November 2005

Taming the TODO

November 1, 2005 - Categories: emacs

Originally published in Oct 2005 issue of the Linux Journal.

Abstract

Buried under a mass of sticky notes? If you worry about forgetting important tasks or you want to schedule things efficiently, here are some ways to get organized.

—-

In this article, I offer some ways to manage your tasks. From simple text files to full-blown personal information managers (PIM), there's bound to be one method that fits your way of working. I also share some tips on managing your tasks and tell you about how I fit a task manager to my way of working.

You Want the Works

If you're accustomed to the advanced task management features of Microsoft Outlook and other proprietary PIMs, then Ximian Evolution and the KDE PIM suite are great fits for you. Ximian Evolution was developed for the GNOME user environment, and the KDE PIM suite is part of KDE, but each is usable with other desktop environments.

Offering a polished interface for creating and managing tasks, attaching files and even synchronizing with personal digital assistants (PDAs), these full-fledged personal information managers can help you tame your to-do lists (TODOs) in style.

You Want to Keep Things Simple

Sometimes the simplest method is the best. Keep tasks in a plain-text file, and you're already well on your way to taming your TODOs. Plain-text files win in terms of flexibility. You can keep your list in any format you want and edit them using your favorite editor. You also can share them with others through e-mail or the World Wide Web. You even can keep them backed up and synchronized with other computers using tools such as rsync and CVS.

Memorize keyboard shortcuts for copy and paste. Incremental search is a great way to jump to tasks if you remember a small part of the description. Your text editor then can display matches as you type in characters. Check out your text editor's features for more help.

Beyond the basics, a little bit of programming makes TODOs easier to keep. Write a small program or shell script to add items from the command-line or a keyboard shortcut. The less effort it takes to write down a task, the more you'll remember, so automate as much as you can. You can sort tasks manually by copying and pasting lines in your TODO list or even writing programs to put everything together.

For more software support, check out Freshmeat.net for hundreds of simple TODO managers. If you know how to program, pick a TODO manager in a language you know or would like to learn. Extending a manager's capabilities not only helps you grow as a programmer but also lets you tailor it to your particular quirks.

You Get Most of Your Tasks through E-mail

E-mail is a popular way to keep track of tasks. If you practically live in your e-mail client, why not use it to keep track of the things you need to do? You can forward messages or write yourself reminders. Use meaningful subjects to make it easier to get a bird's eye view of your messages.

Watch out for information overload, however. You may need to find that urgent TODO in an archive of thousands of messages. Check out your mail client's features for options of how to tag messages. Use folders or labels to flag messages for follow-up action. Tag or file messages as TODO, and remove the label or change it to “done” after you finish the task. Keeping track of tasks is easier with full-fledged PIMs, such as Evolution and KDE PIM, which allow you to mark a message for follow-up or convert it to a task.

What about small tasks? It might seem silly to e-mail yourself a reminder to buy milk, but unless all of these TODOs are written down somewhere, you're going to spend mental energy thinking about them. You therefore may need to supplement your Inbox with a way to keep track of smaller tasks.

If most of your tasks can be accomplished quickly and you can keep your inbox manageable, e-mail is a convenient way to keep track of your tasks.

You Work with a Lot of People on Tasks

Many software projects use request trackers to make sure that bug reports and feature requests don't slip through the cracks. You can use one to keep track of your personal TODOs too. Although a request tracker requires a lot of set up time and effort, you reap the benefits of a solid project management system.

Request trackers, also known as bug tracking systems (BTSs) or issue trackers, archive all of the messages related to a TODO, making them great for tasks occurring over long periods of time and tasks where you need to collaborate with other people. You can send the e-mail address or URL for a task to other people so they can confirm your work or add comments.

Request trackers can produce task-related graphs. For example, you can track the increase or decrease in open, resolved and closed tasks over time to get a rough estimate of when you're most productive or overloaded.

If most of your tasks require input from others, check out programs such as RequestTracker and Bugzilla. With a good bug tracking system in place, you easily can keep track of what you're waiting for and from whom.

You Practically Live in Your Web Browser

Web-based TODO lists are a fun and easy way to create task lists you can share with other people. If you always have a Web browser open or you need to keep non-techies updated, a Web-based TODO list might be a handy way to keep track of your tasks. New services such as Ta-da and Backpackit use Javascript and XHTML tricks to provide a great user interface.

Look for a bookmarklet or extension that lets you easily create TODOs. Make your task overview the default page in your browser so that you're sure to review them daily.

You're Always on the Move

If you spend a lot of time on the move, you've probably thought about getting yourself a PDA. Both Evolution and KDE PIM can synchronize your tasks with Palm-based PDAs, making them ideal for the mobile warrior. Libraries such as coldsync can help you support synchronization for your custom hacks.

My productivity tool of choice is a pack of 3"x5" index cards held together with a fold-back clip or rubber band. Affectionately called the “Hipster PDA” by productivity geeks, this surprisingly effective low-tech tool is a great way to keep track of tasks.

Write down your tasks, one per index card. You can write down subtasks and notes as well. Shuffle through your tasks while waiting or sort it by the context you can perform the tasks in. Rip the card up after completing your TODO for an extremely satisfying end.

Print useful data onto cards. Around 50 names and contact numbers can fit on an index card if you use a really small font. Month and year calendars also are handy. No hardware worries, no productivity-sapping games and no hassles makes the Hipster PDA great for people on the go.

Tips for Taming your TODOs

Got an idea about what to use to manage your tasks? Well, now here are some tips for keeping on top of everything.

Make It as Easy as Possible

"Hmm, that looks interesting," you think. "Let's try it out." You switch to your task manager to write down that TODO. Oops, you still need to open the application. Now you have to arrange your windows so you can see the article. Wait, you need to copy the URL. By the time you have it all set up, you might've forgotten what you wanted to write down in the first place!

If a task manager is too cumbersome to use, you won't bother with it. Make it as easy as possible to get a task out of your head and into the system. Make your task manager a keystroke or click away, and you'll find yourself using it more often.

Don't Get Overwhelmed

Keep your TODO list short so that you don't get overwhelmed by all the things you need to do. Ruthlessly prune TODO items you no longer have to do or are no longer interested in doing. Delete or archive completed tasks so that they don't clutter your main task list.

TODO items can be intimidating. “Write a novel” is an example of a task that can be difficult to start. Make sure your TODO items are small enough to work on. I usually break my tasks down into subtasks I can do in one sitting. Breaking these tasks down also makes it easier to stop procrastinating, because there's always something small to work on.

Fill in the Cracks

Make a system you can trust. Ensure none of the tasks fall through the cracks. Make your reminder system the first thing that shows up after you log on or start your browser. Set aside time to review all of your tasks regularly.

If your task manager is easy to use, you'll trust it with more tasks. Writing down all of your tasks in a reliable system means you don't have to worry about forgetting anything—as long as you don't forget to check!

Hack Your System

The way you keep track of tasks probably will change as you come up with new ideas or read about other people's experiences. Don't be afraid to improve your system. Instead of making a giant step to a brand new methodology, however, break changes down into incremental improvements. That way, you give yourself time to make it a habit.

Don't spend too much time tweaking your system, though! One way to manage this impulse is to find a community of like-minded people. That way, you can use their hacks and customizations without having to spend a lot of time coming up with your own. The trick is to find a personal information manager that fits the way you work and can be extended as you experiment with new ways of working.

A Truly Personalized Personal Information Manager

I went through the whole spectrum of personal information managers before I found something that works for me. I'm absolutely crazy about Planner.el, a personal information manager that's extremely customizable. I'd like to share some of the things I love about it with you so that you can see how personal work style affects how you plan.

I spend most of my time working with text files in the Emacs text editing environment. Because Emacs is so extensible, it has accumulated a lot of useful modules along the way, including several e-mail clients, Web browsers, Internet relay chat (IRC) clients and even instant messengers. I can program, surf, chat and check mail within Emacs. Emacs itself runs on GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X and is surprisingly easy to learn.

Planner.el is built into my main working environment, making it only a keystroke away. Because most of my tasks are based on what I'm looking at, I really appreciate how Planner.el stays out of my way. When I create a task, a small text prompt shows up at the bottom of my screen (Figure 1). I don't get distracted by pop-ups or switching to another application. I simply type the task description in, tag it with a project or two and get back to work.

Task prompt

Figure 1. You can create a task using a small text prompt in your regular editing window.

