Learning from people

I have a friend who’s focusing on learning how to ask better questions. Actually, he realized his goal is probably to ask more questions in the first place, since even simple questions (“Where did you come from?”) can lead to interesting stories.

It got me curious about getting better at learning from people. I think this will help me learn about the stuff that I can’t find in books because:

  • New things often aren’t in books
  • There’s a lot of tacit knowledge that’s difficult to capture
  • Sometimes I don’t understand something well enough to research it
  • Talking to people can help me come across things I didn’t know to ask about

2015-01-20 Asking better questions -- index card #asking

2015-01-20 Asking better questions – index card #asking

I think getting better at asking questions and learning from people involves figuring out:

  • what to ask about (spotting opportunities or following curiosities)
  • who to ask
  • how to build rapport
  • how to pick the right time/place/sequence
  • how to frame the question (level of detail, phrasing, etc.)
  • how to follow up

So that gives me specific things to focus on in terms of learning from others and trying things out myself.

I’ve been thinking about two aspects of learning from people: working with mentors/coaches/trainers, and having casual conversations with other people.

2015-01-24 Imagining awesomeness at learning from people -- index card #learning #people

2015-01-24 Imagining awesomeness at learning from people – index card #learning #people

Mentors/coaches/trainers

I’ve been lucky to have many mentors (both formal and informal) who helped me learn how to navigate organizations, find opportunities, build skills, and so on. But I haven’t been as deliberate about learning as I could have been. I periodically consider finding a coach for my writing or coding, but haven’t taken the leap.

I’ve heard from people who weren’t sure if therapy was working out for them; they couldn’t evaluate their progress. I think I’m hesitant for similar reasons. I’m uncertain about choosing candidates, asking useful questions, evaluating the results, and balancing the value and the opportunity cost.

This is precisely the sort of situation for which an opportunity fund is useful, because it pushes me to Just Try Things Out. I’m slowly warming up to that idea, hence all the blog posts thinking out loud.

Here are some areas I’m considering:

2015-01-19 Imagining an editing experiment -- index card #delegation #writing #editing

2015-01-19 Imagining an editing experiment – index card #delegation #writing #editing

For example, an editing experiment might help me develop a better mental model of an editor, forcing me to search for more specific vocubulary (down with “stuff”!), testing to see if something I’ve written makes sense, and checking for gaps.

2015-01-24 How can I learn from observation feedback -- index card #learning #people

2015-01-24 How can I learn from observation feedback – index card #learning #people

In addition to directly asking for specific help, I might learn a lot from general observation. A friend suggested Atul Gawande’s Better for its approach to learning: a surgeon inviting other surgeons to observe him and give feedback, even though this technique was mostly used by people with less experience. It makes sense to do that even when you’re more experienced, and it’s probably even more useful because people can swap tips or explain things they unconsciously do.

Other people

2015-01-24 Mixed feelings about learning from people -- index card #learning #people

2015-01-24 Mixed feelings about learning from people – index card #learning #people

I noticed that I have a strong bias towards online conversations instead of offline ones. Sure, online conversations might be lower-bandwidth or not as nuanced. But blog posts and comments expand the conversations to include other people, and it’s easier to follow up on threads of ideas. I think this preference is among the reasons why, compared to several years ago, I now spend much less time going to parties or meetups. Instead, I focus on writing and connecting online.

But I get plenty of writing time already, so maybe I should mix more offline conversations into my life. This would follow the principle that I shouldn’t always do what’s fun and easy. It makes sense to develop skills and routines in other areas as well. For example, I can imagine getting better at cultivating acquaintances through shared activities like cooking at Hacklab and hosting board game afternoons. I can test and refine several quick stories for small talk, which frees me up to focus on learning more about the other person through questions. It’s like the way foreign language learners can boost their feeling of fluency by anticipating common questions (“Where are you from?” “What do you do?”) and practising answers to those.

I think that getting better at asking questions and learning from people starts mostly from getting to know people as individuals. What makes them different? What’s interesting about their lives? There’s always something to find. The next step after that is to gradually build the acquaintance or the friendship through things like lunches or get-togethers. It makes sense to open my world so that I can come across good people. I enjoy their company, I grow in helping out, and I learn from the conversations with them and the mental models of them.

More thoughts

2015-01-25 Learning from people -- index card #learning #people

Thinking about this, I realized that I’m not bad at learning from people. I’m pretty good at learning from books, blogs, and online conversations, which is why I rely on those so much. But there are some aspects of learning from people that I can improve, and I can play around with those without cutting too much into the time I spend learning in other ways.

Org Mode: Reusing the date from file-datetree-prompt

Update 2015-02-17: Or you can just use %t in your org-capture-templates, as Seth Mason points out in the comments… =)

How can you get Org Mode to create and schedule entries within a year-month-day outline structure? You can define an org-capture-templates with the keyword file+datetree+prompt. This lets you specify a date for your entry, and Org will create the entry in a hierarchy organized by year, month, and day.

If you’d like to display the entry in your agenda, you’ll also need an active timestamp of the form <yyyy-mm-dd>. Fortunately, you can reuse the date you specified at the initial prompt to create the datetree entry. Looking at org-capture.el will show you that the org-capture function refers to the org-read-date-final-answer, which is set to whatever string you entered at the date prompt. For example, if you entered 18, then org-read-date-final-answer will be set to 18. You can use org-read-date to convert this back to a yyyy-mm-dd-style date.

How do you use this in org-capture-templates? You can use the %(...) syntax for calling an Emacs Lisp expression, like so:

(setq org-capture-templates '(
  ;; other entries go here
  ("s" "Journal entry with date, scheduled" entry
   (file+datetree+prompt "~/personal/journal.org")
    "* %^{Title}\n<%(org-read-date nil nil org-read-date-final-answer)>\n%i\n%?\n")))

Here’s sample output from that capture template:

* 2015
** 2015-12 December
*** 2015-12-31 Thursday
**** End of the year party!
<2015-12-31>

Thanks to Sean Miller for the nudge to think about this!

Sketched Book: Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life – Don Maruska, Jay Perry (2013)

Don Maruska and Jay Perry’s Take Charge of Your Talent: Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life (2013) has plenty of tips for developing your skills and taking charge of your career. I’ve sketched the key points of the book below to make it easier to remember and share. Click on the image for a larger version that you can print if you want.

2014-12-25 Sketched Book - Take Charge of Your Talent - Three Keys to Thriving in Your Career, Organization, and Life - Don Maruska and Jay Perry

I liked the chapter on reflecting on your talents through a structured conversation with someone who can reflect back not only your words but also your feelings and hopes. Sometimes we don’t see the patterns in our thoughts until someone points it out to us. The questions are also good for personal reflection, and I’m looking forward to using them in my planning.

Sometimes people ask me to help them figure out what they want to do. Other books I’ve read about coaching tend to be pretty high-level, but this one gives concrete advice, including some notes anticipating potential responses or difficulties.

I also liked the chapters on creating tangible assets and sharing them with other people. That’s been a great learning- and career-booster for me, and I hope other people will try it out as well.

Among other things, the book also suggests listing at least one hundred resources (people, places, things, skills, …). Forced-length lists are great for creativity because you dig deeper than your surface answers, often coming across surprises. When you review your list, think about ways that you could make even better use of those resources. The book also suggests taking a look at your top 10 resources and working towards 100% use of them, which will be an interesting challenge. The third related exercise is to combine different resources so that you can break through obstacles or come up with interesting mash-ups – forced association, another great creativity technique. I like this reminder to apply creativity so that you can recognize and make the most of your resources, which allows you to MacGyver your way to growth.

Want the book? You can buy it from Amazon (affiliate link) or check out their website at .

Like this sketch? Check out sketchedbooks.com for more. Feel free to share – it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution License, like the rest of my blog.

Enjoy!

Miscellaneous memories

Because these don’t quite fit in their own blog posts, but I want to stash them in my blog anyway.

2015-02-04 Yay, passport -- index card #canada #travel #paperwork

2015-02-04 Yay, passport – index card #canada #travel #paperwork

I got my Canadian passport, yay! I’m still not particularly keen on travel, but this will make it loads easier when I do. Fewer visas to apply for, fewer paperwork hassles… Hooray!

2015-01-30 Sunlight in a cafe -- index card #cafe #light

2015-01-30 Sunlight in a cafe – index card #cafe #light

Our kitchen is the room with the most sunlight in our house, so I spend most of my time in it. But it faces west, so it doesn’t get as much sun as a south-facing room would. (Life in the northern hemisphere: I’m still getting the hang of all the little details!)

The other week, I went to a cafe to help someone with Emacs. So much sunlight! Wonderful. I felt like a cat.

2015-01-27 Field's metal -- index card #hacklab

2015-01-27 Field’s metal – index card #hacklab

Eric brought some Field’s metal to Hacklab. It’s a metal that melts at a temperature below that of hot water. We cast tiny robots in a chocolate mold. =)

2015-01-31 Clearing my fabric stash -- index card #tidying #decluttering

2015-01-31 Clearing my fabric stash – index card #tidying #decluttering

Decluttering the basement, letting go of just-in-case fabric and planned projects I hadn’t touched in years. I might take up sewing again, but I’ll be more careful about fabric and pattern purchases.

Hmm, maybe I should include little memories in my weekly review. That makes sense. I’ll do that going forward!

Weekly review: Week ending February 13, 2015

This week was about trying to get the hang of shopping. I find shopping to be a frustrating process, but I think that’s something I can tweak about myself. We were scrambling to get everything in order for a formal-ish dinner at a banquet hall with extended family. My office attire (slacks, a blazer, and a dress shirt) worked fine, but the exercise prompted me to think about my wardrobe and choosing clothes more deliberately.

My work laptop crashed, so that took a bite out of my productivity. I’ll check next week to see if they’ve gotten it sorted out. I used a loaner laptop to get a few more things done, but it would be good to set everything up properly again.

This coming week: hosting an Emacs Hangout, baking for the Repair Cafe to be held at Hacklab, attending a Sketchnote Hangout, and going to a networking event. Lots of talking to people, so I’ll try to have lots of quiet time as well.

output

Blog posts

Sketches

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (33.2h – 19%)
    • Earn (10.7h – 32% of Business)
      • Earn: E1: 1-2 days of consulting
    • Build (18.7h – 56% of Business)
      • Drawing (12.9h)
      • Delegation (0.1h)
      • Packaging (0.2h)
      • Paperwork (0.8h)
    • Connect (3.8h – 11% of Business)
    • Revisit Google login thing
    • Quantified Awesome: Fix Google login again
  • Relationships (6.6h – 3%)
    • Have lunch with Gabriel
    • Call my mom and wish her happy birthday
    • Check on @mattl’s upcoming visit to Toronto
    • Book haircut
    • Try online shopping
    • Help W- with ntp
  • Discretionary – Productive (23.7h – 14%)
    • Emacs (15.0h – 8% of all)
      • Figure out a neat way to backdate Org clock entries consistently
      • Fix Emacs init errors
      • Refine Emacs code for working with questions
      • Explore Hydra
      • Make something that automatically cross-references sketches with blog posts
      • Make dired action for processing marked files
      • Create Emacs conference thing
      • Help Sean with Emacs
      • Chat with Yi about Emacs
      • Set up my Vagrant to send mail through Gmail
      • Try to get Gnus to send mail again on Windows
      • Try out org-gcal
    • Review Zettelkasten research
    • Scan my sewing pattern catalog
    • Consider pants
    • Upload to Gumroad
    • Read chapter 3 of Intermediate Japanese
    • Make cover for Createspace
    • Upload to Createspace
    • Start git directory for drafts
    • Writing (5.9h)
  • Discretionary – Play (7.1h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (21.0h – 12%)
  • Unpaid work (20.6h – 12%)
  • Sleep (55.8h – 33% – average of 8.0 per day)

Continuous integration and code coverage for Emacs packages with Travis and Coveralls

Do you maintain an Emacs package hosted on Github? Would you like to get those confidence-building, bragging-rights-granting, other-developers-inspiring build: passing and coverage: 100% badges into your README file?

It turns out that this is pretty easy with ERT, Cask, Travis CI, undercover.el, and Coveralls.io.

  1. Log on to Travis and enable continuous integration for your repository.
  2. Log on to Coveralls.io and enable coverage testing for your repository.
  3. Set up a git branch, since you’ll probably be making lots of small commits while you smooth out the testing workflow.
  4. Define your tests with ERT. See https://github.com/abo-abo/tiny/blob/master/tiny-test.el for an example. For undercover support, you’ll want to include something like:
    (when (require 'undercover nil t)
      (undercover "tiny.el"))
    
  5. Define your dependencies with Cask. Include undercover. For example, here’s a simple Cask file:
    (source gnu)
    (source melpa)
    
    (development
      (depends-on "undercover"))
    
  6. Add a .travis.yml that specifies how to test your package on Travis. For example, see this .travis.yml and Makefile.
  7. Commit and push.
  8. Check your repository status in Travis to see if it ran properly.
  9. Check your coverage status in Coveralls.io to see if it displayed properly.
  10. Get the badge code from Travis and Coveralls, and add them to your README (probably using Markdown). You can get the badge code from Travis by clicking on your build status badge next to your repository name. Coveralls has prominent instructions for getting your badge. Yay!

Incidentally, if you want to see your test coverage locally, you can (require 'testcover) and then use testcover-this-defun or testcover-start to instrument the macros and functions for coverage. Run your tests, then use testcover-mark-all to look at the results. See the documentation in testcover.el to find out what the coloured overlays mean. Edebug has a test coverage tool too, so you can explore that one if you prefer it.

Additional notes on testing:

2015-02-03 Better Emacs Testing -- index card #testing #emacs

2015-02-03 Better Emacs Testing – index card #testing #emacs

2015-02-04 Yay, testing in Emacs -- index card #testing #emacs

2015-02-04 Yay, testing in Emacs – index card #testing #emacs

Resources: