November 2008

Weekly review: Week ending Nov 2, 2008

November 2, 2008 - Categories: weekly

This week was half travel, half catching up. I flew to Tel Aviv for a customer workshop at which I facilitated a session about mobile social networking. When I got back, I worked on my Drupal-based project, ironing out a few bugs and playing defect tennis. I processed lots of requests quickly.

I was going to do the paperwork for the Schengen visa so that I could help with another customer workshop in Brussels. I was nervous about the time and I didn’t want to cancel my participation at the last minute, as I know from first-hand experience that it can be pretty difficult for people taking up the sudden slack. So I recommended a number of people in Europe to the workshop organizers, and I hope they find a good fit.

During this mad two-week stint of travel, I realized a couple of things:

I finished the red jacket I was working on, and I’ve also completed a purple skirt. I’m very happy with the way the red jacket turned out, and the notions I picked up during Fabricland’s sale have helped me me save time and make my purple skirt neater. My next project (already halfway done) is a black skirt following the same pattern as the purple skirt. After that, I’ll probably make two reversible four-color shells to make business-trip packing even easier.

I’d been thinking about the personality differences between people who start things and people who finish things. I’m very much a starter. I can see the possibilities of starting things, I’m good at figuring out who I need to talk to in order to make something happen, and I can be excited and get other people excited too. On the other hand, after a while, I can lose interest and move on to other things, which is probably why my Emacs book is languishing in the doldrums.

That’s one of the reasons why sewing interests me. Small, quick projects that give me tangible results when I finish them… Maybe this a good way to develop more persistence and attention to detail. =)

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the Drupal-based project. We’re coming up on our second release date, and I think we’re in pretty good shape despite all my travel. I also need to get the details ironed out for my talk in Concordia University: the student’s guide to Web 2.0 at work, and for an upcoming panel on government, Web 2.0 and youth. On Thursday, SelectMinds has a virtual corporate social networking conference. I’m looking forward to attending the session on onboarding with social networking tools (1:45 ET – 2:45 ET). We’ll be recording videos of our other presentations on Thursday, so I might not be able to make it to the rest of the interesting sessions. It’ll be a very busy week, but I hope to make time to get my permanent residency application together and to follow up on the interesting conversations I had over the past two weeks.

Learning languages

November 2, 2008 - Categories: learning

My recent trip to Tel Aviv was a good reason to learn a little Hebrew. I listened to the Hebrew I course from the Pimsleur language series (available in the Toronto Public Library!) while I was sewing clothes or doing dishes, and I printed out a few phrase lists I found on the Internet. I didn’t get to the point of being able to have a good conversation in Hebrew, but it was nice not feeling totally lost, and occasionally even recognizing some of the things that people around me were saying.

I like learning different languages. It’s like building with blocks: you collect different kinds of pieces, and the more pieces you collect, the more ways you can combine them and make sense.

W- and I have been watching Heroes. Yes, we’re very much behind the times. ;) My favorite segments are when Masi Oka shows up as Hiro and speaks in Japanese. I miss the rush of semi-understood syllables, the alien familiarity of a learned skill.

Maybe I should take that up again. I probably won’t be able to make much time for conversation practice, but it would be interesting to be able to read foreign blog posts and make occasional comments.

So I’ve bought Japanese Flip for the new iPod Touch (thank you, Slideshare) and I’ll be playing with it on the subway ride. =) I’ll also see about getting back to learning French…

Cat scratching post

November 4, 2008 - Categories: cat

Last weekend was a weekend of making things. W-, J- and I built a scratching post for Leia, our cat. We took a 4×4 and wrapped it with sisal rope, sprinkling catnip between the coils. Leia loved it. She climbed up the 3-foot post easily, and we often found her precariously perched on the 4×4 end on top of it, all four paws crammed together.

So W- built an extension on top of the scratching post, screwing a short, flat piece of wood on top of the post end and covering the platform with a scrap of carpet.

Leia’s so spoiled. =)

Learning about conviction and life

November 4, 2008 - Categories: life, reflection

One of the videos we watched last weekend was Ever After, which is my favorite Cinderella reimagining because Drew Barrymore plays a no-nonsense Cinderella who doesn’t wait for anyone to rescue her, isn’t pining away for a prince (or the fjords), and is a bit of a bookworm.

The prince is amazed–and a little perturbed–at how Cinderella lives with such passion and conviction. She’s alive in a way unlike her stepsisters, her stepmother, and all the people at court are not.

It’s tempting to let my passions lull, to lose them in the bustle of everyday, to moderate them in order to be like others, to fritter away time and energy. But I know what I love doing: I love helping people connect and collaborate. So I’m going to. =)

Weekly review: Week ending November 9, 2008

November 9, 2008 - Categories: weekly

This week:

Next week:

There’s something about mornings

November 11, 2008 - Categories: life

Our cat has a firm idea of what constitutes a perfectly acceptable wake-up time for breakfast: 6:00. I’ve taken to waking up early and making her breakfast, getting ready, and so on.

Today I arrived at work at 7:00. The lights were still dim. I don’t think anyone else was in the IBM office. I got a lot done. I remembered to leave work early, too, and I got a lot done at home as well. I remember blogging about early starts a number of times, and I like it when I can get into the rhythm of it. W- and I will make sure we keep in sync, too.

Preparing a few things the night before makes things so much more convenient. After dinner, I pack my lunch, leave a pot of oatmeal to soak on the stove, and set out all my clothes in the order that I need to put them on. The rest of the time is mine to spend, and then it’s another great morning.

I’m getting the hang of the little things, too. The subway ride is the best time for Japanese flashcard practice, because I’m sitting down. The Pimsleur language lessons are best for dish-washing time, because I need my hands to be free. I’m working my way through French, and I hope I’ll be able to practice understanding conversation when I’m in Montreal.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement. Depending on need, I may make early mornings my personal project time. Right now, I’m relaxed, but not feeling very creatve. There are a number of things I still need to follow up on, including possible tea party plans. (I’m a month late with my tea parties!) But things are good. =)

Preparing presentations: from mindmap to storyboard

November 11, 2008 - Categories: presentation, sketches, web2.0

The way I prepare presentations has changed quite a lot since I started speaking in public in 2002. (Wow, it’s been six years!) I was preparing a presentation for Concordia University students on Web 2.0 at work, and I figured that it’s gotten to the point where I can actually explain to other people how I do it. In the process, I’m sure we’ll figure out ways to do things even better. =) Here’s what I did:

I started by writing some details about the talk along the top of the page: where it is and who’s attending. Then I drew two stick figures: one for people going into the talk, and one for people going out of the talk.

I focused on the people going out of the talk. What did I want them to be able to do? What did I want them to understand? What did I want them to feel?

After I sketched the outcome, I went to the beginning. What would people be thinking, going in? What would be their experiences and assumptions?

Then I drew an arrow from the person going in to the person going out. Somehow, my presentation would need to help people get from point A to point B.

I added lots of arrows feeding into that main arrow. Which stories could help people move towards the outcome? I listed as many stories as I could.

Then I started mindmapping the presentation so that I could group similar elements and flesh things out in more detail. I wrote my key message on the right side. Then I broke it down into parts, which I refined further. I cross-referenced it against the first page to see if I had any other stories that fit in nicely, and to make sure that all the parts I wanted to include were related to the arrow between point A and point B.

And then it was storyboard time! =D I didn’t have any storyboard templates lying around (maybe I should print some!), so I used graphing paper instead. I could’ve used my Cintiq for this and the previous steps, but graphing paper had been more convenient when I started, and it didn’t cost me that much more time. =)

It was strange making a storyboard for the presentation. I’d hear snippets of the presentation in my head – sudden snatches of potential transitions and ways to illustrate topics. I started from the first slide and followed the images as they flowed. There are better ways to illustrate these things, I’m sure, but this was a good start! =)

After I created the storyboard, I opened up Inkscape and brought out my Cintiq tablet. I made a grid of 800 pixel by 600 pixel rectangles, 5 rectangles across and 9 rectangles down. I set the rectangle fills to black and my pencil color to white, and then I started drawing. I occasionally cleaned things up with the node tool and the delete button, both mapped to shortcut keys on my tablet.

A couple of hours later, it was done.

Then I needed to figure out how to get it into a presentation. I didn’t want to export each frame, because it was hard to keep things in sequence and inconvenient to rearrange slides in the presentation software. Instead, I exported the entire thing as a large image. I used ImageMagick (convert -crop 800x600 slides.png slide_%d.png) to slice the image into tiles, and the Photo Album extension to import all of the slides. Bonus: they imported in sequence!

I saved the slides as ODP and PPT, and exported the slides as PDF. Et voila:

The slides don’t make sense without me, but that’s okay. =) I may make a standalone version if it works out.

