July 2009

Thinking of a travel dossier

July 1, 2009 - Categories: delegation, process, travel

I usually spend the evening before a flight putting together a travel dossier. It includes:

This is something a virtual assistant can easily prepare, and he or she can add more information too. I’d love to have:

In addition, the VA could update my TripIt and Dopplr accounts, so I can start tracking these trips better.

So I’d give the VAs:

- my flight information
- my hotel information
- the location of the meeting

and they would prepare a document that contains:

  1. The weather forecast, if available, including temperature in Celsius and whether to expect rain
  2. The flight information (date and time, flight number, booking reference, terminal number if possible)
  3. The hotel information (name, address, contact number, whether there’s a courtesy shuttle from the airport, and what amenities are available)
  4. A map of the route from the airport to the hotel, including a large map and small maps with driving directions for each step
  5. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  6. A map of the route from the hotel to the meeting place, including a large map and small maps with driving directions
  7. A public transit version of that map (large map + text)
  8. A list of taxi companies and phone numbers that serve the area. If the meeting place is in a different city, get me taxi companies for that city too
  9. A list of restaurants near the hotel, ranked by their Yelp rating
  10. A list of restaurants near the meeting venue, ranked by their Yelp rating
  11. A list of my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Dopplr, and Google contacts in that city, as a table with names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and addresses (if from Google contacts), so that we can reach out to them and ask who’s interested in meeting up (maybe a Facebook event + e-mail for those not on FB)

I can then print this document out easily, and keep a copy on my computer for backup.

When people have confirmed that they’ll meet up, the VA can prepare a list of pictures, names, contact information, bios/interests, and blog URLs.

Sounds like an interesting idea!

Combining multiple social media services

July 1, 2009 - Categories: web2.0

If you’re new to social media and Web 2.0, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the different tools that are out there. Should you use Twitter? Get on Facebook? Start a blog? Share photos? Share videos? It seems that as soon as you’ve worked up the courage to try something new, another ten new tools come along. And where are you going to find the time to do all of this, anyway?

When I coach people on social media, I notice that people often focus on–or get distracted by–the tools. They worry about not being on the right networks, about staying with a tool long after their target audience has passed. They sometimes have a hard time seeing the big picture and how all the pieces fit together.

Here’s the big picture: You want to work more effectively. You want to reach out and connect to people.

The tools you use to go for that big picture will change over time. That’s okay. You might need to be in more than one network or to use more than one kind of tool. That’s okay. You might need to leave tools, copying your data over if possible. That’s okay.

The big picture is: You want to work more effectively. You want to reach out and connect to people.

So, how do you go about putting the pieces together?

At the minimum, you should have one website where people can go to find out about all the rest of the tools you use to share. Many people build their profiles on LinkedIn for this purpose, but it’s best to use your own web host instead of relying on a third-party company that might be renamed, go out of business, or simply go out of style.

I strongly recommend registering your own domain name. If your name is still available as a domain and it’s easy to spell, use that. If not, come up with another phrase or tagline that people can use to find you.

Set up a simple site with your photo and some information about you. Include your contact information. You can use something like WordPress to easily create a few webpages.

You may also want to set up e-mail so that you can use your new domain name for your personal mail. If you never change e-mail addresses, you’ll never have to worry about losing contact. Google Apps is a good way to get your own mail system.

Now that you have a main site, you can explore other tools and social networks. Here’s a sample:

Other kinds of sites cover all sorts of other purposes. Go ahead and explore.

Whenever you build a presence on another social network, link back to your main site. If you want, make it easy for people to discover your other profiles by linking to those profiles from your main site.

Worried about losing track of what you put where? Take notes by bookmarking the resources you’ve shared or by blogging about them.

Over time, you’ll figure out which set of tools work well for you, and you’ll have the flexibility to add interesting new tools as they come along.

Recent photos

July 1, 2009 - Categories: photography

20090701

Hobby day holiday

July 1, 2009 - Categories: life

I spent Canada Day indulging in hobbies that benefit from concentrated time. It was terrific!

I started the day by sewing a pajama set from the adorable penguin flannel I picked up last week. I modified Simplicity 3548 to make shorts instead of pants, and I tried to copy one of my existing pajama tops. The shorts turned out wonderfully. The top is a good first top, and I’m sure I’ll make even better ones. I plan to take this set along on my next business trip – another little thing that’ll make me smile.

Then I played the piano. The tricky bit in the middle of Send In The Clowns is starting to yield to practice. I’m also enjoying learning the second part of Fur Elise.

