February 2013

Moving my memory outside my brain

February 1, 2013 - Categories: life

I don’t trust my memory. One way to deal with this is to force myself to use it more, like the way some people wipe their cellphone address books and make themselves commit phone numbers to memory. Another way is to learn mnemonic devices and use vivid imagery, such as those suggested in Moonwalking with Einstein. A third way is to arrange my life so that I don’t have to remember as much. I trust this way much more.

So I build these memory scaffolds around me. Appointments go on a Google Calendar that’s synchronized on all the devices I use. I hired an assistant who sets up meetings and doublechecks that all the information is there. I use Evernote to capture more and more of what I come across: websites, snippets, e-mails, pictures, scans. Blogging gives me an external public memory, which is great because people and Google have reminded me of things I’ve completely forgotten about. I have checklists for extraordinary things like packing, and I have them for mundane life as well: morning routines, evening routines, which sites to update when WordPress comes out with a new version, what to do every month… I practise confessing that I don’t remember someone’s name, and I winnow out from my life the people who take offense or who put people on the spot. I carry a belt-bag because I was always setting my purse down somewhere that I could not remember. I give things away, label cupboards, take inventory of drawers.

I’m learning not to fight the fuzziness of memory. I could be stressed out by forgetfulness, but that just makes things worse (Wikipedia). This is normal. I can work around it. Every lapse becomes an opportunity to make something better.

How do you deal with the fuzziness of memory?

Weekly review: Week ending February 1, 2013

February 2, 2013 - Categories: weekly

A sprint of work! =) Got lots done, sketched a new idea, drew a two meetups… I think I’m on the trail of something interesting, and I’d like to dig into it more next week.

Blog posts

Accomplished this week

Plans for next week

Time review

Disabling touch on Windows 8 on a Lenovo X220 tablet

February 4, 2013 - Categories: geek

Update 2014/01/07: You can use the Device Manager to disable the touchscreen devices. I found mine under Human Interface Devices.

I often draw with my stylus in tablet mode. Palm detection doesn’t work particularly well, so I prefer to disable the touch screen and use either my stylus or a mouse. Unfortunately, the option for disabling the touch screen disappeared when I upgraded to Windows 8:


See, no checklist to disable it!

After much searching, experimenting, and updating of drivers, I’ve found something that lets me keep the pen capability while disabling touch. I needed to go into Device Manager and disable the HID-compliant mouse there:


I missed it because I was trying to disable all sorts of other things under Human Interface Devices:


… which includes the pen input. I thought the touch input was there as well, but no luck. Good thing I checked other categories.

I’m glad I’m doing this now instead of right before a conference or on an international trip. Next time, I should make sure to check driver support, not just software. I don’t know if that would’ve completely avoided the problem, though, as many of the web pages I came across talked about other solutions.


Quantified Awesome: Time and building mastery

February 5, 2013 - Categories: quantified


There’s an often-repeated number in studies on expertise: it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in order to build a skill to mastery.

Last year, I logged 265 hours writing, or around 45 minutes a day. Don’t be scared off by that. If you’re repurposing something you’ve already done, blogging takes maybe 5-10 minutes. It takes an astonishingly long time to think through new things. I can type at 90-110 words per minute, but my brain chugs along at 16 words per minute when reflecting, and I haven’t quite gotten the hang of using speech recognition or dictation to get past that barrier. I suspect I won’t be significantly faster. Thinking takes time. That 265.5 hours is butt-in-seat time. Yes, that’s the professional term for it. I have surprisingly little of it, considering how much I perceive writing to be a part of my life. (Really? Just 45 minutes a day? What would happen if I doubled that?)

Generously including quick blog posts as part of this practice, assuming that I’ve maintained a similar pace since around 2003, neglecting the fact that real writing involves a whole lot more rewriting (which I tend to do out of forgetfulness rather than deliberate improvement), and ignoring the assigned writing I slogged through in school (or the countless e-mails I dash off), the calculations show that I’ll probably be inching closer to awesomeness… oh… when I’m 57 or so. I know life doesn’t quite work out like that, but let’s pretend for the sake of calculation.

It doesn’t actually look half-bad, you know. If I can get a decade or two of great writing out right around the time I should have tons of experiences to write about, that should be fine. Of course, with the unreliability of memory (both mine and the computer’s), I’ll just have to hope my blog will survive the years. And if I turn out to be a passably good writer who can package up what I’ve learned and turn it over to the next generation of young whippersnappers, then that’s great. Don’t need to win any awards.

On a similar note, I logged 198 hours drawing last year. This does not include the times that I filed drawing under “Business – Plan” or “Personal – Plan” instead. Even less revision going on over here, but I’m working on ways to improve that, and other ways to increase the proportion of writing and drawing in my life. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success broke down that 10,000 hours into around 10 years of daily 3-hour practices.

I have spent a ton of time coding. I’ve been coding since I was six or so, and I worked on quite a few web development engagements at IBM. I’m still nowhere near “master” level. I can point to lots and lots and lots of people who are way better than I am. I have fun with it, though. I can make stuff happen.

It’s good to remember that invisibly sunk time, the accumulation of experience over years. That way, I don’t get frustrated about drawing if it feels less natural than coding, and I can see all this writing as building a skill step by step.

Thank goodness for visible progress. Hooray for a blog that lets me go back in time! Compared to a year ago, I draw so much more than I used to. I feel a little more organized and coherent as a writer – headings for my paragraphs, an index for my posts. I still don’t have the deft interweaving of personal story and insight I envy in Penelope Trunk’s blog or the lyrical geekiness of Mel Chua (no relation), but I’m growing into my own style.

I think it would be fascinating to have 10+ years of time data. It’ll be interesting to see how I change things along the way. Not that quantity of time controls everything, but it’s fun to ask questions and realize that the composition of your time doesn’t always match up to what you think it is. Then you can tweak it.

Other 2012 numbers to put this into perspective, because I have the data anyway:


More time analysis looking at percentages

So that’s where all the time went!

Monthly review: January 2013

February 6, 2013 - Categories: monthly, review

Last month, I wrote:

What could January look like? I’d like to:

  • create lots of value for my consulting clients
  • start the marketing and sales process going for upcoming events – hope I’m not too late for the events in March!
  • delegate more: add a new person to my virtual team
  • maintain my twice-weekly fitness/self-defence class schedule

I hit the ground running with a couple of much-appreciated tweaks and tools for my consulting clients.

I’ve decided to scale back a little on selling sketchnoting services for conferences because I’m also curious about developing other business models. Still, it’s great to have a few events lined up! I’d like to practise graphic recording, and am looking forward to ordering some equipment.

Patricia has been a great addition to my virtual team. I should send them more work. I’ve been a little remiss.

Fitness class has been less regular as of late, but at least I keep going even though I sometimes get really anxious.

In February, I’d like to do a lot more coding and a lot more drawing. We’ll see how it works out!

Thinking about joining HackLab.to

February 7, 2013 - Categories: decision

I’ve been taking month-long sprints of focusing on other interests, but now I’m getting ready to scale consulting back even further – enough to consider signing up for a coworking space like HackLab or ING Direct.

Here are some options:

Other things to consider:

So let’s say I’m going to go to Hacklab for at least 9 months if my membership application is approved. How would I want to grow in order for me to consider it a successful investment? Who would that future Sacha be like?

Initial investment $~500 before I re-evaluate. I think I can make it work wonderfully. I’ll probably learn much more than I can anticipate now. The upside potential of connections and learning is better than the upside potential of staying home. The downside potential (time and opportunity cost; distractability) doesn’t look like a big deal.

I wonder how I can track the benefits and potential disadvantages. If I track my focus tasks each day that I go and I record serendipitous conversations and the giving/receiving of help, I think that might give me an interesting picture. I can use the same focus tasks idea to track my productivity at home, and I can track if I’m proactively “bumping” into other people online (either asking for or giving help) or how I’m interacting with people.

Okay then! Experiment on.

What I’m learning from the sketchnote index

February 8, 2013 - Categories: learning

So here’s something that I’m learning about sketchnotes and why I like drawing and sharing them, and also why I like reading lots of blogs and books in the same field, and why I like reading open source, and why I like self-tracking and sharing data.

I like seeing the different ways people see something – especially when they’re drawing the same topic, but even if they’re covering different conferences. I like reading different words circling the same topic, trying to express it; lots of programs trying to solve similar challenges; lots of experiments trying to pin down the same mechanisms.

I like building indexes and tables and graphs showing the relationships among points that people might not otherwise connect. I like putting them side by side and using the similarities and differences to learn more.

Following up on something I’d been thinking of making for a while, and prompted by a chance remark by someone else on Twitter, I’ve made one of those indexes public.

I’ve been keeping track of other people’s sketches in an Evernote notebook, but it was difficult to see who had covered the same topics unless Mike Rohde or Binaebi Akah mentioned them specifically on sketchnotearmy.com. I started to build Sketchnote Index as a way to map out this world of sketchnotes, to see the topics that people sketched. It’s been a terrific exercise even though it involved a ton of data entry (some automated, most not) – I’ve seen lots and lots and lots of sketchnotes, and I’m getting a better sense of where my style falls in the spectrum. (Spectra? So many ways to compare…)

I think of this as a way of saving time. I don’t have the time to explore all the alternatives, but if I can see how other people have traced out different possibilities, I can recognize what I want to move towards.

I like indexing a lot. It’s a different form of value, not as straightforward as drawing something or coding something. I’m good at it well because of my familiarity with spreadsheets, automation, programming, productivity tools, and the occasional bit of delegation. I wonder if this can grow into something later on. I’m sure that it’s going to be a useful core skill for accelerating how I learn things like sketchnoting, and it’s great for referring work to other people. Yesterday I went through my index to look for sketchnoters who might be able to cover technical topics. I think it would be great to do that even better.

Next steps: Start mapping artists by style, so that we can see more of the options.

Weekly review: Week ending February 8, 2013

February 10, 2013 - Categories: weekly

It snowed and snowed and snowed on Friday. The news said that it was one of the biggest snowstorms to hit Toronto in five years. We stayed inside, for the most part. On Saturday, W- and I cleared the deck so that the melting snow wouldn’t seep into the foundation. He also climbed up to the roof to clear that, and then we had to clear the deck again.

