Monthly Archives: January 2014

This is week 4

A day late, but here’s the progress report and look-out for the coming week for doing more science.

A wall of drawers containing resistors
Electronics store in the underground shopping street

Last week

Been updating the wiki‘s engine (MediaWiki), and seen that spammers have found it. Similar problem I had with the other wiki I installed (DokuWiki) for Taipei Hackerspace. Not easy to deal with, and made me think that I might have too much infrastructure to take care of, and not enough experience to do that. The wiki, the blog (WordPress), the forums (phpBB) are all needed in my opinion, and I prefer self-hosted for the control over it, but these are probably not the problems I should be doing. Either needs simplification, or bring on people who have the skills to deal with it. The wiki is especially daunting to secure against spam, as it looks like it doesn’t have a good control interface.

Through a side project, building a bitcoin vending machine, I had my first experience with system integration and dealing with hardware suppliers. It’s absolutely essential to figure that out, and so far quite underwhelming. Lessons learned: try to do more research before ordering even if it’s impossible to research everything needed; trust the gut feeling more; be more assertive about your rights and the supplier’s obligations to you once they take your money; even more signs that there’s a space to improve on customer experience.

Started to lay the groundwork for the conference, and so far there’s either total silence to my email reaching out to potential partners, or very enthusiastic interest. The first thing should be really to figure out more concrete things about what am I doing with it, so I can more effectively communicate. People have questions that need to be answered, that simple. The whole process advanced enough, though, that second guessing came into the picture: is organizing a conference really useful, or just a very costly (in time and money) distraction from the real work? My guess would be that this questioning is a lazy excuse when the rubber hits the road and the effort is needed, but better clearing it up before I push much farther.

I’m learning to accept help from others. There are both people I approach and ask, with there are others who offer. Now I think I’m getting better at deciding if a collaboration is working or not. Building up my patience as well – being genuinely curious does help with that. Often should just find the professionals, once found a good one, that has the real impact on the particular issue. Also, there’s a lot of bullshit being said by those who should be in the know but not (looking at you, National Immigration Agency), have to build up resistance to it, and have more effective approach to deal with it.

Been educating myself in different ways. Keep reading more physics and science (at the moment The Solid Earth, geophysics), have to keep on top of that. Signed up to relevant online courses that are starting now: Content Strategy for Professionals, Critical Perspectives on Management, Embedded Systems. The plan is to see if the content is really relevant, if it is, make an effort to follow it through, if not then drop it quickly and make time for other efforts.

This week

Clear up thoughts on conference, do my own groundwork, and sketch out at least an initial business model canvas for it. Set up initial page that can be shown to people, and signal “it is really happening”, with a sign-up form. Reach out and get feedback to more people, follow up with very interested reply from NTUT to host on their campus.

Since the Annual Meeting of the Physics Society of the Republic of China is just going on now, I’m pretty sure that all the professors over here who I wanted to reach will be incommunicado for the whole week. Use this time to focus on hardware projects (the PCB design, FPGA consulting problems) this week to make real progress on them.

Setting up a company for this project is inevitable, but I’m trying to delay it until it’s absolutely necessary. There are some preliminary steps I can take already, either myself or by the help of outside professionals like the brand new local service BizAbroadExpress. Things like finding a Chinese name for Moonpunch, looking into renting a business address, finding a good CPA to get my capital requirements verified, these can be done beforehand.

… I think getting these done would make a really good week, have to figure out how much is “overcommitting” and how much is not challenging myself enough.

Now on Week 3

Last week was less productive, though not without results. Quite a bit feels like firefighting, short term fixes. Have to get beyond that, and settle into high pressure but high velocity development.

Around this time I can use a bit of moral boost – which arrived this morning. Works as well as I hoped it would.

Brand new t-shirt and card combo. Marketing level up.
Brand new t-shirt and card combo. Now on to marketing level up.

