May 2013

Learning how to deal with mild panic

May 1, 2013 - Categories: kaizen, reflection

Another mild panic attack in fitness class yesterday, jolts of worry and tears that I wiped away as sweat. I knew it was just my lizard brain in overdrive. I couldn’t stop it by reasoning it away as irrational. All I could do was breathe and keep on going, dampening my emotions by spacing out while going through the motions of the exercise. W- checked on me frequently, cheering me up from time to time, and I finished the class.

It’s not so bad, actually. It would be better to not have to deal with panic at all, but since it happens, it’s better that I know what it’s like in a safe(ish) controlled environment and I can start figuring out what to do about it. Part of the reason that I’m susceptible to panic attacks is probably because I’m using willpower instead of motivation to get through the fitness class, and that can get quickly sapped in a stressful environment with negative self-talk. I don’t intrinsically enjoy this form of exercise, although I like spending time with W-. Also, It turns out that I’m pretty good at imagining how something will hurt, like the time I freaked out over a leapfrogging exercise a month after I’d sprained my ankle, and that sends me into a whirl even as I’m reassuring myself that pain is both unlikely and temporary. The good thing is that I seem to get panic attacks only in fitness class these days, and not all the time either.

What would better look like? I’m good at knowing I’m having an unreasonable panic attack. Wouldn’t be interesting if I could label it and put it on a shelf for the time being, procrastinating the analysis for a quieter and more composed time? I’m good at plodding through the class anyway, even though I’m embarrassed at the thought of quietly sniffling in class. If I can let go of that embarrassment, I can use that energy for other things. I don’t get panic attacks all the time. I can get better at understanding the contributing and mitigating factors, and tweaking things to fit me (a mental soundtrack? a mantra or prepared objections to drown out negative self-talk?). Eventually finding another kind of exercise that suits me better will help in the long run so that I can build confidence along with strength, but I still have to hack stressful situations.

This, too, is part of life, and I can embrace it and make it mine.

Sketchnote: Solving Wicked Problems with Dialogue Mapping (Chris Chapman, Toronto Agile Support Group)

May 1, 2013 - Categories: sketchnotes

Click on the image for a larger version. Feel free to share this! (Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

20130501 Solving Wicked Problems with Dialogue Mapping - Chris Chapman

Keeping in touch

May 2, 2013 - Categories: Uncategorized

Come to think of it, I used to worry more about ways to keep in touch. I customized my address book so that it would keep track of the last time I e-mailed or met someone and so that I could see whom I hadn’t contacted in a while. Some people are easy to connect with because you interact with them frequently or bump into them a lot online, but there are lots of other interesting people who don’t – and so you’d need to reach out to them in order to find out what’s going on.

After I stopped being able to use Emacs for my mail, I tried out different personal contact relationship management systems like Contactually and Nimble to see if I could have that kind of contact tracking there. It was pretty interesting, and sometimes I used the prompts to focus on one or two people I hadn’t heard from in ages. I checked their Facebook page or Twitter to see what they’ve been up to and looked for excuses to help them or reach out to them. Sometimes that led to interesting conversations.

I often deleted the reminders, though, and I decided it wasn’t worth paying something like $20/month for that kind of a reminder service. I’m becoming more comfortable with the way people flow into and out of one’s life. There are some old friends I get to talk to once in a while, which is wonderful, but I’m in no rush to develop old acquaintances into friendships.

There are lots of awesome people out there, so I can go with the flow – to respond to people, and to reach out when something prompts me. I’ve gotten pretty good at being open and comfortable with people. I remember what it’s like to be around close friends, and I get as close as I can to that as I can even with new groups. I don’t have the same kind of everyday camaraderie I had in my old circles of friends, but that makes sense in this part of my life. (Although Hacklab feels like an instant barkada too, with the way they’re friends with each other. ^_^ Hmm…)

So instead of worrying about keeping in touch, I keep part of my budget for coffee, lunches, dinners, tea parties, and stamps, spend time with friends in leisurely conversation or shared activities, and read people’s blogs and Facebook updates. I’m a little sad that it means my circles tend to be tilted towards people who are active on the Internet or who are in the same city as I am, and I know there are wonderful people whom I’m missing. But life moves in mysterious ways, so let’s see!

Visual book review: Red Thread Thinking: Weaving Together Connections for Brilliant Ideas and Profitable Innovation (Debra Kaye with Karen Kelly)

May 3, 2013 - Categories: visual-book-notes

How can you bring together different ideas in order to innovate? Red Thread Thinking (2013) shares guidelines for coming up with new ideas and recombining old concepts for profitable innovation, with plenty of stories of real-life products and services. It also includes some chapters on how to package the innovation for greater appeal (including simplicity, engagement, and design thinking), and how to train your brain and your intuition in order to make better decisions. Whether you’re an idea person in a big company or a solo entrepreneur in a microbusiness, you’ll probably find good questions and examples to jog your creative thinking. If you’re tired of brainstorming sessions going nowhere or resulting in small, incremental improvements, try out what this book says about relaxing and generating ideas on your own before bringing them to a small group for expansion and refinement. (That said, incremental improvements can also be a good thing!)

After reading this book, I plan to experiment with the obscure feature method and the generic parts method. They might be great ways to sharpen my observational skills and see opportunities for everyday creativity.

You can click on the image below for a larger version.

20130501 Visual book review - Red Thread Thinking - Debra Kaye, Karen Kelly

Feel free to share this visual book review! (Creative Commons Attribution Licence)

Amazon affiliate link: I earn a tiny fraction if you buy something from Amazon’s site after clicking on the link, even if it has nothing to do with the book. =)

If you have a library near you, you can check it out there too. (I totally love the Toronto Public Library.)

Weekly review: Week ending May 3, 2013

May 4, 2013 - Categories: weekly

So much writing, yay! That felt wonderful. It was great to follow my curiosity and write about what i’m learning. Mmm, more of this next week…

Blog posts

Accomplished this week

Plans for next week

Time review

Thinking about movies

May 5, 2013 - Categories: decision, finance

It’s getting harder to spend on leisure, because I’m getting so much better at talking myself out of it. There are just so many other good alternatives.

For example: Iron Man 3 has started showing in Canada. I’ve skipped watching most movies in the theatres, but I do like superhero movies, and theatres are great for superhero movies because they make the movies larger than life. I like the outsized situations that the writers put the superheroes in and how they have to get them out. I like the way the movies push visual effects forward without taking themselves too seriously. So I’m going to watch it at some point. I just have to decide…

  • Do I watch it in the movie theatre as a social event, which probably means a weekend get-together with friends?
  • Do I watch it in the movie theatre off-peak, which probably means mid-day sometime during the week?
  • Do I wait for it to be available in the library, so that I can watch it with W- at home?
  • And you know, that library option is looking pretty darn tempting. The biggest downsides are a less immersive experience and a longer wait. I don’t need big sound or big images to get into a story (I can imagine things from books). Watching musicals from closer to the stage was much better in terms of being able to see facial expressions, so there’s something for that.

    It takes a while for movies to be released on DVD, and some more time for the library to obtain copies. The DVDs are available on a catch-as-catch-can basis at various branches, and then they’re available for general holds after a year. New items are released on the 15th of every month. W- and I check the new listings on the 15th or 16th, by which time there are sometimes hundreds of holds for popular movies. For example, The Avengers (2012) has 992 holds for 107 copies. Movies can be checked out or renewed a week at a time, and transit between branches takes another day or two. That means that requesting a popular movie like the Avengers would mean a wait of maybe a year and a half from when the movie was released, which is actually not that big a deal because we’ve got a ton of other things to watch. Besides, sometimes we luck out. In this particular case, the Annette Street branch is the home branch for one of the Avengers DVD copies, so we spotted it during our regular library walk and we checked it out even before it was available for general holds. =)

    Popular movies tend to be well-stocked, and I have three branches in easy reach: Annette, Runnymede, and Jane. The Hobbit was another movie that I decided to wait for as a library release, and writing this blog post reminded me that I should go look for it. It’s not available for general release yet, but one copy is due at Runnymede tomorrow and another is due at Annette on Monday. I might bump into it one of these days. If not, I can wait for it to become available for holds on October 15. (Hmm, time to set a reminder…)

    Besides, there’s so much else to do, and so many other movies, shows, books, and games out there. We can keep ourselves endlessly entertained if we want to with just the things we have. So it really comes down to the question: what do I want?

