July 2012

A day of gardening

July 1, 2012 - Categories: gardening

We rehabilitated the front and back planter boxes, mixing in plenty of composted cow manure into the sandy soil. I like being able to feel the soil changing character as we mix more organic matter into it, pulling out roots and raking it back to a fine texture.

I planted edamame. We’ll see if it makes it in before frost. I also planted lots of basil. It’s a bit late to be starting things from seed, but none of the vegetable plants in the home centers looked particularly good, so we figured it was worth an experiment.

Lavender did so well in the part of the front garden near the stairs, so we replanted the front box with more. We paired it with some yellow flowers, also perennial.

I’m going to set aside more time to enjoy tending to the garden.

Transcript: Emacs chat with John Wiegley

July 2, 2012 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, org, podcast

Quantified Awesome: Grocery update!

July 3, 2012 - Categories: quantified

The numbers are in! We got through way more vegetables, although some of the lettuce took us a while to eat. I want to see how the next few months go, too.



Building my skills and getting ready for the next steps

July 4, 2012 - Categories: business

Today I learned that I can make image ads pretty easily. I’ve been redesigning the homepage for this intranet site I’m working on, and part of the new design is one of those rotating slideshows. I played around with different sizes and layouts, read up on ad design, and mocked up a few ideas. Tada! Now I do graphic design. (Well, a bit.) This weekend, I’ll see if I can make up one of those for my little e-book.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to learn how to do. On this engagement, I want to learn more about graphic design, web design, writing, and maybe a bit more Javascript development.

For myself, I want to:

  • learn more about e-book writing, editing, and formatting: I really enjoyed putting together that e-book with the highlights from the past ten years of my blog posts. I liked making that PDF, and I want to learn how to make beautiful and usable EPUBs too. I want to put together information on Emacs, self-tracking, experimenting with business, happiness… You know, make a dent in that list of book ideas I blogged about last year, and come up with more ideas along the way.
  • learn Android app development for tablets and phones: I like the Android app ecosystem more than the iOS one, even though the iOS world is flashier. I love the way tablets and phones are turning computing into an everyday-at-your-fingertips experience, and I want to help imagine ways that we can make even better use of these capabilities.
  • build Emacs resources: It’s an awesome editor, and I want to help more people learn how to use it.
  • learn how to build more tools with Rails or WordPress, maybe? They’re both great ways to build websites, and it would be fun to figure out how to build more sophisticated tools.

“So, what do you do?”

July 5, 2012 - Categories: connecting

I still have the hardest time with introductions, even more so now that I’m doing something… different. I’m not a chirpy entrepreneur who’ll dash off an elevator pitch for a technology startup as soon as someone so much as provides an opening. I’m not a consultant angling for a lead or a job. I’m on a medium-term experiment with business and interestingness.

Helping people makes introductions much easier, and that’s what I talked about in The Shy Connector – turning it into a connect-the-dots game, looking for ways to help people. Sometimes it works out decently, and I can shape the conversations with questions. Other times, people fall back to old habits, perhaps uncomfortable with the focus on them. They ask, “So, what do you do?” or “So, where do you work?”

I’ve been testing different replies to this. Consultant? Web developer? Writer and developer is probably closest to what I’d like to focus on this next little while – or maybe something related to experiments… I’d rather talk about how I might be able to help instead of what label I fit neatly into, but I appreciate that many people need these mental hooks to be able to remember people or to quickly evaluate how much time a conversation is worth.

I like a different style of connecting, I guess. I connect slowly online through conversations that unfold over months, longer. In person, I like stacking the deck. It’s easier when I can offer something of value – hence, notes – and even easier when I’ve already helped someone. We skip the “So, what do you do?” aspect and jump straight into the middle of a conversation.

Three events next week, so I can play around with these ideas. =) We’ll see!

Business notes: Working with a virtual accountant

July 6, 2012 - Categories: business

My fiscal year-end is September 30, which means I don’t have to compete with all the individuals and sole proprietors for accountants’ attention. It’s still a few months away, but I want to make sure that I’m keeping books in a way that will make it straightforward to file taxes.

Using the oDesk freelancing service, I advertised a part-time contract for a bookkeeping/accounting advisor who could help me learn how to manage my books – not necessarily do the data entry, but helping me structure the accounts and learn how to file properly. This was the job post:

I’m looking for part-time help getting started with Quickbooks (Canadian version). This is my first year of business, and my federal corporation’s year-end is September 30. I am currently in IT consulting, but may add e-book sales over the next year.

I need help:

  • Correctly setting up my Quickbooks files
  • Learning how to enter transactions properly (notes, phone calls, or screennsharing)
  • Reviewing transactions, perhaps on a quarterly basis
  • Answering questions during occasional consultation sessions
  • Getting things ready for taxes

I will mostly send questions by e-mail. We can also set up time to talk on the phone or Skype, and we can find ways to share the screen so that you can see what I’m doing or vice versa.

Only applicants who can work with Quickbooks Pro 2012 (Canadian version) will be considered. If you can work with that and have your own licensed version, please start your reply with “Yes”.

Looking forward to working with you!

I received 18 applications, many overseas. Because I wanted someone who could give me both accounting and bookkeeping advice for a federally-incorporated company based in Ontario, I focused on people who were local. I interviewed three people over e-mail and the phone. I picked one from Dunnville, Ontario, which is about 120km away from Toronto, or two hours by car. She offered to set up face-to-face meetings, but I’m comfortable working online, so we decided to skip that. (I might meet up with her if she happens to be in town for other things, though!)

