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Weekly review: Week ending August 15, 2014

A week for working and drawing. Learned a lot, yay! Downsides: less sleep, less reading. Will experiment with balance…

Blog posts

Sketches

Woohoo! Back.

Link round-up

Focus areas and time review

  • Business (56.4h – 33%)
    • Earn (39.6h – 70% of Business)
      • E1: Go to work every day
      • E1: Meet up with Harold Jarche
    • Build (8.5h – 15% of Business)
      • Try new features in Dragon Naturally Speaking 13
      • Upgrade WordPress
      • Drawing (4.8h)
        • Try new features in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 7
      • Delegation (1.2h)
        • Review proofread transcript
      • Packaging (0.0h)
      • Paperwork (2.5h)
        • File health claims
        • Investigate separation of accounts for personal delegation
    • Connect (8.3h – 14% of Business)
      • Chat with Scott Torrance regarding publishing
  • Relationships (8.3h – 4%)
    • Attend Hacklab meeting
    • Meet up with Ian Garmaise and people he knows
    • Watch Guardians of the Galaxy, yay!
    • Work on F3
  • Discretionary – Productive (8.1h – 4%)
    • Emacs (0.6h – 0% of all)
      • Chat with masteringemacs
      • Help with Emacs
    • Draw and shade in picture of Neko
    • Practise drawing faces
    • [#C] Tracking: Update the number of tasks
    • Writing (5.1h)
      • Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers
      • Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort
      • Get back into drawing things I’m learning about
      • Turning 31
  • Discretionary – Play (7.7h – 4%)
  • Personal routines (23.1h – 13%)
  • Unpaid work (9.9h – 5%)
  • Sleep (54.5h – 32% – average of 7.8 per day)

Becoming comfortable with simplicity and even discomfort

Here’s an excerpt from Seneca’s Epistles (Letter 18) that made me think about voluntary simplicity:

Such is the course which those men I have followed who, in their imitation of poverty, have every month come almost to want, that they might never recoil from what they had so often rehearsed.

… Even Epicurus, the teacher of pleasure, used to observe stated intervals, during which he satisfied his hunger in niggardly fashion; he wished to see whether he thereby fell short of full and complete happiness, and, if so, by what amount be fell short, and whether this amount was worth purchasing at the price of great effort.

… For though water, barley-meal, and crusts of barley-bread, are not a cheerful diet, yet it is the highest kind of Pleasure to be able to derive pleasure from this sort of food, and to have reduced one’s needs to that modicum which no unfairness of Fortune can snatch away.

I’m careful with my finances because I don’t want to end up in the kinds of situations that I see play out around me and on the Internet. I know I can’t eliminate those risks (no one is immune to bad luck!), but I can try to minimize the risks.

I’m pretty insulated from everyday troubles. I’m not often hungry or thirsty. I usually bring a bottle of water and a snack in my bag, and in the city, there are always places to go. We have what we need and want, and we don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from or how we can keep a roof over our heads.

Sometimes when I talk to people a little further ahead in life, I’m reminded that prosperity can lead to complacency. Some people tell me they wish they could do something like this experiment of mine with semi-retirement, but on the other hand, they like their current lifestyle a lot too. I like keeping my life simple and my budget almost student-ish. I check out thrift stores for clothes. I shop for groceries with a list, do the math when it comes to prices, and enjoy home-cooked meals more than restaurant steaks. It’s a way of minimizing risks and increasing safety, I guess. If I don’t get used to the good life – if I fight lifestyle inflation and hedonic adaptation – then I can more easily weather any downturns in markets or luck.

How can I get even better at this? In terms of food, it’s good to practice with simple ingredients and simple techniques. Then the main differentiator would be skill in choosing, combining, and cooking. I can still enjoy the things that I’m not very skilled at. I might even skip a meal, or eat lightly. In terms of transportation, maybe I should walk long distances once in a while, so I don’t get too accustomed to taking transit or biking. In terms of things, I can give more things away, or box things up temporarily.

It’s good to get pleasure from the small stuff. I can drink tap water here in Toronto, which still boggles me no end. I can read hundreds of books from the library. I can walk and feel the sun shining. I can breathe and feel my lungs inflate. What do I need richer pleasures for, if these simple ones can be enough?

Back to drawing digitally, thanks to Wacom drivers

I upgraded to Microsoft Windows 8 in January 2013 mainly primarily because I noticed myself resisting the change. For the most part, I adapted easily. I liked using Win-q to launch applications, and I even got the hang of the complicated procedure for shutting down.

Still, the upgrade was a step backwards in terms of drawing on my tablet PC. On Windows 7, I had disabled the touchscreen in order to make stylus use easier; on Windows 8 (and later 8.1), I couldn’t reliably disable the touchscreen. The option had disappeared from the built-in Pen & Touch configuration dialog, and disabling it through the hardware devices list sometimes didn’t work.

This meant that I either had to wear something to insulate my palm from the screen in order to avoid accidental touches (even my thinnest glove was still warm and unwieldy), or I had to occasionally erase stray dots. Both got in the way of drawing on my computer, so I didn’t do much of either.

While upgrading various pieces of software (Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Dragon Naturally Speaking), I thought to check if Lenovo or Wacom had released new drivers yet. Wacom had! Woohoo. I insntalled the Wacom Feel driver, rebooted my computer, and found the Wacom Pen & Touch dialog had a checkbox for disabling touch.

It’s funny how these little inconveniences can add just enough friction to make something feel annoying, and how smoothening those inconveniences over can make a big difference in how you work and how you feel about it. I’m looking forward to playing around with the new features in Sketchbook Pro now. Glad I checked for updates!

Shopping for clothes

We took J- shopping for clothes on Friday afternoon, going through the stores in the Eaton Centre at a leisurely pace. Her mom takes her shopping from time to time, but neither W- nor I are into shopping aside from the occasional drop-off-and-browse at the thrift store, so J-‘s wardrobe updates at our house had been mostly what she could get at the thrift store or on her shopping trips with friends. But it is good to spend time together and take more interest in her life, so here we are.

It’s not that bad – actually all right, even. I’m wearing comfortable shoes, I have my phone, and I like hanging out with W- and J-. If I had planned a little better, I would have left my laptop at home, but it’s not that heavy.

W- and I mostly stay in the background, offering the occasional comment or drawing J-‘s attention to the kinds of things she’s looking for. She’s better at choosing clothes than I was at her age (or am, even at mine!) – she has some idea of what she wants, and can shop around to find things that could work. In the meantime, W- and I are happy to trail behind, helping her learn to ask for assistance and explore her options.

Hmm. This must be one of those moments that help people see the passage of time and notice the differences that are hard to notice day by day. I can see how people might reflect on that while trying to find clothes that fit changing lengths and widths. I think I understand a little bit more now. Kinda nice, just helping J- shop. I remember how my parents used to take us to the mall for the things we needed or wanted. I think I’m starting to understand them better. How wonderful!

Turning 31

What a year! Life just keeps getting better and better.

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

2013-09-26 Goals for 31 #plans #year

I like looking forward by looking back: imagining myself in the future and seeing what changed. Last August, I wrote: “When I look back at this year on the eve of turning 31, I’d like to say…” So here’s how all that worked out.

I’ve learned and shared a lot. This next year will probably be a year of intense learning in terms of life and work and Making Things Happen. As tempting as it always is to go full speed ahead, I think the result will be even better if I slow down and take notes along the way.

I slowed down in terms of work, scaling back my consulting hours to about two days a week and using the freed-up time for reading, cooking, spending time with family, and working on other projects/experiments like Emacs and sketchnoting. That worked out really well.

I’ve gotten very good at making decisions under lots of uncertainty. The outcomes might not always be good, but at least the processes will be well-reasoned and I’ll have notes to help me (and other people) learn more.

I’m comfortable taking on bigger and bigger challenges. I’m comfortable with research and can generally find some background information quickly. I have fun sketching out different scenarios and finding my way. This is working nicely too.

I’ve expanded my freedom and abilities in this 5-year experiment. I’ve focused on building up skills, knowledge, and relationships out of curiosity (“What if?” “How can we make this better?”) instead of fear (“Will I be able to hit the ground running if I decide to go back to the workforce?”). I find creative ways to deal with constraints, and those ideas help others. Writing, drawing, and coding continue to be a large part of my life.

I added a few useful business-related skills and improved a number of my existing skills. Yay! This is definitely fun, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what the next year will bring.

I’ve gotten better at asking questions. This is tough, because I tend to want to dig into things myself, Google+books+experiments give me so much information, and advice can get a little weird if you don’t take it. Maybe if I start asking people questions through this blog, I might elicit interesting perspectives or encourage people to teach something (especially if they don’t have blogs of their own).

Philosophy turned out to be a good addition to the things I’m learning and thinking about. By immersing myself in the conversations of book authors throughout the ages, I can learn from all these very smart people who have thought about things. =)

I live a simple and frugal life. Lifestyle inflation is the enemy. If I can keep my wants and needs the same–-or even reduce them–-then that helps us be even more free.

My base expenses were actually a little bit lower than they were the previous year. Neat! The stock market has been doing pretty well (aside from the current dip), and I’ve been saving most of the income from consulting too. I’m going to figure out dividends next year, so then I’ll be able to move more money from savings into investments.

Where did the year go?

August 2013 Lots of drawing, making sketchnote lessons
September Emacs, writing, sketchnotes, learning tips
October More drawing, reflecting on my experiment
November Google Helpouts, Emacs chats
December Trip to the Philippines!
January Lots of learning tips
February Writing about blogging; making that no-excuses guide to blogging
March Frugal Fire podcast experiment
April More Emacs Chats and Frugal Fire podcasts; Raspberry Pi
May Even more Emacs Chats
June Read Lisp, Tweak Emacs
July Philosophy

So, how am I different from the person I was last year?

  • I’m healthier. I like these new exercise habits (running to build up endurance, the Hacker’s Diet exercise ladder for very gradually building up strength). We’ve been eating even better too.
  • I did a lot of cool front-end work on my consulting engagement. I picked up new skill: Jive app/add-on development. Improved existing skills, too: Javascript, analytics, etc.
  • I spent a lot less time working, networking, and socializing (reduced by 263, 333, and 324 hours respectively!), and more time working on Emacs, gardening, reading, and sleeping. I spent about as much time writing as I did last year. I shifted most of my socialization to Hacklab, since I like the way it fits me.
  • I had good experiments with self-publishing. I published my 2013 collection of sketchnotes, a no-excuses guide to blogging and a beginner’s guide to learning Emacs Lisp. I checked out Createspace for making a print version of my sketchnotes collection, and that actually worked out nicely. I did the Emacs Lisp guide as an e-mail course, too.
  • I drew more. I thought I drew less, but actually, my time records and my files say that I drew a lot more. It just didn’t feel that way because I’ve been writing so many text-based blog posts lately. (Hah! Recency bias.)
  • I learned more about podcasting by doing short series of shows with live sketchnotes, followed up with transcripts (Emacs Chats, Helpers Help Out, Frugal Fire Show). I might not get into it long-term, but it was interesting to try out.
  • I’m more comfortable with talking to people and helping them online. I experimented with the Google Helpouts platform, helping people learn more about note-taking, learning, building on introvert strengths, and Emacs. That worked out well (tons of 5-star reviews!), although I scaled my availability down so that I could focus on other things.
  • I’m more comfortable with philosophy, and with the humanities in general. I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I find philosophy to be useful and interesting. I’m getting better at not worrying about things and at writing about what I’m thinking. Yay!
  • I’m more involved in family life. I spend more time on family-related things, and I’ve been helping W- more too.
  • I’ve learned a little more about gardening. Watering regularly makes a difference, but I’m still constrained by environmental factors.

Next year, I’ll turn 32. (Nice round number!) When I do my annual review then, what would I like to be able to say about life as a 31-year-old?

  • I have excellent health-related habits I have the strength, flexibility, and endurance to do what I want to do.
  • Our home life is wonderful. We enjoy yummy food, good projects, a tidy house, simple lives, great relationships, and other things.
  • I helped my consulting client make successful transitions. Upgrades, training, time away… I did my work well, and they’re in a great position to continue doing awesome things in the future.
  • I’ve broadened my business a little bit more. I might go deeper into writing/drawing/publishing, or I might look into product development. This reduces the risk of being classified as a personal services business, and it may lead to other interesting skills and opportunities. In terms of development, I like web-based stuff more than mobile, so maybe I’ll focus on that.

Life is good. Looking forward to seeing how this year turns out!

Monthly review: July 2014

I wrote that in July, I’d like to:

  • E1: Update the documentation and help out in other ways: Yup! Worked on a video, too. Lots of good stuff.
  • Turn the beginner course into a convenient download: Didn’t happen because I’ve been more focused on philosophy than on Emacs.
  • Plan for project F3: Working on it!
  • Solidify my exercise habit: Running works well as a social activity, and I’ve been making gradual progress through the Hacker’s Diet Exercise Ladder too. Sometimes I skip a day, but most of the time I remember to work on this.

July was a great month for learning about philosophy, design, and other topics. I learned a lot by looking at what other people did and thinking about what resonated with me, and I’m slowly starting to experiment with those ideas at work and in life.

I also decided to help out more at Hacklab. It’s good to take some responsibility for a shared space. I’ve been cooking at the Tuesday open houses, chatting with visitors, and making the kitchen a more pleasant and functional space. (I finally got tired of smelly cloths, so I sewed a new set of dishtowels and made the Hacklab cloths part of my weekly routines.)

In August, I’m probably going to:

  • Work more, since my clients need extra help
  • Work on project F3, too
  • Improve my writing techniques (outlines, snippets, etc.)
  • Celebrate another year, yay!

Here’s what I blogged about in July: