Ben Crowder / Blog

Blog: #health

New artwork: Behold My Beloved Son. Basically a Christ Visits the Nephites but with a different title, one actually from the scriptures.

I painted this in Procreate, and goodness, it messed up my back a bit. (Which is unfortunate because I really like the woodcut-style look on the white triangle. I may still do occasional pieces this way, when there’s not a billion little circles like I have here.) It’s frustrating when my spondylolisthesis keeps me from making art the way I want to. At some point I’ll probably try to figure out a way to do this style with code. (Speaking of which, I generated the circles here with a little bit of JavaScript. It was fun doing a piece that’s a little more three-dimensional.)

Behold My Beloved Son

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Not much going on here lately because I’ve had a fairly bad flareup of back pain since early Thanksgiving week.

(This is from my grade 2 spondylolisthesis at L5-S1, which I’ve had for nineish years now. Every once in a while I move wrong and get a flareup. The more flared up it is, the more back pain — mostly lower but often upper too — and the harder it gets to walk. When it’s really bad I’m hobbling around like a ninety year old.)

Lots of lying in bed on a heating pad trying to recover and to avoid flaring things up further. Lots of reading, but not much else outside of work. I’ve got a handful of projects in progress, though, that I’m hoping to get to a presentable state before long.


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Links #49

Rachel Smith on code-first vs. product-first engineers. I read this a few weeks ago and it’s been simmering in the back of my head since then.

Dan McKinley on boring technology. I’ve also been thinking about this a lot, primarily with respect to the technologies I use to build my personal projects.

Robin Sloan on permacomputing. The long-term durability of our current technologies — or lack thereof — is also something I think about fairly often. Nice to see movement in that direction.

Ada Palmer on disability. Resonated a lot with me.

Clive Thompson on nine ways to rewild your attention. Good suggestions. I particularly like the one about randomly reading old books.


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We’re overdue for some kind of general life update, I think. Weeknotes-that-are-not-weeknotes:

  • The health issues I referred to in May are still largely unchanged, though I’ve come to terms with it enough that I should probably stop using it as an excuse for lower productivity. (I do need to rest more than I used to, but I also feel like I’m spending proportionally less time making things than is warranted. I’m now tracking my time using a completely rewritten version of Momentum, so I should hopefully have more actual data to work with soon.)
  • We’ve also had a month of worrisome family medical issues (including two late-night ER visits) that have been weighing me down.
  • On the plus side, I got some lab results that finally motivated me to start exercising more and make real changes to my diet. I’m three weeks in and the lifestyle adjustments seem to be sticking. Fingers crossed.
  • The rising case counts and Delta situation certainly is discouraging. My faith in humanity in the aggregate has eroded significantly over the past year and a half.
  • In spite of a spectacular lack of public results, I’m still writing, slowly. (Much more successful at avoiding it.) In the middle of figuring out a process that consistently gives me a) results that b) don’t make me cringe.
  • I’ve been trying to keep artmaking to the weekends so I have more of a chance at making progress with my writing, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well as I’d hoped.
  • Another thing I’ve been itching to do is get back into making web-based art tools like Cirque (which needs a lot of improvement). Several ideas here I’m excited to work on.

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Quick update on projects, or rather the general lack thereof these past few months.

Since messing up my back again in late February, I’ve seen a mild level of recovery, but I’m still far from where I used to be (which itself was far, far from normal, those good old days before I slipped on some ice and got spondylolisthesis). Some of the things I used to do (like art) now cause enough pain, whether immediate or delayed, that I have to avoid them.

I’ve also been dealing with some out-of-the-blue episodes of vertigo. So much fun, let me tell you. The worst seems to be over, but every time I turn my head things still get a little woozy for a couple seconds.

On top of my lovely collection of physical ailments, I’ve also been feeling mentally drained and exhausted after work each day. Not sure if it’s a side effect of the back and neck pain or if it’s 2020 finally catching up to me or if it’s the new job. (If it’s the job: my company just got acquired, so I’m effectively starting yet another new job. Exciting. I’ll write more about it soon.)

With all of that, I’ve effectively been taking a forced mini sabbatical from project work. Thus the prolonged silences.

