Ben Crowder

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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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As a spur to get myself writing more, I’ve put up a new writing statistics page. There you can see in all its wilted glory how little I’ve written over the years.

Or how little I’ve finished, I should say — and that’s the main change here. By tracking actual published words, I’m hoping this sparks much more finishing and publishing. And by “publish” I still mean publishing here on this site. I imagine down the road I may submit pieces elsewhere, but for now I’m content with the small scale.

This brain hack is already working. Last week I hardly worked on the novel at all, but after putting this page up I’ve found myself fully back in the throes of editing, since finishing and publishing a 65,000-word novel — the first draft of which is already complete — seems the best way right now to push 2020’s zero up to a more impressive number. And now I have compelling motivation to make sure I get this thing edited before the end of the year.

Also, inspired by the colophon in Cory Doctorow’s Pluralist newsletter, I’ll probably add daily or weekly drafting word counts to the page soon, as further motivation to keep writing each day. Public shaming works wonders! (More seriously: while the idea of posting these kinds of metrics would have mortified me a year or two ago, I’m glad I’ve gotten round that obstacle. Working in public has been wonderfully freeing.)

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My subconscious seems to be on a quest to turn this blog into more of a magazine, with regular columns and all. (Watch out, before you know it I’ll be calling myself editor-in-chief of this rag.)

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about starting a recurring (if infrequent, speaking realistically) Q&A section. This’ll be another experiment, of course, like office hours, and again in the spirit of working in public.

So: if you have any questions you’d like to see me answer here in public, email me your question with “Q&A” in the subject, and also let me know whether you’re okay with your first name accompanying the question.

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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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Office hours

In the spirit of working in public, and inspired by the office hours professors keep (and maybe others, though I’m not familiar with the idea outside of an academic context), I’m now holding occasional ad hoc office hours via video chat.

For now I’m starting with fifteen-minute appointments (less daunting for both sides, I think) and asking people to email me a list of three time slots that work for them.

This thing is very much an experiment. It may bomb. I don’t know that anyone will actually want to talk via video or audio rather than just sending an email, but it’ll be available for those who do. (Luckily, since the scheduling is ad hoc, it’s not a problem at all if hardly anyone ever uses it.)

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I recently discovered weeknotes, and I am excited. Extremely short posts (one or two lines, like a tweet) feel too anemic to me for a blog, even after making titles optional, and now here’s a lovely way to handle that: bundle several small posts into a longer, less frequent, more substantial post. Has a nice feel to it, almost like an issue of a magazine.

Some discussion on weeknotes I dug up as I scoured the web:

And here are some of the people whose weeknotes I’ve come across so far (why so many of them are in the UK I do not know, but being an anglophile I also don’t mind in the least):

These feel humanizing to me in a way that scrolling through Facebook/etc. doesn’t. It’s wonderful.

So of course I’m now planning to start writing some myself, probably on Fridays. It’s unclear at this point which types of posts will end up in weeknotes vs. on their own, but that’ll all work itself out eventually.

Lastly: if you find other weeknotes you enjoy reading (or if you start writing your own), let me know!

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