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Weekly review: Week ending April 18, 2014

More coding, yay! Next week, I’m going to focus on writing more tutorials for Emacs. Also, lots of Emacs conversations. Emacs Emacs Emacs Emacs… =)

Blog posts

Sketches

  1. 2014.04.13 Lion cut
  2. 2014.04.16 Book – Mastery – Robert Greene

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (24.6h – 14%)
    • Earn (14.7h – 59% of Business)
      • [ ] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] E1: Rename groups
      • [X] Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • [X] Earn – M: Revise sketch
    • Build (5.9h – 24% of Business)
      • [X] Make sure all of my blogs are updated to WordPress 3.9
      • [X] Upgrade Linode
      • Drawing (3.5h)
        • [X] Sketchnote a book – Mastery – Robert Greene
      • Delegation (0.6h)
        • [ ] Brainstorm more tasks
      • Packaging (0.1h)
      • Paperwork (0.6h)
      • Emacs
        • [ ] Add more sections to Emacs Lisp tutorial
        • [ ] Invite bbatsov for an Emacs Chat
        • [ ] Record session on learning keyboard shortcuts
        • [X] Emacs: Get beeminder code to support time-today
        • [X] Emacs: Figure out why todo list does not filter by statu
        • [X] Talk to JJW about Emacs and Org
        • [X] Set up project view
        • [X] List TODOs by project
        • [X] Hook Beeminder into Gnus to track sent messages
        • [X] Figure out Org publishing
        • [X] Figure out why column view is hard to read
        • [X] Fix keymap in beeminder.el
        • [X] Get beeminder code to prompt for value
        • [X] Emacs: Track the number of tasks I have and what states they’re in
        • [X] Chat with splintercdo (Janis) about literate programming
        • [X] Add colour coding to 2048 game for Emacs
    • Connect (4.0h – 16% of Business)
  • Relationships (6.1h – 3%)
    • [X] Go to RJ White’s semi-retirement party
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Extract blob pixels and try to classify cats
    • [ ] Raspberry Pi: Use bounding rectangle to guess litterbox use
  • Discretionary – Productive (27.6h – 16%)
    • [X] Ask neighbours if anyone wants to split a bulk order of compost with us
    • [X] Update my unscheduled tasks and add time estimates
    • [ ] Prepare litter box analysis presentation
    • Writing (11.7h)
  • Discretionary – Play (7.3h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (26.0h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (12.8h – 7%)
  • Sleep (64.0h – 38% – average of 9.1 per day)

Started gardening – April 2014

The weather finally warmed up last weekend. W- and I raked the back yard, and I started planting seeds that would likely survive just in case we get another frost. Spinach, peas, lettuce… I don’t know how well the seeds will do, but I want to get things growing again. I can’t grow anything indoors because the cats love nibbling on greens, so I’ll just have to buy my tomato and basil starts from the garden centres. In the meantime, though, I can experiment with seeds.

The soil feels better now than the sandy mix we started with, although there’s always room for improvement. We’ve added lots of compost to it over the years – mostly manure, but there was a year that our compost heap was active enough to steam. Toronto gives away leaf compost every Saturday, so we might check that out too. We’re thinking about ordering compost in bulk this year instead of getting bagged manure from the store. I’ll probably put in the compost around the time that we clear out the peas and get started with tomatoes, so I can get some sprouts going while waiting to sort all of that out.

What am I going to change this year? Here are my notes from October 2013:

Gardening notes

I changed my mind about irrigation. I think I’ll start by hand-watering the plants. It’s not that hard to do, and I’ve marked the rows a little more clearly now so I know what to expect. I probably won’t pay for a landscaping or gardening company. Maybe I can share more notes on our garden and ask folks for tips. I’m looking forward to growing more greens and herbs, and giving bitter melon yet another shot.

I planted the first batch of seeds this weekend, going through many of the leftover seeds from 1-2 years ago. After all, the seeds aren’t going to get any fresher, so I may as well plant them and see what sticks. Some of them germinate in a week, so let’s see if there’ll be any progress.

Yay growing things! (Well, eventually. =) )

Rethinking my time categories: the blurring of business and discretionary activities

I track my time with medium-level categories (not detailed enough that I’m tracking individual tasks, but not so high level that it’s hard to make sense of the data). From time to time, I notice categories drift, or they stop fitting. Consulting is definitely business, but does working on Emacs really belong there? Why is coding classified under business but writing is classified as discretionary time? Most of my categories still make sense a year or two later, but some of them could use more thinking about.

What is business, anyway? I suppose it can include anything related to the earning of money, including support such as paperwork or delegation. Packaging (by which I mean creating e-books and other resources) is part of business, since I earn a small income from that (and pay taxes on it, too!). So is responding to e-mail. Technically, Emacs is related to money, because people have actually booked and paid me for help sessions online (http://sachachua.com/help). I consider programming-related activities to be part of maintaining my technical skills and network. In that sense, coding, web development, system administration, and other geek things are business-related. I distinguish between sketchnoting for client engagements and drawing on my own. Many of my drawings are more along the lines of personal or business planning. Perhaps I should track more under those categories now that I’ve established drawing as a way of thinking, and shift to using “Business – Drawing” when I’m specifically working on illustrations or improving skills.

Discretionary time includes the stuff I do just for fun and the things I learn about just because (Latin and Morse, for example). Probably the only weird thing in here is that I classify writing as discretionary time. It’s fun. Coding is fun too. Coding is more obviously valued, though, so I guess that’s why I consider it business time. And also, if I classify writing as coding time, I’ll tip over way too often into the “working too many hours a week” zone, when I’m not really doing so.

Maybe a better approach is to classify coding, drawing, and other fun things as discretionary time instead, even if they occasionally result in money. Benefit: I get to celebrate having more discretionary time and a lighter workload. (Yeah, it’s all mental anyway…)

Or maybe I need to take a step back and ask myself what kinds of questions I want to be able to answer with my categorical data.

In general, I want to make sure I don’t spend too much time working, because I want to force myself to work on my own projects. That’s why I track the time spent consulting, doing paperwork, and connecting with people (including responding to e-mail). I usually keep a close eye on my Business – Earn subcategory, since that’s the one that can creep up on me unawares. That’s fine with my current categories.

I also want to look for patterns in time use. How does spending more time on one activity (and less time on other activities) influence what I do and how I feel? How bursty am I when it comes to different discretionary projects? As long as I’m tracking at the subcategory level, it doesn’t really matter what the root category is.

Hmm. Since I’m not actually using the distinction between discretionary and business for reports or visualizations that nudge my behaviour, I can probably leave my categories alone if I remind myself that those ones have fuzzy boundaries. It would matter more if I wanted to set goals for investing X hours a week on business things (or, conversely, spending Y hours on discretionary non-business related things, which is oddly harder). Since I don’t care about that at the moment, I’m fine. Also, it’s easy enough to reassign the parent categories, so I still leave the door open for analyses at a later date.

As long as I can keep things clear enough in my head so that I feel confident that I can explain to any auditors that yes, my  business expenses make sense, I should be fine. I feel a little weird about not having a proper business plan for lots of things I’m working on. I mean, I can write them (or draw business model canvasses, more likely), but I prefer this pay-what-you-want model. Oh, hey, there’s an assumption there that I can dig into. People can (and do!) build metrics around freemium or pay-what-you-want models. Maybe I can figure out how to approach this in a business-like-but-still-generous way.

What would a more business-y way look like? I would float an idea to see if it’s useful. Then I would make stuff (and sometimes I’d make it anyway, just because). I might actually track conversions, and try things out, and reach out to people and communities. I’d publish little guides and videos, and maybe add a tip jar for smaller pieces of content so that people can “vote” for things they like more.

All things to do in due course. In the meantime, knowing that the path is there means I can leave all of this stuff still filed under the Business category, because it is. Even if it’s fun. Writing still feels more discretionary than business-y (even posts like this, for example), so I’ll leave that where it is. So no change, but I understand things better.

Do you track your time and have fuzzy boundaries between categories? How do you deal with it?

 

 

Reflecting on goal factoring and akrasia

Following up on sketching my goals: I’ve been thinking a bit more about goal factoring. What do I want to be able to do with an overview of my projects and goals?

  • I want to make regular progress towards important goals, especially since I tend to move from topic to topic.
  • I want to translate abstract goals into measurable projects, and I want to translate those projects into actions.
  • I want to brainstorm alternative approaches that may get me to my goals faster, cheaper, or more effectively.
  • I want to see which actions or projects can support multiple goals.
  • I want to prioritize my projects and goals, putting things on the backburner as needed.
2014-03-24 How do I want to keep track of my goals #goal-factoring #planning #org

2014-03-24 How do I want to keep track of my goals #goal-factoring #planning #org

One of the benefits of writing down my goals is that I can look at the gap between plans and reality. An e-mail conversation with Daniel Reeves (Beeminder and the awesomely geeky Messy Matters) pointed me to the concept of akrasia, which is when you act against your better judgment (Wikipedia: akrasia; LessWrong: akrasia). In general, this happens because we value the present much more than the future. Short-term gains are more compelling than future ones. Immediate pains matter more than far-off sacrifices.

I haven’t thought a lot about akrasia yet. If I can understand the concept and identify my akratic actions, then I can change my systems or try other tactics to live better.

2014-03-26 Reflections on akrasia - acting against my better judgment #rationality

2014-03-26 Reflections on akrasia – acting against my better judgment #rationality

  • Sleeping: I could probably get away with sleeping less. That said, it’s good (and uncommon) to get plenty of sleep, so this might not be too bad. I averaged about 8.9 hours a night over the past year. If I manage to tweak this to get, say, 0.5 hours more core time per day, that would be amazing. On the other hand, I could be the sort of person who really does need that much time, and it’s still within the normal range. We’ll see how sleep works out with my changing routines.
  • Reading fanfiction during my commute when I could be reading nonfiction, learning Morse code, writing, or listening to podcasts… Actually, I’ve been doing more Morse code lately, so maybe this is not an issue. And I should probably have more mental downtime anyway.
  • Being glued to my phone: On a related note, W- has teased me about my being occasionally glued to my phone. (It’s funny when I’m trying to tidy up or make the bed one-handed.) This is more of an awareness issue.
  • Not doing enough strength/flexibility/endurance: Biking helps me with lower-body strength, but my arms are weak. If I don’t exercise to maintain my flexibility, I’ll lose it over time. I have plenty of energy throughout the day, although I suppose it’s good to build that up so that I have even more energy for bigger tasks. If I determine that mornings are the best time to exercise, then my lack of exercise is a combination of my desire to spend that time reading or writing (even though I already do this to the point of possible diminishing returns) and my dislike of how it initially feels to exercise.
  • Socializing: I often don’t feel like going out, although I conceptually know that connecting with people is a good thing. I suspect it’s because I feel more connected with people around ideas instead of history or circumstance, and connecting to people over the Internet tends to more reliably result in good conversations like that compared to going to events or get-togethers in person.
  • Crossing my legs: This is an awareness thing. I just have to notice it, and then I can gradually untrain myself. If I’m seated correctly, I’m fine. I tend to cross when I need a higher, slanted surface to draw on. More observations – maybe stochastic?

There are lots of other possibly akratic actions in my life. These came to mind first when I thought about things that I often do and that I can change when I pay attention to them. Still, looking at this set… I don’t have a strong desire to eliminate akrasia while the suboptimal results aren’t major hindrances. I’m fine with having a little slack in my life. Even when my actions diverge from my stated goals, I still learn a lot.

That’s an interesting meta-thing to explore, though. Am I too comfortable? I’ve experimenting with moving away from carrot-and-stick approaches to personal productivity (or taskmaster and slave) and more towards appreciative inquiry (let’s observe what’s working well, and do more of that). Most people want to become more machine-like in their productivity, reliably following their plans. The contrarian in me is curious about alternatives. I don’t know that life would be better if I worked with more focus or commitment. I know that it would be different, and there’s a possibility that following the butterflies of my curiosity also creates value.

So let’s say that akrasia (or at least how I understand it so far) tends to be effectively addressed with self-imposed deadlines, commitment devices, constrained environments, and so on. Writers sign up for NaNoWriMo. Entrepreneurs bet each other that they’ll complete their tasks. Dieters remove junk food from their cupboards. These constraints support progress (by adding enough incentive to get people started or to convert downtime into productive time) or prevent backsliding (by removing temptations and distractions).

What are the trade-offs I make for not using these tools against akrasia? Are there ways I can turn weaknesses into strengths for those approaches?

Commitment devices are good for keeping you focused. If I let myself follow my interests, then I don’t get to take advantage of momentum or compounding results. However, my habit of sharing along the way means that people can get value even from intermediate steps. Cross-pollination is valuable, too. On my personal blog, it’s probably a good idea to have variety instead of focus, so that people can find what they’re interested in.

Commitment devices are good for preventing backsliding. When you make undesired actions more costly (ex: eating junk food), you make desired actions cheaper in comparison (ex: nibbling on carrots). If I don’t tinker with incentives that way, then I’ll be more influenced by short-term effects rather than long-term effects. I am generally future-oriented anyway (ex: retirement savings, batch cooking) and I have fun connecting actions with long-term plans, so the disadvantages may be somewhat mitigated. I don’t have a sense of urgency around this, either. Perhaps I need to exaggerate long-term costs in order to make this more compelling.

Things to think about…

Have you reflected on akrasia? Can you share your insights?

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.

Emacs beginner resources

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what it’s like to be a beginner, so I’m experimenting with asking other people to help me with this. =) I asked one of my assistants to look for beginner tutorials for Emacs and evaluate them based on whether they were interesting and easy to understand. Here’s what she put together! – Sacha

Emacs #1 - Getting Started and Playing Games by jekor
Probably the most helpful Emacs tutorial series on YouTube. Goes beyond the “what to type” how-tos that other tutorials seem bent on explaining over and over. Emphasizes games and how they help users familiarize themselves with the all-keyboard controls. 5/5 stars

Org-mode beginning at the basics
What it says on the tin. Essential resource for those who are new to Emacs and org-mode. Provides steps on how to organize workflow using org-mode written in a simple, nontechnical, writing style. 5/5 stars

Xah Emacs Tutorial
Though the landing page says that the tutorial is for scientists and programmers, beginners need not be intimidated! Xah Emacs Tutorial is very noob-friendly. Topics are grouped under categories (e.g. Quick Tips, Productivity, Editing Tricks, etc.) Presentation is a bit wonky though. 4.5/5 stars

RT 2011: Screencast 01 – emacs keyboard introduction by Kurt Scwehr
Keyboard instruction on Emacs from the University of New Hampshire. Very informative and also presents some of the essential keystrokes that beginners need to memorize to make the most out of the program. But at 25 mins, I think that the video might be too long for some people. 4/5 stars

Emacs Wiki
Nothing beats the original- or in this case, the official- wiki. Covers all aspects of Emacs operation. My only gripe with this wiki is that the groupings and presentation are not exactly user-friendly (links are all over the place!), and it might take a bit of time for visitors to find what they are looking for. 4/5 stars

Mastering Emacs: Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
The whole website itself is one big tutorial. Topics can be wide-ranging but it has a specific category for beginners.
whole website itself is one big tutorial. Looks, feels, and reads more like a personal blog rather than a straightforward wiki/tutorial. 4/5 stars

Jessica Hamrick’s Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Emacs
Clear and concise. Primarily focused on providing knowledge to people who are not used to text-based coding environments. It covers a lot of basic stuff, but does not really go in-depth into the topics. Perfect for “absolute beginners” but not much else. 3/5 stars

Jim Menard’s Emacs Tips and Tricks
Personal tips and tricks from a dedicated Emacs user since 1981. Not exactly beginner level, but there’s a helpful trove of knowledge here. Some chapters are incomplete. 3/5 stars

Emacs Redux
Not a tutorial, but still an excellent resource for those who want to be on the Emacs update loop. Constantly updated and maintained by an Emacs buff who is currently working on a few Emacs related projects. 3/5 stars

Jeremy Zawodny’s Emacs Beginner’s HOWTO
Lots of helpful information, but is woefully not updated for the past decade or so. 2/5 stars

This list was put together by Marie Alexis Miravite. In addition, you might want to check out how Bernt Hansen uses Org, which is also pretty cool.