    So probably library, then, for this and most other movies. W- says, “That’s a lot of thinking about $26.” But it’s this gradual shaping of wants and desires that creates the space for even more possibilities later.

    The less I want, the more I can enjoy.

    Sketchnoting: Finding a balance of details and diagrams, and calibrating your writing to time

    May 6, 2013 - Categories: drawing

    Cheryl Lowry wrote about something many sketchnoters struggle with: running out of sketchnoting room during a talk. It got me thinking about the style I lean towards in my notes, and how I deal with too much or too little content.

    My sketchnoting style is more information-dense and more linear/column-based than many other sketchnote styles I’ve seen. You can compare my recent sketchnotes with the ones on Sketchnote Army or the Flickr Sketchnotes pool to get a sense of how they’re different. I take information-dense sketchnotes because I want to remember and I don’t trust my memory. If I want to create a summary later on, I can do that from my sketchnotes, but it’s difficult to go the other way around. I’ve learned not to trust that events will have video, that I’ll have the patience to sit through a recording, or that slides will make sense after a quick flip-through. My notes are all I can rely on if I want to make sure that the time I spend listening to a talk doesn’t just evaporate into forgetfulness. =) So even if my hand cramps a little after sketchnoting a full-day conference with few breaks (hooray for quick finger exercises and stretches), it’s worth it because I come away with much more and I can remember a lot.

    I paraphrase a lot because I want to make ideas more concise, particularly when it comes to Q&A sessions where people haven’t rehearsed what they want to say.

    I’ve thought about writing less and drawing more, but I’m actually pretty happy with where I am. Summarization comes afterwards, when I know what’s important to me. Most presentations do very little sign-posting of what they’re going to cover and how important each part is, and even the ones that do can sometimes go on interesting tangens. When I’m sketchnoting a presentation, I don’t want to prematurely lock into the structure or metaphor I think the speaker has (even if they say they’re going to talk about 7 things, for example). That takes me out of the moment and makes me second-guess myself when the speaker says something interesting that doesn’t fit into the pattern I want to draw. A column-based layout may feel less creative, but it frees me up to listen.

    I might go back and move things around a little during the gaps in the talk, but I generally don’t go back and reorganize everything. I want to publish things as quickly as possible. My target is to publish the sketchnotes within 10 minutes after the talk ends, and I usually do. It’s a great way to delight people over social media.

    I write simple letters on a plain white background. My images and text tend to be separated by whitespace so that I can move things around as needed. I draw uncomplicated figures. I generally use one or two accent colours and maybe a lighter shade for highlighting or depth. Again, I’m optimizing for speed and attention. I’ve thought about going back and revising some of my sketchnotes to be more visually engaging, but then there’s so much new material that would be interesting to draw instead. Besides, I don’t want to give people the impression that that kind of detail or layout is what they’ll get from me when live sketchnoting. I really like being done with a sketchnote shortly after a talk. This also means I don’t have to worry too much about following up and I don’t have to juggle multiple ongoing projects. I do occasionally revise sketches and help people turn them into proper illustrations for reuse, but that would definitely be a paid gig. =)

    I draw over a light dot grid, and that helps me fill a page at a more consistent rate. I know that if there’s an hour-long talk, I can draw letters at my normal size. If it’s a short non-interactive talk like an Ignite presentation or a TED talk, I might put several talks on one page, or I might increase the size and be a little looser with the layout. As I listen, I adjust my writing depending on the rate that people are speaking. If they speak slowly or they repeat themselves a lot, I’ll draw more images. If they speak quickly, I’ll try to capture as much as I can, and then go back and add highlights and some icons afterwards. Because I work digitally, I can remove the grid before publishing the image. (See How I set up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for sketchnoting)

    Working digitally makes it easy for me to compensate for different talk densities. If a speaker ended up saying less than I expected, I can rearrange the text and images around to look more balanced or I can crop the image at the appropriate point. If a speaker says more, it’s easy to add another layer and save a separate image. Autodesk Sketchbook Pro isn’t a vector program, so enlarging things doesn’t work particularly well, but I can move around or reduce parts of my image if I need to squeeze in some more information.

    Other sketchnoters have great tips, too. Some people write down just the first few letters of a word or phrase, and then go back and fill the rest when there’s time. The Bikablo books encourage you to practise drawing key icons the same way each time, so that you can quickly sketch the first couple of strokes to remind you of what to draw. The Sketchnote Handbook talks about using your audio memory to hold on to thoughts as you draw. These tips work for me, too, and I’m getting the hang of using them. Hope they work for you too!

    One of the interesting things about sketchnoting is that now I have a better sense of how much space there is in most presentations and conversations. It’s like seeing key words light up and thinking, “Oh, I want to capture that,” and also seeing the gaps where you can write or draw. You develop a sense of how much you can squeeze into each gap. If you find that you’re picking up more keywords than you have the time to capture, you can increase your thresholds for interestingness or reduce the complexity of your capture.

    You can develop this sense of timing by practising with talks of specific lengths. For example, if you go to a lot of 1-hour talks, you’ll get a sense of how much people typically cover in an hour. Every so often, it’s good to practise with something that’s really information-dense: a well-written nonfiction book, an intermediate- or advanced-level talk. Like the way you can improve your speed-reading performance by occasionally reading at a rate faster than you can comprehend, it’s good to scramble in sketchnoting from time to time.

    Hope that helps!

    Cheryl Lowry: “Drawing is easy. Thinking is hard.”

    Hacking my motivation for workouts

    May 7, 2013 - Categories: life

    There was a recent Lifehack.org post on tying something you love to workouts so that you feel more motivated. It’s useful to know how to hack your motivation. =) W- and I joke about this. After going to fitness class, we make sure there’s a little positive reinforcement. Sometimes we go out to eat. We cook most of our meals, so it’s a real treat for us to go to a restaurant. Sometimes we’ll prepare comfort food at home. Sometimes I’ll reward myself with time spent playing video games. It doesn’t do much for my motivation during the workout itself (I still feel like I suck!), but it’s good for getting me out the door and for cheering me up again afterwards. I try to skew my reward system towards free or low-cost things so that I don’t end up associating spending with pleasure: a pho date is wonderful, but so is watching a movie at home.

    There aren’t many things in my life that need this kind of extra motivation. Sometimes I need to use extra motivation in order to start giving a good presentation if I’m not feeling up to par, but it’s a scheduled commitment, so that helps me get going. Once I’m in the flow, crowd energy usually leaves me buzzing. Dealing with system administration issues and embarrassing mistakes is tough, but it is what it is, so I just have to knuckle down and do it. It’s just optional tough things that need this kind of external motivation-hacking, like exercising or shopping for clothes. (Yes, I’m weird.) There’s clearing my inbox, which I usually get around to doing once a week or so. Business mail gets faster replies, but I’m not super-responsive, and I think that’s actually okay with my priorities.

    I have six sessions left on my 10-session pass (which is my second), and I plan to go once a week with W-. (Maybe even twice, if I can work up to it – I used to before I sprained my ankle.) I wonder how much I can hack my motivation, and if I can get to the point of wanting to get another 10-session pass. In that time, I’m probably not going to be able to enjoy the feeling of keeping up properly with the rest of the class. I usually modifying all the exercises so that I can do them without getting so tired that I might injure myself. But I can increase my enjoyment of being able to check off one more session (maybe with a nice big visual reminder?), especially combined with biking to and from the gym. I can line up treats for myself (such as books or stretching), and then focus on tying the positive feelings back to the exercise. I can also look for other forms of exercise that I might enjoy. Maybe lifting small weights or hula-hooping while playing games? <laugh>

    Lifehack.org: How to Trick Yourself into Loving Your Workout

    Quantifying my habit of writing, and things I’ve learned along the way

    May 8, 2013 - Categories: blogging, quantified, writing

    Leo Babauta wrote about the power of writing daily, sharing what he’s learned from about five years of daily writing. It got me curious about how consistently I write.