Weekly review: Week ending November 16, 2008

November 16, 2008 - Categories: weekly

This week:

Next week:

Upcoming webcasts on social networking, Gen Y

November 18, 2008 - Categories: gen-y, web2.0

Here are some free upcoming webcasts I’m planning to attend:

Brazen Careerist: Capturing the Hearts and Minds of Young Talent through Blogs
Presenter: Penelope Trunk, CEO & Founder, Brazen Careerist
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 2008
Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ET
Grassroots Networking: The Pros and Cons of Growing Your Social Network
Panelists: Shannon Baker, HR Manager, Cisco Systems, Inc. Deborah Casaubon, Director, Talent Development, Cisco Systems, Inc. Megan Hundley, HR Manager, Cisco Systems, Inc.
Date: Thu, 4 Dec 2008
Time: 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM ET
Best Practices in Integrated Corporate Social Networking: The Intersection of CSN, Web 2.0 and Talent Management
Presenters: Charles Coy, Director of Product Marketing, Cornerstone OnDemand, Allan Schweyer, Exec. Director & SVP, Research, Human Capital Institute (HCI)
Date: Wed, 10 Dec 2008
Time: 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM ET
I Can Do It Myself! Providing Gen X and Gen Y Employees with A New Breed of e-learning Tools
Presenter: Tom Casey, Principal, The Concours Group
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 2008
Time: 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM ET

Anyone else dialing in? =) Maybe we can share notes.

TCP window scaling, or zomg the Internet works for me again

November 19, 2008 - Categories: geek, linux

Sites such as,, and (horror of horrors!) had gotten _unbearably_ slow on Linux.

Here’s how I fixed it (as root):

echo 0 > /proc/sys/net/ipv4/tcp_window_scaling

I love you, Ubuntu forums.

Weekly review: Week ending November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008 - Categories: weekly

I rocked. =)

I turned my Drupal-based project over to a new team member. It was in great shape: the new branch passed all my old regression tests, the deployment script still worked, and the module that I’d partially implemented was well-documented with my notes. I was so glad that I’d invested the time in writing tests, tools, and documentation. I was also glad I insisted on using doxygen for low-level documentation instead of (gack!) Microsoft Word, as doxygen gave us call graphs and caller graphs for free. I checked on the team members today to see if there was anything else they needed in order to work effectively, and it looks like everyone’s happy.

I started a new Drupal-based project on Tuesday, and I brought the habits and tools I picked up during the previous project. The features I’ve been working on now have nice little tests. I’ve automated more of the install and testing process. I also spent some time scrubbing my old deployment scripts, and I sent them to the person who just started as the release engineer for the project. Things are going well. =)

I still haven’t met another Linux-based Drupal developer within IBM, though. =| No matter – maybe I’ll eventually inspire people to give it a try!

I helped Aaron Kim and Bernie Michalik out with a workshop for a major insurance company. I seem to be their go-to idea-generator, which is awesome fun. I love coming up with a range of ideas based on what I’ve seen, what I’d like to see, what technology makes possible, and so on. I think Aaron exaggerated when he said I come up with hundreds of ideas, but it _is_ a lot of fun for me. I get to play with all sorts of combinations of interesting things. I attended part of the workshop, too, and I shared a couple of stories.

I also found myself gathering resources this week. I handled a number of requests for information on new employees, Gen Y, social networking research, and other topics, and people were very happy with the information and people I pointed them to. I get a lot of questions because people know I’m interested in these things, and I love handling those questions because each question gives me an opportunity to organize more information in a coherent way. I get to build on top of other things I’ve done before! =)

So that was this week: I turned over my old project (in a way that made me happy), hit the ground running (in a way that also made me happy), helped generate lots of ideas (and that made me happy too), and answered lots of questions (happy happy happy). Oh, and I sewed a pajama top out of red fleece. (Happy _and_ warm!) =)

Next week: More Drupal work, a Government 2.0 panel, a dinner party with some family friends, and maybe the pajama bottoms…


November 22, 2008 - Categories: life, reflection

While I was in Montreal, Michael McGuffin told me about Cecile Licad, a Filipino pianist who’s done some remarkable things. He told me about the time Cecile Licad was playing Rachmaninov in a concert, and the lights went out. She kept playing for more than a minute – beautiful, complex music – and when the lights came back on, the orchestra members scrambled to catch up. Thanks to YouTube, you can see it for yourself:

That made me think about what it’s like to know something complex so deeply that you can do it without your notes. I don’t have an eidetic memory and music isn’t my strength, but I’m starting to enjoy the benefits of breadth and depth in areas like creativity, Linux, and PHP–and Drupal, more and more. Of course, many of the things I work on are… well… a lot more difficult to do without electricity (although I _have_ worked through code and presentations on paper!), and nowhere near as easy to enjoy as a good musical performance. But someday I’d like to be a virtuoso at these things. Maybe sewing, too…

Thanks to Michael for the tip!

