April 2007

Books, books, books

April 2, 2007 - Categories: reading

I checked out an armload of books from the Toronto Public Library today, indulging in a little fiction (ah, Regency romances with their ever-so-proper heroines!), growing my mind with business books, enriching my soul with reflections on life.

Hmm. I'm starting to strongly feel the need for a bookshelf. Actually, le's start with a shelf that can double as a work surface or food serving surface, at most 162 cm long, 59 cm wide, and 90 cm tall. Preferably a bit lower, because I find that lower counters are easier for me to cut on. Also, I would like an adjustable shelf so that I can use it to store books, games, and serving stuff.

Books would be nice to keep around. Then I can add a new note to my tea parties. People who feel the need to drop out of the conversation temporarily in order to recharge can read books without any social stigma... ;) Because my place is so small, they can't actually get isolated from the conversation. They'll still hear everything that's going on, and they can jump in any time they want to rejoin the conversation.

But yes, books and a book case for this book-nutcase... =)


April 3, 2007 - Categories: cooking

For dinner, W made pinakbet (Canadian style!). J didn't like bitter melon at all, but bravely swallowed six pieces down. I'm not too fond of bitter melon myself, but salt and other vegetables make it doable. It was so nice of W. to make a point of cooking something Filipino, though! I can't wait to introduce them to arroz caldo. I should do that while it's still cold.

Also, found Nissin's Spicy Chicken Yakisoba at the No Frills supermarket. The next time I feel homesick for the Philippines, you know what I'm going to eat...

Krav and Evil Dead

April 3, 2007 - Categories: health

Sunday sessions of krav maga are cancelled because the gym is being used for "Evil Dead - the Musical". Thoughts of singing zombies lurched through my head. ;)

Singing zombies. Heh.

Random Emacs symbol: rmail-displayed-headers - Variable: *Regexp to match Header fields that Rmail should display.

I miss my family

April 4, 2007 - Categories: family

The only way to keep sane is to not wish that I was somewhere else, but I really really miss my family. I'm so proud to be part of my family, and I'm looking forward to setting aside more time to write letters and keep in touch.

I love hearing news about what's going on at home. My mom's blog is full of her stories and insights, and she e-mails me about things that aren't bloggable. I read and reread the remarkably mature letter my sister wrote to the admissions committee of the photography school she had been dreaming of attending, declining their offer because circumstances have changed at home.

It's easy to get caught up in all the exciting things I can do here, but I need to protect that me-time I use to write and catch up with my family and friends, and with myself too. When I write, I get to know myself better, and I get to know wonderful people better too.

Random Emacs symbol: smime-decrypt-region - Function: Decrypt S/MIME message in region between B and E with key in KEYFILE.

Sick and happy

April 7, 2007 - Categories: life

Once in a blue moon I get quite sick. I think this is so far the best way I've spent such a day, though... snuggled up with a hot water bottle, wrapped in a Strawberry Shortcake blanket, watching a movie, offered tea and food and hugs at every opportunity.

As illogical as it may seem, I still do actually want to get better. I've been a little under the weather for the past week, which annoys me. But W and J are totally sweet, and I'm so grateful that if I have to be sick, it's around such wonderful people. I'm looking forward to repaying the favor and practising what they're teaching me about taking care of people who are sick.

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines - Command: Strip all blank lines.


April 7, 2007 - Categories: cooking

We made lasagna tonight. W and J hadn't made lasagna at home before, but we managed to put together two decent versions. The first pan was a good start, although we ran out of mozzarella and had to substitute cheddar for the second pan. We also put portabello mushrooms into the second lasagna. Ahh... bliss!

I told W and J stories about how I grew up on lasagna from Almon Marina, how my parents would always bring me lasagna when I was sick or sad or just whenever, how my mom would bake lasagna for Christmas or New Year's or my birthday, how my sister regretted giving me permission to help myself to the lasagna she baked... Lasagna is one of my comfort foods, woven through my life.

Blissed out. Happy girl!

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines - Command: Strip all blank lines.

Falling in love with words

April 8, 2007 - Categories: reading

How did I come to love words so much? I remember reading everything I could get my hands on, and clambering up bookshelves to get to the books that were placed just out of reach. I read omniverously. After I read and reread my storybooks and that well-loved set of Childcraft volumes, I attacked my mother's business books and parenting books. I read and read and read, and when I wanted to give myself an extra challenge, I read upside down.

I don't know why I loved reading so much. Maybe it has to do with the way my mom obviously loved reading and how much she learned from those books. She told me how she used to read to me until her voice cracked from fatigue and how I'd beg to be read to again and again. ("But you've practically memorized 'Three Little Pigs!'")

I don't know what my mom did to make me fall in love with reading, but I loved reading even when she told me not to - at the dinner table, in the car, while walking. I read everything everywhere. Books were constantly moving through the house. Some errands to run? Not a problem - leave me in a bookstore and I wouldn't notice the hours fly by. One of my favorite ways to soak up time is still heading to a bookstore, pull interesting books off the shelves, and practically inhale them.

I wish I could figure out how to help J fall in love with books too. If she does, then new worlds will be open to her, and no classroom or teacher can limit her. What was that magical piece? The availability of tons and tons of books, some of which could be easily read and understood and others which forced me to stretch? The way my mom referred to her books, the way she obviously loved learning? Maybe that's one of the things I can do whenever I visit - let my love for learning shine through, so that J can deepen her enjoyment of reading and experimenting...

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines - Command: Strip all blank lines.

Field trip!

April 8, 2007 - Categories: learning

We went to the Ontario Science Centre last Friday. It was fun playing with the different exhibits, particularly the new Mindworks exhibits they'd added. I saw a new exhibit that I'd never seen before - a test for eidetic memory involving two random-noise-like images. You were supposed to cover your right eye and use your left eye to stare at the image on the left. Then you'd cover your left eye and look at the image on the right, superimposing your memory of the image on the left. People with eidetic memories would be able to see a T. Very very few people would be able to do that. That some people can do it at all is just amazing.

I also really appreciated the new demonstration of sound-proofing. Perhaps it was a slightly upset stomach or simply noise fatigue from the constant din, but I felt a bit overwhelmed. The sound absorption demonstration took a few decibels off, which felt great. I should think about how to deaden the sound in my living room.

I love going to science centers. I've been to so many that I automatically compare them, looking for my favorite exhibits, noticing when people do something that I haven't seen before. I loved the animated physical model of a wave - all smooth metal tubes and joints and strings - that I'd seen in San Francisco. Their wind dunes one was also wonderful. I laughed at the SMTP marble-drop sculpture in Odaiba, Tokyo, and enjoyed the demonstration of the Asimo humanoid robot. I liked looking at the conic section demo - was that in Montreal? I really should have a science center journal... I *loved* the catenary arch model of the Science Centrum in Manila. It was simple but endlessly fascinating, and my dad often took me there just to play with that. I also loved the echo shell that stretched two floors, the free-rotating platform and bike wheel that demonstrated gyroscopes... Wheee.

One day, when I'm rich and famous, I'll put together a science center with my favorite exhibits. Maybe I'll even get to come up with some new ones.

Random Emacs symbol: mail-extr-disable-voodoo - Variable: *If it is a regexp, names matching it will never be modified.


April 8, 2007 - Categories: life

It's really nice getting out-of-the-blue massages from W and J. Really, really nice. I could get used to this.

Random Emacs symbol: cd-path - Variable: Value of the CDPATH environment variable, as a list.


April 8, 2007 - Categories: cooking

Lasagna for breakfast. Lasagna for lunch! Maybe I can even swing lasagna for dinner...

Random Emacs symbol: decrease-left-margin - Command: Make the left margin of the region smaller.

Entertainingly educational books

April 10, 2007 - Categories: reading

I raided a few second-hand stores for books and clothes. I found such gems! I'm half-tempted to just keep them at *my* place instead of giving them to J. After all, J will only get to read them every other week, and I wouldn't mind having them handy all the time. I bought only books that *I* loved then and will love even now. W is new to all of the books, although he had heard of Shel Silverstein before. We'll have such fun reading, and may end up going through all the books ourselves before J gets a chance to!

I am on the lookout for more volumes of The Book of Knowledge, a children's encyclopedia introduced to me by Simon's dad. I think it's amazing. Between that and Childcraft, I'll probably eventually put together a library of entertainingly educational books for kids (and the grown-ups who drag kids along so that the grown-ups have an excuse to read the books too).

That and a science museum, and a puzzle collection... =)

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines - Command: Strip all blank lines.

Mens sana in corpore sano

April 10, 2007 - Categories: health

I feel much better now after a terrific book raid and a great workout at krav maga. =)

Immigration points

April 11, 2007 - Categories: canada

I've been checking out the paperwork I need in order to immigrate to Canada as a skilled worker. If I do as well as I think I will on the English language proficiency test, then I'll be just one point shy of the 67 points I need to start the process. This is even before I finish my master's degree, which will put me well over the minimum.

All I have to do to qualify is to find out if my experience as a university lecturer can be counted as part of my professional qualifications. That will give me one year of experience under job code 4121 (university professors/lecturers/etc.) and two years of experience under job code 4122 (teaching and research assistants).

Another way I can make up that last point is to learn enough French to pass a basic French exam. It will be a useful mental exercise, anyway.

As soon as I get that sorted out and take a test for English proficiency, I can start the paperwork. Even with processing delays, I should be able to get all the paperwork finalized while on a temporary work permit.

I need to be able to think long-term *somewhere.* If I don't know where I can be in five, ten years, then it's difficult for me to invest in anything long-term, and long-term investments are the ones that really pay off whether you're talking about stocks, careers, or people.

At the same time, though, I'm worried that I'm going to become just one more statistic in the Philippines' brain drain. I can bloom wherever I'm planted. Why not the Philippines? Why shouldn't the Philippines get the best years of my youth? I know that the longer I stay here, the more reasons I will have to stay and the fewer reasons I will have to leave.

But the hints of what I can do here are so tantalizing...

Lucky those who never have to choose!

I think that every Filipino grows up knowing about diaspora. The stories of overseas Filipino workers and domestic helpers and scientists and teachers are all part of our blood now, something to be dreaded and desired.

So here I am. All I can do is prepare as well as I can for all the possibilities I can see. The choice will be clearer as I get closer, but for now I must remember what my mother reminds me whenever I feel homesick - I belong to the world, not just to my country.

Random Emacs symbol: ad-read-advised-function - Function: Read name of advised function with completion from the minibuffer.

I actually have a project

April 12, 2007 - Categories: school

In the middle of explaining my thesis project to a usability expert at IBM, I realized that I *have* actually managed to build something interesting. As I explained the problem to him and showed how this problem would be addressed using the existing tools, I realized that there was a real problem and that my prototype might be a step in the right direction. And my demo didn't fall apart, either! Whew!

When you're too close to something, you can find it difficult to appreciate. I tend to err on the side of downplaying the coolness of what I'm working on. I keep telling myself: It's just a protottype. I don't have the data I need to make it truly useful. It's nowhere near as cool as the thing that I really wanted to build if I had the data.

Well, forget that! If I can show my prototype to someone and get them excited about the idea of Web 2.0, if the way that I visualize things will make someone campaign for adoption even in a small group... that'll so be worth it.

Wow. I have a project after all!

Random Emacs symbol: mail-extr-disable-voodoo - Variable: *If it is a regexp, names matching it will never be modified.

