Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011


I feel I should say something about Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant mind that has left us way too early. There have been many tributes to him on virtually every newspaper I read today, all of it well deserved.

I first learned of him after having read, enjoyed and agreed with most of his thinking in 'God is not great'. As I learned a bit more about him, I became a fan. I would invariably take the time to read his Salon column every Monday morning (it would arrive via RSS) and always come out impressed with the breadth of topics he would cover, the poignancy of his comments and clarity of his thinking. I deeply admired his stance as his own man, not simply aligning himself 'right', 'left' or anything in between.

Watching him (unfortunately never live, but online or listening afterwards via podcasts) on debates such as Intelligence Squared and the Munk Debates was uplifting: here was the personification of 'applied intellect' - the perfect combination of erudite knowledge, moral clarity and unflinching delivery. One would almost - almost - feel bad for the opposing side. A lot more to be found at and google elsewhere.

There's surely others who will write much better prose to honor him, but let this be my simple contribution. Some of us will praise him for his positions, some won't, but we should all praise him for his courage and contributions.

Thanks Hitch, we'll miss you dearly.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Instapaper or Read it Later? Both!

As I battle to keep up to date with everything that happens in my industry (IT, specifically security/networking), one of the best tools I use is a 'to read later' application: basic premise is that if you come across something that you think might be interesting but you just don't have the time (or resources) to check it out now, you can mark it for later. Then, when you have moment (yeah, right...), you just go back through your unread list to check them out.

There's a few of these apps out there - Apple actually included the functionality in the latest Safari with iOS 5.0 - but the ones I'm more familiar with are Read it Later and Instapaper. They both have support for tags, multi-platform support and free/paid versions (though Instapaper offers virtually all functionality for free so 'paid' really means donation, which I find totally worth it).

One of the more interesting thing about both of these apps is that they have a stable API so other applications can hook into them. This has led to a variety of applications supporting direct "one-click" integration, allowing things like sending a link to the 'to read later' queue while browsing your Twitter feed or Facebook news, for example.

That - sending off to 'to read' list while browsing Twitter - is primarily how I use this functionality. My preferred Twitter client is 'Oosfora HD' (paid) on the iPad and I'll happily bookmark links for reading later from within that app.

But which one do I use? The answer (as per the title of this entry) is both! Wait, what? Why both? Heresy!
As with every other 'battle' in IT (Windows or Mac? Chrome or Firefox? iOS or Android?) there *must* be one choice. Your entire self-worth as an individual is tied to choosing the ONE app that is clearly BETTER.

Well,no. One of the benefits of using BOTH apps at the same time is that you can easily curate your collection so that you end up with two distinct 'flavours' of bookmarks to check out and can then review them according to your mood, resources at hand, etc...

As an example, I use 'Instapaper' for industry-related links that I either have to be in the right mindset to review or that I want to take notes into my Personal Knowledge Management system (future blog post...). I use 'Read it Later' for more 'generic' links that I want to check out but not necessarily 'study'.

Why not use one and just tag things instead? Simple answer: the process of tagging something is not well integrated into the other apps I use and frankly just slows down the process. It is a lot easier to just select 'Read it Later' or 'Instapaper' from a pop-up than actually type a tag.

Anyway, I hope this helps others who face similar situations.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dashboards and my Weekly Planners

I mentioned before that I'm a huge fan of mindmaps for personal organization. My tool of choice is MindJet's Mindmanager, which I bought out of pocket for back in 2001 and never looked back.

One of the things I've done recently is to finally set up a couple of dashboard mindmaps - for me, maps that summarize what I have to worry about as it relates to a particular topic and jump-off points to other locations, from other maps to Web sites out there. The benefit of dashboard mindmaps is that I can quickly glance at them and take in all the relevant information about something.

My first dashboard is business-specific (sorry, not meant for publication): as a Sales/System Engineer (see my LinkedIn profile here), I need to keep track of business contacts and current business opportunities. A couple of maps - one for the business contacts, with linkages to account-specific maps, and one for the opportunities themselves - let me have a great summary of my territory. Some of the benefits I get from it are:
- Quickly identify key people I need to get in touch with.
- Have an at-a-glance summary of opportunities I need to focus on in the short term.

My second dashboard is 'personal', meaning it tracks everything in four main categories: work, personal, career and home (family, kids, etc...). I use it as a scratch pad for things on my radar (in addition to my detailed task list in MyLifeOrganized). See my earlier posts for some description of how I work.

Here's a high-level view of my personal dashboard:

Well, one thing I added to my personal dashboard is a weekly planner. This is simple but very useful. In a nutshell, I now have an easy to view/edit location where I consolidate information from many sources:
- My personal and business calendars (Gmail and Outlook, respectively)
- Key tasks I want to achieve on that date (manually, but taken from MLO)
- Additional tidbits not available elsewhere that I think are relevant.

Here's a redacted example:

The nice thing is that I also have not only similar views for upcoming weeks (as you can see in the image) but also a 'weekly template' (not shown) that I can just copy over to a new week.

Like I said, this is simple stuff - maybe old news to more experienced mindmappers - but still something that helped me organize my affairs better. Hope it helps others too.

Until next time!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looking at one's career - part 1 of ?

In a continuation of my series on looking at career (started here), where I describe some of what influences me) I want to address the notion of improvement. Keep in mind these are my thoughts without explicit linkage to existing theories/content/... out there. I'll be more than happy to point out additional resources as I find them.

Continuous Improvement

First and foremost, I am a strong believer in the fact that constant improvement is essential, non-negotiable really, if one wants to achieve and at a minimum maintain (never mind increase) the means to function as a professional in modern society. This does not necessarily mean "working" all the time, taking courses like there's no tomorrow and throwing work-life balance out the window, but the deliberate pursuit of improvement in at least the following contexts:
  • Tasks - The specific actions one needs to take to fulfill their responsibilities to their employer. 
  • Job - The things that are relevant to one's present employer, be they "external" - everything related to how that employer interacts with its customers - or "internal" - how to function effectively as a member of the employer's organization.
  • Skills - Your specific abilities related to your field of expertise or your capabilities to be a functioning individual in modern society.
  • Career - The progression of roles within one or more organizations over a period of time.
  • Area - The broad knowledge field(s) in which one operates.
Ultimately, I think "taking care of one's career" is the constant, never-ending balancing of improvements in each of the areas above. Neglecting any one of them for the benefit of others will result in heartbreak:
  • if you ignore the Tasks, you can't actually *do* what you're supposed to do and may end up dismissed for not adding value.
  • if you ignore the Job, you may end up a sub-par member of the organization, either at risk of losing your job or stuck in the same place until obsolescence.
  • if you ignore Skills, whatever you know or know how to do may not be transferable to other scenarios, be they in your current organization or elsewhere.
  • if you ignore Career, your work history may be a series of roles with no distinguishing growth. It may be OK for some, but rarely the stuff people aspire to.
  • if you ignore your Area, it becomes difficult to identify and understand the impact of larger trends in your industry on what you do and on your plans moving forward.

What do I mean by pursuit of improvement? There's several alternatives, including but not limited to:
  • Formal training: academia, continuing education, corporate training, private courses, tutors, ...
  • Self-study: reading books, joining study groups/lists online, watching/participating online training (I *love* the Khan Academy as an example, or, keeping abreast of developments, news, etc...
  • Practicing: volunteering (offline or online - Livemocha is a good example of online volunteering for language training), internships, hobbies, side businesses, etc...

The amount of time one dedicates to this will naturally fluctuate: from extra-hyper crazy days/weeks at work to dealing with family commitments or even one's own motivation peaks and troughs, there will be times where one can dedicate 'x' hours per week on a set schedule and there will be times when one is lucky to get 15-30 minutes without distractions.

Wrapping up, the key ideas I value are:
- keep improving
- balance it with the rest of life, but don't neglect it
- balance it between all the contexts I mentioned above
- balance it between the ways to improve I mentioned
- keep improving
- keep improving
- ...

Looking at one's career - part 0 of ?

In having a conversation with someone whom I deeply admire, the topic of career planning and progress came up. In trying to summarize my points, I realized that I was having problems explaining my positions, so the idea of putting things to "paper" came to mind.

This post is the prologue to the series of articles I plan to write to help me crystallize the concepts running around my mind. Yes, it can be thought of as narcissistic of me, but I've made my peace with what and how I write (cue in the scene from "Top Gun" where Maverick admits being arrogant... :-) )


I am an avid but not very methodical student. For years I've been digesting all sorts of interesting ideas through books, magazines, articles, audiobooks, mailing lists, webminars, courses, conversations, blog posts, tweets, ... but have only been moderately successful at storing that information in an efficient format. This is a constant work in progress - a common theme to my routine - but some key ideas stick around without the need for elaborate systems.

First and foremost, I am heavily influenced (though not limited by) the examples I had at home when growing up. My mother and my stepfather have had long and distinguished careers in academia, while my two younger brothers have followed on that example much more than I did (both have advanced degrees in their respective fields, while I focused on a career in the private sector). I grew up with mom and my stepdad dedicating a significant amount of time above and beyond "working hours" to studying, preparing lectures, coaching/mentoring others and taking visible satisfaction/enjoyment in doing so.

At some point - after the early career years where everything is a blur - I found myself interested in personal improvement on my own terms: I thought of academia as too stifling and of typical corporate training as too tactical. At the time I considered going for an MBA (still haven't ruled it out completely) but in one of those fortuitous turns of life I came across the "Personal MBA" ( initiative. It really deserves its own blog post - coming soon - but for now think of it as a collection of recommended readings on key areas typically found in most MBA programs, with a slight bias towards small-business entrepreneurship. It literally changed my life.

Over the past few years, I've read - in whole or in part - many of the books recommended there. Here are some of the key ideas I have taken as key influences in my thinking:

- From Jim Rohn (motivational speaker), there are several quotes, but two stuck with me:
     "Work hard on your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune..."
     "Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better. Don't wish for less problems; wish for more skills. Don't wish for less challenges; wish for more wisdom."

- Mastery, by George Leonard
     The basic notion of mastery being a never-ending journey of constant improvement.

- Now, Discover your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton 
     That developing strengths rather than fixing weakness leads to much greater outcomes.

- Getting Things Done, by David Allen. 
     Providing a system for not only managing "to do"s, but the concept of thinking about things in multiple layers (50,000 foot-view, 20,000, 10,000, ...).

- Lead the Field, by Earl Nightingale
     Attitude! - You are responsible for how your life turns out, and your attitude shapes that life for better or worse.
Other influences not from the Personal MBA recommendations include:
- The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Galloway
     After proper deliberate practice, let go of trying to control things and trust your training.
- Outliers, by Malcom Gladwell.
     The incredible results one can achieve with a bit of luck and a lot of practice.

Yes, to many people, all these ideas are relatively simple and straightforward. Great ideas usually are, they just need the right context to make all the difference.

More on next posts...

Sunday, March 27, 2011


And so my political posts begin... As I said elsewhere, this blog is also a soapbox. Caveat Lector.

I have a different opinion on healthcare than many Canadians, including some in my own family.

I believe in providing some level of care to all, regardless of ability to pay BUT I believe that a single-payer system such as the one we have in Canada is unfair and fundamentally broken.

Unfair because it restricts choice. In essence, why can I choose to send my kids to private school but not have the option of sending them to a private doctor, to be paid either out-of-pocket or through a private insurer?

I find it utterly unfair as well that there IS a two-tier system already, but one where the privilege is obtained with influence, not money (which happens to be a lot more 'democratic' than "who you know"). Professional sports athletes, politicians, cases handled by the WSIB (Workers Insurance Board), etc...

Or worse, the issue is addressed based on political concerns. The recent saga of approving Herceptin is an example.

Broken because it costs too much and has no real incentive to improve. I tend to agree with the notion that once we stop having to pay for something ourselves, we lose the interest into how much something costs, hence costs skyrocket.

On that notion, I appreciated two posts I came across recently:


There's a lot to discuss about healthcare, but as Canadians (and Ontarians) we should be concerned of surrendering freedoms to government under the mistaken impression that, when the time comes, the government "will be there" to support us to a level we want.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

iPad - Part 3 of ?


I thought I'd do a brief update on how iPad usage has changed over the past few months. As we got more familiar with the device, usage changed a bit.

  • I use the iPad every single day as the primary tool for consuming content updates from social networks. I use Osfoora HD as my Twitter client, FeedlerPro as my RSS reader and Friendly as the Facebook client. I still use ReadItLater as the 'catch-all' for content I want to check later. 
  • One thing I did is that I purchased the 'Digest' option for ReadItLater. It aggregates links in a magazine-style layout, similar to Flipboard. Very, very nice, well worth the $4.99 or so.
  • My routine is such that I am used to a few minutes of iPad screen-time just before going to sleep and a quick check of things in the morning as I wake up. Just a bit compulsive, eh? ;-)
  • I use SoundNote, SimpleNote and Evernote to store meeting notes, depending on things like the surrounding environment (recording sound with SoundNote might not be viable) or the need for more permanent storage (Evernote) or something I'll delete after dealing with it (SimpleNote).
Finally, I share my iPad with family members a lot more now... :-)
  • My wife still uses it rarely - she has her trusty (but long in the tooth) Sony eReader - but she enjoys a quick game of FlightControl HD.
  • My son (just shy of 6 years old) really took to several of the games on the iPad - Angry Birds, Angry Birds Season, Dots Free and now Puppet Pals HD.
  • I have loaded several "educational" apps for him and  he enjoys using them every now and then: "Stories", "KidCalc", "Sight Words" and "Kindergarten" are a few of them.

All in all, nicely integrated into our home life. I followed the iPad2 launch and I am curious about it as a possible replacement for my wife's Sony eReader. We'll see...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Online Safety Tips for Parents


In one of my first forays into volunteering in the Parent Council for my son's school, I'll be working with other parents on a presentation on Internet Safety, Social Networks, etc... to be delivered in early Februrary.

Yes, I've lived on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for a long time now, but it's one thing to be comfortable in it and another to give advice to your peers. In my case, I'm at a disadvantage because my son is just 5 (still in SK) whereas the parents of the school have to deal with pre-teen and teenagers as well. Just like I learned a lot about parenting a toddler, then a pre-school kid, I'm sure I'll learn a lot as both our kids grow up...

Needless to say, I started my research early. I'm still working on the presentation, but one resource I wanted to share with EVERYBODY is Connect Safely . Lots of wonderful content and links to other sites - NetFamilyNews and SafeKids come to mind.

I don't know what content I'll include in the presentation - there is SO MUCH to talk about and we only have one hour - but I know for sure I'll refer to the advice posted there.

Thank you to Anne Collier for all the assistance and a big thanks to Lenore Skenazy of FreeRangeKids for pointing me in the right direction.

PS: FreeRangeKids deserves a post on its own. Soon....