Posted in Diary

Applying Stoic Virtues in 2017

It’s end September. Years back, I would say “wake me up when September ends”, as it’s usually the busiest part of the year where most deliverables for the year had been fleshed out, and building was in full steam, and I would be diving so deep into things I couldn’t change course even if i was dragged by an aircraft carrier.

The last 2 years has been completely different, perhaps that’s how getting old and switching into my own version of “adulthood” feels like. Yes work is still busy, we’ve just launched a new product Garuda TowerSight and planned out a series of overseas work. Preparation work has doubled from all fronts: hardware, software, operations, geospatial, analytics.

And yet, September is the new month for me to count blessings and start charting the course for the next year. I married Sept 2012, conceived my daughter Sept 2013, became a founder Sept 2014, and moved into our own condo Sept 2015. So yesterday, to kickstart the process, I cycled one round around the Paya Lebar Airbase and brought my family to have a huge dinner. Earlier in the week we cancelled our Q4 planning as everyone’s responsibilities had already been spelled out till Christmas. This bought me precious time and got my body ready for long term planning again.

Gartner 2016

This year I want to plan (at least big-picture part of it) out loud on this blog, against an uncertain global backdrop. We’re 6 weeks away from a risky turning point in US presidency, which might have huge repercussion on the world. Gartner continues to put Commercial UAVs and Smart Robots on the curve towards the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Nevertheless, more enterprises and government agencies have punctured their own inflated expectations and found real tangible use cases, while hardware makers are charging through their own golden era of putting more consumer drones in the hands of unsuspecting users. People who do irresponsible things with UAVs continues to grow (people who don’t know that they are doing irresponsible things with UAVs continues to grow). While drone laws in a small number of countries have seen marked improvement in setting better and more reasonable bounds, paranoids continue to lobby for integration of this industry with manned aircraft systems, double down on no-fly-zones with the hardware makers, and raise barrier of entries to the discomfort of legacy hobbyists.

Where does that put primarily software, mostly full-stack guys like us? Many players in the states have given up their own hardware, opting to command their rival Chinese hardware in the sky, giving them more time to spend on customising software for various industries. Those who continue to hold onto their own hardware usually believe it’s necessary to integrate full-stack to ensure safety and efficiency of the flying platform. With that, they suffer from the lack of manufacturing scale. Traditional software guys selling desktop license software are also trying to break through the barrier, each trying an assortment of cloud services (e.g. media storage and processing), data brokering (e.g. flight data), and even playing up two-sided markets (the difference from Uber being, Uber is solving an enormous current day problem, a pilot marketplace is completely new and is not a problem (yet)).

There’s a greater sense of urgency for our young fledging company to come of age by our 3-year mark in a couple of weeks, where people usually stop thinking of us as a startup but a mature company. Looking back, a large part of growing a UAV startup feels like growing an entire industry. We have customers we have been speaking to since we founded the company. Some require many many trials to convince management to operationalise the service and/or purchase the system. The long sales cycle is something I’m accustomed to while working in large firms like SingTel, where I learned that finding that sweet spot of not falling into a multi-year sales engagement is key.

Garuda TowerSight

We’re about to roll out our biggest experiment yet (stay-tuned), which is to achieve our 2016 strategy to have more conversations with more enterprise more often and more intensely. Commercial UAV (actually I don’t like this term, I prefer “Drones-At-Work”, because sometimes it’s Social not Commercial) demands that conversation to be had, as the value proposition needs to be measured against the problem size faced by the enterprise, and the operational demands of a local UAV team.

In 2017 though, we will have to take a slightly different tack and follow the path of many players in the western markets where we stake out a certain use case and solve it completely. One great strength we have in the team is systems integration in all directions, from IoT to mobile, from small board computers to amazon web services, from custom .NET enterprise applications to established ERP stacks like SAP. This puts us in the position to glue UAV ops to existing ops, something critically needed to realise the full value of the flying sensor.

I haven’t address why I want to put this on the blog 😉 The biggest reason imho is the silence many UAV players in our region practise, understandably, in competing in this nascent market. It’s lonely ya, behind all the marketing and the social front we put up officially. You know I’ve seen the rise and the fall of other startup industries in Singapore, especially mobile app and social media, whose golden era was in the last decade. There was a lot of peer encouragement (and a lot of poaching heh), generally a bit more camaraderie. While I doubt the silence can be broken easily, I do hope we shortcut the learning and team up a bit more.

