July 2010

Tools, big companies, and collaboration

July 1, 2010 - Categories: geek, work

I love building tools. I love making hard or tedious things easy. I could build tools all day.

A big company like IBM is perfect for this. Not only is there a lot of infrastructure I can build on top of, but there’s also a large internal market for tools. For example, the community newsletter tool I built for myself turned out to be great for many people too.

New tools that increase productivity free up more time to invest in increasing productivity. Tools that push the envelope of what can easily be done let people imagine what else can easily be done. It’s a virtuous cycle that I’ve loved working with since my first experience of working on Emacs Planner.

Open source and collaboration play a role here, too. Other people’s contributions – a web design, an idea, a Lotus Notes plugin – add so much value and inspire me to build even better tools. When I build tools, I link to where people can get the source code. This means that people don’t have to start from scratch, and they can learn from source code in the field. It’s good stuff. For example, an IBMer in Massachusetts added my bulk tagging code to his Lotus Connections inviter tool after reading the source.

PHP: Make a symbolic link with a .phps ending. (Ex: ln –s index.php index.phps). PHP will display the .phps file as source code. Add a link to it.

For the Java-based tools I’ve been building lately, I link to the project in our internal open source repository.

Tools, collaboration, lots of people who want or need similar things, and infrastructure for sharing… Awesome.

Thinking about dinner parties

July 2, 2010 - Categories: cooking, friends, life

The Toronto Public Library had “Julie & Julia”, so we watched it. (A movie about cooking! Of course.) I smiled at the bouef bourgignon, which W- had made for me once, and the aspics, which I’d encountered in the Joy of Cooking but have not dared to try. It was a good movie, and we both enjoyed it a lot.

Reflecting on it, I realized that I want to get back into hosting parties. However, Saturday afternoons are a good time to do woodworking, and circular saws do not go well with conversation. We probably shouldn’t spend every weekend woodworking, anyway. So I will just have to ignore that niggling itch of there-are-only-so-many-weekends-in-summer-and-only-so-many-daylight-hours desperation, work out some kind of schedule that accommodates the items W- and I want to build, and overlook the stacks of tools and lumber that make our living room unsuitable for company. After all, people have always just hung out in the kitchen.

I remember what it was like to learn how to cook on my own, dealing with too many leftovers (ah, supermarket sizes) and not enough tools. With an eat-in kitchen, well-stocked cabinets, and a wonderful garden with plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables, it would be great to help friends learn how to cook, particularly if I can pick up new recipes along the way. And now that the cats are no longer furiously shedding their spring coats, friends may breathe a little easier…

Maybe some kind of a supper club, for every other Saturday, or once a month at the latest? Friends can either bring whatever recipe they want to try, or come over early and prepare things in the kitchen. It shall have to be a homey atmosphere so that I don’t feel self-conscious about, say, having to clear papers off the table. Saturdays mean we can raid the farmer’s market or head to the supermarket if the pickings aren’t good, and people have the afternoon to come and cook if they want to.

I shifted to tea parties for a number of reasons. Hosting an open house meant that people could drop by whenever they were available, instead of being there at a certain time in order to sit down for dinner. Small treats meant that it was easy to accommodate different dietary restrictions. Maybe I can alternate tea parties and dinner parties, or work out a rhythm with other friends who like hosting. =) Or I can get back into dinner parties when I’ve gotten the hang of preparing make-ahead casseroles and other good dishes for entertaining…

I have a tea party on July 10, so I think I’ll keep it as an afternoon tea party, and maybe look into preparing some of those interesting salads in one of Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks. Hmm…

Blueberry jam, apricot syrup, and kiwi jam

July 3, 2010 - Categories: cooking, life
From Starred Photos

The blueberries at No Frills are near-perfect and relatively inexpensive ($1.47 per pint), so I stocked up and started making blueberry jam. I also made apricot syrup, and I’ve got another batch of blueberry jam mix and kiwi jam mix ready for tomorrow’s canning session.

I like making preserves. When we discovered canning during our wonderful stay-at-home vacation last year, we made apricot syrup, blueberry jam, and jalapeno jelly. The jalapeno jelly got finished quickly, as it turned out to be totally awesome with crackers and cream cheese. The blueberry jam was perfect paired with fresh-baked biscuits. The apricot syrup went really well with pancakes and with banana bread. It’s been more than a year since we bought maple syrup, which used to be a staple in our pantry.

It’s fun giving people home-made gifts, too. There’s a Filipino tradition of pasalubong – gifts brought home after a trip. It’s similar to the Japanese custom of omiyage, almost a social obligation. With globalization, what I can buy in Toronto is probably cheaper in Manila. Home-made jams and jellies are more than just preserves, though- they’re thought and time and love all wrapped up.

It turns out to be surprisingly easy to make syrups, jams, and jellies, if you don’t mind dealing with kid-boggling quantities like seven cups of sugar for one batch. (Seriously. Even J- said, “Whoa, that’s a lot of sugar.) Prep and clean-up take the biggest blocks of time, and then each batch of seven jars takes maybe 20 minutes total. It’s tiring, though – all that time on your feet! Comfy slippers help.

I’m not sure if we’re going to be able to prepare more bottles of jalapeno jelly in time for Saturday’s tea party, but there’ll always be another excuse to get together. =) We’ll have blueberry jam and kiwi jam, though, and it might be interesting to combine them.

Weekly review: Week ending July 4, 2010

July 4, 2010 - Categories: weekly

We had a four-day weekend thanks to Canada Day, and boy, did we ever make use of it. The three big things were lots of parking practice, lots of canning (95 bottles of jam on the wall, 95 bottles of jam! – well, technically, a few bottles had apricot syrup), and a new hobby: playing the ukulele.

And because it’s important to be comfortable with mediocrity on the way to competence:

From last week’s plans:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Having realized that I should trust people more to make their own decisions and that when I invite people, I’m not imposing on them, I think I’ll organize more get-togethers. =) I used to do this back home, too. I like doing things together more than just hanging out, so if I put some thought into it, I can experience new things and help friends experience things too. Besides, there are a number of new friends in Toronto and a number of people getting the hang of grown-up life, so it’s practically my duty to help people try things out. =)  So I’m planning to be more intentional about looking for opportunities and events, and we’ll figure out some way to organize get-togethers.

Life

Career growth in a large company

July 5, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm

I’m not counting my chickens before they hatch.

But there is something really cool about exploring career growth in a large company. For one thing, I can talk about it. I can simultaneously love my current work and be curious about the possibilities. I can get advice from mentors and votes of confidence from colleagues.

It’s also pretty awesome that I can read through lots of intranet resources. When I was a graduate student applying to IBM, I used the intranet to read about behavioural interviews and other techniques. Now, in my current position, I can look for deeper information about Global Business Services and about Lotus.

The blogosphere is great, but lately it seems like there’s a consensus that working for a company is bad. Perhaps it’s just a change from grad school, but working for the right company is awesome. There’s access to resources and expertise that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There’s diversity of opinion that’s really helpful. There’s constraints that require creativity to work around – yesterday that led me to more deeply consider my solution.

- Working for the Man, Cate Huston

Big companies can be awesome.

Thoughts on writing and starting again

July 6, 2010 - Categories: braindump, writing

Rominia asked:

I’m one of those people who start on a diary or a blog, so excited about it, but never seem to follow through. How come you’re so uhm, prolific in writing? I never figured you to be a writer in high school.

It’s a good thing writing isn’t just reserved for writers, or I’d be intimidated by it too. =) If you come back and read this blog often, you might notice that it’s mostly me thinking out loud, even if I’m not being really clear and concise. The trick is to write first, and leave polishing for later.

There are different ways to approach editing. One way is to think long and hard, and don’t publish anything until it’s perfect. Result: very few things published. Another way is to keep repeating yourself until the core message floats to the top. Result: lots of seeds for people to think about and learn from.

