Ben Crowder

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Weeknotes #13

#weeknotes

  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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

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  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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

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  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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

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  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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

#weeknotes

  • 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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