March 2012

Organizing resources for Quantified Self Toronto

March 1, 2012 - Categories: quantified

Quantified Self Toronto is a lively meetup around self-tracking and life experimentation. I like the group, and I pick up lots of inspiration every time I go to one of the meetups. There’s one tonight (March 1, 7PM, 221 Yonge St. Toronto), and 48 people have said that they’re going. Neato!

I want to make it easier for people to share what they’re working on, learn from past meetings, and connect with each other. I spent the morning organizing my sketchnotes from past meetups. (Oddly enough, I don’t have any notes from even-numbered meetups…) I want to flesh this out with a directory of members’ profiles, maybe eventually building this into something like Think Try Learn or linking to people’s profiles there.

Anyway, here’s the start!


Visual book notes: 6 Secrets to Startup Success


(Click on the image to see a larger version, which could be good for reading my teeny-tiny handwriting. If you need a text version instead of an image, leave a comment or e-mail me at [email protected].)

You know how I was looking for books about people-centered entrepreneurship? Checking the Amazon list of books on new enterprises led me to 6 Secrets for Startup Success by John Bradberry. Its main point is that entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their ideas and end up ignoring reality. Bradberry points out six common failures associated with being too attached to your idea, and suggests ways to avoid those pitfalls. One of those ways is to focus on people instead of on your product or service idea. This is more of an overview book than a step-by-step guide with concrete tactics, but it’s a good wake-up call if you’re starting to get lost in your own dreams.

In addition to the chapter about focusing on people, I particularly liked the chapter on figuring out your math story. Bradberry points out that companies go through different stages and that your core question is different in each stage. In the first stage, the question is: “Do we have a concept that anyone (other than us) cares about?” After you successfully answer that question through prototypes and experiments, you can move on to the question, “Can we actually make money at this? How?” Validating your business model lets you move on to the next question, “Is this business scalable? How can we create significant value over time?” Many businesses struggle because they get all wrapped up in the third question before they’ve answered the first. It’s a good idea to keep those considerations in mind, of course, but it’s important to pay attention to the steps that will get you to that point instead of jumping ahead and pretending you’re a huge company.

What I’m learning from this book: Yes, it seems to make sense to focus on people and let them teach you what they want. (The Lean Startup makes this point as well.) There’s room in the world for wildly visionary companies, but it’s perfectly okay (and much less risky) to start by creating something people already want.

Whom this book is great for: Worried that you’re getting too wrapped up in your entrepreneurial vision? This book might help as a reality check. If you like answering questionnaires as a way of learning more about yourself, you’ll also want to check out the appendix, which has a long self-assessment for founder readiness.

You may also be interested in The Lean Startup (Eric Ries, 2011; see my visual book notes), which has lots of good ideas for testing your business and iterating your way towards success. The Lean Startup book will help translate the chapters on the pull of the market and startup agility into concrete terms.

6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business
John Bradberry
2011, AMACOM
ISBN: 978-0814416068

Buy this book: (Hardcover, Kindle),
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! Commission-free links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library

Weekly review: Week ending March 2, 2012

March 3, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Second week of being on my own! Pretty good, actually. I’ve started drawing book notes instead of just writing about the books I’ve read. I also organized my sketchnotes for Quantified Self Toronto, and I’ve put them up on I think there’s something promising here in organizing and drawing information, and I’d like to explore that further.

I’m starting with consulting next week. It’s probably going to be intense – two months, mostly-full-time – but I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share what I’ve been learning about adoption.

I finished my resolutions (including typing up that really long banking resolution from RBC), and I’m now an actual shareholder in my very own corporation. Looks like it’s all systems go!

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Finish resolutions
    • [X] File initial notice
    • [-] Review and revise The Shy Connector
    • [X] Talk to accountants
    • Looked into AdSense
  • Relationships
    • [X] Attend Tania’s get-together
    • [X] Plan a get-together for March
    • Attended Quantified Self Toronto meetup
    • Organized notes for Quantified Self Toronto
    • Helped J review for swimming test
    • Talked to Jane Zhang and Tierney Smith about workshops and technology adoption

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Start with enterprise collaboration consulting
    • [ ] Business dev: Redesign site landing page and about page
    • [ ] Business dev: Create and post more visual book notes
    • [ ] Follow up with project O
    • [ ] Reach out to Quantified Awesome folks
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Attend Maira’s get-together
    • [ ] Attend Ruby Hack Night
    • [ ] Attend Annika Martins meetup
  • Life
    • [ ] Go for a two-hour walk
    • [ ] Plan what I want to learn how to draw

Celebrating rejection and failure

March 4, 2012 - Categories: business

Dave Ferguson told me this story of a real estate agency that trains people to not be afraid of rejection. Salespeople aren’t afraid of “no”s because those “no”s are part of the path towards “yes”es. This real estate agency realized that at some point, their new recruits are going to experience clear, unambiguous rejection: a door slammed in their face! When that happens, that person’s mentor is going to take them out, treat them to lunch, and celebrate their first door. It’s an important milestone.

There’s another interesting idea along those lines: the Rejection Therapy game. The rules are simple: Every day, you must be rejected by at least one person. Not “try to be rejected”, actually rejected. A flat-out no when you are in a position of (some) vulnerability and the other person is in a position of (some) power. If you have a hard time coming up with rejection situations, you can get the playing cards or the app. Tapping into your fears or uncertainties might give you plenty of ideas. The game desensitizes you to rejection, making you less afraid of it. In the process, who knows what you’ll learn and how wonderful your life will be?

What might my rejections look like, and how can I get ready to celebrate them?

Consulting: Plenty of opportunities for rejection here. You don’t have enough experience. This doesn’t make sense. It’s not a good fit. You don’t know enough about our culture. This wouldn’t work here. You charge too much. Each of those things illuminates something else I can learn and contains a hint about where I might succeed. I’m going to celebrate my first blank stare, my first awkward silence at a workshop, my first client-walks-out rejection.

