommates reads (not too long ago I recommended I, Claudius to him and he loved it), but the other two didn’t seem to be the reading type. I’ve never seen the first pick up a book that wasn’t a textbook or the scriptures. (Granted, at least he’s got that.) Hopefully having an apartment filled with 772 books will eventually make a dent. :)

But it’s the third roommate I want to talk about. I didn’t think he would ever pick up a book, but I walked in one morning a few months ago and found him on the couch reading my copy The Three Musketeers. My heart leapt for joy. :) Some time later he had finished that and was on to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. And now, judging by the bookmarked copy of Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone which I found lying on the coffee table this morning, he’s started a new book.

I don’t think I can adequately describe how happy all this makes me. Seriously. Filling the apartment with books is making a difference. :) Now to get to work on the one who doesn’t read…

There, Here Be Dragons

I need to be more careful what I write.

Ten days ago I blogged about Here, There Be Dragons when I was a third of the way through the book, and then two days later again when I finished it. Originally I said I liked it, then decided I didn’t like it quite as much as I’d thought.

And then last night the author left a comment on the first post.

Suddenly I feel bad about my critique in the second post. Not that the problems evaporated instantly or anything, but now there’s a real, live person attached to the book, whereas it was just a name before. It’s interesting how I’ve found myself re-evaluating my stance on the book, trying to find some way to like it. Very interesting. (Just kidding about the needing to be more careful, by the way. I needed a catchy opening line. :))

Having authors on the loose in the blogosphere does make for a new dynamic, you know — the things I write suddenly seem terribly transparent and exposed — but that’s a good thing. And it is an honor to have the author comment on one’s blog. (I bet the Harry Potter fans among us would have a heart attack for joy if J.K. Rowling left a comment on their blog. :P) It’s also good to think of these authors as real, breathing humans rather than just names, because authors are people too. :) I suppose the reason it’s hard for me is that most of the authors I read are already dead. If you mostly read contemporary lit, however, it’s likely to not be a problem.

Anyway, here’s my re-evaluation of the book in light of this experience. You’ll notice a shift in attitude. Or maybe you wouldn’t have, but now that I’ve said it, you will. :)

Problem #1 — no depth — remains. Granted, there was a lot of ground to cover plotwise, and it’s not like there wasn’t any character development at all, but I’d hoped for more. And with any luck that’ll start to happen in the second book. I do remember reading somewhere that Mr. Owen said we oughtn’t judge the characters based on this book alone because things will change.

As for problem #2 — tone — I finished Charmed Life (by Diana Wynne Jones, a British author) last night and loved it. Towards the end of the book I had one of those metamoments where I realized I liked the tone, and I thought back to HTBD, and then to other books, and I’m left wondering if I really do have an extremely strong predilection toward British authors. (Mr. Owen is American, by the way.) If this is indeed the case, then problem #2 is probably more a matter of my personal taste rather than any defect in the book itself. Perhaps I’m expecting a British tone — because of my own favorites — when that’s not really fair to the book or the author. (And yes, I’m quite aware that this could mean I won’t like my own books. :P)

Problem #3 — the physical appearance of the book — is Simon and Schuster more than Mr. Owen, so I’ll discard that for now.

This whole thing reminds me of a story I read a few days ago in Meridian Magazine:

The story is told of a woman that loved to read. From her earliest childhood memories, she loved books and reading. As a young woman she had made an oath with herself that she would finish any book she began; she would read it cover to cover. One afternoon she settled into her favorite chair with a book from an author she had never read before. Before the hour was up she knew she did not like the book. Perhaps the worst book she had ever read. Vowing to keep her oath, she labored the next several days to finish. Once done, she shoved the volume on a high shelf in her library declaring it trite, silly and very boring; without purpose or merit. Indeed the worst book she had ever read. A short time later she found herself at a fashionable social gathering. The finest in the community were in attendance. She soon found herself in a conversation with a man she had never met before. She found him amusing, articulate, well read and very interesting. Perhaps one of the finest persons she had ever met. Sometime into the conversation he asked if she had ever read the book she had recently dismissed as nearly unreadable. Measuring her words carefully she answered yes, she had. With delight he introduced himself as the author, then devoted the remainder of the conversation to her and her life pursuits. That night she went home and rescued his book from the dust and clutter of the top shelf and began to read. The beauty of the prose, the depth of the characters and the wisdom of the story quickly took her in. She read through the night, unable to stop. She finished reading as the light of morning broke through her windows. She found a prominent space in the library and placed the book in it; then declared, that without a doubt, that this was the finest book she had ever read.

