February 2011

Lotusphere 2011 wrap-up

February 4, 2011 - Categories: conference, ibm, lotus

This was my first Lotusphere, and it was a blast. Lotus has such an active, passionate, experienced community around it. Heading to the conference, my goals were:

Here’s what I took away from the sessions and BoFs I attended:

Clients are interested in collaboration and have lots of adoption insights. We’re starting to see interesting case studies from clients. In addition to reporting excellent returns on their investments, clients shared qualitative feedback, such as stories of pilot groups who couldn’t imagine giving up the tools. Successful clients used executive support, communication plans, mentoring, metrics, incentives, role models, and other techniques to help people make new forms of collaboration part of the way people worked. sketchnotes from the birds-of-a-feather session on adoption

LotusLive is awesome. LotusLive currently includes web conferencing and parts of Lotus Connections. LotusLive Labs includes a technical preview of LotusLive Symphony (collaborative document/spreadsheet editing), Slide Library, and Event Maps. (I wish I’d seen Event Maps when I was planning my Lotusphere attendance!) Granted, Google Docs has been around for longer than LotusLive Symphony, but I’m curious about the ability to assign sections for editing or review.

Activity streams and embedded experiences are going to change the inbox. I don’t know when this is going to go into people’s everyday lives, but the idea of being able to act on items right from the notifications will be pretty cool – whether it’s in an enriched mail client like Lotus Notes or a web-based activity stream that might be filtered by different attention management algorithms. It’ll be interesting to figure out the security implications of this, though. It’s already a bad practice to click on links in e-mail right now, so full embedded transactions might encounter resistance or might open up new phishing holes. Project Vulcan is worth watching.

People are already doing interesting things with the Lotus Connections API. Embedding Lotus Connections content / interactions into other websites, adding more information to Lotus Connections, using different authentication mechanisms… people are rocking the API. The compliance API that’s coming soon will help people do even more with Lotus Connections interactions, too.

The next version of Lotus Connections will be even cooler. I’m particularly excited about the idea blogs and the forum improvements, which seem tailor-made for the kind of collective virtual brainstorming we’ve been doing in Idea Labs. Idea blogs are straightforward – a blog post or question with comments that can be voted up or down – but they’ll go a long way to enabling new use cases. Forums will also have question/answer/best answer support.

Sametime Unified Telephony rocks. I need to find out how to get into that. I like click-to-call ringing everyone’s preferred devices, easy teleconferences, and rules for determining phone forwarding.

Lotus Notes and Domino are getting even more powerful. XPages looks pretty cool. I’ll leave the rest of the commentary on this to other bloggers, as my work doesn’t focus enough on Lotus Notes and Domino for me to be able to give justice to the improvements.

The Lotus ecosystem is doing well. Lots of activity and investment from partners and clients.

Analytics + research = opportunity. Interesting research into attention management, activity streams, social network analysis.

Lotus geeks are a world of their own. It’s amazing to spend time with people who have immersed themselves deeply in a technology platform for almost two decades. There’s a depth and richness here that I don’t often find at technology conferences. There’s also a lot of tough love – people like IBM, and they’re not afraid to call us out if we’re not clear or if we seem to be making mistakes. =)

Notes from conversations

The hallway track (those informal encounters and chance connections) resulted in great conversations. For me, the highlights were:

If I get to attend Lotusphere again, I’d love to be able to stay at the conference hotel. It would be much more convenient and I’d be able to go to more of the evening get-togethers. The chances of my being able to attend again probably depend on how much of the Social Business adoption consulting we’ll get to do over the next year, and I hope we do a lot. I’d also make time to check out the showcase. I missed it this year, thanks to all that chatting.

Next actions for me

For work, I’ll probably focus on external Web 2.0 / social media site development while other groups figure out the structure for social business adoption consulting. I’m looking forward to learning from the case studies, insights, and questions that people have shared, though, and I’d love to do more work in this section.

Here’s what I need to do for post-conference wrap-up:

Other Lotusphere 2011 wrap-ups you might like: Chris Connor, David Greenstein, Luis Benitez (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5), Andy Donaldson, Marc Champoux (… where are the female bloggers’ writeups?)

See also: Lotusphere social aggregator, Planet Lotus, Twitter search for #ls11, Twitter/blog archive

2011-02-04 Fri 16:04

A story of pi

February 4, 2011 - Categories: geek

A trivia question related to pi and my teammate’s subsequent recitation of pi to ten digits reminded me of this memory which I may not yet have shared here.

It was an evening get-together with several friends in the roofdeck garden of our home in the Philippines. After dinner, the conversation turned to geek superpowers, the little specialties and quirks we’d developed over time. The friend on my left started reciting the digits of pi. To my surprise, the friend on my right joined in – the same pace, the same digits, and I in the middle entranced by this melody of tenor and baritone. They went to about 100 digits head to head, then one dropped out; the other continued to 200 digits or so. It was as sublime a concert as I have ever listened to.

If you’re curious, you might want to check out the Wikipedia page on piphilology – the creation and use of techniques for remembering pi.

Like the way beauty often brings pleasure to viewers, my reaction to intellectual displays is closer to “Oooh, that’s awesome” than to “You have way too much free time.” W- and I have tons of geek moments, and I’m lucky to meet so many people who relish being geeky. Life is good.

2011-02-04 Fri 21:52

On appearance and bias: thoughts from the Nerd Girls panel at Lotusphere 2011

February 5, 2011 - Categories: reflection, women

Colander

One of the topics of great interest during the Nerd Girls panel at Lotusphere 2011 was that of appearance. How important is grooming? What about first impressions?

People shared the usual advice: Dress appropriately. Be yourself. Neatness counts.

Like the way I skip fluffy guest posts full of cliches, I try to avoid sharing the same thoughts you’ll find everywhere else. So I found myself thinking about one of the points raised, which you don’t encounter that often.

One of the participants had observed that “booth babes” at a tech convention can drive people away. My take-away from that is that *you should make sure that what you communicate with your appearance supports what you want to communicate.* Too much attention to appearance can conflict with your goals. You can dress to blend in or you can dress to stand out. Suits help you build rapport with people who are more comfortable with suits. Jeans and a geek T-shirt help you build more rapport with people who are more comfortable in jeans and T-shirts.

Tweaking convention can support your goals, too. I’ve turned up at technical get-togethers in brightly-coloured ethnic clothing to make several points along the way: a. it’s okay to bring personal interests into the tech world, b. it’s okay to be a girl, c. there are people here from different cultures, and d. it’s good to have fun. That this made me easier to spot in a crowd was an excellent bonus, and it worked really well.

Know what you want to say, and make sure your appearance supports it. Re-think what you want to say, too. For example, if the path towards becoming an executive requires expensive suits and other status symbols, it might not be for a person who disagrees with dry-cleaning, at least until people create better washable suits. (Or you can pick a different uniform: black mock turtlenecks and jeans totally works for Steve Jobs.)

I dress for minimal thought during most days, for either blending in or standing out during get-togethers, and for practicality when travelling. Slacks, blouse, sweater/blazer, and scarf give me a good uniform for the workweek. If I’m speaking at a conference, I might dig out my cream suit. If I’m attending a crowded event, I might wear a red top or bring a hat. If I’m travelling, I pack my Tilley’s Endurables businesswear: hand-washable slacks, blazers, and blouses that will dry overnight in a pinch. I wear flat shoes for comfort and boots for warmth. These routines mean that I need to spend very little time thinking about what to wear.

There’s a limit to how much time, money, and energy I want to spend on appearance. I’m not going to spend on make-up, cosmetic surgery, or designer items. I suppose going to a dermatologist or having frequent facials could help my face clear up, but it’s no big deal. I won’t experiment with body ink, piercings, or hair colour. The gradual onset of gray hair won’t be dyed away, and the wrinkles will be welcomed. (I do invest energy into making sure I get the kind of wrinkles I want: more smile lines than frowns! =) ) This is partly because I have other priorities, and partly because I want to help build a society where these things matter less, where we don’t shame people for appearance or age or lifestyle choice.

Thinking about this further, I realized that I’m not really interested in the conventional approach to thinking about appearance. This topic usually focuses on: “How can I get other people to think better of me? How can I increase my chances for a raise or a promotion? How can I project more status and confidence?”

For that part, my questions are more along the lines of “How can I stay true to my values? Are my goals in line with those values and priorities?” And there’s another, much more interesting question for me: *”How can I correct my biases?”*

Our biases around attractiveness reduce the quality of our decisions. People get dinged for being too fat, being too old, being too plain, and even being too attractive. Women are more harshly judged than men, and are the target of much body-policing from advertising, media, coworkers, friends, and even themselves.

I’ve received plenty of privileges. I’m young, female, enthusiastic, and easy to get along with, and that has almost certainly helped me do what I do. I have plenty of mentors while other people (perhaps less cheerful, perhaps less “cute”) It sometimes works to my disadvantage. There are areas of consulting that I probably won’t focus on until I have more gravitas, if ever.

I also carry biases. There’s that preference for people who are cheerful; people with symmetric, angular features; people who are trim; people who carry themselves with confidence. I work against these preferences, pull my attention away from that so that I can focus on other factors, try to separate seeing from thinking. (I indulge this bias with my husband, though, whom I think is very handsome, and with whom I have the license to look at as much as I’d like; but I always make it clear that I love him for much greater reasons.)

Likewise, there’s dealing with that reactive judging of people who frown a lot, people with weaker postures, people who are overweight, people who dress inappropriately… I work to separate negative perceptions and reality so that I can make better decisions. There’s ableism, sexism, ageism, racism, and a million unnamed stories we tell ourselves without examining them closely.

You can eliminate the visual aspect through teleconferences, but that doesn’t solve the problem. We joke about everything sounding smarter when said in a British accent, but accent stereotypes do influence judgment. I’m glad that accents are getting more mixed up now, what with people mixing cultures and people getting cross-trained in different accents. It helps challenge that bias. Then there’s confidence and pitch and vocabulary and fluency…

Paying attention to and adjusting for all these biases is partly why I like the move towards virtual connections, particularly during the beginning. If I can’t see or hear people, I can more easily focus on what they say. However, the Internet replaces one set of biases with another. Instead of being influenced by appearance, I’m biased by how articulate someone is – and that’s tangled up in class and education and culture and the availability of leisure time and the ability of people to access this technology.

It isn’t easy to separate all these factors, and I may never be able to do it completely. There’s a bit of shame in it too, when I realize how many of society’s messages I’ve internalized into these quick impressions of other people.

I want to make better decisions. I want to be able to see the best in people, unclouded by the preconceptions I carry. I might never be able to eliminate my biases, but I can recognize them and slow down when they might be in play. If I slow down and understand, for example, how my first impressions colour my decisions, then I can clarify my reasons and reject invalid ones.

You’ll find plenty of books about how to groom yourself for particular kinds of success. Wouldn’t it be interesting to build a society where this matters less?

Colander photo (c) 2010 Ben Hosking – Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

2011-02-05 Sat 08:40

Weekly review: Week ending February 4, 2011

February 5, 2011 - Categories: weekly

Plans from last week

  • Work
    • [X] Help at Lotusphere as a room monitor
    • [X] Potentially host a BoF on the Connections API
    • [X] Learn from Lotusphere presentations (content and technique)
  • Relationships
    • [X] Connect with IBMers, partners, and clients at Lotusphere
  • Life
    • [X] Do time analysis of conference time
      • Can I still get ~8 hours of sleep a day?
      • What’s exercise like?
    • [-] Eat salads. See if I can order half-portions. – Mostly, but I really like having hot meals. Buffet was okay because I could eat smaller portions.