Think of it like sketching. You could try to draw everything perfectly the first time around, or you can draw lightly and darken the lines as the shape emerges.

I need to take notes, or I’ll forget. I need to take more notes, actually, because otherwise I waste the time and energy I’ve already invested in the experience.

For example, I had a great chat yesterday about some career opportunities. One of the things that made it even awesomer was that I did my homework, looking up things related to the job and anticipating potential topics of discussion. That was fun. =)

I could have let that moment slip past without writing down a quick summary, but writing it down means that I can review it later on to get a sense of what works well for me. I could also save it in my private files without publishing it on my blog, but who knows if sharing that will encourage people to do their homework for conversations too, or will invite people to share their tips with me?

And if you’ll bear with the meta-ness of this post: this is something I’ve written about before and I write about again in the future. The more I share, the better I figure out how I want to say and how I want to say it. (Like that phrase, which I’ve been using since at least 2008.) =)

So those are some quick thoughts on being prolific. Adjust your filters. Share more rather than less. But there’s also the challenge of starting again after you stop.

Don’t let the fear of stopping stop you from starting. If you’re afraid that your blog or journal will fall into disuse, go ahead and start it anyway. Never be embarrassed about starting again.

The sketchbook I occasionally carry around has mindmaps and diagrams from 2007. I still have a number of blank pages to go, and I have other notebooks I’d started (and finished, for some) in the meantime. It’s okay. I don’t beat myself up for stopping. I just enjoy starting again.

There’s a big gap between November 2001, when I started publishing my notes, and June 2002, when I started again. It’s okay. I don’t beat myself up for stopping. I just enjoy starting again.

I’ve had many interests. Sewing, for example – I played around with it a little in grade school, and then I dropped it completely. I got back into it again two years ago or so. I’m having fun starting again.

Every moment is an opportunity to start. Don’t focus on the failure, focus on the future.

Also: check out Refuse to Choose and The Renaissance Soul. It’s reassuring to know that people like us – who love learning new things and have perhaps been discouraged by how easily we get distracted – are actually pretty okay. =)

Get-together ideas for Toronto

July 7, 2010 - Categories: friends, life

Having a list of get-together ideas encourages me to plan moreget-togethers. Some are things I’ve done before and would be happy todo again, other things are things I haven’t gotten around to doingyet… =)

Long

Friday evenings are good (particularly in summer, when it almost feels like a second afternoon).Sometimes Sunday afternoons are good, too. I can be persuaded to use Saturdays for particularly good causes.

Monthly review: June 2010

July 8, 2010 - Categories: monthly

June was a great month for building. I built my first piece of furniture, a folding Adirondack chair I built from Lee Valley’s plans. The community newsletter tool I built for work turned out to be wildly popular, and it’s inspiring how people from different parts of IBM are helping me make it even better. I re-built my website to work on PHP+FastCGI+Nginx instead of PHP+mod_php+Apache, and it should be faster now. I built friendships, too, adopting a newcomer to Toronto and helping her find her way around. =)

If my family gets their visas sorted out, W- and I will get married in less than two months. Exciting times indeed!

Last month, I said:

So, what does June look like? More adjustments at work, a flurry of wedding preparations for August, lots of woodworking while it’s fun to work outdoors, lots of writing, a bit of gardening and sewing, and some more conscious attention to people’s lives. It’ll be awesome.

Work is terrific. I’m interested in exploring this sales opportunity that looks tailor-made for the kinds of skills I want to learn, but I’m also very much enjoying the work I currently do and the other projects that my new manager has lined up. It’s hard to decide! I’m looking forward to discussing my options with my mentors and old friends at a tea party I’m hosting this Saturday.

It’s been great woodworking weather. This weekend I’ll be busy with social events, but next weekend, I can start working on a storage bench and a kitty litter box hideaway. The two projects should come together pretty quickly. After all, they’re just big boxes. ;)

New interests like woodworking and playing the ukulele tend to be incompatible with writing, but I’ll see if videoblogging can help me get more stories down. At least there will be raw material to work with. I feel self-conscious watching myself on video – do I giggle too much? stutter too frequently? – but as I realized in my post about the ukulele, you can’t get to excellence if you won’t risk mediocrity. Besides, it’s good to show people that it’s okay to learn. ;)

What will July be like? I want to polish my community toolkit and share it with more people. I want to explore sales and see what I can learn even in my current role. I want to invest more time into developing relationships. I want to build a few projects. I want to learn how to play at least one song on my ukulele. It’ll be busy and fun and amazing.

Here are the blog posts from June:

Risks, personal brands, and findability – in which I get on my soapbox about being people instead of brands
Book: Making Peace with Your Office Life – surprisingly great guide to debugging your office environment
Keeping my name – just so you know, I’m going to stay Sacha Chua forever. ;)
Growing up – yay for my sister growing up!
Editing audio and embedding it into a MS Powerpoint file – I didn’t know that before
Thank you, David Singer – friends are awesome
Using supervisord for Nginx+FastCGI+PHP – useful for geek bloggers
Seven Tips for Short Talks – quick tips
The fruits and chairs of our labour – look, my chair!
Say the steps out loud – share what you’re learning
Planning ahead – I like it
Notes about business communication – More tips
Happiness – for my mom’s memory book
I want to learn how to draw better – Practice!
On libraries at school – I heart libraries
Braindump: Automating repetitive tasks using AutoHotkey – yay automation
Thinking out loud: happiness – for my mom’s memory book
LotusScript: Checking another database for categories that do not contain a document of a particular type – geek stuff
The work of self-understanding
Passion – for my mom’s memory book
Personal finance – for my mom’s memory book
Goals – for my mom’s memory book
Some of my favourite quotes – for my mom’s memory book
Influence map; introspection – filling in stories

Weekly review:

Last month: May 2010

Yogurt, change, and growing oldness

July 9, 2010 - Categories: life

Two days ago, I had a bowl of yogurt for breakfast. For the first time in my life, I actually liked it.

I’ve never gotten along with yogurt before. Frozen yogurt? Yes. But yogurt, straight up, always tasted a bit sour, a bit off.

This was the first time I savoured that sourness.

They say your tastes change as you get older. Many people didn’t like bitter vegetables as kids, but grew to like them eventually. I was picky as a child, and it took me a while to get around to eating garlic rice, or Caesar salad, or relish on my burger.

It reminded me of a CBC Ideas program on Growing Oldness. In it, Paul Hillman talked about developing the quality of oldness, the archetype of the elder—and the surprising, simple joys of being able to taste a pickle. (I’m not there yet. I still don’t like pickles.)

Instead of fighting the years, I’m deliberately cultivating the kind of old person I want to be while enjoying the present. Look at all of my grandparent hobbies: sewing, gardening, woodworking, biking… ;)

Growing oldness is pretty fun, actually. I’ve got a long way to go. I’m turning 27 this August. It’s great to realize how much I’ve changed over the past couple of decades. If it’s been this awesome so far, how wonderful can the decades ahead be?

Sooner or later? Expertise and the new

July 10, 2010 - Categories: career, ibm, work

I will learn how to sell, sooner or later. The question is: sooner, or later?

Years of experience can help a lot when you’re selling. You know your stuff. You have war stories. You might even have a great reputation. So there’s a good argument for getting into sales later, when I’ve got years of consulting experience to back me up.

On the other hand, for the areas I’ve excelled in, I’ve done so without decades of experience. (I’m 26. I can’t have decades of experience.) In my current role, I’ve made a big difference in the way we find experts and hold innovation conversations. In my previous project, I picked up a new platform. Less than a year after I started, I spoke at the developer conference. Same for my past interests: computer science education, wearable computing, and so on. A little passion and effort, compounded, can result in a lot.

I like working on the edge, where things aren’t clearly defined. That’s where I can get the most scale by sharing what I’m learning, and where there are the most opportunities for the newcomers.