I shared my Quickbooks files and scanned receipts with her through Dropbox. She reviewed the file and sent me her notes. I replied, updated my Quickbooks file with her suggestions, and asked a few questions of my own. She sent me more answers and notes. I’ve just updated my file and sent her more notes, and I’ll probably get a reply next week. For example, we fixed some errors in my Chart of Accounts, and she told me how I could file the computer hardware and software as fixed assets in order to make the depreciation calculations easier.

The arrangement works really well for me–probably much better than a face-to-face accounting/bookkeeper relationship would. I’m fine with scanning receipts and organizing electronic invoices myself. I don’t want to just show up at the end of the year with a box full of receipts. I like learning about Quickbooks and being able to ask questions knowing that the answers will be specific to my location and applicable tax laws. My accountant suggests things that I might have otherwise missed. This is good.

I can grow my business slowly, which is handy. For the first fiscal year, for example, I can avoid having anything to do with payroll or dividends if I don’t take any money out or hire people as employees. I can ease into that over the next few years, as I get the hang of things. I registered for HST so I didn’t have to worry about messing around with the paperwork once I reached the threshold of $30k earnings. It was easier for me to collect HST from the start.

Because she tracks her time using oDesk, I don’t feel guilty about asking lots of questions. oDesk also captures screenshots, so I can get a peek into how she works. It’s a pretty good setup. I could probably get free or paid advice from a face-to-face person, but I’d feel guilty about wringing out lots of free advice, and I’d probably have to batch up my questions more for paid in-person or on-the-phone advice if we didn’t have this fine-grained tracking and payment system.

I’m learning about business finance at a manageable pace, and I like it. If you’re starting out in business and you like numbers, I’d recommend hiring a bookkeeper/accountant whom you can ask lots of questions, too.

Monthly review: June 2012

July 7, 2012 - Categories: monthly, review

Business: What a month for business and learning! I took my first foray into the wonderful world of e-publishing, compiling my favourite posts from the last ten years into a PDF called “Stories from My Twenties”. And people voted with their dollars! Wow. I have to explore this further. Along the way, I discovered that I enjoy writing, editing, and formatting e-books. I’m looking forward to learning even more as I work on an EPUB version, and perhaps even learn how to build an index and other useful tools for reading.

I started up my delegation experiments again, and I’ve been having lots of success with data entry and accounting. I’m looking forward to working with a developer, too. Expanding my capabilities!

Drawing: I haven’t been drawing nearly as much, but I did make it out to three meetups at which I took sketchnotes. I like sketching meetups. I learn, connect with people, and help other people learn. I don’t have to worry as much about copyright issues compared to, say, summarizing a book. I did pick up Camtasia Studio 8, though, so I might use that to start experimenting with sketchcasts.

Plans for next month: In July, I’d like to deliver a talk, sketchnote three more events, learn more about EPUBs, and put together a small graphical ad for my book. I’m also looking forward to learning more about accounting. Whee!







Weekly review: Week ending July 6, 2012

July 8, 2012 - Categories: weekly

Lots of things not crossed out on my to-do list, but I focused on doing other things instead. We spent the holiday weekend clearing the shed and fixing up the garden, and we’re looking forward to having a new shed in August. I’ve engaged an accountant/bookkeeper for advice, and I’ve been learning a lot. I’m starting to feel a little scattered, though, so I should pull myself inwards a little – maybe once I get past next week and all its events…

From last week’s plans


  • [X] Earn: E1: Community prototyping
  • [-] Earn: R1: Transition
  • [-] Build: Create EPUB version of book
  • [-] Build: Schedule next Emacs chat
  • [X] Connect: Prepare for Quantified Self talk at Girl Geeks Toronto
  • [X] Connect: Chat with Suchitra
  • [-] Connect: Chat with Med
  • [X] Connect: Follow up some more
  • Earn: E1 ads, homepage redesign
  • Build: Transcribed Emacs chat
  • Build: Scanned and organized my business notebook


  • [X] Help move everything out of shed
  • [-] Move rear planter box
  • [-] Cook a lot


  • [-] Plan The Dark Knight Rises get-together
  • [X] Write =)
  • Played LEGO Batman 2

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: E1: Community prototyping, homepage redesign, help
  • [ ] Earn: R1: Transition?
  • [ ] Connect: Give Quantified Self talk at Toronto Girl Geeks Dinner
  • [ ] Connect: Help host Quantified Self Toronto
  • [ ] Connect: Attend TPL Small Business Meetup at the Toronto Reference Library
  • [ ] Build: Learn about EPUB
  • [ ] Build: Transcribe Emacs screencast


  • [X] Visit Hattoris
  • [ ] Plan the Dark Knight Rises get-together?
  • Drafted response to letter


  • [ ] Relax
  • Went strawberry picking

Time notes

  • Business: 42:08 (E1 26:15, connect 5:26)
  • Discretionary: 36:44 (writing 9:23, social 0:12, Emacs 2:23, LEGO Batman 4:33)
  • Personal: 24:02 (biking 5:36, routines 13:02)
  • Sleep: 55:39 (average 7.9 hours per day)
  • Unpaid work: 9:24

Quantified Awesome: Tracking clothes, groceries, and other everyday things

July 9, 2012 - Categories: geek, meetup, presentation, quantified, sketchnotes, speaking

Sketchnotes: Christine Steiger, Christine’s Fitness and Personal Training @ Small Business Network, Toronto Public Library

July 10, 2012 - Categories: business, meetup, sketchnotes

20120710 small business network christine steiger

Click on the image for a larger version. Feel free to reshare it under the Creative Commons Attribution License. =)

Christine Steiger shared how she had risen through the ranks in a large fitness company, teaching herself a lot about sales. She then started her own company so that she could provide more personalized service in a woman-friendly environment. She emphasized the need for marketing and creative promotions, including building relationships with other business owners. I liked her focus and her drive, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned in my own business.

Thanks to Christine for sharing, and thanks to Margaret Wigglesworth and the Toronto Reference Library for hosting!

Previous Small Business Network meetups at the Toronto Reference Library:

See my other sketchnotes of tech and business meetups, books, and other thoughts, or subscribe to my blog. (It can be quite a lot of information, though, so if you prefer, you can subscribe to just the sketchnotes instead.) Share your thoughts through Twitter (@sachac), blog comments, or e-mail. Enjoy! =)

Quantified Self Toronto: July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012 - Categories: meetup, quantified, sketchnotes


Helping startups

July 12, 2012 - Categories: business

My research supervisor asked me to meet with one of his joint ventures, possibly for some consulting later on. I told him I’m not planning to take on new consulting clients for a while, but that I was happy to see what I could add to the conversation as a small way of saying thank for you all the help that my research supervisor had given me. It was a great conversation. After hearing about what they wanted to do, I suggest some resources they should check out, and we sketched out a strategy that would help them gradually build and test their service without having to build a large user base or a complex tool right away.

I like helping startups out this way, and I’ve chatted with quite a few. I enjoy reading about technology and business, and that makes it easy to share other companies working on similar problems in different industries or niches. I like taking a good idea and helping people flesh it out.

I’m not particularly interested in charging for these consultations — when you’re a startup, you’ll find no end of people who are willing to give free or paid advice – or in follow-up consulting or development engagements. The pay-off for me is being able to test good ideas without having to do all the hard work. If I can help people find a good strategy, then they’ll do the work of validating and improving on it, and I get better at thinking my way through these challenges and integrating ideas from all sorts of places. I also enjoy getting to know interesting people, and I’m getting better at keeping track of people and connecting them with each other.

There’s probably something useful in there. As I learn more about business and technology, I might be able to create even more value. Let’s see where that takes us!

Thinking about pricing and consulting

July 13, 2012 - Categories: business

I was talking to a new business owner who had just started with consulting. Her first client was her old company, who hired her back for the same responsibilities – and the same pay. They argued, “Why should I pay you more than I paid you as an employee?” She couldn’t think of good reasons, but at least she negotiated that the monetary equivalent of her benefits and leave would be included in her new compensation.

The standard advice on why you should raise your rates – maybe even double or triple them – when you go from being an employee to being a contractor include these reasons:

  • You pay for your own benefits and downtime, so the employer doesn’t have to take on those costs
  • You have to do your own marketing, so you should charge clients more to give you some buffer for business development
  • You have no job security, so the employer has more flexibility; they don’t have to pay you if they don’t have work for you, while it’s harder to hire and fire employees as the workload changes
  • You take on more risks and have less legal protection if, say, the employer doesn’t pay promptly

It feels like these reasons are from the contractor’s point of view, though. I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling a company that the reason why my rates are higher than the salary they might pay an employee is because I have to do my own marketing and business development.

I’d rather focus on the value I may be able to deliver. Is it worth it to the company to pay $X for the results they believe they’ll get with me? If so, great. If they don’t think it’s worth it, they’re welcome to find people with different skills, people with lower rates, or people who are willing to join the organization as an employee. Likewise, is it worth it to me to work on an engagement for $X, instead of focusing on other things I could be doing?

Contractors and companies make decisions based on self-interest, so it’s easier to not stress out about pricing if you remember that the other organization is responsible for getting the best deal they can get and you’re responsible for getting the best deal you can get. Lawyers and accountants make no apologies for the rates they set, and maybe I’ll work my way up to that kind of unblinking confidence someday.

Besides, I want to set aside more time for non-consulting ways to create value. I may raise my consulting rate even higher so that I focus on only the opportunities with high leverage and scale.

Potential clients might ask you why your rates are higher than employees or competitors. Instead of going down the defensive route (oh, you have to take on more risk, etc.), it might be worth breaking it down into the real questions behind it:

  • How much are these kinds of results worth to you?
  • Do you believe I am capable of delivering these results?
  • Am I your best option for delivering those results?

I’m learning!

Weekly review: Week ending July 13, 2012

July 14, 2012 - Categories: weekly

A bit crunchy this week – three events on consecutive evenings! – but we pulled through just fine. Along the way, I learned a lot about formatting EPUB and MOBI, yay!


  • [X] Earn: E1: Community prototyping, homepage redesign, help
  • [X] Earn: R1: Transition?
  • [X] Connect: Give Quantified Self talk at Toronto Girl Geeks Dinner
  • [X] Connect: Help host Quantified Self Toronto
  • [X] Connect: Attend TPL Small Business Meetup at the Toronto Reference Library
  • [X] Build: Learn about EPUB – posted my blog highlights book to the Amazon Kindle store! (affiliate link, naturally =) ). Woohoo!
  • [X] Build: Transcribe Emacs screencast


  • [X] Visit Hattoris – went strawberry-picking
  • [-] Plan the Dark Knight Rises get-together? – waiting for Cineplex to release more IMAX screening times
  • Drafted response to letter


  • [X] Relax
  • Survived crunch week! =)

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: E1: Training, creating training material
  • [ ] Connect: Set up next Emacs chat?
  • [ ] Build: Start sketching Android app
  • [ ] Build: Learn more about accounting
  • [ ] Build: Attend WordPress Toronto meetup: Custom Post Types


  • [ ] Plan Dark Knight Rises get-together
  • [ ] Help lay the foundation for the shed


  • [ ] Play more LEGO Batman 2 =)

Time notes

  • Business: 52:20 (E1 26:15, connect 5:26)
  • Discretionary: 32:30 (Emacs 0:26, social 17:09, writing 6:56)
  • Personal: 21:30 (biking 5:21, routines 11:39)
  • Sleep: 55:16 (average 7.9 hours per day)
  • Unpaid work: 4:20

Building the foundation for a shed

July 15, 2012 - Categories: life

W- and I are planning to get a new, larger shed so that we can store the bicycles and tools in it. I’ve been biking a lot more these days and it’s great that the bikes are in the living room, but it can be a little difficult to lug my bike up the steps. It will be great to organize our things more neatly, too.

The other weekend, we moved all the things from the old shed. W- took the shed down and cleared the area. This weekend, we prepared the foundation. The new shed will rest on two 4×4 runners on top of patio stones in a bed of gravel. The back yard slopes quite a bit in that area, so we fiddled with gravel and patio stones until we got things mostly level. W- did all the heavy lifting, and I helped with measuring.

I’m learning about a lot of things that I would never have expected to explore back then. =) This is cool, though! It’s said that Canada has two seasons: winter and construction. It’s true.

Waiting for technology

July 16, 2012 - Categories: geek

Some people are early adopters when it comes to gadgets. They’re the first out the door with the latest mobile phone or camera. I’m a little more conservative. I’ll look closely at the reviews, figure out what I want, save up, and shop around for a good deal.

I’ve been thinking about getting the Asus Eee Transformer Pad Infinity TF700. It’s one of the best Android tablets around and the reviews are good. I’m particularly looking forward to the high-resolution display for reading and reviewing drawings and e-books. At 1920×1200, it’ll have higher resolution than my 1366×768 laptop. Maybe I can use it as a second screen, too.

The TF700 is not yet available in Canada, so I’ll wait. In the meantime, I’ve checked out lots of books on Android development and I’ve started sketching interfaces. I can prototype on my laptop and on my phone, and it would be amazing to have the tablet version ready for when I buy the TF700. That way, I know I won’t waste the tablet – I’ll already have learned something useful because of it, and I’ll have demonstrated business use.

There are a few other good Android tablets on the market. I think the TF700’s worth waiting for. I don’t mind paying retail price for it, though, as it’s the kind of thing that will probably sell out quickly and I do want to have one in hand well before the Quantified Self conference in September. I’d like to get the hang of using it and developing it before I rely on it.

I know there’ll be even better gadgets after that – technology! — but that’s okay too. Progress!

Experience report: Editing, formatting, and publishing an e-book

July 17, 2012 - Categories: business, writing

Writing is a great way to share what I’m learning with lots of people, and I’d like to make that a large part of my life. To test the idea, I wanted to learn how to edit, format, and self-publish an e-book. E-books are handy because I don’t have to worry about inventory, distribution, or shipping. I also have more freedom when it comes to layout and colour, and I don’t have to worry about getting things wrong for an expensive print run. It was a great first step.

Instead of writing a whole new book, I decided to collect my favourite blog posts from my archive. This meant that I could focus on learning the new part – preparing and publishing an e-book – instead of getting bogged down in writing new content. I spent a few weeks re-reading everything and selecting a fraction of the posts. I exported these to HTML files, combined them, and imported them into Microsoft Word so that I could edit and format the posts. I picked Microsoft Word because I wanted to play around with ink annotations in addition to creating a simple layout for the text.

I like using a landscape orientation for easier reading on horizontal screens, so I formatted it with two columns. I added pictures and a few sketches. Instead of one big table of contents, I broke it up into several chapters and added chapter-level tables of contents. This led me to learn about Microsoft Word’s table of contents field and the ability to set up TOCs for a specific section. I wanted the page header to reflect the current chapter title, too, so I learned how to include the chapter as a field.

When I was happy with the document, I exported it to PDF and uploaded it to Lulu. I chose Lulu because I didn’t want to bother with calculating and collecting sales tax for all the different countries. I also didn’t want to spend time building an e-commerce site. I picked $2.99 as the price – low-profit, but also low-risk. Lulu didn’t offer a way to send people updates afterwards, so I asked people to send me their receipts so that I could send them updates if I released a new version. I was delighted to find that a few people bought the book even with very little promotion on my end. (Thank you for your vote of confidence!)

A PDF is great for controlling layout, but it doesn’t display well on many e-reader devices. I exported the Microsoft Word document back to HTML, then used Emacs and Sigil to clean up the HTML markup and convert it to EPUB format. Calibre helped me convert the EPUB to the MOBI format that the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing program requires. I filled in the Amazon KDP forms and created another cover image.

I looked into using Smashwords for distribution, but it used Microsoft Word documents for input, so I went back to Lulu and uploaded the EPUB for distribution to iBookstore and the Barnes & Noble Nook store. We’ll see how that goes.

Putting together an e-book turned out to not be a scary process at all. That means I can start working on other books without worrying about getting stuck at the end of the process. Next book might be 101 Things You Can Do with Emacs! =)

Trusting myself with making time

July 18, 2012 - Categories: business, time

Before I started my business, I wasn’t sure if I trusted myself with large swaths of discretionary time. Not free time – all time has a cost – but discretionary time, time that I can direct towards my own purposes. I thought I’d be able to use the time well, but I didn’t know for certain.

I’m starting to be more confident in how I use that time. Sure, I spend some of it hanging out with W- and J-, or exploring the constructed world of LEGO Batman 2… but I also use it to experiment with writing e-books or learning how to build mobile applications.

It’s incredible, picking your own goals and making steady progress towards them. I carved out a decent amount of carefully-protected discretionary time even when I was working for a large company and we made good use of our staycations, but even that doesn’t compare to being able to block off large chunks of time on your own. Vacations and weekends are social, and evenings often are as well. It’s great to have time to still your mind and follow your own questions. A room of one’s own, to learn and write and create.

There’s always the temptation to schedule things over it so that I don’t confront the blank canvas of a day. I meet people occasionally. It’s good for me to talk to people – and, more useful, to listen; not everyone writes. It’s also good to do this in moderation. It’s easy to talk about doing business and being in business and what to learn about business, but I shouldn’t stop there.

So there are days when I sit down and focus on the tasks I set myself. I’m becoming more accustomed to managing this time. I make lists — things I can do, topics I want to learn about, an endless supply of self-directed adventures. There’s always more to learn.

I’ll be consulting on-site four days a week for the next few weeks, but I’ll be playing around with other time arrangements soon. I’m setting aside all of September for discretionary time, and then returning for two days a week of consulting throughout October and November. We’ll see how that goes. I think it’ll go well. Adjusting the training wheels as I learn more about managing my time, energy, and attention!

Sketchnotes: Custom Post Types & Custom Fields (Wes Bos, #wpto)

July 19, 2012 - Categories: blogging, meetup, sketchnotes, wordpress


Click on the image for a larger version.

Wes Bos talked about custom post types and custom fields, sharing plenty of tips on how to use Advanced Custom Fields to make the user interface much simpler. You can find his slides at http://wesbos.com/talks/wpto .

Like this? You might also be interested in another WPTO sketchnote (The Publishing Side of WordPress – Andy McIlwain). Check out my other sketchnotes for more. Enjoy!

It’s okay if you don’t do everything

July 20, 2012 - Categories: life, reflection

People often tell me that they feel frustrated because they don’t have the time to explore their interests or build new skills. I understand where they’re coming from. I have many interests. I like digging into new topics and new skills, feeling the concepts start to click together. There are many, many more things I want to learn than I have the time to do in one lifetime. There’s everyday life to deal with, too.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned is how to not be discouraged by the limitations of time. We set ourselves these deadlines (“I want to be a millionaire by thirty!”) and we get frustrated because we aren’t getting there fast enough because of all the things in the way. An oft-repeated piece of advice is that your goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. While time-bound goals are useful in many situations, they’re not the best fit for everything. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the possibilities and frustrated by the fact that you can be in only one place at one time, paying attention to one thing and forgetting others. If you have too many goals, you don’t have any.

It’s good to know when to let that go. It’s good to give yourself permission to explore in a general direction but not necessarily force yourself to arrive at your destination by a specific time or date. Then any obstacles in your path just mean that you’ll take the scenic route, and sometimes you might discover interesting side-paths along the way.

I know that I may not get to do everything, but I can do the things that matter the most, and I can slowly explore other interests in the time and space that I have. It’s like the way that I think about savings. I may not be able to buy everything I want, but I can save up for the things that matter. If something is more expensive than others, that simply means that it will take me a little longer to save up for it. Likewise, I may be curious about what it’s like to have certain kinds of skills or experiences, but I can probably get there even if I go slowly.

It’s a different kind of ambition, perhaps. For many people, ambition is about getting somewhere. My goal is to have a good journey along the way, and to share that with others.

Letting go of deadlines makes it easier for me to scale back some things in order to make space for other interests. I keep a list of things that I say “no” to in order to make space for this I want to say “yes” to. My mother observed that I haven’t been writing about sewing lately. It’s on my “no” list, just as playing the piano is. Both are good hobbies and many people enjoy them, but I’ve moved the time and focus to other things at the moment, and that’s okay. Right now, I’m focusing on writing, drawing, and learning how to develop mobile applications.

Frugality helps a lot, too. If I don’t spend so much, then I don’t need to earn so much, and I can work less and use the extra time to experiment. The other approach is to earn more so that I can free up more time in the future, but that can be dangerous. Work can be addictive, and postponing exploration means missing out on some things that are better when they mature over time. A hybrid approach that’s working out well: work less and earn more, then use the extra time to learn how to make things even better…

There’s time enough for the things that matter, and a little more for exploring.

Weekly review: Week ending July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 - Categories: weekly

Yesterday, I did something I don’t think I’ve done since graduate school. I spent almost nine hours just talking to people – me and one or two other friends at a time. Not a conference, not a meeting, not a family get-together, not a tea party. Just hanging out on a Friday. Lunch with people I met for the first time, an afternoon chat with a friend I hadn’t seen for months, a crepe dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in years.

Actually not awkward. Fun. Glad to spend time with people, and to help as well.

I like this. I can add more of this to my life. I like it because I hear about other people’s lives and other people’s adventures. I like it because people are interesting. I like it because I can share what I’m learning, and I can learn more from their questions and ideas along the way.

This is good. I want to make more space for this.

From last week’s plans


  • [X] Earn: E1: Training, creating training material
  • [-] Connect: Set up next Emacs chat?
  • [X] Build: Start sketching Android app
  • [X] Build: Learn more about accounting
  • [X] Build: Attend WordPress Toronto meetup: Custom Post Types
  • Connect: Started tracking people using org-contacts
  • Connect: Chatted with Floyd Marinescu and Nitin Bharti
  • Build: Went through Google Android training materials


  • [C] Plan Dark Knight Rises get-together: Cancelled
  • [X] Help lay the foundation for the shed
  • Chatted with Maira Bay de Souza
  • Got back in touch with Steve Crawford


  • [X] Play more LEGO Batman 2 =)
  • Planted more lettuce in the garden

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: E1: Revise training material, prototype communities
  • [ ] Connect: Conversation about lifelogging
  • [ ] Connect: Take sketchnotes at Third Tuesday Toronto
  • [ ] Connect: Attend MobileDev.TO launch
  • [ ] Build: Start preparing Quantified Self talk
  • [ ] Build: Learn more about Android development
  • [X] Build: Order TF700 tablet, wheee!
  • [X] Build: Improve Quantified Awesome JSON support
  • [X] Build: Get Emacs to automatically generate my time summaries


  • [ ] Map out more friends and get in touch with them
  • [ ] Get together with friends and talk about libraries


  • [ ] Draw for fun
  • [ ] Analyze ManicTime data

Time notes

  • Business: 56.1 hours (E1: 39.1)
  • Discretionary: 34.6 hours (Social: 10.3, Writing: 5.3)
  • Personal: 18.7 hours (Biking: 6.3, Routines: 8.8)
  • Sleep: 55.4 hours – average of 7.9 hours per day
  • Unpaid work: 3.2 hours (Cook: 0.5)

Things I would like to see fixed

July 22, 2012 - Categories: business

I brainstormed a list of things I would like to see fixed. Of this list, there are probably quite a few things that people will pay for. Of that list, there are probably a few things that I can build a sustainable business around. It’ll be interesting to figure out which!

Need What can help
Help people make better use of the clothes they have Wardrobe organizer/tracker
Cook more efficiently and prepare more kinds of recipes Bulk cooking recipe database (more healthy and ethnic recipes, too), meal planner, grocery list, preparation guide, and inventory
Help people learn how to use Emacs Emacs tutorials, screencasts, transcripts, books, etc.
Small businesses need to expand Resources for delegation and outsourcing: coaching, books, tasks, templates
Get a more accurate sense of how long it takes to do certain tasks Timer and logbook
Make better decisions about time Tracking systems, analysis, coaching
Keep in touch with wider networks and engage more deeply Social interaction tracker, reminders for keeping in touch
Learn more about life through data Books and resources to help people get started with self-tracking
Take and review paper- and sketch-notes quickly Tools for organizing and searching scanned notes (building on top of Evernote?), layouts and templates for drawing sketchnotes quickly, classes
Get the best deals without wasting food Grocery tracking, price books, consumption analysis
Spread the reach of information about tech or business Sketchnotes, animations, transcripts, e-books for webinars, meetups, and conferences
Improve early math education Resources for parents, group study sessions
Make the most of books Library tools, book notes, syntopicon, tracking
Help introverts connect with others Tips, tools
Transition from an employee to running your own business Tips, coaching
Organize random information Tips, tools
Use envelope-based personal accounting Tools
Understand your spending better Line-item details for receipts
Enjoy and learn from the Web and apps better More hand-drawn icons, websites, illustrations; better writing
Enjoy and learn from presentations better Presentation design improvements, presentation coaching, pre- and post-presentation resources
Grow sustainably as a developer Books, blog
Review, extract information from, and format blog archives Plugins, tips, tools for creating e-books
Create beautiful e-books as works in progress Tools, system
View a timeline of your life Tools
Help people learn, help kids with homework Online tutoring system
Help small businesses make the most of the Web Services, books, tools
Brainstorm and share lists Tools, blog
Improve lettering Templates, classes, fonts
Hang out with friends and coordinate plans Tools
Learn Latin and other languages Books, children’s books, resources
Help kids appreciate geek stuff Resources, children’s books
Draw with more colour Invent or find a multi-colour fountain pen; use multi-colour gel pens
Promote traditional wear Malongs?
Feed the cats Automatic cat feeder
Track stuff App for inventory, movement
Compare prices and find the best deals Comparison shopping tool
Help people learn about interesting things Clear, idea-packed, inspiring, and thoughtful writing
Help people get into business (new parents, people with disabilities, etc.) Books, tips, notes, resources, network

I’m scaling back consulting over the next few months so that I can experiment with other models for business. I could probably stay fully booked offering consulting services, web development, or other things that are time-for-money trades, but if I want to scale up and make a difference bigger than I am, it helps to learn how to build a business that can go beyond me. While I have the space and time to experiment with building a scalable business, I should do so.

Even if all these opportunities around me sound so interesting, I’ll be strict about working only on things where I can either create value disproportionate to efforts (in a good way, I hope!), or I can teach other people to do it and then scale up that way.

Learning from the basics

July 23, 2012 - Categories: learning

Last Saturday J- was running late, so W- offered to drive her to karate class. She asked if she could skip it and said that she wasn’t really learning anything. W- suggested that she might practise for her upcoming test. She said that she could do that in the backyard. W- pointed out that she could, but she hadn’t been doing so, which is why it was worth going to the class. Besides, there’s always more to learn.

This reminded me of another conversation I had with a friend of mine. She was frustrated because she considered the projects she got at work to be beneath her – simple testing work, when she’d already had experience managing teams. I said that there’s always more to learn, and besides, it’s a good opportunity to do something really, really well.

Life is full of situations where you’re doing something you think you know how to do well already. It’s easy to settle for being bored or frustrated. Digging deeper is harder but more rewarding. When you can find something to learn and improve each time around, you grow.

I do a lot of “basic” things as a consultant. I write HTML and CSS and Javascript. I write technical documentation and user documentation. I prepare and deliver training. I answer questions and walk people through how to use the system. Everything I do gives me an opportunity to learn how to do things better.

I go to a lot of meetups. Some talks focus on beginners. Instead of getting bored, I’m glad I have an opportunity to create and share good notes. There will always be more beginners than experts, so I’m glad to be able to help more people.

Here’s a quote from page 23 of the revised edition of Peter Drucker’s excellent book, The Effective Executive (2006; affiliate link):

To every practice applies what my old piano teacher said to me in exasperation when I was a small boy. “You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does, but there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does.” What the piano teacher forgot to add – probably because it was so obvious to her – is that even the great pianists could not play Mozart as they do unless they practiced their scales and kept on practising them.

Don’t waste those moments.

Work is love made visible

July 24, 2012 - Categories: life

Many people live for the weekends and see work as something that gets in the way of living. Many people wish they had more free time for their hobbies, and fantasize about having a housekeeper who can take care of all the chores.

Work and life aren’t all that bad, actually. When you take a different perspective, you can get more value out of that time. I like this poem from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.
For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons,
and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.
When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?
Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,
And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.
But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
And what is it to work with love?
It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to build a house with affection,
even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.
It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,
And to know that all the blessed dead
are standing about you and watching.
Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “He who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is nobler than he who ploughs the soil.
And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”
But I say, not in sleep but in the overwakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;
And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

I get to work with love almost all the time. I remember a few times when I’ve been reluctant, resentful, or distracted, but I’m getting better at bringing love to what I do. I love the kind of difference I can help make and the kind of work I get to do. I love the way we build our lives together. I love, because what else is there?

It helps that my husband and I do many of our chores together. We both enjoy cooking, so we chat while preparing the next week’s meals. We watch movies while folding laundry. We talk about our plans while buying groceries. This means that chores aren’t just love-in-the-abstract, they’re love in reality – opportunities for us to connect and make life better for each other.

Work and housework are both ways to connect with the rhythms of life and with people around us. You can treat these things as interruptions and enemies, but there’s tremendous power in treating these things as friends.

(The Prophet appears to be in the public domain in Canada, yay!)

80% and tweaking

July 25, 2012 - Categories: kaizen

I tend to work at an 80%-ish-right pace. I don’t try to get everything perfect. I get things out there quickly, and then revise as I go along.

It’s tempting to focus on being fast. People notice “fast” more often than they notice “thorough”, and you learn more when you get something out there.

Sometimes I have to remember to slow down and be more careful. This matters a lot when dealing with other people, because if I go too fast, then I can disappoint people or mess things up.

Fortunately, it’s easy to tell when I’m going a little too fast. I make more mistakes. I feel more scattered. People tell me. It’s important to pay attention to the small mistakes and slow down. Those mistakes are like those rumble strips that warn drivers of a danger spot ahead. Not a big inconvenience, just a warning.

It’s also important not to get caught up in those mistakes. It’s tempting to give in to “I suck” moments, but it’s better to fix things and move on.

Learning how to find the right balance will probably be a lifelong process, but it’ll be a good one!

Sketchnotes: Marketing in the Round, Gini Dietrich

July 26, 2012 - Categories: marketing, sketchnotes


Sketchnotes from MobileDevTO: Android development, social apps

July 27, 2012 - Categories: sketchnotes


Weekly review: Week ending July 27, 2012

July 28, 2012 - Categories: weekly

Tablet tablet tablet tablet tablet. =)

From last week’s plans


  • [X] Earn: E1: Revise training material, prototype communities
  • [X] Connect: Conversation about lifelogging
  • [X] Connect: Take sketchnotes at Third Tuesday Toronto
  • [X] Connect: Attend MobileDev.TO launch
  • [-] Build: Start preparing Quantified Self talk
  • [X] Build: Learn more about Android development
  • [X] Build: Order TF700 tablet, wheee!
  • [X] Build: Improve Quantified Awesome JSON support
  • [X] Build: Get Emacs to automatically generate my time summaries
  • Tried out TF700 tablet, whee!
  • R1: Helped Luis learn more about the code


  • [X] Map out more friends and get in touch with them
  • [X] Get together with friends and talk about libraries


  • [X] Draw for fun
  • [X] Analyze ManicTime data – hmm, not very useful for me
  • Played LEGO Batman 2

Plans for next week


  • [ ] Earn: More community prototyping; bring on Shad Valley student
  • [ ] Connect: Have lunch with Eric
  • [ ] Connect: Attend “Decoding Gen Y Online Communities”
  • [ ] Build: Learn more about Android development
  • [ ] Build: Keep tweaking my TF700 setup


  • [X] Change my SFO itinerary
  • [ ] Go to Elena’s birthday picnic


  • [X] Do some gardening
  • [ ] Write about tablet
  • [ ] Figure out how the tablet fits into my workflow

Time notes

  • Business: 61.2 hours (E1: 30.7)
  • Discretionary: 12.1 hours (Emacs: 0.6, Social: 4.8, Writing: 4.2)
  • Personal: 24.4 hours (Biking: 6.1, Routines: 14.7)
  • Sleep: 54.0 hours – average of 7.7 hours per day
  • Unpaid work: 15.8 hours (Cook: 2.7)

Tablet adventures: Using my TF700 as a second monitor with AirDisplay

July 29, 2012 - Categories: android

UPDATE 2012-07-29: Hmm, I’m getting some weird mouse behaviour after disconnecting from AirDisplay. I’ll look into this some more tomorrow.

Multiple monitors are great for productivity. You can see more of what you’re working on. You don’t have to switch between applications. You don’t have to remember snippets as you move from window to window. I want to work with multiple monitors, but I don’t want to be confined to the desktop downstairs, or to take up valuable kitchen table space with an LCD.

At 1920×1200, the Asus Infinity TF700 tablet has a higher resolution than my laptop (Lenovo X220 tablet, 1366×768). The Air Display app ($4.99 in Google Play) makes it easy to set up a tablet as a second monitor for your Mac or Windows computer if they’re on the same wireless network.

I installed the app on my tablet, installed the PC version on my laptop, restarted my computer, and set up the connection. Now I can drag windows over or use keyboard shortcuts to move my windows to the tablet. I can touch the tablet to interact with my computer, although the hardware keyboard on my dock doesn’t work. The display has some lag, but it’s useful enough for reading references or checking websites.

Air Display sets my laptop’s graphics scheme to Windows Basic, which removes a lot of the fancy visual effects that Windows uses to make things prettier. It’s a small price to pay for the ease and portability of having a second monitor.


Air Display (Android, $9.99 $4.99)  – Looks like they increased the price!
Air Display from the App Store ($9.99) – for the iPad

524 wontons

July 29, 2012 - Categories: cooking

We spent the afternoon making a quadruple batch of Jamie Oliver’s shrimp wonton recipe with way more garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Six and a half packages of wonton wrappers, two club packs of pork, three bunches of green onions, and four packages of shrimp make 524 wontons, although not all of them found their way into the freezer (we take quality control seriously!). We also cooked two packages of chicken as adobo and five packs of lamb as korma, so there’ll be plenty of home-made frozen lunches throughout the next few weeks. The freezer is full, the laundry is folded, and the computers are backed up. It’s been a good weekend.

We go on these cooking sprints from time to time. It’s so nice to be able to grab a container from the freezer and tuck it into my lunch bag so that I can savour it at work. It takes a fair bit of effort to prepare – we spend much of a day buying groceries and cooking food – but it’s well worth it, and the korma makes the house smell wonderful.

Life is good.

Breaking down something that’s intimidating to learn

July 30, 2012 - Categories: learning

I’d like to learn more about mobile development because there’s so much untapped potential when it comes to these portable devices that invite personalized, playful, touchable use. I think the next few years will be tremendously exciting, and I want to learn how to contribute to this future.

Mobile development is intimidatingly complex. Even if I focus only on Android development – and maybe even only on tablets that run Ice Cream Sandwich or later, for example – there’s so much to learn. There are so many possibilities to explore. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

But I’ve learned about other large areas of study before, and I can figure this one out too. I’m getting better at ignoring the fact tht there are so many places where I could start, and just starting.

My plan:

Go through the tutorials until I can build things with a few hints. This will help me learn the basics.
Contribute to open source projects, then create and release my own. I want to learn both design and development.
Build more small apps. Release them and learn from the feedback.
Share what I’m learning through blog posts and maybe short e-books.
Graduate to paid apps or content? We’ll see. 

If I take it step by step, then it’s a lot more manageable. The more I learn, the better I can get at learning.

Many new fields are intimidating when you’re a beginner. That’s okay. Don’t let that stop you from starting.

Slowly figuring out how to use my tablet

July 31, 2012 - Categories: geek

Blogging will be a little slower for me over the next few… days? weeks? I’ve been making myself use the Asus TF700 tablet as my primary personal computing device, and there’s a lot I need to figure out.

It’s nowhere near a substitute for my totally awesome Lenovo X220 tablet PC for writing, drawing, replying to e-mail, or even browsing the web. The TF700 is much lighter than the X220, though, so like the way that the best camera is the one that you take with you, I’m seeing if the increased portability will be enough to make up for the limitations. Besides, I’m sure there are all sorts of cool things I’ll be able to do because the tablet runs Android, and I’ll only figure those things out if I use the tablet enough to get past the awkward stage.

It’s a little odd intentionally being less efficient, but I think it will be worthwhile. A new platform, a new type of device… I have to try all sorts of things before I can really understand what’s awkward because I’m new and what’s awkward because the design is just not there. Eventually I’ll figure out how this compares with paper, phone, laptop, and other alternatives, and how I want to improve the mix.

In the meantime, more exploration!