Ben Crowder


Links #100

The Vesuvius Challenge 2023 grand prize has been awarded. It’s mind-blowing that we can read scrolls in that condition — lumps of rolled-up carbonized ash, as they put it. Bravo, fellow humans.

Andrés Aguilera’s drone footage of an Icelandic volcano eruption. Wow. It’s fascinating to see the new possibilities drones unlock. (And somewhat less fun to think through the dark side of what drones enable. I know that’s true of almost any technology, but still.) (I might not be a full optimist, guys.)

Ethan Dalool’s notes about paper. I love this kind of web page. The 1-bit dithered look for scans is appealing, and there are several other interesting ideas, including printing your own graph paper. (Reading this made me realize I need to simplify my note paper PDF page. I’ve also been thinking about making a web app to let people generate their own custom lined/graph/etc. paper PDFs.)

Simon MacDonald on issues with React. Yep. I’ve worked with React for a few years now (at work) and I wouldn’t say it’s a blissful experience. Reactive UI is nice. Bloat is not.

Heydon Pickering on utility-first CSS. If you can take the snark, this captures some of the reasons I’m not so much a fan of Tailwind. (Plus, I just really like CSS itself.)

Tero Piirainen on Tailwind. Okay, after this, no more dunking on Tailwind, I promise.

Andy Bell on MDN and the need for a new global documentation platform.

Chartwell, a font using OpenType discretionary ligatures to make several different kinds of charts. Impressive.

Jon Porter on Lenovo’s transparent laptop concept. Hmm. No.

AboutIdeasNow, a catalog of personal sites with /about, /now, or /ideas pages. After seeing this, I fleshed out my own now page so it isn’t quite so threadbare and also submitted it to If you have a now page, by the way, email me a link — I’d love to see it.

/uses, a catalog of personal sites with /uses pages. I don’t have one. (Yet, anyway. I don’t know if I’ll add one. Maybe.)

Ross Wintle’s manifesto for small, static web apps. Yes! I would even go a step further and amend this to “don’t use a JS library” and “don’t use a build step,” but what can I say, I’m a minimalist.

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Booknotes 3.7


  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama (2018). So good. Loved it. Very human and down to earth, and an enjoyable read throughout. Easily one of my favorites this year.
  • No Ordinary Assignment, by Jane Ferguson (2023). Also really good, though more harrowing in places (the Yazidi genocide, etc.). A strong reminder of why journalism is important — and of how awful war is.


  • And Put Away Childish Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2023, fantasy). Grown-up Narnia of sorts, set during Covid. Really liked the first half, less sure about the second half. Read it in a single day.
  • Lone Women, by Victor LaValle (2023, horror). I don’t know — I wanted it to be something different. (I don’t want to spoil anything.) Still interesting, though.
  • The Cunning Man, by D. J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey (2019, fantasy/horror). Folk fantasy is something I don’t come across as often. Liked that part of it, though I think I would have liked it more if it hadn’t had any Mormon connection at all.

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New artwork: In the Celestial Glory.

In the Celestial Glory

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New artwork: He Remembereth Us Also.

He Remembereth Us Also

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Links #99

Rosemary Meszaros and Katherine Pennavaria on the myth that Ellis Island immigration officials anglicized people’s surnames.

Hiawatha Bray on the future of silk. Loads of fascinating things in this. For example: “Vaxess is testing a skin patch covered in dozens of microneedles made of silk protein and infused with influenza vaccine. Each needle is barely visible to the naked eye and just long enough to pierce the outer layer of skin. A user sticks the patch on his arm, waits five minutes, then throws it away. Left behind are the silk microneedles, which painlessly dissolve over the next two weeks, releasing the vaccine all the while. The silk protein acts as a preservative, so there’s no need to keep it on ice at a doctor’s office. […] In testing, Vaxess found that flu vaccines stored in a silk patch at room temperature remained viable three years later.”