One of my mentors advised me before to keep looking for the new areas. After all, when a field matures to the point of having IT architects and specialists with decades of experience, a relatively recent hire like me is at a disadvantage. But when everything’s new, I’ve got a fair shot at helping make a difference.

I remember feeling that ol’ imposter syndrome when I was one chapter ahead of the students in the course I was teaching. I hated not being able to bring lots of depth to the class. But work doesn’t have to be like that. Not only can I reach out and find experts and mentors, I can also learn on the job.

I think we can make this work. Not only that, I think it will be awesome. =)

CookOrDie: Passing it on with lemon-rosemary chicken

July 11, 2010 - Categories: cooking, cookordie, friends

After I graduated from university, I moved into an apartment-style dormitory with a small kitchen: a toaster oven, a microwave, a hotplate, and a rice cooker. I had never cooked before, but I resolved to make at least one of my meals each day. After lots of strange experiments, I figured out how to make my favourites, and I even had a regular schedule of friends dropping by to visit me for dinner.

This confidence in cooking was one of the reasons why I felt comfortable with staying at the apartment-style Graduate House student residence when I took my master’s at the U of T. I didn’t bother with the safety net of a meal plan. I made pasta and simple meals, and eventually got back into the swing of hosting friends. (CookOrDie in Canada)

When Maira moved from Brazil to Canada and we connected after the flurry of landing died down, I “adopted” her, remembering how hard it was to find your way and make friends in a strange new country. Last Wednesday, she sent me a text message confessing that she bought chicken and she didn’t know what to do with it. She hadn’t cooked a lot in Brazil. I volunteered to help her figure things out.

We took stock of what she had at her sublet apartment: a frozen pack of chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, a nonstick pan, and a small pot that was unusable. Then we picked up supplies from the Sobey’s on the corner. There was a lot of chicken, so we planned for two kinds of main dishes that she could enjoy as leftovers throughout the week. Lemon-rosemary would be a gentle introduction into the world of marinades, and pineapple chicken into the world of diced/sliced chicken.

The chicken needed time to defrost, so we nibbled some salad and I taught Maira how to sautee mushrooms. Then we started cutting the chicken, but the knife turned out to be too dull, so we used kitchen scissors instead. The can opener was too rusty, so we stored the pineapples and cooked the sliced chicken in olive oil. Despite the snags, it came together pretty easily.

Lemon-rosemary chicken: Put the chicken breasts into  a shallow dish or Ziploc bag. Add the juice of one lemon and sprinkle with rosemary (dried or fresh). Marinate for 15 minutes or more. Saute. We did it incorrectly last Thursday – the chicken breasts were too thick, so I’m going to try this again until I get the hang of it too. (This is what I get for always cooking chicken legs and thighs because they’re cheaper… ;) ) Although the chicken breasts came out a little dry, the flavour came through.

Any other friends or future friends in Toronto working on learning how to cook? I’ve got a lot of favourite recipes and W- is an awesome cook. I’d love an excuse to help friends, get better at the basics, try out new recipes, and learn more. =D

Weekly review: Week ending July 11, 2010

July 12, 2010 - Categories: weekly

The tea party turned out to be a lemonade-and-fruits party. It was a wonderful stretch. Twelve people came, and we had lots of interesting conversations. People loved the fruits, home-made biscuits and jam, and home-grown peas. It took little time to prepare and tidy up, and it was well worth it. =) I’d like to host another get-together in August, although it’ll be interesting to figure out how we can make more people comfortable.

Plans from last week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Love and reaction

July 13, 2010 - Categories: love

Some interns are helping my mom with a memory book for my upcoming wedding, and one asked me to write about love.

I believe that much like happiness, love is a skill that you can develop, and that the real test and triumph of love isn’t found in nouns or even actions, but in reactions.

Let me explain.

Many people want to find the perfect person to love, just like they want to find the perfect life in order to be happy. I learned that happiness has a lot more to do with you than it does with the world around you, and that happiness is a skill you can practice. Perfection isn’t necessary. Challenges help you grow. Likewise, some people make it much easier to love them than other people do, and some people can be dangerously toxic, but there are always opportunities to grow (although that may mean practicing tough love, or even getting out).

Advertisements describe love as expressed through nouns: flowers, a diamond ring, a clean house. Books often describe love through actions: going on a date, giving a massage, spending time together. I think the most interesting part of love is revealed by people’s reactions.

After surviving the Holocaust, Victor Frankl wrote:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Love is in that choice, and it is something you have a million opportunities to practice every day. For example, sometimes W- is preoccupied with work. I can feel lonely, or I can admire his concentration and look for ways to make things easier. Sometimes I misplace things. W- can get annoyed with me, or he can help me become better organized. Sometimes conversations with my mom can get awkward. I can become more distant, or I can get closer. Sometimes the cats throw up on the carpet. We can scold them, or we can accept that as part of the price we pay for their company and focus on cleaning up the mess.

You can make lists of loving actions to take, but the truth of love comes out in your reactions. When someone does something to tick you off, do you fall into a fight, or can you focus on the silver lining? When someone uses that tone of voice or that choice of words, do you get enraged, or can you mentally translate that into what was probably meant? It takes a little work, but just like happiness, love gets easier.

Reaction becomes action. I frequently tell W- that I love him, but it is not really an action—it is a reaction to the joy and the gift of life with someone like him. Far too many times, we think of love as something we initiate almost as part of an exchange: I will do this for you, so you will do that for me. Everything changes when your loving actions come from gratitude and joy.

This idea of love can go far beyond romantic relationships. To love life is to take it as it is, to throw yourself into it, to embrace it and see the best of it and choose that it brings out the best in you. My goal is to learn how to reply lovingly to everything that happens: to get better at seeing the best, and to become more deeply and more intimately human in response.

Delegation and thinking about what I want to do

July 14, 2010 - Categories: delegation

Cate Huston’s excellent post on delegation got me thinking about outsourcing things again. I learned a lot when I experimented with virtual assistance. I concluded the experiment when I got around to automating the tasks I’d previously outsourced and I didn’t come up with new tasks.

Since then, I haven’t felt starved for time. I’ve even been able to explore new hobbies, like woodworking and ukulele. I occasionally think about hiring a housekeeping service, but a few hours of meditative tidying up gets the house back in order. There haven’t been any chores that drained my energy or happiness. I don’t have time for everything, but I have time to do things at a sustainable pace. I’m content.

Content? Ah, there’s the signal to ask myself again, “How wonderful can things be?”

I want to write a book. In the time-honoured tactic of getting out something so that I can get over the hump and work with what I’ve got, I can re-read my blog posts (21 years old – 25 years old, perhaps?), do a little bit of editing, categorizing, and cleaning up, and just get that into some kind of e-book or paper copy. It will need a lot of trimming in order to get things to a manageable size, as I wrote well over 100,000 words a year. I’m hoping most of that is ephemera. ;)

What would adding money to this do? I actually do want to reread all that stuff myself, but I might ask someone to lay it out nicely if I can’t script a good layout. Then there’s printing it as a paper book, which is useful as a backup but requires bookshelf space. I can take a course or buy books on writing memoirs to help me improve my writing, too. I can spend on experiences worth writing about, of course!

I want to enjoy great food. There’s nothing stopping me from doing this, I just have to find recipes and experiment with them. Some kind of cooking get-together would be an awesome excuse, particularly if I have other friends who want to learn how to cook. We might even do it virtually by sharing stories and recipes, although that might be less fun.

+Money: Entertain more often (once every month instead of once a quarter?). Buy better-quality ingredients and go for the more unusual recipes. Get help with the shopping, prepping, cooking, serving, or cleaning.

I want to get the hang of the ukulele. It’s fun, and it exercises my auditory side. +Money: Find an ukelele teacher (maybe one who can teach singing as well), and spend at least an hour a week working on this. A teacher can help me avoid bad habits, figure out how to transition between chords smoothly, and pick songs I’ll enjoy playing. Actually, a singing teacher would probably be good to find first, as that would make a big difference in enjoyment…

I want to take more pictures. I’m not holding out here for “better” pictures – I want to take and share more of them. +Money: An even smaller camera or a bigger beltbag (purses get in my way), or making other things in my beltbag smaller so that the camera always fits, or a separate camera case for the belt (as long as I don’t get to bat-belt level?).

I want to sew better. Clothes, accessories, etc. A private teacher can help me alter my patterns properly. Advice on which kinds of looks and patterns work for me would also be greatly appreciated – that way, I don’t spend a lot of time sewing things that won’t work for me. =) +Money: lessons, styling advice, a serger.

I want to draw more. I’ve been drawing a lot in my sketchbooks, but I miss the ability to edit , colour, and upload drawings quickly. Maybe I’ll replace my Eee with a tablet PC after I finish all of my sketchbooks. It would be great to take sketching classes, too, because I can learn a lot from exercises, feedback, and tips. +Money: Tablet PC, classes

I want to be more organized. Part of this is slowing down and paying attention, and another part is having a place for everything so that I enjoy putting things away. I don’t want to have a housekeeper do this because then I’d never be able to find things myself. <laugh> +Money: Organizers

I’m actually reasonably organized now, so I think the priority would be to get singing lessons sorted out, then check out tablet options. Hmm…

Playing the long game: writing, raw material, and backups

July 15, 2010 - Categories: blogging, writing

One of my long-term goals is to share what I’m learning in life. I want to write books and memoirs and essays. Over the decades, I’m going to collect raw material, polishing and refining along the way.

With such a long timeframe, I don’t trust my blog. Things happen. Servers die. Backups get corrupted. Printing selected blog posts on paper might help me recover interesting things in case of catastrophic online failure.

I trimmed my Aug 2008 – Aug 2009 posts down to 106 pages. My thesis had been 72 single-sided pages, so I knew 53 double-sided pages was a manageable size. I picked up a ream of three-hole paper to avoid the hassle of punching accurate holes. Considering the cost of toner and paper, it comes out to about $0.05 per content page – less than the cost of printing outside.

Besides, our laser toner cartridge is running low, and it’s good to use the remaining toner on non-crucial printouts like this. I printed out five sheets at a time so that I could check whether the text was too light to read. The last few pages were light, but still legible.

What am I learning?

Next step: revisit my posts from when I was 24…

Keeping track of multiple projects

July 16, 2010 - Categories: ibm, productivity

How do you keep sane when juggling multiple projects? For me, a to-do list and a way to organize project-related information make life so much better.

I’m planning two Idea Labs and an expertise location pilot, supporting a training course, assisting with a proposal, helping with two workshops, answering questions related to four potential Idea Labs, and adding to my community toolkit.

The key challenges are:

Toodledo helps me stay focused on what I need to do at work and at home. Capturing all the different things I need to do and making sure that due dates are written down means I don’t have to stress out about things falling through the cracks.

The Lotus Notes Activities sidebar lets me organize project information and refer to past discussions. Activities also makes it easy for me to add other people and share resources with them.

For following up, I’m getting used to creating tasks representing things I’m waiting for, and regularly reviewing this.

How do you eat an elephant sandwich?

One bite at a time.

Garden riches

July 17, 2010 - Categories: gardening

One of the first things J- did when she woke up this morning was to pick fresh vegetables from the garden. She came in with a bowl of sugar peas, green beans, and cherry tomatoes, all plump and perfect.

The tomatoes have hit their stride and are ripening at a rate of 3-4 tomatoes or so a day, which is just right for snacking. The peas are starting to wind down, and it’s about time to start a second crop. I should harvest the cilantro seeds and start those again, too. Some volunteer zucchini has snuck into my garden by way of the compost.

Pesto is on my cooking plan this weekend: different kinds of basil, garlic scapes, mmm…

Ah, the garden. Have kings and queens ever eaten as well as this?

Weekly review: Week ending July 18, 2010

July 18, 2010 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

This is a test post from org2blog

July 19, 2010 - Categories: emacs

After I moved from Emacs Planner to Org-mode, I missed the ability to quickly publish my notes from my personal information manager. A backlink on my blog led me to punchagan’s org2blog, which I’m using to create this test post.

I’d like to eventually be able to publish subtrees instead of starting new posts or publishing the entire page. This is a pretty good start, though.

Using org2blog to publish Org-mode subtrees

July 20, 2010 - Categories: emacs, geek

This patch modifies punchagan’s org2blog to allow you to publish an Org subtree with M-x org2blog-post-subtree. It posts a draft by default, and publishes the post if you call it with C-u M-x org2blog-post-subtree. It gets the posting date from SCHEDULED, DEADLINE, active or inactive timestamps, or the Post Date property, and lets you use tags as categories or use a separate Categories property. It inherits tags from parent headings, too. It picks up the title from the subtree heading or uses the Title property.

Patch

diff --git a/org2blog.el b/org2blog.el
index dc88291..b95caba 100644
--- a/org2blog.el
+++ b/org2blog.el
@@ -77,6 +77,11 @@
   :group 'org2blog 
   :type 'string)
 
+(defcustom org2blog-use-tags-as-categories nil
+  "Non-nil means assign :tags: to WordPress categories instead."
+  :group 'org2blog
+  :type 'boolean)
+
 (defvar org2blog-categories-list nil 
   "List of weblog categories")
 
@@ -433,4 +438,143 @@
        (goto-char current-pos)
        (command-execute (lookup-key org-mode-map (kbd "C-c t")))))))
 