The break has certainly been restful — lots of reading — but I do want to find a way forward with making things, even though it’s fairly unclear what that will mean. Whether I’ll ever get my back back to where it was. Whether the vertigo is a new long-term companion. Whether I’ll be able to keep doing the same types of projects. (Writing and programming are still fine, physically, so I expect more of both. Not sure about the rest.) Whether this begins the inevitable slowing down in life and what then follows. (Hopefully not yet!)

A quick endnote lest my somewhat bloodless portrayal of the situation keep humanity from seeping in (and to mix metaphors post-haste, I’m not casting my net to catch any pity here, just documenting what this experience is like in the hope that maybe somehow it’ll help someone someday): there have of course been many moments of frustration and anguish and discouragement. It’s devastating not being able to help out nearly as much at home. Not being able to roughhouse with my kids. A lot of time lying on my back trying to relieve the pain. (And a corresponding bump in the number of accidental naps. C’est la vie.)

The situation isn’t ideal, but situations rarely are. I’ll still keep trying to claw my way back up to better health, of course, but if this is my lot going forward, so be it. There’s not much use in pining after what’s unattainable. I’ve adjusted, and I’ll continue to adjust as necessary, and I’ll be fine.

Anyway, that’s the far too long explanation of why I’ve been mostly derelict in posting work here these past few months.


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Weeknotes 2.2

  • Almost eligible for the Covid vaccines! Yesterday the governor announced that everyone in Utah sixteen and older will be eligible starting Wednesday next week. Wonderful news. Not really looking forward to having to brave the virtual crowds to get an appointment, though. I’d rather just put my name on a waitlist and bide my time.
  • No real improvement on my back. At this point in my life, I’m realizing that corporeal deterioration is undoubtedly going to continue scraping away my ability to do the things I love, and it’s just a matter of which things and how soon. (I am clearly an optimist.)
  • Sadly, our neighbor a few houses down unexpectedly passed away at home this afternoon. That makes three deaths in our ward in the past two weeks, a trend we hope will stop soon.
  • I’ve been doing somewhat better at putting my phone away when my kids are in the room, and it makes a noticeable, wonderful difference. I’m finally becoming aware of just how important it is to give them focused, undivided attention — not just for them, but for me, too. Less mental friction.
  • The other day I realized that because my new job is remote, I have no idea how tall anyone is. It doesn’t matter in the least, but part of me is curious how closely my subconsciously created mental estimates match up with reality — and whether it’s influenced at all by camera angles in Zoom.

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I’m currently dealing with tendinitis — or some other kind of RSI, not entirely sure what it is. It started up about a week ago and is mostly in my wrists and forearms, but it’s been occasionally flaring up in my hands as well.

At this point I suspect it’s stemming from a combination of the ergonomics of my work-from-home setup along with the iPhone 11 being too large and too heavy for me. Both exacerbate the pain. (As does almost any use of my hands or wrists. Such fun.)

I’m now wearing wrist guards while I work, which helps a little (though still not as much as I was hoping). I’m also trying to be more careful about my hand and wrist positions when I use the keyboard and trackpad.

For my phone, I tried a ring holder but didn’t like it, and I’m now trying a LoveHandle, which seems to help a little with the size of the phone (but not really at all with the weight). Main options here seem to be using my phone less often, setting it on surfaces to use it when possible (as opposed to holding it in my hand), and switching to a smaller phone at some point.

Anyway, I’m documenting this here not to elicit sympathy but as a forewarning that I may not be as productive over the next few weeks.


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Great news: Apple and Google are integrating COVID-19 contact tracing into iOS and Android. Earlier today, Kottke posted a visual explanation of how something like this works. (I’m not sure how close it is to what Apple and Google are actually doing, but from a cursory skim, it looks fairly similar.)


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Brief update: still alive, doing fine, just staying home with my wife and kids in the hope of helping stop the spread (and ideally not getting COVID-19 either — one of our kids has a heart condition which makes this scarier for us than it would otherwise be).

I haven’t really worked on any art lately (not in the right headspace for it lately), but I have gotten back into writing, and that’s going well. Hoping to have some new fiction to post before too long. And new art, too.

Stay home and stay healthy, y’all.


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