Category Archives: braindump

Quantified Awesome: 116 web resources for Quantified Self

I like reading about other people’s adventures in self-tracking and experimentation. It’s a great way to pick up ideas and connect with other people. There’s Quantified Self, but it has a handful of authors. One morning, I went through twenty pages of search results in order to put together this list for you and me.

(In case you’re curious, it took me a little over two hours to put this together, and Google Chrome hung twice.)

In no particular order…
[Read more →]

Thinking about speaking topics

Holly Tse invited me to speak at Lotus Blossoming, an upcoming virtual summit for Asian women. We’re negotiating what my topic might be. I’ve challenged myself to speak mostly about things that pass the following criteria:

  • must be something I want to learn more about,
  • must be something I have experience in, and
  • must be something people will find useful (not just interesting, useful)

I’m picky because I’m not selling anyone stuff. No coaching services, no e-books, no here’s-the-secret-to-happiness. This means I’m not speaking to get exposure or to do marketing. It also means that speeches have to be worth the preparation time I’d take away from other things. Is the speech something I can’t wait to work on, or is it something I’m going to end up procrastinating until the last minute? Is it something that might result in a good blog post and a presentation  I can share? Is it something that can help me grow in terms of content or technique?

I invest time up front before committing to a topic so that I can enjoy the preparation and delivery more, and so that the talk will be more useful for people who invest their time in attending. I know I can be energetic and interesting even when I’m annoyed with the situation or when I have strong doubts about the topic, but I really don’t want to make that habitual.

The great thing is that negotiation teaches me a lot about what I want to write about and explore. For example:

  • I’d like to share more stories and tips for other immigrants, particularly people moving by themselves, but I need to do some more work in this area to clarify things that are still prickly for me.
  • I want to write about happiness in the corporate world. So many blogs and books treat corporations as desolate wastelands and portray self-employment or startups as The Way.
  • I’m less interested in social media for personal networking and community building, and more interested in writing your life as a way to practise continuous improvement. I think the ability to connect with more people more deeply is icing on the cake-pop – it’s not the reason I blog, but it does help me learn a lot more.

Hmm, there’s an interesting thing there. You see, people often ask me to do social media presentations. I prefer to focus on individual behaviours instead of trends because I want people to be able to do something. I dislike all this emphasis on personal branding and social networking, because it’s so much like scare-mongering. “You MUST be on Facebook/Twitter and your own blog or else you’ll be invisible and irrelevant.” Social networking is fine, but I want to be really clear that it’s not about getting friends/followers/readers/comments.

I’d rather encourage people to take these two approaches: develop their interest in other people and use social tools to make it easier to cultivate those relationships, and start that journey of self-discovery and find something they can share with other people.

The first one is a bit harder if the people you care about aren’t active on social networks, but you can also learn a lot by looking for people who inspire you. When you find people you resonate with, you can learn a lot about them, life, and yourself. For me, blogs tend to be better than Facebook or Twitter for being inspired by other people, because people put more of their thoughts and their personality into their blog. For example, I love the way my mom tells stories and what I learn about her and our family. The way Mel Chua shares her passion for open source and life (we’re not related, but I’d have loved to be) teaches me more about how to let my enthusiasm shine through. I enjoy reading Roger Ebert’s journal and learning about culture and growing old, and I like Penelope Trunk’s vivid stories. People tell me they enjoy reading my blog, too – the way I practise continuous improvement and optimism, the joy I take in life, the things I learn along the way.

As for finding something worth sharing with other people – that’s an excellent place to start, especially for introverts like me. Writing helps you learn a lot more effectively. It gets things out of your brain and into a form you can look at or share.

Come to think of it, I take more of a self-centered approach to social media compared to most of the other presentations or blog posts I’ve come across. It’s not the quick hit of here’s-how-to-make-the-most-of-Facebook-and-Twitter. It’s more about becoming yourself and helping others. Hmm… Will flesh this out some more.

