Ben Crowder

Blog: #weeknotes

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Booknotes 1.1

  • Weeknotes are dead, long live booknotes. In the interest of experimentation and partly because weeknotes were starting to lose their appeal for me, I’m retiring that format. In its place: booknotes. They’ll be effectively the same as the reading section of the weeknotes. The rest of what I used to write about in weeknotes will move back to normal (if sporadic) blog posts.
  • I’m also planning to try out seasons, so this is season 1, issue/episode/whatever 1. I have no idea how long the season will be or what would warrant moving to a new season, but I figured it would be fun to try out and see how it goes.
  • I’m dropping my reading goal from 100 pages/day to 50, so that I have more time for projects.
  • Another thing I want to start doing with these booknotes is, when first mentioning a book, talk about why I’m reading it and what I hope to get out of it. (At this point I plan to do this only for nonfiction. I unofficially sort of started doing it in my last weeknotes.)

Nonfiction

  • I finished The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Great book. I really, really enjoyed the parts where he made things like the circuit breaker and the windmill itself, and that’s exactly what I wanted out of it. I hope to find many more books like it, with lots and lots of making things.
  • I’m now reading Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map, about cholera in 1850s London. I’d heard about the book several times before, and I’m interested in the story of how they figured out what was causing the epidemic, and in learning more about the London of that time. So far (I’m a fifth of the way in), it’s great. But cholera is not great.
  • I need to make more time to read Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin, because I’m really liking it and just hardly ever get to it. As far as intention goes, I’m reading it to learn more about Franklin’s work as a printer, inventor, and scientist, and secondarily to learn more about his political career.
  • The Vitruvius is somewhat slow going but fascinating. There’s a bit about good buildings lasting forever, which made me realize I tend to think of buildings as somewhat more ephemeral and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because buildings on campus are always going up or coming down. Or maybe it’s a habit of mind stemming from all the time I spend building ephemeral software. Whatever the case, the idea of fairly permanent alteration of the landscape (not just in preparing for buildings to go up but the building itself) intrigues me.

Fiction

  • I finished Killer Dungeon. Fun series. Not a whole lot to say about it.
  • This week has not at all been a fiction week for me. I’m around a fifth of the way into Claire North’s The Gameshouse but haven’t really gotten hooked yet. I can’t tell if that’s because of everything else going on (nationally and personally). I think I’ll stick with it for now.

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Weeknotes #21

  • 2020 is finally in the ground. It wasn’t all bad, but I’m glad to see it gone. Here’s hoping 2021 proves a massive improvement.
  • My main creative goal this year is to establish processes that help me finish the pieces of writing I start. I’ve got several old stories I want to finish and release, and of course there’s the novel, too.
  • Art-wise, I feel like things have settled into a decent rhythm. This next piece, which I’ll be releasing on Monday, is among my favorites that I’ve done. (It’s a reworking of a theme I’ve done before, but with better execution, I think.)
  • I’ve started work on an ebook edition of the next Andrew Lang fairy tale book (The Green Fairy Book), seven years since I made the last one. Whoops. I’m not very far along with it, but it’s good to be making ebooks again.
  • I’m also working on a typeface that I plan to use to typeset a book of poems (along with illustrations).
  • I switched to an iPhone 12 Mini a couple days ago, to help with that hand/wrist pain I mentioned a while back (my iPhone 11 was too heavy and too large for my hands). So far, so good.
  • We watched Soul. Good film. Really liked it.
  • My wife and I are almost finished with the first (and only) season of The Chosen, and I think it’s my favorite TV show ever. Very much hoping they make many more seasons.
  • We’ve also watched a handful of episodes of Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes and have enjoyed those. They always leave me with the itch to bake artisan bread, which is kind of a downside because we watch them late at night after the kids have gone to bed, when baking isn’t really a wise option.
  • Nonfiction reading: Finished Stalling for Time. I indirectly gleaned several parenting tips from all the negotiation stories. Recommended.
  • I’m a quarter of the way into William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which I first heard about several months ago when my wife read it for her book club. Just barely got to where he starts building things, which is my primary interest in the book.
  • Very much enjoying Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin. I’m still only a tenth of the way in, though. (I’m reading it exclusively on my laptop, and with the holidays I haven’t been on it much.)
  • I’ve also started reading Morris Hicky Morgan’s translation of Vitruvius’s The Ten Books on Architecture. (I’m newly determined to start reading more hard books and more old books.) It’s slower going but I’m loving it. I’d been under the misconception that perspective drawing wasn’t discovered/invented until the Renaissance, but Vitruvius describes it quite clearly in the 1st century B.C.
  • Fiction reading: I finished The Road. Whew. It wasn’t quite as harrowing as I’d been expecting, but it was still intense and I may or may not have shed a tear or two at the end.
  • As a palate cleanser, I’m almost done with Phil Tucker’s Killer Dungeon, final volume in the Euphoria Online series. Definitely more of a popcorn read. I don’t play games and thus don’t particularly care about the LitRPG statistics parts, but the rest is fun.
  • I did end up hitting my reading goal for the year, by the way. In 2020 I read 105 books (up from 67 in 2019), thanks to my goal of reading 100 pages a day. And no, I didn’t use picture books to easily meet my goal. (I read 42,546 pages in 2020, up from 28,000 pages even in 2019. These page counts include books I bailed on, by the way.)

