Ben Crowder

Blog: #weeknotes

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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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Weeknotes #11

  • Another week with hardly any writing to show for it. Ordinarily I would try to muscle through it regardless of my mood, but with the job hunt and other family things going on, it has to be on the back burner. Soon, though, I expect things to settle down enough that I can get back to both the novel and the story. (And this evening I saw the first sliver of movement in that direction. Hard to tell if it’ll stick, but it was something.)
  • Decided on procedural textures for my semester project. I’ve done some preliminary thinking about which textures and algorithms I want to implement/explore. The presentation got bumped to next week.
  • This week has seen many hours of responding to recruiters and taking assessments and brushing up on data structures and algorithms. I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the latter. (Talking with recruiters is fine, too.)
  • A wildfire chewed up our local mountain earlier this week, with a few nearby houses evacuated for a night and essence of smoke diffused everywhere. A stark reminder of how much worse it was in Oregon and California.
  • Nonfiction reading: when my brain has trouble getting into writing mode, it also struggles to get into reading-medieval-history mode. Since books about the recent past are easier reading, I’ve started Jason Schreier’s Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, about the development of several video games. A much better fit for right now.
  • I completely forgot to mention that on Sundays I’ve been reading Bruce C. Hafen’s A Disciple’s Life, a biography of Neal A. Maxwell. It’s delightful.
  • Fiction reading: I finished The Black Company and very much liked it. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series at some point. I’m not much of a series binge-reader, though, so it’ll be drawn out over time. (At some point I need to make a list of all the series I’ve started and intend to continue with.)
  • I ended up losing interest in Pact and abandoned it. Extremely long serials feel like they might not be a good fit for me at the moment. (That said, I still want to try Twig, Ward, Mother of Learning, and The Wandering Inn at some point.)
  • Two-thirds through We Are Legion. Things are getting more interesting than I expected. Good stuff.

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Weeknotes #10

  • Not a great week for writing. The novel has largely languished. Progress on the story has been weak, too. (A few personal/family things have been eating up my headspace. Turns out headspace is important when writing, at least for me.)
  • I’ve finished preparing my presentation for class. Also decided to shelve the procedural modeling idea and instead do either procedural textures (reaction-diffusion, that kind of thing) or 3D paint simulation. Two months to finish this.
  • We voted, via drop box. Feels like an election more important than most.
  • Over the years the CSS on here had gotten a little crufty, with accumulations left over from long-excised features of the site. This week I rewrote it all from scratch. Shaved it from 45k down to 15k (a large chunk of which is comments). I’m still using Sass, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I really need it anymore — is the nesting actually worth it? Time will tell.
  • I’m also currently JavaScript-free on this site, but I’m planning to add a user-controllable dark mode sometime soon. (And stay jQuery-free, now that vanilla JS can do the things I was using jQuery for. The fewer dependencies, the better.)
  • Nonfiction reading: still plugging away on A Distant Mirror and Arthur’s Britain. With everything else going on, it’s been more of a fiction week, for unwinding. Hard to get into the right mental state for medieval history. But I did learn that curfew comes from Old French cuevrefeu, which comes from cuvrir “to cover” and feu “fire.”
  • Fiction reading: I finished The Physics of the Dead. A bit sweary (which is what Scrub is for). Overall, I think I liked it? Hard to say. I do still plan to read some of Smitherd’s other books, so probably yes.
  • I’m halfway through Glen Cook’s The Black Company and really like it. Great voice. It’s leaving me with an itch to get back into Malazan (I’ve read the first two, liked them).
  • I’m also a third of the way into Dennis E. Taylor’s We Are Legion (We Are Bob). Quite fun, very much enjoying it and looking forward to plowing through the rest of the series.

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Weeknotes #9

  • This week, unlike last, saw some splendid progress on editing the novel. The middle two-thirds of the book do need to be almost entirely rewritten after all (sadly!), but the book will be better for it. I’m midway through outlining the new material. Hoping to get that wrapped up soon so I can start making the actual revisions and get this book out the door before the end of the year.
  • I’m six pages into a new short story, about an incubator for human babies. So far it seems to be going well, though as usual I’m wondering if what I find interesting in it will turn up dry and dull to everyone else. Oh well.
  • Earlier this week I attempted work on faux stained glass versions of my Roll Forth and I Am a Child of God pieces. I’m now feeling rather strongly that my time working on that kind of art has come to an end, perhaps forever. (This makes me feel both relieved — more time for writing! — and guilty — that I’m effectively abandoning the people who liked my art. I think about this often. But the pieces I already made still exist, so I guess I’m not taking anything away from anyone.)
  • I’ve been getting back into Blender as a pivot to a different kind of art that might be a good fit for me right now, and it’s lovely fun. If I stick with it, expect to see some just-for-fun renders on the blog from time to time.
  • Luckily I had only written a page or so of my semester paper when the professor announced that he was nixing that assignment in favor of a third presentation. (Such are the perils of working ahead in class.) My first presentation will be on multi-scale modeling and rendering of granular materials.
  • The corneal abrasion is gone, and good riddance.
  • I upgraded Caddy (my local dev server) to version 2. It took a little bit of finagling to figure out the right syntax I needed to use, but being able to import snippets with arguments has made my config files so much cleaner.
  • We’ve started watching BBC’s Secrets of the Castle. Fascinating show, and right up my alley.
  • Nonfiction reading: A Distant Mirror was somewhat slow going until I bumped the line spacing in Marvin up a notch. Still learning a lot and enjoying it. A short list of some of the medieval quirks that stood out to me: 1) nobles trying to enforce clothing rules (commoners not being allowed to wear certain patterns, for example), though said rules proved basically impossible to enforce, 2) laws that tried to make sure nobody had any advantage over the others by banning both innovation (in tools and techniques) and working late, among other things, and 3) the insane Feast of Fools.
  • I’m about a third of the way through Arthur’s Britain. It regularly blows my mind that the 1300s of A Distant Mirror are closer to me in time than they are to the 500s of Arthur’s Britain. (Same kind of thing as with Cleopatra and the pyramids.) My mental model of history tends to compress all of Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages — roughly a thousand years — into what feels like maybe a decade or two. Hoping to fix that through much more reading.
  • Fiction reading: Finished Peace Talks. Whew. Nice that the next book is already out.
  • I also read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time and rather liked it. (I’m totally a sucker for that kind of story.) Looking forward to his other books.
  • Currently a third of the way through Luke Smitherd’s The Physics of the Dead. It’s not a setting I would want to spend any time in, but the story questions it raises are intriguing.

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Weeknotes #8

  • This has been a week for avoiding novel editing, I’m afraid. Not much to report. (It hasn’t been a week for side projects at all, in fact.)
  • Hubris snagged me. The path tracer I thought was done last week wasn’t. It is now, though. I’ve since started work on the semester paper (a brief survey of procedural modeling), which I’m hoping to finish quickly so I’ll have plenty of time for the final project.
  • I’m on the third day of a corneal abrasion, which has been buckets of fun, let me tell you. Visited the ophthalmologist this morning and got antibiotic drops to keep it from getting infected. I’m now in the blurred-vision stage, but a) it shouldn’t last more than two weeks and b) thankfully it’s not so bad that I’m unable to read.
  • Nonfiction reading this week: I finished The Dream Machine. So good. Part of me wishes I’d been able to work at Xeroc PARC during those golden years. The rest of me, though, is mighty glad I’m living in the age of laptops and iPhones and Wi-Fi. But yes, if you’re at all interested in the history of computing, read this book. Highly recommended.
  • I also finished The Last Days of Socrates. In another time it might have held my interest more, but this time round it unfortunately fell dull upon my eyes.
  • To sate my thirst for more things medieval, I’ve started on Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, about 14th-century Europe. Much more my style, and while I’ve only just begun, it’s good so far.
  • Fiction reading this week: I ended up bailing on ’Salem’s Lot after a chapter or two. While I think Stephen King is a very talented storyteller, I’m realizing his books aren’t really my thing after all. Which is a mild surprise to me, but I’m glad I’ve finally figured that out.
  • In its place, I’m now about halfway through Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks, the second-to-latest book in the Dresden Files series. Easy reading and fun, if occasionally cringeworthy.
  • By the way: The Dream Machine ended up being book #1,000 (see my reading page). A thousand books in pretty much exactly twenty years. With my hundred-pages-per-day goal, I think it’ll only take around half that time to read the next thousand. (This year I’ve already finished eighty books — eighty! — and expect to pass a hundred without too much difficulty. But it’s also 2020 and I have a corneal abrasion, so who knows.)

