August 9, 2006

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Balancing the day

I’ve set aside Wednesdays for catching my breath just in case my
weekends are too full, as they tend to be. I don’t particularly feel
the need to meditate, though. I spent all day doing quiet work:
reading books, writing about Social Tech Brewing, and sharing my book
notes. I want to balance that with lively social interaction and lots
of laughter. So I’m off to cruise downtown for interesting
conversations. If I can get in touch with Shane, maybe we can do
random acts of kindness and connection…

It’s all about balance and variety. When I have a packed, hectic day,
all I want is to relax quietly. When I have a peaceful day, I like
jazzing it up with excitement.

I wonder how I can make the most of this energy…

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May you live in interesting times

Gabriel Mansour just found out how dangerous it is to not have an exciting story when people ak you about interesting things that’ve happened to you. The bus stop he was standing at got completely demolished just seconds after he left it. Read his story.

My brother-in-law, John Valdezco, discovered this the hard way, too. We were on our way to Taal Lake – a lake in the crater of a volcano – when talk turned to adventures. My dad asked John to tell us a story about the most interesting thing that had happened to him so far. Right after he gave up and said that he couldn’t think of anything, there was a sudden commotion – a landslide right behind our car.

My mom thought that was a very good reason to never ask someone if anything interesting had ever happened to them. Still, I’m a slow learner. I like listening to people’s stories. If you think you might spend some time around me, make sure you’ve got one ready! You really don’t want to tempt fate, especially not around someone happily cursed to live an interesting life.

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Book: Lifeskills: 8 Simple Ways to Build Stronger Relationships, Communicate More Clearly, Improve Your Health

The book goes into interesting detail about the neurological changes
that happen when people get lots of tender loving care. =) Quite
interesting reading.

My parents raised me with lots of affection and positive thoughts.
Perhaps that’s also the reason why people find me calm during many
stressful situations, and I recover from disappointments quickly.
Here’s the technical explanation:

  • A loving action triggers serotonin production in the hippocampus.
  • Serotonin stimulates a specific type of receptor on other hippocampal cells.
  • Receptor activation results in the formation of cyclic-AMP and PKA,
    which prompts the production of receptors for cortisol (stress hormone).
  • Extra cortisol receptors migrate to the surface of the hippocampus.

During times of stress, the adrenal gland produces cortisol, which
causes adrenaline effects to last longer, mobilizes fat for energy,
and shuts down the immune system. However, the additional cortisol
receptors tell the hypothalamus to calm the fight-or-flight response.
While the stressful stimulus is there, this signal is overridden.
However, when the stressor is removed, the extra cortisol receptors
make it easier for someone to calm down.

More notes later. In the meantime, thanks, Mama and Papa!

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Book: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One

Worth reading! The Renaissance Soul gives down-to-earth advice for
people who thrive on variety and challenges in a number of deep and
rich interests. The book helps people identify their passions
(plural!) and follow them without feeling overwhelmed by choice. It’s
also clear, well-written, and full of concrete stories. I like it!


A number of people have told me that they admire the way I know what
I’m doing. My grade school teachers were completely unsurprised by my
choice of a college major. My love for technology can be traced to
childhood, and on the surface it can seem like I’m one of those people
who know what they want to do and how to do it.

However, my teachers and friends have also always known that I can
have a hard time focusing. In university, I switched from mobile
computing to wearable computing to personal information management to
education. I take up hobbies and let them go at some point.

The best thing I took away from the book is the idea of a focal point
sampler. Identify four things you’re passionate about. Figure out if
you’re the kind of person who pursues things sequentially or who
prefers to enrich life by blending things together. Make it happen.
Key point: you’re not stuck to these four choices forever; you can
change your mind and try different flavors next time. It’s like
sampling flavors in an ice cream shop…

I think my sister Kathy should read this book, too. =) Good book.
Thumbs up!



55 The people who are most secure are not those who pick one career and stick with it. They are the people who follow their passion—or passions. [Quote preceded by clear, concrete example.]
55 Only by staying in tune with your passions will you acquire the glowing references and kindred-spirit networking contacts that will pull you through times of change, whether that change is imposed from without or within.
66 [Describes terrific exercises for figuring out which values are important to you overall and which ones are important right now.]
70 Five from fifty exercise. Choose the five values most important to you at this moment.
76 Throw your own birthday party. Write toasts for yourself from different perspectives.
81 Mine-Theirs exercise. Three columns: activity, justification, does this reflect my values of theirs?
98 Focal points: a sampler of interests, not just one primary interest. Four seems to be a good number.
106 Jobs. [J-O-B: get/make a job that includes some of your focal points. Think of it as a stepping stone.]
114 You must always answer any ritual questions about what you do in terms of one or more of your focal points, not your job.
133 [Story of Tracy Kidder, who’s totally awesome.]
154 [Brainstorming extravaganza. Invite a dozen or so friends/colleagues/whoever over.]
158 [Resource party. Kinda like a silent auction. Hand out index cards with numbers written on them, and arrange people in a circle. Person 1 asks a question. Anyone who can help raises their number, and the person writes down their numbers for later conversation. (Don’t take other people’s time with the details!). Go a few rounds, then take a break for conversation.]
162 [Guidelines for volunteering: create your own volunteer position by bartering your services for what they can provide, make contact with the right person (someone who can make things happen for you and doesn’t mind sharing opportunities).]
165 [Four-frame approach: big picture, why you selected this situation, what you would like to gain, what you can give in return]
168 Mentorship has traditionally been a less formal affair open to everyone. [You can find mentors everywhere.]
211 Price, Reality, Integrity, Specificity, Measurability – PRISM test for focal points
218 [Take a look at the list of possible intentions / qualities. Pick two that are crucial to your focal point, but personally difficult for you. I intend to be ___ enough in the way that I ____ to make the most of this focal point.]
221 [Set intention markers – milestones – which show you how you follow through with those milestones.]
233 [Schedule in focal point blocks and then work on whichever focal point is appropriate for the moment. You can color-code your schedule according to the focal point in order to see if you’ve been balancing things well.]
244 [Multitask in one direction. Don’t do other things during focal point time, but mix focal stuff into other activities.]
246 Fresh ideas for your daily TODO list
256 [Have three candidates for asking for help with different things, prioritize and load-balance]

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The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One

CookOrDie last Saturday: Decadent Dessert party

I confess: I threw a dessert party just to have an excuse to bake more

You see, I’m a social chocolate eater. Knowing it to be one of my
weaknesses, I try not to have chocolate unless I have company. And as
9×13 pans result in a _lot_ of brownies, I absolutely must have
friends over if I’m going to even think of baking.

So I did. Dan Howard, Quinn Fung and Jedediah Smith came over. We had this absolutely
decadent dessert: freshly-baked double-chocolate brownies topped with
French vanilla ice cream and hot fudge bought especially for the occasion.

As a concession to healthy eating, we followed it with pineapple
chunks and loose-leaf green tea. (I’ve graduated to loose-leaf tea!
With a tea ball! Proper.)

Now _that’s_ a terrific way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Kelly blogged about brownie sundaes. I _so_ want to have a Sundae Sunday now, complete with whipped cream and a light dusting of chocolate shavings or almond slivers or toasted rice or _something_ equally indulgent…

Life is so much better when you know how to make dessert.

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Living life online

People often find the public nature of my blog remarkable. They boggle
at the idea that I put my task list online and that I share my
reflections on my quarter-life crisis.

I share a lot, but this blog doesn’t have *everything.* There are a
lot of things I don’t write about because I haven’t figured them out
yet or because I don’t feel like writing about them. I also have quite
a number of stories that I just haven’t gotten around to writing!

But yes, my life is mostly public. Why, when I know that Google and will mean that these things will be around for pretty much
forever? ;)

In particular, people find my task list unusual. Sacha Peter said:

… she has taken the step to pretty much put her task lists online for the whole world to see.

He wonders whether it might be interesting to look back over several
years of data. Hmm… Come to think of it, I’ve been using Planner for
four and a half years now. Whoa.

I use my task list as both a tool for proactive planning, reactive
management, and retrospective reflection. I mainly use it to plan
ahead, get stuff out of my head, and keep track of what I accomplished
for the day. I *could* use Planner to keep track of tasks that I
didn’t finish or didn’t get around to, and I might change to doing
that one of these days.

I guess the strange thing is that I do this kind of planning out in
public. This has helped me countless times. A public task list lets
people figure out if I remembered that I have a meeting with them.
Sometimes people will remind me of things if they see me
procrastinate. And every so often, people offer tips and suggestions
that help me do my work more effectively.

It’s easy to have private tasks. Here’s the basic Emacs Lisp code I’d
need for that:

(defun sacha/planner-skip-private ()
  "Remove all lines matching {{ private }} (no spaces)."
  (goto-char (point-min))
  (delete-matching-lines "{{private}\}")) ; escaped here just so that you can see it

I don’t think I’ll use it often, though. It’s kinda nice keeping
people up to date on what I’m working on even if I don’t have the time
to write long blog entries…

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Social Tech Brewing: Kristin ?

Kristin talked about how, if you were stuck on something, there was
often the assumption that it was because you were a woman instead of
there actually being a problem. She shared her experience of taking
courses and being afraid of asking “silly” questions until she
eventually did, finding out that her male classmates had also been
wondering the same thing. Self-confidence plays such a huge role…

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Social Tech Brewing: Sticky stickers

Amber MacArthur took a break during the Social Tech Brewing panel
to call attention to the sticker on my laptop and the pin on my
backpack. The sticker on my laptop reads, “The geek shall inherit the
earth.” I got it from the Software Freedom Day leftovers from the
Philippines. The pin reads, “No, you can’t just explain it in the
manual.” I snagged that from Human Factors International at CHI 2006.

I love wearing quirky little things like that. It gives people a
whatzit and invites them to talk to me. I’ve had random conversations
with people because of the Tux penguin pin, for example.

Stuff like that helps me establish myself as a geek girl instead of
just someone’s significant other at tech events. I *really* should
make a sticker that reads: “Emacs: More than just a text editor. It’s
a way of life!” Or “(I (think (in (LISP))))”

Hmm. There’s a book about writing for bumper stickers. I should
request it. Fortunately I don’t have the budget or space for an inkjet
printer, so I’m forced to find other ways to make these little jokes

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Social Tech Brewing: Leesa Barnes

Leesa Barnes asked us to reflect on the day(s) that we almost quit
technology. She shared her experience in 2004 at the last full-time
job she ever had. “Never again,” she said.

She quit because her job had challenged her integrity. “For five years
I worked at a technology company, working on a piece of software that
was crap. And we all knew it. And we worked with our clients, with
this piece of software, everyone fully knowing that it was a piece of
crap. Yet we still had to implement it, put on a brave face, and once
it went live… disappear.”

Oftentimes, our work challenges our integrity. That’s one of the
barriers we face as women in technology. Not just crude jokes and
administrative tasks, and everyday situations where our integrity is
challenged. That’s why Leesa considered quitting technology altogether.

Leesa also called attention to how horrible a job women do supporting
each other. Five women in a team of 200, and they didn’t even feel
comfortable having lunch with each other for fear that their managers
would misconstrue it.

She fell in love with technology again when she discovered podcasting,
and has been passionate about it ever since. She’s chosen not to focus
on the negative stuff that she encounters in the industry, and instead
has chosen to surround herself with positive experiences and
individuals. That’s her strategy, and it’s worked really well so far.

Leesa ended her speech with a call to support each other and to look
at solutions instead of just focusing on problems. And she’s right: a
positive outlook breeds positive outcomes!

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Social Tech Brewing: Hong Zhu

Hong Zhu shared some results of her research into the ways that women
from non-traditional backgrounds enter the IT sector. Most of the
women in the study had no children or had grown-up children. On
average, women earned only 85% of the salary of men doing comparable

She spoke of the need to encourage more women to go into math- and
science-intensive programs in education because women usually lack
this background in high school and college, which makes it harder for
them to get into IT.

Hong described a few of the challenges women deal with at work. Even
among women who have prepared well, many of them don’t feel
comfortable in the “boys’ club.” Traditional IT men tend to compete to
be “as incomprehensible as possible.” Another challenge facing women
and technology is the balance between family and work. If they get
into a high-speed track, they can find it hard to keep that balance.
Hong shared an interesting observation: women often find that the long
hours aren’t really necessary, but men enjoy lingering around the
workplace. Women also struggle with different standards for success.
While men are expected to be good providers, the modern woman is
expected to be both a good careerwoman and a good wife.

She recommended more women-friendly curricula that provide stronger
technical backgrounds and, more importantly, promote gender equity.

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Social Tech Brewing: Cathy Reed and ISisters

Cathy Reed spoke about mentoring through
ISisters. She spent ten years as an
educational software trainer and consultant, eventually tiring of the
mobile lifestyle of eating out, of using little hotel soaps. “I woke
up one morning and realized that what I was doing didn’t matter to me.
It was great, but I had a huge void. … Shortly after that, ISisters
was founded.”

ISisters builds community centers that help women on social assistance
learn how to use technology. Cathy described one Inuit woman: “Very
cool to watch a grown woman send her first e-mail, and then a week
later, see 12 emails from her family and friends up north whom she
hadn’t connected with in a long time.”

She also mentioned the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance – Women
in Technology (CADA-WIT), which has just opened a Toronto chapter.

Cathy spoke about her passion for the technology and the effect that
sharing this passion had on the women she taught. Through
encouragement, sharing and being a positive role model, she transforms
the lives of the teenage mothers, natives, and new immigrants who go
through iSisters.


I’d love to help out with something like that when I’m older. That
way, I can not only help people become more comfortable with
technology, but also help them make the most of life.

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