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

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…

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

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

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
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
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

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

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.

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

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!

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

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…

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


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!

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


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

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… =)

Random Emacs symbol: mouse-autoselect-window – Variable: *Non-nil means autoselect window with mouse pointer.

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

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!

Random Emacs symbol: global-mark-ring-max – Variable: *Maximum size of global mark ring. Start discarding off end if gets this big.


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! =)

Random Emacs symbol: info-title-3 – Face: Face for info titles at level 3.

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!

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

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.

Random Emacs symbol: upcase-initials-region – Command: Upcase the initial of each word in the region.

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

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?)

Random Emacs symbol: search-forward-regexp – Command: Search forward from point for regular expression REGEXP.

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!

Random Emacs symbol: define-modify-macro – Macro: Define a `setf’-like modify macro.

More food for thought

April 21, 2007 - Categories: philippines


Random Emacs symbol: gnus-debug – Command: Attempts to go through the Gnus source file and report what variables have been changed.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

Media contact:
Lina Rodriguez
[email protected]

E-Mail from Von Totanes

Random Emacs symbol: tramp-postfix-multi-hop-format – Variable: *String matching delimeter between host and next method.

Writing writing writing

April 24, 2007 - Categories: school

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

Random Emacs symbol: message-citation-line-function – Variable: *Function called to insert the “Whomever writes:” line.


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.

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

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

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

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.

Random Emacs symbol: default-right-margin-width – Variable: Default value of `right-margin-width’ for buffers that don’t override it.

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. =)

Random Emacs symbol: scroll-bar-width – Variable: *Width of this buffer’s scroll bars in pixels.


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!

W- 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


Random Emacs symbol: browse-url-galeon-new-window-is-tab – Variable: *Whether to open up new windows in a tab or a new window.

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…

Random Emacs symbol: read-symbol-positions-list – Variable: A list mapping read symbols to their positions.

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!

Random Emacs symbol: interprogram-cut-function – Variable: Function to call to make a killed region available to other programs.

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!

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

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.

Random Emacs symbol: dnd-open-file-other-window – Variable: If non-nil, always use find-file-other-window to open dropped files.