January 2011

Weekly review: Week ending December 31, 2010

January 1, 2011 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Work on Project M: Make sure users have permissions to do things
    • [X] Work on Project S: Clean things up
    • [X] Idea Lab: Process responses
    • [-] Illustrate networking tips
  • Relationships
    • [-] Hike or bike with W-
    • [-] Write more cards
    • Had Maira’s family over
    • Had New Year’s Eve dinner with W-‘s family
  • Life
    • [-] Get MobileOrg Android patches into mergeable state
    • [X] Review and revise plan, outline 2011
    • [X] Tidy up
    • [-] Tidy up my computer, too: backup, reorganize, clean
    • [X] Plan garden

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Work on Project M: Documentation, tidying up
    • [X] Work on Project S: Clean things up
    • [X] Idea Lab: Run Idea Lab
    • [X] Illustrate networking tips
  • Relationships
    • [X] Look into cooking or cleaning assistance
  • Life
    • [X] Get well
    • [X] Hire a virtual assistant again

Time analysis

Dec 25 to December 31

Time totals messed up because I didn’t track as much over the holidays, but here’s a guesstimate:

Sleep 53 hours ~ 7 hours per day
Preparation 23 hours Including disassembling washer and dryer
Work 19 hours Took some sick time
Routines 16 hours
Social 8 hours
Writing 2.5 hours
Travel 2 hours I’ve been using some of this for writing time, too
Break 2 hours
Exercise 1.25 hours
Learning 0.75 hours
Driving practice 0.75 hours
Untracked 39.75 hours

Tweaking my time-tracking…

A terrible cold has put a crimp in my productivity and my holiday celebrations, but W- has been totally awesome at taking care of me. He’s been shaking his finger at me for having insisted on spending Friday working when I should have been in bed. “You’ve been working feverishly,” he said, “and now you’ve come down with a fever.” That explains why I was shivering underneath all those covers. Fortunately, it’s nothing W- hasn’t dealt with before, and aspirin soon sorted that out. (Thank you, mdern medicine.)

Definitely time to break out the ginger tea. (Hello, salabat!)

Sick days

January 2, 2011 - Categories: life, sketches

Still sick. Flush with a fever, congested with a cough and a cold, voiceless, and all around under the weather. Not the best of ways to spend a holiday, but a worse way to spend a workweek, so this is okay by comparison.

lemon To soothe an irritated throat, in a mug, combine:

  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Tablespoon of honey
  • Hot water

(Do not give honey to babies under a year old.)

W- has kept me on a steady infusion of chicken soup, cuddles, and Pride and Prejudice – several different versions, in fact.

I like BBC’s Lizzie and Lost in Austen’s Darcy the most. Heresy, I know. Colin Firth in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the definitive Darcy, of course. Lost in Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy (Elliot Cowan) does more of a transformation from utterly disagreeable to totally awesome.

Ginger tea (salabat): The powdered form is very convenient, of course, but you can make up a batch by crushing ginger and boiling it it in water. Add brown sugar to sweeten it.

You can’t do much with a cold except to try to not make it any worse. Definitely a good time for relaxing.

Momentum and holidays

January 3, 2011 - Categories: life, productivity

Monday: I don’t do “relaxing holidays” very well. My idea of a perfect holiday is one where I’m all wrung out at the end and ready to go back to work. Building a chair. Bottling a gazillion jars of jam. Taking apart and rebuilding appliances. Hanging out with family and friends. (If you’ve met them, you know what a whirlwind they can be.)

This New Year’s holiday must have been the quietest holiday I’ve had in a while. It’s weird! I’m half-dreading the abrupt change in pace when I get back to work tomorrow, particularly as I’ve managed to commit myself to some rather high-intensity days coming up.

(Fortunately, the world works in mysterious ways. It could have been crazier, but it isn’t.)

It’s hard to write about anything other than being sick when you’re sick.

Actually, this is not true. I snuck in some work this afternoon and I made a lot of progress writing a developer’s guide for the system we’re building. It’s hard for me to write about life or productivity or connecting at conferences when my nose is stuffed, but I can talk about node access records and workflow transitions, no problem.

Maybe that’s what I should do next time I’m sick and feeling lethargic. Never mind the mid-day naps. A good round of coding or documenting is a great antidote for the doldrums.

Being sick is great for all sorts of realizations, actually. I have the free time to do whatever I want to do (within reason). I don’t have the energy or the inclination to do many things. Granted, a lot of that is because of the cold, but if I don’t get around to doing something even though I have an unencumbered day, what are the chances of my getting around to it with an extra half hour?

Here’s what I’m learning:

Writing and coding boost my energy, and are a great way to cheer myself up if I’m feeling unproductive.

Playing the piano is fun, too. I’m slowly getting back into it (compensating for the time I couldn’t speak?). I like the slow development of fluency. Plus, my playing nudges J-, and she ends up teaching herself a bit too. I’ve been teaching myself Schumann’s “Von fremden Ländern und Menschen” (the easy version from http://www.free-scores.com/download-sheet-music.php?pdf=8153) because of its appearance in McDull, but it’s also a pleasure re-encountering old friends like Für Elise.

Drawing and preparing for presentations are pretty low on my radar. I should think about how to tweak that. Fortunately, I’d written a number of blog posts from when I was presenting more, so I can remember what it’s like.

Sewing has a bit more of an activation cost than it could. When work settles down again, I’ll set aside some time to see if I can fix this.

Tomorrow is going to be a busy day. I still have a bit of a cough and some sniffles, and I’ll probably work from home, but my voice is back and I can focus on work. (More easily on work than on other things, even.)

Sketches: If you want to make the most of your next conference, you should blog

January 4, 2011 - Categories: blogging, sketches, tips


Marking up books

January 5, 2011 - Categories: book, reading

I’ve been rereading Adler and van Doren’s “How to Read a Book”. I always get tripped up by the advice to mark up one’s books (p48-51). I’ve experimented with this on and off – wild sallies into the world of underlined passages and marks in the margins of books that I own — but I always recoil, returning to furtively dog-eared pages (and even this, when done to library books, earns me a teasing frown from W-). But Adler and van Doren spend two and a half pages arguing for the value of writing in one’s books and giving tips on how to do it effectively. Their reasons:

  • It keeps you awake and concentrating.
  • It makes your reading active.
  • It helps you remember the thoughts of the author.

Maybe I can get the same benefits by writing my thoughts down elsewhere, but not on the printed pages. Ratchet up my book-blogging, perhaps, as a life-long project to build a personal, digital syntopicon?

W- has started a fresh new professional notebook for 2011. In this, notebook he writes down ideas and lessons from his work and from the books he reads. He’s been taking notes on another book I’ve browsed and dogeared – Visual Meetings.

I sporadically keep paper notebooks. They can be much more convenient than typing on a laptop, especially when one is propping a book open to the right page. Perhaps the tablet will make it easier to keep my handwritten notes?

What would my ideal book notes system be like? Decades later, I’d like to be able to say – ah, if you’re interested in that, here are the books I’ve read about it, and this is how they’re connected to each other, and the arguments they made, and how my personal experiences have supported or contradicted them, and what I’ve done with what I learned from those books, and what else I could add…

Margin notes can’t contain these, but maybe I’ll figure out my own system over time – searchable, hyperlinked, backed-up, personal, and social. In the meantime, I keep my notes in an Org text file, organized in an outline, tagged with keywords, and (occasionally) published on my blog.