Not only that, it also intelligently picks up information from whatever I'm looking at, automatically creating a hyperlink back to the file, e-mail, Web page or even IRC session (Figure 2). Even newbies can add support for new tools, thanks to extensive examples. Planner's ability to hyperlink to my mail messages is the only way I can impose order on the thousands of messages in my mail archive!

Hyperlinks

Figure 2. Hyperlinked tasks give you an easy way to refer back to information related to a task, whether in the form of a file, mail message, Web page or IRC session.

I like reviewing my week to see what I have accomplished. Because it's easy to view completed tasks, I can write accomplishment reports without struggling to remember what I did the other day. Seeing a lot of crossed-out tasks for today also is a great morale booster. As a nifty bonus, I can keep detailed logs of how much time I spend on each task or project—great for billing time, improving my time estimates or simply finding out how (un)productive I am each day.

Manageable, not Overwhelming

I like keeping my task list short. I typically have fewer than ten tasks on my task list for any given day. I like scheduling tasks for particular days and organizing them according to projects, keeping my daily task list small and manageable. When I feel particularly productive, it's easy to reschedule more tasks onto today's page.

I break tasks down into bite-size bits to simplify keeping track of my progress and to motivate me to work. When tasks are of a manageable size, they're much easier to work on. Instead of goofing off, I find myself picking the next small task from my list and working on it.

Trustworthy

I need a system that can keep track of small tasks as well as large projects. Because Planner.el is only a keystroke away and I use it for all of my tasks, I trust that it holds all the things I need to remember. I made Planner.el the first thing that shows up when I turn on my computer, and I check it at least once a day. Knowing that all of my reminders are safe and can be checked easily from one place definitely takes a load off my mind.

It's also easy for me to back up my files. Because Planner.el uses plain text files, I don't have to worry about corrupted data. If some experimental code makes Planner.el unusable for me, I still can use any text editor to manage my plans. In addition, it's easy to publish my task list and notes as HTML (Figure 3), so if something happens to my laptop, I can check my TODOs using any computer with Net access.

Published

Figure 3. Publishing to the Net lets you check your tasks from any platform, anywhere.

Extremely Customizable

My method of planning has really changed over the years. I went from micromanaging my schedule by assigning specific times to tasks to keeping an unsorted list on my day page. I tried both keeping one big list of tasks and using projects to group together related tasks. Sometimes I think up weird things, too, such as having my computer automatically display a fortune cookie whenever I finish a task.

This is where Planner.el really shines. Because it's built on top of Emacs, I can change anything I want through a simple, easy-to-learn programming language. I've tweaked it to fit not only my planning style but also my little quirks. Although my planning style has changed much in the past three years, being able to replace bits of Planner.el and add new features has made it possible for Planner.el to grow along with me.

Things to Remember

There are many ways to manage your tasks, so spend some time finding one that fits you. Here are some things to remember:

  • Make it as easy as possible. Use keyboard shortcuts and scripts to simplify task creation and review.
  • Don't get overwhelmed. Keep your task list short and simple. Don't drown in hundreds of TODOs or choke on intimidating tasks.
  • Fill in the cracks. Put all of your important tasks in there. If you can, put minor tasks in as well. Check your list regularly.
  • Hack your system. Keep an eye out for ways to improve your way of planning. Don't spend too much time hacking your system and not enough time actually accomplishing your TODOs, however.

Have fun!

Resources

Cory Doctorow's notes on Danny O'Brien's talk "Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks": www.craphound.com/lifehacksetcon04.txt

RT (request tracker): www.bestpractical.com/rt

Using RT to Keep Track of Bugs, Ideas, Users and Your Life in General: www.ukuug.org/events/linux2002/papers/html/rt

Ta-da (Web-based task manager): www.tadalist.com

Backpackit: www.backpackit.com

Introducing the Hipster PDA: www.hipsterpda.com

Planner, a personal information manager: www.emacswiki.org/cgi-bin/wiki/PlannerMode

Planner quick start: www.emacswiki.org/cgi-bin/wiki/PlannerModeQuckStart

I hate teaching

November 1, 2005 - Categories: teaching

I can't believe it. I'm actually _dreading_ class tomorrow, and the conflict is tearing my mind apart. I hate teaching. I hate the fact that I've come to hate teaching.

Today I spent hours trying to figure out a data mining package in time for class tomorrow. The interface had changed a bit, so I I dug up a recent tutorial and struggled to make sense of things. I could follow the tutorial, yes, but I couldn't _explain_ what was going on.

I couldn't go beyond the tutorial. I couldn't go beyond the predefined examples, beyond just clicking on what people tell me to click on. I _hate_ that. I hate myself for being limited to that.

This was a stretch for me, and I just can't make it. It's not a matter of spending more time on it. I could spend the hours I planned for the preparation of each class, but I still can't learn fast enough or deep enough to give real value to the class. There are some things I _can't_ learn on my own, at least not within the timeframe. I need _years_ to work with this material; years and interest, and I'm not even that keenly into it!

I can't continue with this. I can't get up there and talk about things I don't know about. I need to stop and think. I'm going to inconvenience a lot of people if I pull out of the course, but in the long run I think it will be better for my sanity to do so. My instincts are telling me to get out.

How do I explain this? How do I make them understand that if I went on to teach, I would hate myself even more? I'd rather not teach than teach horribly. The cost of breaking my promise is less than the cost of going against my principles. I'll pay for it either way, but I'd rather deal with my private failures than inflict them on the students.

I can't keep standing up there and talking about things I don't know anything about. The students deserve more than that. And if I give in to that pressure to just _teach_, to just keep talking, I'll lose myself.

I love teaching, but this isn't teaching. This is just _delivering_. This is just repeating whatever's in the tutorial. There's very little of my self in it, very little of my stories... I am not teaching. I am wasting people's time, and I hate myself for that.

ACM controversy

November 2, 2005 - Categories: geek

For the most part, Ateneo handled their first ACM Intercollegiate Programming Competition wonderfully. But there was one thing that perhaps could have been handled better, and that was the disqualification of 30-year-old Nix Garcia from iAcademy on the basis of his age.

Oh, I _hate_ it when my friends are on both sides of an issue. From one point of view, it's iAcademy's fault for not reading the fine print. According to the official ACM ICPC rules, Nix Garcia's coach should have petitioned the ICPC eligibility committee at least three weeks before the regional contest. From http://icpc.baylor.edu/icpc/Regionals/About.htm :

Basic Requirements
  • A student must be willing and able to compete in the World Finals.
  • A student must be enrolled in a degree program at the sponsoring institution with at least a half-time load. This rule is not to be construed as disqualifying co-op students, exchange students, or students serving internships.
  • A student may compete for only one institution during a contest year.
  • A student who has competed in two World Finals is NOT eligible to compete.
  • A student who has competed in five Regional Contests is NOT eligible to compete.

Period of Eligibility

  • A student who meets the Basic Requirements and FIRST began post-secondary studies in 2001 or later is eligible to compete.
  • A student who meets the Basic Requirements and was born in 1982 or later is eligible to compete. (emphasis mine)

Extending the Period of Eligibility

  • A coach may petition the ICPC Eligibility Committee to extend the Period of Eligibility for a student whose full-time studies have been interrupted or extended. This includes military or civilian service, illness, work/studies, or personal reasons.
  • The coach must demonstrate that such an extension would not provide an unfair advantage to the team.
  • A petition will be approved routinely if the student meets the Basic Requirements and has not completed more than the equivalent of eight semesters of full-time study as of the date of the regional contest.
  • To make such a request, the coach must petition the ICPC Eligibility Committee at least three weeks before the regional contest. The ICPC Eligibility Committee will render a decision within five business days.

I think Nix's extension would've been granted. He had dropped out of college to pursue writing for a while, and I don't think he gained an unfair advantage from that. But iAcademy didn't apply for it, and so Ateneo was right to disqualify them.

Ateneo officials probably noticed their oversight and corrected it, perhaps when someone else complained. It was probably a very, very tough call, and they must've thought, "Better late than never."

Again, it's probably too late _now_ (I _hate_ being on the sidelines!), but I hope that the coach of the iAcademy team read this part of the rules:

(Within 2 business day) The coach may file a complaint by sending an email containing a text message with no enclosures to the Regional Contest Director and copied to the Contest Manager.

The Appeals committee would probably not overturn the decision, but at least they'll know about it, and perhaps contests around the world will be better at double-checking eligibility before the final run. Coaches could be reminded about eligibility requirements, for example.

