China Retrospective 2014

TL;DR and Meta – I visited China for the first time. I enjoyed it very much. These are elaborated from notes I took while in China. This is part 3 of a 3 part series on China, concerning impressions about China as a whole. Part 1 concerns my week in Beijing. Part 2 concerns smaller visits to various parts of China.

So, I visited China for the very first time – in essence, looking at my cultural roots. Along the way I have gained some impressions about China, as well as new views on old topics. This blog post summarizes my impressions of my first trip to China.

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The Ancient Great Capitals of China + Hangzhou Retrospective 2014

TL;DR and Meta – I visited China for the first time. I enjoyed it very much. These are elaborated from notes I took while in China. This is part 2 of a 3 part series on China, concerning my explorations to other parts of China. Part 1 concerns my week in Beijing. Part 3 concerns my impressions of China as a whole

My travels to China also accidentally brought me to all of the four ancient great capitals of China – Beijing, Luoyang, Xi’an, and Nanjing. I had spent a lot more time in Beijing, hence the separate post. I didn’t spend as much time as I would have wanted to in the other ancient great capitals of China, but I had still taken some photos and notes.

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Beijing Retrospective 2014

TL;DR and Meta – I visited China for the first time. I enjoyed it very much. These are elaborated from notes I took while in China. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on China, concerning my week in Beijing. Part 2 concerns smaller visits to various parts of China. Part 3 concerns my impressions of China as a whole

It was a hot and sweaty night in the Nanjing airport. Cigarette smoke wafted across the waiting area in slow curls. Overhead, announcements were made that due to weather conditions, some flights were being cancelled. I waited, sweating, fervently hoping that my connecting flight to Beijing wouldn’t be cancelled. To much of my relief, it wasn’t cancelled, only delayed. I soon boarded my flight and arrived in Beijing, feeling very tired and worn out.

Exiting the airport, my travelling companions and I took a taxi to the hutong (胡同) where our boutique hotel was situated. To our dismay, the taxi driver simply dropped us off at the junction between the road and the hutong. His taxi couldn’t enter the small alley that is the hutong. At 1.30 a.m, we trudged into a dark alley, not even knowing where the hotel is – it was about 600m into the hutong. I was getting quite cranky at that point and my impression of China wasn’t very good at that point.

The next morning however, marked the beginning of a change of impression, of both Beijing and China on a whole. The booking of the boutique hotel was a good choice. In the light of day, I got to know the location, and it was impressive. The hotel is a siheyuan (四合院). The receptionist later intimated to me that it was built in the late Qing dynasty, making it about 140-170 years old. It was small (I would visit much larger siheyuans later), but surely impressive. It was quite interesting to think about how a family would live in a building with such architecture and how the architecture of such buildings dictate social convention and dynamics in a family. Continue reading

Two Ways of Thinking

I went to a shopping mall today and I noticed they had installed a new feature in the parking lot[1] – it’s one of those things that told you whether a lot was taken. If a lot was taken, a red light will shine, and a green light will shine if a lot isn’t occupied. I’ve seen a lot of those in parking lots, but this one actually interested me. Here’s how it looks like:

parkassistm3

It’s a potato quality photo, but I think it shows how it works quite well. The system used is the ParkAssist M3. A camera is trained onto a parking lot. If there is a car with a licence plate in the lot, the system will know that the lot is taken, and display a red light. There are two cameras, so one light represents two spots.

As I walked past it, I had a hunch on how it worked – it uses computer vision, and one thought led to another, and I soon began to think about the two major ways of thinking about products. Well, technically there are three. If you were to give an assignment to any random guy off the street to design a parking lot monitoring system, there would be one of three broad response types: give up, innovation or invention. I’m not going to even deign discussing giving up.

This line of thought was quite influenced by a talk by Alan Kay I watched earlier this week:

After our shopping, I pointed out the cameras to my partner, who immediately asked “are those cameras?”, followed by “but that’s so wasteful!”. That was her inner electronics engineer speaking. Both she and I knew that there were cheaper, and probably more efficient methods of designing parking lot indicator solutions. She also highlighted her way of thinking: The innovator.
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  1. [1] They had actually installed it at the end of last year, but I never bothered to notice how exactly it worked till now

Eyetracking Jetpack Joyride, Smash Hit and Dungeon Keeper

TL;DR – I got a little upset that I didn’t get any jobs I wanted, so I decided to learn how to write an Android app to relax instead. The result is eyemap.io – Gaze Analytics For the Rest Of Us. The rest of the blog post chronicles how I got to that point.

The week before last was a terrible week for me. It was one week after I had published my books. I was looking to take some time off from updating the books. After about 6 months being self-employed, doing the things I love to do, I felt it was time for me to return to the workforce. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to be self employed and get a steady paycheck. So I started looking for jobs.

All was well. I had applied to a number of jobs that I was interested in. By the end of the week however, I had nothing – nobody called back. Naturally, coming off the high of having just published a couple of books, it was crushing.

Remember a few months ago, I was mulling over acquiring a tablet? Out of sheer coincidence, I came into posession of a Nexus 10 a few days after I blogged that entry. It’s an older model, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. Despite coming to possession of the tablet, I never really used it.

Anyway, back to the week before last. Combined with the fact that I got rejected for those jobs that I wanted plus a few more not so nice news, I was feeling pretty shitty about myself. So on Friday evening, I altered my state of mind chemically to relax a little.

After some drinks, I took out my tablet and fiddled with it while relaxing with pineapples. I decided to download my favourite game on tablets since 2011 – Jetpack Joyride. Now, when your brain is under the influence, time seems to slow down – your body appears to lag. Specifically my eyeballs felt like they were lagging. I kept looking at the right of the screen, and I could feel my eyes darting to look at the right and back to Barry on a very regular basis.

This led me to ask a question: what does Jetpack Joyride look like when one’s eyes are tracked? What would a heatmap look like? Clearly there are eye tracking devices out there like the EyeTribe or Tobii which is fantastic. But I didn’t have access to any of those. The front-facing camera of my tablet appeared to frown at me. Then it hit me: why not use it to do eye tracking?

So I dragged myself to the computer, and started learning how to write Android apps. To their credit, the Android developer page is absolutely easy to use – if an intoxicated person can read and create an app in about an hour, you know it’s bloody good documentation. I didn’t get far, except to capture videos and detect my face, which is easy stuff anyone can do. I went to bed.
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The Switchless Switch

In my previous blog post about why a kettle costs so much, the one statement that perhaps riled the most people up is where I said Tesla Model S’ touch screen control panel was a stupid idea. In fact, the link to the Model S control panel is amongst the top most clicked links out. I do think it’s a stupid idea, but I must disclaim that I have never driven a Tesla, so I may be talking out of my ass based purely on logical reasoning and not a practical experience[1].

The logical reasoning goes something like this: I am driving down the road at 110 km/h. My eyes are on the road, as all safe drivers do. The radio station suddenly plays Justin Bieber[2], and the car gets cold suddenly because Bieber is a witch. I want to: a) change the current radio station; b) raise the temperature of the vehicle interior. But first I have to go to the media control app. Then I need to change my media playback from a radio station to a Spotify playlist containing all my favourite Tchaikovskys. Then I need to access the climate control app to raise the temperature by a few Celcius.

The question is this: How many times have I taken my eyes off the road, and how long for each time? Continue reading

  1. [1] P/S: Tesla, come to Australia already.
  2. [2] I’m only using Justin Bieber as a punching bag because everyone uses him thusly. I actually have no opinions on popular music given that the music I regularly listen to are dated to 300-400 years ago

First Trip, 2014

I took a trip to the beach yesterday with my housemates, my partner and Lucy. I laid there horizontally bobbing in the sea, starring into the deep blue sky. I thought about my accomplishments and failures in 2013 and see in 2014 I could find in the rough, to takeaway some diamonds. I love these trips as divorcing me from the computer allows me to think about things deeply and from different angles. It was a most excellent experience.

In 2013, I did quite a bit. However, I was often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do, and I would retreat to idleness out of the anxiety of not being able to complete the task. Anxiety has been a big issue for me in 2013, and not much introspection was required to figure that out.

For a very short period of time on the beach – about 15 minutes or so – I was actually at peace with myself, engulfed in the serene quietness and solitude of my mind. It was a very fleeting moment and I cherish it very much so. And then, just like that, my mind went back to being busy, thinking of things to do and making plans.

One of the things I had reasoned was that I totally sucked at delegating tasks. I appear to have some difficulty delegating tasks to people and that had caused me to be extremely overwhelmed with things. So in 2014, I think I will delegate more. Or at least learn to.

One thing I had set out to do in 2013 was to do more things. I launched Fork the Cookbook, and I embarked on a really massive project that I didn’t expect to take so long. It’s nearing announcement stage though.

While on the trip, I did look back a lot at what I did in 2013, and I didn’t really like what I saw. A lot of the things I did can be considered trivial and relatively easy. Somehow, my inner snob scoffs at these tasks. Which was one of the reasons why I started upon my larger project. And yet, despite all that, 2013 was one of my more stressful years.

I’m not much of a resolution maker. But here’s to a better 2014. In the meantime, I should tend to my massive sunburns. Slip-slop-slap, people!

A Tale of Productivity

A Screenshot of my rescuetime report for yesterday

If you read my blog regularly, you’d recall that I can be quite obsessive over my productivity. I religiously track my productivity in a variety of metrics and tools – I have a premium account at RescueTime; I use Github to track the commit quantity and quality.

Yesterday was a very good day. The above screenshot shows the RescueTime dashboard report for the day. I had spent 89% of my tracked time on productive stuff. My Github records concur. Yesterday was a good day. I committed 14 commits to my project, and git diff --stat showed in total I wrote 1703 Lines of Code, and deleted 699 Lines of Code.

By comparison, according to RescueTime’s trivia bar, yesterday I was 20% more productive than my usual productivity pulse of 74. I also only usually manage to make one commit at about 200 LoC addition per day to my projects.

I was in short, on a roll. So how did I get so productive? This entire week has been rather productive for me. I believe I may have discovered what works for me when engaging in non-creative work. Continue reading

A Tour of Coca Cola Amatil’s Distribution Centre

The smell of cheese and sweaty shoes wafted in the air as I disembarked from the car. Ahead of me, a large sign that says COCA-COLA AMATIL. Walking past the three safety signs that lead to the office, the tour was about to begin. As part of a hackathon sponsored by Coca-Cola Amatil, I recently got the opportunity to learn more about logistics and operations. A tour of the CCA distribution centre was included in the hackathon and did I have a fun time!

A fridge full of Coca-Cola Amatil products greeted us as we entered the office. We were issued high visibility vests and were required to sit through 10 minutes of safety briefing, coupled with some safety tests. I sipped on a juice box as we took the safety briefing test. After that, our tour began. Our tour guide was Mark Hopkins, One Logistics Project Manager of CCA. He started off by rattling off interesting facts about the distribution centre while I furiously typed away my notes on Google Keep.

He explained that the distribution centre is entirely covered in 500kW solar panels. It was an investment that only recently paid off with the building of the new preform plant. Prior to the preform plant’s construction, the solar panels were generating excess electricity during down times, but now that the preform plant – capable of making 750 bottles per minute; and runs 24/7 – has been built and is running constantly, they now use their energies efficiently enough. Then time came for us to actually enter the warehouse.

CokeDistroCentre_Small
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