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Weeknotes #20

  • Merry Christmas! I hope you’re all well and safe.
  • As mentioned, the initial version of the portfolio is up. I’ve decided to jettison the type design tool idea (too niche, and perhaps a bit too technical) and instead design a writing app ala Scrivener for my next case study.
  • With my art, I’ve moved from an every-other-day release schedule (a bit much) to releasing on Mondays and Thursdays. This past week I’ve had three people separately suggest that I make a book of my art, so I’m now mulling that over and trying to figure out whether running a Kickstarter is something I can do in the near future. (I’m also thinking, though, about making a coloring book from some of my existing pieces. It would be a free PDF download.)
  • Tonight I freshened up the design of my site and redid the home page. Eternal tinkering.
  • Nonfiction reading: I’m two-thirds of the way through Stalling for Time. Fascinating reading. The extra detail on the Ruby Ridge and Waco fiascos has been riveting though sad.
  • I haven’t been reading as much of Benjamin Franklin as I’d like lately, but I’m planning to ramp that up this next week.
  • Fiction reading: Finished The Humans. Thought-provoking.
  • I also read Ben Aaronovitch’s Midnight Riot (Rivers of London in the UK). A bit earthy in places but other than that I really liked it, and I wish I lived in London, and I kind of wish I was born in London too.
  • And now I’m a fifth of the way into Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’ve gone in knowing only that it’s depressing and post-apocalyptic and that it’s somewhat light on punctuation; I have no idea what happens beyond that. He’s a heck of a writer so far.

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Weeknotes #19

  • I am now, I believe, in possession of a master’s degree. (Pedantic aside: is stating this a bit on the premature side? I mean, can I really say I have a master’s before the grades have gone through? Or before the diploma is safely in my hands? Perhaps. I’ve done everything that I can do on my end, so that’s what I’m in possession of, whatever it is.) Yesterday marked 1,574 days since I decided to get this degree, and whew, that makes it sound really long. Which it was. But the time passed quickly. I’m delighted to be on this end of it.
  • I’m oh so close to having the initial version of my portfolio ready. Out the gate I’ll have a small new case study along with three retrospective case studies from my time designing at the library. It’s not a ton, but at least it’s something to get out there, allowing me to start applying for jobs while I work on expanding the portfolio with new case studies.
  • Writing? What’s that?
  • The every-other-day release frequency has worked out well for the art, I think. An important consequence I hadn’t considered beforehand is that it also keeps me in the art headspace more often, and as a result I’ve had a lot more momentum. FWIW for those who are curious: I currently have four pieces textured and ready to release, seven more ready for texturing, and dozens more ideas in Paper and Figma waiting to be fleshed out.
  • Nonfiction reading: I finished Grinding It Out and while it was interesting enough to actually finish, I found myself liking Ray Kroc less and less as the book went on. So there was that.
  • I also blazed through She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Oh, how I love reading about journalists’ investigations—I also really liked Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill for the same reason. Somber subject matter, but it’s good to see a predator taken down.
  • Yesterday I began reading Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner, about his time as an FBI hostage negotiator. (Not a job I’d ever want.) Riveting so far.
  • Fiction reading: I’m halfway through The Humans and enjoying it. (It’s been much more of a nonfiction week, thus the slow progress on this book in spite of it being a very easy read.)