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Start on new project involving Facebook and Rails
    • [X] Work on ITSC blog post, keynote presentation
    • [X] Post more Lotusphere-related reflections
    • [X] Work on Deeper Insights presentation on social learning
    • [X] Work on Remote Presentations that Rock presentation
    • [X] Possibly sign up for consulting course
  • Relationships
    • [X] Catch up with tasks at home
    • [X] Give Maira some of the spices
    • [X] Organize get-together
  • Life
    • [X] Share more reflections from Lotusphere
    • [X] Open up investing TFSA with Waterhouse
    • [X] Review my goals and upcoming projects

Time analysis

Category Hours Last week Notes
Sleep 53.8 55.3 Conference sleep length: 8:25, 7:45, 6:25, 6:08, 6:51, 6:53; catch-up 12:43 on Friday
Work 59.9 40.4 Lots of conference time
Travel 19.6 2.8 Two flights, a number of hotel shuttles
Social 14.8 12.8 Hanging out with Lotusphere folks
Routines – general 7.8 8.7
Prep – general 4.0 5.1
Break 3.8 9.0
Writing 3.6 1.8
Exercise 0.5 4.0 A lot of walking got filed under work
Drawing 12.8
Routines – cooking 3.7
Routines – tidying 2.5
Prep – planning 0.7
Prep – laundry 1.7
Sewing 3.6
Learning 1.2
Outsourceable

Observations: I got a decent amount of sleep during the conference. As expected, work expanded into the time I normally spend writing or hanging out with W- and J-. I spent most of the travel time writing, listening to audiobooks, watching movies (RED, The Social Network), and napping.

I walked around 16k steps a day (up from my 12k goal; there was one day I walked over 20k steps). My shoes weren’t the best for walking. They’re flat, but they didn’t have the padding of tennis shoes or hiking boots. The cushioning insoles helped, though. No blisters. Still looking for office-ready flat shoes with good support.

Monthly review: January 2011

February 6, 2011 - Categories: monthly

2011 was off to a great start. Lots of Drupal work, a conference, and a new project lined up. I started an internal project using Drupal 7, which is pretty cool. I got into the rhythm of making bread every week and of baking larger batches of food to share. I made time for some things I’d been procrastinating, and I had fun. I’ve been reading more books that analyze everyday life, and I’ve been having fun using those perspectives to examine my life. Good stuff.

Plans for January:

Work

Relationships

Life

Plans for February:

Work

Relationships

Life

Reviews

Sketches

Reflections

Geek stuff

Life

2011-02-05 Sat 17:44

Disagreement and the road to trusting yourself

February 6, 2011 - Categories: kaizen, life

I’m glad whenever I find myself disagreeing with someone. Sometimes I change my mind, learning more in the process. Sometimes I understand my own reasons better, and learn more about why I think what I think. As long as I disagree well – in an argument instead of a fight, clearly presenting reasons and understanding alternatives – then I grow in the process.

Henry Will sent me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog post on teaching yourself to trust yourself.

…take the time, and the quiet, to decide what you think. That is how
we find the part of ourselves we gave up. That is how we become
powerful, clever, creative, and insightful. That is how we gain our
sight.

It reminds me of this slim book I tucked into my library haul: Anna Quindlen’s Being Perfect. Here are some excerpts:

p.12: Trying to be perfect may be inevitable for people who are smart and
ambitious and interested in the world and in its good opinion. But at
one level it’s too hard, and at another, it’s too cheap and easy.
Because all it really requires of you, mainly, is to read the
zeitgeist of wherever and whenever you happen to be and to assume the
masks necessary to be the best at whatever the zeitgeist dictates or
requires.

… But nothing important, or meaningful, or beautiful, or
interesting, or great, ever came out of imitations. What is relaly
hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning
the work of becoming yourself.

Connect that with this excerpt from Everyday Ethics by Joshua Halberstam:

p109: We live our lives within a changing moral climate, and the
temptation to adapt can be overwhelming. … The moral nonconformist,
however, pays little attention to the popularity or unpopularity of
his moral positions. He is–it’s embarrassing to talk this way in our
cynical world–after truth, not applause. Genuine moral nonconformity
is difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain. Don’t be too quick
to assume you’re already there.

It isn’t easy to figure out what one thinks.

For me, writing and drawing are the best ways to sneak up on myself. In conversation, I’m sometimes too malleable. I catch myself listening for approval. Even when blogging, I catch myself refreshing the pages, looking for comments, looking for validation. Because the feedback for writing tends to be slower and more in-depth than the reactive cues of conversation, though, I have more time to think about my reflections and develop them. I can also slow down and untangle the feedback on my message from the feedback on my way of delivering it.

When I can form a tentative understanding of a topic, then test it in discussion with other people or in contrast with other positions I read, then I gain a little more confidence that my reasons are rooted in more than the urge to agree or disagree. Running into the imperfections of my understanding is part of the adventure of becoming myself.

Tying it all together into tips for myself and for other people this might help: Feedback might be about your message or about your delivery. Be clear about what kind of feedback you’d find the most helpful – usually feedback on delivery, if you want to keep your message authentically you, although content-related feedback can also help you recognize what you resonate with. Don’t be limited by the idea of perfection or the need for agreement. Test yourself and learn how to trust your thoughts.

How are you teaching yourself to trust yourself?

2011-02-06 Sun 21:16

Working on estimates

February 7, 2011 - Categories: geek, ibm, learning

Today I sat down with my manager to sketch my learning plan for 2011. I’ll start off with skills for IT architecture: defining scope and estimating effort for projects, designing and implementing systems, and leading the development. For development, I’ll focus on rich user interfaces, modernization, and integration. Next, I’ll learn more about solution development. In the second half, we’ll see if I can learn more about leading teams.

I spent most of the afternoon working on documents of understanding and estimates for upcoming projects. It’s interesting work, although I don’t trust my numbers quite yet. I’ll get better at estimating the more I do it, and I plan to prototype something quickly to check some of the numbers for the riskier parts. It’s actually quite fun doing this number-crunching. It’s like balancing my books. (Yes, I’m weird.)

It’ll be even more wonderful when I’ve gotten the hang of doing these things. Yay learning on the job!

2011-02-07 Mon 21:52

Things to write about: questions for your blogger’s block

February 9, 2011 - Categories: blogging

People often tell me they’re worried about finding enough material for their blogs. The truth is, there’s so much you can write about. Here are four questions that can help you think of things to share.

What do you want to learn more about? When you write about something – whether it’s completely new to you or something you’re puzzling out – you can understand it more deeply. Write about what you’re figuring out. Write about how you’re figuring it out. Write about what you’re learning along the way. (Sharing is an excellent way to learn even more – people often comment with better ways to do things!)

What do you want to change? This is like writing in order to learn more, but with commitment and action. Do you want to change the way you spend your time? Think about what you do, why you do it, and how you’re going to change. Want to save more? Write about your goals and your progress. Writing helps you understand more, identify ways to improve, and publicly commit to growing. It also gives you a record of progress, which can be useful for motivating yourself.

What do you want to share with other people? Have you solved a problem that other people will probably run into? Save people time by sharing your solutions. Do you have a tip that will make it easier for people to do things? Share that. Do you have a passion you’d like to teach others? Share that.

What do you want to remember? Write about the memories you want to be able to revisit. Write about the feelings and reasons you may want to review. Write about tips and solutions you’re likely to need again. Write for yourself. It’s okay.

I tend to write posts that combine these questions. For example, my reflections on what I do for fun help me learn more, change, and remember why I want to change. If sharing the process inspires others, that’s a neat bonus.

How about you? What do you want to learn more about? What do you want to change? What do you want to share? What do you want to remember?

More tips on how to have tons of topics

2011-02-09 Wed 06:01

Thinking about personal random moment studies

February 9, 2011 - Categories: geek, productivity, quantified

John Handy Bosma (Boz) proposed a personal productivity random moment study. His goals are:

The interesting thing about randomness is that it might have a different effect on behaviour. If you can’t anticipate when you’re going to get polled and you’re honest about your responses when you do, would that help you focus on more important things so that you don’t catch yourself goofing off during the polling time?

What are good questions to ask during the sampling moment? Boz has:

These questions also helped Boz stay focused – immediate benefit.

Questions/ideas related to tracking:

Is the effect of uncertainty worth the added effort required to build a custom tracking solution (or buy one), or will fixed time intervals be acceptable? If fixed time intervals are okay, then off-the-shelf apps can be stitched together for this functionality.

Is there value in full randomness (ex: five reminders randomly set for one day, even if those reminders all come in the morning) or is it more about moment-to-moment randomness (ex: a reminder set randomly in each 2-hour period)?

In which circumstances would interrupt-driven methods like this be better than time tracking or time-and-motion-type studies? Boz shared that he never quite got the hang of time tracking, so it might be about enabling a different set of people to explore this class of experiments.

Does measuring time (either through sampling or through time-tracking) offer significant benefits over, say, tracking quantity of tasks completed in different categories (like Andy Schirmer does) when it comes to measuring alignment with priorities?

Hmm…

I might give it a try. I like my time-based analysis, though, so I may increase the granularity of my time-tracking (track at the task level whenever possible). I can then simulate work-sampling based on that data. I might also try fixed-interval sampling using KeepTrack on the Android, although I tend to skip interruptions.

Related:

2011-02-09 Wed 10:58

Hackbuzzbuzzbuzz

February 10, 2011 - Categories: geek, life

It’s a little scary how much you can do with focused days of hacking.

After waking up early and revising some documents of understanding, I started working on a Ruby on Rails prototype for one of my projects so that I could get a better handle on how much time it would take me to implement the client’s requested features. When I decided to stop for dinner (or really, the cats decided for me), I found myself shaking – low temperatures, low blood sugar, perhaps both. Easily fixed, although I really should get back into the habit of walking around and nibbling on healthy snacks throughout the day.

I’ll look into making my regular breaks more intrusive so that I actually remember to take them. Ah, that’s right; fresh install of Linux, no Workrave set up yet. It’s hard to resist the pull of flow, but I need to if I’m going to develop other skills and enjoy life.

It’s so much fun to plunge back into fluency, though. I haven’t done Ruby on Rails since 2007. I skimmed a Rails book during one long commute and then hit the ground running. It’s easy to get back into the language, the platform. It helps that I do a lot of Emacs Lisp – lists and macros make me happy.

I’ve built some of the core features of the site, and I’m excited about the next components I’m going to work on. I should keep detailed task logs so that I can use that for estimates in the future. It’ll be useful. I’m tempted to adjust my current estimates downwards, but I shouldn’t – I need to leave space for things that might come up. (Or go down.)

What can I do to make tomorrow better? There’s a meeting, so that will be good non-coding time. I’ll try to stick to that take-a-quick-break-every-hour thing, too.

Extra time spent working is usually time pulled away from things I should also pay attention to, like my upcoming presentations, so I should block off more non-coding time tomorrow and this weekend. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I can walk to the bank and set up my investing TFSA. I’ve actually worked close to 40 hours already and it’s only Thursday, so I should probably scale back tomorrow.

Tempo’s still a little too fast. I’ll post this and tidy up. If I’m still buzzing after I tidy up, I might go to bed early. Or I might play the simplified Pachelbel’s Canon on the piano for a bit – that’s great for slowing down.

2011-02-10 Thu 19:07

Books to write

February 11, 2011 - Categories: plans, writing

My mom celebrated her 65th birthday this week. One of her goals for her 70th birthday is to put together a book.

It made me think of the books I want to write. If you take away the intimidation of a book–final drafts, agents, publishing, marketing–and see it instead as a coherent, clear, worthwhile collection that helps people get from point A to point B, then writing a book (or a book-wiki) is a wonderful thing. It’s about organizing knowledge in a way that many other people can use.

