September 2014

What to do during open days

September 1, 2014 - Categories: life

September 1 is Labour Day in Canada, so it’s a holiday. Aside from that, I usually try to keep my consulting to a reasonable number of hours, so sometimes I’ll end up with a weekday I’ve promised to devote to things that are not work. I find that I tend to get caught up in work sometimes, especially when I’m programming. Then it’s hard to think of what I’m missing out on. Other times, I settle into comfortable routines. A list of activities helps me notice things I haven’t tried in a while.

So here’s an incomplete list of things to do on these “open” days…

2014-08-28 What to do during open days - #leisure #experiment

2014-08-28 What to do during open days – #leisure #experiment

  1. Cook something more elaborate than usual
  2. Write a lot
  3. Reflect and plan through drawings, blog posts
  4. Combine sketches in blog posts
  5. Graze books, skim for ideas
  6. Read a book deeply
  7. Catch up on e-mail and other correspondence
  8. Sleep in or nap
  9. Play with/work on Emacs things
  10. Clean, declutter, donate, tidy up
  11. Practise drawing
  12. Do paperwork
  13. Help J- shop or sort out stuff
  14. Take care of chores and errands
  15. Learn or improve a skill
  16. Package e-books and resources
  17. Make outlines and lists
  18. Shop for things we need or want
  19. Work on little projects around the house
  20. Enjoy the sunshine in a park
  21. Have a massage
  22. Study languages
  23. Analyze time
  24. Watch a movie in a theatre
  25. Help Hacklab move/market
  26. Hang out at Hacklab
  27. Spend time with friends
  28. Treat ourselves to a restaurant meal and try something new
  29. Check out events
  30. Volunteer
  31. Read fiction
  32. Spend time with cats
  33. Get a head start on work
  34. Watch a movie at home
  35. Go for a long bike ride

Learning with the end in mind

September 2, 2014 - Categories: learning

I like thinking about what I want to learn and how well I want to learn it. This helps me accept my limits and prioritize my time. I’m not going to master everything. I want to learn just as much as I need. Maybe a little more, so I can do other interesting things. There’s this idea of a minimum effective dose (recently-ish popularized by Tim Ferriss). It makes sense to me because I like paying attention to diminishing returns, when more effort on something doesn’t pay off as well (and could probably be diverted to more effort on a different thing which would).

So, what are some of the things I’d like to learn more about? To what end do I want to learn them–what are my higher goals? Thinking about secondary goals helps me see if I’m wandering off-track or if there are more effective ways to reach those higher goals. To what extent do I want to learn? What’s too little, what’s too much, and what would be just right?

2014-08-29 Ends and extents - #my-learning

2014-08-29 Ends and extents – #my-learning

Design is one of the things on my to-learn list. I want to learn more about design because that will help me with development. Programming helps people save time, but you save the most time and create the most value when people keep using your tool because it’s useful and understandable. You can’t just pick up good design off a book or in a course, unfortunately. Well, you can get the basics of design, but I’m not sure if there’s any way around sheer exposure and experience. I don’t just want to know the theories and the rules – that would be too little. I don’t need to win any awards, though. I would like to be able to build decent-looking prototypes that are pleasant to use, and to be able to quickly shape the prototypes based on user feedback. That should help me get around the challenges of building for people who are not me, since I’m happy with admittedly arcane interfaces.

Development is another useful set of skills to focus on because it helps me make stuff. I can add more tools to my toolkit, and I can go deeper. I don’t want to learn tutorial-level skills for a dozen languages just to be able to say that I know them – that would be too little. But I don’t need to do deep wizardly things, either. If I can build little tools and prototypes, gradually applying more of the accepted practices like testing, I should be okay.

I lump writing and drawing together. For me, they’re about thinking through, capturing, and sharing ideas. I want to be able to think clearly and take good notes so that I can live better and make better decisions. Just knowing the mechanics of grammar or layout is too little. But I don’t need to write award-winning prose or draw realistic art, either. I want to be able to write notes that I can make sense of years later and that other people might find useful, and I want to be able to quickly draw recognizable things that unlock memories for me and make ideas approachable for other people.

What are the things you’re focusing on learning? To what ends, and to what extents?

Emacs Chat: Mickey Petersen

September 3, 2014 - Categories: Emacs Chat, podcast

Mickey Petersen chats about Mastering Emacs, learning advanced topics, navigating by expressions, and making the most of dired and shell. You can find him at masteringemacs.org or twitter.com/mickeynp

Transcript here!

Planning ahead for experiments

September 4, 2014 - Categories: experiment

Experimenting doesn’t have to be about coming up with conclusive answers. It can be about reducing uncertainty and increasing understanding. For example, compared to where I was at the beginning of this 5-year experiment with semi-retirement, I’m more comfortable with business. There are fewer unknowns in my life. No, actually–there are just as many unknowns, I think, but I feel more confident about handling them.

The original questions for this 5-year experiment were along these lines:

  • Would I be able to build a viable business that fit my goals and needs?
  • Would this kind of lifestyle be a good fit for me (and by extension, for us)?
  • Would I use the additional time well?

If life continues along its current path, I’m reasonably certain that the answers will be yes, yes, and yes. So I’ve been thinking: what other uncertainties do I want to explore? What other unknowns do I want to learn more about? Does it make sense to structure those as experiments as well?

2014-08-29 Considering the time after the experiment

2014-08-29 Considering the time after the experiment

Thinking of these things as experiments seems to work well for me. Not the high school sort of experiment where we dutifully rolled marbles down inclines or mixed various chemicals to note their reactions, but rather a time-bound trial that you prepare for, observe, learn from, and reflect on. Before I started framing things as experiments, I usually limited myself to small ideas and occasional improvements. Thinking of this as an experiment helps me say to myself, yes, it will take a bit of time to really unfold, so don’t worry about evaluating it too early, and don’t worry too much about messing up because you’ll learn something along the way.

Anyway… What other experiments might I run after this? Are there experiments that would make sense in parallel? I’m somewhat curious about trying out different business models to see what they’re like. I’m curious about building an even more solid foundation for future experiments in terms of health, skills, and other intangibles. I’m curious about learning and adapting to a changing world. I don’t have a clear experiment yet, not like the way I delineated my current experiment, but I’m sure that will come to me.

In the meantime, I have two years left in this experiment. Having the basics covered means that I can try bigger and more interesting things. Maybe software as a service? I’ve been avoiding this because of the risks and the support commitments, but maybe it’s time to learn more about building products and services that people might find useful. I know where to find the markets for some of the ideas I’m interested in, and I know some people who’d be willing to give me feedback and help me build things for them and others. There are a number of other non-business things I want to learn more about, too.

2014-08-29 Tweaking my experiment

2014-08-29 Tweaking my experiment

I like looking at other people’s lives in order to pick up ideas for things to try in mine. It’s useful to look at the life paths for both typical people and exceptional people, since all those paths sketch out different possibilities. If I can imagine myself clearly at different ages and on different probable paths, I can get a better sense of what I want to do in the near future. It’s a little like bringing those possible future Sachas together so that I can ask them how they got to where they are, and maybe adjust my current path a little. It’s a strange mental image, I guess, but it’s handy for me. And there are tons of other people to learn from, too–role models from so many different walks of life.

2014-08-29 Re-planning my life - #experiment

2014-08-29 Re-planning my life – #experiment

Hmm. Let’s see how things work out…

Doing more consulting

September 5, 2014 - Categories: business, experiment

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot more consulting than I originally planned. At this point, I had been thinking of keeping my twice-a-week schedule for a few months, and then tapering down to the equivalent of one day a week, and then eventually letting go of it entirely. That might still happen. In the meantime, though, my primary client needs some extra help. I still carve out time to work on my own stuff, but I’m willing to postpone some of the things I could be working on because I can see how a little extra work now could create a lot more value for the client. Besides, it’s a good excuse to learn more about some of the things I’m curious about.

2014-08-27 Why do the extra consulting - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-27 Why do the extra consulting – #experiment #business #consulting

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a little about testing out this pace and observing what I ended up swapping out. It turned out that Harold Jarche had been thinking about similar things, and we chatted a little about it over lunch. (Yay lunch with people!) I mentioned I’d been fleshing out in more details the little things that tend to get put aside if I make work my default activity (at least until I reach 40 hours a week), and why I’m willing to make the trade.

2014-08-18 What am I really postponing or giving up - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-18 What am I really postponing or giving up – #experiment #business #consulting

On reflection, though, I can still make time for many of these activities or experiences if I use my time smartly. For example, I can still get enough sleep if I’m careful about morning meetings and late-night browsing. I can still work from home from time to time, which leads to afternoon walks to libraries and more relaxed evenings. I still exercise, actually, so that’s not one of the trades (it only feels that way). Deep reading and a feeling of leisure usually requires one of those open weekdays when I don’t have any work planned, but I get something similar to that feeling if I spend some time reflecting on what I’ve learned and drawing my thoughts.

2014-08-18 So if I'm going on a consulting sprint for 2.5 months - #experiment #business #consulting

2014-08-18 So if I’m going on a consulting sprint for 2.5 months – #experiment #business #consulting

Time is never static. Your day shifts in response to different priorities and stimuli. The stuff I’m learning and doing now is a good use of the time, but it’s also good to be aware of the flip side–even if it’s idealized, even if in reality some of those open days might be spent mostly napping and skimming books and wandering around trying to figure out thoughts. Knowing what I might be missing helps me mitigate those opportunity costs and remind myself: Yes, I am deliberately postponing this part and dropping that part and scaling back that other part, but it’s for this reason, so I should make the most of that opportunity. Then I can remind myself to re-evaluate things at a certain point, so that this new balance doesn’t become too routine. Otherwise you get used to the way things are, and then you wonder what you ever did with so much time in the first place. =)

Weekly review: Week ending September 5, 2014

September 7, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

Lots of work and helping out at Hacklab. =) Oh, and Canadian citizenship, yay! It didn’t feel like I got that much sleep this week, but my numbers say I did. Hmm.

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (54.4h – 32%)
    • Earn (39.4h – 72% of Business)
      • Doublecheck setInterval vs setTimeout, whoops
      • E1: Demo
      • E1: Work on polls
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (4.4h – 8% of Business)
      • Drawing (2.0h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.4h)
        • Check on Brock Health claim
        • Order TurboTax
        • File payroll return
      • Upgrade webserver
    • Connect (10.5h – 19% of Business)
      • Send Helpouts messages
      • Help with Helpouts
  • Relationships (10.7h – 6%)
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Follow up with Eric re cleaning, kitchen
    • Help with Hacklab kitchen
    • Pick up dishwasher and drop it off at Hacklab
    • Talk to my mom regarding dividends
    • Work on project K
  • Discretionary – Productive (5.2h – 3%)
    • Emacs (2.0h – 1% of all)
      • Review Emacs Chat transcript
    • Apply for Ontario photo ID
    • Prepare papers for citizenship ceremony
    • Attend citizenship ceremony
    • Apply for cultural access pass
    • Back up phone
    • Clean up phone apps
    • Reflash phone
    • Sort out credit cards
    • Tidy up dying plants
    • Arrange for cheque
    • Ask two guarantors for passport
    • Get passport pictures
    • Pay Mastercard
    • Pick up cultural access pass from Front and Parliament
    • Writing (1.8h)
  • Discretionary – Play (3.7h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (22.0h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (11.4h – 6%)
  • Sleep (60.7h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Gardening update: Reviewing my goals for this year

September 8, 2014 - Categories: -Uncategorized

It’s September, which means fall will be here soon. Time for a brief review of my gardening plans for 2014, so I can squeeze in any last-minute learning I need. Here’s what I drew in November last year and May this year:

2013-11-08 More garden plans for 2014

2013-11-08 More garden plans for 2014

2014-05-23 Gardening - Things to learn more about or try

2014-05-23 Gardening – Things to learn more about or try

I got all our seedlings from the plant shop a few blocks away. The seedlings grew well, and dividing them up worked. Some of our bitter melon plants died, though. (Damping off?)