What’s your system for book notes?

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren

Moving my book notes online

January 6, 2011 - Categories: emacs, reading

I moved more of my book notes online, reasoning that a braindump is better than occasional whining about the lack of a good system. ;) Fellow Emacs geeks who use Org will probably get the most out of this, as they can open it in Emacs and work with the hierarchy, but someday I may figure out a neat little hyperlinked solution that will make it easy for everyone else. Or I’ll pull more and more of these posts into my blog, where they’ll be individually linkable and commentable.

Compare: http://sachachua.com/blog/category/book/ , which wins points for being graphical and highlighted and comment-friendly, but loses topical organization, overview, search, and offline access.

It’s a start. Here’s what’s working well:

CAPTURE: Using Org + Remember to capture book notes uses the same process as my other notes. Diagrams can be scanned in and attached to files. I used to scan and OCR dogeared pages, but typing or dictating them in is okay, and it helps me review. The capture part of my process is fantastic.

ORGANIZATION: org-refile or copying and pasting are easy, so this part of the process is fine.

REVIEW: I might schedule times to refresh my memory of certain books. I can do that with Org agenda fairly easily.

SHARING: Here’s where the process breaks down a little. org2blog-post-subtree is great, and I’ve used that a number of times to post the relevant subtree of book notes. That adds the notes as entries in my blog, storing the post ID in my Org file so that I can get back to the post afterwards. org2blog also makes it easy to edit entries, hooray.

Once it’s in my blog, people can use the categories to find other entries. However, my current blog layout doesn’t highlight the categories, and it’s not easy to browse the different book-related categories. Maybe it’s worth tweaking a “reading” or “book” category layout page.

Aha! How’s http://sachachua.com/blog/book-notes/ ? It’s a manually-edited list at the top (thanks, Org!), followed by an automatically-generated index. I’ll gradually move my other notes into this system – text notes in my Org file and blog entries for linkability/commentability. Progress…

Emacs, BBDB, and getting your contacts on the Android or iPhone

January 7, 2011 - Categories: android, bbdb, emacs

Want your Emacs BBDB contacts on your Android or iPhone?

The easiest way I’ve found is to export your contacts to CSV, then import them into something like Google Contacts. You can export your BBDB contacts using bbdb-to-outlook.el, which is available in the BBDB package in the bits/ directory. Download bbdb-to-outlook.el from Sourceforge if you can’t find it in your BBDB directory. To use:

  1. Load bbdb-to-outlook.el and use M-x eval-buffer to load the code.
  2. Use M-x bbdb to open your BBDB records, and search for . to show all the records. Alternatively, search for a subset of your records.
  3. Type O to run bbdb-to-outlook and choose the file.

Tada! Step one done. Review the file and delete anything you don’t want to include.

To import the contacts into Google Contacts, go to Google Mail and click on Contacts. Click on Import and choose your file. After some time and some fiddling, you can get that synchronized onto your Android or iPhone.

I haven’t thought about syncing, but I’m trying to keep my BBDB as The Master File for Contacts anyway, as it’s so much more flexible than any other contact database I’ve tried. (Although gist.com is pretty cool and I do like the Android’s merging of photos, contact info, and updates…)

There was some work on synchronizing BBDB with the Palm, so that might be a possibility.


Weekly review: Week ending January 7, 2011

January 8, 2011 - Categories: weekly

Relearning the piano. It’s interesting. I can remember playing better than this. Now I’m re-learning how to play these pieces, going, “Ahh. That feels familiar. And then there should be this bit over here – yes, that’s right.” On the other hand, I read notes a little bit faster now than I did before.

Getting well. A persistent cough and some sniffles, but definitely better than last week.

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Work on Project M: Documentation, tidying up
    • [X] Work on Project S: Clean things up
    • [X] Idea Lab: Run Idea Lab
    • [X] Illustrate networking tips
    • Learned how to hack Drupal messaging and notifications
    • Found out my Lotusphere 2011 session got accepted
    • Had team lunch with Jennifer Nolan, Johnny Patterson and Elena Neroslavskaya
  • Relationships
    • [-] Look into cooking or cleaning assistance
    • Watched Bride and Prejudice with W- and J- (hooray library DVDs)
    • Read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
    • … and in general, enjoyed all sorts of things Austen
  • Life
    • [X] Get well
    • [X] Hire a virtual assistant again
    • Watched Bottle Shock, also from the library – that was fun
    • Started teaching myself the piano again
    • Sketched my goals for 2011.
    • Posted my book notes and improved my book workflow.
    • Posted a Kijiji ad looking for a piano teacher

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Finish up on project S
    • [X] Start testing project M
    • [X] Fix my Lotus Notes
    • [X] Look into Lotusphere
  • Relationships
    • [X] Get around to hosting a get-together, maybe a game night
    • [X] Plan May trip
  • Life
    • [X] Get back into sewing: work on black dress
    • [X] Post more book notes

Time analysis

Sleep 73.6 hours ~ 11 hours per day, thanks to good weekends
Work 33.5 hours A little overtime, but it’s good
Break 22 hours Recuperating
Writing 12 hours
Piano practice 7 hours
Routines 5.5 hours
Outsourceable 4 hours
Exercise 2.5 hours
Social 1.5 hours
Travel 0.5 hours Worked from home so that I wouldn’t get others sick
Untracked 5.9 hours Jan 1-3 had hole-y records, but Jan 4 – 7 was all tracked

Once my categories settle down, I might do some between-week analysis…

Snippets from life

January 9, 2011 - Categories: life

We celebrated J-‘s birthday at Korean Grill House last night. During a lull in the conversation as people digested the vast quantities of food we’d just consumed, she took out her iPod and started flipping through an e-book.

Her uncle asked, “What are you reading?”

J- answered, “Pride and Prejudice.”

Simultaneous jaw drop from uncle and aunt, grins from W- and me.

“Pride and Prejudice?! Are you reading that for school or for fun?”

“For fun!”

We’ve been on an entire Pride and Prejudice kick this past week. We watched the 2005 movie, the Lost in Austen miniseries, Bride and Prejudice (the Bollywood version; quite a few laughs); read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls” (the prequel to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”); quoted and joked and improvised.

Yes, we’re geeks.

We spent a very agreeable afternoon in the kitchen. We chopped up vanilla beans for making extract. I made pandesal. W- discovered a good combination: egg tarts (3 whole eggs + 3 extra egg yolks), coconut macaroons (4 egg whites), and oatmeal cookies (the recipe we use involves 2 eggs and an extra egg yolk). All in all, nine eggs and no extra parts languishing in ramekins in the fridge.

Of course, now we will need to find coworkers and friends willing to take some of these baked goods off our hands (and away from our waistlines)…

Life is good.

Work on the business from the outside, not in it – Book: Effortless entrepreneur

January 10, 2011 - Categories: book, entrepreneurship, reading

One of the key points of “Effortless entrepreneur” is that you need to create systems and delegate work so that you can free up time to improve your business.

p38. Work on the business from the outside, not in it. A great
entrepreneur builds systems to run the business as if it were a
machine, and stands over it instead of being part of its inner
workings. A business owner should sell that machine to clients and
perfect its functionality, but not sit in the gear room. How many
times have you seen a local store owner answering phones, doing
paperwork, and assisting customers all at once? This business owner
works IN the business, not ON it, and hasn’t identified the different
positions within his business, such as receptionist, salesperson, and
cashier. Instead, he does all those jobs himself.