+(defun org2blog-create-categories (categories)
+  "Create unknown CATEGORIES."
+  (mapcar
+   (lambda (cat)
+     (if (and (not (member cat org2blog-categories-list))
+              (y-or-n-p (format "Create %s category? " cat)))
+         (wp-new-category org2blog-server-xmlrpc-url
+                          org2blog-server-userid
+                          (org2blog-password)
+                          org2blog-server-blogid
+                          cat)))
+   categories))
+
+(defun org2blog-password ()
+  "Get password or prompt if needed."
+  (or org2blog-server-pass
+      (setq org2blog-server-pass (read-passwd "Weblog password? "))))
+
+(defun org2blog-upload-images-insert-links (&optional beg end)
+  "Upload images and replace with links in the region specified by BEG to END."
+  (interactive "r")
+  (let ((re 
+        (concat "\\[\\[\\(.*\\)" 
+                (substring (org-image-file-name-regexp) 0 -2)
+                "\\]\\]"))
+       file-all-urls file-name file-web-url blog-pass)
+    (save-excursion
+      (save-restriction
+        (narrow-to-region (or beg (point-min))
+                          (or end (point-max)))
+        (goto-char (point-min))
+        (while (re-search-forward re nil t 1)
+          (setq file-name (concat 
+                           (match-string-no-properties 1)
+                           "."
+                           (match-string-no-properties 2)))
+          (unless (save-match-data (string-match org-link-types-re file-name))
+            (save-match-data 
+              (if (assoc file-name file-all-urls)
+                  (setq file-web-url (cdr (assoc file-name file-all-urls)))
+                (setq file-web-url
+                      (cdr (assoc "url" 
+                                  (metaweblog-upload-image org2blog-server-xmlrpc-url
+                                                           org2blog-server-userid
+                                                           (org2blog-password)
+                                                           org2blog-server-weblog-id
+                                                           (get-image-properties file-name))))
+                      file-all-urls (append file-all-urls (list (cons 
+                                                                 file-name file-web-url))))))
+            (replace-match (concat "[[" file-web-url "]]") t t nil 0)))))
+    file-all-urls))
+
+(defun org2blog-post-subtree (&optional publish)
+  "Post the current entry as a draft. Publish if PUBLISH is non-nil."
+  (interactive "P")
+  (let ((post (org2blog-parse-subtree))
+        post-id)
+    (org2blog-create-categories (cdr (assoc "categories" post)))
+    (setq post-id (cdr (assoc "post-id" post)))
+    (save-excursion 
+      (org2blog-upload-images-insert-links (org-back-to-heading) (org-end-of-subtree)))
+    (if post-id
+        (metaweblog-edit-post org2blog-server-xmlrpc-url
+                             org2blog-server-userid
+                              (org2blog-password)
+                             post-id
+                              post
+                             publish)
+      (setq post-id
+            (metaweblog-new-post
+             org2blog-server-xmlrpc-url
+             org2blog-server-userid
+             (org2blog-password)
+             org2blog-server-blogid
+             post
+             publish))
+      (org-entry-put (point) "Post ID" post-id)
+      (message (if publish
+                   "Published (%s): %s"
+                 "Draft (%s): %s")
+               post-id
+               (cdr (assoc "title" post))))))
+
+(defun org2blog-parse-subtree ()
+  "Parse the current subtree as a blog entry."
+  (let (html-text
+        (post-title (or (org-entry-get (point) "Title")
+                        (org-get-heading t)))
+        (post-id (org-entry-get (point) "Post ID"))
+        ;; Set post-date to the Post Date property or look for timestamp
+        (post-date (or (org-entry-get (point) "Post Date")
+                       (org-entry-get (point) "SCHEDULED")
+                       (org-entry-get (point) "DEADLINE")                       
+                       (org-entry-get (point) "TIMESTAMP_IA")
+                       (org-entry-get (point) "TIMESTAMP")))
+        (tags (org-get-tags-at (point) nil))
+        (categories (org-split-string (or (org-entry-get (point) "CATEGORIES") "") ":")))
+    ;; Convert post date to ISO timestamp
+    (setq post-date
+          (format-time-string "%Y%m%dT%T"
+                              (if post-date
+                                  (apply 'encode-time (org-parse-time-string post-date))
+                                (current-time))
+                              t))
+    (if org2blog-use-tags-as-categories
+        (setq categories tags
+              tags nil))
+    (save-excursion
+      (setq html-text
+            (org-export-region-as-html
+             (and (org-back-to-heading) (line-end-position))
+             (org-end-of-subtree)
+             t 'string))
+      (setq html-text
+            (with-temp-buffer
+              (insert html-text)
+              (goto-char (point-min))
+              ;; Fix newlines
+             (let (start-pos end-pos)
+                (setq start-pos (point-min))
+               (goto-char start-pos)
+                (while (re-search-forward "<\\(pre\\|blockquote\\).*?>" nil t 1)
+                  (setq end-pos (match-beginning 0))
+                  (replace-string "\n" " " nil start-pos end-pos)
+                  (re-search-forward (concat "</" (match-string-no-properties 1) ">") nil t 1)
+                  (setq start-pos (match-end 0))
+                  (goto-char start-pos))
+               (setq end-pos (point-max))
+               (replace-string "\n" " " nil start-pos end-pos))
+              ;; Copy the text
+              (buffer-substring-no-properties (point-min) (point-max)))))
+    (list
+     (cons "date" post-date)
+     (cons "title" post-title)
+     (cons "tags" tags)
+     (cons "categories" categories)
+     (cons "post-id" post-id)
+     (cons "description" html-text))))
+
 (provide 'org2blog)

I like using one big Org file for all of my notes so that I can search and categorize things easily.

Here is the sample code from my ~/.emacs:

(add-to-list 'load-path "~/elisp/org2blog")
(require 'org2blog)
(setq org2blog-server-url "http://sachachua.com/blog/xmlrpc.php"
      org2blog-server-user "admin"
      org2blog-server-weblog-id ""
      org2blog-use-tags-as-categories t)
(org2blog-login)

Then I can go to the entry and call M-x org2blog-post-subtree to post a draft or C-u M-x org2blog-post-subtree to publish it.

Note that the code uses whatever heading level you’re on, so if you’re under a sub-heading of the post you want to publish, use C-c C-u outline-up-heading to go up headings until you’re at the right level.

You can get the modified source code from http://github.com/sachac/org2blog . I’ve also sent a pull request upstream.

Troubleshooting my Lotus Notes 8.5.2, Expeditor 6.2, and Eclipse 3.4 setup

July 21, 2010 - Categories: development, geek, ibm, lotus

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-21 Wed 08:00

To paraphrase Edison: I wasn’t failing, I was just figuring out a thousand ways that didn’t work. =)

—-

Summary of troubleshooting lessons learned for Lotus Notes 8.5.2, Expeditor 6.2, and Eclipse 3.4:

org.eclipse.equinox.common problems when installing Expeditor Make sure you have the version of Eclipse that matches your Expeditor’s system requirements (not a newer version, not an older version). For Expeditor 6.2, you’ll need Eclipse 3.4.

Problem occurred reading your Target. Ensure that your Target Platform’s Location is configured correctly. Set it to c:\notes\framework\rcp\eclipse, or wherever your rcp\eclipse directory is. If you still get the error, tinker around a little or wait a while. I don’t remember what I did to solve this.

Bundle com.ibm.jxesupport not found. Ignore that. You’re supposed to be able to correct that issue by right-clicking on the project, selecting Properties > Client Services, and clicking OK, but no luck. It doesn’t stop the system from moving forward, though.

com.ibm.rcp.platform.personality error or java.lang.SecurityException: Unable to locate a login configuration: *Enable all the features and be patient.

—-

I’ve been working on getting a Lotus Notes + Eclipse development environment so that I can make a Lotus Notes plugin for my community tools. There’s a lot of interest in the community metrics tool, for starters.

The challenge with setting up development environments is getting all the versions to line up with the tutorials on the Net. I came across a page that described how to set up Lotus Notes 8.5.1 with the Eclipse Plugin Development Environment (PDE). I was on a newer version of Eclipse, so I needed to figure out a couple of the steps, and I eventually ran into a security exception with login configurations.

Along the way, I came across Lotus Expeditor and decided I wanted to try that. I saw an old article that said Expeditor only works with Eclipse 3.2.2 and not the newer versions, so I installed that, but it had problems trying to find com.ibm.equinox.common. Then I found out that I had a newer version of Expeditor which requires Eclipse 4.0. When I installed that, Expeditor installed fine.

Lesson learned: Look up the version of the toolkit you’re using. Look up the specific software requirements for that version. Match it instead of using newer versions.

Hmm. New error: Problem occurred reading your Target. Ensure that your Target Platform’s Location is configured correctly. I have it set to c:\notes\framework\rcp\eclipse. It won’t accept c:\notes\framework\eclipse . Hmm. It works now. I don’t know what I did, though.

I’m running into the com.ibm.rcp.platform.personality error again. Let’s try reloading those. They show up in the plugin list for the run configuration, though. Ah. Selecting another plugin that depends on that plugin might’ve done the trick.

There’s a note about Bundle com.ibm.jxesupport not found. com.ibm.jxesupport was removed in Lotus Expeditor 6.2.0. You’re supposed to be able to correct that issue by right-clicking on the project, selecting Properties > Client Services, and clicking OK, but no luck. It doesn’t stop the system from moving forward, though.

… and we’re back at the java.lang.SecurityException: Unable to locate a login configuration which I encountered this morning.

Okay. What do I know about this error?

Aha! Found someone with the same error message, but in a different language. The person reported that checking all the boxes in the plugin tab helped. Let’s try running it with all the features enabled (oh my). Lots of warnings, but still going… And there’s the Lotus Notes login dialog, and the sample QuickNote plugin. I think we have it!

