June 2009

Drupal in the trenches: MySQL and DELETE joins; multiple tests

June 1, 2009 - Categories: drupal

Today was the first time I used a DELETE statement that joined multiple tables. I didn’t even know you could do that. =)

I needed to look into this because my update function was just taking so much time and memory. We have a little over 3,000 nodes, most of which are usernodes automatically created by the usernode module. I needed to rebuild the node access entries for a few hundred content nodes to take into account the new partner access module I wrote, but node_access_rebuild took quite a while.

The first approach I thought of taking was to delete usernode because we didn’t seem to need it any more. In order to do that, though, I would still have to delete all the user nodes, though, and invoking all the hooks for each of the 2000+ user nodes took a while as well.

The second approach was to delete just the node access records related to the nodes I needed to update. I found a way to do it even faster – instead of querying the node IDs and then deleting individual rows, I could do something like this instead:

db_query("DELETE FROM na USING {node} n
          INNER JOIN {node_access} na ON (n.nid=na.nid) WHERE n.type='%s'", $type);
$rs = db_query("SELECT nid FROM {node} WHERE type='%s'", $type);
while ($row = db_fetch_array($rs)) {
  $node = node_load($row['nid'], NULL, TRUE);
  if (!empty($node)) {

(UPDATE: Fixed MySQL statement)

That was interesting. =)

I was also running into memory problems trying to run all the unit tests in one go. I broke it into individual tests with:

drush test list | grep KEYWORD | xargs -n 1 drush test run | tee out

where KEYWORD is the keyword I use to filter the list for just the tests I wanted to run, and out is the file that stores a copy of the results. It’s not neatly summarized, but oh well. =) It works.

Weekly review: Week ending May 31, 2009

June 2, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

  • More Transition2 work – finish event-related bugs Another day, another build… Things are progressing nicely!
  • More LinkedIn and Facebook coaching – prepare guide Well on the way towards a LinkedIn 101 guide for investment advisors and insurance agents
  • More presentations – finish slides and notes! Delivered a presentation, submitted another one
  • More gardening! Started seeds, yay!


  • Watched Up – awesome!
  • Checked out 22 books on gardening from the library, mwahahaha
  • Cut out gingham check pieces for Vogue blouse.

Next week (well, this week, really):

  • Relationships: Play with photography
  • Wealth/career: Revise guide, prepare Transition2 build, give Early Career Conference presentation, prepare other presentations
  • Skills/personal growth: Make dream book, play with photography, learn Send in the Clowns and more of Fur Elise, get more fabric =), sew blouse
  • Health/fitness: Explore High Park on my bike

Photos from High Park

June 2, 2009 - Categories: photography


June 3, 2009 - Categories: gardening

W- and I took the day off to set up our vegetable plot, with lots of great help from Laura Kalbun of Backyard Harvesting. She helped us plan the garden, pair up plants, improve the soil, and get everything sorted out. She even made nice laminated labels for us!

Planting bush beans
(photo © 2009 W. J. Young)

We removed most of the patio stones, added compost and other amendments to the soil, and made three rows of vegetable beds. We planted:

  • two varieties of strawberry plants
  • three varieties of peppers (including Chinese five-colour hot pepper), with two pepper plants each
  • two tomato plants
  • a bunch of green onions
  • two rows of cosmic purple carrots
  • two rows of radishes
  • a couple of burgundy okra seeds
  • a couple of six weeks bush beans
  • two rows of Bloomsdale spinach
  • a fair amount of Easter egg radish
  • a few sugar baby watermelon seeds
  • a few hearts of gold melon seeds

The basil seeds I planted a few days ago are starting to come up, too. We’ll be swimming in pesto come fall. =)

We moved some of the irises to the back of the border, and I moved some of the other tomato and pepper plants in front of the new irises.

And one of the bitter melon seeds looks like it might be growing well! =)

In a way, anticipation slows time down. I can’t wait to see what the garden will grow into, and each moment seems to pass by ever so slowly. There’s a fine balance between anticipating the future and wasting time waiting for it. If gardening can help me enjoy the passage of time as well as the fullness of each moment, and if it can help me make my peace with Canada’s seasons, it’ll be well worth it!

Oh, and another thing I learned today: it’s a good idea to keep one’s mouth closed when pulling up stubborn plants… ;)


Starting our vegetable plot from Sacha Chua on Vimeo.

Even the dentist’s assistant thinks I’m happy =)

June 5, 2009 - Categories: happy, life

I remember brushing my teeth under the watchful gaze of a small wooden sign on which was painted these words: “Be true to your teeth or they will be false to you later.”

I’m a little paranoid about my teeth. I once spent a good twenty minutes obsessing about a particle stuck in my left inferior molar because I didn’t have a toothpick or toothpick-equivalent handy. (W- came to the rescue with some chewing gum, which eventually solved the problem.) I can’t go to bed without flossing. I run to the dentist at the slightest hint of a potential cavity.

Which is why, just a few months after my last general cleaning, I was back in the dentist’s office for some preventive maintenance.

I walked into the office a few minutes before my appointment. The office manager looked up and asked, “You have an assistant?” We had a great discussion about delegation and virtual assistance. I gave her the short URL to my summary post (http://bit.ly/va101), and she scanned through the first few pages of my blog. She saw my entry on Taking the Stage, and we talked about leadership and mentoring. I pulled out my iPod to take notes, and she asked me about my favourite iPod applications. I told her about CarbonFin Outliner and Toodledo, and she showed me the piano program she’d been using.

We chatted for about fifteen minutes. By this time, the dentist had long finished with the previous patient, and was just standing in the doorway, shaking his head and laughing at the two of us chatting away.

When I finally went in and settled into the dentist’s chair, the dentist joked that he’d have to put in really expensive fillings to make up for all the new iPod applications and services he would have to get. ;) So we had a good laugh about that, too, and I told them a few stories about my aforementioned concern about teeth-related things, sharing bits and pieces during the times when I didn’t have pointy instruments in my mouth.

The assistant leaned over and said, “Happy girl, eh?”

I grinned (carefully).

So yes, it is possible to be happy at the dentist’s. Going early and going often tends to help. =) Oh, and experimenting with interesting ideas (like virtual assistance) leads to interesting conversations. And sharing things on your blog can lead to other interesting conversations, too. It’s all good stuff.

More gardening and sewing

June 6, 2009 - Categories: sewing

We picked up a pair of planters for the porch. One of the planters is overflowing with strawberries, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a few of the hanging fruits. I think it’s amazing that plants will grow with just a little encouragement, and who knows, maybe I’ll get to experience the joys of being a locavore.

The bitter melon seeds (ampalaya) my mom sent me from the Philippines have germinated (and to think I’d given up on those seeds!), and seven or eight of them are working on putting out their first leaves. When they grow a bit bigger, we’ll move them near the fence. We’ll probably have to put in some cold-weather protection towards the end of the growing season, but it’ll be worth a try. I was pleasantly surprised to find bitter melon seeds at a local supermarket, actually. Might not be a bad source in the future.

W- helped me make a duct tape dress form, whom I have named Matilda. Oddly enough, it seems to be a common name for dress forms. ;) I made a quarter-circle skirt (thank you, high-school geometry teacher!) with a bold black/white/red print, which I’ve hung on Matilda so that I can hem the skirt tomorrow. I thought about adding fancy details like a yoke, but I figured I’d keep it simple for starters.

It’s interesting exploring these non-computer things… =)

Conversations with the students at Sir Wilfrid Laurier

June 6, 2009 - Categories: life, presentation, reflection, speaking

I was supposed to give a 40-minute talk to International Baccalaureate high school students. I was planning to talk to them about the benefits of posting their writing on the Internet. A few minutes into my talk, I realized that there was no way that my slides and my planned speech could keep up with all the things I wanted to share and all the things I wanted to learn from them. So I leaned over, turned off the projector, and proceeded to have a great conversation with the students.

The key point I wanted to make was that blogging can help them discover how fun it actually is to write, and it’ll give them plenty of opportunities to improve their skills, develop their passions, and connect with incredible people.

Most people don’t ever learn how to enjoy writing because their experience of writing comes from the essays and book reviews they wrote for class assignments and threw into recycling bins as soon as the term was over. I got Ds in my university English classes because I just didn’t like sitting around and analyzing the irony in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (still inscrutable, after all these years). I wrote my forgettable share of everything: essays, poems, lab reports, programs. I wrote because I had to, because the assignment was there.

And on my computer, through the Internet, I discovered what it was all about. In class, I wrote essays about things I didn’t quite understand. Outside class, I wrote about what I was learning about life, and hundreds of people read what I’d written and shared their own thoughts with me.

Powerful stuff.

I learned that writing about what I was learning was a great way to learn even more effectively. I learned that it was a fantastic way to tell stories, to reach out, to make a connection. I learned that writing helped me scale up and reach wide. I learned that it could create opportunities and build connections.

I wish I’d learned earlier! =)

Anyway–back to the International Baccalaureate students, who were getting ready to do a major essay. My advice: write for yourself, and write for more people than you know. Blogging’s a great way to learn and a fantastic way to share.

After I told a few stories related to that, we opened it up for all sorts of questions. Here are a few:

How much do you make?
(immediately followed by another student saying, “Hey, that’s a rude question!”)

My manager knows the value I create for the company, and that I often get unsolicited job offers through my blog. So he makes sure to keep me happy. ;)

Given the opportunity, if you were offered double the pay, would you leave the company? That is, do you like the environment?

I love my environment. The only reasons I’d work with a company are because I love the environment, I love the people, and I love what we do. Never accept work for just money. What I want to say is that it is entirely possible to find something you love doing, to find people you love working with–and to find all of that and make money in the process. It is possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Perhaps it takes more work, more energy and more enthusiasm, but it’s worth it.

A lot of people grow up with this idea that work is supposed to be work–that’s why it’s called work, not play. But if you spend time thinking about what you love, and you find ways to get really good at it, and you find that something which you can do that other people need–if you find those ways to create value for other people, then you’ll create your own opportunities to make whatever amount of money and whatever kind of schedule you want.

So if they paid me twice as much to work at a company where I didn’t like what I was doing… well, life is too short.

Aren’t you worried that people will steal what you share online?

You know what they say about knowledge being power? It used to be that knowledge that you keep secret is power, because then everybody has to come to you. What I find is that knowledge that you share is power. I can post something that’ll get viewed by 30,000 people–which is incredible! Nobody steals that kind of stuff–nobody consequential steals that, because if you’ve achieved any sort of fame or prominence, you haven’t gotten there by copying other people’s work, you get there with your words and your own experiences. So I’m pretty much safe from anybody more famous than I am, and if someone less famous than I am tries to rip off my work, then that doesn’t really affect me either. ;)

I think it’s incredible when people take my ideas and run with it. I give what I know away because I learn even more in the process of doing so, and that helps me go even further. I’d rather teach things and then move on to other things that interest me. It’s a lot of fun.

How do you get people to read your blog?

A lot of people try posting a couple of times, then worry that nobody’s reading or they’re not getting any comments. The trick is to think about it as writing for yourself so you don’t get too worried, and you don’t feel like that unpopular kid who never gets invited to get-togethers. Don’t feel that way. Focus on the things that you’re getting out of it: practice and understanding.

How do you get other people to read your blog? It’s the same way that you get other people interested in you and the same way you get other people to be your friends. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Go out there. Meet interesting people. Share. Get to know them. Be interested in what they have to say, and they might turn around and check you out. Focus on helping other people. That’s how you do it. You do it by creating value for other people. You do it by being interested in other people. You do it by being part of the conversation. You don’t expect people to come to you. You go out there, you get to know people and then you build those relationships over time.

What do you do if you have a big task that’s not enjoyable?

Usually, I go find someone who enjoys doing that kind of stuff. ;) If it’s something I absolutely have to do, then I look for something about that task that I enjoy, or I make it a game with myself. Have you ever noticed that when you’re a kid, you can turn practically anything into a game? “Just time me!” Good stuff.

(And if it’s something I really don’t enjoy, I either just do it and then reward myself with a fun activity afterwards, or I find out if I really have to do it in the first place.)

What do you do when someone is condescending?

People sometimes tell me, “Oh, it’s nice that you’re so happy / you enjoy your job / you’re so full of energy. Enjoy it while you can; you’ll grow out of it.” Best way to deal with that? Collect lots of role models. For example: Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and someone who manages to be even more alive and energetic than I am. Or closer to home: Dr. Oposa, my dad’s knee surgeon, who occasionally wears glasses with blinking LEDs (just for fun). When people tell you something can’t be done, chances are that someone out there’s already gone and done it. And if not, you can be the first!

Lots of other great questions and thoughts. =) Feel free to ask me stuff, too! The more questions we explore, the more I understand, too… =)

Preventive maintenance and the Goldtouch Go! keyboard

June 7, 2009 - Categories: geek, kaizen, life

Other people might go to a massage therapist to relax. I go so that I can spend an hour and a half picking a specialist’s brain for tips on preventive maintenance. “Why is that muscle sore? What can I do about it? What’s that one connected to? How about that one?” I’ve set aside space in my budget for quarterly sessions with Shelagh, a massage therapist at the Well of Alternative Medicine, and she’s been teaching me all sorts of useful exercises.

I told Shelagh how tips from a previous massage convinced me to shift from a backpack to a rolling suitcase and from medium heels to flat shoes. Now we’re working on avoiding the issues many people get from lots of computer work: hunched shoulders, aching necks, painful wrists. I’ve ordered this just-released Goldtouch Go! portable ergonomic keyboard:

The Goldtouch site will charge $150 for international shipping, so order it from The Human Solution if you need it shipped internationally. The coupon code “ergonomics” may save you $10.

I thought about getting the Happy Hacking Lite keyboard, but I do actually like split keyboards. I also considered the Kinesis Advantage (too big) and the Kinesis Freestyle (too many accessories if I want the incline). The Goldtouch Go! looks like it’ll be worth trying out.

Then I’ll do what another coworker of mine does: prop the laptop on an overturned recycling bin so that it’s at eye level, and then use a keyboard and mouse for good posture.

A little bit of preventive maintenance now can help me enjoy life much more and much longer in the future. =) What do you do for preventive maintenance?

My Charity Connects: The A, B, Cs, of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs: Reaching Different Generations Through Social Media

June 8, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

This is a placeholder for the talk on “The A, B, Cs of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs: Reaching Different Generations Through Social Media”. I’ll update this post with recordings and notes by June 10. In the meantime, here are the slides, and some links to useful resources:

Key message: There are generational and age-related differences, but they’re not as big as you might think based on popular media, and ther eare plenty of opportunities for you to reach out and help make a difference.

Please feel free to post your questions as comments, or e-mail me ([email protected]) if you’d like to learn more. I look forward to continuing the discussion!


  • Canadian Opera Company
  • Room to Read
  • Ryan’s Well
  • Toronto Public Library
  • Kiva

title: The A, B, Cs of Generations X, Y, Z (and Boomers, too): Reaching Different Generations Through Social Media) in the conference agenda

Asus EEE 1008HA and Ubuntu: Keep a USB drive handy

June 9, 2009 - Categories: geek, linux

I’d been thinking about getting a netbook for a while, but I’d felt guilty over the two ultraportables languishing in our electronics drawer. I occasionally dusted them off and W- even got Ubuntu running on them again, but I just didn’t use them as much as I did before I got my work laptop. Keeping multiple configurations synchronized is a pain. Lugging two laptops around is a real pain.

I held out for the longest time. I’d been into ultraportables when having an 8.9″ screen made geeks’ heads turn (which is how I got away with selling advertising on the back of my laptop one weekend, as an experiment ;) ), and now that ultraportable computers had gone mainstream, well… <laugh>

Then W- reminded me that the real reason why I haven’t been using the Fujitsu Lifebook P1110 or the Sony Vaio U1 was that I’d used them until they fell apart. Really. Masking tape was the only thing keeping the P1110 together.

And then I ran into all sorts of computing difficulties on my work laptop, and I decided that having a backup system that I could keep in a consistent configuration was worth some of my dream/experience fund. A light machine that I could use for presentations and for blog posts would be nice, and if it could let me connect to Windows-only teleconferences while continuing to do work using the Linux partition on my main laptop, that would be fantastic.

After consulting Ted Tritchew (resident guru) and a number of Net resources, I ended up with two choices: the Asus Eee 1000HE, and the Asus Eee 1008HA. The 1000HE was relatively solid, worked well with Linux, and boasted a 9.5-hour battery life. The 1008HA was slimmer, lighter, and could get by on 6 hours. I went with light, because the pounds really do add up.

It was easy to get Windows XP and Linux to co-exist, thanks to the USB installer that Ted lent me. The 1008HA was pre-partitioned, so I just installed Linux onto the second partition. (Nice not to have to fuss with resizing things!)

The first major hiccup I ran into was getting networking to work. With the default install of Ubuntu, not even wired Ethernet worked! I came across this really useful Amazon.com review which said:

Once you install, you need to grab the AR813X-linux-v1.0.0.8.tar.gz package from http://partner.atheros.com/Drivers.aspx . Untar this (ignore the gzip errors), cd src, make, sudo make install, then insmod the resulting file. That should give you wired ethernet.

To get wifi, go to Administration > Software Sources > Updates and check off “Unsupported Updates (jaunty-backports)”, then do sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-jaunty . Once you reboot, you should have wireless.

So the important parts of my system work now, and I’ll worry about the other bits later on.

Stage fright, visualization and improvization

June 10, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

“Maybe I should take a break from presenting,” I said, “and focus instead on writing blog posts and articles so that I can build up more material.”