Creating manuals and training maps for each position from the get-go
forces you to evaluate what needs to be done and helps identify tasks
you might not think of right away. That can mean fewer unpleasant
surprises down the road. At first, you’ll likely have to work IN your
business and do most, if not all, of the work for each position.
That’s common when you start out. But create a system that allows you
to just work ON it as soon as possible. Once that system is operative,
a business gains its true value.

Work on your business, not just in it. It makes sense, although lots of small-business owners find it hard to make that jump.

How can people practice this now? After all, even if you work for a company, you work for yourself, too.

It’s kinda like what Trent (The Simple Dollar) writes about in “Who is your real boss? Some perspectives on career success”:

My belief is this: the people that succeed are the people who invest that energy and time and patience and thought a little differently.
What do I mean?

  • Option A: Let’s say you go to work each day and leave it all on the
    table. When you leave work, you’re so drained you can barely make it
    home. You sit on the couch, vegetate for a while, eat dinner,
    vegetate a bit more, then hit the sack. Or perhaps you’re a parent
    and you leave work with just enough energy to get through your
    parental requirements in the evening.

  • Option B: On the other hand, let’s say you go to work and
    intentionally keep half of your energy for yourself. You give the
    company 50% of the gas in your tank. After you leave, you spend that
    50% improving yourself. You go to night classes. You go to the gym.
    You go to the library. You go to meetings of professional growth
    groups, like Toastmasters.

Well, maybe not 50%. If you can do your work with 80% effort, and then invest the rest into building skills and processes, then it’s like a savvy entrepreneur investing time into building systems, not just fighting fires. Sometimes it’s more like a full-energy work and 20% extra, but I enjoy the work and the learning along the way.

At work, I’m learning about the way we work on projects: the processes, the templates, the questions and conversations. I like making systems, processes, and tools, so I’m learning how to improve things.

I’m working on applying this idea of “working on the business, not just in it” in personal life as well. Hence the household optimizations: batch cooking and a chest freezer, tweaked routines, relationship-building. Capacity-building for future adventures.

I’m looking forward to do even better. At work, I want to to learn more about Drupal 7, consulting, and the processes we have. I’m also looking forward to writing up more notes and coaching others. In the rest of life, I’d like to experiment with delegating again, invest time into becoming a better writer, and continue building wonderful relationships.

How about you? How can you not only work in your business, but on it?

Effortless entrepreneur: Work smart, play hard, make millions
2010 Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman
Three Rivers Press
ISBN 978-0-307-58799-2

Book: Effortless entrepreneur 2011-01-10 Mon 19:27

Wrapping up projects and preparing for the next one

January 11, 2011 - Categories: career, ibm, work

We’re in the final phases of our two Drupal projects. We’re writing test scripts, fixing bugs, and loading production data. In a week or two, we’ll finalize the source code and save a copy of the database. I’ve really liked working on these projects, and I’m looking forward to working on similar things in the future.

As I wrap up on this project and get ready for future ones, I can’t help but think how working in IBM Global Business Services helps me learn about different parts of consulting. We can help with proposals for new projects. We have an internal marketplace that lists openings and required skills. We can submit our resumes and set up interviews. We need to do a little marketing on our own, and we always have to work on keeping our skills up to date.

Today I attended a call with my resource deployment manager. Her role includes matching people with projects. She shared some tips on how to make the most of our tools, some things we might invest time in if we have some downtime between projects, and upcoming projects we might be interested in.

Here are some things I’m looking forward to doing if I have some time between this and my next project:

  • Help write proposals for Drupal and Web 2.0 projects
    • Compile case studies
    • Estimate Drupal projects
    • Prototype?
  • write up and share my Drupal notes
  • Create and compile assets (Drupal case studies, Web 2.0 overviews, etc.)
  • Learn more about Drupal 7, AJAX, information architecture, mobile development, project management, and other interesting things – discuss priorities with manager
  • Maybe work on a conventional skill set – J2EE?
  • Work on paperwork: project assessments, certification, etc.
  • Improve the Lotus Connections toolkit

Just like independent consultants need to always be building their pipeline, I should see if I can balance my future project work so that I’m always working on the pipeline for the next thing: helping out with bids, learning a new skill, and so on.


Three tips for cheerful chores

January 12, 2011 - Categories: life, productivity

I’ve been taking a closer look at household tasks that I could outsource or simplify. Groceries, laundry, cleaning, cooking…

… but really, they don’t take that much time, and I probably get more value from doing them than I would from a few extra hours of writing or work.

Here are three tips I’ve found that help me enjoy what I’m doing. Maybe you’ll find them useful, too!

Many hands make fun work. Turn the chore into an excuse to build a relationship. For example, W- and I love cooking. Our batch-cooking marathons are an excuse to break out the knives, chopping boards, and stacks of food containers, and we have great conversations while slicing and dicing. We also enjoy the walk to the supermarket (which often involves a side-trip to the library, and you know how I enjoy that). Folding laundry is a good time to watch a movie (borrowed from the aforementioned library), which leads to more shared experiences and in-jokes, which helps cultivate a relationship. Turn chores into social bonding time, and the time will fly.

Use the time to reflect and improve. Cooking is a great time to learn new recipes or improve my skills. Tidying up reminds me where things are and gives me an opportunity to simplify. Spend a little extra time making things better for the next time you do something.

Eliminate or delegate things that really sap your energy. Speaking of cats: scooping out four litter boxes was not fun. So W- did a bit of research and ordered a Litter Robot. The spaceship-like contraption now commands a corner of the living room (next to the toolchest, actually). It’s been worth it not just for convenience, but also for entertainment value. Our cat Luke loves to watch it, but when he steps on it for a closer look, the Litter Robot stops rotating. This confuses him and always makes me laugh.

We could cut back on savings and hire some of these tasks out – but we’d probably replace them with time spent taking long walks together, learning new skills, or improving the flow of life. Which is basically what we would’ve been paying someone else to handle, so we might as well do it ourselves.

What do you do to make chores cheerful?

2011-01-12 Wed 19:38

Book: Let’s Get Real About Money: Profit from the Habits of the Best Personal Finance Managers

January 13, 2011 - Categories: book, finance

Let’s Get Real About Money: Profit from the Habits of the Best Personal Finance Managers
(c) 2008 Eric Tyson
FT Press, New Jersey
ISBN: 978-0-13-234161-5

My expectations were low. The subtitle “Profit from the Habits of the Best Personal Finance Managers” made me think of celebrity-focused “secrets”-type books with more fluff than content. But hey, it was on the library bookshelf, so I picked it up anyway. I’ve found all sorts of gems in unlikely books, and I’ve skimmed my way through seemingly-solid books that proved to be disappointments. It’s easy to take risks on books when they’re free. ;)

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The book has a lot of practical advice on money and relationships, family, raising savvy kids, spending plans, frugality, investment, insurance, and learning more. Well worth a read, and possibly one of my new recommendations in this area.

I’ve been thinking about whether I’ve got the right balance of saving for near-term expenses, investing for the future, and enjoying the present. The book has an entire chapter on this (pp.103 to 112). I particularly like the section on reflecting on whether you’re postponing achievable dreams, and the quote:

It is very well to be thrifty, but don’t amass a hoard of regrets.