Last week

Finally got my t-shirt made. If I ever want to use the same company, Blueco again, at least I know now their modus operandi: any time any change is needed to made to the order, just start a new order. If they send an sms or email with any information to you, don’t reply to that, because no-one ever will read it – this makes a very one-sided conversation. On the other hand, it’s a pretty good t-shirt, and so far (less than 12 hours of ownership) I’m happy with it. Good to keep in mind for

One day I thought “what the heck is keeping me?” and got a new set of name cards made as well. That experience went much smoother than the t-shirt. It’s one of “professional copy centers” nearby. I had the design ready as png files, they converted it to pdf in two clicks, chose the material, come back in a few days. It was 210TWD (7USD) for 200 hundred, double sided, colour printed, heavy paper. Patrick Bateman wouldn’t care about it much, for me it’s good – and I hope I’ll need to have new ones printed before the year is out. That means I’m hustling well.

Got to talk to a few new people, who turned out to have similar interests than me, and seems like possible collaborators in the future. Good chance to polish my pitch, I think I can explain things much better than even a few weeks ago. The feedback is positive – which keeps me thinking that I need to push harder. Treasure lies at controversial. On the other hand most of these conversations are on the left side of the canvas, the right side will likely be easier to unsettle – but I shouldn’t be guessing, I need to test that.

Last weekend held an event at the Taipei Hackerspace about the physics of 3D printers. The idea was to bring more scientific discussion out in the local community. A bunch of people signed up online, but the turnout wasn’t that great – basically one group of four friends came. That was good enough for chatting, but didn’t reach my goal. My guess is that the problem was a combination of wrong target audience and bad marketing (including not enough or not well expressed information). This is definitely something to understand more if I want to do any larger events, like the scientific instruments conference.

A big part of the week went with ideas for side projects to raise funds for this project. It’s all a work in progress. My current fear is losing focus of the main goal if there are too many side projects going on. Some might be necessary for the short term, though, and I think sideways exploration is essential in research as well – breakthroughs can come from new and unexpected combinations of components. That isn’t however an excuse for disorganized thinking. Too much of the week went with this.

This week

The conference organization should have its first round of learning by reaching out to potential partners. Should have an initial feedback and a base before next week. Sketch out a canvas for the conference, and keep iterating on it – good ideas only come after trying a lot of bad ones, and if I want to do things differently for this conference, there bound to be ten gigatrucks of bad ideas for sure.

Need to work on the alternative funding sources. Scrappy is good, keep it focused and creative (yeah, like it’s that easy:)

Last time when I was working in a team, I made very good use of Trello for managing workflow. These days working on my own, my actionable lists are everywhere (paper, Evernote, Google Drive, …). Should get back to more organized flow, and keep the Moonpunch Trello board up-to-date. I set it public for similar accountability as this blog series.

Set milestones for the development, some goals that can be really be worked towards. I kind of think there should be shorter goals as well, along the line of lean startup cycles. As a single developer I feel that the cycles become longer, and thus I’m learning slower. Does it have to be like that?

Need to reach out to other similar projects – science and crowd – elsewhere, like Tekla Labs and Microryza. Build a support network, share expertise, collaborate.

Have to put aside time, no matter what, to improve technical skills continuously. Programming, engineering, science are top priority, transferable skills. Make plans, realistic ones, and start the habit this week.

Reporting for week 2

Second week of January, the first 2% of this year has passed very quickly – this is one reason why calculating such percentages is no use except of creating unnecessary anxiety. I think I’m making progress on organization and getting things done, but there’s a lot more room to improve: the results are not in line with the invested time. For example that’s great that I could now make better phone calls to keep the ball rolling with external partners, but it also comes with a lot of downtime of “I cannot concentrate on something else” between retries when the other party doesn’t answer yet. Part of the Rules of the Garage: “Invent different ways of working” – that’s what I need to do.