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Weeknotes #7

  • The editing of the novel has begun. It’s a jungle of complexity, at least compared to making paintings, where it only takes a few moments to assess the work. I’ve written large, complicated programs before, too, but with those it’s always clear when the output is correct or not. Here, instead, there be dragons: endless possibilities and no “correct” answers. And holding a whole novel in my head is hard. Kvetching now out and done with, I’m midway through putting together that minimal set of changes and will soon mark out on the outline where each change needs to go. (This would be so much easier if I’d outlined the book in advance, figuring this all out before spending months drafting. True, my weak attempts at outlining to date have sputtered and died, but now my motivation has multiplied.)
  • To replace the art-filled hole in my life, I have not been writing more (sadly) but instead have gotten back into making charts for dead languages and editions of obscure old texts. The current projects: a Latin adjectives chart (the thing you didn’t realize you desperately needed) and an edition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (in English, possibly with the Latin on the side).
  • In what will seem a contradiction given what I’ve just said: putting school first has made a mammoth difference. I wrapped up the rest of that last assignment (bounding volume hierarchies followed by adding jitter to get antialiasing, glossy reflections, translucency, soft shadows, etc.), then went kind of crazy and plowed right through the next two assignments (texture mapping and path tracing). Oh my goodness I love global illumination and path tracing. Diffuse reflections make my heart sing. I’ve also gotten my semester project proposal approved and will be doing procedural modeling of spaceships.
  • Our stake wisely decided to cancel weekly in-person church meetings for the time being. Utah’s Covid numbers seem to have strapped on a small jetpack. Luckily we now have a mask mandate in the county, and that letter from President Worthen (BYU) and President Tuminez (UVU) wasn’t messing around. (Personally, given human nature coupled with America’s rabid individualism, I fully expect both universities to have to go fully remote by sometime next month. I also hope I’m wrong.)
  • Nonfiction reading this week: more of the same. I’m almost two-thirds of the way through M. Mitchell Waldrop’s The Dream Machine, and it’s now turned from a history of computing to more of a history of the Internet. Loving it.
  • Leslie Alcock’s Arthur’s Britain is still right up my alley, chock-full of early medieval British history. I hadn’t realized how hard it can be to identify places mentioned in the annals — the Historia Brittonum lists twelve battles, for example, and for almost all of them it’s been impossible to identify exactly where they took place, with two or more candidates for each location. Mind-blowing. This book is a bit slower going since it’s a paperback and not with me all the time.
  • I’m almost halfway through The Last Days of Socrates. Still trudging. It’s not completely boring, but (is this bad to admit?) Greco-Roman history and culture have never really appealed to me aesthetically. My tastes skew medieval. (And that’s where my interest in Latin comes in, to be honest.)
  • Fiction reading this week: R. F. Kuang’s The Poppy War got much, much darker (trigger and content warnings galore), so I’d like to amend my “adore” from last time, which no longer feels like the right word. Still a very compelling book, though. The Rape of Nanking analogue was horrifying.
  • After that, in what was clearly not a palate cleanser, I read Elly Griffiths’ The Crossing Places. I was mainly there for the British archaeology; thrillers stress me out and abduction (particularly of children) ratchets that up even more, so I only read books like this in limited quantities. The archaeology parts were great, and now I’m looking forward to reading some of Francis Pryor’s books.
  • You’d think that after those two books I’d want something light and cheerful. Instead, for unfathomable reasons buried deep in my psyche (perhaps the advent of fall has something to do with it too), I’ve just started Stephen King’s ’Salem’s Lot. The initial apostrophe bothers me because I am shallow, but boy can King bring characters to life in just a few words.

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