Emily Pontecorvo on the Impulse Labs induction stove. The stove is expensive, but this part was compelling: “And then you learn that the stove has a battery in it, which means that unlike most other induction stoves, it can plug into a standard 120-volt outlet. You don’t have to get a pricy circuit upgrade, or an even pricier electrical panel upgrade, to install it.” I hope this is the future of stoves.

Ink & Switch’s lab notebook for Patchwork, “a research project about version control software for writers, developers, and other creatives.” Interested to see where this goes.

Antoine Mayerowitz’s journey into shaders. A nice introduction.

John Hoare on the indie web. “If we want the indie web to flourish, the very first thing people need to get used to is actually browsing the web again.” More specifically, clicking around on people’s personal sites. I still do this and it’s delightful.

Dave Karpf on the myth of technological inevitability. Yes.

Stewart Brand’s book in progress on maintenance. Looking forward to reading this. Relevant in most parts of life, I think.

Jason Kottke on a massive ancient network of cities found in the Ecuadorean Amazon, built around 2,500 years ago. Cool.

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New artwork: This Is Eternal Lives.

This Is Eternal Lives

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New artwork: Whatsoever You Seal on Earth II.

Whatsoever You Seal on Earth II

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Things on my mind #8

  • I realized recently that I never use Siri anymore. Voice input isn’t my thing, apparently.
  • The importance of saving mental state when working on something. (Usually via keeping a journal/log or a to-do list.) Makes it much easier to pick the project up again months or years later.
  • Another thing I noticed recently: my dreams are never in a secondary world. A pity. I have no idea why this is.
  • I’ve set myself a rule where I need to spend at least ten minutes blogging each day before I’m allowed to read books. It’s working, as you may have noticed with the increase in posting this past week or two.
  • I was today years old when I learned how to do jumping jacks. I’ve apparently been doing them wrong my whole life. (Not that I’ve done them a ton. But still.)
  • Our local theater charges around twice as much per ticket as it used to. I have no idea when it changed.
  • On my phone I much prefer reading with fonts that are slightly heavier. Digital type is often too anemic, too wispy. No substance.

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With Marvin’s recent disappearance from the iOS app store, I’ve started feeling an itch to get my own ebook reading system set up sooner than later — ideally before the sad day comes when I can’t get Marvin to work on my phone anymore.

I’ve tried other iOS ereader apps and they don’t yet meet my needs (and let’s be clear, by “needs” I mean high-maintenance wishes), such as custom fonts, good design, configurable typography, and nice page numbers (ideally the 1,024 characters per page rule that Adobe Digital Editions and Marvin use).

Also, I want to use my phone since I have it with me all the time and can read more often, thus I’m not considering a dedicated ereader like a Kobo or a Kindle. And I have a large collection of ebooks I want to read, so print books don’t meet the need.

The default for me here would be a web app (PWA), with a backend built in Django or FastAPI or Go. That’s probably where I’ll land, but from a research angle I see this as a good time to explore possibilities I wouldn’t normally consider. Some ideas along those lines:

  • PDF — convert EPUBs to phone-sized PDFs automatically and then use a PDF reader like Documents instead of a dedicated EPUB app, possibly with the analog filters I recently posted about
  • Images — convert EPUBs to images (one page per image) and then read via an album in the system photos viewer, deleting each page as I read it (half joking here)
  • HTML — splat the ebooks out into all their HTML files and then put those up on a server behind authentication, reading them in a browser like normal web pages
  • Retro ebook reader — web-based app that feels like a Game Boy or one of those tiny consoles, with a chonky pixel font, possibly using game mechanics for page navigation (I’m intrigued by this idea but in reality it would probably feel super gimmicky)
  • 3D app — deboss the type, procedurally generated paper texture, etc. (also feels gimmicky)
  • Email — export each chapter of the EPUB and then email it to myself (fully joking here) (it would work, sure, but I don’t want to read books in my email)

The PDF and HTML options hold some promise, so I plan to continue exploring them for a bit before I cave and write a PWA.

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New artwork: We Shall See Him as He Is.

We Shall See Him as He Is

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