Useful links:

Technology evangelists: What we do, how to find and hire one, how to become one

July 22, 2010 - Categories: career, work

I had a great chat with Simon Law yesterday about technology evangelism. A startup approached him looking for a tech evangelist, and I gave him tips on how to find and develop one. I’ve learned a lot about technology evangelism through IBM, where I get to work with and learn from amazing people.

What do technology evangelists do? We help people understand and make the most of new technologies. It’s not as straightforward as showing someone a new tool and expecting them to hit the ground running. We look for success stories and share those. We look for people who have the potential to create success stories and we support them. We look for patterns of use that are working well, and we experiment to make them even better. We write, make presentations, and even develop tools. We cheer people up when they hit the troughs of disillusionment in their personal Gartner hype cycle. We help keep things going. We coach people. We also help people navigate the organization, connecting people with developers, sales teams, experts, or other people as needed.

Technology evangelism goes beyond technical support. It’s more about proactively engaging people, working with the social factors, and collecting and sharing both data and stories. Sometimes you’ll see this formalized in a role. Other times, people volunteer.

How do you find technology evangelists? You can start by looking for vocal supporters of your product or service. There’s a difference between being an enthusiastic early adopter and being able to share that enthusiasm with other people. Look for people whom people already ask for technology or productivity tips. Productivity? Yes. Because mainstream adopters who want to find better ways of doing things don’t ask, “Are there any new tools that can help me do this?” They might look for people they look up to as really productive. Sometimes they ask for advice about methods. Other times, they pick up new tools and methods by osmosis – looking over someone’s shoulder. Early adopters might think about tools, but the rest of the world cares about what you can do with the tools. Find someone who’s good at talking about what people can do instead of just what the tool can do.

Interviewing technology evangelists: You’re looking for passion, great communication skills, empathy with challenges, insights into processes and social factors, and patience without condescension. Pick a target user persona and ask your prospective evangelists to convince that person to use your product or service. Look for the people who talk about benefits and tell stories instead of listing features. Ask them to tell a story about how they helped address someone’s challenges. Ask them to tell a story about finding a usage pattern that works for one group and translating it to fit another group. Ask them to tell a story about how they helped someone enthusiastic about a tool, someone so-so about a tool, and someone actively resisting a tool.

A note about passion: People don’t need to talk like caffeinated bunnies in order to show passion and enthusiasm about something. In fact, someone who can explain things clearly and calmly may be a better fit for your target audience. It’s easier to spread a technology or idea when people can identify with the evangelist.

There’s probably a fundamental optimism in technology evangelism. You’ve gotta believe that change can make things better. The most effective technology evangelists can be simultaneously optimistic (encouraging, enthusiastic) and pessimistic (anticipating and dealing with potential challenges).

How to become a technology evangelist: You don’t need a formal job title to be a technology evangelist. You do need to be passionate about helping other people work more effectively. It’s like sales. It’s not about selling, it’s about helping people buy. There are a lot of different ways to get started. You can coach people around you (potentially frustrating if a tool isn’t a good fit). You can find and coach people who want to learn. You can write blog posts and tutorials, describe patterns, and record success stories. You can make presentations, podcasts, and videos. You can answer questions in discussion forums.

How to get hired as a technology evangelist: Find a company that makes something you’re passionate about. Evangelize it. When you get good at it and develop a following, talk to the company about formalizing your role. Benefits of being in-house: better access to developers and other people who can help clients rock, better feedback loops, wider reach.

Other thoughts on technology evangelism?

Giving myself permission to delegate again

July 23, 2010 - Categories: delegation

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-23 Fri 08:00

I don’t like spending money. Sometimes it’s hard for me to give myself permission to experiment. I get this urge to invest it for the long term. Darn you, compounding interest. But long-term planning is better the more you understand about what you want and don’t want, so experimenting now has its own payoffs.

I hesitate to delegate because of the time I think I waste doing other things. Reflecting on my week, though, it looks like I’m pretty trim about how I spend time. About the only timesuck I feel guilty about are reading fanfiction on the Internet. I’m fascinated by how well-written fics fit neatly into the original universe. It’s like how well-written code fits neatly into the overall structure. But it leaves me feeling less warm and fuzzy than reading books from the library or blog posts from the Internet. Solution 1: Feel less guilty about it. Solution 2: Deepen, trim, time-bound, or eliminate it.

And then there’s the realization that I can take things slowly, that I don’t have to cram so much into a day, and that chores have value. So what if it takes me the better part of an evening to tidy and clean? It’s good thinking time, and it also means that I know where things are. I grew up around maids, and things were constantly being put away, and I had to ask where things were. Now, I’m glad I know where most things are, and I can invest time into figuring out where things should logically be.

BUT it’s good to experiment and to explore backup plans so that if life really does get all crazy-busy (interesting opportunities, life events, etc.), we can get through.

There are a few things I want to try:

(As it turns out, I can learn the ukulele mostly on my own, it just takes practice. If a toddler can do it, so can I!)

Maid service

Cleaning doesn’t take that much time, but doing the occasional chores (vacuum carpets, clean the bathroom, etc.) takes up a precious chunk of an evening or weekend. I want to give cleaning services a try, find people we like working with, and have a good back-up plan in case things get crazy. This probably means going with an established cleaning company that’s bonded and insured instead of hiring a part-time housekeeper, because I want to try out occasional cleaning first.

What’s keeping me back? I have to trust the service not to misplace or take stuff. But it’s stuff and shouldn’t get in the way of exploring opportunities, anyway. Besides, reputable businesses are in it for the repeat business, so things should be okay.

Why should I go for it anyway? They can clean the house to higher standards than I’ll take the time to do. Also, we can be flexible with timing because W- or I can work at home, so we’re in a good place to try this.

Cooking

We’ve settled into a great (and yummy) routine of cooking our favourite meals in big batches, which saves us a lot of time. We’d love to explore new healthy recipes, though. Cooking would also be more fun with help with the prep work and the cleanup. =)

What’s keeping me back? Cooking is good practice for me. I enjoy it.

Why should I go for it anyway? Cooking assistance will help me break out of the routine. It means being able to try more dishes without investing large chunks of time, particularly if this is part of a meal delivery service. If we find new favourites, then we can either invest the time to do it ourselves in bulk, or load up on that in our freezer.

Singing lessons

This looks like the kind of thing that’s hard to practice on your own and that’s easier when someone’s coaching you. I’d like to be able to sing confidently and comfortably.

What’s holding me back? Making time to go for singing lessons.

Why should I go for it anyway? I should just go. A set of singing lessons won’t take that much time, and then I can check it off my list of things that I was getting stuck on.

Sewing lessons

I’ve read a lot of books and even attended a sewing class, but I still find it hard to wrap my head around altering patterns, fixing outfits, and dealing with the occasional sewing question. Someone could help me fix my fitting shell and learn how to do things correctly.

In fact, stepping back a little, it would be great to get some wardrobe advice. What works well for me? What patterns should I focus on first?

What’s holding me back? I sew sporadically. Also, there aren’t that many people offering one-on-one sewing lessons.

Why should I go for it anyway? Sewing lessons will help me sew more regularly. And more enjoyably, too: I can spend less time getting aggravated by mistakes when I know I can talk to someone about how to fix it before it gets worse.

I think it’s time to start practicing with this stuff again…

Recent post about what I want to do and how delegation can help

Getting the hang of leading small things

July 24, 2010 - Categories: work

I’m working on an expertise location pilot for a group of IBMers around the world. My team members are focused on other priorities, so I volunteered to handle most of the work. I sometimes get confused because I don’t have the experience or context they have. Drafting plans, messages, and presentations helps me think through the pilot and get their feedback.

On Monday, I led the launch call. I explained the structure of the pilot, demonstrated the tool, handled questions, and identified the next actions.

Leading an initiative – even a small one like this – can be intimidating. I’m really glad my team members can help me learn all these skills. I’m learning how to plan and follow up. I’m learning how to communicate. I’m learning how to measure and report.

