April 2012

Practising faces

April 1, 2012 - Categories: drawing



Deliberate practice is an important part of learning how to draw. I’ve been taking advantage of the ease of tracing on my computer to learn how to draw faces. I started by redrawing some of the cartoon faces I found on the Net, but I found it to be much more fun to take pictures of my husband and draw them instead. I worked on drawing me, too.

Tracing isn’t the same as drawing from scratch, but it might be a good start. If I trace and retrace pictures like this, gradually lightning the opacity of the reference layer and using fewer and fewer starting points (for example: just sketching in the eyes, nose, and ears), I’ll gradually get the hang of the spatial relationships. Eventually, I’ll be able to draw faster, better, and more confidently.

Visual metaphors: Argument

April 2, 2012 - Categories: drawing


(Click on the image to view a larger version.)

Different ways to visualize argument:

  • War: conflict, opposition, fight, demolishing a flimsy argument, score, scoring points, targeting the weak link, poking holes
  • Logic: building an argument, issue-based information systems, sound/unsound logic, follows/does not follow
  • Cooperation: Co-adventurers searching for a creative solution, on the same side, trading, shared journey
  • See also: Balance

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other ways to visually describe “argument”, or tell me about other terms you’d like to see!

Visual book review: Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion

April 3, 2012 - Categories: book, communication, visual, visual-book-notes


Jay Heinrichs’ Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion is one of my favourite books. You know how we walk around thinking that rhetoric is evil and arguments are to be avoided? He shows how knowing about persuasive techniques – and using them well – can make life better, and how kids who know how to argue correctly are adorable. Well, he doesn’t explicitly make that last point, but it’s entertaining seeing him get bested by his 5-year-old daughter.

Read this book so that you can get better at detecting and dealing with invisible arguments that surround you. Learn how to combine the elements of ethos, logos, and pathos to argue persuasively. Don’t get stuck in blame games or stereotyping fights; stay focused on the future and help people move forward. Use wordplay to be wittier.

The book is packed with tips, and well worth keeping on your reference shelf. I liked it so much that I bought a paperback copy and a Kindle e-book (which was more expensive than the paperback, pff!)

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion
Jay Heinrichs
2007: Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 978-0307341440

For more detailed notes, see my 2010 review of Thank You for Arguing.

See other visual book notes!

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

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion
Jay Heinrichs 2007

We are surrounded by
FIGHTS (Goal: Win)
Learn the difference between
ARGUMENT (Goal: change mind)

Types of argument (can combine!)
Ethos (character, who you are)
Show that you are similar & have shared values
Use strategic reluctance (“I normally hate speaking, but…”)

a b c
Logos (logic, reasoning)
Make your option the reasonable middle
Control the definitions of terms

Pathos (Emotions)
You can guide people’s emotions by overreacting on their behalf.
“That must have been awful!”

Use the right tense:
“You did it!”
“Did not”
“Did too!”
“You always…”
“You never…”
Moving forward
“Next time, can we…”

The book has many tips on how to detect and deal with persuasion.

…and tips for being witty, too!

Notes: SachaChua.com
@sachac 2012


Unstructured time update, now that I have my own business

April 4, 2012 - Categories: life, planning, reflection, time

I like making lists of things I can do to make the most of chunks of time. Lists make it easier for me to answer the question: “What do I want to do now?” That’s because it’s easier to pick something from a list than to come up with an idea from scratch. I’m still open to spontaneity, but I’m never at a loss for things to do, and I can match my discretionary activities more closely to my preferences and priorities. By starting with a long view and zooming all the way in to things I can do in a few minutes, I can align these snippets of time with my long-term goals.

I posted one such list three years ago, and periodically post updated lists as my circumstances change. Now that I have my own business and I’m focusing on other interests, how would I like to spend my unstructured, discretionary time? What do I care about and want to develop long-term, and how can I translate that into on-the-ground actions?

This list is long, so I’ll keep it out of the excerpt. If you don’t see the list, click on the link to read more.


Back to biking

April 5, 2012 - Categories: life

Yay spring! The weather has been clear and sunny. I decided not to buy a Metropass this month. Instead, I’m biking to work and to wherever else I want to go.

The commute to work is wonderful. It’s mostly downhill through High Park, then eastward on the Martin Goodman trail along the lake. It’s mostly car-free, just a short segment near the downtown core where I have to worry about car doors and people turning.

The bike commute takes me 45-60 minutes at a leisurely pace, around the same time as the subway – maybe even faster. I like biking much more than squeezing my way into the crowded subway cars (still pretty spacious, I think, remembering Tokyo).

It’s a quiet, alone sort of time. When I’m on the trail, I can let my thoughts wander. Not too far – I still have to watch out for other people and the occasional goose – but enough to let go.

