August 2014

Living like you’re old

August 1, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

There’s a saying that you should live each day as if it were your last, which is supposed to help you fully enjoy each moment. I’ve been recently thinking about another way of looking at it: living each day as if yesterday was your last. What do I mean by this? Well, let me explain how I got around to thinking about this in the first place.

I am a bit of a pessimist when planning, which is perhaps a little surprising to people who know me in person because I’m generally cheerful and positive. I think it’s precisely because I think about risks and safety nets that I can easily focus on the bright side. Now, thinking about what can go wrong often leads to dealing with ultimate consequences. (I can’t be the only one who routinely thinks about death before biking in city traffic, am I? But I bike anyway.)

From time to time, I reassure myself that hey, life so far has been pretty darn awesome, actually, so even if it were abruptly cut off or made significantly more challenging, things are on the whole pretty good. I might not have worked on things of lasting significance (and what could really be significant, anyway, in a universe probably heading towards heat death in gazillions of years?) and there may be more awesomeness ahead of me, but even after the thirty years I’ve been around so far, people have told me that some of my thoughts have been useful, and I’m happy with what I’ve been learning so far. That’s as good a start as any, and anything else is icing on the cake. Instead of accepting the common view that life is incomplete unless you do X, Y, and Z, I like to think that life is pretty good, actually, and that things just get even more wonderful. (This is why I haven’t quite gotten the hang of bucket lists–I don’t have that burning sense of urgency and incompleteness.) I would prefer to keep on going, but I don’t have to worry too much about missing out.

While chasing down some notes about hypomnemata (those personal notes I wrote about while thinking about my handbook), I came across Michel Foucault’s The Hermeneutics of the Subject (2001, translated by Graham Burchell in 2005; you might be able to read it online). Here’s the segment that got me thinking about this particular reflection:

With regard to our life, and this is the central point of this new ethics of old age, we should place ourselves in a condition such that we live it as if it is already over. In fact, even if we are still young, even if we are adult and still active, with regard to all that we do and all that we are we should have the attitude, behavior, detachment, and accomplishment of someone who has already completed his life. We must live expecting nothing more from our life and, just as the old man is someone who expects nothing more from his life, we must expect nothing from it even when we are young. We must complete our life before our death. The expression is found in Seneca’s letter 32: “consummare vitam ante mortem.” We must complete our life before our death, we must fulfill our life before the moment of death arrives, we must achieve perfect satiety of ourselves. “Summa tui satietas“: perfect, complete satiety of yourself. This is the point towards which Seneca wants Lucilius to hasten. You can see that this idea that we must organize our life in order to be old, that we must hasten towards our old age, and that even if we are young we should constitute ourselves in relation to our life as if we are old, raises a series of important questions to which we will return.

(p110-111)

Aha! People smarter than me have thought about the same thing, but more eloquently and more deeply than I could have. In the same section, he writes about how society typically thinks old age is not as awesome as youth, but actually, old age is pretty cool because that’s when all of your philosophical work comes to fruition and you’re safe from many of the things that disturb other people. This reminds me a little of how my mom is slowly making peace with growing old. Sometimes it makes her sad. I want to tell her that it doesn’t have to be all that bad. Granted, I am only turning 31 next month, so it’s quite possible that I don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ll see in forty or sixty years. But if Foucault and Seneca say something along those lines with the advantage of quite a few years of experience (Foucalt was maybe 55 when he gave those lectures on hermeneutics that were later transcribed and translated for that book), maybe I’m onto something, or maybe I can take advantage of the springboard that they’re offering.

I’m partly writing this reflection for myself, too, decades down the line. If Future-Sacha gets caught up in the confusion of the world, at least she’ll be able to look back and say, “Okay, clearly you thought this at some point in time. What changed? What’s true?” I would like to grow old like the way I am now, but I don’t entirely know how things will work out yet. Still, if I look ahead a little and figure out how I’d like to live–old every moment, so that I can be young every moment–then I’ll probably have a higher chance of reaching it, I think.

The nice thing about reading philosophers (especially classic ones!) is that they’ve often come up with short, clear ways to say things that you’ve been trying to untangle. Like this, from Seneca’s 12th letter (“On old age”):

When a man has said: “I have lived!”, every morning he arises he receives a bonus.’

Every day above ground is a good day. This is already more than I could have asked for, and what I have is already enough. Anything beyond this is icing on the cake and fudge on the brownie. (So remember that, future Sacha, when you’re figuring out what could go wrong or you’re worrying about opportunity costs. It’s okay.)

I still have a lot to learn about growing old. I imagine that when I am properly old, I’ll be less fazed (“That can’t bother me! I’ve been through worse.”), more appreciative (“Ooh, there are all these little things you notice with experience.”), and better at reflecting, learning, and teaching. I think this process of growing older will be interesting. Who’s with me? =)

Weekly review: Week ending August 1, 2014

August 3, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

This was a week of lots of reading and philosophical reflections. =) Lots of work, too, since the clients need a little extra help. It’s a good excuse to learn more about both front-end development and analytics, anyway. I went to a couple of parties and had fun chatting with people. I’m getting better at stepping back and enjoying the conversation without worrying about the quiet bits.

I practiced the Japanese curry recipe again. Mmm. I think this will be one of our go-to recipes. We also harvested the blueberries from the yard – it’s just a handful, but it’s a yummy handful.

W- and I have resolved to be more adventurous in terms of food and activities. Left to our own devices (literally, even), we tend to spend the time at home. Maybe even working. It’s summer! There’s always something happening. So now we’re making ourselves go out and try things, especially if we can find interesting meals that we’d like to replicate at home. (I enjoy cooking more than I enjoy eating out, weirdly.) For example, having Japanese curry at Gyugyuya launched us on this Japanese-curry-from-scratch kick, and I’m becoming more comfortable with making that now. The Caribbean Festival is on this weekend, and the Taste of the Danforth is next weekend. Maybe we’ll try those out.

Next week: Writing, work, and cooking. Life is good!

Blog posts

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (30.6h – 18%)
    • Earn (23.8h – 77% of Business)
      • E1: Finish transition video draft
      • E1: Train TR
      • E1: Work on second video draft
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (0.6h – 1% of Business)
      • Paperwork (0.6h)
    • Connect (6.2h – 20% of Business)
  • Relationships (9.4h – 5%)
    • Attend Nadia’s party
    • Attend Paul’s party
    • Attend potluck
    • Discuss F2
    • Have coffee with Andrew
    • Make cabbage stew at Hacklab
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
  • Discretionary – Productive (21.1h – 12%)
    • Record chat with Harry Schwartz
    • [#C] Track cat data – State “DONE” from “STARTED” [2014-06-25 Wed 23:30]
    • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
    • Get new bike brakes
    • Get some laces and set up a knot-tying practice area
    • Reread Latin textbook chapter now that I’ve picked up more vocabulary
    • [#C] Tracking: Update the number of tasks
    • Writing (8.8h)
  • Discretionary – Play (8.3h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (28.5h – 16%)
  • Unpaid work (9.5h – 5%)
  • Sleep (60.6h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Sharing cooking adventures

August 4, 2014 - Categories: connecting, cooking

I told W- about the Ethiopian cabbage dish that Eric and I made at Tuesday’s open house at Hacklab, to go with the injera that we bought from a store a few doors down from Hacklab. We had decided to go with cooking Ethiopian food because it was a cool day (so, a warm meal), we hadn’t cooked anything Ethiopian before, and Eric had mentioned the injera previously; so we looked online for vegan Ethiopian recipes and picked a simple one to start with. A typical Ethiopian meal includes several kinds of stews served on top of the flatbread, but we figured it was fine to start with just one recipe and let people decide how they want to eat it. It worked out pretty well, although there were a few moments when we weren’t quite sure how to fit all that shredded cabbage in. (Eric picked the biggest head of cabbage, I think!) $16 of groceries fed lots of people, and there were still leftovers by the time I left.

