Category Archives: event

Let’s have a virtual Emacs conference in August – help me make it happen!

Why August? It’s an arbitrary target, although it tickles my brain to think about celebrating my 32nd birthday with awesome people sharing awesome ideas. (Incidentally, I’ll also reach the point of having been using Emacs for about half my life – doubly neat!)

Anyway. I think it would be great to have some kind of knowledge-swapping thing. Since I’m not particularly keen on travelling, not everyone can make it out to Canada, and it’s hard to make awesome in-person conference recordings anyway, maybe a virtual conference would be a great bet. I’m willing to spend what I would have paid for airfare on things like organization, speaker honoraria, and other good things.

I enjoyed the Emacs Conference in 2013, and I think we should figure out how to have these kinds of get-togethers more often. Emacs Chats and Emacs Hangouts are tiny steps in that direction, and I’d appreciate help in making this and many other community-ish things even better. =)

2015-02-02 Imagining an Emacs conference -- index card #emacs #conference #plans #organizing-people

2015-02-02 Imagining an Emacs conference – index card #emacs #conference #plans #organizing-people

So here’s what I imagine a virtual Emacs conference might be like. People volunteer, and somehow we organize a schedule of fascinating talks. This could be a full day, or maybe we’d spread it out over a couple of half-days (maybe even scheduled for different timezones so that everyone has something they can interact with life). We use Google Hangout on Air or a similar platform that can stream and automatically record. There’s the speaker with slides and screensharing, and there’s a moderator who can pick up questions from IRC and Google Hangout in order to ask them out loud. We might even be able to pull off panel discussions. Afterwards, there’s a playlist and a webpage with all the videos/MP3s/OGGs, and people can share their notes/discussions/follow-ups.

All this is immensely doable with the technology we have today. For free, even. Anyway, the technology should be okay.

What about topics? Here’s what I’m particularly curious about:

  • New features in Emacs 25 (and beyond)
  • Demos, workflows, and setup tips for popular toolsets/needs (ex: awesome setups for Clojure/CL, Rails, Javascript, C++, Java, writing, research)
  • Fascinating uses of Emacs
  • Good practices for Emacs Lisp: automated testing, performance, reliability, coding style/idioms (maybe even workshops along these lines)
  • Demystifying cool stuff: how core modules work, how to contribute to Emacs
  • A hackathon: get package.el headers on everything! fix bugs! make improvements! document!
  • Emacs microhabits, learning
  • Workshops: intermediate/advanced use of Org Mode, Calc, ESS, and other powerful packages
  • Emacs community-building and sharing

And people can suggest other topics, too. =) Maybe we can even figure out some kind of unconference setup: people suggesting topics they can share, quickly voting on what they’re interested in, and breaking up into separate “rooms” to share/discuss.

2015-02-02 Making a virtual Emacs conference happen -- index card #emacs #organizing-people #conference #planning #questions

2015-02-02 Making a virtual Emacs conference happen – index card #emacs #organizing-people #conference #planning #questions

An Emacs conference would be awesome. Here are my (pitiful) excuses for why I haven’t figured out how to organize one yet, and things I want to figure out (especially with people’s help):

  • Who might be interested in speaking? How does one go about organizing speakers, schedules, topics, tech, etc? I’m still slowly getting the hang of reaching out to people and inviting them to Emacs Chats.
  • Will people show up and ask questions? Part of me is worried that I’ll pick entirely the wrong date/time/topics and there’ll be awkward silence.
  • How can we handle questions? IRC, probably, so that people can chat about stuff too. I think I’m pretty comfortable at keeping an eye on stuff and repeating people’s questions. Or maybe people can join the Emacs Hangout if we can get the flow to be smooth?
  • Will the experience be pleasant and worthwhile? Maybe not as goosebump-inducingly awesome as being in a room with 80+ other Emacs geeks, but I think it will be worthwhile.
  • How can we harvest and share resources? Hangouts on Air will put videos on Youtube automatically, so that’ll be taken care of.
  • What would we need to do leading up to it? Something about a mailing list, and a webpage, and lots and lots of coordination.
  • Do I need to gain experience/confidence with smaller steps? Or maybe find some accomplices?

Of course, if someone wants to organize an in-person one, that’s cool too. Especially in Toronto. That would be awesome. =) (Although I might be able to get to New York or similar places too…)

My evil plans for a conference like this include:

  • Getting cool stuff out of people’s heads/fingers/configs and into a form that other people can look at, learn from, and link to
  • Ditto for good practices that can help us develop better code (performance)
  • Discovering resources and tips we might not have found out about otherwise
  • Sparking more conversations and follow-ups
  • Spurring people to create and share more resources

What could help the Emacs community learn even faster?

2015-02-01 Accelerating the Emacs community -- index card #accelerating #emacs

2015-02-01 Accelerating the Emacs community – index card #accelerating #emacs

How can we get more people sharing their configs, or learning from other people’s configs? How can we make it easier for people to share through blog posts, videos, animated GIFs, and presentations? How can we create spaces for people to connect, either with virtual meetups or in person? How can we swap interesting ideas, workflows, and mental habits? How can we improve our skills? How can we keep the conversation going?

Mm. Figuring out how to do virtual conferences might be a good start. Also, I’ve got this idea noodling around in my head on having some kind of an intermediate/advanced Org Mode workshop: something that covers clocking workflows, table calculations, literate programming, data analysis, publishing. Figuring out how to do virtual workshops would be awesome too.

Okay. First things first. Some kind of date and some kind of time, and some kind of help sorting out a schedule. August 8 and/or August 15, maybe? If librarians can hold an online conference through Google Hangouts, we should be able to figure this out too. (Librarians are super-cool!) If you have lots of experience in organizing virtual conferences or you have ideas for how to make this less intimidating for a non-organizer-y introvert, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or at [email protected]. Let’s make this happen!

Notes from Visual Thinkers Toronto: Sketchnoting with others

In March’s meetup for Visual Thinkers Toronto, we listened to TED talks, practised sketchnoting/graphic recording, and compared our notes. Here’s how I drew the talks:

2014-03-25 TED - Bran Ferren - To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering #visualtoronto

From Bran Ferren – To create for the ages, let’s combine art and engineering

2014-03-25 TED - Jamie Oliver - Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

2014-03-25 TED – Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food #visualtoronto

From Jamie Oliver – Teach every child about food

I liked how one of the participants added extra pizzazz to the visual metaphors from the talks, exaggerating the words to make them even more memorable. For example, with Jamie Oliver’s talk, he turned the part about labels into a quick sketch of a Can of Death. Other people drew with more colours

It was interesting to see different levels of abstraction for the same topic. Someone made a poster that focused on the key message of the talk. Most people captured 5-10 points or so. I drew with the most detail in our group, I think. I like it; that lets me retrieve more of the talk from memory. I liked how other people switched between different colours of markers. Someday I’ll get the hang of doing that. In the meantime, highlighting seems to be fine.

Try sketchnoting those talks or other presentations you find online. I’d love to compare notes!

Redesigning the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell

Along with Patricia Kambitsch and Alex M. Chong, I co-organize the Visual Thinkers Toronto Show & Tell. It’s a small gathering of graphic recorders, sketchnoters, mindmappers, doodlers, illustrators, artists, students, and so on, and we meet on the last Tuesday evening of every month at OCAD University (100 McCaul Street). We’ve had six meetups so far, and we’ve been thinking about how to make the meetups even better.

The goals for the meetup redesign are:

  • Encourage people to share their work so that others can learn from them and give feedback (if desired)
  • Line up different speakers who can share techniques and approaches
  • Help people improve their visual thinking skills through challenges
  • Here’s the agenda from a past meetup:

    7:00pm Welcome and brief introductions. There’s usually a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board. For example, one time, participants were asked to map where they were on a “visual thinking” map. Another time, people drew things related to weather.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Presentation and Q&A
    7:30 Open space show&tell: people volunteer topics they would like to discuss, and then the group splits up into smaller groups. People have paper and markers so that they can take notes. People are free to shift from group to group. For example, someone once brought three editions of a cookbook spanning different decades in design. Other people have brought delightfully-illustrated shopping bags, inspiring books, and so on.
    8:10 Open space round 2
    8:45 Report back from open space, final remarks
    9:00 Pub night (often at Sin and Redemption)

    The current approach is good. The open space is great for a multiplicity of topics. Still, there are a few challenges we’d like to address. It can be difficult to find a speaker – sometimes there’s a last-minute scramble. It would be great to get participants to be more actively involved both during and after the meetup, too.

    This is what we’d like to try as the new agenda structure:

    7:00pm Welcome, brief introductions, plus “Share Your Work”. Before the meetup, people can upload things they’d like to share to the Flickr pool or e-mail it to me at [email protected]. I’ll compile the images into a presentation that will loop as people come in and settle down. As before, there’ll be a visual question posted on a nearby wall or bulletin board too.
      Overview of the Visual Thinkers Toronto meetup
    7:10 Technique presentation and Q&A: In addition to accepting volunteers, we might also brainstorm some topics of general interest and then ask people to present on them (or present them ourselves).

    imageGroup doodle: There’ll be a wide roll of paper and markers or pastels so that people can doodle during the presentation. This has actually been part of all the meetups, but it might be good to explicitly encourage people to get down there and draw things. (And it helps people remember!)

    7:40 imageIn focus: Brave souls share something they’ve worked on, optionally for feedback and suggestions.
    8:00 Open space
    8:30 Recap of the open space
    8:40 Harvest: We review the group doodle and the open space, and people talk about what they’re planning to take away from the meetup.
    8:55 imageVisual Thinking Exercise: We set a group exercise that people can do at home. For example, for emotions, it could be “Draw different emotions and share them with the group in the ‘Share Your Work’ section. For example, you can start with joy, sadness, trust, disgust, fear, anger, surprise, anticipation. Play with more!”
    9:00 Pub night

    Meetup communication plan example:

    July 16 (-2 weeks): Meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, and submission instructions for “Share Your Work”

    • July 23 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker, soft deadline for Share Your Work (unless I can find something that makes this easier to do)
    • July 31 (+1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions
    • August 6 (+1 week): Follow-up e-mail with notes and the challenge
    • August 13 (+2 weeks, –2 weeks): Follow up e-mail with challenge results so far, meetup announcement, call for speakers and in-focus, submission reminder
    • August 20 (-1 week): Meetup reminder, announcement of speaker
    • August 28 (+ 1 day): Notes, challenge reminder, and instructions

    Here are some theme ideas:

    • Emotions (this is the next one we’re doing)
    • Visual biographies
    • Quick lettering
    • Visual ways to plan your life
    • What makes drawings funny?
    • Working with colour
    • Choosing the right visualization for your data
    • Drawing abstract concepts
    • Beyond the built-in charts
    • Tool talk
    • Fun with words

    It would be interesting to do a survey so that we can learn more about people’s interests, prioritize topics, and see what other ideas we can draw out from people. =) Maybe after a couple of months with the new meetup structure, or if I have the mental bandwidth to do a survey?

    I’ll keep you posted on how this meetup redesign works out!

    (Curious about Visual Thinkers Toronto and want to join us at one of these meetups? Sign up at!)

    Less Wrong meetup notes: Goal factoring, fight-or-flight, and comfort zones

    This week, I attended my first Less Wrong meetup in Toronto – a meandering conversation about applied rationality over coffee in a Tim Hortons café tucked into Dundas Square just east of Yonge. Here are my rough notes:


    Goal factoring is a process of mapping your goals and the underlying needs that they address so that you can identify complementary or conflicting goals and alternative approaches that will also address your needs. Start by listing your goals, then organize them in relation to each other, and examine them to see which needs they meet. You can learn more about your implicit needs by looking at your evaluations of alternatives.

    Fight, flight, or freeze: We talked about the fight-flight-or-freeze reaction, or the body’s response to stress. We also talked about the sympathetic nervous system (which stresses out when f/f/f kicks in), and the parasympathetic nervous system, which deals with non-urgent things. One of the effects of stress is that the blood flow to some parts of your brain is restricted in favour of the blood flow to other parts of your brain, which is why it’s easy to make stupid decisions when you’re stressed out.

    Comfort zone expansion: We also discussed the process of growing your comfort zone gradually by imagining scenarios, using de-stressing techniques, and working with a safe space.

    In order to practise applying rationality techniques to real life, we agreed to spend the next week studying our fight/flight/freeze reactions and to share our observations with the group next week. I’ll reflect on this a little more later – I want to post these brief notes first before I forget! =)

    Sketchnotes from WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012 Day 2 #wcto

    From Wireframe to WordPress Theme in 10 Minutes – Sam Xu

    20121104 WordCamp Toronto Developers - From Wireframe to WordPress Theme in 10 Minutes - Sam Xu

    WordPress for a Large Site – Brandon Hill

    20121104 WordCamp Toronto Developers - WordPress for a Large Site - Brandon Hill

    Mobile Apps in WordPress Version 2.0 – Trevor Mills

    20121104 WordCamp Toronto Developers - Mobile Apps in WordPress Version 2.0 - Trevor Mills

    If you like this, check out the sketchnotes from Day 1 of WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012, or see my other sketchnotes! Search Twitter for #wcto to see what people have been saying about WordCamp Toronto, or check out the conference site for more updates and slide decks.

    Sketchnotes: WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012 Day 1 (#wcto)

    UPDATE 2012-12-10: Now with links to slides!

    Quick notes from WordCamp Developers Toronto 2012 Day 1. Enjoy! Click on the images to view a larger version. Please feel free to share them! © 2012 Sacha Chua, Creative Commons Attribution Licence

    Creating Your First Plugin the Easy Way, Christopher Ross

    20121103 wordcamp toronto1


    Intro to the Template Hierarchy, Al Davis

    20121103 wordcamp toronto2


    User Centricity in WordPress Design, Taylor Dewey

    20121103 wordcamp toronto3


    Panel: Building a WordPress Development Business – Shannon Smith, Tom Auger, Brent Kobayashi, Dale Mugford, Trevor Mills, Marko Heijnen

    20121103 wordcamp toronto4

    Unconference: Women in WordPress – Hosted by Shannon Smith

    20121103 wordcamp toronto unconference women in wordpress

    WP Theme Frameworks: Speed Up Your Development Process, Chad Mohr

    20121103 wordcamp toronto5

    If you like these, check out:

    Sketchnotes: WordCamp Toronto 2012 (End users) – Day 1