December 2013

Quick show update: Learning Together #01, Helpers Help Out #02

December 1, 2013 - Categories: podcast, podcasting

Why wait until 2014 to start working on things that I think are a good idea? =) Since I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts while commuting or walking around, I figured I should start making some as well so that people can learn more conveniently. Besides, it will be a great way to practise producing shows and sharing ideas. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

Helpers Help Out – a weekly show for Google Helpouts providers (~700 people, pretty exclusive at the moment =) )

2013-11-29 Helpers Helpout 02 - Communicating with Clients Before and After Helpouts

More info on

I want to share learning-related tips and give people a space for picking my brain, too, so here’s Learning Together:

I’ll publish a more detailed blog post with MP3s and everything soon. I’m going to see if I can have it transcribed. =) They say the cobbler’s children have no shoes, but I want to see if I can make these things as well as I can. You can check for details of the next event, and you can download the MP3 from .

Some notes from producing the shows:

2013-11-29 Helpers Help Out 02 - Post-production notes

2013-12-01 Show post-production notes

2013-11-29 Fridays for podcasts

Setting up virtual machines with Vagrant

December 2, 2013 - Categories: geek

I spent a week focusing on system administration, and I feel more comfortable with my setup already. My web server hosts a number of blogs (like this one!) as well as my tracking dashboard. I want to make sure that things are backed up and that I can verify that my backups are running by creating a working website. It’s also useful to have a separate development environment where I can try out server configuration changes before applying them to production. Virtual machines to the rescue!

Vagrant is a tool that makes it easy to create and manage virtual machines with forwarded ports and shared folders. I use it for a couple of Ubuntu-based virtual machines on my laptop, and another backup-focused virtual machine on our Ubuntu desktop.

2013-10-28 Setting up virtual machines with Vagrant

You can make your Vagrant box more secure by changing the default passwords for root and vagrant, and setting up your own SSH key. Use vagrant package and vagrant box add to make this a new base box.

Related tools:

  • Give Veewee kernel and install info, and it will make base boxes for you. Good for testing different versions of distributions.
  • Vagrant works with Chef, Puppet, or shell scripts for provisioning. Need to reverse-engineer config from an existing server? Check out Devstructure Blueprint.
  • If you upgrade kernels or Virtualbox/VMWare, you might find vagrant-vbguest handy.
  • If your host system is pretty much the same as your deployment system architecture, check out Docker for a lighter-weight way to isolate your development environment.

These are some of my notes from when I was setting up my VMs. Different console backgrounds in Putty really help!

2013-10-28 Setting up my development environment VMs


2013-10-28 Deployment procedures

Rock those meeting minutes

December 3, 2013 - Categories: productivity

It boggles me when people don’t take minutes during a meeting. How do people make sure that all the important decisions and actions are captured? When people run from meeting to meeting or get buried in e-mail and calendar entries, it’s so easy to let things fall through the cracks.

In my consulting engagement, I’m the minute-taker because I’m the fastest typist in the room. (Also, it helps that I can type and participate in the meeting.) At higher-level meetings where the clackety clack of a laptop keyboard might be distracting, I’ll keep quick paper notes anyway.

Here are some tips for taking meeting minutes. (Click on the image for a larger version!)

2013-11-08 Note-taking tips for meeting minutes

Projecting the agenda/minutes (or sharing them shortly afterwards) helps keep everyone on the same page and catches many possible miscommunications. It’s good to remember that you can guide the flow of the conversation with questions. I often work with the meeting chair to make sure that we cover the agenda at a good pace, and that agenda items that need decisions or tasks are neatly wrapped up. You can create a lot of value by taking the minutes, so volunteer for this whenever you can.

Think about your delta: increasing the difference you want to make

December 4, 2013 - Categories: learning, plans

What kind of difference do you want to make? How can you make an even bigger difference?

I can’t remember where I picked up this idea—a book? a podcast?—but lately I’ve been thinking about my delta (D or d). In math and science, delta represents change. What kind of difference do I want to make in this world? Then I started thinking about calculus and derivatives, because that’s what delta reminds me of. How could I increase my rate of change? How could I accelerate? And then another order of derivatives: how can I increase the rate at which I increase my rate of change?

Here’s what I understand so far. I care about learning and sharing. I want to affect the way that people learn. I want to help them (I want to help you!) learn more effectively, be inspired, get encouraged to share, and have fun along the way. I’m doing just fine now, but there are many things I can learn or try that could help me make a bigger difference later on.

2013-11-09 What difference do I want to make

For example, let’s look at learning and sharing:

2013-11-09 What would bigger be like

I was content with my progress before I started exploring this. Now I’m more excited about the possibilities. It’s a little scary – more opportunities to fall flat on my face! – but imagining what “bigger” would be like helps encourage me to go for it.

What do you want your delta to be? What could help you increase it?

Update: Developing thoughts further

December 5, 2013 - Categories: drawing, writing

I’ve been drawing my thoughts for years, on and off. I found some sketchbooks with old mindmaps and explorations. Still, writing was the main way I thought through things, and I made good progress in learning how to outline so that I could think about progressively larger topics. In September, I re-started the habit of drawing through my thoughts – and posting them, thanks to a sheet-fed scanner that made sharing easy.

I tend to draw one thought per page and write about one thought per blog post. I also tend to draw way more than I publish each day. I wondered if I could combine the drawings and the words to “chunk” what I was thinking about into larger topics, so that a blog post could logically group together several sketches. With a mindmap to help me keep track of the sketches (acting basically like an outline, but with icons, easy folding, and quick navigation), I could keep an eye on topics that had accumulated several sketches. Once I’d fleshed out the topic a little, I could write it up as a blog post, include the images, and replace those notes with a link. Working well!

How to think in bigger chunks

2013-09-25 How to think in bigger chunks

I had tried collecting text snippets in the past, but I tended to lose them in my archive. Because the drawings were compact, easy to review, and easy to track in my map, I found it more fun to go over them compared to the text. Unlike the partial thoughts I’d saved in my text archives before, most of the drawings were enough on their own: an answer to a question, a reflection on an idea. It was easy to remember enough context to turn them into a blog post.

So that’s the bottom-up approach: think about several ideas, and then put them together. I was curious if this new approach would also help me with the top-down approach, which is to take an idea and then go into the details.

Developing thoughts further

2013-09-25 Developing thoughts further

I was reading a student-oriented book about writing that reminded me of the idea of developing thoughts. The author wrote that short essays usually meant that the thoughts weren’t developed enough – that the student could go into more detail or explore the implications of the topic. I made a list of some ways that I could develop a thought further. I had thought about this in a text-centric way, but now that I’ve been drawing a lot more, I can see how exploring the details in drawings has been helping me develop thoughts.

Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

2013-10-21 Fitting multiple thoughts on a page

Drawing one thought per page requires a lot of paper, and I have a steadily growing stack of sketchbook sheets piling up on my shelf. Although I’ve scanned the sketches using my ScanSnap, I keep the paper around for extra flipping-through fun. I briefly considered trying to fit more thoughts onto a page, but I think the one-thought-per-page system works well for me. It also makes the images easier to include in blog posts like this.


I feel like I can think about topics that are 3-4 times as large as I could before, especially if I spread them out over time. I’m looking forward to getting even better at organizing these, sharing them, and planning the next steps. I like the way drawings help me quickly pick up the thread of my thoughts again, and how the map helps me plan where to go next. So far so good!

If you’ve been struggling with developing thoughts over a period of time, try drawing them. You might find that it’s easier to mentally chunk topics that way. Check out my one-page guide for getting started with visual notetaking, and go through these other resources for sketchnote beginners. Good luck!

Making decisions that don’t matter that much to me

December 6, 2013 - Categories: decision

I minimize the number of decisions I care about. What I’m going to do with my life? Big decision worth spending time on. Is something worth it? I can spend hours analyzing the trade-offs. What do I want to eat? I don’t particularly care. I’m trying to avoid decision fatigue. Decisions take up time and willpower. Also, I’m trying to minimize attachment. Everything’s going to be okay.

W- asked me what colour I would like the deck to be. I looked at the dozens of swatches all neatly laid out, and I boggled at him. It’s like when people ask me where I want to eat. Beats me. At least there, I can use a rule of thumb: closest $-$$ place rated at least 3.5 stars on Yelp that’s still open at this time of day and that satisfies everyone’s dietary restrictions.

shutterstock_118213816If I don’t care about the outcome of a decision – if multiple alternatives are not significantly different in terms of their value to me – I’ll tell people I don’t care strongly enough to decide. That way, they don’t mistake a casual opinion for a strongly-held opinion and end up regretting being overruled. If people really want me to participate, I’ll support whatever people suggest, and I’ll help people remember their reasons for or against something. I’ll also ask questions to draw out reasons and make off-the-wall suggestions to add humour.

This is probably not quite what people are looking for. Usually, when people ask for your opinion on something, it’s because they want it.

My default is to not have an opinion. Maybe I should. It’s pretty easy to pick something and then let your brain fill in the reasons for it. People learn more about their choices in the negotiation.

Or maybe I should just have a more structured approach when people ask me about things I don’t have an opinion about. List alternatives, costs, benefits; make diagrams; graph arguments. That way, even if I don’t have an opinion, I can contribute value.

We discussed a few stain options. W- picked one and painted the deck with it. He thought it looked too gray in the sunlight. He stripped it back down and started looking for a different colour. (While I’m easily distracted from finishing my tasks and a big fan of getting things 80% okay, W- is awesome at persistence, and is working on getting around the sunk costs fallacy.)

I don’t mind. It gives me more opportunities to be supportive of projects and experiments, even though I am probably not yet filling the more useful role of the Voice of Reason. I think being able to use the Voice of Reason needs experience anyway. (They say good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. Not that this was a bad decision; it’s just a different outcome.)

I’m going to be asked for my opinion of or recommendation for many many things in life, especially as I move into my thirties. People assume twenty-somethings don’t know very much, except maybe about tech. Thirty-somethings probably don’t know much either, but are expected to have Opinions. Might as well learn.

How do you handle being asked for your opinion when you haven’t given something much thought?

Comic: Cartoonresource via Shutterstock

HHO003: Building a Brand

December 6, 2013 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

This week’s panel focused on how to build your brand and, therefore, your business.
Show notes
Event details
For reference, this chat was at 10-11 PM EST (7 PM PST) on Friday, Dec 6, 2013.


Weekly review: Week ending December 6, 2013

December 8, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Between jet lag and family, I haven’t had much time to draw or write these days. Things will settle down eventually. =)

Blog posts

Link roundup

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (20.2h – 12%)
    • Earn (2.3h – 10% of Business)
    • Build (11.1h – 58% of Business)
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (5.2h)
      • Paperwork (0.7h)
    • Connect (6.8h – 31% of Business)
  • Relationships (29.9h – 17%)
    • [X] Drop cats off
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.0h – 1%)
    • Writing (2.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (0.5h – 0%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (38.6h – 22%)
  • Personal routines (10.5h)
  • Unpaid work (12.7h – 7%)
  • Sleep (49.1h – 29% – average of 7.0 per day)

Decision review: Clipboard managers, and why you should get one

December 9, 2013 - Categories: geek, tips

I’d gotten spoiled by the way that Emacs can stash multiple clipboard items in its “kill ring” (kill being its idiosyncratic word for “cut”), so when I found myself juggling lots of text in the process of posting social media updates and publishing sketchnotes live during a fast-paced conference, I looked for a clipboard manager that could give me similar features in Microsoft Windows.

Clipboard managers turn out to be great time-savers for the easily distracted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve copied something with the intent of pasting it into a different window – and then getting distracted by something else, copying that, and smacking my forehead in frustration because that overwrote my previous clipboard selection which I would have to re-fetch (if possible). A clipboard manager not only solves that problem, it even lets you use your clipboard in new ways. For example, do you need to link to a lot of pages? Copy all the URLs and titles, and then go through them pasting each one–or even export them straight from the clipboard manager.

I tried a lot of clipboard managers when I was in the thick of conference season. I imagined that I would use the clipboard manager not only for preparing social media updates but also for stashing some quick drawing elements. All the clipboard managers I tried worked well with text, but Clipmate worked the best for saving images. I ended up not using images as much as I thought I would (it was easier to just redraw things) and I’m using a fraction of the features in Clipmate, but I’m still glad I got used to using a clipboard manager.

If you’re curious about clipboard managers, you can check out Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows clipboard managers, Macworld’s take on clipboard managers for Mac OS X, or these Linux links. They tend to run unobtrusively, so your usual copying/pasting will work the same way it always has – but you’ll have a backup in case you need it, and you can learn how to take advantage of that over time.

Hope that helps!

Make the most of a day of lectures

December 10, 2013 - Categories: learning, tips

Intense learning can be exhausting. Here are some tips to manage your energy and make the most of a long day of lectures. Click on the images for larger versions!

Energy is the first part of the equation. If you’re not alert, you’ll have a harder time understanding and remembering important topics.

2013-11-08 Manage your energy when learning a lot in one day

Full disclaimer: In university, I fell asleep in many of my classes because I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of these things. (Also, I had to sign up for a 7:30 AM class once. The topic was fun, dragging myself out of bed wasn’t.) Learn from my experience and manage your energy well. =)

Okay, now that you’re in the lecture, how can you deal with common challenges? Here are some ideas.

2013-11-06 Make the most of lecture classes

Review is where learning really happens. That’s when you fill in any gaps and connect what you’ve learned to what you need to remember and what you’ve learned before.

2013-11-08 Structure your notes for easy review

Hope these tips help!

Check out these getting started guides – suggest more!

December 11, 2013 - Categories: learning, sketches, tips

I’ve been making little one-page guides to help people learn about topics. It turns out they’re fun to make. =) Click on the images for larger versions. Feel free to print out/share!

How can you get started with visual note-taking?


Getting started with mind-mapping

2013-11-14 Getting started with mind-mapping

Getting started with bulk cooking

2013-11-12 Get started with bulk cooking

Getting started with Ledger

2013-11-12 Get started with Ledger

There’s this one about Emacs too, of course. =)

What else should I write/draw from a beginner’s point of view?  Comment and suggest!

Want to give it a try? Think about something you’ve learned, and draw a one-page beginner’s guide for it. (I’d love to see it!)

Doodle Thursday: Going through BrainDoodles’ lessons

December 12, 2013 - Categories: drawing

Jason John Wells told me about in a comment on my Google Helpouts update (it’s funny how these interests cross), so I checked it out. It’s a site with basic sketchnoting tutorials geared towards high school students, but apparently it gets the five-year-old kid seal of approval too. And this thirty-year-old! =)

Here’s what I drew while listening to the first two lessons:

2013-11-29 BrainDoodles lesson 1 and 2

Intimidated by the idea of drawing? Thomas Michaud breaks it down into building blocks and shows some easy-to-follow examples. I love the sketchy feel of the website, and will probably work on incorporating even more hand-drawn elements into mine.

Check out!

On introversion and friendships

December 13, 2013 - Categories: friends

I’ve been thinking about how I relate to people: what I enjoy, and what I’m probably going to move away from. I had started feeling guilty about being out of touch with some people, but I also realized that it might be a good idea to move on, and that some connections were easier and more energizing than others.

Face-to-face (or even over Facebook or Skype), I’m much more comfortable with groups of friends rather than one-on-one conversations. My barkada back home and the HackLab group are two examples. Because people are friends with each other, that spreads any emotional work needed. I can join the conversations or step back whenever I want, and I don’t have to worry about carrying half of the conversation myself.

As for one-on-one conversations, I prefer ones that are focused on ideas rather than events. More “This is what I’ve been learning; what do you think?” than “What’s up?” I strongly prefer asynchronous, low-commitment, non-expectant conversations over e-mail instead of synchronous chats, although I like blog conversations best of all.

I’m a little surprised by the way I get along much better with geeks (even if they’re not as active on social media) than with social media people (even if they’re active on Twitter or Facebook; even in the social media scene, not a lot of people blog). I suppose that’s more about an overlap of interests and senses of humour. Besides, I’m more likely to hang out at HackLab than go out for a networking event, so there’s that too.

I’m probably going to let my individual face-to-face friendships fade into the background, unless people want to come to HackLab (open house every Tuesday evening) or focus on ideas and learning in e-mail conversations. It feels weird making a deliberate decision about that, but it’s probably better to decide instead of just being polite. It’s awkward feeling like I’m moving on from friendships, but it’s good to know that it’s possible so that I can watch out for signs of this happening in more important areas, like other relationships or core interests.

On the plus side, the things that work well are working really well. =) I like the random conversations I have with people over Twitter or e-mail, the way people drift in and out of my inbox. I like the casual conversations at HackLab and the Facebook updates from my barkada. I like the way I can hang out with W- with the kind of comfort and ease that I’d never even thought of having with old friends. It’s good to find what works.

Weekly review: Week ending December 13, 2013

December 14, 2013 - Categories: weekly

I had a ton of fun hanging out with my friends. =)

Blog posts

No scanned sketches yet because I’m away from my scanner. =) No link round-up either. Maybe in January!

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (6.9h – 4%)
    • Earn (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Build (4.2h – 60% of Business)
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (3.6h)
      • Paperwork (0.5h)
    • Connect (2.7h – 39% of Business)
  • Relationships (31.1h – 18%)
    • [X] Check Internet connections for speed; set up better line?
    • [X] Check what the official connection speed should be
    • [X] Get mom’s printer working again
    • [X] Look into archiving photos for easier searchability – cdfinder?
    • [X] Set up logmein
    • [X] Speedtest each of the wireless networks
    • [X] Hang out with friends
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.1h – 1%)
    • Writing (2.1h)
  • Discretionary – Play (10.7h – 6%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (13.6h – 8%)
  • Personal routines (29.9h – 17%)
  • Unpaid work (9.7h – 5%)
  • Sleep (67.2h – 40% – average of 9.6 per day)

Monthly review: November 2013

December 15, 2013 - Categories: monthly, review

It was a busy month getting ready for the trip. =) Lots of drawing, though!

Blog posts


  1. 2013.11.01 How can I keep my learning focused on action
  2. 2013.11.01 How can you use mapping to learn more effectively
  3. 2013.11.01 Weekly review
  4. 2013.11.02 Creating way more value
  5. 2013.11.02 Google Helpouts Experience Report
  6. 2013.11.03 My new Google Hangouts workflow
  7. 2013.11.04 Growing my visual vocabulary
  8. 2013.11.04 Reimagining the house
  9. 2013.11.04 Revising my mornings
  10. 2013.11.05 Additional Helpout observations
  11. 2013.11.05 How does Google Helpout fit in with my goals
  12. 2013.11.05 Standard Time – Winter Time
  13. 2013.11.05 What are some of my limiting beliefs
  14. 2013.11.05 What do I want to learn on the go
  15. 2013.11.06 Helping students with study skills
  16. 2013.11.06 How do I want to respond to requests for sketchnoting
  17. 2013.11.06 Keeping track of what you want to do
  18. 2013.11.06 Make the most of lecture classes
  19. 2013.11.07 Google Helpouts – sold out
  20. 2013.11.07 House style
  21. 2013.11.07 Imagining ideal days
  22. 2013.11.07 It’s okay to talk to yourself
  23. 2013.11.07 Sketches from Beyond Words
  24. 2013.11.07 Sketches from Beyond Words, continued
  25. 2013.11.07 What would a virtual sketchnoting agency look like
  26. 2013.11.07 Why do I do consulting
  27. 2013.11.08 How to cheat when animating sketches
  28. 2013.11.08 How to feel great about your daily to-do list
  29. 2013.11.08 How would I scale up helping people learn more effectively
  30. 2013.11.08 Making the most of interruptible time
  31. 2013.11.08 Manage your energy when learning a lot in one day
  32. 2013.11.08 More garden plans for 2014
  33. 2013.11.08 Note-taking tips for meeting minutes
  34. 2013.11.08 Structure your notes for easy review
  35. 2013.11.08 Weekly review
  36. 2013.11.08 Wha twould make me feel comfortable with charging for a Helpout
  37. 2013.11.09 If I built this up as a business, what would it be like
  38. 2013.11.09 More limiting beliefs
  39. 2013.11.09 Thinking about the Awesome Foundation Toronto and sketchnoting
  40. 2013.11.09 What difference do I want to make
  41. 2013.11.09 What will I change after I reach net worth goal 2
  42. 2013.11.09 What would bigger be like
  43. 2013.11.10 Building those conversations
  44. 2013.11.10 How can people ask me good questions
  45. 2013.11.10 How do I feel about interacting with people
  46. 2013.11.10 What would I like my tribe to be like, and who do I want to grow into for them
  47. 2013.11.11 How can you make the most of your event sketches
  48. 2013.11.11 How to enrich your training with visual summaries
  49. 2013.11.11 How to look for sketchnoters and graphic recorders
  50. 2013.11.11 How to think about a book while reading it
  51. 2013.11.11 Make your paper notes more searchable (low-tech and hi-tech tips)
  52. 2013.11.11 The Art of Asking – or, How to Ask and Get What You Want – Sarah Peck
  53. 2013.11.11 What kind of visual records do you want for your event
  54. 2013.11.12 Awesome Foundation Toronto part 2
  55. 2013.11.12 Get started with bulk cooking
  56. 2013.11.12 Get started with Ledger
  57. 2013.11.12 How can I make a people katamari
  58. 2013.11.12 Introvert hibernation mode
  59. 2013.11.12 Learn how to talk with developers
  60. 2013.11.12 Learn programming faster
  61. 2013.11.12 People-drawing practice
  62. 2013.11.12 Who are in my tribe – what kinds of people do I click with
  63. 2013.11.13 How can I learn Plover Steno
  64. 2013.11.13 What do I get out of drawing
  65. 2013.11.14 Getting started with mind-mapping
  66. 2013.11.14 How can you get started with visual note-taking
  67. 2013.11.14 Integrating paper and digital notes
  68. 2013.11.14 Introvert tip – Plan your follow-ups so that you can guide the conversation
  69. 2013.11.14 Making room in my life for more fitness and strength
  70. 2013.11.14 What do I focus on when drawing visual notes
  71. 2013.11.15 Helpout Hints Hangout – page 1
  72. 2013.11.15 Helpout Hints Hangout – page 2
  73. 2013.11.15 Helpout Provider Tip – Ask for that 5-star review
  74. 2013.11.16 How Google Helpouts fit into my current master plan
  75. 2013.11.16 What am I specifically interested in learning from Helpouts
  76. 2013.11.17 Current projects and discretionary focus
  77. 2013.11.17 Google Helpouts and action focus
  78. 2013.11.17 My current strategy for building awesomeness
  79. 2013.11.17 Should I sell to people more – If so, how would you like that
  80. 2013.11.17 Thinking about podcast success
  81. 2013.11.17 Trip plans
  82. 2013.11.18 Documenting and delegating your work
  83. 2013.11.18 Helping your child study
  84. 2013.11.18 How do I feel about parents asking me if I can help their kids study
  85. 2013.11.18 How do rich media channels fit into the way I share
  86. 2013.11.18 Imagining Helpouts futures
  87. 2013.11.18 What would my ideal e-mail subscription be like
  88. 2013.11.20 Exploring the idea of advice
  89. 2013.11.20 How do you find the time to do it all
  90. 2013.11.20 More thoughts on drawing for others
  91. 2013.11.20 What would you have done differently – What did you learn and how will you do better
  92. 2013.11.21 Geek notes – automating bulk web stuff with iMacros
  93. 2013.11.21 Google Helpouts Business Strategies
  94. 2013.11.21 I’ve decided to stop caring about pen colour
  95. 2013.11.21 Not always meta
  96. 2013.11.21 Tracking personal finance
  97. 2013.11.21 What would I change if I forced myself to delegate or outsource 10 percent
  98. 2013.11.21 Why did I start this experiment with semi-retirement
  99. 2013.11.22 Career conversations – Alex
  100. 2013.11.22 Freedoms
  101. 2013.11.22 Helpers Helpout – Free and Paid
  102. 2013.11.22 Learn from online role models
  103. 2013.11.22 More thoughts on reaching people
  104. 2013.11.22 Selling your services as a student
  105. 2013.11.24 Katamari Forever
  106. 2013.11.25 How can I make my sketches easier for others to view during a Helpers Help Out show
  107. 2013.11.25 Mapping what you’re learning
  108. 2013.11.25 Organizing Evernote
  109. 2013.11.25 Thinking about tweaking my blog design
  110. 2013.11.25 What are the ways I add value – How can I replace myself
  111. 2013.11.26 Plans for 2014
  112. 2013.11.26 Sketchnote – Visual Thinkers Toronto – Mapping
  113. 2013.11.27 How can I accelerate my learning
  114. 2013.11.27 Trust and assistants
  115. 2013.11.28 Share the opportunities, create jobs
  116. 2013.11.29 BrainDoodles lesson 1 and 2
  117. 2013.11.29 BrainDoodles lesson 3 and lesson 4
  118. 2013.11.29 Building conversational connections on Twitter
  119. 2013.11.29 Fridays for podcasts
  120. 2013.11.29 Helpers Help Out 02 – Post-production notes
  121. 2013.11.29 Helpers Helpout 02 – Communicating with Clients Before and After Helpouts
  122. 2013.11.29 Learning together

Automating bulk web stuff with iMacros

December 16, 2013 - Categories: geek

I found myself needing to download a whole bunch of JSON data from a server that had a weird authentication thing that Chrome could deal with but wget/curl/Ruby couldn’t. Since my Firefox was on the fritz, I couldn’t use Selenium IDE or the Selenium Webdriver. iMacros to the rescue! (Chrome, Firefox)

2013-11-21 Geek notes - automating bulk web stuff with iMacros

That plus lots of keyboard macros and text manipulation in Emacs, plus a little parsing and regexp substitution in Ruby, plus more Emacs munging got me the data I wanted. Hooray for bubblegum and string scripting!

Read more effectively by asking yourself questions while you read

December 17, 2013 - Categories: learning, tips

It’s easy to look at a book instead of reading it. I’ve been there too: reading a textbook chapter without retaining enough information for an exam, reading self-improvement books without slowing down enough to think critically about the advice and plan how I’m going to use it. Fortunately, I remembered one of the acronyms that I picked up in those grade school lessons on how to read better. SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review.

2013-11-11 How to think about a book while reading it


Step 1: Survey. No, this doesn’t mean ask other people what they think of the book. Here, “survey” is like what a surveyor does to land – get an overview by looking at the structure. Look at the table of contents for a book, look at the headings, look at the first lines of paragraphs. This will give you a quick idea of what the section you’re reading will cover.

Step 2: Question. Before you dig into the book, think about the kinds of questions you should be able to answer after reading. If you’re preparing for an exam, think about the questions that would likely be there. If you’re reading for your own learning, think about your goals and how the book can help you. Write those questions down. Index cards are handy for review, because you can jumble them up and test yourself.

Step 3: Read. Now you read in more detail. As you read, write more questions. Write hints to help you answer them during your review, and make sure those hints are easy to hide or refer to when you’re reviewing. The backs of index cards work well, or you can use the Cornell method when taking notes.

Step 4: Recite. Answer your questions without referring to the text. You can answer the questions out loud or you can write the answers down for exam practice.

Step 5: Review. If you weren’t able to answer all of your questions confidently and correctly, go back and review the sections that need more work. Schedule some time the next day and in future review sessions to go over the questions again, without referring to your hints or to the text unless you need the reminder.

SQ3R – reading with questions in mind will help you get the most out of what you read. Good luck!

You might also like my notes on How to Read a Book (Adler and van Doren), my book workflow, and how I read books and do visual book reviews. Want to ask questions or share tips about learning? Comment below or check out for more resources.

Pens are not the limiting factor for writing

December 18, 2013 - Categories: writing

We’ve been working on tidying up the house: getting rid of stuff we aren’t using, organizing the things we have.  This is why I’m conscious of having a small cabinet full of stationery and various containers full of pens. Knowing what you have makes it easier to not want more.


I did order a bunch of Hi-Tec-C4 refills (blue and black from eBay, since that was cheaper). They’re marginally cheaper and less wasteful than buying new pens each time. I also stocked up on sketchbooks during a sale.

I have some preferences when it comes to pens and paper. I like gel pens more than ballpoint pens because gel pens write more smoothly. I’m partial to fountain pens, but they can be picky about papers that won’t bleed through or feather. I prefer paper without rules, or with a very faint dot grid. Someday it would be nice to find a highlighter+pen combo that I can use without smudging.

But really, tools are nowhere near being my limiting factor for writing or drawing or anything else like that. Even time isn’t what’s keeping me from doing more. More likely suspects: Energy, attention, focus. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing or drawing. That’s okay. There are plenty of things to do during those times. If I do want to feel like writing or drawing, I can make sure I get plenty of sleep and good food, and then I can tease my brain with an interesting book or question or topic to explore. Once I get started, I’m off running. There’s a natural end to this writing or drawing time, too. This is also okay. The trick is to make the most of the time while it’s there.

You can buy good enough tools so that you don’t break out of writing or drawing just because you’re frustrated with the tools you have. Going beyond that – trying to find the best pen or notebook or other gadget, or something that will turn writing or drawing into even more of a pleasure – is entirely optional. You can spend time on it, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s a necessity or use it to procrastinate actually doing things. Done well, writing or drawing is its own reward.

Doodle Thursday: lesson 3 and 4

December 19, 2013 - Categories: drawing

Here are some more doodles I drew while listening to the video tutorials at

2013-11-29 BrainDoodles lesson 3 and lesson 4

I like the reminder to play around with drawing faces and accessories – gotta do that more often! =)

See last week’s post for the previous lessons, and watch the tutorials yourself at . Want other video tutorials? Check out!


Exploring limiting beliefs

December 20, 2013 - Categories: life

I’ve been digging into my limiting beliefs because you’ve got to be able to see them to break through them.

2013-11-05 What are some of my limiting beliefs

2013-11-09 More limiting beliefs

It’s easy to slip into comfortable excuses and justifications. =) Harder to recognize your limiting beliefs and see your blind spots (that’s what coaches, mentors, and others are for!), but it’s worth the effort. I wonder what will happen if I start experimenting with some of these next year…



HHO004: Irresistible Helpouts

December 20, 2013 - Categories: Helpers Help Out

This week’s panel focused on Irresistible Helpouts – making your Helpout stand out!
Show notes – will post the link as soon as available.
Event details
For reference, this chat was at 10-11 PM EST (7 PM PST) on Friday, Dec 20, 2013.

Weekly review: Week ending December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 - Categories: weekly

My friends came over for a visit. That was totally awesome! It was great to hang out. We played DC’s deckbuilding game. This week, we’ll be celebrating Sean and Hailyn’s wedding.

This week has been a blur of paperwork and parties. We spent almost sixteen hours stuck in traffic… Boggle!

My dad wants to go on a road trip next week. This should be interesting.

Blog posts

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (14.8h – 8%)
    • Earn (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Build (14.8h – 100% of Business)
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (3.2h)
      • Paperwork (11.3h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (46.3h – 27%)
    • [X] Check Internet connections for speed; set up better line?
    • [X] Check what the official connection speed should be
    • [X] Look into archiving photos for easier searchability – cdfinder?
    • [X] Set up Citibank ATM access again
    • mhbp
    • Started looking into paperwork… Gwah.
  • Discretionary – Productive (0.4h – 0%)
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (11.9h – 7%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (15.7h – 9%)
  • Personal routines (17.5h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (6.1h – 3%)
  • Sleep (57.5h – 34% – average of 8.2 per day)

Semi-custom messages with text expanders

December 23, 2013 - Categories: geek, tips

The growing popularity of Google Helpouts mean that I often respond to requests from people who want to learn more about taking notes and learning more effectively. I want to make sure that people who book Helpouts with me (for the virtual equivalent of hot chocolate and a muffin!) think about specific questions, check for technical issues, and are otherwise prepared for the 15-minute conversation. That way, we can both get the most of the time.

Since I find myself sending people messages that are similar but not identical to others I’ve sent, I use text expanders instead of autoresponders to save myself time. My favourite automation program is AutoHotkey, which is rather geekily configured through plain text files. (Want a cleaner interface? Try Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows or Mac). I’ve defined a few hotstrings that expand to welcome messages for my different Helpouts, nudges about technical issues, and so on.

If you find yourself typing or copying and pasting a lot of text frequently, consider using a text expander. Typing a pre-defined shortcut is easier than finding a specific item in your snippets file, and you might even be able to do all sorts of other things with the tool. For example, I’ve used AutoHotkey to set a keyboard shortcut for copying something from a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet row, switching to another application, pasting it in, reformatting it, and then moving on to the next row. Lots of good stuff. See my Autohotkey blog posts for more examples.

Be lazy and automate! =)

Making the most of paper notes

December 24, 2013 - Categories: organization

I’ve been drawing a lot more on paper lately, so I should update my Sketching Tools page. It is nice as a way to quickly get my thoughts down without the tiring brightness of the computer screen or the distractions of the Internet. Here’s what I’ve been learning about the differences between drawing on paper and drawing on my computer:

2013-10-28 Drawing on paper versus drawing on my computer

There’s always room to make things better, of course. How can we think on paper more effectively? The mindmap that I’ve been working on gives me a useful overview, letting me see when I’ve accumulated several sketches in a particular area so that I can put them into a blog post. I’ve also figured out how to include the sketches in my review process, thanks to this Flickr metadata downloader (Python). Speech recognition still hasn’t made its way into my toolkit, though…

2013-10-21 How can I think on paper more effectively

Now that I’ve got a decent archive of paper notes, the next challenge is making these easy to search and organize. I’ve put together some tips for making your paper notes more searchable here:

2013-11-11 Make your paper notes more searchable (low-tech and hi-tech tips)

… and getting them into your computer so that you can organize them along with the rest of your notes.

2013-11-14 Integrating paper and digital notes  

Lately I’ve been using Flickr for sharing and tagging images and Evernote for the occasional hand-written search. Let’s see how this works out…

I’m really curious about how other people manage their paper notes. I’ve been trying to find more details on how Isaac Asimov organized his notes – filing cabinets, apparently, but it would be great to get more detail! Do you have a large paper archive? How do you manage it? Do you know anyone who does this really well?

Daily blogging and different interests

December 25, 2013 - Categories: blogging

I’ve been thinking about different approaches to learning. Some people are specialists, going deep in one topic before moving on to the next. Some people are generalists, learning about many topics and gradually bringing them together. This reminded me of two computer science algorithms: depth-first search and breadth-first search. (See this animation, or the Wikipedia pages for DFS and BFS). I tend to do more of the latter than the former, and I want to get better at it.

Applying computer science to learning

I’m curious about a lot of things. Because I can only focus on a few ideas at a time, most of those ideas and projects go on the back burner. Still, I enjoy working on a number of different topics each week, and I try to cover a decent variety of topics on my blog. Here’s roughly what I want to work on and write about each week:

What topics do I want to make progress in daily or weekly

I schedule my posts in advance, so these daily themes usually aren’t about scrambling to write a post the night before. Instead, I often pick something to focus on for a week. One week, I focused on mapping as part of learning, so most of my sketches and research were related to that. Then I write blog posts and schedule them for the next few weeks. In terms of a breadth-first search, it’s like exploring the next level of subtopics below the topic, and then moving on to the next topic. I also think about other topics during the week when the opportunities come up, but I’m not as focused on them.

One of the nifty things about using the Editorial Calendar plugin for WordPress is that I can see how the different categories stack up in terms of scheduled posts, so I can use that to plan my next focus. (Probably tech stuff – I haven’t written much about that lately!)


Anyway, that’s how daily blogging supports the interests I have, nudging me to make progress in different areas. Do you have a number of interests too? How do you remember to work on different parts?

A year of drawing my own content

December 26, 2013 - Categories: drawing

If 2012 was the year of sketchnoting lots of other people’s presentations, this year was the year of drawing my own thoughts — and I loved it. There was a brief lull mid-year when I was focused on consulting, but now that I’ve made drawing my thoughts a step in my thinking/learning process (like the way writing and blogging are), I draw and post a lot more regularly.