It wouldn't be the first time contest results were changed after the contest. During our first year of participating in the ACM, my team moved from 13th place to 12th because one team had been disqualified after the preliminary contest results were announced. A student on that team had been to the World Finals one too many times. You'd expect them to be very familiar with the fine print of these contests, but in the rush and excitement leading up to a contest, who was checking?

Yes, coaches are responsible for making sure they know the rules. Yes, iAcademy would've probably gotten the extension if they had appealed for it, but they relied on the contest organizers to verify their application—and contest organizers simply deal with too many teams to do that. But it hurts when something is taken away from you after you think you won it, even though the rules require disqualification. I wish Ateneo had handled that part of the contest gracefully. Perhaps they did. I know Dr. Rodrigo and the other Ateneans would've tried their best to make sure their decisions were reasonable and well-supported.

(Ateneo has been screwed by politicking at contests before, and I'd like to think that we don't scheme. We've hated it too when forces beyond our control or understanding muck about with the contest results. Anyone remember that Asia Students .NET contest? Doc Sarmenta's chagrin over winning a hastily-created "Most Creative" prize was balanced by his delight that the organizers had found such a wonderfully intricate solution to a delicate political situation. Or at least that's what we told ourselves... <laugh>)

ACM ICPC is a programming competition, yes, and so on the surface it's about finding the best programming team in the region and then in the world. But it's always been more than that for me. I think it's a fantastic opportunity to develop and maintain collegial respect for people in other schools. The ACM ICPC is not about just competing in that contest and then going home. I hope people realized the awesome opportunities ACM ICPC gives them—look, here are the people each school believes to be its best! The ACM ICPC should be more of a social event, like the way our high school International Software Competitions helped us get to know other people from different countries. That way, people go home with far more than just numeric results. They go home having met other _people._

I respect both Ateneo for the tough decisions it had to make and iAcademy for the challenges it went through. They may be disqualified according to the rules, but that in no way diminishes their accomplishments. I do not think that their performance depended on Nix Garcia's experience. iAcademy is relatively new to the contest scene, and I remember when they first competed and failed. They have gone far and done well.

Our Atenean teams are far guiltier of taking advantage of our experience. If you look at our performance in the past, we have never been unknowns. We have never been dark horses coming late to the race. Even the newcomers—and by newcomers we mean people who started competing in college instead of high school, the laggards ;)—were picked up early and trained along with people who had been competing since their high school days. Our success is probably more due to a constant stream of contest veterans than it's due to the strengths of our curriculum. I've been both a student and a teacher. I should know! <wry grin>

Congratulations, Nix Garcia and the other people at iAcademy. You might have been disqualified, but your performance is certainly not something to be ashamed of. Take what you've learned from the contest and help train the next generation. You'll get better and better, and I hope someday iAcademy will challenge Ateneo for the top spot. Until then, remember: there's more to contests than just the final results. Prove your worth by teaching the next generation. I look forward to next year's contest!

More about teaching

November 2, 2005 - Categories: teaching

Teaching is the most humbling of experiences. There is nothing like standing there in front of the students and finding yourself speaking, finding yourself creating meaning. I taught only a little today, but I taught it well; just enough to give people an idea, just enough to tempt their interest.

Then it was time to talk to the department chair about leaving. The department chair peered at me over his papers. "You were a special admission," he said. "I've never met you until today. I just looked at your file and thought, 'This is someone we want to have in our department. This is someone we want in front of our classrooms.'"

Who am I that these people should take such interest in me? Who am I that they should trust me with even the smallest responsibility in marking projects and guiding students through laboratory experiments? The reason why I hate teaching is that I love it too much to think myself worthy.

There were some things he didn't quite understand, or maybe I didn't understand them. He told me how teaching assistantships form an essential part of the university's funding and how leaving the course at this point would essentially mean that I might never get a teaching assistantship again. With the way recommendations work, it might even mean I never teach in front of a classroom again. He didn't quite understand that I was willing to take that failure if that means that students would get the education they needed—even if that means I have to go home, master's degree unfinished and plans awry.

Why do I care so much about a class most people will not even remember next year? I don't know. I just do. I'm not arrogant enough to think that this one class will change their lives, but I can't tell myself that it doesn't matter and that I shouldn't care.

But I also recognize the trouble I caused the department. At this point, there is no one who can take my place. Perhaps there has never been. They knew about my concerns in the beginning, but they encouraged me to take it. And now we must move, inexorably, toward the end of the term.

Even now, I'm certain my hesitation has made them think twice. I've caused them a problem. They expected, perhaps, a cooler and more composed teacher. Someone with plenty of experience, someone who no longer struggled with the imposter syndrome. I'm not that kind of teaching assistant yet. I don't just fit into the system.

I wanted to escape. I wanted someone else to take over so that the students would be able to learn more than they could otherwise. I wanted someone who knew the nuances of the field, who could tell stories about how these things work in the real world.

The department chair reminded me that there are more resources that I haven't tapped. There are people I haven't yet talked to, avenues I haven't yet explored. I need to plan better. I need to work better. I'll e-mail the previous teaching assistant and ask her to help me brainstorm project ideas. Why didn't I think about doing that before? I guess my brain locked down.

Now that he's told me about all these things I can do to help cope, now that I've given a class about Weka and found curiosity instead of the myriad of deep, technical questions I dreaded, now that I've checked things with the students... the class seems more doable. More workable. I may not know the specifics of Weka and Jess, but I know enough about them to tell stories, to make them curious, to hint at the possibilities.

Should I have kept quiet and not told Prof. Shepard about this crisis of mine? I've not been professional. I've not handled it with the best of grace. But I needed to hear that reassurance, and I needed to see and face the challenge head-on. I accept the consequences of letting the world know about my insecurities. <wry grin>

My evaluations with the class will suck, no doubt. I've called their attention to my mistakes and my shortcomings. They know that I am not the best they've had, nor even the best I could be.

Practice is hard. Growth hurts. But it's worth it. I'm learning a little bit more about dealing with difficult subjects, and I'm growing much more than I would have teaching something well within my capabilities.

I am thankful that this is a university so responsive to people's cries for help that even a teaching assistant's panicked concern was listened to and addressed a day after it was raised.

Found my keys!

November 3, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

And I had plenty of hot chocolate and ice cream today, too.

Life is looking up again. =)

Interesting visualizations: Bible exegesis

November 3, 2005 - Categories: geek

Ever wondered which verses were cited more often than others, and in what context? Check out this Bible exegesis visualization. Think of it this way: it's one of the few extensively cited texts in the world, and you could probably see those citations as primitive hypertext...

On the up and up

November 3, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My mom airmailed me a care package—around 30 packets of instant hot chocolate mix, and a wonderful card. I feel so loved... =D

And Skype works again! Wahoo! I talked to Dominique for an hour and a half. <contented grin>

Life is good. Challenging, but good.

Crisis in a time of chocolate and friendship

November 4, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Thanks to everyone who wrote in with words of warmth and support for a teaching assistant going through an imposter-syndrome-identity-crisis.

Thanks also to everyone who would've written had they had the time to read my blog. You've been busy, but that's okay. I know you care.

Thanks to all the people who poured me a cup of chocolate, virtual or not. Special thanks to my mom, who sent a gazillion packets of instant chocolate mix by airmail. I can buy instant chocolate mix at any store, but I can't buy that kind of love.

Thanks to my professors and my students for having more faith in me than I had in myself. Thanks for challenging me to do better.

Thanks, world, for reminding me that no matter how bad a crisis looks, I don't face it alone. I'm surrounded by people who are happy to help in whatever way they can. I can only hope that I will have opportunities to pay them back—or pay them forward.

What's crisis in the time of chocolate and friendship? It is an opportunity for shared troubles and shared joy.

Crossroads

November 4, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

One of my best friends is discovering how agonizingly wonderful life is when you find the sweet spots where your passions and skills meet the world's needs. He said:

Working in GMA has gotten me back in touch with the side of me that has and will always be immersed in Communications. In combination with WAVE, I have to say that despite the stress, dammit, I love my work. Both of them.

Add to this his love for teaching...

I've been drawn into Philosophy from day one with it, and there's just an amazing feeling you get when you have a student walk in and think how irrelevant Philosophy is to life only to walk out and think otherwise.

... and you have a very talented person wondering which way he should go, what he should do.

Mr. Bulaong told me to look at myself carefully, because the universe is molding me into something with an amazing potential. The question is for what that potential is meant to be, because it seems like this time, I can't expect to have my cake and eat it, too.

