January 2009

Happiness and cats

January 1, 2009 - Categories: cat

Tania Samsonova sent me a link to this geeky-and-oh-so-true comic: Schrödinger’s (emotional) Miscalculation – Part 3.

Tania, you rock! =D

Homebody

January 1, 2009 - Categories: sketches

Homebody

Fun with friends is fine and dandy; chefs and waiters, pretty handy;
But it’s clear in every case that home remains the bestest place.

Sleeping Cats

January 2, 2009 - Categories: cat

sleepingcat

Being a geek means you can let sleeping cats lie.

Thanks to W- for being so awesome!

“What are you planning to do in 2009?”, or thoughts about #lifecamptoronto

January 2, 2009 - Categories: barcamp, connecting

I’d been meaning to hold a lifehacking-oriented BarCamp since early last year. Timing is particularly good over the next two months: January is when most people make their resolutions and goals for the year, and February is when most people abandon them. By sharing best practices and support, we might be able to inject that extra little bit of energy people need to get over that hump… and by sharing our goals with each other, we can deepen our connectivity as a community.

Here’s a snippet that shows you just how powerful this is:

What are you planning to do – no matter how large or how small – to make the world better in 2009?

One of our Ferrazzi Greenlight thought leaders, Mark Goulston, M.D, recently asked this at a networking meeting of high level lawyers, financial advisors, CPAs, and consultants. Mark noticed something interesting happening: People could recall, almost to a man, what others said their 2009 mission would be. Meanwhile, after having been together five years in this group, they still had trouble remembering who was in what profession! Elevating the conversation to something that truly inspired them connected them in a way that professional small talk never could.

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone

(Check out their discussions, too!)

One of the best things I did during the holiday season (and quite possibly one of the best networking things I’ve done in the past year) was to send out my updates and ask for people’s goals. It sparked wonderful conversations with many of the 200 people in my initial list. If people e-mailed me their plans, I added notes to their address book records so that I could remember their goals. Knowing that about people made me feel much closer to them, and I’m actively looking for or keeping an eye out for things that can help. Based on that great response, I’m now slowly expanding it to my LinkedIn and Facebook contacts as well.

I’d like to do this, but on a bigger scale. I want to start experimenting with facilitating networking events – not the schmoozy, sleazy type of networking events, but something positive, filled with energy, and packed with hacks for making your life better. I want people to come together, learn a whole bunch of useful tips, share what they’re passionate about and what they want to make happen, and meet people who can help them make those things a reality. I want to create an environment for maximum serendipity.

So here’s what I envision:

I’d like to make this happen in January or February. I need:

You know it’ll be interesting. Let’s make it happen. =) Or borrow the idea and make it happen in your own city – that would be awesome too!

Craftsmanship

January 2, 2009 - Categories: learning, life

One of the interesting things that came up during the dinner party conversation with Pete Forde’s friends was the lack of craftsmanship and art in our everyday lives. We’re surrounded by generic mass-produced disposables.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. W-, J- and I often watch Discovery Channel’s How It’s Made series, and learning about the manufacture of even something as everyday as china gives me a greater appreciation for the things we use. I carry little things that have stories or tht make me smile – a fountain pen, a notebook, a walking stick. And I’m learning to create things myself, too – developing applications and presentations for work, drawing and writing for fun.

Other people know this secret, too. Jeff Muzzerall showed me his mechanical watch, telling me how he enjoys watching the interlocking gears through the clear back face. It told a story about his love of well-crafted objects. If you carry something exceptional, it reminds you of beauty.

What keeps you in touch with craftsmanship?

Ideas for becoming a better networker

January 3, 2009 - Categories: connecting

Ideas for improving my website

January 3, 2009 - Categories: idea
  1. Add a section about my speaking topics and events
  2. Switch to Drupal and customize it
  3. Restore the Feedburner widget that shows how many people read this blog
  4. Make it easy to view my blog through different lenses (geek, life, both)
  5. Have a landing page that explains the site for first-time visitors
  6. Allow people to choose their default landing page when they come to sachachua.com
  7. Add more photos
  8. Make my sketches easier to view
  9. Allow people to toggle full entry, summary, or list view
  10. Put my self-introduction on the front page
  11. Highlight certain blog posts
  12. Extract names, e-mail addresses, and websites of people who have commented, and thank them
  13. Remember to respond to comments by e-mail as well as online
  14. Find a way of sharing the books I’m currently reading and what I’m learning from them
  15. Add a page with my blogroll
  16. Link to my other presences on the Web
  17. Make it easier to remember visitors’ details
  18. Visualize my posts and my posting frequency
  19. Format into a nice PDF
  20. Pull in relevant Twitter entries
  21. Make it easier for people to subscribe
  22. Use category templates and icons
  23. Share my task list again?
  24. Share my currently-checked-out list again
  25. Share my book summaries
  26. Share my to-read list
  27. Share my reading history

Annual letter: the numbers

January 3, 2009 - Categories: connecting

I sent out 205 hand-personalized yearly updates in my initial set of holiday greetings. I’ve received 60 replies so far, for a response rate of almost 30% – much better than surveys and e-mail marketing campaigns. Most included people’s highlights of 2008 and goals for 2009, which I’ve added to my address book. I’ve cleared my inbox (hooray!) and now I’m thinking of e-mailing everyone on LinkedIn.

I’ve updated my address book from my LinkedIn contacts, which has somehow grown to 643 people. Of these 643 people, 135 were already in the first list of people I’d e-mailed. I’m slowly working my way through the 508 people remaining. I had so much fun reading and responding to people’s updates, and I’m looking forward to getting to know people in my extended network a little bit more! I’m still going to hand-personalize things as much as possible, because it’s fun looking up people’s updates and pleasantly surprising (most of) them with that human touch.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in with encouragement, reviews, and goals. Definitely worth doing again!

There are no words to describe the geeky awesomeness of this

January 3, 2009 - Categories: geek

Update: Turns out the guy was lipsynching Moosebutter, but it’s still awesome!

(found it on Jeff Waugh‘s blog while reading his updates in the process of composing mail. Awesome ROI)

Ideas for making my work more effective and efficient, creating value, and rocking my work

January 4, 2009 - Categories: ibm, idea, work
  1. Change to Ubuntu
  2. Set up virtual machine for my Windows partition
  3. Use Emacs to handle my mail? Hard to do calendar acceptance
  4. Set up regular backups
  5. Resize Windows partition
  6. Clean up my Firefox extensions
  7. Clean my keyboard
  8. Set up personal or team bugtracker – not needed, projects have ClearQuest
  9. Set up website with talks
  10. Improve visual communication skills by practicing illustrating Enterprise 2.0 concepts
  11. Improve random information management tools – book quotes, stories, etc.
  12. Add automated testing framework to projects
  13. Uninstall unneeded programs
  14. Set up IE5 on Linux
  15. Move orangechair blog to Slicehost
  16. Convert orangechar blog to Drupal
  17. Set my desktop background to my work goals sketch
  18. Set up an easy way to crosspost Enterprise 2.0 sites
  19. Figure out team’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT)
  20. Write an article on Enterprise 2.0 for managers
  21. Guestblog.
  22. Organize a teleconference with an external speaker.
  23. Build a conference tool
  24. Write a well-researched blog post for orangechair
  25. Post a book review – Generation Blend?
  26. Help write a book
  27. Help plan our menu of services
  28. Help IBM partners and account teams learn more about Drupal
  29. Organize other IBM Drupal developers into a community
  30. Do SWOT analysis for IBM and Drupal development
  31. Develop more IBM Drupal extensions
  32. Record a vidcast or slidecast about Enterprise 2.0
  33. Summarize resources
  34. Segregate my blog topics a bit more, making it easier for people to read Enterprise 2.0-related news
  35. Organize IBM Web 2.0 for Business resources
  36. Publish newsletter
  37. Build aggregator for community
  38. Build IBM voices aggregator
  39. Help draw vision for smarter planet
  40. Ask my network for help in identifying potential clients.
  41. Create blog alerts for Enterprise 2.0 topics
  42. .. and more!

