Year in Review and Preview 2015/2016

Looks like I haven’t done a yearly review last year, the latest one on the blog is from the end of 2013. That’s surprising, but then it’s even more pressing to take stock of 2015 and set up the coming year.

2015 – Results

This year have seen a long trip to Europe in February (Hungary, Prague, Vienna) which definitely opened my eyes to a lot of things that I probably should have understood back in high school (especially regarding history). On the other hand, I was a visitor back in my home country Hungary too, and tried a bunch of things that I have never tried when I lived there before, been there with different eyes (and would love to spend more time home again too).

The rest of the year was spent here in Taiwan, on small trips all around the north and east coast, and around Taipei City.  A lot can fit into day trips, and it is fun to mix popular places with off the beaten track.


Another stable orbit around the Sun

Time for taking stock for this year, check-point in a continuous development.


Altogether it was a pretty different from what I have planned for, and in many ways exceeded my expectations, partly because external forces guided me on different paths than I have planned before – and in retrospect that’s a good thing.

I’ve travelled to Shanghai for the first time, and that was the only time out of Taiwan this year. Other than that, some fun trips within the country to Alishan, Sun Moon Lake, and other places. I got to quite like weekend or short getaways. Will have to do more of those in the future.

This blog had 18 posts (not counting this one), and while that’s pretty low, I feel they were pretty well researched and lasting, so even as I want to increase the frequency of writing, I will try to keep writing long-reads.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 47 books (and planned to read 52). This year was different in a way that the books are divided pretty much half-half between fiction and non-fiction books. That didn’t happen before, maybe I was more down to earth? Or there were more interesting non-fiction recommendation from friends? The favorites this year are probably Peopleware and The Beginning of Infinity for one side, and Snow Crash and Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World on the other (though there wasn’t a book that I really didn’t like, hard choices).

Have given a conference talk at PyConTW, and published the talk in a paper – first time first author, which definitely have to be improved. Have given some other invited presentations (about the Taipei Hackerspace), held a class (at NTUST about innovation), and did a few workshops (in the Hackerspace). Lots of opportunity for development, I feel that my style and capabilities are improving, as well as I’m getting more opinionated about how these things (talks, classes, and papers) should have been done.

The biggest improvement was with Taipei Hackerspace, it has come a very long way this year, and there’s no end to it. I learned a lot of organization, interpersonal skills, and some technological skills as well.

This whole progress enabled kicking off my Project (with a capital P), Moonpunch, in which I want to put most of my energy into. Lots of science and development is there to do, I cannot wait to see what comes next – and not waiting, making it.

There are also a lot of small stuff, like finished my first Movember, learned a lot about Bitcoin, watched a lot of good movies, started to meditate (though stopped for a while).

Photo of the sky with airplane
The speck of dirt in the middle is an airplane flying by


At the moment only one thing is sure – have no idea how anything will look more than about 4 months into the future. That’s a scarily short time frame.

Things I’m wishing for:

  • finding my modus operandi even better, and make more valuable contribution
  • preparing for a trip to Kyoto in the spring, would love to get back to Hungary in September for the 15 year high school reunion, and hope to fit in some travel to an unexpected place, somewhere off the beaten track.
  • re-start learning Japanese, and put more effort into Chinese
  • get back into meditation again, and a healthier life
  • find more good books, that’s always something to look out for

Re-reading that list right now, it feels like I have big aspirations, but no specific wishes, making this list really just a work in progress. (Maybe I should add “make a better list” to the end?). It will be a lot of “winging it.” That feels like a good way.

Maker Taiwan

Taiwan’s Open Hardware movement gets a boost

I sure felt different yesterday morning waiting for my turn to give my 30 minutes talk, but in retrospect I’m really glad to have been invited to the Boost Open Source Hardware Movement event, organized by the CTIMES magazine over here in Taiwan. It was the second time try, after Typhoon Soulik cancelled the original event.

CTIMES personnel introducing the Boost Open Source Hardware Movement event
Kicking off the event early Saturday morning

There were 8 speakers scheduled from different companies and background: RS Components, Via, Broadcom, Motoduino, TMI Holding…. and me from Taipei Hackerspace. First I was wondering how do I fit in there, and maybe my talk *was* out of place a bit. Most talks were in Chinese so I could grasp only basic stuff from them, although the slides helped – most people made slides following the “slides are my notes” style, which is not my style, but was welcome this time. It was also great to see seasoned speakers like Richard from Via, and Lucas from TMI giving fun (and informative!) talks.