Here I’m reminded of Joseph Sestito’s “Write for Your Lives: Inspire Your Creative Writing with Buddhist Wisdom”:

p112. With this motivation, you can develop what I call “the lifeline
of books” concept. Mortimer J Adler developed a list called Great
Books of the Western World. If you examine these books, you will find
that most of them begin with extensive outlines. For example, if you
read Aristotle’s Ethics, you will see that the outline is five or ten
pages long, depending upon the translation – it is extremely detailed.
As a creative individual, you will generate more ideas for writing
beneficial books than you could have time to even begin in this
lifetime; yet, you may have just enough time to write their outlines.
Therefore, when you leave this life, in addition to leaving behind
your body, possessions, friends, family, and everything else, you can
also leave your own lifeline of books. These are the outlines for the
beneficial books that you did not have the time to write in this
lifetime, so that others can put their minds to work on the creation
of these books.

What are the books and book ideas I want to leave behind?

2011-02-11 Fri 06:10

Weekly review: Week ending February 11, 2011

February 12, 2011 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [-] Start on new project involving Facebook and Rails
    • [-] Work on ITSC blog post, keynote presentation
    • [X] Post more Lotusphere-related reflections
    • [-] Work on Deeper Insights presentation on social learning
    • [-] Work on Remote Presentations that Rock presentation
    • [C] Possibly sign up for consulting course – skipping this for now
    • Learned how to use estimating worksheet
    • Talked to Boz about productivity
    • Worked on newsletter tool
    • Estimated and scoped projects, yay!
    • Got back into Ruby on Rails, prototyped a project
  • Relationships
    • [X] Catch up with tasks at home
    • [-] Give Maira some of the spices – will do that today
    • [X] Organize get-together
    • Celebrated my mom’s 65th birthday
    • Looked for some experiences to share with people (movie, opera)
  • Life
    • [X] Share more reflections from Lotusphere
    • [-] Open up investing TFSA with Waterhouse – will do that on Monday
    • [-] Review my goals and upcoming projects
    • Experimented with lower-key daily routine; need to mix in more social interaction or shared experiences?
    • Brainstormed books I would like to write/read some way

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Clarify scope and prepare estimates for other Drupal or Rails projects
    • [X] Work on Facebook/Rails project
    • [X] Work on newsletter tool – fix bugs, implement requests
    • [X] Look into AIS IP address bug with simple_access>
    • [X] Put together ITSC presentation and blog post
    • [X] Sketch Remote Presentations That Rock revision
    • [X] Outline Org-mode talk
  • Relationships
    • [X] Give spices to Maira; cook Louisiana-style shrimp
    • [X] Watch The King’s Speech with W-
    • [X] Possibly get people together for opera
    • [X] Prepare paperwork for Dutch visa
    • [X] Go to Dutch embassy
    • [X] Meet Mike Nurse
    • [X] Chat with David Singer
  • Life
    • [X] Write about things I’m working on improving
    • [X] Get through busy week

Time analysis

Tried new routine: wake up early-ish, have breakfast, do personal stuff or work, switch to work, have lunch, work, have dinner, tidy up, go to bed. This meant not doing anything that required a lot of thought or creativity in the evenings, and moving those activities to the morning instead.

Category Hours Last week Notes
Sleep 62:36 53.8 8.9 hours average
Work 47:17 59.9 Got carried away prototyping and estimating
Social 13:00 14.8 Chinese New Year dinner with W-‘s family
Writing 11:03 3.6 Assorted reflections
Travel 3:24 19.6 Some commuting
Routines – general 7:49 7.8
Exercise 5:39 0.5 Walking around
Break 5:12 3.8
Routines – tidying 5:08
Learning 1:49
Routines – cooking 0:43
Drawing 0:33
Prep – general 4.0
Prep – planning
Sewing
Outsourceable

Observations: I slept more than expected because I gave in to the temptation to snooze. W- simultaneously shifted to a late-night routine, so he woke up later in the mornings, which influenced the snoozing bit too. I think I’ll try this again, but with activities blocked off for morning hours so that (a) I don’t fill it with work by default, and (b) I have a clear reason to get up and get going.

It was a quiet week, which was a good way to recover from the buzz of Lotusphere. I suspect a good balance may be more towards the social side, though, and I spent some time focusing on developing relationships (finally answered my e-mail, for example!). Next week is going to be pretty busy on the social front. Something in the middle, perhaps. Maybe one occasion planned each week.

I have a feeling that it would be worth spending time developing friendships. I miss that sense of knowing other people that I had with my friends, and the extra richness of shared experiences. I have to consciously reach out and be interested in people to deal with the asymmetry of knowledge. It’s generally easy to know what I’m thinking about because I write about it, but other people tend not to.

Hmm…

On friendship and getting better at it

February 13, 2011 - Categories: kaizen, life, reflection

A quiet week led me to thinking about friendship and how I can learn more about it. W- and I are both introverted and we spend most of our time at home. I need to make a deliberate effort to get together with people. Otherwise, it slips off my radar.

Why am I thinking about this? I see the close friendships my mom has developed with my ninongs and ninangs (godparents) and with people throughout the world. I think about the laughter and openness of my barkada (clique of friends) back home. I reflect on Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and what he shares about friendship. It’s a good thing. It enriches life.

I plan for the long-term when it comes to finances. I can certainly invest the time and effort into developing something deeper and more important than that. I know that if I’m left to my own devices, I’m probably not going to make much progress, so deliberate action is worthwhile here.

I have friends. I’m also aware that I don’t get to see those friends very often. There’s a bit of asymmetry, too, which I thought about again at Lotusphere. It’s easy for people to know about the significant events in my life, and even the day-to-day details. I don’t have that same sense of awareness about a lot of people, and I’d like to develop it.

There are so many people I’d like to get to know further. I want to help make their lives a little better. I want to help them ask interesting questions. I want to learn from what they’re learning along the way. It gives me pleasure to think about them and to hear about their lives. Even focusing on people I already know will give me plenty of opportunities to learn about friendship – and then there are all these fascinating people I have yet to meet. In other words, it’s not you, it’s me. =) I can work on me.

Thank goodness many people use Twitter and Facebook to share what’s going on. The fragmentary nature of these streams mean that I get glimpses into other people’s lives, but they’re interleaved with other updates. I sometimes find myself flitting from update to update without a deeper sense of each individual person.

So I’m thinking of working on this from two aspects: online and in-person.

Online, I’m trying out tools like Gist that give me a social dashboard which aggregates news, organizing it by person. I set aside time to think about other people, learn more about what’s going on in their lives, take notes, and reach out. I set aside some money for the little differences I can make in people’s days. I switched to a phone plan that includes international text messages, too. I’m also going to more regularly check and respond to personal mail (hi!).

In person, I’m deliberately looking for experiences I want to share with other people, and for opportunities to learn more about people’s interests. This is a bit more of a stretch for me because I like spending time at home and I hardly ever eat out. (I once attended a New Year’s Dinner and found myself thinking I could host a decent party for the cost of my meal.) I’ll probably start with movies and opera, and maybe look into setting up lunch or coffee with people.

Have you worked on learning more about friendship? Have any thoughts to share?

On presenting, anxiety, and moving forward

February 14, 2011 - Categories: speaking

I have four presentations on my calendar, spread over the next two months. They’re all on topics I’ve written about: two talks on networking, one talk on presentation tips, and one talk on Emacs. I should prepare the presentations over the next two weeks.

I catch myself procrastinating. And if I’m going to procrastinate by tidying or writing, I might as well turn my reflections to why I’m procrastinating, so I can figure it out and fix it.

The advantage of having a blog is that I can review what I felt and thought before. For example, in one of my earliest blog posts about public speaking, I wrote that I wanted to become a professional speaker. This was why:

I love sharing ideas with people. I love bringing my enthusiasm and my passion to a hall and infecting as many people as I can. I love learning about presentation techniques and fascinating ideas. I love getting people to think. Besides, speaking is a great way to get to meet other fascinating people. I’ve made friends and learned about opportunities at post-conference dinners.

Reading that, I feel something dormant stirring. There’s something about sharing my passion and being inspired by other people.

There are more posts in my archive. I wrote about reaching people in the back row. I wrote about dealing with stage fright by turning presentations into conversations. I wrote about keeping things fresh and shared the feedback I’d gotten from presentations.

I can also see myself changing. In October 2009, after an occasion that really showed me the contrast between face-to-face presentations and the reach of online ones, I started thinking about how and when to decline invitations to speak. In March 2010, preparing for another presentation, I found myself reflecting on what I was missing from face-to-face presentations.

Maybe I can find a new equilibrium. I think it’s a combination of factors, and I’m going to think about them for a bit because it’s useful to understand a challenge before you use its force against it, turn it flat on its back, and tickle it into submission.


Higher costs lead to higher standards. With the shift of many presentations to virtual channels, the rise of blogs, Slideshare, and recorded presentations as alternative ways of sharing information, tighter travel restrictions at work, and a flourishing life at home, I’m much less inclined to travel to conferences myself. The relative opportunity cost has increased. I project my higher standards onto other participants, and become more anxious about delivering enough value to justify the time and expense.

As I get better at writing and occasionally illustrating my thoughts, I become more impatient with presentations. Presentations take more time to prepare and more time to deliver. They are not as searchable or as linkable as text. Their main benefits are that they are more engaging than plain text or static illustrations, and they can reach a different audience – people who prefer listening to reading, for example.

Unlike blog posts or stand-alone slide decks, presentations have deadlines, expectations, and potentially mixed reception. I can postpone writing about something, but I can’t back out of a commitment to speak. I promise something with the abstract and I’m not sure if I can deliver. If I write a blog post that offers little value to people, they can simply move on. If I give a presentation that people are too polite to walk out of, I not only take an hour of their life but make them miss the opportunity to hear a better speaker.

Then there are changing comparisons. In a world filled with TED and Ignite and all sorts of great talks available through Youtube, beautiful slides on Slideshare, and whatnot, it’s hard to put together something without feeling like a nattering newbie.


And now that I’ve got that all written down, I can see that it doesn’t make sense. The thing that trumps all of that hasn’t changed: I’m moved to speak and connect with other people because I want to help them make a change in their life and because I’m curious about what I can learn from them too.

I tell myself sometimes that I come up with presentations because other people ask me to, or because I want to learn about something myself. But even the things I already know–have struggled with, have come to understand, still continue to explore– those are already worth sharing.

I’ll experiment with a few changes. I’m going to try speaking with minimal or no slides, which will force me to be more vivid and memorable in speech. I may choose some topics to focus on, and see if invitations and speaking opportunities can align with those. I might illustrate if inspiration strikes, but not by default.

For my upcoming presentations, I just need to dig deeper and find the core message I have to share. With that, all the rest of the words and images will flow.


Writing about all of that seems to be working. I could hardly get to sleep last night thanks to all the presentation ideas running through my head…

More about getting 27″ washers and dryers down 26″ hallways

February 14, 2011 - Categories: life

Flora writes:

found your blog googling ’27” washer dryer 26″ hallway’ and am in
awe of your story about disassembling and reassembling your LG washer
and dryer. We’re currently dealing with a similar situation. I won’t
bore you with the details but basically, we decided to buy a Samsung
laundry pair because, in the store, both machines measured 26 3/4
inches and our staircase is 26 3/4 inches at most. We tried getting
them delivered and met some very rude and condescending delivery
people who were not cooperative at all. They wouldn’t even try getting
the machines through the first door which was 27 1/4 inches wide. They
took the machines back and now we’re faced with the decision to get
them redelivered or returning them and beating our dirty clothes on
rocks (or something). I was wondering if you could tell me a bit more
about your experiences with disassembling your machines. Was it really
difficult? Do you know if there are professional technicians who would
do that kind of work for people like me? Did you find the service
manuals really helpful? I imagine that this isn’t the first time this
has happened to people so I wish there was more of a support system
out there for those of us with horizontally challenged hallways and
stairways.