So I write and read a little less than I used to, but I get to exercise more. Yesterday, I biked for 45 minutes going to work and an hour coming back. Then I accompanied my husband to buy something near Bathurst and St. Clair, which was another 35 minutes each way. Almost three hours of biking, and I felt great.

Biking is definitely going to be part of my experimental life. I can pack my laptop, the new battery slice I ordered, and a sandwich, and wander around town. Hmm, the possibilities…

Weekly review: Week ending April 6, 2012

April 7, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Lots of biking this week! The weather’s warming up, so I’ve been biking to work. Yay!

From last week’s plans

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

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: Project E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Earn: Follow up on Engagio illustration
    • [ ] Earn: Help David learn more about Emacs and Org Mode
    • [ ] Connect: Meet up with business mentors
    • [ ] Connect: Attend Quantified Self meetup
    • [ ] Connect: Give talk at the Toronto Reference Library on “The Shy Entrepreneur” (April 10, 6pm)
    • [ ] Build: Learn more about Adobe Illustrator
    • [ ] Build: Practise drawing faces
    • [ ] Build: Propose a talk for http://emacsconf.herokuapp.com/
  • Relationships
    • [ ] Host cherry-blossom walk
    • [ ] Plan aanother cherry-blossom walk
  • Life
    • [ ] Gardening: Plant more seeds

Getting ready for my “The Shy Entrepreneur” talk at the Toronto Reference Library tomorrow (Apr 10 Tue, 6 PM)

April 9, 2012 - Categories: business, entrepreneurship, presentation, sketchnotes

Here are my notes (click on the image for a larger version):

shy entrepreneur

I’ll tell stories along the way. =) Looking forward to it! (I may even remember to record it if I don’t get too flustered…)

Decision review: Got the Lenovo battery slice for my X220 tablet

April 12, 2012 - Categories: decision, geek, laptop

I’ve been thinking about getting an Android tablet so that I can draw more at conferences and around town. My laptop’s fantastic for drawing and writing, but it doesn’t have the battery life to get me through a day of conference sessions.

Before taking the plunge, though, I considered the different options. If the main thing I want is the assurance that I’ll be able to draw and write for a full day, there are a few ways to do that:

  • Learn how to draw on paper. This is somewhat scary, but it’s useful, so I’ve bought myself another sketchbook for mindmaps, sketchnotes, and other sketches. I filled the last one over two years or so, and maybe I’ll fill this one faster!
  • Get another battery for my Lenovo X220 tablet, and swap out batteries when needed.
  • Get the extended battery slice for my X220 and enjoy way more battery life for some extra weight.

I decided to get the extended battery slice. More precisely, my business decided to get it, because I’m using it for sketchnotes, illustration (I do that professionally now, too!), writing, business correspondence, client meetings, and so on.

The battery slice is a large, flat battery that attaches to the bottom of the laptop. It extends my battery life by quite a bit, and is hot-pluggable so that I don’t have to interrupt my work. I haven’t tested its limits yet, but this power icon is pretty neat to see:


With this, I think I’ll be able to spend more time in libraries, cafes, parks, or conferences. Might be fun. =)

Learning how to say no

April 13, 2012 - Categories: business, learning

The most fascinating thing I’m learning about business these days is the art and discipline of saying no. Many people aren’t comfortable with saying no. I’m practising how to say no – how to set clear boundaries and negotiate within them. There are a few things I say yes to: time with family, doing good work on my enterprise social software consulting engagement, learning new skills and ideas. I’m experimenting with saying no by default to all these other requests which don’t strike a chord within me.

It’s a good time to learn how to say no well, and when to say it. I have a main engagement that I want to be 100% awesome on, the savings to avoid desperation, and the terrific Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreements (BATNAs) of learning and discovery. It’s okay to turn things down, because I know I’ll use the time well. This is as good a time as any to become comfortable with choosing.

This is something I didn’t get to practise much as an employee, because there was often someone to whom I could defer decisions. Scope? I knew the project manager would keep me honest. Requests from different departments? I ran things by my manager to find out how to prioritize, and sometimes asked him to play the bad cop.

Now I’m in charge of my time. When I say no, it’s me saying no, not some process or some externally-set priority.

I don’t often say no directly, of course. There are many ways to negotiate something without saying no and without setting up a win-lose situation. I like thinking of it as being firm and professional, without being confrontational. It’s not rejection for the sake of rejection; more like nudging people towards others for whom they would be a better fit, more like figuring out how I really want to spend my time and focusing on that.

I like this. The process of saying no is the process of clarifying understandings and helping people find better fits. When I’m super-good at saying no, I’ll have a collection of templates that I can easily customize (I regret that I will not be able to speak at your conference because I limit my travel, etc.), and somehow people will end up happier than when they asked. That might be a tough one, but I can work on saying no thoughtfully.

Yes-to-everything is another approach much encouraged by blogs, books, and the occasional movie, but looking at that plays out in other people’s lives… I think it would drive me crazy. I wouldn’t be happy saying yes for the sake of saying yes, particularly as many of the things I want in my life are different from what other people want. I’m happy doing a few things well, building new strengths on old ones, experimenting with small steps and new directions (but not too many). This feels right.

My dad is probably the yes-est person I know. He’s amazing at making things happen. People get caught up in his ideas. He inspires yeses, and he says yes to life with way more intensity than I do. (People who tell me I’m energetic have never met my dad. ;) ) Even then, I’m sure he says no to some things – or does so by suggesting even better versions of the request, things that are more in line with what gives him energy.

Something to think about. What really is my default? It’s not actually no either, is it? I think it’s more along the lines of “Let’s find out, let’s find something that works for both of us, even if that means other people taking advantage of the opportunity”. Hmm…

Weekly review: Week ending April 13, 2012

April 14, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

From last week’s plans…

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: Project E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [X] Earn: Follow up on Engagio illustration
    • [X] Earn: Help David learn more about Emacs and Org Mode
    • [-] Connect: Meet up with business mentors
    • [-] Connect: Attend Quantified Self meetup – actually next week
    • [X] Connect: Give talk at the Toronto Reference Library on “The Shy Entrepreneur” (April 10, 6pm)
    • [-] Build: Learn more about Adobe Illustrator
    • [X] Build: Practise drawing faces
    • [X] Build: Propose a talk for http://emacsconf.herokuapp.com/
  • Relationships
    • [X] Host cherry-blossom walk
    • [X] Plan another cherry-blossom walk
  • Life
    • [X] Gardening: Plant more seeds

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1: Tue-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Connect: Meet business mentors
    • [ ] Connect: Quantified Self meetup
    • [ ] Build: Practise more with ArtRage Studio Pro
    • [ ] Build: Go through a tutorial for Adobe Illustrator
    • [ ] Build: Draw more visual metaphors
  • Relationships
    • [X] Have cherry-blossom picnic
    • [ ] Watch movies with W-
  • Life
    • [ ] Catch up on reading! =)

On why I don’t want to work on a tech startup (yet)

April 15, 2012 - Categories: business, entrepreneurship, sketches

A friend of mine asked me if I’d considered creating a tech startup or advising one. The subject came up again when I was talking to another entrepreneur. With more and more tech startups hitting the news, it seems like the idea’s on everyone’s minds.

After reflecting on it during a few bike rides to and from work, I have a clearer understanding of what I want from these business experiments. A tech startup isn’t for me, at least not for the next few years.


I think of it as minimizing risk by learning only small chunks at the time. Working as an employee was like learning how to ride a tricycle. The company gave me a stable platform so that I could build skills, confidence, experience, and capital. I experimented with intrapreneurship and found that it worked well for me.

When I had reached my savings goals and picked a good time to leave, I started my own business. Two months in, I’m discovering that the path I took is just like graduating from a tricycle to a bicycle with training wheels. By taking advantage of well-established business models, markets, and concepts, I can focus on learning how to run my own business without simultaneously trying to create something new and tremendously risky.

Going from the employee world to the startup world would have been much more of a stretch. I think of startups like riding on a mountain bike down a rocky hill where you’re not quite certain the trail will get you all the way down or whether that promising fork up ahead actually ends up going over a cliff. Actually, it’s like riding a in a pack of mountain bikes where other people might make it easier to spot cool opportunities (ooh! look! waterfall over there!) but they could also crash into you and send you all tumbling down the hill. Too many things to learn at the same time, I think.

Startups might be something I eventually grow into. I want to be more confident in my ability to handle paperwork, manage cashflow, hire and manage other people (or coordinate with contractors, or delegate in some other way), and negotiate with clients and suppliers before I take on trickier challenges. For example, it’s easier to practise negotiating with clients than with partners. You can fire a client, but there are much bigger consequences if you have problems with your business partners. By learning all these business skills with the training wheels of well-tested business, I can get ready for riskier projects and ventures.

Sure, it would’ve been pretty cool to hang out at all these meetups and tell people about my new venture (making sure to use phrases like “minimum viable product” and “pivot”), but it’s okay to learn about business in this somewhat less glamorous but more step-by-step way.

Besides, most tech startups brag about their horrible work-life balance lifestyles. I think that’s partly the self-fulfilling image we have of what it’s like to be in a startup, and partly because people have to scramble so much to learn all these different things at the same time. I don’t mind growing a little more slowly if it means still being happily married. =)

So that’s why even if I’ve got web development skills, contacts, and business/design interests, I’m not working on a tech startup. Small steps first, and that’s all right.

Getting the hang of making time for business development

April 16, 2012 - Categories: business, entrepreneurship

This week, I’m taking Monday afternoon off, and all day Friday. The client wins because we can spread the hours over more time, and I win because I can invest in building more capabilities. In the future, I may limit myself to working at most 32 hours a week on any particular engagement, and maybe even dropping down to 24 hours a week if the rhythm works out well.

It’s easy to fall into the more familiar patterns of a 40-hour work-week – maybe even up to 44 hours if I invest the extra four hours in the client relationship by working for free. But it’s also valuable to spend time thinking about business, and it’s good to keep myself honest about what fits into the time that I have for work.

I think I’m going to love having the ability to manage my time like this. I schedule my breaks around the clients’ needs, of course, but my time isn’t constrained by vacation policies. As I get better at managing the schedule and as I build more flexible streams of income, I’ll have even more control of and responsibility for my time.

These chunks of time are challenging because they’re self-directed. No one tells me what to do or what to focus on. It’s easy to spend time reacting to people’s requests, but the real value comes from choosing what’s important to work on and making it happen.

What are some of the things I could work on?

  • I can learn new skills or improve the ones I have. I’m particularly interested in drawing, writing, and designing.
  • I can work on building QuantifiedAwesome’s possibilities by reaching out to people, offering help, and improving the system.
  • I can read books, share my notes, and draw more visual summaries.
  • I can follow up on leads or flesh ideas out into opportunities.
  • I can meet people and help others out.
  • I can brainstorm and plan.

There’s a lot I can do, and it’s well worth making the time to do so.

Optimizing for weather and other thoughts about self-employed time

April 16, 2012 - Categories: business, life, time, toronto

Over a leisurely mentoring lunch, @height8 shared this interesting self-employment tip with me: optimize your schedule for weather. Warm and sunny weather is relatively rare in Toronto, so try to arrange your time to make the most of it. Depending on the kind of work you do, you can work in the evenings or during winter.

It makes sense to me. Although W- and I have set up a small office in the basement for me, I’m much happier working in a sunlit space, with the occasional break of a bike ride or a walk around the block.

I’m writing this blog post while sitting in the airy Bloor-Gladstone building. Earlier, I’d flipped through some of the children’s books for inspiration. Across the street, my bright blue bicycle is locked to a post, red-and-white panniers easy to pick out against the grays of the sidewalk and the brown brick of the Tim Hortons cafe. In a short while, I’ll bike to the supermarket to pick up ground beef and other burrito ingredients, sit down to a quick supper with W- and J-, then head out on my bicycle again to a tech get-together.

I have these days penciled in for business development, but that’s probably closer to self-development than specific business opportunities. I’m not talking to potential clients so that I can line up the next contract. I’m talking to mentors so that I can make sense of what I’m learning from business. I’m teaching myself new tools so that I can imagine and explore more ideas. I’m writing reflections so that I can take notes along the way and make it easier for other people who are trying things out. I go where my interests take me.

On some days, I don’t feel particularly productive. I’m not checking things off my list at a rapid rate, although I do manage to get one or two important tasks done. Well, that’s not quite true. I do feel somewhat productive, even when I’m trying to write my way around a thought like this in order to understand it. This is work; not client work, but life-work. This general feeling of openness in my day – that’s intriguing, potentially useful. It’s qualitatively different from vacations or staycations or weekends, and there are things that I can learn from it that I might never have learned in decades following the well-established paths.

It reminds me of what that other speaker was talking about. You don’t get that external validation of progress. You don’t get that gold star, that performance review, that thumbs-up from a manager or a client. I’m oddly okay with that. Maybe it’s because writing has gotten me used to asking myself questions and figuring out my own plans.

So, weather optimization, following interests. For me, I think that means going on bike rides or walks, and trying out different places to think and work. I already know that I work well at home and at the client’s office downtown. Does sitting in a library encourage me to think different things? There’s that cliché about writers and cafés, but maybe the ambient social atmosphere might be interesting. I haven’t done a lot of people-watching, but maybe with a sketchbook in hand, I’ll find inspiration for practice. What about just getting on a bicycle and cycling around, no particular destination in mind? (Okay, maybe some destination, and GPS. I still have to work on being more comfortable with spontaneity. ;) )

This is a different sort of life, and I’m curious about where it goes.

Sketches: People-watching at High Park

April 17, 2012 - Categories: sketches


I’m teaching myself how to draw by cheating. For example, while waiting for friends to come join me in seeing the cherry blossoms at High Park, I took pictures. I traced the parts I liked.

I like the way drawing makes photography more fun. Instead of trying to position myself to get a good picture without any distracting elements – or at least to minimize photo-editing – I can take reference pictures of just about any situation. The pictures will come in handy when I need to draw a bicycle, a stroller, kids, whatever.

It’s fun. It may not be as awesome as drawing things from scratch, but I can get the hang of that eventually.

I drew this sketch with ArtRage Studio Pro on my Lenovo X220 tablet. I like the way the paper grain interacts with the pencil tool so that my sketch lines are inexact.

Thinking about the time/money swap

April 18, 2012 - Categories: business, decision, life, time

I thought that once I went into business for myself, I’d do the same kinds of money vs time vs enjoyment calculations that other people have done, and I’d probably end up making similar decisions such as signing up for a housekeeping service, eating out more often, or having either meals or groceries delivered.

It turns out that even though I know that:

  • my time is worth $X-Y/hour
  • my earnings are flexible (I can work more hours and earn more money)
  • it’s possible to hire people to do some of the things I do for much less than X an hour

… I’m still pretty comfortable with doing many things myself. I think it’s because I enjoy those chores more than other people do.

For example, W- and I spent the Good Friday holiday doing our spring-cleaning. I moved my warm-weather clothes into my drawers and chose a few for donation. W- and I emptied the fridge and scrubbed the shelves. He made the glass doors all sparkly-clean.

Cleaning was social bonding time. We chatted, laughed, planned. It’s cheaper than therapy. I suppose we could hire someone to do it, but we would want to spend time together anyway, so it made sense to spend that time doing something useful.

Chores become fun when we do them together. Same with cooking. During our cooking sprints, the two of us chop and laugh and stir and joke. Picking up groceries is a good excuse to go for a walk together.

Because I get a lot of intangible value from doing these activities with W-, I’m not particularly drawn to the idea of outsourcing them so that I could spend more time on the business. I like the break from work, the space to breathe and play around with different ideas. I like the time we spend building relationships.

So yeah, it didn’t turn out to be a straight “I can earn $X/hour so I should outsource anything I can have done for much less than that amount” sort of decision. I’m happy to outsource accounting at least for this first year, and probably for later years as well – it can be complex, and I’m buying peace of mind as well as time. I’m investing more in tools that I like and webapps that I use. But I’m still looking for areas where I can practise delegation and management skills, and I haven’t quite found a good fit yet. No worries – maybe someday!

Visual metaphors: Change

April 19, 2012 - Categories: Uncategorized

visual metaphors

Click on the image for a larger version.

Change is a journey. Sometimes you have a map, or a guide, or signposts, but usually just a long and winding road (if that), with the occasional fork or crossroad.

Change is like scaling a cliff or climbing the stairs.

You can have fun with the idea, too.

Change is also transformation, growth, decline.

You can pun about change.

Graphs are handy, too.

Spirals show iteration… Change can sometimes be like taking three steps forward and two steps back. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!

Waking up with barcodes

April 20, 2012 - Categories: android, geek, life

I’d been looking for a wake-up alarm that was good at getting me up and out of bed. It turned out that I can solve a sequence of two-digit addition problems while half-asleep, so my previous alarm clock app still tempted me to snooze.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been trying a different alarm clock app. Morning Routine requires you to scan a barcode or a series of barcodes in order to turn off the alarm. After reading a Lifehacker post that mentioned it, I downloaded the app and set it up on my phone. I configured Morning Routine to require the barcode of a tub of cream cheese from the fridge. It turns out that the process of stumbling out of bed, stepping around the cats in the hallway, and opening the fridge is enough to wake me up and get me to start making breakfast.

The app doesn’t have a snooze button, so I can either wake up properly or shut down my phone. So far, I’ve been good at not shutting down my phone.

The developer’s blog post describes an even more fleshed out routine that involves barcodes in several rooms, with timers to get through the process. My morning wake-up-and-get-out-the-door routine typically takes an hour, but it might be interesting to set timers for the different components, or do a low-level time study of it. Hmmm.

Morning Routine is an Android app, and it’s currently available for free. Check it out in the Google Play store!

Weekly review: Week ending April 20, 2012

April 21, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Finally, a chance to sit down! I spent 11 AM to 5 PM today cooking and baking: home-made pizza (dough and all!), two batches of bagels, coconut buns, and sixteen portions of beef bulgogi lunches for the coming weeks. Tired but happy. Life is good.

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1: Tue-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [X] Connect: Meet business mentors (PL and JV)
    • [X] Connect: Quantified Self meetup
    • [X] Build: Practise more with Artrage Studio Pro
    • [X] Build: Go through a tutorial for Adobe Illustrator
    • [X] Build: Draw more visual metaphors
    • Earn: Deposited cheques
    • Connect: Re-enabled email notifications for project O
    • Build: Practised tracing pictures
    • Build: Sent corrected paperwork
    • Build: Analyzed finances, planned ahead
  • Relationships
    • [X] Have cherry-blossom picnic
    • [X] Watch movies with W-
    • Helped with math study group
    • Accompanied J- on cherry-blossom picnic with her friends
  • Life
    • [X] Catch up on reading! =)
    • Filed personal taxes
    • Wrote blogging backlog
    • Tried working from library: fun!
    • Studied Latin

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1: Tue-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Connect: E1: Get-together on Monday
    • [ ] Connect: Quantified Self meeting with journalist on Monday
    • [ ] Connect: Catch up on post-meeting notes
    • [ ] Build: Draw more visual metaphors
  • Relationships
    • [X] Bake pizza, bagels, and buns for W- and J-
    • [ ] Take care of chores
  • Life
    • [ ] Latin: Finish chapter 3 exercises in Latin Made Simple
    • [ ] Gardening: Plant more bitter melon seeds (maybe in the greenhouse?)

Monthly review: March 2012

April 22, 2012 - Categories: monthly

By golly, I’ve been remiss with monthly reviews. None since November – can that be right? Back to writing these!

March was my first full month as a business owner. Consulting is solid and good. I’ve also started doing illustration.

I like this. There are tons of things to learn, and it’s good.

I’m already most of the ways through April. I plan to bike to work all throughout the month, if I can help it. So far, so good! I want to spend April experimenting with more ideas. I like drawing, and I’m getting the hang of the tools I’ve added to my kit.




Weekly reviews:

Learning how to manage time

April 23, 2012 - Categories: business, life, planning, time

One of the things I really like about this business experiment is my new time flexibility. I work on a consulting engagement for three to four days a week. I spend the rest of the time on other things: meeting people, learning stuff, practising skills.

I’m still getting the hang of managing that time. It’s been a while since I’ve had large chunks of solo discretionary time to work with. It’s so different from weekend time. During weekends, we usually spend one day handling all the chores and getting the house sorted out, and the other day relaxing and hanging out with each other or with family and friends. These weekdays are different

The weeks will be even more different when I wrap up with this consulting engagement. I’ll probably refer consulting or freelancing gigs to other people for the next little while. I think that by August, I’ll be ready to make the most of full weeks, and I’ll have some ideas to focus on building.

It’s almost as if I’d set things up so that I can learn gradually, although I don’t think I could’ve engineered having such great clients right out of the gate. Instead of going from full-time employment to full-time experimentation, this transition period helps me learn how to manage my time and energy when there’s no one calling the shots but me. The consulting engagement gives me some structure, regular interaction, and a clear task list, and my discretionary days let me practise moving towards my own goals.

Looking at it on a day-by-day basis works well, but not amazingly. I feel energized and engaged throughout the day. When I make my decisions day by day, though, I find that some things keep drifting to the the bottom of my list. Between the habits I’m working on building (ex: study Latin for at least half an hour, draw for at least an hour) and the appointments I make, I sometimes don’t shift into the mood to work on some things, such as responding to mail or working on book summaries. It’s a little more embarrassing because I know time isn’t the limiting factor. It’s more about interest and energy.

If I plan my day more, I can probably shift into the right mindset easily. For example, I might make a short list of current projects using Org Mode, the Emacs-based organizer that I use. I can set aside small chunks of time to make steady progress on the kinds of projects that benefit from that, such as languages. For projects that benefit from larger chunks, I might dedicate a 4-hour slot for concentrated work, and choose different projects to work on each time. Planning will also help me make progress and track it even if I’m working with small steps, such as with habits.

Here are the current projects I’m working on, how far I want to take them, and why:

Ongoing habits:

  • Write: If I don’t take notes, I can’t review them. Writing helps me understand, remember, and revisit ideas. Time commitment: At least 30 minutes a day. Chunks of 1-3 hours, the occasional quick note.
  • Practise drawing: I want to communicate more effectively. Drawing is both fun and useful. This also includes learning how to use different tools. Time commitment: at least 30min each day, often chunks of 1-2 hours.
  • Finish the exercises in this beginner’s Latin textbook: I want to learn Latin because it hacks my brain. Besides, schoolboys before managed to do it, so why shouldn’t I? Time commitment: 30min each day
  • Garden: Water and weed the garden as needed; plant new seeds occasionally. Time commitment: 15 minutes a day
  • Cook: Prepare bulk meals. Time commitment: 3-4 hour sprint.

Special projects:

  • Quantified Awesome: Make this even better so that I use it to track and analyze more data.
  • Miscellaneous work: Supporting a Rails site, etc.

Visual metaphors: Trust

April 24, 2012 - Categories: visual


Click on the image for a larger version.

We show trust by shaking hands, and by looking people in the eyes. Open body language: “Trust me.” Closed: “I don’t trust you.” Blindfold exercises are popular at team-building sessions. Blind trust is dangerous, though. You could get stabbed in the back.

We don’t trust rickety things. We trust solid ones. We used to trust institutions. Now, maybe not so much. Some are more trustworthy than others. No one trusts a used-car salesman… But for some reason, we trust celebrity endorsements, suits, anything printed, charts, and precise numbers (even wrong ones).

We don’t trust poisonous things, or cats around cheeseburgers. We trust puppy-dog eyes and babies.

Contracts are usually a good idea, because you should trust but verify.

Trust is like launching yourself into the air, hoping that your partner will catch you… but you’d better have a safety net too. A good one.

Trust is like a crystal vase that’s hard to fix when it’s broken, like a bone that heals but will never be the same.

This is part of my Visual Metaphors series. Like it? Suggest other terms you’d like to see!

Why I’m temporarily unhireable

April 25, 2012 - Categories: business, planning

The consulting work I’m doing now is a wonderful fit for who I am at this moment. In the past two months, I’ve been able to do a lot. They’d like to keep me, and I can see how I could make a good difference here. But I didn’t leave one wonderful job just to start another wonderful job, did I?

My primary reason for experimenting with entrepreneurship is to build something more flexible and more scalable than employment. By flexibility, I mean that it should be able to accommodate the unpredictable schedules and irregular demands of raising young children if W- and I have more kids. By scalability, I don’t mean the mind-boggling aspirations of venture-backed startups. I mean the ability to create more value with less time, and possibly by involving other people.

My secondary reason for experimenting is to learn what I can learn so that I can share those lessons with as many as people as possible. Thanks to frugality and other factors, I enjoy the privilege of being able to learn about entrepreneurship without immediate financial pressure. Thanks to a great network, I can learn from people’s experiences instead of struggling in isolation. Thanks to a keen interest in both technology and business, I can try things out instead of waiting for the missing piece. With all these advantages, maybe I can make things easier for other people.

With these reasons in mind, it becomes easier to say no, even though I also really want to say yes. Full-time work doing what I’m doing now? It would probably be awesome, but it doesn’t follow my reasons, so I’d prefer to help people learn how to do what I do. If I could be in more than one place, I would be in so many. Since I can be in only one place at a time, I’ll focus on training people, and I’ll work on the questions that I most want to ask.

Garden update

April 26, 2012 - Categories: gardening

Hooray for perennials! Even when my newly-planted seeds are growing unencouragingly slowly, at least I can look at the perennials and enjoy their returns. The strawberries are green and leafy. The sage, oregano, and thyme are ready to use in cooking. The blueberry bushes in the front have grown their leaves back, too, and the lavender plants are getting bushier.

Of the seeds I planted, the peas are doing the best. They’re almost at the point of reaching the twine that I’ve rigged up for support. I’d say that the lettuce and carrot seedlings were inching along, but they haven’t reached an inch of height yet. They’re centimetring along, that’s what.

Next year, I think I’ll plant more tulips and daffodils. They look pretty in other people’s gardens, and I like the cheerful colours. With the community-supported agriculture program, I don’t have to try to grow as many vegetables, so I’m fine with turning over some of the garden space to decorative plants.

Learning about business finances

April 27, 2012 - Categories: business, finance

I’ve been in business for a little more than two months, which is a blink of an eye in the business world. It’s encouraging to see my bank account balance creep up slowly. I move the HST and an additional 30% for taxes to a separate account so that I’m not at all tempted to touch it.

I’ve made a few purchases here and there, things to help me work more happily and effectively:

  • an extended battery for my laptop so that I can use it all day without looking for a power outlet
  • the Artrage Studio Pro drawing program
  • a few books to read and review

Those decisions have worked out well. I’m still flipflopping on the idea of getting a tablet, so I’ll postpone it until I meet some more of my other savings targets. Although I’m earning a decent income now, I plan to work on riskier, self-directed projects in a number of months. A good savings cushion will help reduce stress then, so I don’t want to get used to a level of expenses that match my current income.

I’ll try managing my business finances like the way I manage my personal finances. Because I’m still building up my business’ emergency fund, most of the income will go towards that. Some of the income will go towards an opportunity fund and other things, though, because it’s good to train myself to experiment within the context of the business.

What about long-term savings? I haven’t been adding to my investments because I’m not sure if I’ll need the money in the short term. Besides, I suspect I might be better off investing the money in developing my capabilities. Would I have a higher return on investment than the stock market, which has been up and down and sideways over the past few years? Maybe. I can probably hedge my bets by going half and half. I can’t time the market, but I can keep regularly investing in it and things will probably work out.

Many people struggle with managing irregular cashflow. If I fight lifestyle inflation and err on the side of caution, I think things will be all right. I’ll only be able to test this once I move into that pattern of work. In the meantime, I can get ready for it. Here we go!

Weekly review: Week ending April 27, 2012

April 28, 2012 - Categories: review, weekly

Two social events last Monday, and I was pretty much wiped out afterwards. I took it easy afterwards, and the rest of the week eventually brought me back to a good balance. =)

From last week’s plans

  • Business
    • [X] Earn: E1: Tue-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [X] Connect: E1: Get-together on Monday
    • [X] Connect: Quantified Self meeting with journalist on Monday
    • [X] Connect: Catch up on post-meeting notes
    • [-] Build: Draw more visual metaphors
  • Relationships
    • [X] Bake pizza, bagels, and buns for W- and J-
    • [X] Take care of chores
    • Helped with math study group; the kids really need help reviewing
    • Watched La Strada and Winter’s Bone with W-
  • Life
    • [X] Latin: Finish chapter 3 exercises in Latin Made Simple
    • [-] Gardening: Plant more bitter melon seeds (maybe in the greenhouse?) – still getting frost!
    • Learned more about Emacs Org and the agenda mode, yay!
    • Brought my ledger up to date

Plans for next week

  • Business
    • [ ] Earn: E1: Mon-Thu (training, prototyping)
    • [ ] Connect: Attend open source meetup
    • [ ] Build: Draw a visual metaphor
  • Relationships
    • [X] Spend time walking around with W-
    • [ ] Hang out with J-‘s friends’ parents
    • [ ] Get together for the Avengers
    • Helped look around for a scooter
  • Life
    • [ ] Get halfway through chapter 4 of Latin Made Simple

From maker time to learner time

April 29, 2012 - Categories: business, learning, life, planning, time

It turns out that when I have more control over my schedule, I don’t fill it with development. I haven’t been working on open source or personal projects, much less client websites or applications. This is a surprise to my 2010 self, who figured she would spend the whole day coding if she could.

I spend most of my discretionary time learning instead: drawing, writing, Latin, business, life. Maybe it’s because I’m in the fledgling stage of business and there’s so much to learn. Maybe it’s because 3-4 days of consulting a week takes up a large chunk of brainspace. Maybe it’s because development won’t get me where I want to go in this short-term search for a business that can survive unpredictable schedules and the primary care of young children.

Learning time. Yeah, that seems like the focus that fits me. If I imagine days and weeks stretching ahead of me – maybe in half a year, after this consulting engagement – I can easily see myself spending time exploring ideas and sharing my notes. I’d want to plumb this, deepen my understanding of this, before I focus on something like development.

Self-structured learning time is intimidating, but I want to see if I can get past the initial anxieties and figure out things that work. Writers have been able to do so for millennia. Things will be okay.

I’ll still build things, of course. Code is a powerful way to crystallize learning and make it easier for people to do better. It also helps me ask questions that would be hard to answer manually.

Okay. I give myself permission to focus on learning after this. I know I’ll probably feel that itch to do something that creates immediate or measurable value for people. That’s okay. I might feel insecure at some point. That’s normal. But there’s so much I want to learn, and I think I’ll be able to stay motivated even without outside drivers. Worth trying it out and sticking with it through at least the initial bumps.

This will be fun!

(Thanks to Mel Chua for the nudge!)

Digital uncluttering: my backup and clean up plan

April 30, 2012 - Categories: geek, organization

I organized my files, weeded out blurry photos, and thought about how I want to improve my workflow for input, processing, and output.

Here’s what I want from my digital filing system:

Easy year-end backups: I’d like to be able to copy a folder onto a DVD and a separate drive, secure in the knowledge that if I really needed to get back to something, I could look it up.

Offline search: I want to be able to search the data even without the physical DVD or disk, so I don’t have to guess what year something happened or pop lots of DVDs into my drive.

Face tagging: I want to quickly retrieve all pictures with a specified combination of people. It would be awesome to get statistics off that, too.

Remove duplicates: I don’t want to wade through duplicate pictures when classifying my files, so I used VisiPics to find and delete images that were identical or of lower resolution.

Review by type: I want to review all of my presentations, drawings, blog posts, or 4×6-printable favourite photos regardless of their year. I want to be able to do this offline, too.

Search by topic: I want to find all of my resources related to a topic.

Map: I want to build a map what I know and what I want to learn. This map might contain hyperlinks to more details.

Quick visual review: I’d love to be able to quickly flip through or view slideshows of my visual book summaries, sketchnotes, and photo highlights. This is a good way to trigger memory. Maybe an “On this Day” reminder, too?

Hmm, planning…

Right now, I back up my data onto a drive weekly, and I use Dropbox for network backups too. I save my sketchnotes and summaries into a folder, and I keep small versions into another folder so that I can easily review them. I use Evernote so that I can search my hand-written notes and images. I use Picasa for images and face recognition, and Bibble 5 for tags. I don’t have offline search of backup DVDs yet, but I haven’t needed it. Besides, I can always search through my blog posts and notes.

Getting there…