  • French poet, Charles D’Orleans (quoted on p.118 of Let’s Get Real About Money)

I’m reminded of Ramit Sethi’s story about how some people set aside money for meeting interesting people. Might be a fun experiment, although perhaps not to that scale. Ditto for learning and experimentation, which I do explicitly save for, and which has paid off quite a bit in terms of interesting life experiences. So I’m not doing too badly in this area, and I’m continuing to learn.

There are useful tips on p131 on keeping saving in proper perspective. Here’s the summary:

  • Understand the standard of living that can be provided by the assets you’ve already accumulated.
  • Get smart about investing your money.
  • Go on a news diet.
  • Regularly buy something that you historically have viewed as frivolous but which you can truly afford.
  • Buy more gifts for the people you love.
  • Go easier on yourself and family when it comes to everyday expenses.

This year’s probably going to be pretty easy to plan for, actually, because we’ve got the two big trips planned (Netherlands and the Philippines), and we might look into improving the insulation of the house. We’re also saving up for other adventures over the next year or two. Big rocks. It’s easy to plan other things around those: perhaps piano lessons, sewing lessons, gardening experiments, and woodworking projects.

Anyway… “Let’s Get Real About Money” is a good read. Try the self-test in front, and check out the chapters on insurance and managing risks. Have fun!

2011-01-13 Thu 21:22

13,705 steps and counting

January 14, 2011 - Categories: android, life


13,705 steps in two and a half hours of leisurely walks spread out over one day, encompassing three not-entirely-necessary strolls involving two libraries, a drugstore, and one supermarket. But it was worth it: several bags of books, a package of dental floss, a pantry restocked with instant noodles, and the satisfaction of seeing what it’s like to walk the recommended 12,000 steps.

I headed out for the second half of my walk right after we wrapped up a project. The euphoria was making me buzz too much to write, so I decided to take good long walk.

The streets here are wide and well-lit, and our neighbourhood is wonderfully walkable. The largest park in Toronto is a few blocks from our house, although I more often walk to the library and to Bloor West Village. Near work, underground passages let me wander about while hiding from winter.

I enjoy walking. Even when winter’s giving me the sniffles, it’s still fun. Sometimes I think of Elizabeth Bennet walking from Longbourn to Netherfield (three miles, or a mile less than what I walked today), except in better shoes and more comfortable clothes (but not anywhere near as awesome a hat).

Tracking has certainly influenced my behaviour. I’ve taken to using Walttend Lite to track my steps because it can correctly track on my Google Nexus One even when the screen is off. None of the other pedometer apps I tried could do that, so Walttend it is. Once I was out there, it was easy to talk myself into going just a little bit further so that I could check off my 12,000 goal. After all, when you’ve gotten to the vicinity of 10k with another trip to the library (and another armful of books), you might as well keep going.

Do you use a pedometer to track your walks? What are you learning?

Photo (c) 2009 Tambako the Jaguar – Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives

Weekly review: Week ending January 14, 2011

January 15, 2011 - Categories: weekly

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Finish up on project S
    • [X] Start testing project M
    • [X] Fix my Lotus Notes
    • [X] Look into Lotusphere
    • Outlined talk on learning on the network
  • Relationships
    • [X] Get around to hosting a get-together, maybe a game night
    • [-] Plan May trip – read lots of guidebooks
    • Picked up microscope slides for J-
    • Helped J- with homework on bullying/harrassment
  • Life
    • [X] Get back into sewing: work on black dress – postponed
    • [X] Post more book notes
    • Enjoyed a week of pandesal
    • Achieved small goal of walking 12k steps in one day

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Wrap up project M
    • [X] Document case studies
    • [X] Write about lessons learned
    • [X] Apply to open seats
    • [X] Follow up on Lotusphere
    • [X] Draw networking guide for conferences
    • [X] Chat with Vikram Kalkat regarding Web 2.0
  • Relationships
    • [X] Have get-together
    • [X] Help with J-‘s Little Big Planet party
  • Life
    • [X] Get through busy week
    • [X] Post more book notes!

Time analysis

Category Hours Notes
Sleep 61.1 Average of 8.7 hours – typically around 8 hours during weekday, and longer during weekend
Work 40.7 Lots of good work
Routines 18.4
Break 16.5 Relaxed weekend
Social 13.2 Spent time with Maira, and celebrated J-‘s birthday
Writing 7.2
Exercise 6.6 Long walks
Travel 2.8
Learning 0.9 Piano
Outsourceable 0.3

Mostly tracked, yay!

I took the TTC 9 times, using tokens.

Next week, I plan to stick more closely to my alarm settings (no hitting snooze!) and gradually reduce my sleep back to 7 hours a day. Still recovering from a cold – I cough less now, but I still have the sniffles.

I also want to break “Routines” down into more detail, so I can see where my time goes.

Emacs 24 and the package manager

January 15, 2011 - Categories: emacs

Update: Added (require ‘package) – thanks, Ryan!

By default, the Emacs 24 package manager (M-x package-list-packages) points to a small repository of Emacs packages. Want more? Phil Hagelberg added support for multiple repositories to package.el. There’s the original ELPA at http://tromey.com/elpa, and there’s a community package source called Marmalade that anyone can upload packages to. Add this to your ~/.emacs and evaluate it:

(require 'package)
;; Add the original Emacs Lisp Package Archive
(add-to-list 'package-archives
             '("elpa" . "http://tromey.com/elpa/"))
;; Add the user-contributed repository
(add-to-list 'package-archives
             '("marmalade" . "http://marmalade-repo.org/packages/"))

You should then be able to call M-x package-list-packages to browse and install Emacs packages.

If you don’t have Emacs 24 yet (and you might want to wait for the official release if you use things like BBDB), Phil suggests downloading package.el from the Emacs development tree. This version includes support for multiple repositories.

For even more Emacs goodness outside the package system, check out the Emacs mirror, which lists more than 2,900 packages available through Git.

Thanks to:

2011-01-15 Sat 10:31

Switched my Fido plan

January 16, 2011 - Categories: Uncategorized

I switched my Fido plan to the $35 “Unlimited Joy” plan they were advertising. For $3.70 less than I was paying for my current plan (not considering taxes), I could make the following changes:

Old plan New plan
No included outgoing text messages Unlimited texts to Canada and international numbers
1000 evening/weekend minutes Unlimited evenings and weekends
100 anytime minutes 150 anytime minutes

Last month, I used 6.5 minutes on evenings/weekends and 5 minutes during the day. I do like the security of knowing incoming calls aren’t going to cost me a lot, though, especially as I sometimes use IBM’s VOIP systems to call people and have that connect to my cellphone. I sent seven text messages, which cost me $1.05 (compared to text messages in the Philippines! =( ). I made one long-distance call of less than a minute.

It would have cost me eight dollars in prorated charges to switch to the plan immediately, but I’m fine with waiting until the next billing cycle.

What do I plan to do with the changes? The change I care about the most involves unlimited texting, which will probably lead to lots of Twitter updates while I’m out and about, and more frequent contact with family and friends in the Philippines. =)

I can probably get a cheaper or more featureful plan with WIND Mobile, but since I can easily switch my Fido plan without locking myself into another contract, I don’t mind changing to a better Fido deal while considering the decision to switch. Over the holidays, WIND advertised a pretty sweet unlimited voice/text/data plan for $40, but I’ll wait until the reviews settle down a bit. They seem to have coverage and customer service challenges. I’ll keep an eye out for future promos, though. My Google Nexus One is compatible with the WIND network (thanks to W-‘s wonderful research), so that should be okay.

Tip: Check your cellphone plan – your choices might have improved!

Batch baking for fun and awesomeness

January 17, 2011 - Categories: cooking

It takes just a little bit more time to make two pans of lasagna instead of one, and it works out to be slightly cheaper per serving, too. (90 minutes of preparation including making pasta sauce and cleaning up; < $2 dollars per serving for us.) Batch cooking is a great way to save time and money.

What can you do with two pans of lasagna? You can keep half a pan in the fridge, divide up the other half into individual portions, and share the other pan with family or friends. We took the second pan to Morgan and Cathy’s along with the potato-rosemary rolls I baked yesterday, and we had an excellent dinner. =)

Yesterday’s batch of potato-rosemary bread worked out really well. I formed them as individual rolls instead of a loaf. Loaves are more space-efficient, but rolls are easier to share and eat. It was satisfying to see the bread rise properly, especially as my Friday batch of pandesal didn’t rise at all. (I’m switching to a pandesal recipe that calls for proofing the yeast, as the recipe I’ve written down doesn’t have that step.)

I enjoy baking. It’s even more efficient when we’ve got several recipes lined up to use similar oven temperatures, because then the oven can keep on going. This is the first time I’ve done a double batch of lasagna, and I liked the flexibility of sharing or freezing the second pan. I think I’ll do that with future batches, too.

I’m planning to gradually clear the freezer of most of the raw ingredients we’ve stored so that we can make more room for individual portions. We like stocking up on frozen fruit, raw shrimp, and other ingredients when they’re on sale, but there’s something to be said about turning fresh ingredients into convenient frozen meals. Maybe someday we might get a bigger chest freezer. We’re certainly making the most of ours!

Here are some of our freezer favourites.

Oven Stove
  • Lasagna
  • Baked beans
  • Roast turkey
  • Roast vegetables
  • Roast chicken
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • Meatballs
  • Turkey pot pie / chicken pot pie
  • Shake-and-bake chicken
  • Chili
  • Curry
  • Rice and beans
  • Pinakbet
  • Adobo
  • Pasta sauce

Do you cook in batches and freeze individual portions? What are your favourites?

Sketchnotes: Gretchen Rubin, Happiness Project book tour

January 17, 2011 - Categories: happy, sketches, sketchnotes

Full-size version of my sketch notes from Gretchen Rubin’s talk and book signing of the Happiness Project, Chapters Indigo Bay/Bloor Toronto, January 17. (You can also click on the image for the large version.)


Of recipes and memories

January 18, 2011 - Categories: cooking


Kevin Waite asks, “What format do you use to keep your recipes? Do you use Freemind or Org Mode?”

W- and I write good recipes down in a notebook. Using paper instead of the computer means that both of us can easily add new recipes, we can draw or use graphical shortcuts, and we don’t have to worry so much about spilling things on our notes. Using a bound notebook instead of individual recipe cards means that we don’t have to worry about losing any favourites.

W- started out by keeping it as a food diary, complete with luscious descriptions and fountain-pen ink. Now it’s more of a recipe stash, but even the sparse notes evoke sensations. Because cooking is such a part of our lives, each page brings lots of memories. Even the blank pages near the end tell a story through the splatter from the time that the pressure cooker exploded when W- was cooking too large a batch of beans.

We get many of our recipes from the cookbooks in the house, and we frequently refer to the two editions we have of the Joy of Cooking. We also turn to the Internet for other recipes, like the recipe for home-made vanilla extract. We copy recipes into our notebook for ease of reference and recall. Flipping through the pages reminds us of things we should cook again.

W- and I also keep electronic lists and copies of some recipes, just in case we need to change our plans at the supermarket. We almost always shop with a grocery list, but sometimes we’ll swap recipes if the produce or other ingredients don’t look good. I keep lists in my Org outline too, so that I can easily review our batch cooking recipes or my list of recipes to try.

There are so many blank pages to go. Looking forward to filling them up!

Fun and rational economic theory: reflections on the book “The Logic of Life”

January 19, 2011 - Categories: book, life, reflection

What do you do for fun? Why do you do it? Do you want to shift your patterns?

I was surprised to hear Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) say at her book talk that most grown-ups don’t know what they would do for fun. I can easily list things I enjoy doing. I can probably even explain why I enjoy doing them and how I want to change or improve.

Sometimes knowing what you would do for fun isn’t easy. It forces you to confront the fact that you do not do some things for fun, that the intrinsic enjoyment of it is dormant or gone. For example, I realized that making or giving presentations had dropped off the list of things I enjoy doing just because.

Are there activities you would like to enjoy more? What about activities you’d like to enjoy less? I’m like that too. Rational economic theory to the rescue! If you look at what you enjoy doing, think about the costs and incentives of different activities, and work on ways to change those costs and incentives, you can make it easier for you to do the kinds of things you want to do and avoid the things you don’t. In this blog post, I’m going to see if this geeky way of looking at fun actually works.

The relevant quote from The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World ( Tim Harford, 2008)

p4. Rational people respond to trade-offs and to incentives. When the
costs and benefits of something change, people change their behavior.
Rational people think – not always consciously – about the future as
well as the present as they try to anticipate likely consequences of
their actions in an uncertain world.

What do you do? What are your behaviours? What are the benefits? Let’s take a look at fun. Here’s what I do (roughly in order of preference), why I do them, and what I’d like to change.

Spending time with W-. This is an easy one. Pay-off: Richer relationships, more in-jokes, and quite a bit of learning along the way. We like cooking, discussing books, going for walks, and picking up shared hobbies, although we occasionally watch movies (mostly borrowed from the library). Cost: Time. Change: This part has good balance, so I don’t need to increase or decrease it.

Writing. I love writing down what I think and what I’m learning. I’ll even write as a way of procrastinating other things I need to do. Pay-off: The immediate benefits of understanding, the medium-term benefits of recall, and the long-term investment in a knowledgebase. The insights people share with me through comments and the insights they pick up from me through reading are icing on the cake. Cost: Time. Change: I think I spend a good enough amount of time on this and that I get great value for the time I spend on it. I might try spending less time on it.

Reading. I read voraciously. Fortunately, Toronto has one of the largest library systems in the world. Pay-off: I pick up new words and ideas that I can use in life and writing. Cost: Time and space. Change: although taking book notes and doing life experiments based on what I’ve read help me make sure I get more value from the time, I probably spend more time reading than I should. I get diminishing returns from, say, the Xth personal finance book I’ve read, and I suspect I sometimes read things to feel smug. ;) (Like the way people watch reality TV shows?) I can increase the cost of reading by planning to ask questions and write book notes for books that come in. I can increase the benefits of reading by sharing book notes and life experiments. I can shift to higher-value reading (new subjects, question-driven research).

Baking or cooking. I enjoy trying new recipes or making our favourites. Pay-off: Yummy food, new experiences, and closer relationships with W-, J-, and friends. Cost: Time and freezer/fridge/bread-box space. Change: Good balance here, no change needed. (Although it’s interesting that I’ve been procrastinating working on open source in favour of making bread, probably because the pay-off from appreciative family / friends makes me feel warmer and fuzzier.)