Hooray! Tax-free savings account!

January 4, 2009 - Categories: finance

To encourage people to save, the Canadian government created a tax-free savings account. You put after-tax dollars into it, and the interest is tax-free. The contribution limit for this year is $5,000.

PCFinancial and ING Direct are two Canadian banks with great interest rates. Currently, ING Direct (0.27%) is better than PCFinancial’s Interest Plus (1% on 0-$1000, 2.75% on $1000 and up) for amounts less than $53,000, and you probably wouldn’t want to keep that much money in a savings account anyway. PCFinancial does have an anniversary bonus and it’s easier to transfer money back and forth between accounts, and sometimes PCFinancial’s rate is a little bit higher than ING. ING Direct’s GICs seem to be a better deal, though, and they come with more options.

If you do set up an ING Direct account (and deposit at least $100 into it), you can use my referral code (Orange Key: 29083948S1) for a $13 bonus. I’ll get a $13 bonus, too, so everyone’s happy. =)

I’m setting up some transfers. Looking forward to taking advantage of that tax-free deal! Maybe another set of laddered GICs…

GreaterIBM: Turbocharging real-life social networking events

January 5, 2009 - Categories: connecting, ibm, web2.0

When Todd Waymon connected to me on the Greater IBM Connection, I remembered a story that he and his wife (Lynne Waymon, author of Make Your Contacts Count) would probably find interesting. I was looking for my blog post about it, but I must’ve forgotten to tell that story then. Well, here it is!

It was September 2006. I was a graduate student researching Enterprise 2.0, and my blog was one of the most popular ones in IBM. I heard about the Greater IBM Initiative’s planned launch party in New York, and I really wanted to go. When the organizers read on my blog that I was trying to figure out how to get there, they invited me to become one of their Core Connectors. Kevin Aires called me all the way from the UK to invite me personally. I was thrilled! What a great opportunity to see corporate social networking in action, and to learn more about social networking in the process of supporting real-life connections.

I asked my research supervisor if I could have travel funding. He said no; our budget had already been earmarked for the research conferences. I asked the IBM Center for Advanced Studies for travel funding, seeing as the trip was mainly for the benefit of IBM. They said no, because they didn’t want to set a precedent. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity, though, so I searched and searched until I found a bus ride to New York for the round trip price of USD 100. My mom connected me with a family friend who let me stay on her couch. I was going to make it happen.

With the logistics out of the way, I focused on making the Greater IBM launch party the best possible event. I remembered how good introductions helped me bring together my mostly-introverted friends from different circles, and I wanted to create that same kind of friendly atmosphere at the event. We had been using Xing as our social networking platform, and all the attendees had profiles there. I browsed each profile, copying their details and their pictures into a document – a social networking dossier. Their profiles included their current positions, their former IBM positions, their interests, and what they were looking for. I sent this dossier to the organizers, who printed it out and inserted it into each attendee’s event bag.

To make the most of the 8-hour trip, I printed out a copy of my social networking dossier for myself. I also created flashcards, putting names on one side of the card and interesting details on the other site. I noted common interests, too. I couldn’t print pictures, but I had those in my main dossier. As we rattled along the highways in a small van, I thumbed through my flashcards, committing as much as I could to memory.

That totally rocked.

As guests filtered into the swanky NY venue, I greeted them and often helped them find interesting conversations. Some had written only their first name on their nametags, but after I asked them their last name, I could remember everything I’d learned about them. I really enjoyed being able to delight people by introducing them with a few choice details – their current positions, their previous positions, the interests they shared. For example, in one conversation, I revealed that both of the other participants liked skiing enough to put it on their profiles. I think everyone walked away feeling like a VIP!

There are so many interesting things we can do when we combine online and offline social networking. I can’t wait to see how we can make the experience even better. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this by organizing or helping host events!

Weekly review: Week ending January 4, 2009

January 5, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Hello, 2009! So far, it’s been awesome. (I say that word a lot, but that’s because it’s true.)

Last week:

Next week:

#lifecampto up – January 31 (Sat), 10:30 AM brunch

January 5, 2009 - Categories: meetup

Mark Kuznicki reminded me to get #lifecampto out the door. =)

Details and sign-ups at lifecampto.eventbrite.cominitial blog post

Scenes from a geek life: Wireless mice

January 5, 2009 - Categories: geek, sketches

(click to view full-size)

Hmm. I’m using the wrong mouse again.

*clomp* *clomp*

“Yes, honey?”

“You’d be surprised by the range of these wireless mice.”


Look! I’m learning how to draw! It’s _all_ about vector drawing…

AutoHotkey scripts for switching to windows

January 6, 2009 - Categories: geek, kaizen, productivity

Muscle memory helps you be more efficient. Here’s some AutoHotkey code I use to toggle Chrome (F10), Windows Live Writer (F11), or my Freemind mindmap for Life (F12). Make your own! =)

F10::
WinGetActiveTitle, Title
If Instr(Title, "Google Chrome") > 0
{
   WinMinimize, A
}
Else If WinExist("ahk_class Chrome_WindowImpl_0")
{
   WinActivate
   WinMaximize
}
Else 
{
   Run, "C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Application 

Data\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe"
}
return
F11::
WinGetActiveTitle, Title
If Instr(Title, "Windows Live Writer") > 0
{
   WinMinimize, A
}
Else If WinExist("ahk_class WindowsForms10.Window.8.app.0.33c0d9d")
{
   WinActivate
   WinMaximize
}
Else 
{
   Run, "C:\Program Files\Windows Live\Writer\WindowsLiveWriter.exe"
}
return
F12::
WinGetActiveTitle, Title
If InStr(Title, "Life.mm") > 0
{
   WinMinimize, A
}
Else IfWinExist Life.mm
{
   WinActivate
   WinMaximize
}
Else 
{
   Run, c:\sacha\Life.mm"
}
return

Emacs, file-cache, and ido

January 6, 2009 - Categories: emacs
(require 'filecache)
(require 'ido)
(defun file-cache-ido-find-file (file)
  "Using ido, interactively open file from file cache'.
First select a file, matched using ido-switch-buffer against the contents
in `file-cache-alist'. If the file exist in more than one
directory, select directory. Lastly the file is opened."
  (interactive (list (file-cache-ido-read "File: "
                                          (mapcar
                                           (lambda (x)
                                             (car x))
                                           file-cache-alist))))
  (let* ((record (assoc file file-cache-alist)))
    (find-file
     (expand-file-name
      file
      (if (= (length record) 2)
          (car (cdr record))
        (file-cache-ido-read
         (format "Find %s in dir: " file) (cdr record)))))))

(defun file-cache-ido-read (prompt choices)
  (let ((ido-make-buffer-list-hook
	 (lambda ()
	   (setq ido-temp-list choices))))
    (ido-read-buffer prompt)))
(add-to-list 'file-cache-filter-regexps "docs/html")
(add-to-list 'file-cache-filter-regexps "\\.svn-base$")
(add-to-list 'file-cache-filter-regexps "\\.dump$")
(defmacro sacha/file-cache-setup-tree (prefix shortcut directories)
  "Set up the file-cache tree for PREFIX using the keyboard SHORTCUT.
DIRECTORIES should be a list of directory names."
  `(let ((file-cache-alist nil)
	 (directories ,directories))
     (file-cache-clear-cache)
     (while directories
       (file-cache-add-directory-using-find (car directories))
       (setq directories (cdr directories)))
     (setq ,(intern (concat "sacha/file-cache-" prefix "-alist")) file-cache-alist)
     (defun ,(intern (concat "sacha/file-cache-ido-find-" prefix)) ()
       (interactive)
       (let ((file-cache-alist ,(intern (concat "sacha/file-cache-" prefix "-alist"))))
	 (call-interactively 'file-cache-ido-find-file)))
     (global-set-key (kbd ,shortcut)
		     (quote ,(intern (concat "sacha/file-cache-ido-find-" prefix))))))

I like Lotus Notes 8.5 =)

January 7, 2009 - Categories: ibm, lotus

Yes, I know, liking Lotus Notes is weird. It’s a little like liking Emacs, but even more inexplicable.