W- nodded. “You have to pace yourself,” he said.

It was Monday morning, and I had a talk scheduled for 3:35 that day: “The A, B, Cs of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs: Reaching Different Generations Through Social Media”. I sent in my slides a week ago, so I didn’t have to worry about that. I knew which stories I wanted to tell, so I didn’t have to worry about that. But I still felt the nagging doubts of stage fright.

I mentally ticked off the remaining talks I’d promised to do: “Awesomest Job Search Ever” at the Social Recruiting Summit, “Making Presentations that Rock” at IBM, and “I.B.Millennials: Working with and Learning from Generation Y” at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange. If I juggled everything well, I’d be able to do all those talks while keeping my project manager and my manager happy. I’d be doing a talk a week. After conference season, I could take a break, study more, write more, draw more, and experiment more.

First things first. Gotta get through the 3:35 to 5:00 talk. A tough timeslot even in the best of cases–who has energy at the end of the day? But a friend had recommended me to this, and the organizers had said that the nonprofits really needed tips on getting across to generations. I’d given talks like this before, starting with I.B.Millennials at last year’s IBM Technical Leadership Exchange, and ending up with keynote segments on the demographic revolution and the multigenerational workplace. I’d never talked about it in the nonprofit context before, but I’d read a bit about nonprofit marketing, and I hoped that many of the things I learned doing Web 2.0 consulting in the workplace would transfer to the nonprofit sector.

I packed my presentation kit (laptop, power cord, presenter remote, mouse, voice recorder, webcam (just in case), courage) into my rolling case (gotta watch those ergonomics!) and headed out. From previous talks, I had learned that planning nothing else (no project work, no deadlines, nothing) during the day of a presentation really helped me relax because I had enough buffer time to take care of things. Besides, I was curious about the other sessions, and I wanted to pick up whatever I could.

I arrived at the conference centre and snuck into a few sessions. The more I listened, the more I itched to give my own presentation. Part of me listened to the speakers and actively participated in the discussion, while part of me was listening to myself–to snippets and sound bites that might make it into my talk. I took notes on the current session and on how I was rearranging my own.

Do other speakers have this experience? I’m having a hard time describing it because it seems so odd. I hear my own speeches, in my own voice. I can tell that I’m not actually hearing them in person–I don’t hallucinate, if that’s what you’re wondering ;)–but it’s definitely me. I don’t hear the full speech, just little bursts, but that’s enough to convince me that I can do it. Then I roll the words around on my tongue to find out what they feel like, and I know the performance will be fine. By the time the organizer introduces me, I’m ready to discover just how I’m going to get from point A to point B – how we’ll fill in the gaps between those bursts, where the topic and the audience will take me.

That’s one of the reasons why I don’t script my talks as much as other people do, and I don’t include as many slides or talking points as other speakers do. The less text I have on slides, the more flexibility I have. The fewer slides I present, the more flexibility I have. I prepare the bones of a performance: the key message I want to communicate, the key actions I want people to take, the stories that will help people understand what I have to say and then act. The rest comes during those pre-talk visualizations (… audiolizations?), and in the interaction between me and the audience, strengthened by echoes of blog posts I’d written or things I’d said or heard.

This is what it’s like to be up on that stage, and it’s exhilarating. It’s an improvised dance of discovery, where the reactions and questions and comments of the audience help me unlock more stories and ideas, and where we all learn more.

How can I teach other people this? Is this a good start: “Imagine listening to a confident version of yourself give the talk. What does it sound like? What does that feel like?” Can I help people become more comfortable with speaking if I tell them that it’s okay to not know all the details going up, and that discovering the way can be lots of fun? =)

Weekly review: Week ending June 7, 2009

June 10, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

  • Relationships: Play with photography Posted new phonos.
  • Wealth/career: Revise guide, prepare Transition2 build, give Early Career Conference presentation, prepare other presentations Rocked Early Career Conference presentation (50 people, stick figure fun!), revised guide, etc.
  • Skills/personal growth: Make dream book, play with photography, learn Send in the Clowns and more of Fur Elise, get more fabric =), sew blouse: Made dream book with pictures of photography, gardening, and sewing. Learned some more of Send in the Clowns and Fur Elise.
  • Health/fitness: Explore High Park on my bike Still haven’t. =) Got busy gardening!


  • Went to the dentist
  • Spent a day putting in the vegetable plot, yay!
  • Had a massage – awesome!
  • Took a self-paced course at IBM

Next week (this week, really):


  • More photography, tidying up


  • Give presentation on ABCs of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs (nonprofits and generational differences)
  • Fix more Transition2 bugs, add new partners
  • Prepare for “Awesomest Job Search Ever” and “Totally Rocking Presentations at IBM” talks
  • Fix my Linux partition

Skills/personal growth

  • Write more articles / blog posts


  • Bike to work on Friday =)

Thoughts on Toodledo versus Emacs Org

June 10, 2009 - Categories: emacs, productivity

It’s been a couple of months since I switched to using the Toodledo instead of Emacs Org to manage my tasks. I decided to use Toodledo because I wanted a to-do list that I could access on any computer and on my iPod Touch, so that I could capture tasks from anywhere. I liked Toodledo more than I liked Remember the Milk because Toodledo’s tagging and time-tracking features fit the way I work. I also liked how I could ask my virtual assistant to fill in templates–for example, preparation tasks for upcoming presentations–based on certain dates.

I still like Toodledo, but I feel an unsatisfied itch. Toodle-do is a great Getting Things Done system for capturing and tracking tasks, but even though it has some support for defining short-, medium-, and long-term goals, I wasn’t using them because they were split up on multiple screens. I missed the outlines of Org where I could define my higher-level goals, easily add new ones, and create tasks and subtasks. I missed the close integration with my schedule and the ability to easily see my historical task information. I missed the distinction between scheduled dates and deadlines, and the calculation of days until something is due.

So I think it’s time to switch back, at least temporarily. Maybe I can find a way to seamlessly synchronize my Org files so that changes are reflected on the different computers I’m on, and maybe I can find a way to easily capture or review tasks while I’m on the go. Perhaps I’ll continue working on org-toodledo so that I can export tasks from Org to the web-based interface. That way, I can quickly review today’s tasks while I’m out and about.


Work-life balance and the good life

June 12, 2009 - Categories: happy, life

Over a two-hour Skype conversation, Jason Watson (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia) picked my brain for ideas for a Web 2.0 course. One of the things he mentioned was that reading about gardening, sewing, and all these other non-work interests on my blog reassured him that people didn’t have to spend all their time blogging, bookmarking, or otherwise building a digital presence. You can share things online and do your work and have a life (an awesome one, even!).

Score one for the benefits of work-life balancing, then. Not only do I end up with lots of interesting stories, but I also help people see that these things are doable. =)

The conversation reminded me of how my manager sometimes thinks I must be under-reporting my hours. He occasionally says something like, “But Sacha, what about all the other learning that you do? I know you might feel guilty about writing down all those hours…” To which I often respond, “Err, umm, I actually do have a life.” ;) A quiet, at-home-ish life, but a pretty darn good life nonetheless. (And if this is a career-limiting move, that’s good to know–it’ll mean I’ll find or make opportunities somewhere I and other people can flourish!)

I sometimes spend my evenings and weekends exploring technology. More often, though, I spend those precious concentrated blocks of time on other pursuits: spending time with W- and J-, experimenting with virtual assistance or presentations, working in the garden or on my sewing, inhaling vast quantities of books from the library, preparing the groundwork. Certainly some of these things can benefit my company, but the connection might not be direct or immediate. Besides, I already have so much fun at work–coaching people, developing systems, sharing what I’m learning, influencing people’s behaviors and moods along the way. I like giving myself the freedom to let my thoughts explore all sorts of directions without necessarily focusing on work.

I suspect this has a large part to do with the happiness and energy people find so remarkable. =) And if I could just figure out how to help people try this out, that would be awesome.

Personal finance and work-life balance are surprisingly similar. Many people feel starved for both time and money. They live from paycheque to paycheque and moment to moment, stressed out by what they lack. Their conditions impose limits on them, and they end up without the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities. If you don’t have savings, you’ll find it hard to respond to emergencies or take advantage of a good deal. If you don’t give yourself time, you’ll find it hard to respond to changes or to fully enjoy each moment.

The combination of a healthy emergency fund, long-term savings, and an opportunity fund is tremendously liberating. Time is even more precious. Giving myself the space to explore, learn, to grow, to share, to live–that’s what allows me to enjoy all the other moments, too. It allows me to appreciate the wonderful people I get to share these moments with and the fantastic experiences we have. It allows me to experiment with new tools and new ideas, so I always keep learning.

Work-life balance is a personal thing. For some people, their ideal life might involve a whole lot of work. That’s totally okay, too. If they’re happy, they’re happy!

I don’t know if you can just give this kind of experience to someone else. Many lottery winners commit suicide. Giving people the gift of time doesn’t quite do the thing, either. What questions can I ask and what stories and experiences can I share so that people can explore this?

Garden updates

June 13, 2009 - Categories: gardening

The six-week bush beans are up, and so are the carrots. The edamame I planted on a whim has germinated, too, although it hasn’t poked its nose out of the soil just yet. The spearmint is absolutely lovin’ the pot that it’s in. I’ve taken to having lots of mint tea so that the plant stays neatly within the pot. The mesclun mix I planted last week is up as well, and some of the seedlings are starting to look lettuce-y. All the strawberry plants are flowering. The bitter melon is doing well, too – so well that I’ve had to thin the ones in the pot, transplanting some of the crowded seedlings to the spot near the fence where the bitter melon will eventually grow. The creeping thyme is starting to establish itself, and has delicately purple flowers. The cat grass is growing by leaps and bounds. No hint of the cantaloupes and watermelons just yet, but I’m sure they’ll come – and if they don’t, I can make other plans for that space. And in the shade near the lilies of the valley, I’ve spotted some dill–volunteers from last year’s attempt to grow dill in a planter?

I find myself retreating to the garden to think. It’s comfortable, and it probably has more of me in it than any other place in Canada. The land is W-‘s, of course, but the vegetables and herbs are here because of me. I’m putting down roots. ;) Not that I’m not prepared to leave this, just in case–ah, paperwork and visas–but while I’m here, I may as well be here. Who knows? Someday I may cultivate heirloom tomatoes and snack on sugar peas, and I’ll be able to have–and share!–these experiences.

It’s amazing to see how sunshine, well-fertilized soil, and water can get all these plants to grow. I love seeing the plants go through the different stages. I love knowing that the soil underneath our plants is rich in happy earthworms. I love being able to reach out and rub a few leaves to release the scent of rosemary, mint, basil, thyme, or lavender. I love the grit of our sandy soil between my fingers, the cool moistness that tells me when I should water and when I can let the plants rest. I love the anticipation and the constant change, even when that change comes in the form of weeds that enjoy the cultivated conditions as much as our plants do.

Next year, I think we’ll add another feet or two out, plant zucchini instead of melons (or just plant them all and see what comes out first), plant more strawberries (although I have another planter coming in)… Squee!

Social Recruiting Summit: Awesomest Job Search Ever

June 15, 2009 - Categories: conference, presentation, speaking, web2.0

UPDATE: Here’s the recording! =)

pre-session notes

This is a placeholder for “Awesomest Job Search Ever”, the talk I’m giving at the Social Recruiting Summit today at the Googleplex. It’ll eventually hold notes from the session, and if we’re lucky, a recording and a transcript as well. =)

I plan to tell the story about how I got to do what I do at IBM. The three points I want to make are:

  • Because the company learned more about me through my blog, they got a great sense of who I was, what I was good at, and what mattered to me.
  • Because I met so many interesting employees through their blogs and social networks, I really wanted to join the company. Relational onboarding was awesome, too.
  • Because we both knew more about each other than in a normal job search, we could create new opportunities.

I want to convince recruiters to take the following actions:

  • Help their companies and candidates learn how to use social media to tell stories and to connect.
  • Help people connect before, during, and after their job search process.
  • Look for ways to create opportunities that go beyond the typical job search.

Please feel free to leave comments with questions or further thoughts. You can also e-mail me at [email protected]. Looking forward to hearing from you!

UPDATE: Susan mentioned that she found one of my presentations. That’s probably this one:

Another thing that you might like:

More presentations on Slideshare

Notes from the Social Recruiting Summit

June 18, 2009 - Categories: conference, web2.0

I love being part of industry conferences outside my field. I learn so much from the sessions and the conversations, and I meet all sorts of amazing people I might not otherwise have come across.

Yesterday, I participated in the first Social Recruiting Summit, where recruiters shared questions, ideas and tips on how to use social media to connect companies and candidates. I gave a presentation on The Awesomest Job Search Ever.

Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) gave the keynote address, demonstrating LinkedIn Recruiter. Listening to the conversations afterwards, I got the feeling that people had hoped to have more exciting news about where Reid saw the industry going in the next five years, or some other insights and information not available on LinkedIn’s website. Note to self: When you keynote a conference, focus on the big picture and give people something special.

The summit had an unconference portion. I like unconferences because they let people bring out fresh perspectives, late-breaking news, and more conversation. I proposed a session for sharing success stories and war stories, which I removed when I saw that other sessions could fulfill that quite nicely. Ryan Caldwell and Dion Lim had proposed separate sessions around social media and ROI. When I saw what Dion had written, I called Ryan over, introduced the two of them, and convinced them to merge their sessions. Ryan said he thought I should be in mergers and acquisitions instead. ;) It became a four-person panel with some interesting points, although I think they were counting on a more experienced audience with success stories and war stories of their own. In the future, providing unconference sessions with whiteboards or easels would be a great idea because the facilitators can then capture and express more complex ideas.

There were lots of other interesting sessions and conversations at the summit. During my presentation on “Awesomest Job Search Ever”, I encountered some difficulties hooking my laptop up to the projector, so I just went slide-free. I told people the story about how I got to know IBM, how IBM got to know me, and how that led to just the right position being created for me. We took almost 40 minutes for questions and answers, I think. I learned a lot and I had tons of fun. Others did too! The key messages that emerged were:

  • Social media allows employers to learn about candidates and candidates to learn about employers to an unprecedented extent, and this can help form strong personal connections.
  • Those connections make it easier for new employees to hit the ground running.
  • Recruiters can be ambassadors who help their companies and candidates learn more about making the most of social media.

Lots of good stuff, but I better get these notes out before they become stale!


It was difficult to extract one of our companions for dinner, so I suggested that we all go. There were about 16 of us. Chandra Bodapati took us to a terrific Indian restaurant. (Yay local guides!)

I had a terrific conversation with John Sumser, who opened by saying, “You must have amazing mentors.” He explained his company name (Two Color Hat) by telling me the African teaching tale about a man with a two-color hat who walked down a street and asked people what they saw. He likes bringing together different perspectives. He’s also very interested in the demographic shapes of companies and labour markets.

John gave me tips on storytelling and emotional modulation. He encouraged me to find ways to develop my technical skills in parallel with softer skills like presentation and influence. He suggested checking out things like The Quantified Self, The Technium, Kevin Kelly (kk.org), cybernetics, and other complex things. This reminds of what Michael Nielsen told be about Lion Kimbro, who found that the practice of writing down his every thought made him think much more clearly. Must see if John knows about him.

On the way to the airport

I hitched a ride with Eric Jaquith and Geoff Peterson in a SuperShuttle, which worked out to be a very cost-effective and hassle-free way to get from Embassy Suites to the SFO airport. Along the way, they shared even more insights about recruiting, technology companies, leadership, life, and other good things. I’m really so lucky that people are so generous with their insights!


I arrived at 11:00 at the San Francisco International Airport. Since I had a few hours to spare before my 3:05 flight, I connected to the wireless network and started working. Jennifer Okimoto (enterprise adaptability consultant) sent me an instant message asking me about the summit. She said,

so… I’ve received a request to respond to a media relations request ABOUT SOCIAL RECRUITING and you appear to be the current IBM expert!

Jen had been reading my tweets, and she wanted to pick my brain about emerging trends in social recruiting. I spent 20 minutes braindumping the ideas and stories I’d picked up from the one-day summit. Here are some bits:

  • Applicant tracking systems are starting to incorporate data from social networks so that they can track that someone came in from Twitter, Facebook, or somewhere else.
  • Progressive companies are interested in using social networks to find out who their employees know, so that when candidates come in, they can figure out who knows that person in the company (or who has some affiliation).
  • Social recruiting right now tends to be ad-hoc, based on people’s individual social networks. This is a problem when a recruiter leaves a company. People are looking at using groups on LinkedIn and other services so that they can keep the networks even if individual recruiters leave. Contact relationship managements are useful, too.
  • Everyone’s interested in how to approach and build relationships with passive candidates. Blogs and social networks seem to be a good way to reach out, get people interested in you or following you, and build the relationship from there.
  • Some companies are turning to rich media (video, podcasts, etc) to give the companies or recruiters faces, a personal connection. Recruiters who have public video interviews get more job leads and resumes at job fairs.
  • People are still trying to figure out social media. Many people still think about it like a job board, broadcasting information. Some people are starting to get into it as a conversation: reading, commenting, posting stuff about their company or useful things that might help people, and only posting the occasional job-related update.
  • Mobile is really interesting. The recording for the session on mobile recruiting should be on the socialrecruitingsummit.com site shortly.
  • The economic climate mean that people aren’t hopping about like crazy trying to fill slates, because hiring has slowed down. But companies like Microsoft are starting to bring in new metrics– not just time-to-hire but also how quickly they can put a slate of candidates together when they get a request (which encourages them to develop a pool of interesting people).
  • LinkedIn Recruiter has lots of interesting faceted search features. (I liked how they walked through that scenario from the IBM ad.)
  • Very few people do real metrics. They try all these things, but they don’t know if they work, or how well. There are some companies working on this space.
  • About 20% of the summit participants have a blog. Most of them have commented on a blog.
  • They think community managers and social media marketers are going to be hot positions in a short while.
  • Many of their companies frown on social networks or blogging, but some are taking the opposite tack and trying to get everyone in the company on LinkedIn.
  • Some companies are building employee job ads / referral widgets on Facebook.
  • V Australia (energy drink) set up a site to help Gen Yers find jobs at other companies. They got great ROI in terms of marketing and exposure.
  • You know that Southwest rapper flight attendant video? Turns out he had been working as a ramp agent for 6 months before that, and he was unhappy with his work. He took one of their personal development courses to figure out if his values lined up with his job’s, and realized that being a flight attendant was a much better fit. He gave it a shot and really enjoyed it. A customer captured his rap on video and uploaded it to YouTube after asking. The video went viral, and the guy has made the rounds of the usual talk shows. Good story about people development and about social media.

