On this page:
  • Emacs Chat: Mickey Petersen
  • Learning with the end in mind - (2)
  • What to do during open days
  • Weekly review: Week ending August 29, 2014
  • The ingredients of your life
  • Routines

Emacs Chat: Mickey Petersen

Mickey Petersen chats about Mastering Emacs, learning advanced topics, navigating by expressions, and making the most of dired and shell. You can find him at masteringemacs.org or twitter.com/mickeynp

Transcript here!

Learning with the end in mind

I like thinking about what I want to learn and how well I want to learn it. This helps me accept my limits and prioritize my time. I’m not going to master everything. I want to learn just as much as I need. Maybe a little more, so I can do other interesting things. There’s this idea of a minimum effective dose (recently-ish popularized by Tim Ferriss). It makes sense to me because I like paying attention to diminishing returns, when more effort on something doesn’t pay off as well (and could probably be diverted to more effort on a different thing which would).

So, what are some of the things I’d like to learn more about? To what end do I want to learn them–what are my higher goals? Thinking about secondary goals helps me see if I’m wandering off-track or if there are more effective ways to reach those higher goals. To what extent do I want to learn? What’s too little, what’s too much, and what would be just right?

2014-08-29 Ends and extents - #my-learning

2014-08-29 Ends and extents – #my-learning

Design is one of the things on my to-learn list. I want to learn more about design because that will help me with development. Programming helps people save time, but you save the most time and create the most value when people keep using your tool because it’s useful and understandable. You can’t just pick up good design off a book or in a course, unfortunately. Well, you can get the basics of design, but I’m not sure if there’s any way around sheer exposure and experience. I don’t just want to know the theories and the rules – that would be too little. I don’t need to win any awards, though. I would like to be able to build decent-looking prototypes that are pleasant to use, and to be able to quickly shape the prototypes based on user feedback. That should help me get around the challenges of building for people who are not me, since I’m happy with admittedly arcane interfaces.

Development is another useful set of skills to focus on because it helps me make stuff. I can add more tools to my toolkit, and I can go deeper. I don’t want to learn tutorial-level skills for a dozen languages just to be able to say that I know them – that would be too little. But I don’t need to do deep wizardly things, either. If I can build little tools and prototypes, gradually applying more of the accepted practices like testing, I should be okay.

I lump writing and drawing together. For me, they’re about thinking through, capturing, and sharing ideas. I want to be able to think clearly and take good notes so that I can live better and make better decisions. Just knowing the mechanics of grammar or layout is too little. But I don’t need to write award-winning prose or draw realistic art, either. I want to be able to write notes that I can make sense of years later and that other people might find useful, and I want to be able to quickly draw recognizable things that unlock memories for me and make ideas approachable for other people.

What are the things you’re focusing on learning? To what ends, and to what extents?

What to do during open days

September 1 is Labour Day in Canada, so it’s a holiday. Aside from that, I usually try to keep my consulting to a reasonable number of hours, so sometimes I’ll end up with a weekday I’ve promised to devote to things that are not work. I find that I tend to get caught up in work sometimes, especially when I’m programming. Then it’s hard to think of what I’m missing out on. Other times, I settle into comfortable routines. A list of activities helps me notice things I haven’t tried in a while.

So here’s an incomplete list of things to do on these “open” days…

2014-08-28 What to do during open days - #leisure #experiment

2014-08-28 What to do during open days – #leisure #experiment

  1. Cook something more elaborate than usual
  2. Write a lot
  3. Reflect and plan through drawings, blog posts
  4. Combine sketches in blog posts
  5. Graze books, skim for ideas
  6. Read a book deeply
  7. Catch up on e-mail and other correspondence
  8. Sleep in or nap
  9. Play with/work on Emacs things
  10. Clean, declutter, donate, tidy up
  11. Practise drawing
  12. Do paperwork
  13. Help J- shop or sort out stuff
  14. Take care of chores and errands
  15. Learn or improve a skill
  16. Package e-books and resources
  17. Make outlines and lists
  18. Shop for things we need or want
  19. Work on little projects around the house
  20. Enjoy the sunshine in a park
  21. Have a massage
  22. Study languages
  23. Analyze time
  24. Watch a movie in a theatre
  25. Help Hacklab move/market
  26. Hang out at Hacklab
  27. Spend time with friends
  28. Treat ourselves to a restaurant meal and try something new
  29. Check out events
  30. Volunteer
  31. Read fiction
  32. Spend time with cats
  33. Get a head start on work
  34. Watch a movie at home
  35. Go for a long bike ride

Weekly review: Week ending August 29, 2014

Great week for wrapping things up and planning next steps. =) Next week: citizenship ceremony and more coding, yay!

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (54.6h – 32%)
    • Earn (41.3h – 75% of Business)
      • E1: Demo
      • E1: Work on second video draft
      • E1: Work on polls
      • Earn: E1: 2.5-3.5 days of consulting
    • Build (12.0h – 21% of Business)
      • Drawing (11.1h)
        • Practise drawing faces
      • Delegation (0.0h)
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (0.9h)
        • Check on Brock Health claim
    • Connect (1.3h – 2% of Business)
  • Relationships (8.3h – 4%)
    • Go to Emma’s party
    • Go to Hacklab’s party
    • Investigate dishwasher options
    • Pick up dishwasher and drop it off at Hacklab
    • Update Brock Health claim
    • Contact more places that offer slipcovers
    • Cook at Hacklab?
    • Follow up with Eric re cleaning, kitchen
    • Talk to my mom regarding dividends
  • Discretionary – Productive (2.4h – 1%)
    • Emacs (0.0h – 0% of all)
      • Review Emacs Chat transcript
    • Apply for Ontario photo ID
    • Reread Latin textbook chapter now that I’ve picked up more vocabulary
    • Call R to adjust billing
    • Prepare papers for citizenship ceremony
    • Attend citizenship ceremony
    • Apply for passport
    • Tidy up dying plants
    • Go to R for test
    • Writing (1.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (4.6h – 2%)
  • Personal routines (24.1h – 14%)
  • Unpaid work (14.4h – 8%)
  • Sleep (59.6h – 35% – average of 8.5 per day)

The ingredients of your life

You can make many different recipes from the same basic ingredients by choosing different subsets of the ingredients in your pantry, combining them in different proportions, and using different techniques.

Isn’t life a little like that, too? It’s easy to think to yourself, “Ah, this is the recipe that I am used to.” But it might be good to take a step back, take a look at the ingredients in your pantry, and see what else you can make with them.

2014-06-23 Potential

2014-06-23 Potential

I’ve become quite comfortable using some combinations of ingredients to make things that people like. I’m in my “web development – social business – automation” phase in consulting, which is quite a bit different from the “visual thinking – drawing – social media” combination I experimented with. That’s also different from the “workshop facilitation – community management – backend development” combination I used at IBM, or the “teaching – writing – experimenting” combination I used while teaching. But there are so many more ingredients to try and recipes to explore.

Some people like focusing on a small set of ingredients, learning how to discern quality, developing their favourite versions of recipes and their preferred brands and types for ingredients. (There’s some heated discussion around the best flour to use for pizza, for example; the answer depends on the kind of pizza you like, which is itself a matter for experimentation.) I like getting reasonably good at using the ingredients I have, but I also really like collecting new ingredients that turn out to be surprisingly useful. I get a kick out of having just the right spice at hand, or a good enough substitute.

Like spices, your ingredients can spoil or get dull if they sit unused. So it’s good to try different things out, creating more opportunities for you to discover new favourites. Sometimes you try something and decide it’s not for you. Sometimes you get a hint of something you might like, and you try different variants to find something that fits. Sometimes you find a new comfort food, or something that takes you right back home, or something that tickles your palate in just the right way.

It’s surprising to find out you have lots of ingredients in your pantry, especially if you’ve gotten used to only working with a few. I’m looking forward to learning more combinations and developing a deeper appreciation for things, and to picking up even more ingredients. How about you? What are the ingredients you can use when making your life? =)

Routines

Routines are like solidified learning, the habits shaped by little pay-offs. You make all these decisions one at a time, and as you find things that work, they get absorbed into your routines.

I love having fairly stable routines. They minimize thinking and allow me to estimate time well. For example, my regular breakfast is rice and one fried egg, so it’s easy to make sure I’ve got both in stock. My morning routine takes me about an hour from the time I wake up to the time I head out on my bicycle or go to the subway station, although I can compress it by skipping blogs and having cereal instead of rice and egg. It takes me about fifty minutes to get downtown. My evening routine involves an early dinner (heating up stuff from the fridge), some exercise, cleaning up, and some writing or drawing. My weekends are a little more flexible. As long as groceries, cooking, laundry, and tidying up happen, we’ll be set for the next week.

2014-08-20 Routines

2014-08-20 Routines

I have a lot of routines, but I don’t want them to ossify. I like turning my attention on one routine at a time, being mindful during it, looking for little ways to tweak it. For example, there are lots of ways I could tweak my evening routine, especially during jogging days. If I make the sequence dinner-tidy-read-jog-exercise-litterbox-shower-snack-draw, I think that would work out better in terms of winding down – less waiting for my hair to dry. I If I can juggle the timing so that the jog happens before the library closes, bonus!

2014-08-20 Evening routines

2014-08-20 Evening routines

I’m tweaking my thinking/drawing/writing routines too, so I expect some growing pains – things might get a little weirder before they become smoother. It’s good to anticipate this, because otherwise you get stuck at a local maximum instead of being able to explore. In particular, I’m experimenting with drawing more reflections during the week, and then using them as springboards for writing during the weekend. This should spread out my computer use a little bit, encourage me to practise drawing, and possibly lead to interesting places.

It’s fun to be deliberate about your habits. You get to ask yourself, “Why do I do things that way, and in that sequence? How can I experiment with this?”