Ben Crowder

Blog: #weeknotes

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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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Weeknotes #6

  • After a week or two of wearing wrist guards, I’m pleased to report that the tendinitis has faded a bit. I still have to be careful whenever I’m working or holding my rock of a phone (which I can’t wait to replace with a lighter phone at the next opportunity).
  • I’ve implemented the BVH on my ray tracer for class, though there are still a couple of elusive bugs. (Roughly a third of my time on it so far has been me vs. the Rust borrow checker. And yet my level of frustration with it remains mild. My subconscious remembers that memory leaks are worse, I guess?)
  • Lately I’ve realized I’ve been letting myself get distracted by other projects and need to put school first more often.
  • Art’s on hold for now. I fully realize I may renege on that by next week’s post, but I’m hoping I don’t. This week brought the epiphany that making this kind of minimalist art has been changing my brain, and I’m not sure I like the change. I think the pieces themselves are good, sure. But always thinking about how to reducing gospel principles and events to minimal geometric shapes still ends up being a reduction. I feel it as a well-worn groove in my brain, one I’d like to escape for a long while — to be able to think about the gospel without my brain automatically attempting to geometrize the heck out of it.
  • Almost time to start editing the novel! Further mulling on the method has me sandwiched in the middle: not intensive, but also more than just a lightweight pass for typos. Now that I’m distanced a bit from the first draft, I can see the story more clearly — threads that need to be tied together, supernumerary characters to be eliminated, several ways to tighten the story and bring in more meaning. Exciting. Still, since I hope to get this book out this year, my goal is to find the minimal set of structural changes that get it to a level where I won’t be embarrassed to publish it.
  • Haven’t started writing any of the stories, but I continue to water the ideas each day. I wish I’d started doing this years ago. Depending on how long the novel editing takes, this also may end up being the semester where I just cultivate ideas and don’t actually write any new stories. (I’d still very much like to fit that in, though.)
  • Our area is starting weekly church meetings again, with sacrament meeting both in-person and virtual, and a virtual second-hour meeting to boot. The Covid numbers in Utah seem to be sprinting uphill again, though, so we’ll see how long the in-person part lasts.
  • Should I include what I’ve been reading? Sure, let’s try it, though weekly may be too short of a window to be interesting (since several books will show up week to week). I’m reading The Dream Machine (early computing history), which is so long but so good. This week I began Arthur’s Britain, an exploration of the historical evidence for King Arthur. Old Latin and Welsh and loads of early British history and I’m in heaven. I’m also trudging through Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, which is a little less engaging than I’d hoped, but I’m not giving up on it because a) I probably just need to spend more time in it rather than a page or two here and there, and b) I’m trying to build up my knowledge of the Greco-Roman classics (and older books in general).
  • Fiction-wise, I’m reading The Poppy War and adore it so far. I’m also a third of the way through Pact and will likely continue to report that for several weeks hence because it is so very long (four thousand pages). Still enjoying it, though.
  • Post mortem: I don’t know whether these reading paragraphs were boring for y’all, but I like talking about books and this was fun, so I’m going to keep doing it. Reader beware!

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Weeknotes #5

  • A quieter week.
  • I finished implementing transmission rays in my ray tracer for class (had to track down an elusive floating point precision bug) and have started in on the next assignment (implementing a bounding volume hierarchy and introducing jitter).
  • We had our first snow of the season but are now back in the 80s during the afternoons. I look forward to autumn.
  • I moved the projects on my site to a new work page.
  • In the recent issue of my newsletter, I said I was going to put art on the back burner for a long time. It didn’t last. And now I’m — again! — feeling like I want to shelve it. Ridiculous. (I spend an unworldly amount of time waffling back and forth on what kinds of projects I ought to be spending my time doing, and with which priorities. Does that sound fun? No. It is not. I have no problem being decisive in the other parts of my life, which makes it all the more frustrating.)
  • We’re coming up on novel editing time. I’ve been jotting down thoughts on how to improve the book. The main question in my mind right now is whether I should a) do a relatively light edit mainly focusing on language, with the aim to finish this one, get it out the door, and learn more from writing the next novel or b) toil away at this one for several months until it’s as polished as I can get it. I see the advantages of both.
  • With the story ideas, I’ve gotten one to the point that I’m almost ready to start writing it. I’ve started planning the next novel, too. In yet another example today of egregious waffling, I haven’t yet decided how in-depth I’ll outline these pieces before I begin the writing. And in a final (for this post) attempt to find a silver lining in said waffling, I suppose one good thing about it is that I end up trying several different things instead of tunnel-visioning in on just one.

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Weeknotes #4

  • Achievement unlocked: thesis defense. Presenting via Zoom turned out to be less intimidating than doing it in person would have been, I think. So that was nice.
  • Class-wise, I’m almost done adding transmission ray support to my ray tracer, and I’ve read a handful of papers on the preprocessing parts of deep learning pipelines for handwriting recognition. Both classes are enjoyable.
  • Found a local Thai restaurant that has some of my favorite dishes that are never on the menus of any of the other Thai restaurants around here. I may have squealed with excitement. The food was good, too.
  • I’m experimenting with a stained glass style for reworking some of my religious art pieces. The plan right now is to try using a Voronoi diagram to automate some of it, along with erosion/dilation filters in SVG for a potential stylistic effect.
  • Lately I’ve been planning an HCI experiment/tool called Wire. The intention is twofold: to explore writing interfaces that use Bezier curves, and to play around with applying curves onto other curves. Once I get the core functionality working I’ll be able to show what I mean by that.
  • Still cultivating story ideas, slowly fleshing several out. This style of outlining (repeatedly revisiting a number of different story ideas) is new to me, but I like it so far.
  • The end date for my Sacred Shapes exhibit is now indefinite. I expect it will come down sometime during the semester, whenever the next exhibit goes up. (But hey, it’s been up for eight months now — maybe it’ll gain immortality soon and stay there forever.)
  • Our stake is starting in-person church again, with each ward getting one Sunday a month. My family is still high-risk, though, and sadly won’t be able to attend for a while yet. But someday.

