Ben Crowder


Booknotes 3.6


  • Chip War, by Chris Miller (2022), about semiconductors. A fascinating read, particularly (for me) the history of the early days of semiconductors. Learned a lot.


  • Blackwing, by Ed McDonald (2017, fantasy). Maybe a tad too edgelord grimdark and crass for me. Trying to be sophisticated but failing, perhaps; I’m not sure. The voice grated on me a bit, too, though not enough to stop me from reading. And oh how I wish fantasy novels would stop overusing capitalization. (In this book, for example, darlings and spinners didn’t need to be capitalized.) Hi, this is me being obnoxiously pedantic. Anyway, I have no idea if I’ll keep reading the series.
  • System Collapse, by Martha Wells (2023, science fiction). Latest entry in the Murderbot series. Loved the voice as usual. I also continue to enjoy the archaeological(ish) part of the worldbuilding. Looking forward to however many more of these there are.
  • A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire (2010, fantasy). The second October Daye novel. It had been long enough since I read the first that I remembered almost nothing, but this was easy to pick up. Basically a murder mystery. Enjoyed it, even though I picked up on one of the twists pretty early on.

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Links #97

Frederic Edwin Church’s painting Our Banner in the Sky. This type of art is a bit gimmicky, I know, but it’s still fun.

Mandy Brown on risks and benefits, with two angles that aren’t brought up as often. Great points.

Adam Newbold’s printable full-year calendar. I like that this fits on any size paper. This seems like perhaps a better way to distribute charts. (Though I do love the static solidness of PDFs.)

Patrick O’Keefe on some of the production design for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse. Fun. As I’ve said before, I kind of wish all comic book movies were done in this style.

Jenny Li on how to paint various textures.

Peter Gainsford on the camel, the rope, and the eye of the needle, making the case that the word wasn’t rope after all.

Spencer Ackerman on Henry Kissinger as war criminal.

Asun Álvarez’s interview with Victoria Goddard. Lots of interesting things here for those who’ve read Goddard’s books (or are curious about reading them).

Freight Text, the tasty font that Reactor (formerly is using for body copy.

Mitxela’s tiny spinny volumetric display. Cool.

Lipi’s Ikat Devanagari pixel font. Love this. And chonky pixels in general. (A byproduct of when I grew up, no doubt.)

Lea Verou on eigensolutions “Rather than designing a solution to address only our driving use cases, step back and ask yourself: can we design a solution as a composition of smaller, more general features, that could be used together to address a broader set of use cases?” Yes, this.

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New artwork: The Long Absence.

The Long Absence

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Things on my mind #7

  • I’m noticeably happier on days when I’m making things.
  • Reading long books is often daunting, but I need to remember that I’m never reading the whole book all at once: it’s always a page at a time, and I can read a page. (This applies to writing and other things, too.)
  • Thinking about a project helps motivate me to work on it, warming it up in my mind. Setting aside time (saying “I’m going to spend ten minutes on this project right now”) also helps.
  • I still have heaps of imposter syndrome with my art. (That it’s digital and not analog, that it’s overly simple and not ornate enough, that it’s too abstract, etc.) I try to not let that stop me from making the art, though. Relevant quote from Martha Graham that I think about fairly often: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” So that’s what I try to do.
  • It’s okay, I think, to make art that only one person likes. Or only a few people. Not everything needs to be wildly popular.
  • I feel vaguely guilty when making sequel art (a new version of an earlier piece) and worry that it’s less interesting, but it’s an important part of my process and I get a lot of value from reworking earlier ideas. (I also tend to overthink things, so here’s a grain of salt.)
  • With my art, I’ve optimized for short execution times — generally around a couple hours once I’ve got the idea figured out. Which is good, but sometimes I feel like I’ve lost (or am losing) the ability to work on larger, longer projects, pieces that take multiple months to complete. Might need to do something about that.
  • It’s been harder lately for me to write small atomic posts; I gravitate toward bundled/batched larger posts like this one. Longer posts feel heftier and more substantial, I suppose, but post length really isn’t a great metric for measuring actual value. Perhaps it also has to do with the design of my blog and/or the design of my internal blogging app, Slash.
  • I wonder if I ought to start writing weeknotes again.

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Links #96

Oliver Burkemann on productivity techniques as a cupboard of tools and on using the tools that work for you. This was good for me to hear.

Jen Simmons on Interop 2024. Woohoo! A wonderful project. Very much looking forward to font-size-adjust, too.

Jonathan Hoefler on what generative AI might mean for typeface design. To be honest, I’ve soured on generative AI and don’t really find it interesting anymore. (Thus the lack of AI-related links lately.)

Angie Wang’s “Is My Toddler a Stochastic Parrot?” Ha. Sometimes it feels like it, but no, there’s a difference.

Andrew Plotkin about the newly discovered Infocom interpreter source code. Cool. (I say this as if I play interactive fiction regularly. Haven’t in decades. But I’m still nostalgic for it, I suppose.)

Bryan Braun on rejecting the algorithm and using RSS. Amen.

