Ben Crowder

Blog: #working-in-public

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After twelve years at the library, I’ve realized it’s time for a change and have started looking for another job. Doing this during a global pandemic is a little daunting, but it feels like the right time.

As part of this, I’m experimenting with what I’m calling a more humane resume. It’s basically a short list of relevant data points, with room to explain a little more about what I do and what I’m looking for. My hope is that it makes it easier for potential employers to see whether I’d be a good fit.


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As a spur to get myself writing more, I’ve put up a new writing statistics page. There you can see in all its wilted glory how little I’ve written over the years.

Or how little I’ve finished, I should say — and that’s the main change here. By tracking actual published words, I’m hoping this sparks much more finishing and publishing. And by “publish” I still mean publishing here on this site. I imagine down the road I may submit pieces elsewhere, but for now I’m content with the small scale.

This brain hack is already working. Last week I hardly worked on the novel at all, but after putting this page up I’ve found myself fully back in the throes of editing, since finishing and publishing a 65,000-word novel — the first draft of which is already complete — seems the best way right now to push 2020’s zero up to a more impressive number. And now I have compelling motivation to make sure I get this thing edited before the end of the year.

Also, inspired by the colophon in Cory Doctorow’s Pluralist newsletter, I’ll probably add daily or weekly drafting word counts to the page soon, as further motivation to keep writing each day. Public shaming works wonders! (More seriously: while the idea of posting these kinds of metrics would have mortified me a year or two ago, I’m glad I’ve gotten round that obstacle. Working in public has been wonderfully freeing.)


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Links #17


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My subconscious seems to be on a quest to turn this blog into more of a magazine, with regular columns and all. (Watch out, before you know it I’ll be calling myself editor-in-chief of this rag.)

In that vein, I’ve been thinking about starting a recurring (if infrequent, speaking realistically) Q&A section. This’ll be another experiment, of course, like office hours, and again in the spirit of working in public.

So: if you have any questions you’d like to see me answer here in public, email me your question with “Q&A” in the subject, and also let me know whether you’re okay with your first name accompanying the question.


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Some quick thoughts about the project space I see myself working in (meaning personal coding projects that aren’t the productivity tools I mentioned before), both now and for the foreseeable future. To be honest, it’s mostly a roadmap for myself, posted here as part of working in public.

Bookmaking tools

One of the areas in the project space is bookmaking tools: tools that help with making either print books or ebooks. What I’ve worked on in that area (and some of these are still in progress or in the future):

  • Press — low-level typesetting (PDF compiler)
  • Ink — higher-level typesetting
  • Curves — programmatic type design
  • Typlate — type design templates
  • md2epub/Caxton — ebook compiler
  • epubdiff — ebook differ
  • Fledge — text processing shell
  • Storybook — writing tool (covered under the productivity tools, yes, but I feel it fits in here)

Creativity tools

The next area, somewhat related, is creativity tools: tools for making art, music, etc. I do realize that there’s a bit of overlap between the two areas — art can be used in books, for example. This is not a rigorous taxonomy.

What I’ve worked on:

  • Trill — music composition REPL
  • Grain — command-line tool for texturing art

While I haven’t done much in this area so far, the intersection of software and art has been calling to me more lately. I expect creativity tools to become much more of a focus for me, probably even more so than the bookmaking tools.

Human-Computer Interaction

Last but not least, HCI. My master’s thesis is in this area, and much of my other work also touches on it in limited ways. (What I mean by that, I think, is that with projects like Trill, Curves, and Press, the parts that have most interested me are the interfaces. Also, those interfaces have been textual in these particular cases, but I’m also interested in other kinds of UIs.) So I plan to start building more proofs of concept and interface experiments — like the spatial interface ideas I mentioned several weeks ago.


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Time for a short report on office hours in practice: I’ve held three sessions so far and all have been great, at least from my perspective. Interesting conversations, good questions, and it’s been as humanizing as I had hoped.