Writing: Apathy is the toughest rejection to crack. After I self-publish a book, I can look forward to celebrating any months without sales. If I go with the traditional publishing route, I can celebrate my first form-letter rejection, my first hundred. Harsh flames might be worthy, too. After all, safe writing is boring writing. I want to write things that are useful, which may mean writing things that people are surprised by or that people disagree with.

Drawing: I’ve actually made a lot of progress towards rejection milestones in drawing. I’ve gotten the “Maybe you should learn how to draw – my kid can draw better than this” rejection. I’ve gotten the “That isn’t funny” rejection and the “That’s insulting! Won’t someone think about company morale?” rejection (from an executive, no less!). I’ve gotten the “Your style tries to copy ___ too much” rejection, too. Hmm, maybe I can collect different kinds of rejections… I found it easy to deal with those rejections because I don’t have my ego wrapped up in my drawing skills or my sense of humour. I know I’ve got tons to learn!

I tend to celebrate rejection and failure through blog posts (because I’ll almost always manage to get a story out of something!). What are other good ways to celebrate them? Hugs, cat-cuddling, bike rides, a good session with a book, some sketches, a trip to the museum or art gallery (surrounded by the beautiful results of countless failures)… =)

What do your rejection milestones look like, and how can you celebrate them?

Visual book notes: The Start-up of You (Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha)

March 5, 2012 - Categories: book, career, connecting, sketchnotes, visual-book-notes


(Click image for a larger version)

The Start-up of You is a book about networking and career planning using tips pulled from the startup world, sprinkled with hip jargon such as “pivot” and “volatility.” It’s a decent book for people who are new to connecting or cultivating their network and who also like reading about technology and entrepreneurship. If you’re a fan of The Lean Startup and similar entrepreneurship books, The Start-up of You is like seeing those ideas applied to other parts of life. It’s easy to read, and it flows well.

I liked examples such as the “interesting people fund” and the idea of having A-B-Z plans. There are good tips for asking your network better questions (p208), too. If you’ve read a lot of other networking or career growth books, though, you might not come across many new aha! moments here, but it’s a good startup-influenced view at managing your own career.

The Start-up of You
Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha
2012: Crown Business
ISBN: 978-0307888907
(E-book and audiobook also available. The Toronto Public Library carries this book.)

Are you a visual learner? Check out my other sketchnotes and visual book notes!

Event organizer or conference organizer? I’d love to help you help your attendees remember and share key points. Talk to me about sketchnoting your next event!

Visual book notes: How to Read a Book

March 6, 2012 - Categories: book, reading, sketchnotes, visual-book-notes


(Click on the image for a larger version of the notes.)

Whenever I want to pick up more tips on how to read better, I turn to How to Read a Book. This is not some speed-reading manual that overpromises and underdelivers. It’s a thoughtful, practical guide to getting the most out of your reading: picking the right speed for a book, taking better notes, building a topical index of books and their relationships with each other… (Still working on that!) The book has plenty of tips for reading specific subjects, and even includes exercises to help you improve your skills.

If you already enjoy reading books, this is probably going to be a fantastic book for you. If you’re working on getting more books into your life, this might have some tips that will help you read more strategically.

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
New York: Simon & Schuster 1972 Rev. ed.
ISBN: 0-671-21209-5


March 7, 2012 - Categories: life, work, writing

Adjusting to early-morning wake-up times and 45-minute commutes. I’m still a little twitchy – a little sleep deprivation plus a two-hour timeshift earlier than my previous schedule. I can tell by the tic near my eyes, a slight tremble in hands. Handled with tea in the morning and the occasional walk through the rows of cubicles. With a little more sleep and a few more weeks, I’ll settle into a new normal. Fortunately, I still feel mentally there, not fogged, and I get lots of things done. It’s good work, and I’m glad to help make a difference.

It’s a little bit weird typing a full day on a QWERTY layout and then coming home and typing in Dvorak. It takes me a little while to adjust. Typing words, no problem. Keyboard shortcuts, isolated movements – that’s a little harder. I wonder why copying and pasting opens a download window in my browser, and then I catch myself and press the correct keys.

I need to find new rhythms for writing. I can’t blog externally about what I’m working on at the client, but there’s still so much I’m learning and sharing. I could keep posting book notes – there are so many to do! – but a little variety is good.

Today I helped J- edit some of her writing homework for her English classes. The essay was easy: trim unnecessary words, make tenses consistent, clarify wording… She wasn’t sure where she was going with her fiction chapter, the first in a new story. I read through pages of dialogue that went back-and-forth without much progress. I pulled out one idea and suggested starting the chapter with something like this:

My dad isn’t my real dad.

My best friend hates me.

And my shadow just told me to hit a chicken.

“That’s awesome!” she said. Now she’s off and writing, curious about what happens next in the story. I’m curious too.

Adjusting. Tightening things up, dropping the unnecessary, getting the hang of a different flow. We’ll see what happens. =)

The confidence of non-expertise

March 8, 2012 - Categories: life, reflection

I stopped worrying about being an impostor when I started writing about what I was learning. Confession that gave me confidence.

It’s easy – or at least it has become easy – to write: Here is something I have learned a little more about. I didn’t know it before. I haven’t mastered it yet. You might know it already. Then again, you might also find this useful. Anyway, here it is. Would love to hear from you.

Writing like this throughout the years, I discovered that people didn’t mind if I didn’t know something. People were glad I wasn’t promoting myself as some kind of expert. Even without people’s validation, I liked myself as a learner, and I couldn’t care less about being an expert.

I still sometimes get the momentary “Do I really know enough about this to talk about it?” when planning a presentation or starting a project. But most of my presentations and projects grow out of my blog posts, so (a) whoever invited me knows how I think already, and (b) I don’t care about having all the answers, just about asking good questions. And writing things down, and sharing the ideas with others.

When you’re not The Expert, you’re not worried about being caught out or embarrassed by something you don’t know. You don’t get ossified into the few patterns you’d become good at. You can keep learning. You can make mistakes. Your ego isn’t on the line. Your self-confidence isn’t, either.

It’s easier this way, and it’s more fun too.

Weekly review: Week ending March 9, 2012

March 10, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Third week of being on my own, and first week on this consulting engagement. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I can help. It’s been fantastic. =) I like this, although I’m firm about my decision to spend time developing other ways to earn money.

