Ben Crowder


Weeknotes #7

  • The editing of the novel has begun. It’s a jungle of complexity, at least compared to making paintings, where it only takes a few moments to assess the work. I’ve written large, complicated programs before, too, but with those it’s always clear when the output is correct or not. Here, instead, there be dragons: endless possibilities and no “correct” answers. And holding a whole novel in my head is hard. Kvetching now out and done with, I’m midway through putting together that minimal set of changes and will soon mark out on the outline where each change needs to go. (This would be so much easier if I’d outlined the book in advance, figuring this all out before spending months drafting. True, my weak attempts at outlining to date have sputtered and died, but now my motivation has multiplied.)
  • To replace the art-filled hole in my life, I have not been writing more (sadly) but instead have gotten back into making charts for dead languages and editions of obscure old texts. The current projects: a Latin adjectives chart (the thing you didn’t realize you desperately needed) and an edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (in English, possibly with the Latin on the side).
  • In what will seem a contradiction given what I’ve just said: putting school first has made a mammoth difference. I wrapped up the rest of that last assignment (bounding volume hierarchies followed by adding jitter to get antialiasing, glossy reflections, translucency, soft shadows, etc.), then went kind of crazy and plowed right through the next two assignments (texture mapping and path tracing). Oh my goodness I love global illumination and path tracing. Diffuse reflections make my heart sing. I’ve also gotten my semester project proposal approved and will be doing procedural modeling of spaceships.
  • Our stake wisely decided to cancel weekly in-person church meetings for the time being. Utah’s Covid numbers seem to have strapped on a small jetpack. Luckily we now have a mask mandate in the county, and that letter from President Worthen (BYU) and President Tuminez (UVU) wasn’t messing around. (Personally, given human nature coupled with America’s rabid individualism, I fully expect both universities to have to go fully remote by sometime next month. I also hope I’m wrong.)
  • Nonfiction reading this week: more of the same. I’m almost two-thirds of the way through M. Mitchell Waldrop’s The Dream Machine, and it’s now turned from a history of computing to more of a history of the Internet. Loving it.
  • Leslie Alcock’s Arthur’s Britain is still right up my alley, chock-full of early medieval British history. I hadn’t realized how hard it can be to identify places mentioned in the annals — the Historia Brittonum lists twelve battles, for example, and for almost all of them it’s been impossible to identify exactly where they took place, with two or more candidates for each location. Mind-blowing. This book is a bit slower going since it’s a paperback and not with me all the time.
  • I’m almost halfway through The Last Days of Socrates. Still trudging. It’s not completely boring, but (is this bad to admit?) Greco-Roman history and culture have never really appealed to me aesthetically. My tastes skew medieval. (And that’s where my interest in Latin comes in, to be honest.)
  • Fiction reading this week: R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War got much, much darker (trigger and content warnings galore), so I’d like to amend my “adore” from last time, which no longer feels like the right word. Still a very compelling book, though. The Rape of Nanking analogue was horrifying.
  • After that, in what was clearly not a palate cleanser, I read Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places. I was mainly there for the British archaeology; thrillers stress me out and abduction (particularly of children) ratchets that up even more, so I only read books like this in limited quantities. The archaeology parts were great, and now I’m looking forward to reading some of Francis Pryor’s books.
  • You’d think that after those two books I’d want something light and cheerful. Instead, for unfathomable reasons buried deep in my psyche (perhaps the advent of fall has something to do with it too), I’ve just started Stephen King’s ’Salem’s Lot. The initial apostrophe bothers me because I am shallow, but boy can King bring characters to life in just a few words.