The delicate dance of status

The interns helping my mom put together a memory book asked me to rank the top 25 people who have influenced me. I refused, explaining that I felt very uncomfortable doing that.

I remember coming across this speaking tip: During Q&A, don’t say “great question” to fill in the silence while you’re thinking of the answer, because then you’ll have to say something like it for the other questions or making people feel their question isn’t as important as others’.

It reminded me of a tip I’d read in a different book, even longer ago, which went something like this: Introducing one person as “my friend” and omitting that when introducing the other can lead to friction.

One of my friends once anxiously asked me if it was okay if he considered me a best friend, but not his best, best friend. I told him it doesn’t matter to me, and that I’m glad we’re close friends.

My middle sister can be more particular about sibling ranking than I am, and often jokes about the pecking order. I’ve opted out of caring about that, I guess. =)

I have no qualms about praising people in public. In some contexts, though–comparative ones?–status gets odd.

It reminds me of how, at a conference on education that I attended in my sixth grade, I spoke up about cooperation instead of competition.

I try to minimize the distance between me and whoever I want to help. I want people to be able to easily identify with me.

I try to think of people as approachable and human, no matter what their job titles or life situations are, and to let them also interact with other people that way if they want to.

Presenting through web conferences–with full back channels and closer facial expressions–feels more intimate than giving a talk in an auditorium, separated by lights and a stage.

It reminds me of improv. There are games you can play with status and the inversion of status. I still need to practice and relax more before I can easily play those games, and even more before I can play those games for laughs, but it was interesting to learn about the games and start seeing the patterns of conversation.

Unequal status can feel okay, too: introducing someone to a potential mentor, for example. The status difference is justified by the context, not the title (and sometimes is inversely related to job titles or experience).

I’m okay with starting one-up if I know how I can help someone, but I feel uncomfortable if I don’t know or we have to dig for it. I usually introduce myself as equal-ish. In presentations, I sometimes take the slightly-up-at-least-in-this-context position (here are some things I learned that might save you time), and sometimes the slightly-down position (here’s what I know, and I’d love to bring out what you know).

Hmm….

/Thanks to Judy Gombita (@jgombita) for the nudge to reflect on this!/

2010-07-29 Thu 16:57

Thoughts on writing and starting again

Rominia asked:

I’m one of those people who start on a diary or a blog, so excited about it, but never seem to follow through. How come you’re so uhm, prolific in writing? I never figured you to be a writer in high school.

It’s a good thing writing isn’t just reserved for writers, or I’d be intimidated by it too. =) If you come back and read this blog often, you might notice that it’s mostly me thinking out loud, even if I’m not being really clear and concise. The trick is to write first, and leave polishing for later.

There are different ways to approach editing. One way is to think long and hard, and don’t publish anything until it’s perfect. Result: very few things published. Another way is to keep repeating yourself until the core message floats to the top. Result: lots of seeds for people to think about and learn from.

Think of it like sketching. You could try to draw everything perfectly the first time around, or you can draw lightly and darken the lines as the shape emerges.

I need to take notes, or I’ll forget. I need to take more notes, actually, because otherwise I waste the time and energy I’ve already invested in the experience.

For example, I had a great chat yesterday about some career opportunities. One of the things that made it even awesomer was that I did my homework, looking up things related to the job and anticipating potential topics of discussion. That was fun. =)

I could have let that moment slip past without writing down a quick summary, but writing it down means that I can review it later on to get a sense of what works well for me. I could also save it in my private files without publishing it on my blog, but who knows if sharing that will encourage people to do their homework for conversations too, or will invite people to share their tips with me?

And if you’ll bear with the meta-ness of this post: this is something I’ve written about before and I write about again in the future. The more I share, the better I figure out how I want to say and how I want to say it. (Like that phrase, which I’ve been using since at least 2008.) =)

So those are some quick thoughts on being prolific. Adjust your filters. Share more rather than less. But there’s also the challenge of starting again after you stop.