While I certainly don’t think Here, There Be Dragons was the worst book I ever read — not even close — I do think that perhaps I need to give it a second chance. If any of you have read it (or start reading it), leave your comments below.

And goodness, this post ended up being a lot longer than I intended. :)


Today has been my day to rabidly catch up on all the Christmas present making and buying that I’ve been lax about because of finals. But I’m almost done. Phew!

Anyway, I was reading Diana Wynne Jones’ Charming Life last night when I got to thinking about what I’ll name my (future) kids. Names are important, and I want to give my kids good names. (By “good” let me emphasize that I do not mean “unique,” in the sense of odd names never-before-seen anywhere except 16th-century Kenya. Not that 16th-century Kenyan names are bad.) It’s like naming characters in the stories I write, except the character happens to be my son or daughter and they have to live with the name all their life. So it’s got to be good. And whatever names my wife and I end up choosing, they’ll need to have meaning, whether it be the name itself (roots and such) or a meaning inherited from someone else who also bore that name. I think I was originally named after King Benjamin, and that’s well and good, but I’ve kind of adopted Benjamin Franklin as my main namesake. :)

Just out of curiosity, if any of you were named after people or for certain reasons, feel free to share your story in the comments.

Blurb and Lulu

I was reading Cool Tools today and came across an article on Blurb and Lulu. Blurb sounds really neat, and it’s much cheaper than iPhoto (and the quality is apparently better than Lulu for color). I ordered How to Make a Book from them, since it’s the cheapest way to find out for myself how good the quality is. If it’s good, and I expect it is, then I think I’ll start creating yearly portfolios of my artwork through Blurb. Mmm. :) Oh, and you can import pictures from Flickr, by the way.

Going back to Lulu, the second proof copy of A Christmas Carol finally arrived yesterday — it got stuck in Denver for nine days. But it’s here. And I think I’m perhaps too much of a perfectionist. Getting covers to turn out right with Lulu is really hard. Perhaps it’s inherent in the nature of printing-on-demand. Maybe I need to rethink how I design my covers. Anyway, going PDF-only is sounding better than ever before. :)

White as snow

Spent an hour this morning painting with ArtRage and my tablet. The full post is over at (And if you want to leave comments, do it over there, since nobody ever comments there. It needs to be brought back to life. And yes, I do feel tacky saying this. Oh well. :)) Here’s the one I’m most proud of:

Snow and Scarlet

Snow and scarlet

I brought my Graphire tablet up to campus today and decided to have another go at digital painting. This time I used ArtRage 2 instead of Photoshop. Let me just say that being able to mix colors is really, really nice. :) I’m now seriously considering buying either ArtRage or Painter.

Anyway, here’s my first painting, the obligatory sunset:


I’m not sure why I always paint sunsets when I’m messing around with a new program. Looking over my shoulder, my co-worker said, “You should paint a forest.” And so I did:

Out of the Forest

The parts that need work are (ahem) rather obvious, but I really like the sky. And finally, here is “Snow and Scarlet,” an artistic rendition of Isaiah 1:18:

Snow and Scarlet

Here’s the scripture itself:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

And yes, it does have something to do with yesterday’s post. :)

Beholding salvation

I just watched the Beholding Salvation video, with the result that I now want my art to be more religious in nature. Specifically, I’d like to try my hand at portraying Christ. But I’m still not very good at rendering humans (in any medium, really), which leads to this question: should I still try to make art depicting the Savior and other religious figures, even though they’re not very good artistically, or should I practice first until I get good enough?

Thus far I’ve been leaning toward the latter, almost afraid to make the Lord look lame. And with my current skills, it would be almost laughable. And yet, on second thought, much of the earlier art — 13th and 14th centuries and such — is quite within the realm of my abilities. :)

I don’t know. Thoughts? After watching the Beholding Salvation video, I think I’m starting to change my opinion. Maybe the thought really is what counts. Sure, we should try to make the art as good as we could, but should our current inability prevent us from worshipping our Maker through art? Probably not. (Though if it’s not very good, there’s no need to make it public, I might add. :))

Ten days of Christmas

I just finished my last paper of the semester. All that’s left is a final in my Middle English class tomorrow afternoon. And considering that the midterm took me ten minutes, I’m not too worried. :)

Here’s a hodgepodge smattering of items I’ve been meaning to blog about:

  1. Whenever I use a photocopier and have more than one document to copy, I find myself driven to try to put the next document in before the motor dies down. If I fail, it’s almost like I’ve lost the Olympics. Okay, not really. But there is some kind of small joy when I’m fast enough to press “Start” just as the last sheet of the previous document comes out.

  2. Lately I’ve been wearing boots because of the ice — my dress shoes have zero traction — but I’ve not exactly been a fan. The boots are heavy and give me blisters, and my socks always slip down and get all crumpled up underneath my feet as I walk. (I’m the type of person who likes his socks pulled up all the way.) But today I decided to throw caution to the wind and wear my shoes anyway. It’s still pretty slippery outside, but the penguin waddle is serving me well.

  3. It’s interesting how “going through the temple” and “going to the temple” have different meanings to us Latter-day Saints. (The first means receiving one’s own endowment; the second means everything else.)

  4. Speaking of the Church, I’m thinking about making Blank Slate my personal blog, and turning this one into an LDS/Mormon-themed blog. If any of you oddly happen to have an opinion about this, let me know. :)

  5. Again speaking of the Church, I’ve run across the Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon blog a few times in the past, but it wasn’t till now that I subscribed. It’s great. I recommend reading the post on how it all got started. I’d like to do something like this, but there are admittedly few opportunities here at BYU. Smith’s is about the only place I go where I’d have a chance…

  6. I’m taking Latin poetry next semester, and we’ll be reading Vergil’s Aeneid, so I ordered my copy online and it came a few days ago. And I’ve started reading it. Mmm, it’s good. :) (And erk, my Latin’s really rusty.)

  7. Monday morning at 1:00 a.m., my roommate came in the room and closed the door but left the lights off. I promptly sat up, propped myself on my elbow, scrambled to find my glasses, pulled my Bible off the desk, and began “reading” Isaiah. I was half asleep, mind you, although my eyes were open. After a couple of minutes of this I realized that my roommate was still standing near the door, just standing there. “And just what do you think you’re doing?” I said in an extremely snobby voice (or at least that’s my recollection of it from my dreamlike state). “I was just trying to see if you were awake or not.” “Of course I am,” I replied, “I do this every night.” And then I put the Bible back and took off my glasses and fell asleep again. The crazy thing (well, the whole thing’s kind of crazy) is that I honestly thought I was making sense of reading, even though all I could see was the amorphous blob of a page. Add sleepreading to my repertoire.

  8. Speaking of my roommate, something bizarre has gotten into him and he’s growing a mustache. It honestly looks like a caterpillar crawled up on his face and died there. Mustaches are so 80s. What’s with this drive to grow facial hair out whenever there’s a break from school?

  9. Delegation is a good thing, right? So why should I feel guilty when I delegate something to a future me? ;)

  10. For that last paper I mentioned at the beginning, I read Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest.” (Rats, do I use quotes or italics for plays? I can never remember…) It’s interesting. I haven’t read many plays lately, but I’m going to head to the library later and start, because I like ’em a lot.

Mosquito in amber

Looking at how things are going right now, it’s probably unlikely that Beyond will materialize into any real app in the near future. Next semester is my last and will be jam-packed with classes I need to graduate, so I doubt I’ll have much free time to work on it. But maybe I will. We’ll see. I really do hope I can come up with something soon, so I can have a place to work on my genealogy without resorting to PCs, but it may have to wait till after I graduate in April.

For those who are interested in seeing this progress, though, keep the e-mails and comments coming. It helps me stay motivated. :)

Malaria kills

Every thirty seconds someone dies from malaria. Most of those are African children. This is not good.

From Connor’s blog, I came across Nothing But Nets, a group dedicating to help stop malaria:

Despite the magnitude of the problem, there is a simple and cost-effective solution to prevent malaria deaths. For just $10, we can purchase a bed net, deliver it to a family, and explain its use. Bed nets work by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmissions occur. A family of four can sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, safe from malaria, for up to four years. The benefits of bed nets extend even further than the family. When enough nets are used, the insecticide used to deter mosquitoes makes entire communities safer—including even those individuals who do not have nets. Although $10 for a bed net may not sound like much, the cost makes them out of reach for most people at risk of malaria, many of whom survive on less than $1 a day. Nets are a simple, life-saving solution, but we need your help to provide them to those in need.

Only ten dollars? That’s something I can afford. :) (And did afford, as of about five minutes ago.) If I’m willing to spend ten bucks on an iTunes album, I really should be willing to spend the same to save lives. (And in retrospect, buying music on iTunes suddenly feels extremely selfish. It’s not like I don’t have enough music to listen to. This money-spending habit of mine needs to be curbed, broken in, and turned to good causes. It feels good to spend money on things that truly matter. By the way, C.S. Lewis gave away two-thirds of his income to charities.)

Save a life and donate a net!

Wii stand together

My arm is sore. From playing Nintendo, no less. Good gravy.

By “Nintendo” I’m referring to the Wii, of course. Saturday evening we had a bachelor party for my old roommate (who’s getting married not long after Christmas), and we ended up playing tennis and bowling and boxing and such on the Wii. (Quick disclaimer: I generally don’t play video games, but the Wii’s pretty revolutionary and I had to try it at least once. :))

As for why I’d be sore, it’s because with the Wii, you actually swing your arms to hit the ball in tennis, and you actually jab with the controller to sock your opponent in boxing. I guess they want to help fat couch potatoes get some exercise. ;)

From a design point of view, it’s an extremely interesting idea. Not only are the controllers wireless, but they have motion detectors (accelerometers, to be precise) so they can tell how you’re moving them. Ingenious. For the bowling game, you actually have to lift your arm up, swing it back, and then bring it forward again as if you were using a real ball.

All that said, I still think real life is better. :) (And I’d rather read books, because at least then I don’t forget to blink. Fried eyes are no fun.)

Bring back the letterpress

Jason Santa Maria blogged this morning about printing letterpress. Man, this is something I really need to look into — I got goosebumps just reading the title of his post. :) (Be sure to check out the Flickr set, by the way.) I don’t think they teach letterpress here at BYU, though. The only presses around here that I’m aware of are the BYU press, the one at the Crandall Printing Museum on Center Street, and Rob Buchert’s fine printing press. None of which are probably available for me to tinker around on. ~sigh~ eBay?

HBLL computers

Lately the displays in the library have been bothering me. They show how many computers are in each part of the lab and how many are currently occupied. The bothersome parts are outlined in my comment on the library blog. (The image didn’t go through, though.) Anyway, here’s my redesign, cooked up in Photoshop:

Lab Display

Getting closer…

Well, my main stress-inducer (a.k.a. term paper) is basically done. I finished writing the first draft a few minutes ago — after a miserable bout with writer’s block — and all that’s left is revising it Monday morning and turning it in that afternoon. My other finals and papers (two finals, one take-home, and one paper) won’t be bad at all. I’m even looking forward to them.

But right now I’m going to head home and curl up with a book for a while. Reading is great therapy. :)

Dragons departed

I finished Here, There Be Dragons last night. Remember how I said, “I’m a third of the way into it and liking it”? What I meant was that I liked the basic idea behind the book — the geography of the imagination, pulling in three of the Inklings and a host of mythical/fantasy/literary characters, etc. But I don’t know that I actually liked the book itself.

Problem #1: No depth. I felt like the tale was skimming the surface the whole time — moving too fast, leaving behind cardboard characters in its wake. It didn’t really grab me the way it could and should have. (In contrast, I was reading the Tale of Sigurd from one of Lang’s fairy books last night and while it was in saga format, it still felt deeper.) I wanted to care about the characters, but it was hard. Really hard.

Problem #2: It didn’t have the right tone — in my mind, of course — for a book of its nature. It felt too…modern. If you’re going to use Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams in a book, then I think it ought to have an Inklingesque feeling. This book didn’t. And that’s in spite of it being a fantasy book!

Problem #3: I didn’t like the font. It had no ligatures for ‘ff’ or ‘ffl’, and it was too vertical, and that subconsciously bothered me for a while before I pinned it down. And the paper was too stiff for my tastes. The illustrations were really nice, though.

I really wanted to like it, honest. But I doubt I’ll ever read it again. I will read the other books in the series because I have a hope that they’ll get better, and because I’m mildly interested in seeing where the story goes, but it’s not a book I’m going to be evangelizing or anything.

Do re mi

I’ve been listening to some songwriting podcasts lately, and so on my walk up to campus I came up with a couple of lines to a song I want to write. But how would I keep from forgetting them? There’s no microphone on my computer at work. I thought about using an online piano app and hunting-and-pecking it out, but then I remembered that my long headphones broke down yesterday, and the cord on my iPod headphones is too short (unless I crouch down next to the computer, which wouldn’t work). Could I record it on my phone? There’s a “record voice message” feature. But just as I was about to do it, I realized that it might just be the way to re-record my voice mail message, and I sure as heck didn’t want callers to hear me singing instead of my “Hi, this is Ben, please leave a message, blah blah blah.”

So I called myself from my work phone, waited for my cell to vibrate, turned it off, and then sang the two lines to myself (nobody else was in the office, of course). It’s safely there waiting for me to find a piano someday to transcribe it. I wish I had perfect pitch so I wouldn’t need a piano. :) (Or I could learn to recognize intervals and all that. I do intend to do so, but so far progress has been slow.)

Here, there be dragons

Fatigue sits on my shoulders, weighs me down, tugs on my eyelids, hums lullabies in my head. I don’t think I’m particularly stressed, but my body begs to differ. Funny how that works. Anyway, I’d love to go home and take a nap right now, since I can’t think of anything to blog about except how tired I am. And we all know how riveting that is.

Forcibly changing the topic, I came across a mention of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink this morning, and it looks like an extremely interesting book, judging by the excerpts on the website. And so I’m now waiting for a copy to come in at the library (they’re all checked out).

You know, I think I can talk about books quite easily even when I’m tired. :) In between homework assignments I’m reading Henry Sweet’s The Practical Study of Languages, Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think (about web design), Dean Hughes’s Since You Were Away, and James Owen’s Here, There Be Dragons — which I’m reading primarily because the three main characters are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Charles Williams, as you can see over at, and because on the back cover Orson Scott Card gives this endorsement: “Is there anyone who wouldn’t enjoy reading Here, There Be Dragons? If there is such a person, I haven’t met him, and I doubt that I would like him if I did. I am only disappointed that, because this book is so new, I’ll have to wait too long to read the sequels.” Quoting from the article, one of Owen’s premises for the book is “what if three of the greatest, most beloved fantasists of the last century, who truly were friends, had actually chanced to meet earlier than the world knows they did?” I’m a third of the way into it and liking it.

Speaking of Charles Williams, I finished War in Heaven a couple of weeks ago. Quite an interesting book. :) I’ll certainly be checking out his other works.

A thousand words

A couple of weeks ago I came across Meredith Farkas’s post on screencasting, and it’s been on the back burner of my mind ever since, particularly this line: “There are a few studies out there that have evaluated the efficacy of screencast tutorials, but none that have really shown that screencasts are better than any other method of instruction (at least none I’ve found).”

On a techie level, screencasts are really cool, and I’ve generally been excited when I find good ones on relevant topics. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if they really are all that useful. I suspect their domain is more limited than I originally thought.

The main disadvantage of screencasts, in my mind, is that they’re slow compared to text. It’s harder to find what you’re looking for when rewinding and fast-forwarding through a screencast than when you’re reading an article.

What’s the use, then? It seems to me that screencasts are best when 1) kept short and 2) they show something that would be hard to capture in text only (for example, doing some things in 3D software or in Photoshop is easier seen than read). But whole tutorials?

Perhaps screencasts have more value when catering to newbies, especially those who are new to computers and technology. I’m a programmer and have been working with computers for 15 years now, so I could totally be skewing the stats here. :) Even so, if you don’t quite catch the sequence in a screencast, rewinding and playing it over again is a pain; it’s a lot easier to read a list of points. (I experienced this a couple days ago when trying to follow a face-creation tutorial for Blender. There’s a 16-step sequence on creating the nose, and it wasn’t exactly easy to follow.)

Maybe I’m just impatient. :) It is true that screencasts are nice to watch on your iPod (or Zune ~shudder~) when you’re away from the computer and need to kill some time. And for anything requiring visual instruction, it can really help to see what’s going on.


P.S. Speaking of using technology for education, this morning I listened to Pandora’s first podcast, on vocal harmony. Good stuff — I’m really looking forward to future episodes, and I’ve started hunting around for songwriting/composition podcasts. If you think about it, podcasts are perfect for teaching music because it’s all sound-based to begin with. Brilliant.

Homeless in hell

Just a quickie tonight, as it’s almost bedtime. Two things. First, go read Orson Scott Card’s short story “Homeless in Hell.” Now. It’s really good.

Second, I was planning on going to the temple at 7 this morning (which would mean leaving at 6:30 because the buses don’t run that early), but toward the end of my scripture study I could not keep my eyes open. I usually finish studying at 6:00, but I kept drifting in and out of sleep until I finally broke out of it at 7. Just as I started making breakfast — and remember that this is when I would have already been in the temple — I got a phone call from one of the girls in my ward, saying her roommate was really sick and they wanted me and one of my roommates to come over and give her a blessing before they took her to the hospital. Why me? Because they knew I’d be awake. :) Anyway, the Lord works in mysterious ways. At least I don’t feel so guilty about falling asleep like that anymore. :) (And if it was pure happenstance, I still see no problem with assigning it value like I’ve done here.)

I’ve started taking pictures again after a hiatus of several weeks, by the way. I guess I’m not much of a cold-weather photographer. But today has been nice and warm. I can’t wait for spring. :)

Taliesin and Londres

I’ve been listening to some Loreena McKennitt music lately, and also reading C.S. Lewis’s novel Till We Have Faces (which takes place in a barbaric country on the border of ancient Greece, basically). More than ever before, I’ve been struck by one thing:

Ancient Greece is dry to me.

Or conversely, my soul of souls is Celtic. (British in the older sense.) I don’t really know quite how to explain this; Tolkien strikes at the deepest part of my heart, but books like Till We Have Faces are dry, gritty, and rather uninteresting to me. I just don’t care for old Greece. (And this coming from someone who has studied Attic Greek.) I feel the same towards Rome, but Latin was used in Britain and so it has a special place in my heart.

Geographically, forests and brooks and hills — the topography of Britain, really — is like a juicy apple to me, but whatever’s down there in Greece and Rome is comparatively dull. I don’t mean that there aren’t forests and brooks and hills there, of course, but there’s some kind of substantial difference. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Britain feels more…green? I don’t know. I wonder if this is due to my culture/upbringing, and if so, which parts. (Do those in the Middle East feel for the desert what I feel for the woods?)

Let me quickly add that this is primarily an attitude toward the past, not toward the cultures of the present. And it doesn’t mean I don’t want to study ancient Greece or Rome; it’s just that they don’t interest me nearly as much as Celtic Britain. Here’s a rough ranking:

  1. Britain
  2. Russia
  3. Spain
  4. The North (Scandinavia and Germany and such)
  5. Middle East/Persia
  6. Africa
  7. South America
  8. Ancient Greece/Rome/Etruscans/Hittites/Sumerians etc.
  9. Native America
  10. Asia

Again, this doesn’t mean I have anything against Greece or Rome or Native America or Asia. It’s just an attempt to figure out these built-in predilections towards Britain and perhaps uncover why they’re there. (Or at least be able to define them.) And so far I’m not doing so well. :)

Maybe it has to do with one’s ancestry. Half of my lines come from Britain, so that could very well be it. But I’m a quarter Italian and thus almost assuredly have Roman ancestry, and yet I don’t feel towards Rome the way I do towards England and Wales and Ireland and Scotland.

Having written all this out, I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten any nearer the heart of the issue, other than establishing that I really, really like Britain and I don’t care so much for Rome or Greece. And I already knew that! ~sigh~ I suspect this is one of those posts that ought to be filed away for future revision, but oh well. Maybe one of you will have words of wisdom to share. :)

And now for something different. Here’s a poem I wrote back in August, by the way, entitled “Silver Tresses.”

Silver tresses wink with smile of years, A life of joy, a road of tears, Wrinkles left from worried fears, Golden mem’ries, friendships dear. A cloudless window opens, clear, And He’s near, very near.

On the shelves

Last February I finished work on Translating Scripture: The Thai Book of Mormon. (Reed Haslam wrote it, and I designed and edited it.)

Two items of note. First, back on November 16th the Church History Library acquisition committee accepted the book, and so it’ll be in the library soon (if not already).

Second, earlier this week BYU Bookstore decided to stock it (starting with five copies), so today I dropped off the five copies and they’ll be on the shelves there soon. (I’m not sure how long the turnaround is, but I’ll post a picture when they’re there.)

Like a Phoenix from the ashes

For my Middle English class we had to give five-minute presentations on a person or event from that time period (A.D. 1100–1500). Today was my turn, and I couldn’t decide who I wanted to talk about, so I ended up giving my presentation on Anonymous. Yup, him. I put together an 40-second introductory trailer in Blender, cooked up some slide backgrounds also in Blender and then Photoshopped them and added text, and wrote the text out in verse. Here’s a section of the text:

Ten years later, skull and marrow, Our man’s next to Old Jack Sparrow, Abducting Eleanor de Montfort, From a marriage in the Welsh court. Help her find a brand-new consort. I wish I could say things got better, But it’s not true; they got deader, When the Famine swept the ’hood He sent his kids into the woods To starve so he and wife could fatten, You’ve probably heard tell of that in Hansel and Gretel, by Brothers Grimm, ’Tis truth I say, and times were dim. But life got darker not much later, On a ship, our man’s a waiter, Just passed through a port of sorrows, People sick, and dead by morrow. Off he heads back home to England, Carrying the Black Death with him. From there it spread across the country, Devastating all and sundry. Like a Phoenix from the ashes, Our good hero’s back, and dashes Off a dozen books or two, The Pearl is one, and Patience too, And Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight, And lots of others, late at night With candle burning, quill in hand, He tells his tales of foreign lands.

For screenshots, head on over to Here’s one slide, though:


The presentation itself went fairly well, even though I was extremely nervous. The best part is that it’s over. :)

The life and times of Anonymous

Had a presentation in my Middle English class today. I ended up doing mine on Anonymous (as a joke), and when I realized I could use Blender to pull off some cool effects, the original 30 minutes of preparation I’d planned escalated into seven or eight hours’ worth.

I first made a pretend movie trailer in Blender (the linked movie is in iPod .m4v format, H.264 codec):

Anonymous 1

I used a background plane with an animated cloud texture, a foreground plane with another animated cloud texture (and animated alpha), and text sandwiched in between with the alpha animated to fade in and out. For some reason Blender wouldn’t include the music when I exported it (from the sequencer), so I had to add a music track in iMovie and then compress it to Quicktime. The other thing is that Blender kept producing exceedingly large files — a 40-second 800x600 movie was 1.4 gigs, but iMovie compressed it down to 20 megs or so. If anyone knows how to get Blender to do that compression on its own (and how to get the music to accompany the movie), please let me know!

Next I whipped up a quick slide background scene, rendering it from four different angles for the four sections of my presentation (using ambient occlusion, as you can probably see). I also Photoshopped the resulting renders, mostly darkening it with curves, and adding lens blur for two of them:

Anonymous 2
Anonymous 3

Towards the end I realized the color scheme was a bit on the depressing side, so I quickly threw together this slide for those needing happy colors:

Anonymous 4

And here’s one of my favorite slides, thrown in at a random position as a tongue-in-cheek:

Anonymous 5

Anyway, this was far too much work for a five-point presentation, but it was a lot of fun. Blender’s more useful than I ever realized. I don’t think I’ll ever give a non-Blender/Photoshop presentation again. :)


I’ve been tinkering around a bit with OpenLaszlo, since here at work I’m about to start writing an RIA for doing online extraction of genealogical records, and it would be really nice not to have to re-invent the wheel. :) The advantages of OpenLaszlo are that it’s free, it compiles to Flash (which is on pretty much every computer out there) and soon DHTML, and it looks like it’s conducive to fast development. And there are a lot of high-profile apps using it (like Pandora).

So I spent half an hour throwing together a quick prototype of our app — no functionality, just the layout — and I think I’m liking it. It’s basically XML with a healthy dose of Javascript. Using XML this way feels almost like Lisp somehow, incidentally. :) So far I haven’t run into any huge roadblocks, so we’ll see if OpenLaszlo works for what I need.

A new English dictionary

Rikker pointed out an interesting find on Google Books. It’s a “New Proposal for the Publication of a New English Dictionary by the Philological Society.” And it’s the genesis of the Oxford English Dictionary, twenty years before they got James Murray onboard to edit it.

After that I was poking around further on the site, searching for “Narnia” under full book view. Apparently Narnia was an old Roman colony. I had no idea…

Light at the end of the tunnel

It’s that time of the year again. Brimful of stress, pounding headache, welcome to panic mode. :) That was a sardonic smiley-face, by the way. ~sigh~ I’ll probably still blog regularly, as it’s a nice outlet, but I can’t guarantee anything. The next two weeks will be rough riding. I can’t wait for the end. :)

Over Christmas break I’m planning on gutting and remodeling all of my websites from the ground up. Quality will increase. Life will be good. I’ve just got to survive till the end of finals…

Home on the range

I love Google even more. :) You’d think I would’ve discovered the Google homepage customization thing a while ago. And you’d be right. But I (incorrectly) assumed that you’d have to keep clicking on that “Customized” link in the upper right, which would’ve been frightfully obnoxious, and thus I never tried it out. Until tonight.

Google Homepage

Impressions: First, it’s handy because I go to pretty much every day, so whatever I put on the homepage will be near the forefront of my consciousness at least once a day. So I have Google Calendar, and the best part is that it shows the next day’s items, so I get an easy, quick preview in advance. It’s something I’ve wanted without realizing it. :) I also have a to-do list (we’ll see how that goes), Google Notebook (I’ll probably start using it more because of this), the weather, the time in Thailand, and an expense tracker (which will hopefully influence me somehow :)).

The multiple tab feature looks cool but I don’t know if I’d actually use it that often — the whole point is to have it right there, so if I have to click around to find it, it loses utility. But that’s just me.

Now, about an hour ago, before I started using Google Homepage, I decided to finally do what I’ve been meaning to do for weeks: put together a quick HTML dashboard with links to all the sites I frequent on a regular basis, and put it up on my server so I can use that from wherever I roam. And so I sat down here in the library, found that I can actually get to Photoshop (it’s under Class Specific->IT Training if you’re here at BYU), opened up jEdit because it’s the only non-Notepad text editor on here, and threw this together:


I don’t really care for the design, but it’ll do for now. Consider it a prototype. :) It’s mainly an experiment, actually, to see if having a dashboard like this will be useful or not. You don’t have to have your own web server, though — anyone can create their own with Google Page Creator.

Speaking of which, I considered trying to use Google Homepage for this, but I haven’t yet found a gadget which…wait…I just found one. It’s actually the first in the list under Tools — “Bookmarks.” Duh. :) You can’t sort them into groups — or add a second Bookmarks gadget — so what I’ve done is prefix the link title with whatever category I want it under (“Admin: TotM” or “Work: Kronos” or what have you). I don’t know how useful it’ll be but I’m sure I’ll find out within a week or two.

This is one more step toward liberation. :) Not having had my own computer for almost a year now (in March it’ll be a year) has had a strong influence on me. It’s kind of nice, actually — I don’t have to worry about my computer breaking or getting stolen. :) But yes, I do plan on getting a MacBook in January or February. Even then, however, I want to keep most of my data online in some format — Google Docs or what have you — because losing data is a Bad ThingTM. Redundancy ist sehr gut.

In the twinkling of an eye

I was doing some research for a presentation a few minutes ago and was on the Wikipedia page for the Black Death when I saw this intriguing sentence in the middle of the first long paragraph:

“It is a proven fact that jumping up and down yelling boa boa will cure the disease.”

Right. So I clicked “edit this page” to get rid of it, and it wasn’t there anymore. I went back and refreshed and sure enough, someone had already fixed it. Amazing. :)

On the road with Joseph Smith

Got an e-mail today from the Mormon Artists Group announcing a new book called On the Road With Joseph Smith. It is “Richard Lyman Bushman’s private account of the events surrounding the publication of his great work, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling,” and one of the excerpts was striking:

August 9, 2005 [In response to a Presbyterian critic’s query about believing scholarship] I wish I could strike a responsive chord in Christians like you. We wonder why all Christians don’t understand that we believe in the Book of Mormon on the basis of a spiritual witness. It is very hard for a Mormon to believe that Christians accept the Bible because of the scholarly evidence confirming the historical accuracy of the work. Surely there are uneducated believers whose convictions are not rooted in academic knowledge. Isn’t there some kind of human, existential truth that resonates with one’s desires for goodness and divinity? And isn’t that ultimately why we read the Bible as a devotional work? We don’t have to read the latest issues of the journals to find out if the book is still true. We stick with it because we find God in its pages or inspiration, or comfort, or scope. That is what religion is about in my opinion, and it is why I believe the Book of Mormon. I can’t really evaluate all the scholarship all the time; while I am waiting for it to settle out I have to go on living. I need some good to hold on to and to lift me up day by day. The Book of Mormon inspires me, and so I hold on. Reason is too frail to base a life on. You can be whipped about by all the authorities with no genuine basis for deciding for yourself. I think it is far better to go where goodness lies. I keep thinking other Christians are in a similar position but they don’t agree. They keep insisting their beliefs are based on reason and evidence. I can’t buy that — the resurrection as rational fact? And so I am frankly as perplexed about Christian belief as you are about Mormons. Educated Christians claim to base their belief on reason when I thought faith was the teaching of the scriptures. You hear the Good Shepherd’s voice, and you follow it. I guess we could go on and on. I hope I am telling you the truth about myself. The fact is I am a believer and I can’t help myself. I couldn’t possibly give it up; it is too delicious.

Papered out

I recently ran across some children’s books which used paper cutouts for the illustrations. So I decided to try replicating the effect in Illustrator, by making patterns in Photoshop and using them as the fills. Thus “Moon Dancer” was born:

Moon Dancer

I think I’ll be using Photoshopped patterns a lot more in my Illustrator art from now on. :)