From Appliance adventures

Oh dear. Yes, that is a challenge. As you can imagine, disassembling a machine and squeezing it down a narrow hallway will void your warranty and rough up the hallway, so it can be a tough decision to make. We decided to go for it because we had the budget for an experiment like that and we preferred to take the risk instead of spending time and money on either coin laundry or plumbing renovations, but your mileage may vary. This is not professional advice, so always exercise your judgment.

When we were thinking of doing this, we didn’t know any appliance repairers, but you might want to call around. Surely there must be people who are happy to do this for a fee. =) If you need to do it yourself:

Look for the service manuals for the washer and dryer you want to get or you want to buy. This may take some digging around because there are plenty of sites that will charge you a fee for the service manual, but you may be able to get it for free. If you don’t find the one for your exact model, you might find one for a similar model. Make sure you get a service manual that shows disassembly, not just a user’s manual that describes how to operate the machine. Also make sure you have a pair of work gloves with good grip, lots of things you can label and put screws into, and all the tools you’ll need, such as screwdrivers, clamps, and wrenches.

Take care when lifting the machines. A dolly can be very helpful. Lift it with another person. Gloves can help, too. You may need to take it out of the box in order to get it through the door. If so, look at your doors and corridors for anything that might get in the way, and remove them if possible. (We scratched the front of our washing machine with the door closer we’d forgotten to remove.) Think about the more scratchable sides when planning how to carry the machines in, and make sure that the path to your intermediate disassembly area is clear.

Confirm the machine turns on before you disassemble it. If your machine is dead on arrival, you want to know before you void the warranty.

Follow the instructions for disassembling. Read and understand all the instructions before you start. Make sure the machine is unplugged. Take lots of pictures. Label all the containers you use for storing screws. Label any wires you unplug. We used plastic containers for screws and masking tape for wires, writing down positions with a black marker. Wear the gloves whenever possible. There can be lots of sharp edges inside a machine, where they don’t expect anyone but trained technicians to poke around. You can bring parts down separately. This also makes it easier to move the machine down.

You may need to squeeze the chassis in order to get it through your narrow hallways. Remove trim that might get in the way. Consider taking out drywall. Expect that the paint will be scraped, and that the machine will also get a bit scratched. If it’s no longer square once it gets to the laundry room, hammer or nudge it into being square again.

Reverse the instructions in order to assemble the machine again. Hook everything up. Plug in the machine and see if it starts up. If it doesn’t, you may have an expensive paperweight. Sorry.

Run a small load or run through the test cycle in order to confirm that things work. Look for signs of leaks or missed connections, and be ready to turn the machine off just in case.

From Appliance adventures

W- says that it really helped that he disassembled the broken washing machine in order to get it out of the laundry room. The service manuals I found online were fantastic, too, with clear, step-by-step instructions and diagrams. Sometimes it was hard to find the part they were referring to because we didn’t know what it looked like, but going back and forth between close-up diagrams and the exploded parts list solved the problem.

Plan for this taking at least a weekend, and keep kids and pets away.

The good news is that if you successfully manage to get your laundry pair through your hallway and down your stairs, laundry becomes a whole new experience. We laugh about the laundry adventure whenever we do a load, and I still can’t get over how quiet the new machines are compared to the ones we had before. Is it weird that laundry is one of my favourite parts of the weekend?

Good luck!

Related:

2011-02-14 Mon 08:28

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Webinar: Energy, Interaction, and ROI

February 15, 2011 - Categories: presentation, speaking, tips

I’ve been invited to re-do my Remote Presentations That Rock presentation this February. I can’t resist improving presentations every time I give them. What do you think of this?

This presentation and speaker notes will be available at URL. (If giving this remotely: Please feel free to use the text chat to ask questions and share your thoughts throughout the presentation.)


Remote presentations are harder than in-person presentations, but they can also be more powerful. Yes, you’re limited in terms of body language and delivery. Yes, you have to compete with e-mail, Sametime, and a million interruptions. But if you know how to work with the strengths of remote presentations, you can reach people more effectively and more intimately.

Let’s talk about the biggest challenge for remote presentations: the fact that it’s so easy for people to get distracted or to walk away. In real life, most people won’t walk out the back door. They’ll stick around long enough for you to make your main points. Online, if you lose people’s attention, it can be very hard to get it back. And it’s doubly tough because you can’t read people’s body language. You can’t see if people are interested or if they’re off checking mail, and you can’t pull them back by saying something interesting if they’ve already hung up.

You’ve got to offer people something they can’t get from reading your the slides or listening to the recording. Why is it worth paying attention to you? For me, that comes down to two things: energy and interaction.

Energy

Why should people attend your presentation? People aren’t going to come just to hear the facts or numbers. They can get that from the slides. If you’re a leader, they want to hear your confidence, maybe get a better sense of who you are as a person. Even if you’re not an executive – even if, say, you’re an IT specialist presenting a technical topic – you’ve got to bring your energy to your presentation, to show people why it matters to you and why it matters to them.

A huge part of this is your voice. You need to sound like you, and you need to sound like the presentation is worthwhile. If people give in to the temptation to multitask, your voice is going to be the only thing that can bring them back. Emphasize your key points by changing your pace, changing your pitch, pausing, repeating things. Let your message come through in your voice. Energy. Urgency. Confidence.

You’ll be surprised by how much little things matter. Get a phone headset so that you can breathe properly and so that you don’t get a crick in your neck. Stand up if that helps you get into the “presentation mode”. Have pictures of people around if that helps you remember that you’re talking to real people so that you can make that connection. Turn off the conference entry/exit tones so that you aren’t competing with (or distracted by) beeps.

Another, powerful way to share your energy is to add video. Now you might be thinking, “I don’t look good on video.” While we may never look as polished as Sam Palmisano with a video crew, it’s actually easy to look decent. Get a webcam. Even if you pay for this personally, it’ll be worth it. Find a quiet place – no coworkers on conference calls, no dishwashers going whrrr. Find a clear background and good lighting – maybe a blank wall near a window. If you have glasses, dim the light from your laptop screen so that they don’t reflect off your lenses. White shirts make it easier for your webcam to pick the right colour-balance and exposure. Practice.

It’s a good idea to tell people when you’re going to be on video. I know someone who found this out the hard way. She was giving a presentation, and then her husband walked past in the background… in his underwear! So make it clear that you’re going to be on the air, and close the door. Then you can make a much better–and more professional–connection with people.

Video can bring you much closer to people than most in-person presentations can. Sure, you probably won’t be able to do as many gestures, but people can see your facial expressions. Use them. If you step back a little, you can do some gestures.

How can you bring all these tips together? Figure out what you want to say, but don’t stop there. Figure out why it matters to you and why it matters for other people. If you can’t figure out why something is worth giving as a presentation instead of as an article or a set of slides, don’t do a presentation. Just send the information. Save presentations for where presentations can make a difference – when you want to persuade people.

End on a high note. If you’ve done a good job at convincing people for the need for action – and you’re always doing this with a presentation, even if you’re just presenting information – make it easier for them to take action by showing them what they need to do next. Don’t fade out with just Q&A. Wrap up with a quick summary and maybe a memorable tip, and make sure people know what the next actions are. If you’re doing a remote presentation, think of websites people can visit to learn more or actions people can take to commit to doing something, while they still have the buzz and energy from the presentation. This means you need to plan your time well. People have back-to-back meetings and commitments. Plan to end a little early so that they have time to act on your message before they get distracted by something else.

Interaction

This also means you need to get people’s buy-in along the way, so that when you get to the end of your presentation, people are where they need to be. This brings us to the second part of making remote presentations that rock: Interaction. Q&A. I’m not talking about the five minutes near the end that you think you’ll have for questions. You know that hardly ever happens. You run into technical difficulties. People start late. People take a while to think of their answers.

Don’t leave Q&A to the end of your presentation. Make it part of your presentation. If I have an hour for a presentation, I’ll typically plan between seven to twenty minutes of content, with the rest of the time for Q&A and about five minutes at the end to summarize and send people off with actions. This works really well. It forces me to fit my key points into a short attention span, and leaves room for the interesting part: the conversation.

How do I make sure things fit? I figure I should talk at about 160 words per minute. (I actually talk faster, but I try to slow down to 160.) If I’m planning for 20 minutes, then that’s roughly 3,200 words. If I write down what I want to say and I’m over 3,200 words, then I have to cut and simplify. Don’t start with the slides. Start with what you want to say, and make room for what’s important. If you’re trying to say too much, split it up into multiple presentations or refer to additional information that people can use to learn more.

Q&A can be much more powerful in a web conference than it is in person. In person, you’re usually limited to three or four questions. In person, people have to remember their questions and wait for the Q&A period, then line up for the microphone, say their question, and wait for your response. In person, you don’t really get a choice about which question you want to address first. Online, if you ask people to share their questions throughout the presentation using the text chat, you not only get an instant feel for where people are curious or confused, you can also pick the most interesting questions–or the easiest ones–to answer first. You don’t have to read people’s body language – they can tell you what’s on their mind.

When you’re starting out, you might want to have a moderator watch the text chat for you. If you find that you can occasionally glance at the text chat without getting distracted from what you want to say–and this takes a lot of practice–then you can even start weaving those questions and answers into the flow of your presentation. It’s fantastic when you can pull this off.

Q&A is good for people and it’s good for you. You can learn so much from Q&A. You can find out what’s important to people, and what you should include when you’re following up. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with lots of questions, some of which you might not even know the answers to yet. Great. That not only gives you opportunities to learn more, but also to share those lessons with others. We’ll talk about this again when we talk about radically increasing your ROI from presentations.

You can still have people ask their questions over the phone. Now this is important: you should wait at least seven seconds for questions before you move on. Maybe wait even longer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a conference call where the speaker said, “Any questions?” and then after a very short silence, says something like “Thank you, goodbye!” and I’m thinking, “I’m still coming up with questions I want to ask!” As a speaker, you should wait until the silence becomes uncomfortable, and then wait some more. It takes time for people to absorb what you’ve just shared and think of what else they want to learn. If you need to fill the silence, share some questions other people have asked you, or share some questions people might be thinking about.

When you’re speaking to an international audience, Q&A might be harder. People in some cultures aren’t comfortable with asking questions during presentations. You can get people used to the idea by starting off with typical questions people might ask, and encouraging people to share their questions through a text chat if they don’t want to use the phone.

If you really don’t get any questions, then you can share more examples and backup material. Flexibility pays off, and it shows that you know your stuff.

Radically increasing your ROI

Now you might be thinking that it takes time to prepare good presentations like that. It takes only a few minutes to throw together slides if you’re going to figure out what to say on the fly and you don’t mind if people forget or tune out. It takes time to plan your presentation so that you have a clear, concise, engaging core message. It takes time to prepare for Q&A. It takes time to learn how to use web-conferencing tools. But it’s a bigger waste of time if you don’t.

Presentations are surprisingly expensive. There’s the time you put into preparing it: maybe half an hour for a quick update, maybe four hours for a regular presentation like this, maybe days for a high-stakes presentation. There’s the time you spend giving the presentation. And then there’s the time people spend listening to you. Now I’m in Global Business Services, so utilization is always in the back of my mind. If I’m talking to a group of 35 people for an hour, I probably need to offer you more than $100 in terms of value, and I need to create more than $4,000 of value for IBM and our clients. Is it worth it? I want to make sure it is.

So let’s talk about radically increasing your ROI for presentations. When you’re preparing and giving presentations, how can you get even more leverage on the time and effort you’re investing? There are two parts to that: before and after your presentation. Let’s talk about what you can do before your presentation.