So that’s the braindump from the conference. I’ve asked an assistant to transcribe my talk, and I’ll post that after I clean it up. =)

129 summer camp ideas

June 18, 2009 - Categories: life

J- doesn’t want to go to any camps this summer. Instead, she’ll try to come up with interesting things to do. I spent a few minutes compiling this list of summer camp ideas. If some of these catch her eye, we can see about putting together our own curriculum and activities… =)

  1. Adventure
  2. Animal safari
  3. Animation
  4. Archaeology
  5. Arts and crafts
  6. Astronomy
  7. Backpacking
  8. Baking
  9. Baseball
  10. Basketball
  11. Biking
  12. Biology
  13. BMX
  14. Building / woodworking
  15. Business
  16. Canoeing
  17. Caving
  18. Cheerleading
  19. Chess
  20. Clay
  21. Claymation
  22. Chemistry
  23. Circus
  24. Computer
  25. Construction
  26. Cooking
  27. Creative writing
  28. Cross-country skiing
  29. CSI
  30. Culture
  31. Debate
  32. Diving
  33. Dog sledding
  34. Environmental
  35. Etiquette
  36. Farming
  37. Fashion
  38. Fitness
  39. Fencing
  40. Field hockey
  41. Film
  42. Finances
  43. Fishing
  44. Flash animation
  45. Football
  46. General academics
  47. Geology
  48. Gifted
  49. Golf
  50. Gymnastics
  51. Hiking
  52. Hip hop
  53. Horseback riding
  54. Hunting
  55. Ice hockey
  56. Ice skating
  57. International studies
  58. It’s a girl thing
  59. Jewelry
  60. Journalism
  61. Kayaking
  62. Lacrosse
  63. Language
  64. Liberal arts
  65. Life on the farm
  66. Life skills
  67. Life sports (tennis, golf, badminton)
  68. Magic
  69. Marine science
  70. Martial arts
  71. Math
  72. Medical
  73. Modeling
  74. Motocross
  75. Motorsport
  76. Mountain biking
  77. Mountain boarding
  78. Mountaineering
  79. Multi-sport
  80. Net sports
  81. Orienteering
  82. Paintball
  83. Personal growth
  84. Piloting
  85. Primitive skills
  86. Photography
  87. Psychology
  88. Rappelling
  89. Riflery
  90. Robotics
  91. Rock climbing
  92. Rockets
  93. Rollerblading
  94. Ropes
  95. Rowing
  96. Sailing
  97. Scrapbooks
  98. SCUBA
  99. Secret agent
  100. Sewing
  101. Shakespeare
  102. Singing
  103. Skateboarding
  104. Snowboarding
  105. Snow skiing
  106. Soccer
  107. Softball
  108. Spa
  109. Space
  110. Squash
  111. Stunt
  112. Survival
  113. Swimming
  114. Tennis
  115. Theatre arts
  116. Traditional
  117. Track and field
  118. TV
  119. Veterinary science
  120. Video game design
  121. Volleyball
  122. Wakeboarding
  123. Waterskiing
  124. Water polo
  125. Whitewater rafting
  126. Wilderness
  127. Windsurfing
  128. Wrestling
  129. Yoga

Weekly review: Week ending June 14, 2009

June 18, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans


  • More photography, tidying up


  • Give presentation on ABCs of Boomers, X, Ys, Zs (nonprofits and generational differences)
  • Fix more Transition2 bugs, add new partners
  • Prepare for “Awesomest Job Search Ever” and “Totally Rocking Presentations at IBM” talks
  • Fix my Linux partition

Skills/personal growth

  • Write more articles / blog posts

Bike to work on Friday =) Stayed home instead.


  • Planted blueberry bushes
  • Made my own eye mask from my fuzzy cat fabric

Plans for next week (this week, really):

  • Social Recruiting Summit
  • Taking the Stage: The Power of Voice
  • Develop Drupal system – Transition2
  • Coach clients on LinkedIn
  • Prepare presentations
  • Attend sprouts class
  • Dinner party

Twitter brings down walls

June 18, 2009 - Categories: web2.0

In addition to Twitter, YouTube has been a critical tool to spread videos from Iran when traditional media outlets have had difficulty filming the protests or the ensuing crackdown. One YouTube account, bearing the user name “wwwiranbefreecom,” showed disturbing images of police officers beating people in the streets. On Monday, Lara Setrakian, an ABC News journalist, put out a call for video on Twitter, writing, “Please send footage we can’t reach!”

“We’ve been struck by the amount of video and eyewitness testimony,” said Jon Williams, the BBC world news editor. “The days when regimes can control the flow of information are over.”

Washington Taps Into a Potent New Force in Diplomacy – NYTimes.com

The world is changing. Technology helps people make a difference.

Thanks to Bernie Michalik for the pointer to the article.

Taking the Stage: The Power of Voice

June 18, 2009 - Categories: kaizen, leadership, presentation, speaking

The second session in the Taking the Stage women’s leadership program I’m taking at IBM was called The Power of Voice. We learned about some of the vocal habits that undermine people’s confidence and rapport, such as trailing off or using a rising tone at the end of sentences.

We also had a short discussion about what makes presentations engaging. Many of the participants mentioned enthusiasm and passion–if not for the content, then for something beyond that.

The three key tips I picked up were:

  1. Breathe deeply from the diaphragm so that you can support your voice.
  2. Open your mouth both inside and out, because that affects your tone and articulation.
  3. Resonate using different areas of your body: head, chest, and others.

I’ve thought about finding a speaking or presentation coach who can help me learn how to make even better use of my gift of spreading enthusiasm. I’m good at collecting and retelling stories. I’m good at finding something worth being excited about, sharing my enthusiasm, and helping people remember why they care about their work. I’m good at mixing presentations up with creative approaches. I’m good at scaling up – getting more value from the effort I put into making a presentation. I’m good at handling questions and dealing with the unexpected.

The first thing that can help me become an even better speaker would be to learn how to use even more vocal variety. I’ll start with varying tempo, then I’ll learn how to vary pitch, and maybe even learn how to bring in different accents and sound effects. These will help me build more dramatic tension into storytelling, use emotional modulation, and pick the right voice. Articulation would also be good to improve.

I can practice on my own with vocal exercises, aerobic exercise (to increase my breathing capacity), and perhaps even podcasts. I can also practice in my presentations, which usually come once or twice a week during conference season. Once I get my work permit paperwork sorted out, I’ll sign up for Impatient.ca‘s longform improv classes. In the meantime, I can look around for acting workshops or speech coaches who won’t charge an arm and a leg, and I can check out lots of books from the library on how to improve speech.

Other things I can work on in the future: storytelling, navigational structures, vocabulary =) (richer words! more concrete expressions!), improvisation, humor, rhetorical structures, illustration… There’s so much to grow into!

I’m interested in this for a number of reasons:

  • I learn things much more effectively when I teach them, and learning how to communicate well lets me enjoy communicating even more. It keeps me excited about learning and teaching.
  • If I learn how to communicate more effectively and more engagingly, then I can deliver more value when I give presentations–and I can scale up even more when I write or share recordings.
  • So many opportunities come to me because of my presentations and knowledge-sharing. The better I get at this and the earlier I improve, the more cumulative effect this will have over time.
  • The better I can communicate and the more control and range I have, the more I can do professionally and personally.
  • If I can help other people develop their communication skills, then this will scale up even more.
  • It’s fun!

Next actions: Check out library books on voice training, and ask for quotes from voice coaches in Toronto. Waiting for paperwork: sign up for improv classes, and look for acting workshops.

Social media and education

June 18, 2009 - Categories: teaching, web2.0

There’s an insightful 82-page PDF entitled Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy. Support for the original work was provided by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Ltd, an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. (And the report’s CC-Attribution-Noncommercial-Sharealike!)