In the book "Built to Last", James Collins and Jerry Porras show how successful companies find ways to combine their strengths and explore their full potential. Success is not about the tyranny of the OR, but rather about the genius of the AND.

Why shouldn't people be able to do that too? It's not about OR: communications OR philosophy, radio OR teaching. Marcelle, keep thinking, keep wondering—you'll find a way to have your cake AND eat it too!

Not all teaching is done within a classroom, and not all communication is done from the DJ's booth. I know Marcelle will find a way to live as all of himself instead of just one part, as I trust I will find a way to fully, truly live.

Creativity

November 4, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Carl Sia dreads the thought of running dry:

Creativity isn't something that can be tapped on demand. Unlike jobs that require a more or less fixed skill set, "getting creative" just isn't as simple as the idiom makes it out to be. I fear that my pen will run dry, starved not of ink but of the thoughts and passions that fuel it. And this, my good audience, will in turn starve the erstwhile author, yours truly.

But the world is one of abundance, and life is too rich and wonderful for us to run out of things to say. There are a million things I want to write about, and the main thing that frustrates me is that I can't find the words to express them as well as I want to. They are there, dancing just beyond my fingertips, waiting for me to describe them...

Read Carl's blog post

A couple of quotes

November 5, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized
A crucible is a severe test of patience and belief. Whether the crucible experience is an apprenticeship, an ordeal, or some combination of both, we came to think of it much like the hero's journey that lies at the heart of every myth, from The Odyssey to Erin Brockovich. It is both an opportunity and a test. It is a defining moment that unleashes abilities, forces crucial choices and sharpens focus. It teaches a person who he or she is. People can be destroyed by such an experience. But those who are not emerge from it aware of their gifts and goals, ready to seize opportunities and make their future. Whether the crucible was harrowing or not, it is seen by the individual as the turning point that set him or her on the desired, even inevitable, course.
— Bennis and Thomas, Geeks and Geezers: How era, values and defining moments shape leaders. Quoted by Irine Yu in encouraging e-mail.
Intuition does not always appear as the ingenious breakthrough or something grandiose. Intuitive thoughts, feelings, and solutions often manifest themselves as good old common sense. Common sense is efficient.
— Doc Childre and Bruce Cryer, From Chaos to Coherence. Quoted by Paul Cadario at seminar on engineering leadership.

Teaching needs small classes

November 7, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized
Next, in terms of classroom teaching, there have got to be small classes. What kind of education is it, like at Harvard, where you have 800 people in a class? Is this education? People pay all that money to go there, for what? To sit in a huge class—why not get a videotape? Why not go read the lecture? This is not teaching. Teaching is when you have one person, a teacher in a room, doing improv with a class. Looking at the students, looking at them as people. And all faculty should be made to teach freshmen. This idea that "Oh, the freshmen—let's leave that to the graduate students, the slaves." That's absurd. The freshman year is the most important year, especially for people coming from deprived backgrounds. The teacher must confront the student face-to-face. Look at the student, watch the way the students are changing from year to year, care for them as individual beings. This has got to happen. The reform of education will be achieved when we do that, when we give personal attention to the students.

- Read Camille Paglia's speech

Thanks to edrx from #emacs for pointing this out!

launchpad.net

Sometimes it’s not just about the jobs you create

November 8, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Year to Success had this inspiring thought:

Success is creating jobs and opportunity. Gates' company, Microsoft, employs more than 50,000 people in 72 countries and regions.

This is the same Bill Gates who wrote in an internal memo:

If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. ... The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors.

Yes, Bill Gates is basically _the_ face of IT. He's the only personality people outside the IT industry really hear about, really get to know. And yes, Microsoft is pretty darn influential.

But gwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah... 50,000 people is a drop in the ocean. Let's talk about Microsoft's ecosystem of partners and independent service vendors. And let's not just talk about what Microsoft enables, but what they also squash.

Emacs: Not bad, just misunderstood

November 9, 2005 - Categories: emacs

People love dissing the Emacs text editor. Emacs is one of those arcane things that even _geeks_ aren't expected to understand. It's probably the canonical example of a tool built for geeks by geeks: hard to use, hard to understand, hard to just pick up and play with.

I really don't think Emacs is bad. It's just misunderstood, the way mainstream people think Linux is bad because it's all command-line when the truth is that Linux is so much more than that. Emacs is so much more than what people think it is, but people just settle for the quick sound bite.

As Alex Schroeder (kensanata) blogged:

23:29 kensanata eek. on creating happy programmers, quote: As Nat Torkington explained to me in his non-politically-correct but useful way, "It's no longer aspergers and emacs... we're putting people back into the equation."
23:29 kensanata aspergers and emacs – that the social niche we live in.
23:29 hober yeah
23:29 hober kensanata: I'm going to blog about that tonight
23:30 e1f you have aspergers?
23:30 kensanata no, i have emacs.

I'm going to blog about this too.

Brilliant idea!

November 9, 2005 - Categories: emacs

I'm going to make this weekend Planner Documenting weekend. Kinda like the National Novel Writing Month's goal of just getting stuff out there. I'll put it on the wiki so that people can bang on it. =)

I need to block off Saturday evening for Michael's party, but I'll keep the rest of my weekend free. What do I need to do? I need to sit down and write a from-scratch guide for Emacs and everything. And a Why Use Planner thing. And something about Planner philosophies.

Free and open source programs

November 9, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Looking for high-quality free and open source programs to help your Microsoft Windows-using friends make the switch? Check out LOOP: List of Open-source Programs for Microsoft Windows. Get them hooked on all the goodies like Mozilla Firefox, GAIM and GIMP. When they get hooked on those applications, quietly replace the operating system underneath their feet... ;)

Via Desktoplinux, via Lxer

Emacs: It’s all about people

November 9, 2005 - Categories: emacs

Kathy Sierra of Creating Passionate Users quotes Nat Torkington: "It's no longer aspergers and emacs... we're putting people back into the equation."

Why do people like bashing Emacs so much? Why do even geeks pooh-pooh it as a text editor that's too complicated for its own good?

If you just want a plain text editor, Emacs is really easy to learn. Just start up a graphical version of Emacs and you've got menus and toolbars that can help you start editing right away. I think this is more of an image problem than anything else. It's like the way people say, "Linux is too hard to learn!" Linux isn't hard to learn; you just have to try it. Emacs isn't hard to learn; you just have to try it.

What probably intimidates people, though, is the knowledge that there's so much more out there. There's so much potential. Once you know how to use gedit or vim, that's pretty much it. Everything else is just about shortcuts. But Emacs... the more you learn about Emacs, the more there is to learn about Emacs.

Richi Plana wrote:

My only problem with it is that it doesn't seem to be designed to be self-learnable. It requires trundling for documentation and, more than that, asking people. In a sense, it's passed on from generation to generation by word-of-mouth.

And I _love_ that! I love the fact that when you really get into learning how to use Emacs, you can't help but get hooked up with all these other people. I love the fact that when I download Emacs extensions, I'm getting an idea of how other people made their Emacs fit them better.

Emacs is the most user-friendly application I've ever used. I'm not a typical user. I _like_ hacking my editor. I tweak it every so often, whenever I want to procrastinate doing something else. I _love_ how Emacs invites me to change it, to make it my own. In Emacs, source is not sacred! I can change anything I want about Emacs. I can make it fit _me_ instead of having to fit it. Emacs gives me all the tools to do that and all the source code I need.

I also like tweaking programs for other people, and that's another way that Emacs is just so wonderfully user-centered. I love how I can make Emacs be so many things to so many people. I've made it into a Japanese-vocabulary flashcard game for a coworker. I've made it a planner for a non-geek friend. I've even used it as a Tetris game! Emacs lets me help other people by tweaking the code that's already out there to fit the people I know, and I think that's absolutely wonderful.

For me, Emacs is inherently social. Emacs really transformed my experience of free software and open source, hooking me up with all these awesome communities. Unlike the bare and merely functional configuration files I have for other programs, my Emacs configuration files say something about who I am, what I like, and how I think. And _that's_ why I can't help but gush about it all the time. It's something so different from any other open source project I've ever tried.

I want to learn how to explain this mindblowingly awesome difference to other people. We've got nongeeks learning Emacs. They're fantastic! They've never heard about Emacs. They aren't scared of it. They just happened to see one of their friends using Planner or whatever, and they wanted to try it out. Isn't that cool?

So yeah, Emacs is all about people. Other geeks may put it down, but it spreads because of word of mouth anyway. It's really awesome, and one day I'm going to figure out how to describe just why it's awesome...

Ethics in research

November 11, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I attended a seminar on ethics given by the department. All graduate students are required to take this seminar in their first year. It was a fascinating seminar. One scenario: A presentation gives you an absolutely fantastic idea. Do you

  • a) Offer your suggestion freely
  • b) Privately talk about collaboration
  • c) Talk to your research supervisor
  • d) Work on it yourself

I raised my hand without hesitation, and told everyone I'd give my ideas freely. Ideas are cheap. It's implementation that really counts. I don't mind giving my ideas away. If people _really_ like my ideas, then they'll see the advantages in collaborating with me and helping me grow. If I keep my ideas to myself, however, the world will be limited by my ability to work on those ideas (and my ability to concentrate on them in the first place!).

My lab partner whispered that it was obvious that I'm into open source. It's something I really believe in. I want to give ideas away. I want to learn as much as I can so that I can spread what I know.

Many people don't like doing that. There's a lot of pressure in the academe to be the first to publish, and there are also the temptations of the commercial world. Those are some of the reasons why people sit on cool ideas. That doesn't make sense to me at all, and I hope never to be in a situation where I have to do that.

I don't think ideas are scarce. I think they're abundant, wild and free. The more ideas I give away, the more I receive. =)

Flash fiction: ALLEYCAT – 196 words

November 11, 2005 - Categories: writing

ALLEYCAT
by Sacha Chua

I tug the hem of my red leather dress down against the cold. Out of the corner of my eye, I see another man join my shadow. Three men on my tail. It's two in the morning. Not a good time to walk in this part of town.

I walk faster, my heartbeat louder than my footsteps.

One man yells, "Hey, babe! Wait up! We just want to play!"

I can't outrun them. Not in these stiletto boots. I walk faster anyway, adrenalin surging through my blood. I feel their leers boring into my back.

Narrow alley to my right. Probably leads to a dead end.

Perfect.

I disappear around the corner. Their footsteps get louder, cockier. They can't wait to close the gap. I can hear them breathe.

Snapping my right heel open, I withdraw my monofilament garrote. Strangulation is fun, but decapitation is so much quicker—and this one takes a feather of a touch to slice through bone and cartilage. This way, they can hear their heads hit the ground.

I make short work of the scum. Then I wipe blood off leather, replace my heel, and saunter on, an alleycat on the prowl.


In response to "PIRATES" prompt on flashxer mailing list:

THEY PICKED UP THE BLIPS OF HE THREE BOATS PERSUING THEM, BUT DID NOT REALIZE THEY WERE PIRATES UNTIL THE FIRST SHOT WAS FIRED. THE CRUISE SHIP CAPTAIN ORDERD FULL SPEED, THE LINER WAS PEPPERED WITH GUN FIRE AS SHE MOVED FROM A LEISURELY 15 KNOTS TO MAXIMUM SPEED, LEAVING THEM IN THE WAKE.

Taming the TODO

November 13, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My Linux Journal article is up now! =) http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8378 has nicer formatting than my entry on 2005.11.01 .

Planning the week

November 13, 2005 - Categories: emacs
Last week's plans
  • Lab report: Due Friday. Write up results tomorrow, sketch discussion

We finished the lab report with some time to spare, although the discussion part took us a while. Antony's great as a lab partner, and working on a lab report in pairs is much more fun than writing parts separately.

  • DSS: Monday: prepare clustering lab for Weka, prepare new project

I decided not to go into the clustering features of Weka, focusing instead on decision trees. I posted the second project and tried it out, so I know that it's pretty straightforward. I had an oops-my-bad moment: forgot to tell them about the handouts, so they had a hard time following along in the lab. How embarrassing.

  • Research: collect tagging information in my wiki

I'm getting into the hang of reading academic papers. I need to step up the pace, though, as the end of the term is coming soon.

  • Enggpsych: Get further sources for powergrid story, revise chapter 4

I didn't get to work on this. I should concentrate on this paper because the end of the term is coming soon, and I'll be very busy marking DSS stuff.

  • Social: Get started on my Christmas cards, make birthday present for Michael

Haven't started on the Christmas cards yet. Had fun at Michael's party, though.

Last week's highlights: bonding

Last week was all about having fun with people. Ubuntu talk on Tuesday, breakfast on Wednesday, meeting Wednesday night, roommates party Thursday night and Friday night, and Mike's party on Saturday night—wow!

It wasn't all play, though. ;) I got into the rhythm of reading papers, and the bookmarklet I wrote for posting stuff to my research wiki was useful. Labs for the decision support systems class were hard to prepare, but I'm surviving somehow. I wrote a lot: a lab report, a couple of quick reflections, Planner newbie guides, and two ShortStories. I'm getting there!

Plans for next week
  • DSS: Show very basic JESS demo, which I practiced already. Check projects. (Argh.)
  • Research: Read 10 more papers and then start drafting my reading paper.
  • Engg psych: Look up sources for the powergrid story and make an outline for my paper.
  • Social: Temporarily on hold. May get around to Christmas letter.
  • Toastmasters: Speech #7 about becoming an expert

Lost in translation

November 13, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Watched Lost in Translation again. Missed Japan. Strange how I feel like even more of a foreigner in Canada than I did in Japan. Strange how one good friend can make all the difference.

Tango lessons

November 14, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Two short, ridiculously low-res clips from tango lessons. ../pics/tango-1.mpg (1.8 MB) - ../pics/tango-2.mpg (1.2 MB)

Pictures from tango

November 14, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized
Outfit Blouse: CAD 3.99
Skirt: CAD 4.00
Knowing how to spot gems in Goodwill: priceless.
Dancing Dancing with Chris

Speech #7: One in a Million

November 15, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Today I gave my Toastmasters speech #7 (Research Your Topic): "One in a Million." I talked about what made Olympic athletes and prima ballerinas and chess champions one in a million: luck, work, and love. Luck—being in the right place at the right time, having the right opportunities and the right teachers—is something, but it's not everything. I shared the results of research that show it takes around 10 years to become an expert in something: 10,000 hours of work, which is just three hours a day. That's the work part. And love—love is what gets you through that. Love is what makes you push yourself past the comfort zone. Love is what makes those three hours a day just fly by. So if you want to be exceptional, just remember: 10 years, 10,000 hours, is just 3 hours a day—and your ten years can start today.

Throughout the explanation of luck, work, and love, I wove in stories about my childhood: gymnastics lessons, piano practice, chess... and computers, of course. =) (They laughed when I told them my only souvenirs from gymnastics were posture, poise, and a flat head from falling on the floor too many times.)

I wanted to talk about my parents, but even after I dropped a lot of material from the speech, I still clocked in at nine minutes—well over the 5-7 minute goal. Then again, even our timer didn't realize how much time had already passed. <grin> I guess it was a good speech, then.

The audience liked how I used simple statistics, research, and personal experience to support a story. =) I got plenty of wonderful feedback from the Toastmasters! It's always fun to perform in front of such a supportive and helpful audience.

Not bad for a speech I'd _just_ finished sketching in class that afternoon... I had most of it in my speech ideas notebook, but I hadn't settled on the specific examples until today.

Much fun. I'm looking forward to doing speech #8, which will help me get comfortable with visual aids. I've already got something planned for that one! I don't think I'll be able to finish my CTM by the end of the year—not with the end of term coming up!—but it should be pretty smooth sailing, thanks to my well-stocked idea book.

Whee!

Flash fiction: Damsel in Distress

November 15, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

- In response to flashxer prompt: "He was a real cliche. Top of the heap. Strong as steel, a go getter who let no grass grow under his feet, an overachiever who kept his nose to the grindstone and never looked a gift horse in the mouth."


DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (263 words)

He fought his way past the thorny briars and slew the ferocious dragon—all without getting a spot on his gleaming armor. He climbed to the highest room in the highest tower, took off his helmet, and woke the sleeping princess with a gentle (but manly) kiss.

She snapped awake. "ARRRRRRRRRRRGH! Can't anyone get any rest around here?!"

"But... but... Weren't you a damsel in distress?"

"A damsel in _STRESS._ Which is why I was resting, until you very rudely came along and woke me up."

"I'm sorry! It's just that I saw a dragon, and dragons usually guard beautiful princesses and..."

"What did you do to my dragon?!" She ran to the window and saw the bloody carcass. "Pookie! You killed Pookie! Don't you know how hard it is to raise dragons? Every time I manage to train one to sit and beg, some dumb oaf comes along and kills it!"

"I'm sorry—I really am—forgive my—"

"And you chopped down my rose garden!"

"I'm really sorry about that, but I had to rescue—"

"I have HAD it with people who ASSUME that princesses need RESCUING more than they need their BEAUTY SLEEP! OUT!" She bashed him with a pillow. "OUT! I don't want to see you ever again!"

"Okay! I'm sorry!" He backed down the flight of stairs, cowering behind his shield as the princess pillow-whacked him all the way to the ground floor.

"AND STAY OUT!" she yelled as he galloped off into the sunset. She bolted the door, trudged upstairs, and started writing a letter.

Dear Dragons-R-Us...

E-Mail to FlashXer@yahoogroups.com

Flash fiction: “Nine Lives to One”

November 17, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

In response to flashxer prompt:

THE OLD MAN WAS SENILE, BEDRIDDEN, AND LYING IN HIS OWN WASTE. HE WAS WHEEZING HARD WHEN TWO PEOPLE, WEARING BALACLAVAS THAT COVERED THEIR FACES COMPLETELY DROPPED A PILLOW OVER HIS FACE AND HELD IT THERE...

—-

NINE LIVES TO ONE (222 words)
Sacha Chua

Ninety years old and he was still like a child around cats—a mean, cruel, nasty boy who kicked them and pulled their tails and 'forgot' to feed them. His wife loved the cats, but she loved him too, so she overlooked his cruelties and snuck her little kitties catnip every so often.

But cats don't forgive as easily, and they live for a long time.

Age took its toll on the man. He grew frailer and frailer. Bedridden, he ranted and raved at his wife as she took care of him. She pretended not to hear his insults.

The cats heard, though. They took to staring at him from the foot of his bed, silent witnesses to the verbal abuse his wife endured. After particularly bad nights, she'd find herself waking up to the purring comfort of cats snuggling under her blanket or rubbing their tiny faces against hers.

He sickened further, lungs heaving in the crisp night air, arms too feeble to move.

The cats almost seemed to smile.

One day his wife found him staring straight up, rigid. Dead.

Suffocation, the doctors said. How he suffocated in that bare room, no one could explain.

But the cats all purred, even the littlest ones as light as feathers on the nose and mouth and chest of a weak old man...

—-

You can tell when I'm procrastinating something big. I write more flash fiction.

Teaching reflections

November 17, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Yesterday's class session went well. FINALLY! I felt like I was _really_ doing something. What made the difference?

  • Attendance. The professor emphasized the importance of the lab, so all the students showed up. The previous two lab saw half the seats empty, which distracted me a bit. A full house gave me more energy to work with and more questions to field during the lab portion.
  • Preparation. I remembered to tell students about the detailed lab handouts prepared by the previous teaching assistant. The students also spent some time working on the project, which gave them plenty of questions to ask.
  • Timing. The students had the theoretical background from the lecture _and_ the practical need for the tool (even if it was a need created by the project definition). The previous two lab sessions were a little too early, and the lack of theory and need confused the students. This time, though, everything fit.

That was the third time I'd covered roughly the same material, and the difference really showed. I learned from my mistakes and a few brave students' questions, and I figured out what aspects I needed to focus on in order to address their concerns.

I was supposed to introduce JESS, the Java Expert System Shell, but I felt that focusing on Weka for the entire session would leave the students with better understanding. That was a good call. There's enough time to briefly introduce JESS next session, anyway.

What can I do better next time? Preparation is something within my control: always make sure that learning is motivated by something and that students have written instructions that they can follow at their own pace. Attendance and timing are things I can address with the professor's help. I'll also take comfort in the fact that things get a little easier the more I teach them, so I shouldn't be too worried when I completely bomb the first time I teach something! =)

Cold!

November 17, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My ears hurt earlier. I guess Canadians have just adapted to the weather by evolving thicker ears. Mine were almost icy! I am _so_ wearing something fluffy and warm tomorrow. Weather forecast was -1..2'C, with flurries late. Meep.

“What should I do with my life?”

November 17, 2005 - Categories: life, passion
What Should I Do With My Life? The real meaning of success — and how to find it
Those who are lit by that passion are the object of envy among their peers and the subject of intense curiosity. They are the source of good ideas. They make the extra effort. They demonstrate the commitment. They are the ones who, day by day, will rescue this drifting ship. And they will be rewarded. With money, sure, and responsibility, undoubtedly. But with something even better too: the kind of satisfaction that comes with knowing your place in the world. We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity — if we could just get the square pegs out of the round holes.
Totally awesome. Read it. Then read it again. Then take a moment to listen for that quiet whisper, that faint urge. =)

Snow

November 18, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Winter.

Argh.

Let me say that again. ARGH.

On the plus side, I remembered to wear a hat today.

I'll take pictures later, when my suitemates and I head out for the movie. Karen, Jenny, Mariana and I are planning to watch Pride and Prejudice later. I'm going in a floral blouse, a floor-length purple skirt, and a couple of hidden layers.

I'll be cold, but I'll be cold in _style._ ;)

You gotta love these teaching assistantship ads

November 18, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized
ESC102H1 — Engineering Science Praxis II

DO YOU BELIEVE ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING?

  • Active Surplus is the coolest store in Toronto.
  • Duck tape and chewing gum are all you really need, especially if that's all you have!
  • "Junkyard Wars" sounds like a fun afternoon, but who needs another hovercraft?
  • Hacking around in Linux and open source is more fun than most people realize.
  • Saving the universe given a holodeck and transporter is easy; try doing it with two rocks and a stick!

If so, you're the kind of person we're looking for to TA the Design portion of Engineering Science Praxis II.

This is the position I'm interested in:

Infrastructure TAs (2 @ 60 hours)

As an Infrastructure TA you will work behind the scenes to keep Praxis II running smoothly. The course will rely on a number of software systems, including CCNet, wikis, blogs, file repositories, instant messaging, and any other systems that you think would help the students. Your role is to get the systems running and to keep them running throughout the term. You will also be responsible for helping with the logistics of the Design Showcases. You are ideal for this position if you are comfortable installing and testing open source software on a linux system, and then kludging disparate systems together to make an integrated software suite.

I know, I know, it's sysadmin stuff, but they mentioned wikis! And blogs! And other stuff! I can get kids to use social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us!

Deadline: Dec 9. Hmmm...

Pride and Prejudice

November 19, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My suitemates and I watched Pride and Prejudice last night. The tension was absolutely wonderful. Then again, it's a Jane Austen novel. Of course the romantic tension is wonderful!

Unfortunately we got the American version with a _really_ _really_ sappy and very un-Austen-ish ending, but even that couldn't spoil an otherwise nice film.

My suitemates told me that the 6-hour miniseries was much better, though. Must track it down!

Clair: another movie to fangirl over... ^_^

Sacha Chua
Closet romantic

A day among friends

November 20, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Yesterday was a day spent among close friends. Not that I knew them particularly well, but the ease at which they laughed and spoke with each other made me feel as if I was back with my barkada again... ^_^ The afternoon was about the Lord of the Rings—a movie marathon with a bunch of people I met through Graduate House. The evening was about kids, helping entertain and clean up after a bunch of tots after Dylan's 4th birthday party. Tons of fun. =)

It felt so good to be around people who knew each other well and who made sure I felt welcome. Even though I was new to their company, I felt like I'd known them for a while. Whee!

Brain Gain Network – Philippines

November 21, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Get to meet other geeks and tech-savvy business people at the Techie Palooza to be held by Brain Gain Network on Dec 1!

Network with the high technology VIPs, entrepreneurs, investors and engineers; Witness the launch of two enablers of technopreneurship - The Brain Gain Network and the ARCDI R&D Laboratory; Listen and jive to your favorite 80’s songs performed by a live band; See the booming Technology Park at Northgate Cyberzone Alabang.

The event is on On December 1, 2005, 5:30 pm onwards at the ARCDI Grounds, Northgate Cyberzone, Alabang. (Keynote Address by Senator Magsaysay)

For more info, visit: http://public.narravc.com/bgnlaunch

I'm a big fan of what they're doing. =)

Back at the beginning

November 21, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

The last class of tango was today. We ended on a strange note, realizing how much more there is to learn. No tango trance today. No sensation of flow. Maybe next time.

Next week: a party. Difficult question: whom to invite?

I wish I could invite him.

Addressing envelopes by hand…

November 22, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I wonder if I'll be able to send my Christmas letter on time. If not, well, at least I'll be following the established family tradition of sending Christmas letters in April... of the next year. =)

I thought buying 75 envelopes at the Japanese Paper Place warehouse sale would've lasted at least until the end of the year. But I apparently have 115 people's postal addresses in my database, and I know I'm missing a few people in this list.

Hmm. I need to go back to Carlton and buy a few more penguin notepads, then. I have only 100 sheets, and Clair's bound to like them too. =) (Oooh! Marcelle, you're _so_ right about the Happy Feet trailer. Hot penguin lurv!)

Winter

November 22, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I still owe mom a picture of me all bundled up in winter gear. Wednesday is -5..0 (yikes!), but no snow. Thursday will be -3..0, with light snow, and Friday will be Really Annoying (-6..0, flurries early).

Yikes.

But sub-zero cold's no match for this warm and fuzzy:

Dec 19 Toronto/ Hongkong CONFIRMED
Dec 21 Hongkong/ Manila WAITLISTED

From Tita Raquel, who's handling the travel arrangements:

As you can see, it is the Hongkong /Manila that is waitlisted. All flights for Manila are full on Dec 21 and Dec 22.

My reply: I'll swim!!

Cook or Die

November 23, 2005 - Categories: cookordie

The dearth of recent CookOrDie posts doesn't mean I've figured out how to cook consistently well. Rather, it means that I just haven't been blogging much. <sheepish grin> Diane reminded me that some people find my narrow escapes from food poisoning actually _amusing._ Sickos. ;b Well, that's not what she said, but I'll take the hind.

I have so far managed to survive my cooking. I consider that one of my major accomplishments. This is what I've survived this week:

Bean soup—no, bean heap

I _meant_ to prepare bean soup last Friday: a nice, warm, nutritious meal before we headed off to Pride and Prejudice. Soup mix, lots of water, a bit of chicken stock powder for flavor. I left it simmering, covered, and set the stove alarm to go off after the time indicated on the soup mix packet. I then went to my room to talk to my research supervisor over Skype. By the time I checked on it again, all the water had evaporated. Oops! I quickly threw in more water, pushed it around a bit, then turned off the heat.

Verdict: Still palatable. Pleasantly crunchy and textured, even. Needs a bit more flavor. Probably better in small portions.

Almost-lemon dill chicken

One of the suitemates bought too much dill, so I searched the Net for recipes involving dill and I settled on lemon dill chicken. I remembered to buy the chicken, but I forgot to buy lemons. Oops. So I reached for the nearest liquids: olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (What was I thinking about? French bread?!) I mixed the oil and vinegar with garlic and dill along the lines of the original recipe. I dunked the chicken in the mixture and broiled the chicken again according to the recipe. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the chicken actually got cooked, although I wish I had seasoned it with something slightly more flavorful (salt and pepper?) or marinated it or something like that.

Verdict: Edible. A bit bland.

Too-dry rice

Oops. I put in too little water when I cooked rice.

Verdict: So far I've come up with several ways to use very dry rice. =) Butter helps a bit. Heat helps a bit. Mixing it in with everything else helps a bit.

Garlic fried rice

Doesn't quite work yet. I probably should've added the rice before the garlic browned. Maybe even at the same time?

Tomato, onion and cheese omelette

I'm getting better at these omelettes. =) This one was okay, too. I sauteed the onions before making the omelette because I didn't feel like biting into crunchy raw onion at the time. Might be fun making a salsa omelette, though.

Leftover stirfry

Chopped up remnants of that weird chicken thing + green beans I'd nearly forgotten about + carrots I'd forgotten about + too-dry rice + a generous pinch of ginisa mix + a couple of splashes of soy sauce = some kind of leftover stirfry which will do in a pinch.

Rabbit-impersonation day

I bought a bag of Caesar salad mix reasoning that a head of lettuce is intimidatingly large and that the ridiculous markup they have on convenience mixes like that was worth it just to see if I could happily eat veggies. I think it was meant for two servings as a main dish. I ended up finishing the entire thing. I guess that's a good thing. Oh, Mom and Kathy will be pleased to know that I now eat Caesar salad with dressing.

Life continues. If nothing else, I'm cultivating better resistance to bad cooking. ;)

Reflections on the lab

November 23, 2005 - Categories: education, teaching
([[[[2005.11.23#2]]]] [[[[teaching#5]]]] [[[[TeachingReflections#23]]]])

I discussed the grading scheme for the Decision Support Systems class today. One of the good things about being a teaching assistant is that you get to see work by lots of students, turning up a lot of good ideas in the process. <grin> I showed off a project that got perfect marks from me because it was well-thought-out and creative. All students worked on a Microsoft Excel decision support system for investments. (Yes, I spent a small chunk of my life showing how to make Microsoft Excel do strange things.) I particularly liked that project because the group made an effort to adapt the interface to the personality of the user, and they also coded a simulation that randomized the ups and downs of each investment according to its volatility. That was cool. =) Nice graphs, nice user interface.

As for project 2: I'm a little concerned about the spread of the class. Some of the students have finished their project already. They either leave the class after my explanations or continue working on their other projects. Others are just now asking me about little details I thought I pointed out a number of times in the past few weeks. Hmmm. I wonder if this has anything to do with attendance or seating arrangements, or the fact that I taught a slightly different mix of things in a slightly different way each time I went over the basics (thrice!). The students who experimented a bit on their own seemed to do very well, but then students like that almost always do.

National novel-writing month? Try paper-writing week!

November 24, 2005 - Categories: emacs

I've convinced myself that it will actually be possible to write the two major papers due first week of December within the time I have left. It's just going to take some very, very careful planning and lots of determination. Fortunately, I've gotten used to thinking and writing in a hurry. (Hooray for programming contests! Hooray for open source! Hooray for lab reports and magazine articles!)

For my reading course, I'll focus on how people organize and share files. I'll go deeply into that one first, and then if I manage to follow my schedule, I _might_ have some time to add detail about using tags to organize bookmarks and e-mail. I need a paper that degrades gracefully depending on the time I have left to write it, and I need to make sure it makes the most of the references I already have. Hey, if I focus on tagging files, I get to use the snippet-related stuff I started reading about before! Isn't it nifty how things come together?

For my engineering psychology course, I've already figured out the points I wanted to highlight. I need to sit down and plow through them, adding insights from the decision-making models we're taking up now. Again, for that one: slow and systematic.

To make life easier for me, I'll make my On Campus submission something I can speak about easily. I think I'll write about the brain drain / brain gain thing, as that's something I can get on my soapbox about. I need to make sure I haven't already written about it. Then again, I can also write about programming competitions or open source.

For D*I*Y Planner, I can write about scheduling all of my cramming. Maybe there's some way I can turn it into a D*I*Y Template story. Or I can warn Doug now... Right, I should do that so at least I'm safe for the next two weeks. Sent the message.

At some point I need to write a personal statement for the scholarship. The deadline for that is the 15th, so I have some time, but I should ask professors for references before they get swamped with end-of-term work. It's a little bit late, but I hope I can make it.

I'm probably going to go quiet for the next few weeks. If you don't see the occasional blog post in my RSS feeds, don't worry, it's not due to frostbite. At least I hope not. That would totally suck, particularly as I have paragraphs and paragraphs to write before I sleep. ;)

Today was _really_ cold and windy, though. If you remember the polar scene from Madagascar—yeah, something like that. I learned two things: (a) I'm light enough to find it hard to fight against the wind, and (b) walking backward is sometimes easier than walking forward, particularly when going against the wind in a long coat with a good hood. Must be careful about cars and streets.

Just one extracurricular thing for next week: the tango thing. I don't think I'll go to Toastmasters (even though it's the elections, meep), and I won't be going to improv comedy next week either. Must write write write... =)

Oooh, this'll be fun. =D

Trend Micro programming contest champions – MSU IIT!

November 25, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Got the news from a text message posted to the Kagay-anon Linux Users Group. =) Congratulations to MSU-IIT, Grand Champions for the 2005 Trend Micro programming contest!