Stock image series

November 22, 2008 - Categories: presentation

Peter Bauer wondered where I got the images in my presentation on Blogging Your Way Out of Your Job… and Into a Career. =) I figured I’d post it here too, just in case you’re curious.

Check out koun’s illustrations on =)

Someday I might get a figure modeling program…

Notes from the City of Toronto Web 2.0 Summit

November 26, 2008 - Categories: gen-y, talk, web2.0

Thanks to Aaron Kim’s referral, I participated on a panel about Generation Y and Government 2.0 at the City of Toronto’s Web 2.0 Summit. I told a couple of stories about characteristics of my generation and opportunities (for everyone!) opened up by Web 2.0, including Clay Shirky’s story about 4-year-olds and televisions (hmm, got the details wrong on that one). During the panel, I learned about the City of Toronto’s push towards citizen-centric views of information with their 311 project, some thoughts on using subscriptions, aggregation and filtering in order to deal with information overload, and concerns about digital divides and lack of access to computers or the Net. I also heard a story about how one company uses the Web 2.0 equivalent of a swear jar – people who send attachments through e-mail get poked about how they can be using more effective tools to collbaorate. =)

What went well?

Lots of people to follow up with, lots of conversations to continue…

Notes from conversations: Conscious competence

November 28, 2008 - Categories: blogging, connecting, web2.0


I’m going to start off with a story about embarrassing myself, because it’s something worth thinking about, I learned a lot through it, and it shows you that I’m human and there are many things you can teach me. <laugh>

Jeff invited me to this talk, and I was really looking forward to it. I had been somewhat frazzled that afternoon (oy, paperwork!), though, and by the time I arrived at Rotman, I realized I didn’t clearly remember what Jeff looked like. I couldn’t pick him out of the rapidly growing crowd. I did, however, see a few other people I recognized a bit (including Darren from the summit I’d attended the day before), and after some reintroductions, we sat near the front of the audience. (More on this later; see “The best seats in the house”)

Darren brought a number of friends over, so the seats in front filled up quickly. I kept looking around, but I didn’t see the people I was looking for – Jeff, who had invited me, and Sabrina, who I had met on the subway last Monday. I suppose it would’ve helped if I had a clearer memory of their faces – another argument for using a smartphone for taking people’s pictures and associating them with my address book records. ;)

Jeff walked up to me and reintroduced himself (thank goodness!), and promised that we’d get together afterwards for coffee or tea so that he could pick my brains and introduce me to his other guests. Then it was time for the session to start. =)

Over tea later that evening, Jeff told me about possible generational differences in etiquette, and how he had been surprised (but not offended because he was expecting these generational differences) that I hadn’t sought him out–or lacking that, saved seats for him and the other guests. In retrospect, it would’ve made sense for me to stand near the back and look for him (or look obviously lost, in which case I’m sure he would’ve found me easily). He asked me what it looked like from my perspective, and I told him about the interesting conversation I found myself in with the folks I’d met at the other event, my understanding that he’d probably be really busy as an organizer, and how I wasn’t sure how many other guests he had invited or who they were. =) It all worked out quite well, although I’m sure I must’ve blushed quite a bit.

There, Jeff – it’s not that Generation Y isn’t aware of these things. It’s mainly that I’m a little fuzzy-brained when it comes to people’s faces, and that I trusted we’d meet up some way or another during the event – which we did, thanks to you. =)

The best seats in the house

I like sitting in the front row, near the center aisle – the best seat in the house for most lectures, seminars, and other events. This usually means that I need to arrive early, which also allows me to chat with other early-birds, the event organizers, and the speakers. Even when I arrive late, though, I sometimes still squeeze into a seat near the front if the talk hasn’t started yet. There are usually a couple of empty seats there, and I still get a great view.