I did feel I’m in the right company, though. Open Source Hardware is becoming more and more of my focus – or maybe I’m just realizing it now that what I do is called such. Part of the audience were industry professionals and part enthusiastic hobbyists & students, and I had some great chat in the breaks with both kind of people.

I heard about the National Science Fair here (what? I got to check that out!), and how much interesting work people do with interactive hardware and elementary/high school kids. There is waaaay more going on that I can imagine, and there’s a lot more potential to tap into.

Had a chance to gather some industry experience too. Naren from Broadcom, who was responsible for getting Raspberry Pi into production was telling the story how they were expecting only 10,000 orders altogether and got 350,000 on the first day (sold 1.8 million to date), so they had to scramble an entire new supply chain. Thought that came to me was that maybe that’s one of the biggest value of  Kickstarter/Indiegogo is to be able to get an order of magnitude estimate of the demand.

Also heard about Via’s experience in pursuing new design and materials with their APC platform (such as using paper for housing), and interacting with their community. Heard a lot from RS Components how they are building tools for their community, and building the community itself. The demo was fought with technical difficulties (first rule of presenting is not to assume a working/fast internet connection), but it was inspiring nonetheless, and gave me some big (and difficult) ideas for my project: have to see if there’s any good community for scientific/laboratory electronics and hardware building, and if there isn’t then build one.

View of the room during the break time
Break time between the talks, everyone’s scrambling for chat and cakes

One of my favorite part in these events though to meet friends’ friends. This time was no exception, even if there was too little time to talk, I left with quite a few people in mind who I will need to contact soon, because they are doing something awesome and connected to my area of interest, either in hardware or in startups. This is one reason I’m trying to be really generous with my time and making introductions between people who I recon would hit it off well: I was the recepient of that so many times that I got to give back too.

My talk

I was scheduled in the middle of the afternoon just before tea break, and I was one of two people who used English for their talk (out of the 8 speakers). I was more nervous

I’ve uploaded the slides used for the talk in advance as well, so now it’s all out in the open.

My favorite part writing this talk was probably the attempt to summarize the philosophy and values of the maker movement, in a way that would inspire others. Some bits:

  • Don’t accept crappy – everything can be changed and improved upon.
  • Aim for collaborative creation. Celebrate the weird. Don’t mock.
  • Do and then share the results for everyone to learn from it.
  • For things to happen, you have to show up. Don’t wait for someone else to start, build up and inner motivation
  • Everyone’s values are different, a ‘space is often a different canvas for everyone.

So far the feedback I got about the talk is that I should have mentioned the projects people were working on in the ‘space, and upcoming events. That would have made a better ending for sure, and I had an extra 5 minutes or so to do that. Definitely going to emphasize the practical aspect next time.

Another thing I noticed listening to (a bit of) the video is that I need to use much less “ehm” and “ahm”… I certainly don’t remember using any, and consciously trying to avoid it in my talks in the recent years, I guess I need to listen more carefully (and prepare better).

Any more suggestions? What else wasn’t good? Bring it on, I want to become better at this.

More about the Taipei Hackerspace is on the mailing list, which is open for everyone to sign up, ask questions, show their projects, and hear more about what’s up.


An entrepreneurial curriculum

The influence of the last few years kept pushing me more and more towards entrepreneurship, and learning more about startups, innovation, creativity, independence, creating value. Recently I found myself reading more and more about them, and ending up with an ever-increasing reading list as well. Never before I had so many non-fiction book waiting for me, and i want to make some notes of the ones I have read.

Books on my Taipei Hackerspace bookself
A very varied bookshelf I got

This post will be most likely a constantly updated book review collection, where I list what have I read and what have I learned from them, with special focus on research & innovation, since that’s the area where I’m most likely headed.

I know of course that reading is not substitute to action. I can still learn from other people’s successes and failures, though.

The books so far

♣ The Art of Innovation

It was an interesting collection of anecdotes. In retrospect, the title would suggest that it contain some guidelines that can be replicated to some extent by other teams and companies. The book however feels more like just storytelling how much fun people have at IDEO, with the breakthroughs and failures they had with particular projects.