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Weeknotes #17

  • Last project of my master’s: done! (I ended up implementing cell noise and Voronoi diagrams along with the reaction-diffusion and Perlin noise.) A fun project to end on. One more week of class and then a brief final demo the following week, after which closure is mine. Surreal.
  • The art hiatus is definitely over. In the past I tended to release new pieces the day I finished them (or the next at the latest), but I’m now trying to space releases out a little in an attempt at a more regular, metered flow.
  • These past couple weeks I’ve done a handful of Lunchclub chats. They’re randomly assigned video calls with other professionals elsewhere in the world, and they’re delightful. Much, much less stressful than job interviews, too. So far, I’ve talked with people in Atlanta, New York, Barcelona, and St. Petersburg. Lunchclub is currently invite-only, so let me know if you’d like an invite.
  • I’m making good progress on my design portfolio. The goal now is to have it ready enough by the end of the year that I can start applying for jobs again.
  • Nonfiction reading: I really liked The Ride of a Lifetime. One of the more interesting business books I’ve read so far. (Which maybe isn’t such a huge surprise in retrospect.)
  • I read Alan Jacobs’ How to Think. I wouldn’t necessarily say I loved it, but it was good and I learned some things.
  • I’m now about a fifth of the way through Dava Sobel’s Longitude and I am seriously loving it. This is my type of book, full stop. Also: while I claim to be a functioning adult, it wasn’t till reading the book this morning that I realized the fundamental difference between latitude (circles of varying sizes, inherent) and longitude (circles of the same size, manmade).
  • Fiction reading: The Crown Conspiracy just wasn’t clicking for me (at least not right now), so I bailed on it. Maybe I’ll pick it up again someday.
  • I finished Mark Lawrence’s Limited Wish. A fun read. I’m pretty much always a sucker for time travel stories, so if you know of any good ones I haven’t read yet, let me know!
  • I’m now a third of the way through Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education. What a dangerous world. The story’s great so far, though. This reminds me that I need to finish reading the Temeraire books (I’ve only read the first) and try her two fairy tale novels as well.

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Weeknotes #16

  • Thanksgiving was more solitary this year out of necessity, but still good. (Any meal we eat together as a family is good in my book.)
  • I’ve finished all the readings for one class and have just half a project left on the other (reaction-diffusion is done and I’ve started implementing Perlin noise). So close to The Real End. I’m getting legitimately giddy. The experience of grad school has been fine, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still been taking up a sizable part of my brain for the last four years and there is so much I want to do with that space when I get it back.
  • My protodecision to pivot my career back to design seems to be sticking. It’s been a few years since I was a designer, and my head hasn’t been in that space at all in the intervening time (I realize now that I needed to be fully in the engineering mindset to be able to do the master’s), but returning to design feels right and good — and a bit of a relief, too, if I’m honest.
  • Since my flight to engineering a few years ago seemed at the time to be a one-way ticket, however, my younger self inconveniently neglected to put together a UX/product design portfolio. With time travel not among my hobbies (yet!), I’m now cobbling together a portfolio with new work as swiftly as I can. Once that’s done, I’ll start sending feelers out again. Oh how I wish I’d figured this out before I started applying and interviewing for all those engineer jobs. (That said, my experience has absolutely been that God works with me line upon line, a bit at a time, and I’m convinced that I needed to go through all that to get to this point.)
  • We watched Enola Holmes on Netflix. Quite fun.
  • Nonfiction reading: I just finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Whew. Rough lives. Harrowing. Glad to be done, really.
  • I’m about to start Robert Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime, which seems to be primarily about his time at Disney.
  • Fiction reading: I’m halfway through The Crown Conspiracy. My progress slowed down mid-week because:
  • I took a break to read Jim Butcher’s Battle Ground, the latest installment in the Dresden Files series. One very, very long battle. Whew. A quick read, though.
  • I’m still on track to read at least 100 books this year. 93 down, just seven to go in the month that remains. The number doesn’t actually matter, of course — it’s just a slightly silly personal challenge.

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Weeknotes #15

  • School and the job search have expanded to fill pretty much all my project time. But not for much longer! (School’s finite end draws near, and rejoicing is nigh.) In the not too distant future I’m hoping to blog more, resurrect the novel and the incubator story, and finish up Cirque.
  • I began writing my semester project in Rust but recently decided to move it to JavaScript (and Canvas), so that it’s easier to see the output as it processes.
  • My recent decision to focus on frontend engineering has, I think, led me in turn back to design, which was my original career. This is a fairly massive surprise to me. I still change my mind on this almost every day (to my own unending frustration), but as of tonight let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if my time as a full-time software engineer is nearing its end.
  • Nonfiction reading: I finished Obama: An Oral History and very much liked it. Political history has become my jam, it appears. While I have a long list of books in that vein already on my mount TBR, if you have any particular recommendations, send them my way! That invitation holds for other genres, too.
  • I’m about a fourth of the way through Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, about poverty in a Mumbai slum. It’s earthy and tragic, the kind of book I look forward to finishing because it’s painful to read, but that pain is kind of the point. Far too easy — at least for me, cocooned in my comfort — to forget how rampant and dire poverty still remains for so many people. Heartbreaking.
  • Fiction reading: I’m almost halfway through The Crown Conspiracy. It’s perhaps not quite as well crafted as some of the other books I’ve read lately, but still enjoyable. (And isn’t that a wonderful thing, that we can still enjoy flawed things. It gives me, a maker of very flawed things, some much-needed hope.)
  • Earlier this week Susannah Clarke’s Piranesi came in on hold for me and I ended up scarfing it down in two days. Loved it, particularly the main character’s voice and the lovely use of odd capitalization.

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Weeknotes #14

  • Writing is still on hold, a fact that gives me an inordinate amount of guilt. (At this point I could and should start writing again, I think; only my human frailty keeps me from it.)
  • The art hiatus seems to be over, though I still don’t have much free time for it.
  • The reason I’m learning React, fyi, is that I’ve realized I want to focus more on frontend engineering from now on. I’ve also been deep diving into the DOM docs and modernizing my JavaScript skills. Cypress (the testing framework) is amazing, by the way. I wish I’d been able to use it ten years ago.
  • My SurfaceBrush presentation went well, leaving just the semester project, and then I’m done with homework forever. (No, there is not going to be a PhD. At least not if I have anything to say about it.)
  • Pleased with the election results. Disheartened at all the resistance people have toward accepting those (clearly legitimate) results. Sanity, where did you go? I miss you.
  • I upgraded to Big Sur today. It immediately bricked my Internet connection. After an hour or so of debugging, I found that our university VPN client was to blame; removing it and reinstalling it did the trick. (Also, turns out having an Internet connection is pretty darn essential these days. That hour felt like being in a straitjacket, even though I still had access via my phone.)
  • We’ve been watching Into the Unknown, the Disney+ documentary on Frozen 2. It’s delightful—I wish they made these for every movie they make.
  • We’ve also been watching The Chosen (VidAngel) on BYUtv, and I’m loving it. Very humanizing, in the best way. (I find myself forgetting that the people in the New Testament were real people. This show is a great corrective.)
  • Nonfiction reading: I abandoned Arthur’s Britain, at least for now. Still trying to make A Distant Mirror work, but I’m suspecting that this particular season in my life (job search and all) may not be a medieval history season.
  • Obama: An Oral History is still good, and a lovely reminder of what a real president looks like.
  • Fiction reading: it was a week for abandoning books. I dropped Mexican Gothic — it was perhaps a little too creepy for me right now.
  • Apparently the type of horror I can tolerate is fickle, though, since I was fine with World War Z and finished it a day or two ago. (I have to admit, it was a little trippy alternating between it and the Obama book, since both were oral histories and the voices felt a little too similar in my head.)
  • I’ve started Michael R. Sullivan’s The Crown Conspiracy. It’s nice to get back to epic fantasy — comfort food of sorts.

