Ben Crowder


Weeknotes #4

  • Achievement unlocked: thesis defense. Presenting via Zoom turned out to be less intimidating than doing it in person would have been, I think. So that was nice.
  • Class-wise, I’m almost done adding transmission ray support to my ray tracer, and I’ve read a handful of papers on the preprocessing parts of deep learning pipelines for handwriting recognition. Both classes are enjoyable.
  • Found a local Thai restaurant that has some of my favorite dishes that are never on the menus of any of the other Thai restaurants around here. I may have squealed with excitement. The food was good, too.
  • I’m experimenting with a stained glass style for reworking some of my religious art pieces. The plan right now is to try using a Voronoi diagram to automate some of it, along with erosion/dilation filters in SVG for a potential stylistic effect.
  • Lately I’ve been planning an HCI experiment/tool called Wire. The intention is twofold: to explore writing interfaces that use Bezier curves, and to play around with applying curves onto other curves. Once I get the core functionality working I’ll be able to show what I mean by that.
  • Still cultivating story ideas, slowly fleshing several out. This style of outlining (repeatedly revisiting a number of different story ideas) is new to me, but I like it so far.
  • The end date for my Sacred Shapes exhibit is now indefinite. I expect it will come down sometime during the semester, whenever the next exhibit goes up. (But hey, it’s been up for eight months now — maybe it’ll gain immortality soon and stay there forever.)
  • Our stake is starting in-person church again, with each ward getting one Sunday a month. My family is still high-risk, though, and sadly won’t be able to attend for a while yet. But someday.

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One of the most important tools in my productivity/creativity toolbox is carving out time to think. I’ve recently started being more intentional about doing this, and already I can tell the difference. It feels a little like a superpower.

The areas which I’m currently dedicating time to think about are: story ideas, art, HCI/toolmaking, school, and work. I’ve done something similar in the past where I would write down everything as I went along, but I’m finding benefit in making specific, separate time for each area, and in not writing things down by default (but I do of course write things down if I need to).

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Links #12

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Some quick thoughts about the project space I see myself working in (meaning personal coding projects that aren’t the productivity tools I mentioned before), both now and for the foreseeable future. To be honest, it’s mostly a roadmap for myself, posted here as part of working in public.

Bookmaking tools

One of the areas in the project space is bookmaking tools: tools that help with making either print books or ebooks. What I’ve worked on in that area (and some of these are still in progress or in the future):

  • Press — low-level typesetting (PDF compiler)
  • Ink — higher-level typesetting
  • Curves — programmatic type design
  • Typlate — type design templates
  • md2epub/Caxton — ebook compiler
  • epubdiff — ebook differ
  • Fledge — text processing shell
  • Storybook — writing tool (covered under the productivity tools, yes, but I feel it fits in here)

Creativity tools

The next area, somewhat related, is creativity tools: tools for making art, music, etc. I do realize that there’s a bit of overlap between the two areas — art can be used in books, for example. This is not a rigorous taxonomy.

What I’ve worked on:

  • Trill — music composition REPL
  • Grain — command-line tool for texturing art

While I haven’t done much in this area so far, the intersection of software and art has been calling to me more lately. I expect creativity tools to become much more of a focus for me, probably even more so than the bookmaking tools.

Human-Computer Interaction

Last but not least, HCI. My master’s thesis is in this area, and much of my other work also touches on it in limited ways. (What I mean by that, I think, is that with projects like Trill, Curves, and Press, the parts that have most interested me are the interfaces. Also, those interfaces have been textual in these particular cases, but I’m also interested in other kinds of UIs.) So I plan to start building more proofs of concept and interface experiments — like the spatial interface ideas I mentioned several weeks ago.

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Made a new favicon for the site for the first time since July 2015. Old on left, new on right:


The new icon is a more abstract “BC” using three circles. The negative space also inadvertently looks a little like Woody Woodpecker facing left, but I’m okay with that.

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Links #11

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Weeknotes #3

  • A week of bad news for family. Since last Friday: 1) dad broke a bone, 2) mom broke a bone, 3) two brothers were in an accident, 4) sister got a bad medical diagnosis, and 5) two extended family members died (one in our neighborhood). Whew. 2020 is not over yet, clearly.
  • At work we had university conference, library conference, and division conference this week. All three meetings are so much better in person, but for my safety and my family’s safety (from Covid, to be clear) I’m glad they were all online.
  • My last semester of grad school starts next week. I’m taking two classes, one on advanced graphics and one on deep learning for handwriting recognition. Should be a fun semester. I also finally defend my thesis next week, a year and a half after I finished the research.
  • Sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been ambitious enough in life, if I’m squandering whatever meager talents I have by not gunning to be on the bestseller lists or become a CEO or do extraordinary things. Whenever those thoughts strike, though, I inevitably come to the same conclusion, namely that I rather like this quiet life I’ve got: family-focused, not too busy, with plenty of reading and making. There’s no fame or fortune, and I’m very okay with that. (Maybe I’m having a midlife anti-crisis?)
  • I’ve found that I get much more out of scripture study and general conference study when I subvocalize as I read.
  • As far as reading old books goes, by the way, I’ve found two contradictory techniques that both seem to work for me: slowing down and speed reading. (I know, right?) Slowing down and enjoying a text word by word makes it less daunting for me. And, conversely, I was about to give up on Silas Marner when I decided to try turbo mode. I’m now close to finishing it. (I go faster than my default clip but not so fast that retention drops.)
  • This week I realized that the word revolting (disgusting, repugnant) is connected to revolt (to rebel or overturn). Which is of course extremely obvious in hindsight, but until now I was blind to the link. From my cursory exploration, it looks like the repugnant meaning came later and may have to do with one’s stomach turning over.
  • Some people (real people, not made up, I promise) requested more detail on the pieces in my Sacred Shapes exhibit, so I wrote up backstories and/or thoughts for each piece. Should have done that months ago.
  • I’m cultivating and planning out some new story ideas, though far more slowly than I want to be. This fall will probably not be the short story extravaganza I thought it would be.
  • School starting up again means most of my free time for projects and blogging is about to evaporate. I’ll still try to post regularly, but it may end up being just weeknotes and occasional links.
  • I’m loving the weeknotes format.

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A few other new pieces: Nothing Shall Be Impossible unto You (about faith), Roll Forth (about the stone cut out of the mountain without hands), and Out of the Dust (about the Book of Mormon).

For a while I’ve wanted to explore using black and white for my art. Tell Me the Stories of Jesus was the initial step in that direction, but these latest four pieces are more like what I envisioned (a little more like ink on paper, to some degree). I’m looking forward to doing more work in this style.

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