I spent some time in the garden, too. I filled all the empty containers with potting soil and planted seeds in them. Might as well enjoy the rest of the growing season, after all. I also weeded the garden, cultivated the soil, thinned the over-enthusiastic radishes ;), transplanted some basil, and rescued a tomato plant.

Photography was fun. I set up the lights, and the cats decided it was portrait day. Well, Luke sat for portraits, at least.

I broke the mini-USB connector on my camera, so I disassembled the camera and W- soldered the component back on. =D Everything still works–hooray!

Yes, I could’ve spent the day working, but going a little deeper on hobbies helps me develop a more interesting life. The more I know, the more I’ll enjoy. =)

Great day!

The fullness of days

July 2, 2009 - Categories: life

“How are you?” asked a client after the Canada Day holiday.

“Fantastic!” I replied.

She was surprised by that. Perhaps she expected me to say that the holiday was too short, or to wish that the weekend were here. So I told her about how I filled my holiday to the brim with wonderful hobbies, and how I was also happy to have another day to spend on work.

A day is a day.
To spend the day wishing it was something else is to waste the potential of each moment.

When it’s a holiday, I take time to explore other things and to reflect. When it’s a work day, I work. I enjoy exploring my interests. I enjoy figuring things out for clients, the company, and myself.

Every day can be a terrific day when you aren’t wishing it’s something else.

Almost anything can be terrific when you aren’t wishing it’s something else.

I learned that the hard way by being homesick and confused. To be homesick is to be mis-placed – to be in the wrong place, to feel confused about where you want to be. I missed the Philippines when I was in Canada. I missed Canada when I was in the Philippines. When I stopped wishing I was someplace else and started really living wherever I was, it was easier to find the good things.

Same goes for days. If you’re always wishing for the weekend, or for the end of the day, or for the start of the week so that you can tackle your pile of work, you’ll find that time works against you. Time slows down when you’re looking forward to something. Time speeds up when you’re there–it’s over too quickly.

Be in the moment.

=)

Reflecting on how to prepare for workshops

July 3, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, work

Now that I’ve shifted to wearing my consulting hat, I’ll be giving more presentations and facilitating more workshop sessions on Web 2.0, collaboration, Generation Y, and other topics. I have a couple of sessions to prepare and deliver over the next two weeks. I thought I’d take some time to “sharpen the saw” by planning how I can do this more effectively.

I need to organize frequently-needed concepts. For example, I often talk about multi-generational workplaces. Organizing key messages, case studies, and other material will make it easy for me to see at a glance which points are relevant to an intended audience and customize the presentation accordingly. A mindmap or outline is one way to do that.

I need to scan what’s going on. Most of the discussions and case studies for my areas of interest appear on blogs. Investing time in expanding my reading and organizing my notes will pay off later, when I can refer back to stories and examples I’ve seen. I can also analyze previous presentations and discussions to look for talking points and results.

I would like to organize my presentations more effectively. I often find interesting charts or explanations in other people’s slides, and I sometimes reuse my slides as well. I would like a visual way to organize those slides so that I can easily include them in presentations Microsoft Sharepoint allows Powerpoint 2007 users to organize individual slides in a slide library, but I don’t have access to that, and I may move to a Linux/Mac setup soon. One thing I can do is to build a master deck of slides (possibly broken down by topic), keeping track of the provenance of borrowed slides in the speaker’s notes.

The ideal scenario would be: The team tells me about an upcoming workshop. I retrieve my notes about that industry, and I do a search for new information about the company. I select some basic talking points with screenshots and case studies that they might be interested in. I put together a brief presentation designed to be a conversation-starter. I deliver this presentation, and we brainstorm scenarios or ideas. I document the results and my notes afterwards.

Okay. Bringing it back to my two upcoming workshops… For the first workshop, my role is to help the client learn more about Generation Y. We have some material around this already thanks to our work with other clients, and there are some thoughts out there as well. For the second workshop, my role is to help the client learn more about incorporating Web 2.0 features (community, rich user interfaces, etc.) into a website. They’re also somewhat interested in Generation Y.

For each workshop, I need to:

This will be fun!

Hobbies for life

July 4, 2009 - Categories: life

Even my leisure ties into my long-term goals.

One of the reasons why I’m interested in learning more about sewing and gardening is that these are hobbies that I can pursue throughout life. In fact, they’re stereotypical elderly pursuits, like golf is. These are hobbies that people can enjoy for decades, where there is plenty of room to grow, and where deep experience results in great satisfaction.