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Weeknotes #13

  • For the sake of my sanity, I’ve lowered the job search from a boil to a simmer. I’m still open to opportunities that come my way, but in the meantime I’m focusing more on leveling up my skills. (In particular, I’ve realized that my side projects haven’t been exhibiting the kind of engineering I’m actually most interested in, so that needs to change.)
  • Unsuccessful so far at getting back into writing, and I suspect it’ll probably remain that way for a while, sadly.
  • I’ve started using Figma as a replacement for Illustrator in making some art. That’s not necessarily what it’s intended for, but so far it’s working fine for it. Good tool.
  • I’m finally learning React. (Correction: learning it again. I did a crash course in it a couple years ago at my day job and used it on a project for a few weeks.) I realized today, though, that if I’m ever going to get it in my bones, I need to start using it for all my personal coding projects. So that’s coming.
  • I’m preparing another presentation for my graphics class, this one on the SurfaceBrush paper (VR drawing). I’m also partway through implementing the Gray Scott reaction-diffusion algorithm in Rust for my procedural textures project.
  • Relieved that the election is going in Biden’s favor. Looking forward to it being over, whatever “over” means.
  • Utah no longer sends out postcard reminders for vehicle registration renewal. Which we found out when my wife happened to look at the license plate and realized we were two months past our renewal date. Whoops. (Took care of that post haste this morning.)
  • Nonfiction reading: I’ve been reading Obama: An Oral History. It’s good.
  • The medieval history reading is still going very slowly. Starting to think it might be time to backburner those two books after all. We’ll see. (Sometimes the slowness is a sign that it’s not the right book for me, but sometimes it’s just a temporary glitch, and it isn’t always easy to tell the difference.)
  • Fiction reading: I finished Half a Soul and quite liked it.
  • I’m almost halfway through Max Brooks’ World War Z. The oral history format is fun.
  • I also just started Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. (I’m one page in.)

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Weeknotes #12

  • Almost all my free time this week was offered up to the thirsty job search. It’s important and necessary, but goodness do I look forward to having time again to work on side projects. I also yearn for the day the impostor syndrome again fades into the background. I anticipated its appearance to some degree, but it’s fiercer and stronger than expected. Such fun. (The silver lining there, though, is that it pushes me to work harder.)
  • Virtually no creative work this week, see above. I need to find some way to incorporate it even when time is short and my brain is full.
  • Schoolwork has also been on hold, though my work-ahead buffer allowing me to do so has about run its course. The presentation went well. As for the procedural textures project, I’m planning to start by implementing Gray-Scott reaction-diffusion (both the simple and multi-scale versions).
  • Apparently my voicemail box was full for months and I had no idea until someone finally mentioned it. Whoops.
  • Nonfiction reading: mere minutes ago I finished Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. Enjoyed it. Sometimes I think I’d like to work at a game studio — interesting creative work and all — but in reality, crunch time isn’t for me. Evenings are reserved for my family. (I also don’t really play games at all, which seems like a good sign that my path lies elsewhere.)
  • A Distant Mirror and Arthur’s Britain are even slower going right now thanks to incessant thoughts about the job search. I thought about abandoning both books, but since they weren’t particularly difficult reading before all this started, I’ve opted to just wait it out.
  • Fiction reading: I finished We Are Legion. Looking forward to the other books in the trilogy.
  • I’m about halfway through Olivia Atwater’s Half a Soul. Regency historical fantasy romance isn’t my usual fare, but I’m liking it. (I try to occasionally read outside my comfort zone.)
  • My 100-pages-a-day reading goal is basically on life support. Once the job search is over, though, it too should pop back up.

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