Sometimes I feel like such a beginner. Looking back, though, it’s pretty incredible what we’ve been able to do: scale up and transform Idea Labs, improve our expertise location processes, organize our information and our methods… I’m getting the hang of work.

Reflections from a tweetup

July 25, 2010 - Categories: connecting

Although I like spending most evenings at home, I can occasionally be tempted out for a tweetup (at most once a week, to give myself time to recharge and follow up). Thursday night, I joined Judy Gombita, Neal Schaffer, and other folks at Crafted (135 Ossington) for yummy chocolate and conversation.

Isaac Ezer once told me that he goes to events to practice small talk. Even if none of the conversations bear fruit, he learns something from the practice. I like the way he thinks. It’s like the way I encourage beginners to think about social media. Focus on the immediate personal benefit, and let the social benefits be icing on the cake. You can’t make people comment on your blog, and you can’t force people to connect well with you in a five-minute conversation, but you can learn a lot in the process of reaching out. (More about asymmetric connection: Exercising my network)

The funny thing is that letting go of expectations makes it easier to connect. And that conversations turn out to be remarkably fascinating anyway. More about this if those conversations grow.

Networking tips

It turns out that talking to other people not only helps you learn what they know, but what you know as well. example, here are a few things that I apparently do well:

  • Having a card with a photo on it: Internet opinions differ on whether or not you should put a photo on your business card, but people I’ve met in real life have almost always expressed appreciation for little things to help them jog their memory.
  • Bringing my own nametag to an event, and pinning it on the right side: Yes, there is a correct side for nametags. See my braindump of conference networking tips for explanations and more advice.
  • Giving people an excuse to start a conversation: Sometimes it’s what I’m wearing – a hat, or ethnic touches in my outfit (in this case, a malong from the Philippines, worn as a skirt). Sometimes it’s my nametag, or the keywords on it. Whatever gets us past weather-talk.
  • Asking interesting questions: Instead of asking people what they do, ask them what they’re passionate about, or some other non-traditional question. It helps people break out of autopilot and gives them a chance to talk about something that excites them. If someone asks you what you do, turn the question into something you’re excited about, too.
  • Sharing: Many people struggle with finding the time to write or the courage to share online. Something about my perspective helps me shortcircuit that, becoming comfortable with thinking out loud. Must figure out what that is and how to share it.

Things to try at your next get-together.

I suspect I’m also getting the hang of remembering names, at least within a limited context and timespan. This is good. When you stop telling yourself that you’re bad at names and you start just having fun remembering them, you have fun remembering them.

Tweetups are particularly interesting because there’s an inherent promise of a low-effort way to follow up with and learn more about people you meet. It’s not like a networking event at which you might be lucky to make a connection deep enough to sustain e-mail exchanges or coffee get-togethers. Because Twitter doesn’t require reciprocity to follow someone’s updates, you can keep up with interesting people and let the connection develop slowly. It also provides an easy way to connect with people you might not have had a chance to talk to during the actual event.

About introductions

Judy Gombita was probably so excited about The Shy Connector presentation. She kept introducing me as the famous Sacha Chua. This made me think about how I like being introduced. =)

“Famous” creates too much distance for me. First, it’s untrue–or at least as I pointed out, I can’t be famous if people haven’t heard of me. The corollary is that if I were actually famous, I wouldn’t need to be introduced. Although there’s Internet-famous, when people know your name or your thing but may not necessarily know what you look like.

The main reason I don’t like “being famous”, though, is because it draws lines: people who are in the know, and people who don’t. You know the weird feeling you get when people make you guess their name because you’re already supposed to know them? (One of my pet peeves.) Right. If someone’s supposed to be famous and you don’t know them, it’s hard to avoid feeling a little bit excluded, a little bit out of it. Like an in-joke that everyone else gets but you.

I have the same odd feeling about how my team members still occasionally introduce me as “one of the most followed bloggers at IBM”, even though (a) there have been many more interesting and popular bloggers since then, (b) the stats are fuzzy, and (c) it’s not about an A-list anyway. Although I suppose people like introducing people based on fame for the same reason people are fascinated by close touches with celebrities – there’s reflected cachet. To which I reply that you don’t need to hang out with rockstars to be a rockstar. =)

Distance. You can inspire people from a distance, but I’d rather be someone people can identify with. Distance gives people an excuse to stop trying. (Yay Miguel Arguelles’ rant!)

My favourite kind of introduction doesn’t come at the beginning of a conversation. It comes in the middle of when you’re talking to someone, and they mention something they’re passionate about or that they want to accomplish, and you light up and go “Oh! I know who you should talk to!”, and you pull someone across the room and into the conversation with a brief introduction about why he or she is just the right person. I love making these contextual, motivated introduction, and I love receiving them too.

My second-favourite kind of introduction is where the introducer mentions a few common interests. The more uncommonly common, the better. Social network profiles help a lot with this, as I discovered when I memorized keywords from people’s profiles to help co-host a Greater IBM networking event.

When I’m helping start the conversation, I usually try to get my “What are you passionate about?” or “What’s your story?” questions in before (or shortly after) people go into the “What do you do?” routine. In addition to making the conversation more interesting, this also helps me do my favourite kind of self-introduction: a contextual self-introduction where I can talk about what we have in common or how I can help people.

I hate cold-start introductions almost as much as I hate having repetitive conversations about the weather. ;) Hence all these work-arounds to avoid them.

About the sharing instinct

Questions are awesome. Questions help me figure things out and get me explaining them. Then I get this “I really should blog that” urge, and we get posts like this – braindumps from snippets of conversation and questions partially answered.

The trick to finding more raw material for writing is to rewire your instinctive reactions so that you get that urge whenever something happens. Everything is raw material. There’s always something you can learn from, something you can share.

It’s worth writing down even if your thoughts are a bit sparse. Like this. This is me thinking out loud. (Hi!)

Time to write

Neal was surprised to hear that I write every day. It’s not hard. You just hook up your brain to the computer and think for a while. When you’re not focused on making perfect, elegant, insightful prose, you can get a lot more out of your brain.

I don’t have the time to write everything I want to. But I also don’t have the time to skip writing. (What, and have to re-explain myself and re-solve problems?)

Editing comes later. For me, I’m fine sharing practically everything, and leaving the rewriting to future blog posts that revisit my favourite topics.

In fact, I usually write more than once a day, but I’ve limited myself to publishing one post a day so that people can manage their reading better. It’s hard to resist the temptation to pack everything into one big post, though. Maybe I need to start setting word limits for myself as well.

Having a cat helps. Particularly a cat who wants breakfast by 7 AM at the latest. And who has a loud meow. And sharp teeth. And no snooze button. Why did I bother getting an iPod clock radio?

You can write 1500+ words in 1.5 hours. You don’t even need to type quickly. That’s 16 words per minute. The bottleneck is your brain, not your fingers. Being able to touch-type helps, because then you don’t have to think about typing, you just do.

The trick to finding the time to write is to build it into how you work, so that you don’t have to find the time to write. You write in the process of figuring something out or taking notes.

Living an awesome life: Not a Greek tragedy

July 26, 2010 - Categories: happy

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-26 Mon 08:00

(There’ll be more on this later, but I wanted to think about and share this now. =) )

Cate Huston and I were celebrating the respective awesomeness of our lives when she confessed that she was afraid that her happiness might unravel any moment now. I told her that I used to get nervous about whether my life would turn into one of those Greek tragedies: perfection and happiness up to a point, and then inexorable ruin. She was relieved to hear that she wasn’t the only one who felt anxious about that. I shared how I got over it.

Most movies are predictable: the protagonist faces a challenge, reaches a low point, and triumphs. Tragedies work the other way: the protagonist triumphs, faces a challenge, and then falls based on innate character flaws, the consequences of previous actions, or the revenge of gods.