Then we had a huge pile of snow in our backyard…

… and I got to make my very first snow fort. Snow cave. Thing. W- showed me how to dig it out, and he helped make it a cozy little two-person cave that we could both comfortably sit in. Whee!



Myles said this thing is called a quinzhee.

I think it’s awesome.

Also, W- and I have been playing Persona 4 Golden, which is a lot of fun and which has thrown off our sleeping patterns a little. It’s a good game. Now I’m looking at life like an RPG…

Blog posts

Accomplished this week

Plans for next week

Time review

Developing a sense of time with Tasker alerts on my Android phone

February 12, 2013 - Categories: geek

I wanted to get a better sense of time, so I configured my phone to vibrate every half-hour in a short pattern of two quick bursts. That way, I can feel time passing, and I can distinguish these vibrations from message alerts. I used the following Tasker script:

Profile: Buzz time (13)
Time: From 08:00 every 30m Till 22:00
Enter: Anon (14)
A1: Vibrate Pattern [ Pattern:0,100,100,100 ]

After the quick buzz, I usually glance at the clock to confirm the time. It’s a handy way to remember that time is passing and that I should make the most of it. It’s not a big distraction. I can still stay in flow when I’m coding or writing. If I find myself wandering, I can bring myself back.

I don’t remember whose blog post started me down this path of making time a sense, but that was a good idea. (If you recognize yourself, please comment!)

Starting from scratch with Windows 8

February 13, 2013 - Categories: geek

I ran into the dreaded 0xc00000e9 Unexpected I/O error on Windows 8, which meant that my drive was probably messed up. W- plugged my drive into his computer and found that he couldn’t read the files on it, so it was time for a format and reinstall. Fortunately, most of my information is in Dropbox or Evernote and therefore synchronized with the cloud and I backed up most of my other files, so it was No Big Deal (or not much of one) to format my drive and reinstall Windows. I’d been meaning to do that anyway, although I would’ve preferred to do it voluntarily. I didn’t back up the Quantified Self videos because they were so large, but I can copy

One of my mentors told me how he stopped deleting files because storage space is cheap. I’d stopped too, archiving my downloads directory instead of clearing it out. Now it’s paying off, since I can easily reinstall my favourite applications instead of tracking down links.

The most hassle will probably come from installing all the drivers I need and setting up all the shortcuts I’m used to, but that’s just a matter of slogging through it.

Then I can take a proper full-image backup, since it turned out that my last full-image backup was of Windows 7. I could’ve restored from that, I guess, but I couldn’t remember if there was anything compelling enough to go through a backup-and-reinstall cycle instead of a straight install. I’ll keep it around just in case.

How can I use this inconvenience to help me prepare for other situations better? Let’s see how it could have been worse, and how I can make my defenses even stronger.

I could’ve needed my setup for a client engagement. Coding environments are relatively easy to replicate: a virtual machine, a source code checkout, and we’re mostly back to normal. I have multiple computers that can do in a pinch. My drawing setup is a little more difficult because some of the drivers are finicky, and you can’t easily buy a tablet with a proper stylus.

My drive could’ve completely crashed. I kept the drive that came with my computer, so I could swap that back in while waiting for a new SSD to arrive.

My backups could’ve been messed up. My full system image backup wasn’t as useful as I wanted, because it wasn’t recognized by Windows 8. Fortunately, I have the habit of backing up both system images and files. I have the extra hard disk space, so I should back up full system images more often.

I could stash my license keys in one place instead of searching two mailboxes for them. Evernote might be a good way to handle that.

Every almost-catastrophe is also an opportunity to make systems better. =)

On the plus side, Windows Live Writer works again. Hooray!

Dealing with professional envy

February 14, 2013 - Categories: career

One of the things that both rocks and sucks about the Internet is that it’s easy to find people who are better than you.

This is great because you’re surrounded by inspiration. It’s easier to figure out what “better” looks like when you can see it. You can try on other people’s styles to see if they fit you, and when you do that, you’ll learn more about your own.

Being surrounded by all these role models can be hard on your self-esteem and your determination. Not only are you surrounded by all these people who have spent decades into being amazing, you’re also getting overtaken by younguns who come out of nowhere.

Such is life. I could get caught up in it, or I could see it for the game that it is, step outside of thinking of it as a contest, and invent my own rules. I’ve gone through this before, and it gets easier and easier to choose a way to see life.

I’ve been learning about drawing in the process of cataloguing the sketchnotes that are out there. It’s difficult to imagine getting to be as good as the people I see, but I make myself remember that they started from somewhere. Besides, the alchemical combinations of life are what make things interesting. Maybe my technical background or my interests can open up other possibilities.

Envy is good as long as it’s useful. Self-doubt often tries to creep in, but the truth is that it’s optional.

Dealing with presentation block

February 15, 2013 - Categories: presentation, speaking

Every so often, I have to come up with a presentation topic. This is what happens when you know people who organize events and people know that you don’t mind speaking in public. Sometimes I even volunteer for this, and then I wonder why I do.

I rarely have a specific topic in mind when I say yes. I trust that something interesting will come up, and I’m curious about what it will be. Then I end up in situations where I’ve promised to give a talk and I’m trying to figure out what it is.

There are a few ways I approach this challenge when I have to come up with a talk quickly:

Other helpful thoughts:

Next week, I’ll be talking to a mostly-designer crowd. Sketchnotes are an obvious choice, but I don’t want to do just a basic “You should draw your notes and here’s how” presentation — there’s plenty of that on the Net. I’m curious about the deliberate study of sketchnotes that I’ve been doing by building the sketchnoteindex.com . I’d love to see if I can convince sketchnoters to share their notes with me and everyone else to build indexes like these for their own interests.

There might be a talk there somewhere.

Dealing with distractions

February 17, 2013 - Categories: productivity

I have a slightly obsessive personality. Once in a while, something latches onto my consciousness and distracts me. This can be good. I’ve written a lot of code following the trail of Just One More Thing. This can also be less than productive, such as when I get sidetracked by a jigsaw puzzle lying temptingly unfinished on a table (we’ve since banned them from the house) or a video game that’s almost but not quite done (Persona 4 Golden, currently).

It’s particularly pernicious when I’m trying to do something creative or focused, as the buzz in my brain makes it harder to concentrate.

I’m going to run into many more of these minor obsessions in life, so it’s better for me to figure out how to deal with this than to either give in or ignore it. Some research says that willpower is an exhaustible resource (Wikipedia has a summary), so it’s good to find easier ways to hack this.

Here are some things I can do when dealing with these discretionary distractions:

  1. Review my list of priorities and why they’re priorities. I’ve taken to drawing my key to-dos on an index card at the beginning of the day. If I can get those done, everything else is a bonus.
  2. Do those priorities first thing.
  3. When I feel distractions start to buzz, walk around the block or do some other form of physical activity.
  4. Accept that some days will be low-energy days, and some days will be spot-on days.
  5. Try social commitment. Tell other people what I need to focus on.
  6. Keep a list of low-energy tasks to work on.

Giving myself twenty minutes to indulge in something doesn’t seem to work, but maybe it will if I add physical context-switches instead of staying in the same place.


Weekly review: Week ending February 15, 2013

February 18, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Blog posts

Accomplished this week

Plans for next week

Time review

Business experience report: Passing my first annual resolutions

February 19, 2013 - Categories: business

Because I incorporated my company instead of being a sole proprietor, I need to file annual returns, update my minute book, and have either a shareholder’s meeting or pass resolutions. Since it didn’t make sense to have a meeting by myself, I combined this template for shareholders’ resolutions and sample minutes of a shareholders’ meeting to come up with the resolutions below. (Not legal advice; please go talk to a lawyer if you need one.)


The undersigned, being all the shareholders of _________, hereby sign the following annual resolutions.


1. These resolutions are in place of an annual meeting of shareholders of the company.

2. The financial statements of the company for the fiscal year ended __Date__, are received.

3. __Name__ continues as the director of the company.

4. No auditor be appointed for the current fiscal year of the company.

5. All by-laws, resolutions, contracts, acts and proceedings of the board of directors, shareholders and officers of the Corporation enacted, passed, made, done or taken since __date__ as the same are set forth or referred to in the minutes of the Corporation or in the financial statements submitted to the shareholders of the Corporation on this date are hereby approved, ratified, sanctioned and confirmed. The acts of the Board of Directors since the last annual meeting of shareholders are approved and ratified.

DATED: ___Date___



This week, I’ll file the federal annual return. Another milestone! Maybe next year I’ll learn how to pass resolutions for dividends, or make myself a proper employee of the company so that I can set up a private health services plan.

Transcript of my chat with Mike Rohde (The Sketchnote Podcast) on digital sketchnoting

February 20, 2013 - Categories: drawing

I talked to Mike Rohde about digital sketchnoting and my workflow. You can watch the podcast and check out other episodes!

Slightly edited for clarity

[00:01] Mike Rohde: Hey. this is Mike Rohde for the Sketchnote podcast. Today we have Sacha Chua, but before we get started I’d like to say that this episode of the podcast is sponsored by my son Landon, who is very cute and two months old. But now back to the program.

This is Sacha Chua, she lives in Toronto, Ontario, and she uses something interesting that I wanted to explore because this is something I have talked about before – using a digital setup to do sketch notes.

I do my sketch notes in analog form. I use a notebook and a pen and I’ve played around with the iPad but I found it still challenging. I haven’t found figured out the right stuff for me, like the way to do it right, because I’ve been focused on this book. But Sacha has an advanced system that she uses. She uses a tablet PC and I wanted to bring her on the podcast to talk a little bit about her setup and how she uses it and how it works for her. So welcome Sacha, thank you for coming.

[00:53] Sacha Chua: Of course. I’d be happy to help people learn more.

[00:56] Mike Rohde: Great, so why don’t you start by explaining what the basic tools are that you use to do your digital setup? And then we can get into the benefits of those and maybe some of the things that make it different from paper.

[01:10] Sacha Chua: So when a lot of people think about digital sketchnoting–actually when people think about sketchnoting, they think pen and paper. And when they think about digital sketch noting, they might think of a tablet, like an iPad or an Android tablet. But if you start working with a tablet PC for digital sketchnoting–and I’ll show you that in a bit–you can take advantage of a lot more power: applications that work together, you have the processing power, and there are all sorts of interesting tools and workflows that you can use.

[01:35] Mike Rohde: Cool, very good. Well, why don’t you tell us about the tools you use, specifically, and the tablet PC and the styluses and software that you like to use for your setup.

[01:45] Sacha Chua: Alright, I use Lenovo X 220 tablet PC. I’ll zoom a little bit down to show you this. So this converts into a tablet by simply swiveling the screen and then you can either have it automatically rotate the screen for you or you can rotate it into your preferred orientation. Then I use Autodesk SketchBook Pro to draw on the screen itself. So as you can see I have that straight on there and in a short while I’ll switch over to sharing my screen so you can see that screen directly. So I use a Lenovo X220 tablet PC–they are fantastic—and I use Autodesk SketchBook Pro as the main drawing program. Then for publishing I’ll use Dropbox, Twitter, and WordPress for getting the sketch notes out there.

[02:33] Mike Rohde: Pretty cool. Now the stylus I see in your hand, I assume that came with the Lenovo?

[02:37] Sacha Chua: Yes, in fact it slots into a space for it, right in the case. And they have put in an alarm, so if you are walking off without your stylus, you actually get this little icon showing up on your screen.

[02:54] Mike Rohde: Oh, the proximity alarm. That is very cool.

[02:57] Sacha Chua: Yeah, and you can actually use pen and touch to interact with your screen. Because I do so many sketches notes, I’ve set it up to only recognize the pen. As you can see, even if I touch it, I can use my palm, it doesn’t trigger. If I use the pen, then things happen.

[03:14] Mike Rohde: So now Sacha has gone ahead and switched over to screen view so we can actually see her how she works and she can explain a little more of her process. So go ahead, Sacha.

[03:21] Sacha Chua: Okay, so you’re asking about whether I zoom in. I really like Autodesk SketchBook Pro because it has such a pen-based interface. I can zoom in and scroll around fairly easily–not as easily as you can with a multi-touch display, but easily enough so I can go in here, write a few things more eligibly, and then I can zoom out and see how that fits into the whole space or move things around as needed.

[03:56] Mike Rohde: I think I have seen Dave Gray do this work and I assume if you felt you needed to center under those two columns you could easily grab it and move it over, if you like, so that is one of the advantages to that software.

[04:10] Sacha Chua: Absolutely, and that makes me totally spoiled when it comes to working digitally. You know that challenge when sometimes speakers have too much content or too little content and you are scrambling for space in your sketchnote… When you are working on a computer, it’s easy to lasso an item, move it around and make space. For example, if it turns out that people didn’t give as much content as you expected, you can move things around and it looks like an excellent use of white space.

[04:43] Mike Rohde: Wonderful. Now in the middle of that drawing I see you got your work flow. Can you zoom that up and maybe take us through your work flow?

[04:49] Sacha Chua: Sure. So I do a lot of sketchnotes of books and presentations, and as I mentioned, I do most of that in Autodesk SketchBook Pro. A couple of things make it much easier for me to get this out very quickly: I usually work with a drawing template. Let me show you what that looks like with it. I say Add image, I pick one of my templates (for example, "grid and credits") and what that does is it allows me to add a very faint grid that I can draw on. Sometimes I leave this grid in, sometimes I take it out, but it means I don’t have to worry about my lines wandering elsewhere. I do all this drawing in Autodesk SketchBook Pro with lots of layers, and then if I want to include any logos or pictures, I can draw that into Sketchbook directly. If I want to trace the logo, I can use Artrage Studio Pro which automatically picks up the colors as I am drawing on something. It’s much easier to color match without having to pick up those little colors in multicolor logos.

[05:46] Mike Rohde: So it looks like down there you also have Camtasia running as well.

[05:48] Sacha Chua: Yes I do. So I’ve sketched it out in Autodesk Sketch Book Pro. If I think I am going to want to put together a speed drawing video, I’ll use Camtasia Studio to record this in the background, like I am doing now. When I am done with the image, I’ll save it in Dropbox. This automatically synchronizes the file with my phone, and then I can use my phone or my computer to post that to Twitter. If I’m sketchnoting a conference with lots and lots of talks, I don’t want to be switching back and forth between Autodesk SketchBook Pro and Dropbox and Twitter and my blog and all those other things. I can use my phone to tweet the links immediately and then I can save the laptop for drawing.

[06:38] Mike Rohde: Gotcha. So you sort of offload some of those tasks to other devices and then keep the devices focused for the things they are really good at.

[06:47] Sacha Chua: Right. And that means I don’t have to be switching back and forth between applications, so if people are saying interesting things, I can keep drawing. I usually post recap blog posts. If it is just one talk, then I’ll blog it right away. If it’s a conference, I’ll wait until the end of the conference to post a blog post with thumbnails and links to the full size images, so people can share this with other people later on. In addition to posting it to my blog, I also upload my sketchnotes in Evernote, so then it is much easier to search through my notes.

[07:23] Mike Rohde: Great. So tell me a little bit about this: I’ve been exploring every now and then and I have been thinking of going back because of some of the new features. Do you tag your work? Can Evernote scan your sketch notes since you have really beautiful handwriting? Can it scan the sketch notes to pick up words or do you have to manually enter that meta-information?

[07:44] Sacha Chua: This is amazing. It can actually understand most of what I write and then I help it a little bit with some key words. So for example, you can see how I can put most of the sketch notes into this "Sketchnotes by Sacha Chua" notebook, which I have actually shared publicly so anyone can find this notebook and subscribe to it. If I search in here… Say, for example, I’m looking for “visual library” which you mentioned in your book. So "visual library"–you can see how it is looking inside the image and it it’s highlighting where it sees those words. Here are my sketch notes, you can see here how "visual library" [shows up] even inside all caps – a small box has been found and highlighted. In addition to being able to search text, I also occasionally fill in some more information so that I can easily find the visual metaphors that I use. For example, in this digital sketchnoting workflow, I’ve also added some words that I might not have written down or might not easily be recognized by Evernote. You can see here how I’ve got this keyword for magnifying glass, and that allows me to find all the sketch notes where I have drawn a magnifying glass in case I feel like challenging myself to use different visual metaphors.

[09:06] Mike Rohde: That is interesting. That is really fascinating.

[09:09] Sacha Chua: It is amazing. I strongly recommend checking Evernote. You can set it up so that it will import all the files into a folder. I set up a shortcut so after I publish the sketchnote using Dropbox, I can just right click on the file and have that be imported to my Evernote.

[09:25] Mike Rohde: Wow. I notice you have got a little spot in the lower left, some of the caveats of using this system. What are some of those at a high level?

[09:31] Sacha Chua: Well, let me switch to those so we can zoom in on that. A lot of times people get hung up on the expense. Certainly, if you already have a computer, buying a new tablet PC can be a significant cost. Because this is my main computer, I find that it is pretty much worth the investment. I’ve upgraded it with lots of memory and lots of hard disk space so I can use it for all the things that I do.

Apple tends not to believe in tablet computers that have pens in them. I really don’t know why, but if you want to work with a Lenovo X220 tablet PC like I do, then it probably means getting yourself set up on Microsoft Windows, because that is where most of the applications are. That can take a little bit of a learning curve for people.

The weight of this is a bit of a concern as well. I can’t remember the exact weight, but because I have the tablet as well as an extended battery pack, I can go for an entire conference without having to worry about plugging into a power outlet. But this also means I carry a fairly heavy backpack for these things.

And let’s mention battery life: if you don’t get an extended battery pack, your battery life will be much shorter than a regular tablet. But if you do get the extended battery, which I consider to be well worth it, then at least you don’t have to fight so much over a power outlet at conferences.

[10:58] Mike Rohde: Interesting. And I know I mentioned Dave Gray uses this tablet PC. I think a couple of years back we did a conference: I was up in front and he got to draw on his PC. I actually kind of liked the screen and it felt a lot like pencil and paper to me, oddly enough. I don’t know, but he might have had a different brand but it was the same thing. And I thought, "This is kind of interesting." I haven’t explored that yet because I have other machines I have already invested in and it wouldn’t be an investment for me, but I’m really curious about it. I think people are thinking about it and it is a really interesting option that you should consider.

[11: 31] Sacha Chua: It is actually very smooth and I prefer it over drawing on paper or a tablet. On paper, it is sometimes scratchy and your lines don’t go where you want them to go. The texture is nice, but I’ve found that when I’m drawing on a tablet PC, my lines look a lot more confident because they are digital and because I am not relying on friction and all those other things. A tablet is a much more consistent experience for me.

[12:01] Mike Rohde: This is really fascinating. I love that you have done that. I am really excited to be sharing this with people, because I think a lot of people still use paper. Thank you for being on the show. What we are going to do is include some links to all these references so people can check you out, they can read your blog, they can look at this image more closely and see your sketch notes and we will share that with people. Thank you so much for coming on, Sacha.

[12: 28] Sacha Chua: My pleasure. You know, digital drawing has been the key thing. It has made it much more fun for me and I think it would be lovely if more people gave it a try.

[12:36] Mike Rohde: Great. And maybe, as a way to end this show, can you verbally give us some places where people can find you: Twitter, blog and so forth?

[12:45] Sacha Chua: You can find me at Twitter as @sachac . You can check out my sketch notes and other things I have posted at my blog. You don’t have to remember my name for that one, you can go directly to livinganawesomelife.com. Which it is.

[13:06] Mike Rohde: I can see that you are passionate about it and I just loved talking with you today. Thank you for taking the time and hope you get lots of interest from people that are curious and asking questions. Thank you.

[13:15] Sacha Chua: My pleasure. Have fun.

[13:16] Mike Rohde: Okay. Thanks a lot.