W- and I spent Saturday evening watching YouTube clips of Victor Borge. He was totally awesome. If you’re into classical music, check him out. If you aren’t, check him out anyway.

I didn’t get as much done this week compared to last week, probably because I shifted my wake-up time two hours earlier and I needed to adjust. I slept around 5 hours less this week than last week: 57 hours compared to about 62 hours, but still a decent 8 hours a day. I worked 41.5 hours on consulting, and I spent a little time planning as well. I need to go back to doing my week-by-week analysis of where I spend time – it will be interesting to see patterns.

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Start with enterprise collaboration consulting
    • [-] Business dev: Redesign site landing page and about page
    • [X] Business dev: Create and post more visual book notes
    • [X] Follow up with project O
    • [-] Reach out to Quantified Awesome folks
    • [X] Attend Ruby Hack Night
  • Relationships
    • [X] Attend Maira’s get-together
    • [C] Attend Annika Martins meetup – skipped in favour of Skype chat with my mom, who ended up being busy
    • Exercised with W-
    • Chatted with Robert Terpstra
    • Talked to Ernesto Ramirez and Eric Blue regarding Quantified Self meetups
  • Life
    • [-] Go for a two-hour walk
    • [-] Plan what I want to learn how to draw
    • Read quite a few books, took notes

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • Active
      • [ ] Project E1: File time
      • [ ] Project E1: Do more consulting
    • Connecting
      • [X] Attend WordPress meetup
      • [ ] Plan site landing page and about page
      • [ ] Participate in U of T panel (Kelly Lyons)
      • [ ] Write testimonials for former colleagues
      • [ ] Attend small business networking get-together at TPL on March 13
    • Misc
      • [ ] Look into project O issue with confirmations
      • [ ] Draw more book notes and share them
      • [ ] Set up business credit card
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Go on bike ride with W-
    • [ ] Cook batch of food
  • Life
    • [ ] Go for good long walk – maybe Friday? Two hours?

Time analysis

Activity Last week This week Notes
Business 25.0 46.2 Consulting
Discretionary 54.7 29.9
Personal 16.1 20.0
Sleep 61.8 57.4 Shifted to early-morning schedule, too
Unpaid work 10.4 14.5 More commuting

Meetup sketchnotes: The Publishing Side of WordPress, Andy McIlwain

March 10, 2012 - Categories: blogging, sketchnotes, wordpress

The Publishing Side of WordPress(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

At today’s WordPress Toronto meetup, Andy McIlwain shared tips on brainstorming, scheduling, and sharing blog posts in WordPress. The lively discussion brought out lots of other tips, too.

The key thing I took away from the talk was that Evernote is awesome and that I should definitely look into it more. I’m also looking forward to checking out Content Rules for more writing tips and for blog post ideas.

After the talk, I had a fascinating conversation with Robin McRae and Ann Brocklehurst about information architecture and personal knowledge management. Lots to think about. Glad I went!

Check out Andy’s blog post below for slides and full notes. Looking forward to the next meetup!

Related links:

Mapping my blog archives

March 11, 2012 - Categories: blogging

I was thinking about information management and how I could get a better sense of what’s in my blog archive. I’ve written a lot over the years, enough that I’m surprised by what I find in here.

Topical index of blog posts from 2008-2012

I’ll add 2007 and earlier posts over the next week. I’m also looking forward to revisiting the map of things I want to learn, and consciously planning what to write.

To create this index, I used the Org-compatible output that I built into my WordPress theme (it outputs post titles in list format). I copied and pasted the list into an Org file, temporarily changed all the list items to headings, and used org-refile to move items under categories as needed. Afterwards, I converted the link headings back into list items and used org-export to export the HTML. The process was fairly easy, but it took me about four hours to process slightly over three years of blog posts.

Sketchnotes: Sal Sloan of Fetching! at the Toronto Public Library: Small Business Networking Event

March 13, 2012 - Categories: business, connecting, delegation, entrepreneurship, sketchnotes


(Click on the image to see the larger version)

The Toronto Public Library hosts monthly networking events for people who are interested in starting a small business. Most people have not yet started a business. It’s a good opportunity to ask questions and learn from someone who has figured some things out.

Sal Sloan came up with the business idea for Fetching! when she got a dog. She had signed up for a fitness bootcamp, and the combination of exercising herself and walking her dog wore her out. Why not combine the two activities – help people exercise with their dogs? With a $10,000 loan from her parents, Sal started Fetching! by focusing on exercise for people and obedience training for dogs. With early success, Sal broadened her scope to focusing on helping people have active fun with their pets. She has been doing the business for two and a half years, and continues to work part-time on another job. This helps her grow the business organically by avoiding financial pressures.

One of the lessons I took away from the conversation was the power of delegating work to other people. Sal knew that other personal trainers could run sessions much better than she could, so she hired good people whom she could trust to represent her company. She’s looking for someone who can help her with the business side so that she can grow more, too. After I bank some money from this consulting engagement, I might start my delegation experiments again.

The session was an interesting contrast to last month’s meetup with Kristina Chau of notyouraverageparty, who had been in business for three years and who was struggling to scale up beyond herself. Sal has clearly put work into figuring out how to scale up, and it’s great to see how it paid off.

Sketchnotes: Dave Ley, Jen Nolan, Leo Marland and me at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information’s career panel

March 13, 2012 - Categories: career, sketchnotes


(Click on the image for a larger version)

Kelly Lyons and Isidora Petrovic invited Dave Ley (CIBC), Jen Nolan (IBM), Leo Marland (IBM), and me (… figuring things out! also, formerly IBM…) for the March 12 career panel for the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information students. People were curious about the job process. They wanted to know what managers were looking for when hiring, and how information graduates could differentiate themselves from people with more technical backgrounds. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had lots of stuff to share about learning, sharing, working with passion, and getting hired even if you don’t have any actual work experience. It turns out a few people were interested in entrepreneurship too. Yay!

