January 9, 2009

Weekly review: Week ending January 9, 2009

January 9, 2009 - Categories: weekly

This week:

From last week’s plans:

  • Get back to work! Integrate Lotus Connections and Drupal for fun and profit. Built and deployed example of Lotus Connections and Drupal integration (community calendar, community forums). Shared source code in internal Subversion repository.
  • Meet lots of people. Hosted Drupal Toronto User Group meeting (not bad for last-minute work). Got #lifecampTO off the ground.
  • Storyboard my upcoming talks. Prepared presentation for IBM campus recruiting event on Monday. Yay stick figures!
  • Post my Drupal site and see what people think of it. =) Teeheehee. No progress on this.

Other stuff:

  • Upgraded to Lotus 8.5 and discovered the joys of Google Calendar integration. Yay Lotus!
  • Braindumped a whole bunch of PHP development tips for Ian Garmaise. Fixed his Eclipse+Xdebug problem by changing the port used by Xdebug. Fixed his Emacs background color (M-x customize-face, default). Set up his system for ido-mode, icomplete-mode, and file-cache + ido. Told him about dabbrev-expand. He estimated that my 1-hour braindump saved him 10 hours of figuring things out, and it’ll continue to save him more time as he incorporates the shortcuts into the way he works. Chatted with him and Nigel Auger about event planning, shared my goal of learning how to organize and host great events.
  • Drew another comic/sketch about wireless mice. Getting the hang of things!
  • Connected with Lynne and Todd Waymon (Contacts Count). Gave them tips on Web 2.0 and social networking.
  • Connected with other IBM Drupal developers. Promised to give talk on Drush next month.
  • Helped some IBM public relations folks come up with more storyline ideas.
  • Prepared a marketing 1-pager and 1-slide description of our social media adoption services. Will post them externally next week or when team is happy with them.
  • Helped brainstorm 2009 plans for our team.
  • Encouraged several people to consider blogging.
  • Worked on my professional development framework assessment (career paperwork in IBM Global Business Services).
  • Solved some problems for the microsite project we’ve been working on.
  • Made a cute card for J-‘s 11th birthday.
  • Got a decent amount of sleep. =)

Next week:

  • Home and life
    • Tidy up and declutter house
    • Stay in more (except for Tuesday)
    • Make nice Sunday dinner
    • Talk to John Sullivan and Ian Eure about long-delayed Emacs book
    • Reply to mail, send out more mail
    • Read the five new books that came in, organize my book notes
    • Learn a new breakfast recipe
    • Do jumping jacks – three mornings
    • Get plenty of sleep
  • Do good stuff at work
    • Handle questions and brainpicking in the atrium of the Bahen Centre (University of Toronto, St. George campus) from 10:00AM – 2:30PM. (Look for the stick figures.
    • Give a presentation to FutureBlue students: Totally Rocking IBM, or How to Meet Great People and Make a Difference During FutureBlue

      Find out how you can make the most of FutureBlue by getting the word out about your work, meeting all sorts of amazing people, and finding out about interesting ideas and resources. In this session, you’ll learn about IBM’s social networking tools and how you can take advantage of them to develop your passion, improve your skills, grow your network, and have lots of fun.

      Bio: Sacha Chua researched Enterprise 2.0 for her master’s degree at the University of Toronto, and her work was sponsored by the IBM Center for Advanced Studies. She blogged about her research and other things she was learning inside the IBM network, and she ended up as one of the most popular bloggers within IBM. She loves helping people learn more about connecting and collaborating, and is now working with IBM GBS Canada in a position that’s tailor-made for her passions!

    • Do some more work on Lotus Connections + Drupal integration – demo calendar integration (sweet)
  • Learn how to organize and host events
    • Get ready for Amy Shuen’s ROI of Web 2.0 at Work call for the IBM Web 2.0 for Business community (sorry, IBM-internal; recordings will be posted internally)
    • Post more details about #lifecampTO.
  • Learn more about visual design
    • On Tuesday, attend OCAD talk about Obama campaign design
    • Make another stickfigure presentation for FutureBlue (see above)

Thinking about the Canadian Tax-free Savings Account

January 9, 2009 - Categories: finance

W- and I picked up a 2008-2009 tax planning guide from the Toronto Public Library, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the tax-free savings accounts (TFSA) recently introduced by the Canadian government can be used to hold equities which will not incur capital gains tax when sold. Now I’m trying to figure out how I should best manage the $5000 TFSA limit I have this year.