First: Figure out if you can get more people – and more of the right people – to get value from your presentation. It takes the same time to give a presentation to 20 people as it does to give a presentation to 200. Remote presentations make this even easier, because people don’t have to be in the same area and they don’t have to arrange for travel. They just have to dial in. This depends on the purpose of your presentation, of course. If you’re planning a small-group collaborative meeting, go ahead and keep it at six people. But if you’re sharing something of general interest, open it up. Post it on Inviter, which is this IBM service for sharing calendar events. If you’ve got a blog, write about your upcoming presentation. Post it on your Profiles board. Tell people about it. Make it easy for people to find.

Second: Share as much as you can while preparing. See if you can share your outline, your slides, your draft speech. If you’ve got a blog, write about your presentation there. I’ve been blogging my speaker notes and my slides on a blog. You’d think that would mean that people can skip the presentation because they already know the key points, like the way you might skip a movie if you already know how it ends. Instead, what happens is that people suggest ways to make the presentation even better, and then they come anyway for the energy and interaction. Result: better presentation, better interaction (because people have been thinking about things deeper), better reach, and better ROI. Share whatever you can share.

The same goes for after your presentation. When you’re giving a presentation that’s not confidential, make sure you record and share it. That’s one of the benefits of giving a remote presentation – they’re easy to record and share. It’s a few extra clicks using LotusLive Meetings, and then you can share your presentation with other people. Share your slides. Figure out if your presentation or a subset of your presentation can be shared externally. Take the extra five minutes to scrub it and share it on a site like Slideshare.net. Share your speaker notes. Share the questions people asked and your answers to them. It takes a few extra minutes and greatly improves your reach. When your presentations are shareable and searchable, they become a very powerful networking tool. And they’ll save you lots of time, too. I can’t tell you how often I refer people to my past presentations in order to help them learn something I’ve shared.

And this is where remote presentations can really help you rock. Work with the strengths of the webconferencing tools that we have, and you can really connect with people. Invest a few extra minutes to share your presentations and recordings, and you can radically increase your ROI. Use remote presentations to reach more people than you can bring together in a room, and that will pay off for you in professional and personal connections.

Here are seven small things you can do to improve the energy, interaction, and ROI of your remote presentations:

We’ll come back to these tips five minutes near the end of this session so that they’re fresh in your mind. I want you to be able to walk out of here with a clear understanding of how you can apply these tips and how they can transform the way you present. What’s holding you back from giving better remote presentations? What do you want to learn more about?

2011-02-15 Tue 07:58

From zero to hero: a newbie’s guide to learning and building a reputation along the way

February 16, 2011 - Categories: blogging, learning

A friend of mine is a new IBM consultant who wants to learn more about and develop a reputation in social analytics. I thought I’d share some tips on how to learn and build a reputation along the way.

Pick your field carefully. Another mentor of mine said that emerging technologies offer the best opportunities. In a new field, it’s easier to not only catch up, but even distinguish yourself. In mature fields, it’s hard to compete with people who have years of experience. Even in mature fields, though, you might be able to find niches where things are rapidly changing.

Read. Read everything about that topic that you can get your hands on. Learn how to speed-read if you don’t already do so. Don’t worry about words you don’t understand or concepts that are too complex. Gradually, as you absorb more information, more of the things you’ve read will make sense to you.

Stay up to date. Find the key players in the space that you’re working on. Check out their blogs, their presentations, their tweets – whatever you can get that gives you more information. Set up searches and alerts so that you can find new material as it gets published.

Use bookmarks to organize your research. You’re going to immerse yourself in a flood of information. Use social bookmarking systems like Lotus Connections Bookmarks or Delicious to keep track of interesting things you’ve read, and to organize resources into your own categories. That way, when you need to find something again or if you want to send someone a link, you can quickly get it along with related resources.

Collect examples of ideas being been applied to real life. If you’re interested in Web 2.0 and financial services, you need to be able to tell stories about innovative companies and the results they’re seeing. If you’re interested in social analytics, find case studies where analytics has led to increased collaboration and productivity. Learn about pitfalls and challenges, too. There’s no substitute for experience, but awareness is a good start – and that can help you brainstorm opportunities for you to get involved.

Write notes and look for ways to explain ideas in simpler terms. Summarize what other people have said. Link to resources people might find useful. Share examples and the principles they demonstrate. Share your notes on a blog. Make presentations and volunteer to speak. This helps you understand a topic deeper and build the beginning of a reputation.

What can you write about? Write about what you’re learning and why. Write about the mistakes you made and how you solved them (or are trying to solve them!). Write about how you’re learning and from whom. Write about the resources out there. Write about the things you’re finding out. Write about the connections between your topic of interest and other things you know about. Write about what you want to learn next. There are plenty of things you can share, even as a beginner.

Experiment. Can you try things out yourself? Apply the ideas to your own life and share the results. As you build credibility, you might be able to convince your team to give a new practice a try. Share those results, too. Come up with ideas and try them out. Use these experiences to convince people to let you work on projects.

Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. Make sure your manager, your mentors, and your coworkers know what you’re interested in learning or doing. Volunteer to help with projects or presentations that need to be done. Ask your manager to help you structure a way to learn on the job.

Learn. Share what you’re learning along the way. Experiment. Volunteer and expand your responsibilities. You can go from being a newbie to being known in surprisingly little time, but you need to get out there and make things happen. Good luck!

Imagine success for social media

February 16, 2011 - Categories: blogging, connecting, kaizen, story, web2.0, writing

I was talking to an independent consultant who wanted to get better at using social media to expand his network. I suggested that he put together articles and presentations that he can share with his contacts (mostly executives) that are useful and that they would probably share with the right people in their companies.

Thinking about this, I realized that imagining the ideal scenarios can help people recognize the value of investing in sharing knowledge or building a social media presence. You can say that sharing is important, or you can imagine a story that goes like this:


CEO of small business: Oh! It’s an e-mail from __. He always sends me useful information, so I’ll take a look at this one. Hmm, this whitepaper looks like something our company could learn from. Let me send it to the director in charge of that.

Director: Hmm, an e-mail from the VP, I better read it. Ah, an article that looks like it will help with one of the challenges I’m currently working on. Hey, this guy has some great tips. I wonder… Oh, he has a website with other articles and presentations! Great. I’m going to flip through the presentations that look immediately useful. I should probably bookmark this site so I can come back to it later. Hey, he’s on Twitter. Let me check out what he posts… He’s got an upcoming seminar – that looks interesting, maybe I’ll attend. I think I’ll follow him on Twitter so that I can hear about other updates. Hmm, maybe he can do some consulting for us for this project – that would save me a lot of time, help me get the results I need… (and if he’s as good as he seems to be, I’ll look like a star).

Someone else searching on the Net: Hmm, I need to learn more about ___ if I’m going to be able to deliver those results. Oh, here’s an article that might be useful. Those are good points. Let me save this. I wonder… ah, he has other articles and presentations. Those are useful too. Let me read them… I wonder if he’s available to do some consulting. Oh, look, he’s in Toronto too. That makes it easier. I should give him a call.


Think about what success looks like. Tell yourself a story about what could happen. It’s probably less about just increasing the number of your followers or posting at least one blog post a week, and more about actions and results. What’s that story? Walk through it in your head, check if it’s plausible, and identify the pieces you need to build in order to make it happen. Doesn’t investing in those pieces make more sense now that you can see how they’re related to your end goals?

That led me to think about the ideal stories I tell myself. When I write for my blog, this is what I hope will happen:


Me: “Ah! Now I understand things a little better. Let me go try that and see what happens. … Yup, that works, and here’s how I can make it even better.”

Someone: “I need to figure out something. Let me search… Hmm, that look interesting, let me try that. Hey, that works. Oh, that looks useful too. And that one! And that one! I’m going to add this to my feed reader. … Oh look, another post from Sacha. She reminds me that it’s possible to be cheerful and have fun doing awesome things. =) Hmm, I know someone who might find this useful too…”

Someone: “Can you help me with __?” Me: “I could’ve sworn I’ve written about that around here… Ah, there it is! Here’s the link.” Someone: “Awesome. Thanks!”


What are the stories you imagine, and what do those stories help you learn about what you can do to make them happen?

On friendship and becoming more social

February 18, 2011 - Categories: connecting

I’ve been talking to people about my project of becoming more social, getting better at connecting. It makes sense. I get to practise and pick up tips at the same time. =) Sometimes people say, “Sacha, aren’t you already pretty social? How big is your network, anyway?” But it’s not about that, and I think I’m starting to figure out what it’s about.

There are so many interesting people. W-, of course, is gosh-darn-awesome. And there are all these wonderful people I’ve gotten to know: my family, my barkada, my ninongs and ninangs, my friends in Canada who helped me get the hang of those first few winters, my friends at work and in various clubs, my friends through this blog and Twitter and all these other networks, and people I have yet to become good friends with. So the limiting factor isn’t the lack of people to develop friendships with, but my ability to do so.

What does it mean to be friends with someone? In the Nichomachean Ethics, where he devotes a book of fourteen chapters to the topic of friendship, Aristotle distinguishes between friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure, and friendships of good character. Of these, I’m interested in friendships of good character. In this kind of friendship, you appreciate the goodness of other people and they appreciate yours. You wish them good, and they wish you good as well.

One can’t have many friends at this level. In W.D.Ross’s translation of the Nichomachean Ethics:

But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare. Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together'; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each. Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.

And also:

Now there are three grounds on which people love; of the love of lifeless objects we do not use the word ‘friendship'; for it is not mutual love, nor is there a wishing of good to the other (for it would surely be ridiculous to wish wine well; if one wishes anything for it, it is that it may keep, so that one may have it oneself); but to a friend we say we ought to wish what is good for his sake. But to those who thus wish good we ascribe only goodwill, if the wish is not reciprocated; goodwill when it is reciprocal being friendship. Or must we add ‘when it is recognized’? For many people have goodwill to those whom they have not seen but judge to be good or useful; and one of these might return this feeling. These people seem to bear goodwill to each other; but how could one call them friends when they do not know their mutual feelings? To be friends, then, the must be mutually recognized as bearing goodwill and wishing well to each other for one of the aforesaid reasons.

That makes me think of several things. First, to wish good for other people, you should know them beneath the surface. It’s easy to say that I wish my friends to be happy, but knowing the specific things they consider pleasurable or good means I can share good experiences, find good gifts, or help people grow.

I’m probably an outlier in terms of writing and making it easy for people to get to know me through my interests. If I’m going to get to know other people, then I’m going to need to take the initiative and reach out, maybe slowly getting a sense of a person over time. I can get better at this by also, say, compiling notes on people’s expressed preferences. (Yes, I’m a geek.)

Second, friendship is reciprocal. I can feel goodwill towards many people, such as the people I’ve gotten to know through blogs. Some may even feel goodwill for me back, without my knowing. Friendship, I think, is when we both know it and that mutual understanding influences our actions.

I think that people are rather better at caring about me than I am at caring about them. This doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people as much. It means that I think other people are more thoughtful and are better at making a connection, and that there’s plenty of room for me to learn. Add to that the occasional asymmetry of knowledge and it can be a little awkward, but I’m getting better at getting past the awkward bit and just focusing on getting to know people more.

One of the things I’m particularly curious about is developing friendships online. When I listed people I might call if I needed a favour or I needed someone to talk to, I realized that there were some people I’ve never actually seen in person. I’d like to get even better at cultivating friendships online. From literature and other people’s examples, it’s clearly possible to develop deep connections beyond your geographic reach. With many of my friends outside Toronto – or infrequently met even in the same city – it’s something worth learning more about.

A lot of this is a matter of time: time to learn about people, time to share experiences, time to build trust, and so on. I can’t do much to speed things up. But it’s also equally a matter of attention – if I don’t invest that attention, then that time will pass without much effect.