There are several benefits to sitting in front, and you should consider these the next time you’re attending an event. =) Here are a few of my reasons:

Conscious competence and knowledge sharing

We talked about the Johari window, or how learners progress through:

  1. unconscious incompetence – when you don’t know what you don’t know
  2. conscious incompetence – when you know that you don’t know
  3. conscious competence – when you need to pay attention in order to do something, and
  4. unconscious competence – when you can do something without thinking

Jeff shared how he had used this concept when applying for the position he currently has. The discussion reminded me of the challenge of expertise: it’s difficult for experts to share what they’ve learned because they’re no longer conscious of what they do and they find it hard to explain all the steps. (Try explaining something you know how to do to a five-year-old.) When you’re unconsciously competent in something, it’s difficult for you to teach it to other people because you don’t think about all the things you do in order to achieve a result. People can still learn by observing you, and if you think about things and consciously break them into smaller steps, you can still teach other people, but it takes effort.

This discussion reminded me of one of the things I recommend to organizations interested in blogging and other forms of knowledge sharing. People are often interested in these tools as a way of sharing expertise, and they hope that they can get subject matter experts to blog or contribute to a wiki. I think that a much more practical and effective way to approach this, though, is to encourage learners to share what they’re learning. Not only do they get the immediate personal benefits of understanding topics more clearly as they take notes and find ways to explain things, but they also help other people learn and build their own reputations at the same time. Get the newbies to do the sharing, with subject matter experts reviewing things for accuracy and clarity. Everyone will learn more. Going back to the Johari window – you’re enabling the consciously competent to teach the consciously incompetent who want to learn, and in the process, you help everyone move forward.

Tied in with that idea of knowledge sharing, then, is the reflective practice of blogging or writing what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and how you can do things better. That conscious, continuous attention to improving competence is one of the key effects that regular, intentional blogging (or wiki-ing, or whatever else) has on a person’s skills. Jeff was initially discouraged by the thought of trying to find an hour each day for blogging, but maybe if he spent an hour each week telling stories into a voice recorder (or his Blackberry) or writing down his weekly review, he’ll start enjoying the benefits of this approach.

The conversation also reminded me of another reflection I posted: “If you can’t, do. If you can, teach.” I shared with them how I’m always trying to teach myself out of a job, sharing as much as I can of my conscious and unconscious competencies so that other people can learn and so that I free up more of my time to focus on things I don’t know how to teach yet. For some people, this is a scary thought because job security means differentiating yourself through knowledge or expertise, not trying to bring everyone up to your level. For me, I think that greater security and fulfillment comes from helping lots of people grow, and because I also get to practice my ability to learn and share, I’ll have plenty of things to keep me busy. =) I create more value and I have more leverage on that value by sharing with others, and that means more opportunities flow to me and other people as well.

Speaking of conscious competence – it’s really cool that Jeff consciously develops his social networking skills. He’s curious about the way I do it, too. I’ve blogged a fair bit about social networking, and I’ll keep posting my notes as we all learn more.

Plenty of other notes about technology adoption, social bridgebuilding, storytelling, and things like that, but I need to work on some other stuff first. More to follow!

More random notes from last night’s conversation

November 29, 2008 - Categories: Uncategorized

Notes from Rahaf Harfoush’s talk on the use of social media in Obama’s campaign

November 29, 2008 - Categories: braindump


1. Give New Media a seat at the table. – Don’t just delegate it to an intern or a junior associate. See it as an execution tool. Make the investment. Examples: Wells Fargo, Dell.

2. Tools are useless without a blueprint. – Half of social media campaigns fail because there’s no mutual purpose – fit between community and company. No off the shelf cookie cutter solution. Find the sweet spot between core vision and agility. Message clear, vision clear, interpretation creative.

3. Know the lay of the land. Map out major players, bloggers, evangelists, critics, competitors. Find the conversations. Pay attention to fit. Example: Fedex Facebook attachment application.

4. Build relationships. Social etiquette, cocktail parties versus That Guy. Listen. Be authentic. Example: Comcast turnaround, comcastcares.

5. Call to action. Campaign always drove towards offline action. Asked a lot of their volunteers. Example: Nike community asked to spend time around the brand. Expectations were clear.

6. Give up control. Story about Yes We Carved pumpkin-carving community. Creative and fun. Empower brand ambassadors – they’re where you can’t be. Embrace cocreation. Let your brand evolve. Accept other people’s work. Co-creation really strengthened people’s personal connection to campaign.

Next steps, making things even better? – Keep people engaged on issues they care about. Would’ve liked to make even better use of Twitter. People were curious about insider moments – more blogs, videos, etc.

Key difference: social media as part of life, not something extra.