February 2018

My story about my dad

February 1, 2018 - Categories: family

My sister started collecting stories for my dad months before his death so that he could read them. I posted this on Facebook so that my family could easily include it in their collection (which they did), but I forgot to put it on my blog too. So here it is.

From September 21, 2017:

Our visit home is almost done. I’m not sure when we’ll be back and how long my parents have, especially with my dad’s current health challenges. I’ve been preparing for this moment for years. Maybe I’ll have years more, or maybe not.

It’s good to write now, choosing the memories I want to treasure and the lessons I want to keep. My sisters have great memories of wild adventures with my dad. I’ve always been the quieter sort, happier at home than on the road or in the air. It means, perhaps, that I get to remember a different side to him than most people focus on.

I’ve been thinking about how my dad manages to make such outsized differences in the world. Banaue, advertising photography, RC flying, ultralight flying, the zoo, Photography with a Difference… Even now, he’s planning a national exhibit and an enduring celebration of heritage in Ifugao schools. He can do more in a month than many people do in a lifetime.

The obvious factors: tremendous energy and resourcefulness; playfulness; generosity; persistence almost to the point of stubbornness; constant learning; the skills of photography, editing, and storytelling; the support of my mom and people around them; larger-than-life ideas that spark other people’s enthusiasm; a charismatic personality; a sense for theatre and how to set things up; building relationships through teaching; the savviest use of social media that I’ve seen. I’m not sure. I’m piecing this together from stories and from watching my parents behind the scenes.

And this factor, the one that shines through in the quiet moments my parents share: empathy. My dad lets himself be moved, and he moves others. Not all causes, and not always successfully, but there is a bigness of heart to him, and I think people respond to that as much as they respond to the cheerful audacity of his ideas.

“Will you remember me?” he asks my toddler. I think of all the stories I’ve heard, the videos and front-page news articles he’s been featured in, the people who tell their own tales of encounters with him and were inspired by his example. I’ll share those with her, of course.

More than that, I hope to share the lessons we can learn about making our own differences. We don’t have to follow in his footsteps. I’m not sure anyone can. But we can practice the resourcefulness and resilience that helped him find ways around so many challenges. We can practice the constant learning that helped him hone his skills and the constant teaching that helped him build communities. We can practice the empathy and generosity that helped him move mountains.

And besides, he gave my toddler her first camera and her first Swiss knife. Who knows where those will take us, if we can learn how to use those two tools and what they represent, all the way to their fullest potential?

As for what he gave me… If I can face uncertainties with clear eyes and steady hands, planning for different scenarios and doing what needs to be done, it’s because I learned that from my parents. If I can feel lucky and excited, even now, it’s because of them.

Here are the four things I want to say:

We’re okay. Thank you. I love you. Let’s see.

2018-02-05 Emacs news

February 5, 2018 - 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.

Week ending 2018-02-02

February 6, 2018 - Categories: review, weekly

(I hope this image gets properly sized – still working out my mobile workflow…)

We were mostly at home this week while A- gradually adjusted to Toronto time. We made it out to visit Jen and E- on Friday morning. A- also enjoyed going outside to play in the snow.

It was delightful to hear all the phrases bubbling up from A-. “Thank you” was her favourite phrase this week. She also got the hang of sequential requests with “And then…” and tried her hand at persuasion with “That’s okay.” She congratulated herself with “Good job!” “You did it!” and dealt with the occasional oopses with “Try again.”

She didn’t want to wear her conformer for a few days. I didn’t force the issue. No point, anyway, since she could just take it out again right after. I made my peace with possible long-term refusal, but kept trying with liberal use of “Please” and some discussion of why it might be worth the short-term discomfort. She eventually let me put it in, hooray! She removed it again a couple of days after, though, so it might be getting a bit uncomfortable.

We’re back to being able to do neighbourhood errands. A- often wants to go to the supermarket, where she insists on carrying her own basket or riding in the shopping cart.

A- was interested in stacking cans, so I suggested that she stack wooden blocks too. She built a tower out of eight blocks, and then delighted in knocking them down with various body parts.

As for us: I’ve been following up on my resolution to be more organized. I ordered a bunch of pouches from MEC. I sorted A-‘s clothes and donated another bunch of 18mo clothes to the EarlyON child centre. Continuous improvement!

Quick thoughts on leadership, impact, and finding my own path

February 9, 2018 - Categories: business, leadership, learning, purpose, reflection

I was talking to a friend about leadership, succession, and impact. In particular, my friend was curious about how to grow more leaders. I realized some things about how my parents made big differences and about how I want to grow.

Succession is hard. Big companies spend millions on leadership programs, have huge, motivated talent pools to draw on, and even turn to external recruitment, and it’s still uncommon to have a successful transition or a long-lived company. It’s even tougher in the nonprofit and volunteer worlds.

I wonder if going sideways can help work around the succession challenge. Instead of hoping for the right intersection of same time, same place, same Bat channel (an interested, capable, available potential leader turning up when you want to start grooming one and sticking around until the right time), what about the franchising approach instead?

I realized that this is one of the things my parents did, and that’s how they managed to do so much. They didn’t count on any one initiative staying around for the long term. My dad probably would have gotten impatient and bored anyway. Instead, they got the hang of quickly starting things up, and they inspired people to start similar efforts. After the first few projects, happy sponsors and relationships made the next ones easier and easier. My dad could just share a crazy idea on Facebook and people would sign up to help make it happen. Professionally, my parents cared about teaching both the art and the business of photography, and having workshops open even to active competitors.

This approach is probably out of scope from most leadership programs that focus on succession planning because they assume you need a specific thing to continue, but franchising is the closest business analogy, I think. It might be a good way to increase impact through a wider reach. It could be like:

  • Getting more out of the stuff you’re already doing: My dad was media-savvy. He could imagine the pictures and news articles that would come out of a project, and he was great at lining those up. Something similar (or partnering with someone who thinks about that sort of stuff) could increase the visibility and impact of things you’re already doing some making people feel good about the projects too.
  • Getting better at sharing the cool stuff you’re doing and the initiatives you’re involved in: pictures and stories on social media could let people find out about stuff, explore things you’re into, get updates, etc. Similar to the previous point, but more personal.
  • Accelerating your startup for ideas: people to talk to, channels for sharing ideas, ways to get people involved, templates, etc.
  • Getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts
  • Automating, simplifying and documenting processes so that people with less experience can do better work: Can be very useful for both your initiatives and other people’s, and it’s good for both direct succession and franchising. This is definitely my focus, and it’s awesome for expanding reach over space and time (even without active attention). My mom focuses on this too, although she often struggles with adoption. The E-Myth book might be relevant here.

Figuring out swarms might be an interesting challenge: how to quickly gather people around a particular project, and how to help other people with their own. There’s a lot that to practice even without a candidate successor, so that might be one way to keep growing.

At the moment, I’m focusing on:

  • automating/simplifying/documenting: Perfect timing! I need to make things simple enough so that a child can do it, and there happens to be one handy for testing. I also personally benefit from automating and simplifying things enough to fit into the snippets of discretionary time I have, and documenting things so that I can declutter my brain and make the most of scattered moments.
  • getting better at sharing lessons learned, questions, and artifacts: Hooray for blogging! I’m getting better at writing on my phone while A- sleeps on top of me (like right now), and I’ll figure out how to mix drawing back in, too. I’m probably never going to feel comfortable using the “expert” voice. I like the “Here’s what I’m figuring out, and here’s what I’m thinking about next” sort of approach. There are so many ways forward, and it’s fun to think of everything as a grand experiment.

We were talking about the 2×2 matrix of size of impact versus number of people affected. My friend said many people focus on the “big impact, lots of people” quadrant. I think I like the “small impact, few people” quadrant, which perfectly characterizes things like my Emacs stuff and my consulting. I like small fixes and improvements. I scale up by trying to help things stay fixed/improved and available even when I’m not actively thinking about them, which is why coding and writing fit me well. If I can get even better at making and sharing those little improvements, and making them findable when other people want them, that sounds like a good path for growing. I also like connecting the dots between ideas, which is another example of a small contribution that can have a larger effect.

The long-term impact could be mostly about the ripples from people I’ve helped (like the way I get to learn more about cool things to do with Emacs by people who tell me I helped them get curious about it a long time ago! :) ) and maybe maybe maybe someday, books worthy of being part of the Great Conversation / archive of human knowledge.

I probably won’t do anything as awesome as my dad’s advocacies, but I think this path of sharing little ideas, experiments, and lessons learned – this path could work for me. :) If it happens to resonate with you and you want to pass along lessons learned or share the things you’re figuring out, that would be great!

2018-02-12 Emacs news

February 12, 2018 - Categories: emacs, emacs-news

Week ending 2018-02-09

February 12, 2018 - Categories: review, weekly

Gross motor: A- practised walking forward on her balance bike. It was just a few steps, but hey, progress! She also enjoyed swimming. We had the toddler pool all to ourselves for a while, and she enjoyed walking in the shallow water and even kneeling just enough to dip her ears into the water. At the Science Centre, she had lots of fun following E-‘s example and running up and down corridors, climbing stairs, and so on.

Fine motor: She can screw together the oversized nuts and bolts in her toolkit. She was interested in the Duplo blocks. She liked adding a paper butterfly to the ROM exhibit.

Language: She used the word “need” to ask for something. Her first request? “I need a hug.” She thanked me afterwards, too. She’s getting pretty good at talking about recent events, like pointing to the fridge and saying, “Daddy bought new eggs.” Ithink she can talk about how she felt, too. For example, a kid accidentally knocked her down at the Science Centre. When we were chatting about the day during her bath, we got to that part and she said “A- sad.”

Household: She insisted that we make muffins, and she even brought out the muffin tin.

Social: She had such a great day on Friday hanging out with Jen and E-, and she was so excited to see W- that she was squeaking as she ran to the door. Joy gave us a kitchen playset, which A- liked. A- also put up with me having coffee with Eric and chatting about leadership. We made it out to music class, but she was pretty reserved. At home, she loved playing games with me (peekaboo, moving tunnels, fall down, toss hair/pompom).

Independence: She insisted on privacy while using the potty. She wanted to do most things by herself. She put on her own coat a few times.

Other: She passed her eye exam – perfect vision and healthy pressure in her right eye so far. Amusingly, she was indifferent to the first sheet of stickers offered by the doctor, but she quickly snatched the second sheet. She enjoyed hanging out at the family centre afterwards.

Us: I donated more clothes through the EarlyON family and child centre. We got a couple of IKEA Trofast units to organize A-‘s clothes and toys. Gradual decluttering!

January 2018

February 16, 2018 - Categories: monthly, review

It was one of those big months that somehow manage to contain so much.

We reshot our family picture because my dad wanted us to all wear Columbia clothes. We spent a few days relaxing at home and enjoying family time. Then my dad slipped into delirium and we took him to the hospital, where he died. The cremation, wake, and inurnment were all wonderful celebrations of an amazing life. I’ve written about most of the things I want to learn from my dad’s example and that I want to pass on to A-. I look forward to seeing how they work out in practice.

Most of the paperwork is underway. There’s dealing with the reconfiguration of our family dynamics, too. There’s a big gap where my dad used to be, of course. On the plus side, I have an even better appreciation of the strengths of my mom and my sisters. We’ll get through this.

A- had a grand time hanging out with her cousins, aunts, and grandparents. She figured out how to sit down and cross her legs. She liked bouncing on the bed and falling down forwards and backwards. She mastered the well-timed shrug. She peeled and ate lots of tiny oranges. She asked Lola and Tita Kathy to read her lots of books. She got over her anxiety about dolls. She often hugged people and accepted hugs.

The flights home were quite manageable, especially since we had the luxury of empty seats beside us during the Incheon-Toronto flight. Sleep deprivation, sniffles, and jet lag hit us hard on our return, but things got mostly back to normal after a couple of weeks.

At home, she quickly went through her favourite activities. She figured out how to build an 8-block-high tower and delighted in knocking it down using different parts of her body. We figured out how to dress for winter and have been making

A-‘s language capabilities really took off. She started saying things like “Thank you,” “You did it!”, and “Give it a try.” She explicitly imitated us: “A- make coffee just like Daddy make coffee.” She picked up lots of adjectives and modifiers: “very very sweet oranges.” She learned how to talk about negation: “Nobody,” “Tita Ching no wear glasses. Only Lola wear glasses.” She talked about recent events and anticipated upcoming ones. She even tried her hand at negotiation and persuasion: “Blueberries! (nod nod) That’s okay. That’s okay.”

February will be about settling in again and taking care of A-‘s medical appointments. I also want to spend some time rethinking my workflow considering our recent phone and tablet upgrades, and to think about where other upgrades might make sense.

2018-02-19 Emacs news

February 19, 2018 - 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.

Thinking about impact

February 20, 2018 - Categories: parenting, purpose, reflection

In preparation for possibly making it to a conversation tomorrow about quantified impact, I’ve been thinking about the impact I want my experiments to have and how I might be able to observe and measure them.

I realized that I’m less interested in looking at my impact on the wider world and more interested in looking at the impact on myself. I’m also interested in the impact on my family. This is partly due to the influence of Stoicism’s focus on the things that I can control, partly the freedom of not having external performance reviews, and partly an experimental belief that if I take care of my own life and share what I’m learning with others, wider impact will follow. I don’t need to seek it prematurely. I can focus instead on having a solid foundation to build on.

If I evaluated impact based on the outcomes for A-, I would leave that too vulnerable to chance (what if A- died unexpectedly?) or conflict (what if A- wanted a different path?). It feels more right to focus on doing my part well, and to evaluate myself accordingly. If other things work out well, that’s a nice bonus, and keeping an eye on how those things are going can help me check if I’m on track or drifting.

With that in mind, what kind of impact do l want for my experiments, big and small?

Deeper appreciation of life, meaning: My biggest experiment at the moment is parenting. Based on research, parenting is likely to increase feelings of satisfaction and purpose, and will probably be worth the reduced autonomy and increased vulnerability. It’s not so much about pleasure as it is about eudaimonia.

Deeper appreciation of W- and other people: Research is pessimistic on the effect of parenting on marital satisfaction and social connection, but I might be able to counter those effects by paying attention thoughtfully. I’ve certainly developed a deeper appreciation of W- over the past few years, and I feel like I’m getting to know Toronto better too. Parenting lets me see my family and my in-laws in a new light. I like being able to remember that everyone was a baby once, too, and I like being able to appreciate other people more.

Practice in equanimity: Parenting brings plenty of opportunities to apply philosophy to life. I like wasting less energy on frustration and directing more energy towards paying attention and moving forward. I’ve been able to keep my cool in varied situations, and now I’m working on being able to respond thoughtfully and creatively in the moment.

Push to learn and grow: I’m taking advantage of my desire to help A- by learning more about child development, early childhood education, health, science, and other things. I’m sure I’ll learn about lots of random topics along the way. I’m trading a bit of self-direction for motivation and pushes out of my comfort zone. I could start tracking this by writing down what I’m learning about.

Experiences, empathy: Not only with W- and A-, but with other people too.

Immersion into children’s worlds, playfulness, wonder, creativity: Good stuff.

Reduced friction, increased capabilities, increased effects: It’s good to deal with constraints like sleep disruption and limited attention, since I can find the rough spots and figure out ways to improve them.

Good boundaries, assertiveness, deliberation: I’m learning more about making decisions, asserting myself, and changing my mind as needed.

Shared notes, possible business ideas, credibility: Other people might benefit from what I’m learning or doing.

Increased Emacs community, learning from each other: I’m glad I can do Emacs News. Looking forward to having more brain space so that I can contribute tweaks too, since playing with Emacs improves my capabilities and tickles my brain.

The book All Joy and No Fun promises to be an interesting summary of the research into the effects of parenting on parents.

If I can be more thoughtful about the effects I want (or need to watch out for) from the various choices I can make, then I might be able to make better decisions or invest a little effort and get even better results. It’s fun thinking about these things!

Week ending 2018-02-16

February 20, 2018 - Categories: review, weekly

The dentist recommended taking A- to an anesthesia dentist because she’s concerned that A-‘s teeth are worn down to the pulp and that there might be a hole that affects a nerve. The dentist she referred me to has an 8-hour no food or liquid fasting requirement for treatment instead of allowing breastmilk up to 4 hours before and clear liquids up to 2 hours before. A- still nurses through the night, so I may have to find another dentist, night wean her, or put all of us through a very miserable day. We’re hoping to get a referral to Sick Kids, since with all the other things going on with her, we want the anesthesiologist to have lots of experience with toddlers with other conditions.

The ocularist appointment was more straightforward. A- will get a new conformer in two weeks. We’re going to continue with the conformer approach instead of getting a painted shell because A- still takes her conformer out every so often. We nearly lost her current one. Conformers are cheaper and easier to replace. We’ll just put up with the occasional question from curious strangers (who can sometimes be a bit awkward or even rude, but I’ll just chalk that up to them being off-balance).

We visited her Po Po and Gung Gung for a Chinese New Year party. She had lots of fun hanging out with her Uncle Morgan, Auntie Cathy, and M-. We bought a Japanese cheesecake to serve for her birthday, and she actually blew the candle all by herself. She was very chatty and interactive, hiding jigsaw puzzle pieces in her sleeves and distributing or collecting them as directed, giving people high fives, playing with trucks, and scarfing down a decent amount of food.

We also visited Joy and J-. We all read books together and played with the toy kitchen. A- shared her cereal with J- and sampled her quesadilla, although she wasn’t particularly curious about the pinakbet.

A- easily named and inserted shapes into the sorter. It’s been quite a while since she last played with it and she used to need regular hints, but I guess something just clicked. Duplo clicked for her, too. She got interested in building tall towers (even standing on a chair to do so) and in simulating playgrounds.

Language highlights this week: “Wow” (in reaction to the printer and other awesome things), and “Give it a try” (which she said to me when I told her the bananas were still green). She’s been singing a lot, too. Muvili Zuma Zuma, Humpty Dumpty, Happy Birthday to You, even the song I made up for the swing… We made it to music class and picked up a variant of “Love My Baby,” and we went to the ROM afterwards because she wanted to see the animals.

At the playground, she wanted to be bounced up and down very quickly on the spring toys. She’s getting pretty good at asking for what she wants!

Scribe and tinker

February 22, 2018 - Categories: passion, purpose, reflection

I’ve been figuring out more about what tickles my brain and what I want to do with my life.

On one hand, I’m a scribe. I like extracting, organizing, and connecting ideas. I like getting stuff out of my head and into a form that I can work with or share with other people. I often like helping get stuff out of other people’s heads too. This explains my fascination with blogging, sketchnoting, personal knowledge management, and processes. To get better at this, I can focus on skills like:

  • Asking questions
  • Finding resources
  • Making sense
  • Connecting and building on ideas
  • Organizing
  • Communicating
  • Archiving

On the other hand, I’m a tinker. I like tweaking things to make them better. It’s not about big inventions, but small, continuous improvements. This explains my fascination with Emacs, Quantified Self, open source, and general geeking around. To get better at this, I can focus on skills like:

  • Seeing problems and possibilities
  • Estimating, prioritizing, and evaluating
  • Setting up experiments
  • Connecting ideas
  • Learning techniques
  • Coding
  • Tweaking physical things

If I look at the intersection of being a scribe and being a tinker, that explains my interest in:

  • Building/tweaking systems to help me capture, organize, connect, and share knowledge
  • Writing about experiments and lessons learned

What would it look like to be very, very good at these things? It’s quite convenient that I’m into knowledge work, since I can learn from millennia of people passionate about that. Tinkering shows up in entrepreneurship and invention, so I have plenty of role models there, too. I could probably spend a lifetime learning as much as I can from Benjamin Franklin and similar people.

How does parenting influence this? What can I gain from being the primary caregiver of a young child?

I’ve taken advantage of my push towards externalizing memory to work out a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly journaling workflow that works for me, and a way to think about questions in the scattered moments I have for myself. It took a bit of figuring out and there are things I still want to improve about my process. Chances are that there are other similarly-inclined people who could benefit. I wonder what things could be like if we could get better at thinking, capturing, and sharing at this stage. I don’t expect that I’ll come up with some brilliant insights. Most of my notes are about everyday life or my own questions. Still, I notice that this process seems to be good for my mental health, and it’s okay for me to explore ideas slowly especially if I get better at building on ideas instead of going around in circles. I can let the tough meaning-making be handled by people like Pulitzer-prize journalists (surely there must be quite a few who have also been or will become primary caregivers) and people who have different life arrangements (like part-time daycare), and I can focus on the questions I’m particularly curious about or the things that are uncommon about our experiments.

As for tinkering, there are tons of improvement opportunities exposed by the demands of parenting. If I keep track of the pain points/opportunities and work on improving my skills, I’ll probably grow at just the right pace. It would be interesting to improve my quick-experiment rate. Reading and thinking give me lots of things to try in terms of parenting, and talking to other people might help a lot too. W- is a good mentor for quick DIY and household things. It’s a little harder to do quick programming tweaks at the moment, but that can wait until I can concentrate more. I’ve set up my phone so that I can do some things through it, so I can consider the tradeoff between coding on my phone versus using the time to write.

I think I can make this work so that the time and energy I’ll devote to A- over the next couple of years can count for other goals, too. The more clearly I understand myself, the more effectively I can use my time and attention. I’m looking forward to seeing where writing more can take me, since I can do that while A-‘s nursing. During the day, it could be good to explore improvements to our physical environment and our processes, since A- can appreciate those too. There’ll be time for other things later, as A- becomes more capable and more independent. Onward!

2018-02-26 Emacs news

February 26, 2018 - Categories: -Uncategorized, emacs, emacs-news

Week ending 2018-02-23

February 26, 2018 - Categories: review, weekly

What a week!

A- was so active. She liked dancing by herself or with us, sometimes inviting us by singing part of “Shall We Dance.” When we went swimming for her birthday, she picked up rings with her arms and feet, happily wore a flotation device, and kicked in a reasonable approximation of swimming. She walked astride her balance bike out of arms reach and all the way from the living room to the kitchen. She was interested in rockclimbing, especially after we strapped on the smallest pair of shoes at the climbing gym. (Still a bit big, but manageable.) She liked the new lights from IKEA, and got the hang of turning them on and off by herself.

A- regularly used prepositional phrases, saying things like “A- put fish cracker in mouth.” She went through a phase of saying “I don’t like it,” but is back to asking specifically for what she wants. I can say “Show me sleepy” and other adjectives from her favourite books, and she’ll do it. She picked up more social graces, too – she said “Excuse me” after passing gas. She talked about things that happened and how she felt, like when she accidentally dropped her potty and she was upset. We went to the Children’s Book Bank and picked up a nursery rhyme book and a book about Chinese ceramics by the artist who drew McDull.

It’s been a musical week as well. She was looping over “Happy birthday to you” and “Muvili zuma zuma.” She arranged chairs like in music class, had us sit in them, and did a few of the songs and rhymes. She was interested in banging on the piano, tapping the rhythm sticks, playing percussion on the table, and blowing on the recorder. “Just like music class,” she said.

A- enjoyed the Chinese New Year party at Uncle Morgan and Auntie Cathy’s. She loved going up and down the stairs with Uncle Morgan. She even have everyone goodbye hugs. During the week, we visited Popo for a relaxed afternoon. A- ate lots of grapes and learned a few Cantonese words. We went swimming with Jen and E-, and we had a late lunch with Eric afterwards. A- ate lots of fries. We also went to the Science Centre with Joy and J-.

The pediatrician is going to see about referrals to Sick Kids dentistry and endocrinology. More tests ahead, but that’s okay, we can handle this.