Walking or biking. Pay-off: Satisfaction of knowing I’m getting some exercise, long-term health benefits, and often shared time with W-. Cost: Wearing winter-friendly clothes when I’m working at home; making time for a walk when I’m at the office. Change: More of this, maybe at the expense of some writing. (Or maybe I can use walking time to think about what I want to write…) I can lower the costs by changing into going-out-friendly clothes when I’m working at home, and blocking out time for walks.

Planning and reviewing my finances. Yes, I actually enjoy doing my books and reviewing my plans. I’m weird. Pay-off: Satisfaction of knowing things are going well; confidence in being able to plan for purchases or goals. Cost: Time. Change: This doesn’t take a lot of time, but I should probably spend less time on this.

Organizing. Pay-off: Investment into being able to find things again, reducing frustration. The satisfaction of having a neat-ish place. Appreciation from W-. Cost: Time. Change: This is currently reasonable, although I could invest some time into simplifying and improving systems so that I can avoid even more clutter.

Playing the piano. Pay-off: Satisfaction from learning and from listening to music I’m playing. Mental exercise. Appreciation from W- and J-. Cost: Time. Change: I think this is okay. I might look into piano lessons if that will help me learn faster.

Gardening. Pay-off: Yummy food. Satisfaction of self-sufficiency (at least in small parts!). Experiences with nature. Shared experiences with W- and J-. Cost: Time and some money. Change: I want to do this more efficiently next growing season, working my way to a better yield.

Building furniture. Pay-off: Shared interests and shared time with W-. Custom items. The satisfaction of making things. Cost: Time, money, and risk. Change: More of this during the summer! =)

Sewing. Pay-off: Satisfaction of making things that fit my preferences. Cost: Frustration, time, some money. Task-switching cost – have to set up. Change: I’d like to do more of this. I can do that by starting with small projects, practising and improving my skills (so that I can reduce frustration), and attending lessons (formally blocks the time off, makes it easier to task-switch).

Working on open source. Pay-off: The buzz of solving problems; the convenience of programs that fit the way I work a little bit better; the appreciation of other people; improved technical skills. Costs: Task-switching (loading the relevant programs, remembering where I am and what I’m working on, getting into the swing of things); occasional bit of paperwork. Change: I’d like to do more of this, maybe by creating blocks of time where I can focus on open source.

Things that I would like to enjoy more:

Drawing. Pay-off: New skills; satisfaction from creating things; improved ability to communicate. Cost: Not entirely happy with drawing on my tablet yet; switching cost if I use the tablet downstairs. Change: If I get better at drawing through practice and learning, and I get used to drawing with one of the programs on my computer, then I’ll find this easier, more natural, and more enjoyable. GIMP? MyPaint? Paint? OneNote? Inkscape? I should pick one and learn it inside and out.

Making and giving presentations. Pay-off: Improved understanding. Helping other people. Connecting with others. Passive networking. Cost: Time. Risk of boring-ness. Obligation. Stress. Change: If I write more, I’ll have more to harvest for presentations. If I ignore the fear of being boring and just get something out there, that will help me deal with the stress of creating something for public use.

Meeting people. This includes meeting new people as well as hanging out with friends. It’s much too easy for me to go into introvert mode and get out to meet people only once in a while. Pay-off: Potentially interesting conversations. Opportunities to help others. Aha! moments myself. Friendships. Cost: conversations that don’t go beyond news, sports, and weather. Change: I should do more of this. Maybe if I focus on remembering how fun it was to hang out with my friends in the Philippines, that will motivate me to build more friendships here too. Simplifying my get-togethers might lead to my actually having regular monthly get-togethers. Setting aside specific blocks of time to be social will also help me work around my introvert tendencies.

Looking at this, I suppose I could scale back on reading, baking/cooking, planning, and reviewing my finances.

I can integrate organizing into my daily routines better.

I can work on remembering or increasing the pay-offs for meeting people and making presentations.

Then I can set aside blocks of time that I can use for drawing, sewing, or making presentations, and another regular block of time for meeting people or investing in relationships.

When summer comes again, gardening can take the place of some walking, and biking will take the place of my subway commute. Woodworking/building furniture is also spending time with W-, so that should be okay.

Thinking about this and writing things down helps me tweak the balance.

How about you? What do you do for fun? What are the costs and pay-offs? What would you like to change?

The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World
2008 Tim Harford
ISBN 978-0-385-66387-8

2011-01-19 Wed 06:20

Monthly review: December 2010

January 20, 2011 - Categories: monthly

Update: fixed year, thanks!

Forgot I hadn’t done one of these for December. Good thing I’ve been getting my to-do capture system sorted out again. In November’s review, I said:

What will December look like? Lots of good work, more productivity
experiments, maybe some Android hacking, a few social get-togethers,
and onwards to another great year.

We did most of the work on Project M and Project S, both Drupal projects for non-profits who had received grants from IBM. I experimented with changing what day my week starts on, making taho, illustrating cards, and Android use. Lots of Android hacking, too. Oh, and we disassembled and reassembled a new washing machine and dryer, and both worked! Boy, did we ever learn a lot from that. I posted more sketchnotes, networking tips, Emacs news, and career reflections, too.

  • Plans for January:
    • Work
      • [X] Finish Project M
      • [X] Finish Project S
      • [X] Start new project
    • Relationships
      • [X] Host get-together
      • [X] Send delayed holiday cards
      • [X] Get into the habit of meeting people
    • Life
      • [X] Improve my routines: set aside time for drawing, sewing, and making presentations
      • [X] Post goals

Sketchnotes from Quantified Self Toronto meetup #3

January 21, 2011 - Categories: quantified, sketches, sketchnotes

Click on the image for a slightly larger version.image

Topics: neurotropics, step counting, tracking through low-cost devices (mylifestracks.com doesn’t seem to work – correct URL?)

I also shared my time tracking, grocery tracking, and price book. People found the batch cooking stuff interesting. =) Here are the slides I used:

See past notes: second meetup, first meetup. Check out more sketchnotes, more sketches, or more things about the quantified self. Learn about upcoming Quantified Self Toronto events on Meetup – see you at the next one!

Weekly review: Week ending January 21, 2011

January 22, 2011 - Categories: weekly

Oh boy. Between the M and S projects wrapping up, Lotusphere preparations, and general scrambling, life is going to be pretty busy for the next three weeks. Must make time to get plenty of sleep.

From last week’s plans

  • Work
    • [X] Wrap up project M
    • [X] Document case studies
    • [-] Write about lessons learned
    • [X] Apply to open seats
    • [X] Follow up on Lotusphere – I’m going!
    • [-] Draw networking guide for conferences – more progress
    • [X] Chat with Vikram Kalkat regarding Web 2.0
    • Registered for Lotusphere; booked hotel and flight
  • Relationships
    • [-] Have get-together – postponed to Feb
    • [X] Help with J-‘s Little Big Planet party
    • Baked lasagna and shared it with Morgan and Cathy
  • Life
    • [X] Get through busy week
    • [-] Post more book notes!
    • Attended Quantified Self meetup. Shared my grocery tracking and time tracking experiences. Posted sketchnotes.
    • Posted rational economic theory analysis of things I do for fun ;)
    • Started using Keep Track on the Android to track values (productivity, energy, happiness)
    • Downloaded pre-certified StudioTax 2010 (keener!)

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Finish deliverables for Project M
    • [X] Get my Lotusphere plans together
    • [X] Prepare Lotusphere BoF resources on working with the Lotus Connections API
    • [X] Finish pre-conference networking tips slides
  • Relationships
    • [X] Connect with coworkers
    • [X] Be extra-wonderful to W-
  • Life
    • [X] Survive even busier week
    • [X] Book a massage for some time after I get back from Lotusphere?

Time analysis

Category Hours Last week Notes
Sleep 61.6 61.1 8.8 hours of sleep a day; the constant battle of the satisfaction of waking up early, the need to avoid sleep deprivation, and the interestingness of evening life
Work 46.4 40.7 Overtime dealing with project wrap-up
Routines 16.0 18.4 Cooking: 1.6 hours, tidying: 0.5 hours
Break 12.0 16.5 Mostly eating-related; will break this out separately
Social 10.1 13.2 Quantified Self meetup, hanging out with W- and J-
Exercise 7.7 6.6
Writing 7.3 7.2
Travel 2.9 2.8
Learning 2.7 0.9
Outsourceable 0.8 0.3

I’m going to try limiting my writing time further, and cutting a little bit back on sleep. Also experimenting with breaking routines down into more detail.

Sketches: What index cards are teaching me about drawing

January 23, 2011 - Categories: presentation, sketches

I resolved to spend less time writing and more time drawing. Today was difficult. I had too many stories to tell, too many thoughts to catch.


My thoughts flitted about, escaped. Drawing was frustrating. I felt inarticulate. And yet, slowly, I started to be able to breathe with it.


But then, an afternoon later, I found myself drawing.



Most of the time, I even managed to concentrate on a project I’d been procrastinating for a while. Here is one frame that will probably become a slide:


Another figure takes shape under my fingers.

I draw a conference badge and write down some tips. I relax by drawing a cat. Another tip or three. Another cat. The next steps. A personal goal. A networking tip. A meta-reflection.


I love drawing on the computer because of the colours, the ease of revision, the cleanliness of the lines, and the infinity of space that I can draw on.

Today I discovered the joys in the greys of pencil on card, the smudges of erasures never completely gone, the  roughness of lines, and the constraints of a 3×5 card. And something else about the way I draw–

In snatches, in non-linear frames, like the way I hear snippets of future speeches in my imagination–

Jumping around, going where curiosity takes me. It’s like I dip in and out of watching this presentation, but it’s all jumbled up. I might say, oh, there’s a nice idea. That one too. Let’s see… oh, yes, that makes sense. And yet there’s me in this too, saying, hmm, what if there’s this? And then this? Oh, then that would mean that this would be good for this part. Now that will need revision. I’ll draw a new card. Ah, it’s slowly coming together.

I spent eight hours drawing. I can draw hands better than I did before. And bicycles. And conference tips. It was fun.

There’s more to draw and more to learn. Maybe I’ll throttle my writing further by coursing it through drawing, letting the frustration of pent-up stories drive me to increase my visual vocabulary and my drawing skills. It’ll be interesting.

Index cards. Try them out. =)


January 24, 2011 - Categories: sketches


W- hung up a bird-feeder, suspending it underneath a baffle (here a repurposed metal plate supposed to block squirrel access) and dangling it from a far branch. The squirrels have been undeterred, raiding the seed supply for food to get them through another winter. No birds in sight. They’re all hanging out near the warmer parts of this neighbourhood, no doubt. So much for fair-weather friends not easily bribed with a handful of seeds.

We once checked out a book declaring war on squirrels. It contained reviews of different “squirrel-proof” bird-feeders, concluding that there really is no practical way to foil this ingenious and nimble animal. (Well, maybe the chicken-wire cage we built to protect our plants – but then the birds can’t get through the mesh, either…)

That’s okay. Let them eat the seeds. Winter is winter. And isn’t it fascinating how they persist, how they contort, how they dangle and leap like Cirque du Soleil acrobats in order to get what they want?

We scatter peanuts on the snowy deck so that our cats can watch the squirrels grab them. Some squirrels are cheeky enough to tease the cats, safely separated by solid glass. The cats chatter, little hunters gnashing their teeth and twitching their tails. We have fun watching the cats watching the squirrels.

I’m having more fun drawing on index cards now. I can carry more shapes in my head. And I drew all the pieces I needed for a standalone presentation I’ve meant to put together for a while. We’ll see how well it works!

Tweaking fun and nudging myself out of procrastination

January 25, 2011 - Categories: kaizen, life, productivity

Using rational economics to analyze what I do for fun seems to have paid off. By changing the costs and benefits of different activities, I’ve managed to nudge myself out of (excessive?) reading and writing, finally tackling some projects I’ve been procrastinating for a while.

Increasing the cost of reading: I decided to be pickier about the books I read. Instead of skimming books looking for nuggets or interesting turns of phrase, I now check the table of contents, head straight for the chapters with the most promise, and evaluate whether or not to continue. This means I spend less time reading on autopilot. While I’d love to be enthused about Mortimer J. Adler’s collection of essays and references on the Great Books, it’s just lower-priority at the moment.

Increasing the cost of writing: Switching to a “draw first, then write” procedure is working well for me. Not every blog post is going to be illustrated, but it will be fun drawing more. I might also experiment with requiring myself to work on a non-writing, non-reading personal project (sewing, for example) before I can sit down to write a blog post. Or maybe walking, and even tying the length of time or the number of words I can write to the length of exercise or the number of steps (divided by a suitable number, of course). This probably means going back to evening pages, although exercise would go well with morning pages.

Decreasing the cost of drawing: Achieved by settling in for a good afternoon of drawing with pencils, index cards, and cats willing to provide creative breaks. Result: I drew the networking tips presentation I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve sent it off for review, and will post it when approved.

Decreasing the cost of sewing: Making the time to watch the instructional videos helped me learn how to use the serger, which meant being able to finish the pants I’ve been meaning to hem.

Next: Hmm, maybe I can apply the same process in order to become more social…

2011-01-25 Tue 20:45

Cross-posting between Lotus Connections blogs and a personal blog

January 26, 2011 - Categories: blogging, ibm

I confess: I sometimes forget to update my internal blog. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible, and my personal blog is a way of making ideas and thoughts and insights searchable and public. While I update my personal blog every day (and still have plenty of stories I want to share), my IBM blog occasionally languishes. I post when I have something specific to say about IBM, but otherwise, I forget. New resolution: cross-post more – who knows who might find it useful?

Here’s something I want to share which will definitely help me, at least two other people, and possibly others too. =)

Delphine Remy-Boutang and Anna Dreyzin asked me how to cross-post between blogs. I don’t know of an automatic way to do this yet, although I keep being tempted to write a tool that periodically checks my external blog for posts tagged “ibm” and crossposts them to my Lotus Connections blog. There’s a manual way to do it, though. Use a desktop blog editor that makes cross-posting easier.

How: I’ve set up Windows Live Writer to publish to both my WordPress blog (http://livinganawesomelife.com) and my Lotus Connections blog (http://w3.ibm.com/connections/blogs/sachachua , accessible only within IBM). After I publish a post, I click on the blog dropdown in the top left corner to select another site, choose new categories, perhaps edit the body of the post, and publish the post again. It takes a few extra clicks and opens up a whole new world of serendipitous conversations.

Now why: Why cross-post between blogs?

I see my personal blog as an archive of things I’ve learned. If something can be publicly shared, I’d like to share it there. If not, I can copy the information into my private notes for ease of reference.

Cross-posting to an internal blog makes it easier for people to come across potentially useful posts through our internal search engine as well as through browsing the recent updates. For example, I really should go back and cross-post my Drupal-related posts.

Cross-posting to an external blog makes it easier to keep those blogs up to date and to engage a different audience.

Kaizen (continuous improvement): I’m this close to either writing a Java tool or hacking org2blog.el to support crossposting. ;) The Java tool will probably be easier to share with other people. I might give it a try.

What do you do to make cross-posting easier?

Draft Lotusphere BoF on working with the Connections API

January 26, 2011 - Categories: conference, ibm, lotus, presentation

My birds-of-a-feather session got voted into Lotusphere 2011, so I’m preparing some conversation starters.

What should we add to this? What should we remove? #ls11

A braindump of tips for other new immigrants from the Philippines

January 27, 2011 - Categories: canada, philippines, tips

For Anna Simbulan (welcome to Toronto!) and others this can help along the way. =)

  • Winter and clothing

    Toronto can be cold. Dress in layers. Long underwear, sweaters, gloves, and hats can help you keep warm. Thinsulate is better than knit when it comes to blocking out wind. Layers are better than a big coat because you can adjust the warmth depending on changes in weather, physical activity, etc.

    Winter can also be pretty grey and depressing. If you’re finding it hard to get through the day, get plenty of sunlight. Sometimes colourful things can be helpful, too.

    Things might look pretty expensive, particularly if you do the CAD-PHP conversion and think about how much cheaper you could get things at ukay-ukay or bazaars. Check out second-hand stores like Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Value Village. You can usually find perfectly good clothes, coats, and household items for much cheaper than the retail price.

    If you need to walk around downtown Toronto, check out the underground PATH.

    Find something to enjoy about winter. I’ve learned to think of winter as a season for cooking, baking, hot chocolate, and early(ish) bedtimes.

  • Home and society

    Be prepared for homesickness. It’s a natural part of moving.

    Be prepared for cultural differences. Avoid making jokes or statements that are racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise politically incorrect.

    It can feel pretty lonely when your barkada and social support networks are half a world away. Check out classes, go to activities, meet people, make new friends.

    Free video-calling programs like Skype and social networking tools like Facebook help you keep in touch with old friends.

    If you want to cook recipes from home, you can find many of the ingredients in Chinatown or even in some of the larger supermarkets. For example, you can find Skyflakes, ampalaya, bagoong, and halo-halo ingredients in Chinatown. The No Frills supermarket in Dufferin Mall has Skyflakes, too.

    There aren’t that many Filipino restaurants downtown, though. Definitely worth learning how to make things at home. You may find some neighborhoods with Filipino stores (including places where you can buy balikbayan boxes). See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Manila#Toronto

  • Resources

    The Toronto Public Library is amazing. Sign up, get your library card, and use http://torontopubliclibrary.ca to get books delivered to the branch closest to you. It even has a number of books in Filipino. Check out the e-books, movies, music CDs, and graphic novels as well.

    The library has many seminars for newcomers and job-seekers. There are many other newcomer organizations, too. Take advantage of the services and training they offer, such as networking events and free training.

    Public transit works pretty well. You can even use maps.google.com to plan your route.

  • Work

    If you’re applying for a job, it’s worth reviewing your resume and using the Canadian conventions. For example, people here don’t indicate their age, marital status, height, or weight on resumes.

    If you get stumped by employers requiring Canadian experience, consider volunteering or working in a different position for some time in order to pick up that experience.

  • Finance

    If you’re having a hard time getting a credit card, get a secured credit card first, then use that to build your credit history. When I started, I got the TD Green Visa card. I deposited some money and that deposit was used to secure the card. Once you qualify for a better card, you can switch to something like PCFinancial Mastercard (equivalent of 1% rewards) or MBNA Enrich (3% cashback on groceries, 1% on regular purchases).

    Compare prices online. Buying textbooks or other things? Check ebay.ca and other sites before buying things in person. You can often find significant discounts online, too, and shipping is reliable. Look for free or cheap stuff on craigslist.ca or kijiji.ca, or join a Freecycle group.

    Keep some savings in a checking account as an emergency fund / buffer and the rest in a high-interest savings account. Don’t overload yourself with credit card debt. Pay off your credit card every month, if you can, and plan your spending so that you don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck.

    Enjoy life. =) There will probably always be things and people you will miss, but maybe Toronto can become a second home.


    What other tips would you add?

Pre-conference networking tips for the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference

January 28, 2011 - Categories: conference, connecting, sketches, speaking, tips

This is for http://itsc.oetc.org . Thanks to Darren Hudgins for the nudge to make this!

Weekly review: Week ending January 28, 2011

January 29, 2011 - Categories: weekly

I’m typing this weekly review outside an empty meeting room at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel, where Lotusphere will be held this year. It’s definitely conference season.

I’d been taking a lower-key approach to presenting this year, so I don’t have too many conference commitments planned. I had fun sketching pre-conference networking tips for ITSC using index cards.

Definitely an early bed time tonight. Plenty of work this week.

Plans for last week

  • Work
    • [X] Finish deliverables for Project M
    • [X] Get my Lotusphere plans together
    • [X] Prepare Lotusphere BoF resources on working with the Lotus Connections API
    • [X] Finish pre-conference networking tips slides
    • Helped build Drupal site for internal coordination of marketing materials for AIS Canada – yay for being able to quickly build things using Drupal!
    • Talked to two groups about Idea Labs
    • Booked travel arrangements for Lotusphere
  • Relationships
    • [X] Connect with coworkers
    • [X] Be extra-wonderful to W- (taking off for a week)
    • Accepted accommodation plans for Kathy and John’s wedding in the Netherlands
  • Life
    • [X] Survive even busier week
    • [-] Book a massage for some time after I get back from Lotusphere?
    • Connected with Toronto newcomer from Philippines

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [X] Help at Lotusphere as a room monitor
    • [X] Potentially host a BoF on the Connections API
    • [X] Learn from Lotusphere presentations (content and technique)
  • Relationships
    • [X] Connect with IBMers, partners, and clients at Lotusphere
  • Life
    • [X] Do time analysis of conference time
      • Can I still get ~8 hours of sleep a day?
      • What’s exercise like?
    • [X] Eat salads. See if I can order half-portions.

Time analysis

Category Hours Last week Notes
Sleep 55.3 61.6 7.8 hours of sleep a day
Work 40.4 46.4 Some breathing time between projects
Social 12.8 10.1
Drawing 12.8 Maybe half of this counts as work
Routines – general 8.7 13.9
Routines – cooking 3.7 1.6
Routines – tidying 2.5 0.5
Prep – planning 0.7
Prep – laundry 1.7
Prep – general 5.1
Break 9.0 12.0
Exercise 4.0 7.7 4 days with at least 10k steps
Sewing 3.6
Travel 2.8 2.9
Writing 1.8 7.3
Learning 1.2 2.7
Outsourceable 0.8

What have I learned?

Rational economics is useful for modifying your own behavior.

If I spend my weekend afternoons or weekday evenings drawing or sewing instead of writing, I can get into the flow and make a lot of progress.

It’s satisfying to check off things I’ve been procrastinating.

On the other hand, it’s hard to resist writing, because thoughts are buzzing around in my head. Drawing helps a little with that.

Maybe I’ll try doing only one day of alternate focus each week. That might give me some space. Although I’m not sure if it’s the confounding effect of a conference – I always get a little buzzy around conferences. It’s like adapting to a new time signature or tempo.