Category Archives: kaizen

Debugging my brain: typos (write-os?) in my sketchnotes

Embarrassing mistakes are excellent ways to find and deal with bugs in your life. A couple of months ago, I wrote about phone problems, and I’m happy to report that the extended battery is working out well for me. On to the next bug!

I occasionally make small errors while sketchnoting. I get some URLs wrong, swap pictures around, or drop or switch letters. In about 200 sketchnotes, I’ve had embarrassing errors turn up in three of them – one I caught myself, and two that clients caught. Those numbers tell me that it’s not actually as bad a problem as I thought it was. Plenty of other people’s sketchnotes have spelling or grammar mistakes. Still, it would still be nice to figure out how I can reduce the risk further.

Here are some likely causes of error and what I can do about them:

  • Brain hiccup: A momentary distraction causes me to misspell a word. I usually catch these through visual inspection or by mentally sounding out the words as I draw them, and they’re easy to catch a few seconds after I make them because I’m focused on that area of the screen. However, I rarely do a full review of the sketchnote before I publish it or send it, so I may miss errors that I didn’t detect right away. Possible fix: Slow down and do a full review, possibly guided by a finger so that I make sure I cover the entire sketch instead of missing something because my gaze skips around. I can also review my past sketches to see if I can calibrate myself to a higher level of abstraction (less detail), which will give me more time to focus.
  • Forgotten layers: The lack of full review also means I sometimes forget to hide layers I’m no longer using. Same fix as the previous item – slow down and look at everything to see if it makes sense, and view the sketch as a whole as well.
  • Spots left over after erasing: These are hard to see when zoomed out, so there might not be a workaround other than reviewing everything zoomed in.
  • Working memory failure when rewriting stuff: When I redraw parts of my sketch, I need to make sure that I re-copy information correctly. Possible fix: I can avoid context-switching and reduce working memory load by using my phone or tablet as a second screen. That way, I can refer to e-mail or the previous image while drawing. I can also work with layers, drawing the new thing on top and then erasing it from the previous layer when done.
  • Order when copying or writing: This can be tricky in panels and multi-speaker talks. I need to slow down and make sure that I have the speakers in the right order so that I can attribute ideas correctly. Some panels don’t have people sit in the same order as the program, so keeping the panel information on a single layer would make it easier to rearrange. I should also double-check speaker information and make sure I get the complete set before drawing, to reduce the number of edits.

I like having another person doublecheck my sketchnotes before they go out, although it does add a bit more time. Alternatively, I could figure out how to improve my editing workflow so that making changes to published sketchnotes is easy. So far, the ones I’ve needed to tweak were in Dropbox and therefore easy to update, but I might need to update blog posts too someday.

Continuous improvement!

The Sketchnote Challenge: Those Algorithms That Govern Our Lives (Kevin Slavin)

Eva-Lotta Lamm and a great panel of sketchnote artists are running a challenge to sketch a particular talk. I managed to squeeze in a sketchnote just before today’s deadline.

20130317 Those Algorithms That Govern Our Lives - Kevin Slavin

What do I like about this sketchnote?

I captured enough to help me remember, and I had time for little doodles too. The light blue images and dark blue text look calmer than the red-black combination I used in some of my other sketchnotes. The brush size worked out fine in terms of the proportion.

I didn’t switch pen sizes or vary the size much because I wasn’t sure what was going to be important. Instead, I used simple borders to emphasize key points.

I’ve been experimenting with using a light shade to add more depth to my images. It usually takes me five minutes to go through an image. I didn’t do it here because the size and detail of the images felt right already.

Drawing with plenty of whitespace around each element allowed me to easily reposition things when I needed to rebalance the columns and reorganize the information. I’m sometimes tempted to go for more creative, overlapping layouts, but I do like the flexibility of being able to change my mind. I usually publish things shortly after drawing, so I didn’t spend a lot of time tweaking this image.

What would I like to improve?

I’ve been experimenting with different colour schemes. The first colour I drew the images in was too light, so I used GIMP to change the curve to something darker. Depending on what I want people to focus on, I’ve been trying out light text / dark images vs dark text / light images. It would be great to find a quick way of experimenting with the same image. Experimenting would be easier if I drew text and images on separate layers, but the presentation was information-dense, so I didn’t feel comfortable switching back and forth. I’ve tweaked my standard colour palette to include a darker blue like the one I used for the images here. That way, I can keep the light blue for shading, and I don’t have to adjust the colours after drawing. Next: Tweak my colour palette, and find a way to experiment more easily.

The presentation was only 30 minutes long. It turns out that the usual size I draw things at results in a one-page-per-hour sort of density, so I used only half the page. (Hooray for consistency!) It might be good to develop a dot grid that’s calibrated for half-hour talks so that I’m encouraged to draw at a larger size while preserving my usual landscape aspect ratio. Still, these columns worked out fine. Next: Try a different-sized dot grid for short talks, or get used to drawing larger.

It was pretty fast-paced, too. I don’t feel like I’ve fully captured the overall logic of the presentation. It would be nice to make this understandable for someone who hasn’t seen the presentation yet, which I think I can do with a little post-work (adding headings, explaining things in sentences instead of keywords). It feels a little disjointed at the moment, and I think I missed potentially interesting points like the one about the monoculture. The individual components are enough to remind me of what I want to remember about the talk, though. Next: Add more time for post-processing so that I can draw anything I missed the first time around.

Check out the other submissions! First set, second set: Kevin Mears (second set) has a good printout image. I like Andy Fisher’s (second set) puppeteer image, the cute robot, and the whitespace balance of the page.

Taking advantage of a bad cold

Optimist Kitteh is Optimistic!

I’m feeling under the weather. Instead of fighting it, I can embrace this feeling of fuzziness and figure out how I can make the most of it. I spent most of Thursday in bed, except for a chicken soup lunch and a congee dinner (the latter thanks to W-, who is totally wonderful). Friday was just as relaxed: chicken soup for breakfast, congee for lunch; playing video games, writing letters, and drawing.

I spent some time thinking about what gets affected when I have a bad cold, and how I can work around those. Here’s what happens:


  • I sniffle and sneeze. No avoiding that – it’s part of a definition of a cold. Having a box of tissue around helps me feel a lot more dignified. Hankies are a decent second. W- has some really soft ones.
  • I go between hot and cold. I feel hot after drinking soup. I feel cold after that effect subsides. It’s all about layers: warm bathrobe, fuzzy socks, flannel pajamas.
  • I feel tired and a little sore. Good reason to stay in bed or on the couch. No heavy lifting or vigorous exercise, although walking is probably all right. It’s also tiring to draw, but typing is somewhat okay. My skin sometimes feels a little sensitive, too. So: typing, playing video games, and some motion.
  • I can’t smell food. This is probably a good time to load up on vegetables and other things that are good for me. Also, chicken soup or congee every meal, yay!
  • I need to drink plenty of fluids. I can keep the kettle close by, and drink out of one of my favourite mugs. I like hot water. It’s simple and soothing. Oh, and if I’m sick, I get to have a glass or two of fizzy vitamin C. Redoxon’s effervescence seems to do something about calming down my nose and throat quickly, although Redoxon unfortunately has aspartame in it. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, though, as research concluded that taking vitamin C doesn’t really do much once you have a cold. (And doesn’t really do much for preventing colds, either, unless you have a stressful lifestyle.)


  • I overlook things. This is not the time for system administration. I’m allowed to do backups, but nothing major or irreversible. Good time to slow down and consciously pay more attention.
  • I find it difficult to concentrate or remember. Not a good time to read reference books or non-fiction books that I want to absorb, but good for reading fiction and playing games. Programming is tough, but simple drawing is okay.
  • I don’t feel creative. Drawing new things is hard, but practising drawing simple figures is okay. It’s a little tiring to do that, though, so I can only do so much. Clipping other people’s images for study is easier to do and that’s a good fit for my sniffles-brain, actually, although it makes me feel even more uncertain and pessimistic (see below).


  • I don’t feel awesome or productive. Time to go through all those “gray day” tasks, such as balancing my books and entering data. Also a good time for positive emotions from other sources such as comic books, I Can Has Cheezburger – Lolcats, and spending time with W-.
  • I don’t want to interact with people. I don’t want to answer e-mail or step outside the house, aside from what I need to do in order to meet commitments. (People are pretty understanding, though. Makes sense. Colds are contagious.) Anyway, if I take a while to get back to you by e-mail, this could be why.
  • I feel more uncertain and pessimistic. It seems to focus on two areas: life plans and drawing, with drawing getting the brunt of the blah-ness because I don’t feel as comfortable with it as I do with writing or coding. Deliberate practice helps me deal with that feeling.
  • This is an excellent time to make and double-check plans because of that extra rationality. Can I poke holes in my plans and patch those holes? What does my disbelieving self need to prove true in order to feel confident in something?
  • It’s also a good time to review good memories such as letters and stories, feel that tide of gratitude, and reach out to people. It gets around the “I don’t want to interact with people” bit by being something people aren’t expecting.

I’m going to have many more colds in my life. This is a state like any other state. Each moment is a potential gift. If I can figure out how to make the most of it, that’s another small fraction of my life that I can turn to good use. =)

Things I learned from the GenArtHackParty

I spent Friday evening and all of Saturday at the Generative Art Hack Party that Xavier Snelgrove organized. It was a good excuse to learn paper.js and d3js.

Here’s what I made:

  • Bouncing spline: Reminds me of that old screensaver, with a little bit of randomness thrown in.
  • Flowers: Playing around with opacity
  • Faces: Simple shapes for awesomeness
  • Kapow: I read too many comic books.
  • Pasketti: Because drawing curves like this made me think about spaghetti, but not quite.

I thought Partycles was cool. infinitedaisyworld was nicely done, too. =) Check out the rest of the submissions.

In addition to learning more about HTML5 canvas drawing with Javascript, I learned that:

If I start thinking of things as “art”, I can get stuck waiting for an interesting idea, especially if I’m in that mid-afternoon slump. If I don’t worry about coming up with a vision first and instead read the documentation or play around with functions, I can let curiosity take me to interesting places.

A room full of 20-30 geeks coding away isn’t distracting, although I still haven’t figured out how to interrupt people and ask about stuff.

Add another ~20 people and switch into party mode, and I begin to shut down socially. I don’t particularly feel like engaging in conversation, and I don’t feel like I’m completely there in conversations. It might be a decibel thing, it might be a listening thing. I wish I’d thought of sneaking downstairs for quieter conversations instead.

Xavier Snelgrove, Jen Dodd, and TinEye know how to have a great event with awesome healthy food.

After lots of social interaction, I tend to get wiped out. I slept for twelve hours the following day.

An evening and a full Saturday feels like it was enough to disrupt our home routines, which is not good news in terms of my participation in hackathons. I think I need to be more social in order to make the most of hackathons, anyway.

So, how do I want to follow up on this?

I’d like to add that d3js calendar visualization to I think it would be interesting to see heatmaps of activities.

HackLab will probably be a good way to practise being around other people when I’m coding, and the open houses on Tuesday would be good desensitization for mingling.

I’d love to learn more about Quantified Self and visualization.

Sometimes, if I start thinking of things as “possibilities,” I get stuck waiting for an interesting idea. What if I set aside one morning each week to do this kind of planning / brainstorming / looking ahead, knowing that the rest of the week can be focused on actually trying things out and making things happen, even if they’re not Super Brilliant things? If I brainstorm a list of things I can explore, then I can keep moving forward even if the creative part of my brain wants to procrastinate. I trust that if I keep exploring, curiosity will lead me to interesting places.

Good experience. Would do it again, especially if I can figure out how to hack the social parts.

Reflections on sketchnoting TEDxOCADU

I sketchnoted TEDxOCADU live, and my new workflow is working out well. I’ve been moving more of my sketchnotes over to – do folks still want to see them here? Might be handy. Anyway, I like reflecting on what worked well and what I can do even better, so this blog is still the best place for that.

For TEDxOCADU, here were my experiments:

Set up all the layers and saved them as placeholder PNGs beforehand so that I didn’t have to type in filenames or look up speaker names.

  • Sketched during the dress rehearsal, and reused many of my images during the actual conference: great for knowing where people are going, although I still stuck with fairly regular layout.
  • Used Dropbox to get the Twitter links, copied the URLs, and set up my list of hashtagged and linked tweets using ClipMate: great for tweeting things on the fly with just my laptop
  • Set up a gallery page for updating throughout the day
  • Set up a link to track clicks for my gallery page
  • Double-checked WiFi access: so much better than tethering through my phone
  • Followed up with social media / web person in case they needed help getting the images up on the official site
  • Eventually remembered to set up Google Analytics on – added this to the checklist of things to do when spinning up a website…

Here are some things I can tweak next:

  • Add more images to my ClipMate library
  • Have a smoother delegation workflow so that I can get my sketchnotes typed in
  • Figure out how to integrate text into the gallery view; maybe project-sketchnote relationship?
  • More graphics! More! More!
  • Don’t forget to have Archivist or some other Twitter archiver running in the background
  • Consider Tweetreach or some other Twitter analytics report?
  • Set up tracking links for each image, too, or always send people to the gallery page

An embarrassing failure is the result of a series of unfortunate decisions, and that’s a good thing

Failures can be caused by all sorts of factors, but an embarrassing failure exposes the unfortunate decisions along the way. This is a wonderful thing. While it’s easy to shrug off other kinds of failures as bad luck or bad timing, embarrassment is a clue that there are many things you can improve. It is that ever so human emotion when you know you haven’t been your best – and it points to what better looks like.

For example, last Thursday, I’d scheduled a 3pm call to talk about sketchnotes. I had noticed some power problems with my phone and had drained my battery several days in a row. I usually managed to squeak by with my backup battery, but I had misplaced it on Wednesday night, so I didn’t get to charge it. I tucked a USB cable into my backpack so that I could charge my phone off my computer – or at least I thought I did, as I couldn’t find that when I searched my bag right after settling in. I switched to low-power mode and that seemed to slow things down, so I figured that 70% charge would probably be enough to get me to the afternoon. After a meeting, I checked on my phone… and found it practically dead. I bought an overpriced USB cable from a nearby electronics store and plugged it into the computer. The cellphone was discharging faster than it could charge, though, even though I wasn’t using it. And then it was time for the call.

After a few attempts, I had to admit defeat and reschedule. Fortunately, the person I was going to talk to was very understanding, and we managed to sort things out over Twitter. Even with that resolution and my subsequent return to regular work, I was stressed. I could still feel that rush of adrenalin after trying to scramble some kind of a solution. Although I knew I could still do well, I also knew that stress messed with my brain and made me more likely to overlook other important things.

I also knew that this lingering stress was unnecessary. We’d rescheduled. The worst-case scenario would probably have been being perceived as a flaky unprofessional person, but that was temporary, bounded, and not part of who I was. I could do something to make it better. (Locus of control – useful thing to know about!)

So I made a list of many things I could have done to make it better, and that helped me clear my mind a little. I got back to work, focusing on some analytics that I knew would give me the pleasure of a few small wins. I was tired enough to leave my scarf behind and then to not be sure about whether I locked my cabinet (needing two extra trips up the elevator to retrieve one and confirm the other) – but at least I remembered before going on the subway. Glass half full.

I still went to fitness class, where W- met me with a bag of clothes and my shoes. It was a struggle to get through that class as well – oh no, more moments of suckiness! – but I got through it anyway. It’s important to learn how to do things even though you don’t feel like it.

Anyway, back to the good things about embarrassing failures: there are lots of things that I can fix, and I can prioritize them based on effort and benefit. Phone-wise, I found out how to use Titanium Backup to uninstall a large number of applications at once. My battery life has improved. I’ve ordered an extended battery, which should allow my backup battery to be a backup again. Routine-wise, I’ve created checklists in Evernote. Checklists are wonderful. Life-wise, I think it’s time to make myself a little more space – sometimes these are symptoms of trying to pack in a little too much.

20130118 phone

This is good. I’m learning to not beat myself up, and to celebrate the ways I can improve things and move forward.

Another step forward, perhaps, would be to be able to do this before embarrassing failure highlights the need – like the way defensive drivers (and cyclists, and walkers…) constantly scan for opportunities to go wrong and plan what to do. To balance that building of a strong safety net (several safety nets, in fact) with the ability to let go and fly – that will be a wonderful thing to learn.