My life would be a boring movie. Up to this moment, life has gotten better and better. The rough points along the way turn out to have been essential for other goodness. Lacking the typical feel-good movie’s story arc, am I headed for a classically tragic beat-down?

Then I realized that life doesn’t have to be like the movies. It’s okay to not only be happy, but also to keep getting happier every day. If by some chance my life does take a turn that seems for the worse — and it can, despite plans and preparations – that doesn’t invalidate the awesomeness of life so far.

I’ll still have helped people. I’ll still have inspired people. Life would have still been worth it. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and things would still be fine.

In a mean universe, this would almost guarantee that I get hit by a bus tomorrow. But I have the choice of believing in a mean universe or a kind (or at least uncaring) universe, and I choose the latter. =) Although I still look both ways when crossing the street, and am very careful around vehicles when biking.

If research is correct that happiness isn’t influenced by external circumstances as much as it is by personal set-point and perspective, I’m reasonably sure that I can be happy no matter what.

When you don’t rely on circumstances to make you happy, challenging events become part of the story. The perspectives, skills, and connections you develop during your good times are tested in your crucibles, helping you figure out what’s really important, like the way grief teaches us about love.

Having faced the down-side, then, I can look at the up-side. What if luck, opportunity, effort, and perspective mean I have an increasingly awesomer life? Maybe this life is an experiment in happiness. Maybe I can help figure out how we can work together better and laugh together more. Maybe I can share what I learn along the way and help people get an even better start. Maybe I can help people make that shift.

So life doesn’t have to follow classical narrative, and even the journey thus far has been worth it. I’m probably going to be happy no matter what, and challenges can be good things. And hey, what if this will let me help people be even happier? Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Weekly review: Week ending July 26, 2010

July 27, 2010 - Categories: weekly

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-27 Tue 08:00

From last week’s plans:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for next week:

Work

Relationships

Life

Electronic ears: Using Performous to learn how to sing

July 28, 2010 - Categories: kaizen, life, linux

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-28 Wed 08:00

I’ve been singing in the wrong key(s) all my life. Thanks to Brendon Robinson’s recommendation of Performous (a free, open source music application), I can finally work on fixing that.

Part of learning how to sing is getting used to what the notes feel like. I find it difficult to listen to piano notes and figure out if I’m singing at the right pitch. Sometimes I’m sharp, sometimes I’m flat, sometimes I’m way off. Recording is a hassle, and it takes too long between trying something and getting feedback. (I’m amazed by how my dad taught himself all sorts of photography techniques with a film camera…)

Performous provides instant feedback on the musical note and frequency it hears. I can watch the note and slide up and down the scale until I find the right pitch, and I can make up my own exercises for getting the notes right.

http://sachachua.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/Performous_20100727T1826564.png

When I can sing scales and vocalizations without a hitch, then I can find a singing teacher to help me with volume and technique. First things first: gotta do it right before I do it loud. =)

I only wish I thought of looking for something like this a long time ago!

*Performous (http://performous.org)*: Free and open source – Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

A philosophy of sharing and a truth about teaching

July 29, 2010 - Categories: life, reflection

SCHEDULED: 2010-07-29 Thu 08:00

/Neal Schaffer thanked me for teaching him the zen of Slideshare. He confessed that as a consultant, he still finds it occasionally difficult to give away what he knows. Here, I explore my philosophy and why tools are an afterthought./

I want to give away everything I know. I want to push what I’ve learned into the system. I want to make my current self obsolete. In the process, I push myself forward.

I like connecting people, and I love strengthening the infrastructure that enables connection even more. I like delighting people by solving problems, and I love building tools so that people can solve their own and imagine new possibilities. I like helping people improve, and I love helping them develop their own practice of relentless improvement.

I want to be invaluable. I would hate to be indispensable. What I work on is much bigger than I am, and I would hate to put it at significant risk if something happened to me. Not only do I want to be replaceable, I want other people to be able to do even awesomer things than I have.

Even though I keep trying to teach and automate myself out of work, I can’t keep up–opportunities open up faster than I can turn them over to someone else.

So here is one of the Truths I aspire to:

*If you can, teach. If you can’t teach, do.*

This is why I write notes on as much as I can. This is why I share as much of that as I can through blogs, presentations, and other tools. The more I can push out into the universe, the more I can learn, the more I can share, the more we all can do.

Don’t wait until you retire. Share now. You’re going to forget important details an hour from now, so start writing.

When you’ve got this kind of urge inside you, then tools are easy. Writing on a computer lets me capture more words than writing by hand. Drawing lets me express concepts that are hard to describe with only words. Blogging lets me reach more people and make my notes available to searchers. Presentations let me learn from people’s questions. Sharing those files takes me a minute or two, and lets me reach even more people.

Tools are not the focus. Sharing is.

If I can teach the parts I understand well enough to teach and automate the parts that are repetitive enough to automate, we can focus on the interesting, novel, challenging possibilities. We can move forward so much more. I’m only here for a short time. We all are. Why waste it? Why waste the future?

Finding opportunities in a big company

July 30, 2010 - Categories: career, connecting, ibm, work

DEADLINE: 2010-07-30 Fri 08:00

The Extreme Blue interns are wrapping up and starting their job searches, so Cate Huston asked me to share some tips.

One of the wonderful and intimidating things about being in a big company is that there’s such a variety of opportunities. How do you find the right one for you? I hope these tips will help people at IBM, and they might be useful for people in other big companies too.

Figure out what you’re interested in. Browse through open job posts. Talk to interesting people about what they do and listen for words that resonate with you. Explain what you’re interested in to mentors and ask them to help you translate and connect. (IBM: Follow the “Global Opportunity Marketplace” link on w3.ibm.com to see open job posts.)

Talk to people doing that kind of work. People are often generous with their time and insights, perhaps because they’ve received that kind of help in the past. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people and ask them for short interest interviews. Ask them what a typical day is like for them, what they like about their work, what they would like to change about their work, and what skills and characteristics would make someone a great candidate for that position. If you’ve got specific posts in mind, reach out to people on the team to see what things are like and if it might be a good fit.

Make it easy to keep in touch. You’ll meet a lot of people during your blog search. Make it easy for them to find out about you and keep in touch. Invest time into preparing a clear description of what you’re interested in and a resume highlighting relevant accomplishments, and link to it in your e-mail signature. If you blog, include a link to that in your e-mail signature as well. Subscribe to other people’s blogs to learn more about them and about other parts of the company.

If you give people enough time, they might even be able to create an opportunity for you. It takes a while to get clearance to create a new position, but if you impress the right manager, maybe he or she will create a role that makes the most of your passion and skills.

Be prepared for complications. Sometimes these things take longer than expected. Sometimes you run into odd paperwork needs. Hang in there, and have backup plans.

What’s different about searching for opportunities in a big company?

Cool mornings

July 31, 2010 - Categories: canada

2010-07-31 Sat 08:00

Fall doesn’t officially start until late September, but these mornings and evenings are pajama-cool, duvet-cool, un-summer-like. For the first time I am not troubled by the thought of wearing turtlenecks and sweaters in August. Time to unpack the clothes I stored a few months ago: layers of warmth and wicking, cashmere sweaters, coats of varying weight.

I have found other things to call fall and winter, to take the edge off the chill. It will be baking season, cooking season, sewing season. I’ve found a balance between the seasons for outdoor pursuits like bicycling and woodworking, and the seasons for indoor ones. Unusually cool or warm days give me a chance to enjoy activities from the other half of the year.

The garden will continue to grow for a bit. I may have time to sneak a crop or two in. Radishes grow quickly. The cooler weather is kind to lettuce and peas.

I’m learning not to fight nature. Little changes have made life smoother. So what if it doesn’t feel like the tropical summers of my childhood? It is its own self.

2010-07-31 Sat 07:36