2013-11-30 12_11_02-Flickr Search_ 2013

I really liked focusing on my own content instead of drawing other people’s ideas. For questions that helped me think out loud, I followed my interests and learned a lot more. For things that I drew to help others, I found myself building up a great archive of one-page guides that I could quickly share with even more people.

2013-11-20 More thoughts on drawing for others

2013-12-01 Drawing for others and drawing for myself - note-taking versus note-making

Want to see what I thought and drew about? Check out my Flickr collection of sketches from 2013. =)

In 2014, I’m planning to continue drawing my own content and refer requests for sketchnoting to other people… I’ve got the opportunity to do so and people find it useful, so why not? =) If you like what I’m doing, help me out by sharing your questions with me through blog comments, e-mail ([email protected]), or live conversations!

Exploring the idea of advice

December 27, 2013 - Categories: connecting

I’ve been giving a lot of people advice lately (Google Helpouts, lunches/coffee with people, and so on), which is weird for me because I hedge what I say when I’m writing on my own. My blog posts focus more on the “Here’s what I tried, and here’s how it’s working for me” rather than “You should do X, Y, Z.”  When someone asks me a question or describes a challenge they’re facing, though, I have no problems offering suggestions.

I thought about what advice is like and how I can give it more effectively. I realized that there are actually lots of different ways you can help people by talking to them, and it’s not all about saying “You should do X, Y, Z” with minimal understanding of the other person’s situation. Here’s what I came up with:

2013-11-20 Exploring the idea of advice

(Click on the image for a larger version)

I’ve read about and tried a lot of approaches, so I really like the “Have you thought about…” way of helping people. I do that after a few “Tell me about…” so I understand the person’s context and we can build on things they’ve already tried. Sometimes people ask me about how I make decisions too, so I’m happy to walk people through that. (Especially if I’ve already documented it!) On rare occasions, I can tell people the name of the thing they’re looking for (ex: spaced repetition! cloze deletion!) which unlocks all these resources for them. When I’m writing on my own, I like using “Don’t miss… / Watch out for…” to help people save time.

Giving advice still feels odd. I definitely don’t want to become an “I know better than you” sort of person. I like using questions more than declarations anyway. Maybe I’ll find an approach that works for me!

How do you share what you know? How do you help others learn?

Weekly review: Week ending December 27, 2013

December 28, 2013 - Categories: weekly

The last full week of our trip! Went on a road trip through Banaue, Bontoc, Sagada, and Vigan. Returned to Manila on December 30, just in time for last-minute packing and IT support.

Blog posts

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (2.8h – 1%)
    • [ ] File T4 for myself
    • Earn (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Build (2.8h – 100% of Business)
      • Quantified Awesome (0.0h)
      • Drawing (2.8h)
      • Paperwork (0.0h)
    • Connect (0.0h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (19.7h – 11%)
    • [X] Go on road trip: Banaue, Bontoc, Sagada, Vigan
    • [X] Reset passwords for my mom
    • [X] Set up lock screen password for my mom
    • [X] Set up offline e-mail for my mom
    • [X] Pack for return trip
  • Discretionary – Productive (0.4h – 0%)
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (9.8h – 5%)
  • Discretionary – Travel (32.4h – 19%)
  • Personal routines (31.1h – 18%)
  • Unpaid work (11.7h – 6%)
  • Sleep (63.6h – 37% – average of 9.1 per day)

Sharing Google Docs: One link to edit, one link to view

December 30, 2013 - Categories: geek, tips

Lots of people posted tips in the Google Helpouts Discuss community, but the tips were getting lost in the stream of messages. I decided to pull out the tips, rewrite them for clarity, and organize them by topic. I didn’t want to be the keeper of the document, though – no sense in my being a bottleneck! So I started a new document in Google Docs, fleshed it out, and shared the link.

To share a link that lets anyone with the link edit the document:

  1. Click on File > Share…
  2. Under Who has access, change the first line to Anyone who has the link can edit.
  3. Copy the link.
  4. Click Done.

That’s all well and good, but when it comes to publishing the document to the Web, you probably don’t want just anyone editing it. Here’s how to publish a separate read-only link:

  1. Click on File > Publish to the web…
  2. Publish the document
  3. Copy the link.

Since Google URLs are long and unwieldy, you may want to come up with custom short URLs for both the edit link and the read-only link.

Hope that helps!

Learning from online role models

December 31, 2013 - Categories: learning, tips

Have you identified any role models for the skills you want to learn or improve?

When people tell me they want to learn more about something, I often ask them who they look up to as role models for the skills they want to build. It really helps to have a clear picture of what success looks like, and then you can play “spot the difference” to figure out specific techniques or steps for improvement. You might not want to do everything that your role models do or suggest, but studying them can show you options and ideas you might otherwise have missed.

I get a lot of value even through learning from role models from a distance. Since there are so many ways to learn, I generally don’t want to ask for people’s attention, so I rarely reach out. Instead, I try to build things up so that people talk to me. =) Other people get a kick out of getting e-mails, tweets, or comments from famous people. If you’re one of those — or if you want to ask your role model for more specific advice — here are some tips for building that connection!

2013-11-22 Learn from online role models

(Also, it really does help if you tell people what you’re learning from them or trying to learn from them! =) Sometimes people don’t know what they know until someone asks.)