[13:19] Mike Rohde: And that wraps up this episode of The Sketchnote Handbook Podcast. We are going to do more stuff like this and bring other people and see how their workflows work, so tune in for the next episodes as they come out. Thanks.


Things I learned from the GenArtHackParty

February 21, 2013 - Categories: geek, kaizen

I spent Friday evening and all of Saturday at the Generative Art Hack Party that Xavier Snelgrove organized. It was a good excuse to learn paper.js and d3js.

Here’s what I made:

I thought Partycles was cool. infinitedaisyworld was nicely done, too. =) Check out the rest of the submissions.

In addition to learning more about HTML5 canvas drawing with Javascript, I learned that:

If I start thinking of things as “art”, I can get stuck waiting for an interesting idea, especially if I’m in that mid-afternoon slump. If I don’t worry about coming up with a vision first and instead read the documentation or play around with functions, I can let curiosity take me to interesting places.

A room full of 20-30 geeks coding away isn’t distracting, although I still haven’t figured out how to interrupt people and ask about stuff.

Add another ~20 people and switch into party mode, and I begin to shut down socially. I don’t particularly feel like engaging in conversation, and I don’t feel like I’m completely there in conversations. It might be a decibel thing, it might be a listening thing. I wish I’d thought of sneaking downstairs for quieter conversations instead.

Xavier Snelgrove, Jen Dodd, and TinEye know how to have a great event with awesome healthy food.

After lots of social interaction, I tend to get wiped out. I slept for twelve hours the following day.

An evening and a full Saturday feels like it was enough to disrupt our home routines, which is not good news in terms of my participation in hackathons. I think I need to be more social in order to make the most of hackathons, anyway.

So, how do I want to follow up on this?

I’d like to add that d3js calendar visualization to QuantifiedAwesome.com. I think it would be interesting to see heatmaps of activities.

HackLab will probably be a good way to practise being around other people when I’m coding, and the open houses on Tuesday would be good desensitization for mingling.

I’d love to learn more about Quantified Self and visualization.

Sometimes, if I start thinking of things as “possibilities,” I get stuck waiting for an interesting idea. What if I set aside one morning each week to do this kind of planning / brainstorming / looking ahead, knowing that the rest of the week can be focused on actually trying things out and making things happen, even if they’re not Super Brilliant things? If I brainstorm a list of things I can explore, then I can keep moving forward even if the creative part of my brain wants to procrastinate. I trust that if I keep exploring, curiosity will lead me to interesting places.

Good experience. Would do it again, especially if I can figure out how to hack the social parts.

Seeing the futures

February 22, 2013 - Categories: planning, plans

I often imagine different futures, sketching them out on paper or in those moments right before or after dreaming. It’s a good way of testing an idea to see whether I’d like it, and then working backwards from there to figure out how to get there from here. I also explore mediocrity and failure so that I can get a sense of what I want to avoid and what I could do to lower the risks.

For example, how might this 5-year experiment of mine turn out?

How about my relationship with W-?






Good to get a sense of what good looks like.

Weekly review: Week ending February 22, 2013

February 23, 2013 - Categories: weekly

Blog posts

Accomplished this week

Plans for next week

Time review

Decision update: HackLab.TO

February 25, 2013 - Categories: decision, review

Based on my analysis, I decided to sign up for hacklab.to, a coworking space tucked into Kensington Market here in Toronto. I dropped by on Wednesday and Friday last week.

Let me check how I’m doing against my success criteria. In nine months, what do I want to happen, and how am I making progress?

I also survived my initial run-in with the alarm, so that’s another milestone passed – I now know how to properly let myself in. It’s probably a good idea to practice arming the alarm and letting myself out, which would be another milestone.

Lists and actions: Learning how to hack my way around the impostor syndrome

February 26, 2013 - Categories: life

Since even highly successful women can struggle with the impostor syndrome (research), it’s worth figuring out how to hack your way around this limitation.

I’m finding my own way around the insecurities. The two I’m dealing with at the moment are thinking I’m not good enough at drawing to do this professionally, and that I’m not immersed enough in Emacs to give a presentation. Here’s what’s been working for me:

When I catch myself wasting energy on anxiety, I make a list of what it would take for me to be more confident in doing something. For drawing, it means:

For Emacs, it means:

Then I can turn that list into specific steps, such as reviewing sketchnotes and re-drawing concepts onto index cards. It takes much less effort to sit down and take those steps. I can do those steps without getting lost in worry.

Turning that feeling into concrete actions helps a lot. It doesn’t banish that self-judging, but it keeps me moving forward. I trust that if I do, I can give things my best shot. Sometimes a little forward motion is enough to unblock my confidence or excitement, and then it’s easier to make even more progress.

And then I write a blog post about it, because that’s another way to make anxiety useful: wring an insight out of it and share what I’ve been learning. =) This is a breadcrumb trail for my future self, and for other people going through life.

Next time you find yourself wondering if you’re really up to a challenge, make a list of what would need to be true in order for you to feel more confident. See if you can break it down into simple things you can work on, even if it’s just the first step in a long journey. Take that step, and another, and another.

Appreciating people

February 27, 2013 - Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve been thinking about friendship as one of those things that I want to deliberately get better at through practice and reflection. It seems strange to think about it that way. I’m used to over-thinking things, though. I like how thinking things through helps me see and understand, although I’m not sure how far I’ll get on my limited life experience.

Fortunately, other people have thought about friendship, and people have been doing so for thousands of years. (Well. Sort of. You know what I mean.) Cue philosophy, stage right.

Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics classifies friendships as friendships of pleasure, utility, or virtue. Other philosophers have discussed friendship in terms of mutual caring, intimacy through self-disclosure, and shared activity. Stanford has a neat summary.

I’d like to get better at building friendships of virtue. I generally wish good for everyone I meet, but friendship involves a specificity of goodwill. In other words, I hope a friend like Clair will have a wonderful life not just because I hope people will have wonderful lives, but because she’s super-awesome and I feel warm and fuzzy about a world that has people like her in it. (Happy birthday!)

I think life would be even more wonderful if I can discover this warm-and-fuzzy feeling about more people, and to know myself through them. I run into an increasingly familiar set of people in various meetups or on the Internet. People I meet tend to be awesome and easy to admire. Blogging and social media updates have this peculiar undirected self-disclosure thing going on, so I think conversation might be what I need to work on more. I might not be reaching out enough. Shared activities would be another big thing to work on.

My memory is too fuzzy to trust when it comes to people (or pretty much anything else, come to think of it), so I take notes. In The Spirit of Kaizen, Robert Maurer wrote about how he advised someone to take small steps by simply writing down compliments, then complimenting people to other people, then graduating to complimenting people directly. I can practise by writing down those compliments, taking notes on how awesome people are.

We tend to shy away from thinking about friendships and other interpersonal relationships, because it seems too analytical, clinical, even manipulative. If I can learn how to think about this while being me, though, I think that might be interesting.

Rediscovering Emacs features, or what to do after you get carried away installing packages

February 28, 2013 - Categories: emacs, org

A kid in a candy store – that’s me with M-x list-packages, EmacsWiki pages, Planet Emacsen, and other sources of Emacs goodness. Because Emacs has so much functionality and people keep adding stuff to it, it’s easy to forget about the cool goodies in configuration files and the Emacs codeverse. It’s important to practise and review, though, because there are all sorts of great keyboard shortcuts and commands that could make Emacs even better if I could just drill them into my brain.

Spaced repetition is a great technique for prioritizing and learning things. Emacs Org has an org-drill module that implements flashcards for Org headings that are tagged with :drill:. I’ve been using this to prepare for the Canadian citizenship exam, and that’s been working out well. So I started creating an emacs-drill.org file with headings for the things I’m interested in learning, such as multiple-cursor-mode and ace-jump-mode…

… And then I remembered, hey, my Emacs configuration is one big Org file (thanks to the joys of literate programming) so why don’t I just stick the :drill: tag onto the relevant snippets and run M-x org-drill there?

This might actually work out. =)

I was thinking of doing some kind of idle-timer hook, but I actually don’t mind manually triggering it. Besides, I’m experimenting with John Wiegley’s org-agenda display paired with winner-mode to save my window configuration.

Come to think of it, it might be good to add a random Emacs keybinding to the org-agenda display. I’ve installed keywiz, so I can reuse some of the code from that:

(use-package keywiz)
(defun sacha/load-keybindings ()
  "Since we don't want to have to pass through a keywiz game each time..."
  (setq keywiz-cached-commands nil)
  (do-all-symbols (sym)
    (when (and (commandp sym)
               (not (memq sym '(self-insert-command
                                digit-argument undefined))))
      (let ((keys (apply 'nconc (mapcar
                                 (lambda (key)
                                   (when (keywiz-key-press-event-p key)
                                     (list key)))
                                 (where-is-internal sym)))))
        ;;  Politically incorrect, but clearer version of the above:
        ;;    (let ((keys (delete-if-not 'keywiz-key-press-event-p
        ;;                               (where-is-internal sym))))
        (and keys
             (push (list sym keys) keywiz-cached-commands)))))))
  ;; Might be good to use this in org-agenda...
  (defun sacha/random-keybinding ()
    "Describe a random keybinding."
    (let* ((command (keywiz-random keywiz-cached-commands))
         (doc (and command (documentation (car command)))))
      (if command
          (concat (symbol-name (car command)) " "
                  "(" (mapconcat 'key-description (cadr command) ", ") ")"
                  (if doc
                      (concat ": " (substring doc 0 (string-match "\n" doc)))

… and a minor adjustment to org-agenda-custom-commands…

(defun sacha/org-agenda-with-tip (arg) (org-agenda-list arg) (let ((inhibit-read-only t)) (insert (sacha/random-keybinding) “\n”))) (setq org-agenda-custom-commands `((“a” “Agenda” sacha/org-agenda-with-tip) (“T” todo-tree “TODO”)
;; more here; see my config file

… and now I see a random Emacs keybinding every time I review my to-do list.


If you find yourself forgetting to revisit the nifty Emacs snippets you’ve added to your configuration, add reminders for yourself. Make yourself some flashcards with org-drill.el or flashcard.el and give that a try, or integrate reminders into your workflow. Have fun!