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Lion cut

From Sunday: We’d neglected brushing Leia’s coat until there were mats that were difficult to work out. I tried to comb them out with a dematter or snip them out with scissors, but there was only so much Leia would tolerate. So plan B: shave it all off!

2014-04-13 Lion cut

2014-04-13 Lion cut

We had been thinking about it for a few months, but we figured she probably wanted to keep her fur during winter. With warm weather on the horizon and the mats getting thicker, it was time. W- and I didn’t know what to expect. We looked up pictures of lion cuts on cats (hilarious!), watched videos (of which there are plenty on the Internet, which exists primarily for the dissemination of all things cat-related), and read forum posts (for example: my cat is shaved & depressed).

Then we took Leia to her first appointment with a cat groomer. Leia wasn’t too happy during the process. The groomer had to use the Cone of Don’t Bite Me. There was a lot of… err… expressiveness.

She cheered up all right afterwards, though. We made sure to reassure her with lots of cuddles, although it took us a good few hours before we could resist the urge to chortle whenever we looked at her.

Actually, no, still happens. <giggle> She’s tinier than I expected! I always thought she was the same size as Luke, but it turns out that was all hair. She’s actually the same size as Neko. Maybe even smaller. Boggle. And her head is so big! And she’s wearing boots!

Yep, should totally do this every year.

Weekly review: Week ending April 11, 2014

Updated: Fixed links, thanks furansui!

A lot of coding this past week – moving stuff to Github, fixing bugs, making things a little more convenient… Two Emacs chats, too.

Started gardening again. =D Yay weather warming up!

Next week:

Blog posts


I think my focus on sketches is inversely proportional to my focus on code. They probably tickle the same part of my brain…

  1. 2014.04.07 Working fast and slow #experiment

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (40.7h – 24%)
    • [ ] Build: Find a user-friendly RSS plugin for WordPress
    • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • [ ] Explore converting ClojureBridge tutorial to Org
    • [ ] Explore membership plugins / course plugins
    • [ ] Record session on learning keyboard shortcuts
    • [ ] Write about planning for reasonable safety
    • Earn (16.7h – 41% of Business)
      • [X] E1 Unpinkify
      • [X] E1: Check for subscribers
      • [X] E1: Load people into comm
      • [X] Earn – E2: Re-render video 3 if necessary
      • [X] Earn – E2: Set up video 3?
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (20.8h – 51% of Business)
      • [X] Check that all my WordPress installations are up to date
      • [X] Get Emacs to show me a month of completed tasks, organized by project
      • [X] Improve Emacs Beeminder
      • [X] Make it easier to cross-link Org
      • [X] Package miniedit for MELPA?
      • [X] Run Hello World in Clojure from Emacs
      • [X] Sort out cache slam
      • [X] Sort out task templates and captures so that refiling, jumping, and clocking is easy
      • [X] Stop loading d3js
      • Drawing (1.5h)
      • Delegation (1.2h)
        • [X] Post Emacs tutorials links
      • Packaging (7.4h)
        • [X] Fix cover for Sketchnotes 2012
        • [X] Annotate my Emacs configuration
        • [X] Draw “A” page for Emacs ABCs
        • [X] Draft guide to getting started with Emacs Lisp
        • [X] Learn about bitbooks
        • [X] Review Sketchnotes 2012 digital proof
      • Paperwork (0.5h)
        • [X] File payroll return
        • [X] Plan my business and personal finances
    • Connect (3.2h – 7% of Business)
      • [X] Emacs Chat: Tom Marble
      • [X] Emacs chat prep: Iannis
      • [X] Emacs chat: Iannis Zannos – music
      • [X] Invite technomancy for an Emacs Chat
  • Relationships (12.9h – 7%)
    • [X] Attend W-’s family thing
    • [X] Check results for project F
    • [X] Get the Raspberry Pi camera working and get a top-down view
    • [X] Go to RJ White’s semi-retirement party
    • [X] Set up the Pi camera again
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Use bounding rectangle to guess litterbox use
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Extract blob pixels and try to classify cats
  • Discretionary – Productive (18.0h – 10%)
    • [X] Flesh out story
    • [X] Write monthly report taking advantage of Org tasks
    • [ ] Blog about user-visible improvements, Beeminder commit goal
    • [ ] Experiment with calculating ve
    • [ ] Plant beets, spinach, lettuce
    • [ ] Ask neighbours if anyone wants to split a bulk order of compost with us
    • Writing (5.9h)
      • [X] Write about discretionary speed
  • Discretionary – Play (2.8h – 1%)
  • Personal routines (21.5h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (11.7h – 6%)
  • Sleep (61.2h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Monthly review: March 2014

Last month, I:

  • had fun with Emacs
    • coded numerous little Emacs conveniences
    • learned how to make graphs in Org Mode: see http:sachachua.com/evil-plans
    • integrated Emacs Org Mode with Quantified Awesome
    • helped lots of people with Emacs
    • started the Emacs Basics video series
    • set up more Emacs chats
  • and geeked around with other things
    • started playing around with the Raspberry Pi, motion detection, and image processing with simplecv
    • learned more about NodeJS
    • upgraded to Ubuntu Precise, Ruby 2.0
    • went to Gamfternoon at Hacklab
  • drew a little
    • finally updated my Twitter background
    • lined up another sketchnoting gig
    • put together the print version of Sketchnotes 2013, yay LaTeX!
  • and took care of other stuff
    • filed our taxes
    • delegated more writing

In other news, I really like the new monthly review code I’ve added to Emacs: http:sachachua.com/dotemacs#monthly-reviews

Here’s the snippet:

(defun sacha/org-review-month (start-date)
  "Review the month's clocked tasks and time."
  (interactive (list (org-read-date)))
  ;; Set to the beginning of the month
  (setq start-date (concat (substring start-date 0 8) "01"))
  (let ((org-agenda-show-log t)
        (org-agenda-start-with-log-mode t)
        (org-agenda-start-with-clockreport-mode t)
        (org-agenda-clockreport-parameter-plist '(:link t :maxlevel 3)))
    (org-agenda-list nil start-date 'month)))

In April, I want to:

  • Record and set up more Emacs chats
  • Make open source contribution part of my routine (mailing lists, patches, sharing)

Blog posts

Working fast and slow

When it comes to personal projects, when does it make sense to work quickly and when does it make sense to work slowly? I’ve been talking to people about how they balance client work with personal projects. It can be tempting to focus on client work because that comes with clear tasks and feedback. People’s requests set a quick pace. For personal projects, though, the pace is up to you.

It’s easy to adopt the same kinds of productivity structures used in the workplace. You can make to-do lists and project plans. You can set your own deadlines. I want to make sure that I explore different approaches, though. I don’t want to just settle into familiar patterns.

2014-04-07 Working fast and slow #experiment

2014-04-07 Working fast and slow #experiment

I work on personal projects more slowly than I work on client projects. When I work on client tasks, I search and code and tweak at a rapid speed, and it feels great to get a lot of things done. My personal projects tend to be a bit more meandering. I juggle different interests. I reflect and take more notes.

Probably the biggest difference between client work and personal projects is that I tend to focus on one or two client tasks at a time, and I let myself spread out over more personal projects. I cope with that by publishing lots of little notes along the way. The notes make it easier for me to pick up where I left off. They also let other people learn from intermediate steps, which is great for not feeling guilty about moving on. (Related post: Planning my learning; it’s okay to learn in a spiral)

Still, it’s good to examine assumptions. I assume that:

  • doing this lets me work in a way that’s natural to me: what if it’s just a matter of habit or skill?
  • it’s okay to be less focused or driven in my learning, because forcing focus takes effort: it’s probably just the initial effort, though, and after that, momentum can be useful
  • combinations of topics can be surprisingly interesting or useful: are they really? Is this switching approach more effective than a serial one or one with larger chunks?
  • a breadth-first approach is more useful to me than a depth-first one: would it help to tweak the depth for each chunk?
2014-04-02 On thinking about a variety of topics - a mesh of learning #my-learning

2014-04-02 On thinking about a variety of topics – a mesh of learning #my-learning

One of my assumptions is that combining topics leads to more than the sum of the parts. I took a closer look at what I write about and why. What do I want from learning and sharing? How can I make things even better?

2014-04-02 Evaluating my sharing #sharing #decision

2014-04-02 Evaluating my sharing #sharing #decision

Emacs tinkering is both intellectually stimulating and useful to other people. It also works well with applied rationality, Quantified Self, and other geekery. I can align sketchnoting by focusing on technical topics and  on making it easier to package things I’ve learned. Blogging and packaging happen to be things I’ve been learning about along the way. Personal finance is a little disconnected from other topics, but we’ll see how this experiment with the Frugal FIRE show works out.

If I had to choose one cluster of topics, though, it would be the geek stuff. I have the most fun exploring it, and I am most interested in the conversations around it.

What does that mean, then? Maybe I’ll try the idea of a learning sprint: to focus all (or almost all) my energies on one topic or project each week. I can work up to it gradually, starting with 2-4 hour blocks of time.

2014-04-02 Imagining learning sprints #my-learning

2014-04-02 Imagining learning sprints #my-learning

Because really, the rate-limiting factor for my personal projects is attention more than anything else. If I experiment with reducing my choices (so: Emacs basics, Emacs chats, open source, Quantified Self), that will probably make it easier to get the ball rolling.

2014-03-28 Identifying rate-limiting factors in my work #kaizen

2014-03-28 Identifying rate-limiting factors in my work #kaizen

So I’m still not adopting the taskmaster approach, but I’m reminding myself of a specific set of areas that I want to explore, gently guiding the butterflies of my interest down that way.

We’ll see how it works out!

Emacs Chat: Tom Marble

Emacs Chat: Tom Marble – Invoicing with Org and LaTeX; Clojure

Guest: Tom Marble

Tom Marble’s doing this pretty nifty thing with Org Mode, time tracking, LaTeX, and invoice generation. Also, Clojure + Emacs, and other good things. Enjoy!

For the event page, you may click here.

Want just the audio? Get it from archive.org: MP3

Check out Emacs Chat for more interviews like this. Got a story to tell about how you learned about or how you use Emacs? Get in touch!

Digging into my limiting factors when it comes to interviewing people for podcasts

The world is full of interesting people, the vast majority of whom don’t share nearly as often as I do. If I interview people, I give people a more natural way to share what they’ve learned in a way that other people can easily learn from. I also get to learn about things I can’t find on Google. Win all around.

I am better-suited to interviewing than many people are. I’m comfortable with the tech. I have a decent Internet connection. I have a flexible schedule, so I can adapt to guests. I use scheduling systems and can deal with timezones. I’ve got a workflow that involves posting show notes and even transcripts. I am reasonably good at asking questions and shutting up so that other people talk. I often stutter, but no one seems to mind. I usually take visual notes, which people appreciate. I’m part of communities that can get more value from the resources I share.

So, what’s getting in the way of doing way more interviews?


I feel somewhat self-conscious about questions and conversations. The Emacs Chats have settled into a comfortable rhythm, so I’m okay with those: introduction, history, nifty demo, configuration walkthrough, other tidbits. Frugal FIRE has a co-host who’s actively driving the content of the show, so I can pitch in with the occasional question and spend the rest of the time taking notes. It’s good for me to talk to other people out of the blue, but I don’t fully trust in my ability to be curious and ask interesting questions.

Hmm. What’s behind this self-consciousness? I think it could be that:

  • I don’t want to ask questions that have been thoroughly covered elsewhere. – But I know from my own blog that going over something again helps me understand it better, so I should worry less about repeating things. Judgment: IRRATIONAL, no big deal
  • I worry about awkward questions and making questions that are really more like statements. What are awkward questions? Closed-ended questions or ones that lead to conversational cul-de-sacs. — But the people I talk to also want to keep the conversation going, so between the two (or three) of us, we should be able to figure something out. And really, once we get going, it’s easy enough to ask more. So I’m anxious about being curious enough, but once we’re there, it’s easy. Judgment: IRRATIONAL, just get in there.
  • I worry about not being prepared enough, or being too forgetful. – But when did I ever claim to have an excellent memory or to be great at doing all the research? Maybe it’s enough to have the conviction that people have something interesting to share, and help them have the opportunity to share it. (And possibly warn interviewees about my sieve-of-a-brain in advance, so they’re not offended if I confuse them with someone else.) Judgment: IRRATIONAL
  • I’m not as used to the flow of an interview as I could be. It’s similar to but not quite the same as a regular conversation, which is something I’m not as used to as I should be. Oddly, it’s easier when I’m occupied with taking visual notes, because I can use my notes to remember interesting things to ask about (and the other person can watch it develop too). So maybe I should just always do that, and then the drawing is a super-neat bonus.
  • I hesitate to ask questions unless I have an idea of what I’m going to do with the answers. Why are the questions interesting? What do we want to explore? Who am I going to share this with, and why? I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on Emacs Chats, so that makes it easy to keep going, but the one-offs can be harder to plan. Maybe I should just become more comfortable with asking in order to explore. Besides, I’m good at rationalization, so I can make sense of it during or after the conversation. And the kinds of interviews I do are also about letting people share what they think would be useful for other people, so I can follow their lead.

Really, what’s the point of being self-conscious when interviewing people? After all, I’m doing this so that the spotlight is on other people, and listeners can survive inexpertly-asked questions. Hey, if folks have the courage to get interviewed, that’s something. Like the way that it’s easier to focus on helping other people feel more comfortable at parties, I can try focusing on helping guests feel more comfortable during interviews.

And it’s pretty cool once we get into it. I end up learning about fascinating Emacs geekery, connecting with great people, and exploring interesting ideas along the way. Well worth my time, and people find the videos helpful.

So I think I can deal with some of  those tangled emotions that were getting in the way of my interviews. (Look, I’m even getting the hang of calling them interviews instead of chats!)

What’s getting in the way of reaching out and inviting people on? I should be able to reach out easily and ask people to be, say, a guest for an Emacs Chat episode. I have good karma in the community, and there are lots of examples now of how such a conversation could go. How about Quantified Self? I’ve been thinking about virtual meetups or presentations for a while, since there are lots of people out there who aren’t close to a QS meetup. What’s stopping me?

  • I generally don’t think in terms of people when it comes to cool stuff or ideas: This makes it difficult for me to identify people behind clusters of interesting ideas, or recognize names when they come up in conversation. Still, it shouldn’t stop me from identifying one particular idea and then looking for the person or people behind that. If I discover other things about those people afterwards, that’s icing on the cake. Hmm… So maybe I should update my confederate map (time to Graphviz-ify it!), interview those people, and then branch out to a role model map. Oh! And I can apply Timothy Kenny’s idea of modeling people’s behaviours beforehand as a way to prepare for the interview, too. Judgment: CAN FIX
  • It would be easier to reach out if I’ve already written pre-psyched-up snippets I can add to my e-mail. Aha, maybe I should write myself an Org file with the reasons why this is a good thing and with snippets that I can copy and paste into e-mail. There are a lot of blog posts and podcast episodes on how to get better at requesting podcast interviews, and there are also resources for getting better at interviewing itself. I can change my process to include psyching myself up and sending a bunch of invitations. Judgment: CAN FIX
  • I’m slightly worried about pre-committing to a time - but really, Google+ events make it pretty easy to reschedule, and I haven’t needed to reschedule most things for my part. Judgment: IRRATIONAL.

All right. So, if I want to learn from people and share useful stuff, I can work on being more actively curious about people, and at inviting them to share what they know. I don’t have to ask brilliant New York Times-y questions. I just have to start from the assumption that they know something interesting, and give them an opportunity to share it with other people.

Why would people take the time to do interviews? Maybe they find themselves explaining things to people a lot, so a recording (plus visual notes! plus transcript!) can save them time and give them something to build more resources on. Maybe they’re looking for other people to bounce ideas off. Maybe it helps them understand things better themselves. I shouldn’t say no on their behalf. I can ask, and they can decide whether it makes sense for their schedule. Right. People are grown-ups.

Okay. What changes can I make?

  • Write an Org file psyching myself up with a condensed version of the reasoning above, and include snippets to copy and paste into e-mail invitations.
  • Map topics/questions I’m curious about, and start identifying people. Identify the tactics I think they use, and model those.
  • Trust that the future Sacha will sort out the questions and the flow of the conversation. And hey, even if it’s super awkward, you don’t get to “interesting” without passing through “meh” first. So just book it, and be super-nice to guests for helping out.

Hmm. That actually looks doable.

Have you gone through this kind of mental tweaking before? Any tips?

Thanks to Daniel Reeves and Bethany Soule for the nudge to write about this! Yes, I should totally pick their brain about Quantified Self, applied rationality, and other good things. Check out their blog at Messy Matters for awesome stuff. Oh, and Beeminder, of course. (Look, I’m even using Messy Matters as a nudge to play around with more colours and brushes! =) )