Ben Crowder

Blog: #spatial

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Some quick toolmaking updates:

  • Not very long ago I felt like Storybook was a bit cumbersome, and in a fit of consolidation glee I decided to trash it and instead use Arc for my writing. I got as far as adding wiki-style links and backlinks (still helpful additions), then realized Arc wasn’t actually a good fit after all — my brain apparently doesn’t like having the story drafts in among all the other notes. It seems to like things in separate bins.
  • So Storybook lives after all. There are, however, gobs of cruft that have built up over the years — several features I tried out and then ended up not sticking with — so I’m going to rewrite it from scratch using FastAPI and plain text storage (as mentioned before). Leaner and more focused. Looking forward to it. (On this I’ve done some preliminary planning and have written a script to export the old data in the new plain text format, but that’s it.)
  • I’ve been using Arc to plan the editing of the novel. It works, but I’ve also found myself wondering if an infinite canvas tool like Figma or Milanote might be even better, with the power to break out of the cold confines of a linear column of text. You can probably tell where this is going, can’t you. And you’re right: because it foolishly doesn’t seem like that hard of a problem, and because I want full control (ha, what an illusion) over both the experience and my data, yes, I’m making my own infinite canvas web app. It’s called Space. It’s in the early amorphous stages of planning and will likely stay that way for a while because I’m in the middle of the semester. But I’m excited about it. (And have been for a while; this project’s been on the docket for over a year.) I initially planned to use canvas, but before I settle on that I’m going to try WebGL; if it works, it would allow for much more interesting possibilities, along the lines of the spatial interface ideas I alluded to a while ago.

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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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Links #5


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By way of the Glue chat comic (interesting ideas, by the way), I came across John Palmer’s excellent posts on spatial interfaces and spatial software. Mmm. As a productivity nerd and a hobbyist toolmaker (there are probably ten or so personal tools I’ve been using over the past several years that I’ve never blogged about, but that’ll change soon), I’m very, very interested in these kinds of ideas. Particularly in using 3D interfaces for productivity. I’ve thought a bit about doing that in VR, but I hadn’t really considered building tools in 3D even outside of VR.

No concrete ideas yet, just little threads leading off to various areas that I’m interested in exploring (todo lists, website/blog engines, writing/outlining tools, etc.).

At this point the plan is to use Three.js for prototyping some ideas to see if it’s viable. My initial sense is that for the kinds of tools I’m interested in, I’ll probably need a good way to render/edit text from within Three.js, and it looks like rendering to a canvas and then using the canvas as a texture will work. Anyway, more to come.


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