    Since I schedule my blog posts, my blogging history doesn’t give me useful data. Fortunately, I can get that data from my time-tracking. Here’s a graph showing how much time I spent writing between January 2012 and April 2013, with the greenest areas for days of about 4 hours of writing. In total, I spent 346 hours writing, for an average of 0.7 hours per day or 5 hours a week. I wrote during 254 out of 486 days (58% of the days), or roughly every other day.

    My longest streak of non-writing was 8 days of not writing (September 2012, when I was on a trip with my family). My longest streak of continuous writing was 12 days of writing every day (June 2012).

    image

    imageI usually start writing between 7 PM to 9 PM (after dinner), but I also write at other times. With the more flexible schedule I get to have these days, I go on a writing sprint whenever I want to.

    One of these days, I should put together a graph that takes into account how long I spend writing, too.

    It turns out that I write a lot, although it doesn’t feel that way looking at it one day at a time. In 2012, I wrote around 133,000 words for my blog. This is slightly more than the number of words in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but nowhere near as awesome. I clocked 268 hours for writing during that year, so that works out to a really low 8 words per minute. I already know that the bottleneck is my brain, not my typing speed, though. =) The time includes writing non-blog stuff as well as discarded posts, but hey, it still gives me a good general idea.

    Anyway, some quick non-data thoughts on what Leo said about the benefits of writing, and what I want to add:

    Writing is well worth the time for me. I wonder what would happen if I doubled the time I spent on writing, maybe splitting the extra time between research and editing… Hmm.

    Is writing worth it for you, too? What’s your experience like? How would you increase its benefits?

    zenhabits: Why You Should Write Daily

    Use the weekly review to give yourself permission to do things you want to do

    May 9, 2013 - Categories: planning, writing

    One of the habits I’ve formed through my blog is the practice of doing a weekly review. This is where I celebrate what I accomplished and get a heads-up on what’s next. I do this almost every Saturday, which turns out to be a great day for reflecting and preparing.

    I also use the weekly review to make sure I spend time on things that I want to do. It’s easy to forget that in the endless ping-pong game of responding to other people’s requests, or to scatter your attention among lots of interests and not feel like you’re making progress in any particular one. Give yourself permission to work on something you want to do, and carve out space for it in your to-do list or calendar. I divide my to-do list into three categories: work, relationships, and life. The work category is easy to fill. Relationships take a little more thought, but other people make it easy by asking. Life, on the other hand—the skills I want to develop, the hobbies I want to explore—that requires me to step up and choose to do something instead of having my time filled by things that other people have chosen for me.

    Lots of things are interesting, but I try to pick one or two things to focus on during each week. For example, I’ve been focusing on planting the garden and studying Japanese. I might explore other ideas during the week, but it’s good to make slow and steady progress in my focus areas.

    I make that space by managing my commitments. It’s easy to get used to a hectic, time-starved status quo, and it’s gratifying as well—busy-ness helps you feel valued. For me, “normal life” includes time to breathe and time to play. I avoid being busy. When I notice I’m starting to make mistakes because my calendar is too full, I slow down and see what I can say no to.

    I add “want-to”s to my to-do list instead of just keeping it to the “must-do”s, and I remove or change other tasks until things look like they’ll fit. It makes reviewing and planning more fun, and it gives me something to look forward to during the week.

    Might be something that can help you establish that habit. =) Happy to hear your thoughts and to read your weekly reviews!

    Related: On the practice of a weekly review

    Monthly review: April 2013

    May 10, 2013 - Categories: monthly, review

    Last month, I wrote:

    April will be more about slowing down and following up, I think. But this is good.

    It took me a while to sort out a good workflow for processing the videos from the Emacs Conference, but I was glad I did so, even though there were a few miscommunications along the way. I got back into the swing of consulting and sketchnoting too, so that was great. =)

    It’s almost a third of the way through May already! I’m looking forward to more consulting, sketchnoting, and illustrating. The weather’s warmed up, so friends are starting to organize more get-togethers. Then there’s planting the front and back garden, studying Japanese (my goal for May: 500 lines in my spaced-repetition deck), and drawing some more… May’s shaping up to be terrific.

    Weekly review: Week ending May 10, 2013

    May 11, 2013 - Categories: weekly

    Blog posts

    Accomplished this week

    Plans for next week

    Time review

    Cherry blossoms in High Park, and playing with digital watercolour in Artrage 4

    May 12, 2013 - Categories: Uncategorized

    image

    High Park has a lot of cherry trees. They bloom for such a short time and it’s hard to predict when peak bloom will be, so it can be difficult to organize a get-together with friends. The park is just a few minutes away by bike, though, so it would be a shame to miss it. This year I guiltlessly went on my own to see the cherry blossoms, enjoy the brief spectacle, and marvel at how busy the park is during those few days.

    I like the delicacy of watercolours, but have never quite gotten the hang of doing them with actual water. I fuss about with water and paints, and then I end up with this brownish-grey mess that doesn’t look anywhere near what I wanted. Drawing on my tablet PC is helping me learn to enjoy drawing, so maybe my tablet PC can also help me learn to enjoy painting.

    Here’s the rest of what I drew/painted:

    image

    I used Artrage 4 because it can mimic brushes and other cool things. I don’t have the level of real-life watercolour experience that would make me frustrated with the tool’s limitations, so I’m learning by trial and error. I want to make etagami – picture letters! Here are some examples:

    Stepping sideways into Alternate Universe Sacha

    May 13, 2013 - Categories: family, kaizen, life, sketches

    image

    My parents were having problems with their company’s recent web hosting migration. No e-mail was getting forwarded to the e-mail accounts that they had set up previously, and the two blogs that were separate from the main site didn’t get transferred either. My mom asked me to help restore the blogs. They needed someone to sort out the email and other system administration issues, so I suggested that she find a local system administrator who can also take care of upgrading WordPress and other sites as needed.

    I don’t particularly enjoy system administration. I feel terrible when I make a mistake on my own server, and I don’t want to be on the hook for anyone else’s. I’ve done some system administration work as part of web development, since I was usually the person with the most Linux experience in my teams. Setting up is easy, but maintenance could be fiddly, and keeping up with security updates can be no fun. (I’m looking at you, Rails.) Add to that the time zone differences and the inability to just lean over and fix things, and, well…

    So I was feeling conflicted and unfilial about wanting to help my mom but not wanting to commit to being the company sysadmin. The problem needed to be fixed, though, and they probably wouldn’t find a good system administrator in time.

    As an experiment, I tried imagining an alternate universe in which I would be comfortable making those changes and being The IT Guy (or Gal, in this case). If I lived near my parents, I would help them, of course. I do that for friends and family here. If I had the routines for managing many sites, then it would be easy to maintain another site and another company. I can imagine that for Alternate Universe Sacha, this kind of work might even be easy and enjoyable.

    Having imagined this Alternate Universe Sacha, I tried “stepping sideways” into that role. Sure, I was half a world away, but I could mentally move the house to my hometown. Time zone differences and distance can make it difficult to communicate because it’s hard to tell how busy someone is and when you get the information you need, but it actually worked out well because I worked on it in the evening while people were at work back home. If I stopped worrying about the possibilities of messing things up worse and instead took the same methodical approach that I would use if I had a lot of experience in this (and I guess I do, compared to many people), then it would actually be pretty straightforward. Besides, I reassured myself, everything will turn out all right. Even if I messed things up, family’s still family. For gaining experience, it’s hard to find a more forgiving client.

    It turned out to be straightforward, although it did involve a lot of clicking around. E-mail works again, and the blogs are both back up. Not only that, I now have an alternate universe Sacha whom I can think of myself as if I need to do more system administration work. I’m using that idea to make it easier for me set up proper maintenance for my personal sites as well. If I was an experienced and constantly improving system administrator who enjoyed doing this, how would I do this? It’s no substitute for actual experience–I’ll still miss things people learned the hard way–but it helps me reach that point of learning what I need to learn the hard way.

    I wonder what alternate universe selves I might play with in the future. Do you use any?

