Ben Crowder

Blog: #meta

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Small milestone I almost forgot about: this website turned twenty this year.

January 23, 2001. It’s possible I started it before that day, but that’s the first reference to it I’ve found in my journals.

Tinkering on the site all these years has been a delight. Truly one of my favorite activities.


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A couple quick updates:

Today was my last day at Cedar (formerly OODA Health before the acquisition), and on Monday I start a new job at Hologram.

I’m finally getting around to writing Cast, the new backend engine for this site. The plan is to go full static and deploy via Render. Also planning to move my personal apps over. While I’m still probably a couple months away from having everything migrated, I’m so, so looking forward to not maintaining a personal server anymore. (It’s fun, sure, and I’ve learned a lot, but it’s stressful — yesterday’s Let’s Encrypt root certificate expiration bit me thanks to an old OpenSSL version, for example — and it’s no longer something I want to spend time on for personal projects.)


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For those subscribing via RSS or JSON Feed: I’ve added the post tags to the top of each post, mirroring what you see on my site.

(My reasoning for including the tags and putting them at the top, by the way, is to make it a little easier to see at a glance what a post is about and whether you want to skip it.)


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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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I seem to have forgotten how to blog. (Actual blogging, as opposed to merely linking to new art.) In an attempt to get back on the saddle again:

Outside of art, my project time lately has primarily been swallowed up by some internal tooling changes. I alluded to this back in June, though the plan changed along the way. Rather than merging all those apps into one behemoth conglomerate, I decided it would be better (along at least a few axes) to follow the Unix philosophy and stick with smaller tools that do one thing well. Which conveniently lines up with the set of tools I’ve already built. Fancy that.

Arc is (was) my notes app, written using FastAPI. I wanted an app that felt more a wiki, and I wanted to move it to Django (easier to maintain, considering most of my other tools are also in Django). And I didn’t really like the name anymore. Thus Codex was born. Heretically, I built it using hardly any JavaScript — just a bit for keyboard shortcuts and another bit for the autosuggest when linking to another page. Everything else uses plain old HTML forms.

In fact, it was so liberating and fun that I plowed onward and decided to ditch Vinci (my internal blog/notebook app) and build a new app, Leaf, using the same technique; the only JS it uses is for keyboard shortcuts. It’s simpler, easier to maintain (I think? it’s still early on), and in a way it feels more in line with the grain of the web.

One other thing I did differently with both apps was to wait to write any CSS until after the functionality was all in place. It was disconcerting and delightful, building something with bare browser styles, and it certainly helped me focus on functionality first rather than getting distracted by layout.

Conclusion: while I doubt I would ever build apps at work this way, this old-school mode was invigorating and absolutely worth it for these personal projects.


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Weeknotes 2.1

  • Weeknotes are back, I think, and we’ll start a new season to celebrate the gap.
  • Today marks one full year since BYU announced that classes were going remote, and tomorrow is the anniversary of my work and the kids’ school following suit. One year. Whew. A bit mind-blowing. It’s certainly taken longer than we thought it would, but hope is finally upon us. My wife and I are looking forward to getting vaccinated next month, and then hopefully the trials with children go well. (We have a child with a high-risk medical condition, so we can’t really breathe easy until the whole family’s vaccinated. Which probably won’t be till the end of the year. Endure to the end!)
  • Quick update on the new job (which is great, loving it): while I still hit occasional pockets of onboarding slowness (new parts of the codebase, mainly), overall I feel like the impostor syndrome is mostly shutting the heck up. Also, Go turns out to be a great language for team-based work, at least in my view. Extremely easy to read, and it feels transparent, like it’s just you and what you’re trying to do, without the language getting in the way.
  • A couple weeks ago I messed up my back and have been dealing with the fallout since then. This time it’s taking longer to recover than it did a few years ago, which I suspect has to do at least in part with age. What a joy.
  • Art has slowed down a bit. I’m still planning to keep at it, but on a less regular basis. (It’s been my main thing for a while now and I think I’d like to focus more on other things.) When I do work on it, I’m planning to continue exploring the new texturing technique I used on Where Can I Turn for Peace? (probably redo a few old pieces with it). Maybe some more Blender, too, though I’m not really sure yet how that fits in.
  • Most of my writing projects are in the planning/outlining stages, so there’s not much to show yet there, sadly. (A fact which needs to bother me more, enough so that I start actually finishing stories. Good grief. But I guess part of working in public is being incompetent in public. Here you go! And I hope that the beats idea is the answer to my writing woes.)
  • I’ve finished the initial draft of lowercase letters on the Hinte typeface, and I’m in the middle of refining those and starting on the uppercase. Hoping to do much more type design going forward. (And eventually replace Literata on this site with something homegrown.)
  • As part of that endeavor, by the way, I’m itching to build that nice new web-based version of Curves. (FontForge is functional, sure, but its UI definitely does not spark joy for me.) Since I’ve already built the font-generating backend, the main remaining challenge here is just figuring out how I want the UI to work.

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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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Release bundles reborn

Starting now, I’m going to batch releases of my art/writing/etc., posting things only at the beginning of each month. I did this back in 2014–2015 for four or five months, and I think it’s a good fit for me again.

Arbitrary reasons for doing it (acknowledging that it would be just as easy to argue convincingly in the other direction):

  • To focus more. By not thinking as often about posting work (speaking mainly of art here since that’s primarily what I’ve been doing lately), I’ll hopefully be able to focus more on the work itself and less on its reception.
  • To slow down. Being able to release finished work immediately is a magical and wonderful part of the Internet, but I think some detachment can be helpful, giving ample time to assess and reassess the work and to polish it further before finally posting it. (I have regrets. Not many, but I do have some.)
  • I don’t know that batching will actually make this happen, but: to work more on somewhat larger projects that take more time. My current working theory, however, is that immediate release cycles encourage me to optimize toward projects I can finish as quickly as possible. The experiment is to see if slowing the release cycle down makes an actual difference there or not. It may not. I may just be lazy and ill-suited for large projects.
  • To write more blog posts that aren’t just release posts. Or, failing that, to at least make the blog feel less like a neverending train of releases and navel-gazing meta posts. (I do believe I’m yearning for the old days, when I wrote “real” posts. We’ll see if the essayist in me still lives.)

Rules I’m arbitrarily giving myself in this experiment, and other tacked-on miscellaneous thoughts that I didn’t want to start a new list for:

  • I’ll post each bundle on the first day of each month, or the second day if the first is a Sunday. (I’m calling these batches “release bundles,” by the way.)
  • A project has to have been finished for at least a week before I can release it — so anything finished during the last week of the month will go out a month later.
  • There’s no set end date for now. If it works well, I’ll hopefully keep doing it for a long time. If it inhibits the old creativity, I’ll stop.
  • I’m not sure yet whether I’ll write about in-progress projects during the month. Lately I’ve found myself harboring some misgivings about working in public, or at least some parts of it, and I need to soul search and figure out what I’m comfortable with and what makes the most sense for me and my introvert self.

Here we go. Next releases will be on March 1.


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Interested in helping with some UX research? I’m going to be revamping the information architecture on this site soon — its organic growth over the years has led to some structural friction points I’d like to resolve — and I need some volunteers.

Which is where you, dear reader, come in. Participating would involve activities like taking user tests and surveys, doing card sorts and tree tests, etc. Fairly low key stuff, all online. (You wouldn’t necessarily be doing everything in that list either, I should add. I’m hoping to keep this as a very light time commitment for everybody who volunteers.)

If you’re interested or have questions, please email me. Thank you in advance, too!


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Links #29


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