I’ve condensed some of the points from the discussion into this graphic, and the organizers say that the video will be up on YouTube sometime. =)

Making space to plan for visual summaries

March 15, 2012 - Categories: business, entrepreneurship, planning

Consulting is going well – so well, in fact, that I’m going to make myself take a three-day break, Monday to Wednesday, so that I can focus on building a business that is different. I want something that doesn’t focus on the time = money equation. Besides, there’s so much to learn.

I keep coming back to this idea of visual summaries. People respond to them. I want visual summaries even for myself, so that I can quickly flip through visual triggers for the books I’ve read. (We’re talking maybe hundreds of summaries, even if I’m just focusing on books worth keeping instead of the thousands of books I’ve probably read by now – and even more over my lifetime!)

In terms of copyright, I’ll probably have to arrange for permission from authors before I can publish a book of graphic summaries. In the meantime, I can test the idea as book reviews, which should fall under fair use. When I put together a book, I think the paperwork will be a good excuse to reach out to my favourite authors. =)

I thought about whether I should hire an illustrator so that I can focus on the key business questions: Would people be interested in this? Can I make money at this? How can I scale? There are talented artists who do graphic recording and illustration for a living, and I regularly flip through their work to inspire myself. (I’m getting better at not being intimidated by the gap between our skills!) If I outsource parts of this work, I might get to answer those questions faster, iterate faster, punch above my weight class with beautiful illustrations and more content.

I’m holding off, though. I can learn slowly, immersing myself in this, understanding it, imagining new things because of it. And besides, maybe this fabled minimum viable product doesn’t require a totally awesome illustrator. Maybe it’s fine with an authentic voice.

Sure, a big outfit like Soundview could easily swoop in and do this while I learn. All the better, because they already have a lot of the summaries and rights agreements. If a startup is an experiment in validating an idea, then having someone else take over that idea frees me up to create the next one. It’ll all work out.

I’m thinking about other possibilities, too. People who give webinars or write e-books might also be interested in visual summaries, and I’m better set-up for those than I am for the large form-factor needs of graphically recording in-person events. I can also offer transcription, or connect with other people to get transcription covered. Established executive summary companies probably won’t cover webinars or e-books anyway. We’ll see!

Here are a few things I can work on next week to move this forward:

  • Highlight visual summaries on my blog
  • Create a landing page
  • Plan a site redesign
  • Get inspired to draw more colourful sketchnotes by looking at examples and trying out techniques
  • Draw more books! This is fun
  • Start building a graphic vocabulary and a lettering vocabulary
  • Look for people who give good webinars or write decent books on topics I like, and see if they would be interested

It feels good learning about these things. =) Looking forward to drawing better and making stuff happen!

Weekly review: Week ending March 16, 2012

March 17, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

One-month anniversary of leaving employment and starting on my own. It was a good week, and I helped out a lot in terms of consulting. Milestone: First deposit into my account! This is great. The business is now in the black. If I manage my costs well, this will reduce the risk of other projects quite a bit.

I also managed to exercise enough self-control to spend some time on planning the visual book reviews and summaries aspect instead of getting wrapped up in all the useful things I could do with my current clients. I’m working on getting better at living in the moment, focusing on what’s at hand. This is easy to do when consulting – clear tasks, great progress. I need to get better at pulling my mind away from that and focusing on, say, learning more about drawing or looking for ways to get started with business. I’m like that: if I’ve got a presentation or a programming project, it rattles around in my brain even during the “off” moments. The better I get at mentally wrapping things up and resuming them later, the better I’ll be able to handle more complex challenges. Ideas still sneak in, but that’s okay – I’ve got a good capture system (pen! paper! phone!).

Next week, I’m planning to spend Monday to Wednesday focused on learning skills, adding to my site, and experimenting with ideas. That will help. I’ll try drawing and planning at home.

I’m also tempted by the idea of hanging out in the Art Gallery of Ontario, surrounded by all those colourful canvases. Maybe I’ll go on Wednesday evenings when admission is free, and see if I build enough of it into my schedule that a membership becomes worthwhile. I want to draw with more colour, and part of that means getting more used to it.

I also want to get back into the swing of writing more. There’s something odd about the timing of my evenings – it’s not quite as smooth as my usual writing routine. Maybe it’s just getting used to new rhythms of work. I’ll save up some posts over the next few days, and I’ll figure out new routines for writing and sharing.

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • Active
      • [X] Project E1: File time
      • [X] Project E1: Do more consulting
    • Connecting
      • [X] Attend WordPress meetup
      • [-] Plan site landing page and about page
      • [X] Participate in U of T panel (Kelly Lyons)
      • [-] Write testimonials for former colleagues
      • [X] Attend small business networking get-together at TPL on March 13
      • Planned get-together with the Hattoris
    • Misc
      • [-] Look into project O issue with confirmations
      • [-] Draw more book notes and share them
      • [X] Set up business credit card
  • Relationships
    • [-] Go on bike ride with W-
    • [-] Cook batch of food
  • Life
    • [X] Go for good long walk – maybe Friday? Two hours? (indeed!)
    • Initiated RRSP transfer

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: Project E1: More consulting
    • [ ] Plan: Share my ideas behind visual summaries / reviews
    • [ ] Build: Build blog area for visual summaries
    • [ ] Build: Draw more book reviews
    • [ ] Connect: Reach out to more potential mentors (illustrators?)
    • [ ] Plan:
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host the Hattoris and Maira for lunch
    • [X] Practise photography with W-
    • [ ] Get ready for tea party
  • Life
    • [ ] Long walk
    • [ ] Photography practice

Time analysis

Activity Last week This week Notes
Business 46.2 51.6 34 hours consulting, the rest for planning
Discretionary 29.9 22.9
Personal 20.0 16.2
Sleep 57.4 62.5 Yay more sleep!
Unpaid work 14.5 13.9 Commuting to work, one VPN day

I was trying to figure out why my weekly time summary showed only 167 hours. What happened? Where was the missing hour? I reviewed the logs, and all the timestamps matched up. Then I realized that the Daylight Savings Time switch was this week. =)

Taking up hobbies again: photography and gardening

March 18, 2012 - Categories: cat, gardening, photography

The stereotype of an entrepreneur is someone who obsesses about business at all hours of the day. It’s good for me to be able to relax and enjoy hobbies, though. It preserves that feeling of an abundance of time, which makes it easier and less stressful to make good decisions and to keep my values in mind. Hobbies also give me a way to refresh myself.

This is a picture I took at sunset in High Park. I like the muted colours and the blurriness of the sun just visible through the trees in the distance.

Many houses are slated for demolition along Bloor Street, to be replaced by a tall condominium building that spans the entire block. I took the picture on the left because the hole in the window looked like a cat sitting on the sill and looking out, as cats often do. On the right, you can see a tree fort behind the construction fence.

Ah, cats. =)

Not much in the garden to take pictures of yet, but maybe the seeds I planted will germinate soon. This year, we’re looking forward to growing more bitter melons (ampalaya), basil, snow peas, lettuce, spinach, blueberries, and nasturtiums. (Edible gardens for the win!)

It’s a quiet weekend, my favourite kind.

What I want from visual notetaking; imagining wild success

March 19, 2012 - Categories: notetaking, planning, sketches


Here’s what I want when it comes to visual notetaking. I’m going to go through thousands of books, presentations, blog posts, conversations, ideas, and thoughts in my lifetime. Maybe even millions of these little pieces of content.

I want to get really good at remembering, reusing, and sharing the significant ones, a tiny fraction of the whole. I often refer to ideas I’ve picked up in the past. I recommend books to others. I review items to see if I’ve been applying the lessons I learned, and if there are more I can use. Sometimes I come across unexpected combinations – part of one book resonating with a presentation on a different topic mixed in with a conversation I’ve just had. I benefit from holding these ideas near working memory.

Like the way I can flip through a slideshow faster than I can speedread a book, it might be easier and faster to review an archive of visuals than to refresh my memories using text notes. If I can convert some of this abundance of content into visuals, then I can use that to get around the limitations of time, attention, and memory.

Maybe other people will find the sketches useful. Maybe I’ll scale up and work with other illustrators, readers, and writers. Even if I don’t, though, I think that having these visual notes will make it easier for me in the long run.

Here’s a project for myself: convert my book notes into sketches. I could do the Lean Startup thing to find out if other people would be interested in the idea before I invest a lot of time and effort into it – mock up a minimum viable product with payment options or a subscription model. But then I want something like this for myself, too, so it’s okay to spend some time figuring out what I want before pitching it to others.

What would wild success look and feel like?

I have visual notes for the key ideas I want to revisit. I flip through them rapidly once a day, and rotate my desktop or screensaver through random ones for serendipity. They’re searchable through Evernote and accessible even when mobile. I’ve posted many of them online. Subscriptions, book reviews, and advertising provide a stream of income. People recommend other books and ideas I should check out.

I occasionally do sketchnotes on commission: simple sketches of key ideas captured in real-time during webinars or recorded presentations, used for marketing and post-session follow-ups. I also sketch summaries based on blog posts, e-books, or books sent to me. I do the occasional meetup or lecture as well, taking notes on my laptop. Focusing on electronic content means that I don’t have to travel or lug large rolls of paper around, and it takes advantage of my setup with multiple monitors.

In addition to sketchnotes, I offer or coordinate useful complementary services: presentation planning, design, coaching, transcription, e-book creation, writing, and so on. These help people scale up their ideas and engage more people.

My visual style is crisp, simple, with visual metaphors and the occasional pun. I usually work with one or two accent colours, and have figured out how to draw people with character and objects that have some heft. I draw in high-resolution mode just in case I want to make a letter-sized print of something, although I’m okay with redrawing in case I want to make a poster.

Most of the time, I work at a standing desk I’ve rigged up facing the garden. I take breaks and go for long walks, or do some gardening. Sometimes I go to art galleries to immerse myself in colour and shape and line. I keep a digital notebook of things I like: title treatments, hand-lettering, colour combinations, visual metaphors, drawing techniques. I flip through it for inspiration, and add my experiments to it as well.

I use my sketches as anchors not only for ideas, but also for memories. Like the way people flip through their photographs, I go through my sketches. I like it because I can sketch scenes that I didn’t get to shoot, and I can draw them the way they felt like instead of just what I saw. Drawing has become a part of my life, and I sketch regularly. I’ve even started drawing on paper, using ink and markers.

So, how do I get closer to that?

I’ll start with the sketchnotes, because that would be a great way to review things, develop style, and practise the craft. As I accumulate more notes, I’ll put them in a special section of my blog so that people can read them easily. I already have the standing desk (actually a kitchen chopping board). When I want to take a break from making sketchnotes, I can draw memories or fiction. Looking forward to it!

Visual book review: Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument

March 20, 2012 - Categories: book, communication, reading, visual, visual-book-notes


I first read this book in October 2010 while scrambling to learn as much as I could about communication and rhetoric in preparation for marriage. Since then, there have been zero household arguments, which is not a bad thing. Fortunately, the Internet, newspapers, and books provide a steady stream of logical fallacies that let me exercise the skills I picked up from this book.

The insight that stuck with me from this book was that you should repair holes in your opponents’ arguments—argue their case more strongly than they did—before demolishing the strengthened arguments. People rarely do this, but I’ve seen a couple of good examples on the political/feminist blogs I read.

It reminds me of what we need to do in order to help people deal with their concerns to new ideas or technologies. It’s not enough to fight against straw-man arguments. You may need to be more concerned about people’s concerns than they are, before you can help them find a way forward.

Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument
Michael Boylan (Westview Press: 2009) – ISBN 978-0813344522

See other visual book notes!

Happy monthsary to me!

March 21, 2012 - Categories: business, life, sketches


One month ago, I submitted the paperwork for my very own company. I talked to mentors, set up my accounts and records, found a client, and started doing consulting. I drew some book notes and presentation summaries, too. =) So far, so wonderful!

I went to the Rails Pub Nite on Monday. The events are good opportunities to catch up with many of my friends in Toronto’s tech scene, and I often pick up one or two technology tips along the way. This time, I told my friends how I’ve been dividing my time between creating single-page visual summaries of books and offering consulting in enterprise social software adoption.

“Ah, the work that pays the bills,” someone said, nodding knowingly. I stopped, thought about it, and realized that I approached things differently. Because I planned this as a 5-year experiment enabled by low expenses and savings, I don’t look at consulting (or development, or whatever else) as the stuff I have to do in order to pay the bills so that I can do the “fun” stuff. This consulting is fun too. The income extends the experiment and allows me to try other things, but is not essential.

It’s surprising to find myself wandering down the drawing path instead of, say, taking advantage of the demand for Drupal or Rails skills. Drawing is fun, though, and there’s something here that makes me curious. I know I can pick up development again whenever I want to, so I’ll play around with this completely different set of skills for a while. Who knows where it will lead?

I still don’t have a company name, but doing business as a numbered company seems to be totally fine for now. I’ve got money saved for taxes and most of the accounts set up. Yay!

Visual book review: Enough, by Patrick Rhone

March 22, 2012 - Categories: book, life, reading, reflection, visual, visual-book-notes


enough is a collection of essays by Patrick Rhone on the idea of having enough. He compares it to the dynamic process of balancing on a tightrope, where you have to find your own centre of balance and you’ll always need some kind of help – stretching your arms, using a bar or an umbrella, and so on. In addition to reflections on minimalism and limiting life to make it comprehensible, he includes thoughts on technology, tools, behavioural change, and other life tips.

There are many books in this field, from John C. Bogle’s book with the same main title (Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, affiliate link), to Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life, affiliate link). Patrick Rhone’s book isn’t particularly packed with mind-boggling or life-changing insights, but it might still be an enjoyable read for a quiet, reflective afternoon, particularly if you also have a technology-related background or find yourself occasionally tempted down the path of more apps! more tools! more gadgets! (Not that I know anyone like that, no….)

Patrick Rhone, 2012
Kindle e-book

See other visual book notes!

Ice cream season and the first seeds in the garden

March 23, 2012 - Categories: gardening, sketches

20120321-seed-leavesIt’s unseasonably warm by all accounts. The historic average for the next fourteen days is a high of 7C and a low of –2C, according to The Weather Network. Instead, we’re seeing highs of up to 25C and lows of 4C. Not that I’m complaining – I like the sunshine and the warmth.

I’ve shifted from baking season to ice cream season. This amuses Canadians, as it’s always ice cream season for many of them. Yes, even in the dead of winter, while I’m wrapped up in a fuzzy bathrobe and bright pink polyester socks, my darling husband and his daughter munch away on frozen treats. Brr.

But now that the sun is shining and the days are warm, I’m up for ice cream as well. My first one this year was a coconut raspberry ice cream from an ice cream parlour on Dundas Street West. For 75c, you can get this tiny cone with a small scoop of ice cream, which is enough to enjoy the taste of it without being overloaded with sugar.

I’ve also started gardening again. Because we’ve set our community-supported agriculture box to bi-weekly instead of weekly, I don’t feel inundated with vegetables, and I can actually contemplate planting more. I planted lettuce, peas, and a few other early-season crops two weeks ago, and they’ve just started germinating. Instead of rigging up the drip irrigation system, I’m watering the garden by hand, carefully dispensing water into the sandy soil. It takes more time, but it’s relaxing work, and it means I pay closer attention to each spot. Mrs. Wong tends a huge and highly productive front-yard garden down the street and she waters by hand. Maybe it will work for me too.

Things I’m looking forward to growing:

Bitter melon (ampalaya): W- loves this, and it rarely shows up in our neighbourhood markets. We managed to grow it the other year, and the two plants that survived gave us plenty of bitter melons for pinakbet and other dishes. Last year, our vegetable plants didn’t really get established. With this year promising to be warm and sunny, maybe we’ll have better luck.

  • Blueberries: We had an enjoyable blueberry harvest last year – a few handfuls, but much appreciated. Looking forward to seeing what they’re like this year! I might try covering some of them with a net and leaving the others unprotected.
  • Strawberries: Yum yum.
  • Basil: We love pesto. Fresh basil makes tomato sauce even more wonderful, too. In addition to Genovese basil, I’m looking forward to trying lime basil. I liked the lemon basil and Thai basil that I grew the other year, too.
  • Peas: The sugar-snap peas are always a big hit. J- sometimes goes out to graze on them.
  • Carrots: We’ll give them another try this year. We grew them three years ago and they didn’t turn out as well as we’d hoped.
  • Nasturtiums: This climbing vine might be nice near the porch and near the back fence. Edible flowers can be a peppery garnish for summer salads.
  • Lettuce and spinach: I’m going to keep giving these greens a try.
  • Edamame: We just don’t feel like boiling water sometimes, but edamame is worth it.
  • Cat grass: I usually grow a small patch of oats at the beginning of the patio-stone path. This makes an excellent cat trap. Leia(cat) likes running out and exploring the garden, but she’s usually distracted by the cat grass patch. This makes it easy for me to put down whatever it is I’m holding, get out, and scoop her up.
  • Catnip: I scattered some catnip seeds in one of the front garden boxes. If they grow, great. The catnip will be in the box with the colourful annuals, so I don’t have to worry about it taking over the rest of the garden.

How does your garden grow?

Weekly review: Week ending March 23, 2012

March 24, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: Project E1: More consulting
      • Training
      • Theming
    • [X] Plan: Share my ideas behind visual summaries / reviews
    • [X] Build: Build blog area for visual summaries
    • [X] Build: Draw more book reviews
    • [-] Connect: Reach out to more potential mentors (illustrators?)
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host the Hattoris and Maira for lunch
    • [X] Practise photography with W-
    • [X] Get ready for tea party
  • Life
    • [X] Long walk
    • [-] Photography practice
    • Watered the garden regularly

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: Project E1: M-Th
    • [ ] Build: Draw more book reviews
    • [ ] Connect: Send updates to mentors
    • [ ] Connect: Go to Drupal user group meetup
    • [ ] Connect: Go to Third Tuesday meetup
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host tea party
    • [ ] Plan cherry blossom walk/picnic?
  • Life
    • [ ] Plant more seeds
    • [ ] Brainstorm some more

Six ways I’m learning how to get better at drawing sketchnotes

March 26, 2012 - Categories: drawing, kaizen, learning, tips


Joel wanted to know if I could share any tips on kickstarting and continuing sketching practice, so I thought about my process for getting better at drawing. Here it is!