    Learning update May 2013

    May 14, 2013 - Categories: learning

    imageEvery so often, I make a list of things I would like to learn or work on. Not only does thinking about what I want to learn help me decide how to spend my time, it also makes it easier for me to ask for help. I don’t refer to the previous lists while making a new one, because the differences between the lists gives me valuable information. If my new list is missing some things that were on my previous list, that tells me that my priorities and interests have changed. I can decide whether I want to go back to those old priorities, or if it’s okay to shelve those ideas for later.

    Here’s my current list:

    Business

    • Consulting for E1: Plugin development might be an excellent new skill to add so that I can hit even more home runs when it comes to client requests
    • Tech skills: This is too good an advantage to waste, and I enjoy it.
      • Automation/productivity hacking: More text, data, and image processing! More macros and shortcuts and application scripting!
      • System administration: It’s good to have a solid platform and a streamlined development process. I want to learn more about managing multiple sites, setting up reliable backup and restore systems, automating deployment, and keeping up with security updates.
      • Web development: It’s so nice to be able to quickly build my own systems. I want to get better at writing neat, solid code that follows best practices so that I can rely on tests to keep me from breaking things that I infrequently modify.
      • Web design: I really like using HTML5 and Javascript for data visualization, and I want to get even better at doing that.
      • Other geekery: 3D printing, electronics, sensors, speech recognition, scripting… there’s so much to play with. =)
    • Writing: It’s a fantastic way to learn.
      • Collecting and organizing my blog posts, then filling in the gaps: Right now, people discover lots of my posts through search engines, and I write new things based on what I’m learning or what other people ask me about. I want to get better at making an outline and filling it in so that I can guide more people along their journeys.
      • Exploring more visual formats: This takes more work up front, but it can be more enjoyable and more accessible for people. Someday it would be great to be comfortable making comic books and illustrated guides!
    • Drawing: It’s becoming more and more fun, and people find it useful too.
      • Drawing people and situations: It would be fun to learn how to draw manga characters well, because that will give me anchors for my imagination.
      • Animated sequences: Wouldn’t it be nifty to be able to put together short explanations and tutorials that help people learn useful things?

    Relationships

    • Cooking: I want to try lots of recipes so that we can enjoy a variety of yummy and healthy meals at home.
    • Gardening: I’d like to learn how to work with the seasons and the soil for a productive and happy garden.
    • Enjoying time with and helping family and friends

    Life

    • Languages: I’d like to be comfortable enough with Japanese that I can read manga, watch animé, listen to tech podcasts or read articles, and go to technical conferences. Super-awesome level would be to sketchnote something in Japanese – that would be a challenge! I also want to be able to chat with W-, neighbours, and shopkeepers in Cantonese. (And let’s throw Latin in there for quirky fun…)
    • Exercise: Learning good exercise habits will have lifelong benefits.
    • Learning: I could get even better at learning by building habits around spaced-repetition study and practical application. I could expand my range by learning how to learn from online courses. I could get deeper into learning from books, blog posts, conversations, and experiences. I could get better at reviewing, consolidating, and sharing what I’m learning.
    • Making decisions: Quantified Self, tracking, applied rationality, all sorts of other good things…
    • Sewing: Useful skill, and might be a way for me to work around clothes shopping. =)

    Thoughts

    Compared to my list from January, it looks like traditional sales, marketing, and entrepreneurship skills aren’t as large a part of my list at the moment. Delegation is lower too because I’m less interested in scaling up beyond myself (at the moment) and more interested in making the most of my flexibility. I haven’t dug into Android development, so I can probably shelve that for now. Connecting is still somewhat interesting, though.

    Now, how do I want to learn?

    I like the idea of working on personal projects, and possibly applying the skills commercially if people get inspired. Being able to follow my interests is one of the advantages of this semi-retirement, so I should make the most of that. Maybe that looks like this: “Hmm, that seems like an interesting idea… <clackety-clack> Let’s see if we can build a quick prototype… Here it is, and here’s a blog post about what I’m learning along the way!”

    I’m not very good at asking for help. I’m too comfortable with my limits. I might learn something more slowly, or not as effectively as I could with other people’s help, but that’s okay. If I rely only on myself, though, I think I’d miss out on all the interesting opportunities that happen when you learn together with other people. I’m not entirely clear on what that might look like. I imagine that it would be along the lines of, “Hey, check out this thing I just learned!” “Oooh, that’s serendipitously close to what I’ve been learning – check this out!” “That’s super-helpful. What did you think about this other thing?” … Which is actually what I have through this blog, so I guess it works out after all. Onward with the blog posts, then.

    I also tend to feel a little scattered, mostly because I work and write in short chunks (~2-4 hours of learning). The blog’s chronological format obscures the growth in various areas over time, unless you look at a category view – and that’s not really a map, either. I’ve been maintaining a topical index to make it easier to see blog posts, but it might be interesting to mindmap the key things I want to know, look at what I already know, and identify the specific small gaps I want to address first.

    Mm. That might work. If I map out the questions, I can pick from this grab-bag of curiosities. Who knows where that might lead? So much good stuff out there!

    From cats to keystrokes

    May 15, 2013 - Categories: geek, life

    Whenever we sit on the couch to watch a movie, the cats inevitably gather. Neko prefers to sit on W-’s lap if he’s available (I’m only slightly jealous, harumph), but will curl herself up on my lap if W- is working on his laptop. Luke will jump on my lap for a bit if Neko isn’t there, or he’ll nap beside me if my lap is occupied. Leia prefers to play monorail cat along the back of the sofa or on the arms. If one of us stands up, the warm spot is almost immediately taken by a cat (usually Neko).

    W- usually works on his computer while watching a movie. I’m tempted to do so as well, but since Neko doesn’t usually seek out company, I figured that it’s fine just spending time with her on my lap. Sometimes I try to type or draw on the side, and that’s not particularly ergonomic.

    I could relax and focus on the movie, making it practice for being in the moment. Or I can play around with the possibilities, since not all movies need full attention. Knitting and crochet are out of the question because the cats are crazy about string. I can flip through Japanese flashcards on my phone. I can dust off my Twiddler one-handed keyboard and see about learning that again. I can skim nonfiction books to see which deserve deeper reading.

    Hmm… This Twiddler thing looks promising. It’s amazing how much muscle memory can retain after so many years. I think it might be interesting to develop both right- and left-handed facility with this. Who knows, it might even come in handy while sketchnoting, so that I can trigger keyboard shortcuts.

    sacha-014

    This is me from 2003 or so, with a Twiddler one-handed keyboard and an M1 head-mounted display (on which I looked up stuff in Emacs, naturally). My dad took this picture. =)

    It’s funny how things come together: cats, wearable computing, writing, drawing… We’ll see where this goes!

    Poll: How often would you like to receive e-mail updates? Also, quantifying my blog posting history

    May 16, 2013 - Categories: blogging, quantified, wordpress, writing

    I’ve been posting practically every day for the past 3.5 years, and I write about a variety of topics. I’ve been thinking of ways to make it easier for people to keep in touch without E-mail newsletters seem to be a Thing. Right now, the e-mail subscription form on my blog is the default provided by WordPress, so people get daily updates (which is probably a bit much). I’ve been thinking of making it easier to subscribe to weekly or monthly updates. Would you find something like that useful? I’d really appreciate it if you could answer this poll!

    [poll id=”1″]

    (Don’t see the poll? Try viewing this post on my website.)

    Aside: I was curious about just how long I’ve been keeping up with this ~1 post a day thing, so I graphed my blog posting history. It turns out that I’ve been pretty consistent, although there were days when I didn’t have anything new posted. I schedule my blog posts using Editorial Calendar and I sometimes send people sneak previews of upcoming posts using the Share a Draft plugin. This lets me smooth out the spikiness of my writing habit into a more predictable publishing schedule.

    blog-posting-history

    To generate this graph, I extracted the timestamps of all my published posts with the following SQL query:

    SELECT UNIX_TIMESTAMP(post_date) FROM wp_posts WHERE post_type='post' AND post_status='publish' 
    INTO OUTFILE '/tmp/timestamps.txt';

    … and then I graphed it with cal-heatmap, removed in-between labels in GIMP, and used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to hand-write new labels. =)

    Thinking about what I want to do and where I want to go with this blog

    May 17, 2013 - Categories: blogging, sketches, writing

    A friend of mine is a big fan of Firepole Marketing and other blog-related marketing sites, so a lot of his advice for me has been focused on building audiences and information products. It’s been quite useful—look, I finally got around to all these little design tweaks!—but there’s something niggling at the edges of my brain, and that’s usually a sign I should slow down and reflect on it. I notice that I hesitate.

