Decision review: Samsung Note 8

It was quite a big jump going from a Moto G (2nd gen, bought in 2015) to a Samsung Note 8 this year, mostly on my dad’s insistence. Here’s how I’ve been working on making the most of my new phone’s capabilities.

  • Camera: Way more pictures of A-, since the camera works decently even in low light. I like how it reminds me to clean the camera lens.
  • Better battery life, quick charge: This is great. I used to keep W-‘s old Moto G handy so that I could swap to it if my phone battery ran low while I wrote in bed. Now I don’t even worry about charging overnight, since I can charge my phone while having breakfast with A-.
  • More storage: It’s nice not having to decide which apps I have space for on my phone. I even used the SD card to copy thousands of archived photos into Google Photos.
  • Pen: Screen-off notes are really quick to scribble down, since all I need to do is take out the pen and start writing. I trust writing more than typing for taking fast notes. I also really like the ability to select part of the screen and extract text, because sometimes apps don’t make it easy to select and copy text. I’ve used the pen to draw and colour illustrations for a book for A-. It’s more awkward than using my tablet PC or the iPad, but it lets me use phone time to get more things done, so it’s worth it.
  • Fingerprint scanner: Surprisingly handy way of reducing the friction of using my phone. I keep my phone locked when the screen is off so that A- doesn’t play with it, and tapping the fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone saves me a bit of fumbling around.
  • Voice and gesture control for pictures: Great for taking pictures, since it’s not easy to hold and shoot with one hand.
  • Speech recognition in general: I’ve been getting the hang of this now that battery life means I’m a little less worried about leaving my phone listening all the time. I have a few shortcuts for tracking activities, and I often set timers and add grocery items by voice too. It’s still not quite reliable, but it’s worth a shot. A- occasionally parrots “Okay Google” and “Command sent,” so I try to model saying “please” when I ask my phone to do things. I haven’t used Bixby as much, since voice wake-up for Bixby interferes with voice control of pictures.
  • Larger screen: This was a little hard to get used to, since the bigger screen makes it hard to put my phone in my pocket or hold in bed. But it does make it a little more manageable to ssh into my server and do things, although working with a virtual keyboard is still annoying. I’ve also used the split screen feature a few times.
  • Edge apps: I’ve used the clipboard and the ruler a few times.
  • Live focus: I’ve used this a few times, but I usually don’t have much time to compose a picture of A-. Maybe when she’s a bit older, or if I think about it more.

I want to explore more of the camera’s features, figure out a good workflow for photos, learn more about what I can do with speech recognition, and get better at workflows for notes (thoughts, images, and e-books).

I wonder if it makes sense to draw more on my phone than on paper even when A- is around. I haven’t been keen on doing so because she usually wants to imitate me, and she gets more out of drawing on paper than on my phone. Maybe I’ll draw on paper and take quick pictures on my phone instead.

I probably won’t upgrade for a while, since it’s likely to be a bit of a hassle selling this phone and upgrading to a new one. I might be tempted by an even better camera in the next phone. After all A- is only this age once. I really like the stylus. That means keeping an eye on the Samsung Note line and figuring out when it makes sense to upgrade. I hope this phone is sturdier than the Samsung Galaxy S3 I experimented with years ago. This one has survived life with a toddler so far, so that’s good. I spend more time on my phone than on my laptop these days, so it’ll be interesting to see how I can make the most of it.

Thinking about the rhythms of my days with A-

It helps to look at the balance over a week, I think, instead of focusing on a single day. It also helps to think of rhythms and options, so that I can adapt to whatever A- wants to do.

I usually wake up after seven hours of sleep. It’s hard to go back to sleep afterwards. Sometimes A- wakes up when I do, so then we do our morning routines. Usually she wants another hour or so of nursing in bed, which I can use to write. Sometimes she’ll let me unlatch while she continues sleeping. Then I prioritize coding, since that’s hard to find time for otherwise. She can get a bit anxious if she wakes up without me right there, so I try not to go far.

It’s good to have plenty of outdoor time, especially playground time. If we don’t have anything else planned, I take her to one of the neighborhood playgrounds.

A- has some playtime inside, too. We usually do that after we get back from the playground, late in the evening, or in the wee hours of the morning. I let her take the lead. She likes playdough, Duplo, scissors, singing, bubbles, pretend groceries, tumbling, and pretend playgrounds. She also likes being read to a lot.

I like to meet up with other people once or twice a week, generally in the afternoon. We like going to the Science Centre and Riverdale Farm. Playgrounds are also good for hanging out.

A- has music classes once a week. They’re mostly for my benefit, actually. She doesn’t participate in them much, but they seem to make a good impression on her since she happily imitates them at home. t’s fun learning new songs. I’m not too worried about making it to this one if we need to sleep in or she feels like doing something else. We often pair this with a trip to the museum for a quick look at animals and a leisurely lunch.

I like involving A- in household chores. She likes playing with water and soap when we wash dishes. She can help put away dishes and sweep the floor. She likes preparing food: smoothies, pizza, breadsticks, pasta. She can help load our washing machine and transfer clothes to the dryer. She is interested in shelving books, although her version of sorting them is still randomly shuffling them around and then pulling out more books for me to read.

She usually has an afternoon nap, although sometimes this becomes an early evening nap. I’ve started experimenting with limiting nursing then, so she can get used to dealing with strong emotions at a time when people aren’t trying to sleep.

Evening routines are a bit smoother when W- gets home from work early, but they’re still manageable even when he doesn’t. After dinner, W- and A- catch up with each other while I clean the kitchen and scoop the litter boxes. A- feeds the cats.

More playtime once the chores are done, followed by an evening snack and bathroom routines. Then it’s playtime again. W- usually goes to bed before we do. A- has lots of energy late at night, and loves jumping on the bed and twirling round and round. I keep things fairly quiet and sedate on my part so that I can nudge her towards sleep and conserve my energy.

She occasionally wanders off for a few minutes of independent play. She also sometimes plays nearby while I scribble down thoughts, so I’ve stashed paper and pens all over the house. She can also play independently while I tidy up in the same room, although we tend to balance each other out.

My day feels more satisfying with a little journaling, continuous improvement, self-care, and time with W-. It’s good to mix those in, too.

I’d like to shift our schedule a little earlier. It’s difficult to do so because I feel a little short on sleep myself, even though I’ve deprioritized discretionary time for now. If I wake her up early, she can catch up by napping, but I can’t always nap when she does. Then it’s pretty hard staying up with her at the end of the day. I tell her she can stay up and play a bit more if she likes, but she wants to play with me. Sometimes she accepts that I have to go to bed, and sometimes she’s upset for a little while. Maybe I can experiment with catching a quick nap while W- is home, although sometimes that leads to awkward sleep on my part. Maybe this will be the thing that nudges me to explore getting a babysitter. We’ll figure this out.

It might be interesting to involve A- in more cooking, too. She’s generally interested in watching and participating. If she wanders off, I can continue cooking. If she insists on playing with me, I can try to get the recipe to a good breakpoint, and then try to resume afterwards. She’s usually good at letting me take a break for a few minutes when a timer goes off. Many recipes are forgiving. Many also have inexpensive ingredients, so it’s not much of a waste even if I end up not being able to complete the recipe. I feel a little guilty about leaving a messy kitchen when A- decides to go for a nap, but W- said he’s okay with that, and we can always clean up afterwards. Cooking is good for us long-term anyway.

I’m pretty happy with the overall balance of our days. More sleep and more grown-up time would be nice, although I’m not yet sure I want to invest the money, time, and energy needed for setting up babysitting. Sleep and discretionary time will probably come as we deal with this sleep regression, so no worries. We’re making good use of neighbourhood resources, and we have a few reasons to range further afield. I’m still curious about other things that would be fun for a toddler to explore in Toronto. Those can wait for more predictable days, though. Anyway, I’ve got a few things to try. Tweaking our days…

Week ending 2018-03-16

It was March Break, so we wanted to avoid indoor crowds. Instead, we went to playgrounds, checked out High Park Zoo, and joined Jen and E- on a visit to the piglets at Riverdale Farm.

The 2-year-old sleep regression seems to have hit us hard. A- and I have been up in the wee hours of the morning. We did manage to have a video chat with Lola one time. A- had a lot of fun singing, dancing, and pretend-cooking for Lola.

We visited W-‘s parents during the weekend, too. While A- played, I filled them in on upcoming medical things and A-‘s development.

A- liked the ducks at High Park, too, so that’s what our songs and crafts have focused on as well. I stocked up on construction paper, felt, pompoms, googly eyes, mini popsicle sticks, and pipe cleaners.

Lots of spinning around with a tray and jumping up and down on the bed. She asked for “bubbles through the air,” and enjoyed catching and stomping them. She laced a belt through my belt loops and helped me buckle it.

A- has started saying things like “Oh my goodness” and “Good idea!” which amuses me. She picked up my She also started explaining herself, as in “I want to nurse in carrier because I tired,” and “I’m nervous about Luke.” We had fun singing her ever-growing repertoire of nursery rhymes.

Her pretend play has been split between reenacting the fun she had at the playground (sandboxes and twisty slides) and reenacting the long flights she took to visit Lolo and Lola. Aside from the occasional “I sit in bassinet a long time,” (which I wish she did – she spent most of the flight in my arms) she seems cheerful enough about the experience, particularly the bits about bringing luggage and asking flight attendants to bring food. She’ll need to travel in her own seat now, so we’ll see how she adjusts to that.

She played hide and seek in the bedroom. Mostly this consists of us hiding together, although sometimes she gets excited about finding me. Slowly practising separation!


  • I figured out how to make a small, captioned photobook using 4-up imposition.
  • I backed up photo highlights to the NAS and started tagging them with metadata.
  • W- kitted out the playroom with more Trofast drawers. It looks neat.
  • I tried out a paper lesson planner. The month view is good for remembering.
  • I set up scripts for backing up my server to the NAS.
  • We cleared another bookshelf for A-‘s use.

2018-03-19 Emacs news

Links from, /r/orgmode, /r/spacemacs, Hacker News,, YouTube, the changes to the Emacs NEWS file, and emacs-devel.

Dealing with thought fragmentation, reducing mental waste

I’ve been figuring out how to deal with the mental fragmentation that can come with being the primary caregiver of a nursing toddler.

It was useful for me to let go of wanting to focus. If I think of childcare as a distraction from what I really want to do, I miss out on what I can get from childcare too. Instead, I’ve been looking for ways to make the most of this stop-and-go life.

Kaizen emphasizes reducing waste. What does mental waste look like when it comes to thinking with a toddler around?

I waste energy if I let my mind fill up with mental clutter. So:

  • Appointments go on my calendar so that I don’t have to worry about forgetting them, and a weekly review helps me remember to check the week ahead.
  • Near-term tasks go into my todo list. Tasks Free lets me quickly reprioritize tasks so that I know what to do the moment A- lets me unlatch and slip away.
  • Blog post ideas go into Markor so that I can write them in Markdown and export them to HTML for my blog.
  • Long-term ideas and notes go into Org Mode. It’s been super helpful to have step-by-step instructions and checklists for things I do infrequently.

Waste happens if I prioritize ineffectively. So:

  • Once A- is asleep, I quickly take care of personal and household tasks, and then work on my laptop. I can do phone tasks while I’m nursing her in bed, but laptop time is very rare. If I focus on improving my systems and making more things doable from my phone, the benefits compound.
  • Small tasks with small benefits tend to beat large tasks with large benefits, because of interruptions. I try to find ways to break large tasks down into small ones with incremental benefits. Many things can wait until next year.

Waste also happens if I repeat myself. So:

  • When I manage to have computer time, I slow down and write notes in an Org Mode file instead of trying to speed ahead and do everything before A- wakes up. This helps me resume my train of thought after the inevitable interruption. It also helps me put together blog posts, which means I can find things in my archive, help people, and maybe even learn from people’s comments.
  • If I’m thinking about a question or idea, I jot down keywords. That makes it easier to remember those thoughts and build on them. I scribble these on paper if I’m around A-, so that she can see me writing and so that she doesn’t get distracted by my phone. If a thought looks promising, I stick it in my pocket in case I want to refer to it during phone time.

Waste happens if I do low-value activities instead of high-value ones. It’s easy to get sucked into reading lots of social media or books on my phone, so I work on getting more value out of phone time. I can:

  • write
  • ssh to my web server or backup server, and code or run scripts – hard with a virtual keyboard and no swiping to type, but doable
  • organize pictures and other files
  • prepare an Emacs News summary
  • read e-books from the library, mainly looking for interesting parenting ideas to try or things to learn about early childhood education

Waste happens when I don’t notice, so it’s good to get enough sleep and to pay attention.

Waste happens when I forget, so it’s good to write, reflect, and organize my notes.

Waste happens when we stay too comfortable and when we push too hard. It’s good to work on finding the sweet spot – the zone of proximal development for A-.

I can reduce waste further by getting more value from my time. For example, being interested in making books for A- lets me get more out of reading books with A-. Writing about stuff lets me remember, and I might even be able to help or learn from other people.

This phase is temporary. Next year, A- will probably be more interested in playing with her peers, and she might be independent enough to participate in activities without me. The year after that, she’ll be old enough for school. I want to make the most of this time instead of rushing ahead. I guess that’s part of why I haven’t prioritized night weaning or finding a babysitter. There’s still plenty of potential to explore even with the setup, and it’s fun working with the constraints.

What could better look like?

  • Sleeping more predictably or more in sync: She seems to adjust her sleep cycle earlier if I go to sleep when she does instead of staying up to do my discretionary things, so maybe I can sacrifice a week or two of discretionary time to see if we can shift to using daytime better
  • Written note workflow: maybe snapping a quick picture and then referring to it when I type; maybe doing small sketchnotes that can be cleaned up by an app and included as images
  • Trying out other ssh apps to see which one I like the most, in case that makes it easier to code
  • Trying more things (new food, etc.), which could take a bit of planning

Lots of things to play with!

Making an 8-page 7″x4.25″ captioned photo book with Org Mode and LaTeX

Here’s another technique that makes a simple photo book. I wanted to
make an 8-page book that could be printed 4 pages to a 8.5″x14″ sheet
(duplex, flip along the short edge), with a final page size of

Sample with my own photos:



  • ImageMagick
  • Texlive (probably)
  • latex-beamer
  • Org Mode and Emacs


We can define the labels and their captions in a named table like this:

Let’s Go for a Walk  
Caption for photo 1 placeholder.png
Caption for photo 2 placeholder.png
Caption for photo 3 placeholder.png
Caption for photo 4 placeholder.png
Caption for photo 5 placeholder.png

Note that the first page is row #1 this time, instead of starting with
the last page.

Then we generate the LaTeX code with some Emacs Lisp, like so:

#+begin_src emacs-lisp :var pages=story :results value latex :exports results
(mapconcat (lambda (row) (format "\\graphicframe{%s}{%s}" (cadr row) (org-export-string-as (car row) 'latex t))) pages "\n")

I put that in a subtree for easier exporting with C-c C-e C-s l b (org-export-dispatch, subtree, LaTeX, Beamer).



  • Set up Org Mode export to Beamer
    (eval-after-load "ox-latex"
      ;; update the list of LaTeX classes and associated header (encoding, etc.)
      ;; and structure
      '(add-to-list 'org-latex-classes
                      ,(concat "\\documentclass[presentation]{beamer}\n"
                      ("\\section{%s}" . "\\section*{%s}")
                      ("\\subsection{%s}" . "\\subsection*{%s}")
                      ("\\subsubsection{%s}" . "\\subsubsection*{%s}"))))
  • Set up the header.tex

    This file gets included in the LaTeX file for the children’s book.
    Tweak it to change the appearance. In this example, I use black serif
    text text on the left side of a picture, both occupying roughly half
    of the page. I also experimented with using a different font this time, which you might need to install (for me, I did apt-get install texlive-fonts-extra).

    \setbeamercolor{normal text}{fg=black,bg=white}
    %% \setbeamertemplate{frametitle}
    %% {
    %%   \begin{center}
    %%   \noindent
    %%   \insertframetitle
    %%   \end{center}
    %% }
    \newcommand{\graphicframe}[2] {
       %% \if #1\empty 
       %% \usebackgroundtemplate{}
       %% \fi
  • Create the PDF
    pdflatex index.tex
  • Create one PNG per page
    mkdir pages
    convert -density 300 index.pdf -quality 100 pages/page%d.png
  • Create the 4-up imposition

    The diagram at was helpful.

    montage \( page4.png -rotate 180 \) \( page3.png -rotate 180 \) page7.png page0.png -tile 2x2 -mode Concatenate front.png
    montage \( page2.png -rotate 180 \) \( page5.png -rotate 180 \) page1.png page6.png -tile 2x2 -mode Concatenate back.png
    convert front.png back.png -density 300 ../print.pdf

Other notes

Placeholder image from – public domain.