Priming my brain

April 12, 2007 - Categories: learning

I downloaded more than a hundred research papers today to catch up on my literature review and prime my brain for academic writing. Writing for the technical audience of a scientific journal is very different from writing for informal or popular audiences, and it'll take me some practice to get the hang of it. If my blog entries start to sound like research papers, at least you'll know why.

Filed my taxes

April 12, 2007 - Categories: finance

I've triple-checked my tax return and uploaded it to the government website. Here goes! I should get my refund soon. The fact that the government feels sad for me and wants to give me more money makes me feel a little weird.

Random Emacs symbol: decrease-left-margin - Command: Make the left margin of the region smaller.

Don Marti’s e-mail productivity hack

April 13, 2007 - Categories: productivity

See http://www.linuxworld.com/community/?q=node/387 for inspiration.

;;;_+ Inbox anti-addiction hack
;; The following code implements the inbox productivity hack described
;; by Don Marti in http://www.linuxworld.com/community/?q=node/387 .
;; People are not allowed to check mail for more messages unless the
;; number of ticked items has decreased since the last time checked
;; or `sacha/gnus-inbox-time-threshold' seconds have passed.
;; Use ! (tick article) to mark articles as needing action.
;; Modify the logic if you move messages from your inbox into some kind
;; of archive (which is probably a better idea).

(defvar sacha/gnus-inbox-time-threshold (seconds-to-time (* 60 60 2))
  "*Number of seconds before you can check again if you haven't done any work.
Nil means don't use time.")
(defvar sacha/gnus-inbox-group "mail.misc"
  "*Group to consider as inbox.")

(defvar sacha/gnus-inbox-last-count nil "Number of ticked items in inbox.")
(defvar sacha/gnus-inbox-last-check nil "Timestamp of last check.")

(defun sacha/gnus-inbox-decreased-p ()
  "Return non-nil if you are allowed to check mail.
Based on http://www.linuxworld.com/community/?q=node/387"
  (or (not (numberp sacha/gnus-inbox-last-count)) ;; First time called
      (and sacha/gnus-inbox-last-check
           (not (time-less-p (time-since sacha/gnus-inbox-last-check)
      (or (= (sacha/gnus-inbox-count) 0)
          (< (sacha/gnus-inbox-count)

(defadvice gnus-group-get-new-news (around sacha/gnus-inbox-check-mail activate)
  "Allow only if the inbox count has decreased."
  (if (sacha/gnus-inbox-decreased-p)
    (error "Get your mail count below %d first." sacha/gnus-inbox-last-count))
  (setq sacha/gnus-inbox-last-count (sacha/gnus-inbox-count)
        sacha/gnus-inbox-last-check (current-time)))

(defun sacha/gnus-inbox-count ()
  "Return number of ticked items in `sacha/gnus-inbox-group'."
    (gnus-summary-read-group-1 sacha/gnus-inbox-group nil t nil t)
    (length gnus-newsgroup-marked)))

Random Emacs symbol: set-process-filter-multibyte - Function: Set multibyteness of the strings given to PROCESS's filter.

Strange wikindx error

April 13, 2007 - Categories: geek

Whenever I post a note to wikindx, it pops up a dialog prompting me to save or edit index.php. This probably means that a file type is getting screwed up somewhere. However, index.php views fine by itself. I think that means that in the code that handles those particular functions, a content type is not getting set (or is getting set to something it shouldn't be).

Ah, I give up. I'll use Emacs to manage my bibliography and my quotes.

Random Emacs symbol: read-file-name - Function: Read file name, prompting with PROMPT and completing in directory DIR.

Wahoo! Inbox zero!

April 14, 2007 - Categories: geek

At least for my personal mail. Don Marti, your e-mail productivity hack rocks. Now I'm tracking inbox size in public (see the line after the list of e-mail sent), and it's a lot more fun.

Random Emacs symbol: locale-preferred-coding-systems - Variable: List of pairs of locale regexps and preferred coding systems.

Shoe shopping Saturday

April 14, 2007 - Categories: life

The sneakers I bought at Payless Shoesource have been woefully inadequate for the demands of krav maga. Kicking and punching is hard when you're sliding all over the place! I needed a pair of sneakers with better grip and lateral support. Besides, if I don't have the equipment I need to make the most of my exercise time, then I'm wasting time and money. So - new shoes.

And sport socks, too. We picked those up from Zeller's, and W made sure I found comfort-seam socks because they're more, well, comfortable. I'm not a sock snob yet; we'll see.

We went to the Running Room to look at shoes, but they stocked only running shoes. I got a good sense of what the prices were, though. Proper athletic shoes could set me back anywhere from a hundred to two hundred dollars, which is an awful lot of books. But hey, mens sana in corpore sano, and in this case, good shoes could really make a difference between enjoying exercise and worrying about slipping and hurting myself.

There was another shoe store a little further on, so W and I went there. New Balance stocked cross-trainers. I was glad to see that they had shoes in my size, although the pairs I tried were too high at the back, had arch support in the wrong place, were too stiff, etc.

Then the store clerk brought out a pair of sneakers with the disclaimer that they were size 5. I put them on. They looked like they fit. Actually, theyt looked cartoonishly wide, but they fit. I went, "Hmm." We tried that and the another pair of shoes (same size, not so wide), and the wide sneakers felt more comfortable. Sold!

And just because the world is so absolutely wonderful, this pair of sneakers was on sale... at more than $100 off. So I got it for $31.75, including tax!

Sweet. I can put the rest of the money back into my budget. Yay!

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-agent-auto-agentize-methods - Variable: Initially, all servers from these methods are agentized.

Expensive running shoes considered harmful

April 15, 2007 - Categories: health

Check out Mark A. Hershberger's blog post about shoes and other non-intuitive things, which links to an essay about the health hazards of fancy running shoes. Food for critical thought.