The second and probably more personal reason is that again people around me still don’t read the company website, or maybe, our website doesn’t hint on where we are going as much as what we have already done and made available. Maybe we should tell more stories online. In the mean time, I’ll try for these half stories personally.

With that, I’ll continue to chart out the nitty gritty details forward. The final celebration (or un-celebration, anyway it’s your belief not events that makes you happy or sad, said Stoic philosophers) would be to fill up the cheque for LTA, my COE contribution to nation building, in order to continue my daughter’s daily trip from Hougang to AMK, monthly trip to Johor, and quarterly trip to Malaysia. There goes 5 years of music arrangement earnings, and I’ve never felt more satisfied.

Sept 2016 – bought a new COE

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Posted in Diary

Reflections on the Marshmallow Experiment

36years

Nice or not, my lao ya attempt to pose with my birthday present: my first bike shirt from decathlon at only $10.99 🙂

I know, I left my birthday on Facebook to trigger the world’s most impersonal algorithm. Birthdays doesn’t mean much to me anymore, even the Swensen discount I get from AIA has become more and more rigid over the years. You’re welcomed to wish me another year gone on this blog instead of that wall gardened pleasure prison.

My daughter has been rehearsing the Happy Birthday song ever since her birthday in May. She’s very good at cadences, always emphasising the last phrase right before the end. She does that to “all day long” on “wheels on the bus” as well.

Getting a bike shirt completes my apparel collection that started since 2004, when I invested in my first and only bike pants and bike gloves. The gloves seem unnecessary now but it was useful in Seattle. The pants, however, has given my butt extra years.

How many years can these last? Probably one life time at the rate I’m cycling. And that’s all we need isn’t it? Well this post isn’t going to be about my luxury investments anyway. I’m going to talk about the deferred gratification and age.

Background reading and video for the uninitiated

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_marshmallow_experiment

Groomed to wait

Like seriously, I’m one of those kids who were groomed to wait. Wait for everything: no play till homework’s done; no dates till graduation; no start-up till savings are good. And that patience does pay off as it correlates well with a good head-start in life, sort of what the experiment concluded, even though the form the experiment took continue to be argued so take the causation part with a pinch of salt.

Let’s abstract the principle of delayed gratification so that it’s not just a simple experiment. Let’s say, if we choose to live our lives as such (basically we’re now talking around the same level as, say, Buddhist teaching to relinquish all worldly desires). Whatever can wait, we wait, because the reward later, we’re told, is greater.

If we adopt that way of life, we develop self-control. Clearly, despite many religious teachings about letting go material things, this is the way we live our lives – hunting and foraging resources for every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Being an economic man (Homo Economicus), we fill our Amazon carts slowly to accumulate enough for free shipping; we go for masters or professional certifications because we’re told it would pay better; we stayed pure till marriage.

Can’t wait forever

And here comes the grand problem with the experiment: we die. Given a limited time horizon for most things, we can’t always wait. There’s another school of thought that often get brought up on your social media feed: “Live everyday like it’s your last”. Taken literally, that’s a sure way to instantly die of anxiety, but normally it’s interpreted as basically focusing on the most important thing in our lives everyday.

Really? Everyday, only the most important thing in our lives? City dwellers like us often manage a spider web full of responsibilities. Just look at me. I’ve got calls and meetings and mentoring and coding, I’ve got wife and daughter and family and in-laws, I’ve got hobbies and classes and rehearsals and concerts. And I even have this blog which I refuse to let it die. Even with a well tuned priority queues managing all of it, it only takes a small emergency from any party to completely mess it up.

As a boy, I loved cycling, and it was the way I see the world. I waited till I was 24 before I bought my first road bike (only to be sold a year later as I moved back to hot country). I waited till 30 before I decided to get an interim NTUC Fairprice bike that has since lasted 6 years. Did I wait because there were higher priority stuff? Like spending the money on more important things, or, using the cycling time for work, etc. I wondered.

But my distant memories of my late grandfather gave me the shivers: putting me on the bike and riding me to town was one of my happiest childhood memories, but it was also extremely dangerous as I often feel that he was absolutely not in the right physical condition to cycle any more, what more bring me along. My cycling days are numbered, with each passing day the bike sits quietly in the basement.

Planning for the small things

So with this birthday, it actually became clear to me that I need to rejig the way the priority queue works. It’s not just a bucket list, it’s actually giving time to eat these marshmallows along the way, nibble them if that’s all I can afford.

Just like how I try my best not to miss every stage of my daughter’s precious childhood, I must give time to everything that matters, no matter how small, before being kept chin deep by the biggies. Every resolution is fake till it sits in the calendar and isn’t rescheduled too many times.

It’s also clearer to me now what “Life is a Journey” means. The journey doesn’t automatically get exciting. There will be climax moments but for the vast part, it will consist of a string such happy moments of introversion, and engaging with our on-the-side thing.

Onward to the 4th cycle (by Chinese zodiac standards) in life!

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Posted in Music, Singapore

Hwa Chong College Anthem

Love how one discovers an old work being performed and published from the age before YouTube.

For the record, the piece was first drafted in 1999 for sports day (after dreading for one year that the piano version had no kick). I understand that Darence had made attempts to recover lost parts over the years too. After the merger I’m not even sure if it’s sung much any more.

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Posted in Family

Deep Breath

I just came back from an 8-days break in Melbourne, a postponed trip in itself. I had to take a deep breath, besides fulfilling our wish for an overseas family trip before our girl turns 2.

After we came back, we basically spent the first day sleeping, and the other day putting our lives back together. I had to disregard all my originally planned work items. Something did not feel right.

It was as if the breath was not deep enough.

Since our last long overseas trip in 2013 to the North American continent, we have not had a long trip, as we were waiting for our little girl to grow up a bit more. Towards the end of that period (earlier this year), our work life started to feel like a blur. I was shouldering too much responsibility while my wife is battling her own challenge with increased work load.

We kept ourselves sane by taking short breaks to pop out of the water and catch a breath, taking turns in cleaning and parenting. I was furiously trying to recruit to help out for all work fronts. We relented on doing everything ourselves and started paying for a part time cleaner. Our evening pick up time for our girl gets later and later.

And we thought we need to Stop and take a much deeper breathe. Something long enough to cleanse.

You all know how this story would end: With connectivity the break is really just escaping physically. There was a bunch of work that had to be brought along, but fortunately we managed to find time to complete it in between our itinerary. We dramatically reshuffled our tour path to adjust to the unanticipated cold front and our girl’s unstable temperature – and I had to adjust my total output too. There’s no escaping of “life” as we know it even when we’re having a “break”.

I thought about this on the flight back and last 2 days, until I attended a wedding reception which I thought would be over after snapping a few pictures, to end my “long” 10 day break. And reality struck me – I had to “work” at the snap of a finger as I was suddenly surrounded by well meaning government officials bombarding my questions and opinions about the startup.

There’s no break really 🙂

The moral of the story for myself is to learn to take that deep breathe no matter where I am. I’m fortunate to be able to function as an entrepreneur or a musician with my medulla oblongata, so I’d use that to my full advantage. Some days you might see me there fully present with you, but deep inside I might be resting, taking that deep long breathe to recuperate from my last product building marathon.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Tomorrow is the start of internship season! Catch another breath in September.

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Posted in Diary

Boathouse Residences Shuttle Bus Service

Monday to Friday
BH->MRT: 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00
MRT->BH: 6:40, 7:10, 7:40, 8:10, 8:40, 9:10

BH->MRT: 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 13:00, 13:30, 14:00
MRT->BH: 11:40, 12:10, 12:40, 13:10, 13:40, 14:10

BH->MRT: 17:00, 17:30, 18:00, 18:30, 19:00, 19:30
MRT->BH: 17:10, 17:40, 18:10, 18:40, 19:10, 19:40

Saturday, Sundays and Public Holidays
BH->MRT: 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30
MRT->BH: 9:10, 9:40, 10:10, 10:40

BH->MRT: 12:30, 13:00, 13:30
MRT->BH: 12:40, 13:10, 13:40

Accurate as of today.

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Posted in Technology

React Page Lifecycle Summary

Here, the no bullshit summary of React Page Lifecycle

Start (Once)
object getDefaultProps      complex objects are shared not copied
object getInitialState
void componentWillMount
      both client and server
      can setState still, and render will happen only once.
ReactElement render
      examines this.props and this.state
      returns a single child (virtual DOM or react class)
      must be PURE (does not modify state or setTimeout)
void componentDidMount
      only on the client
      can access any refs, setTimeout, send AJAX requests

Repeat
      void componentWillReceiveProps( object nextProps )
            can setState to trigger render later
            don’t assume props has changed
      boolean shouldComponentUpdate
            return false if possible
      void componentWillUpdate( object nextProps, object nextState )
      render! => see above
      void componentDidUpdate( object prevProps, object prevState )

Finish (Once)
void componentWillUnmount
      cleanup: invalidating timers, clean up DOM elements

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Posted in Diary

无人机的美 TEDxPetalingStreet

The TEDxPS video is finally published! Thanks again to the organisers. The production is wonderful 🙂

As shared in earlier posts, this was our first attempt to reach non-English speaking audience. If you’re looking for English based material, we have plenty on our Garuda Robotics website, or if you’re looking to spend only 18 min, do check out Mark’s excellent presentation on TEDxINSEAD: Drones as infrastructure.

Some additional context for international readers:

The survival of the agriculture industry, especially the palm oil business in South East Asia, is collectively a national security issue. Whether it’s producing food or biofuel, it still forms a large percentage of income in many countries. This includes Singapore, where many such regional agri business choose to setup HQ in.

At the same time, this is an industry that’s very localised and run primarily on human labour (and some buffalos hehe). Bringing technology adoption is not only just about laws, grants and technology transfers, it’s also about winning the hearts and minds of the people, creating jobs for engineers and arborists rather than low skilled labour, and sticking it out with them over the long term to see the results.

Some of the plantation managers I spoke to don’t speak anything else fluently other than their mother tongue (which varies from some dialect to mainstream Chinese or Malay for Malaysia’s case, and just downright impossible for me for Bahasa Indonesia and their variants). The good news is that all the plantations I’ve visited have at least one corner (usually the local HQ / township) where there’s Internet access (maybe GPRS, but still reachable).

One project that I admire a lot is led by an ex-college mate / ex-colleague of mine in Amazon.com, Rikin Gandhi, who after making spaceships and software for a while decided to head to India to spread good practices of agriculture in local language. His non-profit, Digital Green, has a very simple idea: that the best practises for their respective crop is best told by their next door farmer. Their video production (done in local language) has reached more than half a million people so far.

Another respectable leader in the UAV industry is Koh Lian Pin – you can see his TED talk to get a quick idea of what Conservation Drones did with Orang Utans. One has to bring the technology to the locals and make it possible for them to take on their problem themselves.

I believe that somewhere along these similar lines, we will be able to find a way to uplift an entire industry to leverage drones to better manage their plantations, and not just providing UAV services to the conglomerates. Let me know if you have any ideas you’d like to figure out together.

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Posted in Diary

What a girl wanted, what a dad gave

She’s coming 20 months soon, with all the signs of a terrible two but still the sweetness of a baby. It hurts to discipline her, but parents do what they gotta do.

Last weekend something struck me. It took 3 days to completely sink in, and will probably be a recurring thought in the next 20 years at least.

It was in a pool. A children’s pool with a giant playground-like structure in the middle, capable of holding adults, in a neighbourhood country club that we occasionally swim and have dinner at together with our college friends.

Since my wife didn’t swim that day, I was shadowing miss adventure on her quest to do what every 5 year-old was doing in the pool, climbing up and down, playing with every water sprout and every wheel that turns.

And there was this slide in the middle of the huge contraption. A very popular, spiralling slide, with children (and occasional adults) streaming through over and over. The pool was only 1 foot deep, which provides for pretty lousy landing at the end. But it did not hinder these 5-8 year olds from mastering the technique of straightening their bodies and trying to land with their feet down first.

We watched in awe for a while, and before I could interest her in the tyre swing, she was climbing up the structure and joining the queue. You see, in the last month she had been trying to slide down every slide in sight, after figuring out how to slide properly thanks to great guidance from her grandparents.

I was very concerned. It was clear that she could not handle this slide and she might hurt herself by slamming herself into the shallow pool.

But her determination (and the politeness of the other children who waited for her to settle) encouraged me. Once seated, I flee to the bottom of the slide to position myself to catch her. When she saw me, she was still reluctant, but eventually, she came down.

At what seemed like 100mph.

Body spinning as the slide spirals.

And came head down first towards the end.

I dived to catch her. I did. She had a mild splash and I could quickly restore her balance upright, hugged her and quickly carried her away from the dangerous landing zone where other kids came.

And then my heart sank.

She was in total shock. Her eyes were wide open and her face was pale. She didn’t move when I held her and soothe her.

She wasn’t ready but her ambition and my carelessness had shaken her so much that for the rest of the evening she hardly smiled and simply looked dazed.

Still, that wasn’t the main story I wanted to tell you. It’s what happened next.

After that we went to the swing – and she was too afraid to even swing mildly, so we continued to wander around the pool as she recomposed herself.

She went up the structure again, I joined her.

I discouraged her from the slide, and I brought her down.

She went up the structure again, climbing to higher ground, looked afar for mum, and then followed my lead to climb down again.

It was clear – she’s not giving up.

She was reassessing the situation.

She went up again, and this time… she stood firm at the entrance of the slide. The other kids had went away and she stared at the slide for a long time.

I asked her, “Do you want to take the slide?”

She mumbled carefully, “slide…”, by that she means affirmative but still concerned.

And it was at that point the epiphany hit me.

I’m her god damn dad. Slide down with her.

I must first clarify that I have had my fair share of bad roller coaster rides and phobia for fast uncontrollable means of transportation, something my wife still chides me for. Heights, water etc had been lifelong challenges I try to overcome but it doesn’t just go away. I have successfully stayed away from most activities I deem “harmful to health” or “risk of death” like sky-diving or scuba-diving. Officially I cherish my life and my safety over adrenaline rush, privately I just deal with the ghost in me.

And I have a daughter with more determination than her mum.

“I’m her god damn dad, if I don’t bring her down am I going to let her do the 180 degrees upside down ride again?”

But there was no time to lose. She already sat down at the tipping point, ready to make that journey again. I almost cried, sat down and grabbed her, and went down the double spiral.

500mph.

And a painful *THUD*.

My ass hurt with joy. So did some other joints.

The mum was standing by, giving her approval. I was more concerned about the little one at that point – Did she enjoy it? Was it scary? Was she satisfied with a joint ride?

And she emerged looking so proud at me, but without the cheerfulness or silliness when we were playing. To her, that slide had just became the pinnacle of her life, her greatest achievement, the mountain she must conquer.

She pondered around the pool for a while, regained her footing, and went up the structure again.

I’m her god damn dad.

400mph.

I guess it got easier after the first time, but old bones hurt real bad and I had to curl to protect her towards the end. Sorry, ass.

And then a 3rd time.

By then it was late and I happily accepted my wife’s suggestion that we clean up and bath.

* * *

On my own, I would never go down that slide. After this episode, I would still not go down that slide. That’s me, and people around me respect that, to which I appreciate greatly.

And I accepted this challenge to raise our girl into a fearless lady in this brave new world.

And thus, before I even know it, I just had my first taste of being push way, way out of my comfort zone by my 19 month old.

Love you, Yenn <3

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Posted in Garuda Robotics

Preparing for a TEDx talk

I’ll be speaking at a TEDx event in KL in a few weeks time. The event is unique as it’s one of the rare TEDx that’s in Mandarin. Needless to say it’s a very challenging talk as the last time I did public speaking in Mandarin is probably 讲故事比赛 in primary school.

tedxpsposter

I’ve learned a few things so far:

  • Radio DJs do read your blog because they need to create relevant questions to ask you, so no matter how abandoned it seems, there’s always gonna be someone reading it
  • Being interviewed on a phone is not as bad as it seems. Before a camera one has to sit and look proper, which is totally my weakness. On a phone however, I could be dancing around the house to get the mind to expand my vocabulary (especially in Mandarin!!) at an instant
  • I didn’t know preparing for public speaking consumes me emotionally, and bleeds into my working environment. Need to find a way around it. So far one trick has worked, that is to repeat the same speech rather than always updating it to the latest and greatest content available.
  • Last but not least, never credit your photographer for every picture he took for you. Just like if you were to rearrange my music for your group’s specific need, just say you’re the arranger, it’s ok. Every artist I know makes deliberate decisions on their art. If you change it (crop, recolour, touch up etc.) it’s no longer the original work, and artists might not always want to be associated with it for professional integrity reasons primarily.

3 weeks to go! *back to slides*

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