W- asked, “How come you’re not as experimental when cooking at home?” Come to think of it, I tend to test recipes at Hacklab before trying them at home: gazpacho, Thai curry, Japanese curry… Cooking at Hacklab is fun because other people help (getting that second chef’s knife for Hacklab was totally worth it!) and the meals disappear pretty quickly.

But we’re even better set up to experiment at home. Proper chopping boards, all the pots and pans I need, no worries about extra ingredients or leftovers, and backup plans in case things go wrong… Slightly pickier eaters, but if I mess up, I can always pack it in the freezer for later, or even toss it out if I really have to. (I tend to have more tolerance for cooking than I should, although even I have had to give up on some attempts before. Ah well!)

W- is much more experienced at cooking than I am, so I’m catching up by exploring different recipes. Cooking has become a hobby for me – something I enjoy for its own sake, even if I’m still working on getting better at it. It’s even more fun when you’re cooking with someone, since you can laugh at stuff and swap stories. Sometimes W- and I cook together, although I guess lately I’ve been trying to do most of the household prep so that he can focus on work. Choosing the recipe is part of the fun, and making something often results in funny stories even if there are hiccups along the way (especially if there are!). Maybe we’ll just make a habit of trying one new recipe a week. Between that and Hacklab, I’ll be learning tons of recipes, yay!

Mmm… What do I want to try? Different kinds of pasta, for J-. Curries of the world! Salads for summer, both cold and warm! Mmm…

That moment when time comes together

August 5, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

I reflect on mortality pretty frequently; at least every week, and probably much more often than that. If you do it just a few times each year, you’ll hardly get used to it. I think it makes life sweeter, knowing that life’s so short.

I used to clearly separate this meditation from other things because I sometimes cried. Now I sometimes find myself simultaneously aware of it as I play with the cats, hang out with friends, talk to my parents, or spend time with my husband. Those moments feel oddly grace-ful, like I’m seeing one of our cats as a kitten, at the end of her life, and beyond, all super-imposed. It’s interesting to imagine who someone was before you knew them, and to trace their impact on your life by seeing their absence–or even non-existence, “It’s a Wonderful Life” sort of not-existed-at-all-ness.

When I feel this way, it’s easier to be appreciative and grateful for the gift that was given. It’s easier to feel safe, oddly enough, knowing that I can look on without clinging too much.

I’m not always like this, of course. I am often less thoughtful, more immediate. I think it would be interesting to be in that kind of moment more often, though. Perhaps writing about it like this will help me remember what it’s like, and how to do things with that perspective–even in those normal moments when time is separate and not all together.

Writing incomplete thoughts

August 6, 2014 - Categories: writing

Writing helps me make myself. In a quiet, considered moment, I can think through things and figure out how I’d like to respond or act. Most of the time, I don’t end up referring to my old blog posts; writing is itself enough to help. Sometimes I do link back so that I can trace the development of a thought, build on what I’ve written, or share that moment in time with someone else who’s figuring out similar things.

Sometimes I have all these little thoughts that don’t quite gel into a single post. I’m still attached to the idea of having some kind of question, some kind of realization, or at least a little progress in a post. Sometimes I have two or more threads and I feel there’s some kind of connection between them, but I can’t quite articulate it coherently. I’m getting better at writing regardless, but I keep the notes until they make a little more sense. I’ve been saving those snippets in an ever-growing outline, but maybe I should just post things. After all, present-Sacha has found the time machine of a blog archive to be unexpectedly interesting reading, so maybe future-Sacha will be able to make sense of all this. As Steve Jobs said (in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford), “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Today I thought about chronos and kairos, clock-time and personal-time. I thought about Aristotle’s golden means and the vices that my nature tends towards. I thought about our almost-daily habit of watching movies borrowed from the library, and what we did before this became our routine; and similarly, what were those long-ago weekends like? Maybe I should write more about everyday life so that future-Sacha can see the changes.

Here is what our lives are like at the moment. Mondays and Wednesdays are quiet days at home. I skim a stack of books, taking notes on a few. Because my consulting client needs a little extra help, I usually interrupt my reading and writing with an hour or two of work, responding to e-mail and dealing with quick, important requests. Tuesdays and Thursdays are more focused on consulting. On Tuesday evenings, I go to Hacklab to cook and hang out. Fridays I go out, meet friends, and experiment with a change of scene. On either Saturday or Sunday, we do laundry, groceries, cooking, and chores; the other weekend day is for outside errands or other forms of relaxation, although sometimes W- uses it to catch up on work.

I spend a lot more time reading and writing than I did when I worked full-time. (From about 5 hours a week to about 19 hours!) I enjoy it immensely. I’m beginning to feel more of a sense of the authors I encounter through their works, both ancient and modern; their voices, their ideas, the conversations that thread their way through the books I read.

There’s always that need to combine learning, doing, and sharing. Book-learning isn’t enough; I have to try things in real life. Doing something is good, but sharing what I’m learning from it is even better. My writing this year is a lot more self-focused than it was last year, but in the grand scheme of things, a little exploration should be all right. (Who knows, it might even be useful.)

Thinking about leisure activities: noble, advantageous, pleasant

August 7, 2014 - Categories: experiment, philosophy

As an experiment (and because the timing works), I have a three-month break coming up. It’ll be quite a different experience from the 1-month breaks I’ve been taking so far, probably as different as the way that having an entire weekday to yourself is different from squeezing your activities into an evening. So I have a few questions to think about:

  • How can I make the most of that time?
  • With the answers to that question in mind, how can I make the most of the weekdays I have until then? How do those activities compare with working a little more from August to September?
  • Considering the most likely situations, how would I like to adjust my work/discretionary-time balance?

It got me thinking about what I actually do during my leisure time, and why. Oddly enough, despite the ability to spend lots of time reading and writing, I still end up writing at roughly the same rate I did back when I was working full-time. Some days the words flow freely and I queue up a few posts, other days I’m casting about for ideas. My reading has shifted a little, and for the better (I think). I doubt I’d have had the patience to read philosophy and reflect on it slowly back when I read in the evenings and the occasional weekend.

Aristotle writes in the Nichomachean Ethics on the topic of why we choose what we choose:

But that [virtue and vice] are concerned with the same things might become manifest to us also from these considerations: there being three objects of choice and three of avoidance–the noble, the advantageous, and the pleasant together with their three contraries, the shameful, the harmful, and the painful–in all these the good person is apt to be correct, the bad person to err, but especially as regards pleasure. (1104b30)

It might be useful, then, to reflect on these leisure activities and figure out how they stack up against Aristotle’s objects, along with some notes on how adding more time to these activities makes sense. This will help me make a decision about the months leading up to November, and for after the break (depending on how things turn out).