Pebble road at the Taipei Guest House, quite rough to walk on, thus deters a lot of people
Pebble road at the Taipei Guest House, quite rough to walk on, thus deters a lot of people

Horrible Clarity

Last week

One of the recurring task I kept repeating in previous weeks is printing t-shirts with the (current) Moonpunch logo on them. While it did look like it’s a vanity task, it turned out to be very instructive as what customer service not to do, and highlighted some of the issues I’ll be facing myself. The current status is that the t-shirts are being printed, and here are some notes:

  • Make sure that customers have a way to communicate with me. I should never-ever use a “do-not-reply” email address, every outgoing mail should be replied to and the reply seen by someone. If there’s an automatic call centre, make sure it at least has English menu in it. Let people leave a message – and I’d even call them back if that’s possible. If communicating via sms, have a way to let the customer know that I did get their message. In a nutshell: let people reach my team, and let them know that they’ve been heard.
  • Try setting lower common requirements of what tools customers need to be able to do business with you. Accepting only specific, obsolete versions of commercial software is not cool (e.g. my printer could just use CS3 and CorelDraw12. Why not any SVG output or PDF if vector graphics needed, or high-res bitmaps of specific dimensions? I guess it would need thought and training). This can be very tricky if there are not that many good free tools for a task, such as creating electronics circuits. Have to figure this out.

There are a bunch of small stuff as well, though all in all I’m just happy that it has worked so far. The company I found locally is Blueco, one t-shirt comes out at about 550TWD (~18USD), and can do single prints. Other local companies were about a 1/3-1/2 cheaper but need minimum orders of 10-30 t-shirts. These were the ones I’ve found on the net, maybe for the future I’ll look around more. American shirt printers look really good on the technology side, though the printing is more expensive, and shipping adds more than 50% quite often.

I’ve started to check the electronics of the device I’m preparing as (one of the) first products. From the schematics I have seen some components that might have better alternatives, and reached out to my contacts at some of the chip manufacturers. It looks so far that that original part is indeed a competitive and good choice. It is still good to build the connections in engineering and sourcing, definitely be good for the future. And the technological discussions are great to establish rapport with partners.

Started to do the circuit schematics in KiCAD. I chose that because it’s open source, thus sets very low bar for participation in the electronics development for others. This can still be a trouble, depending on how well it interoperates with other industry standards (like OrCAD as I heard), but this is something I want to take on. Found that I remember quite little from my last escapades with KiCAD, so will have to re-learn pretty much everything. At least I can use that to teach others how to use it as well.

Started setting up a directory for experimental physicists, which will probably be equivalent with my “first partners”, but hopefully it will be good for building networks and keep track of development in different regions/countries.

If I really think of what’s going on recently, I do feel that I have much more on my plate than I can handle easily  and many of those issues are administrative, such as calling the same phone number 15-20 times before I get through to someone, or translating documents, finding relevant laws and sources. I seriously think that at this stage already I could start to use an assistant. Funny thing is that about half a year ago, after reading The 4-Hour Workweek where a lot of emphasis was on outsourcing a big part of one’s tasks, I was thinking it would be awesome to have some part-time English-Chinese speaking assistants here in Taiwan: lots of locals and foreigners here alike have problems with lack of time and language barrier. This should be another startup to start. It’s in the back of my head, while feels more urgent by the day. Hm…

This week

Both for the mission of my project and to bootstrap it I am thinking a lot about providing education as a service to people. Mission: the more science people know, the better it is for me (and them too!). Bootstrapping: courses can be a source of income, e.g if I can teach. students or employees how to use open source software to get more and better work done. Everyone wins. Testing my teaching chops will commence this Saturday, when I’m holding a Physics of 3D Printers workshop, hopefully talking seriously about physics. There’s a lot to prepare, and have to make sure I learn from it. Also, have to make sure that my key demographics (physics researchers) know about it as well.

The idea of holding a conference about creating scientific instruments did take root in the last week, this should be a priority to set up: hash out concrete plans that I could pull off, and look for interested partners to adjust those plans (but not too much, have to be much edgier than the regular conferences).

Keep delaying, cannot put the FPGA programming consulting project off if I have to keep my reputation. This is really a lesson on how urgent things push out the important ones.

Continue with the electronics preparation (schematics, BOM, PCB) for the device to make. Finish printing the damn name cards (it’s not this difficult).