For the plants I started from seed, I planted in mostly neat rows this time and I watered frequently, so it was (mostly) easy to tell which ones were weeds and which ones were the ones I wanted. We found a spot in our bedroom window that might accommodate a few small plants during the winter and Hacklab has a space with a skylight, so I might be able to grow tomatoes and bitter melon from seed next season.

Regular watering worked well in spring and early summer, but I fell out of the habit with the rains and the heat. Then the garden got straggly and overgrown, so it wasn’t as much fun to maintain. I pulled up the dying plants and put in some peas and beans. We’ll see how far those get before the winter sets in.2014-09-01 15.58.27

Still planting things I don’t end up eating. I had salad for a while, and then stopped when the leaves got somewhat sluggy and insect-infested. Next time, I should just pull up the plants and start again.

Tried squashes. The zucchini, bitter melon, and winter melon produced lots of leaves and flowers, but weren’t as productive as rumoured. We’ll keep trying. We did get one zucchini out of it, though. (Whee!) The Internet says you can cook the squash flowers, so we might try that towards the end of the season.

The bright spots: peas and cherry tomatoes were popular, as always. =) Yum! The tomato plants were quite prolific this year. Last year, we got hardly anything. Hooray for cherry tomatoes! We also got a few handfuls of blueberries from the bushes too.

Monthly review: August 2014

September 9, 2014 - Categories: monthly, review

I wrote last month that in August, I was probably going to:

  • Work more, since my clients need extra help: Yup, happened!
  • Work on project F3, too: Yup, wrapped up
  • Improve my writing techniques (outlines, snippets, etc.): Nope, focused on working
  • Celebrate another year, yay: Yup!

Next month, I’m going to:

  • Do more consulting (big milestone!)
  • Help with Hacklab move

Here’s what I wrote about last month:

Lots of drawing!

  1. 2014.08.12 Dealing with physical pain – #philosophy
  2. 2014.08.12 Exercise notes – #exercise
  3. 2014.08.12 How I program – #consulting #programming #geek
  4. 2014.08.12 When Neko meows – #cat
  5. 2014.08.13 Call no man happy until he is dead – #philosophy
  6. 2014.08.13 Discretionary work – #consulting
  7. 2014.08.13 Learning more about drawing – #drawing
  8. 2014.08.13 Leia traced from picture
  9. 2014.08.13 Nudging the balance toward work – #experiment #consulting
  10. 2014.08.13 To know something’s distinctiveness – #philosophy
  11. 2014.08.15 Luke
  12. 2014.08.17 Content marketing for Hacklab
  13. 2014.08.17 Neko
  14. 2014.08.18 So if I’m going on a consulting sprint for 2
  15. 2014.08.18 What am I really postponing or giving up – #experiment #business #consulting
  16. 2014.08.20 Evening routines
  17. 2014.08.20 Routines
  18. 2014.08.23 Closure
  19. 2014.08.23 So, what’s next
  20. 2014.08.24 Decision – sketchbook
  21. 2014.08.24 Easier way of tracking upgrade decisions and brand preferences for infrequent purchases
  22. 2014.08.26 Thinking about how I can build on my strengths
  23. 2014.08.27 Why do the extra consulting – #experiment #business #consulting
  24. 2014.08.28 Remembering things with my blog
  25. 2014.08.28 What to do during open days – #leisure #experiment
  26. 2014.08.29 Becoming a better reader
  27. 2014.08.29 Considering the time after the experiment
  28. 2014.08.29 Ends and extents – #my-learning
  29. 2014.08.29 Possible personal projects
  30. 2014.08.29 Re-planning my life – #experiment
  31. 2014.08.29 Tweaking my experiment
  32. 2014.08.29 What do I mean by owning more of my brain – #experiment
  33. 2014.08.30 On discipline, or alternatives to
  34. 2014.08.30 Open loops

Crunch mode

September 10, 2014 - Categories: experiment

I’m working more intensely than I expected to do at this point in time, roughly halfway through my 5-year experiment. I had planned to wind down to two days a week of consulting, or even one or zero. Instead, I’m working on a potentially high-profile project with shifting requirements and technology risk. I can definitely tell the difference between this time, my more relaxed consulting, and the longer spans of time I sometimes spend on personal projects. I feel it in the fuzziness of my mind at the end of the day, the shifts in the rhythms at home, the ebbs of my writing.

It’s good to reflect on the trade-offs I’m making, and to learn from the preferences they reveal. I agree with past-Sacha’s decision: the downside of temporary crunch time for the upside of an intense learning experience and the ability to help a good team at a moment when it matters a lot. I like the team and the work we do. It’s also fun to come up with a neat technical solution that creatively pulls together several pieces and saves the day.

But I can’t let myself get addicted to that feeling. =) It’s too easy to get used to this rhythm, to forget what other days are like. I think I’m about ready to focus on my own stuff for a while, after I get past the milestones I’ve committed to in the next month and a half.

Part of the reason for this experiment is to force myself to explore. There will always be more challenges and opportunities in the consulting world. I like the leisurely pace of unscheduled days and mornings without meetings, and the odd and interesting things you can learn when you meander.

Besides, my current crunch time happens to coincide with W-‘s crunch time at work. I miss the flexibility of being able to take care of all of the house things when W- needs to focus on work. While we’re happy to eat leftovers or reheat things from the freezer, J- prefers freshly-cooked food. I was helping out at Hacklab most of the weekend, and neither W- nor I got much cooking or planning done. Tonight we’re resorting to pizza delivery. (Hmm, maybe I should just scale back Hacklab, socializing, and other optional things for now.) It’s good that we have these options, and what I’m doing is worth it too. Still, observing this gap now will help me make better use of my time later on, when I’ve tilted the slider more towards retirement. Will I actually cook lots of fresh, yummy dinner? I hope so.

I like what I’m doing, and I think it’s worth it for now. And yet I also like the self that the gaps reveal, and the constraints help me have a clearer idea of what I want from different situations. From work, I want learning, tool-building, and generally more upsides than downsides. From recreation, I want that feeling of abundance and play, and the ability to make our home life smoother. There’ll be time enough to explore that, so I’m not worried. I just have to make the most of where and when I am. =)

Figuring out how to deal with sub-optimal times

September 11, 2014 - Categories: productivity, time

There are days when I’m at the top of my game. It’s easy to think, learn, write, draw, code, be present. Somehow, time stretches to accommodate the different things I want to do. Those are good days. I have them frequently enough so that my optimistic brain considers this the default, although there are also Really Good days when things totally rock.

Then there are times when I feel fuzzy or blah or frazzled or stressed. I guess you could call them sub-optimal, although sub-optimal is a funny word because there’s so much space below “optimal” that you’d spend practically all of your time in sub-optimal zone. Anyway.

I was thinking about the different variants of fuzziness, frazzledness, and such things. When you’re feeling out of it, sometimes you don’t have the ability (or inclination) to pin down exactly why you feel out of it and what you can do about that – either to help you recharge, or to at least mitigate the downsides of being down. It makes sense to come up with some ways to recognize and work around your brain state.

2014-09-04 Suboptimal Sacha

2014-09-04 Suboptimal Sacha

Here’s a quick list of sub-optimal states I sometimes find myself in:

  • Sleepy: Pretty straightforward. Tends to happen if I get less than 8 hours of sleep (probably even anything less than 8.3), or if my sleep is messed up by interruptions, buzzing brains, etc. Manifests itself as slowness, tiredness, yawns. The fix is easy: take it easy, nap, or go to sleep earlier.
  • Sick: The occasional cold makes me feel all blah and fuzzy. Hard to think creatively during these times. Good time to sleep or play video games.
  • Stretched: This happens when I’m trying to pay attention to too many projects or open loops. I feel a little frazzled around the edges. I can generally deal with this by writing down all the tasks into Org Mode and scheduling them appropriately, but sometimes I still get stressed around calendar events or multiple places to check.
  • Buzzy: When my mind skitters to and fro, usually because it’s been overstimulated by computers or video games. Hard to focus. Can be addressed by walks or sleeping. Can be minimized by not using computers late at night, and not trying to multitask important things during meetings.
  • Fuzzy: Hard to focus, but in a different way from buzziness. When I feel fuzzy, my thoughts feel slow and it’s hard to grab onto something. It’s a good time to do straightforward tasks that don’t require much thinking, like accounting. I can also break down creative tasks into smaller less-creative pieces, so I can still get small chunks of writing or drawing done even when my brain is tired.
  • Speeding: Sometimes I overlook details or things I need to do. When we catch that, it’s a good time to slow down and ask people to doublecheck my work. Related to buzziness and feeling stretched. Checklists, processes, and automation help a lot.
  • Absent-minded: Sometimes I’ll blank out when it comes to where I’ve put something or what I was about to do because I wasn’t paying enough attention. Related to fuzziness. Habits, reminders, and lists help; also, W- helps me remember or find things.
  • Anxious: Generally around being late, messing up, or forgetting important things. When I’m awake and reasonable, I know that the world tends to keep on going and that people adjust, but early meetings still disproportionately interfere with sleep. I can calm down my lizard brain when I’m awake enough to do it. Sleeping is easier with backup alarms and wake-up reminders.
  • Annoyed/frustrated: When things are more limited than I hoped they’d be, or I have to figure out complicated workarounds. Can handle this by dissociating emotion from dealing with things like Internet Explorer. Also, taking plenty of notes helps, since I can avoid having to re-solve the problem in the future. If I can share my notes, all the better.
  • Embarrassed: Sometimes I mess up, and sometimes programming/automation helps me mess up on a grand scale. Whoops. Somewhat mitigated if I focus on moving forward and fixing multiple gaps. Having team members provide air cover helps a lot too.

I’d been feeling a little bit stretched lately. When I recognized that, I made lots of lists of ongoing tasks and open loops. That helped a lot. =) I feel a little bit fuzzy in the evenings, but certain kinds of drawing and writing actually help with that instead of making it worse. Hmm…

Becoming Filipino-Canadian

September 12, 2014 - Categories: canada

Last week, I took the Canadian citizenship oath. Yay! So now I’m Filipino and Canadian, and will probably not have to be so anxious about travel. (Or I’ll end up find new and different excuses why I’d rather stay home, now that I can worry less about being stuck on the wrong side of an immigration counter.)

2014-09-05 Becoming Filipino-Canadian

2014-09-05 Becoming Filipino-Canadian

Excellent timing, since we have elections coming up.

The process was faster than I expected. I lost my passport (well, technically, Canada Post lost it, harrumph) and had resigned myself to the prospect of a delay of year or two. Happy to get this all sorted out earlier!

Weekly review: Week ending September 12, 2014

September 14, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather, so I’ve been taking it easy in order to not jeopardize a few important things coming up. W- is in crunch mode too. Result: the occasional pizza or takeout dinner for J-, which is okay for now because we’ll get back into the swing of cooking later on.

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (64.8h – 38%)
    • Earn (40.0h – 61% of Business)
      • E1: Work on poll improvements
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (5.9h – 9% of Business)
      • Upgrade webserver
      • Uprade WordPress to 4.0
      • Drawing (1.6h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.2h)
        • Check on Brock Health claim
        • Order TurboTax
    • Connect (18.9h – 29% of Business)
      • Help with Helpouts
      • Send Helpouts messages
  • Relationships (5.8h – 3%)
    • Help with Hacklab kitchen
    • Work on project K
    • Shop for dishwasher parts
  • Discretionary – Productive (3.7h – 2%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Set up Emacs Chats again?
    • Arrange for cheque
    • Apply for cultural access pass
    • Back up phone
    • Clean up phone apps
    • Reflash phone
    • Water the garden
    • Apply for passport
    • Ask two guarantors for passport
    • Get passport pictures
    • Pay Mastercard
    • Pick up cultural access pass from Front and Parliament
    • Writing (2.0h)
  • Discretionary – Play (0.6h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (25.6h – 15%)
  • Unpaid work (7.9h – 4%)
  • Sleep (59.5h – 35% – average of 8.5 per day)

Getting ready for my third fiscal year end

September 15, 2014 - Categories: business, finance

Okay. I might actually be getting the hang of this. =)

I’m the sort of person who actually looks forward to tax season. For my tiny company, I set it to September instead of December. That way, I can spread out doing my business taxes and my personal taxes.

I wanted to get a head start on preparing my taxes, especially since I switched to the HST Quick Method this year. After a little over two hours fiddling with my books (reconciling my statements, filling in the gaps, and figuring out quick method calculations), I feel reasonably certain that I’ll be able to do this year’s tax return myself, too. Based on my numbers, it looks like switching to quick method was worth it this year. (Better late than never!)

It was a pleasant surprise to find out that I’d earned the equivalent of almost a month of living expenses through pay-what-you-want e-book sales and $5 Helpouts. Thank you for your generosity! =D I’m looking forward to shifting time away from consulting and towards making more things that I can share with people.

Interest income added up, too, but not as much as equity investments would have. It might be time to learn how to pay myself dividends so that I can personally invest more into the market, or to sort out what holding investments in a corporation would be like.

Now that my trial run of taxes is done, I just have to wait for the final numbers to come in over the next few weeks. How exciting!

Dealing with feeling under the weather

September 16, 2014 - Categories: life

I don’t get sick a lot. When I do, it’s such a relief to be able to take the time to sleep and recover, knowing that I don’t have to rush anywhere. I have a few firm commitments coming up in the next few weeks, so I want to make sure I’m at the top of my game then. It makes sense to take it easy now so that I can reduce the risk of missing out on important things. Besides, W- has my back, and we have a safety net. Even if we don’t get a lot of cooking done during the weekend, we can grab pizza or sushi for J- (since she prefers fresh meals) or dig into the meals we stashed in our freezer.

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

2014-09-14 Dealing with feeling under the weather

When you’re fuzzy-brained, thinking of options can be difficult. It can be good to think about the trade-offs, backup plans, and workarounds in advance. Knowing what I can swap out and what I need to do can help me get through these fuzzy times a little bit better.

Writing and drawing are a little more difficult during fuzzy times. I don’t feel like I’m writing anything particularly useful or interesting, and I catch myself repeating similar thoughts. Fortunately, I’ve given myself permission to be boring too. I think of these more as notes and raw material that I can collect for a future Sacha who might be able to make sense of things.

A time for all things!

Things to tweak or try this winter

September 17, 2014 - Categories: canada

Single digit temperatures have returned to the weather forecasts for Toronto, and people are starting to suit up in scarves. I even saw people wearing gloves. Winter is coming. Eventually. It’s not here yet, but I might as well get ready for it!

I’ve been accumulating quite a collection of winter tips and experiences. Last winter worked out pretty well. What will I try this year?

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

2014-09-12 Things to tweak or try this winter

  • More consistent exercise
  • Growing plants indoors: the new Hacklab has a skylight, and I might be able to use the tiny window ledge in our bedroom too
  • Less consulting and more writing
  • Proper sewing: I’m going to get the hang of this eventually! It’s a good skill to have. I can work on finally finishing those box cushion covers.
  • Flashcards, learning: Japanese, Cantonese, Latin; development (maybe build Android apps?)
  • Lots of cooking and fresh meals
  • More vacuuming and tidying up, since I’ll be home
  • Hacklab, maybe twice or thrice a week?
  • More organized reading: book notes, sketches, blog posts
  • Regular sleep
  • New drawing workflow: index cards, sketchbook?

I think it’s time to get a new coat and a pair of winter boots. Oh well! I didn’t find anything I liked in last year’s end-of-season sales, so I guess I should probably reconcile myself to paying full price or close to it.

I liked last year’s idea of thinking in terms of longer nights, since I do tend to divide my activities into day (work, writing) and night (relaxing, drawing). Maybe I’ll play with that some more.

Hey, maybe the Canadian citizenship grant includes cold tolerance. Always wondered why W- and J- think ice cream season is all year long!

Programming and creativity

September 18, 2014 - Categories: design, development

My client had been bringing me a constant stream of little technical challenges to solve. I pulled together different tools to make things happen: AutoHotkey, NodeJS, shared files, optical mark recognition, and so on. He said it was fun watching me figuring things out. It got me thinking about how programming can involve many different types of creativity. If you can tell the different types apart, you might be able to focus on improving some of those aspects.

2014-09-10 Programming - What does it mean to be creative?

2014-09-10 Programming – What does it mean to be creative?

Here’s a rough first pass:

  • Design: Probably the most obvious form of creativity in development, whether we’re talking about interfaces or architecture.
  • Imagining or anticipating needs: When people don’t even know what they’re missing
  • Imagining practical applications: Starting from the solution or from an available tool
  • Seeing gaps and being curious about possibilities: Maybe related to anticipating needs? More like, “Hmm, what if?”
  • Collecting components/capabilities and combining them: API functions, tools, etc. Like collecting puzzle pieces and then being able to dig up the right combination later on.
  • Making adapters: Smooshing different systems together.
  • Generating variants and other ideas: Coming up with different approaches, or coming up with variations on a theme.
  • Incorporating feedback and iterating effectively: Probably related to generating variants or shaping requirements, but also related to getting beyond vague requirements or too-concrete requirements.
  • Breaking things down and building a plan: Seeing the components and figuring out a good order.
  • Shaping requirements: Translating vague requirements/feedback or seeing past what people think they want.

Hmm…

Learning from the Alternative Uses Task

September 19, 2014 - Categories: learning

There’s a creativity test called the Alternative Uses Task, where you’re asked to come up with as many different uses as you can for an everyday object (for example, a paperclip or a brick). I was thinking about it recently because I was curious about programming and creativity, and how my clients sometimes tell me, “I had no idea XYZ could be used for that!” (Javascript, AutoHotkey, etc.). I like coming up with alternative uses when programming, and for things in general. I was wondering how I could get even better at divergent thinking based on what I can learn from the research into it.

From “Evaluating the Alternative Uses Test of Creativity” (Caitlin Dippo, National Conference on Undegraduate Research, 2013), I learned that while the first few responses tend to be pretty common, the more responses you make, the more you tend to come up with original ones. “Divergent thinking: strategies for generating alternative uses for familiar objects” (Gilhooly et. al, 2007) identified a number of strategies that people used when coming up with ideas: memory, property use (breaking it down into properties), broad use (looking at broad categories), and disassembly use (considering its parts). I also remembered the forced association tips from various creativity games – when you try to relate two different ideas together, your brain’s pretty good at filling in the gaps.

2014-09-10 Alternative Uses Task test

2014-09-10 Alternative Uses Task test

How can I use that to be more creative? Well, coming up with more answers helps – especially more different ones, not just variations on a theme. Elaborating on ideas and smooshing them together is fun, so I wonder how I can incorporate that kind of play into my learning – maybe through drawing, or brainstorming alternative uses for the tools and tech I have?

2014-09-10 Applying insights from the Alternative Uses Task Test and brainstorming research

2014-09-10 Applying insights from the Alternative Uses Task Test and brainstorming research

Hmm…

Weekly review: Week ending September 19, 2014

September 20, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

Lots of work getting ready for a big event. =) Surprisingly still managed to get a lot of sleep, at the cost of giving up other discretionary activities. But it’s for a good cause, and it’s temporary anyway.

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

Wow, almost 60 hours of consulting. And lots of sleep, actually – 9.3 hours on average, with a 13-hour stretch on one of those days. Intense thinking makes my brain tired. =) Hardly any discretionary time, but that’s okay; sprint, not marathon. More delivered food than I’ve had the rest of the year, I think. So this is what my schedule looks like when I pare it down to the essentials so that I can focus on work…

  • Business (62.3h – 37%)
    • E1: Prepare for stuff
    • Earn: E1: Big event
    • Earn (57.5h – 92% of Business)
    • Build (3.4h – 5% of Business)
      • Drawing (1.9h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.1h)
      • Paperwork (1.4h)
    • Connect (1.3h – 2% of Business)
  • Relationships (4.6h – 2%)
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.8h – 1%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Pay Mastercard
    • Writing (1.3h)
  • Discretionary – Play (1.0h – 0%)
  • Personal routines (20.6h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (11.3h – 6%)
  • Sleep (65.4h – 38% – average of 9.3 per day)

Index cards

September 22, 2014 - Categories: drawing

I’ve been drawing more on index cards than in sketchbooks lately. I keep a stack of index cards on my bedside table, and I have a few more in my belt bag. Index cards are great because they really can contain only one thought, so they’re not at all intimidating to start. I know I’ll finish the card. Index cards are also sturdier than the small notepad I carry around, and since I’m not tearing off pages, I don’t have to worry about fiddly little paper bits. Compared to index cards, a 8.5×11″ sheet feels like such a generous expanse. Although the extra space of a sketchbook lets me get deeper into a topic, it also sometimes results in half-drawn pages when I’m distracted by another thought or something that I need to do.

2014-09-10 Index cards

2014-09-10 Index cards

So maybe that suggests a new workflow for developing ideas. I can start by brainstorming topics on an index card. Then I can pick some ideas to flesh out into index cards of their own, and from there, to sketchbook pages. Blog posts can explain one sketch or collect several sketches, and they can link to previous posts as well.

2014-09-10 Possible workflow for developing ideas

2014-09-10 Possible workflow for developing ideas

This should help me think in bigger chunks

Categorical imperatives versus genetic algorithms

September 23, 2014 - Categories: philosophy

I was thinking about why I like thinking in terms of experiments, and how that’s related to how I generally don’t have strong disagreements with people.

I think most people I spend time with have a “live and let live” sort of policy similar to mine. We explore different life paths and have different opinions, but that’s okay. It results in more information and more insight.

Sometimes I come across people who express their opinions more strongly. Reading Reddit posts about people dealing with strong and probably well-meaning advice reminds me that there are people out there who are firmly convinced they know what’s good for you. I know I sometimes slip into that kind of advice-giving mode myself, especially around things that give me heebie-jeebies.

2014-09-12 Categorical imperatives versus genetic algorithms

2014-09-12 Categorical imperatives versus genetic algorithms

I like the idea that most of us are figuring things out in good faith. I haven’t thought through the limits of this idea yet (one’s choices might limit someone else’s, for example), but there might be something there worth exploring.

Yay! I rocked

September 24, 2014 - Categories: -Uncategorized

I’ve been working long hours over the past few weeks, getting ready for an event that wrapped up yesterday. It worked out really well. Yay!

I picked up AngularJS for this, and I’m glad I did. Angular made it really easy to update parts of the page with data and bind various events to clicks. It would’ve been pretty hard to do it without a framework like that, I think, what with all the changes.

My brain is still a little frazzled from the concentration. We did a lot of prep leading up to the event in order to prepare for stuff, and I did some quick fiddling during the event to troubleshoot. Good to make things happen!

It’s nice to downshift from the intensity of the event. We have a few things to take care of, but now I can carve out more time to cook, to write, to draw. It was great to know that even with the long days and focus, I had enough sleep and enough energy. =) W- kept things going at home, and I trimmed practically all the discretionary stuff. Now that my schedule’s loosened, I’m looking forward to picking up what I temporarily put aside.

On to more adventures!

My path for learning AngularJS

September 25, 2014 - Categories: development, geek

I’d been meaning to learn AngularJS for a while, and rapidly prototyping a data-binding-heavy Javascript application was the perfect excuse. The phonecat tutorial on the AngularJS site was a little too heavy-weight for me, although it would probably have been useful for learning how to Do Things Right. Simpler, from-scratch tutorials like AngularJS in 30 minutes and ng-newsletter were a little more useful for me. After I got the hang of setting things up and using a controller, I browsed through the AngularJS documentation and looked for different modules as I needed them.

Here’s the rough order I learned things in:

  1. Binding data with {{}}
  2. Retrieving data with $http (since I already had JSON handy from the NodeJS site I created)
  3. Iterating over data with ng-repeat
  4. Adding ng-click events
  5. Using ng-class
  6. Dependency injection
  7. Figuring out routing with ui-router
  8. Dividing things into multiple routers
  9. $interval and $timeout
  10. State change functions
  11. Resources (although I didn’t end up really using these)
  12. Directives

I still have to learn about filters, nested views, testing, proper file organization, and all sorts of other goodness. But yeah, AngularJS feels pretty good for my brain… =) Yay!

Recovering from a sprint

September 26, 2014 - Categories: experiment

Still a little tired from my work sprint, but I’m starting to feel the fog receding. I spent yesterday evening helping at Hacklab, holding up cabinets and assembling Ikea shelves. It was a little bit more work when I could be relaxing or helping out at home, but it will pay off, I think.

My client is a little apologetic since there are some more projects I need to work on instead of relaxing after the hustle of the last project. I can do it, but maybe a little more slowly. (I realized at 5pm that I’d spent the whole day with my buttons misaligned, but no one seemed to notice.) The perils of working on things I like because I want to: I want to leave them poised for success and I want to learn as much as I can, so requests are difficult to resist. But keeping my life in a certain balance helps me have more of those brilliant moments, so there’s something to that too.

I want to pay close attention to this transition. It might be my last sprint for a while, since I’m planning to change my pace to a leisurely stroll, dawdling among the fall leaves. So if this experience of coming down from a peak of concentration – like those programming competitions and website launches in my past – won’t be as common in the future, what do I want to remember about this now?

The preparation can be fun: building a temporary bridge and hoping it can hold up to the weight; planning for contingencies; working long days with good people. When the sprint is on, there’s something thrilling about being able to deal with the little challenges life throws at you. Maybe this is like tennis players getting in the zone. Afterwards, the high of celebration and of plans that worked. The signal to slow down is that light mental fatigue: small mistakes, reduced creativity and energy. I can do two weeks of 50-60 hour work, staying cheerful in the mornings and getting enough sleep, before I slow down; around that time is also when I strongly miss the discretionary time and the time spent at home.
On my own, I probably wouldn’t do any sprints. I’m not a big fan of deadlines and other fixed commitments. I’d probably focus more on steady progress, even if it’s slow. But it is nice to be able to point to something and say, yes, there, that was awesome.

Weekly review: Week ending September 26, 2014

September 28, 2014 - Categories: review, weekly

The big project I was focusing on worked out really well. Long days definitely paid off! =) I had fun using AngularJS and AutoHotkey to make something cool and useful.

Also, Hacklab has now moved to its new location, hooray! Looking forward to learning and exploring more, especially once my consulting gig winds down. We made minestrone for the last open house at Hacklab, and I helped pack things and assemble furniture. All this moving is prompting us to also redecorate a little at home. I swapped out my bedside bookcase for a lower table, and we moved the standing desk downstairs. Now we’re varnishing my bedside table and assorted shelves.

The minestrone was yummy, so I made it again at home. Mmm. Plans for this week: beef curry, basa fillets, pesto. Yay cooking! Happy to be eating (and making!) home-cooke meals. Our routines are slowly going back to normal! =)

Timesink: W- introduced me to this space-based adventure game called Out There. I finished one ending, but the other ones are hard! At least W- and I can compare notes about our misadventures…

Blog posts

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (68.2h – 40%)
    • Earn (50.8h – 74% of Business)
      • E1: Deliver big project, yay!
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
      • Now back to normal
    • Build (3.9h – 5% of Business)
      • Drawing (0.0h)
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (1.2h)
        • Consider paying myself dividends
        • Inquire about conversion of business assets to personal use
    • Connect (13.5h – 19% of Business)
  • Relationships (4.8h – 2%)
    • Get rid of more stuff, clean up spaces
    • Varnish bedside table
  • Discretionary – Productive (1.1h – 0%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
    • Deposit cheque
    • Pay Mastercard
    • Reflash tablet
    • Transfer some more into TFSA
    • Apply for passport
    • Ask two guarantors for passport
    • Get passport pictures
    • Pick up cultural access pass from Front and Parliament
    • Writing (1.1h)
  • Discretionary – Play (3.9h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (18.2h – 10%)
  • Unpaid work (11.0h – 6%)
  • Sleep (60.7h – 36% – average of 8.7 per day)

Thinking about how to make the most of the new Hacklab

September 29, 2014 - Categories: geek

The new Hacklab (1266 Queen Street West) will have wood-working tools, a skylight, and more space to set things up (maybe the sewing machine and serger?). There’s a big fabric store nearby, too. In addition to those new capabilities, all the usual tools will probably be easier to use: the laser cutter, the 3D printer, the CNC mill, the electronics equipment…

With that in mind, what would I like to learn more about so that I can make the most of Hacklab? I’ve mostly been treating Hacklab as a place to meet people, with the vegetarian cooking practice and social link building as bonuses. There’s a lot more I could do with it, though, and it might be good to explore.

I’d love to become proficient in making things that fit our life. I like how Norm made custom workbenches and corner tables from lumber. I like how people 3D-print handles and adapters for various things, and how they laser-cut cases, stencils, and jigs. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to handle transporting lumber and finished goods (bicycle? cab? asking W- for a ride?), but maybe I can learn how to draw up plans, verify those plans with people who have more experience, and work on things at home (since we have many of the tools anyway). So maybe I won’t be making as much use of the tools, but I can practise asking for help.

Although it would be pretty nice to make a better case for my Samsung Galaxy S3 with the Hyperion extended battery I have…

It might be good to use the skylight to start some plants during the winter, too. I’ll need to order seeds for that one, I think.

I could also work on web or Android stuff while I’m there, since those are the sorts of things that other people work on. I could work on writing too, but that’s a little harder because of the background conversations.

So a weekly or bi-weekly trip to Hacklab could be a commitment device for making regular progress on a physical project (wood, sewing, or electronic), a programming project, and vegan cooking adventures. Would that be worth the ~$6 transit fare (+ about 1.5 hours of travel) to get there in winter? Hmm. Probably. If I pre-commit the transit fare so that I don’t have to make lots of little decisions, carving out a part for it from my budget for the year… It makes sense to push myself to go there, since if I stay home, I’m less likely to work on those kinds of things.

We’ll see how this works out!

Thinking about rewards and recognition since I’m on my own

September 30, 2014 - Categories: business, career, experiment

One of the things a good manager does is to recognize and reward people’s achievements, especially if people exceeded expectations. A large corporation might have some standard ways to reward good work: a team lunch, movie tickets, gift certificates, days off, reward points, events, and so on. Startups and small businesses might be able to come up with even more creative ways of celebrating success.

In tech, I think good managers take extra care to recognize when people have gone beyond the normal call of duty. It makes sense. Many people earn salaries without overtime pay, might not get a bonus even if they’ve sacrificed time with family or other discretionary activities, and might not be able to take vacation time easily.

It got me thinking: Now that I’m on my own, how do I want to celebrate achievements–especially when they are a result of tilting the balance towards work?

When I’m freelancing, extra time is paid for, so some reward is there already. I like carving out part of those earnings for my opportunity fund, rewarding my decision-making by giving myself more room to explore.

During a sprint, the extra focus time sometimes comes from reducing my housework. When things relax, then, I like celebrating by cooking good meals, investing in our workflows at home, and picking up the slack.

I also like taking notes so that I can build on those successes. I might not be able to include a lot of details, but having a few memory-hooks is better than not having any.

Sometimes people are really happy with the team’s performance, so there’s extra good karma. Of the different non-monetary ways that people can show their appreciation within a corporate framework, which ones would I lean towards?

I definitely appreciate slowing down the pace after big deliverables. Sustained concentration is difficult, so it helps to be able to push back if there are too many things on the go.

At work, I like taking time to document lessons learned in more detail. I’d get even more of a kick out of it if other people picked up those notes and did something even cooler with the ideas. That ranks high on my warm-and-fuzzy feeling scale. It can take time for people to have the opportunity to do something similar, but that’s okay. Sometimes I hear from people years later, and that’s even awesomer.

A testimonial could come in handy, especially if it’s on an attributed site like LinkedIn.

But really, it’s more about long-term relationships and helping out good people, good teams, and good causes. Since I can choose how much to work and I know that my non-work activities are also valuable, the main reasons I would choose to work more instead of exploring those other interests are:

  • I like the people I work with and what they’re working on, and I want to support them,
  • I’ll learn interesting things along the way, and
  • It’s good to honour commitments and not disrupt plans unnecessarily.

So, theoretically, if we plunged right back into the thick of another project, I didn’t get the time to write about stuff, I didn’t feel right keeping personal notes (and thus I’ll end up forgetting the important parts of the previous project), and no one’s allowed to write testimonials, I’d still be okay with good karma – not the quid-pro-quo of transactional favour-swapping, but a general good feeling that might come in handy thirty years from now.

Hmm, this is somewhat related to my reflection on Fit for You – which I thought I’d updated within the last three years, but I guess I hadn’t posted that to my blog. Should reflect on that again sometime… Anyway, it’s good to put together a “care and feeding” guide for yourself! =)