Ben Crowder


Booknotes 1.4


  • I finished Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin. Great biography, studded with interesting detail that was new to me. (Which is no great surprise. I believe I read Franklin’s autobiography when I was young, but that’s it.) The bits about invention and science and the forging of America caught my interest as expected, but the feeling that lingers for me is melancholy, rooted in Franklin’s distance and coldness toward his wife and children. Heartbreaking.
  • After that I read Ken Kocienda’s Creative Selection, about his time at Apple working on Safari and the iOS keyboard. Not heartbreaking at all. Enjoyed the history. (Books about how particular pieces of software were developed are right up my alley.)
  • Just yesterday I finished Will Hunt’s Underground, about caves and cataphiles and the Mole Man of Hackney. Fascinating throughout, but claustrophobia had me wanting to get it over with as quickly as I could. Not joking. Still recommended, though.
  • I’m twenty pages into Arthur Holland Michel’s Eyes in the Sky, about satellite surveillance and Gorgon Stare. Good so far. Gorgon Stare is an amazing name.


  • Finished The Bone Shard Daughter. Enjoyed it. Some good twists I didn’t see coming.
  • Also read Robert B. Parker’s Ceremony, part of his Spenser series. I try to occasionally read other genres to expand my palate, but more and more I’m finding that realistic, gritty crime is very much not my thing. This book turned out to be seedy and disturbing and a bit past my comfort level, but completionist tendencies made me finish it (admittedly with liberal skimming). I’m done with the Spenser series, though. And somewhat dumbfounded that I made it this far into it.
  • As a palate cleanser, I read Ted Chiang’s Exhalation. It was good! My favorite stories were “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, “Exhalation,” “Omphalos,” and “Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom.” I wish Ted Chiang were a faster writer with dozens of books already in print. (But that would probably shatter what I like about his work.)
  • And I’m now halfway through S. A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass. Enjoying it. The real-world geographical references continue to throw me — my brain remains utterly convinced the book takes place in a secondary world — but it’s not a big deal.

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New artwork: This Is My Beloved Son.

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New artwork: I Will Give You Rest II.

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New artwork: He Is Not Here II.

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Weeknotes 2.2

  • Almost eligible for the Covid vaccines! Yesterday the governor announced that everyone in Utah sixteen and older will be eligible starting Wednesday next week. Wonderful news. Not really looking forward to having to brave the virtual crowds to get an appointment, though. I’d rather just put my name on a waitlist and bide my time.
  • No real improvement on my back. At this point in my life, I’m realizing that corporeal deterioration is undoubtedly going to continue scraping away my ability to do the things I love, and it’s just a matter of which things and how soon. (I am clearly an optimist.)
  • Sadly, our neighbor a few houses down unexpectedly passed away at home this afternoon. That makes three deaths in our ward in the past two weeks, a trend we hope will stop soon.
  • I’ve been doing somewhat better at putting my phone away when my kids are in the room, and it makes a noticeable, wonderful difference. I’m finally becoming aware of just how important it is to give them focused, undivided attention — not just for them, but for me, too. Less mental friction.
  • The other day I realized that because my new job is remote, I have no idea how tall anyone is. It doesn’t matter in the least, but part of me is curious how closely my subconsciously created mental estimates match up with reality — and whether it’s influenced at all by camera angles in Zoom.

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Booknotes 1.3


  • Finished How Asia Works. The third section was on finance and…it turns out I don’t really care about finance. Maybe someday that’ll change, but I’m not there yet. That section was a murky slog through which I forced myself in the misguided hope that perhaps I’d pick up enough contextual clues to, you know, have a clue what it all meant. Overall, though, the book was excellent. The manufacturing section is still my favorite of the bunch.
  • I’ve resumed reading Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin biography, which I’d put on the backburner when I started serializing my reading. About a quarter of the way in, and wow, it’s eminently readable. Loving it. By the way, I have a profound weakness for books about inventors and scientists and (less common) printers, so if you have any good recommendations, please send them my way.


  • Finished Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and liked it very much, even though there’s basically no magic and it’s pretty much fantasy Rome. Glad I still have most of K. J. Parker’s books left to read. (Shadow is the only other of his that I’ve read. And some short stories years ago.)
  • I’m a quarter of the way through Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter. It’s hitting a lot of good, intriguing points for me (in the vein of mysterious things happening) and I’m looking forward to the rest.

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Links #40

Dave Rupert on how the web is something different. Celebrating the democratic nature of the web as a space for everyone, not just professionals. I like that.

Adrian Roselli on responsive type and zooming. Over the last few years I’ve become one of those people who scale text up. Not massively — not yet — and not always, but it very much makes a difference for these aging eyes.

Donny Trương’s free online book on Vietnamese type design. Mmm.

Noah Smith on developing countries in the Global South, which tied in nicely with my recent reading of How Asia Works (and mentions the book as well). Nice to see that Malaysia’s doing better than it was when the book was written.

Radio Garden lets you browse worldwide radio stations via a map. Fun.

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Low-effort journaling

This is almost certainly not novel, but the idea came up when I was talking with my friend James the other day and I figured I’d write it up in case it helps someone somewhere.

The idea is this: you set up a new email address (or use filters with your existing email, whatever works for you) and then make a shortcut on your phone so you can easily add to your journal by emailing that address. A private email blog, basically.

It’s low effort in that you don’t have to open, say, a Google Doc and find the right spot to start to write. The corresponding disadvantage is that you can’t see what you’ve already written that day. (That said, this method would also work fairly well as a lightweight way to take notes during the day, to be written up into a full journal entry later somewhere else and then archived.)

I made a sample shortcut for doing this in iOS (and I’m sure there’s a way to do something similar in Android):


From left: the shortcut (using the Text and Send Email blocks), the running shortcut, and the resulting email. The shortcut can be saved to the home screen or used on an Apple Watch or put in a widget.

With this setup, I’d recommend regularly downloading your mail to your computer, through a local mail app or something like offlineimap, so that you have your own copy you can use for exporting or printing or whatever.

Note that I don’t use this myself because I already have a homegrown journaling solution (with Gate and Vinci), but I’m planning to use a variant of this shortcut for emailing notes to myself from my watch.

Anyway, if you try this out, or if you have an interesting system for journaling, let me know and I may do a followup post.

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Links #39

Iain Bean on system fonts. I didn’t realize Charter is now a system font. (In macOS, it was apparently added in High Sierra.) That’s great.

Thomas Dimson’s This Word Does Not Exist. Words generated and defined by machine learning. It’ll be interesting to see how machine-generated content affects culture going forward.

Samuel Arbesman on Newtonian anagrams. Fascinating historical tidbit, and I’m interested in reading that Newton bio, too.

Hannah Ritchie on the drop in land use if the world switched to a plant-based diet. I’m not a vegetarian (though I was for a time when I was younger), but if plant-based meat substitutes get tasting good enough, I’d have no problem dropping meat from my diet. (I am shallow.)

Hynek Schlawack on the limitations of semver. Good points with some good advice.

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Weeknotes 2.1

  • Weeknotes are back, I think, and we’ll start a new season to celebrate the gap.
  • Today marks one full year since BYU announced that classes were going remote, and tomorrow is the anniversary of my work and the kids’ school following suit. One year. Whew. A bit mind-blowing. It’s certainly taken longer than we thought it would, but hope is finally upon us. My wife and I are looking forward to getting vaccinated next month, and then hopefully the trials with children go well. (We have a child with a high-risk medical condition, so we can’t really breathe easy until the whole family’s vaccinated. Which probably won’t be till the end of the year. Endure to the end!)
  • Quick update on the new job (which is great, loving it): while I still hit occasional pockets of onboarding slowness (new parts of the codebase, mainly), overall I feel like the impostor syndrome is mostly shutting the heck up. Also, Go turns out to be a great language for team-based work, at least in my view. Extremely easy to read, and it feels transparent, like it’s just you and what you’re trying to do, without the language getting in the way.
  • A couple weeks ago I messed up my back and have been dealing with the fallout since then. This time it’s taking longer to recover than it did a few years ago, which I suspect has to do at least in part with age. What a joy.
  • Art has slowed down a bit. I’m still planning to keep at it, but on a less regular basis. (It’s been my main thing for a while now and I think I’d like to focus more on other things.) When I do work on it, I’m planning to continue exploring the new texturing technique I used on Where Can I Turn for Peace? (probably redo a few old pieces with it). Maybe some more Blender, too, though I’m not really sure yet how that fits in.
  • Most of my writing projects are in the planning/outlining stages, so there’s not much to show yet there, sadly. (A fact which needs to bother me more, enough so that I start actually finishing stories. Good grief. But I guess part of working in public is being incompetent in public. Here you go! And I hope that the beats idea is the answer to my writing woes.)
  • I’ve finished the initial draft of lowercase letters on the Hinte typeface, and I’m in the middle of refining those and starting on the uppercase. Hoping to do much more type design going forward. (And eventually replace Literata on this site with something homegrown.)
  • As part of that endeavor, by the way, I’m itching to build that nice new web-based version of Curves. (FontForge is functional, sure, but its UI definitely does not spark joy for me.) Since I’ve already built the font-generating backend, the main remaining challenge here is just figuring out how I want the UI to work.

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