  • BERSANO, Joel Michael - BS EC V
  • BONITA, Nino - BS ECE IV
  • CABRERA, Rez - BS EE V
  • HAIM, Stephen - BS EC V
  • MEDIO, Abner Lyle - BS CS IV
1st MSU-IIT
2nd DLSU
3rd UP

I think it's _totally_ awesome that a non-Manila team won the contest. =D Take that, everyone who thinks only of the big three schools! I think it's absolutely fantastic! Looking at http://www.msuiit.edu.ph/scs/ , I'm also very much impressed by the fact that two of their students are among the 20 grand prize winners of the 2004 IBM Linux Scholars Challenge. Neaaaato.

(And I'm surprised not to find any teams from Ateneo in the finals. Either we didn't try, or we didn't do well. Weird!)

Torcamp was awesome!

November 26, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I went to the self-organized TorCamp today, and it was totally awesome. I met so many people on the edge of innovation and entrepreneurship here. Way, way cool. =D

Disabling post comments

November 26, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Comment spam. Also, the fact that blogKomm code is really ugly.

You can still use the form at the bottom of each page to mail me your insights, which I eagerly await.

Get-togethers I would like to have

November 27, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized
  • Geekettes speak. Exclusively for women, all forms of geekiness accepted. What can we do to encourage extraordinary learning and success in girls? Also, brainstorming for Charo's summer camp. Let's make that happen.
  • Education. People with a passion for teaching: let's talk. What do we need? How can we make a difference?
  • Open source development. Who's working on what? What do we need to do in order to get more people to contribute to open source? How can people get started? What problems do people encounter? What can we do to make open source development more visible?
  • Open source and education. What does it take to get Linux and open source into our classrooms? Who's doing that? What's it been like? What help do people need from the community?
  • Cybercafes. Who's doing open source in cybercafes? How are they doing? What else do they need? How can we support them? What's the next important thing we can do to get open source into cybercafes?

Refined list of get-togethers

November 27, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I will be home from Dec 19 to Jan 19. I don't have much time. January 7 and 14 are the only Saturdays I can reasonably spare for large non-barkada get-togethers. There are three things I really, really, really want to brainstorm with a bunch of people who want to change the world (or at least a small part of it).

- EDUCATION. Jan 7, afternoon. Who else is passionate about teaching

and education? What do we need? How can we make things better? Audience: teachers and other people who have good ideas or can volunteer to help. So far: Butch

- GEEKETTES SPEAK. Jan 7, evening. Let's talk about what it's like to

be female in technology and other fields. (And swap tips on what to do with pesky people who hit on you! ;) ) We can also brainstorm Charo's summer camp. =) Audience: Women. Newbie women particularly welcome—good opportunity to get to know other people and feel more comfortable in PLUG, for example. It really helps. Guys will stay in another area and play games or chat. (Should ask someone to bring gaming console.)

- MAKING A DIFFERENCE. Jan 14. Help me figure out how I can make a

difference in the Philippines all the way from Canada. Tell me how you want to make a difference in 2006. (Who knows? Maybe I can help.) Audience: Anyone who wants to talk to me before I go off to Canada. So far: Zak

I want to get together with other people who are passionate about these topics. It's not going to be a big party where you might get to relax, eat food, and talk to three or four people, but rather something where we'll all tackle a problem and come up with ways we can help solve it.


Nice-to-have:

- OPEN SOURCE DEVELOPMENT. Jan 14, afternoon. Who's working on what?

What do we need to do in order to get more people to contribute to open source? How can people get started? What can we do to make open source development more visible? Audience: Open source developers and people who want to contribute to open source in 2006.

Team IITians bags the 2005 Trend Micro P1M Tech Challenge

November 27, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Ouch. Time to reflect.

November 27, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

From Zen Archery, by way of another blog I read that Bloglines can't turn up (grr...):

Meanwhile, most of the people with any genuine opportunity or ability to effect global change are too busy patting each other on the back at conventions and blue-skying goofy social networking tools that are essentially useless to 95% of the world’s population, who live within fifteen feet of everyone they’ve ever known and have no need to track their fuck buddies with GPS systems. (This, by the way, includes most Americans, quite honestly.)

I'm getting deeper into social bookmarking and tagging because that seems to be what I can do for research, but I'm not sure if that's how I personally can make the most difference. How can I solve real problems?

Quarter-life crisis

November 27, 2005 - Categories: life

I would like to run a series of roundtable discussions about things I and a lot of other people are figuring out for the first time. =)

QUARTER-LIFE CRISIS: Best practices for twenty-somethings

- Time management - Money management - Career management - 2005 review, 2006 planning

Here's the idea: if you're a twenty-something (or near it) figuring out life for the first time, come. If you've figured out one or two of these issues and you want to share your insights, come no matter how young/old you are. We twenty-somethings will ask questions, talk about our fears, and share our current practices in the hope of walking away with one or two things we can use to improve our lives. Non-twenty-somethings can comment on our practices, share their experiences, and give suggestions. I think we'll have great personal growth all around. =)

This will be in Manila when I go home. Probably at my house, too. My availability: Dec 19 - Jan 19.

Possibilities:

Sprint Jan 2, 3, 4, 5
Twice-weekly Dec 20, 22, 27, 29
Once-weekly Dec 20, 27, Jan 3, 10

E-mail me or leave a comment if you're interested. We need to figure out whether once- or twice-a-week meetings will be better for us, or whether we should go for an intensive sprint of dinners.

Quarter-life crisis update: Let’s do that virtually

November 27, 2005 - Categories: life

Come to think of it, there's no particular reason why the QUARTER-LIFE CRISIS sessions can't be virtual. We'll hold that on the Internet instead, making it easier for other people to participate. I'll try to schedule in face-to-face time with my parents and godparents, too. Oh, and I need one more area: spirit management. ^_^

I could’ve danced all night…

November 28, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

The final tango meeting for the term was a party! Free for members and CAD 3 for guests, it was a great deal. We taught a number of beginners how to dance the tango, and everyone had fun.

I had the privilege of having not one but _two_ dances with Señor Pedro. He showed me how to dance the close-embrace style. That was absolutely awesome. Of course, I'm nowhere near as good as his wife is at dancing tango, but he knew how to make sure I felt good throughout the dance. =)

I won a ticket to the tango dinner/dance on the 11th, too!

I'll post pictures tomorrow. Forgot to bring home the sync cable. =)

Writing

November 29, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

Wow. Knowing that my writing requirements are spread out over a number of days and that I'm making steady progress on the different things I need to write certainly takes a load off my mind. I feel that my reading paper is moving at a good pace, and I think that I've scheduled in enough time to do well. What works for me:

  1. Read source material and write all my notes down in a notebook, together with page numbers and other reference information.
  2. Think up an outline. Add the outline to my schedule.
  3. Go through my notes and write more detail about each point, either going chronologically or skipping around to points that fit into my flow. This step might have been easier if I had written my notes on index cards instead of a ring-bound notebook, but oh well. Anyway, repeat until all of my notes have been included or dropped.
  4. Edit.

Yes, yes, perfectly obvious to everyone. =)

I also bonked myself over the head for missing another obvious thing. For my reading paper, I should start by looking up all those classic papers on keywords for classification (there should be a few!). If I could find a paper or two that talked about user interface differences that make it easier to assign keywords, that would be great. The key thing that I need to explain in my paper is why the social aspect is so very interesting, and what that enables: browsing, searching, mapping... =) What's old is new again, after all. I think the Internet's radically transformed keywords, though, making the social dimension non-negligible...

Microcommerce

November 30, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

What do I need to do in order to get a little microcommerce around here?

I have a very real problem: buying groceries in small quantities is tough. I want to be able to buy and sell extra groceries, but I want to limit transactions within the building. (I don't want to have to walk out!) Some things I'd be willing to buy and sell further off, I suppose, but I'd love to have classifieds just for Graduate House.

So I need classifieds that are easy to monitor. Special considerations for groceries would also be useful (example: expiration date, being able to easily track how many units are left). I want RSS feeds with fancy criteria. =) We can handle payment offline, so that isn't really a concern.

Hmmm. Sounds like a fun thing to build over Christmas. Plus points if it hooks into Mambo, I suppose.

Aggregators

November 30, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My research supervisor is tickled pink by the blog aggregator I put up the other day. He likes being able to see all of our personal life stories on one page. Who would've thought?

Alvin and I agreed that something like that would get far more and far fresher content than a new blog just for IML. We're learning our lesson from all of these little half-blogs scattered all over the place...

Layered clothes pictures

November 30, 2005 - Categories: -Uncategorized

My mom's been asking me for winter clothing pictures for ages. =) Check out the pics at http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/wiki/2005.11.30.php . Here's a quick animation:

Ogres are like onions. They have layers.