Legend:

  • T: Well-served by additional time
  • N: Noble
  • A: Advantageous
  • P: Pleasant
T N A P Activity and notes
T N A P Work so that I can develop my skills and reputation, help people out, make a difference, and enjoy excellence; More time = better skills, more help, more appreciation
T N A P Write or draw what I’m learning so that I can understand, remember, and share; More time = more application and sharing, and better skills too
T N A ? Spend time with people (online/offline) so that I can appreciate other people’s interestingness; More time = more opportunities to get to know people
T N A Copy, review, and apply my notes so that I can learn more; More time = deeper understanding and application, more connections among ideas
T A P Tidy up, take care of chores/errands, and cook so that we have a smoothly running household and so that W- feels wonderful; More time = cleaner and smoother-running household, but possibly diminishing returns
T A P Learn Latin so that I can read and enjoy older works, and so that I can enjoy learning; More time = more practice, but constrained by memory
T A P Learn Japanese so that I can enjoy listening to anime/podcasts and reading tech news/blogs; More time = more practice, but constrained by memory
T A P Bike so that I can exercise, get somewhere, and save money; More time = more explorations
T A ? Go to meetups and talks so that I can learn and meet people; More time = more knowledge and connections
T A ? Build simple furniture or fix things around the house so that I can make/repair things that suit us (haven’t done this in a few years, but worth revisiting); More time = better DIY skills
T A ? Work on Emacs so that I can learn more, customize it better, and help others learn; More time = more knowledge and resources
T A Finish projects so that I can reduce mental clutter; More time = more stuff done
? N A P Exercise so that I can become healthier; More time = fitter, but constrained by gradual training program
? N A Read nonfiction books so that I can recognize and articulate ideas, and so that it prompts thinking / writing. More time = more reading, but application may be better
? A P Have a massage so that I can learn more about my muscles; More time = more relaxed and more aware
? A P Draw what I’m watching or reading so that I can practise drawing people and so that I get more out of the movie; More time = better drawing skills
? A ? Read social media updates and interact with people online so that I can maintain connections and learn from people’s lives; More time = more interaction
? A Read and write e-mail so that I can help or learn from more people; More time = prompter replies
? A Balance my books and plan my finances so that I can make better decisions; More time = better prepared, but possibly diminishing returns
? A Sew so that I can make or fix things suited for us; More time = projects, better attention to detail, improved skills
? A Research and buy things to improve our quality of life; More time = wider awareness and better decisions
? P Play with the cats so that I can be amused and so that I can appreciate them; More time = happier cats
? P Garden so that I can slow down and enjoy watching things grow; More time = more attention, but limited by knowledge and conditions
N A P Cook at Hacklab so that I can connect with people and learn new recipes; More time = more elaborate or consistent meals, but limited by frequency
N A Simplify our things so that I can practise detachment and resourcefulness; More time = simpler life
A P Read blogs so that I can get a sense of other people’s lives and challenges; More time = greater awareness and possible interactions
A Do paperwork and plan ahead so that we can minimize risks; More time = better organization, but diminishing returns
P Watch movies so that I can spend time with W-, accumulate more in-jokes, and enjoy other people’s work; More time = more shared experiences
P Watch amusing videos and read fiction/blogs/analyses online so that I can appreciate other people’s brilliance; More time = more pleasure and appreciation, but limited value
P Play video games so that I can appreciate other people’s brilliance and enjoy figuring things out; More time = more pleasure and appreciation, but limited value
P Sleep so that I am well-rested; More time = an excess of sleep

Hmm. Tabulating and sorting it like this is actually pretty useful. I can see why work is so tempting for me, despite the opportunity to do other things. It is an opportunity to work towards and practise nobility/excellence through work; it is advantageous in terms of resources and reputation, which contributes to safety; and it’s pleasant, especially when I get a chance to do some rapid-prototyping magic or some custom analytics.

Writing and drawing are less clear and more self-directed. But they are useful techniques for working towards nobility; they are advantageous both in terms of the content and the skills I develop; and both the process and the results of figuring things out are pleasant. If I spend more time and attention on these things, I can improve my ability to observe and articulate. It may take me years to get the hang of these skills, but they are good to develop.

I can develop both writing and drawing in the afternoons and evenings, but I do notice a difference in attention. I usually watch movies in the evening as a way of spending time with W-. This is okay for slow and light writing, but does not lend itself well to study, deep reflection, or application. When I worked full-time, I generally wrote in the evenings (sometimes before dinner, sometimes shortly after) or on one of the weekend afternoons. I like writing on weekday afternoons, now. I like the pace. Would I pick that over consulting? Yes, actually, depending on what kinds of tasks I’d work on. I can put off writing when there are important and time-sensitive tasks to be done, but writing is also important to me long-term, and I’m willing to take on a little risk in order to experiment with it.

Hmm. If I do two to three days of work a week–maybe even four–from now to October, while leaving at least one full day for writing, that’s probably good. I can front-load the writing, since that’s important to me. If I feel it could use more time, I might adjust what I work on. I’ll spend the usual time cooking and taking care of house-things, although I might spend a little more time during the week to cook fresh dinners. I can use the three-month break to experiment with more writing and drawing. In the meantime, I can avoid getting used to the additional income by stashing it all in a safety net, opportunity fund, or similar budget. If we keep our lifestyle the same, it’s easy to evaluate work for its own sake.

Are there some smaller-value activities that I should spend more time on instead of reading, writing, and drawing? Spending time with people is nice, but it can be a little iffy in terms of energy, so I might take the occasional opportunity and use the rest of the time on other things. I can review my notes instead of reading lots of new books, and use those notes for material for blog posts and experiments. When I find myself looking for non-writing activities, this table might be handy to review.

Let’s see how this works out.

Learning philosophy at the right time

August 8, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

When I took the required philosophy courses in university, I was too young for it. We all were, I think — inarticulate adolescents with little life experience. Perhaps a brilliant teacher would have been able to teach it anyway, and perhaps for some of my classmates our teachers were brilliant. I struggled with the courses, though. The topics seemed abstract and impractical. We read Plato’s Republic and were quizzed on his ideal society. We read the Nichomachean Ethics and differentiated among types of friendship. We read Hannah Arendt’s thoughts on totalitarianism and discussed terror. But nothing really made an impact on my everyday life, aside from the unexpected oddness of being comfortable with–even finding a sort of joy in–the hopelessness and despair described by Sartre when it seemed, based on how we were taught and how my classmates responded, that I should have had more philosophical discomfort with the concept.

Hence the young man is not a fit student of Moral Philosophy, for he has no experience in the actions of life, while all that is said presupposes and is concerned with these: and in the next place, since he is apt to follow the impulses of his passions, he will hear as though he heard not, and to no profit, the end in view being practice and not mere knowledge.

Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics (Book 1 – 1095a)

The normal course of events, perhaps, might be that I’d revisit these topics later in life. Much later, the way people conscious of mortality tend to think about life. I think this 5-year experiment of mine nudged me to think about the best use of time, and from there to wonder about Aristotle’s recommendation of the contemplative life. Time and patience

I’m not quite at the point of understanding Heidegger and similar thinkers. I don’t need to get there, I think, in order to get some benefit from applying philosophy to life. I want to train my mind to see clearly, want the right things, not want the wrong things, act on these right judgments, and be able to explain what I’m learning to myself and to others. Starting this early makes sense, because then I can avoid bad habits (or unlearn them before they get ingrained) and enjoy the benefits for longer.

Keep on as you have begun, and make all possible haste, so that you may have longer enjoyment of an improved mind, one that is at peace with itself. Doubtless you will derive enjoyment during the time when you are improving your mind and setting it at peace with itself; but quite different is the pleasure which comes from contemplation when one’s mind is so cleansed from every stain that it shines.

Seneca, Epistles, Letter 4

In a later letter, Seneca also tells us that we don’t have to put this kind of thinking off until we are comfortably settled. This reminds me of how people set these constantly moving goalposts for themselves (“I just need to make $XXX,000” – and then higher, and higher), and why it made sense to me to risk jumping earlier rather than later. We’ll see how this works out.

Study cannot be helpful unless you take pains to live simply; and living simply is voluntary poverty. Away, then, with all excuses like: “I have not yet enough; when I have gained the desired amount, then I shall devote myself wholly to philosophy.” And yet this ideal, which you are putting off and placing second to other interests, should be secured first of all; you should begin with it. You retort: “I wish to acquire something to live on.” Yes, but learn while you are acquiring it; for if anything forbids you to live nobly, nothing forbids you to die nobly.