Don’t let the fear of stopping stop you from starting. If you’re afraid that your blog or journal will fall into disuse, go ahead and start it anyway. Never be embarrassed about starting again.

The sketchbook I occasionally carry around has mindmaps and diagrams from 2007. I still have a number of blank pages to go, and I have other notebooks I’d started (and finished, for some) in the meantime. It’s okay. I don’t beat myself up for stopping. I just enjoy starting again.

There’s a big gap between November 2001, when I started publishing my notes, and June 2002, when I started again. It’s okay. I don’t beat myself up for stopping. I just enjoy starting again.

I’ve had many interests. Sewing, for example – I played around with it a little in grade school, and then I dropped it completely. I got back into it again two years ago or so. I’m having fun starting again.

Every moment is an opportunity to start. Don’t focus on the failure, focus on the future.

Also: check out Refuse to Choose and The Renaissance Soul. It’s reassuring to know that people like us – who love learning new things and have perhaps been discouraged by how easily we get distracted – are actually pretty okay. =)

Braindump: Automating repetitive tasks using AutoHotkey

Note for myself (because I’m going to need this again someday!), and for others who drop by:

I needed to copy information from 45 slides and put them into an Excel spreadsheet so that I could reorganize the content and put them into a wiki. Fortunately, the author of the Powerpoint deck used a fairly consistent slide format. I used AutoHotkey to copy most of the information over by simulating mouse clicks and button presses. I started with this macro, which copies the text, switches to my spreadsheet, moves a cell to the right, and pastes it:

F12::
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinWait, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
IfWinNotActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, , WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}{ALTDOWN}{ALTUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint
return

 

I wanted to save even more keystrokes and mouseclicks, so I ended up automating the copying of each slide using the following script. It wasn’t perfect, but it saved me time and it was fun to make.

F11::
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left, 1037,  327, 1500, 327
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}{RIGHT}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left,  1037,  366, 1500, 366
Sleep, 100
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left,  457,  344, 1500, 1000
Sleep, 100
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left,  454,  454, 1500, 1000
Sleep, 100
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left,  564,  535, 1500, 1000
Sleep, 100
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}{ALTDOWN}{ALTUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
MouseClickDrag, left,  490,  637, 1500, 1000
Sleep, 100
Send, {CTRLDOWN}c{CTRLUP}
WinActivate, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft Excel - facilitation.xls, 
Send, {RIGHT}{CTRLDOWN}v{CTRLUP}{LEFT}{LEFT}{LEFT}{LEFT}{LEFT}{LEFT}{DOWN}
WinActivate, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
WinWaitActive, Microsoft PowerPoint - [ID Methods.ppt], 
Send, {PGDN}
return

Automation is worth the time investment. If you’re on Windows, check out AutoHotkey. =)

Thinking out loud: happiness

Is it true that most people don’t know what they’re good at? That’s interesting. Maybe I can help.

I may not be the world’s best expert, but I’m good enough to enjoy writing, programming, drawing, and speaking. I’m good at being happy. I’m getting the hang of drawing and gardening. I’m starting on carpentry. I’m good at picking up new ideas and making connections.

It reminds me of how in improv comedy, my classmates struggled to fill two minutes with a list of things they loved. Me, I hardly paused for breath.

I might have figured out something here that I can help other people learn.

My mom tells this story about when she came across me reading a book far beyond my age. She asked me if I understood it. I said that I didn’t understand it the first time around, but I knew that if I kept reading it again and again, I would eventually understand it.

Maybe I’m good at figuring out what I’m good at because I give myself permission to be bad at things.

Maybe my life is filled with experiences, people, and things I love because I not only work on shaping my life, but adapting to it. (It took a while to get the hang of seasons, for example.)

I wonder what I’m doing right and how I can share it with others.