Random Emacs symbol: insert-monthly-islamic-diary-entry - Command: Insert a monthly diary entry for the day of the Islamic month corresponding

Week in review

April 15, 2007 - Categories: weekly

This week, I realized that I'm working on something pretty cool. I had previously focused on how my prototype fell short of what I really wanted to build, and I forgot to keep checking against what was currently being used. I'm excited about the opportunity to try it out and maybe get a few of the ideas from it into IBM's culture (and then the world)!

This week, I set up a wiki for my research lab. I'm going to be the guinea pig. I'll write my thesis online. Password-protected, though!

This week, I wrote about falling in love with reading and thinking about how to help J learn how to appreciate it too. (Quick, while she's young and impressionable! Repeat after me: Science/art/math/crafts/everything is wonderful. Reading rocks. Life is good.) I got so many insights and tips from my mom and other readers, which I should write up and post here soon. =) Thanks!

This week, I filed my taxes. I hope this is the last year I'm getting a refund! I do actually believe in taxes, and I probably will still keep believing in them even after they take away a third of my pay or something like that.

This week, I met with a usability expert at IBM who might be able to help me conduct my summative study. Yay!

This week, I talked to someone from IBM HR who helped me take a look at my job and immigration paperwork requirements.

This week, W decided to try out GTD. This has also incidentally resulted in a rise in my productivity. <grin>

This week's tea party was also lots of fun. Good conversation, particularly with Mike Tsang's questions. =)

Next week, I'll take the plunge and do a pilot usability test. I'm running a little behind schedule, I think, but we'll make it all work. I may have to be anti-social and focus almost entirely on writing if I'm going to write a hundred-page thesis in a month and a half, but I really want to finish the darn thing already.

Life is great! I'm glad to get back to my weekly reviews...

Random Emacs symbol: lm - Command: Start or resume an Lm game.

Being Filipino

April 16, 2007 - Categories: philippines

One of the things J- did this weekend was visit a Filipino family (A-'s). J said she had four bowls of "si.. sini..."

"Sinigang!" I said. Ah, sinigang. How could I not remember all the good times I shared with my barkada over a pot of sinigang, whether it had meat or just vegetables? (Heh.)

And to think that J loves sinigang too.

Moments like these make me wish I could poke all the people who feel insecure about our culture... =)

Random Emacs symbol: indent-code-rigidly - Command: Indent all lines of code, starting in the region, sideways by ARG columns.

Falling in love with poetry: Viva Shel Silverstein!

April 16, 2007 - Categories: reading

J was reading a book on smoking because she had vowed never to smoke and she wanted to learn more about it. The big words tired her, though, so she put the book aside. It seemed like a good time to bring out the books I bought last week, just in case she'd find one of them entertaining. Mr. Popper's Penguins drew a smile, Lemony Snicket was a clear no-go (she didn't like the books), and Shel Silverstein...

Well, I was *planning* to show her the book, but as is usually the case with Shel Silverstein and similar poets, I got sucked into it myself. I flipped open to a random page and started reading a poem out loud. And naturally I *had* to read the next one, and the next one, and then I looked up and J was peering over my shoulder, and then she was saying the words along with me, and then I had to sit half off my chair in order to let her sit with me and read, and then she insisted on reading all the short poems, and then W got into the act as well, and then J's foot fell asleep and she hopped to the couch in the living room, and then we all curled up on the couch and read these hilariously silly poems (polar bear in the Frigidaire!) until W declared that it was time for J to go to bed. J nodded, but kept silently reading the book (which by now had ended up on her lap). I couldn't help but grin.

I love it when enthusiasm is infectious.

Random Emacs symbol: message-face-alist - Variable: Alist of mail and news faces for facemenu.

Looking at the puzzle pieces

April 16, 2007 - Categories: career

My life is giving me bits and pieces of something that's worth thinking about.

Piece: Introducing J earlier to the joys of Shel Silverstein was a wonderful demonstration of the infectious power of enthusiasm and the value of right timing.

Piece: The book I'm reading about internal marketing (Light Their Fire) talks about how enthusiasm - passion - is part of building the best internal brands. The book I read before that (Better Than Perfect) was about how certain people can excel and lift up everyone around them.

Piece: To help me understand myself and plan my own career, Stephen Perelgut asked me earlier what I would do if I didn't have to think about money.

Stephen said that I'd make a good developer. That would be straightforward. But there's this side of me that refuses to be ignored...

Book recommendation: Light Their Fire

April 17, 2007 - Categories: reading

Drake, Gulman and Roberts. 2005. Light Their Fire. Dearborn: Chicago, IL.

Light Their Fire shows the importance of internal marketing as a way of filling employees with enthusiasm. When employees are positively passionate about the company, they deliver awesome customer service. It contains tips on how to spread good news and bad news. Make a big deal of good news. Kick your celebration up a notch to make employees feel terrific. If you have to share bad news, make sure you're prompt and honest and address people's anxieties. The book also has tips on using training as a form of internal marketing and social-network building. Well worth a read for managers and corporate communication types, particularly combined with the Better Than Perfect book I read recently.

Random Emacs symbol: gnus-article-strip-all-blank-lines - Command: Strip all blank lines.

Book recommendation: The Ten-Minute Trainer

April 17, 2007 - Categories: reading

Bowman. 2005. The Ten-Minute Trainer. Pfeiffer.

Training shouldn't be hour-long lectures that bore people who are more used to television's ten-minute chunks of content. The book The Ten-Minute Trainer is full of ideas for quick one- and five-minute activities that you can use in between chunks of content to connect participants, introduce or reinforce what you're teaching, and liven up your next training session. I took so many notes while reading it because it just kept giving me all these wonderful ideas for workshops. I'm looking forward to trying these things out!

I'm giving a workshop on blogging at the Mesh conference, and I can't wait to use the exercises described in this book to help the conference participants really make the most of their time. =)

Two thumbs up. Every trainer and teacher should at least leaf through this book.

Random Emacs symbol: mail-extr-disable-voodoo - Variable: *If it is a regexp, names matching it will never be modified.

Oooh! The banig is so pretty!

April 17, 2007 - Categories: family

My mom sent me a woven mat. It's so pretty! I've set it up by the side of my room. If I put a few cushions beside it and the drawers, then people might be inclined to sit there. The cushions I have right now are a little too big, but something small and black would do nicely.

I've written a thank-you note to the people who mailed it to me, and will drop it off in the mailbox on the way out. Yay!

Random Emacs symbol: cd-path - Variable: Value of the CDPATH environment variable, as a list.

How to use Emacs to keep track of your bibliography and notes: anatomy of an Emacs hack

April 17, 2007 - Categories: emacs

Keep your records in BibTeX, which is a text-based tool for keeping track of bibliographies. BibTeX really shines when you use it with TeX or LaTeX because you can cite papers by typing something like "\cite{chua07}". It will automatically publish your bibliography in any of the popular formats, sorting it however you want and including only the papers you actually referenced. Major paper libraries like the ACM Digital Library can export bibliographic records as BiBTeX. You can also use bibtex-mode to help you create records. Assign short, memorable keys to the BibTeX records. I usually use the first author's last name together with the year of publication, with a few more characters if I need to disambiguate.

You can keep your notes about papers in whatever format you want. Just add a line like "\cite{chua07a}" to make it easier to paste the citation. I put my notes into a fortune file (chunks delimited by % on a line by itself) because whenever I get writer's block, I like retrieving random notes using the fortune command. I usually highlight selections from the PDFs, paste them into my Emacs buffer, and add the \cite... note. I keep exact quotations so that I can paraphrase them any way I want when I write the document. Sometimes I'll add comments, which I visually distinguish from the quote so that I don't get confused. You can also add keywords to your notes and use M-x occur or grep to find matching quotes.

When it's time to work on your paper, keep your citation notes close to the statements as you paraphrase them for your paper. The best way to take advantage of the data you have is to use LaTeX, a powerful typesetting system for scientific papers and books. It's well worth learning and it's the standard in many scientific circles. Even if you use OpenOffice.org or some other word processor, though, you can still take advantage of your notes: just make sure you copy the citations into your bibliography.


So that's the basic way to do it. Of course, I've been accumulating various Emacs hacks for managing my bibliography, and they're all in ../emacs/research-config.el.

The first thing I noticed was that I was typing \cite{someid} all the time. Hmm. There must be a way I could just take that information from my BibTeX file... So I wrote a function that allowed me to mark a BibTeX record as the current paper I was reading.

(defvar sacha/research/quote-default ""
  "Stores the BibTeX key for the paper I'm currently reading.")
(defadvice bibtex-clean-entry (after sacha activate)
  "Set default key based on the current record."
  (setq sacha/research/quote-default (bibtex-key-in-head))
  (set-register ?a (format "\n\\cite{%s}\n%%" sacha/research/quote-default))
  (set-register ?b sacha/research/quote-default))

Okay. That meant I could just insert the register with C-x r i a. This wasn't really that much of an improvement, so I thought about making a function that pasted the text, added the citation, and added the % that separates entries in fortune files.

(defvar sacha/research/quote-file "/home/sacha/notebook/research/quotes"
  "File with my research notes.")
(defun sacha/research/quote ()
  "Paste the quote into `sacha/research/quote-file'."
  (with-current-buffer (find-file-noselect sacha/research/quote-file)
     (goto-char (point-max))
     (unless (bolp) (insert "\n"))
     (insert "\\cite{" sacha/research/quote-default "}\n%\n")))

I have lots of other functions to keep track of read entries (moving the papers into a separate folder!), count papers read and remaining (good for morale when you see the numbers decreasing, and for a while I was publishing the numbers on my blog!) and even quickly browse and tag quotes. =) You can check out ../emacs/research-config.el for more inspiration.

And yes, this is what I do when I want to procrastinate working on my thesis...

Random Emacs symbol: memory-signal-data - Variable: Precomputed `signal' argument for memory-full error.

Lost pictures

April 18, 2007 - Categories: geek

Note to self: never ever ever ever ever store thing in /tmp ever ever ever again, as Ubuntu is smart and deletes things.

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Bruised knuckle

April 18, 2007 - Categories: life

The middle knuckle of my right hand is a little darker than the others, and a bit sensitive to the touch. It's an interesting sensation. I've never bruised my knuckles before. Heck, the krav maga folks had to teach me how to punch. =)

But it's so much fun!

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Adventures with J: Rhyme time

April 18, 2007 - Categories: family

J asked me if she could take the Shel Silverstein book I lent her to school tomorrow, because her teacher told them that they'd do poetry. She loves the Shel Silverstein poems, and has probably flagged more than three-fourths of the book. I gave my permission, of course. Because she was so interested in poetry, I suggested that we play a rhyming game. We rhymed all the way to the supermarket and to my place. W joined in, even throwing in some gems and groaners. I told J that if she wants to write poetry, then knowing lots of words will make it easier to pick just the right word. Maybe she'll end up reading more poetry and browsing through dictionaries! =)

J likes drawing and storytelling. Who knows, that could be her path... =) W and I are both logic geeks, but storytelling is fun too. But I'm still going to keep thinking of ways to help her develop problem-solving skills! =) If math is too abstract, maybe adventure stories would do the trick...

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April 18, 2007 - Categories: research

I showed my thesis prototype to three other researchers at the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies. They all thought it was a cool idea! =) I'm going to do my pilot usability test tomorrow. I spent today typing in my notes from various books... More tomorrow, too!

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April 18, 2007 - Categories: cooking

One of the pictures I lost when I downloaded to /tmp/pictures instead of ~/tmp/pictures (boo!) was a nicely-lit picture of the lasagna we baked the other day.

The first lasagna we baked was pretty good (yay Parmesan!), but this one was much better because of the cheese mixture and the texture of the top. We followed the instructions on the back of a box of oven-ready lasagna noodles and used the sauce we'd prepared the day before.

The lasagna baked beautifully golden, without any burnt bits. I just *had* to take a picture. I placed it on the counter and took out my camera. W caught me fiddling with the stuff in the background, clearing extra stuff away. He laughed and offered to use the lamp on the table for lighting. "Should I hold it for you?" he asked.

I laughed and decided to take him seriously. I told him how my dad taught me that food shots almost always look better with back light, and we fiddled with the lighting a bit before I took a shot.

"Photographers' daughters," W said, shaking his head and smiling.

I told him that was what came of growing up around photographers and food stylists. Maybe I'm just a late bloomer. ;)

But ah, lasagna! I have to confess that I was a little worried when I was getting to know W because he's lactose-intolerant and my favorite kind of lasagna is extra extra cheesy, but he regularly eats more cheese than I do. And now he knows that lasagna's one of my comfort foods and one of my weaknesses... =)

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Arroz caldo

April 18, 2007 - Categories: cooking

Not content with figuring out that lasagna automatically makes me warm and fuzzy, W noticed that I often snacked on the instant arroz caldo mixes that I was thrilled to find at a nearby No Frills supermarket. He then set about figuring out how to pronounce it (important first step!), and how to prepare it. We ended up combining several recipes from the Internet and throwing in *way* more garlic and ginger than the Westernized recipes called for. We put in too much chicken meat (will fix that next time), but the rest of it was just perfect - glutinous rice dissolving into a chicken broth that had simmered to perfection.

The only point of disagreement came when I sauteed the garlic yesterday. I chopped up the garlic and threw it into the pan. W looked at me in surprise and threw in the sliced onion as well, explaining that he usually cooks the onion first in order to avoid burning the garlic. I pointed out that the recipe specifically called for the garlic to be lightly browned first. We compromised by cooking the two separately in the same pot, and the dish wasn't affected.

When I fried garlic again today, though, the reason for this disagreement came to light. Aparently, Western cooking hardly ever lets the garlic color. In fact, recipes often make a point of it. For arroz caldo, though, you *want* crunchy golden garlic. With that kind of clarification, we came to full agreement.

But look! Arroz caldo! Isn't he so sweet? And now he's looking up how to make champorado, even though he can't believe that chocolate rice porridge is supposed to be a breakfast thing.

The way to someone's heart is through their stomach... =)

Multi-modal learning

April 18, 2007 - Categories: learning

I've stepped up my reading in preparation for my paper, practically inhaling research papers and books. It's easy to copy and paste quotations from PDFs of research papers, but dead-tree books are harder to handle. I'm relatively happy with the way I'm doing things, though. Here's how it works.

When I start a book, I record the name of the book into my voice recorder. As I read, I note interesting quotations by recording the page number and the quotation as one file. In this way, I accumulate dozens of notes. When I have time to encode all of these, I loop over each file while transcribing whatever I can keep up with. I repeat each file as many times as necessary.

This has the effect of usual several modes for the information: visual when I read it for the first time, auditory when I hear myself read it, and kinesthetic when I type it out.

It's slower, but I hope it works well!

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April 18, 2007 - Categories: geek

W and I were talking about Post-It tape flags when he asked me if he'd shown me his Markham housing map yet. When I said no, he went downstairs and showed me this map with house locations and values, school districts and rankings, and other notes of interest—a *paper* map with little flags all over it.

A paper mashup. Gotta love it!

Geek! =)

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Steel-cut oats

April 19, 2007 - Categories: cooking

I have officially graduated to steel-cut oats. It took me a long time to try it out, but now that I have, I can see why Paul Lussier wanted me to try them!

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Quiet time

April 21, 2007 - Categories: life

I keep telling myself that I can't just batch all my writing for my quiet days, but that I have to carve out and protect writing time every day. Writing books suggest rituals such as morning pages, and I'm beginning to see why those sacred times are so important. I have to slow down, still myself, and let questions and thoughts bubble up to the surface.

I've been doing tons of work-related reading and I'm starting to do a bit of writing for my thesis as well. Not only should I do that and my recreational reading, I should also make sure that I have time to think.

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The Reading Solution, and thoughts on education

April 21, 2007 - Categories: education

If you've read my blog posts from the past few weeks, you know that I'm entirely in favor of convincing impressionable young children that reading is fun and worthwhile. Similarly-minded people may want to check out The Reading Solution: Make Your Child a Reader for Life, an excellently-written book by Paul Kropp that shares strategies on how to help kids fall in love with reading - from infancy to adulthood.

The main points are: read with your child every day, reach into your pocket to buy books, and rule the media (TV time, etc). Kropp shows the importance of reading with kids every day, even when they seem old enough to read on their own. Check out Kropp's must-have lists by age for ideas, and add your own favorites.

I don't know how feasible it is to ask people to read together every day, but I think it's a great idea even for grown-ups. My mom told me stories of how she—not a nanny—would read to me over and over and over again, and I still think my automatic warm and fuzzies come from that time (yes, even when I'm reading gnarly research papers!). When I moved on to reading - and not just the Dr. Seuss books I also loved as a kid, but the communication and business books she also had around the house - I remember occasionally talking about good books with her. I wish I had more of those times. There's something about sharing the experience of a book with someone, talking about what you've learned from it and what you think about it... It's a way of fully experiencing the book and bringing it into yourself. Someday I would like that to be part of my daily ritual - to quietly read for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then share what I've learned from that and from my day with whoever's around (or my blog, although I don't quite get the fun immediate social interaction that way).

Kropp says that it's important to continue that ritual of daily reading even when kids can read on their own. Reading with other people makes reading fun, because it's so much more than reading. It's asking questions about words or stories or life. Let kids interrupt you and go off on tangents. Point out connections. Reading together also shows kids that you value reading. And let them see you reading, too! I remember my mom reading all these books and talking about them...

I liked the chapter on how to deal with excellent, average and ordinary schools. Kropp has good advice for dropping by a school, evaluating the environment, and suggesting best practices, such as daily quiet uninterrupted reading time. I remember how my mom was involved with the Parent-Teacher Association in our grade school, pushing for gifted education programs and making sure that we were challenged.

Another thing that struck me about the book was Kropp's advice to have children do their homework at the kitchen table or some other central place in the house. This shows them the value that schoolwork has to the entire family. One of the comments that J made about her homework made me think a bit; she once shrugged and said, "Well, my teacher doesn't check it anyway." At some point I want to explain to her why teachers give homework (so that you test your knowledge and maybe come up with questions for grown-ups or for the next class) and how she can make the most of it.

If you're wondering why some of my recreational reading and reflection has been about reading lately, it's not just because of J. I used to read my mom's gifted education books when I was a kid. =) I can't help it even now. Part of me steps back from conversations and thinks of phonemics or problem solving or science and what else I can fit into those teachable moments that happen. Put me in front of someone who wants to learn, no matter what age they are, and I'm going to rack my brain for a way to help them learn.

There's an updated version of Kropp's book, if you're curious.

While you're reading about reading, check out my mom's blog posts.

(Isn't it *so* awesome that I can refer you to my mom's reflections?)

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Knowing people

April 21, 2007 - Categories: connecting

Carlos Perez wrote:

How do you do it? I noticed that you had over 400 linked in contacts. That's pretty impressive considering that you 'just got out of the boat' and are still in grad. school. What's your secret?
How do I do it? One person at a time. I go to events that I find interesting, and happen to meet lots of people with whom I want to keep in touch and whom I want to help. I smile. I'm enthusiastic about life. This is probably the key thing that draws people to me and which makes it easier for people to talk to me, as I'm often shy about starting conversations myself! I'm interested in other people. I make it easy for people to get to know me, too. Is that a secret? Not really... Isn't that something everyone can do?

I've met all sorts of wonderful people. I think *that's* the secret to having lots of contacts on LinkedIn or elsewhere! Share *stories* with people, not just business cards, and you'll see how wonderful they are. Become part of people's lives and let them become part of yours. I wish I had a million lives so that I could get to know all these people better. If you can figure that out, you'd be set.

I've been a little quiet in both the Toronto and Manila tech scenes, preoccupied with my thesis and with other matters. I've started from scratch before, though, so I know that when I choose to return, I'll be able to.

I don't really have a big network, and I'm not collecting names. I just want to collect experiences and wonderful people... and that's not hard at all!

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More food for thought

April 21, 2007 - Categories: philippines


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What an intense week!

April 22, 2007 - Categories: life

Thesis: A usability pilot session left me frustrated with my project and insecure about its significance. While stepping through the tasks, I realized that the existing tools didn't suck so bad, and that my prototype wsan't that much of an improvement. After the pilot, I headed straight for Stephen Perelgut's cubicle and whined about my lack of an interesting project. He told me that I wasn't the first student to do that, although usually they wait until after they collect data. After getting that out of my system, though, I realized that it can't be all that bad. After all, IBM wouldn't fund it if they thought it was hopeless, and people in the blogosphere like the ideas I've written about. I spent the next day reading papers and trying to remember the reasons why my research is cool, and I think I've found my purpose again.

I caught up with a *lot* of reading, too. Three books, lots of papers... I'm getting ready for my writing phase. My schedule is slipping because of the usability tests, which may push my schedule back another month. I am going to be *so* dead when it comes to writing. If you don't hear from me, you know why. I've been trying to do a little life writing here and there, the occasional blog post to keep in touch, but.... aaaaaagghhhh! My thesis looms on the horizon.

Frustration, check. Fear, check. Determination, check! I figure, life wouldn't give me this unless it thought I could handle it. I'm curious! I want to see how life sorts this out. As long as I do my best at each step... We'll see how this unfolds.

I also felt terribly homesick today, thinking about my family and how much they miss me. I find it really, really hard to keep close personal ties over the Internet. Even my real-life friends are feeling a little neglected right now. I felt so sad that I couldn't even type. But W and J took over and cheered me up, so now I'm ready to work as hard as I can.

Next week: Fix the usability issues identified by Diego. Do an interview about social computing. Do an interest interview with the team I most want to join. Get my usability study off the ground (finally!). Find more useful books - Encyclopedia Brown, Choose Your Own Adventure? Write a letter. Post at least one picture.

I can do this.

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OFF FOCUS by Lina Rodriguez and Rita Kamacho

April 24, 2007 - Categories: philippines

Wednesday May 2nd, 2007
7:00 to 10:00 PM
The Gladstone Hotel – Second floor 1214 Queen Street West
PWYC - Money collected will go to the Philippine Women Centre of Ontario

Who is taking care of our children and elders? World economic trends have produced a trans-national labour force concentrating international temporary workers in Canada in an exploitative work environment, in most of the cases.

Off Focus seeks to give visibility to Filipino foreign domestic workers and question the labor conditions under the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) in Canada. What does it mean for them to be in a country where they just have the right to work in a specific job, with a specific employee and under his/her roof? How are their families affected by their long separation period?

Through sound, video and performance, this piece invites the audience to be aware of the challenges that foreign domestic laborers encounter as international temporary workers and low-income earners.

Co-sponsors: Philippine Women Centre of Ontario, Filipino Students' Association of Toronto, Filipino Canadian Youth Alliance,

Off Focus is part of the Mayworks Festival, April 28 – May 6. www.mayworks.ca

Media contact: Lina Rodriguez lina.rodri@gmail.com

E-Mail from Von Totanes

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Writing writing writing

April 24, 2007 - Categories: school

1455 words so far for the paper due on Thursday. I can do this!