McKinley Valentine on physical actions. “I am increasingly of the belief that your brain doesn’t really understand that you have taken an action unless you move your body and/or other objects around in physical space. So if you prepare for a job interview by reading through your notes on a screen, that helps you in the actual ‘know what you’re going to say’ sense, but because you didn’t do anything your brain registers as activity, it still thinks you’re unprepared and ramps up its anxiety. I suspect you would feel much less anxious if you had a text-to-voice app read out your notes while you folded laundry or something.” Interesting idea.

Houses buried under tumbleweed in Montana. Wild.

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Links #95

Charlie Stross on why science fiction is a terrible guide to the future, and how billionaires and tech companies should stop trying to create those futures. “Because we invented the Torment Nexus as a cautionary tale and they took it at face value and decided to implement it for real.”

Étienne Fortier-Dubois on complexity limits of fictional worlds. Agreed that most (if not all) worldbuilding is more simplistic than the real world, and that more complexity would be quite interesting. Past a certain point, though, you get complexity overload and the reader can’t enjoy the story because of All The Things. And even before that point, I’m not sure how often it truly matters; small stages can tell compelling stories. tl;dr Diversity of complexity is good.

Alex Chan on creating a PDF as big as the universe. Now you know.

@strangestloop on things that aren’t doing the thing. A good reminder. Nothing like getting your hands dirty.

Procreate Dreams, a new(ish) animation app. Haven’t tried it, but their painting app is well made, and this one looks cool.

Aleksandra Mirosław breaking the speedclimbing world record. Wow! She makes it look so easy. This also makes me glad that normal humans don’t scrabble up walls all the time. (Though if it were normal, maybe it would feel less unsettling.)

Chris on typing fast being about latency and not throughput. Agreed. I type fairly quickly, and there’s a definite difference in feel when I’m slowed down by a touchscreen or analog. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down, to have more built-in time to think about what I’m writing, but generally I’d rather be able to type fast and then take thinking breaks when needed.

Benjamin Breen on using generative AI for historical research, to augment and not automate.

Andrew Burmon on police brutality leading to domestic violence. “Research into the private lives of cops suggests that that faith in the restraint of police officers on the job is founded at least in part on men who abuse their wives and children. And what percent of cops are domestic abusers is conspicuously quite high.”

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Booknotes 3.5


  • Super-Infinite, by Katherine Rundell (2022), a biography of John Donne. Quite good. I think biographies might be my favorite genre of nonfiction. (Recommendations welcome!)


  • The Tyranny of Faith, by Richard Swan (2023, fantasy). Second in the Empire of the Wolf series. I rather liked it, though it was darker and more like horror than the first. Looking forward to the third, which comes out Tuesday.
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014, science fiction). I don’t normally like post-apocalyptic all that much, as I’ve mentioned before, but this was good! (The flashbacks kept it from feeling overly dreary, I think.) While Covid was (and is) bad, books like this remind me how much worse it could have been. There’s your chipper thought for the day.
  • A Study in Drowning, by Ava Reid (2023, fantasy). Generally liked it, particularly the atmosphere and the literary research, though I didn’t care much for the earthy bits and or the parts that got a tad too intense for me. And now I want to read a fantasy book that’s all about architecture and constructing buildings.

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New artwork: The Power of the Lord Came upon Him.

The Power of the Lord Came upon Him

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Links #94

Matt Webb on the subjective experience of coding in different programming languages. Fascinating. For me, different languages do feel different, but not viscerally, no code synaesthesia. Pity.

Baldur Bjarnason on Gall’s law, which is: “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working, simple system.” I’ve been mulling over this a lot lately, both at work and for personal projects.

Eliot Peper on imagining the reader. “When you sit down to write and nobody’s in front of you, you forget that writing isn’t an end in itself. You forget that, even though you can’t see them, you are writing for someone.” When writing this blog I do usually keep in mind that I’m writing for y’all as a group (and what a lovely, diverse group of people!), but when I’m writing fiction I tend to forget all about audience. Something to work on.

The Church is creating an MTC in Bangkok! Wow! Did not see that coming. (And I’m late enough in posting this that the MTC is probably already up and running.)

Taylor on shipping finished projects. “Modern software devs aren’t really allowed to complete anything.” We do swim in eternal flux, but is that a bad thing? Switching metaphors: a living, breathing system requires feeding and attention, which seems fundamentally different from a chair or a pencil. There may also be a worthwhile distinction here between server-based software and downloadable desktop software. (Either way, though, this is why I focus more on art and typesetting with my personal projects. I like shipping finished products: no maintenance, which is a better fit for the limited free time I have.)

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Links #93

Lincoln Michel on making your novel more like Moby-Dick. “Why shouldn’t writers follow their obsessions and interests and strange ideas? The result is almost always going to be more memorable than an unthinking devotion to plot beats and character arcs.” I like this.

Hillary Predko on surgery trainers. That first image? Not cupcakes. (Seems like a great way to learn, though.)

Precondition on home row mods. Ooh. Interesting idea.

Benjamin Breen on the open-stack library. While I understand the move away from open stacks, it still makes me so, so sad. I’ve spent many an hour perusing shelves, letting serendipity guide me. There’s something magical about walking aisles lined with books. (This from a guy who pretty much only reads ebooks nowadays.)

Monaspace, GitHub’s new coding font superfamily, with a interesting “texture healing” idea. (Not sure how I feel about that, but glad to see innovation in that space.) I’m still using Go Mono.

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