December 2017

Monthly review: November 2017

December 2, 2017 - Categories: monthly, review

The biggest thing this month was potty training. We decided to postpone the pantsless approach recommended by the Oh Crap Potty Training book until life had settled down after our September trip, and that time had come. To my surprise, A- took to it readily. There were a few accidents at home, but nothing that couldn’t be mopped up with the towels and cloth diapers we kept handy. She’s now pretty good at going to the potty, especially if I trust her to know her own cues instead of prompting her too much. She refuses to wear diapers for naps or bedtime, and she often refuses clothes, too. We spent most of November at home, and we’re slowly gaining the confidence to go further afield.

Another big thing this month was reading Dr. Seuss. She loves The Cat In the Hat, The Thinks You Can Think, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut, and One Fish Two Fish, and will say bits of the books as we read to her. She also likes prompting us to recite snippets throughout the day, so I’ve memorized large chunks of the books too. The Cozy Classics versions of Emma and Pride & Prejudice occasionally get requested at bedtime, and several rounds of Goodnight Moon too. All that reading means bedtime is an extended affair, but that’s all good.

Lots of new words from books, and plenty from everyday life too. A- often asks me to wear my gloves or oven mitts and “catch” whatever she names. She uses three-word sentences such as “all full bubbles” or “E- poo diaper.”

She’s interested in number words and in counting with her fingers. She seems to also matches up sets. When I doled out one scoop of cat food each for the two cats that were there, she named the cat who wasn’t and she asked me for another scoop of cat food. She thinks about the sizes of bags when nesting them, too.

There were a few days when “streetcar” was her favourite word, so we rode streetcars up and down all afternoon. I still didn’t break even on the transit pass I bought for the month. Between that and the classes we haven’t been able to make it out to, I’m getting better at ignoring sunk costs and focusing on what’s better for us in the moment.

She’s learning to play more independently. By far, her favourite activity is “shopping” for groceries with the bags in the kitchen and putting everything away afterwards. Our pantry gets randomized, but it’s worth it. Sometimes she wants me to help her, and sometimes she enjoys doing things by herself. I usually tidy up nearby while she plays, although one time I even managed to do a bit of consulting.

To balance that, A- occasionally enjoys being “baby A-,” asking us to feed her, flopping down for ” tummy time,” and recreating scenes from baby pictures. It’s fun (and good) to follow her lead as she negotiates this transition, so we do.

We’ve been stepping up housecleaning and decluttering, which is good. We spend most of our time in the kitchen or in A-‘s room, so I’ve been focusing on those areas. I wonder how I can make the living room more inviting. I prefer the kitchen myself, but it’s good to have more space for play.

Lots of consulting this month, since there’s a major upgrade in the works. I’m pleasantly surprised by my ability to do useful things in small, interruptible chunks of time. The rhythm I set up for my late-night discretionary activities seems to be mostly paying off, although of course sometimes A- has other plans.

I filed my corporate taxes, yay! This year, I decided to move my accounting from QuickBooks + Turbotax to Ledger + MyTaxExpress (under Wine), giving me another reason to stay in Linux. It took me a while to figure out what to do about foreign currency transactions and to get all the numbers on the tax form to add up properly, but now my books make sense. I can use version control on my ledger, too.

December will be mostly about consulting, paperwork, and the upcoming trip. For A-, maybe we’ll focus on self-dressing, and on setting up her environment for more autonomy and learning. Hmm….

2017-12-04 Emacs news

December 4, 2017 - Categories: emacs, emacs-news

Links from reddit.com/r/emacs, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News, planet.emacsen.org, YouTube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.

Weekly review: Week ending 2017-12-01

December 5, 2017 - Categories: review, weekly

More toilet training progress. I feel a little more confident about heading out, although we still try to get a diaper on just in case. A- occasionally asks for privacy when pottying at home, and strongly prefers having the potty in the kitchen instead of the living room. She can interrupt her bath to use the toilet. No accidents or used diapers all week. Wow.

We met up with Jen and E-, and we made it all the way to the Ontario Science Centre. I liked checking out the pick-your-own area in KidSpark, and A- enjoyed playing with the water table and the ball maze. A- took Jen’s hand and led her over to the ball ramps, so I hung out with E- while they played. Growing independence!

The weather was pretty nice on Friday too, so we met up with Eric and hung out at a playground for a bit. It was good to catch up, especially since A- decided Saturday was a stay-home day.

In addition to being able to go on longer outings, A- has also been able to play more independently at home. She mostly likes rummaging through bags and pantry goods in the kitchen. I got her a small pair of tongs, which she occasionally uses to move bags around. Yay fine motor control! I moved the cleaning chemicals from the cabinet under the sink to a cabinet out of her reach, and I’ll stock the under-sink cabinet with more manipulatives such as pipe cleaners and sponges.

We’re figuring out our new balance between autonomy and attention. I’ve been decluttering and cleaning to fight a flea breakout, but A- likes staying close and playing with me, so vacuuming usually has to wait until W- gets home. That’s okay, A- is higher priority.

The attention seems to be paying off in terms of language and cognition, too. W- pointed to the pot in the kitchen and asked A- what was in it. “Oatmeal,” she answered correctly, even though it had been a while since A- and I left it to cook. Another time, the only way to tempt her out of the bath was to wave a bunch of books at her and tell her I was heading off to read in bed.

With all that, I haven’t had as much time for my own things, but I did manage to squueze in some consulting late at night and during one afternoon. I exported some data for a team, and it was nice to be able to coordinate during the daytime while A- played independently. It looks like we might be able to get away without a babysitter for short, time-sensitive requests. Oh, and my Org agenda reminded me to renew my business name. Hooray for a system that can handle to-dos that repeat every five years.

We’re getting the hang of this!

External brains – current state

December 5, 2017 - Categories: emacs, org, organization, parenting

Being the primary caregiver for a toddler means I’m distracted, often interrupted, and somewhat sleep-deprived, so using external brains (paper, phone, laptop) helps a lot. Here are a few things I rely on them to keep so that I can declutter my mind, worry less, and be more present:

  • Daily journal: This lets me tell W- stories about A-, appreciate A-‘s progress, and feel good about where the time went. I use Memento Database on my Android phone to add datestamped, categorized text notes to a Google Sheets spreadsheet.
  • Weekly/monthly review: This lets me appreciate progress over a longer period and plan for the next one. I edit the daily journal entries in Memento to set their importance (1: weekly highlight, 2: monthly), then filter, sort, group, and export the entries. I copy the text into Tasks Free (which synchronizes via Google Tasks) and then edit the text on my phone while A- nurses and sleeps. If I manage to have computer time, I might use Emacs to fill in more of my weekly or monthly review.
  • Tasks (next actions, inbox, waiting, thoughts, and assorted other lists): Tasks Free on my phone, since I can check it or add to it any time. I jot ideas/thoughts down here too, since I can write while nursing A- in bed. If I run out of battery, I charge my phone and move to W-‘s old phone, so I can keep writing. After I draft a thought that might be a good blog post, I copy it into the WordPress app and post it so that I can find it again later. (And so that other people might chime in with insights!) If I have time, I might copy a thought into Emacs, flesh it out further, and post it with org2blog.
  • Calendar: Google calendars – one for appointments, one for activity options. This way, I can hide all the optional stuff quickly.
  • Longer-term reminders, notes, work in progress: Org files. It’s so nice to be able to schedule tasks and have detailed notes on how to complete those tasks. I also really like being able to break things down with outlines and think out loud with code snippets. The weekly agenda review helps me catch reminders.
  • Photos and videos: I sync a Wi-Fi-enabled camera with my phone, then erase everything off the camera. Google Photos automatically uploads everything and shares them with W-. I post selected things to a Facebook closed group for kiddo updates.
  • Time and activity log: I track my time for curiosity. I made my own tracker (quantifiedawesone.com), and I made another button-based interface for easier tracking on my phone. That interface also lets me quickly log data to baby-connect.com, where I track A-‘s sleep, nursing, and potty use. I made my own visualizations, too.
  • Reference info: Org. Document scans in Dropbox or Owncloud, some GPG-encrypted.
  • Book notes: I’ve been reading mostly e-books from the library, so I take screenshots on my phone and they go through my photo workflow. I use Tasks Free to capture quick notes about paper books. I’d like to get back to sketchnotes when I have more focused time.
  • New words: I’m tracking this out of curiosity. She has said 350+ different words, and she’s not even 2 years old yet. :) Many of the words come from songs and books, so it helps to think of concrete experiences she can associate them with.
  • Scenarios, just-in-case notes: Org. Good for managing risks and worrying less.
  • Processes: Org. Good for step-by-step instructions when I’m sleep-deprived or doing something infrequently.
  • Finances: Ledger-cli. Text-based accounting, yay! I have some reports in ledger-mode and some in an Org file. I update this monthly or so.
  • Cooking: We manage our grocery list in OurGroceries because of the multiuser real-time sync. Recipes tend to be looked up on the Internet and then copied into a paper notebook or onto an index card when we like them. Meal plan is written on scrap paper and stuck to the front of the fridge.

I want to get better at structuring my observations of A-‘s progress, planning follow-up activities, and keeping the overall picture in mind. Since I’m roughly categorizing the daily journal entries in Memento / Google Sheets, I can probably create a table that will make it easy to see if there are neglected areas, and then extend that to plan ideas. Or, well, as much planning as one can do with a toddler, really – more like keeping an eye out for opportunities to build on A-‘s interests. So far it’s been okay, though. I’ve been learning about basic principles and skill components from textbooks on early childhood education, and that makes it a bit easier for me to improvise. I have a rough outline of areas to think about on a regular basis, and a few ideas to explore over the next few months.

I also want to get better at managing my book notes and other ideas I want to revisit at the appropriate time. I’m a little lacking on the review side, since most of my writing time is taken up by capturing observations and the occasional reflection. So far, this has also been okay. I just have to trust that whatever I’m writing down will still make sense to me in a few months or years, and the most important stuff will turn up on my radar at the appropriate time. Schedule-based reminders are easy, but things wait for all sorts of other factors. For example, there are lots of practical life skill exercises I picked up from the Montessori education books that will be a better fit when A-‘s fine motor skills improve.

I’d like to get back to drawing someday, although it may have to wait until I have more dedicated time. Whenever I start sketching out a thought, A- likes drawing on my paper or asking me to draw stuff for her. It’s all good, though, since it encourages us to scribble. It just means that I can’t take a picture and reuse the drawing – I have to type it up anyway, so I may as well explore the thought on my phone unless I want to think nonlinearly.

I’ll experiment with using timestamped notes in Memento to help me with offline logging when we go on our trip. I might also just spring for Internet access once we’re off the plane, since that’s useful for other things as well.

I’ve got a fair bit of clutter in my Org files, but I trust that the outlining tools will help me reorganize as needed. I tend to do just-in-time organizing: instead of starting with an outline and drilling down, I might capture a bunch of thoughts, refile them as the structure becomes clearer, and then work up and down from there.

I don’t spend nearly as much time on the computer as I might want to for optimal external-brain management, but the current system is surprisingly workable. Shifting more of my writing to my phone (including the weekly/monthly summaries) made a difference, since I don’t have to keep as much in my head or get constrained by computer time. I look forward to tweaking how things work as A- becomes more independent and as I learn more.

Working around my phone plan’s lack of roaming

December 5, 2017 - Categories: philippines, travel

Constraints:

  • I need to deal with SMS one-time passwords, especially for online banking in the Philippines.
  • I like my plan with Freedom Mobile, but they don’t offer roaming in the Philippines.
  • My Philippine prepaid SIM will expire if I don’t regularly load it.

I could leave my SIM plugged into a phone and set up some kind of forwarding or logging. However, this means I can bring only one phone to the Philippines. Having two Android devices was handy for setting up WiFi Baby Monitor and for writing even if my battery was running low. On the other hand, we could use W-‘s phone as the receiver, I can keep a power bank or charger handy, and there might even be a spare phone at home that I can set up.

Alternatively, I can try to set up my Fongo number for incoming texts. I’m planning to pay for Internet access anyway. Some services like Namecheap won’t let me use the Fongo number for two-factor authentication, but others do.

I can check with W- if he has roaming. If so, maybe I can use his phone number as a backup.

I can use my Philippine prepaid SIM as the contact number (likely to be more successful with Philippine banks anyway), enable roaming before I leave, and periodically reload online to keep it active. If I can find the Smart Pinoy SIM, that can receive text messages with zero balance and it expires a year after the last load. I might also be able to change the contact number online once we’re back in Canada.

Hmm… Plenty of things to try. I think I like the convenience of bringing both phones, since they’re already all set up for writing. I’ll try Fongo first, then I’ll try the Philippine SIM if that doesn’t work. If I have to keep my SIM active by buying a roaming SIM and/or spending a few dollars a month, it’s probably worth it, and it won’t be for a super-long time anyway. It’s a good opportunity to experiment with paying for convenience.

Daily, weekly, and monthly journals: my Memento + Google Sheets + Tasks Free + Google Tasks + WordPress workflow

December 6, 2017 - Categories: android, blogging, writing

Journaling considerations:

  • A- nurses a lot in bed. I keep my phone handy and I write when she doesn’t want to let me go.
  • I also jot quick notes throughout the day so that I don’t have to keep them in my head. These go into the nearest synchronized device.
  • It’s hard to remember the context for those notes if too much time passes. A daily verbal recap for W- and a weekly summary for my blog seem to be just the right balance. Anything older than a week gets too fuzzy, while writing detailed notes every day takes too much time away from other things I’d like to do.
  • Monthly reviews give me a better perspective on big changes. It’s hard to keep enough in my head when I’m reading or writing on my phone, so I need help summarizing a month’s worth of highlights.

Here are the technical details:

I set up Memento Database on my phone and on a backup Android phone. I picked it because it can synchronize between phones in the background, and it can also sync with Google Sheets so that I can process things further.

My journal database has the following fields:

  • Date: defaults to current date
  • Note
  • Category: single value from a list. Most of my entries go into Gross Motor, Fine Motor, Language, Self-care, Other, or Us, and I add other categories as needed.
  • Highlight: a number indicating the level of review this should be included in: 1 – weekly, 2 – monthly, 3 – yearly. I display this field as the status, so that it shows up on the right side.

I have a shortcut on my home screen so that I can quickly add a journal entry.

I normally sort the list by date, with recent entries on top.

As part of my weekly review, I look at recent entries, fill in any categories I skipped, and choose a few to highlight. For example, last week, I wrote 17 entries and I chose 13 to include in the weekly review.

I configured Memento’s default export formatting to include only the Note field and to export that without the field label.

I filtered the database to show only the entries within a given date range where the highlight value was greater than 0.5.

I grouped it by category so that similar entries were together. This was better than fiddling with the sorting, since this takes fewer taps to set back to my default view.

After filtering and grouping the entries, I used the “Send all > Send as text” command to send it to Tasks Free, which is a task manager that synchronizes with Google Tasks. I like the way I can drag-and-drop tasks to reorder them, which makes prioritizing so much easier on my phone. I edit the text in Tasks Free, turning the keywords into paragraphs and moving things around for better flow.

After drafting the body of the post (and possibly switching between phones, if my battery ran low), I select all the text, copy it into the WordPress app, set the categories and the title, and post the entry.

The monthly review process is quite similar. I start with a filtered view that shows all entries for last month (133 entries in November), and I group it by category. I skim all the entries, not just the ones included in the weekly review, because sometimes little moments turn out to be significant or part of a bigger pattern. After setting the highlight values for the things I’d like to include in my monthly review, I switch to another filter that shows me last month’s entries with a highlight value greater than 1.5 (28 entries in November). I send it all to Tasks Free, edit the post, copy it into WordPress, and publish.

If I manage to squeeze in some computer time, I use Google Tasks to copy the text into Emacs and then use my regular Org Mode review/publish processes.

I’ve been thinking about how I can improve this workflow. Sending text to the WordPress app doesn’t seem to work (the text disappears after I save or publish), and it’s kinda nice being able to move my weekly review task around on my task list in order to accommodate other priorities. I also like the way Google Tasks keeps the data from completed tasks, which has come in handy a few times. Tasks Free editing is more responsive, too. Synchronizing with Tasks Free seems to be more robust than synchronizing with Orgzly, since I only have to watch out for editing the same task on two devices instead of watching out for the whole file.

I’d like to get back to drawing the weekly and monthly reviews, but maybe that can wait until A-‘s sleep is more settled and my discretionary time is more consolidated. The visual journals are more fun to flip through, but the bulk and chronological views I hacked into my WordPress theme are reasonable workarounds.

Weekly review: Week ending 2017-12-08

December 10, 2017 - Categories: review, weekly

Cognition: This week was a good one for sorting. A- grasped the concept of “same” when I demonstrated it with the cans in the pantry. She was able to put cans of red kidney beans together and cans of soup together, and she could even distinguish between chicken soup and mushroom soup.

Emotion: A- showed a little anxiety whenever we peeled oranges, burying her face in me until we gave her the all clear. It’s a good way to avoid getting squirted in the eye, that’s for sure.

Field trips: We discovered that a nearby community centre has a warm toddler pool and long weekend hours. It might become our new favourite.

Motor: A-‘s been getting the hang of the tongs that I placed under the sink for her. She can pick up plastic bags and ping pong balls now. She also spent some time having fun with stickers, and can usually peel them off the sticker sheets herself.

Lots of climbing up and sliding down the slide that we improvised from pillows and the other mattress in her room. She used to climb up the incline, but now she mostly takes the long way around. She also wears pants more often now, instead of going around bare. That makes sliding more comfortable. Besides, no clothes = no pictures or videos, and she likes being on camera and reviewing the videos.

Also, A- rather amusingly flaps her arms and calls that jumping jacks.

Household: A-‘s good at putting away dishes now. I take them out of the dishwasher and hand them to her, and she puts them on the shelves as she stands on the counter. I hover behind her for safety. We probably can’t rejig our kitchen layout to put the dishes lower, but this seems like a reasonable risk for more sorting and counting practice. Maybe when she’s bigger, she can use the tower as an in-between step for boosting herself up and lowering herself.

She’s gotten the hang of the microwave routine, too. We open the door together, put in food, cover it, close the door, press buttons (hooray for child lock), make a whirring sound, open the door, remove the cover, use a towel to carefully remove the pretend-hot food, and let it cool down. She had lots of fun labeling each step.

Sensory: lots of stepping on bubble wrap, and a bit of using her hands too. She likes the crinkly sound the plastic bags make, and trying to catch them when I toss them up in the air. Some water play in the sink, too.

Us: I made it out to the Philippine consulate to pick up my passport, and I bought a few gifts for our upcoming trip. W-‘s been working late, but we stocked the fridge with plenty of food, so we were fine. He completed the stairs and the temporary porch, so we can use the front door again. The camera W- gave me is working out really nicely even with our indoor light, so we’ve been building a habit of sharing photos and videos with him after dinner. Yay!

W- hung out with A- for a couple of hours on Sunday so that I could investigate an upgrade-related issue and do a braindump to help one of my team mates understand our data extract script better. It was nice to have that focused time.

Next week: more trip preparations!

2017-12-11 Emacs news

December 11, 2017 - Categories: emacs, emacs-news