Seneca, Epistles, Letter 17

Now is a good time, I think. I can train my thinking and inspire my writing with classic, clear texts, and I can work on learning things that are common to more people than my other niche interests are.

Weekly review: Week ending August 8, 2014

August 9, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

This week was about spending time with W- and J-. W-‘s birthday was on Monday, so we had dimsum with the in-laws. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy this week, too. We spent Friday afternoon helping J- shop for clothes, and we had dinner at a Japanese restaurant we hadn’t tried before. Yay lots of time together!

I worked a lot, too. I worked on some nifty prototypes using Javascript, and then I spent some time learning about developing add-ons and apps for Jive. I’m looking forward to doing even more magic with those tools. =)

Next week: more family stuff, a Hacklab members’ meeting, and more work. Whee!

Blog posts

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (23.4h – 13%)
    • Upgrade WordPress
    • Chat with Scott Torrance regarding publishing
    • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Try new features in Dragon Naturally Speaking 13
    • Earn (23.2h – 99% of Business)
    • Build (0.0h – 0% of Business)
    • Connect (0.2h – 0% of Business)
  • Relationships (16.9h – 10%)
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
    • Attend Hacklab meeting
    • Work on F3
  • Discretionary – Productive (12.8h – 7%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Chat with masteringemacs
    • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
    • Writing (4.7h)
      • That moment when time comes together
      • Thinking about leisure activities: noble, advantageous, pleasant
      • Turning 31
      • Writing incomplete thoughts
  • Discretionary – Play (12.1h – 7%)
  • Personal routines (38.3h – 22%)
  • Unpaid work (6.0h – 3%)
  • Sleep (58.6h – 34% – average of 8.4 per day)

Monthly review: July 2014

August 11, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

I wrote that in July, I’d like to:

  • E1: Update the documentation and help out in other ways: Yup! Worked on a video, too. Lots of good stuff.
  • Turn the beginner course into a convenient download: Didn’t happen because I’ve been more focused on philosophy than on Emacs.
  • Plan for project F3: Working on it!
  • Solidify my exercise habit: Running works well as a social activity, and I’ve been making gradual progress through the Hacker’s Diet Exercise Ladder too. Sometimes I skip a day, but most of the time I remember to work on this.

July was a great month for learning about philosophy, design, and other topics. I learned a lot by looking at what other people did and thinking about what resonated with me, and I’m slowly starting to experiment with those ideas at work and in life.

I also decided to help out more at Hacklab. It’s good to take some responsibility for a shared space. I’ve been cooking at the Tuesday open houses, chatting with visitors, and making the kitchen a more pleasant and functional space. (I finally got tired of smelly cloths, so I sewed a new set of dishtowels and made the Hacklab cloths part of my weekly routines.)

In August, I’m probably going to:

  • Work more, since my clients need extra help
  • Work on project F3, too
  • Improve my writing techniques (outlines, snippets, etc.)
  • Celebrate another year, yay!

Here’s what I blogged about in July:

Turning 31

August 12, 2014 - Categories: review, yearly

What a year! Life just keeps getting better and better.

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

I like looking forward by looking back: imagining myself in the future and seeing what changed. Last August, I wrote: “When I look back at this year on the eve of turning 31, I’d like to say…” So here’s how all that worked out.

I’ve learned and shared a lot. This next year will probably be a year of intense learning in terms of life and work and Making Things Happen. As tempting as it always is to go full speed ahead, I think the result will be even better if I slow down and take notes along the way.

I slowed down in terms of work, scaling back my consulting hours to about two days a week and using the freed-up time for reading, cooking, spending time with family, and working on other projects/experiments like Emacs and sketchnoting. That worked out really well.

I’ve gotten very good at making decisions under lots of uncertainty. The outcomes might not always be good, but at least the processes will be well-reasoned and I’ll have notes to help me (and other people) learn more.

I’m comfortable taking on bigger and bigger challenges. I’m comfortable with research and can generally find some background information quickly. I have fun sketching out different scenarios and finding my way. This is working nicely too.

I’ve expanded my freedom and abilities in this 5-year experiment. I’ve focused on building up skills, knowledge, and relationships out of curiosity (“What if?” “How can we make this better?”) instead of fear (“Will I be able to hit the ground running if I decide to go back to the workforce?”). I find creative ways to deal with constraints, and those ideas help others. Writing, drawing, and coding continue to be a large part of my life.

I added a few useful business-related skills and improved a number of my existing skills. Yay! This is definitely fun, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what the next year will bring.

I’ve gotten better at asking questions. This is tough, because I tend to want to dig into things myself, Google+books+experiments give me so much information, and advice can get a little weird if you don’t take it. Maybe if I start asking people questions through this blog, I might elicit interesting perspectives or encourage people to teach something (especially if they don’t have blogs of their own).

Philosophy turned out to be a good addition to the things I’m learning and thinking about. By immersing myself in the conversations of book authors throughout the ages, I can learn from all these very smart people who have thought about things. =)

I live a simple and frugal life. Lifestyle inflation is the enemy. If I can keep my wants and needs the same–-or even reduce them–-then that helps us be even more free.

My base expenses were actually a little bit lower than they were the previous year. Neat! The stock market has been doing pretty well (aside from the current dip), and I’ve been saving most of the income from consulting too. I’m going to figure out dividends next year, so then I’ll be able to move more money from savings into investments.

Where did the year go?

August 2013 Lots of drawing, making sketchnote lessons
September Emacs, writing, sketchnotes, learning tips
October More drawing, reflecting on my experiment
November Google Helpouts, Emacs chats
December Trip to the Philippines!
January Lots of learning tips
February Writing about blogging; making that no-excuses guide to blogging
March Frugal Fire podcast experiment
April More Emacs Chats and Frugal Fire podcasts; Raspberry Pi
May Even more Emacs Chats
June Read Lisp, Tweak Emacs
July Philosophy

So, how am I different from the person I was last year?

  • I’m healthier. I like these new exercise habits (running to build up endurance, the Hacker’s Diet exercise ladder for very gradually building up strength). We’ve been eating even better too.
  • I did a lot of cool front-end work on my consulting engagement. I picked up new skill: Jive app/add-on development. Improved existing skills, too: Javascript, analytics, etc.
  • I spent a lot less time working, networking, and socializing (reduced by 263, 333, and 324 hours respectively!), and more time working on Emacs, gardening, reading, and sleeping. I spent about as much time writing as I did last year. I shifted most of my socialization to Hacklab, since I like the way it fits me.
  • I had good experiments with self-publishing. I published my 2013 collection of sketchnotes, a no-excuses guide to blogging and a beginner’s guide to learning Emacs Lisp. I checked out Createspace for making a print version of my sketchnotes collection, and that actually worked out nicely. I did the Emacs Lisp guide as an e-mail course, too.
  • I drew more. I thought I drew less, but actually, my time records and my files say that I drew a lot more. It just didn’t feel that way because I’ve been writing so many text-based blog posts lately. (Hah! Recency bias.)
  • I learned more about podcasting by doing short series of shows with live sketchnotes, followed up with transcripts (Emacs Chats, Helpers Help Out, Frugal Fire Show). I might not get into it long-term, but it was interesting to try out.
  • I’m more comfortable with talking to people and helping them online. I experimented with the Google Helpouts platform, helping people learn more about note-taking, learning, building on introvert strengths, and Emacs. That worked out well (tons of 5-star reviews!), although I scaled my availability down so that I could focus on other things.
  • I’m more comfortable with philosophy, and with the humanities in general. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I find philosophy to be useful and interesting. I’m getting better at not worrying about things and at writing about what I’m thinking. Yay!
  • I’m more involved in family life. I spend more time on family-related things, and I’ve been helping W- more too.
  • I’ve learned a little more about gardening. Watering regularly makes a difference, but I’m still constrained by environmental factors.