I like imagining what it’ll be like when I’m older and more experienced. What will it be like when I can make whatever outfits I want and whatever organizers I need? What will it be like when I know how to grow my favourite fruits and vegetables, when I understand the rhythm of the seasons and the lay of the land? The same goes for my other interests, like cooking, writing, taking pictures, and playing the piano. The learning curve stretches before me.

I know that even misshapen seams and wilted plants can help me get there. It’s all part of the learning process.

When I shared this realization with W-, he smiled. He said, “Not like computer gaming.” Hobbies like computer gaming don’t seem to have as much depth or longevity, and pastimes like watching television, well, they just pass the time.

I suspect this is worth thinking about. Can your hobbies grow over the long term?

More strawberries!

July 4, 2009 - Categories: gardening

I love strawberries. They’re not that easy to get in the Philippines, where I’m from. Strawberries are grown in Baguio and are occasionally available during the cool months. Strawberries are also imported from Australia and other countries, but they’re expensive.

So I’m thrilled that I can grow strawberries here in Toronto. I now have four established strawberry plants. We’ve picked seven homegrown strawberries (one or two a week) of varying sweetness. Not content with that, I ordered a hanging strawberry planter bag online, and I’ve just filled it with eight small strawberry plants (some of them from runners).

The strawberries almost make up for the complete lack of success I’ve had in growing cantaloupes, which I loved having in Manila. =)

It’s the little joys in life.

Cat portrait session

July 5, 2009 - Categories: cat, photography

The cats very obligingly sat for a portrait session:

From Cats
From Cats

No treats needed!

From here to first frost

July 5, 2009 - Categories: gardening

The typical first frost date in Toronto is October 6, which is 93 days away. If we allow two weeks for safety, that gives us 79 days of growing, minus whatever time you need to germinate.

My garden is full. Full full full full. I shouldn’t plant any more into it, because each plant needs room to grow. But if I were to plant more veggies in it, here are some candidates:

Maybe I have time for another crop of radishes after I harvest this one. =) I’ll have a little bit of space.

Weekly review: Week ending July 5, 2009

July 9, 2009 - Categories: adphoto, weekly

Goodness gracious, completely missed a week there.

From the previous week’s plans:

Plans for following week (which is why this blog post was so delayed!)

Quick travel notes: move through the airport quickly

July 13, 2009 - Categories: travel

Avoid the airport lines by doing as much from home as possible, like checking in online and printing or e-mailing your boarding pass. If you can fit all of your things into carry-on luggage, then you can get through the airport so much faster.

Next time you’re at the airport, take extra copies of other forms you often need to fill in. For example, whenever I travel to the US, I need to fill out a departure record (white form) and a customs form (blue form). The extra copy I took last time meant that I could fill in the form at home, then just grab a few more on my way through.

Also: if there’s an alternate entrance for a popular attraction (such as the subway entrance for the Museum of Natural History in New York), take that instead of the main entrance. The lines are usually much shorter.

Notes from the road

July 15, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking, travel

Providing consulting services in strategy workshops is a crash course in facilitation and presentation skills. Looking at the presentations and techniques that people have developed is awe-inspiring. The people I work with don’t do death by bullet point. They’re good at research and thought leadership, infographics and design, Post-It notes and presentations. Me, I rummage through my brain to try to as much value as I can with what I’ve read and learned about Generation Y, Web 2.0, and other topics, and I hope someday to figure out how to do things even better than the way people around me do. =)

If I think of the travel as just a really long commute, it’s not that bad. I miss W-, the cats, the garden, and so on, but I’m too busy to feel too lost. I don’t want to do this all the time because I like having a rich relationship with plenty of in-jokes, but short sprints should be fine. I’m learning tons about facilitation and presentation that I wouldn’t be able to learn on my own.

I’m nearing the end of my super-busy sprint, and I’ll have some time to get things sorted out, prepare, and make future workshops run even better.

Facilitating workshops: What I learned from doing a trend overview

July 16, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

We had an excellent workshop earlier, and I’m looking forward to typing in the notes from people’s worksheets. My part of the workshop was a one-hour session on key trends in web channel delivery, and it prompted great discussion and plenty of ideas. Here’s what I learned from facilitating that session.