But Lotus Notes 8.5 lets me easily add my Google Calendar to my work calendar!

This rocks. =D

Oh, and I can work with Activities offline, too… I’m in love!

Weekly review: Week ending January 9, 2009

January 9, 2009 - Categories: weekly

This week:

From last week’s plans:

Other stuff:

Next week:

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.

Sigh.

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!_ =)

Finally figured out how to set up a shared Git repository

January 11, 2009 - Categories: geek

After a few hours of struggling with it, I gave up on trying to get Git working over WebDAV. I looked for other ways to do it, and I came across Gitosis. It only took me five pieces of chocolate and an hour and a half to install it, troubleshoot, and then figure out that I’d forgotten to make the post_update hook executable. Now it works! Hooray!

Blogging helps

January 12, 2009 - Categories: blogging

People often tell me that they’ve thought about blogging, but they don’t know if anyone would be interested in what they have to say. Sometimes I wonder why people are interested in what I write, too. =) But the strange and wonderful thing is that my [mis]adventures through life end up helping people along the way. That’s pretty darn cool, and that’s why I don’t mind ‘fessing up even to embarrassing mistakes (like my recent calendar mishaps).

Somehow, from the jumble of technical and life-related posts, this is what Maira got:

Ways in which your blog has already helped me:

  • Made me realise that I wasn’t the only introvert geek growing up; and that it’s ok – and even fun – to be like that.
  • [your Japan trip] Reminded me of how much I love to learn new languages and new cultures, made me want to go back to learning German (I started studying it on my own earlier this year, in my free time, just for fun).
  • Reminded me that I also like making life easier with technology. I caught myself thinking the other day “if only I could set up a keyboard shortcut, so that I could press only ONE key, instead of Ctrl+ ->” (I don’t know why but I don’t feel ergonomically comfortable doing this combination), and then I was like “huh, this is such a Sacha mindeset.”
  • Reminded me that I like Science (I gradauted in CS too) and that I like studying, but that spirit got lost somewhere along the way during University years.
  • Made me realise that I should use the net more efficiently (blogs, social networks) instead of being a “prisoner” of them (ie, never having time to keep up with people’s posts and updates), RSS could be a good start.
  • Made me want to write my own blog. I do have a personal one, but I don’t have much time to write in it (ie, I don’t FIND much time to write in it). Your geeky blog made me realise that maybe writing about geeky trivial stuff can be interesting to other people. Although, in terms of time-optimization, I still think (for me), writing about feelings is more important. Oh, well just some ideas.
  • I related a lot to one of your reflections on your trip to Japan: that when you are traveling you don’t have time to waste being introverted in an Internet room, you want to enjoy each moment “out there in the world” as much as you can. I felt like that in my 2006 trip to Canada (more on that later).

Maira Bay de Souza, Brazil

… and if someone like her can learn that from the blog of someone like me, imagine what someone else out there can learn from someone like you. =)

Stick figures on campus; IBM at the University of Toronto

January 12, 2009 - Categories: ibm, presentation, sketches

As a favor to Stephen Perelgut (one of my mentors) and because I happen to really like working with IBM, I participated in today’s campus event at the University of Toronto. We were supposed to set up tables at the atrium of the Bahen Centre, but the power outlets didn’t work, so we moved to another room. The room was a little out of the way, but Cathy Sardellitti and Sarah Weiss did a great job at diverting some of the traffic to our room.

Representatives from most of IBM’s software brands set up their laptops with demos to show. I was the only person representing IBM Global Business Services. I had originally been a bit worried about whether I could make it through the four hours, much less muster the courage to strike up conversations with everyone (or deal with the rejection of seeing everyone walk by!). I knew it would be good practice, though, so I said yes. When the students came in, I was too busy trying to draw people into conversation to worry about whether people would talk to me! <laugh>

I set up this presentation to loop on my computer:

… and I invited people to ask me about IBM’s services and about what IBM is like for new graduates. I must’ve talked to about 25 people, mostly students who were interested in either internship opportunities or in full-time employment after graduation. It was great to reassure them that yes, IBM was still hiring. In the process of describing what life is like as a new grad, I realized that I really appreciate the flexibility that working in consulting gives me. I can help clients solve problems using both IBM and non-IBM technologies. I’m always learning new things. I can explore my interest in both about business and software development. And I’m doing all of this within a support structure that means I’ve got plenty of people and resources to learn from.

I also learned a lot by talking to the other representatives. They told me what they loved about their work, and they shared ideas for making the campus event even better. I really enjoyed chatting with other IBMers who were also passionate about what they do. =)

I think it was a good event. We helped some people who hadn’t originally considered working for such a large company see the benefits of doing so, and we answered lots of people’s questions. I’d do it again. It was a good experience, and next time, I’d probably find it easier to start the conversations!

Why my cat loves sleeping on my Esc key

January 13, 2009 - Categories: cat, sketches

Why my cat loves sleeping on my Esc key

Attempts to provide Luke with other heated surfaces (heated cat bed, a radiator, my lap, etc.) have proved ineffective.

Finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account

January 14, 2009 - Categories: finance

I finally decided what to do with the tax-free savings account (TFSA) recently introduced by the Canadian government. Because I’ve got $5,000 of contribution room to play around with this year, I’ll move my emergency fund into it in a combination of a regular money-market fund and some GICs. Once I move most of my short- and medium-term savings into the TFSA, I can then start looking at it as a way to save for the long term (say, by holding stocks). In the meanwhile, it makes more sense to save the fairly hefty tax levied on my interest income than it does to hold equities in the TFSA in order to avoid capital gains tax a long way down the road.

PCFinancial offers a slightly higher interest rate for their TFSA high-interest savings account (3% to ING Direct’s 2.7%), but they ding you with a $50 transfer fee if you want to move your TFSA money to a different institution (say, if you want to invest in TD e-series mutual funds). You could withdraw for free and deposit it normally, but that still uses up your TFSA contribution room and you won’t be able to contribute as much until the next year. ING Direct doesn’t ding you with the fee and they have better GIC rates, so I’ll probably go for them.

Unfinished Business: Design and New Media in the Obama campaign

January 14, 2009 - Categories: social, web2.0

Last night’s Unfinished Business lecture was about design and new media in the Obama campaign, with insights from Scott Thomas (a designer) and Rahaf Harfoush (a social media strategist). The event was held in the auditorium of the Ontario College of Art and Design, and roughly 300 people attended.

My key take-away from the talk was that a strong and persistent design team, backed by analytics to support decision-making, can make such a difference in the overall experience.

Scott showed us what the campaign webpage looked like before he came on board. It was not a horribly designed webpage (no blinking text, no marquees), but there were numerous typefaces and colors, and every department in the campaign office seemed to want a presence on the first screen of the page.

With some strong-arming, they settled on one palette and focused on the user experience, streamlining it to make it easier for people to get to where they want to go. That meant moving links down or into the site. It wasn’t easy for people to accept the necessary changes. Many groups were worried that if their advertisement or link wasn’t “above the fold”–visible in the first screen without scrolling–then their content might not get viewed. By testing different versions of the site with randomly-selected users (A/B testing), the design team got the hard numbers they needed to make these changes.

