October 12, 2007

Bulk view

Setting priorities

For once, my random Emacs symbol is strangely apropos. There will
never be enough time in the day, and it’s easier for me to say no to
low-value tasks if I have other things to do. Here are my best-value
tasks over the next few days:

  • Prepare for the start of my new job by reflecting on what’s worked for me before and what hasn’t, and figure out what I want. If I can help my manager learn about my strengths and weaknesses, then he’ll be able to manage me more effectively.
  • Work on my book. I should be able to complete the Org section if I just sit down and write. The Planner section can follow a similar structure. It pays to complete a rough draft of the chapter as early as possible, because I can get more feedback from beta readers. I need to give myself permission to skip the parts that I _really_ want to include but for which the code needs to be written practically from scratch. My job is to show people interesting hacks, not fill in all the holes or fix all the bugs.
  • Connect with my family and catch up on stuff from last week.
  • Braindump what I learned from my chat with Ian Irving. Plenty of nuggets there, and sharing is the best way of thanking him for his time.
  • Do my weekly review. I feel uncomfortable if I don’t have time to reflect and share.
  • Build in some quiet time and some relationship time. I don’t want that to get lost in a long list of TODOs clamoring for my attention.

These are my essentials for this weekend. It’s like the way you manage money: plan for the important stuff first before you spend on luxuries. =)

Random Emacs symbol: schedule-day-remainder – Variable: The number of seconds remaining today.

Through the fear

I’m not afraid of heights, just falling. I _enjoy_ the challenge of
speaking in front of people or turning up in a room full of strangers.
But falling? Losing my balance or grip? Scares the heck out of me.

Precisely why I’m taking trapeze lessons, of course. Perched
precariously some six and a half feet above the ground, dangling
upside down and wondering if my grip’s about to give, resolutely
ignoring the pain shooting up from my blistered left hand, I can
_still_ focus and learn, and I _love_ that. It’s ever so satisfying to
feel that frisson of fear and _work through it anyway._

I love setting little goals for myself. Last Tuesday, it was being
able to hook my knees on the bar all by myself. We made slow progress
as I learned things piecemeal, but I did it. And I’m coming to love
failing, too, to love knowing that I have a lot to learn. Learning
means putting together all these things that you can’t quite describe,
you just have to _do_. When my toes don’t quite clear the bar or my
legs feel kinda wobbly, I love being able to take a step back in my
head and try to figure out what’s happening and what I want to happen.

Today I managed to hold the upside-down-legs-over-head position using
the lines. I also made it up to a sitting position! Next session, I
want to make it up there with very little assistance. I want to
smoothen my motions, too.

Plenty to learn, plenty to learn…

Taking portraits of people

Ian Irving was kind enough to not only introduce me to a wonderful little cafe (Lou’s Coffee Bar at Runnymede and Annette) and share his insights on consulting and tech evangelism, but to also sit for a portrait by this amateur.

Good side-lighting. Yay dimples. =) I also like the background – the
exchange bookshelf at the cafe. I cropped this one really tight, which
improved the composition a bit.

Next time I take a picture, I’ll spend a little more time trying to
make sure it’s in focus.

Not bad for a quick shot, though. =)

Random Emacs symbol: w3m-arrived-put – Function: Store VALUE in the arrived URLs database as the PROPERTY of URL.

Chapter is taking shape

After a little bit of
[[http://sachachua.com/notebook/wiki/2007.10.12.php#anchor-2][thinking
about Org and Planner]], I’m starting to feel more comfortable with
the chapter that I’m writing. I pasted my draft into OpenOffice and
found to my surprise that I have about 13 pages of content, with 7
more to go.

I’m comfortable working with the book as an org outline, and I really
love how it lets me navigate the outline and mark segments as TODO or
DRAFT. I think I’d rather draft it in Emacs than in OpenOffice.org,
where I’ll be tempted to fiddle with formatting and editing. I’ll use
longlines-mode to draft my book so that I can paste it into OpenOffice
for a rough idea of the page count, but that’ll be my only concession. =)

I’ll put the chapter together before sending it to beta readers, which
would basically be the people who’ve e-mailed me or commented on my
book-related blog entries. If you want to be a beta reader, now’s a
good time to volunteer! It involves reading rough drafts and going,
“Ooh, that _is_ cool,” or even better, “Hey, you missed this totally
awesome Emacs trick…” =) Encouragement will help keep me going, too!

Random Emacs symbol: w3m-encoding-type-alist – Variable: *Alist of
file suffixes and content encoding types.

How I came to love Emacs

Riffing off P.F. Hawkins’ post on how he came to love Emacs, let me tell you my story. =)

I wasn’t always an Emacs geek. I remember giving it a shot and finding
out that I much preferred vim or even pico -w. I don’t remember much
else of my pre-Emacs days, though. I do remember the turning point.

While browsing in the library stacks at my university, I found a copy
of Unix Power Tools. It described Emacs, so I decided to give it
another try. I got hooked.

The key thing for me was the exposure to Emacs Lisp. Unix Power Tools
gave all sorts of tips, often accompanied with Emacs Lisp code to put
in your ~/.emacs. So I thought, hey, this might be fun to learn.

I read the Emacs Lisp intro manual. I read the Emacs Lisp manual. Then
I started reading all the source code I could find, frequently
referring to the help files in order to understand something. I
learned about C-h f (describe function) and the ability to jump to,
trace, and modify practically any bit of code in my text editor. My
universe blew wide open.

Several years and several thousand lines of config later, I’ve got a
text editor that fits me like a glove. The people I’ve met, the things
I’ve learned, the crazy ideas I’ve tried… What would my life be
without Emacs? It’s really kinda odd to say that about a piece of
software, but yes: Emacs has changed my life.

What’s next for me? Well, I’m working on that book. I hope it’ll be as
mind-blowing as Unix Power Tools was for me. I hope it’ll help people
discover more and get excited. I’m learning more about the things
people can do with it and I’m playing around with other crazy ideas,
particularly for contact management and personal information
management. I also want to bring this kind of customizability to other
applications. Maybe I’ll try it with Lotus Notes, which I’ll need to
use for work anyway. But Emacs, ah, Emacs… How do I love thee? Let
me M-x count-the-ways!

Random Emacs symbol: eshell-login-script – Variable: *If non-nil, a file to invoke when starting up Eshell interactively.

Switching mindsets

One of the interesting side-effects of writing this book on Emacs is
that I get to stretch my brain by trying out different ways to plan my
day.

My Planner configuration had accreted to just the right kind of
support over the past five years, and I’ve been using it without
needing to think about it much That’s part of the reason why it works
so well for me. It’s just part of my workflow. It has molded my brain,
and vice versa. ;)

I’d like to write a really good chapter that also shows the best of
org, so I’m going to either have to _think_ org, or find someone
(talkative! ;) ) who does.

Right now, I’m working on how to use Emacs to manage schedules. I’m
running into interesting differences between Planner and Org, and
these differences give me a better appreciation for both.

In Planner, I’m used to scheduling a slew of tasks at a time and
moving things around a bit, ordering and grouping my tasks visually.
In Org, I don’t have the ability to manually edit the agenda view, but
I do have the ability to pull tasks in from lots of different
locations. This doesn’t quite support my old way of planning, but
opens up new ones.

Here’s what I’m learning in order to do things the Org way:

  • Keep my scheduled day as clear as possible, putting down only fixed appointments and things I absolutely need to do that day.
  • Add other items as planned, but focus only on the next few actions.
  • Separate my tasks by context to make it easy to pull out the next few applicable actions.

Random Emacs symbol: cos – Function: Return the cosine of ARG.

Circus school

The static trapeze lessons I’ve been taking are tons of fun and great motivation to exercise more. (11 straight days of exercise!)

Here are a couple of other classes that might be useful:

Conditioning:

  • Centre of Gravity, Tuesdays & Thursdays, 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm, $10 drop-in – 416-469-1440
  • Toronto School of Circus Arts, sessional, http://www.torontocircus.com/

Flexibility:

  • Centre of Gravity, Tuesdays, 7:30 – 8:30, $10 drop-in – 416-469-1440
  • Toronto School of Circus Arts, sessional, http://www.torontocircus.com/

On Technorati:

Random Emacs symbol: mule-version-date – Variable: Distribution date of this version of MULE (multilingual environment).