Because I’m young and I have some funds I’m not planning to use for a while, I’m leaning towards considering this as part of my retirement portfolio. It won’t be locked in like my registered retirement savings plan is (RRSP), and it won’t be taxed on withdrawal. Withdrawals from the RRSP are added on top of your income, and capital gains taxes are applied. According to this article on TFSAs and RRSPs, it may make sense to hold income-generating investments in the RRSP (where they won’t get taxed as they grow) and things like equities in the TFSA (where you won’t get capital gains tax on large growth).

Of course, that all depends on whether or not you think equities will stop going down and instead regain some value. Prolonged recessions have happened before. Glass-half-full folks could also see this as a great time to pick up mutual funds or individual stocks at a discount, though. =)

Another alternative is to use it as a high-interest savings account for my emergency fund and short-term goals. $5000 There’s currently no other tax-efficient way to store funds I may need/want to access in a bit.

Or perhaps a mix of both!

Decisions… decisions… Anyway, if you’re going for the high-interest savings account, try PCFinancial For guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), try ING Direct (they’re easy to manage and they have decent rates). If you’re going for a mutual fund, try TD Canada Trust – their index e-series funds have the lowest management expense ratio I’ve come across so far, and they’re fairly easy to manage online. =)

Take this blog post with a grain of salt. I’m not a certified financial planner, just a 25-year-old who likes figuring things out.

UPDATE: PCFinancial offers the Tax Free Savings Account with an interest rate of 3.05% on the entire balance of your account (instead of the tiered system of ING), so it beats ING a little bit when it comes to savings accounts. Although at this point, you’re quibbling over 0.35%, which (given the $5000 contribution room) comes out to less than $20. May not be worth opening another account for over one year, and interest rates tend to fluctuate anyway.

Dealing with weaknesses: calendars

January 9, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life

Okay, I’m starting to get really annoyed at the weakness of my calendar system. The Google Calendar integration into Notes would have worked… if I hadn’t confused myself badly. Fortunately, I can redeem myself, but I need to either get better at handling appointments or find ways of minimizing them entirely.

I had a tentative entry for a chat with Sambhavi Chandrashekar. We chatted over the phone and pushed that out a bit, because she’ll be busy for a few weeks. Having briefly scanned my calendar, I assumed that the somewhat-vaguely-named “Lunch with Sacha Chua” entry was related to that chat. No, it wasn’t. It was with someone else.

I got the Google reminder on my phone and (eventually) in my Lotus Notes calendar, so it’s not about setting up a better reminder system.

And to think I suggested the date and place, too! Embarrassing.

So, how can I avoid making mistakes like this in the future?

The key problem was that the meeting notice I added to my calendar had insufficient details. I had received an event invitation through e-mail and I couldn’t figure out how to add it to my Lotus Notes calendar, so I tried accepting it through Gmail. However, I must’ve accepted it incorrectly, because it didn’t contain any reference to the original sender. Next time, I should double-check that calendar entries have all the relevant details, and that these details are included in the subject line whenever possible.

If that’s in place, then the second thing I need to do is slow down and be more mindful during my morning reviews. It’s very hard to catch yourself assuming something, particularly when you’re distracted. Maybe I should make this a morning ritual: savor a cup of tea and go over all the important details of the day. It’ll be worth avoiding these spikes of stress.

I can also minimize the risk of this happening by moving more social appointments to flexible times whenever possible. Instead of meeting people over lunch, I can invite them to tea at my place. This has the added benefit of being able to bring interesting people together. I can’t do this for all appointments, though, so I really do need to improve my process here.

… and no, even handy services like I Want Sandy won’t help, because the problem was that I glossed over the reminder because I assumed it was related to a different event that had been cancelled.

The key thing, then, is to slow down when my calendar is involved, because that’s one of my weak points. The times that my calendar system tends to fail are when my Lotus Notes application is closed because I’m having software problems and when my calendar is too crowded or I know parts of it are out of date. I’m dealing with the first case by copying all my appointments into my Emacs Org planner during my morning review, which _should_ have caught today’s error if I had put enough information in the subject line. So I should slow down and click on all the details to make sure I know the full details of each appointment, especially if it was one I’d made several weeks ago.

Okay, how can I practice this? I’ve forwarded the details of another interesting event to the person I failed to meet today, and we might meet then. I can practice by inviting other friends out to lunch or dinner. I can give myself a minimum amount of time for my morning planning (that’s a strange idea, but it just might work). I can practice making scheduled commitments. I can practice by working on tasks that require several days’ or hours’ lead time, too.

I can hack this. Grr.

Being less stupid is harder than being smarter

January 9, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, life, productivity, reflection

With all due respect to @adamclyde, who tweeted being smarter is a lot harder than just being a little less stupid… and to Dennis Howlett, who blogged about how to be less stupid in 2009, I suspect that being less stupid is a lot harder than being smarter.

Software developers will recognize the truth in that assertion. It is a lot easier to tack on new features than it is to chase down all those defects. It is also true as the number of new features increases, the number of potential defects increases at a much faster rate. This is because each new piece you add can interact with existing pieces in any number of ways.


And so it is in life. It’s easier to make a resolution or try something out than it is to get rid of a habit or figure out how to deal with one of your weaknesses. Being smarter is fun. It’s motivating. It’s great. Sure, it takes imagination to see how you can be smarter in the first place, but if you keep your eyes open and learn from people around you, you’ll find all sorts of ways to improve.

On the other hand, being less stupid requires that you not only recognize and deal with the fact that you can be stupid, but push yourself out of that rut of stupidity and into a slightly-less-worn rut of slightly-less-stupidity. And then you do it again, and again, until you can get used to being a little less stupid. Then you do it again, and again. This is difficult, demoralizing, and not at all fun. Oh, and you’ll start off doing badly, too, because if it were easy to get rid of your bad habits or your weaknesses, you probably wouldn’t have picked them up in the first place.

This is not to say that focusing on being less stupid is the way to go. That well-intentioned path leads to being well-rounded but not exceptional. (See books like First, Break All the Rules for more thoughts on that.) If you want to be exceptional, focus on becoming smarter and smarter, and neutralize or work around the weaknesses you do have.

There are easy ways to become a little less stupid. There are easy ways to become a little smarter. To become a lot less stupid or to become a lot smarter requires deliberate practice. Our brains are wired to enjoy doing things well – to be in the flow – so the deliberate practice needed to become smarter is easier to do, and the feeling of achievement is sweeter. Our brains are wired to notice presence more than absence, so even if you’ve managed to work around your weaknesses for five straight days, the one you remember is the time that you tripped up badly. (This is also why you may think the phone only rings when you’re in the shower; you don’t notice when it doesn’t.) We also tend to pay attention when we’re trying something new or learning something interesting. On the other hand, it’s hard to catch yourself being distracted (almost by definition)…

So you tend to get good feelings about working on becoming smarter, and bad feelings about working on becoming less stupid. It tends to be easier to pay attention to becoming smarter, and it’s harder to drag your attention back when you’re being stupid. Which one will take more energy and will to do?

There are a lot of things I want to get smarter about: organizing and hosting events, illustrating abstract concepts, helping people connect and collaborate. I want to be a little less stupid about calendars. Maybe if I phrase that as a glass-half-full kind of thing, everything will flip around. Maybe if I focus on being smarter about calendars, take my current status as okay (so I stop making myself feel worse about it ;) ), and work on making things a little bit better each time (look! I actually did the morning reviews all this week!)… Hmm. I’ll keep you posted. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you – being less stupid is _hard!_ =)