November 2013

How I organize and publish my sketches

November 1, 2013 - Categories: blogging, drawing, organization, sketches

In a recent blog post, Mel Chua wrote: “I’m still trying to figure out how to best store/catalogue my (growing) collection of sketches so it’s easy for people to access it.” So, here’s how I handle mine!

How I organize and publish my sketches

I have three types of sketches:

  • A1. Public: Sketches I can publish (and usually that I want to write about someday)
  • A2. Public, blogged: Sketches I have written about
  • B. Private sketches to help me think

My goals are to:

  • Support my writing: Blogging, naturally.
  • Search my sketches: Evernote’s fantastic for this, since I can have my public and private sketches in one place
  • Make my sketches publicly searchable: Evernote shared folders are great for that; Flickr and my blog are useful too. I often use Evernote to give someone a keyword search or tag search through my sketchnotes, sketchbook, or visual vocabulary. (Evernote users can join these notebooks and get updates automatically!)
  • Publish most of my sketches: Blogging can take me a while, so I try to get public sketches out there as soon as possible so that they don’t get lost. Flickr and Evernote help.
  • Flip through my sketches: Great for doing reviews and triggering memories. =) Can’t beat paging through local files manually or in a slideshow.
  • Organize my sketches by topic: Evernote, Flickr, and my blog let me tag things with keywords, while a mindmap lets me give my sketches more structure.
  • Share sketches widely: My blog and Twitter seem to be the best ways to do this, although Flickr is useful too.
  • Open sketches for discussion: My blog is the best place for that, although Flickr and Twitter are handy as well.
  • Update my sketches: Whether I’m colouring things in or checking off boxes, I want an easy way to get to a sketch and update it in Evernote and Flickr. If I’ve blogged about it, I’m okay with the blog post having the archived version of the image.
  • Archive my sketches: I want to back up digital copies in several places so that I can recreate my collection if needed. Blogging, Flickr, Dropbox/file backups, PDF collections…

Stuff I’ve tried that didn’t work out so well:

  • Referring to external services in my blog posts: Flickr? The Gallery2 instance I installed? Problematic if code changes, services go down, accounts are discontinued, or (in one annoying case) my self-hosted Gallery2 gets compromised. Disk space is cheap, so I just re-publish images using WordPress’ upload mechanisms (most blogging tools handle this automatically).
  • Picking just one way to publish stuff: Flickr is better for volume and some discussion, Evernote is better for search, my blog is better for sharing and long-term search. Since no tool has everything I need, I’ll just have to put up with the hassle of replicating information.
  • Just using automatic organization: For the last few years, I relied on Dropbox folders and Evernote items. Dropbox folders are fine for organizing by date and Evernote’s great for tags, but I want manual organization as well – organizing things by topics and subtopics, tracking things in progress, and so on. That’s why I’m experimenting with mindmaps now.

Stuff I’m working on next:

  • Monthly and quarterly PDF packages of my sketches, organized by date or topic: for ease of printing and review
  • Letting people know about available resources (my Flickr stream or Evernote notebooks) so that they can search/discuss/subscribe

See my drawing workflow for other notes about my process. Hope this helps!

Weekly review: Week ending November 1, 2013

November 2, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Great week for geeking out! Lots of system administration tasks checked off. =) Next week, time to focus on the “right side of the brain” – building visual vocabularies, animating sequences, and so on.

Blog posts

Other notes

  • vagrant-vbguest helps keep guest additions up to date
  • Looks promising: Devstructure Blueprint lets you reverse-engineer Puppet or Chef config from an existing system.
  • Excel: Columns are number instead of letters? Tools – Options – General – Uncheck the R1C1 reference style

Link roundup


2013-11-01 Weekly review

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (50.9h – 30%)
    • Earn (22.1h – 43% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1
      • [ ] E2: Draw sketch ideas for different “scenes”
      • [ ] E2: Record audio for trailer
      • [ ] E2: Sketch and animate trailer
    • Build (22.3h – 43% of Business)
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
        • [X] Analyze yearly consumption
        • [X] Sort clothes by name by default
      • Drawing (6.2h)
        • [X] Draw something technical
        • [X] Package October sketches as a PDF –
        • [ ] Break another ten sketchnotes down into components and file them
      • Paperwork (2.2h)
        • [X] File HST return
        • [ ] File T2
      • System administration
        • [X] Set up WP caching
        • [X] Set up from-scratch Vagrant scripts
        • [X] Set up incremental backups
        • [X] Get vagrant working on desktop again
        • [X] Make sure correct image is committed to git
    • Connect (6.5h – 12% of Business)
      • [X] Host Visual Thinkers Toronto
      • [X] Try out Google Helpouts
      • [X] Submit more listings for Google Helpouts
      • [X] Chat with Magnar Sveen about Emacs
  • Relationships (9.9h – 5%)
    • [X] Set up project management for house stuff?
    • [X] Sort out drive with W-
    • [ ] Reply to the Hattoris
    • [ ] [#B] Comparison-shop for Luke’s possible dental work
  • Discretionary – Productive (10.9h – 6%)
    • [X] Look into johnw video problems
    • [X] Rescan black sketchbook
    • [ ] Process chat with Magnar – time bookmarks
    • [ ] [#A] Reflect on delta
    • Writing (5.4h)
  • Discretionary – Play (1.5h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (18.0h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (14.7h – 8%)
  • Sleep (62.2h – 37% – average of 8.9 per day)

Monthly review: October 2013

November 3, 2013 - Categories: monthly, review

Last month, I wrote:

In October, I’ll focus on consulting. In my discretionary time, I’ll focus on lots of drawing and thinking. I want to build that habit of daily visual thinking, and then I’ll use that to learn even more.

And boy, did I ever! I put together a PDF of 105 thoughts from October 2013 that compiled my notes from thinking through different things, and you can see a list (including some small sketches I didn’t include in the PDF) after the blog posts below. Not only did this give me plenty of practice in visual thinking, it also helped me focus and accomplish a lot. I hammered out a pretty decent drawing workflow that made the most of my new gear. I learned a lot about learning. I tidied up. I set up better backups and did some system administration chores I’d been procrastinating. Good stuff indeed.

November is going to be busy but good. I’ve got two projects going on at work, including some animation and voice recording. (That’ll be interesting to sort out with the cats and the heater…) I need to sort out possible tooth surgery for one of our cats and take care of other pet-related matters. We’re working on decluttering and organizing the house. Lots of things going on, and I want to continue doing my daily-ish drawing habit too. Let’s see how it works out!

Blog posts

Tons of sketches! You can browse through them at or check them out using this list:


  1. 2013.10.04 Drawing and scanning morning pages
  2. 2013.10.04 Imagining the future(s)
  3. 2013.10.04 Legend of Heroes – Trails in the Sky
  4. 2013.10.04 Low energy versus high energy
  5. 2013.10.04 Weekly review
  6. 2013.10.04 What would be my ideal daily drawing setup
  7. 2013.10.05 Gardening thoughts
  8. 2013.10.05 How can I help people save time
  9. 2013.10.05 Logitech H800
  10. 2013.10.06 Consulting and focus
  11. 2013.10.06 Daily drawing – thinking on paper
  12. 2013.10.06 Possible pasts
  13. 2013.10.06 Weekend cooking
  14. 2013.10.07 Alan Kay
  15. 2013.10.07 Delegation
  16. 2013.10.07 JetPens
  17. 2013.10.07 Kinds of email
  18. 2013.10.07 Reflecting on friendships that work well and ones that need figuring out
  19. 2013.10.07 Sharing circles
  20. 2013.10.07 Sketchnote Media for thinking the unthinkable
  21. 2013.10.07 Where are my people gaps
  22. 2013.10.08 Backburner
  23. 2013.10.08 Hacklab Dinner – four courses, actually!
  24. 2013.10.09 Breaking down my visual vocabulary
  25. 2013.10.09 Cats
  26. 2013.10.09 Daily drawing updates
  27. 2013.10.09 Doodles
  28. 2013.10.09 More thoughts about delegation
  29. 2013.10.09 My passport misadventures
  30. 2013.10.09 Thinking about visual outlining
  31. 2013.10.09 What do I want to learn about learning
  32. 2013.10.10 Doodles medicine
  33. 2013.10.10 Late at night
  34. 2013.10.10 Playing with lettering
  35. 2013.10.10 Relaxing
  36. 2013.10.10 Relaxing
  37. 2013.10.10 Small paper
  38. 2013.10.10 Small paper
  39. 2013.10.11 Adjusting the speed
  40. 2013.10.11 Starting from enough
  41. 2013.10.11 Weekly review
  42. 2013.10.13 Watches
  43. 2013.10.14 Long weekends
  44. 2013.10.14 Long weekends
  45. 2013.10.14 Mapping out learning
  46. 2013.10.14 Mapping what you know
  47. 2013.10.15 Applying computer science to learning
  48. 2013.10.15 Current mapping limits and challenges
  49. 2013.10.15 Reviewing what you’ve learned
  50. 2013.10.18 Gardening notes
  51. 2013.10.18 Indexing
  52. 2013.10.18 Note-taking system
  53. 2013.10.18 Note-taking techniques
  54. 2013.10.18 Weekly review
  55. 2013.10.18 What I want to learn about gardening
  56. 2013.10.19 How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think
  57. 2013.10.20 Cooking notes
  58. 2013.10.21 Fitting multiple thoughts on a page
  59. 2013.10.21 How can I think on paper more effectively
  60. 2013.10.21 When do I pause or stop when thinking about something
  61. 2013.10.22 Different methods for (assisted) learning
  62. 2013.10.22 How can I tap the value I create
  63. 2013.10.22 My new sketching and thinking workflow, and mindmap comparisons
  64. 2013.10.22 Plenty of sleep
  65. 2013.10.22 What can I do to get more value from online courses
  66. 2013.10.22 What do I need to do in terms of system administration
  67. 2013.10.23 Evernote Fujitsu ScanSnap
  68. 2013.10.23 How can I find the right balance of thinking, learning, doing, and reviewing
  69. 2013.10.23 How to Ask Questions the Smart Way (Eric S. Raymond)
  70. 2013.10.23 Sketchnote Bullet Journal (Ryder Carroll)
  71. 2013.10.23 Thinking About Getting Better at Asking Questions
  72. 2013.10.24 Asking myself better questions
  73. 2013.10.24 Current state – backups
  74. 2013.10.24 Google Helpout
  75. 2013.10.24 Mindjet 14 vs Freeplane
  76. 2013.10.24 My processes for reviewing info
  77. 2013.10.24 Personal information architecture
  78. 2013.10.24 Quantified Self Toronto
  79. 2013.10.24 Sharing my mindmap
  80. 2013.10.24 What topics do I want to make progress in daily or weekly
  81. 2013.10.25 How I organize and publish my sketches
  82. 2013.10.25 Weekly review
  83. 2013.10.25 What do I want to do with my business
  84. 2013.10.26 Planning for the trip
  85. 2013.10.27 Time Management for System Administrators – Thomas A
  86. 2013.10.28 Deployment procedures
  87. 2013.10.28 Drawing on paper versus drawing on my computer
  88. 2013.10.28 Mindmapping chat with vitaminsludge
  89. 2013.10.28 My roadmap to becoming a better geek
  90. 2013.10.28 Setting up my development environment VMs
  91. 2013.10.28 Setting up virtual machines with Vagrant
  92. 2013.10.29 Accelerate your learning through visual thinking
  93. 2013.10.29 Bike versus subway
  94. 2013.10.29 Visual Thinkers Toronto
  95. 2013.10.30 Destructive scans – is it worth cutting apart my books
  96. 2013.10.30 How can I make the most of purchases
  97. 2013.10.30 How do I break a large topic down into small questions that I can handle
  98. 2013.10.30 Playing with style – how do I want to explore
  99. 2013.10.30 What kinds of thoughts are interesting or useful for me to explore on paper
  100. 2013.10.30 Why do I prefer bottom-up thinking to top-down thinking
  101. 2013.10.30 Why does note-taking matter to me
  102. 2013.10.30 Why does note-taking matter to me – positive
  103. 2013.10.31 How do I want to tweak four months of tilting the balance towards consulting
  104. 2013.10.31 Imagining an awesome day
  105. 2013.10.31 Possibility – Hire or partner with an extrovert to interview people
  106. 2013.10.31 Reflections on cats
  107. 2013.10.31 Understanding gaps
  108. 2013.10.31 What do I want or need to store on my backup drives
  109. 2013.10.31 What do I want to explore
  110. 2013.10.31 Why do I prefer asynchronous communication, and what can I do about it
  111. 2013.11.01 Weekly review

Emacs Org Mode Customization Survey

November 4, 2013 - Categories: emacs, org

Org Mode is an outlining and TODO tool for Emacs. Except it’s so much more than that, since people have written all sorts of code to make it do way more than an outliner (or even a text editor!) usually does. Seriously, it even has a Sudoku solver. (The code is optional, so you don’t lose memory if you don’t load it.)

If you use Emacs and you haven’t tried out Org Mode yet, check it out.

If you’ve made Org Mode a part of your life, you’ve probably customized lots of little things about it. Please help the developers by submitting the customization survey to Mike McLean!

As discussed a few days ago on this list, Carsten and the other developers are interested in what and how us users are customizing Org mode. This was first done in 2009, so a re-do of the survey is useful as is for how people are using Org now, as well as a comparison to the past.

Carsten provided the function that was used before to collect the raw data and I am working on the data collection and summarization this time around.

I have place the function on Github,
The raw elisp is at:

All you need to do is:
1. Load and eval the function
2. Execute (interactive) org-customization-survey
3. Review the buffer, cleanse for sensitive information if any
4. Email the buffer to [email protected] (If your Emacs is configured for email, C-c C-c will send)

I’m looking forward to the results, which will most likely be posted to the Org Mode mailing list.

Curious about my Org configuration? Check out my annotated Emacs config.

Mapping what I’m learning

November 5, 2013 - Categories: drawing, learning

I want to learn about more than I can fit into my working memory, so I need to take notes and I need to relate those notes to each other. My sketches, blog posts, and Evernote entries are great for remembering things, but I also want to see overviews so that I don’t miss the forest for the trees. This is where mapping comes in. Mapping is about organizing topics so that I can see the relationships, find the gaps, and keep moving forward.

Mapping what you know

For example, I mapped out what I wanted to learn about learning, and I frequently refer to it while planning my next steps. 2013_10_09_17_05_50_005

I also have a few other maps at lower levels of detail. For example, this is a rough map of topics related to taking notes:

Note-taking techniques

Mapping helps me look ahead, and it also gives me a framework for connecting what I learn to what I’ve learned before.

One way to practise mapping is by mapping what you know. This helps you review your notes, identify any gaps, see how far you’ve come, and connect ideas (and discover interesting relationships you might not have come across before). Your maps can also help other people learn.

To map what you know, you can start from the bottom level (detailed notes answering specific questions) and work your way up to overviews. Alternatively, you can start from the top (an outline) and then work your way down to the specifics. Combining these strategies can help you get around mental blocks.2013_10_14_23_12_00_003

I’ve been working on mapping what I know. I’m still trying to find a good set of tools to help me do this. Instead of getting intimidated by the task, I’ve decided I’m going to start in the middle, mapping out things I recently learned and things that I’m learning next. Once I get the hang of doing that, I can start adding older entries like my blog posts.

I haven’t quite found the perfect tool yet. Evernote is great for personal notes, but even though it has public notebooks (see my sketchbook and my sketchnotes), people aren’t used to following or discussing new notes there. Flickr is good for exposure and a little discussion, but it’s not as easy to search or back up. Neither tool is good for overall non-linear organization.2013_10_15_21_39_36_004

Most note-taking systems focus on indexes for paper notes, either with straightforward tables of contents or mindmaps that refer to pages by IDs. Evernote and OneNote have been around for a long time, so I’ll probably be able to find people who have thought about how to organize lots of information using those systems. In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with using mindmaps to organize hyperlinks and next actions. I’m testing Mindjet MindManager, Xmind, and Freeplane. So far, I like Freeplane the most because:

  • the GTD add-in lets me quickly get a list of next actions
  • customizable keyboard shortcuts let me tweak the interface
  • filtering lets me focus on a selected branch
  • and hey, it’s free and open source


To make this, I added each item in my current public and private sketchbooks to my map, creating nodes when necessary. I don’t have a lot of topics in my sketchbook yet, but if I find myself with more than twenty or so items in a single category, it’s probably time to split that. I’ve split the categories in my blog index a few times, and I’m long overdue for splitting some of the others. It’s much easier to reorganize things in a map instead of editing each item, although I should come up with some kind of bulk interface so that I can update the categorizations.

The arrows are hyperlinks to either my blog posts or my Evernote entries (using evernote:// URLs from Copy Note Shortcut). I included private notes as well, so the map works only for me. Sorry! In the future, I’d love to make a version of this that omits private URLs and information. Freeplane supports lots of export formats, so maybe I’ll be able to process XML or HTML and make something that’ll help people browse too.

I’d like to get to the point of having a smooth workflow for drawing, scanning, publishing, organizing, browsing through, and following up on these thoughts. Do you know of anyone who’s doing something similar to this? This kind of visual thinking isn’t quite like the visual recording that most sketchnoters do. There are plenty of mindmaps at Biggerplate, but they look more like templates rather than thoughts-in-progress.

Reaching further back, parts of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks are online, and Prof. Carlo Pedretti’s introduction to the Codex Arundel has some notes on the structure: unnumbered loose sheets, usually one page per thought. That’s encouraging, although it doesn’t tell me much about overall structure. Part of Galileo Galilei’s notebooks are online, too. He numbered his pages and usually left plenty of whitespace. There are plenty of examples of note-takers throughout history, but it’s hard to find ones explicitly talking about how they map the connections between ideas. How to Read a Book briefly mentions building a syntopicon, so I checked out the resulting volume (A Syntopicon: An Index to The Great Ideas). It’s a huge project, but it didn’t give me a lot of clues about the process of building such a thing. More recently, there’s How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think, which described the process of making and updating a global subject map of contents. Books on study skills also talk about how to condense a lesson into successively smaller cheat sheets until you can fit everything onto one page (or an index card, or whatever the teacher permits), and that’s somewhat related to the kind of summarization and overview I want to do.

On the non-graphical front, I’ve also had fun making a huge outline of blog posts I want to write (and therefore things I want to learn about). Org Mode outlines work better than Freeplane maps for large amounts of text or fine-grained detail, so I’ll probably switch over to outlines when I’m drafting the post and then update the map with the hyperlink to the post when I’m done. It’s all tied together.

Anyway, here we are. I think the sketches and maps I’m making are promising, and I’m looking forward to digging deeper. If you happen to have put a lot of thought into a similar system, I’d love to hear from you!

Experience report/invitation: Pick my brain through Google Helpouts

November 6, 2013 - Categories: connecting, teaching

Quick note: You can book free help sessions with me through There’s a listing focused on note-taking/visual thinking, and I have two other listings focused on Emacs and introversion going through the review process. Feel free to talk to me about other topics, too!)

UPDATE 2013/11/07: More notes at the end!

I’ve been looking for ways to make it easier to help people online. ScheduleOnce + Skype/Google Hangout was great, but scheduling was a bit cumbersome, and sometimes one-hour chats felt a little awkward. When Google announced their new Helpouts service, I signed up to be one of the early providers. I started with note-taking and visual thinking because those are useful skills that a lot of people need help with, compared to digital sketchnoting workflows which would be a tiny tiny niche.

2013-10-24 Google Helpout

Although Google Helpouts lets you charge for your sessions, I decided to focus on giving help for free instead. I wanted to see what it was like and what I could help people with, and I didn’t want people to worry about the cost. I also didn’t want to worry about expectations! So I set up my Helpout listing, practised with a few people, and set aside some available slots in my calendar.

My first few Helpouts were surprisingly fun. I talked to a number of people who were either Helpout providers or people who had received invitation codes to try it out. One session turned into an awesome Emacs geeking around thing, which I need to post at some point. =)

2013-11-02 Google Helpouts Experience Report

And then it was the official launch day. Google Helpouts was open! I woke up to more than a dozen sign-ups, and my phone kept buzzing with notifications throughout the day. It was exciting and scary at the same time.

Many of the other Helpout providers said they were seeing a lot of no-shows. I didn’t mind because that meant I could get a bit of a breather in between the 15-minute sessions. I had some time to e-mail people and ask them some questions before starting, which really helped.

2013-11-05 Additional Helpout observations

I talked to students about study skills, teachers about teaching, and professionals about mindmaps and other thinking tools. I was nervous going in, but I was delighted to find that the conversations flowed well. I could think of questions for people to clarify what they needed and I shared tips that they could try. Afterwards, I felt a little buzzy, but not as much as I do from presentations (very very buzzed!) or hour-long chats.

Since the service has just launched and I’m offering a free Helpout, many people who signed up probably won’t make it to the sessions. Coding is terrible when it comes to interruptions, but drawing seems to be just fine.

2013-11-05 How does Google Helpout fit in with my goals

I really like the way answering people’s quick questions helps me validate that people want and need what I can share, and it gives me a better sense of who’s out there.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to experiment with how this fits into my flow. Where do I want to put it in my schedule, and how does it interact with the other work I want to do? Because Helpouts can break my time into lots of little segments, I want to make sure I still have blocks of focused time for deep work. I also want to avoid introvert overwhelm, and I want to focus on proactive content instead of letting Helpouts swing me too much towards being reactive. That’s why I’ve been setting aside blocks of 1-2 hours for Helpout scheduling instead of letting it take over my day. Now that we’re off Daylight Savings Time, the sun sets pretty early too, so I’m experimenting with another change to my consulting schedule. I want to make sure that I do right by my consulting client, too, and I don’t want to drop my personal projects.

Hardware-wise, I like my current setup. I handled all the calls from my newly-re-set-up desk downstairs, with a webcam, lights, and external monitor. I don’t want the sessions to interfere with W-‘s concentration, though. If he’s at home instead of at the gym, I can work in the kitchen with my extended battery. I’ll keep an Ethernet cable there as well. The kitchen isn’t as well-lit, but it will do.

So it looks like this month’s experiment will be connecting through Google Helpouts – reaching out and helping random(ish) strangers. I’m making surprisingly good progress towards my goals of modulating my pace. I’m getting better at matching people. I’m also working on articulating my thoughts without repeating words or phrases, since a stutter tends to shows up when I’m excited. If I can get the hang of harvesting questions from these Helpouts and turning them into blog posts, that would be even better. =)

UPDATE 2013/11/07:

This is working out really well! Most people respond to my intro messages, so I have a sense of what they’re interested in before we start. I’ve talked to lots of people in school who want to improve their study skills, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I can offer tips that they hadn’t considered. Enthusiasm carries across well in video chats too – it’s great to be able to bounce ideas or cheer people on. Best of all, I’ve been able to connect with people who read my blog or chat with me on Twitter – it’s just like jumping into the middle of a good conversation. I’m turning the tips into more drawings, which I’ll post on my blog. (Hmm, I should set up a mailing list…) I’ve set up AutoHotkey shortcuts for my welcome message and various URLs I find myself often sharing. There are occasional no-shows, but I don’t mind because I draw and reflect during the gaps. I just leave the Helpout window open in the background as I draw on paper. In fact, sometimes I wish people will miss their appointment so that I can keep on going. And the gradual accumulation of positive reviews is ego-gratifying – it means the stuff I learned along the way is useful, and I’m glad I can share it. =)

All of my slots are booked at the moment, which is a little mind-boggling. I’ll probably open up more after December, or maybe even during December once I figure out what my schedule is going to be like. I’m not going to open up a ton more for this month because 1-2 hours a day of intense talking to people is probably a good limit. Some days have slightly more because I got carried away with setting up my availability in the beginning, and I didn’t want to cancel any. =) Maybe I’ll settle down to ~1-2 hours every other day, and possibly have a mailing list for tips and new availability. It’s an awesome feeling helping other people out, although I also want to make sure I keep making progress on my other (quieter) projects! <laugh>


Want to give Helpouts a try? You can schedule a session with me at or browse through the other sessions at I think you can sign up there to offer your own, too. Have fun!


November 7, 2013 - Categories: drawing

image“You’ve got great handwriting,” people say. “I have really bad handwriting, so I can’t share my notes, but your handwriting looks wonderful.”

My hand-writing would look at home in kindergarten. This is the way I fill out government forms or write anything that must be read reasonably well or else Stuff Could Happen. I ditch the script that my grade school teachers taught me (slanted guidelines under a pad of paper, a callus on the wrong finger) and print print print.

I can’t speed-read my cursive. On bad days, I can’t even slowly read it. So I’ve stopped. I use cursive to sign my name (and it’s not even a fancy signature) and to dash off quick notes, but that’s it. I use print for anything I want to remember. It helps that the computer can read it too.

Maybe people feel bad about their handwriting because people get sloppy when they’re trying to write quickly, or when they’re tired. I know I find it harder to write clearly if I’m in a rush. That’s one of the reasons why I slow down or break it up with drawings. Doodles let me stretch after writing lots of letters.

I also tend to write big letters, because oddly enough it feels less tiring than writing small letters. I write slowly, much more slowly than I can type. It only looks like I’m quick because I manage to capture the key points of a presentation while the speaker’s talking. But it’s not about writing everything down, and besides, that wouldn’t fit anyway on the page anyway. I learned from reading tons of business books that most ideas come surrounded by lots of fluff.

Here’s another idea: maybe people make handwriting too much a part of their identity. Maybe print feels less sophisticated than script, which is why people don’t use it as much. I don’t need my handwriting to be a clue to my personality. I don’t need it to say that I’m smart or stylish, or that I survived the supervision of my grade school teachers.

Maybe people stick with one style instead of experimenting, because they don’t want to look wishy-washy. My handwriting isn’t my handwriting. It’s just a way I write. It changes over time.

It’s funny how much your handwriting isn’t even about you but about the tools you use. Some of my friends have really neat handwriting. They print in these incredibly even, confident, lined-up letters. I fake evenness and confidence with a computer. Or with a technical pen or gel pen, if I have to write on paper. Everything looks better in smooth black ink. Everything looks fancier with a fountain pen. I wondered about how they managed to write so neatly. I asked them about it, and they told me they noticed the same thing with pens. The pen you use affects how you write.

What happens if you forget about being embarrassed about your handwriting, and just write? What happens if you play with the way you write?

High energy and low energy activities

November 8, 2013 - Categories: productivity

What kinds of activities need high energy, and what can you do when you feel more tired? Which activities energize you and which ones drain you? It’s good to think about these things so that:

  • You can keep low-energy activities out of your peak creative/energetic hours – save those for high-impact high-energy projects!
  • You can work on something productive even when you don’t feel like you’re at the top of your game – and you don’t waste time trying to think of something to do when you’re feeling blah.
  • You can identify your energy drainers and find ways around them, or limit their effect on the rest of your day.

It’s good to know how to take advantage of your high energy moments. It’s also good to know what moves you from one energy state to another. What do you do to relax or unwind? What do you do to recharge? What drains you, and what gives you more energy? What can you do when you feel tired, and what should you do when you feel at your peak? Don’t waste great energy on low-value or low-energy tasks. Don’t get frustrated if you can’t focus on high-energy tasks when you’re tired.

Here’s a list I made of the things I do when I have low, medium, or high energy. For the most part, things energize me. Some activities like e-mail, talking to people, shopping, or dealing with technical issues can be draining, so I try to avoid doing them before high-energy activities.

Low energy versus high energy

When I drew things out like this, I realized that drawing on paper was different for me compared to drawing on my computer. I find it easier to draw on paper at night because drawing on my computer often tempts me to stay up late. I started drawing more on paper in order to take advantage of those low-energy moments and expand the time I spend thinking visually, scanning the sketches in and using my phone or computer to organize the sketches afterwards.

If I’m alert and energetic, I know that I should focus on writing, coding, or other high-energy activities instead of spending time handling e-mail or getting distracted by watching a movie in the background.

What do you do when you have high energy? How about low energy? How do you energize yourself, and how do you deal with your drainers?

Weekly review: Week ending November 8, 2013

November 9, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Super-typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was a complete mess. My family is okay, but lots of people aren’t. Find out how you can help. In Canada? The Canadian government is matching donations made through Red Cross and other charities. I’m donating in lieu of buying gifts, and we’re going to see about helping out more when we’re in the Philippines next month.

Blog posts

Link roundup



2013-11-08 Weekly review


Oh, I filed taxes on Monday, too!

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (55.6h – 33%)
    • Earn (20.2h – 36% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
      • [X] [#A] Draw sketch ideas for different “scenes” for the first script
      • [X] [#A] Record audio for trailer
      • [ ] [#A] Sketch and animate trailer
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
    • Build (15.6h – 28% of Business)
      • [X] Set up incremental backups
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (10.6h)
        • [X] Draw something technical
        • [X] Process October sketches for visual vocabulary purposes
        • [X] Rescan black sketchbook
        • [ ] Convert sketches into blog posts
        • [ ] Draw more emotions
      • Paperwork (1.7h)
        • [X] Call CRA for web access code
        • [X] File T2
        • [X] File payroll return
        • [X] Log depreciation expenses
        • [X] Log taxes paid
    • Connect (19.8h – 35% of Business)
      • [ ] Start planning Friday evening Hangout session – maybe 29th
      • [ ] Set up mailing list for notetaking and learning
  • Relationships (8.4h – 4%)
    • [X] Call Bathurst Dupont Animal Hospital
    • [X] Call Bloor West Animal Hospital to see if they can refer to a lower rate
    • [X] Call Fraser
    • [X] Set up project management for house stuff?
    • [X] [#B] Comparison-shop for Luke’s possible dental work
    • [X] Take Luke to Bathurst Dupont Animal Hospital for a second opinion
    • [ ] Have vaccination information faxed over
    • [ ] Prototype box cover cushion
    • [ ] Reply to the Hattoris
  • Discretionary – Productive (8.2h – 4%)
    • [X] Look into johnw video problems
    • [X] [#A] Reflect on delta
    • [ ] Process chat with Magnar – time bookmarks
    • Writing (6.3h)
  • Discretionary – Play (4.7h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (17.3h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (18.3h – 10%)
  • Sleep (59.8h – 35% – average of 8.5 per day)

Current state of my backups

November 11, 2013 - Categories: geek

It’s good to have backups. It’s even better to document the backup and recovery procedure, and to test the backups regularly. Here’s where I am in terms of backups and what I’m working on next.

Current state - backups

2013-10-31 What do I want or need to store on my backup drives


The biggest weaknesses I need to work on are:

  • Testing my image backups without risking my main computer – maybe a different drive.
  • Setting up offsite backups, probably handled by swapping encrypted drives and keeping one stored at HackLab
  • Cloning my backup VM into a development VM with proper version control and committing, so I can easily copy changes over

I’ve grabbed files from my backup a few times, and I’m so glad I had them. I wish I’d been better at keeping financial statements and things like that from earlier. I have Ledger records but no electronic statements from 2009. I’ve gotten much better at saving statements every month, so now they’re part of my regular archives. Working on it!

Thinking about how to get better at asking questions

November 12, 2013 - Categories: learning

I tend to learn most things by trying them out or by reading. That’s because I speed-read like nobody’s business, having taught myself the technique as a way of getting out of grade-school reading periods and into the computer lab. =) The downside of being really fast at reading is that I tend to neglect other ways to learn, so I made this sketch to remind me that there are other ways to learn things.

Different methods for (assisted) learning

I’m getting better at listening to podcasts and watching videos, although I still listen to them at 2x speed whenever I can change that setting. Before I can make better use of classes or coaches, though, I probably need to work on asking questions.

Come to think of it, I didn’t ask a lot of questions when I was in school. I usually raised my hand to answer questions, but I rarely took advantage of teachers’ office hours. I read, I wrote programs, I struggled with tests, but I didn’t ask. Even now, when I’m debugging problems or figuring stuff out, I tend to push through on my own instead of asking.

I should learn how to ask better. It’s useful. It can save me time, and it can encourage other people to share what they know. I wonder what’s keeping me from asking, and how I can work around it.

Thinking About Getting Better at Asking Questions

Part of the reason why I seldom ask questions, I guess, is that I tend to follow Eric S. Raymond’s advice on How to Ask Questions the Smart Way. I don’t want to waste people’s time by asking questions that have been asked before or that can be answered with a little digging, so I investigate things first. It might take me a few hours or even a couple of days, but I can often solve things on my own. Then I blog about it so that the answer becomes a little more searchable for other people.

How to Ask Questions the Right Way (Eric S. Raymond)

Maybe I should adopt a rule like this one from Akamai: You Must Try, and Then You Must Ask. When you’re about to give up, push on for fifteen minutes. Document your work so far. Take notes. Then you must ask. Call for help. Share your notes. You can keep digging afterwards, but you should ask, because otherwise you’re wasting time.

I feel self-conscious about asking, but I should work around that because asking people for help builds relationships and encourages them to share what they know. So I’m going to practise asking: first on Twitter because it’s quick and optional and in the stream, then maybe on Quora or Stack Overflow or Facebook, and then more thoughts and questions on my blog.

Good question-asking is probably the ability to concisely express a question that invites people to answer it. When I get the hang of asking, then I can make better use of other ways to learn. Interviews, webinars, courses and coaching are more effective for people who ask good questions.

If I spend a lot of time crafting questions, that makes it difficult to go to a presentation or a webinar and come up with new questions on the fly. Clearly, I should be coming to those with prepared questions that I can tweak based on the presentation contents. If I can keep a list or map of the questions I’m exploring, then I can pull out the ones that are related to a topic and ask them if the speaker covers material that’s related or tangential to my questions. Hmm…

What about teaching people how to ask me better questions? One of the nifty things that I’m learning from doing all these Google Helpouts sessions is that there’s a world of difference between vague questions and focused, prepared questions. When people ask me good questions, we’re off and running, and we pack so many things into a 15-minute conversation. When people ask me vague questions, I have to work a little bit harder to dig up something good.

Teaching people with vague questions_thumb

I don’t want to just focus on people who already know how to ask good questions. It’s good to help people learn how to ask better questions, and I’ll learn a lot about asking better questions myself.

2013-11-10 How can people ask me good questions_thumb

When people can identify their goals and share their experiences with things that have or haven’t worked for them, that makes it so much easier to help – especially if they also identify something they want to learn from me. This speeds up the conversation tremendously, because we can jump right into the middle. Even starting with expectations and differences can help. I’m getting better at guiding people through vague questions, but it’s a real joy to help people with great questions.

Have you worked on asking better questions? What did you learn? Are there great resources I should check out?

Google Helpouts Update: People like it, so how do we scale this up?

November 13, 2013 - Categories: connecting, teaching

It turns out that the newly-launched Google Helpouts platform is a great way to offer quick, focused help to people. 15 minutes is just enough time to ask a few questions to understand where people are coming from and share some tips and resources that can help them try out something new.

My note-taking Helpout is fully booked for the rest of the slots I opened in November. I’m keeping it to 15-minute slots for two hours a day or every other day so that I don’t get overwhelmed. My two other listings (Emacs geekery and introvert hacking) just went live. I added a few slots for those so that I can test the idea out. You can find all three at… but they’re probably going to be fully booked by the time most people check it out.

Requests for more slots are piling up in my inbox, and I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do about them. I really really want to connect! People have all these fascinating questions, and I’ve gotten great conversations and drawing prompts out of these Google Helpouts. But I can’t let it take over my work or my life, so I need to find a better way to scale up that don’t involve just adding more hours.

2013-11-07 Google Helpouts - sold out

One way to increase my impact without increasing my hours is to reduce the no-show rate. I think charging for a Helpout (even if I refund it on attendance) will drastically reduce my sign-up rate because people will need to set up a Google Wallet. I’m reluctant to introduce that kind of friction and effort when many of the people reaching out to me are blog readers (hi folks!) or students. I could be wrong about this assumption, so I should test it. Maybe charging will still result in sign-ups, in which case I may set the fee to a token amount (a cup of hot chocolate?) and inch it up until the slots reach equilibrium.2013-11-08 Wha twould make me feel comfortable with charging for a Helpout

I want to make sure that I’m overdelivering value and that I can still encourage people to contact me for free. I’ve started a discussion in the Helpouts community to find out whether my idea of directing people to free resources (Hangout on Air? Blog and mailing list?) that are outside the Helpouts platform is compatible with Google’s Terms of Service. Google doesn’t want Helpout providers to channel people off the platform and into non-Google-hosted paid services… Would they mind if I nudged people towards free resources if I’m out of scheduled slots? We’ll see.

If I go this way, I also want a significant non-Google-Helpouts-marketplace way of encouraging people to sign up. That’s because most people browsing it will probably focus on the free offers (I would too!), and I want to make sure that people who really want to talk to me can still find me. I could update the page about what I can help people with so that it lists different topics and options in a visually engaging way.

Anyway, assuming that charging fills the time 100% with people who show up prepared to ask questions and pick my brain, then that effectively doubles my impact. It’s still about 1:1 interaction, though, and it’s still going to be limited by hours. Another way for me to scale up the help I can provide is to collect the answers together. For example, here are some sketches that grew out of people’s questions over the past week:

If my goal for doing these Helpouts is to collect interesting questions that I can use to share what I’m learning and fill in the navigational gaps, then it’s in my interest to ask questions beforehand, share some quick resources, and cancel Helpouts if people aren’t responsive or if those resources answer the question so that other people can take the slot. (Be firm, Sacha!) The Helpouts interface doesn’t make it easy to keep track of the age of messages, but maybe using Google Mail with Boomerang will do the trick. Most likely, people who are engaged will then have follow-up questions, so we can fill in the next gap along the trail.

2013-11-08 How would I scale up helping people learn more effectively

People don’t need more information. They need to figure out where to start. For me, the value I provide in the Helpout is in the back-and-forth of a quick conversation that clarifies what people need. That way, I can either point them to the right resources or give them some tips in case there are no such resources handy. (And then I can build those!) It’s a little difficult to do with a group session, although maybe if I get better at Q&A, I might be able to pull that off.

So maybe what I need to do is:

  • Update the help page on my site and add different help options to it.
  • Set up a mailing list for Hangout On Air, new Helpout availability, and new resources for different topics.
  • Schedule a Hangout On Air experimental Q&A.
  • Test conversion through my own page. Keep the session free.
  • Package free resources.
  • Be firmer about session preparation. Maybe give guidelines: three questions?
  • Switch to a token fee with a cancellation policy, especially if I can update the listing or autorespond with include alternatives when fully booked.

Any suggestions?

It’s okay to draw simple visual notes

November 14, 2013 - Categories: drawing

Other people’s sketchnotes can be intimidating. People draw so well! They use colours! They have creative layouts!

If you were waiting for permission to start, if you were waiting for permission to draw simple notes, here it is: It’s okay.

I don’t focus on the artistic aspect when I draw my notes. Sure, I’ll deliberately practise techniques and work on expanding my visual vocabulary from time to time, but I want to spend more time learning than worrying about drawing.

2013-11-14 What do I focus on when drawing visual notes

So instead of thinking about composition and creativity, I focus on the kinds of things that make it easy for me to draw what I’m learning and to get back to them afterwards.

  • Ease: I cut out anything that gets in the way of thinking. This is why I tend to add colour after I draw (if at all), I don’t add fancy flourishes, and I usually publish first drafts instead of endlessly refining my drawing or layout.
  • Readability: I want to be able to speed-read my sketchnotes, and I want other people to find them readable as well. So I try to write clearly, horizontally, and in block letters, avoiding script or hard-to-read lettering.
  • Detail: I write more detailed notes than many sketchnoters do. I want my notes to save me from having to reread the book or re-watch the presentation unless I want an exact quote or list. I also want the notes to share all the key points even with people who haven’t seen or heard the source material.  I figure we can always make a summary later on, but it’s hard to go the other way around.
  • Search: I also optimize for long-term search and storage. I keep my handwriting neat and easy for computers to read. I invest time in updating filenames, adding tags, and publishing my notes in various places and backing them up. I want my notes to be available for the long term and for as many people as possible.
  • Action/change: When I take notes for myself, I want to make it easier to do something about what I learn. What will I do or change based on the thought I’m exploring, the book I’m reading, the presentation I’m listening to? That way, I’m not just passively recording information, I’m using it to make stuff happen.

I take a utilitarian approach to sketchnotes. That said, it’s also fun to relax my brain and doodle a little, like this:

2013-11-12 People-drawing practice

If you’re worried about not being able to figure out a sketch the first time around, shading it in hides many attempts to figure things out. ;)

Making the most of Standard Time as the days grow shorter

November 15, 2013 - Categories: life, productivity, time

The transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time is always a little shocking. Suddenly the sunlight’s gone by 5 PM. It always used to make me feel a little colder, a little odder. This year, I’m playing around with some mindset shifts that might do for Standard Time what renaming “winter” to “baking season” did in terms of my happiness. =)

(Click on the images for a larger version.)

2013-11-05 Standard Time - Winter Time

Since my consulting engagement has flexible hours, I can arrange my schedule so that I commute during off-peak hours, and I work from home three days of the week anyway. Sunlight is important to me, so I go for a quick walk at lunch. This means that on the days that I work on-site, I’m not too tired when I get home in the evenings, and on the days I work at home, I have time to go to the library or run other small errands.

That frees up the evening for writing, drawing, learning, coding, and all the other things that fill my discretionary time. Having a long evening means I can break it into several chunks of useful, focused work, while still taking care of chores. It feels pretty relaxed – almost freeing! Maybe this will become something that will help me look forward to shorter days.

2013-11-04 Revising my mornings

Mornings are worth playing around with, too. I thought about shifting more of my waking hours to the morning because it often comes up in productivity advice, but I like being able to sleep in a little. That said, I also like lining things up so that I can gain momentum in the morning, and the bright sunshine is nice to enjoy.

This mindset shift looks promising. It breaks down yet another one of those barriers to making the most of life year-round. How do you deal with shorter days? Any tips?

Weekly review: Week ending November 15, 2013

November 17, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Lots of Google Helpouts stuff this week! Also lots of drawing of getting started stuff, etc. Next week, more stuff related to Google Helpouts and Emacs hangouts, plus working on animation for a consulting project….

Blog posts


Instead of drawing weekly reviews (which are starting to look alike! =) ) I’m going to feature one of my favourite sketches from the week instead.