The goals of the session were to:

I chose eight trends that I thought were most relevant to the client. These trends were:

  1. Personalization
  2. Mashups
  3. Syndication
  4. Recommendations
  5. Real-time communication
  6. Social networks
  7. Learning
  8. Collaboration

For each trend, I followed this structure:

  1. An example drawn from the intranet or Internet
  2. A short description of the principle
  3. Some ideas for applying it in the client’s context, referring back to the goals mentioned in the previous presentation
  4. Quick questions
  5. A few minutes of individual brainstorming using worksheets: participants thought of ways to apply the trend to improve their organization’s website
  6. A short discussion about ideas and other thoughts

Here’s what I think worked really well:

Here are some things I’d like to improve next time:

Looking forward to sharing more as I learn about facilitation!

Just got back from the photowalk in High Park

July 18, 2009 - Categories: photography

As part of Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk, W- and I joined more than three dozen photographers in the High Park photowalk led by David Allen. I was really glad I’d worn comfortable shoes and brought along a walking stick/monopod! I had a great time shooting with our new Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro lens, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the pictures tomorrow.

Weekly review: Weeks ending July 12, 2009 and July 19, 2009

July 22, 2009 - Categories: weekly

So behind! Catching up…

From the previous week’s plans:

July 6-12:

July 13-19:

Plans for next (this) week:

How I got my job at IBM

July 23, 2009 - Categories: career

Update 2014-01-05: After four awesome years at IBM, I left to experiment with self-employment and semi-retirement. =) Here are my notes preparing for the exit interview.)

Reposting this ancient internal blog post because I keep forgetting where it is and I find that it’s still useful to share with people. (Two people asked me about it today!) =D

On February 13, 2006, I posted my first message to IBM’s BlogCentral. I was a graduate student at the University of Toronto, and I had just started my research project with the IBM Toronto Center for Advanced Studies. Because my research project was about the enterprise applications of social media, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to explore IBM’s intranet. I had read a lot about it in research papers and in articles. I was looking forward to finding out what I could do and what I could learn.


Fast forward one year to February 2007. I was about to complete my master’s thesis. It was time to think about work.

My circumstances were little bit unusual. I was going to finish my thesis sometime in June or August, well outside the normal campus recruiting schedule–so there would probably be no open positions for fresh graduates. As an international student, I needed a good job offer if I wanted to stay in the country. I probably needed to be in a position where a company could honestly say that nobody else in the country could do the job.

So picture that: fresh grad, your first job outside the academe, and the job has to be one where you are the only person who can do it well. Tall order, huh?

I knew I wanted to join IBM. I didn’t even apply anywhere else. I had gotten to know so many interesting people, through blogs, bookmarks, through all of IBM’s social tools, and I wanted to work with them. I wanted to be part of this company which was doing so many interesting things. So the only questions were: how could I fit in, and how could I convince IBM to take me?

Because I still had access to IBM’s Internet, I went through the formal job descriptions on the career planning websites. Information developer, technical sales specialist, consultants, IT specialist… What did they all mean? What were they really like? Where would I be a good fit? And who would be willing to put in the extra effort and paperwork to hire an international student, even one with a master’s degree in an up-and-coming area?

I wrote about my career search on my internal blog, just as I’d been writing about my research for long. I was amazed at all the help I received. People wrote to me about careers I should look into based on what they’d gotten to know about me. They gave me interest interviews and told me what their days were like. They even recommended me to their managers. And all because they felt that they had gotten to know me through that one year I blogged in IBM.

I had interest interviews with people based in Dublin, MontrĂ©al, and Toronto; I talked to people in software development, technical sales, training, and consulting. After I explored many promising avenues, the consulting position seemed like the best fit. Not only that, I already need the team that I’d be joining. After all, I’d read their blogs in the past year, too! My two future team members were among the people I really looked up to, and they had convinced their manager to bring me into their team. Wow!

You know how job interviews are supposed to be really stressful? Well, my formal job interview wasn’t. Because I’d gotten to know my team members, and they had gotten to know me, it was more of a conversation. My technical interviewer asked me about the project I was working on, which he’d read about before. I felt completely comfortable discussing the technical details with him. And I’ll never forget how my hiring manager told me, “It’s an honor to finally meet you. I’ve read your blog.” How cool is that?

My manager and the HR person at my formal interview knew just what to discuss. They knew what I was interested in, what I was concerned about, what I felt I could contribute, and what I wanted to learn. And that told me that if this company that I’m so crazy about was willing to also invest that time into getting to know me… Wow, that’s really worth something.

It’s been a little over three months since I started, and I’m even more in love with IBM. How’s that for a great job search?
—-
Now two years in, and I’m even happier. And this during “a challenging business climate”–do you mean it gets even better than this?

Started my Improv 101 class!

