5 tactics to make short classes work

http://www.flickr.com/photos/childofwar/3097124543/sizes/m/in/photostream/Have a short (1-4 hour) class/tutorial to give? Want your students to learn tons and rave about the class? Want them to teach you and stay engaged in the topic moving forward?

Here are a few tips I’ve picked up from running mini-classes in academic and professional settings:

  • Listen to the room
  • Build skills through lessons
  • Let them get their hands dirty
  • Do the boring stuff in advance
  • Follow up with homeworks

These are mostly related to programming-type topics (see here and here from some examples), but I’ll bet the ideas are broadly applicable. Hopefully you can share some of your experiences as either a student or teacher in the comments!

Continue reading “5 tactics to make short classes work”

How to be more insightful

Ball made of gearsOne way consultants add value by being “insightful,” but what does that really mean? What’s more, if you aren’t “insightful” already, how do you improve?

I’ve been thinking about this lately and distilled 4 ways to push your thinking and get more insightful.

  • Change your shoes
  • Find parallels to things you know
  • Ask ‘how’ and ‘why’ to dig deep
  • Get super specific

Continue reading “How to be more insightful”

3 hints for Excel excellence

Excel is the go-to tool for business calculations. Simple or complex, weeks of work or merely minutes, you’ll use Excel eventually. As with any tool, knowing a few tricks can transform the output from a clunky mess to a useful, beautiful creation.

  • Learn before you hack
  • Make it pretty
  • Document everything

These three hints apply to lots of life’s endeavors,
but let’s talk about how they apply to Excel.

Continue reading “3 hints for Excel excellence”

Brand & Conquer: Building Your Personal Brand (Forbes)

business_brandingCheck out this post from my “PhD’s guide to consulting jobs” that got picked up by Forbes!

The first thing I do when I hear about a person is Google them to see what they’ve done. The Google search results for someone’s name tells a story, and you have the power to control yours.
It’s your brand: claim it.

Continue reading “Brand & Conquer: Building Your Personal Brand (Forbes)”

Part 3: Talking about Your Experience and Sounding like a Bad-ass

We have talked about how to get an interview and how to nail the case section. The last step in the “PhD’s Guide to Getting a Consulting Job” is discussing your personal experience in a way that is clear, compelling, and shows that you’ve got what it takes to be a consultant. Continue reading “Part 3: Talking about Your Experience and Sounding like a Bad-ass”

Posting to WordPress from emacs

Most things I do on the computer, I do within emacs. I use it for email, writing programs, compiling programs, running programs, typeseting papers, running shell commands, etc.

So how did I make this post from within emacs? Google led me to this post detailing how to set up weblogger. Here’s the quick and dirty setup:

bash$ cd ~/.emacs.d/
bash$ cvs -z3 -d:pserver:anonymous@cvs.savannah.nongnu.org:
/sources/emacsweblogs \co -d weblogger weblogger/lisp

Put this in your .emacs and execute it (highlight and C-x C-e):
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/weblogger")
(require 'weblogger)

You’re now ready to start a session: M-x weblogger-setup-weblog. It will prompt you for your XML-RPC server/path. For example, I log into http://www.shawnlankton.com/wp-admin to post, so my XML-RPC path is http://www.shawnlankton.com/xmlrpc.xml.

One final touch is to turn off auto-fill when in weblogger-mode because carriage returns get interpreted literally as <br>. A quick fix:
(add-hook 'weblogger-entry-mode-hook
'(lambda () (auto-fill-mode nil)))

Mantras for Motivation

In my struggle to do more, be better, and kick ass I try a menagerie of techniques, experiments, etc. Most recently, I’ve developed a set of mantra that seem to give me that extra push to get things done, and done well. I keep these three phrases in mind all day and let them spur me to action.


The idea that you should always deliver on what you say you will is a strong one. I want to be known as “someone who delivers.” This keeps my head in the game long-term thinking about not just actions right now, but how they will translate to tangibles later on. Deliver at work, Deliver in relationships, Deliver financially. DELIVER.

More Action!

This one comes from my friend Naomi. In this crazy world, it’s all too common to work or play to the exclusion of sleeping. When things start to drag, when my pen slumps and my eyelids get heavy, I think to myself, “More Action!” Its a great way to get going, and keep moving fast. “More Action!” at the gym. “More Action!” when programming. “More Action!” when you want just 5 more minutes before you get out of bed… “More Action!!”

Push It.

Here’s one from my buddy Jon. We tease Jon because, “he pushes it.” However, pushing it is a valuable quality. Whenever I want to quit, take a break, slow down for just a sec’ because its more comfortable… I think “push it.” This means working for 10 extra minutes when I’m stuck on a problem, or running for one extra mile when my lungs and legs burn, or knocking one more thing off of my to-do list before going to bed. I hope working just outside my comfort zone will make me stronger. Push it.

These three are short and simple enough to keep with me mentally all day long. If it were just about that though, I’m sure I’d forget eventually. Hence, I put up sticky-notes with these mantra. I put them on my monitor at work, my microwave at home, my dashboard, my laptop, you name it. Seeing them all the time reminds me to do More Action so I can continue to Push It and eventually DELIVER.

Autocorrect This!

When we were children, we were taught how to spell words. (Personally, I was never fantastic at this.) I see the value of spelling, and look scornfully on documents wrought with spelling errors. You may say, “Lucky for us, we live in the land of spell-checkers, and we don’t have to worry about that.” Ah yes. And this brings me to my point.

Spell-checking is a valuable tool. I couldn’t possibly write without it. This post is a commentary not on spell checking, but on its cousin, auto-correct. Auto-correct is the tool that changes “teh” to “the” and “freindly” to “friendly.” I used to think that this was a fantastic utility. These days I have a different take.

Auto-correct takes away the punishment for misspelling and mistyping words. As a result, you being the clever person you are, adapt and start to exhibit more careless behaviors. After years of training myself in this way, I realized that I could barely type an intelligible sentence when left to my own devices. I was constantly on backspace, and messed up certain words habitually.

Broken Pencil

As an experiment, about six months ago, I decided to go on an auto-correct hiatus. I disabled it in all programs. Furthermore, I made a promise to myself not to right-click misspelled words to get the correct spelling. Now, if I type a word wrong, I fix it. If I don’t know how to spell a word, I look it up. The results are fantastic.

My typing accuracy has improved dramatically, and I am learning to spell again! Words that I noticed I never *ever* spelled right such as “available” (I always did “avaliable” and auto-correct fixed it) have come back into the fold. Maybe its not necessary. Maybe I’m just a purist. But I like that I can type again.

Formula to Write a Paper

I want to share the lessons I learned recently when writing a paper. These were some revelations that helped me get over the procrastination hump and really set me on the writing fast-track.

  1. Start with a thesis
  2. Do all the experiments next
  3. Recursive outlining
  4. Finish it up

Read on for an explanation of each of these steps:

Start with a thesis

Before you do anything else, write a short, to the point thesis topic. It should be one or two sentences and the entire paper should be written to prove that thesis. I stuck mine to the wall above my desk to help keep me focused. They tell you to do this in grade school, and when you’re all grown up, the same rule applies. This will forever-on be the first thing I do when I sit down to write a paper.

Do all the experiments next

All of your experiments should be designed to support your thesis, and completed before you do anything else (so that you know your thesis is right). If your thesis turns out not to be right, then you have to go back to the beginning and pick a new thesis!

When I say experiments, here I mean the work that you’re writing about. In my case ‘experiments’ are figures showing the results of my computer vision algorithms. For someone else it may be analysis of a client’s financial data or a computer simulations of particle movement through a turbulent fluid field.

In any case, doing these with the thesis in mind, and before writing ensures that the experiments are relevant, and help to prove the thesis.

Recursive Outlining

In recursive outlining I start with an outline of sections: Introduction, Background, Novel Algorithm, Results, Conclusion. This takes no time because its the same for almost every paper. Next, go though and add sub-sections, then sub-sub sections.

At this point, most typical ‘outlining’ stops. However, keep going. Add sentence ideas to each sub-sub section, and start making rough guesses about where graphics will go. Add key words to those sentences ideas. All the time, keep the thesis in mind.

Now your paper has all of the ideas you want to present in a very rough form. Inevitably some sections will be sketchier than others, but now the process of refining the text can become very compartmentalized without sacrificing overall idea of the paper.

Finishing it up

What the process until now has done is to take apart the paper into these little tasks. The final steps are to turn your sketch for each sub-sub section into an concise, eloquent-sounding, finished piece of writing. Once you have done this for all the sections, give it a final read-over and its done.

Keep in mind that some of these steps may take days, but by following this process you always know what your next action is, and you don’t have to waste a lot of time doing pointless things or re-doing things that were directed towards the wrong point.

It’s true that I have precious little paper-writing experience, but these revelations have helped my writing considerably. I plan to post updates to this as my experience grows and my method evolves. If you have any good tips along these lines, please share them in the comments!