2013-11-14 How can you get started with visual note-taking

Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (52.2h – 31%)
    • Earn (20.6h – 39% of Business)
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
      • [X] [#A] Sketch and animate trailer
      • [ ] E2: Animate snippets of script 1
      • [ ] E2: Re-animate trailer
      • [ ] E2: Record audio for script 1
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
    • Build (16.7h – 31% of Business)
      • [X] Sort out Evernote authentication
      • Drawing (14.7h)
        • [X] Draw more stick figures
        • [X] Convert sketches into blog posts
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (14.9h – 28% of Business)
      • [X] Start planning Friday evening Hangout session – maybe 29th
      • [ ] TWIH: Copy broadcast URL and add to Event, Helpouts Discuss; share tips, take notes
      • [ ] TWIH: Draft event announcement and communication plan
      • [ ] TWIH: Post Event
      • [ ] TWIH: Quick update, check how things are going; choose topic for next show
      • [ ] TWIH: Research quick tips
      • [ ] Chat with Xah Lee about Emacs Hangouts
      • [ ] Prepare Mapping Your Learning presentation
      • [ ] Rejig 404 page and search page
      • [ ] Set up mailing list for notetaking and learning
  • Relationships (4.3h – 2%)
    • [X] Have vaccination information faxed over
    • [X] Reply to the Hattoris
  • Discretionary – Productive (5.8h – 3%)
    • [X] Process chat with Magnar – time bookmarks
    • [X] [#A] Reflect on delta
    • Writing (3.6h)
  • Discretionary – Play (1.5h – 0%)
    • Started playing new Katamari game
  • Personal routines (23.9h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (13.5h – 8%)
  • Sleep (67.0h – 39% – average of 9.6 per day)

My new Google Hangouts On Air checklist, plus upcoming Nov 29 Q&A on learning

November 18, 2013 - Categories: process

Google Hangouts On Air is a quick, free way to have a videocast with up to 10 participants and as many passive watchers as you want, thanks to streaming through YouTube. The stream is about 20 seconds delayed and the commenting interface is still kinda raw, but as a quick way to set up and broadcast video chats, it’s hard to beat that.

I picked up a lot of great ideas from Pat Flynn’s first Q&A Hangout. He used ChatWing to set up a chat room that everyone could join, and the experience was much smoother than using CommentTracker or something like that.

Here’s my new Google Hangouts On Air workflow for the Emacs Chats series I’ve been doing. Since the Emacs crowd is fairly technical, I used IRC as my chat room, with a web interface for others who didn’t have an IRC client handy. (Naturally, I used ERC to chat on IRC from within Emacs.) Having other people around worked out really well, because I could take a break and ask other people’s questions. =)

2013-11-03 My new Google Hangouts workflow

The other new thing I tried this time around was starting the broadcast really early (like, half an hour early) and setting it to share my screen with the coming-soon information, which meant that I could post the streaming URL in lots of different places.

I’d like to expand this to doing regular Hangouts On Air Q&As or conversations. How about we use the URL to point to the next Hangout On Air I’ve scheduled? As of this writing, this will be a Q&A on November 29 on learning and note-taking. We’ll probably stream it over YouTube and have a chat room for discussion/Q&A. Want to pick my brain? See you then!

(Want more one-on-one help? Book a Helpout session – there’s a nominal charge to keep slots available instead of letting no-shows book them all.)

Finding the right balance between thinking, learning, doing, and reviewing

November 19, 2013 - Categories: learning

Do you overthink things? Do you read a lot about productivity instead of actually doing things? Do you get so caught up in doing things that you don’t know where the time went? Do you focus too much on the past instead of moving on? It can be tricky to find the balance among all these things – to plan and learn and do and review just enough so that you can get to the next stage, and to keep going through that cycle instead of getting stuck. It’s all about staying focused on action.

I struggle with this sometimes too. It’s so easy, so tempting to keep learning abstract ideas. But the real learning happens when you act on it.

2013-11-01 How can I keep my learning focused on action

You can also think of this in terms of a pipeline. If you’re thinking about too much but your plans aren’t making it to the next stage, you’ve got lots of floating ideas. If you’re learning a lot from other people but you’re not putting what you learn into practice, it stays abstract. If you’re doing a lot but you don’t have time to review or adjust your plans, you might end up doing the wrong things. And if you’re reviewing a lot without thinking about how to move forward, you get stuck.

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this balance. I haven’t figured it out yet. I want to find just the right mix so that I’m not overloading my memory or my capacity to learn from things.

How can I find the right balance of thinking, learning, doing, and reviewing

Thinking and planning: If I rush in, I waste time backtracking. If I spend too much time thinking without doing things, I go around in circles. If I do this just right, then I would think about something just enough to let me identify some resources to learn from and experiments to try. Right now, I tend to spend more effort thinking than I probably should. I can tell because I find myself writing down the same TODOs in my sketches. One of the reasons why I’m focusing on thinking so much is because I’m sorting out this new workflow, so once it settles down, I’ll move forward faster. Current: Too much

Learning from other people: If I do too little of this, I waste time figuring things out myself. If I spend too much time doing this, I read and listen without actually trying things. If I do this just right, then I would learn enough to get me to the point of trying things out. I used to spend way more time learning from other people compared to thinking on my own, so I’ve been pulling back. I might have pulled back excessively, though. I’ll get to this after I get into the swing of doing things, or as part of my efforts to learn how to ask better questions. Current: Not enough

Doing things: Coding, building, trying things out… If I do too little of this, my notes stay abstract. If I do too much of this, it’s usually at the expense of good notes, and that makes it difficult to review what I’ve done or reuse my solutions. If I do this just right, then I’ll be working in tight, time-limited, focused chunks that make it easy to review and re-plan along the way. (Although since I’m focusing on learning at the moment, does my thinking and planning count as doing? Hmm…) Current: Not enough

Reviewing: This involves writing about what I’ve learned and figuring out the next steps. If I do too little of this, the days blur together. If I do too much of this… Can I do too much of this? Maybe if I write more than what I and other people would find valuable (well, the cost-benefit equation considering number of people and value). For example, it doesn’t make sense to spend days thinking about a meal (Proust notwithstanding), although spending half an hour to write up a technical solution is probably worth it. Current: All right

So my plan for the next few months is to settle into these new “habits of mind” for thinking, gradually check off more tasks, and then work on getting better at learning from other people. I’m also curious about efficiency improvements for reviewing, such as dictating my blog posts or building up Flickr as a quick way for people to follow or comment on my notes.

How about you? What’s your balance like, and how would you like to tweak it?

Google Helpouts update: Building the community

November 20, 2013 - Categories: connecting

Google Helpouts is in the early days of the platform, and I’m fascinated by how people are figuring it out. The communities are based in Google+, naturally, because that’s where all the accounts are. There’s an official private community for accepted Helpers (Helpouts Discuss), and a couple of other unofficial communities like the Helpouts Trading Post. I pay attention to Helpouts Discuss and I check on other communities through my Google+ page. I like seeing how people adapt to tools and how tools also adapt to people.

After sharing my experience report on the Google Helpouts launch, I wrote about how I was thinking about scaling up. Here are the results:

  • Update the help page on my site and add different help options to it. Created landing page at with links to resources
  • Set up a mailing list for Hangout On Air, new Helpout availability, and new resources for different topics. No mailing list yet, but I’ve added a little more availability.
  • Schedule a Hangout On Air experimental Q&A. Scheduled! Details at
  • Test conversion through my own page. Keep the session free. Decided to jump to a token fee instead.
  • Package free resources: More progress – Flickr + blogs
  • Be firmer about session preparation. Maybe give guidelines: three questions? I didn’t have to lean on people or cancel any slots. =) I don’t mind the no-shows so much because I can always do something with the time, so it’s just about prioritizing slots for people who want them.
  • Switch to a token fee with a cancellation policy, especially if I can update the listing or autorespond with include alternatives when fully booked. Done! The listing links to, so people have someplace to go if I’m out of slots.

The conversations on Helpouts Discuss are great for inspiration. They’re also interesting as a way to see different approaches to challenges. I love it when people share how they’re working around the current limitations, and I’m happy to share my process experiments. Instead of waiting for Google to change things, I’d rather think: “What can I do right now to make this better?” As it turns out, there are lots of things one can do.

2013-11-17 Google Helpouts and action focus

This takes time and effort, of course, but I think it might be worth the investment. A great test for a plan is whether it still makes sense and whether people will still be okay with it even if you tell people about it. ;) Here’s how Google Helpouts fits into my current master plan:

2013-11-16 How Google Helpouts fit into my current master plan

I’m planning to learn from people’s questions and use those as prompts to fill in the gaps by writing, drawing, or organizing useful content. I’m also interested in helping the Helpouts provider community, because there’s a lot to figure out and many people don’t have the time, patience, or skills to do so. If I can get better at helping people learn and connecting with people along the way, then I can build on that network and those skills for future ideas as well.

For example, some of the other providers have been organizing informal Hangouts where we swap tips or even just work on things while chatting with people in the background. (It’s the virtual cafe!) For example, while I’m drafting this post, Matt Gibson is writing his biography for a new website. I’ve been taking notes of the more tip-oriented Hangouts so that we can come back to those tips later. Here are my notes from the first one I joined. (That was a bit of a scramble because I only started taking notes halfway through and I didn’t have anything set up – fortunately, my Cintiq was handy…)

2013-11-15 Helpout Hints Hangout - page 1

2013-11-15 Helpout Hints Hangout - page 2

I’ve been organizing the community tips into a logical order and writing them up, and Al Navas and I are planning a weekly podcast that will have panels and tips. This is fantastic! It gives me more opportunities to practise accelerating people’s learning in a brand-new field.

There’s a lot I want to learn that I can exercise through Helpouts – either helping people directly, or helping people who help people.

2013-11-16 What am I specifically interested in learning from Helpouts

I want to get better at focused conversations, content creation, video/podcasting, conversion… If there’s anything here you’d like to help me and other people with, please share! In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for the next little step I can take and how I can make things better. =)


How to cheat when animating sketches

November 21, 2013 - Categories: drawing, geek, process, tips

I’ve been working on some animations for my consulting engagement. My new “green-screen” workflow involves Camtasia Studio’s Replace a Color feature, a large secondary motor, and the Cintiq 12 WX (although any USB tablet will probably do fine). It works really well! I re-rendered my 4-minute video because I wanted to use the WAV export as the audio instead of the MP3 export – better audio quality.

My old workflow (Artrage Studio Pro script recording and then some text manipulation to get it to save frames) ran about 4 hours per audio minute. This one’s at about two hours per audio minute, and it could take even less of my time if I could delegate the editing and synchronization to someone else. (Not for this one because of the contract, but maybe next time!)

Here are some other ways to cheat when animating sketches. Click on the image for a larger version.

2013-11-08 How to cheat when animating sketches

No samples, sorry, but maybe I’ll plan my own animations after this consulting project is finished.

In the meantime, here’s a quick glimpse of how to use Remove a Color in Camtasia Studio:

Decluttering and reimagining the house

November 22, 2013 - Categories: life

We’ve been working on decluttering the house and crossing off the projects that have languished on our to-do list. Weekends are good for cleaning blitzes and household sprints. Now I try to get through as many tasks as I can in our Asana-managed project before I focus on writing or other computer-y things.

2013-11-04 Reimagining the house

I haven’t quite figured out what my home decorating style is and how that meshes with W-‘s. I don’t really relate to the fancy images in the online style quizzes. I like the way we are, I guess. Maybe with a little bit less stuff, maybe with a little more coherence, but roughly what our house’s personality is right now. Chances are that if we change things around, I’d probably be happy with that too. Hedonic adaptation, you know.

2013-11-07 House style

I’m good at getting rid of stuff, though. W- occasionally rescues still-useful things from the donation pile.


Still, it’s so easy to feel comfortable. Sometimes I feel disconnected from my cohort. The circumstances I thought I could reasonably strive towards on my own (maybe a tiny apartment while I focus on other priorities?) are so different from this lucking into a wonderful household life. Wow! I’m in a house! With a garden! And not all of our furniture came from Ikea! And my husband and I love cooking, and have a kitchen we feel comfortable making things in! I fight hedonic adaptation every inch of the way. Part of me is still in the shared rooms of my student life, so this is amazing.

It’s good to gradually grow into a space, to tweak it to fit the way we live, to create order and trim excess. Once in a while we change the flow: the couch migrated from the front of the house to the side, the bookshelves moved from one wall to the other, the pantry shifted to the kitchen where it’s within easy reach of busy cooks. It’s part of growing up.

I’m learning things about myself as we make decisions about what to surround ourselves with. I am becoming more ruthless about gifts and decorative items – it must have strong positive emotions, or it’s out. I’ve come to terms with getting rid of at least half the stationary collection I’d accumulated over optimistic impulse buys. I want room to breathe. I want nothing collecting cobwebs and guilt. Don’t get me gifts, give me stories of your life well-lived. (Or support causes: there are always people who need help.)

I have to be careful about how I think of the space around me. It won’t do to have my head turned by home décor or interior design magazines—I distrust industries that want me to consume endlessly. I need to keep it simple and not distracting, then learn to add whatever little things resonate with me as I discover them.

HHO001: Strategies for free and paid listings

November 22, 2013 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

2013-11-22 Helpers Helpout - Free and Paid

This week’s panel focuses on how to minimize no-shows for free sessions and build up to paid sessions.

Here’s a link to the questions and answers for this show.

This post is available at


Weekly review: Week ending November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Lots of drawing, and lots of getting ready. =) Also, kicked off first session of Helpers Help Out!

Blog posts


Here’s my favourite sketch of the week: =)

2013-11-17 My current strategy for building awesomeness

Lots of other sketches related to Google Helpouts, study/learning skills, and answering people’s questions.

Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (57.4h – 34%)
    • Earn (18.3h – 31% of Business)
      • [X] E2: Animate snippets of script 1
      • [X] E2: Edit animations for script 1
      • [X] E2: Edit audio for script 1
      • [X] E2: Re-animate trailer
      • [X] E2: Record audio for script 1
      • [X] E2: Sync animation for script 1c
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
    • Build (11.7h – 20% of Business)
      • Drawing (9.8h)
        • [X] Time image processing
        • [X] Convert sketches into blog posts
        • [X] Draw guide to sketchnoting
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
  • Connect (27.4h – 47% of Business)
    • [X] Chat with Xah Lee about Emacs Hangouts
    • [X] Helpers Help Out Show #2
    • [ ] Helpers Help Out Show #2
    • [ ] Prepare Mapping Your Learning presentation
  • Relationships (6.0h – 3%)
    • [X] Prepare stuff
  • Discretionary – Productive (5.2h – 3%)
    • Writing (4.7h)
  • Discretionary – Play (4.6h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (18.4h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (11.8h – 7%)
  • Sleep (64.7h – 38% – average of 9.2 per day)

Emacs Chat: Magnar Sveen (Emacs Rocks)

November 25, 2013 - Categories: emacs, Emacs Chat, podcast

UPDATE 2014-01-27: Transcript posted!
UPDATE: Want just the audio? MP3 / OGG

Here are the notes from my chat with Magnar Sveen, the creator of the Emacs Rocks screencast series and a number of other great Emacs resources. Enjoy!

0m48s Magnar has been using Emacs for two years
2m30s Moving from TextMate
3m45s World of Warcraft
4m10s Friend’s influence
5m10s Learning as a game
6m10s Other ways of learning – time outside work
7m44s Screencasting
9m30s Things Magnar wants to learn more about – Org
10m19s What else Magnar does with Emacs
11m17s Norwegian text adventure game
12m08s Outside Emacs: family, board games (120!)
13m41s Managing a large hobby project
14m30s Learning through projects
14m48s Dealing with feeling overwhelmed by Emacs
16m38s Hardware
20m20s Emacs configuration
20m40s Projects with perspective-mode
21m32s Find file in project, ido-vertical-mode, flx-ido
23m45s Switching between projects
25m01s Guide-key
25m56 Rebinding C-h
26m36 paredit and smartparens
29m20s visual-regexp
30m35s annoying-arrows-mode
32m45s project-archetype
35m15s Wishlist: package management
35m55s Satisfied with configuration
35m25s Marks and regions
37m20s Configuration is on github
37m40s evil-mode
40m00s Feedback on Emacs Rocks
42m00s Growing to appreciate Emacs because of extensibility
43m15s The giraffe book
44m57s Getting code into core
49m39 Emacs koans?
51m45s IRC bot
52m50s Learning from other people in the office
54m40s Other questions
56m23s Board game recommendations

Read or download the transcript

Check out Emacs Chat for more interviews like this. Got a story to tell about how you learned about or how you use Emacs? Get in touch!

How I review my notes

November 26, 2013 - Categories: learning, tips

I’ve been trying to figure out how to improve my processes for reviewing my notes. Writing things down and drawing things (more often now!) are great ways to remember, but imagine if I could get even better at keeping track of current information and digging up things from my archive. My weekly, monthly, and yearly reviews have been really helpful even for just the decade I’ve kept them. I think they’ll be amazing to extend over a lifetime.

My processes for reviewing info

Come to think of it, my review needs probably fall into these categories:

  • A. Open loops: I need to be able to review my notes for things I’m working on, especially if they go beyond a few pages or what my memory can hold. I can make this easier by keeping an index or map of things I’m currently thinking about so that important topics don’t fall through the cracks.
  • B. Growth / review: I like reviewing how far I’ve come, checking that against my plans and thinking about what I want to do next. Progress is hard to see day by day, so records help.
  • C. Topics I’m thinking about in depth, especially over time: I can simplify review by organizing things into larger and larger chunks, like the way that writing subroutines makes programs easier to understand and remember.
  • D. Archived information: Book notes, experiences, topics I’m not actively thinking about, and so on. I don’t refer to these regularly, although I occasionally need to dig them up. It’s great if these are publicly viewable and searchable, because then other people can look up stuff without being limited by what I remember. (Don’t ask me for book recommendations when I’m walking around; blog comments and e-mails are better channels because I can refer to my notes.)

In particular, I’m working on getting better at thinking about topics that are beyond what I can hold in my head (C). Combining mind-mapping with sketches looks like a promising approach, and making summary sketches/blog posts can help me chunk things better too.

I also want to get better at tracking decisions so that I can review them 9-12 months later (or at a suitable review date), which is one of the tips from Peter Drucker’s Managing Oneself (see my sketchnote). I’ve posted decision reviews before, but it would be good to make the process more reliable. Making decision analysis part of my daily drawing practice will help with documenting larger decisions, and then I can use Evernote or Org reminders to schedule the review.

Reviewing what I’ve been learning can also help me see what I want to learn more about next. If I can keep my main topics in mind and focus on exploring subtopics that are near those, then I can take notes that are more useful for myself and other people. It’s different from a scattershot approach because it lets me build up more competency or understanding in different areas, and it’s different from a tightly focused approach because this way I don’t overspecialize or get bored, and I can play with the connections between ideas.


Most of the note-taking tips out there focus on school, of course. I wasn’t sure how useful those tips would be once you’re done with exams and final projects, but they might be handy after all. It’s easy to convince yourself that you know enough about something, but the real test is using that knowledge to do something new or become someone different. How will learning something change me? What will I be able to do?

Reviewing what you've learned

In addition to learning something from the way school structures reviews, maybe I can learn from people who have kept journals for decades, and authors who do extensive research (maybe nonfiction books in the same area?). I’d love to learn more about how prolific note-takers organize and review their information. I’m not interested in perfect memory or people for whom this is easy. I’d love to learn from people who have thought about it, tried different things, and found ways that worked better for them. Thoughts?

Google Helpouts update: Helping people learn, thinking about business strategies

November 27, 2013 - Categories: connecting

After a few weeks of occasional 15-minute Google Helpout sessions with people interested in improving their learning and note-taking skills, I’ve learned a little more about what I like and what I want to focus on. It’s mind-boggling, but it turns out that I can actually help people with stuff. Yay!

I started with free sessions, and quite a few of my early Helpouts were with university and graduate students looking for ways to get through lectures and prepare for exams. I picked up a lot of questions and put together additional resources, which I’ve been sharing through Flickr (see the Learning category). Since the Helpouts were free, I thought about what would make it worth my time and theirs.

2013-11-06 Helping students with study skills

I got a number of inquiries from parents who were interested in helping their kids study better. I felt less comfortable doing that, although I didn’t run into the scenario I was most worried about, since the parents I talked to were generally upbeat about their kids’ studies.

2013-11-18 How do I feel about parents asking me if I can help their kids study

I decided to put together some quick tips anyway, building on our experiences with helping J- and her friends study. Then I revised my listing to focus on self-directed learners.

2013-11-18 Helping your child study

So far, it seems to be going well. Getting reviews like this makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. =)

Sacha was cheerful and obviously passionate about ways to make learning fun. As she introduced me to the various approaches of visual note taking I was surprised at how much freedom it gave me to personalize my notes. Newly armed with the confirmation that doodling is OK I’m excited to see how it effects my attention & recall of topics I’m less interested in. Sacha covered all the basics I needed to get started & even listed some online sites where I can learn more. I definitely recommend this Helpout! – James Derieg

I’d like Google Helpouts to flourish as a platform, and I enjoy participating in the private Helpouts Discuss G+ community with the other providers. It’s great to see lots of people experiment with business strategies and approaches for Google Helpouts. For me, I’m not (yet) planning to build a business out of it. I see it mostly as a way to make it easier for people to schedule quick one-on-one chats with me, and if I happen to help other people with what I’ve learned (and collect lots of great questions to write/draw about!), all the better.

2013-11-21 Google Helpouts Business Strategies

Google Helpouts also has to make sense for Google in the long run, too. Otherwise this might go the way of Google Wave and Google Reader! So I put my tech evangelist/strategist hat on and thought about some of the possible futures for Google Helpouts.

2013-11-18 Imagining Helpouts futures


We’ll just have to see how it goes!

I’m not opening up any Helpouts slots in December because I don’t know what my schedule will be like, but you can check out the resources I’ve shared at and sign up for updates on upcoming Hangouts on Air and new Helpouts availability. Let’s keep experimenting!

Sketchnote: Visual Thinkers Toronto – Mapping

November 28, 2013 - Categories: sketchnotes

At November’s Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup, we talked about mapping. =)

2013-11-26 Sketchnote - Visual Thinkers Toronto - Mapping


Want to hear about upcoming meetups? Sign up!

Simplifying my event commitments; tips for people looking for event sketchnotes

November 29, 2013 - Categories: business, life

Take better notes, and the world will beat a path to your door. Or something like that. =) As it turns out, sketchnotes are an excellent way to capture ideas from presentations and meetups. Eric asked me if I was interested in sketchnoting more of the Awesome Foundation Toronto pitch nights. (They give the awesomest project $1000 in a paper bag to help make things happen.) I did the sketchnotes for a while because I wanted to learn more about what makes projects awesome. The sketchnotes were faster to make and more engaging than video highlights, so people really liked them. But I’ve been inching away from sketching other people’s stuff so that I can focus on my own, so…

2013-03-04 Sketchnotes of events

2013-11-09 Thinking about the Awesome Foundation Toronto and sketchnoting

2013-11-12 Awesome Foundation Toronto part 2

Awesome Foundation is pretty cool and I like how they encourage people to come up with and share great ideas… but I’m keeping my event commitments to the minimum. Maybe it will be a good fit for someone else, though – local sketchnoters building their portfolio and their business, perhaps? It would be great to see different styles, too!

Anyway, since I’m moving a little bit away from doing events, I thought I’d put together some guides to help people who are looking for event sketches.

2013-11-11 What kind of visual records do you want for your event

2013-11-11 How to look for sketchnoters and graphic recorders

2013-11-11 How can you make the most of your event sketches


Hope that helps!

HHO002: Communicating with Customers

November 29, 2013 - Categories: Helpers Help Out
Update 2014-02-03: Transcript now available

2013-11-29 Helpers Helpout 02 - Communicating with Clients Before and After Helpouts
This week’s panel focused on how to connect with your customers before and after your Helpouts so that you can build your business.
Follow up on questions
Event details
For reference, this chat was at 10-11 PM EST (7 PM PST) on Friday, Nov 29, 2013.

Weekly review: Week ending November 29, 2013

November 30, 2013 - Categories: weekly

More automation! More! More! Also, podcasting is fun, so I’m going to work on delegating more to free up time and attention (and to do things even better.)

Blog posts


Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (62.5h – 37%) – Holy cow, that’s where all that time went
    • Earn (23.3h – 37% of Business)
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [ ] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Thursday
      • [X] Earn: Consulting – E1 – Tuesday
    • Build (15.7h – 25% of Business)
      • [X] Hire transcriber
      • Drawing (11.2h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
        • [ ] File payroll return
    • Connect (23.5h – 37% of Business)
      • [X] Host Visual Thinkers Toronto
      • [X] Prepare Mapping Your Learning presentation
      • [X] Chat with Xah Lee about Emacs Hangouts
      • [X] Document processes for Helpers Help Out
      • [X] Set up editorial calendar for Helpers Help Out
      • [X] Host Helpers Help Out
      • [X] Host Learning Together
      • [X] Plan Emacs Chats
  • Relationships (1.5h – 0%)
    • [ ] Drop cats off
  • Discretionary – Productive (0.7h – 0%) – Whoa.
    • Writing (0.0h) – Waah! Really?!
  • Discretionary – Play (3.9h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (23.9h – 14%) – lots of walking and errands
  • Unpaid work (12.5h – 7%)
  • Sleep (63.1h – 37% – average of 9.0 per day)