July 24, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

Today was the first session of the 8-week Improv 101 series at Impatient Theatre, and I had tons of fun.

Among the first few improvisational games we played was “I Love…”, where the goal was to tell people about as many things you love as you can share in two minutes. Almost everyone struggled with this, stammering or running out of steam. Me? I think I took three breaths total–there were so many good things I wanted to talk about! I started with “I love walking out of the Toronto Public Library with a stack of books *this* high”, shared lots of loves related to learning and teaching and languages and cooking and gardening and sewing–and you can see how this list goes on and on… It was a terrific game that left me buzzing, and I’m looking forward to trying it on my own or sharing it with W- and J-.

We also played the Experts game, a role I slipped into easily. (It’s just like turning off my jargon filter and playing with outrageous ideas!) The other participants set us up to be experts on dog shoes, so we talked about commercial and military developments. I liked discussing crazy ideas in matter-of-fact ways. I also liked building on other people’s contributions, giving more details and referring to previously-mentioned “facts”. The topic for my second round was “space trash”, so we talked about some products and services we’d developed to send trash into space as a way of dealing with Toronto’s current strike. =)

The “Yes, And…” game was more challenging, although I started easing into it. At work and in life, I get plenty of practice (and enjoyment!) when it comes to agreeing and building on people’s ideas. What I’m not used to yet is creating and filling in worlds through declarative statements. I can do that with the Experts game because there’s a clearer structure and a role. With the “Yes, And…” game, the playing field is wide open. I’m looking forward to becoming better at listening, responding, and filling in the specific details that can help my scene partner relax and contribute.

Looking back, I can see a terrific connection between the improv workshop today and the women’s leadership workshop I attended yesterday. In the leadership workshop, we talked about choosing roles and using strong words. Well, that’s precisely what can help me make the “Yes, And…” game smoother and more enjoyable–if I can clearly develop a role, adapt it to what’s going on around me, and use strong words to shape other people’s worlds and paint pictures in people’s minds.

Our homework was to notice when we block others (“Yes, but…”, “No…”, and things like that), and to think about how to turn questions into declarative statements that move the scene forward instead of putting the scene partner on the spot. I’m going to keep looking for opportunities to play with “Yes, And…” in real life (we just did that in the kitchen!). I’m also looking forward to playing the “I Love…” game with W- and J-, because I think it will be tons of fun, and I can play it by myself too as a great gratitude-starter for the day. As for strong words, I’m going to practice using more specific words and drawing word-pictures in my blog and in conversation, and trying out different declarative statements in my head.

Looking forward to next week!

Science 2.0: July 29, 2009 1pm-6pm MaRS

July 26, 2009 - Categories: geek

What Every Scientist Needs to Know About How the Web is Changing the Way They Work

The MaRS Centre, 101 College St, Toronto (http://www.marsdd.com/)
Wednesday July 29, 1:00-6:00pm, with wine and cheese to follow
Registration: This event is free and open to the public, but you must register (http://science20.eventbrite.com/).

Talks:

Choosing Infrastructure and Testing Tools for Scientific Software Projects
Titus Brown (http://ivory.idyll.org/blog)

A Web Native Research Record: Applying the Best of the Web to the Lab Notebook
Cameron Neylon (http://blog.openwetware.org/scienceintheopen)

Doing Science in the Open: How Online Tools are Changing Scientific Discovery
Michael Nielsen (http://michaelnielsen.org/blog)

Using ”Desktop” Languages for Big Problems
David Rich (http://www.interactivesupercomputing.com/


How Computational Science is Changing the Scientific Method
Victoria Stodden (http://www.stodden.net/)

Collaborative Curation of Public Events
Jon Udell (http://www.jonudell.net/)

See http://softwarecarpentry.wordpress.com/guests/ for full details, or http://science20.eventbrite.com/ to register.

Never get used up

July 26, 2009 - Categories: life

While in a client’s office, I noticed this quote:

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

Albert Schweitzer, German-French theologian, musician, philosopher and physician (1875-1965)

Albert Schweitzer also said, “A great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.“

I’m going to be one of those, going through life without ever getting used up, and I’m going to spark (good) fire in as many people as I can. =)

Weekly review: Week ending July 26, 2009

July 26, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

I also:

Next week, I plan to:

Lotus Notes mail merge from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet

July 27, 2009 - Categories: lotus
UPDATE: David Turner has shared his excellent improvements. Check them out! Or if you like the way this script handles mail merges, see Even more awesome LotusScript mail merge for Lotus Notes and Microsoft Excel

Updated May 6 2010 – added Call varXLFile.Quit()

Mwahahahahaha!

I’ve been looking for ways to recognize people’s voluntary contributions to community discussions. E-mailed thanks are great because people can use the Memo-to-File feature to save it in their performance record, and copying their managers means extra kudos.

I wanted to thank 21 people for their contributions. With the Lotus Connections Communities API, a little bit of Ruby scripting and an internal tool for looking up people’s managers, I came up with a spreadsheet that listed people’s names, e-mail addresses, number of posts, first-line manager, and either “post” or “posts” depending on how many posts they had. Pulling random bits together from examples on the Net, I developed this super-nifty Lotus Notes script which does a flexible mail merge from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to Lotus Notes.

Create the agent and copy the following code into it. Then write an e-mail that you’ll use as the template for your new messages, and call the agent while the e-mail is selected. Give it a spreadsheet where the column headings are the tokens you’d like to replace in the template (body only). “<to>” and “<cc>” are special – they’ll also be replaced in the mail header. The resulting mail messages will be in the “Drafts” folder so that you can customize the messages before sending them out.

This may not work with multi-line replacements or fancy formatting. Review before sending, and have fun. =)

Sub Initialize
  Dim ws As New NotesUIWorkspace
  'Prompt for the filename - should be a Microsoft Excel file
  'with columns, where the first row of each column
  'is a token that will be used when replacing text in the body of the message
  'Special tokens: <to> and <cc> set the appropriate fields
  
  fileName$ = ws.Prompt(12, "Select file", "3")
  If fileName$ = "" Then 
    Exit Sub   'Cancel was presed
  End If
  strXLFilename = fileName$
  Dim s As New NotesSession  
  Dim uidoc As NotesUIDocument
  Dim partno As String
  Dim db As NotesDatabase
  Dim view As NotesView
  Dim doc As NotesDocument
  Dim collection As NotesDocumentCollection
  Dim memo As NotesDocument
  Dim body As NotesRichTextItem
  Dim newBody As NotesRichTextItem
  Dim range As NotesRichTextRange
  Dim count As Integer
  
  Set db = s.CurrentDatabase
  Set collection = db.UnprocessedDocuments
  Set memo = collection.getFirstDocument()
  
  'Get data from the spreadsheet
  Set varXLFile = CreateObject("Excel.Application")
  varXLFile.Visible = False
  Set varXLWorkbook = Nothing
  varXLFile.Workbooks.Open strXLFilename
  Set varXLWorkbook = varXLFile.ActiveWorkbook
  Set varXLSheet = varXLWorkbook.ActiveSheet
  
  lngRow = 2
  While (Not (varXLSheet.Cells(lngRow, 1).Value = ""))
    
    'Fill in the template
    subject = memo.Subject(0)
    Set body = memo.GetFirstItem("Body")
    
    'Compose message
    Set maildoc = New NotesDocument(db)
    Set maildoc= db.CreateDocument()    
    maildoc.Form = "Memo"
    maildoc.Subject = subject
    Set newBody = maildoc.CreateRichTextItem("Body")
    Call newBody.appendRTItem(body)  
    Set range = newBody.CreateRange      
    
    'Look up tokens from the column headings and replace them
    columnNo = 1
    While Not(varXLSheet.Cells(1, columnNo).Value = "")
      token = varXLSheet.Cells(1, columnNo).Value      
      value = varXLSheet.Cells(lngRow, columnNo).Value
      count = range.FindAndReplace(token, value, 16) 
      If (token = "<to>") Then
        maildoc.SendTo = value
      End If  
      If (token = "<cc>") Then
        maildoc.CopyTo = value
      End If
      columnNo = columnNo + 1
    Wend
    Call maildoc.Save(True, False)
    lngRow = lngRow +1
  Wend
  Call varXLFile.Quit()   
End Sub

Sewing arghs

July 28, 2009 - Categories: sewing

I’m temporarily finding sewing frustrating. I should be precise: sewing dresses and blouses is frustrating for me, because the bodice never quite fits right and the neck facings always seem awkward. I need to find something that’ll break me out of that. Maybe it’s just a matter of going ahead and making something. The blue butterfly dress I made was fine, although the dropped waist is something I’d like to fix next time I make the dress. Aside from that, it’s been very difficult for me to be happy with the muslins I’ve made from other patterns.

Maybe I can take the simplest thing I can sew, and just go ahead and make it. And then make another one, and another one, and another one, until I get the hang of it. Or maybe I’ll sign up for sewing classes once I’m halfway through my improv classes, so I don’t have too many things going on at the same time.