    I need to sort out what I’m hesitant about just because it’s unknown or something I’m shy about, and what I’m hesitant about because I want something different.

    What I want from blogging

    The things I love the most about this blog are:

    There’s a lot of good advice out there for people who want to “monetize their audience” or build a business around blogging, but… maybe I have the space to explore something different. What would this blog look and feel like in another ten years? More of this, I hope, and better. Better at learning, better at sharing, better at organizing, better at connecting.

    Sometimes people pay more attention to what they pay for. Hmm, maybe optional payment, or saving payment for individual help? I don’t have a mental hangup about being paid for consulting, because that’s stuff that clearly creates a lot of value for my clients and doesn’t really give me things I can widely share as a way of helping others. I don’t have a hangup about earning a little bit from affiliate sales (since it’s entirely optional, and only the stuff that I like, and I point out non-affiliate links or alternative ways to get things like borrowing books from the library). I’m sort of okay with the idea of making collections of blog posts and sketches and selling them for a nominal fee as an experiment, although I’m tempted to just make them all freely available and then perhaps add a pay-what-you-can system or a donation button.

    Anyway, we’re doing well, so I have some space to focus on learning and sharing. =) I want to make the most of that opportunity. Can you help me figure out what would make this better while keeping it real?

    How to Learn Emacs: A Hand-drawn One-pager for Beginners / A visual tutorial

    May 17, 2013 - Categories: emacs, sketches
    This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series A Visual Guide to Emacs

    UPDATE 2013-09-23: New, much larger version – see below!
    UPDATE 2013-06-01: Here’s a zoomable, pannable version thanks to MapLib!

    Here’s version 2 (September 2013). You can print this at 16.5″x10.75″ at 300dpi. Have an ordinary printer? Check out PosteRazor!

    How to Learn Emacs - v2 - Large


    Original post from May 2013:


    I thought I’d draw a one-page guide for some of the things that people often ask me about or that would help people learn Emacs (and enjoy it). You can click on the image for a larger version that you can scroll through or download. It should print all right on 8.5×11″ paper (landscape) if you want to keep it around as a reminder. Might even work at 11×17″. =)

    How to Learn Emacs

    You can find the image on Imgur and Flickr too.

    Feel free to share, reuse, or modify this under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence. Enjoy!

    Possibly counterintuitive point: It’s good to learn at least the basics of Vim. Despite the perception of a “Emacs vs. Vi” holy war (one of the classic battles in computer science), it makes sense to know both editors especially if you work with people who use Vi a lot. Know enough Vi to find your way around, and then learn how to customize Emacs to fit you to a tee. That way, you’ll avoid the pressure of not being able to work well with your team or your infrastructure, and you’ll have the space to explore Emacs. =) Emacs is totally awesome.

    Need help with Emacs? Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me. I’m often in the #emacs channel on irc.freenode.net , and I also occasionally schedule time to help people one-on-one. Also, the Emacs community (mailing lists, newsgroups, IRC channel) can be wonderful, so definitely reach out to them too. =)

    Meta discussion: How can I make this even better? What else would you like me to draw a guide for? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Also, thanks to dash, nicferrier, fledermaus, ijp, hypnocat, Fuco, macrobat, taylanub, axrfnu, Sebboh, thorkill, jave_, jrm, and the rest of #emacs for suggestions and feedback!

    Update 2013-05-18: Check out the conversations on Hacker News and Reddit!

     

    Emacs, drawing, and blogging: Week ending May 17, 2013

    May 18, 2013 - Categories: weekly

    I spent four hours on Friday drawing this beginners’ one-page guide to Emacs, and people really liked it. =) It’ll be awesome to make more things like that! Also, amazing amazing amazing comments from people helping me figure out all sorts of stuff. Thanks! =D

    Blog posts

    Accomplished this week

    Plans for next week

    Time review

    Slice of life: Home improvements

    May 19, 2013 - Categories: family, life

    slice-of-life-20130519-deck

    It’s a little intimidating doing something that’s very different from what I usually do, but if I focus on small ways to help, it’s easier. =) And then I can build strength and endurance and knowledge gradually, interleaving challenges with things I can do.

    Emacs Chat: Bastien Guerry

    May 20, 2013 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

    In this chat, Bastien tells stories about getting started in Emacs, reading his mail/news/blogs in Gnus, and hacking his life with Org. =) Enjoy!

    Want just the audio? You can get MP3s or OGG from archive.org.

    How I use Feedburner to give people the option of different blog update frequencies

    May 21, 2013 - Categories: blogging, wordpress

    I’ve been thinking about how to make it easier for people who want to keep in touch but who don’t want to be overwhelmed by my daily posting schedule. Instead of trying to come up with the Best Way on my own, I asked what people wanted. Out of 26 votes (as of the time I wrote this), ten people wanted weekly newsletters and three people wanted monthly newsletters. That probably means that even more people would like those less frequent update options, so I decided to spend some time figuring out a good way to offer that.

    Since I already do weekly and monthly reviews, the easiest way would be to make those reviews available in a separate feed that people can subscribe to over RSS or e-mail. I’ve been using Feedburner as a way of making my feeds more browser-friendly and as a way to handle e-mail subscriptions. Although I’d been concerned about the long-term longevity of my feeds in case Feedburner shuts down, it turns out that you can set up your own domain name by following the instructions under My Account > MyBrand.

    image

    I set up my feeds to use feeds.sachachua.com instead of feeds.feedburner.com. That means that if Feedburner goes away, I just need to change my DNS record to point to my own server and write my own redirect rules. I wish I’d done this earlier! Anyway, if you subscribed to http://feeds.feedburner.com/sachac , please switch to using http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac instead.

    With the new feed URLs in place, I created Feedburner feeds for my weekly and monthly reviews. Category feeds are built-in, so all I needed to do was tell Feedburner to handle http://sachachua.com/blog/category/weekly and http://sachachua.com/blog/category/monthly . I customized each feed to include a short message pointing to the other feeds (Optimize > BrowserFriendly), change the URL, and enable e-mail subscriptions (Publicize > Email Subscriptions).

    image

    Then I modified my WordPress theme to include links to the new feeds. To make the feeds available from the feed icon in many browsers’ address bars, I added the following code to my <head>…</head>:

    <link rel="alternate" 
      type="application/rss+xml" 
      title="Feed (~daily)" 
      href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac" />
    <link rel="alternate" 
      type="application/rss+xml" 
      title="Weekly reviews" 
      href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-weekly" />
    <link rel="alternate" 
      type="application/rss+xml" 
      title="Monthly reviews" 
      href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-monthly" />

    Result:

    image

    I also added links to the feeds in my sidebar using the Appearance > Widgets > Text widget.

    Now, people should be able to easily subscribe to whichever frequency they want. =)

    On another note: I was surprised and delighted to find that many people wanted daily updates. Thank you! I’ll try to make my headlines useful so that you can guess right away if you would be interested in something, and we’ll see if I can write weekly review headlines with keywords as well.

    If you blog a lot, I hope you find this tip handy!

    First impressions of Artrage 4

    May 22, 2013 - Categories: drawing, review

    I occasionally use Artrage Studio Pro for tracing images or animating sketchnotes. The interface doesn’t lend itself as well to real-time sketchnoting, although the natural media support might be interesting to play with if I want to play around with watercolours.

    The latest version (Artrage 4) introduces some interesting features that might help me with drawing. The Workbench and Toolbox combination will let me choose just the tools and colour samples I want to use, hiding the rest behind menus in a streamlined interface. I like the ability to save and load toolbox configurations. That will make it easier for me to save colour sets for recurring events or clients. There doesn’t seem to be a way to save the Transform tool as a preset, though, so selecting and moving things will take more clicks. (More on this later.)

    I’ve also been looking for a way to project the drawing as a whole while I’m zoomed in and working on part of it. This will let people see the context without getting dizzy or distracted by the way I zoom in and out. Views allow you to “pin” a view of your canvas while you’re working on a different part. I tested it with an external monitor and confirmed that you can drag the view pin off your main Artrage window and onto the second screen, and that you can resize it to almost fill the screen. If I ever need to do projected sketchnotes (the request has come up once or twice, but in the end people opt to focus on the speaker), this might be a possibility.

    image

    It will take a lot more practice before I feel comfortable using this for real-time sketchnoting. There seems to be a little bit of lag at the beginning of strokes drawn in quick succession, even if I’ve turned smoothing off. Here’s a sample in Artrage 4:

    image

    and the same thing in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro:

    image

    Selecting and moving regions doesn’t feel as natural as it does in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, and that’s something I find myself doing often when I’m drawing a sketchnote. Artrage 4 seems more responsive than Artrage Studio Pro when it comes to moving things around, but the process of selecting, moving, and deselecting takes too much work. As far as I understand it, the steps in Artrage 4 Workbench mode are:

    1. Click on the hard freehand lasso preset I’ve saved to my toolbox.
    2. Select the section to move.
    3. Click on the large tool icon and choose Transform.
    4. Drag the image. Be sure to start dragging within the bounding box of the part of the image that has data, because it won’t detect it if you’re dragging from empty space that you’ve already highlighted.
      image
      (outside the rectangle = won’t actually move things)
    5. Click on Menu > Edit > Deselect all, or you won’t be able to draw outside the selected region.

    In Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, I would:

    1. Click on the lasso tool.
    2. Select the area I want to move.
    3. Move it or resize it using the puck that appears when I hover inside the selection.
    4. Switch back to a drawing tool to start drawing anywhere in the screen.

    There are keyboard shortcuts for Transform and Deselect all, but I usually don’t have keyboard access while I’m in tablet mode.

    So Artrage 4 is probably good for me to use if:

    I might revisit this for sketchnoting if I can stitch together some keyboard macros (maybe using a foot pedal or the Twiddler), but in the meantime, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro will be my workhorse. I’ll play around with Artrage’s drawing and painting support to see if I can build other non-sketchnoting artistic skills/techniques using that. Anyway, it’s good to see progress in applications!

    Thanks to Luc Taesch for the nudge to check out Artrage 4!

    Visual book review: The Visual Marketing Revolution (Stephanie Diamond)

    May 23, 2013 - Categories: marketing, visual, visual-book-notes

    Want to make your social media marketing more visual? The Visual Marketing Revolution: 26 Rules to Help Social Media Marketers Connect the Dots by Stephanie Diamond (Que Publishing, 2013) gives you an overview of rules, tools, content, and tactics to help you plan and improve your marketing.

    Click on the image to view or download a larger version.

    Visual Book Review - The Visual Marketing Revolution - 26 Rules to Help Social Media Marketers Connect the Dots - Stephanie Diamond

    Feel free to share this visual book review! (Creative Commons Attribution – I’d love it if you link back to this site and tell me about it. =) )  It should print out fine on letter-sized paper, too.

    Intrigued by the ideas? You can check your local library to see if they have a copy, or buy your own copy below.

    Kindle:
    Paper:

    Disclosure: I received a Kindle copy of this book for review, and I’ll get a small commission if you buy anything from Amazon using the links above.

    Other sources of information: books.google.com, visualmarketingrevolution.com

    I’ve been working on making my own sites more visual, so I’m looking forward to applying the ideas from this book. If you do as well, please share your stories!

    Check out my other visual book reviews

    How to make a hand-drawn highlighted web page header

    May 24, 2013 - Categories: drawing, sketches, wordpress

    For the longest time, I’d been meaning to make my website look more hand-written and to take advantage of Google Web Fonts to make my site feel slightly different. After some design-related nudging from Matt Tanguay, I finally got around to it. Here’s how! =)

    For comparison, here’s the “before” picture:

    image

    After (I tweaked the links, too):

    image

    If you’re already comfortable with HTML and CSS, it turns out to be pretty easy to make a hand-drawn website with highlights that appear when you hover over links. Here’s how!

    Step 1: Draw the header image.

    It can be more efficient to have one medium-sized image instead of lots of little images, and it’s easier to work with one image instead of many small ones. You’ll use CSS to split this up into rectangular regions later, so keep that in mind when designing your image and try to avoid overlaps.

    I drew the main image using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, but you can use any image-drawing program. You can even draw it on paper and then scan it in.

    design

    (I didn’t end up using the Random Page! button, but that’s okay. =) )

    Step 2: Add highlights.

    I added another layer below my main layer and highlighted whatever I wanted to highlight, making sure things were separated by enough whitespace so that the highlights didn’t overlap into another link’s rectangle. If you’re doing this on paper, you can highlight on paper as well.

    design-highlighted

    You’ll notice that everything is highlighted in this image. No worries! We’ll display just the appropriate part later.

    Step 3: Set guidelines.

    Setting guidelines using a photo editing tool like the GIMP will make it easier for you to select consistent rectangles. Here, you can see how I’ve set up my guidelines to make it easy to select a rectangle containing the “Home” link. You can use the rectangle selection tool to get the position and size, which you can find in the Tool Options window.

    image

    Step 4: Write your HTML and add IDs/classes to it.

    Code your HTML so that the text makes sense, and then use CSS to replace the text with images and to lay things out for your intended design.

    I added IDs and classes to my links to make it easier to replace the links with images later on.

    <ul class="links" style="margin-bottom: 0">
    <li><a id="home" class="replace home-design" href="/">Home</a></li>
    ...
    </ul>

    Step 5: Replace the text with your images using CSS.

    There are a number of CSS text->image replacement tutorials out there. The general idea is to use text-indent to hide the text, and then use background, background-position, width, and height to display the right portion of your image.

    This is where the guidelines from Step 3 come in handy. Simply make the position negative and use that as the background position, then use the size as the width and height.

    .home-design { background: url(images/design.png) 0 0 no-repeat; }
    .replace { white-space: nowrap; overflow: hidden; text-indent: 100%; }
    #home { width: 96px; height: 40px; background-position: -81px -105px; display: inline-block }
    .header .links .replace:hover { background: url(images/design-highlighted.png) 0 0 no-repeat; }

    Tada!

    Still have questions? Please comment below – I’d be happy to explain more!

    Home improvements, drawing, blogging; Weekly review: Week ending May 24, 2013

    May 25, 2013 - Categories: weekly

    We’ve been working on repairing the deck and the patio, so the backyard is a mess. Good to spend time helping W-, though. =)

    It’s getting easier and easier to focus on my own projects instead of saying yes to requests that come my way. I’m learning!

    Blog posts

    Accomplished this week

    Plans for next week

    Time review

    Things I’m learning about semi-retirement

    May 26, 2013 - Categories: experiment, life

    I’m really glad I track my time, because I get to ask questions about long-term patterns. It turns out that I haven’t been as retired as I joke about. It’s been 64 weeks since the week beginning March 3, 2012, which included my first major gig as an independent person. I’ve tracked an average of 43 hours a week doing business-related things (median: 42.2). This is more than my average of 38.3 hours a week from the twelve weeks when I was tracking regular work using my new system, although that was when I was already in the transition-all-my-projects phase. Earlier, I’d been working a little over 40 hours a week.

    I think that’s because there was a month or two of independent work where I was doing two large consulting gigs at the same time. If I drop that and look only at the year to date, I get these numbers:

      Percentage Average hours per week
    Earn 49% 18.7
    Build 29% 11.0
    Connect 21% 8.2
    Other 1% 0.3
    Total   38.1

    I like this current balance of working two days a week. My connecting time tends to be about going to events (especially ones that have interesting-sounding presentations) or meeting people for coffee/Skype chats (often to help them with questions). Maybe I’ll swap some of my connecting time for skill-building time instead. I can turn skill-building into connection opportunities through blog posts and products/ideas, so it works out.

    Part of the reason why I decided to go on this 5-year semi-retirement experiment was to find out what I can do when I have full control of my schedule. It was easy to respond to people’s requests and work on what people want, but I’m getting better at following my curiosity and carving out time to work on my own projects.

    It might be interesting to keep tweaking my comfort zone. Every weekly review, it’s easy for me to plan my work-related tasks and add the occasional relationship/people-related task, but I sometimes forget to plan something in the “life” category. Ongoing personal projects like learning Japanese are starting to help, but I have to get more used to it. =)

    For example, one Monday I spent three hours mocking up a box cover for one of the cushions on our sofa. Making a slipcover for the sofa is one of our household projects, so I decided to take the first step towards the task instead of putting it off to one of these weekends. Even though it felt a little weird doing something so small during prime “business” time during the day, it felt good to know that I wasn’t procrastinating the task. It’s technically a relationship-related task, but that’s okay – learning how to use chunks of weekday time for non-work things is important too, and relationship-related tasks are a good place to start because I don’t feel as guilty and self-indulgent. I was worried because my seams were crooked, but it actually turned out all right. I have to give myself permission to do more of these things that might not be part of the “See, I’ve been doing all sorts of market-valued things” story, but are good to do anyway.

    Writing is something that I enjoy and something I do for myself. I’ve been giving myself more permission to write (as you can probably tell from my blog), and to try things and learn so that I have more things to write about. Gardening is good, too, and reading. (Even comics!) Maybe I should mentally label Wednesdays to be like weekends – a day for building relationships and life instead of focusing on work.

    Drawing is fun, too, and it turns out that I can create interesting things that people find useful.

    I guess this is also an experiment in having enough, and that takes surprisingly long to get used to. I think part of why it’s difficult is the lingering fear that I might do the wrong things during this experiment and end up in a situation that’s difficult to move forward from. But if I take a step back and look at the numbers, from time to time I might be able to convince myself that it’s going to be okay, and then use that moment of trust to build new lifestyles or ratchet things up a notch.

    There’s that urge to do something that I can justify as productive to other people. I don’t want W- or my parents to think that I’m wasting my time. In the past, I used to stress out about “not reaching my full potential,” especially as I had teachers who believed I could do far more than what I was doing in class. There’s an opportunity cost to everything. Then again, there are many people already exploring the path of “more! more! more!”, so it might be good for me to explore the path of “enough,” and work on the new possibilities that open up.

    It also feels weird exploring this while other people who are struggling with much harder problems, so I’m tempted to write less about it because I don’t want to gloat or make people feel bad. But this might be useful to other people too, I guess, sketching out alternative paths beyond what most people have experienced. Maybe eventually it will be like how people read about people exploring different lifestyles—digital nomads, early retirement enthusiasts, people living off the grid… I learn from the possibilities in other people’s lives, and it’s my responsibility to explore the possibilities in mine.

    How I set up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for sketchnoting

    May 27, 2013 - Categories: drawing, process

    UPDATE 2014-02-10: Check out my free/PWYW downloadable resources for Autodesk Sketchbook Pro: the grid I use, the brushes, and a PSD that has the grid and a blank layer.

    —-

    Matt just got a tablet, so he wanted to know how I set up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for my sketchnoting. See the sketchnote below for my layout and brush sizes, and a few other tips. =) I sometimes tweak brush sizes depending on the size of the project, but they’re roughly around that proportion (1.1-1.3, 2.3-2.5, 4.6 or so).

    How I Set Up Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for Sketchnoting

    The dot grid I use works out to roughly 40 pixels square with dots that are 5 pixels or so in diameter. If I draw small letters at 1 grid unit (~40px) high, this is mostly readable when printed on 8.5”x11” and requires a little scrolling and zooming when viewing on the computer. I usually draw titles at 2-3 grid units high (80 or 120 pixels). Sometimes I use the dot grid just as a guide for keeping letters mostly level, and I pick a size in between.

    Thinking about a pro-bono policy; being deliberate about what I do for free, discount, or barter

    May 28, 2013 - Categories: business, life

    After sketchnoting all these designers and artists talking about the value they get from experimenting with personal projects, I’ve been thinking about how I want to be deliberate about how much time I spend on other people’s projects versus my own.

    Professional projects are easy to decide because I know the value of each engagement. I can then choose how much I want to work, and fit as much as I want inside that time. It helps that my savings mean I don’t need the money, and the experiment structure means that I need to carve out time to explore self-initiatives instead of just saying yes to what people ask me to do. I like my main consulting engagement, and I accept the occasional illustration or sketchnoting engagement depending on my interests and availability.

    Pro-bono projects are where I get to exercise choice and negotiation. There are many, many things I would like to do with my time, of course. Some requests are someday/maybe things, so I add them to my list of things that people are interested in(with a note about who asked), and I get to them when the mood moves me. Some requests are time-based, like sketchnoting an event. Some requests are a mix of flexibility and commitment, such as when I schedule time to help someone with Emacs or similar things.

    So I’m figuring out my rules of thumb for saying yes or no to requests, and for increasing the value that I get and create out of moments like that. I can simply say yes or no, but wouldn’t it be awesomer to use that for negotiation practice and to open up even more opportunities? Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about:

    SKETCHNOTING

    If the event charges for participation or has significant sponsorship, then it’s fair that I charge. These are the not-really-pro-bono projects. If you’ve managed to demonstrate the business case for participants or sponsors, we should be able to work something out. In rare situations, I may swap this for some intangibles, but you should then be prepared to invest time or introductions.

    If you don’t have a large budget but you really want me to help, talk to me anyway. I can help you build a business case that might draw in additional sponsorship. We might be able to find non-monetary things to swap, such as time and insights. I might give you an “awesome people discount” because you’re working on a cause that I want to support.

    If I’m pitching an event that I really like, it’s too late in the budget cycle to rustle up more money or I know it’s the sort of event that tends to run at a loss, and it’s the sort of thing that will be a good fit for people who read my blog, I may do it for free, with the understanding that I may switch to something else if a professional opportunity or something more interesting comes up.

    If you want white-labeled sketchnotes with only your branding and no mention of me, exclusive distribution (including confidential sketches), multiple revisions, or the copyright, that definitely calls for a premium rate.

    Toronto venues (accessible by bike or public transit) are good, as are high-quality live-streamed conferences (good audio and view of the slides). I limit my travel, so it would have to be something truly exceptional for me to leave home.

    If the event is free to attend, there’s minimal sponsorship, and it’s a cause I want to support or a topic I’m interested in anyway, then I may take it on (again, with no commitments). In terms of topics, I’m interested in entrepreneurship, business, technology, and design. I prefer to sketchnote fascinating speakers, particularly those who blog or tweet interesting and things (not just self-promotional broadcasts). I can sketchnote a badly-structured or unengaging talk, but it’s not fun, and I may end up sketching the talk I wish the person had given instead.

    I’m leaning towards reducing these and spending more time drawing my own things, though.

    TECHNICAL HELP

    I occasionally help people with Emacs, mostly through the #emacs channel on irc.freenode.net or through questions and comments on my blog. I do this for free because I like the Emacs community and I want to help it grow. I can do one-on-one coaching sessions on a pay-what-you-can-and-what-you-think-it-was-worth basis. I accept Paypal, donations to Emacs-related things like the Emacswiki, blog posts / written-up notes after the session, and a number of other things that I value.

    For more involved help (WordPress, Rails, computer help, etc.), (a) you have to be directly related or a really good friend, OR (b) it has to be a one-off question that intrigues me and promises to be a useful blog post. Also, you have to be cool with my potentially making mistakes, so I don’t want to be on the hook for anything mission-critical.

    WRITING

    I don’t accept unsolicited self-promotional guest blog posts on my blog, so people can stop pitching me. =) I generally don’t accept invitations to write original content for other people, mainly because I’d rather post things on my blog. You can suggest things you’d like me to write about. If I think it might be interesting, I’ll add it to my blog post ideas and write about it when it makes sense. I try to note who asked for a topic, so I might e-mail you once it’s up.

    You are free to syndicate or excerpt my blog posts. I’d appreciate it if you link to the original blog post, and I’d love to hear your take on the topic and what other interesting discussions ensue.

    WHAT PEOPLE MIGHT SAY, AND HOW TO REMIND MYSELF TO NOT JUST GIVE IN

    “It would be great exposure!” I’m doing fine exposure-wise, actually. I don’t mind giving up short-term exposure in exchange for developing in my own way. I don’t need to be famous, and I don’t really need to go and reach a gazillion possible clients. For the next few years, I can work with only people I really like on things that people value.

    “It’s a learning experience.” So are a lot of other things I can do, especially when it comes to learning how to follow my own initiative. =)

    “There’ll be more work down the road.” I’m fine with the level of work I’m doing now, and I’m also fine with not having any of this and working on my own things for the next few years. Ah, the luxury of an experiment.

    “How about being one of our sponsors?” This is related to the exposure thing. I don’t need the PageRank, the links, the referrals, or the warm-and-fuzzy glow. It’s nice, but the event should be interesting enough on its own.

    “Hmm, that price is too high…” I’m experimenting with not lowering price unless I get extra value, do less work, or feel that the difference is something that passes my pro-bono guidelines. It’s actually easier and more fun to price that way instead of dealing with ambiguous value or talking yourself down. Besides, letting people make the negotiation all about price misses the point, and giving in teaches people to push without giving.

    One of the interesting insights I picked up from FITC was the idea of value-based pricing – not just the value that the client gets, but the value of your time and energy. My experiment and my skills allow me to treat my time as valuable, and so I will.

    How I draw presentations

    May 29, 2013 - Categories: drawing

    Jo’Ann Alderson wanted to know how to get started drawing presentations. Since she was curious about annotating presentations in real-time (not just scanning or taking pictures of sketches), and that probably means getting a tablet PC. Here are the tips I braindumped from last Friday’s coffee conversation – maybe they’ll help other people!

    Drawing presentations

    I’ve switched to drawing practically all of my presentations. Drawing makes presentation preparation much more enjoyable, I can communicate more expressively, and people light up and have more fun during the presentation itself. I storyboard the presentation on index cards, paper, or on my computer itself, rearranging things until the story flows.

    I draw a tablet PC because I really like being able to run full applications like Microsoft Office, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (the desktop version), and Camtasia Studio for screen recording. The drawing tablets that attach to your computer via USB (such as the Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch) are inconvenient to use at a conference or when speaking because they’re hard to balance on your lap and there’s no space on a podium. The iPads and Android tablet apps I’ve tried aren’t as powerful and as responsive as their desktop counterparts, and I’ve had problems with palm detection when drawing on a tablet. A tablet PC gives me the power and customizability that I want.

    Lenovo convertible tablet PCs are awesome, and you can customize and buy them from lenovo.com. They’re sturdy and powerful. I’ve dropped mine from about three feet off the ground and I’m still using it. I upgraded mine with extra memory and a solid-state hard drive, and I use mine for drawing, writing, coding, and all sorts of other things. The Lenovo X220 I use has a great stylus and a pressure-sensitive screen, and the stylus slots into the case for safekeeping. I also have the extended battery slice so that I can get through a full conference day without worrying about power, and that’s come in handy more than once. The latest one in the series is the Lenovo X230 convertible tablet. (There’s a non-tablet version of the X230, so make sure you get the convertible tablet one if you’re ordering.)

    Microsoft Powerpoint has basic inking tools which are great for marking up your presentation on the fly. For more complex images or for images that build up, I prefer using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. I use layers for each slide, and then I save each layer as its own PNG. After I import the images into Powerpoint and resize and center them, I flip through the presentation to make sure everything is lined up neatly.

    The latest edition of Beyond Bullet Points includes tips for digitally storyboarding your presentation using the ink tools in Microsoft Powerpoint, and is worth a read. More tips:

    How to draw a presentation from Sacha Chua

    Check out my presentations on Slideshare to see some examples of the presentations I’ve drawn. =) I also help clients with presentation design, although I like it even better if I can help people start drawing on their own. =D

    Sketchnoting

    I’ve been shifting from giving lots of presentations to sketchnoting lots of other people’s presentations instead. It works out wonderfully. I learn a lot, I get less stressed out about preparing, and I help other people share great ideas. I do most of my sketchnotes using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro because it’s reliable and it has the best pen-based interface I’ve come across so far. Working digitally means I can publish the notes shortly after the event, which is great because speakers and participants get to see it while the topic is on people’s minds. I post the sketches on my website and tweet links with the event hashtag and the speaker’s Twitter handle so that people can easily share the notes.

    A good conference can be pretty overwhelming in terms of the sheer volume of ideas, so these visual notes really help people remember and share key insights. (Great for telling people back at the office what you learned and justifying the cost of sending you to the next one!) There are lots of graphic recorders and a growing number of sketchnoters, so you should be able to find someone near whatever event you want covered.

    I want to convince more people to try out digital tools and workflows because there are all sorts of interesting possibilities. It’s easy to get started, and it can be a lot of fun. =) Happy to help people explore!

    Sketchnote: Visual Thinking (Patricia Kambitsch)

    May 30, 2013 - Categories: drawing, sketchnotes

    It’s always a pleasure working with Patricia, and yesterday’s workshop on graphic facilitation was a lot of fun. I took digital notes during the 3-hour workshop, and we printed them and distributed them right at the end. =)

    Click on the image for a larger version, which should also print nicely on 8.5×11” in landscape mode.

    Visual Thinking

    Feel free to share this! =)

    What worked well:

    Things to play with next time:

    More shading! More depth! =) Maybe fancier titles, too? Using elaborate frames might let me keep the text simple so that Evernote can still search it… Maybe I can start a collection of frames.

    I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on a Lenovo X220i Tablet PC. =)

    On blogging and platforms, and experimenting with Google Hangout

    May 31, 2013 - Categories: blogging, writing

    I’ve been thinking about how I can take this blog to the next level. Blogging is a fantastic way for me to learn, and I’m amazed at what people are doing with what I share. I want to get even better at it. I’m learning to ask more questions – people are awesome and generous with their insights!

    Following up on his comments, Thomas and I chatted about blogging. He’s been learning about platforms, and he had a few tips and suggestions for me. He has a great write-up over on his blog. I wanted to follow up on some of the topics we discussed.

    Here are some things people have written about blogging and platforms:

    Something felt a little odd for me, though, so I wanted to dig into it further. “Platform” is an interesting word. There are lots of different ways to think about it, and the way you think about it influences your approach. Here are some ways I started thinking about “platform”:

    Visual metaphor - Platform

    (Feel free to reuse, remix or share this under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence!)

    I want to build the kinds of platforms on the right: platforms that people can build on, platforms that fill in the gaps and act as scaffolds or foundations for further growth, platforms that drill deep and bring up resources and insights for everyone. =)

    I love it when people do stuff with what I share. I love how there’s a hackerspace in Atlanta with a huge version of one of my sketchnotes. I love how The Shy Connector often turns up in Twitter mentions and blog posts. I love the way Melissa Burch turned one of my visual book reviews into a full-scale webinar. (This is why I use Creative Commons Attribution instead of All Rights Reserved!) I love how people think about stuff and share their own insights, and I love the conversations and new adventures that grow out of that give-and-take.

    I love it when people ask me questions and I either point them to a blog post that I’d already written about it, or I write a new post that helps them and people in the future. Sometimes it feels a little haphazard as I jump from topic to topic, but I trust that if I keep filling in the gaps, I’ll make it easier for other people to go on from there.

    I love digging into something, trying to figure it out, sharing my thoughts along the way–and learning from other people’s perspectives and experiences in the process.

    These are the kinds of platforms I want to build. I’m working on getting better at:

    Here’s an experiment I want to try: getting to know people who read this blog. (You!) I want to try talking to people more – asking for ideas, looking for ways to help. Let’s try a Google Hangout about blogging (June 19 8 PM EDT) as a small experiment along these lines. I want to hear about what people want from this blog, find out the questions people have, and discover things that I didn’t know I knew enough to share. It’ll be chaotic, but maybe you can help me figure out how to make the most of it! =)

    I’m a little over ten years into blogging, and it’s been great. I wonder what this could be like after fifty, sixty, seventy more years of writing and sharing… Wouldn’t that be interesting? (… gosh, that’s probably 32,000 posts…) What kinds of things could people build on this if we make the most of the opportunities we have? Let’s find out.