Of course, reflecting on the Ethics, I need to be careful that people and friendship don’t become means. It’s not about checking off a little checkmark on my list of things to learn, or dissecting people and finding out what makes them tick, or chasing the pleasure of making someone’s day.

So that’s what I’m talking about when I say I want to get better at connecting or I want to be more social. It’s not about making sure I’ve “got my dance card filled”, or that I go out to at least one get-together each week, or even that I remember to host tea. I think it’s more about knowing people more so that I can appreciate their goodness and wish them good, and about building deeper connections.

2011-02-18 Fri 06:50

Book: Daddy Long Legs, and letters

February 18, 2011 - Categories: book, reading, writing

A chance remark by the turtle about Daddy Long Legs led me to request the 1955 musical from the Toronto Public Library, and then to read the book online. Fred Astaire’s dance sequences (particularly the first one where he makes drumsticks dance better than most people do) and a couple of good lines, and a nice ending made me smile. Yes, the age gap’s bigger in the movie than it was in the book, and it must’ve been hard for Astaire to perform that with what was going on in his personal life, but it’s still a good one.

The book, on the other hand, was an unexpectedly delightful find. It’s written as a series of letters from this orphan-turned-aspiring-writer, with vivid descriptions and general cheer. I’m half-inspired to do more letter-writing myself, or to bring that kind of vivacity to my blog.

(Will you put up with descriptions of life? In any case, it is my blog, and I would like to be able to remember. =) Prepare for more adjectives!)

Now I am on the lookout for other epistolary gems. I have requested “A Woman of Independent Means” from the library, remembering my mom’s recommendation. Do you have any favourites?

LinkedIn tip: Customize your profile URL

February 18, 2011 - Categories: connecting, tips, web2.0

This tip’s for Mike Nurse and other people who are looking for small things that could make LinkedIn more useful for them… =)

Did you know that you can customize your LinkedIn URL to make it more memorable, writable, and professional?

  1. Log on to linkedin.com.
  2. Click on Profile – Edit Profile.
  3. Click on Edit next to your Public Profile URL.
  4. Click on Edit next to Your Public Profile URL. Choose a short, memorable URL. Click on Set Address.
  5. Optionally customize what people see on your public profile.
  6. Click on Save Changes.

If you want to make it easier for people to connect with you on LinkedIn, put your new URL on your business card, your e-mail signature, your website, and other social network profiles. Little things like that help make it easier for other people to connect with you.

Decision review: Limiting my blog to one post a day

February 19, 2011 - Categories: blogging, kaizen, reflection, sketches, writing

In 2009, I decided to limit my blog to around one post a day. I wrote as many notes as I wanted in a private text file, and selected only one or two to share each day.

People liked the new frequency. They found it more manageable. Instead of getting three or four e-mails or feed items a day, they got one or two.

I liked the new frequency too. I started shuffling blog posts around depending on how useful I thought they would be to others. This was generally a good thing, as I put off publishing slice-of-life posts whenever I had tips to share. Sometimes, though, I ended up with “stale” blog posts that I wanted to share but didn’t. In a medium as current as a blog, it seems weird to write about something that happened three days ago. After a few tries at keeping a scheduled queue of posts in my WordPress blog, I turned to keeping the posts in my Org file instead because it was easier to choose which post to publish than to keep shuffling dates around in WordPress.

Sometimes I’d post more than one blog post anyway. Looking at my double- and triple-post days, most of those posts followed up on conversations, and I’m glad I posted them when I did. If I’m writing something that I think might be generally useful, I’d rather blog it than keep it in e-mail. Whenever I tried to stick closely to my one-post-a-day rule, I found myself postponing responses instead of, say, copying and pasting the relevant tips into an HTML mail. Postponing responses didn’t help with Inbox Zero or quick conversations, so I often decided to just go ahead and post. Rhythm can make or break an asynchronous conversation.

Rhythm affected my writing, too. Whenever I had plenty of many scheduled posts lined up, I found myself spending days without writing. While there were days that I welcomed the extra time, it was throwing off my routines. I felt like I was binge-writing: gorging myself on writing, then putting it off until the need to write and think drove me back to the keyboard or the pen. There were very few dull days that passed without a story, a lesson, or an idea I wanted to share, so although I was trying to keep to one post a day, I itched to write more, and new items often pre-empted things in the backlog until those things were no longer relevant.

imageIt’s a tradeoff among different people’s needs. On one hand, posting short tips frequently would benefit conversational partners as well as searchers. On the other hand, posting too frequently would give subscribers negative value. I guess the chart looks a little like what’s on the right – but what were the numbers? Would subscribers get impatient with two posts a day? At what point would searchers get diminishing returns from posts that were too sparse and quickly written? And what about what I wanted from my blog – a way to remember and share life? I found myself posting more generally useful posts about writing and blogging instead of ephemeral memories, glimpses of life – but I loved the chance connections I had when I wrote about things like burning pancakes or planting in the garden. I’d hate to become yet another generic blogger writing bland, inarguable, and impersonal tips, or to write for what I thought might be the widest use when there might be interesting things to explore in the nooks and crannies of life.

It’s a trade-off between other factors, too. Should I write fewer posts, but longer ones? I like sticking to one thought per blog post, though. Maybe I should do “reader mailbag”-type posts, but that probably still requires more of a weekly routine, and I do like posting people-related updates within a day or two. I’d like to spend some time revisiting old posts or sharing my reflections on other people’s posts. How do I fit that in around the new things I want to write about? And I’ve been meaning to move time away from writing to other activities. Perhaps I’ll be more ruthless about prioritizing what to write about, and leave other unfinished ideas as drafts in my private notes – or maybe I’ll drop hints about things I’d like to think about, in case other people can point out things they’d like to learn more about as well.

Data can help explore decisions things like this. Before I put a lot of time into figuring out whether I can set up a separate “firehose” category in my blog that gets excluded from e-mail notifications and feeds until I promote posts into the regular stream, I can find out how often I might need it, what effects it might have, and whether it’s worth looking into. Instead of thinking about this in a vacuum, I decided to conduct a little post-analysis. I wanted to know:

A little number-crunching, and voila:

image

The red line shows the number of posts. As you can see, I’ve gone from really spikey to a somewhat more consistent line hovering at around 30 posts a month. This means you can subscribe without fear, or check back roughly every morning.

The blue line shows that my average post length (in terms of characters) is somewhat spikey, and it seems to be increasing.  So, yes, I’m writing longer posts. It’s plotted on the secondary axis (0..7000) so that the other lines aren’t drowned out.

The green line shows the number of comments. My spreadsheet doesn’t show any strong correlations with either my post length or the number of posts, so it doesn’t look like I’m scaring people off with long posts or too-frequent posts.

As it turns out, I’m actually pretty good at keeping to around one or two posts per day. This year’s had an average of 1.1 posts per day, well within reason (and subscriber patience, I hope). Knowing this means I don’t need to spend a lot of time fiddling with this decision, although I do want to find the rough spots and figure out how I can smooth them over.

So here’s what I’m going to try next:

Sounds like a plan.

Have you come across this blog through a search? Do you read this blog regularly? Do you subscribe to updates (thanks!)? What would make it work better for you? What have you seen working on other personal blogs?

Weekly review: Week ending February 18, 2011

February 19, 2011 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [-] Clarify scope and prepare estimates for other Drupal or Rails projects – Current pipeline handled
    • [-] Work on Facebook/Rails project – waiting for paperwork
    • [X] Work on newsletter tool – fix bugs, implement requests
    • [X] Look into AIS IP address bug with simple_access>
    • [X] Put together ITSC presentation and blog post
    • [X] Sketch Remote Presentations That Rock revision
    • [-] Outline Org-mode talk – will work on next week
    • Added standalone wiki support to community toolkit – for Debra Johnson
    • Added generic newsletter support to community toolkit – for Darrel Rader
    • Added template file support to community toolkit – for Darrel Rader
    • Did some quick illustrations
    • Finally sent in Lotusphere expenses
  • Relationships
    • [X] Give spices to Maira; cook Louisiana-style shrimp
    • [X] Watch The King’s Speech with W-
    • [-] Possibly get people together for opera – postponed to next week
    • [X] Prepare paperwork for Dutch visa
    • [X] Go to Dutch embassy
    • [X] Meet Mike Nurse
    • [X] Chat with David Singer
  • Life
    • [X] Write about things I’m working on improving
    • [X] Get through busy week – not actually that hectic, yay!

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Sketch ITSC keynote by David Zach
    • [X] Give ITSC keynote on networking
    • [X] Learn about ECM and web services
    • [X] Follow up on documents of understanding
    • [X] Put together Idea Lab resources
  • Relationships
    • [X] Go to Second City with recent hires and friends
    • [X] Host tea get-together 1pm our place Saturday Feb 26
    • [X] Watch Die Fledermaus (http://toronto-opera.com)
    • [X] Watch Madame Butterfly (http://toronto-opera.com)
    • [X] Send birthday cards
    • [X] Try making a beet smoothie or Tex-mex lasagna
  • Life
    • [X] Enjoy extended weekend: spend focused time revising, drawing, presenting, cooking, and tidying up
    • [X] Experiment with giving presentation through Zipcast (Remote Presentations That Rock, Monday?)

Time analysis

Experiment for the week: more social stuff. Met people, had mentoring chats, reached out through e-mail, etc.

Category This week Last week Delta Notes
Break 4.8 5.2 -0.4
Drawing 0.6 -0.6
Exercise 4.7 5.7 -1.0 Including trip to Dutch embassy
Learning 0.6 1.8 -1.2
Prep – general 0.4 0.4
Routines – cooking 1.8 4.4 -2.6
Routines – general 6.3 7.8 -1.5
Routines – tidying 3.8 5.1 -1.3
Sleep 65.3 62.6 2.7 9.3 hours average
Social 25.9 12.0 13.9 Skype, Starbucks, and e-mail
Travel 1.5 3.4 -1.9 Some commuting
Work 40.4 47.3 -6.9 Proposals, CommunityToolkit, presentations
Writing 12.5 11.1 1.4

Still hitting snooze in the mornings. It’s hard in winter and a warm bed. I’ve asked W- to help me stick with my resolve to get up in the morning, and may experiment with returning to the other week’s routine of having a very light evening.

Lots of time invested into building relationships, following up on my previous reflections on friendship. Good use of time – instead of doing extra work in the evenings, I used that time to reach out instead. Looking forward to doing more drawing and cooking over the next few days.

Waking up: looking at my data

February 20, 2011 - Categories: geek, life, quantified, sketches

Whenever I manage to wake up early a few days in a row, I feel great about it. But I don’t do it consistently. I spend a couple of days waking up before 6 AM and enjoying a good spurt of writing, and then I find myself slipping back into later bedtimes and later wake-up times (~ 7 AM) or hitting the snooze. Clearly there are some things I still need to tweak about my system.

Time-tracking means I’ve got a way to see what my current sleep patterns are like:

image

Here are the questions I’m thinking about:

Hmm. More things to hack…

ITSC guide to conference awesomeness

February 21, 2011 - Categories: conference, connecting, event, presentation, sketches, speaking

Darren Hudgins liked my Shy Connector presentation a lot, so he asked me to put together some quick tips to share with the ~400 people at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference. Here’s what I came up with:

ITSC Guide to Conference Awesomeness

They’re going to play it live at the conference at 12 PST. =) I’ve kept it short so that I can share a few quick tips and then get out of the way of all that awesome networking. It sounds like a great crowd.

If you’re here from the ITSC, you might also be interested in my sketchnotes from David Zach’s keynote. Click on the image to see the full version.

image

Here are other pre-ITSC conference networking tips I’ve shared:

For more networking tips, check out:

The Shy Connector
View more presentations from Sacha Chua.

(Also see my full notes for the Shy Connector presentation and other blog posts about connecting)

I made the video with the guide to conference awesomeness using Microsoft Onenote, Microsoft Powerpoint, a Lenovo X61 tablet PC, Camtasia Studio 7 (which doesn’t get along perfectly with the Windows 7 on my tablet). I’d love to go back to the free Inkscape drawing program for drawing if someone can help me figure out how to get it to smoothly digitize. =) Thanks to IBM for sponsoring this effort!

Follow me on Twitter (@sachac) for more updates. I’ll be around from 12 PM to 1 PM PST to answer questions or share other tips. Use the #itsc11 hashtag or mention me by adding @sachac to your tweet. If you’re here after February 21, feel free to leave a comment on this blog post for Q&A. Hope this helps!

How I spent my Family Day weekend

February 22, 2011 - Categories: sketches

image

New recipes: chapati, curried chickpeas, vegetable biryani (from sauce), Tex-mex lasagna

Lots of time spent putting together presentations. Worth it, though! Looking forward to improving my workflow further.

Kaizen: Thinking about presentations

February 22, 2011 - Categories: kaizen, life, speaking

I’ve just finished a presentation (The ITSC Guide to Conference Awesomeness) and I’ve got a few presentations coming up:

I also plan to experiment with Slideshare’s Zipcast feature, maybe doing “Remote Presentations That Rock”, “Six Steps to Sharing”, “The Shy Connector”, and other presentations.

There’s always room for growth. Thinking about that last presentation, what worked well?

How can I make things better?

Things I’d like to grow into:

Posted revised “Remote Presentations That Rock” presentation

February 23, 2011 - Categories: presentation, sketches, speaking

Next week, I’m giving Remote Presentations That Rock in person at IBM 3600 Steeles Avenue on Monday. I decided to hold off on the extensive revisions I’d been thinking of doing. Instead, I re-drew the slides and I changed a few points.

See http://sachachua.com/blog/remote for full notes / discussion.

Remote Presentations That Rock (2011) Click on Menu – View Full Screen to see this in full-screen mode.

The older version, for comparison:

and the "e-book"-type presentation:

Remote Presentations That Rock (v2)
View more presentations from Sacha Chua

Some speakers are very consistent when it comes to content and delivery. I keep working on my material, gnashing my teeth over titles I want to reuse, because I’m still learning so much. I’m consistent about a growing number of things, though. I’ll have a blog post up with the resources, I’ll probably bubble over with energy when I give the presentation, and I’ll record and share as much as I can.

Get More Value from Blogging, part I: The Immediate Benefits of Thought

February 24, 2011 - Categories: blogging, life, reflection, tips, web2.0
This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do an #infoboom tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

People often ask me: Why do you blog? Where do you find the time to do it? How can you find all these things to write about?

I tell people I don’t have the time to not blog. It’s a tremendously valuable practice. Life-changing, even. In this blog series, I’m going to explain how blogging helps me both personally and professionally, and I’m going to share tips on how you can get that kind of value too.

Part I: The Immediate Benefits of Thought

I write for selfish reasons, among which are the benefits of the process of writing. Even if no one read my blog, it would already be worth the time. Here are four ways to get immediate value from writing about life.


1. Clarity

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

Joan Didion, author

Writing helps me think more clearly. When I struggled with homesickness and doubt, I wrote down what I was thinking, what I was afraid of, what I hoped for, and what I wanted to do. When I puzzled through a bug in my code, I wrote down the symptoms, the approaches I tried, and the solution I found. Writing forces me to slow down and find words to express myself. Strand by strand, I can untangle the mental mess and turn it into something coherent.

Tips: Next time you’re thinking about something complicated…

Examples:


2. Recognition

The human mind has first to construct forms, independently, before we can find them in things.

Albert Einstein, physicist

When you can name a thing, you understand it better. If I spend an hour getting to the roots of my procrastination and realize that it’s because I don’t value the results enough, I can recognize that feeling when I encounter it in life, and I can do something about it. Writing helps me get a grip on strong emotions or confusing puzzles. Understanding something lets me work with it.

Reading voraciously helps me with writing and with life. Books and blog posts help me learn how other people describe their experiences and find words that resonate. Other people’s phrases and metaphors can be launching pads for your own.

Writing about life also helps me appreciate it better. When I write about the things that make me happy, I pay more attention to them in life, and grow even happier. When I write about things I can improve, I get better at recognizing opportunities to do so. Like the way that sewing helps me see clothes in a new light and woodworking teaches me more about furniture, writing helps me learn about life.

Tips: Next time you struggle to describe something…

Examples:


3. Size

Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.

Albert Einstein

The brain can hold only so much in thought at a time. It’s like a computer with limited memory. This limitation frustrates me. I might be thinking of interesting things while walking around or while doing dishes, but my mind flits from thing to thing without depth, and that the older thoughts fade quickly and are hard to recall.

Writing gets ideas and information out of my head. This external memory allows me to not only work with bigger things, but to work without the fear of forgetfulness or loss. This also allows me to “chunk”, improving both my memory and my ability to work with ideas. By moving complex ideas out of my head and into a form where I can get a handle on them, I can work with larger combinations. It’s like the way that a pianist playing from memory doesn’t think of individual notes but of patterns, and the way that chess grandmasters don’t think of individual pieces, but of configurations of attack and defense. Writing these detailed posts on the value of blogging allows me to use the high-level summaries as building blocks for other thoughts.

Tips: Next time you’re working with a large, complex idea…

Examples:


4. Reflection and improvement

There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge… observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.

Denis Diderot, philosopher

Writing is a way of having a conversation with yourself. Through that conversation, you can look at what you’re doing, why you do it, and how you can do things better. You can talk about what you feel, why you feel it, and whether that helps or hinders you. This reflective practice helps you understand yourself better and improve the way you work and live.

I find it very useful to observe myself and ask questions. After giving a presentation, I think about how I did it and how I can improve. When feeling strong emotions, I ask myself why I feel that way and what that reveals about me. I think about how I want to spend my time and how that matches up with reality. Writing reinforces that routine of reflection.

Writing helps me identify things I want to build on, either when I read it back or when other people share their insights. Writing helps me work around the temptation to lie to myself or to gloss over factors. When I write things down, I have a better chance of figuring out when I don’t make sense, and when I do.

Tips: Build some time into your schedule for regular reflection so that you can…

Examples:

 

Get More Value from Blogging, part II: The Compounding Value of an Archive

February 25, 2011 - Categories: blogging, tips, web2.0, writing
This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

Update: Added quote from Donald Knuth, thanks to Mohamed!

The value of blogging: Part II: Archive

Blogging provides value immediately and in the long run. Blog posts are saved in a chronological archive that can be browsed, searched, and organized into categories. The more you write, the more valuable this archive becomes.


1. Search

But men are men; the best sometimes forget.

Shakespeare

What did I ever do before writing? I’m not sure, but it probably involved reinventing the wheel again and again. My blog archive saves me time that I would’ve wasted re-solving problems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve searched my blog for notes. I’ve even come across answers to things I’d completely forgotten solving.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than nothing. Sometimes I don’t remember the words I used. I have a sneaky suspicion that Google might not have indexed all of my blog’s pages, too. But I can usually turn up what I’m looking for, and that’s good enough to keep me writing.

Tips:

Examples:


2. Review

What is past is prologue.

Shakespeare

Where did all that time go? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question or struggled to fill in the boxes during annual performance reviews, you might find a blog useful.

I use my blog for weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews. My archived notes make it easy to remember what I was working on and what I achieved. As a result, annual reviews are more fun than painful. This helps set a rhythm for my life, too.

Regular reviews keep me on track. I can review my plans and see how I’m doing, or change them if my priorities have shifted. I can tell when I’ve been procrastinating something for a while (it shows up on multiple reviews!) and I can think about whether or not I really want to do it.

Tips:


3. Growth

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.

Benjamin Franklin

Writing about my decisions helps me review them later. For example, I wrote about limiting my blog posts to one a day. A year later, I revisited that decision to see if it still made sense for me. I’ve got notes about what I want to do with IBM and some of the reasons why I love my husband, and I add to those regularly. Being able to read through my blog archive makes it easier to remember the reasons for my decisions and to detect when things are changing.

Written accounts allow me to compare my past selves with the present. How have I improved my skills? How have I changed my mind? What have I lost and what have I gained? I can trace my stick-figure skills from my first such presentation in 2008 to my most-recent presentation through the evolution of my sketches. (I’ve gotten better at drawing quickly, but I don’t draw with many colours as I used to.)

Tips:


4. Overview

The very act of communicating one’s work clearly to other people will improve the work itself.

Donald Knuth

How do you know what you know? If you were to make a list of things you could teach other people, you’d probably be able to quickly list some recent items, but you might forget to mention things you learned several years ago. Blog archives can help you remember what you know so that you can build on it, combine it with other ideas, or share it with other people.

My archive helps me get a sense of what I know about a topic and how to organize that logically. I can see the gaps that I need to learn and document. As I revise, I improve my understanding.

By looking at what I tend to write about, I can get a sense of where I pay attention and how that attention changes over time. I can also use my archive to slowly build resources for summary posts with links to details.

Tips:

Examples:


4. Value

A good blog archive’s value goes beyond the value of its individual posts. When people come to your blog because of a search result or a referral, they can explore your archives to learn more about the topics they’re interested in and about you as a person. This is the compounding value

Tips:


5. Rediscovery

I’ve written enough that I don’t remember what I’ve written, and I enjoy rediscovering myself. It’s weird, isn’t it, getting to know yourself like that. I enjoy flipping through my past posts and hearing my past self. She’s very much like me: perhaps a bit deeper into open source (time and the ability to freely participate), less confident in the kitchen, but cheery and reflective all the same. I don’t flip through my archive frequently, but it’s fun to bump into my old self through random posts or “On this Day” posts.

Tips:

Trying out Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature

February 25, 2011 - Categories: presentation, speaking

image

I gave Slideshare’s new Zipcast feature a try today in order to learn more about it and rehearse for my upcoming presentation of "Remote Presentations That Rock". I announced it on Twitter a few minutes before I wanted to present. Around 12 people turned up to say hi, learn, and share. I was a little nervous with excitement (and lack of water nearby), but I relaxed as I got into the swing of it.

Zipcast has the usual web conferencing system features, with more in the works. Attendees need an account with either Slideshare or Facebook. You can flip through slides, broadcast video from your webcam, and use the text chat for discussions. Where it shines is in its ease of sharing: no unusual plug-ins or software downloads, Twitter and Facebook announcements built-in, and no meeting limits.

People can flip through slides on their own, too, which could be either useful or distracting for people. You may want to avoid slide-based jokes with lots of lead-up, considering that people can flip ahead and see your punchline. Winking smile

You can’t point to specific things on the slides or record your presentations, but I hear those features are in the plan. You also can’t get the list of attendees yet, so you might want to ask someone to track that for you. Don’t look for screen-sharing in this system yet, but who knows what the future will bring?

Zipcast’s an interesting entry in a crowded web-conferencing space. The ease of presenting and attending will probably win over many users of other conferencing systems, and the price is hard to beat: free at the moment, no matter how big a web meeting you have.

Zipcast’s a promising way to reach lots of people on the Internet, and I’m going to experiment with it more. I’ll still use LotusLive for my IBM web conferences. I like the features of LotusLive, including the ability to draw on my slides in real-time and the ease of inviting people without requiring accounts. (Besides, LotusLive is IBM!) But Zipcast is a nifty (and currently free) way to reach people online, so it’s worth a try.