So I started working on Butterick 3030 last night. Still not happy with the neck facings – maybe I should just bind all of my tops in the future. But at least it’s progress…

Taro

July 28, 2009 - Categories: family, life, philippines

I joined other recent hires for an evening out that ended up at a bubble tea shop. I ordered taro bubble tea with tapioca. Someone asked me what taro was, and I paused as I tried to describe it to people who had never had taro before.

For me, taro bubble tea is wrapped up in all sorts of memories: standing in long lines to bubble tea shops as the craze swept through Manila, finding out that one of my university teachers was in a car accident because he jaywalked to buy a cup of bubble tea, going to Quickly with my sister and poking the thick straw through the taut plastic that was just added by their special cup-sealing machines, rolling my tongue around the spongy tapioca that took me back even further to innumerable glasses of sago’t gulaman quenching childhood thirsts.

I remember copying my sister after she ordered taro with large tapioca pearls. Years later, it’s still the flavour I return to.

“Taro?” I said. “They’re roots.”

Unstructured time

July 29, 2009 - Categories: life

The first thread: Paul Graham described the difference between makers’ schedules and managers’ schedules as the difference between needing long chunks of time to focus versus switching tasks frequently, such as every hour. Makers such as programmers and writers do their best when “in the zone”, when they reach the flow state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Interruptions break concentration.

The second thread: W- and I were talking about plans for our upcoming vacation. He’s planning to take two weeks off so that he can spend them with J-, who’ll be with us for two weeks and who had decided that she would rather not attend any summer camps this year. As he’s taking his vacation during the week of my birthday and the week after that, I thought I’d take part of my saved overtime as well so that I can share more memories. Due to my paperwork situation (I can’t leave Canada at the moment), they ruled out a trip to New York even though I urged them to take the first circus. Because of our cats, we probaby won’t wander far from Toronto. So a staycation it is.

Tying the threads together: For us, staycations aren’t about sleeping in. They’re unstructured time, maker time, when we can use large chunks of focus to develop skills that are difficult to work on during evenings or weekends. W- and J- are particularly looking forward to developing their photography skills through deliberate practice.

I could work from home and just join W- and J- in the evenings (or work in the evenings and take some breaks during the day). Taking the time as a proper vacation, though, means that I can use that maker time to improve my skills to the point where I can make even better use of evenings and weekends in the future. For example, if I can get much better at photography, then our casual photography trips will be more rewarding. If I can get much better at sewing, then my occasional sewing weekend will be more fruitful. If I can get much better at presentations and storytelling, then my occasional talk will be even more effective. Up-front investment yields continuing returns. Yes, my billable utilization is lower, but the concentrated skill development will make me a better person and a better employee.

I spent some time reflecting on what I would do with unstructured time. I started by thinking about what I would do with a life of unstructured time–if I achieve financial independence. Then I thought about what I’d do with a year, as I might have if I take a sabbatical (which is a very good practice, I’ve heard). Then I reflected on progressively smaller increments: a month, two weeks, a week, an evening, an hour, five minutes. Starting with a wide-open field and narrowing it down made it easier to see how I felt about different activities.

What would I do with a life of unstructured time?
Start businesses
Make and deliver presentations for fun
Write blog posts and e-books
Visit friends and family
Get really good at delegating and working with a network
Get really good at drawing and photography
Replace my entire wardrobe with things I’ve sewn myself
Take lessons on how to play the piano, and get to the point where I can easily read and play music
Host lots of get-togethers
Build systems to make my life and other people’s lives better
Pick up lots of skills and interests

What would I do with a year or two of unstructured time?
Start a business
Take courses or make up my own
Cook lots of recipes
Host a number of get-togethers
Make and deliver presentations for fun
Learn how to play a few piano pieces well
Build a system to make my life and other people’s lives better
Replace most of my wardrobe with things I’ve sewn myself
Make a couple of photo collections
Write a couple of short e-books

What would I do with a month of unstructured time?
Get started on a new skill
Make an e-book
Learn a piano piece
Sew a few outfits
Make a photo collection
Polish my presentations and draft new ones
Bike every day
Revamp my site
Cook a number of new recipes

What would I do with two weeks of unstructured time?
Polish my existing presentations
Gather and organize material for new presentations
Organize the house
Bike every day
Learn a new sewing skill (maybe making tops)
Get started on a new piano piece
Try a new recipe or two
Host a get-together

What would I do with one week of unstructured time?
Gather and organize material for new presentations
Organize the house
Braindump, read, and explore
Cook a new recipe
Sew an item
Explore one kind of photography

What would I do with a weekend of unstructured time?
Go for a bike ride
Tidy up the house
Organize a room
Work on an outfit
Practice a piano piece
Cook something new
Organize a get-together
Explore one kind of photography
Process my photos
Do some long-term brainstorming
Draw

What would I do with a day of unstructured time?
Write a few blog posts
Brainstorm and reflect
Mindmap/draw a presentation
Tidy up the house
Sew
Play a bit of piano
Take a few pictures
Garden

What would I do with an evening of unstructured time?
Brainstorm, reflect, and blog
Read
Tidy up
Practice a piano segment
Prepare a presentation
Process photos
Bike
Sew a little bit

What would I do with an hour of unstructured time?
Blog
Sketch
Read
Practice a piano segment
Mindmap a presentation

What would I do with five minutes of unstructured time?
Brainstorm and reflect
Read
Share a laugh

This list is sure to change, but it’s a useful start. =)

Creative work can be squeezed into five minutes here and there. It’s nice having a block of time where you can focus, though, and I think it’ll definitely be worth taking a vacation. Not only will I develop skills, but I’ll also get better at making the most of unstructured time.

What would you do with unstructured time?

Laptop hard disk still dead

July 29, 2009 - Categories: geek

My laptop hard disk is still dead, but I’m surviving.

Improv 101 class 2: Scenes, objects, and environments

July 31, 2009 - Categories: Uncategorized

It takes time to build an imaginary world that other people can see, and I’m looking forward to being able to do so.

In last Thursday’s Improv 101 class at Impatient Theatre, we learned more about improvising scenes, objects, and environments. We started off with a few warm-up games such as Zip-Zap-Zop and “Yes, And…”. After I relaxed and mentally reviewed the status-games tips from Keith Johnstone’s book “Impro”, I found it easier to build on whatever my partner threw at me. It’s interesting looking at conversations through the lens of status games…

Our teacher kicked it up a notch by challenging us to pair up and establish characters, relationships, location, and situation with just three lines of dialogue. My first partner and I made the other students laugh when I pretended to be a mom worried by her son’s grades… particularly the F in surfing. (Starting to play with surprise!) I saw that two of the other students were having a hard time with the exercise. I wanted to help build their confidence. I trusted that I’d be able to handle whatever they threw at me and make it look okay (and that it would be a good challenge!). so I joined each of them onstage, nudged them to take the lead, and accepted and built on whatever they gave me. It worked out well! The scenes flowed smoothly, and I hope that helped them have more fun. I had thought about taking the lead and giving them lots of detail to work with, but letting them take the lead meant there weren’t long pauses that might embarrass them. =) I’m looking forward to getting better at establishing scenes quickly.

Another game we played involved pretending to create objects out of infinite, invisible clay. I worked on remembering to mime the construction of the object instead of simply tracing the outline. I made a pretzel, which I think people missed. I also made a pepperoni pizza, which people saw clearly. The instructor laughed at my head-smacking moments – I’d started putting on the pepperoni, then I realized I hadn’t grated and sprinkled cheese, then I realized I hadn’t put on tomato sauce… =) Next, I’d like to get better at spontaneously coming up with ideas based on preceding items, instead of giving in to the temptation to plan a little bit ahead.

To warm us up for environment work, we played a game about seven things one might find in a given location. I had fun adding details during my turn, taking the first thing that popped into my head and embellishing it to make it more concrete for me.

The last big game we played involved working in imaginary environments. We improvised in groups of four, and our task was to hide an imaginary object in a location determined by our teacher and not shared with the audience. At the end, the audience was to guess what the object was and where it was hidden. Our group ended up hiding a magnifying glass in a locker room. The audience figured out the magnifying glass easily, but the location wasn’t clear. There were so many things I can learn how to do better! I tried to remember where the locker doors were, but I don’t think I oriented myself well enough when I was on stage. A moment’s inattention meant that I wasn’t sure if the locker door swung open to the right or to the left. And although we threw in a few more clues–a bench, a stinky gym bag–my team and I rushed through the environment-setting up. All the teams did, probably because we all felt nervous and conscious of the time.

Next time I work with environments, I can help my team members and the audience by taking the time to establish a really solid image. That means I’ll need to work on my spatial intelligence, and to pay attention to all the objects and steps involved in everyday things making a sandwich. It’ll be fun!

I’m looking forward to sharing these games with J-. I think she’ll enjoy helping me practice!