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Weeknotes #3

  • A week of bad news for family. Since last Friday: 1) dad broke a bone, 2) mom broke a bone, 3) two brothers were in an accident, 4) sister got a bad medical diagnosis, and 5) two extended family members died (one in our neighborhood). Whew. 2020 is not over yet, clearly.
  • At work we had university conference, library conference, and division conference this week. All three meetings are so much better in person, but for my safety and my family’s safety (from Covid, to be clear) I’m glad they were all online.
  • My last semester of grad school starts next week. I’m taking two classes, one on advanced graphics and one on deep learning for handwriting recognition. Should be a fun semester. I also finally defend my thesis next week, a year and a half after I finished the research.
  • Sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been ambitious enough in life, if I’m squandering whatever meager talents I have by not gunning to be on the bestseller lists or become a CEO or do extraordinary things. Whenever those thoughts strike, though, I inevitably come to the same conclusion, namely that I rather like this quiet life I’ve got: family-focused, not too busy, with plenty of reading and making. There’s no fame or fortune, and I’m very okay with that. (Maybe I’m having a midlife anti-crisis?)
  • I’ve found that I get much more out of scripture study and general conference study when I subvocalize as I read.
  • As far as reading old books goes, by the way, I’ve found two contradictory techniques that both seem to work for me: slowing down and speed reading. (I know, right?) Slowing down and enjoying a text word by word makes it less daunting for me. And, conversely, I was about to give up on Silas Marner when I decided to try turbo mode. I’m now close to finishing it. (I go faster than my default clip but not so fast that retention drops.)
  • This week I realized that the word revolting (disgusting, repugnant) is connected to revolt (to rebel or overturn). Which is of course extremely obvious in hindsight, but until now I was blind to the link. From my cursory exploration, it looks like the repugnant meaning came later and may have to do with one’s stomach turning over.
  • Some people (real people, not made up, I promise) requested more detail on the pieces in my Sacred Shapes exhibit, so I wrote up backstories and/or thoughts for each piece. Should have done that months ago.
  • I’m cultivating and planning out some new story ideas, though far more slowly than I want to be. This fall will probably not be the short story extravaganza I thought it would be.
  • School starting up again means most of my free time for projects and blogging is about to evaporate. I’ll still try to post regularly, but it may end up being just weeknotes and occasional links.
  • I’m loving the weeknotes format.

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Weeknotes #2

  • After avoiding the preparation of my thesis defense presentation for an embarrassingly long time, I got it together, put it together, and did a dry run with my advisor. All’s well.
  • Art seems to be reclaiming me after that dry spell, though who knows how long it’ll last. I gave my kids a short tour of Blender last night to showcase how animation works, and that sparked an idea which I’ll write about soon once I have a demo piece to show — probably tomorrow. (One could reasonably call it a very small breakthrough.)
  • I’ve been thinking (as I often do, because I am weird) about the flow of time in the consumption of creative arts. More plainly: looking at and initially comprehending a painting is fast. Almost instantaneous. But a book, a song, a dance, a film — all these require time to consume and comprehend. No conclusions yet; still mulling it over, trying to suss out any relevant meaning. Which may not be there, of course.
  • For fun, and to sharpen the saw, I’ve started working through some LeetCode problems. Mmm.
  • I haven’t yet started working on a new story or novel, but that will happen soon, just figuring out which ideas to use.
  • Several good video chats this week —family, friends, and office hours (of which I will post a writeup in the near future). It’s been a humanizing week.
  • It would be nice to have virtual audio backgrounds in Zoom etc. as well as graphical backgrounds. Mask out the crying toddler, add some concert hall reverb.
  • I have to say, getting back into blogging has been incredibly fun, and I’ve very much enjoyed my initial foray so far into working and learning in public.
  • Went on a family drive round the lake. The lake is much larger than I expected; the version of the world in my head is so much smaller than the physical world.
  • What’s caught my interest lately: PostGIS and cartography and map data. I love geography.

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Weeknotes #1

  • Currently around 94% of the way done with the first draft of this novel. Just two or three chapters left. I’m trying to get it wrapped up before school starts, which seems pretty doable at this point.
  • I’m also convinced that I really need to outline next time. And do far more pre-writing. And research.
  • Thesis defense is scheduled! I’m in the middle of preparing the presentation. Very much looking forward to having this defense done and over with.
  • Earlier in the week we had a video chat with one of my siblings, something we haven’t done nearly often enough. It’s good to visit, even virtually. Trying to do that more often, with extended family and friends as well.
  • Lately we’ve been entertaining the scrumptious idea of moving to England someday, at least for a year or two. No idea if it’ll ever actually happen, but it sure would be a dream come true.
  • Lost a coworker this week to another job and gained a new one (from an earlier opening, not a replacement for this week’s emigrant). Sad and happy at the same time.
  • I’m thinking about using a circle packing algorithm and my recent SVG turbulence experiments to do a new version of my Before the World Was piece, since I’m not quite happy with the execution on the original.
  • We watched Inception the other night. Still holds up, for the most part. I’m looking forward to Tenet.
  • Also been enjoying watching Travel Man and Taste the Nation.
  • My goal to read more old books is working. I’ve been reading George Eliot’s Silas Marner (poor fellow) and Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (I’m in the first segment, about Manning, who I’d never heard of before). Both are interesting enough so far.
  • One of my favorite things in life is a brisk early-morning breeze. Overcast autumn days, too. (Not quite there yet, but soon.)

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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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