Collect inspiration: With the growing popularity of sketchnotes and visual communication, there are plenty of great examples on the Net. I like checking out Sketchnote Army and Ogilvy Notes for inspiration. I often search for sketchnotes using Google Blog Search or Google Image search. I use Evernote to clip the ones I like so that I can search for them using text.

I look for inspiration elsewhere, too. Shop displays sometimes have interesting colour combinations, and paintings and photos are also great for colour and composition. Cartoons and comics give me visual metaphors and humour. I pick up ideas from books and presentations, looking for good things to share and interesting ways to share them.


Compile a notebook: I use Microsoft OneNote to collect parts of the different images that inspire me: title treatments, visual metaphors, colour combinations, techniques, and so on. I like using OneNote for this because the keyboard shortcut (Win+S) is an easy way to capture part of the screen, and because OneNote makes it easy to organize elements on pages within sections of a notebook. Text labels make it easy for me to search the notebook for the keywords I’ve added to each of the images. Organizing the elements like this means that I can quickly find a specific element or browse around for quick inspiration.

Build a library: Background templates, reference photos, and reusable elements (parts of  past drawings, for example) help me work more quickly. I can paste them in from my OneNote notebook, image searches, or my photos and files. I can also use Add Image to add a file as a new layer. I can then adjust the opacity, scale and rotate things a little, and trace the image or use it as the basis for a different drawing. I sometimes use a light grid as the background when I draw, as my lines and text tend to skew upwards if I don’t. I’m planning to collect stick figure and cartoon poses so that I can draw people with more detail and flair.

Because Autodesk Sketchbook Pro is a raster program, I lose some detail when I scale images up and down. Still, the library is great to use for guides or templates, and it’ll grow in usefulness as I draw and save more.

Colour combinations are good to save, too. I like seeing how other people use colour to highlight their work, and I’m gradually getting the hang of it. Autodesk makes it easy to save the colours I like, and there are some colours I find myself returning to often.

I’m also working on creating my own brushes for certain effects. For example, I liked the way some sketchnotes used dotted lines to connect ideas, so I experimented with Autodesk to see if I could make my own. My brush is somewhat translucent instead of fully opaque, but it will do for now. =)

Experiment: There’s so much to experiment with and learn. I’m trying out different ways of hand-lettering, playing around with the letter forms and what feel they evoke. I’m experimenting with colour, line widths, layouts, whitespace, and flourishes. I’m playing around with different ways to learn and summarize information.

I’m a long way off from settling into one style. Who knows, I may end up experimenting with this throughout my life. This is a good thing.

Learn how to use your tools: I also invest time into learning and experimenting with tools. Over the past few days, I’ve been going through the trial versions of Autodesk Sketchbook Designer, Adobe Illustrator, and Manga Studio EX. In terms of pen-friendly computing, I still prefer Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, although I wish I had some of the capabilities I saw in the other tools! I like reading the documentation and watching other people’s videos because I often learn how to work more effectively.

Practice deliberately: And of course, there’s practice. The more I draw, the more comfortable I’ll be at drawing, and (probably) the better I’ll be, too. It’s not just about drawing new things. Deliberate practice – going over and over small things – helps a lot, too. For example, I often fill a page with freehand circles. Then I add eyes, nose, and mouth to each of the faces, playing around with different expressions or trying to get the same expression each time. I also draw lines, as I find those hard to do (my hands are a little shaky). Tracing helps me learn more about drawing, too.

Those are six ways I’m working on learning how to draw better. How are you learning?

Visual book review: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

March 27, 2012 - Categories: communication, visual, visual-book-notes


Getting To Yes is the kind of book you want to read before you negotiate UN treaties, business contracts, or a special deal on that lovely rug. I read it in September 2010 and promptly started referring to my Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) even in non-negotiation situations such as decision-making.

The idea of not arguing over positions (I want $X as a salary, Y days of vacation, and a pony) and focusing instead on interests (I value fair compensation, flexible schedules, and cute transportation) might help people avoid or break out of negotiation deadlocks. Also useful is the reminder that negotiations don’t have to be the competitive I-win-you-lose head-on collision that people often see it to be, and that a cooperative approach is more likely to get you to where you want to go by getting other people to where they want to go.

Unfortunately, the tips in the book do not work when negotiating with cats, who don’t care if you discuss their dirty tricks with them. Despite that weakness, this is still an excellent book to read whether or not you have a diplomatic passport.

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton, 2nd ed.
1991 New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

See more visual book notes!

Sketchnotes: William Mougayar (engagio) at Third Tuesday Toronto

March 28, 2012 - Categories: entrepreneurship, meetup, sketches, sketchnotes, social


(Click on the image for a larger version)

William Mougayar shared lessons learned from serial entrepreneurship at the Third Tuesday Toronto meetup. He also demoed his recently funded startup,, which promises to be a social inbox for comments and conversations across different websites.

My thoughts after the talk:

  • Blog comments and online interactions are great ways to build trust relationships. (Hear that? Comment more! Winking smile )
  • It would be nifty to have a social inbox, particularly one that’s also a relationship management tool
  • $500k seed funding can get people pretty darn far
  • It’s fun getting speakers to autograph the sketchnotes =)

Were you there or have you attended other talks by William Mougayar? Have you used Engagio? (Seems to be down at the moment, pity.)

One nifty thing about Third Tuesday Toronto is that they fly speakers in and they coordinate with meetups in other cities to get the maximum coverage. Join the meetup to find out about upcoming events.

Related links:

If you like this, you might also like my other sketches. I like turning presentations and books into quick, easy-to-review images. Enjoy!

Here’s the text from the image to improve people’s ability to search for it:

William Mougayar @ Third Tuesday Toronto
@wmougayar @engagio
See also Paul Graham’s chart

Stages of a startup
Clear vision or Blurry vision (more realistic)

When Christopher Columbus set sail, he didn’t Google America.

Social Capital
Got to know people through blogs
I’ve made 3,000 comments on Fred Wilson’s blog
Got asked to moderate Fred Wilson’s blog
8 weeks to a minimum viable product
Demo of engagio
-My contacts
-Person’s profile (one place to follow)
Neat, would like to try this out
5 Lessons
1. Be wary of selling enterprise software
Very difficult to sell to a large company when you’re a startup
2. Have an original (but simple) idea
3. Don’t believe your own
4. Relationships don’t matter. Trusted relationships matter
5. Don’t quit trying

Fragmentation of the social web
Commenting is important = Potential relationships
Value in the conversations
Bet a beat story about startups & alcohol from blog conversation

Online advocacy is on the rise

Platform? Rails, MySQL, Solr, Twitter Bootstrap
Multiple users? Next week
Yelp? Maybe if API
Equentia? Some ideas for discovery. Get to 100K users first.
How did you get away with looking like Gmail? Haven’t gotten a call from Google yet.
Business? Focusing on end-users.
Funding priorities for spending?
Engineering & marketing
product development users
Building more social features into the product
Summarizing comments?
Maybe talk offline after.
Pivot reactions?
Excited. Still had other clients, but could move on.
Personal profile?
Automatically populated, can be edited.
Profile resolution?
Merging profiles with authentication
Mobile app? HTML5
Track other sites? In road map, may have to create plugin.
Business model? Get to look users first also, business intelligence/analytics.

Twitter: @sachac
March 27, 2012

Visual metaphors: Balance

March 29, 2012 - Categories: drawing, tips

I’m working on improving my visual vocabulary by collecting metaphors. This turns out to be an interesting challenge. I’ll add more text to this blog post later, but in the meantime, here are some of my notes about one word. Click on the image to view a larger version.


One! And there are so many other concepts to play around with… =)

Trying out MindManager 2012 – Almost but not quite the right fit for me

March 30, 2012 - Categories: review

Mindjet MindManager 2012 - Sacha Chua

(Click on the image for  larger version.)

I love the way that mindmaps let me get lots of information down quickly without worrying about organization. It’s easy to organize things after as the structure emerges. I often make mindmaps on paper, but I prefer to do my mindmaps on the computer. Working on the computer lets me reorganize items, expand and collapse branches, and read everything instead of rotating the map so that I can read text written at odd angles. (Besides, my scrawls tend to be hard to read the day after.)

I’ve been a big fan of mindmapping software ever since I came across FreeMind, a fast and free mindmapping tool. XMind became my new favourite when I found out about it. I wanted to give the premium mindmapping programs a try, though, so I gave iMindMap and MindManager a spin.

iMindMap was colourful, but didn’t quite fit the way I wanted to work. It’s definitely skewed towards maps with just one word on the branches, and I tend to write whatever I want to.

MindManager fit me better. I was delighted to find that MindManager had a good pen mode, allowing me to create, edit, and organize my map with my computer in tablet mode (look, Ma, no keyboard!). I could scribble things down, then convert ink to text and have fully-searchable and more legible notes afterwards.

I tried using MindManager in pen mode to capture a panel discussion. This was a bit of a challenge as I was actually on the panel in question, but I wanted to take notes anyway. I probably wouldn’t have tried this with other (non-tablet) mindmapping programs because the keyboard clicking sounds would have been distracting even if I had my screen tilted down (removing a barrier between me and others). The smooth gliding of a pen across a tablet screen is unobtrusive, and not all that different from writing on (somewhat glowy) paper.

As it turned out, the necessity of writing in the input box caused a bit more mental friction than drawing on a blank canvas in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. (The input box size is configurable, but there are tradeoffs as you have to make your gestures outside the box.) I also ended up redoing the whole summary in Sketchbook because I wanted it to have more personality and a more compact layout. So no time savings for real-time visual notetaking, at least for me, although it was good to be able to reorganize points as needed.

I’ve also been using MindManager for keyboard-based brainstorming. It has a number of nifty features for project management and map navigation, but I haven’t made them part of the way I work.

MindManager’s handwriting recognition and pen controls are high on coolness factor and they’re pleasant to use, but considering that I can get the other features I care about for free with XMind, I’m not particularly keen on the $399 price for MindManager. Might be a good fit for other people, but I’ll hold off getting it for now.

Still, good to know what’s out there!

Related links:

Weekly review: Week ending March 30, 2012

March 31, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Yay, the Toronto Public Library is back! I missed it a lot.

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: Project E1: M-Th (training materials, prototyping)
    • [-] Build: Draw more book reviews
    • [X] Connect: Send updates to mentors
    • [X] Connect: Go to Drupal user group meetup
    • [X] Connect: Go to Third Tuesday meetup
    • Build: Started visual metaphor series, drew a few more in the line-up
    • Build: Received business credit card
    • Build: Ordered Lenovo slice battery for greater flexibility
    • Build: Practised drawing faces
    • Connect: Posted Third Tuesday sketchnotes
    • Connect: Set up meetings
    • Connect: Answered Quantified Self-related questions
    • Earn: Started illustration gig for Engagio
    • Earn: Accepted request for Emacs consulting
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host tea party
    • [X] Plan cherry blossom walk/picnic?
    • Chatted with my sister Kathy over Skype
  • Life
    • [-] Plant more seeds – it’s been cold!
    • [X] Brainstorm some more

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: Project E1: Tue-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Earn: Illustration for Engagio
    • [ ] Connect: Catch up with Kevin Bartus
    • [ ] Connect: Catch up with business mentors
    • [ ] Build: Draw more visual metaphors
    • [ ] Build: Practise drawing faces
    • [ ] Build: Review recently-purchased Kindle books visually
    • [ ] Build: Practise outlining a book
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Go on a long walk with W-
    • [ ] Plan cherry blossom picnic
    • [ ] Chat with Jason Markey
  • Life
    • [ ] Gardening: Plant more seeds
    • [ ] Gardening: Consider getting some bulbs for the front
    • [ ] Return library books
    • [ ] Buy cat food