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Links #19

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Links #18

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Weeknotes #6

  • After a week or two of wearing wrist guards, I’m pleased to report that the tendinitis has faded a bit. I still have to be careful whenever I’m working or holding my rock of a phone (which I can’t wait to replace with a lighter phone at the next opportunity).
  • I’ve implemented the BVH on my ray tracer for class, though there are still a couple of elusive bugs. (Roughly a third of my time on it so far has been me vs. the Rust borrow checker. And yet my level of frustration with it remains mild. My subconscious remembers that memory leaks are worse, I guess?)
  • Lately I’ve realized I’ve been letting myself get distracted by other projects and need to put school first more often.
  • Art’s on hold for now. I fully realize I may renege on that by next week’s post, but I’m hoping I don’t. This week brought the epiphany that making this kind of minimalist art has been changing my brain, and I’m not sure I like the change. I think the pieces themselves are good, sure. But always thinking about how to reducing gospel principles and events to minimal geometric shapes still ends up being a reduction. I feel it as a well-worn groove in my brain, one I’d like to escape for a long while — to be able to think about the gospel without my brain automatically attempting to geometrize the heck out of it.
  • Almost time to start editing the novel! Further mulling on the method has me sandwiched in the middle: not intensive, but also more than just a lightweight pass for typos. Now that I’m distanced a bit from the first draft, I can see the story more clearly — threads that need to be tied together, supernumerary characters to be eliminated, several ways to tighten the story and bring in more meaning. Exciting. Still, since I hope to get this book out this year, my goal is to find the minimal set of structural changes that get it to a level where I won’t be embarrassed to publish it.
  • Haven’t started writing any of the stories, but I continue to water the ideas each day. I wish I’d started doing this years ago. Depending on how long the novel editing takes, this also may end up being the semester where I just cultivate ideas and don’t actually write any new stories. (I’d still very much like to fit that in, though.)
  • Our area is starting weekly church meetings again, with sacrament meeting both in-person and virtual, and a virtual second-hour meeting to boot. The Covid numbers in Utah seem to be sprinting uphill again, though, so we’ll see how long the in-person part lasts.
  • Should I include what I’ve been reading? Sure, let’s try it, though weekly may be too short of a window to be interesting (since several books will show up week to week). I’m reading The Dream Machine (early computing history), which is so long but so good. This week I began Arthur’s Britain, an exploration of the historical evidence for King Arthur. Old Latin and Welsh and loads of early British history and I’m in heaven. I’m also trudging through Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, which is a little less engaging than I’d hoped, but I’m not giving up on it because a) I probably just need to spend more time in it rather than a page or two here and there, and b) I’m trying to build up my knowledge of the Greco-Roman classics (and older books in general).
  • Fiction-wise, I’m reading The Poppy War and adore it so far. I’m also a third of the way through Pact and will likely continue to report that for several weeks hence because it is so very long (four thousand pages). Still enjoying it, though.
  • Post mortem: I don’t know whether these reading paragraphs were boring for y’all, but I like talking about books and this was fun, so I’m going to keep doing it. Reader beware!

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Links #17

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I ended up tweaking my Vim syntax highlighting earlier this week (after my first post), to be more in line with what Ben had posted. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far (with the disclaimer that all of this code is internal and wasn’t written with the expectation that it would ever be seen by anyone else) (and I’m also still fairly new at writing Go and Rust):


And some Rust, Go, and HTML:


These are certainly more soothing to my eyes, which was something I didn’t realize I needed. While these aren’t perfect in the least — with enough variation between languages to look almost like entirely different color themes, though I think I see that as a feature and not a bug — I’m happy with the tweaks for now and plan to stick with them.

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New artwork: Christ Visits the Nephites III, a third installment in the series. This time round I experimented with a style that feels a bit like medieval stained glass. Fairly happy with how it turned out, though of course now I mostly see its flaws. (But early medieval stained glass was full of flaws and imperfections! So it’s in that spirit.)

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Links #16

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Over the weekend I read Ben Kuhn’s post on syntax highlighting and thought the idea sounded intriguing, so I tried it out.

Here’s what I had before (and let me add that I was tweaking my Vim colors a few days before this, so this wasn’t technically my normal setup) (and let me further add that this is fairly old code and not anything particular exciting):


And after, where comments are bold and brighter than the rest of the dim code:


Hmm. This isn’t a perfect implementation of the idea in the least, but even so, I don’t know that I like having comments so predominant.

This does, however, give me several ideas for modifying my existing color scheme (or starting from scratch, which is feeling a bit more likely right now). Something more soothing, less garish. And still some way to make comments stand out more — italics or a somewhat brighter color, probably. (Sidenote: nvim-treesitter has caught my interest.)

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Lately I’ve been thinking about this Sam Altman quote on focus:

Focus is a force multiplier on work.

Almost everyone I’ve ever met would be well-served by spending more time thinking about what to focus on. It is much more important to work on the right thing than it is to work many hours. Most people waste most of their time on stuff that doesn’t matter.

Once you have figured out what to do, be unstoppable about getting your small handful of priorities accomplished quickly. I have yet to meet a slow-moving person who is very successful.

Still mulling it over. (I like it, just figuring out whether/how to apply it to myself.)

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