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April 25, 2007 - Categories: life

3,214 words and nine pages of text, including two diagrams. A cursory review of my paper does not reveal unfinished sentences or half-written paragraphs. It is not in an egregiously unpublishable state, although it represents more of an 80% approximation than a 99.9% polished work. But it will be enough to get me through tomorrow. It's time to rest. I feel mental fatigue threatening.

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Thoughts on anxiety

April 26, 2007 - Categories: life

I need some time to think. One of the difficulties of learning so much every day is the awareness that I have only half-learned things the first time around. I need to process what I've learned. I need to analyze and synthesize. I need to put the different pieces together and see how they fit. I need to figure out what that means in terms of new actions and new ways of understanding or doing things. I need to think about what I have learned in order to ask more and better questions.

What have I learned recently? What questions am I asking? As I still myself and listen, I learn more about what has been troubling me unnamed.

There is this constant tension between what I learn and what I feel I should be learning. What kind of job am I supposed to have? How am I supposed to live? What am I supposed to learn from my twenties? Sometimes these questions are useful, such as when I am motivated to learn more about personal finance. Other times, they fill me with anxiety. "Are you living the best life you can?" the little voice in my head asks. "You're missing something," it says, and weaves stories of a million other ways I could be living. Other times, it expresses disapproval. "What would strangers think of you?" "They'll find out, you know."

I believe this to be true: If I listen to this small voice, I will never be happy. That voice tempts me to think about other ways and other times and other places, and it will never be quiet. If I allow it to gain a stronger hold on my heart and mind, if the first tendrils of anxiety that tickle the insides of my skin root themselves in my thoughts, I will be lost.

Perhaps my task for now is to be conscious of that voice and to examine it, to turn it over in my mouth. I will ask: Is this really what I want, or something that I have been told to want? Can I learn from the discomfort I feel in order to get ideas about stretching my current life? Is this something I can ignore?

The secret of my happiness so far has been to believe that every moment has happened in the best way possible, and that my future will be similarly blessed. Anxiety can be a useful tool, but I will not let it control me or undermine happiness.

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Augh, I want my life back!

April 26, 2007 - Categories: life

I submitted the paper through the Web-based submission system and e-mailed the person who had sent me the early review announcement in order to find out if I needed to submit it anywhere else. She came over, asked me a few questions, and told me that I probably didn't need to go through the IP review process. Augh! I want my life back! ;)

Well, no, it wasn't entirely a bad thing. What did I give up? I gave up DemoCamp and another tech event on blogging. I skipped krav maga and missed opportunities to have lunch or dinner with friends. I've let mail pile up in my inbox and books on the hold shelf at the library, just waiting for pickup. This was the tuition that I paid for these lessons: I can set deadlines that look ambitious, I can meet them, and I can still keep sane while doing so. I can sense imminent mental fatigue and deal with it by taking breaks before it hits instead of trying to work through it. I can have *fun* writing.

So no, I don't think I would have done it another way. I'm glad I chose what I did, and I'm happy with what I did with my time. =)

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April 27, 2007 - Categories: life

I was having *such* a hard time figuring out how to set up Scone to do user testing. I knew it came with a plugin that would do practically everything I wanted, but... the documentation was in German!

Wayne offered to lend me his German language tapes. ;)

After MUCH struggling with it and *lots* of trial and error, though, I eventually figured out where I was supposed to configure the plugin in order to get it to load.

For posterity, here's how to do it:

  1. Download and unpack Scone from http://www.scone.de.
  2. mysql -u root -p
  3. In the MySQL client, CREATE DATABASE scone
  4. mysql scone -u root -p < setup/sconedb.sql
  5. mysql scone -u root -p < setup/setUserRights.sql
  6. Edit run/config/scone/db.xml and change the database name from Scone to scone.
  7. sh runScone.sh -g
  8. Register plugin: run/setup/wbi/scone.reg
  9. sh runScone.sh -config
  10. Register plugin: scone.usertesttool.UserTestTool
  11. Set your web browser proxy to localhost, port 8088
  12. Visit usertest.scone.de


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Javascript workaround

April 27, 2007 - Categories: geek

Scone interferes with some of the AJAX goodness I use. I think this is because it overrides the onLoad event. BodyEventAdder is supposed to recognize parameters, but the Google Maps plugin uses Javascript and addCodeToFunction to add the code, and somehow that's not getting picked up.

Aha! Workaround: override the function that ym4r was using to insert the Google Maps code and get it to write out a named Javascript function instead. Add this named function to the body tag. Everyone happy.


I also have to figure out how to get it to log AJAX events. I can reconstruct it from the processed requests if I have to, I guess...

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Okay, I can stop working now!

April 27, 2007 - Categories: life

<laugh> Fine, I've done enough for the day, time to relax. I'll get to go to krav later, yay!

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Windmills of Your Mind

April 28, 2007 - Categories: life

The CBC had a program called "Separated at Birth" - music that was uncannily similar. Then the CBC played one of the Bach concertos - and I started singing fragments of "Windmills of Your Mind", a song that had been drilled into my memory from countless repetitions going up the zig-zag roads to Banaue. (This was before CD changers. It may even have been before writable CDs.)

I still don't know which Bach concerto it resembled, but cool!

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Okay, this is really annoying now

April 30, 2007 - Categories: life

I've been trying to set up Scone as a proxy on my laptop, since I can't run it on the prototype host itself. However, I'm having *such* problems getting my desktop to use my laptop as a server. Applet communication problems, database communication problems... It can't seriously be this difficult!

In the worst case, I may even have to run an X server and run Firefox off my laptop. Now how responsive will *that* be? Argh!!

Plan A.2: Install Scone on the desktop that I'll be using, and use my laptop as the MySQL server.

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