Some ideas stand out nevertheless. The importance of prototyping: do things as soon as possible, try ideas out and make educated guesses based on actual experience, move fast and make things. The importance of inspiration: when there’s an ideation project, just go out and get a big bunch of items that are connected to it in any way (eg. figuring out a new bottle cap? Go out and get every possible way of closing containers, and more…). The importance of keeping discarded projects: today’s discarded project can be the main inspiration for tomorrow’s success, thus really worth keeping a log of everything. The importance of play: indirect exploration and team morale are awesome things to have on your side, and they are signs of a long term strategic thinking.

♣ Winning at Innovation: The A-to-F model

This one is much-much drier than the Art of Innovation, but also very thorough. So many intuitive things from the previous book was made completely clear because of this systematic approach. It’s good have a better understanding for the things that stick around in one’s mind.

This had some pretty good points too. Can’t innovate something while you are doing it: have to stop and look at things from the outside to see how to improve. That means it is really helpful to have some people doing the tasks, while others make it better. The importance of neighbouring industries: look at companies that serve the same target customers with different products, or serve different customers the same product as you. Mash up and create new combinations, learn from these neighbours.

♣ The Wide Lens

The premise of the book is worth an epiphany: it’s an age of ecosystems, have to think in broader terms than just your products. So often can miss critical ingredients of the the ecosystem and can fail really badly while doing the execution perfectly. Co-innovation and adoption chain risks are there quite often for quite simple teams, besides the execution risk which is the first thing that companies learn to conquer. It’s not enough to take care of the last one, have to manage the first two as well. Need to always be on top, who else is there to win besides you to make your stuff work.

Of course, the detailed look this needs can be much easier in hindsight. One of the final, big example of an enterprise that did things wiser than other was Better Place, an electric car company. I was thinking how the book’s models would apply to Tesla, while just this week I read about how Better Place just filed for bankruptcy.

♣ The Lean Startup

…coming soon

♣ Rework

…coming soon

On the reading list

There are always more books than I have time for, these are the ones that are shortlisted currently to be added to the reviews above.

If you have a suggestions what else I should include, please let me know!


Counting down to the next

Since living in Taiwan, the Western style new year feels a bit arbitrary for me. The Lunar New Year is at least tied to something, it is easy to define, even if it’s more complicated in its own traditions. Nevertheless, I like the New Year, and it’s good to have some periodic semi-forced review time. When it’s cold, it’s even better (sorry Southern Hemisphere).

Sunset over Taipei
Sunset over Taipei

This year felt a bit like growing up. I was grown-up before (can’t afford not to be at the age of 31), but my way of thinking have matured a lot, and it feels like that happened because of all the limitations and stress and projects and winding path I took on.

In 2012 somehow extended on the projects I worked on, like building a certain portfolio. Ignite Taipei is still there (maybe the main drive behind my experimentation), while it got company in the form of Future Shorts Taipei, the continuation of the Geek Dinners, later OpenHack Taipei and the (preliminary) Taipei Hackerspace. They seem to have a common theme – building local events related to technology, innovation and art. I hope I can continue with this theme, and see where it takes me. Kickstarter, social networks helped a lot to expand my world in these directions. Not sure if all these projects will survive next year (at least not with me at the wheel), but will definitely learn from all of them.

There were some really good books this year, discovered Pynchon, Tolstoy, and Calvino, as well as many smaller ones. Keep rediscovering Tolkien, Asimov, Murakami, Vonnegut, Beckett. Had a lot of brainy-books too. My shelf is still totally full, I can be sure, that the next year will be just as busy in terms of reading and just as mind-blowing.

In research I wasn’t that successful, though I have learned a lot. Will see what can we do in the next year in the lab. We were building a new experiment and it is not a real surprise that the results are still ahead. Whether my true way is down on academia lane or not, that remains to be seen.

I have a lot of startups related influence around me, and for years I’ve been hatching plans without any results. Next year supposed to see me set some hard deadlines for decisions (different visa for Taiwan, that lets me do more, for example).

There were some great travels this year, a big European tour for the first time since I moved to Asia, and in Japan for the first time ever. No plans for travel for the next year yet, maybe more within the country and more purposeful choices of destinations? Though I like quick changes of plans and surprises. And visitor friends from countries are good too.

This time it feels strongly that I’m in “in-between”, with choices ahead. The Sun is already setting on 2012 here, let’s make 2013 count.