Interesting bits:

  • Gen Yers aren’t all that likely to use emerging Web 2.0 technologies, and may not necessarily want to use those tools in learning. (p6)
  • Web 2.0 tools have unexpected benefits for engagement with subject material, peers, and community.
  • Teachers like wikis more than students do. (p10)
  • Lots of great case studies (p27-51)

Educating the Net Generation: A Handbook of Findings for Practice and Policy

If you’re in education, you should definitely check this out. Might be interesting to write case studies like this for the corporate world, too.

Thanks to Millennial Leaders and Ryan Coleman for the link!

A tale of two laptops

June 19, 2009 - Categories: geek

I’m really starting to appreciate the convenience of having two laptops. I can leave one running tests while I work on the other. I can separate memory-hungry applications like Emacs+Firefox (development) and Lotus Notes (work coordination). I can take the smaller laptop with me when I travel, which makes it easier to travel light.

Although the Eee’s screen is only 1024×600 pixels, I prefer it for development because I’ve set it up with my complete Emacs environment. The Windows partition of my work laptop doesn’t have all of my shortcuts set up, and accessing the development server through putty/ssh is slow. So I do my development on the Eee (small screens encourage short functions!), use the work laptop for mail and web conferences, and occasionally look up webpages on the work laptop’s bigger screen.

Worth it. I’m seriously thinking about upgrading the RAM on the Eee to at least 2GB, though, as I regularly use at least 1.2 GB during development.

Travelling with smiles

June 19, 2009 - Categories: travel

I think I’m getting the hang of how to make flights comfortable. =)

  • A checklist of electronics, toiletries, and paperwork helps me make sure I don’t forget anything at home or at the hotel. The CarbonFin Outliner application on the iPhone/iPod Touch is perfect for keeping a task outline that you can check as you pack and clear when you want to reuse it.
  • A water bottle makes it easy to stay hydrated on the flight and on the road. Ask flight attendants to fill it up with water, particularly on long flights. Cap the bottle when you’re sleeping so that you don’t worry aboutspilling anything.
  • Wash-hang-and-wear clothes from Tilley and other travel outfitters are light and easy to launder in a hotel room sink. You don’t even need to iron them to look presentable.
  • A hat shades me from the sun and makes it easy to pick me out from the conference crowds.
  • Mini-socks or foot covers can be worn through airport security so that I don’t have to walk barefoot while my shoes are being X-rayed
  • A passport organizer on a lanyard keeps my passport, boarding pass, and iPod handy.
  • A rolling case that’s just the right size for even cramped regional jets means I can comfortably travel light.
  • A netbook lets me work in airports and on the plane.
  • An Eagle Creek compact comfort travel pillow is easy to inflate and deflate, covered with soft microfleece, and good at helping me avoid stiff necks. In a pinch, it can also be used as lumbar support.
  • Skullcandy earphones or another noise-isolating earphone set – good for inflight entertainment or my iPod.
  • A custom eye-mask I sewed from the comfy cat-print flannel I used for my pajamas fits well and makes me smile.

It’s the little things that make all the difference… =)

Leadership and Embracing Challenge

June 19, 2009 - Categories: career, leadership, life

I’ve just finished listening to Mark Dymond’s presentation on embracing challenge at a Top Talent webinar on leadership.

Know your flight envelope and grow it

Mark compared embracing challenges with flying at the edges of a flight envelope, the capabilities of an airplane in terms of speed and altitude. When you’re close to the edge of what’s possible, you need to fly differently. Unlike airplanes, though, you can expand your flight envelope over time, learning new skills or becoming comfortable with more situations.

I love expanding my flight envelope. I prefer to work on new challenges than do things I’m already comfortable with doing. If I know how to do something like the back of my hand, then it’s time to teach it and leave it. (Related book: Refuse to Choose) In fact, I often teach people in the process of learning a topic, helping people expand their own flight envelopes along the way.

Leadership and vision

Among the leadership quotes that Mark shared was this quote:

The role of a leader is to define reality and offer hope.

Napoleon Bonaparte

The power that writers, speakers and leaders share is the power to name reality and show the way.
The words you use to describe something makes it easier for other people to recognize it, shapes the way people think of it, and brings complex ideas into the reach of understanding.

In challenging economic times and in tight and tense situations, the people who help other people see what the challenge is, understand what the important aspects are, and figure out how to move forward–those people are leaders, whether or not they have the title.

You can lead no matter where you are in an organization. You don’t need to wait for an opportunity or a job title. All you need is to develop the ability to help people understand what’s going on and how to move forward.

I’m an entry-level employee at IBM, and my world is filled with opportunities to lead. I can help people understand emerging trends and how to make the most of them. I can take what I’m learning from mentors, courses, and experiences, and share that with others. Through my words, actions, and reactions, I can influence people’s energy, their vision, their ability to adapt, and their skills. And I’m relatively new around here–imagine what more experienced people can do!

IBM has this to say about the leadership competency of embracing challenges:

Outstanding IBM leaders see opportunity in complex and challenging situations. They get energized by complex and challenging problems and take personal responsibility to ensure that they are resolved. These leaders are able to do this by identifying the central issue in the complexity and getting themselves and others focused on addressing those “vital few” priorities. They take accountability enthusiastically while accurately conveying the risk or difficulty  involved. These leaders’ enthusiasm and their belief in a positive outcome in difficult situations inspire others to believe they can succeed and embrace the challenge themselves.

The role of a leader is to define reality and offer hope. Learn how to see the opportunities. Learn how to communicate so that other people can see them. Learn how to lead people forward.

Client focus, team focus

Mark told us a story about a troubled project that he took on when no one else wanted it. IBM was at risk of getting sued, and tensions were high. He and a number of other people were on a conference call about the client. During the discussion, he muted the phone and explained the three alternatives he saw. One of the executives unmuted the phone and repeated what he had said, improving the ideas further. During the follow-up discussion, he again muted the phone and told the people in the room about the alternative he thought was the best, and why. Once again, the executive unmuted the phone and said what he had said.

This story reminded me of the stories I’ve heard about people’s anger and frustration when other people take credit for their work, which had formed a large part of a leadership discussion in another group. On one hand, Mark could’ve been upset that his ideas were used without attribution (or if there was, he didn’t include that as part of his story). But he focused on the problem and on helping the team address it. It didn’t matter that the client didn’t know that it was his analysis or his idea. What mattered to the client was that the problem was addressed. The executive wasn’t trying to take credit for his work, and indeed added a few improvements. It was all about solving the problem, and I’m sure that person remembered that Mark helped the team look good.

This is not to say that there aren’t people who unintentionally or intentionally don’t recognize other people’s contributions, and I understand how people can feel unappreciated and frustrated. In a tight situation, focusing on the client and the team means not letting ego get in the way. If this happens systematically, though, then it can poison the working environment and stifle working relationships.

I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve felt that people were stealing ideas from me or not giving me enough credit. I do what I do, and I often write about what I’ve learned along the way. I celebrate my own progress and my own accomplishments; external recognition is just icing on the cake. If my slides are reused within the company without attribution, I don’t mind. It’s the company’s intellectual property, I saved someone time, and people often come to me for additional information through referrals or search anyway. Whether my manager or his manager or his manager’s manager knows about all the things I do doesn’t bother me either, as opportunities come in from all over. If I ever find myself in that kind of a situation, I think I’d simply respond by sharing even more value and reaching out even further, so I can find or build opportunities to improve my situation.

(I do occasionally keep an eye on blogs that aggregate me, though – I’d definitely like to rank higher in search results than they do, or at least have a link back to my site, so that people can learn more! =) )

So: when stakes are high, focus on the client, support your team, and don’t let ego get in the way. If you feel underappreciated, figure out how you can improve your situation.

Thoughts on challenging times

It seems every leadership presentation I attend mentions that we live in challenging times. With all the news, I know that’s true, and I know a lot of people and a lot of businesses are struggling. Personally, I think I’m incredibly lucky to have such an awesome life. My life isn’t going from bad to worse, it’s going from good to better. I’m alive. I love and am loved. I’m learning so much. I have all these opportunities to make a difference. I can connect with all sorts of amazing people throughout the world. I can support my favourite causes. And you’re telling me it gets even better than this during boom times? Wow!

So I want to figure out if there’s something about the way I do things or see things that I can share with other people, so that they can feel this way about their days too.  =)

Next steps

Next quarter, I’ll be working on a mostly-full-time Drupal project (building in even more complex functionality) and a part-time social media strategy project. A fascinating engagement opportunity has just come up that will involve even more responsibility, and I hope my manager will agree that it’ll be good for the company, our team, and me. My schedule might get shuffled around a bit, but I’m sure it will be amazing.

I’m challenging myself to learn more about using my voice to reach out and connect with people even more effectively. I know mentors, books, classes, and coaching can help me get the most of my practice time.

Weekly review: Week ending June 21, 2009

June 22, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Social Recruiting Summit
  • Taking the Stage: The Power of Voice
  • Develop Drupal system – Transition2 Got the forums to mostly work
  • Coach clients on LinkedIn
  • Prepare presentations More work needed
  • Attend sprouts class Skipped, decided to learn this on my own instead. $40 could buy a lot of seeds. =) Started mung beans and mustard seeds.
  • Dinner party Postponed to next week.

I also:

  • Sewed a laptop case with pockets for my power adapter, iPod, mouse, and other gadgets
  • Attended W-‘s extended family’s Father’s Day dinner and had tons of fun =)
  • Uploaded some pictures
  • Played shutterbug with W- and J-. It’s like Punchbuggy, but you have to shoot the Beetle ;)
  • Planted marigolds and strawflowers in the front flower boxes, near the new blueberry bushes
  • Read lots of books =)

Next week, I plan to:

  • Complete contact preferences feature and admin feature for forums (Drupal)
  • Give two presentations at work (LinkedIn and Twitter, Totally Rocking Presentations at IBM) and submit a third (I.B.Millennials: Working with and Learning from Gen Y)
  • Sew a nylon bag for carrying lots of stuff
  • Host a dinner get-together
  • Have a facial =)

Log your accomplishments

June 22, 2009 - Categories: blogging, career, life, web2.0

If you’ve ever wondered where the day went, or where the week went, or where the month or year went, slow down. Take notes. Keep a diary, a journal, a blog, or whatever other way you want to keep track of your accomplishments and celebrate the little things.

Notes don’t lock you into the past. They let you see where you’ve come from and remember where you’re going. You can store your unfinished thoughts for further reflection. You can figure out what to say and how to say it. You can figure out what you think.

Keeping notes also helps you in other ways. If you write down your accomplishments along the way, yearly performance reviews become a lot easier. If you write down solutions to problems you’ve encountered–or even the things you’ve tried along the way–you’ll find that your notes will save you time when you need to solve that problem or similar ones. Record other things: what you enjoy, what you don’t, what you’re curious about, what you’ve learned.

So get a journal that you’re not afraid to write in, or start a blog (more about this later), or write one-line summaries of your day on Twitter. Block time in your schedule so that you can write. Five minutes will do. Fifteen minutes would be even better. It doesn’t have to be a perfect record. It doesn’t have to be a coherent essay. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day. Just keep writing. Be kind to yourself when you write. Celebrate.

Come back after you’ve done that for a month. Now life should’ve slowed down for you, slowed down enough to enjoy. You can look back and see where you’ve been, what you’ve done. And you might’ve found yourself writing about who you’d like to grow into, what you’d like to do–great!

Keep writing.

Now think about some stories you can share with more people. Stories can help you connect with others and build relationships. Through stories, you can teach other people about what you’re good at and who you are.

Here’s the big step: try telling those stories in a conversation. Or even better: on a blog. You don’t have to tell everyone about your new blog, if you don’t want to. You can just write. Share your notes. Share how you’ve solved problems, share what you’ve learned. Share a couple of stories from your day.


Because you’ll learn a lot more along the way. You’ll learn in the process of figuring out how to explain things to someone else. You’ll learn from your own notes. And you might just learn something from the questions and experiences of other people.

You’ll learn a lot from helping other people by sharing your experiences. And people will learn more about you and the value you create.

It’s a great habit, and not hard to start. After all, life already happens. The problem you’ll find yourself encountering, actually, is that there will be too many great stories to tell.

Cultivating enthusiasm

June 22, 2009 - Categories: life, passion, photography

W- turned to J- and asked, “So, why don’t you want to go to summer camp?”

“The first reason is that I want to spend my time more wisely,” said the 11-year-old. I cheered.

“The second reason is that it’s just like daycare. If I go to daycare during school and camp during summer, then it’s the same all year round.”

“Variety!” I said, nodding.

“The third reason is that there are all these young kids running around,” she continued.

“So you’ve outgrown camp,” said W-.

J- nodded.

“Well, if you can take the responsibility for spending that time wisely, sure!” I said.

Kudos to her for knowing what she wants and going for it.

So we’re going to build photography experiments into our summer schedule.

We played lacrosse catch in a nearby park, and then we took pictures. J- was delighted with her silhouette experiments and her flower photography. She likes taking macro shots.

As the light faded, we switched to panning shots, catching cyclists and cars. Even when we were walking back home, she’d sometimes run ahead to take a picture of a passing car.

When we got home, she skipped ice cream time to play on the piano instead. She has figured out how to play both hands for “A Whole New World”, and she’s been learning “Part of Your World” and the introduction of “Fur Elise” almost entirely on her own. She asked me how to play parts of Fur Elise, so I showed her that the notes she wrote down were correct.

“This isn’t the real song, is it?” She asked.

I laughed. “Play the demo again, and look at the notes.” I traced them with my finger, like the bouncing ball of karaoke lyrics. “See, you haven’t been playing with training wheels. You’ve been learning the real thing.”

“Ooh! Cool!”

“Terrific! And what would let you enjoy piano even more?”

“Well… What about the Star Wars music?”


“No, the one at the beginning.”

“Oh! Okay, let’s go look for that…”

And now she’s off teaching herself the Star Wars Theme. =)

I tell this story because it’s a wonderful thing to help cultivate enthusiasm. We were watching J- chase cars with her camera, and W- said, “That’s the kind of enthusiasm I was thinking about.” I smiled and said that it takes only one interest. Once she knows what it’s like to be passionate about something, she’ll discover other things as well.

Ah, Mondays. =D

Notes from Totally Rocking Presentations at IBM

June 24, 2009 - Categories: presentation, speaking

When one of my mentors asked me if I could do a session on presentation skills for the new interns who are coming in as part of IBM’s Extreme Blue program, I said yes, of course. =) Great opportunity to give back and learn.

Here are the key points I shared and learned in the session today:

1. Look for inspiration. It’s easier to get better at presentations when you know what good presentations look like, sound like, and feel like. Watch videos or download podcasts from TED.com to see what passionate brilliance is like. Check out Slideshare.net to see what kinds of presentations real people put together. Pick up tips from books such as Presentation Zen (also blog), Slide:ology (also blog), Rainmaking Presentations, The How of Wow, and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins. Be inspired.

2. Figure out what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it. Let’s tackle those parts one by one.

What do you want to share? Many people make the mistake of thinking they don’t have anything to say because they’re not experts. As a result, they don’t volunteer for presentations or submit ideas to conferences.

Why does it matter? Again, many people make the mistake of thinking that all they need to do is inform their audiences. Every presentation is an opportunity to influence, to persuade. Every presentation is an opportunity to help someone think differently and even take action. Figure out what you want people to walk away with, and why they would care about your message. Talk in their terms.

Make your presentation even better by figuring out why it matters to you. That’s how you tap into your passion and energy. Why do you care about the topic? What do you bring to it that nobody else can? What do you want to get out of the presentation?

Whenever I prepare a presentation, I look for ways that I can learn a lot from it. That’s why I love handling lots of questions, because questions tell me what people find important. Questions let me pull more ideas out of my head and get them into a form that I can share. People in the audience share their experiences and insights, too. If something really stumps me, well, that points me to something I can learn. This adventure is one of the reasons why I love giving presentations. And that’s why I can bring so much energy and joy to my presentations–I’m doing it because I want to do it.

When you know what and why, how becomes much easier to figure out. You can play with your toolbox to see what fits. Bullet points are one way to do it. Try full-screen stock photography, or individual words with lots of whitespace (or black backgrounds), or purposeful animations. Try Creative Commons-licensed pictures from Flickr. Try telling a story. Try not using slides. Try using a scenario. Try finding statistics. Go ahead and experiment. Go ahead and play.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

There’s no shortcut here, and no matter what other people might tell you, stage fright never goes away. But practice can help you get better at harnessing that nervous energy. Practice can help you figure out and remember what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it.

The obvious way to practice is to sign up for more presentations. But even if you don’t get that many speaking opportunities, there are plenty of other ways you can practice. You might try explaining what you do and why it matters during conversations. You can speak up during meetings. You can prepare slides and post them on Slideshare or other services, even if you don’t have a presentanion scheduled.

I find blogging to be an incredibly useful way to practice thinking and speaking. Most of my presentations start as blog posts. If you’re interested in something, write about it. If you’re really interested, write again and again. In the process, you’ll learn about the topic, and you’ll connect with other people who are interested. Then you can turn your notes into presentations, because you’ve already done the hard work of thinking about what you want to say and how to say it, and you know it matters to you.

So the next steps I want to convince you to take are:

– Look for inspiration. Start with ted.com. =)
– Figure out what you want to say, why it matters, and how you want to say it. Experiment. Explore.
– Practice, practice, practice. There are lots of opportunities to learn how to present, and not all of them involve a stage. (Or a stuffed toy, which I occasionally use.)

How can I help you become an even better speaker?

(I’ve omitted the IBM-specific parts here. Ping me internally if you want a link to the presentation and the recording!)

The joys of making things

June 28, 2009 - Categories: sewing

Today was a day for making things.

I made myself a simple lined tote with adjustable straps and exterior pockets–deep blue twill lined with a polyester satin print of roses on a beige background. It’s just a proof of concept, so I didn’t finish all the edges neatly, but it’s not bad. =) Next step: another tote, but this time with water-repellent cloth and white ripstop lining.

J- got inspired and came up with a design for a bag to hold her brand-new cellphone. It has one exterior pocket and one interior pocket. She picked the adorable penguin flannel I picked up yesterday, and she sewed most of it herself. I helped her sew on the pockets and attach the strap. She made a matching ponytail and cellphone cleaning cloth, too. =)

W- tweaked his camera strap design some more, and I think he’s found something that works well for him. Good stuff!

Pictures to follow!

Weekly review: Week ending June 28, 2009

June 29, 2009 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans:

  • Complete contact preferences feature and admin feature for forums (Drupal) Skipped
  • Give
    two presentations at work (LinkedIn and Twitter, Totally Rocking
    Presentations at IBM) and submit a third (I.B.Millennials: Working with
    and Learning from Gen Y)
  • Sew a nylon bag for carrying lots of stuff I have my own tote! =)
  • Host a dinner get-together That was a surprisingly satisfying Saturday supper salad and sorbet soiree. =)
  • Have a facial Ow!

I also:

  • Accepted a challenging new assignment at work – Web 2.0 and Gen Y parts of strategy workshops with top clients, oh my!
  • Had a garden salad with radish and lettuce sprouts
  • Helped W- and J- do awesome things with my sewing machine
  • Read lots of books
  • Found out
  • Biked a bit

Next week:

  • Handle any issues in the Transition2 roll-out (seems pretty okay for now, looks like our lessons learned from last phase did the trick)
  • Get ready for next two assignments
  • Prepare presentations
  • Blog thoughts
  • Take pictures of sewing projects and garden
  • Document lessons learned

Changing hats

June 29, 2009 - Categories: career

I’ll be changing hats at work. For the last year or so, my primary focus had been a Drupal-based project to help IBMers transition to new careers in nonprofit organizations, education, or the public sector. I learned lots of technical skills along the way, and became one of IBM’s subject matter experts on Drupal. I learned how to write good design documents and regression tests. I learned the ins and outs of the modules that we used, and I built quite a few custom modules for our team. I shared the build and deployment practices I’d developed with the community at DrupalCon2009 and on my blog.

Now IBM’s giving me an opportunity to practice using another hat: consultant. It’s a bit of a jump going from writing code as a developer to participating in strategy workshops, but it’s one of my quirks that I enjoy both. I had sprinkled strategy workshops and presentations throughout my development work, taking a few days here and there to travel and speak. This time we’re reversing the mix: mostly workshops and strategy, and a little bit of technical mentoring. (Not bad for someone who’s officially an entry-level employee! ;) )

One of the wonderful things about being in IBM Global Business Services is that I can do both development and consulting from the same position. From the point of view of the company, it’s just another assignment. As long as my billable utilization remains high, I can work on whatever creates the most value for our clients, the company, and myself. I seem to flip between consulting and development every six to twelve months, which is enough to keep things novel and interesting.

I might blog less about Drupal and more about Web 2.0, Gen Y, and travel. Instead of applying relentless improvement to my coding skills, I’ll work on honing my presentation and facilitation skills. I’m sure I’ll come out of this with a broader and deeper understanding of different industries and emerging topics. I’ll probably also end up with a more modulated voice, a good wardrobe of suits (some of which I may even have made), and probably a thirst for another coding project.

Exciting times!

Lessons learned from this phase of our Drupal project

June 30, 2009 - Categories: drupal

I learned a lot from another three months doing Drupal. Here’s a summary:

  • I learned how to write low-level design documentation. I used to hate doing this because I was much happier prototyping things in order to figure things out, and writing in a word processor instead of a code editor seemed slow. Also, laying out images was a pain in both OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Word. The key breakthrough was that after a lot of iterations, I finally got to a document that had the level of detail my project manager wanted. Once I knew what he wanted, it was easy to write documents like that. In fact, I did one better–I filled in lots of details in the validation section of the design document, and I used that for test-driven development.
  • I smoothed out more of the kinks in our deployment process. Always testing our update scripts with update.php’s access check set to false helped flush out assumptions about user ID. Our regression tests came in handy, too.
  • I practiced more test-driven development. And I loved it! =) Yay yay yay yay.
  • I learned JQuery and the ins and outs of Views+Calendar. We customized our calendar implementation extensively, and it doesn’t look half-bad. Working with timezones had given me a lot of pain, though, but I managed to address all of those issues (and I have the regression tests to prove it! ;) ).
  • I learned that I should’ve gotten a second computer a long time ago. Having a dedicated development computer and another computer I can leave on Microsoft Windows means less hassle and less stress when it comes to working with other Windows-centric people and tools.
  • I learned that I have a lot of things I can teach people about Drupal. =) Mentoring is fun!

I’m moving to strategy-focused projects next quarter, but if I were to continue on this project, I’d probably:

  • Learn more about optimization (started doing a little bit of this, speeding up a page by an order of magnitude)
  • Write more validation tests in my design documents
  • Figure out how to check that coding standards are consistently applied ;)
  • Find some way to convince folks to go for Drupal 6, or find another project that uses Drupal 6.

Making business travel awesome

June 30, 2009 - Categories: life, travel

Business travel makes me anxious.

When I book my flight and hotel, I wonder if I’ve chosen the right airport and the right flight, and if I can get to the hotel and to the venue easily. I wonder about the moments I’ll miss, the stories I’ll skip by being away. I worry about my visas and about being stuck on the wrong side of an immigration counter. I worry about losing my paperwork or running out of foreign currency. I worry about forgetting things in hotel rooms or forgetting myself in work.

I can work through the anxiety. My checklists and travel gear make packing easy. I’ve figured out the trick to doing work at airports and on airplanes. A netbook and a paper notebook mean I never run out of things to do. I wake up early. I explore public transit. Each trip gives me ideas for making the next trip better.

And when I’m there at the presentation, meeting, or workshop, I’m there, not wishing I was miles away.

Many people I talk to who have loved ones at home think of travel as a necessary evil. Travel has its perks: meeting new people, cementing relationships, experiencing new things. But it tires many people out.

If anyone can figure out how to make travel awesome, I can. If travelling will help me create the most value for our clients, the company, and myself, then I might as well figure out how to not only tolerate it, but even enjoy it.

So I made a mind-map today about the things I didn’t like about travel and the things I liked about travel, and I decided to work on emphasizing the positives. Here’s what I’m going to do to make future trips awesome:

  • Learn more. Interesting experiences + time to explore = awesomeness. =)
  • Focus on the advantages of stretching my comfort zone. Yes, it’s hard to find your way around an unknown city, particularly when you don’t have GPS or maps on your phone. But if anyone’s prepared to do it, I am. My parents took us backpacking across the US and Europe when my sisters and I were kids, and I loved reading maps. As a technical intern in Japan, I took overnight buses to Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto to see the sights, practice Japanese, and just enjoy wandering around. I’m not one for packaged tours or popular tourist spots. I love starting to find my way around a place, starting to get a feel for the public transit and the pulse of a city.
  • Take more pictures and share more media. I usually don’t
    take a large camera because I pack light, but if I carry a camera, I
    can share more experiences with W-, J-, and others. I always take a
    recorder, thoughMy netbook has a built-in webcam, so I can explore
    videoblogging and I can use it for video chat. Maybe if I take a camera, I can get better at figuring out what a place looks like and feels like.

  • Enjoy eating out more. I hardly ever eat out in Toronto because home-cooked food is fun to make and eat. When I’m out and about, however, I have to eat at restaurants. I prefer to find small, local haunts instead of eating at multinational chains. W- reminded me that I can use these trips to explore cuisines and look for inspiration. Besides, not spending time on cooking or cleaning up should give me more time to learn, write, and explore.
  • Sew more stuff. I liked bringing an eye mask that I made myself. =) I think I’ll spend this Canada Day sewing pajamas, and a passport organizer, a travel kit… <laugh>
  • Take more pictures and share more media. I usually don’t
    take a large camera because I pack light, but if I carry a camera, I
    can share more experiences with W-, J-, and others. I always take a
    recorder, thoughMy netbook has a built-in webcam, so I can explore
    videoblogging and I can use it for video chat.

  • Meet up with friends. I can get better at tweetups and other meetups. Maybe this is what a virtual assistant can help me put together–a list of restaurants near the hotel, a list of people who want to meet up… =)

Maybe I can help find ways to make travel better. =)