Next year, I’ll turn 32. (Nice round number!) When I do my annual review then, what would I like to be able to say about life as a 31-year-old?

  • I have excellent health-related habits I have the strength, flexibility, and endurance to do what I want to do.
  • Our home life is wonderful. We enjoy yummy food, good projects, a tidy house, simple lives, great relationships, and other things.
  • I helped my consulting client make successful transitions. Upgrades, training, time away… I did my work well, and they’re in a great position to continue doing awesome things in the future.
  • I’ve broadened my business a little bit more. I might go deeper into writing/drawing/publishing, or I might look into product development. This reduces the risk of being classified as a personal services business, and it may lead to other interesting skills and opportunities. In terms of development, I like web-based stuff more than mobile, so maybe I’ll focus on that.

Life is good. Looking forward to seeing how this year turns out!

Shopping for clothes

August 13, 2014 - Categories: family

We took J- shopping for clothes on Friday afternoon, going through the stores in the Eaton Centre at a leisurely pace. Her mom takes her shopping from time to time, but neither W- nor I are into shopping aside from the occasional drop-off-and-browse at the thrift store, so J-‘s wardrobe updates at our house had been mostly what she could get at the thrift store or on her shopping trips with friends. But it is good to spend time together and take more interest in her life, so here we are.

It’s not that bad – actually all right, even. I’m wearing comfortable shoes, I have my phone, and I like hanging out with W- and J-. If I had planned a little better, I would have left my laptop at home, but it’s not that heavy.

W- and I mostly stay in the background, offering the occasional comment or drawing J-‘s attention to the kinds of things she’s looking for. She’s better at choosing clothes than I was at her age (or am, even at mine!) – she has some idea of what she wants, and can shop around to find things that could work. In the meantime, W- and I are happy to trail behind, helping her learn to ask for assistance and explore her options.

Hmm. This must be one of those moments that help people see the passage of time and notice the differences that are hard to notice day by day. I can see how people might reflect on that while trying to find clothes that fit changing lengths and widths. I think I understand a little bit more now. Kinda nice, just helping J- shop. I remember how my parents used to take us to the mall for the things we needed or wanted. I think I’m starting to understand them better. How wonderful!

Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers

August 14, 2014 - Categories: geek

I upgraded to Microsoft Windows 8 in January 2013 mainly primarily because I noticed myself resisting the change. For the most part, I adapted easily. I liked using Win-q to launch applications, and I even got the hang of the complicated procedure for shutting down.

Still, the upgrade was a step backwards in terms of drawing on my tablet PC. On Windows 7, I had disabled the touchscreen in order to make stylus use easier; on Windows 8 (and later 8.1), I couldn’t reliably disable the touchscreen. The option had disappeared from the built-in Pen & Touch configuration dialog, and disabling it through the hardware devices list sometimes didn’t work.

This meant that I either had to wear something to insulate my palm from the screen in order to avoid accidental touches (even my thinnest glove was still warm and unwieldy), or I had to occasionally erase stray dots. Both got in the way of drawing on my computer, so I didn’t do much of either.

While upgrading various pieces of software (Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Dragon Naturally Speaking), I thought to check if Lenovo or Wacom had released new drivers yet. Wacom had! Woohoo. I insntalled the Wacom Feel driver, rebooted my computer, and found the Wacom Pen & Touch dialog had a checkbox for disabling touch.

It’s funny how these little inconveniences can add just enough friction to make something feel annoying, and how smoothening those inconveniences over can make a big difference in how you work and how you feel about it. I’m looking forward to playing around with the new features in Sketchbook Pro now. Glad I checked for updates!

Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort

August 15, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

Here’s an excerpt from Seneca’s Epistles (Letter 18) that made me think about voluntary simplicity:

Such is the course which those men I have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.

… Even Epicurus, the teacher of pleasure, used to observe stated intervals, during which he satisfied his hunger in niggardly fashion; he wished to see whether he thereby fell short of full and complete happiness, and, if so, by what amount be fell short, and whether this amount was worth purchasing at the price of great effort.

… For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of Pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away.

I’m careful with my finances because I don’t want to end up in the kinds of situations that I see play out around me and on the Internet. I know I can’t eliminate those risks (no one is immune to bad luck!), but I can try to minimize the risks.

I’m pretty insulated from everyday troubles. I’m not often hungry or thirsty. I usually bring a bottle of water and a snack in my bag, and in the city, there are always places to go. We have what we need and want, and we don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from or how we can keep a roof over our heads.

Sometimes when I talk to people a little further ahead in life, I’m reminded that prosperity can lead to complacency. Some people tell me they wish they could do something like this experiment of mine with semi-retirement, but on the other hand, they like their current lifestyle a lot too. I like keeping my life simple and my budget almost student-ish. I check out thrift stores for clothes. I shop for groceries with a list, do the math when it comes to prices, and enjoy home-cooked meals more than restaurant steaks. It’s a way of minimizing risks and increasing safety, I guess. If I don’t get used to the good life – if I fight lifestyle inflation and hedonic adaptation – then I can more easily weather any downturns in markets or luck.

How can I get even better at this? In terms of food, it’s good to practice with simple ingredients and simple techniques. Then the main differentiator would be skill in choosing, combining, and cooking. I can still enjoy the things that I’m not very skilled at. I might even skip a meal, or eat lightly. In terms of transportation, maybe I should walk long distances once in a while, so I don’t get too accustomed to taking transit or biking. In terms of things, I can give more things away, or box things up temporarily.

It’s good to get pleasure from the small stuff. I can drink tap water here in Toronto, which still boggles me no end. I can read hundreds of books from the library. I can walk and feel the sun shining. I can breathe and feel my lungs inflate. What do I need richer pleasures for, if these simple ones can be enough?

Weekly review: Week ending August 15, 2014

August 17, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

A week for working and drawing. Learned a lot, yay! Downsides: less sleep, less reading. Will experiment with balance…

Blog posts

Sketches

Woohoo! Back.

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (56.4h – 33%)
    • Earn (39.6h – 70% of Business)
      • E1: Go to work every day
      • E1: Meet up with Harold Jarche
    • Build (8.5h – 15% of Business)
      • Try new features in Dragon Naturally Speaking 13
      • Upgrade WordPress
      • Drawing (4.8h)
        • Try new features in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 7
      • Delegation (1.2h)
        • Review proofread transcript
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.5h)
        • File health claims
        • Investigate separation of accounts for personal delegation
    • Connect (8.3h – 14% of Business)
      • Chat with Scott Torrance regarding publishing
  • Relationships (8.3h – 4%)
    • Attend Hacklab meeting
    • Meet up with Ian Garmaise and people he knows
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
    • Work on F3
  • Discretionary – Productive (8.1h – 4%)
    • Emacs (0.6h – 0% of all)
      • Chat with masteringemacs
      • Help with Emacs
    • Draw and shade in picture of Neko
    • Practise drawing faces
    • [#C] Tracking: Update the number of tasks
    • Writing (5.1h)
      • Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers
      • Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort
      • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
      • Turning 31
  • Discretionary – Play (7.7h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (23.1h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (9.9h – 5%)
  • Sleep (54.5h – 32% – average of 7.8 per day)

Drawing update

August 18, 2014 - Categories: cat, learning

It’s funny how I drop interests and pick them up again. Based on my sketchbook, there was a roughly two-month period when I did hardly any drawing. Then I had some planning to do that lent itself naturally to being mapped out, and then I ended up drawing a whole bunch, and now I’m reeled back in and looking forward to playing around with this more.

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing - #drawing

2014-08-13 Learning more about drawing – #drawing

Like so! I took a picture of Leia (who has grown out most of the lion cut we subjected her to), traced an outline in pencil, and experimented with inking and shading it in on my computer. I still have a long way to go before I can do this easily, but I like the way that tracing helps me deliberately practise seeing simple shapes. Likewise, penciling on paper or on my computer (without tracing an image) lets me play with the shape of something until it feels right. As I trace and draw, I’ll get a better sense of how things really look–and the forms beneath those lines.

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-15 Luke, also traced from a picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-13 Leia traced from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

2014-08-17 Neko, from picture

“Call no man happy until he is dead” – I think it’s okay to be happy

August 19, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

In a comment on my reflection on leisure, Thomas Worthington mentioned the story of Solon and Crœsus. Crœsus had asked Solon who the happiest person was, and Solon’s answers focused on people who had died admirable deaths. The idea is that you can’t say people are happy or blessed person until they die, since their luck could always go bad.

 I’d come across that idea before. Aristotle says something similar in Nichomachean Ethics:

He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life. (1101a10)

It got me thinking about the differences between how I think of happiness and how I think they thought of happiness. I can see the point of those ancient philosophers, but it seems unnecessary to focus on what people would judge as happy.

2014-08-13 Call no man happy until he is dead - #philosophy

2014-08-13 Call no man happy until he is dead – #philosophy

For me, it’s much more useful and more real to be able to think of myself as happy, and to keep in mind that the ups and downs of fortune are small waves in a very deep lake. It’s like Louis CK’s rant, Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy. I’m writing this on a computer and the text will be sent off through radio signals and electrons and photos around the world! And I have windows and indoor plumbing and all these other luxuries beyond those enjoyed by ancient kings.

But this kind of happiness comes easy to me, at least at this moment. We’ve learned a lot about how the mind works, but not enough – there are things that can take away your ability to appreciate and enjoy and hope. (Note to future Sacha: if this happens to you, remember that things will work out.) In the meantime, giving myself permission to be happy–not a tempting-fate sort of happy, just an appreciative sort of happy–makes it easier for me to enjoy life.

People have different ideas about happiness. Some people think happiness requires wealth, fame, pleasure, freedom. I doubt there’s much point in trying to change someone’s mind about happiness or get them to agree with you on your definition; and even your definition might change over time, as you learn from other people. Live your own life as well as you can. Perhaps by illuminating those possibilities, you might help other people explore their own.

Nudging the balance toward work

August 20, 2014 - Categories: business, experiment

As an experiment, I decided to work a lot more last week than I normally do. I made work my default activity. If I didn’t have something particularly interesting in mind to write or draw or read, I’d log on to the network and check for requests, work on prototypes, and follow up on things I needed to do.

2014-08-13 Nudging the balance toward work - #experiment #consulting

2014-08-13 Nudging the balance toward work – #experiment #consulting

The result was a very productive week. I made a few interesting Javascript-y prototypes that we’re considering for use. On the the non-technical end, I worked on some marketing materials.  The momentum and focus felt great.

One of the things I realized about consulting when I was at IBM was that consulting is as much a learning opportunity for you as it is a way to create value for clients. At a little over two years, I think this is the longest I’ve ever worked on a single engagement. I want to make the most of what I can learn from this, while I’m immersed in the API and the environment and the experience. I’d like to get even deeper into building user interfaces, maybe even analyzing and tweaking performance.

2014-08-13 Discretionary work - #consulting

2014-08-13 Discretionary work – #consulting

These are skills I can build on that for future products, services, or consulting engagements. Because I haven’t been blogging or keeping copies of my code (didn’t feel right based on the IP agreement of my engagement), I’ll have to trust that the fuzzy recollections of my brain are enough for me.

My track record for remembering isn’t too good. I can only vaguely remember some of the details the projects I worked on at IBM, and I suspect I’ve completely forgotten at least one. (And t’s only been two years since I left!) But confidence and a certain sense of where things are or how I can go about doing things–those things stay with you, even if the specifics go.

Still, focusing on work makes me feel a little like I miss giving myself long stretches of time to tinker with non-work code, write blog posts, and figure out questions. It feels like my brain is a little buzzier, a little more tired. I usually sit down and write for an afternoon or two, when my brain is clear. In a few months, I’ll have plenty of time to follow my own interests, so I guess I can wait until then. But it’s good to know what I’m postponing so that I don’t get too used to not having it. From Daniel Klein’s Travels with Epicurus:

And Epicurus saw this opportunity for old age as one more benefit from leaving the world of commerce and politics behind us; it frees us to focus our brainpower on other matters, often more intimate and philosophical matters. Being immersed in the commercial world constrains the mind, limiting it to the conventional, acceptable thoughts; it is hard to close a sale if we pause in the proceedings to meditate at length about man’s relation to the cosmos. Furthermore, without a busy schedule, we simply have the time to ruminate unhurriedly, to pursue a thought for as long and as far as it takes us.

Incidentally, I really like this ability to change my work schedule on a week-by-week basis. This is the weekly variation in all the time I spent directly related to earning since I started this experiment in February 2012:

2014-08-15 14_11_02-Earn - quantified awesome

I started off working a lot, aiming for about 4 days a week. I tapered off a little to 2-3 days, and took a month off from time to time. Last week was more like the focused days of early in the experiment. I’ve gained a lot from learning to relax and use my time for my own interests, so we’ll see how that plays out against these desires to learn and create a lot of value.

Getting the hang of exercising

August 21, 2014 - Categories: life

I’m slowly becoming the sort of person who exercises. Having decided that my capacious schedule can certainly accommodate 45 minutes to an hour of exercise, I’ve been going through these beginner-friendly no-equipment exercise progressions.

I like jogging with W-. Well, I jog and he speed-walks beside me, I’m that slow. =) It’s a good time to catch up, though. Sometimes, if he wants to take it up a notch, he’ll run quickly, and then he’ll double back until we meet up again. I just keep jogging along, occasionally slowing down to a walk as prescribed by the program. When we get home, I do the bends, crunches, leg raises, modified pushups, and jumping jacks from the Exercise Ladder I’m trying. We have a snack–often a parfait–and then I shower to freshen up and get ready for bed.

2014-08-12 Exercise notes - #exercise

2014-08-12 Exercise notes – #exercise

I might have to interrupt this routine, but that’s okay. I can pick it up again afterwards, even if I have to go back a few levels. It’s good to feel this adaptation process–eroding these little mental barriers, learning these tiny habits of breathing and pace… It makes future restarts easier, too, like the way you’re less intimidated by game levels you’ve already played through before.

Getting there!

Anticipating experiment outcomes

August 22, 2014 - Categories: experiment

I’m almost half-way through this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement. Every so often, I like reflecting on the possible outcomes and whether I want to influence things one way or another. (Totally unscientific here!) Thinking about this will also help me figure out what I need to try so that I can properly discriminate among the options. Here are some of the ways this experiment could work out.