Tips on using Zipcast:

Things that would make this even better for me:

Here’s an interesting thought: How would you structure a presentation to take advantage of the sharing capabilities of Zipcast, including the “post to Facebook” checkbox in the text chat? Maybe you can sprinkle “Twitter/FB/Q&A” breaks throughout your talk. If you get someone (or program a macro) to paste in retweetable or repostable soundbites, that would be a way of sharing ideas with people’s networks. Hmm…

I’m thinking of doing presentations every Saturday in March, from 12 noon to 1pm EST, at http://slideshare.net/sachac/meeting. My planned lineup: The Shy Connector, Remote Presentations That Rock, Get More Value from Blogging, and Six Steps to Sharing. It’ll be good to share tips and learn from others. Anything you’d particularly like to see from my past presentations or blog posts?

What’s a good way to plan these upcoming events so that you can easily save them to your calendar and receive updates? Eventbrite and other event-management systems seem a little heavyweight compared to the ease of Zipcast’s sharing. Any suggestions?

In other news, I think I’ve figured out my studio setup: bounce the daylight-balanced lamps off the ceiling (low setup) or use umbrella reflectors (fancy setup), position the folding background in front of the cabinet to hide the My Little Cthulhu doll and other distracting things, and broadcast away. Now if I can figure out where to put a small hairlight…

Weekly review: Week ending February 25, 2011

February 26, 2011 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Sketch ITSC keynote by David Zach
    • [X] Give ITSC keynote on networking
    • [X] Learn about ECM and web services
    • [X] Follow up on documents of understanding
    • [X] Put together Idea Lab resources
    • Exported Social Business Jam discussions into spreadsheets and did a lot of data analysis – collaborating with Brandon Anderson, Michael Muller
    • Accepted invite to tweetchat with Paul Gillen (#infoboom) on the value of blogging
    • Got started on blogging presentation
    • Revised Remote Presentations That Rock
    • Put together resources for the value of blogging
  • Relationships
    • [X] Go to Second City with recent hires and friends – treated Linda Ristevski
    • [X] Host tea get-together 1pm our place Sunday Feb 27 (actually part of next week’s review)
    • [-] Watch Die Fledermaus (http://toronto-opera.com) – Postponed to next week
    • [C] Watch Madame Butterfly (http://toronto-opera.com)
    • [X] Send birthday cards
    • [X] Try making a beet smoothie or Tex-mex lasagna
    • Had salad with Gabriel Mansour
    • Worked on connecting with blog commenters
  • Life
    • [X] Enjoy extended weekend: spend focused time revising, drawing, presenting, cooking, and tidying up
    • [X] Experiment with giving presentation through Zipcast (Remote Presentations That Rock, Monday?)
    • Upgraded to 512MB web server for my blog, tweaked blog text

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Deliver “Remote Presentations That Rock”
    • [X] Work on ECM project
    • [X] Get things going with Drupal project
    • [X] Prepare other presentations and resources
    • [X] Do IBM #infoboom tweetchat on how to get more value from blogging
    • [X] Post the rest of series on getting more value from blogging
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host tea get-together
    • [X] Reach out to new blog commenters
  • Life
    • [X] Experiment with fixed-time wakeups
    • [X] Draw more
    • [X] Write monthly review

Time analysis

Experiment for the week: more social stuff. Met people, had mentoring chats, reached out through e-mail, etc.

Category This week Last week Delta Notes
Break 3.7 4.8 -1.1
Drawing 4.7 4.7 Remote Presentations, ITSC
Exercise 3.3 4.7 -1.4
Personal 1.7 1.7
Learning 0.6 -0.6
Preparation 5.0 0.4 4.6
Routines – cooking 8.9 1.8 7.1 Big batch of lunches, vegan appetizers
Routines – general 10.5 6.3 4.2
Routines – tidying 2.4 3.8 -1.4
Sleep 55.7 65.3 -9.6 Going to bed when I feel tired
Social 27.0 25.9 1.1
Travel 0.6 1.5 -0.9
Work 37.4 40.4 -3.0 Family Day holiday, ITSC presentation
Writing 7.1 12.5 -5.4

This week I tried getting up whenever it felt natural to wake up, and going to sleep whenever I felt tired. The result was a gentle introduction to the day, and a lot of good, focused work in the evening.

I’m going to try that again this week, this time picking a time to wake up and sticking with it. Aside from a really early wake-up on Monday, I should be able to keep a regular wake-up time.

Good week!

Get More Value from Blogging, part III: Sharing Makes the Blog Go ‘Round

February 26, 2011 - Categories: blogging, tips
This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

After two posts on the individual value you can get from blogging, you might be thinking, “Sacha, you can get those benefits from a private journal too. So why blog?” Now we get into the social benefits of blogging: how you can use it to create value and connect. Even if no one reads your blog but you, you can get started with sharing, and then go from there.


1. Direct

How do you get people to read your posts? Sometimes it’s just a matter of telling them about it. If you’re starting out, you might be worried that no one will come across your blog posts. Even if you’ve got regular visitors, people might miss out on posts that you know they’ll find useful. If you know people who may be interested in a post, go ahead and send it to them.

Move your conversations online. I often write blog posts to answer people’s questions or follow up on conversations, so it’s natural to share those posts directly with people through e-mail, Twitter, or other means. I post answers on my blog as often as possible, saving e-mail for information that’s confidential or of limited value.

Send people you know links they might find useful (but not spammy). In addition to directly sharing posts with the people who inspired them, I also frequently send posts to other people who might find them useful. During a conversation or a Twitter exchange, someone might ask a question about public speaking, Drupal, or any of the other topics I’m interested in. Instead of explaining everything from scratch, I can send links to relevant blog posts where people can learn more.

Tips:


2. Search

One of the advantages of a public blog archive is that it’s searchable. You can write a blog post about a solution to a technical problem, and other people who run into that problem can find your post without knowing you. This is a great way to save other people time.

Making your knowledge searchable saves you time, too. If people can find answers for themselves, they may spend less time asking you questions that you can easily answer. You can use that time to develop your skills further and solve more challenging problems.

Tips:


3. Browsing

Not only can people find your blog posts by searching, they can also browse at their own pace. Encourage people to explore by organizing your posts in categories and by linking to relevant posts from other posts in your blog. When people can learn from you and get to know you on their own, you can scale up beyond the number of people you can help or get to know in real life.

It’s okay to write about many things. Cross-pollination can lead to fascinating conversations. I often hear from people who discovered my site because of the technical resources I shared. They browsed around, found my sketches and my stories about cooking and life, and got a better sense of who I am as a person. Make it easy for people to find posts on topics they’re interested in, and create opportunities for them to discover other things if they want.

Tips:

4. Referrals

To grow even further, make it easy for people to share your thoughts with others. Encourage people to think of other people who might find your blog posts useful. Add Twitter, Facebook Like, or other social sharing services to your blog posts.

By making your content easier to share, you help your readers create value for other people, and you reach out to your network’s network. When someone e-mails a friend link to your post, that’s a great referral not only for your content, but also for you. People can also share your material with a wider audience by posting it on Twitter, Facebook, or other sites. They might even write a blog post going into more detail and linking to your resources.

Tips:

5. Learning from others

Sharing your questions, ideas, experiences, and lessons learned with other people is a great way to learn from other people’s insights. When I share what I’m learning, people often share even better ways to do things. Encourage people to comment on your blog posts with questions and tips, and you learn so much in the process of sharing. Make it easy for people to send you e-mail if they have something they would like to share more privately.

For example, when I posted yesterday’s tips on the compounding value of an archive, Mohamed suggested improving it by adding a quote from Donald Knuth. I hadn’t come across that quote before, but it made the post better. People have shared their thoughts on waking up early, doing Lotus Notes mail merges, connecting with people, and so on. Share, and you might learn something from people you wouldn’t have thought of asking.

Tips:

Get More Value from Blogging, part IV: Connecting with People

February 28, 2011 - Categories: blogging, connecting, tips
This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Get More Value from Blogging

Paul Gillin invited me to do a tweetchat on the professional and personal value of blogging on March 3, 2011 (2pm-3pm EST, #infoboom). When I brainstormed some of the things I’d like to talk about, I ended up with a big list: not just the value I get from blogging, but also tips for how you can build that too. I hope you enjoy this blog series!

A blog is an incredible way to connect with people. It helps people get to know who you are, what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, who you know, what you’re working on, and any entity till they got to share. Reading a blog, people can find out what you have in common with them, how you can help them, and how they can help you.


1. Introduction

People like getting to know people. When you make a new acquaintance, you might look them up on the Internet to find out more about them. Likewise, people look you up to find out more about you. A blog can be like your self-introduction. Your about page can include a short biography, and your blog posts can provide further details for people who want to know more.

Make it easy for new acquaintances to find your blog by adding it to your e-mail signature, business card, and social networking profiles. That way, people can read your blog to build on a brief introduction. As a result, a prospective client or new acquaintance might discover common ground with you. It speeds up the process of introduction, and simplifies getting to know people.

Don’t count on being anonymous or obscure. If you have a blog that you’d rather people didn’t read, you might have a problem in the future. Even systems with privacy controls can disclose data through programming errors, accidents, or malicious use. Before you post something, think about whether you can deal with the consequences of sharing it. Don’t let that scare you away from sharing, though! People are generally good, and they probably won’t hold minor mistakes against you.

Tips:


2. Deepening the connection

How do people go from being acquaintances to colleagues or friends? How can you develop a chance conversation at a networking event into a partnership that last years? Shared experiences and personal knowledge go along way to deepening that connection, and you can help that along through your blog.

I find this aspect of blogging really helpful. It’s difficult for me to e-mail people to stay in touch, because I don’t want to waste people’s time. I’m often pleasantly surprised to hear from people who have kept in touch with me anyway by reading my blog. I appreciate being able to read other people’s blog posts and status updates as a way of finding out more about them without getting in their way. The conversation might grow in this low-key way until it becomes a friendship.

Tips:


3. Appreciation

A thank-you note is good; a public thank-you, done well, is even better. When you share what you’ve learned from people and your appreciation for how they’ve helped, that builds your relationship with those people, inspires others, and reflects well on you. It also helps people confirm what they’ve helped you learn and to share that with others – a great way to pay mentors back.

Tips:


4. Reaching out

A blog gives you both a reason and a way to reach out to people. If you’d like to talk to people but you aren’t sure how to start the conversation, you might write about those people on your blog. For example, you could share what you’re learning from them her even from a distance, and what you might want to talk to them about. Many people regularly search for their name, and they might come across your post and start the conversation. It’s an interesting way to meet book authors, thoughtleaders, and other people active on the Internet.

Don’t expect a response, but be ready in case people reach out. Who knows? Maybe you can even ask a question, and maybe people will share a quick answer. It can pay to ask.

Tips:


5. The great conversation

Around the world, lots of conversations are happening through blogs. Someone posts an idea. Others write blog posts linking to the first post and sharing their thoughts. Yet others write blog posts following up on those posts. Along the way, people comment on blog posts, share their reactions on Twitter and other social networks, and talk about posts in person or through e-mail.

Participating in the conversation is so much better when you have your own blog. You can write longer posts in it, and you can build an archive of your thoughts. If people think your thoughts are interesting, they can explore your blog to find out more. If your thoughts are sprinkled in comments on different blog posts, it’s harder for others to get that sense of you.

You’ll still want to reach out to other people through commenting on their blogs, of course. Many blogs can automatically detect blog posts that link to them, but it’s nice to leave a comment summarizing your thoughts and thanking people for the inspiration. Don’t make your comments all about you, though! When you’re commenting on people’s blogs, it’s like you’re chatting in their living room. You wouldn’t want to make the conversation all about you. Read comments on other people’s blogs to get a sense of the etiquette. Blatant self-promotion doesn’t work well. Focus on adding value to conversations on other blogs, and link to a relevant blog post if you’ve written about something in more details.

Tips: