Ben Crowder


Booknotes 1.2

  • Here we are again, two months later. Aiming to get back into the weekly habit, but this may end up being a more sporadic season.
  • I bumped my daily reading goal back up to 100 pages, and I also serialized my reading so I only read one nonfiction and one fiction at a time. Without that, I’ve found that I ignore the harder books and keep returning to the easier ones. Serialization forces me to make progress with books I might otherwise abandon (but that I still want to finish).


  • It’s been a while since I read The Ghost Map, but it was quite good. Not as much about maps as I’d been hoping for, but that wasn’t a problem.
  • After that I read Seven at Sea by Erik and Emily Orton, about their family taking up sailing and spending a year or so living on a boat. My wife read it with her book group and, with one of my friends embarking on a similar journey with their family around the same time, it caught my interest. The book was a mixed bag for me, but I’m still glad I read it.
  • Next up: Jennifer Steinhauer’s The Firsts, about several of the women who were elected to Congress in 2018 (AOC, Ilhan Omar, etc.). Really liked it.
  • And then there was Arnold Bennett’s How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day. I had high hopes for this book, expecting to glean some good, actionable productivity advice. I was disappointed. About the only thing I got out of it was this passage: “The chief beauty about the constant supply of time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoilt, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your career. Which fact is very gratifying and reassuring. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose. Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until tomorrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won’t. It will be colder.” Which is great. The rest, not so much (for me).
  • I read Coretta Scott King’s autobiography, Coretta. Loved it. The first half was much more interesting to me, but I’m still glad I read the second half (post-assassination).
  • Thanks to serializing my reading, I finally finished Morris Hicky Morgan’s translation of Vitruvius’s The Ten Books of Architecture. This book was much more delightfully wide-ranging than I’d expected, with commentary on astronomy and machines and art, among other things. (Vitruvius had it out for non-realistic art, let me tell you. Fantasy was not his thing at all.)
  • I’m currently almost halfway through Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works, an economic analysis of why some Asian countries have taken off economically and others haven’t. It’s a bit slower going for me since I haven’t read much economics yet, but still quite readable and overall I’m learning a lot and loving it (especially this middle section on manufacturing, though the agriculture section was also fascinating).


  • The Gameshouse turned out middling for me, which was a mild surprise since I’ve really liked the other books by Claire North that I’ve read (The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch). I loved the Venetian setting, though.
  • After that I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Borders of Infinity, a novella in her Vorkosigan series. Well done as usual.
  • I also read Andrew Rowe’s On the Shoulders of Titans, second in his Arcane Ascension series. Definitely popcorn gamelit for me, which I like as an occasional thing but I can’t read too much of it in close succession.
  • And then James S. A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes, sixth in the Expanse series. It was okay, I think, but I don’t know that I liked it as much as some of the earlier books in the series. Not sure why. I do, however, like seeing how drastically things in that universe have changed since the first book.
  • After that I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Mirror Dance. Glad I still have eight or nine Vorkosigan books left. (I’ve been metering them out so they last longer. Ditto for Discworld. Which reminds me, I’m about due to start Guards! Guards!)
  • Also read Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow the Ninth. I loved it, and in thinking about it afterwards, that’s pretty much entirely because of the voice. Looking forward to reading everything Tamsyn writes. (As is usually the case with these novels, by the way, I would love the book even more if it were free of objectionable content. I don’t know why I feel the need to disclaim that, but there you go.)
  • I got partway through Matt Larkin’s Darkness Forged and then bailed since it got a little bit too explicit for me, and the voice wasn’t really doing it for me. I do look forward to reading more Norse-inspired fantasy, though.
  • I’m now a fifth of the way through K. J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City and it’s great so far. More engineer protagonists, please.

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Links #38

Ziglings. Learn Zig by fixing small bugs in small programs. (Inspired by rustlings, though those exercises seem to be broader than just fixing errors.) A good way to learn a programming language, I think.

Maggie Appleton on bi-directional links. Doing this locally is one of the (many) changes I want to make down the road when I rebuild this site’s backend.

Vasilis van Gemert on where web page navigation should be. I’m convinced: nav at the bottom of the source file, and on mobile at the bottom visually as well. Planning to make the change here soon.

Blender 2.92 dropped recently. Geometry nodes look promising, and it’s crazy to see how all the grease pencil work has turned Blender into a viable 2D animation studio as well.

PEP 636. Pattern matching! In Python! Very much looking forward to this — I’ve loved using it in Rust.

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New artwork: Where Can I Turn for Peace?

On this one I tried a new texturing technique which I’ll explain later, once I’ve used it on a few more pieces.

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No, not the headphones. Or plotting. Less exciting than either, it’s a new productivity technique I’ve been using lately and oh my goodness it works well (for me).

Let’s rewind. My problem has been that I work on projects in several different areas (writing, art, coding, design, etc.) and would like to make progress across all of them, but in my mortal frailty I instead tend to spend most of my available project time on whatever is easiest.

A while back I read Andy Matuschak’s reflections on 2020. The “Executing alone” section talks about the costs of context switching, which gave me the idea to spend a week at a time working in any one area (or track, as I called them). A week on writing, a week on art, etc. Advantage: much less context switching than I’m used to. But it also meant long stretches of time between tracks (depending on how I rotated through the tracks), which wasn’t so great.

Next attempt: slicing time into days instead of weeks. I created a new calendar in Google Calendar to track my daily track assignments — one day for art, the next for writing, the next for working on tooling, etc. I also opted to give myself some flexibility to work on a track for more than one day in a row if I was on a roll. Better, definitely. But it didn’t stick. I don’t know why.

Finally, at long last, I found the right thing for me: the beat. The way I’m using it, it’s a flexible unit of time ranging from a minute or two up to however long is needed (so far ten or fifteen minutes). Even with a busy schedule, I almost always have a handful of free beats scattered throughout the day where I could get something small done — a next action, usually.

That’s all well and good, but the part that changed things for me was this: when I have an available beat, rather than having to decide in that moment what to work on, instead I just press a button. It’s a random decision. And it’s amazing (for me).

To get this working, I set up a list (in the iOS Shortcuts app) that has each thing I want to work on. The projects or tracks I want to work on more often are duplicated, so it ends up looking something like this (heavily redacted, ha):

  • Writing — project 1
  • Writing — project 1
  • Writing — project 1
  • Writing — project 2
  • Writing — project 2
  • Writing — project 3
  • Art
  • Art
  • etc.

The shortcut then uses a Get Random Item from List action followed by Show alert: Item from List. Super simple, took about thirty seconds to put together. I have it set up as a widget on my phone and as a complication on my watch, and I find that I use the latter the most by far.

I’m not sure why this works so well for my brain, but moving the choice out of my present and into my past (where I can prioritize better) has worked wonders — most notably for me, I’ve gotten unstuck on several projects I’d been avoiding for months.

Anyway, I have no idea whether it would work for other people, so if you try it out, let me know how it goes.

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New artwork: New and Everlasting II and New and Everlasting III, a matching set.

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New artwork: That Same Sociality.

I’m finding, by the way, that Cirque continues to come in handy. Planning to get back to working on it sometime.

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Links #37

Trying out a new format with these link bundles, in the hope that dropping the bulleted list format is a) more flexible and b) more conducive to writing a bit more about the links, rather than limiting myself to a single line with an awkward semicolon shoved in if I need more room.

Andy Bell on recent/upcoming CSS changes. Good stuff here. I’m probably most looking forward to using :is and clamp() and ch (all of which I’d read about before but had mostly forgotten). Oh, and scroll-margin-top.

Design Engineering Handbook by Natalya Shelburne et al., a free ebook which looks interesting. (I’ve read part of the first chapter so far.) Design Better (which appears to be an InVision thing) has other free books available as well, on various design-related topics.

Max Koehler on continuous typography. Also see his post about the tool and the tool itself. This is great, and I hope these ideas get broader traction. (Also, I’m excited to start using Source Serif 4 and its optical sizing axis.)

Aleksey Kladov on including an file. Great idea. Having a high-level overview is so helpful.

Graydon Hoare on always betting on text. I’ve probably linked to this before, but it’s good and worth rereading occasionally.

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New artwork: Salt of the Earth.

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New artwork: Suffer the Little Children to Come unto Me.

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Release bundles reburied

The release bundle idea did not age well. It may be the right idea somewhere down the road, but this past week and a half it stifled my projects more than it helped. Putting it on the backburner for now.

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