Some of the people included (in their initial email) a list of things to talk about, which was nice, but I don’t think I want to make that a requirement.

I’ve also realized that I don’t like talking about politics, so that’s now off the table for these. (The political conversation that I had, though, was fine and civil and not a problem at all, to be clear.)

While it’s only been a week and my sample size to date is still fairly small, as of today I consider this office hours idea to be a great success. Definitely planning to keep doing it.


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Office hours

In the spirit of working in public, and inspired by the office hours professors keep (and maybe others, though I’m not familiar with the idea outside of an academic context), I’m now holding occasional ad hoc office hours via video chat.

For now I’m starting with fifteen-minute appointments (less daunting for both sides, I think) and asking people to email me a list of three time slots that work for them.

This thing is very much an experiment. It may bomb. I don’t know that anyone will actually want to talk via video or audio rather than just sending an email, but it’ll be available for those who do. (Luckily, since the scheduling is ad hoc, it’s not a problem at all if hardly anyone ever uses it.)


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Over the last several years I’ve built a number of personal productivity tools (almost all of them web apps) that I’ve never written about here. In the spirit of working in public, that’s about to change.

There are around fourteen twelve of them, though, so I’ll be spacing them out a little, with other posts interspersed here and there for the sake of our sanity. Also, while you’ll be hearing about them in a relatively short timeframe, remember that they weren’t written all at once, and that the older ones have been iterated on for a long time.

I generally won’t be releasing the source code, FYI. I still fiddle with these apps on the regular, and feeling an obligation to maintain stability for outside users would put a severe damper on that. Sorry. That said, the ideas are all free for the taking, and I’m happy to answer questions. (I feel I should lower the expectations here. These apps aren’t amazing or groundbreaking. Consider them small curiosities.)

I’ll have the first post in the series up soon.

Edit: Here they all are.


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I recently came across Maggie Appleton’s article on digital gardens. Oh my goodness, this is delightful. I’m sure some small part of it is just nostalgia for the old days of the web, but the idea seems good and solid nonetheless. I love digital gardens. (See Mike Caulfield’s The Garden and the Stream and Swyx’s Digital Garden Terms of Service for more in this vein.)

Exploring some of these gardens led me to the idea of learning in public (also see Gift Egwuenu’s Learning in Public talk). Very closely related to digital gardens, of course, but a different angle to look at it from. It also nicely parallels the working in public idea I posted about recently.

I’m looking forward to adopting more of these practices myself. Not sure yet exactly what form that will take, but at the moment I’m thinking it’ll probably be the notes system I mentioned. While that would be doable with the website engine I have now, it wouldn’t be very ergonomic, so I’m probably going to retool. (And by probably I mean almost certainly, because I am an inveterate toolmaker at heart. I’ve written out plans for a new version of Slash, my blog engine, that will easily support notes as well as blog posts and web pages. More on that soon.)


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Came across Andy Matuschak’s note on working in public:

One of my favorite ways that creative people communicate is by “working with their garage door up,” to steal Robin Sloan’s phrase. This is the opposite of the Twitter account which mostly posts announcements of finished work: it’s Screenshot Saturday; it’s giving a lecture about the problems you’re pondering in the shower; it’s thinking out loud about the ways in which your project doesn’t work at all. It’s so much of Twitch. I want to see the process. I want to see you trim the artichoke. I want to see you choose the color palette.

I love this kind of communication personally, but I suspect it also creates more invested, interesting followings over the long term.

Yes! I too love it, and I’ll be doing more of it here from now on. (I think long ago I used to do it to some degree, but somewhere along the way a fit of self-consciousness took it out of me.) No luck yet finding the original Robin Sloan source, but if any of you come across it, let me know.

I’ve also enjoyed reading through the rest of Andy’s notes, by the way. Itching to do something similar here. More to come. (I’ve already been planning to rewrite the backend engine for this site — it’s old and decrepit — so this is a fortuitous time to come across this idea.)


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