  • A. “I want to go back to a regular job.” Let’s say that at the end of five years, I’ve learned what I want to learn to have a smoothly-running, wonderful life, and I want to go back to working within someone else’s business so that I can take advantage of its scale and infrastructure. I’d rebuild my network and dust off my resume, likely working my way back into a technical position in a team I enjoy working with. Life would be pretty similar to what life was like at IBM, except perhaps I’d be fitter, cook better, and write more.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Possible job satisfaction, scale, learning experiences, team I like; also, if W- downshifts to part-time or takes a break
    • What would a typical week look like? Work, cook, read, write. I might use the extra cash to outsource chores or buy conveniences. Hmm, danger of lifestyle inflation here?
  • B. “I want to keep freelancing.” Let’s say that I like the flexibility and usefulness that consulting a few days a week gives me. I’d probably expand my consulting practice slightly so that I don’t have to worry about being classified as a personal services business. During my free days, I might continue to do the kinds of things I’m doing now: writing, learning, tinkering with stuff.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Happy clients, continued growth; also, if W- downshifts to part-time
    • What would a typical week look like? Much like my current weeks, but maybe consulting for different companies for a good balance.
  • C. “I want to build a lifestyle business.” This would be if I’m curious about building other types of businesses. Maybe I’d learn more about web marketing, for example. I’d still keep it low-key so that I can do other things with the rest of my time.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Curiosity about businesses that go beyond time-for-money exchanges; commitment to make products or automated services
    • What would a typical week look like? Responding to people’s questions, creating new things, improving old stuff. Occasionally learning new skills and trying them out.
  • D. “I want to ‘lean in’ in terms of business.” This would probably be the next stage after building a small lifestyle business that’s focused on products or automated services. Assuming I’ve got the rest of my life sorted out, I might channel my curiosity and energy into building the business so that I can help more people and apply what I’ve been learning from business books.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: Finding a good market that I really want to help
    • What would a typical week look like? I’d probably learn how to manage a small team, do lots of research and customer service, and make stuff happen.
  • E. “I probably don’t have to work, at least for a while.” Stock market growth and savings might mean that I’ll have lots of flexibility, so I could choose to work or not. Depending on our circumstances, I might decide to focus on building up skills, making our lives easier, learning things, and sharing whatever I can. It’ll be an interesting challenge figuring things out. I’d like to get really good at writing. I’d still be open to going back to work (even in a non-tech job) if the market plummets or W- needs me to cover things.
    • Factors that would nudge me towards this: ~3% withdrawal rate, good cash buffer for market corrections, productive things to do with my time, questions to explore
    • What would a typical week look like? Read, write, garden, exercise, cook. Occasionally get together with other people.

I’m the most curious about E (financial independence plus writing), but C (lifestyle business) that might eventually transition to D (larger business) could be interesting too.

Weekly review: Week ending August 22, 2014

August 24, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

A week of finishing stuff. =) Neat!

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (58.1h – 34%)
    • Earn (40.8h – 70% of Business)
      • E1: Go to work every day
      • E1: Meet up with Harold Jarche
      • E1: Work on second video draft
      • E1: Demo
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (11.1h – 19% of Business)
      • Drawing (6.4h)
        • Practise drawing faces
      • Delegation (2.1h)
        • Review proofread transcript
        • Review Emacs Chat transcript
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.6h)
    • Connect (6.2h – 10% of Business)
  • Relationships (5.7h – 3%)
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Go to Emma’s party
    • Go to Hacklab’s party
    • Investigate dishwasher options
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Update Brock Health claim
  • Discretionary – Productive (3.7h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Help with Emacs
    • Draw and shade in picture of Neko
    • File health claims
    • Reread Latin textbook chapter now that I’ve picked up more vocabulary
    • Apply for Ontario photo ID
    • Writing (0.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (2.0h – 1%)
  • Personal routines (27.9h – 16%)
  • Unpaid work (14.1h – 8%)
  • Sleep (56.5h – 33% – average of 8.1 per day)

Woohoo, closure!

August 25, 2014 - Categories: life

Several of my long-running open loops wrapped up in the last few days in a combination of personal milestones and external results. It feels great closing off all these background processes and resolving uncertainties.

Looking back, I don’t remember all that much hard work. More like kicking things off, then being patient for a while. (Isn’t a fuzzy memory a wonderful thing?)

In other news, Hacklab is finally moving. Technically, the vote was on Aug 11, but it still feels coincidentally close to all of these changes. =) Other people did all the hard work for that one, so I can’t claim any credit for it, but it also feels like a threshold-crossing.

2014-08-23 Closure

2014-08-23 Closure

The ends of things and the beginnings of new ones are good opportunities to stop and evaluate. What new opportunities are available? What can I do based on the resolved uncertainties? What other areas open up for exploration?

2014-08-23 So, what's next

2014-08-23 So, what’s next

The biggest change, I think, is that I can lean in more in terms of business if I want to. I’m curious about other business models, and may explore them after this consulting sprint. Maybe along the lines of Software as a Service, perhaps focused on something useful and nifty involving the Web? I also want to get even better at making the most of leisure time for learning, thinking, writing, drawing, and sharing, so that probably means a lifestyle-business-type balance.

I’ve also been thinking about how I want to celebrate progress and milestones. It’s good to celebrate the little things and reward persistence/patience. On the other hand, it’s also good to treat these things as normal and part of everyday life. I don’t see going out for dinner and/or a movie as a special treat. (Such a homebody!) I’m not keen on parties either (although taking specific people out for lunch or dinner as a way to thank them can be nice). I like rounding off accomplishments with reflection, writing down lessons learned and looking ahead to what’s next.

Sometimes I look further back to get a sense of the journey that’s taken me to this spot. For example, the road to citizenship here in Canada started with wanting to go for a master’s degree and reading research papers while in Manila, meeting my future research supervisor in Tokyo, studying at the University of Toronto, dealing with homesickness, making friends, dealing with distance, and building a life with W-. With savings, I can remember what it was like to come to Canada with just the research assistantship and some cash from my parents. With taxes, I can trace my learning back to the first tax return I filed, the first correction I got from the CRA (who helpfully pointed out that I’d forgotten to apply the education tax credit, so my refund was bigger than I expected), and how I learned to prepare slightly more complex tax returns (including the ones for my business).  I remember planning my projects and experiments, too, sketching out the different uncertainties and what I might do in various scenarios.

So I guess that’s the kind of celebration that suits me well. I like taking a moment to say to myself, hey, actually, that worked out. I learned a lot–and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Tweaking the way I write

August 26, 2014 - Categories: kaizen, writing

Through writing, I want to:

  • Learn more effectively and efficiently by taking notes and chunking my thoughts
  • Understand and be able to articulate what I’m thinking
  • Keep notes for future reflection and time travel
  • Connect with people who have similar interests
  • Help other people save time

I’m pretty happy with how I’m doing this so far, although it would be even better if I could write more efficiently and effectively. What would that look like, and how could I move towards that?

I pick up a lot of information from reading and from trying things out. If I spend more time reviewing notes and experimenting with concepts, that will help me get more out of the time that I spend reading. Wouldn’t be neat if my personal stash of quotes (my digital commonplace books) linked each note with a blog post reflecting on what I found interesting about it, how I’ve applied it, and what it’s related to? I think that would be handy.

Sometimes I find myself particularly interested in an idea, and writing is easy. Other times, the spark isn’t quite there, or the kindling is scattered. I have a massive outline/list of things to write about. Sometimes it seems a little odd writing about stuff, though. Lackluster? But maybe giving myself different recipes for blog posts can help (a personal story, a book quote, etc.). I can also look at it as practice. I have years and years to write, and I can learn a lot when I practise deliberately and dispassionately.

For reflection and review, I can write regular snapshots of what’s going on in my life and what I’m trying to figure out. These usually give me enough anchors to remember more.

To make it easier to connect with other people, I can ask people if they blog, and I can post more of my personal stories on my blog.

I’ve been writing more selfishly rather than focusing on saving people time, but I’m sure that balance will shift at some point too. I tend to find it easy to blog helpful things when I’m immersed in projects or in answering people’s questions, so it’s probably just a matter of focusing on open source again.

As I write more, I’ll get faster, and I might even get clearer. :) I can build on what I’ve previously written. I’ll get a better sense of what I like and don’t like in writing, and I’ll experiment with the influences of other writers.

So let’s say that it takes me about an hour or two to follow a thought and write it down. I’m not really looking for speed here. I don’t need to be able to crank one out in fifteen minutes. It might be good to be able to work in small chunks (headline, outline, snippets) to take advantage of the moments that come up during a day. It would also be good to be able to work coherently – to build up to more complex thoughts, to untangle harder questions. That’s probably what better writing looks like for me. As for beauty form and flow, I can probably pick that up through analysis and practice, but it’s somewhat reassuring to know that people can think (and share) complex thoughts despite being inelegant writers. (Almost impenetrable, even!)

How do I want to change how I write? Well, I can use my phone more, writing instead of reading when I have a free moment on the go. If I feel a little blah when writing at my computer, I can open my book notes and expound on a passage. I can also pick something from my outline and sketch out the next level, tell a story, or look for ways to test it in life (and add a reminder to come back and write about the results). I can embrace the way that many of my blog posts are more like “here’s where I am, there’s where I’d like to go, here’s what I’m going to try” rather than fonts of wisdom. Hey, maybe it will be amusing (or even useful) looking back, forty years from now. We’ll see!

Appreciation and imagining loss

August 27, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

The Stoics have this practice of imagining loss in order to become accustomed to it and be less attached to these temporary things. You start by imagining that the loss of small things, and then move on to imagining larger losses like the death of a loved one. Seneca writes in his Moral Essays:


He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.

and Epictetus advises in Discourses:


This is what you ought to practise from morning till evening. Begin with the smallest, the most vulnerable things, like a pot, or a cup, and then advance to a tunic, a paltry dog, a mere horse, a bit of land; next yourself, your body and its limbs, your children, wife, brothers. Look about on every side and cast these things away from you. Purify your judgements, lest something not your own have become fastened to you, or grown together with you, and cause you pain when it is torn loose.

http://puffin.creighton.edu/phil/Stephens/OSAP%20Epictetus%20on%20Stoic%20Love.htm

You might think that this kind of meditation is depressing. I think it enhances my appreciation of what’s in my life, and thus contributes to my happiness. Reflecting on loss–or even non-existence–helps me appreciate how things and people have influenced me.

 2014-08-13 To know something's distinctiveness - #philosophy.png

Tangential story applying this to my life:

Actually, keeping my cool around cats and people is pretty easy. Probably the thing that I most need to practise patience with is Internet Explorer, as I occasionally feel annoyed and frustrated about it. (Not super-frustrated, but still pretty grumbly.) Maybe the next time I find myself peeved by cross-browser differences, I can remind myself of things to appreciate about IE. I’m sure the Internet would have grown slower without a default browser on lots of people’s computers, and IE keeps lots of people employed or consulting–all the things that need to be tweaked. And things are getting better now! At least I don’t have to code for IE6 any more, or even IE7. Besides, IE makes a good basis for humour. ;)

Philosophy. Not just for the big questions–also for the little tech annoyances opportunities to practise patience.

Routines

August 28, 2014 - Categories: kaizen

Routines are like solidified learning, the habits shaped by little pay-offs. You make all these decisions one at a time, and as you find things that work, they get absorbed into your routines.

I love having fairly stable routines. They minimize thinking and allow me to estimate time well. For example, my regular breakfast is rice and one fried egg, so it’s easy to make sure I’ve got both in stock. My morning routine takes me about an hour from the time I wake up to the time I head out on my bicycle or go to the subway station, although I can compress it by skipping blogs and having cereal instead of rice and egg. It takes me about fifty minutes to get downtown. My evening routine involves an early dinner (heating up stuff from the fridge), some exercise, cleaning up, and some writing or drawing. My weekends are a little more flexible. As long as groceries, cooking, laundry, and tidying up happen, we’ll be set for the next week.

2014-08-20 Routines

2014-08-20 Routines

I have a lot of routines, but I don’t want them to ossify. I like turning my attention on one routine at a time, being mindful during it, looking for little ways to tweak it. For example, there are lots of ways I could tweak my evening routine, especially during jogging days. If I make the sequence dinner-tidy-read-jog-exercise-litterbox-shower-snack-draw, I think that would work out better in terms of winding down – less waiting for my hair to dry. I If I can juggle the timing so that the jog happens before the library closes, bonus!

2014-08-20 Evening routines

2014-08-20 Evening routines

I’m tweaking my thinking/drawing/writing routines too, so I expect some growing pains – things might get a little weirder before they become smoother. It’s good to anticipate this, because otherwise you get stuck at a local maximum instead of being able to explore. In particular, I’m experimenting with drawing more reflections during the week, and then using them as springboards for writing during the weekend. This should spread out my computer use a little bit, encourage me to practise drawing, and possibly lead to interesting places.

It’s fun to be deliberate about your habits. You get to ask yourself, “Why do I do things that way, and in that sequence? How can I experiment with this?”

The ingredients of your life

August 29, 2014 - Categories: life

You can make many different recipes from the same basic ingredients by choosing different subsets of the ingredients in your pantry, combining them in different proportions, and using different techniques.

Isn’t life a little like that, too? It’s easy to think to yourself, “Ah, this is the recipe that I am used to.” But it might be good to take a step back, take a look at the ingredients in your pantry, and see what else you can make with them.

2014-06-23 Potential

2014-06-23 Potential

I’ve become quite comfortable using some combinations of ingredients to make things that people like. I’m in my “web development – social business – automation” phase in consulting, which is quite a bit different from the “visual thinking – drawing – social media” combination I experimented with. That’s also different from the “workshop facilitation – community management – backend development” combination I used at IBM, or the “teaching – writing – experimenting” combination I used while teaching. But there are so many more ingredients to try and recipes to explore.

Some people like focusing on a small set of ingredients, learning how to discern quality, developing their favourite versions of recipes and their preferred brands and types for ingredients. (There’s some heated discussion around the best flour to use for pizza, for example; the answer depends on the kind of pizza you like, which is itself a matter for experimentation.) I like getting reasonably good at using the ingredients I have, but I also really like collecting new ingredients that turn out to be surprisingly useful. I get a kick out of having just the right spice at hand, or a good enough substitute.

Like spices, your ingredients can spoil or get dull if they sit unused. So it’s good to try different things out, creating more opportunities for you to discover new favourites. Sometimes you try something and decide it’s not for you. Sometimes you get a hint of something you might like, and you try different variants to find something that fits. Sometimes you find a new comfort food, or something that takes you right back home, or something that tickles your palate in just the right way.

It’s surprising to find out you have lots of ingredients in your pantry, especially if you’ve gotten used to only working with a few. I’m looking forward to learning more combinations and developing a deeper appreciation for things, and to picking up even more ingredients. How about you? What are the ingredients you can use when making your life? =)

Weekly review: Week ending August 29, 2014

August 30, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

Great week for wrapping things up and planning next steps. =) Next week: citizenship ceremony and more coding, yay!

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (54.6h – 32%)
    • Earn (41.3h – 75% of Business)
      • E1: Demo
      • E1: Work on second video draft
      • E1: Work on polls
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (12.0h – 21% of Business)
      • Drawing (11.1h)
        • Practise drawing faces
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.9h)
        • Check on Brock Health claim
    • Connect (1.3h – 2% of Business)
  • Relationships (8.3h – 4%)
    • Go to Emma’s party
    • Go to Hacklab’s party
    • Investigate dishwasher options
    • Pick up dishwasher and drop it off at Hacklab
    • Update Brock Health claim
    • Contact more places that offer slipcovers
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Follow up with Eric re cleaning, kitchen
    • Talk to my mom regarding dividends
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.4h – 1%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Review Emacs Chat transcript
    • Apply for Ontario photo ID
    • Reread Latin textbook chapter now that I’ve picked up more vocabulary
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Prepare papers for citizenship ceremony
    • Attend citizenship ceremony
    • Apply for passport
    • Tidy up dying plants
    • Go to R for test
    • Writing (1.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (4.6h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (24.1h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (14.4h – 8%)
  • Sleep (59.6h – 35% – average of 8.5 per day)