The different themes they used in their campaign were also interesting. Scott showed examples of the campaign theme, the “instant vintage” theme, the timeless theme, and the supporters, and each set had a visually distinguishable character. The campaign theme used a blue gradients extensively, and Scott explained the reasoning behind some of the design choices. The “instant vintage” theme drew inspiration from classic photos and posters in order to give people the feeling of being part of something historical, larger than life. The timeless theme drew from classic typesetting and ornamentation (very elegant!), but was dropped because of the backlash about the official-looking campaign seal. The supporters were very creative in coming up with all sorts of designs for campaign posters, too, giving the campaign a vibrant community feel.

Some of the details Scott shared with us were about specific design decisions made during the campaign. For example, the campaign placards used to read “HOPE”. Scott showed this great photo of a bunch of campaign signs that read “HOPE” with a real rainbow in the background. He told us that hope is an emotive word that you can communicate through images, while change is more abstract and more difficult to show visually. That’s one of the reasons why they changed the campaign signs to read “CHANGE” instead.

I was also fascinated by the evolution of the campaign logo through different typefaces, from mixed-case to small-caps, and from a linear layout to a triangular one. Seeing the different logos together, I found it easier to understand the different reactions I had to each of them, and from there, learn a little bit more about design.

Rahaf Harfoush’s talk was on social media. It was similar to the last talk I’d heard her give. I think she felt nervous about fitting it into a shorter timeslot, and it felt a lot more rushed than last time. She did tell a couple of new stories, though.

One story was about a man who had expressed incredible anger on the forums–because the presidential candidate had been televised walking down stairs with his hands in his pockets, and this man was not about to invest all of those hours in calling people and knocking on doors and attending or organizing events just so that his candidate could fall and hurt himself. What a great example of getting people personally invested.

Another story was about a campaign supporter who wanted to show his support through action instead of words. He and a group of other supporters dressed up in lots of Obama gear and went out to quietly perform civic actions, like helping elderly people cross the street. They didn’t talk about politics; they just acted according to what they believed in. I thought that was pretty cool.

The questions from the audience were also insightful and thought-provoking.

One person asked about whether the speakers could see this kind of energy and change happen in Canadian politics. Rahaf answered that one of the energizing things about the Obama campaign was that the candidate was not someone you’d typically see running for office. She found it difficult to imagine any of the prominent Canadian politicians engaging and exciting people like that, but she was open to the possibility of someone new coming along and surprising people.

Another person asked how the speakers convinced the campaign that they were the right people for the job. Scott shared that he’s never really been good at marketing himself, but that his passion for his work helps people decide whether or not he’s the right fit for the job. He said that people can tell by how wide his eyes get when he talks about his work that he’s really passionate about it. He got applause for that one.

Many people were concerned about the potential nefarious use of what we’ve learned about social media. Scott was of the opinion that the genuine enthusiasm expressed by the campaign supporters couldn’t be manipulated or created. Stephen Perelgut (one of my mentors) told me that he still remained skeptical, though, as many horrible things have been perpetrated by equally enthusiastic people. (Nazi Germany comes to mind.)

I learned a lot during the lecture and in the question-and-answer portion. The next Unfinished Business lecture is on February 11 (same day as Techsoup). From their e-mail notice:

… on 11 Feb we will host Larry Keeley, President of Doblin in Chicago, who will talk about open innovation, platform innovation and what it means to work from a disciplined approach to innovation.

Unfinished Business, Torch Partnership

Good stuff. It’ll probably sell out as quickly as this one did. Thanks to Jeff Muzzerall and Stephen Perelgut for making sure I heard about this!

Making people’s eyes shine with wonder

January 14, 2009 - Categories: family, life

My dad is a darn good advertising photographer, but you know what I think his key expertise is? It’s not lighting cars to show off their curves or shooting food to make it pop off the page…

… it’s making people’s eyes light up with wonder.

He’s really good at finding ways to make people’s eyes *shine*. He’s been doing it for as long as I can remember. Everything he enjoys leads back to this.

For example, helping autistic children discover the joys of photography, while at the same time helping photographers discover the joy of photographing something great.

(You can find him easily. He’s the guy taking care of the elephant, leading the crowd, moving the world… =) )

When he makes people’s eyes shine with wonder, that’s when he himself lights up. That’s when he’s most alive.

Someday, when I grow up, I want to be like him.

Travel tips

January 15, 2009 - Categories: life

Here’s a braindump of tips for making frequent travel more fun:

More? =)

Diminishing returns on cat affection

January 15, 2009 - Categories: cat, sketches

Cat influence on happiness as a function of proximity, with maximum value at 'on lap' configuration

Click on the image to view a larger version.

Relationship between affection expressed by cat and person

January 16, 2009 - Categories: cat

It occurred to me that this may be a more accurate representation of the relationship between the levels of affection expressed by cats and humans:

cross-over point at kitty on lap

Weekly review: Week ending January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009 - Categories: weekly

Despite feeling under the weather with the beginnings of a nasty sore throat, I had a pretty good week that taught me about some of my other interests and strengths.

I took advantage of my time in between projects to think about what I could do in order to help connect our team with clients who can use our Enterprise 2.0 consulting and application development services. Putting my internal-marketing hat on, I wrote descriptions of our services and posted the drafts on the team’s internal wiki so that our managers could take a look at them. I’m still waiting for permission to distribute that more widely, and I suspect that things would be better if we moved to a “fail-fast-and-early” model instead of a permission model. That’s probably worth another blog post after I talk to the people involved. Analyzing the competitive landscape and our differentiating strengths was fun. Writing the copy was okay, and it could’ve been better if I could’ve just released it and gotten more people involved. I think I can make this better, so stay tuned.

I posted my notes about the design and social media in the Obama campaign the day after the Unfinished Business lecture. That turned out to be almost immediately helpful because a number of people I knew hadn’t been able to get into the sold-out event, so I forwarded them my notes. It also came up during my conversation with Amy Shuen as I went over the teleconference preparations for her upcoming IBM talk on ROI of Web 2.0 at Work, and I was happy to send her those notes and my older notes on Rahaf Harfoush’s talk. My notes have also helped other people who hadn’t heard about the initial event, so it was well worth the extra half-hour I spent writing up my take-aways. I often find myself referring to things I’ve posted, and that gives me good leverage on time and lessons learned.

I mentioned this to Amy, and she was really interested in estimating ROI given the tracking tools we have in IBM and my habit of posting my presentations online. After some totally back-of-the-envelope calculations that took into account the cost of my preparation and delivery time and the value created for in-person and online audiences, I came up with the ballpark estimate of creating $140,000 of value from about $2,900 of cost. Here’s an excerpt from my internal blog post about that:

Based on the numbers, I think you should definitely spend a couple of extra minutes to put your presentation material online.. My estimated ROI for in-person talks is 1000%. Estimated online viewing ROI? 26000%. which includes both the in-person presentations I shared online plus the extra stuff I created and posted. Estimated total ROI 4900%. Very little extra effort, lots of continuing passive value creation.

The calculations have more assumptions than you can shake a stick at, but it was an interesting exercise. I don’t think there’s any IBM-sensitive information in it and the spreadsheet might give you ideas for estimating your own ROI if you give presentations or write blog posts, so feel free to download my ROI for talks spreadsheet and tinker around with it. You’ll need OpenOffice.org or Lotus Symphony to open the file.

I also analyzed the composition of the audience for Amy’s upcoming talk, using some painfully-scraped-together Lotus Script (I wish it was as fun to work with as Emacs Lisp!) to extract the mail addresses from all the messages in my signup confirmation folder. That was fun and easy, thanks to a few existing tools in IBM. I wish I had half as much information for the talks I give! <laugh> Maybe I should volunteer to help different communities organize their teleconferences, and eventually grow a system around it.

So there’s another clue: I enjoy number-crunching, particularly when it’s related to better presentations and communication. =)

The third set of activities that filled my week were the presentations I prepared. Monday’s recruiting event, Wednesday’s interns-and-Web 2.0 talk, and the New Employees and a Smarter Planet thing gave me more practice in looking for the core of a message and trying to communicate it. I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s fun! I also had fun putting together some graphs about cat behavior (affection, proximity, nap location), and maybe I’ll someday get to Indexed-level insights. =)

So, lots of good stuff this week in addition to the goals I’d listed in last week’s plans:

Next week:

That was a great week, and I’m looking forward to another terrific one! =)

Ways to make winter better

January 17, 2009 - Categories: life

I get hit pretty hard by the winter blues. The desaturated bleakness of the snow-laden landscape triggers an almost-physical reaction in me. While I may not be able to get rid of winter entirely (or escape to the Philippines as soon as the first snow falls), there are probably lots of little ways I can make winter a bit more bearable or even fun.

Here’s what makes winter better for me so far:

What could make this even better? Let me see if I can come up with any ideas…

While chatting with W- over the freshly-baked muffins he made, I realized that there isn’t really a lot I can buy in order to make winter life more awesome. Instead of buying another hat or another coat when I’ve got perfectly serviceable ones, I’d rather spend on extra ingredients and experiment with baking.

And who knows, I may even end up dusting off that book and working on it again… =)

lifecampto

January 18, 2009 - Categories: event, sketches

lifecampto.eventbrite.com
(click for larger version)

Event details at lifecampto.eventbrite.com

Emacs basics: Changing the background color

January 18, 2009 - Categories: emacs, wickedcoolemacs

One of the first things you’ll probably want to change about Emacs is the default face. This controls the foreground color, the background color, the font, and other attributes. For example, many graphical environments give Emacs a background of white. If you prefer a black background (which can be less tiring during long periods of use), you can change the background to black my customizing the default face.

To change the background color and other attributes, use the command M-x customize-face, and specify default as the face to customize. Change the attributes and the sample text will reflect your settings. When you are satisfied, select Save for future sessions. Your changes will be saved to ~/.emacs and reloaded the next time you start the editor.


This is a draft for Wicked Cool Emacs, a book that will be published by No Starch Press. (if we manage to get it all together! =)

ROI for public speaking and Web 2.0; graph and case study

January 19, 2009 - Categories: enterprise2.0, presentation, sketches, speaking, web2.0

Amy Shuen inspired me to prepare a spreadsheet for estimating the value created by my talks. (You can open the spreadsheet in OpenOffice.org or Lotus Symphony, both free office suites.) She’ll be including some of the numbers in tomorrow’s IBM Web 2.0 for Business community call on ROI of Web 2.0 at Work. I thought I’d make the numbers a little easier to grasp, so I spent an hour and a half making this:

Full-size images at public-speaking-1.png and public-speaking-2.png.

Lessons learned from hosting today’s IBM Web 2.0 for Business community call with Amy Shuen

January 20, 2009 - Categories: event, ibm, reflection, web2.0

Hosting today’s Web 2.0 for Business community call was nerve-racking, but I’d love to do it again. At the peak of the call, we had 98 people connected to the Web conference, with maybe three-quarters listening to the webcast. Our speaker was Amy Shuen, author of the Web 2.0 Strategy Guide, and she gave a highly interactive IBM-focused session on ROI of Web 2.0.

Big thanks to Amy Shuen for speaking, Aaron Kim for the contact, and Ian Mcnairn for the teleconference line! =D

What worked well?

Great insights! We should bring in more external speakers. We learn something, they learn something, everyone benefits.

Doing a dry run of the content on the day before helped us identify parts that the community would most likely be interested in. The additional detail made the presentation richer and more interesting. Also, we could tell people that answers to their questions were coming up soon. ;)

People made good use of the Chat feature in Sametime Unyte to ask questions and share their thoughts while Amy was speaking. Amy seamlessly wove those questions and observations into her talk, making the session engaging and interactive.

There was a good mix of graphs and numbers, too. Cool stuff!

People found the Calendar button to be really helpful, and I used it to e-mail people updates. The LotusScript agent I wrote will make it easier to e-mail everyone.

The audiocast worked surprisingly well. =)

Between the presidential inaugurations, Lotusphere, and my panicky broadcast about being oversubscribed, we managed to work around conference call capacity limits Whew. Lucky. But there was a lot of interest in the talk. The webcast was of acceptable quality, and it also gets around the international tollfree problem, which means we can experimentally scale up. Also, we should get some EMEA and AP talks going.

How can we make it even better next time?

Sort out audio recording

The key thing that would make this better is reliable audio recording. The audio recording didn’t come out correctly because my Camtasia Studio was set to record microphone input, not speaker output. I had tested this before the session, but had only tested it with my voice, so I thought it was working. It had been working (although a bit faintly) when I left the speakers on, but it stopped working when I plugged the earphones in so that I could avoid echo on the line.

I should have tested it during the dry run, but Camtasia Studio is only available on Microsoft Windows, and I had been in my Linux partition during the dry run. Using Camtasia to record the session had actually been Plan C. Plan A had been to use Skype and a call recording tool, but I kept encountering errors trying to dial toll-free number using Skype. Plan B had been to use vsound or a similar virtual audio loopback device on my Linux partition in order to record the speaker output, but since I had booted into Microsoft Windows to record the talk in Camtasia, I had to try to get it working on the desktop. I couldn’t install it because I didn’t have all the dependencies, and I decided to switch to Plan C (Camtasia audio) because that looked like it would take less time.

And the annoying thing is (of course, I only found out about this now, and I had to go and look it up myself ;) )… the conference lines have a great built-in way to do this. *2 (at least on IBM Canada conferencing systems) toggles call recording. After your call, you will get an e-mail with instructions for getting your file.

So next time, I’ll just use the built-in recording feature, and I’ll test that during the dry run.

Get rid of entry/exit announcements

You know those coming-in-and-going-out beeps that make the start and end of a call so hard to get through? You can get rid of them by calling your conference help line. Have your conference ID ready. Ask the system administrators to disable the entry/exit announcements for your conference. No more beeps.

Give people next actions or take-aways

Next time, maybe I can ask people to spend 5 – 15 minutes writing about their key take-aways from the session and what they’d like to hear about next. I could also have set up the survey to gather that kind of information right away. Good time to explore BlueSurvey. Lesson: Set up follow-up actions.

Take back presenter control

When the presenter quits, the Unyte session closes, even if the moderator is still around. This meant that I didn’t get to save the chat transcript. Fortunately, Camtasia recorded the whole thing (except with keyboard clacking noises instead of wonderful speaker insights). Based on the recording, I typed in the interesting bits from the conversation. Lesson: I should take presenter control back after the presentation.

Spread the cost of making notes

I was thinking of making up for the lack of audio recording by writing up detailed notes, but really, people should read Amy Shuen’s book. ;) It’s packed with all sorts of yummy goodness. But maybe people can help me put together a summary if I create it as a wiki page…

And more pie-in the sky improvements: wouldn’t it be cool if I could do hypersegmentation on webcast attendees, like the way the Human Capital Institute webcast e-mails distinguish between people who attended and people who didn’t? Some people put their e-mail addresses into Unyte, but it’s an optional field that many skip. I can’t put a unique token into Unyte, but I could possibly put a unique token into a redirecting script, or figure out how to fill out that part of the Unyte login form…

Anyway, that was an interesting experience, and I think I’d like to keep practicing this hosting-community-conference-calls bit until we’ve got it down to a science. That means we should start a Web 2.0 for Business Community Call calendar of ideas and potential speakers. I can also help other communities I’m part of. Hmm… This will be fun!

Here’s the recommendation I’ve just written for Amy’s LinkedIn profile:

Amy Shuen gave an insightful, thought-provoking, and highly engaging one-hour talk on the ROI of Web 2.0 for IBM’s Web 2.0 for Business community. She helped us gain a greater understanding not only of high-level ROI descriptions but also the details of calculating ROI using several timely case studies. We look forward to continuing the discussion started with her presentation. I helped organize the call, and I was impressed by her professionalism and obvious passion for her work. I highly recommend reading her book and/or engaging her as a speaker!

Sacha Chua (usual disclaimer: speaking for myself, not IBM)

UPDATE: Removed smiley image references. That’s what I get for copy-pasting from my internal blog… =)

A tale of a smarter planet

January 20, 2009 - Categories: ibm

I read in Marketing for Rainmakers (Phil Fragasso, 2008) that part of marketing’s job is to “continually remind the employee why he chose to join XYZ Company in the first place.” page 16 of the introduction:

It’s the marketer’s job to paint a picture of what lies ahead and create a compelling storyline that the employee will want to experience and help write.

Videos like this and initiatives like the smarter planet make me want to help write IBM’s story and the world’s. =)

You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different; a life of many interests

January 20, 2009 - Categories: geek, life

Someday, I’m going to look back and all the different threads of my life will make sense. =) It’s all in preparation for something very interesting, I’m sure.

Each twist adds another dimension to what I’ve already been able to do. Geeking out (grade school) turned into programming competitions (high school) turned into open source development (university) turned into blogging (also university) turned into research (master’s) turned into consulting and application development (now), which draws on blogging and open source development.

It seems this year I’m adding two ingredients to the mix: illustration and event organization. Today, I reached another personal milestone for event organization (hosted my first large teleconference with an external speaker; plenty of lessons learned!), and I reached another personal milestone for illustration and visual thinking (started making glyphs for fonts!). We’ll see how that goes. =)

I still enjoy getting into the flow with lots of code and bugfixes in the morning, and I’m slowly making progress on the Emacs book. (Thanks, Ian, for keeping me honest.) But learning new stuff is tones of fun, -and it’s interesting bringing everything together.

On a technical note:

I checked out the latest version of Inkscape from the Subversion source tree and I compiled it for our desktop, as that’s what the tablet is plugged into. I had come across Inkscape 0.47′s feature list while looking for the best way to get font glyphs into FontForge, and the new features are pretty cool.

I can’t wait to play around with this! =)

Upcoming talk: Totally Rocking Your Drupal Development Environment

January 21, 2009 - Categories: drupal, emacs, talk

On February 12, at 12 EST, I’ll be giving a teleconference presentation to the IBM Drupal Users Group. =) It’s internal-only, but I wanted to post it here because I often need to look up my abstracts and bios. The abstract is the same as the talk I submitted to DrupalCon09 (Totally Rocking Your Development Environment), but I’ll add some more IBM-specific tips.

Abstract:

Are you a lazy developer? If you aren’t, you should be! Find out about editor tricks that can save you hours and hours of effort and frustration. Learn about browser tips that make it easy to test your sites with different users, track down elusive bugs, and test. Develop the virtue of laziness by automating as much as you can with makefiles, the Drupal Shell, regression tests, and other goodies. Share your best tips during this interactive session. Use your new free time to rock even more!

Bio

Sacha Chua has an unshakable belief that life is too short to waste doing repetitive tasks that can be automated, an irrational love for tweaking her development environment, and an irresistible urge to share whatever she’s learned along the way. To learn more about her and Web 2.0, Drupal, Emacs, and other things she’s interested, visit [INTERNAL IBM URL] or http://LivingAnAwesomeLife.com (personal blog).

Inside IBM and want to get a copy of the calendar invite? Contact William Shaouy.

When I grow up, I will have friends and strangers over for dinner

January 22, 2009 - Categories: connecting, event, social

Every week for the past 30 years, I’ve hosted a Sunday dinner in my home in Paris. People, including total strangers, call or e-mail to book a spot. I hold the salon in my atelier, which used to be a sculpture studio. The first 50 or 60 people who call may come, and twice that many when the weather is nice and we can overflow into the garden.

People from all corners of the world come to break bread together, to meet, to talk, connect and often become friends. All ages, nationalities, races, professions gather here, and since there is no organized seating, the opportunity for mingling couldn’t be better. I love the randomness.

Jim Haynes, NPR

Someday, when I am my bestest self, I will host regular lunches or dinners, and I will bring interesting people together for conversation. In preparation for this, I’m learning how to organize events around themes, and I occasionally practice with dinner parties. I’d like to learn how to scale beyond the eight people who can comfortably fit around the dinner table. I’d also like to learn how to host these events without disrupting home too much, respecting the need for privacy and time. I’m still not comfortable holding regular restaurant-based events because restaurants are too noisy and not set up for good conversation, but I haven’t been to enough of these events to figure out how to set up a home for conversation salons. (We don’t have cocktail tables or endless stacks of saucers. ;) )

Someday…

Has anyone figured this out? Can anyone help me learn?

Hat tip to Keith Ferrazzi for the link.

The unexpected lightness of learning

January 22, 2009 - Categories: learning

I had been invited to participate in the usability studies for Pass It Along, an IBM peer-to-peer learning system. The project team was planning a revamp of the site, and Amanda had prepared a visual design for our feedback.

The logo she used was simple: passitalong, lowercase, with “it” shaded in a different color. I couldn’t help but comment on how wonderfully symmetric it was, with the two descenders (the bottom parts of p and g) at both ends of the word. No, really, look at it.

passitalong

It’s prettier than “Pass It Along.” I’d never noticed things like that before I started to learn about type, and now exposure and awareness lets me appreciate new things.

When I commented on the pleasing symmetry of the descenders, Amanda stopped and laughed. She said, “You know about descenders?! You always surprise me!”

So I told her about @fivetwelve‘s braindump of cool font resources (The Elements of Typographic Style (Bringhurst), ilovetypography.org) after he saw (on Twitter) how I enjoyed the Helvetica documentary.

Jargon is the secret handshake of different professions, a shibboleth that distinguishes between people inside and outside. It’s fun crossing boundaries and learning about people’s fields, and it’s fun being able to see things in a new light. =)

Reblogged: Web 2.0, Sharing, and Uncertain Times

January 22, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

Just posted some reflections on today’s mentoring conversation. Check it out on our team blog: Conversations with a Mentor: Web 2.0, Sharing, and Uncertain Times

Weekly review: Week ending January 25, 2009

January 27, 2009 - Categories: weekly

The sore throat from last week transformed into a nasty cold. Fortunately, working from home meant I was just as productive as I would’ve been otherwise (or even more so, considering that I didn’t need to go for a commute). Here’s the update based on last week’s plans:

w00t! Got everything checked off that list. In addition, I also:

And all that while dealing with a cold! =)

Next week (well, this week, really):

Braindump of conference networking tips

January 27, 2009 - Categories: conference, connecting, kaizen

I enjoyed reading Jeff Widman’s interview about networking tips. It reminded me of my rants about the “you’re just a student” brushoff and how typical schmoozefests are neither fun nor useful.

Unlike Jeff, though, I find conferences to be an awesome way to connect with people, and I do manage to scale up. I’ll scale up even more once I figure out a couple of things. ;)

So I thought I’d braindump what I’ve learned about making the most of conferences. Someday, this will grow up to be a proper blog post. In the meantime, enjoy, and add your own tips!

If you want to scale up, speak, organize, or volunteer

Speaking is _the_ best way to meet lots of people. It’s fantastic if you’re shy like me, because you can skip all the small talk. Heck, people will come up and start the conversation. People will recognize your name from the program. People will e-mail you afterwards asking for copies of the slides or asking questions that didn’t occur to them during the session. You’ll also usually get into conferences for free, hang out with really interesting people during speakers’ dinners, meet great organizers, and have a much better conference experience than practically anyone else.

If you’re interested in a conference, submit a session for it. What you’re interested in will probably be something other people are interested in. Submit a proposal with a catchy title. Show the organizer you know how to communicate – link to your blog, mention your previous speaking experience, maybe even link to a video of you on YouTube. If you’re entertaining and at least a little informative, you’ve got good chances of being selected. If you don’t get accepted, well, no problem! If you do get accepted, you’ll rock the conference so much more.

If public speaking scares you and you don’t want to work on that yet, see if you can help organize the conference. You’ll need to do a lot more running around, but you’ll connect with a lot of people before and after the conference. Every aspect of organizing conferences has lots of rich networking opportunities. Not only that, you’ll also get to hang out with lots of really interesting people during the speakers/organizers’ dinner.

If you can’t commit to organizing the conference, see if you can volunteer to help out during the event. The registration booth is a terrific place to meet everyone and start matching names, faces, and organizational affiliations. If you’re helping with speakers, that’s a great way to chat with them, too.

One time, I wanted to get into mesh conference, but all their student tickets were sold out. I volunteered for the first day. When they asked if anyone wanted to help at the registration desk, my hand was probably the first one in the air. I checked tons of people in, greeting each of them a cheerful good morning, trying to remember as many names and faces as I could. It was _so_ much fun for me to greet people and make sure their conference got off to a great start! After the morning rush, traffic dwindled to a point where I could catch the last part of the keynote. All throughout the afterparty in the evening, people kept coming up to me and complimenting me on what a great job I did at registration. I was surprised to find out that people noticed and valued something like that! (I also got quite a few job offers and half-joking VC offers at the event… ;) )

So try to speak, organize, or volunteer. Your conference experience will be _so_ much better.

Pre-conference homework

Blog about the fact that you’re going. Check out other people’s blogs. Find out the Twitter tag for the conference. Tell your coworkers you’re going, and ask if there are any sessions they’re particularly interested in. Read the program and plan your attendance, making sure you have plenty of time for hallway conversations. Blog about the sessions you’re planning to attend. Look up the speakers. Look up other participants. Look up friends in the same city. There’s plenty you can do before a conference to make the most of your travel and event time.

During the conference

Even if you’re just a regular participant, you can do a lot to make yourself memorable and make it easy for people to connect with you.

Guide the conversation

Don’t let people inflict the “What do you do?” conversation-killer on themselves or other people. Use more engaging questions that take advantage of your shared context, like:

Or ask people about what they’re passionate about, not just what they do. Ask them to tell you a story about a recent accomplishment or challenge. Ask them what one thing would help them be even more successful. Ask them about why they got into their line of work. Keep an ear out for things you can help with or people you can introduce.

If you find yourself in a group conversation in the starting stages, you can really improve the conversation experience by shaping the conversation with questions. Get people talking.

Nametags

If your nametag is on a lanyard, it’ll almost certainly be too low for people to politely read it during the handshake. Shorten the lanyard or pin it close to your right shoulder. If you have a stick-on or pin-on name badge, it goes on your right shoulder, not your left, following the path people’s eyes follow when they shake your hand.

I typically carry my own nametag, which I might wear in addition to the conference-supplied nametag. My nametag makes sure both my first and last name are readable, and includes a tagline. I’ve used variations of “Tech evangelist, storyteller, geek”, or “speaker, writer, storyteller, geek” (for non-technical audiences), and I usually get interesting conversations started around those keywords.

Business cards and homework

Carry business cards, a notebook, and a pen. Women’s blazers often don’t have pockets (grr), but I’ve seen both men and women use the back of their conference badge to hold business cards for quick access. If possible, put your picture on your business card, or have personal cards that include your picture, tagline, and a few suggested things to talk to you about. Putting a list of talking points or topics on the front or back of your business card is a great conversation help, because it makes it easier for your conversation partner to learn more about potentially common interests. As for the picture – we’ve all had those moments of going through stacks of business cards and not remembering who they came from. Make it easy for people to remember you.

Have a blog, and put its address on your card. That makes it easy for people to look you up afterwards, get to know you, and feel that you’re worth talking to.

Create value with your card. I sometimes make custom business cards for an event. For example, at a networking event, I might put a list of my top five networking books on the back of my business card. It’s a nice little thing, and it sometimes gets people talking about you.

Many people won’t have their own business cards, which is why you should have a notebook and a pen. The Moleskine notebooks are great because they have pockets in the back for business cards. Notebooks are also very important because they give you a way to write down stuff about people you talk to, which makes it easy for you to remember why you have someone’s business card. See networking with moleskines for why you should keep your ears open for the opportunity to give yourself homework. THIS IS KEY. If you find out that someone has a problem you can address or needs to meet someone you can introduce them to, you have a good reason to follow up with them. Don’t just collect business cards – that’s like collecting friends on Facebook. ;)

Food and drink

Carry your drink in your left hand, so that your right hand doesn’t get cold and clammy. This is important for handshakes.

Eat very lightly, if at all. It’s hard to talk with your mouth full, and it’s hard to circulate with a plate full of stuff. Sometimes I snack on a granola bar before going to an event. Hanging out near the food or the drinks is still a good idea, though, as most people will go by you at some point. Having some of the food also makes it easier for you to make conversation about it.

Words

“Nice to meet you” is a dangerous phrase, especially if you’re like me and you often forget names or faces. “Nice to see you” is safer because you can use it for people you’ve just met and for people you’ve already met and should remember.

Don’t be afraid to confess that you’ve forgotten people’s names. Ask them again, and make a point of using that name.

If you’re on the receiving end of this–someone has forgotten your name, or they say “Nice to meet you” when you’ve met before–don’t embarrass the other person by pointing out the error or putting them on the spot. If there’s the least bit of hesitation about your name, introduce yourself again, and give a few keywords that may help jog people’s memories. Good manners is about making other people feel at ease.

If you have a networking buddy, conferences are much nicer. They can step in and introduce themselves in order to elicit a name from someone you don’t want to admit you’ve forgotten. If you’re looking out for potential introductions for each other–interesting people your networking buddy might want to meet–you’ll cover more of the conference and have more interesting conversations.

After the conference

Blog about what you learned from the conference. If you can do this during the conference, great! You can tell other people about your blog. People often want to be in more than one session at a time, and your notes can be quite valuable. Blog a post-conference summary, too.

Follow up with people through e-mail or phone calls. It helps to have a good e-mail system that makes it easy to dash a quick note off to everyone saying it was nice to see them, sharing a link to your conference notes, and adding any notes on what you promised to follow up on.

A conference is a fairly big chunk of time, but it’s a great way to catch up with old friends and make new connections. Make the most of it.

Further reading

Here are a few of my favorite networking books with conference-related tips:

Relentless improvement

This is how I think I might scale up even more:

Someday, I’ll get to the point where I’m organizing conferences and other events, bringing lots of interesting speakers and attendees together for great conversations, and introducing people all over the show. =)
I’ll also have built a system for making it easier for other people to do pre- and post-conference networking. It’ll be lots of fun. Someday… =)

Making things up

January 28, 2009 - Categories: learning, life

So today, I contributed in some small way to the development of an Enterprise 2.0 capability maturity model. We’ll put it on the Web as soon as Aaron and Bernie have figured out how to phrase things.

This is interesting for me because it’s not the kind of thing I would’ve thought I had anything to contribute to. Who, me? I’m new to consulting. I haven’t seen enough companies to be able to talk about maturity models for organizations.

Looking up Maturity? In fact, I usually talk about the ground-level view: how can a Gen Y (and probably entry-level) employee make the most of Web 2.0 at work, how can new employees contribute to big strategic visions like a smarter planet, how can _you_ get professional benefit from blogging. I primarily influence people on an individual level. Here’s how you can network more effectively. Here’s how you can get immediate personal benefit from wikis, even when no one else wants to add stuff. Here’s how you can connect with others. Sometimes I talk to teams and communities, and sometimes I talk about meta stuff – patterns I see across teams and communities.

But I don’t have that 50,000-feet view. I don’t have the deep and broad experience that lets me really get in there and be a thought-leader.

I’m an experience-leader. I do weird stuff like sharing as much of what I’m learning as I can. Then I find out afterwards that _that’s_ weird. Then we have a great discussion about what’s different about it, and whether that’s the direction we want to go in the future, and what can we do to help other people explore it. That’s why I’m more of an experience-leader rather than a thought-leader. This isn’t bad. It’s like Julius Caesar leading from the front. But I don’t yet have the perspective and vocabulary needed to recognize and articulate patterns.

Bernie and Aaron do, which is why it’s great that my team isn’t made up of just Generation Y. I’m really glad I work with savvy, experienced consultants, and that I’ve got this big network of people to ping whenever something like this comes my way.

But no one I asked had a client-ready Enterprise 2.0 maturity model slide deck, and lots of people were interested in it. So I decided to put something together because a first draft is a first draft. Once the draft is out there, it’ll be like a piece of sand in an oyster. Someone else is going to come along and make something better from it, and eventually we’ll get to pearls of wisdom that may or may not resemble my first shaky draft.

So watching Bernie and Aaron take my rough hand-waving characterization (based on the groups I’ve been watching or helping) and do good things with it was a great learning experience. Bernie three-quarters-jokingly ribbed me about delegating to him. I winced, because one shouldn’t get into the habit of delegating work to mentors. It’s good to have mentors who can joke with you about that, and then turn around and teach you about the things you didn’t know you could learn.

Someday, I’m going to learn how to see all these common patterns and talk about them in ways that make other people go Aha!. I’m not there yet. I’m good at talking about the small stuff, the concrete stuff that people can work on, the little next actions they can do, the immediate personal benefit that they can get. Someday, I’ll also be good at showing people the big picture. The cool thing I found out today is that I can learn how to do this by making something up and asking other people to help me validate it – figure out where things don’t make sense and figure out where things do.

If, like me, you’re also intimidated by the idea of understanding strategy but you want to learn, give it a try. Make something up and ask a mentor (or two). You’ll probably learn tons in the process. =)

Also: a whole slew of talks and events!

January 28, 2009 - Categories: conference, drupal, event

My session on Totally Rocking Your Development Environment has been accepted for DrupalCon 2009, hooray! Thanks!

This is great! And handy, because I’ve already promised to give an IBM-flavored version of the talk at the first community call for the newly-formed (or -revived, not sure) IBM Drupal community, which means I will have to have it all ready to go by two weeks from now instead of two months.

Two weeks from now is also when I’ll be giving a lecture on Enterprise 2.0 and knowledge management to Dorit Nevo’s MBA class at Schulich.

And I’ve volunteered to help organize or otherwise make these upcoming conferences awesomer: IBM Web 2.0 Summit, DrupalCampTO, Mesh.

And there’s LifeCampTO.

Busy, busy, busy.

Fortunately, talks are so much more fun to prepare when you think of them as learning opportunities. And I’ve volunteered to help conferences out with either things I know how to do well (say hi to people at registration desks, etc.) or that I’m interested in transforming/scaling (abstract submission, voting, schedules) or that I’m interested in learning (selling sponsorship, buying merchandise). And the conferences are a bit further out.

But “slew” is such a good word, because if I’m not careful and if I don’t intentionally slow down as I get into the busy-busy-busy times, then another sense (slew: past tense of slay) may figuratively kick in. That wouldn’t be fun at all.

It’ll all be great fun, though, and I’m sure I’ll learn tons! You’ll hear about all of it here, of course.

So if I’m slow at e-mail, you know why. =)

Scarcity versus abundance in knowledge management

January 29, 2009 - Categories: connecting, web2.0

If the thought of people stealing your ideas is what’s stopping you from thinking out loud on a blog, you’re not alone. It’s a valid fear. If you’re afraid of your ideas being stolen, your mindset is probably that of knowledge scarcity – that you should hoard knowledge because that’s what gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people.

Another mindset is that of knowledge abundance. There are plenty of ideas to go around, and sharing knowledge gives you power. That makes sense to a lot of people, too. Here’s a quote from someone who got it a long time ago:

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.

Howard Aiken, computer scientist, 1900-1973

I like talking about my ideas and work-in-progress, and I do it as much as the confidentiality rules and IP guidelines of my employer allows me to do. I think there are tremendous advantages in following a knowledge abundance mindset. I may have wailed about not having a thesis topic (because other people were doing much cooler stuff) or not being able to write a book (because wonderful open source maintainers were merging my suggested features into their code), but I consider that a net win. And then I move on to coming up with the next idea, and the next, and the next.

If you talk about your ideas, you get practice in talking about your ideas: communicating the key points, the benefits, the risks, the challenges and opportunities. You get questions that can help you refine your ideas. You get all these opportunities to make your ideas better. You get to meet a wide range of people who might be able to help you make your idea happen. You grow your network. You build your reputation. And, of course, you might make things work.

I love it when people steal my ideas. Sometimes one of my ideas is picked up by someone else and they do cool stuff with it. Sometimes someone else comes up with the same idea and makes it happen. FANTASTIC! =) I get the validation that the idea is great AND the benefit of being able to use the new product or service without doing any of the hard work. =D I love it when this happens. I hope people steal more of my ideas.

Yes, there are unscrupulous people out there who may steal your idea and then go after you for having it. But there are far more awesome people out there who will take your idea and help you build on it. So it’s really up to you… You can go the lonely inventor route, working on something that hardly anyone will see until it’s ready, and worried about people stealing it anyway because a company with deeper legal pockets can still come along and harass you. Or you can open it up, get a lot more leverage on your time and talent, and create a lot more value for more people in the process.

Try a small experiment and see if you like it. Share a little. Chances are, the sky’s not going to fall on you, and who knows? You might even make a serendipitous connection, learn something new, make something happen. =)

Weekly review: Week ending January 30, 2009

January 30, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

In addition:

Next week:

Yay!

Monthly review: January 2009

January 30, 2009 - Categories: monthly

What an wonderful start to 2009!

Despite the economic challenges, there have been many small things to be happy about. I started the year with two things I wanted to learn more about: organizing events and thinking visually.

Well, you get what you ask for! <laugh>

Event organizing:

I hosted the first Web 2.0 for Business community call with Amy Shuen as our external speaker. She spoke about the ROI for Web 2.0 at work, and people really enjoyed the interactive discussion. I wish I’d figured out how to record it on the teleconference before the call, instead of after! Next time, I’ll get that all sorted out.

I’ve also volunteered to help out with some real-life events. I’m organizing LifeCampTO tomorrow. It’s an interesting experiment because people shared what they’re looking for and what they can help with beforehand, and this allows everyone to do that kind of face-to-face facilitation I did at the Greater IBM Connection party. It’ll also be an interesting experiment in using the sound and video system at a venue. Fortunately, the Linux Caffe folks are nice people, and the people who’ve signed up for the event can help me figure all of this out too. =)

And then there’s DrupalCampTO, too. That’s going to teach me about asking people for money. =) And figuring out swag that makes people smile and helps people connect while not being a waste of the planet’s resources. =)

As for visual thinking:

I started playing with numbers in calculating my personal ROI on shared talks, and then I played with drawing it. I also played with jazzing up an otherwise bullet-y presentation. That was fun.

Other highlights:

Next month: