July 24, 2006

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TorCHI social

As Gabriel Mansour went to all the trouble of e-mailing, texting, and
calling me to make sure I got to TorCHI, I thought it would be a good
idea to go—and it certainly was! I had a lot of fun conversations
about interpersonal communication (heh!), Tupperware, and other
things. Good stuff!

Random Japanese sentence: 彼の年老いた猫はまだ生きている。 His old cat is still alive.

New suitemate!

Krystal just moved in. I’ve seen her around Graduate House, but
haven’t really talked to her much. She’s friends with Michelle,
though. =)

Totally awesome. I’m roomming with a nutritionist who loves cooking
and having dinner parties, _and_ she’s vegetarian, _and_ she’s open to
sharing kitchen space… This will be fun!

I love Grad House. =)

Random Japanese sentence: 土砂降りが長く続くと、洗濯屋さんは、仕事がはかどらず苦労する。 When it continues raining cats and dogs for a long while, laundrymen have a hard time doing their work.

Neatening up

Having decided that helpless messiness is _not_ part of my core
identity, I spent the entire afternoon sorting my room out.

It’s amazing how much order can be imposed with stackable drawers, of
which I am now a big fan. I’ve moved all of my infrequently used
electronics and crafts out from under my desk and into two stackable
drawers under my laundry, freeing up space under my desk for my bags.
I moved my stationery collection into three-drawer stackable drawers,
dividing them into envelopes and stickers, note paper, and cards.

I have this craving for even more stackable drawers. I’m starting to
wonder how many of them I can pile up considering structural
constraints. I might have space for a few in my closet and a few more
beside my bookshelves…

It’s nice having a clear desk again. Granted, my drawers aren’t
completely neat yet, but my room feels much better than it used to.

Good timing, too, as a new suitemate’s just moved in.

Next steps: neaten my drawers and the bathroom.

Random Japanese sentence: あの猫をごらんなさい。それはブラウンさんの猫
です。 Look at that cat. It is Mr. Brown’s.

New York recommendations?

Happen to know of good doctors and dentists in New York? Hilary
Rowland’s moving to New York soon, and if anyone can recommend a
doctor or dentist they’re very happy with, that would be awesome.
Related recommendations welcome, too!

Random Japanese sentence: 私は猫を十三匹飼っている。 I keep thirteen cats.

In case of emergency, break open stationery

Monogrammed stationery

I’m glad my mom insisted that I keep emergency giftwrap in my suite,
that my sister taught me how to bake cookies, and that I have a
stationery collection of blank cards and note paper that I can use for
any occasion.

Simon Rowland’s sister and mother’s birthdays were last Friday and
Saturday. He invited me to join them for a family celebration. With an
hour of notice, I baked cookies and wrote them short birthday notes
that referred to stories he’d told me of them.

I didn’t have cards cut to size for my Japanese gold-flecked
envelopes, so I used the beautifully monogrammed Crane stationery
instead. One of my godparents introduced me to the joys of Crane, and
I’ve loved it ever since. I think the gold-tissue-lined envelopes and
the simply monogrammed cream cards are among the most elegant I’ve
seen. Besides, I didn’t know them well enough to find the perfect
Maverick postcard for them, so blank cards were the best.

I love occasions to write on beautiful paper. =)

Random Japanese sentence: 猫が柱でつめを研いでいた。 A cat was sharpening its claws against a post.

Remembering my purpose; hooray for writing!

I tried to go to sleep earlier than usual last night, and I was hit by
a bout of existential angst. (I’m 22. I’m allowed to have existential
angst. ;) ) I started wondering what on earth I was doing here, etc.

I think I came to those thoughts because of various heavy things Simon
and I had been talking about over the weekend, like the senseless
tragedy of the war in Lebanon.

Looking around at my room, I poked fun at my inability to keep things
as neatly organized as people here have. I said even after a year in
Canada, I still hadn’t gotten used to it, and I’d probably make room
in my professional budget for managed housing or a housekeeping

Reflecting on that further, though, I realized that that weakness of
mine wasn’t a core part of my identity and that it should never be. I
_can_ keep things neat if I take the time to, and if I can’t make the
time for that, then I should scale back my life until I can.

This led me to think about the difficulties people had around me, and
thus the existential angst. With all these problems in the world, what
am _I_ doing to help? Is what I’m doing with my research really worth

Instead of ignoring it or lying awake thinking about it, I pulled out
a flashlight and one of my reflection books. There in brightly-colored
markers were all these diagrams showing how I felt about life and what
I wanted to do. (Thanks, Diane Lazaro, for giving me a creativity

In large blue letters, one page read: “I WANT TO TELL STORIES!” With
that reminder, everything clicked into place again. I’m doing my
master’s research in social computing because I want to learn how to
effectively tell stories about technology, not just because I want an
excuse to stick around in Canada for a while. I’m part of Toastmasters
and I’m exploring writing because I want to tell stories.

I want to tell stories because so many people have such interesting
stories that can touch the lives of thousands and thousands of other
people. I want to draw people’s stories out and help them understand
themselves more. I want to tell stories that will help people imagine
what they can do with technology or how they can improve their
relationships with other people.

Maybe that’s how I can change the world. =)

I’m glad I drew those diagrams before. I love writing and drawing and
talking and thinking. I know I’m going to run into similar questions
again and again—I’m human, I forget myself—and having something to
go back to gives me great joy.

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Random Japanese sentence: 虎を大きな猫というなら、同じように猫を小さな虎といってもよい。 You may as well call a cat a small tiger as call a tiger a big cat.

Emacs: Automating the insertion of text

As the VP Education of Toast I.T. Toastmasters in downtown Toronto, I’m responsible for assigning people roles in upcoming meetings and confirming these roles by e-mail. We currently do our scheduling in a spreadsheet. Copying and pasting the roles for the spreadsheet results in the following text:

Ari Caylakyan
Anthony D'Costa
Chris Charabaruk
Michael Chan
Chris Charabaruk
Chris Charabaruk
Khalid Ghaffar
Natasha Guigova

Ari Caylakyan - C&L 5
Anthony D'Costa
Jackie Achonu
Sacha Chua

Adding role descriptions to this was a bit of a pain, so I wrote a
short Emacs Lisp function that inserted descriptions if and only if
there was a corresponding person assigned to that role.

(defun sacha/toast-add-roles ()
  "Add role descriptions."
  (mapcar (lambda (item)
            (goto-char (line-beginning-position))
            (unless (looking-at "^[ \t]*$")
              (insert item ": "))
            (forward-line 1))
          '("President" "Toastmaster" "Sgt at Arms" "Timekeeper" "Ah-counter"
            "Grammarian" "Table-topics Master" "General Evaluator" ""
            "Educational Speaker" "Guest Speaker"
            "Speaker #1" "Evaluator #1"
            "Speaker #2" "Evaluator #2"
            "Speaker #3" "Evaluator #3")))

Next step: Personalized e-mail that highlights upcoming roles, just as
I wrote Emacs Lisp functions to make it easier to send students
personalized feedback on their programs.

That’s one of the coolest things about Emacs – it’s so easy to automate tasks.

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